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Sunday Scrutinizations: My Personal Philosophy Expounded

As you may have seen from my previous writings, the last several years of my life has changed to within myself a very specific conviction towards valuing in the utmost, our relationship with each other. It began in a men’s study I was involved with and the reading of a book called, “The Exemplary Husband.” One of the chapters was about relationship. As men we tend to build in our lives priorities. Sometimes our priorities are skewed in that work is our main priority, then family, maybe sports, our friends, and the like. Then we become a Christian and we are told that God should be first, then our wives, our family, our church… You know, we have a more sensible priority list. This book introduced the idea that it is not the things in themselves that have the priority, but the relationships. We should look at it as: Our relationship with God is priority one, then our relationship with our wives, and so on. Another thing I learned in this group was that the reason marriage was so sacred is because our relationship symbolizes the relationship of God within Himself or furthermore, between Christ and us.

Tonight, we initially looked at the creation and how God called all things good until he looked at what was missing or unfulfilled in Adam, and that was he was not in relationship. Being in relationship is the reason God created us. He said that He was making man in His image and in that was the relationship God had with Himself. In the Godhead, God is complete through the relationship He has with Himself. Ponder that for a time. Dwell on it. He did not need to make us, but made us to glorify Him in our relationship with Him and in our relationship with each other. One of the most beautiful poems, according to the pastor, was the one Adam said about Eve. It was not about Eve, but about himself. “Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” Adam, in his relationship with Eve saw himself. He saw himself fulfilled in Eve. He was fully created for the purpose of relationship and now saw that through Eve, seeing himself fully in that. Does that make sense? Well, look at it this way: when Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God, that relationship was broken, they covered themselves up, hid from each other, and we’ve been doing it ever since. We are not fulfilling our purpose, we are not knowing ourselves except through the relationship of each other and in God. Because of the sin in this world we are constantly hiding from ourselves and from others. We fear being truly known. We are broken and our relationships are broken.

We need to remember the gospel and our purpose in fulfilling the gospel in its freedom and it’s relationship. We need to know that there are two things that ruin our relationships mentioned in Galatians 5:26, “Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.” It is the challenging and envying one another that ruins relationships. To challenge means we look down on others, thinking ourselves superior, it is always a negative connotation and never about spurring on others. When we envy, we look up at others and are bitter for what they have or who they are, we feel inferior. Superiority or inferiority are the two things that destroy a relationship. The relationship here between relationship with each other and the freedom we have because of the gospel is this superiority and inferiority. When we think that we are superior we know we can do the things that please God. When we are inferior we are always ashamed at our failures and think we are horrible people. Because of our superior or inferior thoughts we cannot have the true relationship with God that we should have, that we were made for; it breaks our relationship with Him.

So how did we get this way in that we always compare ourselves to each other? The answer is also in the verse, our boastfulness. This word means empty glory. We try to glorify ourselves because the emptiness we have. We fill ourselves with glorying successes or the failures we have in trying. In the sin that sprang from that first sin we are hollow because of our unfulfilled purpose, so we constantly try to fill ourselves with things that don’t fulfill, and furthermore, we boast in that, creating feelings of superiority or inferiority in ourselves and others. Something inside us makes us believe we’re not great, so we have to boast about our greatness. So again, it comes down to the brokenness of our relationship due to our superiority or inferiority.

Look at what Christ says in Matthew 7, “I never knew you.” In that he wasn’t saying they weren’t good enough or humble enough, but that He didn’t know them. The final exam, as you might say, is about how much He knew us.

We look at psychology and it ways of solving our human dilemma, and it focuses more and more on that people just don’t see the value enough in us. Christianity says that it is sin and that we compare ourselves to others and it is the cause of all brokenness.

One of the things we also do is look at others and become attracted to people because of what they can fulfill in us. Can we spend a good time together? Will they bring me into this circle of friends? We look at what others can do for us in making us feel worthy or give us the glory. When we do this we are devouring each other. Galatians 5:15 says, “But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” This made me think of Hieronymus Bosch’s depictions of hell, where people are eating each other. This superiority/inferiority and the brokenness of relationships is in many ways a hell we have created for ourselves. When we look at others for what we may gain, we are using them, or devouring them, consuming people for our own gain. One girl I’ve been talking with about boundaries, said that she needs people. Now, we all need people, but when we need them in a very needy way, where it gives us fulfillment just to be around so many, it is as if we are devouring them. That is a boundary she must keep; not to have people around for the sake of your own neediness. I very much understand this attitude. Her and I are alike in so many ways. I see her in me 25 years ago.

We now see because of Galatians 5:13-14, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” that our only options are to devour or to love, and it tells us in these verses that in love we are to serve one another. How do we choose to serve over devouring? It is by the Spirit of God that we accomplish this.

Philippians 2:5-7 “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”

We are to walk by the Spirit and not regard yourself too highly. Empty yourself, become that servant. No longer look at what others can do for you, thus devouring them, but see what you can do for others.

Self-examination time: 1) Do you give, when there is nothing to take? 2) Do you sacrifice or feel as if you should be served? 3) Are you moving toward people who give you nothing in return? These are difficult questions. The Christian life is never as easy as it seems.

One thing I did ask after. He stated that he had to take a break from relationships, because they are so hard, is that a proper attitude? Even Jesus had to get away by Himself away from others for a time. I love you Jesus, You are my perfect example. Amen!

~Stranger

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Sunday Scrutinizations: Change For the Better?

Going off of last weeks sermon, we are now looking at how people change toward exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit. One thing we really want to remember is that we are not changing to be better people, but we change because the gospel being understood fully in our lives and those changes come about from that realization. If we are truly Christians we need to be exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, and as such if we don’t see it we need to ask why. Are we truly Christian or is there some idol in our life that is preventing the fruit from growing?

We are usually warned in these types of sermons that things are going to be rough on us, and today, it really was. I am always very open in all my posts, but it seems like this one will be especially hard for me, in that it did hurt to realize what I did as well as not being sure I want to share. Either way, this blog is about me being open and honest so you can know me better, even though I may or may not know you and the feeling aren’t generally reciprocated.

Our reading is Galatians 5:16-25. After several discussions within several small groups we got to the main part of the sermon. We were handed a sheet that had “Desires” on one side and “Overdesires” on the other. “Desire” is mentioned three times in this section and we learn that it is the greek word epithumia, which basically means an over-desires for something. We usually think of desire in the King James Version of lust, which brings to mind a sexual desire, but it is best described as desiring something in an unhealthy way. We can desire something good, like providing for our family, but when it becomes on over-desire it becomes an idol in our lives. We were told to write down things that we desire, just anything, and include some things that are good. If you are following along, I’ll give you a moment to do this and then we’ll continue…

I guess several years ago that the church went through a fruit of the Spirit series and it was then that they thoroughly went through this each one and it’s opposite; it made me want to be there then, but I went through my learning on my own time. At this point we went through a quick summary:

  1. Love – Opening yourself to serve, not for yourself but in being vulnerable
  2. Joy – Supernatural delight in God
  3. Peace – Trust in God’s control
  4. Patience – Truly forgiving
  5. Kindness – Generosity-delight when others are lifted up, even those you don’t like
  6. Goodness – Sincerity/Integrity
  7. Faithfulness – Full of faith
  8. Gentleness – Humility-thing of self less/strength under control
  9. Self-Control – ability to choose the important things over the urgent

And the opposites:

  1. Fear or self-protection
  2. Vainglory/Man made glory
  3. Arrogance or anxious/crazy
  4. Unrighteous anger
  5. Envy
  6. Hypocrisy
  7. Man’s wisdom or thinking
  8. Pride
  9. Impulsive

When we show the opposite of what the specific fruit is, it is some idol in our life, that is exhibiting one of the opposites from above.

So, back to my list. Here are the things I said. “To be thought of as wise. That people would seek me out. Be less insecure. Have more time to read (which incidentally leads to me knowing more and being sought out). More healthy. To be understood. To be known.” We were told to circle those which were more important to us, possibly than even God. If we would be emotionally injured when these weren’t fulfilled we were to circle them. I circled: to be understood and known. Now, you circle yours.  Pray, take some time to reflect on what these are and how they connect with what is the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit.

As I sat there praying and contemplating these things, I looked at my list and noticed something. They all had something to do with what other people may think of me. I got very emotional, because God was showing me something. I told you that last year I realized I was being legalistic and prior to this realization I took pride in the fact that I was so un-legalistic. Here I am looking in a mirror of that same type of pride again. There is a pride in me that I don’t care what others think about me, but my whole list were about how I wanted people to see me! I want people to think I am wise and come to me for advice. I want to be more secure in who I am, so I can put all that behind me and join the group and participate. I want to be more healthy so that when the time comes when I finally lose some weight somebody will say, “You are looking good!” I want people to understand my motivations so that there can be no question as to why I am doing what I am doing. Same thing with being known. I write this whole blog in an effort to be known. Sure, it is for me knowing myself better, but in so many ways I am hoping you are reading this and know me better, hopefully knowing yourself better too.

In the light of a current situation I am going through, and some unfairness I believe some people are judging me by, I have rehearsed what my motivations are. It is not really a crisis situation I am going through, but this is a very big decision, and I am in no way taking it lightly. They consider my choices to be completely self-serving and that I’ll find all I’ve ever wanted in it, but I don’t see it that way. I’m told why should I even try to make them understand… because I love and care about them. This is one of the most difficult things in my life and all of it piled up in this realization, and I broke down and wept silently. I was supposed to lead discussion in the group afterwards, but could hardly speak. I see that I was being vain in wanting people to see what I’ve done, I was full of pride and fear, and was envious of all those who apparently have what I desire… or have over-desired.

I think the thing in this is that I have had this realization. Now I can truly see where my lack of love, joy, kindness and gentleness might come from. That I have been so concerned what people think about me, and I thought the complete opposite. In talking with a couple of other men after, it seems that how we men are perceived is a big problem. I am glad I am not alone in this. Being someone so insecure makes you believe everyone else is so much more secure than you.

There were three steps given in order to change: Belong-Who do we belong to? Crucify-Know that it is finished, that the power that raised Him from the dead is the same power we have access to. Keep in step with the Spirit-It’s about worship, and it doesn’t mean we try harder, it just means we worship Him. I was shocked by my realization today, so I can’t give you more of what the conclusion is all about, but I believe you get the idea.

Tonight was a great night, I am so thankful for what we have been learning and will ever praise Him. I praise You Lord!

~Known by Him

 

My Environmental Abberation

Strange Confessions: If I was one of those environmentalists who felt very strongly about their convictions, I’d be the kind that would want the whole human race eliminated. Like all gone. By disease or forced voluntary death/evacuation. However you do it, it is going to be a difficult task and you couldn’t be entirely sure everyone was gone.

So enters my review on Noah. I didn’t generally feel it was that bad… Perhaps it is good I rebooted my that one site account, for there were posts and opinions about it where I might get the snarly-lip thrown at me. I knew enough about the film that I just realized it was Darren Aronofsky’s fevered dream about how horrible the human race is and that the environment above all is what should be preserved. There is some truth in it too. I read once that within all stories is a story that reflects the gospel, and you don’t have to look that hard to see it here in Noah.

The beginning reveals, in a very well done/classic stop motion way, creation and the first murder, and angels showing empathy toward humans and the Creator cursing them. The earth is a barren wasteland with very little growth and people roaming around committing violence and looking for meat to consume. Noah and his father wander in isolated areas away from what they call “humans.” When they are gathering, or whatever they are doing, and they hear other men coming, they say with disdain and fear, “Humans! Hide.” Noah later does this with his sons. I did not comprehend what they thought of themselves, perhaps they thought that as a group or collective, influenced by each other in violent means, that these were “humans.” As a boy Noah witnesses his father being killed by other men.

So, to the main story at hand. Noah has visions of floods, him at the bottom of this flood and bodies all beneath him. In reality, incidentally it is hard to tell the difference between what Noah is really seeing or is having a vision of, Noah sees a harsh, violent, irredeemable mass of people eventually covering the earth. Noah takes his sons to see Methuselah to find out about his visions. On the way there they rescue a girl from death among the dead, and are chased by humans bent on violence. They seek refuge in the land of the Watchers, the fallen/cursed angels who helped the humans. The Watchers are mostly suspicious and fear humans. They are giant rock creatures made using stop motion animation. I really like the way these looked. Of course there is obvious disdain for these creatures by the Christian community, because it is really a stretch for Aronofsky as the Nephilim mentioned in the Bible. When they see Methuselah, he gives them a seed that will help him in his endeavor to save the animals from the cruel humans by building an ark.

Other stuff happens, but let’s get to the point. Noah is planning on preserving his line on the ark until he goes to find Ham a wife among the humans. This is where Noah truly sees humans. As he wanders this camp that is planning on taking the ark when the flood comes, we are disturbed by the stealing of human children by bandits to exchange them for meat that the crowd tears apart and shreds with their teeth. The crowds are getting out of hand and meat is thrown to calm them, but it only throws them more into a frenzy. They are bloodthirsty fiends that Noah has never seen this close. As he looks around from a high vantage point of all the chaos surrounding him, he sees his father tearing at an animal, thus seeing himself and if his line is preserved he and his family will carry on the bloodthirsty rages that defines the humans he sees. I can see his point of view and it is a biblical view, whether or not it was Noah’s. Noah begins to become violent and fearful to his family as he tells them about how his line, the whole of people will end with the death of Japheth. There is another remarkable scene that uses stop motion, where Noah tells his family the story of creation and how animals were first and it was only when humans came about that things truly fell apart, which for the most part is true.

I use to go to parties or dances or clubs where there were lots of people and the music was loud and people were stupid. For a time it was fun, but eventually I got claustrophobic and had to get out. It always ended that way. I’d get out depressed and feel as if the whole world was dark and disturbed for giving in so much to themselves; and this was before I became a Christian. I hear people talk about how we evolve and we are getting better, but I didn’t ever see it. I see the whole environmental movement as a failure. We’ll never get it right, because no matter what we do to make things better, I believe for the most part it will only get worse. Yes, I have a pessimistic view on the human race, which is why I believe our only hope is Him, is Christ and His coming back and making all things new. Every effort we make for ourselves will fall. Things might seem better for a time, but we will only find better ways to bring about earlier destruction. Dark, I know, but that is how I see it, but it is one of the reasons I was drawn to Him. Which is totally why I could sympathize with the way Aronofsky portrays Noah in this.

I haven’t seen any Aronofsky since his very first film, Pi, but I have followed his career. Most of the stuff I haven’t watched for personal reasons, but I must say I admired his stance much more than that ridiculous made for TV version starring Jon Voight several years ago. The Jon Voight rewrote the story to garner more action and “story,” it considered the audience dumb. Aronofsky does not consider his viewers dumb, but in seeing much of the criticism for this film, I would not be surprised that his perception of Christians was brought low in his creative story telling. I admire him for that. And I liked his film.

~Stranger

Freedom vs. Condemnation

In all my constant thoughts about freedom recently, I’ve come to a great realization. In the past I have constantly dreaded what this earthly future holds for me. I can’t find a well-fitting job, be it paying enough nor enjoyable enough nor fulfilling enough. My head fills with sorrow at the failures of the past. Failing in school, in relationships, in determination, has made me look forward with dread. I consider what is going on with the world and am sure that Christ will come back in a blaze of glory and set all things right. That future is bright and has been my only hope. Yet when I don’t consider that He has me in His grip and I am His, and He has everything in the future just the way He plans it, and I only hope in His second coming, my attitude sells Him short. He is too small in my mind.

So then I see that, I mean really see, that nothing I do can gain the grace and mercy and salvation, that what I have is all because of Him, it humbles me, cheers me, gives me a sense of joy, of relief that I have never felt before. Here we are, the Church, focusing on all the wrong things. He has prepared me for this moment. It is not like I’ve never heard of these things before, for I have, but they have never truly resonated with me before. I have absorbed this teaching.

Galatians 5:1-2 says, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” For freedom has He set us free. As I see it as opposed to condemnation. I am constantly condemning myself; looking at my failures of the past, my sins of the present, and the weariness I’ve built for the future. It is done. As I said a couple of days ago, this is a new and special time for me, in seeing all this and knowing that there is now no condemnation for me. That is what Paul was saying. Of course we believe that God doesn’t condemn us, but do we ever consider that we no longer have need of condemning ourselves. Sure we sin, but get over it. Get the unlimited grace He gives and move my brother.

On a walk today I considered these things and saw in my mind that it is freedom that creates a sense of eagerness when considering the future, and condemnation that creates dread. I am praising Him in my freedom. Come my brothers and wash yourselves in the purity of His grace and walk away from all the self-condemnation that makes us dread the future. Be eager in seeing what He has planned for you knowing that it all has been won, because of Him, because of our freedom!

~Stranger

Sunday Scrutinizations: Freedom from Idolatry, Part II

There has been a question posed to me about how I get rid of the idols in my life. I realize that in the previous post I may have not been as clear as I always am in my own head. The response to idols in the sermon is to realize the love of God for you, dwell on it, read about it, make it your own. That seems to be the indication in verse 9 of Galatians 4: “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?” If we know or have known what God has done for us, how is it that we maintain our idols, our sin? We will never fully rid ourselves of the sin nor the cause for it until the great uniting, but our sin should be dwindling, growing steadily smaller, making itself less of a nuisance in your life than it did, say last year or twenty years ago. The thing about believing in the love of God and what it does for you is a difficult and yet simple thing to understand, and as I thought about the question that was asked of me, it became clear. So I’m a gonna dole out some fine wisdom to you right here and now…

But first, of course, a little background of thought that led me to these things. I am reading a series of books right now called the Codex Alera. Okay, you’re wondering how a science fiction series can explain simply about the how we fully grasp the love God has for us, but just be patient; I’ll get there. After all, God communicates with us in many different ways, which is sort of my point… So anyway, there is a race of people called the Marat. These people are divided by tribes in which they have a certain animal that they can bond with, they discover what tribe they are a part of in their teenage years. Their needs and desires, lead them to be a part of that tribe. They aren’t even referred to as male or female until a choice is made or a test given, they are whelps until they day they become part of a tribe. For example, Kitai is a whelp of the Gargant clan, (a gargant is like a large elephant I’m guessing). Her father is of this clan, he is largely built, strong, stubborn, is a homebody and is very much humor filled, much like the gargants. Her mother, who has died, was part of the Horse clan. Horse clan types are tall, muscular, and have a strong desire to roam, to see what is over the horizon. During a trial, Kitai’s life is saved by a human boy, Tavi, whom she has a strong contempt for, but still very much interests her. Because of the boy’s actions, Kitai’s eye color changes to match Tavi’s, indicating that she has joined a tribe, a unestablished tribe, but a tribe nonetheless. She is alone, brought there by her interest in Tavi and being saved by him. She now has a vast amount of knowledge to take in because no Marat has ever existed in human culture.

I was just reading this last night and it struck me how this connection of the Marat is similar to our connection with God. God does not connect with all of us in the same way. Some people make deep inner connections and reflections by keeping a journal. Some see God in the love they see in their children’s eyes. Others can just open the bible and make that strong connection there. Relationships with a spouse may be God’s redeeming connection to some. In all these things we see God, we are thankful to Him, but there is something in all of us that we have to find for ourselves that truly makes that ultimate connection in seeing how utterly in love God is with us as an individual. For me, it is the stars. Standing outside in the middle of the night, looking up and seeing the vastness of everything else that is not me, forces me to contemplate how completely worthy of awe my God is, and what it took for the Creator of the universe to visit my heart and make His residence in me. Stars. I can’t fully explain the amazing power God reveals to me by looking at the sky, because it is just for me. Just like you might not be able to explain how God connects with you. We are all unique in the way He created with us and we have to find the way He reveals to us who He is. That is probably why some people might not find that, or don’t see a relationship with God as something as life-transforming as it is supposed to be. They become Christian and someone tells them to start writing down what they learn, and they lose interest, and don’t find the Christian life that exciting. Go out there and discover what your connection is with the savior, think about how exciting life can be when you know the end, and that He is waiting for you in the place you can connect best with Him.

~Stranger

Sunday Scrutinizations: Freedom from Idolatry

Tonight was first night back to worship services at Township Line since we got back from vacation. I was reminded when the leaders were saying it was going to be challenging to do this, because it was going to be hot: and tonight was hot. It is good to be a part of something that people still are galvanized about even when it is extremely difficult. People were saying to each other how hot they were, but with a smile on their face. It would be so easy to just say, “Not tonight,” and go on with you day, not worrying about it and stay all night in your air-conditioned house. Also, you know what? We had visitors. A surprising amount, and in particular, a surprising type of visitor. Perhaps more about this later, when all is said and done and the dust has settled.

First off though, I wanted to share something regarding my speaking with our Tuesday night fellowship group. We met Saturday morning for brunch and I was able to share some things that have been on my heart, in terms of my job, my wife’s teaching, the direction in our life, some needs we would like to see fulfilled. One thing that really struck me from the conversation was that they told me to be eager and excited and looking forward to what God has for us. I generally look ahead to a major transition with fear and trepidation, because of some past missteps. I needed to be corrected in this, because God does care and love us and wants to give us good things. As my sister-in-law reminded me last week, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” When people have been asking me how things are going or if my job is going well, I have to remember this. It is a perspective changer for sure. So tonight when people asked me my most dreaded question, “How is work going?” I tried to turn that perspective of looking forward to His change for me in this and it changed what I usually say, which is “…mmm okay” or “same old, same old.” I just tell them I’m looking forward to what God is going to do in my life in my job and in my family. It is very much freeing indeed.

Back to what happened tonight: After dinner and singing, I went over with the children’s group to help out as usual and I was told that if I wanted to sit in the sermon I could. “You don’t need me?” I say. “Nope. I think everything is taken care of tonight. You’ve been here every time,” is the response. “But I haven’t been here for the last two weeks?” “It’s okay, we got this.” They really didn’t need me? I didn’t dwell on it too much, because I was just glad to sit down and listen to a sermon tonight. Also, several people said they missed the Sunday Scrutinization thing, so I decided to give my loyal fans what they wanted: hard note taken and great summary… (That sounded funny to me, didn’t it to you? If it didn’t then you’re not reading enough of my stuff.) Anyway, I sat down, didn’t have my bible, or a pen, or my notebook, or a chair for that matter. Some young kid had stolen my chair next to my wife, and I had to kick him loudly out of my seat! I disturbed a lot of people, but it was the principle of the thing! It was my chair. I lugged it there and I’m a gonna sit in it. Well, once I did get my seat back and everyone settled down, my wife provided me with a half a sheet of paper and got me a pen. Isn’t she great? I started taking notes and noticed I had some sort of sore on the side of a knuckle on my writing hand and it made writing very difficult. I couldn’t take as detailed of notes as I usually do, so what I’m going to do is just type out what I wrote, word-for-word, and tell you my gut feeling about the whole thing. Here are my notes:

Gal 4:8-11 Changed my viewpoint
Judaizers -> Jesus +
enslavement -> to good things
v8 – non Gods – idols/nothingness
how do we become enslaved?
How are we free?
idol anything we have/do to gain approval outside of Christ
my idols – comfort/familiarity
1 Jn 5:21 sums up entire book – idols
idolatry is fundamental root of all our “problems” in life
why do we fail? -you have an idol
when we “blow” it – look at what is our idol
look at all the things we use to cope with life
epithermra – things we over desire 1Pt2 being noticed, included, loved
stop and look for the chains to that idol
v9 Free? God’s love

Well, there you have it. An insight into my wonderful note taking; with injured hand. Quick summary: He said that this section completely changed his view when it came to seeing his sin and when he counsels people. Of course Galatians has to deal with those nasty Judaizers who went around telling people that they weren’t doing enough; it is Jesus plus whatever they were selling. We were being enslaved all over again after being freed from sin. But how is it we come back to enslaving ourselves to things that are less important than God’s love, salvation and freedom. Although there is an idea that we are to put ourselves under the mastery of our Lord; that is why we call Him Lord you know, because we are to be His slaves, a rebellious and ornery slave, but a slave nonetheless. We all have idols and those are anything we have or do to gain approval outside of Christ. We can look at all the troubles in our lives and trace it back to some sort of idol. We were surprised, hurt or troubled by something because of some expectation we have in our life and specifically because of an idol we have in it. Comfort and familiarity are strong idols in my life. Also, after heavy consideration and asking questions at the end, I sometimes have self-condemnation as an idol in my life. Sometimes thinking that I’m just too horrible to deserve what He has offered, AND given to me I condemn myself as unworthy of Him. That is something I’ve put before God. I’ve been satisfied at times with my status quo of sinfulness and doubted His love for me, that He could fundamentally change who I am, that I am more important than Him. Look at that! Us self-condemning, those who have a tendency toward depression, are saying that their sin is bigger than God. Oh the Gall of it all!

His love is the most powerful force in the universe: it changes animals to those who are righteous. I think of that story in Daniel about the king who said his creation was grander than God and God changed him to an animal that ate grass for several years. Then God opened his eyes and this king praised God, with all his heart. When God changes us from sinful, enslaved human to righteous and saved saint, that should be the most glorious, most humbling thing we are to ever encounter. His love changed me. Has it changed you? Do you see His love in your life day-to-day? Sometimes we forget who we are because of the wiles of the world sways us and tempts us away from His love. “Come to me, all you who are weak and weary, for my burden is light and easy,” He says to us. We should be excited day-to-day what He has for us. Have you forgotten? Has this world taken you to a path of disappointment, heartache and pain? He is calling you. He wants you to cast all your cares on Him. I will speak of it, how I am excited about what He has done and is doing. He loves you, and that is your triumph over our idols. Remember, idols are generally good things for us, but we take them, or trust them too far. When they become more important than God, then is when they became idols.

You know, I love self-condemnation, but when has it ever loved me back?

~Stranger

 

Sunday Scrutinization: Mission Minded

After writing yesterday’s post I feel a little guilty, a little worn, a little like I’m just too hard on this city we now currently reside in, a little like I am being misunderstood when I just want to explore who I am. This morning I decided to write all the things I’m thankful for about living in West Plains, and being specific regarding some of the wonderful people here who have shaped our lives. Then I went to church this morning, and my whole focus has changed.

The sermon was a review of what the church has focused on all year, and what we can look forward to next year, starting today. So he asked us what do we think of when we think of the word: missionary. There were your standard answers; sent, on mission, telling others about Christ, but he told us that we want to come to the point that if someone asked us this question, we should think of “myself”. This year we want to focus on ourselves as mission minded. He talked a bit about being missional where you are. I thought about yesterday’s post regarding all I miss in Utah, and how I have never felt mission minded while living here. Yes, I’ve worked as a teacher, and helper in children and youth ministries, and I’ve understood the impact this work can have. But, I have never gone out to work and thought: “I am on mission.”

We see a problem that no one else does and pray about being a solution to that problem. We have to engage in that culture, be a part of the culture. We have to get our resources and connections to help us be the solution. This can be where you have gone out as part of a short mission. It can be a place that was part of a presentation or somewhere you’ve read about. Or it can be the place right where you live. I’ve thought about this in a minor sense, that I’m here because God brought me here to learn, perhaps to be a small part of a group that helps those in need. I have never seen it in the big picture sense though: that I am here to serve as a missionary to serve Him and be that solution that no one else has seen. I understand that wherever we are that we are to be mission minded, but for some reason never considered it as a whole idea here. I’ve always thought of this move as temporary; as a step on our way to learn things then move on.

God never stops sending people out. He is always sending people on some mission or other. Always. Why should I consider the time I have here any different? God delivers people, then He sends them. Never alone: He is always with us. Here is here, with me, right now, in West Plains.

One verse that really struck my today is Jeremiah 29:7, “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” This is where God has taken the nation of Israel away from their land to another, as prisoners. God tells them to seek the peace, and in the NASB it says the welfare of the city. Seek the welfare of the city, and I will have welfare. Wow. I suppose you could look at this the same way for the company you work for. Seek its peace and prosperity, pray for it, and with what it gains, I will gain as well. I never thought of that, never saw it.

I am glad the Lord works out these writings and the sermons I hear the way he does. I am a bit ashamed, but at the same time glad I can look forward to an idea that He puts in my mind. I know it is a battle to be satisfied here, but these ideas will spur me on to look positively on this city and it’s works. I hope I can bring Him glory in the things I can do for Him and through Him in the time I have left here.

The last thing the sermon covered was, we can’t be an Acts 2 Christian until we become an Acts 1 one. What that means, is that we are always seeking the fellowship of the church, the bond we have as Christians that is displayed in Acts 2:42-47, and we forget about becoming the Christian that is mission minded of Acts 1:4-8. They were baptized with the Holy Spirit, then they were sent out to be “witnesses to Me [Jesus] in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Then later came the bond of fellowship and community from Acts 2. Perhaps we are getting this wrong. We join a church to meet people and to have fellowship and community, and we forget our first mission: to go out. When we try to be Acts 2, we become so inward focused that we forget about our mission.

Our assignments are to meet two people and hear their story, and to pray that God would reveal to us the thing no one else sees that we can become mission minded towards. Thank you God for opening my eyes and allowing me to be brought low so I can be lifted up, and that you are sovereign, even in my writings. I will ever praise You! I even recall the fact that I will be starting the Perspectives class in January: to be more Mission Minded!

~Stranger

Strange Confessions: Declarations of Hopeless Optimism In These Troubled Times

Strange Confessions: I’ve recently understood that what I always thought regarding my attitudes towards others is not as truly optimistic as I’ve always regarded them to be, but rather quite the opposite; I am a pessimist and I hope only recently so. Because if this is how I’ve always been, it kind of frightens me; to think I may have been a horrid pessimist always driving people who may care away from me, thinking that they chose it.

There, now that may have driven the truly uninterested away, for this is deep stuff for me, and I dare say seriously frightening for me to finally understand as well as reveal. Even though I’ve held the attitude that I have nothing to hide, knowing these things reveal much more to me than I think I wanted to know.

Last week I confessed that I enjoyed the company of children way more than adults. I surmised that I am emotionally open because of the fact if people don’t hang around me for long I can blame them because they couldn’t handle the truth. That was something I discovered as I wrote and have since searched my heart and found it to be true. I believe that this may be a recent change in the motivations of the way I am with other people because of some things that have happened in the past six or so years.

We had a friend over for supper, well actually they brought supper over to us, the other night, who is from the congregation we have recently been attending. Conversation turned to how we are… assimilating into the church. I allowed my wife to speak, for fear that I would go off on some strange tangent regarding what I wrote about last week. While I sat there, I really thought about it. Thought about why I was really so off-putting in terms of getting to know new people. To our guest, I kind of mentioned my behavior as of late, and they mentioned that I was really good at the community dinner we had a couple of months ago.

The church has a community dinner every couple of months, inviting those who are… perhaps a bit less fortunate than us(?) I told myself I was going to go there and make people feel as welcome as I could. I prayed to God to make me bold in my conversation, keeping things open and real. God was with me and in me that night, and I was happy to serve Him while serving others.

I and my family travel three hours East of us, to one of the poorest communities in Missouri, every month or so, to organize, pack, and distribute food to the people in the community there. I enjoy meeting the people who come around and those who come from other places to help out too.

We also spoke of living here, in small town West Plains. I told of my expectations when moving here that people would be interested in knowing someone who lived so far away, what life was like where I was from. No one ever said, “Really, Salt Lake City? What was that like? Where did you live? Who did you know?” That is what I talk to the kids about. What their life is like, where they live, who they know. And then there is the satisfaction of the status quo. They actually like living here, they come back and live here. There is nothing new, things are always (seemingly) the same. And they aren’t interested in the outside world. Now, I know that I am thinking in general terms here, and not everyone is like that, but it is a pervasive attitude that invades everything, and it makes me want to shake their world whenever I can. Which is rare for me. Because of what I am understanding.

As I spoke with our guest, thinking about these things I understood that I don’t trust people. Kids are honest and serve no agenda, there is nothing I need to hide. Strangers may have an agenda, but I don’t have to make myself fiercely available to them; I’ll be home soon anyway. Someone tells me that I did a good job, and I think they are just saying that because I’m the poor fellow who needs to be encouraged, so they have to say that sort of thing to me. Someone asks me how I’m doing and I believe they are fulfilling some sense of duty within themselves, and they feel better for talking to the weird guy. There is really no reason for anyone to want to get to know me, I believe. So why should I give them the benefit of knowing me when they have all they need already. They have the friends they have no need for more, especially one of such… emotional openness that is displayed through weakness and pretend shyness.

You must understand this is never something I consciously understood, but as I think about it, I see the truth in it, and it makes me sad for the sad little man I’ve become in this respect. But is this how I’ve always been? I hope not. Understanding this makes me know, at least these last few years, why I have become this way. Relationships broken. People who I thought could be trusted, but couldn’t. The evil of this world has done a number my thinking, yes? One of the “benefits” of one who thinks too much, perhaps?

With God’s leading, mercy and love for me, I’m certain things can change in this. For the relationships I need to bear with others of the faith should be more excellent than what I have been thinking about them. For this comes through in prayer, with every situation I am coming into I will pray that God will fix my thoughts on what I need to do. That I shouldn’t consider the worst in people, but only be aware of who I am in Christ, and that is all that matters.

“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” ~Phillipians 2:1-2

~Stranger

 

Strange Confessions: Shoes to Impress!

Strange Confessions: In High School I desperately wanted a pair of slip on checkerboard Vans shoes. But we could only afford the cheap knock-offs, and the one day I wore them to class, these “cool” rocker dudes caught the fakes and laughed at me. I never wore them to school again.

I went to private school all my life and never really had the chance to wear anything of my choice. That is, until I failed out of Judge Memorial and ended up going to Brighton. So, in 1984 I was able to show off my own personal style. I was a rocker, but didn’t go for the concert t-shirts and ripped jeans look.  I didn’t grow long hair, because it always just grew straight out. But, what I did have, was the standard issue stoner Mexican Baja jacket, and I did play Hacky Sack at the end of the hall during lunch and classes I was skipping.

I wasn’t much of a trend setter nor did I follow trends too strictly, but I knew what I was and where I fit in on the social scale. I wore what was comfortable and did things I found enjoyable. The one thing that I did want, that most rockers had at the time, were a pair of black and white, checkerboard, slip on, Vans sneakers. This was right before the resurgence of skate-boarder cultural phenomenon known as “The Straight Edge” movement. Oh, you say you don’t know what The Straight Edge movement was? Well, let me tell you. The Straight Edge movement was an identity that listened to the re-emerging SKA music, didn’t do drugs or alcohol, had a skate board hanging from their hand, and wore Vans slip ons. “Why is this important?” you may ask. Well, this site is not only designed to expose myself and my many foibles, share the gospel of Christ, help me be a better writer/communicator, but, as well as to educate people on a culture that may slowly be forgotten. These are just side notes, things that make you say, “Hey! I remember that. I’ll write this doofus and share my memories of that era.”

Anyway, I begged my Mom for a pair of these. I suppose I used all sorts of tactics that said I’d die without them, or everyone else is wearing them. Like I said, I didn’t generally go for the trends, but somehow, this was different. These were cool! Well, she got me a pair, but they weren’t Vans. They didn’t have that little skateboard at the back that said, “Off the Wall.” The label on the back probably said something like “Keds” or “PayLess” or “Loser”. Whatever it said, it was wrong. And I didn’t know this until later, I just liked the look of the shoe. Somebody had to have educated me on the proper way Vans looked, because I still remember my “walk of shame.”

I was sitting in the back row of class and I had to go up to the front for some reason. I had to walk between these two rocker dudes that I held to some high esteem. I forget more of how a teenagers mind works every day. Why did these dudes opinion of my shoes matter a bit to me? I don’t know, it just did. I walked forward and knew these guys had caught sight of my kicks earlier, for they were leaning into the aisle, waiting for me to pass, so they could verify whether these were authentic or not. I felt like spinning around as they passed and walking backward the rest of the way. As I passed, I could feel the evaluation going on behind my back. Then I heard the snickers and guffaws shooting out whisperingly like silenced gunshots, aiming at my weakened ego; killing me with humiliation.

That was the last day I wore them to school.

Today at church, the pastor asked us if we ever really so wanted to impress someone who we went to ridiculous lengths to do so, and this story came to mind. We were in Romans 16 and the sermon was about what do we want our pastor to say about us to others. What would he say? And does all this focus on our Lord, Jesus Christ? I would like people to think well of me, but the most important person whose opinion matters, is that of Christ. Not that any of our works makes a bit of difference in our salvation, but that we look forward to that day, when we stand before Christ eagerly wanting to hear those words, “Well done.” Who are we looking to impress? Is everything that we do centered around Christ? This has sparked in my mind my attitude at work. Everyday I walk in, thinking it’s all about me. This needs to change to “It’s all about Christ.” Obviously, I know this and have known this for quite some time, it’s just that we need reminding, over and over again. And remembering stories about how we tried to impress people, only to look the fool, reminds me that God will never consider us the fool, laugh at us, or mock us for our failings. His yoke is easy and light. The burdens we place on ourselves for others and so much even for Christ will only make us grow weary. His strength will revive us, He will go forward with us in the work of His kingdom. I will praise Him forever.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

~Stranger

Sunday Scrutinization: Unity

 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

~John 17:20-23

The congregation that I and my family have now placed ourselves in, is going through something very unique: the joining of two very different congregations.

We are still just a few months being a part of this group and there has been a request from another church in the area to join together. This other church has lost most of its leadership due to people moving away. The remaining elder has given up his post. But, it has proven difficult for him to still be a part of this church and not be seen as a leader and his is still looked at as one. He is friends with the two main elders in our church and has asked them if it was okay to sit among their congregation. The church hearing about this put forth the idea of joining with our group, as they will no longer have leaders.

We have had several meetings where we have had questions posed and what our elders expectations are for us. That we would be prophets, priests and kings among the new group. We are to seek their needs and be sensitive to what they might be going through. We have changed around schedules and meeting types to accommodate their feelings.

This other church, at least how I believe, understand and heard it, are bordering on legalism. It is no mistake of God that we have been in the final chapters of Romans for the last couple of months. Yesterday was the first time we were two churches made into one. Through some of the questions asked of the elders and in myself talking to them, I do see them leaning toward legalism.

Yet through what I have learned in these last months, I, myself, have been heading down that path, but in a much different way. We all have our tendencies to take the route of what it looks like, superficially, to be a Christian. And our expectations of others may confirm where we are headed.

But, now is not the time to dig out others differences, and expose them to the light. Now is the time to seek what unifies us. Now is the time to agree with the essential of essentials. Of course we all have our ideas of what is essential, but we need to take these from God’s Word.

This is a momentous occasion! The Church, after years of splits and hundreds of denominations and names; is unifying. Yes, in a small corner of this country we call America, but it is momentous nonetheless. I thank God for this opportunity to witness a reunification of what was never to be brought asunder. A unity that Christ Himself prayed for. That we would be united as He and the Father are united.

Pray for this situation. That we may look beyond differences and find those things that unite. That those who would want their convictions heard, would see them as less important. That we could be prophet, priest and king to each other in love and in peace. And eventually, that the world would see this, and see Christ at work, in His church. That people would believe in His church again.

~Stranger

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