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Monday
May182009

For the sake of the Story 

Since all the world is but a story,
it were well for thee to buy
the more enduring story rather than
the story that is less enduring.

(The Judgement of St. Columba of Scotland)

Here's another reason it's critical to get your heart back -- your good and noble heart: your contribution to the Grand Tale depends upon it. If you see yourself primarily as a mess -- a sinful and sorry creature whom God has to graciously tolerate -- you won't be offering your true self. And your true self is exactly what is needed.

You need the resources of your transformed heart to love well, live well, and fight well. Jesus has given you his own heart -- not a heart simply like his -- but his own heart. For the sake of the Story, take it. Nourish it. Live from it. Allow God's Spirit to awaken it.

Since this unfolding Story is about the God who is always up to something new, he will choose the new creation -- that is, your transformed heart -- as the means to advance his plot.

Without either knowing your heart is now good, or choosing it today and each day, you will remain disoriented and disconnected -- to both your grand and unveiled glory, and to the world's need for you to live from your restored and super-natural heart.  Allow this new super-natural goodness to radiate outwards, transforming you with the ever-increasing life and enticing goodness Jesus enjoyed.

The Story needs you. Not simply the forgiven you. But the unveiled you.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s
glory, are being transformed into his likeness with
ever-increasing glory; which comes from the Lord.

2 Corinthians 3:18

 

Monday
May112009

Misguided "authenticity"

Here's a quote from a missional church leader I have a great deal of respect for.  However, notice his self-description:  Is it biblical?...meaning, is it a true and accurate description of his identity in Christ?

I consider myself as the most miserable of all human beings, covered with sores, foul, and guilty of all sorts of crimes committed against my King; moved by sincere remorse I confess all my sins to him.  I ask him pardon and abandon myself into his hands so he can do with me as he pleases.  Far from chastising me, this King, full of goodness and mercy, lovingly embraces me, seats me at his table, waits on me himself, gives me the keys to his treasures, and treats me in all things as his favorite; he converses with me and takes delight in my countless ways ....Although I beg him to fashion me according to his heart, I see myself still weaker and miserable, yet even more caressed by God.

There's certainly a lot of grace here, but little restoration.  (At least, not mentioned here.)  What kind of God would pardon a person, then refuse to change them at the most basic level (the level of the heart), so that they need not repeat those crimes; and in fact, no longer have it in their nature to do so?

In fact, God has already met this person's longing to "fashing me according to his heart"  ..."I will give you a new heart."  (Ezek. 36:26).  That new heart is pregnant with new life, new desires, and a new will.  How else would he be able to relate well, if not for a transformed heart?  Sure, it will take time to learn to live from that new and supernaturally good heart -- but that will come. 

I'm concerned with a brand of 'authenticity' and 'realness' out there that takes grace seriously ("You're forgiven and loved"), but is unaware of the gracious gift of a new and radically good heart.  These attempts at being real are noble and certainly well-intended, but have missed the core of the New Covenant promise of a new heart -- a heart on which the ways of God are now written.  Why do we keep rehearsing our mess?

We must be urged to make the shift from external and behavioral compliance to internal and supernaturally-capable desire to love and relate well.  Most Christians are unaware that that shift has already happened ...within their own hearts. The desire and the ability to relate well and love wholly are there.

Let's bring this good news back to the center of our teaching, preaching and relating.  Only then will we see more of the transformation we long for.  Let's stop rehearsing our shame, and begin indulging our new appetites -- the desires of Jesus now resident in our new hearts.
------------------------------------------------------------------

Saturday
May022009

"...and please, try not to sin."

I've spent much of the last 43 years trying not to sin.

I think it's because I'm afraid.  There's been an uneasyness with sin because there's been an uneasyness with God:  "Am I really safe? Safe-enough to screw up?  Safe-enough to really blow it and remain highly-favored and in good standing with the Father?  Or will he be...disappointed?

The Church, in a wonderful journey of co-dependence, has helped me avoid sin and to fear it.  We've turned God into a behavior-modification therapist.  Most sermons are about getting people to avoid or discontinue sin.  Avoid the wrong thing, and try harder to do the right thing.  As a result, we've taught people that God is more interested in managing externals, rather than in nourishing, strengthening and encouraging a new internal reality -- the wholly new and good hearts we received when we became apprentices to Jesus.  No wonder we haven't seen the spiritual transformation we're looking for:  you can't get there from here.

Of course it is good not to yield to sin; but if that becomes the point, then most of our energies will be consumed by avoiding something, rather than living in something stronger and more life-giving.

Most parents are afraid of their children's sin and work really hard to manage their kids (think "control") so that they don't err.  As Danny Silk, author of Loving Our Kids on Purpose -- Making a Heart-to-Heart Connection indicates:  "What this reveals is that we are terrified by our children's poor choices.  We try to eliminate as many as possible."  As Silk points out, perhaps the way in which we handle our children is how we believe God handles us:  Be afraid of sin, because this isn't a safe place to fall.

But fear is never an appropriate method of transformation.  It may produce external conformity, but never inward maturity.  It certainly can't produce love itself.

I've also been enslaved to the notion that sin is more powerful than me.  As Silk indicates in Loving Our Kids On Purpose, "We still believe that sin is more powerful than we are.  When children grow up in an environment where their parents are scared of sin, they learn to fear failure."

This fear carries with it the assumption that what's exterior to me has more control over me than what is interior to me.  It's the mistaken idea that what is least true of me (I still have the capacitiy to sin, but no longer the nature to sin) is more true and powerful than an already-present and growing holiness -- a supernatural goodness -- now present within me.  That's the real me.  Ezekiel 36:26 ("I will give you a new heart and new spirit) has come to pass, in me, at the deepest level.

Fear can constrain behavior -- for a while; but it can never restore freedom.

Monday
Apr272009

"The Year of Living Biblically" - part II

After a long delay (Sorry, I got distracted), we're moving on to months 4-6 in A.J. Jacob's "year of living biblically:"

The author decides to take the command "Let your garments always be white" (Eccl. 9:8) to heart, wearing, "white pants, white T-shirts, a white sweater, and a white zip-up jacket from the Gap..." like an Hasidic John Travolta.

Though looking a bit like a nomadic pastry chef in his whites, wandering around New York City, Jacobs indicates,

"...the thing is, I'm enjoying it.  My white wardrobe makes me feel lighter, more spiritual.  Happier.  It's further proof of a major theme of this year:  The outer affects the inner.  Behavior shapes your psyche as much as the other way around.  Clothes make the man." 

What do you think?  Is the Christian journey an inside-out life, or an outside-in one?   Is there any truth to Jacob's position on this?  Which one is the New Covenant (new way) Jesus invites us into?

Monday
Apr202009

The erosion of confidence

"You'll never find the life you're looking for."

...But the sabotage begins with the painful accumulation of thoughts like these:

  •  "I didn't think it would turn out like this."
  •  "I'm tired of getting hurt.  Maybe it's not worth it."
  •  "I know you want this for me, God; but how long, Lord.  How long must it take?!"

It is hard, and it does hurt.  A person can get to the point where the only apparent conclusion is: "I'll never find what I'm looking for-- Why do others find the life they want, but I can't? Did I blow it somewhere? Is God angry?  Am I not hearing him?" And once the lies begin to calcify, some part of our heart begins to shut down. Faith, hope, and love drain out of the cheerless and weary heart.

But it feels so true. Our experience of pain can erode our confidence and hope in a way that only our experience of the moment feels true to us -- All other interpretations of reality get blotted out.  Only the subjective is allowed to be true, and any Perspective that stands outside of us is forgotten.  Faith, hope and love give way to tunnel vision... and something in us dies.

"The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives"  - Albert Schweitzer

Jesus, what do you know about our Father's heart here that I need to know?  Where does your confidence come from?

Monday
Apr132009

How spiritual transformation happens

What are the mechanics behind how we change; particularly how the new heart within us is strengthened, nourished and released?  How do we end up doing the things our restored hearts really want to do, while not yielding to false substitutes?

Invitation to the Jesus Life - Experiments in Christ-likeness, by Jan Johnson, is refreshing, gracious and full of well-textured thinking on the spiritual life.  The author suggests that God "loves [us] into goodness, drawing [us] with irresistable grace."   Loves us into goodness.

Isn't it true that when we feel most loved, pursued or valued, we are least likely to fall for lesser things?  So how do we access this loving-into-goodness life?

The means is through new habits of the heart, mind and body (spiritual disciplines), but the goal is not to become better Christians, the author surprisingly points out.  The goal is connecting with God.  When we connect, we receive love, and the Spirit does the transforming.  We, as Dallas Willard suggests, are then becoming the kinds of persons who naturally do and say the things Jesus did and said.  It is an outflow of experiencing love, not conjuring up good religious behavior.

Though the author of Invitation to the Jesus Life doesn't necessarily frame the process in the following way, I would suggest that as we connect with God (through redemptive habits) we experience his affection, and the Spirit nourishes and releases the goodness he seeded within our new hearts at conversion.  The point is connecting with God, not trying to become a better Christian.

Monday
Apr062009

Healing our identity

We're often told to "find your identity in Christ alone" so that we don't take our need for validation to other, false substitutes.  I think that's a good idea; but I think most of us don't get the follow-up conversation we need on this issue.

For example, "What the heck does that mean?  How am I supposed to 'find my identity only in Christ?'  Do I pray more?  -  Try harder to think how much God loves me when I feel wounded?" 

How do you obtain an "in Christ alone" identity?" Here are two things that come to me:

1.  It's about being a daughter or a son, first.  More than what we can offer the world by means of our giftedness or calling, we first rest in, then offer our identity as sons and daughters of God.  This is often particularly difficult for me, as I want you to tell me how much what I do for you means.  I want to find validation in how much you respect me as a writer and teacher.  But this can never, no matter how much our gifts are genuinely needed, heal our identities.  We must find confidence in our identities as sons and daughers, first.

2.  It's about hearing our new name.  Abram becomes 'Abraham.'  Jacob becomes 'Israel.'  Saul becomes 'Paul.'  The new name expresses your new identity, uniqueness, and what you mean to God in a way that no one else does.  It is your particularity.  Hearing your new name helps heal the wounds -- those blows that were designed to take you out of play and to prevent you from offering what the world needs from you.  As for me, I remember God whispering, "Jim, you are my Aragorn."  He may not ever whisper that to you, but he knew what it would mean for me to hear that.

Listen, daughter or son, and rest there.

Then listen for your new name.  It is waiting for you.

 

Monday
Mar302009

Survival Tool - Building a memory library

Held hostage for 1,967 days in the Columbian jungle.

The plane that was carrying the three American contract workers crashed in the dense jungles of Columbia.   Surviving the crash was only the beginning of what was to come.  Tom, Marc and Keith (and their pilot and Columbian co-worker) immediately found themselves in a hot zone ruled by the FARC -- a notorious terrorist organization known for kidnappings, drug trafficking, hostage-taking, and murdering innocent civilians. 

The FARC quickly swarmed out of the jungle towards the crumpled aircraft -- beginning Day One of a five-year plus captivity for the three men in the jungles of Columbia.  (The pilot and the Columbian on board with the three were immediately separated from the group.  Later, news reached the three Americans that their friends had been executed by the FARC.)

In order to cope with the dehumanizing madness of captivity, one of the American contractor hostages created what he called a "library of memories," a virtual collection of moments and recollections of his family back home, childhood memories, and pre-captivity life.  The FARC guerrillas could take away his freedom of movement, institute 40-day forced marches, put him in chains, or refuse him the right to empty his bowels in private, but they could not take away what was inside his head.  That "library of memories" was a virtual room he could walk into at any moment and pull a memory off the shelf. 

As I read their account, I was struck by how helpful this could be during moments or chapters of spiritual disorientation:  those times where God seems cruel or absent, and appears to be markedly silent; when what I hope for feels like it will never come.  So I created my own library of memories.  The "spines" on some of my titles read: 

  • Lynn -- Here She Is, Jim.
  • Olivia & Nate:  Gifts
  • Rafting Rescue
  • Chosen -- Len Sweet
  • Peterborough Confirmed
  • Dwight's Endorsement

When I forget the history of God's compassionate intervention in my life, I go to my library and pull off a title from the shelf.

What book titles would be in your "library of memories?"

Friday
Mar272009

New Facebook Group

I've created a new Group on Facebook called, THE GOOD & NOBLE HEART; for those who have discovered that the offer of Jesus is far more than forgiveness. "Grace" is the gift of a new, good, and noble heart. The Gospel is about the heart.  

Some great discussions are taking place! 
Check it out here.

Sunday
Mar222009

Not about pragmatics

"There is a stage in the spiritual life in which we find God in ourselves -- this presence is a created effect of his love.  It is a gift of His, to us."  - Thomas Merton

Something bothers me about his quote: "There is a stage...." might imply that God's presence only enters us at a certain point of the Christian life, causing one to wonder if he or she has reached that stage.  But this may not have been what Merton meant.  Perhaps he meant that there is a point in which you become acutely aware that God is within you, though he's been there ever since you let him in.

There is also something beautiful about the quote:  the idea that "this presence is a created effect of his love.  It is a gift of His, to us."  Here's another way of saying that, "I am in you because I love you."

Not just to get something done.

Not merely for the sake of others.

Not to shape you up.

Rather, "I am in you, foremost, because I love you."

Tuesday
Mar172009

Sniffing out the gospel that will wear you out

About fifteen years ago, while I was  in grad school, I "attended a church" just off campus.  Without fail, I left that building each Sunday with the same sensation:  spiritual heaviness.  The unspoken message being delivered was, "You're simply not measuring up to expectations."  Without fail, that same experience has repeated itself in nearly every "church" experience, conference, retreat, or organized gathering of Christians since then.

 At the time, I had no words to articulate what was going on, but I now have a well-developed internal filter -- a warning flag, a nose for sniffing out false substitutes.  (After a while, your heart says, "No more!  This can't be all there is.")  At the center of what I experienced each Sunday was the effect of the partial gospel.  Sometimes it isn't the Gospel at all; and in any case, it is a "gospel" that will wear you out. 

This false substitute goes by several monikers:  "the religious spirit," "religious legalism," "the gospel of religious duty and shame," or "living under Law."  Whatever its name, it is not what Jesus came to offer.  All you have to do is look at its fruit:  defeated Christians, fleeting personal transformation, frenzied activity substituting for apprenticeship at Jesus' side, and a meager affect upon the culture we hope to transform.

So how does one develop this early warning system, that ability to sniff out false substitutes?  Well, how does your heart react in those situations?  Do you experience:

  • Spiritual pressure to measure up to expectations.
  • Spiritual heaviness.
  • You suspect God, is in fact, not really pleased with you.
  • You're constantly being asked by leadeship to be more committed.
  • Every message is about getting you to do something, or to stop doing something.
  • The leadeship is more concerned with managing people's sin, than releasing a new life that is now within them.
  • No one ever talks about the heart, and when they do, it is with suspicion -- even in the case of the believer.

What have you experienced when you've encountered a substitute "gospel?"

Tuesday
Mar102009

And the word became...you.

There was more than one incarnation.  Jesus wasn't the first word that God made flesh.  There were many before him, and many since.  He was simply the fullest, unhindered and truest incarnation of God's speaking.

God creates by speaking:  Power goes out,  creativity happens.  When God wants to get something done, he speaks. Whatever it is -- an orchid, a zebra, a person -- he voices it and something is formed.

You, too, are a spoken incarnation, a living word (small "w," of course).  As Robert Benson suggests in his book, The Echo Within - Finding Your True Calling, there is an incarnate word that has been spoken into you from day one.   And that incarnate word is unique to you.  (Your new heart is at the center of your unique identity.)  Since God had something specific in mind that his world needed, he voiced that specific thing into you:  "Now I will give the world what it needs through the incarnate word, "your name here".

When God works in a person, he does it in them, as them.  You express something God wants to say, but he does so as you, not simply in you.  He is making his ongoing incarnation personal.  There is nothing generic about it.  As God uniquely and supremely made a statement in the fleshed-out Word, Jesus, so he continues to make a statement in you, as you.  You are the new fleshed-out word.

And the word became...you.

Monday
Mar022009

Religious moralism

Certain things make the hair on the back of my neck bristle. 
Religious moralism
is one of them.

The pastor of the church where I had previously led a men's event approached me and said, "Hey.  Just wanted to let you know we received a complaint in the office..."

This was a church where I had led an on-campus men's retreat.  As was my custom, I offered the guys cigars after the session was over.  It helps dispel the notion that Christian guys just don't do that kind of thing, and lets the men know this isn't a religious thing we're after. 

So the pastor of that church went on to say that someone found out we had smoked cigars (on church grounds) after the event.  He said he, "personally didn't have a problem with that kind of thing" but that it could cause some guys to "stumble."  (Now, I'm not personally aware of a 12-step group for cigar smokers.) I also told him I never make it an obligation, only an option, for those who want to stay afterwards and enjoy a cigar and some comraderie.

The pastor continued by telling me we could go off-campus or to someone's house if we wanted to enjoy cigars. Well, isn't that gracious and accomodating.

When I, with neck hairs bristling, said this religious moralism was exactly the kind of thing the world hates about the church, he said, "Well, I have to relate to various groups of people in the church..." -- meaning, "Even though my personal convictions tell me there's nothing wrong with this, I'm too timid to confront the Pharisee that made the complaint."

Ever been in a fellowship or church where this kind of religious moralism became obvious to you?  Would this kind of thing happen if the biblical notion of a believer's new heart had been taught?

Thursday
Feb262009

Enough ... already.

Ours is an Already Gospel. Certain things are now settled fact.  Through the rescuing work of Christ, not only did something happen for you, something happened to you -- something that goes way beyond the forgiveness of sins.  An interior revolution took place.  An already reality:

  • Your heart was made good...already.
  • You are pure...already.
  • You measure up ... already.
  • You make God's heart glad ... already.

Why don't most of us feel this is true of us?  It is because the "gospel" we've been handed is the "Not yet gospel:" 

  • You're not yet doing enough for God. (More accurately, for your church.)
  • You're not yet righteous.
  • Your heart is not yet radiant, strong and blameless.
  • You're not yet pleasing.

The actual Gospel will feel too good to be true because you've been fed a distortion for so long.

Monday
Feb232009

"The Year of Living Biblically" - part one

What would it be like to live out, as literally as possible, every command in the Bible -- including the command to stone adulterers and the one about not wearing garments with mixed fibers?  Or, to never trim your beard.  (Ladies, you can opt out of this one.)  Well, my friend, you've come to the right place. A.J. Jacobs has written a very funny book, The Year of Living Biblically, about his attempt to live out those hundreds of commands as literally as possible, for one year.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we're dividing this book into four chunks.  Chunk one is this week.  What I'm particularly after in our discussion is:  What are the assumptions the author has about how a person becomes "good?"  What is the point of being good?  And, what is God really after?

Part One (First 3 months of Jacob's biblical year)
First off, what was your favorite anecdote from the first part of the book?  I particularly enjoyed Jacob's hunt to pick up tips on the internet for blowing his new shofar ram's horn:

  • "Separate the lips as if you were making a raspberry."
  • "Keep your jaw in the position you would if you were spitting a watermelon seed."
  • "If you do wet them [your lips] too much, spittle is best removed from the shofar by a coffee brush or an aquarium brush." 

Good tips.

Preparing for his biblical year:
In preparation for his "biblical year," Jacobs said, "I type into my PowerBook every rule, every guideline, every suggestion, every nugget of advice I find in the Bible.  When I finish, I have a very long list.  It runs seventy-two pages.  More than seven hundred rules."  Jacobs does say that, obviously, not every rule in the Bible can be acted upon literally -- like gouging your eyes out if they offend you.  Or the one about becoming a eunich for Christ.  You'd lose a lot of body parts that way.  Instead, he's looking for the original intent:  "If the passage is unquestionably figurative -- and I'm going to say the eunich one is -- then I won't obey it literally.  But if there's any doubt whatsoever... I will err on the side of being literal.

  1. As Jacobs pours over his list of over 700 "rules," he says, "But plenty of other rules [other than the common ones like no lying, love your parents, etc.] don't seem like they'll make me more righteous at all."  (p. 8)   What assumptions do you think are behind Jacob's statement here, or his biblical year project as a whole?
  2. So far, in the first quarter of the book, Jacobs contends that, although there are benefits of trying to live biblically, he still remains agnostic.  In fact, one of his spiritual advisors, Robert, warns him, "You're going into this thinking that it's like studying the sumo wrestlers in Japan," Roger says, "You're saying to yourself, 'I won't really become one [a true follower].  I'll maintain my distance.'"  (p. 36) What's the problem with Jacob's approach to living biblically?
  3. On page 15, Jacobs says, 'I can't do anything without fear I'm breaking a biblical law."  And on page 17, "I was so busy obsessing over the rules..."  Has there been a time in your journey with God that you felt captive to rule-keeping?
  4. Jacobs tells us his plan is in keeping with the theory of cognitive dissonance he learned about in college:  "This says, in part, if you behave in a certain way, your beliefs will eventually change to conform to your behavior....If I act like I'm faithful and God loving for several months, then maybe I'll become faithful and God loving." (p.21)  Do you think this approach works?  Does it work at all?

 

The Year of Living Biblically - part one

Thursday
Feb192009

Satisfying your heart's hunger

The best antidote for sin is a deeply-satisfying life. Not an easy life; nor a life in which all our longings are met at this moment; but a meaningful life. Your heart is looking for meaning and life. Ours is a Gospel of life: "“All the growth of the Christian is the more and more life he is receiving,” says the old poet George MacDonald. 

Cutting ourselves off from legitimate pleasures will only weaken us.  Here's what Dallas Willard says on this:

Normally, our success in overcoming temptation will be easier if we are basically happy in our lives. To cut off the joys and pleasures associated with our bodily and social existence as "unspiritual,' then, can actually have the effect of weakening us in our efforts to do what is right."

As much as you are able, give your heart what it needs. For me, that means regular, meaningful conversation. It also means a frequent intake of beauty and nature, as well as solitude -- I don't want to hear the sound of a car or see a McDonalds for miles around. Just nature. When my heart is receiving these gifts I am less likely to yield to false substitutes.

In fact, George MacDonald, who influenced C.S. Lewis more than any other writer, suggested that we sin when we give ourselves over to anything that is less than us: “A man is in bondage to whatever he cannot part with that is less than himself."   Notice the gracious and noble view MacDonald holds of the redeemed person. We are of such worth to God that to give in to anything less than our own worth is sin. You don’t fill new wineskins with poor wine, or healthy bodies with synthetic foods, or noble minds with depraved images. It’s not what we were meant for because those things are less than ourselves.

How about you?  Try listing three things your heart needs for life and nourishment.

_______________________
_______________________
_______________________ 


Sources:

  1. George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons
  2. Dallas Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines
  3. C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald – Anthology, (New York: HarperCollins, 2001).

 

Thursday
Feb122009

Stronger than you think

It's a myth that you're either strong or weak at any given moment, resilient or vulnerable.  Because our minds don't easily entertain paradox -- "How could I be simultaneously both weak and strong?" -- we feel we must be either one or the other. 

It's not true.

In his book, The Survivors Club, Ben Sherwood  tells us we've misunderstood the survivor personality, concluding of ourselves, "I could never be like that person who survived that trauma.  They're obviously stronger than I, more resilient.  I'd never make it."

The truth is, according to one of the experts on survival the author quotes, "...many experts -- and the media -- want to believe that people are either resilient or vulnerable, strong or weak, healthy or sick.  In reality, people combine all these qualities."  (p. 180)  

You are stronger and have more reserves at your disposal than you think.  If we factor in the supernatural reserves of your new heart, born in you when you said 'yes' to Jesus, you have an unearthly strength you've never imagined.  You are resilient, though wounded.  Brave, though fearful.  Confident, though hiding. 

"For when I am weak, then I am strong."  - Apostle Paul

 

Tuesday
Feb032009

What gets written ...

We're living in the wrong verse... unaware of how God writes.

What gets written can't be erased.  It must be replaced

A sculptor's chisel that slips and gouges a trough in the stone can't undo what it's done.  The chisel's work is permanent.  The tatoo artist's needle can't recall the ink from the skin:  It has been absorbed as forever-dyed flesh.  When humanity's faithless hoaring gouged, ruined and seared the heart, it could not be re-written:

"Judah's sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of their hearts ..."  (Jeremiah 17:1). 

The problem is, most Christians are still living here.  They have been taught to sit down in that chapter, especially the verse that follows only 8 verses later:  "The heart is deceitful above all things..."  (Jer. 17:9) 

But remember, what gets written on the heart can't be erased:  It must be replaced.  More specifically, you don't keep painting on a dirtied canvass:  You replace the canvass first, then continue painting.  You replace the heart first, then continue writing its story there.   As followers of Jesus, reborn supernaturally, we've got to make the transition to a later passage in Jeremiah, leaving Jeremiah 17:9 behind:

"I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah... I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts."  (Jeremiah 31:31, 33). Even before God declares a new way of relating (new covenant), he expresses his intent: "I will give them a heart to know me ... for they will return to me with all their heart."  (Jer. 24:7)

How can you return to God with all your heart when the heart is deceitful above all things -- Gouged, ruined?  Or, how can you return to him with all your heart when you believe your heart is still deceitful above all things?  You cannot.  It is a crippling assumption most Christians still hold because they have been taught that they still live in Jeremiah 17:9. 

What gets written cannot be erased.  It must be replaced.   God replaces the ruined heart with a good, pure and noble heart.  (Ezekiel 36:26)  There is new writing on this heart.  A new way.  You do know God, you do want him.  Within the heart he gave you, Christian, there are supernatural kindnesses, passions, and courages you never thought possible. 

He has done his best writing in you.

Monday
Jan262009

"The Year of Living Biblically"

Book study: The Year of Living Biblically -- One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible -- by A.J. Jacobs

From the author's website:
"The Year of Living Biblically
answers the question: What if a modern-day American followed every single rule in the Bible as literally as possible. Not just the famous rules – the Ten Commandments and Love Thy Neighbor (though certainly those). But the hundreds of oft-ignored ones: don’t wear clothes of mixed fibers. Grow your beard. Stone adulterers."

This is a funny book and will expose commands in the Bible you've never heard of: like the admonition not to wear clothing of mixed fibers, or "If you are in a fistfight with another man, and his wife grabs your private parts, you "shall cut off her hand." (Deuteronomy 25:11-12). Another rule you won't find engraved outside many courthouses," says the author. -- Yes...that's in the Bible.

Why study this book?
Here's what I'm after.... What are the assumptions the author makes about how people really change? How they connect with God. Is he right?

How will we proceed?
We'll divide the book into four chunks (like four quarters of the author's biblical year), since there are no real chapters. We'll allow plenty of time to read each chunk, then I'll post some questions on this blog for us to comment on. Sound good?

Let me know if you're interested. I've already got one interested taker.

Click here to read more about The Year of Living Biblically.

Jim

Monday
Jan192009

What is Jesus restoring?

What is Jesus up to?  What is he longing to give?

"Now these three remain:  faith, hope and love."  

The problem with this passage is that it's too familiar.  We hear, "Faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love."  Blah, blah, blah.  Nice wedding sermon.  Wonderful ideals.  Where's the reception buffet?

But I began reconsidering this trio of bottom-line values.  Not the concept of faith, hope and love; nor the theological ideals of faith, hope and love.  Rather, the faith, hope and love of Jesus himself - the confidence that Jesus has.

If that's what's at the bottom of it all, after all else is sifted away, when immature and undeveloped humanity is finally whole, when mirrors are no longer needed...then there must be something more weighty about faith, hope and love than I'd assumed.  These three must be at the heart of what Jesus is up to.

The offer -  this side of the veil - is faith, hope and love.  It is what is needed until Alpha becomes Omega and unseen is seen.  Faith, as John Ortberg suggests is not the absence of doubt:  rather, faith (with all it's questions and doubt) is exactly what you have when you don't have the longed-for thing, or person, fully in front of you.  You don't expect faith to see fully.  Faith, for now, is the way we see.

And hope is the confidence, the settled agreement, that behind the mystery is not a crotchety and manipulative Wizard of Oz, who has no real power but only billows of smoke and clanging machinery; but, rather, hope is a Father who aches until his children are brought into his own happiness.  Hope is what you have when your desires feel caged and wounded, rather than loosed and liberated.  Hope is what you have this side of the veil.

And love is what you have on both sides.  Perhaps it is why love is the greatest of the three.

Therefore, because that trio is at the heart of what God is giving us now, these three are precisely what the Enemy is trying to sabotage. The ruined ones come to ‘steal, kill and destroy” what, exactly? …our faith, hope, and love.  In the place of faith, hope and love, the Enemy brings in false substitutes, as he often does:

  1. Against faith -- Striving -- and it's message: “I must provide what God is withholding.” Striving occurs when we no longer believe our deep desires matter to God.
  2. Against hope --  Despair & resignation --  and the message: “This is the way things really are. Things are only as they seem.”
  3. Against love -- Shame -- and the message:  "The story isn’t turning out liked I’d hoped for because there’s something wrong with me." Or, the Enemy brings abandonment and it's message:  "I’m on my own: no one is fighting for me."

 

Be vigilant for those ways in which God is offering you faith, hope and love.
And, be ready for the ways in which the Ruined One is trying to steal them from you.  The armor of God is real -- and available for times such as these -- clothe yourself with it.

It's also helpful to ask Jesus what he knows about the Father's heart and movements in our lives that would restore our confidence. 

He is giving, even now.