Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Do You See the Test?

INESCAPABLE. Reality is unavoidable if living an abundant life is our serious goal. Truth is inexorably relevant for understanding and exploring purpose. Purpose is the underpinning premise of life. And yet, what comes with the territory of truth, purpose, the abundant life, and reality, is the test.
If we’re alive in Christ — awake in the Spirit, I mean — then we may say that, even though God does not tempt us, He does allow life’s circumstances to test us. We can say this is true, because that’s how life works.
Tests. They’re part of the routine, run-of-the-mill, ordinary, day-by-day life. They come cloaked in obviousness as much as they’re often unanticipated. Hindsight sees tests far better than foresight does.
And what does the test require? The right response, of course.
Now the apostle Peter had different things in mind when he wrote this:
“Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.
— 1 Peter 3:16 (NRSV)
But it applies equally the same regarding tests. If our conscience is clear, and we’re able to see the test for what it is, then we have the capacity to respond maturely in love rather than react in the immaturity of fear. When? Importantly, not if, but when.
The test of discipleship is how well we accept and embrace the presence of tests.
If we can see the tests of life as the proving ground of our trust, we won’t resent them. We may be blessed with awareness of tests, and of faith to surrender in the presence of them.
What could be better than experiencing a test, seeing it for what it is, and responding well? This is the proving of our faith.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Courage When Hope Continues to Disappoint

SEASONS of life come and go, and in God’s goodness there’s a variety of them. But what about when what we hope for continues to elude us?
Proverbs 13:12 (NRSV) says,
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
Some hopes remain elusive for years. Some never materialise. However hard this concept is to accept, we’re counselled to hold in tension the truth that God has good plans for us. Part of those plans, I’m sure, is how He makes us sturdier of spirit for having been disappointed; for having had the courage to take reality on; having the courage to accept hopes that may/will never eventuate.
There are hopes we all have that continue to disappoint us, some ultimately so. And so what do we do with these unreconciled dreams?
Some wither and fade over time, and we don’t need to do anything apart from be patient. Other hopes deferred continue to harass us, especially when, in every conceivable reality, those hopes are realistic, even doable. Unfortunately, there are also some hopes we harbour that are unrealistic, and it’s worse still when we don’t quite have the courage to face those realities, especially when we suspect our cowardice.
A hope deferred is an ambiguous loss, which is a loss that confounds us because we don’t have the assurance of loss. Sometimes it’s best to simply know a hope is lost and not be left hanging.
We need patience and courage when hopes continue to disappoint.
Here’s a model prayer to help us based off the Serenity Prayer:
Lord, give me patience to wait for the hopes that haven’t arrived yet, courage to let go of unrealistic hopes, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Casting Stones at Self-Condemnation

Recently, as I considered an old truth in a new way, God struck me with fresh insight. It was simply this: deeper beneath our anxiety we often propagate self-condemnatory thinking which is always based in a lie. It can only damage us.
The truth is, theologically speaking, we can only and do only ever condemn ourselves. We may try to condemn others, but, in that act, we only end up condemning ourselves.
But condemnation is a ruse.
In Christ, condemnation was vanquished long ago. God condemns us not. Nor are we to condemn others. So, why do we go the unscriptural route of condemning ourselves?
And, still, we do so. We judge ourselves and render unreconcilable things resolvable through scapegoatism. We take too much responsibility because others don’t take their share, and such a ‘resolution’ costs us anxiety, because we condemn ourselves. Into the convent of victimhood we go, to be shut up in insufferable silence indefinitely.
Until we see we’re living an anti-relational lie. Self-condemnation only ruins relationships.
Biblically, we can no sooner condemn ourselves than anyone else. The purpose of the gospel spreads far beyond the inner intrusiveness of self-condemnation, because the gospel is outwardly oriented, ever convicting lives of the purpose beyond condemnation.
We disobey God when we suffer ourselves to the extent of self-condemnation. It’s such an unjust paradox. We feel our guilt justifies in God’s holy sight, when the opposite reality is what He seeks.
God cannot give us the peace we pray for in our anxiety, if what’s feeding our anxiety is self-condemnation.
If we’re given to anxiety, we should quickly make a thorough precis of whether we’re self-critical of ourselves or not. Many Christians actively engage in this. They don’t understand that God’s kindness leads us to repent — and thereafter, no guilt and no condemnation is to be felt. We’re to feel forgiven, knowing that we are. God never condemns us, ever, because of Christ.[1]
Into freedom we’ve been reborn through Christ, to flourish within His Kingdom that restores us.
We cannot live freely when we’re tormented by guilt replete with self-condemnation.
The Lord implores us to move on in the resurrection freedom He died for to give us.
It is wrong to cast stones at sinners, but sins are to be pelted with them.

[1] Now, people may ultimately condemn themselves for not accepting Christ. There is no condemnation this side of death.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Becoming the Person We’re Becoming

Dr Caroline Leaf says that what we think about most, grows. It is a truth that pierces the heart and compels understanding. Too often I have lazily allowed negative thoughts to grow to the point of overwhelming me. You too may ascend in agreement. If not, this article is not for you.
Becoming the person we’re becoming is a process, and such is the patience of God, we may routinely relearn and retake lessons.
When we learn the product of our negative thinking we begin to see the urgency in the truth: what we think about most, grows. The pain we’ve endured takes us deeper into the purposes of hardship; lessons hard learned should avail to us resolute realities. One of those realities is we soon get sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.
Such is the impetus that convinces us to relearn and retake our lessons.
The James’ double-mindedness comes to bear upon the negative mind, for none of us enjoy being the procurer of our own destruction. Knowing this compels us forward on a different trajectory.
We try again. Starting over, we investigate the possibility of reframing our thoughts. We meditate on His Word — those that speak to us — day and night. And one of those, among the many, the Lord instructs me, comes this time from a children’s book.
Whatever is lovely.
Here is the truth in its New Testament glory.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.— Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
Think about such things.
Another version of the Bible — an Australian English — says, “whatever gives pleasure… then turn [this] over in your mind.” (Under the Southern Cross version) How wonderful when we find pleasure in the simplest of loves, knowing God loves us. That that is all that really matters.
If what we think about most, grows, then as we think about whatever is lovely, love is what grows from within us.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

To Be Healed We Must First Accept We’re Sick

Having spent the first thirteen years of my Christian journey living as if I was already healed, having no idea I was further from healing than ever, because of my legalistic faith, I then began my trek to Christ, finally.
Sure, I’d attended church, Bible studies, done service, prayed and read the Bible a whole lot. Yet I’d grown not one bit. In fact, I had backslidden in the faith, even if I did spasmodically act Christianly. I had a grasp on the Scriptures but no idea about faith or grace. I had missed the point. And my life reflected that.
I was, in my own eyes, righteous. I really had no business with Jesus. And I really didn’t know how far from His Kingdom I was. Jesus could have no business with me until I finally woke up — I was (and am) a sinner.
My world had fallen apart. Jesus was all I had left. I’d so neglected my relationship with Jesus. I never even realised that faith in Jesus was a relationship and not rules. That Jesus didn’t require me to be perfect, and I no longer had to pretend I was. He was my perfection.
Only when I had nothing left, when I was desperate enough to reach out, not as a ‘righteous’ person, but as a sinner, did I begin to appreciate and experience the grace that saves. The grace that is the easy yoke of Christ, lightening the burden life had become.
That day, and those months of days, when I implored God for His help, I found He had called me from long ago. I was now welcome in His church. And finally, the church could help me heal.
I spoke with a lady at a church function, who, having recovered from heroin addiction, still struggling from mental illness and much brokenness because of copious rejection, had a pastor’s wife say to her once, “you’re different to us…” as if to say “you don’t belong here.”
We’re surprised to hear such things, but we shouldn’t be. We’re all sinners.
The truth is she, if anyone, belonged. And we all belong if we can answer this question in the affirmative: “Are you someone who hasn’t got their life all together?” Anyone who can say ‘yes’ to that question belongs in the church within the Kingdom of God.
Jesus calls those who realise they’re incomplete without Him; who recognise their need of God’s help.
Jesus’ help is free and priceless, but we must see our need of Him, to accept we’re sick to submit to His healing.
The greatest encouragement we could ever contemplate is we’re in constant need of healing — all of us. Only Jesus can help.

Monday, February 20, 2017

When I Least Expect It, Then HE Will Come

Sitting up at 2.15 in the morning, all of life seeming not quite right, just feeling a little stuck, I wait, and He just doesn’t come. Not yet. I search His Word. I ponder. I wait. Patiently, it seems. And still God does not come.
It’s not the first time. I’ve got a long history of reaching out to God. I’m pretty good at it now. He normally comes. But times like these, with a sore body, a troubled mind that just won’t sleep, a heart trying its best to hope, and a finesse that evades conscious awareness, the test is to wait.
Concern for tiredness could consume me, but I need to trust that what sleep I lose I will gain somewhere, somehow. Or, that I’ll make it through somehow.
I know the Spirit of God and He knows me. He’s there as much as He is real, even if I cannot feel Him right now. He is more often than not palpably present. I’m thankful for that. I can sense a quiet resolve within me, which in and of itself is a great encouragement. Yet, still, I am not right. I don’t feel right. But that’s okay. God has shown me it’s okay to not feel right. That it’s good to feel weak.
I have learned that when God seems missing, He has gone missing for a reason. He requires of me a search, for I cannot live contentedly without Him. He is my peace, my solace, my comfort, my friend. From Him I came, and to Him I will go. He who has released me into this world has never let go of me, and soon enough I will return to Him.
But, in the meantime, He has given me a purpose in this world: to find Him, to journey with Him, to walk with Him and not ahead of Him.
So, I wait, and when I least expect Him, then He will come.
Usually, in the morning after I have slept.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

God won’t Allow what won’t Ultimately be Good for Us (Yep, Needs a Better Title)

Like many people, I hate clichés. When people simplify what can only ever be inordinately complex it does nothing to help the situations of suffering people find themselves in — whether it’s completely their own fault or totally out of their control, or myriad nuances of combination between.
But I hold to this crucial exception.
I’ve heard God speak into my life the words of the title of this article. Hearing these words from another person, amid my own suffering, would not have been helpful. Yet there is a difference when God convicts us by His Holy Spirit.
Another part to this exception is this biblical truth. When we have no hope left, nothing visible, only a hope vested in faith, the only hope we have left is God’s goodness — that what we’ve been asked to endure will ultimately work out as good for us.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for
 and assurance about what we do not see.”
— Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)
Having experienced this personally, we no longer reduce it, in our personal circumstances, to the banal even harmful effect of a cliché. The cliché becomes significant. It gives us life and purpose.
There have been times in my life when all I had to hope in was that what God had allowed in His sovereignty He could turn to my ultimate good; through character growth. (And besides, of course, there is the ‘ultimate good’, in a believer’s conception, in being eternally with God when we’re ultimately gone.)
The difference between our positive and negative reception of the truth in Romans 8:28[1] is who says it. If God says it, all should be well. If someone else says it, and it depends on many variables, including our perception of whether they care or not, we can be either offended as if it were a plastic platitude cast nonchalantly our way, or we can be encouraged to press on. That this is a character growth opportunity.
Sometimes we simply have to believe that God can make something good for us out of something bad. And believing this helps us endure, because it gives us hope when we have none.

[1] And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Daily Contemplation Prayers for Power and Direction

Father in heaven, Lord of my life in Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit’s power,
YOUR PRESENCE – inhale fresh air, breathe the words out slowly
In this, my daily prayer, as I sit/stand/kneel before You, I hope to know You, today, by Your Presence and Power in my life. This is my first prayer. As a Christ follower, I need You. I need You close to me, giving me Your protection and provision, and inviting me into You even as I experience same.
Teach me by Your Spirit, a correct worship, a holy way for living my life for Your glory. Place within me Your Sabbath Rest as I still myself and allow You to be God over my entire life — the fullest sense of worship — over my present moment, now.
I AM STILL – inhale fresh air, breathe the words out slowly
YOUR GRACE – inhale fresh air, breathe the words out slowly
My second prayer, Lord, is help me know how unworthy I am in and of myself, today, apart from Jesus, whose grace has saved me, and who makes me wholly worthy. Convince me so that I know I’m not as good as I think I am, and help me understand I’m not the victim my double-mindedness wants me to believe and propagate. Help me see Satan’s wiles and snares, so in that moment I can call on You, Lord. Make me also to see my pocket entitlement; that rather than thinking I deserve this or that, that in truth I deserve nothing, but are given everything already in Christ.
I AM CHRIST’S – inhale fresh air, breathe the words out slowly
YOUR AWARENESS – inhale fresh air, breathe the words out slowly
My third prayer is that You would help me not hurt anyone, today, for I have such a dangerous tongue, and, that if I do, You’ll give me the awareness and the courage to be able to make quick amends. Save others from me, Lord — the me without You. I am a person of unclean lips so susceptible to feeling hurt. God, make me more mature. But also, make me gentler on myself. May there be integrity between Your Word as I meditate on it, and the words my lips utter.
I AM AWARE – inhale fresh air, breathe the words out slowly
YOUR PRAISE – inhale fresh air, breathe the words out slowly
Give me the cognisance of Your grace that created the heavens and the earth, Lord. Bring before me the awareness of Your awesomeness, and bring forth instinctive praise from my lips. Cause gratitude to well up like a bubbling spring from deep within my soul. Sustain me in that joy. This, my fourth prayer, I can pray, today, having gotten some truths off my chest. Help me turn negatives into positives, Father. Enable me to replace anxieties and uncertainties with stillness and security, in You, for You who created all creation can create anything by the law of love.
I AM IN AWE – inhale fresh air, breathe the words out slowly
YOUR TRUTH – inhale fresh air, breathe the words out slowly
Oh Lord, help me to carry the awareness of my sin ever before me, not so I may be condemned — because I know I’m not — but that through knowing the truth, that the truth would set me free. You have taught me, Lord, that it’s only when I see the log in my own eye that I do not notice the speck in the others’ eye that otherwise proves unhelpful. Thank You for the glorious gift of this wisdom. This, today, my fifth prayer.
I AM HONEST – inhale fresh air, breathe the words out slowly
YOUR WISDOM – inhale fresh air, breathe the words out slowly
And, today, more wisdom. My sixth prayer is for wisdom, Lord. I lack it so much. The errors of my sinful nature have revealed this truth to me, God. You put people into my life, and You put me into life situations, that I would depend on You by drawing on them to discern Your way for my life. Show me how to keep proper perspective in when and how to draw upon others without living a life dependent on others making my decisions for me. In the moment, help me reconcile the wisdom I so clearly lack.
I AM DEPENDENT – inhale fresh air, breathe the words out slowly
YOUR PROTECTION – inhale fresh air, breathe the words out slowly
My seventh and final prayer, Lord, is for safety and health, today, for everyone in my world; my wife, my children, my family, my friends, my work colleagues, to the extent of everyone I know. Direct our paths to safety, God. Bless us and keep us, Lord.
I AM SAFE – inhale fresh air, breathe the words out slowly
In Jesus’ mighty name, I pray these prayers,

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Encouragement from a Biblical Character’s Discouragement

Reading Job there’s encouragement, maybe never more so when we feel like Job. In chapter 3, for instance, Job is given to lament his existence, hating the fact of his birth.
Consider this sample:
“Why is light given to one burdened with grief,
and life to those whose existence is bitter?”
(v. 20)
This whole chapter Job appears practically suicidal. He reveals just how we all feel when we’re encamped in grief. Everyone in grief has surely experienced something of what Job 3:20 is talking about having woken from their sleep and wanting desperately to return to unconsciousness.
As we read His Word, especially in that Joban position, God ministers to us through His Spirit. We’re encouraged by someone else’s lament. Their discouragement is a source of our encouragement, and this is the way God heals us in community — through shared experience.
When we feel less isolated
we’re able to cope better with suffering.
When we read of another’s plight
we don’t feel so alone.
As we’re coupled to an empathic community, God’s mercy is felt as His comfort flows.
The Bible in our world is that community of God where many biblical characters are mentors. Some, and some stories, are there for our wisdom. To not go there. Not making the same mistakes.
The accounts we read in the Bible are so lifelike that nothing we could share of the life we live here and now could make it blush. Those who think the Bible is for happy-clappy Christians obviously haven’t read the Old Testament. And the truth of Jesus’ Passion is the stuff of a Restricted-rated movie. Many times Paul despaired.
When we open our Bibles to 2 Corinthians it helps us most when we’re undergoing a trial.
God’s Word ministers truth into our souls through the vestibule of grace. The truth we need at the time is acquired through a search, and it meets us through His grace.
This is why the Bible is so important, especially in a world where post-truth and post-fact are real concepts. The Bible is a book of truth.
God’s Word can encourage us most when we read of a biblical character’s discouragement.
When we find ourselves in the narrative, we’re instantly touched and heartened.

Friday, February 10, 2017

From the Worst Moment to the Moment of Clarity’s Hope

Driven long into a momentary despair for any reason at all, our lonely souls crave connection. We would fall into temptation if we didn’t bear the moment’s pain. That’s plain tough!
The moment of pain is the worst of moments. Irreconcilable. Crushing. Bewildering. Yet, staying such a moment is in the stillness of being at rest in the palm of God’s hand. Possibility.
From the commitment to live reality faithfully comes a truth that’s harsh. We cannot run away from loneliness when it strikes us; when relational connection is impossible.
And still the truth will do something to us to compel us forward, for God is in the truth.
When life stagnates, and the moment sucks, and there seems no way out, anxiety turning to despair, there really is but one way — forward. To keep moving forward. To step away, farther from the past, still beyond the present, as we strain toward what is ahead.
When nothing holds us in the past’s insanity, we’re free to head into the sanity of what is ahead. The distinctness of hope anew. Not that we’re sane or insane, just the past takes us into the unproductive churns, flurries of chaos, yet as we look ahead we stride in the faith that will rectify a strewn spirit and set us free to pace a straight path.
As we embark on the inbound hope, outbound of a treacherous present, we look outward and upward, away from turmoil, higher upon the possibilities, and we sign ourselves up to the pledge of courage.
Bearing ever forward, the tenacity of spirit to step in one direction, the past remains, but does not harass us.
Moving forward, we look back, not focusing on a past of regret, but seeing a present exuding progress.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Just a Little Thing About Wording

Screen dump from the video clip from YouTube.

As I watched a short clip of the Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, addressing Catholics on the subject of preparing adherents for the Royal Commission’s[1] findings I winced.
This little piece is limited to one issue — the wording in the Archbishop’s video specifically about the survivors of sexual abuse. I was surprised that he said, “That justice and healing may be done to them.”
“That justice and healing may be done to them.”
Anything in that resonate within you? Anything in that sentence trouble you?
Here’s the thing for me.
“That justice and healing may be done to them.”
Firstly, as a general comment about sex abuse done to children, reprehensible is not a strong enough word regarding the systematic abuse of young people within the church’s care. This is where words do fail. Nothing I could say here justifies comment.
I also wonder about those who did not survive the abuse — those who years later died through suicide or misadventure — those who left families behind, so the families, themselves, are the survivors. There are also myriad levels and manifestations of ‘surviving’ abuse.
Wording for many may not seem that important, but it is infinitely important.
A simple improvement could be made to that sentence, to make it read like the Catholic Church actually understands what happened and what needs to happen. (And the Catholic Church has this sympathy of mine. As if any of us know, or could know, the extent to which what needs to happen, because how do you possibly ‘fix’ something so broken. And there are undoubtedly details for many survivors which will never come to light, as is the nature of the depth of the topic.)
Here’s my one point:
Whenever we do something to someone, we do something, perhaps with the best of intention, but possibly without their express will and interests in our hearts. But, whenever we do something for someone, on the other hand, we do it with their will and interests in our hearts. A huge difference in meaning.
“That justice and healing may be done for them.”
That sentence demonstrates more clearly that justice and healing for the survivors ought to take place at any cost, which is the only appropriate response.

[1] The full name: Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Lord’s Prayer Revelation About Forgiveness

Forgive us our offenses as we ourselves forgive those who offend us.”
— Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:12)
The words of the Bible are basic, and, apart from interpreting them accurately, which pertains to an incredibly sophisticated world of scholarship, these words are simple for the reader.
Many times, as devotees of the Bible, we read the same words over and over, and then “boom!” God reveals something special. This happened recently with the above decisive piece of the Matthean Lord’s Prayer.
The words are simple.
Pray the Lord,
forgive us our offenses,
forgive me mine,
as we — no, I — forgive
those who offend us (me).
Suddenly the Lord made me realise what His Word was saying — what it had always said. He says nothing about praying for others to forgive us nor about others and what they’re due if they don’t seek forgiveness. This prayer of forgiveness is not really about others at all.
It’s about God and I, and my vertical relationship with Him, and not about my horizontal relationship with others. It’s about what I can do. It’s nothing about waiting for others to do their bit. It’s nothing about others reaching toward us in reconciliation, but it is everything about us reaching toward them, knowing we’re obeying God no matter how they respond. It’s an acknowledgement that we’re empowered to do what we can do to arrange the restoration of the relationship. Doing the forgiveness and knowing we’ve done all we can do is enough to experience the Spirit’s prevailing peace.
The words are simple.
If we forgive the offenses of others, God will forgive our offenses against Him.
Read that. Our offenses — done against anyone — are offenses done directly against Him.
Sins done against “the least of these” might as well be done against Jesus, Himself. Recall Jesus speaking about the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46. The sheep on the right are those who did what they could to show mercy and the goats on the left withheld mercy.
The forgiveness we withhold from another person is a mercy we do not show the Lord. For the Lord is in them, by His Spirit if they believe, and if not, they’re still made in His image. But the forgiveness we show is a mercy we freely share with the Lord, recognising they, the offending person/s, were known by God before they were conceived, and are dearly loved as much as we are.
And, besides, we would want to show ourselves as merciful, as if embodying the Spirit’s power, and not hard of heart, which reveals us otherwise as missing something vital of God’s transforming grace.
What can we deduce?
We should know how God feels about the offenses we do. We only have to feel what we feel when others offend us. Sure, God isn’t human, but those we offend are, and God is their vindicator. As much as He is ours.
Forgiveness is an interpersonal transaction between us and God so, in God’s power, we may enjoy personal transformation sufficient to hope for interpersonal reconciliation.
Forgiveness is a matter of faith in the Lord’s direction of obedience. It’s best, and only to be, kept that simple.
Reading the Bible, then, what choice do we have? We must forgive. What may not be easy is certainly possible, and when God’s power is in it, it becomes probable.
We ought to pray, as we forgive others their offenses, that God would change our hearts as much as His heart is changed toward us.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Unifying the Mind Divided In Christian Life

“A mind that is single and sincere is not interested in being good, in conducting relations with other people so as to live up to a rule. Nor, on the other hand, is it interested in being free, in acting perversely just to prove its independence. Its interest is not in itself, but in the people and problems of which it is aware; these are ‘itself’. It acts, not according to the rules, but according to the circumstances of the moment, and the ‘well’ it wishes to others is not security but liberty.”
— Alan W. Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity (p. 132)
In Christian life, we often find ourselves no farther along the journey of purity and piety than those mature would-be-Christians who have no allegiance to Christ, whatsoever. They seem as gracious as we are, peace-loving and wise, aware of their purpose, connected to people, morally adroit, and even better positioned for admiration because they’re not pigeon-holed as hypocritical or judgmental. They’re considered and called beautiful persons.
As Christians, we tend to fall for the trap of needing to be seen as set apart in our holiness rather than knowing we are set apart, as a matter of who we are and not for what we do or don’t do.
Christian conversion doesn’t solve the problem of the self.
It’s the acknowledgement of the sinful self in the benefit received through the acceptance of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice — the grace of God as the final restitution of the sinner to the restoring God.
Conversion highlights the problem of the self, and the need to depend on God if progress is to be made on the journey with God.
The journey to God made, which is conversion, the journey with God commences.
Now comes cognisance of the real problem within the problem. There is a barrier that must be overcome; we use our flesh to try to conquer what only reliance on the Spirit will attain.
In Watts’ language, we have to get over the “I” and that’s probably the revelation that humbles our spiritual pride most. This is the admission that we’ve not been as miraculously transformed as we’d liked to have been.
Sure, in Christ, we are new creations, but we’re not suddenly cured of sin. In fact, we’ve only begun the journey of reconciling that we’ll be fallen sinful persons for the rest of our lives. And what is against us are incorrect assumptions non-Christians make: “Well, he/she is not a very good Christian, are they?” That’s the point. There’s no such thing, and Christians more ought to know and accept this than anyone. The irony is it’s only the converted that understand, so it’s to hypocrisy we will continue to be judged.
If we’re to accept that the Christian life is not so much the negation of the self, but the affirmation of others within the purposes God gives us, then we would lose the prison in finding the key.
This is the concept that the self is subsumed always in something bigger than itself. Indeed, and ideally, the self has become nothing, and can see nothing of itself, for the everything that exists beyond itself.
This is what I think John the Baptist is getting at when he sees he is the friend of the Bridegroom, Jesus: “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30) John’s purpose had crystal clear clarity only when Jesus came.
When we arrive at this point in our journey with God, we don’t simply obey because it will go well for us if we do.
We obey because our lives are no longer about us; we see that our life is only “abundant” when others’ lives are, and when we’re lost in our mission that’s when we’re finally found. But we run off track if we don’t encompass this:
It’s not a service to others
to make us feel good.
It’s a service to others
where we think less about ourselves.
To this we’re called heavenward: the mind is one in passionate pursuit of everything it perceives of love for the people and problems of which it’s aware.
Serving others without thinking about what we gain, therefore, is freedom and, ultimately, Jesus’ abundant life.
That service, for the simple want of doing it, is what unifies the mind divided and exemplifies a mind integrated.
Serving unifies the mind divided, healing us, as God also heals those served.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Wisdom of Insecurity and Anxiety

“… when we try to understand the present by comparing it with memories, we do not understand it as deeply as when we are aware of it without comparison.”
— Alan W. Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity (p. 92)
“If you hold to my teaching… you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
— Jesus Christ, John 8:31-32
The wisdom of insecurity is a sagacity of God because, using it, we defy our cowardice.
Defying our cowardice — a cowardice which is essentially a turning away from the truth of the moment, when it’s uncomfortable — is remarkably simple.
But we must first embrace the trippy existential risk of being free to remain insecure.
Most believe that we’re revealed as insecure, which leads us to turn away from boldly staying in the moment, but recognising ourselves as insecure in those moments of insecurity is the key to choosing the better option of courage.
It has to be done via our awareness, consciously correcting the turning away, staying put.
Being of courage means we have to choose to stay in the feeling of insecurity, resisting running from it by some cover-up of fake bravery. Such falsehoods betray only ourselves. We know deep down we can fool everyone else, but we can never fool ourselves where our consciences care.
Watts says that, in fearful situations, we divert from present experience into the supposed safety of memory for a way to escape the harsh truth we’re encountering. But in that we slide away from being present, missing its depth, failing to appreciate its implicit value.
We can only respond poorly when we’re not present.
By not trusting ourselves to the truth, we do not trust God regarding the reality we find ourselves in, and we turn away from being true, accepting our own plea bargain by choosing a disguise. The crazy thing is we think we’re safer doing this. We actually deprive ourselves of the safety of the more reliable truth when we fashion for ourselves a lie to live within.
In not being present, we opt to escape into a memory of a similar situation in the past.
That’s dangerous, because even if that way of responding was appropriate, it can’t be appropriate for this new situation, as all situations are different. Besides, as we go by feel we genuinely miss the depth in the present moment; all the myriad detail, the authentic intel, that should otherwise inform our response.
Insecurity underpins anxiety, so it can be well assumed that anxiety is our cue to embrace and not avoid our insecurity. To do this, we will need to face something that’s horrid for a moment — a secondary emotion, to prefer a primary emotion. This is being honest through being vulnerable. That’s not usually a comfortable experience.
So isn’t it astounding and refreshing and bizarre that anxiety is good. That in trying to avoid it or overcome it, we’ve been doing the wrong thing all along. We more ought to make a home for it, which is about challenging our inner being to love the nemesis.
Might sound crazy, but the weakness we have learned to embrace is the tormenter we have learned to accept, and finally it has permission to go!
Regarding anxiety, giving up the fight is one way we win the fight. Regarding the insecurity that buttresses anxiety, instead of running from it we rise from within the midst of it.
Wisdom counterbalances life within the cherished irrevocable world of truth.
In anxiety, in insecurity, in them both, are rudiments for life, when we stay right there and resist running.
We overcome our anxieties and insecurities when we hear them knocking and we invite them in as cherished guests. Then we find courage rises, because, to accept such unwarranted guests, is in itself courage. And, as courage rises, we have less need for anxiety and insecurity, without forgetting the power available in being honest within weakness.
When signs of anxiety and insecurity are embraced, a wider, deeper, more functional and beautiful present opens up to us. We’re no longer occupied and consumed by resistance, and we’re freer to think and feel and act.