Stability and Love
How do people constantly, year after year, find the energy to pick themselves up after heartache and failure and continue to press on? Because they are stable. To be stable we must find our identity outside of ourselves or our accomplishments or our failures. Our identity must be in Jesus.
One Heart, One Mind, and One Accord (Segment 1)
Segment 1, below, is one of those basic issues of understanding that is absolutely required if the church is ever going to learn to “contend as one man for the Faith!” “One heart,” “one mind,” “of one accord!” Simple, yet very important.
K: Yesterday I was battling over something, and it boiled down to really just not trusting someone. A situation had come up that looked a certain way to me, and I had a choice to trust another person and the Jesus inside of them. I was having judgmental thoughts and going down a mistrusting path in my mind. Finally, I called the person and asked them about it. Handling it like that was okay, but I’m thinking that a higher way would have been to be stable and to recognize the Jesus inside of them. I should know so solidly inside of myself that every single person that is a true part of the church of Jesus, who has been born again, has God living inside of them. Therefore, they are completely and utterly trustworthy. That needs to be so concrete inside of me that I would never even consider anything else. It would be out of the question and ridiculous to wonder about them. The enemy couldn’t do anything to tie me up in knots because that would be such a solid foundation inside of me. That is the vision I want to keep holding up in front of myself so that things like that don’t happen again, and that it doesn’t take any of my energy.
L: Just a brief point of clarification on what was just being said. This is very, very important. When things come up, it’s not that you just assume everything has to be okay because Jesus is inside of them. Your assumption isn’t that they are right. Your assumption is that they love Jesus and they want to talk about it. They “love the light,” as Jesus said. The Master said this would be a test of whether a person is of Him or not. If there is something that needs to change, those that are of Him want to change. The process of living, baptized by one Spirit into one Body, is that we never say we have no need of one another.
It’s not that there won’t be shocking, difficult or confusing things that come up. Those things will come up. They always have and they always will. Read your Bible. That’s always been there. But the point that is valid, if I extract what I think she is really trying to say, is that we know that a person who is truly born a second time and truly has the Holy Spirit living inside of them will want to talk about whatever problem has come up. They do want to hear what you have to say. They do want to change if necessary. They do want to work with you to help bring understanding and peace. They will NOT “blow you off” and leave you frustrated and confused and on your own. They will always want to hear you out, if you are helping them to “see” (such as in the powerful discussion between David and Nathan in 2 Sam. 12), or they will take the time to relieve your conscience if they honestly don’t believe you’ve seen it correctly… And they will welcome “two or three witnesses” if there is an impasse between the two of you after discussing the problem! Why? Because every person born of the Blood and Spirit of Christ Jesus “loves the Light.” This is what God has said, through His Son, and then by His Spirit via the apostles Paul and John. Our “fellowship with one another” is as we walk together “in the Light.”
That’s the nature of the deposit that guarantees the inheritance: the Holy Spirit living inside. Everyone will not have perfect knowledge, perfect wisdom and perfect maturity instantaneously. That hasn’t happened and won’t. But all will love the light. They all know Him, from the least to the greatest. They genuinely want to know anything and everything that would wound Him or cause separation from Him.
So, back to the root of your point: You don’t have a doubt in your mind about whether or not we are going to work this out. We will work it out. I don’t have a doubt in my mind about their character and their desire to please Jesus. If they are born a second time, I know the Holy Spirit lives inside of them and I know they do want to work it out. I don’t question their motives. I might question their practice. I might question their decision. It might be very immature, foolish, or carnal. It might even be self-centered—it could be a lot of things—based in ignorance or even in sin. That’s always a possibility. But the thing I don’t doubt is their motive and their desire to make it right if it needs to be made right. That’s the deposit, that’s the proof of the Holy Spirit living inside.
We’re not looking for perfect knowledge, perfect maturity, perfect understanding, or faultless execution. Everyone is going to make his share of mistakes. But we are going to work together. That’s the proof of the Holy Spirit abiding with us and in us and us in Him. We are going to work it out. It’s going to be okay. So, I am at peace. I don’t have to be unstable, as was said, wondering and being frantic about it. I don’t have to go through all those gyrations. We can talk about it, because I trust that if they are born a second time, we can and will work it out. It will be all right. We will grow from it…we will all grow from it. : )
Finding Your Identity in Jesus/Finding Jesus’ Priorities (Segment 2)
Segment 2, below, is about the perspective of life and Life that will help a true Disciple of Jesus “get his bearings” in the fallen world that we live in. In the midst of the sort of “unfairness” and “confusion” that Job experienced, how can we find our way? Future segments will also follow this theme.
R: I wanted to make an attempt to recapture some thoughts from a recent discussion a bunch of us had, following a movie. Sound okay?
In a movie where three men get lost in the woods, the question is posed repeatedly, “What is the number one reason that people die when they get lost in the woods?” Answer: “They die of shame.” They are embarrassed and shamed about getting lost. Their mind keeps asking, “Where did I go wrong?” and so they spiral in introspection and self-deprecation and die. They have a value system that is centered in self, and, when this is exposed as flawed, their REASON for living is in serious question. It is not their present set of circumstances that is too overwhelming to deal with. While things are legitimately tough now, that’s not why they die. They die because they allow their feelings about the past and their own failures to immobilize them. They don’t get killed by the present. They get killed by the past—and by their value system that has proven itself untrustworthy. The battle is in their minds, not really in their present set of circumstances.
All of this is very related to a character trait, a prominent quality of Jesus’ Life, referred to that night as “Stability.” How do people constantly, year after year, find the energy to pick themselves up after heartache and failure, and continue to press on? Because they are stable. Why are they stable? Because they have found their identity outside themselves, their accomplishments, or their failures. Their identity is in Jesus, not how they are doing or how the world is doing or how the church is doing. For a stable person, their stability is not in their theology, not in their career or financial status, not in their “white picket fence focus-on-the-family” idolatry, not in their fruitfulness, not in their own spiritual growth, or not even, believe it or not, in the spiritual growth of others. While they do have deep concerns about the spiritual well being of others, it has no bearing on their stability. They are free. Free from themselves, from self-thought, self-worth, ambition and the desire to accomplish. They are free from the frustrations of failure and the fear of failure. They are free to love more fully, from a deeper place in the heart, versus the shallow surface concern mixed with carnal sympathy that comes from the unstable person.
Freedom from self means freedom to love. At the root, the unstable person is unstable because he or she is self-centered. At the root, the one that dies “lost in the woods” dies because he or she is self-centered. Though he may try to spiritualize it or turn it into a “burden” for this or that, after the smoke clears you find out that some sort of ambition or self-protection, or some form of self-life, is at the root of the instability. Things didn’t go his way. Things didn’t turn out like she had hoped. Life hasn’t turned out quite how he hoped it would be. His energy is still being spent trying to save his life—so he keeps on losing it. As happens over time, “hope deferred makes the heart sick,” according to the Scriptures.
Much of this makes no sense to the inexperienced in Life and the Spirit. Those that are governed by striving and fleshly or intellectual “instincts” are repelled by this. It sounds as if one would be trying to talk them out of having “vision” or putting forth “effort for Jesus.” Far from that, this is simply an attempt to communicate that it’s the CROSS, not our “ministries” or ambitions (for ourselves or for some form of “Jesus”) that humiliates and puts to flight the principalities and powers. THE CROSS! But it takes time to understand this—not just knowledge, but also the School of Life in Christ. And not everyone is paying attention in class.
David didn’t become king until he was 40, and Levites could not serve as priests until they were 30. Moses, at age 40, was not yet of much use to our God. Why? Because when you are 25 you still know everything. When you are young, you know all the right answers and you are part of the solution. Your drive for God’s kingdom, although mixed and clouded with ambition, causes you, like Moses, to kill the Egyptian—to do God a favor and take matters into your own hands. Someone must right the world’s and the church’s wrongs, and you are just the man for the job…so you think. Though Phineas was blessed by God for “taking matters into his own hands,” he was functioning in obedience to God, with motives and heart issues governed by God.
This is obviously not about “some magical age.” It is simply that the world has seldom seen a man or woman of God that doesn’t look back on earlier years this way: “I really, really cared. I did not compromise. My heart was not unloving or ambitious. I just couldn’t SEE it yet. My ears had heard, but my eyes had not yet seen.” Diamonds are formed under great pressure over many years. It takes both. Not just pressure, but also years. Time brings about circumstances that sift our motives. He leads us into the Wilderness to find out what is in our hearts. Things are more subtle than we realize. All that energy that we had at 25, was it solely from, through and to Jesus? Or was there mixture? Is it selfless love for others that is causing us to lay down our lives, or something for ourselves, in some subtle way? Mission-centered, or Messiah-centered?
Remember, Peter was willing to lay down his life for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He wasn’t faking it. He was sincere. He really pulled out his sword and was really prepared to fight and to put his life on the line. He had enough courage to face a whole battalion of soldiers by himself. (They had only brought two swords.) But within 48 hours he didn’t have the guts to tell one inquisitive woman that he even knew Jesus, and was willing to curse and swear that he didn’t. Why? Because things had not turned out like he expected them to. You see, only a few hours earlier he was part of the promised kingdom of God. He was hand-picked by the long-awaited Messiah himself as revealed to him by the revelation of God. His heart was filled with a humongous sense of destiny. He could feel the adrenaline of the whole thing rushing through his veins. But now it was over. He wasn’t “part” of anything anymore. There was nothing left to be a part of. Jesus had quit, so it seemed. Yes, He just turned himself in, and in just a few hours He would be put to death. It took all the wind out of Peter’s sails. All of his courage, founded on false premises, evaporated. He had been ready to die for the “kingdom,” but he wasn’t even willing to admit knowing Jesus—outside of the context of his envisioned crusade.
Thankfully, our kind Master Teacher brings about circumstances that shatter our hopes and dreams, just as He did with Peter. Why? Because we are so prone to subtly misdirect our hopes and dreams. Not just for obvious things like money and family, but for more subtle things like “saving the lost” and “advancing the gospel of the kingdom.” Not that there is anything wrong with those things, but we incorrectly suppose that we, 1) understand them properly; and 2) engage in them for the right reasons. Father is forced to allow them to shatter, in order to teach us how to put our hopes in another realm. As Jesus said to Peter, “When you are converted, strengthen your brothers.”
Even Abraham had to offer Isaac back. Isaac—a gift and a promised blessing. It wasn’t Isaac’s validity that was in question. It was Abraham’s. And what was it that Abraham put on the altar? A son? The son that he loved more than anything else, yes. But more than just a son, which would have been a big sacrifice all by itself. But he was also putting all that God had promised him on the altar. Abraham’s spiritual destiny was wrapped up in this son. Isaac was the one through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Not only would he be losing a son, but he would also be losing the promised blessings that were going to come through that son. After waiting all those years for his birth, maintaining his faith, he now had to give it all up.
So also, with us, our Father brings us to the end of everything we had hoped that life would be, and slowly, in some way or another, lets us see we can’t have it. And even if we could have it, it’s not what we thought it would be anyway. So, after we learn these things, what will we do? Lie down and die in the woods? Curse God and die, like Job’s wife recommended, when his circumstances no longer added up? Or somehow, some way, pull ourselves out of the ashes, lose ourselves and our petty identity into His very large identity and finally find life that is really Life? How will we live when nothing adds up? How will we live when we follow God into the desert, as Abraham did, to find the heavenly city—the city that God Himself etched into our hearts—and when we get there it is nothing but a desert? There was no city there. Will we go back to the old country, or will we live in tents like Abraham did, on the land that a city will exist on one day? And then have to put Isaac on the altar—the one who is the only hope of there ever being a city on that land?
What do the scriptures say about the pioneers of our faith? “They did not receive the things that were promised.” That’s what it says. Read it. It says, “They did not receive the things that were promised. They only saw them and welcomed them at a distance.” Things just didn’t add up. True, God did have something better in mind for us and them. But THEY had no real tangible “evidence” at that juncture in time. It looked like a dead-end, IF they were looking at things through the filter of their minds or experiences or personal desires (“for God”, of course). It looked like they had been set up. So how will we live when life looks like it is at a dead-end? Will we, because we have lost our selfish tendencies to protect ourselves, lose ourselves and find our identity and stability in Him? May Abba help us.
C: It’s hard to fully capture what happened in our hearts that evening, regarding the subject of stability and the true priorities in our lives. One of the things that I remember was that I was a little frustrated. Here we were talking about how people die in the wilderness because of shame. So, it seemed to me that what you really need to do is not be so ashamed and not get so preoccupied with self-analysis. Just dig deep from within and move on—really refuse to be a victim of introspection and shame. We talked about that for a few minutes, and that was good and true.
But then a brother started sharing things about stability. He said that the reason there was such deep and terminal shame was that those men had nothing to really live for. They didn’t have any true or meaningful priorities in their lives. When he first started going down that path, it kind of confused me. I had an inner frustration, that was like, “Yeah, that’s important, but I don’t see how this relates to the movie…” That was kind of the mentality I had, I’m “ashamed” to say. But the more he talked, the more I realized that if I would have gone away with thoughts about the movie of “Let’s not be ashamed! Let’s dig deep and move ahead…” I wouldn’t have been equipped to get out of the woods alive, spiritually.
The point he was making addressed the reason that there is shame. The reason that there is an inability to move forward has to do with mixed priorities that were determined long before you came to that moment of crisis. In one sense, you can’t just decide at that moment that you’re not going to be ashamed, and you’re going to “dig deep and get out of these woods.” Rather, your shame comes from a false foundation that you have already built your life on.
If one of your priorities is to be viewed as someone who is wise and shrewd and valuable to be with, then you have a false foundation, and when that sticky, difficult situation comes around, your whole foundation crumbles. How you view yourself and what you are living for is exposed. You can’t, then, in one sense, help but feel those unstable, remorseful, hopeless feelings in the middle of the situation.
For example, a few days after we had talked about all these things regarding stability, I definitely encountered situations where I had temptations to, as was said that evening, “come unglued.” There were situations where I didn’t want to care about people. I just wanted to sit and sulk, or sit and be a recluse in my house. Okay, what’s the deal here? The deal is that I didn’t just need to “dig deep and refuse to feel this way,” but I needed to really look to God now and find out what false priority I had been building with! What false priority, what false foundation had I been building on, that has, in the last few hours been crossed? What false priority has been exposed that I am feeling this sense of not wanting to move further? What priority do I have in my life? Was it because I really wanted to do something specific tonight and somehow that’s not going to be able to happen?
We talked that night about very simple things, like someone who lives for entertainment and pleasure, or people who live for their own egos. If, in a certain situation, you can tell that you are not going to be the one at the center of attention, or you’re not going to be the one that is going to have your ego stroked, that will be a problem IF you’ve been living for yourself, rather than Jesus. Living like that can make you unstable and turn you into an introspective, reclusive person or someone who just wants to quit when things don’t work out the way you want them to.
This “instability” could be caused by any one of a thousand false priorities. Some of these wrong priorities have been scandals for a lot of us at some point in our lives, or even lately. There is a time when you have spiritual aspirations that you don’t always immediately feel like are being fulfilled. You are not growing as fast as you would like, or maybe from an external standpoint you don’t feel like the church is growing as fast or as large as it should (not that any of us think in terms of numbers). It is still easy to have these spiritual goals that we have in our hearts that aren’t met, so we start questioning ourselves, or judging others rather than helping. I think that God uses those kinds of situations to purify motivations.
This isn’t an excuse to not have a very, very high vision of what God desires and what He wants. He wants us to have a very keen vision for His church, for His City that is set on a hill. But He wants to, in the meantime, expose WHY we want that. Do we want that for our own ego’s sake? Do we want that so that we can feel we are a part of God’s movement in the end times? So that we can have something to write home about? Something to relieve our consciences? There are a thousand and one reasons why we might have spiritual aspirations.
Think of the refinement that took place in the lives of Moses, Abraham, Jacob, the entire nation of Israel, Hosea, Job, and many others. God is forever refining the “whys” of His dearly loved people. It is not enough for Him to have us desire to do His stuff instead of our own, on an external basis. He sends us into the wilderness to SEE WHAT IS IN OUR HEARTS! He purifies the “whys” of what we want. When the false “whys,” the false motivations that we have are exposed (perhaps God is not answering in the way that we would expect or the way that we were hoping), these “failures” can reveal unstable, shallow, or sinful foundations in our hearts, and make us want to pull back and not give it our all.
I remember several years ago when a man, right before he was baptized, talked about how he used to have a mentality of always hedging his bet, of wanting to have some fun “just in case.” Having a mentality of “When this whole shebang is over, if there really wasn’t a God anyway, then at least I had fun with some of my friends in the meantime.” This is a hedging-your-bet kind of mentality. “I’m not going to give it all. I’m not going to put it all on the line.” This is the sort of thought process that can get us in deep trouble. Half-heartedness is really easy to give into when you feel like God is not answering your prayers in your way and on your schedule.
The night we watched the film was really an encouraging night for me. What I went home with wasn’t the thought, “Okay, the next time I get into a situation where I am spiritually “lost in the woods,” I’m not going to be ashamed, I’m going to be strong and move forward…” What we were encouraged to do instead is to reflect on what we really want out of life.
*What is it that we really want to pursue on a day-to-day basis? It is okay to look at things on a larger basis. What is it that I really hope God does accomplish, whether in our lifetime or not?
*What vision do I see that He is moving toward? You can look at that on the global level, as well as the personal level. What do I want to see Him accomplish in my life? What do I want to see Him accomplish in my family’s lives and those around me?
Now that we’ve clarified that in our minds, prostrate before Jehovah God, we must really focus on making conscious choices on a day-to-day basis that reflect that vision. “I’m going to play basketball tonight.” Is this in line with the vision that I say that I am really living for? Or am I not really thinking about it as I make these decisions? Am I just playing basketball with no thoughts towards God or others, and tomorrow night watching a video, and the next night doing something else…and before you know it life can be over and you weren’t making any conscious choices in line with the Real vision.
There is a certain spontaneity to Life where we don’t have to plan everything out. But I think it is really important to make sure that we are matching the choices we are making with the priorities that we say that we have. Or else, when the wind comes, when the storm comes, it is very possible that we have been building on a false priority, on a false foundation, and things really can and will come crashing down. There won’t be time in those situations to say, “I’m not going to be unstable.” When bad or unexpected things happen, you can’t help but be unstable if you have built on an unstable foundation.
Next to love, stability is probably one of the most important words in Christianity to really embrace and to make a part of your life. From my vantage point, stability and faith are almost synonyms, but it is so easy to view faith as a separate thing. But, true love is a stable love. Otherwise it’s just emotional and wishy-washy—committed one day, not committed the next day. You can see it in a marriage. If you are unstable in your love towards your spouse, then it is not really love. If you are in and out, up and down, wishy-washy…then it is not really love authored by God. Maybe it’s self-serving “love” that is dependent on circumstances, moods, motives, hormones or something else. But it’s not really the kind of Love that puts us deeply in Touch with the Spirit of God in our lives.
When, over time, there is a history of being stable and being dependable because your priorities are straight, that is what builds. When there is stability, when you have learned to depend on people that are stable, you can give them your whole heart because you know who they are through and through. Your love for them can actually grow. Not only is true love stable, but stability helps breed more true love between brothers and sisters because it is something that we are able to give our heart out to more and more.
There’s another point that was really encouraging to me. I’m sure we all know that Isaac’s name means “laughter” in the Hebrew language. The comment was made that not only was Abraham asked to put this entire promise of God on the altar (his “dear and only son, Isaac” and all of the Promises associated with Isaac and the mighty nation), but he was really being asked to put his source of joy and love and laughter in his life, Isaac, on the altar. Not only must the grand promises of God be laid willingly on the altar for God, but also our “laughter”—our peace, our fun, our satisfaction. It really is easy to give up things as long as we have this little remnant of joy or happiness that we can hold on to. But, God was even asking him to give that up—to completely lay down this source of joy and happiness in his life and set it on the altar. Whether he was going to be happy for the rest of his life or not, he was willing to put all those things on the altar simply because God was asking him to. It really was a challenge to me, since “having fun” is what keeps me going sometimes, I’m ashamed to say.
This has all helped me to zero in on what my priorities really should be, on a day-to-day basis, and to let this guide me in the conscious decision-making of how I look at an evening and what I am going to do. It was really invaluable to me to be able to sit back and reflect on those priorities, both global and personal and really make sure I was making choices that were lining up on that level.
What Happens When Everything Is Gone? (Segment 3)
Segment 3 is sort of about mid-life crisis, whatever that is! The 200+ people there that evening couldn’t relate at all to such a concept ;)
J: One of the things that I was thinking of just now, as far as knowing why we are alive, relates to the concept the infamous “they” have named “mid-life crisis.” Think about a person 40 years old or so. They see their life is slipping away; their hair is turning gray and they are not as slim as they used to be. There are all kinds of jokes about it, right? People buy fast cars, wear gold, and tint their hair so it won’t be gray. The idea we’ve been talking about of “knowing why you are alive” really struck me, relating to this.
All growing up, all through your college years, your 20’s and early 30’s, you have these goals and dreams and ambitions about life, or what you perceive life should be or would be. During the times when you feel like those goals are not being realized, that’s where the instability that hurts Jesus and others comes in. You freak out, or get depressed, or mutter, “I’ll never have this or that.” You get bummed out…but then you bounce back! “Okay. I have a six-month plan! A five-year plan! I’ll put it all in my Day Timer and do it just like Benjamin Franklin must have.” Embraced again are these ambitious goals in your mind.
One of the points we have been talking about is what happens when everything is gone. The CRISIS comes when you eventually come to the realization that, whatever this thing is that you were planning on, it may really be impossible. Perhaps because of limited resources. Perhaps there is limited time, money, skills, education, intellect, or physical strength. Perhaps because other priorities are imposed by the “cruel world” and there’s “bad luck.” But, regardless, it’s not going to happen. When you face that head on, you now have to deal with the fact that however much identity you had invested in that stuff will result in the proportionally dark abyss of facing who you really are and where you are really going. You have to work through the pain and the disappointment and the frustration of it all. And perhaps the cleansing of a way of thinking that never was a part of God’s Heart in the first place! And maybe the crisis is just the Mercy of God at work in your life, forcing you to reevaluate what you are “about.”
You can embrace Him in those bitter moments, and find a level of relationship with Him that you didn’t even have enough room in your heart to WANT—while you were still trying to establish a world of your own liking and “meaning.” There is a process that is unavoidable, if you want to be like Him and be useful to Him. You could avoid the pain by staying in your own dream world, or by blind, enormous, perpetual striving. But if you allow the re-arranging of your life and priorities by the Holy Spirit to penetrate deep into your heart, and you turn to God through it all, then there will be a miracle worked in you. The temporal things that used to catch your eye or sway your emotions or captivate you, they won’t have that glitter anymore and you will know why you are on the earth.
A few years ago I was talking to a brother in another city and we were talking about a similar thing. We were talking about laying down our worldly desires at Jesus’ feet. (In looking back, he was facing far larger things than I was, but I didn’t notice at the time because I was thinking about my situation.) At the end of our conversation I looked over and we were both wiping tears out of our eyes. He had always wanted to be accomplished in his profession, and now, the “glory” of it within grasp, he really wanted to give that up to God. And he did. And I really think God has drawn him closer for it.
Rejoice That Your Names Are Written In Heaven (Segment 4)
Segment 4 considers the question, “Shouldn’t we have some external things that we can use to evaluate our usefulness to God, or allow us to ‘know’ we’re on the right track?”
T: As I am considering this, there is still something that crosses my mind. We have talked about the process that Peter went through. Peter maybe had an external view of what the kingdom of God was going to be like. He may very well have thought that Jesus was going to come and establish a kingdom much like David did. Then Peter could get to be one of the top men in the administration, so to speak. Perhaps that was his view, or something similar. Peter went through this process of realizing that wasn’t what it was about, and that it was an internal thing.
Christianity is ultimately an internal thing, not an external thing, and those are the things to focus on—not the external accomplishments, not the things that people can point to and things you can see with your eye—but the internal things, the matters of the heart: faith, hope, love, etc. I agree with all of that, but I guess there is a lingering question in my mind, and this is what’s not resolved, which is: Are there absolutes that are not internal? In other words, are there any things that we ought to be looking toward that are tangible externals, here and now? Are there any visible or tangible goals that we can pursue?
R: “Only an evil, faithless generation would ask for a miraculous sign, but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Then Jesus left them and went away.
Without directly saying yes or no to the question right off, obviously there is something far more substantial than the visible, right?
Remember when Jesus sent off the 72 to do some particular things in specified places? Jesus commissions these 72 men, gives them a full plate of work to do in advancing the kingdom of God, and here are some of their thoughts when they come back. “The 72 returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name. He replied, ‘I saw satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy. Nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10). The kind of thought that was in the back of my mind in all of this is, if the thing that lights your fire and becomes an anchor of stability is that the demons submit in Jesus’ name, then how do you feel and what does your world look like when the demons don’t submit—when they just keep right on doing what they were doing before you got there and said anything?
Let’s take Noah, for instance. He was a preacher (“proclaimer” is a better, non-religious translation) of righteousness and had God’s fire in his heart and probably a love for the generation around him. He spent 120 years working as hard as he could to try to bring some sort of sense and message—something to these people. Had he had our typical religious, ambitious, misguided view of “fruitfulness,” he would be closing the door of that ark feeling like a complete failure. “It was my job to rescue some from my generation and I guess we have to scrap the whole thing. It’s over.” But he wasn’t a failure! THAT responsibility wasn’t the thing given to him. It wasn’t his job to save the whole world, or even his next-door neighbor. He did try, and that’s good. He spent 120 years trying to turn the tide in his generation, in between hammering nails to put the boat together. But his identity wasn’t linked to having to accomplish something. His identify was founded in where he stood before his Maker and what he was going to do next that his Maker asked him to do.
That’s the kind of thing I glean out of Jesus’ interaction with the men He had sent out. These men had come back from the specific assignment He had given them, and they were pumped. They were psyched. They had done things and experienced things and interacted in a way that they never even dreamed of when they were 15. “Who would have thought that, when I am 21, I am going to be healing demon-possessed people?! This is cool!” They came back filled with joy. Jesus confirms that He saw satan fall like lightning too! But then He said these strange words (strange to our flesh, at any rate): “Rejoice not that the demons submit, but rejoice that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”
You have to take the focus off of the thing you are doing, where you are finding your identity in the whole thing, and place your focus somewhere else. It wasn’t that Peter was part of the wrong thing for three years and was finally waking up. Peter was part of the right thing all the way along, but Peter wasn’t the right man all the way along. Everything he did had value; in fact, he was one of the men doing this wonderful stuff! But there was still something inside of him that was a little out of sorts—that still wanted to link his identity with the work that was in front of him or with something other than just his relationship with God—his relationship with Jesus. There must be “more”! He had to have some sort of extra thing or he unraveled or became “unglued,” as was said earlier about the man who is building on externals rather than obedience and love.
Love, the Only Place God is Found (Segment 5)
“If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth, but I didn’t love others, it would be like making meaningless noise, like a loud gong or clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy and I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would I be? And if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody. If I gave everything I have to the poor, and even sacrifice my body to the flames, I could boast about it, but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever” (1 Corinthians 13).
The beginning of this thing we call a “chapter” in Paul’s letter is really clear about one fact: loving others is not an additional thing that we do alongside the other important works, such as conquering the world for Christ, throwing mountains into the sea, healing the sick, and all these other things. It’s not an additional thing. It is the root issue and substance of existence. All of that “Christian” stuff is total rubbish, totally worthless, of no value whatsoever…if it is not rooted in the basis of intimate love for others because of the blood of Jesus. Not an “additional thing to work on,” but the very basis of our existence, our decisions, and our actions. This is the only way the Father can be pleased, and without it we’ll never have the slightest idea of how to “walk as Jesus walked,” doing “nothing that we do not see the Father doing.”
This is as fundamental as the difference between eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and eating from the Tree of LIFE! What IS a “good work for Jesus”? Do you really know? You cannot possibly know, apart from what we are discussing here. Your mind is not the basis of knowing. Like Peter, we’ll say right to God’s face, “Surely NOT, Lord!” if we are living by our mind’s perception of what is “right,” and what we have read somewhere must surely please God. We must eat from the Tree of Life, not the tree where we think we’ve studied enough to “know.” This is a place of perpetual dependency (a very unpopular idea to the proud religious man). This is a place of abandoned love. This is the only place God may be found. That is, the TRUE God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Father of the Master, Jesus Christ. God doesn’t teach love, or command it, alone. God is Love, and He can ONLY be found there. Not the externals. This is what Paul is saying in the passage we just read about Love. Learn to love deeply, from the heart! Please?
Now, in practical terms (about measuring ourselves by “externals”), someone says, “The Bible says, ‘Greater works than these shall you do,’ right? So, if I can’t experience important and miraculous things, then I have the right to be frustrated, disappointed, and go through mid-life crises.” No way. The demons just might not submit in His Name in this particular instance because of a foggy, arrogant understanding of what the Scriptures mean. Wrong tree. Riddle me this: How many miracles did Jeremiah do? How about Isaiah? Are these men so deficient with God that the “externals” might be limited to twenty-three years with no one listening, and getting thrown into a well to die? John the Baptist did no miracles. Were these men failures? Did they not know God?
Other men did “external” miracles, right? Elijah did a whole truckload of them. Elisha did a bunch. Jesus certainly did a bunch. Paul and Peter and John did their share. But it’s not a “given” that if you can’t do miracles or if you never see one in your entire lifetime that you are a failure. I’m all for miracles, and have been the humbled recipient of miracles of His grace in several areas (the forgiveness of sin, for starters). Yet, if we think we can demand of God our understanding and timing of any externals, such as “greater works than these shall you do,” then we’re no better than “a wicked and adulterous generation.”
It’s a very shallow and foolish understanding to demand externals in order to validate your relationship with God, and we are headed for shipwreck or deception (or self-deception) in one form or another. That’s much like a self-centered relationship with another human where our “measurement” of love is, “What have you done for me lately?”. Pretty pathetic, eh?
Emotionally, if you live this way with God or man (trusting and needing externals rather than the “invisible” foundations of LOVE and the Tree of LIFE), you are going to come unglued at some point. You have an idol in your life. If you don’t find your identity in deep love for Jesus and deep love for others, you will find your identity in externals. Someone says, “Now you have to add love, of course. But surely we have the right to expect a), b), c) and d)…because after all the scriptures say this and that…” The Scriptures also say that you don’t have to see it in your lifetime. Four hundred years of silence from God. Four hundred years of no miracles, no healings that we are aware of, no prophets, no leaders that we are aware of, and then the Messiah shows up. Four hundred years of bondage in Egypt—twice as long as “the United States of America” has even existed! Massive problems, from lashes on your back regularly, to heatstroke and family members dying of disease, to mistreatment and cursings by superiors that are Egyptian pagan false-god worshippers who hate you and despise you and mistreat you and abuse you. “Where is God? Isn’t a mid-life crisis appropriate here? I’ve read my Bible. I’ve read His Promises. Where is God in all this? I need a Plan B. God is letting us down here. ‘It’ isn’t working.”
Someone might say, “Don’t I have the right to expect that He will be my Redeemer, my Deliverer?” Four hundred years is a long time, and I guarantee you no one lived to see the beginning and the end of that four hundred years. There wasn’t one single person alive who saw the beginning of captivity who also saw the end of captivity. No one was four hundred years old when Moses showed up. Point being, a lot of people died in what would have been total poverty, a total contradiction of their interpretation of the Scriptures, in total frustration and agony over this God that “let them down and didn’t do things the way He said He would.” They could have died in misery or they could have died in peace. If they died in peace it was because their priority was not in what they accomplished, or based on what they thought the promises were to be for them. A lot of people died, as we read earlier, “without having seen the promises fulfilled.” Yet, they could die in peace, and they can die in satisfaction of the heart and soul if they experienced and distributed the love of God. That’s what it is about.
Give your body to be burned. Big deal! Cast a mountain into the sea. So what? That’s what the Scriptures say. That is, if you don’t have agape love as a basis for your existence, loving people from the heart just as Jesus did with “the rich young ruler,” looking at them with eyes of redemptive love, even in the “tough love” that Jesus demonstrated with him. Remember how Jesus responded with Lazarus? Is that how you respond? Not crying for yourself, your “loneliness,” the “injustices” you suffer, but tears welling up in your eyes because you love others so deeply. If that is not what you are about in your own home, in your neighborhood, in the local Church (the Body of Jesus Himself!) and the world at large—if that’s not what you are about, you are headed for shipwreck. You will eventually come unraveled and unglued. You will have a mid-life, and a three-quarter life and a four-fifths life crisis. You are going to have all kinds of crises, and you deserve them because God has not yet taught you because you are not listening to what life is really about.
God IS love. God doesn’t do love. He doesn’t give love. He doesn’t command love. He is love. And you don’t have God if you don’t have love. If that’s not what you are about, you are going to have this war in your mind constantly—a frustrating, agonizing battle—and God is going to make sure you have it! If He loves you, He’ll see that you live with it and that your existence is marked with misery and unrest if you don’t get the idea straight that God is not primarily “command giver” or “rule maker” or “creator of all stuff” or “author of all true religion.” God is Love. He doesn’t just command it. He doesn’t just encourage it. He doesn’t just generate it because of the good things He is. He IS Love, and that is what it is about. Everything else, no matter how noble is meaningless! And we have no right, in answer to the question directly, to any expectations whatsoever apart from LOVE as the root basis of what life is about. Everything else—all knowledge, all good works, all prophetic insight or “commitment” and everything else—comes along only as God authors it in His own place and time. Nothing else is a “given”!
Nothing? Really?! Well, let’s just say that fallen, religious man has gotten himself into a lot of trouble by eating from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” We tend to say, “This is a good thing to do and that is a bad thing to do. I read that in the Bible!” Actually, believe it or not, it is arrogant to think in the narrow, finite terms we commonly think in! Surely you realize that our perceptions of “Truth” are biased by our time and space and definition, limited experience, limited intellect, as well as by the grotesqueness and blinding nature of our sin?! That’s where Ishmael came from. Think about it. Abraham clearly had good intentions for God, responding “obediently” to His Word…but a sincerely wrong interpretation of that Word. God spoke to Abraham later and said, “Your son, your only son, Isaac.” Ishmael was not considered a “son” as Isaac was. Clearly God did not honor Abraham’s “honest mistake.”
As for us? That “eating from the wrong tree,” “making ourselves to be gods, knowing good and evil” is where a lot of the fallacies and the corruptions of the denominational world and all of biblical history have found their origin. People are regularly sure they know exactly what God meant when He said thus and such, and “so I’m just going to go out and do it.” Thus was born the scourge of Ishmael, always “persecuting the child born of the Spirit.” And, as Paul said, “It is the same now.”
An example or two? God gave His People a Promised Land, and the “ten spies” messed up and had a “bad report.” When they learned they had blown it and were now sentenced to wandering in waterless places, they said (not because they loved God, but because they didn’t like the consequences of their sin and unbelief), “Okay, I was wrong. I’ll go do it. If it was a good “promise” before, and even a command, then surely I should go on up to the Promised Land!” No. It doesn’t work that way. It’s on GOD’S timing or not at all. “Promises” are not like that. God defines them, not our “claiming” them. You’re a dead man if you “go take the Land” without God’s Timing. And that’s what happened.
Another “New Testament” example? God commanded Peter to, “Take, kill and eat.” Peter, out of his perception of Truth, “accidentally” in defiance of the Living God, said, “Surely not, Lord! Don’t you know the Scriptures, God? The Scriptures say right here, ‘____.’ You know I’ll never disobey You and eat unclean animals. It’s right here in black and white! No, no, no, I can’t do this thing.” That lack of flexibility, that lack of “Spiritual depth perception” put Peter in a dangerous place. His attempt to obey God from his brain and his experience’s perception of “Truth” almost caused him to rebel face-to-face against God Himself! Wow. His communion was with his brain about God rather than communion with God Himself. The Scriptures are to be a road map towards God instead of a substitute for a living God (Jn. 5). God will not bless our external attempts to “please Him.” He will not grant His peace and prosperity of soul and heart and mind when we are looking at external stuff and having external “expectations” that will either satisfy or dissatisfy us. We’ll find ourselves in competition with ourselves, with others, or with some perceived “standard.” We’ll be arrogant and prideful if our human flesh is “successful,” and discouraged if we are “not.” There is no end to it all. God Himself—not perceived “good Christian objectives”—must be our only goal. The rest takes care of itself. He will confirm only what He is: LOVE. All else will find unrest and Ishmael’s fruit, in time: “Fading Glory.”
Father desires a Family that is in harmony with His feeling about things. Like any father or mother, it’s not of any great satisfaction to Him that His children would simply “do what they are supposed to do” apart from communion with His heart and intent. Our connection to Him and to what His heart longs for is what brings Him joy and satisfaction. People who do the right thing are a dime a dozen. (Well, maybe not, but you get the point.) People who feel what God feels are the rarest of gems. That’s what He is after. He is not asking for a bunch of robots to try to figure out mathematically what He wants and then go do it in order to prove that they love Him or to prove they are good disciples. “If you love Me, well, you’ll keep My commandments because you will be able to hear Me. You will be able to experience Me. You will be able to feel what I feel.” And when something happens, you will be able to respond to it. Not with a, “Surely not Lord, after all, I know better.” But rather, like Mary, when visited by the stranger Gabriel, “Whatever you want, Lord! I don’t get it, I don’t understand it, but that’s Your will. Let it be so.” That is the one fit to be the mother of the Messiah, the person who birthed the Son of God. The creator of the universe lived in her womb and in her home. Why did God favor her in this way, of all women? Her heart and life was, “At your word. Let it be so. I don’t have to understand it in order to fully embrace it and love it.”
That’s the kind of heart He is looking for. Someone who can feel what He feels. Not just think you know what He knows, not just think you are doing what He wants you to do (because you are probably wrong—“Surely not, Lord.”) You think you know, but the point is you don’t always know. You think you do, and surely you are not just intentionally going against what you think is God’s will, but surely if you are after God rather than just things about God, you are going to be much more open to, “Really, Lord?” as opposed to, “Surely not, Lord.” This radically different response can only happen when we are rooted in a love affair with the Person that is speaking. We cannot be rooted in our arrogant little brains—brains that one could extract from your body, put on a scale and the needle would barely move. In the whole universe of Creation, our personal, decisive, adamant conclusions from the wrong tree should not weigh very much, even to ourselves! That’s not what life is about—your understanding about this or that. That has gotten a lot of people in trouble over the years. The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. The issue of Life is not about “doing christian things,” but having an intimate, personal experience of God and His love, and also dispensing that love to those around you. To see what He sees, to feel what He feels and to respond willingly to His heart, case by case, day by day, that’s what Christianity is really about. You see, with that kind of attitude you can live your whole life in His Peace having never necessarily done any great and mighty “thing,” but you have experienced the Godhead!
“My Father and I will come and make Our home in you!” That experience brings a deep sense of belonging and a deep sense of worth, and a deep stability that is unshakable. “My Father and I will come and make Our home in you.” What else do you need but that? If that is true, you will also execute. You will also do what He calls you to do. You will also respond to Him case by case and situation by situation. Of course you will. Just like Jesus did. But the basis of the whole thing is the Father and the Son have come to make Their home in you. And you experience that Indwelling. It’s not just a theology. You didn’t read that someplace. You are experiencing that, and if you are experiencing that, then it will guide your whole existence. It will guide how you feel, how you think, how you respond to things. You are not going to jump to arrogant conclusions based on your finite experiences of what you think is true. And when you fail, you are not going to unravel and you are not going to fall apart because you didn’t have some assumption that it had to be some certain way anyway. You are looking for love, for the peace that flows out of the Father’s heart and mind at this moment in time. “The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” You are looking for a sense of fellowship and the satisfaction and the love that comes from the Father and the Son living in you and affirming Themselves to you.
If you ask anything knowing, feeling, and experiencing the Father, it will be done. There is a process of fellowship and this love communion that is at the root of the Christian existence in its purest form. Not many people have ever lived that way, unfortunately. Therefore, mid-life crises or instability mark more than 99% of the existence of so-called Christians, and even true Christians because they are not living out of the Life of God, out of the Love of God, out of the supply of the Father, out of communion with the Godhead, out of desperate love one for another.
They don’t yet know truly what it is to feel the Father’s love and experience the love of God in others. Their experience of “church” or the “Body of Christ” is still primarily academic. Lord haste the Day when the Faith shall be sight! When the clouds over our eyes are rolled back like a scroll. When the Bride has truly “made herself ready” by being the Church Jesus died to birth—an equal yoke ready for His Return. This is the Purpose of all that we’re speaking of: a gift “from Him and through Him and to Him!” Living in love rather than externals alone. Or even less than that. “Thank you Father, for being patient with us on the Journey towards You, but not so patient that we lose our way!” : )