Two Lords

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2015 by jcwill5

I decided to add another “two” to the ongoing discussion, before seeking to discuss our return to God and thus our cure.

And this add-on has to do with control.

There are two Lords in contention in most American Evangelical churches:   Jesus Christ, or some human or group of humans.

In earlier blogs, I have done my best to expose and treat what I’ve termed, “personal control religion” that masquerades as biblical Christianity but isn’t.

The Question of Control

One of the key questions to ask our own soul, to ask about any religious group we might join, and to discern the true from the false way is this:  who is actually in control?

A control idolatry is the master idolatry behind all other idolatries, for the false god promises us magical benefits while leaving us in control.

A control addiction is the master addiction behind all other bondages and enslavements, for all addictions function to bolster our sense of control when life is out-of-control and we are stuck in soul pain.

It is human nature, therefore, to pursue control, to hold onto control, and to fight for control when our illusions of control are threatened.

The Hell of Control

How hellish are marriages marked by control battles between husbands and wives!

How hellish are families marked by control battles between parents and children!

How hellish are societies marked by control battles between factions, interest groups, ideologies, and parties!

And how hellish and miserable are our own souls when we fight a life-long battle to preserve the illusion of controlling everything and everyone else in life!

We can’t even control ourselves, and so easily lose control to the very things we rely upon to give us control.

Monstrous Pretending

Control is therefore an illusion, a kind of denial and pretending that avoids and evades the terrifying truth: we are powerless and out-of-control and can’t stop it!

To keep this simple, each of us has a wannabe “god” or “goddess” inside of us.

We have a control monster always lurking within.

We have this budding little tyrant that is hell-bend on deposing God, crowding Him off of His throne, and running the universe as His replacement so the universe conforms to our will and our way.

It’d would be a sick joke if it wasn’t so horrific in its consequences.

A Reaction Against Painful Chaos

Particularly in chaotic, dysfunctional families (and the best family is only 70% functional), people who suffer under family chaos as unprotected, abused, or abandoned children are marked by a quest for control as adults.

They are trying to compensate, to never be hurt like that ever again, and personal control at all costs is their solution.

And we can therefore pity them, understand them, and mourn for them–their fate is the chief tragedy of our times.

But their childish solution, to gain and keep control at all costs, only sets them up to repeat the very horrors in their own lives and families–because that was the problem with their own parents.

Bad Imports

Most of the time, controllers never darken the door of a church and disdain any need for God.

But when they do come to church, expect them to import all-of-the-above control thinking into cherished truths like “family of God”, “church family”, and “community”.

Unchecked, unexposed, and untreated, church becomes their base camp and their private reserve.

If a small cliche of long-timers are in control of the church, if a pastor or other larger-than-life persona is in control of the church, if the monied interests are in control of the church, then we all know who isn’t in charge–Christ!

Diagnosing and Practicing Surrendered Control

That’s why it is always revealing to ask:   if there was a choice between disappointing the interests of Jesus, and disappointing the interests of someone or group of someones in the church, who wins?

Whose will prevails? And who gets their way in the end?

Whose mission is carried out and whose say-so has the last word?

Who, in other words, is Lord of the Church, Head of the Church, and King of the Church?

Not just in theory, but in actuality

Is Christ’s lordship affirmed not just in lip-service, but in functional decision-making, money spending choices, and priorities and efforts?

Are our prayers just token, just-checking-in prayers we perfunctorily say before we go ahead and discuss, decide, and do whatever we already think is best?

Or is there an active waiting on Christ until He reveals His will out of a sense of deep communion, intimacy, and mutual love?

Is our corporate praying unhurried, marked by listening, and more lengthy than our verbal deliberating?

Are our Bibles open and are Scriptures where He has spoken cited in a search for His will on the matter?

I believe God is winnowing the American Evangelical churches right now.

He is sifting out those who follow a spirit of tradition-bound legalism instead of the Holy Spirit of the gospel of the grace of God.

He is sifting out those who are trying to be all-important saviors from those who merely point others to the Savior.

And He is sifting out false lords, deposing them and emptying their pews to ready us for the day when He takes back actual possession of His Church as its one True Lord.

So He starts where He always does:  with us, to fight and win this ongoing, never-finished battle within each of us each and every day.

There is a solution!

Two Saviors

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2015 by jcwill5

There’s a huge difference between serving the Savior and trying to be another’s Savior.

Which is, once again, why we find two forces at work in American Evangelicalism.

I find many churches riddled with a soul malady that is very effectively disguised as helping, being nice, and caring for others.

The key question to detect if this malady is at work is:  who’s the Savior?

We can see two patterns in male-female relationships and in marriages.

We’ll see them in families and friendships.

And, more to the point, we’ll see them at work in churches.

Biblically, what we’ll see is the difference between niceness and goodness.

And what we’ll see is the difference between serving the true Christ and being a false, alternative, substitute christ to others as super-nice people.

 

How Can We Tell Them Apart?

The Savior-serving person escorts others to the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ, and finds rest and joy in that.

The Savior-being “nice” person is exhausted from trying to fix every problem, make everything better, and heroically carrying every burden.

In the former, Christ is always the hero of the helped person’s story and we are mere channels.

In the latter, we nice people become the hero of their story and pretend we’re the source of help by over-helping and fixing them.

In the former, Christ gets the recognition, applause, and praise while we stay small.

In the latter, we nice people get all the strokes, applause, and praise and receive an ego-high out of it–after all, it is we who work our magic on them.

In the former, mutual interdependency and growing healthiness of soul emerges.

The helped person grows, improves, gains skills and confidence to serve the Savior, and is our equal brother or sister in standing, giftedness, and kingdom value.

Watch for Perpetual Dependency

The nice over-helper and chronic fixer, on the other hand, generates perpetual immaturity, chronic dependency, and pain-avoidance in those being “helped”.

In this school, people never graduate.

In this home, people never grow up.

In this church, people never mature or become more independent from the leader or better than the leader at things.

In the niceness universe, we are not allowed to outgrow our teachers, our parents, or our pastors and never join the chain of passing along to others what we’ve first received.

Watch for Using

It starts with using each other–I need to be special to someone, I need someone to be special for me.

I need to be needed, and you need me and need what I alone can do for you or be for you.

I use your neediness to feel important, and you use me to take over your problems and carry your burdens.

Then we grow dependent on each other, and eventually a bondage forms of co-using, co-dependency, and co-idolatry.

Watch for Cut-Offs

Other relationships are cut off to focus on being special to that other, and they, in turn, cut off other relationships to exclusively depend on me.

And these cut-offs of others generate conflict, much pain, and, ironically, backfire badly.

Easing each other’s pain and taking over each other’s ego-needs creates more pain and amplifies the ego-crisis each party faces.

That’s why these co-using, “I love what you do for me” kinds of relationships are inherently unstable, end suddenly, and set us up for the next cycle of using and being used.

How Do You Think I Know This?

I write these things as a recoverer, and as one who continuously has to learn over and over again to never try to be another’s Savior, but to bring them to the Savior for true, maturing help.

Just as there’s a spirit of legalism that’s opposed to the Holy Spirit, there’s the spirit of being a false christ that opposed the work of the true Christ.

And the spiritual cure for both legalism and false helping will be our next topic!

Two Spirits

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2015 by jcwill5

I believe there are two spirits at work on the Evangelical Church.

There’s the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the Person of the Godhead whom Christ sent to indwell believers when He physically ascended to heaven.

The Holy Spirit is a spirit of grace for sinners, utter honesty, and penetrating reality.

He cleanses dirty souls and frees enslaved souls, binding their hearts to Christ in ties of love.

He instructs, warns, and counsels–guiding us, as Jesus put it, “into all the truth” and reminding us of “everything I told you.”

He animates the Bible–causing God’s Word to be authoritative and compelling, and prompting us to trust, embrace and obey God’s will.

He points us always to Christ–ministering the presence of Christ to us and empowering us to minister Christ to one another.

He doesn’t just love individuals, but loves the Church as a whole and nurtures and safeguards the community.  Not just “me”, but “we”.

He leads us to self-sacrifice ourselves, to do good even when others are being bad towards us, to love the hard to love and serve the unlovely.

Not in showy extravaganzas or emotional frenzies or pontificating posturing is He found.

Most often He is profoundly moving and influencing us behind the scenes and in the background–filling our hearts with such qualities as love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

The key marker of the Holy Spirit is surrendered hearts and wills–a well-loved, humble gratitude that delights to bless others the way it’s been over-blessed.

The other spirit is a religious spirit.

This religious spirit specializes in traditions that bind the conscience, in practices that foster false identities and divisions, and in attitudes of competition, comparison, and striving to out-perform others.

It is a spirit that hides its own evils instead of exposing them.

A spirit that covers up its own sins instead of confessing them.

A spirit that derides others for failing while ignoring and justifying its own sins.

A spirit that shows no mercy, that punishes all failure and exacts a pressuring, graceless conformity.

A spirit that loves control above all things–and which uses religion to obtain control and maintain control.

The failure to distinguish between these two spirits is the chief tragedy of our times!

But instead of launching into a harsh tirade, let me say that most folks under the influence of the false religious spirit don’t see it.

There is a spiritual blindness that comes upon those following a spirit of religion.

And there is the sad truth that we are all born with a performance-based mindset.

We enter this world insecure, wondering if we measure up or fit in, and looking for that magic bullet that will provide security and guarantee our fitness to belong.

It is no wonder then, that many who start out under grace and in the Spirit relapse into dead religiosity and base their security on practicing their religious routines.

The first thing we need from the Holy Spirit is a compassion

Our place is to be a vessel of mercy for those bound by the religious spirit.

We’re escapees ourselves and have no bitterness or superiority over them.

They show us ourselves and show us what we can so easily become again.

So how do we help those under a religious spirit?

We’ll talk about that the next time!

Underground Racism

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2015 by jcwill5

The Civil Rights revolution of the 1960’s did not end racism, and never could end racism.

Racism is the formation of an identity around one’s own racial superiority and resulting disparagement/hostility towards other races.

The Problem is Inside Us All

Our fallen human nature loves to distinguish itself from others in a way that makes it superior and all others inferior.

We will therefore always tend to believe our own group deserves special treatment and that other groups deserve mistreatment.

Even when our group is “below” another group in society, in our heart of hearts we very much believe we really are “above” them.

So we are naturally biased in favor of ourselves and all who look like our own group, and naturally biased against all others.

We don’t even have to try.

An Interesting Week

What I find interesting is, this very week, we had the 50th anniversary of  the Bloody Sunday confrontation between Civil-Rights marchers and racist law enforcement authorities in Selma, AL.

And the photo commemorating the re-enactment was cropped in such a way as to remove a former president of the opposite political party and of a different skin color.

Here is the link:  http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/03/09/white-house-nyt-leave-bushes-out-lead-photos-from-selma-march/

And, this very week, a videotaped song sung by a chapter of SAE fraternity at the University of Oklahoma, that celebrated lynching blacks and efforts to keep them out of the fraternity, was shared on social media.

Here is the link:  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/03/09/oklahoma-fraternity-racist-video/24634005/

Both situations resulted in firestorms and outrage.

Yet what I find fascinating is how racism, in both cases, was secret and subtle and no respecter of one’s racial preferences.

Antipathy against white and black, European and African heritage, Democrat and Republican, the rich and the poor, is still very much with us–however disguised or underground these attitudes might be.

There are, unfortunately, many illustrations of such counter-racism racism.

The leftist students who berate other students at Yale about “white privilege” are practicing the very thing they deplore, and are the mirror image of those berate students of color in the name of, “white power”.

And the student council of my own Alma Mater, UCLA, recently came close to rejecting a highly-qualified candidate simply because she was Jewish and offended their pro-Palestinian fanaticism.

It is a small step from deploring racism to becoming the enemy of racists, and a small step from becoming their enemy to indiscriminately and collectively punishing all who belong to their race.

So a backlash against the backlash results, as inflicted racial wounds provoke others to inflict racial wounds in return.

A More Personal Story

I met a young man last summer belonging to my race who went off to college in Alabama and joined, you guessed it, SAE.

When he was spotted showing kindness towards an African-American fellow student, he was viciously and repeatedly hazed by his fraternity brothers.

I could tell he was quite traumatized by it and could hardly look me in the eye as he retold the story.

So he left that school and transferred somewhere else.

I share this story to illustrate that we will never know all that goes on in secret, when nobody’s looking and no cameras are operating.

And I share it to show that there are still pockets of extremely vicious racism under the polite exterior of our society.

Let Us Not Pretend Otherwise

But let us also not pretend that all groups and nations and tribes and races on planet earth are subjected to the same evil and purveyors of the same evil.

Our only hope is for us all to leave our national, tribal, and racial identities behind, and join the new human race.

Our salvation will come in receiving a new identity at our core based on belonging in the Person who loved us to the uttermost and who founded this new humanity.

A humanity now open to every tribe and nation and people and race and language!

Where the true equality of all being fully loved like all others is matched with the true intimacy of being personally loved in the unique, custom-designed way we each need.

There is a solution!

Low Altitude Communities

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2015 by jcwill5

Communities can be grandiose, too big for their own britches, and gain swelled heads every bit as much as individuals can.

Marks of a High-Altitude Community

It’s where everyone is trying to be big, or a part of something big, rather than face how terribly small and vulnerable and insignificant they really are in a vast universe presided over by an Infinite God.

It’s where the leader is “THE LEADER”–the big kahuna, the top dog, the rainmaker, the miracle worker, etc.

It’s where the passive many blindly follow, give money, and speak flattery in exchange for being noticed, praised, and stroked by “THE LEADER”.

Each party uses the other to meet their ego needs, get an ego high, and transcend or numb their pain.

It feels so good but it is really a form of spiritual masturbation–stimulating but barren.

It’s where, the moment “THE LEADER” becomes merely human, or disappoints us, or doesn’t ego stroke us, we turn on them with viciousness, cast them out, and go find another person to be “THE LEADER”.

What’s Missing and What’s Needed

Notice that none of this has anything to do with Jesus, the faith, the Bible, having compassion on the lost, fulfilling God’s will, or extending His Kingdom.

Notice that the root of this, on both the leader and the big group’s part, is an inflated individual and group ego.

Which is why God arranges for these balloons to pop and for big people to hit bottom.

The alternative is a lowly community that follows a lowly, serving, humble Savior.

The alternative is a lowly community full of grace-redeemed, grateful, beloved and transformed sinners.

Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

The New Testament tells us in several places that “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

It is summed up by the Beatitude, “Blessed are the lowly (meek), for they shall inherit the earth.”

Marks of a Low-Altitude Community

In the low altitude community we all serve one another and honor each other as V.I.P’s–giving ourselves out to one another without expecting a return.

In the low-altitude community the only big Person is Christ Himself, the ultimate servant and loving redeemer who sacrificed Himself for us.

The rest of us are unworthy servants and beloved beggars who are made into royal heirs.

Instead of demanding that our expectations be fulfilled (or else!), we’re quite frankly amazed we even belong and are a part of it all.

We count ourselves privileged.

Gratitude marks us and complaining is the exception, not the rule.

None of us needs to be big in order to be loved, and none of us needs to be big in order to love.

We are filled with the love of the Biggest of Them All.

None of us occupy the throne, none of us is at the center, and none of us bears the weight of making it all happen.

In a low-altitude community, so much stress and rushing around and hyperactivity is no longer necessary.

Instead of trying to earn a higher status (or regain a lost status), we are loved as lowly people who don’t know it all or do it all.

Because we’re no longer indispensable, service becomes a “get-to” instead of a “got-to”.

The faith becomes fun again.

There’s spontaneity and freedom, joy and adventure, in the valley of lowliness and at low-altitudes.

Because we are not so high, our falls don’t crush us.

It’s like the balance beam is only 6 inches off the ground, instead of 200 feet.

But the one hallmark of a low-altitude community is this:  everyone, no matter what their background or their issues, immediately recognizes, “I’ve come home, home to the grace of God.”

And isn’t that the point?

A Low Altitude Life

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2015 by jcwill5

We were never meant to occupy the heights.

But our fallen nature craves superiority, elevated status, and bigness.

It leads us into grandiosity, swells our head, and balloons our picture of our selves.

Then we fail.

Then we fall.

Then we hit the ground hard.

And our wounded pride cannot accept the demotion.

So it inflicts self-blaming, self-punishing, and self-loathing on us.

We end up in despair and enter into depression.

Or we get on the treadmill and put incredible pressure on ourselves to succeed.

Or we tear down others we see as higher than ourselves so we don’t feel so bad.

Or we compensate for failure in one area by trying to be superstars in another area.

Or we redefine success in such a way as to ignore what we’re bad at and make what we’re good at the whole thing.

That’s why a high altitude life is an illusion.

It’s a mirage we never quite reach.

A deceit that never quite fills the soul.

We were never meant to be a god nor can we handle the pressure of running the universe.

But our success-worshiping culture, our pressuring parents, and our grimly determined friends, insist we seek and hold such a position.

And if we don’t, they’ll label us failures and join the toxic chorus inside of us.

The alternative is not to do nothing with our lives, but to build our lives upon an entirely different foundation.

The alternative is a low-altitude life.

Here we are small in our own eyes and know we need God for everything.

Here we admit we need help and join in the give-and-receive, love-and-be-loved center of God’s community.

Here we confess sin, come out of the closet as failures, and lead open, shared lives of repentance and humility.

Here the only great one in our lives is Christ, who carries our weight and takes all the pressure to make life work on Himself.

Here we bear no glory, feel no pressure to impress or project an super-image of ourselves, and are content to just be His.

Here, whenever well we do, we gain no elevation over others.

Here God can richly bless us or use us greatly, and it doesn’t go to our heads.

We discover that the lowly life, the meek life, is a rich life full of joy.

In a strange, counter-intuitive way, it is the greatest success of all and is an unearned gift.

If God can love us as a small person, if He can embrace us as a failure, if He can receive us home as a loser, He can love us anywhere and anytime.

The grandiose person never learns this blessed truth.

The small, low-to-the-ground person–which is the humble person–rediscovers this and re-receives grace all the time.

Jesus had to constantly redirect His disciples because they kept asking, “Who’s the greatest? Who’s #1 in our group?”

The intoxicant of greatness blinded them to the character and mission of their lowly, servant-like, giving Messiah.

And it blinds us as well.

Next time I’ll cover how a low-altitude life works in community, and how it contrasts with high-altitude communities.

Descent Into Fear, Part 2

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2015 by jcwill5

Fear is a tormenter and a tyrant.

Because we all carry our fears inside of us, we take them everywhere we go and, no matter what we do, fears are still there when we are done.

In my last entry, I touched upon how God makes our fears worse so He can make them better.

Our ego agenda, on the other hand, is to protect ourselves at all costs.

To not repeat traumas, to never go back to that same painful situation, to avoid those painful people, etc.

So God allows things to repeat, recreates painful scenarios, and arranges for fresh contacts with them.

Why?

The reason is fear is not the core, but an outer guardian that’s protecting something deeper.

Our fears mask our worst hurts.

They pace back and forth, barring the entry to our soul wounds as a vigilant sentry.

Instead of resolving pain, we cover it, bar the door, lock it tight, and throw away the key and tell fear to stand guard.

And we do with without thinking about it or even realizing we do it.

Until something in our current life touches upon, or comes perilously close to, whatever hurt us so deeply before.

Then we become terrified and are shaken to our core.

Fear takes over and tries to take us far away from the new danger.

So we lash out at or run away from whoever or whatever re-awakened our pain until the threat is over.

We react and over-react.

And God allows it!

The reason is our reactions tells us where we are afraid and therefore where we most need God to love us.

If we ignore the shouts of the fear-sentry, and push past and open the door, we will find a soul area that is absolutely crying out for healing, mercy, comfort, and lavish love.

Instead of attacking or running away, we go inward through prayer.

We ask God, “What is behind this fearful reaction?  Where did I get this button other people could push so easily?”

The discipline of “trembling in His presence”.

This practice involves saying, “I am afraid, way more afraid that I should be, Lord.  Help me know why!”

Instead of getting up and leaving the room, we tremble and shake and cry out for help–as long as it takes.

We wrestle and labor and enter the boxing ring to duke it out with our fears.

We feel our fears to the fullest and let the wave wash over us.

And, if necessary, as it often is, we have several safe friends surrounding and praying while we wrestle this through.

And then God shows us where that fear arose–usually a season or incident of deep pain where we had little or no control.

It helps me to recall mental pictures of holding my kids when they were little and afraid, and surrounding them with my fatherly love until love drove out fear and they were OK again.

I tell the Lord I need Him to do that for me–and He does!

The fearful place within becomes holy ground, an encounter with God’s love, a place of deliverance and deepest joy.

You see, all of our fears of someone or something outside us are really about being afraid of ourselves, of what is inside of us.

We are afraid of what we might say or do, of what we might find or feel, if we go there.

So we go there anyway and find we are not alone at all.

Christ was inside our soul’s room of pain already, patiently waiting for us, in control and knowing what He’s doing.

It’s where He wants to meet us.

And we have a standing invitation from Him, whenever we’re afraid, to meet Him there.

It’s where we are set free by Him and where He applies the soul-healing medicine of His greater-than-our-sorrows love.

The answer to fear isn’t “out there” somewhere, it’s “in there” somewhere.

As Larry Crabb so aptly puts it, “We jump up and down until we feel the solid ground under our feet.”

Exactly!

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