2021 is just days away. Moving into itcan be viewed as a portal or gate — imagine a TSA checkpoint at an airport. What if the qualification of passing from our current status to the one we are meant to be in is that we must shed some luggage? — only those who are traveling light can pass through. Would we do it, or would we stay behind, unwilling to comply? What if it was God who defined those terms, and the requirements were personalized?
I know most people from church culture would say, “Of course, to love God is to obey God, I always do.” But what people say and what people do are often very different. I have traveled many miles, so to speak, with people who claimed God as their priority, and commander and King, but witnessed them unwilling to leave behind their massive pile of luggage…
Before it turned chilly, I power-washed a couple years of accumulated grime and algae from the siding of our house, drive, and landscaping blocks. It amounted to long hours of standing, aiming the wand, thinking and listening.
The word “rejuvenate” looped in my mind every day I worked.
I heard it as a positive, not from a tone of admonition, as in “How did you let that grime get there?”, or “This is the natural consequence of aging and time.”
No, the word “rejuvenate” was enveloped in a whisper of hope and promise, as in “Do you expect this newness of me?”, or “I am reminding you to look forward to becoming ‘like new; that’s what I do because that’s who I am.”
Rejuvenate. A verb (used with object),re·ju·ve·nat·ed,re·ju·ve·nat·ing.
To make young again; restore to youthful vigor, appearance, etc.:That vacation has certainly rejuvenated him.to restore to a former state; make…
Darkness hates the light, because light overcomes it.
In good times and in bad, look for light. Call for God who is light. In Him is no darkness at all.
Darkness disguises itself as light. It dangles carrots, hoping you will bite. It promises power, control, winning. Once you take the bait, it overtakes, inch by inch. Give it an inch and it takes a mile of who you used to be.
Darkness is furious; it is reckless; it is demanding. It seeks to steal, kill, and destroy others. It seeks to steal, kill, and destroy you.
Darkness tells you it is all-powerful. In reality, darkness is not the boss of your life. You are the sole decision-maker of your body, soul and spirit. Disavow darkness. Take captive every thought to bring it into submission to God, for he is light, and light will overcome your darkness.
Across the world, Protestant and Catholic Christians are honoring the 500th anniversary of The Reformation, initiated by the Germany monk, Martin Luther. Luther also composed, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”. His arguments challenged his time’s religious establishment, the status quo, the theology and hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the “middle man” who had positioned itself as gatekeeper to God. The Church required humanity to pass through its narrow gate, teaching they must earn access to Christ through good works as defined by the Church. Luther pointed out otherwise.
I’m not so sure that much of today’s Protestant Church, since its cleansing of human additives, hasn’t steadily morphed and currently harbors as much corruption as the Catholic institution Luther abhorred 500 years ago.
Is it not common to see increasing numbers of individuals, churches, and percentages of denominations present themselves as gatekeepers to God? Do they not require of humanity…
In our own eyes, we are more than our worst moments.
In God’s eyes, we are more than our best moments.
Let that sink in. More than our best moments. We’ve only just begun to tap our potential. We haven’t even imagined what God has in mind for us to be.
There is no glass ceiling for our lives when God is given charge.
When God is in charge of ourselves. And therein lies the secret:
Let Him be the teacher, director, coach, counselor, and ruler of our lives. He is right there, willing to be in partnership with us. We don’t have to be alone — we weren’t meant to be alone. He will be our life partner, our team mate, our personal team leader.
But only if we are aware of that fact. Only if we consciously let Him. He won’t intrude and take over anyone or anything if He isn’t requested.
When He is included each and every moment of each and every day — which takes conscious choice until it becomes a habit — the sky’s the limit in our daily lives.
In partnership with God, when we come to the end of our limitations, He takes us beyond …
When the US legalized gay marriage, social media was abuzz with opinions on the topic. I intended to defer to greater minds, and to those it affects directly, but the following Facebook post by an acquaintance pulled me into the fray:
There seems to be some confusion brought into the Church about whether Gay people will go to heaven. Apparently, God Himself has something to weigh in on this subject (for those with ears to hear what the Spirit says to the Church).
“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
I’ve overlooked the chastisements and judgments of her varied posts over the months since we met, as well as during a social event she invited me to, but this time stirred a response. I commented on her post, mentioning verses from 1 Cor. 13 about love, and God’s call for us to love, not condemn. Immediately, she sent me texts on my phone and private messages on Facebook, saying I was a voice for Satan, and an “accuser of the brethren”. I was still recoiling from those words, when she berated me at length on her post, including use of scriptures meant to silence a rebuttal.
Plenty of scriptures came to my own mind in support of love, but I knew they weren’t welcome. I typed a comment, “I have no words. I thought I was allowed a point of view. Why is promoting God’s love a reason to attack me?”, but it didn’t go through. I had already been blocked. Unfriended. Accused but denied a response. Rejected and ejected. Over and done in mere minutes.
The unjust and bizarre attack was meant to intimidate, silence and to shame me, just as the post was meant to do to gays. To be honest, I was shaken, especially by the amount of hate that was unleashed toward me. It didn’t escape notice that most of it was spewed offline where nobody could witness it. I had experienced a taste of the hatred that so many people endure from a few “Christians”.
Why does one woman’s behavior matter enough to address it in a blog post? Because this woman and her husband started and pastor a church, and additionally run an area-wide ministry to “lead leaders of the church”. How many others are being bullied, intimidated, accused and condemned?
So, in defense of the bullied, I challenge the bully …
What was the purpose of a post condemning gays to hell? Who was the intended audience for your “lesson”? It was a public setting, so I presume it was meant for any-and-all to read and take heed. I’ve wracked my brain for how it could be helpful to anyone, and have come up blank.
If people who are gay or lesbian read it, you created an illusion of a massive wall between them and God. Instead of hearing good news, such as John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”, they are met with an impenetrable wall with a closed door, and this sign over it: “Condemnation Church.” Why would anyone want to enter through that door?
Why do people who have received God’s forgiveness and grace themselves, play bouncer and dictate who is allowed to know God and who is not? Why not do as we are asked, which is love others as he loves us, and share indiscriminately the truths that have given us life?
God is not exclusionary, and the (door)way to him is not via people. People may present themselves as the hoop to jump through, but they are not Christ. Imperfect beings that we are, we often ignore what we want, conclude some issues in the Bible are obsolete or indicative of the culture of the time (such as owning slaves, or the practice of polygamy and having concubines), while insisting on the infallibility of the Bible when using scriptures that reinforce our current beliefs.
Why don’t we admit that we aren’t all-knowing? Why don’t we suspend judgment during times of change and controversy? It’s foolish not to, because our dogma and arrogance is very evident to others – we are but resounding gongs. We think we have the monopoly on all truth, and everybody else is wrong. We’re certain everyone notes our rightness, our superiority, but all others hear is a piercing, clanging cymbal.
While we’re playing God, we are only helping the enemy’s cause, not God’s. We are the reason people are repelled from God.
We abuse God’s Word to puff up our pride, and flaunt our authoritative superiority over innocent people. We don’t even bother to ask God whathis view is of others. We accuse people who don’t agree with us of not “having ears to hear” his Spirit, while it is we who won’t listen. We won’t humble ourselves and ask for God’s guidance, because if we do, we’re likely to be knocked off our pedestals — for he humbles those who exalt themselves. If we listen to him, he might tell us the very person we are condemning pleases him; he loves and approves of them; he or she loves him back and is malleable clay in his, the potter’s, caring hands.
He might unleash his wrath on us, not our victims, if we had “ears to hear”. So we don’t ask him anything, and we don’t listen. We keep busy, condemning. We don’t even need God’s presence or direction; we already know which scriptures to use to ambush anyone who disagrees with us.
Still, somehow, the Bible transcends its misuse by humanity to represent God’s perfect nature. In the midst of those texts that mystify and divide, there are wonders to fill a lifetime. Instead of picking and choosing the scriptures to reinforce dogma, why not share the extensive wonders of God’s truths? Like this wonder:
All have free access to a loving God through a simple acceptance of Christ. Jesus wasn’t speaking of a select, exclusive group of people when he said,
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8
Where do I go when darkness overwhelms? Where do I go when evil abounds and hopelessness prevails? Where do I go when I am powerless to right what is wrong?
To the only one who will accept my collapse for a time into total dependency.
To the one who sheds light on what is dark … little by little, or all at once … it isn’t up to me but up to him.
To the one who brings me into a partnership, not puppetry as I once imagined of him.
To the one who changes my expectations and beliefs — about almost everything — who corrects wrong-teaching acquired from birth forward, the misinformation about people and God, earth and heaven, death and life, evil and good, darkness and light.
Where do I go when I am fearful?
To the one who believes in me, and proves it by stepping back and…
I’m going to play teacher for a moment, and give you an assignment:
Pay attention to all of the people you speak with for seven days, and note how many people actually listen.
Pay attention to yourself in those interactions, to note if you listen.
When I say “listen”, I don’t mean only with ears. I mean to sincerely attempt to understand exactly what is being said.
Listening to others with that as the goal.
Listening to understand.
How many people do that? Do you do that?
I’ve been taking note of all interactions with people for several weeks now. They include people I know well, to people involved with monthslong projects I am a part of, to neighbors and acquaintances, to fellow attendees at a community event, to walkers that stop to talk in my front lawn, to a man using the same hiking trail as my dog and me, to strangers in checkout lines.
I can confidently say that more than 90% of people don’t listen.
Oh, they may stay quiet to allow a response to their inquiries or comments, but, comically, some don’t even allow a fragment of one sentence before they interrupt the response they themselves requested.
Some have better self control than that. They actually stay silent until I complete a brief thought, but then launch into the opinions or complaints they saw in the opportunity all along. They are using me for a human punching bag or sounding board.
Others follow what seems to be their idea of social etiquette, and do the basics of “turn-taking”, but then have put other words in my mouth than what I actually said. Some conclude I am an ally of their opinions and biases when I am not. Some conclude I am an enemy of their stances when I am not.
So many people hear what they want to hear.
They don’t use their ears or their minds, they simply project onto me what they decide I am thinking or saying. They put words in my mouth and thoughts in my head that don’t exist. They have even gone on to tell others that I said or did something that never happened.
Those kinds of “deaf” conversationalists are dangerous. They are the slanderers and liars, adding innocent names to their list of people who agree with them, or who have slighted them, or who are enemies. They remain certain of their “hearing”, when they never hear with their ears, let alone with the goal to understand.
So they “listen”, those people — technically they hear sounds come out of my mouth — but they don’t listen.
Remember that unofficial list of people I took note of in the past weeks of interactions, the less than 10% who actually listen? One great listener in particular comes to mind.
She is a longtime acquaintance but a new friend. A year ago we finally made time for one-on-one conversation. At our very first lunch among many that followed, she was a surprise, a breath of fresh air, and a glass of cold water.
She is a veteran at it, I am certain. She lives her life respecting the thoughts and words of others. She has a goal to not just take turns spewing words, but to understand the heart, soul, intentions, and expressions of others.
I have noticed that she stays uncommitted to deciding what I’ve said until she checks with me to be sure she’s accurate. “Did you say … ?” “Do you mean … ?” If she’s in the ballpark, but still not accurate in her understanding of what I am trying to convey, she takes the time to get it right.
Then she responds with her view of it, or simply lets it be, depending on the content.
That is listening. Truly listening.
From all my weeks of noticing listeners and non-listeners, I have realized that there is power in listening.
The power to gain wisdom.
The power to gain knowledge.
The power to gain understanding.
The power to be empathetic.
The power to avoid harm of others.
The power to validate someone.
The power to alter someone’s course in a positive direction.
Listening well — truly listening until you understand as best as possible — is powerful.
And although it shouldn’t be, I’ve realized also that it is rare.
Maybe it’s rare because it can’t coexist with selfishness. Maybe people are generally too selfish to listen to others. It does require setting aside agendas, time, focus, and existing biases and opinions, to be a good listener. So yes, there is a cost to being a listener.
But there is also a great gain to listening well.
People heal under the power of being heard.
People trust under the power of being heard.
People realize their value under the power of being heard.
People find solutions to long-standing issues because someone listened, understood, and unveiled the fix.
People go on to pass those gains on to others who need to be heard.
Don’t take it lightly, listening is powerful.
Now go start that assignment.
Pay attention to all of the people you speak with for seven days, and note how many people actually listen to understand.
Pay attention to yourself in those interactions, to note if you listen to understand.
Out on the highways and the byways all alone I’m still searching for, searching for my home Up in the morning, up in the morning out on the road And my head is aching and my hands are cold And I’m looking for the silver lining, silver lining in the clouds And I’m searching for and I’m searching for the philosopher’s stone And it’s a hard road, It’s a hard road daddy-o When my job is turning lead into gold He was born in the back street, born in the back street Jelly Roll I’m on the road again and I’m searching for The philosopher’s stone
Can you hear that engine Woe can you hear that engine drone Well I’m on the road again and I’m searching for Searching for the philosopher’s stone
Up in the morning, up in the morning When the streets are white…
If there is one thing you learn in life, let it be this:
The Vine and the Branches
John 15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit;apart from me you can do nothing.6If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such…