Spiritual slavery to false idols

Reflecting on Luke 8:26-39. In this passage, Jesus cures a man of many demons. Upon leaving his body, these demons (Legion) rush into some nearby pigs and drive them off the side of a cliff. Upon seeing a man previous naked and insane clothed and in his right mind, the people of this village beg Jesus to depart from them, in fear. Jesus tells that man to return home, and declare all that God has done for him.

For my mature Christians in the room, how often have y’all shared the gospel with someone, and because of past or present addictions, someone is afraid to receive the truth? How often do we let the demons in our lives that we have been worshiping continue to enslave us, after encountering the one true God? Maybe our hearts aren’t ready to receive it. I’ll say it again.

The spirit of the Enemy wants to kill, steal, and destroy. The spirit of confusion, disorder, death, and chaos will try whatever it can to take your peace, your joy, your faith, and in faith, your grounds for boasting in the power of God. If even demons (like Legion) beg not to be cast out, can anyone doubt the power of our God? So what keeps us from believing in his power? What present or past slavery still enslaves us?

With any kind of idolatry, there is a transaction being made. Unlike the free gift of grace, worshiping false idols costs you something. Whether it is worshiping self-image, substance abuse or other addictions, lies about the man or woman you were called to be, or other forms of false worship, you sacrifice God’s gifts in your life in order to believe more in the sin than in those things you surrender. For example, those of us who venerate our own image sacrifice the promise that there is a God that loves us just as we are, that we don’t need to perform to please him, that there is nothing more (or less) we could do to receive love from him, that his love is the most important. As debt racks up and we add sin to further sin, the Devil delights in casting us far away from God. His goal is to mislead as many people as possible, and his wages lead to death. We may enjoy attention we get from other people, but it’s a shallow joy. It’s being seen versus being RISEN. There is a power in Christ that can resurrect people from the grave, and resurrects all of us who believe in him in every weak place we surrender to him. So what stops us from surrendering our hearts?

Part of the issue is that a slave runs around thinking how she/he can do more to pay debt back, instead of slowing down long enough to comprehend the forgiveness of God. If Christ really loves you, then his love is absolutely free. Busyness is not godliness, but incites chaos that serves as an effective distraction. If the Lord’s peace is our strength, if his promises are certain, if his justice is sovereign, then who will slow down long enough to learn about the goodness of God? Who is willing to be a Mary and not just a Martha?

If there is a light in us, then it comes from Christ. Goodness is a spiritual goodness, not a man-made goodness. We have the image of God, but we need the light of Christ to illuminate that image of God in us, and give life to the places that are far from him. God can transform every area of your life if you are willing to submit to him. How many people are willing to accept that the good things in their lives are not their own? In order to become wise, are you willing to accept the limitations of your own understanding? Are you willing to be made a fool so that you might live?

The world doesn’t believe in spiritual activity unless we define it to be neutral. You talk about the Devil or the divinity of God, and immediately you piss off people who want to remain comfortable, because they are so afraid of the ways that oppressive spirit will move against them. On our own, there is no freedom. Only in Jesus is there resurrection. If you really want to break free, you have to submit to Christ and exchange the freedom you have on this earth for a spiritual freedom that transcends just what you can see, know, and hear. If you are willing to believe, freedom comes at no cost.

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Though bucket 6/23/16

  • Without repentance, we are not fit to grow in our capacity to hold God’s love. As sacred vessels, if there is no intentional acknowledgement of the way we still fall short, our usefulness to God’s plan is limited. We cannot bear the good things he has for us if we allow ourselves to just coast.
  • Believe in who God is and his promises regardless of whether you feel happy with what he’s chosen to give you. There will be times when trusting God can’t be dependent on feeling happy with him or your present circumstance. Being confident in the Lord can’t just be about our feelings.
  • Do most people have good social skills? These days, I don’t think so. I’m not convinced that it’s bad to have some room to grow in how we relate to other people. It’s like beauty, or perfect physical appearance. We all want to be well liked, to be good looking, to be able to make other people like us, to fit in. It’s probably more important to be respectful and thoughtful than free of social mishaps. So long as you are trying to model Christ’s love for the people around you and do the little you can well, I think it’s okay to leave perfection up to God. God already loves us all more than we can imagine, even if only some of us decide to allow him to care for us. It’s okay to be imperfect and trust God to help compensate for your weakness.
  • Judgmental people are afraid to lose God’s love because they’re living their faith like it depends on their performance. Trust God. Pray for those people. Show them that the grace of God doesn’t depend on their performance, and set somebody free of bondage. Deep down, nobody really wants to wound others. We make decisions trying to compensate for what we are convinced that we need. Pray that people who make others feel condemned for minor flaws would realize that God’s love extends past their own character and past other human’s collective weaknesses. Pray that they encounter the abundance of God. People only judge like that when they are spiritually hungry and don’t know where to eat. Repay judgment with grace and kindness.
  • It’s good to have blessings large enough that they feel like burdens sometimes. Depending on whether you are grateful and trust God’s Holy Spirit, a gift will be good, neutral, or bad. It’s okay to have to take time to grow into the gifts God has for you, and to learn to steward the ones he’s already given. If you are actively trying to pursue Christ, becoming a better steward of what you already have is natural.
  •  A society where Teachers don’t parent and Parents don’t teach is doomed. A good Father teaches his children, and a good teacher cares for her students with a mother’s love.
  • I’m going to do the best I can with the little I have for as long as I can until it pleases the Lord to increase it. He who is faithful with little is faithful in much. Like the parable of the widow’s giving, we should aim to be faithful with what we have instead of feeling overwhelmed by what we don’t have. It’s more useful while you are waiting for certain life seasons to embrace God through the things you already have, than to be disappointed that it’s not here yet. Faith is based on what is unseen, not what is easy.

Why is it just now that people are valuing my questions?

Not everybody gets to that point of actively pursuing positive cycles, but for those of us so blessed, what a gift worth living!

When I was a kid, I was so full of questions. I wanted to know and see and explore everything. Turning up rocks for rollie pollies (bugs) in the backyard, spending time outside to examine different insects, playing devil’s advocate when it wasn’t fun, asking questions when I detected difference.

It’s wonderful to finally be old enough to know that asking questions is a part of resilience. Having curiosity leads to having grit and passion, and both things can help us pursue meaning in life. It’s nice to know after all that time that it was worth asking questions. Not just that the questions set me apart, but that they’re good for people.

If you’re the weird kid at school, you don’t have meaningful ways to talk about being different. People always told me that it was good to ask questions, but like a swollen birthmark, it’s nothing I ever chose, but something I couldn’t get rid of.

Being curious helped me through some terrible seasons of life. I never realized that being curious universally helps others, too. When you feel isolated, it’s really hard to identify what makes you different. It’s even more difficult to feel as though those things that make you different are actually worth something. Even when you have older and wiser people who notice such traits and appreciate them, it’s really hard to know what the hell they’re talking about until you’ve gathered some perspective. As a teacher, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a student who questions and is curious is often more fruitful than one who is complacent or is afraid to learn. Despite all those people who didn’t appreciate my questions and all the teachers who tried to resurrect them, it has been really difficult to understand the value of curiosity in myself.

It’s nothing I asked for. I think that oftentimes, you get punished for being curious, just like you get punished for being honest with people who legitimately do not want to know better. When a child tells you things that are terrible or brings up something legitimately insightful, there is often a power struggle. Denial. Lack of willingness  to listen.

Even in college, you get punished for having questions. I truly believe that you have to be in a role where you can gather some leadership for people to not attack any willingness to learn. The fact that we make our children wait so long to do things that are meaningful makes me angry. Would we have fewer high school suicides if students were more actively involved in creating their own knowledge? Would we have stronger relationships that help traumatized children overcome the past if we encouraged self-directed learning? If you empower a child and teach them that their questions are valuable and that they are allowed to ask them, you meet them where they are at in a way that reflects God, and doesn’t punish them. Learning doesn’t have to be so difficult.

And so I’m older now, and I’ve still got my questions. But I tell you, I’ve been asking the same questions for years, and only now that I’m old enough am I finally getting some answers or people who actually respect me. Why do we have to age into getting some respect? The notion that you have to qualify to matter is nonsensical for a creation made in God’s image. It really sucks that people couldn’t just listen to me as a kid when I gave them these opportunities to learn with me, instead of finally esteeming what I say now that I’ve become an adult. They are the same exact questions. How many years were wasted? The only thing that has changed is that people have started to view my life as though it has some sense of opportunity. Why don’t we already view our children like that?

Unpredictable God

Spent most of this morning and a little of last night considering how few of the blessings I take for granted were things I knew about beforehand.

Really didn’t expect Jesus to be as many things as he’s turned out to be. When I decided to give it a shot with my whole heart on study abroad, really didn’t expect this journey would change how I think about everything. Didn’t expect it to so significantly affect my beliefs and my habits. Didn’t ever assume I’d be one of those. Didn’t expect to have peace over what I read in the Bible. Didn’t expect to make peace with the type of churchy people who just seemed to exclude people, just because we believe in the same Savior.

Never expected to meet so many Christians from all over the globe. Never anticipated that my faith would enhance my cultural competency instead of limit it. Never realized that my faith would give me God’s strength to transcend racial barriers that our society so encourages. Never expected to have my own fully-secure identity in Christ that never resulted in me trying to prove anything.

I never expected to have so many friends, let alone live this long. Never expected to know legitimately helpful information that has the power to heal my community and family. Never thought my life could be this useful. Even if there is a lot to live yet, I really did not envision becoming a peacemaker. I never thought I would be able to escape my baggage. For a long time, I was just coasting, trying to keep my head down.

Beyond those easy shores of neutrality, being a Christian actually helps me make sense of the constant chaos and death of this life. My cynicism has recourse, and I find myself hopeful. There is a truth in the redeemed image of humanity that helps the suffering seem justified. For all of us, death is inevitable. In Jesus, there is life in full supply.

For God, who is without sin, there is no death. The Lord does not remain angry. As we live, death is a constant. From the perspective of God, who is eternal, death is the inevitable outcome of humanity’s actions. But despite this world, there is the love of God all around us, constantly available in Christ, and in full supply.

As I prepare to move, I’m looking forward to those blessings remaining unpredictable. The Lord has power and the authority to move and we just have to be willing to respond to him.

Fragility and the help of Emmanuel

Getting ready to move makes you very aware of how much conversational give and take is really for other people. As I get closer to moving away, I feel as though some of my friends are more delicate than they would be otherwise. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells sometimes, trying to soften the things I’d normally be saying full strength, not wanting them to feel afraid or angry that I’m leaving, trying to hedge against burning bridges on both sides. When people sense that the end of a season is coming, in the frustration of changing, we can sometimes lash out in ways that wouldn’t be wise in a longer relationship. When people feel threatened, or they sense that a relationship is disposable, they don’t always act wisely.

I have some trouble with my boss sometimes, who is somewhat type A. She is not a fan of change, and she gets overwhelmed easily. Like some family members I know, she feels uncomfortable when I am not always sunny and happy. If I come in thinking about something complicated, or if I say something that shows too much frustration or mourning, she gets defensive and finds creative ways to take things personally. Sometimes when we have a lot going on, it can be difficult to work around my boss. She can get overwhelmed and make rash decisions that she wouldn’t make thinking clearly. There is tension because I’ve been there longer than her, but I just try to do what she asks of me. The nature of our work is to constantly answer questions that are both broad, complicated, and more often than not, somewhat critical. If you don’t keep a level head and pick your battles, you are liable to lose it.

I think my boss is afraid. Whenever there is a lot going on, she feels more helpless dealing with the situation. Sometimes, she will talk aloud or take a lap around the office just to calm her mind and break out of any discomfort. Though I think she would probably prefer a more predictable and less high-stress work environment, I’m just doing what I can to keep the peace. When she gets frustrated, she can be slightly verbally abusive and condescending. She makes choices without consulting anybody, and uses a tone of voice that is disrespectful towards the students we work with. Because there is often a language barrier, her stress makes her unable to helpfully work through counseling a student with limited English proficiency. When she gets overwhelmed, she relies on attitudes and actions that aren’t often professional. She took offense the other day when I told her that I don’t feel comfortable when she takes up so much of my personal space without asking (she was trying to explain something with her hands on the back of my chair and I really didn’t feel comfortable). She found a way to take that personally also.

When you allow difficult circumstances to make you afraid, that fear controls you. When you work in stressful work environments, you have to be skilled at de-escalating situations, not building them. Though my boss doesn’t yet understand this, I do my best to get out of her way and stay level headed. Since I leave soon, her taking my matter-of-fact statements personally is not ultimately my responsibility. My responsibility is to do the best work I can do, and try to set an example that may rub off. When she takes a second to cool down, she acts more respectfully. She does make an effort to understand where I’m coming from after she’s had a minute of peace. She does try to make me feel appreciated when she finally calms down. I just feel a little bad for her because I remember what it’s like to deal with all that anxiety and have to go through the emotional fireworks. Looking at it from the outside, I feel sorry for her because I know the ups and downs are unnecessary. And I know it’s something she tries to control, even if she can’t on her own strength. Those kind of patterns are exhausting.

The more I work with kids, the more I believe in being a facilitator instead of a judge. My job is to encourage the ones I love to come to productive conclusions by listening and giving supportive advice. My job is not to control people’s every waking action. A lot of parents try to control their children without really teaching. A well taught child learns how to teach others, and is useful to society. A micromanaged child doesn’t make sense of the constant ebbs and flows of life’s changes, and learns to be afraid instead of to take initiative.

I see God’s presence a lot more in this “Emmanuel” kind of role. “God with us” walks us through our problems and provides his own strength for us to work through them. Teaching is a reminder to rely on God’s strength, because it’s true that those who teach will be judged more fiercely. If you seek responsibility, you become liable for all that responsibility means.

I think that it’s a lot easier for people to come into a relationship with God through Christ by having teachers in this kind of “Emmanuel” position. If we aren’t willing to serve, we should not be teaching. If “Rabbi” was a good enough title for Christ, then teaching is an honorable position. Good teaching requires you to serve. You have to be patient.

It’s hard for me to sympathize

In a world where men justify raping women “based on her actions”,

It’s hard for me to relate to your porn addiction.

In a world where your lust can be the defining feature of my character,

It’s hard to have sympathy.

In a world where women are burned in acid attacks,

And where children are raped freely,

Where terrorists are enshrined in patriotism,

And we beg God to come quickly,

When I see so many beautiful single women in churches,

And so many broken marriages because of cheating,

When there are so many single moms just trying to make ends meet,

And little boys focus on getting laid,

And many girls unilaterally suffer the consequences,

I feel angry.

Even at work, there are always those guys who expect you to counsel them through the temper tantrums,

And want a shoulder to cry on,

Without doing any work.

I don’t want to hear your poisonous locker-room banter about how “she deserved it”,

I don’t want to wonder how you turned so vile.

There are good men, but they aren’t common.

I wonder how so many beggars can be choosers,

With leaders like this.

I want to care about how this sin affects you,

But it’s hard to see so many leaders absolutely apathetic to how this sin affects me.

And if you once more have access to the goodness of God,

And the perfection of Christ,

I wonder why there aren’t any strong men of God stepping forward,

Prompted by God to move.

So…how political is Jesus?

I just had dinner with a nice couple from my church who are pretty fun to spend time with. We spoke for a while about church, recent events in our lives, and through my questions for them, politics.

I know there are some people who don’t just launch into political discussions, but I think that so long as you try to be respectful, there isn’t all that much to lose. There are definitely issues that can set people off, but overall, the most important identity for people already under Christ is that you are a Christian.

Talking with people inside and outside of the church about politics is productive. Regardless of the results of this election, working across party lines and towards reconciliation is really important for people who believe in Christ. Most importantly, discussing politics can be a really good exercise in learning to listen and see things from alternate perspectives. In the hour or so I talked with these friends, I understood a lot more of their frustration and disappointment with the current state of affairs in the US. Though we certainly come from different schools of thought when it comes to politics, the fact that we are willing to listen to each other is probably the most important purpose of that conversation. Likely, no one was converted into my school of thought, nor I theirs. But the fact that people with legitimate differences are willing to listen and support one another is a valuable goal in and of itself.

Politics doesn’t always include discussions about things that matter, but it can. At it’s best, politics can be inspired by the desire to see God’s justice here on earth and love for creation. There are so many people who are currently suffering and to them, if God isn’t actively pursuing justice in a way that can be considered political, he must not be real. Who is God if he doesn’t really care about me and my situation? How can you try to tell me about God and not address the fact that I’m suffering?

Ultimately, the desire to see God’s kingdom on earth should be larger than the strategies we use to accomplish it. Different political parties are like different philosophies on what is best for most people, and what people really need. As a Christian, my faith is a worldview that outranks my opinions. I endorse specific strategies that I hope will help the poor, the foreigner, the elderly, children, the oppressed, and families. I could tell you how my political orientation relates to my faith, but at that rate, is it really political?

Another uncomfortable reality related to politics is that no matter how great our lives are on earth, heaven is better. Which also sounds like a cop out to people who are legitimately suffering. Still though, if any of us got everything most people strive after, it still wouldn’t be as good as God’s kingdom and all that exists through the spirit. If we invest too much in trying to manipulate every detail of this life and try to convince people we’re right about everything, do we lose sight of God? People who only care about politics are exhausting.

So, which is it? Does faith cause you to participate more in politics, or less? Maybe it calls us to participate in ways that could be both? Or that when we allow ourselves to be led by faith, others attribute political intentions over faithful ones?

If you don’t know God, faith can seem a lot like passionate politicking. When people assume that our greatest bone to pick is probably political, that just reflects a lack of understanding of God. Overall, God is greater than the political squabbles because he’s GOD. Like, he’s so much bigger than that.

The body of Christ is made up of a bevvy of different opinions, which all matter less than the perfection of God. You’ve got people from every tribe, nation, and tongue who are gradually adding up to praise the Lord, and the cultural diversity alone isn’t going to allow a situation where everyone agrees about everything. Given how much people’s opinions change within one culture over 100-200 years alone should be enough evidence that most of the things we believe don’t ultimately matter.

In the end, politics is useful only so long as it is useful to God. God can work through a variety of different methods and more often than not, mistakes. His plan doesn’t require our righteousness. The fact that he doesn’t need us to be right is good.