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Kicking Against Thorns


In Hosea 2, there is a concept introduced of the hedge of thorns. It’s when God practically traps us to keep us from wandering off. It’s uncomfortable if you try to escape, but if you start to follow Him, the thorns don’t stick you. I don’t know about you, but if someone puts a restriction on me that I don’t understand the reason for, I will most likely buck. If God puts a hedge around me that I don’t understand the reason for, I will kick against those thorns. Sometimes with humans, that restriction can be bucked off or explained so that you can understand it and be okay with it. With God, He’ll explain it to you when He wants, and until then, you’ll bleed all over and make a mess.

I’m not sure I’d call it breaking you, but He wants your trust. It’s like jumping in a stable with a colt. At first he” be skittish and stay away from you. I had that situation once as a kid, but with a calf.

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This isn’t her, but she was a Hereford like this little guy.

For whatever reason, I decided I’d tame this calf. It was in a pen for weaning anyway, so I’d stand by her pen every day and put my hand on her. She’d freak out, every time. But after a couple weeks, she was fine. After a few more weeks, I could step in the pen and pet her. By then, she was fully weaned and released back to the rest of the bovine population. Even out in the pasture, I could approach her and pet her for years thereafter. After some time however, she became skittish again. I think it might have been the lack of daily contact, combined with other human interaction that was not so friendly. Point being, I seem to be in a pen, and God’s standing there trying to get me to trust Him.

Now with a horse, you have to break them. Some trainers prefer to break the spirit of the horse, to make them fully subject to the trainer. I don’t think God’s like that. I think God wants us to daily, even moment to moment, and voluntarily make the decision to follow Him out of love. At the same time, I believe there’s a little bit of breaking that needs to happen. Some trapping unto trusting. And it sucks at first, but it’s okay. It’ll be okay. I have to tell myself that all the time it seems.

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Leadership Is Overrated


Lately I’ve been thinking about leadership and what submitting to leadership really means. I thought about how I’ve been taught leadership works and comparing that to what I see in the Bible. There seems to be a bit of a disagreement. It seems that the general distrust of leadership is unbiblical, yet so is the leadership style that demands rather than earns veneration (fun fact: when I think of the word “venerable”, I think of the Venerable Bede). I could go into how bad leaders who misuse their position are, but I’m not going into that in this post. Jesus said the greatest is the servant, so I think it’s important to learn what correct service looks like.

In my reading of the New Testament, I’ve come across some passages related to servant/master relationship. I didn’t do an in depth study, so I may have missed some, but a scholar I am not; I’m just a man exploring a topic. One of the first passages was in Matthew:

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Mat 23:8-12 ESV)

Leadership1This is directly after Jesus excoriates the religious leadership of that day for being hypocrites and showy. What I gather from this passage is to never consider myself above the law. I don’t mean that leaders should have the same restrictions as those under them all the time, that’s ridiculous. What I am saying is that leading by example is the way, not imposing your will and living outside of restrictions. I think of the FLDS group in the American Southwest, where Warren Jeffs imposed restrictions on his followers while he lived comfortably. It’s a common theme among cults. The leader lives above everyone in everything, and if anyone objects they are castigated as rebellious or something. In the passage above, Jesus slams leaders back down on to Earth, reminding them that they are in fact human. This not the only application for this passage of course, it can also be seen as reminder to all of us to avoid deceiving ourselves in believing that we know it all. That would be called exulting ourselves, and that doesn’t end well. Jesus also addresses this in Luke 22:23-27, if you want to look into yourself.

Another passage I found was in Peter’s first letter:

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1Peter 2:18-23 ESV)

I imagine there have been many leaders throughout history that have justified horrible things using this verse. I think of pastors in the American South preaching to slaves and slave owners, twisting this verse to the slave owners benefit. I interpret it in several ways, really.

One is that as a subordinate, lashing back in the face of accusation, however unfair, is never the right response. Rather, calmly speaking the truth and trusting that your supervisor or God will give you justice. Also, one should do their responsibilities to the best of their abilities (that “all respect” is translated in other versions as “fear” and is the same word used when describing how the disciples felt when they first saw Jesus walking on water). That’s what I see in this verse as a subordinate, but as a leader I see other things.

The first thing I see the passage pointing out to a leader is a need for open communication between a them and those under him/her, so that they can be told that their policies, etc., aren’t working without the subject fearing retribution of some sort. A servant-hearted leader will already have this in place, but it would be good to keep in mind that humans forget important things all the time.  It seems to me like it could be saying that if the lines of communication are not open, the subordinate has no place to criticize the leader and should let unwise decisions be, results being whatever they are. I don’t know how biblical that attitude is, but right now, that’s what it seems to say. As a leader, I would rather someone points out how bad my idea is before it backfires in my face. So making a place where the subjects can feel safe raising objections and reminding them continually of that is important to me. That being said, I don’t think that place should be anywhere/anytime. That can get messy fast.

Overall, I see a trend (especially in church and ministries) where leaders are venerated (and absolutely destroyed by the slightest misstep) and leaders expect veneration. To be on the platform is the goal, and any objection from those in the seats is seen as rebellion. Being a leader is a treacherous path to walk. To those under you and those who want to be you, it seems like it should be easy. Thus I say leadership is overrated.

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Love Can Cause Pain


Growing up, one of the main methods of discipline my parents practiced washttps://i0.wp.com/img.timeinc.net/time/daily/2009/0908/360_punishment_0811.jpg spanking. Every time I got my backside warmed, I would get angry at whichever parent just doled out that punishment. I didn’t really think about why that was until yesterday in the Prayer Room. I was thinking about how I just hate getting in trouble, but if someone is in trouble with me, they’ll know at the very least. I was struck by the hypocrisy of it all. I am so quick to come down on someone under me if they don’t follow my instruction, but when it happens to me, I am hurt and offended. That’s when another thing struck me. I never made any connection between causing pain and love; I’ve always thought of them as two separate things. When my parents spanked me, I took it as a sign they didn’t love me. When friends would point out a fault (out of love of course), I trusted them less. On the outside, I may have seemed to understand and all that, but inside I would be feeling betrayed and feel awkward around them until they did/said something positive to me. Of course God was no different.

I don’t believe that every negative thing is God punishing us for sin or whatever (but it happens); rather, I believe that God allows negative things to happen to cause us to lean on Him, to learn life skills, and/or show us a different aspect of His personality. While I’ve always said that I believe that everything God does He does out of love, there’s always been a feeling that that is not the case. I suppose that could have come from my parents becoming enraged before the switch ever came out, and children base their view of God on their parents (specifically their father). So if I base my perception of God on my perception of my parents, I see a God who is quick to anger, one with speedy and harsh consequences for breaking His rules, and otherwise isn’t like He says He is. My parents (well, my mom at least, I can’t recall my dad ever doing this) would tell me that they love me after a spanking, and hold me for a bit while I cried. Somehow, that didn’t really connect it my mind.

God does discipline those He loves, and is slow to anger. This true. I just have to believe it, and renew my mind (probably on a daily basis) to remove the lies the enemy loves to plant about God and who He is.

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Context. It’s Important.


In John 17, Jesus prays for us and all those who believe(d) in Him. Usually, I’m not a fan of preaching prayers, where the person praying gives a sermon on a topic mid-prayer, but in this case, I’m totally okay with it. It’s Jesus, He can pray what He wants, no complaints from me. The third sentence of the prayer is interesting:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.
John 17:4

What makes this interesting to me is that He hasn’t gone to the cross yet, this prayer was given at the Last Supper. It’s assumed by commentators, and I believe they’re correct, that the plans of His death were already in motion (at the beginning of the sermon that precedes the prayer, it’s revealed that Judas had already gotten the idea to betray Jesus), and so He was including it in the “work you gave me to do”. Is this verse saying that all that Jesus did up to His death was Him glorifying the Father, but nothing afterward? I don’t think so. If you look at what all He said at the Supper before the prayer, He hit many different subjects. He:

  • Showed His humility and servant-leadership (John 13:5-20)
  • Gave the love commandment (John 13:34)
  • Tells them He’s leaving to prepare a place for them, and promises the Holy Spirit (John 14:1-31)
  • Tells them He’s coming back (John 14:18)
  • Directs them to abide in love and how to do that (John 15:1-17)
  • Prepares them for the coming persecution (John 15:18-16:11)
  • Prepares them for His death, and hints at His resurrection. (John 16:20-33)

With all that being said, it seems that John 17:4 is more like, “Okay Father, I told them all about it and there’s no turning back now. You might as well say I’ve done it all already!”

out of contextWhen I started writing this post, I hadn’t really looked closely at that line, which brings me to another point. In actually considering and pondering the line, I actually went back and read the monologue leading up to it. It happens all the time; I’ll read something in the Bible, think it’s confusing, and simply move on. That rarely pays off (and by rarely I mean practically never). What does pay off is taking a minute, and searching the verses around it. Most of the time it’s more than a minute, and sometimes I’m still confused afterward, but in my searching, I usually come across something pretty cool anyway, so it all works out in the end.

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The Greatest Paradox


All my life I’ve been taught the doctrine of the Trinity, and I’ve heard many teachers and preachers attempt to explain how it works, but there’s a problem. I still don’t get it. The other day I was leading a meditation team with some coworkers, and I decided that we should meditate on John 1:1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (ESV)

When I say meditate, I mean writing a verse from the Bible on a sheet of paper, sitting in the place of prayer (for me, it’s the Prayer Room), talking to God about that verse, and writing down whatever comes to mind, checking it against the Bible later. Anyway, when we came back together after half an hour to discuss what we felt God had told us about that verse, we found that we all had  boggled minds. My thoughts were something like this:

“In the beginning was the Word…”
It seems that John is reaching back to Genesis 1, making his Jewish readers a little curious as to where he’s going. Yes, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth by speaking them into existence. Both Jews and believers in Jesus agree on that.

“…and the Word was with God…”
This is probably where most of his readers start arguing. Is he saying that the Word is separate from God? Is He implying that God is not one being?

“…and the Word was God.”
Wait a minute, didn’t you just say it was separate? John, you aren’t making any sense! How can something be with God and be God simultaneously? By now, at least some of his Jewish readers have figured out exactly where he’s going.  But not all. In my amateur opinion, many would continue reading, trying to figure out what the old apostle is talking about. Throughout the Gospel, they would run into John pointing to Christ’s deity again and again, starting later in John 1.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…John bore witness about him…”Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (ESV)

In my mind, John is an old man, having experienced a full life with Jesus; Jesus in the flesh, Jesus transfigured, Jesus after resurrection, and Jesus ascended. John could’ve written a lengthy introduction explaining the deity of Jesus and how it all works, but he chose instead to make it a simple and concise as he could. It’s like he knew that his readers would be intrigued and a maybe a little offended, but he chose to keep it that way, letting the life of Christ explain it all.

0008ry0qSo I guess where all this is going is something like this. The life of Christ does much to explain the Trinity. Somehow. I’ve really just realized this in the midst of writing this, so I don’t know how it all works. What I do know is this: God is God, Jesus is God, the Holy Spirit is God, but they are all separate as well. I’ve heard it explained like this, water can be in different forms: ice, steam, and liquid; likewise, God is a being, human, and spirit. But I don’t know how much I like that analogy. In fact, I think the doctrine of the Trinity is the greatest paradox, so I’m pretty certain that any analogy will fall short. And I’m pretty certain I’ll be wondering how it all works for billions upon billions of years in the afterlife. This is only the beginning.

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I’m not going Catholic, but…


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The heavy wooden door eases open, closing soundlessly behind me. The basilica is still empty, and so I hoped it would be. It’s 5:40 a.m., and I need to have some conversation. I bow toward the crucifix, my hand moves across my torso and head in the sign of the cross. Or what I hope is the sign of the cross. You see, I’m not actually Catholic, I’m as Protestant as they come, but my policy is: when in Rome, do as the Romans. There is a certain peace that comes with the tradition, the reverence. It makes me think of the holiness of Him who I call God. Quiet and solemn as it is, I feel a passion burning in the midst of it; it’s worship to a level that’s new to me. Simply put, worship at my home church celebrates the personal relationship between God and us, but worship here celebrates God’s authority over us. Both are real, and absolutely legitimate.

You see, I grew up thinking Protestants, specifically Non-Denominational Charismatics, had the truth, and every other denomination had  maybe some of the truth, but certainly not all of it. When I moved from my small hometown to a large city after high school, and began working at the interdenominational prayer ministry that I currently work for, my mindset began to change. No church is perfect, but I don’t subscribe to the notion that most have fallen away from the truth anymore.

The one denomination I didn’t trust was the Roman Catholic Church. I thought all Catholics worship Mary and the Saints, believed the Pope to be completely infallible, and acted like Kennedys (with no apparent morals besides going to Mass). But then I had a roommate that is Catholic. I won’t go in to all I learned from him, but basically, he completely shattered all my preconceptions of the RCC. Fast forward two years, and I’m in a different house with different roommates. One of my roommates piqued my interest by telling me he was planning a trip to a monastery for the weekend. I couldn’t go that time, but said that I would like to join him next time. The next time happened several months later, and that is when I found myself in the basilica at 5:40 a.m. That trip (which where that first paragraph is from) was about six months ago, and I still talk about it.

I don’t intend on converting to Catholicism, but I’ve definitely come a long way from the ignorance I once had. I still believe that Mary and the saints were mere humans and not even close to divine. I believe that asking Mary or the saints to pray on our behalf is pointless and probably idolatry, as God loves us and wants to talk to us and has never wanted us to pray to anyone else. I believe that the wafer and wine stay a wafer and wine, and that they have no mystical properties (that being said, I believe taking communion is a holy thing that should be treated with reverence). I believe the Pope does not have the last say, but I do respect him greatly.  I believe Protestants can learn much from Catholicism, and I believe Catholics can learn much from Protestants.

What I do intend to do is this: to continue to walk in the ways of God, to seek Him, and to give Him the preeminence in my life. The ways I do that have changed greatly over the years, and will probably continue to do so. Just don’t be surprised to see me in a pew looking at a crucifix every once in a while.

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The Exchange Rate of Love


What does delighting oneself in someone look like? That’s the question rolling around in my head tonight. I was reading Psalm 37:4, one of those verses found on calendars, coffee mugs, and Thomas Kinkade paintings:

“Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
(ESV)

Well, you better believe my heart has desires. There are things I really, really, really want, and if there’s surefire way to get them, I’m interested. So what exactly does “delight yourself in the LORD” look like? I have ideas, but nothing too concrete just yet.

When I was first considering it, I thought about human relationships. I thought about those couples that are totally enamored with each other, and what it takes to get to that level of love. It’s time together. It’s trust and openness. It’s forgiveness and understanding. It’s love and respect. It’s discovering just who that other person is. With humans, it’s entirely possible to start to get to know someone, just find out that they actually aren’t as amazing as you imagined; we’ve all experienced that. But God isn’t imperfect. At all. He’s the most amazing, intriguing, fascinating, awe-inspiring, loving, understanding, smart, compassionate, witty, humorous, caring, and otherwise good, being there is. There is simply none like Him. If you spend time with Him, He’ll spend time with you. If you trust Him, He’ll be open with you. If you forgive, He’ll forgive. He wants relationship with us.

Now, you may have read somewhere, or thought it yourself, “Why doesn’t God just make me love Him? He’s all powerful, He could do it.” I think that while God is indeed powerful, He put in us a power over our love, generally called free will. We have no material thing to give God; He’s not moved by that. He’s moved by the giving of our love to Him. That may include giving up some material possessions, but it’s different for each of us.

Sometimes, I think that my love isn’t very much. Why would God want the love of a5275currency_exchange broken young man that has done (and still does) so much wrong. But I’m reminded of the widow that Jesus and the Disciples saw giving her all in the temple. Her all was about 2 cents, but it was her all, and Jesus said that it was honored more than the ten percent given by the wealthier. God’s exchange rate is is way more unbalanced then of that between the Euro and the Iranian Rial (about 1 to 16,000, by the way). Our little offering of love is met with a flood of love from Him in various ways. Sometimes He simply speaks of his love to our hearts. Sometimes it’s physical things. Extra measures of spiritual gifts are entirely possible. He will give what you need to feel loved, and He knows you better than you do, so it might not be what you were thinking you need.

He has such love for us, and all we need is to give Him our love. If only it weren’t so terrifying.

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