Rules of Discernment, Rule 3: Diversity

Have you ever really thought about how wildly different in appearance human beings are? With the exception of dogs, animals of the same species will share a narrow range of colors, size, and appearances. But humans can have hair that is orange or white or black, skin from the palest whites to the darkest black, noses that are flat or bulbous or wide or narrow. Our lips come in sizes from billowy to so thin as to be practically non-existent. We can have huge bubble butts and flat behinds that look like they hurt to sit on. We may be rail-thin or carry enough fat to jiggle with every move. There are women who are over 7 feet tall and men who fail to hit 4 feet. If we were birds, we would have lost our ability to procreate with each other ages back and formed a dizzying array of subspecies, yet there’s nothing other than personal preference that could have stopped Shaquille O’Neil and Rea Pearlman from reproducing together.

Of course, the diversity of human beings doesn’t end with physical appearances. Some humans are smart enough to understand ideas that unlock the structure of the universe while others believe that ectopic pregnancies can be reimplanted. There are people who experience sound as colors and people who are colorblind. Some people are loud and aggressive and some are quiet and withdrawn. Some can run a 5 minute mile while others push themselves to cover the same distance in 20 minutes. Some people love being scared, some people get freaked trying to navigate a parking lot. Some people talk incessantly and others lack the capacity entirely. Some people are lighthearted to the point of irresponsibility while others are careful and cautious to the point of paralysis.

Obviously, I could go on forever giving examples of ways that humans are different from one another. It’s practically limitless. We have different personalities and temperaments that are often discernable at birth. We like different things. We have different priorities, drives, and desires. On and on and on – humans and variety go hand and hand. It’s a fundamental part of how God created us. He WANTS us to be different. He wants to have some people who are aggressive and some people who are gentle. Some people who laugh at everything and others who cry at everything. It is his design for us that he looked at and called “very good.” Which leads me to my 3rd Rule for Discernment:

Do not follow or trust any teacher or leader who insists that there is a right or wrong way to be human.

God literally made humans to be wildly diverse so quite obviously, a teacher who says that good and proper humans must conform to a narrow set of behaviors, styles, personalities, interests and so on are showing a flagrant disregard for God’s ways. In fact, they are literally arguing against God’s ways in favor of their own personal preferences. Which isn’t actually something a good teacher or shepherd would do.

Inside the church we probably see this error among teachers and shepherds most clearly when it comes to men and women. Typically, women are supposed to be gentle, quiet, demure, agreeable and relationship-oriented. Men are supposed to be aggressive, forceful, leaders, decisive and goal-oriented. Men and women who aren’t naturally inclined to such things are encouraged to seek God’s help in changing from the person he created them to be into something more to the leader’s liking. They are told that the personality God gave them, their natural preferences, what feels good and right to them is wrong and needs to be repented of. It’s oppressive, mentally and emotionally harmful and warps entire families and communities in ways that prevent human flourishing.

Now, I joke around a lot, but I want to make really clear the seriousness of what we’re talking about here. Some of the false teachers and bad shepherds may not quite realize that the things they believe make for a good, godly person are personal preferences rather than some sort of God-given judgment on what sort of people we’re supposed to be. But others are literally creating a world that works according to and in service to their own selfish desires. There are lots and lots of examples, but the clearest example of how destructive and malicious this behavior is found in a man named Bill Gothard.

Some of you know all too well who Bill Gothard is but some of you are more blessed than that and have probably never heard of the man. He is a highly influential figure among IFB – Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. Independent Fundamentalist Baptists are extreme Christian fundamentalists whose adherents include the Duggar Family of 19 Kids and Counting fame. Now, perhaps you have noticed that all of the Duggar girls, including the mom, style themselves in very similar ways. They wear their hair long, with loose curls, have milky complexions with rosy cheeks, are slim, wear skirts that go to the ankles and clothing that minimizes the appearance of breasts. The reason for this is that they followed the teachings of Bill Gothard who taught that this was the appearance girls and young women should have. This is what is desirable for a woman, pleasing to God and showed good character. As it turns out, Bill Gothard is a sexual predator who personally prefers young women with that particular appearance. Like a lot of predators, he had a “type” and he was using his position to surround himself with potential victims whose appearance appealed to him.

That case is extreme, but one of my basic rules of thumb is that any dynamic or system which can easily be put to use by predators is not of God. God’s ways don’t rely on the goodness of men to produce good fruit but have a power all their own. Even if it were possible for a mere mortal to know as much as God about how he intends people to be, giving a leader the power to tell people who they are supposed to be requires that leader to be a genuinely good person. The existence of Bill Gothard and others like him is proof positive that having leaders tell people what kind of people they should be is not God’s way of doing things because it relies on the goodness of humans to avoid devolving into a sexual predator enabling nightmare. And the toll it takes on families, individuals and children, in particular, to be subjected to someone telling them that who they are is wrong and displeasing to God is enormous.

All of which is to say that if you run into a teacher or leader who has strong opinions about how people are supposed to be, run. Nothing good comes from exposing yourself to someone who has rejected such a basic aspect of how God designed human beings. A good teacher won’t try to narrow down the types of people God finds pleasing, but will celebrate the diversity that God created within the human race and help us learn to look on those who are different than ourselves with eyes of love that look for beauty and God’s fingerprints.

Rules of Discernment, Rule 2: Boogeymen

As most of us are well aware, the church can be a treacherous place. Unfortunately, many Christians are ill-equipped to navigate it without falling prey to false teachers, bad shepherds, false teachings, lies, manipulation, etc. When Jesus said “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”, he apparently wasn’t kidding. Of course, immediately after telling us that he was sending us out like walking dinner plates at the Fyre Festival, he also said, “Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” To that end, I’m sharing my “Rules of Discernment” to help you and your loved ones navigate the treacherous ground we stand on.

Last week, I shared my 1st Rule of Discernment which is, basically, don’t trust anyone who claims authority for themselves rather than directing you back to the Spirit of God in you. Which right there eliminates a big chunk of the very most noxious false teachers, charlatans and cons. However, there are plenty of dangerous snakes who are a bit too savvy to come right out and openly claim the authority of God for themselves. So we need to move on to other obvious as well as telltale signs that you’re dealing with a false teacher or bad shepherd without having to go through the whole process of experiencing the effects of false teachers and bad shepherds yourself. At the top of the list of fairly obvious signs I’d put my 2nd Rule:

If a teacher/pastor/leader views the world as an “us vs them” endeavor with Christians on one side and other people/groups/ideology on the other – RUN!

Quite literally, if you hear a teacher tell you that the gays, the liberals, the trumpists, the atheists, the feminists, witches, warlocks, pagans, communists, nudists, the guy who takes his shoes and socks off on the plane or any other person or group of people is trying to “defeat/eliminate/attack” Christianity somehow, you can very comfortably turn tale and run. There’s a near zero chance that that person has anything to teach you that you can’t find in a bajillion other places.

Properly practiced, one of Christianity’s foundational, primary teaching is love of our enemies. It’s what we, at our best, have been known for from the days of the early church right down to our current time. A teacher who instead teaches fear of enemies can barely even be understood to be a Christian regardless of their theology or other claimed beliefs.

Loving our enemies and responding to evil with good doesn’t come naturally, of course. It’s something we must discipline ourselves to do. It’s something we rely on leaders to model and, well, lead us in doing. With practice, there does come a time when loving our enemies starts to come naturally but along the way we need lots of messages telling us over and over, “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. . . Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. . . Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. . . Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

One of the jobs of a real Christian teacher – one of the things we NEED from our teachers – is to proclaim that message over and over and over again. To shut down all of the excuses and justifications we use to get out of loving our enemies. And one of the things the world needs from us as Christians is to see us engaged in this discipline, to be on the receiving end of kindness in response to hostility and care in response to harm. If we as Christians aren’t engaging in that most Kingdom of God like practice of enemy love, how will the Kingdom of God ever be made manifest among and around us?!? It’s literally part of how we bear witness to the power of Christ in us and without it; without it our witness has no power and no credibility.

A teacher who encourages their flock to view others as a threat to be resisted, condemned and rejected is failing at being a follower of Jesus. They have absolutely no business teaching about or even representing the Christian faith to anyone. It would be like a Muslim Imam encouraging their followers to worship trees. It’s completely incompatible with the Christian faith. And it’s an abuse of the flock.

The bible says the words “do not fear” (or some variation thereof) over and over and over and over and over again. Like hundreds of times. Yet these “teachers” stand up and exhort their flocks with all kinds of reasons to be afraid. When we are afraid, our rational, thinking brain stops communicating effectively with the reactive, emotional brain. In this state, we’re very vulnerable to manipulation. Triggering our fear provides a durable screen for the con or charlatan to hide behind. Even if you catch on that they’re not on the up and up, you’ll be tempted to take an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” stance so you can continue battling “the good” fight together. It’s quite a neat little trick.

Even worse, once fear brain takes over, it becomes ridiculously difficult to see those you’ve labeled “enemy” clearly. All over the country there are Christians who sincerely believe that their neighbors who are atheists, lgbtq, liberal, Muslim, poor, immigrants or whatever are a very real threat to them, their way of life and the Christian faith. Of course, this isn’t reality. We’re all just people. We all bear the image and likeness of God in our innermost being. We belong together. But if all I can really see when I look at my neighbor is “enemy who is serving the forces of evil with the goal of harming me and all I hold dear”, that’s not what you’re going to see. Unity with mankind (Hebrew – Adam) based on our common humanity is, I believe, our birthright. It was stolen from us by the enemy. And it is kept from us by the immature impulse to view the world as “us vs them”.

Not to mention that the whole idea that a group of people, an ideology or a person could constitute an actual threat to my Christian faith is absurd. My faith is and internal affair can’t be taken from me. And even if I were unable to speak a word of it, God is still plenty capable of revealing himself to people in their innermost being regardless. And how can anything be a threat when Jesus said, flat out, that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church. Like, do you actually believe anything Jesus said or not? How serious is a threat that has zero chance of prevailing anyhow? Even if enemies appear to be crushing the church (a reality in places like Pakistan and parts of the Middle East), we’re following a savior who died and rose again and has promised the same to us. Do we believe that or no?

Literally nothing good comes from viewing our neighbors as enemies. It’s alienating. It’s unfaithful. It strengthens the enemy’s kingdom on Earth. It deprives us of the fruits of disciplining ourselves to love our enemies. On the other hand, loving our enemies is revolutionary. It starts to undo the harm humans have done to each other, creates unity among people and forces us to grow and develop as human beings. Do yourself, the body of Christ and the world a favor and refuse to follow any teacher who warns you about boogeymen. Nothing good comes from following a bad shepherd, peeps.

Rules of Discernment, Rule 1: Authority

One of my persistent frustrations with my fellow Christians is a general lack of discernment and good judgment. As the bible makes amply clear, there are false teachers and bad shepherds out there yet everywhere I turn, I meet Christians who have fallen for con artists and cult leaders and false teachings by the boatload. When you see the wreckage of broken families, broken people and corruption wrought in people’s lives, the persistence and ferocity with which scripture condemns false teacher and bad shepherds makes perfect sense.

What I’ve realized in talking with the victims of the charlatans and cons is that no one ever taught them even the most basic rules of discernment. Which makes sense since charlatans and cons are hardly going to start teaching their victims how to sniff them out. But I’m not a charlatan or a con, although you are plenty welcome to go buy my books, so I’m happy to share what I know, starting with rule numero uno:

All authority belongs to God. No one who claims authority for themselves is to be trusted.

It doesn’t matter if the claim to authority comes by way of their education, revelation, natural ability or giftings, their call, the affirmation of others, institutional position or because they were born on a Thursday in July in a magic lightning storm. It doesn’t matter what the reason given is, any teacher who claims authority for themselves (or claims that God has conferred such authority to them) is a false teacher to be rejected out of hand.

A true religious teacher claims no authority for themselves and will direct you to verify anything they say with the Spirit in you rather than just accepting what they say at face value. They know that God is real and that the same God which is teaching them is available to you. If their words are true, the Spirit in you will affirm it. If their words are false or not meant for you, the Spirit will keep you from falling into error. An insistence on directing you back to the Spirit in you for your answers is a hallmark of a true teacher.

Further, a real teacher will show a willingness to accept with a minimum of quarrel or offense if you come back and say that the Spirit in you did not affirm their words. Their impulse will be to go to God for instruction and understanding, not to make you defend yourself. A real religious teacher doesn’t need you to agree with or affirm them. They know that it’s God’s job to grow and teach his children and He will do it with or without the teacher’s help. And they have enough experience listening to and sitting with God to easily receive correction or allow their understanding to be expanded, so your disagreement is an opportunity rather than a threat.

Now, perhaps you are reading this and you’re thinking of the teachers you’ve known and realizing that what I’m describing is assuredly not the sort of behavior you are accustomed seeing among Christian (or other religious) teachers. Which explains right there why the church is in such horrific condition. A disproportionate percentage of Christian teachers can’t even make it past the first rule of discernment. They don’t even pass the sniff test. And yes, that includes the ones with the largest followings and most money. In fact, it especially includes them.

The truth of the matter is that most of the teachers God has trained for the benefit of the body are nowhere near a pulpit. Some are. But not many. Most of the best teachers are just walking among us unrecognized and unheralded by the institutions that claim the label of the church for themselves. They simply speak truth into whatever situation they are in, watering the ground around them with words of life, weeding out falsehoods by the root and scattering seeds of healing and restoration in their wake.

It would be lovely if these were the people leading the church, of course. Maybe you can check with God and see if there’s a plan for that. 😉

Help Needed – Please Read!

On Monday, I share the story of a 14 year old Christian Pakistani boy who was viciously attacked and tortured by a man who had a financial dispute with the boy’s father. He is in need of surgery to repair injuries to his shoulder and his bowels, without which he will be permanently disabled and live with severe pain. Now, I know that terrible things are happening every day all over this planet. But it’s not often that we are individuals in the Western world are in a position to help a specific child in a hard to reach part of the world in their moment of crisis.

This boy’s name is Shamneet. His family is very poor – they are living hand to mouth. Surgery to repair his injuries and medication for recovery will cost $800. So far, we’ve been able to raise just 10% of that. I totally understand that money is tight everywhere. But I have several thousand readers. All we need is for 9 more people to make an $80 donation or 18 people to make a $40 donation.

This is a thing that we as the Body of Christ do for each other. It goes back to the earliest days of the church. If we do not do this together, there’s no magic wand that’s going to be waved to make everything all better. It really is up to us to take care of each other.

Amount still needed: $0! We did it!

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For those who are inclined to skepticism, please be assured that this is not a scam. I have worked with the gentleman who is arranging for Shamneet’s care on multiple projects over the past year, including acting as a go between to obtain assistance for another child through the Smile Foundation and hearing aids through the International Society of Audiologists. You can see a video which this man, Atif Jamil appears in explaining one of the projects his foundation worked on. Below are his business cards and a recent picture which you can see shows the same man as in the video I linked to. If you need further evidence, you can contact Dr. Chuck Cristo who also knows Atif and was able to perform a memorial service for victims of an earthquake in Pakistan with him. I know that scammers from developing countries are always a cause for concern, but we should not allow our fear of scammers to prevent us from supporting real people with real needs. Yes?

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Of Strange Gardens and People Living Underground

About 5 years ago, I had the same vivid dream, three nights in a row. In the dream, the world was watched over by a totalitarian power which monitored your every move and word. There was a lot of fear and tension because getting caught saying or doing the wrong thing could get you hunted down and punished. Moving about out in the open was risky, so when I found a couple of orphaned, abandoned children out on the streets, I gathered them up and took them with me in order to protect them.

I was moving around with a realtor who was showing me various homes that had “for sale” signs out front. I was looking for a place to hold meetings without drawing undue attention from the totalitarian authorities. At the back of each home there was a large gardens. I am a gardener myself, so I was pleased that there were gardens. But I was puzzled to discover that the plants growing there were angular and unnatural looking, like something from a bad sci-fi movie. I have a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of garden plants, so encountering so many odd plants that I couldn’t identify was mystifying.

Inside many of the homes I discovered a hidden door. The door lead to a cavernous underground area filled with more people than I could count. The underground area was so large that I could only see a small portion of it. The people there were clearly enjoying themselves. People were watching sports, movies and other entertainment on giant video screens. Others were playing video games, eating, talking, romancing and just hanging out. Children were playing freely. There were families everywhere.

When I entered the underground area, the people close to the entrance turned and cheered to welcome me. I was able to find several families who were happy to take in the children I had brought with me. I remember being pleased to find so many people living in these underground areas, which was quite a contrast to the surface where I met very few people, most of them scared.

So that was my dream. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, so I set about praying and thinking on it. The understanding I came to was that the authoritarian power in my dream represented religious powers and hierarchies that claim the right to control what people are allowed to believe, think, say and do. The houses are churches. They had sale signs out front because the church has put itself up for sale by pursuing money directly or generally adopting the methods, mores and priorities of a money-obsessed world. The gardens are the people, including the pastors and teachers, that the church grows. The plants were unknown and unattractive to me because they were not the sort of plants/people that God creates and grows – they were unnatural.  The caverns and people underground represented the majority of people who are being kept in the dark by the church above them.  These are God’s people as they are in a natural state.  This is why these people were the ones to take the orphaned children in.

I’ve been thinking about this dream a lot lately. I am convinced that pretty much everyone is interested in spirituality and religion. I have talked about God with drunk men bars, the waitress at the truck stop, the guy running the weird massage/hypnotherapy place who believes that we’ll all be nudists after Jesus returns, felons on parole, housewives and homeless people and really, just about every sort of person you can imagine. What I’ve learned is that most people have their own spiritual experiences and a deep belief that something more than we can see is going on here. And most of them rarely, if ever, set foot in a church.

The church is so fixated on maintaining control and keeping itself sanitized and clean that it’s lost its influence over probably most people. The church calls these people “lost” (or as a Charisma magazine  headline described Super Bowl 50: 144 Million Americans Blatantly Ignore God’s Word). But in my experience, the people outside the church, even the atheists, often have more spiritual and moral maturity than at least 80% of the people you can find in church on Sunday.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been threatened with hell, shunned, chastised or otherwise judged and found wanting for believing wrong, talking wrong, looking wrong, thinking wrong, acting wrong. Now, I personally feel no need to give up even a smidge of my right to consider and present myself as a devoted, orthodox Christian in good standing. Defiance is a Christian virtue, after all. But a lot of people understandably decide that the church isn’t for them and go underground with their spirituality. It becomes something that they keep to themselves as they go about living like normal human beings who cuss and get rowdy and dress and speak and otherwise simply enjoy life without worrying about the judgment of some blow hard who wants to micromanage their most intimate thoughts and beliefs in the name of God.

Back on the surface, in the realm ruled by the religious powers, people have lost careers, income, housing, had their reputations trashed, lost family members, and been turned out of their communities for doing nothing more than speaking the truth as they see it or questioning the obvious errors and abuse they see happening around them. The religious authorities decide who gets published, who speaks at conferences, who gets access to their networks, whose music is heard, whose talents are recognized and nurtured. The result is that people who have a better vision for the church are marginalized and struggle to be heard. It’s getting better with the internet but it’s arduous for those trying to work against the tide of religious totalitarianism. The result is that voices which have the potential to offer an alternative, positive vision of the faith don’t get heard enough to be familiar and have credibility with most people.

On the other hand, the promise is that, just like in my dream, there are a lot more people who are simply enjoying life than there are stuck in the church’s gardens. While it’s always possible for a society to embrace secularism, we humans have a natural tendency towards religion and a lot of people are inside and outside the church would love nothing more than to come out from underground, so long as it doesn’t require submitting to the illegitimate totalitarian authority of religious power. Perhaps what we need is to find a way to amplify the voices of Christians who the church is eager to marginalize and silence. Maybe if the people underground joined in, we could raise the roof and break through. After all, you put seeds underground and eventually, when the conditions are right, seeds sprout.

Operation Saris for Grannies

So one day I will write what passes for a normal blog post around here again. But I am happy and I am content and I’m not entirely sure how to write when I am happy and content. But I’ll work it out eventually.

In the mean time, I wanted to ask your help with something. For a while now, I have had the good fortune to message via facebook with a Christian minister working in a section of southern India somewhere in the vicinity of Bangalore. He’s told me a bit about his ministry which involves outreach to the poorest of the poor. Which in India, is really poor. (That’s him above sharing a meal with some he caught lurking around one of his outdoor services.) But mostly we discussed spiritual and theological matters. He and I differ on some trifles here and there, but the good news he preaches as gospel is actually good news. Which is no small thing. Anyhow, yesterday, for the first time since I’ve known him, my friend asked me for some help.

You see, the picture below is from one of his services in a very remote village where most people basically live off the land and in make-shift shelters, if even that. He says that they don’t even have the standing required to qualify for help from the government or to engage in normal trade and work activities with other communities. These are the poorest of the poor in this world.

11080320_639158589548435_2610841887315575710_oIf you look closely at the picture (or others from this day), you will notice that there are no old women present. This is because many of the old women living in this area have no clothing. While my friend went out into the brush to talk with them, they will not attend his services and cannot participate in normal community life because they live naked. My friend asked if I might be able to send clothing for him to give them. I suggested that it might be better to just send him money to buy clothing locally. He said that $65 US dollars would allow him to buy clothing for 30 women. And I said that while I happen to have exactly $19 to my name just now, I was pretty sure that I could arrange to get him $65.

So, I am now asking you, my intrepid reader, if you would help me gather $65 to clothe some naked grannies. There are a fair number of us, so I’m thinking there’s someone who is able to help with this. (If you can’t – that’s fine. Perhaps God decided to trust someone else with the resources to help this time. Nothing wrong with that. 😉 )

The link below will take you to a donation page for Operation Saris for Grannies. I will send on whatever donations I have collected by Thursday July 30th at 5 pm. If you’d like your donation returned if the $65 has already been raised, just put that in the note section and I will make sure that happens. Otherwise, if more is raised than my friend has asked for, I will send it on to my friend. He’s a good man doing good work. He’s never asked me for anything before. So . . . did God entrust you with the resources (or a portion of the resources) needed to provide these women with clothing?

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How to Recognize a Brother or Sister in Christ

I have met some of the coolest people while writing this blog. One of these days, I’m going to have to share the story of how God sent some of them to help catch me at the end of my fall last summer. Based on my experience with my readers, I have to assume that if you are reading my blog, you’re probably a pretty amazing person. Or at least, I would think so. And really, isn’t that all that counts? (That was a joke, btw. Hopefully you laughed. The test audience in my head found it amusing.)

But for today my point, such as it is, is that I’ve met some amazing brothers and sisters in Christ out here in the far reaches of the internet.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ is one of those overused phrases that Christians have destroyed. Which is a damn shame because this idea of brothers and sisters in Christ dates back to the very earliest days of the church. It is a beautiful and profound concept that precious few in the church understand today.

Not only is the concept of “brothers and sisters in Christ” a beautiful and profound concept, it’s a damn useful tool for a Christian to have in their toolbox. (I feel like saying damn today. I know it’s unseemly, but it keeps out the riffraff. 😉 ) Anyways. Believe it or not, this whole “church/body of Christ” thing would work a lot better if more Christians understood how “brothers and sisters in Christ” worked. So, I’m gonna teach y’all the basics.

At its simplest, you can think of brothers and sisters in Christ as being those people who know God the way that you know God. The amount of overlap between how you know God and how I know God, will determine the level of spiritual intimacy we are able to share. If someone knows God only by name or theology, we may not have much in common. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk and we can’t learn from each other! We’re brothers and sisters in Christ, after all – that does mean something. But there’s not going to be a great deal of intimacy there. I don’t need you trying to correct God’s work in me or stepping all over my boundaries, thank you very much.

On the other hand, sometimes I run into people who know God in a deeper way. Like they’ve encountered God’s spirit. Sometimes they are people who don’t even know the name of the King. But they know his heart. I know that they know his heart because I know God’s heart and I can see that we’re talking about the same God. Even if they don’t know that there is a God to talk about. It just comes through. It’s in what is important to them, how they think, the way they understand themselves and their place in the world. I recognize my Father’s handiwork. But sometimes these people’s judgment is suspect. Like maybe they willfully embrace greed, violence or unforgiveness as positive, useful things.

But then, every once in a while, I run into someone who both knows my Father’s heart and they know his name and his story. Or at least a version of the story that similar enough for me to recognize it as the same one that I know. They even know the rules of the game the way my father taught them to me. These are the people who give beauty and meaning to the phrase “brothers and sisters in Christ”.

These people can be a lot of fun. Sometimes they become friends. Sometimes they are just people whose judgment I know I can trust if I need information or an opinion. In a pinch, I know that I can reach out to this person for prayer and a shoulder to cry on in a time of need. And they can do the same with me. I mean, there are people who I don’t know the names of their kids who know some of my most intimate thoughts. Before I write them here even! And I am the repository of any number of their secrets as well.

These relationships are like gifts from God. Inevitably these people have something that I need for my journey. Even when I don’t have anything to offer in return.

I said at the beginning of this post that some time I’ll have to share the story of how some of these people, including a few I know only because of this here mess I call a blog, were there to catch me and help set me on my feet last summer. It was as if God found just the right people, with just the right background and just the right knowledge, personality and temperament and sent them to me so I’d have exactly what I need. Really and truly, I swear it was like God sent some of his children who were basically Jesus out there looking for me like a shepherd looks for his sheep that got separated from the herd. Although, to be perfectly honest, he could have sent a lot more rich people. I mean, not to criticize or complain. I’m just saying.

But that’s the power of being brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Even if you feel very alone. Even if you’re like me and are practically a recluse. (Because I need a car. Rich people. I need God to send me more rich people. Or make my books NYT bestsellers so I can buy myself a car and not be a recluse anymore.)

That’s really what this church thing is supposed to be all about. No matter what your circumstances, you’re never alone when you know the King. There is always help there. There is always someone who will love you in your dirty, broken state. Whatever you are going through, there will be someone walking by your side. The way of the cross is something we must walk for ourselves. But like Jesus, we will never have to walk it all alone. Just keep your eyes open for the signs that the person in front of you might be a brother or sister in Christ.

Peace, peeps!

PS – Damn. (Insert groan here.)

Why Have Lunatics Taken Over?

Sometimes people come to me and say, “Rebecca, you are amazing, wise, funny and smell like flowers and lemon Pledge. Why are you not recognized as the wonder you are by all of humanity near and far?”

To which I can only answer, “this is a great mystery to me as well.”

The other questions I get asked a lot are:

“has everyone lost their ever-loving-minds?”

“Why are the lunatics in charge of everything?”

and “Is there any hope for humanity left?”

As fate would have it, I happen to have answers to these questions. They are, respectively:

Pretty much.

Because lunatics appeal to all of our worst impulses and say things we want to hear.

Yes. The lunatics’ days are numbered.

Now, perhaps you too have noticed that the world seems, well, a bit unbalanced lately. The most violent, most hateful, most greedy, most dishonest actors in our world appear to be ascendant, if not triumphant. Families are in shambles, communities are shells and compassion seems to have gone MIA. Injustices which have festered for decades, if not centuries, are not even attempting to hide themselves, but are right out into the open, secure in the knowledge that few will object. The technological innovations that not so long ago were making humanity safer, healthier, more prosperous and comfortable seem to be reaching their limits and are threatening to turn on us. It’s very easy and tempting to be pessimistic and lose faith in the whole human project.

To a certain extent, this is an illusion. With the internet, global communication and 24 hour media, we can see things we were not previously aware of (or were in denial about). It used to be that if something awful was happening in another part of the world, we wouldn’t know it for months or years, if at all. If an atrocity was committed, we might read a news story about it and wonder what in the world was wrong with those people. Today we can watch videos in real time and get instant news from far and wide.

Since we all have front row seats to what’s wrong in the world, it’s easy to think that this is because there’s more wrong in the world. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. In America, the crime rate has dwindled down to rates not seen since the Eisenhower administration. Around the world crime has fallen, poverty has decreased dramatically, armed conflicts are less common and life spans are increasing. It’s not perfect, but we’re on a very positive trajectory.

However, it does seem that large portions of humanity are refusing to let go of their allegiance to the very worst tendencies that the human race are prone to. While the world and our understanding of it and ourselves has changed dramatically and brought massive improvements at every level, not everyone’s on board. It’s not that we’re any worse than in the past. People in the past were just as, if not more, prone to obnoxious, hateful, violent, ignorant, greedy, oppressive behavior and words as anyone alive today. What has changed, really, is that increasing numbers of us are openly and loudly refusing to accept those behaviors and attitudes as normal or acceptable – for any reason.

This has opened up a gap which is fueling both conflict and insecurity. The questions I get asked about what in the world is going on tend to come from those who want to see humanity turn its back on our hateful, oppressive, greedy, violent tendencies once and for all. They listen to the rhetoric coming from churches, politicians, individuals and governments and wonder if those who view the past as something to go back to rather than run from are going to win. And the answer is no. They will not. But it’s probably going to be ugly for a while.

I have two related reasons for saying this. The first has to do with the way God deals with sin and those who will not repent of it: he hands them over to “a depraved mind” (Romans 1:28-32).

Essentially, Paul says that when people refuse to repent of their sins and continually reject the call to love, mercy, peace, service and forgiveness, God will allow them to follow the desires of their heart to their own destruction. As they do so, their sin, error and the darkness of their hearts becomes more and more apparent. The longer they refuse to accept correction, the more outrageous their words and behaviors will become. Eventually, such people will become object lessons that others point to as warnings. And this is exactly what we are watching happen all around us.

When we see people, institutions and governments speaking and behaving in outrageous ways, we are being shown exactly what it looks like when a depraved mind is allowed free reign. So, while I understand people’s alarm at what they see going on in the world, and I do not in any way mean to discount the very real suffering of those who are on the receiving end of those who have been given over to their depraved minds, I tend to see these people as serving a useful purpose. Basically, they are exhibits in humanity’s world-wide asshole identification training program.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the unique things about the time in which we live is that what happens in the dark is being brought into the light. For most of human history, the worst actors have been able to gain and hold power through a combination of force and deception. It has generally only been after the fact that people were able to recognize the evil being perpetrated for what it was. In the moment, wars, slavery, feudalism, inequality and injustice seemed like reasonable ways to go about organizing the world. And there were always theologians and clergy willing and able to explain how these things were part of God’s will, just to make sure it all went down as smoothly as possible.

Dragging what was done in darkness into the light is of course a good, necessary step. But now we need to learn to recognize what we are looking at. Enter in the lunatics who are, if not fully in charge, making a good run for it. These people and their supporters are showing us, out in the open, what a depraved mind looks like. Our job is to learn to recognize them for what and who they are. It’s a painful and frightening, but necessary part of the process.

The next time you encounter someone or see a news story of someone advocating violence, hatred, greed, oppression and lies, imagine that you’re watching a wild life documentary with a narrator in the background intoning:

“Here we see the asshole in his native habitat. Observe how he lies and distorts reality in order to shore up his position in the group. Notice the tendency to advocate for the rich over the poor. Observe the way the asshole denigrates peace and glorifies violence. If you listen to the asshole’s warble, you can easily detect the various excuses utilized to oppress and dismiss those who threaten the diabolical system which the asshole relies on for sustenance. The asshole lives in a symbiotic relationship with other assholes. Assholes value other assholes for their willingness to speak asshole loudly and forcefully. The Asshole relies on abuse, dishonestly and a lack of empathy in order to maintain their illusions and avoid the pain of being wrong. The idea of having to give heed to the full humanity of those unlike themselves has not fully developed in the asshole. If you encounter an asshole in the wild, approach with caution. The asshole is driven by a depraved mind and should be considered dumb and dangerous.”

That being said, no one’s perfect, and the accusation of a depraved mind is easy enough to throw around as a weapon to discredit and defame others, of course. So what makes me so sure that the lunatics are being put on display for educational purposes and will not maintain their power forever? Well, part of it is because God has promised his ultimate triumph. The depraved mind cannot sustain itself in the presence of the glory of God and his ways, and so is doomed to ultimate failure.

The other reason for my confidence comes from the fact that I have had several different people bring me the same message explaining what we see happening around us right now. In fact, one of my readers who had made a commitment to pray for me and my family sent me a “word” that she felt God had lead her to convey to me. Much of the message was for me personally, but there was one part which spoke to the wider goings on in the world (the bold is the message, the parts in parenthesis comments from the person who sent it to me):

(At this point I saw the world, the earth from outer space)

It is like a cauldron, boiling and bubbling, the scum is rising to the top, and I will take it away and bring new life.

(it would seem more appropriate that he is talking about your world and life circumstances, but the feeling I actually had when writing this was that he was describing the world, that it was time to bring stuff up, like something is stirring)                                                                                   

 

Now, as a general rule, any claim of having received a “word” or message need to be taken pretty lightly. There’s a great deal of self-serving and deception that tends to surround such things. However, aside from the good character and faith of the person who sent this to me, this is a message I have heard from multiple sources which, to me, lends it credibility.

God is in the process of refining humanity. In Isaiah 1:25, God says: “I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities.” This refers to the process of refining gold and silver by melting down, adding lye which binds to the impurities in it and causes them to rise to the surface in order to be skimmed off and removed. These people who are advocating for violence, greed, hatred, oppression and the like are bringing humanity’s dross to the surface. The dross is removed as more and more people turn from the enemy’s ways and towards’ God’s rule of love, peace, mercy, service and forgiveness. The more outrageous the lunatics are, the more people will learn to recognize an asshole when they see one and turn away.

Of course, refining gold and silver is a process that must be done repeatedly in order to bring it to the highest levels of purity. Neither I nor anyone else can say how long this will go on or how many times we will have to see the assholes in action before humanity at large turns their hearts towards love. But ultimately, the time of the lunatics will pass. And in the meantime, hang onto your hats and your sense of humor. It’s bound to be a bumpy ride!

THIS

This is what God would want those who claim his name to hear today. Like really today. Right here in the reality that is whatever day it is right now when you’re reading this. Don’t worry, I’m not claiming to have some “prophetic word” for y’all. Although maybe more people would pay attention if I did. And send me some seed money! Yeah. . .

Allow I to start over . . .

So, I have this prophetic word that God asked me to pass along to y’all. (Click here to make your donation today.) Now, this here is a powerful message I’ve been entrusted with.  I’m just repeating things God has told me will be heard and understood by those who put trust in his word and know the one who is the way the truth and the life. (OK, what really happened was I read the bible. You know, like all the stuff in between the 50 verses you can use to win an argument. And this is what I got from it. And obviously I think you should agree with me.)

Before I move on to the body of this here prophetic word, may I take a moment to remind you that while God allows you to enjoy the food from his table freely, it’s always a good idea to do what you can to help him offset the costs associated with an operation like this. (Yes, I know that makes no sense. The less sense you make when asking for money in God’s name, the more money people will send you. And I need a car.)

Click here to make your donation today. I’m not sure how it will work on your taxes, so I won’t come right out and say that it’s tax deductible, but I’m pretty sure any decent tax guy can find a way to make it work.

Now, on to this here prophetic word. (Which sounds best when being read by the intense, commanding voice in your head, btw.) :

God is God. God needs nothing from us. He takes no satisfaction in seeing people willing to make any sacrifice imaginable to protect their understanding of the Christian faith but are unmoved by the site of despair all around them. He’s not interested in hearing our explanations for why our way really is loving, no matter how much our neighbors say that it hurts.

What kind of father is happy that his kid swept the floor while he’s listening to his other son being beat with the broom? What kind of Father do you think we serve? One who doesn’t give a crap about one of his children just so long as his orders are followed? One who elevates service to him above any other concern? If that’s what you think, either you are under the mistaken impression that God is far less good than you are or I feel sorry for your kids. Continue reading

The Christian Gospel

God the Father is Love as the one who encompasses all that is expressed in the created universe.

God the Holy Spirit is Love as it interacts with the created universe.

God the Son is Love experiencing the created universe in human form.

Jesus shows us the power of a man who relies on God the Holy Spirit to know God the Father and discovers that he is one with the Father. He now asks us, his Bride, follow the Way of the Son, relying on the Holy Spirit in order that we would know God, in whose image we were made. Jesus showed us what we look like. The Holy Spirit tell us what we act like. God tells us who we are.

The path is narrow, although easy enough to follow. You just have to follow Jesus’ words. It’s the path of the cross, however, because it means suffering the loss of whatever you take your life from that isn’t Love. Which, until Jesus returns is everything. If you do not allow the Holy Spirit to take possession of you, you will never make it, so long as humanity, by and large, is unaware of the reality of who they are as image bearers.

In the end times, the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Earth will be joined in the hearts of the people who have discovered the holy of holies that is their innermost being. And when they come together, the Golden City will be born. It’s light will cover the surface of the whole world and all mankind will seek to join in the wedding party. Which will be the final defeat of the false idols of this world that torment and oppress suffering mankind.

The church cries out, “come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

Jesus whispers back, “Just as soon as you show yourself, my bride.”