Archive for February, 2012

EDIFIED to become DEIFIED

February 24, 2012

Anagrams have always fascinated me. In reading 1 Corinthians 14, I just noticed that letters of the word EDIFIED can be rearranged to make the word DEIFIED. Interestingly, I believe there may be a spiritual principle here.

God, I believe, has hidden secret treasures in every language. Deuteronomy 29:29 (NIV) says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” Our Father, if he really is a good father (and I believe he is), hides treasures like Easter eggs for us to find—and like a good father, he doesn’t make them too hard for us to find at the level we are at. (Corrie ten Boom observed that the gospel had to be complex enough to always be fascinating no matter how wise or intelligent a person was, yet simple enough to be grasped by the least wise or intelligent.)

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” (Proverbs 25:2 NIV) We become “kings,” i.e., grow in greatness and glory and learn to rule with the authority delegated to us by the King of kings, by learning to dig in and find those hidden treasures intended for us, hidden from the foundation of the world. And perhaps, in a very simple way, such anagrams are clues pointing to some of those treasure troves.

As we are EDIFIED, growing in grace and glory, as Jesus did (Luke 2:40, 52), we “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 KJV and NKVJ—I love that word “partakers”—so descriptive of what we are called into!) and “are being transformed into the same image [as Jesus] from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord”—in essence, as we are EDIFIED, we are indeed becoming DEIFIED. Maybe a bit of a stretch for us, but maybe, just maybe, we ARE being called to be “Christ-ians,” little ikons, miniature coins stamped with the image of the living God, as Jesus claimed to be, revealing the true Father to the world, bearing his likeness as servants (NKJV)/ students (NIV)/ disciples (NAS) being made into ambassadors/ representatives of their master (NKJV)/ teacher (NIV/NAS) (Matthew 10:25).

We are warned that if we are not careful, the world will conform us into its image (Romans 12:2). If we really believe that to be a possibility, it will affect how we position ourselves. How might it impact us if we became aware that indeed, we have already been so steeped in our culture that we reflect its image far more than the image of the invisible God? Otherwise, how can it be that the world sees little or no difference in the lives of Christians?

And unfortunately, it is not something accomplished consciously. Someone has compared out conscious minds to penguins sitting on top of an iceberg, moving with the iceberg but thinking they are controlling the direction of the iceberg. Instead, we have to BECOME cities set on a hill, lights shining in darkness, living epistles—whatever image you choose—but it has to become something so ingrained in us, so innate, something we are so steeped in that it removes the impact of the “world” by osmosis. The life of God has to become “sauna-ized” into us, pressure-cooked into our core.

How does that happen? By relationship with the One who can make it happen. In Middle Eastern cultures, disciples learned by being with their teachers 24/7, immersing themselves in the very life and being the teacher imparted. It is a concept of totality foreign to our culture, a mentoring that is as much emotional as intellectual, as much personal as professional, as much internal as external. For years, I cried out to God, asking him to let me find someone to mentor me (particularly in business), and he seemed to keep telling me that he would not let that happen, that he wanted to be my mentor. And somehow, as I am learning in a new way to put the Kingdom first, it is happening in ways that cause me to be amazed. I don’t understand it—but then, maybe I’m not meant to. (Dissection in biology class necessitated the death of what was dissected!)

And so I can’t tell you, really, how to get there. Ultimately, I have to keep coming back to those scriptures that, for me, are the essence of what the heavenly Father is doing in these last days: causing everyone to know him, from the least to the greatest, to such an extent that no one has to tell someone else how to make it happen (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:11; John 6:45). Those scriptures have become the standard I bear, the flag I wave to all.

Paul said to the Philippians, “Join with others in following my example,” and “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice.” I can point to Scripture reading and memory and to prayer as some of the keys, and I’m sure there are others related to obeying and working out the details: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,…” taking into account the flip-side: “…for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

A few months ago, it seemed the Lord called me to be a “Bible teacher,” but not in the normal sense of simply imparting knowledge in a classroom setting. (Mind you, I’m an electrical contractor, aged 59, and have never worked in a paid religious position.) What he showed me is that I am called to become so saturated with the Bible that it simply “oozes” out of me, that I can’t help but show what is meaningful from Scripture by being who I am and who I am really meant to be.

Six years ago, I memorized the entire book of Philippians in the NIV (104 verses, 2,240 words). My motivation came from reading a line by Donald Whitney in a book on spiritual disciplines that, if we really treasured Scripture more than wealth (Your word is “more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold,” Psalm 119:72; see also Psalm 19:10). He challenged the reader, “How many verses could you memorize in one week if someone offered to give you $1000 for each?” So I began the process, and within a few months, had Philippians down by heart. I had heard of someone dressing as Paul in a prisoner and presenting that book, so I decided to try it. My wife made me a costume, and I found some plastic chains. I did it a few times and it kind of went “into the closet” for the next 5½ years.

Recently I resurrected it. I am presently trying to get it recorded for YouTube, and I am taking every opportunity I can make to present it. Here’s why: What I find is that, with our culture being so acclimatized to the visual, we have no concept of some of the depths contained in what we read, particular Scripture. So I want to present that picture for people to see Paul’s—and God’s—heart.

I’ve started working on learning James from THE MESSAGE. According to some, James was so steeped in prayer that he earned the nickname “Ol’ Camel-Knees.” What I picture for presenting it as a monologue is coming out in a costume that shows these grotesquely disfigured knees, kneeling down, and “praying” the book of James aloud as dictation for a “disciple” to write down.

I’m not anywhere close to being like James—I have  difficult time doing more that throwing out thoughts that I call prayers, and my knees have never been able to sustain staying on them very long. But I can remember in the early days of my excitement for the things of the Lord, asking an old saintly gentleman to let me come into his prayer time, and I remember being incredibly disappointed that he refused. What if we could somehow mentor others into our private ways of knowing the Lord?

Yet how much more glorious that the Lord promises us that he’s going to do exactly that sort of mentoring! Jesus said, “I DO ONLY WHAT I SEE MY FATHER DOING.” And he calls us to follow him! If he really is as faithful as he claims to be, how can he NOT take us there??

I can say, to some extent, with Paul, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1; see also 2 Thessalonians 3:7; Philippians 3:17; 4:9). You can’t be with me 24/7 (and I’m not sure neither of us could handle that anyway! <g>). But what I can say, without hesitation, is that if your heart is really turned toward having him come in and so transform you that you become in reality his disciple, it will happen. Not instantaneously maybe, though I don’t even rule that possibility out. But over time, it WILL happen. God will be faithful to make it happen: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he WILL stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4, emphasis added)

So, let’s “get it on!” There are exciting times ahead. As THE MESSAGE says, “For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life,” (James 1:12) that truly abundant life Jesus promised. Even so, Lord Jesus, let it happen in us! Amen and amen! Woohoo!

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The Purpose of Scars

February 17, 2012

The question came up in a recent online conversation: “Does a man lose his limp of ‘stammer’ after he’s healed?” This thought led me to mulling over the purpose of scars—and a limp or ‘stammer’ can be a sort of scarring, the result of some trauma or wounding. Jacob carried the limp from his wrestling with the angel the rest of his life (Gen. 32:24 ff.), and his descendents even memorialized the fact by not eating the tendon attached to the hip socket in animals. Jesus still had his scars in his resurrected body, so much so that he was able to tell Thomas that he was welcome to check them out to satisfy his doubting (John 20:24 ff.).

So what IS the purpose of scars, of limps, of signs of our wounding that remain after our healing? I can see at least three distinct purposes:

1) SCARS IDENTIFY US CLEARLY. We have already mentioned the story about Thomas. Often bulletins are put out by authorities mentioning particular scars as identifiers for criminals or missing persons, and they are sometimes used to identify corpses. (Tattoos may actually be a way for some to try to create a sort of scarring, something to show off—haven’t you heard someone ask, “Did it hurt?”) Brands and tags have been used throughout history on animals (and unfortunately, people in some cases) to identify them as property, to mark them for some other identification purposes (usually negative).

2) SCARS MEMORIALIZE OUR VICTORIES. Jacob’s limp and Jesus’s scars indicated that they had not lost the battle. They were survivors. Sometimes, of course, the scarring is so horrendous in appearance that it becomes debilitating in our psyches, but nonetheless, it does indicate survival, even in cases where we might wish we hadn’t survived. Somehow the will to live is so strong that our bodies refuse to give up. Paul was able to say in essence, “Don’t mess with me—I bear in my body the marks of my sufferings for preaching Jesus.” (Gal. 6:17)

3) SCARS ENABLE US TO RELATE. When we see someone who has severe scars, there is a tendency to cringe as we imagine how it might have felt. Daniel Ariely was able to find his life’s calling doing behavioral economic experiments because he endured 5 years of recovery from injuries from a phosphorous grenade. His personal interest in whether it hurt more to rip bandages off quickly (as the nurses claimed) led him to a field that has resulted in some interesting conclusions about why we act the way we do. (See his story in the intro to the book Predictably Irrational.)

When we see someone who has severe scars, we can relate to the fact that they are survivors, and sometimes we overlay that fact onto our stories, because most of us have scars, sometimes very deep, that no one sees. We can draw the conclusion, “Hey, they survived; maybe I can too.” Their pain and suffering can thus become an encouragement, a sign of hope for us. Obviously it is a choice to see it that way, but it does happen. Scars draw us into relationship.

Obviously scars are not usually something we seek out or pursue passionately. They almost always occur in the battles of life. But it is possible to come to view them positively, as sources of finding our identity, of learning how to survive and actually doing it, and of coming into relationship with others who have suffered and are scarred. Often we are commanded in Scripture to identify with those in prison and in pain. Paul even said—after all he had been through—“I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, AND THE FELLOWSHIP OF SHARING IN HIS SUFFERINGS, becoming like him in his death and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10)

Jesus “set [his] face like a flint” (Isa. 50:17) and pursued the course of the Cross, knowing there would be scarring. He calls us to do the same. Paul often encouraged his readers, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1; see also 2 Thes. 3:7,9; Phil. 3:17; 4:9, among others) There will be pain. When we survive, there may well be scars, even if they don’t show. Our goal should be to use them, as everything else, as something encouraging and instructive, a source of life for ourselves and for others. It may well be that how well we do this determines the level of our rewards. Perhaps we might even modify the old hymn and, with a wry smile and a twinkle in our eyes, ask, “Will there be any SCARS in my crown?”

Becoming Living Epistles

February 7, 2012

do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? … clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2 Corinthians 3:1, 3 NKJV)

Clearly we are called to living epistles, letters of commendation, written by the Spirit if the living God. How does that translate into the reality of our lives? Imagine the finger of God writing on the two tablets of stone for Moses on the mount (Exodus 31:18), or the hand coming out of thin air and the fingers writing unreadable messages on the wall, which Daniel was able to interpret (Daniel 5:24ff.).  These are stories we tend to be familiar with. Now imagine the Lord’s finger coming to David and writing the blueprints and specifications for the Temple Solomon was to build:

“All this,” said David, “the LORD made me understand in writing, by His hand upon me, all the works of these plans.” (1 Chronicles 28:19 NKVJ)

I had never been aware of that scripture, and the implications of it, until last night.

What if God wants us to get so close to him that he is able to download into us legal systems, judicial rulings, building plans and specifications, and other life-transforming information? I know a man who claims that one of his most recent books was dictated directly by the Holy Spirit, written after a major health setback which became an extended spiritual battle not only for his life but for his spiritual legacy,  AND after the Holy Spirit had told him months before (and AFTER the health crisis) to shred hundreds of pages of notes he had already made SINCE his recovery had begun! In that book he wrote things that he didn’t even understand, but which have since been verified by others as amazingly accurate. I still remember Harold Hill’s book from the 1970’s, How to Live Like a King’s Kid, in which he was able to discern by the Spirit that a huge generator on a ship had been built faultily, a fact that had to be simply verified at considerable cost by removing it with a crane, and then corrected. Others have told me of messages they were able to convey to others without even understanding what they were saying or how they were impacting the other persons. The list, I’m sure, goes on and on.

Recently the Lord called me to become a Bible teacher, but not in the usual sense. Somehow he made clear to me that I am to be somehow a living embodiment of His Word. Some five years ago, I managed to memorize the entire book of Philippians (from the NIV) and present it as a monologue in a costume, portraying Paul in prison reciting the message for dictation to be written down. (For a while I had neglected it, but I have recently resurrected it.) I am now working on the book of James from THE MESSAGE. I picture presenting it as “Old Camel-Knees,” on my knees as though praying, with maybe a camel-hair costume and some sort of grotesque knobby-kneed attachments on my knees. (At age 59, I really don’t do kneeling well anyway.)

But more than simply “doing” presentations, I’m finding my life being transformed as I memorize and study the Word. What if somehow, our inner lives become “nuclear” and we begin to physically radiate the way Moses’ face shone? In the remainder of the chapter that started with our lead-in Scripture, Paul speaks of taking on an ability to become more luminescent than Moses, who had to veil his face because the Israelites were not able to stand the radiance. Maybe we haven’t taken that literally enough.

Jesus said to let our lights shine (Matthew 5:16), that the righteous would “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (13:43). That kingdom CAN include the NOW: Remember  we were told to pray, “Thy Kingdom come…”? In my opinion, one of the best teachings in recent decades has been that the Kingdom as the in-breaking, the breakthrough of God’s will actually being realized on earth, has not only a future-tense as a totality, but a present-tense empowerment that we are occasionally able to grasp and bring into reality in the here and now, making miracles literally happen.

Long story short, I am hungry for a deepening of my relationship with God to an extent I’ve never known before. I want to start radiating without even being aware of it. I want to BE a Bible teacher, without ever speaking a word, as St. Francis’ famous admonition says: Wherever you go, preach the gospel; when necessary, use words. I want to become a living embodiment of the Holy Spirit, a receptacle, a vessel He fills up and pours out again and again. I want to be like the Ark of the Covenant and Mary the mother of Jesus, a holding-place for the Word of God being brought to the world in transforming power. I can honestly state with Paul (Philippians 3:12-14 NIV):

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 

How do I get there? I’m not totally sure yet. As the theme song in the movie Paint Your Wagons says, “Where am I goin’? I don’t know. When am I headin’? I ain’t certain… When will I be there? I don’t know. When will I get there? I ain’t certain. All I know is I am on my way.” And I can certainly encourage you to “Paint your wagon and come along… We’re on our way!”