Posts Tagged ‘honesty’

Looking for GodSeek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon. [Isaiah 55:6-7]

It’s not that God is missing, you know, or that God is moving closer and farther away. It’s the seeker who is either ready or not to discover God in Spirit, working and moving, speaking and transforming our lives. And when we, as seekers, do have a personal experience with God, that is the best moment to ask those tough questions, to not let go, like the woman with the issue of blood [Matthew 9:20-22] or Jacob, as he wrestled the angel [Genesis 22:24-30]. Both of these people knew their time had come, their opportunity, to hold tight, to touch and encounter God.

When someone who does not know God has that initial epiphany, it’s as though God appears out of nowhere, and suddenly, their new found belief, brings God close, brings in the reality of Christ Jesus, and the Presence of the Holy Spirit. It’s an “aha!” moment. In those first flushed days, it is the easiest time to ask forgiveness, to surrender the sins and bad choices, to confess.

But later on, we become more closed and closeted, despite being faithful followers of God. It’s like running into someone you know . . . I mean, you know you know the person, you go to church together or you were at meetings together, and yet, no matter how hard you try, you can’t remember the person’s name. Do you confess that you don’t remember or fake it? That would be me, at least. I am too embarrassed to confess. And so I have been with my God, too embarrassed to review that same error in judgment, that same mistake, that same blasphemy. It’s not like God doesn’t know. But I am the one who cannot bear it. So, I open up the secret room and toss yet another “truth about me” inside and shut the door.

Jesus even taught that we are to forgive one another, not just seven times, but seventy times seven times [Matthew 18:22], symbolically meaning that forgiveness has no limits. Would God do less?

I say I am a seeker of the Christ and the fullness of the Spirit within, and yet, I withhold my truths and sins. When I do this, I am not seeking at all, but hiding, like Adam and Eve in the garden [Genesis 3:8]. God sought them. God is doing the same with me.

It’s so simple: when I seek, I find.

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Photo by Kimberly Kinrade

If hearing the word is like looking in a mirror at oneself, then it must be familiar when it’s happening. I look at myself and I recognize who it is. In the same way, I must be able to recognize truth. But then . . .

James 1:23-24
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

The idea of turning around and forgetting my own image is disturbing. But isn’t it true? How often I see photographs of myself and I am shocked by the person reflected. When did that happen? The other day I did a video spot and found my neck was doing a great Katherine Hepburn impression. Maybe, what I see in a mirror is not the whole truth after all.

But that sends me off point. What I’m really trying to catch is the idea of recognizing truth in one moment and then forgetting it the next. This happens to me every day. Writing echoes to the scriptures, as I do here, is the same.

I have epiphanies and revelations as I contemplate the word, pray, and write. I hit on a crucial truth, a flowering, a rush; and then I grab my bags, get into the car, go to work and I am someone else. I am the habit woman. I have already forgotten what I saw, what I learned, what I felt.

For a season, I was quite faithful at praying the hours, but I have lost the steady practice in recent weeks. I understand why this ritual has value though, it makes me stop what I was doing, just for eight minutes, and regroup around the Holy Spirit. It was a time to remember, to reconnect, to look into the mirror of the word.

Oh Lord, forgive me. This verse is me. Teach me how to carry your reflected truth with me throughout the night . . . throughout the day.

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Salt is a seasoning that makes things taste better through its chemical interactions with the food. And yet, in this age of health anxiety, we have started to withhold salt from our diet even though exercise could be just as effective. Have we removed salt from conversations too?

Colossians 4:6
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

When was the last time I sat around with some people and just talked? I mean talked about ideas and possibilities, spirituality or sorrow, hope or despair. When has the conversation started heading one way and my comments moved it another, giving it a new flavor, a new point of view . . . with grace.

Now, I don’t mean those times when proselytizing starts or the 4 Spiritual Laws pamphlets come out of the handbag or a litany of “Praise the Lords” drop in after every remark like a Greek chorus or HipHop melody.

I’m interested in knowing if the truth of me, Spirit-filled and intertwined with the Christ within, has acted as a true flavoring, bringing out the best in others while giving grace and acceptance to any hardened hearts around me.

So much is out there that teaches us how to control a conversation, close the deal, get to “yes,” influence, convince or convert people, win friends, or filibuster until people can’t stand it anymore.

When my daughter, new to this country at 15, went to high school with little or no English, she bemoaned how hard it was to make friends. We chalked it up to ESL (English as a Second Language) and assumed things would get better as her language skills improved. And to some degree that was true and yet, it never became easy for her. Truthfully, I am amazed teenagers have any friends at all considering that most of their conversations tend to be about themselves and rarely about the other, unless they are drilling down into the behavior, looks, attitude or boyfriend of a mutual “other” (i.e. gossiping).

I shared with her a handy book I found called How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends by Don Gabor. I encouraged her to try the author’s technique but she found it unmanageable. And why? Because the essence of his technique was to ask lots of questions about the other person and listen to the answers. It’s letting go of feeling it necessary to reciprocate data for data, fact for fact, personal story for personal story. This is the grace part of conversation.

Perhaps it’s time for me to reread this book myself. Or maybe, like here, scripture has been saying it all along: Grace and salt, kindness and joy, love and humor, forgiveness and knowledge, patience and wisdom.

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Paul wrote letters to the various churches and places he visited. Sometimes he wrote admonishments and sometimes encouragement, but in all cases, he wrote because of his love for those who shared in his faith, who believed what he believed, that Jesus was the Christ.

Colossians 1:1-2a
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse . . .

I can almost imagine what it must have been like. Many did not know how to read in those ancient days and so the letters were read aloud. They were a corporate experience. I can imagine a letter was read once initially and then, again and again, more slowly. I can imagine those gathered there talked about what they heard, what they understood, and what they didn’t understand.

What would it have been like if it was my name mentioned specifically? What would that be like?

In some ways, a sermon could be like one of these letters. Unfortunately, we have moved away from corporate discussion of what is shared from the pulpit. The sizes of congregations and traditions over the years prevent echoes to the sermons or questions of the speakers. There is an inherent assumption that the sermon is somehow God-breathed truth and therefore beyond reproach.

Either the sermon is a typed out set piece that has no wiggle room or it’s a spontaneous and often repetitious “inspiration” to a few notes.

That’s not to say that sermons aren’t anointed at times and a truth or phrase or even a just a word, hits deeply in the heart. But there’s something wrong if people are falling asleep in the pews. There’s something wrong if people don’t want to discuss the message.

What is this to me? I don’t really know. I just want to be part of the love letters and I want a kind of corporate experience that allows for “permission to speak freely.” (Also the title of a new book by Anne Jackson.)

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Following all the rules, obeying all the laws, coloring inside the lines, striving for perfection: these are the phrases that come to mind when I ponder the phrase, “legalistic righteousness.”

Philippians 3:4b, 6
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: . . . as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

Actually, to be honest, just the word righteousness all by itself conjures up all kinds of negative vibes. Well, not completely true. I mean, if I connect the idea with God, then the word smooths out. God can carry righteousness as a banner and that seems perfectly natural. God is righteous and always does the “right” thing, says the “right” words, always has the “right” motives.

Not so, human me.

The synonyms are a lot nicer. I don’t have any problem in my desire to be good or virtuous. I also wouldn’t mind being viewed as holy or godly or devoted. How about benevolent, generous, honorable, or honest? All, quite fine.

But righteous? Blech! I see myself standing there with arms crossed as I look down my nose at the rest of the world. It does not feel loving or friendly or considerate of others.

In the name of the “narrow way,” I see other followers of Christ take this stand. There are Christian sects who go from door to door to proselytize their brand of righteousness and when they are shooed off the property or have a door slammed on them, they consider it a blessing, a confirmation of their way.

And still other faithful, perhaps their God has a different name, and yet, they too act out of a strong sense of righteousness to the point of death for the cause.

Righteousness is elusive. “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. . . . ” [Luke 18:19] Here is the heart of true righteousness, in God alone and thereby, through the Spirit within. Any righteousness or “right living” that is grounded in my own efforts is, by its very nature, “legalistic righteousness.” It’s a show and a sham.

Keep me mindful, O Lord, of your presence within so that my words and actions are joined by the threads of your Spirit. Selah.

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Whether it’s speaking, writing, or teaching a class, it’s critical to do so authentically and to check in with the listeners, the readers, the students. Are they getting it? Are we having a conversation? It’s one reason I’ve grown tired of traditional church services: too lopsided. I need dialogue.

I Corinthians 14:11
If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me.

I think it’s one of the reasons blogs, social networks like Facebook, Twitter, etc. are so popular. People write/talk and someone responds or leaves a comment. It’s like saying, “I hear you. I’m listening.” In some churches, this is accomplished by listener responses: “Amen” and the like, but it’s a primitive exchange. People write books and yes, we assume they love the process, but the real joy is in knowing the books are being read.

Another element is intent. Why does anyone write about God or Christ or faith (or anything else for that matter)? Why do we speak or teach? I’ve always struggled a bit with this question? I mean, there has to be a certain confidence that I have something to say. What is the balance between humility and spunk?

Teaching requires a class. Performing requires an audience. Writing requires readers. We’re back to the old Zen question, “Does a tree make a sound when it falls in the woods if no one hears it?”

Paul writes in verse 6b, “. . . what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?” What we say, what we teach, what we write, are the answers, hopefully, to the burning questions in the hearts of the people with whom we want to connect.

Mike and I encountered our favorite pastor some twenty years ago. His sermons were generally compelling but the times we liked best were Sunday nights and Wednesday nights when we could ask our questions, lots and lots of questions. We challenged him and he challenged us. The dialogue was alive and vibrant and unassuming. This was our time of greatest growth and learning.

Was it only because we were younger in our faith or was it the conversation?

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Do people actually prefer a mystery to the unveiling of that mystery? I think so. As long as something is a mystery, an unknown, then our imaginations can fill in all the blanks. We can make it up. But once the mystery is revealed . . . well, we’re stuck with the truth of it.

Romans 16:25
Now to Him Who is able to strengthen you in the faith which is in accordance with my Gospel and the preaching of (concerning) Jesus Christ (the Messiah), according to the revelation (the unveiling) of the mystery of the plan of redemption which was kept in silence and secret for long ages, . . .
[ Amplified]

A good friend of mine was adopted in the old days when records were sealed and adoptions were something to hide. He found his original birth certificate by accident as a young teenager (not a good way to discover one’s birthright). No one would answer his questions about the circumstances of his birth and so his imagination ran wild. He said he would look at people all the time to determine if they might be related. He imagined his birth parents as rich and sophisticated. He imagined they traveled the world. He imagined they wanted to know about their long-lost son.

When adoption records started opening up in the 80’s and 90’s and registries were created for adoptees to look for their birth parents, my friend began his search. This was the great mystery of his life and he wanted answers.

In the end, he did find his birth mother and although the physical similarities between her, his half-siblings, and himself were striking, the rest of the story was heart breaking. His mother was not rich or sophisticated. In fact, she and her many children were living on the edge, living from welfare check to welfare check, from one catastrophe to another. They were a family in crisis all the time. His birth father had been a one-night stand and long gone. He would never be found.

My friend went through several years of a new kind of struggle: embracing the truth.

Jesus was the revelation of the mystery that was laid down in the prophetic writings. He didn’t match the picture that many had created in their minds of the long-awaited Messiah. When he claimed his own birthright, it was simply too hard for many to grasp or accept. It’s no different today.

In the end, it takes more energy to perpetuate a mystery and a secret than it does to walk the truth. This I believe.

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