Posts Tagged ‘understanding’


Theology is a word I have mostly avoided until starting quarter three of the Hillsong Ministry School at Restore Church, Havre de Grace. I mean, it’s not a “bad” word,  it just seems, on the front end, as being one of those words coupled with “religion,” which has gotten a pretty bad rap in recent years.

But honestly, theology is just a study of the divine, a study of God, a study of the big questions and how they impact our every day life. In some form or another, we have all grappled with some of the big questions: forgiveness, sin, justice, salvation, etc. And as we engage with others, we will be asked along the way, “why do you believe what you believe?” And if we have spent any time at all studying or searching (as in research) for the answers, we are theologians too. So, for this season, I will be embracing this idea of being capable of theological curiosity and adventure. 🙂

The biggest impact of a big topic that has impacted my life directly is my understanding of the sovereignty of God. This simple truth has sustained me through the loss of my husband and the a host of circumstances that could be perceived as negatives. From Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” to Isaiah 14:24, “The Lord of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand, . . . ” God is God.

Another personal study I took upon myself was many years ago as I search for the “secret place” of God, referenced in Psalm 91. I wanted to “hear” from God and I wanted to “dwell” with God and so I went looking. And although I could not live there 24/7, I did have a taste of heaven and entered for that Holy of Holies.

If we don’t pursue understanding through study, we may actually mislead others or worse, allow ourselves to be misled. I remember, as a younger Christian worrying about teaching that could take me off the mark. For instance, I followed a very popular but conservative teacher who was adamant that theater and music when “performed” in a church service was not worship but prideful etc. Another time, I remember visiting a church that called on the congregation to imagine that a microphone stand was Satan and to laugh at it [him]. And during the heyday of charismatic movement, there were many many abuses of implied miracles like gold dust manifesting from the hands of the anointed.

The Bible remains the foundation (having stood the test of time) for any study and from it, we can build our understanding and confirm our faith. I like the idea of the Canon of Scripture being translated as a “measuring rod.” That makes a lot of sense. But in order for the Bible to be a successful measuring rod, there must be understanding and, I think, wisdom. The tendency by many is to cherry pick the Bible for the parts that support an intention and discount the rest. This is flawed theology. But one thing I have learned with certainty from my lead pastor, Jess Bousa, the bible must be read in the light of the culture in which it was written. It will never be true for our culture if it was not true for them. On the other hand, there were cultural biases for them, that cannot be overlayed our own, like dietary laws, punishments, and medical assessments, just to name a few. We must be willing to reason together.

In the end, we must embrace and acknowledge the power, existence, and revelation that comes through the Presence of the Holy Spirit, all of which will/should align with the Bible. Let us take care not to blast and judge others before we have searched diligently for common ground first.

The Bible is a tool for personal study, personal revelation, and, like an onion, has layers within it. What we learn at first blush is different than what we learn after multiple readings, corroborating commentary, and preaching/teaching. It’s a living, breathing process.

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askgodIn the same way, you have sorrow now; but I will see you again, and you will be overjoyed. No one takes away your joy. In that day, you won’t ask me anything. I assure you that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Up to now, you have asked nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive so that your joy will be complete. [John 16:22-24, CEB]

Won’t ask, ask, not asked, ask. What a strange passage with its combination of not asking and asking. Here’s my simple take on this: in the day of Christ’s return, we will not need to ask (we will get it), but until then, we can, not only ask, but ask with the name of Jesus as our co-requestor. Before Jesus, humans could not invoke His name or His consciousness, but now, we can.

I have had an additional bit of a revelation through the writings of Oswald Chambers on this matter.

We hear it said that a person’s life will suffer if he doesn’t pray, but I question that. What will suffer is the life of the Son of God in him, which is nourished not by food, but by prayer. When a person is born again from above, the life of the Son of God is born in him, and he can either starve or nourish that life. . . . To say that “prayer changes things” is not as close to the truth as saying, “Prayer changes me and then I change things.” God has established things so that prayer, on the basis of redemption, changes the way a person looks at things. Prayer is not a matter of changing things externally, but one of working miracles in a person’s inner nature. –Oswald Chambers [My Utmost for His Highest, Aug 28 entry]

In the days of “blab it and grab it” teachings, this selected verse in John was often used to encourage people to pray, in faith, for anything, including a new car, a job, a mate, etc. All was possible, as long as we believed and prayed this scripture. But now I see, most clearly, what is offered–a life within, one completely surrounded by the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus through the Holy Spirit (for it was the Spirit that given to us at His resurrection). How different the ask becomes then. What would God withhold? Nothing.

  • Create in me a clean heart, O God. [Psalm 51:10]
  • Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. [Psalm 4:1]
  • Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. [Psalm 86:11]
  • Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart. [Psalm 119:34]
  • Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. [Psalm 30:2]

All for the asking.

To participate in an ongoing 2015 Lenten devotional, download the PDF here.


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M.C. Escher

We see every day with our eyes. And we interpret. But how much do we really understand about what we see? How much is true and pure and how much is affected by our past experiences, our former seeings, our expectations?

Revelation 4:6-7
And in front of the throne there was also what looked like a transparent glassy sea, as if of crystal. And around the throne, in the center at each side of the throne, were four living creatures (beings) who were full of eyes in front and behind [with intelligence as to what is before and at the rear of them]. The first living creature (being) was like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature had the face of a man, and the fourth living creature [was] like a flying eagle.
[Amplified] [emphases mine]

Some years ago, I was the victim of a theft at an ATM. Although it was terrifying, my first instinct was to give chase (too many television shows?). In the end, the purse snatcher realized I had the wallet under my arm and the bag was rendered useless. He stopped and tossed it back to me. Later, I sat on a short brick wall, nursing my scraped knee and listening to the various witnesses who “saw” what happened. Not one of us could agree on the clothing, the race, the height, the weight or anything else of the thief. We each saw and yet didn’t see at all.

In Revelation, John is in a spiritual trance of some kind and has visions. He is describing to us what he sees as best he can with an understanding born of his era. I cannot help but wonder how I would describe the same scene. Would the beings look “like” animals or something else? Would the images become a movie set? Would my love for fantasy enhance and exaggerate my imagination? Would my love for science fiction give me Star Trek interpretations?

How many miscommunications do we have every day? How many times do we misinterpret what we see in a gesture or a facial expression?

The other day, I was looking at a newspaper photograph and it actually took me a full thirty seconds to see the picture and understand its content. It was in a group of “art” photos and so I must have assumed it was something with deep meaning and ethereal intentions. Finally, my mind collected itself, and I realized I was looking at a ballet dancer’s shoe on point. That’s all. Why couldn’t my mind understand this image initially? Was it truly a “senior moment?” Is this how people who have suffered strokes experience the world? Inside, we know it’s something familiar but we cannot seem to process it.

I believe we are all doing this through the day: many assumptions, many judgments.

It’s one of the reasons people struggle with modern and post-modern art. Their minds are trying to “understand” what they are seeing. They want a label. Instead, I think these artists are calling us to simply see without words, to allow colors and shapes and densities to open up new synapses.

by J. Albers

I am just about sick to death of the phrase, “out of the box” thinking. Most people can’t “think” or “see” out of a box because those things defy easy description or understanding. Creativity demands a certain amount of sustained chaos.

The things of God, of Spirit, are no different. There is no single interpretation or understanding. God is fluid. Faith is a moving target. The Holy Spirit is outside of time. And the images that John saw in Revelation were his way of describing a vision, a vision of adoration and worship.

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Odd passages about Paul “struggling” with the energy that Christ has given him for the sake of others. And that energy is for them to experience the two-fold mystery of God: Christ within (where our unique relationship is built with the Holy Spirit) and without, in our relationships with others.

Colossians 2:2
My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ . . .

This idea of Christ within and Christ without reminds me of the various ways people get caught up in their own brand of Christianity. Some put all of their energy into good works and service, reaching out to the poor, developing community and building fellowship (all good stuff), while others put everything into those private places where contemplation, prayer, study, and various other personal disciplines expand their inner domains.

Paul’s work is on both fronts for his people that they might be “encouraged in heart” (interior work) as well as “united in love” (exterior work). The complete understanding comes from both sides of the equation. This reminds me of that well worn passage in James 2:14, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?”

I don’t do well in this dual role. And yet, intellectually I know that both feed each other. I know that my interior life endows my walk on the outside with better choices, if I allow it to do so. And really, good works can draw a person into a deeper inner life, if permitted.

I am intentionally adding the proviso of permission here because I don’t believe I do it. I don’t give way to the power of the Spirit within. If I did, I’d be doing better (the fruits of that relationship with the Christ Spirit would be more evident). This is part of that “free will” concept. I can limit my relationship with God. I can have surface-only interactions. I can pick and choose. It doesn’t really serve me to do it, but I can. And unfortunately, I do become frightened and put on the brakes.

When the Toronto Blessing was in full swing, one of their most popular phrases was “More Lord, more.” I understand now it was a way to “allow” God in more. It was teaching self to let go and receive. It was not about God giving more, it was about the person opening the door wider to the flow of grace.

The mystery of Christ needs both arenas for full understanding. There is a “battlefield” both within and without. But the interesting aspect of these skirmishes is that I would do better through surrender–that is, surrender to the One who reigns over both and all.

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I pray for my eyes to be opened! I pray for enlightenment (knowledge, understanding, awareness and clarity). And I pray that this awakening would not be an isolated event but a groundbreaking moment that prepares the way for a turn in my story.

Ephesians 1:18-19
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Power is promised and I consider power dangerous, particularly for humans untethered by the seal of God. In some ways, I want power and control. If I said otherwise, I would be lying. I struggle with “control issues” all the time. And successful control translates into power. But that is power abused and we see that every day in our culture. The power of influence or money or position.

But here, we are told that an enlightened heart, eyes wide open, understands power in a new way. It’s an inheritance from God in Christ. It’s a focus. And as I’ve written a million times before, I’m sure there’s a paradox involved. Power is probably in letting go of one’s own “power.” It’s submitting to divine power. And of course, that power will not be the way I would expect. Would I even recognize that kind of power?

Will I recognize what I see when those spiritual eyes are opened?

When the prophets of old described all the unbelievably fantastic things they saw in their visions, they could only use their limited understanding. Am I any different?

And yet, it is my heart’s cry today. Open the eyes of my heart Lord.

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Whatever God gives, it’s given on purpose: salvation, forgiveness, healing, anointing, power, revelation, and more. All of these gifts are given according to his understanding of what is needed, when and why. Our leap of faith is accepting the timing.

Ephesians 1:7-8
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

It’s a trust issue. Do I trust God to give me what I really need or am I always looking for God to give me what I want in the moment?

And why is it so hard for me to remember that what I already have was given in the same spirit? I was redeemed 32 years ago. I had an epiphany, a revelation of the Christ and the necessity for the veil to be taken down. I was offered a relationship with God that was unlike any other relationship I had or would ever have in this 3-D world. I was invited to partake of the universal “Body.”

I needed that moment back then. And now, along the way, oh God, help me to see the other moments. Help me to recognize the gifts you gave and to return thanks. Help me to appreciate this path instead of complaining about the conditions of the way. There are so many other ways things could have gone.

If I were totally surrendered to your wisdom and understanding, I would know true joy. I still can, right? The invitation has never been snatched away. Today is just another example of the story we are making of my life.

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If wisdom is indeed the application of knowledge and understanding, then what is secret wisdom? The answer was hidden for years and years, its revelation promised throughout scriptures. Paul is convinced that secret wisdom was manifested in a person: the Messiah.

I Corinthians 2:7
No, we [Paul and fellow apostles] speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.

And that’s point. That is always the point for Paul of Tarsus. He, the Pharisee of Pharisees, a scholar, a devotee of the law, he knew the promises. And in a moment, on the road to Damascus, that answer was revealed to him and he understood it all. From that day forth, with the same zeal he had used before to defend the law, he defended the truth and revelation of the long-awaited Messiah: Jesus of Nazareth.

In a way, faith comes to each of us the same way. Whether it’s someone’s story that reaches into our spirits or it’s the words of scripture (as in my case), or it’s a meaningful worship service, there is a moment when understanding and knowledge come together and wisdom manifests.

Wisdom comes by asking. So does the Christ.

And then the process begins of applying understanding and knowledge to our daily lives. It’s different then. It must be. It has to be. That secret wisdom reveals our previous bad choices. That secret wisdom is transformative.

I am re-reading the writings of Richard J. Foster and reacquainting myself with the organization that grew out of his writings and ministry: Renovare. I like their term “spiritual formation” and that’s what my own internal walk feels like these days. It is still the same: becoming more and more like Christ Jesus, but the “how” is becoming clear. It’s not just words, it’s truly a process, a recognition, a change. And with each internal change, the external manifestation flows out to touch others. This must be.

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