Givers and Takers

I’ve recently become rather compelled by the idea of “Givers” versus “Takers.” There are a lot of things in this world that either add something to the quality of your life, or they seem to drag you down and rob you of your joy.

I think the best way to understand this idea is to apply it in the context of the internal reserves of energy we have to face the challenges of each day.

Let’s take food as the first example. There are both Giver foods, and Taker foods.  Giver foods are healthy, complex foods with substance and nutrition. They are the things that ultimately provide us with more energy than it takes to digest them. Fruits, vegetables, complex carbs, proteins. Good stuff. Healthy stuff. They build you up and give you the strength and nutrition you need to heal your body, to move and think and act effectively.

Then there are the Taker foods; the things we consume that ultimately come with a cost. Alcohol is a big one. Beer, wine, and the harder stuff. They are depressants. They cost the body far more energy to metabolize than they provide back. It’s easy to convince ourselves that the temporary “euphoria” we get from drinking is somehow an enhancement, but in reality, all it’s doing is dulling your senses and adding toxicity to your body. Ask your body if a hangover is a net gain in energy, or do you feel worse than before you started partying? I think the answer should be pretty obvious.

Things with a lot of processed sugars, or starches. Soda and chips and just about anything on the candy aisle. Sure, they taste great, but they just give you a “buzz,” only to take it away again. Anything with more grams of sugar than protein on the list of ingredients is probably going to be a Taker food.

Caffeine is another Taker. True, it’s a stimulant, but it’s like throwing a handful of kindling on a fire versus a solid log. Sure, you get a quick, bright burn, but then it’s gone and you’re left with nothing but ash. If you don’t put something more solid in behind it, you’ll actually be worse off than when you started. Caffeine comes with a cost. If you’ve ever had the “jitters” after too much caffeine, it’s because you’ve added too much “kindling to the fire” and your body is struggling to handle it. It’s having to dig into its energy reserves to deal with the stimulant.  Aaaand then you deal with the “crash’ after you “come down” off the buzz, when you’ve used up all your fuel with the flash fire and don’t have anything left. Don’t kid yourself. Caffeine is a Taker.

More and more I’ve begun to take a hard look at what I eat and put into my body, asking myself, “Is this a Giver or a Taker when it comes to my health and energy levels?” Will I be better off after I eat it than I was before? That Krispy Kreme SOUNDS like a good idea now, but afterwards? Not so much.

I think the same thing can be said of people. There are people who are Givers, and people who are Takers. This means more than just the neighbor who borrowed your hedge trimmer and never returned it. Again, to me it all goes back to energy levels. There are certain people who seem to take up an inordinate amount of your energy whenever they are around. Whether they are pushy, negative, aloof, or even just overly “helpful” with lots of “suggestions” that sound suspiciously like criticisms, these people leave you feeling both physically and emotionally drained. They are the Takers. Energy vampires. I’m sure we all have a few names that pop to mind.

Then there are those people who seem to lighten and brighten your life just with their presence. They bring laughter, and joy, security, comfort, and genuine compassion. The people you just know would help you move your living room furniture around if you asked, or would come pick you up at two in the morning if your car broke down somewhere. These people are like taking a break from life for a while, like a glass of cool water on a hot day, or a warm blanket on a chilly night. They are the Givers. They add the energy of light and life and love and laughter to your system, leaving you feeling just that much more calm, reassured, and confident in yourself even after they have left. With any luck, I hope some names pop into mind here as well.

Lastly, I think you can make a compelling case that this same dynamic applies to emotions as well as food and people. There are Giver emotions and Taker emotions; certain feelings, thoughts, and experiences that come with a cost, that seem to leave us physically and emotionally drained. Energy vampires such as Frustration. Resentment. Bitterness. Jealously. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Regret. Stress. These emotions “cost” our mind and body the energy to metabolize or process them, just like with unhealthy foods, and unpleasant people. So, as part of an overall healthy lifestyle, I realize that I have to be especially vigilant and attentive as to which emotions I’m letting run wild through my heart. The more often I give myself over to the Taker emotions, the darker my outlook on life, the less energy I have, and the less resilient I am to the occasional shocks and stumbles that are a part of everyday life.

By the same token, the more I concentrate on keeping myself present with the Giver emotions, seeking out joy and warmth and laughter and love, and the more I make it a habit to practice compassion, forgiveness, understanding, empathy, kindness and love towards both myself and those around me, the more I will find that my energy “tank” stays a lot closer to full.  And with a full energy tank, I am better equipped to deal with the Takers whenever I have to.

Needless to say, a healthy lifestyle involves having a lot more Givers in your life than Takers. Seek out and chose to surround yourself as much as possible with the Givers, and avoid the Takers whenever you can. And…ask yourself, in just about every interaction with others, “Am I being a Giver or a Taker here?” This applies to our relationships as well, whether it’s with a friend, lover, business partner, spouse, or family member. It’s important to take the time and make the effort to take an honest look, and ask yourself, “Is this relationship a Giver or a Taker for me?” Am I putting in a lot more than I’m getting out? Does being around this person cost me more than it benefits me? Do they fill me up, or bring me down?

To me, this is just as much of a spiritual battle as it is a mental one. The Enemy would love for me to live my life just barely above the “E” on my gas tank. He wants me weak and frightened, lonely and confused…completely run down and thus, completely ineffective for the Kingdom work to which God has called me.

Sometimes that work is simply to show love and light and compassion to those around me, but if I’m living in a constant state of energy debt, I won’t have any left to give out to someone else.

The first and most important truth here, then, is that you have to give to yourself FIRST. If you burn yourself out, if you are constantly sitting at the bottom of the energy well, you won’t be of much use to anyone. So, though this seems counter to so much of what we hear (both in the Church and out), IT IS NOT SELFISHNESS TO ENSURE THAT YOU ARE BEING TAKEN CARE OF! Keep yourself healthy! Keep yourself happy! Keep yourself in shape – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Then, and ONLY then can you realistically expect to shine the kind of the light into the world that it so desperately needs.

So, the challenge becomes one of ensuring that whatever choices I am making in my life, whether it’s what I eat, what I think, or with whom I interact, I will begin to make the choices that will bring me the most joy. I will surround myself with all the best Givers I can find, and I make it my daily mission to “top off the tank” so that whenever the need arises for ME to be the Giver, to spend some of that energy on those who God has put in my path, I will have more than enough to share.

The Battle For America's Soul

As the circus that was this election year draws to a close, I cannot help but remark on the strange dichotomy that has riven this country.  Donald Trump, as morally questionable character as you might ever meet, battled Hillary Clinton, arguably one of the most bought-and-paid-for politicians in recorded history. And this country became, essentially, bi-polar. A schism was rent in the fabric of our society, as the vocal and easily swayed aligned themselves behind one or the other candidate. Violent “protests” looking strangely like riots erupted as America became polarized behind ideological opposites,.

White middle-class America, tired of being branded latent racists, judged worthy of scorn because of the color of their skin (strangely enough, by other melanin-challenged individuals), and called “white supremacists” – a term once reserved for the skin-heads in a compound in North Idaho – rebelled against academia and the mass-media elites, and said, no more will we avert our gaze, no more will we quietly take your accusations of implicit racism. Or, to put it in a more colloquial verbiage, they said, essentially, “Screw You.”

This election became a referendum against the progressive agenda. The failed messiah Barack Obama, who promised so much and delivered so little (except some pretty decent turns on the back nine), became a sort of rallying cry for “flyover country.”  As he sat quiescent while Black Live Matter protests smashed and burned their way through suburbia, strangely silent as ghost-funded busloads of professional protesters clamored against a Trump presidency in supposedly “spontaneous” outrage….complete with their pre-printed, laminated protest signs, working class America decided that they’d had enough.

So, while Donald Trump may not be the paragon of  virtue most might hope for in a presidential candidate, he still became, in essence, “At least he’s not THAT!”

As middle-class moms and struggling entrepreneurs watch their insurance premiums double and triple under ObamaCare’s gentle ministrations, as they watch President Obama decry racism in the Republican’s approaches to immigration reform while he continues to quietly deport millions of brown-skinned “immigrants,” they’ve basically said enough is enough.

And so we are at a crossroads. A tilting point. Do we continue down the ultimately self-destructive road that the progressive’s messiah started us on, or do we cautiously hope that maybe, just maybe, we can stem the tide of enlightened self-immolation upon which the past administration has set us?

Donald Trump is far from a paladin of virtue, some noble knight in whom we might otherwise expect the noblest of intents. But. He is, at least, a tremulous hope to which we might cling, as we strive to halt this nations slip into irrelevant oblivion.

Time will tell if we have chosen well.

Thoughts From My Quiet Time: The Power of Letting Go

I surrender all. I surrender all. All to thee, my blessed savior, I surrender aaaaalllll.”

So the song goes. But…am I really doing it? Am I really giving everything over to Him? Or, am I still holding on to a few things I plan to handle for myself?

Why do we sometimes cling sooo tightly to a favorite fear, or chose to continually re-live the same past trauma, or dwell forever on that one special mistake we made way back when? It’s like some ragged stuffed animal that’s been with us for so long that we just can’t quite seem to let it go.

MINE!” we yell.

So, inevitably, that’s precisely where God is going to focus his attention; because it’s the very things that we hold on to the most tightly that are the most important for us to let go of.

It’s those learned responses, those conditioned reflexes, those programmed behaviors, those things where we stubbornly insist, “It’s just the way things are!” Even if they aren’t pleasant, they are comfortable, they are familiar; they are what we know.  And they may even be true…for now.

But…just because that’s the way things are, doesn’t mean that’s really how they have to stay, is it? God is all about taking what is…and changing it into what can be.  HOWEVER…

…we have to let go of it first.

It’s those very things that we “know” with such certainty that too often get in the way of discovering the real truth of things.  It’s only when we stop trying to tell God how things are, that we become open to the possibilities of what they can be!

Problem is, that means letting go of our illusions of control, of our carefully nurtured victim-hood, or of any of 101 other things that we tend to put in place of a complete reliance on God and an unwavering trust in His sovereignty over our life. And that’s hard. Real hard. Because we really like our little teddy bear.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  1st Cor. 13:11-12

If I hold on too tightly to those artifacts of the past, if I cling too tightly to that ragged old teddy bear, I can never really grow up the way I am supposed to, the way God wants me to. I stagnate, I get stuck, and I don’t grow. So, before I can move forward, I have to stop looking back. Instead of focusing on what was, I can start seeing what new things God is ready to lead me into instead!

Challenge:  Lord, what are those things in my life that I haven’t let go of yet? What are things I need to put into your hands? What are the fears I most need to trust you with, and the places in which I most need to be the most open to change?

Thoughts From My Quiet Time: Victorious Is A Verb

How often do we, as Christians, truly live as if we are victorious? Or do we too often still live in defeat? As though our decision to follow Christ were merely an event experienced along the way, something of little consequence, rather than a fundamental alternation of the very fabric of who and what we are?  To the point that it even alters the way we interact with universe itself?

We. Are. Changed.  But do we live as ones who have been been changed, and are being changed?

Do we live as though we share in the victory of Christ over sin and death? As though we are an intimate part of that victory?  Are we dancing and singing and clanging our symbols as we follow along behind our Victorious One? Or do we live more as mere observers, those who witnessed the action and cheered, but now see ourselves as separate, standing quietly off to the side as they march by? Maybe as not worthy? Maybe not like those “real” Christians over there?

Are we part of a triumphal procession…or are we content to watch and cheer from the sidelines?  Are we truly transformed…or merely affected?

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”  (1 Cor. 15:54)

Challenge: Am I daily living in the victory secured for me by Christ, and is it daily transforming my life?


Judgement Is Not Your Job.

I have a question. One sort of spawned from reading this article by Beth Woolsey entitled, “3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin.

And that question is: why do we think we can stop other people from sinning, when we can’t even stop OURSELVES from sinning??

Ms. Woolsey takes us back to the story of the woman about to be stoned to death by the Pharisees, where Jesus says by way of condemnation of their methods,”… let any of you who is without sin, cast the first stone.

Thing is, Jesus WAS without sin. Sinless. And so by his own definition he was completely qualified to stone the woman; to throw the first stone.  And yet he didn’t. He showed her grace, and forgiveness and an acceptance the likes of which she had probably never experienced from anyone else. I think it’s pretty safe to say he had an impact on her life. And probably made a friend that day as well.

How much more then are we — as full and complete sinners who are living our lives an eternity away from the perfection of Christ — uniquely UNQUALIFIED to throw that first stone?!  How DARE we stand in judgement of others? That is a role reserved exclusively for the person of God!

Our ministries should not be focused on stopping people from sinning. We can’t do it. We aren’t qualified!  You know who is? God. The Holy Spirit. The changer of hearts and redeemer of lives. Not us. Not the pastors, not the deacons, not the lay preachers or Bible study leaders.

We. Can’t. Do. It.

What can we do? We can work to bring people into relationship with Christ. And then let Him take it from there.

Can I cure an alcoholic? Nope. Can I get a drug user to stop using? Nope.  Can I get a compulsive, self-destructive gambler to push back from the blackjack table? I can try. I can exhort, beg, whine, condemn, yell, plead.  But you know what? Until he wants to stop, until God works that miracle in his heart…it isn’t going to happen. I can’t shame him, I can’t bully him, and I can’t guilt him into changing.

What I can do is tell him that there’s a way. A way out. A way up. I can SHOW him that way, by the way I live my life, by the manifest witness of what God has done in my own life. AND THAT’S IT.

A great deal of what we know today as “church,” we got from Paul, not from Jesus.  Paul and the disciples were the Tiger Team, the Hellfighters.  They were sent out to make disciples of all nations, and Paul as the designated honcho oversaw the process. He was the project manager.

The thing is, his letters to the churches?  They are, without exception, exhortations to hold fast and to hold true to the path they have chosen – to people WHO ARE ALREADY BELIEVERS!

To the people who aren’t?  To the gambler or the housewife, to the alcoholic or the bus driver, to the thief or the school teacher? It’s a different story.

The unsaved are NOT BOUND BY DOCTRINE! It. Does. Not. Apply. To. Them.

And therefore, we cannot hold them accountable to it!! It is utterly meaningless for me to shake a Bible in the face of “a sinner,” spout a bunch of religious rhetoric and hope to have any impact. Other than perhaps inspiring hostility and resentment.  That’s not the way we reach the lost.

As a matter of fact, the very act of attempting to put myself in a separate camp than ”those sinners” is in itself an act of sin!

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”   Romans 2:1-6

The law (the scriptures) is there to bring an awareness of sin. It’s there to help you understand how and why we need a savior. To get a glimpse of the eternal consequences for breaking the rules.  If I know that the speed limit is 55, and I go 70, when I get a ticket I can’t say, “well I didn’t KNOW!

But you know what else? It’s not my job to write tickets. It’s not my job to enforce the law. I can’t make that guy in the lane next to me drive any slower by shaking a fist or showing a finger. As a matter of fact, I may very well push the person to drive faster just to show me I’m not the boss of him or her, leading him into further violation of the law! And you know what else? I’ve sinned by even trying.

Matthew 5:22 says, “22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Not very kind and gentle words, are they?  I can’t stop that guy from speeding, but I can guard my own heart. Instead of getting angry and cussing, I can step back, say a prayer for him or her, and let God do the work on that other person in His way and in His timing.

Because it IS His job…..not mine.  Not my job. Not my role.

My job is to love, to try and understand, and more importantly to live every day with the understanding that if God took the same attitude towards me that I am taking towards those over whom I am so quick to stand in judgement, I’d be in some deep doo-doo for sure!

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:14-15

Challenging words. Especially during rush hour.

Time is your most precious commodity.

I’m reading a compelling book called, “The Right to Write” by Julia Cameron.  In it she speaks about “stolen moments;” those precious minutes we writers need to steal from the demands of our daily life to “find time” to write.

Her underlying point is that, if you string together enough of these stolen moments, they stop being “moments,” and instead become a “habit.”

Just like going to the gym, if you force it into your schedule for long enough, it becomes something that pushes those other things aside.  It become a fixture, a compulsion, a thing you chose to do instead of all those “other things.”

The same goes for people.  If someTHING is important, you make time for it. If someONE is important, you make time for them.

You know, I can call myself a “photographer,” say that I’m really into photography, but if I never make time to go shoot some pictures…is it really true?  Am I really a photographer if I never take photographs? Am I really a writer if I never write? A sculptor if I never sculpt?

What am I then?

I am a computer gamer. I am an Internet surfer.  I am an Instagramer. A Facebooker.

So, the first and foremost thing to do, at anything, is to show up and put. in. the. time. Stop making excuses.  Stop letting less important things become more important.

I guess it’s a fairly inescapable conclusion, then, that the same must be true of relationships.  You have to show up… you have to put. in. the. work.

If I tell people that I’m a gardener, but my yard is choked with weeds, dead plants, and crabgrass, then their response will likely be, “well, by the looks of things, you’re not a very good one.

The Bible says that, “by their fruits will you know them.” (Matt. 16:20)

Again, if I claim to be that photographer, but have no portfolio, have no evidence of my work, then my claim rings a little hollow, doesn’t it?

And so, if I claim that someONE is important to me, by what “fruit” should I then be known?  What is my portfolio? What is the evidence of this care as it is manifested in my life?

Do I make time for them?  Do I stop letting less important things become more important than this person I say I love?

A true photographer, an artist, a singer, a craftsman invests time in their craft.  Time, energy, money, enthusiasm. Passion.  Their day feels empty without it.  If you are passionate about something (or someone) you notice the absence, you miss it, you crave it.  Without the daily trip to the gym or yoga studio, your whole day feels off.  Without taking the time to press that shutter button a few times, or get a page or two down on the next novel or blog post, you feel like things have been left undone. It’s more than just a casual interest…it’s a genuine desire.

For things you like, you’ll try and find the time.

For things you love, for things about which you are passionate, you MAKE the time!

So. More and more each day, I am asking myself, “am I MAKING TIME for the right things?

If someone looked into my life, what would they say I was passionate about? Laundry?  Dishes? TV Shows? Computer games?

Or my children? My friends? My relationship with God? My own health and well being?

Again, in Luke 12:34, Jesus reminds us and admonishes us, “For wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  When you truly treasure something (or someone), you give it your whole heart…not just whatever leftovers you can spare!

With this in mind, I have given myself a new challenge:  to look more closely — every day and in every way — at where I am spending my time and my treasure.  Am I giving my heart, my soul and my precious reserves of time and energy to the right things? The right people?

Or am I wasting what few precious hours I have on this earth on things that don’t really matter?

Only time…will tell.

When God Calls…Do You Let It Go To Voicemail?

Are you screening your calls?

answering-machines1---message-screen_s600x600As I fast approach my 47th year in this world, I find myself taking a hard look back over my life, and evaluating a lot of the decisions I’ve made, sifting and sorting through the many milestones and events and turns-left-instead-of-right that have led me to my current station in life.  Several of those junctions, several key “forks in the road” really begin stand out to me.  Invariably, they are the points where I had to make a decision whether to follow where God was leading…or to pursue my own path chasing after my own desires.  Sadly, more often than I care to admit I’ve made the wrong choice.

It makes me wonder why we struggle so hard against what we see as the “demands” of Christ’s Kingdom? I think sometimes we tend to think only about all the things we’ll have to give up, of all the sacrifices we’ll have to make.  Maybe we picture a life of monastic austerity, kind of like a kid trapped inside on a summer day while he watches through the window as the other kids get to go out and play.  A life spent serving God is seen as something all those “saintly” people do, but really, isn’t that a bit much to ask of the average joe?

BUT.  If we truly believe that we are created by God, if we truly believe that He has gifted and equipped and will call each of us to serve Him in a way uniquely suited to who and what we are, why do we still hesitate to answer this call?

For far too many of us, it’s not enough to just be what God has created us to be.   We want and demand that we become more, or maybe something just more to our liking, something that fits a little better into what and who we think we ought to be; you know, something more! We treat a life lived in service to God as “Plan B.”  Maybe something to get around to once we’ve finished doing all the other stuff WE want to do.  In other words, we put ourselves first.  We put our desires and our goals ahead of what God has laid out for us.

This is THE VERY SAME SIN that doomed mankind from the start. The first sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden was not the sin of disobedience. The disobedience was a RESULT of an earlier sin; the first sin of Man was the sin of pride.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,  she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.  Gen. 3:3-6

Seduced by the smooth and persuasive words of the Serpent, Adam and Eve felt the first stirrings of the desire to be MORE. They were created in God’s own image. They were quite possibly either immortal, or incredibly long-lived. They knew no shame, hurt, fear or want. They were given a position of unique and important responsibility in caring for God’s creation. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t enough. God’s given call on their lives, his intended purpose, no longer sufficed. They wanted more. They wanted to be “as God.” They wanted to “know,” to have their eyes opened, to take on an aspect other than that for which they were created. And this desire led them into death. It led them into separation from God. It shattered a bond, a faith, a unique trust between them and their Creator. In effect, they chose the words of the Serpent over the words of God. They said, in their hearts, “Father, what you have given us is not enough. We see what you are apparently denying us, and now we want MORE!

Be careful what you ask for. Especially when you ask in ignorance, without faith, in disobedience.

In how many ways do we see this same sin, this same legacy born out day after day in our own lives? God calls and equips us for a certain work, and in our pride we decide that it’s not “good enough.” We see all the things we think God could provide us, and isn’t, and we decide that God can’t possibly be calling me to teach third graders. I’m meant to be a church planter! How come I’m stuck cleaning up after the youth group, when I should be leading the worship team up on stage?! God must be punishing me for something; otherwise I’d have a much more (glamorous, visible, better-paying, more influential, etc) position.

Even the early Disciples struggle with this same pride, this same desire to be something MORE.  In Mark Chapt. 9:33-35, we here them jostling for position amongst one another:

And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”  But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

The mission, the purpose for which God has called each of us as Believers, and equipped us (if even for just a season) is too often considered “beneath” us. Not important enough. Not worth “our” time. And so we refuse to fulfill that calling, that role. We disobey. We let ourselves be seduced by the allure of all those bright, shiny things seemingly held just beyond our reach, instead of focusing on the anointing God has already placed on our lives. We become discontented, impatient and selfish, not content to merely serve in humility.  We become so focused on our position, on our status, even among other Christians, that we lose site of what “servanthood” really means.

And too often, what happens next? Well, from hard-won personal experience, let me tell you.

We decide that if that’s all God has for us, if that’s all the more famous we’re going to get, well then, no thanks. We turn away. We stop serving the Kingdom altogether. It’s too hard, too embarrassing, too boring, too this, too that.  We find 101 reasons why this really just isn’t working out for us.  Maybe we storm off in a huff, or maybe we just step away from the plow. Maybe we storm up the stairs and slam our bedroom door, or just quietly unplug the phone and turn out the lights.  Whatever it looks like, we turn away from the words of God and trust in our own wisdom as to what is best. And so the Serpent wins. Again.

The Enemy wants nothing more than to keep us so distracted by shiny things, things that are a “delight to the eyes,” so focused on our “felt needs” and our earthly desires and the praise of man that when the phone rings and we realize that it’s God calling, we’ll just let it go to voicemail.

Whether through fear, or pride, inattention, laziness, or just plain unbelief, we can sometimes let ourselves miss a calling that promises so much more for our life than anything we can scrounge up ourselves.  So the next time you think you might be hearing God’s call on your life, hearing Him call you out of where you are to where He wants you to be…


Why "Biblical Sense?"

When thinking about what domain name to get, what moniker I wanted to hang on this thing, I went through a lot of different choices. Some obscure, some humorous, some too plain, or too complicated, and of lot of them just plain already taken. So why “Biblical Sense?”

There’s so much in this world that doesn’t seem to make sense to me these days. So much of our once proud culture has been worn down, broken down, co-opted, wishy-washied, corrupted or re-branded. All in the name of “progress.” Change. Diversity. Tolerance. Whatever the catch phrase of the week happens to be.

And swirling through the big middle of it all is the steady decline of our collective moral fiber, a tarnishing of our souls seen nowhere more clearly than in the arena of our sexuality. Sex pervades the newstands, the book racks, the movie theaters, and our television shows. It’s everywhere, and it’s glamorized and glorified. Sex has become dating. It’s just assumed by so many of today’s young people that sex is an inevitable part of dating, and the sooner the better.

This isn’t the way God intended it.

I think one of the biggest reasons behind why this is happening is that the “post-modern” church, its body, its preachers/teachers/leaders, are all about trying to conform the Bible to the culture, instead of the other way around. The Bible becomes an after-thought, a selection of favored quotes, quips and anecdotes to fill in the gaps in their self-help sermons.

Biblical literacy is plummeting, and there are entire church denominations and “emergent” movements looking to re-interpret God’s Holy Word in light of this cultural cataclysm, trying too hard be “relevant” to a world gone crazy. Problem is, if you are following the crowd, you’re not leading it. If you are chasing after the culture, you have to go where IT leads YOU, and it should be the other way around. The Church should be a source of strength and solidity, a refuge in this storm of moral confusion. Should be, but too often isn’t.

As Believers, we are called to hold everything up to the lens of the Scriptures. The Bible is our rock, our unchanging references, immutable and eternal; the very words of God from the mouths of His servants. We need to know what it says. Why it says what it says. We need to know and understand and evaluate everything in a Biblical sense.

This term has, over time, taken on a sexual connotation.

“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain” Gen 4:1 (ESV).

It’s now become almost a tongue-in-cheek expression, a careful euphemism for sex. “Oh man, I want to know her, in the biblical sense.”

What has gotten squeezed, filtered and scrubbed out of our concept of sexual relationships over time is the idea that to join together with a man or woman in the act of sexual union is absolutely the most intimate way to “know” another person. It should be a time of joining, of union, almost a sacrament between two people whom God has brought together in His name, an anointed and precious act meant to be shared with one person and one person only: the person you’ve sworn before God in the form of marriage vows to spend the rest of your life with.

These days it’s become just another way to pass the time. A toy we play with when we’re bored. Kids in school have oral sex in the classroom and send “sext” message to each other on their cell phones. Way too much, way too early.

We’ve got to try and make sense of all this. Biblical sense. We know all about sex, but almost nothing about intimacy. God’s Word calls us to be intimate with Him. That’s why I want to take back this term. People should know God, in a Biblical sense. Not in the watered-down, candy-coated, fly-by-night way so many are getting Him these days in seeker-friendly churches who want to love people to death. Too loving to preach the truth, too caring to force hard decisions, to inclusive to use terms like good and bad, sin and sanctification.

God cries out for us to know Him, to read, and to KNOW His Word. To evaluate everything in our lives through the lens of scripture. To turn away from the false intimacy of sexual sin and idolatry, and embrace Him, to know him more intimately than we know anything else or anyone else in our lives.

That why the name. It’s what I hope to do with my posts here: help people come to better know and understand God (and themselves), in a Biblical sense.

~Steve Berven

A Mildewy God?

I am a bit disturbed by what I see as a growing trend.  Time and again in the news I am seeing stories of people flocking to catch a glimpse of the Virgin Mary in a water stain under an overpass, or the face of Mother Theresa in a cinammon roll, the face of Jesus in a piece of toast or a grilled cheese sandwich, or some other saintly figure in a mud puddle or a paint spill or a rust stain on the back of ’78 Impala.

You know what that is, right?  Idolatry.  Plain and simple.  Flocking to an image of a water stain on a concrete wall, stacking candles, incense and flowers all around, and then PRAYING TO THE IMAGE is idolatry.  I happen to think that praying to anyone but God is idolatry.  Praying to the Virgin Mary, praying to "the saints", praying to your dear departed Uncle Chuck, all of these are putting someONE or someTHING before God.

God’s word clearly states: 

Exodus 20:3-4, "You shall have no other gods before Me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. "

Judges 10:13,  Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you.

2 Kings 17:12, "They served idols, concerning which the LORD had said to them, "You shall not do this thing."

our-lady-of-grace1Praying to the Mother of Jesus and asking for her help or intercession is making her as God ("Mediatrix").  Praying to Saint Peter or Saint Theresa or Saint Bob is putting a PERSON in the place where JESUS belongs.  And it is therefore idolatry.

And the question I have is….why?  Why pray to anyone but God?  The way has been opened for you, "the veil of the Tabernacle was torn in two" so that ALL might approach the throne of God! 

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a {mere} copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; …Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer {any} offering for sin.  Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,  (Heb 9-10)

Jesus tells us quite clearly in John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. "  Not through Mary.  Not through Peter.  Only through CHRIST.

The again in John 14:13-14, Jesus tells us, ""Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do {it.}  "

Jesus quite clearly not only gives us permission to go directly to Him, but requires us to go to Him and ONLY Him.  If you are praying to anyone, or anything else, you are praying to a false god.  An idol.  A substitution of the real thing.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as {we are, yet} without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hbr 4:13-16 NASB)

And here’s there other thing.  Our God is an AWESOME God.  Our God is the one who spun together the entire universe.  Psalm 104 talks about his kind of God: 

"Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a {tent} curtain.  He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind;  He makes the winds His messengers, Flaming fire His ministers. "

Does this sound like the kind of God who would be content to manifest himself as a mildew stain an a basement wall, some calcification under a runoff spout, or an odd shape of woodgrain on a toilet door?!  Come ON. Seriously.  I think it’s safe to say that an image seen in some dusty, shadowy dampness in a culvert is NOT OF GOD.  Which really leaves only two other options, doesn’t it?  Either you are trying waaaay too hard to see something that’s not there, or, the image comes from somewhere else.  Somewhere, or someone.  Someone who would love nothing better than for you to be distracted, entranced, and preoccupied with all manner of flashy, showy spiritualistic other things than focusing exclusively on the one, true God.

I remember hearing a story once of some missionaries in, I believe it was Ethiopia, who were shown what was believed to be one of the original stones used in the ephod of Aaron as commanded by God, described in Exodus Chapt. 28:

And the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, [like] the engravings of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes.

 I had always pictured some kind of art class project with a name etched into the top like a pet rock or a paperweight.  However, the stone the pastor described was transparent, a deep blue color, and the stone had an image of a lion, for the tribe of Judah.  They were able to x-ray the stone, and came to discover that the image of the lion itself had a three-dimensional quality and was actually made up of Hebrew words, almost like a hologram!  This seems to jibe with the description given in Exodus.  The stones were made by "Aholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver, and a cunning workman."  Cunning indeed!

Now, I admit I heard the story second or third hand, and I can’t find anything on the ol’ Internets to back it up, but that story has always really resonated with me.  If this is the kind of amazing detail that God’s people put into carving individual stones,  I can only imagine what God did when he "carved" out the 10 Commandments: 

But if the ministration of death, written [and] engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which [glory] was to be done away:  (2 Cor. 3:7)

I can’t imagine they were really just a couple of rough-hewn stone slabs with chisel marks.   They were so magnificent that they imbued power to the very countenance of Moses!  I suspect that these may very well have been what gave the ark of the Covenant its power once they were placed inside.  What I wouldn’t give to see those tablets, maybe get them in front of an MRI or mass-spectomoter!  When I look at Revelation 2:17 in light of the above story, it takes on a much greater level of significance:

and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’

Imagine God creating a stone which only you can read.  Each stone unique, different, magnificent, and waaaaay high-tech.

So with all that in mind, how is it that so many people allow themselves to be mystified by a patch of frost, a discoloration of some concrete, or a scuff mark on a linoleum floor?  Folks, when God wants you to know that He’s there, trust me, you’ll know.  There’ll be no squinting, and turning your head this way and that, and if you shine the light just so, it sort of maybe kinda might look like Jesus when he’s asleep underwater…

"Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.  (Matt. 24:30-31)

Doesn’t say anything about toast or mildew.  God does not do things halfway.  He is not a tame lion.   He’s got a flair for the dramatic.   He’s a God of burning pillars and parted seas, not potato chips and grilled cheese.

More even that the aspects of idolatry, and of diminishing the majesty of God, chasing after images and totems can lead you down a dangerous path, one which is based on deception.  If you are so quick to find solace in every "religious" icon you stumble across, if you are so ready and willing to believe that spirits are speaking to you through these manifestations, you set yourself up to be easily deceived by those claiming to speak for God, or AS God, but who are really agents of deception and betrayal.

"For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many…Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many." (Matt. 24)

Putting your faith in anyone, or anything except the Lord Jesus Christ denies the sovereignty of God and results in you serving and worshipping a creation, not the Creator.  Do not be misled!  Trust that God wants you to talk to HIM, revere and worship HIM, not a grease spot or a paint smear.

An Unintentional Hiatus

Well, clearly I’ve had a variety of pushy and demanding distractions hammering at me, like one of those officious busy-bodies in the checkout line who huffs and puffs and elbows her way into the middle of things until you PAY ATTENTION TO HER!


So, now, despite an every-increasingly busy schedule, I am trying, TRYING to find make time to clack away at a few keys and see where the Spirit leads me.  And by “leads me,”  I mean, upon which areas of my life will the Spirit be focusing His inescapable spotlight of attention, thereby bringing me into the kind of awareness (and hopefully repentance) such that I can share these lessons with you.  Regardless of how humbling or deprecating they may be.

Cuz, it’s what I do.

Coming soon, A Patchwork Penitience will be getting it’s own domain!  Stay tuned for updates.