Tag Archives: Frustration

To Explain or Experience? That is the Question

There is a hunger, a craving in all of us for something more. Something we can’t explain or describe. This longing is a desperate need that can’t be satisfied with facts, figures, or fickle fantasy. It won’t be met with any of the alternatives we, as desperate human beings, have attempted to substitute throughout our generations of habitation on this earth. No—power, position, prestige, money, sex, food, drugs, idols, and a thousand other endless, empty pursuits simply lack the power to quell the gnawing pangs of an internal hunger generated from the very genesis of our DNA. Blaise Pascal, a 17th century mathematician and Christian philosopher, summed it up this way: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are…”

 This is not a “me” or “you” problem—this is a human problem. This satisfaction, this craving and helplessness as Pascal calls it, is etched in the primordial memory of our consciousness. The problem is no created thing can scratch this infernal itch and we can’t seem to remember what or perhaps who can.

That is—except God. Pascal provides the solution to the unanswerable question and the insatiable internal appetite: “…Since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”  This abyss in our soul and spirit needs far more than you or I can cram into it—we need God.

We were created by God for God. Let that sink in for a moment. God needs nothing so he did not create us out of a need. No, he created us out of desire. A desire fuel by an unconditional love he longed to lavish on created creatures made in his likeness and in his image. God desired that his heart be experienced—that is known intimately.

Sadly most of us have spent our entire Christian life in an attempt to explain God in a way we can understand. We demand rational explanations, deductive arguments, and laboratory experiments, which are finite at best and flawed at worst, to explain the infinite. We preach three point sermons with revelation, application, and illustration on things we cannot comprehend, or teach in-depth, perhaps inept lessons on things we have no real clue about, or worse, we write endless articles, papers, and books with seven steps to this and twelve steps to that when we are totally out of step in our flawed, yet limited approach. Yes, God did give us a brain to think with, but he also gave us five senses, an impassioned soul filled with emotions, and a spirit that can only receive communication on God’s personal frequency. God is not looking to be explained. He never explains his omnipotence, his omnipresence, or his omniscience. He simply declares it or demonstrates it. So why should we think we can explain him. No, God is intent on our experiencing him.

Perhaps this kind of thinking frightens you to death. Perhaps it sounds dangerous—you know that right brain stuff oozing into good, solid theological thinking. Perhaps you have been trained not to trust your emotions, and because of this, have shut them off completely in your pursuit of God. Instead you have chosen to be dependent on rational, intellectual, and cold, hard objective facts and figures to gratify that voracious hunger. So how is that working for you? Have the fangs of your ravenous soul stopped gnawing? Has your heart stopped longing for something more? Are you still cramming things that don’t fit in that God-shaped vacuum?

Stop the explaining and begin the experiencing. You can use your brain, but realize you are far more than a brain—you are a spirit, soul, and body with a brain, not vice versa. Psalm 46:10 (KJV) says, “Be still and know that I am God…” To paraphrase this powerful statement—stop cramming everything you can into an infinite abyss and allow an infinite and immutable God to satisfy that ravenous desire he’s hard-wired in you.  Be still—stop explaining! And know—start experiencing!

Crisis: Religion or Relationship

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The Crisis Issue (Part 2)

When it comes to religion or relationship, what is the crisis issue? The crisis is a connection issue—how will you or I connect with Jesus Christ. The options are religion (an artificial connection system) or relationship (a heart-to-heart connection). The difference between these two options would seem obvious, but it is sometimes indistinguishable except in the tiniest of details. Details really do matter!

Let me illustrate. Perhaps you are familiar with the television series American Pickers. It chronicles the exploits and adventures of two antique and collectible buyers (or pickers) named Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz. They travel America searching for treasures by calling on people who collect, hoard, or have inherited overwhelming collections of apparent junk.

Several month ago, I was watching as Mike and Frank where climbing through one of the outbuildings of an elderly couple. Suddenly they stopped dead in their tracks as they uncovered an extremely rare 1935 Auburn Phaeton convertible partially visible from under a stack of junk. The old man had gotten the automobile from his uncle decades earlier and had parked it in his shed to protect it. Over time, it became covered with other collectible trash and treasure. The car still had its original paint and leather interior. It was the mythical barn find—a treasure of great value that had been sitting hidden for almost seventy years.

Mike and Frank were foaming at the mouth and immediately asked the old man to name his price. He obviously knew what he had and replied that the car was worth at least $80,000. In fact, he and his wife were counting on the car’s value to help support them in their old age.

So Mike and Frank called a friend who was an expert in vintage cars to get a second option. The expert asked them to check the size of the engine because the size of the engine would determine the price of the car. It seems that only a few Phaetons (the ones worth $80-$110,000) had a bigger engine. Sadly, the old man’s car had the smaller engine and was worth only $20-$30,000. The value difference was the detail—a detail the old man had apparently missed. All the 1937 Phaetons looked alike on the outside, but the difference was in the detail of engine size.

Like the Phaetons, religion and relationship often appear indistinguishable but the difference is in the details. The treasure of relationship is often buried beneath the trash of religion.

Here are a few details that will help us distinguish between religion and relationship:

  • Religion is the counterfeit connection of hell. Relationship is the heart cry of humanity for connection with God.
  • Religion was created by humanity to measure his/her pursuit of God. God pursued humanity so that he might connect with us through relationship.
  • Religion requires rules, rituals, false measurements, and perfection that results in frustration, rejection, and shame. Relationship requires simple surrender, but results in ultimate satisfaction that leads to self-less service and sacrifice.
  • Religion deadens relationship, but genuine relationship destroys religion.
  • Religion crucified Jesus Christ, but relationship held him on that cross until our sin debt was completely paid.

You see the details really do matter! The time has come for each of us to dig deeper into what we believe and why we believe it. The time has come to throw out the trash of religion and uncover the treasure of relationship. The time has come to pay attention to the details of how we connect with Jesus.

Crisis: Religion or Relationship (Part 1)

 

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Crisis (Part 1)

Fasting is tough. I am eighteen days into a 40 day fast from religion, as are many of the members of Eagle’s Wing Church where I pastor. We are driven by a desperate hunger and a passionate desire to experience a genuine relationship with God. Our desire is to know God rather than the facts or things that point us to God. We want to personally experience God and his love rather than live off the past experiences others.

Perhaps you’re wondering—why a fast from religion? Isn’t religion a good thing? Isn’t religion all about God?

Let me define religion. Religion is a system that must be practiced so that perfection can be reached. On the other hand, relationship is a heart-to-heart connection with a real person. You can’t have a relationship with a system. Relationship requires two people (not a person working a system). Jesus came to pay the price of sin so he might restore our ability to walk in communion with God—to have a personal relationship with him. Relationship is pursued,  while religion is practiced. And in this case practice will never make us perfect.

Our hearts yearn for relationship. We are born with a hunger to be loved and to give love in return. God created us that way. And he created a deep craving within all of us that can only be satisfied by a genuine relationship with him. God is relational. It is a part of his nature. Relationship starts in the heart of God.

Humanity created religion because we like systems where we can achieve things on our own. For some reason, we want to do it our way, rather than God’s way. Religion demands a pseudo perfection that is somehow achieved through rigorous practice and good works. The problem with that is we can’t rise to the measure of perfection God requires. Otherwise the death of Christ on the cross was a tragic waste.

The modern Christian church is in crisis. Most preach salvation by grace but then we turn around and try our hardest to achieve God’s favor, love, and blessings through works and activities. That’s religion, not relationship. Most believers attempt to connect with God through religion—through the system. But the only way we can make this heart-to-heart connection is through relationship.

For the next several weeks I want to share the subtle deception of religion and the satisfying depth of relationship through this blog. I encourage you to join us in a forty day fast from religion. If you will commit—God will bless you and set you free from religion’s crushing coils.

How do you start? Simply ask the Holy Spirit to show you anything in your spiritual life that is smacks or smells of religion. That may be a belief, a doctrine, a cherished idea or practice. It could be anything. As the Holy Spirit exposes those hidden things, confess them and move on. Invite the Holy Spirit to examine all your beliefs, doctrines, practices, and way of thinking. Don’t be afraid to invite him in to those things—he should be at home in all of them or that belief is not from God. That’s it!

You may be thinking there’s got to be more to it than this. What are the rules? If you need more rules than I’ve shared, you can start right there with that thought—it’s riddled with religion!

Am I a Christian Zombie????

Am I a Christian zombie? Now that’s an interesting question you might be thinking. Freeze the first picture that went through your mind. Everyone knows what a zombie is. In our culture they have become folk heroes, video game celebrities, and movie icons. It might even be chic, bad, hot, rad, or cool (depending on the generational language you speak) to be a zombie.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page let’s get a working definition for a zombie. It’s a dead body that appears alive. I could give a more graphic description of one but this will suffice. We use the term “zombie” as a slang term to denote someone who is just one click on the life meter above a corpse. All of us have had days when we’ve wandered around in a funk or fog wondering what the heck am I doing? I’m breathing air, occupying space, but getting nothing done. You know what I mean—it’s a dead man (or woman—zombies are no respecter of persons) walking.

It’s very easy to go through the motions in our relationship with God. If we are honest, all of us have done this at one time or another. You may have been weary and exhausted, or caught in sin, or hurt by someone you trusted, and then, all of a sudden, you wake up two weeks later and find yourself mindlessly coasting—you spiritual gear knocked into neutral. That’s what I mean by a Christian zombie—going through motions but making absolutely no difference in anyone’s life including yours.

I’m not talking about being a Pharisee—a hypocrite. They belong to another class of zombies for which I do not have the time, energy, desire, or word space to describe. I am talking to regular people who love Jesus, follow Jesus, but without knowing it, are aimlessly wandering around in right field in the high grass near the bleachers desperately trying to find Jesus.

Right now might be a good time to test yourself and see where you register on the zombie meter. Today is a good day for a self-evaluation—a good time to check your spiritual oil.

  1. Am I existing but not living abundantly? In other words, am I just here getting by. Jesus said in John 10:10 that He came that we might have life, and might have it abundantly. That means a life of superabundance, excessively good, over and above and life over the top. Am I living an abundant life?
  2. Am I modeling a powerless life?  Is it a life marked by religious piety—a mindless list of do’s and don’ts. A life externally shaped to look one way, but on the inside a life totally empty—a Hollywood movie set façade of powerless power. Do I hold a form of godliness, yet I have denied its power (2 Timothy 3:5a)? Am I living a powerful life?
  3. Does my daily walk require faith? Am I walking naturally or supernaturally? If the Holy Spirit decided to step out could I survive without Him? Perhaps I am walking without him—walking without any faith whatsoever? A faithless walk is a natural walk and does not require God to get by. Am I living a faith-filled life?
  4. Does my outward reputation match my inward devotion? Is there any passion or do I have it all—job, family, the right church, membership in the right organizations…? Do I look good on the outside but feel dead on the inside? Am I living a passionate life?

To sum it all up in one simple question: If Jesus had preached the gospel I’m living right now, would they have crucified him?

Are You Too Busy?

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Are you too busy?

Well…what kind of question is that you might be thinking? It’s a question that’s really worth answering if you find yourself pre-occupied with other things at your kid’s ballgame, incapable of sleeping because your mind won’t stop spinning, unwilling to go home because you’ll be by yourself, unable to complete anything yet totally exhausted, or fearful of the gentle voice of God.

Is your life a blur—run, run, run but nothing gets done? If you watched a replay of your day would you look like a hummingbird tanked up on Red Bull? Are you too busy?

I know! I know! We all have things we are responsible for and chores that must get done, but is what you are so frantically engaged in really worth the wear and tear, the exertion of energy, the stress or strain, or the investment of your precious time? Is it? Come on…really?

Only you can answer the question. The problem is most people don’t slow down enough to even consider this question. They are just a blur of frenetic energy—here, there, and everywhere!

You are likely dog-tried—worn out but unwilling to admit it. Hey! It’s O.K! Everyone around you already knows it. You’re really not hiding anything…except from yourself.

Busyness is Bondage!

Busyness is not next to godliness (and neither is cleanliness for that matter, but that’s a topic for another day). Busyness for the sake of being busy or to avoid facing reality is bondage. And bondage eventually results in death—of relationships, joy, health, etc. You name it and busyness will eventually kill it.

I’m not talking about working hard. Hard work is necessary and important. But staying busy to avoid something or someone is unhealthy—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Perhaps your busyness is a choice you’ve made to avoid something God wants and intends to do in your life. Perhaps you don’t want whatever that is or perhaps you are terrified of it because it’s new to you and not something you are comfortable with. Perhaps your bondage has convinced you that anything new will create even more problems than you are equipped to handle at this moment. So you stay busy—content on enduring life rather than living and experiencing life to the fullest.

If that’s you—you’re far too busy! And busyness is one of the devil’s fundamental tools in drowning out the voice of God in your life. It’s the mindless chatter or the endless roar of static that deafens your ears to God’s  life-giving instructions. Busyness is nothing more than spiritual ear plugs in most cases.

What’s the solution?

Be Still!!!!!!!!!

God says, “Be still!” Simple, to the point, and amazingly effective. Stop moving! Stop talking! Stop doing! Just stop! “Be still” means exactly what you think—pause, intermission, time-out, take a breather, hiatus, or suspend all motion.

And listen! Silence is not your enemy—it’s the absence of your real enemy’s incessant condemnation and chatter. Hearing God’s voice is a choice. That choice results in a blessing out of the silence, rather than a capitulation to the noise of busyness.

Navigating the Valley Just Beyond the Mountaintop Experience

For every mountaintop experience we encounter there is a valley to cross following close behind on its heels. These valleys are the lows after the highs of a life-changing encounter with God. All of us love those mystical moments in the presence of God breathing the thin air of high altitude perched victoriously on the edge of the precipice staring at the next mountain to be climbed. But between this peak and the next one is a valley—a long distance of desert land. Most of us don’t want to think about the valleys. We long for the mountaintops. Yet… these valleys enhance those mountaintop experiences even if we refuse to accept this reality.

I’m not a math major, but if I were putting a percentage of time spent on mountaintops versus valleys, the valleys would win hands down. I can only speak for myself, but 99% of my time is spent in the valley. The valleys, not the mountain-tops, are where we learn to walk with God through faith. Faith grows in much the same way as a muscle. In exercise, a muscle is tested, broken down and strengthened. Like that muscle, faith must be tested to gain potency. There in that scrub land filled with all kinds of dangers and traps, we gain the practical experience of surviving and thriving as our faith is pushed to its limits and beyond.

Valleys seem overwhelming. The terrain is unwelcoming and dangerous. Every step is fraught with uncertainty. But as rough as the landscape is, there is always a path through it marked out by God. To find the path we must concentrate on the destination while at the same time implementing the lessons we’ve learned in the past. Every past lesson learned has an instant in the future where its experience will either assist or assassinate you. A word of warning! Don’t forget the lessons you’ve learned crossing the countless valleys that brought you to this one. Every one of them has a purpose.

Let’s be honest, the first few miles of crossing a valley can be depressing and discouraging. After all, we’ve just finished a descent from a moment where our life was radically transformed. The air was fresh, the scenery was breathtaking, and the company—well, there are no words to describe what being that close to God is like. Yet, the valley looms large before us. One of the things that I‘ve learned that may help you overcome that discouragement and depression is to learn to enjoy the journey as you make your trek to your next destination.

Most of us want to travel on the interstate system. We can drive faster and get to our destination quicker, but we miss much of the scenery and beauty of the land. We miss God! That’s right! God is just as present in the valley as he is on the mountaintop. With one exception, we have to slow down to find him—we have to “faith” him out. He’s there, but his presence is manifest in different ways—the smile of a child, the eyes of a beggar, the thank-you a down-and-outer, or the simple recognition that a temptation has come and gone and we were not caught in its trap. The valley is where we learn to appreciate the small things that seem to compound into huge things on the mountaintop. The valley is where our vision is developed so that when we actually reach the peak of that mountain we will recognize God.

Don’t look past the valley you are in. Those hours in the valley prepare us for those fleeting moments on the mountaintop. Don’t waste them or your next mountaintop will look just like another valley.

The Stress Assassin

imagesThis past weekend I took a few minutes to stop, take a deep breath, and do a little fishing. Now before you allow your mind run away with you please understand I am not a high tech fisherman. I fish very simply—a rod and reel, a small hook, a split shot of lead, a cork, and some type of bait. I don’t desire a high dollar boat, don’t require a tackle box filled with exotic and expensive lures, don’t have to worry about charged batteries or costly fuel, and don’t need to travel to exotic locations. I simply find a little water, bait the hook, give it a toss and relax.

For me fishing is therapeutic. It’s not about hooking that elusive world champion big mouth bass (although if that gigantic lunker decides he wants to take a run at my bait). It’s more about quieting myself, chilling out and enjoying God’s creation. It’s amazing the things you can see or hear when you take a little time and pull apart from all the hands trying to grab your attention. For me fishing is a stress assassin.

Stress is an enemy most of us face on a regular basis. And stress is a silent, but deadly killer. Everyone needs a stress slayer in their life—a hobby, an activity, or an exercise regime. We were not created to live stressed-out.

So I spent a few hours lowering the stress factor in my life by challenging all the fish in the Warrior River to contest to see who has the quickest reflexes. I bait the hook with some delectable morsel advertised as irresistible to the culinary palate of the average bream, crappie, or catfish and attempt to lure them out of the safety of their marine hideouts. It’s man against fish and may the quickest win. I wait and wait and wait—until finally, the bobber moves just the slightest bit. And the battle is on! All of a sudden that big decision I’m facing, that yearly doctor’s visit, or that uncomfortable meeting set for next week disappears. It just me and the fish—game on!

You may not care for fishing, but you need to find a way to decrease the stress factor in your life on a regular basis. It’s biblical. God tells us to be anxious for nothing. Personally, I find that fishing does the trick for me. Perhaps it’s the challenge, or perhaps it’s just the opportunity to get out into creation and allow creation to get back into me. Whatever it is—fishing works for me!

What kind of things help you deal with stress? What’s your stress assassin?

  • Is it a hobby?
  • Is it an exercise regime?
  • Is it unusual or common?
  • Is it expensive or inexpensive?