Christian Life ...

Christian Life ...
Christian life is meant to be a life of bearing much fruit. What does that look like? How do we get there? This blog will record thoughts and meditations about living a life striving to be a fruitful branch.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Fragrance

Over the past few months in my personal scripture study, I have been reading through the letters of Paul chronologically. Recently in that study I came across 2 Corinthians 2: 14-17. In that passage a metaphor involving fragrance left some interesting implications:
"But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ."
What a dense little paragraph. First, fragrance is a unique thing. It goes ahead and lingers behind. To think that we carry the knowledge of God like a fragrance is phenomenal. In the verses before this passage, Paul expressed his frustration that he had to modify his travel schedule. He wanted to be somewhere but his circumstances didn't allow for it. Even in that discouragement, Paul dissuades any inclining toward despair by this idea that we are carrying the knowledge of God like a fragrance.

A post shared by Mike C. Boosalis II (@mikecboosalisii) on

This is a simple but important life lesson. We can plan but God is in control. Where ever we go, whenever our plans change, if we are prayerfully following our Lord, He "leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere".

Look carefully though, the clauses of this sentence is especially interesting. Paul says we are the fragrance of the knowledge of God. We who know God and carry his Spirit with us are witnesses to who He is. Since salvation is inherently linked to an individuals relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, this idea of us carrying the fragrance of the knowledge of God should be very empowering. God is in control and he has made us the aroma of Christ so that the presence of the spirit in us is radiating the idea of God's identity wherever we are, wherever we've been and however we get there or got there.

At this point the passage is jiving smoothly with my spirit, but then the "saved vs. perishing", "life to life", and "death to death" ideas come into the picture. Those gave me pause. It makes sense that we are the fragrance of God to both those who are saved and those who are not. Because when something stinks or is especially fragrant, everyone smells it. But are we really a curse to some and a blessing to others? Are some people just spiritually tuned to sense the fragrance of the knowledge of God as repulsive?  

Pulling back to the previous paragraph, as Christians that the way a human relates to Christ Jesus is what leads to salvation. The knowledge of God is never a carrier of death, as with the resurrection Christ conquered death. So what is it that leads to the life and death effect of this? I believe this is the effect of attitude. The purely human attitudes of the fragrance carrier and the sniffer. Consider the following scent related memories. First, we'll start with the negative.

***

In the humid heat of an August evening I stepped onto a crowded bus. A concert had just finished playing at the Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair grounds and the late night shuttle headed south was far more crowded that usual. Voices echoed loudly in the bus. The people smelled like beer and cigarettes. It was all too much for me. Dizzied, I sat myself down in the isle on the bus floor and covered my eyes. The Minnesota State Fair is a place of constant olfactory stimuli. The scents of any kind of food, countless types animals, refuse and vomit could hit you at practically any moment, still at this moment on the bus floor the memory of one specific toxic smell from earlier that night left me shaken enough to sit on the floor of a city bus.

The last week of the Fair had arrived and it was time to close up shop. About every other day standard process included comprehensively cleaning the basins of the deep fryers. To do that we used two tablets of chemical cleaner specially designed for the model of fryers we used. We searched everywhere for these tablets but had ran out, so in a pinch my manager borrowed some powder cleaner from the french fry stand down the road. I emptied the oil and filled the basins with water about a inch higher than the oil line as designated, and my sup began sprinkling the cleaning powder into the water. Then the cap popped loose dropping a couple of tablespoons of chemical cleaner into the water. The result was an inexplicably caustic fuming and frothing liquid that had to be drained and carried to the liquid waste disposal. After nearly a dozen five gallon bucket loads the odor was overwhelming, so much so that any sudden or undesirable smell for the next few months brought the sense of this awful olfactory experience rushing back to my consciousness.

***

If we as the aroma of Christ and the fragrance of the knowledge of God, carry that around with pretentiousness, aggressiveness, fire and brimstone messages, fear mongering, and/or hatred, how can we expect people to receive it? I see it in my non-christian friends. Some of them have been viscerally turned away from the Christian faith by the accusatory, fear-mongering, and/or hypocritical actions of Christians with whom they, or their loved ones, have come in contact. The stink of these ugly interactions linger like the caustic smell of chemical cleaner mixed with oily residue left over from frying thousands of cinnamon-sugar churros. That's the smell from death to death. The fragrance of the knowledge of God within Christians can be tainted by the odor of their stinky actions. But the contrary can occur when we carry Christ's aroma around as advocates of peace, with kindness, faithful gentleness, messages of hope, encouragement and love. By doing this we sow life. Consider this memory.

***

In the summer as a child, I biked all over my neighborhood, to and from friends houses or the countless activities I participated in. One sunny afternoon I coasted down a slop as I neared my child hood home and that's when it hit me. The smell of the charcoal grill compelled my feet to peddle rapidly. I soon could see the smoke billowing from my back yard. My dad was grilling meat for dinner. With countless activities in the summer taking up most of my time, still most of my summer memories are tied to that childhood home, that back yard and the smell of a charcoal grill and grilled meat. These memories are pleasant and a pleasant smell related to a pleasant memory only build up my fondness for both the smell and the memory. 

***

When we have examples of people carrying the fragrance of Christ while exuding pleasant metaphorical scents in their actions, a person is likely to find fragrance of the knowledge of God more pleasantly. Therefore we have some serious responsibility here as believers. When we inherently "smell like Christ" by our identity in him, what we do becomes a representation to people of what Christ is like. So the fragrance of our actions can commingle with the fragrance of the knowledge of God and either lead people closer or push them further away.

Still it's not our fragrance that saves people. Our actions do not save souls. We can share the gospel but we can't force feed it to people. Like in the example of the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) we can sow seeds but we can't make people grow. The soil must be ready for the gospel to germinate, so sometime, things that must be dealt with before their heart will be fit for the Gospel to take root.

This is were the attitude of the sniffer comes into play. When a person knows the fragrance of God they know when it commingles with human stink that doesn't change God's identity. But when someone has only sniffed the fragrance of God within the context of the human stink they equate it to, it can literally repel them further away from even considering the idea of the knowledge of God.

Lastly, the concept of from "death to death" is not talking to destiny. Instead it's an emphasis. In Hebrew writing and poetry, which Paul would be influenced by, repetition doesn't translate as literally as our English language states. "Death to death" sounds final and unrecoverable in English, but in Christ death is defeated. Consider this, my terrible experience at the Minnesota State Fair doesn't fully dissuade me from returning. While that awful olfactory experience is a stalwart in my memories, the smell of freshly backed cookies and delicious food, the memories of fun with friends and the beauty of a warm summer day bring me back. In time if a non believer encounters Christians who's actions work parallel with the goodness of the knowledge of God, they may experience the same compiling positives of life begetting life. 

Fragrances are powerful. They leave an impression. The idea that we are the aroma of Christ leads to two practical applications. The first is that when plans change, he is still with us. God is in control and since we are his metaphorical fragrance, wherever we go His Spirit inside is infusing the atmosphere around us with his knowledge, even when things don't go as we expect in life or in ministry. Secondly, we need to smell good. Since we carry the fragrance of the knowledge of God with us, let us represent that well and not allow it to be tainted by our stinky attitudes.
Father God, 

Forgive us for when we have carried the fragrance of Your name with the stink of our own pride or fallen natures. Forgive us Lord for the ways that we have fallen into seasons of despair when plans did not go our way. Forgive us for our lack of trust. 

Thank You Father that You have given us Your Spirit and that You are always with us. Help us, in the power of Your Son, to move in that Spirit Power you give us, free us of fear and worry, and help us to live lives focused on service and love for friends and strangers a like. Let us smell like You. Let our actions and our presence lead to those who do not know You, find You, or at very least catch a whiff of Your glory and goodness. 

Glory to You oh Lord, 

Amen

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Leaning into our Emotions

Emotions drive a lot of what we do and think. They may be fickle sometimes, but they are also a truly formative part of what it means to be human. My life right now is full of one supremely complex emotion: Longing. With my wedding ever approaching, my longing only grows stronger. What I have learned is that longing is an emotion that goes soul deep. In my reading recently, I began a book entitled Whole, written by Pastor Steve Wiens of Genesis Covenant Church in Saint Louis Park MN, and in this book I stumbled upon some of the fuel for this post. It came from his shared memory from a trip to the Rhode Island Church of a friend where he stumbled upon a great definition of sin: "legitimate longings that have went astray".

This makes sense because longing is a symptom of lack, which is a sin trigger in its most basic Genesis -type definition. Consider this idea closely. The sin of the garden was the action upon the consideration that God might be holding out on us. I take that as a sin action of the collective us because we are as guilty of it as Adam and Eve. In our everyday life there are selfish attitudes and actions that we indulge in out of fear that what God has given to us and/or promised us is not enough. At the root of the sin of the garden was the simple suggestion of lack. And when we lack there is either the physical pain of hunger, the emotional pain of longing or some mixture of both.

This is why longing is so sneaky. It doesn't feel like emotion. It's not quite as visceral as anger, and it's certainly not pleasurable like happiness or the sensations of love. Longing feels more like need. In my wait to be married to my best friend, I am fighting to keep my longing at bay. I am tempted to leave the constraints that God placed upon my heart that I know are right for us. In times of heightened need or longing, it's hard to trust that these boundaries are for my good. But that's the whole thing. We are prone to wander. We are prone to lose trust, but God's promises are true and his goodness is eternal. But, in all of my deep longing, I find myself in Eve's place under the tree questioning: does God really love me enough to have my good in mind? Or is he hiding something awesome from me?

I have concluded that while longing can put me in this primeval sin triggering space, is ultimately for my good. This is because when I relate rightly with longing for unity with my fiancee, it increases the depth of our relationship. Shortly after my own engagement I heard one of the most formative concepts to my own mentality about this stage of my life. Reflecting on his own engagement, my friend Matt recalled the metaphor where marriage of man and woman is parallel to the union of Christ and the Church in our future heavenly reality. We, as the church, are engaged to Christ. My fiancee and I have committed our lives to one another. We are already committed, but the God centered covenant isn't there yet. We are in an "already, but not yet" mode. Just as the Kingdom of God is promised, and while we can taste it intermittently, it is not yet here.

This has lead me to think of intentionally leaning into the longing that I'm feeling. That is to say, I take my emotion, my longing, my physical desire and I try with all my might to lift them up to the Lord. This isn't magical, it just simple mental, written, spiritual or conversational prayer. I acknowledge that His ways are good for me. That the way my longing is growing is a reflection of what the Lord sees when he looks at the body of believers on earth. That doesn't exult me to the level of God, far from it. It humbles me to recognize in a deeply emotional way that God longs for His church like I long for the love of my life. It's personal, intimate and beautiful.

The emotional depth of this brought to mind the Psalms and the way that those prayerful poems express so much powerful emotion. David and the other Psalmists had hearts that really deeply longed for rightness with God. They are deeply honest, intimate and transparent prayers.

My new understanding of longing brought new insight specifically to Psalm 130: 5-6 (esv):
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
          and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
          more than watchmen for the morning,
          more than watchmen for the morning.
Previously this image was pretty lost on me, but now, experiencing deep longing personally, I can relate. Think of a night watchmen. Think how much during the night he would be longing for the sun to come up. As the night watchman fights his natural inclination to sleep, I fight my natural inclination to want to rest in the comfort and closeness of the love of my life. What stops us? Duty and trust in the purpose of our actions. I'm exhausted, but I believe in the value of waiting. The night watchman is exhausted, but believes in the value of keeping watch. But the rest that the night watchman and I desire is not to be had yet.

On the next level the Psalmist is actually stating that his longing for the Word of the Lord is greater than all of that. That's a serious desire. I have deep respect now for what this is saying. Especially in relation to the current longing I'm experiencing an the intimate relationship to which it relates. The Gospel of John uses the Word of God to refer to Christ. The Psalmist waited for God's word with such fervor ... and we actually have it. Think about that. Christ has come to us! His Word us with us! His Spirit is in us!

It's remarkable that we are actually one step closer to a heavenly reality with our creator than the Psalmist. While we are still longing for the fullness of heaven, we can live in the Kingdom of God by relating rightly to the Spirit of God within us. As an engaged couple experiences a taste of the commitment and depth of relationship of marriage before the covenant, so the church feels a taste of salvation before heaven actually comes down.

The intimacy of all of this is striking. So if we are to be longing for God as we long for the deepest of our longings, how do we learn to do this?

What I conclude is that, to be a fruitful branch it is essential to lean into the Spirit with all emotions. Emotions are the building block of relationship. To have relationship is to share emotions. Good friends are content in spending time together and in their friendship they lean into that contentment and can find joy and fulfillment. Deep friends, best friends or soul friends share more deeply. We are to have this emotional, intimate relationship with God and we can do that unless we are lean into what we feel and bring it to God.

The fact that we can conversationally bring our emotions to God is remarkable. Also remarkable how easy we forget to do it. I want nothing more than to understand the feelings of my fiancee and to help her and meet her needs any way that I can...

To think that God's ear is more perfectly perked to our need than I could ever be for the love of my life is incredible. It could be easy to be weirded out with the idea of intimacy with God, but it's important to know that it is a whole different thing than human romance. We can't let the metaphor complicate the subject of the metaphor. Any shame or fear surrounding intimacy cannot compromise the subject of the metaphor: That God himself the create of the world wants to be with us and know us. In that relationship, it's only our job to share. Whatever we experience, God's desire is for us to bring it to Him.



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

3:16

For the last few years, I have been employed as a customer service representative. Let me tell you, the Customer Service day can be a lot of things, long and mundane, but it is not uneventful. Answering about forty to sixty calls back to back is an exhausting thing to do. Still the most exhausting part of my job isn't the talking, the frustrated callers or the repetitive questions. What really does me in the two computer monitors that take up nearly two thirds of my visual field. Even with the blue light inhibiting lenses on my glasses, my eyes still feel drained by mid-morning. Anyway, the point of this post is to share a simple but unique Holy Spirit experience which took place inside of those monitor screens, that has proved to be a very valuable to me.

Through the course of the day while taking calls, those energy sucking screens in front of me are filled with numbers: dates, identification numbers, group numbers, phone numbers, digital clocks and timers. The observation, or phenomena of note is that in the last few months I have repeatedly seen the numbers 3 & 16 paired together. People with dates of birth on March 16th have come to my attention far more than should be expected based on probability, and my eyes continue to fall on little ticking timers as they fall upon 3 minutes and 16 seconds. On the clock, "3:16" tells me that I have an hour and forty five minutes left of my shift. While that last example is pretty compelling on it's own, 3:16 has greater significance. It is, of course, the reference to one of the most well know verses in the bible:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16
I learned this verse when I was three years old. Fast forward now and I'm 27 with about two decades of legitimate academic and emotional understanding of John 3:16 and it's relation to my world view and identity as a human being. I admit, I felt somewhat patronized by this simple spirit nudgings towards the most fundamental of verse and it left me kind of puzzled. 

To explain some of the gravity of this observation some context to my life in the immediate is important to share. And it's very good news. It so happens that few months ago I got engaged to my best friend, which has given me a base line state of carefree joy. Over the past few years, my battle against negative thoughts, which is quite evident from past post on this blog, resulted in seasons of my life where I didn't have joy even remotely like this. In those seasons I found decision making to be so difficult that I frequently didn't make any decisions until I had no other choice. Since finding Elizabeth, my bride to be, I've gotten a lot better at this. I purchased a car, and planned for and organized events months before hand. These are mundane accomplishments but they marks of big changes for me. However the change was more than joy. I always had joy. It was just complicated by mental and spiritual struggle with negativity. Once I became set upon proposing, and especially after she said yes, that I found myself filled with this foreign feeling of clarity. At first I didn't recognize it. It was exhilarating, but I was uncharted territory. I don't recall a time when I felt so comfortable jumping into future planning. So, in this carefree joy that sprung from this clarity, my fiance and I dove right into planning our wedding and preparing for our life together. It's wonderful. But in the unfamiliarity, my spirit got a little lost for a number of weeks.

This is when the 3s and 16s showed up. Was this some supernatural take over of my computer screen? No. Is it as grand and expansive as another shocking appearance of 3 & 16? No. But it was a beautiful little example of how the Holy Spirit can work. The numbers in front of me are no different than they've always been, but God pointed out the 3s and 16s to me as if highlighted. At first I took the repetition of seeing the numbers of the reference of this famous reference to be a reminder to take it easy on myself. I saw it, smiled, giggled a little bit, took a deep breath and moved on. I am loved. Simple enough, right? But when I kept seeing it is when I started to feel somewhat patronized.

But the more I thought about it, it called me deeper. God doesn't patronize. That's not how the spirit works. Upon further thought, I found it to be a terribly simplistic view to see John 3:16 as only confirming God's love for me. God's love described in John 3:16 is for everyone. It's not just about me. The scope is so much greater. While, that was a good conclusion it didn't satisfy for me. That was too simple a thought for the pure oddity of these numbers coming to my attention over an over again.

Eventually, I resolved to look at John 3, to try to come to a greater understanding of this all-so-familiar verse by looking at its context. That pointed me in a far more compelling and applicable direction that jives right a long with the concept of this blog. Take a read:

John 3:1-14 
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Here's where I want everyone to put a star or some symbol of **ALERT** as a note in their bible.  There's no end quotes! Jesus keeps talking! And goes right on to the words of John 3:16. And if it wasn't for the pesky heading below there would be no option but to group these two sections together.

For God So Loved the World

16 “For God so loved the world,[i] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Thinking about John 3:16 and the verses after it on their own is okay. These verses are dense with theological value and spiritual significance. But connecting them to what Jesus said to Nicodemus adds some other wrinkles. What does it mean to believe in Christ? What does it mean to be "born again"? Since those are the operative actions Jesus mentions to gain eternal life and entrance into the Kingdom of heaven we really ought to know how that works right?

When Christ talks about being born again he talks about being born of spirit and water. What is water but something that is life giving? Think about Christ's context. In an arid climate like Palestine water was life. Consider next how the new testament Greek word for spirit pneuma and the Hebrew word ruah, add context to this understanding (See definition of spirit in full at www.biblestudytools.com). In summary, The Hebrew word's "use almost defies analysis but some emphases are discernible" ranging from wind, to breath, to feelings, vital power, life force, God's creative power of life, or the human will. The new testament greek word pneuma more specifically relates to intelligent being, psyche and the part of a human's personality that allows them to interact and relate with God.

If water is new life and spirit is feeling, vital power, psyche and that what is in me that allows me to interact with God, being re-born in those sounds like entering into a new state of mind. When we become followers of Christ we live in this odd duelist reality. We have sinful temporary bodies that are not going to be renewed on our own. From dust to dust is how this iteration of bodies on earth will progress for every human for all time. We can't go back to being babies. We can't start over. We can't undo our sin. We can't be born again physically, but when we first believe in Christ and accept His Lordship upon our lives we are given access to the wonderful counsel of the Holy Spirit.

The story of Nicodemus hits me pretty deep. While I don't even come close to rivaling this respected Pharisee as a religious scholar, I identify with him. He's seeking and he wants to know more. He want's to know so much that he's sneaking around at night just to try to figure out more about Jesus. I understand Nicodemus' perceived indignation, when he comes all of this way, presumably to ask some specific questions, and even before he asks anything Jesus suggests the impossible, especially since Nico was living in a pre-pentacost world where the Spirit behaved differently on earth as it does now.

Jesus loves to flip things upside down. Christ is telling us to love him and be dependent upon him in our spirit. The idea of being birthed again in spirit is a representation of God in the role of mother, which is pretty cool. Being born again of spirit and water, this implies a relationship. Let us not forget that. Birth creates the first relationship any human has. That child-mother bond. When things are good, I want to talk to my mother. When things are bad, I want to talk to my mother. As I physically and drawn to communicate with my mother, I must remember the level of respect, familial intimacy and closeness in that mother child bond creates is how my spirit should bond with the spirit of God. Here's where I notice I'm like a spirit toddler.

I wish we got a look at Nicodemus' response to what Jesus says here. Did he go away frustrated? Did he get it?

Like Nicodemus, I like to think that my intellectual efforts will get me through. I like to think I can think my way through everything. Lots of time, that just leaves me frustrated. I think I get it all and then the Spirit of God flips things upside down.

As a man of God, clarity is something I need. But I know that for me to be the Kingdom worker that I want to be, Christ must be the center of my life. If I want to live with the energy of eternal spirit life that I have been born again into, I have to be intentional. In my celebration and new found vigor for planning after engagement, my disciplines faltered a bit. My spirit got lost in desires and efforts of the flesh, good desires and good efforts of happy exciting flesh, but still flesh. This opens my eyes fragility of my spirit and the human spirit in general. For years I prayed for clarity and direction, and then when I find it, I find that even it can pull we away from my spiritual unity with my savior. How telling is that.

Because of the life renewing power of grace, we can born again in the living water of Christ that washes our inequities away and by this grace our internal self can be born again of spirit so that it looks like Christ. Christ spirit in the maturity of a newborn, within a suborn, sinful, adult, human body.

John 3 talks about this newness of spiritual birth. Reading it again put me in my place. It reminded me how much I need my Lord. It's good go remember that we are small. The mighty get low and the low get high is a reality in God's upside down Kingdom. The big shots like Nicodemus are told to become like a baby. Sometimes, in our successes we need to be reminded that it's not by our strength. What I have learned from this, is when I am well, I will seek God. When I am unwell, I will seek God. When I don't know what I am doing I will seek God. But I will seek the Lord in my clarity as well. Everything I have came from God and anything I can plan is subject to God's will for my life. He is in control. Let us, like toddlers, as we are in spirit, lift our arms to our heavenly Father/Mother, daily looking the way of our loving Creator. Let us keep our eyes on our Lord and brother, Jesus Christ who will guide us with His Spirit as we navigate this remarkable congruence of life on earth, that is the Kingdom of already and not yet. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My China Shop

Having read the entry for February 10th in Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest, I was struck by an idea of idolatry that before I had never completely grasped. Chambers' words always pack a punch when I read them. They always rattle around in my head like a bull in a china shop. Which oddly enough, in this case, is a good thing, and a metaphor I will return to later.

Here's the entry:

Is Your Ability to See God Blinded?





Is Your Ability to See God Blinded?


The people of God in Isaiah’s time had blinded their minds’ ability to see God by looking on the face of idols. But Isaiah made them look up at the heavens; that is, he made them begin to use their power to think and to visualize correctly. If we are children of God, we have a tremendous treasure in nature and will realize that it is holy and sacred. We will see God reaching out to us in every wind that blows, every sunrise and sunset, every cloud in the sky, every flower that blooms, and every leaf that fades, if we will only begin to use our blinded thinking to visualize it.

The real test of spiritual focus is being able to bring your mind and thoughts under control. Is your mind focused on the face of an idol? Is the idol yourself? Is it your work? Is it your idea of what a servant should be, or maybe your experience of salvation and sanctification? If so, then your ability to see God is blinded. You will be powerless when faced with difficulties and will be forced to endure in darkness. If your power to see has been blinded, don’t look back on your own experiences, but look to God. It is God you need. Go beyond yourself and away from the faces of your idols and away from everything else that has been blinding your thinking. Wake up and accept the ridicule that Isaiah gave to his people, and deliberately turn your thoughts and your eyes to God.

One of the reasons for our sense of futility in prayer is that we have lost our power to visualize. We can no longer even imagine putting ourselves deliberately before God. It is actually more important to be broken bread and poured-out wine in the area of intercession than in our personal contact with others. The power of visualization is what God gives a saint so that he can go beyond himself and be firmly placed into relationships he never before experienced.

"Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things…" Isaiah 40:26. The devotion points to a moment when the prophet Isaiah literally compelled the people of Israel to look away from the idols they were putting before God, and turn to God who created them, their idols and everything around them. There is such a tendency to look at the actions of the Nation of Israel and more or less laugh at their ineptitude for following a faithful God. Still, in so many ways, Christians today do the same things. 

James MacDonald's book, Lord, Change My Attitude Before it's too Late, is a study about the  grumbling attitudes of the post-exodus Nation of Israel that lead them to wander, stuck in the wilderness for 40 years. The concept is that these same attitudes are what hold us back today from "promise land" living, and leave us wandering in a spiritual desert. As the basis for this idea, MacDonald cites the Apostle Paul. Here is the section he cites in it's full context with some things that stand out to me in bold:

1 Corinthians 10:1-11   Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Warnings from Israel’s Past

Now I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea,  and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food,  and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.  But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things became examples for us, so that we will not desire evil things as they did.  Don’t become idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to play.  Let us not commit sexual immorality as some of them did, and in a single day 23,000 people fell dead.  Let us not test Christ as some of them did and were destroyed by snakes.  Nor should we complain as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as examples, and they were written as a warning to us, on whom the ends of the ages have come So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall.  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.
These are quite the convicting words, and James MacDonald clarifies they mean we cannot take lightly God's judgement of the Nation of Israel's attitudes that ran contrary to God. Paul declares that these records of Israel's stumbling and God's judgement should be read as examples to us. Of course the redeeming love and sacrifice of Christ is where our redemption comes, but if we continue to live in these same attitudes (covetousness, complaining, criticism, doubt, & rebellion)  we will not live with kingdom freedom and spiritual fruitfulness, but we will shrivel and wither in the metaphorical wilderness. The payment has been made for us to live with the mentality of the Kingdom-of-God-reality that "already is but at the same time is not yet". But God's judgement is still true and still very real.

My last post about little things talked about looking for God's gifts in the small things. I believe this mentality turns our eyes to God. Reading this devotion from Oswald chambers is one of the moments I can look back on as a testimony to the living Word of God. Now while good old Ozzy's writing are not scripture, the spirit used this devotional to highlight this story in Isaiah of Israel's rebellious idolatry and the prophets call to "wake up".

Chambers' words hit me hard. "Is your mind focused on the face of an idol? Is the idol yourself? Is it your work? Is it your idea of what a servant should be, or maybe your experience of salvation and sanctification?" The idea that I could idolize my idea of what a servant should be, or idolize my experiences is incredible.

This resonates with me because I am overwhelmed with the idea of what kind of sacrifice it takes to serve God and not myself. There are times where my brain is bouncing between complications and fear and worry and potential error, about taking a step in the direction of the spirits nudgings upon my life. I'm overcome with doubt, and in that very attitude, I am rebelling against God. I am seeking comfort in my thoughts and comfort in my actions, instead of trusting that God's call is in fact good for me. I complain internally that I'm in the wilderness, moaning like the nation of Israel, when if I  would just look up, I can see how much more I have been blessed. My blessings from God are bigger than small. I am provided with extravagantly more that manna from heaven.

To be a fruitful branch in this world, to produce kingdom fruit, we must see God. The lies, these blinding attitudes that Chambers and MacDonald are pointing to, distract us from our God. The Prophet Isaiah calls the nation of Israel, and according to the Apostle Paul us as well, to wake up,  take off the blinders and look up. God want's our relationship. To see him we must look at the things he's created. We are imperfect people. Our perceptions on what is right service or what our experience of sanctification should feel like is flawed. God has more for us than what we can grasp in looking at ourselves. This is because of God's extravagant love for his creation.

In the words of Oswald Chambers this is the key: "Wake up and accept the ridicule that Isaiah gave to his people, and deliberately turn your thoughts and your eyes to God"

The key here is acknowledging when our minds are on free for all. My mind does this easily. We need to find a way to turn our focus to God. We need wake up calls daily. We need a spiritual alarm clock. For me, words like those of Oswald Chambers and the Apostle Paul can function as that kind of wake up call. My mind is delicate, and for some reason I've placed value upon the idea of considering every little thing and griping internally about every little sensation. I've built a little china shop out of my thoughts. I've adorned my intricate little thoughts, these doubts, personal complaints, fears, and meta-cognitions, with little saccharine decorations, meant to highlight their significance, their value. I've taken my fragility and put it on pedestal to display for others, so that everyone would know how tormented I am by my thoughts. I need let the bull in the door. Exulting and assigning value to my to my struggle is selfishness. Because of this, I didn't mourn the fact that the bull of Oswald Chambers' words turned my china shop into a pile of dust. My only struggle now is to keep it that way and let the wind of God's spirit blow it all away. Look up! Wake up and heed the ridicule of Isaiah! Read the context of Ozzy's quoted micro-verse. It is powerful: Isaiah 40:12-31

Father God,
As we look to you, let us see your love.
As we turn our eyes from lesser things, let us know more of you.
As idols fall to dust, as we surrender our will
give us vision.  

As we look at Your creation let us not forget Your might
As we feel Your power let us not forget your provision.
As we experience that goodness, each breath, each smell, each pleasant touch,
          let us in turn give thanks and sing your praise!   
Lord, in the past you have given the blind sight,
You will do it again now.
You have mended broke bodies,
You will mend wounded hearts now.


          Spirit of God, fall fresh again.

Amen