Tag Archives: Test

About Knowing

About Knowing (CaD Ps 141) Wayfarer

But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord…
Psalm 141:8a (NIV)

When I was a child, I went through all of the religious rituals associated with the church to which my family were members. My parents had me baptized as an infant. I attended Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. I sang in the children’s choir. I participated in, and volunteered to help with, social activities hosted by the church (including the annual “Christmas bazaar” which I remember being a really big deal in my little kid perception). When I was thirteen, I attended confirmation classes and learned what the church believed. I took the test, agreed to accept the terms of membership, and then received my certificate and my own personal box of offering envelopes.

What I came to realize a year or two later was that all of the ritual, participation, knowledge and cognitive assent to a belief statement had relatively little effect on my motives, my thoughts, my words, or my actions. Knowing about Jesus was not the same as knowing Jesus and being in relationship.

That contrast came to heart and mind in the quiet this morning as I meditated on the text of today’s chapter, Psalm 141. There is little doubt that the editors who compiled the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics, that we know as the book of Psalms, were deliberate in putting Psalms 140 and 141 next to each other. They bookend each other well. Both are ascribed to David and both of them feature a lot of physiological metaphors. The biggest contrast is that Psalm 140 uses the physiological metaphors to describe an unrighteous person:

  • stir up war in their hearts
  • sharpen their tongues
  • poison on their lips
  • hands of the wicked

Psalm 141, uses physiological metaphors to describe a righteous person:

  • a heart that refuses evil
  • hands lifted in worship
  • a guard on one’s mouth
  • a door on the lips
  • a head that receives accountability
  • eyes fixed on God

As I mulled over the contrasting descriptions, it reminded me of being a young man and realizing that having a membership certificate to my local church, knowledge of basic beliefs, and dutifully participating in ritual had not translated into making a difference in my self-centeredness, my selfish behavior, my relationships with others, my actions, or my words. I was a egotistical, selfish little prick much of the time. I knew that I could play a good game, but I was also really self-aware enough to know that there were ugly things at the core which needed to change. I knew about the things Psalm 141 describes, but an honest self-examination and moral inventory revealed a person more like what Psalm 140 describes.

So, about that time I stopped just knowing about Jesus, and I decided to seek to know and follow Jesus in a very different way. It’s definitely been a forty-year process and spiritual journey. In the quiet this morning I find myself mulling over the person I would be today had I not made that decision. I can only imagine a grown-up version of the young man with ugly things at the core. An arrogant, egocentric big prick with a sharp tongue, and a heart in turmoil.

I’m not perfect by any means, and I could point you to a person or two who I suspect might tell you I’m still an arrogant, egocentric prick. I have my ugly moments. But oh, how worse it would be had I not discovered the contrast between knowing about Jesus and knowing Him.

My Inmost Being

My Inmost Being (CaD Ps 103) Wayfarer

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Psalm 103:1 (NIV)

In a few weeks, I will mark a milestone in my spiritual journey. It was a frigidly cold February night in 1981 when I decided to become a follower of Jesus. It’s been forty years.

The number 40 is significant in the Great Story. It is the number of trial, testing, and ordeal:

Noah’s flood resulted from 40 days of rain.

Moses lived 40 years in Egypt, then led the Hebrews through the wilderness for 40 years.

Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days being tempted by the Evil One.

The resurrected Jesus appeared to his followers over a 40 day period before ascending to Heaven.

Ezekiel laid on his side for 40 days as a word picture of the sins of the kingdom of Judah.

Elijah fasted for 40 days on Mount Horeb.

So, I’ve found myself meditating on my spiritual journey of late as I mark the milestone. I had been raised going to church as a child, but the experience for me was largely about ritual. It was something I did because it was what my family did each week. It’s not to say that it wasn’t without its lessons and benefits, but it was largely a weekly physical routine and family ritual to be endured. After completing my confirmation coursework at the age of 13 my parents told me that I could decide on my own if I wanted to go to church or not. So, I stopped going.

What happened a couple of years later on that cold February night was something completely different than anything I’d ever experienced. It was not a religious ritual or physical routine. It was something that happened in my inmost being. I opened my spirit and invited Jesus to come in. I made a spirit decision to surrender myself to following Jesus, whatever that might mean. Something was spiritually birthed in me that is still growing 40 years later.

Jesus gave His followers a word picture about the most religious people of His day. He said that religion was an ornate marble crypt you might see in your local cemetery. It looks beautiful, majestic, and expensive from the outside as you’re driving by, but if you step inside the crypt you’ll only find darkness, cobwebs, and decomposing bones.

If find that a really accurate description of my spiritual experience before that February night forty years ago. I physically went through religious rituals. I mentally considered the things I was taught. I took a class, learned what was required to take a test, and got a piece of paper telling me I was now a member of the institution. Yet, there was no spiritual change.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 103, King David pens the lyrics to a really beautiful song of praise to God. When David was still a kid, God called him “a man after my own heart” and Psalm 103 is a testimony to the intimate Spirit relationship David experienced.

In the very first verse David says that it praise comes from his soul. The Hebrew word he uses there (nepes) alludes to “breath” or the “essence” and “life force.” He then states that his “inmost being” (the Hebrew word is qereb) praises. This word alludes to the intimate interior of the heart that is the seat of thought and emotion. In other words, David is not calling his listeners to trek to church each Sunday and go through the ritualistic motions. This is David, who once got so intense in his worshp that he peeled down to his tighty-whities as he danced and publicly embarrassed his wife. David is calling his listener to an experiential rendevouz with the Creator. He is calling for an all-out ecstatic expression that comes from the depths of one’s soul. A personal exhale of life force in a euphoric song and dance with the divine.

In the quiet this morning, I find my spirit stirred by David’s spirit and the words it motivated in his lyrics. Dude, I get it. It isn’t about empty religious ritual and rote mental and physical machinations. That’s just a crypt. It’s about that which is spiritually alive in me that has to get out. It’s what the prophet Jeremiah described: a fire shut-up in my bones. It’s that life that was birthed in my inmost being forty years ago. I look back from 40 years further down life’s road and find that it only grows stronger within me, even as my body grows slowly weaker.

The Spiritual Barometer of Comfort

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”
2 Chronicles 16:9 (NIV)

A friend dropped by for coffee yesterday and we enjoyed a long discussion. One of the slivers of conversation was around a class that is being offered in our community in the near future. The premise of the class is that some of history’s most influential people had their most productive and years after the age of 70. The class is intended to encourage adults in the back stretch of life’s journey to consider shunning the traditional view of retirement. Instead of moving somewhere warm and sitting by a pool, the class encourages people to consider how their final stretch of life’s journey might be their most productive and influential.

I thought about that this morning as I read today’s chapter and contemplated the story of King Asa. In yesterday’s post, the prophet Azariah encouraged Asa to “be strong and not give up” but the stretch of life journey that Asa was entering was not one of struggle. Asa’s major challenge and climactic fight was behind him. He was entering a time of extended peace. Thirty-five years of peace and rest. And that’s when he blew it.

Thirty-five years of relatively easy sledding finds King Asa has changed, but not in a good way. He forgot the lesson he learned in his war with the Cushites. He forgot how his faith had led to good things. He forgot Azariah’s admonishment. Thirty-five years of peace and comfort turned Asa into a hard-hearted, self-centric old man. It was the good times and life of relative ease that revealed the true nature of Asa’s heart. A seer named Hanani confronts Asa, but it only confirms and seals Asa’s bitterness (and lands Hanani in the stocks).

This morning I’m thinking about my current waypoint on this life journey. I often think that it’s the tough stretches of pain, tragedy, and difficulty that reveal the true nature of our hearts. Perhaps it is the stretches of comfort and ease that are a better barometer of my spirit.

Prophecy and Discernment

You may say to yourself, “How can we recognize a word that the Lord has not spoken?” If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.
Deuteronomy 18:21-22 (NRSV)

I believe that God continues to speak through His children who have been given the spiritual gift of prophecy. It’s both prescribed throughout God’s Message, and I’ve also experienced it at different moments of my journey. From the very beginning, however, God has instructed us to use discernment with such things.

There is a lady among our group of Jesus followers who has, on a couple of occasions, approached Wendy out of the blue to share something God spoke into her heart for Wendy as she prayed. This woman is not a close friend and she has no intimate knowledge of our lives. I could not pick her out of a crowd. Nevertheless, on these rare occasions when she has sought Wendy out and shared what God laid on her heart it has never failed hit the bulls-eye in ways that leave both of us shaking our heads.

There is another among our group of Jesus followers who has, over the years, made a steady stream of bold prophetic statements that have consistently failed to materialize as predicted. If this person lived in the time of Moses they would have stoned him for boldly predicting so many things that never came true. I’m glad we don’t live in the time of Moses and I wish no ill will on this person. I have learned, however, to lovingly and patiently roll the eyes of my heart when the next bold prophetic utterance comes flowing out of his mouth.

Today, I’m thankful that God speaks through others who are gifted in such ways. I appreciate those who have such gifts and use them in decent and orderly ways. I’m also reminded that I have a responsibility to be wise and discerning in these things, refusing to blindly accept another person’s prophetic utterance without testing it against God’s Message, against the counsel of the wise, and the ultimate outcome.

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Faith & Love Analysis

source: debord via flickr
source: debord via flickr

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. 2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)

Yesterday I was on-site with a client. I sat with four Customer Service agents walked through the criteria that we will use to analyze the quality of service they provide over the phone. The process requires us to ask, “What does good service sound like? What behaviors are evidence of a quality service experience?” By listening for evidence of these behaviors in the calls we analyze, we can determine how consistently our client’s customers are receiving a quality experience.

This morning as I read the reasons Paul gave for being thankful for the Jesus followers in Thessalonica I suddenly saw it through my vocational lens. “What is the behavioral criteria that points to doing a good job in my faith?” Paul gives two:

  • Faith that continues to grow
  • Love that continues to increase

This morning, I’m asking myself some hard questions. What evidence is there that my faith has grown over the past week, month, or year? In what ways has my active love of others tangibly increased during those same periods of time? To what can I point for substantiation of measurable growth?

I’m not sure I like the answers to my questions. Lord, have mercy on me. Some days I look at the path and realize just how far I have to go.

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Chapter-a-Day 2 Thessalonians 2

The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders ...
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Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. 2 Thessalonians 2:2 (NLT)

Throughout the journey I’ve had some very interesting experiences in which I know God has impressed something upon me. There are times when God has clearly spoken to my spirit regarding something I should know or do. When I was younger I admit that I was quick to hear my own will and slap a “God told me” sticker on it. Over time I learned to be much more careful with what I say. When I believe God has spoken something clearly to me I treat it like a priceless treasure. I keep it, I test it, I guard it, and I share it with relatively few people whom I trust with something so valuable.

Along the way I’ve met several people who play fast and loose with the phrase “God told me….” I generally don’t have a problem when a person says that God told them this or that if it only affects the person speaking. Fine. Who am I to judge? If what they say is true and I see the eventual evidence of it then I think that’s pretty cool. I always wonder about times when people tell me that God told them that this or that was His will for them, and then it clearly does not come to pass. I can remember only one occasion in my entire life in which someone told me, “I thought for sure God was telling me that, but man was I ever wrong. I was completely mistaken!” More often than not, when someone was clearly wrong they will not say a word. I’m generally left wondering if the person thinks God changed His mind or if they realize how foolish they look to have so boldly spoken something that was false.

For me, the larger problem occurs when people claim that God has given them a special word, a vision, or a discernment concerning me. It’s not that I don’t believe it can happen, but once again – what happens if they are wrong? When we journeyed through the books of the Old Testament law I remember the law prescribing death by stoning for those who claimed to have received a word of prophecy that proved false. I’m not advocating the resurrection of such a draconian rule. Nevertheless, I observe no real accountability for those who regularly use “God told me” or “I have a word of discernment from the Lord” to justify their own will and/or get what they want from others.

Of course, the more things change the more they stay the same. It is clear from today’s chapter that Paul was dealing with similar frustrations in the early church. People were playing fast and loose, telling those in the church that Jesus had already come back and they’d missed it. Some were even telling outright lies, writing letters about it and claiming it was from Paul.

I have learned along the way to heed the advice of the verse above. I don’t allow myself to be easily shaken when someone tells me “God told me…” or “God gave me a vision.” I quietly pray for God to reveal Truth in my heart and in the matter at hand. I wait. I watch. I let time and events test the truth of what they say. I press on, trying to obediently live out what I know God’s will to be. There’s not a lot of sense in getting bent out of shape about it. If that person is right, then what they say will come to pass. If they are wrong, then it will simple pass away.

I confess that I’d still like to stone a few people, though.

God, have mercy on me.

Chapter-a-Day Luke 6

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The religion scholars and Pharisees had their eye on Jesus to see if he would heal the man, hoping to catch him in a Sabbath infraction. Luke 6:7 (MSG)

A professor of mine once showed our class a videotape of a locally televised theological debate between himself and another scholar. Both men were from mainstream Christian denominations, but held different views on particular doctrines. The debate became an argument as my professor smugly baited the other scholar, then went on the attack which was subtly personal. The other scholar was shocked, then angry, then became increasingly unglued. After clicking the stop button, my professor chided his opponent for losing his cool and defended his own arrogant attacks on the other scholar. He dismissed his opponent, explaining that the other scholar’s differing theological views made the man’s faith and salvation questionable. My professor’s actions told me that he believed the other scholar was undeserving of his love and respect.

Twenty-five years later I can still remember that class vividly, but I don’t think the lesson I learned was what my professor intended. My professor had a test, a theological checklist, by which he judged others. If you didn’t agree with every minor theological item on his checklist you failed the test, and he felt justified in quickly dismissing you. It seems to parallel the religious scholars who watched for Jesus to fail their own test of appropriate theological behavior. If Jesus failed their test, they could dismiss him and did not feel any obligation to love or respect him.

I’d like to think that I don’t have a test (or tests) of my own. This morning I find myself searching my heart. Jesus didn’t tell me to love only those who pass my test for political correctness, theological correctness or behavioral appropriateness. He makes it pretty clear that those who fail whatever test I might have are to be on the top of my “to love” priority list.

Today, I’m asking God to love everyone well – especially those I might easily dismiss. 

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