Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thoughts On Strangling Grace

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.
-Hebrews 12.15

Forgive me my sins as I forgive those who sinned against me.
-The Lord’s Prayer

Bitterness strangles grace. It erupts over disappointments, pain of (perceived) unjust treatment, hurt feelings, and defiles me. It also infects and defiles others, for in hearing of the wrongs you have suffered—I know, who doesn’t like to hear of the “evil” of others!—people take up your offense.

Bitter people find it impossible to keep it to their selves but insist upon spewing it all over others with their angry, hateful attitudes, actions, and words, and then wonder why so many people keep them at an arm’s distance. Bitterness not only strangles God’s grace but the grace of others, as well.

As I grow comfortable with my bitterness, it warps my calibration skills, where, in my ears, your honesty is heard as hatefulness, and my venomous sniping at and criticism of others as “the unvarnished truth.” With a heart filled with unresolved issues, of course it all sounds so reasonable to me.

Long-term bitterness establishes a wall of invulnerability around my heart because I grow to believe that desire, hope, love, and the external world, are all danger zones. Such defense mechanisms keep me from the love of God and others, leaving me with a shriveled soul.

Bitterness toward God springs up because I am angry over what I don’t have and, therefore, ungrateful for what is available. Here, my pain moves from anxiety to despair and bitterness. In doing this, my heart is no longer resting in God with a faith that He knows what is needed for my highest good. And my soul begins disintegrating.

Bitterness starts with the hurt, the offense, or the (perceived) injustice. Rather than taking the experience to God and asking for His light and grace, I silently plant the seed of bitterness in my soul, caressing it like Gollum’s precious ring. I then nourish it with constant attention, purposefully blocking out any other interpretation of the event, any understanding that is contrary to my basis for being angry. I know what happened. I know what you meant and intended. I am a mind reader, for crying out loud: your words and explanations are only denials and deflections. And anyway, why should I give you an opportunity to ask forgiveness? I’d lose all the power I have over you.

The bitter-weed killer is light and love. When I am hurt, rather than expressing anger at the individual, I go and share: “You hurt me.” Put it all out there so that the light can dispel shadows and darkness. Yes, anger is easier and less messy. Anger condemns and relegates the offending party to the outer reaches of my universe, until they kneel and kiss my ring. There are no mitigating circumstances, no room for self-doubt or humility on my part, no place for love believing the best; only my edict of “Guilty as charged.” Less messy, for sure, but also insures there will be no healing or transformation.

Eating the delicious morsels of past wrongs against me, I am feeding on death. Whereas love keeps no record of wrongs, bitterness is rooted in remembrance. Until I deal with and let go of such memories, all other works, everything I am doing for love’s sake, for God’s sake, is corrupted. Unforgiving people remain unforgiven. (See Lord’s Prayer)

And if you know an individual is hurt or offended with you? Jesus: Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that you brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Is God Moody?

For that great Love speaks in the most wretched and dirty heart: only the tone of its voice depends on the echoes of the place in which it sounds.
--George MacDonald, “At the Back of the North Wind”

Twenty years ago I attended a Wednesday morning church service where I was regaled by one of the associate pastors on, “The Moods of God.”

“It is critical,” she said, “that we daily discern what mood God is in.”

Being how I am, I spent the next fifteen minutes doing a riff (in my head) on God’s moods.

Crikey. God is really ticked-off today. Better not leave the house.

Hey look! God is quite cheery. Now’s the time to ask Him for this week’s winning Lotto number.

God is weary of my two-timing ways so has given up on me. I need to do something big to leverage His love…Hmmm, I know: Become a missionary to Africa!

Okay. You can stop wincing. The thing is, most of us actually relate to God in such a manner. While the Bible reveals God as immutable* (never changes) and self-sufficient** (lacks for and needs nothing), and, therefore, as not having “passions” (mood swings), we, however, experience Him as being otherwise because we believe He IS other than whom He revealed Himself to be in scriptures and in Christ.

Take, for example, God’s love:

God’s love is unchanging: it does not increase because of our obedience or decrease because of what we do or leave undone. God loves because of Who God is: period. We, however, believe that His love for us runs hot or cold, depending upon the level of our obedience or maturity. In other words, we anthropomorphize God’s love so that it is akin to the love we experience as humans. Our love is often based on what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, so God’s love must be the same.

Consider the parable of the Prodigal Son. When his son wished to take his inheritance and go live his life as he pleased, the father loved him … and let him go. Every day thereafter the father still loved his son. When the son was wallowing in a pigsty, his father was home, still loving him. Sure, what the son was experiencing was a world of hurt. The father didn’t do this, didn’t shove his son’s face in dung. This all happened because he left his father.

All that the father had for his son was love. He wasn’t back home angry and condemning his son to all who would listen. In fact, every day he searched the horizon to see if today would be the day his son came home. When he finally saw his son from afar, the celebration for his return was in full swing by the time he walked through the gate. When he arrived home, there was no recrimination or condemnation: just a party filled with love and joy. In other words, the father’s love is the “same yesterday, today, and forever.”

God does not have mood swings. God’s love for us never changes. He is always showering the world and us with love and goodness. What does change, however, is how we experience His love and goodness in our day-to-day lives. This depends upon the contours of our hearts.

*“ Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews13: 8

**“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. Acts 17: 24, 25

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2014

Monday, November 3, 2014

Words of Steel and Soul

When [Churchill] walks into the House, it is as if History itself materializes before our eyes, and is holding us accountable.
-- From Leo Rosten’s essay, “Winston”

Obama fatigue is setting in. Indeed, I’ve gone from Obama fatigue through full-on Obama Epstein-Barr to end-stage Obama narcolepsy.
–Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg’s description of how he is experiencing the speeches of President Obama can just as easily be said of the majority of our political leaders on both sides of the aisle. [WARNING: Long Sentence] Here we are facing terrorists, the return of a cold war with Russia, economic disaster, disappearing borders, Ebola, and the continual disintegration of our Constitutional freedoms, and our leaders seem to think it best to put us to sleep with words that say everything and nothing so we won’t notice our houses are being ransacked.  Whereas Winston Churchill “armed the English language and sent it into battle,” present day politicians bastardize the English language, so we won’t notice the nature of the great battles before us.

In times of great peril we need leaders whose words instill vision, courage, and hope, not words that put us to sleep both physically and psychologically. We need bold, bare-naked words that leave no doubt as to exactly what is being said. We need words of steel that slap us across our collective face and challenges us to get a grip and stop whining about petty grievances that only distract us from our real enemies, both domestic and foreign, who are determined to destroy us and our nation,

Consider some of Winston’s* words:

“The deadly, drilled, docile, brutish masses of the Hun.” No political correctness, here!

“Hitler has liberated Austria from the horrors of self-government.”

“It is better to be frightened now than killed thereafter.”

Describing Parliament: “Good honest men who are ready to die for their opinions, if only they knew what their opinions are.” Sounds familiar.

On Prime Minister Baldwin’s government: “So they go on in a strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift…all powerful to be impotent.” Ouch.

When Parliament was jubilant over Chamberlain’s deal with Hitler:

“All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into darkness….It is a fraud and a farce to invoke the name [self-determination].

We have sustained a defeat without a war….We have passed an awful milestone in our history…The whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged….Terrible words have been pronounced against the Western democracies: ‘Thou are weighed in the balance and found wanting.’”

“And do not suppose this is the end….This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year….”

Words matter. How we perceive the person speaking also matters. Once we lose respect, once we doubt the integrity of the speaker, even the most erudite sound to us as so much white noise. Leo Rosten makes this point when he writes, “It was Churchill’s very refusal to be ‘expedient’ or utopian that made him the one man whom England, on the brink of disaster, had to turn.” Winston’s words had the ring of trustworthiness.

The London Times made the same point: “In the hour when all but courage failed, [he] made courage conscience of itself, plumed it with defiance, and rendered it invincible.” Winston’s words could not produce something in others that was not already within the man himself. His soul fueled his words.

Words matter

The quality of the person’s soul matters

Awareness of where the lines of the most critical battles are forming matters

Clarity of vision matters

And congruency of words, soul, awareness, and vision matters most of all, when it comes to choosing leaders.

* All quotes taken from Leo Rosten, “People I Have Loved, Known, Or Admired,” McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1970

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2014