Category Archives: Christian Life

I’m Back

Quigley wearing free dog antlers from PetCo

Quigley wearing free dog antlers from PetCo

Hi everyone!  And a happy 2013 to you all!

Yes, I’m back. Not necessarily back from physical travels, though we did get over to Southern California to visit the kids and grand-daughter, as well as my 92-year-old stepmother. I am back from that, and also, apparently, from my recent and unexpected blogging silence.

I have no explanation, other than that I had neither  motivation nor words with which to generate a blog post for almost a month now. I haven’t even kept up on my emails. In fact, I’ve done very little on the computer since last I posted, except for Bible Class.

Part of that was the shingles and the fact that it was hard to even look at the screen for a while. Plus I had a regimen of eye drops and pills to take there at first, and kept going back to the doctor for them to gauge my progress. This, added to Christmas preps, demolished my normal routine, which had been suffering anyway. I was also consciously trying to avoid the computer, not only to rest my eyes but in hopes of getting a handle on my addiction to reading blogs and news articles.

Pastor John spoke about this awhile back, how reading the things on the web — things invariably from the world — mess up your mental attitude and make it harder to go back to your work — in his case, studying the Word and preparing his lessons, in mine, working on the book. I had already noticed that effect on my own, but didn’t really give it the attention it deserved. I thought it was just me having no discipline as opposed to information and enticements from the world registering with my sin nature, which in turn agitated for “No More Struggling With that Lame Book! Who’s going to like it anyway? It’s not going to be any good, and you have no discipline…” or…. “You’re just not into it today. Tomorrow will be better. Why not take a break now and go do something else?”  To which I answered “Okay” far too often.

Or… “But I really want to find out what happened/why he did it/more on this subject! I’ll work on the book later…”

On another day, in another lesson, he talked about how sometimes God will shut us down in the operation of our spiritual gift in order for us to realize that it’s His power that’s doing it, not ours. That really resonated as well, but I haven’t really been able to get my arms around it all enough to write about it in any way that makes sense.

A third concept that keeps floating through my awareness is the fact that all this with the blog… specifically the call to do a post 5 days a week, was really more than I could handle and actually write a book, too. Add to that the notion that since this was supposed to build my readership I should be trying to do posts that people would like, and keep track of the numbers and all that… and it only piled on more pressure. And, I see in retrospect, drained energy away from whatever it is in me that comes up with my stories.

Long ago I had determined that God was not calling me to be a marketer — He would do the marketing, and the promoting and publicizing, and my job was to concentrate on writing the book (which He would also do, but that was where I was to focus my attention, not the other stuff).  He told me that in a very vivid and compelling way, and I immediately obeyed and stopped thinking about the marketing.

But the world is relentless in promoting its positions, and after ten years, I became infected with it again. Maybe I had grown enough, I thought arrogantly, that I could handle it now. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to at least try it out, see if it was what I was to do. After all, everyone else is doing it.

No. Not what I’m to do. All the things they suggest one do to build a readership distracts me from my calling. It takes away my time, changes my mental attitude and focus, really seems to mess me up when it comes to my primary calling, which is to write my novels. I learned that once, but as with so many things, forgot the lesson and went back to try it again.

If I’m honest, I have to admit I like the idea of me doing stuff to get folks to read my blog and books. Well, no, actually I don’t like it at all, at least not the actual doing of it. I just like the idea of having some control over it and that’s probably the main issue right there. That I’m going to control things, when God’s the one in control.

Anyway, I’m not going to be doing five posts a week, but 4, and that may not be all the time. I’m not going to be trolling about various strangers’ blogs to see if I might “like” them. I might like them, but I don’t have time to read them. I’m not going to be going out to comment on other folks’ blogs, like they tell me to, in hopes they’ll visit my blog and like it. I’m not going to be trolling about on the internet looking for good ideas for content that will bring in a lot of readers.

I’m going to go back to what this all started out as: me writing my book, posting thoughts that spring primarily out of that and my life and lessons and research. The book comes first. The blog second.

And if the world thinks that’s dumb, I’m okay with that. If I only have six readers, I’m okay with that, too. As our recent lessons on spiritual gifts have taught me, God is the one in charge of the results of my gift, not me.

“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised (or unknown), God has chosen, the things that are not (ie, humble) that He might nullify the things that are (ie, proud), that no man should boast before God.”   ~ 1 Co 1:26 – 29

He is Not a God of Confusion

Sea Voyage: Leaving the Land Behind

I think the thing that most helped me from the discussion on the open ended writing process wasn’t so much doing the process itself, but realizing that what I am doing IS hard, and DOES take a lot of time and I WILL feel chaotic and disoriented, even frustrated with all the choices, but that it is okay. It’s actually the point.

The point of the sea voyage is to leave the old “wrong” ideas behind and find a new vision. New ideas, something based on the old, but not the old.

All that was on Tuesday. On Friday I listened to a Bible class from summer 2011 about how the spiritual gift works. I’ve been slowly working my way through those classes as time allows and it had been awhile since I’d listened to this particular series. I can’t even say why I chose to do it that day, but the content fell right in line with what I had been learning about the writing process. Again I found myself transcribing quotes into my journal.

From my entry last Friday:

(This Lesson from Sunday, July 17, 2011) is speaking directly to me!

“The power that flows through my spiritual gift and the results of its function are up to God.”

In my case “results” can mean what I’m seeing as accomplishment, as acceptable “progress.” So even when I can’t see anything, it’s still Him.

“So what does that leave for us to do? We’re merely to nurture a willingness to do the work (write the story) and be prepared. And to put ourselves in the place where the gift can operate. We let Him pick the right time for its operation.”

Which means for me, when the story “emerges” when things finally begin to come together, whether plotwise or world-buildingwise.

“This is new! This is different! This is not the way you’ve been trained (by the world) from birth to get things done.

 “The results are up to God, not you.”

“Therefore, don’t judge your effectiveness in your spiritual gift by the results. Be faithful to what God has called you to do, whatever it is. Just trust that He knows what He’s doing. Don’t freak out. Don’t get depressed, despairing, thinking that maybe you’re not doing what you’re supposed to. If you’re following the Word of God, hearing the Word of God, and being obedient to it, God’s gonna get you where you need to be.”

This on the surface relates to physical position, like at the corner where there’s a person waiting to hear the Gospel from you. But lately I’ve been reading about writing in terms of a journey – the sea voyage. You set out, leave land behind, get lost, don’t know what you’re doing and then gradually you come to a new land…. God will get you where you need to be.

This all SO applies to my circumstances right now. I’m looking through notes, reading various writings, doing open-ended writings and nonstops… trying to figure out/decide whether to have a more direct parallel to our situation today as a nation ( with other nations in my created world, covert ops, war, military actions… ) or make it a more abstract, even stylistic allegory, without all the grand political arena and dispensational stuff…Except I’ve already started both in the prologue, at least hints… And here I’m conflicted again. I feel like I’m getting nowhere..

But in all this mess I must stop and reflect: God will get me where He wants me to be.

Oh! And another message in today’s lesson:

“God is not a god of confusion. This is a very important principle when it comes to your spiritual gift because there’s a big temptation for them to get out of hand, lead to chaos rather than clarity. And God is all about CLARITY. Making things clear.”

So trust Him to do just that. Trust Him to show you the way you should go and believe that He is, even if it doesn’t look like you think it should look.

The Open Ended Writing Process

Things are looking up! Last week I came into the office and actually worked a minimum of 2 hours a day, and usually more like 3 or 4, on The Other Side of the Sky! For 6 days in a row!

YAY!

Okay, so maybe my use of the word “work” might be giving you the wrong idea. The first few days I came in and wrote in my writing log, walked laps around the house, walked laps around the yard, lay on the bed and thought, did nonstops and all too often caved to my desire to read the news, which after all, is only a click away.

But each time I fell into that made me more desirous of not doing it again.

I also made a point of closing down the computer around 9pm and getting to bed earlier. Not being sleep deprived helps tremendously in being able to control one’s sudden impulses to do other than what one has decided to do for the moment.

And after a week I have learned that it really is true: I can not do as much as I wanted and thought I could. But I am liking that. I am feeling uncluttered. More able to breathe. More focused on the work.

Last week, Tuesday, actually, sometime around the end of my daily work period, I opened one of the books I keep on my shelf, that I have referred to often during the course of my writing “career.”  That book is Writing with Power by Peter Elbow.

I have a paper on doing “Open-Ended Writing,” one I prepared from concepts taught in this book, and I had been trying to do some, but they didn’t seem to be working out. So  I decided to look up Elbow’s original writing on the matter.

Here’s the first thing I found, most of which I copied into my journal:

The open-ended writing process… is a way to bring to birth an unknown, unthought-of piece of writing — a piece of writing that is not yet in you. It is a technique for thinking, seeing, and feeling new things. This process invites maximum chaos and disorientation. You have to be willing to nurse something through many stages over a long period of time and put up with not knowing where you are going. Thus it is a process that can change you, not just your words.

As the most creative and unmethodical writing process, I associate it with poems or stories or novels…”

This blew me away when I read it. For two reasons, one, because it’s exactly what I’ve been experiencing… chaos, disorientation, taking a long time, not knowing where you are going… YES!  That’s exactly what it’s been like.

I have hit a wall because I am trying to take the story someplace it’s not supposed to go. I know that sounds weird and esoteric, but it’s the only way I can describe it. It’s happened before.

Years back in writing The Light of Eidon, I wanted there to be a fire in Southdock. Abramm was supposed to run in there and help put the fire out as I recall. I couldn’t get myself to write it.  Kept trying. Even forced myself to write it until I couldn’t stand it any more….

And then I realized that I was trying to take the story in a place it wasn’t supposed to go. I backed up, rethought and came up with a new line that worked perfectly. Later, there actually was a fire in Southdock… I think that was in book 3, Shadow Over Kiriath. But even in that book Abramm was not involved in fighting the fire, it was just one of those things you want to “have happened” but not that you want your protagonists involved in.

Anyway, I think something like that is happening now. It may not be as major of a course correction as “don’t have that scene at all” but it’s set me on a new line of thinking. One that has suggested perhaps I need to change the whole world as I’ve developed it.

The reason this is such a difficult proposition for me is that I don’t just sit down and by fiat say, “This is how the world will be. There’ll be this single nation and this floating city, and it will be inhabited by these people and…”

Because that never works. I need the world and the characters and the doctrinal analogy and the plot all to come together and I have never been able to do that by taking one part of the story and developing it rigidly and then heading on to the others. Just. Can’t. Do it.

The biggest problem I have with all this is that I keep forgetting that. Keep wanting to take control and try to get my mind around at least one piece so I can develop that, and have at least SOMETHING that won’t change when I think about it. And that’s not what God would have me do.

Here’s the rest of the quote from the book on this subject that I transcribed into my journal, plus my response after copying it:

“I think of the open-ended writing process as a voyage in two stages: a sea voyage and a coming to new land. For the sea voyage, you are trying to lose sight of land — the place you began. Getting lost is the best source of new material. In coming to new land you develop a new conception of what you are writing about — a new idea or vision — and then you gradually reshape your material to fit this new vision. The sea voyage is a process of divergence, branching, proliferation, and confusion; the coming to land is a process of convergence, pruning, centralizing, and clarifying.”

MY JOURNALED THOUGHTS:

YES! This is what I’ve been doing! Haltingly, reluctantly. Thinking I’m failing instead of S-L-O-W-L-Y  progressing. All these whirling ideas, things that appear in my head but I can’t see how they fit into the whole… It frustrates me, and yet it’s exactly the work I’m to be doing. It’s the same process Pastor John’s been teaching in the spiritual life. I have all these papers and cards with notes on them, these half-formed ideas regarding the world and as I’ve encountered before, I can’t just start deciding stuff because it’s not linear, it’s holistic. It comes together all at once seemingly out of nowhere, not piece by piece.

This is kind of how the spiritual life goes as well, the chaos, the blindness, not knowing, the crazy stuff and where is God… and all the while, like in the Artistic Coma, He’s there, beneath it all, inside, so deep we can’t see it, can’t feel it, can’t even tell, but He’s working on us.

It’s weird the way all this fits together for me… But that’s gotta be Him as well.

Graced Out in Our Sleep

He gives to His beloved, even in her sleep…

The following is another of the articles I wrote for one of the editions of the email newsletter I used to send out before I started blogging. This one is a little embarrassing, because the things I, myself, wrote, are the things I, myself, still struggle to recall — and more important believe — way more than I’d like to admit.

♦♦♦

 Graced out in Our Sleep (From 2003 Newsletter)

I love the fact that none of this depends on me, that even though I do the work, it really doesn’t depend on me–not the publication, not the awards, none of it.

That’s been the lesson of the year–that I don’t need to get all frantic about getting everything done because my Lord will see that what needs to be done, is done. That the work I do is done for Him, and He will see to its disposition in accordance with HIS plan–and His timing–not mine.

Yet there seems to be this whole hierarchy of activities that we can get caught up in, thinking that if our work isn’t done in time or isn’t good enough or there isn’t enough of it, or whatever, that the whole thing will fail and happiness will elude us.

But true happiness does not spring from success in the world. Success may be stimulating and fun, but it doesn’t last. Because whatever work you accomplish or goal you achieve or award you win, there’ll always come a time when that gets to be old hat and you’ll need another accomplishment or another award.

And yet, as when we’ve lost our keys and go back to look in the same place over and over again, even though we know the keys aren’t there, in the same way we focus on this accomplishment thing. Thinking that if only we can get this next thing, that will provide the lasting satisfaction we crave.

And so we step onto that treadmill of running and working to achieve, getting up early, staying up late, trying to get ahead, looking for that pleasure or satisfaction or sense of contentment we think will be ours if we can just get “It.” Whatever “It” may be.

But it’s a lie and, as David says in the Psalms, it’s vain. True happiness is stable and eternal. It isn’t an emotion, but a state of mind independent of circumstances and arising out of one’s relationship with God.

Every good gift comes from Him, and true contentment lies in our fellowship with Him, in getting to know Him through His word, and seeing His grace and goodness and faithfulness as they work out in our daily lives. It’s believing Him when he says…

“Except the lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for he gives to His beloved even in his sleep. ~ Psalm 127: 1,2

An Eternal Weight of Glory

Eric Liddell as played by Ian Charleson in Chariots of Fire

At the end of my last post I embedded the beginning sequence from the movie Chariots of Fire, a 1981  Academy Award Winner for Best Picture, Screenplay, Score and Costume Design. It was a period piece about two British athletes in the 1924 Paris Olympics, one of whom was Eric Liddell, a runner and a Scotsman born in China of missionary parents (and later a missionary to the Chinese, himself).

A major part of the movie’s plot concerned Liddell’s refusal to enter the 100 meter race in the Olympics, an event in which he was likely to win gold seeing as he’d won the 1923 AAA championships in that distance in record-breaking time.

In the film, he’s portrayed as learning upon arrival in Paris that the qualifying heats for the Olympics 100 meter race would be conducted on a Sunday, and he, being a devout Christian, refused to break the Sabbath in order to race. In 1980, when I first saw this movie, I remember thinking he was being legalistic, that Sabbath-keeping is not commanded for church age believers and that he was unnecessarily letting his teammates down.

Yes, it was played for maximum conflict that way in the movie, with various teammates/coaches seeking to change his mind, and lamenting of the team losing out on a medal. He held firm, and did not compete in the 100, though he did run in the 400 meter race, a later race whose heats were not held on Sunday and which he was not expected to win.

He won that one anyway, in spectacular fashion and record time.

It worked for the story. But it wasn’t quite accurate. In reality, he’d learned of the 100 meter race’s Sunday qualifying meets months earlier and had decided long before he went that he would not be participating. So it wasn’t a big shock, and he wasn’t letting his teammates down at the last minute. Everyone knew what he intended from the start.  Even so, it still caused a stir.

Over the weekend, a reader sent me an email regarding my Olympics post, reminding me of Liddell’s subsequent missionary work and death in China in 1945, I got curious and looked him up in Wikipedia. (Eric Liddell)

He was an impressive man — giving, humble, compassionate, completely devoted to the faith and the Gospel, and really not a legalist at all. In fact one of his three daughters, Patricia, now 77, was recently quoted as saying her father “was not a stiff, rigid Sabbatarian. He was fun, probably liberal in a sense, and not to run on a Sunday was his choice.”

Having read of his life, and seeing the importance he placed on the Gospel and on ministry, my thinking shifted on the Sabbath business, especially in light of what I saw and experienced in watching the most recent Olympics. I can see now that in the big picture for Liddell, even had he won a gold medal in that 1924 100 meter race it wouldn’t have meant that much. But his having abstained from running did. It interjected into all the hooplah and worldly mystique of The Olympics, not that he was some pious and “holy” guy, but that winning a gold medal didn’t matter to him nearly much as honoring God. And there is something very significant about that, in a setting where everyone gets to thinking that winning a medal is IT, the ultimate achievement, the top of the heap, the epitome of glory. When it’s really nothing.

As my reader reminded me, sic transit gloria mundi: “the glory of the world passes away…” All flesh is as grass, here today, flowering, beautiful, then dried and gone tomorrow.  And in the end, all the medals will be destroyed along with all the rest of this fallen world.

What Liddell did later on in China was of far more significance than the 9.7 or less seconds of running a race and having a bunch of people cheer you. And in China, he did a lot. Who knows how many were brought to a saving knowledge of Christ through his efforts?

When the Japanese invaded in 1943, and foreign nationals were advised to leave, he stayed. He went to help his brother who was running a medical mission and needed all the help he could get; in fact his brother was ailing from overwork and badly in need of furlough. So Eric took his place and sent him home.

Not long after that he and many others were rounded up and put into a prison camp by the Japanese. There he directed the kids in various sports and games, taught their Bible classes, and helped out the elderly. A fellow internee recalled him thus:

“Often in an evening I would see him bent over a chessboard or a model boat, or directing some sort of square dance – absorbed, weary and interested, pouring all of himself into this effort to capture the imagination of these penned-up youths. He was overflowing with good humour and love for life, and with enthusiasm and charm. It is rare indeed that a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.”

Eric Liddell died in that camp of what turned out to be an inoperable brain tumor. His last letter to his wife was written the day that he died.

But here’s the coolest thing, something unknown even to his family until 2008. That was when the Chinese revealed that well before his death, he had been offered the chance to go home as part of a deal between the Japanese and the British. He turned the offer down, giving his place to a pregnant young woman instead. When you consider that act of sacrifice alone, winning a gold medal for running a 10-second race seems startlingly insignificant.

The real Eric Liddell in the 1924 Paris Olympics

***

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”  ~ 2 Corinthians 4:17,18 NASV

Asceticism

The Buddha as an ascetic

This post has been sitting in my drafts box for some time. I thought it was unfinished. In fact, I thought I’d barely started it and so had been ignoring it. Today I was moved to click on it, intending to see if there was something here I could develop, or if I should just delete it and move on.

Instead I was surprised to find an entire post, finished but for the final editing. And, oddly enough, it ties in to what I’ve been thinking and writing about lately in regards to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The original date on it was March 18, 2011, a kind of prologue thoughtwise to more recent ruminations. Here’s what I was thinking last year:

Most Christians are aware of the fact that they still have a fallen nature even after having believed in Christ. But how many of them have considered what this fallen nature is like beyond “bad,” “evil,” “selfish,” “prideful”  and “something that sets itself against God?”

My pastor has considered what it is like and taught us a number of things as a result of his studies. One of the big things about it is the fact that it has an area of strength (most of us have certain sins we’re not even tempted to commit) and an area of weakness (sins we fall into all the time). I think the area of weakness is pretty well-known, but the area of strength is something that doesn’t get as much attention. The area of strength is often the source of human good, which of course, is disgusting in God’s eyes, but often very attractive in people’s eyes.

In addition to an area of strength and weakness, the sin nature also has a trend, either toward lasciviousness or asceticism. Or, put more simply, some people trend toward self-indulgence and others toward self-denial and self-discipline.

Examples of the latter include the Flagellants I just posted about, as well as fasting, vows of silence and poverty, dietary rules, and one I find most amusing, the stylites… Eastern orthodox monks who lived on small platforms atop long poles for years, fasting, praying, and preaching, they believed that the mortification of their bodies would ensure their salvation.  Many Eastern religions embrace ascetic practices as well, with followers vowing never to use their left hand or right foot, restricting their diet, wearing neither clothes nor shoes as they moved from place to place, not staying in any one place so as not to get attached, etc. Clearly there is a strong tendancy in some sin natures to be abusive of self in the name of “holiness,” or just in the name of getting something they might want.

Few people in our day practice the type of asceticism I’ve just described (at least in the United States) but that doesn’t mean they don’t practice it in some other form. Exercise regimes, abstaining from certain foods or drinks, supporting “green” practices, abstaining from smoking, card games, dancing or watching movies, even practices associated with Lent all have to do with denying self certain pleasures in the interest of achieving “holiness” by our own efforts.

Unfortunately holiness is far from the result of asceticism. What it leads to is moral degeneracy, a state wherein a person is moral and often religious but thinks far more highly of himself than he ought. His self-denial and self-discipline,  his avoidance of the lascivious or self-indulgent sorts of sins (drug addiction, fornication, etc) make it seem that he is a better person than say, the woman working the corner down in the ratty part of town. Which is, of coures the point: to make of oneself a better person, a more spiritual person, purer, more enlightened than everyone else.

I’ve recently read several articles noting how self-righteous and holier than thou some people in the global warming/environmental movement are, how it has, in fact become a religion in itself to those who follow it. Michael Crichton was one of the first, or at least the most famous first, to point this out in a speech he gave to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in 2003.  (Read it here) Ditto vegetarians, the defenders of animals and even those who eat only organic foods, pr so  claims an article on MSNBC titled “Does Organic Food Make People into Jerks?

In addition to the holier-than-thou syndrome, ascetism leads to legalism — not only in the sense of judging others, but of judging self. Not the judging of self where you confess your sins to God, but where you come up with a set of rules you have to follow so everything will turn out right; or so someone will be pleased with you or happy or at the very least not displeased; or perhaps a set of rules to follow so God will be pleased,  or so you can gain health or wealth or success or …  the list is endless.

And once you have your set of rules in place, you’ve created a launching pad for guilt and worry. You have these rules!  And you have to follow them; if you don’t, disaster will ensue! If you don’t, you can never have any peace. Who cares what God’s word has to say? You have your rules of what it means to be good or successful or responsible or compassionate or whatever…

Which means now you can also worry you might not follow them all, and then beat yourself up when you don’t.  And if there’s someone around who fails to follow them even more than you do, then you can focus on that person and beat them up instead of yourself for their infractions.

And it can all look very nice on the outside, while inside it tears you apart.

What a contrast to the life our Lord intends for us to live. A life of peace and rest, confident that we don’t have to follow our silly little rules, because in Christ we’ve already been made holy. By His work, not ours. There’s not one thing we can do that will make us one ounce holier than He’s already made us the moment we believed in Christ.

All we have to do is keep learning His Word which, if we believe it, will slowly transform our thinking into His.  Our new life in Christ is one that offers tremendous peace and freedom; why would we not want to live in it?

Self-Disicipline is a Boxing Match

A couple of weeks ago, on the advice of my agent, I attended an online Webinar by Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, and its present chairman. He’s a “professional blogger, author and speaker whose blog is consistently ranked in the top three for Productivity, Leadership, Publishing and Social Media Marketing.”  This last from the jacket copy of his latest book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.

The webinar was very informative, and I took a lot of notes, though I have yet to go back through them. I ordered his book, as well, though I have yet to officially read it. I have sampled here and there, and it looks good.

My lack of reading notes or book, however, is due to one of the first pieces of advice Mr. Hyatt offered during his webinar, which was that if you’re going to blog, commit to doing it regularly. He has himself committed to posting five days a week for some years now (though he invites guest bloggers to present material on Fridays). 

Since I’ve been anything but consistent with my own blogging  for the last few months … years?… I thought maybe I’d make a change. I know I had a schedule of four posts a week for some time, so I’m pretty sure that’s doable. For the last  couple of weeks though, I thought I’d try out five days a week and see if that might work, reserving Fridays for something fun and easy, like pics of Quigley.

And so I have done that. 

In addition to that, using a technique I discovered through Hyatt’s website, I’ve been working steadily on Sky. Well, until last Thursday when I sort of wandered off the track. Sometimes things come into my life that get my flesh going… it can be anything from worry, frustration, self-pity, guilt… and it’s hard to turn that off and get to work.

I also got caught up in the blog posts and the comments and… just never seemed to get around to Sky again. I don’t really know why.

Sometimes at the end of the day I can’t recall how I ended up doing the things that I did. I wonder… am I getting dementia?

Or might it be…

lack of self-discipline?

Oooooh nooooo!  Not THAT again! I thought I’d put all that to bed. I thought I was done wrestling with all that. Self-discipline is a fruit of the Spirit. I’ve learned well and truly that I can’t do much with it apart from Him.

But… have I consistently asked Him to help me in this area? Have I confessed my sin of self-indulgence when I wandered off? Or maybe not self-indulgence, because often  it’s more… mindless distraction. Sometimes I feel like the dog in one of Koontz’s books (I think it was Dragon Tears) who had been given an assignment but on the way kept getting distracted:

“Ooh! An old shoe! What a lovely smell. must stop and investigate this … and what’s this? a puddle of water… and a bee… ooh, chase the bee…. now the smell of cat… there it is!  Off!  After it! “

That was all a paraphrase. I no longer have the book to quote from, but it was something like that. I particularly remember the bee. And the whole portrayal was so spot on….

But I digress. The fact is, this bugaboo of self-discipline has returned for another round. And why not? The last time I wrestled with it, I ended defeated, not really understanding how it was to be implemented.

If it’s a fruit of the Spirit, are we to TRY to have it? But then might we not run the risk of doing it in the flesh? It’s clearly something those who aren’t saved can exercise, like the very athletes that Paul references in 1 Corinthians 9:25 – 27

Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

Strong’s definition of hupopiazo, which is the Greek word for “discipline,” means “to hit under the eye (buffet or disable an antagonist as a pugilist), that is, (figuratively) to tease or annoy (into compliance), subdue (one’s passions), to keep under, to weary.

That is not at all the notion I had of “disciplining the body”. My notion was of one who ALWAYS ate the right amount of food, got up at dawn to exercise, went down the gym on schedule every day to train… whether you felt like it or not. The above definition gives quite a different image.  One of a battle.

A boxing match where you’re hitting your opponent again and again with a lot of effort while he keeps hitting you back. Paul’s seeking to make his body a slave, and slaves don’t want to be enslaved. They rebel. They fight. They run away. Especially arrogant and willful slaves like our flesh, determined as it is to set itself against the Spirit.

This metaphor implies a lot of effort and tenacity. A lot of sweat and blood and bruising. The opponent is not going to go down easily.  And in fact, the only way it’s going to go down is if you are boxing under the power of the Spirit.

So that would mean confession of sins, so as to be under His control,  and bringing the word of God to bear upon the situation. Not necessarily in recalling this verse where Paul talks about what he’s doing, so much as the part about why he’s doing it. So that he won’t be disqualified for reward — that imperishable crown he mentions first. 

Wow. I never thought of it like this. It definitely warrants further consideration…

God’s Thoughts Are Not Our Thoughts

Yesterday I talked about the need for repetition in learning things. Math and reading specifically come to mind. And as it is needed for those skills, it is also needed for learning the word of God.

In fact, I’d say especially for the word of God.  When subjects are deeper, more layered, more complex, and more expansive, we cannot possibly understand with only a few quick lessons. The only way we can really learn them is by cycling over the material, gaining new understanding with each pass. And there is nothing deeper, more layered and complex than the Word of God. He created the laws of physics and the science of neurology, after all. If those subjects are daunting, doesn’t it follow a fortiori that learning about the one who created them would be more so?

Indeed. So much so that the Bible tells us God’s thoughts and ways are not like ours. They are foreign to us. More foreign than the most foreign culture or language could possibly be. And the more foreign and strange a subject is to us, again, there is no way we’re going to “get it” on the first pass or two.  Probably not even the tenth pass, or the twentieth.

The Bible tells us the naturally-minded man cannot understand the things of God at all. They are foolishness to him. Only the spiritual man (ie, born again) who is filled with the Holy Spirit can understand. But even after salvation, all of us are in some respects naturally-minded. We still live in the world where we are barraged, in this present age as never before, with worldly thinking. And even though we’re saved, we still have our flesh, which sets itself against the things of the Spirit, and is a continuing source of wrong and worldly, self-centered thinking.  It will even take doctrinal thoughts and distort them, misapply them (as Job’s three alleged friends were so fond of doing) in order to serve itself. And it’s not always easy for us  to recognize when that is happening because a lot of times it feels “right.”

 Further, in 2 Co 5:16 we’re commanded to “recognize no one according to the flesh.”  A common interpretation of that verse is that we’re not to look at other people on the basis of their sins and failures, but on the basis of their position in Christ. And while it’s certainly true we are to regard other Christians in this way, that can’t be what this particular verse means because the passage goes on to say that we’re not to know Christ after the flesh, either, and He had no sins or failures.

So what does it mean? I believe it’s talking about our own flesh. We’re not to know others or Christ on the basis of our own fleshly thinking — our naturally minded way of interpreting things that are beyond our ken. 

Let’s take self-discipline as an example. As an unbeliever, I knew all about self-discipline and was pretty good at it. After I became saved and read in Galatians that we’re to have the fruit of the Spirit, one part of which is self-discipline, I thought, well, I know what that is. I know I haven’t always been perfect at it, but I know it’s a good thing and now I’m supposed to do that. So I would double my efforts in the self-discipline area.

I’ve read of others who describe their efforts to cultivate and nurture this particular fruit. They deliberately take on tasks that will make their flesh chafe.  The flesh hates service, one person said, but absolutely screams at hidden service. You have to train it to abide this, and you seek out opportunities to do so.

That all seems reasonable and logical and right. Except for three things.

One, that if you keep going with this kind of thinking, you’ll end up like the flagellants I wrote about some months ago.

 Two, the fruit of the Spirit, as I’ve said before, is the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of me. If I’ve been crucified with Christ, I’m dead. I can’t produce a thing. It’s the life of Christ that has to produce this fruit, not me. In fact, all my pastors over the last 37 years have repeatedly said, “If the unbeliever can do it, it’s not the Christian way of life, because the Christian way of life is a supernatural way of life.” An unbeliever can discipline himself;  in fact some are better at it than most believers. And everything I described above about seeing some quality the Bible says Believers are to demonstrate, and then setting out to acquire and practice that quality is very much a normal human way of approaching something.

The natural man does it all the time. I want to lose weight. I need to stop eating so much. I want to be a wonderful musician, I need to start playing the piano. I get angry too much, I need to start meditating and visualizing my anger as red smoke and exhale it. (Got that from The Mentalist  😉  )  I am too shy, I need to learn to make eye contact.  I have a bad mental attitude, I will now tell myself affirmations all day… and on and on. That’s a completely natural, in some cases practical way of dealing with something. If I want to learn to sketch, I have to practice. If I want to get good at tennis, I have to practice.  It’s all about I. Nothing really supernatural about it.

Which brings me to number three: God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways (Is 55: 8,9) Do we really stop and think what that means when we read it? I know in the past I haven’t. Oh, I agreed with it, but only on some amorphous, vague level. He’s the creator, after all. He’s omniscient, eternal. Of course His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways,  and off I go, agreeing with the concept but not really living in it.

Maybe we need to reverse that verse, and say instead, “man’s thoughts and ways are not God’s ways.” Or even better, “my (natural) thoughts and ways are not God’s ways.

 He considers our “righteous deeds to be as a filthy garment” (Is  64:6) after all. We struggle with that. When Cain brought his wonderful crop of vegetables, the work of his hands, as an offering, God rejected it. He was not interested in Cain’s work. It was gross. Cain was so upset he killed his brother, because his offering of a lamb was accepted.

 Our efforts to please him in our flesh are nauseating to Him. (Rev 3:14-17)  He is pleased with Christ and His work on the Cross. All those who have believed in Christ are subsequently placed in union with Him, and so when the Father looks at us, He sees His son, who paid our debt of sin. It’s because of what Christ did, that He is pleased with us. Paul, on this very subject reminds the Galatians that they came to salvation by grace through faith, not of works, and the same way they received Him is the way they are to walk in Him. By grace through faith, not works.

“Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Gal 3:6

He says the same thing in Colossians:

“Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established by means of your faith…”  Col 2:6 ” 

Faith in who He is and what He’s done, not faith in ourselves. Believing what He’s promised, believing He is who He says He is. It’s faith that pleases Him; in fact, without faith it is impossible to please Him.  (Heb 11:6)

That’s not the way we tend to think. It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t jibe with what the world says, even what the religious world says. 

When you consider the number of elements arrayed against us learning the thoughts and ways of God it’s hardly surprising we would be a long time finally getting to the core of things.  The complexity of the material, the outlandishness of its claims and promises, the depth and the foreignness of it all is challenge enough. But then we add in the fleshly part of us, thinking it understands when it is only distorting truth, or rejecting it outright because it finds the concepts offensive (eg, “step aside flesh, you’ve been crucified, you have no part in this”)  and all of that occurring in a world that constantly affirms “natural-minded” thinking as reasonable, logical, responsible and rejects “heavenly-minded” thinking as nonsense, ridiculous, and off the wall. How could the learning curve be anything but long and slow?

I know.  I’ve been fighting the battle with all those elements and my flesh is very adamant that some of my conclusions are nutty and “can’t possibly be right” and that my old viewpoint is the only one that really makes sense…

But that’s not what God’s been telling me. And ever so slowly I think I’m starting to believe Him.

The Long Slow Learning Curve

If it seems I’ve been doing a number of posts lately that are somewhat repetitive… it’s true. I have. When the realization first began to dawn on me, I started to fret, especially when I would ask myself what I was going to post on in a given day and here came the same subject AGAIN. So I stopped asking myself, and asked the Lord. And still, my mind returned to the same subject.

Okay. Hard to get away from that. He reminded me that repetition is essential for learning. We do it in Bible class all the time. Some people don’t like that. Maybe a lot of people, since humans as a group tend to always want something new and exciting. When the same old thing shows up, sometimes — often times? — we shut down and pay no attention unless we have to. As in military exercises, for example, where if you don’t pay attention you mis-assemble your weapon, drop the pieces on the floor,  or walk the wrong way in marching drills and snarl up everything. With pride is on the line, the flesh is always eager to do what’s needed to protect it. Even pay attention to something it considers old and dull.

I think that may be one reason God sends various trials, frustrations, difficulties and conundrums into our lives — to keep us paying attention to things we can only learn through repetition. More than that, difficulties may keep us paying attention to things we think we understand until we finally realize we don’t.

Many of the posts I’m talking about have been drawn from my recent journal entries, and I have continued to press on with posting them because I believe they record this process of cycling back over something repeatedly, and in so doing, gaining a clearer understanding of things. Indeed, each time I cycle back it seems I get something new.

So I’m hoping that these entries illustrate this most common way we learn… and the most common way God changes us. Not usually through sudden black and white epiphanies that turn us dramatically in a new direction (though occasionally those do happen), but incrementally, the changes happening so slowly we may not even notice.

I’ve had that feeling about this whole subject of what it means to trust the Lord in everything, to turn more and more areas of my life over to Him. I think in the past I’ve thought that I had already turned my life over to Him. But now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty. In the past I tended to turn only the big things over — like a health issue, or concern for someone’s safety, or whether the book would be published, and after that whether it would sell, and after that whether readers would buy it and after that whether enough people would buy it to keep it alive enough in the market so that publishers would want my next book…

I turned over the matters of quality of story and meeting the deadline — and He came through, though on my last book, The Enclave, perhaps not in the way I had expected — ie, on my and the publisher’s timeline — nor in other areas either. Still, I know I was supposed to have written it and despite its having been pushed back into the shadows, it’s a book I like and am happy with.

But somehow what’s happening with Sky is different. All the fire and hunger and drive I had while writing previous books seems to have faded. I feel like I’m a different person. I feel like God has taken away all my former means of motivation: the desperate drive for success and approval, the fear of not achieving what I desire, or of losing what I’ve been given, guilt for not getting the work done in the time and manner I’ve decided it should be, for not fulfilling my duty to do what the world says I should when it comes to writing.

At the moment, I’ve been so mired in the early chapters, for so long, with so many life events disrupting concentration and draining energy, I’ve lost touch with the scenes that would normally pull me through the book. I have only the broadest of outlines as to what’s going to happen, and a plethora of possibilities.

All of which leaves me with nothing to rely on but Him to move me through it. And hence I’ve come back to the matter of self-discipline, and if it’s not to be that, then how do I really, practically, detail by detail turn this all over to Him, without falling into the “let go and let God” approach where I more or less drift along?  If I just relax and decide to give it to Him, how so I know He’s leading me, rather than my own lusts and desires? Shouldn’t I at least be trying to exercise self-discipline? Isn’t that only reasonable?

I think the answer’s in the middle, but I still haven’t really figured out how it looks in my particular life. Which is the essence of this long cycle of learning that I’ve been going through and setting down in various posts here on my blog.

Because more and more I’m thinking that maybe all I need to do is just stop thinking about me and my self-discipline and focus on the fact that He’s promised to do it, promised to make all grace abound to me so I’ve have sufficiency in everything and an abundance for every good work… and then just trust Him to do it.

Yes, I’m pretty sure I’ve said that already. But I’m a stupid sheep. I need to hear it again. Write it again. Focus on it again… Daily. Maybe hourly.

Update: I wrote and titled this post this morning, and did most of my editing on it then. This evening, when I turned on Bible Class, live from Deerfield Beach, Florida, Pastor John announced that tonight’s class was titled, Abraham Teaches us the Importance of Time for Personal Growth.”  How cool is that?

Journal Entries – Part 5: Leaving the Details

continuing from 5 November, Saturday 2011

I’ve been taking a bit of a thought trip in my journal, and setting down some elements  of that journey here on the blog. Previously I posed some questions as to what I’m supposed to do, what my attitude is supposed to be. Should I not have a routine? Should I not make and keep self-appointments to write? Or have them, but have flexibility when they’re broken? Give myself grace and keep trying?

God’s been answering those questions largely from the message given by Pastor John Farley of Lighthouse Bible Church on Thursday, 3 November 2011. You can listen to it here.

I’ve noted in the last three posts some of the principles in that message and my thoughts about them. In the course of his teaching, Pastor John noted that we shouldn’t be the same person we were two years ago. So I had the thought to look in my journal from two years ago on this same day, and got down the volume from what I thought was the right time frame, but turned out to be from November 2008 — not two but three years ago. I opened the book to where I thought would be near Nov 5 and hit on Monday, November 10 where, in large letters, centered near the top of the page I read:

Leaving the details may be a huge step of faith!

WHAT?!!!!

 This was from a message taught at Grace Bible Church by Pastor Joe Sugrue back in 2008. I could not believe my eyes. Here is some elaboration:

“I am to leave all the details to Him, claim the life of peace and freedom that IS mine. Leaving the details my be a huge step of faith. Follow Him, draw near to Him andwatch Him fill in the blanks.  He wants to do that. He doesn’t want us out searching for answers.

“Stop being distracted, come follow me. Let go of your life, follow Me and let Me fill in the blanks. Do you really, really trust Me?”

 “When the details are going bad, rough, we get entangled. We think, ‘I’ll use my power to fix them.’ (In fact the world is constantly telling us we must fix them and how to use our power to do so). No. Let Him. There’s a purpose in it all: to train you not to get entangled.”

There were various references to the fact that I have a calling on my life and part of that is to write the book I am now writing (though at the time, three years ago, that book was The Enclave.)

Three years ago, and the same subject. Pretty much the same conclusion, but this time I have a little more experience at trying this and failing, at having been dragged back into the details repeatedly. In fact, even in what I wrote three years ago I saw the seeds of me trying to do stuff again, telling myself how I needed to cut out Internet, this distraction, that one. The thing I’ve learned is, not all the things I think in my planning  are distractions actually are. And me cutting them out, is me doing it, once again. Not trusting Him to fill in the blanks.

It may be that God will cut certain things out, but this time around through this subject I’m realizing that the main calling on my life is not simply to “write this book”, no, it’s to grow in grace and knowledge of Him. It’s to grow ever closer to the True Vine, to abide in Him, and let Him… well, take care of the details.