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Grace and the Wild Goose

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The State of Grace

When I first came back to a relationship with God through Christ. I was told that mercy was NOT getting what you deserve, and grace was getting what you don’t deserve. That definition worked for me for a time.

Ultimately, two different mentors of mine pointed out that Grace can’t be undeserved favor because Jesus deserved it. Christ’s death in substitution for us means that we inherit all that was coming to him. We can boldly go before the throne. God is relentless in his pursuit of us and in us God is well pleased. It can be a hard pill to swallow

I now see Grace as a state of being, in which we are free to try things and fail at them. Since its a given that I’m falling short of God’s glory, the only thing that matters is that I’m connected to God as a source of everything good. The process of being connected both obliterates my shortfall but also provides the vehicle for improvement. (2 Cor. 3:18).

Graham Cooke points out that God doesn’t see what’s wrong with us since we are in Christ, he sees what’s missing. He’s seeing awesome journeys that we’re going to take with him.

The Wild Goose

The Celtic Christians are known to have called the Holy Spirit a wild goose. It makes a wild goose chase takes on a different meaning, eh? In fact, even though our concept of a wild goose chase has a negative connotation, I firmly believe that we’re supposed to take them. Often!

In his amazing book, “The Rainforest Strategy,” Mike Q. Pink speaks of spontaneous wealth. He means that some of the best ideas we’re going to have will come in a flash of brilliance. I’ve had dozens of transcendent thoughts that I didn’t have time to do anything with. Worry, fear or just plain being busy have stolen countless brilliance from me that might have transformed my life. (Matt. 18:2-4)

How many times have I gone to God and said, “why don’t you just give me an answer to problem X?” I truth, he probably gave me the answer a week before but I wasn’t in a place to pay attention.

That’s why I Started Blogging

The real reason for doing more with this blog is to shorten the cycle of blessing. I want to have a direct path of good things from God to others. I want to receive all the abundance God wants to give me and do something with it. In the process, I will be transformed.

What I’ve learned is that God is truly generous in his outpouring and relentless in his pursuits. If you feel like you lack the resources to do something or you desperately want a different circumstance the answer is deceptively simple.

Everything good comes from God and nothing good exists that didn’t come from God. (James 1:17)

2 Corinthians 3:18 paints a pretty good picture of life when you’ve come out from under the law. What if it’s not just the religious law that sin is death. What if it’s everything we consider to be a rational truth?

What if ‘last place’ is really ‘first place’? What if you have to give away your life to find it? What if stillness (rest) is the way to accomplish more than running faster or working harder?

What if hitting every red light is the best way to drive to work today?

What if the lawn mower broke because you don’t need to mow?

What if the best thing you did today is the genuine smile you gave your barista?

What if the person who annoys you most thinks you’re their best friend?

What if we aren’t qualified to know what we ought to be working on today? What if all the urgent things you must do today aren’t worth you’re time at all? What if the best use of your time today is a wild goose chase?

Personal Culture: The Journeys to Improved Self and Life

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Personal Culture: The Journeys to Improved Self and Life

I consider myself an adventure writer on the path of the Postmodern Cleric. I define “a cleric” as a person who pursues wisdom by adventuring with God, and sharing what he/she learns to help others. Writing is my way of sharing what I learn.

I know postmodern is a loaded term these days, but I simply mean the pursuit of effective ways of living based on wisdom.

Wisdom is simply the ability to apply knowledge effectively.

When I look around me, I see tired people running as fast as they can in the hopes of catching a break. We’re all busy. It’s not a wise way to live and I think technology has been a blessing and a curse contributing to our inability to slow down because we don’t use it well. But technology is just one aspect of our modern lifestyle. We need to take a look at what I call our personal culture and decide if the life we’re living is the best it could be.

Lifestyle design is all the rage these days but I’m advocating something a little different with personal culture. In addition to working on the areas that create dissatisfaction, we need a changed perspective about our lives. We must view our lives as an adventure with God, and the problems we face as opportunities to learn and grow.

If you feel like you’re playing whack-a-mole with life’s emergencies just to survive the good news is that there’s a way through it. One deep problem can cause a multitude of symptoms which leaves us treating an endless list of issues. The opportunity here is to dive deep on a few crucial battles and actually correct several problems with the one effort.

I call them journey’s and here’s a list of my current journeys.

Lifestyle design does make sense, we used to all have the same definition of the American dream but we’ve had a mega-shift in the last thirty years (ending the industrial revolution) and we need a new map to success. We now need a more individual/personal definition of success. Hence the question, what do you really want your lifestyle to be like?

The big difference between lifestyle design, which is what most of the ‘Gurus’ out there are touting, and personal culture through journeys is that we are taking the journey from outside in–not living our lives outside in.

Inside out life is choosing our actions based on our unique identity and living the results. Outside in life is letting our circumstances dictate our actions. Anytime we look at how our life is and how we wish it were and then make a list of actions that we think will move us toward that lifestyle we’re living from outside in. Anytime we’re living outside in we’re reactive to the tyranny of a thousand urgent things that come up. There’s no way to focus hard enough on achieving an external goal without losing focus on something else that’s equally important to you.

Most people who achieved wild success in one area of life sacrificed another area. This is the group most of the gurus below too.

  • Join us on the minimalist farm surrounded by friends, homeschooling our kids, growing healthy food (we won’t mention that we owe the IRS and can’t afford to take our kids to the doctor.)
  • Learn how I made my first million before age 30, (nevermind my 3 divorces and 6 kids I never see.)
  • Learn how my husband and I paid off all our debt including our house in ten years (it just gave me diabetes and my husband heart disease.)

There are people who seem to have it all, but they didn’t do it by picking 12 goals and pushing day and night on all of them. They did it by discovering the single, authentic thread that connects their passions–that grand adventure which produced results in multiple areas of life through effort mainly on it.

Journeys (See also)

Journey–A mini-adventure to remove a constraint to the flow of good things from God through us to our unique audience. The Key here is that you’re doing it with God.

It’s going to seem like I’m completely reversing myself with this next part, but there’s a subtle yet important distinction between lifestyle design and taking journeys.

In order to discover our authentic path we need to take some journeys to explore some of the problems we notice in our life. So we are looking at the things in your life that you’re dissatisfied with and planning your pursuit of a solution.

I realize that I’ve been shouting from the rooftop not to use your circumstances to determine your actions and that’s true for how you live your life. What I’m saying is to prayerfully consider the areas of your life that aren’t reflecting the abundance God promised you and then sitting with God to ponder what the two of you are going to do about it.

sand-3325309_1920When you take a journey it’s experiential learning. When you learned to ride a bike you learned how to avoid falling down. You also lost some of your fear of falling down. You can gain several lessons from a simple skill building exercise. So how much can you learn by having God mentor you through an effort to move cities, lose weight, change jobs, or write a book?

What’s important here isn’t whether or not you succeed at any of the goals, it’s what the journey reveals about your authentic self, how God wants to relate to you and learning to see yourself through his eyes. A single journey could take years. Expect to fail several times along the way because any journey worth taking will reveal the deep issues holding you back.

Consider this: Every smoker has been told that cigarettes harm your body. They choose to smoke despite believing that it’s not good for them. If you loved yourself perfectly would you tolerate a habit that harms you? If you quit smoking do you think it might uncover a place in you where you don’t really love yourself?

I’m not trying to pick on smokers here. We all have self-destructive habits. Mine is unhealthy eating. At this point it’s not even about being physically fit anymore, I’m just angry that there’s someplace in my soul I hold God out of because if I let him in, his love would heal it. Why can’t I receive that healing? I don’t know yet, but I’m on a journey to find out.

The disease is always not receiving God’s love and accepting who he says we are. We’ve been masking the symptoms (or living with them), our whole lives. It’s time to pressure the symptoms until our flesh cries out at the place of brokenness.

We aren’t just looking for heart wounds when we journey. It can also reveal our adventure or our battle. It can repair our understanding of relationships with other people. It can reveal our true life’s calling. All these things come when we address the issues in our lives in relationship with God, instead of trying to fix the problems ourselves.

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4 Types of Journey

Heal a Wound:

In his groundbreaking book, “Wild at Heart” John Eldredge covers this topic far better than I can hope to reproduce. This is the single toughest topic for men to take on and it requires a level of vulnerability with yourself and God that is foreign to all but the most courageous of men.

In short, the words and actions of those we look up to as we’re growing up can place a mark on how we see ourselves, other human beings and God. Unless or until this shattering is healed a man walks through life broken hearted and unable to receive the full abundance God designed for him.

Gain Understanding:

Again from the book, “Wild at Heart,” there is always a lie that accompanies a wound. We get the wrong idea about the critical things in life. The message of the wound is that you, personally are unacceptable. It may be more subtle, like “you are a mistake,” “screw-up,” “a failure,” and so on, but it all adds up to be something we hate to hear and embrace. Some men live to prove that lie is false and others surrender to it, but either way, it becomes the defining reality that you accept about yourself.

The reality is that in Christ we are acceptable. When being justified and restored to relationship with God becomes the defining thing in our lives we can accept God’s larger-than-life opinion of who we are. We can walk forward with a whole heart. Even if you accept that this is true, it can take a journey to make this truth a part of your DNA.

Battle for Freedom:  (from addiction/etc.)

When wounds aren’t healed for a long time they become encased in scar tissue. We’ll call it the flesh. We achieve a state that’s no longer bleeding but not yet repaired. We treat the pain of wounded place by not looking at it, ever, under any circumstances. The pain of the wound continues and we’ll do anything to treat the pain–short of healing the wound.

It leads to chemical addiction, eating disorders, porn addictions, rage fits, and so on. Battling something in your life that you’ve learned to live with can expose a deep wound but it also creates lasting victory. When you dry out a drunk using a process like alcoholics anonymous you get someone who’s potentially less destructive to themselves and their world but still an alcoholic. They often relapse repeatedly or exchange one addiction for another. If you journey to the source of the addiction you can have a lasting victory.

Clarify your Identity/Relationship with God:

There’s something unique about every single human being. It’s the goal of your enemy to convince you that what sets you apart is actually what makes you a freak and unable to have deep relationships with others and God. It takes vulnerability to be in a relationship and if you see your superpowers and mutations you’ll pull back from offering your uniqueness to others. You’re left feeling rejected for the very things only you can contribute to the community around you.

We must take our identity from who God says we are because we’re built in his image. That means cultivating a trust in him because he’s going to have a vision of you that’s more glorious that we’re ready to accept. It takes a journey to remove the color-distorting glasses we’ve worn our whole lives and stand unapologetically in our full magnitude.

Primacy Back Matter

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Primacy Back Matter

Where we acknowledge those who’ve helped and provide additional resources to help you put this information to good use.

Glossary of Terms & Unique Definitions

Cleric– A person who pursues wisdom by adventuring with God, and sharing what he/she learns to help others.

Cleric Path–Living life in pursuit of wisdom & abundance instead of busyness through living inside out (an open flow of good things from God that transforms us and that we then share with our audience in our unique way.)

Community–has two levels; audience and Fellowship

Our Audience–the community of people we can minister to because of our unique expression of God’s glory into the world (requires healthy boundaries).

Fellowship/Rescue–Every man has people he needs to rely on and people he needs to come through for. We’re built to live in relationship, and the two key partnerships are spouse & family, and fellowship community of other men (our band of brothers). These are covenant relationships and require a deeper level of intimacy, vulnerability, and interdependence than other relationships.

Battle–There are two levels of battle; our personal daily struggle and the larger battle of our lives.

Daily Struggle–The enemy is the prince of the air. His goal is for us to agree with his interpretation of our circumstances and be so distracted that we live from outside in (our circumstances dictating actions instead of our standing.) Every day we must deliberately elevate our standing in Christ over the demands of the world (live inside out.)

Our Battle–Each man has a battle to fight that is his uniquely. It’s set against him and his war against it sets others free. (Mine is against busyness/overwhelm/fatigue.)

Adventure–Each man has an adventure with God. It’s a desire in his heart that he takes on with God at his side. (Mine is to the Cleric Path, learning how to receive Good, grow from it, and share it with my audience.)

Journey–A mini-adventure to remove a constraint to the flow of good things from God through us to our unique audience.

4 Streams–Healing, Counseling, Spiritual Warfare, Walking with God (constraints tend to be in one or more of these areas)

4 Types of Journey–Heal a wound, Gain Understanding, Battle for Freedom (from addiction/etc.), Clarify your Identity/Relationship with God

Constraint Theory–a system of management based on fluid dynamics pioneered by Eli Goldratt in which the output of a system is limited to the smallest throughput. It has inspired me because the Cleric Path is a flow of Good things from God to others through each Christian. Therefore, if I’m not having the abundant life I want and that God wants for me, then I have constraints in me I’m unaware of.

4 Major Types of Constraints (in a human life)–a Wounded in your Heart, a Confusion (about how things work or what it is), an addiction (physical and numbing pain instead of processing it with God), OR Doubting the Heart of God for you/doubting who you are in Christ.

 

Appendix A Humility: The Secret to Accelerated Learning

Appendix B The First Battle

Appendix C The Daily Battle

Thanks to All our Editors/Contributors

I’d like to thank Greg Zschomler for the prayer/encouragement & his awesome editing skills. Without him, this book wouldn’t exist.

My beautiful wife Kristin and my daughter Olivia have lived without me on many occasions so that I had time to work on this project. Their sacrifice amazes me.

 

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Expected update 4/23/2018

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Primacy Chapter 10

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Christians, I think, might fall into three big categories.

  1. Cultural Christians, who were raised that way and prefer to maintain that general philosophy to seeking their own path. They don’t see religion as urgently beneficial so they don’t engage with it.
  2. Religious Christians, who engage with their faith walk as a group endeavor; they attend church and small group, etc. –maybe even read the Bible for themselves as part of a study.
  3. Non-institutional Christians who are actually pursuing a personal relationship with God; who are turned off by formal religion so they constantly searching out resources to expand their study.

If you fall into category one, I’d like to point out that “not engaging” is a fancy way of saying “running from.” What would William Wallace say? “Run, and you’ll live, fight and you may die. But one day, as you lay dying in your bed, you’d give everything for one chance, just one chance, to come back here…” Apathy is just a passive-aggressive form of cowardice, and cowards are slaves.

If you fall into category two, enjoy the resources available to you. Know that if the people your sitting next to each week aren’t annoying you, you’re probably not doing it right. Avoid the temptation to find your safety in policy manuals, the latest techniques, and official doctrines. Invite God to be bigger and more personal than He is to you right now.

If you fall into category three, you aren’t alone. I love my church family but it’s my personal relationship with God that feeds my heart. We do need to engage with others in person and through reading ancient masters-though I’ve yet to find a verse that truly says we must attend a weekly church service. Without a professional class of pastor, you’re probably desperate for resources. I wrote this book to speak to the most important thing we must grasp if we’re to be mentored directly by God.

The Most Important Thing

the-pilgrims-trail-2441192_1280One of the goals in writing this book was to take the reader on a journey through what God’s sovereignty really means. It’s not a popular topic these days and hasn’t had a close examination in the last few decades.

Simply put, God’s sovereignty means God is bigger than we can imagine.  We must allow God to be big and to be in charge in our lives.

It sounds crazy, but the God who can do anything regularly limits His interaction with you to what He knows you can handle because you’ll simply reject anything that doesn’t seem comfortable or familiar. Well, the only way to go deeper, to have true abundance in our lives, is to throw off the shackles of our own understanding and let God be God.

For Example:

Say you want to conquer anxiety. We all experience a ridiculous amount of fear based on things that may or may not happen. Like so many things in life, fear has a place. If you’re climbing a cliff and you look down, a healthy respect for what will happen if you screw up should work to keep you focused on the task at hand.

sea-2224418_1280However, most of us are actually looking into the future and imagining what could go wrong. If you were God and someone did that, wouldn’t you be a little put-off? Like the conversation between God and I in the last chapter: If I really believe that God already has a plan in my circumstances and He loves me enough to give His life for me, then why am I stressing over how things are going to work out? Because I’m uninitiated.

Initiation a process and I’m still on that path. What I mean is that I don’t really know that I have what it takes. It’s common with men. Masculinity is bestowed on young men by their fathers. Our dad was great, but he sheltered me instead of helping me learn that I am prepared for what life will throw at me. “Wild at Heart” really helped me understand what was missing and turn to God to take over fathering me.

But the Promised Land is a Whole Other Level

But if we simplify it even more, my anxiety comes from doubting that God will come through for me. The Promised Land is a place I can’t go in my own strength. Part one is the miracle of leaving slavery. God delivers us from that through Christ’s sacrifice, which restores us to a place of intimate connection with God. Now I need Him to transform me into someone able to receive what He wants to give me.

Satan will constantly remind me of times that things in my life didn’t go perfectly as examples of God letting me down. I have a three-step process to combat these lies:

  1. Realize that I’m not qualified to know what went wrong or right from God’s perspective.
  2. Short-circuit the enemy by deciding that God is sovereign in my life and allowed to treat me any way He wants. (Fear not–He is Good!)
  3. Most importantly, take those memories to God and talk through them. Often, I’ll realize I’m glad it happened the way it did–eventually.

There’s a lot of potential for condemnation in how people fight these concerns in their own power even though the above methods are true and will work. The above methods are better for those who’ve been walking with God long enough to have begun to trust him.

The Beginners Method

If you’re still young in your walk with the Lord then this is a better way to think of it:

To whatever degree you do things that harm you, that’s the degree and place where you hate yourself.

I know, I know, you were hoping for a less condemning method, but follow along for a minute. If you believe God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present, then you must accept that He sees you clearly. If you believe that God IS love, then you must accept that He loves you. So the degree to which God’s image of you and your reality differ is the degree to which you don’t like yourself. The places you don’t receive His love are the places you’re holding His love at bay–either from wounding to your heart or demonic agreements about your identity.

God values you perfectly—enough to die for you. If you saw yourself from His eyes could you smoke? Could you overeat? Could you cheat on your spouse or drink until you puke?

I know we all sin, compulsively, but the only way to heal those things is to abandon your own thinking and accept God’s viewpoint. This is the heart of everything we’ve been talking about so far. If you don’t learn to trust God, how can you possibly accept His version of you? Without bringing His love and vision into your wounds how do you heal?

 

Understanding Our Predicament

So, what if the scary situation you are in is engineered by God because He knows how He built you? He knows you’re equipped to do it and He will do it with you so you can’t fail? And even if you do fail he can redeem it retroactively.

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There’s an awesome book called The Genesis Process that goes into this concept deeply. They call it the classic double-bind:

  • Addicts keep going back to their drug of choice.
  • Before that, they’re trying to resist but too tired to do so.
  • Before that, they’re angry because nothing’s working.
  • Before that, they’re super busy trying to outrun their feelings.
  • Before that, they’re afraid of making a decision.
  • And at the start of their relapse they’re simply faced with a decision that doesn’t have a good answer.

The authors call it the RFASTER scale. You can literally track where you’re at by how you’re feeling. You can ‘jump off the scale’ in a moment if you can identify the not-winnable decision and choose either option. God will fix it no matter what you choose, but generally, the right option is the one that builds your relationship with God or another person.

Which is worse, having a tough conversation with a spouse (who might leave you), or falling off the wagon? Drink that chocolate shake, or tell your boss (who could fire you) that you screwed up?

nature-3367316_1280The outcomes of living honestly and fearlessly in the image of God are often hard to live with. But your option is to continue to stick your head in the sand, hoping your situation resolves itself.

On the bright side, the penalties of God’s restored image in you are generally in places we’ve been mishandling for years. Seriously, when you change for the better the people who hate you seldom stop, and many of your “friends” will abandon you. But living a lie is exhausting and eventually, it’ll catch up with you in other ways.

Regardless of what type of Christianity you grew up in (1, 2, or 3) or are choosing to live now, the path of the Postmodern Cleric is about an authentic relationship with God and is the only path to abundance. When we bring God’s power over our identity we can become effective. We can achieve a breakthrough in areas where we have been a slave for decades.

So there you have it!

Your Promised Land will be a place of abiding. But we exist in a paradoxical state with a Spirit made alive through Christ’s death on the Cross and a body that’s dying from the moment it’s born. Trapped between the two is the battlefield of the Soul.

Our soul is broken and will not mend completely in this lifetime, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have more abundance. It’s about existing in a state of abiding, which is a topic for the next book, but don’t be discouraged if you only enter your Promised Land and then have to leave again. God arranges moments of perfection in this world, but learning to inhabit that land is a process.

The Paradox is Hell:

  • Are we to try for more in life? Do we want to pursue our purpose? Yes!
  • Are we to accept our lot in life, physical, mental, emotional wounds, economic challenges, relationship status and glorify God even when we can’t see how it will ever get better? Yes!

In order to survive that level of paradox, we must partner with God in making it all about Him.

  • Don’t let risk or fear make your decisions for you–ask for God’s will.
  • Don’t let pain distract you–declare God’s goodness.
  • Don’t let your situation interpret how God feels about you–ask Him how he feels about you and trust in His answers.

When God puts something on your list, do it. Actively seek his guidance but if He’s silent move out in faith because you’re not able to screw up so bad He can’t fix it. Nothing in life is more important than your connection with God, which is something you can’t lose. It is something around which you can stumble and not experience simply because you’ve never been told that it’s yours for the taking.

Think about the name, “Promised Land.” You can’t earn a gift, but you can reject a gift. You can’t make your Promised Land happen because it’s a gift through Christ. BUT your dependency doesn’t diminish after you receive it. God wants to give it to you and then live in it with you.

You can’t enter your Promised Land without knowing who he designed you to be, which is my topic for next book. But first remember, the only way to know who you are authentically is to draw intimately close to the one whose image you bear. That’s the Primacy of God, the Path of the Post-modern Cleric, and the key to abundance.

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Primacy Chapter 9

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I want to get to techniques I’ve used in my life to create the habit of putting God first. But as I ponder the topic I realize, as handy as they are, life’s not about techniques. I need to cover one piece of philosophy first, to put it in context and then expand our definition a bit.

First, the philosophy bit.

Every adventure in our lives is about deepening our connection to God. In the context of adventure, hardship is simply part of the escalating dramatic action.

If you woke up in a story instead of a life, what type of story would it be? A comedy? A tragedy? A romance? It’s all of the above and your story is actually one vital chapter in the story God is telling.

I know that statement can cause a deflated feeling depending on your perspective when you read it. I’ve often been annoyed by folks insisting that I’m not the hero of my own story. I’m not really saying that. God’s a big enough superhero that he surrounds himself with heroes. But you can read all about this in the awesome book “Wild at Heart.”

My point here is that your adventures, hardships, celebrations, and sorrows have only one point, and that’s to connect you intimately with God.

In paradise, we operated in a state of innocence. Our mistakes could be viewed by God the way we view a toddler who falls while learning to walk. But mankind left the intimate walk we had with God when sin entered the Garden of Eden. Sin separated us. One day we’ll be reunited, but Christ’s heroic sacrifice created an atmosphere of GRACE.  God can from now on ignore the separation and work with us as if it never happened.

Yet, somehow, it’s surprising that a God who’s suffered a terrible separation from us would focus on reconnecting.

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Here’s a typical conversation between God and I:

Sir Bunch: “Dad, you know I just lost one of my jobs. What am I to replace it with?”
God: “Have you tried the new almond M&Ms?”
Sir Bunch: “Once, I think. I need you to focus on what I’m struggling with. I’ll need to start working soon or I can’t provide for my family.”
God: “Since you have the day off, why don’t you buy some M&Ms and go to the park?”
Sir Bunch: “God I don’t really have the day off, I’m out of work. I’m really stressing here.”
God: “Why are you stressing?”
Sir Bunch: “Because I don’t have a job!”
God: “And you want me to help because you believe I’m powerful enough to help?”
Sir Bunch: “Yes.”
God: “Do you believe that I love you enough to give my son’s life in exchange for yours?”
Sir Bunch: “Yes, of course.”
God: “Do you believe I already have a plan to help you?”
Sir Bunch: “Well, I guess I do.”
God: “Would you like to hear it?”
Sir Bunch: “Very much.”
God: “Then come eat M&M’s in the park with me today.”

And so on. God doesn’t stress over our “problems” and neither should we. The story Jesus gave us on the topic is the Prodigal Son. God is saying, “Yes you screwed up, I want you back more than I want to be angry about it.”

Expanded Definition

With that context in mind, we need to expand our definition of what it means to put Him first. We need to think of all the places in our lives that He can be elevated–and that’s in every area.

Anything that can be managed, like money, time, energy, relationships, a household, a business, and so on. We can sit down with a pen and paper and brainstorm ways to subjugate those things to God. It’s a fun exercise.

What would it look like to put God first in your money? This gets a lot of talk time in many churches because of tithing. I’m going to suggest that whether you start with money, or time, or your marriage, or whatever, something will come against that decision instantly. So pick an area that you can handle getting emotionally hammered.

money-2724245_1920Let God guide you in choosing your battles. Let God guide you in what and how to be faithful there. Maybe it’s not 10% of your money to start. Maybe it’s 5% and the challenge isn’t setting it aside, it’s finding the right place to give it. What do you do when God tells you to give 5% of your paycheck to that homeless person on the side of the road? Would that be a place you and God would need to have a discussion? Would that conversation probably bring you closer to God? That’s the whole goal of life. Nothing is more important than drawing closer to God. NOTHING!

Drawing Closer vs Experiencing God

That’s not to be confused with experiencing his presence. I’m a big fan of soaking in God’s presence, but just because you aren’t feeling God at the moment doesn’t mean He’s not there. The reality is that God is everywhere. (Bill Jastram wrote a great book on this topic.)

My point, and I’ll come back to this in Chapter 10, is that God can be trusted to mentor you. He takes responsibility for your friendship. We can trust him to look after our physical needs and also to be kind when we screw up, repeatedly. He isn’t tapping His foot waiting for you to figure it out. He’s eager for you to engage in the process of growing up with Him.

So, while this book focuses on the need to put God first, and I’ll now suggest a few ways to put that into practice, I don’t want to be condemning in any way.

That’s what I see happen over and again in my own life. I figure out a way to be holier, or God reveals an awesome truth, and I’ll circle it to the exclusion of everything else (including being responsive to God). If I operate from a place of shame or try to do it in my own strength, I burn out. I need permission to not be perfect yet in order to grow toward it. (2 Cor. 3:18)

Grace is a State we Abide in

I do this because I struggle to accept that God created Grace so that He’s free to interact with me as though I haven’t screwed up, even while I’m constantly screwing up. He doesn’t make me a better man for the purpose of making me acceptable, He does it because growth is a by-product of relationship with Him and we both want me to grow.

“Grace isn’t undeserved favor because Jesus isn’t undeserving.” Graham Cooke

Well-meaning Christians used to say things like, “you’re a terrible sinner who’ll never be free from needing God’s forgiveness. You should become better, but you’ll never become perfect.”

As true as it technically is, I prefer God’s way of stating it. I’m going to transform you from glory to glory. You’re going to go from needing grace to needing grace. Yes! But along the way, we get to journey with God. The focus is not on me improving, it’s about me being with God and doing something–together.

The Recklessness of Grace

Here’s the crazy extent to which God has taken this with me. I once complained about my progress and He said I wasn’t qualified to judge myself. Really? Yes. I’m not in a position to even know how good I’m doing.

The Bible says we don’t even know what to pray (Romans 8:26). I think this is in reference to the same issue. We often pray for release from a circumstance engineered by God to bless us. We stand in judgment of the world around us and are often hardest on those who fail right in the same place we struggle, yet God says we’re not qualified to judge.

This blew my mind (you can probably tell). I can spend a good amount of my days feeling bad about what I don’t get done. Feeling powerless. Repeating mistakes. Then God says, “if you saw you through my eyes you’d be very impressed.”

Well, there’s a couple reasons for that. Chiefly, that He sees us in Christ, so the sin is erased and what remains is immaturity.

We throw tantrums because we don’t get our way when that’d be the worst thing for us. God doesn’t get angry when we fall down because we’re just learning to walk. He doesn’t see what’s wrong, only what’s missing.

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Ways to Put God First

Now I’m going to list some ways to put God first, but please swear to me you won’t make a religion out of these. This isn’t a list to get through, it’s a list of potential ideas to inspire you to make your own list. When you make your list don’t make a religion out of that either. And don’t condemn yourself when you fail at any of this, you’re not capable of knowing what you actually accomplished or not.

Starting with Biblical ideas:

  • Old Testament law required 1/10th of your increase and 1/7th of your time.
  • Micah 6:8 suggests that you “Do justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly…”
  • Ephesians 6:10-18 recommends “putting on the whole armor of God…”
  • Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus put it as “loving God above all and your neighbor as yourself.”

Ways I’ve tried to put God 1st:

  1. There’s a First 5 movement. I haven’t taken part in a formal first 5 group challenge, but I follow the basic premise of praying the moment you wake up. I love the half-awake state of mind when you can just snuggle in and listen to God. It helps to ponder something with God right before going to sleep and pray that you’ll dream about it. (I have to say the downside was that I generally need to pee within a few minutes of waking.)
  2. Writing Morning Pages. I’ve tried a dozen times to be a journal keeper, but I never stuck with it. If you get a chance to read the book, “The Artists Way.” Julia Cameron describes free-writing three pages every morning to clear your mind and gain focus. She’s not writing a Christian targeted book and she’s ascribing magical properties to the simple process of journaling, but I’ve really enjoyed making this “decluttering process” part of my morning with God.
  3. Ponder Walking is my own invention (if you can call it that). It’s literally walking with God. Whenever I hit a roadblock of any nature I leave what I’m doing and walk around the parking lot or neighborhood and have a conversation with God. The goal is to consult God before attempting to resolve my problems.
  4. Fasting, or go on a radical diet or workout routine. I recommend the “Virgin Diet.” It eliminates everything.

Fasting? Really?

The point of fasting is to two-fold. First, by not eating put your body back in its place. Our bodies tend to be like a toddler, it wants what it wants and demands it until we give in or give it a firm, NO! By simply denying your hunger for a set amount of time you declare to your body that it’s not in charge–that the spirit is more important. That you don’t live by bread alone, but by your walk with God.

The second reason to fast is to remove distractions. You can fast from anything. TV is a good one, especially the news.

Idle chit-chat is another. You don’t have to take a vow of silence; you can simply decide to answer truthfully to any question you decide to answer. In that way, you avoid small talk and sponsor actual conversations with people. It will also annoy people but hey, you’re probably already annoying someone, it’s not the end of the world.sea-2777839_1920

I recommend fasting from gossip. God hates gossip because it means you see a problem, and instead of helping you just talk about it to someone else that isn’t going to help.

My favorite fast is not feed myself for a day. Basically, I won’t bring food with me, ask for it, or turn it down. If God wants food in my belly then He will provide it. This is a crazy good way to foster your relationship with God no matter what happens.

Another type of fast is to take on something you aren’t sure you can do. Men, in particular, will stick to things they’re good at. So do something you’d like to do at which you may very well fail. Try to write a book in a month. Try to run a marathon. Try to learn a foreign language. Get up an hour early every day and write letters to people you haven’t spoken to in a long time. Tell them God loves them or just offer encouragement.

D.A.w.G. Days (Day Alone with God)–This is a great one. Take a day and go out into the wilderness with God. Read the scriptures, journal, pray. That’s it. Here’s a link to good information on the topic from Boot Camp NW.

Well, there you have it. A short list. My list. There’s a lot more you could do if you think about it. Be sure to contact me through my website (https://sirbunch.com/) and let me know if you try these or think of a new one.

 

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Primacy Chapter 8

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How Does God See Me?

As we move closer to our identity the question will become, “How does God see me?” That’s a great question and should become the basis for our actions going forward, but the first two questions discovered here in Primacy don’t go away. We must answer them repeatedly to stay on track for an abundant life.

Question #1 is: Can I really trust God? As I pointed out before, there’s the intellectual answer, “I’m a Christian, of course I trust God.” AND there’s the wholehearted answer:

“I believe he’s all-powerful. I believe His grace is sufficient to overcome my sin. I believe God desires a relationship with me so much that He let his son live the way I couldn’t and then die in my place so that He can ignore what’s wrong with me. I believe that He wants to spend the rest of my life training me to live in my new life. I really believe that He doesn’t even see what’s wrong with me, only what’s missing, and He only wants to heal me.”

Question #2 is: What is God trying to be for me in this season? That’s a crazy-sounding question, but if we accept that we are colanders and God’s grace pours through us, then we already share God with everyone in our broken state. God’s agenda for us is only that we would heal for our own sake. God’s abundance will continue to flow into us relentlessly, but we will begin to overflow with his goodness instead of just leaking it out. We get more experience of him as we are transformed from glory to glory. So in each season, God gently nudges us toward healing.

Man in Three Parts

We exist on three levels, Spirit, Soul, and Body. I go a lot more into this topic in my book, “On Becoming a Man.” I’ll also go into it a lot more in the upcoming book, “Walking the Path of the Postmodern Cleric.” In short, our spirit communes with God and drinks in the fullness of his Grace, but our soul is our willpower, emotions, and intelligence. It’s the level of our self-concept.cube-2375281_1920

We often think of our soul as the deepest thing about us but that’s not true of the saved man or woman. It was true when our Spirit was dead (severed from God by sin). Back then our soul was the deepest thing about us, and we lived according to our own understanding of right and wrong.

While fallen, we became deeply wounded by the words and deeds of others. We built an identity for ourselves that worships our own intelligence or feels inferior to everyone because of our failures. Our daily actions were based on our scar tissue (experience) instead of real wisdom.

But as saved/born again/redeemed children of God our Spirit is restored. God has a spirit, yes, but so do we.

Our fallen nature/separation from God plays out a little differently on each level of our being. (To get a better explanation of this consider Psalms 32:5)

  • Sin
  • Iniquity
  • Transgression

Definitions of Sin include:

  • Galatians 5:17 Doing the opposite of what’s right.
  • Proverbs 24: 33-34 Doing what turns out to be wrong.
  • James 4:17 Failing to do what you know is right.
  • Exodus 10:16 Sin against another person, not just God.
  • Romans 3:23 Ultimately it’s just falling short of God’s Glory.

Transgression is:

Transgression can be thought of as willful trespass. There’s a decision to do wrong. Still, we could have a reason. We can disobey an authority we believe has ordered us to do something immoral. We are deliberately in violation, but not necessarily trying to be evil. Like running a stop sign in a parking lot when there is no other car around to be harmed.

Then there’s Iniquity!

When David plotted to kill Uriah the Hittite in order to take his wife, the Bible describes this as iniquity. David calls it that himself when he writes his prayer of repentance (Psalm 51:2). He indulged in his lust for a woman married to a friend, plotted the man’s death, (it took two tries to make it happen) then he takes her as his own and doesn’t even repent it until he’s called out for it all by a prophet. That’s a whole chain of wrong!

A Symptom of Separation

Sin, for all the hype, isn’t even the deepest crime against God; it’s just a symptom. One reason the scriptures might make this distinction is that the problems occur at different levels.

Ask the world about levels of sin and you’ll get distinctions like it’s worse to do something that hurts another person than what hurts only you. Or, it’s less sinful to envy what someone’s got than to actually steal it.

Institutional Christianity also spends a lot of energy on what I call, “sin management.” Some sins get labeled redeemable and others, like pedophilia, are so terrible that you must be put out of fellowship.

3 Levels of Sin/3 Levels of Human, Coincidence?

I think sin levels match up to the different levels of a human. I used to have ringing in my ears. I went to the doctor and he said it was just a symptom of my hypertension. He gave me pills which treated that underlying disease, but he didn’t treat the real reason I had high blood pressure. The reality is that I had a high-stress job, I didn’t sleep well, I didn’t eat well and I seldom exercised.

Sin is a physical symptom of transgression, which is rooted in not knowing who we really are. We lack identity because we aren’t connected to God. That’s the root cause of all our issues.

The deepest place in us is the place of our spiritual connection to God and, when that informs how we see ourselves, it heals our soul. Then our physical actions (level 3) improve and eventually we steer a different course in our daily lives. It seems obvious, but when you think about it–we overcome sin from the inside out.

Am I Healed or Am I Forgiven?

It always drove me crazy that Jesus never drew a line between being forgiven and being healed. But there really isn’t a distinction. If you’re connected to God by accepting His forgiveness, then you just have to learn to accept His Love in every broken place until you become complete.

The path of the postmodern cleric is about walking with God, receiving his healing forgiveness, and becoming who we are designed to be. Then we’ll have abundance in our physical reality. The last part actually becomes less important to us as the inner reality grows, which is good because until Christ returns life will always have hardships.

So, “who is God trying to be for me,” is a pivotal question to pursue daily. The physical world is going to feel more real during a lot of this process. Things like pain–whether physical or emotional–tends to snap our attention back to physical reality. But staring at a wound doesn’t heal it, nor does ignoring it. What we can do is stand before God pointing at it and crying, “Daddy fix, Daddy it hurts.” We can take everything to God.

Comparisons

Adam and Eve had everything. As long as they looked at God they felt loved. When they shifted their focus to themselves they felt inadequate and pursued pain & darkness in order to gain equality. All it did was further open their eyes to their inadequacy. So they put on fig leaves to try to cover their own shame. Compared to God they were adequate, but who cares?

When the spies of Israel entered the Promised Land, ten of them compared themselves to the giants who inhabited the land. They saw themselves as inadequate, as insects. You can’t enter the Promised Land by seeing yourself compared to others, or even compared to God.

Where the Question Reverses

You enter the Promised Land when you receive your identity from who God says you are. Two spies who entered the Promised Land carried God’s presence with them. They existed in a state of grace where the work of delivering God’s gift to them was God’s problem. They saw the bounty God was trying to give them, not the boundaries between it and them. You can’t receive abundance from Christ by staring at what stands in your way. It takes grace. It takes KNOWING that God is trying to give you something from every perceived hardship.

Genisis assures us that God made Adam in His image (male and female he made them.) We are image bearers of God. The question, “who is God trying to be for me today,” becomes “how does God see Himself in me?” Every time a broken place is healed His image in us is further restored, and hardships have a way of revealing broken places. Places we’ve tried to heal our own problems.

Respond to every situation by asking God what He’s up to. Before you even start your day, God already knows what’s on the way: try asking Him what His plan is for you. Ask from a place of confidence that He’s partnering with you on your experiences. His goal is to shrink the holes in your soul so that you can experience more of His goodness in your life.

 

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Primacy Chapter 7

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Hearing God

So much has been written lately about hearing God, or maybe it just seems like it to me. I grew up in a denomination that was founded in part by a woman with prophetic gifts, yet the ability to hear God for yourself was never discussed. I feel like it had less do with disagreeing with it doctrinally and more about culturally discouraging lay people from doing any thinking for themselves. That’s probably harsh but honestly, that’s the spirit of institutionalism that’s grown like a cancer in organized churches today.

Regardless, there’s plenty of stuff out there that can teach you ways to hear God for yourself. I’ll include a few ideas here, but I don’t want to really pump it up as a thing, because I know how stressful it can be to try to hear God. It gets built up in our minds as this spiritual gift that you either have or don’t have. Like if you can’t hear God you’re a second class Christian. I want to avoid that at all costs.

ear-1355649_1920As vital as it is that you stop having a faith journey based solely on second-hand information if you’re stressing about “hearing” God or “Prophetic” gifting, etc. then you’re missing the whole point of this book.

God is sovereign. He doesn’t pick one person to just never speak to. He doesn’t give or take away based on his opinion of you. He talks to everyone, sinner or saint. He gave dreams to Pharaoh (not a Christian). He wrote on the wall for Nebuchadnezzar (not a Christian).

Jesus, in person, dined with the IRS agents of his day, spoke to prostitutes, spoke to single non-Jewish women (which was taboo). Etc. Okay? God’s not going to single you out to be the one person He doesn’t want to communicate with.

So, ” why don’t I hear him?”

God likes to shake things up. He didn’t make eight billion people and then decide he’s only got one way to speak. He’s infinitely creative and likes to reach out to you in a way that you hear best. In fact, how God likes to communicate with you can speak to how He sees you which can be a big clue to your identity.

I’ll give you a list of things to try but go wild–use them all and anything else you can think of. Let’s start with the least controversial, and move out to the fringe.

  1. He can speak through scripture. He loves to make verses come alive, but he’ll often have other ways to get you a message.
  2. He can speak through other people. I’ve almost never had a message from other people or given a message to other people, but I know it happens.
  3. Sometimes you’ll see something and God will unpack it for you. Like a stop sign or a boulder. I know a man who looks at pictures and then God asks what that picture means to him. He writes down his answer on the back of the picture and later that day God will tell him someone who needs that message.
  4. It could a vision. I’ve had full-on visions, but not very many. A picture is worth a thousand words and sometimes God likes to fill in the blanks with a picture rather than chat at you all day.
    So I don’t get visions that establish my new doctrine to teach others, but maybe someone else does. I tend to get visions that fill in my own understanding. For example, I’ve seen Eve. I’ve seen the most beautiful woman ever, naked, and had zero attraction to her. (That’s a topic for a blog post. Back to this topic.)
  5. Sometimes God speaks through miracles. I’ve had a sickness vanish when I asked God if He was listening. I tried it again when I had the flu and it didn’t work.
    Sometimes place matters: He once told Gideon to “go down into the enemy camp,” to hear a word. Then God gave one of their enemies a dream with the answer.
  6. Which reminds me, He uses dreams. If you do find that God consistently likes to connect someplace make a practice of going there. I’ve got one friend who hears God best in the bathtub. He’s a grown man, ex-military, not prone to taking full-on baths, but…anyway he takes a lot of baths these days.
    For me, it’s driving, or hiking. Or right before I fall asleep, or when I’ve just woken up.

I honed my prophetic talents by attending a “school of prophecy.” There I learned to think about someone and then craft a prayer uniquely for them. It was amazing. I’d start to write someone a blessing and I’d hear God prompt me with information I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

This is a good time to remember that we must align our hearts with God when engaging in a prophecy. God is never condemning and often the first thing you hear about someone is so that you’ll empathize with them, not so you’ll judge them.

As Graham Cooke says, “don’t prophecy the problem. God doesn’t call out our sin, what he sees in us has no sin in it.”

Perhaps the most telling Bible story about hearing God is is when Elijah heard God in a “still, small voice.” Everyone I’ve spoken to about the topic agrees that God is seldom boisterous. The level of electronic interference, distraction, and busyness we allow in our lives these days is insane.

I’ve read recently that cell phones are increasing our stress exponentially. I read it on my cell phone.

So get out into nature, turn your phone off, and just listen.

Journaling. It sounds counter-intuitive, but God likes to look over my shoulder when I’m writing the jumbled thoughts from my brain and then comment in response. Not sure why, but if I have to do handstands to get access to the comfort, encouragement, and wisdom of God I’ll do it.

Oh! One last thing.

This is an inadequate list. I could write all day. You’re free to look up the topic and get other books about it, but honestly, it’s not about what you know.owl-3184032_1920

Don’t worry about your imagination either. God’s reality is so much bigger than your imagination. God will say things that are too good to be true, don’t weed that out. Just practice listening and expecting that God is more likely to communicate with you than your spouse is. Okay? That’s how much He wants to connect!

One last thing. 80% of what God speaks to me isn’t about other people, or his will for the future, or anything from my past. It’s about who I am. He calls me his Cleric. He calls me a righteous man. He calls me strong and wise. So stop stressing and start listening!

P.S. Perhaps the best book I’ve found on the topic of hearing God is, “Hearing God in Conversation,” by Sam Williamson. (http://beliefsoftheheart.com/)

 

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Primacy Chapter 6

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The Actual Work of Healing:

One of the best resources I’ve come across is called the “Father’s Love Letter,” (http://www.fathersloveletter.com/). It’s really good. I had a different recording speak to me along these lines, but I don’t think you’ll be able to find it. Perhaps God will provide you a unique message of your own. Maybe not a recording at all, but this is my story.

My Story:

the-body-of-water-3267908_1920The church I attended was hosting a school of prophecy by Graham Cooke. I was pretty hard up for cash but wanted to go. The guy doing AV was also recording the event so that it could be sold to participants on the final day. He paid an assistant to help at the show and I was lucky enough to be picked to help so I ended up making money and attending.

It was a great event and at the end, the A/V guy pulled me aside and said he felt lead to give me a recording from an event that Graham had spoken at earlier that year. He made me promise if he gave it to me free I’d listen to it. I promised I would, and I did.

I listened to that recording, repeatedly. I decided I’d listen to it every night for a month so that it would become a part of me. I ended up listening to it every night for a year.

I’m not a personality type who does that. I’ve seen a couple movies more than once, but mainly I do not redo things. [Friends have asked if I reread a book because I could quote a line from it and even know what chapter it came from, and I always say the same thing, “I’m a slow reader and the more I like something the more I take my time with it. So I generally don’t need to reread something to be able to quote it any time in the next couple years.”]

I was obsessed with this recording, and I’d never heard anything like it. Graham spoke prophetically over the audience of that event while music played in the background. I’d done some “soaking” in God’s presence to worship music before, but this is the first and only time I heard someone speak God’s heart while I’m in such a state of worship.

I can’t explain why it worked so powerfully on me, but God knew it was the exact thing that would reach me.

I’ll discuss hearing God in more depth in the next chapter, but if you’re from a more conservative background (which I was) don’t be scared off by words like Prophecy. It just means hearing God on someone else’s behalf.

Prophesy: It just means hearing God on someone else’s behalf.

See God is very relational, so he likes to give people messages for each other. He’s not above giving you a word for a stranger or even an enemy.

The big thing here, and I mean critical, is that the person speaking must align their heart with God, with all they’ve got, before speaking it to the person it’s meant for.

Even in our flesh, we have some discernment. It’s rather easy to see what’s wrong with another person. It doesn’t take God’s divine power for you, or me, to have an opinion about what a brother or sister ought to do or avoid doing.

When we hear God for someone else we do get a window deeper into their circumstance. That’s not to make us feel vindicated about our assumptions, it’s so we’ll have empathy when we speak with them. A lot of damage has been done in the name of God, just by telling people what they already know—how screwed up they are.

Stop and think about it. You know when you did something bad. God knows about it too, and you’re aware that He does. Do you need a third party walking up and saying, hey God told me you did this bad thing and you’d better knock it off?

Would that bless you? No, not me either.

Our Healing Begins with a Restored Picture of God:

God’s character is demonstrated in a lot of scripture (I especially like 1 Corinthians 13:4-8), but we actually don’t need to know anything beyond the fact that he gave up his son, and his son willingly died, in order for us to be restored. That’s Character! It also demonstrates how he feels about us.

This is the crux of the entire debate, isn’t it? Did God bail us out begrudgingly? I mean we believe all sorts of things about redemption that are ludicrous when spoken out loud. Crucifixion is a terrible way to go, a father who lets his son die that way either doesn’t care or is cruel himself, right? Did God save us so that one day he could personally shake his finger in our faces? Did he really let something like that happen from apathy or anger?

The scriptures are clear on this. While we were yet his enemies Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8).

The point I’m driving at here is that we struggle to understand God. His ways are above our ways like the stars in the sky (Isaiah 55:8-9). If you read the accounts of Jesus on earth you’ve probably been struck by how far out of step Jesus was with the culture of the day. People are people and they haven’t changed that much.

God’s character is different than the people around us. He’s the King of kings and his Kingdom runs differently than the world. So as long as we’re imagining God as some idealized version of man we’re utterly failing to grasp what He’s like.

We can’t really understand the cross unless we can grasp His character and we can’t appreciate it personally until we have a personal relationship with God.

I was raised a Christian and for ages, my connection to the cross went like this: some ancestor of mine screwed up and the highest authority of the universe had to suffer to set it right, but it was pretty much his responsibility and he bounced right back in three days so

I can tell you that if that’s your personal connection to the cross then the power of God to work in your life right now is limited.

Now I’m not saying you aren’t saved. God pretty much idiot proofed salvation, but being forgiven and living like it’s your reality are different things. In Luke 13:27 we see many people on the Day of Judgment saying they did things in His name and God saying, but I don’t know you.

Do you want to squeak into heaven eventually or do you want to have your life right now transformed by abundance?

So who is God? What’s He like?

nature-3095900_1920Well, there’s no way for me or anyone to write something here that will reach past your brain and connect adequately with your heart. I can give you my answer, and I can give you what the Bible says about him and hope it might inspire you.

Ultimately, you’re going to have to have your own encounter and build your own thing. Maybe you already have. Even then, there’s always room for expanding.

So I’ll close with who God is for me and what the bible says about him for you to meditate on, or help you take a few first steps.

I recommend you get away to the wild, or the sea, and seek him for yourself. It’s not going to be a short thing. In my experience, it takes three days just to shed your life at home (obligations, family, job thoughts, etc.). So plan it.

_______

What the Bible says about God’s character…

1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 Cor 13:4-7. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.

______

The God I know…

God has been irreverent with me. He’s been clear in what He says even if I don’t know what it means initially. Without losing his Kindness, he’s quite blunt. It comes off as honest and without guile. He’s utterly confident and consistently positive. I’ve never known Him to be curt with me, concise yes, but not as though He’s losing patience.

He’s often over the top. Expect Him to say things that are too good to be true. We suffer from black and white thinking, (so do demons by the way); God is super creative and when presented with Option A or Option B questions He’ll suggest Option W. To that point, I used to get frustrated at His silence, but now I expect it when I’m asking illegitimate questions. He doesn’t bother answering trap questions even when we don’t realize that’s what we’ve asked. When He does answer them it’s with a question in return.

For example, if you ask God why He hates you, he’ll probably not answer because He doesn’t hate you. Instead, He’ll ask, “how you’re feeling.” This can be aggravating–like he’s changing the subject. Answer him. When you do, expect more questions like, “why do you feel hated?” Then, “do you think I’m doing that to you?” At some point, you’ll start to feel silly, like when He asks, “do you really think I’d spend the last 20 minutes talking with someone I hate?”

God is the only person I know who gets angry without losing control. He might say, “I’m angry right now with you, beloved. You are carrying around grief and you won’t talk to me about it. You think you need to handle it before we talk so I don’t find out about it. Like I’ll see it as a character flaw in you. I’ve wanted to tell you that I’m the cure for your grief but you avoid Me because you’re embarrassed. We’re closer than that. I don’t care what it is, we handle these things together. Only your will can keep us apart, nothing you do or fail to do can keep us apart. I died so that there is no shame between us.”

That’s a window into the God I know.

_______

How to plan your encounter: set aside four days to a week by yourself with as little electronic connection as possible.

  • Bring a bible & journal book/pens, maybe a book like “Wild at Heart.”
  • Try to pack your own food or consider fasting.
  • Most importantly, expect God to speak to you because he wants to and actively does.
  • Read the next chapter for a lot more great advice on hearing God for yourself.

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Primacy Chapter 5

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THE Church

The first reason we don’t trust God or like God is because Religion told us not to.

Remember the chickens in the box. Well, Christianity is meant to be a personal relationship with God. It’s not about how you practice it, although you will have certain traditions pop up.

For example, I like to walk and talk with God. I call it ponder walking. It works for me and I recommend it to everyone I run into.

When a group of people starts to live out their faith-walk together–there’s a drive to create agreement. They have “their way” they do what they do–which they may not even be conscious of–and they gravitate toward people who use similar practices. I’m really okay with personal choice, and I believe God is gracious in this area, but I don’t believe that it reflects his heart for people in living in community.

I think God meant family to represent community. I think one of the biggest disservices we’ve done to the world, Christian or non-Christian, is creating the label Church instead of translating it as “the people’ or ‘congregation.’

A lot of authors have tackled this topic, far better than I could do it here. Look up Frank Viola, “Redeeming the Wine Skin,” or anything else he wrote (http://frankviola.net/). Look up what George Barna has been writing lately (https://www.barna.com/), it’s really compelling.

We’re meant to have unique ways of shining God’s light into the world. The gifts of the spirit don’t manifest the same in everyone and that’s by design. God doesn’t do anything by accident. We’re meant to have discussions about our differences and be gracious with each other. We’re meant to pull in so tight that the rough spots on us poke each other and cause relationship to happen. Some people are harder to love and, guess what, you need to ask God for more love for them.

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Instead, we have a church policy and procedures manual. It’s a big turn off for most people. You don’t get to volunteer to be something that God put you on earth to do unless it fits criteria for which church leadership is looking. Want to lead song service? Great! Want to teach orphans to fly fish? Well, we don’t do that sort of thing here.

If I become influential, someday there will be a club of Christians who’ll believe that the path to Heaven is found from walking at least 100 miles a year while asking for guidance. They’ll have forgotten that my purpose in Ponder Walking is to hear from God. Like so many other Christians they’ll have forgotten you actually do hear from God at all because he might say something they disagree with.

You think I’m kidding? Wait, and see.

God–Twice Removed:

My point here is that we look around at the way people are doing Christianity and we interpret what God must be like from that.

Imagine that your going to have an arranged marriage. Your dad works it out with your neighbor. Then they work to be sure you never actually get to meet your wife. Then you meet briefly for the ceremony, but before the honeymoon you’re torn apart again, and you only find out about each other through letters your dads write each other.

Sounds ridiculous, but that is the Christian journey for most of us. One brief encounter with someone we’ve heard about, but don’t know. Just enough firsthand experience to think this might actually be the answer to the longing in your heart, then poof, your intermediaries step in and regulate the relationship again. It’s not what God wants. We must stop blaming him for it.

Agreements–Your Personal Deal with the Devil

The second reason we don’t trust God is our agreements.handshake-2056023_1920

One of my mentors, although he’s never met me and doesn’t have a clue I exist, is John Eldredge.

When my father died in 2003 and the roof was torn from my world, a friend from high school gave me a copy of “Wild at Heart.” It was an amazing book that I read straight through at least twice back to back. I highlighted the thing with two different colors. I absorbed that book and I attended a weekend “boot camp” based on it. It was a phenomenal experience that I recommend to any man whatever stage you’re at in life, but especially if you are in a place of searching and ready for a change.

Eldredge handles a set of topics he calls wounds and agreements. He does it well, and I recommend you read that book and attend a boot camp for yourself to dive deeper into your wounds and agreements. However, I’m going to spend more time here dealing with the impact of agreements and where it fits into the scheme of your life. I provide only a brief synopsis of the concept of wound/agreement topic below for convenient reference.

Wounds: There isn’t much room to argue about the fact that we are all impacted by the words and deeds of others as we develop into adulthood. When mentors, parents, teachers and even peers say things that hit us at a deep heart level, those can be wounds to our understanding of our spiritual identity. That mainly results from the agreements we make in trying to deal with the pain of the wound.

Agreements: We respond to the wound by embracing, rejecting, or both. There’s some controversy among Christian denominations about the impact of Satan and his minions. Eldredge takes a balanced approach and I’ve come to adopt a similar outlook. We can’t give the enemy credit for every bad thing that happens to us, but we can’t pretend like there isn’t a bad guy in our story. The reality is that dark forces come alongside you when something awful has happened and they try to help you interpret what it means. The degree to which you adopt their view of it is the degree to which you come into agreement with an outlook that isn’t God’s. More on this in a moment.

Theme: Finding your wounds tends to be a process. God will lead and mentor you through it, but when we do summon the courage to go looking for wounds we often uncover later wounds first and then stop looking. Wounds must be unearthed a layer at a time–tracing them back to similar wounds at a younger and younger age. You’ll find there is a theme to your wounds.thinking-272677_1920

Most likely, there were people who said or did terrible things to you in your life, but the punches that landed were the ones that lined up with a certain theme.

The enemy seems to be able to read the unique purpose and gifting that God intends for you and he spends most of your life trying to derail that. He can’t allow you to become who you were born to be. So he has spent your entire life trying to substitute his own narrative. In the Kingdom, every problem is a set of stairs to climb to the next level. The enemy wants you to view it as a tsunami wave, overwhelming and cruel.

Some people are completely taken out by this war for their identity. It can easily lead to a mental illness that causes you to spend the rest of your life in therapy or on medication for the trauma. (I’m not saying that’s a ‘game over’ thing, nor am I saying that it’s a small thing. I’m just saying that, if he can keep you staring at yourself because of the pain, you won’t function for the Kingdom of God.)

Flesh: Self-preservation causes most of us to stop the bleeding from our heart wounds. That doesn’t mean that the wound isn’t properly healed. It gets covered in ugly scar tissue. All that scar tissue surrounding your heart acts like a shroud between the presence of God in your life and the life circumstances you encounter.

That’s the flesh. When we end up living from our flesh it distorts the glory of God we’re reflecting into the world.

Signs we’re living out of the flesh include:

  • Fear based decision making causes us to lower the bar and stop trying if we’re not likely to succeed.
  • Anxiety attacks because we must salve our problems in our own strength.
  • We over celebrate areas of victory to hide inadequacies. Example, a husband works 50 hours a week to provide well for a family, who never get to see him.

However it plays out, scar tissue is not a sign of a healed wound. Just because you’re not hemorrhaging blood from a wound doesn’t mean it’s not impacting your life. When God fixes something, its as good as new.

Healing: God wants to heal your wounds perfectly. That involves restoring your true identity, which means restoring His image in you. It’s a process. A journey which you must take with God.

But how can we take a journey of healing with a God we don’t like or trust?

This is why Primacy of God comes first. We must find our own answer to our questions about God like, “Does God love me even though…” or “Can I trust God when…”

It’s easy to put off dealing with these questions when we have a formal church organization telling us “right from wrong,” but I urge you to have your own connection place to God. That’s going to be a vital prerequisite to living abundantly.

As Promised–Back to Agreements

Religious Agreements: One final thought combining religion and agreements. The dreaded religious agreement. These are false philosophies that work there way into the informal church culture.

Here are some examples:

  • The Lord helps those who help themselves #notinthebibleanywhere,
  • God will never give me something that I can’t handle #BS.
  • God doesn’t speak to people directly anymore #getthebehindmesatan.
  • I just need to keep reading the scriptures because all the answers are in there…

I know that last one pissed off at least some of you. So let’s look at these briefly.

God does want us to be the decision-makers in our lives. We steer the ship of our daily lives, but He wants to be there with us–guiding us–like a dad showing his teenager how to drive.

BTW, God’s goal is to give you more than you can handle. 1 Corinthians 10:13 is misquoted more often than not. God wants a relationship with you. Verse 13 continues on to say, “He will also provide a way out…” How can you ever grow as a person if you don’t take on things that you need his help to do? It’s a critical factor in entering the Promised Land.

God speaks to us in many different ways. He didn’t stop speaking to man directly at some point in history. If God put all the answers in the Bible and intended to only communicate that way then why does nothing in the Bible say that?

And the one that probably angered you most…

When I left the particular denomination that I grew up in, every time I read the Bible I heard their way of reading it. It’s a lot like brainwashing. I wasn’t in a cult, but I’d grown up listening to them tell me what all these verses meant. I couldn’t shake their interpretation.

So, I had to step back from the scriptures and listen to a variety of mentors for a year. I call this my reboot phase when I was recalibrating my filter of the Gospel. I was blessed to have mentors who wanted to point to Christ and actually wanted me to learn to hear God for myself. I ended up experiencing a creative variety of ways in which the Lord can, and does, direct me. As a result of my reboot phase, I returned to the scriptures with a renewed filter.

Does God ever contradict the Scriptures? No, but our understanding of the scriptures often needs to grow.

 

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book-1156001_1920An interesting side note here, which will help you if you have heartburn with anyone saying don’t go to the scriptures when listening to the “voices” in your head.

I absolutely encourage checking everything you “hear” against the scriptures. However, I count on grace, a lot. We have permission to make mistakes. It’s almost more dangerous to believe that our theology is so sound that it protects us from leading someone astray.

We all share the Gospel we know, intentionally or not. You can’t give anyone a word from the Lord that’s accurate unless you first take a moment to align your heart with the heart of God, and you can’t share a God you’ve never met.

So, to the degree you’re still learning who God is, that’s the ceiling on your accuracy. And guess what, we’re all still learning who God is. Too many of the “authorized” evangelists share a Gospel that doesn’t really reflect God’s heart.

For example, all the brimstone crowd scaring people to Christ. Perfect love casts out fear. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It’s okay to realize fear at your place outside grace and repent, but it’s become a go-to technique to scare sinners straight. All those sinners need love more than fear, and they’ll respond to love even better.

Arguments about superior doctrines aren’t God’s heart either. Even when a congregation is actually right it doesn’t bless the Kingdom unless their individual and corporate relationship with Christ remains more important than that truth. Time and again I see religions circling the truth God gave them and making it the central point of life. It’s a congregational disease Frank Viola calls Koinoniaitus. When we’re all in one spirit because we agree with each other, not because we all rely on grace from God through Christ Jesus. Either way, when it comes to sharing your Gospel, the light of truth only matters when people think you give a rip.

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Okay, one more quick anecdote, in case the above doesn’t quite cut it. On the subject of exercising your prophetic muscles to hear God’s voice, one of my mentors recommended asking God for an “inheritance word.” It’s a verse or something that’s true about me in Christ, which God wants to unpack with me so that I can begin to see myself through his eyes.

During that time period, I was single and deeply steeped in a masculine gospel. For the first time in my life, Christianity wasn’t in conflict with the design of God for me as a man like every other version of churchianity I’d grown up with.

So I prayed hard that God would guide me and I opened the bible to Ruth.

I tried again and again, and each time I got Ruth.

I said to God, “REALLY?” I felt him gently confirm to me that he wanted to spend time with me in Ruth. The whole book! One of only two books in the whole bible that’s named after a woman.

I hadn’t spent much time in the scriptures for almost a year and now I’m going to read Ruth. But, I did it. I read it three times.

Aaand, it didn’t do a whole lot for me so I bought a more transliterated version of the scriptures.

I strongly recommend reading things in a variety of translations because they have different strengths.

  • NRSV = word translated,
  • The Message = thought translated, (opposite end of the spectrum)
  • NIV = a great balanced approach for daily reading.
  • KJV = My favorite for memorizing, but I love Shakespeare so, that’s just me.

The NRSV made it pop.

I came to realize that Boaz had been burnt by a woman before. Loyalty was a big turn on for him. He “heard about” Ruth because of her faithfulness to her mother-in-law. He secretly wanted a chance to meet her. He began providing for her by proxy, instructing his servants to leave piles of grain for her. It progressed to a point where, even though all his workers are sort of eating lunch together, she’s the one sharing his bench and dipping her bread in his bowl. He’s putting himself in her situation with both feet and her savvy Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, spots it in a heartbeat.

What happens next is one of the most perplexing things in a Bible full of conundrums. It’s harvest and everyone gets drunk and sleeps in the field. She sleeps by him. There’s a cultural barrier to our understanding here so it always baffled me, but here’s what I learned reading it over and over.

She forced his hand by making herself vulnerable. She put herself in a place where he could choose to be a bad guy without fear of blame in the eyes of society or he could choose to be a good guy and step up. Her vulnerability called out his masculinity.

This is not a message that sits well with modern women. They’re told to be self-reliant, savvy, independent, and well, “macho.”

Suddenly, God opened my eyes to hundred shining, gem-like, facets to romantic relationships. AND:

  • That strength and being impervious were not the same thing.
  • That two people falling in love can bring out the best in each other.
  • That societies conventions don’t always establish the best course of action and sometimes following our hearts–or God’s heart–will require personal risk.

From that time forward the Scriptures came alive for me in Technicolor, and it began with fasting from reading them.

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There’s a group called the “Red Letter Christians” and one of their beliefs is that you should get a version of the bible where every time Christ speaks it’s printed in red. They suggest reading only the red letters for the first couple years that you’re a Christian, in order to give you a better perspective to read the rest of the Bible. It’s an interesting idea and it would probably have worked to reboot my filter better than relying entirely on second-hand inspiration. But in the end, I encourage everyone to rely on grace and stop fretting the doctrinal minutia.

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P.S. If you’re interested in attending a boot camp based on Wild at Heart look up Ransomed Heart Ministries to find a list of them. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest I can personally recommend Boot Camp NW at BootCampNW.org.

 

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Primacy Chapter 4

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So, a quick recap; All good things come from God. Jesus promised abundant life and, as we’ll soon get into, the character of God is to be over the top generous. The flow intended by God is to give us good things so that we can be transformed by them, by the renewing of the mind, and so that we’ll overflow with these things into the world around us, this is often called reflecting his glory into the world.

Chapter 4

While we had to deal with pride/humility first because they blind us to the other constraints, by far the biggest reason we don’t receive the good from God is that we doubt His heart toward us. There’s a two-prong approach to changing your beliefs about how God views you.

We’ll need to examine the two big reasons we doubt God’s heart for us, and then we’ll deal with healing our view of God. However, before I go there I want to address the concerns of those who are thinking, “but I don’t doubt that God is good, so I can skip this chapter and move on.”

If you were raised as a Christian like I was, it’s pretty easy to accept that God is perfect as a religious fundamental belief. Even if you’re new to Christianity it’s pretty obvious that we all believe our God isn’t flawed like the gods of other religions.

Not that I’m slamming those other religions, but take the ancient Greeks for example. They had a pantheon full of immature, but ultra-powerful beings that were hard to look up to. They were often petty and lustful. If nothing else, this served the purpose of explaining why your fate might be fickle. By claiming our God is perfect Christians open ourselves up to a lot of doubt when things don’t turn out the way we think they should.

What do we make of stories in the bible? Take Daniel in the lion den. He survived, as a miracle, but what if he’d been eaten? Would that mean that God didn’t like him?

This is the real reason for such a lofty title for this book as, “THE PRIMACY OF GOD!” There’re three aspects to putting God first:

  1. Understanding how to receive good from God in order to receive our identity from Him.
  2. Learning ways to put God first in our lives.
  3. Accepting God’s perfection and authority as a basis for our faith.

Chronologically, we’ll cover the second point last in this chapter, because the third point is the most pivotal.

It’s pretty easy to accept God is all powerful, all knowing, and ever-present as a religious doctrine. It’s not so easy to believe that he loves me personally when things don’t go as I thought they would. The Bible assures me that God is love (1 John 4:8), yet sometimes I don’t see what He does as very loving. How does he allow cancer, or a baby born with a birth defect?

I can’t answer those questions. There are other, wiser men than I who have better answers for them. I only have this answer.

Until the question of God’s authority in your life is a settled issue you’ll be like a rudderless ship.

When we accept that God is perfect and all powerful, that he knows the end from the beginning, then we have to follow a certain chain of logic.

  • He knew man would fall before he made us. He decided to deal with the fall of man by sacrificing His own son in our place…again, before he made us.
  • Jesus knew every sin you’d ever commit before he came as a baby.
  • God understands suffering because he walks every path with every one of us every day.
  • God is not surprised by your sin, in fact, the purpose of confessing our sin to him is so that we might have a changed heart about it–not so he knows them.
  • That sin isn’t even an issue with God, it’s just a symptom of the separation between He and I.

We can go deeper into this when we deal with healing our understanding of how God sees us, but for now, let’s accept that God is not an angry faraway person. That because of the work of Christ, which was the plan all along, God’s perfection and my imperfection don’t create the rift between us—unless I believe that it does.

In order to let God be God in our lives, we have to forgive him as much as be forgiven by Him. The idea of forgiving God is antithetical to religion, but it’s vital to relationship. Every single human being I’ve ever met has a beef with God about something, even if it’s just the fact that sin exists. We’ve got a lot of book left and things will be easier to accept once we’ve taken a better look at God’s character, but if you want a shortcut through this material, just accept that God knows what he’s doing and stop limiting His work in your life to only those things you understand and agree with. By the time you’ve finished reading this book, I pray that you’ll be ready to let God be God.

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The Question of God’s Goodness

You may have noticed that I don’t differentiate between God’s power and His goodness. I have a whole section on God’s goodness coming up, but, for the left-brained among us, here’s a quick paragraph.

sunset-2754909_1920Good and bad are generally relative terms. What’s good for me is good and what’s bad for me is bad. I’m not personally a big fan of any kind of moral relativism, but in this case, it’s true. If you’re all powerful then what you say is good/bad becomes the standard for anyone else who isn’t all powerful, which is everyone. If you are all-knowing then you know what is Good/Evil and can choose to abide by it or not. Therefore, if you are both you need only decide if you’re selfish or selfless. Will you act in your own self-interest or will you uphold a universal right/wrong even if it causes you harm? If you are all powerful then you can accomplish your desires despite any constraints, so why would you violate the right/wrong standard?

This dips a little bit into those unanswerable questions like, can God make a rock so big that He can’t lift it? Except, that in this case, we have an example that gives us an answer. Sin. So many people are angry at God because of the wages of sin when in fact the fall of mankind proves that God doesn’t force anyone to behave. The fact that He created humans knowing we’d fall speaks to His character also.

He’s willing to sacrifice himself, heroically, to restore things to what he intended. He doesn’t have to avoid making humans, because he has a solution. All knowing combined with all-powerful equals always accomplishing goals. Therefore, God has no motive to be anything but good because abiding by any laws doesn’t prevent him from doing or having anything. It does, however, cause him pain. He suffered to restore us because He loves us, and therefore He’s selfless. Therefore He is good.

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In reality, we can stop worrying about questions like why God allows wars and diseases. The bigger issues we suffer from are actually the smaller, more personal questions, like does God care about me in this or that place of my heart.

  • Does He care if I get a better job?
  • Does He care if I ever get married?
  • Is He at all concerned with my weight problem?

People say they’ll never believe in God because children die of cancer, but what they really mean is, I’m angry because my dad died.

Let’s face it, most Christians have come to terms with the fact that God doesn’t prevent evil people from causing pain to others even when they’re Christians. He seems to intervene sometimes and not others. Are the people in third world nations just on God’s crap list? I say, no. And for the same reason God wasn’t playing favorites when he saved your uncle and not your dad. I’ll explain in a second.

Another place we struggle is where it comes down to things we feel like we ought to be able to influence and yet we’re somehow never able to find victory. Why can’t I pay off debt, get pregnant, fix my marriage, find a mate, and on and on?

Is God actually withholding these from me?

The answer is mind blowing—God knows what He’s doing.

I’m going to blow your mind a little further and remind you that everything is meant for our good. Why the hell am I suffering if an all-powerful God is trying to bless me? Because God knows what He’s doing!

Edited this far

A Closer Look:

More specifically there are two reasons for our struggle. First, the stoic reality is that this world is full of sin, we’re in the process of dying, nothing will ever be perfect. Second God’s blessing often comes in the form of redemption. He takes what was meant for evil against us and profits us (Gen 45).

If we try to figure out if God is good, or powerful enough to fix things, based on what we see around us we’ll come to all sorts of conclusions. If we start from a place a faith and accept that God loves us perfectly, and uses everything we’re going through to bring about the perfect answer for us, then we begin to see new opportunities in even the worst scenarios.

Like Superstitious Chickens:

B. F. Skinner was a behavioral psychologist. He created what is now called the “Skinner Box.” It’s a box with four shoots through which chicken food pellets might enter the box. He put chickens in the box and observed them, quickly learn when and where to expect food. When he randomized when/which shoot the food would come from, each chicken came up with its own explanation. Some only turned left when pecking, some stood for long periods on one foot. They became superstitious.

We do the same thing. We associate some things with certain results and we interpret them with all the accuracy of an ancient priest reading the entrails of a cow. Sorry for the imagery, but I do want to make a point. The only way to get an accurate picture of what’s going on and why is to ask one of the humans outside the box. In order to do that you’d have to realize that you are a chicken in a box and believe that humans are behind it all.

See we’ve got the cart before the horse most of the time. You must believe in God first and then you’ll find answers. That’s the Primacy of God. Not because God’s mean, or holding out on you, but because we lack the perspective to see what’s going on.

It’s a Process, not a Snapshot:

Here’s how Graham Cooke explains the process. In every circumstance, there is a promise, if we look around for it. Sometimes it’s just that God is moving in a different spirit than we’re perceiving. When we focus on our standing in Christ instead of our circumstance we can claim the promise and look for provision–God’s solution to things.

Ultimately, no matter how bad it gets we’ll come to a place where we’re thankful for it. We can claim a pearl from it.

Life will exact a high price from you, regardless of your belief system, but if you accept and believe that God is good and He loves you perfectly, you have the opportunity to have your hardships redeemed.

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