Friday, September 27, 2013

Perspective from the Throne

It’s amazing what perspective will do for you!
It can take what seems BIG and make it really quite small!
Or little details can grow into great distractions!                                                                                                                
Take for example our last road-trip down through the Pacific Coast States.
Everything was going great; I had no sooner preached 'The River of Joy' in The River of Joy Church on Saturday evening, when we got tested on it Sunday morning.
I missed the turnoff from I-80 north to Oroville coming out of Sacramento and while trying to navigate back onto the freeway, I felt the gear shift lurch and the motor rev.
I first thought my wearing sandals caused the momentary blip, but then it happened again…
 and a short while later again and then I knew we dealing with something more… 
 possible transmission problems?                  
Soon our trusty Honda Civic lost speed, engine power wasn’t transmitting to forward thrust and we  limped barely along the freeway. I felt my heart sink and a sense of numbness start to move like mist through my entire body. Somehow I knew this was the end of an up-to-then problem-free rest and ministry break.
And I also understood I was neither ready nor prepared to deal with this wrench in our journey.                                                                                                                                                          
As we slowed to a crawl, I remembered driving by others stalled beside the road near the beginning of our trip and thinking, ‘Thank you, Lord, that’s not us!’ In fact, that has never been us … in all our trips: all across Canada and then all the way back again; holidays to Yellowstone, the Utah parks and the Grand Canyon. Sure, we once barely crossed the border back into Canada with a blown head gasket, but never had we been stranded beside the road. This first now appeared to be a distinct possibility. And… there we were, pulled off at East Nicolaus, soon to ever symbolize the end of the middle of nowhere for us. The freeway sign depicted food, but no gas station or vehicle repair shop. And Sammie’s, the Mexican restaurant was closed while the only other building in town was a fire station. We didn’t have a fire, but it was closed anyway! Quite apparently, this part of California closed down tight for its Sunday sabbath. We’re believers also, but these people were practising their faith at a very inconvenient time for us!                                         
Our Honda ceased all forward motion. We pushed and rolled it under a lonely tree’s shade so the increasing heat wouldn’t add more to all the sudden intensity.
I looked at my wife with despair and bewilderment! 
I sighed heavily and finally forced out, ‘I don’t know what to do!’  
I’m sure that didn’t give her a lot of reassurance. Questions raced through my mind, from the proverbial ‘What did we do wrong?’ to the existential ‘Why us?’ ‘Why now?’ After all, we’d been on our way to church in Oroville. Sure,  I’d been racing to get there, slowing down only to escape  four Highway Patrol speed traps, but why did those cops have to be out on Sunday mornings anyways, trying to catch innocent Christians speeding to their houses of worship?                              
But no answers came. Both God and the car went silent and we sat there wondering, ‘What now?’    I hoped it was nothing serious, but in my heart I intuitively knew this marked the end of our problemless road-trip. Some mysterious destiny was about to unravel here, but I was quite unsure as to how willing I was to accept it. Of course we prayed against and bound up the devil’s attack, but somehow I knew God was at the centre of it.                                                                          Yes, He could even use the enemy’s evil machinations to work an ever greater good, but I wasn’t seeing that right then.  All I saw was a broken-down car, an interrupted plan and a possibly very high bill! Transmissions don’t come cheap! Especially in the middle of nowhere!  
No plan sprang to mind; no phone reception either. I had neglected to charge my cell overnight anyways, but that didn’t matter anyways; even the helpful Highway Patrolman's cell phone  got no reception out there!
Condemnation started crawling all over me…
’It’s your fault this happened! 
 Remember that guy who changed your oil asked if you wanted to flush the transmission fluid?
  ‘It’s real dark + smells burnt,’ he’d said.
 But you said, ‘No, my mechanic’s changed it!’
 I hadn’t believed him. I’d distrusted his ‘opinion’ as a merely money-grabbing opportunity.
But now his opinion had obviously become truth! I began to agree with my accuser and my heart sank even further.
Somehow we and our car got towed out of the middle of nowhere and ended up literally at The Father's House, a cool and friendly place to stay in the middle of this Californian furnace.           
That day passed and the next went from bad to worse. The transmission problem was verified and the diagnosis grew decidedly more serious as the possible estimate climbed to $3500.
Should I just abandon the car here in the States? junk it for $700 to the tranny-guy’s mechanic, cut our losses  and just get the quickest, cheapest  tickets back home? 
Besides, we needed to get back the next day to greet our Japanese home-stay student with Christian hospitality + smiles, (mustn’t forget to always put on my authentic everyday smile for the unbelievers!) and even teach my New Covenant Realities class how we are  more than conquerors through Christ! How does that go again? Joy always triumphs through trials. Yeah, right!  It’s a lot easier to mouth the words than walk the message. That truth seemed far away today.         
But isn’t it also true that more mature born-again Spirit-filled Christians should be beyond such major fleshly testings by now?
After all, my 38 years of walking with God have progressed me beyond that, right?                     
I guess not.                                                                                                 
The test was indeed very real and I didn't fare very well.
Fear dug its caves deeper; complaint raised its ugly accusations and an orphan mentality resurfaced as I felt again the intensity of a bad RAP – Rejection, Anger + Pain.
After all this time, were they still unvanquished? How long must I continue to war against these enemies? Are their sudden onslaughts yet so powerful they can so simply overwhelm me?        
Then the revelation came to me: What’s the Lord’s perspective on this? 
How does He see me and my circumstances now?  
Is He as upset as I am?
Is His eternal plan disrupted by this temporary highway breakdown?                                     
How do their imagined costs measure up against His abundant cattle on 1000 hills? or even my own past experience?                                                                                                                                        
And then I had a revelation on perspective:
One night only a few years ago, I sat at my wife’s bedside as she lay comatose, her life hanging in an unknown balance. The doctors had not given a good report. Even if she survived the night, it was highly likely that severe brain damage would leave her in a vegetative state of existence.               
I cried out to God.  Many of you cried out with me.
He heard our prayers + spoke the words of Job 23:10 into my heart.  No, not the verse’s well-known ending, but its less familiar beginning:
‘But He knows the way that I take.’
Somehow these words rose in my spirit and I recognized that the One who is The Way was present and at work. The night passed with little sleep, but I had a simple comforting assurance that more than just morning would dawn the next day.
And true enough, when we entered her room the next day, she was both awake and aware.
Although she couldn’t talk with all those breathing tubes in her mouth, her eyes flashed with life!She made signs for a pencil and wrote:                                                 
‘Who found me?’                                                                      
 ‘I’m hungry!’                                                              
 ‘I guess God’s not finished with me here yet!’                                                   
And from that moment, all the enemy’s plans against us were completely defeated.                                     
So… if He cares for the sparrows + lilies?
and since He has indeed raised His Son from the grave, conquered death and restored my wife!
then can’t He also take care of the mundane, temporal and comparably minute problems of cars, transmissions + bills!?                                                                                                                      

God’s perspective exposes trials in His true light and context: they are not as all-consuming as they seem in their centre-stage moments. In light of all God is + does, these are mere distractions along the sidelines that seek to take our attention off the main player + events of life: Jesus is Risen! 
They expose our tendency to major on minors and magnify the minute, but when we yield to Christ in their midst, our trust in God allows the Holy Spirit to reveal more clearly what is truly important.

Our walk sometimes seems like the road to Emmaus: we have bits of info, but aren't connecting them rightly. We should be rejoicing at the greatest news in history, but we feel DIScouraged, DISqualified, DIStressed, DIStracted, DISapproved, the vision has DISappeared + we are DISappointed.                                                                                                             
But don't let the enemy 'DIS' you.                                                                     
Let the Blood + Love of Jesus wash the 'DIS's off + Be Encouraged!
You are not dis-qualified, but qualified for God to use you to His greater glory!
You are not dis-tracted, but let Jesus take His place as the Main Attraction in your life!
Let His faith + love remove the ‘dis’ from your dis-appointment so you don't miss His Appointment!

After ten days in this fiery furnace, I finally returned home; our fixed car followed later, and the Lord met all our needs: He not only provided enough to pay those looming transmission bills, but more than enough, above and beyond our needs, to fund successive mission trips to Africa, India and Nepal later in the year.
Jesus knows the end from the beginning. In fact, He is the Beginning + the End + Everything in Between: the Way, the Truth and the Life. From His perspective, tests + trials are simply His means of moving us from our last glory to His next glory, trusting + following Him through the transmission-transition-tribulation-transformation process, birthing new life! 
His view from the throne is so much clearer and better than from a broken roadside or hospital bed.

Monday, September 2, 2013

‘I’ve given up the pursuit of knowledge and I’ve found the love of our Lord Jesus Christ!’

39 years ago Labour Day also fell on September 2. It dawned sunny + bright in the Kootenays; still hot like summer, but a hint of autumn was already in the air. It was harvest-weather and God was also working -- overtime!
Early that afternoon I drove out to Harmony Gates, a commune in the Slocan where my friend Grizzle lived, and found her in the garden, pulling up brussel sprouts. I'd attended a Divine Light Mission (DLM) ashram meeting the evening before and I needed to know more about this ‘knowledge’ that the Guru Maharji, the purported 'perfect master' was offering to whomever he chose to give it. I hoped that perhaps this was that illusory first brick I'd been searching for in my quest for a foundation of my tower of truth.

She hesitated at first, but I pressed her and finally she relented and told me her story:
A couple years before, in California, one of her friends had wanted to become an initiate with the DLM – a ‘premie’, but not wanting to go alone, had asked her to come her, and so she'd gone.
In a morning session, one of the mahatmas presented DLM’s basic teachings and gave out free admission tickets to a further evening initiation session. However, there were only a limited number and he arbitrarily gave to some while overlooking others. At one point, he looked at Grizzle and asked her who she was and why she was there. She told him she was a born-again Christian and was only accompanying her friend. He then actually reached over other outstretched hands pleading for the few remaining tickets and handed the last two to Grizzle and her friend.
When those with tickets returned in the evening, the same mahatma asked if anyone had questions.
Grizzle spoke up: ‘What will happen to me when I die?’
She kind of apologized for his response as she recounted her story. ‘I don’t know what everybody else saw or heard,' she said, 'but he cupped his hand over the side of his face, looked right at me, gave a twisted smile and laughed diabolically,
I don’t know about you, but I’m going straight to hell!’
Immediately a few of the attendees excused themselves from further involvement in the meeting. Perhaps they had ears to hear + eyes to see?
Grizzle and her friend remained. The mahatma then proceeded by outlining DLM’s 3 steps:
1st: he instructed each of the premies-to-be to hold their eyes shut and press their fingers firmly against their eyelids, pressing them so tightly they could see nothing, no light at all, so everything in their vision was so dark that suddenly they would see the 'Divine Light', a supernatural spiritual light which would then enlighten their heart + mind. As he led them in this experience, he circulated among his followers and questioned them on their experience: the light, their enthusiasm and response to the energy they received! When he felt satisfied with their progress, he then continued to the
2nd: now he told his audience to hold their ears shut, as they'd done with their eyes; so shut that they could hear nothing,
no sound at all, so everything in their hearing was so silent that suddenly they would hear the 'Celestial Music',
a supernatural heavenly sound that would fill them with pure spirit. He again followed this step by mingling among them, further noting their experiences. When he came to Grizzle, he was quite amazed at the sensations she described, but she didn’t tell him she was already familiar with many Hindu techniques and told him what he wanted to hear.
Then the final step:
3rd: the revelation of the mantra. In other Hindu teachings, Grizzle said the mantra had been the generic name of God: OM, but this time, she was surprised that the DLM had merely reversed the order of the letters to: MO!
So here were these precious human souls being led astray as dumb sheep by some charismatic figure and charlatan system, obeying what they neither knew nor understood. But with these 3 steps, he assured them they now had the ‘perfect knowledge’ and would proceed to ever greater enlightenment as they pursued this path.

Grizzle ended her story: the truth came on and my light and hope went out!
My hope had been exposed as a massive sham, a religious fraud, a hoax, a deception! I saw it clearly; she didn’t have to tell me anymore. I felt like one of her uprooted brussel sprouts and there I hung in mid-air, just like them, suspended, upside down, rootless, with no ground for any more questions.
She let me dangle there for a while. I don’t know how long, but it felt like an eternity.
And then I felt something else well up inside me: disappointment, confusion, anger!
Not normal emotional anger; I was raging, furious at: this masquerade unmasked, myself for being so gullible and, because I had to take it out on somebody, Grizzle:
How dare she destroy my last desperate hope for truth? You knew I needed this knowledge and now you’ve debunked it for the sham it is. You heartless creature! How could you do this to me?’
Waves of frustration crashed against my ego.
Mercifully, Grizzle finally broke the awful silence of the moment, ‘Come with me. I’ve got something for you!’
and she headed towards her simple A-frame cabin a short distance away.
I didn’t have much fight left in me, so I obediently followed, not even considering what that cabin might hold.
We entered.

Her furnishings were quite bare. Another woman from the farm
was there, but without any introductions, Grizzle just pointed me to the centre of the room: a lone table with nothing on it except a Bible, closed.
Pick it up and read,’ she directed, calmly.
'Where should I start?' I replied, emptily.
But my real feelings absolutely churned and seethed inside me. My anger was prime to boil over and all manner of sarcastic comments were writhing and readying themselves to attack from within my embittered soul.
In the beginning,’ she countered.
That did it! ‘In the beginning?’ my inner voice protested. ‘I know all about ‘in the beginning.’
'I’m at the crisis-point of my life and you’re directing me to Sunday-School stories I know from way back in my past,’ I heard my own soul cry out, inaudible to both Grizzle and her friend.
I kicked and wrestled, but finally yielded.
Oh, why not?’ I whimpered and started to read out loud.
And I read… through the first pages of Genesis 1 + 2. I read of creation: earth, animals and Adam + Eve, convinced I knew it all from before.
Until I came to Genesis 2:9 –

And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.
  The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’
2 things remarkably stood out that maybe I didn’t know?
1st: there were 2 trees in the garden. One was the tree of life which was originally in the garden's centre; and the other?
2nd: the tree of ‘knowledge’.
What I'd hoped would be the missing brick in my tower now hit me like a ton of bricks… right between my eyes! I can’t remember all my thought process at that point, but I suddenly became aware of something new and different here, not what I’d expected. Like that second tree, the one I was seeking, hadn't it been the source of all man's problems in the world?
Maybe, just maybe, I didn’t know everything? Maybe I needed to read on.

And so I did. I read on into Chapter 3.
I’m going to paraphrase this next part, because from my hippie perspective, this is how it spoke to me:
The serpent shows up at this point and even I knew that was the devil, the bad guy. He gets Eve off alone and says:
Hey Eve! Nice digs you got here! Man, this is beautiful! You must have everything you need here!’
Oh yes,’ she responds, ‘Everything! Isn’t life wonderful!’
The serpent slithers + twists her words from an exclamation to a question, and seizes on, ‘Everything? Isn’t there one thing you’re missing? C'mon, there must be one thing, one thing you can’t do?'
Well, there is one thing...’ she turns her attention from the centre tree to the other. ‘Just one thing: God says if we eat or touch that tree over there, we’ll die!’
Really?’ the snake drools as she takes the bait.
Die? What’s die? Nobody’s ever died before; what do you mean die?
  Don’t you know the real reason He doesn’t want you to eat from that tree? He knows that if you do, you’ll be just like 
  Him; you’ll be a god yourself + then you won’t need him to tell you what you can or cannot do anymore.
  I mean, c’mon Eve: look at that tree over there,’ he added as he distracted her focus from life to knowledge.
It looks so good. Really, can anything that looks so good be bad for you?'
And then he sealed the deal with the hippie cliché: Ah, if it feels good, do it!’
I read her response: Genesis 3:6
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to
   make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.’
And then I stopped.
Suddenly I had no more breath to read any further. Any attempts to read on for further knowledge were frustrated.
Visions of uprooted brussel sprouts filled my mind again.
I read this verse and I died.
It was like I somehow I saw that I’d been eating from that tree all my life and its fruit was death and its root was death and I was dead also. Another awkward eternity of silence followed.

And then something totally inexplicable began to happen. It was as if some unknown hand wielding a giant corkscrew began drilling through the soles of my feet, draining my life away. Emptiness and numbness followed and I struggled to maintain my balance. I leaned against that lonely table, which now seemed to be the only thing holding me up in this life.
I tried to speak, but no words came; both my mouth and mind were empty.
I braced myself to maintain my composure, but I really had none left.
I stood there... emptying; time seemed endless as I hung between two worlds.
With no capacity for anger left, I felt suspended in an unfamiliar realm.
Life passed in a moment, events that had taken years now transpired in a mere breath.
Finally, I gathered enough strength and excused myself. For what I didn’t know, but I made an excuse: I needed to go and tell another couple of Grizzle’s friends that I would house-sit their goat farm for the next week. So I somehow managed to gather my thoughts, thanked the women for their time and without acknowledging what was really happening inside,
I walked out unsteadily, got in my car and drove 3 miles down the road to the neighbour’s farm.
All the while my inside was draining away!

I got to the farm, but no one was home. The house was empty; so were the barns.
But I saw a pathway opposite the house heading up a hill through some trees. I knew it led to another neighbour’s farm and wondered if maybe they were visiting next door and I could find them there.
Never having gone that way before, I thought, ‘Why not?’ so I started uphill through the forest.
My life was still draining and it was cooler in the shade.
I remember thinking, ‘When will this stop? This is weirder than any drug I’ve ever experienced before! What is happening to me?’
And so my life continued draining away until…

I had come to the edge of the woods. It opened up to a meadow, a good-sized hayfield and exactly when I stepped out of the shadows and into the open, the emptying gave way to a wave of sunlight and power like I’d never known.
It hit me like a tsunami, rushed through me from head to toe, then reversed itself from my toes and exploded through me in a crescendo of life! Like someone set off a whole fireworks display at one moment in me!
And this bolt of electricity now running through me also picked me up and propelled me out into the field. The hayfield became my dance floor and I was running, jumping, doing somersaults and cartwheels like a kid, shouting at the top of my voice, singing and babbling with funny, incomprehensible words spilling out of my mouth!
No one had told me about tongues, but I guess that’s what it was: unknown tongues were overflowing like rivers of living water from within me! What had been dry + empty only moments before was now full + more!
If anyone had seen me rolling around out there, I’m sure they would have thought I'd finally lost it: too much acid or one too many tokes. I even tried to stop and pinch myself to come back to reality, but life prevailed over reason, and I dismissed that action. This joy was better than anything I’d ever experienced, so why stop and go back to the misery I’d had before?
However, after another eternity… somehow I was experiencing timelessness in one day from both sides of the equation,
I finally got it together enough to walk back down to my friends’ farm. They still weren’t home, but it dawned on me where they were: it was a holiday and the hippie community in the valley was opening a new community centre at Vallican and so there was a big party going on and that’s where most everyone would be!

So I got in my car and drove off: 30 miles over the next 45 minutes and all the while I drove, the flood waters from inside kept rising and spilling over the banks of my soul. But these songs were not earthly; the language was heavenly and I was revelling in the overflow! I was so full I felt I was absolutely bursting! 45 minutes of something singing unknown words through me! Something was happening in me, but I really didn’t have a clue?
Until I got to Vallican and saw the friends I was looking for.
But I saw another person first, and that was my friend, Bob. He should have been 30 miles away and me 30 miles even further in the opposite direction. But there he was: the one with whom I'd shared so much of my personal journey for truth thus far; through school, drugs, booze, backpacking and whatever, and now he was somehow there in front of me and I heard a voice inside me say, ‘Go tell him what’s happened!’
I protested, ‘But I don’t know what’s happened and I have no idea what to tell him!’
But simple obedience won out and in a moment I found myself standing before him. Without any premeditation, both my arms went up in the air spontaneously and words gushed out, ‘Bob, Bob!

I’ve given up the pursuit of knowledge and I’ve found the love of our Lord Jesus Christ!’

He looked at amazed! In all my previous wildest assertions, I’d never come up with something like this before.
He heard my words and said, ‘What?’
But I heard my words and said, ‘That’s it!’
And just like that I sat him down in the field, right in the midst of 3 loud hippie bands playing, and preached Christ to him.
I really had no idea what I was saying; but something had bypassed my mind and words flowed from my heart like a torrent, a river that could not and would not be stopped.
We had both been made for this moment and truth prevailed.
I talked for what must have been a whole hour. I think he had questions in between, but nothing could stop the flow of what I now knew to be God’s Word + Spirit in me. I had both wings + I was flying and nothing could hold back the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Somehow I knew now that truth was not a thesis, doctrine, or intellectual explanation of reality.
Truth is a Person, the very relationship and life-giving intimacy between Jesus Christ and our Father God which He wants us to partake in His New Covenant together. This Truth was happening and this Truth became real to me at that moment.
Bob didn’t get saved that day. But he really didn’t have a chance; within a couple years, he too gave his heart to Jesus and is now a missionary in Guatemala.
I didn’t want to go to sleep that night. What if I woke up the next morning and this experience proved to just be another feeling and was gone?
But I did get to sleep and when I woke up, the same joy was there, has always been there and always will be.
God doesn’t change. That was 39 years ago and Jesus’ Truth shines brighter each and every new day!