Rebuke the Scoffers
Rebuke the scoffers.
No, I'm not suggesting a campaign of censure aimed at those who refuse to agree with me or who won't cooperate with whatever program is being promoted by the church. Rather I am referring to the far more dangerous and sinister scoffers, you know, the internal voices always ready to challenge the nudges of the Spirit of God drawing us out to trust God more implicitly.
I don't know about you, but I think most people experience a running dialog in their minds about whatever is going on, maybe worrying about what might happen or dwelling on things from the past. Some people when alone even externalize this dialog talking out loud with themselves, while others simply have ongoing conversations or arguments inside. At times this becomes more intense but generally involves our emotions, sometimes our triggers, reactions and opinions about whatever it is we are thinking about or experiencing.
It is these internal voices I find to be the most inhibiting for my growth in ways where the Spirit is guiding me to mature more. It is one thing to fill my head with all sorts of useful information about what a good Christian might look like, act like or believe. But it is another thing altogether when my heart, emotions and reactions conflict with the things my head is learning, and most of the time my gut reactions, my past fears, my shame and accusing voices inside me tend to carry far greater influence on my decisions and how I feel about myself than the information I am trying to believe that I have learned from God and the Bible or others from whom I am learning.
I am currently reading the story in Mark 5 about Jairus who begged Jesus to come and heal his daughter who was about to die. But before they could arrive at his house he received word that she had already died and to not bother Jesus any longer over the matter – it was now too late.
You may recall this story and how Jesus encouraged Jairus to not throw in the towel yet but to continue trusting that Jesus could handle the situation no matter how impossible it might seem. What caught my attention this time was how Jesus reacted when they arrived at the house and found it full of people wailing and mourning and carrying on, generating an atmosphere of confusion and chaos and despair.
The problem was not just that people were sad because a little girl had died. Rather, the much deeper problem was what became evident when Jesus told everyone to stop their carrying on for the real problem was not at all what they assumed it to be – she was only asleep, not really dead. When Jesus gave His perspective on what was going on the people began scoffing at Him. This was a sure sign that their view of the situation was strikingly different than how God saw it and they were not buying into viewing it like Jesus did.
At this point in the story even we can begin to feel a little uncomfortable. Today we may scramble to make our theology fit what Jesus said, but deep inside we know why these people reacted so strongly to Jesus. After all, He had not been there and didn't really know the facts first hand. And though messengers had been sent to Jairus informing him of her death, evidently Jesus ignored the validity of that message. Furthermore He had not even seen the girl to know for sure what her condition was, so how could He so confidently assert that she was not dead? He was discrediting everyone who had witnessed her death and was insinuating they might be fools. How dare He ignore the clear evidence and opinions of the experts who had seen the evidence and knew for certain what her condition was. All the facts were clearly on their side and were stacked against the absurd assertion of Jesus that she was not really dead but only asleep.
The reaction of those present has much relevance for our own situations that too often we ignore in our rush to the conclusion of this nice story. We like to imagine that we are on Jesus' side in the story and that we would not have participated with those who scoffed, laughed at and derided Jesus for being so naïve as to suggest such a ridiculous idea. The girl was clearly dead and all the scientific facts proved that. To claim otherwise was a denial of clear evidence and bordering on delusional thinking. Such a person clearly should not be taken seriously and anyone siding with Him should be viewed as losing their grasp on reality as apparently Jesus had already done.
Even as I write this I am experiencing something challenging myself. In recent months I have been learning that I need to pay more attention to circumstances around me through the way heaven sees them instead of the way most people assume is real. How I process facts and the conclusions I draw from the information available have are always shaped and determined by underlying presumptions about how reality is defined and how I believe things are supposed to function.
Yet my ability to perceive reality has been subverted, hijacked, even kidnapped by an enemy of the truth and has been replaced with a counterfeit version of reality that is in fact a fraud and a scam. Our fallen nature and the world in which we live imposes alternative systems to define reality that contradict and discredit the way heaven sees it to be. Because of this it is impossible for any of us on this earth to actually perceive what is real or how facts we think are irrefutable should be interpreted. Unless we can have access to someone aware of true reality to convey to us information beyond our limited ability to know what is true, it will be impossible to know what to think. This is where the issue of belief meets the world of common sense and even modern science.
While I am reading this story and pondering these things, my mind is also battling scoffers inside my own head regarding something happening right now that is disturbing my own peace. I have a piece of equipment that I have used for years to record programs from TV satellite feeds to then save onto DVD. Last night I discovered I cannot access the many programs stored on its hard drive which feels very distressing. After unplugging the unit and turning it on again nothing has changed this morning.
This has resulted in a strong temptation to begin worrying and feeling anxious about all this. I have enjoyed using this for years and it still is programmed to record a number of new things I want to save, yet if I cannot access the hard drive it will be impossible for me to watch them even if it does record. In short, what I am hearing in my head are scoffers asserting all sorts of things about me or about how God might feel about me. And I can assure you that none of this is positive or faith-building.
Rather than give expression here to the litany arguments and assertions these voices of unbelief use to accuse me and accuse God of not caring about me, I will turn my focus to the parallel I am discovering in this story to learn how Jesus views things. Jesus came to this earth to reintroduce us to the true reality that has been lost sight of or is denounced as uncredible by an unbelieving world around us along with the many voices within us. Yet God is still bringing all the universe back toward living in true reality, but He will do it in ways completely consistent with His own character of love and respect for each individuals right and freedom to choose to decide their way.
When Jesus came into the house of Jairus it is mentioned that He only allowed His three closest companions to come with Him. That alerts me right away that something important is here that I need to pay attention to in this story. Jesus is restrictive on who is allowed to participate for some good reason. And how Jesus responds to the scoffers further reveals what He has in mind and how that may relate directly to my own situation as I struggle to know how to relate to God's seemingly foreign methods and ways in my life.
I believe that Jesus restricted his associates to only Peter, James and John because they were likely more willing to trust that Jesus knew what He was doing while the others would have been too easily influenced by the public pressure encountered in this situation. Clearly the scoffing, laughing and derision aroused by Jesus' comment about the girl not really being dead was intended to intimidate and discredit the opinions and perspective Jesus had about this situation. Just identifying with Jesus meant one would need to be willing to side with His view of the situation and His version of reality that conflicted sharply with what everyone else believed was true based on accepted ways of interpreting the evidence and facts. Anyone choosing to side with Jesus' version rather than the accepted opinions of everyone else would have to share the shame and scorn being directed at Jesus as a lunatic, apparently lost in His own surreal world of illusion.
How I see Jesus acting in this story has significant implications about how I relate to temptations to doubt God in my own situations. I may not be confronted with a dead person while God is saying they are not, but I am often confronted with temptations to disbelieve that God is truly interested in my problems or that He loves me personally. Reality as I assume it to be and how nearly everyone around me sees it may in fact be strikingly different. Will I believe the truth as it is in Jesus? I am convinced that the greatest need we face today is to become willing to accept and embrace reality exclusively the way Jesus views it rather than ever trusting our own version, for our version will always mislead us though it seems far more sensible and rational. Our flesh, as the Bible sometimes calls it, is stuck in ways of perceiving reality that will always disagree to some extent with how God sees reality and will fight against belief that things are not as we perceive them from our perspective.
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (Galatians 5:17)
I am coming to understand this is what Paul was speaking of when he talked about the fight of faith.
Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12)
This fight of faith is where my battle really happens. It involves believing Jesus' version of reality that often conflicts sharply with common sense, accepted interpretations of facts and information and what has been the norm for us. Yet this fight is not in the external realm but rather swirls around inside our heads involving our emotions, our perceptions, our sense of identity and self-worth, and most importantly the way we perceive how God relates to us. In short, this fight is a battle over how much we are going to trust God's heart, rest in His love, believe His promises and remain in His peace.
Day two: Since I began writing this something significant has transpired. It is becoming even more clear that I am dealing with the fight of faith as I have suspected all along. I have witnessed this as a pattern in recent years and I sense that all who are serious about following after God are finding themselves involved in similar struggles of trust in God.
What God is teaching me is that I need to constantly adjust my priorities, and by that I don't mean which job to do next or the relative importance of doctrines. Rather it is how I relate to anything I am doing, the nature of my disposition, the condition of my spirit. Naturally I like to feel like I have accomplished something in life, yet God is working to get me to see how the condition of my spirit is His highest priority and I need to make it mine as well.
Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5-7)
My human nature likes to think that if God would simply answer my prayers and adjust my circumstances, then I could have peace and grow in faith. But I am finding that God's agenda is nearly always different. God wants me to get to know His heart much deeper so as to establish a settled trust in Him whether I accomplish anything of apparent worth or not. When it comes to peace, He has been training me to see that peace is something I must choose to enter into and remain in before I see answers to my requests, before circumstances may change if they ever do change. I am learning that God's goal is for me to live in peace all the time no matter what is transpiring around me. This is what is referenced here as a peace beyond comprehension or understanding. It is a peace that doesn't make sense based on how we assume peace is experienced. It is to be embraced before things are resolved instead of accepted afterwards. It is God's gift to preserve my heart in problems, not to avoid problems.
Living in peace irregardless of circumstances because I believe that God genuinely cares about me no matter how things turn out is God's purpose for my sanctification. This is the purifying of my faith, the rewiring of my mental circuits purging me progressively of unbelief. This is the preparation needed for heaven, not through the acquirement of an impressive list of spiritual accomplishments but a transformation of disposition. My witness for God in a world full of fear and lies about Him will be far more effective when I choose to rest in His peace through difficult circumstances, as I choose to embrace joy when there seems to be no external reason to feel that way, when I insist on believing that God really is good all the time when everyone around me only sees Him in negative judgment or thinks He is harsh, upset and ready to punish us for our sins.
God has long been training me in this direction, and as I continue choosing to respond and listen to His quiet inner voice urging me to chose peace instead of confrontation, fault-finding or fear, I find that whether or not my external problems are ever resolved, the real problem in my spirit is being effectively cured – and that is the highest priority from heaven's perspective. This fight of faith is all about learning to view circumstances through the lens of true reality instead of relying on the priority of external accomplishments to feel secure.
As I went about my work yesterday choosing to leave it in God's hands no matter how it turns out, yet still aware of it in the back of my mind, I sensed an impression last night to try something different I had not tried before. So when I got home I pushed the record button for a few seconds and then stopped it to see if it might break through whatever was blocking me from accessing the hard drive where all my programs were stored. Sure enough, after I recorded a few seconds of current programming I was able to access the storage drive. However, what I discovered was that everything stored on there was all erased. The hard drive appears to be wiped clean except for the few seconds just recorded. Everything I had been saving is now gone whether I like it or not.
Just like the mourners at the house of the dead girl Jesus came to see, I face the choice at each step of the way as to how I will interpret data as it comes to me. I can feel upset that I have lost dozens of hours of programs I wanted to save, or I can accept that God is using this to strengthen my faith, and in the grand scheme of things any lost programs are insignificant compared to what I am gaining at the heart level. That is the way I choose to relate to this because I want God's priorities to be mine.
As I lay down to sleep last night and again while waking up this morning, I sensed a awareness of peace and closeness to God more than usual. I appreciate value that feeling though I am keenly aware that it is not safe to base my faith on those feelings. Someone helpfully pointed out some years ago for me that while our feelings should never be the foundation for our faith, they are designed to fulfill a very important role as indicators of the condition of our spirit. Like gauges on the dashboard of a car, feelings reveal the condition and activity of what is going on in the more mysterious world of my own spirit and I should not ignore them even while not allowing them to control me.
Part of God's retraining in the way I think and process and perceive reality has been along this aspect of learning how to relate to my feelings while at the same time not being controlled by them. For too many years I was trained to repress many of my feelings which only led to producing a lot of dysfunction in my life. I now realize that suppressing feelings is like putting tape over a warning light on the dashboard of a vehicle so as to fool yourself into believing there is nothing wrong. That is a bad idea there and likewise with my heart. Yet the fear has often been that if I give too much credence to my feelings that I will be swept away by them and my rational control will be exchanged for baser desires and impulses to dominate, so I must never allow my feelings much room in my thinking.
Though there is some truth in these arguments I am learning that God did not design for me to live that way. I must neither suppress my feelings or ignore them, but neither should I give them free reign or unrestricted external expression and dominance. Rather I need to learn how to acknowledge them, analyze what they may be telling me about what is going on in my spirit, and then seek God's input about what I should do in response. Instead of allowing repressed feelings to build up pressure inside of me which only produces a spirit of rebellion and resentment, I need to process them in more mature ways, thanking them for informing me of important things I need to know so I can then make appropriate adjustments with God's help to address underlying causes when those feelings are negative.
God created us to live in joy, and that means also enjoying positive feelings of excitement, contentment, peace, happiness, fulfillment and rest. Since I am hard-wired to desire to be happy and live in joy, I feel compelled to seek out things that might bring these feelings into my life. But because I live in a world of exploitation and deception it is never safe to believe most of what I am offered as tantalizing solutions to resolve these God-given desires. The only one who can be trusted to know how to restore me to healthy emotional living and relationships is the One who designed me to begin with.
In recent weeks I keep being reminded of a key verse in Jude that was brought to my attention years ago in my first encounter with inductive Bible study. It is the focal point of everything else in the entire book (which is only one chapter long) and is one of the most important instructions in the Bible.
But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
(Jude 1:20-21 NRSV)
As I grow in grace and knowing God, I realize that my highest priority is to keep myself solidly in the love that God has for me that will never waver or dissipate. I cannot reduce God's love for me no matter how I treat Him – this is the core message He gives me in the story of the cross of Jesus. This is the focal point of the entire war between Christ and Satan which is over what we choose to believe about how God feels about us. Sin has infected us with all kinds of subtle insinuations that we assume are true about God but create fear in our hearts leading us to doubt the extravagance of His love. But God is in now pulling out all the stops to expose the true light about His heart for everyone, and it is time to place ourselves securely at the center of that love no matter what else may happen around us.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7-11 NRSV)