I, for one, have struggled with church. Often, it seems like some superstitious event that really doesn’t connect with me. Let’s go sing some songs, not because we feel like it, but because that’s what we do. Let’s listen to a spiritual pep talk. Let’s have superficial conversations about the weather. Honestly, it seems like that at sometimes. I, as an individual, often have an easier time connecting with God in the mountains, at a rave, hitchhiking, even on my bedroom floor than at church.  Church, however, was never meant to be the core of spirituality; union with God is. For me,that union is best expressed and experienced in different contexts. Here is the deal: church is not about me. It is not about my tastes in music, ambiance, or art. It is not about my personality or my temperament. It is about coming TOGETHER to support one another, worship God TOGETHER, and cooperate to make a difference in this world. The church is a family not an event, getting coffee with believers and encouraging each other is a better example of church than many Sunday events.

Let me show how my individualism got in the way at church with a quick story. I was attending this tent revival meeting last summer. I really like the idea of being proactive in engaging the community. Yet, the vibe was totally wrong for me. It was a bunch of shouting Pentecostals playing cheesy rock music. I was cringing and shaking my head inwardly, yet fighting the impulse. I found myself rebutting the program inwardly, yet trying to value it. I had thoughts like “this is so corny and traditional, this will never reach youth with this music. Why do they have to shout and pressure others to shout incessantly, yeah sometimes I like to get wild if the time is right, but I’m not going to do it just to conform. What’s with this lady droning on this hour long monologue, yes God is faithful, but I don’t want to hear your life story right now”. I left the meeting thinking it was cheesy and outdated yet I appreciated “what they were trying to do”.  On the way home I picked up a hitchhiker. We talked about the revival meeting and the young man begins to share how it was impacting him. ARE YOU SERIOUS? It was lame! He also shares how he is struggling with substance abuse (I seem to run into a lot of people that are, interesting because I am majoring in chemical dependency counseling). I share some stuff with him and ask if I can pray with him. I pray for him and he starts crying. God was touching him big time!

So why is this significant? The very church event I was criticizing and dreading was used by God. The ironic thing is that I was used by God together with the event. Here I am at this revival meeting, a culture that I cannot relate to, something that is contrary to my personality, temperament, and disposition and God makes us work together! It is not about me, it was about the young man struggling with addiction that night. My criticisms of their “outdated spirituality” was really just me being an individualistic narcissist. Are you getting the picture? This church event was certainly not the essence of my spiritual life, yet we worked as a team. It was important. Church is important. There are many other times that I have been sitting in church and God has spoken to me through the pastor. There are times that God has spoken through me to others. I’m not always wild about going to church, yet I need it, others need me; we need each other. When I was 18 years old living in Phoenix, I probably would’ve spiraled into heavy drug use, serious sexual problems, and overall spiritual collapse (it was a vulnerable time) if I didn’t have my church.

So maybe God has never spoken to you specifically in church, maybe you have never helped others, maybe it has never done anything for you other than put you to sleep; what now? God has a design for the church: a family, a team, a community. If it is not fulfilling that design, does that mean we should throw it out? Do we walk out on our families when they “don’t do anything for us”? What about the government? Should we embrace anarchy because of some of the failures of our government (if you answered yes, take a look at Somalia and the histories of other anarchist states)? Certainly we should find a church that is a good match for ourselves, or good as possible, but we can’t expect perfection. The church will fail you and let you down, it is “a hospital for sinners not a museum for saints” but it is what we have to work with and God is doing amazing things in and through His church these days.

Let me share another experience to demonstrate how the church both failed me and saved me.I mentioned how the church in Phoenix pretty much saved my life, yet I didn’t mention how the first church I went to didn’t do jack for me (not that it’s JUST about me). Yeah, I got greeted with the typical formalities. The soundman even let me check out the audio setup. Yet I went there for a month and was crumbling on the inside, no one was there for me. At the other church I went to I was engaged. The first night I was asked if I was saved like three times, that may have been a bit over the top, but let me finish. People at the church talked to me. They gave me rides, they took me out to eat. They involved me in church activities like community outreach, not just sat me down in some pew. I had some great friends there, for which I am infinitely grateful for. It was a family. We played ball together; I even got to help out with sound at an outreach to Flagstaff. The funny thing is, that church was not really my style either. Everyone there dressed up and shouted. That church did not do enough social outreach (mercy ministries, feeding the poor, etc) and taught that tattoos were wrong. Yeah, I got rubbed the wrong way there several times, but I get rubbed the wrong way at family reunions too. I would not endorse some of their practices and teaches to this day, but I guarantee that God used that church to keep me from spiritually deteriorating.

So whether you’re a Christian burnt out on church or a spiritually oriented person very turned off by the concept of church, I hope you have seen that the church IS meaningful and important to spirituality, but it surely is not the essence of spirituality.

***FOR MORE EXAMPLES OF THE CHURCH IN ACTION, FIND MY POSTING ON MY YWAM CIRCUIT RIDER EXPERIENCE, IT WAS RAD!!!!!***

Everyone wants to live a meaningful and happy life on this earth, yet investing all of one’s meaning in happiness in a world that sometimes seems meaningless and cruel leads to despair. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes embraces happiness in this world yet emphasized the need for something transcendent and eternal. I do not think that the Preacher’s solution was necessarily a solution, but at least a step in the right direction. Out of the formulas for happiness offered I would choose the Preacher’s.

            At first it seems the Preacher is discarding worldly pleasures and activities as pointless. The Preacher states “ Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity. . “ (Holy Bible, Ecc. 2.11). Yet later in the text he seems to place value on earthly things. The Preacher concludes, “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years in which God has given him; for this is his reward” (Holy Bible, Ecc.5.18). I believe that in the first quote the Preacher is saying that pursuing temporal, earthly things as one’s ultimate fulfillment is foolish, but they are still to be enjoyed. I think there is one very key verse that shows that Preacher is endorsing transcendent spirituality. The Preacher says, “ . . . He has also set eternity in their (humanity’s) heart . . .” (Holy Bible, Ecc 3.11). He is saying that the experience of change because of time renders things meaningless, so eternity is necessary. This is very similar to the Buddha’s idea about being attached to transient things.

            I think that the Preacher is unsure what this transcendent spirituality he is endorsing is, because of his vagueness and seeming indecisiveness. In some verse he talks about the world as if it was a chaotic place with no order. At one point he says, “It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked . . .”(Holy Bible,Ecc 9.2) and in another place he says, “. . .still I know that it will be well for those who fear God . . .” (Holy Bible, Ecc 8.12). He is on the fence, this is why I do not feel like he really offers a formula for happiness, but he is leaning in the right direction. He also advises fearing God at the end as his conclusion (Holy Bible, Ecc.12.13). It seems that he refuses to believe that the world is an unjust, meaningless place, yet it really seems like it and he does not know what God is doing about it.

            From the Christian perspective at this time during Biblical history God’s plan for redemption had not been consummated. Despite this, there was still a strong spiritual heritage in Israel and the belief in a good God who was involved with humanity. The Preacher was caught between his belief in a good God who created a meaningful world and his frustration with what seemed to be God’s inactivity on behalf of humanity. The fact that he ended his writings with the advice to fear God shows that despite his confusion and frustration, he still had faith in God and His righteousness.

            As a Christian, I admire that kind of faith and I believe that I have the revelation that he was looking forward to. I think that he was, in a sense, a confused Christian, or at the very least a confused Messianic Jew. He did not know that he was a Messianic Jew, because while he was trusting God, he did not know the God was planning on bringing a Messiah. I believed that if he had lived in the time of Christ, he would have recognized Christ as the solution. So I think that he was the closest to the path of human happiness.

            While I think that the Buddha, Aristotle, Seligman, and Hogan all had good moral values and ideas, they lack a greater meaning to life that lies beyond the grasp of chance, change, and injustice. All four of those formulas embrace this world happiness, like the Preacher, but none of them really reach towards otherworldly happiness. The Buddha is the closest to doing that. He acknowledges that being overly attached to the joys of this world will ultimately just make us unhappy. The Buddha’s solution to this is a lot different than the Preacher’s solution though. The idea of eternity or afterlife is not even hinted at, on the contrary, it is criticized. The Buddha advises humanity to free themselves from desire. As was mentioned before, the Preacher never gives a specific answer to the problem of existence, yet he puts his trust in the One who does have a solution. The Christian solution is not annihilating all human desires, but redirecting those desires and to some extent delaying the gratification of them.

There is a recognition that seeking pleasures, wisdom, and everything else that the Preacher sought on a temporal level is meaningless without something greater. So, like in Buddhism, desires for temporal things are not given precedence. The desires themselves, however, are not seen as invalid, but the objects of those desires are seen as incorrect. It is believed that while humans are created to desire things like food, sex, and human companionship, humans are ultimately created to desire to divine companionship. In essence, Christianity advises humanity to redirect their deepest desires from temporal things to the eternal God. To a degree, these desires for divine companionship can be fulfilled in this life, yet they are consummated in the next life. In that sense the problem of existence must be solved by faith; faith that divine companionship will be fulfilling in this life even if the fulfillment has yet to come and that whatever is missed out on in this life will be more than compensated for in the next life. Even though one moment of the divine presence is enough to convince anyone that union with God is ultimately fulfilling in this life and the next, humans are shortsighted and forgetful enough to be distracted by lesser, temporal pleasures. This why the Christian solution is one of faith even though it is also one of experience.

I think that the Preacher is closer to the truth than the Budhha, Aristotle, Martin Seligman, and Linda Hogan. A major strength of the Preacher is that he acknowledged temporal joys but insisted that they are meaningless without transcendent spiritual meaning. Although the Preacher did not technically have a well-defined solution, he was headed in the right direction. While the Preacher walked in darkness, he believed that there was a coming light.

This is a paper I wrote for English analyzing a song. I’m not sure I covered the topic sufficiently because it was limited by the scope of the essay. Before we get into the analysis of this song (which is really just a starting point for my topic) I think it is worth mentioning that there are very many songs in EDM that have similar themes of love, joy, peace, paradise, and heaven (not to mention many songs by Dune).

What is the significance of Dune’s Can’t Stop Raving? Is it just a cheesy 90s rave song or is their more to it? It certainly is a cheesy, but I believe there is more to it than just being a rave song. The seemingly shallow, one-dimensional lyrics point towards a deeper, more significant truth. That truth being that every human being desires a paradise. This paradise is a land and condition of transcendent love, peace, and joy; much like the Christian idea of heaven. Along with the parallel idea of heaven are many other similarities between raves and spirituality and religion. I have noticed these things in my experiences with the rave scene and spirituality as well. I believe this song expresses the spiritual, human longing for transcendent love that many people are seeking in the rave scene.

In the uploaded video, the song starts with the repetitive mantra: “I can’t stop raving”. In order to find out why Dune cannot stop raving, we must dig a little deeper. The lyrics continue: “Come and take a trip with me, to a land where love is free, come with me to paradise so our future can be nice” (Shet285). According to the lyrics, paradise is a land where love is free. Apparently the song represents raves as a place where love is free; a paradise or the closest thing to it. Ordinary life is not meeting his needs, so he must go to raves to look for paradise.

The line “so our future can be nice” (Shet285) is worth considering as well. This obviously means that he is not just living for the moment. He wants this land of free love, this paradise, to endure and continue. Despite the fact that he cannot stop raving, he must know that someday he must stop due to the fragility of human life, unless he is hoping for an afterlife. He is either firmly confident in a euphoric afterlife or engaged in wishful thinking. Either way, he desires a land and circumstance of everlasting love.

The final lyrics to consider are: “follow me into the light, everything is going to be all right” and “Just let go and take my hand, I will show you Promised Land” (Shet285). These phrases are significant in further demonstrating the spiritual nature of his longing in that they employ similar vocabulary and ideas as religious texts and spiritual ideas. Light is a fairly common symbol in within spirituality. The word enlightenment often has spiritual connotations, so do phrases like “ I saw the light.” The Promised Land is an idea directly pulled from the Bible and is both present in Jewish and Christian beliefs. The Jewish people were at one time in slavery and misery in Egypt but, according to the Old Testament, God led them to a fertile homeland, or Israel (Holy Bible, Ex. 13.3-5). Many understand this as a metaphor or foreshadowing of the future state of bliss, the promised land of heaven.

It may seem far-fetched; equating raving with spirituality (and therefore this song), however, I have encountered people who viewed raving as a sort of religion. Hutson, for example, says “Together idealization of the past and interest in the future creates the incendiary combination of 1) what is seen as a model society (past) and 2) the prospect of such a society’s reenactment (future). This combination recalls what Eliade has termed ‘the myth of eternal return’: the nostalgic desire to go to an original, primordial time and place, a paradise” (42).

Anthropologists and ravers both see a parallel between raving and spirituality, so there must be some similarities. When people go to church they gather together and listen to and sing music. There is a common belief in music as a means of spiritual expression; perhaps as a connection to a higher realm or a means of relieving stress and becoming encouraged. Raves are also communal events. Like churches, rave culture values unity, peace, love, bliss, and awe. Many who attend raves also find their identity in doing so; they refer to themselves proudly as ravers. That is not so different than one calling himself Baptist, Lutheran, or seeking a sense of belonging in a church. Despite the fact that raves are social, I think they, like churches, are seeking something higher.

The fact that many people at raves get high on drugs like LSD (acid) and MDMA (ecstasy) further convinces me that people at raves, like Dune, are seeking something powerful. People use LSD because it can be a mind blowing and awe inspiring experience. People use MDMA because on it they feel ecstasy. Awe, mind blowing encounters, peace, love, and joy are all terms that have frequently been used to describe encounters with God. For example, hippy preacher Arthur Blessit said, “You’re spaced out on acid . . . Let me tell you brother, if you really want to get turned on, I mean man, where the trip’s heavy, just pray to Jesus. He’ll turn you on to the ultimate trip. He’ll give you a high that will keep you to eternity (qtd. in Crowder). Associating raves with spirituality seems reasonable; therefore associating the message of the song with a spiritual longing is reasonable as well.

Everyone interprets art in his or her own way, and I am no different. I do not interpret this song spiritually only because of my readings, but because of my experiences. I initially got into raving because of my enjoyment of electronic music, but I was seeking something greater too. I was spiritually empty and looking for something worth living for. Raving and MDMA gave me some memorable experiences and joy, but it was short lived and did not meet my deepest needs. I needed the joy of transcendent love and I realized that it was not to be found in raving; the rave ends and the drug wears off. The solely experience based spirituality of rave culture also did not answer my big questions: what is the meaning of life, where did I come from, where am I going, and why is the world this way?

I stopped using drugs and put raving on hold to get my spiritual life back on track. My questions were answered much more satisfactorily in the Christian worldview than in the rave experience. Yet, my Christian worldview was just that; a worldview. I needed more than a worldview. A few years later, after much personal and spiritual growth, I still lacked that lifestyle of bliss I needed; I viewed it as something to be attained someday in the afterlife. Then I had a radical encounter with the love of God that changed my life forever. It was not an abstract joy, but an experience that far excelled any experience of raving or drugs; an experience that still resonates in me and shapes me to this day. When looking back at my raving days and now, it is obvious what I was looking for.

I think that Dune expressed the same longing that I had and that many affiliated with rave culture have; the spiritual longing for transcendent love. The lyrics do not need much stretching to get that idea across. Raves and rave culture also support this conclusion, given the similarities they have with spirituality and religion. I personally have seen that connection as well. Despite much of the disapproval society and religion have for raves, they just might resemble heaven more than one would think.

Works Cited

Crowder, John. The Ecstasy of Loving God. Shippensburg: Destiny Image, 2009. Print.

Holy Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982. Print. New King James Vers.

Hutson, Scott R. “The Rave: Spiritual Healing in Modern Western Subcultures.” Anthropological Quarterly 73.1. (2000): 35-49. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 May 2013.

Shet285. “Dune – Can’t Stop Raving.” YouTube. Youtube, 5 Sep. 2007. Web. 12 May 2013.

Hey, I am going to apologize in advance for the length of this and the fact that it is a rough draft, but I need it to be backed up. I could also use some feedback on it. Hope you enjoy.

Prayers and Meditations of 119th Psalm

Psalms 119 is a very relatable psalm for me and I think many people. It kind of follows the tone of Romans 7; that is, wanting to do the right thing, knowing that the right thing is best, and yet struggling to do the right thing. We can take comfort knowing that David “the man after God’s own heart” struggled and failed like we do. This is not acceptance of our failures as a necessity, allowing sin to move in, but it’s a refusal to get discouraged or give up the fight. I won’t go over the whole thing, since it is a very long psalm, but I will talk about some key verses that have really impacted my thinking. Not necessarily chronological either.

Joy in God versus Counterfeit Joy

Psalms 119:1-3 “Happy are people of integrity, who follow the law of the Lord. Happy are those who obey his decrees and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and walk only in his paths.” (NLT)

Happiness is not found in sin, it’s found in God. That’s why David said in Psalms 16:11 “You will show me the path of life,in your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (NKJV) God’s way are the path to life. David later cries out in this same psalm (v35):  “Make me walk in the path of Your commandments for that is where my happiness is found.” (NLT)

Sin is like junkfood, tasty at first, but unfulfilling at last. Have you ever been hungry and had no food but candy or cupcakes and then proceeded to eat a bunch of them, hoping to fill your appetite? What happens? At first it’s delicious, but in the end you aren’t any more satisfied, on the contrary, now you are hungry and sick. Do see you see the connection? Sometimes seeking God is not easy, the promises of the Bible seem so far away, God even seems distant, and sometimes God doesn’t even feel appealing. In times like that it is tempting to settle for a cheap and available substitute.

These are times when we must walk by faith, trusting that there is fullness of joy in God’s presence, trusting that these counterfeit joys will hurt us, even if every cell in our bodies tell us otherwise. That is why it is said: the just shall live by faith (Habbakuk 2:4).

Our deepest needs aren’t met in sex, drugs, alcohol, food, popularity, or anything this world can offer. Not only are our deepest needs unmet when we seek them in things other than God, the thing we are seeking them in becomes dysfunctional too. For instance, if you are trying to find the joy that’s found in God in a spouse, well then your needs will go unmet and you will expect too much from your spouse and hurt the relationship.

Bad Instincts

Psalms 119:5 “Oh that my ways were directed to keep your statutes.”

When anyone accepts Christ he is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), he is cleansed from the stain of sin and is spiritually alive. So why aren’t we automatically perfect? Justification (right legal standing before God) is instantaneous, sanctification (being made holy in this life) is the process of a lifetime. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we have spiritual baggage and strongholds that must be taken care of through inner healing and deliverance, and this can be an instant breakthrough, like a feeling of new birth; even after already being saved. Yet, the flesh remains. If a 25 year old man gets saved, he has 25 years of instinct of living according to the world, the flesh, and the devil. That doesn’t usually get immediately erased. We are conceived in sin with a sinful nature (Ps 51:5) and continue to have that instinct. We don’t have to learn sin just as we don’t have to learn to be afraid while standing next a very high cliff. Yet when we become followers of Jesus we are called to live with a different mindset. Do not walk according to flesh, but spirit (Gal 5:16). Have the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5) and do not conform but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2). The renewing of one’s mind is a process. It’s like learning to rock climb after 25 years of being afraid of heights. The person is harnessed in and supervised by a professional yet when he looks down he is still terrified. If he follows his feeling, he will give up. If he has faith in the rope and the instructor, he will press on past his instincts and keep going. If he continues to do this faithfully, he will eventually develop a new set of instincts and a new perspective; will there still be a nervousness after many years of climbing? Probably, because his eyes still might tell him that if he falls, he will die. Yet, those instincts are not nearly as strong.  In this last section we learned by the Word of God that sin just leads to misery and following God leads to fullness of joy; what do we do when every cell in our body and every thought in our minds says “drinking (or pornography, or popularity, etc) has what I need.”? We stand firm in faith. We say “pshh God is way better” by faith. The more we walk by faith, the more our instincts and feelings are sanctified, making it obvious that God is better. We let the Word of God lead our paths by faith; which we will talk about more later. Without faith it’s impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6)

  Responsibility and Dependence 

Ps119:10 “With my whole heart I have sought you; oh let me not wander from your commandments!”

Ps119:18 Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from your law.

Ps119:32  “I will run the course of your commands, for you shall enlarge my heart.”

Ps119:33-37 “Teach, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law, Indeed I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness. Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way.”

Ps119:147 “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words.”

Something I love about this chapter is the raw humanity of it. David wants to follow God wholeheartedly, yet he knows his weakness. He also knows that if God gives a commandment, he will enable one to follow it. That is why all throughout this verse we can read David’s confident resolutions, his lamenting over his sinful ways and instincts, his plea for grace, and his confidence in God’s empowering to help him succeed. What can we learn from this? It’s possible for us to pursue God by His grace, absolutely difficult, and it will take our whole hearted commitment. And at times we will still fail. Sanctification is a cooperation. God empowers and enables, yet we have responsibility. The Bible never tells us what percentage of sanctification is human effort and what percentage is divine effort; but it does tell us to pursue wholeheartedly. It’s not fair for a man to blame God for “making him a drunk” if he hangs out with friends who drink, hangs out in areas with a lot of drinking, isn’t in prayer, and isn’t in the Word. Jesus gives us a picture of how difficult it may be to fight off sin: “If your right hand eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30) Our spiritual renewal begins inside, but external actions are still spiritual. Paul says to run from anything that stimulates youthful lust, not stand there thinking that you are spiritual enough to resist it, run! What did Joseph do when Potiphar’s wife came onto him? Did he say, “I’m way spiritual to be tempted by such a trivial earthly thing”? No, he booked it so fast that his clothes ripped because he knew that he was apt to fail. Look what happened when David took a second glance at Bathsheba. We have (and want more) heart change, but sometimes practical life choices and inner transformation go hand in hand and work off of each other. If we are unwilling to let go of friends, throw out a computer, spend more time in prayer and the word, or do whatever it takes to break off sin, then our repentance is not deep enough. We must cry out for a greater hatred for sin, love of the Lord, fear of the Lord, and a deeper repentance. God doesn’t ask perfection, He asks willingness, wholeheartedness, and faith.

Occupying the Land and Staying on Guard

Matt. 12:43-44 ” When an impure spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says ‘ I will return to the house from which I came ‘ And when it comes, it finds the house unoccupied, swept and put in order.”

Ps 119:11 “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

John 17:17 “Sanctify them by your truth, your word is truth.”

Phillipians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.”

Matt. 26:41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

1 Cor 10:12 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

Let me ask some obvious questions: is it easier to invade a place with no walls, guards, and towers or a place that is heavily fortified? Is it easier to spot a dark clothed intruder in a lit up area or a darkened area? Of course we know the answer. This is a principle that must be applied spiritually. When our minds are full of scripture and our mouths full of praise; it’s much harder for sin to get in. Meditating on scriptures or carrying around written scripture is a powerful tactic. When an invading thought comes; it’s spotted right away by the spotlight of God’s word and then cut down with the sword of His spirit (or possibly repeatedly cut down as long as it tries to assault you). Often times I have been tempted, and then I catch myself saying “Turn my eyes from worthless things and give me life through your word”. I then might tie that into other verses in Psalms 119 and the rest of the Bible. It’s called a sword for a reason!  It’s not just keeping the word memorized, but also at the forefront of our consciousnesses. This may be hard, but keep with it! When we push out pointless, worldly thoughts and stay in the Word and with God mentally, we grow stronger and learn to delight in Him more; which is also to grow stronger and more joyful! Think of the disciples that fell asleep at the garden of Gethsemane; they let the enemies right in. I think this is beyond historical, but spiritual. The garden in the word symbolizes communion with God and the spiritual life, keep it guarded at all costs! If I get off work and I’m stressed and tired and go straight to surfing channels or surf the net in an absent minded manner, I’m just setting myself up for failure. You don’t have to look for sin in this world, it looks for you. Would anyone absentmindedly walk through a mind field? Yet we do it all the time, spiritually speaking. If your mind isn’t engaging in worship, meditation, and filtering it’s easy for sin to sneak in unnoticed; keep the spotlight of the Word on at all times. Keep the armor on at all times. This is a war, should we be surprised when we are attacked?

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Ps119:25 I lie in the dust, completely discouraged, revive me by your word (NLT)

Ps119:28 My soul melts with heaviness; strengthen me according to your word.

Ps119:81-83 I faint with longing for you salvation; but I have put my hope in your word. My eyes are straining to see your promises come true, when will you comfort me?

I am shriveled like a wineskin in the smoke, exhausted with waiting. But I cling to your principles and obey them.

Have you ever been in the place where you say “It’s hopeless, I give up, I’ll never change”? I know I have. I win one battle with sin, and then an hour later I fail. Maybe I go two days next time and then fail. Two steps forward and one step back; or sometimes it might feel like one step forward and two steps back. You say to yourself “ No one else struggles like this, I’m an exception to God’s promises, how can I be expected to fight like this?” These are all lies. As we saw before, Jesus himself warned us to take radical action against sin and pray and watch. Obviously, He was expecting His disciples to encounter some heavy resistance. What if you do have to fight harder than others? It’s not about how we stack up against others that matter, it’s who we are compared to who we’ve been. Paul calls comparison foolish. As I said earlier, why are we surprised to encounter heavy resistance, it’s a war! Solomon said,” he who conquers himself is greater than he who conquers a city.” Think of sieging a city. It takes so much planning, so much force, so much violence and so much time. Wars can last years. People may be holed up in one castle  for months while the invaders are waiting for them to starve. This is the intensity of war. Is it any surprise spiritual war is more intense? How much more important is spiritual war? Should we marvel that there is a cost to winning; exhaustion and frustration. Jesus didn’t give up  in Gethsemane, he contended to the point of mighty groans, tears, and sweating blood. Don’t give up! It’s better to fail twenty times a day then give up and put yourself in a posture of failure and defeat. God won’t give up on you. He who began a good work in you will be faithful to finish it (Phil. 1:6) He is the author and finisher of your faith (Heb. 12:2) Whether you’re battling an addiction, a fear, depression, or anything, HOLD ON. God will not quench a smoking flax. (Matt 12:20) The outcome of a war isn’t merely determine by one battle, or ten. It’s impossible to win a war if you give up after a defeat, take encouragement knowing that the LORD is on your side. This will lift. I remember a despair, cynicism, and confusion in my life that never seemed that it would lift; I had no idea why I still persisted; desperation and faith were my main consolations at that time. After a couple years, it lifted and sometimes I weep with joy when I think of the fact that I didn’t give up. And I praise God!

The Blessing of His Word

Ps119:14 I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches.

Ps119:16 I will delight myself in your statutes, I will not forget Your word.

Ps119:24 Your testimonies also are my delight  and my counselors.

Ps 119:45 I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to Your word.

Ps119:50 Your promise revives me it comforts me in all my trouble.

Ps119:56 This is my happy way of life: obeying your commandments.

Ps119:92 If your law wouldn’t have sustained me with joy, I would’ve died in my misery.

Ps119:98-99 You commands make me wiser than my enemies, for your commands are my constant guide. Yes, I have more insight than my teachers, for I am always thinking of your decrees.

Ps119:103-105 How sweet are your words to my taste; they are sweeter than honey. Your commandments give me understanding, no wonder I hate every false way of life. Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.

Ps119:133 Guide my steps by your word, so I will not be overcome by any evil.

Ps119:40 Your promises have been thoroughly tested; that is why I love them so much.

Ps119:142 Your justice is eternal, and you law is perfectly true.

Whoa, that’s quite a list! I left out a lot too. How manifold are the benefits of His word! Let’s start to unpack this. There are many verses that just make the point that His word is David’s delight and joyful way of life; what we want to know is why. He says is verse 24 that the word is his counselor and in verse 105 that the word is a lamp for his feet and light for his path. The word provides guidance in a confused and confusing world. Have you ever been lost? It’s scary, especially in the wilderness, we avoid that through God’s word. People are so often caught in bondage and confusion because they drown in the sea of demonic ideas, philosophies, religions, and bad life choices. We can be restored from those bad choices, but furthermore we can avoid them in advance by being led by his word, which leads me to the next verse. Verse 133 says “guide my steps by your word, so I will not be overcome by any evil.” When we are led by circumstances, emotions, or the opinions of men, we will often be overcome by evil; but if we are led by the word and spirit of God, we will walk securely and avoid every destructive, false way of life (v104). Verse 45 says “ I will walk in freedom because I have devoted myself to your commandments”. As I noted earlier, false ways of life lead to bondage; on the contrary, God’s ways lead to freedom. Often people look at God’s laws in a negative light, as if they were designed to ruin fun. They are restrictive because they are protective. Think of it this way: staying inside God’s laws is like staying in a walled in city, a massive walled in city full of joy. Outside of the walls are minefields, vicious predators, robbers, deep wells, spike pits, etc. Would you be more free enjoying God and creation in the “confines” of His law or more free in a deep, dark well with a broken leg? The lie is that outside of the wall is where the fun stuff is and that God is holding out on us. Isn’t that the same lie that Satan told Eve in the garden? The fact is, there is no joy in sin. The false joy in sin is like the joy of the mouse as he tastes the cheese for 1 millisecond before the trap springs and breaks his neck. There is freedom in His laws. No wonder I hate every false way of life (v104)! No wonder following your laws is my happy way of life (v56).

Ps119:50 says “Your promise revives me, it comforts me in all my trouble.” Verse 40 says “ your promises have been thoroughly tested, that is why I love them so much.” God has always been a God of promises, and He is faithful to keep them. What is our comfort in this life? Men will fail us, economies will crash, health will fail, treasures and pleasures will not fulfill and will fade quickly. The eternal Kingdom of God is our hope. The joys and ecstasies of heaven, of His presence and glory. This is an inheritance that nothing can snatch from us. What joy! With all the vacillations of life, we have a transcendent joy and one that far outweighs the worries of this life. Paul says “this, light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17) and Paul was a man with troubles! Jesus said “ But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20) Meditate on the promises of God and fight for them; fight to believe in them.

The word also unveils God to us, which brings us to the next section.

    God

Ps 119:55 “I reflect at night on who you are, O Lord; therefore I obey your instructions

Psalms 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore

There is no greater motivation for holy living than seeing God. We see God primarily through what the word tells us about Him; but we also encounter Him in other very personal ways. Whether it is an experiential encounter or the word of God, it’s always a revelation of God. It’s a subtle combination of fear and love that keeps us on track when we consider and encounter God.

We obey Him because we love Him. “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21) Of course this doesn’t mean that if we are imperfect or struggling that we don’t love Him, our love is merely weak. We loved him because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

What about the fear of the Lord? Doesn’t John say that perfect love has no fear? There is much confusion on this subject. Fear of the Lord is not, “If I sin, what will he do to me?”. The fear of the Lord could be “what could He do to me?” It is a respect and a holy terror of His very being. It’s seeing Him in His GLORY, POWER, and HOLINESS and being terrified by such an impressive display. That’s why when Isaiah went into the throne room he readily accepted God’s commission. He probably thought “How dare I say no? How can I refuse such a Person? What better could I do than serve Him for that matter?” Furthermore, we are accepted by His love, but we are favored by obeying Him. When we are favored by the Lord, we have the joy of intimate friendship with Him and a flourishing witness. The writer of Hebrews confirms this when He says “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 11:14) I don’t know about you, but I want to see the Lord! What could be more exciting than having a close relationship with the most awesome, majestic, glorious, beautiful, powerful being? That’s why we must violently fight sin. Saying I do to a spouse means “I choose you and no one else” saying yes to Jesus means the same thing. I highly recommend Joy Dawson for a greater study of the fear of the Lord. I also highly recommend reading AW Tozer, Mike Bickle, and John Piper for a greater understanding of God’s awesomeness and intimacy with Him.

 

I see the lights of the city behind me, thick darkness and fog ahead of me, and I don’t see the promise. I hear the music of the city, hear the laughter of the people, smell the sounds of food, and see the bright lights flashing as I shiver in darkness. Should I go back? Even just for a minute, for refreshment? There is a feast promised but I’m starving now and I know that there is lots of candy to eat in the city. No! I remember now, last time I ate that candy, it was sweet going down but then I got sick and vomited; then I was hungry and nauseous yet the taste kept me coming back. They all look so happy… Yet the party ends soon, the lights go out, and then they are all alone.

I can hear them speaking of me; psychoanalyzing me as if I was a foolish beast among my peers. They think I’m nuts, unstable, and pathetic for having to so passionately hold onto what they think is a lie. I feel like the world is an asylum run by lunatics and I alone am a patient, there are others I know, though I feel alone. These base minded men talk about how out of touch I am with reality, and yet they are insane for living empty lives out of touch with true humanity. I have ran this race for awhile conscious of these opinions, but after getting buffeted day after day as well as all the other sufferings of life I feel like my strength is dried up and the next wave is going to hold me under.

My emotions speak to me, and they don’t speak of the promise. My soul despairs. The world, the flesh, and the devil scream that the promise doesn’t exist, that my Redeemer despises me, that I will never make it, that I’m too far gone, that the promise doesn’t apply to me, that the promise doesn’t work for me, that I’m an exception, that I’ve sinned out my grace, that the darkness won’t life and the day won’t dawn. They bid me go back to the city.
Even fellow pilgrims discourage me like the did Job, accusing me of sin or misunderstanding. I know there is a pseudo wilderness that is caused by unbelief, spiritual oppression, and unresolved conflicts; this is not it. This is not judgment, the gospel is not mere health and wealth.

Then I remember Abraham who believed that your promise was stronger than death. I remember your faithfulness to Noah and His faith. He was mocked every day for one hundred years as he worked on his ark, then the flood came. I remember Moses who held a privileged position in Egypt, but then left to embark through a desolate wasteland to the promise. They walked, some desiring to turn back to Egypt, with no idea how they would survive, yet you gave them manna day by day. You did not give them a lifetime supply of manna, but their daily bread. I remember David, who was a fugitive for years on end. Who was all conscious of his failings. Whose enemies mocked  “where is your God?” Who was all familiar with the illusion of the abandonment of God, the dark night of the soul; yet he said “be courageous and wait”. He lauded the Lord’s faithfulness. He knew his weakness, yet knew the Lord’s faithfulness crying out ” I will run the course of your commands for you shall and enlarge my heart” ” I’m exhausted with waiting, shriveled like a wine skin in smoke, but I still cling to your commands” and ” I lie in the dust completely discouraged, revive me by your word.” I remember when Jesus said ” This is the work of God, to believe in the one that he sent.” I remember Jesus on Calvary, abandoned by His friends, out of the presence of the Father, mocked, scourged, thirsty, hungry, exhausted, and refusing the pain killer offered Him. I remember Paul who said “he just shall life by faith” and ” I live this life by faith in the Son of God.”

So I will rise with the sword of the Spirit and cut to pieces every argument, emotion, and lie that would hinder me. I will live by faith; not some sentiments about God and an ignorant reverence of the Bible that go into my “religious compartment”; but an all consuming belief in God’s character and promises. I won’t “play my cards right” I’m all in and Jesus is the only card in my hand, the world says He’s a joker, I say a king. His grace is sufficient to me and it abounds to me. No weapon formed against me will prosper. Though I fall 10x a day, I will still stand; for Christ forgives 70×7. In my weakness He is strong. In my brokenness He holds me together. I will hold to the sure word of prophesy as a light in a dark place, until the morningstar arises in my heart. I know He who began a good work in me will complete it. I wasn’t justified by my efforts, I won’t be made holy by my efforts, and I won’t endure and be victorious by my efforts. He is faithful. By His grace I have the victory. I will come out of the wilderness leaning on my Beloved.

Serving the Lord with joy

Posted: November 20, 2012 in Following Jesus

It’s so easy to take one’s self too seriously in following Christ. We are ministers to a dying world, beseeching them to be reconciled to God. Eternal bliss or eternal despair is on the line; eternal validation or eternal negation, a wasted life or a meaningful life. There are countless people that don’t know Christ and there are forces of darkness never ceasing to war against God and His ministers and spread evil to the world. We are warriors living in the midst of a cosmic war of unfathomable consequence; dare we rest? Dare we relax? Dare we rejoice?

We are children of God; powerless apart from Him. He doesn’t need us or our help. We are unprofitable servants. We are unconditionally loved and accepted, we don’t need to earn His love. We don’t need to do our daily good works. God has it under control. His love is pure bliss, a cause for endless rejoicing. Dare we cry?  Dare we be urgent?

How do we reconcile these two aspects? You don’t really on paper, you do in experience.

I get into radical Jesus mode and I don’t want to “waste time” abiding in the Lord. I have to be in tearful intercession, power evangelism, and exhortation all day. No laughing or smiling there are souls on the line. If there is no preacher how will they hear? The Lord chooses to use human instruments so I have to go go go, or His will won’t get done. If I spend my time rejoicing and resting in the Lord, someone will die by my fault. This is how my soul feels, then I burn out.

Then I come back to the resting place and it makes sense. Delighting in the Lord is the point. I serve Him because I love Him. If I get out of touch with His love how will I serve? The Bible says: serve God with joy. How will I have joy apart from Him? If I’m spending time with Him, He will let me know when it is time to serve. It’s not just an excuse to duck out of ministry (though it can be, check the heart) it is the lifeblood of ministry. Apart from Him I can do nothing. Nil. My words will be empty if not full of His Spirit; devoid of love and life, a meaningless clanging. People will notice too. My prayers will be a checklist, my “daily kingdom work”. When I’m abiding in love, I’m inspired to do kingdom work, it’s a joy; when I’m doing my “daily kingdom work” it is a great burden and cause for discouragement. We must rejoice, we must relax, we must rest, we must cry, and we must be urgent. This isn’t the roller coaster of emotions experienced by one who tries to earn God’s love; it is the roller coaster of emotions for one that has great joy in Christ but great distress in those that do not know Him. How do I explain such a paradox, I don’t; again you must encounter it, and you encounter it in the place of abiding in Jesus. I can serve joyfully, despite the war, because I have good news. I don’t need to focus on the problem, but the solution. I wouldn’t go up to a  cancer patient and say, ” you have cancer.” with a  big frown if I had the cure. Obviously after countless people turning me down and seeing the effects of this cancer I might be moved to weep and it might stir me to take the cure to the people with greater urgency; yet the point is still the cure, not the cancer.

Father as we abide in your presence, as we recklessly “waste” time sitting at your feet like Mary instead of serving frantically like Martha impart to us love. Impart to us peace and joy. In this place of joy, love, and peace impart to us urgency and vision to take this joy, love, and peace to those who have none. Wind us up with your Spirit and let us go and give us wisdom to come back for more winding up. Not that we ever leave Your presence, nor do we ever want to less than full of your joy, vision, love, peace and intimacy. Yet we are leaky vessels and in carrying your living water to the thirsty we are emptied. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking  we can give out the living water without containing it, or that we can serve more than abide. Refresh us again and again; moreover teach us to walk in your refreshment; that we can be refreshed despite the external circumstances. That when we have no quiet place or quiet time, we could retire into our spirits to commune with your great Spirit. May we learn to even abide while serving, yet never neglecting single minded abiding. You who gave your own Son, will not refuse to give us rest, refreshment, and all things that pertain to life and godliness. Bless your Holy name, amen.

Has it ever seemed like Christianity was just a worldview, a philosophy, a mentally agreeing with a set of principles and then arguing with people about them? You wouldn’t be alone. I’ve been there. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like a relationship; just a religion. Just a set of principles to be muscled out. Now before I go pointing about all the problems with this position; we must remember that it is a faith relationship and relationship that has earthly way of perfectly understanding. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t interact, it’s not a redefinition of the word relationship to make Christianity distinctive; it really is a relationship; it’s just different than all other relationships (probably why the Bible uses analogies of father-son relationships, husband-wife relationships, slave-master relationships, and friend-relationships; it includes aspects of all these and more aspects not listed).

How can I explain fleshly Christianity; which almost completely excludes the spiritual aspect (the x factor) and relies more on psychological and cultural aspects. One reads his Bible, argues with it, tries to prove it, tries to disprove it, and ultimately doesn’t understand it. He may acknowledge a verse (ie you are more than conquerors) and by acknowledging it he thinks he believes it but he doesn’t. It’s apparent by his outer life he doesn’t believe it. So then he tries to pull himself up by his bootstraps and fails, hates himself for failing, condemns himself, is condemned any time he reads his Bible and somehow all the verses of judgment for non believers hit him, then all the verses about grace or encouraging promises go in one ear and out the other. Maybe he has studied books on evangelism and apologetics, but witnessing is terrible, it’s a failure because it lacks the Spirit and naturally love and boldness. He doesn’t really agree with many of the worship songs he sings, or really even get the point of worship. He doesn’t understand his inheritance in salvation, or the interplay of grace, works, and faith. He doesn’t understand sanctification and wants to be perfect over night. He is perpetually condemned, ashamed, and discouraged and so routinely turns to sins for comfort; adding to the guilt and shame. He thinks God is distant and always mad. He talks to himself in his mind much more than talking to God or meditating on His word. Sometimes he thinks he’s not even saved, and maybe even considers throwing the whole thing out. He doesn’t think that he can ever change, or that God will use him. That was more or less my experience anyways, it could be different. (note I’m talking about a fleshly Christian who desires to serve God and do well, not an apathetic believer)

He’s realized he’s a failure on his own strength and he’s at the end of his resources and knowledge about theology won’t help him. Good! Now God can start working, not that He wasn’t before, but now breakthrough is nearer than before. This doesn’t mean that breakthrough is right here, it can take another long spell before it comes, I guess it depends on the person. He must perceive that God is working and cooperate. God’s breaking cannot be shortened but it can be prolonged.

What does breakthrough take: 1.) disillusionment with the world 2.) desperation 3.) willingness 4.) Open mindedness to God’s work 5.) perseverance

Perseverance is the most important maybe, because in the case of fleshly Christianity the defeated Christian doesn’t even know what he needs; sometimes when you tell him, he still doesn’t get it; he has to get sometimes by experience that you cannot give him. I can’t remember how many times I was utterly confused, disillusioned, on the brink of despair, and just ready to give up. I didn’t give up, and that’s why I broke through by the grace of God. I personally got my breakthrough at YWAM school of the Circuit Riders, (I highly recommend YWAM, not that they have a monopoly on breakthroughs). Sometimes I’m in tears of relief and gratitude that God pulled me through.When I came to the end of my rope more or less, it was still another 6 months to a year of dark night of the soul. I was desperate, I fasted five days one time during that period trying to find out what God wanted me to do and was so broken when I didn’t hear back. I was seeking God’s will for my external life, while He wanted me to seek His will for my internal life.

So what is my life like now? Perfect? No. I still sin , but I realize my identity in Christ and I’m no longer a slave to fear, lust, depression, and confusion. They come knocking at times, and I can still have moments of weakness, but the difference is night and day. I don’t have one foot in the world anymore, I trust that I’m a citizen of heaven and God has a plan for me. I don’t argue with everything I don’t understand in the Bible, rather I do my best to understand and when I’m at a loss I say “God’s ways are not my ways.” I have joy and love and boldness that I never had. I used to be an unfeeling, melancholy Hamlet, jealous of actors who can summon emotion over nothing while the only emotions I could summon was despair and depression. I hear from God better than I used to and enjoy Him more, I love worship! I used to not always get the point, it is the point! Don’t get me wrong, breakthrough is not one and done; I still need breakthrough and will for the rest of my life. However, after getting set free from a lot of junk and getting filled with the Holy Spirit, things are so different. My number one advice DON’T GIVE UP FAITH, stop relying on your efforts and ability, which may seem like giving up, but in that laying down you will find new life. Almost every powerful minister of God has had a breaking period, a dark night of the soul. I’m not saying we want to hang out in the spiritual wilderness and always say that every wilderness is God’s will and is inescapable; desire with all of your being to get out, yet don’t get out by giving up. Further reading: Victory over the Darkness by Neil Anderson, The Bondage Breaker by Neil Anderson, and The Release of the Spirit by Watchman Nee. (Note books aren’t magical breakthrough spells, but truth is absolutely essential to breakthrough and these books contain some powerful truths)