Coming Home, Part 2: Practically Practicing His Presence

(This is part 2 of a series I’m doing on The Practice of The Presence of God. See part 1 here.)

It’s only been a few days since I picked up The Practice of The Presence of God once more and started implementing it. I can already report some practical results.

But first, the music: Everywhere I Go by Tim Timmons, off the album Awake Our Souls. I discovered Tim’s positive worship music this week and have been enjoying that as well.

Continue reading “Coming Home, Part 2: Practically Practicing His Presence”

Coming Home, Part 1: ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’

Last week I was feeling rather dry and depressed inside. I couldn’t find anything to listen to on my evening commute–none of the many audiobooks I have seemed to fit the bill, and none of the music I have on my phone seemed to satisfy.

(By the way, today’s song is Who is Jesus? by the BRILLIANCE, off their newest (and quite amazing) album All Is Not Lost.)

Then I remembered a friend of mine had a new podcast which I had loaded on my phone and forgotten about, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt. It definitely didn’t hurt, and in fact, it helped quite a bit. Continue reading “Coming Home, Part 1: ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’”

Praying For Your Enemies: Justice and Mercy

This morning I had a big bowl of lies and betrayal for breakfast, metaphorically speaking.

It didn’t go down well.

I won’t go into what happened, but suffice it to say, it hurt me and indirectly hurt my family, and I was angry–still am.

As a Christian, what am I supposed to do at this point? I feel like praying for them to take a long walk off a short pier. What I’m supposed to do is, of course, pray for my enemies.

The ESV has Matthew 3: 43-45:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

How do we pray for our enemies? The Lord’s Prayer says:

Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.

and

Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

…but if I may add something that has been helpful to me, and perhaps may help you, I will.

Whenever I am lied to, betrayed, or hurt in some way, I pray for justice and mercy.

That’s it. Justice on the one hand, mercy on the other. Both, not just one or the other.

The Douay-Rheims has Psalm 85:10:

Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed.

In Christ, justice and mercy meet. We deserved justice; we received mercy.

God’s Idea of Justice

I specifically pray for justice, because I have been wronged and I want to see it made right. I want revenge. I want something bad to happen to those who made something bad happen to me.

Justice: That Time When I Was Fired and the Company Failed

One time I was wrongly fired from a job. At the time I was much younger in Christ, and I wanted revenge, big time. My wife and I even consulted a lawyer, but there was nothing he could do. At the time, this scripture came to mind, James 5:1-6. Per the ESV:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

That was a satisfying scripture.

What happened? The company later folded in one of the most miserable ways: from the inside. A year later, the company was gone.

Did God destroy a company for my sake. Well, I think so, but I don’t know. There were a few non-wicked individuals in that company who didn’t deserve to lose their job. The rest, who knows? Did they later repent? Did they later get saved? Who knows? The fact is, it happened, and I was very glad at the time. It appeared to be God’s justice at work.

This isn’t a formula, and it doesn’t happen all the time. I was unfairly let go from another company several years later, and the company is still there and doing fine as far as I know. The people who wronged me this morning, things could be going swimmingly for them for years to come. But I trust God to make it right.

In the end, God makes everything right. Psalm 1, ESV, emphasis mine:

Blessed is the man [this is you]
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Mercy

The reason I pray for justice and mercy is that God is love. He, as exemplified in Christ, is the perfect embodiment of both justice and mercy. So while we pray for God to make it right in justice, we also pray for God to also make it right in his kindness. Jonah expected God to wipe Nineveh off the face of the earth, despite their repentance, and God had to give him a remedial course in mercy. We don’t know if Jonah learned anything, but we can learn for ourselves.

Mercy is God’s decision. Romans 9, emphasis mine:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

Since mercy is God’s decision, mercy needs to be my decision.

Mercy: The Ultimate Revenge

I pray for justice, but I also pray for mercy. The ultimate revenge, to my knowledge, is seeing my enemies meet Jesus and become saved. I’ve met people who were hellions in high school and treated me terribly back then, and many years later, met them again and they had gotten saved and were living righteous lives.

I won’t say that this is because of my prayers (I sowed plenty of my own wild oats myself in high school, so at the time I might not have thought to pray for them at all). But clearly someone prayed for them, and maybe even it was someone who they had wronged.

God has mercy on his enemies. He wants us to pray for our enemies, ‘so that we may be sons of our Father who is in heaven.’ So that we may look like he who granted mercy on us. Christ received death so that we would receive life. The NIV has Isaiah 53:5:

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

The Lord’s Prayer also addresses mercy:

Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.

We are to forgive as he forgives.

What Next?

What do you do after a betrayal? After someone lies to you, steals from you, cheats you, or otherwise mistreats you?

You hurt. You rage. Maybe you cry. It hurts. You have to recognize that your emotions are all right, and it’s OK to express them. If you have friends or loved ones or a pastor you can express them to, all the better–they can help you cope.

Then, when things calm down, you pray. After the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps you do as I do.

“Lord, I pray for justice and mercy.”

Then you learn to let it go. You decide to forgive. Forgiveness is not automatic; you have to decide whether or not you will forgive them. Your emotions will not cooperate with you.

Ultimately, you let God be God. Let him do what He wills. You’ll see ‘the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’. You’ll ultimately prosper, and God will handle them. Maybe you’ll hear about the person who hurt you being punished later on–maybe they’ll even see ‘instant karma’. Maybe they’ll repent and become saved, and you’ll be reconciled. Maybe they’ll go on their merry way, hurting other people, and you’ll have to let God handle it.

Doing your part, praying for your enemies, is what you can do. Then you let God handle all the rest.

 

 

‘You Call Yourself A Good Christian?’

photo-1461829576572-c5fc8ed06ae9“You call yourself a good Christian?”

Nope. Stop. Stop right there. 
 
You’re trying to put me in a shame trap? It’s not going to work. (This happened yesterday on Twitter.)
 
I do not call myself a ‘good Christian’. Honestly, I don’t think I’m qualified to judge that. That’s above my pay grade. I follow Christ, I know his opinion of me, and that is enough for me.
 
Sure, I’d like to think of myself as a pleasant person to be around. My wife and kids think I do a good job, my friends like me, and my boss at work always gives me good reviews.
 
I’m also a moral person. I have a sense of right and wrong which is generally aligned with what normal people, not the MSM, would expect of an evangelical Christian. I don’t attack other people who violate my belief system. 
 
The moment anyone sets themselves up as a ‘good Christian’ anything, they have a target on their back. We have plenty of examples of Christian personalities and politicians who ascended the mountain of moral exampleship and found themselves getting buried in the landslide of moral failure on the other side.
 
I don’t claim to be perfect. Read my web site. I think I do a pretty decent job of explaining what an imperfect person I am. What a mess! Well, I’ve been a mess before. The reason I’ve been able to write this year, 2016, is that I have the emotional strength to write now. I’ve been pieced back together, and God has healed me enough to the point where I have a coherent backstory and some things to say. Hopefully a little of what I write will be helpful.
 
I do want my family and friends to be proud of me, and someday I would like it to be said of me, ‘I want to be like Stephen Shores.’ Even if it’s after I pass on. That would be neat.
But I don’t claim any goodness for myself. I don’t claim to be a good Christian. I’m probably pretty bad at it, to be honest! I’m terrible at being perfect, but I think I do a decent job of being honest, and I hope that shows.

A Case For Christian Optimism

Today’s song is The Revealing Science of God, by Yes, off their album Tales from Topographic Oceans. A very uplifting song in my opinion, and appropriate because today’s topic is optimism.

A lot of Christians are rather sad because they’re taught that the world is bad and getting worse. Some support can be found for this viewpoint based on modern rapture theology. More on that in a moment.

This morning I found the quotes below. Yes, I’m ‘cheating’, in that it’s not scripture, but I found them inspirational:

Those that always search for good in the world and those that always search for evil in the world will both find their missions equally satisfied.

And this:

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

(Both quotes via Reddit)

I read a book on the ‘end times’ a few years ago called Raptureless, by Jonathan Welton, and I am convinced that the events spoken of in the New Testament and the book of Revelation have largely already been fulfilled in 70 A.D.. If you believe the Tribulation has not already occurred and that you’ll be beamed out of here before things get really bad, you won’t invest in the future because there’s no point.

I am largely optimistic of the future of the church because of the confidence I have in the Spirit of God, by whom ‘we shall overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.’ He who began the good work in us will bring it to completion. Christ has not given up on us yet, and he never will.

Will there be a rapture and resurrection? Possibly. I leave that up to God. I don’t think it will look like anything we know, though, and I don’t think it will occur in my lifetime, because the Church has not overcome yet.

What I do know is that the Spirit of God is waking up his church to realize the power that he has already put inside us by the Holy Spirit. I believe we have cause to be optimistic overall.

One of the reasons I am optimistic about the power of Christ within to overcome all opposition is that I have seen that power clearly evident in my life! I am 37 years old, nearly 38, and have never been as mentally and emotionally healthy in my life. Every day is a day of overcoming old hang-ups and old fears that robbed me of joy before. Every day I feel the power of God working out the kinks in my mind, old mindsets, ‘strongholds’, that were keeping me miserable.

photo-1453230806017-56d81464b6c5The other reason I am optimistic is that I see in the Scriptures, especially in the book of Acts, an emphasis on believers and disciples of Christ overcoming the world. Threatened with beatings, stoning, and death, the Apostles and congregations making up the body of Christ repeatedly overcame all opposition, by being willing to serve Christ and others unto death if necessary.

Am I saying that we won’t go through persecution? Nah. We’re pretty much guaranteed, as Christians, that things won’t always be peachy. Matthew 10:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Ack! Depressing, right? Nah. I see it as confirmation: you’re going to go through some hard times, but you’ll have wisdom available (‘be wise as serpents’), guidance as to what to say (‘do not be anxious…what you are the say will be given to you’), and supernatural endurance (‘the one who endures to the end’).

Paul is confident of that supernatural endurance in Philippians 1:6:

I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

and 1 Corinthians 15:10:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Here is where I see the Church in the future: as an overcomer. Already we see the changing of the guard, in that those who have preached the old ideas of ‘Christ above’ and ‘Christ outside’ are passing on or becoming irrelevant, and more and more are awakening to the reality of Christ within, an inner anarchy against religious mindsets, if you will.

I am not a ‘seven mountains dominionist’, but I do believe that open-minded Christians full of the love of Christ, who have the revelation of and are confident of Christ within, will become leaders and teachers, increasingly relevant in a world that has become unanchored and leaderless.

I don’t look to a rapture or Christ’s return any time soon–though these are nice thoughts–because there is still so much to do! There are millions, even billions, who subscribe to theologies of anger and hatred worldwide. There are still oppressive governments. There are still hurting people everywhere. Not ‘every tear has been wiped from every eye.’ Who will do the wiping of the tears? I submit that it’s not after death and in heaven, but as we get revelation of Christ in us, that we will overcome, and we will wipe away every tear from every eye.

‘Why so downcast? Put your trust in God.’ Get in touch with He who works within, and allow him to wipe away your fears and anxiety. Look forward to today and tomorrow and every day, having the confidence that Christ within is powerful enough to overcome all opposition in your life, and when he has helped you and mended you, that he will help you help others overcome whatever opposes them.

Too Much ‘Exposure’ To New Ideas?

Today’s song is ‘Exposure’ by Peter Gabriel, a quirky little song off his second solo album. Notice the scratches on the album cover. That’s kind of how I feel right now.

I’ve had quite the ‘exposure’ to new ideas over the past week. Being an avid Trump supporter, I’m encountering more and more moderates coming over to his side, and it’s exposing me to different ways of thinking that clash with my existing thinking.

That’s always a good thing–note my blog’s tagline, ‘clear thinking’–but sometimes it’s overwhelming. Continue reading “Too Much ‘Exposure’ To New Ideas?”

Productivity vs. ‘Productivity’

Today’s song has absolutely nothing to do with the title, it’s just a song I like. In case you can’t see the player, the song is Swoon by Imogen Heap, off her album Ellipse.

Let me tell you about spiritual disciplines: I suck at them. Very badly.

‘Quiet times’? My mind wanders or I fall asleep.

Bible reading? Only when I’m looking up a verse when I’m writing, or reading along with the lessons in church.

Prayer? I don’t have a set time for prayer. I pray all day long. (Usually the prayer is, ‘help!’)

Every weekday, I get in my car and the question is, what will I do that morning? Listen to a book or listen to music? Usually the answer is pretty obvious, it’s whatever is less painful. I don’t know if this will make sense, but it’s like the explanation one of the main characters gets in the book and miniseries 11.22.63: when you’re about to change the past, you just know it. It’s like you’re pressing against an invisible wall.

Every morning and afternoon I face that anxiety. I need to learn. I need to grow up. I need to study. Every day I am powerfully reminded of how ignorant I really am, how much I don’t know, and it’s very frustrating, disappointing, and even causes anxiety. Medicine helps with the anxiety, but the feeling is still there. I always feel like I have to be learning something.

613+MSjGDRL._SL1500_A lot of times, I’m some what dismayed to learn that the answer is: listen to music and just spend time in the presence of God, praying in tongues or to myself or out loud or whatever. When I say ‘dismayed’, I mean that my rational mind is disappointed because it thinks, ‘I’m not going to learn anything new.’ Deeper inside, I know, yes, I might not gain intellectual knowledge, but I might just glean something from the Spirit. It’s a tension I experience daily.

Spending time in the presence of God is never a waste of time. I know that from experience. A lot of times I’ll gain a lot from simple questions or impressions that come to mind while I’m spending that time sort of doing nothing, just letting my mind wander and spirit fly free. It’s weird how it works. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’ ‘We can do nothing without him.’

I can’t say when I learned to ‘abide in the presence of God’, to borrow some Charismatic church-speak. When I was living through my tormented years, an unhelpful church leader said, ‘Well, just crawl up into Daddy’s lap and spend time there.’ This made no sense to me. I was constantly torn apart on the inside because of my schizophrenic belief system: I was bad and good at the same time, and I just. could. not. get. free. from. sin. No matter what, I was constantly tormented inside. Have a bad thought, cast it down. A few minutes later, have another bad thought, case it down. I was constantly having to do that, and it was making me mentally exhausted all the time.

A few years later, I learned that that stuff wasn’t my fault. I got free from the schizophrenic belief system: by grace I have been saved, I have been made clean by Jesus’ words. ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for me, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.’ Set me free, past tense.

I also got treatment for an anxiety disorder, which also helped tremendously, along with about six months of counselling to get my head clear, and I’m doing much better now.

Another thing that removed a lot of the tension was giving up on a ‘ministry mentality’. Since I had a ‘prophetic word’ back in 1997ish, I always believes I was going to be a pastor or preacher or something. I don’t remember what the minister said word-for-word, but the basic gist was that I would be preaching and speaking the Word. Maybe that’s coming true in a sense right now, in that I’m finally able to write things almost daily that hopefully help one or two people. The problem was all of the churches I filtered through after that, especially one we went to for over ten years, which were really high-powered and focused on activity. Find your calling, do your calling, now now now. The problem with that is, even going through ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’ and books about vision and purpose, nothing seemed to some to pass. I was still in dead-end jobs and all my attempts to minister to anyone fell flat. This is probably a good thing, because I was really, really screwed up by then, but this remained a pressure in my mind and caused me to do a lot of dumb things, including prioritizing ‘ministry goals’ above family, for almost 20 years.

Concerned about spiritual disciplines? Don’t be. Learn to spend time in the presence of God first. If you don’t know how, ask God to show you. He’s remarkably good at making himself heard. You most likely won’t hear a voice from the sky. It’ll be a simple idea. Or maybe you’ll get an inkling to start asking for things because you suddenly believe. Maybe you’ll feel more peaceful than before. Embrace that.