Refuge

Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Simplifying 2020

            Few would disagree that year 2020 brought unprecedented physical, psychological, and relational challenges from personal life all the way to the seats of power on a global scale.  I think back to the many “2020 vision” plans many communities initiated almost a decade ago, asking the question, “What do want our community to look like in year 2020?”  Did we imagine anything like our current situation with a pandemic?  I don’t think so.  Now that year 2020 is “in the books,” we can ask, “Where are we, in reality, and where are we going in 2021?”

            Year 2020 has been a year of “vision shakeup.”  Isn’t it ironic that 20/20 is the standard for perfect visual acuity?  Eyesight is measured by how accurate one can distinguish letters on a standard chart from a standard distance.  Without the standards in place there’s no way to get an accurate measure of how well one sees.  Our vision for the future is similar.  Our standards are drawn from our beliefs and what we have experienced to this point in life.  In 2020, so many uncertainties, on so many different levels, in so many areas of life at the same time has created a serious problem of vision loss.  So many of our “standards” are gone.  For many, our world has become a complicated maze in which they find themselves groping in darkness, looking for some sort of new “eyeglasses” to help them make sense of what’s in front of them.   

            For the Christian, how do we navigate the complications?  I would suggest we simplify, and make Jesus our 20/20 bullseye target.  The more complicated our world becomes,  the more simple our devotion to Jesus requires of us.  The Bible records a warning the Apostle Paul gave the church in Corinth.  But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).  Simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ is our shield against being deceived and dissuaded by the devil. Yes, evil is at work in our world, and its goal is to deceive and distract us from pure devotion to Jesus on a daily basis.

              As I see it, year 2020 brought us an overdose of deception. From a so-called pandemic virus out of China (with coverup on a global scale) to a “fake” Presidential election in America on November 3rd , craftiness of the common enemy of our soul has deceived the minds of many. Much of the deception hides behind things like “science” and “public opinion.”  But lies are lies, and Satan (“serpent” in verse quoted above) is the master liar (John 8:44). Science cannot deceive God, and public opinion does not define truth. Truth is God’s reality, not man’s. Jesus IS “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). Devotion to Jesus demands a commitment to truth. Many Proverbs speak of the folly of falsehood. By no means do I claim to have a corner on truth regarding the China virus, nor the extent of lack of integrity in the November elections, but enough evidence is available to warrant deeper investigations if we are genuinely devoted to seeking the truth. As Americans we should be demanding that our leaders uphold truth. As Christians, we should be praying for God’s righteousness and justice to prevail, and taking action accordingly in whatever sphere we are called to serve God and our fellowmen.

            Truth both divides, and unites. Pursuing truth drives out (divides out) falsehood. Falsehood is evil, but Jesus conquered evil. Without Jesus we are enslaved by falsehood. The Way to conquer evil, is to believe in the Truth, that we might have Life (John 14:6). The more devoted we are to Jesus, the more united we are “in Christ.”

            The writer of Hebrews gives us a similar exhortation as Paul wrote in Corinthians.  Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).  This chapter begins with “therefore” because it immediately follows chapter eleven describing the exploits of a whole list of “heroes” of the faith.  It lists some of their “complicated” situations.  When we think WE have it bad, we do well to read and consider the difficulties many before us have faced. But, besides taking encouragement from our predecessors vision in pursuing God, we can follow their example by “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.”     
            Jesus is our standard. Jesus deserves our devotion. He also requires it.  He lived a life devoted to vision set forth by Father God.  All through the book of John we read how Jesus didn’t do anything outside the will of Father.  He was simply devoted to pleasing the Father in everything, and he calls us to the same devotion.  Before he left the earth, he gave us the Holy Spirit for power and companionship to complete the vision (see John 20:19-23).  Jesus calls us to more than acting or pretending devotion.  Jesus calls us to BE devoted.  Jesus doesn’t just call us to part-time purity, but Jesus calls us to full time, all in, no turning back, purity.   

            I think the days ahead are going to require us to pay more attention to our devotion quotient. To increase our devotion will require more simplifying.  We may look back someday and see how year 2020 served us in that way.   

My hope is that the reader could “uncomplicate” his or her life by simplifying to  “lay aside every encumbrance” (as the verse above says).  We do well to ask ourselves some questions and simply ACT to go in the right direction.

What “encumbrances” are in my life?  Examples are addictions, pornography, immorality, ungodly friends, so-called social media, too much food, technology, etc. 

What is my next step in “purifying” myself from these?  Examples might be, telling a co-follower of Jesus and being accountable, finding new friends in church relationships, set time limits or dollar limits and log your progress, write down your commitments and read and follow them every day, talk to God about them and get his help every day, and whatever necessary change looks like for you.    

            Where might confession and repentance be necessary?  Examples might include seeking God’s forgiveness for things you know are wrong like the encumbrances note above, things done to other people like lying and cheating, slandering, or inner life condemning judgments and bitterness.

Who might I need to forgive or reconcile with to be free from an offense? (either as the one offended or as an offender)

What broader changes do I have to make to be “devoted” to Jesus as a lifestyle?   Examples could be regular Bible study, engaging community of believers, career/ type of work, living situation. 

How committed to truth am I in reality? Do I want to know the truth even if it hurts? Where is my voice needed, or what actions might be necessary for me to take, to uphold the truth in my community, organization, political party, family, church group, employment?

            May 2021 be a year of deeper devotion to Jesus and simplicity in obeying the truth of God’s Word.

 by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Knowing Is Not Enough

Some things we know we should stop doing, we do.  And some things we know we should start doing, we do not do.  Having knowledge, for example, that eating processed foods and consuming sugar is bad for our health, doesn’t automatically translate into nutritious cooking and refraining from too many desserts.   Knowing the value of physical exercise doesn’t make it an intentional regular practice.  Knowing it’s wrong to slander another person doesn’t guarantee an offended person will not speak unkind words to others about their offender.   Knowing that bitterness and resentment cause destruction of body and soul, doesn’t mean we will choose to surrender condemning  judgment  and extend forgiveness for the path to freedom.  Having knowledge of right, doesn’t keep us out of wrong. 

Without going into a deep discussion of the brain science behind this truth, let’s look at a brief explanation.  Psychiatrist Timothy Jennings has some great explanations in his books,  “The God-Shaped Brain,” and “The God-Shaped Heart.”  Dr. Jennings uses computer function to  illustrate how the mind, heart, and brain operate in the human being.   As a former IT professional myself, and now as a counselor, I see the value of making these terms clear in our understanding.  Let me say too that no illustration is a perfect match to reality.  God created people.  Man created computers.  In no way am I suggesting that computer engineering comes anywhere close to God’s ways and workings.  

The human brain and the physical aspects of the nervous system are like the hardware components of the computer.  The human mind (cognitive functioning) can be likened to the software programs that run the various applications that process the data. The human heart is likened to the core operating system (OS) of the computer.   The OS is a form of software also, but it must interface with both the hardware and the application software running on top of it.  The heart (operating system) of a person is essential to the integrity of function of the whole person.  Without the operating system between the hardware and the applications, each could not function. 

To illustrate a bit further,  the mind can be thought of as our willpower, intellect, consciousness, senses, and sensory feelings.   The heart can be thought of as the personal spirit, deeper feelings and emotions,  creativity, curiosity, imagination, intuition, masculinity or femininity, spontaneity, gifts, and talents.   Our heart is our core identity.  Our heart defines who we are as a person.  Our heart performs the operations connecting the physical bodily systems with the mind’s cognitive interpretations of the external world. The external world environment is the data. The data spring from environmental conditions, flow through the mind into the heart, and on to memory storage in the brain.  The data stored in memory also flow the other direction out of the brain, through the heart and mind and become forms of interactions with the external environment.  These exchanges create the reality of our world.  Our speech and actions are a direct result of our thinking and memory processing. 

One of the reasons the teachings of Jesus focused on the heart is to help people understand that their internal condition determines their speech and behavior.  In fact, he pointed out on many occasions. how mere knowledge of the law (rules), without a compassionate heart, actually keeps people in physical and spiritual poverty.  An example of this is when he healed people on the Sabbath (see Luke 13:10-17).  

Mark’s gospel records the words of Jesus, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him,  because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and []is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean)  And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.  For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, []fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries,  deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, [envy, slander, []pride and foolishness.  All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:18-23).   Luke’s gospel also makes the point good things also originate in the heart.  The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart”  (Luke 6:45).

The writer of Proverbs says, “As in water face reflects face, so a man’s heart reveals the man’ (Proverbs 27:19).  The data coming out of a computer merely reveals what was put in and how it was processed.  So to the speech and actions of a person reveals their background, core beliefs, and world view.  A person’s life experiences from day one are the data going in.   How the person responds to his world in the present is determined by the sum total of past experiences (ie. previous processing by the mind and heart).  Hence, the processing we do in our heart, both determines who we are, and who we are becoming.    That’s why the Proverb says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).  For more on guarding the heart see my article http://authoredhersh.blogspot.com/2020/08/guard-your-heart.html .  

A person may be super intelligent, or be trained in the best schools and practices, and still engage in behaviors that destroy his life.  I see this pattern in my counseling many times.  A person cannot kick a bad habit or addiction with mere  knowledge of its destructive power. 

God created man with a heart that reflected his Creator to perfection.  The Creator’s image has a unique stamp in every individual’s heart since the beginning of time.  That is the good part of a person’s heart.  But with the first man, Adam and Eve, the virus of sin introduced a bad part into the heart.  The virus implanted a stamp that also broke the heart of every individual since the beginning of time.  Our fractured hearts must reckon not only with the good, but also the bad parts as well.  All sorts of data processing failures make us vulnerable to bad data going in (believing lies), and bad data coming out (false assumptions, corrupted opinions, bad decisions, and condemning judgments).  This brokenness is automatic and only has one reliable solution.  

The solution is Jesus Christ.   Jesus is the only way to fix the inherently broken parts of  our hearts.    He came to earth about 2,000 years ago to reveal God in the form of a human.   Believing in Jesus begins a re-programming of our operating system. Our hearts are made new (2 Corinthians 5:17).  As we surrender and assimilate to the re-coding in our heart, our mind is renewed (see Romans 12:1-2) to respond to life more in keeping with our original design.  In our original whole condition, we live in the Truth (God’s reality).   The more we can operate in truth (in sync with original design), the more free we are to become the person we were created to be.  

However, merely knowing about the virus, and knowing that Jesus removes it, remains as data in a memory bank unless further action is taken.  Question--Why is knowing the truth not enough?  Answer--Because knowing doesn’t automatically translate into obedience.  Faith in Christ is demonstrated by practicing Christ’s teaching (truth), not merely understanding the concepts. 

God is a personal God, not a concept.  Truth is found through relationship (with God), not religion (about God).   Jesus makes this clear in the following two verses.  Jesus told the people who had faith in him, “If you keep on obeying what I have said, you truly are my disciples.  You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free“ (John 8:31-32; CSV).   Many people quote the second verse without the conditional first verse, and their interpretation becomes the exact opposite of the truth.  Increasing knowledge of concepts of Christ’s teaching, without fully engaging the practice of the concepts, is a little like trying to run an app designed for an Android device, on an Apple device.   The software may be designed to perfection, but if it isn’t run on the OS it’s designed for, it is practically worthless. 

            I could share many examples from my own life and the lives of those I’ve ministered to, where not following God’s instructions (not applying Christ’s teaching) has caused great loss.  A miracle by definition, is a supernatural intervention.  If we choose to rely on our strength and willpower (natural realm), we can miss the everyday miracles (supernatural realm) God desires for us to participate in. 

In my own life, I have been forced to reckon with this through limited physical eye sight.  Due to an injury at birth, both optic nerves were damaged to the extent of legal blindness.  A major limitation is not seeing well enough to obtain a driver’s license.  This puts me in situations of need for transportation.  Print material, signage, videos, and other visual content are often inaccessible, so alternative formats are necessary to obtain information.  I have learned that God’s provision may come in an unexpected means of travel or in computer software that enlarges the screen for readability.  Sometimes too, by allowing drivers to give me a ride, they share in God’s blessing for helping someone in need.  If I were to demand from God 20/20 (normal) eyesight, I would miss opportunities for God to meet my needs in unconventional, and often miraculous ways.  The loss created by damaged vision is overcome by believing and applying the truth that “my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19; NASB).     

Jesus performed many physical healings when he was on earth, and still does today as well.  The ones recorded in the Bible almost always have a spiritual application associated with them.  One of my personal favorites is in John 9 where Jesus restored a blind man’s sight and then exclaimed, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind”  (John 9:39; NASB).  Again, God’s reality is not born out of what we know and see, but through becoming “blind” to what we know and see, so that we can see into a spiritual reality.  Knowing is not enough.  In fact, knowing may create “blindness” to knowing more. of what we should be seeing.

The miracle of forgiveness is another example of applying Christ’s teaching to know the truth that sets one free.   True forgiveness occurs in the heart as defined by Jesus (see  Matthew 18:35).  Also see the article Big Debt Forgiven at:  http://authoredhersh.blogspot.com/2017/04/big-debt-forgiven.html

As noted above, sin implanted a virus in the heart that can only be removed through the salvation power of Jesus.  Our natural tendency to hold bitterness, resentment, and blame causes sin at the heart level, not just with our actions.  This is evidenced by the verses quoted above from Mark 7:18-23.  Since sin is at the heart level, repentance must be at the heart level.  Repenting of the ill-gotten attitudes, assumptions, decisions, conclusions, and condemning judgments that caused our sinful reactions, releases the miracle to be possible.   Surrendering to God the right to be Judge puts the heart in position to once again operate as originally designed.  Forgiving from the heart is not a decision based on mental faculties (knowledge) alone, but includes decision to cooperate with God’s decisions for justice in the offensive situation. 

Applying Christ’s teaching to everything we experience in life keeps us in the truth.  Seeing God in truth, seeing ourselves in truth, and seeing other people in truth keeps our immune system strong.  A healthy immune system is the best way to stay free of the virus of sin that would aim to keep us sick.  Again, building and guarding our spiritual immune system is vital. Time alone in God’s presence is similar to running a good anti-virus software protection for the computer’s core functions.   Keeping to regular times of rest and soul downtime also serve like an intentional “reboot,” to clear the clogs and unnecessary background processing. 

When things are not going well, instead of trying to figure out what is going wrong, it is far better to focus on applying God’s instructions and ways of operation more closely.  The Bible is the best source.  Also see other articles on this blog site on transformation from the inside out.  

 

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry