What Is That to You? (#584)

There is nothing that messes up our spiritual journey more than looking at other people and comparing our journey and its fruits to theirs, and yet something in our humanity can't seem to resist the urge to do so. The discussion starts with an email about a so-called controversy regarding some women bloggers and the threat they pose to the gatekeepers of religious institutions and doctrinal purity. Seeking to control others always draws us away from what Christ is doing in us, and our institutions play along by creating environments where we become each other's victims. So rather than celebrate the uniqueness of how God leads each of us, we have to worry about what others are doing and how that might compete with what he's doing in us. Once we fix our eyes on others we'll lose sight of what he is simply asking of us in the sphere he has given us. And, discovering the grace to live inside our own journey allows us to love others rather than be threatened by them.

Podcast Notes:
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  1. Hmm. You two do like controversy, don’t you? Let me get some things out of the way first. I fully believe in the giftedness of women and their essential role as functioning priests in Christ’s Church. Christ emancipated women in his ministry and their ministry to him was significant and highly valued. The apostles continued this counter cultural approach and were inclusive of women. However, I can’t bring myself to accept that the NT allows women to be elders. As David Pawson once said, ‘(Church) Leadership is male’ and this is true in the home as well as in the church, which is meant to function as an extended family. Whether we like it or not, the NT presents home and church as a patriarchy (albeit a benign one). Leadership in the church and in the home is based on self sacrificing love. Sisters, if the men in your home and in your church are not serving you in this way, they are not worthy of your submission.

    Brad’s plea that NT restrictions on women are no longer culturally applicable because Paul said ‘we are all one in Christ Jesus’, is a two-edged sword because the ’emancipated’ writer of that verse is the same ‘misogynist’ who put all those obstacles in the way of women’s ministry. And to boot, in 1 Tim 2 Paul goes back to a creation argument to make his point, not to culture.

    If you say that opposing women in leadership is a weird anachronism in the 21st century, you are opening Pandora’s box. Because the arguments used in favour of women in leadership are exactly the same as those used to allow sexually active gays into church fellowship. Consider these two statements.
    “Scripture contains objectionable statements to modern women which imply their inferiority to men. Paul was a misogynist who has no credibility, whilst Jesus honoured and treated women as equals. Equality before God is a major principle, which Jesus modelled in His revelation that He had come to break down the barriers of the Old Testament. If the Holy Spirit has graciously given women leadership gifts, and it is inconceivable that He has not intended that they should be used, then what is wrong with women leading churches? If God intended that we be led by the most gifted and qualified people, then equality demands that we do not discriminate between men and women.”
    “Scripture contains homophobic statements which grate on the modern enlightened mind and are offensive to gays. Paul was a homophobe who has no credibility, whilst Jesus never once condemned homosexual practice. Love is the overarching principle of NT revelation, which Jesus modelled and which seeks the best for all. If God made some people with a homosexual orientation, and if sexuality is part of our God-given humanity, then how can homosexual relations be wrong? The Bible does not condemn loving stable relationships but the practice of promiscuity. Therefore, love demands that stable monogamous homosexual relationships are acceptable”. Not so different, are they?

    I’m not naive and realise that we’re all prone to ignore the scriptures which we don’t like. However, the cultural relevance defence is dangerous because in the final analysis everything scripture condemns will become culturally irrelevant in our increasingly pagan society, and we’ll end up relativising it all, and in doing so lose all of our distinctiveness as saints.

    I comfort myself that there is a kind of equality to my position, and it is this. I won’t become a member of a church with a Pastor – male or female.

  2. So being distinctive as saints is important? Well I suppose being distinctive is important to many people. How should we be distinctive is another question and is all dependent on context, I am sure you will agree.
    Then there is the presupposition that using enlightened thinking is but the devil at work and produces a “pagan” society which is anathema if you call yourself a Christian. Ughhh how convoluted we can be in our thinking to justify our narrow-minded beliefs.
    Dear Malcolm
    Well I comfort myself that I will not be a part of any narrow-minded community that believe they have the RIGHT to condemn people based on unenlightened archaic belief systems.
    As an ordained woman pastor, I have homosexual friends and homosexual spiritual children who I love with my whole heart because of the beautiful hearts they have inside of them and I hope you can stand their RIGHT judgment of your stupid argument!! They are far more evolved than you could possibly choose to be given your current belief system. If that makes me pagan, then I am, without fear or prejudice.

  3. Many years ago, a Christian counselor told me to keep in mind that in nearly all arguments, “the issue is not THE ISSUE”.

    Social practices which are guided by the well meant efforts of spiritually striving individuals are nearly always taken as the issue to be argued about. Then we make all kinds of logical falacies as we attempt to catagorize the error in our own terms, of course we claim Biblical or some other type of authority in so doing, in order to explain the validity of our claim.

    Can’t we be honest in ourselves and admit that we have no right to ASSUME we know spiritual experience before we experience it? Take any personal experience you have ever had and rightly divide the word of truth of it from the personal analysis of it afterward. One of the falacies we must learn to admit in ourselves is, though we think we act in the spirit, we are merely acting in the personal interpretation of the experience.

    I support that we would do well to focus on spiritual experience itself and less on our interpretation of it. Since the institutional churches have attempted for so long to squelch true spiritual experience, it is no great wonder that our social practices are so out of whack. True spiritual experience is what Jesus came to teach. The church is those who do that, not some organization “authorized” by an agreed belief set.

    Social transformation will not spiritually right us but spiritual transformation will, eventially, socially right us. But even that must be personally experienced, one person at a time.

    Seek first the kingdom isn’t just a good idea, it’s the reality of the path.

    • Jim,
      Your simply singularly amazing comment is a breath of fresh air! Too often, we are critical and tacitly biased solely upon on our own insecurities; so much so, we defend that which we think we believe, without apologies, and attack those Abba has asked us to love. Clanging symbols as we can be…nothing can truly defeat love.
      Yielding to that other tree has brought division, comparison, combative interpretations and yielded the sordid fruit of false expectations. I have seen first hand the transformation of my workplace by yielding to love over time. And while there, I have experienced a spiritual transformation beyond anything I could have asked or believed for. None of this has required anything from me but love, and dying daily has become a water shed of freedom from errant expectations. Thank you!

    • Jim

      I was going to say that I feel like we miss the point in life often, but you said it much more better than I could!

      Since leaving traditional church, my ‘I think everyone is missing the point’ meter goes off regularly, but it is often hard to see what is the point with all the forest and trees around!

      Thanks Jim, that was great!

      My version of ‘spiritual experience’ tends to be me, living each day, sometimes distracted and sometimes very aware of Father with and in me. It just seems to be life.

      Also I believe that any input we have into other people’s life with Father, either against institutional life or for it, or against more alternate life choices or for them or whatever it is, unless we are deeply connected with that person or people personally, it is simply none of our business.

      If we were to restrict our helpful opinions to those who care about us and respect us, then I believe the kingdom would grow quite well, without our ‘helpful insights’

  4. I was going to leave a comment, but it’s none of your business…lol!

  5. Those of us who are in the system assume that God only works within the system. So if you want to have God working on you, then you have to be “in.” Then the focus turns to who’s in and who’s out of the system. If you made the right decision, prayed the right prayer, turned your life around, etc. Unfortunately, the system also equates ‘being in’ with ‘in Christ.’

    The enemy is anything outside the system, or anything that seeks to draw you out of the system. Why would you want to leave a system you’ve worked so hard to get into, no matter how much you are suffering? So the system also precludes any form of exit from it, excepting some type of miracle. [Paul knocked off his horse comes to mind]

    Paul’s ministry was to pagans, of diverse religions – some were not even exposed to Jesus or Jews. God revealed himself to and transformed those who were OUTside the system. And he didn’t seem to make any distinctions between whomever he overtook, but gave them fellowship with each other as sheep, sharing with each other what ‘in Christ’ had come to mean. [God also revealed himself to Abram when he was a pagan]

    But as Brad observed: In Christ there is no male or female, Jew or Greek. [no distinctions] Further, all authority is vested in the shepherd, and there are only sheep. The King is the servant of all. Could it be that ‘in Christ’ doesn’t look like ANY earthly system? Could it be that maybe this God system we have worked so hard to be IN is not ‘in Christ’ either?

  6. Craig I believe you are very perceptive in your new look at the world and your new approach to reality. As you have said, you now realize. Realize is the act of personalizing God’s reality. There isn’t any other way that I have found. Realizing requires we willingly compare our own concepts to the impressions, voice, insight or otherwise, we falteringly acknowledge as comming from God.

    Here is a real issue. God, dealing with us in our inner being, may not be what we expect. So finding him may be a shock. Many make that discovery and shy away with the assumption that the guidance can’t be from God because it is so different than we expected. Hello!!! If we have never realized God’s input before by what logic do we allow ourselves to evaluate the process. We cannot realize truth if we will not allow it, or if we think we already know it.

    When Jesus was standing behind me pointing at reality, his reality, I was impressed by the total assurance I experienced. All our misunderstandings are pre-known by him and there is literally nothing to fear. Our unwillingness to face these fears is what impedes our progress. And since this process of facing ourselves honestly, repenting, and accepting God’s forgiveness is available to each of us and his guidance indwells each of us the only enemy we really face is us.

    After Bible school I was imbued with a sick sense of dread that my reality might be actually intreferring with true spiritual growth; on many issues my views werent seen as scriptual. I now know the reality of this error. Theology is man’s philosophy of God. The real, and therefore realizable counter to this is personal spiritual experience. Theology is what others think of God while experience is what I know of him. Experience trumps theory. If you doubt that, ask yourself if you would rather trust a doctor who studied medicine for 30 years or a surgeon who had performed 1000 operations.

    Jesus taught us to seek God, and in finding him we would be filled. He didn’t mean that we should seek God so we could be fulfilled. He meant that we should seek God for God’s sake, not ours, and that our seeking will fulfill us spiritually.

    Looks to me like you are on the right path. Let’s walk a ways together.

  7. Jim: I agree. Let’s walk a ways together. It’s nice to finally get responses from someone instead of just filling up journals. I really appreciate the conversation.

    To clarify a few things: ‘Realize’ is God making his reality personal to me. A realization is God making a part of himself known to me. A realization is deeper than mere information. God seems to initiate all the communication. He communicates in a way that I realize it could not be anyone but him.

    “God, dealing with us in our inner being, may not be what we expect.” It’s never been what I expect. Another reason I’m sure it’s him. I couldn’t make this up! The transforming processes he leads us into cannot be evaluated or imagined. I know he is at work deep inside me, but I don’t know specifically what he is doing. I have to TRUST that he is totally for me in love, and ENtrust [surrender] myself to him. He even provides the initial trust. His methods and ways are UNfamiliar territory to me. Everything is new.

    So I have a request. Can we explore the reality that is ‘in Christ’ with each other? What does ‘in Christ’ look like to you? I’ll start by saying that everything is new….

  8. “In Christ” sounds very foreign to me. Even the term “Christ” is. Christ is a title, a function of Jesus’ life. I am unsure how I should get to know someone through their title. To me, Jesus is a real person. I can visit with him and learn to approach life’s situations by emulating his outlook. God is our Father, all men are our brothers and my goal is to patch up the confusions and relationships in our family through a singular focus on the spiritual as the primary reality of life. All reality proceeds from the spiritual and the material is just a shadow. The fact that we find Jesus and his way of living so unique and fascinating is based on this. He was/is a living example of this spirit first material second reality. So if “in Christ” is to be used in one’s life as a mental focus, I suggest it be representative of the spirit first focus rather than the title or duty focus. Jesus was uninterested in any titles beyond those regarding family.

    To relate this to an earlier thread, though Jesus is certainly worthy of being placed on the greatest pedestal of all time, he only asked us to be his brothers who would stand with him before our common Father in adoration of his reality and amazing love. No pedestals allowed, not even for Jesus.

  9. Jim: Your comment reminds me how frustrated I am with language. So many words have come to mean something totally different from their origins. Consider ‘discipline’ ‘faithful’ and others. So let me explain what I mean by ‘in Christ,’ and that I used it to refer to “a singular focus on the spiritual as the primary reality of life.”

    When I use the term ‘in Christ,’ I am referring to a totally new spiritual reality that was created by Father-Son-Spirit during the three days between Jesus’ death event and his resurrection event. Somehow, God made all UNrighteousness and all righteousness converge in that space and time, establishing the new reality of transformation. Jesus was the first human completely transformed inside that spiritual reality which also established that spiritual reality. I also realize that God also created a place for you and me to dwell inside that transformation reality. To me, this is why Jesus invited, ‘follow me!’ and said, ‘I am the way, the truth, the life!’ His resurrection is the hope that my transformation can be completed. Jesus’ transformation was a work of God, and so is mine. In the meantime, I dwell in that transformation reality today.

    The majority of the words I have been given to write are ‘descriptions’ of this new transformation reality. The problem is that language is sadly lacking in ability to describe such a reality. As I read Paul’s letters, I see similarities in what I have written, and realize that he was also describing this new transformation reality. He, like me, lacked the words, so he coined the term, ‘in Him,’ or ‘in Christ,’ as a form of shorthand. It came to him in pieces, a progression of realization. A reality as vast as the Trinity could not be unloaded to us in big chunks, because we wouldn’t be able to take it. It’s so new and so unfamiliar, we can only perceive it small piece by small piece.

    It’s this reality we have been exploring over the last few weeks. Same reality that Paul explored and wrote of. 2000 years later, we have still only discovered a tiny piece. In Him are hidden ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

  10. Mind if I join in with the two of you, Jim and Craig?

    I have come to love the concept of “in Christ”. When I came to realization that being in Christ meant that I was safe and secure in Him to struggle and wrestle with sin, I found a tremendous release of the performance and failure burden. I came to realize that when I am in Christ, his obedience, faithfulness, righteousness and holiness is mine. I can “wear it” as my own. In this place of his perfection, I can work out the sanctification process and there is endless grace for things that seem impossible to overcome and may never be overcome here on earth. Let’s face it, His saving blood covers our entire lifetime, it has to, we will never be perfect in our own flesh.

    This is the beauty of the gospel. The longer I live, the more aware I become of how fallible I am, I am in desperate need of His provision. Over time, it seems like I am not getting better at anything, just more aware of how woefully inadequate I am. But I am getting to know more clearly how loved I am and this provides me with the ability to live without fear and condemnation. How thankful I am that He has provided His personal resources and accomplishments for me to have as my own. Clothing myself in Christ.

    Recently I have been meditating on “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. ”
    I had been asking the Lord to teach me how to love, when I realized, “me” cannot love, me has too many issues and filters and fears, but Christ can love THROUGH me, past all those limitations – in spite of those limitations. So now my prayer is Christ, love through me. Its a subtle difference, but an important one, I think.

  11. I was not really aware that I had entered into a transformation reality until I realized that some of my default programming was missing. On the event of losing a job recently, I couldn’t recognize myself nor my reactions. I was hurt, for sure, but no fits of rage, no accusing self-talk, no hyperactive mind activity, etc. I knew, personally, that God had been at work, changing me deep in my heart, from the inside out. So my realization came, not from what was new or added, but from what was being untangled. So I started making a list of things that don’t survive in the spiritual realm. I discovered that it is actually easier to make a list of what’s NOT there, because that list includes much that is familiar to all of us.

    A very few from my very long list of missing: distinctions, comparisons, confrontation, obligation, coercion, manipulation, pretense, aspirations. Wouldn’t it be great to be free from these things? His presence, his reality, can untangle it all and make all these insignificant. (And remember, this is the very short list)

    That which IS in the reality of God is harder to articulate because this reality is totally new and unfamiliar to us, and its intricacies are not readily apparent. Yet, when the love presence overtakes you, you realize that you are truly a new creation. Indeed, old things pass away, and ALL things become new. You are overcome by many things you may have heard of, or read about, but you find them to be impossible to describe. For example, a concept like grace takes on a much deeper, enhanced meaning through the personal experience of it.

    With my discovery that some anger was missing, grace began to be real to me…

  12. Looks like you have truly discovered the experience Jesus calls “born of the spirit”. I mentioned to my wife this morning that maybe we could learn to take the extra step in our lives wher we not only allow God to show us the smudges on our spiritual lens, but we actually practice cleaning it. You know the old saying, “On a great journey, it’s not the mountains we must climb that makes our trip difficult, it’s the pebbles in our shoes.” Christianity encourages seeing the mountains clearly but it fails miserably in helping us clean our shoes.

    This metaphor really refers to the process we all must go through in learning to live according to God’s internal guidance which is purely spiritual as opposed to simply believing a set of beliefs.

    Thanks Craig

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