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The cities of refuge have to be one of the most intriguing things to me in the Old Testament. God commanded his people as they were establishing themselves in the promised land by tribe to each have a city of refuge outside the parameters of the city.
These cities were to be a place for people who had killed another to escape. It was not a place to go be innocent and free of guilt. It was a place of protection. Why protect the murderer? These places were for them to escape those who avenge the victims. It was God’s justice. Wait, what?
God knows our revenge is always more emblazened and severe. God protects from unequal severity of revenge. The murderer, though in refuge, remains under judgement for his wrong. That is until the acting priest dies. (ps, another interesting reality is that the cities of refuge were always maintained by the priestly tribe. The mission of the cities of refuge should be the mission of pastors, ministers, and followers of Jesus.) Like us, they were under judgement until our High Priest died to free us from under the burden of judgement.
Yesterday, I was contacted by a ministry to my neighborhood (Oak Park/Tahoe Park). The ministry is called, City of Refuge Sacramento. While it is not a hiding place for murders, it is a place to reach into a community to which high crime and poverty is attributed. It is a ministry which attempts to infiltrate in community to make efforts toward this freedom out from under the burden of the judgement.
The founder of an organization rescuing girls from human trafficking was asked in an interview if he was really making a difference. When for every girl rescued traffickers are still ensnaring more girls. The founder replied that he was unqualified to answer that question. The radio host, irritated, did not understand how the founder of organization like this could be unqualified to answer that question. The founder replied, you will have to ask one of the girls we have rescued if we are making a difference.
I will spare you the starfish illustration most of you have heard too many times while still giving you the reminder my heart has needed recently.
Do not allow the weight of difference needed in the world to paralyze you from making a difference somewhere for someone today.
We are all worshippers. Truth is we are worshipping all the time. Every place, all day long, every day, we worship. We were made to worship. We are wired that way. Essentially we cannot help but worship…something. Worship is simply an issue of value. THE QUESTION lies in where we place it.
When I am worshipping God, am I really placing value…understanding the value…spiritually, intellectually, prophetically and trustingly putting value on God the loving ridiculous Daddy? It takes a sincere awareness and outpouring of honor.
Upon reflecting on any regrets he had, Billy Graham said, “Every day I was absent from my family is gone forever.”
While we realize physical absence certainly has an affect, I am thinking today of the realities of emotional absence. As a pastor and leader, you are expected to be on-call and at the ready at all times. You are to be fully available for everyone at all times, and we too often justify this as “the life of ministry”.
Pastors, ministry leaders, those days you are absent (both physically and emotionally) are gone forever. [TWEET THAT]
Look at the ministry you have and realize that everything you do can be done or shared by someone else. Only you can be husband to your wife (or wife to your husband). Only you can be mom or dad to your kids.
I am trying to challenge myself to lose less and less days forever.
Augustine writes of God, “You yourself are their joy. Hapiness is to rejoice in you and for you and because of you.” Remind me again that joy is not based on my self . God is the only source of joy. All REAL happiness is because of the ultimate joy which IS God. Joy is based completely on God. Suppose God does not GIVE us anything. Is HE still my joy? I hope I can make God my only joy. Then I can allow my happiness, however it comes to me, to drive me to rejoice in God and for God and because of God.
It was so easy to be angry at the legalistic Christians who have no idea what it means to love others as we are called to. I pretty much quit being angry and bitter when I made a guess at WHY they had been so poor at loving. God had called us to love others as we love ourselves.
It appeared to me perhaps we as Christians struggle to love others because we do not actually know how to love ourselves. For so many of us, or I know for me at least, I would not wish on anyone the kind of love I dish out on myself much of the time. So I see Christians in a different light. We suck so much at loving others because we do not know how to love ourselves as Christ sees and loves us.[Tweet That] So the cycle begins.
Now I have been noticing another point in that cycle. That point answers the question, “Why do we struggle to love ourselves?” “Why do Christians have such a horrible time loving themselves and thus loving and accepting others?” Essentially, why ARE we legalistic?
The answer comes from within the question. We are legalistic because we have been hurt by legalism.
I have a hard time loving and accepting others because I have a hard time loving myself, and I have a hard time loving and accepting myself because I do not feel loved and accepted by Christians, and Christians have a hard time loving and accepting me because they have a hard time loving and accepting themselves, and they have a hard time loving and accepting themselves because I, a Christian, have a hard time loving and accepting them. And the cycle of legalism thickens, and I am more a part of it than I ever realized.
Can the cycle be broken?
By loving and accepting myself AND others! By not withholding love and acceptance! The easiest cycle breaker (and hardest personal choice) is to break the cycle at the point of reality and brokeness. I take away the pretense of perfection…of myself. Then I allow the Christians to realize I have no perfection pretense of myself and I am able to have no perfection pretense of them. This will happen when I become more concerned with being honest and acquiring healing instead of appearing fine, okay, good, or dare I say, perfect. It is in my brokenness that legalism cycles are broken. Because then I am able to love others as I love myself, which is loving acceptance of myself despite my failures and mistakes. So when I love and accept others as I do myself, they can love and accept themselves as they are, and then love me and others as they love themselves.
But right now, we DO love others as we love ourselves…legalistically.
I am teaching a workshop on the creative process in March at The Worship Conference. I am having similar feelings as I do when given opportunities to teach God’s Word; who am I to teach this? All is grace!
Same as intimate connection with God, moments and periods of creativity are exactly that; moments! [Tweet That] We all have times when God seems as distant as our creativity. As a follower of Jesus, I believe the two are intimately connected. I am my most creative when I am most connected to the heart of God.
There are practical steps to take for jumpstarting that intimacy, and there are practical steps for jumpstarting your creativity. I will communicate those in my workshop in March, but one I will communicate in a great quote I just came across.
“Throw up into your typewriter every morning.
Clean up every noon.”
- Raymond Chandler
John of the Cross calls it “The Dark Night of the Soul”. But we all know how it feels. If not, you will experience that time eventually.
I think about it this way. If you have some experience where the lights are turned out for a considerable amount of time, your eyes adjust to the darkness, but you know the light that was present just before they were turned out. You enjoyed the light greatly, but now you came into the darkness and your eyes have adjusted to the darkness. Now, the feeling I have been talking about…what John calls “Darkness of the Soul” comes when the lights are turned back on. Glorious light! Finally you have gone from light to darkness, and now back to incredible light. This whole time you have been in the dark room longing for light.
You knew ABOUT light. You recalled everything ABOUT light that you knew before. But, o happy day, you get to actually EXPERIENCE the light after so long spent thinking ABOUT light. Glorious….right?
Not necessarily! As soon as you experience light after being in that dark room, you are temporarily blinded because you go immediately from dark to light, and your eyes cannot take the sudden change. You must now learn to adjust. For so long you knew ABOUT light. You even proved very confident in your knowledge about how light operates, but now in full EXPERIENCE of light, you are thrown into a temporary blindness. You cannot take all of it, and now you must adjust. It still seems dark for a second, but you have EXPERIENCED the light you had only known ABOUT before.
We are believers who know a lot about God. We have become excellent at how much we have learned about our phenomenal God. We see great things, and we know God has shown these things to us. But now, we are beginning to actually see God. We are at the piont of entering into truly experiencing the God we have learned so much about. We are entering intimacy with the heart of a relational God.
When Moses got closer enough to God, he “hid his face”, and he was terrified. The closer to God he got (and he got closer to God than we will ever know), the more darkness he experienced. Darkness came in ways of fear, anxiety and confusion. Now that sounds very familiar to our darkness of soul, and Moses knew much of God, and yet still faced himself in darkness when he experienced God.
After all we have seen, we all the sudden become blind. But it is because we are in the midst of a great transition into experiencing the God we have always known ABOUT. This God we know so much about now becomes “absent”…or at least appears absent behind our exposure to a light our faith cannot handle. God is not actually absent, but we have become temporarily blinded by the purity and glory of God coming into a closer relationship with us.
The question is:
WILL WE ADJUST OR GIVE UP AND CLAIM HE’S ABSENT?