Stable Foolishness: Satan’s Masterpiece

paintingbrushThink of who it is in your church world, in your community of Christians, that you look up to and say, “That person’s mature.” What about them makes you say that they’re mature? . . . in some cases . . . you may be looking . . . at an older person . . . and say, there’s a person who has been successful in their career, their ministry; they’ve been productive; they’re happy; life is going well; their marriage is good; their kids are doing fine, and I say, “Now that’s the model. That’s the well-managed life. That’s the better life.” Is it possible that when I look at certain people and say, “that’s maturity,” that I am wrongly defining it? Is it possible that that person I’m calling mature is, in fact, a stable fool?

. . . we need to realize that Satan’s masterpiece is not the crack addict . . . not the prostitute. Satan’s masterpiece is the person who is satisfied with this world. Satan’s masterpiece is the person who is untroubled by all that is in his or her interior world that’s opposed to God. He’s content with all the resources that he has to make his life work, and he’s enjoying respect and recognition and affection, and he’s never broken before God to the point where he lives for no one but God. That’s Satan’s masterpiece.

The Spirit’s masterpiece is someone who doesn’t look very mature sometimes. The Spirit’s masterpiece can be someone who is deeply troubled, someone who struggles a lot, someone who is aware of his or her own interior world and doesn’t like what is there, someone who is troubled by the world in which they live, someone who therefore cries out to God, “Reveal yourself to me. You’re all I want. There’s nothing in my perception that can satisfy me except You. I know it’s You.” That’s not foolishness. That’s wisdom, and the person who’s crying out to God for satisfaction may look very unstable, may not have a good job, may not have very much money. They may not be chipper and and happy all the time, but if that person is in fact the Spirit’s masterpiece . . . there’s still going to be a pattern of kindness, a pattern of movement toward other people, and a pattern of abiding trust in God through struggles along the way.

. . . we’ve just got to get away from the idea that if you’re spiritual you’re successful. We’ve got to reach into the realization that the more spiritual you are, the more broken and troubled you become as you pursue the reality of God. Yes there’s joy. Yes there’s stability of the soul. There’s solidness. But along the way, there’s a price to pay. A man whose internal battle is fierce may cling to the truth of his new identity in Christ enough to keep him going; that’s the Spirit’s masterpiece. Without discernment we may look at somebody and say, “That person is immature,” and we may be judgmental toward them and annoyed by them, and tell them to shape up, and be a little happier. “Why can’t you be a little nicer more of the time?” . . . and we may not be aware of the Spirit’s work in their souls. Discernment requires a recognition of foolishness and how it can disguise itself very attractively, especially in the church.

Larry Crabb, SoulCare 201 – Lesson 7

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Weep With Him Who Wept

Crying-Girl (4)Souls who walk in the light sing the hymns of the light; those who walk in the shadows chant the hymns of darkness. Each must be allowed to sing through to end the words and melody which God has given him. Nothing must be changed in what He has composed. Every drop of distress, bitter as gall though it may be, must be allowed to flow, no matter what its effect on us. It was the same for Jeremiah and Ezekiel whose every utterance was broken by sighs and tears. They found consolation only in continuing in their laments. Had their tears been halted, we should have lost the loveliest passages in Scripture. The spirit which makes us suffer is the only one which can comfort us. These different waters flow from the same source. If God seems angry, we tremble; if he threatens us, we are terrified. But we can only let the divine project develop, for within itself it contains both the disease and its cure. So, beloved souls, weep and tremble. Remain in torment. Make no attempt to escape from these divinely inspired terrors. Receive in the depths of your hearts the little streams that flow from the sea of sorrow which filled the most holy soul of Jesus. Keep advancing and let your tears flow under the influence of grace. This same influence will finally dry your eyes. The clouds will drift away, the sun will shine again, spring will adorn you with its flowers, and then you will see, because of your abandonment [to divine providence], the full extent of what divine action is accomplishing. It is really useless to become agitated, for all that happens to us is like a dream. Shadowy images come and go, and dreams, passing through our sleeping mind, give us both pain and pleasure. Our soul is the plaything of these phantoms, but when we awaken we know at once that they have not really affected us. Their impression quickly fades and our waking life pays no heed to the perils or delights of sleep.

Jean-Pierre De Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, 101-02.

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The Dark Side of Introspection

The disease of introspection has many levels, some more lethal than others. There are times when I have to tell a person that healing his depression . . . or whatever [else], will be as easy as falling off a log–once he is healed of an advanced case of introspection. It is amazing how perfectly and methodically some persons can go about destroying every experience of life . . . even every thought experience, through turning a introspective, analytical mind to bear on it. I have even seen pride connnected with this, as though it were some kind of advanced intellectual activity. Actually, it is the annihilation of the intellect.

Stan’s story . . . is a classic example of this disease at its worst. He was almost destroyed by it, being at the point of suicide when I first met him. He was a bright young man who had spent years developing the rational mind, while neglecting the weightier matters of the heart. His emotional needs were very great. . . . When his sexual and gender inferiority began to show up as . . . confusion in the fantasy and dream life, lust entered in and he suffered a moral and spiritual fall–something for which he could not forgive himself. His mind was then held captive not only by a demonic imagery, but by a viscious and continuous mental obsession that contained two elements: a constant analyzing of himself, an exercise in which he was continually looking inward to find some sort of personal truth or reality, and a constant analyzing of what he had before accepted as true. This inner dialogue was full of an irrational sophistry that could only tear concepts apart, but never put the fragments back together in any kind of satisfying whole. Another way to describe this is to say that his thought, severely introspective and full of doubts about what is or is not true, was agonizingly painful and circular. This is the disease of introspection, and Stan had it to a fearful degree. He was in fact floundering in serious mental and spiritual darkness and was filled with fear when he first sought help . . . .

You may be thinking that introspection especially afflicts students and scholars and those gifted intellectually and artistically. But I find this ‘disease’ everywhere. The schism between mind and heart affects the ditchdigger as well as the college professor, the store clerk as well as the artistic genius.

The person who has the disease of introspection, who thinks painfully, constantly, and in circles about life, lives always in the painful past and for the future. In this way, he squanders his present by trying to figure out a more secure or less painful future. The future, of course, never arrives, for it is in the present moment that we ‘live move and have our being.’

The outlines of who we are . . . become sharper and clearer as the eyes of our souls are opened to see and rejoice in the realities outside ourselves. Love is the way: love for the object [God] rather than concentration on oneself, the subject.

We come to know even ourselves, not through turning inward to study and analyze, but by turning outward to love all that is real and other than ourselves. There is a true examination of our hearts and minds . . . but it is never made in separation from the Presence of Another–the One who illumines and forgives. The person who is turned inward has not accepted himself, so there will always be various degrees of the wrong kind of self-hatred involved, and that only grows worse as he concentrates on himself. He has a problem with himself, and he’s looking hard at himself trying to solve it. The disease of introspection is always a lonely business; it is carried on the self in isolation from love.

The disease of introspection occurs when the rational, analytical mind turns in on the intuitive, feeling mind, and the proper complementarity between the two is lost. This introspective mode has various levels of intensity, but in the more painful stages . . . a depression can ensue that will wipe out the power to act or to think.

Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence: Curing the Soul Through Union With Christ, 185-87, 192-93, 195.

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The Devil Hates Humility

“We are human, but we don’t wage war with human plans and methods. We use God’s mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil’s strongholds. With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God. With these weapons we conquer their rebellious ideas, and we teach them to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

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” . . . who can resist the strength of a faithful, gentle and humble soul? These qualities are . . . the weapons we need to overcome all our enemies. Jesus Christ has placed them in our hands so we can defend ourselves. Once we know how to use them, we need fear nothing. We must not be cowardly, but act with a noble courage, and then we shall be able to use these God-given weapons.”

“Who is Lucifer? He is a radiant angel and the most enlightened of all, but an angel hostile to God and His designs. The mystery of sin is merely the result of this hostility, which manifests itself in every possible way. Lucifer does all he can to ensure that all that God has made and governs is overthrown. Wherever he gets a foothold, the work of God is defaced. The more knowledge and intelligence a person has, the more misgivings we should have about him unless he has not that basic piety which consists in being happy to serve God and do all He wants. A well-disposed heart unites us with God’s will. Without it, we behave according to our natural impulses and usually fight against the divine plans. God, strictly speaking, uses only the humble as His instruments. Yet, to fulfill His designs, He makes use of those proud folk who defy Him as His slaves. Whenever I come across a soul who thinks only of God and His will, I pay no attention to any other qualities [he] . . . may lack, but declare: ‘This is a soul with a genius for serving God. . . .’ A host of other talents without this surpassing virtue terrify me, and I suspect the activity of Lucifer. I stay on my guard and brace myself in opposition to all this brilliancy, which seems to me be no more than a bit of fragile glass.”

Jean-Pierre De Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, 115-16.

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Diseased Imaginations

An unhealthy fantasy life . . . is a killer. It destroys. It wars against and annihilates the true imagination, that which can intuit the real and is therefore creative. When our minds are pregnant with illusion, with the lie that disintegrates the personality, and our eyes are set on that, we can not be impregnated by that which is true and substantive–that which unites the personality and makes it one. Time and again, when a man’s inner imagery of himself as man is either deficient or missing, I find he has an involvement with pornography and with a diseased fantasy life. His outer relationships are diseased or nonexistent, and his inner imagery reflects this. Diseased imagery fills in the vacuum where images of affirming and nourishing relationships should have been [that is to say] wholesome images of fatherhood, masculinity, motherhood, femininity, family: those inner images that make up a healthy symbolic system and reflect and channel beauty, truth, and goodness (the very glory of God and of transcendent good) to us.

Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence: Curing the Soul Through Union With Christ, 141-42.

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“Judging” Others: Some Clarifications

wagging%20fingerOne of the great misunderstandings that persists among Christians is the matter of judging others. Jesus’ words are often appealed to as the basis for not judging others: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” (Matt. 7:1). From John 8:7 and we might conclude that it is completely wrong to judge others: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her [the woman caught in adultery].”

What did Jesus mean by the word “judge”? Is Jesus commanding his followers not to make moral judgments, assessments, or evaluations of others? I don’t believe so. First of all, there are Scriptures that command the people of God to “judge” (evaluate) others:

  • “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev. 19:15).
  • “I charged your judges at that time: ‘Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s.” (Deut 1:16-17).
  • “For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge?” (1 Cor 5:12).

Jesus himself said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). Even in Matthew 7 he commands his followers to make sure that they have examined themselves thoroughly before they attempt to point out the flaws of others: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matt. 7:3-5).

Here’s the point. Jesus is telling his followers not to be severely critical, or to find fault too readily with others. The evaluations we make of others while “right” (John 7:24) must be seasoned with love, mercy, and forgiveness, virtues he stressed earlier in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:7; 6:12, 14-15). Without these virtues in place in our judging, we too will find ourselves on the receiving end of harsh judgment. Maybe it would not go too far to say, “Judge others as you would have them judge you” (cf. Matt. 7:12).

Some Christians seem to get a lot of energy from fault-finding, by claiming either prophetic discernment, or that Scripture commands them to “contend for the faith,” meaning taking issue with everyone with whom they disagree. Other Christians do not judge others at all and choose to be graciously and lovingly blind to the faults of others. Somewhere there is a happy medium between these two extremes.

I tend to be a critical person by nature. It is very easy for me to find fault with others. While I may not verbalize my critical spirit, I find that I can be internally critical of others. Thankfully God is patient with me; I am a work in process with a long way to go. One day I will appear before the Judge and give account for how I have “judged” others (Jas. 2:12-13).

I am not an opinionated person by nature. I choose to make moral judgments of others when I believe something of real importance is hanging in the balance, particularly if I am living in community with a person. If a person I know is making hurtful choices that affect others, I will be moved to make a moral judgment of their actions. In other words, I will tell that person that I believe their choices (or way of relating) is not good. If a person believes or teaches something I believe to be communally harmful, I will “judge” their beliefs, but in such a way that attempts to be helpful. I make it my aim to avoid making moral judgments of others unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Otherwise, I will find myself in a self-righteous, severely critical mode of viewing others.

I do believe that prophetic voices are needed to speak out against the evils of our fallen societies. This is a needed form of judging others. I want be prepared to speak prophetically with courage as the need arises.

After we have searched our own hearts, Jesus does call us to “judge” others, but in a way that is truthful, gentle, merciful, and helpful. These times of “judgment” will occur within our faith communities when lifestyle choice and doctrinal matters are hanging in the balance. And, as occasion demands, we must speak to the injustices of culture that run counter to the heart of God.

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How Often Is Your Heart “Punctured”?

remorseSomething of the wealth of traditional . . . teaching on compunctio has been lost in recent centuries by limiting its meaning to sorrow for sin. While contrition is certainly an element in compunction, the traditional understanding of the term involves a lot more.

At the heart of compunction is a sense of pain, a stinging, a sensation of being pricked. It is a question of being pierced . . . aroused from torpor and complacency and stimulated to action. It has nothing to do with an obsessive and depressive sense of guilt, with an endless reviewing of past failures and sins. There is a regret for previous actions, but it is of a specific kind. It is the dissatisfaction that rises in a person’s heart only when he is deeply convinced that he is capable of something better. The dissatisfaction, regret or anger is a secondary manifestation; the primary content of the experience of compunction is the recognition of a deep personal attraction for God and of his love drawing one on. The depth of the divine compassion makes an impression on our hard hearts and we can only experience regret at our present level of performance. The poignancy we experience in our resistance to God’s overpowering love causes us . . . to desire with greater vigor that compromise might cease.

Compunction is, therefore, a dual sensitivity. It places before us both the reality of our sinful condition and the urgency of our desire to be possessed totally by God. Compunction is the feeling we have when, having experienced something of our union with God, we allow ourselves to become once more immersed in activities which inhibit or frustrate our spiritual potential. It is active disgust at our low-level living, knowing that we were made for something better and that nothing less than God can bring us what our nature craves.

Michael Casey, The Undivided Heart, 50.

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Beauty of Beauties

 

“Someone, I was told, at the sight of a very beautiful body [a woman’s or man’s] felt impelled to glorify the Creator. The sight of it increased his love for God to the point of tears. Anyone who entertains such feelings in such circumstances is already risen .. . before the general resurrection.”

John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 15th step, 58

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Hospitality as a Catalyst for Change

 

Hospitality . . . means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.

Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out, The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, 51.

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Sweet Consolation, Painful Desolation

0004702_julians_gospel_illuminating_the_life_and_revelations_of_julian_of_norwich. . . some souls profit by experiencing this, to be comforted at one time, and at another to fail and to be left to themselves. God wishes us to know that he keeps us safe all the time, in sorrow and in joy; and sometimes a man is left to himself for the profit of his soul, although his sin is not always the cause. For in this time I committed no sin for which I ought to have been left to myself, for it was so sudden. Nor did I deserve these feelings of joy, but our Lord gives it freely when he wills, and sometimes he allows us to be in sorrow, and both are one love. For it is God’s will that we do all in our power to preserve our consolation, for bliss lasts forevermore, and pain is passing, and will be reduced to nothing for those who will be saved. Therefore it is not God’s will that when we feel pain we should pursue it in sorrow and mourning for it, but that suddenly we should pass it over, and preserve ourselves in the endless delight which is God.

Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), Showings, 205.

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