Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Wholeness: The old self & the Idol of Excuses

In a recent YouTube video that I made, called Wilderness Training. I went into detail how idolatry is just as rampant today as ever. That we still look to created things, instead of the creator, for the hope of fulfillment. Even if they are not as literal as they once were. However, there was one thing about them I didn't get into there, which is better suited for this blog series anyway. A detail that's revealed in this verse.

But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. -Psalm 115:4-8

While one would think we would want a God that can hear, see, and respond to us. However, an inanimate idol will not question you, it cannot correct you, and it won't convict you. Nor do they expect us to face our fear of change; hence, the appeal of them. While I am sure humanity has always been intolerant of being questioned, we have become all the more blatant about it in the 21st century. We have even gone as far as to vilify anyone who convicts people and makes them feel bad. No matter how self-destructive their actions may be.

As adults, we become so very attached to our old selves. As imperfect and problematic as they can be, they are still familiar, and ultimately manageable. Even if it is through the virtual idols of pleasure, power, and self. Not only that, our old selves come with built-in excuses. If there is anything that humanity likes better than mute idols, it’s excuses. “Because this happened, I’m entitled to do that. Since my parents did that to me, I should be able to do this, my old self needs this virtual idol to cope.” Shedding our old selves means relinquishing our excuses, and the virtual idols tied to them.

Idolatry, excuses, our old selves, three seemingly unrelated things, yet often found together backing each other up. Keeping us in a static state upon the plateau, and impeding our path to wholeness. Making us as blind as the virtual idols we serve, which is a constant obstacle to the resurrected life of victory.

And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is still one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything good regarding me, but always bad. He is Micaiah the son of Imlah.” But Jehoshaphat said, “May the king not say so.” -2 Chronicles 18:7

. . .in reference to your former way of life, you are to rid yourselves of the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you are to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. -Ephesians 4:22-24

The Visual PARABLEist

A man using another man as a footstool to worship a mirror
 The Narcissist 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Wholeness: Scars

They say time heals all wounds, yet some people seem to go years and sometimes even decades without finding wholeness. Maybe the reason they are not healing is that they are still trying to go back to the person they once were before the trauma, and they expect it to come painlessly. Maybe, they confuse healing with restoration. Also, anyone who has had surgery can attest, healing is often a very painful process. Hence, our tendency to avoid it. However, Christ still bore the scars of his excruciating crucifixion after the resurrection. (John 20:26-27) A man who cleansed lepers surely could have restored himself scar-free if he really wanted. Yet, maybe there is a lesson in this for more than just Thomas.

Yes, this world can wound you, that's a constant for everyone. If we respond to them negatively, they can turn necrotic, which keeps the wound from healing properly. Which only magnifies and prolongs our misery. Ultimately, leading us down an all-encompassing path of protecting our feelings. Often, leading us to be just as hurtful as the people who wounded us. Whether it's a way of keeping people at arm's length as a defense mechanism; or just taking pleasure in using and abusing people. The irony of it all, by repeating the actions of our abusers, we only rationalize their behavior and ultimately invalidate our bitterness over the whole thing. Do you really want to be that person?

Yet, if we respond faithfully, and face said pain, we can experience grace from said wounds. While scars remain after the healing process, those scars transform us into something slightly different from before. After all, can we truly have empathy for others if we haven't experienced pain as well as grace? Can we truly appreciate loving kindness if we haven't experienced bitter hatred as well? So we in turn can become an instrument of grace for others via that change.

So as you can see, our scars can define us as much as our DNA does. The question is, will it define us in a Christ-like graceful way. Or will it define us in a devil-like destructive way?

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself (Jesus) likewise also partook of the same, so that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For clearly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brothers so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.-Hebrews 2:14-18

Christ has scars; they are a big part of his identity. So as disciples of Christ, we should have scars as well. So by shunning our pain we in turn are only robbing ourselves of our identity in Christ, as well as the grace that comes with it. One must wonder, is this not part of the reason so many don't know what their purpose is. They have faced their wounds with fear instead of faith. So they are naturally suffering necrosis of the heart that keeps us from experiencing true wholeness.

scars in the shape of wings

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Wholeness: The Season of Resurrection?

As I type this, we are in the season of Lent. Even if you are part of a church that does not embrace Lent fully, you may still observe Holy Week, or at least Good Friday. A time where the cross is put even more front and center than normal. We spend 364 days of the year around the cross, but only dedicate one day to the resurrection come Easer Sunday. As I have already indicated often, this seems a little backward to me. So I thought I would share my thoughts on the emphasis of a symbol of death, albeit in a watered-down way, instead of a promise of new life.

Ever play one of those match-three games? Every level has a goal, but there are often obstacles to that goal as well. Sometimes we can get so fixated on removing the obstacles, that we forget about the goal. But, we don't realize it until we fail miserably at that level. It can be the same with working out our salvation. We get so fixated on dealing with the obstacle of sin, we lose sight of why we are doing this. The church could surely help out with this by putting more emphasis on the good news of the resurrection.

We like our symbols since they serve as easy to understand reminders. Which is Biblical. (Numbers 15:37-41) There are few more iconic than the cross after all. I have put much thought into symbolizing the resurrection to make it equally iconic. However, this saying reminded me there is one already. "Every flower of springtime holds the promise of the resurrection." There is a reason why Easter happens when it does. When the church was reaching out to the pagan tribes of Europe, they would draw parallels between their spring festivals and the resurrection to help them understand the gospel.

Imagine if a church painted lilies behind the altar instead of the traditional cross. As opposed to just bringing them out seasonally. A symbol of life, not just death. We could even do multiple kinds of lilies to add an element of unity in diversity to it.

origami lilies

Even in my artwork, there is a recurring symbol of the flower, which is a combination of a rose and a tulip. Which represents the things we are waiting to bloom in our life. Is this not the essence of seeking wholeness, or the resurrected life?

a man letting weeds grow under him waiting for his rose to bloom

There is a saying "progress, not perfection." While there is definitely a valid truth in that. I sometimes think we let this idea lead us onto a halfhearted effort when it comes to wholeness, salvation, and the resurrected life. Hence, the average Christian playing ring around the cross for forever and a day; only experiencing the resurrected life for fleeting moments. We should seek better if we want our churches to expand because growth starts from within. It's the "whole" individuals who delight and inspire the most people with their everyday lives. Not the loveless broken-hearted legalists.

Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow him, but follow him where? The same place it led him, the tomb that leads to the resurrected life. So eventually, we need to step into the tomb and let the old self die already. Then shed off our burial clothes and step out of the tomb to embrace the recreated life. Then, we will naturally want to become participants in the kingdom of God as fully adults heirs. Not just as an immature observer. That won't happen if we are too in love with the ways of the world, and settling for our brokenness.

a man exiting a tomb, but is hung up on his burial cloth

 The Visual PARABLEist

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. -Philippians 3:10-11

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Wholeness: From Death Life Comes

Humanity often has a strange relationship with death. Generally, we have a negative view of it, often associating it with darkness; even when we believe in life after death. Counter cultures that openly embrace the darkness and romanticize death, often help reinforce this negative perception. Yet, death is an ongoing theme in The New Testament, ironically enough. A concept we often fail to understand, let alone live by.

As disciples, we really need to probe deep into the scriptures to discern the actual truth by distinguishing the literal from the spiritual ramifications of death. Instead of letting our fears, and those who twist the truth to unholy extremes steer us off course. Understanding this distinction is vital for achieving wholeness.

Biblically speaking death is the means we let go of our old selves. We embrace death not to cling to darkness, but rather to leave it behind. So many of our failures and struggles all come back to clinging to things that hinder our path to eternal life, instead of letting them die. The basic truth of the cross is, through death life comes. Yet, somehow we gloss over this idea of "death of self" to make it more palatable. Yet, by doing so we diminish our ability to overcome the sinful nature and embrace eternal life. Baptism is also symbolic of this spiritual death. (Romans 6:3-4) Being submerged representing burial, and rising up out of the water is a symbolic resurrection or rebirth. Made whole via the new creation. (2nd Corinthians 5:16-17) Don’t let it remain merely a symbol.

What is your relationship with death? Is it based on solid Biblical truth, or just worldly fear, and desire?

The Visual PARABLEist

A man stripping off his burial cloths

Some passages to meditate on to wrap our heart around this important concept.

John 3:1-21 & 12:23-26

Romans 6:5-14

2nd Corinthians 4:10-12

Philippians 3:10-11

Colossians 3:1-10

Galatians 2:20

1st Peter 2:24

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Wholeness: Emotions

What is your relationship with your emotions? If you are like most people, you probably never even considered the question, let alone know how to answer it. One could write a whole book on the subject, but to simplify the notion to blog proportions, let me put it within the broad context of the "goal-oriented, avoidance-oriented-spectrum."

I think we can all guess what goal-oriented is. We decide what we want, in this case, the emotions we want to experience, then develop strategies to experience them. We live in a culture that tends to elevate the goal-oriented. (Only not as much as it used to) Most motivational speakers follow this mantra after all. However, the method is really only as good as the goals themselves. When we are letting our feelings dictate them, they can very easily become shallow, superficial, and selfish.

Avoidance-oriented is just the opposite. We identify what we don’t want to experience, and implement methods of avoiding them. The risk here is that we can allow trauma to dictate the course of our lives; since everything is perceived through the filter of fear.

While different personalities tend to favor one side over the other, everyone is capable of both. We all have compartments of our lives where we have goals; and others where we have avoidances. However, if we really want to achieve wholeness, we need to look beyond that. Learn to act deliberately, not just react emotionally.

In our goals, we need to make sure they are established in righteousness, character, and integrity; not just what feels good. Otherwise, we may end up on an unholy path, and as someone else's avoidance. Which can come back to haunt us.

Yet in our avoidances, we need to make sure they are based on truth, and not just fear. Trauma has a way of keeping people from seeing things clearly and objectively. Causing us to project our fears upon everyone, and every situation. This only sabotages our goals; and keeps us from moving forward in life, including our walk as disciples.

Consider this, there is a reason why we have love-affairs with our favorite shows, movies, and musicians. They frequently affirm or validate our emotions. They help us to understand the emotions that we put no effort into examining ourselves. Most artists are naturally more self-aware than the average person after all. Understanding through an artistic proxy if you will. This can be a good thing, but here is the caveat. These industries are run by people who are more interested in profit, than the good of the public. So they tend to promote those projecting the lowest common denominator.

This brings up the age-old question, does entertainment affect society, or merely reflect society? Since people are more apt to respond to what rationalizes their feelings, I lean towards reflect. Which places these problems in our own house, not just on an outside source. Hence, our reluctance to accept reflection. However, breaking the mirror destroys only the reflection, not what is being reflected. It only makes the problem less noticeable; it doesn't actually deal with the issue at hand. The world has real problems, and they lie deep within human souls. So dealing with them means having more than a casual acquaintance with our emotions, and facing the brokenness behind them. As opposed to just putting a candy coating on everything as we tend to do.

So again I ask you, what is your relationship with your emotions? Is it intimate enough to achieve wholeness? Or only superficial enough to create the illusion of wholeness.

Jesus consoling a man who hates himself
John 4:1-26, Matthew 19:16-22

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Wholeness: Want VS Need

Want and need, two words with very different meanings. Yet, we still manage to get these ideas transposed. I started this series because I believe we truly NEED wholeness, yet neglect to pursue it because we are too busy chasing our mere wants. Without wholeness, we will never experience peace and contentment. Without wholeness, we will never achieve true holiness. Without wholeness, we will never find our genuine purpose. Yet, we often mistakingly believe our wants will give us at least some of that. Yet, our wants are often so impatient and superficial; and fueled more by feelings than spirit. So how could holiness and purpose ever be fulfilled through want? Any peace we find via want will be temporal at best, and will often lead us down the path of the sinful nature of the flesh, and in extreme cases the hedonistic paradox. Which is ultimately a path towards emptiness. A concept King Solomon lifted up the book of Ecclesiastes.

Most importantly, our ability to discern the want from need comes down to maturity. For example, a growing child NEEDS plenty of protein in their diet for their developing organs, yet that doesn't stop them from WANTING only candy. Our spiritual needs are not much different, what is good for the soul, and instant gratification is rarely the same thing. Even when we consciously know this, we still have a hard time following it. We currently live in an age that follows the mantra of "People should be able to live the way they WANT, without consequence." The phrase itself reeks of emotional immaturity. Yet, as often as we see people placing mere WANTS ahead of basic physical necessities, only seems to prove it. Such short-sightedness tends to bring betrayal with it since want doesn't consider how our actions affect others. Repeated betrayals inevitably invites retaliation, since want favors vengeance over forgiveness. So how can want ever be free from consequences?

Do you really understand the distinction between want and need? Do you really comprehend where our spirit and flesh play into that? With all that being said, will you explore the idea deeply by examining the brokenness behind our immature wants? Or will you merely try to alter your surface behavior yet again?

A man forsaking water to reach for a diamond with a spider hidden behind it.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you NEED them. -Matthew 6:31-32

“Our longing for life keeps confusing us about the purpose of life.“-John Eldredge

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? -Romans 7:14-24

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Wholeness: Forgiveness

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. -Matthew 6:14-15

Someone once tried to tell me this passage wasn't meant to be taken literally. Despite the fact, it's stated so straightforwardly without a hint of metaphor or hyperbole. They couldn't really back up their stance with anything tangible other than that was what they were told. I'm sure it all came back to a feeling that certain people in their lives were clearly in the wrong and deserved to be punished for their actions. Even if they were, is that really our place to decide? Are we really qualified to judge people objectively? We see only the result of how it affects us after all, not the motives, or even the brokenness behind it.

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.-Romans 12:19-21

As I stated earlier in my state of shalom post, wholeness has a lot to do with reconciliation. No matter how wrong or evil a person's actions may be. Our ill will towards them changes nothing on their end, even if we hold onto that anger for months, years, or even decades. All those negative emotions simply overtake our lives and steal our peace of mind. Which keeps us perpetually in a broken state.

Even when we consciously know this, we have a hard time living it. We often still long for the right moment to throw something in these people’s faces. We hope to see these people get what they deserve. Then again, maybe we should be asking, are we getting what we deserve by not trusting God’s judgment.

Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them. -Proverbs 24:17-18

From God’s point of view, it’s often just as much about our bad attitude, as it is their sinful actions. If God considers you one of his own, he will discipline you, and he may even use sinful people to do it. It is times like this that we need to drop the attitude of entitlement and respond with humility. Wholeness is a transformation process, and some things need to be demolished before they can be rebuilt. Are you willing to let go of your unforgiving attitude for the sake of wholeness?

“So much of what we misinterpret as hassles or trials or screw ups on our part are in fact God fathering us, taking us through something in order to strengthen us, or heal us, or dismantle some unholy thing in us.” -John Eldredge

A standoff beween two people who have buried the hatchet, but left the handle sticking out.