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Personal Relationships

…develop, they don’t just pop into existence.
I mean, if you tell me I have to have a personal relationship with Stranger B off the street, it’s not just going to happen. He may be rich, powerful, famous. He may be the mayor of the city, or the most influential person I could ever meet. He might be the most helpful person I could ever get to know. But, it’s not just going to happen. I suspect, me being shy, that there would need to be an introduction of some sort. I’d want to know that I’m not just another number to this person. Trust in a person develops. I’d probably be testing this out for some time. Personal relationships are not one sided. It wouldn’t just be about me taking initiative to meet this person, me calling this person up on the phone, me going to visit this person, me contributing to this person’s campaign, pouring out my heart to this person with no response. I’d definitely want to see that this person is interested in me too. I’d want to know what this person’s heart is – desires, hopes, likes and dislikes, hurts, quirks, etc. If they are spending time with me, if they open up to me, if they prove trustworthy, if we have things in common and I like that person and I think they like me too, then we can start talking about a "personal relationship".
A personal relationship with God can’t just be legislated. "You need to have a personal relationship with God." OK. So, introduce me to him. I’ll see how it works out. I can guarantee you that if it turns out the relationship is all one sided, me either doing all the giving or me doing all the receiving, or if it turns out that he is actually pretty mean spirited, or non talkative, or never there when I call, or controlling, or demanding, it won’t last. And, so I understand how important it is in this world to develop a knowledge of God and a sense of hearing him before I start telling people they need to have a personal relationship with him. In fact, if I tell them about God, even better show God to them (out of authentic and intimate experience with him), they will have made an introduction to him, and that’s a start. And, if I can demonstrate what his voice sounds like so they can hear him too, then conversation and spending time together will start taking place, and I have confidence that God will be a friend to that person and the relationship will become solid.
Of course, all this begs the question whether too much emphasis is being put on the intellect in all this. Is it possible for kids to have a personal relationship with God? Is it possible that enjoying life, being content with self and circumstances, the desire to do good to others already indicates a personal relationship with God, and that putting a name on God and localizing him is more an adult thing, and perhaps even a way for one adult to sort of control who God is to another? And, why can’t God just introduce himself? Why would that depend on me?
Hearing God and having a personal relationship with him? I think it begins in the human soul with the consciousness that I am, then that I’m accepted, then that I have a purpose to participate in life and share goodness with others, then that there is more and there is hope. When, as adults, we start pointing out to our kids that that consciousness is the voice of God, we are, I think, just helping the relationship. Then, because of hurts and tragedies and the existence and power of evil in our lives, usually it’s a matter of reintroducing someone to God. And, I think that’s what we’re doing as adults when we talk about God and show him to one another. And, that depends of course on true representation of him. And, a true representation will be centered in love. "God is love", John says. And, my personal relationship with God begins and rebegins right here: "Hey, I love you and I accept you just as you are." I do myself a big favor by accepting myself and giving myself a little understanding and forgiveness. Because that is the voice of God coming to be with me. From there, the personal relationship will only get better.
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I feel guilty for being a reader

When I was a teenager I discovered that I like reading the Bible and spiritual literature and discussing it, but I’ve always had a nagging guilt about taking too much to read and not getting enough done. Voices from the past.
There is the egghead label. Egghead = nerd. Nerds aren’t masculine. No man wants to be called an egghead. Women don’t either. It means you’re not pretty or fun.
There is the fanatic label. After I discovered my love for spiritual things and couldn’t stop talking about it, my dad called me a fanatic. No one wants to be called a fanatic. Fanatic = imbalanced, extreme, crazy.
There is the lazy and impractical label. "While you’re sitting there reading and praying, I’m getting things done!" The people who are hurling this label have heard the same voice. They aren’t free.
Luke 2:41-52. Already at age 12, Jesus was a fanatic about reading Scripture, learning, spiritual discussion. He wasn’t an egghead. He accomplished more in this world than anyone else I can think of. I don’t think he let labels about being fanatical bother him.
The greatest spiritual movements start among people who are fanatical about their faith. Examples: the early Christian church, the underground church in China. It’s when the labels start being accepted and the discipleship becomes mediocre that the movements stagnate.
Do I have permission to be an avid learner, fanatical about spirituality? I do now. Thank God.
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Haunted Heads (Ghosts Are Real!)

… and we probably all have them. The voices say:
"NObody likes you."
"You are soooooo lazy!"
"You ONLY think about yourSELF!"
"You’ll NEVER amount to ANYthing!"
Things I’ve heard:
"Your religion is all HEAD knowledge!"
"You are NOT compassionate."
"You’re too OLD!"
It can be as innocent as:
"Get real."
"You’re so naive."
"You’re so negative."
"You’re so ethereal."
There’s lots of them. And, they can play over and over. And they can pop up suddenly and start driving me and practically my whole life … to places I don’t really want to go. And, then I can exhaust myself trying to prove them wrong (a form of raging).
It’s important for me to recognize:
1. There’s probably validity to all of them, otherwise they wouldn’t have been wielded at me. And they’re not all bad. Even Jesus said, "You of little faith!" to his disciples. I bet that haunted them.
2. They are no doubt half truths [or exaggerations, a legitimate poetical device]. What they do to me when I take them as truth is the problem. Whether it’s the speaker or me misunderstanding them, the half truth characterization isn’t truth. It’s a lie. I have permission to call a half truth a lie. I should call it a lie. If it’s controlling me and leading me to bad places, it’s morally right for me to call it a lie.
3. There’s no need to retaliate against the medium of a vindictive half truth. They hear the voices too and have received their share of them already. That’s probably why they wield them as they do.
4. There are better voices: "You are the light of the world!" (Matthew 15:14). "I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself" (1 Corinthians 4:3). The apostle Paul urged his brothers not to compare themselves to other humans or to boast in themselves. There is but one judge, and he knows who we are.
5. It might be helpful to take some time to think through or even write down the voices that haunt me and try to trace them back to their root – parent, sibling, significant other, child, boss, school bully, etc. Do I recognize what the voice is doing to me, when it’s likely to pop up? Share it with someone you trust and who knows you well. It’s good to have a support group and maybe also a counselor.
To the unhaunting of us all!
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I’m a raging maniac. Yes, I am!

The Missing Peace is a book by John Lee about getting free from the rage that leads us to addictions. It’s an excellent book. He distinguishes between anger and rage, anger being the God given way we deal with bad things and rage being inappropriate overreactive dwelling on the same things. Anger expressed appropriately doesn’t hurt people and can be expressed quickly. Rage can last years and almost always hurts people, including ourselves. Lee describes various forms of raging, various triggers that set off rage even years after a hurt was inflicted, and something called regression, an almost automatic trip to the past to deal with things that are happening in the present. I’m writing this on the fly, so my apologies for any shortcomings in my description of what John Lee says. Toward the end of the book, John Lee describes his own experience in getting out some of his own rage and suggests that unless we get ours out we will continue to rage. So, here are some areas of rage I’ve noticed in myself. Maybe they are affecting you too and you too have bottled them up.
Time lost or wasted. There’s all the time I had to spend in school every day for years while fun things and just being a kid waited for me to come home and engage in the life God meant for me to have. (Now, I do appreciate the result of schooling, believe it or not even things like math and trig and biology. But hey, why did it have to take so much time and why did we have to be forced to learn that much we really didn’t have to know?) Then, there’s the time my dad didn’t have for me when I was a kid. I would have loved to throw the baseball more, play a board game together, or even just talk. We did have some time, but it just wasn’t enough. And then, there have been years when I was a workaholic and practically spent every waking hour in busyness, but not with my kids. Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do. But, how about a little balance? Now, I’m 49 and out of shape and throwing a baseball isn’t easy to do anymore.
A heart cut out. Sometimes it’s an attack on the things you love. The music I listened to when I was a teen, or the shows I watched, or the activities that I enjoyed (I’m not talking morally bad stuff). Sometimes it’s an attack on people you love. I’ve watched my wife get bullied out of doing something she poured her heart into. I’ve had a "lady" slight my wife to my face. A psycho(logist) once told me that I had bad parents. I mean, I’m fully aware of their shortcomings, but hey. Sometimes it’s an attack on your dreams or your character. A job taken away from you. Being told you’re a loser (though everyone isn’t agreed on that). Being told you’re lazy, just because you’re doing something you want to do (finally, after years of being a workaholic). Sometimes it’s an attack on your personhood. Being left for someone else or for no one, at whatever age. Being thought so little of, that someone could ignore you, forget you, or be mean to you.
Pressure to be someone you’re not or to do something you’re not ready for. Maybe it’s your parents’ hopes or expectations of what you’re going to be when you grow up (my parents were really good about not pressuring me in this area, despite what the psycho(logist) thinks about them). Maybe it has to do with personality traits or abilities. Like, you’re a gentle, compassionate male expected to be a warlike he man, or you’re drawn to music but expected to be an athlete. Maybe it has to do with tough behavioral expectations, like the boldness to witness your beliefs publicly or the ability to forgive. Maybe it has to do with beliefs. You’re expected to believe something you’re not really sure about. Even small pressure is pressure, like being nagged to take care of little things right now when you have something else on your schedule. All of these pressures have a purpose and all the pressures in my life have served to challenge me in good ways too, but if you’re not ready yet and someone pushes you anyway, it’s just maddening. Even the implication that I just have to accept these expectations is a maddening pressure, especially if I have to accept it right now, because maybe I’m just not ready. OK?! I mean, "Do unto others…", please.
Injustice and being on the receiving end of another’s hurtful rage. My 2nd grade teacher gave me a spanking for something I didn’t do. What was that about? I’m sick and tired of getting honked at because someone else is in a hurry, probably because they don’t want to get yelled at for being late, or because they’ve been honked at for being slow, or because their parents for God knows what reason taught them to honk at people. Want to get dumped on? Be a counselor, or a pastor, or a teacher, or a policeman, or a grocery store clerk, or a bank teller, … or a parent, … or a child, … or just anybody. I mean, it helps a little to know when you get dumped on that it’s someone raging over something you didn’t do, but sometimes they do make it feel like it was you that did it, and it can be shocking nevertheless. And, sometimes it doesn’t stop at just dumping. Spankings hurt when you’re in 2nd grade. Can I ask: do hurting people have to hurt other people?
Part of getting the rage out is recognizing it. If my list helps someone else recognize some of their own, wonderful. Better to recognize it and get it out in an appropriate way than to bottle it up, bury it, gloss over it, and pretend you’re not hurting or angry. However, just recognizing it and continuing to rage isn’t productive. Next step: express it in prayer and find a safe group to talk about it, and maybe find a good counselor too. So, you’re a raging maniac? Yes I am… in recovery.
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Inner Peace Is Not The Goal

That’s right. Inner peace is not it. Sometimes you have to go through inner turmoil in order to reach the real goal. The real goal is God on earth, the way of God being lived out, God’s image restored in people all around the globe, the restoration of a peaceful world.
My inner peace and yours can contribute. But, it can also get in the way, if my inner peace becomes the end of my journey and I reach as far as self comfort and no further. God doesn’t really allow that, you know. I can guarantee you that if you have reached inner peace, God will send you a disturbance, and will continue to do so as long as the rest of the world has not reached peace.
So, all you who have made inner peace your god, wake up! Your idolatry is part of the problem. It has added to the mess! For the sake of inner peace, you shun the needy, you shut your ears to the prophets, you wag your finger at the needed warnings, and you give aid to the world’s oppressors. Pursue your inner peace as a means to strengthen you against the deceit of the world and to refresh your spirit for the battle, for the world’s mighty do not tolerate arrows properly aimed at their strongholds, and you will need strength to withstand the resistance. But your inner peace is not the goal. It’s a temporary means in a world of turmoil. And, so is inner disturbance. Serve neither as your god.
Real peace to us all.
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The Problem Is You Don’t Have a Vision

I believe I was in Conroe, TX at the time at a pastor’s conference (I think it was 1996). Another pastor, Neil, was asking me how things were going, what our church was doing to reach out, and so on. I was grappling for words to try to describe (come up with?) what we were doing. He said, "Eddie, your problem is that you don’t have a vision."
Did you know that aimless wandering is used in the Bible to describe what demons do?
I really don’t like the term "vision". It makes me think of modern business techniques, strategizing, selling, and all the falseness and dishonesty of today’s business world. But, I don’t have a better term for it: having a definite direction, knowing where you’re going, driving toward the goal line.
But, it’s not just any direction that will do, is it? I can set my own direction, say, towards being rich, finding the greatest comfort in life, fame, impressing the boss, and so on, but that’s not godly, blessed, noble or anything less than SELF centered. The problem here isn’t that you don’t have a vision. It’s that your vision is all about YOU.
Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? says some voice inside. Well… what if everyone decided that it was all about them? The result? Might we have a dog eat dog world, everyone stepping on everyone else to get where they want to go? Sound familiar?
Hmmm, I wonder if this is why the 10 Commandments start out: "You shall have no other gods"? In other words, you are not to be on any side other than the side of Goodness. To which Jesus says: Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and soul and strength and mind. In other words, to whatever degree you are half hearted toward Goodness (the Kingdom or Rule of God), you contribute toward its demise. To the degree that you love yourself more, goodness in this world will fail.
Some wise prophet a long time ago wrote about a vision for mankind: made in the image of God. Not some small minded, selfish, weak willed god, but the great God. I think he was saying: now, this is the vision we need to have! The image of the great God spreading all over the earth. 
And we naturally question: can that be done?
And the wise prophets suggest: Goodness is capable of doing anything.
How will you and I contribute to the spread of goodness today?
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What is a "missionary"? Do you know any? I’m writing a course on "real missionaries", i.e. what a real missionary is and does, their character, etc. Can you help me out?
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To Grow in Grace [Renovation of the Heart, entry 5]

From the Interlude, p. 93-94:
Now, the simplicity of spiritual formation lies in its intention. Its aim is to bring every element in our being, working from inside out, into harmony with the will of God and the kingdom of God. This is the simple focus….
Of course, we cannot realize this goal on our own. But there is no need for that. God has made provision for achieving this aim. To "grow in grace" means to utilize more and more grace to live by, until everything we do is assisted by grace. Then, whatever we do in word or deed will all be done in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17). The greatest saints are not those who need less grace, but those who consume the most grace, who indeed are most in need of grace — those who are saturated by grace in every dimension of their being. Grace to them is like breath.
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True Freedom [Renovation of the Heart, entry 4]

[A rewording of one sentence from chapter 4, p. 65:]
To want the good and be able to do it is the only true human freedom.
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