Monday, August 29, 2005

More on idolatry

The "I" word sparked a furore in the comments section of this blog. I think Adam misunderstood my highly personal and idiosyncratic telling of the story. After all, I was in my "personal space" writing, using a lot of mental shortcuts that make sense to me but may mean something different to others. So... to clarify:

By idolatry, I don't mean that I was making blood sacrifices to a stone image of Beelzebub. I simply mean that the project we were all working on was becoming more important than God.

To couch it in pluralistic terms, I was out of balance. And in hindsight I could see that Adam was even further out of balance - in his own words he said the project was his life.

And while that's not unusual in art, particularly in the movie business (Kurosawa, Scorcese, etc.), I found myself at a crossroads.

Do you want to go down the path of those legendary artists? Or do you want to forsake that for the transcendent (God)?

Reminds me of a book I read in 2001, called "Work: Prison or Place of Destiny". The author, David Oliver, said there's only one thing that comes close to knowing God, and that's work.

Working with purpose can be so astoundingly fulfilling that it blinds us to our need for relationship with the Creator himself.

Or, as Michael Card puts it in his book "Emmanuel", imagine if his wife gives him a beautiful gift for Christmas and he hugs the book, gives it a big kiss and ignores his wife. How does God feel?

And in the end, that's what it comes down to.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Campus Confession Booth -

A brilliant story from Donald Miller about how a confession booth in the middle of a university campus started some great conversations.

Sandra, thanks for recommending Donald Miller. His name leapt out at me from the LeadershipJournal newsletter I got this morning; otherwise I may have missed this article.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The cost of idolatry

Over the past few months, culminating last night, God has shown me the cost of idolatry.

I've been involved in a project fuelled with passion, something completely absorbing. One of those things that get you real excited... keep you up at night thinking... make you feel that this is what you were born to do.

In other words, an idol.

I didn't realise this until it all fell apart. And in the heart-searching process in the midst of the fallout, I realised that idolatry feels good. Otherwise we wouldn't build idols, because we humans do what feels good.

As with many profound things, it sounds so amazingly simple in the light of day, but it's another thing to go through a disintegrative kind of experience to find out. A sort of mini-meltdown.

So, last night at church, God made me aware of what I'd been doing - not putting Him first. Not in an accusing, condemning way. But very definitely.

He deserves first place in absolutely every area of my life. And anything less than that is ... idolatry.

I also realised there is nothing casual about my relationship with God. Yes, He is the only One with whom I can be completely myself, yes, I am like a helpless child in His strong arms. But effort is required on my part to take what He gives me and live it out in this world, this creation that goes contrary to His way. The present world darkness that "kicks against the goads".

I'm back on the dentist's chair, realising that even though this world sounds very moral, sensible and impartial, we are either in rebellion against God, or not.

I'm on His side again.

Self deception

This email from Robert Holmes is very interesting. Particularly the part about remembering peoples' names - something I have difficulty doing. As the article says, "what's my excuse"? ;)

Self Deception
Robert I Holmes

What if I told you that you were suffering from a malady, a sickness, a
disease of some kind. But it did not show signs, or remarkable symptoms to
the sick person. Furthermore, those symptoms were readily visible to anyone
else who looked. You'd feel a little queasy, as I did when I first learned
the lesson contained in this article.

The issue of self deception is very difficult. People do not know they are
suffering from it because they cannot see it in themselves. They are quick
to diagnose someone else who is struggling to see clearly, but ourselves?
Jesus called this the "log in the eye" syndrome.

Because we are all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, we have within our
human frame a hunger for the fruit they ate. We devour fruit born from the
knowledge of good and evil. This fruit bears poor results in our lives. It
creates a kind of myopia, a one-eyed-ness. We view the world in a certain
way, that shifts values toward us, and blame away from us. "It was the woman
you gave me," Adam says, turning the attention to Eve. "Hey, it was the
snake!" she says.

We believe we are better than we really are, and others are worse than they
really are. Bill Hybels says, "We judge ourselves by our intentions and
others by their actions". So true.

An example from real life

Consider a husband and a wife lying in bed with the baby crying. They are
both awake, yet both pretending to be asleep. Each one lies there, thinking
of a good reason why they should not get up. "Doesn't she know I am tired?"
the man says to himself. "I have worked hard all day, she's not even
grateful. Lazy girl". She is thinking, "Doesn't he appreciate how much hard
work motherhood is? I bet he doesn't think it is even real work! I'm tired,
I deserve a break".

This simple example illustrates what the Arbinger Institute has come to call
a "self betrayal" - when you do not follow through on your better instincts.
As a results, we distort our view or paradigm of life to justify ourselves
and condemn others. Anthropologists call it "demonising" others and "angelising"

This is the fruit of knowing good and evil. We have knowledge, and we think
that by it, we are improved. But we rarely stop to examine our assumptions.
Not all knowledge is good knowledge. We think of ourselves as good, and
others as evil. It justifies our treatment of them, for they are something
less than human. We are starting, ever so gradually to "dehumanize" them.

We call this, self deception. In teams and groups it leads to group
deception. This is how Hitler was able to justify destroying the Jews, by
making them less than human. This is why the Evangelical Church in Germany
let Nazi Imperialism evolve. In fact they called Hitler a messiah! This is
why the Afrikaner church largely failed to confront Apartheid, and why the
American church is content with capitalism. What we have is better (or best)
so we think.

It belongs to me!

I was in a leadership meeting for a local church recently. Each member was
asked to be honest about what they saw going on in the church and
leadership. Consider this comment, made by one of the ladies there: "It's
dysfunctional, but hey, at least it's MY dysfunctional!" Crazy as it sounds,
we all laughed, because that's how we feel. "I know it's not working, but at
least it belongs to me!" I can just hear Dr Phil McGraw looking into the
camera and saying, "So how's that workin' for ya?".

Everyone around you knows it's not working, but they cannot help you. You
will not acknowledge your "disease" because of fear, guilt, shame or hurt.
Even those who give lip service to the fact that "we are all sinners", are
rarely found to be repenting. They see the fault in others, but not
themselves. Or if they do repent, they do not go on to bear the fruit of
that repentance. Jesus said it's like, "The blind leading the blind" (Matt.

Why do you want to stay deceived?

The truth is, you built the world you live in. So why would you complain
about it? If you want change. change yourself. But most of us do not change.
We cling to our dysfunction. Why would we cling to being "right" or better,
when it just isn't working? The answer is simple, yet dreadful. We cling to
"it's mine" because of a secondary payoff, or a second class gain.

Consider an example that happens in church after church, and business after
business. A man is being raised up in leadership, and decides he will vie
for control. The team do not think it's time, and ask him to wait. But the
man says, "You don't recognise my gift, I am far better at this than the
present leader". So off he goes, taking a handful of people with him. The
man is choosing (in many cases) to be the captain of a tug-boat, instead of
the second mate on a larger trading vessel. Why? Because of secondary gain.
He is willing to suffer one kind of harm, for another kind of (second class)

· Why do abused women stay with their husbands?
· Why do children stay with their alcoholic mother?
· Why does a sick person not get up for prayer, or to see a doctor?

Because there is a secondary gain.

You're willing to put up with the initial abuse, because of the secondary
gain. Things like money, power, sex, finances, pride, prestige. what's the
pay off for staying deceived? What's the pay off for leaving things as they
are.? Consider the cost though, consider the damage being done to those
around you, and to yourself.

An example

I had a friend who trained as a palliative care nurse. Her work involved
looking after people who were dieing. Her father was very sick, dying of a
disease that could not be cured. Eventually the insurance payments stopped,
and her dad's life was threatened. So she built a hospital room in her
house, and took care of him herself. This appears noble, and her motives
were fine. But somewhere between this fine beginning and the day we met, her
motives had changed.

Dad had become the object of her affection, but not because of his position
as father. Not even because of his frailty. It turned out, the state paid
her quite well to keep him that way. She had every reason to seclude her
life and avoid church. It was so bad by the time I got in on the story that
she defended her father against "witchcraft" and "speaking negatively" so he
would not die. Meanwhile her calling in God was atrophied. The word of the
Lord to her was, "Your father is going to die, prepare your heart to go out
and minister in My name". Instead of embracing this call, she told us to

The secondary gain was worth it (in her mind), and the cost of obedience was
too high. Shortly though, God called her father home, and her little world
fell apart. Her finances struggled. Her identity, held so long as primary
care giver, was corroded. Her call in God needed a kick-start.

Seeing people as people

I mentioned before that we tend to demonise people, and angelise ourselves
when we go ahead and justify our self-betrayals. (When we fail to live up to
the expectation of our heart, we betray ourselves).

The answer lies in seeing people as they really are. As people! We need to
face our circumstances as they really are, and unmask our choices for what
they really hide. Let me ask you,

· Do you see people, or objects? How would you know?
· Do you know people's names?
· Is there a response inside you which says "I need x from this person."?

My father worked on a Naval ship, which had 350 men serving on it. The
Captain could remember every man's name, and even most of their wife's and
children's names. That Captain went on to become an Admiral. Why? Because
people mattered to him. Many people I talk to say, "I just cannot remember
peoples names" as though it were a fault especial to themselves. Here's the
wake up call. The University of California produced a study on the human
brain, which concluded that the right brain could remember 1 million faces,
and the left brain can code four pieces of information against those faces.
So what's your excuse?

Getting out of the trap

You can escape self deception in four easy ways:

· The first key is to acknowledge the fact that we are deceived.
· The second key is to see people as they really are
· The third key is to find out what your secondary gain is
· The fourth key is to ask those around you to help you


"Leadership and Self Deception", The Arbinger Institute
Hybels, Bill. "Who you are When No One is Looking"
McGraw, Phil, Dr. "Getting Real", Audio Series.

Storm-Harvest Ministries

Robert I Holmes and Mario Liu

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Spiritual experience at the dentist

I went to the dentist today - John Wright, a former advertising client of mine and a great dentist - and had a spiritual experience.

Either that, or there was something in the local anaesthetic - I needed a lot of it, sensitive fellow that I am!

I was there for an hour and a half, my mouth gradually getting more and more numb. The headphones were playing an album by Selah, beautiful music including that song "You Raise Me Up" which nearly always makes me cry. Thankfully not this time.

But it was an amazing time for me to reconnect with God - and in a way, with myself.

Here I was, completely helpless in the hands of this dentist and hygienist. They could've really done anything to me, I couldn't see what was going on, and couldn't particularly feel anything. They might have removed my teeth for all I knew at the time. (They didn't; don't worry!)

Not only did I not know what they were doing, I wasn't fully aware of what I was doing as the anaesthetic set in. I may have been a slobbering wretch for all I know, but, bless them, they didn't tell me.

This state of helplessness is how we are with God - 100% of the time! Whether we are very aware of it, AND when we feel in control of our destiny.

That's why I feel closer to God in times of uncertainty, illness or misfortune. It goes against the things I used to briefly believe - that "abundant life" essentially meant being in control. It was a struggle for me to believe that, but I find I've travelled 360 degrees. Not that I seek uncertainty, illness or misfortune - but they're guaranteed to come into every life. The answer I've discovered is not to freak out when that sort of stuff happens, but to roll with it. Go with it.

As if to confirm, the "morning huddle" email I get from my cousin-in-law Nalani - all the way in Arizona, USA - said this today:

The peace that God gives is a way-down-in-your-gut confidence that everything that happens to you, good or bad, is something He will use to bring you closer to Him and make you more like Him. As your friendship with Jesus grows, this peace will take root in your heart. He promises it will!"

Sure 'nuff!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Roger Mitchell on London Bombings

This from my email inbox, from Storm-Harvest's email list. Interesting perspective, and a good mix of the practical and spiritual:

Subject: Roger Mitchell on London bombings

Roger Mitchell has sent out the following. Roger has been involved with the
apostolic/prophetic & strategic prayer for many years. He recognises that
many in the Church will not completely agree with him on this.

A view in response to the London bombings:

Bombing, killing and wounding people is bad - we all agree. But we must
recognise the context in which this has taken place. When the attack on the
twin towers took place some of us did our level best to make the following
position known. The subsequent events and now the bombings in London have
underlined it even more.

1. The Western world is vulnerable to terrorist attacks because of things
wrong in its own foundations. These things create a fault line, or expose a
soft underbelly. These foundational faults are:

Ongoing economic injustice. Manifested in gross selfishness and
protectionism, aimed at maintaining the economic power base and affluence of
the West. This is expressed in terms of our current trade and economic aid,
including the terms of the current debt clearances (eg: the conditions of
the IMF and World Bank imposed on African nations even by the G8 summit

The abuse of Military power. Manifested in the dominance of the West, based
on our superior nuclear weapons and our manipulation of the arms trade. This
is expressed in our double standards of justifying war in Iraq (who we
originally armed) on the grounds of their supposedly having weapons of mass
destruction like we do and of pressurising Iran and North Korea over the
same thing.

A Christendom-based church. Manifested in those church denominations,
networks, congregations and ministries which align more or less uncritically
with the foundational political, economic and military power bases of
society outlined in (1) and (2) above. This is frequently expressed in the
way that church government, theology, prayer and the prophetic is framed,
interpreted and enacted.

These foundational sins are clearly denounced by the prophet Amos in Israel
and in the other nations around them (See Amos Chs1-2). Amos makes it clear
that societies where these foundational sins exist will be judged (i.e.
given the consequences of what they are choosing) if there is no repentance.

2. Terrorist attacks such as those on the twin towers, the Madrid trains and
the London transport system are the consequence of exposing ourselves to the
jealousy, desperation and sin of those who are the victims of our injustice
and abuse of power. Where misguided, false or violent political, racial or
religious motives and movements already exist to exacerbate such reactions
to our Western nations' sin, the mix provides the current extremely
dangerous and destructive context for terrorism.

3. Western societies are the home of, and in many ways the product of,
Christendom. It is imperative that the church repents for its uncritical
alignment with these foundational sins of the western nations, brings a
biblical response to terrorism, and demonstrates the way of peace.

Biblically, the answer to this terrorism is to come in the opposite spirit.
That means repentance for our foundational sins and love and forgiveness
towards our enemies. This must be expressed in empathy towards them as
people despite the evil they perpetrate. It needs the willingness to
recognise the context in which they are operating described above, radical
and urgent efforts to change the injustices and abuses involved and the use
of dialogue and blessing not violence and cursing in our attitudes towards

4. Since the attack on the twin towers, the Western World, and in particular
the political and military leadership given by the USA and the UK, has
exponentially increased our vulnerability to terrorism. Instead of coming in
the opposite spirit, we have declared war on terror and invaded Afghanistan
and Iraq. We have bombed, killed and wounded many civilians in the process,
adding the desire for personal vengeance to the already existing jealousy,
desperation and sin. It is crucial that the body of Christ humbly stands in
the gap for these sins of the Western nations, especially the USA and the UK
and agitates effectively for changed policies and behaviour in our nations.

5. Therefore, in summary, we want to make the following statements:

The random, indiscriminate and deliberate killing & maiming of the victims
of the London Transport bombings of 7th July 2005 is to be utterly deplored.

The Western nations must turn from their idolatrous worship of guaranteed
security, continuous economic growth and military strength, which takes
place against the sinful background of exacerbated global poverty, unjust
trade and an unrighteous arms trade.

The church in the West must repent as a matter of urgency from its
Christendom mindset, its vindication of selfish political actions and its
manifestation of a crusading rather than Christ-like response to terrorism.

We are trusting God for maximum grace as we pray for Europe at this time.

Storm-Harvest Ministries