Out in the Social Wilderness

Your heart knows when you don’t belong.

There was a time I was still sensitive to the opinions of others, in the sense that I felt a need for affirmation from my associates. It was the nightmare world of my childhood, but with a somewhat more subtle socialized face on it.

Early in my ministry, church folks were polite, and I suppose they genuinely appreciated some of my talents. God provoked me very early to serve in the ministry, and it was obvious to most that I was equipped. But my personal calling included a certain brash and clowning prophetic element that most people couldn’t take. Within any given organization, I typically found some portion able to bear with me, but seldom anyone in leadership. I seldom conformed to their subcultural expectations, and they seldom gave consideration to anything outside those narrow boundaries. I got more affirmation outside of church. And, no — their criticisms were nearly always very obviously from false motives.

In one particular church, people wanted my scholarship in biblical studies. Their standard educational fare was pretty weak, loaded with too much of their own narrow denominational focus, and it simply wasn’t commonly encouraged that folks actually know anything about the deeper biblical context. And it was plain that I could persuade others to follow my lead, because they kept following and liked it. But when I began a more active participation with the youth program, I kept running into that look from the more seasoned youth workers. I’d say something that was typically me, challenging their prejudices, and this mask would fall over their face, suggesting that they just didn’t know how to take me.

And sometimes their actions betrayed a silent rebuke. That was the worst part, because they seemed almost afraid to discuss with me what was going on behind that mask. Once or twice I pointedly asked, and the answers were dismissive. But that look, and sometimes the whispered discussions in my presence, was too much after a couple of weeks. I didn’t belong and it was obvious they weren’t going to tame me.

That was then. Somewhere along the path I realized I didn’t belong in any part of the mainstream, and that I needed to start rejoicing in the fringe identity of my ministry. I’m way out there somewhere on the very edge, sometimes even farther out on another planet, and that’s where I belong. Kiln of the Soul is very much a fringe ministry. I’m really not even a leader, just someone who stands out in the edge of the social wilderness, calling folks to come out if they don’t feel at home. Once you come out away from all the social strictures about faith and religion, you find yourself free to follow your own path. I can tell you about my path, but that’s only so you grasp the nature of searching. I’ll teach you about path-finding and how to handle the wilderness; you’re on your own after that. And so you should be.

While I appreciate genuine fellowship, I no longer need any significant human affirmation. I’m largely invulnerable to censure. So if any of those places where I felt out of place were to call me back, they’d find me so assertively alien that they would be the ones feeling out of place. Trust me; it’s happened a couple of times. I no longer burden them with my weirdness.

While I seek God’s face to know what comes next here at Kiln of the Soul, I think you’ll be seeing more prophetic stuff. Instead of a subtle prophetic temperament behind my writing, I’ll be more pointedly prophesying of things we could do better. And if not for us, then things the world could do better so that we’ll understand the moral truth against which it fails. So in a certain sense I’m taking up the mantel of prophet again, though I doubt I’ll need to make much noise about that.

I believe in you; your heart will know what to make of it.

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Eldership Notes

You really don’t need me to tell you. Most of you know that God is at work and bringing truly substantial changes in our world. And while the mainstream media is trumpeting one kind of change, what really matters morally will not be reported in the news. Many of us are seeing the hand of God make big changes in our own lives all at the same time, and that’s what really matters.

Regular readers know all about some of my big changes, with the bicycle collision and then my cardiac problems. I’ve told you that long bike rides are out, but that heart-led photography is even more in, so it means I’ll be roaming the countryside some other way. Lord willing, I’ll have some other means of travel in the near future and I’ll be ranging much farther out. I’d love to take pictures of stuff all over this state because it’s mostly rural and geography varies greatly. Further, there are some fascinating archaeological puzzles, many left behind by the prehistoric native tribes. Ancient religion goes deep here. A few discoveries are utterly inexplicable. You’d have to see them to understand what I mean, and I want to bring them to you in photos. (And I would love to go camping!)

But have you noticed that some of my teaching is starting to get repetitive? Yeah. While I fully expect to keep learning and discovering to my last breath, it doesn’t mean I can dish up new and fresh teaching on all of it. As noted in the last post of that series on My Father’s World, there is simply far too much that requires you get it without words. It’s caught, not taught. I could easily keep writing the same old stuff day after day, but I sense God has other plans.

I’m not sure what to expect for blogging in the future. I’ve already warned that the Internet use is changing dramatically, but I cannot predict much of that. I know what I’m supposed to do with networking technology in some ways, but I can’t help you with any kind of detailed analysis of what you’ll experience. But it will change, and I want you to contemplate what we share here together, and consider taking a light grip on things. This virtual parish is unlikely to disappear, but it will most certainly take some surprising turns. We can’t pretend the current routine will continue endlessly. I’m doing what I can to preserve what we’ve accomplished, but if what we shared here means anything, we should have already absorbed most of that beyond mere intellectual learning. So I’m preparing my mind to respond and identify ways to exploit any sudden changes for the glory of the Lord.

Why doesn’t He tell us in advance? Because it’s not a question of efficiency and getting things done. It’s a question of each of us experiencing the right thing at the right moment to understand Him better. We are the battlefield, and telling us too much too early would not work out right for His glory. God’s sense of timing is more like the ripening of fruit rather than meeting a production schedule.

Any way, this is a really good time to ask questions, because the writing may slow down otherwise. You should expect a lot more frivolous stuff and less of the heavy teaching, unless there’s something you need to ask.

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Kiln blog: Psalm 110

This prophetic psalm is quoted extensively in the New Testament — Matthew 22:44; Luke 22:69; Acts 2:34-35; Hebrews 1:13, 5:6 and 10:12-13. Well before Jesus’ birth, rabbis had recognized this as a wholly Messianic prophecy. Jesus claimed this as His own. However, we know from more ancient Hebrew culture that this kind of thing bore echoes throughout the history of Israel until that final moment on the Cross when the New Covenant was instituted. Several major figures between David and Christ manifested elements of what is promised here, as God’s way of showing He had not forgotten the core of the promise.

That core promise is cast in terms of Ancient Near Eastern feudal terms, that God the Father would pour out His wrath against sin until no one was left to resist when His Son inherits the domain of Creation. It is the image of an imperial declaration upon the Son’s completion of a grand quest that earned His vestment as heir to the throne.

You can read the rest of this study by clicking this link to Kiln of the Soul blog.

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My Father’s World, Part 6

We must live in the Land Without Words.

In our English translations of the Bible, we have this expression: “someone’s word.” It shows up in our phrase, “the Word of God.” Our culture offers no good translation of the Hebrew concept. Indeed, it’s difficult to explain in English because we place boundaries around the meanings of words, something Hebrew language doesn’t do.

As the final installment of this series, I struggle to erase the false boundaries that our world has drawn around all kinds of things that defy explanation. Western Civilization turns a lot of things upside down and inside out. In some ways, it allows glimpses of truth, but not for actual use in shaping our decisions without driving it into some imaginary layer of pure subjective sentiment. There truly is no place in Western thinking for the Spirit Realm; the West blocks out the Spirit Realm as an intrusion, instead of acknowledging it as ultimate reality.

In Hebrew thinking, one’s word is their commitment. What tumbles out of your mouth should first pass through your heart, and as the heart directs, so your mind formulates and expresses. Your breath is your spirit. No, read that again. What comes out of you cannot be separated from your moral character. Only in the curse of the Fall do we recognize that words and actions get separated. We should not celebrate this and enshrine it as a cultural icon, as some fundamental fact of reality the way Western thought does. It’s not that Hebrew people had no concept for lying, but they didn’t rely on mere fact to verify, because fact itself is deceptive. What the West calls “reality” is shadow and mist. Only with an active heart-mind awareness can one discern the meaning and value of words.

This cancerous false image of words and facts as the substance of reality is what traps us and makes genuine faith so very hard. The antidote is a very hard teaching about a world without words. Have you ever tried to think in terms of moral reality and not use words? Yes, I realize the intellect is trapped in facts and words, but can you convince your intellect that the heart does not transmit truth verbally? Moral truth defies description because it is wordless.

For those of us who have gotten used to communing directly with nature, we find there is so very much that simply cannot be captured in words. It’s not as if we can’t indicate something about those interactions using words, but that words could never possibly convey the fullness of what we experience. This is why we make so much of parables and parabolic language. We emphatically deny that literal and propositional statements can mean anything important. This is why we say things that are so assertively shocking. The only way we can jar you out of concrete thinking is to shatter the concrete. Set your mind free to the mystical truth of personal interaction with God in Person. You won’t be able to tell us about that when it really happens, but you can use parables to indicate something we will recognize from our own encounters with God.

So now you recognize that the expression “The Word of God” is just a parable. Depending on the context, maybe I’m indicating the Bible, or maybe something the Bible itself only hints at. If I tell you I have a prophetic message, you realize that the message can’t be taken literally for the most part. Sure, some statements are factual in nature: “God won’t let US military successfully attack Iran.” But I haven’t told you what will happen in concrete terms, only indicated that there is a line drawn in moral space. It indicates you should pray the US never tries it, because it’s no different than making a blood sacrifice to demons. Maybe I should say that God has commissioned a very major angelic power to protect Iran from the US and her various organizations (like NATO) and other instruments of war.

Don’t draw too many “logical” conclusions from that; they’ll miss the point. It’s not that God loves Iran so much — we have much to say of her sins — but that God has set a boundary against the sins of the US. It’s too late to redeem the US, so it’s not as if observing that prophetic injunction will save the country. But we can be sure that if the US tries to attack Iran, it will precipitate an immediate end to US military power.

Do you believe that? I do. And even without that pointed prophetic message, I’m sure your heart would tell you that the US is doomed for all kinds of reasons. And if you pay attention to military news, you probably have heard about all the military boondoggles on which the US has wasted vast amounts of wealth. How do you feel about our future air superiority resting on the winged piece of crap known as the F-35? And our latest high-tech aircraft carrier is not even close to battle ready. Look it up if you need facts, but anyone with moral discernment could have predicted it long ago.

Nor can you mark this down to subjective spite against the US and her military institutions. I wore the uniform, and would give anything to go back and experience that fertile field of ministry. I haven’t forgotten the many dear souls I met there or the opportunities to establish a worthy witness of faith in the eyes of many. Don’t tie your moral thinking to binary choices and linear logic. Moral truth is not confined to such limitations. Turn your brain around and kneel before the superior logic of the heart. The heart knows.

And the heart knows without words.

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My Father’s World, Part 5

Aside from Acts and Paul’s letters, we know very little about early spiritual gifts. In Corinth it’s all about glossolalia. Outside of Corinth, we hear most about prophecy and healing miracles. The historical records of church history since that time offer even less information until the late 19th Century. Suddenly they seem to burst on the scene again. A whole new body of teaching arises from the birth of the Pentecostal movement in the US.

You can read a lot about the movement from different angles, ranging all the way from hostile to servile propaganda. I’ve done that myself; start with the name Charles Fox Parham. So far, nobody has examined it from the heart-led perspective. I can share what I’ve experienced directly from working among Charismatics.

Two things stand out. First, most of it is fake. Hang out with these folks and your heart will tell you. They are deeply pickled in the Western mythology about anything supernatural, and you can easily detect a lack of genuine commitment. It’s all about the thrills and protecting their franchise; it’s exceedingly partisan and they take themselves too seriously. Second, when you encounter the real deal, it includes an awful lot of stuff the fakers won’t touch, and it usually occurs outside the officially approved Charismatic umbrella.

That includes an awful lot of manifestations of the Holy Spirit that don’t fit neatly into the orthodox list of stuff. It’s as if Paul presents a closed list, when it’s nothing of the sort. Where would you place automatic writing, singing hymns you haven’t learned, or any number of other forms of output glorifying God that clearly doesn’t come from the intellect? Why can we not call them spiritual gifts? Why do we need a discrete list of approved manifestation attempting to bind God from His typical creativity?

And of course, the most disturbing part is the ubiquitous materialism that comes with the Prosperity Gospel. It’s the false doctrine of the Pharisees all over again, insisting that material wealth is the primary evidence of God’s favor. Who hasn’t faced the sickening implication that poverty indicates your faith is weak?

Finally, it’s all tightly related to the bogus “spiritual warfare” teaching that borders on Manichean heresy (the belief that the Devil is in some ways an equal combatant with Christ). “Gotta watch what you say, because words have power!” That’s another lie of the Pharisees, reflected most clearly in Kabbalistic mythology. The Devil is not bound by magic words and written symbols used in rituals. The Devil is bound by your personal desire for the Creator’s moral character.

How did Adam and Eve manage the Garden of God before the Fall? They used a whole range of heart-led interaction with the creatures, sometimes rather mundane with hands and a little sweat, and sometimes by the power of the Holy Spirit in miracles. For Cain, the curse was that the sweat of his brow was no longer a part of the wider experience of interactions, but it was all he had left. He no longer communed with the soil and what it produced; he was forced to use the intellect he chose against a heart-led dominion.

We need to recover the full range of heart-led interaction with Creation, because we were made to be a part of it. Miracles all take place under God’s Law, under His moral character, so why can’t we just endeavor to seize back that divine gift of the Spirit? No two of us will act just alike, but it’s utter folly to rank the gifts based on how entertaining they are. Keep the intellect off the throne; keep the heart ascendant. Let’s normalize the direct interaction with the Spirit Realm in every detail of how we live our lives.

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My Father’s World, Part 4

In the moral realm, the supernatural is natural; the paranormal is normal. Creation is loaded with manifestations of God’s glory and power. Why stop with spooky stuff? Human existence is filled with things that man’s intellect could never understand. If we only knew all the ways our Father has worked through His Creation to care for us!

One of the most contentious and poorly understood issues falls under the label of “spiritual gifts.” Our first problem is the ambiguity of English translations of the New Testament. For example, in Romans 12 Paul refers to various temperaments as spiritual gifts, but the translations seldom make that clear. There is a prophetic temperament, for example, which is not the same as a serving temperament. In Ephesians 4 Paul refers to actual people as gifts of God, rather like the plunder a conquering Roman general might toss to the cheering crowds as he rides triumphant into Rome. Of course, it refers to various roles in the church family structure.

However, most people tend to think of Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 12. First, notice that early on Paul warns that there are different categories of “gifts,” using Greek terms not easily translated into English. Starting in verse 4 he uses the word charismata — what most people call “Charismatic gifts.” Then he mentions diakonia in a form that means particular services some folks perform in the church body. Next, he refers to energema as a reference to how the Lord works through people to produce certain effects. Finally, he sums it up with the word phanerosis to indicate that the Holy Spirit manifests Himself in many different ways, so stop trying to be so didactic and precise about the terminology.

Paul was warning the Corinthian Christians to avoid thinking in the binary and linear logic that characterized their materialistic orientation. You can’t pin God down to what your senses detect and your reason can analyze. This tendency of theirs naturally results in strife because they overly analyzed the stuff they experienced and reduced God to a source of entertainment. Then they began ranking themselves according to things God did through them. As you might expect, the biggest thrill was speaking in tongues — the precise theological term is “glossolalia.”

We know from Acts 2 what glossolalia meant the first time it popped up. These mostly uneducated hicks from Galilee were able to preach in a variety of languages they could not have learned. The effect was a solid outreach to all those Disapora Jews who grew up in various locations throughout that part of the world speaking different local languages. So it stands to reason God would manifest a similar gift in Corinth, where sailors from all over would pass through with all their native languages. We don’t hear too much about this kind of stuff taking place in the other churches Paul planted around the Mediterranean Basin because it wasn’t that useful. It’s a good place to start if you have a high density of foreign ears to reach in a short time, but glossolalia is not a long term strategy.

The Corinthian Christians easily forgot the obvious reason for such a manifestation of God. There were other side effects from this miraculous gift and that was the focus of Corinthian obsession. As we might expect, it was a moment of ecstasy to have divine power coursing through your tongue like that. It was emotionally addictive, and the Corinthians knew a thing or two about addictive experiences. What they didn’t know so well was the heart-mind that ordered all things properly, and the Corinthians made too much of the experience itself, forgetting why God used them that way. Further, a false sense of what was important produced a false sense of who was important in moral terms. They were like children jockeying for attention and refusing to grow up.

Thus, they were abusing a gift of God to create a very worldly atmosphere that turned things upside down. In moral terms, they had become a monstrosity of perversion. They were making the work of God spooky instead of normative.

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Kiln blog: Take No Prisoners

Moral reasoning is the master of all human knowledge. Without moral valuation, nothing else matters, because nature itself objects to moral vacuity. Reality will crush you unless you first establish a heart-led moral frame of reference. And the heart-mind alone is competent in moral reasoning; the intellect has no anchor point at all within itself for such consideration. Reason knows only the mechanism for finding what pleases itself, and that pleasure arise entirely from the various lusts of our fleshly being — Lust of the Eyes, Lust of the Flesh and Boastful Pride of Life.

The intellect is inherently pretentious. It cannot see clearly in the mirror of its own reason, but proclaims itself a separate party from the competing desires from below that imaginary floor of reason and clear thought. It pretends it can umpire between the various mindless demands of the fleshly appetites, when in reality, it only moderates them with crafty tactical considerations. The final question the intellect answers is, “What can we get away with?” Once the intellect accepts a demand from the lusts, it internalizes that demand as inherently good-right-and-just, and projects that outward as some kind of cosmic moral imperative. In the mind, reality itself demands this thing he or she wants.

You can read the rest of this message here.

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