Friday, October 29, 2010

Selfless love

I'm going to quote below two emails that I wrote to a friend who was just entering a new romantic relationship. I believe that the advice I gave is generally applicable and extendable to nearly any type of relationship or situation.

Email the first:

I just want to leave you with one thought which is to ask yourself what is the greatest and most important (to him) sacrifice he has ever made on your behalf. To me, this is one of the most important metrics of love because sacrifice defines investment. If he hasn't sacrificed, he would not be invested in your life for your sake. Conversely, if he has sacrificed then he will care about you for your sake, and not for what you give him (emotionally or otherwise). I can say, as a guy, that you really have a lot to offer as a person and it would be really easy for guys to (even unconsciously) want to date you because of what you give them, and not because of what they can give you.
Email the second (after a response, not quoted here):

Well, the truth is I didn't really ask that question because I wanted to know the answer, I asked it because I wanted you to know the answer. :) Or more properly, I asked it because I wanted you to ask it of yourself.

Also, I was thinking about the list of small sacrifices that he has made and in my mind most of these do not qualify as a real sacrifice. You see, in nearly everything that you list he could be primarily motivated by a desire to see you because of how you make him feel. You see how in that arithmetic that somebody could be completely selfish and still come to a decision to visit you, because the self-worth outweighs the trouble of driving there? If that's his motivation (hypothetically), then if the costs in the first part ever start to outweigh the personal benefit in the second part, then the relationship will die off per force. Or in the words of George Macdonald,

"I knew now, that it is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another; yea, that, where two love, it is the loving of each other, and not the being loved by each other, that originates and perfects and assures their blessedness."

You see, it *has* to be genuine self-less concern for the other that originates one's actions. That way your internal calculus is, "if I do such and such, how much will it bless this other person?", and in that case, you will never allow personal cost or hardship to end your relationship. It's neigh interminable.

Or in my own words, "Love that demands something in return is not love freely given, but merely a business transaction, much like any other purchase or marketplace affair."

As a more concrete example (after all that philosophy), here's what I think of sacrifice. Suppose you need to have ACL surgery, and you're doing rehab. For rehab, you need to do stretches for an hour each morning and a partner would help make it easier. Also suppose that your friend is a night person and doesn't naturally get up early in the morning. Then suppose that for 1, or 2 or 3 or however many months it takes, he shows up every morning at 7 a.m. to help you do stretches to aid in rehab. That would be a sacrifice, because a) it was not naturally easy for him = you know it had a personal cost to him, b) there is minimal reward for him, *unless he values you*, c) he proves consistency by acting not in a single day, but over the course of months. It's possible to "fake" sacrifice and affection over the short term if you expect a long-term payoff. It's nearly impossible to "fake" sacrifice over the long term because most people simply don't have the self-discipline to do that for something they do not truly care about.

Once a person's mental calculus says, "it costs me X to do this, but it benefits my friend as Y, that sounds like a good deal": that is when sacrifice starts to happen, and that's when you know that somebody is starting to walk into love. Or to make this biblical, John 15:13 says "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." I've just been giving specific examples and elucidation of that one, simple verse. It is talking about sacrifice (laying down your life/interests/personhood) in the context of friendship (for your friends). Sacrifice and friendship defines love; sacrifice and friendship declares love; sacrifice and friendship fulfills love.

The Macdonald quote is partially drawn from an earlier post I made, called Love and Power. This post (Selfless love) is something of a complement to that earlier post.

In conclusion, I draw a dichotomy between two different types of love, what I can selfish love and selfless love. The first is where you love somebody because of what they do for you or give you, and the second is where you love somebody because of what you can do for him/her or give to him/her. At the root of the first, selfish love, is lust and the root of the second, selfless love, is "agape": godly, sacrificial love. To be fully accurate, I do believe that true love can be intermingled with that root lust, and the love is genuine in a sense of "real affection". You can go through a lot of situations and it will hold strong on the basis of that affection, but the problem is that the root source of your affection is going to be "what I get" which is the spirit of lust (desire for self). And like Macdonald implies above, when your partner ceases to fulfill that need, ceases to give to you, then the relationship will fail. It won't hold through difficulties.

And a great post I saw from a friend discussing this topic in very similar terms (towards the end):

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

For the record

All of this 2012 = end of the world stuff is a scam. I could try and argue why it's a scam, but the fact is that there isn't any rational basis for thinking it is the end of the world, so this belief is not actually subject to rational criticism. There simply isn't any reason for believing it, so there is nothing that can possibly be deconstructed other than the basic human fears and psychology that results in such irrational claims (which means that you are not inherently respecting the 2012-end-of-world stuff as valid). To this, my response is as follows: Do a search for "William Miller". Look up the Great Disappointment. And yes, I work at Microsoft so I'm happy to do shameless plugs for Of course I just got to see a demo today of new stuff they're working on and it looks AWESOME!!! (But I contractually cannot say what it is!!!! You'll find out in a couple months [or whenever, I don't have the actual release schedule] when it's unveiled!!!!!)...........Sigh, I am such a pettifog.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Heaven and Hell

Today I was shopping for granola and two things happened that made me think. First, I was in the checkout line and I saw a girl of around 10-12 in front of me with her dad. This made me grieve when I saw the tremendous amount of horrible magazines, filth and vituperation in that checkout line. To me it was a metaphor of how this young, innocent girl is going to spend the rest of her life being assaulted by societal norms regarding sex, bodily appearance, etc, and how her identity will be under a constant stream of attacks for decades to come.

The second thing I saw was several of the cashiers were elderly, and in particular there was an older woman who was the cashier in my checkout line. She had a very morose attitude; very quick and efficient, but humorless. This also made me sad. Firstly, this woman shouldn't have to work at that age. She should be a respected elder in the community. Secondly, she was also a metaphor to me, a metaphor about how all of the assaults on identity that I mention above slowly suck the life out of people over the years and decades. That attitude of hardness and bitterness is the result of a life of darkness. (Not to say that this is all true of the woman I saw, like I said it was just a metaphor; I don't know what her life is like.)

I was thinking about all this when I was walking home, and it struck me so powerfully that I believe there is an underlying falsity in contemporary evangelical dialectic. I don't know if I will be able to express this as clearly as I believe it, but I will try.

I do not believe that eternal destiny depends on a single decision. I am absolutely horrified whenever I hear some organization say how many "decisions for Christ" they had last year, for more reasons than I can now enumerate. My biggest objection (and most relevant to this discourse) is that I just do not believe you can summarize someone's faith or walk with God in a single decision. To say that whether somebody is going to heaven (eternity with God) or hell (eternity without God) simply based on a single decision reduces peoples' entire lives into mere statistics, which is contemptible to me.

I have come to believe more and more that there is an incredible complexity and depth to each person and that how people relate to God, whether positively or negatively, is the cumulative result of thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of interactions throughout their roughly 30,000 days of life on earth. I believe that whether someone ultimately goes to heaven or to hell, that their will and desire is tried a thousand times. Jesus speaks of the broad path leading to destruction and the narrow path leading to life, and I believe that these paths speak of consistent, repeated lifestyles. C.S. Lewis calls the last scene of Dr. Faustus "stage fire": hollow theatrics with minimal basis in reality. He speaks instead of persistent sensual habits that shroud the eyes and year after year build patterns of darkness that flood the soul. By the time you are on the threshold of total destruction, on your deathbed, God would still accept repentance even then, but man would not offer it. Their whole life up until that point had already spoken, and would not be revoked.

Every person has a story. Every person has a history. Nobody is shallow. God does not look at a single point in your life to decide who you are, he sees the whole picture of who you were and who you have become through that process.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Love and power

I was thinking about love on the bus ride home today. In particular, what I came to realize is that when you truly love someone, that love empowers you in that person's life. A fantastic passage illustrating this is from George Macdonald's Phantastes, which I will now quote at length:

It was evening. The sun was below the horizon; but his rosy beams yet illuminated a feathery cloud, that floated high above the world. I arose, I reached the cloud; and, throwing myself upon it, floated with it in sight of the sinking sun. He sank, and the cloud grew gray; but the grayness touched not my heart. It carried its rose-hue within; for now I could love without needing to be loved again. The moon came gliding up with all the past in her wan face. She changed my couch into a ghostly pallor, and threw all the earth below as to the bottom of a pale sea of dreams. But she could not make me sad. I knew now, that it is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another; yea, that, where two love, it is the loving of each other, and not the being loved by each other, that originates and perfects and assures their blessedness. I knew that love gives to him that loveth, power over any soul beloved, even if that soul know him not, bringing him inwardly close to that spirit; a power that cannot be but for good; for in proportion as selfishness intrudes, the love ceases, and the power which springs therefrom dies. Yet all love will, one day, meet with its return. All true love will, one day, behold its own image in the eyes of the beloved, and be humbly glad. This is possible in the realms of lofty Death. "Ah! my friends," thought I, "how I will tend you, and wait upon you, and haunt you with my love."
This is a beautiful passage and the part that really struck me is how he speaks of the power that comes to someone who loves another. As he says, this is a power that cannot be but for good. I would call it (somewhat tritely) a "power under your beloved" rather than a "power over" them. It is a power, but it's a power to serve, honor and lift up that person; not to manipulate them to do anything for you (selfishness, using them to serve or satisfy you) but a power to do good in their life.

It is a position of sacrificing your own interests, taking up their interests and doing what you can to see them blessed. But the true mystery is that it really does give you power in their life. This is something that I have experienced with 2-3 of my closest friends and it's hard to explain but I really feel like I have the ability to affect their lives in various ways, such as influencing their thoughts, emotions or decisions.

Like Macdonald says, this doesn't have anything to do with whether that person even knows you. Anybody (loving or not) can manipulate others through words, to change how they act. I'm not talking about giving advice to my friends who trust me and therefore I have power in that trust. What I'm talking about is that through my love for them, I have a direct line of power into their spirit/soul to change them and bless them.

But lest anyone fear manipulation, the other mystery is that this power is purely derived from the love (selfless concern for the other), so if a person even starts thinking about using that power for anything but the good of the beloved, the power fades.

A more concrete example I thought of is this. When I was in college, I remember once when my campus minister was sharing some prophetic words with me and a few other students there. These were not "regular" prophetic words, but rather he was getting prophetic insight into our lives because he was our minister. On other occasions, he would just randomly know stuff about me. I believe he was able to do this because he had true spiritual authority over our lives, but at a deeper level you can only have spiritual authority over another person if you love them. Jesus says the greatest among you will be the servant of all. True love is laying down your life for your friend. Therefore the path to gaining spiritual authority over others is to have selfless love for them, considering your own personal interests as less important than theirs.

And on a slight tangent, this is how you can reliably identify spiritual authorities over you. There is a lot of confused and confusing teaching about authority in the church, but at a simple level if you want to know if someone is an authority over you, just ask yourself how much they love you. The proportion in which they selflessly love you is how much of an authority they are.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Abstract Beauty and Known Beauty

Even though I've thought a lot about this, I'll try to keep this post short to save myself time. I've been thinking about two things, which I call "abstract beauty" and "known beauty". Abstract beauty is what happens when I see beautiful people who I do not personally know. It's abstract because, even though the beauty is real, I don't know the issues they deal with and what's going on in their lives. So in these people, I get to see the exterior beauty, but I do not get to see the interior struggle.

With Known Beauty, this is what happens when I see beautiful people who I know very well. Not only do I get to see their outward beauty, but I also get to see them fight through and overcome difficult situations. I get to see their joy and pain through all the various issues of life, and so to me, their outward beauty is filled with the substance of my knowledge of their inner beauty.

So what I've been thinking about is how amazing it is that so many people with so much brokenness and horror within can be so beautiful on the outside. I'm thinking of both people who overcome their difficulties (like my friends) and people who are overcome by their problems (for a biblical example, Cain). For all these people, outward beauty is a manifestation of the grace of God, which is so incredible to see. I honestly marvel whenever I see beautiful people because outward beauty is a mark and a sign of the grace of God over a person's life.

But if that is a marvel, I am even more astonished at the inward beauty that I have seen in the lives of my friends. If outward beauty is a mark or sign of the grace of God, then inward beauty is the substance of the grace of God filling a person's life. That is truly a profound miracle.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Random George MacDonald quote

The story goes on to tell how, at last, weary with wintriness, she travelled towards the southern regions of her globe, to meet the spring on its slow way northwards; and how, after many sad adventures, many disappointed hopes, and many tears, bitter and fruitless, she found at last, one stormy afternoon, in a leafless forest, a single snowdrop growing betwixt the borders of the winter and spring. She lay down beside it and died. I almost believe that a child, pale and peaceful as a snowdrop, was born in the Earth within a fixed season from that stormy afternoon.

From Phantastes. So, so powerful.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Natural limitations vs. Divine provision

This post is cribbed from an email I sent to a group of friends, but it should be interesting and profitable even without the discussion that preceded it.


Hey guys, great discussion on the group today. I've been thinking about the first topic, the dichotomy between finite natural resources (and the human needs thereof) and infinite divine resources (and how we need provision from this too).

What I said on the call was that infinite divine provision "trumps" natural limitations, such as Jesus multiplying food to feed the 5000 and the 4000. However, in the same parable Jesus tells the disciples to collect the leftover scraps of bread. So at first glance there really is a paradox here: why would God who can multiply food tell people to collect the scraps of leftover bread and take it along? If he can multiply food, then "wasting" food becomes irrelevant. In a hypothetical scenario, why didn't Jesus multiply the food so much that it could feed 10000 and leave piles of bread in the dirt when everyone was done? It would have been a great testament to the extravagant, wasteful love of God, and yet he was not wasteful. He gave out as much food was needed and then stopped. It's actually somewhat surprising that there was ONLY 12 basketfuls of bread leftover, because that means that Jesus did not make too much.

There are two old testament parallels I can think of (I'm sure others can name more). One is the manna from heaven, where the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. God prevented people from hording by making the extra food spoil, so that they would have to come to him every day, but once again you see that the resource (manna given) matched the need. The second is the jars of oil that were multiplied for the widow (2 Kings 4). Once again you see that the oil stopped flowing when all the jars were filled, so there was provision to fill every jar to the fullest, but it stopped flowing so that oil was not wasted and poured out on the ground with nothing to contain it.

I believe all of these examples strongly highlight the importance of resource stewardship. Everything we have been given should be well managed (cf. Joseph in Pharaoh's house), and in an aggregate sense this means that we as a people should manage national resources well: natural resources, economic resources, technological resources, and the land, people and properties of our country. I believe that we individually and as a group collectively have a responsibility to govern the earth correctly and with prudence, including the preservation of natural habitat. In Revelation it says that God will destroy those who destroy the earth (Rev 11:18). Obviously it's important to not fit in that category (people who destroy the earth), but of course this is only one aspect of stewardship.

It's a very important question to ask how and why to reconcile natural stewardship (stewarding natural resources like money, property, land, human resources, etc) with divine provision. I believe that there are two equally-flawed extremes one could take and the best path is walking between them. On one extreme is focusing entirely on natural stewardship ("wisdom") and ignoring divine provision ("faith"). This would be the standard secular humanist perspective. Cf. Matthew 6:25-34, but in particular verse 32-33. In 32 you see that pagans (those who do not know God) run after natural resources, because they do not know divine provision. I'm sure they are great stewards of their possessions, because that's all they have.

The other extreme is ignoring "wisdom" and relying on "faith". In this case, you have people who believe that God will provide everything they need, but don't bother to save money or invest, or handle their finances correctly, etc. This is common in certain streams of charismatic Christianity and I don't think it's the right perspective.

Ultimately I don't think the flaws with either of these extremes is in actions, but ultimately the root issue is in the mentality. You see that again in Matt 6 where Jesus focuses on WORRY for "wisdom" based people. While I don't have a corresponding passage for "faith" based people, I think the bad mentality there is simply not understanding the ways of God and the original mandate of humanity (Gen 1:28, to care for and govern the earth). I don't know if I can identify one root mentality behind this behavior, but at least I can show in numerous ways how it contravenes God's desire and intention for humanity.

So in conclusion I think the best perspective is to combine both approaches with the Godly mentality of Matt 6:33-34, to seek first the Kingdom, to not worry about material possessions, to govern what is within our control with wisdom and intelligence, but always to have faith and belief in the abiding presence and provision of God. Do not seek after material things, do not let them control you, but use wisdom in investing what you have (donation is a form of investment), and let your peace rest in the knowledge that God will always provide what you need.

Finding the balancing point between faith and wisdom can be tricky, but if you seek the heart of God about this and seek his ways I believe that he will give us all clarity on this matter. See Psalm 25 for a GREAT prayer on learning the ways of God.

The LORD confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

How to remember and record dreams

I forgot to put this up before. Will do so starting.... now.

I will explain by going through, chronologically, how I have recorded dreams in the past and present.

In the beginning, I recorded dreams "the hard way". This meant whenever I had a dream that I found important, immediately upon waking up (at 0200 am, 0400 am, or whenever), I would force myself awake and write down the dream. I kept a sheet of paper (on a clipboard) and a pen near my bed at all times, and I would use this with a small keychain flashlight to write down my dream on the spot. For particularly long dreams, I would play through the dream in my mind before opening my eyes.

From my experience, opening your eyes is the first major step that dispels a lot of dream memory. That's because it changes your focus from your "mind's eye" vision of the dream that just happened onto the "physical eye" vision of the room around you. Seeing your room awakens associated memories of things you have to do tomorrow, books you read, etc, etc. All of this displaces the dream memory that is still very tentative and vulnerable to being wiped out by the stronger physical memory.

Typically, due to the way memories form, your memory of physical events is stronger and more reliable than dream memory. You can have a dream and forget it by the next day, but you will still remember what you did last night, whether that be read a book, watch a movie, etc. I'm not a neurologist so I couldn't tell you why it's like this, I can just say that in my personal experience, that's how life works.

So anyway, the reason I call this the hard way (getting up to write down the dream) is because it interrupts your sleep. If you're having prophetic dreams 2-4 days a week, that's a lot of nights of interrupted sleep. It's worse when you have multiple prophetic dreams in the same night. Sometimes I've had 3 prophetic dreams in a single night (I have at least 2 of these nights recorded). I know very well how disruptive this can be, but in my life it was doubtless worth it.

Back when I first started, I thought it would be like this for the rest of my life. I thought I would always have to get up and write down the dreams, but I valued them more than I valued sleep, so the decision was easy (even if the execution of that decision wasn't always easy).

However, over time, perhaps a year or so, I got better and better at remembering dreams. There came a point in time (I did not record when) when I got so good that I could remember dreams simply by replaying them in my head after waking up. Now, whenever I wake up after having a prophetic dream, what I will do is replay the dream in my head several times until I can firmly and easily remember every detail. Then I go back to sleep and I write it up the following morning when I get up. I can do this very reliably for short to medium length dreams.

For very long dreams, I still have to write them down to capture all of the myriad details. For these dreams, I replay them in my head several times and then get up and type the dream out on my computer immediately after waking. For all other dreams, I can wait until the next morning to write them down.

I believe that I am able to do this because I have trained my mind to remember dreams by repetition. I have honestly had dreams where I am writing down details from the dream while STILL IN THE DREAM. That's because of ruthless, disciplined repetition. I have gotten up in the night literally hundreds of times to write down dreams like this, so it's only natural that I have gotten better at simply remembering them.

At the same time though, I think I have discovered a strong technique for dream memory: mental repetition. I don't know if other people could simply copy my technique and get the same results, because I'm not selling a book or anything about this. I know what worked for me, and it may or may not work for others. Either way, I hope this information is useful to others in the course of studying and meditating on prophetic dreams.

So in the end, this has been great for me because I get the high value of prophetic dreams without having the difficult task of writing them down at 0300 am when I'd rather be asleep. Now I get both!

And..... done!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Meditations on Iraq and Afghanistan

I almost never post anything political here, but now I find it necessary for the sake of future reference.


I took some classes in college about warfare and politics, and read books about the American experience in Vietnam. Long story short, in the course of my studies I discovered some principles of guerrilla warfare that are applicable to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Similarities: In Vietnam there was a large, conventional military (U.S.) with a supported, ineffective puppet government, South Vietnam (SV). These forces were fighting a smaller, weaker guerrilla campaign (VC) with North Vietnamese support (DRV). All of these characteristics define the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Differences: Vietnam is a highly homogenous nation, whereas Iraq and Afghanistan are highly fractured nations. Therefore Vietnam was primarily fought over political distinctions (and disenchantment with endemic corruption in SV). However, Iraq is much more defined as a religious conflict with tribal aspects, and Afghanistan is also highly tribal just as Afghani society is tribal in nature.

My thoughts:

First, pulling out of Iraq is a mistake if anyone wants a stable Iraq. Saddam was enforcing stability in Iraq through a combination of very savvy balance of power dynamics between the various rival factions, and most relevantly, through ruthless brutality against his enemies. He was a real dictator with a widespread and powerful intelligence agency and he didn't tolerate dissent.

Ultimately, it was his power that maintained stability in Iraq. Now that Saddam has been killed, the US is providing stability through sheer force. If the US pulls out, the best case is that Shi'ite groups take control of the country and simply dominate. The worst case is the Sunni south revolts and they have a civil war. Kurdistan is another possible civil war fault line. I have no idea how these three countries (in reality they are three countries) are going to stay politically united without a strongman to keep them together. My bet is that a strongman is going to emerge and simply take over when the US leaves.

Now a positive aspect is that if the US leaves, then Al Qaida and many of the int'l fighters lose their reason to stay, so they pull out and stop destabilizing the nation. However, it's possible that these Sunni fighters will stay to topple any Shi'ite government. You can similarly expect the resurgent Iran to want a piece of the political pie, and to insert Shia agents to strengthen any Shia government that might emerge.

The Sunnis have been historically dominant though (Hussein was Sunni), so they will not take this one sitting down.

To be honest, I don't know what most people want to happen in Iraq. Do Americans not care if thousands or more Iraqis die from the ensuing chaos of an American withdrawal? Do they simply not realize what's going to happen? I'm inclined towards the second, with an unconscious helping of the first.

Let me start by disillusioning anyone of the following notion. Iraqis dying is not a problem fixed by removing the American military. Yes, we have caused this problem by removing Hussein, for the reasons I stated above. However, there must be a strong central government to take over before America can withdrawal. Otherwise, many, many more people will die. I'm not in a good position to judge when the Iraqi government is strong enough to take over, but it's my opinion that we haven't reached that point yet. Of course, Iraq is kicking us out now, so legally we have no choice. Let's hope that they are ready to take over.

The biggest different between Iraq now and Vietnam is that I am not aware of any external nations at war with Iraq. As far as I know, there isn't any RVN army waiting to march in as soon as America pulls out. So that means their state failure isn't guaranteed in my opinion. But it's definitely a strong possibility.

A lot of this calculus applies to Afghanistan as well. An American withdrawal will mean civil war, and possibly a Taliban takeover. The Afghani government is corrupt and generally unstable. They do not have a competent military. I don't know what Americans think about Afghanistan, but an American withdrawal will mean civil war in Afghanistan, which the Taliban might win. Many people will die.

P.S. I wrote this really quickly and without going into much depth, so I've probably mis-stated a bunch of things. I will correct these points as they are raised to me.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

How I categorize dreams

Many people in the world have many dreams, but only a small subset of those are what I call "prophetic". The term "prophetic dream" can seem ambiguous and even nonsensical to a lot of people and can mean a lot of different things to different people.

I am using the term in a strictly Christian sense, deliberately ignoring what it might mean to people with different religious or philosophical backgrounds. I am using the term in the sense of the Christian "prophetic" of 1 Corinthians 14:3, which broadly speaking says that a prophetic word "encourages, comforts, and instructs".

This is contrary to the modern notion of a prophesy as a declaration of future events (most popularly, the end of the world). While that is a valid type of prophesy, it is only a subset of real prophetic utterances. Other people might question whether such prophetic words can be given through dreams, and if they are given, by whom.

I will answer that prophetic dreams are recorded in the bible and that all true prophetic words come from God, by the Holy Spirit. I will not justify this position for the sake of brevity.

So anyway, what I look for in dreams is encouragement [strengthening, direction, impetus towards some God-directed action(s)], comfort [solace], or instruction [teaching about doctrine, knowledge of future or present events/circumstances, knowledge of other people or myself].

Sometimes dreams can be what I would call a "prophetic experience" more than just a "prophetic word". This means that it isn't God filling me with knowledge about something, but I am actually experiencing events in the spiritual world, or experiencing a dream as a metaphor for some spiritual reality.

Since dreams are the gateway into the spirit realm, it makes you more open to receive prophetic words from the Holy Spirit. It also opens you up to travel into places in the spirit realm or to have encounters with other spirits (of people, angels, demons or God). There are some cases when I see angels in my dreams and they are figurative/symbolic images in the dream. There are other cases where I believe that I have real encounters with real spirits of angels.  For instance, Joseph the father of Jesus encounters a real angel in at least two separate dreams.

One can very reasonably ask how to discern between the two cases, where a being is a real angel vs. a mental representation of an angel.  I do not have a clear, hard rule to answer with. The best I can say is you need the gift of discernment (see 1 Corinthians 12:10, "distinguishing between spirits"). Discerning dreams is an area of a lot of confusion, understandably so. I do the best I can to understand what's real, what's symbolic, what's figurative, what's literal, what's my own emotions coloring things, what's a "pizza dream". I do this imperfectly, leaning upon the excellence of Christ to guide me.

Much of the time, I record a dream and consider it prophetic simply if it feels.... unusual to me. There is no hard rule to say what that is, because God does new things, not always predictable things.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Another quote

"Shall we stop at that poor line, the grave, which all our Christianity is always trying to wipe out and make nothing of, and which we always insist on widening into a great gulf? Shall we not stretch our thought beyond, and feel the life-blood of this holy church, this living body of Christ, pulsing out into the saints who are living there, and coming back throbbing with tidings of their glorious and sympathetic life?" - Rt. Rev. Phillips Brooks, D. D.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

C.S. Lewis quote

This quote corroborates something that I saw in a dream once. Not gonna go into the whole thing, but read this and think about it:

"'Did they see Napolean?' 'That's right. They went up and looked through one of the windows. Napoleon was there all right.' 'What was he doing?' 'Walking up and down - up and down all the time - left-right, left-right - never stopping for a moment. The two chaps watched him for about a year and he never rested. And muttering to himself all the time. "It was Soult's fault. It was Ney's fault. It was Josephine's fault. It was the fault of the Russians. It was the fault of the English." Like that all the time. Never stopped for a moment. A little, fat man and he looked kind of tired. But he didn't seem able to stop it.'"

C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ways to enter into God's presence

This will qualify as yet another one of my 5 minute posts about a 5 hour (or more) topic, but I just want to record something to remind myself to maybe, if I ever feel inspired, write out a more detailed version of the revelation that I got yesterday. It's funny how this happens, but I was just praying in front of a group of people and somehow I shifted into a teaching mode and I started talking about how different people enter into God's presence in different ways. Basically, what it comes down to is that each person relates to God in a different way. I relate to God by music, by nature (wind, mountains, rain, sunshine, etc), by a variety of different things. That's how God speaks to me, with a set of very specific symbols. You could almost call it a vocabulary of concepts that he brings up or emphasizes differently at different times.

I believe that this vocabulary, this language of how God speaks to a person and how that person speaks to God, is very specific and unique to each individual. Apart from the personal examples I could give, I can also offer this: Rev 21:12: "12It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel."

This is speaking of the gates into the New Jerusalem, which can be taken figuratively for God's presence (not going to elaborate, but I think scripture firmly shows this). There are 12 gates, and each gate has a different name written on it. While I think there are a variety of valid interpretations for this passage (once again, not elaborating), it also shows that there are a large number of ways into the New Jerusalem, and each one has a name written over it. I believe this shows that each person has a unique "gate" into God's presence.

Yes, John 14:6 says that Jesus is the way, so many people say there is "only one way to the Father", which is a pretty reasonable argument from a biblical point of view. This is a good counterpoint for people who would try to take Rev 21:12 too far, which is not my intention. As noted above, when I speak of the "different ways to God" I'm really talking more about the symbolic language and the unique relationship that each person has available to himself or herself, that even though we're all headed to the same God (i.e. New Jerusalem), we each have our own path to walk in life, and that the "gate" open to each one of us is only open to us, and nobody else will ever experience God in the exact same way. I think this is really cool, because in my mind it validates the importance of each individual, which is something that I think God also highly values, that he truly does value each individual for who that individual is and how that individual has been created to relate to God.

And that's the 5 minutes. :) For further reading, look at the verses I quoted and also: Ps 25, Ps 119, Isa 30:21, and many other passages I can't think of off the top of my head.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Abraham, Sarah and Hagar cont.

I received a question on my last blog post, and I started writing a very voluminous answer such that I decided to just post it as a new post, for more visibility. The question is with respect to the "conflicting instructions" that were given to Abraham, and essentially how should Abraham have responded to the situation he was placed in.

"but God also asked Abraham to have a child that he could only have by having intercourse out of wedlock, then should we conclude that God was expecting Abraham to use his judgment as to reconcile the conflicting instructions in a manner most consistent with honoring God?"

Calling it conflicting instructions is a bit of a stretch. God never "instructed" anybody regarding Sarah's barrenness, it was simply a noted fact. Here's the order of events with Abraham/Sarah/Hagar:

God says, you will have a son (to Abraham), specifically saying "of your own body" meaning his physical descendant, but not necessarily Sarah's;

"Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children";

Sarah then offers for Abraham to sleep with Hagar, to "build a family through [my maidservant]", which Abraham does having a son;

13 years later, God comes again and says that Abraham will have a son through Sarah, and that he would be the 'child of the promise', that is, the son that God had promised to Abraham at the beginning.

So like I said, there was no instruction for Sarah to not have a child, it's really more like reconciliation of the promise (you will have a son) with its apparent non-fulfillment (Sarah was barren). In that situation, at Sarah's suggestion Abraham slept with Hagar to produce the son they were expecting, and 13 years later God comes in and clarifies that the son he had (Ishmael) was not the son promised before (although God doesn't say this directly, many commentators implicitly read it from what God does say about Isaac)

This is where I think a lot of commentators come into disagreement, over this question: did Abraham sin by sleeping was Hagar? I think there are a lot of valid perspectives on this question, one of which I raised (the issue of marriage being between one man and one woman), but there are many other perspectives about how Abraham should have responded to the promise, should he have just waited for Sarah to have a child when they thought it was impossible? Etc.

Nevertheless, it seems inaccurate to say that God gave conflicting instructions, but there is definitely a conflict between promise and reality. This is a very common theme in the bible, and it's very much related to the issue of faith, or as Paul puts it, the "things visible" and "things invisible" (2 Cor 4:18). How does one reconcile the unseen promise ("I am with you", Matt 28:20) with the present reality (I don't see Jesus right now)? It's a very deep subject that I'm not really going to address, other than to say that this is very related to Abraham's situation.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Abraham, the friend of God

I'll try to keep this one brief because of time constraints, but God spoke to me recently about Abraham. The chief phrase that came to my mind is, Abraham is a friend of God.

Abraham lived in a time before the bible was written, in a life completely devoid of Judeo-Christian traditions, churches, denominations, etc. The only pattern of worship or prayer he had ever seen was essentially pagan in nature (that is, polytheistic and possibly tribal in nature; nothing like modern Christianity). So I was absolutely fascinated to see how Abraham relates to God, because Abraham as the "father of the faith" lived an Adam-like life of breaking new ground, being the first in a new tradition. Unlike Adam though, we are given numerous accounts from his life, whereas Adam has almost nothing written about his life (he appears in Genesis 2 and is dead by Genesis 5, while Abraham has about 13 chapters devoted to his life from Genesis 12 to 25).

So Abraham is a great person to study to see how a man ascribed as a great man of faith relates to God, without the influence of hollow religious traditions in the same way that modern Christians have to discern between things from God and meaningless Christian traditions. Of course, I'm not trying to say that all traditions are meaningless or negative, but simply that one must practice discernment to see where traditions truly represent the nature and will of God, and where traditions come from human or political origins. E.g., is a given tradition one that was put into place to build a political system or to perpetuate human systems, or to establish the kingdom of God on earth and in that culture?

One example of a human tradition would be the biblical interpretations of Noah's cursing Ham/Canaan as a justification of Europeans enslaving Africans. It was a theological position used to justify a human, economic system that does not represent God's will. Over time, it hybridized Christianity with the economic system of slavery, such that even to this day atheists or skeptics will quote slavery as an example of the failings of Christianity.

Anyway, what does one see in the life of Abraham that speaks of his faith? One thing is clear, he builds a lot of altars. He sees God frequently, and he speaks with God face to face. He honored God when the Lord visited him with two angels, and then he petitioned God, face to face, to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were 10 righteous men there. All of these deserve long discussions, but I don't have the time.

What I was thinking about tonight was Abraham's affair with Hagar. It is a very perplexing event to me, for a couple reasons. First, God never speaks for nor against Abraham's relationship with Hagar. Nowhere in scripture does it say that Abraham did well or sinned by his relationship with Hagar. We know that the child of the promise is Isaac, but God blesses Ishmael. That's perhaps what perplexes me the most, because we know that in the beginning God created Adam and Eve, so God did not intend for a man to have more than one wife, but he nevertheless blessed Ishmael.

What I see when I think of this is a very complex social situation. People will argue that Abraham sinned or that he didn't sin, but what's clear to me is that it's a very difficult situation, as the outcome shows. It leads to strife between Hagar and Sarah, it leads Sarah to accuse Abraham of doing wrong (even though it was her idea), and ultimately it leads to Hagar's expulsion from Abraham's camp. After that, the Ishmaelites occasionally collide with the Israelites, and the Ishmaelites are described as being "wild", and "against everyone". So the end result seems to be a lot of strife, and God is involved in almost a neutral position (he blesses Ishmael, he blesses Isaac).

So what I see when I read this is, Abraham's heart towards God never waivered. In the midst of this difficult situation, trying to fulfill a promise of God (you will have a son) by human means (sleeping with Hagar), God still blesses Ishmael, and he blesses Abraham to still have the son of the promise. Abraham was not in an easy situation but in his heart he stayed true to God.

God bless you (the reader), and may you be filled with wisdom and understanding about this topic.