Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Dig For Diamonds

I just finished a good book called "Foolish No More" by Ted Haggard. I'd recommend it. It's a christian book by a pastor of a huge church. It's an easy read and has some good applicable Christian living info. The last chapter I just read and I really liked it. It's both encouraging and inspiring. It makes sense and I want it more in my life.

I'm gonna actually type out most of it here. It may take you about 15 mins. to read but it's good stuff so hang in there. If you don't want to read the whole thing start at "Powerful Relationships".


As we have learned throughout this book, all of us were born with an old sin nature. There is a garbage dump at the core of human existence, and it's inside each one of us.

If you are not born again, and you want to find peace, power, and purpose by digging down into yourself through excessive introspection adn self-help techniques, good luck! When you get to the core, you are going to find corruption, hatred, lust, jealousy, selfishness, and more. It smells down there.

Now because a human being is fearfully adn wonderfully made in the image of God (see Psalm 139:14), you will see some very nice things too-mostly near the surface. Many parents do a good job of training their children, and a a good education helps, and through various life experiences all of us have learned a lot of appropriate behavior. But none of that provides the power to really change the core of our being.

But if you are born again, the story is totally different. When you became fully aware of your need to change, you acknowledged your need for God, for the forgiveness of sins, and for the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit. You made a great decision and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.

So if you could dig to the core of someone regenerated by God, rather than finding a corroded old sin nature, you would find a beautiful diamond-a precious stone that represents all the gifts, traits , blessings, and fruit of God. Everything made available to those who are His children.

After we are reborn and filled with the Spirit, God begins the process of revealing the diamond He has placed at our core. Through our responsiveness to God's Word, which reveals the gospel, along with our obedience to His Spirit, He transforms us into who He wants us to be. Because we live in a fallen wolrld and because of our own fallenness, we endure all kinds of suffering and anxiety as we learn to throw ourselves into the arms of CHrist. This is not like whizzing through a spiritual drive-through lane. It's definately a process.

The Bible calls this process a "walk," a long walk that will last for the rest of our lives. When you begin the walk, it appears that there's only a slight glimmer of a diamond inside you, and the rest is still junk. But as you study the Scriptures, grow in the Spirit, and participate in His body, the church, more and more of hte diamond is revealed. you experience healing and deliverance and many other wonderful things. You overcome more and more as the kingdom of God increasingly dominates your life.

That's why we seek the Lord in prayer, fasting, and worship. All of these good actions chip away at the rough outer crust of hte old sin nature to reveal the core diamond and its many beautiful facets.

Daily experiences-even failures- help the process along. Remember that last speeding ticket? how did you respond to the situation? You may not see it this way, but when a police officer stops you adn says, "You were going twenty miles over the speed limit. License and registration." God is trying to expose your diamond just a little bit more and get rid of some more of the old sin-nature stuff that's still there.

Or if you are in your prayer closet, pacing back and forth as you seek the Lord adn not sensing the presence of God, when you hang in there and keep at it, you are doing you part in digging out the diamond. You are saying, " I want the righteousness of God. I want the kingdom of God to dominate me."

Or if you fail at something and are so disappointed with what you've said or done, you have a chance to respond-to be humble, to seek God's forgiveness, to uncover a little bit more of the diamond.

You will meet christians who think we can unveil the diamond by obedience to the law adn by following rules and regulations. Sorry, but that just isn't going to happen. it's the Holy Spirit living within us who imparts righteousness and empowers the Word of God in our lives. Christianity is all about a vital and dynamic relationship with God, who has sent His Holy Spirit to guide us into that relationship.

All of the things we choose to do or not do are an expression of our intimate, covenant relationship with God. We tithe not to win the favor of God but to demonstrate our relationship with Him. We come to church not to earn the right to a relationship with God-that was appropriated on the cross-but to get to know Him more. We do important things in our Christian walk in order to dig out our diamonds, because we desparatly long to grow in the Lord, to have a healthy, dynamic relationship with Him.

God Enjoys Relationship

The trinity gives us a great example of how God likes to do relationships.

I love getting a glimpse of the interaction between the Father, Son, and holy Spirit. We see this when John baptized Jesus at the Jordan river. Heaven opened, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, adn the voice of God the Father burst through the clouds, proclaiming admiration adn delight for His son.

Literally out of the blue, the Father broke into time adn space and said, "That's my boy! I'm so pleased with Him! (see Luke 3:22).....

So this is the picture we see: God is in love with His son, the Son lives to glorify His Father, adn the Holy SPirit is flowing between them. They're talking with one another, loving one another, blessing one another, doing miracles with one another-it's a remarkably delightful relationship.

And we need to pay attention to what this means for us.

God created us in His own image and likeness, so like any kid, we have many of the same character qualities as our Dad. That means when it comes to relationships, we have a deep desire to connect with others. We love laughing with, eating with, playing with, and just plain hanging out with good friends. It doesn't matter where you go, human beings all over the world-...devise ways of connecting with other people. It's just what humans do.

But there's a problem with all of this desire to connect: Our intimate, ideal relationship with God has been severed by our sinful independance, and this same old sin nature works to destroy our relationships with other people. Too many relationships are stained with difficult things like rejection, inappropriate affection, dysfunctional patterns of relating in families, high divorce rates, broken lives-on and on it goes. The very thing people want most-rich, loving personal relationships-seems out of their grasp.

Powerful Relationships

....How can we have wonderful, powerful, loving relationships with God and others in the body of Christ?

The relational dynamic with God is mysterious, personal, intimate, lively and vibrant. Some days it's effervescent; other days it's serious. There are times in our relationship with God when we want to worship Him radically, to explode with adoration for Him. Other times we're drawn to lie on our faces and be still in His presence. SOme days He wants us to get out of the prayer room and go do something. Other days He wants us to stop being busybodies and sit down and chill out. Don't ask me why He wants what He wants. The Christian life involves a mysterious, relational dynamic with a loving God, and lots of people have trouble navigating its ambiguities. But we are like Him, and He is like us-more than we might think.

So if we want to understand God and live as He intends, we must understand personal relationships. If we think relationships are systematic and orderly, we can forget it. There are too many variables. God's heart is a mystery. So is ours.

Near the end of his letter, Paul had some insights on how this understanding of relationships helps us function better in the church:

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fufill the law of Christ. If anyone thingks he is something when he is nothing, he decieves himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load. (Galatians 6:1-5)

The number-one meaure of our character is how we learn to manage ourselves-our thought lives, our physical being, our affections, and the issues we have with acceptance and rejection.

The second greatest test or indicator of our character is our response to someone else's sin. We tend to understand and accept our own struggles, but we don't always have that much grace for the difficulties of others. I think that's why the apostle Paul brought up this topic right after he talked about the works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit. After helping us understand ourselves, Paul immediately moved on to discuss our relationships with others.

He said that we have a duty to help our fallen brothers and sisters get back on their feet again (see verse 1). When we are exhorted in the Spirit to correct a person who has fallen, we are supposed to repair him or her. In Greek, the word Paul used is the same one that describes a surgeon doing his work. In other words, helping someone recover from sin is like setting a broken arm or taking out a tumor; it involves time, precision and care. So when someone gets into trouble, we shouldn't panic. God understands and has provided a way to bring healing and restoration. The issue is, how will we respond? Will we calmly make repairs like a surgeon? Or will we blast like a linebacker through people and their needs?

The issue of handling someone's sin and correcting that person is tricky. It's a matter of curing, not punishing. When people get entangled in their old sin nature, our old sin nature wants to lay down the law and punish them. But if they are born again, then we have to trust that the diamond is there. The issue is getting the muck cleaned away from the diamond.

And what about our own muck? We are dealing with sin constantly. The execution of our old sin natures cannot be fully accomplished just by ourselves. Sometimes we need an entire firing squad with plenty of ammunition.

We've already discussed how important it is to go in the prayer closet by ourselves and crucify the old sin nature, put on Christ, and live a godly, wholesome, overcoming, victorious life. We must do that. Like Pual, we need to die daily. But how can others help us? What kinds of relationships will best help to expose and polish our diamond within?

All of us have what I call passive relationships. These are not energetic, connected, powerful relationships that make you smile or weep. They are just there. The mood of such relationships is reminiscent of worshiping some idol-which I'm not recommending-as opposed to worshiping the living God. The whole deal is lifeless adn lame.

Sometimes I call these relationships "cordial relationships," the kind of relationships that amount to surface conversation:

"Hi, how are you?"

"Find, thanks. And how's everything with you?"

"Oh, it's great, thanks."

"Good to see you."

"Nice to see you. I like your hair."

"Thanks. Well, gotta go. You take care! Let's get together sometime."

"Sure. Bye!"

And both or you know the chance of your getting together is as likely as George Bush asking you to spend the weekend hanging out as Camp David.

Such encounters are a little awkward becuase the relationship is passive, and you don't really know what to do with it. Maybe something might come of it, but for now you wouldn't want to go on vacation with this person, and you might avoid a lunch date, too.

This passive relationship issue is everywhere. Some people have nothing but passive relationships. Worse, many married couples find themselves stuck in a passive state. They are cordial and nice, but they never really empower each other. That means that lots of kids grow up in homes where they never see or experience true connection.

DOn't get me wrong. Life is full of cordial surface relationships, and that's normal. We shouldn't be rude and ignore people, and we shouldn't force everyone to be our best friends.

But there's a different kind of relationship that I think is God's plan for diamond polishing. I call it "power relationship," or a dynamic connection. God designed us to connect with HIm by the power of the Holy Spirit, and it's the power of that connectivity that changes our lives. He gives us power through His relationship with us, and we change.

The same type of thing happens between people. When people learn to powerfully connect with other people in family, in close friendships, and in a body of believers, they establish life-giving, possitive relationships that empower them in their spirits to be everything God wants them to be.

So to stomp the living daylights out of the old sin nature, you need both a vibrant personal relationship with God and vibrant connectivity with others in the body of believers. This is what a life giving church is! It's an ecclesia-a gathering together of the brethren. It's how we strenghten one another to live life and fulfill our purposes.

Men have the desire to have men friends, and woman have the desire to have women friends. Groups of people love gettting together and engaging one another. There is supernatural strength in loyal, faithful friends, and that strength helps human beings become everything God created them to be.

I am mentioning this because you may be a person who loves God with all of your heart, and yet you live a disconnected life. One way to measure this is to ask yourself, "Are there nights when I wake up scared and lonely and don't have anybody to share those feelings with?" The times when you have sobbed the most deeply, have you sobbed alone? The times when you have become insecure and wondered about your own adequacy, was there no one to talk with because you feared that if someone really got to know you, he or she would reject you?

If that decribes your life, I want you to know it's not GOd's plan for you. He wants you connected to Him in a loving, vibrant relationship, and He wants you connected to others.

....In powerful, dynamic relationships, people will invest in one another's lives so significantly that the greatest fear won't win, the besetting sin won't conquer.

I've observed that it's possible to spend years in a church and never really connect. Sure, it's important to get together in a large group to worship, learn and share sacrements. But if we stop with that, we miss the point: Fellowship with God and connectivity with one another exist so that we can empower one another for the perfect plan God has for us.

So just what did Paul mean when he said we should "gently" restore those caught in sin (Gal. 6:1)? He meant that when you find somebody in trouble, if you are dealing with your old sin nature in prayer, are being filled with the Holy Spirit, are growing in faith, and have vital connections to God and other believers, you can reach into the life of someone who needs help and pull that person up so that his strengths-not his afflicting weaknesses-define his life.

Paul also said that we need to do this with great humility, avoiding conceit. It's another take on Jesus's idea of always taking the log out of one's own eye before taking the splinter out of someone else's eye. If we are not careful, we will see people struggling and think, Man, I am living a pretty good life. I am doing all right. Look at all these other poor struggleers-they're really messing up!

Paul says, "Don't do that. Don't compare yourselves iwth others. It's not relevant, and it doesn't accomplish anything positive. It will just make you conceited, which means you, too, will soon be messingl up."

Instead we should test our own actions (see Gal. 6:4) by comparing ourselves to where God wants us to be. This will keep us healthy and strong.

How do we gauge whether we are connecting with others? We know we're doing it when...
-we have a good group of friends around us.
-we know how to pray for one another
-we know how to protect and edify one another
-we know how to grow old together
-we know how to encourage and coach one another
-we know how to keep distance when distance is right, and how to be close when close is right.
-we have learned the skills of good living

In the midst of that kind of life, when someone gets in trouble, rather than saying, "Oh, what is she doing? She must not have it together," we are able to say, "I want to help. I can give her some strength. I can connect with her in this. I can share her suffering. I can cry with her if she needs somebody to cry with. I can love her when she needs somebody to love her. I can be faithful to her when she needs somebody to be faithful to her. I can connect with her and help her overcome these difficulties."

When you connect with people and infuse them with strength, life, joy, and peace, you are finding the diamond inside of them. You are choosing to chip away at the outer crust to find the diamond instead of the crud, highlighting the good instead of focusing on the dirty sin parts.

That's what God wants the body of Christ to be like, and that can't happen if we live according to the law. That's what Paul is arguing here. he wants us to be so connected with one another that life flows powerfully between us. This is a choice you and I make. If someone falls into a sin, let us, in humilty, connect with him and build him up by highlighting the righteousness of Christ in him.

A friend in Deed

This whole isssue of connecting with other people is so important, I want to tell you about an unusual incident in my life that illustrates the value of a friend and how all this can work.

I was in my office a few years ago, sufferin with a really bad cold. I felt awful. It was one of those sniffling, sneezing, terrible sore throat, whining, crying, weeping kind of days. I ached all over. I was a mess.

Okay, so you're thinking, You poor baby, Ted. You were whining and crying about a simple cold.

I was. I admit it. I may seem like a spiritual giant on Sundays, all dressed up, with the fire of GOd shooting from my lips, but a rotten head cold turns me into a sniveling wimp. And when I get sick, I am very moody. It's just pathetic! ....

So there I was...sitting at my desk, longing for the 2nd coming, when my friend Patton Dodd walked in. Patton has helped me with my writing over the years, and he was stopping by to go over a project. When he saw me, he asked, "Oh my, what's wrong with you?"

I looked at him with bleary eyes and said, "I can't go home. I've got work to do, but o-o-o-h-h-h-h!" I fell speechless, consumed by my pain.

Instead laughing or running away, Patton said, "You look terrible."

I nodded my head adn wiped my nose with a tissue.

"Why don't you just sit on the couch for a little bit," he suggested. I sighed and shuffled over to the couch in my office, where I slumped into a heap.

You shold know that Patton is a young man, but he really has relational maturity. He's a deep-water guy with a quiet spirit.

Anyway, there I was sitting on the couch and moaning, and Patton was nearby in a chiar wanting to discuss some work with me. But he could tell I was spaced out-totalling enmeshed in despair. So insted of excusing himself or trying to get something out of me, Patton came over and sat down on the other end of the couch. He didn't say anything. he just sat next to me. We both just sat there for a long while, not saying anything.

Lost in head-cold misery, I kept feeling bad for myself-aching, whining, wheezing, coughing, sneezing. Patton didn't say a word. He just sat there with me.

We sat there quietly, and the longer this went on, the better I felt. Oh, I still had a lousy cold, but I appreciated so much someone just being there. If he had started to chat, I probably would've gone home. If he had tried to pep me up with some superspiritual truism such as "God will use this in your life, " I would have hated it....

But he didn't do or say anything. He just sat there, and in that way, he let me know he was there for me. I appreciated it.

Finally, after a while he said, "Okay, Pastor Ted, it's time for you to go home." That was it!

So I went home.

That kind of connectivity brought me comfort when I needed it. Patton didn't leave me alone in my misery. Instead, by quietly sitting next to me on the couch, he was saying, "I'm here for you; lean on my strength."

I've also felt the strength of friends when I have been on the verge of making a mistake, when I start thinking a little too highly of myself, or when my thinking is skewed. And when I'm on the right track, they're also there to help me fufill the vision and purpose God has given me. I can't imagine my life apart from being connected to the body of Christ.

Those who live without connectivity, well, they never fully run the race, jump as high as they could, go as far as they could, or experienve the full power of God as they should.

That's why I want to encourage you to connect with other believers and develope good, close friends. They help us in the process of chipping away at our sinful nature to uncover that diamond within us.

The apostle Paul understood this. Even though he had been a father to the Galatian believers by bringing the gospel to them, he experienved the strength of their love for him during the trial of his illness. Now he was tetruing that love by passionately defending the true gospel he had preached to them, which alone had the power to set them free adn bring them into right relationship with God. he wanted to protect them from the trap of believeing that obedienve to the law would earn them justification in God's sight.

This gospel-that Christ gave himself for our sins so that we can recieve our total justification through faith in Him-is the power that breaks us out of our bondage to sin and sets us free to become sons and daughters of God, in right relationship with Him and with each other.

It's the power that enables us to be foolish no more!

Congratulations you finished reading the chapter! I'd encourage you to just take out of it what the Holy Spirit highlights to you. I am thankful for my friends that I have had that dynamic connectivity with... It's very vital.

These thoughts are also an excellent reminder at the begining of the year to really stay connected to the body of Christ and the head -Christ himself. So be encouraged, we do not run this race alone, we are a band of brothers, pressing on toward the goal, together...and we will get there TOGETHER.

That was Jesus's prayer for us- to be united, to be one...that's how our world will change when they see the love we have for one another.



drewey fern said...

Thank you, Marie, for taking all that time in order to bless us! It's such an encouragement to be reminded that we aren't alone - that God meant for us to be connected. And it's incredibly worth the time/energy it sometimes takes. Hurrah for connectedness!

Marie said...

yeah! Congratulations for being the first to read and comment, I've wondered if anyone would read it cause it's soo long:) Took forever to type! I just really liked it:)
How can I send you the award for reading and commenting first....jk... :)