What Would You Say?

You know how children often have an imaginary friend? That is how I look upon your “relationship” with Jesus. I would define a relationship as well, even what you and I have; or more desirably with someone you actually have seen and heard speak. Anything else is just a daydream or wishful thinking. Kind of like when a teenage girl gets a crush on a movie star or such.’

What would you say?  How do I explain this unseen relationship upon which I have built my life to a skeptic?  This was a snatch of actual ‘conversation’ (online) I had with ‘the Lady’ as I will refer to her.  She is in her 70’s now and appears quite smug and self-satisfied having abandoned the faith of her upbringing.  By way of introduction here is her story in her own words:

“You are right about upbringing as I was raised in a church [Episcopal] and my siblings (five of them) either are still in that church or have converted to Catholicism (because of marriage in two cases) I am the only atheist of the six of us, but of our 18 children, only 4 or 5 are active church members. My child had no religious upbringing, nor did her two. We are all happy, moral people who feel no lack (or even consideration on the part of my daughter and her two) of the absence of such “a pursuit of the knowledge of God” In fact to me it would be akin to chasing a will o’ the wisp.

Don’t you think it is interesting that what you consider a central and significant part of your life has no part in the lives of many and yet we all think of ourselves as having very full and complete lives?” 

So what is there to say?  The ‘imaginary friend’ allegation is not original. It comes straight out of popular atheistic works.  It of course feels insulting but there’s little value in reacting.  I had in another post attempted to differentiate between religion and relationship to which ‘the Lady’ responded:

“The statement you make about having a “relationship with Jesus” confuses me. In fact as soon as I read it I called my sister (whom I had wanted to speak to anyway) and asked her if she, as a Catholic, had a “relationship with Jesus” and she said she had not and so I asked her if she knew what it meant and she did not.”

I was encouraged by this indication of her curiosity and by the fact that she discussed the concept with her sister, who is incidentally involved in a Bible Study at her church.  This too fuels my hope that God can yet reveal Himself to these ladies.  Eventually she asked me to spell out what I mean by ‘relationship’.  She addressed these questions to me and the other Christian active at this site:

“What exactly is a personal relationship with Jesus? Since that is the essence of Christianity, please explain it.

Do you speak to Jesus and does he answer? Do you pray and enter a trance state? Do you meditate and reach a different level of consciousness and call that a personal relationship? What exactly does personal relationship mean? Does each individual who claims to have one, define it differently?

Is it pointless for you to describe, since the unbelievers could not grasp the deeply mystical significance of such a relationship? If so, isn’t it your responsibility to convince us?

In claiming this, unlike for instance, saying you believe in Jesus and in God, you are elevating yourselves to a grander standing than most of those who merely “think” they are Christians. So what exactly does a personal relationship mean and how many people do you think have one?”

What would you say?

Explaining who Jesus is to you in a context of hard-core skeptics, many of whom doubt the very historical reality of Jesus Christ, is a little like casting pearls before swine.  I had a sense that ‘the Lady’ was not so much asking out of personal interest as she was looking to mock my naivety.  But we are to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in us so I thought and prayed and came up with this answer:

“Lady, …Your question is a fair one, and assuming it is an honest one, deserves a well-thought out answer. This is going to be tricky without referring to the Bible, (which seems to ‘push your buttons’, so bear with me here ( : I will try to speak for myself, as I suppose, as in any relationship, different people will have different experiences and ways of explaining what they appreciate about their relationship, not to mention the different phases a relationship goes through as two people grow together. All these things are true of a relationship with Jesus. Except that in this unique case, problems in relationship are always the fault of the human factor. 

I could run through and answer your questions: Yes, yes, yes and no, no, and probably yes. But I’m afraid you still won’t get what I’m saying, not because it’s ‘deeply mystical’ but because this is a spiritual relationship. Obviously, Jesus is not here on the earth in bodily form. But He is alive and His Spirit lives in every genuine believer. This is in fact what distinguishes a Christian from one who merely follows the ‘Christian’ religion. How can I explain this to you though if we are only material beings in your line of reasoning? And no, it is not my responsibility to convince anyone of anything, only to share the good news I have found. No one has to believe it. The convincing job is where God’s Spirit comes in. (We call him the Holy Spirit) All right, I’m already sensing that I’ve lost you… The one basic obstacle we have here is that spiritual concepts (and you’re not going to like the sound of this) are only discernible to spiritual persons. And I don’t mean ‘spiritual’ in some vague way, but in the sense just mentioned—persons who have the very spirit of God residing in them. That may sound pious and other-worldly but it can be your experience too, same as any other believer. It’s not some unattainable state.

There is in fact a rather famous conversation between a teacher of the Law and Jesus that explains this. This man didn’t ‘get it’ either but saw clearly that Jesus was no ordinary man. He arranged a private interview, and Jesus came right out and told him that unless he was born ‘from above’ he could not comprehend God’s kingdom. When the man asked how this could possibly happen, being ‘born again’ (an overused term but this incident is its origin) , Jesus said it was a spirit thing. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”. He then compared the Spirit to wind which we cannot see but we surely can see and know its effects! Without his spirit all the talk about having a relationship with Jesus will sound like foolishness. 

So when I say yes, I talk to Jesus, and yes, He talks back, if you’re thinking in merely physical terms you’ll think ‘ah, she’s looney’. But though I may or may not speak to Him in voiced words, his response is one that communicates with my spirit. It is a strong ‘sense’ of knowing something, an impression that goes beyond mental conjuring. It is communicated to my spirit. Here lies another obstacle to this making sense. The spirit of man. It is a dead entity until God gives it life. And because God is spirit, its being alive is necessary for one who wishes to hear from God. The Bible teaches that at the moment of entering this relationship, the believer’s spirit is made alive. It is then the place of communicating with God who is Spirit. This goes on 24/7. He’s fully present to me and I to Him. We can be silent together, or talk. To know I am fully known and loved at all times by the all-powerful God who created me is enough to face anything that may arise in my life. That’s the long and short of what I mean by relationship. Don’t know if it really answers your query. And I don’t doubt that it sounds strange, esp. if you’ve not considered the reality of a realm other than the physical one. Also, it is far more complicated to describe one’s own relationship with a spiritual being than it is to give information on how to enter this relationship (which I believe would be considered proselytizing on this thread). I guess to state it simply is to say that it’s a relationship in another dimension than the physical. It’s an ongoing, growing thing which doesn’t come naturally to any of us. An excellent book on the subject that I’ve read lately is called Hearing God. It is a sound, non-sensational explanation of what it means to develop a conversational relationship with God. It is, of course, written by a Christian ( Dallas Willard, who happens to be a long-time professor of philosophy at the U. of California) and for Christians, but you might glean some insight here.

And as for this notion of ours being a ‘grander standing’ than those who merely believe in Jesus and in God. First off, there are plenty of people who believe in ‘God’ in a vague sort of way, but want nothing to do with Jesus. That gets too personal for some reason; it demands I talk about sin and needing ‘salvation’ for instance. The Bible makes clear that it isn’t enough to merely believe God exists. Jesus said, even the demons do that. [ Yes, if there’s a good spiritual world, there’s a bad one—God’s enemies, the Devil and his demons (fallen angels)] |”You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder”.James 2:19 So no, this isn’t an exclusive club, just one that most choose not to join. 

As for numbers, it’s difficult to speculate but there is much reference to sheep vs. goats in the Bible and this way of relationship is called a narrow road that few find (as contrasted to the wide road leading to destruction)– Pilgrim’s Progress depicts this excellently in allegorical terms– So the numbers are limited, fewer than polls suggest I would expect. This is not to say the way is not clearly offered to all. There are just few willing to pay the cost of following it. To me the benefits far outweigh the costs, but to the skeptical onlooker this does not seem so.

For further reading since I’ve eliminated quotes a.m.a.p. I would commend to you these chapters in the Bible: 

John 3 (the famous conversation)

Ephesians 1 & 2 (the ‘scoop’ on being dead vs. alive in spirit)

John 10 (Jesus likened to a good shepherd. His sheep hear His voice)

I Corinthians 2 (the spiritual man described)

Hebrews 1 & 2 (the big picture. God communicating down through time, and now in Jesus)”

So that is how I answered.  What would you have said?

Her reply was brief, nothing unexpected:

“Well, … I do thank you very much for your explanation of your personal relationship with Jesus and I do understand what you are saying. I don’t doubt at all that you experience what you say you experience. I don’t understand it, except that I would probably say it is some form of self hypnosis, or wish fulfillment or such. I really am not enough of either a psychologist, psychiatrist or person like Joseph Campbell who may have some explanation for people like you. When I say “people like you” I do not mean that in a pejorative sense.”

She has no good explanation for ‘people like me’… but at least now she has ‘met’ one.  And I pray for her sister to come to the knowledge of the truth and be able to report back to her that ‘Yes! She does now know what a relationship with Jesus is!’  Until then, I guess I’m just a teeny light shining into a bunch of dismal darkened intellects.

Shortly after that conversation I came upon this poem and was encouraged. It is quoted in C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm in answer to the taunting of a skeptic that prayer is nothing more that talking to oneself…

“They tell me, Lord, that when I seem
To be in speech with you,
Since but one voice is heard, it’s all a dream,
One talker aping two.

Sometimes it is, yet not as they
Conceive it.  Rather, I
Seek in myself the things I hoped to say,
But lo! My wells are dry.

Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The listener’s role and through
My dumb lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.

And thus you neither need reply
Nor can; thus, while we seem
Two talkers, thou art One forever, and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.”

When all is said and done, we are His children and it is God who initiates and sustains this relationship we claim to have.   Who can really explain it?!  And yet, it is more real than life itself.  And that gives me something to shine about!

“But you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” Rom.8:15


Blessed–in plenty and in want

Blog due today, after a week of only nibbles in the Word.
When I have not heard His voice, I lose my own.
The crumbs I have to share grow stale.

After a week of relaxing and reveling in sunshine and lovebeams I am turning over one of these ‘tidbits’ in my mind again.  It seemed so out of place to contemplate in the midst of our happy holiday.  I turn to it again to make sense of its ‘blessed’s and ‘woe’s.   Luke 6 is the passage– Luke’s abbreviated version of the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the weeping.
Blessed too the hated, excluded and reviled…
And introspective me threatens my happy lot by asking, ‘Am I these? Shouldn’t I be?’

Having had the wealth to take a holiday, buffets sufficient to stave off any sign of hunger, and delight that took us far from tears and sadness, I wonder, ‘Am I these? The poor? The hungry? The bereft?’ And a niggling of guilt drags at my satisfaction.

The woes that follow feel uncomfortably applicable—
‘Woe to you who are rich’ (you’ve got all you’re getting)
‘Woe to you who are full now’ (hungry times are coming!)
‘Woe to you who laugh now’ (heartbreak ahead!)
‘Woe to you, when all people speak well of you’ (that’s how their ancestors talked about false prophets!)
And I reflect on these truths and wonder how they fit my days.

I have been banqueted and cosseted, lavishly loved and romanced, not only by my life’s true love but by the Lover of my soul.  He fills my life with such tangible tokens of His love.  He knows the very desires of my heart and meets me there.  His words come to me in the night “I delight over you with singing”.  I am finding that not only is God not opposed to pleasure but He actually delights in my delight. He fills my life with good things—not just food and frills—but His presence and His smile.

So why the twinge of guilt as if I’d opened a forbidden present, when in fact I have only enjoyed the lavish banquet He unbegrudgingly set before me?

Have I unwittingly believed that anything delicious, delightful, or in any way seductive is bound to be wrong and best avoided?  Is God in fact romancing my heart while I have held tight to ‘self-denial’ in the name of holiness?  Have I spurned His gifts in an effort to forge my own standards of perfection?  And can I say ‘yes’ to plenty, to beauty, to pleasure… “Yes, and THANK-YOU!” without regret?  I am learning, with wariness. I have been blessed.  I have been made rich.  I am loved beyond measure.  And, I have been entrusted with good things that can turn my heart from its true home.  The warnings of Deuteronomy 6 come to mind.

10 “Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, 12 then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of [fn4] slavery. 13 You shall [fn5] fear only the LORD your God; and you shall [fn6] worship Him and swear by His name. 14 You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, 15 for the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the LORD your God will be kindled against you, and He will [fn7] wipe you off the face of the earth.

How do I avoid the blight of becoming ‘spoiled’, demanding more, or becoming enthralled with the gifts and losing sight of the Giver?

These things too I consider and I give thanks to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. I think this is the key to contentment in plenty and in want.  It is the preventative for becoming a spoiled brat.  It is the antidote for the shock of coming home to normalcy and responsibility.  Giving thanks, in everything.  This is the will of God for me. In thankfulness I can partake of plenty confidently without guilt or misgiving.

I woke one night from a ‘LOSER’ dream.  In this dream I could do nothing right, could not please anyone, could only cause trouble and leave others wishing I were not there…  What a welcome relief to wake and turn my thoughts to ponder instead this One who loves me as I am, wants me always with Him, lavishes His love on me and declares me perfect.  He takes me, holds me, and enters my life to recreate it whole and new and beautiful.  All faults I see, my sins, are all in time, but He is timeless.  He sees the End from the Beginning—perfection, holiness, the finished product.  He is happy, well-pleased, satisfied. And when I awake from the dream that is this lifetime, I will behold His glory and be like Him—just as He created me to be!

And as for the ‘problem’ of the ‘blessed’s.  Matthew amplifies:  Blessed are the poor in spirit…those who mourn…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Theirs is the Kingdom of God, the comfort of God and the satisfaction of being filled with God.

God does not begrudge His children’s pleasure.  There is no inherent holiness or blessing in poverty, deprivation and misery.  There is holiness in yielding my days to the Lover of my soul, receiving His gifts with gratefulness and giving thanks in every circumstance that comes my way, because He is with me in it.  There is blessing in loving Him with all my heart and soul and mind and strength—in presenting my body a living sacrifice for His glory.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Ps.16:11 ESV

Could it be that my capacity for experiencing pleasure is actually enhanced by knowing the God who designed me and following His instruction manual?  That’s a thought for another day.  For today, I’m full of smiles at the memories made in this season of plenty we were given, and I’m thankful ( :

“I will bless the LORD who has counseled me; indeed, my mind instructs me in the night”.
–Ps.16:7 NASB


May I invite you to take a moment to consider this lyrical and tender rendition of a beautiful piece of music that expresses my heart today… [just click on the link below and enjoy.]
What am I Without You by Twila Paris

Transient Illusions point to a greater hope

We’re having a winter get-away in the land of let’s pretend…where darkness is better than light, where life begins at nightfall, where spending is gaining and when the lights go on it’s closing time…In the excesses of this artificial world are a thousand chances to pretend, some more innocent than others.  Is pretending all that bad?  and why do we like such illusions when we know they aren’t for real?

Take for instance our cheap hotel—Let’s pretend we’re at the beach.  Surfboards are at the ready.  Wet footprints in the elevators.  Palm trees and orange décor fill every room in the Ocean Tower but… where’s the surf?!

Tired of the beach, let’s go to Venice.  Serenaded by the gondolier plying his craft down the canal under the quaint footbridges we wander through quaint side streets under a stunningly realistic painted blue sky studded with fluffy clouds.  We are stuck in a sort of ambient twilight zone that makes the mind unwind and the soul dream.  It’s a surreal world of glitzy shops and picturesque cafes and pastry shops, of ‘sidewalk’ restaurants with very unreal prices that must be paid with real money while the world goes peacefully by in virtual happiness…

I have always wanted to visit Venice so was captivated to discover this little ‘world’ within the world of Las Vegas.  As we sat relishing a picture-perfect and delicious fruit tart and breakfast croissant in the early morning quiet of our little wonder-land I got to reflecting on what it is about such unreality that makes it so endearing.

Las Vegas is the epitome of ‘the lust of the eyes’.  What you see is however, not what you get.  It’s pretend.  You can pretend for instance, that “I love you” and “You are mine”, but the morning light will prove it not to be so… Is this why the lighting is such that it is always fading day or darkest night?

The land of pretend is flawless.  The canals do not smell dank.  The tenement housing of New York, New York is quaint and picturesque, not sordid.  The cobblestone streets of Rome are polished and its dictators benign statues.  No coliseum for torturing saints here. It’s magnificent. It’s opulent. It’s decadent.  But, this land of ‘let’s pretend’ is transient.  It represents the worlds we long to live in but never quite find.  Our hearts are drawn to love these things, illusions of the true, better than the real in some ways—this is a land of sanitized miniatures and flawless facades.  Paradise is not here.  Nor is love.  It is these we were made for.  As I sat in that Venetian pastry shop sipping and nibbling I recognized this longing for a beautiful reality that never fades, a lasting love that never tires—things that outlast the night—that befit endless day.

We are made for the real thing, a city that has no need of light for the Son is there.  A city where it is never night but always there is life.  A land of endless day and rapturous love.  On this I choose to set my heart.  The rest is imitation.  Fun to visit, in spots.   And great for kindling dreams of greater things…

“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ, He is the true God and eternal life.  Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” I Jn. 5:20,21


A Forgotten Prayer

“Don’t be afraid, your prayer has been heard.” Lk.1:12

Everyone was praying.  Zechariah too, on duty burning incense.  An angel appears bearing God’s reply.  Zechariah is dumb-founded.  Had he not expected a response?  Had he given up believing?  But the God who does more than we can even ask or think (and never forgets a prayer) had a surprise in store for him.  Not only would there be a baby in his old age, but this would be a son, a special son– filled with the Holy Spirit before he was even born, a son who would be ‘great before the Lord’ (Lk.1:15)

Zechariah had wanted a son and had prayed.  How long had it been since he had stopped asking, stopped hoping, stopped planting the seed?  But God had not forgotten the faith He’d planted in Zechariah’s heart.

And I wonder, what prayer have I prayed long ago with high hopes and young eagerness that has now dwindled in the face of unfulfillment.  Or perhaps faded into cynical disillusionment.  Things don’t ‘seem’ to be turning out as I’d dreamed.  Time to check the dreams against the promises of God to my heart perhaps.  What has He promised?  Am I planting seeds of faith, praying with hope, looking eagerly for God’s intervention in my days?

Zechariah is left quite literally dumb-founded.  Skeptical of the angel’s good news he is left unable to voice his doubt. “You will be silent, unable to speak because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”Lk.1:20 In silence he will wait to see God perform His purpose.  He will have no say in the matter.  But he does have a role to play—when his days in the temple are complete he will go home and celebrate with his wife.  And in God’s time, God’s promise will be fulfilled.  Despite Zechariah’s lapse of faith, God remains faithful.  How reassuring.   But perhaps for me it is not yet too late to call to remembrance the promises given, the prayers prayed in eager faith, and to echo a different reply, Mary’s reply.

When this same angel, Gabriel, came to Mary she asked for some clarification of how his words would come true but was commended for believing.  She had the benefit of hearing Zechariah and Elizabeth’s miracle story of course and the reminder that with God ‘nothing will be impossible’.  Then she simply responded: “Let it be to me according to your word.”  That’s the kind of heart response I want to have. 
Let’s share our miracle stories and remind each other that nothing is impossible for our God… then let’s unearth those old God-given hopes and prayers and waft them to heaven like sweet incense while we wait and celebrate what is yet to be.  And we shall see what God will do, when the time is right.

“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Lk.1:45

The Spirit—alive and well

When a strong, hard-working and talented craftsman sits slumped in mental confusion unable to fasten a snap or string two thoughts together into meaningful speech, the reality is clear.  The outer man is decaying.  The brain as a function of the physical body is wasting away.  What is left?

I have been mulling over these things with particular concern this past week as my own Dad has taken a sharp turn for the worse in his journey with Alzheimer’s.  How can I pray for him?  What understanding do I need in order to see things from God’s perspective?   Our bodies are described as ‘tents’ that house the ‘inner man’, temporary wind-blown affairs that grow tattered and burdensome, tents in which we groan in anticipation of the real deal, the imperishable version.

What resides in the tent that is our body?  A soul with an eternal destiny, whether that be endless torment or unending life!  As I understand it the soul is the very center of my being, my ‘heart’.  From it emanate the values and beliefs that shape who I am as a person.  So what happens when the brain goes ‘haywire’ and the body is no longer able to communicate who I am to people around me? [Incidentally, this belief in an immaterial part of us is not to be taken for granted.  Secularists will mostly deny it, and those who acknowledge an unseen reality want to attribute it to brain chemicals or some such ‘scientifically’ verifiable substance.] Who am I then?  Am I utterly alone in my plight?

I was sitting here this morning considering briefly how to pray for my Dad when these words came to my attention: “Though the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” (Rom.8:10)  A precious comfort is given to the believer, for not only does his ‘tent’ house his own soul, but God’s spirit has also come to dwell there.  He has brought to life the spirit of the man and is able to commune with him there by His Spirit.  The inner man is alive and well!  The Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are indeed God’s children. (Rom. 8:16) Sweet reality, no matter what is happening on the outside,  the inner man is being renewed day by day, ever being transformed into the likeness of Jesus.  This is the believer’s destiny! The whole creation is said to be waiting for the sons of God to be revealed.  Who’s to say whether Alzheimer’s cannot be part of the refining process by which God perfects his saints?  Does God stop working all things for the good of those who love him when they have lost their mental abilities?  Does His Spirit vacate its residence in us because of physical disease?  No, in fact His Spirit is given as a guarantee of our inheritance to come—that imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance kept in heaven for us, guarded by God’s power through faith. (I Pet. 1:4-9)

And it gets even better, there’s more to the work of the Spirit.  How am I to pray?  How is my dad to pray if his mind won’t work? When no one understands his confusion?  When he feels abandoned by his own family and sits forlorn chin in hands… Can the Spirit stir in his spirit to elicit prayer, to give comfort?  I believe so.  We are given a glimpse of the Spirit’s work in Romans 8: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (8:26-27) Does it get any better than that?! The verse following reminds that God is working in everything for the good of the one who loves Him.  What is this good?  Conformity to the image of His own Son—via choosing, calling, justifying, and at last glorifying! Is Alzheimer’s disease an obstacle to His purposes.  Will it separate one from the love of God? Assuredly not.   The lyrics to the powerful hymn “The Love of God” further attest to this fact.  Are you aware where the 3rd stanza originated?  It was found written on the wall of an inmate’s room in an insane assylum:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

So how do I pray for my dad these days?  I am praying from Paul’s prayers that God will grant him to be strengthened with all power through His Spirit in his inner man, so that being rooted and grounded in Christ he may be able to comprehend the full extent of God’s love for him and in so doing, be filled up with all the fullness of the God who is Love.  (Eph.3:16-18)

Not a bad prayer to pray for any of us I’d say—till we all come to maturity in Christ and the perishable has put on the imperishable.

Praise be to God who leads us in triumph in Christ!  (I Cor.15:56)

May your New Year be filled with the awareness of the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord—Christ in us, our hope of glory.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.