Naked in the Streets

Nakedness isn’t about what I have. It’s about what I don’t have.

When I’m naked, as in “naked and unashamed,” I am without clothes. If I’m using “naked” as a metaphor – and I am – then I’m writing the absence of the things for which “being clothed” is a metaphor. I’m also writing about the absence of the things for which “being armored” is a metaphor.

Some time ago, God showed me a series of weird pictures about self protection. Clothes are a layer of protection, though not generally from great big bad things. A t-shirt and shorts protect me from a cool breeze, from embarrassment, from abrasions and scrapes.

Now think of wearing a layer of heavier clothes: more protection, right?

Beyond that, if I’m wearing body armor, then I’m probably planning on going in harm’s way, to places where I need protection from greater weapons and greater attack than a t-shirt will provide. (Either that, or I’m trying to impress the ladies, and that’s not part of today’s conversation.)

The image I saw was actually from the ‘70s movie Rollerball: where armored men played a testosterone-charged sport with armor and spikes (I told you it was weird!). In spite of the armor, it was a remarkably bloody sport.

The next picture was modern soldiers in an Abrams M1 tank: monster gun on top, monster engine in the back, several inches of armor protecting those inside. Did you know that there are weapons specifically engineered to successfully penetrate that much armor?

This is the way He presented it to me: no matter how well armored I am, there’s always a weapon that’s powerful enough to penetrate the armor. If I’m wearing a t -shirt, then my armor can be pierced when I trip and skin my knee, or by a stray blackberry bramble. On the other hand, if my armor is in the form of an Abrams tank, then it takes an armor-piercing shell or a larger-than-average land mine to penetrate my armor.

It’s true that were I to wear the ugly Rollerball armor or the thick steel of an Abrams tank, then I’m pretty effectively protected from skinned knees and blackberry brambles. I’m also protected from machine guns, hand grenades, and drunk drivers.

So which looks like the more effective armor? First glance rather looks like the heavier the armor, the more I’m protected doesn’t it? That’s what I thought too.

And then He pointed out that I can easily survive a skinned knee; and when my t-shirt “armor” is penetrated by a blackberry bramble, sure it hurts a little, and I bleed a tiny bit, but then I go about my day. I don’t venture into land mines or armor piercing shells, because I know that the armor that I’m wearing – the t-shirt that I’m wearing – is completely insufficient of itself to protect me from that level of warfare.

On the other hand, if my armor is thick like the steel of a tank, then when (not if) the armor is pierced, I will be destroyed: I’ll be completely dead. But think about this: if there are enemies in the neighborhood that have armor piercing shells, they’re looking for a tank to shoot at. They’ll never waste those shells on a guy in shorts and a t-shirt.

In other words, the strength of my defenses will to some degree determine the strength of the attack that comes against me. And at some point, an attack will get through my personal defenses. And then what will I do?

So which is the safer place: when I’m well protected behind several inches of steel? Or when I’m wandering around in out-of-fashion gym shorts and a worn-out T-shirt?

There is an application, of course, about walking before God with our defenses down. When we armor ourselves to keep the bad guys out, we keep the good guys out, too. Our armor may be our self-sufficiency, our pride, an unwillingness to let people speak into our lives, or it may be fear of trying something new: it’s anything that protects us from the people around us; it’s anything that keeps from being “members of one another.”

Those defenses – that personal armor – has two problems: first, it seems that people with a strong defense attract stronger attacks. And second, while it keeps out things that can make me hurt, it also keeps out things that can make me better, like my brothers and sisters in Christ, or the presence of a living God.

Now let me clarify: I am not talking about the spiritual armor of Ephesians 6. I’m talking about my own armor, my own defenses. I absolutely need God’s armor, because it’s the only thing that actually cannot be overcome; there is no weapon that is forged against me that can prevail against His armor protecting me, and His armor doesn’t keep Him out of my life.

But in regards to my own defenses, the less I have, the better. Ideally, I’ll walk before God “naked and unashamed” like Adam did. Ideally, I’ll walk with “naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” I’ll live with my life open and uncovered from the eyes of the world. Naked (uh… that’s metaphorical, remember) in the streets.

But doesn’t that leave me open to attack? to being hurt by stupid people or stupid choices?

Well, yes, actually it does, all that and more: I can be wounded by stupid people, by evil people, and I can be wounded by good people in a moment of weakness, too. But the solution isn’t to develop stronger defenses. It’s to be as defenseless – in ourselves – as possible, to take the hits and be wounded, and then to learn to be healed quickly and effectively.

So I am encouraging us to be – spiritually, not physically, of course – naked in the streets: without the defenses of a hard heart, of a manipulative soul: to be open and transparent before God and before our fellow man, and to learn to heal quickly from the wounds that do come our way.

Simple, Powerful Tools

Simple, Powerful Tools

My wife – in addition to being a wonderful human being – is also a gardener. I’ve learned some interesting lessons from her gardens.

One of the most embarrassing lessons is about garden tools.

When Christmas or her birthday roll around, I often find myself in the garden aisle, looking at garden tools. Do you have any idea how many garden tools there are? There are thousands. There are whole, entire catalogs devoted to the latest, greatest, coolest and most high-tech gardening tools! Can you believe it?

Here’s the embarrassing thing: the latest and most high tech gift tools usually fail in comparison to the good old-fashioned tools like shovels and hoes. Best of all are hands; hands with gloves, yes, but hands are the best tools of all.

So the principle is that in gardening, simple tools are better than complex, new-fangled tools.

I think it works that way in the things of God as well, and that’s where I’m going with this. Years ago, one of my mentors taught me (well, “taught us”, a group of us) about a couple of really simple tools when praying – particularly when asking God questions, which is where our faith sometimes stumbles.

I have to admit that at the time, I thought they were so elementary that they were cheesy, simplistic, foolish. I went along with them mostly because I respect him and his team, and these tools work for his group, but secretly, I thought I was past them.

The tools – or weapons, if you like that metaphor – come from 1John:

1 John 2:22 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.

1 John 4: 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

The whole premise of 1John is that there are deceivers in the world, both people and spirits. Have you ever heard something in your spirit and asked “Was that God?” That’s really appropriate: there are (IMHO) four possible voices that I could hear when I’m praying (this is very basic):

1. It could be God.

2. It could be my own soul speaking.

3. There are demonic spirits that are eager to deceive, and

4. Under some circumstances, the spirits – or at least the desires and choices – of other people can influence us.

If you think about it, these two verses offer two tests for that very question, the question of “Is this God,” which implies “… or is this some other spirit?” So when they’re going to ask God questions, this guy and his team introduce their prayer time by addressing the Holy Spirit – and then to make sure they’re not being deceived (or "spoofed") – they ask two more questions:

1. “Whom do you say that Jesus is?” and

2. “Did Jesus come in the flesh?”

This is something equivalent of a test for the email that claims to be from your bank: is it really from your bank, or is it a “spoof” email. The idea is nothing new; the demonic realm has been “spoofing” the Holy Spirit for years! (How else do you explain Mormonism?)

If the answer they hear back is questionable, they know they're being spoofed: it's another spirit claiming to be the Holy Spirit, but it's been un-masked by the simple theology of First John. You can see that these questions necessarily require humility: I must acknowledge that I can be deceived – an admission that many in the Church have difficulty making.

So I’ve begun using these “simple tools” in my own prayer times. I haven’t talked about it (until now) because it embarrassed me: I saw myself as more sophisticated than that. But I’ve begun to value “sophistication” less than I used to, and as I’ve begun to use these simple – even simplistic – questions in my prayer, I’ve found myself asking, “Was that God?” far less often, I’ve found myself becoming more humble in my prayers, and I’ve been learning more. I’ve discovered something of the Holy Spirit’s quick wit, and I’m discovering how much fun He is to hang around when I’m not having to question everything He says!

May I recommend simplicity in your relationship with God, and may I commend the use of these questions when you’re asking for yourself, “Was that God?” It really helps, provided you can get past the simplicity. Like simple garden tools: the simplest disciplines in the Kingdom are often among the most useful.


The Priests Profane the Sabbath.

It will be easy to misinterpret my thoughts here today. I’m going to challenge some of the favorite beliefs of the Pharisaical spirit of today. There are a number of statements that have often come in this context which I am not saying here: please don’t hear more than I’m saying. And I’m only describing one side of this debate. Feel free to add comments with another side if you like.

Yet again, the Pharisees were angry with Jesus and how much freedom He gave His boys.

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!" 3 But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? 6 Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. 7 But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." (Matthew 12)

This is a story about profanity, which is to say that it’s about some folks profaning what is sacred to someone else. It’s all about being offended in the name of God, and how Jesus deals with that.

  1. The boys offended the Pharisees because they broke – not God’s law – the Pharisees’ interpretation of God’s law.
  2. The Pharisees’ response ticks Jesus off. The text doesn’t say if He was angry, but He certainly does get confrontational in His response.
  3. Clearly, Jesus’ response offends the Pharisees. In fact, that seems to be part of His purpose here. Judging their response to His next miracle, He succeeded.
  4. His response describes how the priests profane the Sabbath that they serve, by obeying the very Law that the Pharisees are whining about.
  5. His bottom line is in the last verse: the focus here is not about keeping the rules, but about recognizing the True Authority when He walks among us.

But first and foremost, I see Jesus defending His boys, and I’m impressed yet again. When our people are attacked or accused, perhaps particularly when they’re attacked by a religious spirit, it is our place to defend them.

More important to today’s conversation is how Jesus handles the Word in His defense of His boys. He does refer to the Word, but He handles the Word it in a completely different manner from what I see among preachers and pastors and other Word-handlers today.

I’ve been taught that there are two basic ways to handle the Word today: Deductively, where I hold certain beliefs, and I go to the Word to find either teaching or examples that support my beliefs, and Inductively, where I come to the Word and sit under it in order to let it speak to me.

Jesus does neither. He takes a story of men running for their lives, of men acting in desperation. Apparently there is a third way to handle the Word: prophetically. The Spirit of God – whose job description includes guiding me into all truth – apparently thinks He has the authority to grab scripture out of context and bring fresh revelation from that.

Jesus, whom John says is the Word incarnate, uses that story – completely out of context, mind you – to confront well-established religious doctrine: principles that are pretty well beyond questioning. That’s a tough assignment already, but more than that, He actually expects them to understand the principles of the Kingdom based on that out-of-context story taken from the history books they teach others from.

A brief digression: I am not Jesus: I am not the Word incarnate, so I don’t have the same authority to wield His Word. I probably want to reserve the bulk my out-of-context revelation for personal conversation between myself and my Heavenly Lover. Certainly, I’ll need compare my newly-found revelation to the whole of scripture before releasing it publicly. And comparing my revelation to church history may guard me against some of history’s favorite heresies. Let’s not be stupid here.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there: the Son of God, the Word Incarnate, brings to their attention an example of the Word contradicting the Word. Nowadays, we run and hide from apparent contradictions in the Word, and as a result, the world thinks us shallow and ignorant; I’m not sure they’re wrong. Jesus seems to seek those apparent contradictions out, and He wields them as a bludgeon against the religious spirit of the Pharisees, while He teaches his boys spiritual principles they couldn’t learn from those religious leaders. He doesn’t explain the answer at all, so it looks like the question is more valuable than the answer.

So Jesus, who is my example, shows me several things in this story:

  • Defend your friends, even against religious leaders. (Note to self: “religious leaders” does not equal “spiritual leaders,” but that’s for another day.)
  • Let God speak from His word, even if what He’s saying is completely different from what your religious leaders have taught you. Don’t be the Pharisee. Don’t follow the Pharisees.
  • Don’t hide from contradictions and things hard to understand. God often has secrets hidden there. Asking the questions properly – and specifically not having all the answers – is often the right position.

Conclusion: we must obey God rather than men. We need to be in community in order to guard against heresy, but heresy is maybe not as much of a danger to the development of disciples who know the Holy Spirit as religious traditions may be.