March 2nd: John MacMurray

Join us Saturday March 2 from 10am to 4pm at Dead Fish Grill (2207 Lake Road, Belton, TX 76513) in welcoming John MacMurray to discuss his new book “A Spiritual Evolution”. He will discuss his journey in search of God – who loves us relentlessly.

John MacMurray has taught Bible and theology for more than 45 years. He is also an award-winning nature photographer with images appearing in Sierra Club, National Geographic, and Audubon.

“A Spiritual Evolution tells of his journey of transformation – from fear and dogmatism to love and freedom. I have been waiting for this book. If your heart longs to be alive and free, this book is a personal map. Beautiful.” — C. Baxter Kruger, Ph. D.

“A Spiritual Evolution is compelling, kind, humble and generous, as well as brilliant.” — Wm. Paul Young

Workshop Schedule:
10:00 – 10:30 am: Registration
10:30 – 12:30 pm: Session 1
12:30 – 1:30 pm: Lunch break (lunches available at Dead Fish Grill for $11 plus tax)
1:30 – 3:30 pm: Session 2
3:30 – 4:00 pm: Book sales ($15 for softcover) and book signings

WORKSHOP COST: $20 payable at registration in cash or check made to John MacMurray. (Students FREE)
RSVP to Maryann Schaffer: drmaryann1@gmail.com

For more information: Carole McCall (254) 624-6165

To learn more about John and his work, visit his website and blogs at: www.johnmacmurray.com

Already Included #7 – The Gospel of Blindness

Last week I attended Port Orchard Church of the Nazarene in Port Orchard, Washington. There was a guest speaker named Dan Schiopu from Woodland, Oregon. As an interesting coincidence, four months ago I had listened to another talk by Dan that was recorded at the same Port Orchard church back in 2012. I didn’t put two and two together until about a week before Dan was supposed to speak this time. I loved the talk that was recorded in 2012.

The talk Dan gave last week did not disappoint either. I asked Dan if I could have his notes and share where I wanted. He gave his gracious approval and said I could edit them as I saw fit. So here we are. Most of what follows is direct quotations from his notes. Other times I might paraphrase.

I am not going to offer my own commentary because I think the words speak for themselves. However, if there are any comments, I can address them at another time. So without further ado, here is the talk Dan gave. He started with John Godfrey Saxe’s version of a poem entitled “Blind Men and the Elephant”:

It was six men of Indostan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear,
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approach’d the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” -quoth he- “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” -quoth he,-
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said- “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” -quoth he,- “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

There are two streams of the gospel that are in the church today. And in a sense there always was. The first is the gospel of separation and the second is the gospel of blindness. Each of these two streams deal with different issues or address different problems.

The gospel of separation has its roots in Greek dualism. It has been greatly impacting our western worldview through the teachings of Augustin, who lived in the 4th century.

The gospel of separation starts with the premise that Man is separated from God because of sin. Sin is primarily a behavior – the bad things that we have done. The gospel of separation says that God is holy and because of man’s sin, because of Adam’s sin, there was this big gap that was formed between God and man. And because God is too holy to look at sin, God is too holy to be in the presence of sin, God is allergic to sin, then God needed to separate himself from man because of sin. And because of his holiness and justice, God is actually angry, offended, and estranged from His Creation. Therefore, we are objects of His wrath deserving of punishment and eternal damnation.

In the gospel of separation, God is our first problem. God is angry with us. God is against us. There is a big gap between man and God. Something has to happen before God can even look at you. God needs to change before we can have any kind of a close relationship.

The gospel of separation is focusing on sin, or what you have done wrong. Your sinful activities are the main issue. Jesus died for the bad things that you have done. Jesus died for your sins. Jesus died to change God. Jesus died so God can change from angry, vengeful, and ready to punish you to being kind,

gracious, and benevolent towards you. The gospel of separation is behavior-focused and the primary objective is to change God’s predisposition towards you.

There is another alternative: the gospel of blindness. Paul and John are the ones who champion this presentation of the gospel.

Light does not create things. Light reveals things. Light brings to the surface things that were hidden but that were always there. When you enter into a room that is pitch black, you have no idea what is in that room. So you could have access to amazing riches, wisdom, and resources but they are of no avail to you because you cannot see them. When you turn the light on, suddenly you could say: “Wow, who brought these things into the room? When did they get here? How did they get here?” The reality is that they were always there but because you were in darkness you did not know it. It was hidden from you. And when the light came, when the light was turned on, things did not suddenly appear into the room. But rather you were able to discover what was always there even though you did not know it. And because you did not know it, you could not access it, you could not benefit from it, and you could not enjoy it.

One of the primary things that the gospel of blindness reveals is that God has never changed. God has never changed His predisposition towards you. He was always for you. He never deserted you or separated Himself from you.

Let’s look at the two words that most Christians agree are the right response to the Gospel – even though I think we still ask the wrong question: What must we do to be saved?

I think Peter, Paul, and the other disciples gave the right answer. The two words that Jesus used in his interaction with people were repentance and belief.

Repentance simply means metanoia: change the way you think, look at things from a different perspective. Look at God, life, and yourself from a different angle. This invitation of Jesus takes us back to The Garden – where we can look to see where things went wrong. What was the command that God gave to Adam and Eve, the charge that God gave to Adam and Eve? You can eat from any tree of The Garden – life is open before you. Life is a full of possibilities. You can eat from any tree, no restrictions.

God had a big yes for Adam and Eve to experience life – and life more abundantly.

But one thing you need to be aware of: Do not eat apples. Apples are bad for you. Don’t eat from the tree of anger. Don’t eat from the tree of lust. Don’t eat from the tree of… Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

There are so many ways you can look at that passage of Scripture. Let me shine the light on it this way:

Guard your mind: take care of your thoughts. Be careful of what voices and thoughts you allow to roam in your mind. Because your mind and your brain are the center of your life. A healthy mind, a healthy brain can lead to life. A mind that thinks wrong will lead to death.

Neuroscience reveals that all the main aspects of your life originate in your brain. Sometimes we think that our brain controls only the intellectual aspects of our life. Like ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. But your brain is the emotional center of your life. How well you control your emotions starts in your brain – the regulating factor. Your character is shaped by your brain. Your resilience, your self-control, your capacity for compassion and empathy – all have your brain as their starting point. How you interact with the world around you, how you see the world around you – that originates in your brain. Your ability to hope, to anticipate good. Or to despair, to be anxious. These are not functions of your physical heart. They are functions of your brain. Your relationships are shaped by what is going on in your brain. You can also turn that around and say that your relationships are shaping your brain. Your brain determines how you experience life. And your life experience shapes your brain.

God says: You can eat from any tree. Life is open for you. Full of joy, adventures, exploration, discoveries, awesome relationships with one another and with the Trinity. I created you for life and life more abundantly. Your responsibility is to steward your mind. You are in charge of your thoughts. And the quality of your thoughts will impact the quality of your life.

It is an empowering statement. God says: I made you powerful. What happens between your ears determines the direction of your life.

We know the story: Adam and Eve did not heed the charge that God gave them. The results have been tragic. Humanity’s understanding has become darkened. Our whole perception of reality has been distorted. Our images of God, ourselves, and those around us have been perverted.

Isaiah 59:10 graphically describes the problem of the human race: “Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong we are like the dead”.

Jesus comes on the scene and announces: Metanoia – for the kingdom of God is at hand. Life is available for you again. You can eat from any tree. I came to lift the blinders off your mind. I came to give you a new perspective on life. I came to heal your mind. I came to heal your life by healing your brain.

One thing becomes clear when you look at the fall through this perspective: behavior was never the main issue. God’s charge was not about obedience to a command: Listen to Me or else. I am God and it is your job to obey Me. If you obey Me then things are going to go well for you. If you disobey Me then I will have to punish you. Submission, compliance, and obedience are your main responsibilities. I am God and you are man. I am the Creator and you are the creature. I know everything and you know nothing.

Is that why God made you? Let me ask an even more important question: is that how God made you? Is your main goal in life obedience, submission, and compliance? Why have a will in the first place? Why not make you with a default capacity to only say “yes”? To always comply, to always submit, and to always obey.

It is very interesting when you look at Paul’s encounter with God on the way to Damascus. Remember the story about how Paul fell from his horse and was blinded by a bright light. What was Paul’s question? Who are you, Lord? And then the second question was: what do you want me to do?

We build discipleship programs on that question. Many people have made that question the cornerstone of discipleship.

What if we look at that question from a different angle? At least we are allowed to. What if that question tells you more about how Paul saw God than how God really is? What if that question reveals Paul’s idea of a God who by definition requires submission and compliance from his creatures?

Let me shine the light on the angle a little bit more. It is interesting that in Jesus’ interaction with people, Jesus flipped the question around. So instead of people asking Jesus “what do you want me to do?” (sometimes they did), Jesus asked people: What do you want? What do you want me to do for you?

Those are very powerful questions that greatly reveal God’s heart for humanity. God is asking you: What do you want me to do for you?

In some cases, it seemed evident what the people needed. For example, the blind man needed healing. Jesus’ question to the blind man almost seemed like a redundant question. But I believe it was a very important question that reveals a lot about how God treats us. In asking the question, God does not make any assumptions. God honors you by listening to what you say. God does not say: I know what’s best for you; let me just give it to you. He doesn’t push Himself on you. In asking what you want, God is communicating to man: I value you. I respect you. I want relationship with you. And relationships require consent, mutual desire.

But on a deeper level, Jesus addresses a really important core aspect of humanity: your will, your need for autonomy, your need for freedom. God created you in His image and in His likeness. That comes with a need to have a sense of control and autonomy over your life.

Big question: What is God’s will? What is God’s will for my life? People spend hours and days and weeks and years trying to figure out God’s will for their lives. Can you imagine my son asking me every morning: “Dad, what do you want me to do today? Give me a list of things that you want me to do.” Next day: “Dad, what do you want me to do today?” While that would make for a very peaceful life around the Schiopu family, after a couple of days of indulging myself and enjoying my power over him, I would start to be very concerned about his development as a human being. I would then turn the question around and say: “What do you want?”

Relinquishing your ability to choose makes you less human. This is why we as a human race stand up against slavery and any kind of attempt of humans to control, manipulate, or take advantage of other human beings.

Jesus came to restore your humanity. God’s will for your life is for you to discover that God values your will. Part of what makes you human is your ability and the freedom to make choices. God is not interested in your compliance, but rather He is interested in your cooperation. God is not interested in your obedience, but rather He is interested in your participation.

You can command and demand obedience and submission. But you cannot demand cooperation and participation. Cooperation and participation are things that only love can produce.

Is God like a carpenter or is God like a gardener? Does God have a predetermined design for your life or and outward plan that He wants you to fit into. Words like “destiny” and “calling” are big words in Christian circles.

Or is God like a gardener who wants to water, nourish, and protect the seeds that are inside of you? His ultimate desire being that you become your authentic self.

God has no desire to control, manipulate, or coerce you into being someone else. Or into doing something for Him. God does not have a higher agenda that he wants you to accomplish while sacrificing you in the process. God’s highest agenda is you being you – to the fullest. The world is most blessed and changed when you discover what you want and are your most authentic self.

We have images of what a Christian should look like. Todd White is a good model: very evangelistic, outgoing. Reaching out, talking to people on the street. Healing the sick. Words of knowledge.

I am grateful for Todd White, but God did not create you to be Todd. God created you to be you.

We like to create models of what Christians should look like. Every denomination has their own models that depend on their value system. What if we give up trying to live up to a model? What if Jesus’ question for you is: what do you want? What makes you you? What do you desire? Why don’t you stop comparing yourself with other Christians? Why don’t you stop trying to live up to an ideal about what you think you should be and let me help you discover who you are. And part of who you are are things that you might be really good at and some things that you are not very good at.

Metanoia is God’s invitation for you to partner with Him to change, rewire, and heal your brain. It is a partnership.

Circling back around, the second word Jesus used was belief or faith. Sadly, because we looked at the Gospel as a transaction then we made faith or belief a currency of that transaction. We defined faith as:  do you believe the right things? We said the four spiritual laws are you are a sinner, you are separated from God, Jesus died to bridge the gap (He died for your sin), and if you believe the right things about God then you are in the “saved” category. If not, then you are in the “damned” category.

What if we look at the word “belief” or “faith” and replace it with the word “trust”? Trust is a relational word. In this second model, you realize that you cannot command someone to trust you – even if you are God. Trust is not something that you choose to do. Rather, trust is the result of Someone proving Himself as trustworthy. You can only fully trust someone after knowing them and realizing that they are worthy of your trust. Trust is not something that you demand. Trust is something that you earn.

John 16:8-9: When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me.

What does that mean? Is the Holy Spirit going to make them feel guilty because they don’t believe in God? How does he do that? Beat you over the head? “You don’t believe, you don’t believe.”

How is the Holy Spirit going to heal your unbelief? By revealing Himself to you!

Let’s switch the word “believe” with the word “trust”: “The Holy Spirit is going to convict the world of sin because they don’t trust Me.”

How do you make someone trust you? By proving yourself to them as trustworthy. The Holy Spirit is on a mission to gain humanity’s trust back.

What happened in The Garden? Adam and Eve were afraid of God, they no longer trusted God. Because they listened to the wrong voice and were not very good stewards of their minds. Because they believed lies about God then they no longer trusted God.

What was the purpose of the incarnation? God came in the form of a man in order to regain humanity’s trust. God came to prove to the human race: you can trust Me. I was always on your side. I have never deserted you. I was never against you. My name is Emmanuel – God with us!

Scott Schang, a dear friend, had this saying that took me awhile to understand: Jesus came to exonerate the Father.

Jesus came to show us that God is not like how we have thought.

Let me show you what God is like. What did the life of Jesus reveal?

John 3:16-21: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world though him might be saved. He that believes on Him is not condemned; but he that believes not is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God; and this is the condemnation, that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light for fear that his actions will be exposed; but he that does the truth comes to the light to make it plain that all he has done, has been done through God.

“For every one who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light for fear that his actions will be exposed.” Is that a legitimate fear? Should we be afraid to come to the light? Why are we afraid of our deeds being exposed? What would happen next after our deeds are exposed? Can we trust “the light” with our deeds? Or do we have legitimate reasons to be afraid?

John 4 illustrates this powerful truth with the story of the Samaritan woman. You know the story about how the Samaritan woman had a discussion with Jesus while she was getting some water. Jesus uses the water analogy to pinpoint her real problem as “her heart being thirsty”. He promises to quench her thirst forever. Jesus was speaking metaphorically about the thirsting in her soul.

Then Jesus comes a little closer and says: go and call your husband. And she says: I don’t have a husband. And then Jesus says: this is true because you had five husbands and the one with whom you are with now is not your husband.

It got a little too personal. So the Samaritan woman tried to then engage in a religious discussion about worship. Jesus then makes, in my appreciation, the most powerful statement about worship: you will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. There is more going on in that discussion than we have time for right now.

Verses 28-29: The woman left her water pot, and went her way into the city and said to the men, come and see a man which told me all things that I ever did. Is this not the Christ? Then they went out of the city and came to him.

Isn’t that a little strange? This woman was known for her immoral lifestyle. She comes and tells the people from the city: “Hey, this guy told me all the bad things I ever did.” And then the response of the people is: “Wow, that’s cool! Let’s go and have all our dirty laundry exposed for everyone to know. That sounds like a good idea. This guy knows all our secret sins and wants to expose them. Let’s go and meet him. Who wouldn’t want that? Let’s run into the light.”

That completely contradicts what John 3 says. What happened to these people? What did the woman say to the people that caused them to not be afraid of the light? What did the woman experience that caused her to trust the light and encourage others to do the same? What happened? How did Jesus gain her trust?

What do people expect to get when their evil deeds are exposed? Judgments, accusation, punishment, shame, and labeling. See John 8 about the woman caught in adultery. If this is how the religious leaders of the day treated people when their evil was exposed, then probably this is how God must be like? No wonder people are afraid to come to the light.

How did Jesus gain her trust? Jesus understood her. Why did Jesus bring up her five husbands? To embarrass her? First of all, to show her: “I know you as you are and I accept you as you are.”

Religion only accepted her with fig leaves on. As long as she could hide her evil deeds then she was accepted by religion. That is why she was afraid to come to the light.

In opening the door about her past, Jesus showed her: I know you and I don’t judge you, I don’t condemn you, I don’t shame you, and I don’t turn my back on you.

Jesus opened the door to her history, to listen to her story: I want to know you and understand you. I know what happened to you when you were a little girl. I know about the toxic environment you grew up in. I know you never encountered unconditional love. I know your heart was always searching for love, but unable to find it. So, you went from relationship to relationship. I understand you. I fully accept you. I embrace you where you are, as you are – with no expectation, no obligation. I love you. I see beyond your actions, beyond your behavior. I see the pain of your heart. I see the hunger of your soul. I see the goodness that I put in there when I made you. I believe you.

So, when she went to her friends in the city, maybe she said: “This man knew everything about me and I felt no accusation from him, no condemnation from him, no judgment. I actually felt safe. I felt loved. He listened to my story and He understood, accepted and embraced me as I am. I felt valuable and important. I actually felt clean. I actually felt alive. I feel like I am not thirsty again in my soul. My soul has found what it was looking for. His light penetrated my darkness and set me free from it. Could this be the Messiah?”

This is the condemnation, the judgment that the world is under; They are afraid to come to my light, they are afraid to come to me, because They don’t trust me, they think that , if they come to my light, they will be judged, accused, condemned, rejected; So they prefer to stay in darkness; This is the condemnation that I came to lift from the people – that somehow their evil deeds are a problem for me. This is why Adam and Eve have hidden behind the trees in the garden, because they were afraid to come to me, thinking that I want to expose, accuse, condemn and judge them for what they have done wrong. I came to regain their trust, by identifying myself fully with them.

Hebrews 2:14-18. Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death. It’s obvious, of course, that he didn’t go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham. That’s why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high

priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed.

Hebrews 4: 14-16. Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. For we have no superhuman High Priest to whom our weaknesses are unintelligible—he himself has shared fully in all our experience of temptation, except that he never sinned.

Brennan Manning, the author of “The Furious Longings of God”, shares how he went into a European country. In order for him to be able to minister in a certain prison, he would have to turn himself in as a prisoner. He would have to live in the prison. He chose to do that in order to minister to the criminals in the prison. Even though he was innocent, he put on prison clothes.

Why did Jesus became a man? One of the reasons is to bridge the gap of trust. He became like us, lived like us, saw and experienced life through our eyes – so he can look every human in the eye and say: I understand you and I accept you.

One of the greatest needs of the human heart is to be understood and accepted for who they are, as they are, where they are. That is what builds the bridge of trust. That is what opens the heart to the process of healing.

Metanoia will change your life. The healing of your brain, the healing of your mind, will bring personal transformation.

Trust heals our hearts and opens the door for metanoia to happen in our lives.