My Monkeysphere

“I want Jesus to be in my monkeysphere.”

Okay, weird conversation piece, maybe. First, what’s a monkeysphere (if you don’t know), and second, did I go off the sacrilegious deep end or what?

1. The “monkeysphere” is a term for the number of interpersonal relationships a brain can generally maintain and care about. The term comes from monkey research where the scientists discovered that the monkeys’ brains would only allow them to form societies up to a certain number of other monkeys. A bigger brain permitted a larger society. They then tried using a human brain and ended up boosting the monkey’s “sphere” of relationships from 50 to 150.

Basically, the monkeysphere is the collection of people you actually care about and think about as real people… not just friends on Facebook, or nameless humans that intersect your daily life. A good example is the trash man, whose job dramatically affects your quality of life, but whose name you probably do not know or care to discover.

The wiki article about it seems to make it pretty clear.

Clear on that one? Good.

2. No, I’m not losing my faith or mocking Christ. My wife and I were talking about how we relate to God, and she made the comment that she really wants to remember the personhood and humanity of Christ. A Man, someone she cares deeply for, willingly suffered beating and shame. He chose to endure anguish and agony, and He accepted His own execution.

Jesus is the soldier who jumps on the grenade to save the other soldiers in the trench (except multiplied by 20 billion or so).

If a person does that for you in real life, it’s kind of hard to forget it.

The fact that I can say it that way, and you probably understood and agreed – that says something about how we view Him.

I find I happily recognize and recount the transaction, the theology, the spiritual “chemical” reaction that took place at the Cross. My sins were washed away by His blood, my inky stain of death was turned scarlet, and my scarlet sins were washed clean. I can quote the scriptures to say what took place: He died for all, that those who live should live for themselves no longer, but for Him who died and rose again… if through one man, death reigned in all men, how much more shall life reign through the one Man Christ Jesus… for there is no other mediator between God and men… and so on.

It’s a historical fact. On such-and-such day, the battle of Gettysburg was won by the Union. Abraham Lincoln wrote a powerful speech about it. And on such-and-such day way back in 33 AD or 29 AD or whatever, the battle over sin and death and hell was won by the Messiah. And Paul the Apostle wrote some really powerful speeches about it. I like to quote them, just like I enjoy hearing “Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…”

Hopefully my point is becoming clear.

I find it easy to recognize Jesus’ unique place in history and theology.

I find it all too easy to stop there.

I don’t want a historical figure. I don’t want a relationship with a spiritual principle, nor an affection for a moving quote.

I want a personal relationship, a constant interaction, a recognition that there was a Man… and not just any Man, but my best Friend… and when the enemy opened fire, He jumped in front of me, arms wide, to protect me from every deadly shot.

You don’t forget that sort of love. And neither do you recall it with cold distance. It changes your life.

Oh, and don’t forget, dear self… all those other monkeys outside my sphere? He did the same for them.

Maybe I should care. Because He does.

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Don’t You Know

A while back I posted about building a spiritual fire in worship ministry, followed by a post on bringing the heat. I used the “fire triangle” as an analogy. To have a fire, you need fuel, heat, and oxygen. Remove any one of the three, and you no longer have a fire. The fuel for worship ministry is technical excellence, the foundation on which we build everything else. The heat is the excellence of heart, the passion and the energy we bring into our ministry.

My worship pastor pointed out that even with both technical and heart excellence, we still require the action of the Holy Spirit in order for worship to be meaningful and effective.

“Apart from Me you can do nothing” – Jesus.

The movement of God is absolutely a necessary part of the “fire triangle” of our worship. And every worshiper I know is well aware of that fact.

What I also note is, so many act like we have to beg God to show up and then hope for the best.

We often use terms like “leading people into His presence” or “taking the congregation somewhere we’ve already been” in terms of going somewhere else to get to God. We speak of inviting or welcoming God’s presence into the sanctuary or place of worship. We ask God to come join us.

We forget:  God is in us.

The big change in the New Testament gospel message isn’t simply that our sins are forgiven. Don’t get me wrong, that’s huge and I’m grateful. But that was a means to an end. Our sins separated us from God (see Isaiah 59:2). The cross does away with them. Our salvation by grace through faith in Christ unites us with God – puts His presence right inside of us, which was the promise all along. Emmanuel, God with us.

Everywhere we go, God is there. Not just in the sense of “omnipresence” like God is invisibly but spiritually everywhere and there’s no place we could go where He cannot (Psalm 139 speaks to this).

No, God is alive and active inside of His people. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit; God is working in us, Christ in us – the hope of glory.

So the question isn’t “Will God show up today?” or “Did we welcome His presence properly?”

The question is, “Did I set my mind on Him? Did I recognize His already-present activity in our midst? Did I come here with my agenda and idea about how things would go, or did I set all that aside with the recognition of His presence among His people?”

One of my pastors spoke of invoking the presence of God on a daily basis – not that we have power to command God to show up, but we have the ability to remember and remind ourselves that God is already here.

He would ask, using 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Don’t you know?” And the question is valid, because so often our words reflect that we’re not appreciating this spiritual reality.

Oxygen is all around us. Sure, there are ways to smother a fire, just as we can quench the Spirit. And there are special moments where God moves in a powerful and unexpected way, breathing on our embers and causing a flame of revival or a deep response to spring up from the smallest fire.

But if we’re committed to living for God, we’re going to be experiencing His presence as routinely as we breathe in and breathe out. He becomes a part of our lives.

<blockquote>”19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB</blockquote>

Strong Language

Continuing the A to Z blog challenge, we come to ‘T’ for which I have chosen theology.

As worshipers seeking God, we must have an understanding of Who He is and what He says. We need words for how He interacts with us and the qualities He displays. Theology provides us with that language, and gives us a much-needed standard (as near to a standard as one can get with matters of faith) which keeps us going straight.

We are to be people of truth – another strong contender for the T blog – since Jesus declared that those who worship the Father must worship in spirit and in truth.

Theology is the active study of that truth, the search and observation of God’s interactions with humanity, the organization and classification of thoughts and concepts about God. It’s the ‘science’ of religion, supplying clear vocabulary, enabling in-depth discussion and further study.

Research by people like George Barna and David Kinneman show a Western Christianity that is dreadful in its lack of theological foundation. There are far too many of our brothers and sisters running around proclaiming maturity after years in church pews, but with little to no grasp of core biblical truths. People would claim to follow Christ and yet hold to teachings that directly contradict Scripture.

It’s like kindergarteners playing house, trying to imitate the grown-ups around them.

I’m talking about myself in so many ways here. If I think I’m above all that, and I have such better understanding, all I’m doing is making myself the spiritual emo kid standing off to the side watching everyone else with contempt while remaining completely uninvolved in anything productive or beneficial to the kingdom. So I’m no better, nor am I claiming to be.

Disciplined efforts to learn more about God – not just through personal experience but through systematic study of the established truths of Scripture – this is part of what I believe it means to worship in truth.

We don’t just rely on haphazard encounters with God. We also benefit from intentionally engaging God’s Word with the perspective of teachers in the Body and the works of spiritual giants in the past. That way, we’re not learning every so often as we go about playing church, we’re building our understanding in the same way that 2nd grade material builds on 1st, and 3rd grade lessons require a grasp of the 2nd grade teachings.

The writer of Hebrews speaks to his audience about their need for basic teachings, and indicates that a discipline of practice will help believers mature properly:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14 NASB)

In the same way, Paul talks about taking full advantage of the gifts provided to the church:

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, (Ephesians 4:14, 15 NASB)

Strong theology gives us powerful words that fuel our worship. As we realize more and more who God is and what He has done for us, we find more reasons to draw nearer, more cause to praise Him, more passion to help us chase after Him.

And when we find Him, overwhelmed by the reality of His love, we worship in response to the truth.

My Keep

One of the best parts of raising kids is watching them learn to communicate. Children always have unique ways of saying things, and my daughter was no exception.

Sometimes, they try so hard but just can’t form the word. “Snake” becomes “NAKE-ssk.”

My two year old son loves Doctor Who and chants “DAH TOR HOO” over and over when the show comes on.

We saw a giant stuffed Domokun in the Toys ‘R’ Us on Okinawa, and Deborah declared it was “the LION.” I waved it at her and said, “Rawr.” She waved her hands and demanded, “AGH! I HATE THAT! GIVE ME THAT!” with impeccable two year old logic.

My wife’s favorite might have been when Deborah picked up a toy phone and declared, “Mommy, I haf to make a cone fall.”

But I think my favorite is what she would say when she gave me a hug. She would squeeze tight and declare, “You are my keep.” In other words, I am keeping you and not letting go. You belong to me.

Yesterday’s letter in the A to Z blog challenge was ‘K.’ So I am thinking of being someone’s keep.

This is one of the greatest facets of our relationship with the Father, and inspires my worship of God. He declares His everlasting love and promises to never let go. He wraps His arms around us and proudly proclaims, “You are My keep.”

A “keep” is a refuge, a place of defense.

In Psalm 31:2 (NKJV), David writes:

Bow down Your ear to me,
Deliver me speedily;
Be my rock of refuge,
A fortress of defense to save me.

Later he declares,

Trust in Him at all times, you people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us. (Psalm 62:8 NKJV)

But that’s more about us running to God for safety. I am even more moved when I think of how God reaches for us and promises to keep us. Consider Jude 24 (NKJV):

Now to Him who is able to keep youfrom stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy

Perhaps the clearest picture is that of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, and how He cares for His flock:

27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.” (John 10:27-30 NKJV)

Can you imagine the God of the Universe speaking to you and expressing His love? Can you hear His promise of companionship and affection?

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…
because you are precious to me.
You are honored, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:1-4 NLT)

In other words, “You are My keep.”

The Journey

“It’s a journey, not a destination.”

Today, that was a friend’s comment on happiness. I’ve heard that said about relationships, about financial responsibility, even about being a whole person who lives the way the Air Force wants its Airmen to exemplify.

I’ve even said this phrase. Two days ago, for the H entry, I mentioned the hope we enjoy, knowing that we can strive for a closer relationship with God and a deeper spirituality. We’ll never arrive at a point where we can say we’re done, but every day, we can take steps in the right direction. I also made the same point about a fitness lifestyle on my other A to Z blog.

With that in mind, today’s joint topic on both this blog and the fitness blog is: the journey.

So what does this really mean?

For me, it means asking not only what goal I have in sight but also where am I actually headed. If we are believers in Christ then it makes sense to say that we will have Christ and some form of Christ-like living as the goal we home in on. But having that as a stated goal doesn’t mean we’re making progress toward it.

Campus Crusade for Christ uses a tract with a graphic meant to depict the difference that takes place in our lives after we accept Christ.

Three examples of our spiritual nature

Three examples of our spiritual nature

The first picture reflects our state before we were saved, where Self sits on the throne, Christ is out of the picture, and we do as we please. The black circles of various shapes and sizes are meant to portray our efforts and interests. In the first state, we do what we please.

The second shows the idea of a “carnal Christian,” someone who has “faith” as a part of their life but still does what they please. Christ is in the circle, but Self is on the throne.

The last circle puts Christ on the throne and Self at His feet, with interests and efforts balanced, ordered and directed by the Savior, not Self. That’s the ideal for a believer in Christ. That’s part of going on the journey.

But that’s not all. There’s a key point I believe we must understand.

When we think about spirituality, we often assume that the closer you are to God, the more spiritual you must be. A mean-spirited lustful slob of a man is pretty far away from Christ, where we might look at a faithful pastor or public figure and assume they’re pretty near to Christ. This is a faulty assumption. Sometimes the non-believer is more spiritual than the believer. How can that be?

Where you're headed matters.

Where you’re headed matters.

With a journey, it’s not just the goal that matters. It matters how you’re progressing toward that goal.

When my wife and I are headed to a new place in Omaha, we sometimes pop open maps on the iPhone and turn on location services. A little blue ball pops up to show us where we are, and it moves along as we drive. We might be really close to the red ball marking the destination on the map. But if we’re driving away from it, are we better off by virtue of being “on a journey” toward the destination? Of course not. Not at all!

Spiritually speaking, Christ is our destination, and He is moving and doing things in the world around us. Is our little blue marker slowly moving toward Him, moving with Him, orienting to Him, even if we’re on the other side of town? That’s healthy spirituality, recognizing that we may be nowhere near the level we want to be, while keeping focused on how to get there.

On the other hand, we might see Christian figures who are “so godly” in public and yet find out that they stopped moving toward the red location some time ago and started doing their own thing. Maybe they were really close compared to me, but it doesn’t matter, because they aren’t moving toward the goal, staying in line with Christ. They’re driving away.

“It’s a journey” doesn’t simply mean we should enjoy the process along the way. It means we should know where we’re headed, and roughly how we go about getting there. Then we should point ourselves in the right direction and take steps. No matter how far away we are from the mark, if we’re aiming for it and moving toward it, that’s what makes us “spiritual.”

 

Song: Rain Over Me

Sow for yourselves righteousness;
Reap in mercy;
Break up your fallow ground,
For it is time to seek the Lord,
Till He comes and rains righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12 NJKV

Rain Over Me – audio file posted on SoundCloud

I was playing Hide and Seek with my kids the other day. They’re quite talented, but I excel at cheating. While I was counting, I kept messing up… skipping numbers, counting past the agreed upon number, forgetting what number I was on.

That way, I got them to talk and tell me I was doing it wrong.

And them talking told me roughly where they were hiding.

Jonathan is the sneakiest of the bunch. Deborah and Justin do pretty good at hiding, but Jonathan–it’s like he can fold himself up into a little cube and hide anywhere. He’s a ninja.

True story: When he was seven years old, we had the following conversation:

“Dad, I think I want to be a scientist who studies rocks when I grow up.  …or maybe a ninja.”

“Jonathan, that’s really neat. But being a ninja is hard.”

“I think I’d make a great ninja.”

“Really? Why is that?”

“Well… Ninjas have to be good at climbing, and I’m great at climbing. I climb the trees around our house better than any of the other kids.”

I knew this to be true.

“And ninjas have to be good at sneaking, and I’m great at sneaking. I was hiding in the bushes right next to my friend, and he didn’t even know I was there!”

He thinks for a moment.

“Ninjas have to be good at martial arts, too. I have to work on that.”

Back to Hide and Seek… Jonathan lurks in a cabinet. Jonathan climbs up on the shelves above the refrigerator. Jonathan squeezes himself into a small cabinet at the bottom of our entertainment center. It’s ridiculous how easily he hides anywhere he wants.

Then it’s my turn to hide, and I decide to have some fun. Justin (our seven year old) is now the “seeker,” so I make it easier on him. I try stuffing myself into the cabinet where Jonathan hid. Sadly, I’m a little pudgy compared to him, and so try as I might, I can’t quite fit in there. My head is sticking out.

But the point of Hide and Seek is to be found. That’s part of the fun.

In his book, God Chasers, Tommy Tenney writes about hide and seek with his daughters (if memory serves). And he equates the game of hide and seek to our relationship with God.

There are times when we seek God but He seems hidden, far removed, silent. Tenney talks about how he stays hidden while his daughters are enjoying the game, but there comes a point where they become desperate. Maybe Daddy has really left. Maybe he’s not here anymore. Maybe I’m all alone. 

Their tears start to flow and their laughter turns to crying. And the heart of the father is stirred to make himself known, to burst out of hiding and rush to the child, to catch them up in his arms and reassure them that “I have been here all along. I would never leave you nor forsake you.”

Tenney talks about that cry of desperate need and how it catches the Father’s heart and, in a way, commands His attention.

Can you imagine God that way? Can you see the loving Father who sometimes hides His face? Can you picture the tug on His heart when we become desperate and cry out for Him? Can you see the “Hider” turning into the “Seeker” as He rushes to scoop us up and reassure us that all will work out, everything will be fine? Can you hear Him whisper, “It’s okay, I am here. I never left you, even though you didn’t know where I was.”

Hosea 10:12 was a theme verse for my church back in 2001.  We really focused on the thought that God is out there just waiting to be found, and as we live out righteousness and experience His lovingkindness and mercy, as we break up the hard ground of our hearts in our desperation for Him, we can trust that He will turn and respond to our cries. He will come and rain down His righteousness upon us.

“Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you.”

“Seek the Lord while He may be found.”

“It is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness upon you.”

We seek God, calling out to Him… until we discover He is coming toward us — the father running out to meet the prodigal child — ready to embrace us and pour out His love on us again.

I always want to surrender to that love. I always want the “ground” of my heart to be broken up, softened, ready for His work. I always want Him to come and pour out the rain of His Spirit over me.

Rain Over Me

You are all I need

Jesus, You’re my everything

You’re the One I’ll seek

For all my life

 

Your all-sufficiency

Answers my dependency

Your unfailing love

Is now my life

 

I will seek You with the rising sun

And serve You till the day is done

Jesus, every day I’ll praise Your name

I will follow You in righteousness

To know Your lovingkindness

Seeking You until I catch Your heart

And You rain over me

 

Rain over me, rain over me

(repeat)