Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Who sold us on a divided heart?  It's sadly impressive. We sing and feel one way on Sunday and talk and act another way on Monday.  It seems that the combination of God's grace and our capacity to compartmentalize produces tolerance in us.  In fact, we get so accustomed to it that we no longer identify it as a problem. Surely God understands?

We need to be careful not to equate tolerance with grace.  Tolerance is a neutralizing energy that blurs the line between right and wrong.  Grace is an empowering energy that differentiates right and wrong. God is not tolerating our sin when He graciously extends forgiveness.  He is not endorsing a divided heart.  He is actually providing the means to heal it.

In Psalm 86:11 the psalmist asks God specifically to "give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name."  The verb yachad used here is rather rare in the Hebrew Scriptures only occurring 2 other times (Genesis 49:6 and Isaiah 14:20).  The word literally means "to unite."

I am caught by two observations.  First, only God can unite a divided heart. The Psalmist is crystal clear.  He does not ask God to assist him in uniting his heart. He pointedly asks God to just do it.  John Calvin said, "Our hearts are factories for idols." Well guess what?  Only God can shut down the factory.  If left to our ingenuity, we will find ourselves with hearts that constantly desire and chase the lesser ways of this world.  But God can fix that.

And secondly, the purpose of a united heart is to "fear (respect) the name of the Lord."  A divided heart breeds disrespect and lack of fear of the Lord.  We assume there is no long-term consequence for our inconsistencies.  But a united heart brings back into focus the holiness of God.  We are once again captured by the presence of God in our lives, longing to remain in His goodness and righteousness.  A united heart breeds joy and desire for the higher ways of God.    

A tired soul occurs when a heart is constantly tugged in contradictory directions.  We are lulled into believing that it takes no toll on us.  But than we experience a united heart and suddenly realize how sick we were.  And life returns to our aching bones. Why did we wait so long?

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The iBias

We are prone to think that the instantaneous work of God is more exciting and spiritual than the process work of God.  Process tends to feel boring and natural, almost unworthy to proclaim.  It's for people who do not have enough faith.  It's what happens to us if God does not answer our preferred prayer requests. When was the last time you heard a testimony that sounded like this?

     "The last seven years has been a long, tedious obedience in the same direction.  I have taken three  steps forward and one back repeatedly.  It seems more like a battle than an easy walk with the Lord.  I have experienced both frustration and joy, hope and despair,  victory and loss, peace and anxiety, and presence and isolation.  I, through God's help and direction, have been slowly addressing personal areas of unrighteousness.  It's hard and sometimes I doubt my faith.  But I keep going and am looking forward to discovering all that God has planned for me.  Thanks for letting me share."

Wow, talk about a "kill-joy."  Not many churches are scrambling to schedule those testimonies.  And yet, it honestly and accurately describes God's normative work in us. Though God is fully capable of the instantaneous, His work in our lives is more through seasons than seconds.  And we need to be okay with that.  In fact, we need to find meaningful ways to claim and celebrate it. If not, we are setting ourselves up for self-emposed, unfulfilled expectations that cause us to devalue the faithful handprints of God on our lives.  The discouragement of many can be attributed to becoming bored, impatient, or even blinded to the evidence of God's Hand upon them.  But such recognition is an essential anchor that keeps us from drifting.  

The agricultural world is a better metaphor of God's work than the "eworld."  This can be seen all throughout Jesus' parables.  We assume that Jesus taught this way because he was born into an agrarian society.  That He wanted to relate the Kingdom of God in a way people could understand.  And this is truthful.  But what if He, also, utilized seeds, plants, and other natural items because they are the most accurate description?  God simply works that way - through process.  And Jesus wanted us to embrace it. In this sense the parables are not outdated but perfect.  And our modern notions of electronic transactions are helpful for transferring money but not understanding God.

To conclude, process is as powerful and spiritual as instantaneous.  One occurs quicker than the other but is not more effective.  One gets more fame than the other but is not more lasting.  We are biased towards one though God is not.  So let's embrace process because it embraces us.  And let's acknowledge in one another the work of the Lord as we eliminate our "ibias" tendency.  And along the way God might even surprise us.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden  

Friday, July 12, 2013


Jesus inspired people.  But human nature was the same in Jesus' day as it is now.  So I often find myself wondering "the rest of the story" of those folks in the Gospels who experienced dramatic healing or were first-hand witnesses or heard Jesus teach in real time or stood at Calvary.  My guess is that some were changed forever and others reverted back to their previous lifestyle.  Why?

Inspiration only leads to change when we do something after the tingling stops.  The mistake we often make is acting like the moment of inspiration is an end in and of itself.  Every newly married couple has a sobering realization a few months into marriage that the wedding ceremony, which was meticulously planned for months, was merely an inspiring starting line.  Neither perfect fonts nor dazzling cake designs nor beautiful dresses nor quaint church buildings do anything to produce a healthy marriage.

We tend to fixate on the moment of inspiration more than the subsequent changes that are possible in us as a result of that moment.  This is why people can worship for years in an exciting environment and experience little to no change in their character and disposition.  Jesus saw this phenomenon in the religious people of His day as well.

Only hearts intentionally placed in the care of Christ experience sustainable change. And therein lies the challenge.  Great music, teaching, and community life can motivate people but they cannot make people better.  Only the internal work of God's Spirit can do that within a heart yielded to the Lord.

Finding inspiration more in the mundane than the magnificent will help us.  It's easy to experience awe walking into a gorgeous Cathedral or attending a popular conference at a megachurch but who does that daily?  What if instead we were awed by God's presence in the morning commute or doing laundry or studying for an exam?  God's work in our hearts during those moments tend to be better triggers for change than religious ceremony.

Let's love being inspired.  But let's love inspiration that leads to change more.  The spiritual, moral, and ethical challenges of our Day demand it.  It's impossible to be salt and light in this world if there is nothing different about us.  Maybe inspiration without change is more appealing because it allows us the safety of blending in.  But Jesus didn't die and raise from the dead on our behalf for that.  He did it to transform us in a way that is unequaled by the powers of mere mortals.  That is worth receiving.

Ex nihilo,

R.J. Rhoden