Step 11- Day 30

5 Israel’s pride is a witness against him;

        both Israel and Ephraim stagger because of their guilt;

        Judah staggers with them.

6 With their sheep and their cattle they will go

        to seek the Lord,

        but they will not find him;

        he has withdrawn from them.

7 They have acted faithlessly against the Lord;

        for their children have produced illegitimate children.

        Now the new moon will devour them along with their fields.  Hosea 5:5-7, CEB

As I’ve said throughout the month, some aspects of God’s will are difficult to discern whereas others are not.  In many ways I think the Old Testament can be more valuable in helping us discern God’s will in a general sense than the new.  Throughout the OT we see time and again the kinds of things God expects for His people in terms of their relationship to each other and the world.  In some ways, these expectations are no different for us today.

Primarily in this passage we see the danger of idolatry.  I hear people talk about idolatry today in very individualistic terms.  They ask questions like, “What is it that you are putting ahead of God?”  The answers to these questions are often things like “television” or “work” or “money”, etc.  But in Israel’s case, they were finding ways to idolize things as a group.  I suspect we do the same.  If we examined our values as “Americans” closely, we might find that idolatry is a strength of ours.

I wonder if we started thinking a little larger, started thinking about values and goals and such that we have as an entire culture, how that would impact our understanding of God’s will and how we lived it out.  Sometimes I think it might be helpful to think larger than just the little things I do that I put before God and think about some larger issues that our country participates in that probably contradict God’s will.  The value of human life is one issue that comes to mind.

Maybe I’m just babbling today, I don’t know.

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Step 11- Day 29

6 One day the divine beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Adversary also came among them. 7 The Lord said to the Adversary, “Where did you come from?”  The Adversary answered the Lord, “From wandering throughout the earth.”  8 The Lord said to the Adversary, “Have you thought about my servant Job; surely there is no one like him on earth, a man who is honest, who is of absolute integrity, who reveres God and avoids evil?”  9 The Adversary answered the Lord, “Does Job revere God for nothing? 10 Haven’t you fenced him in—his house and all he has—and blessed the work of his hands so that his possessions extend throughout the earth? 11 But stretch out your hand and strike all he has. He will certainly curse you to your face.”

12 The Lord said to the Adversary, “Look, all he has is within your power; only don’t stretch out your hand against him.” So the Adversary left the Lord’s presence.  Job 1:6-12, CEB

I know I talk about Job a lot, but what can I say?  I love it.  And this passage in particular is such a unique case study in the nature of God’s will.

In the verses before these we see Job described as an upright and blameless man.  He fears God and turns from evil.  So far so good.  He diligently worships God and provides Him with the necessary sacrifices, and even provides some that might not be necessary.  Surely this is a man who knows what it means to live in accordance with God’s will.  In fact, I’ll remove the “surely”.  I would argue that Job is a man who unquestionably lives in accordance with God’s will.

And then we have this pesky Adversary figure who rolls in to the heavenly court and questions God’s statements about Job.  Despite Job’s commitments to the Lord, God allows the Adversary the power/authority to test Job.  How do we make sense of this?

I think that stories such as this show us the importance of recognizing the fact that even while we might learn how to live lives that are steadfastly committed to God’s plans and purposes, that we, like Job, maintain conscious contact through our spiritual connection to God while we enact His will in our lives, even then, we are not immune to being tested.  In fact, Job’s ability to live out God’s will is part of the very reason He was tested in the first place.  In that sense, perhaps trials are an indication we’re doing something right.  I’m not saying always, but it’s a possibility.

It’s difficult to sort out these issues of conscious contact and seeking God’s will.  Of that, I am sure.  Beyond that, I’m not exactly sure what we’re promised in response.  Regardless of what is promised or what we can hope to receive, living God’s way and seeking to be more like Job can only benefit us and those around us in the long run.

Step 11- Day 28

26 When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him. They didn’t believe he was really a disciple. 27 Then Barnabas brought Saul to the apostles and told them the story about how Saul saw the Lord on the way and that the Lord had spoken to Saul. He also told them about the confidence with which Saul had preached in the name of Jesus in Damascus. 28 After this, Saul moved freely among the disciples in Jerusalem and was speaking with confidence in the name of the Lord. 29 He got into debates with the Greek-speaking Jews as well, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the family of believers learned about this, they escorted him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.  31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. God strengthened the church, and its life was marked by reverence for the Lord. Encouraged by the Holy Spirit, the church continued to grow in numbers.  Acts 9:26-31, CEB

In case you don’t know the story of Saul/Paul, there are some context clues here but it might not be entirely clear.  He was a Jew, a Pharisee specifically, in zealous opposition of the early Christian movement and worked tirelessly to put an end to it.  He persecuted the early Christians and developed a reputation for himself as a ruthless fellow.  This is why the disciples were afraid of him.

One of the things many people don’t know about the Pharisees is that they were a very well respected group of people in their day.  They were passionate about pursuing God and His purposes and carrying these things out in their lives.  A subset of this group (including Saul) often opposed Jesus, as we see in the New Testament, but the group as a whole was comprised of people most would consider “rather good”.

This leads me to thinking about this whole step 11 stuff, and what it means to seek to know and do God’s will.  This is not easy stuff by any stretch of the imagination.  We have a group of people, the Pharisees, known for their steadfast obedience to God and His ways and yet a member of this group, Saul, ends up in direct opposition to God’s will.  How can this happen?

I was in a Bible study group recently talking about the nature of knowing and doing God’s will.  The group spoke about God’s will as if the difficult part is just discerning what it is for yourself.  This is indeed difficult.  But, in my mind anyway, it’s even more difficult when you have multiple people trying to discern God’s will and they are at odds.  Saul certainly seemed to think Christians opposed God’s will, Christians thought Saul opposed God’s will.  Ultimately, God revealed Himself in a dramatic way to Saul and he went on to become known as Paul and write somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the New Testament (according to word counts anyway).  Not all of us are so fortunate to have God reveal Himself so personally and intimately.  So what do we do?

Questions for further thought:

How do we wrestle with the idea of God’s will in community?  How do we reconcile differences?  How do we get on the same page?  How can we support each other in making group decisions about following (and first discerning) God’s will?

Step 11- Day 27

27 God created humanity in God’s own image,

        in the divine image God created them,

            male and female God created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” 29 Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. 30 To all wildlife, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. 31 God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.  There was evening and there was morning: the sixth day.  Genesis 1:27-31, CEB

We see here the first instance of God revealing His will for humanity.  Humans were blessed, then they were told to multiply.  Their job was to populate the world, to master it, and to rule over it.  All creatures from fish to birds and everything in between were supposed to fall under our rule.

But it didn’t exactly work out that way.  When God created humanity, He set us on a journey.  The journey began in this garden and it continues on today.  Throughout this journey we see the human struggle to continue to seek God’s will.  It began with Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God in possibly a couple ways.  They ate from forbidden fruit, but they also allowed a serpent some influence over them.  In this way they did not follow God’s order of creation.  They allowed a creature to rule over them.

It’s easy to point fingers at Adam and Eve for the role they play in “sin” entering the world, but wasn’t that really inevitable?  If humans were capable of sinning, then we probably can’t say they were living in a “state of perfection”.  This story is merely the beginning of a journey, more than a fall from perfection.  They struggled to know and do God’s will just as we do today, though, in their case, it seems a bit simpler.  If our only command from God was “don’t eat from that tree over there” we might feel a little more confident about our ability to be obedient.

And yet there seems to me a natural pull inside of us to refuse to seek and/or conform to God’s will.  The same inclination Adam and Eve dealt with, we deal with.

This leaves me wondering a few things.  How do we cope with this knowledge?  How do we avoid the same mistakes we see others make?  How do we practice wisdom in seeking God’s will?  How do we train ourselves to not act on the impulses to disobey?

Any takers?

Step 11- Day 26

15 When Joseph’s brothers realized that their father was now dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us, and wants to pay us back seriously for all of the terrible things we did to him?” 16 So they approached Joseph and said, “Your father gave orders before he died, telling us, 17 ‘This is what you should say to Joseph. “Please, forgive your brothers’ sins and misdeeds, for they did terrible things to you. Now, please forgive the sins of the servants of your father’s God.”’” Joseph wept when they spoke to him.  18 His brothers wept too, fell down in front of him, and said, “We’re here as your slaves.”  19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I God? 20 You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it, in order to save the lives of many people, just as he’s doing today. 21 Now, don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your children.” So he put them at ease and spoke reassuringly to them.  Genesis 50:15-21, CEB

We talked about Joseph and his brothers a bit when we were a little more focused on forgiveness stuff, amends making, etc.  I wonder if it might be a nice exercise to revisit it and think about it in a different context.  We’re now talking about step 11, conscious contact with God, and seeking God’s will.  I could be wrong, but it seems that Joseph provides us a nice example of what these things look like when they’re practiced in a real person’s life.

Throughout Joseph’s early life, despite some precocious tendencies, he seems to be portrayed, more or less, as a faithful man.  He remains faithful even in prison and God perpetually takes care of him.  He’s not a perfect man, he does some questionable things during his life, but I think that, overall, we can consider Joseph a man who has taken the notions of “conscious contact” and “seeking God’s will” rather seriously.

I believe we see the pay off of that lifestyle in his interactions with his brothers.  He doesn’t condemn them, and he doesn’t judge them.  He accepts them.  It doesn’t explicitly say he forgives his brothers but that fact is strongly implied.  He no longer holds their offenses against them and does not in any way appear to want to seek justice.  He understands that all of us are under God and His ways.  And at the end of it all, he promises to take care of his brothers and their children and even “spoke reassuringly to them”.

This seems to me to be a beautiful story of the outflowing of a person’s spirituality when that person is steadfastly committed to conscious contact with God and seeking His will.

Is this the kind of life we want for ourselves?  What steps can we take to become more like Joseph in this way?

Step 11- Day 25

Train yourself for a holy life! 8 While physical training has some value, training in holy living is useful for everything. It has promise for this life now and the life to come. 9 This saying is reliable and deserves complete acceptance. 10 We work and struggle for this: “Our hope is set on the living God, who is the savior of all people, especially those who believe.” 11 Command these things. Teach them. 12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. Instead, set an example for the believers through your speech, behavior, love, faith, and by being sexually pure. 13 Until I arrive, pay attention to public reading, preaching, and teaching. 14 Don’t neglect the spiritual gift in you that was given through prophecy when the elders laid hands on you. 15 Practice these things, and live by them so that your progress will be visible to all. 16 Focus on working on your own development and on what you teach. If you do this, you will save yourself and those who hear you.  1 Timothy 4:7b-16, CEB

To what end do we seek this conscious contact with God?  Why do we do it?  Perhaps these questions are more obvious to everyone else than they are to me, but I think it’s always important to revisit them and to question why we do what we do.

Is this part of our training process for living a holy life?  I suppose it could be.  I suppose it depends on the situation and the person and that person’s motivations.  I talk about this at least once a month but I do think there is some value in viewing the 12 steps as a training tool for living a new and different kind of life, but why?

Sure, our lives became unmanageable and we needed a new and different way to live.  But why this life?  Why this path?  There must be other options out there for leaving our old lives behind and starting a journey towards some other kind of new and different life.

I can’t speak for anyone else so I’ll just say that, for me, I feel convicted that this path is true.  I believe in the Bible and believe that God is who He says He is.  Can I prove that using science of NCIS methods of collecting evidence?  No.  It’s simply something I believe to be true.  But because I have this belief, I’m incapable of ignoring it.

So I’m left with the wrestling, pondering, questioning that comes with what it means to believe in God and, subsequently, how I’m supposed to live in light of that belief.  If I want to know the answers to these questions, I suspect this requires me to find ways to practice this “conscious contact” thing.

I’m not always sure exactly how to do this, or how to seek God’s will, but I’m giving it a go.  I think simply trying to “give it a go” is an okay place to start.

Step 11- Day 24

3 By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory. 4 Through his honor and glory he has given us his precious and wonderful promises, that you may share the divine nature and escape from the world’s immorality that sinful craving produces.

5 This is why you must make every effort to add moral excellence to your faith; and to moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, endurance; and to endurance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, affection for others; and to affection for others, love. 8 If all these are yours and they are growing in you, they’ll keep you from becoming inactive and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 Whoever lacks these things is shortsighted and blind, forgetting that they were cleansed from their past sins. 

10 Therefore, brothers and sisters, be eager to confirm your call and election. Do this and you will never ever be lost.  2 Peter 1:3-10, CEB

As I talked about yesterday, our beliefs and our lives are inseparable.  You might say this is a soapbox I like to stand on from time to time.  Our beliefs shape the way we live and if they’re perpetually incongruent we might need to re-think what we believe.  Granted, this doesn’t mean our lives are always going to perfectly reflect our beliefs.  There are going to be inconsistencies and incongruities.  This stuff happens, and it’s not the end of the world.  All I’m saying is I think it’s important to be aware of the relationship between the two and to think about the ways in which these things play out in our lives over time.  We might learn a lot about our beliefs from paying attention to our life patterns and we may learn a lot about our life patterns from paying attention to our beliefs.

I think that there are plenty of Bible passages that would support this kind of idea.  If this is true, the idea that our beliefs and lives are inseparable, then it also seems that our “spirituality” is inseparable from our lives and our beliefs.  Just as we can learn about our lives from our beliefs and our beliefs from our lives, we can also learn about our spirituality from both of these things.  But more importantly I think our spirituality itself is shaped and transformed by our beliefs and our lives.  It’s not a stand-alone, compartmentalized piece of ourselves.

As we think about step 11 this month, I think a lot of hard work goes into improving conscious contact with God and seeking to know and do His will.  I continue to encourage us to think about everything that goes into this “conscious contact”.  It’s not just a matter of praying more.  Conscious contact requires us to think about our beliefs, our lives, our spirituality, and how these things relate to one another.  It’s a challenge to think about, to engage, all of this stuff.  I’m hoping it’s one that we all find rewarding in one way or another.