Monday, June 17, 2013

The Death of a Dream: What Now?

By David Ryser

If you ever see a turtle on a fencepost you can know that it didn’t get there by itself.  (Allan Emery)

One of my dreams died today.  Although this death is somewhat painful for me, it is not unexpected.  Dreams don’t die all at once…they can take a long time to die.  And this dream has been on life support for several years.  Today it was time to pull the plug.

My dream died quickly and peacefully in its sleep.

Now, my dream is not the only dream that has ever died.  The Bible is full of stories about people with God-given hopes, aspirations, and ambitions who have experienced the death of their dreams. 

The story of Joseph is one such example.  Joseph had two dreams through which God revealed to him that he would rule over his father’s household.  Typical of God, He did not reveal to Joseph the details of the difficulties through which the dream would come to pass.  Before the dreams were fulfilled in Joseph’s life he was sold into slavery, was falsely accused of sexual assault, and was imprisoned.

It’s bad enough to be in prison.  It’s even worse to be a slave in prison.

Finally, Joseph was released from prison 17 years after he was sold into slavery.  He was promoted to second-in-command over all of Egypt.  He was given great wealth and married into a prominent family.  Life was great for Joseph, especially the first several years of his reign.  Many years later Joseph was reunited with his family, and the dreams God had given to him were fulfilled.

But somewhere along the line, Joseph had forgotten about the dreams.

It was not until his brothers bowed down before him that Joseph remembered his dreams.  Perhaps over time the dreams faded from Joseph’s memory…because his life had turned out so differently from what he had imagined…and Joseph had simply moved on from them to carve out the best life he could live.

But although Joseph forgot his dreams, he never forgot the God Who had given them to him.

Moses also had a dream.  Although he was brought up as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses was raised by his birth mother.  He knew who he was and what he was destined to do.  This dream so burned in him that he killed for it.  When things went downhill after the murder, Moses fled Egypt and lived his life as a shepherd for the next 40 years.  During this time, Moses’ dream…like the dreams of Joseph...eventually died.  When God appeared to Moses in the desert and resurrected his dream, Moses…unlike Joseph…remembered the dream God had given to him.

But he no longer wanted it.

So the stories of Joseph and Moses contain some similarities and some differences.  Both men had God-given dreams.  Both men experienced the death of their dreams over time as their lives took unexpected turns.  Both had moved on with their lives after the death of their dreams…their lives were not wasted mourning over their dead dreams.  Both had their dreams resurrected and fulfilled by God in the end, but by then neither cared.  Joseph had forgotten his dreams, but embraced them when they came to pass.  Moses remembered his dream, but tried to reject it when God breathed new life into it.

And neither man forgot the God who gave the dreams to them even after their dreams had died.

I have read the stories of people who have suffered the death of God-given dreams and experienced the joy of having their dreams resurrected by God and given back to them.  I know people who have had the same experience.  Many…if not all…of these people drew closer to God (although not without wavering at times) through the process of dying to their dreams.  Through it all they remained…or became…steadfast lovers of Jesus who compared to the joy of knowing Him did not care about their dreams (whether forgotten or remembered) by the time God breathed new life into their dreams and fulfilled them.  God is able to resurrect dead dreams.

Resurrection is a wonderful thing.  But it comes with a price.

You see, there is no resurrection without death.  Resurrection by definition requires death.  Resurrection is being raised from death to life.  In order to be resurrected, a person must first experience death.  For a dream to be resurrected, it must first die.

There are no shortcuts.  There is no Plan B.

So now I sit with a dead dream.  And trust me, I know a dead dream when I see one.  I’m not particularly devastated by this loss because I still have everything that matters…I still have Jesus.  And I have the rest of my life before me filled with endless possibilities as I contemplate where to go and what to do from here.  I have a great excitement and expectancy…without expectation…about my future.

And I have not forgotten the God who gave me the dream that has died.

Does this mean that God will resurrect my dream and give it back to me?  I don’t know.  And I don't care.

Responses to this article are welcomed.  You may contact the author at

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Live Now: Edit Later

By David Ryser

Pray I never die till I pass away.  Pray I never die lost in yesterday.  (From the song I’m a Wannabe by Metanoya)

My friend Tim and his family recently traveled through one of their favorite places in the country.  They were enjoying the scenery and taking pictures to record the memories of their vacation.  While driving through a particularly majestic place, Tim noticed that members of his family were busy reviewing the pictures they had taken earlier in the trip and deciding which photos to keep.  Concerned they would miss the beauty of their current surroundings, Tim encouraged his family to experience and enjoy the view.

He said, “Live now.  Edit later.”

The last ten years of my life have been spent largely in a time of intense introspection.  This has not been due to some narcissistic self-absorption on my part; but rather, it has been a time of revelation and healing.  God has walked with me through my past in order to prepare me for my future…a future He would not even allow me to speak with Him about during most of this part of the journey.  I’ve heard it said that God is called I AM because He is a God of the now, not a God of the past or of the future.  I once listened to a preacher say that God is called I AM because He is in the present, not in the past (making Him I WAS) or in the future (making Him I WILL BE).  It made for some really good preaching.

And like a lot of what we call good preaching, it’s a bunch of baloney.

The truth is that the omnipresence of God means that He is not only everywhere, He is also everywhen.  God is inside of time…past, present, and future…and He is also outside of time.   And all at the same time.  The reason we typically connect with Him in the present is not because He is not in the past or the future, it is because we are not in the past or the future.


What about when God takes us by the hand and leads us back into our past?  (Or when He shows us our future?)  I can say from experience that we are very much connected with God…what He is showing to us and saying to us…when we walk together into the past.

One should never confuse connected with comfortable.

A walk with God through the past can be a wonderful and redemptive…if often painful…experience filled with insight and renovation.  I have discovered that the past can be a marvelous teacher.  But the past can also become a terrible prison where a person can become trapped for years in a cycle of remorse and shame.  At some point healing should come.  The season of intense introspection and death to self comes to an end, and a season of restoration and resurrection replaces it.  We return to the present with expectancy about our future.

“Live now.  Edit later.”

Tim’s words rang out in my spirit when I heard them.  It was as if God was speaking to me about an imminent change of season in my life.  No longer would I concentrate on where I had been.  My attention has turned to what He is saying to me in the present.  I’m living more in the moment while at the same time experiencing a renewed excitement about where my journey with God will lead me next…without being unduly concerned about where my destination is or when I will arrive.

It’s a great way to live.

And I plan to experience this season to the fullest.  To see the sights and hear the sounds.  To take in all God is showing me.  To listen to all He is saying to me.  To sing along with the song He is singing to me.  To walk down the path He has laid down for me.  To laugh.  To love.  To dance.

For as long as this season lasts.

Because I know that as time passes, there will come another season of editing…a season where that which is unwanted and no longer needed will be removed.  But that is then, and this is now.  This is the time for me to embark on the next adventure.  To see and experience new things and make some new memories.  To take a few “pictures” along the way.  It’s the season to live.

I’m going to live now…and edit later.

Responses to this article are welcomed.  You may contact the author at

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Bird in the Hand is Worth: More than Me?

By David Ryser

Scars remind us of where we've been.  They don't have to dictate where we're going.  (A line from the television series Criminal Minds)

Jesus asked a lot of stupid questions.  These questions litter the gospels.  For example, Jesus was touring the temple one day and wandered into a pool area where dozens of sick and infirm people were waiting for the stirring of the water so they might be the first into the water in order to be healed.  Jesus walked over to one of these people and asked him, “Do you want to be made well?”

What?  Of course the man wants to be made well!  This is why he’s at the pool to begin with.  What a stupid question!

Another time Jesus was walking down the road when a blind man cried out asking for mercy.  Jesus called the man over and asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”


What did Jesus expect the man to say?  The man was blind!  Was he going to ask Jesus to cure some warts he couldn’t get rid of?  What a stupid question!

I found myself considering the gospels with an eye to spotting stupid questions posed by Jesus.  I was reading along in the 12th chapter of Luke and came across a question posed by Jesus (in verse 24) asking, in effect, “Are you worth more than a bird?”

Enough, already!  What a stupid question…or is it?

I had the opportunity to work Jesus’ question into a conversation recently.  I was talking with a friend and asked her, “Are you worth more than a bird?”  Without hesitation she answered, “No.”

So maybe this isn’t such a stupid question after all.

What makes people…even Christian people…feel so valueless that they believe they are not even worth the price of a bird?  The obvious answers are easily identified.  I know people who have experienced horrific abuse, torment, violence, violation, rejection, abandonment, betrayal, loss, and disappointment in their lives.  I understand how they might battle feelings of inferiority and worthlessness.

But what about someone like me?  What’s my excuse?

I was raised…and occasionally “reared”…by loving and godly parents.  I was provided for, nurtured, and properly disciplined.  My parents took me to church and taught me about God.  We prayed together as a family every night before bedtime.  I was never mistreated in any way.  My parents are still living. I have spoken with both of them by phone in the last month and expressed my love & appreciation for them.  I suffered no life-altering traumas as a child…not even so much as a broken bone or devastating mental shock.

So why would someone like me struggle with thoughts of inadequacy and valuelessness?

In my case, emotionally immature spontaneity and social awkwardness…traits that still plague me to some degree until today…combined with a hypersensitivity to perceived criticism and an over-developed fear of embarrassment, caused me to react inappropriately to even the most loving correction.  I was unable to distinguish doing bad from being bad.  To me, being corrected for doing wrong was indistinguishable from being told there was something wrong with me.  In a tactic that goes back to the Garden of Eden, I attempted to hide from my shame.

Hiding didn’t work in Eden.  It doesn’t work now, either.

To make matters worse, I came of age in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  This was a time of great social & societal upheaval in the United States.  Parents were concerned for their children in ways that were unimaginable in the past.  Drug abuse was rampant.  Parents were told that children who were withdrawn/hidden might possibly be using illegal drugs.

I was withdrawn and hidden.  My parents were concerned.  I’ll let you guess how that played out.

So from whatever source, each of us experiences a sense of inferiority and worthlessness to some degree.  And we attempt to combat these feelings using a variety of tactics…some more proactive/passive and conscious/unconscious than others…to compensate for this perceived lack of value.

And it pollutes every good thing we do.

I recently had a conversation with a pastor in which he was extolling the virtues of one of the ladies in his church.  I agreed with him that she is a wonderful person.  She is a generous woman who gives liberally of her time and labor, in part because she is especially spiritually gifted for service.

But there is a dark side to her serving.

This dear woman also serves out of a need to be valued.  She needs to know she is loved, treasured, cherished, prized, esteemed, admired, appreciated, and approved.  We all need these things.  But our quest to obtain them can cause us to exercise even our legitimate, God-given gifts out of our own need.  We serve in order to be loved instead of serving because we are loved…and there is a big difference between the two.

And it never ends well.

We want to feel loved and valued.  Instead, we end up feeling frustrated and unfulfilled.  We do good, but for the wrong reason.  And when people do not respond with appreciation for the good we do, our resentment toward them can boil over into anger and might damage…or even destroy…relationships.  Out of our own woundedness, we wound others.  Having sought to do good, we are surprised to look behind us only to see the carnage of broken lives and relationships in our wake.  No decent person wants to harm anyone, so now guilt and shame enter the picture.  What a mess!  Is there any way out of this?

There is no way out.  But there is a way in.

The Bible has a lot to say about being in Christ.  And religious people pay a great deal of lip-service to this truth.  But being in Christ is not simply a nice theological theory; it is a precious reality that can be experienced by each and every child of God.  It may help to know that the term “in Christ” (and “in Jesus’ name” for that matter) is based in part upon a common mistranslation in our English Bible.  In these instances, the word commonly translated as “in” is the word έις which should never be translated as “in”.  It should always be translated as “into”.  There is a word for “in” (εν), and it is used whenever the writer wants to express the concept of “in”.

So who cares?  In.  Into.  What does it matter?

It matters because we treat “in Christ” as positional truth rather than as an experiential reality.  And we use Ephesians 2:6 to legitimize this religious hogwash.  We do not live in the reality of being in Christ because we do not expect to experience it in this life.  And that’s regrettable because Jesus has invited us into an intimate relationship with God as beloved/valued children…in this life.  “In Christ” is a place…not a position.  “In Jesus name” is a place…not an incantation we add at the end of a prayer request in order to make our prayer more effective.  And these both refer to a place to which we have been invited by Jesus Himself.   Now.  Not when we go to heaven, but right now.

So what’s stopping us from going there?   Are we not worth more than a bird?

Responses to this article are welcomed.  You may contact the author at

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Slave or Master?

By Karen Ramsey
(Used with the author’s permission.)

“On the day you were born your umbilical cord was not cut, you weren't bathed and cleaned up, you weren't rubbed with salt, you weren't wrapped in a baby blanket. No one cared a fig for you. No one did one thing to care for you tenderly in these ways. You were thrown out into a vacant lot and left there, dirty and unwashed—a newborn nobody wanted. And then I came by. I saw you all miserable and bloody. Yes, I said to you, lying there helpless and filthy, "Live! Grow up like a plant in the field!" And you did. You grew up. You grew tall and matured as a woman, full-breasted, with flowing hair. But you were naked and vulnerable, fragile and exposed. I came by again and saw you, saw that you were ready for love and a lover. I took care of you, dressed you and protected you. I promised you my love and entered the covenant of marriage with you. I, God, the Master, gave my word. You became mine. I gave you a good bath, washing off all that old blood, and anointed you with aromatic oils. . .” (Ezekiel 16:4-9, MSG).

Recently I read two articles by Dr. David Ryser. The first was entitled “Lover or Prostitute?” The second was part 2 of the first article. In the first part, he discusses the journey from being a prostitute (one who has to be paid for his/her services) to being a lover of God (serving and loving God without conditions). In the second article, Dr. Ryser talks about how, after he’d wrestled through that conflict, God turned things around by stating, “I’m not a prostitute, either. (If you haven’t read either or both articles, they are the first two posts on this blog) I mention those articles because they were the precursor to how God next turned me upside down. I was chewing on the ideas Dr. Ryser presented, and trying to process the revelations they brought.

As I was praying and setting myself for real heart-searching and repentance, God stopped me short by saying, in a nutshell, “I’m not a rapist, either.”

I didn’t even have a response for that for several long moments. I was almost afraid to have one, because I knew Daddy was getting ready to deal with some deeply-rooted things.

Finally, I took a deep breath and set myself to open up to whatever He wanted to do. But when I looked up at Him, what I saw stopped me short once again. He was looking back at me with tears running down His face.

Suddenly I was seeing myself through His eyes, and we were watching vignettes from the past scroll by. I watched His heart break as He watched me try to relate to Him the same way I had learned to relate to others in my life.

A vicious incident from childhood involving a neighbor set my life on a destructive path that lasted long into my adulthood. Over and over again, from my teens into my 30s, I entered into relationships with people who were selfish at best and dangerous at worst.

As we watched these scenes pass by, God began opening my eyes to what was going on inside of me during that time: I was terrified that my control over my body would be stolen again, yet I didn’t know how to choose people that wouldn’t do so. I wasn’t even sure there were such people, although I longed to find even just one.

The only solution I could find was to give myself away so I couldn’t be stolen from again. Submission became the way I maintained control, not gave it up: “I’m going to give in to your desires, regardless of my own feelings, so that the decision remains mine.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. All I really wanted was love and relationship; but what I ended up enduring was so distasteful that I turned to whatever methods of numbing my mind and body I could just to get through it. By the time I was in my 30s, I was entangled with people who weren’t satisfied being given what they wanted to take. Others only found pleasure when they were inflicting pain. The claws of perversity, violence, and control that had pierced me as a child were only being driven deeper and gaining more power. After more than 20 years I’d ended up back in the place I’d worked so hard to escape, but with those added decades of time spent cementing these relational patterns in place.

It was after a couple of very bad years that I finally turned to God. He swept right into my life and instantly began healing me. I found a church that, among other things, moved powerfully in spiritual warfare. I was immediately drawn to that aspect of God.

I spent two years running hard after the Warrior. I remember times He tried to come to me in other ways, as Father or Beloved, and my gut reaction was to slam the door in His face. Because I’d lived with warfare, violence, and striving most of my life, I was comfortable with it. Anything else terrified me.

Finally, He had to get direct with me. A while back He said, “If you don’t let Me love you, you aren’t going to make it.”

Love – now that’s an interesting word. That’s all I was looking for from the beginning, but my experiences taught me that the way to please someone was to let them use me any way they wanted. Pain was to be expected, and possibly enjoyed. I’m realizing now that they were lessons that gave me a fearlessness I felt was useful in battle, and a pride in how I would throw myself at His feet willing for Him to do or ask anything. Yet now He has said He wants something different – something more. And I have to ask myself – do I even know what love is?

I am on a journey, of which this encounter has become a part. God is trying to show me that opening myself up to let Him do whatever He wants to do to me is not the same thing as opening myself up to His goodness. He doesn’t want to rape me. And when I tell Him it’s ok for Him to use me and throw me away, I’m not submitting – I’m really slapping Him in the face. Because what He’s longing for is a relationship with me.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve totally gotten a handle on this. It’s opened up some painful things, but I know it’s bringing healing to those things, as well. In the past, I gave myself away because I didn’t dare trust; now He wants me to learn trust first. It’s a dance I’ve never known, and honestly hoped at times to live my Christian life without. But I’m realizing that is because I had no idea what it was He wanted to give me. The Lover is wooing me now, and with such gentleness that I think I may actually be able to reach out and grasp the hand He’s extending towards me . . .

Responses to this article are welcomed. You may contact the author at

Sunday, August 12, 2012

"Look What I Found!": Blind Squirrels and Spiritual Truth

By David Ryser

Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn sometimes.  (Proverb)

I do a lot of driving, both on my job and in my personal life.  Driving is not exciting to me…and I suppose it’s best that way.  “Driving” and “excitement” are two words that should probably never appear in the same sentence.  In my experience, excitement while driving is almost always a bad thing.  But driving can be boring, which poses its own risks.  So I look for ways to keep myself mentally engaged while driving.

I particularly enjoy reading church building marquees.

There are lots of opportunities to read church building marquees.  Church buildings are everywhere… like pubs (and for the same reasons).  Reading the marquees, I often muse about the folks who gather in these buildings…and why they do.  What sorts of people attend the services?  Do they love Jesus?  Do they even know Him?  Does Jesus attend their church meetings?  Would I be welcomed in their services…and for how long?

I’ve come to suspect that the message on a church building marquee says a lot about the people who meet inside.

Many messages I read on church building marquees are…to put it politely…religious tripe.  Many others are merely advertising of some kind.  I suspect that the latter is less harmful than the former.  Few people are harmed by advertising.  Far more are poisoned by drinking the religious bilge served in the average church service.

But I digress.

My current favorite example of a church building marquee message that encourages me to stay out of the building at all costs is one I saw in a small rural town.  The sign reads:  IF YOU DON’T HAVE THE BREAD OF LIFE, YOU’RE TOAST.  I must admit that my first reaction was to laugh.  A part of me found the sign to be quite funny…if somewhat counter-productive…and it amused me.

After all, if you’re going to engage in religious buffoonery, at least have the decency to be entertaining.

But what kind of message does this send to people?  Much of what is communicated in Christian evangelism…by whatever media…seems to portray God as saying, “Love Me…or else.”  Or else what?  Or else I’ll curse you?  Cause you to be sick?  Harm you, your family, and your children?  Burn you forever in the fires of hell?

Who can resist such an invitation?  Doesn’t this just make you want to run into your heavenly Daddy’s arms?

Jesus never…ever…not even once…issued such an invitation to people.  He did encourage them to meet and relate intimately with the Father.  A Father who desperately loved them.  A Father who wanted very much to fellowship with them.  A Father who would not reject them, but who would receive them with gladness into His embrace.

It’s been my experience that it’s not necessary to threaten a person in order to persuade them to love someone who loves them this much.

So I don’t find much truth on church building marquees.  And when I do, I often suspect that it’s an accident.  For example, I was driving past a church building recently, and the message on the marquee read:  NEED A NEW LIFE?  GOD ACCEPTS TRADE-INS.  I found the message clever, and was about to pass it out of my thinking.

And then the truth of the message exploded in my spirit.

You see, too many Christians…myself included…tend to view our faith as a spiritual automobile repair.  Our car (life) is broken, so we take it into the mechanic (Jesus) who repairs (“saves”) it and returns it to us with an admonishment to drive more carefully (live the “Christian life”) and maintain it more diligently (develop robust spiritual disciplines) in the future.  This sounds good, but is found nowhere in the Bible.

The Christian life is less like a car repair, and more like a trade-in for a new car.

With a trade-in, a person takes his/her old car (old life) to the dealer (Jesus) and exchanges it for a new car (new life).  Ownership of the old car is relinquished to the dealer, and the previous owner forfeits all future rights to it.  Signs away the title.  Turns in the key.   Walks away from the old car and begins to drive the new car, never to own or drive the old car ever again.

This is Paul’s view of the Christian life.

Especially in his letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, Paul presents the Christian faith as an exchange of life.  We die and receive Christ’s life.  We trade in our old man for the new man.  We no longer live out of the old life; but rather, we walk in the newness of Christ’s life.  And as the seed of Christ’s life which has been planted in us takes root and grows, it displaces our old life and we progressively come out of the spiritual darkness into God’s light.  We live “in Christ” (a term found dozens of times in the Epistles), and Christ lives in us.

God not only accepts trade-ins, He welcomes them.

So now I’m left wondering if the people who worship and fellowship inside of this church building are living in…or are even aware of…the truth expressed on their building’s marquee.  It’s one thing for a blind squirrel to stumble across an acorn, but this good fortune does the squirrel no good unless it recognizes the acorn as an acorn.  Otherwise, the squirrel will mistake the acorn for a rock…or some other inedible object…and kick it aside and resume the search for food, never realizing how close it came to enjoying the feast that it was seeking.

Religion is a lot like that squirrel.

I probably will never go into that church building.  I don’t even remember where it is.  But as I went on my way, the message on the marquee continued to ring in my spirit.


Responses to this article are welcomed.  You may contact the author at

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Empty Theater: Playing to an Audience of One

By David Ryser

            See, when you’re a little kid, nobody ever warns you that you’ve got an expiration date. One day you’re hot stuff and the next day you’re a dirt sandwich.  (Jeff Kinney)

“Look at me!  Look at me!”  What is it about young children that causes them to clamor for attention?  Children seem to need attention desperately.  I’ve known some of them to misbehave simply to get attention…the kind of attention that any rational human being would seek to avoid.  I can only conclude that attention is like any other form of publicity.

I’m told there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Children…and some religious professionals…crave attention.  They have a need to be seen.  They have a need to be heard.  They have a need to be acknowledged as important.

In short, children need to be valued by someone…by anyone.  So do adults.  And one of the most common ways that we measure our self-worth is by how many people pay attention to us.

So we pursue attention.  We prefer positive attention.  But we will settle for negative attention if we must.

And the more attention the better.  The more people who see us, the better.  The more people who hear us, the better.  The more people who attend our church….

Well, you get the idea.

The problem with using fame as a means to measure our value is that fame is fleeting.  One day we are the center of attention.  The next day, we are yesterday’s news.  If you want to know just how easily you can be forgotten…and how quickly...simply become a religious professional.

And then leave the ministry.

Of course, this dynamic applies to everyday life as well.  We seek to be valued and admired by all kinds of people…spouses, other loved ones, employers, co-workers…even by people we don’t know.

If we are noticed, we believe we have value.  If we are ignored, we feel worthless.

This can be quite a roller-coaster, mentally and emotionally.  Life is full of these ups-and-downs.  Even Jesus was not immune to this reality of life.  He experienced anonymity in His early life.  He experienced fame later in His life.  He was well-received.  He was rejected.  His message and ministry were enthusiastically accepted.  His message and ministry were opposed.  He preached to large crowds.  He had hundreds of disciples.  His preaching also caused all of these disciples…except twelve…to leave Him.

And even those twelve abandoned Him when He needed them the most.

Reading the gospels, I am struck by how Jesus behaved in the good times and the bad times.  He didn’t seem to be influenced by how popular He was…or how unpopular.  He remained steady when He was opposed, and even slandered.  He did not seek fame or approval…with one notable exception…and did not fear disapproval and rejection.

So what was the exception?

Throughout His life and ministry, Jesus was concerned only with the approval of His Father.  He ministered by doing only what He saw the Father doing and saying only what He heard the Father saying.  He was unmoved by the approval or disapproval of people, but was very responsive to the Father’s pleasure.

Jesus played to an audience of One.

Jesus heard the applause of the Father when the crowds accepted Him.  Jesus heard the Father’s applause when the crowds rejected Him.  The religious leaders and religious people never did accept Him (there’s a lesson in this, I think).  Jesus even heard the applause of the Father when His closest friends abandoned Him.

So what about us?

Do we hear the Father’s applause?  Do we go about our daily lives in tune with what the Father is doing and saying…and how He is responding to what we are doing and saying?  No matter what is happening around us?  No matter what people are saying about us?  Whether or not people are paying attention to us?  Whether or not people are approving of us?

And if not, then why not?

I’ve given this quite a bit of thought because for the longest time I suffered from a peculiar form of Attention Deficit Disorder.  Specifically, I felt I wasn’t getting enough attention from people…a deficit of attention…and strived mightily to get it.  When anyone suggested to me that I should seek to satisfy my need for attention and sense of being valued from God, the religious part of me would acknowledge that I ought to do so.  But I was always unable to pull it off.


My problem boiled down to my lack of knowing God and the failure of the religious system to teach me how to know Him.  In fairness, it was foolish of me to expect my religious leaders to teach me how to know and love God.  They had no more idea of how to know and love God than I did.  I believe most of them wanted to know and love Him.  So did I.  But God wasn’t real to us.  None of us had experienced Him…His presence in a real and tangible way…enough to connect with Him, much less be intimate with Him.  So we would acknowledge that we needed to get our sense of self-worth from God and for His approval to be enough for us, but experienced neither.

How can we play to an audience of One without any awareness of His presence in the theater?

We can’t.  It was not until I experienced God’s presence and began to walk in an intimate relationship with Him…and became secure and confident in that relationship…that I was able to live for His pleasure alone, not moved by the opinions and the approval/disapproval of others.  Now I am able to hear Him when the theater is full and when it is empty.  I have learned to play to an audience of One.

And that has made all the difference. 

Responses to this article are welcomed.  You may contact the author at

Friday, March 2, 2012

Abiding in Jesus: A Lesson from the Teensy-Weensy Spider

By David Ryser

…apart from Me you can do nothing.  (Jesus of Nazareth; John 15:5c NASB)

I am often amazed, and sometimes dismayed, by what passes for news these days.  For example, right now I am sitting at my desk looking over a news story about a spider with a detachable penis.

I am not making this up.

The male orb-web spider has a detachable penis.  Now, I would not particularly care to have one of these.  But as it turns out, this is a handy thing to have if you are a male orb-web spider…because an intimate encounter gives the female orb-web spider a howling case of the munchies.  And the preferred post-coital snack of choice for the female orb-web spider is the male orb-web spider.  So the male spider is able to leave his genitalia behind to finish the job (which it does…without him being attached to it) while he, hopefully, scampers a safe distance away from the female until her hunger subsides.

So having a detachable…functioning…body part is a great blessing for the male orb-web spider.  This does not, however, work so well for the Body of Christ.

I cannot count the number of times I have read John 15:5.  And I shudder to think I may ever have preached from it.  Never has the last part of this verse impacted me as it has of late.  Jesus is not joking when He says, “apart from Me you can do nothing.”  How could I have missed that?  Because for a good part of my Christian life, I did attempt to bear spiritual fruit apart from Him.  I tried to work for Him, to accomplish great things for Him, and to live my life for Him.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that nowhere does the Bible command me to do anything for God.

Part of the problem is our poorly translated English Bible…and poor translation leads to poor interpretation…and every version has serious problems.

In several translations, the last part of John 15:5 is rendered, “without Me you can do nothing.”  This leads us to conclude that with Jesus we can do anything.  But the Bible never says this…not in Greek, anyhow…and it flies in the face of what Jesus is teaching in the first part of John 15.  The picture here is not of a vine that is not with us.  The idea is not that we branches could bear all kinds of fruit if the vine were alongside of us.

And yet, how much preaching have we heard about how we can accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God with Jesus at our side?

Rather, the illustration Jesus uses is that of a branch that has been detached from the vine.  And the word translated “without” (χώρις) in some of the most popular English versions of the Bible, is better translated as “apart/detached from” as it is in the NASB and the NIV.  Just try to tear off a grape branch from the grapevine with your bare hands sometime.  You will discover the branch is an outgrowth of the vine…so much so that if you attempt to tear off the branch, it will shred the vine all the way to the root.

Grape branches cannot be torn off.  They must be cut off.

And if the branches are cut off from the vine, the life of the vine will not flow through them.  Not only will the branches bear no fruit, but they will also die. We are delusional if we think that we are going to produce and manifest the fruit of the life of Jesus apart from an intimate connection with Him...apart from His life flowing through us.

This theme is repeated throughout the New Testament.  Paul uses the picture of the body (us) connected to the Head (Jesus).  Imagine Paul’s reaction if we were to suggest to him that a body part could go out and accomplish anything for the head while detached from the head.  Jason Henderson illustrates the absurdity of this kind of thinking by using the example of a talking hand arguing with the head about wanting to go out and do something great for the head.  The head tries to convince the hand that it just wants the hand to be an expression of its life, and to be as active…or inactive…as the head desires at any given time.

This can turn into quite an argument.  Ask me how I know.

A body part that is detached from the head is not going to do anything useful for the head.  A body part detached from the head is not merely dysfunctional.  A body part detached from the head is dead.

Or religious.

Instead of us trying to do something for God while detached from His life, Paul presents the Christian life as our being crucified with Christ and raised up into the newness of His life.  Rather than us doing things for God, Jesus lives through us.  His life flows through us.  We abide in Him, and His life in us produces fruit.

The phrase “in Christ” (or its equivalent) is found hundreds of times in the New Testament.  Religious professionals tell us we are positionally in Christ from the time we pray a salvation prayer…also referred to as the sinner’s prayer…but that we might not experience the intimacy of that relationship until after we die.

This thinking/teaching is so fundamentally flawed, I don’t even know where to begin to tear it apart.

For one thing, the salvation/sinner’s prayer didn’t even exist until 200 years ago.  How did Peter, James, John, Paul, and the others become Christians if they didn’t pray “the prayer”?  For another, “in Christ” is a place, not a position.  It is a present reality.  The New Testament expresses this clearly…and often…but we fail to see it, partly because of bad religious teaching.    I cannot help but suspect that those who tell us we cannot expect to experience a vibrant, intimate relationship with Jesus in this life are only telling us this because they are trying to cover up the fact that they themselves do not. 

But the Bible does not teach this.  Matthew 7:22, 23 tells us clearly that we will enter the Kingdom of God, or be rejected, on the basis of whether Jesus has ever been intimate with us…while we are alive on this earth.

If anyone has a hope of being accepted on the basis of what they have done for God, the people described in Matthew 7:22 are those people.  But according to the Bible, the issue is whether Jesus “knows” (γινώσκώ) us, not what we did for Him.  Knows us…experientially and intimately.  Now…not in heaven…but now.

So let’s abandon the preposterous notion that we can be anything or do anything apart from an intimate connection with Jesus.  We can no more live apart from Him than a branch can live apart from the vine.  We can no more function apart from Him than a body part can function detached from the brain.  It’s impossible.

Unless you’re a spider penis.

Responses to this article are welcomed.  You may contact the author at