I attended a seminar at my church over the weekend called Ancient Paths. It’s a ministry started by a guy named Craig Hill. The theme is about how our society - church included - has abandoned the way God wanted people to live, and the consequences we are suffering as a result. The part I attended mainly covered family and interpersonal relationship issues. We examined modern American culture and mores through the lens of ancient Jewish society. (Which is our best example of how God wanted us to live since it was a theocracy with all the laws coming straight from Him.) We looked at the power of blessings and curses, how they are applied and the generational effect they have. Then the importance of ceremonies to cement these blessings at important times in life, and the roles that the family and community play in those as well. I’m pretty skeptical about this sort of thing generally. Especially the whole curses and demons and related themes. Not that I don’t believe they exist. But the amount of fascination and speculation, and the type of people that tend to be drawn to the subjects have always turned me off to them. So I don’t know that I totally buy into all of Mr. Hill’s theories. But all the basic premises were biblically sound and appealed to common sense. One of the things that bugs me about seminars like these is an underlying premise that there is some secret technique hidden in the bible that only this organization has figured out. Of course that means you have to conclude that the rest of the body of Christ is out in the cold, and that God didn’t do a good enough job emphasizing the right things when He inspired the Bible. But this was more about society getting it wrong than it was about Christians getting it wrong. Although we obviously have a lot of influences from society.
So anyway, here are some highlights from the seminar…
Battle between the flesh and spirit.
First he made a distinction between the 3 components of a person: flesh, spirit, and soul. He defined the soul as the mind, will, and emotions. The part that the flesh and spirit are fighting over. The Spirit is the part of you that is made new when you are saved. The flesh is the ‘old man’, not your literal body. (Because we don’t believe the body is evil.) So, that being established, his contention is that you’re soul has two doors; one to the flesh, and one to the spirit. And only one can be opened at a time. When the door to the spirit is opened, it is impossible to act in the flesh and visa-versa. He was careful to point out that there are many different areas we can be talking about, and you can have different doors open in these different areas simultaneously. For instance, my soul can be open to the spirit in my family relations, but open to the flesh in my driving habits.
He proposed that any time you don’t have the soul’s door to the spirit open, the soul will feel needs that aren’t being met, and that is when the flesh will open it’s door and propose it’s solution to the soul’s needs. These solutions are always wrong. Things like overeating, yelling, drinking, adultery, etc. Mr. Hill, points out that these things are not the problem. Anger, overeating, and such are the warnings. Warnings that your soul is not being fed by the newly created, born again spirit. The flesh is just trying to comfort the soul the only way it knows how. The great analogy he gave was that these sins are like the warning lights in your car. When they turn on it means something under the hood isn’t working. The lights are not the problem. ‘Managing’ your anger is like putting tape over the warning light. It only address the symptom.
This was a great epiphany for me. It articulated a lot of feelings and experiences I’ve been having over the past year, as I’ve lost some of the flesh-induced desires behind. Especially in regard to lust. I am still shocked at how that whole issue in my life just went away as I pressed into God. I can see the door illustration explains that perfectly. I’ve always approached sin from a brute-force, repression angle. But I see now that abstinence is not victory. I can suppress all I want, but if the soul is not open to the renewed spirit, I will eventually cave in. Addressing the spiritual needs puts the flesh to sleep. This approach is much less angst inducing, and I’m afraid my song writing may suffer as a result. (sarcasm) When I used to groan anguished prayers to God about helping me overcome my sins, the thought I always came back to was that I need to read my Bible and pray more. I would always think, “Well duh. … But seriously, God! Help me overcome this!” Now that a few things have been overcome, and I look back and see that they went away when I started reading my Bible and praying regularly, I’m seeing the obvious connection. Bible and prayer are how we feed our soul with the spirit. Not doing that leaves the soul with the only other option: the flesh way.
So that seems to work for some areas. But I certainly have more issues I need to deal with. So I guess it makes since to do more Bible and prayer.
Separating shame and discipline
He spoke a lot about how we communicate on different levels. He lumped them together into 2 categories. Topical/Issue and Relational/Identity. The example he gave was a husband taking his wife out to ice cream. He sees the price of the banana split and says with some exasperation, “$4.50?! How can they charge that much for a banana split?” The wife accuses him of only thinking about money. He points out that there are lot’s of other things he thinks about, and the fight is off. Mr. Hill’s analysis would be that the husband thought he was only speaking topically about the price of ice cream. But the wife took it as a relational comment; an insinuation that she is not worth the price. She felt like he was demeaning her identity. The husband doesn’t see this, and so continues to argue with her on the topical level. Thinking that if he refutes her inaccuracies about an issue, it should be resolved. I think most couples can identify with this story. I know I sure could. My ex and I have talked past each other like this countless times.
He extended this lesson to a situation he had with his little son. They were at a restaurant, and Craig told his son he was a big boy now and so he wasn’t going to help him prepare his food anymore. His son ordered a big hamburger, and when it was served, Craig, out of habit, reached over and cut it in half, fearing an inevitable spill. His son burst out in tears and said he had ruined it and started demanding another. Craig got mad at his son for causing a scene, and on and on it went. The point was that his son saw the cutting of the hamburger as demeaning his newly promoted identity.
The application of this principle to discipline is fairly straight forward. You punish your child on the topical level while maintaining their positive identity. You don’t say “You were bad so go to your room.” (The message is that they are bad, not their actions. We even send the same message when we say “Good boy!” when they are behaving well. There is an implication that their actions are what makes them good, not their inherent God-given value.) Instead you can say “You decided to do X, which you know is wrong, so your choice means you have to go to your room.” I think this will help me a lot since I always suffer guilt after I punish my kids because I’m so aware of the setbacks they will have since they lack a mother. I have always poured on the love, the praise, and worked hard to let them know what a blessing they are. But felt like every time I punished them I was undermining that message. Now I see why, and I can correct it.
Curses and Blessings
This part was about how the things we say as parents can affect our children, and their children, etc. The premise is that spirits are active participants in all stages of life, and can have big impacts if the conditions are right. Since most of the information on this topic is based on experiential data, (testimonials) and not much Biblical backing, I don’t give it too much credence. Now there were plenty of verses quoted; don’t get me wrong. But the way they were assembled and used makes me think there may be a little extra being read into them than was intended.
Like the rest of the stuff in the seminar, I think there is as much of a psychological aspect to this topic as there is a spiritual one. And to his credit, Mr. Hill has the following preface for the section: “ The following potential results of cursing are all just that: POTENTIAL. The way you have been treated by others in your life, (cursing or blessing) is never deterministic, but can only be influential. Your response to the way people have treated you determines the outcome in your life.”
One thing that bothered me about this type of thing is just how much psychology is involved. Why attribute stuff like this to spiritual things when a perfectly fine explanation can be found in the human brain. But thinking through it I realized that this doesn’t invalidate the concepts of blessing and cursing at all. God designed our brains. He knows exactly how the spirit and mind mesh. The fact that they effect each other is pretty natural. It makes since that God would design a system of blessing for His people that would keep their minds as healthy as possible. When we abandoned His mechanisms for imparting blessings, we took our minds out of His hands. And the results are obviously bad.
I certainly don’t argue with the premise. Generational issues, or curses if you will, are a definite Biblical concept. Same with blessings. It was some of the specific cause and effect stuff that seemed a bit odd to me.
I thought the best part in this section was dealing with times of blessing. He spent a lot of time detailing the ancient Jewish lifestyle, ceremonies, and law. And how those were put in place by God to ensure that the positive blessings would result. Then he contrasted those practices to what we have today, and showed how the chances of those same blessings occurring in our society are so slim.
Small group times
Ugh. I hate small groups. But I’m glad I was forced to do it. It’s good for me to try to expand my comfort zone. We had several sessions scattered throughout the 3 days where we would retreat into randomly (or Spirit-guided if they were right) assigned groups of 9 or 10. Each group had facilitators that kept the peace and maintained focus. I’m trying to figure out why I hate small group times so much. It’s not the small group part. I like casual conversation in small groups. (In fact I had a very enjoyable one at a home group on Sunday about this seminar.) I think it must have to do with the unspoken demand for results. I feel pressure to give feedback that will make everyone else happy. Because we have limited time, and everyone has needs, there is a certain insincerity to the approach. I’m not saying the people are insincere, quite the opposite was true. I think it’s just inherent to the system. We were dealing with these huge emotional, life changing issues; but only had a couple of minutes each to get through them. Really, it’s the kind of thing that should be tackled in home groups, where there is no time limit since everyone can continue next week. Hopefully this curriculum can be integrated somehow.
Anyway. One thing the facilitators did was work us through the process of realizing where curses could have come into our lives. Things like dad saying he wishes we had been the opposite gender, or mom saying we were a mistake. This smelled a little bit like that whole repressed memory farce, but the idea was that it was guided by the Holy Spirit. So who am I to say He wasn’t leading. Plus, I don’t think anyone suddenly realized something they had forgotten.
Once a source was found, and the result analyzed, we would pray for forgiveness for the wrong doing that the curse may have provoked in us, (such as bitterness towards a parent) and then prayed against the curse. I couldn’t think of anything like they were talking about in my life. (Thanks mom and dad!) But I definitely could see that something sinister is at work in my son’s life. Some kind of ‘spirit’ affects him deeply when he talks to his mom. Yes, I’m sure there is a big psychological component, but there is something else there that is stirred up, or imparted, or something. So we prayed against that. I repented for my fear in this area. How scared I am for Justin. One of the facilitators asked me to ask God how He sees me. Oh crap. Just what I was afraid of. Put on the spot. Hearing God has never been something I’ve thought I could do particularly well. Especially under pressure. “How does God see you as a father?” she asked. Well, a pillar popped into my head. “A pillar?” I said. “Very good. What else?” I thought of Jesus rebuking Jerusalem, when He said he longed to gather them under His wing like a mother hen gathers her chicks. No. I didn’t think about that. I just got the image of a mother hen, and retro-thought about the Jerusalem rebuke. So I said, “A mother hen.” Fortunately that was enough. They released me into the wild, and I could breath again.
I often wonder how God works through, and speaks to people. How much flesh is involved? How much of what I ‘saw’ was my own mind spinning? Was He involved at all? I hope someday I’ll be spiritually mature enough to know. I’m not doubting that He could have been speaking to me. I’m just wondering if my racing mind is just too loud for me to hear Him.
Well on the last day the facilitators gave us each a little gift bag with some reading material, a card that has our name and it’s meaning, along with a verse inspired by our conversations. Also, in a bit of creative flair, we each received a little knick-knack that pertained to the aspects of our lives that we shared. They got me a little beanie-baby roster with two little fuzz-ball chicks. It was very touching. I put it up on my monitor at work. And while I may question the source of the vision, I can’t deny it’s pertinence in my life. I’ve got a little fuzz ball under each wing.