Monday, August 30, 2010

Suffering Anyone?

"You love everybody when you're on Percocet." - Gary Thomas

I don't know about you (OK so I do in this) but I have a serious aversion to suffering. I'm not alone in this: our whole culture is afraid of suffering. We don't want it, won't tolerate it and will do anything to buttress ourselves against it.

Why? I guess we think that suffering will produce death in us. The bible teaches us otherwise. Jesus, Paul and the Apostles spend a ton of time discussing this. They promise that suffering will in fact bring the last thing we expect: hope and life.

If anybody knows me, they know that I love to escape to exercise and recreation. It sounds silly and dangerous, but I love to dirt-jump my mountain bike. I guess I have a little of Evel Knievel in me, minus hundred foot canyons and stuff that was on fire.

But when I'm in escape mode I rarely have real fun jumping around on my bike. In fact, most of the time, while I claim I'm having a good time landing on my head and all, I give in to such a powerful perfectionism and drive to jump with style, with "steeze" as kids call it, that I lose sight of the reason God has placed this desire in my heart in the first place.

Dirt-jumping quickly becomes an idol, and if I don't find myself jumping well, I often find muttering inappropriate things, wishing I could stomp on my bike and toss it deep into the woods (something I would definitely do, if mountain bikes weren't so darn expensive).

What gets me in these moods? Why am I so often found in this hole? I don't really know, for my heart is desperately wicked. But my guess is that athletic achievement has become my antidote to my suffering: Do I feel like a lousy father? Let's go jump. Did I have an unproductive day? Let's go jump. Does God feel distant? Let's go jump. Am I having a hard time relating to Melissa? Let's go jump. Do I just feel restless? Let's go jump.

As Tim Keller has pounded into our reformed brains, I have turned a good thing into the ultimate thing. It's sort of funny/sad that my addiction is dirt jumping. And it's by no means my only addiction. "Would you say I have a "plethora" of pinyatas?" - Three Amigos.

We all have funny/sad things we do to escape suffering in our lives. But scripture, in particular Romans 5, says that suffering will work in us a sequence of perseverance and character that will enable us to find a hope that will not disappoint. I'm not sure I like this passage. It has me contemplating doing the Benjamin Franklin with my bible.

We all know that suffering, well, suffering sucks. Will somebody please pass the Percoset? But God asks us to do something that goes against all of our instincts, to actually endure our suffering with joy (something Paul says somewhere).

How can we possibly suffer with joy? My brother-in-law is married to a Joy, so he has an easy out (Sad, sad pun Philip. I just wanted to introduce you to some first-hand suffering in reading my blog.). But for the rest of us, we've got to begin believing that suffering is used by God to produce good.

At this point I don't want any of you to believe that suffering is itself good or that I'm minimizing suffering. Suffering is, well, suffering, and oftentimes God wants us to use doctors, medication and other means to alieviate our suffering. Also, I am pretty unqualified to write on it, compared to the millions out there who know what it truly means to suffer evil.

But I am human, therefore I'm faced with suffering. I'm learning that I've got to embrace suffering in my life if I'm to move forward. Rather than self-medicating, which never works, I've got to run to the guy who is known by the "good physician" and trust his prescriptions. In his crazy handwriting they rarely read "Escape" and more often say "Endurance taken 100x times-a-day."

The problem is this "good physician's" pills don't taste so good. In fact they make my face want to squirm off my head. If they're to produce hope in me, I've got to reshape my reaction to suffering. I've got to take it back to the God that's perscribed it.

What does taking my (and our) suffering to God look like? It may look like sweaty wrestling matches with our sheets, as we try to push through our addictions and aversions. It may look like shaking, trembling, fever, anxiety, fear and headaches. It's counter-intuitive, because what it looks like may not resemble healing. But one thing I know, if I enable God to help me push through, rather than running to idols, there's real light and healing at the end of the tunnel. And little do I know there's real light with me all the way through.

I hope I can learn to suffer well. A dangerous desire I know. But I don't want it because I want to be an uber-Christian (OK so sometimes I do). I want it because I have this seed planted deep in my heart that wants nothing but to draw closer to God. And while drawing close to God hurts sometimes, I'd rather experience the hurt that purifies, than the hurt of alienation.

I hope I can remember this next time I land on my head. Or maybe God will use the opportunity to knock some sense into me.

Aside: Many of these thoughts were spurred on by Authentic Faith, by Gary Thomas. It's an easy read and really helpful.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


My fingers are numb, hot and slow as they move across the keyboard this morning. Sort of like my heart. It feels numb and slow (I don't know about hot) when it comes to things of religion these days.

Do you ever find yourself not feeling it? Someone says something like "Isn't Jesus amazing?!" and you just want zap them and watch them disintegrate into a pile of dust. Life doesn't have that gloss that you expect it to have. You're not excited about your salvation and you've lost the joy. The existential import of what happened on the cross seems not so "import"-ant (ha). It feels separated from you by about 2000 years.

But how's it supposed to feel? Are we to walk around in ecstasies of bliss all the time? Obviously not. God wants us to feel grounded in something higher, deeper and wider than an emotional experience. He wants us to to recognize his loving immanence.

Yesterday, my pastor reminded me again that God is not only transcendent but also immanent. The word "immanent" brings to my mind pictures of a presence that is immediate, beside, with, and for. That's what I need to hear when my heart is dull and weary. We serve a God that not only has done amazing things, the amazing thing, but is close to us.

Closeness is the antidote to the distance I feel in my heart. And since God is immanent, with me in every moment, I know he'll help me have the passion for "the passion" and his boundless, furious love that was expressed on that cross 2000 years ago. But I'm going to wait on his timing. Forcing sentiment is a sure-fire strategy for disenchantment, discouragement, skepticism, and loss of hope.

So what do we do when are hearts are hot, slow and numb? Remember that the God who did it all, who poured out such passionate love 2000 years ago, is the same God who wants to draw near to us today, regardless of our emotional brokenness. In fact, it may just be because of our emotional brokenness that he is so close to us today. Closer than we dare hope.

May he turn me back to his cross in his timing, enabling me to feel his presence in the wasteland. Until then I'm going to fight false sentimentality, for it ruins the message of the cross: the message that now God has drawn near to us, not us to him.

"Blessed are they who have not seen, but believe." I cherish this blessing today and so do my fingers.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Raw and Undistilled

We know that Christ, being raised form the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he die he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. -Romans 6

When I read the Bible, I have a tendency to run ramshod over some amazing passages that don't hit me until I take a closer look. In my eagerness to get my reading done, I sometimes miss the whole point. I breezed over the passage above, as it's so familiar, highlighted it and went on with my reading like nothing had changed.

But this passage if it's true is kind of a big deal. I mean it's showing us what happened in Jesus' death and resurrection, and it's stating how I'm to view myself in light of his actions. It says that Jesus "will never die again" since he's beaten death, that he died to sin and now he lives to God. Then it continues to say that this is exactly the way I am to view myself!

I am to view myself as "dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." How cool is that!? Sin really doesn't have any dominion over me. The truest thing about me now is that I'm alive to God and dead to sin.

So what do I do with this? Especially since I sin all the time. Let's get real, I'm a habitual sinner and to call myself dead to sin seems like a statement that's a little far-fetched or naive. After all I'm not a good person floating around in a sinless utopia. (Can you float in utopia? In my utopias you can.)

But how am I to view myself when we've just sinned? Let's say I've just done something really obviously bad. Not a mistake. Not a blunder. But a premeditated choice to do harm to someone I'm supposed to love. Am I still dead to sin? The answer is yes.

This was something that my brother shared with me not too long ago and it's sort of revolutionized my thinking. Because I'll face it, I feel like a worthless sinner a lot! The truth of the Gospel is not that I don't sin, that would be dumb, but the truth of the Gospel is that my root identity is not characterized by sin, it's characterized by Christ's sinlessness and life towards God.

A little tangent here: some Christians think that we shouldn't consider ourselves sinners anymore, and others think that that's just silly. Frankly, I don't think it matters that much because of the second point that I'm about to make.

I am now dead to sin, just as Jesus is and because Jesus is, but way more cool than that, I'm actually alive to God! The issue is not how I'm to view myself, though that's really important, but the way I actually am. The way God views me. I'm alive to God in Christ Jesus. I still sin, and can call myself a sinner, but the truth about me is that I'm alive to God, finally alive to a life I've never experienced before.

Death used to dominate me, but Chirst dominated death. Death had no dominion over him, and since I'm united with Christ, it doesn't have dominion over me either. And here's the kicker, what he accomplished was way bigger than defeating death, it reunited me with my Father. The fact that I'm free from death and sin to relate with my Father is big. I mean real big. That he loves me, holds me and calls me son is what it's all about and something I'm excited to share.

So the next time I'm tempted to get down on myself, pouting about my habitual sin adiction, I'm going to try and remember this truth: I may still sin, but I am totally freed from my sin by Christ and can now relate to God before, after and during my sinful actions as his beloved and sinless son. That's substitutionary grace my friend, raw and undistilled. It tastes good doesn't it? Yes, we're still free to sin, but we're also free to live, because of, by and through Jesus Christ alone. Let's get on living.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Me vs. Me

Did you know that God is for you, that he turns towards you in your distress? I ran across this idea in Ezekial 35 yesterday and it convicted me. I had picked up my Bible while I was experiencing relational tension with a close friend of mine. This of course breaks the first rule of Conviction Resistance: "Never pick up a Bible! And if you do, certainly don't be stupid enough to open it!"

Well I did both and was immediately confronted by the words of God, "for behold I am for you, and I will turn to you." Of course God is here talking to the mountains of Israel. But his sentiment is that these are his mountains which will bear fruit and nurture his people.

The reason that this was so convicting for me last night is that all my affections and sentiments were first and foremost turned towards me. I was totally for me. Without the miraculous opening of my Bible, I was destined to continue turned towards myself and be for myself, alone. What about the needs of my friend? They can wait till I've taken care of MINE.

It's funny how God's sentiments are rarely my own. When I feel my indignation is righteous, like God's, I almost always find that it's totally not. When I think my sentiments are selfless, they rarely are. Rarely am I simply for others and turned towards them.

My greatest enemy, other than the devil of course, is the monster that lurks within. The monster that says life is about me, happiness is about me, and satisfaction comes when I pursue me.

It never does. The deep satisfaction we all seek is only found in God. "We all know that Phil, thanks for blogging it! Now it's official!" But it's what we need to hear over, over, over, and over again. Did you hear that? It took four "over"s. When I think about it, the reason I need to hear this is that in my self-pursuit I'm actually acting against my self-interests. I'm me vs. me!

I don't know if you're like me, but if you are your pride is easily wounded and you care deeply how people treat you. You are easily offended, argumentative, and bitter. If this is true of you, as it is of me, now imagine a world that is made up people like this. It's the reason, when GK Chesterton was asked, "What do you believe is wrong with the world?" he answered, "I am what's wrong" (At least I think that's what he said - but he's dead now so he can't correct me. There's a good argument for quoting dead people.).

That's yet another reason the good news of the Gospel is so good. God is determined to change our selfish desires! God is turned towards us and is for us, in a determined effort to enable us to turn towards him and be for him and for others. As this transformation occurs in our lives, we begin to taste the scandal of the Gospel: that life is found in dying, that peace is found in seeking other's peace, and that joy is only a selfless gift away.

Sounds good doesn't it? A nice little theological package. Well it's a lot easier said than done. Today I ask that Jesus will enable me to turn to and be for others and I'll try and leave my death throws of self in his hands. God help me!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

When Slugs Surf

I was slouched in the lounge chair last night, muscling up the energy to press the button on my remote. I was a puddle of useless, brainless, unproductivity. I didn't care, it was time to turn off my brain and turn on the ambient fuzz of delights. That sounds like a really fancy attempt at creative writing doesn't it? Nice.

Channel surfing in no way reminds me of actual surfing. Surfing takes muscle control, balance, and coordination in concert with nature. And on top of that it deals with one of nature's most difficult elements: water, lots of it. Channel surfing on the other hand requires the muscle control of a twitchy finger, total neglect of balance, and the coordination of a slug laying belly up. And the closest you'll get to nature in TV watching is far, far away my friend. A bug does occasionally interrupt my escapes into TV land. Of course rather than appreciate it, I'll usually terminate it with brutal efficiency and a spontaneous burst of adrenaline, so I can quickly get back to being a totally useless blob.

What is it about channel surfing that I like so much? I mean, I love it and I hate it. I hate trying to shield my eyes and brain from all of the trash that's out there, so mine is a sort of nervous twitching. If you think my surfing is Pharisaical and self-righteous at times, you've got me pinned. The reason being is that I typically shield or avert my eyes from things I'd really like to take a closer look at. But in a more innocent way my TV watching is also characterized by an eager pursuit of something that will give me a little distraction, satisfaction, and escape from my world.

I guess I find my world is both boring and frightening sometimes, and watching TV enables me to escape. In some ways, its a good escape, not a bad one, so I'm not totally down on it. But there's something about the action of watching TV for me that's a bit sad in that it reminds me of something lost or something not attained.

I often turn on the TV because I've either lost satisfaction or am searching for it. Or maybe it's simply that the restlessness of my unquiet mind draws me like a human moth to its soothing blue light. I don't want to get too philosophical about it, as you'll probably quit reading: "Oh great, another blogging snob going on about the perils and evils of TV."

But I think that the root cause that makes me pick up the remote is the same that makes me do a lot of things in my life - a sense of loss. Something has been taken from my life, something that I remember, something that I only get hints at, but definitely something I want. I believe its what CS Lewis may have been describing when he referred to "the whisperings of a far off country."

TV reminds me of my deep longing and the gulf separates me from my home. Of course its not just TV that reminds me of this, but TV is a particularly acute example, because I typically turn to it in times when I could be losing myself in satisfied reflection, worship, or a dreaming directed by my friend God. Do I believe God watches TV with me? Yes, all the time! Does he wish I'd do something more productive sometimes, probably.

I guess it's all part of living in a fallen world and having longings that are too big to be met here. Maybe my TV would be well replaced with a mirror, for it mirrors the storm that is my inward life.

When as a slug, I find myself on my back in front of my false world of delights, may God gently flip me back on my belly and send me on my way, be it ever so slow. And to get really artsy with this piece, maybe this slug will take up surfing and dissolve as it hits its first salt-filled wave. What a way to go!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Gap

Here I sit in Starbucks, sipping my Mocha Venti Frappachino, reading my ESV Study Bible and wondering, "What the heck am I doing?"

How can I read Romans 5, a passage that has rocked the face of Christendom for centuries and simpy sip on my Frapp - my symbol of cathartic self-love and indulgence. There are cavernous gaps between what I read and live. They gape - these gaps - and whispering up from their depths are truths that I'm not situated to understand on a heart level.

Why? Because I've literally bought in to a culture that glorifies self-love and doesn't glorify God. Do I "rejoice in the hope of the glory of God?" Since I'm not even sure what that means, my guess is I don't. Now, don't get me wrong, early Christians were clearly not super-saints, but their lives, and often deaths, pointed to a greater reality - the reality of Christ's life lived in them.

Do I believe that Christ doesn't live in me? No. In fact this passage clearly shows the rescuing hand of God that saved us "while we were still weak" and "while we were still sinners." But what if we have been saved and are still sinning, sipping frapps, and are still sold on a culture of lies?

I find great comfort in the line which says, if "we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life." My only hope is in the life of Christ. His heart's got to start beating in this rebellious sinners chest. If it doesn't my arteries will get clogged by Mocha Frapps and I'll eventually die from self-indulgence.

I think I'm called to something more than sitting in Starbucks and sipping on Mochas. Not that it's all I do. But these days, it's one of the escapes I seek. Having been called by God to share with people what God is doing through Student Venture and to share our need for finances and prayer, I escape to my Frapp, my blog, my bike, my books, basically anything but surrender through trust. I'm a Jonah just waiting for the fish to chomp.

I mourn over this attitude of faithlessness. It characterizes my everyday. It fills my days with restlessness, discontent, and frustration. God wants more. Not from me. He simply wants to do more in me. Am I willing? Are you willing?

That's why picking up the Bible is such a scary thing. It constantly calls us to things that are way above us. Its truths always take into account super-natural intervention. Salvation is its mantra. Which is a good thing, because I need salvation on a daily basis.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Seeing Blind

Righteousness that is based on God's promises is sure. Period.

Sometimes we think that righteousness is something we must produce, or conjure, or work out, etc. But if we look to scripture this way of thinking is condemned over and over again. Righteousness, as I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, is solely based on our position before God.

I was reminded of this again while I was reading in Matthew. In Mt. 13 Jesus quotes Isaiah to his disciples to explain why he talks in parables: "(that they) will indeed hear but never understand, and (they) will indeed see but never perceive..." That sounds cryptic enough, especially as an explanation. The disciples must have been thinking, "Thanks a lot Jesus, that clears everything up!"

But to make it all a little more confusing Jesus goes on to say, "but blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear." How can he say this? The disciples in no way understand the parables. They remind me more of groupies, blindly following around their rock-star and heckling for autographs, rather than people who understand the one they follow. Or more accurately they remind me of sheep. Hmm...

And that's just it. They are the sheep. Their righteousness is not based on their understanding. They are far from understanding. But for these "blessed" disciples, the understanding sits right in their midst. Jesus in his personhood is a gift of righteous understanding, not a cognitive ascent to a truth. What I mean is that Jesus by simply being with and choosing these guys, knew not only that they would one day understand but stood up on their behalf in actuality as their understanding and righteousness.

Why do I believe this? Because it's really obvious. They have no clue what Jesus is talking about! He has to explain the parables to them and even then we have no follow-up questions like: "Jesus can you explain in more detail, because this kingdom of God stuff makes my head hurt, and I know you want us to get it?"

That's what I'd be asking. If I truly knew who Jesus was, as the disciples didn't (they were blessedly naive), I'd be asking him this and that, taking notes and making sure I got everything just right to make sure I was in and not out, open to and understanding God's word and not hard and deaf.

Jesus knew all this. He knew man's tendency to make understanding into a form of possession. And Jesus refused to be possessed. He was simply at peace with his disciples cluelessness. Why? Because he was with them. He was the answer to their questions. And they'd get their answers.

But more importantly, Jesus could confidently assert that they were already "blessed" based on his presence with them. His choosing was everything. Jesus knew that with him they had righteousness and would slowly begin to understand. Jesus knew that without him the situation was hopeless. This dynamic is reflected in all the gospel accounts, and particularly in Mark, where the disciples ask some of the most audacious and stupid questions ever.

So why am I rambling on about all this. I believe Jesus is teaching us something through the disciples ignorance and his proclamation of them as "blessed." He wants the reader to recognize that Jesus, in the flesh, is our righteousness, and our understanding.

Also, Jesus is showing that he is perfectly happy to call blind and deaf followers as seeing and hearing. He's perfectly happy to lead you and me. So often we think that we've got to understand this and that about Jesus in order to grow, mature or even claim our identity as followers. But if Mt. 13 has anything to say about this, it's stating that righteousness, blessedness and perfect standing before God has nothing to do with our understanding and everything to do with Christ's presence in our lives.

Are you uncomfortable in your sanctification? Look to the Lord of your sanctification. Do you feel you have to understand your salvation, and hold true orthodoxy in your mind in order to be saved? No, this is simply unbiblical. Jesus is our salvation, our orthodoxy, and even claims to be our new mind.

I need to hear this truth over and over again. Because I hate being in tension. I can't stand this "now, but not yet" stuff. It doesn't fit in my paradigm. And that's just the point: the radical love of God revealed in the very personal work of Jesus nakedly shows our ignorance and highlights God's grace.

This should impact our evangelism and teaching. Our focus should move from intellectual comprehension and understanding to prayer and dependence. After all, we can spout off the truth about Jesus, and people can even believe us, but if they don't receive Jesus through the Spirit they've got nothing.

The same goes for us every day. Unless we have Jesus we have nothing. But since we do have Jesus we have everything! And we can rest and allow him to explain himself to us and in-so-doing sanctify us. If you're like me you're tired of the self-salvation project anyway, and this is really good news. Good news for a tired and blind soul.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mean God, Nice God

Do we serve a mean God? It's a question we all ask, whether we think of it consciously or not. So many people have expressed to me that they believe the God of the Old Testament is wrathful, whereas the God of the New is loving and stuff.

But the truth is God's got to cohere both in the Old and the New, since guess what, he's the same God in both testaments! Argh, people make me so mad! Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Bart Erman (Jesus Interrupted), Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass), Dan Brown (The Davinci Code) and all the other crazies out there that totally pull scripture out of context are attempting to pull the wool over our eyes (Isn't wool really scratchy! I'd hate to have that pulled over my eyeballs!!!).

One of my professors when I was in the cemetery (I mean seminary) made the bold statement that if we really study the Bible (you know read that old crusty book on our shelves) we'd find that's there's not really anything "new" in the New Testament. Of course there's more specific revelation in the person and work of Jesus, but the character of God that's behind it all is the exact same personal, loving, holy and righteous God.

I noticed this again today as I was reading Ezekiel (What kind of dork reads Ezekiel?). Well let me tell you, my top was blown (not really) once again by God's character that comes jumping off the page. Read Ezekiel 33:10-20. Tell me that it doesn't reveal a perspective on righteousness that is totally novel to the human mind.

The reason I believe it's novel is that "righteousness" in this passage is totally focused on repentance and right standing before God. Turning to God is the theme. It's that that brings righteousness. It's totally New Testament stuff, smack dab in the middle of the ancient Hebrew scriptures (I don't know how practicing Jews get around this sort of stuff. And I'd love to learn more and see if they do or not.)!

God says "Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteousness deeds shall be remembered..." Did you hear that? Or did you miss it? The danger is not simple unrighteousness but man trusting in his righteousness and conversely (not like the shoes) not trusting in God and his righteousness.

I could end this post now. It's enough to chew on. Tim Keller talks a lot about it in his thoughts on glory, so check them out. Of course I won't stop, because I like to write and because I think this debunks the idea of a mean and exacting God that we all sometimes think lies behind the Old Testament.

Here we have pictured a compassionate God. A God that in the same passage says "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live." God's desire is first and foremost for his glory (thank you John Piper). His glory is most clearly revealed when humans live in right relationship to him. His righteousness then becomes there's. If they begin to trust in the righteousness itself, then boom, the bottom falls out, since they are called to trust in God.

So anyhow, if you meet someone today who says something silly like "I believe in Jesus, but I don't believe in the God of the Old Testament, the God who killed people and stuff." Take them to this passage in Ezekiel, and show them God's heart. Heck, take them anywhere in the OT. For as the Jesus Storybook Bible, which I've been reading to my daughter, states over and over, "every story whispers his name." Jesus is God's crowning revelation! And he's seen throughout the OT. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

We don't serve a mean God or I guess even a nice God, we serve the God who says he is love. He knows what he's talking about. Let's lean on it and swat of the dust and gnats of our Old Testaments and start to combat the silly voices in our culture that keep saying God's a meanie. He's not. We're the meanies.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Deadly Silence

So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. - Ezekial 33:7-9

It sounds a bit archaic doesn't it. "Wicked this" and "wicked that," and "they shall surely die in their iniquity." But I made a connection today (albeit a loose one) to one of the biggest dangers that is ravishing the church today. Here it is:"__________(crickets)________(bullfrogs)_____________(annoying mosquito)________(platypus splashing through creek)." Silence, yes silence, its killing me, and its killing the church.

I was talking with a friend last week who was stepping into unknown territory as he discussed his depression, fears, anxiety and sin. Unknown, because even though he's in full-time ministry, he had never discussed his depression and anxiety with anyone!

"What is wrong with us?" I was thinking. "How can we get so far down the road in our struggles before we begin to share them with others?" That same day I found out about another friend, who also works with us in ministry, who is now withdrawing from the ministry because of anxiety brought on by a bad case of poison ivy! No one to talk to, it can kill you.

I don't get this. I mean I do and I don't. I know that when I'm depressed I don't want to talk to anyone. I just want to hide and hole up until I get better or die. Shame and raw hurt scare me away from others. But I also know that if I don't say something or show some sign of my pain that sin in the form of self-destruction, comparison, resentment, hate, lust, withdrawal and even suicidal thoughts will beckon. That's my emotional train-wreck pile-up.

I can't imagine not sharing my pain with someone. If I have to force myself to start fake crying like a little kid, I'll do it. Depression hurts too much. If I have to fall down on the floor and kick my legs around and break furniture, I'll do it. Thankfully I haven't had to go that far. Plus my wife Melissa would put me on the naughty mat way before I was allowed to throw that sort of fit.
But I don't think it's just depression and anxiety that people are silent about. It's all kinds of things. Could it be that we have this whole Christ-following thing backwards? Is it true that to show a broken life is to show spiritual immaturity.

NO! NO! NO!!! What a bill of goods we've been sold! What a whopper of a lie! And the sad thing is that most of us have bought it. Of course we'd never admit it. But how many times do we sit down at church and really "confess our sins one to another" (It says this somewhere in the bible right! I'm too lazy to look it up however).

If I simply shared with people what goes through my mind while I'm in church, people would probably gather around me and lay hands on me (if they dared) to free me of my obvious case of demon possession. I can see it now. They'd be so stunned! "Wow, if this is what he thinks in church, imagine the other crap he's not sharing. Yikes! He's definitely possessed by the devil. He is the devil! Let's just all run away and pray while we run!"

Obviously there's a time and place to be open and a time and a place to set boundaries. But we need to find friends and people to confess with. It's not enough just to talk to God in our heads. For if we're to take Paul seriously, our brothers and sisters are the hands, feet and everything else of Christ. Can you imagine a physical body where no messages got from the brain to the appendages. Just picture Jim Carrey on speed.

How can we hide stuff and survive as a church? Imagine if we really began to become "fierce repenters," as a friend of mine termed. Imagine the pain we'd share, the forgiveness we'd find and imagine the cross getting bigger and bigger and bigger, until all we could do is stare slackjawed at the great cost of our forgiveness.

I'm not saying we could or should be totally open with any and everyone. That could produce a false sense of authenticity in which we wallow around in our sin. But let's just say that if we were "watchmen" for eachother (like the passage I quoted above encourages) can you imagine the reality and repentance that would sweep the dead religion right out of church?

My friend shared that I was the first or second person he'd talked to about his depression and lust. He said that he was so frustrated, because he was trying to be a person of character. Come on! Why do we think that stuffing all this crap deep down into the recesses of our souls will enable us to be more like Christ?

I guess a lot of us have given up on being like Christ and would rather just look like him. Of course if we did that with any authenticity, we'd have really dark skin, would probably smell really bad and would walk around in dirty table-cloths.

The passage above talks about delivering souls by sharing with them that their sin will kill them. Our silence may indeed be killing souls, but, hear this, our silence may mean that their blood God "will require at your hand." We've got to break the killer silence. Maybe then Christ will work in us together. Together, not alone. Sounds good doesn't it?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Teaching Monsters to Wait

I'm an impatient Christian. I have an "inordinate desire of being delivered from the evil which (I) desire: and yet there is nothing which tends more to increase evil, and prevent the enjoyment of good, than an unquiet mind" - Francis de Sales (17th century spiritual director).

Have you ever felt the monster of impatience slouching around in your soul, robbing you of peace, stealing joy, and blinding you from the Holy Spirit, your reality and ever-present counselor? I do. As a child of God, wrestling with the reality of sin, I like slinking around with my monster. My monster and I agree that we want to get over my sin problem right now, or yesterday!

However, I'm learning, with much help from Gary Thomas' book, Authentic Faith (audacious title eh?), that the God I serve stands outside of time. While he is concerned with my growth and maturity, he doesn't often move as quickly as I desire. In fact, he seems to move really slow, to the chagrine of my monster and me.

His seeming slowness, combined with the reality of my impatience, lead to a really, really "unquiet mind." My monster agrees. My monster, rather than being fed by God's peace, is fed on thoughts that begin with "I just wish God..." and "I wish I'd..."

What I'm finding is that I'm a very prideful person. To be honest (which is a good policy, sometimes, I guess, if I have to) my pride makes me a demanding little brat. I whine and moan when God doesn't deliver me from "besetting sins" - whatever besetting is. I stomp my feet and pout when I find myself being lazy, inattentive to others, unkind, selfish, and a host of other ugly things that keep my monster slouching around.

I'm mad at God, wishing that he'd just get moving with me. When is he going to start working on project "Phil's Sanctification: When God discovers that Phil knows best." When is he going to get with the program? When is he going to check into this address:

Phil's Always Better Hotel
101 Phil's Cooler-Than-You Street
Philipton, VPL fls-da-bst
Planet Philip, Super-Duper-Fun Galaxy of Phil, Universe of the Almighty and Humble Phil

and start living according to Planet Philip's rules. Oh wait...

Usually my monster is so loud with his impatience that I can't hear the patient voice of God. God doesn't follow time-tables, charts, and certainly isn't coerced by a demanding attitude: (insert female, British, cockney accent here) "Little monster, am I going to have to put you in the naughty chair?" While he wants me to be transformed, he wants to submit my transformation to him. My guess is that he wants me to realize that my sanctification work really isn't mine, it's his and it comes with his timing.

After all, God's design is that my hope should be in him, not in his transformation of me. If I hope in him and draw close to him, recognizing the perfect standing I have before him, and the new nature that now rules in me, my attitude will be one of confident patience, not an unquiet mind. Maybe my monster of impatience will sit down for a good while and pay attention to the God who is making all things new, including me. And unfortunately for my monster, God's going to teach him how to wait. Pride and self-centeredness aren't good starting points for a life of faith and hope - a life lived in eager expectation of what God can and will do.

I can picture the Holy Spirit patiently explaining to me: "Wait Philip. Just Wait. Quiet your unquiet mind and wait. Ask your monster to take a load off and wait with you. Rest in your new identity, but more importantly trust in the author of your new identity. His timing is perfect. His sense of time is pretty good, since he created time after all. Your life is in his hands. He knows Mr. Monster: your sin, impatience and pride. He knows your inquietude-'tude,' and he asks you to wait."

"Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life" (Jude 21).