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Shipwrecked Souls And Intimacy

“Every shipwrecked soul knows what it is to live without intimacy.”

Every Breaking Wave, Songs of Innocence – U2

There are a lot of shipwrecked souls out there, including me. There is a beautiful irony in admitting that my soul is ship-wrecked. It unlocks the door to intimacy with others, and ultimately with God. I become far more relatable when I admit my weakness and failures to others, particularly those who are closest to me. Conversely, when I am unable or refuse to openly recognize my short comings and weakness, it stunts my ability to connect with others.

It’s frustrating that I often operate in a “self-protective” mode that inhibits intimacy, the deepest desire of my soul. If I wish to fulfill the deepest desire of my soul, I must confront my instinctual fears that activate this “self-protection” and choose to take calculated risks with trusted people. I know that the fear is real, because relationships are undeniably painful. However, pain can be endured and isn’t actually the worst case scenario. It can stimulate growth in relationships, especially the most life-giving relationship available: the relationships with my heavenly Father.

Contrary to what many believe, the Bible lists only two simple prerequisites for an intimate relationship with God:

1.       Admission of brokenness

2.       Trusting him

Really, these are the same prerequisites for intimacy in any relationship. We must be willing to trust the other person with at least some of our brokenness. This means that we need to be in touch with our brokenness (A.K.A. “baggage”). For me, getting in touch with my baggage has been a terrifying experience at times. Much of who I wanted to be and how I wanted others to view me is threatened by the exposure of my baggage. As you can imagine, chasing a fictitious identity is like chasing a wave that breaks as soon as you get close to it, but it seems to be a very common experience.

Finding the courage to dig into our baggage

The more convinced I am that my baggage doesn’t actually define me, the easier it becomes to look inward with an honest, more objective heart. This convincing is no small task. We are all fighting a lifetime of overt and subliminal messaging that flies in the face of the idea that our baggage doesn’t define who we truly are. When we discover (or rediscover) that God isn’t going to be surprised, put-off or angry when we admit our vulnerabilities, we experience tremendous freedom and intimacy with him. He sweeps us off our feet and pulls us close to his chest in a loving embrace, not because we’ve corrected our issues, but because we’ve invited him into our mess. That is intimacy; being met in your vulnerable state with a loving embrace. Yes, the mess usually begins to get sorted out, but that’s not the ultimate objective. Walking in an intimate relationship is.

In light of these thoughts, I would encourage you to ponder another line from the same song:

“Are we ready to be swept off our feet and stop chasing every breaking wave?”

Tullian

God’s Grace: The Door To Lawlessness Or Freedom?

I wanted to share a excerpt from Jonathan Merritt’s interview with Tullian Tchividjian (Grandson of Billy Graham). It is a fantastic interview with several insightful and thought provoking discussions. I have only listed the first question and response, which is chalk full of valuable thoughts to ponder. I would suggest reading it through the lens of examining your own stance on grace vs. obedience, rather than exclusively focusing on the church’s stance, especially since you and I are critical parts of the church. I hope and pray that this compels you to run more aggressively into the arms of our loving father.

JM: One criticism that has been leveled against the church is that we’ve been more concerned with behavior modification than with grace. Am I correct in saying that you believe this is a valid criticism?

Tullian Tchividjian: There’s no question that for far too long the church has been primarily concerned with external change. Preachers are afraid of grace because they think it undercuts obedience and encourages apathy. If Jesus paid it all and it is finished, if the judgment against us has been fully and finally taken care of, aren’t we opening the door to lawlessness? This is what Judaizers were afraid of: they didn’t like Gospel of free grace because they thought people would get out of control. If God is not mad at me and if he will never love me more than he does right now, then why can’t I party my way through life? The underlying fear is that unconditional grace leads to licentiousness.

While attacks on morality will always come from outside the church, attacks on grace will always come from inside the church because somewhere along the way we’ve come to believe that this whole thing is about behavioral modification and personal moral improvement. We’ve concluded that grace just doesn’t possess the teeth to scare us into changing. As a result we get a steady diet of “do more, try harder” sermons; we get a “to do list” version of Christianity that causes us to believe the focus of the Christian faith is the life of the Christian. So we end up hearing more about “Christian living” than the Christ.

We think this will be what gets people to clean up their act, to fix themselves, to volunteer in the nursery, to obey, to read their Bibles, to change the world–but it actually has the opposite effect. A steady diet of “do more, try harder” sermons doesn’t cause people to do more or try harder…it makes them give up. Legalism produces lawlessness 10 times out of 10.

The fact is, that the solution to restraint-free immorality is not morality. The solution to immorality is the free grace of God. Only undeserved grace can truly melt and transform the heart. The route by which the New Testament exhorts sacrificial love and obedience is not by tempering grace but by driving it home. Charles Spurgeon nailed it when he said, “When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I beat my breast to think I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so and sought my good.”

Enjoy the entire interview HERE.

Memorial

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn: A 9/11 Tribute

In an effort to acknowledge the tragedy of 9.11, I would like to talk about mourning. The Beatitudes give us the phrase, “blessed are those who mourn”. This doesn’t really jive with the American way and the selfish desires of my heart, but I’m sure it’s true. In my understanding, the idea of mourning is centered on an acknowledgement of something that is good that is missing. This acknowledgement can often be painful to the person who is admitting there is now a void of someone or something in their lives. Unfortunately, in an effort to minimize personal pain, I might ignore or diminish this acknowledgment. This can have significant long-term, unintended side effects. In short, by not acknowledging the good things that are now gone, we can unknowingly close off those areas of our heart and prevent them from ever being healed. You see, we cannot selectively shut out pain. The door we are shutting is the same door that healing and love need to enter our hearts. So, if you are like me, you may have closed many doors in an effort to avoid pain, but you also stunted your ability to love and be loved. Part of the GOOD NEWS is that God can help you re-open those doors, mourn, and heal.

I pray for the families and friends of those who died on 9/11, that they would be able to re-open doors that may have been shut and experience God’s healing touch.

Blondin (Francois Gravelet) pushes a wheelbarrow across a tightrope over Niagra Falls

Operational Belief vs. Intellectual Ascent (part 2 of 2)

In Part 1 of this post, I considered the difference between two kinds of “belief”:

  1. Intellectual Ascent
  2. Operational Belief

The examples of:

  • a dad who knows how he should love and disciple his children (intellectual ascent) vs. how he actually behaves when they frustrate and disrespect him (operational belief)
  • a mom who knows God is always loving and present with her (intellectual ascent) vs. her feelings of loneliness and abandonment when her spouse and friends are emotionally unavailable to her (operational belief)

The hard part: our instinctual responses of self-protection served us well at some point in life, but now they keep us from the relational connection and healing with God and others that we truly long for.

What to do?

As you might imagine, these operational / instinctual beliefs die hard. Here are three steps that may help close the gap between our intellectual beliefs and operational beliefs; steps we are all invited to take with a loving God who isn’t afraid of what we’ll find:

  1. Recognize our own “gaps” and inconsistencies—we must be aware when we are operating in an incongruent way with our intellectually-stated beliefs. This can be extremely difficult since these instincts have often developed over decades and feel like they provide a sense of emotional stability and security.
  2. Understand the false belief that is driving the behavior—after you’ve noticed a possible inconsistency between your intellectual beliefs and your operational beliefs (behavior), it’s critical to ask some questions: “Why am I doing this? What am I believing that is driving me to behave this way?” Since we already know the “right” answer, it can be humbling and difficult to go for the honest answers here, but honesty and humility are mandatory—and freeing—in this process.
  3. Replace the false belief with the solid truth—find and meditate on the scriptures that speak into the truth gap in your heart. Pray through them, asking God to change your instincts. Share with a trusted friend or two how you want God to change your operational beliefs.

In order to fully close this gap between intellectual belief and operational belief, it will take time; ultimately it will take our entire lifetime. However, God uses this process of refinement to draw us closer to himself. We can experience real progress and growth in closing this gap, but don’t expect to have all gaps 100% closed this side of heaven.

Fortunately, God isn’t usually asking us to get into a wheelbarrow on a high wire, but he is asking us to examine our operational beliefs that don’t line up with the truth of his word (our intellectual beliefs). I pray we will embrace the process of sorting out our beliefs with our good, welcoming God and draw closer to him along the way.

Blondin (Francois Gravelet) pushes a wheelbarrow across a tightrope over Niagra Falls

Operational Belief vs. Intellectual Ascent (part 1 of 2)

In my experience it seems there are two kinds of “belief”:

  1. Intellectual Ascent
  2. Operational Belief

If I witnessed a stunt man comfortably pushing a wheelbarrow across a high wire with more than 200 pounds of sand in it, I could easily believe that he could do it with a normal-sized person in the wheelbarrow. This doesn’t mean that I’m ready and willing to jump in and give it a go.

In my life I also find similar gaps in what I believe intellectually vs. how I actually respond under the daily stresses and pain of life. You see, in order to make sense of life and protect myself from pain at a very early age, I arranged a self-protective survival system. Mostly, this system works at a subconscious level. It’s instinctual. I think just about everyone does this to some degree.

The irony is that the same instincts that serve to protect us from evil or harsh circumstances can also prevent us from relational connection and healing with God and others. Allow me to provide a couple examples:

  • A good father intellectually knows he needs to exhibit patience and unconditional love while training and discipling his kids. However, when the kids repeatedly show disrespect, self-centeredness, and anger toward the father, he resorts to raising his voice, shaming the kids for their actions, and using a general tone of anger towards them. How can this be?
  • A good mother intellectually knows she is never alone and God is always watching out for her. However, when she experiences loneliness due to an emotionally unavailable spouse and a schedule that doesn’t permit meaningful connection with other adults, a deep despair sets in; an operational belief that she is truly alone and must be emotionally tough and shoulder the load by herself. How can this be?

In each case, the operational beliefs do not line up with the stated (intellectual / scriptural) beliefs. It can be difficult to even recognize these inconsistencies because they happen at an instinctual level. Often they have been with us for decades and seem normal and necessary for our everyday coping and survival. But they are not. These inconsistencies threaten our ability to connect with God and others.

As you might imagine, our unhealthy operational / instinctual beliefs die hard. What can be done? Check out Part 2 of this post to find some steps to consider taking with a God who can’t wait to lovingly help you “close the gap”.

Hua Shan

Down To My Toes

I am deeply loved and delighted in by God.

He cares for me like no one else does. I am constantly on his mind. He is always excited to show me a new plan, idea, or insight that will blow me away. He wants to bring me good pleasures. He desires for me to realize my potential and purpose and, most importantly, he desires to have an intimate connection with me. His plans for me are more than I could ever imagine on my own. He does not grow tired when my faith wanes, when I seek life in the tombs of this world. He is undeterred in his pursuit of me. He is fueled by a force far more powerful than I will ever fully understand. He is driven by love. His love is pure. It is unconditional. It is the perfect blend of truth and grace. He gives it out in quantities and frequencies that are incomprehensible to humans.

What would happen if I actually believed these truths down to my toes? How would my life change? What if I were compelled by and obsessing over this love constantly? I dare say that I would be so loving and unselfish that I would almost be unrecognizable to those who know me. I would be infecting everyone in my sphere of influence with a life altering substance called love. I would be addicted to giving from a pure heart. I would be addicted to God himself, not wanting to live a single moment outside of consciously recognizing him for all that he is.

The older I grow, the more attractive this sounds. I have to admit, though, I’m still a bit gun shy about it. It sounds so extreme, but the truth is that life any other way is extremely dark by comparison. So, I continue to step out of the dark places and into the life that he has offered me. Slowly, but surely, I experience his loving embrace and a few more ounces of his character, which is rooted and grounded in love, and it gives me courage to continue down the path. The journey isn’t an easy one, but I know where it ends and I know there is significance in each step along the way.

Photo Credit: Tynan.com

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Putting God In Our Debt

It’s outrageous to think we could actually put the God of the universe in our debt, but at times I have pursued exactly that without even realizing it. At times I have thought that if I performed well and did what he wanted, somehow, he would “bless” me. Which is code for: give me what I want (the selfish desires of my heart). I came across a blog post from Tullian who also wrote some insightful thoughts on this subject. I hope it’s as freeing to you as it is to me to consider that we are totally and forever in his debt. Enjoy.

The Liberating Impossibility Of Repayment

resized_creepy-willy-wonka-meme-generator-oh-you-can-t-pay-me-back-yet-i-see-you-got-your-nails-done-and-is-that-a-new-outfit-3df07fOn an episode of the second season of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) discovers that Penny (Kaley Cuoco) has gotten him a Christmas present. Angered, he reminds Penny that the “foundation of gift giving is reciprocity,” […]

 

disappointed

An Unexpected Response

As I sat across the table from my friend, Pastor Randy, I had a tightness in my chest and I was feeling somewhat anxious. I needed to come clean with him on an issue that I had been struggling with. I had finally decided that this issue had snake bitten me too many times and I was going to deal with it. Bringing it out into the light first with God, then my wife and now Pastor Randy, who I didn’t know all that well at the time. I supposed that he would be verbally supportive, but that his eyes would cast shame on me and that he would think long and hard before involving me in any leadership roles at church. What happened next shocked me.

I suppose that my shock was based on several false assumptions about God, Pastors and Randy. Although I knew about God from a life-time of bible studies and I had good experiences with Pastors, I still felt an instinctive sense of shame that trumped everything else. I had somehow constructed a belief that God required me to prove my sincerity through my actions and attitude before his stern look of shame could begin to soften. I’m not entirely sure where I picked that up, but IT WAS NOT FROM GOD. You see, God doesn’t use shame like a club to beat us into submission. He desires to remove shame – a misconception of who we are and what we’re worth. He is also realistic about the need to remove it often. He knows who he is dealing with. He had a plan of redemption from the very beginning. He is never surprised or shocked when I blow it. When I come into the light and agree with him that I have blown it, he is gracious and instantly welcomes me back with open arms and a wide smile. Shocking!

As I sat across the table from Pastor Randy, I quickly got to the matter that was on my heart and spat it out in one long breath. Before I could inhale my next breath, Randy’s eyes lit up with joy and he busted out an ear to ear grin, as he said to me, “Praise the Lord brother, you are free!” I was not expecting that, even in my most optimistic fantasy.

Could this be an appropriate response from a Pastor? How could he greet my confession of a life lived from a selfish, rebellious place with that? I didn’t even get a scripture or a “game plan for change” from him. He heard what I had said, and was genuinely excited for me and what it meant for my relationship with God. He trusted that Jesus had already done all the work and he was wanting to celebrate the victory that Jesus had in my life. No guilt. No shame. Just smiles and celebrating.

As surprising as this reaction was, after I thought about it, this is an exact representation of how God rolls. He celebrates when the prodigal comes home. He doesn’t want us to come into the light so that he can shame us, but so that he can connect with us. The exercise of confession is simply agreeing with God that you’ve made poor choices that are taking you away from him. That’s it.

It is not my declaring that I will do better next time that unlocks the freedom that Jesus purchased on the cross, but rather my confession (agreement with God). While this is not the same as repentance, it is a massive step in that direction. Once I realize that I can release the shame attached to my sin, I am perfectly set up for a U-turn of the heart (A.K.A. repentance). It can be very difficult to complete that U-turn while pulling an overloaded trailer of shame and trying to prove that, “I will do it better next time”.

Even though I have been a believer for more than 40 years, I continue to be amazed and awestruck at God’s generosity and grace towards me. I am so thankful that he chose to show it to me through my friend Pastor Randy. I pray that I can continue to embrace the good news and integrate it like Randy has, so that others may be blessed by God’s image being reflected in me and my reactions.

Tullian

Tullian Tchividjian, Grandson of Billy Graham

If you have not heard of Tullian Tchividjian, you are not alone. I have only become aware of him in the past few months. Pastor Tullian leads a large church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. He is an author and speaker, not to mention, the grandson of famed evangelist, Billy Graham.  He grabbed my attention because of his unrelenting focus on the grace and freedom provided through the gospel. He is adamant about these elements of the gospel in a way that few others have ever been, yet his emphasis feels warranted and much needed in our evangelical culture. As you may know, the thrust of Aphesis Group Ministries is getting this liberating message of the gospel from our heads to our hearts. I am grateful for Pastor Tullian and others like him, who are communicating this message to the masses.

Here’s one of his latest blog posts. I’m sure you will enjoy it.

You’re Not Okay … And That’s Okay

Posted on July 10, 2014

The gospel liberates us to be okay with not being okay. We know we’re not okay—though we try very hard to convince ourselves and other people that we’re basically fine. But the gospel tells us, “Relax, it is finished. The…

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father son hug2

Imagined Journal Entries From Home (3 of 3)

A hand embraced my shoulder from behind. Turning me away from the cross toward himself, there stood before me an older man, his face full of strength but with eyes full of understanding and compassion. It was as though his eyes peered into the deepest part of my soul. I can’t fully describe the awe I experienced as I looked into his eyes. When he spoke it was as though a thousand waterfalls were funneled into the voice of a man.

I heard his words clearly say, “Tim, I’m your Heavenly Father … your Abba!” Fear filled my already brittle-feeling soul and once again I fell to my knees. In fear I recoiled. Tears flowed from my eyes … once again in deep shame and guilt of my unworthiness to be standing in the presence of … my Creator! From the voice of a thousand waters, his voice changed to that of a gentle older man.

“Don’t be afraid my son!” Once again, God TOUCHED ME! His hand gently lifted my face. Now standing beside God the Father was Jesus.

Softly, Jesus said, “Tim, we wanted to bring you here to see.”

I looked at him and said, “You’re not …”.

Before I could finish my sentence he said with a smile on his face, “I am not bound by time. This happened long ago.” Lifting me to my feet and facing me toward him, looking into my eyes again, he gently said, “I died for all the guilt, shame, worthlessness and fear you have felt and are feeling right now.”

God the Father said, “Tim … YOU ARE FORGIVEN! YOU’RE FREE!”

At that moment a warm breeze hit my face and embraced … entered … soothed …comforted … filled me in a way I cannot begin to describe. In that moment I felt deeply known, understood, valued, and FULL. It was the Holy Spirit. It was the most incredible, euphoric sense I’ve ever felt. No experience on earth ever came close. In the blink of an eye I was back in the garden but this time not only was I facing God the Son, but he was now in the arms of the Father. I fell to my knees in worship. On my knees in plush green grass with the Tree of Life in the background and enveloped in the summer-like breeze of the Holy Spirit, all I could think to say was “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Once again an explosion of joy, laughter and laughcry broke out. Present once again in the midst of loved ones we danced, embraced, laughed, cried, and laughcried. We all, including God the Father and Son, joined in song. The green leaves from the Tree of Life swirled around us, carried in the breeze of the Holy Spirit. It was as if everyone in their own spirit continually recounted all the great blessings and gifts given to us, and we sang of God’s forgiveness, love, and grace. We sang with voices full of great joy, tears, and laughter. We danced, we sang, we laughcried, and we embraced for what seemed like days. None of our joyous expressions were borne out of obligation, guilt, or a sense of duty. It all just flowed out of our deeply touched hearts. I could dance and sing and not be tired. It was all real, authentic, and heartfelt. “I am home,” I kept thinking and proclaiming! “I am home.”

Time and paper does not permit me to tell you of all I experienced.

Of all my new friends.

Of all my new discoveries and new perspectives.

Of the people, heroes of the faith with whom I dined. Learning, seeing with my own eyes critical moments of history and the Holy One’s interventions and acts.

Of the first taste of the sweet water from the River of Life.

Of the many reunions, the moments greeting loved ones and friends who took their first bite of the Tree of Life. Reliving through them my first look at Jesus’ face.

Of the deep friendship, camaraderie, and brotherhood we treasured.

I Can FEEL. More deeply and more freely than ever.

I Can SEE WITH SUCH CLARITY.

There is such beauty in this place, in the people here.

I FEEL SUCH TREMENDOUS ENEGY, BUT AT THE SAME TIME … SUCH REST.

We each spent time with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in groups but also individually; it’s weird.

Do I dare describe our dwelling places?

Do I dare tell of what it’s like to behold the face of the Father?

Do I tell of all that I have learned, conversations with people about whom I have only read?

Do I dare tell of what he has allowed me to see on earth from heaven?

He says that the time is drawing near, the time of the renewing of heavens and earth. We sometimes speak of it here.

He told us we will join him with our loved ones at that time.

He tells us of our new bodies we will receive at the Second Coming.

We (the Saints who have died the second death) will be front and center. What a time that will be. He tells us of the wedding feast and of the New Jerusalem … it’s going to be awesome.

I must go now. Jesus has arranged for me and a few others to sit with Moses. He is going to recount for us his time on earth and what pen and paper could not fully describe of all the Lord did. I dreamed of this time.

If only the Lord would allow me to tell a few moments of what it’s like here to some of my friends and family. Oh, how they would invest their time differently.

P.S. The Father just told me he has already written of it!! Ha ha hah! I guess that’s true! Blessed are those who believe.

What words cannot express,

Your Brother,

Tim

[artwork credit: Charlie Mackesy]