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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?”

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Don’t Take The Bait – Randsomed Heart Ministries

I enjoy reading the daily devotionals sent out by John and Stasi Eldredge’s Ransomed Heart Ministry. Today’s seemed to strike a sensitive nerve in me. Holding on to hurt leads to death. I am seeking his help to identify and release the hurt that I have experienced. That’s not to minimize it, but to recognize it and simultaneously recognize that I also am, at times, a perpetrator of wrong, hurting others. May you find deeper connection to our Lord and Savior through this message…

The only way is love. Paul says love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5). In loving relationships, we want to throw away the list in our heads of wrongs done to us and ignore them when they raise their indictments yet again. Too often we keep those lists, ruminate on them, and nurse them like a wounded animal. We say we forgive—and we may even believe we have—but when the list presents itself again we entertain it with a sort of sick satisfaction. “See what they did? Remember what she said?” We have taken the bait of offense. We are inside the trap.

The word used in Scripture for offense actually means “bait,” the bait that is placed inside a trap to lure an animal to its death. 

Offenses need to be forgiven quickly, or they will fester and poison the relationship. The poison seeps out and affects our own souls as well. Offenses that are held on to lead to death. 

People will hurt us. We will hurt and offend as well. We all will do this with intention and without, with our thoughts bent to wound and with no thought at all. Jesus took all our offenses into his broken body when he died for us, and he took everyone else’s as well. All that he suffered—the beating, the scourging, the mocking, and finally the crucifixion—was more than enough to pay for it all. Our offenses and theirs. 

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Can We Trust Our Emotions Or Are They Wild Horses?

I have often heard it said in Christian circles that emotions can’t be trusted. I don’t like things that can’t be trusted. Imagine a fuel gauge in your car that is giving accurate feedback 50% of the time, but you have no idea when it’s right and when it’s wrong. Basically, it becomes 100% useless.

For most of us, our emotions don’t always line up with our core values and beliefs. We sincerely desire to experience and display emotions that are consistent with the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22), but frequently we find ourselves inwardly (and outwardly) experiencing and displaying the opposite (Romans 7:15).

What the heck?

As a result, many of us have concluded and have even been taught that we should work hard to suppress negative emotions. And if we are going to have any emotions at all, we need to work on conjuring up the positive ones. I don’t know about you, but that’s never really worked for me or those closest to me.

If you study emotions in the Bible, it is apparent that God has emotions and that the key characters in his story experienced them too: sometimes in healthy ways and sometimes not. So, if God made them, they must be good for something, even though they seem to behave like wild horses at times.

How useful would it be if God gave us a gentile pin prick every time we began to take action or think in a direction that was based on a lie that we unknowingly adopted as truth? How about a whisper of encouragement in our ear when we are taking action or thinking in a direction that aligns with his truth? I believe God uses emotions to give us helpful cues. If we pay attention, these cues are incredibly useful. They are still very complex and challenging to manage, but these “wild horses” can be bridled and ridden. They can take us to an often mysterious destination: a place where we see what we actually believe at an instinctual level. We can then focus on challenging our false beliefs and affirming the beliefs that are true.

Example: My three-year-old son begins to defy me. After several attempts to reason and negotiate, my emotions begin to “rise” (read: unhealthy anger). My attempts to gain compliance and control only seem to drive my son further into rebellion. I know that I should not be disciplining in my anger and that yelling, threatening, and even physically restraining my son are not recommended strategies listed in any respectable parenting book; however, I am compelled by my deep emotion of anger. In retrospect, I discovered that the intense emotion was not the problem, but an indicator of a false belief. I believed that my dignity depended on my three-year-old’s respect and compliance. That’s a ridiculous belief, but keeping my dignity is not. Time to reject the lie that ties my dignity to a three-year-old’s behavior.

I would propose emotions are not something to be ignored or shut off. They have important purposes, including uncovering what we actually believe about ourselves and God. The process of bridling and riding these “wild horses” to their destination (our hidden beliefs) takes some humility and introspection with the Lord, but it’s a ride well worth taking. Remember, our negative emotions are not the problem; it’s our instinctual beliefs that drive them. It’s been said that emotions do not validate truth, BUT they do validate what we believe the truth to be.

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.

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,” […]

 

backpack_boy

What’s In Your Backpack?

Paula asks her young son a question. She’s noticed some interesting behavior from him and wonders what’s up. Her son’s answer is precious and humorous … but it leads Paula to ask the question again … of herself.

And we ask you: “What’s in your backpack?”

Enjoy this special guest post from Paula Pust, Aphesis staff member Debbie Bochman’s honest and encouraging sister!

WHAT’S IN YOUR BACKPACK?

So … I have this adorable little seven-year-old son. He’s growing in his ability to get himself ready for the day, including getting his backpack filled with water bottle, lunch, swimming goggles, and all the important stuff of being a kid who spends time at the YMCA. Since he’s learning responsibility, of course I’ve tried to back off in my need to hover over him as he does this daily task.

Except when …

This morning, for instance. When I asked if he had his backpack ready, he had an unusual look on his face . Hmmmm … mom’s antenna goes up! He then offered to run to the fridge downstairs and get my pop for the day—sweet, yes. But my antenna is still up because he insisted on taking his backpack WITH him to do this task. Interesting choice. Of course, when he returned with my Diet Coke in hand, I had to ask, “So, Kyler, look at my eyes. I need you to answer this question honestly” (not that I ever don’t want him to answer me honestly, but you get it). “Is there anything in your backpack that you wouldn’t want me to see?”

LONG pause … then “Well, Mommy … there WASN’T before, but now there is …”

He proceeded to pull out of one pocket a Coke, then he unzipped a second pocket and extracted a Dr. Pepper and a Diet Coke. Seriously?

It made me smile, though. As I reflected on this beginning to my day, I got to wondering: what’s in MY backpack that I don’t want others to see? And do I sometimes act under the guise of helping someone else (getting their “pop” for them) when actually I have a hidden agenda of my own?

Thank God for mercy.

“The LORD is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. The LORD is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation.” (NLT)

Psalm 145:8-9

Mercy and compassion, slow anger and fullness of unfailing love, even though I don’t deserve it. Hallelujah, what a savior!

spelunking

Soul Spelunking

“Spiritual growth is not about climbing a mountain, getting better, and therefore needing Christ less and less. Spiritual growth is about discovering more and bigger caverns of need into which more and more of Christ’s grace can flow.” Tullian Tchividjian, from blog post titled: Christ Is Deeper Still

Who wants to explore their own depravity, spelunking into the depths, looking for “bigger caverns” where Christ’s grace is desperately needed? Personally, I’d like to seal off those caverns permanently with a truck load of C4. They are dark, scary, dangerous and ugly … which is exactly why God wants to go there with us. He wants to expose the deepest, scariest places within us to his love, his grace, and his mercy. He wants to begin the healing journey now, on this side of eternity. If we are truly honest, most of us can think of some places deep down where fear, self-doubt, and shame reside. Honestly, there are things I often desire more than God. I frequently doubt that God alone can truly satisfy my deepest desires (FYI: this is not surprising to God; he recognized it before I did).

It is easy for me to create an illusion that these hidden caverns don’t really affect me or others all that much. But it’s a lie. First of all, no one can possibly hide all of their cavernous, fleshy garbage from anyone in a close relationship. Just ask your spouse or your best friend. But, more importantly, when I attempt to hide my gaping caverns from others, I isolate myself relationally. Relational isolation is a dirty rotten scoundrel and a thief. It whispers in my ear, “If you come clean, you will be rejected, so keep the juicy stuff to yourself and I will keep you safe.” And in so doing, it thoughtlessly robs me of deep, powerful, healing connections with God and others. Not only that, isolation is a greedy, heartless beast. Feeding it only increases its appetite. Look out!

God has designed us to live in close relationships. It’s called community. While community can be messy and inherently risky, this is the space where ministry happens between us and others. He has gone to incredible lengths to create this canvas where we join in with others in painting the artwork which is our relationships. Without visiting the deeper places alongside our trustworthy guide (God), our color palette becomes very limited. We don’t have much to offer, nor can we receive much. God designed us to live in full color. He especially enjoys all the colors and he wants to enjoy them with you and me. He desires that we enjoy them with each other.

With God as your guide, grab your helmet, rope and a trustworthy friend. Take that spelunking adventure to which he is calling you!