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The-Sacred-Romance(pp_w820_h485)

The Message Of The Arrows

Reading this excerpt from John Eldredge’s book, “The Sacred Romance” got me thinking…is Eldredge overstating the impact of our negative experiences? Do we really carry wounds from our pasts that impact our current lives? It’s easy to for many like me to think about all the many wonderful blessings that have been bestowed upon us and sweep the rest under the rug. However, I have concluded that ignoring our wounds from the past, whatever they are, limits our ability to connect with each other and even limits our experience of connecting with God. Take a moment to read this excerpt and share your thoughts.

At some point we all face the same decision—what will we do with the Arrows we’ve known? Maybe a better way to say it is, what have they tempted us to do? However they come to us, whether through a loss we experience as abandonment or some deep violation we feel as abuse, their message is always the same: Kill your heart. Divorce it, neglect it, run from it, or indulge it with some anesthetic (our various addictions). Think of how you’ve handled the affliction that has pierced your own heart. How did the Arrows come to you? Where did they land? Are they still there? What have you done as a result?

To say we all face a decision when we’re pierced by an Arrow is misleading. It makes the process sound so rational, as though we have the option of coolly assessing the situation and choosing a logical response. Life isn’t like that—the heart cannot be managed in a detached sort of way (certainly not when we are young, when some of the most defining Arrows strike). It feels more like an ambush, and our response is at a gut level. We may never put words to it. Our deepest convictions are formed without conscious effort, but the effect is a shift deep in our soul. Commitments form never to be in that position again, never to know that sort of pain again. The result is an approach to life that we often call our personality. If you’ll listen carefully to your life, you may begin to see how it has been shaped by the unique Arrows you’ve known and the particular convictions you’ve embraced as a result. The Arrows also taint and partially direct even our spiritual life.

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 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

unpcak heart 2

The Glorious Invitation of God

Bring your secrets, bring your scars
Bring your glory, all you are
Bring your daylight, bring your dark
Share your silence
And unpack your heart

~ Phillip Phillips

I’m not sure if this song was written about a guy wanting a gal to feel safe and unpack her heart with him, but that’s not how it landed on me.

To me, this song is a wonderful picture of God’s invitation to us. I don’t need to get myself cleaned up and presentable—if I did, what would be “clean enough”? He wants me just as I am.

He is big enough, gracious enough and loving enough to handle ALL of me. He is not only able to handle my crazy mixed-up heart, but that is his deepest desire! Even my very best friends are unable to offer this and truly deliver the goods.

He is on my side, he longs for me to shed my shadow and rise. He promises to shine his light into my darkness. My deepest regrets are safe with him. He wants all of me. He wants my shame and my madness to tame. He sees true treasure hidden behind the walls that I have constructed.

If anyone knows the real me, it would be him. He’s not bored, disgusted, or irritated by the real me. He desperately wants me to unpack my heart with him and experience his unconditional love and acceptance.

If you want to enjoy an experience of God loving you, listen to this song and feel his heart toward you; hear his glorious invitation to you to unpack your heart.

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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,” […]

 

Speechless_by_AsraelTV

God Rendered Speechless

A few years ago I had a colleague who introduced me to the writings of David Roper. David’s list of accomplishments is long and his reputation excellent. He is also a very generous man, and gave permission to the education ministry I served with at the time to use his materials in our discipleship courses. The colleague, who was (and is) a dear friend, also assured me that David would be most pleased about having his blog entires shared.

I first saw this post in late 2008, when I was in an early season of learning to be loved by God … just straight up loved, no earning, no merit, no striving. It was early days for me of wrestling with a call to Christian obedience and service, and a longing to have a heart at rest that could trust that it was loved by the Father, no matter how well my ministry projects went or how many times it seemed I had to learn the same lesson over and over and over.

It’s a sweet gift to visit David’s thoughts again as I now serve with a ministry whose focus is to help move people’s hearts into the confidence that they are fully cherished by God right where they are, and that our obedience and following after Christ is completely generated and motivated by his incredible love and our response to it. It’s never about my owing what I could not possibly pay, and never about his exhaustion or disgust that I have not come far enough.

His love is enough. 

So, from David Roper, something wonderful to ponder.

Lovesick and Dumbfounded

Carolyn and I often spend our quiet times reading from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, an Upper Room publication (If you’ve visited Shepherd’s Rest you’ve seen the copies in each bedroom.) The Old Testament passage for this morning was Zephaniah 3:17.

With apologies to Zephaniah and Bruce Waltke, my old Hebrew professor, here is my translation…

The LORD, your God is with you—
your hero, mighty to save!

He takes great delight in you.
He is speechless with love for you.
Every time he thinks of you he breaks into joyful song!

Zephaniah 3:17

I’m awed by the notion that God takes great delight in me and breaks into song each time he thinks of my name. But it’s the phrase I render, “He is speechless with love for you” that captivated me.

The verse is usually translated, “He will be quiet in his love,” or in some translations, “He will quiet you.” But the verb doesn’t suggest tranquility or rest. It actually means, “to strike dumb.”[1] And since the verb is in parallel with other verbs that suggest God’s strong emotions (“takes great delight,” and “breaks into joyful song”) it must point to what He himself feels.

I wonder then: Could the analogy be that of a lovesick swain who is bowled-over, flabbergasted and dumb-founded by his love for the beloved-so overcome with fondness that he is tongue-tied? Is God, in some inexplicable, anthropomorphic way, “struck dumb” with love each time he thinks of us? If so, to be loved like this is, in turn, to be rendered speechless. As Isaiah would say, “I am undone.”

And who is it that God so loves? One who is strong and able, brilliant, and breathtakingly beautiful? No, it is one who is “weak and the weary… who takes refuge in the name of the LORD” (Zephaniah 3:12).

DHR

[1] Jenni-Westerman, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament.

SlusserFamily2066

God’s Giggles About My Wrinkles

I am surrounded by more voices than I can count. They pour forth from television shows and commercials, Internet articles and ads, magazine covers and top ten lists, movies, billboards, and glances from strangers.

They’re the same voices my grandmother, mom, and sister-in-law have heard, and I know my young niece will hear over and again as she grows up. My girlfriends hear the voices, and more and more men hear the voices. The voices around us try to tell us what’s important and valuable and crucial to our happiness.

And it’s certainly not our hearts.

Even the voice reflecting back at me from my own mirror gets loud. And there is a very consistent message that gets shouted in some way every day:

“Have you seen how you look? You look old. You are wrinkled and sun-spotted and sagging and dark-circled and gray-haired and far from up-to-date with the cool and new and praised. Old is ugly. You’re ugly. Ugly and old are worthless. Old has nothing to offer. Old and ugly are nothing to love. Do something to fit in, dump the ugly, and do it fast.”

And sometimes I buy the voices’ sob story of discontentment. And I buy their fixes: make-ups, makeovers, creams, treatments, practices, preventatives. I buy, try, and it still doesn’t satisfy. Making my face the world’s version of beautiful is a losing battle.

But if I slow down for a moment to ask the One True Voice what he says about me, God tells me a tender story of what he values. His version of beautiful. He even gives me a new picture of myself that leads to worship of him.

I had a passport photo taken in 2001 when I was preparing for a vacation to Italy. I love that passport photo. I’m 40 pounds lighter, I have long brown hair, and, well, it’s over ten years ago. My renewal passport photo and recent family photos … let’s just say I’m not 40 pounds lighter, do not have nearly as much brown in my locks, and it finds me pastier, flabbier, and laden with wrinkles above and below and side to side. It could be an opportune moment for those voices to kick in and for me to start flailing about for a fix.

But if I listen to my Good Father as I look at the pictures, to his words about value and goodness and life, it makes me giggle. And giggling transitions to gratitude. My face reflects over ten years of answering God’s call to live a life I never imagined. It tells the story of leaving a teaching job and students I loved, changing careers a couple more times, moving to a new state, and learning new things. There’s a groove in my forehead that I am sure I can attribute to a “focus furrow” that appeared as I learned, and still learn, how to listen well, ask for help, be vulnerable, receive love, and truly seek God to comfort me in the pain of life.

My face tells the story of new friendships, deepening old ones, and people to love and miss from places like Russia, Jordan, Lebanon, Kenya, Uganda, Romania, Spain, Senegal, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and East Asia. It experienced an international courtship, a house sale, a house purchase and a refinance, a zillion plane flights to California and back to see family. This face had invaluable talks with its mom and dad, and met new nephews and a niece who forced it to make ridiculous maneuvers to entertain them.

It walked through the birth of friends’ children and the loss of friends’ children; it spoke at a funeral for a 17-month-old. It said goodbye to a beloved grandfather and witnessed its niece arriving into the world, live and in person. It uttered encouraging words and it uttered hurtful words it wanted to suck back in moments later. It smiles more broadly than ever as it expresses love and is willing to look ridiculous to bring a laugh that lightens a heart.

Most gratefully, this face is learning to look to its Maker more, to bask in his radiance, and to trust his viewpoint and provision and goodness. And I hear him whisper when I glance in a mirror that my wrinkles make him giggle, too.

God’s warm laughter of delight and love and real beauty. The One True Voice.

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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