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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.

Photo Credit: Deveon-Photography

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?”

mouse trap

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. 

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”.

practice not perfect

Not Your Mama’s Practice

My soul is messy and crowded with things that have no business in here. Man, there is a lot of dross; you know, that stuff we long for God to burn up in us so we can be pure and holy and useful (Proverbs 25:4). It feels heavy and I feel sluggish. I want that junk out and I want it out now.

Actually, it feels more like, “I want them out,” like there’s a bunch of hooligans running amok in my soul. They grab fistfuls of cookies without asking, sneak peaks at things not meant for their eyes, yell foul and unkind words, knock over furniture, scratch and tear up the woodwork, and upset and upend the quiet, good me I long to be. I am trying to boss them around, tell them we know how to behave, they know better, my soul knows better.

I am full of broken instincts and behaviors, failed best efforts and renewed resolutions. They are all ill-behaved children who refuse to listen to parents and reason.

I am hoarse from yelling, “Out, wearying worries and useless tail-chasing! Out, old, worn thinking ruts and circular thought patterns! And I’ve got a stick I’ll use on ya if you come back this way!” Maybe if I just threaten the broken, failed parts of my soul and thoughts and choices a little more, get really good and fed-up and determined, it will finally work.

Maybe I will finally not be so broken.

Part of me so wishes it worked like that. I get bossy and take control, and even pray some more and ask God some more, and hope something goes “BAM!”: I am the repaired, good Christian I long to be.

Interestingly, God seems in no hurry to turn things upside down and shake out the garbage all at once. Even if I get fed up with it all at once.

Instead I get practice sessions at being a new creation in Christ. And while I am confident that, in terms of salvation and being seated in the heavenlies, the whole “new creation” thing happened instantly, I believe that in terms of refining me in the flesh in which I still walk, it certainly did not. It appears I have the opportunity in that sense to be a new creation every day.

Make that every hour.

Okay, every minute.

Maybe even every 3.8 seconds.

And it’s not the “Practice Makes Perfect!” kind of practice I know so well, either. It’s not the ruler-on-knuckles piano practice, the shoot-hoops-till-fingertips-are-bloody basketball practice, the play-till-you-can’t-stand-or-see-straight football practice, the write-this-word-1000-times-till-your-fingers-cramp spelling practice. The goal is not perfection the way I have always thought of it, no errors ever, no fumbles, no fouls. Never a missed note, nary a turnover.

It’s the practice of believing and and walking with my Good Dad, the Holy God who says, “I am pouring out grace and opportunities and grace-laden opportunities for you, my daughter, to both see who I am and be like I am. No matter how your last effort turned out, and no matter how this effort turns out, I love you. It’s unshakable. I am shaping you. And I am unshakable. I’ve got this, and I am your practice. Walk intimately with me in delighted, active trust and love, and I will burn up the dross, sometimes quickly but often slowly and in a way that reveals more of you and more of me. I will do it as you practice receiving and living in my love and grace that have the only real power to bring change, that you may see more of me in every interaction, every moment, both in you and out of you, toward you and toward others. I am your never-exhausted, never-weary, alive-in-the-Holy-Spirit-in-you, practice of love.”

So, what’s my prayer now, if I drop the stick I’ve been shaking and swinging at myself, and let my Loving Father be my practice?

Now I pray for the grace and courage to show up. Show up, and practice bravely believing all God has done, is doing, and will do. Practicing taking off my armor and opening my soul to its depths to hear, know, and feel all he says, all he is, and that his grace and love bring real change, lasting change. My coach is never tired, never exasperated. His inexhaustible love that desires and welcomes me right where I am even as he works in me is my first practice stop. The basics, the piano scales, free throws, and line sprints of my soul, so to speak.

Honestly, I have never been good at practicing anything, really. Flute, volleyball, softball, algebra equations. I want instant results now and I don’t like “failing”; even my friends have noted, I just don’t play games and sports I can’t win. I want guaranteed success and I want it immediately.

But I am starting to get the picture that for my soul, practice isn’t my performance; it’s remembering who my coach is.

In 3.8 second intervals. Over and over and over and over again.

blindness

Four Valuable Lessons On Spiritual Blindness

I came across a great blog by Paul David Tripp recently that provides great insight into our spiritual condition. As we embrace these lessons, we grow closer to the giver of life. I love to be reminded how God’s economy is different from this world’s economy. Enjoy!

Blindness

Do you know anyone who is blind? I’ve acquired some life-changing information about spiritual blindness from people who can’t see the physical things I see everyday.

1. Seeing With Two Pairs of Eyes

First, I’ve learned that the eyes of my heart are far more important than the eyes of my body. I could be physically blind yet have very accurate spiritual vision, and conversely, I could have 20/20 eyesight while I’m blind to my own sin and the glorious things of God.

In fact, I’ve found that…

 

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.

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!