The most insidious lie

“The most insidious lie we can believe about God is that He is somehow against us.”- Mark Batterson

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”- Romans 5:8

In Chapter 2 (“The Most Terrifying Fact”) of If, Mark Batterson quotes from author Eric Mataxas’ (Bonhoeffer: Pastor , Martyr, Prophet, Spy– 2011) speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2012:

“Everything I rejected about God was not God.  It was religion . . . It was people who go to church and do not show the love of [Jesus], people who don’t practice what they preach, people who are indifferent to the poor and suffering. . . . I had rejected that, but guess what?  Jesus had also rejected that. . . . Jesus was and is the enemy of dead religion.”

When we believe the insidious lie that God is against us, we doubt God’s goodness.  If Satan can get us to buy into that lie, Mark states, we posture ourselves against God.  We reject Him for all the wrong reasons.

We, like Eric Metaxas, can rediscover who God truly is when we seek Him from a place of honesty rather than religiosity.  How could anyone reject such a loving God?  Pastor Batterson answers that rhetorical question- the obvious answer is that no one would reject a God like that.  Mark has a theory- and an explanation:

If you don’t love God, it’s because you don’t know God. . . . To know God is to love God.  Not the God who isn’t; the God who is!” (emphasis author’s)

Today’s question: During your land between, transitional journey, what is the most insidious lie Satan has used to posture you against God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Inner uncounquerableness”

Faith built on preference

“Faith built on preference is capable of producing only an incomplete theology.”- Matt Bays

As Matt Bays concludes Chapter 5 of Finding God in the Ruins, he reminds his readers of the Scripture verse printed on the page preceding Chapter 1:

“I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.”- Isaiah 45:7 (emphasis author’s)

Matt theorizes people skim past or ignore passages like Isaiah 45:7 because they prefer “celebration to suffering, resurrection to crucifixion.”  This is a faith built on preference.

Pastor Bays stresses the importance of honestly crying out to God in our anger, resentment, rage- even disrespect, trusting that God will love, accept, and forgive us.  When we can come to this honest place with God, we will feel the sharp edges of our pain softening.

Job and David were honest with God- and probably afraid as well.  But, Matt observes, they weren’t so scared they were unable to tell God exactly what they though.  Kara, a violinist at Matt’s church, expresses her understanding of an honest relationship with God:

“All of the good in my life has had a contrast, and that contrast is where I learn the great life lessons.  So when the contrast comes, I plop myself down in the middle of the pain, frustration, or unmet expectations and I wait on God.  When he shows up, I begin working to hear his still small voice so that I will know what he is trying to teach me.”

Today’s question (from Matt): If God pulled up a chair before you, looked directly into your eyes, and asked you to tell him the truth about how you feel (or have felt) about him, would you feel secure enough to be brutally honest?  If so, what would you say?

Tomorrow’s blog: “The comfort of God”

Prerequisites for restored relationships

Today June Hunt discusses the prerequisites for restored relationships as part of the fourth stage of forgiveness.

Stage Four: Find Oneness.  In his book A Minute of Margin, author and physician Richard Swenson said:

“It is not revenge that heals.  It is not litigation, or time, or distance that heals.  It is forgiveness and- when possible- reconciliation that bring wholeness.”

Ms. Hunt adds that restoration of a damaged relationship can occur when both parties commit to honesty in the relationship.  June uses the acrostic H-O-N-E-S-T-Y to demonstrate the elements involved in this process:

Honestly evaluate yourself and your relationship.  By evaluation your own weaknesses as well as the weaknesses in your relationship, you will identify where change needs to take place.

Open your heart and share your pain.  Candidly address the offense and fully explain to your wounder how the wounding made you feel.

Notice whether your offender takes responsibility.  If your offender ignores the arrow in your heart and refuses to be accountable, he/she is not ready for reconciliation.  Your offender must demonstrate godly sorrow for your inflicted pain.

Expect your offender to be completely truthful.  Discern whether your offender is sincere and truthful.  Establish safeguards regarding honesty, support, and loyalty within your relationship.

Set appropriate boundaries for the relationship.  You need to be disciplined enough to hold your offender accountable for respecting relationship boundaries.  Your offender must be disciplined enough to stop crossing those established boundaries.

Take time, cautiously think, and sincerely pray before you let your offender all the way back into your heart.  Trust is earned, not given.  Your offender must demonstrate integrity and consistency.

Yield your heart to starting over.  June succinctly states: “You are no longer bound by what has been, but by what can be.”

Today’s question: Which of the prerequisites for restored relationships are most meaningful to you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the Easter Short Meditation, “Thanks be to God”

Yo Cliff!

YoCliff“I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.”- Psalm 57:2 (NIV)

“If God can bring blessing from the broken body of Jesus and glory from something that’s obscene as the cross, He can bring blessing from my problems and my pain and my unanswered prayer.”- Anne Graham Lotz

“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”- Martin Luther

I never included one particular activity in my lesson plans during my elementary teaching career- the dreaded pop quiz. Well, there’s a first time for everything!  But don’t panic, this one-question quiz is child’s play.

  1. When Cliff (photo, left) and I (photo, right- with “stunt pilot” Ted in the middle) were elementary school age and I wanted to play with him, I would:

a.  waste valuable landline phone minutes calling someone living less than one hundred feet away

b.  string two empty soup cans together and toss one through Cliff’s open bedroom window

c.  get in some daily cardio, walk to his side door, and shout “Yo Cliff!”

There was no hesitancy in voicing my request for Cliff’s attention and companionship.  I was honest and to the point.  Jeff Manion writes in The Land Between that there is a fine line separating honesty and complaint.  God invites us to be honest, for honesty is fruitful and healing:

“The very act of voicing our trouble to God begins a conversation in which we have opened ourselves to his care, his mercy, and his provision.”

Rather than being a sign of spiritual deficiency, crying out may be seen as a sign of spiritual health.  We have great assurance God will answer our petitions, even though he previously has denied our desperate, heartfelt requests. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the habits of the heart we foster during our desert, transitional journey, will result in spiritual life transformation.  We can maintain the heart to pray.  Timothy Keller (Prayer) argues that in the end, there is no such thing as unanswered prayer:

“We know God will answer us when we call because one terrible day he did not answer Jesus when he called. . . . God treated Jesus as we deserve- he took our penalty- so that, when we believe in him, God can then treat us as Jesus deserved.”

 

 

 

Red warning lights

Bill Hybels continues Chapter 7 of Simplify by encouraging you to take an assessment of your friendship circles.  This assessment is vital to simplifying your relational world.  It’s being a good steward of your life and taking a realistic look at the natural influence of others on you.

In Proverbs 6:16-20, Solomon lists seven character traits offensive to God.  These traits are so offensive they should act as red warning lights.  The first three red warning lights are discussed today.

1.  Pride (“haughty eyes”).  Pastor Hybels states that people with haughty eyes look down on others.  The word arrogance comes to mind.  Bill explains the divisive consequences of pride:

“Pride is corrosive, and it rubs off.  You’re going to have a hard time developing Christlike humility and thinking of yourself with sober judgment if your close friends are arrogant, full of pride, and looking down their noses at everyone else.”

2.  Dishonesty (“a lying tongue”).  Most people understand the importance of steering clear of blatant liars.  But it is just as important to keep our distance from people who consider little white lies acceptable.  Pastor Hybels cautions that omissions also are lies.  Silence implicitly signifies agreement, and it’s no different from overtly telling a lie.

3.  Mean- spiritedness (“hands that shed innocent blood”).  Here Solomon warns us to be wary of those using their power to exploit others.  Pastor Hybels observes that, in today’s violence-saturated world, it’s hard to cultivate a gentle heart.  Yet, in the face of raw violence in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus healed the servant’s ear.  We need more of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s question: How are your true friends “imitators of Christ” to you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Bridge builder”

 

The price of depletion

In Chapter 1 of Simplify, Bill Hybels tells of the time a few years ago when he felt so depleted for months that his wife and kids suggested he spend time at the family cottage in Michigan- alone.  God took the scales off Pastor Hybels’ eyes in a little grocery store in town when he realized he was more concerned about his timetable than assisting a wounded Vietnam War vet navigating the store in his wheelchair.

At that moment Bill realized the price of depletion.  He learned the hard way how important it is not to let oneself get completely run down.  Depletion not only harms the people around us, it damages the soul.  When we are toxically depleted, resentment and irritation can be dominant feelings.  We get scattered and lose our ability to focus, jumping from one distraction to the next, accomplishing little.

Pastor Hybels emphasizes the path to simplicity is a process requiring total honesty.  He asks us to recall a time when we were replenished and filled up.  As we strive to master the art of simplified living, those times of replenishment can become the norm rather than the exception.

The author concludes when we’re telling God what to do and we’re mad at the world, it may be time to hear God say:

“Let’s sit down together.  We’ve got some things to work out, you and Me.  You’ve lost a connection with Me somewhere.  You’ve lost your bearings on true north and now you’re just spinning.  But I have a better plan.”

Toda’s question: How have you experienced the price of depletion following your vocation loss?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “What replenishes your soul”

Overcoming discord

“Submit yourselves to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”- James 4:7

Sara Horn concludes Chapter 7 of How Can I Possibly Forgive? with a discussion of six Steps to Overcoming Discord, based on James 4:7.  The first two steps are presented today.

1.  Submit to God.  We don’t like the word submit.  We don’t like using it to define our relationship with other people.  Sara adds that, if we’re honest, we’re sometimes uncomfortable saying it about our relationship with God.  Yet, God not only wants our love, He also wants our obedience.

Sara emphasizes that the secret to being able to forgive is learning how to submit our will to God.  God wants the best for us.  For this reason, God asks us to trust Him enough to follow Him wholeheartedly.  Although we don’t know what the future may bring, God walks with us every moment and step of our journey.

2.  Resist the devil.  When submission to God is our goal, many distractions are thrown at us in an attempt to convince us we need to concentrate on what we want to do.  While it’s tempting to harp on a situation that has hurt us, such fixation only sucks us down into a pit devoid of mercy, grace, and life.

When we are firmly planted with God, Satan can’t do anything about it.

Today’s question: Which of the first two steps have been problematic for you in overcoming discord?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the new Short Meditation, “Entertaining angels unawares”

Tomorrow’s blog: “Draw near to God”

Letting go of bitterness

Following Chapter 3 of How Can I Possibly Forgive?, Sara Horn discusses five ways to start letting go of bitterness right now.

1.  Tell God how you’re feeling.  When we keep ignoring the hard feelings about our vocation loss, they build up and grow bigger.  Sara stresses that we need to make time to talk to God about how we’re feeling and ask for help letting go of the bitterness.

2.  Recognize the importance of second chances.  In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the elder brother is a prime example of someone holding on to bitterness.  He is unable to see past what he perceives is an unfair situation.  When we find ourselves unable to see past the unfairness, we need to start counting our blessings.

3.  Admit the sin you’re dealing with.  Sara states that bitterness often masks or is symptomatic of other sins in our life.  When we own up to what is imprisoning us, we open the door for God to work in us and change us.

4.  Stop dwelling on what happened and repeating your story.  Fixating on what happened seldom is a healthy approach, especially if our friends are more enablers than encouragers.

5.  Rethink your thinking.  Bitter attitudes and negative thoughts are meant for each other.  Negative thoughts can be around for so long that we don’t even realize it.  We must be intentional in reshaping and turning our thoughts to what God wants us thinking about (Philippians 4:8).

Today’s question: Which way(s) of letting go of bitterness resonate most with you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Invisible scars”

We all, like sheep

Goldenhamster“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. “- Isaiah 53:6 (NIV)

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”- Henry David Thoreau

During my pre-downsizing, elementary teaching days at Ebenezer and Northwest Lutheran Schools in Milwaukee, no respectable Mr. Henning classroom was complete without he requisite class pet- typically a golden hamster.  One year my choice of living environment was a plastic mansion, complete with tubes and assorted attachments, including a penthouse sleeping area.  Not content with living in the lap of hamster luxury, our hamster chewed his way to “freedom.”  Reasoning that, sooner or later, hunger would override adventure, I strategically placed cups of food around the school.  When the class hamster took the bait several days later, he was embraced (aka ‘captured’) by his benefactor and returned to the classroom fold.

Jeff Manion describes the Land Between as a metaphor for the undesired transitions we experience in life, a middle ground where we can be transformed and established in our connection to God.  Discouragement comes with the territory, as Pastor Manion explains:

“Traveling through the Land Between, we often have to battle discouragement.  Sometimes deep discouragement.  The wilderness is a place where even the most hopeful must fend off feelings of impatience, futility, or despair.”

The issue isn’t that we have those feelings, but what we do once we have acknowledged them.  While we may not have control over our circumstances, we do have control over our reactions.  We will choose something: our way- depression, seething rage, revenge, retail therapy- or God’s way.

During this transitional time, we need to recognize that our souls are very vulnerable and that there is a fine line between honesty and complaint.  While complaint is turning away from God, candidly pouring out our heart to God is turning toward God.  Jeff Manion expresses the honest cry of the overwhelmed: “I can’t take this anymore.  It’s too heavy for me.”

That’s precisely where we need to be.  As we trust God, we develop perseverance and our faith will grow.  Max Lucado offers these words of encouragement:

“Don’t see your struggle as an interruption to life, but as preparation for life.”

 

 

 

 

 

Resentment

“It (love) is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”- 1 Corinthians 13:5-6

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”- Nelson Mandela

In Chapter 2 (“Letting Go of the Hurt”) of How Can I Possibly Forgive?, Sara Hor observes that when we resent other people, we become preoccupied with our own insecurities and get caught up in our personal inadequacies.  Sara then presents Seven Habits of Highly Resentful People to help us identify what it looks like to be entrapped in a life of resentment.  The first two habits are discussed today.

1.  A highly resentful person never stops grumbling.  Just like the Israelites in the wilderness, when we practice grumbling more grumbling surely will follow.  Sara says that when grumbling becomes our default setting, we need to remember the words of St. Paul in Philippians 2:14-15a: “Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure.

2.  A highly resentful person always seems to be offended by something.  Sara notes that self-righteous thinking, feelings of superiority, snap judgments, and negative first impressions all are part of the I’m Offended package.  We are more likely to be offended when we convince ourselves that we are sinless and deserving.

Today’s question: To what degree has resentment been a factor following your ministry downsizing or vocation loss?  Please share.

Coming Wednesday: the new Short Meditation for Holy Week/Easter- “We all, like sheep”

Tomorrow’s blog: “Secure in Christ”