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Are Women Crazy?

In Biblical Womanhood, Sin on March 7, 2011 at 7:40 pm

STEP TWO: Spot the Signs (Missing Emotions)

One of the largest tragedies in my life is that in my attempt to avoid the stereotype of ‘craziness’, I began to despise emotions.

At some point I began to believe the lie that emotions were the root of ‘craziness’ and the source of disobedience in my life.  I began to trust in the heretical mantra: ‘just obey, it doesn’t matter how you feel‘.  It’s a great victory for the enemy when we begin to see emotions as the problem.  Our distorted view leads us to fight our emotions as if they are sin in and of themselves.  We begin to see moments when we are ‘unemotional’ as victorious when the reality is, our lack of emotions can be as sinful as our over emotionalism

Emotions are the grace of God.  They are the root of obedience.  They are part of His glorious design and where emotions are absent, our ability to reflect God’s glory is diminished.

As my man JE says:

“Without holy affection there is no true religion; and not light in the understanding is good which does not produce holy affection in the heart…no eternal fruit is good which does not proceed from such exercises…where there is a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing truly divine in that light.”

Bold.  Edwards says that where there is knowledge of God without a heart affection there is no true ‘knowing’ of God.  The Bible says that our hearts testify to our treasure.  If God does not move your heart, it can therefore only be said that He is not your treasure.  The mark of a spiritual man vs a natural man is that a spiritual man can ‘appraise’ or value God rightly.  The demons know a ton about God.  The difference between us and them is that we treasure the things we know about God – they taste good to us.  God tastes good to us.  He stirs our hearts.

So, what are we to do with our barren hearts?  How are they a product of ‘craziness’ or insecurity?

If our hearts are deeply rooted and found in Christ, if we place our security in Him, then it will certainly spill over into our emotions.

A heart that is never moved is a heart that does not care deeply.  It is a heart that is locked away.

It may just be that out of pride or a need for security we have locked our hearts away.  Maybe you dislike emotions because they make you feel weak or out of control or foolish.  Maybe in places that are too deep for you to even recognize you are unwilling to trust God with your whole heart.

Here’s the deal.  A lot of us have shut down.  Somewhere along the way we began to confuse cynicism with a realistic view of the world.  We have become hardened.  We have become cynical with the world and cynical with God.  We no longer pray with tears.  We no longer experience joy like children in His presence because too may people and too many things have failed us.  In places we won’t talk about, we have a sense that God has failed us.

We see hope as a symptom of the naive; we see joy as a disease of foolishly optimistic people.  A heart that feels things deeply about God is not foolish or naive.  It is obedient and faithful.

I’ve been going through 1 Peter (and loving it fyi).  He’s talking to a bunch of people who are going through some pretty rough persecution and suffering.  his counsel to them is this:

“have…a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”

He doesn’t call them to ignore the evil in others.  He says – look at the world in all it’s brokenenss and instead of hardening your heart, keep it soft.

I think we’re afraid that if we go through this life with a tender heart we are foolish and will be destroyed, but the call from Scripture is that we find ourselves so deeply in Jesus that we are free to be tender with the world without fear.  If our security is in Jesus we are free to give to others without expectation.  We are free to love those who hate us without fear of being wounded.  Our identity is secure.  We have nothing to lose – only love to give.

A couple of blog posts ago, a non-believing friend posted a comment that still haunts me with its accuracy.  He asked if I even enjoyed being a Christian. He said my portrayal of Christ “comes off like an advertisement for being abjectly miserable, oppressively guilty and constantly confused about your every act and thought”.  My first instinct was to delete his comment, or defend myself or justify my heart.  But that would have been pretty ironic since the post was about fighting the temptation to do such things. 🙂 sneaky God.

The reality is – my friend is right.  So much of the time my life testifies that I believe Jesus is real and true, but not necessarily good; not sweet; not exciting and delightful and a source of unfailing joy.

I am an inaccurate picture of the sweetness of my God.  I make Him out to be a burden.  May my dear and precious and faithful friend Jesus forgive me.  May He redeem my heart so that it can reflect that He is indeed better to me than life.  I pray that my hardened heart may be softened.  I pray that my inabilities in this area may lead me to worship a God of such sweet grace.

Even now, I imagine the angels gathering around our great God.  I imagine the discussion going on as they look down at my heart and my life.  I imagine them humbly and curiously asking the Father – Why this one, Lord?  Surely this one is too far gone…surely this one can be of no use to you… Surely this one has defamed your name enough!

And I imagine them worshiping God anew as He reveals – through me – just how deep His mercy is and how strong His Spirit and how mighty His grace to redeem even hearts like mine.

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Are Women Crazy?

In Biblical Womanhood, Sin on February 24, 2011 at 11:59 pm

STEP TWO: Spot the Signs (positive emotions)

What we affectionately call ‘craziness’ is actually just the symptoms of insecurity rising to the surface.  In our culture, insecurity means self-doubt; insecurity is what happens when you don’t have enough self-esteem or you don’t believe in yourself.

I am holding out for a different definition.  I want to define insecurity as the state of being not secure.  Insecurity is essentially what happens when you put your worth in something that is not secure; it’s finding your value in a place that is not secure.  Biblically speaking – if you put worth in any person, place or thing apart from Christ you are not secure; you are insecure.

If we listen to our culture, then we will associate insecurity with negative emotions.  We will begin to identify insecurity with a negative view of self – eg. you are insecure when you aren’t confident.  But that’s not the definition of insecurity.  You could be the most confident positive person in the world and still be placing all your worth in things that are not eternally secure and therefore still be desperately insecure.

Negative emotions flare up when the places we’ve placed our worth reveal that they aren’t secure.   Our sources of ‘security’ are shaken or threatened and so we have emotional outburst triggered by fear or panic.  If we push past our defensiveness and don’t justify or blame, we can exploit those feelings to discover where we might be placing our worth and value apart from Christ.  However, just because we don’t experience the negative emotions, it doesn’t mean that we’re not still putting our worth in things that aren’t secure.

Here’s the thing.  Any place outside of Jesus is not secure.  Any person or role or place you are putting your security is failing you, whether you can see that or not.  They may not appear to be.  They may appear to be coming through for you and they may be filling you with joy in every other moment, but one thing I am certain of: they are failing.  The joy they offer is fleeting and temporal and shallow.  The hope they offer is a lie.  The promises they hold that lure you in with whispers of acceptance and value and worth are only deepening the gaping hole of insecurity in the center of your being.

We may have just as lethal an infection of insecurity, that’s deeper and wider than we ever know, that’s killing us, consuming us from the inside out, but the symptoms might never show up in negative emotions.

It’s sneaky.  I think, for example, that I’m someone who doesn’t find my worth in my work.  I think I’m someone who doesn’t struggle with insecurity in the work place.  I don’t think I’ve put my worth or value in my abilities.  I’ve convinced myself that I’m secure in Christ because I don’t see those negative symptoms flare up.  I don’t see a lot of fear or anxiety or frustration or doubt or visible insecurity when it comes to my work.

But it’s just started to occur to me that it’s possible that might be the case because I get a lot of good results at work.  I get a lot of positive affirmation.  I don’t get a ton of negative feedback and when I do it’s always bookended with encouragement.

In the same way that negative emotions aren’t universally ‘bad’, positive emotions aren’t universally ‘good’.  I feel a lot of positive emotions associated with work.  And I don’t think that’s bad or wrong, but I have to acknowledge that it’s possible that I AM finding my worth in my work.  It’s just that instead of that revealing negative emotions as my source of security gets starved and shaken, it’s actually producing positive emotions as it gets fed and fattened.  If I place my worth in my abilities at work, then by definition I am insecure; I am putting worth in a place that is not secure.  And the deadly thing is – if I do well at work – that place may appear to be more and more secure, convincing me to put more and more of the weight of my worth into it, despite the fact that it is ultimately going to fail me.

Sometimes, negative emotions are a greater blessing than positive ones.  Negative emotions occur when we are reminded of what’s real: that there is nothing secure outside of Christ.  Some of our positive emotions might actually convince us to trust even deeper into the lies that approval or power or earthly love or pleasure can offer us security.    There is a very real Enemy who will be pleased to increase and affirm you through the approval of your peers or the deepest love of a spouse if that causes you to put your trust in a place other than the blood of Christ.  There will be many who spend this life feeling secure and do not realize their desperate condition until they stand before God.

In the same way that our negative emotions can point us to the places we are placing our trust other than Jesus, our positive emotions can serve us as the same indicators.   We can track those emotions to the places of insecurity in our lives.  In this season you may not get the gift of negative emotions that offer you evidence of insecurity lurking under the surface.  But there are always signs; there are always indicators that will help us discover our sources of insecurity.  For some of us in certain seasons, watching our positive emotions will reveal our insecurities.

What makes us happiest?

Ask yourself this question and answer honestly.  It’s so sneaky because there are so many good and beautiful things in this world around us that offer us so much joy.  And we are creatures who are designed to enjoy life and one another and the blessings that we see this side of Heaven.

But the Bible is clear about the difference between the happiness we enjoy in God and the happiness we enjoy in even the sweetest places and people this side of Heaven: they do not compare.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)

I love that story.  That’s what it means to be a Christian.  It’s not a calculated exchange – this world for the next.  It’s an act of joy; an overflow of a heart that values Jesus beyond any treasure in this world.

It’s good to enjoy your spouse and your family and your job and your community, but Jesus says some absolutely crazy things about the way we should feel for all this in comparison to Him.  He says that when we look at the way we feel about the greatest earthly treasure we have, it should look like hate compared to the way we feel about Him.

Jesus says crazy things.

Jonathan Edwards says that to be a Christian is not just to be happier in God than anyone or anything.  To be a Christian is to get an entirely new sense of happiness.  It’s the incredibly bold and offensive claim that for those who are in Christ there is a joy being experienced that cannot be grasped by those who do not know Him.

Paul speaks of dying as gain because Jesus makes him happiest.  He speaks of things in this world as trash in comparison to knowing God.  Could you call death gain?  Could you say that and mean it?  Could you, would you, sell everything you own out of joy of Him?  Could you look your family and friends in the face and say with the psalmist: whom have I in Heaven but Jesus?  And earth has nothing I desire besides Him?

It’s a simple but tragically revealing question: what makes us happiest?

Of course, none of us are fully there.  So, exploit the painful answer to that question to help you find the root of your insecurity.

  • Does the thought of a spouse or the love of your spouse make you happiest?  Maybe you are putting your worth in being wanted by a human.  That is not a secure resting place.
  • Does the approval of your boss fill you with unspeakable joy?  Maybe the joy of their approval or the promise of being seen as valuable is a place you’re finding your value.  It’s not a secure resting place.
  • Does the thought of the joy of seeing your children graduate cause you to desire  Jesus to delay His return?  Maybe you are putting your security in your children; finding your identity in your children.  It’s not a secure resting place.

Please hear this: God designed you to find joy in the love of a spouse and the encouragement of others and the fruit of your labor.  The things above are not bad things.  But, it’s not generally bad things that convince us to trust in them for security, it’s usually good things; it’s usually things that look pretty stable and safe.

It may be that you really do find your joy in the treasures in your life purely out of an overflow of love for God, but you’ve got to admit – sometimes it’s hard to tell.  If we want to know if our joy is truly an overflow of security in Him there are some really helpful indicators.  We can just look at our joy and see if it lines up with what the Bible says about those who find their security in Christ.

Does your joy ebb and flow? The Bible is filled with impossible sounding commands; commands like rejoice constantly.  In Philippians, Paul says ‘rejoice in the Lord always’.  How could that be possible?

A joy that doesn’t ebb and flow is a sign that you are finding your deepest worth in Christ, because Christ doesn’t ebb and flow.  A constant rejoicing in your heart is evidence that your joy is in Him.  He is your source of security and He is not failing or coming through more based on the day of the week.  God’s affection for you is as great today as it will always be.  If your hope is truly and deeply in Him, the overflow would be a steadfast joy.  (By His grace alone, right?!)

Is your joy circumstantial? While writing that same letter to the Philippians, Paul’s sitting in prison.  He’s having a rough time of it but he says that he’s rejoicing and that he will continue to rejoice because he knows that Christ will be honored.  He goes on to tell them the key to this rejoicing – put no confidence in the flesh.  The kind of joy that Paul speaks of is only possible if we will remove any weight of worth that we are trusting into places that are not secure and trust fully in the security that comes in Christ.

Can a shift in circumstance sabotage your joy?  Can a shift in circumstance produce more joy?  The joy that we have access to in God is not threatened by circumstance.  It’s a joy that rejoices in suffering. It’s a joy that doesn’t abandon you when your marriage falls apart or your dreams collapse.  It’s a joy that is sourced so deeply in Christ alone that it will be a safe and secure refuge in all circumstance.

Does your joy revolve around you or around God? Look for the common denominators in your joy.  Even if your joy is in good and great and Godly things, does it also include your own exaltation?  Does it always include you being made much of?

As Paul writes to the Philippians from prison, he’s watching a bunch of people take over his ministry. Their motives are jacked up.  They are literally sharing the gospel out of a heart that wants to take advantage of the fact that Paul’s in prison to get ahead and to hurt him.  Paul’ response:

“Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

How could Paul say that?  He could say it because his security was found in Christ alone.  Therefore, His joy wasn’t contingent on his own exaltation, but Christ’s.  Are you happy when Christ is exalted through another ministry?  Another church?  Another Christian?  When God ordains circumstance that exalts His name at the expense of yours is your joy still as secure?

When I first became a Christian it was so much easier to discern this line.  The things that I did in the world were so clearly enjoyed for my sake alone and not for Christ’s sake.  But the life of a Christian is a little more confusing.  I spend my days working for a church.  When I have success at work it’s usually because Christ’s name was lifted higher.  How can I tell if the source of my joy is His exaltation or my own?

When I sing worship songs on Sunday I am filled with joy.  But how can I tell if the joy I feel is a result of the glory of God that I see rising up in front of me or if it’s a result of seeing my own worth lifted up – being the object of His affection.

In Religious Affections, Edwards quotes this:

“There are such things in [our faith] which, when a carnal, unhallowed mind takes the chair and gets the expounding of them, may seem very delicious to the fleshy appetites of men.”

Gosh.  That makes my heart skip a beat.  There are great doctrines and truths written in the pages of the Bible that even if I cared nothing for God I might feel my heart quicken at the sound of them.  Someone who doesn’t love God at all could be filled with joy at the sound of the wonders of all He has done if they were at the center of those things.  I cannot imagine any more devastating realization than the thought that all of my ‘worship’ for God and all of the affections I experience for Him are ultimately worship of self.

This isn’t designed to make you panic, it’s just designed to make you test your heart.  There is only one person I know who finds their security fully in the greatness of God.  And the great news is that His righteousness is wrapped around me.  He is my refuge in the moments when the darkness of my heart causes me to tremble.

The goal of tracing our joy back to its source isn’t to make us feel bad about ourselves.  And if it results in that kind of discouragement it’s probable that we’re finding our confidence in the flesh.  The goal of pressing into these things is so that we can fight to put our worth and value in Christ alone.  The heart that is found in Him experiences more joy than the heart that runs after any offer of temporal security tossed its way.

Make no mistake – God made you to feel joy.  It’s not the shallow joy that creation offers, but the infinite joy only a creator can hold out.  Clive Staples says it better:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The life of a Christian is a life of unspeakable and unshakeable joy.  It’s joy that is fixed in Christ and therefore doesn’t ebb and flow, it’s not circumstantial and it isn’t centered on us.  If we watch the peaks of our joy sometimes it will help us see the root of the things that provide us solace from insecurity.

STEP TWO: Spot the Signs (negative emotions)

In Sin, Uncategorized on February 22, 2011 at 1:18 am

[DISCLAIMER: I hate this ‘step’ thing.  I’m going to stick with it because I’m hoping it’s helpful, but keep in mind: the process of sanctification is not a ‘step’ process. The process of repentance is not a ‘step’ process.  It’s a work of God through His Spirit alone.  okay.  That’s all.  Stepping down off my soap box.]

One of the most practical ways that I have been challenged to engage this fight with my insecurity is to keep a close eye on the emotions that come out of my heart.  These things serve as symptoms that let me know something else is going on inside of me.

Emotions are an awesome tool to discover the true source of your trust.  If you want to know where your treasure is, follow your heart.  Keep an eye on the things that are coming out of your heart and there you will find what you truly value.

I want to be someone who is emotional; I just want my emotions to be a reflection of true things about God, not lies.  We were made to be emotional creatures so that our emotions could reflect who He is.  So, the question is – do my emotions reflect who He is?

Insecurity hijacks our emotions.  Emotions that were made to be glorious indicators of the greatness of God get arrested and are forced into serving our own obsession with self.

Our ‘negative’ emotions have been hijacked.  We were given feelings like fear to reflect the holiness of God and our awestruck response to His majesty, but now we experience fear when our idols are threatened.

Our positive emotions have been hijacked.  Joy was made to overflow out of an exaltation of Christ, but now we usually experience it now when we are made much of.

Or we experience a lack of emotions; an apathy or hardness in our hearts. Our hearts were made to overflow with emotions at the sound of God’s character, but now they remain tragically unaffected by anything – even the deep things of God.

One of the helpful things about the way I’m made is that I really do seem to engage with a wide spectrum of symptoms.  Some of us struggle with negative emotions, and some don’t.  Some experience zero emotions and some are happy all of the time.  All of us though, have room to examine our positive, negative emotions or our lack of emotions and dig in and see what they’re testifying about our source of security.  I’m uniquely wired so that I experience most symptoms at one time or another.  The great benefit of that is that I make for an excellent case study. 🙂

Today we’re going to dig into ‘negative’ emotions.  Negative emotions don’t necessarily equal ‘bad’ emotions; they’re just the emotions that we generally associate with a feeling of unpleasantness.   This includes things like fear, anxiety, insecurity, panic, anger, irritation, frustration, hurt, despair, jealousy, covetousness, discontentment, melt-downs, sorrow, fear of failure, shame…you fill in the blank.

This step is about spotting a negative emotion as a symptom of our insecurity or unbelief.  Our tendency when we see these things is to diagnose the wrong disease.  We see our negative emotion and instead of seeing it as a symptom of our insecurity or sin, we see the root in the failures of others and so we waste the opportunity the emotion presents to fight our sin.

We can totally miss the opportunity that our emotions provide if we don’t push through defensiveness or if we allow our emotion to drive us to justify or blame.

DEFENDING

As you invite people to speak into this process of engaging and battling your sin, or even as you begin to examine your heart yourself, you might begin to see defensiveness arise.

I have great friends who love me enough to challenge me and ask me great questions that allow me to exploit my ungodly emotions to identify roots of insecurity and unbelief in my heart.  In the moments when I’m challenged by them, or by the Word of God or by the Holy Spirit, I often feel defensiveness rise up before I can even process what’s happening.

I feel threatened.  I feel that same panic that some of you may feel anytime someone asks gentle questions that illuminate your sin, or when someone wants to process your weaknesses, or when someone says you’re not doing something as well as you think you are in your head.

I read this Spurgeon quote a couple of years ago, and it has helped me tremendously.

Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely on some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation, and you would be no gainer by the correction. If you have your moral portrait painted, and it is ugly, be satisfied; for it only needs a few blacker touches, and it would be still nearer the truth.

There is no feedback that we could hear that would paint us in too harsh a light.  We have more weaknesses than we see.  The great news of being found in Christ is that we are able to see our failures without it effecting our worth or value.  When you feel defensiveness rise in you, when you feel the urge to defend or protest that the charges against you are wrong or too harsh, remind yourself that there is more darkness in you than you know, but Jesus is a greater light than you have yet dreamed.

JUSTIFYING

Another big tendency that can hijack this process is something that you might be doing already as you read this blog.  It’s the tendency to explain why and how the ‘negative’ emotion we’re feeling is justified.  We are justified in our anger, in our frustration, in our hurt.  In fact, as believers we can justify to the point that we convince ourselves that our negative emotion is fully godly.

Example: I have a tendency to get angry when someone doesn’t extend grace to the people who I believe should get grace.  I have a fairly easy time extending grace to people who fall in the category of big screw ups.  When I hear people withhold grace from someone who has failed in a visible and culturally unacceptable way I get furious.  And I can justify my anger.  After all – isn’t this a glorious reflection of the gospel in me?   Isn’t my anger a beautiful reflection of the heart of God?

Here’s the thing: there may be a thread of my anger that is honestly a reflection of the heart of God.  But most of it is rooted insecurity.  I have no trouble giving grace to people in the ‘failure’ category because I’m someone who has in my testimony ‘big’ failure.  I’ve screwed up in the big ways.  I love that God has written my story in such a way that I am someone who is able to give grace to the visible sinner.  But the painful reality is, my anger is more rooted in insecurity than I would like to admit.  I get angry at people who don’t give grace to people like me because in deep places in my heart that I can’t even see, I am terrified and desperately insecure that maybe my sin really is worse than everyone else’s.  I have a deep fear that maybe I should be disqualified because of my failure and in an attempt to drown out that fear I speak loudly against any implication that resonates with my insecurity.

And the only reason I can see that is because I have great friends who challenge me to fight the temptation to justify my anger.  I try to push past it and see the root.  The reality is, it is unlikely that any emotion I experience is 100% entirely rooted in godliness.

How can you tell if you’re experiencing an emotion that’s sin or not?  Just ask yourself this simple question: is it rooted in faith?  Is it an emotion that is testifying to your belief in something real?  Is it an overflow of faith?  Jesus was angry.  He expressed emotions that looked like frustration, hurt, irritation, despair.  Yet, in all these things He never sinned, and what that means is that each of these was an expression of faith.  He was angry because God was being used.  He was frustrated when God’s name was proclaimed falsely.

If my anger was from faith then it wouldn’t be tinged with judgment or disgust.  If it was really a product of a gracious gospel-centered world view then I probably wouldn’t have a hard time giving grace to the people who fail to meet my standard of giving grace.

Look for your negative tendencies and refuse the temptation to justify them away.  Ask your friends to push back on your justification.  

BLAMING

Another way I work my way around my negative emotions is to blame.

When I’m sad – is it someone else’s fault?  When I’m anxious, is it because of my employer? My coworker?  My staff?  When I’m lonely – is it because my spouse doesn’t love me rightly?  Is it because my community isn’t living up to the call of God on their lives? Is it because my church is too big, too small, a failure?

It might be that the ‘design’ of a husband is to love his wife flawlessly.  It might be that the ‘design’ of your employer is to advocate and protect you from becoming too overworked.  It might be that ‘design’ of community and the church is to meet you in your lonely moments.  But we can so easily do the math wrong in our heads and end up thinking that just because God’s revealed will is for these things to be, it means we’re ‘entitled’ to these things.

God’s ‘design’ was for me to be holy and pure and never put my trust in anyone but Him.  But guess what? That’s not the reality I experience today.  So what happened?  Did I screw up God’s design?  Did He hold out on me?  Aren’t I owed all the things that He says are good?

Or could it be that even in my failure, or my spouse’s failure, or my church’s failure, God is at work to help me identify all the places I am placing my trust instead of Him.  Could it be that He is at work through my weakness, through the failure of others, to display that He alone is a safe refuge, that He alone can meet my needs?

When we see our lives through a biblical lens, our situations and our circumstances are no longer a cause for anger or frustration or anxiety, but now we are free to see them as opportunities to shift our hearts more fully to hope in Him alone.

What now?

When you see the symptoms of negative emotions in your heart, fight to avoid the tendency to defend, justify or blame.  Look for ways that you are explaining your feelings away or looking to someone else to change their behavior to fix the issue.

Today – invite and encourage your friends or spouse or family to challenge you in your moments of negative emotions to avoid the tendencies to defend, justify or blame.  Don’t short circuit the process by explaining your negative emotions away.

If you’re someone who experiences negative emotions, my prayer is that you would see them as an opportunity to seek hope in a Savior who does not disappoint.  The next couple of blogs will press into the symptoms presented when we experience positive emotions or a lack of emotion, so stay tuned!

STEP ONE: Do you believe you need to fight?

In Sin, Uncategorized on February 18, 2011 at 3:42 am

The only way you’re ever going to fight your sin is if you believe you need to fight.

Most of us want to be secure and healthy individuals.  Some of us convince ourselves we already are.  We ignore the flare up symptoms of panic or anger or apathy that testify to our deep insecurity, and instead we compare ourselves to the women on the Bachelor & conclude that we’re doing relatively well.

Some of us acknowledge that we haven’t arrived in this area.  We acknowledge that we may not be the perfect and flawless woman of God that we want to be.  We want Him to change us and make us better, but when someone implies that we are somehow ‘responsible’ for our insecurity (as opposed to victims of a mysterious disease), we get outraged. 

In order to fight our sin we have to acknowledge that our insecurity and our ungodly emotions are actually sin. 

We have to acknowledge that when our desperate demand for our husband’s love consumes us – it is sin.  We have to acknowledge that when we have a meltdown at work or at home because someone doesn’t seem to value what we do, the primary issue is in our heart ,not theirs.  We have to acknowledge that our inability to forgive the person who comes to us broken and repentant is actually our failing.  We have to acknowledge that the fear that consumes us – even though we don’t pursue it or recruit it – is sin.

Somewhere along the way we began to believe a couple of lies about sin:

  1. It can only be ‘sin’ if it you consciously physically act against a command of God.
  2. It can only be ‘sin’ if you have an opportunity to control and choose differently and you don’t.

Here’s what the bible says about sin: it’s not defined by an action – it can be a thought or a feeling.  And it isn’t defined simply as doing or thinking something bad. 

Sin is anything that doesn’t spring from an act of faith.  That’s crazy.  Paul says in Romans that everything that is not rooted in faith is sin.  That means you could do everything right on the outside and still be in sin.  You could be positive, happy and engaging and be in sin.  You could be compassionate, kind and always in control of your emotions and be in sin.  You could have no ‘bad’ emotions, but be lacking the ‘right’ emotions and be in sin.

This is a crazy way to define sin.  And most of you are thinking – that can’t be right, because if that definition is right than a whole lot of my life is sin.  The Bible must be wrong, or my understanding of it must be wrong, because otherwise I’m saying that you and I are far worse than we ever imagined. 

Oh wait. Blast. I think that’s biblical.

With this definition of sin, I’m not sure any of us fall in the camp where the call to fight insecurity or emotional sin doesn’t apply to us.  Can any of us say with confidence that we feel great about where we are with insecurity and emotions.  Are your emotions always an overflow of faith?  Do you always feel the joy that you should in the presence of the Lord?  Do your emotions display He is trustworthy, true, kind, good, for you?  Does your life reflect that you are constantly found in Him?  Do you think thoughts and feel things and spend your time on things out of an absolute overflow of finding your security and worth in Him alone?

Or is it possible that your heart is a little darker than you might like to concede.  Is it possible that the glorious emotions that God has put in you to reflect His value most often reflect the value you place on created things or reflect the value you place on self instead?  Is it possible that a lot of your thoughts, a lot of your feelings and a lot of what you do is designed to fill an aching need to prove your own worth – and not an overflow of realizing you have that your worth is secure in Christ?

Is that possible?  If so – the call from the Bible is to fight.  The challenging thing about insecurity is that it produces thoughts or feelings that seem unbelievably natural and feel ridiculously ‘right’ to us.  The thought of fighting them seems…overwhelming. 

This fight seems so outside our control, and I think that’s actually one of the most encouraging things about this whole thing.  When I teach on this, I frequently have students raise their hands in my classes and say ‘Fabs, this is so discouraging!’ When I ask them why, they explain: ‘because it’s impossible!’

That response always makes me so happy.  Because I think when we get to the point where we’re throwing our hands in the air and declaring something impossible, we’re in a great spot.  To look at the call of obedience in our lives and feel like it’s impossible for us is where we’re supposed to be.  The disciples had this same reaction when Jesus told them what it would look like to enter into the kingdom of God.  And his encouragement wasn’t: guys!  You can totally do this!  Don’t be so negative!  No.  He told them – you’re right.  It is impossible.  With man it is impossible, but with God it is possible.

That’s a big ‘but’.  Don’t be discouraged if you feel like the call to have emotions that glorify God or the call to be secure in Christ is impossible.  In your own strength it is absolutely impossible, but our hope of sanctification is not found in self.  It’s found in a loving Father and a powerful Spirit and a redeeming Savior who has already purchased for us a new heart and a promise of sanctification.

None of the practical aspects I’m going to walk through in the next couple of posts even matter if you have not settled it in your heart that this is sin in your life that you want to fight.  The great news is – even in this, you can’t do it alone.  A heart that wants to fight is a gift of grace possible through His power alone.  So spend some time praying for a heart like that.  Beg God to give you a fresh perspective.  Beg Him to reveal to you how deep your sin goes.

The glorious thing about being found in Christ is that we don’t have to be afraid to look at our failure.  Pressing into our sin does not produce in us self loathing; it doesn’t threaten our worth or value. If looking at our sin makes us feel shaky or despairing, it’s probably a great time to stop and ask ourselves: are we really finding our security in Christ’s life and death alone?

Being a sinner does not disqualify us from the grace of God.  Quite the contrary, knowing we’re sinners is what prepares us to receive the grace of God.  My prayer for you is that you would be granted faith to believe that every flash of insecurity is a testimony of unbelief in the perfect promises of our Father; the shadows of fear and anxiety that darken your heart are evidence of idolatry.  

I believe that the deeper you grasp this the deeper you will worship God.  Yahweh.  The God of our fathers.  The God of Abraham and Issac and Jacob. 

Our God made man: Jesus.  The God who came for sinners, who came to give us freedom from defensiveness over sin, who came to give us the freedom to name our sin and acknowledge it’s evil without any fear of condemnation.  

Confess your sin to Him.  No one will bring a charge against you.  Not because there is a shortage of evidence, but because the penalty has been paid in full.  Thanks be to God through Christ our Lord.

Encouragement #3: God is for Himself

In Bible on December 2, 2010 at 1:46 am

Tonight I am so thankful for a God who is out for His glory above all.  It sounds weird, but this is probably one of the greatest encouragements we have in the face of suffering.

God is for Himself.  What I mean by that is that God’s primary purpose in creating this whole crazy world is to display His character clearly.  This is uppermost in His motivations.  All His other designs are subordinate (or lesser), even His plan to save you and I.  His number one priority is that His true character be lifted high.

And on nights like this, my friends, there is no better news.

First let me say, that many people think it might be more encouraging if God was ultimately about us and not about Himself.  But this wouldn’t actually be comforting at all.  That would be like a presidential candidate proclaiming that the ant hill on the white house lawn was more precious than human life.  I’m guessing none of us would vote for that guy.  Because ants aren’t more valuable than people.  If God loved us more than Himself than He’d be an idolater and not worthy of worship.  Humans aren’t more valuable than God.

The news that God is primarily concerned with elevating His true self to the world may sound hard and scary (since we’re not at the center of that story), but it’s actually great comfort for us in the midst of suffering.

A few years ago, a member of our staff put together a collection of Scripture titled ‘The History of Redemption’.  He preached it as a sermon; a complete story of God’s interaction with the world told entirely through the word of God!  You can see video and audio of the sermon here and we’ve put it together in an illustrated book to help encourage people to memorize and reflect on this amazing story.  Some of our staff (myself included) agreed to hold one another accountable to memorizing it and it’s been an incredible challenge and an unbelievable opportunity to meditate on God and His purposes throughout history.

One of the hardest things about suffering is that it makes it really hard to believe in anything outside of ourselves.  In moments of pain everything becomes a little foggy and the purposes of God seem confusing and out of reach.  It seems impossible to believe that He could possibly be acting for our benefit.  And if we offer comfort to one another that places us at the center of the story instead of God, I think we will miss a great hope held out to us in the Bible.

As I was memorizing and meditating on “The History of Redemption” I was fascinated to see how God ‘encouraged’ the nation of Israel in the midst of their suffering.

See, back in the day Israel was…promiscuous.  Things weren’t going well.  God keeps saving them from themselves, but they continue to worship idols and bring sorrow upon sorrow into their lives.  In the midst of this tragic time, God comes to the suffering Israelites and brings them the glorious hope of the New Covenant; the great news that God will forgive all our sins and remember our failings no more.  And the foundation of this great comfort is not that He is so enamored with the Israelites that He can’t bear to lose them.  The foundation of this great comfort is that God is going to make sure that His name is clearly seen.

In the darkest and most broken moments of His people, this is what God wants them to know:

“Say to the house of Israel, it is not for your sake O house of Israel that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name which you have profaned among the nations…and the nations will know that I am the Lord when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.”

RECAP: Israel is being faithless.  They are slandering God’s name with their idolatry, and testifying to everyone who sees that God is not satisfying and not worthy of worship.  So God says that He is going to act to make sure that everyone knows that He is the one true God.  He is going to vindicate His name through the Israelites.  Now, to me, that sounds like some people are about to get smoked, but that’s not how it goes down.  Here’s how God plans to show His true character through the Israelites:

“I will gather you from the nations, and take you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.  And I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean of all your uncleannesses and from all your idols I will cleanse you.”

So confusing is our God.   The way He displays His character is by redeeming a faithless people.  The way He ‘clears His name’ is by rescuing a people undeserving.

And why does He do that?  Because He loves Israel so much?  No – that’s not His motive.  Don’t believe me?  Scroll up and re-read the first line of the verse.  He wants it to be really clear that His primary motive is His name.

Now – don’t get me wrong.  God does love Israel.  But His love for Israel is a by-product of His desire to display His character.  He is an unfailing Father.  He is a faithful lover.  He is a gracious husband.  He is a mighty God.  And because this is who He is, Israel can trust that at all times He’s going to act in the way that best displays these characteristics.  That’s why Israel could bank on His provision and protection; not because of anything about their lives – but because of the character of God.

This has been a long day and a weird night for me.  I don’t know how to believe that tomorrow is going to be different.  And we all have that in common.  Every single person reading these words is going to face a hard day sooner or later.  And in that day, how can we know for sure that God will provide for us?  How can we know for sure that He will be faithful?  How can we know that His love for us won’t fail?

We can know because God will always act to display His character.  He will arrange every molecule and every detail of every day to display who He is.  He is at all times acting to display His glory (or the full characteristics of who He is).  And this is great news.  Because He is the Lord the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.

Some days I just feel like I need God to make much of me.  That’s how this world works after all.  When your friend feels insecure, you encourage her with proclamations of how wonderful she is.  Honestly, I think we’d all be a lot more comfortable if God behaved this same way.  I think we’d all feel great about a God who whispered to us in the moments of our deepest pain how wonderful and great we are.  I’m guessing that’s what Job felt like he needed as well, after he lost his family and his future and his health.  Job turns to God and God – being gracious – answers Him.  God’s response is a reminder of where our true comfort will be found.  God launches into a magnificent speech about the greatness of…Himself.

Our God knows us better than we know ourselves.  We don’t need to hear about how great we are.  We need to hear about how great He is.   We don’t need to take hold of the concept that we are at the center of this whole thing, we need to take hold of the one who IS at the center of this whole thing and trust Him to vindicate His name through our lives.

In the darkest moments of suffering, have hope: God is going to act to display His character.  God is acting to display His character. In each and every detail, God is seeking opportunities to display His kindness, His love, His grace, His mercy, His provision.  For the Israelites this news meant that they were going to be redeemed and cleaned and given the promise of a new covenant.  For those of us who are children of God – it means that  God is going to use our lives to display just how generous, gracious, kind, loving and good He is to His children.

I don’t know where you are today.  I barely know where I am today.  But I know where God is – on His throne; working every second of every moment to display just how great He is.  Surely this is a great comfort for those who will cast themselves on Him.

This has been the great hope of the saints that have gone before us.  It was the hope of David in Psalm 79 when he said: deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!”  His hope of deliverance was found in God acting to display the greatness of His name.

It was the hope of Daniel:

[18] O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. [19] O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (Daniel 9:18-19)

And tonight my voice joins with theirs and I will pray following their example.  I will appeal to God because I know He will act to display His true character.  That is my deepest comfort.

Not for my sake, but for the sake of your great name God – rend Heaven to meet with me even now and restore me to the joy of my salvation.  Use my life to display how merciful, gracious and great you are.  Use my faithlessness to display how transforming your grace is.  Use my fear to set the stage to display how great a comforter you are.   Use my loneliness and insecurity to set the stage to display how much joy and pleasure there is in you alone.

Encouragement in Suffering #2: Immanuel

In Endurance, Practical Issues, Singleness on November 25, 2010 at 12:38 am

My Christmas tree is up and looking pretty great (even if I say so myself).  Why, you may ask, is my Christmas tree up before thanksgiving?  A) I love Christmas.  B) I love Christmas trees.  C) Thanksgiving is valuable to me in that it’s a sign post for Christmas (and the food I guess).  D) I love Christmas.

I’ve always loved Christmas, but I remember my first Christmas with Jesus, and how different that was.  I remember the amazement I felt at knowing that the Word had become flesh and dwelt among us.  It’s crazy really.  It’s not crazy when you’re looking at the American Jesus – who is kind and cuddly and fits right in your pocket.  But it’s pretty nuts when you’re looking at Jesus who was before all things and through whom all things came into being.  The Jesus of the Bible  upholds all things by the word of his power and He is the radiance of the glory of the Father and the exact representation of His nature, and this is the Jesus who chose to bind Himself in flesh and dwell among us.  This is the Jesus who subjected Himself to all the humiliation and suffering that comes with being found in the form of man.

And it’s one of the greatest encouragements I know for us in the midst of suffering.  The comfort for you and I in the face of suffering is found in the flesh of Christ.

My last blog was about the comfort that can come from zooming out.  The thing is, once we grasp this our fractured logic can lead us to believe that God doesn’t care about the day-to-day pain we face.  We can begin to assume that God isn’t interested in the light and momentary affliction we face.  We tell ourselves that He is not the kind of God that would be concerned with the details of our suffering.

And we would be wrong.

Jesus – in whom the fullness of God is pleased to dwell – wrapped Himself in skin and suffered like me and you so that in our worst pain and moments of suffering we would know the truth.  God doesn’t scoff at the smallness of our pain.  God meets us in the intimate details of our pain.  God is with us even in the smallest hurts.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)

In our deepest pain, lies creep in and lead us to turn away from the only source of comfort.  We listen to the whisper that God does not understand the pain of abandonment or rejection; that He is annoyed that we are so bothered by our singleness; that He is frustrated with our pathetic inability to trust in the bigger picture;  God can’t possibly know what it feels like to be tempted to doubt His goodness in lonely nights or when tragedy strikes.

And Christmas is the evidence that these whispers are lies.  Christmas is the great glowing ebeneezer that reminds us we don’t have a God who wants us to just ‘get over it’.  We have a God who understands how rough this world can be because He lived it.

We have a God who came down and suffered with us.  Our God is the only being who never had to suffer; He’s the only person who never had to experience any pain, and yet He willingly endured the most horrific pain imaginable.  Why? So that in the moments when we are most tempted to despair in the face of our suffering we can go to Him, messy and broken and confident that He can help.

Because there is no one like our God.  He holds the universe in His palm but He will never scoff at the intimate details of our fears.  He will never grow impatient our inability to ‘zoom out’.  He will never roll His eyes at our desire to have a husband or a child or a different tomorrow.

We have a high priest who understands because He too has endured suffering.  He knows about lonely painful nights.  He knows about losing loved ones.  He knows about being rejected and abandoned and forsaken.  He knows about the moments when you look around and everything seems to be going wrong.  He knows about faces flung heavenward, begging for another way.  He knows about the weight of suffering.  Look to the Cross; He knows.

Surely there is none like our God.

He beckons us close even now.  He whispers to our hearts – draw near, beloved, draw near.  I know this storm.  I’ve weathered it.  Draw near and find the grace and mercy you need to breathe in and out.

His name is called Immanuel.  Because that is who He is: God with us.

Blessings of Singleness #5: Lack of Physical Intimacy

In Endurance, Practical Issues, Sin, Singleness on July 23, 2010 at 8:33 pm

In our culture it seems ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’ when women desire sex as a means to emotional intimacy.  But no one believes that a woman could struggle with the purely physical.  So, I’ll go ahead and put this blog out there just in case it might be an encouragement.  This struggle has provided for me the biggest challenge and deepest ‘suffering’ of singleness.

I believe that one day, I will look at my life and say with confidence that the single greatest blessing I have experienced of singleness has been pain of learning to live without physical intimacy.

Part of why it’s been so painful is it is probably the struggle that has confused me most.  It’s been (and is) a pretty hard sell to get my body on board with the idea that I’m not missing out on what I was created for.  It’s challenging to not feel entitled.  And in a moment of absolute vulnerability, it’s one of the things that has made it the hardest to trust my sweet and faithful God.  And in some ways – in dark and frightened places – I feel forgotten and betrayed and confused.

Because I know He knows me. I know He knows my body and my heart and I know He designed and wired this desire inside of me in the same way He wired my belly to grumble slightly around 11:02 AM.  My hunger is designed to prompt me to eat.  And so I do.  And yet, my Father has told me that when I am hungry in this sense I must trust Him and not find food for myself.  And He has seen fit not to give me any guarantee that this hunger will ever be satisfied.

There is pain.  There is pain in watching my friends be fed one after another with the thing I feel like I need the most.  There is pain in facing each morning with the knowledge that today there will be no daily bread for this hunger.  There is pain as I sit, feeling as though I am starving to death, and listen to my married friends try to explain to me that eating is overrated.

And the truth is: this is the biggest blessing of my life.

You know what it makes me think about?  Fasting.  Fasting is strange.  I think it’s weird that God is about physical fasting.  It involves a need that is seemingly purely physical.

When I am lonely, I ultimately want God.  When I am sad, only God can bring true joy.  When I am afraid, it points me to the promises of God.  When I feel rejected, unwanted, unloved, alone, in all these needs, God alone will bring true and lasting peace.

But, when I’m hungry, I want a cheeseburger and some fries.

Physical desires seemingly terminate on physical things.  And that’s the beauty of fasting.  God commands us to fast, not so that He can prove He is as good as a cheeseburger by making our hunger go away. God commands us to fast so that we learn to feel hungry and trust Him in the midst of that gnawing sense of need.

The goal of fasting is not for God to remove our hunger, but for us to learn that in the midst of hunger He is trustworthy.  The feeling of hunger is the point of the fast.  God wants us to feel hunger so that we are reminded that we are not supposed to be satisfied and we are supposed to long for Him.  We fast to reflect that we trust God regardless of what our bodies tell us.  He is our authority, not our bodies.

Today, my body wants something tangible and physical.  My body doesn’t know that God will satisfy all my needs.  It just wants what it was made to have.  And today, I don’t get to have that.  And so the line is drawn in the sand and the challenge is made.  Today, what will be my source of truth?  Who will be the one who determines what I need?  My body?  Or my God?  Who knows my needs better?  Me or Jesus?  When I feel so clearly what I ‘need’, will I trust Him that there is a greater need?  Will I learn to be hungry so that I can trust Him in hunger, not just in plenty?

There is no area in my life that makes me more likely to doubt the promises of God than this area.  I have told friends through tears that many days I do not feel like I have everything I need for life and godliness because of this.  I do not know how I am going to persevere in light of my hunger and in light of my Father’s gracious call to purity.

And so, this pain, more than anything else will teach me to trust.  Each day, as the sun goes down and I still find myself securely held in the arms of the Father, my faith is built.    He doesn’t promise to give me everything I need to never be hungry.  He promises to give me everything I need to not starve to death on the road home to Him.  And today I’m alive; He has proved Himself faithful.  He doesn’t promise to give me everything I need to never ever falter.  He promises to give me everything I need to finish this race.  And today I love Him; He has proved Himself faithful.  He will finish the good work He began in me.  There is only one thing I really need.  And it is secure.

I have failed. Make no mistake.  I’m ashamed to say that more days of this life than not I have behaved as an orphan.  Though adopted, and promised provision, I have refused to trust but instead I have taken for myself what has not been given. When He has not provided for me, I have stolen and cheated.  But He has never forsaken me.  The price He paid to buy my freedom is more than enough to secure me despite my human frailty.  He has delivered me time and time again.

I am typing this today.  And today I love Jesus.  And that is by His grace alone.  I have traded Him for the fleeting pleasures of this world too many times to count, but He has never traded me.  And He will never trade me.  And He has met me in the pig pen and He has led me home.  And so I trust Him more today than I did yesterday.

And so today, by His grace, I will say – your commandments are not burdensome.  Today I will say – I trust that you know what is best for me.  I trust that you will not withhold.  I trust that you – the maker of my body – know exactly what it needs today to worship you.

Today, in order to worship God, my body needs to be hungry.  Today, He is giving me the blessed pain of hunger because it’s the only way I’m going to make it home, and He is nothing if not faithful to the promise to give me what I need to make it to Him.

You will waste this suffering if it doesn’t cause you to long for death.  Sounds morbid.  However, I want to stand with Paul and say that ‘my desire is to depart to be with Christ, for that is far better’.  It might be that the pain of a life without physical intimacy was part of what equipped Paul to proclaim through the Spirit that to die is gain.  To die is to gain a glorified body that feels and experiences the truth that all our needs are met in Jesus.  To die is to gain the heavenly reality that earthly intimacy can only reflect in shadows.  To die is to gain full oneness with God; fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.  To die is to gain Jesus.

You will waste this suffering if you fail to use it to witness about the greatness of God.  Our God is a God of pleasure.  He is not calling us to hunger because he wants us to be miserable.  He is calling us to hunger because He wants us to experience the greatest pleasure available to man.  There is nothing that sounds as foolish to the world as a person who would pursue purity, not out of some sense of religious obligation, but out of a faith that there is a greater pleasure in store for those who would trust in the Creator.  There is nothing that makes God look as beautiful as when we, who have tasted His goodness, would use our lives to testify that we will forego any momentary joy in order to taste more of Him.

There are pieces of my testimony that I hate; that I might wish to rewrite.  But even in my failure, God has written my life with His divine grace.  Perhaps this struggle more than any other has made me more like Christ.  Perhaps this struggle more than any other has proved the truth of Hebrews 4:14-16 in my life.  If you are ashamed, if you have failed, rest your heart in the fact that the gospel was made for such a time as this.  We don’t have a great high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.  Praise God that we have Jesus.  Who has walked in singleness; tempted in every way, and yet never succumbed.  So draw near to Him and receive mercy and find grace to help in time of trouble.

Thanks be to God.

Blessings of Singleness#1: Loneliness

In Endurance, Practical Issues, Singleness on July 7, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Loneliness isn’t unique to singleness.  I can’t imagine the very painful loneliness of living with an emotionally absent husband or going to sleep alone after losing a spouse.

Loneliness is the strangest sensation.  It is physical and emotional and I don’t quite no what to do with it.  And I know it won’t kill me but when I’m experiencing it, it seems strangely unbearable.  I feel that if I can’t fix it – if I can’t make it go away – I’ll die.

For me, loneliness is rooted in the pain of never feeling truly known; not having anyone who shares my deepest fears, dreams or longings.  And the fraudulent reality that singles sometimes believe is that no one has even attempted to know us.  We feel alone in decisions.  We feel alone in our fears.  We feel alone in our dreams.  The weird thing about singleness is that no one is supposed to know us in the deepest ways.  I am in a season of life where God has declared that no mortal being will know me intimately.  And that’s lonely.

The pain of loneliness is such a gift.   Like all pain, it lets us know that something somewhere isn’t quite right.  My loneliness reminds me that this world is unsatisfying and insufficient.  It’s a signpost that prompts me to seek help outside of myself.

Each jab of loneliness tests my heart: do I believe in the ‘enoughness’ of God? Will I believe in what He says even when life seems to testify otherwise?  He says I have everything I need.  He says He will satisfy the longing heart.  And each twinge of pain provides a reminder to cast my gaze heavenward and to refuse to be comforted by anything but Him.

Without loneliness, I would never persevere.  I am too easily satisfied.  Given the choice, I would settle for any companionship that would offer me a momentary sedative for loneliness.  And in His great kindness, the Lord has not provided that for me.  On a Friday night, alone in my apartment, when I feel like no one even knows I’m alive, there is no hope of freedom from the loneliness except the goodness of God and the truth of the gospel.  I have no where else to turn.  I am forced to deal with God.  His promises become my only hope.

There are ways to waste your loneliness.  You will waste your loneliness if you let it feed a desire for mere mortals instead of the Almighty.  Our loneliness is not designed to teach us to long for a spouse.  A spouse or singleness, companionship or loneliness – they are all designed to teach us to long for God.

You will waste your loneliness if you allow it to lead you to doubt the promises and the goodness of God.  The primary blessing of loneliness is that it teaches you to yearn for God in a deep way and it can be used by the Spirit to increase and fuel our faith so that we might believe that He is our only joy.

You will waste your loneliness if you try to shove things into the God shaped hole inside of you and become embittered when they fail to satisfy a need they were never made to fill.  Or if you become frustrated with God that He hasn’t provided idols for you to turn to instead of Him.  There is someone who knows us deeply.  There is someone who pursues us intimately and always.  Loneliness doesn’t happen because Jesus is not enough.  Loneliness happens because we don’t have enough of Christ.  The crossroads we arrive at when the pain sets in forces us to see what we really believe.  Will we trust that He is our treasure and reach and beg for more of Him?  Or, will we trade Him for a more tangible, but more pathetic treasure?

Press into your loneliness and allow it to remind you that you are not home here.  He promises to satisfy the longing heart and fill the hungry mouth with good things.  Don’t let your loneliness ever be quenched with something this side of Heaven.  Learn to long with a Holy discontentment.  Our God is the God of the hungry and the thirsty.  By His grace I will stay in that category.  God forbid I ever get full and fat on the gifts He gives.

Whatever your stage of life – be encouraged when you experience loneliness.  Press into it.  Learn not to look to your spouse or friends to make this feeling go away – but instead let the pain instruct you to long for what is not yet seen.

Yearn for the only one who will ever fully know you and love you unfailingly & faithfully.  There is only One.  His name is Jesus.  He alone can satisfy the longing heart.  Let your loneliness lead you to long for Him.

Starving Audrey II

In Endurance, Sin on June 28, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I’m wondering right now if Little Shop of Horrors isn’t some kind of biblical metaphor.  (Classic flick.  Brief synopsis: plant named Audrey II likes to eat blood.  At first he’s satisfied with just a drop of blood, but as he grows, so does his appetite.)

So, this month I have been mentally fasting from some stuff in an attempt to starve some of my sin through the Spirit.  It’s day 4 of consciously trying not to feed it in any way, even in the harmless details that aren’t ‘sin’ in and of themselves.  (failed like 80 billion times already).

And I realized last night that I’ve been mistaken.  I think I somehow thought I was dealing with little new born Audrey II plant – who was weak and frail and could be starved just for a moment and die.  Instead, I’m dealing with big fat Audrey II.  I’ve been feeding this sin for so long in the tiny details of the day, in the intimate corners of my mind and heart – in the thoughts and feelings I can justify and explain away.  And even though I don’t feel like I’ve been giving the sin too much substantial food, it’s grown big and fat and healthy on the scraps of my soul.

In each moment that we yield to lust, uncertainty, anxiety, dreams of power or comfort, coveting  a husband or a child, jealousy, bitterness we feed the Audrey II deep inside of us.  And the problem is that when we stop feeding our Audrey II, it doesn’t just die over night – it’s too strong.  It takes time.  And if we are  to starve the sin to death we must be willing to be hungry ourselves.  We would have to let our hunger happen without trying to stuff something in to make it go away.  But when we become hungry we panic and feed our sin because we just don’t believe that there is true bread that will sustain us that is on its way.  When our sin growls, we feed it because we don’t trust God to provide for us.

I’m loving Psalm 107 this morning.  Cause it involves a bunch of hungry people running around calling on the name of the Lord and then a nice fat promise that ‘he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things’.

Sounds wonderful.  The only catch of course, is that I before I can learn to be satisfied by Him, I must learn to be hungry for Him.  That’s hard to do when I’m used to feeding my desires in the moment they present themselves.  I’m not even sure I know how to let my appetite arise without trying to fill it with something.

God seems to be in the business of cultivating hunger in us so that He can satisfy us.  And sin seems to be in the business of throwing out opportunities to satisfy that hunger momentarily with the things of the world; it’s a bait and switch because the things of the world don’t really ever satisfy (hence the greater and deeper hunger that my sin has in common with Audrey II).

Hmm.  God wants us hungry so that He alone can satisfy us.  Satan wants to offer us a short cut to ‘satisfaction’.  This reminds me of a story I read somewhere about a guy in a desert who was really hungry and got offered some food by some weird guy…(Jesus and Satan for those of you who aren’t picking up what I’m putting down)

So, if I want to starve my sin I’m going to have to learn to endure and cultivate a new hunger; a hunger for God.  And the only way that can happen is if I really believe Him.  The only way I can pass up a snack is if I truly believe that I have a great lunch at Fogo* planned.  No matter how hungry I get, I must believe that only God can satisfy me and I must wait on the bread of life.

Oh goodness. It’s such a hopeless exercise.  Apart from Jesus.  Once again – He is my only hope.

Make me hungry today.  Sustain me on promises of the bread of life that will finally satisfy all my longings.  I don’t want less food, I want to wait for better food.

*Sorry for all the cultural references this AM.  Fogo is like…a shadow of a heavenly reality. with lots of meat.

Quotes from Gayle Haggard’s book: ‘Why I Stayed’

In Quotes, Sin on June 25, 2010 at 7:39 pm

“If I left Ted, my life would be illustrating that some people mess up too badly to be redeemed and that some people are lost causes.  And I don’t believe that.  I don’t believe in throwing people away because they’ve sinned”

Mark Galli quotes Martin Luther as saying that ‘a Christian is at once and the same time a sinner and a righteous person.  He is a sinner in fact, but a righteous person by the sure reckoning and promise of God that he will continue to deliver him from sin until he has completely cured him.  And so he is totally healthy in hope, but a sinner in fact.  He has the beginning of righteousness, and so always continues more and more to seek it, while realizing that he is always unrighteous.’ If we live in this hope…we will not be puzzled or despondent when our public heroes fall or church disappoints or our own lives are as wretched as Paul’s.  Instead, we’ll join him in saying, ‘thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  There is therefore now no condemnation (not from God, not from ourselves! for those who are in Christ Jesus.’

Reading this book provokes two thoughts in me:

1.  The gospel was made for people like Ted Haggard and me.

2. We must pray desperately that when our friends fail and our leaders sin we have the grace to greet their repentance with the same love and mercy that we ourselves have received.