Monday, November 17, 2008

Being OK with Brokenness

The Lord has allowed my brokenness to surface in a way that has made me feel cornered and angry. Large swaths of my soul are barren, shown in my lack of energy, hope and creativity in day to day life. It is a major task, for example, to work through a deep book. I have to take it in almost pathetically small chunks.

I need to read more Brennan Manning, Peter Scazerro and Terry Wardle. They always help me bring my brokenness to God. My default response is to try and hide it from myself and others, even God. Which is why I hardly talk to him anymore (it seems).

Parenting Classes Online

Here is the link to all our classes (week 6 should be available soon)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Parenting Class

We just wrapped up a 6 week parenting class at our church, and I will hopefully post the notes here soon. It was a lot of hard work, trying to nail down a vision of parenting that I haven't seen elsewhere.

Many of our friends over-emphasize "the rod," as the primary means of relating to their children (misusing the book of Proverbs in the process). Our parenting is, in part, a response to what we consider as unhealthy idolatry around us. It is an Old Covenant way of parenting (actually, a misunderstanding of the Old Covenant) that exalts the rod as doing what only the God of the gospel can do: bring about righteousness and joy in our children's hearts.

For example, proponents advocate demanding obedience "All the way, right away and with a happy heart," with the rod as the means of bringing this about. Tedd Tripp even goes so far as to say that he continued to spank until his kids demonstrated joy (in his book, "Shepherding a Child's Heart"). I think this borders on abuse, personally. Only the work of Jesus can do that in our children (and in us!). The Kingdom that God ushers in is all about "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). To imply that these kingdom realities can be brought about by the use of the rod seems oversimplistic at best and dangerous at worst.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Some Thoughts on Thinking from Romans

Recently, our church considered Romans 12:1-2:
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (NIV)

The Lord has been challenging me with another verse from Romans 8:5-7, also having to do with the mind (pointed out by Terry Wardle's book "Draw Close to the Fire"):

"Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." (emphasis mine)

other verses in Romans come to mind . . .

Romans 1:21-22, For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools . . .

Romans 1:28, Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind . . .

I have been convicted of my corrupt thought life that often doubts God and often judges others. Wardle's book offers some very helpful steps in applying the gospel to my mind:

1. Confess my sin
2. Reckon my sinful mind as dead with Christ
3. Embrace my "resurrected mind," received by faith in Christ
4. Entreat the Spirit to replace my thoughts with his, to exchange my mind for the mind of Christ.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Battle with Shame

I felt significant freedom on Friday and Saturday because of the Lord's victory in my heart. Sunday (yesterday) was more difficult because of three instances where shame undermined me.

The first instance was from an "honest mistake." But this mistake made me feel very stupid inside; I don't allow myself to make mistakes - not like that.

The second instance was a sinful response to the first bout with shame. I chose sin as a way of comforting myself against shame. Surprise! didn't work, and resulted in more shame.

The third instance involved food, and eating too much unhealthy stuff at dinner. I have alot of issues of food, namely oftentimes FOOD = SHAME for me. It's almost like I'm swallowing shame, taking it inside me. As it adds fat to my body and appearance, it almost guarantees it's continual existence. Every time I look at myself I feel shame.

I'm trying to apply my newfound identity to this shame, but it's far more difficult. I'm having difficulty getting hold of "shame" to release it. It's something assumed, a way to interpret the world. Before I know it, I'm a slave to it.

One thing I need to do is be more prayerful and thankful with food consumption. I need to visualize it as imbibing the grace of God through Christ, feeding my body and soul, nurturing my "loved by God" identity. I can't allow myself anymore to thoughtlessly imbibe shame (here we are, back to the idea of nurturing truth, starving lies).

Somehow I also need to allow grace toward myself to make mistakes, and turn to the Lord for comfort instead of degrading practices that degrade my sense of self and God through sin and shame.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Loved by God - 2

As I continue to reflect on my vision, I have received more clarity. Now that the "wall" is down, the memorial that has taken it's place is the cross. It stands as an ever-present reminder of the truth of being "loved by God."

Just as the wall grew with feeding, so the cross grows in my experience through nurture. It's influence spreads throughout my soul, covering parched and barren parcels of land with grace and life.

A couple of notes about nurturing (true for both the lie and truth) -
1. I nurture an idea when I make conscious agreement with it.
2. I nurture an idea when I act as if it were true.

The last thing I wanted to mention is that when I was having the vision it was clear to me how lacking we are in Christian community at what some have called, "healing prayer." Walking with one another through a vision like this, appropriating God's power and God's message to the images of our hearts. By God's grace, he walked with me through this, and I am starting to feel a calling to be that kind of brother for others.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Loved by God

I had a powerful experience this morning during my "quiet time." The past few days I've been feeling increasingly sorrowful but not sure why specifically. Yesterday the sorrow became focused as I was pressed against what felt like an overwhelming wall.

I intrinsically knew this wall to represent a core truth of my soul: "No one will ever love you." Not really, not for who I am; not without my manipulation or coercion. I have believed this for as long as I can remember. I know because I have never really felt loved, even when I have clearly been loved by others. I quickly rationalize away any expressions of love toward me as insignificant, or the result of a slick marketing campaign that my false self (what Brennan Manning calls "the impostor") has put forth.

As I sat with the intense pain (and occasional waves of anger) of this "wall," I felt helpless. It was far too big and strong for me to knock it down or scale it. I hoped that if I stayed with it long enough and cried out for help from God, something would happen. It felt like a wall that had grown all around me until I was completely entombed.

Slowly I felt a phrase rise up within me: "it is a lie." It repeated itself in my head and heart until it became a shout. IT IS A LIE!!

Suddenly the wall/tomb shattered with the visible arrival of Jesus. He placed a memorial in its place with the words written on it, "Loved by God."

I felt all the anger and pain ebb away as he calmed my emotions and caressed my heart. He spoke several things to me (not word for word):
- he was proud of me for standing against the lie
- he gently, tenderly warned me against feeding the lie with self-hating acts and disciplines; such as lust, overeating, etc.

I knew that the fight wasn't over forever, but a significant battle had been won by Christ, and I felt free. Freer than I have felt for a while. More free to love without regard to response.

I also knew that just as certain practices fed this lie, I need to indulge and feed the truth of my being "loved by God." Too often I allow myself to go down paths of thinking that assume the lie. Most of the time it isn't even challenged (probably because I'm so familiar with it).

I need to indulge myself in the reality of being "the disciple who Jesus loves." I'm not yet sure how to do this, but I hope it will become clearer over the coming days.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fighting the Wrong Battles

The Lord spoke to me yesterday that I am like a mighty warrior who has been deceived into fighting the wrong battles.

I immediately thought of Prince Rilian (King Caspian's son in the Narnia book, "The Silver Chair) who was bewitched into fighting for the wrong side (the witch of the underworld).

When I attempt to fight battles of the mind and soul with fleshly strength (devoid of God), I am the deceived warrior fighting for the wrong kingdom; when my identity is not grounded in God or his love, I fight for affirmation that is already mine. Most of the false battles I fight are fighting for what I already have (but don't believe or appropriate).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Some Thoughts on "Calling"

I was asked this morning by a friend how I was processing my sense of vocational calling. To be honest, I have tried to avoid thinking about it. It's been a painful subject for me for several years now.

Oh, how I wish for the naive days when I thought doing a "spiritual gifts test" and/or "personality profile" would give me direction with regards to calling! It was all so clear in Bible College; I am gifted as a teacher and encourager, a pastor-teacher; therefore, I am called to be a pastor!

My sense of calling lies among the rubble of my shattered dreams. I feel shelved, like my gifts are either a cruel joke or just a waste of space.I risked alot to come out to Louisville to attend Seminary #2 to pursue my "calling," which ended in a trainwreck of the soul.

I don't know if I can ever go back to that kind of life, where you sense a call and pursue it. I don't know if I can trust God enough for that. If pursuing my "calling" can lead to such rubble and pain, what else can happen?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

From Head to Heart: Barrier #1 (Language)

More reflections from Robert McGee's book mentioned yesterday-

God overcomes the language barrier in the Scripture using metaphor and imagery. For example in Exodus 3 He teaches us about the word "Holy" by using a burning bush. This is what it means to be set apart by God for his purposes.

This is why the role of the imagination is so vital in the Christian life. Without imagination, we pass by the narratives of Scripture and of our world without much thought as we look for principles and propositions that will bring clarity to our confused world. Our greatest need is not clarity; it's relationship.

Metaphor gains access to our hearts through the back door, bypassing many of the obstacles that exist between the head and heart. This is often why movies and novels can stir us so deeply.

So, to undermine the barrier of language, I need disciplines that engage the imagination in this subversive work of the metaphoric. Guided imagery prayer is one example of this; disciplines of reading good novels (like Lord of the Rings or the Chronicles of Narnia) and watching good movies that stir our hearts, paying attention to what is stirred in us so that we can be attentive to God in it.

The Singing God

I've listened to this several times, an amazing sermon by Dr. Sam Storms on Zephaniah 3.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Yet will I trust in Him

Hab 2:4, “the righteous will live by his faith.” (NIV)

Hab 3:17-19 (NIV)
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.

As I read this expression of Habakkuk’s faith I was dumbfounded. How could anyone trust God so completely? A current paraphrase might be:

Though the economy crumbles and gas prices soar,
Though the store shelves are bare and my cupboards too;
Though there is no gas in my car and no family left,
Though there is no source of income or sign of provision;

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD. I will be joyful in God my Savior, for the Sovereign LORD is my strength.

I long to be able to trust like this. I have been reflecting on the barriers that exist between my head and my heart in light of Robert McGee’s book, “From Head to Heart,” which I recently (providentially) found at a thrift store for 35 cents.

One of the first barriers he discusses is that of language, and how the Christian words we know and use rarely reach our hearts. These include words like “Holy” and “Grace.” One of the things that resonated deeply with me was his thought that when we suffer, we often stop trying to know God and instead start demanding that we understand him. We basically want to restore a sense of control through nailing down God’s motivation in his choices for our lives (whatever his role in causation is – either he causes or allows things to happen).

I soon was convicted of this. I have stopped trying to get to know God for who he is in himself; I only want (no, demand!) to know him in order to explain what has happened to me so that there can be some therapeutic benefit. What is need is to kneel before God in humility, confessing my lack of understanding, letting go of all demands and embrace trust.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Seasons of Fallow Ground?

The Lord, it seems, has called me to a season of seriously decreased activity in the spiritual life. My ability to read and process books is greatly diminished. Taking on too much religious activities is pretty dangerous. My soul is at low tide, and all attempts to "get the tide to come in" have failed. It is as if large swaths of my soul need to lie fallow for a season (an idea I was introduced by Judith Hougen's fabulous book, "Transformed Into Fire," a few years ago).

The problem comes in the expectations of my larger church community, mainly expressed through the preaching of the Word, but also through expressed values in a variety of discipleship contexts. It becomes clear that seasons such as this are not the norm, and may in fact be the result of hardening sin.

Some Scriptural examples of this spiritual reality are:
Moses and his 40 years of preparation in the desert;
Naomi in her time of bitterness preceding faith (book of Ruth)
The prophet Elijah at Horeb (1 Kings 19)
The prophet Jonah (Jonah 4)
Paul the apostle spent 3 years in obscurity before his public ministry (maybe longer - Galatians)
Jesus spent 30 years or so in obscurity before his ministry began;

These characters in God's Story "lost faith" for a time, where they were taken out of the context of external usefulness and into God's chamber of internal transformation alone. We are not told how long these characters stayed in that season, only that they did. This tells me, at the very least, that such seasons may be not only possible but an integral part of God's work in our lives.

I need that encouragement, because if I listen only to the larger community around me, I will despair. The "way that God works" is often very narrow and shallow, causing anyone who doesn't experience God's life that way to conclude that they may be heretics (not denying that there are essentials to cling to).

Nothing in this season is more discouraging than to feel the judgment of the Christian community in their assessment and proclamation of the spiritual life being something other than I am capable of (in God). Nothing is more encouraging than when a few patient souls discern a deep work going on that has God's distinct fingerprints on it. But that takes patient listening and a certain depth in themselves that helps to see such things.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Redeeming "the glory of God"

Phrases like this carry alot of weight. In my evangelical circles these days this particular phrase (a biblical one, I know; e.g. 1 Cor 10:31) is thrown around quite often. It's promoted as motivation for living and serving. Sometimes is it explained in a way that is helpful to me, other times not. Usually it implies this ethereal other-worldly source of motivation that only the people who have it together can get their hands on. People (normal people, like me) need to think through how our everyday, mundane humanity fits in with this phrase (and I'm convinced that it does, since Scripture teaches it).

Current day Pharisees emblazon their swords and shields with this phrase, often using it to keep people in line. No wonder, then, that some have trouble with it. It can became freighted with negative emotion; emotion that results from spiritual abuse and dysfunction in God's family.

I wish "do all things for the glory of God" were a desirable thing for me. It sounds like more rules, more disappointment, another club that I cannot be a part of because I'm too jacked up.

I want to hear about grace and how it makes us glorious for God, where "doing all for the glory of God" is a clear result of the amazing "grace of God." Instead, it is the "people of God" doing the "works of God."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Unseen Purposes

I read this on John Piper's blog this week ( and it struck me as being timely and profound for me.

When Christ died he purchased for you the Yes to all God’s promises (2 Cor. 1:20), and that includes the promise to use his sovereign power to govern all the inexplicable, maddening detours and delays of your life for wise and loving purposes. He is doing a thousand things for you and for his glory in your disappointed plans.

Richard Wurmbrand tells a story that illustrates the necessity of believing God for good, unseen purposes, when all we can see is evil and frustration:

A legend says that Moses once sat near a well in meditation. A wayfarer stopped to drink from the well and when he did so his purse fell from his girdle into the sand. The man departed. Shortly afterwards another man passed near the well, saw the purse and picked it up. Later a third man stopped to assuage his thirst and went to sleep in the shadow of the well. Meanwhile, the first man had discovered that his purse was missing and assuming that he must have lost it at the well, returned, awoke the sleeper (who of course knew nothing) and demanded his money back. An argument followed, and irate, the first man slew the latter. Where upon Moses said to God, “You see, therefore men do not believe you. There is too much evil and injustice in the world. Why should the first man have lost his purse and then become a murderer? Why should the second have gotten a purse full of gold without having worked for it? The third was completely innocent. Why was he slain?”

God answered, “For once and only once, I will give you an explanation. I cannot do it at every step. The first man was a thief’s son. The purse contained money stolen by his father from the father of the second man, who finding the purse only found what was due him. The third was a murderer whose crime had never been revealed and who received from the first the punishment he deserved. In the future believe that there is sense and righteousness in what transpires even when you do not understand.” (100 Prison Meditations, 6-7)

Though I find the explanation from the Moses story a bit too neat and tidy, I still find benefit from this thought. I have felt on the shelf for a long time now. I feel like I'm a shipwreck offering nothing to passing sailors a tentative word, "Though there is hope in no other path, I didn't make it; good luck to you. I pray you will fare better than I did with this God."

The idea that God might be working in a thousand ways in the midst of my profound disappointment and disillusionment is overwhelming. It is so contrary to what I would have gathered myself using my own (ahem) "wisdom."

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Children and Spiritual Disciplines

Cheri and I try to read Scripture (and memorize) and pray with our kids regularly. A friend asked us recently whether or not we would force our kids to memorize Scripture if they were resisting it. I thought the issue helped me clarify some of my parenting philosophy, and here are some thoughts as a result:

I would have to say that if one of our children (or more than one) were resisting our efforts to memorize Scripture as a family, I would:

1) Not force them, but since it is a family activity I would require them to sit quietly so as not to distract others.

2) I would continue to lay before them why we do it. I did this just the other night when talking to them about Psalm 1. I reminded them that we memorize because Scripture is treasure.

3) I make sure that I often expand on the Bible memorization with teaching questions; after we work on memorizing together, I often ask, "now what does that mean?" I want to make sure they are actually thinking about the content of what we are memorizing.

This question speaks to the larger issue of how we engage our children in family worship, our expectations of them in the spiritual disciplines, how we want to present the "Christian life" to our kids, etc. In expecting them to engage in the disciplines are we assuming they are Christians? Whether it's a child or an adult, I wouldn't expect engagement in disciplines without them presupposing their value in some way.

I want to strongly avoid putting external pressure upon my children to mimic Christianity. I would rather them be honest with where they are and not participate (yet still expecting them to respect my authority and our family time). My goal as a dad is to lay before them the beauty and desirability of following Christ, and trust the Spirit to give them hearts that desire Him. All teaching, spiritual disciplines and spiritual conversations are to serve this end. I want to go after their hearts, romancing them with truth through biblical imagery and story that will engage their minds and imaginations.

Another example of this is with my 9 1/2 year old son and Bible-reading. As far as I can tell, he doesn't read his Bible on his own out of a desire that is his own. He hears it and reads it as part of homeschool assignments, kids ministry, and at our family time that I already mentioned. I would like to see him desire his own time though. I will not force that upon him however. To do so seems problematic.

We have to be careful, as much as possible, not to allow negative emotional attachments to be placed in our kids' minds and hearts regarding the disciplines or Christian living in general. I would rather my children not engage in the disciplines if it means they will associate resentment with such practices, or the cold hardness that can come from empty mimicry.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Gethsemani Retreat - Spring 2008

I had my bi-annual retreat of silence and solitude at the Abbey of Gethsemani this past weekend. I wanted to record some of my reflections here.

Toward the end of last week I was feeling alot of fear as I contemplated being alone for this extended period of time. I am used to this being a part of going on these retreats. For some reason, fear is the first dragon to be slain. By the time I arrived around 5pm, my jaw was clenched and my back tense. I always struggle with fear over how I will sleep there, and fear of back pain has often been myth-laden for me, representing a larger blackness of abandonment and pain.

To "process" my fear and try and release it to God, I began reflecting on Isaiah 43: 1-5, a familiar ally in this battle.

1 But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

3 For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.

4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give men in exchange for you,
and people in exchange for your life.

5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;

The phrase that really stuck out to me was at the beginning of verse 4, "you are precious and honored in my sight, and . . . I love you." I felt the Lord speaking this very strongly, and it enabled to let go of a good deal of fear.

This was further confirmed by God's romancing me through one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever beheld. I had to remain inside much of the evening as a thunderstorm blew through, but as it abated I got myself outside walking around. As I looked out over the Abbey garden and to the hills beyond, the clouds above had turned a bright orange pink. These stationary clouds seemed to envelop the sky above me. As I drank this in, I noticed a smaller band of clouds that were closer to me and moving very fast across the sky, driven by the winds. They were dark and stood out in stark contrast against the orange mass. As they passed, I could not help but see shapes in them; first, a camel, then a bear - all appearing to be in some grand cosmic race before me. Then a few ships with large sails followed them.

The effect of all of this on me was pretty breathtaking. I distinctly heard the Lord repeating through the array of colors and shapes, "You are precious to me. This is for you."

I let go of the rest of my fear and laid down to rest.

On Saturday, I began reading the book I had brought specifically for the retreat: "Healing the Father Wound," by Kathy Rodriguez. It wasn't long before I was deeply resonating with her words. The outline of my own wound was being described in great detail and wisdom through both psychological and scriptural insights.

Overall, I felt better able to release my wound into God's hands and let him father me. Foolishly, I thought that perhaps the entire process might be contained in the weekend at the Abbey. I soon realized that, as usual, it would take alot more time to unpack and surrender.

I came home Saturday night. I had prayed for several hours after I had felt the "well of inspiration" dry up a bit, and felt his release to go home. I needed to be exposed to daily things like marriage and church to put into practice what the Lord was speaking to me. Many areas of my life such as my sexuality, work, finances, relationships, church, etc. have been dominated by the myth-laden blackness of my father wound. I have been looking everywhere for masculine affirmation. Affirmation that only God my Abba can provide now. As I objectified this reality and surrendered it, I felt more and more free to imagine what a life of freedom would look like. I am committed to pursuing what that means in the coming days.

The text of God's fathering that has continued to resonate with me from the weekend is Psalm 103. I quote the text in full. This is my Father:

1 Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-

3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,

5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:

8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.

9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.

17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD's love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children's children-

18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.

21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.

22 Praise the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

More Thoughts on Paul Tripp

When I brought a friend of mine who is a Pastor in on the conversation, he made some very helpful comments and clarifying questions (quoted with his permission, though he wishes to remain anonymous):

There is a complexity to the wounding dynamic because our woundings and sinfulness coexist in the same heart. In other words, if I am sinned against and thereby wounded in the depths of my heart, this wounding will no doubt intermingle with my sinfulness (it may feed into my natural sins or it may prompt sinful responses). How do we sensitively address both elements, and the intermingling of the two, in a balanced way without diminishing either part?

Referring to a different, yet related, lecture by Dr. Tripp my friend comments:

One of things Dr. Tripp said was that our self-justifying responses to our own sin aim to make us feel good about things (i.e., sins) that God doesn't want us to feel good about. I agree with him. But I have a question - what about self-condemning responses to our non-sins? That is, what do we do in cases where we feel bad about things (i.e., non-sins) that God doesn't want us to feel bad about? How do we deal with guilt feelings that are not grounded in reality? I am not referring to guilt feelings for sins that have been forgiven, but to guilt feelings for things that are not even sins?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Paul Tripp: A Quest For More

Noted biblical counselor Dr. Paul Tripp spoke at our church a few weeks ago. It was a very thought provoking lecture summarizing the message of his newest book, "A Quest for More." Though it was probably longer than it needed to be (1.5 hrs) and some of his mannerisms I found distracting (he paced back and forth on the stage constantly) it is with the content that I wish to reflect on here.

Tripp's basic ideas were:
  • We were made for glory.
  • There are two kinds of glory in this world:
    • Ultimate glory that is found only in God.
    • "Sign" glory, which means that all created things have a form of glory that points to ultimate glory.
  • Every one of us is searching for glory, for treasure. Our problem is that we substitute sign glory for ultimate glory which alone satisfies.
In one sense this is just another way to frame the common theme that I've seen in Biblical counseling: our only real problem is sin, and specifically idolatry. This surely has a great deal of truth to it, and we would do well to pay attention. However, as usual, it wasn't what was said that is a problem for me, but what was not said.

The implication of this teaching as it was presented by Dr. Tripp is that as Christians we are all on some form of common ground in our sanctification. We are all equally able to simply turn from idols and toward God. The only thing that seems to hinder us is our own preference for idols, our attachment to lesser things.

This is certainly helpful in reminding us of the battle that rages in our hearts, and the divine resources that are available to us in Christ. Each day presents us with a series of decisions that will either take us toward God or away from Him, and God's Spirit provides dramatic power to make godly choices.

Our hearts are, as Calvin suggested, idol factories. But I don't think this is the only thing that is going on in our choices. Our "Quest for More" is not a simple black and white matter of choice in which we are all equally capable of choosing God over idols. In reality, our choices for or against God and his glory are laden with a greater complexity than this vision can contain. When "signs of glory" have deeply wounded us (like parents or siblings for example) then our battle to choose ultimate glory over sign glory can become much more difficult. Trusting that God's ultimate glory is a good thing can be much more difficult when engraved within our wounded hearts is the imprint of sign glory gone wrong.

My common complaint against Biblical counseling is that while what it proclaims is indeed true, it is truth that is incomplete. It presents a narrow view of how God works, what the gospel is, and our complex design as God's image bearers. It can cause people to try and force reality in categories that are too small. If there is suffering that doesn't fit in one of these categories (if, for example, an abuse survivor has a great deal of difficulty turning from sign glory to ultimate glory - perhaps more difficulty than someone who never faced such abuse) then people can be made to feel edited out of God's story as they try to make sense of their experience and follow God in the midst of it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Conceptual Artillery

We need a conceptual framework to understand what is going on around us. Children are the wisest among us in this, as they are innately tuned into the form of story as the way to understand the world.

Scripture is the primary place where we learn story again. The storyline of the Bible arms us with the conceptual artillery we need to live a life well before God. There is a "narrative spirituality" that invites us in and changes us.

God also intends the church community to be a place where conceptual artillery is regained and implemented. We need a safe place to bring everything about "us" and "our world" before God, and if the church fails to provide this it makes life extremely difficult and we have to seek it elsewhere (usually in books). If we cannot find it, we can easily give in to despair.

Many psychological problems could be averted I think if the church were doing this. A healthy spiritual theology (theology that is lived) in the church provides us with the ammunition to live in the story God has put before us.

An example of what I am talking about is found in the book by William Young, "The Shack." The power of this book is the vision of God and how he relates to us that it provides. If we could embrace this vision and learn to "live loved," we would go a long way in being Jesus' disciples. The characters "Papa, Jesus and Sarayu" invite us into a kind of relationship where no sin or wound no longer needs to be hidden or covered in shame.

The church (it seems) typically narrows its vision over time, often in a bad way. With age does not necessarily come wisdom. Sometimes age produces resistance to conceptual change and the freedoms of grace.

Somehow, at the heart of this is the embrace of mystery as not just tolerable, but necessary and beneficial for us. For an incredible (fictional) conversation about mystery see this blog entry:

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Some Thoughts on the Old Self

Not much is said today (at least in my circles) of the old self other than that it exists and is to be killed. Those things are certainly true, but so much more can be said about what it is and how it can be undermined and replaced by the new self. I have a few reflections toward that end.

Paul uses the term "old self" to describe the remaining principle of indwelling sin that still lives in Christians (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9 and surrounding contexts).. Though it has been dethroned, it still exerts great power in deception and corruption.

My old self has a unique way of expressing independent falseness before God and others. The false self is one expression of the old self, the public expression intended to manipulate others to provide me what I want (affirmation, respect, etc.)

My old self "matrix" is an interconnected system of neural pathways, involving memories, fears, wounds and sins. Delicate self-reflection (usually only found in silence and solitude) is necessary to sort through what is what. Some elements need to be crucified/mortified immediately. Other elements need to be handled with great tenderness, being brought to the Lord for healing.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Prayer for Love: A Ragamuffin’s Reflections on Ephesians 3:14-21

(This is an article I recently submitted for the newsletter for the Society of Christian Psychology)

I'm absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us (Romans 8:38-39 The Message).

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. . . . So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 John 4:10, 16 ESV).

It is reasonable to assume that the apostles’ experience of the love of Christ was progressive. There was a process of being grounded in the love of God that increasingly penetrated their souls. Statements of confident trust in the unfailing love of God such as those above came with time and were the result of the sanctifying work of the Spirit. What I want to reflect upon here is: What was this “apostolic process” and how do we enter into it? How can we cooperate with the work of the Spirit in the pouring out of the love of God into our hearts until we are utterly defined by it? Paul’s answer to our question is imaginative and reasoned prayer.
It is no small thing to love or be loved. From the beginning, God created us to live and breathe in an atmosphere of love. Since the Fall, however, our experience of love has fallen woefully short of God’s intention. Simply by being born we are cast into relationships that were not chosen for us, and whether or not we are greeted with love seems arbitrary. God intended for us to be trained in receiving and giving love by our parents and siblings, and especially our fathers. Our fathers were supposed to image the strength and love of God to us. Paul seems to imply this when he addresses God as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for Whom every family in heaven and on earth is named [that Father from Whom all fatherhood takes its title and derives its name] (Eph 3:14-15 Amplified, emphasis mine). For most of us, our fathers fell tragically short of passing on to us this awareness and ability to love and be loved by God. Thus, God’s redemptive work often takes on a fathering flavor.
In Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church we find ourselves being fathered by God. These words create space within us for our created desires for love to be healed and filled. It is possible to know God’s love in a way that surpasses categories of knowledge. The result will be a life of imitating God in a life of love (Eph 5:1f). Just as there is inspired truth in the Scriptures that we need to believe, so there is inspired experience that we need to live. As Paul states elsewhere, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance” (2 Thess. 3:5 NIV). There is a spirituality (Spirit-reality) here that the Spirit wants to implant in our souls as well as inflame our minds and imaginations.
Sometimes I wonder if Scripture would unravel us if we were more broken and open-hearted readers. For example, it is dangerously easy for us to quickly pass over mysterious words such as, “Jesus wept,” and “filled to the measure of the fullness of God,” with shallow familiarity or with merely an interest to parse and scrutinize. Somehow we must re-train our minds and imaginations to enter into the world of the Scriptures to the extent that they re-define our world, the world in which we live, breathe, work and love. Our goal, then, is to enter into the sacred task of listening with the view towards participating in what is going on. So, perhaps for the very first time, listen:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (NIV)

In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul has described in glorious detail the eternal purpose and pleasure of God in saving a people for himself. All of God’s salvation work has resulted in the creation of a new people whom he now indwells (Eph. 2:21-22). He is describing a new Temple, one that is not made by hands, but rather indwells hands and feet, heart and brain. At the end of chapter 3 his theology becomes overwhelmed with desire and he must bare his heart in prayer.
Paul's chief desire for himself and for us is to know God and enjoy his love. Nothing is more important than this, for nothing short of experiencing the love of Jesus will transform us into imitators of his love. As we are intimate with our Heavenly Father, we begin to take on the Father‘s characteristics. Intimacy with the Father, however, is fraught with problems and challenges. How can we experience the love of God in such a way that we are deeply, substantially changed? It takes nothing less than the awesomely tender power of God.
Paul’s prayer contains two primary petitions for us to engage with and enter into, and they both have to do with power. Power is a key word in Ephesians (Eph 1:19, 21; 3:7, 16, 18, 20; 6:10), always referring to the strength of God in working salvation, making the dead come alive to God. Without the power of God we will not taste deeply the love of God.
Petition #1: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (v. 16-17a).
What comes to your mind when you think of displays of power? Allow your imagination to present symbols of power to your mind. What do you see? Though we can easily think of displays of power within creation (earthquakes, Niagara Falls, hurricanes and tornadoes, etc.), the Scriptures present the resurrection of Jesus as the supreme display of power in (new) creation (see Eph. 1:19-23). When Paul prays for power in the words we are considering, we need to have resurrection in mind. Resurrection is the greatest display of the power and tenderness of God, for by it we are made alive and intimate with Him once again.

The request for power so that Christ may “dwell in our hearts through faith” has often been taken to refer to maturity in the Christian life, and it is certainly not less than that. But what is often overlooked in this passage is the raw intimacy it contains. There is something incredibly intimate about Jesus making his home in us; something amazingly tender and warm about these words and the realities they represent. To merely categorize them in terms of “Christian maturity” and “growth in Christlikeness” doesn't do them justice. The conceptual containers are simply too small, too narrow. Through union with Christ in the gospel we have been raised from the dead and seated with Christ in God. Further, by his Spirit God indwells our very souls. He has made his home in our hearts, and he invites us to join him there, surrendering everything that gets in the way of our enjoyment of one another. From this inner dwelling, God the Spirit exerts power in the form of compelling love and grace that manifests itself in gospel fruit.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me. . . . I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you'll remain intimately at home in my love” (John 15: 4, 9-10 NIV).

“God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5 NIV).

Petition #2: And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (v. 17b-19).

It would be revolutionary to rethink the categories of justification and sanctification in light of this passage. What would happen, for example, if we took the phrase “rooted and established in love” to refer to our secured stance in Christ in justification? Further, what difference would it make for our sanctification if we understood it in terms of growing in the experience of “this love that surpasses knowledge”? Our traditional theological categories would be transformed by relational intimacy with God, theology ending in consummation.
The phenomenological language of Paul (width, length, height, depth) is rich in significance for us. Most likely he has in mind the vast dimensions of creation, the metaphors of God all around us as described in Psalm 103:11-12, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (cf. Romans 8:38-39). Spatial metaphors are provided as guides for our imaginations as we seek to know the love of God.
The fullness of God answers our perpetual emptiness. Our lives are “full” of emptiness, places where there is a gnawing sense of lack or need. The gospel invites us to bring our empty containers of sin, pain and need to the fullness of God issuing from the risen Christ, who dwells within us. The metaphors of creation are given us to help us in this process. Go outside and let your eyes scan the vastness of the horizon. Gaze up at the stars and take in the immensity of the space above you. Let your imagination be filled with an awareness of the suffusion of God’s great love for you, which fills all created space. We can also understand this spatial language to apply to the dimensions of our souls. For believers in Christ, every aspect of our createdness is included in this language. There is no part of us at any time that is devoid of God’s love for us in Christ: our past, present and future, the realm of our thoughts, memories, hopes and dreams; our deep wounds and tantalizing delights; our hidden as well as our publicized parts, etc.
In order for us to actually experience the love of God beyond mere doctrine, we need the power of God to redeem us from deep indwelling sin and to remove the soul debris that clutters our being. He longs to bring us to the place where we “come to know and to believe the love that God has for us” (1 John 4:16 ESV). The tender power comes from within us, from the indwelling Spirit who has “rooted and established” us in God’s love. Only the Spirit can enable us to know the love of Christ that is beyond knowing. Only the Spirit can fill every empty pot, every dry well. Imagine what that would look like for your life. Allow yourself to get in touch with these empty places, the memories and experiences, wounds and strands of damaged soul that often cause pain and shame. Confess your sin and unbelief. Stay in that place long enough for holy desire for God and his fullness to be born. Remember that each of us has a unique capacity for God and his love. Like tiny thimbles dipped into a vast ocean, God’s overflowing fullness is waiting and available to fill us.
Being rooted in and transformed by the love of Christ brings God great glory (Eph. 3:20-21), because it displays his resurrection power in ways that are unique to each one of us. Our individual stories become suffused with the light of his love in Christ for us. The horizontal and vertical dimensions of our souls are sections of the home in which Christ dwells by faith. Further, His capacity to fill and bless us in Christ far surpasses our wildest imaginations. We can dare to be known and defined as one of “the disciple[s] whom Jesus loves” (John 13:23; 21:7, 20).

“God’s love is based on nothing and the fact that it is based on nothing makes us secure. Were it based on anything we do, and that ‘anything’ were to collapse, then God’s love would crumble as well. But with the God of the Jesus no such thing can possibly happen. People who realize this can live freely and to the full. (Brennan Manning, Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, 18.)