Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Working Through Anxiety

I get anxious. Often. Especially where finances are concerned. Which means, in our economy, I get anxious even more.

The last few days have seen my anxiety levels rising sharply as it has become clear to Cheri and I that we need to make a major investment in a "sleep system" for the sake of our backs. Unexpected needs like this always expose how much I rely on my bank account for security. If there is "sufficient margin" there, I can convince myself that we'll be OK, safe from the turmoil around us. As it inevitably dwindles, so does my hope and confidence!

God has provided for us to make this investment, but it cuts deeply into our "margins." After making the "sleep system" purchase, I was still struggling with a boatload of anxiety this morning. I realized quickly that I was leaning on what money we had to bring us comfort and security. No wonder I often feel anxious, when I'm leaning on such temporary and trivial things!

Reaching into my toolbox I pulled out some helpful steps that I learned at Men at the Cross.

1) Feel your fears fully - instead of running from the fears or trying to numb them with escapist entertainment or food, I let myself feel my fear. What am I really afraid of? Like peeling layers off an onion, I try to get at my core fears. I find today (as usual), that I am terrified of feeling abandoned. My greatest fear, in this case, is to be uncared for, left out in the cold with no one to help. I am on my own. I was abandoned in several ways as a child, so many of these wounds and fears get triggered here. I confessed my fears to God. Father, I'm terrified of being abandoned; that you will not come through for us; that I will be on my own with no one to help.

2) Go to the Core Desires - after feeling fully my fears, I ask myself, What is it that I really want? No longer self-deluded by running from fears, I know immediately that what I want is to be held, to feel cared for, to be loved and have a sense of feeling secure and safe. Obviously no amount of money can give me these things. I bring them to the Father and confess, Father, you alone can provide these things. In your love, please give me the love, acceptance and security I need. Please forgive me for trusting in money for security. I see it now for the foolishness that it is.

I slowly feel anxiety recede and peace return. I will undoubtedly have to go through this process several times today. It will continue to be a battle, but I have hope that God will see me through to Himself. He is good.

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.
(Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV)

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sanctification Gap

I've been thinking a lot lately about what has been called the "Sanctification Gap." Simply put, this is the gap between our knowledge and our practice as Christians. A large gap here is often the biggest signs of hypocrisy in our lives, and is often a cause of falling away from Christ. Richard Lovelace seems to have coined the term, but many have referred to it since.

So, what do you do when you look into the Scriptures and see the vision of the kingdom of God on display in Jesus and his church and compare it with your daily experience? For example, when we read a text on love (e.g., 1 Cor. 13), and we realize how poorly we love, what do we do to close that gap? Many of us, I believe, convince ourselves of one of two things: 1) We'll just try harder! Surely we're not that bad - at least we're better at it than _____ (fill in the blank); or, 2) I need more knowledge, or I need to better rehearse the knowledge that I know! As good and biblical as it is, often "preaching the gospel to yourself" masks the moralism of this option. In other words, we can easily convince ourselves that we're closing the gap simply by rehearsing the gospel. That is a good starting place, but unless our "rehearsal" goes a lot deeper than believing certain truths, the gap remains, now with a religious veneer.

I think Dallas Willard is on to something as to how to address this gap. He says that we need three elements:

Willard calls this VIM for short, and he goes into it in detail in his book Renovation of the Heart. It is also available in one of his articles here. Recognizing the need for grace throughout, we begin with nurturing the vision that Jesus brought, the vision of the Kingdom of God. Then, we have to actually intend to become a kingdom person, an apprentice of Jesus. Finally, we implement means toward becoming that kind of person (here is where the spiritual disciplines fit in). Here are some summary quotes from the article linked above:

On Vision:
As a genuine disciple or apprentice of Jesus, I am caught up in his vision of the goodness and greatness of God and of life in His kingdom. On that basis I am with Jesus, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God. To live in the kingdom means, we recall, to live within the range of God's effective will, his life flowing through mine. Another good way of putting this is to say that as a disciple I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I. I am not necessarily learning to do everything he did, of course; but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner and from the source from which he did all that he did.

On Intention:
A clear vision of God and of the place he has made for us in him enables us to form a strong and clear intention to live in that vision.

On Means:
That is, they [spiritual disciplines] are activities which open our lives to the action of God in our heart, mind, body and soul, to progressively remake our whole personality. Another name for them—more ancient, and also more in use recently—is "spiritual disciplines," or "disciplines for the spiritual life." They train us for leading the life which God intended for us: one which has the power and character to fulfill our calling. They are methods by which we obey the command to "put off" the old person and to "put on" the new person who is in the likeness of Christ. (Col. 3:9-10; Eph. 4:22-24) They are "exercises unto godliness." (I Tim. 4:7-8) Through them we become capable of doing, with God, all the wonderful things commanded in the Bible, which we know are impossible in our own strength and wisdom. In general, a "discipline" is any activity within our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Small Beginnings

Then he said to me, “This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will become a level plain before him! And when Zerubbabel sets the final stone of the Temple in place, the people will shout: ‘May God bless it! May God bless it!'”

Then another message came to me from the Lord: “Zerubbabel is the one who laid the foundation of this Temple, and he will complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has sent me. Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.”
(Zech. 4:6-10 NLT)

God delights in small beginnings. So often I miss these beginnings because I am so focused on whether or not completion will come to pass, and whether or not obstacles will be conquered. But our God is a God who works through process, and He delights to see the work begin. Sometimes as American Consumerist Christians we tend to think that God is only pleased in finished products that have a glossy sheen and marketable functions. That would be like only rejoicing over our children once they become successful in a lucrative career. No, we rejoice over them in the womb, the day they are born and every day after that. We rejoice in every unique stage along the way. We take pleasure in the process of their becoming persons.

Take time today to, as Frederick Buechner liked to say, "listen to your life" - look for the small beginnings of the work of the Spirit of God, and rejoice over them. God is far more patient with your "progress" than you are.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Integrity of Christian Marriage

Just found this (March, 2004) article by Albert Mohler on "The Seduction of Pornography and the Integrity of Christian Marriage" to be very helpful and concise. My experience as a husband resonates with what he says. It was instrumental today in helping me fight temptation. This quote was especially powerful for me:

Consider the fact that a woman has every right to expect that her husband will earn access to the marriage bed. As the Apostle Paul states, the husband and wife no longer own their own bodies, but each now belongs to the other. At the same time, Paul instructed men to love their wives even as Christ has loved the church. Even as wives are commanded to submit to the authority of their husbands, the husband is called to a far higher standard of Christ-like love and devotion toward the wife.

Therefore, when I say that a husband must regularly “earn” privileged access to the marital bed, I mean that a husband owes his wife the confidence, affection, and emotional support that would lead her to freely give herself to her husband in the act of


Rebuilding the Soul

Continuing my slow, deliberate and prayerful journey through VanVonderen's book Soul Repair.

As the authors discuss how God rebuilds the soul (p 135ff), two core disciplines come to the surface: surrendering and listening to God.

Surrender means letting go of our attempts to control, manipulate and create life and love for ourselves. It also means trusting God to provide these things that I need. I struggle deeply with this. My "orphan" self believes deeply that there is no one there for me, that I am on my own to find life for myself. This self is literally unable to receive grace. It is my default mode of relating to God and the world.

One of the ways we can recognize our need for surrender is every instance in which we feel anxious, angry or resentful. Whenever we are experiencing these emotions, it is likely that we are attempting (with futility) to control our world. It can be helpful here to make a list of the people and/or situations provoking these feelings and surrender the list to God (maybe in a specific place, like a "surrender box").

Listening to God through Prayer, Meditation and Scripture helps us to get in touch with God's Yes in us an for us in Christ. Scripture provides us with the "raw material" that we listen to and meditate upon. We practice reading in a listening posture, allowing space and time for God to respond (another very helpful resource here is Sandra Wilson's Into Abba's Arms). The authors wisely remind us that we bring all of our idolatries and dysfunctions to the reading of the text of Scripture. We need to be aware of these things so that we can attempt to surrender them before we read, so that we don't read the Scriptures through filters of damaged and unhealthy spiritualities. The Scriptures can breathe grace into our souls, but we miss the grace if we aren't aware of and actively surrendering our filters. We often twist the Scriptures without being aware of it, according to our addictions to performance or indulgence.

In prayer we pour out our hearts to God in expression of deep need. Pouring out our hearts to God opens the eyes and ears of our hearts to hear God's loving voice. This allows us to be in a receptive listening posture when reading Scripture.

Psalm 62:8,
Trust in him at all times, O people;
       pour out your hearts to him,
       for God is our refuge. (NIV)

Psalm 46:10,
"Be still, and know that I am God." (NIV)

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Monday, August 02, 2010

Moving from "Maybe" to "Yes"

In my last post I described the "Maybe" Phase from the book Soul Repair. I want to briefly write about the process involved in moving from Maybe to saying Yes to God.

Two key ideas in this transition:

1) God's Yes - Realizing that throughout the No-Maybe-Yes process God has always been saying "Yes" to us and for us in Jesus. This sense often comes from realizing over the long painful path that God has not left our side, but indeed has stayed faithful to us when all else has fallen away. His constant loving presence provides a foundation of reassurance upon which to build trust again. Every time I feel anxious and abandoned, I am being called once again to "test the waters," to respond to God's Yes. To the extent that we believe the lie that God is against us - in effect, saying "no" to us - then we will revert back to the Maybe and possibly the No stage again.

2) The essential role of safe community - Walking through the desert, often abandoned by those who are unwilling to traverse it with us, we sometimes bump into fellow travelers who share our thirst and are headed in the same direction. These kindred spirits are in themselves deep pools of refreshing water, people who give us permission to be whoever and wherever we are without condemnation. This is also crucial for trust to develop, for our wounded souls need grace and rest to recover. When God seems absent and silent, the presence of another person calms our fears and reminds us of what is true and real. They become a channel of God's grace to us (what Job's friends should have been like!).

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