An Unfortunately True Story

A recent conversation with a hurting pastor prompts me to share this story from my experience… Almost a decade ago, I was an associate pastor with a lot of responsibility at a large and very fast growing church, and at the same time my marriage was in a bad place. For my part, I was trying squeeze out of my marital relationship a sense of affirmation and worth. For my wife’s part, she was struggling with issues of trust, responding to masculinity, and a general apathy to the idea of being married. Due to my need to prove my worth, I was working very hard to right the course of the relationship. The lie that I was believing was that if I just tried harder, the results would be different. So I set up opportunities to pray, do Bible studies, go to a conference, and offered to see a counselor. All with no response. I was frustrated, angry, miserable, and feeling rejected. My wife, too, was not in a good place through all this. It is in this context that I reached out to one of the elders at the church in which I served. Because of my people pleaser tendencies, this was a level of vulnerability that was unusual for me. I was desperate. This man was someone I considered a friend, so I told him some of what was going on, how I needed help as a husband, and I also asked if his wife would consider being more intentional in her relationship with my wife to help her process what was going on in her personal...

The Older Brother’s View

As we develop our identity in Christ, the process of sanctification, one of the first and necessary steps in renewing our minds is to consider our preconceptions about who God is. We need to see him rightly because God wants us to see our-self and define our-self as his people, with him being our God. This relationship is one of trust, Adam and Eve were placed in the garden to experience it, the Israelites were to have God as King to experience it and we are to experience it through Christ. But one major mistake we make is hanging onto our impressions of God formed through our relationships – often from our experience with our own father or another close authority figure. Or we let our circumstance dictate who we think God is. Or even let the systems of the world drive our conception of God. So we may see God as angry, driven to make decisions out of anger. Or withholding. Or not present. Or Santa Claus. Or the senile grandfather. We have so many false impressions, and ultimately that affects our experience of who God is. In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), this is true of the older brother’s experience. The older brother thought that relationship with the father was found by obeying the rules. Because of that filter which formed the foundation of his false self, the older son’s experience was not one of the father’s grace and mercy. In fact, discovering the father’s grace and mercy incited anger because it seemed unfair. The older brother verbalized this by saying “Look! All these years I’ve been...

Is the Path Straight and Narrow?

Have you ever waited in a cue for a ride at a theme park? It can be frustrating when progress – defined as getting closer to the front of the line – seems to take turns that lead you further away from the goal. Same can be true of our spiritual life, as progress – defined as more fully living in our identity in Christ – is sometimes marked by taking steps backward. (That is the point of praying while walking a prayer labyrinth like the one pictured above, the path God has you on is not a straight one.) The process of developing awareness of what we cling to for a false sense of wholeness apart from God is filled with failures and set backs. It is part of developing perseverance, but a part that tends to be unwelcome. When we make one step forward, we do not like to experience making two steps backward. All of us crave certainty. This has caused us to assume a linear approach to following Christ. Every day in Christ, we assume, is going to be a day of growth – of hearing the voice of the Father get louder and louder beckoning us towards Him. Part of this assumption is that our struggles will all be external, and we ignore the ways of the false self that we have lived in for so long. But there is so much to learn about what tempts us and the patterns of the old nature when we pay heed to the two steps back. They are as much part of the journey as is...

Author and Perfecter

The celebration of Christmas and the birth of the Christ will be gone before we know it, and for many that brings on the holiday blues. Fun is over. Bills will come in. The extra weight is here to stay. But while the celebration is over, the reality is that Christmas never leaves us. In fact, everyday Christ is active in this world. Our celebration should be all the year through. Hebrews 12:2 is our reason to give thanks everyday: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. There is a lot there for which to give thanks. But my eyes today, in the shadow of Christmas, are on author and perfecter. The NIV uses author, in the ESV it is translated founder. Either way it means that Christ is the enabler of the value of our faith. He’s the foundation. This is the theological idea of justification. Few of us seem to have a problem giving Jesus charge over this aspect of our salvation. By the sinless life, sacrificial death and resurrection, we are declared righteous. Christ is essential. He’s the author. But this verse does not just declare Christ as author of our faith. Giving us a new status. It also declares him the perfecter. This is sanctification, the process of being saved. This is where we have trouble. For we often function as if perfecting our faith is up to us. Here are three quick observations about this...

Fruit and the Spirit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22 – 23 It is the desire of most of the followers of Jesus that I know to be closer to God. So, when our lives are compared to the verse above, the path seems clear. The solution is more fruit. Now, our well-meaning desire for closeness becomes a mandate to try harder. Because I want intimacy with God, I will set myself on being more self-controlled. Because I am in Christ, I should make sure that I act more joyful. I’m sure you can see and maybe are living in this pattern. If we follow the path of focusing on producing fruit, then we become slaves to our performance. But this verse, thankfully, is not about behavior modification. The broader passage is Paul reminding those in Christ that their behavior is actually a product of their root. A tree does not control its fruit. If a tree is planted in poor soil or is not given water, it cannot simply try harder to produce pleasing fruit. The same is true with us. Fruit is a product of being connected to the Spirit, it is NOT and invitation for the Spirit. [Click here to Tweet that.] The fruit of our life is indicative of our root – on what we are basing our identity. This verse in Galatians tells us what to look for. If you are not seeing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, then it is highly likely that you are attempting...

Gain Perspective. Live Well.

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