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Hope in What?

You hear some news that frustrates and disappoints you. You are let down and you don’t know how to process it. Expectations and assumptions held for so long are dashed, and depending on what you are experiencing, the repercussions can be quite strong. So many have abandoned their faith because of problems in their church or moral failings in the church leadership. A theological difference handled badly, an affair come to light, conflict unresolved, all of these can lead to disenchantment with the church or faith. They really should not but they do for the simple reason that the hope has been misplaced.

You see, in an age where the Church doesn’t seem much different from the world, and our divorce rate is about the same, we need to remember we were never really promised a better or more moral life. A Helper was promised, yes, and in that a possibility for temporal victory over sin, but the promise wasn’t “repent and be better!” but rather “repent and be saved!” We were not promised a better life. We were promised a Hope. That is what makes us different, Hope. Yet so many of use foolishly take that hope and place it in the tangible parts of our faith structure. Our church body, our pastor, our parents, we build these things up and when they inevitably let us down and fail us, we despair and lose hope. Our minds fill with disillusionment and the black, as we seek solace from these disappointments. We leave a church, we break ties, we abandon our faith, all in response to having our hope in the wrong place.

Because, our hope should be in Christ, who is one with the Immutable God. He is mighty to save, and faithful to His promises. He created this world and its many wonders. He made us and provided a way for us to him. He shed His blood to pay our cost and welcomes us home. That is where our hope should be, and it is truly there that we can weather the disappointments and let-downs we are given, without pause or falter. Praise be to Him in who our Hope is found.

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RETRO POST: Torn Between the Two

November 2006

Everyone says it. I hear it all around me. I am inundated with the same self-help message time and again. Psychology informs me that I cannot be fulfilled anywhere if I am not fulfilled inside. It is often preached from the pulpit and from the street curb. God helps those who help themselves. Be a good steward of the body, mind and heart that God gave you. Protect yourself so you can protect others. These are statements I am given. I am surrounded by books written by famous authors and even theologians that plead with me to focus on myself so I can one day become a whole being, who can then nobly be strong for others. Such are the rationalizations for self-focus.

Enter stage left: a young couple, new joined, and forging ahead in matrimony. He brings with him a deadened past and a starved heart, while she struggles with ugly ghosts of a broken history. They love each other and they love God, and all they want is health for their fragile marriage. They see a counselor, they read books, they focus on themselves and sorting out their own pasts, convinced that they need to reach some level of mental health for their marriage to be acceptable. And yet the more they focus on themselves and the more they struggle the further they get from each other…and worse, from God. Now he is gone, and she is left destitute lying on the ground.

How does that even happen, when all their desires and strivings were only to make it better? Shouldn’t it have worked? Shouldn’t this have done the trick…?

I am torn between two. Do I focus on self-healing…or do I focus on God. Are they mutually exclusive, or can I do one, as well as the other? Sunday school told me to only focus on God, and life told me to focus on myself. Logic tells me to find a happy medium. Scripture is clear that a tree by the water will flourish, and otherwise will dry up and wither. The story of the Israelites is rife with examples of their failings when they allowed themselves to focus on something other than Jehovah. Peter started to sink the moment he took is eyes of the Messiah. So, with that in mind, how connected is spirituality to mental health? Can one be close to God and pursuing His unwavering heart, while being a mental basket-case…Can I be borderline disorder, and yet live each day by faith? Can God still use and touch me even though my tortured past haunts me every dark night?

The clock is slowly ticking its way closer to midnight, and my souls quavers at the darkness that is sure to come…the darkness that is not always washed away by the sun. I yearn for closeness to Him, and I know that He can bring miraculous healing, but that is not the norm, is it? Perhaps that is sometimes why He permits mental anguish. Perhaps that is why depression is so prevalent. Perhaps He wants to teach us something. Perhaps, it is because as soon as I feel strong I run out on my own. Perhaps that is why He allows this cripple to stay this way. Perhaps, some of us might need that. Perhaps

But pondering that only brings frustration. Regardless, I cannot be far from God. I know that. He is my Sustainer, my Water, my Bread. He is the Sun that can wash away that darkness…He can do that, and until He does, I know I need to stay close to Him.

So how much do I focus on God, and how much do I allow myself my selfish pleasures of self-examination and focus? I know now that I cannot ignore the former, and I also know the danger of too much of the latter. Unfortunately, as the clock ticks, and the gloom settles, I find myself sitting here in front of this keyboard, still undecided. I don’t have that answer, yet.

LIGHT-HEARTED POST: Wild Beasts

lion-roar

As I dug in my garden, hand tilling it yet again for another year. I relished the wind and and the cool temperature. I felt exhilarated to be doing physical labor after a long day behind a computer. I pushed the shovel in, twisted it and turned the dirt over, breaking up the clumps. I found a disproportionate amount of satisfaction in watching the clumps break apart. I would pause briefly to look around, take a gleeful note on the absence of mosquitoes and breathe in the cool breeze. Back to shoveling, up and down, in and out. Down the rows I worked my way. Blisters formed on my office soft hands, and I loved it. I would reach down to pull out a weed periodically, my hands getting coated in soil, and llama dung.

I finished the tilling, and took a rake to it. Smoothing over further breaking apart clumps, forming my growing mounds, and preparing the soil for its seed. My blisters grew, and with them my sense of accomplished pride. I knew this was making something, accomplishing something. I was preparing for the winter, and would see great return for my labor. I paused to glance over at my hops already a couple of feet tall, and thought of the bounty they might bring this fall. I thought of the fresh hopped brew I could make with them and my mouth waters. Back to work. I transplanted some tomatoes, and willed my old herb plants to bring forth life. I furrowed the dirt with my hands and prepared to put the seeds in the ground.

That was when I heard it. My blood froze in my veins, the sounds chilling me. A wild beast, growling then roaring, somewhere near me. My head snapped up as I frantically searched near by to see where the danger would come from. Again the wild roar sounded out and I near jumped, shaking with fear. I gripped my rake, and prepared for the charge, eyes still searching the horizon to see where this beast would appear. I gulped down bile, and shame at how shaken I could be. Then I spotted him. about 3 feet tall, with dark brown hair. I could only see the very top of his head and his bright blue eyes peeking over the edge of the porch. I had given him those eyes, you know. They were mine, and I saw my doom in them now. I straightened up and waved to him, and a giggle escaped the jaws of that wild beast.

Perhaps I would survive one more day. Perhaps.

 

 

 

 

Is this the Day?

This is the day

Really? With my 5 hours of sleep, screaming children, and sensory overload? This is what God has given to me? I want to just scream or pull my ears off. I cannot seem to even finish a thought, and yet He wants this for me? Really?

This is the day

Really? This is what God has for me as I stand over this hole in the ground, speaking final words for a lost one? Wondering why they might have been taken from me just now? Really?

That the Lord has made

Really? As a woman is sentenced to death for her faith, and beaten first. This is what God has given her, today? Really?

That the Lord has made

Really? As I cannot seem to accomplish anything but anger and stress today? This is what God made? Really?

I will rejoice

I have asked one thing from the LORD; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the LORD and seeking Him in His temple. For He will consceal me in His Shelter in the day of adversity; He will hide me under the cover of His tent; He will set me high on a rock.

I will rejoice

For I know the plans I have for you, this is the LORD’s declaration, plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

And be glad in it

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

And be glad in it.

Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little.

Oh God, grant me the wisdom to rejoice in my suffering, for I am terrible at it, and I need Your help.

RETRO POST: Ignorance is Infuriating

Sept 2007

Sometimes I see red.

Sometimes I seethe and sweat, righteously angry with it. Nothing seems to really get under my skin sometimes than ignorance and stupidity. These two things fuel such concepts as racial prejudice, discrimination, fear of what is different. Ignorance, a force to be reckoned with, can be brought to bear fully and in its manifestation can destroy so much. It can affect so many people on so many layers. It can get people killed, fired or just hurt, physically and all too often, emotionally. It can hurt people you don’t even know or might never see, but more significantly it can hurt people who know and love, and care about you.

Call me callous, call me insensitive, but right now I don’t care two shakes of a rattlers tail about the first group. I don’t really mind a whole lot that is hurts people who are unknown. I know I should, but now all that consumes me is how much we can hurt and damage the people close to us, the people who would give their right arms for us. THAT is what really gets my goat! I guess that is what really makes ignorance and bad decisions so significantly horrifying. It is when you stop to make that bad decision. You chose to sleep with her. You choose not to pay a bill. You choose to keep at that addiction, or to cheat on your taxes, or to overdraft your account, or to say that ignorant statement that will scar a heart, or a myriad of other ways we can royally screw things ups. It isn’t just you that you hurt. You get the STD, you get sent to collections, you throw your life or love away, you are arrested or bankrupt…these are all such horrible things that can happen to us, but they pale next to what you do to your parents, siblings, spouse, and friends. It is those that have to stand by in anguish and watch it happen. Those have to pick up your pieces when it is all done, because you know they will. They love you, and that is exactly why it hurts them the most.

So what, you ask? Why this maddened rant? This is why…

So I can plead. My rant of fury leads steadily into my pitiful plea. Please learn. Educate yourself from any source you can. Your friends, your school, your Bible, whatever God places in your path, just learn! It is only through some form of education that you can overcome this. Sin is the root of all conflict and suffering…and sin has a heyday with ignorance. Proverbs spends itself on the subject of wisdom and what can be considered educated living. I am not just talking about going to school, or college, but any form of education that elevates you out of your own cesspool of ignorance. Cleave to this, pursue it, and educate yourself if only for the simple reason of saving those poor souls around you that happen to care about you!

So sit down, pick up a book and start reading. Shut your mouth and start listening to your elders, friends, siblings. Wake up and pay attention in class. Try to puzzle out what the preacher man is talking about. Read your Bible, and learn. Trust me, you will not regret it.

Hope Exploited

https://i2.wp.com/media.salemwebnetwork.com/ZCast/Shared/ImageTypes/HostImages/joel-osteen-ministries/joel-osteen-ministries-260x195.jpg

Prosperity Gospel, health and wealth, name it and claim it, and even the Prayer of Jabez. All things bordering on heresy, but all showing a strong following. If they are so wrong indeed, then why do so many give it credence. After some thought, I do believe it is because it taps into one of our God-given characteristics. We are nothing if not a hopeful lot. Hope, we are tenacious and resilient because of it. Many Science fiction and fantasy story traditions have ridden on the concept of the one unique characteristic of humanity is hope, and the tenacity that is born out of that. But that hope, that blessed bulwark against doubt, makes us also vulnerable to that pie in the sky, good things are coming our way message so often preached from the prosperity pulpit., That message reaches down inside of us and resonates with our hope. Untempered by wisdom though, it will carry us away and drown us in a pool of foolishness.

God does enjoy blessing us and rewards are promised us, if not always temporally obvious. We don’t want to ignore the positive out workings of a righteous life. We also cannot ignore the myriad of times that we are warned or even promised that we will go through suffering for Christ’s sake. (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 5:10, Romans 8:18, Revelation 21:4, John 16:33, 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, Isaiah 43:2, 2 Timothy 3:12, Psalm 34:19, there are many more, but I cut it off here) Scripture is rife with admonishment to believers to be prepared for, to glory in, and to expect stormy seas. The New Testament speaks to doctrine and life application in regards to it, and the Old Testament gives us story after narrative story of the people of God struggling through their own storms.

So, even though the prosperity gospel models strike chords in our yearning hearts of Christian Hope, we must recenter our understanding and temper these huge promises with a realistic and wise understanding of the preparation that God expects of us. We are pilgrims and the journey will be perilous. Beware.

LIGHT-HEARTED POST: The Music

This has recently captured my attention, and I cannot seem to shake it.


Mozart’s Magic Flute is incredible, but this song in particular sends shivers down my spine. I used to say that I couldn’t stand opera, but it is tremendous examples of vocal skill like this that have slowly turned that around to the point where I find myself listening to opera and classical music on a fairly regular basis.

If I remember correctly this opera was originally criticized for having too many notes, and boy am I glad it did!

Another interesting tidbit is about Beethoven’s 9th symphony which struggled when it was first released and even lost money in the beginning. Imagine if it has sputtered and died, fading into obscurity?

We would never have this!

Doubt by the Numbers

Occasionally, we may find ourselves in a seemingly self-perpetuating cycle of doubt. By virtue of there being so much doubt, it begins to procreate and generate doubt upon doubts. We begin to take stock of our doubt and due to the sheer number of them, begin to ascribe more credence to them. We find ourselves thinking more, “if there are so many, there must be a reason.”

It is in times like these, that we must remind ourselves that truth is not found in popular opinion or sheer numbers. Ten men stating that a tree is a marshmallow is no more true than if only one man had made the statement. While one might be occasioned to stop and consider perhaps the why behind the large amount of doubt, one must not skip the intervening steps leap right to the “therefore” stage.

Instead we follow the example given in scripture. “I believe, help my unbelief!” Accept the damp fleece on the dry ground, and accept God’s charge. Pray and ask God to address those doubts, because often He will. One way He can address that challenge is to strongly adjust our perceptions. So self-focused on our doubt, we can easily forget those around us that struggle with so much more. Here I am complaining about being riddled with doubt and another person isn’t even sure when they will eat next, or perhaps another who cannot ever believe she will be free of heroine. I recently heard the testimony of a man who was using drugs at 6 years old, and in and out of foster homes. What realignment! How insignificant my worries and doubts become in the onslaught of that harsh reality.

Good perspective, active prayer and a firm foundational understanding of the logic of the self-perpetuating doubt. These will give you a good starting point in order to begin dealing with doubt in our lives.

RETRO POST: A Good Recipe for Fighting

– November 2007

Pow! I staggered back, reeling from the blow I had expertly blocked with my jaw. I found myself squared off against Bobby. He was a large boy, significantly larger than me, and he had decked me for some reason I couldn’t quite dredge up at the moment. I only knew I needed to hit him back. I did, and we traded a few blows before we were dragged into the principal’s office. Bobby was actually a friend of mine, and by the time we got to the office the reason for our scrap had been forgotten and we were both grinning sheepishly.

There is an old stereotype that when women fight they hold it in for 6 months, until it explodes into a catastrophic explosion of tears and professions of mutual friendship and love. There are variations of this, but it is always a juxtaposition against men, who will immediately throw some blows, then put their arms around each other and go out for a beer. Of course, this is not always true, but it brings up a thought in my head.

Is fighting bad? Is conflict bad? We are sort of taught that our whole lives in Sunday school, in grade school, in church quite often, on tv, with our brothers and sisters. We are always told not to fight, and that it is harmful and bad. I wonder sometimes, though. Fighting is inevitable, and so is conflict. Where you have two individuals, there will always exist some form of conflict. God has made us different, with the ability to form our own opinions and beliefs. You will never agree totally and completely with another person, and yet we are called to live in close relationship and proximity with these other individuals. So what do we do then? Should we instead, examine conflict itself? What is it about conflict that is so negative, really? It is usually the things said, and the way the conflict is expressed. When you are arguing with your friend/spouse/sibling what really makes you angry and less rational? When you feel hurt, when they insult or attack you directly. There are variations of reasons for hurt and offense, but the fight itself is rarely, if ever, the cause for that hurt.

I look back at my first marriage, and I realize that many of the discussions had to happen. That conflict had to be faced, but oh, how I wish to God that I could have done it differently. So much pain and hurt I caused, because I was an inexperienced fighter. I didn’t know what to do, so when my button was pushed, I turned around and pushed her button right back. What would my life look like if I had stopped trying to avoid fights, and instead tried to learn how to fight? If I had only found a way to fight in a manner that was respectful and Godly, where would I be now? I am not disillusioned enough to think that my marriage failed just because I was mean, but I can’t help but wonder what would have been different.

So next time conflict pops up, where will you be? Are you the type that runs at first sign? Will you come out with all of your guns blazing, in hopes of tearing the other up before they can touch you? Next time try this, stop running, put the guns away, and walk with your head up towards the conflict, and deal with it in a way that God would approve. Fight, and hell, fight well!

Anecdotal Proofs of Lack of Growth

One of the more common causes of doubt in one’s life can come in the form of a seemingly unchanged life, or as I like to call it, anecdotal proofs of a lack of growth. We look at our own sin, perhaps because we struggle with an addiction or perhaps we are introspective and get too critical of ourselves. Either way we look to ourselves or even to those close to us, if we think ourselves too holy, and we think, “Well, if I was a Christian, wouldn’t I be better than…this? Wouldn’t I be more Christ-like?” We see our own actions or lack thereof and we set that up as experience and proof that we must be unregenerate or at best a terrible Christian headed for unbelief.

To this I have two quick responses and encouragements. By its nature, our experience or view of our experience can be anecdotal, at best. It could never be proof on its own. The study population is too small, and the testing is too narrow. In other words, you cannot trust your own experiences as authoritative proof. Question your questioning, and doubt your doubts. If you do this fervently, you will find that the doubts hold less sway in your life. You are free to question and ask for proof, and sometimes you might get it.

A Second point to make is really just a reminder that we should tell ourselves often. It is a mantra we need to repeat to ourselves. If I worry about my salvation and sanctification, this is likely and evidence of my salvation. It might be too strong to try to call it a proof, but certainly an evidence. If I were unregenerate would I care about being more Christ-like? Would I care if my life showed genuine spiritual change? I would likely not. To be a Christian is to be intimate with doubt, and we can take comfort in that.

A slow pace or even perceived lack of sanctification is not an actual proof of unbelief. I do believe it was John Piper who said, when asked what his greatest source of doubt was, “the slow pace of my sanctification.”

Stephen Mattson

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