Healing Doesn’t Have to Be Self-Focused

A speaker I once heard said, “I believe the healing that God wants for this generation is emotional.”

It was not difficult to spot the wound driving his words. Three generations of compounded familial and sexual sin have left our society in critical condition. With each passing month, more and more people come of age who will never figure out who they are, or how to operate in this world, and whose brokenness will inevitably wound others – an ever-expanding cascade of infection. It certainly looks like our world could use a sickbed.

But some corners of Christendom depict healing, or any attention to self, as unholy. It’s a spiritual-sounding thing to do on the surface, since Christ preaches loss of self. They dismiss what they see as a self-focus problem and conclude the battle isn’t worth fighting. Don’t look for affirmation. Don’t look for healing. None of this makes God the center.

I struggled with this for a long time, for I have known wounding. What does Jesus mean by “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me?”

We know he meant surrender. Holiness. Following his Word. Mustering all the faculties that comprise “you” and retasking them to worship.

But did he mean that certain faculties – pain and emptiness – don’t exist, that they’re mere figments or projections, or inappropriate subjects of attention?

Again, it certainly sounds spiritual.

But not if Scripture says otherwise.

Here’s my case. It’s interesting to observe that if a human was heard uttering the phrase “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”, he might get shot down by this very application of selflessness. We could make a day of rest sound self-focused in any circumstance. If he argued that it was needed, that we’re no good to God worn out, we could simply reply that it’s not about him. “The harvest is nigh. Work on the seventh day. It’s about God!” And immediately he’d feel shamed out of any response.

If a human was spotted seeking words of affirmation from God, we could easily label it an egocentric pursuit. “God’s not here to make you feel good about yourself,” we’d thunder from the pulpit. And immediately he’d feel shamed out of any response.

I have actually seen people attacked for merely looking forward to heaven’s termination of all tears and suffering. They were told that they should “instead” be anticipating the full revelation of God. “Focus on his glory!” they were told, as if they can’t do both. And immediately…you get the picture.

Yet all of these treasures proceed directly from the mouth of Christ (Mark 2:27, John 1:47,  Daniel 10:11) or within earshot of his throne (Rev. 21:3-4). That’s authoritative Scripture, which God saw fit to inspire.

So at what point is God having words put in his mouth here?

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

Guys, I’m not Earth’s smartest person. But if Scripture shows God offering aspirin, I’m probably not going to go around campaigning the evil of aspirin. If it reveals God prescribing physical therapy, I’m unlikely to go on television and dismiss physical therapy as a category. And if it depicts God recommending heart surgery, you won’t catch me trying to talk folks out of it. I’d instead suggest just doing what he says. (And if your denominational flavor emphasizes the dread of God’s wrath as part and parcel of his greatness and glory, I’d politely suggest that arguing with God’s prescriptions might be hazardous to your health. This is not scruffy-faced Dr. Bob down at the corner clinic we’re talking about.)

It’s possible to define self-focus so rigidly and extremely that one loses any reference point. Teachers of Scripture teach self-denial in one podcast, then (rightly) trusting God for our daily bread the next. Why not instead pretend we have no stomach? Isn’t it holier to label hunger as a failure to revel in God? Some have claimed that historically, and not just for themselves. Do you see where I’m going with this? Let this idea drift in the wrong direction for long enough and it starts to reek of Eastern mysticism – the “emptying” of ourselves. No, God is not against food. Scripture’s definitions of self-denial are a little more flexible than that. A few personal callings aside, you can eat. (Just honor God with what you eat.)

And yet.

And yet.

We know God calls us to die to ourselves. That’s got to be in here somehow.

So how do we escape this maddening paradox?

Well, nobody would argue if I say “embrace Scripture”. But let’s do it fully. Surrender to it. No bathwater theology, no throwing out things because idiots dirty it. Allow the Word to lead us, to reveal God doing whatever he fully well feels like, flexing and classifying things over our own instinctive and experiential definitions, without regard to how we (or our defining teachers and traditions) have seen things distorted by idiots. That kind of objectivity is tough. Yet I’d argue that it’s necessary to fully glorify God. If we were to deny every abuseable idea, we’d have to start with grace itself.

Go back to Psalm 147. It belongs to a stanza that opens with a praise call. It’s sandwiched between displays of his power, justice, and creativity. God is worshiped for all these different facets. It’s placed in the context of repatriating the exiles – a highly emotionally traumatic event. And it’s repeated in Isaiah 61:1 and Jeremiah 30:17, even as God acknowledges that he himself inflicts some of our wounds.

God does care about us. And that reveals his perfect nature. It leads to his glory.

I’m still firmly Baptist in my persuasions, so let me hasten to add that emotional healing goes hand-in-hand with holiness in our lives, not without. Our woundedness is no more an excuse to sin than grace is. We can obey while broken; we can praise from the hospital bed.

Also, healing comes solely and exclusively through Scripture’s provisions, not our own or the world’s. I also agree that the ultimate purpose of mankind’s healing is God’s fame and exaltation – not us walking out of the ER and not praising anybody.

And, honestly, I do think there are many days when it’s holy to just set ourselves aside for a while and do things for others’ gain, whether we benefit or not. As we heal, we do it more, and better. That’s where this is going.

But the point is, Scripture denies neither injury nor debilitation. It is sin to steal antibiotics; it is not sin to be sick in the first place. The holiness in healing lies not in denying the problem, but in accepting God’s solutions. God’s Word reveals that he cares very much about our hearts, that he acknowledges its tangible impact in the here and now, and that he has solutions. He’s not asking you to pretend there’s no wound, or to just shut out the pain. He’s offering to heal.

And then rush out and tell others about what Jesus did for you.

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

3 Scriptural Promises that Speak the Language of Anxiety and Depression

Ray Of Light Forest Trees Sunlight Sun SunbeamAnxiety and depression are almost synonymous with our day, and they only seem to be growing with the lateness of the hour.

The memes may fly about how we’re the generation of the neurotic, but like many good jokes, it’s truer than we’d care to admit. The anxious and depressed long for a full, light, and steady heart. They’d give an arm for just a day of that. Instead, a great bell seems to hang from it, turning the mountaintops into plains, the plains into valleys, and the valleys…well, you can imagine. And like many bells, it takes only a small tap to start everything vibrating, shaking the heart with worried thoughts. You know what I mean – that chronic, racing overthinking, the endless suspicion, the corner of your soul that perpetually waits for the other shoe to drop.

The answer was intended to be passed from one generation to another. Instead, the reality of God’s faithfulness is becoming lost knowledge, like cursive, or how to speak Latin. Technology adds to the exodus. It’s a double-edged sword. I look around my youth group, or my classroom a few years ago, and mourn at the ease with which teenagers have all the chaos and discord of the world – and endless comparisons – beamed straight into their pocket. I’ve seen it truly paralyze some of them. It’s a burden they shouldn’t have to bear, yet one they can’t shed without falling behind in the world.

Everyone has a theory for anxiety and depression’s cause. Everyone, from theologians to self-help gurus to pharmaceutical companies to diet fads to Michelob Ultra to certain fallen angels of ill repute, claims to have locked down the solution. Drown it. Find stability in another’s arms. Stay distracted. Or busy.

The truth is, the cacophony of dueling answers is almost as discouraging as the problem. Accusation and confusion piggyback on what should be a lifejacket for the soul. And many of them don’t work, or backfire and make it worse. They’re proving they don’t speak the language. Ultimately, only God is the healer. Yet even we, his servants, struggle to get our story straight amongst ourselves.

I personally believe that the God who had a different war strategy for each stage of the Promised Land campaign, the Son who never healed someone the same way twice, prefers the personal touch. There might be many different ways God chooses to heal us. They might be extraordinary or mundane. And they might not operate on our timetable, for reasons that are far above my pay grade.

While we wait, however, God does not leave us empty. Though he cannot be anxious or depressed, God proves in his Word that he can still speak that language. It is amazing to peruse even familiar Scripture and find promises targeted straight towards our afflictions, like an ancient Rosetta stone buried in the earth. He fully intends to sustain us this side of the mirror dimly.

Here are three promises that have spoken to me.

 

1. “I do not condemn you for this.”

Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Many Christians are under the impression that depression is a sin, a failure to adequately read (or believe) Scripture. They rebuke the anxious and depressed accordingly. A great many genuine, heartfelt followers of Christ therefore have guilt added to their burdens.

I don’t count myself in this camp. Anxiety and depression can stem from a place of spiritual ignorance (how depressing our future indeed without God!). But they can also be chemical, seasonal, hormonal, the product of spiritual warfare, or simply the soul’s response to tragedy. I know people whose depression clears up with caffeine. Others shed it by changing lifestyles or thought patterns.

More importantly, condemnation of the mentally beleaguered forgets the work of the Cross. If no sin or offense is beyond God’s forgiveness for the repentant, then neither are anxiety and depression – whether they’re sins or not. This reality ought to reign in our judgments, soften the contemptuous tone we sometimes level towards the depressed. They are instead candidates for grace – as are we all.

 

2. “I’m happy to reassure you as often as you need.”

Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:22-23)

One hallmark of anxiety and depression is seeking frequent reassurance of love – even from those who are closest and most loyal. Ever felt like you’re always vaguely “in trouble” somehow? Ever seen a friend act distant and assumed the problem is you, that you upset them with some little offhand word or action a month ago and they’re just too polite to tell you? Anxiety brings this stuff in spades.

I have friends with anxiety, and it’s amazing to watch their spouses. They know their mates’ needs, and they’ll “check in” with them on a regular basis. During a long church function, they sometimes won’t let an hour pass without swinging by to see how they’re doing. Though knowing they can’t be God to their spouses, they offer what they can. They don’t groan, roll their eyes, or tell their spouses to buck up. They took “in sickness and in health” seriously.

We see this understanding in Lamentations 3:22-23, though perhaps we never read it that way before. God is never outdone in compassion. He is not stingy, doling out a little love here and there, expecting it to tide us over for weeks and then chiding us when we long for more or forget a verse. Nothing in Scripture suggests that. He welcomes a daily dependence on him, promotes it – and then fulfills it, overflowing like the sunshine, oxygen, and moisture that never run out. If he gets frustrated, it’s because we don’t depend on him, that we try the independence thing and wind up dry and desolate.

No, God loves to check in with us. His words of love are written down in black and white, a limitless fountain at the turn of a page. He tells us to be filled with his Spirit, a regular activity like eating or drinking. He is not embarrassed or annoyed that we seek him again and again. He is delighted – and responsive.

 

3. “You will get a new mind one day.”

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

Imagine the moment we see God and receive our glorified bodies – and minds.

Imagine the incessant weight of sadness lifted, falling from our souls like useless scales, never to burden us again. Imagine constant lightness of heart, for no reason other than God always wanted it for us. No more clouded intellect, or unshakeable cold-blanket pessimism, or constant replaying of every word or conversation looking for where you screwed up. Every corner of our soul now conquered and owned and healed fully by God. Everything clear.

Until then, it’s a war. No doubt about it.

But the war will end. For the Christian, God has planned an entirely new body and mind, and nothing can avert his plans. It will be yours. “But the one who endures to the end will be delivered.” (Matt. 24:13)

It may not be easy, but at least it’s simple. Endure to the end. Hold fast to his Word, for it does speak our language.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Jesus Doesn’t Run Viking Ships: What I Think about an Abusive Ministry Revealed in My Valley

hand

Imagine you’re drowning. Your head has slipped beneath the surface. You see a beckoning hand burst through from above. Desperate, you remember Jesus’ offer to Peter and grab it. Anything for life.

But instead of being hoisted dripping into the vessel of Christ, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, you’re swung aboard a Viking ship and set upon the oars against a gale. There, you have unrelenting and hostile demands laid upon you day and night, serving not the risen Lord but a human – one claiming to command in His name.

That’s how this feels right now.

Our local paper just dropped a long-researched expose on a respected ministry internship program in our valley. It revealed stories of poor conditions, abuse, manipulation, and inappropriate conversations, thankfully now in the process of being shut down.

I recognized many of the red flags of cult behavior as I slogged through the cringeworthy article. Mental manipulation tactics. Separation from the outside world. Sleep deprivation, a classic tool for disorienting and subjugating. Control of every facet of the students’ lives. Slander of detractors. There’s no shortage of outrage generators here.

Though it all grieves me, what really jumped out to me was that the ministry leader allegedly…

…“preys on the vulnerable” and offers people with histories of problems with drugs, poverty and abuse an “opportunity to turn your life around.” … “Do you come from a messed-up background? Did you have an eating disorder? We’re the perfect place for you.”

This. Seeing a sublime, awe-inspiring core truth of the faith – that the broken and repentant are God’s delight – twisted despicably against them.

Awful, because it’s true.

The broken and humble are God’s delight.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench (Matt. 12:20).

Is this not the God who chose nobodies, stutterers, weaklings, cowards, murderers, and adulterers to be his friends and co-heirs? It is God’s modus operandi, his telltale signature upon our stories. The church is intended as a haven for them.

Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. (1 Cor. 1:27)

He does this to show his compassion…and his strength. It’s a shorter trip for the strong to become his servants, but for the weak and broken to be transformed…only God could do that. We all know it. And so he does it.

Hey, he uses me.

To see this pearl thrown to swine in the case of this ministry is appalling. Yet you see it in cults all the time – preying on people who haven’t yet learned how to stand on their own, haven’t yet learned to seek their joy and peace in God so that they aren’t hooked into the world for it and yanked around like evergreen branches in a gale. God is patient as we learn, but humans see only an opportunity.

To those damaged by this ministry, I’m praying for you, as are many. That you would be healed, but also that Satan’s theft of this truth – that God loves and pursues the broken – will not be completed. You are loved. The hand pierced by nails is still extended. And you will not land amiss.

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you feel this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Talking to a Generation in Pain

storm-3329982_640A childhood bouncing between foster homes, never once getting to stay and just be “gotten”.

The friend whose sibling just stopped talking.

Years of chronic pain from, of all things, falling out of a chair wrong.

This week has been a rough reminder of the valley through which an entire generation is slowly plodding en masse. My friends’ stories are piling up.

Feeling invisible because your siblings on either side get more attention.

Miscarriage.

An occupational disease from an employer that obscured working conditions to save money.

Loneliness – not just that of being single, but of being single without family or friends because of something “off” in the personality.

A denomination shifting doctrine (or shifting back) and leaving some behind, unsure of  their place in God’s kingdom despite how hard they’ve served.

Being attuned to poverty in every direction and unable to stop it all.

Coming home from the battlefield and wanting to end it all because of the carnage witnessed and the brothers left behind.

A knot of emotion, manifesting physically in the stomach, that just will not stop screaming lies hour after hour, week after week, year after year no matter what medication is tried.

And to top it all off, a Christianity that tells them – truthfully – that God has no obligation to make it end.

I would not pretend that previous generations have lived and died on a flowery bed of ease, but this is something else. Millennials are the grandchildren of the sixties. Enough said. Compound familial brokenness upon itself down through enough generations and you get…well, what we’re looking at now. God did say it would get worse towards the end. Even if that doesn’t explain all the trials I mentioned, it does make them harder to undergo.

And instead of love, only judgment often comes – “why can’t they just snap out of it?” Things like the recently revealed college admission scandals don’t help. The character problems of some give the entire group a bad name. Some of our pain, to be sure, is on us.

It’s tough to impart spiritual truth to millennials. Did you know that words like “glory” or “salvation” will shut some millennials down almost instantly? They’re priceless words, but the only thing they see is stern, detached buzzwords from a previous generation who don’t get what they’re going through. No, that’s not fair. No, I’m not willing to leave those words behind. But it highlights the difficulty of revealing Jesus to this group. Most want nothing to do with a God of pain.

We’re not dumb. We’re not (all) entitled. We’re not (all) seeking a victim complex.

But the swells do keep coming, and we’re tired of getting rolled.

A speaker I once heard said, “I believe the healing God wants to do in this generation is emotional.” Perhaps hearts, not issues of blood or withered hands, are what Jesus will pursue this millennium.

And perhaps we can be part of it. Consider God’s infinite patience for any person, his ability to convert even Paul to the side of the kingdom. If we simply embrace, listen, forgive, and weep with those who weep. Those are the foundation to the trusses of deep spiritual truth.

A bruised reed He will not break and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:3)

5 Encouragements for the Long Road to Finding “Your People”

Silhouette Friends Happy People SunsetIt took me a while to find “my people”.

Returning home after the Air Force, I found friendmaking difficult. I’m far from a natural.

First I tried the church’s college group. Never really fit in. Then I latched onto a Bible study of older singles. They were good people but had grown up with more money, and therefore with hobbies and pastimes I struggled to get into. Regardless of where I turned, I found myself on many D-lists.

And just when I was finally starting to feel at home, God called me away on a four-year mission. I still traveled back and forth, but building friendships in that situation is constrained.

Honestly, those were lonely and confusing years.

It’s part of life. I don’t hold grudges; not everyone will like you, or needs to. And honestly, there are people I’ve regrettably put on my D-list.

Eventually, God turned things around. At this point I’d say I have found “my people”.

I tell this story because I know other believers in the same boat, and I want them encouraged. It can be a long trail to finding “your people”, the ones God gives us to share the steep or muddy stretches with, beyond the randomness of a small group. Our band of brothers, our caravan, the human-shaped blessings who “get” us and are healthy for us.

You think you’ve found them (high school); you lose them (college); you have to find new ones (adulting). I didn’t start gaining altitude again until about age twenty-five, and even then, the climb was barely perceptible.

But God was in it. He never leaves our side.

A few thoughts if you’re in the valley now.

 

1. Forgive.

It does no good to hold grudges towards those who didn’t connect with you. It only cuts you off from both God and others. Most of the people who politely turn down your friendship mean no harm, intend no ill messages, and wish you the best. Wish them back.

 

2. Ignore the messages.

Isolation will lie to you. Satan is quite happy to exploit such seasons with messages that blind you to your identity in Christ, messages of worthlessness and self-doubt. Fight that poison tooth and nail. Get into Scripture and find the antidotes. You are God’s.

 

3. Don’t settle.

I am 1) an introvert and 2) picky when it comes to people. It’s hard to regret these qualities, because they drastically cut down on the drama quotient in your life. But they can make friend-finding a longer process.

But 2) is Scripturally mandated. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals'” (1 Cor. 15:33). “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Like dating, the temptation to just go along with those who “get” you, even if they’re not wise companions, is real.

Don’t settle. The wait is worth it.

 

4. Enjoy those you do find.

Sometimes our squad sneaks up on us. I was sometimes so focused on one person or group that I didn’t immediately notice the one or two loyal, interesting, high-character types that God was picking off each cluster for me. This is great. Trust me. They’re now my best mates, even from states or countries away. Relish them to the fullest.

 

5. Don’t give up.

God sometimes sends us on roundabout journeys to even his purposes (and we know life certainly isn’t accommodating). Don’t give up. You have not been abandoned. You’re not hopeless. You’re not globally incompatible.

Keep hitting your knees in prayer. Good things are coming!

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Was Your Mind Made Up?

stormWe were expecting life to be pretty smooth.

High school graduation, maybe a college degree, maybe the family route instead, all falling into place in our twenties without that many bumps.

And when heartache started calling instead, when our plans for life folded like a cheap suit and God was nowhere to be seen, some of us just shrugged and walked away. “If God won’t be there for me, why should I be there for him?”

Maybe it wasn’t quite that total or explicit. We still love him…kinda. We believe…that he exists. We certainly get riled up on his behalf when some atheist starts talking.

But we’re not really on fire for him otherwise. Continue reading

35

cordAs occasions for celebration of recovery go, birthdays aren’t bad.

I used to have this subtle feeling that mentioning my birthday was akin to seeking attention. So I wouldn’t mention it. Then I realized that this was really just akin to worrying about what others would think of me.

So today, when a chance to glorify God through a birthday came up, I decided I would take it.

So there it is. I turn 35 on Thursday.

Is this, like, the part where where “no longer a kid” actually starts? Anyone? Bueller? Frye?

Anyway, it is the tendency of advancing increasing age to look forward and worry over the narrowing gap. Diminishing opportunities, declining vigor, regrets over goals not yet achieved, etc. I, in particular, am reminded today that my mission on earth – to lift up the name of Jesus to others – is not indefinite. I have a limited span to get this done. (Yes, I know, I’ve still got plenty of time. Though I did find out this summer that my knees are going to be requiring help from my leg muscles and will no longer hold out on their own.)

But this time I found myself looking to the past.

Continue reading