Following God when You Don’t Want To

Sometimes God calls me to things I don’t want to do.  Sometimes His Word gives me a command I don’t want to obey. He is calling me to that now. In these instances what should we do?

1. Confess- I had a wise man tell me once the starting point of any change is “admit what isn’t there.” I need to tell the Father that little or no part of me WANTS to do this. I must confess my apprehensions, fears, self-protection, or any other underlying factor I can process.

2. Surrender-Next I must be honest and tell God I am surrendering out of pure duty in this instance knowing overall that He loves me and wants to glorify His name–which IS the BEST for me, regardless of whether I feel something will bring happiness or not.

3. Ask-Finally, I must ask that He change my heart’s desire to WANT what He is commands or is speaking to me to do. Help me move from duty to desire, Father.

Too often I skip #1 and try to self-talk myself into saying  “I DO WANT THIS” when I know I really don’t. Self-talk doesn’t work. Jesus was honest about not WANTING the cross in the Garden of Gethsemane. If He can be that honest, so can I.

This is an endless process, because He is always speaking and His word is always piercing me, it will be required 1000′s of time over the course of life. Sometimes we DO want what He commands and it is very easy for us. Most of the time, it isn’t. Help us, Jesus.

How to Rejoice (Finding Joy Again)

Note to self: Over and over the Bible tells us to REJOICE! But how and what does that mean?

RE-JOY — to re-establish your joy by realizing the source of all good things, God!

The quickest way to RE-JOY-CE today is to be THANKFUL.

Pause–particularly in the ‘stressiness and messiness’ of life–and think of something you can thank God for right now. Journal these each morning.

This will help you RE-joy again.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
(Philippians 4:4 ESV)

God’s Opinion of Me

Note to Self: It matters what the Lord thinks of me. Once I am secure in that, others’ criticisms, critiques, accusations, or even praises can be received, truly considered, and kept or cast off.

Morality vs. Gospel from the Mountain

The world doesn’t know what to do with Christians in the valley. They are so used to seeing Christians preaching to them ‘morality from the mountain top,’ that when a believer fails and visibly needs the Gospel, the world and sometimes other Christians can only call them ‘hypocrite.’ Perhaps if we preached the Gospel at all times and our own need of it even when we “appear” to be on the summit, we would be less misunderstood.

Not to self: Always be conscience of and verbalize your dependence on the Gospel. Even when things seem to be going well.

Reminder on a Lonely Day in the Remembrance of Failure

Today was an especially lonely day. It is funny how in the midst of my addiction I sought to carve out alone time and now that I am in recovery but have plenty of alone time, it is as hollow and empty as the shell game at the carnival. And in these moments of loneliness, I often hear Satan walking down the hall and entering my room to pull up a chair. “I know how you feel, ” he whispers, “like you never quite fit in, like your never quite have what it takes. (Yes, Satan sometimes ends phrases in a preposition.) It’s not fair the hand God dealt you and how you chose to play the cards, well God wired you like He did. I get it.” Half-truths served on a platter garnished with sympathy.

And so we commiserate as the echoes of sad red dirt country song echo across the room from a jukebox that is not really there. A pity party ensues, where we both imagine that everyone has it better than us, everyone is out having fun with friends or tucking in their family, while we spend a Friday night alone, yet again. And I don’t know if it Satan’s ploy or not but I am not drawn to past addictions this night, merely sadness. Maybe this is where he wants to hold me tonight, in the remembrances of my deep failures, not in actual re-failing, for both can be equally crippling. And tonight he has done this effectively as I feel like the last kid picked on the emotional playground at recess, like I missed the easy layup so many times and everyone knows it.

From this sadness comes a question. It is a question we all wrestle with deeply. Do I have what it takes? I feel this now from a phone conversation I got off earlier this evening with someone whom I love who feels let down by me yet again. And when I ask this question, my “friend” is quick to speak. Sometimes my party companion tells me, “You almost do, just try harder,” for there are moments he knows that he needs to keep me far from admitting I truly don’t have what it takes. He knows this confession could be fatal to his cause IF the admitting it leads me back to the fountainhead of grace.

But other times, he sees a different disposition in me, and upon taking a stiff drink, he puts his arm around my back and says, “No, you don’t have what it takes.” I don’t. He is right–why keep trying, you cannot ever get it right, you always let them down, you’re a hopeless case. In these moments it is so easy to get sucked into vortex of fatalism. “This is what you are. This is how it will always be.” Down, down down, until you are doing what one of my high classmates ironically voted most=likely-to-succeed did. You type “clearing the wreckage” as your Facebook status and off yourself from living.

And I have listened to his tales long enough tonight….

Instead I’ll sing the refrain. Even when I don’t feel particularly feel like it.

The Addicted Brain and The Christian Mind

How are we to reconcile new neuroscience findings on the addicted brain with a theology of the Christian mind and sin?

Neuroscience is discovering some very interesting findings about brain function in regards to natural, process addictions. It has been noted that brain change occurs in substance abuse addictions, but new research is revealing the same changes happen in the frontal cortex of persons with sex and pornography addictions, food addictions and gambling addictions.

In 2002, a study on cocaine addiction demonstrated measurable volume loss in several areas of the brain, including the frontal lobes. In 2007, a VBM study out of Germany demonstrated almost identical finding to the cocaine, methamphetamine, and obesity studies. It concludes for the first time that a sexual compulsion can cause physical, anatomic change in the brain, the hallmark of brain addiction. A preliminary study showed frontal dysfunction specifically in patients unable to control their sexual behavior. This study used diffusion MRI to evaluate function of nerve transmission through white matter. It demonstrated abnormality in the superior frontal region, an area associated with compulsivity.

Hilton DL, Watts C. Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective. Surg Neurol Int [serial online] 2011 [cited 2012 Mar 22];2:19. Available from: http://www.surgicalneurologyint.com/text.asp?2011/2/1/19/76977

Of course there are detractors. David J. Ley wrote a recent piece in the New York Times, calling sexual addiction a myth. However, he stands against most of the scientific community in this regard.

The Affects of The Fall on Our Brains

If a biological component to addiction can be shown to be present, does it alleviate our culpability or responsibility for sinful behavior? You and I were not present at the Fall (Genesis 3), but we do know that something devastating happened to ALL of creation that day.

One consequence of the fall of man is the so-called “curse on creation,” described in Genesis 3:17-19. Since life and blessing come from God, and God inhabits the spiritual realm, earth’s reduced fecundity after the fall can be thought of as a disruption of the power flow of the sustaining energy of the spiritual realm into the physical realm of our “two-storied” universe. In some way we do not yet understand the fecundity of nature was reduced by these curses, indicating a reduction of sustaining power from God into the physical creation. Opportunistic weeds, bugs, diseases and maladies are some of the results.

Paul describes this fall of the physical material universe:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
(Romans 8:19-22 ESV)

This effect of the Fall on the physical world surely involves our material bodies. While we have a “mind,” let us not forget that what houses that mind is a physical organ called the brain. And that material brain experienced the ramifications of the curse of Adam’s sin. We see a glimpse of this transpiring over time when Paul writes:

  And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28 ESV)

The Christian Mind

Yet having a brain wired for addiction does not grant a free pass for the responsibility or consequences of sin any more than possessing a gun and a spastic finger makes it okay to murder.  If I know I have a gun and a spastic finger, I must take extra precautions to make sure said finger never gets inside the trigger guard. While it is sometimes tempting to for me to  say, “Well, God, you made me this way,”–or in its more polite and respectable form, “God, why did you make me this way?”– this is an entirely unhealthy attitude even though God is powerful enough that such an accusation doesn’t knock him off His throne.

There is a biblical insight given to the fact that is possible to set our minds on the things of God:

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6, ESV)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… (Romans 12:2, ESV)

… take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5, ESV)

 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
(Philippians 4:8 ESV)

While it may be more difficult to do this with a brain that is hardwired for addiction, it does not make it impossible. And God never promises us an equal playing field with others. The Fall damaged different people in different ways, sexual addiction and other addictions being merely one manifestation. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we are given the power to overcome the flesh, yes even flesh that involves a fallen mind.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV)

No matter what neuroscience discovers–and I am highly interested in this–the ability to overcome the power of addiction in my life, while challenging, is available in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

 

Uncharted Eschatology: Gettin’ Schooled on the End Times

I stood with my jaw dropped at an East Texas pastor’s home. Toward the end of dinner, the talk turned to theology. He questioned me on my eschatology–those end time views guaranteed to stir the hornets’ nest. I gave them reservedly, wondering if my host had a guillotine for those who weren’t in his ‘camp’ hidden somewhere in a closet. He seemed that type. I didn’t have to wonder long. His face scoured, and he stated that we should talk more theology after dinner, quickly changing the subject so as to not let my views spoil his dessert. Finally, the moment I knew was coming, came. It was time to get schooled. Post-dinner, instead of brandy–he was thorough going T-Totaler which was fine with me–he invited me into his study. As he flipped on the lights, both literally and figuratively in his intent, before me stood a three-fourths completed wall mural, an exact replica of Clarence Larkin’s circa 1920′s chart of the End Times. Clarence Larkin Dispensational Chart

Its detail was exquisite, the desire for accuracy made obvious by the overhead projector location on the floor marked by blue masking tape so as to accurately beam this theological masterpiece onto the wall. As I gazed at his version of the Sistine Chapel, he simply looked over at me, pointed at the wall and said, “Brother, THAT is the truth.” My mouth was wide open, not because of the truth or detail of the chart, but because I was thinking, “Who would spend this type of energy on a replicating a chart?”

When we think of the end times, or eschatology, most people’s mind instantly go to timelines or charts. Of course, the most detailed charts are made by those who read the text “most literally.”  But what if Revelation, Daniel and the apocalyptic genre were meant to be read ‘literaturely’ not literally? Fully inspired, YES! Literal, maybe not.

What if we were supposed to view the end time apocalyptic biblical passages more like a Monet than a Rembrandt?

Monet's Impressionism

Rembrandt's Realism

What if it God gave us broad theological brush strokes and we were to stand back from it and take it in, not approaching every individual phrase looking for micro-correspondence to our own historical time-frame? What if God wanted us less consumed with locusts or geopolitical maps as much as the overarching beauty of the return of Christ? Maybe it is time to flip off the overhead projectors,or iPads you hiptsers, whether we be dispensationalists or amillenialists. Granted, an amillenial chart is quite boring, one arrow.

What if instead we remember that eschatology is much more about the fact that:

1. Christ will physically return delivering the hope of the resurrection.

2. Good will ultimately overcome evil, and evil will be judged.

3. History is not random and chaotic, but is being guided by God to its climax.

4. A new earth will be established where we can live out what was intended for us in Eden:

a. Perfect fellowship with God.

b. Perfect community with one another.

c. Perfectly stewarding His rule to the new creation (Three Purposes).

5. God will be worshiped and glorified for eternity, being shown to be a faithful, gracious promise keeper!

So maybe I–we–should all take a big step back from the text, put down our paints and instead look at the non-chronological aspects of Christ’s return allowing it to have a purifying effect on us–ME included!

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
 (1 John 3:2-3)

Amen. More to come…

Having Days in the Valley

We all long to be on the mountaintop, but most days are spent in the plains, and some, even in the valley. It is very easy to realize the nearness of God’s presence and fellowship with Him (purpose #1) from the summit. Not as easy in the valley. In fact, Our Enemy would have us perceive God’s absence, and despair in the plains and valleys.

In the Old Testament, Syria is Israel’s enemy and continues to assail them, just as Our Enemy does us.

And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. . .muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” And he listened to their voice and did so. (I Kings 20:23-28 mouseover reference for whole verse)

The Israelites were people of the high hills. Moses was given the Law on a mountain. Jerusalem lay 4,000′ above sea level.  The Psalms consistently celebrate the heights and the mountains. The prophets were called to and from the mountain. As the mountains are around Jerusalem, so God is around His people (Psalm 125:2). It would be easy to conclude that God is mainly God of the heights, those mountaintop experiences we have when all appears to be going well and His nearness to us is easily realized.

That is exactly what King Benhadad of Syria thinks. ‘If I can just get the Israelites down off the mountain, things will change and I’ll have victory.’ Our Enemy seeks to do the same thing, to pull us down into the valley to see if our faith holds, to see if we really believe the Gospel we so easily espouse from the mountaintop. And so when Our Enemy is able to pull us into the plains and valleys, he stands and gloats like Benhadad presuming we are heading to our doom, outnumbered by our own sinful failure and lack of hope.

But there is one thing Our Enemy has forgotten, our God is not just a God of the mountains but a God of the valleys.

  And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The LORD is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’” And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day.
(1 Kings 20:28-29 ESV)

The God that marches the heights also lies where the shadows are the deepest. He is God of life’s hilltops, where it is easy to believe. But what of life’s gorges, when circumstances or our own sin has brought us to a dark place bereft of natural light–can we then believe this Gospel? Can we have hope? Yes, he can provide us victory in the valley!

James S. Stewart points out a foundational fact.

The God of our joys is also the God of our sorrows. The God of the radiant times when it is easy for our heart to sing is also just as near when the foundations are shaking and our song seems a million miles away. Yes, He is with us even when we are in the self-created valley of our own sinful behavior. The valley is precisely why Jesus died and didn’t come merely teaching a good ethic–to offer us salvation and not merely morality. How do we know this? Jesus the revealer of God the Father shows us this, for Jesus performed miracles at both weddings and funerals. He is with you on your best day and worst, calling you to realize His nearness and His provision of victory!

So whether on the mountain, plains or in the valley, realize his nearness and don’t stop worshiping and trusting.

 

 

 

All I Have Is Christ

This is true declaration of the good news of Jesus offering rich hope for wretched saints.

I once was lost in darkest night  |  Yet thought I knew the way

The sin that promised joy and life  |  Had led me to the grave

I had no hope that You would own  |  A rebel to Your will

And if You had not loved me first  |  I would refuse You still

 

But as I ran my hell-bound race  |  Indifferent to the cost

You looked upon my helpless state  |  And led me to the cross

And I beheld God’s love displayed  |  You suffered in my place

You bore the wrath reserved for me  |  Now all I know is grace

 


Hallelujah! All I have is Christ  |  Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

 

Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone  |  And live so all might see

The strength to follow Your commands  |  Could never come from me

Oh Father, use my ransomed life  |  In any way You choose

And let my song forever be  |  My only boast is You

 

© 2008 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)


The Dumbphone and the Downgrade

Today I traded in my smart iPhone 4 for a dumbphone with only talk and text and zilch for a data plan. To be honest I really liked my iPhone. Its user interface is excellent, easy and fast to get around on texting, tracking recent calls, the whole gambit. Its syncing ability with my all Mac platforms at work and laptop were also nice. Its ability to pull down emails, news, my iMatch songs, to launch me into Facebook and Twitter on the fly, and the games. I liked my iPhone.

But I love my family more than I like my iPhone. My iPhone was a distraction away from them many times. It was a revelatory tool of my lack of proper energy and priority being given to them. It was also insidious in its lure to check out from real life and to check in to the virtual world, too often. It had become an icon for my wife of my lack of pursuit. In its unfettered state with open internet access it was too much for me to self-manage (a problem in and of itself, self-management that is instead of Christ-managed). And so, today I got myself a dumbphone. It is clunky and very user unfriendly compared to the Jobsian engineering of the iPhone, requiring 4 clicks for things that should require one, having audio that is a bit suspect, and no interfacing Google calendar so I am not cross platform synced. BUT it is beautiful if it allows me growth and recovery with my wife and kids. I’ll take its cumbersome navigation in exchange for communion with those I love most.

Will I ever be able to have an iPhone again? Perhaps, or maybe not. Only with the wife’s blessing.  If so,  from day one I’ll have several things in place that I didn’t initially have on the current phone until later (and if you have an iPhone and struggle with any addiction related to pornography or internet usage–gambling or whatever–you might consider this if you aren’t dumbing down):

  1. I’d have boundaries on the times and time limits I could use it, agreed upon by my wife. If it became a problem, she’d have the right to tell an accountability partner who could confiscate it for a period or some other arrangement.
  2. I’d have that accountability partner lock-out safari and the ability to download apps once the initial set needed was loaded. The only way I would want access the internet in browser mode is through the Covenant Eyes mobile browser.
  3. I’d give him the iCloud login for Find My Phone where he could see where I was on a Google map at any time.

I actually did the last two, but it took too much and too long to get me to that point. I needed to more quickly admit my flesh was weak.

I’d rather have my family back than a phone. For now and as long as needs be, the dumbphone it is. Hey, it doesn’t hurt that the sky high bill for the data plan just got kicked down a notch or two, as things are tight these days. So if I don’t text you back as quickly, don’t fret, I’m probably still trying to figure out where the send button is. Man, I think my pet rock was smarter than this phone, but I am smarter than a pet rock–some days that is.

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