Archives For July 2011

Good decisions

Allison Stevens —  July 27, 2011 — 6 Comments

Blogging is difficult for me because what I write is only a tiny slice of the truth. It’s not full and complete. I can’t say everything I want to or need to. But here is something that happened to me I wanted to share. I don’t say near enough in this about the power of my relationship with my husband who is my best friend and how he helped me through this difficult moment in my life. Maybe I’ll say something more next week about that.  Thank you for your patience with this process!

On Sunday, I was thinking about decisions I’ve made over the past 10 years. Many of the choices brought me so much happiness. They’ve brought me joy like nothing else.  But as I sat on my couch, an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction rose up inside. I questioned a couple of significant decisions I’d made.

I felt sick to my stomach. I thought I had done the right thing at the time. No, I knew I had. So why now the doubt?

There were pros and cons to each side of this one particular decision. Each side had its significant life-changing side-effects. This was not a moral dilemma; it was a choice of preference.  Do I prefer it this way or that way?  I chose this way.  Now I wish I had chosen that way.

Either way required a sacrifice on my part.  And what I’d sacrificed for choosing route “A”, resurrected itself in me and it was as if it was fighting for justice, a fair trial, like it was saying, “Hey!  Look at me! You can’t just toss me aside as if I don’t matter.” And I felt intense pain because of what I gave up. I didn’t see it or feel it then as clearly as I did just a few days ago.

The feelings scared me. Had I sinned? How could I have been so wrong? How can I know anything? What if I will always regret this decision? What if I live for the rest of my life with this sinking feeling of what I’d given up? Oh God, I prayed, I can’t live like this.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Help me, God. Despair swam around me, like a shark about to devour any happiness I had.

Then I felt a bit of a nudge toward something. Grief.  Grieve what you’ve lost, Allison. Feel your pain, express it, and push through it. Don’t run from it, numb it, push it down. Don’t despair.   Because despair is the result of believing that what I lost would have saved me; that it was my source of life.

It’s not. Nothing will save me or give me life, except Jesus.

And, with my husband beside me, with his help, this is what I ended up with:  whispering His name:  Jesus. In that desperate moment, Jesus became my answer. He is all I need. He is more than sufficient.

If my life depends on my ability to make “good”, non-regrettable decisions, I’m doomed. I can’t rely on myself to give me what I need. Only one person can do that. Jesus Christ.

Rarely has there been a clear-cut path to where I should go or what I should do. And the times when I’ve been so sure of myself, I now question some of those decisions. My point isn’t that we can’t ever be sure of ourselves or know what a right path is. It’s that I realize that I’m in the thick woods of life. It’s complicated and difficult at times. Even when it seems easy, it’s not. I step forward, and a limb hits me in the face. The brush is so thick I can’t see two feet in front of me.  And the path is uneven, too. How many times I’ve stepped into a hole and stumbled.

The message of the cross, which is love, is power to us who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18.) And God will destroy the wisdom of the wise, the intelligent of the intelligent (v 19.) He will make Himself known through His love, not through the wisdom of man.

Walk by faith, not by sight. Moment by moment, seek love and follow Jesus. I think that that, not making good decisions, is the point of life.

Do you ever overlook things? I mean, when you’re looking right at an object or a scene and you just plain miss it?

Yesterday I was watering my wife’s herbs and was looking at the Sweet Basil I had planted for her in a pot on our patio. It looked beautiful and green. Just fine. Right?

And then I looked closer.

Do you see it? It’s right there in front of you. Look. It’s parked in the middle of this lush green plant.

Yep. It’s a grasshopper, perfectly camouflaged to match his lush green surroundings. Hidden in plain sight and munching away on my wife’s herbs.

As a child, I remember many times when my grandmother would send me to fetch something  from the pantry cupboard and my search would come up empty.  After walking to the cupboard and retrieving the can of red beets herself, she would often say, “if it had been a snake, it would have bit you.”

That reminds me of Jesus’ warning to his disciples to beware of dangerous things hidden in plain sight. In yet another of his instructive conversations with His traveling band of disciples, Jesus warned them,”Be careful . . . watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod” (Matt. 8:15). Unfortunately, they didn’t get it. (I can relate.)

Jesus addressed their missing the point with “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” (Matt. 8:17-18)

The point?

Quite often, after closer inspection, we discover things like habits, patterns of relationships, subtle practices that we’ve grown accustom to justifying that are hidden in plain sight, right in front of our eyes. And we miss them. They are consuming the vitality of the life that God offers to us in Christ. But they’re camouflaged. And so we tend to overlook them. We think we’re okay. But a closer look reveals otherwise.

And believe me, you must intentionally look for them. You need to learn how to see again. And once you recognize them for what they are–destructive little critters that are eating away at the fruitfulness of your life–then you can begin to address eliminating them.

But first,  you need to see them.

So, remember, take a closer look at your life. You may be surprised to discover what’s hidden in plain sight . . . right in front of your eyes.

 

 

I’ve grown up in Christian circles all my life. My grandparents and parents were instrumental in  birthing  a fledgling church in my home town. It grew and flourished to become one of the largest and most vibrant ministries in the area.

However, one of the things I witnessed over my 50+ years of being in churches and working in ministries is that many church people feel tons of pressure to perform up to certain expectations within the church community. “Keep the rules,” “don’t do this,” “do do that” seemed to be the focus.

But is that really what God wants from us? Doing stuff for Him? Is He merely interested in dutiful followers who “get’r done?” Really? Is that it? Is that all that God wants from us?

I know–and wholeheartedly believe–that obedience is crucial. The Bible makes that clear. King Saul and his sons lost the claim to the throne of Israel because he didn’t obey what God had commanded him to do (1 Sam. 15:22).

John makes a case for obedience in one of his last NT letters: “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands’ (2 John 6).

But is that all there is? Is doing my devotions faithfully enough? Or is there something more? Could it be that God desires my devotion to Him more than doing my devotions for Him?

Brent Curtis and John Eldredge describe it this way in The Sacred Romance:

“He (God) is concerned about all these things, of course, but they are not his primary concern. What he is after is us–our laughter, our tears, our dreams, our fears, our heart of hearts. How few of us truly believe this. We’ve never been wanted for our heart, our truest self, not really, not for long. The thought that God wants our heart seems too good to be true.” (p. 91).

The parable Jesus told about the lost son in Luke 15:11-32 seems to bear that out.  The story is not primarily about the lost or the obedient son. The focus is on the heart of the father whose delight was the presence of his sons. Whether a runaway or a homebody, having his children with him was his greatest delight. Jesus wanted his audience to catch a glimpse of His Father’s heart.

And what is His heart?

Simply put, the joy of God is the presence of his children. Likewise, it was that same joy that motivated Jesus to endure the suffering of the cross so that in the end, he would be able to lead many sons and daughters into glory (Heb. 2:10-11; 12:2) where the presence of God is the “fullness of joy” for those who love him too (Ps. 16:11).

 

 

 

The final movie in the Harry Potter series finally hit the theater this past weekend. I’ll admit, I’m a huge fan.

Although the series is a fantasy, the parallels to real life are stunning, especially the epic battle between good and evil.

Lord Voldemort, the powerful dark lord and Satan figure in the film, is trying to infiltrate and influence young Harry’s heart and mind. After one of Voldemort’s minions kills Harry’s God-father, the dark lord attempts to fill and inflame Harry with thoughts of murder and revenge. It’s part of his devilish plan to tempt Harry to join him in his darkness and ultimately own him.

At one climatic point in the series, near the end of The Order Of The Phoenix , Voldemort nearly has Harry convinced that he is just as dark and evil. He thinks he’s won. He thinks Harry is finished, so he begins to mock him as “weak.” As Harry is struggling, oh so close to giving into the dark lord’s influence, Dumbledore, Harry’s close mentor, says to him,

“Harry, it’s not how you are alike, it’s how you are not!”

Right then, Harry spots his closet friends and recalls the happy times he’s enjoyed with them. Suddenly, the strength to resist returns, and Harry says to Voldemort,

“You’re the weak one. And you’ll never know love, or friendship. And I feel sorry for you.”

It’s one of those fictional moments that illuminates what the battle between good and evil is all about–love and restored friendship with others and God.

At the end of the The Order Of The Phoenix, after Harry has recovered from Voldemort’s vicious attack, Harry says to his friends,

“I’ve been thinking about something Dumbledore said to me. He said, ‘Even though we’ve got a fight ahead of us, we’ve got one thing that Voldemort doesn’t have…something worth fighting for.’”

Jesus declared, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” –John 10:10

 

 

 

Betrayed by a friend

Jeff Olson —  July 15, 2011 — 10 Comments

One of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the movie Braveheart is when William Wallace realizes that his fellow countryman, Robert the Bruce, has betrayed him by secretly aligning with the English at the Battle of Falkirk. Wallace, who had made tremendous sacrifices and expended such great effort fighting for Scotland’s freedom, is so overcome by the betrayal that he physically collapses on the battlefield, even with English soldiers bearing down on his position.

Few things cut us as deep as being betrayed by someone close. Listen to David describe the betrayal he once experienced at that hands of a close companion:

“If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God” (Psalm 55:12-14 NIV)

Working through a major betrayal and violation of trust is difficult. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you immediately forget what happened and trust the person who betrayed you. That person may not yet be worthy of any deep level of trust.

Even though it’s premature to trust, Christians are still called to care about the welfare of those who betray us. We are called not to lose sight of the fact that the person still matters. They still have legitimate temporary and eternal needs, even if they haven’t owned the betrayal and harm it’s done to us. Caring will keep us from writing them off. It will  help us refrain from coping an attitude towards someone that would make it impossible for that person to ever re-earn trust in our eyes.

Caring about another person doesn’t mean we have to be gullable. God gave us common sense and this is one of those times where it’s important to use it well. We must continue to honestly discern how that person treats us and make decisions about trust based on how they treat in the future.

I’m inclined to think that caring about without immediately trusting those who betray us is in the spirit of what Jesus had in mind when he encouraged his followers to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

I can’t attend a wedding without that classic scene from Princess Bride running through my head. And again, on cue, it invaded the introductory moments of my nephew and his beautiful bride’s wedding I just attended this past week. It was a glorious affair that included a fireworks display at the conclusion of the reception. That was a first for me. (and it didn’t hurt that it was July 3rd either)

Weddings are meaningful events that mark the beginning of a new relationship, the start of a new family with hopes and dreams.

But weddings are also times for reflection for all who attend. And, whenever I have the opportunity to attend a weeding, I’m always drawn to 3 reflections.

The first–and almost always it’s the first–may have more to do with my zany sense of humor. “Marriage. Marriage is what brings us together today. Marriage, that blessed event that dream within a dream . . .” always makes me laugh and remember that there’s great joy and celebration to be shared at a wedding.

The second reflection comes in the form of a question about them: Does this couple have what it takes to go the distance and build a relationship that lasts a lifetime? Having invested thousands of hours in marital and premarital counseling with hundreds of couples over the last 25 years, I’m always kind of skeptical (OK, often really skeptical) as to whether or not a couple has not only the character to make a relationship last, but do they have an enduring relationship with God that will sustain them when their relationship doesn’t?

Will they still love each other even when they don’t feel like it? When they hit the inevitable turbulence that intimacy between two sinners breeds? Will they remember their promises to God and each other in front of us as their invited witnesses? What about after they’ve hurt each other with cruel words? Or after crushing disappointment? I pray so.

My third reflection comes in the form of a question about me: How am I–after now 34 years of marriage–reaffirming my love for my bride? Do I remember my promises to God and her? Am I loving her better than when we got married? Better than last year? Would she agree with my assessment?

Hmmm . . . maybe it’s time I ask her again how I’m doing at loving her. I think I will.

So, since June, July, and August seem to be the “wedding months,” take some time to reflect at the weddings that you’re invited to attend. Celebrate and reflect.

Oh, and feel free to share your celebrations and reflections with us. We’d love to hear what’s stirring.

Penance and Addiction

Jeff Olson —  July 5, 2011 — 5 Comments

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the penance phase in the addictive cycle.

Penance is that tricky phase most cycle through after the high and relief of acting out wears off. Whether it’s getting wasted with alcohol or drugs, throwing a temper tantrum or binging on porn, it’s that place we go to when we feel dissatisfied, guilty and foolish for turning again to something that doesn’t last and often makes things worse.

Penance is tricky because we are not what we seem when we go there. We appear to be making amends for our out of control behavior. We start to act kinder and more thoughtful. We start to do things for others that we’ve been resisting to do for years. It can look so genuine, but it doesn’t last because we’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Making amends is not about a healthy desire to change. It’s about finding a quick behavioral fix and ending the dissatisfaction and shame our addiction has caused.

In the penance phase we also appear to be really sorry and contrite. We beat ourselves up. And we claim to really want to change. We promise to try harder. We make plans to never act out again. We say that we really mean it this time. All of our self-loathing seems to prove our sincerity, but we’re not as sincere as we think. We are not seriously open to a work of God in our lives because we are still trying to handle the brokenness of our life on our own. Rather than humbly accepting the forgiveness and grace of Jesus and admitting that we are is helpless to stop without God, we want to stay in charge. And penance, which is little more than self-effort, is our way to staying in control.

Penance is the opposite of repentance. What makes true repentance possible is humility—the realization and acknowledgment that we are helpless to break free from our addiction and go in a new direction without God. If we try to repent without humility, it will be in our own strength. And it will eventually lead to nothing more sin-management and eventually acting out again.

The New Testament book of James says that humbling ourselves before God is the central to standing against evil desires and even the devil himself (James 4:1-10). Humbling ourselves before God is about surrendering a control over life that we often wrestle away from Him. It’s letting Him call the shots. When it comes to our addictions, it involves receiving His forgiveness and accepting the truth about who He’s says we are in Jesus—a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Because the addictive cycle is partly sustained by keeping the addiction a secret from others, it’s best to stop hiding our struggles and humbly allow others access into what is going on. We must start to get our pain and brokenness out in the open with at least a few non-condemning friends who openly admit they don’t have it all together either. Together, friends can speak into each others lives and encourage each other to grow and stand in the grace and truth of all that they are in Christ.