Tag: God

Mar
20
2014

I assume every atom invites our soul. It knows things we do not.

I lean observing a spear of the same grass blade and now hoping to cease from inadequate creeds and nature. Houses and rooms, the shelves honor and unaware—the atmosphere is wooden and naked.

The full noon rising from bed, so proud that it knows the meaning of its origin.

We shall no longer take things nor always look through books.

We shall not look to ourselves.

I have heard of the beginning and there was never any youth or perfection, out of the dimness always increase and identity, always distinction, always elaborate.

Here we are lacking not a thing, proven with each turn.

We think we are satisfied.

People we meet, we live with them—authors who invite us to dinner—these nights bend certain rest, come backward through the fog and spread limitless like a child laying outstretched in the grass.

Now it seems to us, here we are uttering in faint tongues that we wish we could with ease translate. How could we answer, I do not know.

I guess it means we give the same—understanding that somewhere, the moment life appeared we knew it, but somehow have much of it forgotten.


In: Poetry
Tags: , , , ,
Nov
13
2013

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. Saint Augustine

But to truly to be in relationship with God, what I have learned in walking this path with many in my practice as a counselor, my work as a pastor, and in my own life, is that your relationship to him needs to change in a unique and specific way. Let me describe what I mean by this. Within psychology, there is a theory called Transactional Analysis and it attempts to explain how we can experience relationships in a mature way. The psychologist Eric Berne in the 1960’s created this theory in which he hypothesized that we use “roles” in adulthood with the different types of relationships we have, be that with our parents, our spouse, our kids, our boss—with anyone who is in our life. The theory uses the analogy of the relationship between a parent and the child. Typically, according to Transactional Analysis, there are three different personalities or roles (Berne called them ego-states) that we use throughout life in the relationships we have:

  • The Parent: the role in which you will mimic how a typical parental figure behaves (e.g., instructing, talking down to the other person, always trying to control the situation, disciplining for bad behaviors, dominating the relationship, etc.)
  • The Child: the role in which you will regress to a place in which you behave and feel as a typical child might (e.g., allowing yourself to be talked down to, often being fearful or feeling inadequate around another person, letting yourself be controlled by the other person, rarely voicing your real opinion to the other person, etc.)
  • The Adult: the role in which you are “yourself”—you offer your own opinion freely; you are able to enter into conflict and disagree with the other person; you are authentic in how you are around the person; you are confident in yourself in all circumstances.

To try to make sense of all of that is above, the premise simply refers to how we act in the relationships around us—whether it is with your spouse or someone you work with—do you act like a parent, a child or do you act in a healthy way, like an adult. A real-life example of this is when I met with an attorney as a client a while back. He was a well-known defense attorney who was highly sought after and accomplished in his work. However, one of the issues that came out in counseling is that if he was ever around his dad, he would inevitably act like the thirteen year old boy he used to be. In part, his father dominated him, but in the same degree, he would also allow the relationship to continue in this unhealthy way. When he was with his dad, he would always play the part of a child who always needs help or was never quite sure of himself. Whenever he was around his dad, he was always walking on eggshells, never said what he really wanted to say, and could never really be himself. For him, his father was not a friend, and primarily that was because they didn’t have a real relationship where they could talk to one another about anything as adults. His dad had remained the parent and he continued to act like a child.

As a counselor, we encourage clients caught in these relationships to use the premise of Transactional Analysis and to act like an adult when confronted with these types of relationships and situations. We literally ask them to change the role they are playing in the relationship. In this case, when this client spent time with his dad, he needed to stay in the character of the lawyer who he was Monday to Friday and not the apprehensive teenage boy he was so many years earlier. Around his father, he needed to be sure of himself and speak what was really on his mind. Simply put, he needed to act like an adult when he was around his dad. Often, it can be the mere recognition of the role the person is playing (i.e., in this case, this man was staying in the role of the child) that people can begin to act differently in these relationships. Oftentimes, when one begins to act the part, the change can become permanent. There is no need to explore one’s past; no need for medications; no need of lengthy counseling. Relationships in our lives begin to change because we begin to change. It’s what the Bible classifies as repentance or to change one’s thinking and move in a different direction in your life. In the situation with this attorney, just after a couple of months, when he acted like himself around his father, his dad also responded in a healthy way and today they have a relationship that is growing closer. With this little change, this man and his father have a maturing friendship in which now they both can now be themselves.

This area is also one of the major catalysts in which our relationship with God can expand. When it applies to Transactional Analysis, ironically  for us to deepen our relationship with God we need to stop acting like a child around him. For some of us, we literally need to change our relationship with God and learn how to be ourselves around him. Yes, we are his “children,” but we can also have an adult relationship to him. God wants us to be authentic with him, and to have a relationship in which we can say anything to him. Let me give you another parallel. Right now both of my sons are in high school and a significant way that I relate to them is as a parent. Often, I tell them what to do; I control when they are to be home; I guide them if they stray. However, in just a few years, both of them will be adults and starting a new life on their own. When that occurs, how I relate to them will have to change. I will have to move out of the role of the parent and they will have to stop acting like children. Mutual trust will become a part of the relationship. They will take responsibility for their lives and begin to truly act like adults. A friendship will emerge between my sons and I, and our relationship will mature and expand. This is precisely what God wishes for us as our relationship with him as it grows and expands.

As the infamous 13th chapter of Corinthians states: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) When I’m counseling the people that I work with—this is where I press them to go with their relationship with God—to act like an adult with him. By far, it is the most important mark of faith. It is more important than the day you were wed; more important than the day when your children were born; even more important than that day you decided to believe in God for the first time. It is truly the day that you really wake up and understand not only who God is, but just as importantly, who you are. You truly begin to relate to him like never before. You become his friend. This is the beauty of how this relationship grows, not only do I change in my relationship to him, but now God changes in how he relates to me. As I become more sure of the relationship, as I learn how to have a voice in the relationship (one here can think of Abraham’s relationship to God that we find in Genesis 18), God unveils who he is in remarkable ways. As the 16th century saint, Teresa of Ávila penned, “The feeling remains that God is on the journey too.” That is the truth, God wants to journey with us as we deepen our relationship together—he desires to be Friend, Lord and Papa—all in the same breath.


In: Friend to Jesus
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Sep
17
2013

The heart is commonly reached, not through the reason, but through the imagination, by means of direct impressions, by the testimony of facts and events, by history, by description. John Henry Newman

But obviously, prayer is not just about getting what we want, and in fact, this is not even high on the list of why prayer is so crucial to our lives. At the end of the day, prayer is about fostering and growing a relationship with God. As friends to him, we have the opportunity to come into a close relationship with the One who loves us deeply. This is the central purpose of prayer—to get to know him better. Through talking, listening, responding and expecting, our relationship with God will have the ability to grow to uncharted depths. Have you ever met someone you just really like a whole lot? Someone that when you are in their presence, it is easy and fun and engaging? A person who is kind, reassuring, and listens well to your stories and concerns you share? This is who your Father is. This is the reason for prayer; to get to know this Person at his deepest levels.

Because this is one of God’s deepest drives, He wants to be known. He wants to speak. He wants to listen. And he wants to respond. If God has a desire, it is this—he deeply wants a relationship with us. This is the chief reason why he created us like himself—to be in relationship. Now, does he need to be in this relationship? If we reject this want of his, will he saunter away angry, depressed and lonely? Will he cripple under the weight of being rejected? Of course not. God is completely secure in himself and does not need a relationship with us, but in his self-giving and self-sharing nature, he wants to give himself away to anyone who would want to share in what he has to offer.
Timeline_Cover_doNotRename74

But how does one pray? How does one have a conversation with God? Of course, asking something of him is easy and straight-forward. “God, I want _____________.” But again, to have a conversation means one has to listen. How does one listen to God? The main way in which we can listen to God is through the Scriptures he gave us. But even here, the Bible is conclusive in declaring that “The Word became flesh.” (John 1:14) To listen to God on some level means that we need to engage him flesh and blood and hear the words he has to say to us personally. We want to genuinely hear his voice and while at this point in time, we cannot actually sit down and literally have a conversation with him, he still speaks. Somehow, someway, he does speak to us. Through the Holy Spirit, we can literally hear what he wants to share with us and he often does it in unique ways. In the Bible we have stories in which God spoke through a donkey, visions, an angel, even through a bush that had caught on fire. When desiring to speak with us, he will do anything to make sure that he gets his point across.

But how does one listen to God? Actually, listening to God is not complicated at all. In saying that, it does require some dedication and for you to section out time in your life to just sit and listen to him. There really isn’t a formula, but some simple guidelines would be as follows:

  • Set aside about thirty minutes each time you pray. Make sure you find a quiet place where you won’t be distracted. It sometimes can be good to find a favorite spot where you like to go (e.g., a favorite park, a comfy chair, outside on your deck, etc.)
  • To begin, take about ten minutes to read some Scripture. The Psalms or the Proverbs are a good place to start.
  • In terms of beginning to pray, ask for two things:
    • That the Lord would speak to you clearly.
    • That he would block out any voices from yourself or from any other demonic influence.
  • With a private journal that you use specially for this time of prayer, write down a question or two that would like to discuss with God. Now, wait and listen.
  • Without judging what you are writing, listen to your inner voice and begin writing down what you hear in your mind. You may be flooded with lots of words or just a few. Take about five to ten minutes to write what you are hearing the Holy Spirit say to you. During this time, some people like to use two pens of different color—with one, they use to write what their own thoughts are and with the other, what they believe God is saying to them.

In terms of deciding if what you heard was from God, here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Was what you wrote clear or just an impression of something?  Sometimes what we write is for the present moment of our lives or for a later time when we piece together things from our lives. This is why keeping a prayer journal is important—it is so that you can go back and read it. Recently I was reading through one of my journals and I was astonished at something I had written four years ago as it clearly spoke into my life at that moment.
  • With what you wrote is it scriptural?  Scripture is our authority and God does not contradict his Word. (Proverbs 30:5-6)
  • If it is an important decision that you must make, you should always speak with other Christians about what you heard God saying. Do these friends confirm what you heard God say? (Proverbs 20:18, Proverbs 15:22)

This is a rudimentary framework for attempting to listen to God. If you would like to delve deeper, I highly suggest you read the classic by Leanne Payne entitled Listening Prayer. It will be worth your time. Remember, God is very inventive and creative in how he speaks to us and will use unique ways to create a conversation with us. Once you begin listening purposely to his voice, he will often speak to you in other ways, especially through others, through dreams, and who knows, perhaps even in a vision like he did with Peter. In your desire to get to know him, he will continue to make himself available to you and reveal many different things to you. Be on the watch, because again, he deeply desires to be your friend and hear from you and speak to you in evident and astonishing ways.

 


In: Friend to Jesus
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Aug
27
2013

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all that you’re doing, you are probably doing more than God has asked. Henry Blackaby

The difficulty of always feeling that you ought to be doing something is that you tend to undervalue the times when you’re apparently doing nothing, and those are very important times. Brian Eno

Take these hands – teach them what to carry. U2

When you read the stories about Jesus sometimes you really see who he was as a person. In these glimpses, sometimes his personality shines through. He was intriguing to be around. He could openly be emotional. He carried with him dramatic and insightful stories. He was gently honest when he spoke to you. He was very deliberate about relationships. He was extremely bright. He had terrific compassion. He was very serious about his calling. He had great perspective about life.

And he was very conscious of his time and his limits. You’ve probably heard this one before, but one thing is certain, Jesus did not have a messiah complex. We read that at many different times you find him going to some remote place to be alone, to pray, to think, most likely to recharge his batteries (Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). Like any of us, Jesus also needed time to unwind, re-focus his energies and be by himself. When reading these stories, it seems like this was a common occurrence for him, not just some isolated event in his life. But an important point is that when he would remove himself from the throngs of people who would follow him, he inevitably was also disregarding their immediate needs to some degree. Essentially, he was saying I will not care for you right now and it seems like he was completely okay with that. I can picture him just as he was pulling on his cloak to make his way to be by himself, there would be some person there pleading for something more of him, Jesus, just one more question? Often, because of his celebrity, he would often in these instances have to firmly, but kindly tell them that it would have to wait for another time. You cannot be as popular as he was and not have the withal to let someone know that you weren’t going to be able to help them in some way at that very moment.

If you think about it in these terms, it is remarkable to think of how many people Jesus didn’t care for, heal or offer his wisdom and insight. Jesus was purposeful in how he served others. This is what we need to do as well. When we serve others, perhaps the most important question we should ask ourselves is—should I be doing this? Now granted, when someone asks for help in some way, in many of these cases, we should move into their lives and help them. But sometimes we maybe shouldn’t. Perhaps we need to be more purposeful in how we help others.

God taught me this lesson shortly after I became a Christian. With this story, I also learned he has a great sense of humor. I was about twenty-one at the time and had taken the train into the city to meet a friend. Chicago was a bustle at that time because it was just a couple of weeks away from Christmas. Disappointingly, my friend had called and had to cancel our plans. Dejected, I began to walk the six blocks back to train in the December cold. About half way there, I heard someone yell out “Buddy, buddy!” I looked around and couldn’t see anyone. After a second, I realized it was a man in a wheelchair who was hidden behind a car, and obviously homeless. As I approached him, he shouted with no regard for politeness, “Buddy, I need twenty bucks. Give me twenty bucks so I can go sleep and shower up at the Y. I need the money, man.”

To say the least, I wasn’t in the mood to be asked for money at that point—my friend had left me high and dry, it was cold, and because of that, I was frustrated and just not in the mood.  My immediate response to him was that I didn’t have twenty bucks. However, truthfully, I had one twenty dollar bill in my left jean pocket.

He again belted out, “Come on, man, I need a place to go!”

Again, without hesitation, I lied and said I had a friend who worked up at the McDonald’s two blocks away and that I would get the money for him. Of course, I didn’t have any friend who worked at McDonald’s. I was frustrated, cold and trying to ditch this guy. I just wanted to go back home. Of course, he insisted I take him with him, and again, for whatever reason, I obliged. As I was pushing him up State Street in his wheel chair, he did something that to this day I still remember vividly. Loudly, with a multitude of people shuffling past us with their Christmas gifts in tow, he shouted, “Buddy, buddy! Pull over! Pull over!”

Confused, I pulled over to the side of the sidewalk near the curb, but before I reached it, I realized he had unzipped himself and was peeing on the sidewalk! Flush with embarrassment, the people passing by eyed us and obviously were wondering what we were doing. My first thought was, Awesome, I am going to get arrested today. After he zipped himself up, we continued on our way—I was pushing his wheel chair as quickly as I could so I could get this episode of my life over. As we reached the McDonald’s, I rushed in the doors as he waited outside. I stood there, feeling entirely stupid and wondering what I was going to do. With him looking through the window, I acted like I was talking to one of the guys at the cash register. Finally, flustered and annoyed, I went outside to where he was, pulled out of my pocket the twenty dollar bill and shoved it into his hand. Then as quickly as I could, I made my way back to the subway station where I could head back home. As I got to the cashier window, I reached into my left jean pocket and as I rustled around to find my twenty dollar bill, and then realized I had given my new friend all of my money! I had absolutely no money to get home, and therefore, had to walk about three miles to a friend’s apartment to get some money for my train ride home (remember, this is before the day of cell phones).

About three months after this incident, I was on the train heading back home from a class earlier in the day. As I was resting my eyes, I heard a loud voice exclaim, “Buddy, buddy! I need twenty buck so I can get a room at the Y.” As I opened my eyes and adjusted them to the light, sitting right across from me was my friend who I had met that December day. Slurring his words badly and reeking of alcohol, at that moment, I realized my mistake three months earlier. That day, most likely, as I was walking those three miles in the Chicago cold to a friend’s place to replace my twenty bucks, my “buddy” was not washing up at the Y and resting in a warm bed. Instead, he was huddle under Wacker Street with a whole bunch of vodka. This story has always reminded me that sometimes it can be okay to not help someone who is need.

LEARNING HOW TO SAY NO

And so therefore, this is the other lesson I learned—we can stop feeling like we have to do everything and help everyone at each instance. We should know how to say no when we need to say no. We should lose the power of the “should.” I should do this. I should call her back. I should go to church and help out. I really should go to that Bible study. I should be there for him. I probably should give them the money they asked for even though they have mismanaged their money for years. This is what happened in my own life. There was a time when I had to do it all, I was going to save everyone who came in my midst. I would immediately answer each call. If you needed to see me immediately, I could accommodate. I was always immediately available. But it came at a cost. I was getting terribly worn down. I was not myself around our home. I was losing my relationship with my sons. And with this, I was slowly developing a messiah complex—it felt good to help someone and it was like a drug. I liked it so much that it was becoming my identity. It was becoming my idol. As always, God came to my rescue and said, Dude, just stop!

But to do this you have to humble yourself. Those who know how to say no are actually not callous or lazy, they simply know they cannot be there for the person at that point in time. They might even know that they don’t even have the skills or gifts to help the person in the first place. Actually, in truth, there can be a humility in learning to say no to someone. I can’t do it, also can mean I shouldn’t do it. Perhaps you need to do it yourself. Perhaps you need to speak to someone else. Perhaps you need to find help from someone else. Perhaps someone else needs to move into sacrifice and this will be their opportunity if I don’t help you. If I do this thing you are asking of me, and I shouldn’t, I am actually robbing you or someone else of the gift of helping you.

Coupled with this, those who have found this freedom from the “should” are good at not having to be in the spotlight. Sometimes we can serve just because we want the applause or recognition and this is no reason to be serving God or anyone else. Often those who have to keep going in some way are doing it because they are serving because of the attention and for the limelight. Pride is the motivation, not a broken heart to help someone in need. Humility is not the incentive, but being seen is what excites some to keep on the go and serving in some capacity. They are motivated by the slap on the back or because of the prestige they receive.

The one who learns these things enjoys to serve when no one sees what they are doing. As Jesus challenged, their left hand does not know what their right hand is doing (Matthew 7:3). They are serving because someone is in need and they don’t hope to get anything out of it—even a thank you is not needed. This person pays attention to Jesus’ words that when they are doing something for someone else they are doing it for him (Matthew 10:42). This is so freeing when it comes to serving—I know that I don’t’ have to get anything out of the sacrifice, because in the end, in reality, I did it for the One who rescued me. That is reward enough.

When you learn how to not get caught in the “should,” you also learn how to rest. This is what Jesus models for us in all of those different passages when he seeks to be by himself. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)  It amazes me sometimes how bad I am at this. A lot of us always have to be on the go and for us to learn how to sit and listen to God is a challenge. This is an area Jesus is continuing to implore me to learn. Is this you as well?  Those who know how to say no to others in some way are also good at finding solitary places, because when they are rested, they are able to handle the challenges that will eventually attempt to trip them up.

SOMETHING TO TRY

  • Do you have a hard time saying no to people in your life? Your friends, your family, those at work, etc.? What can you learn from Jesus that you don’t have to yes to everything? For those who struggle in this area, a great book to read on the topic is Boundaries by John Townsend and Henry Cloud.
  • Do you do a good job at getting away by yourself, and I mean totally by yourself? Or are you the type of person (like me) who always has to have noise playing or you have to be doing something (e.g., the television, a book in hand, working on a project, the computer on your lap, talking to someone on the phone, etc.). Do you have a difficult time just sitting, praying, and listening for God’s voice for your life? How often do you purposely put silence in your life to just try to listen to what God has to say to you?

In: Friend to Jesus
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Jul
09
2013

As you get older, you find that often the wheat, disentangling itself from the chaff, comes out to meet you. Gwendolyn Brooks

Man may well change himself; otherwise, he would not be man. Vicktor Frankl

The fundamental human problem is that people are afraid of change. Rei Kawakubo 

An important pursuit that is vital to undertake for those who wish to move into friendship with Jesus is a two step process that goes hand in hand: 1) looking at the real areas of struggle in your life, and 2) pursuing genuine forgiveness toward yourself and for others. A person has to get real with themselves and move beyond the excuse of “this is just who I am.” We have to face head on the shattered parts of our lives and look where we need to make changes. We each have our problems and secrets in our lives; each of us have the places where we struggle on a day-to-day basis, but if we continue to bury or disguise them, they will create even bigger problems in our lives.  We eventually need to come clean about who we are and where we’ve been and the poor choices we have made in our lives.  This is one of the first steps we must make if we want to learn how to move into friendship with Jesus.

The first step in this process has to first begin with self-examination. You can never forgive yourself unless you genuinely know how you have failed. The purpose of this self-examination is to evaluate truthfully what is contributing to the problems in your life, be that personal struggles or in your relationships. Here might be a few questions that you need to ask yourself to begin that journey:

  • Why am I always so angry? Or depressed? Or anxious?
  • Why has my career stagnated? Or why am I seemingly always in and out of jobs?
  • Why do I never finish what I start?
  • Why do I care very little about nurturing my relationship with God?
  • Why do I have no real friends, those who will be there for me through thick and thin?
  • Why has my kid estranged himself from me?
  • Why do I always feel like I need a drink? Or to eat? Or to look at porn? Or to shop?
  • Why does my spouse always put up a wall to me? Or why do I not want to get close to my spouse emotionally and sexually?
  • Why do I always want to stay at work and not go home to my family?

Through honest self-assessment, you can begin to change your thinking and behavior. In terms of how people handle their brokenness in a dysfunctional and unhealthy way, they usually fall into two different camps:

  1. They let their brokenness incapacitate their lives, because of the unceasing guilt they feel when they fail. They often respond to this type of guilt in self-harming ways such as through emotional problems, addictions, broken relationships, etc.
  2.  They deny, ignore or rationalize their brokenness and typically do not experience guilt when they sin. When they do feel guilt, this is usually a momentary response and then it is quickly forgotten.

One of the first psychologists who integrated psychology and spirituality, Roberto Assagioli wrote, “Without forgiveness, life is governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.” These are the two types of people that we just discussed above: the first person is dragged down by the lack of self-forgiveness and the other person continues to hurt others, because they never face their brokenness and their automatic response to sin. For that second person, the one who typically does not experience a guilty conscience, self-forgiveness is not possible, because this person is unwilling to face the fact that they hurt themselves and that they often hurt others. Throughout my life, sadly, I have known many Christians who fall in this camp.

For the first person, the person who “resents” themselves and let’s their sin drag them down to depression or a whole other slew of problems, there is hope. For individuals like these, they have a behavior pattern in which they use guilt in a self-perpetuating cycle. For this person, here is how that pattern typically works in an unhealthy way:

  1. They do something wrong
  2. They feel guilty about what they did
  3. They punish themselves in some way (e.g., emotional problems, addictions, broken relationships, etc.).
  4. They forget what they did and perhaps hide their failings (i.e., they move to denial).
  5. Inevitably, they end up repeating what they did wrong or a variation of it.

This cycle continues because of two important mechanisms. First, it is because we do not take full responsibility for our actions and make real changes in our lives. We do not do the hard things to change. If you ask a lot of people about the areas where they struggle, they want to change in multiple areas of their lives. However, this is where the rubber meets the road—we each know that real change requires sacrifice, purpose, and courage. These aspects are what many fail to do—make honest and real change in their lives by taking practical steps.

THE FIRST STEPS IN MAKING LONG-LASTING CHANGE

So how do we start the process of taking responsibility and create change in our lives? First, by considering with complete honesty the part we play in any situation and accepting our role in creating troubles in our lives. Remember those questions I mentioned above—these are the types of questions we need to evaluate in how we have become the problem. Here are a few examples:

  • Why don’t I ever seem to finish what I start? Is it because I have a major problem with procrastinating and that I need to practically work on being more disciplined and self-controlled?
  • Why do I have no real friends who will be there for me through thick and thin? Is it because, to be honest, I am rarely a good friend—a person who can be counted on, who protects confidential conversations, and sacrifices in tangible ways for the other person?
  • Why has my kid estranged himself from me? Is it because I have a major problem with anger, manipulation and control, and have never sought to repair that relationship with my son by acknowledging how I have broken the relationship?

There have been and are many different areas of my own life when I have not dealt with my struggles in this way. Often, it is difficult to look at my life and see what damage I am doing, and what needs mending and change. One major point in my life when this began to happen was when I got married, when Julie entered into my life, and as a mirror, I began to see my brokenness like never before through her eyes. I think in some marriages this initially begins to happen, but then that aspect of accountability is left by the way side for various reasons. Often because of the motivations of fear, laziness or compliance, we relinquish our responsibility to hold our spouse (or friend) accountable for their bad behavior. We begin to overlook their faults and problems—how our spouse is verbally abusive, seemingly lies all the time, cheats on their taxes each year, is inappropriate with those of the opposite sex or are always involved in gossip in some way or other. Some, in these cases, remain silent. However, the truth is that there is no better accountability then when one is married as it is the most intimate of relationships.

As an example, Julie knows better than anyone the great guy I am. But also, Julie knows better than anyone the awful man that I am. If she does not gently, but firmly challenge me, I will never become the man that I was created to be. In most cases, she knows me better than I know myself, because I have so many blind spots and I can so quickly go to rationalizing how I struggle and sin. I am glad she enters my life in this manner even though it isn’t always enjoyable or pretty. Is she always right when she challenges me or does this process come without conflict? Absolutely not. But in these tensions and arguments, we are living out the Proverb “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (27:17) This also is what the Scriptures refer to as a “help-mate.” This quality also makes me think of a quote by Joseph Barth: “Marriage is our last, best chance to grow up.” Marriage can become the catalyst for us to look deeply at our misgivings, misfortunes and sin, but only if both parties are open to being honest, gentle and vocal about helping each other make real and specific change.

To get the ball rolling in looking at your life, below are some things to mull over and then to act on—you should probably take your time and journal out your answers:

  • What are the top five places you struggle and be specific. For example, this is how you could write this out if you struggle with anger: I have outbursts of anger and simply feel angry most of the time. This has led to me harming my children and spouse. Because of my anger, this most likely ties to my struggle with overspending. Attempt to do an exhaustive list and journal out these areas where you need to seek help from someone. After you have this completed, write out three different things you are going to do to try to heal and mature in these areas. Make sure you add these to a calendar or to-do list so that you pursue them.
  • Who are the three people you have trusted the most? What did they do or who were they that you trusted them so much? Name three circumstances in which you had trust broken? Detail these situations above in a journal. Find at least one person to whom you can share these stories.

In: Friend to Jesus
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Jun
27
2013

Now let’s go back to the passage where Jesus is on the beach and calling out to Peter to come to him and have a conversation with him over breakfast. Here, Jesus when using the words for love is using both the words agape and phileo. It is important to look at the questions Jesus asks and also listen to Peter’s answers. Here is how the Greek reads: Jesus first asks, “Peter, do you agape me?” But Peter doesn’t answer that question—he responds differently and answers, “No, Jesus I phileo you.” Again, Jesus puts the question back to him, “Peter, do you agape me?” Again, Peter seems to evade the real question and answers it just as before. “No, Jesus, I phileo you.” Finally on the third try, this then becomes the most beautiful part of the whole passage, because now Jesus asks Peter a different question—“Peter, do you phileo me?”

Why does Jesus do this? Jesus knows full well that Peter does not and has never up to that point loved him with this agape love. Jesus knows full well that Peter has never genuinely loved him. If we were to translate this scene in a way that captures what is really happening between the both of them, it might read something like this:

Jesus: Peter, do you truly love me with all your heart and with every inch of your being?

Peter: No, Lord, I only kind of love you, just a little bit, but really not very much.

In our English language, these nuances are difficult to capture. This is the exchange between them with Jesus’ first two questions and with Jesus’ final question, he really is asking: “Peter, do you kind of love me? But not really?” This is phileo love and the question Jesus really wants to ask.  And then Peter does the most remarkable thing, he finally speaks the truth a third time, “Yep, that’s true, Lord, I only kind of love you, but not really.”

This is a major breakthrough for Peter, because previously he would have demanded over and over, Yes, Jesus, of course, I agape you! Haven’t I proved that night and day! The problem would have been that he wouldn’t have been speaking the truth. Now Peter tells it like it is. He’s honest with Jesus and just as importantly, with himself. So much so that as we venture into the stories in the book of Acts, Peter just a few short days later, truly begins to agape Jesus for the first time. It is a remarkable transformation and it all occurred because of Jesus’ grace and forgiveness and then Peter’s acceptance of himself and the acceptance of that gift.

The passage has a beauty to it, because on the one hand, Jesus is testing Peter. But on the other hand, at the same time, he is lowering Peter’s expectations of himself and is teaching Peter the basics of forgiving himself. At the heart of it, yes, Jesus wants Peter to agape him; he knows that would be the best for Peter, because again agape love is more solid and strong than other types of love. It’s not fleeting such as what Peter experienced in the courtyard when he denied Jesus those three times. Essentially, Jesus is saying, Peter, I want you to agape me, but for now, this love of phileo you have for me will do. Again, there are many ways in which we can love God; what Jesus is instilling in Peter is that in reality his love for him previous to all of this was flat and one-dimensional. The love of agape is three-dimensional—full of communion and intimacy and can only come at the cost of forgiveness and grace—first, for yourself and then for others. This is the point that Jesus was making. He knew first-hand Peter’s arrogance and pride, but he broke those traits through the remarkable transformation of grace and forgiveness which eventually changed him in a way he never expected.

This is the turning point in Peter’s life. It wasn’t when his brother Andrew introduced him to Jesus three years prior. This is Peter’s genuine “born again” experience; this is when he truly began to follow Jesus. Again, compare Peter in the gospels and then go read his letters that we find in the New Testament, which he wrote in the years following this incident. You will see a marked difference. He is gentle, kind and patient and it’s as if when reading these words in First and Second Peter, you are encountering an entirely different man. This is exactly what needs to happen to each of us. This is the first step toward a friendship with God. The last words Peter wrote in his second book say it all and exemplify the transformation he underwent: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18) Peter’s challenge with these words came because of first-hand experience—to know his grace and to know that Jesus is easy to live with.

Just as we have looked at different persons from Scripture like Judas and Peter to exemplify the different roles of believer and servant, here we can look to John as our model as the friend of Jesus. John was the perfect friend of Jesus. I love the books John wrote. The gospel of John is by far my favorite book because of how he wrote it. John was poetic, apocalyptic, a wonderful storyteller. However, the most important aspect of his book which clearly comes out is that he had a strangely close relationship to Jesus. John was a friend of Jesus. Even how John refers to himself in his books is at first almost startling. Without embarrassment, without blinking an eye, with great pride—John often refers to himself as “the one Jesus loved.” Even as I am writing these words now—“the one Jesus loved”—it  brings tears to my eyes as I realize  that’s how Jesus wants each of us to relate to him. You are the one who Jesus loves. When you understand that at its core, you have met that place which is the most important starting point of your life. You have become Jesus’ friend.

In the gospel of John, Jesus insists, “No longer do I call you servants, but now I call you friend.” I can be, you can be, no longer a servant, but a friend of the One who created the beluga whale, the vastness of the Rocky Mountains, the planet Saturn. This is pretty amazing stuff. He says to you that you are his center point; his focus; his all in all. Dwell on that. Think about that. No longer do I call you servants but now I call you friend. This is the Creator of the world talking to you—directly to you.

How does that happen? How does one get to the point of being the friend of Jesus? How does one get to this place? In a way I’ve got some really bad news and that is I believe that for each person, it is a unique experience. It’s personal. Like in all things it’s a matter of grace and at the same time, our attempt to knock on some doors. God makes it happen, and yet you must make it happen in your life as well. I can share with you my own experience and I can explain some details about of those who have followed a similar path, but your journey will be unique—with some similarities to mine, but also with some differences as well. However, in saying that, I do believe that there are some essential building blocks that need to be put in place before you can know how to refer to yourself as “the one Jesus loves.” In the up-coming weeks we will look at some of these necessary ingredients.

Winston Churchill was quoted as saying that to be successful one has to be audacious. These are my sentiments exactly as it pertains to our relationship with God—we need to be audacious with him. I would say that God wants us to challenge him on so many different levels. Believe it or not, he really does want a relationship with us. And a  rich one at that. Just as we make a choice in becoming a believer or servant, we must also make a choice in becoming a friend of God. That’s what Peter did on the beach as he ate fish with Jesus. The question you really have to ask yourself and answer it honestly is this—why would God want a relationship with me? Let’s explore some ways in which maybe you can be audacious with God.


In: Friend to Jesus
Tags: , , , , ,
Jun
19
2013

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love (agape) me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love (phileo) you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love (agape) me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love (phileo) me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love (phileo) me?” He said,

“Lord, you know all things; you know that I love (phileo)  you.” (John 21:15-19)

 But again and again, Jesus writes a different story and makes a different way out for us—a way of forgiveness, mercy and grace. One day, Jesus decides to go hunt Peter down and rescue him from himself. Where would he find him—fishing early in the morning and back at his old job. As he calls him to come out of the boat and join him for some breakfast, perhaps one of the more riveting stories in all of Scripture unfolds.

In this story, it’s a very simple one. In your Bible, the section is often entitled Jesus Reinstates Peter or something similar. I think a better title would be Peter Finally Learns Grace with a strong emphasis on the word “finally.” Remember, Jesus clearly said earlier that if anyone were to deny him before anyone, he would forsake them also. This is exactly why Peter was not very eager to catch up with Jesus after the resurrection. Peter believes he has just ruined his entire life. He knows what Jesus said and now he has to live by those words. But this shows you just how much Jesus is willing to forgive and just how great his mercy can be.

When reading an English translation of the Bible with the scene above, it does not do a good job of capturing the words and the actual conversation that is taking place between Jesus and Peter. Almost every Bible written in English has a difficult time in translating these verses because unlike the Greek language, we only have one word for love. So with this, before one reads this passage, you need to have an understanding of the Greek words for love. In the passage above, it is using two unique and different words for love. Let’s look at a couple of these Greek words.

First, one word that is used for love in this passage is the word agape, which in layman’s terms simply means godly love. Agape is a rich word and is comprised of many facets to its meaning. In one example, it is derived from the word love-feast, which we might think of the word for us as being communion—a very intimate fellowship. Likewise, this type of love is highly sacrificial; it’s a love that is long-suffering; it’s a love that is best exemplified by the cross. One description I read stated that it means to “to be well pleased, to be contented at or with something.” I like that description because that is Jesus’ love toward us and a love that he wants for us to have toward ourselves and toward others. He wants us to know that he is well-pleased and contented with us. It’s the type of love which Jesus is attempting to develop in each of us, because in no way shape or form do we have the ability to experience this love naturally toward ourselves or to others. This love is supernatural. And this is the final and most unique thing about this love—it can only occur by being in a relationship with Jesus.

Only those who have a relationship with God can acquire agape love no matter how hard they try. It’s inevitably connected up with having a relationship with Jesus. Twice in the Bible, it puts it as simple as it can be said: God is agape (I John 4:8, 16). However, the other two loves found in the Scriptures are more natural and for a better word, lesser to a degree in comparison to this type of love. As C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Four Loves, agape is the highest level of love—it is the one which is the standard. It is the coup de gris. At the end of the day, it’s the one you want to be holding.

Anybody can experience these other types of loves that we will now discuss. They are fairly common and the ones we most think of when we think of the word love. They are open to anyone and anyone can tap into them. In most relationships, these are the ones that are at work. These are the lesser loves. First, another Greek word for love is phileo; it simply means friendship. On one level, this is a love in which you care for the person and have similar interests. The word Philadelphia is derived from this word, which we know as the city of brotherly love. That’s a good way to put it. However, with this have you ever seen two brothers together? It can sometimes be a love-hate relationship. It’s either on or it’s not. Phileo can be a deep love, but it can also be shallow. Aristotle in his book Nicomachean Ethics spends a great deal of time talking about this word phileo. One section captures the essence of this type of love; in describing it, he gave an example of the type of friendship, such as between “a cobbler and the person who buys from him.”  Now that isn’t a very deep love, is it? Phileo can be as deep as the love you have for the person who checks out your milk and eggs at the grocery store? Aristotle also went on to say that phileo was based on friendships of utility, meaning a love in which you expect to get something out of the relationship. In that sense, phileo is a selfish love—what are you going to do for me. As you can see, it can be a love that doesn’t go terribly deep and is amuck with some troubling aspects. Remember this type of love, we will be coming back to it and discuss it further.

The other word for love in the Greek is eros—it’s passionate or physical love. Sex is the most common way we think about the word eros; but this type of love is not only erotic in nature. It can be holding hands at a movie or when you look at someone with wow in your eyes. It can be passion, zeal, excitement, lust and infatuation all rolled up in one.  Like the love phileo, it also can be fleeting and not terribly stable. Again, it’s a love that is necessary and important to our lives, but in the long run, it’s not a love that over the long haul is something solid or secure.

Next time, we will dig into this discussion further. We will look at the conversation between Jesus and Peter and why words really do matter.


In: Friend to Jesus
Tags: , , , ,
Jun
11
2013

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Matthew 26:31-35)

Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”

After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26: 69-75)

As mentioned in a previous post, Peter was the quintessential servant. He knew all of the rules by heart, followed them close, and yet missed the point entirely. In fact, it almost cost him his life. When you turn the page from the final chapter of the gospel of John and flip over into the book of Acts and begin to read about his life, you are seeing the beginnings of what it means to move from a servant of Jesus to being his friend.

When you read the four gospels as a whole and find the different stories about Peter, you will notice a hard man. A man who puts a lot of expectations on others, but very little on himself. A man who points the finger at others, but is not willing to point it back at himself. A man who has all the answers, but really knows very little. In the end, the man we meet in the gospels is not a man who has experienced genuine forgiveness and love. For example, prior to when he denies Jesus those infamous three times, he believes he is going to stand firm next to his Savior and be unafraid of whatever may come. Most definitely, he will stand up to be counted as one of Jesus “servants”—no matter what the cost. But we all know what happens in that courtyard, don’t we? He fails Jesus miserably. At that moment in time, he was not a follower of Jesus at all, and his Friend was about to teach him a lesson like no other.

Again, Peter in the gospels is the perfect servant and disciple. Go and find a concordance and read all of the different instances in which you find Peter talked about in either the gospel of Mark, Matthew, Luke or John and in eighty percent of those passages, he will come out looking like a heel or worse. No doubt about it, Peter was devoted to Jesus tremendously. In comparison to the other disciples, he was more passionate about following Jesus than any other. He was the one who always had his hand raised first—I picture him like the first grader who is bouncing out of his seat, yelling, “Call on me, Jesus! Call on me, Jesus!” No arguing here, Peter was a very dedicated man, and yet there was also something missing. He had tremendous potential, but it was only potential nonetheless. Jesus had a lot to work with in Peter, but he also had a lot of work to do in him before he could send him out into the world.

And so with all of this, Peter had a couple significant marking points in his life, which thankfully turned everything around. They happened in an upper room, a courtyard and eventually, over a breakfast meal on the beach. But first, let’s go back to that story mentioned earlier in a previous post. As you will remember, at one point in Peter’s life, he emphatically told Jesus that he would always be at his side, through thick and thin. No matter what, even if it meant death, he would never deny knowing his Lord. He would stand with Jesus even if it cost him his life. Even if it meant being crucified right next to him on Golgotha, Peter was never going to fail Jesus. Peter remembered Jesus’ rule very well—“if you deny me before men, I will deny you before the Father as well.” (Matthew 10:33) In some ways, this was the one rule you should never break and if you broke it, you would be forever lost. Jesus never made such a strong statement about allegiance and if you broke this one, you were going to be sitting on the outside. Peter must have thought to himself, I can never break that one rule. Never! This was one tenet that Peter was never going to break. Or so he thought.

In that scene at the Last Supper, Jesus told Peter in stark and honest terms what was really going to go down—not only once, or twice, but on three separate occasions—Peter was going to act like he never knew Jesus at all. In that moment when Peter again comes back and demands that he will always be loyal you can picture Jesus rolling his eyes and shaking his head: Peter, Peter, Peter…how wrong you are. The stage is set and in that scene, Peter does two unbelievable things after Jesus challenges him. First, he has the audacity to talk back to Jesus, essentially telling him he had it all wrong. Can you imagine that? Telling the God of the universe that he is wrong?! On top of that, Peter also puts himself above all of the other disciples. He interrupts and equivocally states, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” He’s basically saying, these guys aren’t trustworthy, but I am. In both instances, he reveals his arrogance and pride. But we all know what happens—everyone knows the end of that story. Again, Peter totally fails and as usual, Jesus was right after all. It all went down just like Jesus said.

And then after everything happened as Jesus foretold concerning his death and resurrection, Peter could not be found. Jesus hangs out with Mary Magdalene, Cleopas and even the ever-doubting Thomas. Peter knew what he had done and perhaps he thought that it was all over for him. Peter knew full well Jesus’ words about the consequences of betraying him. I am sure he had heard of the news of Judas’ death and suicide. It was looking about as bleak for him as well. Did Peter perhaps have fleeting thoughts of taking his own life as well? Peter, in the back of his mind could see how Jesus was going to react to him—Peter, you know what I said and you know the rules and consequences. Now get away from me, because you failed me. This is exactly why Peter wasn’t very eager to see Jesus even though he had heard stories about his amazing return. If you really mull this over, Peter was no different than Judas—he was a traitor too. There was no good news in that story for Peter, because he knew what the outcome would be. It was all over for him. Isn’t that how the story ends? If you fail your friend, your friend fails you? Listen to how this section of the story ends: “Peter went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:75) What a tremendously sad scene. On so many levels for Peter it was a very sad day indeed. Again, is this how the story ends?


In: Friend to Jesus
Tags: , , , , , , ,
May
24
2013

For those caught in the servant stage of faith, they are often very serious about their walk with God. They can remember a distinct time in which they gave their life to Christ and kept that commitment. They attend church regularly. They most likely read their Bible regularly, perhaps repeatedly in the morning or at a meal. They most likely serve in many ways and often. But with all this, some­thing just isn’t right. Are you stuck in your faith and living just as God’s ser­vant, but not as his friend? Honestly delve deep and ask yourself these questions:

  • Typically those who are caught in the servant stage of faith are broken people who have not acknowledged these aspects of their lives and sought healing and growth. Have you genuinely dealt with your brokenness? Are there personal problems (e.g., anger, sexual or emotional issues, over/under eating, bitterness, a wounded past, continued broken relationships, etc.) standing in between you and an intimate relationship with God and with others? Are there some issues in your life that you really need to face but you are afraid to do so? Let’s be honest, how is your life overall? Is your life in shambles and you have multitudes of secrets and sin? Does your marriage or personal life need work, but you are too proud or afraid to get help because others think you have it all-together and they might not think so highly of you anymore?
  • Do you really believe you have it all down pat: your theology, doctrine, who God is, who people are? When someone challenges you on an issue of faith, do you get defensive and do not genuinely listen to them? In conversations like these, do you think the other person is always wrong? After listening to a message or reading a book, do you first and foremost scrutinize what was said and what was wrong about it rather than humbly applying what you learned to your life? At the end of the day, is your relationship with God simply a bunch of head knowledge?
  • You might have a lot of Christian friends, but how close do you get? Who knows your secrets and do you let people in? If you had to write down the darkest sins of your life, who know about them? Anyone? Not even your spouse?
  • Is the basis of your relationship with God based on what you know, but not what you have experienced? Be honest, do you have a growing relationship with God or do you just know a lot about him? Perhaps you have grown up in the church, but never made your faith your own? Do you know a lot about the Bible, but there’s not much of a connection in terms of experience and relationship with him? Again, is your relationship with God just based on a lot of knowledge? Does Jesus know you?
  • Do you feel close to God when you are obeying all the rules for your life, but when you break them, he feels distant? Does your relationship with God live or die by how you live day-to-day? When you feel like you live “sin-free” for a day (no one does by the way), do you feel closer to God? When you have a rough day and are confronted by your sin, does God then seem distant?
  • Are you a hard person to be with because you put a lot of do’s and don’ts on others? Does everything have to be controlled? And with that, is anger and rage always simmering just underneath the surface toward others? How easy are you to be with? Are you fun to be with or is it a chore to hang out with you? When you look back at your life and your friendships is there a long string of broken relationships. More often than not, do the people closest to you think that you are never satisfied? That when they are with you, that you always have to be in control and do everything “your way?”
  • Often are closest relationships reveal the intimacy of our relationship with God. As Jesus said, if you can’t do earthly things however would you expect to be able to do heavenly things? (John 3:12) How close are you to your spouse in your marriage and how strong is that relationship? If we asked your children (teenagers and adult) this question how would they respond: how close are you with them to the point that they want to spend time with you—that they truly enjoy your company and don’t spend time with you just out of obligation? Do you genuinely love them on a regular basis or is the relationship held up just by control, manipulation and obligation? How intimate and vulnerable are you to the people around you?
  • Have you become the Savior for other people? Do you think that you can help everyone around you? Do you spend just as much time working on your own life as you do helping others?
  • Really think about this next question—God might love you, but does He like you? When you picture him, is he simply a stern and mean father or does he really care about you and genuinely likes you?
  • Those caught in the servant stage of faith do not typically have an intimate relationship with God (they base their faith on what they do) and therefore worship is uncomfortable for them. Do you genuinely like to worship or does it most of the time make you uncomfortable? Do you worship when no one is watching and sing on your own (on the way to work, in the shower, etc.)? Could you do without worship during a church service? Do you really enter into the worship experience or are you most of the time simply going through the motions? Are you just singing words or truly singing and worshiping God?
  • Do you really know God’s love personally? Is Jesus your Lord, but to call him your friend would be totally alien to you? Does it seem sacrilegious to you that you would call Jesus your friend?

In: Friend to Jesus
Tags: , , , ,
May
02
2013

This post is from a larger series under the cat­e­gory Friend to Jesus. It is a detailed explo­ration of the three stages of faith: the believer, the ser­vant and the friend of God. If you want to start at the begin­ning, it begins with the post How Look­ing at a Car­avag­gio Paint­ing Can Change Your Life and then con­tin­ues chrono­log­i­cally.

After loss of identity, the most potent modern terror, is loss of sexuality. Jeanette Winterson

 I had my own experience in which I had lived a servant too long. Ironically, just as my move from believer to servant began in a car ride, in a way, so did my transformation to becoming a friend to Jesus. As I have said before, for about ten years I lived in Chicago. It is a city I deeply love with my Chicago Cubs (yes, I am a glutton for punishment), the lakeshore, its unique architecture, and deep-dish pizza. While living there a couple of years after college, I was now a couple years in my first “official” job. I worked for a large catalog company as a print and paper buyer and loved my job with all of its perks. I often ate at some of the best restaurants, got to see Michael Jordan play on many occasions, and because of my position, I was schmoozed on a regular basis by the other companies that I worked with on the different projects I oversaw.

However, a couple of negative things were also happening, especially in my relationship with God and in my personal life. First, I was becoming callous in my faith and jaded. I had been a Christian for some years, had moved into various places of leadership and was beginning to like that spotlight. In my early years as a Christian I threw myself into many endeavors and slowly but surely was getting burned out and basically, becoming tired of being a Christian. I was leading Bible studies; mentoring a couple of rambunctious seventh graders through Big Brothers; trying to get off the ground a college ministry at the school I graduated from; attending not one, but three different churches. You name it, I was doing it. The problem was…I also trying to keep up appearances, because what once seemingly was a thriving faith had deteriorated. And here was the big problem—the problem was that if you knew me then you would have never known that by looking at all that I was doing. You would have thought I was this great guy who had it all together, serving God and serving others. How do I know this? Because at that time so many around me told me this in not so many words. I had become a very gifted actor and was fit to be the next Robert De Niro.

And underneath all of this, issues from my past had surfaced and secret sins began to pile up. On the surface everything looked like it was in working order, but inside I was hollow and there were so many problems in my life that I wasn’t recognizing. First, I was beginning to grow an anger within myself that seemingly just showed up one day. I was hard to please. I was putting high expectations on others, but rarely myself. While up to that point in my life, anger had never really been a struggle or problem, however, now inside I was seething. I often would walk around just a bundle of annoyance and chagrin. I almost never showed this to others, but inside anger had taken a foothold in my life. Second, I had become very arrogant and prideful. I would go to church and not listen to the sermon for self-reflection, but to critique what was being spoken. With others, when someone would have an opinion on some given issue, I often had to disagree. Being a Christian had turned into for me an intellectual exercise and not a spiritual one. That’s not how you interpret that passage! Boy, was that sermon boring! That’s not what Jesus meant when he said “Love your enemies!” Because I had been a Christian for some years, I was slowly becoming a know-it-all and if someone disagreed with me, I could almost in every occasion convince them otherwise. At that time, I learned this—sadly, rarely do people ask tough questions of their leaders.

To top this off, while I had lots of friends, I was distancing myself from them—I carefully hid who I was becoming and where I was struggling. In particular, there was one part of my life which was unraveling and was revealing my brokenness at its deepest levels—its roots, which were nearly twenty years old. Through various experiences in my childhood that had happened to me, some which we would now name as sexual abuse, my sexuality had become an intricate and acute wounded part of me. Like so many that I have met in my practice and in my role as a pastor, my sexuality had been opened up way before it should have been, and with this, the damage that was done was coming to bear. Over the years, in particular starting in my late teenage years, but especially in my early twenties, I was slowly developing a dependency on unhealthy relationships, specifically those that turned sexual.

This brokenness originated at some of my first memories. I became promiscuous at an early age, in part because of these childhood experiences that I mentioned earlier. Likewise, while in middle school, the door had been abruptly slammed open with some incidents with a high school girl who lived down the street and who was a couple of years my senior. We would sneak away to secret places during the summer nights of my eighth grade year and she opened up a world to me that was intoxicating and dangerously mysterious. As I have told many, pornography for the most part has never been a strong urge for me, primarily because of these early experiences. I did not yearn for virtual experiences; I wanted the ones that had flesh and warmth associated with them. These sexual cravings took hold of me at a very early age and would follow for me years to come.

Toward the end of my high school years, this solidified in an even more damaging way—in my freshman year in college, a woman in her twenties who was very “experienced,” entirely opened up that part of my life introducing me to a world which I had not quite imagined. Up to that point, for all intents and purposes, I had been dabbling with sex and in this relationship I gave in full blown to my desires. And of course, by no means was I an innocent bystander in all of this—I was enthralled with this lifestyle and at that same time, could not see its dangers.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, in my early twenties, I was out of control and did not have the capacity, knowledge or courage to stop what I was doing. I had recently become a Christian, but this transformation had yet to invade my relationships with women. While I might have been having lots of sex, in truth, I was beginning to lose my sexuality and in some way, was losing my capacity to love a woman. I wouldn’t of course understand this for years to come, but the ground work had been laid. In these years, I was in many relationships with women, most were just based on having both of our sexual needs met. There were a handful of Saturday mornings that I would awaken next to a woman at my side and I would lay there in a tremendous amount of guilt and shame because of this dual life I was living. The wounds from my sexual past had finally caught up with me, but I did not know what to do.

At about age twenty three, I realized I had to somehow try to get things in respectable order. The problem was—I did all this on my own, trying to piece together something that would bring some semblance of well-being. For the next couple of years, I managed to keep things together, but only barely. It was at this point where I re-committed my life to God which I detailed in a previous post. I seriously dated a couple of women and was trying to take my faith more seriously as well. With the couple of committed relationships that I did have in those years, on the surface they seemed like they were healthy relationships, but in reality, we were two people who had not wrestled with the demons of our past and present. Often in these relationships, I was the overly dependent one and in reality these relationships were becoming a substitute for my relationship with God. I knew I had a serious problem when one Sunday I was standing next to my girlfriend at church and in seeing her in worship; I became jealous of her love toward God. Can you imagine that? I was jealous of God! I remember feeling that emotion and thinking he was going to strike me dead at that very instance. At that point, I knew things were really bad and that what I was trying to do was bringing very little healing to my life.

It all culminated one night at my girlfriend’s apartment, in which, in too many words, we had another great argument about our relationship. That evening, we both decided to mutually break things off and that was the beginning for me in pursuing my own healing and relinquishing my craving for women to make me happy and whole. Relieved and devastated at the same time, that evening as I was driving home in my car, I heard a whisper of a voice, which to paraphrase, basically said, Dude, you need to get some help. Jesus was crying out for me to pursue healing instead of relationships, and soon I was about to finally relent. Remarkably, Jesus was going to begin to heal me in a way that was about as strange as when he used mud and spit to make a blind man see.

Next time, I will tell you how he did that…


In: Friend to Jesus
Tags: , , , , ,