Monday, October 31, 2016

Quote of the Day

"...Dear friend, think of all the hard things there are in your life - hard circumstances, difficult duties, grievous pains, sore struggles, bitter disappointments, hard words, hard thoughts, a hard heart of your own, a hard heart in others. Gather all these, and many more together, and pile them one on another till you have one great mountain of affliction. Your God still calmly asks the question, 'Is there anything too hard for Me?'"
                           - Susannah Spurgeon in Seasons of the Heart



Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Joy Of Being Beautifully Alive

 A life of worship and surrender to God's ability to free us, heal us, and make us whole brings us to the greatest gift we can receive upon exiting the darkness behind the door: that of being beautifully alive. Once we begin to see the fullness of what He has in store for us, we discover how beautiful everything is: relationships can be beautiful; people can be beautiful - from the heart; nature can be beautiful; every moment can be beautiful; and yes...even the past can be beautiful if we allow Him to make it so. 
 Behind the door, we don't feel much like really living. Quite honestly, many of us feel dead inside, suffocated by the darkness within. Being beautifully alive is a far cry from the sense of loneliness we carry with us. While we may appear to be alive on the outside, we are on life-support on the inside. Our soul feels ready to give up and die.
 And yet, outside of the door, we find a new appreciation for all that God has given us. We seem to be in continuous state of thankfulness and worship, being filled with the power of God that makes one shine from within. To live beautifully is to live a life that is ridiculously good. We become free to explore the vast world that God lays before us - we become free to taste the goodness of God in each moment of each day. Beautifully alive equals unlimited possibilities. 
 Beautifully alive. I have discovered what this means as I have stepped from my past and left the darkness of my life behind the door. My life now is not a stage production. The world is not my audience. God is the show. Consequently, I have become free to be the person God wants me to be, to use my gifts and abilities to the fullest, all the while putting Him first in all I do. My journey to wholeness has become less about myself and more about others. More...ultimately...about God. Sharing a relationship with the One who redeems me has given me the permission to dream big and dare to fail. Risk-taking, while still not an easy thing for me, has become more habitual as I push myself to new heights of striving to live to my complete potential.
 Beautifully alive. This concept has enabled me to embrace the entirety of myself, to acknowledge my weaknesses as well as my strengths, knowing that, in either case, I am still loved, accepted, and blessed way beyond what I deserve. 
 Beautifully alive. For me, life is in a continuous state of adventure - a far fry from the monotonous drone of the voices in my head that used to hold me back when I was behind the door. Everything in my now says, "Let's go!"
 Beautifully alive. Such is the existence we are given when we rise up from the ashes of our past and are willing to open the door of our lives. Stepping from our pain into the reality of hope and renewal gives us a new ticket to life. Each day becomes one of expectancy as we await the next miracle we will behold. The idea of becoming beautifully alive allows us to see how much we've been given and to be thankful for it. Those who live in this fullness have a contagious attitude of gratitude that infuses joy into those around them. It's a life of positive action that nullifies the negative reality we used to know. 
 Beautiful. Think about it this way: God created us and knew about us before the world was ever made and had big plans for our lives. To Him, we are precious. Bearers of His image, it is our duty to embrace the life He has given us in a spirit of gratitude. Bending before the altar. Each one of us. Beautiful to God in every way.
 Alive. Imagine - the dead, broken us being given a new chance to be somebody better than the person we've been in the past. Resurrected, not just in spirit but in life, in person. By believing the God who is, we can be raised to life from our darkness and shattered realities (John 11:25). My life, your life, is enabled to be transformed by God into a glorious place of rebirth and restoration. Alive. Fully alive. Once dead, now beautifully alive. 
 Standing now in the light of our new world outside of the door, the darkness has been chased away - our lives are each a cathedral, majestically radiating the rays which shine from without. Daily, we come to His altar to give thanks. Daily, we see the stained glass, an image of our life once broken, now made whole. Daily, we pause reverently and say, 

"Be in our midst."

We know, and we want to approach Him. We know how to find Him. There is nothing to hide. Unlike in former years, the door is open. Light is pouring in. We desire to be changed, to be transformed. To continue to journey from God's enemy, or maybe God's fan, to God's follower. We never want to go back...only forward...toward the new me - and away from the old. No more sitting in the darkness - just living fully in the light. All light. Beautifully alive. Because now - today - this is the new truth, the new reality:

"I [Jesus] am the light of the world. Whoever follows me
will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
(John 8:12)

As the Living Bible translation puts it:

"...you won't be stumbling through the darkness, 
for living light will flood your path."

Living light. Yes...that's what we long for - to be fully alive, to be able to see clearly, to be made whole. We yearn to have that light of life flooding our path, to know that we are being led faithfully toward the hope and joy of becoming beautifully alive.
 Beyond the pain of life behind the door, life is ridiculously good! I want to enjoy it to the fullest. I pray you do, too. Let's go and experience the ride together. Beautiful. Full. And yes, abundantly alive.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Essence Of True Worship

 The Irish poet Oscar Wilde once observed that, 

"People fashion their God after their own understanding.
They make their God first and worship him afterwards."

How true this is of how most of us who have lived behind the door viewed our relationship with God! There is the God we want - the God after our own fashioning - and then there is the God who is - the God who has forever existed and who desires that His followers worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24). I discovered that, in order to be a disciple of the God who created me and was putting my life back together, I had to learn to worship Him...not so much with my voice, as in singing songs in a church building, but with my life - turning every moment, every breath of oxygen into a sacred experience of communicating with the God of the Universe. C. S. Lewis rightly pointed out: 

"It is in the process of being worshipped
that God communicates His presence to men."


I distinctly recall the first time I ever tasted this reality. We had decided to take a drive down to a place called Portage, located about an 1 1/2 hours from where I live. Although it was overcast, there was sunshine in my soul because I gazed at the majestic mountains, at the great expanse of water that is the Turnagain Arm; as I stared at the glaciers rising like giants out of the earth, as the sounds of birds filled the air - I sensed God on the drive that day. Songs of worship filled my heart as I stood in awe of God's handiwork, soaked up the refreshing sense of who He is and how much He loves me. No church service could've offered me what I felt that day. I was not alone, not in the darkness, not living a life apart from God. I wanted that trip to last forever. Yet, even though physical darkness arrived and it was time to go home, I wanted to hold on to what I had gained that day: an understanding of what it truly means to worship God, to commune with Him, to experience Him. 
 That was what I lacked the day I visited St. James Cathedral. God is not contained in a church - God is alive in the human soul! One cannot force themselves to know or sense the presence of Him who is invisible. One cannot will themselves to worship. The essence of true worship is that God is pleased to stoop down and communicate with me and that I have the blessing of accessing the throne of Grace wherever I am - not just on Sundays (Hebrews 4:16). As the great Matthew Henry noted:

"It is not enough for us to be where God is worshipped,
if we do not ourselves worship Him, and that not with
boldly exercise only...but with the heart."

When we come to a place in our lives where we desire to fully experience God, a strangely beautiful thing begins to happen: the stage that we so long regarded as our livelihood starts to transform into an altar, a special place where we interact with the Divine and where we speak to God freely and without reserve. The place we once refused to allow Him to inhabit now is a meeting point that we treasure and delight in. Like the Psalmist said in Psalm 26:6-7:

"I...come before your altar, singing a song of thanksgiving
and telling about your miracles."

Worshipping and experiencing God becomes a way of life. Before the door has opened, the last we want is to get close to God...or anyone else for that matter. We are our own best friend - poor company thought it may be. We would rather suffer in shame and silence that know the liberating power of a life lived for God. But when the door welcomes in the Savior, and we taste the comforting presence of His love toward us, we are caught up in the warmth of His grace. Resistance doesn't work anymore. He is irresistible - all the way. Drawn to the side of him who bled for us, we find a fullness to our life that we have sought endlessly for but with no success. 
 I remember staring at the words engraved on the ceiling of St. James: "I am in your midst as one who serves," taken from the words of Jesus in Luke 22. 


"I am in your midst..." I sure didn't feel God's presence at the time. My life was still a full-blown stage and I the starring actress. 
 Now, my life is an altar, and oh how different it has become! How I wish I could go back and stand in that church again, this time with a new perspective. Maybe I will someday. But today - right now - I am living in a perpetual hope, a daily worship, a moment-to-moment surrender. God cannot be touched or felt solely in a church service; rather, He can be embraced at every turn in the road, only a prayer away. No matter where we go or what is in store for us, He is already in our tomorrow while still giving strength for today. We cannot honor and cherish what we do not know. Yet, if we have humility of heart to come to the altar, just as we are, we will discover a spirit of living that we wouldn't trade for anything - not even for the stage we once called our own. He is in our midst. May we be found in His. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Broken Into Beautiful

 Since that cloudy day in Seattle when my mom and I entered St. James Cathedral, I have also visited other cathedral. I noticed something in each of the places...something that used to be a common sight in many churches: stained glass windows. Most of us are familiar with with these as beautiful works of art, each piece neatly fitting together to make a hand-crafted masterpiece. Men like Lewis Comfort Tiffany have even become famous for creating their own style of such incredible craftsmanship. Houses of worship typically hold these amazing displays, light streaming in from the outside to draw out the color of every single piece of glass. 




Having seen these up close, it got me thinking about the fact that each of our lives resembles that of a stained glass window. Before Christ is in us, we are nothing more than a pile of broken pieces - incapable of being healed and restored and certainly far from resembling a picture of wholeness. Each part of us is misshapen, disconnected from the image of completeness that is true life. The jagged edges symbolize pain and when others try to touch the shattered fragments, they cut and poke with sharpness, piercing the warm flesh, undoing what is whole and well.
 But then come the Hands that heal: the Hands that were pierced but once, which are so callous to the sharpness yet gentle and tender in every way. These Hands bring the Gospel to the poor, health to the broken-hearted, deliverance to the captives, sight to the blind, and liberty to the bruised (Luke 4:18). Into our mess of seemingly irreparable pieces, these Hands soothingly come to touch us, to make us well, to make us into something beautiful. With each stroke of His masterful creativity, we begin to be molded and shaped into a new image: His image. We are restored and perfected with every gesture He makes, into the one we were intended to be. 
 Unlike those whose works hang in the Washington Cathedral or Westminster Abby or any other cathedral in the world, once the repair has begun in our lives, it is never over - we are continually in a state of becoming changed individuals and yet, the Savior promises that what He has started in us, He will finish (Philippians 1:6). As the broken pieces are knit together into a transformed picture of Divine art, we are made to reflect the Light that brings us to life: a Light that comes from the outside and fills every crack of our existence. Thus, as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17:

"...If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has
passed away, behold, the new has come."

No longer do we resemble a broken condition but a restored one. We go from being incomplete to being made whole, not of our own doing but of the Hands that created the world...the same Hands that created you and me. 
 So many stained glass windows tell a story: Moses and the Ten Commandments or St. George slaying the mighty dragon. So too also, as we see the Master-plan unfold and the pieces being returned to their glorified state, their created intent, we see a story appearing in our own masterpiece as well. Releasing our need for control in life isn't such a bad thing after all. Trying to put the pieces back together on our own only leads to more fragments, to a bad ending for an already messed up narrative. But, in letting go, we are allowed to see the bigger picture...the larger story that God is writing in our lives...and it is beautiful in every way!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Built On The Ruins

 I stood and stared at the expansive ceiling. Light streamed through the windows; the organist played softly in the background. It was a cloudy, gray day and we had decided to visit the stately St. James Cathedral in the heart of downtown Seattle, Washington. Medical treatment for my dad had landed us in the fall of 2008 in this busy city, far away from the serene life of Alaska I so dearly loved. It seemed hard to sense God in the fast-paced rush of Seattle life: night after night, ambulances screamed by our hotel on their way to one of the three hospitals in our area; early in the morning, construction crews began their work on the new hospital wing being built next door. It was far from peaceful. Now, in this moment, I tried to regain my sense of calm, to slow my breathing, ease the constant pounding of my heart. 



 I looked around at the cathedral. People came in silently, reverently, hushed by the quietness of the church within. I somehow felt as though I should be worshipping too...but I couldn't. The dreary weather outside reflected the cold of my aching heart. I had yet to open the door at that time and was deeply hidden in the darkness. We had not been to church in weeks but, perhaps more importantly, I had distanced myself from God to such an extent that a moment like this almost frightened me. My mom and I sat down in one of the hard, wooden pews. Closing her eyes, my mom soaked up the tranquility. This place of peace was just a host walk down the street from our hotel, yet it seemed removed from the chaos of Seattle street life. But even the silence of that quiet weekday afternoon seemed to unsettle me. 

"Can we go soon?" I asked my mom.

I couldn't calm the restlessness inside of me. I couldn't see through to God. Not at my small church in Alaska; not here either.
 As we left the cathedral and walked back out into the cool, windy day, there was  part of me that was glad to get away. However, the questions remained: why was I so afraid to worship? Why did I fear the God who had tried so hard to reach my wandering heart? How come all those people who were in St. James at the same time (whether they were Catholic, or Protestant like me) appeared more in touch with the spiritual than I was? 
 It would be years before those questions would be answered. And the answers wouldn't make any sense until I opened the door. Upon receiving the Light of the World into my darkness, what happened that day in St. James suddenly became clear to me. The answers still had to do with a cathedral, just a different one. 
 About four years after this experience in Seattle, I was watching a program on tv titled Their Finest Hour, a documentary about the British people and what they endured during the horrors of WWII. There were extensive interviews with people who experienced first-hand the cruelty of the Nazis. IT was fascinating to listen to the memories they had of that terrible time in their country's history. But the story that stood out the most to me was that of the community of Coventry...in particular, its church in the center of town. 
When the German army air-raided the area, Coventry was devastated. The loss of life and property was unfathomable. The cathedral in the center of town was almost completely demolished; that is, except for the one church spire with the cross on top. The townspeople saw it as a reminder that God had not forgotten them and would see them through the hardships of the war. When the war had ended, they sought to rebuild their church but decided that, rather than repair the old cathedral, they would build a new one next to it on the ruins of the destroyed one. They purposely left the charred spire of the previous church as a symbol of hope in the community and a reminder to the future generations of what Coventry had endured. To this day, the residents make their way to church each Sunday and pass by that weathered, broken spire whose cross still speaks of eternal peace many decades later. 



I contrasted this story with my experience at St. James. It gradually dawned on me why I had connected with this image of a bombed-out church in England and had failed to so with the other two cathedrals I'd visited in my life-time at that point. My life did not resemble St. James: built on new ground, clean and polished within. My soul identified with Coventry Cathedral. It had suffered the seemingly endless blows of life's adversity and wasn't much more than a shell of its former self. There was still a glimmer of hope left - just like the cross on top - but it was unfit for habitation and certainly not a welcoming place of worship. But there were also signs of a new beginning. Not that long before, I had asked myself if I thought my life could be rebuilt. Now, I was watching it happen, right before my very eyes...on the ruins of the old. I was brought back to the Scripture that my parents had chosen to bless me with upon my graduation from high school a few years earlier. It was Isaiah 58:12:

"And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste
places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many 
generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the 
breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in."


The New International Version puts it as, "...you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings." At the time, I had little means by which to apply this verse but now it came to hold an entirely different significance. My walls were broken, just like the church. My life felt like the heaps of rubble strewn about Coventry after it was bombed. And yet, here God was promising to build the "waste places" and to make my life a place fit for Him to dwell in. And He would have to build it or else my labor would prove to be in vain (Psalm 127:1).
 Over time, I would watch as the Master Builder, Jesus Christ Himself, son of Joseph the Carpenter, would slowly erect wall after wall, wholeness beginning to take shape. All the while, He continually reminded me that He was not only doing this out of His love for me but also His desire for my life to be a symbol of hope to others, to guide them to the life-giving power of God Himself. My story would reflect that of Coventry: the new and the old, standing together, both testimonies to the grace of the Savior; one of preservation, the other of renewal. Life outside the door came to be one or restoration, of repairing what was broken and making it ready to be a place of worship. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Complete Satisfaction

 The Puritan George Swinnock once wrote: 

"God is a satisfying portion. This world may fill a man,
but can never satisfy him...If a man were crowned king 
of all the world to enjoy the treasures, honors, and pleasures
that all its kingdoms can yield; if he had the society of angels
and the glorified saints as friends, and could enjoy all this for
the duration of the world, yet without God, he would be 
unsatisfied...However, once let God possess his heart, and then,
and not before, his infinite desires are satisfied in the bosom
of his Maker. God fully satisfies."

 Think about that for a moment: God fully satisfies. What is there that we could truly want more than God? After all these years of coping with our problems and seeking out new ways to fill the emptiness inside, haven't we come up continually with nothing? The longing never leaves, never is pacified. Behind the door, we recognize the deep despair we carry constantly. We feel the void in our lives that tells us something is missing. How long do we let this go on before we finally fall to our knees like the man in the story Spurgeon told and say, "Come, be my guest?" What do we think we're saving Jesus for? Do we think opening the door in faith is only for the good people? Do we shake our heads and say that life with God isn't for us because we fear what surrender might require of us? 
 Preacher David Clarkson said one time:

"Do not be satisfied that you see God until you see Him 
to be your God."

Christ is forever Savior, no matter what. But He cannot be known as your Savior, my Savior, until we welcome Him into the darkness. We have to trust and believe God enough to let Him fill our emptiness. Only He can repair and replace the aching void in our lives...the human longing that was created for Him. Mankind was made to worship and enjoy God. We were formed for the honor and pleasure of our Maker; we were intended to find our satisfaction in the One who gave us life. 
 The brokenness of the world in which we live has made it harder to experience the full satisfaction of God. There are so many things out there that promise a good life: appearance, financial success, perfect family, perfect house, sexual pleasure...literally everything! And yet, as Swinnock pointed out, without God, we can have all these things and still feel wanting. We were made to crave for God. Psalm 107: 9 declares to us that God satisfies the longing soul and fills the hungry soul with goodness. God knows how to meet the needs of hurting people like us. He has never failed to come to the aid of the desperate heart and offer it new life. But do we see Him as a "satisfying portion?" Our "satisfying portion?"
 Are we willing to pursue God, to "come after" Him in such a way that all the things around us seem less than desirable? Christ, after all, passionately comes after us. We must decide to rise up and follow Him. In embracing the life He offers us on the other side of the door, our hearts ought to embrace Him in gratitude and gladly allow Him to meet the desires of our inner souls. Psalm 37:4 promises that by delighting ourselves in the Lord and in what He has planned for our lives, we will find the fulfillment we've been so earnestly looking for. 
 God fully satisfies. Opening the door means discovering a life-time of never ending wholeness and joy, of experiencing a completeness that can only be found in Him. This world may temporarily fill us but can never give us the eternal love, the unconditional forgiveness, the freely-offered acceptance that awaits us when we journey with God. In Him, there are never any questions about who validates us, whether or not we're beautiful, if we're approved. His grace allows us to see the wonderful pleasures that are in store for us and ready for our taking in endless supply. In knowing the love of Christ which surpasses our understanding, we can be filled with the fulness of God (Ephesians 3:19). The limitless supply of God's goodness is there, waiting for us to tap into it. 
God fully satisfies. Will you allow Him to satisfy you? 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Our Perfect Imperfection

 As we've discussed here before, it is extremely difficult for us to allow ourselves to be weak. Our society feeds off of that which breeds strength, physically and emotionally. We admire the ones who, to our view, have it altogether. Perhaps the reason why we gravitate toward the stories, the people, the experiences that show us this is because, deep down inside, we know this isn't real life. It's superhuman. It's against the way we broken people tick. Now, we are aware that God can give to people a special grace to embrace seemingly unbearable situations with courage. And yet, whoever talks about the long nights with tears soaking in the sheets? Whoever mentions the silent feeling of standing alone at a loved one's grave? Whoever highlights the single mother of three whose husband left her to raise the children by herself? These are the real human stories. We know we're all weak and imperfect. We just don't like to talk about it.
 Sadly, this pride inside all of us that wants to be the strong one keeps us from being able to connect with each other on a deeper level. We become so good at hiding our real hurts from one another that we overlook a powerful truth: God doesn't demand strength from us...He asks for weakness. God never expects us to always hold it altogether; He wants us to let go. God will not use people who try to be strong on their own, but He will use people who are willing to be weak. God does not require us to be perfect; He just wants hearts who desire to be perfected - imperfect people like you and me. The Apostle Paul talks about this is 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10:

"...He [the Lord] said to me, My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore will I
boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's
power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight
in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, 
in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

When we begin to truly depend on Christ and not on our own abilities, we discover an inner strength that carries us, not only through the tragedies of life but, more so, in the daily battles we wage within ourselves. Upon our confession and surrender of our life behind the door, God gives us permission to let Him take over. The beauty of the Christian life is that God has already done everything! He has satisfied the wrath of His Father against the sin of mankind and has overcome for us! As a result, He doesn't teach us how to be strong; He invites us to become weak. He doesn't expect us to be winners; He wants to invite the losers. He doesn't call the "somebody's"; He calls the "nobody's". He doesn't bring in the extraordinary and make them better; He brings in the ordinary and makes them alive. He never asks us for a life of success; He offers life to those who fail. To Him, we are each perfectly imperfect, and that's how He wants it. The ones who really go on to be used by God are the ones who accept their weakness and yet, come to God daily to be perfected. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Role of Others

 A valuable lesson to learn when exiting our life behind the door is the importance of a strong support system. Nobody conquers an addiction or leaves the darkness on their own. After all, we each need the light to shine upon us to lead us out of our bondage. But, beyond our necessity for Divine intervention in our lives, it is imperative that we gather around us those who can and will provide what we are lacking. For many, it may simply be opening their eyes to what family has already provided - maybe love, acceptance, and value have already been there, but the darkness kept them from seeing it. I know this was the case with me. However, there are others who were not provided with such and will need to form a new support system...maybe seek out a close friend, an accountability partner to guide and encourage them as they seek to rebuild their lives. Wherever the support comes from, it must be in place for the broken individual to be enabled to keep taking steps toward recovery and restoration. 
 Clearly, these helpers should never take the place of God in the healing process. He must be the continual source of wisdom, truth, and revelation as we journey toward wholeness. Because He can be there for us especially in those times when our support group can't. Still, He puts relationships into our lives to give us hope and to be a living embodiment of His love and concern for our lives. Ecclesiastes 4:9-11 gives a beautiful example of how this is supposed to work:

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return
for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie together, they will keep warm. But can one
keep warm alone?"

Relying on the input, prayers, thoughts, and care of other people is vital to helping the human soul regain its health. As Ecclesiastes said, "if one falls down, his friend can help him up." But, of course, we have to be willing for this to happen. We have to be granted the humility to come forward and admit that we need help. Just as we have begun to see our ever-present need for God to save us, help us, guide us, and keep us, so we also start to see our need for those around us to do the same. One can never change on their own. If they try to do so, they will discover that they are forever slipping back into their old life behind the door, regardless of how hard they try to avoid it. Proverbs 17:17 says:

"A friend loves at all times, and a brother
is born for adversity."

When you begin to reach out and seek the assistance of others, you will find out who your true friends are. You will notice that they are the ones who are always faithfully checking in on you, who never fail to listen, who will help you do whatever it takes to get to where you want to be. Don't journey alone - invite others to come along with you. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Replacing Addictions With True Acceptance

 As we've discussed before, self-acceptance is often an issue with people living behind the door. One aspect that we haven't touched on much is that one way such insecurities manifest themselves is through addictions. When people have a hard time valuing themselves and the life they've been blessed with, addictive behavior tends to be a common cover-up for the feelings of badness they are carrying. For some, it may be substance abuse such as drugs, alcohol, or smoking; for others, it may be physical abuse such as anorexia or even tendencies toward the suicidal; still others may find themselves struggling with pornography, overeating, gambling, or some other self-destruction. Whatever the means is through which these emotions become evident, it comes down to the simple truth than any or all of these are ways of filling the empty void  that is in all of us: a deep longing for a whole and meaningful life. If each one of us stopped long enough to ask ourselves what it is that we feel we are missing in life, what compels us to seek so hard after these things, we may be surprised at what an honest answer would reveal. Addictions are an escape, a way of hiding from our true selves. Addictions are a way of avoiding the real issues inside of us and of trying to trick ourselves into being something we were not meant to be. 
 Every addict you talk to knows they have a problem; they realize that what they struggle with is a bad habit. But many can't find the strength and the will-power to walk away from it because they have never gotten to the real heart-issue that is causing them such inner turmoil. They may have fits and starts at gaining ground back in their life, yet there are no lasting effects because the truth behind the addiction has never been revealed. Often, there is a bigger story than simply rebellion or a lack of self-control. Maybe the addict never forgave a parent who abandoned them when they were little, or maybe they've never recovered from a deeply traumatizing experience a few years back. Perhaps they are having an issue with approval and they feel that, by doing whatever those around them are doing, they will gain the acceptance they want. Sometimes, some people just can't live with themselves. For whatever reason, they feel uncomfortable with who they are and would rather run from dealing with themselves than face whatever pain might be involved. 
 Regardless of the reasons behind such behavior, the bottom line is that addictions try to fill the emptiness, to satisfy the longing, that only God can fill. Until we come to the realization that God created us to seek after Him, that our souls are uneasy unless we come to rest in Him, we will be on an aimless course that runs nowhere, trying to meet our own needs and continually falling short. 
 I'm still striving to understand and implement this thinking, since I struggled with some minor addictions during my years behind the door. I'm still in a phase of recovery, seeking to let go of my past and allow God to meet me where I am. For a long time, I tried to stop my destructive behavior. I was embarrassed about what others thought of me. I knew they could see my appearance. I didn't like what was there because one of my habits had to do with my physical looks. Time and again, I sought to quit my addictions but never with any long-term success. And yet, it eventually dawned on me that I shouldn't quit because others said I should; I should let go because I wanted to. My reason had to be me - I needed to value my life; I needed to desire God to help me accept who I was; I needed to want to live to my full potential, and these things were holding me back. I had to want to quit for me - not anyone else. This had to be my choice. And so, I set a goal to be free from the additions in one year. For the most part, I met my goal. Every once in a great while, I want to gravitate back toward these negative patterns of my past, but overall, I have made great strides in the right direction.
 Although there are many beneficial programs out there that can aid this life-style change for somebody with an addiction, God is the only ultimate answer. I have heard of so many people who battled serious addiction problems that became addiction-free very quickly upon surrendering to the Savior. Christ did not come to save us simply from sin - He came to save us from ourselves, oftentimes our worst enemy. 
 Killing the monster of addiction has to come with true acceptance - both from God and from ourselves. Until we understand love and our created value and purpose, we will continue to replace our emptiness with things that destroy. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Growing Through Pain

 Coming out from behind the door necessitated my going back to revisit some of the painful experiences of my past. For years, I had tried to ignore and forget many of the things that had happened to me. The sting of what I'd been through prevented me from fully knowing the reason behind why each of us faces adversity: the real intent behind every valley we walk through is for us to grow through pain. Psalm 119: 67, 71 reflects the Psalmist's perspective on this: 

"Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.
...It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your 
decrees."

 Adversity teaches us lessons that we cannot grasp otherwise. In times of great pain, we are forced to dig deep and examine things about ourselves and about life that times of prosperity simply do not allow us. We all sustain wounds from the painful experiences of years past, but God's plan is for them to become scars. At the beginning, it may seem to us that it's impossible for them to ever heal yet, with proper perspective, they can, in time, become reminders to us of what we've been through. 
 Over the years I've spent some time with a few of our injured servicemen and have had the chance to talk with them about the wounds they've sustained while bravely serving our country. I have found this to be a common theme in my conversations, and it's something that keeps me coming back to them as a source of inspiration time and again: almost every one I've chatted with takes a certain pride in their injury. They aren't ashamed of how they look because they know they can't do anything about it. Once they adjust to their "new normal" with a prosthetic limb, scarred face, permanent paralysis, etc. they begin to focus on what they still have and less on what they've lost. They start to make jokes about how they look and will readily converse with anybody about the things which brought them to where they are today. Without much encouragement, they will show off their scars and tell you what happened. While they will always remember the life they had before, they have learned to live in the life now. I love to be around them because of this attitude, and I often come away wondering why we don't treat our emotional wounds the same way. These injured service-members should be an example to us of how we should deal with our past. 
 Open wounds will never heal if we continue to lick at them and mourn the life we lost. Scars, on the other hand, make us tough and are daily reminders to us of what it means to overcome, to end up stronger than when we started. These ought to be something we are proud of because they would become a special part of us - this is, after all, our life and our story. Just like the wounded warriors, we need to arrive at a place where we embrace pain. Pain can be our teacher and thus, our friend. 
 I know from experience that it's often easier to take some sort of fake solace in the pain than it is to get back up and keep going. It is hard to not find something to blame for the way things have gone and wish that they were different. In the past, my blame was aimed at God. 

How could He allow such unfortunate things to happen?

I felt for some time as if I'd been unfairly treated. The turning point came, however, when I stumbled upon a quote that simply said: 

"Self-pity is believing that God does you a better life
instead of acknowledging that you owe God everything."

For me, it was an inversion of life-changing proportion. I realized that I had lived most of my life expecting to only receive good things from God and not expect hard things too (Job 2:10). I had not yet learned the concept of hard grace - that sometimes God's good gifts are bound up in the painful lessons we must learn in this journey called life. The way I should have been viewing things was in light of what the Puritan William Gurnall meant when he said, 

"What God takes from me is less than I owe Him, 
and what He leaves me is more than I deserve."

I began to see how greatly I'd had the two realities reversed. I had focused for so long on the pain and what I supposedly lacked that I had a hard time initially trying to switch to this new perspective. Over time, life started to become less about what I could get out of it and more about what I could give. It started to become less about me and more about God. I was no longer the center of everything - God was. As a result, life took on a new purpose for me, and I started to feel strong...because of Jesus...no matter what my circumstances were. Even if I faced the harshest of situations, I didn't have to run from the pain because, through these challenges, I had a God walking with me who promised that, though there would be trouble, He would also assure me to take heart and dare to see the reason behind it all (John 16:33). 
 The choice is up to us as to whether we're going to run away from our problems or embrace them as rich opportunities. Nobody likes to suffer but the alternative is an empty life devoid of lasting character. Those who really impact the world are those who know what it's like to knocked down yet who make the decision to grow in their pain. I believe that can be us if we welcome the chance to be transformed by our adversity. 
Will that be us? Well...that's what each of us must choose for ourselves. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Shared Vulnerability

 One of the keys to coming out of the darkness of our life behind the door is a new perspective about relationships. When we are still groping about in the shadows of our own deception, we tend to view people in an unequal way: winners and losers, strong and weak, beautiful and ugly, etc. We usually see ourselves in the latter categories. We think that everybody is out of touch with us and our "reality." We think that nobody understands what we're going through or how we feel. We feel left to battle the darkness on our own. 
 Upon coming to the other side of the door, however, we see these same relationships take on a different meaning. When viewed in the light of truth, we notice a common thread - an equality between us and our fellowman: shared vulnerability. We realize that everybody goes through their own stages of anger, isolation, insecurity, fear, and self-doubt. These aren't problems unique to us only - they are problems unique to humanity. Some people move beyond these feelings sooner than others, thus giving the impression that they never have any troubles or feel any pain. But, upon further examination, we find this isn't the case. I remember reading about other young people's journeys and being surprised at how similar their struggles were to mine. I was amazed to discover that they grieved, resented, fought, and drove away just the same as I did. Here, for all this time, I thought that no one related to or cared about how I felt. Now, I saw myself as one among many. I was not alone. 
 Perhaps this sense of shared vulnerability is what makes things like support groups or programs like Alcoholics Anonymous so successful: everybody is on the same page, struggling the same way. When we as human beings are more open with each other about how we feel, how we fail, how we hurt, it breaks down the wall of separation between us. How beautiful a thing it is when we can see one another for who we really are: the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. When we are not afraid of each other's pain, incredible healing can take place...because it's not a bad thing to cry together, to ache together, to try to love each other through our feelings of badness. 
 Shared vulnerability is when lives connect over human problems. It happens when one person looks into the eyes of another and says, 

"I hurt, too. I'm a broken person just like you. I know you think I'm perfect but, really, I just need a Savior to rescue me like you do."

People can bond in incredible ways when all pride and self-defense is stripped away and humility takes over. What an amazing sight to see when a shared experience brings lives together: cancer patients grieving a diagnosis; teenagers mourning the loss of a common friend; soldiers crying together following the death of a fellow comrade-in-arms; a parent and child embracing in the wake of a painful divorce...
Shared vulnerability brings us closer and makes us love each other in spite of our weaknesses. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Forgiving The Inexcusable

 When we have grasped the heart of what love really is, we have also discovered the heart and soul of something else - something which flows directly for our understanding of love: forgiveness. 1 John 4:20 gives us a proper starting point: 

"If anyone says, I love God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar.
For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen,
cannot love God, whom he has not seen."

 We have all been wronged. We can all remember times when another human being hurt us, and we were gripped by bitterness, hatred, resentment, and anger. As a result, we felt powerless to forgive. We expected an apology and, when it didn't come, we concluded that it was impossible for us to let it go. 
 I carried unforgiveness in my heart for many years. Until God opened my eyes, I was unaware of just how destructive this had become in my life. As I was slowly exiting my life behind the door, Christ prompted me to look into this further, and I was shocked at what I discovered. Pouring over any Scripture I could find that talked about forgiveness, I started to list some of the themes I was seeing: 

1. If you don't forgive, you limit any possibility for God to change another's life 
(Genesis 50:15-21). 

2. If you don't forgive, you eliminate any opportunity to win over your enemy
(Proverbs 25:21-22; Genesis 50:15-21).

3. If you don't forgive, you show yourself unfriendly, and you lose friends, not gain them 
(Proverbs 18:24). 

On and on the consequences went...

...you will be troubled (Hebrews 12:14-15).

...you will be in danger of judgment (Matthew 5:22).

...you give the Devil an advantage (2 Corinthians 2:10-11).

But then came the hard one: 

"If you don't forgive, God will not forgive you."
(Matthew 6:14-15)

I realized that God could not forgive me while I refused to forgive those who had wronged me or my loved ones. Just as Christ loves without conditions, so I had to learn to love unconditionally and forgive my offenders, perhaps not so much for their sake as for mine. Because God so loved me, I should also love and smooth over the shortcomings of others. He was the ultimate example of forgiveness, it occurred to me. As God's Son hung dying on the cross, bleeding redemption for the sins of mankind, He prayed love and forgiveness over His accusers, pleading, 

"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
(Luke 23:34)

He did so out of love and, if I have been shown this through Him, so I have to show the same to my adversaries, too. The British writer C.S. Lewis once rightly said that, 

"To be a Christian is to forgive the inexcusable 
because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you."

I felt so convicted. I knew that not only was I "devoid of the power to forgive," as the great Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, I was also "devoid of the power to love." In time, I began to write down the names of people that came to mind that I had refused to forgive, and the list turned out to be pretty extensive. One by one, though, I began to ask God to give me the grace to change that, to let go of the pain and to learn to love again. 
 He drove this lesson home to me through the powerful example of the Thomas family. The first time I ever heard of these remarkable people was when I happened to turn on the TV, and their story was being highlighted for the Arther Ashe Award for Courage at the 2010 ESPY Awards. Months later, I would read a book about them entitled, The Sacred Acre. Upon hearing their testimony of forgiveness, I knew that my life would be forever changed: 



What stood out to me was Coach Thomas's son Aaron's words to the media immediately  following the tragic shooting. Aaron's comments poured grace into a devastating situation. He turned eyes toward God at a time when the eyes of many were upon him and his family. People wondered how he could demonstrate such forgiveness in the face of such pain and grief. Later, he would say that, after all the years his dad had spent teaching him and his brother what integrity and character was all about, he couldn't understand how he could not have said what he did. Over the next several months, Coach Ed Thomas's widow, Jan, along with the two sons and their families, did everything they could to help the close-knit community of Parkersburg, Indiana heal. Going out of their way to reach out to the family of the shooter, they led the way by their example for how they wanted others to move on. When they received the ESPY award about year after the death of their beloved husband and father, the Thomas family shared their story publicly and how God enabled them to choose the path of forgiveness. Adding to their message, they were joined in the audience by the parents of the shooter, having been invited upon the Thomas's invitation. Aaron Thomas, Ed's son, once again addressed a watching world: 



I so clearly remember thinking to myself that if the Thomas family could forgive under such painful circumstances, who was I to think that I could not forgive those who had hurt me? It began to become obvious to me that forgiveness isn't about easing someone else's conscience as it is your own. Holding onto past hurts only makes it so that those who hurt you are given more control over your life. Forgiving them, regardless of whether or not they ever apologize to you, is more for your own benefit. You regain the peace in your own life. They can't have power over you anymore. By letting go, you eliminate the need to get even with them, to let them negatively affect your life. Releasing your desire to hate or resent them for what has happened frees you to live your life to the fullest. 
 In Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus says, 

"You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate
your enemy; but I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for
those who persecute you that you may be sons of your 
Father in heaven."

 Followers of Christ are forgiving toward one another because God forgave, and continues to forgive, them (Ephesians 4:32). But that is hard to put into practice when we think our position is right and justice ought to be served. While a person's actions, in some rare cases, may require legal involvement, simply reacting out of retaliation and revenge is not the answer. 
 Once again, it all comes down to love. Do we love somebody enough to endure even the worst insult and still say, 

"I forgive all that happened...?"

When asked how many times one ought to forgive, Jesus said "until seventy-times seven" (Luke 17:3-4; Matthew 18: 21-22), meaning that forgiveness never runs out. Forgiveness is a powerful thing. Now I believe, along with C. S. Lewis, that:

"Every man should keep a fair-sized cemetery in which
to bury the faults of his friends."

Monday, October 17, 2016

Loving From Within

 One of the first issues that God led me to was the issue of love. Now that my eyes were beginning to be opened to the magnitude of God's love for a broken, needly individual like me, it started to become apparent that one of my problems in the past was a false understanding of love - how to receive it and how to give it back. For a long time, I kept myself at a distance from love. Because I was afraid people would judge me if they discovered the truth behind the person I was portraying myself to be, I didn't want to get close to others or allow them to get close to me. Even if they told me they loved me, I often didn't believe them. The door to my heart was keeping the bad in and the good out, although I didn't understand that at the time. My inability to receive love prevented me from experiencing the full and joyful life - for myself and for others. As a result, it also was impossible for me to truly appreciate people for who they were and to reach out to them properly. My love of self was the only way I viewed life.
 Now, I was being presented with a different picture. I was being shown an overwhelming love that was found in the affection of my Savior. All became clear as I realized that love has its roots in the spiritual: that love stems from God. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me as though the people in my life had tried to show me such unconditional favor, but I had resisted it, time and time again. I had pushed away all sources of this life-giving love, thinking that somehow, I could self-generate this goodness on my own. 
 1 John 4:7 says that "love comes from God."

"Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
...Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."

God's love flows from Him to us. We complete the cycle when we pass it one. Love is not meant to be self-serving. We experience the true power of it when we give it away and attempt to embrace others in the same way we have been undeservingly embraced by Christ. "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Love is not a one-way street. It isn't intended to be for our own agenda. Love is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not self-seeking, or angry. Love does not keep a list of wrongs or delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Christ demonstrated this for us in His death on the cross and continues to do so toward us, whether we receive it or not. 
 Since I grew up around an incredibly loving family and circle of friends, it was an obvious correction on my part. I had to adjust the way in which I perceived the love of others. I was the one with the skewed vision, not them. I had to change my attitude toward them and learn to not call their intentions into question every time. I had to learn to trust, to be open. To take their freely offered love as a human example of God's love for me. And this made me want to return that love and pass it on. I was awakening to the deep importance of the fact that I had built a wall of separation between me and others - a wall that had to be torn down if I was to fully know love.
 I realize, however, that, unlike me, there are many people in the world who have not been blessed with others around them who truly love them. For them, life is about more than just becoming aware of that love and responding to it - it is about overcoming a failure in love. Sadly, rejection, abandonment, disapproval, or the senseless heaping of guilt and blame has formed resentment within the receiver, and they are, consequently, unable to properly relate to those around them. The pain of being unloved brings on all kinds of feelings of badness - feelings that only true love can erase. For obvious reasons, people in this kind of situation have pulled up the drawbridges of their heart like the ancient castles of old. Nobody in, nobody out. By choosing to go behind the door, this disconnect has made for a very miserable existence. 
 We must understand that, anytime we engage in human relationships, there is the potential for people to inflict pain on one another, intentionally or not. It is especially vital that we bear in mind the fact that hurting human beings tend to hurt other human beings. Thus, it becomes hard sometimes for us to experience or offer love to others as a result of this. When we have felt a failure in  love, it is easy to withdraw and isolate ourselves, to determine that we will never love or be loved again.
 And yet, while we can't control what others do toward us, we can control how we respond. We can resolve, in spite of our pain, to keep the door open and continue to love. In addition, we can seek out the people in our lives who truly care, who truly demonstrate love, and are waiting for an opportunity to reach out to us and touch the aching wounds in our soul. Ultimately, we should embrace the arms of our loving Savior and plunge into the depths of His healing grace. When our heart has been warmed by such Divine charity, we no longer feel the need to keep the love of others away. Once we have tasted unconditional love, relationships, human or Divine, begin to make sense. We regain the courage to allow ourselves to be open to God and those around us. 
 It is so crucial that we ask ourselves this question as we start to journey toward the Light: in an effort to protect myself from further pain, am I holding the bad in and keeping the good out? 
 We learn to love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19) and therefore, those who love God, in return, also love other people (1 John 4:21). Love is a foundational component in our escape from the darkness. Love is what makes a life. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Transformation Begins

 Early on in the transformation process, I learned that two things were essential if I was going to leave the darkness behind. 
 First, I had to get comfortable with being exposed. Having lived a lie for so many years, the fear of being discovered had kept me from experiencing the openness and transparency that awaited me outside the door. Now, as I was watching God invade my false reality, I knew that I could no longer expect to find wholeness without uncovering the hidden faults of myself. Amazingly, God seemed to know exactly where to look to find those weaknesses. Often, I was surprised that He could point to my imperfections so immediately. Then, I would call to mind the question posed in Jeremiah 23:24:

"Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him?
saith the Lord..."

It gradually dawned on me that, even when the door was tightly shut, God still knew what was going on behind it. That was why His pursuit of me never wavered. He never gave up on the fact that I would eventually open the door and let Him come in. Here now, door open and Christ in the room with me, the inner secrets were being revealed. But, as hard as it was to see the pain of my past flash before me with each thing He uncovered, it was more than clear to me that my path to healing lay through such discovery. I had to let the searching continue if I was to know true life. 
 Second, I had to change from living the "No" to living the word "Yes." As mentioned back in the first few posts, I had become very good at practicing the "No": "No" to life; "No" to grace; "No" to God. This rejection of divine wholeness and fulfillment left me in an isolated frame of mind. Quite frankly, I had cut myself off from any means of love and healing. I was afraid to risk. I was afraid to be vulnerable. It was easier to live the "No" than to except the potential vulnerability of the "Yes." But, upon the Light entering my darkness, I saw for the first time that real abundance comes in the "Yes": "Yes" to God; "Yes" to love; "Yes" to complete acceptance; "Yes" to relationships; "Yes" to grace; "Yes" to whole living. By my learning to say "Yes" to the truth, to agree with God in all areas of my life, practicing the "No" seemed less and less like the true answer. The "No" signified control - my control - and divorced my life from the sources that would make it well and harmonious. The "No" meant that I was in charge and living large - that everything revolved around me: my wishes, my plans. But the "Yes" showed that I had surrendered to God, that I no longer felt the need to be at the center of the stage. It quickly became obvious that the "Yes" was not a one-time submission but a daily laying down of selfish ambitions, selfish feelings, and selfish actions. It was a continuous state of relinquishment...one that I would forever be putting into action.
 Learning to be exposed and to whole-heartedly live the "Yes" would prove to be crucial in my journey to a total transformation of the soul. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Denying Self

 Before we continue on and begin to look at some of the ways our lives will start to change on the outer side of the door, I think it necessary to expound on something I briefly touched upon earlier. Since this concept is foundational to future growth, some greater detail will be important. Let's go back and look again at Luke 9:23-24:

"Then he [Jesus] said to them all: If anyone would come after me,
he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses
his life for me will save it."

It's been said many times that freedom comes at a high cost. There must be sacrifice in order to obtain anything valuable. Before we can fully embrace God as our complete and total everything, we must give up those things that we once took satisfaction and pleasure in to fail a life that's really worth pursuing. As Christian missionary martyr Jim Elliot once famously said, 

"He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep 
to gain that which he cannot lose."


 Stepping into a life of grace and blessing requires a denial of sin and self. Your love for what God offers must be greater than your desire for the pursuit of the things your formerly chased. Following Christ takes risk. The journey with God, the life outside of the door, doesn't promise you and easy ride - suffering still happens, pain and grief still happen...because life happens. Walking with the Master doesn't eliminate the results of living in a broken world, but it does give you peace and joy within it (John 16:33). Upon exiting the darkness, there is a new uncertainty to be had, but it is now wrapped in expectation and not fear. 
 Denying yourself and taking up your cross daily means that you are willing to engage in the war against your own plans, ambitions, and wants because you desire what God wants even more. Denying ourselves involves a turning over of those areas of our lives that have become idols to us - it could be money, it could be fame, it could be material possessions. Even good things like family, friends, and community involvement can become so important to us that God sort of gets left out. Or maybe He was never part of those things in the first place. Denying ourselves means that we welcome Christ into every part of us and are willing to become His servants, to take lower position, in order to obey and follow His plans. Sometimes this necessitates inviting Him into some very painful chapters of our lives. And yet, we do it because we see the unprofitable benefits of holding onto them any longer. 
 Following Jesus takes complete and total commitment. He promised that if we try to merely add Him into the life we already have, we'll still be on the losing end, but if we relinquish our rights - our rights to make our own choices, our rights to the answers to things in life that don't make sense, our rights to be in control of our own futures, our rights to decide what is truth and what isn't, our rights to...well...everything - He said that, in reality, we will gain life. The Gospel call is not simply for one initial act of receiving Christ into one's life - it is a daily reminder that one does not belong to themselves anymore. Upon opening the door, we are releasing ourselves. In a sense, signing our lives away to be controlled by another Master. 
 Until we understand what it means to lay down our will at the feet of the King of Kings and resign our lives to His rule, we may let God come into the room and have a look, but we will want to be a step ahead saying, 

"Never mind the mess...oh, don't look at this; I'll take care of that. Uh...Lord, excuse this over here...that's my next thing to deal with, etc."

Opening the door means full surrender. It means letting God come in and stepping aside. It means getting out of the way. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Door Opens

 Charles H. Spurgeon, "The Prince of Preachers" as he is called, once told a story of the Master, a man, and a closed door:

"The Master came one night to the door, and knocked with the iron hand of the law; the door shook and trembled upon its hinges; but the man piled every piece of furniture which he could find against the door, for he said, 'I will not admit the man.' The Master turned away, but by-and-by He came back, and with His own soft hand, using that part where the nail had penetrated, He knocked again - oh, so softly and tenderly. This time the door did not shake, but strange to say, it opened, and there upon his knees the once unwelcome host was found rejoicing to receive his guest."

 The door opened for me in the fall of 2011. My sight aroused by the shafts of light continually streaming through the door, I stumbled through the darkness and headed toward the door. As my hand reached for the door knob, I realized that this moment signaled an end and a beginning. With the click of the door latch, my hand trembled. The Master waited outside. What would He say? The door opened. Light streamed in and scattered the darkness. It was blinding. At first, I stood in the doorway, wondering what would happen next. Then, the Master approached me and reached out with arms of love. Caught up in His embrace, I asked Him what He wanted me to do. 

"Nothing," He replied, "I have done everything for you."

It seemed crazy to me that He didn't want me to take any action, but slowly it dawned on me that He wanted me to rest - to let my eyes adjust to the Light, to allow myself to fall deeper into the grace that awaited me. Yet, while I did so, God needed to purge my life of what remained behind the door. I knew God would see all my mess and, to be honest, I felt somewhat embarrassed about it. But He assured me that He would deal with it. All I needed was to stand back and watch. I had allowed Him to come in. Now it was time to be transformed.
 There is so much made these days about self-transformation, about a person changing themselves into something different. We have dozens, if not hundreds of self-help books available at our disposal that will, supposedly, teach us ways to make ourselves better. But one key truth is missing in every single one of these resources Each one focusses on the same thing: that human beings have the power to control their own lives, to fix their own problems; that all that is needed to overcome that addition, to heal that relationship, to let go of that anger, is a little understanding and a lot of self-love. And yet, in the long run, every method that teaches this kind of thinking will fail us because it keeps our eyes centered on ourselves as the source of healing. And, after all, isn't this part of why we've been behind the door - an over-obsession with our own desires, wants, and needs?
 If we are to step out of the darkness and learn to live in the Light, we need to step aside and get comfortable with the fact that this transformation is out of our hands. Just as a patient is at the mercy of a surgeon, so we must let go of our need to be in control and not expect ourselves to be able to fix what is wrong on our own. In fact, we hardly have anything to do with this journey in the first place. Because we know how broken our lives have become with ourselves at the center, we must allow God to take over because we've failed miserably. Psalm 51:16 tells us that God is not interested in what we can bring to the table but rather, that we simply offer Him our lives...that we come to Him just as we are:


"You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not
take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a
broken spirit; a broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, 
you will not despise."

God does not care how much we can clean ourselves up or try to put ourselves back together again. God cares about our willingness to let Him be Lord of our lives. 
As Titus 3:4-5 says, 


"...When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he 
saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but 
because of his mercy."

It is important to keep in mind that all that is really needed on our part is surrender. If we believe that God is fully capable of carrying out this work of change in our shattered souls, we have to relinquish our desire to have a part in the work and merely be submitted to cooperating with God so that He may increase and we may decrease (John 3:30). In short, it is solely God who transforms, and not us. We only surrender to Him in faith.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Authenticity

 This world is craving authentic people. It so desperately wants those who are genuine, who are real, who will radiate goodness into the lives of others. If we are honest, we would probably say that we desire this as well. And yet, when we continue to hide in our darkness, we are the farthest thing there is from authenticity. 
 I am attracted to authentic people. So, probably, are you. But strangely, while we are still behind the door, authentic people intimidate us. We feel inferior because we think we can never be like them. They almost appear to be too good to be true, to happy to be "normal." It seems impossible for us to be that real when we feel like we are always having to act like  something different from what we truly are. To a certain extent this is true because we can't open our eyes to a new reality until we know the One who Himself is reality. Unless we are willing to allow God to disrupt our world, to interfere with the false reality we have created for ourselves, we will never be able to experience true love, true acceptance, true wholeness...nor can we expect to give the same to others. The door that we hide behind is a barrier between us and the source of true life - that of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Most of the time, I don't think we ever stop long enough to truly ponder how much it must pain the God of the Universe to watch us living such an empty existence. He knows that, in order for us to have hope, to gain love, we must surrender. We must give Him the permission to come into our darkness and to bring us to something better beyond what we know. 
 The key to fully understanding and obtaining an authentic life is child-like faith. Children take almost everything and everybody at face value. Children are extraordinarily perceptive and extremely trusting. It's really hard to fool kids. The reason is because they haven't yet learned the opposite - they don't know what it's like to mistrust, to misunderstand, to mislead. Anytime, anywhere, what you see is what you get with a child. It's often not until the adolescent years that the genuineness leaves. In Matthew 18:3, Jesus told His disciples, 


"...Unless you change and become like little children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

He was trying to get them to realize that the one characteristic of a Christ-follower is the unity between the inner and the outer. Everything outward stems from the inward. Hypocrisy doesn't work - you can't claim to live one way and then go live another. On the outer side of the door, people live a whole life, a full life. Because they know how much they are loved, therefore they love. Because they know they are accepted, therefore they convey security. For them, there is no need to hid or defend themselves. They know how God sees them and feel no fear in His presence. Behind the door, however, is the exact opposite. Nobody can be genuine. Nobody is considered a "safe person." Everybody is called into question.
 There is an old Latin saying: "Esse Quam Videri." Translated: "To be, rather than to appear." If we desire to open the door, to leave the darkness and to be led toward the Light, we have to be humble enough to look into the eyes of Jesus and say, "Make me alive. I'm ready."
 Several years ago, I picked up a book that a friend recommended to me titled Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman. I wasn't sure if I really needed to read the book or not, but I soon realized in the first few pages that it was going to change my life in a powerful way. 
 Idleman's premise is that there are two main groups in Christianity today: those who are fans of God and those who are His completely committed followers. Many times, the fans can seem as though they are followers, that they are all-in on what it takes to pursue God yet, when Go begins to really get to the heart of what following Him is all about, fans have a hard time with that. Most of the time, they turn their backs on Him and leave. Idleman states that, for Christians, 

"...Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. Fans don't mind
Him doing a little touch-up work, but Jesus wants complete
renovation. Fans come to Jesus thinking tune-up, but Jesus
is thinking overhaul. Fans think a little make-up is fine,
but Jesus is thinking makeover. Fans think a little decorating
is required, but Jesus wants a complete remodel. Fans want
Jesus to inspire them, but Jesus wants to interfere with their lives."

This concept was essential for me in the rebuilding of my faith following my years behind the door. I realized that, for much of my life, I had lived the life of a Jesus fan. Thus, when hard times hit and my belief in God was tested, I had nothing to hold onto. I didn't want a Jesus who would interfere with my reality. And so, for a long time, the act continued while a patient Savior waited outside and door and kept knocking...and waiting...for me to decide to let Him in. 
 Each of us must come to terms with the choice we are faced with: are we going to be all-in or all-out? Are we really willing to truly do what it takes to follow Christ, or are we content to just be fans? Maybe we are even one of Christ's enemies...
 Perhaps one of the most thought-provoking passages in the Bible is found in Luke 9:23-25:

"Then he [Jesus] said to them all: If anyone would come after me,
he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses
his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the
whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?"

Here is where the real question lies. The shafts of light are shining into our darkness, penetrating with rays of intensity. We see them. We hear God calling. We know He's there for us but, in order to receive His life-giving hope, we're going to have to sacrifice. The part of us that wants to hold onto the script, to continue the act, to stay behind the door, is going to have to die. Our need for God, our desire for His love must overrule the fear of His judgement and trust that we will gain far more than we will lose. Yet still realizing that what we do lose will cost us dearly. The world may tell us that we have everything, but we feel so empty...we feel like we have...nothing. Jesus tells us that if we want to follow Him, if we want to leave our years of despair and searching behind, we will have to die - and to do it daily: die to our feelings of entitlement, die to our desire for control, die to our need for revenge, die even to our need for answers. We must come to the end of ourselves in order to find God. He cannot be discovered in the artificial, in the fake reality. This is not where He is. We will never experience God for who He is until we accept and understand our own emptiness...until we see our own need. 
 Fans want a little dose of god but still want to hang onto the old life - to be independent, self-sufficient, self-reliant, to be master of their own destiny. Followers simply desire God completely - to be yielded to Him, confident in Him, trusting in Him, to let Him control their futures. In letting go, they find the love they've always wanted. As Tullian Tchividjian points out in his book, Glorious Ruin:

"Only when we come to the end of ourselves do we come
to the beginning of God. This is a common theme in the
Bible - desperation proceeds deliverance. Grief proceeds
glory. The cross proceeds the crown. Powerlessness is the
beginning of freedom."

 The chaplain and the quarterback introduced me to a faith so warm, so radical, so inviting that I couldn't stay away. In short, through them, I came to know God. Because of the forgiveness and grace I was introduced to, I knew I wanted for myself the authentic faith I'd so powerfully witnessed. I didn't want to be a fan anymore. I was ready to be Christ's disciple. I was ready to follow.
 Before we can even consider opening the door, we must choose, for ourselves, what this means. Going forward, will we be numbered with the enemies, the followers, or merely with the fans? Will the shafts of light remain as they are, or will we let in the Light of the World? 
 God is calling us. Where do we stand?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Independent Of None

 On July 8, 1731, a young twenty-eight-year-old minister named Johnathan Edwards preached a sermon entitled, God Glorified In Man's Dependence. In that sermon he said, 

"By its being thus ordered, that the creature should have so 
absolute and universal dependence on God, provision is
made that God should have our whole souls, and should be
the object of our undivided respect...all unites in him as the center."

 There is much talk these days about being independent. It's looked on as being a sign of maturity to live life the way you want to, to be your own person. The advice and assistance of others is seen as interference, not as help. Embracing the perspectives of those around you - of those outside of you, rather - is viewed as being "not cool."
 It should've surprise us though to discover that this isn't the way God created and desired our lives to function. All throughout Scripture, we find examples of God's intent for man to look upward for his source of life and meaning. We were never meant to go at life solo. As it says in Psalm 36:9, 

"With you [God] is the fountain of life; in your light we see light."

Without Him, all is hopeless. He is what gives us value and significance, not as far as the world is concerned, but in what truly matters. Author A.W. Pink once observed that, 

"A sight of God leads to a realization of our littleness and 
nothingness, and issues in a sense of dependency and of
casting ourselves upon God."

Once again, it all comes down to our need for Him. If we think we can make it on our own without His aid, we're in for a rude awakening. Because God gave us life in the first place, He is the one who sustains that life, whether we realize it or not. If it were not for God's continual mercy, we would be dead - both physically and spiritually. Think about it: were not God to have His hand on your life, to allow you a chance to live and move and breathe (Acts 17:28), you couldn't sleep in safety, you couldn't got to your job everyday, you couldn't visit with your friends. You wouldn't even exist. Even though you may seek to ignore His presence in your life, God is still there watching over you. Lamentations 3:21-22 puts it well:

"...This I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 
Because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail."

God holds your life, my life, securely in His hands. We may not live like we believe that; we may even try to destroy that life in our pursuit of our own agenda. And yet, God remains present. God remains all-knowing. And God remains sovereign - in control of everything...yes, even our lives...whether we have surrendered to Him fully or not. 
 Unfortunately, we must fight against the cultural stigma of independence if we are to truly grasp what God is all about. As eluded to earlier, He is the "fountain of life," a continual supply of everything good and sustaining. But somehow, we just can't seem to get this. In our world of personal achievement and success, we believe we can get by on our own. 
 As I discovered awhile back, it is impossible in the long run to go anywhere meaningful, to possess long-lasting relationships, when there is not a sense of humble need, a sense of emptiness that needs to be filled. One cannot light up one's own darkness, nor can anyone resurrect their own dead self. The change has to come from the outside of the door. 
 In light of eternity,  of my own, I am nothing. I have no worth, no purpose. But I rejoice, because, thanks to what Christ did on the cross for me, I am free to live with meaning. More than anything, I desire to be swallowed up in the limitless grace of God - each day more so than the previous. My ability to comprehend this depends on how much I'm willing to to just get out of the way and let God be God. One of the most beautiful prayers I've ever read was written by the Puritan, George Swinnock. It seems fitting to quote a portion of it here:

"Lord, let me partake of your special mercy...
Whatsoever you deny me, or howsoever you deal with me,
give me yourself, and it shall be enough. You are the true
paradise of all pleasure, a living fountain of happiness, 
and the original and exact pattern of all perfections."

I don't want to live a day without Him. I don't want to function apart from Him. I have found Him to be enough. Is He enough for you?