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Archive for the ‘Journey’ Category

Aging Biblically

Time flies. And it flies faster each year. So don’t procrastinate.

Like a game of hot potato, you should get rid of your possessions as fast as possible. Invest everything you can in the Kingdom. Your life is going to be over any minute, and you are going to regret holding on to things you weren’t able to keep.

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My wife and I had the opportunity to spend an evening at a salon hosted by a single mom at her home. The presenter was a young man (20 years old) who shared his life as an immigrant from Korea and his quest for identity and belonging. As a child of immigrant parents I can relate to his story and I also appreciated his honesty about trying to hold on to his Christian faith through it all.

We had an interesting and diverse group of people and we enjoyed the conversations over the potluck dinner. In many ways, though this was a non-Christian gathering, I felt it was as if I was in a house church meeting with the Lord’s Supper as a real meal (which it was) and everyone participating in the gathering (which was the norm). Even the children (including my youngest daughter) were part of the gathering: listening and interacting with the adults.

I wish I could experience genuine community in church as well …

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I can’t help but see in our public discourse so many of the same destructive impulses that ruled my former church. We celebrate tolerance and diversity more than at any other time in memory, and still we grow more and more divided. We want good things —justice, equality, freedom, dignity, prosperity — but the path we’ve chosen looks so much like the one I walked away from four years ago. We’ve broken the world into us and them, only emerging from our bunkers long enough to lob rhetorical grenades at the other camp. We write off half the country as out-of-touch liberal elites or racist misogynist bullies. No nuance, no complexity, no humanity. Even when someone does call for empathy and understanding for the other side, the conversation nearly always devolves into a debate about who deserves more empathy. And just as I learned to do, we routinely refuse to acknowledge the flaws in our positions or the merits in our opponent’s. Compromise is anathema. We even target people on our own side when they dare to question the party line. This path has brought us cruel, sniping, deepening polarization, and even outbreaks of violence. I remember this path. It will not take us where we want to go.

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Dropping the Act

scaryclose

… we will never feel loved until we drop the act, until we’re willing to show our true selves to the people around us.

When I heard that I knew it was true. I’d spent a good bit of my life as an actor, getting people to clap—but the applause only made me want more applause. I  didn’t act in a theater or anything. I’m talking about real life. (xv)

No doubt about it, you will find many actors in your average church; people are terrified to take off their masks for fear of being judged. While Donald Miller’s latest book is about his personal journey from insecurity/isolation to intimacy and from failed relationships to freedom to be himself, much of what he writes is applicable to our relationships we have in church life.

Miller describes how he terrified he used to be of being known by others and how he felt people would only love him if he found ways to impress them. We see this played out in churches where Christians jump to serve in as many ministries as possible, in order to feel appreciated and acknowledged. I know how they feel: been there, done that. And one can’t blame them, because the alternative is that you’ll be largely invisible. So if we’re honest, more often than not, we are motivated by our desire for applause and adoration rather than for God’s glory. At the very least, the temptation is always there, for most of us are “attention addicts”.

self

Miller shares what a therapist once said to him: “when some animals feel threatened they make themselves appear bigger. She said it ‘s true with people too—they often make themselves appear better than they are in order to attract others and protect themselves from threats.” (31) What costume are you wearing to make yourself appear larger? Your job? Your wealth? Your education? Your good looks? Your biblical knowledge? Your position in church? Miller confesses that validation by others is very intoxicating. But then he “began to wonder what life would be like if I dropped the act and began to trust that being myself would be enough to get the love I needed.” (35)

We construct a false self to so others can’t see the shame we feel and we embellish that persona with all sorts of things. “Somewhere along the line I think many of us buy into a lie that we only matter if … We only matter if we are strong or smart or attractive or whatever” (56). However, “the more we hide, the harder it is to be known. And we have to be known to connect” (20). Paralyzed by the fear that we will not measure up to others’ expectations and petrified that no one will love us if they knew our true self, we continue to hide our imperfections and insecurities. But as Miller points out: “Grace only sticks to imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either” (45).

“Perhaps that’s another reason true intimacy is so frightening. It’s the one thing we all want, and must give up control to get.” (98) And how do we control others? Through manipulation, which usually operates subtly. Miller identifies five categories of manipulation (104-108):

The Scorekeeper

“Whenever somebody starts keeping score in a relationship the relationship begins to die. A scorekeeper makes life feel like a contest, only there’s no way to win.”

The Judge

“When a Judge personality is religious, they’ll use the Bible to gain control of others.”

The False Hero

“The false hero manipulates by leading people to believe they have something better to offer than they do.”

The Fearmonger

“Fearmongers rule by making people suffer the consequences of insubordination. The mantra of the Fearmonger is: If you don’t submit to me I’ll make your life a living hell … Fearmongers are completely incapable of vulnerability and, as such, incapable of intimacy.”

The Flopper

“A Flopper is somebody who overdramatizes their victimhood in order to gain sympathy and attention. … Floppers assume the role of victim whenever they can.”

In a chapter entitled “The Risk of Being Careful”, Miller discusses the “roles that vulnerability and self-expression play in relationships” (138).  For most people, vulnerability is a frightening place to be, but then “How can we be loved if we are always in hiding?” (140)  So in church, for example, we put on our religious robes and pious masks and pretend we got our sh*t together. No wonder it’s so hard to find genuine fellowship with other believers. He goes on to ask, “Is there anything more toxic than the fear of being judged? Judgment shuts us down and makes us hide. It keeps us from being ourselves, which keeps us from connecting with other people.” (143) We say we believe God has accepted us in Christ but are we really living out that truth in our lives? Furthermore, we are commanded to “Therefore accept one another, just as Christ also accepted you” (Rom. 15:7; CSB).

Relationships are messy: manipulation, codependency, obsession. Intimacy and vulnerability is painful and scary because it means we have to be “naked” before each other—but we’re not comfortable removing the fig leaves we’ve covered ourselves with. Not everyone wants to be “scary close”; many people have inscribed on their foreheads “please keep your distance!”

keepback

Which leads me to the final point: ultimately our deepest longings can only be satisfied by God. But even then, that longing will not be fully satisfied here, but will have to wait until the eschaton when we will be finally and fully transformed. Miller himself discovered this as well: “I realized there was a subconscious longing in my heart that could never be resolved by another human being.” (213)

But knowing the reality of unfulfilled longing doesn’t dampen the desire for deep connection, for fulfilling friendship/fellowship and intense intimacy; and yet, the ache of that unfulfilled longing is actually for our good. For that yearning in our heart is a compass to point us Godward and a daily reminder that no substitute will satisfy.

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Your love is like radiant diamonds
Bursting inside us we cannot contain
Your love will surely come find us
Like blazing wild fires singing Your name

God of mercy sweet love of mine
I have surrendered to Your design
May this offering stretch across the skies
And these Halleluiahs be multiplied

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My Trio of Troopers 2

“And three of the thirty chief men went down and came about harvest time to David at the cave of Adullam, when a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim.” (2 Sam. 23:13; ESV)

Not only am I blessed to have a fellow soldier like Chuck, the Lord also added blessing upon blessing by placing my dear brother Frank in my life. Frank grew up in a nominally Catholic family and by the time he reached his teen years, sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and brawls filled his life as a gang member. Incidentally, Chuck too was headed down the path towards the gangster life before God sovereignly saved him. Perhaps this is why God is more real to them than to me …

After God delivered Frank from the bondage of sin and Satan, he told me he would spend hours each day on his knees in prayer and in the Word. He would often experience “demonic attacks” which drove him to even more prayer. I met Frank in a “Brethren” assembly (not the same one where I met Chuck) and his reverence/hunger for God drew me to him. Eventually, Chuck got to meet him too, and I can remember fond times of fellowship with both of them.

Though the world (and sadly some Christians) may look upon him as just a lowly janitor, God used Frank for His glory. Chuck and I gave him some advice on books to aid in his study of God’s Word, and God has opened doors for him to feed the Lord’s sheep: at this point, he has preached over 300 sermons in various assemblies. But it’s not how many times he’s preached; it’s what he’s preaching. Though I’ve only heard  him preach a few times, his sermons always have a devotional quality to them, an aroma of Christ that the saints can savour and be nourished with.

Frank also has a heart for the elderly saints and he would often drive them to meetings and have sweet fellowship with them at their homes. In fact, for over 20 years, he has been meeting at the home of a widow with a few other elderly saints every Sunday evening for spiritual conversations. These are not your typical “tea and cookies” get togethers that so often passes for Christian fellowship; no, no—there would be earnest prayers, singing and sharing of the Word and food, encouragement and exhortation, and lots of laughter and love too. It’s just church in its simplest form. No wonder Frank would be positively glowing as he recounted for me what he learned from the lives of these dear saints.

Being around older believers, it is inevitable that he would see his share of suffering, sorrow and death. Indeed, he has spoken at more than one funeral; in particular, how difficult it must have been a few years ago when he preached the funeral sermon for a sister-in-the-Lord: a dear friend who was like a mother to him. But he’s also had to watch a former gang member friend die of AIDS, comfort a brother who lost both arms due to an industrial accident (and whose plight was largely ignored by his Christian employer) and a young father die of cancer shortly after his wife gave birth to their daughter, among many other stories of tears and tragedy.

When I strayed from the Lord for many years, not a day passed by that Frank did not but intercede for me, pleading with God that I might turn from my rebellion and return to the Author of my salvation. He would call me frequently, saying that God had moved him to pray specifically about something the Lord had laid on his heart—and the thing is, often it would be when I was very discouraged or about to do something I shouldn’t be doing.

While other Christians were rather blasé in their response to the good news that the Lord had restored and revived me, Frank responded like the prodigal’s father. A few weeks ago I paid him a visit to retrieve some of my books I had given him when I began my downward slide many years ago. As soon as he greeted me and welcomed me into his apartment, he said, “Paul, before anything else, let’s pray” and he promptly got on his knees and lifted his voice to his Father.

The entire time I was with him, there was no levity; the conversations centered on God and the blessings of our salvation and the spiritual warfare that we are engaged in. He would spontaneously interrupt our conversations and pray. He would share of his struggles and confess his sins in my (and God’s) presence. He would thank me for the books I gave him, even as he handed back many of them to me, saying it was time for me to use them.

Prayer is a priority and a reality for both Chuck and Frank; I am doubly blessed to have their example to follow. Without them in my life, where would I be today? I owe so much to their example, intercessions and encouragement. Our God is good!

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Be Still

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