Monday, June 27, 2016

The Captivity of Anger

As I got home the other night, I found my wife watching "How to Make a Murderer" on Netflix.  I asked her what it was about, and the short-version, at least up to this point in the show, it seems that the local police department was so focused on this one potential perpetrator, they mishandled evidence and testimony so that it all pointed to him, despite the fact that all of it pointed elsewhere.

I was struck by the inaccuracy of their observation, and how they quickly misinterpreted facts.  And yet, when confronted by their mistakes, they refused to acknowledge them, believing they were in the right.

"How could that happen?"  I wondered.

It didn't take long for me to realize how.  I suffered from the same sinful pattern the next night.  I perceived that someone had did something against me.  And within a minute I had a very long, detailed rap sheet scrolling in my head of how this person had wronged me over the past number of years.  And my anger was exacerbated.  I couldn't stop scrolling.  I couldn't stop thinking.  It was so severe that I could not sleep.

As Heather, my wife, asked me questions I raised my voice, accused this person of a number of wrongs, and even wondered, "should I even be friends with this person anymore?"

How could I come to that conclusion in my heart within a matter of minutes?  Easy.  I told myself one story, followed by another, followed by another, until my slight annoyance became a blinding rage.  A friend became a bully.  A fellow believer became a self-centered jerk.  I made myself into a victim.  And I was ready for justice.

Now, there are a number of things that were wrong with this that we could address.  But what struck me was how easy it was to neglect all the good of this person because of my anger.  I knew I wasn't thinking clearly.  I knew I was being unfair.  And for a while, I didn't care.  I wanted to believe my stories, my made-up resume, and give into my rage.  I wanted to be angry.

It was blinding, and I was captive to it.  Forgive?  Why should I?  Love?  Why should I?

"They don't deserve it!"  I would think to myself.

The scriptures argued back, "neither did you."  Checkmate.

How can we be freed from the captivity of anger?  By looking at the King who had every right to be angry, and yet poured His wrath out on the Son for our sake.

Jesus tells a parable that helps us.  In Matthew 18, a man is indebted to his king.  His debt?  10,000 talents.  In modern day American dollars, that's roughly 7 billion dollars!  There's no way that he, a day laborer, could pay that back!  But the king forgives the debt.  Afterwards, the forgiven servant goes and finds someone who owes him 100 denarii, which was roughly one-third of a year's wages.  Think somewhere in the ball park of $10,000-$15,000.  Now, this man could not pay back the forgiven servant, so he had him sent to prison until he could pay it back.

Certainly, this was a large debt.  In some ways, it's understandable that he would be upset.  But how absurd is it that he wouldn't forgive it, knowing how much he had been forgiven?

Jesus tells this parable as a response to a question Peter asks.  "“Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times"" (Matthew 18:21-22)

Do you notice where Peter is going with this?  Peter is saying, "I'm pretty good if I forgive someone seven times, and then I stop loving him, right?"  Jesus responds by saying it's not enough.  He's essentially saying your position and direction are always to forgive.  Why?  Because it's a response to how you've been forgiven!

The Gospel is what can free us from the captivity of anger.  I can forgive someone for a while if I really love them, but sometimes I find myself having the "last straw."  But if I look at how Jesus loved me in spite of my sinfulness, then I really lose any power to be consumed by rage and anger.  I can make the choice to forgive, even when my emotions say otherwise.

It's not easy.  It's not rewarding in the short-term.  But it's life-giving rather than life-taking.  It's freedom, not slavery to the whims of our anger.  It's the freedom that Jesus promised us, and in turn He helps us to engage those who wronged us, spoke ill of us, or persecuted us with love and mercy.  Just as He did with us.

Monday, June 20, 2016

God Doesn't Abandon His Children

I often wonder why God chose me. I don't have much to offer in terms of success or fame, and my track record hasn't been stellar. I probably wrecked our fellowship more than helped it when I was in college. I often struggle to run to God for help. I'm a slow learner and mover. And I often question why God would even want me, with all my faults, mistakes, and quirks.

There's been a history of people walking out of my life, and of all living beings, the God of the Universe should have every right to walk out the door with them. In my self-depricating, pessimistic view, what do I have that would compel God to stay?

But that's the wrong question.

What did God do to ransom sin-sick orphans to Himself? He gave everything.

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ...” (Ephesians 1:4b-5a) We were orphans, but God adopted us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This is why I wept this past Thursday.

In DiscipleMakers, as we promote our staff, we encourage and honor them in front of the whole team. It's an incredible honor. I found out two weeks ago that I was to be promoted. Now, promotions in our ministry aren't like that of the secular workforce. But it does mean I will be entrusted with more responsibility, the reward of faithful stewards.

However, when I found out, after my initial excitement, I was subdued. One of my deep fears was I would get up there, and everyone else would look at me and say, “Why is he there? He's not supposed to be there, what were you thinking!?”

After I and a few others were recognized, we prayed. And the men who prayed for us were men who had invested deeply in me, even when it probably seemed like I was a lost cause. Every reason to walk out on me. And they didn't. They didn't give up when I gave them every reason to. And as we prayed, I realized something else: I gave Jesus every reason to walk out on me...and He refused.

Instead, He began the slow, painful, glorifying process of sanctification, not only affirming my sonship, but making me more and more into the man I am supposed to be, which will culminate in Glory. I'm not the wayward orphan I was in the summer of 2005. I am a valuable son of God.

This is why I wept. My life experience has been that I need to prove myself to find love. And here I was again, feeling this deep inadequacy that I had no right to be honored like this. But God didn't give up on me, doing much to change me over the past ten and a half years. And slowly, surely, I'm reflecting just a bit more of the image of Jesus. And He's not leaving me, ever. He committed to me to the point of death.

God doesn't abandon His children. He's committed to working deeply in our hearts. And even when we don't measure up, God reminds us that our status in the family had nothing to do with our efforts. It has everything to do with what He has done.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Loving Sufferers Well

Author's Note: This post was written before the Orlando nightclub attack, and is mainly from my perspective as a Christian going through suffering.  However, I hope and pray that this might help the body of Christ care for those who have been deeply affected by this, and all, tragic sufferings. 

Community.  It's something we must have as humans.  We were created to build one another up and point one another to God.  To interact with one another, to help us see more of who God is, and help us to know His love.

Other people are not just helpful, they are essential to our lives.  We are dependent on one another, regardless of how independent we want to be.

This rings true as we experience so much love, encouragement, mercy, and relief from our house fire.  Neighbors, friends, and church family have housed us.  We received gifts from family and others to help us with immediate needs.  People have prayed for us, sent encouraging notes, and reminded us of God's love, care, and control in the midst of a hard season.

It is amazing how God uses people to showcase His love!

And sometimes, people can be a reminder of our broken world.  At times, people have not listened well to what is hard.  They have joked at my most raw moments.  They say things that have nothing to do with the emotions that I feel.

It would be tempting to do one of two things as a reader.  One would be to say to me, "Get over yourself."  Another would be to over-empathize and villainize these people.  But neither response is appropriate.  What's more helpful is to recognize the difficulty of loving the one who mourns.

We've all been there, right?  Someone goes through a tragedy, and we are often left at a loss as to what we should say, do, or feel.  Yet we are led to do something, because we were innately created to love one another.  As Christians, that's even more pronounced as we are compelled by God's love through the Gospel to love one another.  However, while the bible shows us everything we need to love, it's more complicated than a chapter in the New Testament about a ten-step process to perfect love for the sufferer. 

We are created uniquely by God, and one of the parts of our uniqueness is how we feel cared for, what we see as needs, and what helps. Two things that have cared for me most are gifts and understanding my struggles.  So when people ask me questions, let me verbally process, and share in my pain, I have felt extremely cared for.  And of course, when someone offers to buy my family and I food or supplies, it has been a very real evidence of God's grace to us.  But when people have spoken too quickly, or have listened but then misunderstood why I'm sad, it's tempting to get angry and lose trust.

But not everyone is like me!  So the application here isn't "don't speak, just listen," or, "just buy supplies."  On the contrary, I think we need to think more broadly before we can appropriately apply how to love the sufferer:

1.  Ask questions of what would help them:  Some people need to verbally process.  Some people need to think and be alone.  Some people want helpful perspectives shared with them.  Some people want you to cry with them, some just want you be near and be silent.  Whether it's your preferred method of helping or not, help in the way they ask you too/not to.

2.  Be patient:  A month in, a lot of my sadness, guilt, and other things have faded.  But just the other day the memories rushed back anew, and I was a mess.  And that's ok.  I processed it later and figured it out, but you and I, when we suffer, don't need to be put back together immediately.  God is making all things new, but on His timing.  Please be patient with those who are suffering.

3.  Speak Tentatively:  It's most likely unhelpful to command or rebuke a sufferer, but don't withhold the scriptures from us either.  "And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all." (I Thessalonians 5:14) We need encouragement, help, patience, AND truth.  We need Godly perspective.  We need the Scriptures to guide us.  And we don't want to be mastered by our suffering, but by Jesus Christ.   (Note: for non-believers who are suffering, as well as those who are just in very deep pain, keep listening.  Ask if it would be helpful for you to share.  If they say no, don't get frustrated, keep listening and ask again what you can do to help.

Quickly, if you are suffering, let me give a couple of quick thoughts on how to be gracious when people don't love you well.

1.  Remember how Jesus was misunderstood:  He was misunderstood on the cross, by the government, by the religious leaders, by his family, and by his disciples and best friends.  And He still died for their sake.  It's a not only a beautiful example, but He gives us the power to be gracious when people fail us.

2.  Get your eyes on others:  Don't let your suffering push you inward.  Instead, let it sober you to realize that while many don't know what you are going through, you don't know what others are going through either.

3.  Overlook what you can, speak up when necessary:  There are a lot of things I've let go because after a few minutes I realize it's not a big deal, and I don't remember it.  Hurts that I dwell on, however, I need to share with the person.  And it's for two reasons; for our own souls, and to help the person learn how to better care for people.

I hope these things are helpful as we seek to care for one another more effectively.  We are God's gifts to one another, and day by day, God will help us to be the community He created us to be. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Escape to the Weeping Savior

The incident happened at the gym.  I was lifting for the first time in about a month, and as I went to bench press, the bench gave way.  Luckily, it didn't drop very far, and I wasn't lifting much weight (I was using dumbbells, not a bar), so there wasn't much consequence to it.  I quickly finished my lift (using a different bench) and went to run, when I noticed a very small cut on my finger.  And when I brushed it, I cringed in pain.  The dumbbell must have rubbed so hard on it when I fell, that it ripped the skin away.

So I went to wash it out, and of course, more pain.  My immediate thought was, "How can I get this to hurt the least."

We hate pain.  I hate the slight headaches (or migraines) that cause distraction and annoyance.  I hate the emotional pain attached to a rude comment.  And I hate the pain of loss, of trauma, and of sorrow.

And yet, so often life throws painfully sad moments our way.  The fire has been no exception of painful, sad moments.  And I often respond by wanting to escape the pain.  I drown my sorrows in escapism.  I plug into my music and slip into daydreaming, wanting to stop reliving the horrors in my mind.  I eat my sorrows away trying to avoid thinking about it again.  I long for people to love me, only to often see them not know how to care for me.

I hate pain.  I hate being sad.  I hate feeling hopeless and helpless.

That's when I try to apply a band-aid: be happy by remembering God's Word!  It's good to remember God's Word, and the Gospel.  But even in the midst of trying to look at something good, I do it only because I don't want to feel sad.  I don't want the pain.  I don't want to believe I'm living in a fallen world, one that offers brokenness and sorrow.  I don't want to believe that my house, MY House could be so insecure.  Just give me a psalm to make me feel better.

It's why John 11 is so helpful.

Jesus and his disciples were traveling to see Lazarus.  He had been dead for four days, and Jesus knew He was going to raise him back to life.  He was confident in His power and His authority.  He was going to have his friend back, and make his other friends, Martha and Mary, very happy to see their brother alive again.

That's what makes verses 33-35 so compelling:

"When Jesus saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.  And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept."

 What?  Jesus knows that everything is going to be better, so why is He greatly troubled?  Why is His Spirit deeply moved?  Why does He weep?  

I think it's because while He knows that He will make all things new, the pain of brokenness, sin, and death is so severe.  In a world, and even a Christian Culture, that says get over your suffering, Jesus the Redeemer weeps and approves our weeping through His own.  When we are tempted to bristle at our pain, to escape it through sin, or put a band-aid on it with happy verses, Jesus says, "don't you dare... I want your tears, your sorrows, and your heartbreak.  I want to hear from you.  I am with you in it."

My friend Jason has constantly reminded me that it's okay to be sad over losing stuff.  It's okay to be sad about being displaced.  It's okay to not be completely on my feet and getting everything done and having things fall through the cracks.  It's okay to show emotion.  In fact, it's not just okay, it's expected.  Experiencing the effects of a broken world is hard and sad, Jesus' weeping confirms that.  So run to the weeping savior, who expects your tears, your heart, and your grief.