Monday, September 26, 2016

How Guilt and Anger can Lead to Grace, Resurrection

Author's Note: Some of this is inspired by the sermon Tim Keller preached on John 11 after September 11th, 2001 entitled "Truth, Tears, Anger, and Grace."  It's on itunes, please please please listen to it.  It's phenomenal.  

I was only distracted for a moment.  But it was that moment that changed my world.  The smoke detector blared, I walked in to check what was going on, and the sight of consuming flame chased me outside.

Over four months later, we have a lot to be thankful for.

But I also have a lot to take ownership of.

The months that followed I've told myself (and been told by others) that this could have happened to anyone.  This is nobody's fault.  Don't blame yourself.  And while I've told myself these things, and others have reinforced it, it's done nothing but deepen my sadness.  Why?

Because it's rubbish.

It was MY responsibility to watch the stove.  It was MY responsibility to cook dinner for our family that night.  And when I took my eyes, my presence away from where it was supposed to be, catastrophe struck.

My irresponsibility caused my family to be displaced for three and half months.  My irresponsibility caused over $100,000 dollars worth of damage.  My irresponsibility caused countless hours of buying back different items and designing a new kitchen.  My irresponsibility caused our friend Sarah, who rented from us, to live in a hotel for four months, and lose her handcrafted possessions to the smoke.

 I was so afraid to admit it.  I dared not accept it.  And culturally, no one ever wants to put the blame on the hurting.  Why add to the burden?

But it was the presumption of innocence that added to the burden.  You see, I knew, deep down inside of me that there was something I could have done that day.  Yes, it's seen as an incidental fire, but there were a number of things I could have done to limit the incident.  (Since the fire, I now have three fire extinguishers... part of my responsibility kicking in!)

But here's the thing.  My wife has a right to be angry.  She has a right to be sad over the time we lost having to redesign our home and buy back new possessions.  She's been incredibly gracious to me, but there is a right to grieve loss over my irresponsibility.  My kids, as young as they are, have a right to be angry.  Angry that their home was taken away from them.  Sarah has a right to be angry, to grieve her losses, to grieve the suffering she endured.  And, honestly, they all have a right to be angered by my miscue.

Anger is such a funny thing.  For the longest time, I thought anger was a bad emotion.  But it's not.  We, as humans, just don't know how to use it well.  Much of anger turns toward sin.  But anger itself is a proper response to sin and suffering.  We should be angered when men and women abandon or abuse their responsibilities.

It was in this I realized the freedom of accepting my guilt.  As we all have realized our hidden anger, expressed in ways that weren't helpful, we realized that part of the reason why we didn't display it was of the fear of hurting me.  Not wanting to crush the man responsible.  And yet, when I admitted to myself all the things I had caused by my moment of distraction, a feeling of freedom rested in my soul.

The indwelling anger at myself, the anger of others over loss, it can turn three ways.  One can turn to despair and rage.  That's never good.  On the flip side, it can move inward and we suppress it, which turns to passive aggressive barbs.  Again, never good.  But there's a third way.  It leads to grace.

We see this in John 11, when Jesus revives Lazarus.  Jesus is deeply distressed, and He weeps.  But He also is angered.  Angered at death.  Angered by the brokenness of the world.  And then, we see His grace.  He revives Lazarus, defeating death.  But at what cost?  Well, it was Lazarus' resurrection that was the final straw, and the religious leaders began plotting Jesus' death.  The anger of Jesus led to grace, to the point of His own death.

Anger can be good.  It's what a loving God feels towards evil and brokenness.  It's one of the reasons why Jesus dies to undo it, to make all things new.  That's why guilt and anger towards both my distraction, and the circumstances are actually good.  It's good to be angry at a broken world with broken circumstances.  It's okay to be mad that your soul is stained.  But God's grace in the Gospel gives us the hope of resurrection.  

Anger that turns to grace always involves a death of some kind.  For me, that death is the death of my ego.  The shattering of an illusion that I was merely a victim.  The destruction of the idea that I can be an ideal Father, the perfect husband, and a friend who never causes pain.  But when anger turns to grace, there is resurrection.

In accepting the guilt, I can move towards Jesus, remembering His love, and letting Him change me into the man He has called me to be.  I can grow as a Husband, Father, and friend, remembering all the while that it's Jesus Himself who is the best of all these roles.  It's the acceptance of guilt and anger that makes me free, and refreshes my soul.   

Monday, September 19, 2016

No, I'm Not over the Fire

It's been a month since we've moved back in to our home.  I have loved many of the benefits, especially as things have become more complete.  We have new countertops, a new sink, new appliances, a new kitchen table and new-ish chairs.  My kids are running around playing with their old toys, freshly and thoroughly cleaned by the hard-working group that renovated and restored the place.

I thought, after three months, I would come back to a place that I could call "home."  The place of peace and rest.

I quickly learned I was wrong.

Even as I write this, I remember back to May 2nd.  I don't mean to, I just do.  I was just finishing a blog post as I sat in my bed, thinking about all the work that had to be done.  I was excited, I was going to teach at our week-long conference.  A number of our students were coming, and the community seemed to really be growing.  Afterwards would be a time of rest, reflection, and retreat.  How I looked forward to it.

Merely a couple hours later, that was all dashed.

And now, after four months, I still remember.  The memories force their way in, whether I want them to or not.

When this whole thing first happened, I thought I would be fine.  My family was safe, our insurance was great, God had protected us.  Yet, a while back I started noticing things in myself.  I noticed elevated panic in bigger crowds.  I didn't feel safe, even in what I would consider my safest of places with the safest of people.  And I felt this need to show that I was mature, handling it all in a Godly way.

That came crashing down a few weeks ago.  Students returned, the question often asked, "How was your summer?"  I wanted to run each time.  Every time it was asked, I was faced with a choice.  Tell the truth, and see once again the awkward and uncomfortable look on their face because they didn't know what to say, or lie, and feel like I was wasting away inside.

Then, the unthinkable happened.  A call from my friend and pastor, telling me there was a fire at our church.  The building was spared (Praise God!), but I had to fight fears in the midst of a place where I should feel the most at home: the sanctuary, praising God with my fellow brothers and sisters. 

I've finally needed to confess this to myself: "I'm not over the fire.  And I'm not sure when I will be."  And that's ok.

I'm reminded of 2 Corinthians 12, when Paul speaks of boasting in his weakness.  Here's what he says:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Now, I have no idea what thorn Paul was speaking about.  Was it a sin struggle?  A physical ailment?  A person that persecuted him?  We don't know.  What we know is that it hindered him, that he attributed it to Satan, and that Paul didn't want it.  He didn't want it to the point of pleading with God three times.  

What was Jesus' response?  "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

So, here I am.  I am weak.  I am weaker than I think I've ever been.  I feel at the end of my rope.  But I'm done.  I'm done trying to be strong in front of people.  I'm done trying to prove myself.  No, I'm not over the fire.  And I don't know when I will be.  I'm thankful for all that God has done to protect my family.  I'm thankful for how God worked out all the details with our insurance.  I'm thankful for my church family and friends and everyone else who has helped us in so many ways.  

But this isn't over.  I want it to be.  I trust that Christ can and will take these emotions and fears away.  Whether it's now, or when He's finished making all things new, is up to Him.  And I will trust Him.  



Monday, September 12, 2016

My Totally Explainable Absence

Hello everyone,

While I never officially mentioned it, I've done my best to put out one blog post every Monday, around 5 PM.  I'm not sure if any of you have been dying to read my latest post, waiting at its beckoned call only to see it not show up the past couple of weeks, but if you have, or you're just curious when the next post will show up, I'm here to tell you: this is my return to regularly scheduled blogging.

Here's the thing, I've had a lot happen over the past few weeks.  We moved back into our home (yay!), we started a new semester (yay!), I've seen an uptick in Post-Tramuatic Stress due to our earlier house fire (boo!), we've lived without counter tops and major kitchen appliances for three weeks (I never thought I would be excited to see new counter tops...), continued to buy back all the things we've lost, and, because I wasn't crazy enough (that's hyperbole), I decided to go ahead and refinance our home.  I don't care if we're getting a great interest rate, it was a dumb decision due to the fact that our lives have felt so incredibly busy.

That's why the blog took a back seat (more like it was riding on the roof of the van without a bungee cord strapped to it).  Something HAD to go.

But... as I find more time to breathe, it's giving me time to begin to reflect.  That's always been the heart of this blog.  To share reflections on God's Word, on struggles, and how the Gospel intersects in real life.  And so, over the next few weeks, maybe even months, I want to share some of the things I've experienced.  Because often, I find that I'm a funnel.  I get to live through life experiences which are often hard.  But that's not in a vacuum.  As I'm living in the midst of hardship, it's not uncommon to find someone wrestling with a similar issue.  I pass on what I've learned, how I've failed, and how Jesus has forced me to cling to Him.

So, all that's to say, I'm back.  At least, as long as the Lord allows me to have a voice.

Thanks for reading.  I hope this blog is an encouragement to you, and I'm confident that God will continue to use it.

In Him,