Sounding the Depths

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2015 by jcwill5

Even the deepest oceans can be mapped and surveyed these days.

Using sonar, radio waves echo out from the surface where a ship is to the floor, where they bounce back and are received again–establishing the depths.

I think something similar happens in the Spirit.

God sounds the depths of our hearts and uses events that echo our past to gauge where we are in the present.

He recreates a similar scenario to reawaken buried emotions and free us from the tyranny of traumas.

But it is hellish to go through.

A Personal Echo

When I was seven years old I going through a germaphobic phase, looking through my food for contaminants and recoiling from all dirt.

I was on the back porch and something worth celebrating happened.

My dad approached me to hug me, but I saw his hands were dirty from gardening.

So I pulled away.

He took it very personally, as if I was rejecting him the same way his father had.

So he angrily said, “I’m not going to hug you for awhile so you know how it feels!”

At first, I blew it off and thought I could outlast his strangely punitive over-reaction.

And forgot about it.

Until, a week later, another celebration event happened and I initiated a hug with him.

But he was stiff and kept his hands to his sides, causing me to suddenly remember his vow.

The shaft went home and I ran to my room and covered myself in a thick comforter, hoping someone would notice I was missing and would look for me.

But after an hour, nobody noticed and nobody came.

I still remember the lesson whispered to my heart as I emerged from the comforter, “You are alone.  There is nobody there for you.  Nobody will ever come.”

Something good between us died that day because I was too young to understand my dad’s heart wound and he was too impatient to understand my childish issue with germs.

And something toxic was born inside of me, a wrong lesson destined to enact its own damage in later years.

Getting Below the Surface

So now I have a supremely good, infinitely loving Father in heaven.

And, at times, He puts me on purpose into situations where I am emotionally hurt by undeserved human abandonment, causing me to feel just like I did when I was seven.

My tendency is still to retreat and hide in a blanket and hope somebody cares enough to notice and wrap me in their arms.

My fear is still nobody will notice, nobody will come, and nobody will care.

It seems pointless but it isn’t

Like sonar, current events echo backwards and down until they reach the depths of the past where a long-buried object lies on the ocean floor.

Much like Howard Hughes’ ship the Glomar Explorer, the famous salvage ship that lifted a Soviet submarine off a deep ocean floor in the 1970’s, the Spirit salvages us from the depths.

Not to torment us, or to experiment on us, or cruelly play with us, but to pull us back to the sunlit surface of His love from the abyss into which we’ve sunk.

If we don’t understand this salvage operation, we’ll tend to fight it and stay lost in the deeps.

We won’t realize why He’s emotionally taken us “back there”.

We won’t know He’s done it in order to pour His love into the deepest place of lost control, unrelievable pain, and utter powerlessness.

We’ll either lash out in rage or retreat into a self-made isolation bubble.

In Need of Raising

The truth is we are all underneath something far deeper than we are.

All of us are at the mercy of issues that dwarf us, and totally out of our depths as fallen, limited human beings.

We need someone to locate us, salvage us, and raise us up.

And that both frightens us and intrigues us, pushes us and pulls us.

Life returns when we see the process as greatest love and allow ourselves to be loved even more deeply than the pain.

And when we are loved in that abyss, loved where we most desperately need it, loved over and over and over again, something shifts.

We learn the counter-lesson, the truth that sets us free.

There is a love higher than our depths and greater than our deepest pain.

And that love is seeking us out, pursuing us, ever longing to wrap us within it and embrace us.

It is the love of God Himself, our utterly good Father.

The cross-bearing, ultimately suffering, seeking-and-saving-the-lost kind of love.

It is a love we encounter and then choose to receive or push away each and every day.

Not just once at initial salvation, but frequently and more deeply as every layer of our soul-onion is exposed and as ever deeper depths of our soul are sounded out.

However different our wounds, the crisis is always the same:  will we or won’t we accept God’s redemptive love for us as powerless, inadequate, agonized sinners?

Will we take ourselves out of our own hands and place ourselves into His?

Let God love you

Let Him find you in your depths.

Let Him sink His salvage hooks into you and pull you up from where you’ve fallen.

Stop fighting.   Stop arguing.  Stop lashing out and blaming.

Stop hiding.  Stop running away.  Stop burying it in diversions and pleasures.

Get alone and quiet and cry out to Him.

Do not move until His love finds you.

Do not move until it utterly fills you and redefines you….again.

Then move out, move forward, and move back into your home with Him.

Then bring others back home to Him.

The Pain of Leadership

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2015 by jcwill5

Our society expects the impossible of leaders, and then blames them without mercy if their expectations are disappointed.

Therefore, to be a leader is to suffer.

Different Leaders Suffer Differently

Some leaders, like Abraham Lincoln, would gaze upon the hospitals and battlefields full of the dead and wounded, and enter into a profound sadness.

Their orders led to countless deaths, however noble or necessary or unavoidable the cause.

They are often sufferers from depression, and sorrow is their constant companion.

They are the empathetic leaders and are quite rare.

Other leaders are visionaries.

They are the ones who attempt to bring change or impose a vision, often in times of decay, stuckness, and toxic decline.

Little wonder they raise a firestorm of vicious opposition and become symbols of everything “the other side” hates.

Their job is to tell a drowning group to let go of their beloved anvil that’s killing them.

They experience dehumanization and demonization.

They experience verbal and emotional abuse, and social and reputational death.

They are no longer respected leaders or even human beings in the eyes of their opponents, they are monsters to be destroyed so the sacred cow can be saved.

So everything is fair game and anything is permissible in the name of destroying them.

Thus, however empathetic or visionary, to be a leader is to invite suffering of one kind or another.

Leading is an invitation to grief

It is only a matter of time before chants of “crucify Him!” begin.

Thus, parents can expect rebellion and blaming and heartbreak and feelings of failure.

So can bosses and and business owners and CEO’s.

So can pastors and para-church leaders.

We have this media-fuelled image of a glamorous, successful leader for whom everything goes right and turns out well.

These people live in perpetual applause and good PR.

The magic man.  The rainmaker.  The Midas-touch wonder-worker.

And I suppose for a certain sliver of 1%, that’s how it goes.

But the truth is the opposite.

It’s a high personal cost, low-gratification thing to be a leader in our society right now.

Unreasonable expectations are skyrocketing while cooperation is plummeting.

Is is any wonder that all our Presidents prematurely age?

We think it would be heavenly to be the top leader.

The truth is it’s pure hell.

I’m raising this subject because God has put His finger on a hidden fear, a fear the tied so many of my feelings and behaviors together like a string of pearls.

Having suffered several years of unchecked torment as a leader at the hands of a vicious, unrelenting group of opponents, my heart equated leadership with horrific suffering.

Leadership is pain.

So to stop hurting, stop being a leader.

It’s the unholy math of a broken, bloody mess of a heart.

At home and in organizations, I’ve been functioning at a lower level but there’s been little joy and much procrastinating in my leadership.

It’s a bright badge I haven’t wanted to wear, a fat target I no longer wanted to be.

Which means others are paying the price for my avoidance and passivity issues.

But God has also pointed out something else:  He still made me to be a leader and called me to be a leader.

It’s time to come out of the shadows and wear the badge and trust Him with and through any and all suffering that results.

Perhaps you’re like me–a leader with shattered dreams and a damaged soul.

Perhaps, like me, the answer isn’t avoidance but a direct beeline towards the love of God.

We are Under-Leaders Serving the Suffering Leader

God Himself in His Son Jesus was supremely and viciously rejected by His own people.

They crucified Him and scorned both His leadership and the kind of life He was leading them towards.

But through the suffering came redemption for so very many, and resurrection as well.

I am one of those He saved.

It is belovedness, and the prospect of redemption and resurrection, that fuels our own under-Christ leadership in the face of Christ-led suffering.

It is in joining His crucifixion path, and even in having it reenacted in our own lives, that true, heaven-sent leadership is born, sustained, and unleashed.

How easy it is to forget this reality, and simply run from both pain and the leadership that brings it on.

Which is why I hear Him whisper to my heart, “Remember!”

Being De-Feared

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2015 by jcwill5

There’s no shame in admitting we are full of fears.

And there’s no shame in crying out to God to comfort us, rescue us, and protect us from our fears.

He loves us enough to be that for us and do that for us.

Yet, He also wants to grow us up so our fears lose their power over us.

In the Parable of the Sower, worries choke out the gospel message in our hearts like weeds choke out the wheat.

Scary Clowns

Many years ago, one of my small children was afraid to enter the local Walmart because a grotesque statue of Ronald MacDonald sitting on a bench was near the front entrance.

She would literally shake with fright as we passed it, her little hand trembling in mine.

Instead of getting impatient or shaming her for being afraid, I felt such compassion for her and held her hand a little tighter.

It wasn’t too many months later that she didn’t give Ronald a second glance.

The strange clown had lost it’s power over her.

She was growing up and her childish terrors were falling away.

I didn’t stop shopping at Walmart or choose another entrance.

I didn’t scold her or impatiently lecture her for being so childish.

Instead, we repeatedly walked together and she slowly learned nothing bad would happen to her.

In my presence and my hand, she had nothing to fear and the lesson was learned.

She had been de-feared.

Most of us want God to remove what makes us afraid from our lives.

We want Him to cooperate with our avoidance strategy.

But He doesn’t.

Instead, He takes us through our fears.

He recreates the same scenarios and awakens the same emotions, while walking us by it and through it.

He comforts and loves us precisely where we have been hurt in the past by what we now fear the most.

His goal is to free us and, through confidence in Him, teach us that He can take us through anything.

It takes more and deeper things to trigger our fear, our fears last less time and are less intense, and we learn what to do with our fears.

Our Reactions Tell Us Much

By bringing our fears to God regularly, admitting them openly in His presence, and sharing them with praying, caring, trustworthy friends, we learn we are never alone.

And we learn where our triggers, our hot buttons, are.

Our fearful reactions tell us a lot about our soul.

They expose where we are grasping onto control, where we have sworn we’ll never be hurt again.

Most of us would like to have a reaction-free life and never lose our composure.

But that’s not possible for fallen people.

Instead, we choose radical, soul-searching honesty in the face of what makes us afraid.

We learn to use fear as a laser pinpointing where we need heart surgery.

We learn to quiet ourselves and let Jesus hold us in that terrorizing place.

We learn to rest in His arms, hold tightly to His hand, and walk with Him past our scary clowns.

We learn that His agenda is always to redemptively love us in those most unloved, most afraid, most out-of-control places.

We learn not to panic, not to lash out or blame, not to react and attack, not to react and run away.

Our buttons get smaller, harder to push, and more quickly return to the off position.

So the next time you are afraid, see it as a chance to grow up and be freed from childish fears that would dominate our adulthood.

Go up with it, not in or out with it.

Let it press you into Jesus, and jump up and down until you feel the solid ground of His love under your feet.

There is a solution.

Casting Out Fear

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2015 by jcwill5

It may surprise people to discover that “do not be afraid” is God’s opening line when people have an encounter with Him.

Why would He tell us to fear not over and over and over again?

We are afraid.

Every last one of us are haunted by fears, driven by fears, and afflicted by fears.

They may be under the surface or disguised as bravado or chest-thumping, but fears are there.

We are a fearful race made up of fearful individuals.

Many Fears

As vulnerable and fragile creatures, we ear the unknown, fear injury, fear dangers and threats, fear sickness, and fear suffering.

As mortals, we fear death, fear dying, fear losing others to death, and fear what happens to us after we are dead.

As sinners, we fear the exposure of our wrongs, fear failing, fear God’s judgment, fear disappointing ourselves and others, fear rejection and abandonment.

We are afraid to get close to God and yet are afraid to be far from God.

Life, the universe, and all other people are out of our control and our security, serenity, and stability are constantly threatened or taken away from us.

We’ll call it nervousness, anxiety, stress, discomfort.

But the plain fact is we are afraid.

Simply afraid

When I look at pictures of myself as a preschooler, I see a worried brow and nervous, fidgeting hands.

I’m around family but I look lost and confused.

I see a small child without a nurturing mother and with an absent father–needing a hug, needing presence, needing reassurance.

Because I felt unbonded and belonging to nobody, I was without place or identity and was therefore lost in the crowd.

I think we all have our worst-case, nightmare scenario that makes us the most afraid.

For me, it is being all alone, without comfort or presence, without caring touch and left unguarded at the mercy of vicious abusers.

What can help us?

As I rocket through the decades and journey towards eternity, there is one truth that stands out:

I need something far bigger and better than I can arrange to master my fears.

The black hole of needy fear within me is bigger than this life can satisfy.

I need supreme presence, infinite comfort, and reassuring care beyond all words.

Simply stated, I need the constant embraced of God Himself.

I need His all-filling presence, His intimate companionship, His almighty goodness to surround me.

It’s what the Bible talks about when it says, “Perfect love casts out fear.”

What all fear boils down to, in other words, are failure-produced doubts in God’s embracing, ever-present love.

I don’t deserve His presence, and I can never earn His comforting embrace.

The very thing I need the most I deserve the least.

Which leaves me two options:   go it alone as a spiritual orphan and try to self-comfort all my fears, or dare to rest in God’s grace for sinners.

As I come upon the anniversary of my dad’s death, of watching Him die from metastasized, malignant melanoma, these fear battles are once again coming to a head.

A Living Picture

When my second child was a preschooler, I was up in the middle of the night , tossing and turning in my bed, battling with terrible fears.

I cried out to God for comfort, for deliverance, for help in the face of terror, but there was silence.

But in the silence I heard my own daughter cry out and call my name.

Normally the cry is for mommy.  Here is was a cry for daddy.

I got up and crossed the house to her room and approached her bed and held her.

Compassion and father-love welled up and filled my heart for her, words of quiet reassurance flowed out of me, and she settled down and was sleeping within a few short minutes.

But something holy and unexpected happened:  as I held and comforted her, my Abba Father in heaven held and comforted me.

I was given a tangible, unforgettable picture of His heart for me.

And perfect love had cast out fear.

Monsters at Home and Church

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2015 by jcwill5

The best insights are portable, they go with us into every realm of life.

This is true of the Cross-accomplished division between us and our sin, and our new union with Christ that replaces our former union with sin.

It can help us not only in our own souls, but in our marriages and churches.

Marriage Battles

When two believers marry in Christ, they bring both their union with Christ and their own sin-monsters into that marriage.

That male version of the sin-monster and the female version, of course, have their own slants and conflicts with the opposite gender.

And each person’s monster is shaped by their upbringing, culture, wounds, deficits, and life traumas.

It takes much study to learn the ways of our own sin-monster, and the ways of our spouse’s sin monster.

“This is what it looks like when my sin-monster is in charge and I’m under its sway” is a statement all of us need to understand and share with our spouse.

“This is what I look like when Christ is in charge and I’m filled with Him” is the second half of the diagnostic tool.

Fighting The Real Battle

The couple’s chief task, therefore, is to fortify their joint union with each other and with Christ, and establish a joint alliance with Christ against their own sin-monsters.

“I am radically on your side against your sin, and you are radically on my side against my sin” is the idea.

Their chief problem in marriage will be their individual sin-monsters battling with each other, resulting in a lose-lose battle for control.

Therefore, their chief solution in marriage will be to surrender all control to Christ and join each other’s battle against their own sin-monsters.

We will be radically for each other, for Christ’s mastery to prevail in each other, and radically against own own sin-monster.

So many make the mistake of blaming their partner and seeing their partner as the enemy, when it is their sin-monsters that are the root of their control battles and therefore the true enemy.

Divorcing our spouse does nothing to divorce us from our sin-monster’s control; in fact it cements it.

But forming an alliance with our spouse against our sin-monster, and joining them in alliance against their sin-monster, deals with the root problem in a most powerful, healing way.

And, by the way, we can establish this kind of alliance with our children against their sin-monster.

Church Battles

When a large group of believers forms or joins a local church, they bring their individual union with Christ and their individual sin-monsters.

As a group, their chief goal is to nurture, strengthen, and labor for the strengthening of their common union and connection with Christ, and to unite with each other against their sin-monsters.

But our monsters still come out and hurt others.

Their monsters hurt and needle our monster, too.

Loss of control, great personal pain, and religiosity is the perfect breeding ground for our monsters.

We begin to see each other as the enemy, and forget our problem is the sin-monsters we all carry inside of us.

We spend energy attacking each other, energy that we need to put into the war against our own sin-monster.

The Bible calls this “the deeds of the flesh.”

Releasing the Good

In addition to applying the strategies outlined above in marriage to our group situation, we need to also share:

“This is what I look like when I’m under the influence of Jesus Christ and filled with His Spirit.”

And, still better:

“This is how you can spot and disrupt my sin-monster, and help me re-connect with Christ and my identity in Him.”

In reminding each other that we’ve been severed from sin and joined to Christ, in seeing Christ still in each other and pointing Him out when all they can see is their sin, that the “old me” died on the Cross and a “new me” in Christ has arisen, we release the good in them.

That’s why church is so critical in this battle against sin–others not only see the sin we can’t, they also see the Christ in us that we can’t as well.

There is a solution!

Fighting Our Monsters

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2015 by jcwill5

One of the greatest things Christ did on the cross was to separate us from our own sin-monster.

Death, in the Bible, is the unnatural separation of what ought to be joined together.

Death isn’t non-existence.

When people are spiritually separated from God, they are spiritually dead.

When our souls are physically separated from our bodies, we enter a state of physical death.

When people are eternally separated from God in Hell, they enter into a state of eternal death.

When faith is unnaturally divided from good works, that faith is rightfully said to be dead.

God never intended us to be spiritually divided from Himself, but joined to Himself in the most indivisible of love-bonds and in His presence forever.

He never intended our souls to leave our bodies, and our bodies to die and decay.

So when Christ bore His cross and carried our sins, He also carried our separation from God and made it possible for us to reconnect with and rejoin the very life of God.

But He did something else within the believer.

In joining us to God, in uniting us to Christ, He severed us from the sin-entity within us and divided us from it.

That’s what the Bible means when it says we’ve died to sin.

In other words, I have a sin-monster within me, but I myself am not the monster.

My war is not longer against God, but in union with God against my own inner sin.

No longer do I ally myself with my sin against God, but ally with God against my sin from a position of unity with Him.

This distinction is important because, unless we grasp this fundamental fact and this core reality of salvation, we will not understand the nature of our ongoing battle and be duped back into our old alliance with sin.

We will relapse and revert into a war against God in alliance with indwelling sin, instead of courageously fighting against our sin-entity in alliance with the indwelling Spirit.

The supreme task each and every day, in such a way, is to rehearse our new union with Christ and the indwelling Spirit, and see our sin not as our friend but as our worst enemy.

Self-Battles

Our core problem is thus our sin-monster, not our person.

Our core tasks is to fortify ourselves in God’s love for us and in His hostility against our sin.

He loves us, and hates our sin, at the very same time.

And when we love Him, and hate our sin-monster, at the very same time we are in unison with His will for us each and every day.

The truth is God is not our enemy, our sin-monster is our enemy.

All this is found in Romans 7, where Paul laments, “The good that I want to do I do not do, but I do the very evil that I hate.”

He goes on to say how indwelling sin draws its energy from hard-core religiosity and an external rule-system, giving it something to rebel against and overcoming our own defenses.

It poses as our friend, whispers that if we give it control that life will go well, raises doubts about God’s love and trustworthiness, and, above all, urges us to give control to it.

“I can save you, I can fix you, I can protect you, I can care for you–not God who isn’t good!” is its core lie.\

The Solution

To fight it, we turn control over to God and nourish our souls on His love and on our union with Christ and our new life in Him.

We turn the page over to Romans 8, in other words, by turning the battle over to the indwelling Holy Spirit and yielding our wills to Him.

Under grace, we are beloved in spite of our sins and find our super-belonging and our super-identity in Christ instead of sin.

We are joined to Him, and severed from sin.

We are under His rule, and no longer under sin’s reign.

We are therefore free.

Instead of vainly trying to control the bad, we ask Him to activate our union with Him, release the good, and unleash the Spirit.

Needs to be Known

This understanding of union and separation, of spiritual life and spiritual death, of who to unite with and what to be against, is rarely taught in Christian circles.

Rarely taught clearly or directly applicable to life’s battles inside us and between us.

It is one of the great keys of the Christian life, a perspective that makes so much so clear!

There is a solution!

Three Giants

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2015 by jcwill5

Long ago, there were giants in the land of Canaan, huge men who overshadowed and dwarfed the regular-sized men in the opposing army of Israel.

These giants caused fright, panic, and intimidation–paralyzing the army and causing a stalemate.

A challenge came, “Send over anyone for one-on-one combat, and whoever wins the contest wins the war.”

We all know that story of David and Goliath, and the miraculous outcome where a green, teen warrior defeats the big guy and does it in such a way that only God could have done it.

The metaphor, “there are giants in the land” is often used to describe conditions, issues, and overwhelming opposition that confront a small, unlikely person or group.

In that sense, we each have giants in our land.

Issues that dwarf us and, compared to which, we are utterly powerless and outmatched.

Problems that hold us in their sway, life events that shatter us and which are far beyond our ability to cope.

What do we do with our giants?  Can we do anything about our giants?

Or are we destined to live under their domination forever with no hope of deliverance?

I know have giants in my land.

The giants of abandonment, of shame, and of impoverishment.

I know where they come from and how they entered my life.

I know wise strategies and practice solid spiritual disciplines to keep them at bay and to defang them of much of their power.

I know the promises of God and how to access and apply the atonement of Christ, the great exchange on the cross.

Yet they remain.

And I think the reason they remain is they are God’s cattle prods, things that ever drive me into the corral of God’s love when I’ve been stampeded far from His herd.

The giant of abandonment is the horror of being rejected and totally alone, rootless and without friend or any loved ones–because we somehow are so flawed and fail so often nobody wants to be there anymore.

The giant of shame is the feeling of being bad and stupid, humiliated and dirty, in the presence of demerit and failure–leading to hiding and feeding into abandonment.

The giant of impoverishment is ending up homeless and penniless despite all efforts to work hard and despite all experience and know-how.

I need someone infinitely higher and stronger than I am to embrace me, to cleanse me, and to enrich me with what matters most and lasts forever.

I need a Savior.

I need David’s ultimate successor to slay my own Goliaths and rid my land of giants who are far greater than I am.

So do you.

It seems to me we can do one of two things:

We can pretend to be adequate and remain enslaved to these inner tyrants in an endless control game,.

Or we can admit we are powerless and put our predicament in the hands of God–allowing Him to do within us what we cannot do for ourselves.

And allow Him to do this for us each and every day, as often as we need it, until living under His almighty and all-loving control is our way of life.

The irony is the approach that seems the smartest, to seize control and fight our giants in our own power, is exactly what empowers and enlarges them.

They feed off of our need for control and end up devouring us.

What seems to be counter-intuitive–surrendering control–is putting our battle in the hands of Someone Infinite.

Compared to Him, our giants are shrunk down and minuscule and puny and easily conquered.

Thus, the winning approach when we are mastered by our giants is to put ourselves under the care of a new Master and let Him master them.

There is a solution.

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