Friday, September 25, 2015

Out of My Chains and Into Your Mercy

I finally did it. I made an appointment with a therapist. After 6 1/2 years of depression, anxiety, and good counseling, my counselor thought that a therapist might be able to help me heal. I'm broken inside. Something is not right in my brain. The healing for deep hurt is not happening like it usually does in most of us. And it's not a sin issue. I need help with mending my soul.

While driving to my appointment on the freeway my anxiety began to grow. What if she said I was imagining this? What if she said that I just needed to get over it, like so many others have said? What if I can't be fixed? What if this is what I will feel like for the rest of my life? So I turned the music up. And up and up until I was sure the other cars around me could hear it. Sometimes that's the only way to push down the fears. To cancel out all of the negative, mixed up thoughts that permeate my mind and crush my heart. Music. I know that's not spiritual. I know I should pray in these moments that my mind is swirling with thoughts so fast and frantic that I can't focus. And sometimes I do but it rarely helps in the moment. Usually, in the still of the night when its dark, I feel the Holy Spirit bring me peace and comfort. I hear Him whisper the sweet words that I am beloved. But during the day? When I feel like death is the only answer? Music. Loud music is what quiets those tumultuous thoughts.

When I arrived at the office the therapist came out to greet me. I came to tell a complete stranger all of my junk and that's a scary thing. But God. When I looked at her face I saw familiarity. She looked like one of my close friends. One who has walked with me through these hard years with patience and compassion and understanding. So I walked into the office and sat on the couch.

There was a box of Kleenex on the couch next to me. But I don't cry. Tears have been rare these past few years but the emotional pain is there. My heart hurts like its been ripped in two. On the coffee table in front of me there was a machine with lights and wires. Turns out I will one day be hooked up to that machine and supposedly those lights will help me to process the trauma that has been done to my brain. Its called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and it uses rapid eye movements to dampen the power of emotionally charged memories of the past. I'll talk more on that in a moment.

She began asking me questions and we talked a bit. I was stoic, telling her of my deepest wounds. She diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of trauma. When people experience trauma the brain usually processes that trauma and it becomes a memory. But sometimes it doesn't. When someone becomes traumatized it's like stress frozen in place –locked into a pattern of neurological distress that doesn’t go away and doesn't return to a state of equilibrium.

She hugged me when I left the office and gave me a typed-written prayer to say everyday and a journal assignment.

I need to journal my trauma. When did I first feel like I was worthless and unacceptable? When were those words repeated to me? Being raised by an abusive alcoholic those words were pretty much a weekly and sometimes daily occurrence. How old was I when I became convinced that in order to be acceptable to people, I needed to wear masks. When were the words spoken to me that had convinced me that I would be unacceptable and worthless if I were to remove those masks? That I was a disappointment to everyone around me and to God? I had to record how I felt at that moment. That moment when I confessed I had been diagnosed with severe depression, that I didn't think I was a believer, and that I couldn't keep being what everyone wanted me to be. How did I feel in that moment when I was told by my pastor that I was dragging the name of Jesus through the mud? Where did I feel it? In my stomach? in my brain? In my chest? Well, I can remember that moment with

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Absurdity of Antinomianism

It's absurd. The accusations of "Antinomian" and "Hyper-Grace" that we keep hearing about ourselves and many of our grace-centered friends is disappointing. Our commentaries, creeds, church constitutions, bylaws, and theological statements may champion sola gratia but move it from paper into real life and it scares the hell out of us. It scares us because in real life, grace can't be tamed. It can't be managed or balanced and we so desperately want to manage and balance it. Move it from a theological treatise or a doctrinal statement into something that goes deep into our souls and takes over from the inside out, and we begin to panic because we're losing control. We want grace to be reasonable, balanced, and within easy reach of our supposed control. But a tamed grace is no grace at all. It's bondage masquerading as freedom. Grace is wild, uncontrollable and always finds its way to all the wrong people at all the wrong times and in all the wrong circumstances. If you doubt me, read the gospels.

Here's what saddens me; the people we're hearing these accusations from have never asked us what we believe. They've talked to others about us, but they've never taken the time to talk with us about our understanding of grace. They prefer instead to stand far off and cause dissension and misunderstanding. I guess it's easier to just dismiss us altogether and sling mud from afar and label us Antinomian than it is to have a conversation. It's cleaner that way. The assumption is that we have a low view of God's law because we have a high view of God's grace. But that's not true.

In my performance days of yesteryear I was convinced I had a high view of God's law because God's law was all we talked about. I thought my knowledge of the rules and preoccupation with them meant that I had a high view of God's law. But I was deceived. I had a low view of God's law for the simple reason that I thought I could pull it off. But I discovered that a preoccupation with God's law doesn't produce a high view of God's law, it produces a high view of moralism, legalism, and self-righteousness. It produces a high view of one's self, masquerading as a high view of God's law. It produces modern day Pharisees and bullies who think they have a right and duty to speak law, shame, and condemnation into the lives of others whom they view as not pulling it off like they think they are. It takes broken younger brothers and turns them into self-righteous older brothers. They are sad slaves.

But it was grace that gave me a high view of God's law. Grace stopped me dead in my tracks and put me on a new course. Grace alone teaches us to renounce ungodliness while simultaneously empowering us to live accordingly.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, (Titus 2:11-12)
For years I was preoccupied with God's law. I was chasing every command in Scripture to the best of my ability and judging myself and others every time one of us failed to measure up. I proudly wore my obedience as a merit badge of honor so others could see how pleased God must be with me. That's exhausting and it kills your joy. Do you want to know more? We talked about this in a recent podcast: Grace, Hyper-Grace, and Antinomianism (#012). Check it out when you can.


Monday, August 31, 2015

What if....Love?

What would the Church look like if we were known by our love for one another?

What if someone admits a struggle with an addiction to porn, alcohol, or drugs and our response was to love them? To show grace and mercy and help this person as a friend? As one who is beloved.

What if someone is suffering because they sinned greatly in their marriage, and instead of jumping to judgement that not only judges their sin but their repentance, what What if we wept over this broken marriage and their shattered lives? What if instead of writing blogs about another's sin, we prayed for that person? What if we prayed for the broken family?

What if someone confessed they were suffering from depression or anxiety and we didn't jump in with answers and accusations that they weren't thankful enough, didn't believe enough, or that they should just choose joy? What if we sat with this person and loved them? What if we wept with them in their pain and let them know they weren't alone in this, no matter how long they suffered? What if we shared God's love and goodness instead of telling them God is disappointed in them?

What if someone begins to lash out in anger because of the abuse that they suffered at the hands of others and instead of being shocked and dismayed at these angry rants, we sat and listened to what they had to say? What if we wept with them and held them, affirming they were hurt? Holding them and loving them in their suffering instead of standing firm in our own self righteousness, insisting they need to get over it.

What if, instead of protesting and shouting hateful things to women seeking abortions, we held up signs offering to help. Help with doctor bills, help with housing or help with adoption. What if instead of making our hatred known, we offered help.

What if a friend comes out as LGBTQ and instead of throwing out words like "church discipline," or shaming them with our anger, we loved them, showing grace and mercy? What if we didn't pick up that stone to throw but instead recognized our own great need for grace and mercy?

What if love was our first reaction, followed by grace and mercy, because that is how God responds to us?

What if, instead of shielding our children from the brokenness of people, we showed our children how to love? What if in seeing that kind of love, they began to believe that God is kind and merciful, full of love and grace, instead of a God who is more concerned with our morality and successes than our hearts and failures?

What if when you read this, instead of getting offended or angry because you think I'm dismissing sin, you instead realize that we are all desperate beggars? What if we all need God's love and grace and without it, we are toast? All of us.

What if we really believed Jesus when he said in John 13:35 "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another"?


Saturday, July 11, 2015

A High View of God's Law

I spent years as a Christian preoccupied with God's law. The burning question each day was how is my obedience. As I spent countless hours, days, months, and years muscling my way through my sanctification, certain that my obedience was THE barometer for knowing I was a believer and knowing God was pleased with me, I assumed I had a high view of God's law. After all, I was pulling it off, or so I thought. I was at least doing it better than most of those around me. Or so I thought.

But then I discovered through severe trials that a preoccupation with God's law doesn't mean one has a high view of God's law. Quite the opposite. I found out the hard way that my preoccupation with God's law actually resulted in my having a very low view of it for the simple reason that I thought I could pull it off. I thought God's holy standard was attainable by my own effort. After all, I was a new creation with a new heart and sin was no longer my master.

But then God stripped everything away from me and brought me to a place where I had nothing. Nothing but Jesus. It was there that the doing stopped. The masks started to crumble and the idols of my heart started being exposed, and the real me, the broken me, started to show. And there was nowhere to run to baby, nowhere to hide. By putting me in a place where I could do nothing, God started to show me that Jesus is enough. His grace is sufficient.

In the years that have followed, he has enlarged my understanding of, and affection for, grace. It's when this confrontation with grace shook me to the core, that my view of God's law went through the roof. My crash and burn encounter with grace gave me a high view of God's holy law because I saw for the first time that I couldn't pull it off and that I didn't need to pull it off. It was too big for me and someone else had already pulled it off for me. My former preoccupation with God's law left me in ruins. But grace alone taught me that God's requirement isn't progress, but perfection. Grace taught me that I needed a Substitute, not a goal. It's at the cross that "Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect" (Mt. 5:48) meets "It is finished" (Jn. 19:30) and mercy triumphs over judgment.
... and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- - Philippians 3:9

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Church, Ativan, and Gospel Misfits

I know they mean well and I certainly don't question their hearts or motives, but I think the help they're offering misses the point a little. We've not had a church (in the institutional sense of the word) to call home since the one we were members of merged with a mega-church, or folded, or ceased to exist, or morphed, or whatever that was that happened.

Since that time, we've darkened the doors of many a church building only to hear moralistic, duty-laden law preaching that majors big-time on the Christian's failure to do the Christian life in the Christian way. We've been scolded from several pulpits and in one instance, even told God is mad at us and wants us to "shut up." We've been chastened for not being brave like David was brave and to prove his point, that particular pastor dimmed the lights to show a clip on bravery from the movie Titanic. My wife got up and left before the clip ever started or the lights dimmed, but I had the decency to wait until the lights dimmed before I ducked down and made a beeline for the door. I attribute my wait to my fear of man. Yet another of my plethora of sins Jesus died for.

I've lost count of the number of churches we've visited since the one we were a part of ceased to be. My wife and I sometimes joke that we've walked out of so many churches that we've stopped walking in. We've surfed the web for countless hours looking at church web sites and listening to sermons. We've come across some that boast the gospel on their web site but when you get inside the building, it becomes clear they don't really know what gospel-centered means. When I mentioned to one pastor that what drew us there that Sunday was the gospel references on their web site, he immediately glazed-over and didn't know what I was referring to. His message that morning was all about accountability groups, submitting to the pastor, and the importance of keeping each other in line because we're such screw-ups (we are, by the way) and God is angry with our sloppy selves. There was no mention of Jesus. No hope. No good news. None. When visiting a church results in running to the medicine cabinet afterward to pop an Ativan or two, something's terribly wrong. I could go on and on, but I'll spare you the agony. You get the idea.

I take comfort in knowing we're not alone in our struggle. We're finding that there are pockets of people, both across the country and locally, who are in the same crazy predicament. They haven't left Jesus but they feel the church (again, church in the institutional, traditional sense) has, so they don't go there very often. Some of them don't go at all. One blogger called those pockets of people "The Dones" because they're just done with it all. They haven't left Jesus; they feel the church has left Jesus. Rod Rosenbladt's message,

Saturday, February 14, 2015

My Valentine's Day Grace Massacre

It was six years ago today. I'm sure I'll never forget it. I was out of town taking care of my dad. Susan drove up to meet me so we could have a nice dinner together on Valentine's Day. Our conversation began over a nice meal and continued for the next five hours. We didn't know what to call it then, but we couldn't stop talking about it. It was crushing and liberating all at the same time. It simultaneously brought us low and raised our spirits. It made Jesus big and us small. It right-sized a sinking boat and rescued both of us from what we had slowly become. We had started to recognize it as something significant months prior, but this was the first chance we'd had to talk about it face to face in all of our busyness.

It was our crash and burn.

Our rescue from performance had officially begun and Valentine's Day 2009 marked its first real milepost. We talked for the first time about what had been going on in our hearts individually over the previous months and years. It was healing and it was hard. The Holy Spirit had led us individually to the same realization and conclusion. We didn't know what to call it then, but we know now. In fact, we knew shortly afterward. It was our brokenness. We were broken people who didn't know we were broken until we hit a wall of performance where we couldn't fake it any more so we crashed and burned. We crashed and burned together. That Valentine's Day dinner six years ago was like sitting in the ashes of what our lives had slowly become, while we confessed our sin and brokenness to each other.

Burdens began to be lifted from our shoulders and our hearts started to find hope as we began for the first time to recognize, openly talk about, and start to remove the plethora of masks we realized we had been wearing for years. It was all the Holy Spirit's doing as the more we talked, he gently showed us more and more of our true selves and Jesus' gentle forgiveness. He was opening our hearts wider to his gentle love and through it all, there was not a whisper of condemnation. The more we talked, the more we recognized how bound we had been for so many years. We had been stuck in performance-based Christianity. The years we had spent in performancism had taken their toll and it came to a head on that Valentine's Day night. While we both felt relieved to finally be talking about it, our responses were completely different. Susan had been flattened by the years of performance to the point of walking away from the faith. Beyond what I'm about to mention below, I'll let her tell you her story when and if she is ready.

The months and years following have been both rewarding and hard to get through. Everything was stripped away from us initially. People got mad at us and long-standing friendships came to an end. Instead of receiving help, we received criticism and were told we were dragging the name of Jesus through the mud. As the drama unfolded and the criticism continued, Susan fell into a severe clinical depression, ended up in the ER more than once with severe chest pains caused by extreme anxiety, and wanted nothing more to do with Christianity or church.

As she was moving away from the faith, I found myself alone, wondering how this was going to end after 36 years together doing life and ministry. I had never dealt with depression like Susan's before. It wasn't theoretical anymore. It came home with me and lived under my own roof. Prior to that, I had a black and white view of depression but when it took up residency, everything changed for me. I didn't know what to do with it, but somehow I knew what not to do with it. I kept harsh people away from Susan (and those with to-do lists) and only allowed near her the few she trusted, who talked to her about a Jesus who loves her apart from her ability to do anything for him. A Jesus who came to rescue the broken, not the self-sufficient. This was a message we had slowly