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.

-Mike