Misery addict

I think it’s fair to say I lived most of my life as an addict to misery.

Like a kid who grows up eating mashed potatoes with chocolate sauce and craves it ever after, I grew up thinking I was supposed to be miserable, that it was dutiful to be miserable, and that I could possibly pay a bit of my sin off if I was miserable enough.

Where I got these ideas, I don’t really know.  I mean, I know where they originally came from: Satan.  But I don’t know how they got into my head.  Satan doesn’t just start his work when we become an adult, though, and I remember from kidhood feeling “comfortable” feeling guilty.

Guilt is like an ugly house.  It doesn’t go away just because you want it to.  And if it’s the only place you have to live, well, you get used to it.  That was how it was with me.

When I realized as a grown up that God wanted to free me from my guilt, it was like an inmate who’s been on death row for 19 years finding out he’s been pardoned.  I was overjoyed.  I’d been handed a ticket to freedom and the confetti was flying around me.

Visiting the house of forgiveness was more thrilling for me than all the houses ever built on Extreme Home Makeovers put together.  The house of forgiveness was a mansion to explore.  Deep carpets, wood floors, arched doorways, glimmering mosaic tiles, vast staircases with wooden bannisters, chandeliers, built-in bookcases, skylights, stained glass windows, deep but bright basements, secret rooms, stunning lofts–the house of forgiveness is gorgeous.  In my wildest dreams, I would never have imagined I could stay here.

And then it hit me.  I’d have to leave my house of guilt for good.

It was scary.

I know the couch, chairs, and kitchen sink in the house of guilt.  I know where the stains on the ceilings are and what holes in the wall the roaches crawl in and out of.

I feel uncomfortable and very unbelonging staying in the house of freedom.  I didn’t mind visiting.  I liked looking at the handmade furniture upholstered in astonishingly beautiful fabrics.  I liked admiring the fireplaces and marble counters and exquisite painting.  I was awed walking through the never-ending array of rooms.

But I didn’t want to stay there.

And so, hesitantly, looking at God nervously out of the sides of my eyes, I politely said my thank-yous and crept away.  I slipped back in the house of guilt for a few nights.

When I needed a break from self-horror, I silently crept back over to the house of forgiveness, hoping God wouldn’t have noticed by absence.

What I didn’t realize, or didn’t want to admit to myself, is that rejecting the joy forgiveness brings to return to the misery of guilt is like taking a present, thanking the giver, and quietly putting it away in a closet to save for later.

Grace overwhelms me.  It scares me.  It feels unpredictable to me, uncertain, and, sometimes, surely like it can’t be true.  The house of guilt is dim, and I feel safer in dim light.  All the windows are boarded up.  The house of forgiveness streams with daylight and even has a floor-length mirror, and I feel frightened to look at who I am and wonder if my sin has really been taken away from me.

I desperately want God’s love . . . but I want Him to come to the house of guilt and stay there with me.  I somehow want God’s love to come through His condemnation of me, so I can feel more comfortable with myself.  I want to be able to pay Him back, in little ways, by His anger and my misery, as if this could somehow ever work.

I used to be a misery addict, all right.

–But, once you’ve been, once you’ve seen the house of forgiveness for yourself, staying away is like inviting an anvil to fall on your head.  I don’t want condemnation anymore.  I want forgiveness.

Hello.  My name is Forgiven.  And I’m a recovering misery addict.

If the Son gives you freedom, you are free! (John 8:36, CEV)

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See Copyright Page for Bible Translation information.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

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The Battle

The ending to Lord of the Rings is magnificent.  All the orcs vanish forever as the earth falls out underneath them.  The nazgul are ripped apart and the dragons fall from the sky.

Oh, yeah.  Victory dance time.

In my life, I try to get that same rush of exhilaration as I try to cast evil out of my life forever.

But I don’t get that rush, not for long.  Because the evil keeps coming back with fight still left in it.  And coming back.  And coming back.  And coming back.  And coming back.

I can tell you the unmistakable pattern in my life is this:

Oh, that was an awful fight with sin.  But that was the last time I have to deal with that.  Look at me.  I battled it, I conquered it, I asked forgiveness for it–and now it’s no more.  That sin is all over.  I will never be tempted by that again; I’ll never go back through that valley again; that part of my walk is over.  Check that training off; I’ve climbed that mountain; I’ve crossed that river, I’ve hiked that trail.  No more.  Goodbye.  It’s over.  Yes.  Now peace.

That’s the first part.

Here’s the second part:

Now how did that come back again?  I said I conquered that already!  I defeated that sin!  I put a flag on that mountain!  I know I rowed through this very river and I’m sure that was the trail I went down yesterday.  What am I doing here again?  WHY ISN’T THERE ANY CLOSURE?

I feel abandoned by God.  I feel like a worse failure than before.  I hate myself, I’m mad, and I feel like God slighted me.  Where is my moment of orcs falling through crumbled earth?  Where is my chance to see the nazgul rip apart?  Where is my time in the spotlight, doing my super cool victory dance?  Where is the epic moment where I get to be the winner and all my sins know it?

I actually got to a point where I would watch the last scenes in Lord of the Rings with secret sighing.  I felt like God’s plan was so . . confounding.  Why couldn’t I deal the death blow to my problems–or at least one of my problems?  Why did Christianity seem so unglamorous compared to the final battles in blockbuster movies?

. . . . . . . Oh my.  Looking back, it’s hard for me to express how little I understood about anything.  It makes me wonder, in eight more years, how much more will I realize I didn’t get?  (Or eight days.)

This was more, though, than a problem of a greenhorn status in God’s kingdom.  This was a problem of inexperience with God.  I did not understand who God was, and so I didn’t understand what His kingdom was like.  Oh, I could talk in Christian-ese, but that sometimes no more than if I’d memorized programming jargon so I could sling it around to impress my friends.

Now that I have awakened to the nature of God, I would want to go back to my old self, grab me by the shoulders, and say, “Hey, this is what you don’t understand, for starters . . .”

1.  The focus of a believer’s victory is not Armageddon or spiritual warfare between a believer and the world.  The focus of a believer’s victory is the choice of Christ.

Satan always knows what to tempt us with.  He is not clueless.  He knows that nothing excites us so much as channeling our arrogance to get power and superiority.  Why else would Eve have ever accepted the forbidden fruit, treason against God?  She wanted power and superiority equal to God, and in her arrogance she thought she could get there.

The part in me that looks with longing at epic movies and thinks, “Oh, man, I want to be that guy that kills the evil king” or “I want to be that kid who flips the switch and saves the planet” or “I want to be that hobbit who throws the ring into the molten lava and saves Middle Earth from Mount Doom” . . . that is the arrogance in me that wants to usurp what Christ has already done.

This is a fatally serious offense.  It’s something like going into the Battle for Bunker Hill as a squid.

The squid is not going to win the Battle for Bunker Hill.  The squid can’t even pick up a sword or gun.  Can you imagine a squid being plopped down in front of an army of advancing soldiers?  What is going to happen?  Sushi, that’s what.

This is how stupid I am when I think I can do something to cinch the victory for God’s Kingdom.  ME?  I haven’t even lived a day of my life without sin.  I haven’t even lived an hour of my life without sin.  How in the world do I think I could fight the father of all evil himself, when I am still, in the flesh, drawn to evil and, if not saved by God’s Spirit, hypnotized by evil, trapped by evil, destroyed by evil, and damned by evil?

NO WAY.

It is Christ’s choice to save me that is the focus of attention.  It is Him who has the victory.  I’m the one who’s rescued.  How abominably selfish, how utterly deluded, how horrifically arrogant for me to think that I should be saved by Christ from everlasting Hell and then I should be the one who gets the credit.

2.  My sin nature isn’t going to die until I die.

As much as I want to prematurely see the end to sin, it is only when my flesh dies that the sin nature in me dies.  This is a great mystery.  Paul talks about how we are saturated in evil from our sin nature, like a donut soaked in arsenic.  We might get by with looking okay on the outside, but we are poison to ourselves and others.  If God’s image were not stamped on us, we would have no good whatsoever.  But we are guilty of poisoning the image of God!  And it’s not just our body that is poisoned.  It’s our mind, and our soul, too.  We are totally saturated with destruction.

But when a person believes in Jesus, something radical happens.  The Holy Spirit fills the person’s soul and irradiates sin.  The sin nature that was rooted in our soul shrivels up and vanishes–poof.  Like orcs in bright sunlight, sin flees from God.

The soul of a believer is clean, a perfect sanctuary washed by God with His blood so that no trace of sin can ever be found.

The body–the flesh–is still haunted by a sin nature.  This isn’t just my skin and bones, but this is the essence of my existence on earth.  My carnality.  This life on earth, where I chose, along with Adam and Eve, to disobey God forever, is doomed.  Wrecked.  Forever ruined.  There is no way to live in Eden as me, as I am here.  This part of me is trashed.

It sure would seem convenient if, as soon a person believed in Christ, (s)he would instantly die and go to Heaven.  Convenient, maybe, but what would happen to the part where we live out our faith?  What would happen to faith?  What would happen to the part where we show the world that Jesus really has changed us, that we really can fight our sin nature and, through God’s power, win?  What would happen to all the other people who would have heard about Christ through that believer?

My mission here is to do battle.  I do battle with me.

Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run like that, that you may win. Every man who strives in the games exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore run like that, as not uncertainly. I fight like that, as not beating the air, but I beat my body and bring it into submission (1 Corinthians 9:24-27a, WEB)

I do battle with me and I do battle with

evil rulers

authorities of the unseen world

mighty  powers in the dark world

evil spirits in the heavenly places

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, NLT)

It isn’t the final battle; it isn’t the epic battle.  It’s the battle after the war is won–yes, the battle after the war is won–where I have the chance to show just how much I care about the hero who won the war.

When everyone realizes what Jesus did on the cross . . . . . there will be no drawn swords, no raised shields, no hidden weapons that can stand a chance.  When the very breath of Jesus is breathed on evil, that’ll be it.  Jesus is the Word who has told us what He has done for us; we are without excuse.  If we refuse to hear His words, then His very breath will in the snap of an instant break all arrogance.  Then everyone–everyone–will fall on their knees before Him and acknowledge that He is Lord.

Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:8, NLT)

It will be a scene that will make Lord of the Rings look podunk.

But . . here’s the kind of God we serve.  Rather than show Himself through war against us, He would rather show Himself through love for us.  We have the choice to fall on our faces before Him now, so that He will fight for us, not against us.  We can join the ranks of the Lord’s army, justified not by our heroism, but by His.  For God would rather shelter us in His peace than destroy us in His wrath.  But He leaves the choice to us.
The power of darkness comes in like a flood

The battle belongs to the Lord

He’s raised up a standard, the power of His blood

The battle belongs to the Lord

When your enemy presses in hard do not fear

The battle belongs to the Lord

Take courage my friend, your redemption is near

The battle belongs to the Lord

–“The Battle Belongs to the Lord” by Jamie Owens-Collins
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11, ESV)

Pixie Sticks, A Bench, & Good Friends

Summertime in Oklahoma has to be right up there with sliced bread.

Sitting on the porch, downing Pixie Sticks, showing off dyed tongues, making mud pies, playing an 80’s space shooter computer game, watching the commercial of the doll head with Play-Doh hair that you could really cut, and climbing a perfect climbing tree are some of my favorite memories in Oklahoma.

But they’re not my favorite.

My favorite started out rather nefariously.  (I love the word nefarious, and I just about never get the chance to use it.  Thanks for letting me use it here, even if it doesn’t really work with the story.  It sounds like it should.)

My mom and I were at our friends’ house, and me and the two sisters were hanging out.  They were both younger than me, one by not much, the other by a lot.  We were clowning around and we schemed a plot to make everybody in the house upset with us.

Yeah.  Real smart.  But what can I say?  I was 7.

We decided we were going to put a blue dyed flimsy little rubber scorpion that wouldn’t fool, well, probably even a rubber worm, on the floor and pretend it was real.

We commenced to do this, with much dramatic screaming.

My mom told us to stop.

I don’t know what it is about sin nature that makes you want to do something over and over that you know you’re not supposed to do, but it is not exclusive to adulthood.

We really weren’t trying to be disobedient.  We were just so caught up in the whole scaring-everybody-with-the-scorpion thing.

So we tried it again–

My mom was not happy.  She told me to cease and desist.

–And, uh,

again.

The third time my mom was really mad.  At me.  Go figure.  She made me sit on a bench and stalked into the other room (all right, in my imagination she was stalking, maybe she was just walking normally).

Well, you might be wondering why on earth this is one of my favorite memories.  True, it could have been because she didn’t beat the living daylights out of me for being so annoying . . but that wasn’t why.  Actually, I felt somewhat slighted and deeply “misunderstood”.  I kinda knew it was really my fault, but didn’t want to admit it.  Mostly I was embarrassed in front of my friends.  So far, this memory couldn’t be even remotely pleasant (other than laughter at my stupidity, of course) . . much less top the Pixie sticks or  80’s space shoot out (in color!).  No, it was something else.

The reason this is my favorite memory of Oklahoma is because of what happened next.  It so profoundly astonished me that, 21 years later, I still remember it.  Vividly.

Without a sound, the older sister sat down beside me.  Her younger sister, as if on cue, sat down beside her.

We did not say a word.

In about 15 minutes, my mom came back and released me back into society.  Without a word, my friends got up, too.

I never forgot those 15 minutes.  They were a silence of sweetness . . and they were so special to me that the whole thought of punishment drained away.

It was like going into a prison and finding out once you got inside it’s really a little countryside chapel.

We played after that, I think.  I don’t really remember.  But I loved those girls.  How I loved them.  And I never forgot.

I’ve been around 28 years now, and in all that time, I have never had any experience like that, any but one.

Knowing Jesus.

A long time ago, there was a man who took my place.  Now, most of us have heard this story before, some of us many times.  But the reality never changes:

Christ sat on the bench for us.

And He sits on the bench with us.  Jesus stays with us through our hardships, stupidities, and really dark times.

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b, NIV)

Sitting on the porch swing pouring Pixie stick powder on our tongues . . comparing colors . . forming mud pies in the backyard for our imaginary culinary institute . . demolishing alien bats in a rainbow of colors . . sitting on the carpet in front of the TV wishing we had a doll with Play-Doh hair to cut . . reclining in a tree on top of Oklahoma green grass . . telling each other secrets we knew we were good for keeping . . . . . everything was a thousand times sweeter knowing they had sat on the bench with me.

That’s the way it’s going to be with Jesus, when we spend eternity with Him.

He suffered and endured

great pain for us,

but we thought his suffering

was punishment from God. (Isaiah 53:4, CEV)

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Photograph by Rupert Ganzer, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/loop_oh/

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

A reading of the Will like never before

Jesus dies, and then for the reading of the Will, He comes back from the dead to new life and reads His own Will.  His will?  I hereby leave my people with my inheritance:

Me.

–From my pastor, John, this Sunday

Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not. (1 John 3:1, AKJV)

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us,

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us!

That we should be called the Sons of God,

That we should be called the Sons of God!

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“Behold What Manner the Father”, Maranatha Music, (c) 1978, music by Patricia Van Tine

Photograph by Stephane Tougard, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/unices/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Hell: Burden and Offensiveness

Hell is one of the most controversial topics within Christianity.  “Hell” is a concept embroiled in bitter animosity, abject terror, furious rage, and even crude jokes.  I can think of only once concept that makes people more angry or more upset than Hell, and that is the deity and perfection of Jesus Christ.  The two concepts are closely tied together­­­, actually.  If Christ is the righteous Son of God, then He has the the holiness to be worshiped, the authority to set the rules, the right to be obeyed, the power to judge, and the justice and mercy to condemn or set free any sinner He chooses.

Hell, therefore, finds its offensiveness only in the questioned righteousness of God.  If God is righteous, and God sends people to Hell, then Hell is a righteous punishment, regardless of what we would think otherwise.

While there are people who has misused and exploited the concept of Hell for evil purposes, that doesn’t change the truth about Hell any more than if someone misused and exploited the concept of poverty or warfare.  Hell is a real place, and it is the burden of every true Christian to convey that to the lost.  Hell is a terrifying thought.  There is nothing welcoming, nothing comforting about Hell.  Hell is the absence of God and, therefore, the absence of love.  Hell is everything we most fear: loneliness, pain, suffering, grief, regret, turmoil, agony, anxiety, terror, panic, punishment, and never-ending isolation.

It’s hard to talk to people about Hell, because it is such a hated and controversial topic.  But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be talked about.

If a friend I dearly love is about to marry a man I know is abusive, would I be cruel to break her heart by warning her?

Do I not warn a child of the danger of getting in a car with a stranger, even if it is upsetting to the child to hear of evil people?

Could I in good conscience silently watch a family member drink poison because it might offend him to tell the truth?

Like a shipwrecked refugee who has found a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean, I cannot and I should not sit in my boat in silence as others drown around me.

Hell is real.  And I fear for the people who end up there.  I have feared for myself, and Jesus Christ has shown me He is the only escape.  I am only safe by His grace, for there is nothing I could ever to do atone for my own sins.  There is nothing within me worthy of receiving eternal life, except He who is within me by His grace.

After He has so mercifully saved me, I would be terribly cruel if I did not tell of His wondrous salvation that is only possible because of His sacrifice for us on the cross.  He has done nothing for me that He will not do for you if you call upon Him before it is too late.

Hell is awful news.  And if it was the only news, maybe it would be better not to tell people.  If it was inescapable, maybe we would be better off not knowing about it at all until we got there.

But . it . isn’t.

We can escape Hell, through Jesus Christ, the Almighty Creator who makes a way back to Himself by paying for our sins on the cross.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26, NIV)

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, NIV)

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. (John 10:9, NIV)

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17, NIV)

In him [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 14:6,NIV)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2, NIV)

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25b-26, NIV)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18, NIV)

I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Revelation 1:18, NIV)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18, NIV)

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8, NIV)

Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15, NIV)

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, NIV)

“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:8b-9, NIV)

 

 

 

 

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.