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“Blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.”

This is what Jesus said to his disciples, the ones who knew, believed and followed Him, and this is what He says to you.  This verse speaks to us an immensely core and powerful truth.  It is in this arena of “seeing” and “hearing” that most of us get side-lined and therefore do not see our calling and our place in this heroic story.

I believe that the entryway into offering what God has given us to offer comes through our ability to see and hear.  One person immediately picks up that something is wrong in a group or a meeting or with the leadership.  Another person quickly realizes that despite his friend’s appearance and up-beat words, he is not doing well.  Someone else can see why her friend is stuck after a brief conversation about her life.  And another person can see a needed and timely idea that no one could see, but all agree with when they hear it.

It is precisely at the point of seeing or hearing that we are attacked with the intent to shut us down.  We see a need, whether it be a warning which must be sounded, a different process which is needed, a word of clarity to bring light or a touch to bring hope and love.  But what often hit us during that moment of seeing or hearing is something like, “who are you to think you know anything” or “don’t judge the situation or the person” or “they really don’t want anything from you” or “things won’t go well if you act on what you are sensing.”

And the way we second guess our own hearing and seeing is a tough place to be in.  I know.  You see or hear something that feels weighty, consequential to you and then the internal conversation and battle begins.  Oswald Chambers said,

A saint does not think clearly for a long while, but a saint ought to see clearly without any difficulty. You cannot think a spiritual muddle clear, you have to obey it clear.”

I know that we have all been the recipients of some poorly delivered and ill-timed words. The last thing we want to do is to inflict this kind of pain on someone else.  But silence or disengagement is not the answer, because as Chambers said, you probably do see clearly.  And if you do not act on what you see, you will not offer what you have, and therefore, will not know who you are and see your place in this heroic story.

We must walk with God.  We must not diminish or dismiss what we see or hear, but rather ask God what we are to do with what we see.  Scripture says, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives.” (Prov. 16:2)

We ask God to reveal our motive.  Is it pride, arrogance, selfish ambition, vengeance or love?  Are we judging the person or situation or are we discerning something?

Years ago, a mentor told me that there is a difference between discerning and judging.  Discerning is seeing the reality, cause and effect of something.  Judging is to write someone or something off, to pass verdict, to condemn without hope.

We are all alert to the danger of pride and judgment.  We have heard and experienced verses like:  Prov. 26:12 “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”  Prov. 29:20 “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”  Prov. 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

And then there is widely quoted verse:  Matt. 7:5 “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

These versus are of course, completely true.  But I believe that the spirit of this age (tolerance and relativism) and the kingdom of darkness have translated these truths into “to see and act on something that you think is wrong is judgmental.”  And so we do not act on what we see, we do not offer what we have, therefore we do not know who we are and our place in this heroic story.  And our “brother” continues to live with a “speck” in his eye.  Jesus’ admonition is for us to have unobstructed sight so that we can see clearly for our brother.

 The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians and business leaders.  They have done the best they could do no doubt, but this is an age for spiritual heroes, a time for men to be heroic in faith and spiritual character and power.  Holiness and devotion must now come forth from the closet and the chapel to possess the street and the factory, the schoolroom and the board room, the scientific laboratory and the governmental office.”  Dallas Willard

Willard’s words are SO true.  We must move on what we see and hear, for “the hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made both of them.” (Prov. 20:12)

We must not only own and honor our “seeing” and “hearing”, but we must be trained in how to use them.  Paul said, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Eph. 4:1,2)  Paul’s words describe the character and strength of a trained heart.  A person with this kind of character courageously offers their “seeing” and “hearing” with humility and patience, speaking with hope, focusing on the heart and cunning with timing for, “The wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.” Eccl. 8:5

So, let me encourage you to not diminish or dismiss what your heart sees and hears.  The world needs you.  I need you.

In the training with you,

Gary

Christian Forgiveness for Ourselves

I know a man convicted of a violent crime against someone he loves. He acted in a momentary rage; he had never been violent before. It shocked him. Now he’s in prison.

Prison bars are not his greatest problem. He’s repented to the victim, and the victim forgives him; and he’s repented to God, and he feels God forgives him too.

His problem is that he can’t forgive himself.

He’s confessed all known sins, prayed the sinner’s prayer, and claimed the blood of Christ. He knows he is forgiven by others, but he just can’t forgive himself.

He now feels doubly guilty; guilt at what he did, and guilty that he can’t forgive himself.

What’s it like?

If you’ve ever experienced the inability to forgive yourself … it’s awful. It’s an overwhelming disappointment with yourself, a witch’s brew of mortification at what you’ve done mixed with shame at who you are. The evil potion poisons your soul.

Think of all the negative “dis” words you know, and you’ll begin to sense the feeling: discovered, dismayed, discouraged, dislikeable, disgraced, distressed, disappointed, and despair (yeah, that last one’s a “des” word, maybe you dis-agree, so shoot me).

If other people disgust us, we can avoid them. But we can’t run away from the self-disgust at ourselves. Our undying disappointments ceaselessly hammer their hateful messages: How could you have done that? You are repulsive. What is wrong with you?

Perhaps we failed a friend, or disappointed our parents, or acted cowardly, or acted too aggressively. We can’t live with the shame.

But there are other kinds of people…

Some people don’t seem to feel guilty enough. They betray others—maybe you or me—and they say, “God has forgiven me, what’s your problem?” They seem cruel, unmoved by the suffering they visit on others, untroubled by the misery they perpetrate.

Honestly, I sometimes wish these villains were less quick to forgive themselves. I wish they could feel what they have inflicted; I wish they could put themselves in the shoes of their victims and—just for one moment—experience that pain.

I’m not proud of these fancies. But at the very least, I wish these brutes could experience genuine sorrow at the sufferings they regularly produce.

What about me?

Where do I fall in this jumble of self-forgiveness? I’m schizoid, the worst of both worlds. I once profoundly hurt my wife (well, more than once, but one infliction at a time). My first response was self-defense, “I was tired, and she said something to trigger it, and maybe it was her fault.”

I buried my compassion beneath layers of self-protection, so I lacked the sympathy to feel what I had done to her. I had become a brute.

Overtime, my dis-guise peeled away. I felt exposed, unprotected from the pain I caused. Self-consolation stopped working. I was wracked with guilt and remorse.

She forgave me but I couldn’t forgive myself. I felt that if I forgave myself too easily, then I would be just like one of those heartless beasts I so dislike.

Our problem

Easy self-forgivers cannot bring themselves to empathize with the injuries they inflict. Why? Because the ache of self-admission is too great. They can’t concede, “I’m the kind of person that causes such agony.” It’s unbearable. Something controls their hearts.

Unwilling self-forgivers can’t excuse themselves so easily. How could they have caused such suffering! So they lash themselves with the whip of self-incrimination, “You are vile, rotten, and unforgiveable.” Something controls their hearts too.

We are enslaved. A powerful force controls our hearts’ response to what we’ve done.

What controls us?

In Out of the Salt Shaker, Becky Pippert wrote,

Whatever controls you is your lord. If you live for power you are controlled by power. If you live for acceptance you are controlled by the people you are trying to please. No one controls himself. You are controlled by the lord of your life.

And if we live for a good identity, we are controlled by our need for a good name.

What controls both the easy self-forgivers and the unwilling self-forgivers? It’s an outside dominatrix screaming for self-identity, prohibiting us from accepting either guilt or forgiveness. We may think we are in charge of our lives, but we aren’t.

John Newton

John Newton was a slave trader, captain of slave ships, and an investor in slave trading companies. He knew the dominatrix of non-self-forgiveness and easy self-forgiveness.

Someone unable to forgive himself, wracked by guilt, asked for help. Newton answered,

You say you feel overwhelmed with guilt and a sense of unworthiness? Well, indeed you cannot be too aware of the evils inside of yourself, but you may be improperly controlled by them (Letters, Vol. 11, slightly edited).

To easy self-forgivers, he says we “cannot be too aware of the evils inside.” Any unwillingness to admit them is cowardly self-protection. Newton continues,

You say it is hard to understand how a holy God could accept such an awful person as yourself. You express not only a low opinion of yourself, which is right, but also too low an opinion of the Redeemer, which is wrong.

To non-self-forgivers, he says we have too low an opinion of Christ; as though God is powerful enough for tiny evils but not powerful enough our huge evils. He continues,

When I look at your complaints, they are so full of self-righteousness, unbelief, and pride that they are little better than the worst evils you complain of.

Newton knew first-hand the self-righteous identity that can’t admit any evil within; and he knew first-hand the self-lashing that comes from clinging to the evil within.

He gives an impassioned invitation—not another beating, an invitation!—to find a new identity, the identity of “We are the beloved,” the identity of being redeemed (at incalculable cost) from the slavery of self-identity. Newton knew true freedom.

John says, “If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts” (1 John 3:20). We need to release any identity we create for ourselves and simply accept his opinion of us.

It’s why Newton, perhaps best of all believers, could write Amazing Grace.

Sam

As a young boy, my weekends were filled with imaginary World War II battles. Nearby parks fielded the Battle of the Bulge, and the skeleton of a local building project (fatefully a new funeral home) formed our bombed-out buildings.

Dirtballs became our hand grenades, ditches our foxholes, and blankets our pup tents. We sacrificed our bodies (and the knees of our jeans) to save the world from Hitler.

One Friday evening I watched the movie, D-Day. I was captured by the airborne parachute jumps, the bravery and heroism, and the infiltration behind enemy lines.

The next day I made my first (and last) parachute jump. I confiscated a sheet from my mom’s closet and requisitioned rope from my dad’s tool room. I tied one end of the ropes to the corners of the sheet and the other ends around my chest.

I slithered through an upstairs window and crept onto the roof. With my parachute and lines carefully laid out behind me, I perched at the edge of our second story, and I hurled myself into the air behind enemy lines. I waited for the tug of the opening chute.

Lying on my back, I looked up. The chute still lay on the roof, and the carefully cut lines hung limply over the gutter. I had forgotten to measure the height of the roof.

My lines were ten feet too long.

The modern day tension of heroic virtues

Several hundred years ago, our ancestors ranked courage among the highest valued virtues. They faced daily threats from diseases unmitigated by antibiotics, frequent farming accidents (unrelieved by 911 calls), high infant mortality rates, and marauding bands of outlaws. They needed daily courage.

But technology and modern medicine have largely eliminated our need for everyday courage. How many of us (in the Western world) regularly face real terror?

So certain intelligentsia-circles pooh-pooh old-fashioned virtues like courage.* In response, C. S. Lewis points out the irony of our modern culture’s virtue vacuum:

In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue…. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful (The Abolition of Man).

This contempt of courage is evident in the silly stars of modern sitcoms. They are often good for nothing (or good for only a laugh), cowardly nincompoops, or effeminate moral slugs. (Even the movie version of The Lord of the Rings emasculated the original courage of Théoden, Faramir, and Treebeard.)

I’m a tad ashamed to admit to a tiny attraction (along with my repulsion) to sitcoms like Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory. I wonder if my parent’s World War II generation would have tolerated such shows.

But we have a problem

Our culture, with its modern medicine and technology, shields us from the ancient horrors faced by our forebears. Yet—despite ambulances and antibiotics—our mortality rate remains unchanged.

One hundred percent of us die. And death is an enemy we are unprepared to face.

Much of our technological drive is an attempt to hide from death. Modern thinkers agree that we have a deep, hidden fear of death.** If death is “it,” everything we do is insignificant. Nothing makes a difference. So we repress the horror of death. However, even though we repress it, deep down inside we still fear it.

If death is annihilation, then nothing we do—in the long run— will ever matter. But what if death isn’t the end? That too is a problem. Epicurus, wrote,

If we could be sure that death was annihilation, then there would be no fear of it. For as long as we live death is not there, and when death does come, we no longer exist. But we cannot be totally sure death is annihilation. What people fear most is not that maybe death is annihilation but that maybe death is not.

I’d like to live an epic life. I bet you do too. But if death is the final end, our heroism will be forgotten when the sun dies. And if death isn’t the end, our self-centered cowardice will live forever.

What are we to do?

Death is not just another archenemy with a chink in his armor. Death is the final enemy that we cannot beat.

Death is our Goliath. Sure, the army of King Saul’s Israel were chickens, but they were reasonable chickens. They knew they’d lose against Goliath. They didn’t have a chance. They could be sixty-seconds heroes, and then die. And soon be forgotten.

When we read the story of David and Goliath, where do we see ourselves? Are we the hero David? I hate to break the news, but we are the cowardly army; we are the selfish Seinfeld and cowardly Sheldon. I don’t like it, I try to hide it, but I’m not that epic hero.

Because Death is the enemy I have no chance of beating.

But there was one

When little boy David faced Goliath, he faced the monster alone. He didn’t call to Saul’s soldiers with “Hey everyone, group huddle.” He didn’t elicit courage from them with the self-hypnosis of, “Come on, let’s imagine ourselves beating him up.”

He face Goliath alone. With unimaginable courage.

Jesus was our David. Only he didn’t face a hulking human, he faced the giant we had no weapons to fight, unconquerable sin and unbeatable death. And he didn’t fight with the hope of winning, he fought knowing that only our hope was his death.

Unlike any god of the ancient world; unlike the sappy stars of sitcoms; unlike modern superheroes relying on their superhero strength; our God has courage.

Our first (and last) parachute jump

When I jumped—like the idiot boy I was—from our second story roof, I don’t know how I survived unhurt, but survive I did. No broken bones, no twisted ankles, and no pulled muscles. Not even a tear in my jeans (my biggest fear was fear of my mom).

But there is a jump everyone inevitably makes; it’s the leap of faith we all make with our hopes. Will we make that leap with the world’s jury-rigged chute of sheets and ropes of self-created heroism, self-numbing comfort, and denial of death?

Or will we leap with only parachute that will truly save us? Once sin and death has been destroyed, we can finally be heroic, our worst enemy is dead; and our parachute lines are just right.

We can finally face anything.

Sam