Of Blessings, Rewards & Just Plain Luck

God has been really good to us this year. Our business has grown 125%. We are so blessed!

If you are a part of the Christian culture, you’ve surely heard, or even said, something in the same vein as this. On the surface it sounds like a very faith-filled, believing, Christian thing to say. But is it really Christ-like? Does the framework of the thing hold water in light of the gospel?

Blessed

Let’s say you’re a farmer, your crops got the ideal amount of rain this year and your coffers are full. What a blessing! On the flip-side of your blessing, the hot shot firefighter has been out of work this summer.

Your snow removal business did very well because of the record snowfall. What a blessing! Just so happens there were also a record number of traffic deaths due to white-out conditions on the roads.

You feel thirsty so turn on the faucet and get yourself a glass of drinkable water. What a blessing! But yet 790 million other people walk to the river 5 miles from their dwelling and fetch a container of contaminated water.

Was the blessing granted to you because God loved you more? Did you serve Him better? Or did you trust Him more? Or did you work hard to create the change that led to the reward you had coming? And if you did work hard, what caused you to do that? Were you brought up in a home that encouraged hard work? Or maybe you were brought up in a much different environment and you overcame. Was your brain wired in such a way as to allow you to overcome from the start? Did God orchestrate your ancestral line for generations past in order to create a mind that works like yours which led you to make those particular choices that brought about your “blessing”? Or were you just damn lucky?

I have a growing distaste for the “blessed” motif in Christianity. I know it’s common in home decorating, clothing, and sermons. But inherent in the “blessed” is some level of “more than others”.  Or “because of who I am or what I’ve done for God”.

This world is not fair. People are not equal. We are for certain of equal value, but we are not equal. As much as we might like to think we all have equal opportunity, we really don’t. The person brought up with abuse does not have equal opportunity as those brought up in a nurturing home. The person with a chemical imbalance does not have an equal likelihood of achieving satisfying relationships as those who have a healthy balance of neurotransmitters and receptors. The person born in an oppressed country does not have the same opportunity as one born in a free country.

Taking these inequalities and saying that the positive things in our lives are the result of our being “blessed” by God puts inequality of all kinds squarely into God’s hands and makes it His doing. I don’t think that’s what He’s about. It’s inconsistent with the basic essence of the gospel message.

I think many of us are just damn lucky ~

for which we can be grateful and from which we can practice generosity.

Can we leave it at that?

I’m a Bad Mom

What had started out as a typical day, was morphing into a crash- and-burn day. One of my kids had shared with me a struggle they were having. And in short order, I was having my own multi-level struggle that was interfering with my ability to empathically be there for my child.

In my spiraling state of mind, I maintained my wits about me enough to send out an SOS to my neighbor friends. “Can I come over later to cry? I’m feeling like an inadequate mom and need to reset with some tears.” I said “inadequate”… but in the constant sorting game that’s been programmed into my brain, “inadequate” falls squarely in the bad camp.

God bless my neighbors! We’ve formed a small sisterhood of support and my life has been bettered by them being in it. One of the “sisters” was available and we had a chat. I explained what was going on and how I’d responded. She failed to see where I was being inadequate or bad.

With more processing, I realized I’d based my opinion of myself not on anything that was going on that evening, but on several broad-based assumptions:

  • If I’ve been an adequate parent, my kids will successfully handle difficult situations and personal challenges without missing a beat.
  • I am responsible for this problem because I raised them.
  • I inadequately prepared them for life.
  • I am supposed to fix this problem.
  • I have failed and am failing.

I had grabbed what was squarely their struggle and made it mine.

Have you been there?

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What’s interesting about all these assumptions is that they are based on a belief that I have the potential to be, and actually must be, omniscient and omnipresent. I must understand the inner workings of my child’s brain. I must understand how every interaction will impact them now and in the future and selectively control what those interactions are. I must have all the answers. I have the power to determine the outcome of their lives. And really this whole responsibility thing would also require me to be responsible for the chemical make-up and neurological wiring in my child’s brain. Wow! Really? Am I God?

After a visit with my neighbor I was able to return home to be a mom instead of a god, to listen instead of scramble to fix, to share life together instead of control, and to empathize with the situation instead of cast blame.

Breaking the cycle of self-blame and criticism is a long and slow process. But until compassion is found on the inside, for the fallible soul who inhabits the body you see in the mirror, freely giving compassion to others will be unattainable.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” starts with you.

Basics of NVC

I’m definitely a newbie with NonViolent Communication. But my last post sparked some conversation and I decided to share a little more backbone to the process as I currently understand it. This information is primarily coming from a couple of videos linked in my prior post, as well as this website and this book by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD, the developer of the process.

Basic tenets:

There are universal feelings and needs that are common to all of us. By finding those things we share in common, we develop empathy toward ourselves and each other. Once that connection is made, solutions to problems are more easily found. The goal of the process is to come to the place of empathetic connection. Here are the basic steps:

Step 1: Describe the event

What happened? Stick to the facts. What are observable things that you noticed? “You are lazy” is not it. “Over the past two weeks, I never saw you do the dishes” is it. That’s something you could put on a tally sheet and quantify. And notice that it leaves room to be clarified by the other person. Perhaps they did do the dishes but you just didn’t see them. “You never listen to me” is not it. “You have been looking at your phone and not giving eye contact for the past 5 minutes while I’ve been talking” is it.

Step 2: Find the feelings

What are you feeling? This might be tougher than it sounds. “I feel like you…” is not a feeling. It’s an opinion or a thought. “I feel that…” also not a feeling.  “I feel abandoned” is a feeling-ish.  “Feelings” like that are often used in a way that insinuates blame and is likely to trigger defensiveness… such as an implied “You abandoned me”. That kind of statement is an opinion. Instead of “abandoned”, try one or some of these feelings- lonely, sad, afraid, perplexed, livid or resentful.

Step 3: Identify the needs

Take the feelings you found above and try to determine where they’re coming from. “I feel __________ because I need ____________.” These needs are universal. “I feel hungry because I need a French fry” is not universal and “hungry” isn’t a heart feeling.  “I feel edgy because I need food” is universal. “I feel angry because I need you to….” umm, no. Not it. You might have something you’d like someone else to do for you, but that’s actually a request. It doesn’t describe your need. “I feel lonely because I need intimacy” is an expression of a universal need that underlies the feeling. Notice that your feelings are a direct result of your need.

Step 4: Make a request

AFTER mutual connection (which means the above process is explored until both parties are understood), describe what action might meet your needs. Be specific. Be concrete. Be current. What tangible thing could the other person do in the present that would increase your joy factor? Be flexible with the other person and with yourself. The specific strategy used to meet your need can fluctuate without negating your need. What is the other person willing to do?

NVC

What it’s not:

A way to make a demand. If you actually intend to make a demand, you are not practicing NonViolent Communication even if every other step is completed. Sometimes we don’t even recognize a demand in ourselves or someone else until a “no” gets thrown in there. If someone loses their cool or things turn nasty after a “request” is turned down, it was never a request. You can and will have feelings about a “no”. But having feelings and trying to shame, blame or guilt the other person because they gave you a “no” are two different things. NVC is intended to provide a deeper level of connection. Any use of force, coercion or manipulation is opposed to the intent of NVC. Perhaps the other person will do something for you that you request of them, but that’s the icing on the cake if it happens.

A panacea. In my opinion, there will be those with whom you may desire to connect but who don’t have the capacity for empathy or who insist on making demands rather than requests. I would also speculate that a person whose reality is unstable/ substantially shifts – not their interpretation of  or thoughts about prior events but their recollection of actual prior events – will be unable to make it through the process given that the fist step involves agreeing on basic facts. I also struggle to see how NVC applies in legal matters. But, Marshall Rosenberg successfully used NVC as a tool to bring peace in the worst of circumstances, so maybe my mind will shift on this as I learn more.

A cancellation of boundaries. Having empathy for another person does not mean you will or must agree on their requested strategy to meet their need.  Or perhaps you have a competing need that makes it unfeasible for you to meet the other person’s need at all. No still means no.

What it is:

Difficult. It’s a new language for your brain. Learning a new language is difficult. We have been trained to tune out feelings, or react to our feelings without even identifying or owning them. And being in the USA, strength and independence are king. Identifying our feelings and admitting to our needs is tough going. Taking responsibility for our own feelings and needs is perhaps even more foreign. “I feel impatient because you are making us late” is a much more typical way of assigning responsibility as compared to “I feel impatient when you are running late because I need consistency.”

Uncomfortable. I went to a practice session last night. We did a very simple exercise working through the above steps for each one of us. Most of us gave a one sentence observation we had on our hearts and minds. Then we identified a handful of feelings we had in relation to the situation. During the next step we identified a few needs we had that provoked the feeling. Holy Moly! How often have you actually listened to and been with someone else as they shared their heart, their mutual humanity, their life bloodwithout trying to judge, analyze or fix a thing? Most of us have been trained to judge, analyze and fix all within 30 seconds. Simply being with the other person in their discomfort is… uncomfortable.

Powerful! One of the attendees at the practice session I attended expressed surprise by the personal revelation they found while going through the process. “By golly, this thing really does work!” I think we all felt that way to some extent.

I hope you take the opportunity to learn more about NonViolent Communication. I’d love to hear what you think of the process and how it has impacted your life. Many have found peace with this method. And Lord knows this world could use more peace.

Them there are fightin’ words!

Your previously scheduled program is being interrupted to bring you the following special.

Wow! I didn’t know what to say! After practicing podiatry for several years I’d decided that surgery wasn’t my thing. I felt ill-prepared for all parts of the surgical process – the pre-op decision making, the technical components of the surgery, and the post-op management and possible complications. I wasn’t living in an area where support was easily accessible – and I really didn’t know how to ask for what I needed anyway. Add to that my preoccupation with perfection and my as-of-yet-to-be-diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder – and I was slowly killing myself with stress. Something had to give, and I decided for the sake of my health and that of my patients, surgery would no longer be in my repertoire. I’d heard of podiatrists who didn’t perform surgery, but they certainly weren’t the norm. My decision left me feeling relieved and isolated all at the same time. I broke the news to my office manager – who also happened to be my husband – with hopes of gaining support in my corner.

Now for those of you who have loved Jeff, stick with me here. I promise I’m not throwing him under the bus. He might look more human to you before this is over, but human is enough. In fact, human was exactly what I was needing!

To think his response would be supportive was a miscalculation. He said some fightin’ words topped with a healthy serving of spite. “How can you even call yourself a doctor if you don’t do surgery?!”

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Wow! My waves crashed! I didn’t know what to say! The options as I knew them to be…

  • Tell him what a jerk he was being. Nah. Two wrongs don’t make a right.  Besides it certainly wouldn’t swing him around my way. I didn’t do that.
  • Smile. Say nothing. Make him a special supper. Lavish kindness on him. Turn the other cheek. Bite a hole in my tongue while disguising the truth of my angst. When I couldn’t take the inner turmoil any longer, complain to my friends about the terrible things he said, driving a wedge of separation between us. I didn’t do that either – at least not the first part.
  • I could tell myself not to take things so personal. I shouldn’t be so easily offended. I should just live my own life and not be so influenced by what he thinks of me. Shame myself out of my feelings. But that would have required a medically-induced coma to achieve. I didn’t do that.
  • Put up a boundary. Something like “It hurts me when you talk that way. If you speak disparagingly to me again, I will have to….blah, blah, blah.”  Have you ever noticed that boundaries ill-played can come out sounding demanding and controlling? What I wanted was someone in my corner. Forcing an external behavior would do nothing to assure me I had someone in my corner. And if I wasn’t successful in forcing the external behavior, would I really follow through on the “consequence” (aka – threat). I didn’t do that either.
  • Explain to him why I could still call myself a doctor so he would apologize for his ignorant, mean words. I would win him over with facts and information while keeping a distance from either one of our hurts and needs. Always the believer in logic, I did that. It had zero impact. He wasn’t interested in a logical explanation as to why I still considered myself a legitimate doctor.

The tools in my “navigating human interactions” tool chest were perhaps typical, but were weighed in the balances and found to be wanting. At the time you can be sure I didn’t see it that way. I only saw that he had been found wanting.

Now, I promised there wasn’t going to be a casualty. Stick with me. We’re about to get to the saving part. Nobody is going under the bus.

Some fifteen years later… I GOT A NEW TOOL! It provides a framework for taking the weight out of the words while hearing, loving, and connecting to the person. It’s a judgment-free zone. No need to concern yourself with who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s the good person and who’s the bad. Those classifications are inconsequential. (IKR…! What is this heresy!) No internal or external brainwashing, tongue biting, or manipulating involved.

And dog-gone-it, what I wouldn’t give for a do-over!

We would have ROCKED this thing!

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What is this magical tool that has brought such hope? It’s called Non-Violent Communication. It’s got simplistic ideas like developing giraffe instead of jackal ears. (Learn more here and here…) But to say it will be simple to adopt as a way of thinking would be highly inaccurate. No new way of thinking is going to be simple after 50 years of paving the neural roads. I mean, really, what about that part where there’s “no need to concern yourself with who’s right and who’s wrong”…?? That alone requires a major detour!

A basic premise of NVC is that all communication can be boiled down to either a please or a thank you. If needs aren’t being met, it will be a please. If needs are being met, it will probably be a thank you. Things that you might have considered fightin’ words, you can now think of as a tragic expression of a please. “Tragic” because the veiled request is unlikely to result in anyone’s needs actually being met. But given compassion, time, and effort, we can get there without inciting World War III or adding a new layer to our Enemy Image portrait (more about that here). And the good news, it only takes one person to change the tide of a conversation.

“Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.”
― Marshall Rosenberg

So here’s how I imagine the conversation could have gone using my very novice Non-Violent Communication skills…

  • Hubs – “How can you even call yourself a doctor if you don’t do surgery?!” (There’s no way to twist that around to make it thank you. It is most certainly a tragic expression of please help me.)
  • Me – “It sounds like you’ve got strong feelings about this. I want to understand. Are you feeling afraid?” (If one person isn’t equipped to express their feelings and needs, the other person helps them out by guessing and checking.)
  • Hubs – “Yes, I’m afraid. I don’t think you understand what this will do to our future!” (Hubs expressed his feeling – but hasn’t expressed his need that causes the feeling.)
  • Me – “Ok, tell me if I am getting this right. You’re afraid for our financial security if I don’t perform surgeries. You need to know that our family will be provided for.”
  • Hubs – “No! That’s not the issue. YOU need to understand what this will mean financially.” (I’m thinking this is not on the Needs Inventory, but we’ll go with it.)
  • Me – “Thanks for telling me that I didn’t understand. Bear with me. You need reassurance that I understand the financial impact of my decision. Is that what you meant?”
  • Hubs – “Yes!”
  • Me – “Ok. What can we do that would reassure you? Can we run some reports and review them together? Talk with other podiatrists? Would those things help?”  (And here we jumped straight to strategy to meet the need.)
  • Hubs – “Yeah, ok. That would help.”
  • (Now that his feelings and needs were met, then it would be time to get to my feelings and needs.)

Now – realistically do I think this emotionally charged situation would have been peacefully resolved in six interchanges. Nope. But you get the gist. In my heart, I can now empathize with his feelings and needs. I hear his “please!” on so many levels and in so many ways. The unresolved conflict had nothing to do with anyone being bad or wrong or offensive. It had everything to do with unexpressed feelings and unmet needs – which thankfully can be corrected with a bit of effort.

By connecting on a deeper level to the needs we have in common, compassion is aroused and both parties become more inclined to consider mutually-agreeable strategies to resolve the matter. Being fully, deeply human is exactly what works best to resolve conflict.

I challenge you, if you’re feeling offended by someone in your life, try something different with your conversation next time. It can get better from here.

 

In the Silence

It’s been a while since I’ve written much. Sometimes it takes a good long silence for experiences, thoughts and beliefs to shape into words. It’s been one of those “pauses” for me, and even now I’m not absolutely sure where to start. But I’m just going to begin, realizing I may need to hit “rewind” periodically.

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I’m in a good place right now. I’ve not moved nor made any major changes to my house for at least a year, so the “good place” I’m in has little to do with the physical space I inhabit – but yet something to do with where I live given the positive impact my neighbors have had on my journey. But that’s probably another story.

Speaking of “journey”, I used to think the journey of life was something you did equipped with the right answers – you know, like a trip with a fully developed itinerary.  Furthermore, if you were a committed Christian, the journey would all play out in proper order. If it didn’t, the derailment was no doubt due to the choices of lesser Christian people with whom you mistakenly associated.

~But then again, I used to think a lot of things.~

Like many life stories, mine includes a pit. And like many stories, circumstances and choices put me there. But if I try and describe what came before the pit to influence my circumstances and choices, I then also get caught up in describing what came before that, and then before that… and pretty soon it’s all a pile of tangled spaghetti with too many ends to manage. So let’s start the story in my pit – which is a place I used to think was taboo to talk about.

~But then again, I used to think a lot of things.~

While in my pit, a friend of mine threw me a line. She recommended I attend a recovery group. I didn’t have a history of substance abuse – but I had some doozer thought patterns. They were harmful to my well-being but I stuck to them anyway.  And in spite of that description matching the definition of an addiction, I was certain I’d have nothing in common with addicts – especially not these addicts. The group was not of my denomination, which meant I believed they were without The Truth, the Whole Truth and nothing but The Truth. And because I knowingly joined such a heretical group for the purpose of gaining something from them and not for the purpose of converting them, I was pretty certain if God was paying any attention at all He would strike me down with lightening. And if He didn’t, I would surely be led astray by their trickery.

~But then again, I used to think a lot of things.~

Right about that same time I met with my pastor to talk some things over. During that conversation it actually came out of my mouth that the majority of my life choices were controlled by guilt and fear. Shocking. Shocking that I had enough self-awareness to recognize it. Shocking that I was brave enough to say it out loud. And equally shocking – and sad- that it was true. To be certain, being controlled by guilt and fear doesn’t result in a perfect life that never causes harm to self or others. It simply means that one is burdened with guilt and fear.

Your most obedient child, BTW, might be the one to especially check on. The “should”, “have to”, “must” burden is a killer of a load. What happened to simply being human? Isn’t that enough? But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Quick on the heals of recovery, was a whole new library of books. Emotional intelligence…? What is that? Isn’t knowing the facts and understanding how to articulate them precisely all that really matters in life?

Boundaries…? Are those authors even Christian?? I mean really, since when do my needs matter? I have needs, but doesn’t Christianity secretly require a manipulative dance to get them met? To directly express my needs and limits sounds, well, selfishThat’s certainly not Christian. I should at least try to be selfless and then hope God will make up the rest.

Gifts of Imperfection…? Gifts?? Now you certainly are not Christian! Imperfections are only gifts after they are ground off with the polishing stone, or burned out with the fire, or made as if they never were by use of some other Biblical purifying method. Aren’t they?

~Ah, yes. I used to think a lot of things. ~

Those beliefs, more often than not, seem like a lifetime ago. But it has been no easy process for me to experience growth from the new concepts. Some foundational cards have had to be pulled from the house. Because unless you get to the thing behind the thing, the thing never really changes.  And so my house of cards has come tumbling down. Frightening. But a different kind of fear than what I’ve carried with me all my life.

More next time on what allowed me the freedom to pull the cards, and where I find myself on this journey now.

The Manipulator

The commanding timbre of her voice more than compensates for any lack of logic. “No, you must do it this way.” It’s not that when questioned she doesn’t have her reasons, but the reasons are shallow and antiquated. They were helpful for a time, but that time has passed.  She continues on, not realizing her lack of relevance. And when her caution goes unheeded, her insistence morphs into poorly veiled threats. “You’ll be a bad person if you don’t.” And that, well, that is really what underlies all she has to say.  Fear. Fear of being bad.  For it is in being good, very good, that she finds belonging.

The record has a scratch that causes the lines to repeat in the back of my head. When I internalize the message and believe the fear, I find myself making painful, boundary-less, unhealthy decisions that paradoxically result in the very outcome I was determined to avoid.

Dear Younger Me,

You are of value because you are a human being loved by your Creator. Your value does not stem from your performance. You are finding a way to get your needs met, and that’s OK for now. But realize this is simply the starting place for your journey. It’s not the end-all.  One day you will find more beneficial, healthier ways.

There is a voice more powerful than fear. Listen for it. That voice is not demanding, so its urgency can be easily overlooked when compared to the voice of fear. The voice of fear will tell you that any course other than the way it demands will make you bad. But fear lies.

While it will feel destabilizing to let go of the fear that has controlled you, press on. You will learn to ride the waves and will experience a fuller life than is possible while standing in fear on the shore. You won’t be the first in your circle to step out in the waves, nor will you be the last. Don’t get too caught up in the people still on the shore. It’s OK if you go a different direction. In fact, you were designed to do so.

Be confidently you. The world needs it. And so do you.

Much love, Me

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There is no manipulator stronger than the one that lives in your own head. From it, all others gain their power.

 

For This, Lord, We Repent

A prayer for myself and fellow Christians.

In as much as we have allowed, expected and even required a select paid few to participate in spiritual duties and to share Your story, we have believed You do not allow equal access to Your throne. For this, Lord, we repent.

You also are like living stones, and God is using you to build a spiritual house. You are to serve God in this house as holy priests, offering him spiritual sacrifices that he will accept because of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 ERV

In as much as we have lived a life burdened by fear, guilt and obligation and called it “following You”, we have not believed Your message of freedom. For this, Lord, we repent.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11: 28-30 MSG

In as much as we have required others to understand countless points of doctrine in the precise fashion that we do prior to allowing them to be baptized, we have believed You require spiritual growth absent of Your power. For this, Lord, we repent.

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your entire household.” They spoke the Lord’s word to him and everyone else in his house. Right then, in the middle of the night, the jailer welcomed them and washed their wounds. He and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. Acts 16:31-33 CEB

In as much as we seek to occupy the high places man has created and feel pride in knowing others who do, we have set aside the order of Your kingdom.  For this, Lord, we repent.

Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. James 4:10 NET

The fear of people becomes a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord will be set on high. Proverbs 29: 25 NET

In as much as we have closed our eyes to the boundary-crossing of those with prestige and tenure against the weak, preferring to allow some to suffer rather than risk offending the powerful, we have forsaken Your Spirit. For this, Lord, we repent.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8 ESV

In as much as we have excluded ourselves from mingling with others who believe differently than we do or are of a different socioeconomic status, we have been prideful and robbed others of the blessings You wished for us to share.  For this, Lord, we repent.

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 2 Corinthians 9:11 ESV

In as much as we have believed we are a special people, morally superior to others, we have supposed You play favorites. For this, Lord, we repent.

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. Romans 3: 23-25 ESV

In as much as we present Your grace as being available to the outsider, but remove it from the reach of those who have confessed Your name, we deny the reality of being human. For this, Lord, we repent.

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.  Romans 7: 18-20,  24, 25 ESV

In as much as we have used baptismal status or desires for such as a manipulative force to change behavior in others, we have twisted the gospel, placing the onus of sanctification on ourselves. For this, Lord, we repent.

God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him.  Philippians 2:13 CEV

In as much as we have taught that You have a single plan for our lives which we must search for, find and accomplish in order to live a life acceptable to You, we have believed You to be a controlling micro-manager and inept at bringing good out of all circumstances. For this, Lord, we repent.

We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 CEB

In as much as we have claimed that following You leads to a life void of troubles, we have caused doubt in the lives of those facing trials. For this, Lord, we repent.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 ESV

In as much as we have asserted to know the unspoken intentions or thought-processes of another and deemed the person righteous or evil, we have removed You from the throne of judgment. For this, Lord, we repent.

The Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does. He will show him greater works than these so that you will marvel.  As the Father raises the dead and gives life, so too does the Son give life to whomever he wishes. The Father doesn’t judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son so that everyone will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent him. “I assure you that whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and won’t come under judgment but has passed from death into life. John 5: 20-24 CEB

In as much as we have believed we have no moral struggle or downfall in common with an alcoholic, prostitute or murderer, we have fed our self-delusions. For this, Lord, we repent.

So what are we saying? Are we better off? Not at all. We have already stated the charge: both Jews and Greeks are all under the power of sin. Romans 3:9 CEB

In as much as we have clung to our pride over authenticity, we have denied ourselves of the healing You want to provide. For this, Lord, we repent.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16 ESV

In as much as we have mistook leadership for power rather than service, we have adopted an earthly world view. For this, Lord, we repent.

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:14,15 NIV

In as much as we have come to think that we can and absolutely must do it right, get it right, believe it right, understand it right in order to please You, we have imagined You to be exacting. For this, Lord, we repent.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  Psalm 51:16,17 ESV

 

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In as much as we have followed You for what we want from You, we have devalued Your pursuit of our hearts. For this, Lord, we repent.

I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. Jeremiah 24:7 ESV

In as much as we have refused to open the painful places of our hearts and allow You to do the hard work of healing, we have chosen bondage over freedom. For this, Lord, we repent.

So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1,2 CEB

In as much as we have closed the door to a progression in spiritual understanding, we have denied Your desire to further reveal Your character. For this, Lord, we repent.

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.  Acts 2:17 CEB

In as much as we have been unable to extend compassion toward others, we have not trusted Your compassion toward us. For this, Lord, we repent.

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
    He’s all I’ve got left. Lamentations 3: 22-24 MSG

In as much as we have responded to Your commands by saying “All that You have said, we will do”, we have trusted in our promises over Your promises. For this, Lord, we repent.

I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 CEB

In as much as we have belittled others in conversation or in our thoughts so that we could comparatively lift ourselves up, we have rejected the value You have already placed on us. For this, Lord, we repent.

As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”  Romans 9:25,26 ESV

In as much as we have accentuated the weight of guilt in another’s life, thinking we were doing the work of God, we have misunderstood Your mission. For this, Lord, we repent.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:17 ESV

In as much as we have tried to control others, we have considered You incapable of guiding them on their own journey. For this, Lord, we repent.

If you stray to the right or the left, you will hear a word that comes from behind you: “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21 CEB

In as much as we have felt obligated to give of our time, money or energy while holding resentment in our hearts for our sacrifice, we have been striving to impress You. For this, Lord, we repent.

Each one of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give. You should not give if it makes you unhappy or if you feel forced to give. God loves those who are happy to give. 2 Corinthians 9:7 ERV

In as much as we have doubted our own salvation, we have judged You impotent to save. For this, Lord, we repent.

So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  Hebrews 7:25 NET

In as much as we have nurtured an atmosphere of fear in regards to the end of time, we have rejected Your message of peace and Your self-sacrificing love. For this, Lord, we repent.

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. … I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.  As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. John 10: 10, 11, 14, 15 NKJV

In as much as we have monitored and corrected the explicatives spoken by others while living a Christian life void of Your transformational power, we have taken Your name in vain. For this, Lord, we repent.

But the fruit that the Spirit produces in a person’s life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these kinds of things. Galatians 5: 22, 23 ERV

In as much as we have thought You were more concerned with the form of our worship than the condition of our hearts, we have adopted paganism and set up our home in Babylon. For this, Lord, we repent.

“I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me. Hosea 6:6 TLB

In as much as we have made religion about behavior modification and doctrinal beliefs and not about knowing and trusting You, we have committed idolatry. For this, Lord, we repent.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. John 5:39,40 ESV

In as much as we have sought after a leader worthy to follow rather than seeking after You, we have had other gods. For this, Lord, we repent.

Christ gave you a special gift. You still have this gift in you. So you don’t need anyone to teach you. The gift he gave you teaches you about everything. It is a true gift, not a false one. So continue to live in Christ, as his gift taught you. 1 John 2:27 ERV

In as much as I myself have believed and acted on these very things, I have strayed from Your way. For this, Lord, I repent.

 

The Father and His Son

Long ago and far away there lived a Father and his Son who had a relationship that is rare on the face of this earth. We’ll call them Father and Son. We don’t know a lot about the details of their relationship, but there are some things we know for certain. Although both grown men, the two could often be found enjoying each other’s company.  Son had an artistic mind and found pleasure in creating things – a real master craftsman. And Father took equal pleasure in seeing what Son made.

father. son

One day tragedy struck and darling Son suffered a severe injury while rescuing Father’s dog that had been caught in a well. Death appeared imminent for Son. Father felt as if a knife had cut through his own soul watching Son suffer so.  He drew closer to Son’s bedside and tenderly took his hand, giving the comfort only a loving father can.  The power of their love enabled Son to pull through the darkness and, in the end, fully recover. They could again be found side-by-side, loving on the pup that had nearly been the end of it all.

There was no room for one-upmanship, manipulation or control in their relationship and no sense of fear or dread, no concern of inadequacy.  The relationship was built on trust, mutual respect and personal freedom. The result was sheer enjoyment and delightful companionship for both.  It was the envy of all who saw it.

Amazingly, this is real. This is the quality of relationship described in the Bible between God the Father and Son before time began. Close, warm, tender, playful, creative, pleasurable. There was a third party to this relationship. His name is the Holy Spirit. We don’t know as much about Him, but He was a part of the giving and receiving of benevolent love.

More amazingly, you and I are invited to walk into the relationship with God. Listen to the prayer of Jesus in John 17:

The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.

It was Jesus’ desire that we experience the same quality of love relationship with each other and with His Father as they have been experiencing for eons past. God is not content to simply spare us. He wants to save us out of everything painful and into a beautiful friendship.

You are not alone. You don’t need to perform to be acceptable or accepted. You are loved deeply and tenderly. You don’t have to wait until heaven to experience this. He wants to start growing into this relationship with you right now. Do you trust Him? Will you believe He’s inviting you, just as you are, into the inner circle?

Jesus opened the door of trust in our hearts. Now walk through it.

He’s the hero. And it’s great news!

See Isa 42:1, 6; Pro 8:30, 31; Zech 13:7; John 1:18; Mat 3:17; John 8:29; John 17:24; and John 10:30. 

 

 

 

Life Beyond the Law

So many times I’ve said myself or heard other Christians say, “I wish I hadn’t done that. I’m going to ask Jesus to help me do better with that in the future.”  While there’s nothing explicitly wrong with that prayer, I’ve come to believe there’s really not much right about it.

Jesus didn’t come so we could obey the law better. He came to show us the love of the Father and to draw us to Him. Then, as a result of our personal connection to Him, our lives will be transformed.  We will not be an improved version of ourselves. Not better. But transformed entirely.

Imagine standing around the proverbial water cooler at work. What would it take for you to not join in the gossip about an annoying coworker? Perhaps exercising your willpower? Concentrating on something else? Reminding yourself that good Christians wouldn’t act that way? Biting your tongue hard enough to pierce it? Any of those approaches might work. And certainly it would not be wrong of you not to gossip.  That’s making use of a couple of double negatives to say, sure, it’s a good thing to avoid gossiping by any methods. Not gossiping decreases the harm done to others. But does biting your tongue to avoid gossiping make you a Jesus-follower? Does it give evidence of being a Christian?  Does having enough will power to control yourself hold weight with God?  Not gossiping is in line with the moral law.  Doesn’t that count for something?

water-cooler

God’s way is not our way. His thoughts are not our thoughts. Jesus didn’t simply come to show us an example and instruct us on right-living. He came to show us the Father. He came to restore a broken relationship – one where we didn’t trust that He had our best interest in mind. He came to establish a kinship where He calls us friend and brother. His life was one of restoration and healing.

Jesus told us in many different ways that it’s not what is on the outside of a man that matters – but what is in his heart. A life transformed by the Holy Spirit will live beyond the law -in the spirit of the law – not focused on obedience to the letter of the law. A Jesus-follower will have a spirit of humility – knowing they are not intrinsically better than the person who is being gossiped about, empathy – for both the frustration of the speaker and his/ her subject, compassion – sorrow for the weakness of the human race, and grace – giving kindness where none is deserved.

Will the disciple of Jesus be a gossiper? Surely not. But the reason will have little or nothing to do with the law. The Jesus-follow wants what is best for the other person and has a desire for their healing and their well-being. Tearing the other person down with gossip is not an option – not because they can’t or shouldn’t, but just because they won’t.

Not gossiping doesn’t require trying hard not to gossip. It requires a transformation of your heart.

There are many very hard things Jesus asks us to do. Focusing on trying hard to obey the law is not one of them.  But if we do the hard things He asks, our lives will show the fruit of His work in us.

Create in me a clean heart, O God. And renew a right spirit within me.  Ps 51:10

Jesus is the hero and it’s good news!

 

 

 

Of Ice-Cream, Mountains and the Gospel

“How was your trip to the mountains?” my friend asked.

“Oh, AMAZING! I had a chocolate twist cone. It was the best!”  I replied.

Wait. What? What is this nonsense conversation we walked in to? My friend asks about a trip to the mountains and I tell him about ice-cream. Nonsensical! But what if I told you there is a Maverick gas station on the way to the mountains that sells ice-cream?  Does the conversation seem reasonable now?

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I don’t think it does. While it’s true there is a Maverick on the way to the mountains and it really does have tasty, inexpensive ice-cream that I’ve indulged in many times, the ice-cream is not the highlight of the trip. The highlight of the trip is, of course, experiences that can be found only in the mountains. The sound of the wind in the pines. The brilliance of the Aspen leaves. The ice-cold river with slippery rocks in the bed.  Any of the things exclusive to the mountains ~ that’s what makes the trip to the mountains amazing.  Ice-cream is easily available in lots of places. The mountains may enhance my ice-cream experience, but it’s still not the ice-cream that makes the trip to the mountains amazing.  It’s the mountains.

Yet how often do we do this with the gospel? We frequently say we’re talking about the gospel, but then focus on things that are available elsewhere. Moral lessons and teachings. Self-improvement. Social justice. Values. Civil behavior. These things certainly are in the Bible and a part of the faith journey.  But they aren’t exclusive to a faith in God and they aren’t the point of the gospel or Christianity. They are simply things that we experience as we make our way to the Point. They are important only in light of the gospel. It’s nonsensical to converse about those things void of the gospel itself.

Central to the gospel message is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the redemption He freely offers. That message contains rest and peace for the soul not available any where else. And that message sweetens all the other things we encounter along the way.

By His wounds we are healed. 

Jesus is the hero and it’s good news!

That’s the Gospel.