Jesus is the Better…

The woman’s life was in shambles. She’d been abused by men in every way since childhood. Her brokenness left her searching ~ searching for love in all the wrong places. Her name was Nikki. “Nikki, I’ve got the perfect man for you,” Jeff said. Nikki shrugged and turned away, certain she’d just be disappointed one more time. “No really,” Jeff insisted. “You should meet him. He listens. He’s patient. He is tender and compassionate. He gently pursues. I’ve never met a more genuine man.” He had Nikki’s attention. “Yes! I want to meet him!” she exclaimed.  Jeff smiled. “His name is Jesus. I’d love to introduce you.”  Nikki eventually did meet Jesus. And she found Him to be the perfect man. He met all of her longings.

As I heard Jeff tell the story, I began to understand how Jesus is the answer for our every longing on an entirely different level. But unless we take the time to get to know Jesus, the solution sounds blind and shallow. “Don’t worry. Jesus is enough. Be happy.”

Another of the stories Jeff told involved a man who was searching for his father’s approval. Unfortunately the man’s dad died when he was 16 and he never experienced his father’s approval. Now as an older man, he was still longing for it. Jeff shared with us some of what he had shared with the man ~ and it was good news!

The man in Jeff’s story is not unique. Our unmet needs from childhood seem to be a very common source of brokenness. All of our parents are imperfect humans doing the best they can. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) their imperfect best will always leave gaps. I’d like to practice speaking gospel truth with you by walking through that particular area of hurt, looking at it through the lens of “Jesus is the better…”. How is Jesus the better parent and what kind of healing can He bring to you and me?  What is the identity He offers?  How did He live out what we are craving?

My first step in this process is to ask, what is it that we need from our parents?  Protection, food, clothing, shelter, affirmation, affection, attentiveness, forgiveness, patience, instruction, unconditional love, medical care, inclusion. The list could go on. If I was talking with someone who was hurting in regards to their parents, I would listen for a recurring theme to discover what area they felt their needs had not been met. The man Jeff was talking with had not gotten approval and affirmation from his father.

The second step is to ask how we can know that Jesus is able to meet that need. What do we see in how He treated others as recorded in the Bible that would indicate He is able to give what we need? What experiences have we had of Him in our own lives? How about in the lives of our friends? How do we know Jesus is the better parent? What kind of parent/ child relationship did Jesus experience that becomes my new identity when I am in Christ?

The good news Jeff shared with the man he was talking with sounded something like this: “I have good news for you! When Jesus was on the earth, before He had even begun His ministry, His Father announced to everyone that He was proud of His Son. He said, “Look everyone – this is My Son! I’m so pleased with Him!” Jesus offers that acceptance to you. It’s not just that Jesus will accept you, but He is willing to trade places with you. He is willing to give you the connection He has with His father, as your own to claim. When God the Father looks at you, He sees Jesus. The admiration and acceptance given to Jesus, becomes yours even though you’ve done nothing to deserve it.”

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By claiming our identity in the gospel, we can let loose of our unreasonable expectations of others because Jesus has already perfectly experienced it and provided it. As we believe that God sees us ~ right now ~ as He sees Jesus, we can let loose of our unreasonable expectations of ourselves because Jesus has already obtained it. We become more loving, not because we tried hard to be loving, but because Jesus is the better answer. He is enough.

Jesus is the hero ~ and it’s good news!

That’s the gospel truth.

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My Two Cents

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I disagree. 

I admire Rick Warren’s work and appreciate his ministry more than the typical person on the street. But this particular quote seems surprisingly off the mark to me.  Perhaps I’m taking the concept further than it was intended, or perhaps the saying is more of a sound bite than a reliable dogma. Here’s how it looks played out to the extreme:

God teaches you to forgive by causing your spouse to have an affair. Really?

God teaches you patience by causing your date to be an hour late. Really?

God teaches you tolerance by causing your best friend to emotionally abuse you. Really?

The application of that principle in specific situations where I decide specifically what God is trying to teach is painting a really ugly picture of God. Does God orchestrate tragedy in my life because I’m a bad person and need to learn something? Or does the rain fall on the good and the bad?

Let’s see how it looks when the logic is reversed.

If I was already more forgiving, nothing would happen in my life that would require me to forgive.  Really?

If I was already more patient, I would never have to wait. Really?

If I was already more loving, there would be no unlovely people around me. Really?

Do the things that happen to me and around me occur because of me? Looking at it this way give me a whole bunch of control. It is self-centered. It encourages perfectionism in my thinking because, if I believe the logic, then I must also believe that if I was just a better person I would be able to control the circumstances and people around me. When unlovely things continue to happen to and around me, the natural conclusion is that I am a bad person – I didn’t get my act together well enough. This then produces self-loathing, anger, frustration, guilt and shame. It is a codependent way of thinking that enmeshes me with the people in my life.

Here’s what I think:

God teaches us to love by loving us. 

There are unlovely people in my life because I live in a war zone where there is a battle going on between good and evil. I am not in control of the other people in my life. I am simply traveling beside them and have experiences as a result of that shared journey. Sometimes I am the unlovely person. Sometimes other people who I love are the unlovely people. And always God is so amazingly good that He is able to create beauty where the enemy planned destruction.

Whatsoever Things

We know the drill…

“Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

Having trouble with your thoughts? Do that. We’ve heard it. We know it. And we feel inadequate and ashamed when we can’t do it.

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But I didn’t quote the text quite right. I left off the first two words- and perhaps those are the words most essential to successfully implementing the text.

“Finally, brethren…”

Finally. Finally, after all these other things. After you’ve gotten to know Jesus. After you’ve devoted your life to Him. After you’ve seen His power in your life and know He is real. After you have been willing to give all for Him. Then. Then you are ready for what I want to tell you next.

Brethren. Friends. Co-travelers. Bonded together deeper than blood. Here within this community of support. Shared with deep regard and compassion. “I get it. I’ve been there. I know where you’re at. I understand the journey. I’m not just telling you what to do. I’m in it with you. I’d do anything for you. This instruction will bring such positive change to your life, I can’t restrain myself from telling you what has been helpful for me on my journey. Now here it is, my friends.”

Now it’s not a drill. Now it’s not a check list filled with condemnation. Now it’s meaningful and filled with abundant life.

Invalidating Words of Kindness

“You are beautiful inside and out.”
“You are the best provider.”
“You are the most loving woman.”
“You are the model of a parent.”
“You are _____.” (Fill in the blank with whatever positive message you’d like to hear.)
 

This variety of “kind” statements have always left me a little on-edge and uneasy but I’ve been totally uncertain as to why.  Sometimes I’ve felt the need to say similar comments to others thinking I would validate them, but after the comments were spoken they never really seemed as satisfying as I’d imagined they would be.

For a long time now I’ve understood the dangers of “You are (insert negative message)” comments. When said to children, the children tend to believe the statement which eats at their self-esteem. When said to other adults, it turns the “discussion” into a squabble or bitter fight. No productive conversation can be expected to follow a “You are mean” comment.  The recommended communication method would go something more like: “When you eat my piece of pie, I feel cheated, angry, and unloved. I would prefer that you at least ask me if I want the pie before you just take it.”  It’s called XYZ. That approach is obviously less condemning and more focused on problem solving. But what is so wrong with saying “You are wonderful”? How can those “kind” words be invalidating?

This past week I had an “ah-ha” moment with my pastoral counselor I’d like to share with you. See if you agree. These “kind” comments are unsettling because the listener knows they are not true.  In our heart of hearts we know we are not always beautiful, the most loving, thoughtful or otherwise superb individual. If we are honest people, we realize we all mess up, have bad days, do stupid things and at times have zits in the middle of our foreheads. So comments like that set us up for a tenuous, superficial relationship.  Subconsciously we get the message: “I better be careful not to show them who I really am or they will learn it isn’t true and might not accept me.”  Those comments are not filled with acceptance and belonging. Additionally, they make life a competition. It immediately puts the receiver into “compare” mode, comparing their lives, looks, qualities, talents with other people. Are they really as great as the other person says they are? Or is there someone better and more deserving?

Consider this: What happens if the girl who has repeatedly been told she is “beautiful” gets in a car accident and her face is deformed? What happens if the “good provider” becomes ill and can’t work?  What happens if the “best parent ever” has a child who becomes a delinquent? Those comments that were said to build the person up, now become their destruction. Their security in the relationship is gone. Their self-esteem and self-worth was built on things they did not have total control over. Is that in reality very kind? Is it validating? Or invalidating?

How much better to say: “You really worked hard on learning that new song. I’m proud of you.”  “I love the way you did your hair today.” “That dress is flattering on you.” “I see that you make it a priority to spend time with your kids. I think that’s great.” “I saw you open the door for that person. That was a nice thing for you to do.”  Instead of praising the person, praise the positive character traits you see.  When combined with honest and loving use of the XYZ method, the relationship can be real, vulnerable and deep. And how about if we talk to our inner selves with the same respect and compassion?  I’m still striving toward the goal myself.

What say you?

Casting out Fear

Nary a wise decision was made whilst motivated by fear.

I’m no stranger to fear. I remember that feeling I had when the Trooper felt tipsy while driving the switchbacks on the mountain side of Clark’s Fork Canyon about a thousand feet up from the river below. I got out, taking my baby girl with me. The Trooper subsequently rolled one and a half times and landed on its roof, thankfully still on the trail, with Jeff inside. I had made a good decision. And that was fear. But it’s not the fear I’m talking about.

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What happens when the foundation you built your life upon gets taken away? What happens when the core of who you identify yourself to be disappears into thin air? When the “healthy” is found to be “unhealthy”, the “functional” actually “dysfunctional”, and the “perfect” is very “imperfect”? What happens then? I’ve been there. I’ve been afraid.

“Perfect love casts out all fear.” I’ve read it. I believe it. So I have no answer but to look back on my life and realize there have been times I’ve not been connected to the Source of perfect love because my human fear was very present.  Friends, family, counselors, therapists, books and even medication – they are all supportive, good and helpful (if indeed they are supportive, good and helpful). But there is no complete healing of the soul without the presence of the Healer.  That darkest and most fearful time of all is when we are too afraid, too ashamed, too proud, too self-righteous, too confused, too dark, too burdened down… too brokenly human… to bare the most raw part of our souls to Him.

During my first round with fear, it took me fifteen years to hand it over. I haven’t become perfect at it. It isn’t my built-in, immediate response. But it becomes easier, faster, and more automatic every time I choose to give it to Him.  And when I do, His love is so comforting I always wonder why it took me so long.

If you are afraid in the deepest part of your soul today, I pray for the perfect love of Jesus Christ to wash over you.  Look up to Him. He’s waiting. And I pray that you will find the strength, vulnerability and discernment required to reach out to a safe person who can be His hands to you. You are not alone. The very act of facing your fear will frighten a majority of it away. Go ahead. Cast it out.

Then get on with living.

“For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

God Things

“The way everything lined out and fell into place so easily… well, it just had to be a God thing,” she stated as she recounted how her husband got his first job.  “Hmm… really?” I thought.  And so after carefully considering my choice of words I said to her “Hmm… really?”

How is one to know?  Really?

I’ve got a friend who told God in prayer that she would move to the country if He found a buyer for her home in the city.  The home was never listed but they got an acceptable offer from a stranger shortly thereafter.  They moved.  Was it a God thing?  Had she received a message from Him and did the right thing?

I’ve got a pastor who has been a great blessing to our congregation.  He was here a long time and many prayers were said on his behalf before his prior home sold. The same thing happened to my family when I was a youngster – certain that God had called us to move to a new place but our prior house didn’t sell until we were near the breaking point.  Were those God things?  Did we miss a message from Him and make a wrong turn?

Did my friend have more faith than my pastor?  Or my dad? Were her prayers heard louder?  Answered more clearly?  These questions are getting….yucky.

When things get rough and nothing works out easily, is God giving a message?  If so, what is it?  Is the message to persevere or to redirect?  How do we know?  Do we bang on the door harder?  Or do we go look for a different door?  If so, how long should we try at the first door before moving on?

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If there is an unmistakable morally correct answer, the dilemma doesn’t seem so complicated.  Any trials we encounter while trying to accomplish a morally correct thing  are easily blamed on the devil.  He’s trying to dissuade us from following God’s leading.  But what about those times when there isn’t a right or wrong?  What about the gray areas?  What about the paths that you choose in life?  How do you know?  Does it matter to God? What have been your experiences?  What do you do when life is not smooth sailing?

Here are my thoughts: God uses a willing heart. If the options are path A or B and you choose A and have a “divine appointment”- wonderful. But I don’t think that means it was necessarily the only way you could have chosen in order for God to use you. I think if you had chosen path B and had a willing heart, God would have used you there as well.  Unless He gives supernatural guidance in a situation, I think He allows us to pursue what we perceive to be the best option and works with us along the way.  But then I guess the question comes back to – when things get really hard or are super easy…. is that some sort of supernatural guidance??

As a side note, my friend still loves God – and ironically kind of wishes she was living in the city right now – but reminds herself it must have been a God thing.

Not by Sight

Sometimes I smile and later I feel happy.
Sometimes I give and later I feel generous.
Sometimes I wait and later I feel patient.
Sometimes I go forward and later I feel courageous.
Sometimes I walk and later I see the path.
Sometimes I am vulnerable and later I feel safe.
Sometimes I am washed clean and later I feel forgiven.
Sometimes I obey and later I understand why.
Sometimes I reach out and later I am held.
Sometimes I hurt and later I am comforted.
Sometimes I am quiet and later I hear His voice.
Sometimes I jump and later He catches me.

Crazy Love

I contacted a friend the other night, needing someone to commiserate with concerning the trials and tribulations of the dating world.  Turns out we are both in a similar boat and the opportunity to share was much appreciated.  As often happens in the world of relationship conversations, things quickly turned to the deeper questions in life, like – what is God trying to teach me?  What is the meaning of happiness?  How much work in a relationship is too much?  How much waiting is too long?  What motivates our deep desire to give and receive love?  Can someone be loved enough to heal a past injury? Are we setting the other person up for disappointment if we think we can love away the hurt- knowing we are only human and prone to fail in our attempts at some point and to some degree? Can we stay close enough to God to provide unconditional love without becoming impatient, selfish or anxious when it doesn’t look like it’s going how we’d like?  Can love endlessly flow from us while being filled only from God?  Does God put love in our hearts for others so He can love them through us even when they don’t appear to accept it?  Is this all crazy?

Then I look at God.  I did nothing to reciprocate before He told me He loved me.  I, in fact, didn’t even like Him before He loved me.  I was dressed in stinky, smelly rags but yet He unashamedly told the whole world of His love for me.  I was not worthy but He didn’t care.  He didn’t give me a time-line I had to comply with or risk the removal of His love.  He had no guarantee as to whether or not I would accept His love.  He took all the vulnerability on Himself. While He tells me what I can do to please Him and show my love for Him, He doesn’t require me to do any of it for Him to love me.  His love makes no sense at all.  It is the most selfless, patient, generous thing I’ve ever encountered.  For God so loved me, that before I even looked His way He gave me the very best He had to offer, waiting with anxious anticipation to see if I would love Him back. He is absolutely, over-the-top, CRAZY!