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Archive for the ‘God’s Father Heart’ Category

How to Pray When Life Falls Apart

SOURCE:  Vaneetha Rendall Risner

In the midst of broken dreams and riveting pain, how should we pray?

Should we pray for healing and deliverance, believing that we just need to ask, because God can do anything? Or should we relinquish our desires to God, trusting that even in our anguish he has the perfect plan for us?

Yes.

When life falls apart, God invites us to do both.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus faced unimaginable suffering. Sweating drops of blood, he fell to the ground and prayed: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

Jesus, in his agony, is teaching us by example how to pray when we’re desperate.

Abba, Father

Jesus doesn’t begin with, “Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth.” Of course, God is Lord of all and deserves honor and reverence. But Jesus chooses a term of endearment: “Abba.” Abba is an intimate, personal term for a father. Jesus is asking his Father to do something for him.

In a similar way, I need to draw near to God in my pain. He’s the Almighty Lord, but he’s also my Abba Father (Rom. 8:15). I need to approach him as such.

Nothing Too Difficult

Jesus knows God can do anything. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. All things are his servants. Nothing is impossible with him.

While I know those Scripture verses by heart too, I often functionally doubt God’s ability to change my situation. I scan my circumstances and assume things will continue as they are. Even as I’m praying, I don’t look for miraculous answers; my prayers become rote recitations of requests more than earnest petitions of faith.

But in Gethsemane, Jesus knows his Father can grant his request. God gives life to the dead and summons into being things that don’t exist.

And I need to remember his limitless power when my situation looks insurmountable.

Remove This Cup

The cup Jesus asks God to remove isn’t mere physical suffering. Disciples and martyrs through the ages have faced physical pain without fear. Jesus is anguished over suffering that’s infinitely deeper. He is facing the terrifying fury of God’s wrath over our sin. And he’s facing that wrath alone, with no comfort from above.

Jesus knows God can change this horrifying situation. So he asks. He wants God to remove the very suffering he was sent to bear, the suffering he willingly came for, the suffering that would secure salvation for his people. Jesus wasn’t coerced onto the cross. He lay down his life of his own accord (John 10:18).

But now Jesus is asking if there is another way—any other way—for God to accomplish his purposes.

So many times I filter my requests. Should I ask God to relieve my suffering when I know he can use it? Is it okay to ask for healing, or is that presumptuous? Should I not ask for anything and just accept what I’ve been given? That posture seems more holy.

Yet, Jesus asks God to remove the cup.

If Jesus can ask, I can too. It’s appropriate to ask God to remove my suffering, change my situation, keep me from further pain. He longs to give me good gifts. I’ve begged God to heal friends, save family members, and give clarity, and he has answered “yes.” But I’ve also pleaded with God to save my dying son, heal my escalating disease, and bring back my husband, and he said “no.” So even though I don’t know how he will answer, my Father still bids me to earnestly petition him for the things I desire.

Not My Will, But Yours

Jesus finally relinquishes his will to God’s. When denied his desire, Jesus accepts the decision completely. He stumbles to his execution without murmur or complaint.

This relinquishment isn’t easy for me. When I keep God at a distance, I can stay detached without expectations. But if I draw near to him and truly believe he can change the situation, I can start to clutch the outcome I want. I may verbalize “Your will be done,” but I’m whiteknuckling my own will.

God often has to pry my fingers off my desired outcome. Though I’ve felt devastated by his “no’s,” as I submit to his will—often with disappointment and tears—he assures me he’s working for my good. I see only part of the picture. He has a purpose in his denials.

The Father said “no” to the Son. And that “no” brought about the greatest good in all of history.

God is not capricious. If he says “no” to our requests he has a reason, perhaps 10,000. We may never know the reasons in this life, but one day we’ll see them all. For now, we must trust that his refusals are always his mercies to us.

Run to Your Father

And now as we wait, still struggling to make sense of the storms in our lives, let us pray as our Savior did. Let us draw near to God, believe he can change our situation, boldly ask him for what we need, and submit our will to his.

Our Father’s plans are always perfect. They will always be for our good and his glory.

Would a Loving God Wound Me?

SOURCE:  Greg Morse/Desiring God

Of the few things I recall from my short season attending the church, the message covering the wall remains the strongest: “Prepare to meet your God.”

It was the big “E” on the eye chart; to not notice it confirmed blindness. Even when one did not wish to see it, the command stared at you.

With every distraction from the sermon it spoke — Prepare to meet your God. When attention began to drift in prayer, it found me — Prepare to meet your God. I prayed harder, sang louder, and listened better because of that inescapable command ever surveying as a watchman from his tower.

Agonizing Invitations

I also remember the day I gathered the nerve to look up the ominous words. Amos 4:12, the wall told me. I began in verse 6, where the Lord spoke these words to his people:

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest . . . yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord.

“Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (Amos 4:6–12)

Prepare to meet your God. This was not a call to worship for a Sunday service. It was a terrifying summons for an adulterous people to brace themselves to meet their jealous Husband in judgment. Yet this alone did not trouble me. All that God did before the severe warning also shook me.

“God will not leave us to perish. When we wander toward cliffs, he corrals us with his rod back toward heaven.”

Did you catch them?

God desired for Israel to return to him, so what did he do? He gave them cleanness of teeth (meaning he starved them); he withheld rain from them, tanking their food supply and economy; he destroyed their vineyards; he spread diseases among them; he killed young soldiers, repossessed their warhorses, and decimated their forces; he ordained for flames to overtake cities. God afflicted them in order that they should turn and seek him.

They refused. And since none of these trials brought the people to him, he would go to the people. “Prepare to meet your God.”

Fiercer Than We Expect

Is this picture incompatible with the God you worship? The God who, out of love for you, will harm you in order to save you? A love that will cut, break, and cause you to bleed — like an expert surgeon — in order to heal you? How many pews, I wondered, would have emptied if the verse crawled from the wall into the pulpit?

Many are content with God’s love consisting in only tender kindness and unbroken gentleness. They wish for his love to be wholly devoted to their immediate happiness — however they choose to seek it. Tenderness seems to be the unimpeachable disposition some imagine of God. Tender toward our dreams. Tender toward our desires. Tender toward our bank accounts and sins. This “god of love” takes no miracle of grace to adore; the atheist doesn’t mind this God.

Yet God’s love, as found in the Bible, is a fire that consumes dross, a chisel that molds into his own perfection, an eternal embrace that chokes out all rivals, a sharp scalpel intended to give real life and strong happiness far beyond the grave. This love has greater aims than our comfort, our health, or our safety — in this life. This love is fiercer and deeper than we often assume, better and stronger than we often want. This love can harm us, and this love can kill us.

He Scourges Those He Loves

God’s love does not orbit around our felt needs. He has our best, not our easiest, in mind. His love — dangerous, jealous, possessive — is the love that will consistently wound us to save us.

Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:5–6)

“Chastises” here can be translated “scourges” or “whips.” It is something to endure. Something unpleasant and rather painful. Something we wouldn’t sign up for. Something we’re tempted to despise. Something that doesn’t feel tender, gentle, or loving in the moment. But his whippings are just that. Look at the text.

He strikes those he loves and harms every son whom he receives. He doesn’t discipline Satan’s children, only his own (Hebrews 12:8). These undesirable corrections, these marks of adoption, bring us to “share his holiness” and enjoy that “peaceful fruit of righteousness” leading to eternal life (Hebrews 12:10–11).

His love has sharp edges — not to destroy us, but to sever us from all that threatens to. Instead of what we often perceive to be the stormings of our angry God, proof of his disgust with us, these corrections are, in fact, the unlikely evidences of his love. As Calvin put it,

It is an inestimable consolation — that the punishments by which our sins are chastened are evidences, not of God’s anger for our destruction, but rather of his paternal love, and are at the same time of assistance towards our salvation, for God is angry with us as his sons, whom he will not leave to perish.

He will not leave us to perish. When we wander toward cliffs, he corrals us with his rod back toward heaven. What feels to be the glory of the “god of love” — being left to our own way — is, in reality, his wrath, which bears the refrain: “God gave them up . . . gave them up . . . gave them up” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28).

Even Death Can Be Love?

That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. . . . But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:30, 32)

God’s love does not sit by quietly, contentedly, while we wander off into destruction. It does not stand by and watch his bride play the whore. It finds us. Redeems us. Washes us. Transforms us. Disciplines us. And sometimes it kills us.

Such love came unrequested to some Corinthians. They began to eat the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. They did not examine themselves. They ate and drank judgment. How did God respond? “That is why,” the apostle explains, “many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” Some were sick due to God’s discipline. Some were weak. Others died. Funerals were held because of God’s discipling his church.

Why would we be disciplined, even unto death? “So that we may not be condemned along with the world.” There is something worse even than death. God’s love sometimes stops our breath to save our souls. This love, unlike our puddle-deep assumptions, is an ocean, raging and beautiful. If God loved us like we love us, we would be lost.

To Be Loved by God

Oh, the fearsome, wonderful love of God. This God is so serious about having his own that he will starve them now to feed them forever, kill them now to keep them forever. His enemies may call him a monster, but his saints sing, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you” (Psalm 63:3).

To be loved by God is to be made holy, to be dressed for heaven, fitted for eternity, brought through the howling wilderness of this world, across the raging river Jordan, and secured within the Promised Land of a new creation. This love will not spare us the bumps, bruises, and bleedings to ready us for his presence.

To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because he is what he is, his love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because he already loves us he must labor to make us lovable. (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 41)

“God’s love does not orbit around our felt needs. He has our best, not our easiest, in mind.”

And he does just that. Having forgiven us, he makes us beautiful. He bends all circumstance, works all things for good — every wound and every joy — for our everlasting glory of being conformed to this Son’s image (Romans 8:28–29).

God’s love embraces his children where they presently sit (he died for us while we were yet ungodly) — we do not make ourselves worthy of his love; we cannot. But his love, when it finds us, will not leave us where we are — we are destined to be holy and spotless before him in love.

With All His Heart and Soul

Yet this does not imply that he blesses and bruises equally, nor that he stands indifferent to our cries or our pain. Just the contrary. In the middle of a heart-wrenching lamentation over the Lord’s chastisement of Israel, Jeremiah reminds us,

The Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. (Lamentations 3:31–33)

“He does not afflict from his heart.” His delight is not to wound us. He is not like the boy at recess burning worms with a microscope. Even when he lays the heaviest afflictions upon us, it is not his joy to do so. Rather, Jeremiah records his heart toward the church this way:

I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:40–41)

This love — the only love strong enough to spare us from hell, to make us pleasing in his sight, to delight us for eternity — does not leave us alone to our pet sins and damnable devices. His love puts fear in us that we may not turn from him. He wants us where he is, with all his heart and all his soul.

He proved the imponderable depths of his heart for his people once and for all when Jesus Christ came to bear the wrath of God for our sins. It should not surprise us that God would crush us for our sins; it should surprise us that his love would crush the Son for us. No matter how God chooses to afflict us for our good, the heaviest blows are never what our sins deserve. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.

Enough, Lord. It is too much.

SOURCE:  Michele Cushatt, from Relentless

A Cleft in a Rock

When You Reach the End of Yourself, God Is Still There

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” ~ C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. ~ Henri Nouwen, Eternal Seasons

 

I’ve spent more than my share of dark nights curled up and alone, screaming at a storm raging outside the window of my life, knowing I could do nothing to bring it to a stop.

But still I waited for someone to find me rocking and weeping, to lift me up, to hold me close and tell me everything was going to be okay.

There was a time I doubted the validity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Until I went to the dentist a few months after cancer. One moment I was sitting down in a chair for a replacement filling and cap, and the next moment I was hyperventilating in a near panic. The dentist and hygienist looked bewildered, confused by my reaction to a routine procedure. Not only would it be over in a handful of minutes, I’d done it before. My reaction didn’t reflect my circumstances. And although I knew this intellectually, I couldn’t do anything about my physical response to it. I was at the mercy of memory.

Somehow, I managed to get through the appointment, as well as several other dental visits since. But after surviving head and neck cancer, I no longer respond to medical appointments with nonchalance. I now must dig deep for emotional resilience and allow space for recovery. Each time, I return home exhausted, hands shaking and tears brimming. Even when I know everything is okay.

Signs of my trauma show up in other ways. Each year, during the months of November through March, I struggle to sleep. Those are the months when cancer showed up — in 2010, in 2013, and again in 2014. I often have nightmares during the holidays, either reliving my almost dying or enduring a new diagnosis that requires the same suffering. Each time, I wake up in a sweat. And it takes me a full day to convince myself it was only a dream.

And then there are the random encounters, online or in person, with people who bear the same scars that I do. And while my heart wants to connect with them, my body rebels against it, as if their proximity stirs up too many memories. I find myself either on the verge of anger or tears, or fighting an urge to run away as fast as possible.

A few weeks ago, while I was getting blood drawn for yet another blood test, the phlebotomist told me a story of her son. In early childhood, he endured a freak accident that nearly killed him. She spent months next to his bedside, helping him through multiple surgeries and hospitalizations and nursing him back to health. He’s now in his late twenties, married and with children, and his medical trauma sits two long decades in the past. Even so, he told her about a recent routine physical and blood workup. When the nurse ripped open a packet containing an alcohol swab to clean his skin, the smell sent him into a panic. He experienced a rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, and an overwhelming sense of terror. All because of the familiar smell of alcohol. Twenty years later and his body remembers.

It took my own experience with PTSD — first with my youngest children and then with myself — to recognize that traumatic responses aren’t reserved only for Vietnam veterans and victims of violent abuse. Neglect, accidents, a family death, and significant medical crises can all mark a body. Then gender, biology, personality, and various other hidden factors can individualize the traumatic experience. This means several individuals who experience the same circumstance may respond in different ways. Regardless, one response doesn’t make any other less valid.

Ignoring or minimizing trauma and responses to it does nothing to help a person heal. I know this now. Within three months of almost dying, I resumed all of my responsibilities at home and dove back into traveling, writing, and working. My compulsion baffles me, why I thought I needed to bootstrap my way through each day, stuffing my feelings so deep within I could pretend, temporarily, that they didn’t wound me as they did. And although this determination to move forward saved me in one regard, the trauma of what had happened would not be ignored. Like cancer, it only grew with my lack of sober attention.

One of the most dangerous Christian practices (and expectations) is the compulsion to present a put-together, unflappable faith.

On the whole, we haven’t done a very good job of making space for a struggle that lasts longer than we think it should. We may give the struggler grace for a day, a week, a month, a year. But sooner than later, we decide it’s high time she pulled it together. This pressure — whether spoken or unspoken — only pushes the sufferer to hide and neglect the long, hard process of healing.

The night in the basement, holding the pain reliever while wondering if suicide would be my only real relief, was the result, in part, of this pressure to perform. For months I had tried to stay strong, keep myself together, present a tough, faith-filled front. But eventually, I ran out of fight. I could no longer muscle my way through my reality.

In the years since, I’ve experienced too many other dark nights when the thought of death seemed to be my only out. But how could I tell those close to me about the black hole that swallowed me? How could I let them know how desperately I wanted it all to end? Good Christian girls aren’t supposed to toy with such thoughts. To reveal the truth would invite more disappointment and shame. And I’d already had enough of both. The pressure I felt came from within and without, but the result was the same. I felt alone in my nightmare, too embarrassed and ashamed to admit I needed help.

Although it was painful, I feel a measure of gratitude for my descent into the dark, because it helped me to see what I needed to see. There was no pretending anymore. No muscling through the losses. Instead, I needed to honor the pain by telling the truth about it, to myself and to others. I needed to see my circumstances for what they were and validate my experience of them.

And I needed to admit, after years of pushing hard through too many impossible circumstances, that I’d finally reached the end of myself.

There’s an oft-used cliche that goes something like this: “God will never give you more than you can handle.” I have a few things to say about this claim, but I’ll begin with this: It’s a load of garbage. It may roll off the tongue reeeeaaal niiiiiice, but it is a big, fat lie.

In spite of the number of times I’ve been the unwilling recipient of that mantra, I’ve experienced more than I can handle more than once. Each time, in spite of my extraordinary efforts, I had nothing left to give. No tools, no insights, no solutions, no strength. My characteristic sleeve-rolling, hard-work-and-determination grit dissolved. Struggle and suffering had taken me under. I was flat-faced on the ground. Period.

But don’t take my word for it. The Bible is filled with stories of those bent in two under the weight of hard circumstances.

Take Elijah for example.

Elijah was a prophet, a devout one. In an age of paganism, rebellion, and persecution, Elijah served God with passion and fearlessness. Determined and obedient, he delivered God’s words to a stubborn horde of Israelites again and again, urging them to turn back to God. He even dared to confront King Ahab and his wicked wife, Jezebel, something that required not a little amount of courage considering their penchant for murdering God’s prophets. They turned their sights on Elijah, the “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17).

Rather than cower, Elijah challenges Ahab and his false prophets to a duel — a showdown between their god, Baal, and Elijah’s God. When the day arrives, 450 prophets of Baal stand against a lone Elijah, the last of God’s prophets. The 450 prophets of Baal pray like champs. No god replies from the skies. But when Elijah prays a single, sincere prayer, God comes down in a consuming fire (1 Kings 18).

I’d call that a decisive victory. Score.

At this point, Elijah expects Ahab, Jezebel, and the Israelites to come to their senses, to turn from their wickedness and once again follow God. But that’s not what happens.

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, ‘May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them’. — 1 Kings 19:1-2

Terrified, Elijah runs for his life (1 Kings 19:3) all the way from Jezreel to Beersheba, a distance of about a hundred miles. Then leaving his servant behind, he continues another full day’s journey into the wilderness alone. Because some disappointments don’t allow space for company.

There, collapsed under a broom bush, Elijah reaches the end of himself.
‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
— 1 Kings 19:4-5

Elijah’s bush wasn’t all that different from my basement. Despair. Frustration. Disappointment. Exhaustion.

Enough, Lord.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said similar words.

The doctors’ appointments. The therapy appointments. The conflicts and chronic pain, the headaches and heartaches. The praying, praying, praying and trying, trying, trying only to experience more obstacles, more pain, more confusion.

Enough, Lord. Please. Take my life.

Life often feels like a series of one-hundred-mile days. While I’ve never had a price on my head, I know what it feels like to pay a high price to live. Like Elijah, there are days when my enthusiasm over my mighty God is tempered by the reality that He doesn’t always behave the way I expect Him to.

He doesn’t always take the pain away.
He doesn’t always cure the illness.
He doesn’t always restore the relationship, resolve the conflict, deliver peace and rest.

Buried in frustration and defeat, I collapse into despair, questioning myself even more than I question Him. Surely I’ve done something wrong. I’m not the faith giant I’d hoped I’d be. Instead, I’m no better than any other struggler, weary and flat-faced.

At this point someone invariably offers me the load-of-garbage maxim. God will never give you more than you can handle. The irony? They throw it as a life preserver, hoping to save me from drowning in my circumstances. Instead, the cliche lands like a two-ton weight, finishing me off.

Which is why it matters to me how God responds to Elijah’s despair. Rather than a worthless cliche, He offers Elijah comfort.
All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. — 1 Kings 19:5-8

What does God do?
He doesn’t rebuke him.
He doesn’t quote Scripture at him.
He doesn’t tell him to get his act together or his butt in church. He doesn’t tell him how much worse it could be.
And He doesn’t tell him that He will never give him more than he can handle.
There is no bootstrapping, guilt-tripping, manhandling, heavy-load-throwing.
Instead, God touches him. And feeds him. Twice.
Skin to skin, a tangible acknowledgment of presence.
And bread hot out of the oven. Comfort food. Maybe a casserole with extra cheese. Likely a pan of double-chocolate brownies. Nourishment of body and soul.
Why?

Because the journey is too much for you.

——————————————-

Excerpted from Relentless by Michele Cushatt, copyright Michele Cushatt.

4 Encouraging Truths for Christians with Mental Illness

SOURCE:  Lieryn Barnett

The apostle Paul speaks of a thorn in his side that he pleaded with God three times to remove (2 Cor. 12:7–10). Biblical scholars aren’t sure exactly what Paul’s thorn was, but I can tell you mine: bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed as an adolescent and have pleaded with God more than thrice to remove this from me.

It took me longer than Paul to hear God telling me that His grace is sufficient.

Mental illness can still be a highly stigmatized topic in the church. For those who do not have such struggles, suicidal ideations and the extreme despair that come with clinical depression can be difficult to understand. Although many Christians know the trial of occasional anxiety or depressed feelings, people with a diagnosed mental illness face unique challenges.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” Mental illness is not a new phenomenon.

And the same biblical truths that have encouraged Christians for centuries can encourage those who suffer with mental illness today. Though we may continue to struggle daily in the “bottomless pit” of the mind, we can cling to four encouragements.

1. You Are Not Alone

God’s people have suffered—mentally, emotionally, and physically—since the fall. Even Christ himself cried out in despair on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46), echoing a psalm of lament (Ps. 22:1). When we suffer, we are not alone.

What’s more, mental illness is probably more common than you know. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 American adults lives with a mental illness. The World Health Organization says 1 in 4 people worldwide will experience mental-health issues.

You are almost certainly not the only one in your congregation dealing with issues arising from mental illness. Speaking openly about your mental-health issues will allow others to share their own struggles and will enable you to care for one another.

2. It’s Not Your Fault

Though mental illness is a result of the fall, my affliction—like that of the man born blind (John 9:3)—isn’t punishment for my sins or the sins of my parents. Mental illness may not be my fault, but it can be my opportunity to speak truth about Christ’s love to others.

Of course, sin can exacerbate mental illness, or stir up depression or anxiety. Sin spreads the infection of the darkness, which is why it’s so important to have people point you to Christ. If we repent and turn our focus to Christ, we can allow the light—however dim it may appear—to seep in. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8) is a promise for good days and for dark ones, too.

3. God Sees You and Is with You

We have a personal Savior who experiences emotions. As you suffer the effects of mental illness, you can remember the nearness of Christ. He weeps with you, as he wept with Lazarus’s family (John 11:35). He knew the resurrecting work he was about to do, but he sobbed with anger anyway. Likewise, he knows how he is going to work in and through your life, and he is with you in the midst of it.

By grace, he sent the Holy Spirit, our comforter and counselor, to be with you, to help you. The Holy Spirit intercedes for you (Rom. 8:27). He cries out for you when you can’t form words, but only sounds of despair (Rom. 8:26).

Remain steadfast, therefore, for there is great hope: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). We are all broken in our own ways, but Christ makes us whole. He lights up the darkest corners of my heart and mind (2 Cor. 4:6). He pulls me out of the deepest pit (Job 33:28Ps. 40:2; 103:4Lam. 3:55). And if he sees fit, he will use me to reach others (2 Cor. 4:7–10).

4. God’s Word Speaks to You

The Bible isn’t afraid to talk about mental and emotional anguish. Look at Job or the psalms of lament, which compose the largest category of psalms. These are songs of people crying out to God in despair:

  • “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Ps. 25:16).
  • “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation” (Ps. 42:5).
  • “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol” (Ps. 88:3).

Yet even most psalms of lament end positively, reminding their hearers of God’s faithfulness. Like God’s people throughout history, we often forget everything he has already done for us and the promises he continues to fulfill.

Keep these truths somewhere you can be reminded of them often. Share them with a close friend, family member, or accountability partner who can remind you when you forget or when you don’t have the energy or willpower to remind yourself. God’s Word speaks to you on even the hardest days.

My thorn may never leave my side, but I can rejoice in the greatness and sovereignty of my mighty God. This illness continues to remind me that God’s grace is sufficient for me. I pray that God would make known his strength in my weakness.

4 Signs You Might be Legalistic

SOURCE:  BLAISE FORET /relevantmagazine.com

And how to escape the trap of trying to earn God’s love.

The Christian blogosphere and bookstores are filled with constant encouragements to be passionate for Jesus and “on fire” for God.

But in the midst of all of the encouragement to dive deep into a more passionate spirituality, many in our generation have found themselves burnt out by pressing in and getting bound up by legalism.

Every reformation throughout Church history focused on bringing people into a more effortless spirituality—where they find that the work of Christ more powerful and more effective than our own personal efforts. This doesn’t mean we do nothing as Christians, but it does mean we would do well to stop striving, slow down and find a renewed focus on the simplicity of the Gospel.

This very thing, in fact, is one of the hardest spiritual disciplines to accomplish. The Book of Hebrews says it clearly, “They failed to enter into my rest—because they would not believe.” It wasn’t a spiritual work that they lacked—but a spiritual rest. And that rest could have easily been gained through simple trust.

Things haven’t changed much. We, just like the ancient believers, have a hard time with simple trust and often find ourselves caught in the clutches of legalism. After years of following Jesus, I found myself stuck in legalism. Trust me, I know: the struggle is real. But, like most things, one of the first steps of becoming free from legalism is to realize that you’re stuck in it.

Here are a few signs that might help you identify whether or not you have been sabotaged by legalism:

1. Your Spiritual Disciplines Define Your Spirituality

Sure, there is something to having a disciplined life. In fact, it’s hard to get anything done if you don’t have discipline in your life.

But often, we base our worth and God’s love for us on whether or not we have spent time reading our Bible today, prayed for everyone on our prayer list, and attended the early service at Church this week.

But what if God’s view of us wasn’t based on our performance? What if He wasn’t keeping track of our rights and wrongs like we are, but is actually just looking at our hearts and our simple trust in Christ’s work on our behalf?

So of course, read your Bible and pray often, but not so that God will love you, but so that you’ll be reminded how much He already does.

2. You Separate Your Spiritual Life from Your Natural Life

Do you feel like you are doing something spiritual when you pray but something carnal when you watch a movie or hang out with friends? If so, you might be slipping back into legalism.

As Christians, we often find ourselves viewing Church activity as exclusively spiritual instead of seeing all things as spiritual. The Apostle Paul has this amazing quote in Colossians when he says, “All things are from Him and to Him and in Him.” I see this verse as an echo of David’s psalm when he says, “Where can I go from your presence and where can I escape from Your Spirit?” David says again, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it belongs to Him.” That means that there are no moments that are not spiritual moments. That’s why Paul says, “Whether you eat or drink do it unto the Lord.”

I see it like this: No matter what you are doing, do it as a spiritual activity, knowing full well that God is with you and loves you deeply in that very moment.

The way I see it, Jesus enjoys the fact that you hang out with friends. He loves it when you just have fun doing normal life. God finds pleasure in your natural talents just as much as He does in your spiritual gifting.

When we can find the presence and peace of God in all situations from the E-minor chorus of a worship night at church to the loud, off-key screams of the mom in front of us at a kid’s t-ball game, then we might be finding freedom from legalism into the liberty of the Gospel.

3. You Only Hang Out with “Saved” People

For so many Christians, being in church quickly becomes our only place of community and friendship. In our efforts to follow Jesus we often take the “no turning back, no turning back” approach to hanging out with non-believers.

Unfortunately, we find ourselves living as separatists (i.e. Pharisees) and judging those who have yet to have our level of spiritual awakening. Sure, it can be a challenge to have a deep connection with those who disagree with us on a fundamental level, but it doesn’t mean that we have to become judgmental and ostracize ourselves from them.

Jesus was often accused of being the friend of sinners. When was the last time you were accused of that?

4. You Live in Constant Condemnation for Your Mistakes

If you messed up today, well, welcome to the club. But your mistakes never have and never will define you. Sure, you can call yourself a failure, but God calls you a success. God doesn’t make failures. You can call yourself a sinner, but God calls you a Saint. Christ didn’t do a partial job when He died and rose again. He fully made you a Saint. That’s why Paul addresses Christians in the Epistles as Saints—regardless of the mistakes they have made.

Your feelings don’t define you. Christ’s work defines you.

C.S. Lewis once said, “You are what you believe.”

If you believe that your identity is “sinner,” you will live tied up and bound by sin. But if you believe what God says about you, then you might start seeing a difference in your attitudes and actions.

And even if you do sin, it doesn’t have to dictate your day. Repent, change your mind, and move forward. God’s not waiting on you to make it right before you can come to Him.

God wants friendship with you no matter where you are in your journey, so don’t let a legalistic mindset stop you from coming to Him as the clean, forgiven and loved child that you are. God’s not holding your mistakes over your head, so you don’t have to either.

Parenting Means Wrestling Demons

SOURCE:  DesiringGod · by Jonathan Parnell

I nudged the door open with my shoulder, hands holding carryout (again). I made my way through the dark living room and set dinner on the table. I could hear the kids playing in the basement as I peeked into the bedroom to find my wife lying there, doubled over with nausea. She felt too sick to think about eating, not to mention preparing food for the rest of us, and so for the fourth time in as many nights, dad was dishing dinner for the fam.

This is how it goes in wartime, and for a few months now at our house, we’ve been in the battle zone. My wife is pregnant with our fifth child.

As many mothers could attest, sometimes it’s not so much morning sickness as just plain sickness. She hasn’t felt well since the newest member of our family came into existence at the end of last year. But it’s okay — we get it. It comes with the territory. Nausea, in fact, is just one piece of the larger struggle. We’ve learned by now that wrestling demons isn’t supposed to be easy.

Satan Hates the Little Children of the World

In his book Adopted for Life, Russell Moore says that Satan hates children and always has. History would say the same. In Scripture alone, we see the slaughter of the infants in Pharaoh’s Egypt and Herod’s Bethlehem. Every time the demonic powers forcefully oppose Jesus, “babies are caught in the crossfire.” Moore explains,

Whether through political machinations such as those of Pharaoh and Herod, through military conquests in which bloodthirsty armies rip babies from pregnant mothers’ wombs (Amos 1:13), or through the more “routine” seeming family disintegration and family chaos, children are always hurt. Human history is riddled with their corpses. (63)

“There is a war on children, and we are all, in one way or another, playing some role in it.”

Whether we look back over the pages of world history, or just around us today, the point bears true. Children are so often caught in the crossfire, so often hurt, so often the victims of a larger conflict in which they have no say, no influence, no responsibility. It happened back when primitive peoples thought slaying their children would appease the gods, and when war meant burning homes and sacking villages. And it happens still today when deranged citizens carry guns into elementary schools, or when abortion clinics welcome terrified teenagers with open arms, or when Boko Haram pillages another Nigerian village, or a young couple decides Down syndrome will disrupt their life plans. Moore writes,

The demonic powers hate babies because they hate Jesus. When they destroy “the least of these” (Matthew 25:4045), the most vulnerable among us, they’re destroying a picture of Jesus himself. (63–64)

There is a war on children, and we are all, in one way or another, playing some role in it. Every time we move forward as faithful parents (or care for kids in any capacity, including advocating for the voiceless not-yet-born, and volunteering for nursery duty on Sundays), we are wrestling demons — because there is little the demons hate more than little children.

The Shift in Perspective

This calls for a shift in our perspective as parents. If we go into the work of parenting with a Precious Moments romanticism, it won’t be long before despair sets in. It’s just too hard if we think it’s going to be easy. It’s essential to know, especially when the going gets tough, that we are fighting hell.

When we begin to see our parenting through the lens of spiritual warfare, it reconfigures our work in at least five important ways.

1. We are more surprised when things go well than when they go badly.

You thought parenting would be easier than it is. Yes, you did. So much of this has to do with how the role of children has changed in our society. In past generations, children were mainly born into three contexts: (1) economic necessity (more hands on the farm!), (2) moral obligation (Christian influence), and (3) customary structure (part of the American Dream) (Jennifer Senior, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting).

Today, however, child labor is taboo, the church’s voice has waned, and the American Dream has increasingly become the celebration of the self-made successes of unconventional entrepreneurs. The “necessity” for children is not as intense as it once was — though children are obviously still being born. The question then becomes why. Into what context and mindset are American children being born in the twenty-first century?

Jennifer Senior says that today, rather than understood as necessary, children are more often viewed as a high-valued commodity. She explains,

[Parents] approach child-rearing with the same bold sense of independence and individuality that they would any other ambitious life project. . . . Because so many of us are now avid volunteers for a project in which we were all once dutiful conscripts, we have heightened expectations of what children will do for us, regarding them as sources of existential fulfillment rather than as ordinary parts of our lives. (emphasis added)

In other words, as a commodity, the majority of society says that children exist to make us happy, to boost our egos, to procure pats on the back by the watching world. We have children because we think children will make our lives better.

“It’s essential to know, especially when the going gets tough, that we are fighting hell.”

But if we push our strollers with these ideals in tote, we’re not quite sure what to do when things go sideways — like when our kids pee on the floor while we’re grocery shopping, or refuse to stay in their beds at night, or spray air freshener in their eyes after they broke into the bathroom cabinet, or when, in a much more serious event, the ultrasound discloses an abnormality.

None of these things is “fulfilling.”

Actually, these things are hard — they make our heads ache, and our hearts. And so we get angry about the circumstances, and we huff and puff that our children don’t obey everything we say — all because we had the mixed up expectation that they would.

But if we understand that spiritual warfare is taking place, we may not run as quickly from their rudeness, or at least not in the same way. Having expected it, we may enter into it with correction and kindness. We may not be annoyed that she took a swing at her sister; rather, we may be shocked that she shared her Skittles. When we know we’re wrestling demons, disobedience doesn’t surprise so much as obedience does.

2. We appreciate nuance in parenting strategies.

The spiritual warfare at work in parenting means that this is complicated work — much more complicated than the blanket approach of so many parenting models. There are so many moving parts in every family context, not to mention the differences in children. It is silly that we’d think there is a one-size-fits-all approach for how the details should go every time. Parenting models that suggest otherwise are full of reductionisms and overreactions, whether that means always letting the baby cry it out or always having them in the bed with mom and dad. When we seize onto one model over another, we are adopting its pros and its cons (which every system has) — and worse, we are often sucked into a tribal mentality that vilifies parents who do it differently than us.

Parenting is hard enough. We are wrestling demons. Rather than being a mindless evangelist for a certain model, offer help and your experience when you’re asked, and consider backing off when you’re not.

3. We understand the danger of the other extreme.

The knee-jerk response to the demonic message that children are worthless is to mistake children as everything. This response swings so far in the opposite direction of misopedia (the hatred of children) that we actually begin to worship children. This is when children become almost more than human, even angelic. Rather than seeing them as an interruption to our plans, or as an inconvenience to our priorities, we fall off the other side and make them the center of our worlds. This is part of a societal shift that started in the late twentieth century. Jennifer Senior comments, “Children stopped working, and parents worked twice as hard. Children went from being our employees to our bosses.”

When we see parenting in the context of spiritual warfare, we understand that the enemy has more than one way to wreak havoc. As hard as it may be to swallow, we learn that demons also take pleasure in those homes that are run by children, especially children whose hearts are so shriveled by selfishness and pandering that they lack any category of seeing themselves as sinners in need of a Savior.

4. We see children as gifts from God, not mistakes or idols.

Children are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:35). The implications of this truth are gloriously vast, including, first, that children are never mistakes and, second, that they’re never the object of our worship.

“Banish from your vocabulary the talk of your children being a ‘mistake.’ They’re not. They can’t be.”

Banish from your vocabulary the talk of junior being a “mistake.” He’s not. He can’t be. He’s no more a mistake than a college degree, a promotion at work, or your spouse saying “I do.” These are blessings. Blessings, not mistakes — and therefore, let’s call them that. Blessings, after all, are not so cookie-cutter. We understand that sometimes in God’s economy, blessings are not served on a silver platter. They are good — wonderfully good — but it’s not a microwavable good. It’s more like the long, tireless trek up a mountain, the kind that makes you stop and question whether you’ll actually make it but, when you do, fills you with a deep contentment only possible at the altitude in which you stand.

That kind of blessing is not a mistake, but neither is it an idol. If we put our children on the throne of our hearts, the clock is ticking before everything blows up. That is because idols are always a cover-up for self-worship. When children become our idols, it means they become the means to our meaning. The sad thing about the dad who won’t get off his son’s back at football practice is that the dad’s significance is so bound up in the success of his son that he can’t imagine failure. Under the guise of loving his son, he actually creates unbearable pressure and is using his son for his own advantage. Everyone loses.

Neither mistakes nor idols, our children are gifts — blessings for which to be thankful, and of which we are called to be stewards.

5. We know that God is in the fight on our side.

Once a crowd of people came to Jesus with their children. They had hoped that, upon seeing them, Jesus would lay his hands on the children and pray. The associates of Jesus, however, rebuked the people. The Master doesn’t have time for kids. They’re too beneath him. Get them out of here.

It’s not as harsh as it sounds. We might even have done the same.

But Jesus speaks the corrective word: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). And then, as Matthew tells us, “he laid his hands on them” (Matthew 19:15).

“In a beautiful way we can’t quite fathom, Jesus loves our children more than we do.”

When Jesus did this, both for his day and for our own, he marked himself as an advocate for children. Let the little children come to me. This means, in a beautiful way we can’t quite fathom, that Jesus loves your children more than you do.

It means, as God has told us in his word, that he is for the youngest and frailest among us. It means that he is in this fight on our side and has been fighting for years.

It means that when the nausea sets in, or when we’re wrestling the worst of demons, though it’s not easy, we are going to win this battle.

Adult Children: Praying for Your Prodigal

SOURCE:  Jodi Berndt from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children

I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord. They will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with all their heart. — Jeremiah 24:7

Lauren stared at the photo on her phone, barely comprehending what she saw. It was a picture of her son, William, lying in a hospital bed, his head wrapped in a bloody bandage. He had been assaulted in what he said was a random robbery, and Lauren wanted to believe him. Given what they knew about their son’s current lifestyle, she didn’t know what to think.

Lauren and her husband, Mike, had been lukewarm about William’s plan to move to Chicago when he graduated from college. They understood why a guy from a small town in Alabama would want to spread his wings, but his idea — to launch a neighborhood-based classified-ad service to sell things like used furniture, cars, and household goods — sounded iffy. William had majored in business, but he knew very little about technology and even less about Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. But after a six-month job search closer to home turned up nothing, she and Mike had gotten William a plane ticket and wished him well. Their son was hardworking, creative, and intelligent, so who knew? Maybe he’d be one of the success stories.

And if not, well, what was the worst that could happen?

Lauren had run through a dozen worst-case scenarios in her mind — maybe the business would flop or William would get sick from the city dirt and noise and pollution — but nothing had prepared her for the sight of her son lying in some unknown hospital, more than six hundred miles away. She wished Mike would get home soon; she needed to talk. An orthopedic surgeon, he was usually at the hospital all day on Thursdays, and she hadn’t been able to reach him.

Lauren thought back over the past several months. William had burned through most of his start-up money, and then in an effort to recoup his losses, he had started gambling. His drinking, which Lauren and Mike had hoped would lessen once he got out of college, had gotten worse. Lauren didn’t know much about William’s friends and business associates, but the words from Proverbs 13:20 kept coming to mind:

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Apparently, William had been walking with some fairly serious fools.

When had that started to happen? Lauren didn’t know exactly. William had given his life to the Lord at age twelve, and as he grew, so had his faith. He had been a youth group leader in high school, and when the time came to go to college, he elected to live with a Christian roommate. Lauren and Mike were thrilled when William joined a campus Bible study; surely, the friends and the teaching he’d be exposed to there would help guard him against some of the secular philosophies he would encounter in the classroom.

But things hadn’t turned out that way. Parties, football games, and study sessions with his classmates filled William’s calendar, and he began to drift away from Bible study and other fellowship opportunities. It wasn’t as if some atheist had talked him out of his faith; rather, the shift had come gradually as William spent more time with unbelievers than with his Christian friends. And then, almost as if he was looking for an intellectual reason to account for his behavior, William began to question some of the most basic tenets of his faith. Salvation by grace seemed far too simplistic. And the resurrection? Nothing he learned in any of his science classes made that even a remote possibility; it seemed (as William told his parents during his junior year) to be a story designed to bring comfort and hope to people who would grasp at anything to keep their faith alive. Which was fine for them — just not for him.

Mike and Lauren hadn’t wanted to alienate their son by revealing the depth of their concern or by arguing against some of his claims. Instead, they welcomed William’s questions, pointing him toward authors like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and C. S. Lewis, apologists whose work they thought might appeal to him on an intellectual level.

“But honestly,” Mike had said, after one of their conversations, “I don’t think he is looking for evidence to support Christianity. I think it’s a moral issue, masquerading as an intellectual one. I think he wants to find a worldview to support his quest for independence and self-sufficiency as he runs away from God, something that will justify his rebellion.”

Prayer Principle

Ask God to work in your prodigal’s mind and spirit, demolishing arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

The kitchen door opened, snapping Lauren’s mind back to the present. It was Mike, home from the hospital where he had been making rounds. Lauren showed him the photo and filled him in on what little she knew.

“He says it’s nothing serious,” she said. “Some guys jumped him when he was walking home from work. He says they took his wallet…”

“Maybe they did,” Mike said, “but we aren’t sending him any more money.”

He picked up the phone and enlarged the photo. “It looks like a good bandage job at least. He’ll be okay.”

Lauren knew Mike wasn’t being callous or insensitive, and that he was hurting just as much as she was. He was just being practical. But for a mom, it wasn’t that easy.

“Mike, I want William to come home,” she said softly.

“I think he should,” Mike agreed, “but we can’t make him do anything. He’s literally living the life of the prodigal son — he got us to give him some money, and then he went away to a distant city and squandered it all in wild living. For all we know, he has been eating with pigs!”

Lauren knew the story Mike was talking about. It was a parable in Luke 15, one Jesus used to illustrate the heavenly Father’s love and the power of redemption. In that story, the son finally comes home, confessing his sins and giving up any claim he had on the family name. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” he says. “Make me like one of your hired men.” (Luke 15:19)

Lauren loved that parable — especially the part where the father sees the son in the distance and, throwing dignity to the wind, runs out to embrace his boy in a very public, very emotional reunion. It was perhaps the best illustration she knew of to show how God feels about us, and how utterly ecstatic He is when we acknowledge our own unworthiness and turn to him.

Missing from the story, though, was an account of the prodigal’s mother. Surely, she had longed to hear from her boy, to receive some word that he was at least alive. And certainly, when she heard the sound of his greeting, her heart would have leaped right along with her husband’s. Who knows? She might have even beaten him down the street.

Lauren knew the story wasn’t about a literal, historical family, one with a real mom and dad. But if it had been, Lauren knew one thing for sure: that mama would have been praying.

Prayer Principle

God knows what it’s like to grieve over a prodigal child — and to rejoice over his return.

Listening to Lauren and Mike, I was reminded of any number of similar accounts people shared with me as I worked on this book. Mothers and fathers told me about their kids’ faith; how they’d grown up in the church, attended Christian camps, or gone on mission trips; and read The Chronicles of Narnia at bedtime. These parents, like so many I interviewed, had done everything in their power to produce Christian kids — and sometimes, as one parent put it, “A plus B really did equal C.” But sometimes (a lot of times, actually), it didn’t.

I think my favorite comment came from a mom whose daughter has walked a path no parent would choose for a child. Looking at all of the bad decisions (and tragic consequences) the girl has experienced, and stacking those things up against verses like Genesis 50:20 (“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good”), this sweet mama summed up her perspective like this: “I don’t know what God is doing in my daughter’s life, or why she does the things she does. All I can figure is that she is working on her testimony. And it’s shaping up to be a good one.”

For parents who’ve staked their trust in the Lord (and for those who believe, as author Max Lucado puts it, that “we see a perfect mess; God sees a perfect chance to train, test, and teach”1), the idea that our kids are still “working on their testimonies” is a lifeline to hope. And it’s not just their stories that are still being written; Lauren and Mike don’t know what the future holds for William, but they’d be the first to tell you that his experience has shaped their own spiritual journey in a powerful way.

“We’ve prayed more than ever before,” Lauren told me, “and we’ve learned to wait on God. It’s hard not to let fear and worry cloud the picture, but the more we look into the bright light of God’s love, the more those dark things are obliterated. This trouble has been a gateway for us to get to know God better; our prayer is that it will also be a gateway for William.”

Prayer Principle

The light of God’s love is what scatters the darkness. Tether your prayers to the brightness of His promises.

“We’ve learned that we are completely helpless,” Mike added. “We cannot change or control our kids’ lives; all we can do is trust in a God who has given us great and precious promises.”

Mike is right. We are helpless, at least insofar as it comes to dictating the way our adult children think and behave. Many of them are out of our reach, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

But they are not out of God’s — and He invites us to join Him in the work He is doing, through prayer. We are not helpless there; even when we have no idea how to pray, God has us covered. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” Paul writes in Romans 8:26.

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Max Lucado, You’ll Get through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times (Nashville: Nelson, 2013), 10.

MY HEART CHRIST’S HOME

SOURCE:    Robert Boyd Munger-1954-InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

In Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, we find these words:  “That [God] would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”

Without question one of the most remarkable Christian doctrines is that Jesus Christ Himself through the presence of the Holy Spirit will actually enter a heart, settle down and be at home there.  Christ will make the human heart His abode.  Our Lord said to His disciples, “If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23).  It was difficult for them to understand what He was saying.  How was it possible for Him to make His abode with them in this sense?

It is interesting that our Lord used the same word here that He gave them in the first part of the fourteenth chapter of John:  “I go to prepare a place for you . . . that where I am, ye may be also.”  Our Lord was promising His disciples that, just as He was going to heaven to prepare a place for them and would welcome them one day, now it would be possible for them to prepare a place for Him in their hearts and He would come and make His abode with them.

They could not understand this.  How could it be?

Then came Pentecost.  The Spirit of the living Christ was given to the church and they understood.  God did not dwell in Herod’s temple in Jerusalem!  God did not dwell in a temple made with hands; but now, through the miracle of the out-poured Spirit, God would dwell in human hearts.  The body of the believer would be the temple of the living God and the human heart would be the home of Jesus Christ.

It is difficult for me to think of a higher privilege than to make for Christ a home in my heart, to welcome, to serve, to please, to fellowship with Him there.  One evening that I shall never forget, I invited Him into my heart.  What an entrance He made!  It was not a spectacular, emotional thing, but very real. It was at the very center of my life.  He came into the darkness of my heart and turned on the light.  He built a fire in the cold hearth and banished the chill.  He started music where there had been stillness and He filled the emptiness with His own loving, wonderful fellowship.  I have never regretted opening the door to Christ and I never will—not into eternity!

This, of course, is the first step in making the heart Christ’s home.  He has said, “Behold I stand at the door and knock: If any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).  If you are interested in making your life an abode of the living God, let me encourage you to invite Christ into your heart and He will surely come.

After Christ entered my heart and in the joy of that new-found relationship, I said to Him, “Lord, I want this heart of mine to be Yours.  I want to have You settle down here and be perfectly at home.  Everything I have belongs to You.  Let me show You around and introduce You to the various features of the home that You may be more comfortable and that we may have fuller fellowship together.”  He was very glad to come, of course, and happier still to be given a place in the heart.

The Library

The first room was the study—the library.  Let us call it the study of the mind.  Now in my home this room of the mind is a very small room with very thick walls.  But it is an important room.  In a sense, it is the control room of the house.  He entered with me and looked around at the books in the bookcase, the magazines upon the table, the pictures on the wall.  As I followed His gaze, I became uncomfortable.  Strangely enough, I had not felt badly about this before, but now that He was there looking at these things I was embarrassed.  There were some books there that His eyes were too pure to behold.  There was a lot of trash and literature on the table that a Christian had no business reading and as for the pictures on the wall—the imaginations and thoughts of my mind—these were shameful.

I turned to Him and said, “Master, I know that this room needs a radical alteration.  Will You help me make it what it ought to be—to bring every thought into captivity to You?”

“Surely,” He said.  “Gladly will I help you.  That is one reason I am here.  First of all, take all the things that you are reading and seeing which are not helpful, pure, good and true, and throw them out!  Now put on the empty shelves the books of the Bible.  Fill the library with Scriptures and meditate on them day and night.  As for the pictures on the wall, you will have difficulty controlling these images, but here is an aid.”  He gave me a full-sized portrait of Himself.  “Hang this centrally,” He said, “on the wall of the mind.”  I did and I have discovered through the years that when my thoughts are centered upon Christ Himself, His purity and power cause impure imaginations to retreat.  So He has helped me to bring my thoughts into captivity.

May I suggest to you if you have difficulty with this little room of the mind, that you bring Christ in there.  Pack it full with the Word of God, mediate upon it and keep before it ever the immediate presence of the Lord Jesus.

The Dining Room

From the study we went into the dining room, the room of appetites and desires.  Now this was a very large room, I spent a good deal of time in the dining room and much effort in satisfying my wants.  I said to Him, “This is a very commodious room and I am quite sure You will be pleased with what we serve here.”

He seated Himself at the table with me and asked, “What is on the menu for dinner?”

“Well, “ I said, “my favorite dishes: old bones, corn husks, sour cabbage, leeks, onions and garlic right out of Egypt.?”  These were the things I liked—worldly fare.  I suppose there was nothing radically wrong in any particular item, but it was not the food that should satisfy the life of a real Christian.  When the food was placed before Him, He said nothing about it.  However, I observed that He did not eat it, and I said to Him, somewhat disturbed, “Savior, You don’t care for the food that is placed before You?  What is the trouble?”

He answered, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of.  My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.”  He looked at me again and said, “If you want food that really satisfies you, seek the will of the Father, not your own pleasures, not your own desires, not your own satisfaction.  Seek to please Me, and that food will satisfy you.”  And there about the table He gave me a taste of doing God’s will.  What a flavor!  There is no food like it in all the world.  It alone satisfies.  Everything else is dissatisfying in the end!!

Now if Christ is in your heart, and I trust He is, what kind of food are you serving Him and what kind of food are you eating yourself?  Are you living for the lust of the flesh and the pride of life—selfishly?  Or are you choosing God’s will for your meat and drink?

The Drawing Room

We walked next into the drawing room.  This room was rather intimate and comfortable.  I liked it.  It had a fireplace, overstuffed chairs, a bookcase, sofa, and a quiet atmosphere.

He also seemed pleased with it.  He said, “This is indeed a delightful room.  Let us come here often.  It is secluded and quiet, and we can have fellowship together.”

Well, naturally, as a young Christian I was thrilled.  I could not think of anything I would rather do than have a few minutes apart with Christ in intimate comradeship.

He promised, “I will be here every morning early.  Meet with Me here and we will start the day together.”  So, morning after morning, I would come downstairs to the drawing room and He would take a book of the Bible from the bookcase.  He would open it and then we would read together.  He would tell me of its riches and unfold to me its truths.   He would make my heart warm as He revealed His love and His grace toward me.  They were wonderful hours together.  In fact, we called the drawing room the “withdrawing room.”   It was a period when we had our quiet time together.

But, little by little, under the pressure of many responsibilities, this time began to be shortened.  Why, I don’t know, but I thought I was just too busy to spend time with Christ.  This was not intentional, you understand; it just happened that way.  Finally, not only was the time shortened, but I began to miss a day now and then.  It was examinations time at the university.  Then it was some other urgent emergency.  I would miss it two days in a row and often more.

I remember one morning when I was in a hurry, rushing down the steps, eager to be on my way.

As I passed the drawing room, the door was ajar.  Looking in I saw a fire in the fireplace and the Lord sitting there.  Suddenly in dismay, I thought to myself, “He was my guest.  I had invited Him into my heart!  He had come as Lord of my home. And yet here I am neglecting Him.”  I turned and went in.  With downcast glance I said, “Blessed Master, forgive me.  Have You been here all these mornings?”

“Yes,” He said, “I told you I would be here every morning to meet with you.”  Then I was even more ashamed.  He had been faithful in spite of my faithlessness.  I asked His forgiveness and He readily forgave me, and He does when we are truly penitent.

He said, “The trouble with you is this:  You have been thinking of the quiet time, of the Bible study and prayer time, as a factor in your own spiritual progress, but you have forgotten that this hour means something to Me also.  Remember, I love you.  I have redeemed you at a great cost.  I desire your fellowship.  Now,” He said, “do not neglect this hour if only for My sake.  Whatever else may be your desire, remember I want your fellowship!”

You know, the truth that Christ wants my fellowship, that He loves me, wants me to be with Him, wants to be with me and waits for me, has done more to transform my quiet time with God than any other single fact.  Don’t let Christ wait alone in the drawing room of your heart, but every day find some time when, with the Word of God and in prayer, you may fellowship with Him.

The Workshop

Before long He asked, “Do you have a workshop in your home?”  Down in the basement of the home of my heart I had a workbench and some equipment, but I was not doing much with it.  Once in a while I would go down and fuss around with a few little gadgets, but I wasn’t producing anything substantial or worthwhile.

I led Him down there.

He looked over the workbench and what little talents and skills I had.  He said, “This is quite well furnished.  What are you producing with your life for the Kingdom of God?”  He looked at one or two of the little toys that I had thrown together on the bench and He held one up to me.  “Are these little toys all that you are producing in your Christian life?”

“Well” I said, “Lord,  that is the best I can do.  I know it isn’t much and I really want to do more, but after all, I have no skill or strength.”

“Would you like to do better?” He asked.  “Certainly,” I replied.

“All  right.  Let Me have your hands.  Now relax in Me and let My Spirit work through you.  I know you are unskilled and clumsy and awkward, but the Spirit is the Master-worker and if He controls your hands and your heart He will work through you.”  And so, stepping around behind me and putting His great strong hands over mine, controlling the tools with His skillful fingers, He began to work through me.

There’s much more that I must still learn and I am very far from satisfied with the product that is being turned out, but I do know that whatever has been produced for God has been through His strong hand and through the power of His Spirit in me.

Do not become discouraged because you cannot do much for God. Your ability is not the fundamental condition.  It is He who is controlling your fingers and upon whom you are relying.  Give your talents and gifts to God and He will do things with them that will surprise you.

The Rumpus Room

I remember the time He inquired about the playroom.  I was hoping He would not ask me about that.  There were certain associations and friendships, activities and amusements that I wanted to keep for myself.  I did not think Christ would enjoy them or approve of them, so I evaded the question.

But there came an evening when I was leaving to join some companions—I was in college at the time—and as I was about to cross the threshold, He stopped me with a glance.  “Are you going out?”  I answered, “Yes.”  “Good,” He said, “I would like to go with you.”

“Oh,” I replied rather awkwardly.  I don’t think, Lord, that You would really want to go with us.  Let’s go out tomorrow night.  Tomorrow night we will go to prayer meeting, but tonight I have another appointment.”

He said, “That’s all right.  Only I thought when I came into your home we were going to do everything together.  We were going to be partners.  I want you to know that I am willing to go with you.”

“Well,” I said, “we will go some place together tomorrow night.”

But that evening I spent some miserable hours. I felt wretched.  What kind of a friend was I to Christ, when I was deliberately leaving Him out of my associations, doing things and going places that I knew very well He would not enjoy?  When I returned that evening, there was a light in His room and I went up to talk it over with Him.  I said, “Lord, I have learned my lesson.  I cannot have a good time without You.  We will do everything together from now on.”

Then we went down into the rumpus room of the house and He transformed it.  He brought into life real joy, real happiness, real satisfaction, real friendship.  Laughter and music have been ringing in the house ever since.

The Hall Closet

There is just one more matter that I might share with you.  One day I found Him waiting for me at the door.  There was an arresting look in His eye.  He said to me as I entered, “There is a peculiar odor in the house.  There is something dead around here. It’s upstairs.  I think it is in the hall closet.”  As soon as He said the words, I knew what He was talking about.  Yes, there was a small hall closet up there on the landing, just a few feet square, and in that closet behind lock and key I had one or two little personal things that I did not want Christ to see.  I knew they were dead and rotting things.  And yet I loved them, and I wanted them so for myself that I was afraid to admit that they were there.  I went up the stairs with Him and as we mounted, the odor became stronger and stronger.  He pointed at the door and said, “It’s in there!  Some dead thing!”

I was angry.  That’s the only way I can put it.  I had given Him access to the library, the dining room, the drawing room, the work shop, the rumpus room, and now He was asking me about a little two-by-four closet.  I said inwardly, “This is too much.  I am not going to give Him the key.”

“Well,” He said, reading my thoughts, “If you think I am going to stay up here on the second floor with this odor, you are mistaken.  I will take My bed out on the back porch.  I’m certainly not going to put up with that.”  And I saw Him start down the stairs.

When you have come to know and love Christ, the worst think that can happen is to sense His fellowship retreating from you.  I had to surrender.  “I’ll give you the key,” I said sadly, “but You’ll have to open the closet.  You’ll have to clean it out.  I haven’t the strength to do it.”

“I know,” He said, “I know you haven’t.  Just give Me the key.  Just authorize Me to take care of that closet and I will.”  So, with trembling fingers I passed the key over to Him.  He took it from my hand, walked over to the door, opened it, entered it, took out all the putrefying stuff that was rotting there and threw it away.  Then He cleansed the closet, painted it, fixed it up, doing is all in a moment’s time.  Oh, what victory and release to have that dead thing out of my life!.

Transferring The Title

Then a thought came to me.  I said to myself, “I have been trying to keep this heart of mine clear for Christ.  I start on one room and no sooner have I cleaned that than another room is dirty.  I begin on the second room and the first room becomes dusty again.  I am so tired and weary trying to maintain a clean heart and an obedient life.  I just am not up to it!”  So I ventured a question:  “Lord, is there any chance that You would take over the responsibility of the whole house and operate it for me and with me just as You did that closet?  Would you take the responsibility to keep my heart what it ought to be and my life where it ought to be?”

I could see his face light up as He replied, “Certainly, that is what I came to do.  You cannot be a victorious Christian in your own strength.  That is impossible. Let Me do it through you and for you.  That is the way.  But,” He added slowly, “I am not owner of this house.  I am just a guest.  I have no authority to proceed since the property is not Mine.”

I saw it in a minute and dropping to my knees, I said, “Lord, You have been a guest, and I have been the host.  From now on I am going to be the servant.  You are going to be the Lord.”  Running as fast as I could to the strong box, I took out the title deed to the house describing its assets and liabilities, its situation and condition.  Then returning to Him, I eagerly signed it over to belong to Him alone for time and eternity.  “Here it is, all that I am and have forever.  Now You run the house.  I’ll just remain with You as houseboy and friend.”

He took my life that day and I can give you my word, there is no better way to live the Christian life.   He knows how to keep it in shape and deep peace settles down on the soul.  May Christ settle down and be at home in your heart as Lord of all.

Don’t Stuff Your Pain, Tell God About It

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

“Get up, cry out in the night, even as the night begins. Pour out your heart like water in prayer to the Lord” (Lamentations 2:19a NCV).

Think you’ve had a bad day?

The biblical character of Job had a Ph.D. in pain and loss.

In the very first chapter of Job, after everything fell apart in his life, “Job stood up, tore his robe in grief, and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground and worshiped”(Job 1:20 GW).

Job expressed his pain to God. When you have a major loss in your life, the first thing you need to do is tell God exactly how you feel.

This may surprise you, but God can handle your anger and frustration. He can handle your emotions. Why? Because he gave them to you. You were made in the image of God, and he is an emotional God.

When your 2-year-old has a temper tantrum and beats on your knees, you can handle that. In the same way, God is bigger than your emotion, and it’s okay to tell him exactly how you feel. When you prayed for a promotion but it didn’t happen, when a loved one walks out of your life, when you get the dreaded call saying, “It’s cancer,” you can tell God, “I’m mad. I’m upset. I’m sick. I’m frustrated. I’m ticked off. I doubt.” God can handle your complaints, your questions, your fear, and your grief. God’s love for you is bigger than all of your emotions.

My kids know I love them. They know that I’ve been on this planet longer than they have and that I’ve had more experience than they have. But my children sometimes question my judgment. Can you believe that?

I’d rather have an honest, gut-level conversation with them than have them stuff their frustration and disappointment inside. God is the same way! He would rather have you wrestle with him in anger than walk away in detached apathy.

The right response to unexplained tragedy is not “grin and bear it.” Lamentations 2:19a says, “Get up, cry out in the night, even as the night begins. Pour out your heart like water in prayer to the Lord” (NCV).

How to Love Your Kids Unconditionally

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

One of the most important things we can do for our children is to teach them that God loves them unconditionally.

It’s extremely important that we teach our kids that they are loved, not because they earned our love or are good enough to be loved, but that they’re loved because God put them into our families to be loved.

This is hard for many of us because we have had a hard time receiving God’s unconditional love ourselves. God wants us to spend some time with him, letting him love us, and in turn giving that unconditional love to our kids.

How can we show God’s unconditional love to our families? Here are two practical ways:

1. Forgive your kids as God forgives you.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ” (NCV).

I love that God forgives me, but I’m not always ready to give that same kind of forgiveness to other people. Parenting requires massive doses of forgiveness. You’re in a position all the time to forgive your kids for things that they do.

2. Never give up on your kids.

We’re told in 1 Corinthians 13:7a, “If you love someone . . . you will always believe in him, and always expect the best of him” (TLB).

From the Phillips translation, that same verse says, “Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything.”

We can face just about anything if we know somebody believes in us. Families are supposed to do that. We’re to give that kind of love to our kids.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. It’s unconditional. It’s a forever bond. No stupid mistake on our part, no dumb decision, no period of rebellion, no overwhelming doubt — nothing can separate us from that forever bond with God, our Father.

As parents we are to develop that same kind of love for our kids. No matter what stupid thing our kids do, no matter how many times they walk away, we believe in them.

God wants you to treat your kids the way he treats you.

Parenting is an emotional roller coaster. One minute you’re so proud of them, you can hardly wait to squeeze them. The next minute you’re frustrated with them and fed up with their behavior.

You may be worried about your kids. You may be frustrated with your kids. You may be fearful about the direction one of them is going. You may be discouraged. If the truth were known, you may be disappointed in one or more of your kids.

Maybe the deepest hurt in your life is when you think of your child or your children. You feel like giving up sometimes, but you can’t resign as a parent. You signed on for life.

If you try to parent in your own power, you’re going to fail. It takes God’s love. Human love runs out. There is a limit to how much you can handle. There’s a limit to how much you can take.

There are days and there are nights when you don’t have any more to give, and you know it. You want to say, “Take care of yourself!” Because human love does run out.

What you need to do is get plugged into God. God is love. He’s the source of all love. When you’re plugged into him, he’ll give you power and energy and love that you didn’t know you had.

God will also give you the wisdom you need. So no matter how you feel emotionally about your kids today, Jesus is ready to help.

The key to becoming a great parent is to become a godly person. How?

First, you invite Jesus Christ into your life. “Lord, become the manager of my heart.”

Second, you pray and say, “God, I need your help daily. I need the wisdom and the love and the patience to be a wise parent.”

Third, you ask your kids to pray for you. I pray for my kids so I ask them to pray for me. Say, “I want you to pray that I’ll be a good parent.”

It may have to start with an apology. There may have to be a little reconciliation first. You may have to contact them, call them on the phone and say, “I wasn’t always the parent I should have been. I feel bad about that. But I want things to change. I want to be the kind of parent God wants me to be and that you need, so I’m going to ask you to forgive me. I apologize.”

It’s never too late to start showing God’s unconditional love and forgiveness to your kids. God never gives up on us. So never given up on your kids!

Divine Words for Desperate Parents

SOURCE:  Nancy Guthrie/The Gospel Coalition

I’m not exactly sure how it happens, but almost as soon as we visit the doctor to confirm we’re pregnant we start getting coupons for formula and diapers and magazines that include all kinds of articles about how to raise healthy, well-adjusted children. All of these “five steps to . . .” and “ten ways to get your child to . . . ” articles can fool us into thinking if we try hard enough and do everything right, our child will become and do what we want.

But anyone who’s been a parent for long knows parenting requires a lot more than simply following the right steps to success. To raise a child toward godliness, we need much more than the good advice parenting experts have to offer. We need what only the Scriptures have to offer.

We need the commands and expectations of Scripture to keep us from complacency, and the grace and mercy of Scripture to save us from guilt. We need Scripture to puncture the pride that rises up in us when our child is doing well and we’re tempted to take the credit. And we need Scripture to save us from the despair that threatens to sink us when our child is floundering and we’re tempted to take all the blame.

While we have influence and responsibility, we don’t have control over our child. We can teach our child the Scriptures, but we can’t be the Holy Spirit in our child’s life. We can confront sinful patterns that need to change, but we can’t generate spiritual life that leads to lasting change. Only the Spirit can do that.

What we can do is pray for and parent our child the best we know how. We can keep trusting God to do what we cannot.

But how or what do we pray? The Scriptures help us with that, too. In particular the Psalms—divine words God has given us to talk and sing to him—provide us with not only wisdom and perspective for parenting, but also with words for prayer.

In His Grip, Not Ours

From the time they’re newborns, we’re concerned about our children’s progress. We want to know what we can do—what we can feed them, what we can teach them, how we can train them—to keep them moving toward a bright future.

During the school years, our parental fear or confidence rises and falls on how well our children are progressing in school and sports, as well as physically and socially. As they emerge into young adulthood, we can’t help but set mental timelines for them to finish their education, find a mate, and establish a career. And all along the way, we often think and act and feel as if it’s up to us and our children to chart out a path for their lives—and to make it happen.

But King David knew otherwise. He recognized he wasn’t ultimately in control of where he came from or where he was headed. Nor did he want to be.

I am trusting you, O LORD, saying, “You are my God!” My future is in your hands. (Ps. 31:14–15)

Our child’s future is not in our hands. It’s not under our control. It’s not in their hands either; it’s in God’s.

Meditating on Psalm 31 helps us to pray: Lord, I find myself obsessing over many aspects of who my child will be and what he will do. But I know my child’s future is not in my hands. And deep down I don’t want it to be. The safest place to be—the place of favor and blessing—is in your hands.

In His Strength, Not Ours

As parents we tend to be pretty hard on ourselves. We’re well aware of our deficiencies and our hypocrisies. We’re determined not to raise our own children in some of the ways we were raised, yet we instinctively repeat similar patterns. We want to listen, but we’re distracted. We want to play, but we have so much work to do. We want to engage helpfully, but so much of what we throw out there doesn’t seem to stick. Even our most brilliant efforts at parenting don’t always work well.

In Psalm 103 we find good news for those of us who have failed our child, good news for those of us who have been angry, impatient, or cold.

The LORD is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
he remembers we are only dust. (Ps. 103:13–14)

We have a Father who is tender and compassionate toward us. He’s not pointing fingers or putting us on trial. He is mindful of our limitations and frustrations. He knows how weak we are in faith, in discipline, in consistency, in wisdom, and in relational skills. He remembers we are dust, doing the best we can in a world we don’t control to raise kids we don’t ultimately control. We have a Father who works in and through our weaknesses to put his own power and strength on display.

Meditating on Psalm 103 helps us to pray: Father, we need your tenderness to release us from our regrets, and we need your compassion to assure us of your long-term commitment to see us through all the seasons and struggles of parenting.

By His Voice, Not Ours

When we read Psalm 29, we get the sense that David is looking up at the sky, watching the progress of a storm sweeping over Israel. But he’s not just watching it. He’s hearing what the Lord is saying to him through it.

The voice of the LORD echoes above the sea. The God of glory thunders.
The LORD thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
The voice of the LORD splits the mighty cedars; the LORD shatters the cedars of Lebanon. (Ps. 29:3–5)

The Lord’s voice is shattering. The same voice that splits the mighty cedars of Lebanon can cut through any resistance our children have toward God.

The Lord’s voice is striking. It can speak to our children like a gentle rain of gradual understanding or like a lightning strike of life-changing insight.

The Lord’s voice is shaking. It can jolt our children out of their apathy and comfort.

The Lord’s voice is stripping. Just as it leaves the forest bare, it can peel away negative attitudes and arguments from our children’s hearts and minds.

Meditating on Psalm 29 helps us to pray: Lord, we long for our child to hear you speaking. Won’t you sweep down over our home in the way David saw you sweeping through Israel? Come and let your mighty, majestic voice be heard.

In His Timing, Not Ours

How hard it can be to wait on God. When we’ve prayed for months or years and see no visible signs of change, no tangible evidence of God at work, we can begin to lose hope. We wonder not only if heaven is closed to us, but if there’s really anyone there, listening and able to act.

I am sick at heart. How long, O LORD, until you restore me? (Ps. 6:3)

When we’re sick at heart over the direction of or difficulty in our child’s life, we can be sure God will restore us to a healthy confidence that he is at work. When we’re worn out from sobbing over the pain in our child’s life, we can be sure the Lord has heard our weeping. He has heard our pleas and will answer. It may not be today or tomorrow. In fact, God may not accomplish all the healing and restoration we long for in this lifetime. But we can be sure the day will come when his work in our lives and in the lives of our children will be brought to completion. And in light of eternity, it won’t seem it took very long at all.

Meditating on Psalm 6 helps us to pray: Lord, I am impatient for you to accomplish all you intend in my child’s life. But I am not hopeless. Even when I don’t see you working, I will trust you are. Even when it seems it’s taking too long, I trust you to accomplish all you intend to accomplish, and I have faith you will complete it on time.

—————————————-

Adapted from Nancy Guthrie’s The One Year Book of Praying Through the Bible for Your Kids.

Hope for Hurting Parents When Kids Rebel

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

As a pastor, more than other people, I see the hurt and the heartbreak that happens in a family when a child makes rebellious and destructive decisions. And thankfully, there’s a story in the Bible that offers us a lot of insight.

What has often been called “the story of the prodigal son” is really a picture of how God shows his holiness, his goodness, and his kindness to his children — each son in this story was rebellious in his own way. Some of the insights we learn about parenting from this story might surprise you.

The story, found in Luke 15:11-32, unfolds in three stages.

Stage 1: Rebellion.

Beginning in verse 11, “Jesus said, `There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.’”

Stage one is rebellion. In every parent-child relationship, there’s going to be a struggle. It’s a struggle for control, a power struggle.

At birth, as a parent, you are 100 percent in control. But as your child grows, the power gets transferred. Your control is not permanent. Kids want control sooner than we want to give it. They think they deserve it sooner than we’re ready to give it out. Kids have a sin nature. If you don’t believe that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” you’ve never been a parent.

So what do you do when a child is legally independent and you can’t control them anymore?

  1. Let them go.
  2. Let them make their own mistakes.
  3. Let them experience the consequences of their own choices.

There is a price tag for rebellion. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (NIV).

How do you as a parent feel when your child rebels? Guilty? Embarrassed? We tend to practice a lot of self-condemnation when our children rebel, but you are not the only influence in your child’s life. Your child has choices that he makes. She has friends that she chooses. He has teachers that you don’t control. She has books and movies that she sees. He has all kinds of influences and choices.

Stage 2: Regret.

Back to our story. Verse 17 says, “When he came to his senses…” You might be praying for that sentence in your child’s life. When is my kid going to wake up? When is he going to come to his senses? When is he going to see that he’s ruining his life? You’re praying for that.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and I will say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.””

Notice the change in attitude. He goes through a process of re-evaluation, regret, and repentance.

What do you do during this stage, while you’re waiting for your child to come to repent? Three things.

  1. Pray for your child, non-stop.
  2. Commit your child to God’s hands.
  3. Wait patiently.

Stage 3: Return.

Verse 20 says, “So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

Remember that in this story, this is the ideal father responding. This is God. This is not a typical human being. This is what God would do.

In fact, it is what God does to you in your rebellion. It’s a model for us.

  1. Love them faithfully, stubbornly.
  2. Accept them unconditionally and affectionately. (This doesn’t mean you approve of their actions.)
  3. Forgive them completely.

Verse 22 says, “But the father said to his servants.`Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate!’”

What I like about this father is he didn’t rub it in. He didn’t keep reminding his son, holding it over his head the rest of his life. The father gave him a second chance. He forgave him completely.

This story shows how God deals with our rebellion. That’s the primary purpose of it. We’ve taken matters into our own hands. The Bible says that we’ve all sinned and we’ve all done our own thing. We’ve messed up our lives. But God says, “Come on home!” God gives us another chance.

How a Heavy Heart Gives Thanks

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

We are, for the most part, troubled people.

We are troubled within, and troubled without. We are troubled in our bodies, and in our families. We are troubled in our workplaces, and in our churches. We are troubled in our neighborhoods, and across our nation.

We welcome trouble with our sin, but we are plagued by trouble even in our best efforts. Job’s friend, Eliphaz, while not the best counselor, got it right when he said, “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Jesus himself said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33 NIV).

“Jesus’s thankfulness to the Father as he went to the cross expressed like nothing else his trust in the Father.”

Therefore, we, for the most part, are burdened people, because troubled hearts carry heavy burdens with them.

And in the midst of all our nearly constant and complex trouble, Jesus says to us, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). And Paul, who knew more constant and complex trouble than most of us will know, says to us, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

How are these commands possible? Most of what troubles us springs from moral, spiritual, or natural evil and corruption — and yet we’re to give thanks?

Heaviest Heart in History

No one in the history of the world was burdened in his soul like Jesus on Thursday, April 2, AD 33.

No one — no grieving spouse in a solitary house, no weeping parent beside a child’s grave, no heart shattered by a love betrayed, no wordless ache for a wandering prodigal, no desolate soul staring at a terminal test result, no felon in an isolated cell of relentless shame knows the burden that pressed upon Jesus as he walked up the stairs to share the final meal of his mortal life on this earth.

It was the Passover, and Jesus was the Lamb. Like the ancient Father Abraham leading his trusting son up the slope of Mount Moriah, the Ancient of Days was leading his trusting Son of Man to a sacrificial altar (Genesis 22; Daniel 7:13). But unlike Isaac, the Son of Man fully knew what lay in store and he went willingly. He knew no angel would stay his Father’s hand; no substitute lamb would be provided. He was the substitute Lamb. And his Father was leading him to slaughter where he would be crushed and put to grief (Isaiah 53:7, 10).

“If we trust God in the worst, darkest, most horrible troubles we face, he will make us more than conquerors.”

And oh, what grief and sorrow he bore (Isaiah 53:3)! Jesus fully knew the price he must pay to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). He knew the nature, scope, and weight of his Father’s righteous wrath. “Crushed” was not a metaphor; it was a spiritual reality. The Son of Man (John 3:14), God the Son (Hebrews 1:1–3), the Word made flesh (John 1:14), the great I Am (John 8:58), the Lord himself (Philippians 2:11), who came into the world for this very moment, would plead in bloody terror for the Father’s deliverance before the end (John 12:27; Matthew 26:39).

Broken and Thankful

His burdens in body and soul would exceed every humanly conceivable measure. He would be despised and rejected by those in heaven and earth and under the earth. Yet he took bread — bread representing the breakable body holding it — and gave thanks and he broke it (Luke 22:19). With an incomparably heavy heart, the anticipated horror relentlessly pressing in on all sides of his consciousness, Jesus gave thanks to his Father — the very Father leading him into the deepest valley ever experienced by a human — and then he broke the bread.

We should not quickly or lightly overlook Jesus’s gratitude because he’s Jesus, as if knowing it was going to be all right in the end made it any easier. He was thankful because he did believe it would be all right (Hebrews 12:2). But we know little of the agony he felt or the spiritual assault he endured. What we do know is that he “in every respect [was] tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). So, in our difficulty to see past our troubles to the joy God promises us, we get an inkling of the infinitely greater difficulty he faced.

Learn from His Heavy Heart

When Jesus tells us not to let our hearts be troubled, and to give thanks in all circumstances, we can know that we have a high priest who is able to sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:15), and that he has left us an example, so that we might follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).

“Every troubled tear we shed in this life is kept and counted by God, and one day he will wipe away every single one.”

What is this example? In the face of unquantifiable, inexpressible evil — the worst trouble that has ever tortured a human soul — Jesus believed in God the Father’s promise that his work on the cross would overcome the worst, hellish evil in the world (John 3:16–17). He believed that “out of the anguish of his soul” he would “see his offspring” and “prolong his days” (Isaiah 53:10–11). He believed that if he humbled himself under God’s mighty hand, his Father would exalt him at the proper time (1 Peter 5:6), and that every knee would bow and tongue confess that he was Lord to the glory of his Father (Philippians 2:11).

It was that future grace of joy set before Jesus that enabled him to endure the cross, and to give thanks as he was being brought there to be crucified. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith because he believed the Father’s promise was surer than the doom that lay before him (Hebrews 12:2). His giving thanks was a supreme form of worship, for it expressed like nothing else his trust in the Father.

We Can Give Thanks

Therefore, Jesus is able to say to us in our trouble, “Believe in God; believe also in me” and, “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 14:1; 16:33). We who believe in him have every reason to “be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). For an empty cross and empty tomb speak this to us:

  • In all our trouble, God makes known the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
  • He is working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).
  • He will complete the good work he began in us despite how things look now (Philippians 1:6).
  • If we trust the Father in the worst, darkest, most horrible troubles we face, he will make us more than conquerors (Romans 8:37–39).
  • Every troubled tear we shed over the effects of the fall are kept in God’s bottle (Psalm 56:8) and will be wiped away forever (Revelation 21:4).

It is possible to give thanks with heavy hearts in the midst of trouble. Trusting the Father by looking to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), and remembering every promise is now “Yes” to us in him (2 Corinthians 1:20), will lighten our burden (Matthew 11:30). It will pour hope and joy into our hurting hearts, giving rise to faith-fueled, worshipful thanksgiving.

No Surprises

SOURCE:  Charles Swindoll

For more than three decades, Saul controlled his own life. His record in Judaism ranked second to none. On his way to make an even greater name for himself, the laser of God’s presence stopped him in his tracks, striking him blind. Like that group of shepherds faithfully watching their sheep years earlier on another significant night outside Jerusalem, Saul and his companions fell to the ground, stunned.

That’s what still happens today when calamity strikes.

You get the news in the middle of the night on the telephone, and you can’t move. As the policeman describes the head-on collision, you stand frozen in disbelief. After hearing the word “cancer,” you’re so shocked you can hardly walk out the doctor’s office doors. A friend once admitted to me that, after hearing his dreaded diagnosis, he stumbled to the men’s room, vomited, dropped to his knees, and sobbed uncontrollably.

Life’s unexpected jolts grip us with such fear we can scarcely go on.

For the first time in his proud, self-sustained life, Saul found himself a desperate dependent. Not only was he pinned to the ground, he was blind. His other senses were on alert and, to his amazement, he heard a voice from heaven say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul was convinced he had been persecuting people—cultic followers of a false Messiah. Instead, he discovered that the true object of his vile brutality was Christ Himself.

We live in a culture that regularly confuses humanity with deity. The lines get blurred. It’s the kind of sloppy theology that suggests God sits on the edge of heaven thinking, Wonder what they’ll do next. How absurd! God is omniscient—all-knowing. This implies, clearly, that God never learns anything, our sinful decisions and evil deeds notwithstanding. Nothing ever surprises Him. From the moment we’re conceived to the moment we die, we remain safely within the frame of His watchful gaze and His sovereign plan for us.

God never learns anything new He didn’t know about us. Nothing surprises Him.

— Charles R. Swindoll

Overcoming Thoughts of Spiritual Betrayal (by God)

SOURCE: Dr. Gregory Jantz/AACC

If you have faith in God, depression can be similar to a betrayal by him.

After all, you have trusted him to care for you, yet you are still depressed.  You may have heard from your childhood that, as a Christian, you were to experience and exhibit joy, peace, patience—all the fruit of the Spirit spoken of in Galatians 5:22-23.  This sense of betrayal may haunt your sleepless nights and invade your despairing thoughts.  Feeling forgotten by God, you may even be angry at him.

This anger at God can contribute to your depression by provoking feelings of guilt.  You don’t think you should be angry at God, or you don’t think you have the right to be angry at God, so you feel guilty when you pray, the more you are convinced that he could fix it, but he won’t .  You doubt his love.  But you’ve also memorized John 3:16, which begins, “For God so loved the world…” so you’ve been told he does love you.  Looking at all of this, you conclude he’s got a lousy way of showing his live, at least to you.

Or you may think, Perhaps I don’t deserve his love.  Maybe he doesn’t change my situation because I don’t deserve joy and peace in my life.  Possibly the things I’ve done are so bad that he wants to love me but can’t because of who I am.  And if God can’t love me, then I’m not really worthy to be loved by anyone.  And if my life is to be empty of love, hope is impossible.  If you look at it this way, depression is completely understandable.

Or is it?

Have you picked up the stream of thoughts in this line of reasoning?

It takes snippets of truth—God loves you, and Christians are to live lives of joy—and twists those around into something meant to injure you, not give you comfort.  This line of reasoning is not from God; it is from the Deceiver.  Rage is a deceiver.  False guilt is a deceiver.  Abject despair is a deceiver.  Depression is a deceiver.  That is why when you are in the midst of depression, you must replace your own negative self-talk with God-talk, which is based upon truth.  This God-talk will support your positive self-talk by agreeing with affirming statements, such as these:

  • I deserve love. (“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” – John 3:16)
  • I deserve joy. (“Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” –Isaiah 51:11)
  • I am strong enough to learn and grow each day. (“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” – 2 Samuel 22:33)
  • I can experience contentment in my life. (“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” – Philippians 4:12)
  • I am able to respond to my circumstances, instead of react. (“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” – Romans 12:2)
  • I can look forward to tomorrow. (“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” –Lamentations 3:22-23)

How do you fill your life and your mind with God-talk?

The Bible is full of life-affirming messages.  It is, at its heart, a love story.  It is a story of a loving God, who created you to love you and to be loved by you.

Like every great story, there is a separation, which must be overcome by terrible sacrifice.  Through God’s sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, you are able to confidently say, “I can live happily ever after.”

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Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 35 books.

Adult Children: 8 Steps for Parenting a Prodigal

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

All of us stumble a time or two on the journey to adulthood; after all, no one is perfect. One of the challenges of parenthood is gradually letting go of our children, giving them more freedom and responsibility as they grow. But what do you do when it’s not just a slip or a slight detour but your older child goes completely off the rails?

There’s probably no greater heartache for a parent than when their dream for their child dies, when someone they have poured their life and love into for so many years seem to reject everything they have ever wanted for and taught their child. My wife, Susan, and I have discussed this in our podcast, Loving Your Child Thorough Teenage Rebellion.

If you are facing this kind of difficult situation, take heart. Consider these eight lessons that are to be found in one of the most famous stories about rebellion ever told: The Prodigal Son.

You may recall how Jesus told of the young man who asked for his father’s inheritance, took off for a place far away where he squandered everything on wild living and finally came to his senses in a pig sty. The son returned home to ask to be put on his father’s payroll as a hired hand. Instead, to his great surprise, he was welcomed with a big hug and big party.

But beneath the happily-ever-after surface of the parable of the prodigal son are some steps to help you—and your child—through a time of rebellion.

1. Let them go.

Putting your foot down and locking them up won’t change their heart. The young man in the story realized the foolishness of his ways as he was allowed to follow his choices to their conclusion. The father didn’t try to shield his son from the law of cause and effect. That can be a scary thing, especially when there is risky behavior involved. Obviously, you may need to step in if they are younger or are seriously endangering themselves or others, but don’t be too quick to try to protect them from all that may follow as that could just prolong their waywardness.

2. Face your feelings.

Parents feel a great loss when children willfully turn their backs on all they have been modeled and taught. Take time to grieve the loss—and allow room for the anger that may surface too. Don’t bottle it all up inside. Here are 3 things to do when a dream dies.

3. Keep your head up.

Adding to the heartache of a child gone wild can be the sense of shame and failure. You think everyone else sees you as a failed parent. It can be healthy to reflect on the ways you may have contributed to your child’s decisions by your own mistakes or inadequacies so that you can change moving forward. You may even need to seek your child’s forgiveness. But your child is still ultimately responsible for his or her own choices. So don’t go into hiding; the father in the story continued about his business and waited out in public for his son to return.

4. Let them fail.

The prodigal only came to his senses when his life was in the dumpster and he was in great need. In that sense, the greatest gift the father gave his son was to let him become desperate. He didn’t keep bailing him out. Had he forced his son to stay home he may have simply nurtured a low-grade resistance for the rest of his life. Sometimes people need to be allowed to realize the poverty of their decisions.  How to Create Healthy Boundaries for Rebellious Teens looks at some ways of establishing rules and consequences appropriately.

5. Remember the other kids. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, and the troublesome child can draw most of the attention. In the parable, the older brother certainly resented his father, to a degree. Ensure your other children know they are loved and accepted for who they are. Reading Attitudes: Steps to Opening Your Child’s Spirit may be helpful.

6. Be expectant.

Waiting, wondering, and worrying about a child is hard. A friend whose son disappeared into drugs and alcohol abuse told me how he feared every phone call from an unknown number, wondering whether it might be the police calling to tell him his boy had been arrested—or worse. But remember that while your child may be beyond your reach, he or she is never beyond God’s. Hold onto hope, just as the father looked down the road for his returning son.

7. Don’t rescue them too soon.

They may need to stew in their own juice for a little while to really come to understand where they have gone wrong. There’s a difference between remorse and repentance. It’s one thing to feel bad about something in the moment; it’s another to demonstrate a serious desire to change over time. The son did that by walking all the way home from the far place he has gone to. He didn’t just say he was sorry and have his dad FedEx him an airline ticket. It’s important to know that your child really wants to change and isn’t just uncomfortable.

8. Offer grace.

They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the purity of your love for your child will never be more apparent than when they come home with their tail between their legs and find open arms and forgiveness rather than folded arms and a lecture. The prodigal son knew he’d messed up; he didn’t know until he got back the full extent of his father’s love.

They call all this tough love. Not just because it’s firm for the one to whom it is offered but because it is a hard balancing act to manage for the ones extending it. But being firm does not mean being harsh.

To Parents Who Have Lost a Child

SOURCE:  ccef.org/Alasdair Groves

Losing a child is the most difficult and painful experience I can personally imagine.

What do you say to someone who has lost a child?

What can you say? And, perhaps more importantly, what does God say?

In preparing a talk about this for CCEF’s conference earlier this month, 1 I found myself praying “Lord, here is what I know: you have words for those whose children die. You have comfort. There is something overwhelmingly real and true and good that you have for those who lose a child. Help me, help us, find it.”

While I tried to draw out a number of themes from Scripture in the talk, one of the places this prayer led me was to write a letter as I imagined how our loving Father might speak to parents in their grief. Since several people have asked me to pass along the text of that letter, I thought I might make it more broadly available as a sort of open letter expressing the direct and personal care with which Scripture speaks to parents who have lost a child. My prayer is that these words will be a refreshingly personal touch point with your Heavenly Father as you struggle through this unspeakably agonizing experience.

My dear child,

I remember walking through the Garden that day toward my children, knowing what their choice to listen to the tempter was going to cost their children for generations, including the death of their own boy, Abel. I knew utterly, even then, the grief you would taste so many years later. My heart breaks for you, my child. Indeed, I sent my son, in part, so that you could see him weep at the tomb of Lazarus, and know that my heart is undone by the grief of loss, even knowing that hope is just around the corner.

Like your brothers and sisters in Bethlehem whose little ones were murdered by Herod after that first Christmas, and countless others over the centuries who found themselves burying a beloved child, you are part of the voice heard in Ramah. I hear you with Rachel, weeping for her children, rightly refusing to be comforted. So know this: I have prepared a bottle to catch the tears I knew you would shed.

And I say to you also what I spoke through your brother Jeremiah: I declare that there is hope for your future. I will yet turn your mourning into joy, and not by some trick played on your emotions! No. I will not forget your grief and tears. But I WILL comfort you and I will give you gladness for sorrow and you will be satisfied with my goodness.

My delight and joy in the redemption I am working, and my utter victory over death, is beyond expression. I am waiting breathlessly for the day when you will get to see it too. When you will be able to see it the way I do. When you will say that even this anguish does not compare with the shalom and wholeness of the way I have abundantly more than restored what now is broken. For behold, I am creating a new heaven and a new earth and I will rejoice and be glad in my people. No more shall the sound of weeping and distress be heard among you. NO MORE shall there be a son who lives but a few days or a daughter who dies unexpectedly. Instead, I will lose none of those I have given to your older brother. And I will make my home with you and with all my children — indeed I have prepared rooms already. Together with them, you will build homes and inhabit them, you will plant vineyards and eat their fruit, and none will suffer or die on my holy mountain. I am the resurrection and the life.

Be patient still a little longer. I am coming.

Love,

Your Father

1 Audio available here.

The Savior’s Tears Shed for Yours

SOURCE:  Christina Fox/Desiring God

Once during morning devotions, I asked my children, “What are some verses in the Bible that give you hope?”

One of them squirmed, “I don’t know . . . ” Then a silly grin spread across his face. “Wait,” he said. “Jesus wept.”

“You are right,” I said. He was surprised. The shortest verse in all of Scripture — just two words, eleven characters — does give us great hope.

Jesus Wept

Jesus’s good friend Lazarus has died (John 11:14). Before his death, Jesus received word that Lazarus was seriously ill. Then he delayed going for two days. When he finally arrived, Lazarus’s sister Martha came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:21–22).

Then Mary came to him and said the same thing. John writes, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept” (John 11:33–35).

Jesus delayed his journey on purpose. He knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:15). So why did he cry?

A Savior Affected by Our Grief

John Calvin says this about John 11:

[Jesus] gives proof that he has sympathy. For the cause of this feeling is, in my opinion, expressed by the Evangelist, when he says that Christ saw Mary and the rest weeping yet I have no doubt that Christ contemplated something higher, namely, the general misery of the whole human race; for he knew well what had been enjoined on him by the Father, and why he was sent into the world, namely, to free us from all evils.

As he has actually done this, so he intended to show that he accomplished it with warmth and earnestness. Accordingly, when he is about to raise Lazarus, before granting deliverance or aid, by the groaning of his spirit, by a strong feeling of grief, and by tears, he shows that he is as much affected by our distresses as if he had endured them in his own person. (Calvin’s Complete Bible Commentaries)

John 11 isn’t the only passage that tells us about Jesus’s tears. Isaiah describes the Messiah as a man of sorrows: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Hebrews tells us, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). In Matthew, Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).

He Will Wipe Away Every Tear

The fact that Jesus wept means that our Savior knows and understands our grief. He experienced the agony of this dark world firsthand. He was rejected, abused, abandoned, mocked, cursed, tempted, and scorned. As Hebrews 2:18 tells us, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Our Lord is also compassionate toward us. He cares about our sorrow. He hears our cries and listens to us when we call out to him (Psalm 116:1). He keeps track of all our tears: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8).

Because Jesus was perfect, the expressions of his grief — his tears — were also perfect. Our emotions bear the curse of sin but his did not. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And because Jesus’s perfect righteousness has now been credited to us, his perfect sorrows have become ours as well. Jesus’s sinless sorrows are redeeming even our sorrows.

In the story of Lazarus, we see a God who not only cares about the sorrows of his people, but a God who is also able to resurrect joy from the grave of despair — to bring life from death. The story of Lazarus points to the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection and ultimately to the final resurrection when all our tears will be wiped away forever. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

“Jesus wept.” These two words, though brief, are filled with great hope. Because Jesus wept, we know he understands and cares about our tears. Because Jesus wept, his perfect, sinless tears have become our own. And because Jesus wept, we have hope that one day, our tears will be no more.

What Do I Do With “Strangers?”

SOURCE:  Jan Johnson

Welcoming the Stranger

Not often listed as a spiritual discipline, this practice [welcoming the stranger] was one Jesus emphasized by how he welcomed all kinds of people and identified with them: “When I was a stranger, you welcomed me . . .when you did it for the least of these, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:31-35, CEV). Such welcoming is tangible and helpful, even offering them a cup of cold water (Matthew 10:40-42; see also Matthew 18:5 and John 13:20).

Who are our strangers? People appear to us as strangers for different reasons but they usually fit into one of these categories:

Outcasts.  A person’s past didn’t disqualify him or her from being welcomed by Jesus. While most rabbis threw stones at lepers, Jesus welcomed them (Matthew 8:1-4). He touched the untouchables.

Wrong-doers The immoral past of the Samaritan woman did not disqualify her either. In fact, Jesus went out of his way to extend himself: he had to go through Samaria (John 4:4). He welcomed this person who was also a stranger ethnically and gender-wise. He should not have had a conversation with any woman in public but he not only did so but also invited her to enter into a deepened relationship with God.

People longing for home. At one time Joseph, Mary and Jesus were political refugees, running from King Herod. They had to leave their homeland by night. Imagine their fear as they slipped out of Bethlehem by night and made a two to three week journey on a route frequented by robbers. This Jewish couple mixed with non-Jews and had to trust God every step of the way.

Anyone who isn’t like me.  When we see or meet people who differ from us politically, ethnically or theologically, a little “ping” may go off in our head that says, Ooh, Different. Step back. I wonder what Jesus’ disciple, Simon the zealot, thought when Jesus healed and then praised the faith of a Roman centurion. Simon would have viewed the centurion as a prime candidate for assassination.

A stranger may just be someone of a different economic class. In a church full of homeowners, an apartment dweller often feels like a stranger. A disabled person is a stranger in the midst of fitness buffs as is a non-reader among well-read folks. Military kids or missionary kids, parolees or drug rehab graduates may all qualify as strangers among those without that type of experience.

Anyone we’re tempted to exclude and ignore. Strangers are often people in power-down positions: “children as opposed to adults, women as opposed to men, minority races as opposed to majority races, the poor as opposed to middle-class, the middle-class as opposed to rich, lower-paid workers as opposed to highly paid workers, less educated as opposed to more educated, blue-collar workers as opposed to professionals.” The elderly are easily overlooked. When my quiet 80-year-old mother-in-law came to visit, our other dinner guests never engaged her in conversation. I wept later to think of the many times I had neglected to speak to an older person.

Or we may avoid pushy people, people who talk too long about themselves, those who scream and pout for what they feel they deserve, know-it-alls, or people who let their kids run wild. In any “us versus them” situation, “them” are the strangers.

The shocking thing about Jesus is that he did not merely tolerate such different people. Jesus offered himself to them in self-giving love. I am able to do this only when I ask Jesus to reach out to others through me.

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Excerpted from Invitation to the Jesus Life, ch 5. ©Jan Johnson

Enslaved to Porn: Why I Returned Again and Again to Pornography

SOURCE:  Biblical Counseling Coalition/Luke Gilkerson

During a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973, robbers held several hostages for six long days. During this time a curious thing began to happen: the hostages began to show signs of sympathy for their captors. Even after the ordeal was over, one of the hostages later became good friends with one of the robbers.

The criminologist assigned to help police with the case coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome.” While there is considerable discussion surrounding the exact nature of this phenomenon, there have been several reported cases of the syndrome; some hostages seem to form powerful emotional attachments to their victimizers as an internal defense mechanism.

Israel Longs for Egypt

By way of analogy, we can see Stockholm-like symptoms in the attitudes of the Israelites during their wilderness years. Only weeks after they watched God open the Red Sea, they were murmuring against God when they ran out of provisions. They thought about their life back in Egypt—the bread, the pots of meat (Exodus 16:1-3)—nothing like the scorching wilderness. Even after the revelation of God at Sinai, they said, “Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:1-4).

Wasn’t this the same group of people who groaned because of their slavery (Exodus 2:23)? Why, instead of remembering the cruelty of Egypt—the task masters, the heavy burdens, the centuries of toil making bricks under the hot sun, the ruthless slaughter of their children—did they remember pots of meat?

My Longing for Porn

I have been just as guilty of the same lunacy when it comes to my own habitual sins—like my love affair with pornography. Yes, in my sober moments I could see the ugliness of porn for what it was. But there were many times I rushed back to porn like a dog to its vomit. In the moment of indulgence, I was blind to the shame and oppressiveness of my addiction—or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I saw the shame of it, but it somehow seemed less ugly to me.

Something in me wanted to be addicted, wanted the slavery. Over the years, I’ve pondered why this is, and here are my observations…

Who Do You Trust?

God made Israel many promises of deliverance. If they trusted God, He would bring them out of slavery into a land of blessing. But “the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:2).

That generation died in the wilderness because they did not trust in God.

It wasn’t that Egypt was better than the wilderness; rather, trusting the Egyptian slave masters was somehow easier than trusting God. Sure, Egypt was a cruel place, but at least it was a predictable place.

For me, it wasn’t that slavery to porn was all that desirable, but it was easier for me than trusting God. Sure, I knew the cruelty of the slave master’s rod, but at least in front of my computer screen he delivered predictable rations. In the wilderness of trust, however, I would be asked to die to my selfish demands and enter the unpredictability of following God’s Spirit.

In order to finally overcome my addiction to porn, I needed to confess my sin of unbelief.

Trusting God on My Way to the Promised Land

When I felt totally inadequate and rejected in life, it was easy to long for the “pots of meat” offered by pornography. There, in that fantasy world, I was never rejected. But God was calling me to repent of needing the approval of others, pursue His glory above all (1 Corinthians 10:31), and anticipate the glory He promises to those who trust Him (John 5:44). His approval is far better than the approval of women made of pixels on a screen.

When I was felt pathetically lonely, sitting at home while all my friends were out on dates with their beautiful wives, I longed for the rations porn would deliver, the temporary illusion of intimacy. But God was calling me to the trust Him as I entered the risk of godly intimacy with a real person. God can and will take all my relationships—even my failed ones—and use them to conform me to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).

There were nights I felt genuinely angry at God for not giving me the spouse I so clearly “deserved” and the life I so desperately wanted. I would run back to the slavery of Egypt as my way of throwing a tantrum at God for not catering to my desires. “Fine, God, you won’t give me what I want. I’ll take it however I can get it.” But like a loving Father, God called me to stop acting like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:29-31), acting like God “owed” me something. In the wilderness, God taught me that He does not relate to His children this way. As a Father, He knows me better than I know myself. He knows exactly what blessings are best for me in His perfect timing. And like a loving Father, He spoke tenderly into my spirit, saying, “Everything I have is yours.”

Longing for the Promised Land

The only thing that cures a longing for Egypt is a longing for the Promised Land. I need to begin believing that what God offers me, even in the unpredictability of following Him, was far better than the false promises of porn.

I know until I get to that land, Egypt will still be in my blood. I still bear the scars of my former slave master’s whips. In my foggiest moment I will naturally be drawn to the memory of the pots of meat. But God feeds me with the heavenly manna of Christ’s broken body. He has given me a taste for milk and honey. And He has given me traveling companions that constantly remind me that we are on our way home.

To the Sons and Daughters of Divorce

SOURCE:  Paul Maxwell/Desiring God

Few things are more traumatic than a car accident — 2,000 pounds of steel and glass bending and scraping, with no respect for the limits or boundaries of the human body inside. There’s a path of healing that every victim of a serious accident must take.

Children with divorced parents have experienced a different kind of violent, traumatic collision. And every child of divorce must likewise walk a path of healing. It will, of course look different for different sons and daughters, but no one can deny that the emotional and relational bleeding needs attention, likely long after the papers are filed.

A chorus of adults with long-divorced parents will dismiss in unison: “I’m not broken, thanks very much. I’m not a project. I’m fine. It’s not even a big deal. I’m not a victim, and it certainly doesn’t deserve this much attention.”

I totally get that.  Depending on the day, I might say the same thing if I read my first two paragraphs.

My parents divorced when I was nine. I’m not a victim, but the break still broke me. It wounded me in ways I could not control. Years later, because I didn’t have the resources to work through things as a nine-year-old boy, certain forms of brokenness seem native and normal to me.

Divorce “attacks the self, because the self is formed within the belonging and meaning provided by the family. When it is destroyed, the threat of lost place and lost purpose becomes a reality. Without place or purpose, one becomes a lost self” (Andrew Root, Children of Divorce, 21). More than losing myself, though, I lost the ability to relate to my heavenly Father. I certainly didn’t think that God had anything to say, or even cared, about the mangled, overturned vehicle in our living room. I’m sometimes still tempted to think that way today. But he does. He speaks. And he cares.

Right now, we’re just focusing on what you (and I) experienced, and how you can heal. This isn’t meant to judge divorced parents, or to deter parents from getting divorced for legitimate reasons (abuse or adultery). The point is to see how, as children of divorce, Jesus Christ is a light in dark places, a hope for the broken, confused, and lonely. We will piece together some themes from Scripture to explain how God understands and relates to children of divorce, in ten points.

Divorce Does Affect You

1. Everyone in a family is organically, emotionally, spiritually connected.

Paul explains, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14). While not the main point of the text (primarily speaking about marriage between a believer and unbeliever), we can note three things:

  1. The family is a unit — an organically connected singular entity (“because of his wife . . . because of her husband . . . as it is”).
  2. The child’s spiritual well-being is interwoven with the integrity of their parents’ marital well-being (“made holy . . . made holy . . . they are holy”).
  3. A broken marriage, therefore, has breaking effects on the child (“Otherwise your children would be unclean”).

2. For a child, experiencing a divorce is experiencing a violent storm.

Malachi argues, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth” (Malachi 2:15). Ah, yes. “What was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” In the Hebrew, “A child of God.” What does the child experience? The Lord enters the scene to explain what happens to a child when parents fail to guard their marriage “in the spirit”: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (Malachi 2:16). There is always violence in divorce — a scary, violent, destructive storm within and all around the family.

Divorce Tears What Cannot Be Torn

3. Divorce does not just separate parents.

“So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). “I know.” We use a metaphor for divorce: “It’s like getting gum out of a rug. It can’t fully be done.” Okay. We forget that the spouses aren’t the only ones who get “separated.” The gum metaphor certainly doesn’t capture what happens to a child of a divorce. A marriage can be separated, at least in some ways; A child cannot. A child is an irreducible unit — a singularity cannot be separated from itself. And yet, we are. What the parents experience relationally, the child experiences internally.

4. Divorce separates you from you.

So when your parents — your first example and measure of relational unity and security — were separated, you were torn in a way that a human is not built to be torn. There is no “gum” and “rug.” There’s just you. You’re one “thing,” and now you feel like you’ve been cracked in half into two things. Even if you don’t experience the emotion explicitly, you still feel and experience and respond to the tension, because the separation is real.

Regardless of whether the divorce was justified or biblical — completely aside from any of those questions — divorce was a violence you experienced. What man “separates” in divorce happens to you, too. What happens between Mom and Dad happens in you. “There is no soundness in my flesh . . . because of the tumult of my heart” (Psalm 38:7–8). The effects are far-reaching, often more than we are immediately aware. Depression, anxiety, addiction, anger, compulsions, and distractions, are all possible effects of being torn, and very often, we are not even aware that these things might be related to the “accident.”

Facing Brokenness is Freedom

5. Brokenness is not unrighteousness.

Scripture uses many different metaphors to speak ethically, but theologians have used at least two terms that are relevant here: the “forensic” and the “renovative.” The “forensic” is legal. It’s declarative. It’s right and wrong. Scripture uses the terms “righteous” and “unrighteous” for the forensic (Acts 24:15). The “renovative” is felt — it’s inside of you. It is helpful and hurtful. Scripture uses the terms “holy” (1 Timothy 2:8) and “broken” (Psalm 44:19; Psalm 69:20; Proverbs 29:1; Ephesians 4:22). To put it in a crass and reductionistic way, the forensic is the external evaluation, and the renovative is the internal state of affairs. In order to heal, we need to be able to distinguish between our brokennesses.

6. You didn’t do anything wrong, but you still have to heal.

Popular therapy for children of divorce will say again and again, “You didn’t do anything wrong.” That’s a forensic category. And it’s true. Your parents’ divorce is not your fault. But, unfortunately and tragically, it still breaks you. You are still, in a real way — in an on-the-ground, in-your-fibers sense — overwhelmed by weight too heavy to lift and twisted in knots too complex to untie in a single counseling session.

The choice given to the child of divorce is not whether or not they should experience the brokenness of their parents’ divorce, but whether they will consciously process or unconsciously suppress the breaking. Henri Nouwen explains, “What is forgotten is unavailable, and what is unavailable cannot be healed.” Likewise, to intentionally face the reality of being broken is not to face defeat, but healing.

Facing God After Divorced Parents

7. Marriage and divorce communicate something about God’s love.

Parents represent in a priestly and prophetic way, for good or ill, Christ’s attitude toward their children (Ephesians 6:1-4). This happens, not only in the direct relationship of parent-to-child, but in an exemplary and indirect way in the public, parent-to-parent relationship lived before the eyes of the child (Ephesians 5:25-33).

And so, in divorce, parents communicate a view of God’s love that speaks more powerfully than words. It is important to recognize, then, that there will always be a painful proverb in the back of your head that has its root in that experience. It’s not the same for everyone.

“Love doesn’t last.”
“Failure in love is always my fault.”
“I need marriage to escape my loneliness.”
“I will never get married.”
“God’s ready to leave me any moment.”
“My love isn’t enough to keep people together.”
“I’m not enough.”

All lies.

But lies are powerful when they have good material to work with. Divorce is a fertile ground for lies of justified self-hatred. Children of divorce, myself included, have always searched too hard for love. Like the song goes, “I fall in love too easily; I fall in love too fast; I fall in love too terribly hard for love to ever last.” We are searching for a sense of home, a way to convince ourselves the lies in our abandonment and loneliness won’t have the last word.

8. God’s has a special affection for you.

What do we see in the texts we’ve looked at so far? A condemnation of the divorced? No. It’s not even about that. What do we see? God’s caring hand for the child. For you. Even if you’re an adult. These texts are God speaking, and naming violence that you’ve experienced. Malachi 2:15 is God saying, “You’ve been in a car accident, and you need to heal.” He says, “I’m looking after you. My eye is on you. You are my child.”

We see God’s protective care for children of divorce. We see the structures that he has set up to care for the weak, and his grief over the violence that breaking these structures does. God is the lifter of weight. He is the untier of knots. His specialty is in redeeming — in healing, restoring, and strengthening. His forte is in trauma, and in complex pain — not always in fixing or explaining right away, but in being-with (Isaiah 43:2).

He has a singular and unique affection for you: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). That verse probably means nothing to you. In fact, it may make God feel further away. The ‘father’ pictures in Scripture have never been anything but painful for you. That doesn’t change the fact that God does show perfect and intimate compassion to you the way a good father should. He does.

Facing Others After Divorced Parents

9. God is building you to help others.

Through sorrow and tragedy, God gives you an awareness of the world. A sixteen-year-old with divorced parents is, in a sense, more aware of the world around them than the same sixteen-year-old without divorced parents. We all fight through adversity, of whatever kind, so that we can fight for the weak down the road.

“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (Proverbs 24:10–11).

These verses flip suffering on its head. If we had divorced parents as a child (and faint, because it’s too much for us), it is so that we can rescue others when we’ve been made strong. In the end (and even in the midst) of your healing path awaits a unique strength that will not only deliver you, but will allow you to carry others through the same journey, fighting the same voices, healing the same wounds, building the same faith and perseverance.

10. Reach out to others who have walked this hard path.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” To put it tritely, experiencing the divorce of parents is just really, really hard. There’s no escaping that. It comes with tears. It comes with being very afraid. It comes with anger. You carry the bitter weight of having divorced parents.

I don’t presume to know your situation, what your parents are like, or what your family has gone through. All I know is that it must be extremely painful, and that God knows your pain. By his grace, it will not destroy you, but make you stronger (Isaiah 42:3–5). Paul realized that he went through an affliction “so that [he] may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4). He is a man who once “despaired of life itself” who now “[does] not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1). He learned to be strong because he was weak (2 Corinthians 12:9), and God is still using him to comfort Christians in chronic and excruciating pain all over the world.

I don’t think I have found more help in my own journey of healing than in seeking help from others who have walked the same paths — who have had to do the hard work of finding Christ through the weeds of having divorced parents. Look for other sons and daughters — of God, and of divorced parents — and walk with them.

You are not pathetic. You are not alone. You deserve to be deeply loved, and you are deeply loved by God. He will carry and keep you.

 

Seeing Me As God Sees Me

SOURCE:  Living Free/Martha Homme, MA, LPC

“Your life is safe in the care of the LORD your God, secure in his treasure pouch!” 1 Samuel 25:29 NLT

What makes you feel good about yourself?

We too often seek self-worth in the wrong places.

Thinness, performance and control do not equal significance and wholeness. We are important because God designed and created us. …Because he loved us so much that he sent his only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven and we could live with him forever. We are his treasure and he wants to protect us, to keep us “secure in his treasure pouch.” When we don’t recognize that God loves us unconditionally, we set ourselves up for rejection, shame, guilt, hopelessness and powerlessness.

An eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia can be brought about by a person’s attempt to feel better about herself. This problem affects as many as eleven million women and men in the United States alone. Although sufferers are mostly girls and women, an increasing number of boys and men are affected as well.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, it is vital that you seek medical help, as well as counseling from a professional. And remember that you are special because God created you and loves you unconditionally. In his eyes you are significant; you are his treasure. Through Jesus you can find safety, security and a sense of belonging.

The Bible promises that nothing can separate you from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). Turn to him today. Thank him for loving you. Thank him for making you a special person. And ask him to help you overcome your eating disorder. You can do all things with his help.

Father, it is so difficult for me to see myself as an attractive, cared for, valuable person. Help me begin to understand how special I am to you. Help me to see myself through your eyes. In Jesus’ name …. . .

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These thoughts were drawn from …

Seeing Yourself in God’s Image: Overcoming Anorexia and Bulimia by Martha Homme, MA, LPC

Q&A: How Do I Heal From Emotional Abuse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: My physical injuries have healed from people who’ve abused me, but the negative feelings are still there. What can I do to find deeper healing?

Answer: Emotional wounds can be much more damaging than physical wounds can be and usually heal very slowly. I’d highly recommend that you read the last section (Surviving It) of my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship as well as How to Live Right When Your Life Goes Wrong for specific steps that you can take for your emotional growth and healing. But let me share with you a meditation I’ve been pondering that will give you a good start.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the story of the women who had an issue of blood for 12 years. You know her; she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, hoping to be healed. But let’s look more closely at her story to understand how deeper healing takes place. (Read Mark 5 and Luke 8 for the story.)

Here is a woman who was an outcast. She was labeled an unclean woman, socially unacceptable, undesirable, and dirty. Jewish law mandated that if someone touched an unclean person, they would need to go through the Jewish purification ritual in order to regain their rights to enter the temple. She was an untouchable woman and people kept their distance. She had spent all her resources to find help, but she only got worse. This woman heard Jesus coming and thought to herself, “if only I can touch his cloak, I will be healed” ─ and to her surprise ─ she was.

Immediately she tried to escape the crowd unnoticed. Remember, she touched Jesus and according to Jewish law, that made him unclean. How embarrassed and scared she must have felt when Jesus turned and asked, “Who touched me?” If she identified herself then everyone would know what she had done.

Let’s step back for a moment and look at the larger story here. Jesus was heading to Jairus’ house. Jairus was a Jewish leader, a ruler of the synagogue. Yet he approached Jesus for help because his young daughter lay dying. Jairus was a daddy before he was a religious leader and so he fell at Jesus’ feet begging him to heal his daughter.

It was on the way to Jairus’ home with the crowd pressing on that Jesus stopped to ask who touched him. I wonder in that moment what Jairus thought and felt. Did he feel impatient, anxious for Jesus to hurry up and get to his house? His daddy’s heart wanted his daughter healed. I wonder if he also felt a bit angry at this woman for distracting Jesus and taking valuable time away from a more pressing need. I suspect he might have even felt angry that Jesus did not prioritize his daughter’s life threatening illness over this woman’s chronic bleeding problem.

Jarius was a person of influence and importance. He was a leader; he spoke and people listened. He risked everything to beg Jesus for help and now Jesus was wasting time asking who touched him while his daughter lay dying. Now Jesus himself was unclean too.

Do you ever feel like Jairus? God isn’t moving fast enough for your emergency? Angry and impatient that other people’s prayers are getting answered while you are still waiting?

Jairus was a daddy and wanted to see his daughter healed. But dear readers, one of the lessons of this story is that this unclean woman had a daddy too, and her daddy cared about her needs and he knew she had no one who begged for her healing. Jesus stopped and called her forth because he wanted her to know something very important. Listen to what he told her. He said, “Daughter, Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” He wanted her to know that her daddy (the Heavenly Father) saw her suffering and told Jesus to help her too.

Jesus wanted her to know that she mattered to God. Although her culture rejected her, God did not. Although she was judged to be unclean, Jesus declared her whole. He wanted her to know that she was a person of value and worth. Even in a pressured moment, Jesus took the time to have a conversation with a nameless women who felt unclean, unloved and unimportant. He wanted her to know who she was. She was a daughter and her Daddy loved and cared about her.

How about you? Perhaps your mother abused you. Your husband rejects you. People don’t understand you. You feel like an unclean women, damaged goods. If only you could touch his cloak, you’d be well. I have good news for you. Daughter, go in peace and be freed from your suffering. 

God wants to help you. He wants you to know that you matter. You are important to him. He sees you and knows you and is never too busy with more important people to meet your very personal need. You are not nameless, or worthless, or hopeless. You have a daddy, he’s called Abba (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).

Knowing and believing that, is the beginning of your healing.

As for Jairus, Jesus didn’t forget about his concern although he probably felt that way once he got word that his daughter died. But Jesus turned to Jairus and said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” What did it take to walk those next miles home, heavy with sorrow yet clinging to faith? Perhaps that’s where you are right now. You feel hopeless or angry or disappointed. But Jairus trusted what Jesus said to him, and because he did, he got to see a miracle. Jesus took his precious daughter’s hand and said, “Honey, wake up.”

What is Jesus saying to you right now, even if the midst of sorrow, heartache, broken dreams and shattered promises? Can you trust what he is saying and continue to walk in faith? That is healing. He says to you and to me, “Honey, wake up”.

THE DARKNESS OF CHRISTMAS

SOURCE:  Courtney Reissig/The Gospel Coalition

Until one year, when it didn’t.

I had been married a little more than a year when my first dark Christmas hit. I had every reason to think I would be bursting out of my normal clothes and growing a little baby. But I wasn’t. There were no food aversions, no bouts of nausea, and no need for stretchy pants. The baby inside me had stopped growing weeks before. I was devastated. I felt little Christmas joy that year; there was only Christmas ache and a longing for what might have been. It wasn’t my last sad Christmas, as we waited for God to provide us with children. What was once such a happy family time for me, suddenly became a stinging reminder of the very thing I wanted most but still lacked—a family filled with children of my own.

Whenever we talk about Christmas we think about happy, joyous times, and that is most certainly the case for many. In the years since our first loss, we’ve had Christmases of joy and Christmases of sorrow. We know the feelings of both. But for others, Christmas can carry a dark cloud of sadness, a sadness that never seems to let up and is only exacerbated by the happiness swirling around you. For some, Christmas is a reminder of the darkness of painful circumstances. It carries no tidings of great joy. Maybe you are facing your first Christmas without your spouse or parents. Maybe you are reminded every Christmas season of your longings for a spouse. The loneliness can make celebrating the holidays too much to bear. Maybe your table is missing a beloved child who is wayward, and things never seem the same without him. Maybe your parents are divorced and you shuffle between two houses on Christmas day, while your friends spend family time together. Christmas feels isolating and meaningless when all is not as it should be.

Whatever darkness you are facing this Christmas, know this: with all of the songs and festivities that point to good cheer and great joy, Christmas recalls darkness unlike any we will ever experience, but a darkness that brought light into a fallen world.

Mary’s Soul-Piercing Pain

While Christmas is about the dawning of great joy in the coming of our Savior, it also foreshadows the darkness of his crucifixion. Simeon told Mary of her son’s purpose, that a sword would pierce her own soul (Luke 2:35). Mary, the woman whose heart warmed for her son with every kick in the womb. Mary, the woman who nursed and diapered the very Son of God. Mary, the woman who loved and raised her son like any other mother would do. And while he was no ordinary son, he was still her son. Bearing the Son of God did not make her numb to the often painful realities of motherhood, and her pain would be excruciating. No earthly person felt the weight of Christ’s purpose like she did. While many were rejoicing at his coming, she would one day face the agonizing grief of watching her son suffer on the cross for her sins and our sins.

It’s easy to idolize Mary as a super-human vessel, ready to do whatever was asked of her. While she was certainly godly, she was still human. She was still a mother. This is what Simeon is getting at in his prophecy. With the atonement for our sins came the motherly pain of Mary. As she stared at that little baby in the manger, she may not have fully understood all that was going to take place, but God the Father did. The birth of our Savior carried an ominous shadow of the darkness to come.

God’s Chosen Pain

Mary may not have fully understood what Jesus was sent to do, but God the Father knew of this imminent grief and ordained it to be (Isa. 53:10). Jesus knew what was expected of him, and he agonized over the grief and suffering waiting for him at Calvary (Luke 22:39-46). With every shepherd’s praise and magi’s gift, the Father knew that the perfect fellowship would soon be momentarily broken for sin. In her book When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, Joni Eareckson Tada wrote of the Father and the Son’s grief at the cross:

The Father watches as his heart’s treasure, the mirror-image of himself, sinks drowning into raw, liquid sin. Jehovah’s stored rage against humankind from every century explodes in a single direction. “Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?!” But heaven stops its ears. The Son stares up at the One who cannot, who will not, reach down in reply. The Trinity had planned it. The Son endured it. The Spirit enabled him. The Father rejected the Son whom he loved. Jesus, the God-man from Nazareth, perished. The Father accepted his sacrifice for sin and was satisfied. The Rescue was accomplished. God set down his saw. This is who asks us to trust him when he calls on us to suffer.

With the joy over this little baby in the manger came the promised reality that the joy would soon turn to momentary grief. We have a perfect heavenly Father who knows what it means to grieve over loss. The darkness of our Christmas is not foreign to this God. He is not aloof. He is present with us, because he knows us deeply and walks with us in our pain. He has endured deep pain, too.

When we think about Christmas and are heartbroken to face another holiday with tears, we have hope. While Mary faced heart-piercing grief as she birthed her son, this grief was for the good of us all. While God the Son suffered at the crucifixion, by this suffering we are healed (Isa. 53:5), and he is a great high priest who can sympathize with our sufferings (Heb. 4:15).

Whatever darkness you face this Christmas, it is not the final word in your life. It may be lifelong. It may feel like it will never let up. It may threaten to undo you at times. And it is real. But we can grieve this holiday with hope that one day the baby who came in a manger will wipe every tear from our eyes and make his blessings flow for us forever (Rev. 21:4). The darkness that hovered over his cradle did not win. And it won’t win over us either.

How God Embraces the Embarrassed

SOURCE:  Paul Maxwell/Desiring God

Whether it’s a laughable underwear-on-stage experience (laughable later), or a deeply unsettling loss of integrity, embarrassment is a besetting quality of human life. It lurks and stalks beneath the surface of our circumstances, waiting to sink its teeth into our every failing and loss — intentional or naive, serious or jovial, public or private, embarrassment is a trained hunter of human failure.

Getting Behind the Blush

As with any concept, it is best to begin with a clear definition. For our purposes, we will define embarrassment this way: The emotional experience of being judged by others, whether rightly or wrongly; perceived or real. This embarrassment has five basic components.

1. Escape

“I want to die.” “I want to fly away.” “I want to disappear.” “I want to stop existing.” “I want to go back in time.”

Naturally. We want to escape the people. Embarrassment is an experience of the reaction of others to our condition or experience.

And it’s nauseating. Our very bodies start running away from us, out of our control. Tears. Blush. Vomit. Embarrassment is an emotional nuclear meltdown — not a fit, but an uncontrollable and convulsive inside-out-ness. The structures that support us begin to fall — our operating system fails from overload, and we just. . . want. . . to. . . ugh. “Get me out of here.”

2. Shame

“I am unacceptable.” “I have defiled myself.” “People now see the worst of me.” “People see me as undesirable, dirty, disgusting.”

When embarrassed, we assume we have elicited the gag reflex in everyone around us. In that moment, we feel like a monstrosity at whom people tilt their heads, from whom parents hide their children’s eyes, whom adults only speak of in morbidly curious judgment. The embarrassed are self-professed psychics, hearing, “I didn’t know you were so creepy, gruesome, strange, icky, hideous, shameful.”

Choose your poison. It’s there. In the moment, in the emotion, embarrassment is laced with fatal doses of shame.

3. Loneliness

“Not only am I not okay. Everyone else is fine.” “I am the only one who would do something this stupid.” “I am the only one who would be this dumb.” The loneliness of embarrassment can take extreme forms. “I am the pure and full embodiment of failure.” “Others fail, but not like me.” “Others make mistakes, but not like an idiot, not like me.”

To be embarrassed is to feel alone. In whatever amount, loneliness is a universal ingredient in the embarrassment cocktail. Stigma. Social exile. Them over there … me over here. No matter the circumstances, in the moment and emotion of embarrassment, we are utterly isolated and distanced, banished from words like “normal,” “everyone,” and “belonging.” Embarrassment revokes our access to the word “us.”

4. Self-Deprecation

“I deserve their scorn.” “I deserve to be laughed at.” “I deserve to be demoted to a lower social caste.” “I hate myself.” “Why did God even make me?”

Self-deprecation is more than shame. It is articulated and pointed. Shame is a blunt weight on our back. Self-hatred is a knife in our own hand. Self-deprecation is also more than loneliness; it is rationalized: “You should be alone. Who would want to associate with you?” Self-deprecation is our natural inclination to answer embarrassment’s “Why?” with a staunch “Because of me — obviously, again — because of me.”

5. Legalism

“I could have prevented this if I had been better.” “I could have stopped this if I had done better.” “I have put myself here.” “It’s all my fault.” “It’s always my fault.”

Embarrassment remembers. It keeps a record of wrongs. When embarrassed, we feel the cutting edge of disapproval from God and neighbor. Embarrassment is the emotional experience of failed earthly justification — of failing to attain “righteousness of my own that comes from the law” (Philippians 3:9). “From the law.” Insert: the righteousness that comes from being wealthy, successful, morally upright, popular, stable, employed, and socially savvy. Now imagine all of the condemnation that can rip you to shreds when you drop a meatball in your lap at a business lunch. “Now there’s no hiding how stupid I am.”

Embracing God in Embarrassment

Embarrassment is an obnoxious suffering. It is not something of which we can repent. Embarrassment is an experience of losing control of one’s self and circumstances. Embarrassment is an emotional and spiritual reality in which it seems like God is either absent, laughing along with the crowd, or expecting us to just move on and get over it already. But God rushes in to offer several unexpected gifts for the embarrassed.

1. Escape

Perhaps surprisingly, God endorses our desire to escape — but he won’t let us escape him (John 10:28–29). The first embarrassing moment in history: Adam believes that God is coming against him as he hides in shame: “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10). God’s response? “Good. Run. Get out of here. We don’t want you here. Look at yourself: naked, shameful, sinful.” We expect it. But no. Never. “The Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden” (Genesis 3:23) “lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever” (Genesis 3:22).

God says, “Hey, let’s get you out of here. This place isn’t safe. What do you have there? Fig leaves? Here are some leather garments; you’re cold. Come with me.” Why? “Lest he. . . live forever.” Parsed simply: “I won’t let this be your life.” “I won’t let you be inside-out forever.” That feeling of ours is grievous and important to him (Isaiah 51:3).

2. Protection

God is urgently involved in protecting the embarrassed — but he won’t let us run away from hard experiences either. In the moment of embarrassment, let the words of Genesis 3 show us God’s disposition toward the embarrassed: Notlaughing in agreement, but rushing to your aid. “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me” (Psalm 54:4). You want to escape? God is helping you to do just that — but you won’t escape him, and you won’t run away. He will rush into your embarrassment, break you out of hopelessness by strengthening your feeble arms (Colossians 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:3), and stand with you as your honor no matter your circumstances (Psalm 62:7). He does not mock. He does not forsake (Deuteronomy 31:8; Psalm 37:28).

“In your embarrassment, God is not laughing in agreement, but rushing to your aid.”

3. Perspective

A moment of embarrassment is like a moment of severe pain — all of our attention is on the bruise, the sprain, the break, the gash. Most often, we are powerless before embarrassment. It is locomotive, overpowering, controlling. But as we spin into our emotional tornado, God gives us relational grips to reach for. However embarrassed we feel, this moment will not last in the minds of others around us. Remember: embarrassment isn’t about the thing — embarrassment is about our experience of how other people experience us.

So let’s split up the opinion of others into unbelievers and believers. (1) To the unsanctified, the sinful heart is too self-involved to indulge in the downfall of others for long — they “seek their own desire” (Proverbs 18:1), “set their minds on the things of the flesh” (Romans 8:5), and are only bent on their own universe, even to their detriment — they “immediately forget what [they look] like” (James 1:24). And (2), to the sanctified, there is grace (Colossians 4:6), tenderheartedness (Ephesians 4:32), and even protection to be received. People do not have the energy to harbor such sadistic scorn for long. And if they do, it certainly does not reflect the attitude of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 6:6; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:3–8).

People can be cruel to us, but often not as treacherous as we are to ourselves.

4. Communal Acceptance

Christians are often the first people to have a reason to qualify love, “Yes, God forgives them. . . . but they should be ashamed.” “. . . but let’s be real.” “. . . but they should know better.” “. . . but they should do/be better.” This is a failure to “rid [ourselves] of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from [our] lips” (Colossians 3:8). Embarrassed people already know that they have not made ideal choices or been placed in ideal circumstances. They need Jesus Christ, not a qualified personal Christian opinion (Hebrews 13:20–21).

We should “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19), we “should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:2), and we should “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

The embarrassed need to receive Christ through real flesh and blood people (2 Corinthians 7:6). Because embarrassment is primarily an emotional experience ofother people, then the church, as other people, is in the perfect place to dispel the myth that they are under judgment, shame, or worthy of self-hatred. The church needs to find an “us” with the embarrassed. “Hey, I know you probably have tons of emotions swirling around. . . but this one time I messed up big, and was so embarrassed. Let me tell you my story.” “. . . but my spouse left me as well, and I’m here to talk if you ever want to.” “. . . but by the way, nobody is gossiping about this. We all just love you and hope you’re okay.”

Acceptance “from God” is real, and perhaps helpful long-term. But very often, what we need is acceptance from God in the form of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 15:7). In this way, the people of God combat both loneliness and shame.

5. Words

The last place the embarrassed will go is Scripture. Why would we go to a book that shames us? “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The embarrassed are not a holy people. Or are they? Where would we fit in Scripture? It’s obvious. Out. Out where? Probably “the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42). Yes, there.

Well, maybe not. Scripture doesn’t cast us out. There are more fitting and redemptive roles to play for the embarrassed. God wrote embarrassment into the script of redemptive history, and therefore the Christian life — it’s part of the plan. For those who have sinned, God gives the words, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14). For those who have suffered, “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived’” (Job 3:3).

Okay, so there are words for the embarrassed, but are there any positive words? Yes. Look to the crucified criminal. Publicly displayed, without excuse, exiled, punished, ashamed, naked, utterly embarrassed, interjecting into Jesus’s cry of dereliction, “Remember me” (Luke 23:42). The criminal is “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), who cries “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Embarrassment, rejection, exile, shame, and loneliness are all real. And so the embarrassed are a people who cry “Why have you forsaken me?” with Jesus, who says to them, “You will be with me” (Luke 23:43), and “Can a woman forget her nursing child. . . ? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15–16). To the embarrassed, Jesus is not just with us. He is one of us. Not embarrassed of us, but standingwith us. He calls us his own.

In moments of embarrassed shame, loneliness, self-hatred, and failure, God gives the embarrassed his very Son (Romans 8:32), protection, perspective, acceptance, and words to say when (not if) embarrassment comes. The Redeemer is not surprised by our embarrassment, and he is not unprepared for it either.

“Jesus is not embarrassed of you, but stands with you as your crucified, humiliated Savior.”

Jesus’ Compassion For Me Is “ALWAYS”

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

A Prayer for Resting in the Current Compassion of Jesus

     And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Matt. 9:35-36

Dear Lord Jesus, there are so many reasons to love you—so many reasons to risk being completely honest and vulnerable with you. Today I’m particularly thankful for your compassion.

When you looked at crowds of harassed and helpless people, you didn’t ignore them; you weren’t irritated with them; and your body language never shamed them. Sympathy beat within your breast; kindness overflowed. I praise and bless you, for having this same compassion for each of us today.

You don’t despise our brokenness and my weakness. I believe this; I would believe it even more. Free me from my residual posing and pretending, Lord Jesus. There is no more welcoming place than the gospel. There is no safer haven than your love. There is no greater, richer, more certain acceptance that what we have in you.

If your kindness leads me to repentance, then your compassion leads me to the freedom of vulnerability. So here I am… I wish I could speed up my sanctification, Lord Jesus; I wish I was already over certain things; I wish old wounds still didn’t carry present power; I wish I wasn’t triggered to anger, insecurity and fear by certain people.

I wish I were freer to be in the moment, without concerns for the next thing and the next. I wish I were more spontaneous, relaxed and welcoming of strangers… This really isn’t a “wish list” as much as it’s the cry of my heart for the gospel to do its work in my life, Lord Jesus.

I am so thankful that one-Day we will be as loving and as lovely as you. I am so thankful that the Father will complete the good work he has begun in each of his children. You are the Good Shepherd, and I trust, love and adore you. So very Amen I pray, in your holy and healing name.

Abandonment: Who/What Fills the Hole?

SOURCE:  Living Free/Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You, Lord, alone make me dwell in safety and confident trust.” (Psalm 4:8 AMP)

The desire to have a good relationship with our earthly parents is normal. But many of us have had little or no relationship with our earthly fathers and mothers. That lack leaves a hole inside us. A hole we need to fill. That search often prompts us to look for love . . . security . . . happiness in the wrong places.

Men who had no father figure as a child have questions about who they are as men. They tend to become just like their absent father . . . and hate themselves for it. Poor gender identity creates vulnerability for other difficulties, even homosexuality. Women who grew up without a father sometimes avoid men altogether or develop distorted perceptions and inappropriate expectations of men.

In the case of an absent mother, children often grow up without nurturing and do not learn to be nurturing parents themselves. Men may have difficulty relating to women.

Where are you looking for love and security? Whom do you expect to satisfy your needs? How are you trying to fill that emptiness inside you?

There is only One you can always trust. In the above scripture, the psalmist says he can lie down and sleep in peace because He knows God is protecting Him. He knows God is trustworthy.

Are you looking in the wrong places for hope and peace and acceptance? Look up and reach out to your heavenly Father. He is waiting for you . . . with open arms.

Father, a hole was left in me because of my absent parent. I’ve tried to fill that hole in many ways but now I realize I’ve looked in all the wrong places. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for being my heavenly Father. In Jesus’ name . . .

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These thoughts were drawn from …

 Restoring Families: Overcoming Abusive Relationships through Christ by Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

What Is the Father Wound?

SOURCE:  Jeff Eckert

Jack is a 42-year-old who entered my office for counseling after his wife discovered his long history of Internet pornography, and trips to local massage parlors. As I began to explore his history in an attempt to understand the deeper issues involved, I was struck by one of Jack’s statements: ‘My father always provided for us and was home every night after work. But even though he was there, he was never really present.’

Thus begins an exploration of the question: What is the father wound?

Andrew Comiskey, in his book on sexual and relational healing entitled “Strength in Weakness” writes, ‘Though the Father intended for us to be roused and sharpened by our fathers, we find more often than not that our fathers were silent and distant, more shadow than substance in our lives.’ This kind of a ‘shadow’ presence is not what our heavenly Father intended for our relationships with our earthly fathers. Unfortunately, few fathers follow the injunction of Proverbs 27:17: ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.’

Like Jack, then, many men grew up with fathers who returned home after work, but were never really active as sharpening agents in the lives of their sons. These fathers provided for their sons’ material needs, but they were strangely absent when the time came to satisfy the needs of the heart, such as intimacy and connection. Fathers like this may have been available to coach their sons’ baseball teams or supervise yard work. However, they were less likely to model intimacy in relationships, or to be an active presence when their sons were dealing with the pain of rejection by peers.

In his soul, every man craves deep, intimate connections with other men, but men are often left without the tools for creating these loving, nurturing relationships. A big reason for this has to do with the primary role fathers typically play in families. Rather than nurturing their sons or developing intimacy with them, fathers often spend the majority of their time enforcing the rules. Patrick Morley, in his classic book “Man in the Mirror” states, ‘Mothers love and stroke their children. Angry fathers handle the discipline.’ While this statement may seem unfair to fathers, it is a fair assessment of the father’s role in many families. Not only do fathers interact with their boys in a primarily disciplinary role, but boys are taught to absorb that discipline with a stiff upper lip. Boys learn the lesson very early on that they are not to display any sense of vulnerability. When life gets tough, negative feelings are to be stuffed and internalized.

This stoic, unemotional approach to life is often accompanied by a seemingly unreachable set of expectations from fathers. Countless men enter my counseling office with stories of fathers they could not please: ‘All my life I have felt as if I just couldn’t cut it in my father’s eyes. It always seemed like the bar was raised just above my reach.’ Some of the deepest wounds lie in these feelings of inadequacy, which can then poison other relationships and make true intimacy difficult. Men that grew up with fathers they were unable to please often carry around a suffocating belief system: ‘I can never cut it. And if I’m not cutting it, then why would others want to be around me?’

Another reason men may feel inadequate is because their fathers did not support or affirm them as they moved into manhood. Jack Balswick, in his book “Men at the Crossroads” writes, ‘Tragically, many young men are growing up without a father who will affirm their leap into manhood’Often the voices they do hear are distortions of true manhood.’ Because so many boys do not have a father affirming their ‘leap into manhood,’ that transition is often filled with feelings of fear, anger and frustration, instead of confidence and security. Lonely and discouraged, boys become isolated and alienated men. In this isolated state, men continue to desire closeness and connection, but they often have no concept of how to achieve it.

It is because of this quandary that many men seek out sexual fantasy in an attempt to find some sense of intimacy. Many men feel a void in their lives, often created by the wounds of the past, and some men attempt to fill that void with illicit sexuality. Men’s desire for intimacy and connection is real, powerful, and appropriate. But when men try to satisfy that desire in the form of sexual fantasies and acts, they find merely approximations or shadows of true relationship and connection.

However, a healing balm for men’s wounds, including their father wound, can be found.

By obtaining a biblical understanding of what a father truly is, and through a relationship with Jesus Christ, men can begin to experience healing. More healing can occur through accountability and community with other Christian brothers. As Jack began developing relationships with others who were truly present, and experiencing relationship with a heavenly Father who is always present, his need to escape into the world of sexual fantasy was diminished. Sharing our wounds with fellow sojourners in the journey can provide immeasurable healing. It is in coming out of our own woundedness and brokenness that we can most clearly see the essential nature of relationship with Christ and others.

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