Month: January 2014

Lusting for Comfort… Treasuring Something Greater

 

“The lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.”  Khalil Gibran

I heard this quote on my way in to the office this morning, and was stunned.  And I believe it was no accident that I heard it.  So much of my life has been spent securing comfort in this world… an “eternity on earth” of sorts.  I mentioned in my last post my fear of being exposed as an imposter.  That fear is driven by a deeper fear that I’ll lose my little “kingdom” I’m building, and I’ll have my little comforts taken away from me.  Those comforts I long… no, that I lust for.  And as Mr. Gibran states, my soul’s passions having been murdered by my lusts, they now lie in state while the lust simply grins as I mourn over what I’ve lost.

This can’t be how life is supposed to be lived.  What is the antidote to this vicious disease of lusting for comfort?  John Piper, sheds some like in his wonderful message on Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, comparing our lives to the solar system [emphasis mine]:

So it is with the supremacy of Christ in your life. All the planets of your life—your sexuality and desires, your commitments and beliefs, your aspirations and dreams, your attitudes and convictions, your habits and disciplines, your solitude and relationships, your labor and leisure, your thinking and feeling—all the planets of your life are held in orbit by the greatness and gravity and blazing brightness of the supremacy of Jesus Christ at the center of your life. And if he ceases to be the bright, blazing, satisfying beauty at the center of your life, the planets will fly into confusion, and a hundred things will be out of control, and sooner or later they will crash into destruction.

Jesus Christ encountered a very confident and wealthy man, who desired something he thought Jesus could give him.

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Matthew 19:16-22 (ESV)

I’m that man.  I’m the guy who is looking at my treasures sadly because of what I think I’ll lose.  I’m the guy that lives my life as though my planets are held up by me, all the while missing the strong gravitational pull of the Son Jesus Christ, whose blazing glory and brightness of His supremacy is constantly pulling at me to become the most beautiful part of my life.  I’ve been that guy for so long.  But no longer.  Like the parable of the treasure hidden in the field (Matthew 13:44-46), the antidote to the viral spread of discontentment and fear in my life is to treasure Christ for all he is worth.  It is to find supreme satisfaction in the glory and treasure of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, my Savior.

What do you treasure today?  What do the planets of your life revolve around?  To paraphrase Joshua in the Old Testament, as for me and my house, we will put Christ at the center of our solar system, and live with joy that His pull is so strong!

Terror and Rest… Facing the day

I woke up this morning terrified.  Not from a bad dream or extreme trial or tribulation I was facing today.  I looked at my calendar this morning and looked at the 4 things I am responsible for accomplishing today at work, wondered how I will get it done, and felt a little sense of dread about it all.  But this was something more.  This was deeper than impossible “to-do lists”.  And I feel like I live with this terror, sometimes more subtly, but definitely there, almost every day.  I am absolutely terrified that I will be EXPOSED.

I’m not talking about the kind of exposure you get from frostbite, where everything hurts because of the damage done by the cold.  Not fear of pain or even embarrassment.  Deeper.  I’m talking about that fear that I’ll be sitting in class or a meeting one day and realize I’m sitting in my underwear.  That “how did I get here and how do I get out without anyone finding out?” fear.  I’m afraid that people will discover me for the IMPOSTER that I think I am.

Now, I have 4 children, ages 5-14; I teach a 5th grade Sunday School class; I lead men’s groups.  And in all of these settings, I can teach with FIRM conviction that in Christ, I am not an imposter.  I have everything I need to live life and godliness.  God is taking care of me.  I know this.  So, why do I sit here this morning dreading something I intellectually know is not true?

Well, I think there are many reasons, but it seems the one that God laid on me this morning has to do with my sin.  Specifically, my relational sin.  Meaning, the sins I commit which destroy my sense of feeling connected to God.  Let me explain with a parable (Ha!).  But seriously, let me use my relationship with my wife as an example:

Let’s say my wife was upset about something I didn’t do earlier that she had asked me to do.  Instead of stopping to reflect about it, I blow up!  I react and say harsh things to her.  Now…  how am I feeling after I’ve cooled down?  Based on what I’m likely seeing in her face, I probably feel pretty rotten.  Initially, I probably feel more rotten about myself, why did I do that, what is wrong with me?  Have you been there before?  So often, I do this with God.  I feel bad about what I did, and I turn that bad feeling to myself.  Deep down, I feel rotten about myself and despise my many bad choices.  And I fear I will be exposed and have to face the “reality” of how someone will see me.

But what if in that moment, instead of feeling rotten about me, I felt more of a sense of deep regret over the harm I caused her?  What if I turned to my wife in deep sorrow and expressed how I wish I had not done that, and I know I harmed her?  What if, for a moment, I didn’t care what I felt about myself, and simply loved her to the point of restoration and healing?  Ironically, I end up feeling much better… not because I proved I’m right.  Quite the contrary.  But because my relationship is restored and I now probably have a stronger sense of steps I need to take to correct that sin in me.  And likely, I don’t even consider being afraid of being exposed about this sin.  In essence, I’ve bared all before my wife already.

Such is the way with God and me.  Like David’s deep repentance to God over his sin with Bathsheba (Psalm 51), when I see my sin first as an affront to God, I come to Him with deep sorrow and full assurance of what He can do about it.  The result?  Confidence that today, I don’t have to worry about being exposed.  I’ve already bared all to the one who matters most to me, and the one who can actually do something about it.  I can rest in the fact that Christ, through His sacrifice on the cross, paid the penalty for that sin and is restoring me to wholeness.  In fact, Jesus is our rest (Hebrews 4:11-16).  And I’m going to rest in Him today.  I hope you do too.

If the Son Has Set You Free… Are You Really Free?

We all have probably felt prisoner to something at one time or another in our lives.  It is inevitable.  We live in a fallen world.

My prison:  An addiction that began at age 11, grew deep roots through teenage years of dumb choices and a dysfunctional home, and became disgustingly stealthy after I got married in 1995.  In late 2001, God led me to full repentance before Him and a full disclosure with my wife, thus beginning the road to recovery from this lifelong battle.  And as they say, the rest is history…

At least that’s what I want to say.  However, the last 14 years have been among the most joyful, triumphant, discouraging, and at times utterly hopeless moments of my life and that of my family life.  I would like to say that once God showed me the path, I never looked back.  Unfortunately, like Lot’s wife leaving Sodom, I looked back again and again at the addiction, the object of my affection.  Only, my “pillar of salt” was a wall of shame and self-serving destructive behaviors that continued to keep me in bondage to the very thing I most despised.

About 5 years ago, God set me on a different path, one which was less about performance (how sober can I be) and more about affection, desire, pursuit of the beautiful Jesus Christ as the object of my greatest affection.  It is why I write what I write.  And it is not a quick-fix road.  One of the major themes that has come out of this has been the theme of “Freedom”, freedom from the bondage of sin and self.  I wear a “Freedom” band on my left wrist day and night reminding me of the beautiful truths taught me 5 years ago by 180 Degrees Ministries.  It is a sweet truth to me.

Some of the sweetest words spoken by Jesus to my heart are:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
Luke 4:18-19 (NLT)

Though the last 5 years have been filled with their share of struggles, God has shown me that He HAS and IS setting me free from and for something:

From:  The bondage (oppression) of shame and guilt; the bondage of “doing what I don’t want to do, and not doing what I want to do.”  The bondage of destructive behaviors that leave those who love me asking “Why”.  Bondage.

To:  Live and Love… the entire point of my blog and now, my life.  Freedom to live life for God, loving Him, loving others, accepting my humanity and all of it’s imperfections.  Freedom to pursue Christ as the object of my greatest affection.  Freedom to enjoy life without having to be “religious.”  Freedom… To Live and Love.  Jesus said “if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.”  John 8:36 (ESV)  Am I free?  I have no doubt.  Do I struggle sometimes in this life?  Absolutely.  The answer?  Jesus.  When I’m hungry, the answer is to eat.  When I’m thirsty, drink.  When my soul is thirsty for anything in this world that will fill me up and help me escape the pain I’m in, the answer is… Jesus.  May we treasure Him today!

What is God setting you free from?  What HAS He set you free from?  Share!  Tell others.  This is a dark and painful world, and the hope of Christ needs to be shared.

Back to the Future

I’m a big fan of the Michael J. Fox “Back to the Future” movies.  These were among the most popular movies of my teenage years.  A lot of perspective is gained as Michael’s character Marty McFly travels back in time to see his origins and possibly alter his future, and then eventually in the series, his future.

Back to the Future movie image

I’ve recently been taking part in a Facebook “Group Goal-Setting” community started by Jon Acuff called “30 Days of Hustle.”  In it, Jon is challenging every member from January 1 to January 30 to do something very specific and intentional toward a goal that we set forth on January 1.  I am SO excited about this.  With each day comes a new challenge.  I’m already behind, but will catch up.  Today’s challenge (for me anyway) is to cast the VISION for my goal.  So, I chose to describe this vision as an article written about me sometime in January… 2015.  Yes, next year!  Thought it would be fun to look back and see how my year would look when I hit these goals.  So, the following is written as an interview taking place next year.  Here we go:

January 8, 2015 – Looking back in 2014

As we sit in the office of Ken Raetz, a technology consultant living in the Nashville area, one of the things that stands out is the simplicity and neatness of his office space. No stacks of papers or books lying around. Just a clean workspace, and a notebook neatly laid out on his desk. Ken tells us this was not what life was like prior to the “Getting Things Done Revolution” that happened this past year. A self-proclaimed dreamer and tech-geek, Ken has always been fascinated by the idea of being “hyper-productive” in his personal and professional life.  He spends a lot of time reading about productivity methods.  About 2 years ago, Ken was introduced to the Getting Things Done methodology which began the transformation.  However, often he would get caught up in the mechanics of the organization and forget the “getting done” part of it. “Discipline has not been my strong suit,” says Ken. “So often, I start something in a very excited way, then drop off after a few months.  It gets too hard.” However, 2014 was to be different.  Why?  “Because I was tired of not getting the most important things done that I wanted to get done.  So, my goal in January was to put into habit a disciplined schedule that support both my personal and professional priorities,” he says.  Not surprising, 2014 brought a whole new level of discipline Ken thought would never happen.  Starting in January, Ken spent the first 30 Days putting in place the daily, weekly, and monthly schedule habits that would support him meeting the goals he had laid out for rest of the year. What has been the result?

– His personal faith in Jesus Christ is stronger than it has ever been.  He has shared the gospel with complete strangers, close friends, and family members, and has had the privilege of leading several people in a confession of faith in Christ and follow-up discipleship.

– He exercised 3-4x per week consistently, losing 10 pounds (which had not even been the goal).

– He rolled out a new service in his business in the first two months of the year, and it has proven to be the most successful work his team has done in years.  His clients love it!

– His relationship with his wife and kids has flourished, as he is spending regular time with them together and one-on-one.

 

Who is Ken most thankful to? “I have to say that God gave me a clear vision for what I was going to do in 2014, and I am very thankful for that.  And, He provided me a beautiful community of support through the Jon Acuff ’30 Days of Hustle’ Facebook group to encourage me along the way.”

What does Ken have planned for 2015? “Growing my business that I now have an ownership stake in (as of December, 2014).  And taking my wife on a wonderfully long 20th anniversary vacation.”  Now that sounds exciting!

The Red or Blue Pill… Entering Narnia

I woke up to a new reality today.  Nothing earth shattering.  Nothing that will make headline news.  Just a certain awareness and an inescapable readiness to choose to enter the wardrobe and see what lies beyond… to choose the red pill.  What is it that awaits?  An adventure beyond my wildest imagination.

Lucy - ChroniclesOfNarnia

I love stories.  As a child, I used to read those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, and I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen if I chose one option over the other.  As a computer programmer by trade, my earliest memories was of writing a Quick Basic “Choose Your Own Adventure” style program on a Mattel Aquarius computer.  Movies always affect me too.  The Narnia books are a great example (if you haven’t read them all, I HIGHLY recommend it).  As Lucy stands before the wardrobe doors and decides to enter in, she is entering in to the adventure that awaits her.  I was stunned after I saw The Matrix back in 1999.  Watching Thomas Anderson (played by Keanu Reeves) come to a sudden awareness that the world is not as it seems, and there is more going on than he ever realized (but that he always suspected).  And suddenly Thomas Anderson gets a new name:  Neo.  So many powerful stories happening that spoke to me in my own personal and spiritual journey.  It awakened curiosity and desire in me to seek truth… to do great things.  And yet…

So often, I choose to close the wardrobe doors.  I choose the blue pill, remaining in the blissful ignorance of the illusion of my life of comfort as I go about my life.  I imagine what comes if I choose the life of adventure, and my heart begins to sink.  I imagine all the past failures, the obstacles that await me, all the worst fears it awakens in my heart, and I simply turn away.  In The Matrix, Morpheus, the underground resistance leader who offers Neo the choice of facing reality or remaining blissfully ignorant says:

You have to understand that many people are not ready to be unplugged, and many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

That’s me!  I don’t just choose, but I fight to protect my blissful ignorance.  Sometimes by escaping to my closest habitual comforts.  Sometimes by burying myself in work or some other important, but ultimately not eternity-changing, tasks.

And then there are days where I REALLY want adventure.  I get caught up in the intoxicating feeling of thinking about what the adventure will bring.  And I start thinking about what I need to do to bring that adventure to reality in my life.

Neither approach is the path I believe God has carved out for me.  I was thinking about this as I read an excerpt of John Eldredge’s The Sacred Romance (emphasis mine):

We are faced with a decision that grows with urgency each passing day: Will we leave our small stories behind and venture forth to follow our Beloved into the Sacred Romance? The choice to become a pilgrim of the heart can happen any day and we can begin our journey from any place. We are here, the time is now, and the Romance is always unfolding. The choice before us is not to make it happen. As G.K. Chesterton said, “An adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose.” Lucy wasn’t looking for Narnia when she found it on the other side of the wardrobe; in a way, it found her. Abraham wasn’t wandering about looking for the one true God; he showed up with an extraordinary invitation. But having had their encounters, both could have chosen otherwise. Lucy could have shut the wardrobe door and never mentioned what had happened there. Abraham could have opted for life in Haran. The choice before us is a choice to enter in.

Today, I am going to choose the life of adventure that God has planned for me, and accept those challenges and difficulties that come as part of that as the training God needs me to go through to continue.  This is difficult.  I have to fight to take back that which has held sway over my heart for so long.  I have to fight to see the greater reality of the desire of my heart to pursue God and His adventure in my life.  What will you choose today?

Kicking Habits and Taking Names

I love turning chaos into organization.  There is something very satisfying about walking into a room of people who are looking down at their pile of issues, and they look to me and ask “what do you think?”  One of my favorite movies of ALL TIME is Apollo 13.  There is a scene in the movie where they engineers have to figure out how to create a CO2 filter from one size that fits in the hole for another size.

http://youtu.be/C2YZnTL596Q

The reward is SO great when these obstacles are overcome.  You look around and just want to high-five anyone standing there.

group-high-five-12001063

However, I am a creature of habit.  Well, a creature of many habits to be precise.  Some of these are good habits.  I eat right (mostly).  I exercise some.  I read a lot.  You get the picture.  Then, some of these habits are not so good.  In fact, some of these addictive behaviors can become quite harmful and destructive if gone unchecked.  One such habit that I’ve fought on and off through most of my life has been especially challenging.  And until last month, I thought I’d never kick it.  However, God has been working on my heart over the past few months to slowly (on my part, not God’s) help me understand just how great the truth is that Jesus not only died for my sins, but came to “set the captives free.”  This freedom extends into areas of habits and addictions, where the pull is so strong, and the feeling is you’ll never get out.  When I fully understand how beautiful and treasured Christ is, that joy and satisfaction in Him will expel the sinful habits from my life.  Sometimes this is slow, sometimes much more quickly.

So, last month, I began experiencing a measure of freedom in this area.  It was nothing spectacular at first.  No visions or bright lights or crazy dreams.  Just a growing realization that I’m not craving that which I had craved before.  It was wonderful.  For about 6 weeks, I experienced complete freedom.  My awareness and presence in life was sharpened, my relationships with my wife, children, and friends grew stronger.  It was incredible.  While it lasted.

The other day, I found myself thinking about this habit and how nice it would be to experience it again.  So… I did.  And, of course, it wasn’t as exciting and enjoyable as my brain tells me it will be.  In fact, it was quite miserable.  Though that did not stop me from partaking, God definitely used it to remind me once again that He is the ultimate answer.

So, it left me wondering today:  Now what?  Have I suddenly lost all that ground I had gained?  Am I suddenly “back to square one”?  I used to count the days, weeks, and months.  But that led to widely oscillating cycles of despair and pride.  No good for me.  Now, I just focus on each day and enjoy the freedom Christ has given me.   So, today, I look upward to God for the strength He gives, and I give that habit the equivalent of an MMA-style knockout kick.

Knockout Kick

Is this easy?  NO, NO, NO!  In fact, I suspect the guy delivering this knockout blow had probably been hurt pretty badly during this fight.  No, kicking these habits is never easy.  But the process is very simply defined.  I cling to truth.  Winston Churchhill once said “The Truth is the most valuable thing in the world. Indeed, it is so valuable that it is often protected by a bodyguard of lies.”  My habits and addictions tell me lies about who I am.  My only solution?  I take names like

Child of the One True King

Chosen One

New Creation

Co-Heir with Christ

Mighty Warrior in Christ

Yep… Kicking Habits and Taking Names…  So, go look at those nasty habits in the face, and rather than rely on our own strength, give them over to the one who has given your very meaning in life.  And kick those habits right out of your life!  Join me!

Hello 2014, My Name Is…

So, I’m working through a goal-setting course this week in preparation for accomplishing EVERYTHING I always wanted to accomplish.  Hah!  Yeah… right.  Again, the fear side of me says that this will be like any other year, and the “real me” will come out at some point and wreck the whole thing.  He’ll has his whole merry band of friends with him.  Fear, Sloth…  even Approval-Seeker will be there.  Of course, my favorites, Self-Condemner.  Yes, they’ll all be there.  Of course, they’ll throw a big “Breaking Bad” party and remind me that I’ll never move past these hurdles in my life.  I may as well go back to the bad habits and addictive behaviors that have dragged me down for so long.  That I shouldn’t waste my effort with goal-setting or pursuit of something greater.  I’ll never be the Warrior for Christ I long to be.  I’ll never be the Prince my wife wishes I were.  I’ll never be the Fearless Leader my kids need to help them navigate this world.  And I’ll never be the Successful Leader my company is waiting for me to become.

Yes, these are the voices in my head that tell me who I am… Reminds me of that song by Matthew West, “Hello My Name Is“.  Oh, how I relate to these lyrics.  And THAT is what I’m going to cling to and remind myself of every day of 2014 (or at least every day I remember – Hey… I’m not perfect).  When I start to hear those lies that so easily get into my head, this year I’m going to do something different.  I’m going to speak the truth to myself.  I’m going to remind myself who I am in Christ.

whoIaminChrist

(Special thanks to Pam for her blog from which I borrowed this image.  This is a great article on the topic of Who I Am In Christ.)

In conjunction with this, I am thinking about a “theme verse” for 2014.  Now, to sum up my life for the next 365 days with one or more verses seems next to impossible.  That’s not my aim.  It is more to give a direction… a compass needle of sorts… so that I can be reminded of what God may be doing in me this year.  Have you ever had one of those moments when you read something… a line in a book, a quote in an e-mail, or even a line out of a movie?  And you read or hear it, and it stands out to you with such clarity that you just have to stop and re-read (or re-hear) to make sure you get it.  That is what happened with me last night reading 2 Corinthians 4.  I started by looking at verse 7, as God put the thought of “treasures in jars of clay” in my mind.  But I ended up reading the entire chapter, and what stuck out to me is this truth:

I must not lose heart.  Many things around me will lead me to believe failure is inevitable and that this world is filled with sadness and disappointment.  For what I cannot see that is going on far outweighs what I do see.  So, I should look to the “unseen” (God’s activity). 

This is all coming from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.  So, I think I’ll land on that with my 2014 verses.

What things do you need to remind yourself of this year?  What will be the theme of your year?  Though we could never predict what will happen, we can certainly dedicate ourselves to living our lives in such a way that whatever comes, we can withstand it with grace and courage.