Love Affair with Christ

Graveyard Spirals Kill

I am a pilot.  Though I haven’t flown for 14 years, I LOVE flying.  Sometimes on those beautiful middle Tennessee spring or fall days, when the sky is clear, the wind is minimal, and the sun is shining… I’ll look up in the sky and dream that I can be back up there.  Maybe one day.

The worst day of flying still beats the best day of real work.  – Anonymous

So, why all the talk of flying?  Last night, during our discussion at about the importance of remaining connected to the body of believers in the church, I was reminded of the JFK Jr. airplane crash on July 16, 1999.  There is a full NTSB report of the crash here if you’re interested.  The cause of the crash was something pilots talk about a lot, which was a graveyard spiral caused by “failure to maintain control of the airplane due to spatial disorientation.”  As an airplane starts to make a turn, your body tells you “I’m turning” through the various wonderful God-given senses we have.  If the airplane is in a turn long enough, your body will adjust to the turn and given no other visual indicators (like on a dark night), it will feel like you’re flying straight and level.  One look at the altimeter will tell you that you’re descending (this happens in a turn).  Natural response?  Pull up!  But this only serves to tighten your turn, until you spiral into the ground, usually at an alarming rate.  At the point of impact, the NTSB estimated JFK Jr.’s plane was descending at 4,700 feet-per-minute.  In comparison, a standard descent in a commercial airliner is 500 fpm (and you feel it then too).

frightened_child

Like a graveyard spiral, so often through my day, my brain is giving me all sorts of messages on how to interpret what is going on around me.  These messages are influenced by my life experiences, my relationships, my overall body chemistry at that time (if I’m feeling physically or emotionally down, it is more difficult for me to interpret conflict accurately).  In the moment of confusion, I have two choices.

Choose the lie: “you’re not appreciated”, “wait until people find out who you really are”, “they’re laughing at you behind your back”, “Those guys are way better dads than you’ll ever be”)

lies and truth

image courtesy Cindy Bultema blog site

Choose Truth:  God has chosen me to be His own.  He has equipped me for life and godliness.  I am a new creation.  I am His servant, not the world’s.  I was bought with a price, and it cost me nothing – God’s perfect love and sovereignty will cast out all fear in me.

Which do I choose so often?  The lies… at least for a time.  Which is why it is so critical that I not do this life alone.  I MUST be in a community of people, growing, sharing, and BEING REAL.  As our pastor said during his message this Sunday in Hebrews, “ISOLATION KILLS”.

How do we pull out of the graveyard spiral of life?

1. Use your instruments – Focus on the truth, not what you feel like at that moment.  This will not be easy!  Use the instruments of faith, deep friendships, and Godly mentors.  Pilots have instruments in their plane before they fly.  Don’t wait for accountability.  Get it now.  Psalm 15:2, Psalm 25:5, Mark 9:24

2. Reduce power and level out – Often times, whatever is going on in your life is contributing to the chaos behind the lies.  Slow down, cancel extra engagements, get some rest, and eat right.  Even Jesus “got away” at times.  Matthew 14:23

3. Point your nose down – What?  We’re losing altitude and I have to point my nose down?!  YES!  It allows the plane to pickup speed, and thus have greater control over the airplane.  And in life, we need to give up control sometimes, submit to the Godly wisdom and guidance (sometimes through another person), and take ACTION on that guidance.  Trust in your shepherd.  Psalm 23

Are you in a graveyard spiral?  Are you tightening your turn by trying harder, putting a mask on, and isolating?  Get out of the spiral.  Trust God that it will be OK.  Put your faith in Jesus and not what the world says about you.

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.

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?

I Want To Meet Jesus

When I was a kid, I used to dream about meeting my favorite celebrity in person.  This could have been a professional athlete, a TV or movie star… shoot, even a local newscaster seemed celebrity enough to me.  I would think about being like that person.  Oh to meet John Schneider or Tom Wopat (HUGE Dukes of Hazzard fan – so, yes, to have met Catherine Bach would have been pretty AWESOME).  Or Erik Estrada from CHIPS.  More recently, I remember sitting in a Shoney’s while I was in college, and I look over and see John Schlitt from Petra.  I was star-struck.  I loved Petra in college.  Their brand of Christian “rock” fueled the tiny engine of faith I had during those college years as a young Christian.

What was it about these people that seemed larger than life?  What kept me so fixated on meeting them during those year?  I found myself pondering that question this week as I reflected on a recent message our pastor gave entitled Meeting Jesus.  I was moved during this message on a very familiar passage, John 1:35-51, Jesus’ calling of His disciples.  Each one: Andrew and an unnamed disciple, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathaniel, all had a unique, divinely-appointed encounter with Jesus.  They met Jesus!  I want to meet Jesus.

Now, the cynic in me says I’ll hear the following responses:

The Non-Christian: “Meet Jesus?  He is a man who supposedly lived 2,000 years ago and is dead now.  You say you want to meet Jesus?  That’s crazy.”

The Christian: “Meet Jesus?  You already met Him when you accepted Him as your Lord and Savior.  There is no need to meet Jesus again.”

I disagree with both.  Here is what I saw on Sunday that just makes me want to know Christ more and more.  Jesus came to be met.  To be known.  For us to encounter Him in the way we might encounter a celebrity, where we are so enthralled with the “glory” their lives represent that we just want to be near Him.  To follow Him wherever He goes.

Have you ever been at a party and there is that one person that everyone loves being around?  You know, every story they tell is followed by raucous laughter.  Every time they moved to a room, they are followed by a crowd of people.  They stand out. They are attractive.  You just want to be near them.

Oh, how much more the Son of God, the man known as Jesus Christ, deserves my attention, adoration, affection, and my time.  So, how do I meet Jesus?  What does this mean differently in my life:

1. I look at what I’m seeking for contentment in my life, and as I approach Jesus I do so seeking to be with Him rather than get something from Him.  It is there that we meet Jesus.

2. Go…  Go seek Him!  Go after Him.  It won’t be perfect, but get going with it.  Make time to seek, listen, and learn from Him.

3. Follow Him.  Meeting Jesus should shape my life.  It should cause me to look at my life and see the need to give up something… control, idols, fear, need for affirmation and approval… give it up because Jesus offers so much more.

4. Trust and know that He will change us.  We all have areas we want changed.  God knows I have many areas.  Just as Jesus looked at Simon and told him “your name will be Cephas (Peter)”, Jesus looks on us and tells us we are not who we think we are.  We are becoming something much better.

I think this is what is meant with Hebrews 12:2

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

How have you met Jesus?  What ways is Jesus shaping your life?  Share your story.  Tell the world.  He’s worth it. 

A Love Affair With Christ

I feel a little… risky… as I write this post.  But I feel compelled to write it.  I guess it is the curse of reading John Eldredge and John Piper.  Both characterize our relationship with Christ as a love affair, as a pursuit… even a hedonistic pursuit of all things Christ.
My deepest longing in life is…  you might think I would say “is to know Christ.”  Had I began with “I want my deepest longing…”, then maybe.  I wish it were so.  But instead, my deepest longing is for significance.  I want my life to count for something, and I want to be noticed.  There you go.  I want to be noticed, affirmed, validated, told I’m special, and in general, to have my life show that it counts for something.
When I think deeper about my longing for significance, it is really a longing to be known.  It is masked in my sin to be noticed and recognized and… well, to have a good reputation.  But I believe it is definitely a deeper longing to be known.
I also know that what God desires is obedience.
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  Romans 6:16
 But is that all God desires?  To be obeyed?  To follow a set of rules?  Or does God also desire something greater of us.  Does God desire to be known?  I was looking at a familiar passage, but until I read the New Living Translation, I did not see it in the proper light:
I want you to show love,
    not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know me
    more than I want burnt offerings.
God does want to be known!  I want to be known!  And it is no coincidence that sexual union between a man and his wife is described as being “known in the Biblical sense.”  To know God and to be known by God in the way that God intended is the most scandalous, beautiful, and satisfying love affair one can ever have.  Think about it.  If I loved and knew God the way I was made to (go read Song of Solomon 5 and see if you don’t blush a little bit), how scandalous this would be!  The world is constantly telling us to have love affairs with the things of this world.  People, material possessions, fame and success.  What I’m saying is that this Christian life is to be lived not as a set of rules, but as a love affair with the living God!
We are the bride of Christ.  One day, the marriage and consummation will happen:
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
May we see our walk with Christ, our relationship with the living God, our enjoyment and obedience of the Holy Spirit not as a set of rules and obligations, but as a deep love affair that we will enjoy in the fullest sense one day in eternity!