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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Learning in my 30's

Tomorrow I turn 37 years old.  In all honesty, I have to say that my 30’s have been my least favorite age in many ways.  These years have been a wilderness for me—filled with trials, uncertainty and doubt.  My heart has been broken by people I trusted, people I was supposed to be able to trust.  My dreams have not materialized in the ways I thought they would.  I have seen un-pretty things about myself that I have never seen before.  And yet these dark days are winning for me a new hope, a new confidence, and a new freedom I have never known.  I am truly learning to believe not just with my head but with all of my heart that my identity and value are in Jesus Christ and not in my accomplishments or what people think of me. 

As a Christian, I have believed in theory that all people are created by the God of the Bible who is all wise, all loving, all knowing, all powerful, all sovereign, and all good.  I have believed that every human life has value bestowed by our Creator because he loves every one of us.  I have believed that we cannot earn God’s love or ever be “good enough” or do anything for God as if the God of the Universe had “needs”.  I have believed that God’s love is a free gift that we can accept, for which we can be grateful, and in which we can find rest and joy.  I have believed that God is worthy of our love and obedience and worship. I believed that there is more to this life than going to school, finding a job, finding a spouse, having children, accumulating things, pursuing short-lived pleasures, and then dying.  I have believed that I am part of the family of God through faith—that He is my loving heavenly Father, that Christ is my brother, that the Spirit of God lives in me, and that I am connected to His people.  I have experienced love that is out of this world—Christ’s love that is pursuing, enduring, sacrificial, generous, courageous, powerful, honest, and that does not return reviling for reviling. I have believed in God’s forgiveness towards me—for all the ways I have not loved him or others as He has loved me.  Out of His forgiveness and love for me, I have experienced an overwhelming desire to learn to love others in the way that Christ has loved me.   And yet, there is something about being at the end of myself, about stepping out in faith into the abyss of uncertainty, and about watching my crutches fail, that causes me to engage with God with a greater urgency and with a greater honesty.  He meets me in that raw and vulnerable place.   He shows me beautiful things about Himself there. He gives me peace that makes no sense.  And He painstakingly carves into my heart truths that previously only floated around as abstractions in my head.  Below are some of the things I am learning. Some of these are not yet developed thoughts, but God is at work teaching me about all of these things in this season.   I'm writing them down so that I do not forget and so that I am not tempted to think this confusing and difficult period of my life is in vain.:

1)      In Christ the Solid Rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.

2)      So many things compete for my worth—my accomplishments, whether I am liked or admired, my experiences, the way I look, what I do for a living, my relationships… none of these things are 100% secure.  Christ’s love for me is secure.  I am valuable because He loves me.

3)      I love because God first loved me.

4)      I can do many great and noble things, but if I do them without love, these things are meaningless.

5)      I am in the middle.  I cannot judge my life through the perspective from which I stand today.  God is at work in me and through me even when progress seems imperceptible to me.  I have eternity ahead, but I cannot see it clearly from my current vantage point.

6)      People are more important than things. A person should never be an agenda or a means to an end.  I want to love people who can give me absolutely nothing in return, just as God has loved me in this way.  I never want to use people, but rather love them because God loves them and He is honored in love itself.

7)      There is infinite joy and peace in being loved by God.  This is a source of unending strength when loving others breaks our hearts.  And loving others will break our hearts, and we will break other people’s hearts as well.  God is the only one who loves perfectly on this side of heaven.

8)      Love is motivated by the good of the beloved, but what is good for us does not always feel good.    

9)      It is healthy and loving to set boundaries with people rather than enabling them in harming themselves, others, and ourselves.

10)   Most of us get anxious or upset and even lash out when others draw boundaries with us because it disrupts what is comfortable to us (even if what is comfortable to us is also highly destructive to us).
11)  People will assume the worst about you and misrepresent you to others.  We all do this to others in one way or another, at some time or another, out of ignorance or malice.  It is possible in Christ to not return reviling for reviling.  It is possible to return love for hate. It is possible to do good to those who harm you.  You do not have to defend yourself when you are misrepresented.  This is not easy, and I simply cannot do this in my own strength. But our ability to live out of Christ's character is not dependent on others living out of that same character.  Christ modeled this character for us, and he helps us live it out.  He loves to help us be true to our identity in Him.  We will fumble, bumble, and stumble in this, but He will give us grace to walk.
12) There is a time to speak and a time to be quiet.   Ask God for wisdom to know the difference and to do either always in love, always in truth, and always with faith.
13) Truth is essential to genuine reconciliation and meaningful relationship.

14)   Some of the greatest gains of life come through walking through circumstances that cause us anxiety and discomfort rather than avoiding these things.

15)   It is okay to take a break from people who hurt you.  It does not mean that you are not loving them.   As the flight attendants tell us, we must put on our own oxygen masks before attempt to help others. When others wound us, it is okay and often wise to let those wounds heal before re-engaging with them. When we find ourselves in a position to re-engage, it is okay and wise to re-define the relationship and set appropriate boundaries.
16) I can only be responsible for myself.  I can't control what people do or think.  It is not good for me to carry what God intends to be carried by someone else.  I need to resist my urge believe that I am helping in these cases.  There is actually a lot of arrogance in that belief. I need to take responsibility for that which God has placed in my domain and release the rest.  I need to trust Him in both.   There is much truth to the serenity prayer (pasted below in its original form written by Reinhold Niebuhr). 
17) As much as it is possible, we are to live peaceably with others.  In certain seasons it is not possible.  Sometimes standing up for what is right means that we disrupt the peace.  Sometimes setting a boundary means that we disrupt the peace.  Sometimes telling the truth disrupts the peace.  Sometimes protecting others requires disrupting the peace.
18) Love covers a multitude of sins.  Jesus has looked upon me with grace and mercy.  I am to look upon others with love and mercy.  He has been patient and long suffering with me, and calls me to be the same with others.  In this kindness and grace, love can transform like nothing else can.

19)   Our love tanks must be filled up in order to pour out love to others.  God fills us with the kind of love that can be given to people who cannot love us in return.  God graciously provides us with people who can love and pour into us.  But even when we feel lonely, unlovable, or unloved by people, God is always there ready to show us His perfect love for us.  He is the only one who can love us perfectly.

20)   Our hearts are so deceitful.  This is why it is good to seek counsel and to listen. I know this because I have had many moments where my instincts seemed “wise” to me in my emotional distress and where a trusted friend has counseled me against these instincts.  99% of the time,  I could see down the road that my friends were right. 

21)   I should not make decisions when I am sad, angry, lonely, tired or sick. This is hard for me because I am an activist by nature.  But praying, seeking counsel, and sleeping are usually better things to do before acting. 

22)   Seek out truth, do not hide from it.  There is freedom in the light.  We are often afraid to seek out truth, to ask questions, to speak truth out loud, or to be honest with ourselves, others, and God.  But truth sets us free.  Truth kills shame.  Deceit, hiding, and ignoring feeds it. Adam and Eve hid from God and each other after the fall.  They were enslaved by shame.  In Christ, we have no reason for shame because He has covered our shame with His love.  The shame we feel by what we have done and what others have done to us is no match for His love.  This is true freedom.

23)   Deal with the past. Everyone has a past.  It may seem wise to let sleeping dogs lie, but this is not the same as making peace with our pasts. Many of us ignore our past in ways that appear functional on the surface.  However, upon further digging, the ways that we have been wounded ourselves and the ways we have wounded others will affect the way we see and relate to God, ourselves, and others.   Sometimes we cannot see this in ourselves, but people who love us and see us often can see this in us and may even be bleeding themselves from the shrapnel we’ve been carrying around.  We would do well to ask wise, safe, and trusted people in our life about this, as we often cannot see and do not know how much we are hurting ourselves and those we love. Facing our past with honesty is the only way to be free of it.  We do not have to face any of it alone, there is much help to be had.  We need help from God and each other.  In acknowledging the truth and getting help, we will experience freedom and functionality that we never thought possible before.

24)   As much as we may have been wounded by wounded people (and as much as this is not our fault and is often beyond our control,)we must take responsibility for the direction we want to go with our lives.  We can seek healing for our wounds, or we can continue to perpetuate the destructive cycle by wounding ourselves and others.

25)   We are not alone.  If we humbly and sincerely seek help, it is there. God delights in helping us.  He provides help in so many unexpected places and through so many unexpected people.

26)   As long as I have breath, it is never too late to change course.   I am not a slave to my circumstances or my age.

27)   God does not promise us a rosy or pain-free life.  He promises to walk with us through everything.  He promises that His perfect love will satisfy us.  He promises He will not withhold good from those who seek Him.  He promises that He knows what is good because He is good and wise and just.
28) God looks on me with grace and delight--not because I am perfect or even competent at many things, but just because He loves and enjoys me. I have had a small glimpse of this heart in having nieces and nephews.  These children are a gift.  They bring me joy.  I love them so much.  They screw up.  They throw fits.  They do not know how to do a lot of things.  And sometimes they hate me for saying things like, "No, you can't play with scissors" or "Yes, you do have to go to bed".  And yet, I love them and enjoy them so much.  I would give my life for theirs in a heartbeat.  Their sweet words, hugs, gifts of artwork, time, etc. are priceless to me. I want them to come to me when they are sad or mad or confused.  I want them to share their hearts and dreams and joys with me too.  If I have this heart toward them, how much more does the God of Love have this heart towards His children, His creation!

29)   There is indescribable peace in learning about and meditating on the character of God.  As I read the Bible, I find that He is more wise, more loving, more powerful, and more gracious than I could ever imagine.
30) In all things, I can rejoice and give thanks because I have already received the greatest gift I could hope for or imagine through Christ's love for me.  And I have only scratched the surface of what this gift is.  I have the rest of my life and eternity ahead to attempt to plumb its depths.

I will close with the original form of the "Serenity Prayer" written by Reinhold Niebuhr and also with one of my favorite songs (written by Todd Agnew):
Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Come Ye Sinners by Todd Agnew

Come ye sinners, poor and needy
Weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus ready stands to save you
Full of pity, love and power

Come ye thirsty, come and welcome
God's free bounty glorify
True belief and true repentance
Every grace that brings you nigh

And I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me in His arms
And in the arms of my dear Savior
Oh, there are ten thousand charms

Come ye weary an' heavy-laden
Lost and ruined by the fall
And if you tarry until you're better
You will never come at all

And I will arise and go to Jesus
And He will embrace me in His arms
And in the arms of my dear Savior
Oh, there are ten thousand charms
Ten thousand charms

And I will arise and go to Jesus
And He will embrace me in His arms
And in the arms of my dear Savior
Oh, there are ten thousand charms

I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me in His arms
And in the arms of my dear Savior
Oh, there are ten thousand charms
Oh, there are ten thousand charms
Yes, there are ten thousand charms

Friday, August 16, 2013

Tim Keller On Anger

A friend sent me a sermon by Tim Keller on this passage of James 1:

"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.2But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."
Here are some great quotes from the sermon:

“Anger is not sin...Cancerous anger is that which is quick, out of control and leads you to do things that afterward you wish you hadn’t done… What is the opposite of this anger?...The opposite of this anger is not self control… [it’s] humility.  you know how the two kinds of belly buttons, well there are two kinds of anger—innie anger is the  bitterness, keep it inside, hold the grudge…outtie anger is the flaring up, the blowing up.  If you’ve got a problem with either, your problem is not just ‘I’ve got to stop, I’ve got to stop’.  Pride is here…Here’s what turns anger cancerous here, when you release the anger to defend your pride…to save face…”
“Anger which is cancerous is being released because you, in your pride, are trying to control an uncontrollable universe.  And in particular, you are trying to preserve a spotless image of yourself, your pride…Anger by definition is to defend something.  But when you are defending the good, the true, other people, justice, it leads to righteousness.  But when you are releasing it to defend the spotless image of yourself, it turns cancerous. “
“Cancerous anger says I must not allow anyone to destroy my image of myself because if I were to accept what the gospel says I am…and here’s what the gospel says you are: you are a totally loved moral failure.  In Christ, you are totally loved, but you are a moral failure.  Nothing less than the death of the son of God could possibly save you.  But because He has died for you...forget yourself image, you are a sinner, you are a moral failure but you are absolutely loved.  An angry person is someone who denies that at the heart.  And if somebody tries to show that you’re a failure… you blow up: ‘no, it’s not my fault, it’s her fault, it’s his fault, it’s their fault, it’s God’s fault!’  And you blow because you cannot admit that you are really a moral failure…because if you admitted that, you wouldn’t be loved.  I’m either a moral failure or I am loved, I can’t be both.  The gospel says you can be both. An angry person says ‘I can’t be both’.  And therefore at the heart…is self righteousness, is pride.  It’s the reason you blow and it’s the reason you are bitter.  Why do you hold a grudge, only because you have forgotten how sinful you are.  You can’t think about your debt to Jesus and her or his debt to you at the same time… if you are not a listener, if you control situations, if you are an irritable person, you are going to be that way with God, you are not going to be able to let the Word of God come in.  Self righteousness a denial of the gospel of grace is what makes people angry and controlling instead of listening and accepting and if you are not a person who takes criticism well, if you are not a good listener, if people don’t want to come and tell you about their problems because they know you are a wonderful listener, it probably means you won’t get anything out of the Word of God either. “