Distracted From His Presence

I’ve lived in Silicon Valley for almost eighteen years and throughout those years I’ve watched people become disgusted with the manner of life in the valley. I remember an individual telling me the valley was “toxic to his soul.”

I picked this up pretty quickly when I moved here back in 2001, people and their hurried lives, and the chaotic day to day of work and life after work. I remember laughing to myself and vowing that I would not allow “The Borg” of the valley to assimilate me. Keep in mind “The Borg’s” ultimate goal is “achieving perfection.” Well, I lost. Somehow personal boundaries and the care of my soul got pushed to the back of the line and I eventually became overwhelmed to the point of “burn out.”

In doing “the work of the ministry” I was distracted from caring for my own soul. Well, isn’t that what a “good” servant of God is supposed to do? Neglect your needs for another. I won’t go into the why I did what I did but part of it was to impress others. I’ve struggled with deep feelings of inadequacy most of my life so that drove my need to “impress.”

Here is a brief passage from a book I read many years ago that hit the nail on the head for me. Peter Scazerro, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, “…work for God that is not nourished by a deep interior life with God will eventually be contaminated by other things such as ego, power, needing approval of and from others, and buying into the wrong ideas of success and the mistaken belief that we can’t fail…our experiential sense of worth and validation shifts from God’s unconditional love for us in Christ to our works and performance…our activity for God can only properly flow from a life with God.”

Now let me say there were times of refreshing throughout that period of life but it was never enough. I felt as if I was always trying to catch up on missed sleep. Somehow that never happens.

Through the neglect of my soul, my ability to be fully present to others, to myself (self-awareness) and to God was compromised.

As followers of Jesus, we live in a time where there are so many things to keep us from “the better place” (Luke 10:42). So many of us struggle to physically and emotionally keep our head above water. There are many distractions, and I’m not just talking about technology but so many other things that prevent us from having a self-awareness that leads to greater emotional health.

Author Andrew Sullivan wrote a great article that addresses what I’m writing about in this blog. If you have time give it a read: http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2016/09/andrew-sullivan-my-distraction-sickness-and-yours.html

Here is a great quote from his article: “There are books to be read; landscapes to be walked; friends to be with; life to be fully lived… this new epidemic of distraction is our civilization’s specific weakness. And its threat is not so much to our minds, even as they shape-shift under the pressure. The threat is to our souls. At this rate, if the noise does not relent, we might even forget we have any.”

Upon reading this the Spirit reminded me of Jesus warning in the gospel of Mark 8:36, What good is it for a man or woman to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 

Focusing on just my spiritual life and not all the other things that contributed to my loss of soul I “had lost the plot.”

Fortunately, Jesus gives us a wonderful model, a way of living that helps us to flourish in the busyness of life and yet somehow I lost sight of that model in my busy, distracted life.

Let me set this up for you; Jesus gets baptized and then is led into the wilderness by the Spirit. In the gospel of Luke 4:2 it says, “…where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” The devil tempts him with food, attempts to get him to question His identity as a son and then offers power to rule. Jesus does not fall for the devil’s ploy but acts out of a place of strength to stand against the devil’s temptation.

I’ve read this story numerous times and have never, ever thought of this wilderness, this quiet, lonely, solitary place to be a place of empowerment. But, that is what Jesus models for us.

All throughout the gospels, we read that Jesus often went to lonely places to pray. In Mark 1:35-38, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.”

Jesus, having achieved celebrity-like status the day before where he taught in the synagogue and amazed the people with His authority, then drove out an impure spirit, healed Simon’s mother in law of a fever, and that evening, people brought to him the “sick and demon possessed.” Then wakes up very early in the morning to pray. While he is doing this people are already gathering to meet with him. They want more of the signs and wonders of the previous day. Presented this opportunity by his disciples to build on his popularity, Jesus, full of the Spirit is focused on what is next for him and says no to the opportunity.

How many of us need that clarity, empowerment and ability to say “no” to things that aren’t what God has for us? Maybe it is time to rethink this idea of spiritual discipline?

People come to The Healing Path (an eleven-week healing group) and other groups I lead and want a magical prayer or some powerful insight to find healing. When I talk about “silence and solitude” they get this look on their face that tells me they want something easier. It seems most of the time I mention “spiritual disciplines” they view them in very negative ways. Perhaps its because we see it as a place of wasted time, frustration and emptiness rather than empowering. This is why we pursue the quick fix of another glass of wine or a few more episodes of whatever’s on Netflix or Amazon Prime or hours spent watching silly YouTube videos or porn. We seem to prefer escapism versus engagement. It seems we will do anything to avoid silence and solitude out of fear that we might come face to face with our pain, deep-rooted anxiety or feelings of inadequacy within that we’ve repressed.

My problem was I always approached the disciplines as a legalist and viewed them more like a duty, hoping to impress God with my obedience.

Alas, the discipline of “silence and solitude” requires intention. You begin with small steps of learning how to “be still.” Hopefully, five minutes turns into ten, ten turns into fifteen and so forth. For some of you, five or ten minutes might be all you have so don’t feel like you need to do more. Make sure you have your journal with you just in case you feel the nudge of the Spirit. This practice opened up a whole new season of healing for me. It helped me immensely with becoming self-aware of internal wounds, pain and slights that still needed tending to.

So much more to say but I leave you with another quote from Andrew Sullivan’s eye-opening article: “If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation.”

Radical Dependence in the Face of Worry

While I was having lunch with a friend who is also single, we began to talk about the difficulty of remaining in Silicon Valley because of rising rents, gas prices, health insurance, car repair and those unannounced financial issues that arise every now and then.

I mentioned an article I read in CNN Business that said many tech companies in San Francisco were having difficulty-hiring janitors because most of them can’t afford to live within a 1-2 hour commute of their workplaces. The article reported, “The skyrocketing costs show no signs of slowing.” Gulp!

We both had seen this coming for a while. Faced with these issues about finances and my future I’ve developed a low-grade anxiety that doesn’t seem to stop simmering. As I commune with God, I wonder, “Do you want me to stay, enter into a different living situation or are there new fields to sow into far from this place?”

As part of a monthly challenge at our church to be more intentional about our relationship with Jesus, I committed to reading a chapter of Matthew a day to more deeply connect with God. Jesus words from a passage I read in Matthew 6 ring in my ears as I consider my future, “Do not worry about your life…”

Jesus unpacks the futility of worry and tells us not to worry about what we will eat; what we will drink, or what we will wear. He then tells us to look at the birds of the air and how our heavenly Father feeds them. He follows that with two great questions, “Are you not of more value than they?”And, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

I believe that most of the time, worry reveals what we worship. If we worry about finances, we may worship financial security, if we worry about reputation, we may worship status. If we worry about not having control in all situations, we may worship control.

When Jesus uses the word the Bible translates as worry he uses the Greek verb merimnao and he uses it six times in this passage and interestingly that word can be translated in a positive sense as caring about something in a good way. But in this passage the words negative usage is employed and it means, quote, “internal disturbance at the emotional and psychological level that disrupts life,” another way of translating the word could be “an anxious endeavor to serve one’s needs.”

Jesus tells us how to deal with worry. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). He is telling us that if we live out the words of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) we are seeking His kingdom and His righteousness. In doing so, worry will not be an issue for us.

When our treasure is in God, when our eyes are clear, so to speak, and we make the decision to serve the true Master rather than money, what is there to worry about? When Jesus says, “All these things will be added to you,” it’s not a promise of basic provision but an assurance that we can become a type of person that is free from worry. We can become a person that values the things that can’t be taken away because our treasure is found in God.

Jesus ends this passage with these words, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Let me remind you, he once told his disciples, “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). The whole context for this passage is we’re going to have trouble but don’t worry. So what’s the point? Worry won’t stop trouble it’s about what we treasure; what we care for.

Dallas Willard says it so well, “People who are ignorant of God live to eat and drink, and dress…for such things the ‘gentiles’ seek,” and their lives are filled with corresponding anxiety, anger and depression about how they will look and how they will fare. By contrast, those who understand Jesus and his Father know that provision has been made for them. Their confidence has been confirmed by their experience. Though they work, they do not worry about things “on earth.” Instead, they are always seeking ‘first the kingdom.’ That is they place top priority on identifying and involving themselves on what God is doing.”

My other commitment to being “intentional” was to tune out from media the last two hours of the evening. Turning off all the lights in my apartment and attempting to hear God’s still, small voice, God reminded me of His character. He reminded me of His relentless mercy and unlimited grace towards me during these times of listening. Trusting in God’s character and loving-kindness towards me began to loosen worry’s grip on me. This union revealed to me His love that at times I’ve struggled to fathom especially when worry comes knocking at my door. God was proving Himself to be enough for me in this season of my life.

To continue to live somewhat worry free will require of me a “radical dependence” on God in this season of possible transition. I believe the words from Matthew 6 give us a blueprint for a radical lifestyle of trusting God for the ordinary things of life while devoting ourselves towards the Kingdom mission. In choosing to live out these words, God becomes more real in our lives and we learn to trust in God’s profound affection for us.

When Jesus says, “Do not worry,” it’s not a suggestion, it’s a command. This only comes as we deepen our union with God and are assured that we are His beloved.

 

Will I Survive the Flood?

We live in a time where it is difficult to keep up with all the information that is available for us to read, listen to or watch. The question I ask my friends is what are you doing with all that information? Most of them reply, “nothing.” Our heads are “stuffed” with information and I find that many of us are trying to “think” our way towards transformation without acting on the information received. Information alone doesn’t equal transformation.

I recently enjoyed a sermon I heard about the Sermon on the Mount. Here is what I gleaned from that message. Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount with a series of warnings. Here is the final one before he ends perhaps the most important sermon ever.

Matthew 7:24-27, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Puts them into practice” in the Greek is translated “acts on them, follows, obeys.” We are told this is what the wise person does. The foolish person does not act on them, obey or follow.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this passage and just skipped through it because of my familiarity with it. Upon deeper reflection, I realize there is a wise person and a foolish person. And that Jesus does not contrast good and bad in this story but thoughtful and foolish. Lastly, “house” is really a metaphor for life.

A wise person builds their life on the foundation of Jesus teaching and puts it into practice. The foolish person hasn’t thought about life all that much but hears Jesus words and doesn’t do anything with this information. Maybe these folks are too busy amusing themselves to death, trying to climb the corporate ladder or attempting to earn another degree.

Here are some questions I asked myself. Where am I in this story? Am I the wise person, the foolish person or somewhere in the middle? And where am I at in “practicing” His teaching from this sermon? I’m told to be salt and light, not to murder, or to commit adultery, love my enemies, give to the needy and not to worry. That last one along with a few others might be a problem. And, lastly, what happens when the flood comes?

The flood is a word picture of some kind of hardship. For example, the loss of a job, a negative diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, prolonged anxiety or depression, or a long-term relationship that ends in separation.

The flood will come! Yet please notice that the wise person and the foolish person will go through it. It will reveal what your life is built on.

It would be good to ask our selves is my life built on greed, materialism, achievement, being popular and well liked or my appearance? Is life only about how many likes you get on Facebook? All this as the Scripture tells us will fall with a great crash!

Early in my tenure here at The River Church Community, I began to slowly unravel and fall into a depressive state. I had forgotten that transition could lead to emotional upheaval in one’s life. Not sure if it was homesickness or unresolved grief but I wasn’t doing well emotionally. Leaving home was like leaving my whole identity behind. I was starting all over and at least from my perspective, it wasn’t going well. I didn’t know anyone and it felt like no one appreciated my gifts and talents.

Although it was a step forward developmentally for me the people I was surrounded by seemed to be at a higher level of understanding than me. My self-esteem was floundering and that which I had built my identity on was shaken.

The people I had trusted for safety and security were no longer available.  I had to draw on internal resources and three different men who I barely knew. They helped me challenge the negative, self-critical thinking that so frequently accompanies depression. Challenged in my relationship with Jesus I pressed into His word and into Him.

I survived the rain, the rising of the stream and the powerful wind. Drawing on that inner resource of truth I had ingested all those years of following Jesus, seeking out others for the life-giving community I needed and sharing with them honestly how I felt helped me persevere and survive the flood. My foundation was rocked but somehow I survived. You should know that as a people pleaser I was always “fine” and never shared any negative feelings or emotions with others. So this was a huge breakthrough for me to be vulnerable to another.

This story about the wise and foolish person hopefully produces within each one of us a healthy fear to at least think about what our life is built on.

One of the things I noticed about the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus begins and ends with the word practice. Matthew 5:19 Jesus tells us, “…Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Same word as Matthew 7, which means, “act on them, follow, obey.”

As we “ask, seek and knock” Jesus animates us to live this out. This takes more than listening to a sermon once a week and singing some songs. Remember, information alone doesn’t bring about transformation.

Your house is your life and everybody builds a life. I leave you with three questions, what are you building your life on? Will it survive the flood? And, what are you going to do with this information?

Laying Down My Heavy Yoke

Matthew 11:28-30,“Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Early in my life, I was impacted by physical and verbal abuse that left me with deep feelings of shame and insecurity. I believed and lived with a mindset that “I wasn’t enough.” This belief became an oppressive yoke that steered me away from God’s presence. This stronghold of thought blurred my vision of God’s affection for me. And, yoked to this powerful lie I could not hear the life-giving words of God to free me from this bondage.

The yoke that I carried for years was formed by my stepfather’s terrifying abuse and the trauma I suffered from that abuse. This mindset that “I wasn’t enough” came upon me by absorbing every criticism, disappointment, humiliating and distorted word, every negative judgment and physical blow directed towards me by my stepfather. His voice shaped within me a belief that I was worthless. Through his disrespect, abuse, and abandonment I took on the yoke of my family dysfunction.

Yoked to my stepfathers’ rejection and my misguided thinking of “I wasn’t enough” I could not enter into the rest that Jesus invites us to enter. Yoked to cognitive distortions my mind convinced me of something that wasn’t really true. “God doesn’t love me, He is angry and disappointed with me because I haven’t been a very good Christian.” These inaccurate thoughts were used by me to reinforce my negative thinking and emotions — telling myself things that sounded rational and accurate, but really only served to keep me feeling bad about myself and distant from God.

Now for those of us that grew up and were formed by the unhealthy dynamics of our parents and maybe even our siblings, we’ve lived for years without any conscious knowledge that the yoke exists. Yet, these yokes have placed upon us tremendous pressure without our knowing how or why.

These yokes exert powerful control over how we move, act, see and interpret our lives. The yoke of “I wasn’t enough” paralyzed me from ever taking any risks. I easily gave up when challenged to grow as a person to become all that I could be. I was easily overwhelmed because of this yoke and felt like a helpless little boy even though I was an adult. So you see, heavy yokes can determine our sense of identity and our understanding of life.

I had accepted this heavy yoke and believed this is “just the way I am.” For others, you believe that this is “just the way your life turned out” and you’ve accepted it.

Jim Koch a local therapist says: “Dysfunctional yokes have one thing in common; they distort the truth and therefore distort our thinking and actions.” He goes onto say, “Dysfunctional yokes are crazy-making, robbing us from the joy of experiencing what God intended for us.”

Jesus’ invitation in the gospel of Matthew is a call to all who are weary, burdened and heavy-laden to come to Him. Jesus is calling out to these people and saying, “Come here to me.” Such a call involves admitting that we are under a heavy yoke that it is wearing us out.

Jesus says that His yoke is easy and it is a remedy to our weariness and burdens. It is a solution to our negative mindsets that lead us away from His presence. As we take on his yoke we will learn from Him our true identities, discover our gifts, and our purpose in life from His perspective. Jesus wants us to see our lives as He sees it. Yoked to Jesus hope is awakened, renewed and we begin to get free of the weight of our heavy yoke.

To take the yoke of Christ is to enter his school where we learn how to become his disciple and to see him not only as our Savior but also as our Lord and Teacher. It is the way of freedom because the burden we lose when we come to Christ is heavy and in exchange, we receive His promised yoke that is easy and light. This easy yoke allows us to pull more comfortably and effectively and gives rest to our soul.

If we are honest, we all probably could agree we are all yoked to something or to someone. Anxiety, abandonment, shame, perfectionism, self-condemnation, uncertainty, a love of money, work, the need to control, anger, bitterness, an addiction, a religious spirit, unforgiveness, or rejection. These yokes are wearing us out and this is why some of us are exhausted, lack motivation and always feel weary.

The yoke that is common to our valley is often referred to as high-functioning anxiety. This is that voice in the back of your head that says, “Something bad is going to happen.” It is what keeps you awake at 3 A.M thinking about something you didn’t do on a work project or could’ve done better. This yoke does not allow us to see anything clearly so we find it difficult to focus on reality because we are wrestling with “imagined” problems. Excessive fear, worry and nervousness prevent you from getting any rest that is restorative.

Outwardly you appear to have it together. You might even be quite successful in your job. Your co-workers view you as the reliable one but your anxiety is what drives your constant “over prepared for anything” mentality.  In the midst of this anxiety, you may have learned how to compartmentalize your emotions.

This anxiety disrupts your Vine-branch union with Jesus and your broken attachment to a yoke of anxiety has left you feeling forsaken by God. Apart from that union you can do nothing but introspect in unhealthy ways how God does not care about you.

Eventually, this heavy yoke destroys one’s emotional health, intimate relationships with others, and closeness with God.

My healing began as I acknowledged that I had a heavy yoke that distanced me from God’s presence. Over the next three to four years God brought transformation through  “renewing my mind.” His truth that entered into me in a variety of ways broke the yoke and the bondage it brought into my life. That truth helped me to challenge the cognitive distortions within and empowered me to stand in new ways as a whole enough person.

Jesus yoke connects us with all that brings life from Him. His yoke is intended to help us, not to hurt us or overburden us. Jesus yoke is not oppressive or overpowering.

If you understand what I have been talking about, then Jesus, hopefully, has revealed Himself to you as a yoke that is easy and gives rest.

Jesus invitation to you is “Come.” It will require you to step out in a different direction. Will you exchange your exhausting yoke and burden of doing things your own way or according to some religious system for the yoke of learning of Him, of doing things His way? His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. The reward is His rest.

Thank you to Jim Koch for his great teachings on “Breaking to Yoke of Family Dysfunction.”

Transforming the Anxious Mind

One of the things I’ve seen over the last ten years is more and more people I minister to are struggling with anxiety, fear and worry. I’m not talking about the anxiety one gets when you don’t receive a lot of like’s for your Facebook post or when you are texting a friend and watch the parade of bubbles on your phone anxiously awaiting their response. I’m talking about anxiety that cripples.

I believe we all know what its like to be afraid when confronted by a threatening stranger, or to be anxious before a test or job interview, or to worry about the outcome of a medical test. Can you even imagine living in a state of perpetual calm, free from uncertainty, risk, danger, or threats? Fear and anxiety are a part of life, and often a useful part, at that. Fear warns us of an impending danger, like when our car starts to slide while driving in the rain or when a suspicious character comes knocking on our car window at a red light. Feeling anxious can motivate a person to be better prepared for an important staff meeting or to take extra precautions when travelling to an unfamiliar part of town that is somewhat sketchy. Since we need them to survive, it would be dangerous to eliminate all fear and anxiety from life.

But not all fear and anxiety experiences are good for us. For some people, anxiety becomes overwhelming, characterized by excessive and persistent feelings of apprehension, worry, tension, and nervousness over everyday situations that most people face with little concern.

Seventeen years ago when I moved here to take a position with The River Church Community I began to experience apprehension, nervousness, and worries over my work. Surrounded by men and women that had graduated from some of the finest universities in the country I began to doubt myself, and my ability to succeed in that office environment. I found it difficult to sleep at night as I worried about personal finances and how would I survive if I didn’t improve at work, many of my insecurities became a chorus of fear and anxiety in my head. People who I confided in told me how great I was, how gifted I was, but nothing could quiet those anxious and fearful voices within me. My mind was generating an endless list of possible catastrophe’s—“I won’t be effective as a pastor, I’ll fail to meet my goals, I won’t have enough money to live on if I lose this job, nor will I be able to contribute to my retirement savings, and so forth.”

I found not only was I not sleeping well but also I was easily agitated, unable to relax, irritable, with an occasional angry outburst. I’d even break down in tears at times for no apparent reason. My worries were relentless and impossible to control. Despite my best efforts at distraction and reassuring myself that everything will be fine, I had this sick feeling deep in the pit of my stomach that my life was unravelling.

The verse so many people quoted to me during those difficult times was I John 4:18 (NKJV), “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”

The American Heritage Dictionary defines torment as “great physical pain or mental anguish; a source of harassment or pain; to pester or annoy.”

This best describes what I was going through seventeen years ago. My feelings were unstable. Fear and anxiety rushed in so quickly I found myself backpedalling as fast as I could. This separated me from God’s comforting and reassuring voice. Sometimes our pain and our fears can speak louder than the voice of God. There are times where our fear and anxiety paralyze us, cripple us so we attempt to “put on a happy face” because our pride and fear of what others would think of us if we admitted we were on the verge of a breakdown.

Ephesians 4:27, “…and do not give the devil a foothold.”

When we passively accept these fears and anxieties, we have given the devil a foothold to harass us. He comes in and magnifies, terrifies and torments us with these fears, worries and anxieties. Some of us have also given him a foothold by allowing our pride and fear to keep our weakness hidden. Without Christ, we have no defense against the devils accusations.

God’s response to my fear and anxious thoughts was repeating himself over and over again, “I am with you.” But my anxious thoughts kept pushing God away believing I hadn’t done enough to deserve God’s love and grace. John Wesley calls this a “scrupulous conscience.” As a perfectionist, I had a pretty fragile conscience, low self-esteem and tons of guilt that acted as barriers to receive His words of assurance and grace. Yet God did what he does best, he just kept repeating himself.

God was revealing more of himself to me through these simple words. The constancy of His steadfast love was like an ice pick attempting to break up the iceberg of fear and anxiety within me. He was challenging my belief that was rooted in the abandonment I felt from early childhood that “no one cares for me.” This was the root of my fear and anxiety. That was the memory that needed to be healed.

Not sure why but when I would pray (more like cry) for God to heal me I’d grab one of the many crosses I had on the walls of my room. He began to reveal to me that the cross in my hand was a symbol of His love for me. So I began to grab one and set it before me every time I prayed to remind me of God’s love for me. So not only was His voice reassuring me of His presence but also the symbol of the cross was reminding me of His love. God was demonstrating to me His patience, mercy and love to me. This spoke to that critical voice in my head (my stepfather) that demanded I get over it! “Suck it up and get back to work.”

God was bathing me, immersing me in His perfect love. The words he had spoken to Isaac and to Moses so many years ago he spoke to me, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” God spoke words of comfort and promised His presence. I eventually responded in faith. God’s presence is our remedy for fear, anxiety and worry. Without the awareness of His presence, we cannot be empowered to face our fear, anxiety and worry. And we cannot know His comfort and security.

I think it was Ed Welch from one of his books who said, “If the kingdom of heaven was going to come with power, the old order would have to be terminated.” And this was what God was doing through His repeating that He was with me.

I’ll end with two scriptures and a quote that has built a solid base within me.

Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

This “you are with me” mindset has to be fostered, developed otherwise we resist the grace of God that he gives. This pressing into God is warfare against that resistance within us. This resistance doesn’t allow healing to take place. Our healing starts out as small cups of living water that eventually become rivers to flush out the fear and anxiety.

Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Intimacy: “In our rapidly changing society we can count on only two things that will never change. What will never change is the will to change and the fear of change. It is the will to change that motivates us to seek help. It is the fear of change that motivates us to resist the very help we seek.”

Lastly, the prophet Isaiah takes the closest human relationship and says that the Lord’s faithfulness and presence are even more certain.

Isaiah 49:14-15, But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has born? Though say may forget, I will not forget you.”

God’s grace, kindness and steadfast love drove out these fears, anxieties and worries that had kept me bound for months. Perfect love is revealed to us as we abide in God’s love. 1 John 4:16 tells us, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected in us.’

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16)

Our Fallen State

In the last two months, the country has heard about and read a lot of apology statements from famous men accused of inappropriate behavior towards women. This provides some in the faith community an opportunity to finger point and shake their head towards high profile politicians and actors. But before we cast the first stone we should be mindful of our own sin.

Having been in ministry for over thirty-years and much of that with men, I was not surprised to hear these stories and realized this is just the tip of the iceberg. I pause to be quick with my judgments due to the fact that my own history reminds me of how in my fallen state I am capable of similar acts.

Matthew 7:3-5 tells us about paying attention to “planks” in our own eyes. This is a good reminder to remain vigilant about what lives deep within our heart.

For years I minimized my own dishonoring of women through the belief that I was just being compassionate and caring. Underneath that façade was a hunger to gain their attention and affection. It was a misuse of power and seduction to convince them to trust me and to like me. Fortunately, nothing ever happened physically but it was born out of a deep brokenness within me.

Feeding off the vulnerabilities of another is unfortunately too prevalent in the ministry world and has brought many a good leader down. To remain aware that our hearts can be divided and influenced by unmet emotional and physical needs is key to remaining clear in our relationships with women. I speak not only to paid and lay leaders but all men that follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

The model of masculinity that I grew up with was my stepfather and he was dominating, controlling towards women and emotionally shut down. His view of women was broken and unhealthy along with the culture I grew up in that saw women as baby making, dinner preparing, and house cleaning maids.

Most men who I have ministered to did not have good role models in their lives when it comes to how to treat a woman well. I believe many want to do what is right and honoring yet lacked the guides to teach them well. So their examples are found on television, YouTube, Netflix and the culture that they grew up in. The cultural depiction of what a man is proved flawed and the results are false expressions of masculinity.

Left with false notions of what is masculine and feeling the pressure to prove it to other men we seek it through our sexual prowess. Men who don’t know how to meaningfully engage with a woman attempt to use their power to control them. We are misdirected in our search for our masculinity identity.

As men, we do not want to address the ways in which we have dishonored women. That would mean no longer lusting after them, no longer going online and spending countless hours searching for the perfect one to fantasize about and no longer attempting to seduce them with our clever and witty words. Thus we remain quiet about the subject of dishonoring women.

Where does one look for healthy models of men honoring women? Jesus wonderfully models for us the standard on how women are to be honored for their beauty and their unique gifting. The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus honoring women and advocating for them in different life situations.

Nudged by God the Holy Spirit to reexamine my view and treatment of women His guiding search lamp revealed my error. He revealed to me the subtle ways and obvious ways I was dishonoring women. Convicted by God the Holy Spirit, I confessed this sin to another brother taking my first step towards the healing of my unhealthy view of women. Repentant, I invited Jesus into my heart and asked Him to give me His heart to love women well.

Let me mention just so you understand it took many encounters with God to reveal to me the lack of honor and respect I failed to extend towards women throughout the years. There were many I felt led to contact and make amends with.

During this process of inner healing, I recalled a memory from my childhood that deeply affected my view of women. My stepfather instigated wrestling matches between my older sister and me. She being bigger and stronger almost always pinned me down to the floor. He would then cackle, “You let a girl beat you!” Helpless, I remember thinking to myself, “No woman will ever control me like that again.” This vow created a barrier within me that kept most women at arm’s length. It served to keep me from having to deal with more pain in my relationships with women. This vow and the power associated with it had to be renounced and I also had to repent of judgments I had made towards all women. It was amazing how my heart opened towards women once I broke that vow.

The cultural attitudes toward women in Jesus’ day were regrettable. Women were treated as second-class citizens. Jesus restored value to women and treated them with honor and respect. He extended hope and help to women that had bad reputations that other’s looked down upon. Let Him be our example of how a man should love and honor women.

Where is Your Treasure?

Since leaving my position three months ago at The River Church Community to devote full time to The Healing Path Ministries I have found myself, and I am embarrassed to say, coveting other people’s treasures that symbolize to me financial comfort. A good definition of coveting that defines what I’m talking about is “to desire that which is rightfully another’s.” It might be their home, car, well paying job, whatever, yet it is revealing to me some deep insecurities and vulnerabilities about money.

The shift wasn’t subtle. It rose within me days after leaving staff knowing my career; future and ministry depended solely on God’s provision. I know, I know, why didn’t that exist when I was working for the church for sixteen years? Honestly, I just got comfortable knowing the check would be deposited every two weeks.

Noticing anxious thoughts beginning to pop up in my head I decided to “kick it in gear” and start some groups to make money. But, God desired to deepen His partnership with me and led me to read the gospel of John. He made it quite clear there was, “no need to prove to yourself and others that you are worthy.” I begged him to let me do something and He made it clear not to do anything but “remain in Him.” Isn’t that typical of us men? Just give me something to do. Let me prove my worth.

Hopefully, you didn’t miss it wasn’t just money but also fear of not producing in a way that I thought would keep my supporters pleased. ARGH! Oh, foolish David, who has bewitched you?

In reading the gospel of John I saw Jesus live His life in prophetic exchange with the Father. Jesus was modeling for me what it looks like to depend and to remain in Him. Jesus, ongoing dialogue with the Father brought him wisdom and understanding on what he was to do, when, who with and where he was to go.

What am I learning? Radical trust. Not easy because anxious thoughts want to crowd out the voice of the Father and the Son. But isn’t this the battle we all have in believing that God is faithful and trustworthy? This battle for our heart and what it treasures, it serves and looks to for life and comfort. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I leave you with a prayer from Psalm 86:11, Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

“There is no God”

Sometimes after I work out at the gym I love to sit in the sauna to enjoy the heat and the release it provides my body. Last Wednesday I went in late to work out and then hit the sauna. There were two other people in the sauna when I entered. Right after I sat down an older woman walked in and observed a man across from us reading a book. She blurted out, “What are you reading?”

At first, he didn’t respond and then after some thought he told her it was a book about management. She then told him that he should humble himself and read the Bible. Cringe!

He told her that he tried to read it one time and it gave him a headache.

She then proceeded to talk about heaven and hell, humbling oneself, and his need to get saved!

That got his attention and he yelled at her, “There is no God!”

Now he got my attention. As I asked God in my mind, “What should I do?” He impressed upon me that it wasn’t my conversation and that if I did speak it would be out of a place of emotion and not love. I must admit I was hot! And not in the physical appearance sense or because I was in a sauna, I wanted to introduce that guy to my fist!

A few minutes later I left and when I began to drive home God the Holy Spirit began to remind me of passages to give me understanding. He reminded me that at one time I was “dead in my trespasses and sin,” and that my “understanding was darkened.” That I was alienated from God because of my sin and that I “loved darkness rather than light.”

It was this diagnosis that eventually brought me to receive Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. My “blindness” and “darkness” were indicative of my ignorance of the truth.

There is nothing like a lesson from God the Holy Spirit to humble a person. Okay, I get it. Rather than hate this man my heart probably should be breaking for him and crying out that he’d “come to a knowledge of the truth.”

I got home and knelt down by my bed and asked God to forgive me for my anger and hate towards this man. I asked God to give me a greater capacity to love and prayed for the nameless man in the sauna at the 24 Hour Fitness in Sunnyvale. Now that I think about it perhaps I should’ve prayed for our sister whose style of evangelism might need a tinge more grace. Just saying.

A Search for Self

As I prepare for our final teaching, Boundaries: Why We Need Them, for The Healing Path class that I lead on Monday nights I’ve been thinking about my own past struggles with a lack of boundaries and codependency.

Someone recently used the words in describing someone “he is always yielding to the needs of others.” That struck a chord in me. Early in my walk of faith, my yielding to the needs of others and not wanting “to make waves” mentality stripped me of any sense of self. I could tell myself that I was being a servant of the Lord but as I like to say that’s just putting a Christian bow on what should be called a turd. We like to call our brokenness a gift when in fact it is born out of a past trauma that has yet to be healed. At the core of my acting out was a deep wound that didn’t trust. I grew up in a frightening and unsafe environment and it brought about what I would describe as a deep, core paranoia instead of trust.

I am pretty sure what my codependency provided me was an identity. That seems to have been my search for years and I tried different ways of finding it. Codependency was one of them. Enmeshing with those I was attracted to you was yet another way. Sacrificing my sense of self, my identity and independence in order to preserve what I thought were important emotional relationships. I paid a high cost in anxiety, loneliness, depression, frustration, and anger. True love (attachment) remained elusive.

I guess that begs the question, what does love mean? Love for me at that time was a needy possessiveness of another person. I would constantly blurt, “I love you” just to hear the words said back to me. Those wonderful words of assurance were like a life preserver to my hungry soul.

To come to a place of a healthy and mature love I had to realize my endless quest to find my identity and love could only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. That took some doing because I honestly believed I could keep “bargaining” for it and receive that sense of self I was so desperately looking for from others. The work was difficult and deep and took many years but through a relationship with Jesus and a loving community, I came to understand that I could be myself without losing love. I could give and care without the sacrifice of my identity.

The Power of the Cross

Luke 9:23-25, Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

This verse from Luke was my Lent reading for the day and during my time of reflection I thought about that word “daily.” Jesus stipulates to be a disciple of his you must “daily” pick up your cross and follow Him.

One of the questions I asked myself was, “Am I with great passion and delight taking up my cross daily?” I want to lie and tell you “of course I am.” ARGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

The booklet I am reading on a daily basis describes that when Jesus offered this teaching it must have been “gut-wrenching” to his audience. They knew what the symbol of the cross meant: “a death in utter agony and humiliation.”

I believe this might be the hardest thing for me to do. Having learned “the way of the cross” from male and female mentors I can testify it is “gut-wrenching.” There are days that I don’t want to feel the weight of it calling me to die to some furtive glance that my flesh desires or to be honest with friends about how I’m really doing? I still have to war within to confess my sin to another because my flesh resist “the way of the cross.”

Isn’t it funny, crazy, insane, how a word sprinkled with the power of the Spirit can remind us of the truth that has brought freedom in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

Going the “way of the cross” identifies us as His disciples.

I’ll leave you with those famous words from one of my favorite Hymns, “I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.”