“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.”

Sunday Sermon Reflection

On Sunday Hermie Smith gave a short testimony about having a Christ centered conversation with a man while soaking in a hot tub. The ease at which he entered into that conversation made it sound so easy. And yet I know from my own experience that trepidation and uncertainty cause one’s heart to beat a bit quicker.

It made me think about Matthew 11:12 that talks about “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men and women lay hold of it.”

I did a little leg work and found that the most recent Greek-English Lexicon gives four possible definitions of the Greek word (biazo) used in this verse: (1) “to inflict violence on, ‘dominate, constrain,’ (2) to gain an objective by force, ‘use force,’ (3) to go after something with enthusiasm, ‘seek fervently, try hard,’ or (4) ‘constrain (warmly).’

I am not a theologian so not sure which one fits. But as I think about Hermie and his actions I can line that up with some of the definitions above. Laying hold of the Kingdom and then radically risking to share it is a huge risk. But Jesus didn’t die for us so we could just “do” church. We are a walking revelation that must be expressed. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. It means we serve humanity on practical levels—practical according to the Kingdom of God is bringing the “invasion of the impossible.” I think I got that from Bill Johnson at Bethel Church Redding.

So much uncertainty, chaos and confusion has many of us checking the news sights on our laptops daily to see what the Helsinki has happened overnight. Rather than come under the uncertainty and anxiety that we see on our screens every day, ask yourself, “How does God want me to bring solutions for the world’s dilemmas in my community, workspace and family?”

I have a sense that God is birthing something in His church and in The River Church Community as we enter this season of life. Let me remind you that if you’ve ever given birth or observed one it is a violent, radical event. But we signed up for radical. We are use to plucking out our eye that causes us to sin, bringing not peace but a sword, counting the cost and giving up everything for the treasure hidden in the field.

I believe we are being radically charged by God to do whatever it takes to follow Jesus and to do the works (feed the poor, heal the sick, and bring justice to those that are not receiving justice) that He did.

Jesus is asking for our hearts, our allegiance, our obedience, and our willingness to risk all to follow Him. Isn’t that what the verse says? “Everyone,” who becomes part of the Kingdom is forcing his way, pushing through the door, seeking to enter while it still possible, making every effort into the Kingdom.”

I think this verse says it quite well. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

The Magnificat

I recently spoke about Mary’s song found in Luke 1:46-55.  I focused on the humility demonstrated by Mary to come present to God’s speaking voice and Presence.

Her humility reminding me of a parable that Jesus shared in Luke 18. Jesus tells this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt. It is a story about two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector.

The tax collector in the parable knows he is an utter mess. He stands at a distance, unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven and beats his chest and says, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”

There’s another man, a Pharisee. I can imagine him walking into the temple and everyone greets him. He’s comfortable, he’s confident in a religious setting. He prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

The humble person never appeals to merit. “Look what I’ve done for you God.” The humble person always appeals to God’s mercy. The humble person comes before God and says, “The only way I can come into your presence, the only reason you answer my prayers is because of the gift of your Son and his death on the cross for me!”

The proud say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” They lack humility, not realizing they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” They lack what I call “heart awareness.” They struggle to answer the question honestly, “How is your heart?” Many don’t realize their heart is diseased and in need of Jesus cleansing and healing touch.

Without that humble posture we stop hearing the healing and sustaining voice of God. We start listening to the voices of the world to tell us how we’ve arrived and accomplished what others can only dream about. These voices separate us from the life giving voice of the Spirit.

My prayer for all of us this New Year is may God the Holy Spirit unite you to the Father’s heart this coming year and all that is reality in your life.


What if…?

I’m in Hawaii relaxing on the beach and I’m watching a father I’d guess to be about thirty-five and he is in the shallow water with his three-year-old son. They are having the time of their life as dad tosses him in the air and catches him right as he hits the water. I’m smiling at the joy I see in their bonding together as father and son.

As I turn my outward gaze into an inner one the thought comes to mind, “What if?” What if my father played with me at the beach, engaged with me at a level where he delighted in me so that I could delight in him. That “what if” has been with me for a long time. Yes, I have my Father in heaven that speaks tenderly and lovingly to me yet there is something really deep within me that wants to be fathered by a person with flesh. Why can’t I get that “what if” to go away?

In my thirty years in ministry I’ve heard about the failures of absent fathers and incompetent fathers and emotionally detached fathers, and passive fathers and controlling fathers and narcissistic fathers and irresponsible fathers and perfectionist fathers and abusive fathers and any other fathering failure anyone can express.

I realize I am not the only person, man or woman, that has the “what if” deep within. I’m not the only person that asks, “How would things have been different if dad was different?”

Who can redeem and heal anyone from this wound? Jesus says that one of his primary missions on earth was to introduce to the human race the perfect ideal Father who would heal the father-wound that is in all of us because of less than perfect ideal fathers.

If that’s true am I doing something wrong? Why can’t I shake that “what if” within me? I choose to believe this is the process and one day, one day, that “what if” will be gone and I’ll see Him face to face. The Spirit reminds me as I close that we only see in part and for now that’ll have to do.


Consider the Lilies

Luke 12:27-32 (NKJV), Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?

“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.

“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

I keep thinking about all the beautiful mountain flowers I saw while I was in the Rocky Mountains last month and how I was drawn to gaze upon them with wonder. Walking up a trail (at around 10,000 feet) with my much younger friend who seemed hell bent on getting to this rock formation to explore; I kept slowing him down with all my oohs and ahhs.  He went ahead and I “considered the lilies.” Maybe it is old age and I’ve just learned to appreciate the beauty around me. Or maybe it was the altitude and I was bent over just trying to breathe. Whatever the case, my gazing helps me to bask in the wonder of God’s creation and thank Him for it. This gazing brings an inner smile that comes from centering myself in God and His magnificent creation.

For The Healing Path alumni that might be reading this I guess you could say I was practicing “how to be” rather than “how to do.” I was with unveiled face beholding the glory of the Lord and being inwardly transformed by it.

Now what do you think would be the response of most men if I told them to go to the mountains to “consider the lilies?” If it were in Colorado they’d probably think I had been smoking some of the local legal pot. But, this guy who works in construction, actually he is a carpenter told me to do this. And he is telling me to do this so that I won’t worry! And the funny thing is that when I do it most of my worry, stress and anxiety kind of go away.

As I walked back down that trail (obviously I never made it to the rock formation), I heard God, my Father, whisper to me, “I’ll take care of you.” Honestly, that might be the nugget that will carry me through the rest of my life.

Guys don’t laugh, but it might be time to plan a “Consider the Lily” day. You have a Father who loves you and wants to speak His peace and comfort into you. He is always initiating; when will you respond?

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

This Bible Saturation plan that I am going through during my sabbatical is really kicking up some deep things within me. James 2:13, the title of this blog, is such a simple phrase yet I struggled for so many years under judgment.

Growing up in a home where my critical stepfather constantly judged me I came to believe that I would never be an effective individual. Eventually I didn’t need him to criticize me because I started to agree with the judgments I had internalized as a child. “I am worthless, a failure, a loser, and good for nothing.” There was a war going on within me and I was losing.

What all these feelings of shame and inadequacy produced within me was a drive to prove to others that I was “good enough.” Unbeknownst to me at the time this drive to “prove myself to others” had become addictive. This is one of those addictions that people applaud. And not getting much of that growing up I kicked it into overdrive. By the way, I see this behavior in so many accomplished people here in the Silicon Valley. Their drive to succeed and be recognized leaves many of them exhausted and depressed. Outwardly they are smiling; inwardly they are dying.

Let me tell you it is hard to recognize negative traits that masquerade as strengths.

Eventually I became depressed. I could no longer keep up the pace of proving to others that I was “good enough.” Trying to change the harsh judgments of my childhood into positive ones through constantly proving myself to others exhausted me.

My friend Hal sat with me as I shared with him my pain and exhaustion. He pulled this verse out from 2 Samuel 14:14, “We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.”

Hal asked me if I recognized myself in that verse. I did. My judgments of myself made me feel like I was on the outside looking in. I felt like an outcast every time I gave into temptation that led to sin or whenever I failed in some area of my life. My diseased and broken thought life banished me from the mercy God extended to me to triumph over the judgments spoken over me throughout my childhood.

God has devised a way so that the banished one will not remain an outcast. It is called mercy. I’d love to walk you through how that happened but that will require another entry. Suffice to say over time I learned how to be kind to myself. I learned how to accept the mercy that triumphed over my stepfather’s judgments.

Final Thought: I’ve never considered a tattoo but if I was to get one it would say “Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment.”

Finding Life in a World of Pain

Over my sabbatical I am going through a Bible saturation plan. I felt the need to get back into the scriptures for some much needed insight. Currently I am going through the gospel of John. I was going through John 17 last week and came across this verse that I sat and thought about for most of the day.

John 17:3 (NIV), Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

This is an offer of life. I wondered how many people are searching for the life described in this verse and yet not finding it.

Earlier in John 10:10 I read, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Obviously this theme runs all throughout the gospel of John. Someone once told me “eternal life” is “the quality of the life of the kingdom of God that a person can enjoy right now. Eternal life is exchanging self-worship for God-worship.”

This word “know” in John 17 refers to personal knowledge of God, and experiential knowledge of God, an intimate knowledge of God. As we grow in our knowledge of God, we grow in our enjoyment of this life spoken about in John 17.

The practices of solitude and reflection have helped me “know” God more intimately. I love a good worship night; getting my emotions and feelings all revved up but as I’ve gotten older the practice of quieting my soul to come present to God has allowed me to be real with Him about my heart with all of its fear, anxiety and pain. Yet this just isn’t for my own need for life but also for the life others are searching for in these desperate times.

I’ll close with this story from my time in Rocky Mountain National Park last week. I sat with a friend by a lake and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the place. We were around 9000 feet and the air was wonderful and the surroundings were magnificent. No distractions and thoughts for God were coming in loud and clear. The Spirit spoke a word clearly for me to pray over my friend and he received it with great joy. Having experienced this life I want more of it.

I’ll leave you with this question; how well do you want to “know” God?

Misdirected Affections

I was chatting with someone the other day about counseling others and the “red flags” one needs to be aware of in the area of touch, over care, and boundaries. I’m not talking about therapy but extending oneself to another who is going through a rough patch and providing a listening ear and empathy.

It brought forth a flood of memories about my early years in leadership where out of my codependency (my need to be needed) I became the nurturing mother for all. The thought of it makes me slightly vomit.

Seeing myself in diminished ways (self-hatred), I tried to fill my unmet childhood needs through caring for others. At times I could idealize others that I viewed as better looking then me, more educated than me and more successful. It made me feel good about myself that these people I saw as “better than me” needed me.

In some very skewed way caring and connecting with these people meant that I had value and worth because they are seeking me out for care and comfort. Unbeknownst to them, I was using them to satisfy my needs for love and acceptance. I was feeding off of them emotionally and physically (through inappropriate touch). By inappropriate I mean that I was touching them in ways that seemed to be rooted in my genuine concern for them. When in fact it was filling my own need for touch.

Coming from a touch deprived family I would use others to fill the void. Most of the times the other person was clueless to this in our friendship. If you’d like name for this behavior I would call it “a spirit of seduction.”

When confronted by others about my friendships with these people I would spiritualize it by saying it’s my gift of comfort. If you’ve been around me long enough this is what’s called “putting a Christian bow on a turd.”

In these friendships we may talk about the Lord, we may pray with one another, but deep down we are craving the emotional and physical closeness that it gives to us. Our pursuit is not motivated out of a pure heart. The prophet Jeremiah’s words ring true, “The heart is deceitful and difficult to understand.”

This was a clear sign to me that I needed a greater depth of healing. I had to acknowledge my seductive behavior and repent of it. And, admit to others my deep desire to be loved and accepted for who I truly was and not some false mother hen who seduced you with the guise of care. I needed to learn how to love others in ways that were motivated out of a pure heart and not my broken flesh. 

Ask yourself, what does the Lord find when He looks at my heart? As you examine your heart, ask yourself, what is my heart set on? Are there ways that you’ve used seduction to catch someone in your web to meet your needs?