What’s Making America not-so-Great and Killing the Evangelical Church

      A few years ago I began writing a new manuscript. Thirty thousand words later and a two year sabbatical, I am once again reminded of the importance of sharing this message. So, below I have decided to share one of the chapters of this unfinished work with you, in hopes that God will speak to both you and me about the dangers of the Entitlement mentality. How often I forget to leave this door closed! Perhaps you can relate? It doesn’t take much effort to look around our world and our churches to see its nasty infiltration. Let’s pray that we, as a church and the bride of Christ, will come together–laying aside our expectations–and learn to be content with the peace of Jesus alone.

Excerpt from:

The Devil’s Alphabet: 25 Doors You Don’t Want to Open

CHAPTER THREE

Door #5: Entitlement

Counterfeit: easily offended, anger towards God, feeling as if we are owed something

            Truth: We have no rights, all our rights belong to God, we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

The Origin of Entitlement

“For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.’” Isaiah 14:13-14, NLT

Most of us have heard it said, “Satan’s downfall was his pride.” But I would challenge that statement. Opening the door of entitlement often leads to other doors, doors like pride. But pride begins with entitlement. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines entitlement as: “the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something; the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).” Before pride, Satan saw something he wanted and decided he deserved what he saw. Satan saw God, His glory and His throne, and believed he deserved those things for himself. This entitlement mentality was the beginning of the end for Satan. It’s one of the things he used to tempt Eve as well; she doubted God’s word first, then began to believe she had a right to the knowledge God was clearly withholding from her. Whether we realize it or not, we stumble through this door more often than we think.

Entitlement Mentality with God

            Anger towards God, I think we’ve all experienced this at times. But what is the source of this anger? The source, more often than not, is an entitlement mentality. As Christians we tend to fall victim to thinking life is supposed to go a certain way because we’re obeying God. We’re promised blessings when we obey, right? While obedience to God is a promise of blessing, it is not a promise of good or pleasurable circumstances. The blessings we are promised aren’t necessarily material in nature (though they certainly can be). You’re going to read this repeatedly and I say it again now to continue to drive the point home: one of our greatest blessings is having a “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Peace has no price-tag, and those who have this peace know exactly what I’m talking about. The moment we start to believe God owes us something is the same moment our spiritual peace begins to erode because like it or not, our circumstances will not always be pleasant.

“Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into?” Romans 9:20-21, NLT

Those are difficult verses to swallow, especially if we’ve walked through the door of entitlement. It doesn’t help that there are an abundance of religious leaders today teaching and writing about things like health, wealth, and prosperity. This never ceases to amaze me. How can this teaching be so prominent when our Bible contains much of the opposite when it describes the lives of Christians? Look at Job! Look at Paul, John the Baptist, or pretty much anyone who followed the teachings of Jesus. They were persecuted, punished, tortured, and murdered because they followed God. Materially speaking, they were anything but prosperous. And while Job was wealthy, he also lost all of his wealth, health, and property; he even lost his entire family. None of his friends understood his suffering because of their own entitlement mentality. “Surely God only allows such horrors to befall the wicked, evil, and rebellious, not the righteous,” they reasoned. And the same thing happens in our lives. We suffer and our fellow Christians judge our spiritual lives because deep down they too believe good things are synonymous with obedience to God.

Sometimes life is great, we’re showered blessing upon blessing, good things raining down from the heavens abound. And other times it seems the only thing raining on us is hydrochloric acid; burning, painful, searing loss after loss. In either case, God owes us nothing. Certainly God wants to bless us, but it’s the spiritual, inner blessings He is focused on. It’s the transformation of us into the likeness of His Son that he knows will be our ultimate bliss.

As a mother, I strive to teach my daughter healthy eating habits, but that’s not easy with a young child who seems extraordinarily picky. Rest assured, when my daughter opens up her school lunch and sees fruits and vegetables, her reaction isn’t gratitude. ‘Round and ‘round we go fighting about it, but in the end she either eats the produce or goes hungry. She believes I am torturing her, but I know, as much as she dislikes it, that I’m doing the right thing for her body, growth, health, and development. I could let her eat artificial cheesy snacks and chocolate cookies every day, to show that I love her and care about her happiness, but a better way to show I love and care about her is to withhold those things from her, saving them as an occasional special treat. In fact, she appreciates those things a lot more when she doesn’t get them every day. Similarly, God wants to show us He loves us and cares for us, but His idea of love is far different (and greater) than ours. Our prayers sometimes sound like a six-year-old begging for cake; God hears those prayers, but many times chooses to answer with carrots and apples. When we have an entitlement mentality, the raw produce version of answered prayers or life circumstances will probably anger, baffle, and discourage us. When that is our reaction to the circumstances in our lives, we need to stop and ask God for a heart check, as we’ve likely walked through the door of entitlement.

Entitlement Mentality with People

            Let’s face it, God is God and He’s going to do and allow whatever He wants. For some of us that truth isn’t terribly difficult to accept. After all, He’s God and we’re not; but when it comes to other people, well now, that’s a different story. We expect others to forgive us, treat us with kindness, care about our hurts, ask us how we’re doing, sympathize and empathize with us, and basically fulfill our emotional needs in every way we were designed to get from Jesus. God forbid someone fail to meet our lofty expectation, that’s when our entitlement mentality rears its ugly head. We know we’ve walked through that door when we find ourselves easily offended, overly sensitive, resentful, bitter, gossipy, judgmental, and critical of others; basically an overall jerk of a Christian (those who knows me well are laughing right now, because they know I have struggled with all of these character flaws). Somewhere along the way, someone failed to meet our unspoken, assumed expectation, and that hurts, especially when we feel we’re entitled to a certain response or action from said person.

It’s Not All About Me (or You)

“I’ll never forget the day I decided to try a new church. Just months after being widowed, I had moved and was looking for a church that was similar to the one where my husband had been pastoring. That day, I had gone through the process of finding the place where my children would go during the service and after leaving them in the capable hands of the teachers, I walked to the sanctuary. As people were milling around, I waited for someone to introduce themselves to me…but no one did. With my heart pounding and my hands sweating, I realized just how alone I was. New situations hadn’t bothered me before, but that was because I normally had my husband at my side.

“When I found a seat, I half expected the people sitting next to me to turn their heads and acknowledge my presence, but they didn’t. Then, as the worship began, I found myself fighting back tears. When your late husband was an amazing worship leader, pretty much any song sung in church reminds you of him. And so there I stood, alone, in an unfamiliar church, choking back tears. For a moment I was embarrassed because I felt I was making a scene. But that moment of embarrassment vanished when I realized my sorrow had gone unseen. For a while, that day really bothered me. How could those people be so self-focused that they didn’t even notice me? I felt invisible. I felt as if no one cared.”

Wow, that’s rough! Certainly my friend here had every right to be upset over the situation. I know I’ve experienced something eerily similar in many church settings, and I’m sure you have too. Unfortunately, it’s easy to walk in with expectations of how we are to be treated; failing to see that perhaps others have the same expectations of us. Before you know it, we’re all ticked off and offended with each other. Fortunately, God used the situation to speak to my friend about her own attitude, rather than the attitude of everyone around her (He has a way of doing that to us, doesn’t He?).

“Months later, as the intensity of my grief wore off I have come to see something. It’s not the people around me who have become more self-focused during my trials—it’s me. And honestly, at times I’m the most self-focused person I know. I had walked into that church feeling as if everyone should notice me. I stood during worship and had the audacity to think that the people gathered there would be looking at me instead of worshipping God.

“If I have learned only one thing the past few years, it’s that life isn’t all about me. And much like this memory shows, church isn’t all about me.”

It’s not all about me and it’s not all about you. The sooner we accept that truth the happier we will be. In a perfect world maybe our expectations of others would be met more often, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world full of difficult and unfair circumstances. One of the keys to living a more peaceful, less frustrated life, is to give our expectations to God, and leave our assumptions behind the closed door of entitlement. We’re going to be hurt and disappointed by people, because we’re all self-centered, sinful human beings, it’s a fact of life. We don’t appreciate it when others make assumptions about us and our motives, so it shouldn’t be a shocker that we need to treat others the same way we’d like to be treated—with grace.

Truth Encounter

            The door of entitlement is a tough one, one the Devil will place in our path time and time again. It’s what got him in trouble and what has plagued humanity from the beginning of time. The best defense is to get out of denial and admit we have a problem with this self-centered way of dealing with people and God. The following prayer can be used to help you refocus on the truth, and reject this door of entitlement. No matter what words you use to express your heart to God, say them out loud so the Devil can hear you and flee.

“Jesus, I know I’ve often walked through the door of entitlement, becoming bitter, resentful, angry, or offended with you or others over my unmet expectations. I now choose to give all of those expectations to you (take a moment to think about and name specific situations where you were hurt or offended by someone, or angry at God for allowing a situation into your life); my expectations of how others should act, my expectations of how you should answer my prayers, and my expectations of how I think my life should go when I am living to please you. In the name of Jesus I choose to reject the lie that I am entitled to anything, and accept the truth that it is only because of your grace I am even breathing at this very moment. I am not my own, but have been bought with the price of Jesus’ blood. Teach me how to bring glory to you through my attitude, and by showing grace to others as you have shown me grace. Thank you for freeing me from the bondage of entitlement. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

 

 

A {Very} Short Word on Entitlement and Gratitude

Yes, I’m alive and posting again (more writing to come soon–all will be explained)! This is short and sweet but I felt the Holy Spirit speaking to me about this issue after church Sunday. Perhaps it will speak to you as well.

**************************************************

     It’s impossible for a person to be grateful when they possess an attitude of entitlement. Entitlement stifles gratefulness which further fuels attitudes of entitlement. And when people finally get tired of dealing with the entitlement attitude and draw boundaries, the entitled person becomes resentful, blaming everyone else for their misfortunes rather than accepting personal responsibility. Long story short, be GRATEFUL and refuse to believe you’re “owed” something from anyone. Work for what you want. Make your own way. And when you’re in a good place, turn around and help others as you’ve been helped. An attitude of gratitude is evident in one’s actions not just words.

Hope in Disguise: How Four Simple Words Can Change Everything

Hope in Disguise:
How Four Simple Words Can Change Everything

“Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.”—Romans 12:12-13 NLT

If you read my last post (Waiting for Redemption) you know the last year has been a difficult one. But during that time, God has continued to sprinkle little blessings here and there via a couple of special women in my life. The friendship and support they have given me have often served to keep my head above the waves as I’ve attempted to tread water in a deep ocean of uncertainty. So many times I have wanted to give up, but at just the right time, their words, hugs, and even silence, have shot hope through my veins when I’ve needed it most.

 
One of the first things she said to me, shortly after I drug my tired, discouraged self into her home yesterday was, “How is the depression?” Four simple words never spoke so much hope into my life. I know, it doesn’t make sense, after all, how can asking a simple question about depression, of all things, actually bring hope? I don’t really know, but somehow it did. Not at that very moment, but a few hours later.

 
Anyone who has dealt with clinical depression (I have now for over 15 years) knows the feeling. Even the simplest activities of daily life seem overwhelming at times. And if you’re a Christ-follower, you’ve got the added guilt of not being a “good” Christian because you’re not walking around on cloud nine all the time (see How to Live When Depression Lingers). If you have a lot of people in your life who don’t understand what you’re going through, sharing your true feelings can be risky. It’s hard for people to resist trying to give solutions and pat answers to “help” you, when in reality all we really want is someone to listen and meet us where we’re at.

 
Anyways, later that afternoon her words sang through my head, “How is the depression?” I was able to speak to her freely about my struggle, while she nodded in understanding. She knows what it feels like too. And, as much as I hate that she knows what it’s like, I am so grateful for it. None of us want to suffer, but, admittedly if it weren’t for our mutual suffering, none of us could relate to anyone in any tangible way. Our struggles are often how we find those “kindred spirits”, the ones who will hold our hand through our trials, speak truth in love, but also listen at the right time, instead of always being the “problem solver” or “advice giver”.

 
Because of her own struggles with depression and hardship, my friend instinctively knew what I needed—to be listened to and met with grace. She didn’t offer up a bunch of things to do to fix my “problem”. Really, she just listened. And it had an amazingly therapeutic effect.

 
Later that afternoon I sat in my recliner, as I have done so many times over the past months, staring at the wall while warm tears flowed down my face. Only this time, it was because of hope. My friend’s four simple words brought me hope. She cared, she understood, and she wasn’t trying to change me. She was merely loving me in the dark places, and continuing to pray in earnest for my physical and emotional healing. In that moment I was so overwhelmed with thankfulness for the two special friends God brought into my life almost two years ago. We are “sisters” in every way. And it isn’t because we’re perfect Christians, it’s because we’re perfectly flawed Christians who know we can be transparent with each other without fear of judgment, criticism, or cliché advice-giving.

 
If you know someone struggling with depression, please try to avoid offering them “solutions”. Your intentions are amazing and appreciated, but unless you’ve suffered in the same way, you can’t really “know” what it’s like or how to “solve” the problem. Yes, we need to go to and stay in God’s word, and yes we need to focus on the truth and refuse to believe lies. Yes all of these things are true and helpful to the depressed Christian, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will produce spiritual rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes the depression lingers and sometimes all we really need is someone to listen. You can be a good friend without offering “answers” to every problem. Often, not spewing “answers” is just what your depressed friend may need.

 
In my case, just knowing how loved I am by a couple of flawed friends inspires me to get back up and move forward through the difficulties instead of allowing them to control me, and the prayers of my friends have been the greatest gift, more so than any “advice” they could have given.

 
So, ask God to bring to mind someone in your life who may need to hear four simple words. Maybe it’s not “How is your depression” but some other difficulty, “How is your [insert chronic illness]” or “How is your grief”? Just asking a question and listening patiently to the answer might be all your hurting friend needs to see a ray of hope amid the darkness of their circumstances. Choose to be that source of light in their life. And most importantly, continue to pray for them, even if it seems they aren’t “progressing” quickly enough through their struggles. God is listening, and in due time, He will answer (and quite possibly use YOU to be the answer).

 

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”—Proverbs 13:12 NIV

__________________________________________________________________________

If you or someone you know struggles with depression, or is going through difficult life-circumstances, please share this post. Instead of shying away from these “troubled” people, let’s come together and encourage them through the hope of Christ. Let’s be the hope of Christ in their lives.

***

Also, I will be starting a new blog series titled “Choices”, and will be sharing more details about my journey over the past year, and how our choices, from the big ones to the seemingly insignificant, can have a lasting (positive or negative) effect on our lives and the lives of those we love most. Please sign up to receive new blog posts in your email and share this blog with your friends. Your support is much appreciated! Thank you!

Three Lessons to Take Away from the 2014 Winter Olympics

Three Lessons to Take Away from the 2014 Winter Olympics

 

            Admittedly, I’m an Olympic nerd. I love the drama, the personal stories, the action and intensity of the individual events, and of course, I love rooting for my home country. Normally I tune in to my favorite events, usually whatever is shown on the major networks in prime-time. But this year was different. So far my 2014 has been wrought with more physical nightmares than 2013 delivered. Both my daughter and I contracted a rarer type of flu, one that sent us both to the hospital, one that had us sick for two weeks, and one that eventually gave me pneumonia (which I still have). So, aptly timed, the Olympics aired while I was on bed rest; quite convenient! Having the opportunity to watch not only my favorite events, but all of the events (yes, I even watched Curling!) afforded some great learning opportunities.

 

Shut Up and Own It

           

            After an abysmal performance in Speed Skating, an athlete provided an explanation in an on-camera interview, “I don’t know what it was, but I know it wasn’t me!” Um, ok bud, thank you for clearing up the confusion, because I’m pretty sure I just saw you put up a not-so-stellar time, in more than one race. But it’s ok, it’s not you. It’s the ice, the elevation, or the whacky design on your evidently not so aerodynamic skating suit. But it’s not you. Even worse, this was an American athlete. Not a proud USA moment for me but a clear reflection of how most of society thinks—blame someone else and avoid personal ownership, no matter how ignorant.

            But as much as I want to get down on the guy, I have to admit, I do the same thing. I get defensive about my performance as a Christian, as a wife, or as a mother and I make excuses for my behavior. It’s just easier to heap the blame on someone or something else than it is to own my mistakes, short-comings, or outright blatant meltdowns of maturity. Seeing that interview was like seeing my own reflection. I wanted to judge the guy, but I saw his excuses within my own heart. Maybe there are reasons, circumstances, or outside influences affecting my behavior, but in the end, what I say and do is my own choice. How I perform (behave) is my choice, how I respond to adversity is my choice, how I react to conflict is my choice. It boils down to an attitude and response that either attracts or repels others. Squashing pride, owning our choices, and humbly admitting our faults will attract the right attention (and people) in our lives. Making excuses, blaming everything and everyone, and refusing to take personal responsibility will only serve to show our immaturity and pride, while simultaneously poisoning the relationships in our lives. So, let’s all do each other a favor the next time our attitudes and behavior fall short; let’s shut up and own it, and move on.

Keep a Golden Perspective

 

            Dozens of athletes compete in each Olympic event, but only three walk away with hardware around their necks. Over the last two weeks of competition I’ve seen every range of reaction to a given outcome. Some athletes were overjoyed beyond comprehension just to get on that Olympic podium, they didn’t care what color they got, while others had no trouble hiding their disdain over the color of the medal around their necks (think USA women’s hockey medal ceremony—you would have thought that silver medal was battery acid). By far the attitudes of gratitude spoke volumes more to me than the whiny, it’s-not-good-enough looks of resentment. But again, I find myself looking in the mirror, seeing the reflection of my own heart.

            Truth is (I know, it’ll come as a shock, because we all know I’m perfect…) more often than not I have a spiritual attitude of ingratitude. I compare my circumstances (i.e. what medal I’ve received) and gripe about what the other guy got that I deserved. I studied hard, obeyed a lot, and tithed my paycheck, so why didn’t I get God’s golden favor of physical health and material wealth? But alas, in the real world it simply doesn’t work that way. Christianity is not a vending machine religion, where you dial up a result, put in your coins, and know what you’re going to get. You can do everything “right” and still end up as a widow, a grieving parent, or permanently physically handicapped. Our obedience to God, our choice to follow Him and choose to live from Truth guarantees us nothing (as far as circumstances goes) while we’re walking around on this earth (but it does guarantee a whole heck of a lot in eternity!). No, in this world we will have trouble, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have peace at the same time. That’s the promise of a golden perspective. When we keep our eyes focused on Truth we live and breathe the peace that passes all understanding. That other guy can get the gold medal, we’re fine with the bronze, because we know we’ve been promised much more in a time not too far from now. It’s easy to say but hard to practice, yet maintaining a golden perspective is what will determine how we react to the success of others (as well as our own failures).

 

Well, What Do You Expect?

 

            Don’t even get me started on this issue of unmet expectations. Well I guess I got myself started. Anyways, I could easily be the poster child for this problem, but watching the Olympics reassured me that I’m not alone in the fight. As I listened to the announcers talk about the athletes I was left with an expectation of who was going to come away with the shut-out victory. I mean, the way some of these athletes were discussed, you would have thought everyone else should have just forfeited and handed them the medal. But then the competition would begin and whatever the announcers just said seemed, well, foolish. In some ways, it was humorous as the announcers would be just as shocked as everyone watching. But hey, the unpredictability of the games is part of the excitement. On one hand you’ve got an athlete who can scarce believe their own performance and the gold medal they’ve unexpectedly received, and on the other hand you’ve got a gold medal “favorite” sitting in 4th, 5th, or even 30th place, wallowing in disappointment and “what-ifs”.

            If there’s one thing nearly every conversation about disappointment and despair (“I want to quit!”) has in common, it’s the issue of unmet (and often unrealistic) expectations. Someone didn’t respond to us the way we thought they would (or should), the person we thought was our best friend turned out not to be a friend at all, our financial security was blown out of the water with an unexpected job loss, the happily ever after was cut short by a death…on and on we could go. Like it or not we all have expectations of ourselves and others, and when those expectations aren’t met we get grumpy. There’s a little phrase I learned as a kid, “Give all your expectations to God.” I wish I had paid more attention to it, because it could have saved me a lot of depression, despair, hopelessness, self-loathing, bitterness, resentment, hurt feelings, and lost relationships. Sometimes people won’t treat us the way they should, sometimes we won’t treat others the way we should—it happens. One way to avoid the trap of despair (and self-loathing and self-pity and living life as a victim) is to literally release all our expectations to God. One of my favorite quotes is from Charles Stanley, “Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him.”

We have control only of ourselves, our own choices, and our integrity (that is, whether or not we have integrity). So then, the only thing we can reasonably expect is the unexpected. That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, it will be easy, or we should stuff our feelings down when things don’t go as planned, it just means we shouldn’t be surprised by it. Whenever we’re struck with feelings of resentment, hurt, despair, feeling like the world is out to get us, etc. it can likely be traced back to an unmet expectation. Like tracing our steps as we search for our lost car keys, we need to trace the pain back to its source and then give that “source” to God. We can try to manipulate others or our circumstances to fit our expectations, but we will never have peace until we relinquish the idea that we have control over anything other than our own free will.

 

Closing Ceremonies

 

            I actually had a longer list than this but I’m tired of typing and you’re probably falling asleep reading. So I’ll end it here. I hope the next time the Olympics rolls around you’ll watch and look for the lessons, because there are many to be found. So, this is Bob Costas bidding you a good night from Sochi…

Alright, it’s just Rebecca, and I bid you a “thanks” for reading, as well as inviting you to share what lessons you may have learned as you watched (or read about) the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

            A few hours ago a friend and I were musing about the difficulties we’ve experienced in our lives over the past year. “I wonder if God is taking a nap,” may have been uttered. Both of us have been through our fair share of suffering, but if it was a contest I’d have to say she is the winner, hands down. So in a lot of ways I remind myself that as bad as I think my situation is, it’s certainly not as bad as it could be (don’t we all try to make ourselves feel better with that statement?). Our conversation sort of ended with a, “Well, life sucks, time to go take a shower now.”

            As I’ve been doing a lot lately, I stood in the shower after our talk and stared at the wall, thinking, praying, complaining, questioning…and finally I just had to ask, “Why does it have to be like this, God? I mean, why does it have to take thirty years for someone to find out they’ve been married to a monster? Why has it taken me over a year of suffering without any answers or diagnosis? Why, if we have to suffer, can’t it just be quick? Why couldn’t she have found out about her spouse a year into her marriage? Why couldn’t I have gotten a diagnosis last year when this all started instead of being turned away time and again by doctor after doctor? Why, why, why?”

            Of course I know better than to ask “why,” but for some reason I chose to go that route with God anyways. And as it happens when things like this are going on, God has been strangely silent during my prayer times. But this time (maybe He’d heard enough whining?) He chose to speak to me. He said, “What if it’s not about you?” And that was it. He allowed me to stew on that one for a while. So I stood there staring at the walls, having just received a verbal crack upside the heart with a truth so simple yet so profound I couldn’t even respond.

            Then I thought of Job, how he probably suffered more than any human being in the history of humanity (besides Jesus), and how he never had the privilege of knowing the “why” behind his tragedy. Not that he didn’t ask, but God never answered him specifically (at least, not on this side of heaven). And then I think of how many people throughout the course of time have been helped because of Job’s story. How many people have suffered and turned to the pages of that book to find the answer to their “why” only to stumble across chapters 38-42, and realize they probably won’t ever know their “why” either, but somehow gaining a measure of hope from his story.

            Then I think of how much my friend has suffered, and I consider how much my spiritual life has grown just through knowing her, and as a result of watching her suffer. Maybe, just maybe, my suffering isn’t about me at all. You know, we say it all the time (and I hate hearing it, honestly) that “God is just teaching me a lesson right now, I’m trying to listen to what He’s saying” as if God is some cosmic sadist getting some sort of pleasure out of causing us pain, just to teach us a lesson. That is not the God I know from the Bible, my God isn’t a sadist. My God came to give me life to the full (John 10:10), not cause me misery in order to teach me something. But, that doesn’t mean pain or suffering isn’t a part of the process of life, in general. And who am I to presume to know the plans and purposes of God, anyways? How do I know what God is doing in someone else’s life as a result of my suffering? The truth is, I don’t know, and neither do you. We don’t know who is watching us or being ministered to through our pain. We don’t have a clue as to what God is up to about 99% of the time. We only know what we wish He were up to, or what we expect Him to be up to, and most of the time (at least in my experience) he rarely delivers as expected (I find He delivers far better than expected).

            I sit here and think of all the people who have influenced me in my life, and many of those people suffered a great deal. A lot of what God taught me had to do with watching them respond to their circumstances. And all of this gives me pause. Because if my suffering isn’t even about me, that means God is using me for some greater purpose in someone else’s life, even if I’ll never know who, what, or why. Who am I to be used by God? All of a sudden my “why” turns into an “Oh, thank you, God, for choosing me!” Not that I am happy about suffering (who is?) but knowing all of this actually has nothing to do with me gives me some measure of peace within the ugly process of hurting.

            Throughout the past few weeks God has brought a verse to mind repeatedly, and it’s worth noting here, “Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” Ephesians 5:16, NLT. The reality is we are all going to suffer. Some of us will experience great loss. Some of us will die younger than we had thought. Some of us will be considered “Modern day Jobs” by our friends. Some of us won’t really suffer much at all. But one thing we all have in common is that from the moment we take our first breath, we are already beginning the process of losing time and dying. So as William Wallace shares in the movie Braveheart, “All men die, not every man truly lives.”

            Within the process of suffering a pathway to true living exists, through embracing the pain (not with a giddy, happy, la-la kind of feeling, but in an embrace of surrender) and trusting that God is choosing to use us in His master plan in ways we won’t be able to comprehend. That maybe this journey we’re on isn’t even about us, it’s about Him and seeing how intricately he fits the pieces of our puzzles together to bring ultimate life abundant to us and others, all for His glory. Like Joseph was able to say to his brothers, “What Satan meant for harm, God used for good.”

            Then again, maybe none of what I’m saying here makes sense to anyone but me. I don’t know. I just know that at least in my suffering, I am gaining a bit of relief in knowing it’s not about me at all. And I’m finding a way to be thankful in it, even excited about it, because I know God is working something incredible out. And whether I know what it is on this side of heaven or on the other, I will understand it eventually, and when the final picture is brought together, I know I’ll be smiling as Jesus looks at me and says, “It hurt, but it was worth it, don’t you think?” Yeah, it is, Jesus, it is.

The Simplest Answer for Life’s Deepest Problems

It’s no surprise that, for most of us, our lives center around what is being done to us–through circumstances or other people. It almost feels as if we live in a constant state of reactions, rather than responses. Carefully consider the following quote. Read it a few times (I needed to read it several times to completely digest it). Really, if we saw each other the way described, if we treated each other this way, the deepest issues we face would melt away. Life would be about loving, not reacting.

Over the past year God has gifted me with two beautiful women who treat me this way. It is the first time in my life I have ever felt 100% accepted, loved, and like I belong somewhere. The first time in my life. They live out the truths in this quote, and I do my best–through the strength of Christ–to do the same with them. I truly believe this is what has allowed us, despite being deeply sensitive people, to have such a friendship and love for each other. As believers, we should seek this as a standard operating procedure in all relationships, whether with our employers, the homeless guy on the street, or the snooty pharmacist at the grocery store.

There are no ordinary people…

 

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feelings for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latita—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

 

–C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

When Jesus Won’t Fight For You

When Jesus Won’t Fight For You

 

He called me out smack in the middle of the class, thirty or so people staring wide-eyed as I sat there in tears. “It’s easy to ask Jesus to fight for us, isn’t it? Because then it’s His fault when we continue to struggle,” he said.

Just before receiving that verbal slap in the face, I had shared an extremely sensitive situation with Steve—in front of the entire Sunday class. I had confessed dealing with a major temptation, and thoughts of giving in were all-consuming, I felt helpless and overwhelmed. I had spent a great deal of time during the weeks previous begging God to deliver me from the inevitable. At one point I called an old friend and mentor out of desperation and confessed my inner torment. She counseled me, “Girl, you need to get on your knees and give it God. Ask Him to fight for you.”

Well, that sounded good, and that’s what I did. But why wasn’t it working? Tearfully I vomited out my situation to Steve as the class looked on. I told him how I’d been begging God to deliver me; to fight for me, but it just didn’t seem to be working. That’s when he stopped everything and called out the BS in my thinking.

Maybe you’ve heard it before? I know I’ve heard it prayed numerous times over the years, “Oh Jesus, fight for so and so.” I’ve had people pray it over me and I’ve prayed it for others. It sounds great and I had never thought this phrase or prayer was unbiblical until Steve served me a healthy dose of truth that morning.

“Guess what, Rebecca, Jesus already did fight for you—and He won.”

Wait, what?!

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:13-14

Notice the verb tenses used here: has, brought, have, instead of is or bringing. These are all past tense. It’s a done deal.

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Colossians 2:15

“You have been raised with Christ.” Colossians 3:1

“He has reconciled you.” Colossians 1:22

“In Him you were also circumcised…not with the circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ.” Colossians 2:11

“God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:14

Is it sinking in yet? Maybe you should take a few moments to slowly read through the book of Colossians if you’re still in doubt.

The truth is, Jesus fought and won the battle for our freedom on the cross, and the moment we surrendered our life to Christ, inviting Him to take over what we realized we couldn’t do for ourselves (salvation), the war was over. Unfortunately for us, the hardest part is to really believe this truth—that the war was fought and won at the cross. That is where our Enemy comes in and the ball gets put in our court. Jesus says, “I’ve already won. I already fought for you. Now it’s your turn to use the weapons of warfare I’ve provided to resist your Enemy.” You see, Satan will spend the rest of his days trying to convince us we are helpless. And you know what? He’s pretty damn good at it. Just look around—you won’t have to look far to see churches full of lifeless defeated Christians, struggling from day to day just to exist and go through the motions. This, friends, is not the “life to the full” we’ve been promised.

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

Now how exactly can our Enemy steal, kill, and destroy what Jesus has already done? He can’t! But he can deceive us into thinking he can (the devil is a schemer!). And this great illusion by the greatest Counterfeiter of all time is what trips us up. Satan’s ruse is all smoke and mirrors. It’s a mind game, and it’s a good one, one that takes a lot of Christians out entirely through depression, apostasy, suicide, and lukewarm worldliness, among other things.

As children of the God of Angel Armies (The Lord of Hosts) we have been given the authority and responsibility to fight against the Enemy with the weapons Jesus has equipped us with. But this isn’t the crazy whack-a-mole type of violent fight we conjure up in our imaginations. It’s a remarkably motionless fight. Really, it requires a lot of standing around.

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemesPut on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand…be alert and keep on always praying for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:11-18

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. Because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” 1 Peter 5:8-9

Fact: The day of evil is coming. We will be tempted, we will be sought after, and we will be preyed upon. It is an inevitable fact of life if you’re a child of God. And yes, it will suck, it will hurt, and you’ll feel like giving up.

Fact: You do have a responsibility in this. Jesus has already fought and won this war. But the battle for your life continues and is opposed by your enemy. Jesus equipped you to resist these attacks with weapons like the belt of truth, the sword of the spirit, the shield of faith…etc.

Fact: It will be hard. In fact, it will be harder to resist these attacks by standing firm on faith and truth then it will be to give in to the doubt, depression, and defeat of the Enemies lies (“You’re a failure, you’ll never be good enough, you’ll never succeed, God can’t use you, and you’re such a hypocrite, just give up, might as well do what you’ve been doing, change is too hard…”).

Fact: Resisting the Enemy is a choice we all have. We can choose to stand on the word of truth, or listen to the whispers of temptation, shame, and doubt. We can choose to believe that Jesus won this war, or we can choose to keep asking Him to do what he’s already done. Most of our inner struggles boil down to a choice we aren’t making (to believe the truth!).

Fact: When we are being attacked, we will not want to pray. Our spiritual life will be opposed. We will feel as if we have no business talking to God. Things like anger, bitterness, shame, regret, and guilt will interfere and distract our communion with God. This distraction is just that—a distraction. It is not a reality. God has not left us. He has turned his ear from us. He hears us even when the Enemy whispers to us that our prayers are bouncing off the walls. This is why we are admonished to pray without ceasing. Keep talking to Jesus! Continue to pour your heart out to Him! HE IS ALWAYS THERE. Once again, stop asking Jesus to “be with” you or “be with so and so.” This is another one of those prayers He can’t respond to because He’s already answered it! He is always there and He will never leave. Instead, replace such requests with, “Jesus, help me to experience your presence because I know you are with me. Thank you for never leaving me even when the Enemy tries to convince me I am alone.”

Friends, Jesus has already fought for you. Now you get to stand firm on that truth. He has never left you. Ask Him to help you see with new eyes and trust His word with both your head and your heart. Ask Him to align your emotions with the truth and resist the Enemy whenever you are tempted to doubt what you know is true. You have a choice—the ball is in your court. Resist him and he will flee. That is God’s promise to you; now you must choose to stand on it.

___________________________________

Related articles:

If You really Want the World to Change, it Starts with This

Why You Might Need to Stand on Your Head