Thursday, June 27, 2019

My Testimony

I am currently helping our church (Vineyard Community Church Pomona/Claremont) to start a new Celebrate Recovery program. We have been meeting as a group of leaders for several months and had a "soft launch" in June. Our "hard launch" is scheduled for 2 weeks from today. I am very excited to see the depth of commitment to recovery in our leaders and to hear the significant transformation in so many lives. Tonight I will get to share my own testimony. So, I thought I would write it out briefly here.

For many years, I viewed my childhood through rose-colored glasses. That is, until I took a class called "Personal Growth" at the Anaheim Vineyard in about 1986. It was taught by then-intern John Mumford. (John now heads the International Consortium of Vineyard Churches).

John encouraged us to think about our relationships with authority figures. It was then I realized that I really didn't have relationships with anyone in authority. I went through University avoiding meeting professors. I would have the impulse to just go up and meet them after a lecture. But as a line of students formed,  I would have an internal script play that sounded something like this: "He's too busy for me. I don't really have anything important to say. Maybe next week."

Julianne and I would also visit churches and, after the sermon, I wanted to meet the pastor, but then I would have the same script play inside of me: "He's too busy for me. I don't really have anything important to talk about." It never occurred to me that they would want to actually just meet me--little old me.

I realized that my relationship with my own father had affected how I related to authority figures. And this even spilled over into my relationship with God. He felt distant and not really that interested in my day-to-day life. My prayer life was affected.

My dad had not gotten what he needed when he was little. You see, my grandfather had died when my father was only 4 1/2 years old. So, he felt rather distant from everything "family" compared to my mother's side. So, my own father did not really have the tools to initiate relationship with me, or to tell me he loved me, or to include me in fatherly things around the house, like working on the car. And being a kid, I didn't conclude that my father had "stuff" to work on. Instead, I concluded that there must be something wrong with me. I was not worthy of dad's time and attention.

That is a basic "shame" message. And I learned it very well.

So, I compensated for that core shame by becoming an achiever. I got good grades. I became president of clubs at school. I starred in theater productions and loved the attention and the applause. I felt good for about 5 minutes after the applause died down. Then I started to wonder if I was really good, after all.

And I found out that when I was feeling sad or anxious or bad about myself, I could use sweets to comfort myself. And they were very effective for a short period of time. And they had the unintended effect of packing on weight. I have lost thousands of pounds in my life on diets (the same pounds again and again).

Then, in 1989, as I was helping Julianne teach a group that became "Christian Adults in Recovery" (CAIR), I realized that I had all of the traits of codependency. And I realized that I needed to spend time recovering from what I now call "subtle neglect." It seems that it is much easier to realize we are broken when we can point to overt abuse in our childhood. But it is much harder to realize the painful and damaging affects of neglect.

Pain results from getting what we didn't need--or from not getting what we did need. And I experienced much more of the latter.

So, my recovery has been focused much more on getting in touch with the pain of neglect and the dysfunctional ways that I compensated for that pain. For me, it has been overeating and codependency, or what I call "approval addiction."

And when I became a pastor, my "stuff" seemed to become amplified as I began to be the recipient of other peoples' authority-figure expectations. My need for recovery became even more acute as I entered the ministry. And I knew that I had to face my issues so that I did not end up working out my stuff on the very people who were coming to me as a pastor. I have not done that perfectly and I have probably hurt people (for that I apologize).

And for all of this, God has provided the body of Christ for our healing. "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (Jas. 5:16).

Healing happens as we get together with other hurting people in safe and confidential groups and we share honestly about our past and what is really happening on the inside. The guidelines for small group sharing should be designed so that, in response, we receive unconditional love, acceptance and positive regard.

As my longtime friend, Linda Salladin, used to say: "Go where the love is; not where it should be."

Are you needing a safe place to work on your stuff? Check out a Celebrate Recovery program near you or get something going in your faith community. Or attend any one of thousands of support groups. Or do what I also did, pay for good therapy. It will all help build a life of wholeness, maturity and wisdom. And then begin to give it away to others who are hurting. You won't regret it.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Slow to Anger

We recently got a new German Shepherd puppy named Zena. She is as cute as a button, but a bundle of energy. She's teething, so she is constantly nipping at things around her, including my hand. Despite a pile of chew-toys to chews from (yuck, yuck), she keeps latching on with her mouth to everything else in her sphere of influence, including the edges of furniture, area rugs and my shoes.

I just spent 7 months sleeping downstairs on the sofa, attending to our last dog, Kyra, who was getting so arthritic that I needed to be her nurse-maid through the night. We had to make the decision a couple months ago to "put her to sleep." I have to admit that I was not really ready to raise a puppy again (this will be our 5th German Shepherd). But here we are doing it one more time.

Why do I bring this up? Because I have been experiencing some moments of intense anger. You see, puppies need a lot of correction. They don't understand what it is you are telling them to do. Remember what the Peanuts cartoon characters heard when adults talked to them? The sound of a muted trumpet, "Whah, whah, whah..."

So when I want some "me" time and Zena wants to pee on the rug, or chew on my pant leg, or do any number of puppyish things, I find myself more than annoyed. My anger is palpable. And the anger in my correcting "Off!" or "No!" is a little more intense than might be normal. And I yank her leash a little harder than is necessary.

Where does all that anger come from? She is just a puppy being a puppy. She doesn't deserve to be yelled at. She doesn't deserve such a strong yank on her leash.

As James says, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires" (Jas. 1:19-20).

Anger is perhaps one of the most commonly felt emotions. Yet, we are often not equipped to deal with it. James is not saying, "Don't be angry." That would be impossible. He is saying that we are called to be like God Himself, who is often described throughout the Old Testament as "slow to anger" as when He revealed Himself to Moses, "and he passed in front of him proclaiming, 'Yahweh, Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness'" (Ex. 34:6).

Anger is what I call a "secondary" emotion. That is, it is usually masking an underlying vulnerable emotion. For instance, when the puppy ignores me and does her thing, I feel powerless and weak. Anger then jumps up to give me the power, through the release of adrenaline in my body, to act. It is called the "fight or flight mechanism." I like to add the word, "freeze." Adrenaline gives me the power to fight the thing that is making me feel weak, to run away, or I may actually freeze in place.

So, since I can't run away, I feel the "fight" mechanism get released. As a result, I raise my voice or yank on the leash.

Jesus felt angry too. You see, even though He is fully divine, He is also fully human. But Jesus did not hurt others when He felt angry. For instance, when the Pharisees showed the hardness of their hearts in the synagogue, "[Jesus] looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored" (Mark 3:5). Jesus' anger resulted in healing the man with the withered hand.

The goal of Christian transformation is to become more and more like Jesus, the Son of God. He is "slow to anger." That is, His anger does not lash out capriciously to hurt others. God's anger burns against the sin of mankind, which is really a rejection of His love and grace. Yet, mankind is not destroyed. God is slow to express that anger. Instead, He reserved it for the day that Jesus was nailed to the cross. Then the righteous wrath of God was poured out on Him.

God is right now offering forgiveness for sin because Jesus took the wrath upon Himself on the cross. Our part is to respond by placing our faith, our trust, in Him.

And when we feel angry with others in the body of Christ, Paul tells us to work as soon as possible to resolve it. Unresolved anger leaves a foothold for the enemy to sew discord in the body. "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 'In your anger do not sin:' Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Eph. 4:25-27).

Are you struggling with inappropriate bursts of anger? Or are you harboring anger against your brothers or sisters? Let Jesus into those vulnerable places in order to be healed. Receive His patience and His attribute of being slow to anger. Speak the truth to your neighbor and resolve the anger before it becomes an entry-point for the enemy into your relationships and into the church.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What Is The Fear of the Lord?

Quite a few years ago, I was leading worship every three weeks in my former church. Casey Corum of Vineyard Music had written a song about "The Fear of the Lord." The chorus was very simple, "Teach me the fear, the fear of the Lord..." 

My wife and I really liked the song and did it a couple of times at church. One week we were rehearsing the song with the band for Sunday. I sensed a less than enthusiastic response from the rest of the band when we worked on it. So I asked what they thought of the song and all of them said that they didn't like it. I was shocked. I thought it was deep, profound and the tune was good.

But the band members did not like the idea of singing about the "fear" of the Lord. To them, it was too much of a bummer to think of being afraid of God.

But is that what this phrase really means?

A very common expression in the Old Testament is "The Fear of the Lord." This is especially true in the Wisdom books, especially Psalms and Proverbs.

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, 
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Pro. 9:10).

One of the ways we can understand the meaning of various Hebrew words is to see how they are used in poetry. You can tell you are reading poetry because the phrases are given a separate line in most of our translations, instead of being written in prose paragraphs. For instance, all of Psalms and Proverbs are poetic. And Hebrew poetry is constructed around the concept of "parallelism." That is, two lines are conveying parallel thoughts and often the words and phrases in the first line are mirrored in the second line.

The two lines can be either restating the same idea or contrasting that idea with an opposite. And sometimes the parallelism becomes more subtle and sophisticated. The purpose of this blog is not to give an exhaustive teaching on Hebrew poetry, but to show the meaning of "The Fear of the Lord."

For instance, in Proverbs 9:10 quoted above, the first line is parallel in meaning to the second line. "wisdom" and "understanding" are both in the same position and therefore are referring to the same concept. "The fear of the Lord" is in the same position as "knowledge of the Holy One." To know God is to understand that He is awesome in power and to be treated with respect. 

In other places, fear of the Lord is in parallel to the ideas of "honor, respect, reverence." 

To enter the presence of God is to enter the presence of the Highest Power in the Universe. Someone who recognizes that will be mindful of their humble and weak state relative to God's glory. One might tremble in the presence of such power. One of the little discussed names of God is related to this concept: "The Fear of Isaac" (Gen. 31:53).

If I were invited to meet the President of the United States in the Oval Office, no matter who is currently holding that office, I would prepare myself beforehand and would be mindful of my lowly position. I would be respectful, full of honor and reverence for the office. Should we not also act that way when approaching the Creator of the Universe?

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him" (Luke 12: 4-5). God is the only one who fills this description. Yet just a few verses later, Jesus says, "Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (Luke 12: 6).

So therein lies the key. If you belong to God, you do not need to be afraid. You are "accepted in the beloved" (Eph. 1:6 KJV). Yet, you should exhibit reverence, honor and respect for God because of who He is and because of who you are relative to Him. "Teach me the fear, the fear of the Lord..."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Offense of the Cross

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14: 6).

What is your reaction to this verse? It says a lot about where you are relative to Jesus.

Some people might think, "I am so glad that I know Jesus! He is the one who ushers me into a relationship with His Father. And through this relationship, I am ushered into eternal fellowship with both the Father and the Son." Thus, their reaction is one of hope, joy and peace.

Other people might think, "How arrogant of Christians to think that only they are right. This is the height of pride and intolerance." Thus, their reaction is one of indignance, rejection and offense.

These two reactions stand at the heart of the great divide that Jesus Himself provoked while He was here on earth and that continues throughout this age.

"Do not suppose I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--a man's enemies will be the members of his own household'"(Matt. 10: 34-36). In other words, there is a division that is created when Jesus places the option to believe or not to believe in front of people. And even households will be divided by this.

"But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John 12: 32).

Jesus was lifted up on the cross as a kind of banner that rallies all of humanity to Himself. Those who look to the cross with eyes of faith are saved. Those who look at the cross, but do not believe, are left in their existing state.

"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life...Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" (John 3: 14-15, 18).

The "snake in the desert" refers to a story in the book of Numbers. The people were being plagued by snake-bites that were fatal. As a cure, God instructed Moses: "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live. So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived" (Numbers 21: 8-9). This image of a bronze snake became the symbol of medicine.

To "look at the bronze snake" indicates more than receiving the image of the snake on the back of your retina. When someone was bitten, they needed to believe that looking at the bronze snake held promise of salvation. Implied in looking at the bronze snake is the idea that one was looking with faith in God's provision for their healing.

And the picture of the bronze snake on a pole is a beautiful illustration of Jesus on the cross. He actually "became sin" (2 Cor. 5: 21) for us on the cross. When we look to Jesus by faith, lifted up on a cross, bearing all the weight of sin in Himself for us, we are saved.

When Jesus was crucified, there were two condemned thieves also crucified on each side of him. One of them looked to Jesus and believed He was the Messiah, the Son of God, who was bearing the penalty for sin as He hung there. He placed His faith in Him. And Jesus told him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23: 43). The other thief mocked Jesus and did not look to him in faith. All of humanity is summarized in these two criminals.

Back to our original question, how do you react to Jesus' claim that He is the only way to the Father? If you are in the "joy" category, it is because you have grasped that it is a question of who Jesus is, not which religion is right. If you are in the "indignant" category, then you see the question as a religious question of who's right.

It all boils down to the person of Jesus, Himself. He is the unique Son of God who came to do for us what only He could do, die for the sins of humanity in order to bring us to God the Father. No other person in all of human history has made such a claim. And because His claim is so radically challenging, it divides all of humanity into two camps: those who look to Him in faith, and those who are offended by His claims.

On what side of the cross do you stand?

Friday, April 27, 2018

Addiction and Recovery

"My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water"
(Jer. 2: 13).

Jeremiah's prophecy to Israel was directed at their constant temptation towards idolatry and away from total dependence on Yahweh, the God of Israel. The false idols of the surrounding pagan world were broken cisterns. And this problem describes perfectly the issues that lie at the heart of addiction, and indeed, the problem of sin itself.

A cistern was a kind of well. Essentially a huge jar was buried in the ground and filled with water to be used as an oasis and source of water in arid climates.

Imagine that you have been traveling in the desert and arrive at a cistern to water your flocks and take a long drink yourself--only to find that the cistern is broken and all the water has leaked out of it. The thing that promised to be a source of life may actually kill you since you now have to try to find another source of water. Will you make it to another cistern in time?

Gerald G. May, M.D. wrote a wonderful book, Addiction and Grace. In this book, he notes that we are all made by our Creator with a desire to attach to Him and that, ultimately, all of our other desires will be fulfilled only through that attachment. Addiction is the forming of an attachment to a substance or behavior in the hopes that it will "scratch the itch" that naturally exists whenever we are not connected to God. The substance or behavior is a broken cistern that cannot hold water. But we keep going to it, ignoring the source of true living water, in hopes that our thirst will be quenched.

Addiction itself is a perfect picture of sin and how it works to undermine our attachment to God. God stands by, the true source of living water. As Jesus said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him" (John 7: 37-38). But instead, we keep going to alcohol, drugs, food, work, TV, gambling, exercise, approval, etc. hoping to find our desire fulfilled. All of these things are broken cisterns.

This reveals the brilliance of the first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. First we must acknowledge our desperate helplessness to save ourselves. Then we must acknowledge that God exists and has the power to rescue us. Finally, we must surrender to Him, rather than struggle against the addiction. It is only in surrendering to God that we get in touch with the source of true living water that will satisfy our deepest desires.

Are you struggling with an unhealthy attachment to a "broken cistern?" Why not admit your powerlessness, acknowledge God's ability to meet your needs and surrender to Him today? It would also be helpful to get connected in a community of recovery people and lovers of Jesus who can help keep you coming to the spring of living water.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Jesus and Culture

"...but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength" (1 Cor. 1: 23-25).

Have you been feeling the huge shift in culture that has been going on in America in the last half-century? The predominant worldview in the West has been moving in two directions, and both of them are away from God.

On the one hand, secularism has largely taken over the education system and media. Whereas the Bible used to be revered, quoted and used for source material, it is currently pushed away and replaced with scientific rationalism. (Sometimes pseudo-scientific rationalism.)

On the other hand, this God-vacuum that has been created has been filled with all kinds of other spiritualities, anything but Christianity. As G. K. Chesterton is credited with saying, "When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything."

Paul and the disciples of his time brought the Good News of Jesus Christ to a similarly divided world. The Pagan cultures based in Hellenism thought that the message was foolishness. How could God become a man (since they believed that the material world was inherently inferior to the spiritual world)? Thus, when Paul presented the Gospel to the Pagan philosophers at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17), he was met with a rather tepid response. They sneered at the idea of a resurrection. "Why would someone, once freed from the flesh, want to be raised in a physical body? How could anyone worship a God thus en-fleshed?" The idea of the Gospel sounded foolish to them.

But the Jews of Paul's day also rejected the Gospel. In their thinking, Jesus failed when He went to the cross. How could the One Almighty God go through such humiliation and death? The Gospel appeared to be too weak to them. They were expecting a powerful Messiah to appear on earth, the heir of David's throne, who would suppress all opposition to God in order to re-establish the Kingdom (read Israel) on earth again. They rejected the idea of Messiah as a "suffering Servant of Yaweh." 

So what are we to do? Let us join with Jesus, taking up our own cross, and follow Him. The church is called to be a culture that looks foolish and weak, yet within it is contained the wisdom of God and the power of God to transform lives. This is the Culture of Jesus Followers, which runs counter to the Cultures of This World. 

And let us embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is able to save all who believe. "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith'" (Rom. 1:16-17).

The recent passing of Billy Graham should challenge all believers to take up the torch of evangelistic zeal that he bore for over half-a-century. Let us not be ashamed of looking different than the world. Let us embrace the culture of the Kingdom, the culture of the Gospel, the culture of Jesus.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Manifestation Gifts of the Spirit

In 1 Cor. 12: 7-11, Paul lists nine "manifestation gifts."

"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good..." (vs. 7).

These are specifically supernatural endowments by the Spirit that, when given, reveal His presence in our midst. The word used here is phanerosis. The root of the word is phanos, which means "light" or "lamp." So, it is a revealing of something that was hidden.

Imagine it this way: whenever a believer is present, the Holy Spirit is also present but hidden from our senses, like a lamp with a shade that completely covers the light. When the Holy Spirit decides to act through the believer, he imparts a charisma, that is, a gift (or what Dr. Russell Spittler called a grace-let). The believer is like a conduit to impart that grace-let in a way that blesses someone else. When that happens, it is like lifting the lampshade to reveal the light.

Paul never uses the word charismata (gifts) in the technical way we do today. Biblically, the charismata refer to more than just this list and more than just supernatural endowments. For instance, in another part of this same book, Paul refers to the ability to be celibate or married as charismata. "But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that" (1 Cor. 7: 7). However, this list describes a kind of charismata which I refer to as The Manifestation Gifts.

The writer of Hebrews uses another word for gift, doron, which refers to a parcel given to me. "God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will" (Heb. 2:4). But it still supports the same idea of God distributing supernatural impartations.

I organize the nine manifestation gifts in three groups:
1)  The Revelation Gifts--Word of Knowledge, Word of Wisdom, Discerning of Spirits;
2)  The Speaking Gifts--Prophecy, Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues;
3)  The Power Gifts--Gifts of Healings, Workings of Miracles, Gift of Faith.

Notice that through all these gifts, the church is empowered to SEE supernaturally, SPEAK supernaturally and ACT supernaturally.

A survey of the book of Acts shows that these kinds of manifestation gifts were evident through the church throughout its early expansion. Luke, like the writer of Hebrews, loves the term "signs, wonders and miracles." It was the manifestation of the Holy Spirit through believers in the early church that was like the uncovering of a lampshade to reveal the presence of God Himself. The manifestation of God's presence in this way confirmed the validity of the Gospel message and brought conviction. "God also testified to [the Gospel] by signs, wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit..."

"So Paul and Barnabus spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders" (Acts 14:3).

Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal His presence through you
to those around you?