weapons of self-destruction: shame

Last week we saw Peter tell us that some of our desires wage war against us. Then we saw Rick Warren give a list, by no means complete, of seven destructive thought patterns, and suggest that in Romans 8, Paul of Tarsus gives us a cure for each one. Let’s take a look at one of them.

1. Shame.
This one is rooted in our repeated failure to live successfully. Here’s how Paul of Tarsus described it (notice he’s writing in the first person, present tense):
I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing….[I]n my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Romans 7:18-19, 22-23)

How often, at the end of the day, are you ashamed of the way you handled a situation? How often does your memory remind you of the way you messed something up a year or a decade ago? How does that feel? Are you ashamed of how you acted?

Noted New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce writes, “Paul continues to speak in the first person singular…present [tense]…Paul himself knows what it means to be torn this way and that by the law of his mind which approves the will of God, and the law of sin and death which pulls the other way (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Romans Eerdmans 1963, 150-151).

But then there’s a surprising change. So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death. Romans 8:1-2, New Living Translation 1996. In other words, there’s a way out – a way to freedom from the feeling of being torn because of my inability to consistently do the good I want to do and to avoid the wrong things I repeatedly do. And the way out is not to try harder, to read more books or to attend more seminars – though those might all help somewhat.

Paul continues that the problem, which every human faces, was so serious that it took the willing death of the only perfect human who ever lived. God…sent his own Son in a human body like ours, except that ours are sinful. God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins….[We] no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Romans 8;3-4, New Living Translation 1996

Here’s how the antidote to shame works:
1. God loves you so much that He voluntarily died to set you free of the consequences of all your failure. Have you ever been in a relationship where you feel acceptance and love even with all your imperfections? That’s the picture.

2. God has given us His own Spirit so that you have a new power to respond and act in a more healthy way. Being human, you’ll keep getting it wrong often enough (remember the present tense above) but when you’ve given Jesus control of your life, you continue to get the benefit of His loving sacrifice for you, and of His Spirit to help you do better.

Charles Stanley writes, We are not talking about perfection. In fact, you will hear more apologies from the lips of those who walk by the Spirit than any other group of people….Spirit-filled believers…have their down times. They don’t win every battle. Doubt and temptation take them out of the race from time to time. But their recovery time is remarkably short. They don’t stay down. And once they are back, it’s as if they actually benefited from the experience.” The Wonderful Spirit Filled Life Thomas Nelson 1992, 99

Freedom from shame – even though you’re not perfect and know it! Freedom because you’re loved, you’re rescued, you’re empowered. Freedom even though you know you’ll mess up again tomorrow. How does that sound?

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my desires that wage war against me

Last week we reflected on the Golden Rule. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31.

The Golden Rule is a good start. But is it enough to live a successful life?

Peter says there’s more. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:11. He writes that there are desires and impulses inside us that want to destroy us. In other words, some desires that come naturally to us wage war against us, whether or not they physically harm anyone else.

How is that possible? Rick and Kay Warren, founding pastor couple of Saddleback Community Church, lost a son to mental illness and suicide in 2013. As part of the processing of their grief they put together a teaching series on mental health. In one of those sermons, Rick Warren writes, “Your biggest enemy is not Satan. It’s not the world [that is, people around me,
pressures I face]. It’s you. You are your biggest problem. When you want to run away from your problems…the problem is that you take you with you….

“There are things you do to yourself all the time that damage you, that hurt you, that cause you to self-destruct; that cause you enormous stress, enormous pain, enormous unhappiness and unneeded pressure in your life” “Set Free From Me” Hope For Mental Health, Saddleback Resources, 2015, 1-2.

Rick lists seven “Weapons of Self Destruction:” shame, uncontrolled thoughts, compulsions, fear, hopelessness, bitterness and insecurity.

How many of those mess with the inside of your head?
Did you consciously decide to bring any of those thought patterns into your mind?
Of course not! Each of these comes uninvited. They grow naturally in your head.

And that proves the point Peter makes. There are things that come naturally to us that destroy our peace of mind, our emotional and mental health. In other words, the fact that you’re born with it is of itself no validation. It may come to you naturally and still be very bad for you.

Rick goes on to demonstrate how Romans 8 gives a cure for each of the seven weapons that mess up our thinking and our lives. More on that next time.

For now, here’s God’s plan:
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses could not save us, because of our sinful nature. But God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours, except that ours are sinful. God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins….Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace. Romans 8:1-3, 5-6

Life and peace. Doesn’t that sound better than shame, uncontrolled thoughts, compulsions, fear, hopelessness, bitterness and insecurity?

Life and peace. Available to everyone, a gift from Jesus of Nazareth to those who allow Him to take control of their minds and their lives.

Is it OK to hate someone who is hateful?

Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31

Does the Golden Rule restrict what I can do to people who are nasty? Am I ever allowed to set aside kindness for the satisfaction of giving someone what they deserve?

Luke 4 tells the story of Jesus’ return to his hometown after he had become famous in the surrounding region (Luke 4:14-15). As he spoke, people of his home town, Nazareth, were impressed. All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips (Luke 4:22). Here was a local young man who had done well.

But the mood shifted when Jesus said, ‘I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed – only Naaman the Syrian.’
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. Luke 4:25-30.

What was that all about? Naaman was a general of Syria, or Aram. There is a long, complex history of warfare between Syria and Israel in the times of Elijah and Elisha the prophets. Naaman had at least one Israelite slave who had been captured in a raid (2 Kings 5:2). Naaman was ill. 2 Kings 5 tells the story of how God healed him when he came to Israel, not to raid but to request healing.

The point of Jesus’ words? God loves our enemies. God is willing to show kindness to our enemies. That was not a popular message in Jesus’ day. Is it more popular today?

Catholic writer Richard Rohr quotes Simone Campbell, a nun who lobbies in Washington DC on behalf of the poor:

…we often say that our care for the common good is care for “the 100%” instead of the 99% or the 1%. . . .

My meditation practice has led me to see that God is alive in all. No one can be left out of my care.

It is breaking my heart that some…politicians want to dismantle healthcare and force millions off of healthcare they receive through the Affordable Care Act….It is these members of Congress that I have a difficult time caring about. . . .

However, I find that our position “for the 100%” requires an empathy that stretches my being beyond my imagining. Finding a way to not vilify or divide into “them” and “us” in today’s federal politics goes against . . . current custom. . . .

So my contemplative practice is to attempt to sit open-handed and listen to the “wee small voice” that sometimes whispers ideas and ways forward.

Jesus told his home town audience that God loved the general whose nation invaded Israel – and God healed him! Simone Campbell got Jesus right when she concluded that she needed to love and care for those who are bent on harming the powerless people that she is working to protect.

No, there are no exceptions to the Golden Rule because God loves every person no matter what they’ve done.

panic

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with troubles? David, king and song writer, knew the feeling.
Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.
Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head… Psalm 69:1-4.

What do you do in that situation?
David continued to do what we see him doing; he took his worries to God. It’s called prayer.

As he did that, some amazing things happened in his panic-stricken mind.
1. He came to see that he’d actually caused a lot of the problem himself.
You, God, know my folly;
my guilt is not hidden from you. Psalm 69:5
“The desperate metaphors of inner turmoil and floundering (1,2) give way to…a searching of his conscience (5). Prayer is already doing its work….In using the word folly there is no attempt to pass of misdeeds as mere misjudgments. It is a sin against truth….” Kidner, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72 InterVarsity 1973, 245-6.

2. As he prayed, names of God came to mind. LORD Almighty, may those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me 69:6. Moses received the name LORD (Yahweh, I Am) at the burning bush in Exodus 3-4 when God promised to rescue the Israelite people from slavery. Memory of the story of this wonderful rescue story gave David “strong grounds for encouragement” (Kidner 246).

3. Having remembered God’s love and rescuing power, David was able to say, …answer me, God, at a time you choose. Answer me because of your great love, because you keep your promise to save 69:13, Good News. It’s quite a transition from Save me for the waters have come up to my neck (verse 1) to answer me at a time you choose (verse 13). Focusing on God’s love and rescuing power seemed to make the panic evaporate.

4. And though David agreed that he was at least in part the author of his misfortune, he didn’t beat himself up. The LORD hears the needy and does not despise his captive people 69:33. The fact that you’re in trouble doesn’t necessarily mean that God is angry with you. And the fact that you brought the trouble on yourself doesn’t mean that He abandons you.

Whatever the crisis you face, keep telling God about it. As you stay in touch with Him, reminding yourself in your Bible reading of the stories of His love and His rescuing power, David’s experience was that the panic can evaporate, replaced by calm trust in the loving Creator of the universe.

I really don’t need this right now!

What does the ideal today look like? Does it consist of setting out and achieving your objectives for the day without anything going wrong – no breakdowns, disruptions, conflicts along the way? Is that what the ideal tomorrow looks like too? And the next day, and the one after that?

If so, you may find James a bit surprising:
Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything. James 1:2-4, New Living Translation 1996. The New Revised Standard Version uses even stronger language. My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy. Similarly, the New International Version says: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters….

Really? Troubles and disruptions are an opportunity for joy? Nothing but joy? Pure joy? Not major inconvenience, headache, setback?

Unfortunately, we know James is right, don’t we?

What do we call a child who always get what he or she wants? A spoiled brat?
Do we consider that such a child will succeed in life, having never had to deal with disappointment, reversal of fortune, failure, loss?

James is simply saying that even when we’re adults, the same truth continues to apply. It is through trouble and adversity that we will grow stronger.

Fortunately, the God who lovingly allows trouble to come into our lives doesn’t leave us to figure it out alone.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5

William Barclay writes, “There is a close connection between [verses 5
to 8] and what has gone before. James has just told his readers that, if they use all the testing experiences of life in the right way they will emerge from them with that unswerving constancy which is the basis of all the virtues. But immediately the question arises, ‘Where can I find the wisdom and the understanding to use these testing experiences in the right way?’ James’ answer is, ‘If a man feels that he has not the wisdom to use aright the experiences of this life – and no man in himself possesses that wisdom – let him ask it from God.
’” Barclay, Daily Study Bible: James and Peter Welch 1976, 45.

God doesn’t send us a trouble-free life, but we don’t have to figure it out alone. Like a loving parent, God will also give, to those who ask for it, the wisdom to know how to handle the reversals and frustrations of life. It’s not an easy ride through life, but it’s still a friendly universe.

How does that feel?

your imagination isn’t nearly big enough

Are you ever amazed by someone’s imagination? For example, the imagination that dreamed up the structure of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, or the imaginations that created entire fantasy worlds like the world of Lord of the Rings (Tolkein) or Narnia (C.S. Lewis). I know those minds amaze me.

No matter how active someone’s imagination, it’s not big enough for one thing. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church in in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20, 21, New Revised Standard Version.

What do you think about the fact that there’s a power at work within a Jesus follower that’s able to accomplish more than the Jesus follower can ask or imagine?

First of all, you can read about that power in the first chapter of Paul’s letter (1:13-14, 17-24). Among other things, this power raised Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20).

Second, think about those words “abundantly far more”. New Testament scholar David Ewert writes this is the translation of a word Paul of Tarsus made up (The Body of Christ, the Church Heartbeat 2004, 87). It means “’superabundantly’ ‘vastly more,’ ‘immeasurably more,’ ‘infinitely more.’ There simply is no limit to the power of God at work in us.” Ewert, 87.

Ewert goes on to quote John R. Stott with reasons why, including the following:
– “he is able to do what we ask, for he hears and answers our prayers”
– “he is able to do all that we ask or think, for he can perform it all”
– “he is able to do more than all we can ask or think, for his expectations are higher than ours”
– “he is able to do much more than we can ask or think, for he does not give his grace in calculated measure”
– “he is able to do very much more than we can ask or think, for he is the God of superabundance” Ewert 87.

For all that you need, God is able to work it out.

How should you pray to a loving God (Ephesians 1:4-5) who is able to do vastly more than you or I can imagine? Should you tell that loving, all-powerful God what the solution is and tell that loving, all-powerful God to please get moving on fulfilling your request?

Or should you come to that loving God, who is able to do vastly more than you can imagine, and say as Jesus did in Gethsemane on the night He was arrested, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done”? (Luke 22:42)

Do you really want to let your imagination limit what your loving God, who is able to do vastly more than you can imagine, can do to solve the problem?

the manger and the sword

A week before Christmas Elvira, one of our church decorators, asked me, “What do you think about putting a sword in the Christmas display on Christmas Eve?”

Having thought about it I told Elvira, “It makes sense Biblically. First of all there’s the Matthew 2:13-18 story of King Herod’s killing of the babies in Bethlehem. Then there’s Simeon’s prophecy to Mary when Jesus was 8 days old, ‘…and a sword will pierce your soul’ (Luke 2:35). I told Elvira also of my concern that a child might take that sword off the nativity display and start swinging it.

On December 23 after the Sunday service, an inflatable sword appeared, towering over the Nativity Scene. It was quite striking, seemingly out of place with the tranquil scene.

On Christmas Eve before the service I saw Grace, the other church decorator, blowing up the sword. She told me she’d found it deflated. She then placed it again behind the Nativity Scene.

During one of the items in the program the sword suddenly shifted and leaned against Joseph. The sword was again losing air.

Then the choir stood to sing and filled the stage, obscuring my view of the Nativity display. When the choir sat down, the sword had lost so much air that it was flopped right over Joseph.

This, it occurred to me, was visual poetry illustrating the sermon I was about to preach on Galatians 4:4-5. But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children (New Living Translation).

What made it the right time for Jesus to be born?

1)The nation into which He was born had lost its independence to a brutal foreign occupier.

2) The governor, Herod, was a paranoid man who murdered anyone who seemed to him a threat to his position, including 3 sons, his wife and his mother-in-law (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible: Matthew Vol. 1, Welch 1975, 29).

3) Jesus’ mom had conceived him out of wedlock. Middle Eastern scholar Kenneth E. Bailey writes that there would have been in the village of Nazareth “forces that no doubt wanted her stoned….Why did Joseph take Mary with him to Bethlehem for the registration? The easiest explanation is that he was unsure what might happen to her if he left her in Nazareth without his presence to protect her” (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes InterVarsity 2008, 46).

4) Not long after the child’s birth the local ruler Herod issued an order for the death of the child (Matthew 2:16), necessitating Joseph, Mary and Jesus becoming refugees.

How is it the right time for a child to be born when the governor wants to murder the child, when the child and his family are refugees and when the family is ostracized in the home village, thus lacking community support?

An answer from Kenneth Bailey, one from the author of Hebrews and one from the Christmas story itself:

1) Bailey writes, “How do people retain their faith under [the horrors of modern
war]? One answer is that they remember both the Christmas story and the cross. A mindless, bloody atrocity took place at the birth of Jesus. After reading that story, the reader is not caught unawares by the human potential for terror that shows its ugly face again on the cross.” (Bailey 58)

2) …we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16. Jesus experienced great trouble during His life on earth. He understands what you and I go through, and is willing and able to help us overcome our own troubles when we ask Him.

3) When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him’ (Matthew 2:13). The sword didn’t win. It didn’t accomplish its objective in Bethlehem because God is stronger than human evil. It didn’t win 33 years later because God took all that hatred on Himself, died to pay the penalty for it and then rose from the dead to prove His death was sufficient to break the power of all that evil and to reconnect with Divine Life. The sword did not win. And that’s the beauty of the deflated sword flopped over on top of the Nativity scene.

Postscript: On Christmas Day I received the following text message from my daughter, who with her family had been in the service where the sword flopped over:

We are watching an animated retelling of the nativity story and Beth [5 ½ years old] was scared at the soldiers in Bethlehem part. Then it cut to the scene when Joseph has the dream warning him to go to Egypt and she yelled “I know what happens! The sword didn’t win! Just like we heard yesterday!”

Then a minute later, a follow-up text message:

The cousins are having a discussion on why King Herod wanted the baby Jesus dead and Beth continues to repeat that ‘the sword did NOT WIN!’