The Blessings of a Long Battle, part 4

boxing3

In thinking about this final installment about how God can bring much good out of our protracted struggle with sin, weakness, or a problem, it dawned on me how important it is to see the Big Picture. In some ways this post reiterates truths in part 2 of this series, but also adds important new dimensions to those truths and explores new territory.

When a soldier goes through boot camp, it’s crucial for him or her to see the overall purpose of his training–the Big Picture. He or she is being pushed and tested in different ways to the extreme so that they will be prepared for any situation on the battlefield, won’t crack under pressure, and will be a team player.

In the conquest of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership, the nation of Israel experienced many victories over different hostile nations. However, Judges 3:1–4 says that God did not allow the Israelites to completely triumph but left certain enemies in the land (e.g., the Philistines) so that his chosen people would learn warfare.

When we became Christians, God could have put us in a cocoon of protective grace where we would be insulated from our three primary enemies–the world, the flesh, and the devil–but he didn’t so that we would also learn warfare.

If he would’ve sheltered us from the battle, we would end up like many “trust fund babies,” who, because of their vast inherited wealth, never have to work a day in their lives. They’re protected from the toil and struggle of life and never have to worry about paying the rent or the electric bill.

Often there is something profoundly missing in their lives: many are spoiled, shallow, and have not been battle–tested. Perhaps God designed an existence where we battled the world, the flesh, and the devil so that we would not end up becoming spiritual trust fund babies.

Macarius was a great monk who composed the Macarian Homilies in the 4th century. He was convinced that, if after becoming Christians, we were protected in a cocoon of grace from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, many of us would soon become conceited and fall as Satan fell. Instead of a three steps forward, two steps back grind that life often is, we would have a series of unbroken successes and become lifted up in pride and fall like Lucifer did.

In seeing the big picture, nothing is more important than understanding that God the Father through the Holy Spirit has been preparing a Bride for his Son in a Marriage that will span eternity. He wants you to be a part of that Bride. The Father wants the Bride to fervently love the Groom.

There is no love without free choice. If we would’ve been protected from the enemies of our soul, and choosing the Groom was exquisitely easy or even automatic, where’s the love that has been tested in the furnace of affliction? Like any spouse, Christ wants to be chosen. If we were automatons or even semi–automatons, where’s the love in that?

When we are in a long struggle with sin or weakness, it is because we have become over–attached to some created thing. Addiction is over–attachment in the extreme (e.g., overeating, alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, power, work, shopping, etc.)

Christ the Uncreated One wants to be chosen over all the created things. Christ the Groom wants to stand in the midst of all his competitors–i.e. created things–and have the Bride choose him. One of the blessings then of a long battle is this: it’s the vehicle whereby we choose Christ as our Groom, as our only lover.

Does that love somehow go away if you’re a Christian who is up to your eyeballs in sin, addiction, and weakness? If anything God loves you more after you fall, because where sin abounds, grace abounds more. And as the old religious cliché tells us, he loves us in our sin and loves us too much to leave us there.

 *

Jonathan

Check out Jonathan’s own site at http://www.openheavensblog.com/.

 

The Blessings of a Long Battle, Part 3

boxing2

From Jonathan Coe’s website at http://www.openheavensblog.com/. Thank you gracious brother! (I’m so glad you are my friend.)

As I look over the last two posts on the blessings of a long battle, I’m reminded of what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians about the importance of not being ignorant concerning the schemes of Satan (II Corinthians 2:11). After reading those posts, I realized a word of balance was needed in discussing the relationship of formulaic Christianity to spiritual practices lest the devil distort the truth to his advantage.

Both posts encouraged the believer to move beyond canned formulas to a restful trust in and radical dependence on Christ. A common formula for someone who finds themselves in a protracted struggle with sin, weakness, or some thorn in the flesh is “Read the Bible, pray, and attend church and that will solve your problem.”

These are wonderful spiritual practices but the problem is that people begin to trust in the formula more than the Person who can heal their inner leper. The formula can become a religious idol.

The biblical view of spiritual practices (prayer, Scripture study, church attendance, fellowship, fasting, meditation, and the sacraments) is that they are both avenues of renewal and bridges to intimacy with the Living God. They are sacramental; they are a means of grace.

Christ is the Vine; we are the branches. One of the primary ways that the branches stay connected to the Vine is through spiritual practices. That is how we abide in him and apart from abiding in him, we can do nothing.

This next part is crucial, and, if you only get one thing out of this post, this is it: when the believer gets frustrated enough to forsake impotent formulas, the devil’s primary agenda then is to get that person to forsake authentic, life–giving spiritual practices too.

That’s why the Christian should ask for wisdom every day so that he or she can tell the difference between the two. Satan is more than happy to allow us to forsake the false as long as we don’t replace it with the real.

It’s part of the human condition that, in our anger and frustration, we often throw out the wheat with the chaff. And a person who is involved in a long, difficult battle is going to need all the grace–filled spiritual practices they have time for!

I’m convinced that when the devil sees a believer, who is involved in a long battle, leave anemic formulas and begin to become engaged in regular, soul–nourishing spiritual practices, it fills him with uncontrollable rage. He will come to that Christian with many false voices in an effort to separate the branch from the Vine. Here’s a small sampling:

  • “ You tried this religious stuff before and you still have the same addiction/weakness/problem. What makes you think it’s going to work this time?”
  • “If you have your quiet time with God in the morning when you don’t feel like it, you’re being a phony. You should only do it when you feel like it.”
  • “If your quiet time with God becomes a regular thing, it will become a dead religious ritual. You don’t want to become legalistic. Keep things spontaneous. Just do it when your heart moves you to do it.”
  • “Regular spiritual practices aren’t the real you. You can find God in every day life without them in a way that fits your personality.”
  • “You’re a person of action not of contemplation. You get things done without all this navel–gazing and spiritual stuff.”

These are just a few plays out of the devil’s playbook. May God give us the discernment to recognize his voice and the wisdom to reject his counsel.

Reposted from http://www.openheavensblog.com/. Thank you Jonathan for your great teaching.

The Blessings of a Long Battle, part 2

brutal-boxing

 “Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it; where there is no struggle, there is no virtue.”   John of Kronstadt

Part 1 of this post highlighted how God can bring good out of a long struggle with a sin, weakness, and/or problem by helping the Christian make the transition from putting their faith in formulas (e.g., “Do these three things and your problem will go away”) to a restful trust in Christ. Again, no sane Christian advocates habitual sin but the benefits of a protracted battle are numerous:

(1)  After a long battle, in making the transition from formulas to faith in God, a new brokenness develops in the believer. They’ve come to the end of themselves, run out of “self–effort fuel”, and are beginning to learn what Christ meant when he said, “…apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

(2) During a long battle with sin or weakness, there is a pattern of falling down and getting up. Proverbs 24:16 says that a righteous man falls seven times but keeps rising again. In this process many Christians report that a new intimacy has emerged in their relationship to God. They’ve come to know the God of mercy and compassion as never before because they’ve been repeatedly forgiven after their many stumbles.

(3) “He who is forgiven much loves much.” Along with a new intimacy, a greater love for God can also develop, after a long battle, because we’ve been forgiven over and over.

(4) And since God has extended his tender mercies to us over and over, we then can extend his mercy and compassion to others who have a protracted struggle with some issue. If our heart is right, a long battle can inoculate us from self–righteousness and judgmentalism in relation to others who fall over and over. How can we not extend to them the same grace that God extended to us?

In extending this grace to others, we may become a wounded healer to them. The healing we received from Christ during our struggle is graciously passed on those often struggling with similar issues. Healing emerges from your wounds just as resurrection emerges from death.

(5) After a war, the soldier of Christ often emerges battle–tested and wise to the schemes of the enemy. If a person has been pulled down into the dust 27 different ways by the devil, then, if he or she is paying attention, they’ve learned 27 strategies the enemy of our soul uses to try to destroy us.

In Twelve Step programs, one often hears the acronym H.A.L.T. mentioned in discussing relapse back into addiction. These four letters stand for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired and emphasize how these conditions create fertile soil for relapse.

If you frame the issue a different way, these are four strategies the devil uses to bring us back into bondage. How was this acronym learned? By people relapsing over and over when these conditions were present. Recovering people became wise through their failures in their long battle with addiction.

*

Jonathan

posted from http://www.openheavensblog.com/

Healing the Wound of Rejection — by Jonathan Coe

 

When a child is born into the world, often the first face they see is a doctor or nurse followed by their mother and father. Then in their early years and all the years before they leave home, they will see their parents’ faces probably more than anyone else. Single–parent homes will add a different dynamic to this experience.

Over the years their parents’ faces will communicate different emotions to them. In an emotionally healthy family, lots of love, acceptance, sense of belonging, respect, and appreciation will be communicated. In an unhealthy family, just the opposite, or a confusing mixture of false and true messages, will be communicated and will leave the child with the wound of rejection.

The wound of rejection has to be one of the most difficult wounds to heal. It occurs not only in parent–child relationships, but also in husband–wife, sibling, peer, employer–employee, and  priest/pastor–flock relationships. It cuts deep because it communicates to the person not that they are doing something wrong, but that there is something wrong with them.

The face they see in their mind’s eye tells them that they are defective, second-rate, not good enough, and unlovable. For many this face, and its false messages will plague them the rest of their lives.

It would be foolish for me to try to pretend to solve a complex problem like this in one blog post. However, it is not foolish for someone like me, who has also felt the sting of rejection, to try to provide a helpful beginning.

For starters, one thing that helped me was to realize that the person(s) who rejected me didn’t reject me because I was inherently unlovable; they rejected me because they didn’t have the wherewithal, inner resources, or ability to love me like I needed to be loved. It wasn’t about me; it was about them. Embracing this truth, for many people, can be the beginning of healing.

Another thing that helped me was contemplative prayer. Now when many people hear the words “contemplative prayer,” they feel intimidated and think that such a thing must be reserved only for mystics, monks, and very holy people. That’s not true. Contemplative prayer is for everybody.

When St. John Vianney entered his church and found an old farmer praying, he asked him what he was doing and the peasant told him, “I look at him and he looks at me.” That’s contemplative prayer. St. Teresa of Avila said that “Contemplative prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than a close sharing between friends.”

We see the face of Jesus and he sees us and there is an intimate exchange. Contemplative prayer is helpful for the person who is wounded by rejection because they replace the face of the person(s) who has/have wounded them and  their false messages with the face of Christ and his true messages about you. So the main question for us as we read this is “Whose face are we looking at?” 

I hope that it’s the face that I see in Zephaniah 3:16 and 17. Please remember that what is said in this passage to Israel under the old covenant is even more true to us today under a better covenant and one greater than Moses (Jesus):

“On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.'”

God is singing. Why? Because he is rejoicing and delighting over us with an overflowing, super–abundant love. This is the face of Christ that should replace the other faces that we constantly see that have given us the wound of rejection.

Additional to this, it’s also important to have friends and family that become the face of Christ to us or what a psychologist friend of mine called “Jesus with skin on.” With all these things in place we can truly shout from the rooftops, “Let the healing begin!”

ybic, Jonathan

 

If you like this post from Jonathan Coe, you may also like his new book, Letters from Fawn Creek, that now can be purchased at this link:

https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781628542035

Letters from Fawn Creek

cover art/photo: http://www.adventistonline.com

The Hidden Blessings of the Long Struggle

freelancing-struggle

by Jonathan Coe

It’s a familiar story. A person has become a Christian in recent years and is engaged in spiritual practices–prayer, Bible study, meditation, church attendance, fellowship, tithing, and/or the sacraments. They have listened closely to their pastor or priest and have developed some formulas that are supposed to help them overcome the problems, sins, and weaknesses in their lives.

They’ve heard sermons and/or read books that have titles that start with “Three Steps,” “Five Keys,” and “Four Ways,” that are supposed to lead them to the abundant Christian life. They see progress in their lives but are discouraged because they still struggle with certain sins, problems, and/or weaknesses. Some feel like they can’t overcome the very deep negative legacy from the unhealthy family they grew up in.

Church leadership would do many believers a service by teaching them about how God can bring good out of their protracted struggle. No, it’s not God’s will for us to habitually sin , but God, in his tender mercies can work redemptively in this long and frustrating battle against profound sin.

One of the first good things that can come out of a long battle with a character flaw or problem is deliverance from a formulaic Christian faith. “Do these three things and your problem will go away” you learn from a best–seller, but your problem doesn’t go away. The fallen human heart is a complex and formidable thing, and these canned approaches are a little like taking a squirt gun to a forest fire.

When people experience sustained adversity, their lives feel out of control, and they will often grab on to formulas to give them a sense of righting a ship that’s taking on water. Unfortunately, they end up trusting in the formulas more than God himself.

Faith in formulas will always eclipse faith in God.

The Christian life is more about a restful trust in a Person than embracing a set of principles (no matter how spiritual those principles may sound.)

The New Testament is clear on the centrality of faith (not self–effort or formulas) in the overcoming life:

When asked by his disciples what they must do to do the works God requires, Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe on the one he has sent” (John 6:2829). When describing the person who overcomes the world, the Apostle John said, “He who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (I John 5:45).

The failure of formulas is a good experience because it drives the believer to faith in the living God. In this faith, there is a wonderful exchange: I give Christ my pitiful attempts to live the victorious Christian life and he gives me his transforming power to overcome sin. However, this exchange may not happen overnight; it may be a process that takes years.

For those of you in a long struggle, please be comforted by the mercies of God that endure forever. If he can forgive a murderer and adulterer like David, he can forgive you and me. Please take the advice that Winston Churchill gave the British people during World War II: “Never, never, never, never give up ” or listen to the lyrics from a U2 song called “Miracle Drug” : ”There is no failure here, sweetheart/ Just when you quit.”

Even better is C.S. Lewis from The Business of Heaven:

“I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious, provided self–offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience, etc. don’t get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home, but the bathrooms are already, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and to give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of his presence.”

I say Amen.

ybic,

Jonathan Coe

&

Bryan’s note: Jonathan is a very old friend. He deeply loves Jesus. He is wise and he is aware. He is a writer, blogger, and a house-painter. (He is also a Dodgers fan, which I suppose he can find forgiveness for). I am made a rich man by knowing him.

Being Still in a Restless Age–by Jonathan Coe

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”

1 John 4:18

As I write this my heart goes out to everyone who is struggling to find serenity in an age filled with restlessness. Been there done that. You feel the pressure on all sides. There’s too much month and not enough money. Your marriage is showing signs of fraying around the edges. You have a sullen teenager who doesn’t relate to the biblical Christianity that you have embraced. You have plenty to do but not enough time to do it. Debt seems to be piling up and the house may soon be underwater. Your job feels unsatisfying and your boss plays a big role in that. New health problems have emerged that you didn’t have in the days of your youth. In short, life hasn’t turned out like you thought it would and inner stillness and peace seem elusive.

In speaking from my heart, I just want to begin by saying that God loves you much, much more than you know. You may want inner stillness but he wants to give you that peace infinitely more than you want it.

Imagine yourself as his anxious child. He will not forbid the children to come to him. You can crawl up onto his lap and tell him all your problems. Do you see his loving eyes as you’re talking to him? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you Christ’s loving eyes, because if you can see those eyes, it will help you with fear and anxiety, because perfect love casts out all fear according to John the apostle (I John 4:18).

If you can’t do this, then think about someone you know who really loves you without any strings attached. Doesn’t God love you at least twice as much as this person? Of course he does and infinitely beyond that. This is the God whose lap you’re sitting on.

Please know that in all your prayers, there’s no guarantee that God will change your circumstances. The struggling business you run may not survive. The unhealthy marriage may not get better and the child with leukemia may not get healed despite your prayers and fasting. God may not change your circumstances, but he will give you the grace to triumph during your time of affliction. He will you give you a supernatural peace that transcends understanding. You will know it didn’t come from you, but, instead, its origin is divine. Guard your heart against offense because many Christians become offended at God when he doesn’t change their circumstances.

If your prayer life is almost non–existent, I don’t write this to condemn you. However, if you want inner stillness and serenity, some kind of quiet time with God is a must. Prayer is the context by which we give God our anxiety and he gives us his peace.

This is where we cast all our cares on him because he cares for us. It’s a salutary exchange that we can’t live without. The Holy Spirit is a gentle teacher and will lead you into a robust prayer life. Start small and don’t despise small beginnings. 5–10 minutes is okay to begin with for awhile and then add to it as God’s grace increases in your life. If you try to pray for an hour right off the bat, you’re liable to burn out. God is patient with you so be patient with yourself.

ybic,

Jonathan

Letters from Fawn CreekIf you liked this post by Jonathan, you may also like his book, Letters from Fawn Creek, that is now out on Amazon and also can be purchased at this link:

https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781628542035

The God Who Won’t Go Away, by Jonathan Coe

He never goes away– Never!

Martin Luther was right when he said that “the entire Bible is contained in the Psalms.” In the Psalms, we find the same God who we find in the rest of the Bible, who, despite our sins and weaknesses, stubbornly and relentlessly sticks with us–the God who won’t go away. This God was fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ who said that he is with us always, even unto the very end of the world (Matthew 28: 20).

In contrast, human relationships are fragile. People, for a variety of reasons, do go away. Sometimes, as in the case of my father who passed away a little over a year ago, it has nothing to do with anything they did or didn’t do. His father (my grandfather) died when he was 13. My brother and my father’s firstborn named Cary, who was neurologically handicapped, went on to be with the Lord in his early 50s, ten years before my father would join him. My mother would die three and a half years before he would. My father was well–acquainted with the fact that people go away.

Sometimes people go away because of something we did or didn’t do. Over the years, I’ve heard some people confess that they feel like other people like them until they get to know the real them and then they go away. They have difficulty keeping friends who will love them warts and all. I’ve also seen marriages and friendships where one of the friends or spouses go through major changes and the relationship doesn’t survive in the aftermath. Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall and can’t be put back together again. Someone goes away.

One human characteristic that the devil exploits is our tendency to project onto God flawed human qualities. The old joke is that in the beginning God created man in his image, and then, shortly thereafter, man returned the favor by creating God in his image. If the reader only gets one thing out of this post, let it be this: People may go away but God won’t go away. Please rest in his stubborn love.

Psalm 139:7–12 provides abundant evidence to that fact: no matter where we go, God is there. The Psalms are very comforting to me because God is there for David in every situation–in his ups and downs, virtues and vices, complaints and thanksgivings. David represents the human heart writ large and God will not forsake him. He commits egregious sins–adultery, lying, murder– but in his brokenness and repentance, God won’t go away.

So often, when we have it out with another person, someone goes away. Not God. David has it out with God over a variety of issues. He feels forsaken, complains about his enemies prospering, and questions God’s justice, but God is big enough to handle his darkest moments and stay with him. That’s one of the major lessons of the Psalms: God can handle the full fury of the human heart–it’s anger, desolation, questions, and despair– and not forsake that person unless he or she continually and willfully rejects and forsakes God for the rest of their lives. He doesn’t go away but we have a choice to go away.

Often when we have it out with God, in the aftermath, there is greater intimacy between us and the Lord. His ways are vindicated and we rest in his wisdom and mercy. This is much different than when we become embittered at God and our deep offence at him destroys intimacy. May we all guard our hearts against such bitterness and rejoice in the God who doesn’t go away.

If you liked this post from Jonathan, you may also like his new book, Letters from Fawn Creek, that can now be purchased at this link:

https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781628542035

Letters from Fawn Creek

*