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By the grace of God, I can honestly say that I don’t really need anything. God has supplied all of my needs, just like he said he would. He has blessed me with a beautiful wife, two awesome children, a place to live, food, clothing, a job, and much more.

So, what do I really want?

Earlier this year, I wrote about what I really wanted for Christmas. The list my for 40th birthday is essentially the same. As Ann Voskamp so eloquently writes, I want to Be the G.I.F.T.

giving

So, if you want to give something for my 40th birthday, might I suggest reading this first and then doing one of the following?

Purchasing something from freeset or Sari Bari or giving to one of these fine organizations?

Compassion Catalog … World Vision Catalog… Partner’s International Catalog

Gospel for Asia Catalog… Mennonite Central Committee Catalog …

Or Being the Gift as Ann so wonderfully writes about here?

Or Donating $10 via Text Message to the Red Cross?  Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate to Disaster Relief efforts, or PREVENT to 90999 to donate to the Measles Initiative.

Or giving to Samaritan’s Purse or the Salvation Army?

“And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” — Matthew 10:42

Please leave a comment below or reach out to me on facebook or twitter if you give something for my birthday because I want to know and personally thank you.

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I’m writing blog entry to debunk a false teaching that has been propagating around the church. The teaching that [negative] emotions are bad… that we can’t trust them… and that we must avoid them like the bubonic plague. This is simply. not. true.

emotions

It’s understandable how this teaching got started… emotions can lie to us… lies such as I’m unloved, unwanted, not good enough, will never amount to anything, stupid… the list is endless. And, what’s worse, if we act on these emotions (lies) then bad behavior results… and that can hurt us and others.

But… how can we call something that God gives us as part of our soul (mind, will, and emotions)… bad? How can we call something that is part of being made in the image of God… bad? God has emotions, right? Let take a look at a small sampling of verses illustrating God’s emotions:

  • God gets angry. “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them,” (Exodus 32:10).
  • God is compassionate. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him,” (Psalm 103:13).
  • God rejoices. “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you,” (Isaiah 62:5).
  • God loves. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life,” (John 3:16).
  • God hates. “The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates,” (Psalm 11:5).
  • God grieves. “And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart,” (Genesis 6:6).
  • God expresses joy. “…Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength,” (Nehemiah 8:10).

What about Jesus? He is God and man and He has emotions, right? How did He act on these emotions? Let’s take a look:

“In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, ‘Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!’” (John 2:14-16)

Here, we see that Jesus experienced a passionate [what we might refer to as negative] emotion (most likely anger) and acted upon it in a positive way.

So, what about us? What do our emotions really tell us?

For one thing, they are lie detectors.

Let me give you an illustration. Suppose a person goes into their job one morning only to find that their position has been terminated. How does this person respond? If this person truly believes the scriptures that read “My God shall supply all of your needs” and “I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken or his seed out begging for bread,” then they will not respond with panic, fear and worry, right?

I submit to you that if a person responds in this way, with panic, fear, and worry, then perhaps that person does not truly believe the aforementioned scriptures? They certainly do not trust that God will provide for them.

I realize that this can be a hard teaching for those who have dismissed their negative emotions as useless. Perhaps we may know cognitively of the scriptures that promise God’s provision for His people, but do we really believe that they apply to us? Do we really believe that we can trust God to provide for us even in the midst of job loss?

I could give other examples as well, but I think the point is well illustrated in the above example.

So, the next time that you experience a negative emotion, instead of just writing it off as unacceptable, worthless, and useless, ask God to reveal to you what that emotion means? Perhaps it reveals a lie that you believe about yourself or others? Perhaps God wants to show you something totally different?

I would love to hear from you! What have you been taught about emotions? What have you learned about them though your life experiences?

[This blog entry is Part 2 of a two part series. For Part 1, please click here.]

testimony

Anxiety:  Hell is the word that comes to mind when trying to describe what generalized social anxiety disorder feels like.  It is a constant, seemingly eternal hell that must be lived through every single moment of life.  There may be short reprieves for a time, but they never last very long.  The hell of generalized social anxiety disorder is always soon to follow.

The anxiety that tormented me was so severe that even while with those whom I considered close friends, I would still experience fear and have heart palpitations.

Afraid of what you may ask?  Afraid perhaps of the following:

  • That if they really knew me then they wouldn’t like me.
  • That they wouldn’t understand the anxiety, depression, or sexual addiction that I struggled with.
  • That they would judge me because of my sin.
  • That they would reject me.

I would avoid individuals, people, crowds, and generally anyone or anything that required me to interact socially.  I would even walk a different route in order to avoid people.

Depression:  In my estimation, I have suffered from moderate to severe depression for about half of my life.  At times, the depression has been so extreme that I have even contemplated suicide.  I have often cursed the day I was born and regretted ever being born as Jeremiah does in the scriptures.  It is no fun to hate living and want to die, but that is exactly what I did off and on for many, many years.

Shame and Self-hatred:  I felt that I was unworthy and unacceptable.  Totally.  It was not as if a few seams in the garment of myself needed stitching; the whole fabric was frayed.  Everyone else was okay except me.  I was flawed beyond repair.  Because I believed that “I” was unacceptable, the natural response was to hate myself.

Anger Towards God:  I had many “good” reasons for being angry with God.  I was angry with God for things that had happened to me in my past – rejection, emotional abuse, etc.  I was angry with God for the present struggles that I had – fear, anxiety, depression, lust, etc.  I was angry with God because I believed that His character was something it was not.  For example, one major thing that I had to overcome was the belief that God was a task-master or slave-driver.  This is the belief that God is not interested in us for who we are but only for what we can do for Him.

I may have even projected my earthly father’s character traits onto God – my heavenly Father.  My earthly father was physically abusive, had a problem with anger, and rarely if ever told me that he loved me (He now tells me that he loves me quite frequently, thanks to God’s healing and restoration power).

I was also angry with God for not giving me certain things, in my timing, that I felt the Bible promised to believers.  For example, I have low frequency hearing loss that resulted, at least in part, from poor choices that I made during my late teenage or early adult years.  This has caused me much emotional pain.

Anger Towards People and Unforgiveness:  I had incurred deep emotional wounds and there were many specific individuals who were, at least partially, responsible.

2nd – My Experiences and Changes in Working through CR

Working the 12 steps has helped me in many ways.  I learned that denying my sins and emotions by keeping them hidden was a bad thing.  I learned that “Secrets keep you sick”.  I learned that I was not alone in my struggles.  Perhaps the greatest lesson that I learned, though, was the importance of accountability.  It was here that I met my two best friends and accountability partners.

What I needed the most was to be loved and accepted unconditionally by another human being, whether I deserved it or not.  I got this unconditional love and acceptance from my accountability partners.  For the first time in my life, I began to truly understand God’s unconditional love and acceptance of me because another human being modeled it to me.  From here, God began showing me His true character – His loving, forgiving, and accepting nature.  I began to discover that God was not the task master or slave driver that I had once thought Him to be, but instead a loving Father.

 3rd – The New Me

With regard to anxiety, I no longer have heart palpitations while in the presence of friends.  I believe that God has set me almost completely free.

With regard to depression, God has worked a miracle in my life in this area.  The down feelings no longer turn into depression.

With regard to shame and self-hatred, after feeling loved and accepted by God and others, I am now learning to love and accept myself.

With regard to anger towards God, I rarely curse God or take His name in vain in my heart anymore.  There are occasions where I want to blame God, but He has been gracious to show me that it isn’t His fault.

With regard to anger towards people and unforgiveness, I have forgiven most, if not all, people who have wounded me.  I have learned that forgiveness is extremely difficult but well worth the effort.  I have also learned that it is a continual process because there will always be people who offend you.

 4th – Outreach

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 3-4:

“ Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Rick Warrens says that “the area of our greatest pain is the area of our greatest ministry”.  Isn’t it ironic that God uses what the world sees as our weakness to actually be our strength?  Perhaps the Lord is calling some of you here tonight to the recovery ministry.  If you have suffered any sort of pain and been comforted by God, then God has uniquely qualified you.

Obtaining the total freedom in Christ that He died to give us is a process.  It does not happen overnight but instead comes overtime as we continually renew our minds and become more like Him.

Please keep this in mind as you are putting the steps in this program into practice.  Inevitably, like learning to ride a bike or learning to snow ski, you will fall down.  So, don’t be surprised if you don’t get it exactly right the first few times.  Most people fall a few, several, or even many times before getting it right.

Get up, brush yourself off, confess your sin to the Lord, accept His forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love, and try again.

“For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again…”

Proverbs 24:16

Eventually, with Jesus Christ as your Higher Power, you will be victorious.

I will leave you with one of my favorite scriptures, it is Isaiah 42:6-7 (NLTv1):

“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.  I will guard and support you, for I have given you to my people as the personal confirmation of my covenant with them.  And you will be a light to guide all nations to me.  You will open the eyes of the blind and free the captives from prison.  You will release those who sit in dark dungeons.”

Thank you.

### The above text was taken from our new book #SlayingLifesDragonsandBeasts and sanitized to make it more appropriate for this blog. ###

[This blog entry is Part 2 of a two part series. For Part 1, please click here.]

[This blog entry is Part 1 of a two part series. For Part 2, please click here.]

I’m writing this series of blog entries not because I particularly like airing my “dirty laundry,” but because the Bible says that we overcome him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11) and because if they help just one person then isn’t it worth it?

Celebrate Recovery Testimony

Hi, my name is Gary, I’m a grateful Christian in recovery from anxiety, depression, lust, shame, self-hatred, anger towards God and people, unforgiveness, and the list is seemingly endless.

I was a shy, introverted child who was basically a “mama’s boy”.  No one taught me self-esteem or social skills or any life skills for that matter.  I did not learn them at home, at church, or at school.  I was left alone to figure them out for myself.

Perhaps the most damaging event occurred in middle school and came from someone whom I thought to be a friend.  This girl, all of a sudden, seemingly out of the blue, called me “ugly”.  I thought that we had a pretty good relationship up until that point, but apparently I was wrong.  Perhaps she was just having a bad day.  I did not respond to this insult but instead just quietly took it to heart believing that it was truth.

This was how I handled these kinds of situations.  I wouldn’t fire back any choice words or try to initiate a fight, but rather I would just take whatever abuse was given and ponder it in my heart asking, “Could this be true?”  Unfortunately, the answer that I concluded was almost always an overwhelming “Yes”.  I never discussed these events with anyone.  I suppose I thought that I was alone in these situations and that no one could understand me or help me.

Sadly, these situations continued throughout high school.  Specifically, I was called “ugly” several more times in high school.  Even once by my own uncle.  This just served to reinforce the apparent truth behind these statements.

The idea that I was ugly just devastated me.  I felt rejected, unacceptable, worthless, useless, powerless, and hopeless.  I already had severe acne and was very self-conscious.  This was all I needed.  The icing on the cake.  The precipitating factor that would drive me over the edge.

In an effort to ease my pain, I turned to many bad, self-destructive, and addictive behaviors.

### The above text was taken from our new book #SlayingLifesDragonsandBeasts and sanitized to make it more appropriate for this blog. ###

[For Part 2, please click here.]

In a world where “fine” is the standard answer as to how one is doing, Stephen’s book is refreshingly open, honest, and real. In his wonderful book, “101 – A Marriage & Family Success Story,” Stephen speaks of God’s faithfulness and restorative power even in the midst of separation and divorce.

101 - A Marriage & Family Success Story

Even though God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), it does not scare Him or limit His miracle working power in any way. Although Stephen and Cynthia had been divorced for eight years, God was able to keep them abstinent (a miracle in and of itself), and restore their marriage so that they were remarried.

This book is a testimony to the love and power of God to work in our lives regardless of our circumstances. God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). In other words, He does not play favorites. What He did in Stephen and Cynthia’s lives, He can do in yours.

All-in-all, “101 – A Marriage & Family Success Story” is a great short read and I highly recommend it to anyone who needs victory and hope for their marriage.

Dear Father,

Thank you for the myriad of miracles that you perform everyday in our lives – You give life and breath to all mankind. Thank you for the way that you have worked mightily in Stephen’s life and in his family. My prayer is that you would have mercy on everyone who reads this review, and if they are willing to humble themselves and seek (ask) you according to your will, please give them the miracles that they so desire.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

I would love to hear from you! If God has restored your marriage, please leave a comment below. How did He accomplish this? What steps did He require you to take (if any)?

I want to start by saying that my heart goes out to the families of everyone who was killed, maimed, or otherwise hurt in any way as a result of this horrific act of terrorism. I have been praying and will continue to pray for you.

Disclaimer:  This post is not meant to rationalize, excuse, or otherwise dismiss the awful acts of terrorism that were committed. It is only an attempt to provide a line of thinking from a Christian perspective that may have been largely overlooked.

The one thing that struck me was the following statement by Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber who was killed early Friday, “I Don’t Have A Single American Friend.”

Boston Marathon bombing victim Martin Richard, 8, held a call for peace at a school event last year. He ended up dying a victim of violence.

Boston Marathon bombing victim Martin Richard, 8, held a call for peace at a school event last year. He ended up dying a victim of terrorism.

Why was that? Was it because he failed to reach out to other Americans and to offer himself friendly? Or was it because we American’s failed to reach out to him and to offer ourselves friendly, perhaps because of our prejudices against foreigners? I suspect it was probably a combination of the two.

What does the Bible say about how we should treat foreigners? Let’s take a look at some of the scripture.

You must not wrong a foreigner nor oppress him, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
Exodus 22:21, NETBible

When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God
Leviticus 19: 33-34, NETBible

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who is unbiased and takes no bribe, who justly treats the orphan and widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing. So you must love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:17-19, NETBible

The Lord says, “Do what is just and right. Deliver those who have been robbed from those who oppress them. Do not exploit or mistreat foreigners who live in your land, children who have no fathers, or widows. Do not kill innocent people in this land.”
Jeremiah 22:3, NETBible

The above scripture says that we as Christians are supposed to love foreigners as ourselves, give them food and clothing, and that we should not wrong, oppress, exploit, or mistreat them.

What if Tamerlan would have reached out to an American for friendship? Or, better yet, what if American Christians would have reached out to him in love? I suspect that the outcome would (could) have been quite different. Perhaps, we would have never known the name “Tamerlan Tsarnaev.”

I’m as guilty of this as the next person. Perhaps I don’t reach out to foreigners as much as I should because of the natural barriers: linguistic, religious, cultural, and etc. Or perhaps I wasn’t aware of the scripture that speaks to this (I can’t have this excuse now!).

Whatever the reason, let us push past these barriers and reach out to the foreigners in our country in love, because, who knows, perhaps we can help prevent the next terrorist attack by doing this.

Dear Father,

Please forgive us for our prejudices and other wrong thoughts and feelings toward foreigners.  Please help us to see them as You do, as human beings that You love just as much as You love us. Help us to remember that our ancestors were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. Most of all, help us to remember that is it Your will for us to love foreigners as we love ourselves.

In Jesus’ mighty name we pray,

Amen.

I would love to hear from you. Please post a comment below and I will respond to as many as I can.

I want to start by saying that my heart goes out to Kay, Rick, and the whole Warren family. I cannot fathom the unimaginable pain and loss they must be feeling right now due to the death of their son Matthew. My son’s name is also Matthew, and I cannot imagine having to do life without him. My prayer is that God would bring comfort and peace to the whole Warren family.

I listened to the “Choose Joy” audio book that is written and read aloud by Kay Warren.

Choose JoyIn this book, Kay is very open and honest about her inner life and struggle to find joy. She is real and transparent about many of the situations and circumstances that she has gone through in her life. She makes herself vulnerable so that others may identify with her and learn how to choose joy in their lives.

One of my biggest takeaways from this book is Kay’s definition of joy:

“Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”

Choosing joy is about trusting God in everything. Trusting Him with what we’re afraid of, with what we don’t understand, with our futures, and with everything in between.  This reminds me of the Prayer for Serenity:

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
taking, as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your will;
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.
—Reinhold Niebuhr

Choosing joy is about knowing that God is in control and that in the end we will be with Him forever in heaven and everything will be wonderful. There will be no more crying or pain or death or grief or suffering. The former things will be left behind, forgotten, and the new order of things in heaven will begin and remain forever!

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” – Revelation 21:3-5 NLT

“Choose Joy” by Kay Warren is a wonderful book about choosing to trust God in all the circumstances and situations of life. It is definitely worth the read or listen.

I would love to hear from you. Have you read this book? How has it helped you to choose joy in your life? What else (books or other) has helped you choose the parallel train track of joy versus the track of sorrow in your life?