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Instructions on the Care of Your Soul

“Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Luke 12:20

I am an epic planner. That must be why I was attracted to solution-oriented life coaching. In coaching your process is: set a goal, visualize, plan, repeat. You repeat the “Four Powerful Planning Questions” until you find a course of action that works. But, don’t be afraid to crumple up your “working” action plan and start over.

We can be easily programmed to believe that strategizing on how to solve a problem can be just as relieving as actually solving it. This process of plan and plan again is about as useful as smoking a cigarette– it chemically produces a very real calming effect on the brain…for about 10 minutes. I was once a chain action planner. It is smoke and mirrors. It makes anxiety cyclical not solved.

When I get stressed I take it out on grid paper. No matter how out of my control the situation may seem, I can measure it all out and apportion it into perfectly drawn boxes and clean lists and feel better. This is manageable. Pinning my burdens to a piece of paper feels…transcendent.

I have journals and journals full of lists. I don’t Dear Diary— my life is documented by bullet point. Grocery lists, budgets, class schedules, reading lists, prayer requests, career paths, list upon list revealing the things that matter most to me in less than 50 words each.

My “list journals” have a full catalogue of my intentions and assertions, the ways in which I planned to apply myself. If I ever wanted to manifest it, it’s on a list. When I look back at them I find that some of the items have check marks, many don’t. Some of those goals I am still pursuing, many I am not, or they are now completely unrecognizable from the road map laid down 1, 5 or 10 years ago.

Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater ones, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)

We often think of “the will” as the bull in the china cabinet of our inner being. A person who is called “strong-willed” is envisioned as ornery and selfish.

Willfulness can be much more subtle than classic stubbornness. It exists even in people generally perceived as gentle or cool. It is found in any person who is committed— unflappably committed—to anything at any time that’s outside of the thing and time God has ordained for them.

Willfulness is not the antithesis of obedience. It is the antithesis of trust.

About two years ago, I felt convicted to stop saying, “I will.”

“I will do this. I will do that. I will never. I will always.”

You will nothing. Just ask my lists.

The nature of the Will:

  • The will plans for a desired future outcome.
  • We “will” based on the presumption that our plans will yield the desired results. Presumption is based on false assumptions. Like say, the assumption that we know what God wants for us. After all, “this is good, godly, wise and biblical, so it must be God’s will for me to will this.”
  • The will is single-mindedness guarded by indignation. It shields its rebellion behind self-righteousness and storied justifications. It is fueled by vain imaginations. 
  • The application of the will usually entails huge blind spots to self.
  • The will feels entitled to the results of its plan.
  • Willfulness blames God when its plans don’t bear fruit.

Love the Lord your God with all your strengthThat is, with all your will

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” Matthew 7:21-23

1 Samuel 15:23:

Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. Stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.

King Saul, when this was spoken over him, was convinced that Samuel should congratulate him for doing God’s will. Even though he had blatantly disobeyed, he had deluded himself to the point of thinking that he had obeyed the spirit of God’s instructions when really, even he confessed that his real motivator was maintaining his popularity (1 Samuel 15:1-26). He thought he did something good, but God told Saul, depart from me.

Now notice that according to Matthew 7:23, even doing good and productive things does not make you a good and faithful servant if you are willing it. In fact, such action does not just run afoul, it’s lawlessness.

“It is appointed unto man once to die.” You either die in your sins at the end of your physical life, or you die to your sins at the beginning of your eternal life. Either way, you only die once. That’s what baptism signifies; for Christians, it is the only death we experience. Who by worrying can add a day to his life? Who by willing can please God?

Your will stores up treasures here, now, and has to have it. Your will worries, hoards and plans for a future that God is not providing for.

But who will inherit what you prepared for yourself in the flesh when your “once” comes? Will you have inherited life incorruptible by dying to self, being born again of the Spirit, and storing up treasures in God’s storehouse?

If your unsubmissive will has anything to say about it, you will die in your sin. And the will of one’s flesh always has something to say.

The instruction:

Get your will to be the first of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under earth, to bow its knee and confess with its tongue that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phillipians 2:10-11)

All the talk your church leaders throw around about putting Jesus on the thrown of your heart? That teaching is for the benefit of your will.

Bathe your will in the sufficiency of Christ. His sufficiency takes away your fear of punishment, of imperfection. His sufficiency takes away your fear of lack. His sufficiency satisfies your hunger and thirst. His sufficiency fills up your insufficiency.

Your will can go take a nap.

 

 

~unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. in vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for He grants sleep to those who He loves. Psalm 127:1-2~

 

 

 

Instructions on the Care of Your Soul

“For although they knew God…they became futile in their thinking,” Romans 1:21

With all the rage that social media stirs up over opinions, for all the campaigning that guidance counselors do for higher education, in all the ways we bow to good taste and praise the informed, it’s obvious that for many people they are the sum of their thoughts.

I am writing– without judgment– as someone who has put a strong emphasis on the mind as the most important component of my personality.

Unfortunately for sophisticated little ol’ me, you don’t have to be particularly smart to be obsessed with intellect. You really just have to be prideful.

A root of pride once grew thick around my own high estimation of my thoughts, until a recent and sobering discovery:

The mind is completely insignificant. 

From a biblical perspective, the mind is the weakest, most malleable and gullible component of our inner person. And the more devoted someone is to their own wisdom, the more of a fool they are as measured against the wisdom of God.

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness.’ And again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise are futile,'” 1 Corinthians 3:19-20.

Futile means useless. Pointless. Incapable of producing a useful result. Thank you, Google word search, that’s not how I want my thoughts described.

Like Descartes, I have bought into the fallacy: “I think therefore I am.”

This perspective has its roots in the erudite traditions of Ancient Greece. Ancient Greeks had the same feelings about the preeminence of the mind that me and Descartes share.

First Corinthians 1:18-25 describes how Jews valued signs and wonders as proofs of reality but Greeks valued wisdom as proofs. Because of this Paul tells the Corinthians, Jesus became both the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Jesus proves the reality of God through both the irrationality of miracles and the rationality of argumentation.

“I think therefore I am.” Descartes said.

To Descartes, the thought life of man is the proof of corporeal existence. He was gravely mistaken. The thought life of the Creator is the proof of corporeal existence. To make man the measure is an egregious affront to God in His specific role as Creator.

See Romans 1:16-32 for a full description of how when God’s role as Mastermind of the Universe is demeaned the punishment is God allowing for the decay of man’s mind.

In Romans 1:28, there is a downward spiral described by Paul that begins with man refusing to acknowledge God as creator, having ingratitude toward Him as creator, and thus God giving man over to the degradation of his own useless thinking.

I must confess as sins the emphasis on intelligence and idolatry of the mind that I have indulged in my whole life.

The Bible never praises the faculties of the mind.

Wisdom comes from God not the human mind. The Book of Proverbs is thirty-one chapters of how foolish, fickle, lustful, greedy, impulsive, conniving, and easily influenced the mind is.

Honestly, Buddhists have a very useful analogy for what the untrained mind is like:

The mind is a monkey. If you don’t give it something really specific to do at all times, it will just swing around slinging poop everywhere.

In the Bible, the only mind that matters is the Master’s.

It has been a life-altering realization for me that the mind is not preeminent, it is base. To trust in it is folly. It is the sand upon which many build their houses at their own peril (Matthew 7:24-27). The man who builds his house upon the words of Jesus– His words which are considered foolishness to the world– is in fact like the wise man who knows to build on a firm foundation.

When I went through a manic psychosis at 23 years old, my basic sense of self was completely annihilated. My intellect slipped away smoothly and completely like sand through an hourglass.

Mania is a fool’s errand. It is hysterical, impulsive, and unreasoning.

Escalating and de-escalating between August ‘09 and October ‘09 mania ravaged for everyone close to me what we all thought we knew about me! My thoughts— my essential self and prized social offering— were mauled and mangled until unrecognizable. My trust in myself was forever marred, because “myself” was my mind. It felt like others would never again trust “me” either.

In the month or so after my “vacation” in Garden Pavilion (Garden Pavilion is the local hospital’s euphemism for psych ward), I attended a church service at Monterey Church. My heart still reeling and not yet hardened— it would become hardened— I went forward during an alter call. While in prayer I received a clear word:

Don’t believe everything you think.

In my life’s most confusing moment, I could not have been given any greater chance at freedom than being allowed to not believe nor take with gravity every passing thought that floated through my mind. This was good news given that at that time my thoughts were pretty dark and painfully existential!

The Book of Jude talks about false teachers sharing ideas that were like passing clouds, an autumn tree, and ocean waves. He wrote that the ideas of false teachers are clouds that deliver no rain, autumn trees barren of fruit, and ocean waves that do nothing but froth up its foam. Useless, futile, disappointing, failing to yield what is promised.

Our minds can be false teachers.

False teachings come from the mind not from the Spirit.

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

The most important way we exercise our fear of God is by taking God’s Spirit-breathed word at its word, and allowing it to confound our thinking. Without such an exercise our proud minds will keep us from repentance and from trusting in God’s plan for salvation: the foolishness of the cross.

Our minds particularly need salvation. Perhaps that is why we receive salvation by “believing on” Jesus. Believing on Jesus is a saving submission of our minds to Christ’s deity and His righteousness.

Jesus was foolishness to the world, but He is in fact the wisdom of God. He is the Word of God; He is the wisdom that reveals God to us. Truth proceeds from His mouth like a double edged sword. We renew our minds by the washing of this Word (John 1:1; Revelation 1; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23.)

Instructions for the care of your mind:

1. Submit your mind to the Word not the Word to your mind.

2. Be aware that the spirit of this age is “information” and “self-expression” and “self-righteousness.”

3. Put on the Helmet of Salvation.

4. Here’s a suggestion from a real smarty, Chuck Missler: “Repent daily of ingratitude and presumption.”

5. Praise and worship God alone.

“Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise,” 1 Corinthians 3:18.

Perhaps in light of 1 Corinthians 3:18 I can see my mental illness, which is the constant threat of a fall into foolishness, as a way God is caring for the safety of my soul.

Is it? I don’t know, but bless the Lord, oh my soul, all that is within me— even a once proud, now humbled mind— bless His holy name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Just in case it comes up: Am I one of a breed of fundamentalist known for supporting anti-intellectualism in the church? No.

Instructions on the Care of Your Soul

“For out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

“Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life,” Proverbs 4:23.

If you are like me, and grew up in the evangelical Purity Culture of the 1990s, you have probably never connected this verse to anything beyond romantic relationships. We were told as young tender buds to “guard our hearts and not give them away too easily.” Because– if we did the rest of our lives would be plagued with guilt and the shame of betraying a far off, future husband.

Unfortunately, the Purity Culture did a terrible job of delivering its argument, implementing a meaningful abstinence for young people, or teaching the biblical approach to singleness. See the heart of 1 Corinthians for a beautiful portrayal of what the young, single, and chaste should be enjoying in Christ.

The heart is not synonymous for love, our love life, nor is it the singular place from which we love God. In fact, it is our whole self that loves God. “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength.”

This verse taken from Deuteronomy 6:5 is reiterated throughout the rest of Deuteronomy and is notably quoted by Jesus in each of the synoptic gospels.

What peaks my interest is that each reiteration of this command includes different aspects of the self.

Sometimes strength is explicitly considered a function of the mind (inner being), and sometimes it is external (keeping laws). Sometimes mind and soul are distinct, and sometimes equivocated. The heart, however, is always listed first, and is always simply referred to as “the heart.”

In the King James Version of the Bible the word “heart” is used 725 times in the Old Testament and 105 times in the New Testament.

Interestingly, as each new translation is released the use of the word translated as “heart” decreases. My off-the-cuff analysis of the linguistic shift would be that subsequent translations use words like soul, inner being, and other comparable words for heart as they diverge from the KJV.

Until further notice, I am making the argument that each component of the soul is unique in function, particularly in the functionality of relationship to God and the spiritual realities of existence. This means that I would rather dynamic equivalencies not be used in translating the words for “heart.”

Regardless, the heart is of utmost importance to the Lord. Thus the ubiquity of Proverbs 4:23– “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (NIV)

A survey of the word “heart” in scripture gives a dynamic picture of both the centrality of the heart to man’s person, and the central importance God puts on the heart, and the singularity of His interest in it.

Above all else, God cares about the state of our hearts.

He takes action upon our hearts and commands us to take action upon them as well.

Here are some observations of what scripture tells us about God’s expectations and edicts for the heart:

  1. When reconciled to God we get a new one. To me, this is an argument against the heart being merely the seat of the emotions; it is rather the seat of the whole person.(Psalm 90:12 and Ezekiel 11:19)
  2.  The heart is not incapable of good but it is inherently bad— dead in trespasses.
  3. A perverse heart can have no access to God (Psalm 101:4).
  4. The heart is the thing that qualifies a person as either pure or defiled.
  5. It defiles itself but God regenerates it.
  6. It is the thing by which we are judged.
  7. It is what is tested.
  8. The heart has intent— it is the motivational center of the inner being.
  9. It is the thing that believes.
  10. The heart and the spirit are candidates as the two inner being components that are synonymous, rather than the heart and the soul (Psalm 51:17). Theologians look for evidence of synonyms between spirit and soul because of the ongoing confusion as to whether or not they are distinct. (Psalm 139:23. Proverbs 17:22)
  11. There is a thing within us that can command our heart. What is that?
  12. The heart is definitely a faculty distinct from the mind.
  13. No matter our deeds, it is the motivation of the heart that dictates the spiritual quality of our actions (Ephesians 6:6).
  14. The heart generates active sins. It is not just a philosophical/spiritual/qualitative center, but it is a moral center.
  15. Desires come from it. 
  16. It meditates. Is this a thinking or a ruminating? To me ruminating can be subconscious. The heart might “think” apart from the mind based on my observation.
  17. It plans (Proverbs 16:1).
  18. It prays.
  19. The heart is a reflection (mirror) of the person— it produces fruit that reveals the fabric of a person.
  20. It is intended by God to be glad, have joy, be tranquil and at peace, and to not be troubled.
  21. Philippians 4:7 says the peace of God guards it. The heart is supposed to be at peace when operating in its created purpose of abiding in God.
  22. God works on the heart to work on a man. This “heart part” can act as the whole in responsiveness to God. (Acts 16:14, and Pharaoh in Exodus.)
  23. The mind’s quality is influenced by the heart’s quality.
  24. The sincerity or insincerity– proof of an emotion– comes from the heart.
  25. The heart is the recipient of the Word and the gospel.
  26. The Lord can act on the heart to make it soft or hard, or established, or He can put a fear of God within it.
  27. Only God knows, and only God searches, the hearts of man.
  28. The heart follows a person’s treasure.

(For references to all of the verses that I pulled these notes from click here.)

“To guard” in Hebrew has the same meaning as “to cultivate” and “to tend.”

So, these instructions I leave with you to cultivate and tend to your heart:

  1. Take action on your heart. Do not be passive about the state of your heart.
  2. Meditate on what God wants for your heart: peace, tranquility, good. If something doesn’t align with those attributes, it is fair warning.
  3. Receive the Word of God and the Gospel of Christ into your heart. Believer, never stop receiving the Gospel into your heart just like you did at first.
  4. Assess, reassess, and assess again what your treasure is and where you have invested it.

Your heart itself is a treasure to be invested. I can’t help but think of the Garden of Eden when I see that “to guard” also means to cultivate, tend, and “to keep” in the original language.

We are hopeless in sin and depend on grace constantly to do anything; we cannot save ourselves in any way. Yet, concerning our heart we have been given a mandate, an action step.

When God made Adam He put him in the Garden of Eden expressly to “work it and take care of it,” Genesis 2:15. “And the Lord commanded him…you are free…but you must not…” Genesis 2:16-17.

Our heart is now the place where we walk with God, and it comes with a mandate– With instructions. Cultivate, tend and keep it, for the rivers of your life flow from it.

 

Instructions on the Care of Your Soul

“Oh my soul, and all that is within me,” Psalm 103:1

I had a really significant conversation several months ago.

A friend and I were talking about our experiences with mental illness– anxiety, depression, and all the related symptoms that tendril and thread from the two.

Within the discussion, I shared with her that I had been under a blanketing depression since November. At the time of the conversation this depression was four months strong. I shared with her that what was strange about this depression was that I had a distinct feeling of being sustained even though I was self-aware of my depressed state.

It is an odd sensation to feel not OK and OK at the same time. Peace?

I felt like the Lord was hiding me under His wings. I had a feeling of safety and security that is actually quite antithetical to depression.

There was a deep sense within me that I could wait. I could wait on the Lord. I could wait for the clouds to break. It was going to be OK, and in fact it already was OK because God was there with me, and not just with me but was so near and involved in my situation that He had made Himself the very structure that was keeping me warm and dry while it poured outside.

Many times in my life depression has put its cold hand on me. Never until this past year have I had the experience of feeling like my body and its chemicals were depressed but my soul was OK. My body was broken but my soul was just bruised.

I was not dissociative from my physical reality. My soul was feeling the fight. My mind was foggy. I wanted to live on Reese’s and chocolate chip cookies, and because I’m a grown-up, I did. My emotions vacillated between sad, angry, and lonely. My will had spurts of intense positive resolution in response to the general malaise and defeat.

But! My spirit’s security in Christ spoke comfort where there was none. My spirit spoke future into the places where the past was on parade. My spirit spoke one word at a time so my tired brain could process truth. My spirit spoke about Christ when my soul wanted to speak about itself.

My soul wanted to talk about me– my thoughts, my wants, my unfulfilled desires, my frustrated dreams, my longings, my justifications, my failings, my hurt, my hurt, my hurt, my hurt, my hurt.

My soul wanted to talk about others– the injustices they had inflicted, the disappointments they perpetuated, the yelling, the controlling, the manipulation, the lying, the cheating, the stupidity, the ways they made me feel so alone, so exposed, so crushed and stifled, overlooked, forgotten.

That was my soul. My spirit wanted to talk about:

Christ.

I told my friend, that my experience these last months taught me that we must tell our souls to acknowledge God.

David the psalmist commands: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul!”

He says, “Do it soul! Rally. Rise up. Bless Him. You don’t want to, but you must. Soul! Hear me. Bless the Lord, oh my dear, sweet, sad, rebellious, self-sufficient, deficient, beloved-of-God soul.”

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not His benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desire with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:1-5 (NIV)

Psalm 103 mentions God’s love 4 distinct times and  His compassion also 4 times. His forgiveness, His redemption, His renewal, His healing and restoration, His commitment to  righteousness on His children’s behalf– these are the layers that fill out the depiction of God’s love and compassion toward His own. David calls these qualities, “God’s benefits.”

“Praise the Lord, my soul; and forget not His benefits.”

What part of David is commanding his soul?

There must be a sort of super ego to his ego if his self has a self to talk to his self.

Does self=soul? Is there more or less to our “selfs” than a soul? Is a soul different than a spirit?

The soul is our mind, will, and emotions. For someone with mental illness, like my-self, the idea that “the self” is equivalent to the soul would be damning. My mind, will, and emotions are seats of my sickness.

I hopefully maintain the belief that “the self” is tripartite. Being tripartite means that we have three parts: spirit, soul, and body. Or it could be body, soul, and spirit depending on whose in charge within you.

I believe that David’s spirit was commanding his soul to acknowledge the Lord. Our souls are the things prone to wander.

Our spirits are that part that was killed by Adam and then made alive by Christ. 

To me, the soul is double minded, sometimes an ally of the spirit and at others an accomplice of the body. The spirit is perhaps always an ally of the Holy Spirit? But the soul is surely fickle and must be commanded. (“Cain, sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” Genesis 4:7 NLT.)

I’ll throw a little theological conjecture in here: Is it our spirit that is saved; our soul that is being saved; and our body that will be saved? Maybe: Our spirit has been declared righteous (justification). Our soul is the thing being made holy (sanctification). Our body will be saved from destruction one day (glorification).

My friend’s response to my belief that we have an impetus on us to command our souls was, “This is why we must take care of them.”

I need to take care of my soul.

That comment was really provocative to me. I had to really think about it. I am prone to being hard on my soul. After all, left to its own devices, my soul is one half (with my body) of my flesh. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, ” said Paul. However, it is clear in Psalm 103 that God loves my soul and my body too.

So, I have to credit my friend for piquing my interest in what the Bible has to say about caring for our souls.

The Corinthians of the New Testament fell into the Greek fallacy that “the self” is just the material vs the immaterial, and that only the immaterial mattered. (The immaterial being the intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual.)

The Christian scriptures in no way support this view.

God breathed our spirits out, He imagined our personalities, and He crafted our bodies.

So it behooves us to know what God says about soul-care. Not what our culture says—our culture is steeped in the human potential movement— but rather what God says about the instructions for the care of our souls.

 

 

 

 

Testimony

Testimony Shared at Cypress Church Gonzales: “Do you love Me?”

I had the privilege of sharing my testimony today at Cypress Church Gonzales with Dave Anderson. In the teaching today, Dave gave instructions from John 21– Peter’s reinstatement after denying Jesus 3 times. My testimony of being a disciple, denying Jesus, and then being reinstated is the object lesson. You can find my testimony starting right before the 23:00 minute mark.

Click here to listen.

And below is a “transcript” of my testimony. These are technically my notes but I followed them very closely if you are like me and prefer to read over listen.

Testimony: John 21 

I.  Dave has asked me to share my testimony as a sort of insight into how a person, like Peter, can go from being a passionate follower of Jesus, to denying association with Jesus, and then being called back to serving the Lord as a disciple again.

A. My testimony is a lot like Peter’s. In fact, the easiest way to describe my experience as  a disciple is through the pieces of Peter’s story that are scattered throughout the gospels. 

B. In John’s gospel, we meet Simon Peter in the very first chapter and are told that he was brought to Jesus. 

    1. His brother said, “We found the Messiah!” Peter was brought to Jesus. Jesus looked right at him and said, “I’m going to call you Cephas,” meaning Rock. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells Simon, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” 

Woah!

C. When I met Jesus it was very much like how Peter met Jesus. My parents brought me to church. 

  I encountered Jesus and knew that He was my Messiah, my Savior at a very young age. 

  And I experienced that feeling of Jesus looking right at me and saying, “I am going to call you by a special name for a specific purpose in my Kingdom.” 

  • And I responded to that very special encounter with Jesus just like Peter did! Peter was an ardent and dedicated disciple, as was I. 
  • Being a Christian was exciting and satisfying to me in my youth.

II.  My mentor growing up, a woman named Anne, used to say Peter was, “Ready, Shoot, Aim.” 

  1. We get many glimpses of Peter’s heart throughout the Gospels. But John’s gospel, chapter 13 particularly, paints him this way: 
    1. Peter didn’t understand Jesus (John 13:7). He wanted to, but He didn’t always get what Jesus was saying.

1. Peter was all or nothing (John 13:9). 

Peter wanted to be close to Jesus and in His confidence— to be His confidant the way that John was (John 13:23-26). 

Peter was passionate (John13:37). 

Peter was the first to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah (in Mark 8:29). He was bold and he was on board!

B. Peter’s theology about the Messiah was pretty accurate according to the rabbinical interpretation of that day- a conquering militant righteous king and deliverer— we see this at Jesus’ arrest when Peter felt it was totally appropriate to swing a sword at someone!

  • However, in John 18:10-11— When Peter drew a sword and chopped a guy’s ear off to keep Jesus from being arrested— we see that his theology was not in line with what Jesus had told Peter about Himself, or what the prophets meant when they depicted the Kingdom of God and the Messiah.
  • He believed Jesus was the Messiah, but what He believed about the Messiah was incorrect. — You and I also, can’t just believe in God we have to believe what God says about Himself.

III.  We also know that:

A. Peter chose to stop short of the cross; he chose to stop short of following Jesus to suffering (John18:15-17). 

B. Did you know John was the only male disciple at the cross because he was the only one who stuck with Jesus the whole way from Gesthemane to the Sanhedrin to the Cross?

  1. The servant girl, in Luke 22, who asked Peter if he was a disciple was asking so that he could go into the Sanhedrin with Jesus and John. 
  2. Peter could have followed Jesus to the cross. Instead he said, no, no, I’m not one of His.

3.   He lied about knowing Jesus so the he did not have to suffer with Jesus. 

C. The faith of my youth was Peter’s to a tee. I wanted the Lord. I was dedicated to all points of spiritual discipline. I wanted God to lead my life. I told a friend recently, “When I was young I was willing to be so weird for Jesus!” 

1. It is often easier to be extreme for Jesus than it is to be faithful to Him.

D. But I had a very immature understanding of Jesus. 

  1. I thought I understood what “Messiah” meant or how the Kingdom worked, but I really did not understand. 
  2. I definitely didn’t understand the Cross— I was eager for God’s Kingdom to advance, but I could not be close to Jesus’ heart until I had come close to suffering, because the Cross is suffering. 

IV.   In Luke 22:31, Jesus tells Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…”

A. When I was 23 years old, I suffered a psychotic break. That means that I experienced a complete break from reality with delusions and hallucinations. I was like the crazy people in movies, or the people talking to themselves that you avoid during street ministry. 

B. For a month long period, I was insane. I had an intense mood swing of hyper-activity. I couldn’t sleep. I was talking at lightening speed. And behaved in erratic and irrational ways. I went missing for a brief time. I was not lucid or sane at all during this time. I was forcibly hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder.  

C. At that time, I did not know anything about mental health or mental illness, neither did my family. It felt like a death sentence. It seemed like this illness was going to destroy my whole future.

D. This experience was very scary. It was embarrassing. It left me feeling deeply insecure about my identity— how could I be useful to God, or to anyone, if my mind could just break at any moment? 

E. The hyper-active “mania” mood swing was followed by a heavy depression. I could not understand why God bothered making me, if He was going to make me so defective. All of my hopes, expectations, and dreams were dashed. The Bible tells us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick,” (Proverbs 13:12). That was true for me.

F. For seven years after my “manic” episode and the psychosis, I could not approach God and I stopped identifying myself as a Christian. I stayed far away from church. Not only did I feel let down by God, but my psychosis had so many spiritual and supernatural elements to it, that I became afraid that if I prayed or read my Bible I would go crazy again— that was a terrible lie of the enemy that I accepted. Fear and disappointment kept me from Jesus for seven years. 

G. This was 7 years of intense sifting. My faith was being sifted…so that it could mature.

V.   Like Peter, when my moment of testing came, the moment to use deeds not words— “I’ll follow you anywhere, Jesus! I’ll be obedient to the point of death!” became: “…but bipolar disorder? No Jesus. I’ll stay out here by the fire… When the servant girl comes to ask if I’m yours, I’ll have to politely deny You. When the servant girl invites me into the Sanhedrin, into Your suffering, I’ll politely decline. Bipolar disorder doesn’t fit into my model of Christian suffering. When the servant girl asks, I’ll say, ‘I can’t go to that cross.’ That cross is too costly! In fact, maybe, Jesus, You’re not the Messiah I thought You were. I’m going to stay outside. I’ve just realized that everything I thought I was sure about, I’m not so sure about.”

A. So instead of following Jesus toward the cross He had for me (like John did), I ran away from my Lord, alone, and weeping bitterly (like Peter did in Matthew 26:75)

B. My diagnosis with a mental illness brought me to a point where Jesus didn’t make sense to me. Like a disciple, I had heard everything He said. I had loved the teachings. I had followed Him around and believed the miracles. 

C. But I could not follow Him to the door that the cross and the resurrection were behind. My own personal “door to the Sanhedrin,” the door that if I went through it, led to my flesh being crucified, where all my self-sufficiency and pride would be brutalized by mental illness.

D. I have often told people that my psychotic break and receiving a life-long diagnosis of bipolar disorder was like experiencing my own death.

E. Would I get to be completely restored by Jesus’ resurrection power? I was too afraid to find out. That was the door I just couldn’t go through with Him. My faith was too immature to allow Jesus to walk me through my mental illness. I thought He abandoned me and that I’d be better off on my own.

VI.  Jesus prophesied over Peter, and I believe this is for me too:

A. He said “Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to have you and to sift you like wheat, But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have repented and turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  (Luke 22:31 paraphrase.) 

B. If you are being sifted, when you are being sifted, and you think, “I can’t get to the other side of this suffering with Jesus. I can’t go before the court of public opinion and be judged and humiliated, falsely accused and afraid with Jesus. I don’t know that if I stick with Jesus it’ll all turn out ‘alright’ in the end. That’s not a cross I can go to— any cross but this cross, Lord. I must have been wrong, because this does not look like Christian victory. I don’t think this is a Messiah that I can follow…What was my life as a disciple for?”

C. Jesus has prayed for you. (And Jesus’ prayers are always answered!) He has prayed that your faith will not fail. He knows you will “turn again” to Him, and when you have turned again you will strengthen your brothers.

VII.   When Jesus rose from the grave he told the women: “Go tell my disciples AND Peter,” Mark 16:7 (ESV). Other versions says, “Go tell my disciples INCLUDING Peter.” 

  — Either way it is translated, Mark 16:7 tells us two things: 1. Peter had separated himself from the group of disciples. 2. Jesus still had plans for Peter.

  1. He still had plans for me during the 7 years I was in denial. He still has plans for you. Even if its been years that you just couldn’t bear the name of Christ, He still has plans for you as His disciple.

B. In John 12, Jesus tells his disciples: Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

C. And His question to me, His question to you, His question to Peter is “do you love me?” 

D. No matter what has transpired between you and God, all He wants to know is: “Do you love me?” 

1. Pain, disappointment, confusion, shame— these turn many away from following the Lord. But Jesus turns us to Himself again with the gentlest question: Do you love me?

2. Today, I say:

“Yes, Lord, you know I do.”

3. And I hope today that you will also say: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

VIII. Dave has been giving some wonderful instructions and insight on just how it is that we say that to Jesus. So I’ll turn it back over to him. 

Too Much Talking

“If you make the Lord your refuge,” Psalm 91:9

Here we are at the final installment of Too Much Talking: Spiritual Warfare in the Book of Job.

About half way through writing this series, I started to hear Psalm 91 every time I turned my attention to Job.

(It is just 16 verses if you’d like to familiarize yourself before reading on.)

The events in Job’s life do not seem to match up at all with the triumphant declarations of invincibility that the psalmist puts forth.

But Job’s experience of God is perfectly envisioned by the psalm.

The events in the psalm: God will rescue you from every trap, protect you from disease, and though thousands fall around you, no evil will touch you.

Certainly not how it happened for Job. God told Satan it was “ok” for him to set traps, inflict disease, and while everyone else was flourishing to dash Job down.

This brings up a terrible uneasiness, a question for the ages: Are all of God’s promises for all believers?

And if not, why not me?

That was my question in the moments when I was regaining lucidity after a six week long psychosis, and four weeks “imprisonment” in a psych ward.

I had tried so hard to be faithful, obedient, and true. I was a real and honest believer. Why weren’t God’s promises for me? Had my little bit of existential questioning in college really warranted such rejection from God? Such a betrayal of our contractual obedience-for-blessing arrangement?

My mom had a Bible that she kept in the car while we were growing up. Every morning on the way to school, she would have me read Psalm 91 aloud to my siblings and then she would pray over us to have a good day.

How is it that my mother could request the specific blessings of Psalm 91 over and over, and still have me be stricken down with a condition so emotionally mutilating as bipolar disorder?

But today, I read the psalm again and I start to see that Psalm 91 takes place on a battlefield.

There is war and plague and snares and enemies all around in Psalm 91. We are surrounded.

The events in Psalm 91 in fact do match the attacks against Job. But the psalmist has a perspective that I certainly lacked in my worst times, and a perspective that Job had to fight to gain.

This perspective is that the events in my life do not equate to my experience of God’s faithfulness in a 1:1 ratio.

Another way to say it is, victory and defeat are opposites but there is always a battlefield between them. The battlefield does not define victory, or defeat, but it is where they are decided.

Psalm 91 doesn’t describe a life free of trouble, it describes a person being American Ninja Warrior-ed through troubles on the backs of angels and by the hand of God.

The events of the psalmist’s life include traps, disease, stumbling blocks, terrors, arrows, disaster, evil, plague, lions, and cobras.

His experience, however, is shelter, rest, refuge, safety, rescue, armor, protection, being upheld, being answered, being honored, being rewarded, and given salvation.

When you are suffering, people want to identify for you all the many things you are doing to cause or perpetuate your suffering.

As we’ve seen in Job, people ill-at-ease at the sight of a Christian stumbling are quick to diagnose spiritual disease and to prescribe over-the-counter piety.

But the Book of Job prescribes exactly one remedy to the person whose hopes are dashed, whose tragedies are endless, and whose own friends have become their oppressors:

“Make the Lord your Refuge.”

Psalm 91 sounds so triumphant not because there is nothing bad happening in the life of the psalmist, but because he will not be removed from his fortress.

The psalmist is living in the shelter of the Most High, under the shadow of the Almighty, in the refuge of the Lord.

God’s guantlet to Satan was that no matter what Satan did to Job, Job would not leave his spiritual fortress. He would not blame God. He would not curse God and die.

I was moved in my worst years. And it did nothing but make my struggle worse, longer, and more intense.

I refuse to blame the victims of hardship for their broken hearts; but that doesn’t mean, dear Broken Hearted, that you have license to sin. Let me tell you, blaming God will not bring you to an alternate route of victory. Self-will, self-help, self-denial…all the ways we try to fix things ourselves are an affront to the perfect architecture of our Shelter, Christ.

To be rescued means that you were once in danger. To need armor and protection implies war. When you’re told “do not fear,” it means there is something to fear. In order to crush lions and serpents, you have to encounter them.

And we are tasked with one thing: To declare of my Lord, He alone is my refuge, my place of safety, He is my God, and I trust in Him!

Job was honorably assured of his own goodness from the beginning. His transformation was to become unshakably assured of God’s goodness. No matter how “good” we think we are, life is insufferable if we do not know that God is good.

Our shelter is not in declaring, “I am innocent!” It is in declaring, “He is my God, and I trust in Him.”

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”

It can sound so hard to stick to an avenue, advocate for the truth, and adhere to a lifestyle. For people like me, who have gone through months at a time where feeding, dressing, and bathing myself are genuine chores, doing something so upstanding as the Christian life sounds exhausting.

There are many fulfilling “doings” in Christian life. But Psalm 91 tells us:

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.”

In John 6:29, Jesus tells a crowd in the synagogue at Capernaum, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one He has sent.”

Our belief and our confession are tightly interwoven. When you can’t do any other work, be encouraged that the only work that matters is what you declare of your Lord.

Speech is warfare.

 

Testimony

Interview at Cypress Church: How to Explain “Being Born Again”

I had the incredible privilege of being asked to share with my church family yesterday. Find the link highlighted below.

Here is a wonderful message from Ben Sobels, co-author of the Discipleship Gospel and pastor of my home church, Cypress Church in Salinas, CA. Pastor Ben interviews me toward the end of his sermon as the object lesson of sorts.

The teaching is on John 3:1-8– Nicodemus asking Jesus, “how is a man born again?”

Questions People Asked Jesus #1: How Can One Be Born Again?