Thursday, April 10, 2014

Radiant

Self-affirmation is the key to happiness and success, as it would seem.  But is it really?  I don't think so.  Though it is extremely popular, I believe the enemy loves this notion.  Why?  Because we still lose.  We don't really convince ourselves that we are great.  And to the degree we do, it borders on self-preoccupation and pride.

And why is that?  It is because the enemy's real goal is to separate us from the Father.  Jesus said "I do not testify about myself... My Father testifies about Me."  Everything Jesus did was out of connection with His Father.  Everything.  The Father testified of Him. 

But with self-affirmation, is that out of connection with the Father?  No, and the enemy has won again.  He has got us self-reliantly testifying about ourselves, trying to affirm ourselves out of the pit of nothingness and self-emptiness.  But it is a trap.  Divide and conquer.  Divide us from the Father, into self-reliance, and we may convince ourselves we are all good... but it is a trap.  Now we fall and are devoured.

And why would we prefer the self-reliant path?  Well, I'll give you one good reason.  Suffering.  We do not share in the glory of the Son without also, to some degree, sharing in the suffering of the Son.  It is in living in the real world, facing the real pain and anguish from living in this broken place, that we can suffer with the Son and thereby know His connection with the Father as our own, thereby sharing His glory.  This, however, we do not like.  We want to be able to control it, to have it be won happily and by our own steam.  We are lovers of the theology of glory, not the theology of the cross.

It is through suffering, suffering entered and drank with Him, that we know ourselves, and know ourselves in connection to Him, and become radiant -not with the temporary and fleeting and false radiance, but with a radiance like that of the moon, reflecting the rays of the Sun.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Failure

We all fail.  And we generally hate failing.  When we see that we blew it, that little voice inside us starts tearing into us:  "Nice going. How are you ever going to [fill in the blank] when you keep doing this?  You need to figure out a way..."

But failures aren't all bad.  In fact, they are both inevitable and necessary.  So, having a good and true attitude toward failure is one of the key things we can learn in life -both practically and Biblically.

Here are five inter-related facts about failure that I believe are essential to know:

1. Your failure is no surprise to God.  You fell into a particular sin, again.  You blew it with a relationship.  You let someone get the best of you... again.  And now you feel any combination of guilt, anger, and self-hatred.  Frustration mounts.  "Why does this keep happening?!"  And if you are a Christian, you might even feel guilt before God.  You might feel like you need to hate yourself because you blew it before God -like you failed Him and now there is this cosmic rule that says you need to torture yourself for some undetermined amount of time.  But you don't.  God already knew you were going to blow it.  And though you may hate that you keep falling into this, it's God's job to do punishing -not yours- and He has already put it on His Son.  So, get a grip and read on...

2. Your failure is an opportunity to rely on God.  Failing keeps you humble.  It shows you that there are things outside of your control -that you are not God- and that you cannot "fix" everything by your own steam and self-reliant brainpower.  Contrary to popular belief, both theological and secular, there is something more desirable than being "perfect" (in the sense that we conceive of it), and that is having a close, intimate relationship with God.  Being a partner to God, throwing up your hands and letting go of your illusion of self-sufficiency and control, is something far more precious in God's sight than going through the week "without any major failures."

3. Your failure is an occasion to see where God is taking you.  Rather than seeing your failure as a reason to beat on yourself, see it as God gently revealing something to you ... something He will be working out within you.  Let it become an occasion to thank Him for showing you this area so that He can minister to you in it and walk with you through it.

4. Failure is part of suffering in this world, and suffering is what perfects us.  Now, we don't like that idea one bit.  We don't like that suffering perfects us, and I think there are two reasons.  First, nobody wants to suffer.  We want to say, "Ok, God.  Isn't there another way to do this?"  Second, we don't like it because it is something that happens to us, without our input and control.  We want to believe we have total control of our own destinies.  We want to believe we are the sole captains of our own souls.  We want to believe we can fix ourselves and make ourselves awesome.  After all, that is why we hate failure so much and beat on ourselves so much because of it.  Failure reminds us that we aren't God.  We can't just fix ourselves and be perfect.  We can't "go it alone" in this world.  We don't like that.  So God says to us, "You are a part of it, indeed.  It doesn't happen while you sit idly.  But it is still something I do in and through you, not you."  In other words, has it dawned on you that perhaps God had actually called you to fail in that particular situation so that He can perfect you into the person He wants you to be, for His name and glory and for your everlasting joy and thankfulness?

5. Failure is an occasion to evalute what is really important.  If you are pressuring yourself and beating on yourself to be so awesome at something, maybe it is a good time to ask yourself why.  Why is it that important?  What is it you are demanding to have control of, and is being awesome in that particular are really as important as you are making it?  Does this situation reveal what is really driving you and maybe what needs to be prayerfully re-evaluated?  See #3.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tools in the Hands of The Master

I write a lot about control... our lack of control, how the demand for control hurts us, etc.  There are things we do have some semblance of control over, and then there are things we have no control over.  For example, we have reasonable control (one would hope) over our own actions.  We do not generally have control over outcomes, however, and we most certainly do not have control over someone else's actions.

This becomes particularly frustrating when your life situation is such that you are forced to deal with people who are something of a thorn in your side.  They are not respectful.  They are passive-aggressive.  They are manipulative.  They are gossips.  They look for opportunities to push your buttons in front of others as way to try and establish their alleged dominance.  And yet... for one reason or another, they are part of your life.

I've wrestled with this kind of situation a lot.  Anger is the typical response.  Anger at them, anger at myself (perhaps for feeling like I should have handled something differently), but if I am honest, there's a lot of anger toward God.  There is a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, like in spite of what I do to establish and improve my life, this person is always there to throw a wrench into it or exploit my weaknesses.  They are there to be a thorn in your side, to make sure nothing goes smoothly, to be like a fly in your face.  The demand for "control", to finally have your life be the way you want it, is strong... and that is where a lot of bargaining ("God, haven't I dealt with this enough?") and resentment come in.

But this is also where the demand for control only hurts us.  Perhaps the first step we must learn is that our life is not our own and that we can rest and leave in the hands of God all things, particularly the things and people we cannot control.  God will deal with them.  In good time, He will.  And in the meantime, He is perfecting you through suffering.  They are an unwitting tool in the hands of the Master.  Every manipulative, selfish, childish, harmful, abusive thing they do, though itself bad, is ultimately just helping you become more like Jesus.  All of the chaos and peacelessness they sow in your life is ultimately a tool in God's hands to bring you to a place of greater inner stability and peace.

That is one of the great victories through the cross.  No matter what the enemy does, the Lord of all things uses it to accomplish good: to redeem, to perfect, to establish, to love, to save, to embrace, to embolden.  They may laugh at the moment, but God gets the last "laugh" with everything they have done.  Every selfish act, every passive-aggressive word, every ego-centric power-play is ultimately a gift to make you more into who God wants you to be, a gift to perfect you.

Not only can I learn to accept that I don't have control over this person or these situations, it is my hope to find peace and joy within it.  Rather than seeing these people as giants who can thwart and diminish all my plans, I can see them as both the sad fools and unwitting instruments of my redemption that they really are.  I can see them as tools in God's plan for me, and though I may not like it one bit, I can receive them from His hand.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Stigma of Online Dating

Though online dating (or as I would like to call it, "online meeting") is clearly here to stay, connecting countless people who are looking for new relationships, for many there is still a stigma attached to it.  I have experienced this personally.  I've used online dating sites before, and I've hidden it from my best friends because of the stigma attached.  Am I right to feel that way?  Are people right to look down on online dating?

I don't believe so...

Usually there are handful of negative connotations associated with using online dating sites...

1. Online dating sites are for people who are losers or who are "desperate."  You don't need an online dating site.  The right one will "come" when the time is right.

Reply:  If you are a full-time working adult who has children, how exactly will the right one "come" along?  You aren't 19 years old any longer.  Depending on the person, their lifestyle, and their situation, the potential for meeting new people who are looking for partners for long-term relationships drops off significantly.  So it makes you desperate because you use a tool that helps you meet other people who are looking for the same thing?  It makes you desperate because you don't want to rely on having a chance-meeting of your "soul-mate" at a grocery store, like in a movie, and you don't want to wait to get invited to a big party that has lots of level-headed, single, respectable members of the opposite sex (you know...those parties that either don't exist or which you rarely get invited to)?  Maybe you are at a place in life where you want to find a new partner but haven't the foggiest idea, due to your life situation, of how to meet one.  Guess you're stuck, then...  or you could do something so unbelievably degrading: join an online dating site.  Seriously, who are others to judge you?  Don't let them put their own hangups on you.  Sorry, that is crap.

2. Online dating sites attract weirdos.  You aren't going to find quality people in online dating sites.

Reply:  And you aren't going to find weirdos at bars, night clubs, or parties?  So what if you joined an online dating site?  Does that prove this wrong, by proving that there is at least one non-weirdo and therefore probably other decent people out there, or does the act of joining an online dating site prove that you actually are a weirdo (see #1 above)?  Online dating is certainly not the same as meeting people in person, and people may be able to "hide" things better at first, but the reality is that you bump into "weirdos" every day because everybody hides things about themselves.  It takes discernment and listening to your gut when it comes to letting anybody new into your life, regardless of how you meet them.

3. Online dating sites are superficial.  People just post pictures to get noticed.

Reply:  And again... you don't get that at bars, night clubs, parties, or really in any social setting?  Of course you do.  People go out and want to look nice.  And when that guy or girl notices you from across the room, is it because they noticed your personality or your face?  You can call that superficial all you want, but that's how it is.  Online dating is no exception.  But lots of people opt to not post photos of themselves for this very reason (among others).

4. I've heard horror stories of people who used online dating.

Reply:  Let's say it one more time... And you haven't heard horror stories of absolutely crazy and terrible relationships from people who met in other ways?  And nobody lied about themselves before online dating?  Riiiiight.  Online dating is a portal to meeting new people.  That is not going to change how people are.  People are all sinners with baggage -we are inherently complicated and dysfunctional (and because of the decline of our culture, we are probably getting worse).  Welcome to real life.  That has nothing to do with online dating.  Online didn't make them dysfunctional or immature.  It didn't make them rush into things blindly and foolishly.  That happens pretty well on its own, doesn't it?

Using a tool that sets you up with others who are single and looking does not take away the need to use your brain.  There are risks -some of those risks inherent to online dating, but many of them involving common sense.  You need to be careful with what information you share with people whose character you really don't know.


I'll admit one thing.  You can probably get a more informed initial impression of someone by meeting them through other more traditional routes.  That goes without saying.  But online dating is for discovering new people before you meet them in person.  It sets up an opportunity, a possibility, nothing more.  You get to decide what criteria are important, and it affords you the ability to learn some things about the other person before you meet them in person.  Maybe you won't waste your time after reading that they smoke or have 8 children.  Maybe, after listening to them freely offer up nasty information about their ex, you decide they aren't for you.  But if they pass through your deal-breakers, maybe they are working chatting with and maybe meeting in person at some point.  Again, you have to use your brain, your discernment, and your intuition just like with the rest of life and making life decisions.  Sorry, yeah... I knew you were hoping you didn't have to.

The bottom line is this.  Once you have kids and get settled into a family and a career of some sorts, your social circle loses much of its potential to expand.  If you are lucky, you wind up with a handful of close friends who are more like family to you, but the rest of your time is spent taking care of your children and working 40-plus hours a week to support them.  If you are lucky enough to go back to college, you will find yourself able to meet many more people, but how many of them are potential long-term friends or mates?  Most of them, if you are in your mid-30's for example, are much younger than you, usually don't have children, and are overall far less mature.

Therefore, as a late 20-something, 30-something, or 40-plus adult, your social opportunities for building relationships and meeting new people become generally limited to:

1. Your workplace -Many employers have policies prohibiting the dating of fellow employees, though you may meet new people who are friends of fellow employees.  If you work from home or don't work for a company with lots of opportunities like this, this is something of a dead end.

2. Your church -And that is only if you go to a small church or do something like join a home-group.  Are you really going to meet someone new and ask them to coffee during the 2-minute "greeting" time before the sermon?  Probably not.

3. Bars and night clubs -Really?  That is so much better than online dating?  Reality check.

4. Your childrens' school -You may meet other parents who are single or become friends with other parents who have single friends.  Possible, but not easy.  Unless your children "play" together, you usually don't get to know other parents very well.

5. Neighbors or existing friends -You meet neighbors and friends of neighbors, or bum off the ever-expanding social circles of your current friends. 


So maybe in your situation these five spheres above don't offer you very much by way of meeting new people.  And maybe there are other factors that get in the way and limit things even more.  What on earth is wrong with adding in another way to help you meet someone new, someone who is looking to meet someone new, as well?  Is it really so much worse than drinking another beer so that you can have the "courage" to go talk to that person at the bar?  Give me a break. 

Besides, I hope that I have demonstrated how online dating is not a crutch to begin with.  It is a tool to open up possibilities that your life situation may not currently have.  You weren't supposed to be 38 years old and single.  Your life was supposd to be settled.  That's why it is hard to find new people.  But here is one of many valid ways to find others looking for the same thing.

I say let the stigma die.