When Feelings Lie

It’s been a gloomy January here in Illinois.  I can count the number of times I’ve seen the sun on one hand.  Everything is wet and muddy and chilly.  Pretty much it’s been the worst weather, in my opinion.  This gloom has been mirrored in my heart this January too.  I don’t mean seasonal depression so much as an inward battle with my feelings muddying the truth I know to be true.

I haven’t written in a while as I haven’t felt like it.  In fact, I don’t really feel like it right now either.  Rather, in recent conversations, I’ve been reminded that “nothing is new under the sun.”  Similar struggles are met by others, not solely me.  Therefore, I’m writing not just for me but for others and you that also may be waging war between fleshly feelings and the truth from God.

I’m not proud to admit that most of the time my spiritual life is dictated by my feelings.  Hence, it has often ebbed and flowed according to the fickleness of my emotions.  However, as of late, my feelings have become such that are incompatible with my faith in God.  This time, I can’t just ride them out.  I am required to take deliberate action against my emotions and “take every thought captive.”  When you’ve been accustomed to being guided by your feelings like I have, this is no fun thing nor is it easy.

Feeling Betrayed

If you’ve experienced unexpected loss or a jarring halt in life plans, you may relate to the feeling I’ve been living under this month, and that is of betrayal.  Betrayal by God that is.  Even in typing those words, I know them to be false!  However, that sense is so powerful and destructive.  It’s easy to look at circumstances in life and assess that God is not acting like the good father who gives his child bread when she asks but rather the one who gives a stone.  This is where another lie is propagated as well.  It is the lie that I can discern truth by observation of my life.  While there may be times this has some merit, it is by no means the norm.  We are but seeing “through a glass darkly” right now.

In my head, I know that God does not betray. I know that he is the Good Father. I know that he sacrificed so much for us sinners.  Thus, I speak these truths to myself when the feeling of betrayal mounts within my heart.  I still pray, practicing my faith even thought I don’t sense its power.  This is good, but I want more.  I want my feelings to change!

Looking to Scripture

I have found turning to examples in the Bible to be the greatest corrective balm to my divergent emotions.  Thank you, God, for including the life stories of so many who have gone before us!  The story that immediately comes to mind is that of Joseph—Old Testament Joseph.  This is the boy who had the dreams—dreams from God!  This is the boy who was sold into slavery and separated from his father and family.  This is the young man falsely accused of rape and thrown into jail.  This is the young man who sat in that dark jail in a foreign land for years!  Years of isolation. Years of silence from God. Years promising a hopeless future.  Then, when he illustrated his faithfulness to God in interpreting the baker’s and cupbearer’s dreams, he was once again forgotten and left in jail for a couple more years.

I expect Joseph must have felt the feeling of betrayal not just from his brothers, not just from Potiphar’s wife, but also from God.  If he had interpreted the merit of his life solely upon his present circumstances, he could have easily assumed God did not have his good in mind.  As the story unfolds, we see how God had not forgotten Joseph nor had he forgotten the dreams he gave Joseph.  God was waiting until the timing was right for Joseph to save his family and all of Egypt from famine.  God exalted Joseph from the humble jail to the glorious palace.  God knew the greater plan at work.  No matter what he may have felt, Joseph remained faithful in the dark and was able to see God’s plan unfold later in the light.

The next account I turn to in Scripture is in the New Testament, and for me in combating my feelings, this story is even more powerful than Joseph’s.  This account centers on Jesus.  Jesus, God’s Son, the perfect one, experienced the feeling of betrayal too.  He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, betrayed by his people who had only days earlier exalted his entry into Jerusalem, and forsaken by God.  In the garden before his arrest, Jesus prayed for his cup to pass.  He did not want to suffer on the cross, and he begged his Father for another way.  However, there was no other way.

Jesus’ human will did not want to suffer, but he submitted it to his divine will which required the impending suffering.  Despite being God and being obedient, Jesus still felt the human feelings.  He still experienced the pain, the anguish, the sorrow, the betrayal, the isolation.  We see this on the cross when he exclaims, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”  In the end, God exalted him from the humble death on the cross to the glorious resurrection and return to the heavenly throne.  God had a greater plan at work. Jesus did not let his feelings prevent him from accomplishing the saving work on the cross for all those sinners who believe in his name.

Back to 2017

In our times of feeling betrayed by God, we need to remember we do not see the whole picture.  We do not know how God is working in the world around us.  I don’t have a dream like Joseph, nor a promise like Sarah, nor a prophecy like John the Baptist for anything temporal, but I do have an eternal promise.  I have the promise that God which “began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” and I have the promise that God is with me always.  This, together with the reminder that so many before me felt similar feelings and yet remained faithful to see God’s plan unfold in their lives, gives me the ammo to fight my deceptive emotions.  Ultimately, these lies come from the devil.  In James and I Peter, the Word of God promises us that when we resist the devil, he will flee from us.  God is the victor, and to him be all the glory as we do battle.

Turning from Condemnation to Confession: Voicing the Gospel

cross.pngHateful words pour from all forms of media. I cringe.  Judgments pronounced; allegations made; fingers pointed, and sourced by many Christian voices. Why? Why do we let pride control us–prompting us to defend ourselves from the same judgments we’re so quick to cast on others?

This ugliness is a fraud.  Our defenses were useless long before now.  We’re trying to hide the fact that we’re in the wrong.  Well, let’s be honest, we are.  All of us contribute to the messes in this world.  None of us can innocently point the finger and cast the first stone.  Have we deceived ourselves so much that we can’t acknowledge our sinful state? Even that crowd long ago recognized their inadequacies when Jesus spoke regarding the adulterous woman’s condemnation.

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her…At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time…” John 8:7b, 9a NIV

Such a sorrow this is.  We can’t get anywhere with judgement and name-calling.  That’s not the Gospel.  Christians, we know that!  We know that healing only comes when we confess our wrongdoings.  This comes from repentance and reconciliation. It leads to growth and restoration.  We’re saved by grace, because we are in fact in the wrong and can’t ever be or look good enough to change that state ourselves.  It’s only by confession and forgiveness in the work of Jesus Christ that we’re saved.

We need more confessional voices.  Honest humility.  I’ll start!  I am so quick to judge, compare, and evaluate.  I am more concerned for my interest–not others’.  I am more jealous than joyful for others.  I do not love well.  I am so easily distracted from pursuing God’s kingdom work.  But these sins don’t have victory; don’t have the final say.  I stand condemned but for Jesus!  He forgives me, and His Spirit enables me to grow in love and right conduct.  Daily humility and confession are the practices that make the way for transformation.  Let our voices be confessional not condemning.

Longing

HorizonWe aspire—so many directions to go, so many people to become, so many careers to pursue, so many places to travel.  We hunger for fulfillment.  We look behind us, sorrowful at the loss of the way things used to be, while also clinging to a driving hope that the future will hold what is better.  Either way, we are discontent in the circumstances of today.  Solomon laments the meaningless of life and its pursuits in Ecclesiastes.  Nothing in this world satisfies our longing.  It pushes humankind to great lengths of earthly achievement or terrible woe.  In the end, we die without realizing the “aha” moment that validates our life.

On the surface, this is a rather sobering and discouraging lot to swallow.  What’s the point of even living this life?  Solomon’s answer? “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (Eccl. 12:13) He elaborates on this further in Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied.” (Pr. 19:23) Fear of the Lord—a right regard for who God is and who we are—brings us to the place of satisfaction.

In John 4:14, Jesus says, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  Thirst, the most recognized longing in humans, is the analogy for our souls’ yearning.  Jesus promises to satisfy it wholly and thoroughly in himself.  The Psalmist prays, “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.” (Ps. 63:1-5) The same request follows in Ps. 90:14:

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

Clearly there is hope for satisfaction in this life.  It is found in the love of Jesus and our abiding life in his.  While we still hunger in this world, we can taste that promised eternal satiation with Jesus even now.  Think about the swell of wonder you felt at the last baptism you witnessed or the tears that struck when you led a friend to Christ.  Remember the inexplicable peace that wrapped around you in that troubling time, testifying to God as its source.  We must fight the worldviews that surround us in our culture.  They lie that our fulfillment can be found in that better body, that better job, that better location or house or car or family.  Solomon smacks those lies in the face. None of it will satisfy.  Those days when you feel stuck in the rut—feeling purposeless and hopeless—remember there is eternity with Jesus.  When that comes, our hunger will be fully filled; our thirst will be no more.  Savor your time with Jesus today, for though he promises to fill our thirst, in this life we must drink of him daily.

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” – Ps.119:103

 

May this be our prayer:

“As the deer panteth for the water,
So my soul longeth after Thee;
You alone are my heart’s desire,
And I long to worship Thee

You alone are my strength,my shield;
To You alone may my spirit yield;
You alone are my heart’s desire,
And I long to worship Thee

You’re my friend and You are my brother,
Even though You are a king
I love You more than any other,
So much more than anything

I want You more than gold or silver;
Only You can satisfy;
You alone are the real joy giver,
And the apple of my eye”

by Martin J. Nystrom

Shifting from Sand

The other day, I was sitting on the beach letting the waves lap up over me. In and out they came and went.  It didn’t take long for the sand to erode around me.  It was a challenge just to stay seated upright.  This brought back to mind thoughts I had earlier this month about building one’s foundation on sand or rock.  You know the story–Jesus tells his disciples that the foolish man built his house on the sand and the storm washed it away, unlike the wise man’s which was firmly founded on rock.

The beachAs with almost all that I am learning on this Christian walk, building on rock instead of sand is not a new concept, but the application is more fully revealed.  I remember as child chiding the silly man who thought it was a good idea to build on sand.  Anyone who had made a sand castle knew it couldn’t last!  Even as I grew older and understood the parable to be deeper–about life’s foundations–I did not internalize the application.  I was blind to my own architectural flaws.  It has taken the waves of life shifting my world around me for me to realize where I am founded.

Why am I so unsteady in my emotions, in my trust versus fears, in my anxiety?  Surely, I placed their weight on undependable structures.  Life is always moving.  Waves do not stop lapping.  I have to find a sure grounding if ever I am to be strong through the constant unknowns and trials ahead.  Ah, that is where Christ emerges–the cornerstone, the rock.  I’ve known that is what he is, but I now I know how vital he is to me as my sure foundation.

So much of the temporal has changed, but Jesus still remains the way, the truth, and the life.

He is the only one unchanging.  He is the only one always present with me.  He is the only one who will always be for me, love me.  He is.  Eternally without beginning and thousand years after his coming as a man, he is.  He is faithful to all these generations.  So much of the temporal has changed, but he still remains the way, the truth, and the life.

So, how do I move my foundation from the temporal to Christ?  I believe through prayer, taking thoughts captive, and meditation on the goodness of God, who he is, and who I am in him.  Realignment.

The Word

I was reading in Eugene Peterson’s book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places yesterday and came across a part where he tied God’s act of creation through word to Christ the Word in John 1.  This started a flow of thoughts of my own about God being Word.  John writes, “The Word was with God and the Word was God.”  The BIble often describes God as being _____ fill in the blank: love, good, just…and here Word.  I often have thought of language as a creation of God, certainly there is room for this in that at Babel new languages for humankind were created.  However, language is made of words and God is Word which makes me think that language as the category is not a creation but the essence of God.  What does this mean about God?  How do we see God using Word?

First, he creates.  When we see God being the Word that creates all things that are, it expands our understanding of God’s providence maintaining the existence and function of creation.  It shows how creation partakes in God, but I want to be careful to not take this too far and run into error toward pantheism in which God is in creation.  God only entered in creation in the incarnation of Jesus–Jesus is the only creation that can be called God, which leads to a second way God uses language.

Jesus uses language to reveal the way to God–to communicate salvation.  He is the Word Creator in creation using words to convey to his creations the truth of God.  God expresses himself in creation, he makes man in his image by giving him language, and uses that language to draw his creation back to himself, the source.  We see God, as the pure language, create through language humans with a lesser language, then in Jesus, pure language is in creation using the lesser language to communicate to created humans the way to perfect communication and communion with the God Creator.  Language is part of the whole circle of God’s relationship with his created humans.  It shows how God takes himself and gives to us.  I think this is helping me understand in a new way how Christ who is God saving created humans through himself has always been at work.  For now this is how I read John 1.

Living through Loss

Loss comes in different strains, but it is a common malady to all people.  Every change brings some element of loss—a loss of what was—what can never be.  It brings grief.  A common response to loss is to question why it happened.  If God is powerful and good, why did he not stop the course of events which led to the loss?

Right now I am walking through my own grieving process as I recover and move forward from the loss of a very close relationship.  I have had an assortment of thoughts and feelings that osculate from sorrow to pain to wonder to despair to denial to hope to frustration to questions to peace and joy to sorrow again.  Through my life I have endured enough other types of loss to know one thing to be very true and very important—turning away from God in bitterness and resentment for allowing the loss to happen is not the solution!  Rather the only comfort comes from burrowing my heart into God, drawing closer to him, seeking him.  It is not my natural instinct.  Initially it is somewhat satisfying to “punish” God by blaming him and ignoring him rather than going to him.  However, the choice of remembering God’s great love for me—he died for me and there is no greater love than that—is far more beneficial.  So the first part of comfort I have found in coping with loss is choosing to trust God and letting him ooze his peace and comfort into the depths of my pain.  This is the past lesson I have learned that bears truth into my present struggle, but now I turn to John 11 where I have been discovering a new comfort in this season of loss.

John 11 recounts the events and conversations that transpired with regard to the death of Lazarus.  John writes that Jesus learned of Lazarus’ fatal illness but waits until Lazarus passes before leaving for Bethany.  This is troubling from a human perspective, for the reader’s thoughts echo that which Martha professes, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” and what the other mourners consider “‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’”  Truly, Jesus could have avoided this great loss of life if he had come in a timely fashion to Bethany—he had demonstrated in the past his ability to heal sickness.  Yet, John gives a powerful insight into this situation that reveals the true motivation of Jesus—he quotes Jesus, “‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’”  In verse 14, Jesus also purposes it to give the disciples belief.  John also makes the effort to communicate Jesus love for Martha, Mary and Lazarus and express Jesus’ grief for the loss.  Although God allowed the pain and death to occur in order for his glory to be expressed and the faith of his followers to grow, his love and compassion are real and congruous with these purposes.  Now as the account continues, John presents the amazing resurrection of Lazarus to life—restoring to Martha and Mary the one they loved and had lost.

In my life, God may or may not restore this relationship to me.  That may not be his greatest good for me.  However, I can trust as Mary and Martha did while in the full throng of their sorrow that God is still capable of all things.  I also can choose to have hope even in a hopeless situation that God will work it out to a greater good through ways unimaginable to me now.  Best of all, I can know fully that God is at work to bring his glory about through this situation and that concurrently he is empathizing with my pain.

I am reminded as well of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.  He knew that God had promised him many descendants through his son, yet he still offered up his most precious gift to God with full faith in God’s integrity.  Although, I have no promise from God that my future will include this relationship within it again as Abraham did, I do have a promise from God of a “hope and a future.”  Therefore, though he is asking me to lay down on the altar the relationship I thought would give me a wonderful and good future, I can have faith that somehow he will bring about a wonderful future despite my current loss.

“The Lord gives  and takes away, but still I will say, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord'” Thanks be to God!