Posts Tagged ‘restoration’

Saying I need to care for myself sounds so self-centered.  Many of us who follow Jesus Christ might even feel a little nauseated at the idea, because it feels like letting our flesh, our sin, have its way.  Entire sermons are preached and books written against living this way, but we must be careful and specific, because words matter and self-loathing or condemnation can stealthily slip in wearing godly clothes.

Self-care and self-indulgence are not the same; in fact, they couldn’t be more separate and distinct.  I believe the confusion arises from the term “self”, which frequently invokes an image of self-centered living and selfishness, which are, almost universally, considered detrimental to human health, relationship and a functioning society.  In fact, love, compassion, service in integrity, putting others needs before one’s own all run counter to, and are essentially incompatible with, living with self as my focus, because my immediate feelings and desires for me will without exception out-prioritize needs of others.  This is not to say a self-centered person can never serve others; rather, it means they are only capable of doing so either once their own perceived needs are met or perhaps under a guise of integrity crafted in fear.

Motivations behind our will are often obscured to the eye, quietly churning and hardening like stony gravel concealed in our hearts and flesh.  For those known by Jesus Christ and who trust his offer, God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:26-27 is fulfilled and the heart of stone has been supplanted by our loving creator with a refreshed heart of flesh as the catalytic initiation of new life in God, deliverance from the desperate and dark hopelessness of sin’s prison.  This deliverance has been presented by some as requiring a complete despising of one’s self, even one’s identity, typically referring to the word of Jesus in Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'”  But let’s take a broader look to include the context of this event.  Jesus said these words immediately after correcting Peter for his self-centered protest of Jesus when he warned the disciples of his approaching death: “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.'” (v. 22-23, my emphasis) Now reread v. 24. So, did Jesus intend for Peter to wholly neglect his personhood, his identity as a man?  Or was Jesus instead pointing to the sin lurking in Peter’s flesh?  Was he calling out the fear rising in his mind from hearing of his Lord being murdered and prompting him to refuse the possibility?  After all, Jesus created Peter; not with sin, but with all his gifts and character in an original, unique design, as he has each human being.  Surely that design is what God is working to restore, not reject, and even enhance along with the rest of his creation (Revelation 21:1-5).

So, then, how do I care for my self in a healthy way?  Self-care manifests as differently as the varied life experiences of each person yet dwells within the same existence and touches the same places in our hearts, like diverse mini-currents and eddies all maneuvering within the larger flow of the same stream.  Self-care is quietness of mind, heart and soul.  It is being willing – more fundamentally, agreeing with the need – to separate from routine engagements with other people and things and choosing to absorb, rather than expend.  A temporary closing of the valve, if you will, of the outflow of our energy and life.  Self-care acknowledges the incontrovertible physical, emotional, mental and spiritual necessity for equilibrium and that the elements of our human design always seek it out, despite potential frustration from our will pushing to stay the course.  Yet, there is much more to it than just “taking a break”.    

For many of us, the startling disorientation Peter experienced from contemplating such a horrific loss can cause our flesh to similarly lurch into denial as a means of survival, to escape and refuse reality to protect what we have secretly defined as “life”.  It exposes a crucial truth:  our hope rests on an outcome rather than on Jesus himself.  This is central, not only to our growth in him and his daily work to restore us, but also to how we care for ourselves.  Self-care is not immersion in or protection of idols we’ve grasped, motivated by fear, but the recognition of those idols as idols, releasing them as powerless and transferring the hope we had previously placed in them to Jesus and his supreme affection for us.  Self-care is a reorientation to truth and light; a consolidation of trust and following, decoupling from the myriad facades of hope and life to select and pursue the one voice that credibly and compassionately promises eternal fulfillment of our original intricate being.

The truth is, ultimate self-care is immersion in, union with, God.  My energy, my love, my healing, my fullness of life come from him alone.  Without self-care, even as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have little to offer anyone in my life because my efforts will, at best, produce a thin residue of love scraped from the remnant of my last encounter with him.  I have gone weeks before without spending more than a few minutes with him (“arrow prayers”), and it takes a toll.  Suddenly, I discover I’m less able to respond in a healthy, productive way to those who depend on me. Life just gets harder, and I start to despair.  Many people I’ve met carry the faint awareness of this in their eyes, flickers of hope losing ground to shadow.  They know deep in their being we were not intended for such an inconsequential, futile existence, but that fading hope is daily met with reinforcement of pain from the world and false helpers, often others who are equally terrified yet also refusing to risk full pursuit of union with God.  Instead, eyes shut tight, they cling to a fraying but familiar rope over a bottomless chasm.  That was me, too; it feels safe, but really caring for myself is opening my eyes and considering that what feels true may be incomplete.  Self-care is moving my gaze off the weakening strands of that rope long enough to discover Jesus reaching out just above my head as he gently encourages me to trust him all the way and instead grab his strong, immovable hand.

Scripture and scripture references taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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This article was written in response to an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on October 16th, 2017, titled, “The religious right carries its golden calf into Steve Bannon’s battles,” by Michael Gerson.

I’m not a fan nor a detractor from Steve Bannon – I don’t know him very well. That said, I felt sad reading so much labeling and name-calling within an article that was purportedly critical of “dehumanizing” people or groups of people. I also failed to observe in the accompanying video any of the vile attacks or racially/ethnically divisive comments the article claimed had occurred – maybe they exist, maybe not. There were plenty of accusatory statements toward Bannon, the President and others, however, without supporting evidence or even bibliographical references. But the article is an opinion piece, so that’s not required (though it might have added legitimacy to the author’s contention). In any case, it got me thinking about how we as followers of Jesus respond to events and to the world’s perspective on them.

I honestly believe we Christians err when we look for the world’s political systems to perfectly or even satisfactorily reflect God’s word. When two believers in Jesus can disagree on how to interpret a portion of God’s word, can we honestly anticipate worldly political players to be more unified? I’m not saying the disagreements don’t matter – they do, and they require wisdom and guidance to help both perspectives grow into unity.  But it isn’t realistic to expect a consistently godly outcome in the contentious, complex and worldly environment of politics. We Christians can, however, offer clarity and wisdom as we are led by the Holy Spirit.

Regardless of which “side” is speaking or what issue is at hand, alarms go off anytime I encounter derogatory categorization of whole collections of people paired with extreme conclusions, particularly when directed at my Christian family (examples from this article include: “[Christians allying] their faith with bias and exclusion,”, “These conservatives have chosen [idolatry] over faith”). How could anyone so grossly suppose to know the hearts of so many they are not in relationship with, indeed have never met? This is a telltale signal that offense and fear are driving the message rather than prayer, wisdom, the Holy Spirit, godly counsel and God’s word. Offense and fear are the seeds from which hatred and violent aggression sprout. To borrow the language of the article, to ally ourselves and be comfortable embracing such superficial, putative invective, we Christians do indeed influence how many see Christianity, even producing distaste and confusion in those observing us, to the detriment of what we state is our intent toward those who live apart from Jesus.

Less about whether to discuss and debate around these difficult topics, I believe the issue is more how we prepare before jumping in. So, my response to provocative, poisonous sparks, in others as well as myself, is to seek to douse them and recognize my own susceptibility to folly. All of us, no matter the issue or position we choose, are vulnerable to express foolish words and actions. Stop, breathe, pray, re-enter God’s word and seek to re-assume the perspective of Jesus: All those bearing the image of God have value regardless of the validity of their argument. They are his creations and he has intention toward them that is permeated with mercy and grace.  Is that the image I am presenting as his child, his ambassador? (2 Cor. 5:20)  Each of us has a voice, a presence we bring into every encounter with others.  What is mine saying about Jesus?

We are certainly called to engage and even oppose those straying or promoting error, but we oppose them with Christ’s very character and spirit at the forefront; not in order to win the argument or conquer them but to win their hearts and help bring them to repentance. (Mt. 18:14-15) Remember, God does not desire for any of his image-bearers to be lost. This turning is accomplished by the Holy Spirit engaging their condition through our relationship and our testimony, not by attack and humiliation. Our only foundation in this role is God’s word, and if we’re not spending time in it ourselves, we can harm others while seeking to help them. We are also called to oppose false prophets, those captive to deceit, in order to defend the Body of Christ and keep the poison out while still praying and longing for the repentance and restoration of the captive. What is the common theme?  We must only confront those in error because we love them as Jesus loves them, and like him, we long for their freedom.

God is not casual or indifferent. He is passionately working on all people all the time, driving us to repentance, calling us to reject illusion and surrender to truth, pleading with us to stop fighting our maker, the one who is willing to rescue us. When responding publicly to statements or arguments, especially political ones in our current times, we must routinely test our own motives and attitudes. When I encounter an individual whose behavior or message disturbs me, stirring up discomfort, disdain or contempt, I begin asking questions. Do I feel God’s love for this person? Am I engaging them as if they matter? Am I listening more than I speak, working to discover their story and their struggles? Am I offering them hope, encouragement, joy? I believe this is the posture Jesus exemplified and encourages us to seek, and their presence or absence is indicative of our own spiritual health. If we find ourselves instead despising, avoiding, desiring harm toward those we oppose, that is a warning.  It’s time to remove ourselves from the conflict and take some time to remember the first and greatest command and redirect the powerful passion in our hearts back toward the heart of God.

2 Timothy 2: 23-26
“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

Scripture References and Quotations taken from
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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