Realistic thinking

Paul encourages us to think realistically about ourselves, “I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.” Rom 12:3 Thinking about ourselves with sober judgement also suggests we are not to consider ourselves worse than we are! The body of Christ, when practicing their unique expression of the Spirit’s gifts, keeps us honest about who we are.

Without even knowing it, we often relate from a false sense of who we truly are. Our false self lives in one of two camps, with an ego either extremely elevated or totally deflated. The first cannot tolerate any blemish or shadow on its bloated sense of self, the other cannot integrate any sense of value or worth. They appear very different from one another but they are two expressions of the same process, an attempt to prove ourselves good, lovable and significant.

Our inflated ego keeps our false self safe by believing, “I’m good, I’m important, God must be pleased with me”; people must be kept at a distance in order to protect our false sense of security. Their displeasure or disapproval of who I am could puncture the fragile membrane that keeps my false self intact.

On the other hand, believing we are worthless and unlovable, causes us to draw people toward us who will be the voice that tells us “You’re good, you’re important, God must be pleased with you.” All in an attempt to strengthen the false self by convincing ourselves that we are okay.

God’s truth spoken through the living Word and through the words of our brothers and sisters in Christ deals a death blow to the false self. You see, God’s word pronounces us guilty even when we do not feel guilty (inflated ego) and it pronounces us not guilty and righteous, even when we do not feel righteous at all (deflated ego). The truth is we are sinners, but we are beloved sinners. We are worse than and better than our false selves would have us believe.

God dissolves the false self by placing God’s word and truth in the gifts of another, be that other a servant, a teacher, an encourager, a giver, or one who shows mercy. Living in a community, that practices her spiritual gifts allows our true selves to be realized. We need each other. We need God’s school of grace called community; it is our tutor in truth.

Into which camp to you fall, the deflated or inflated ego? How do you see it playing out in your relationships with others? Speak with God about what you discover.

How have you been impacted by the spiritual gifts of another? Invite the Holy Spirit to use you and your gifts to build the body of Christ.

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Facing Truth

truth road sign arrowReorientation toward truth 

God made you you on purpose, and God needs you to be you. In order to live from the freedom of your God given identity, you will need to replace the lies that you have come to believe about yourself with God’s truth concerning you. As Jesus said, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

So how does this happen?

  1.  Identify the lies that hold us in hiding. See herehere  and here for help in identifying these lies. 
  2. Replace with lies with God’s truth. For more help read this post  A Return to Trust.

In my last entry I shared some of the lies that have held me captive. “I am powerless, there is no hope.” Here is how these lies can be replaced with truth. It’s not an easy process, sometimes it helps to have a trusted spiritual director who can walk through this with you. I’d be honored to walk with you through this exercise. Contact me if you like.

Identify an inciting incident – Prayerfully recall a specific incident from childhood that typifies how you began to believe the lie. My lie was a sense of powerlessness, yours will most likely be something different. On a family camping trip, when I was around seven years old, I was holding my mom’s hand as we walked on a small dam across a tiny creek. It was a hot day and the pond the dam created looked so inviting and cool. My mom kept saying, “Don’t go in the water” as she would push me toward the pond with a smile on her face. It was very confusing for me. I kept trying to not go in the water because that is what she told me to do. Her words said one thing, and her actions said another. I didn’t know which to obey.

Experience the feelings related to that incident – Revisit the scene in your imagination, let it come alive and get in touch with what you felt at the time.  I felt confused. I wanted to do what was asked of me, but I couldn’t determine which demand I should obey: to stay out of the water or to let my mom push me into it.

Messages/tapes that play – As a result of such incidents what messages does your subconscious hear and live by? Any decision I make will be the wrong one. I’ll get in trouble whatever I do. 

Vows I make (beliefs I hold) – What is your response to these messages? How have you determined to act in response to their demands?  I will not make any decision on my own. I will keep still and let others decide for me. 

Impact of vows – How has keeping this vow, holding these beliefs impacted your life? – I’m indecisive, passive, untrusting. I don’t know myself, I blame others for my failures. 

Relive incident with Jesus – Prayerfully re-imagine the inciting incident but this time Jesus is there with you. What does he say/do? How does he act? Notice your feelings as you re-experience the event. How does what you learned of him in your scripture study impact the outcome of this scene? Jesus walks behind us on the dam as I cross it with my mom. I know he’s there. When my mom begins to tease me by issuing conflicting messages, I hear Jesus behind me saying, “You are not crazy for being confused. Your mom is teasing you, she’s trying to be playful. She’s not trying to harm you. Relax, you can trust your instincts.” Jesus then comes between us, puts his arms around our shoulders and we all jump into the pond with surprise and laughter.

Jesus’ (re)formation activity

Jesus is committed to (re)forming you. It will take a life-time, but the sooner you cooperate with the Holy Spirit in this work, the greater the opportunity for healthy and joyous life. We need to learn how to live from our God-given identity. Jesus models this perfectly. He knew who he was and why he existed. His baptism identity held him through his life. He knew he was the beloved son of God, that God was pleased with him and that he had the authority of God in his life.

As we watch him interact with people, we see him interrupt the pattern of their life and give an opportunity to live from their true self rather than their pretended, assumed self.

I suggest you complete an assignment. It involves looking at specific encounters Jesus had with people and observing how his intervention gave them a new identity. Here’s an example from my prayer journal.

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” Luke 7:11-16

Jesus observes a funeral procession. He sees a woman weeping. He realizes that she was a widow, torn by sorrow, bereft of intimate relationships and left without means of support. Perhaps she felt her life was over, or maybe she wished it was. Her tears and the testimony of the whole town confirm her loss. She is ever after without hope.

When Jesus saw her he had compassion on her; he desired her tears to stop and her sorrow to end. He used his power to resuscitate the man and returned him to her, alive and well. He restored her hope.

I relate to the woman’s sense of hopelessness. I often feel that my identity, or means of being acknowledged in the world is connected to another’s ability to provide it for me. Without this connection to power, I am lost and forgotten.

Jesus sees me; he knows I am afraid. He doesn’t condemn my lack of trust and he doesn’t want my fear to swallow and paralyze me. He comes along side of me and touches the place of my hopelessness; the progression into self-pity is stopped. He resurrects my hope and gives a voice to my dreams. I receive the life he gives.

***

Listed below is a list of  encounters Jesus had that illustrate this type of intervention. Here’s the assignment: Prayerfully, read the following stories and answer the questions. You’ve just read one of mine. Please let me know what you discover.

Scripture:

  • Woman with alabaster jar Matthew 26:6-13
  • Gerasene demoniac Mark 5:1-20
  • Rich young man Mark 10:17-22
  • Annunciation of Mary Luke 1:26-38
  • Widow at Nain Luke 7:11-16
  • Woman at the well John 4:4-26
  • Woman caught in adultery John 8:1-11
  1. Observe the person’s sense of self, how he/she felt about him/herself, from where did he/she draw her identity?
  2. What evidence of struggle with pain/sorrow/pride caused by his/her sense of identity do you see in the passage?
  3. As Jesus interacts with this person, what do you learn about Jesus’ desire for him/her through his actions, words, commands toward the person?
  4. In what ways do you relate to his/her struggle, pain or strength?
  5. If this passage were the only text you had to inform you about being God’s person, and God’s desire for your sense of self, what does it tell you?

Begin with the end in mind

In our series of important questions, we’ve considered “Who is God?” Let’s move on to an equally important question: “Who am I?”

We know ourselves by such things as what we do, the way we look, or the relationships we are in. If I were to name a few essential things that describe who I am, the list would include:

  • I am an introvert (edging on recluse)
  • I am playful (enjoy silliness, games, childlike pursuits)
  • I love God (not perfectly, though)
  • I doubt my value (keeps me quiet and invisible)
  • I’m a woman, married, well-educated (and other external identifiers)

You could make your own list and reading it would help me know you better. But are these qualities, characteristics and interests what define you? I’m not the first to realize there is more to who we are than what we do. Thomas Merton, in No Man is an Island says,

We must find our real selves not in the froth stirred up by the impact of our being upon the beings around us, but in our own soul which is the principle of all our acts.

When you ask “Who am I?” you touch the essence of the human experience. The answer to the question reveals the unique you, who was created by God, for God’s delight and God’s intention.

God created you to belong to God, to know yourself as God’s beloved; and from this solid sense of self, to allow your unique personhood to become a means of expressing God’s character and God’s good will toward the entire world.

In Rev. 7 there is a description of the end for which you were made:

‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ These are they who have come out of the great ordeal. 

The ordeal you face is the lifelong struggle of putting off the old, false self with all it’s sin-based, ego-driven needs and habits and putting on the new self, the one God has named “my beloved and pleasing child.” Emerging victorious from this struggle is accomplished by faithfully clinging to Jesus and being deaf to any voice but God’s. The evil one would clothe you in shame and accusations. God clothes you in a white robe, the robe of acceptance and purity. Hold this truth foremost as you fight the good fight. Because:

For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

As it has been said, begin with the end in mind. Today, you are in God’s presence. Can you feel the shelter of God’s love and power? Right now, let God satisfy your hunger, quench your thirst, and keep you safe. In this very moment, Jesus, your good shepherd, cares for you and takes you to the source of life. At this hour, God knows your pain and sorrow, let God comfort and console you.

Let these truths define who you are.

With you on the journey,

Debby

This is part of a series entitled  The New Old, a look at familiar things God wants to make new. It begins here.

Keeping the love

Your greatest longing and greatest fear are one and the same

Remove Shame Cleanse the lepers: restore to community (part eight)

You are a very complex creation, a living oxymoron. Your greatest longing and your greatest fear are one and the same – to be thoroughly loved. You long for it because it is what you were created to experience. You fear it, because to be loved completely requires complete transparency. This is scary. If you are completely self-revealing I could learn some shameful thing about you that might change my mind about how lovable you are. Yikes. Better to hide the ugly and unattractive. But this hiding pollutes love, this hiding creates doubt, this hiding builds walls. Your greatest longing goes unrealized because of fear.

Hiding, born of fear and shame is our inheritance from Adam and Eve. They ate the one fruit they were asked to not eat, and their eyes were opened; they saw their nakedness, and hid because they were afraid. Fig leaves couldn’t hide their shame from God or from themselves, but that didn’t stop them from trying.

We carry on this family tradition. We have our own fig leaves, our own ways of hiding our vulnerable self. Modern day fig leaves usually take the form of emotional and relational styles of being and interacting. Following are a few common ones.  Any sound familiar? If none of these are your go-to fig leaves, don’t worry, I’ll continue the list on my next post.

I tend to protect my vulnerable self by…

1. Avoidance  Emotionally and/or physically. I am afraid of rejection; I’ll find ways to deflect from any personal attention. One tactic I use is to be a good listener; always being the one asking questions. Like the woman at the well – John 4

2. Intellectualizing  I tend to focus on tasks and reasoning to approach most of life’s situations; I analyze and talk about feelings in an emotionless manner. Like Nicodemus – John 3

3. Projection   I ascribe to others the emotions/attitudes that I would like to ignore in myself or I don’t like about myself. For instance, I will perceive/accuse others of putting me down because I feel very inadequate about myself. Like the Pharisees and Jesus – Matthew 12:22

4. Blaming  I am too insecure to assume responsibility for matters; I fear handling the consequences if I am responsible. I often appear angry. Like Pilate – Matthew 27:11-26

5. Splitting  I idealize some people or things while ascribing all the bad to others: I think in black or white, there is no room for gray. Like Judas – Mark 14:4-11

The list continues on my next post.

This material is taken from the Shaped at the Garden Retreat. For information about this retreat, please contact me or check out the upcoming events.

The give and take of Community

In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Remove Shame Cleanse the lepers: restore to community (part four)

God’s beloved community is our tutor in truth. God’s word, coming from the hearts and through the words of our brothers and sisters in Christ, can be the light that reveals the sham of our false self and the solidness of our true self. (see here.). We cannot truly know ourselves until we see ourselves reflected in the mirror of community.

When I am discouraged, afraid, off track or burdened, it is God’s truth spoken through your presence and your words that give me hope, courage, correction and relief. When I lose sight of the destination, your faithful friendship is my GPS system.

Probably the most important aspect of our definition of community is that we are together primarily because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is our relationship with Jesus that draws us to himself and puts us in relationship with every other believer. It is solely in him and through him we have this fellowship. Without him, we are a social club.

We come to community only through Jesus Christ. Unless Jesus stands between us we could not authentically connect, the way would be blocked by ego, false self. I couldn’t accept and love you for you, I would need you as an object to satisfy my own needs. Jesus’ purifying love stands as a filter between us, cleansing us of pride, selfish ambition and greed.

In community we learn to love one another and to receive love. It gives us the opportunity to offer to one another what we have received from God. We have been forgiven, we now can forgive. We have been shown mercy, we can now be merciful. Community allows us to develop the character and life of our savior Jesus.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Christian community is made solely of people redeemed by Christ. That is our only important affinity. – to desire or require more of community is to want more than what Christ established. To quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who has greatly influenced my thoughts about Christian community, in his book Life Together, “(It) is not an ideal, but a divine reality.”

We’ll talk more the “less than ideal” experience of Christian community in my next post.

This material is taken from Shaped at a Garden Retreat. For more information about this retreat contact me.

Self – True or False?

Remove ShameCleanse the lepers: restore to community (part three)

God Himself taught us to meet one another as God has met us in Christ.            -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Jesus is committed to removing the shame that results in isolation, whatever the source of the shame, be it leprosy or fear. (See previous two posts.) Cleansed and free we can now begin to experience ourselves as God’s beloved children. Although this is our reality, it is an identity into which we must grow. We are not accustomed to thinking of ourselves as beloved, accepted and healed (our true self). We have learned to use others as bolsters for our sagging ego (our false self). We need to learn how to relate to ourselves and others from our new identity, our true self. Jesus lovingly places us in his school of grace called community. Beloved, we can love; accepted, we can accept, healed we can heal.

We need community to teach us the truth.

Our false self lives in one of two camps, with either an extremely elevated or a totally deflated ego. The first cannot tolerate any blemish or shadow on its bloated sense of self, the other cannot integrate any sense of value or worth. They appear very different from one another but they are two expressions of the same process, an attempt to prove ourselves good, lovable and significant.

Our inflated ego keeps our false self safe by believing, “I’m good, I’m important, God must be pleased with me”; people must be kept at a distance in order to protect our false sense of security. Their displeasure or disapproval of who I am could puncture the fragile membrane that keeps my false self intact.

On the other hand, believing we are worthless and unlovable (yet so not wanting it to be true), causes us to draw people toward us who will be the voice that tells us “you’re good, you’re important, God must be pleased with you.”  All in an attempt to strengthen our false self by convincing ourselves of our ok-ness.

God’s truth spoken through the living Word and through the words of our brothers and sisters in Christ deals a death blow to the false self. You see, God’s word pronounces us guilty even when we do not feel guilty (inflated ego) and it pronounces us not guilty and righteous, even when we do not feel righteous at all (deflated ego). The truth is we are sinners, but we are beloved sinners. We are worse than and better than our false selves would have us believe.

God dissolves my false self by placing God’s word and truth in your mouth to speak it to me (and vice versa). Our community will allow our true selves to be realized. We need each other. We need God’s school of grace called community.

More on the life-giving role of community in my next post. This material is taken from Shaped at a Garden Retreat. For more information about this retreat contact me.