Three Things That Got Me Through Hell

No matter what you believe about hell in the afterlife, if it’s literal or figurative, some of you, like me, have have been through hell on earth, and can testify that it’s no fun. Some of you have a loved one or friend who is hurting inside and you don’t know how to help. Hopefully this post will help you or them a little.

First, though, the music: This Feeling by Ryan Ellis, off the album Kingdom Glory–just because it’s catchy and fun. It helps to listen to good music when you’re talking about serious things.

Continue reading “Three Things That Got Me Through Hell”

Coming Home, Part 1: ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’

Last week I was feeling rather dry and depressed inside. I couldn’t find anything to listen to on my evening commute–none of the many audiobooks I have seemed to fit the bill, and none of the music I have on my phone seemed to satisfy.

(By the way, today’s song is Who is Jesus? by the BRILLIANCE, off their newest (and quite amazing) album All Is Not Lost.)

Then I remembered a friend of mine had a new podcast which I had loaded on my phone and forgotten about, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt. It definitely didn’t hurt, and in fact, it helped quite a bit. Continue reading “Coming Home, Part 1: ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’”

Praying For Your Enemies: Justice and Mercy

This morning I had a big bowl of lies and betrayal for breakfast, metaphorically speaking.

It didn’t go down well.

I won’t go into what happened, but suffice it to say, it hurt me and indirectly hurt my family, and I was angry–still am.

As a Christian, what am I supposed to do at this point? I feel like praying for them to take a long walk off a short pier. What I’m supposed to do is, of course, pray for my enemies.

The ESV has Matthew 3: 43-45:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

How do we pray for our enemies? The Lord’s Prayer says:

Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.

and

Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

…but if I may add something that has been helpful to me, and perhaps may help you, I will.

Whenever I am lied to, betrayed, or hurt in some way, I pray for justice and mercy.

That’s it. Justice on the one hand, mercy on the other. Both, not just one or the other.

The Douay-Rheims has Psalm 85:10:

Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed.

In Christ, justice and mercy meet. We deserved justice; we received mercy.

God’s Idea of Justice

I specifically pray for justice, because I have been wronged and I want to see it made right. I want revenge. I want something bad to happen to those who made something bad happen to me.

Justice: That Time When I Was Fired and the Company Failed

One time I was wrongly fired from a job. At the time I was much younger in Christ, and I wanted revenge, big time. My wife and I even consulted a lawyer, but there was nothing he could do. At the time, this scripture came to mind, James 5:1-6. Per the ESV:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

That was a satisfying scripture.

What happened? The company later folded in one of the most miserable ways: from the inside. A year later, the company was gone.

Did God destroy a company for my sake. Well, I think so, but I don’t know. There were a few non-wicked individuals in that company who didn’t deserve to lose their job. The rest, who knows? Did they later repent? Did they later get saved? Who knows? The fact is, it happened, and I was very glad at the time. It appeared to be God’s justice at work.

This isn’t a formula, and it doesn’t happen all the time. I was unfairly let go from another company several years later, and the company is still there and doing fine as far as I know. The people who wronged me this morning, things could be going swimmingly for them for years to come. But I trust God to make it right.

In the end, God makes everything right. Psalm 1, ESV, emphasis mine:

Blessed is the man [this is you]
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Mercy

The reason I pray for justice and mercy is that God is love. He, as exemplified in Christ, is the perfect embodiment of both justice and mercy. So while we pray for God to make it right in justice, we also pray for God to also make it right in his kindness. Jonah expected God to wipe Nineveh off the face of the earth, despite their repentance, and God had to give him a remedial course in mercy. We don’t know if Jonah learned anything, but we can learn for ourselves.

Mercy is God’s decision. Romans 9, emphasis mine:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

Since mercy is God’s decision, mercy needs to be my decision.

Mercy: The Ultimate Revenge

I pray for justice, but I also pray for mercy. The ultimate revenge, to my knowledge, is seeing my enemies meet Jesus and become saved. I’ve met people who were hellions in high school and treated me terribly back then, and many years later, met them again and they had gotten saved and were living righteous lives.

I won’t say that this is because of my prayers (I sowed plenty of my own wild oats myself in high school, so at the time I might not have thought to pray for them at all). But clearly someone prayed for them, and maybe even it was someone who they had wronged.

God has mercy on his enemies. He wants us to pray for our enemies, ‘so that we may be sons of our Father who is in heaven.’ So that we may look like he who granted mercy on us. Christ received death so that we would receive life. The NIV has Isaiah 53:5:

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

The Lord’s Prayer also addresses mercy:

Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.

We are to forgive as he forgives.

What Next?

What do you do after a betrayal? After someone lies to you, steals from you, cheats you, or otherwise mistreats you?

You hurt. You rage. Maybe you cry. It hurts. You have to recognize that your emotions are all right, and it’s OK to express them. If you have friends or loved ones or a pastor you can express them to, all the better–they can help you cope.

Then, when things calm down, you pray. After the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps you do as I do.

“Lord, I pray for justice and mercy.”

Then you learn to let it go. You decide to forgive. Forgiveness is not automatic; you have to decide whether or not you will forgive them. Your emotions will not cooperate with you.

Ultimately, you let God be God. Let him do what He wills. You’ll see ‘the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’. You’ll ultimately prosper, and God will handle them. Maybe you’ll hear about the person who hurt you being punished later on–maybe they’ll even see ‘instant karma’. Maybe they’ll repent and become saved, and you’ll be reconciled. Maybe they’ll go on their merry way, hurting other people, and you’ll have to let God handle it.

Doing your part, praying for your enemies, is what you can do. Then you let God handle all the rest.

 

 

I Wanted To Be Jewish (Overcoming Obsessions, Part 1)

This morning a couple of songs from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ were in my head. I reflected on Twitter that I hadn’t watched the movie since my ‘I wanted to be Jewish’ kick about a decade ago.

One of the worst flaws of my personality is the tendency towards obsession. Through the years I’ve been, by the grace of God, able to tame that tendency somewhat. I’ll walk you through some of the faulty logic here, and perhaps this will help you if you recognize this tendency in yourself. Or perhaps you’re a Christian who is obsessed with ‘Jewish roots’ and need a kick in the pants.

More after the break. Continue reading “I Wanted To Be Jewish (Overcoming Obsessions, Part 1)”

Progressive Clarification 

photo-1464746133101-a2c3f88e0dd9One of the difficult things about this life is when you reach the frustration point: I am not who I need to be; I can’t think the way I need to; I need clarification; what is wrong with me?

Well, nothing is wrong with you. It’s just not clear yet.

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:4-6

The problem I run into so many times is that I cannot think clearly enough. Either I am too emotionally attached to the issue at hand to make a clear decision, or no one path seems better than the other.

That’s when I need clarity. And there’s nothing wrong with seeking God in prayer with that–as a matter of fact, that should be our first step, seeking our Almighty and ever-loving God for wisdom.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. – James 1:5

I have learned over the years that if I am stuck in negative thinking, that I am not thinking right. Sometimes there’s a quick fix for that: take a nap, get some exercise, grab a bite to eat. Sometimes the problem is a little deeper and I might have to have a talk with myself, like David:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation. – Psalm 42:5

“C’mon, cheer up, snap out of it!” There’s no shame in talking to yourself, maybe even bossing yourself around a little bit. We have far more control over our internal thought processes and emotional state than we think we do.

We all proceed ‘from glory to glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:18) and need clarification along the way. I myself have been asking God for clarity on my life’s work, what career path I’m to take next, and through prayer and counseling have come up with a ‘game plan’ (going back to college and getting a teaching degree, which has been my heart’s desire for decades).

But it’s taken many years to arrive at this point where I can think clearly about the future. rather than wading daily through a fog of misery and confusion. I didn’t start getting treatment for my mental illness issues (which I didn’t know that I had) until I had a full nervous breakdown several years back. It’s been a long, difficult road since then. But I’m glad to be able to say that I’ve reached a little more clarity. And every week things become a little more clear, through prayer, wise counsel, life experiences, and reading books. But I’m not ‘all the way there’ yet. And neither are you. But that’s OK.

Progressive clarification, that’s what we receive from God. Enough light for the path ahead. Eventually enough light will come so we can see farther. But for right now, we have a little light, and that’s enough.

What ‘Clear Thinking’ Means

While I sort through various mental detritus, I thought I’d take a self-serving moment to define what this blog is about. (And what’s more appropriate for a self-serving post than a self-serving song to go with it? ‘Stephen Stephen’ by The Apples In Stereo isn’t about me, but it is a catchy song, and it spells my name the same way I do.)

‘Clear thinking’, the phrase you’ll see across the header of this blog and my social media accounts, is something I strive for. It doesn’t mean that I necessarily have clear thinking on all things. It’s just easier to say than ‘striving for clear thinking’. But having lived through nearly four decades, being on the recovering end of a nervous breakdown, and having the perspective of a former Charismatic and Republican, I think I have a few things to say about Jesus, politics, and mental health.

Every week, it seems, I will get into verbal fights with others on Twitter, mostly with liberals, occasionally with liberal Christians (the most contradictory and annoying creatures on the planet). They call me names and I’m not always polite in return. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find confrontation like that fun, on occasion. It adds spice to an otherwise boring life. And in the end, I hope that my arguments are persuasive. Jesus didn’t mince words when talking to the Pharisees about their hypocrisy and lies. I’ve been ‘mincing’ less and less lately. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s necessary in order to wake people up.

Politics

You can vote for Hillary if you want to. The Democrats are determined to destroy this country by replacing its native population through amnesty, welcoming every Third World person into our fold. They are determined to take our Second Amendment rights away, which means that when said immigrants become violent, as statistics prove, that we won’t be able to defend ourselves. And Democrats are determined to remain in power forever, by ensuring that far-left Supreme Court justices can strike down any law or restriction put in place to curtail the moral rot that has infested our nation.

You can vote for Trump. He will likely come in like a wrecking ball–sorry for that image of Miley Cyrus–but he will shake up establishment rule and most likely guarantee a different future for our country–and just about any vision for this country is better than Hillary’s. Making America Great Again is much better than Making America Even Worse.

You don’t have to vote if you don’t want to. #NeverTrump-ers are delusional, as is anyone who claims that Trump and Hillary are the same. (They’re not.) But believing lies–or telling yourself lies–enough times will convince you that the lies are true, and you have the right to be an idiot.

Jesus
This isn't me.
This isn’t me. I wouldn’t mind if it was, though.

As a Christian, you can continue to do nothing about the moral rot in our country. You can continue, passive, while liberals take away our rights. You can continue, idle, while Christians are murdered in the Middle East. I, for one, cannot stand being idle–but I don’t know what to do about these things. I honestly have no idea. But I know things can’t continue as they are.

You can continue to live in doctrinal error. I left the Charismatic movement–anything claiming to be ‘Spirit-filled’ or ‘independent’ or ‘non-denominational’ or ‘prophetic’ behind, and became an Anglican. I wanted roots in a lasting tradition passed down from the Apostles, the Nicene Creed, the Sacraments like communion, and grounded in Holy Scripture. While I recognize that Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodox churches are probably closer to the mark, I’m not ready to give up the link to Protestant theology. We’ll see what happens. All I know is that I’ve found a home in the Anglican tradition, and I’m much happier there. I feel like I’m putting down roots, instead of the feeling of not being connected with the Body of Christ. It’s a wonderful place to be.

Mental Health

I used to be really, really messed up in the head. It was undiagnosed and untreated mental illness that led to my nervous breakdown a few years back. I didn’t know how to ask for help, and when I did ask for help, the church we were going to would try to cast a demon out of me, then treat me as a second-class citizen the rest of the time. I didn’t know why I was depressed and wanted to commit suicide for so long. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me–why I felt like I was constantly being torn apart from the inside–until my doctor put a label on it: anxiety. I never would have known.

Throughout the experience of my breakdown and subsequently working with family and counselors to putting the pieces back together, I’ve learned a few things: besides the fact that being mentally ill sucks, I find that many, many people in the Church suffer from mental illness, and they don’t know it.

They act weird not because they have a demon, but because they have bipolar disorder or another chemical imbalance. I’m not ruling out the existence of demons–certainly the Bible has a few things to say about them–but I think that the vast majority of cases where someone is called spiritually oppressed is actually untreated mental illness. There’s a stigma attached with mental illness. Nobody wants to be around a crazy person, even in the Church. It’s my job, my responsibility, to help shake things up, to get people in the Church to realize that these people need help, and that casting out a demon and calling them fixed, or keeping these individuals out of sight of the public, isn’t going to work. I am working on myself so I can not only become an authority on mental health, but also to get the people skills necessary to persuade others that it’s vital for these individuals to get treatment–they don’t just need sympathy, but they need to get their lives back so they can life happy, healthy, and productive lives.

Conclusion

This is what clear thinking means to me: a progressive revelation of who Christ is, understanding humanity, and understanding myself. In order for me to promote clear thinking, I have to become clear in thought myself. I can’t say that I’m ‘there’ yet, nor do I believe in this lifetime that I will ever truly reach a ‘there’ (we’re always learning!), but I believe that I will progressively become a more knowledgeable person and will be able to help others who are in need. That’s another part of clear thinking: knowing that something needs to be done, and knowing how to make it happen.

The Pain of Becoming

Today’s music is actually a whole album, Anjunabeats Volume 12. by Above & Beyond. Because it’s a trance album where all the songs flow into each other, it doesn’t make sense to just link to one track. Here’s an Amazon purchase link.

51JQHobFsaLI’ve been reading several books lately of a self-help, philosophical nature, and while they have been both informative and entertaining, I won’t link to them because they’re also painful to read, at least for me.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with Christian meditation, working on focusing my mind and thoughts, rather than living life with my brain wandering everywhere. It’s helped lift me out of the funk I’ve been in lately, which is good, and a lot of times I will get insights from the Holy Spirit as to why things are the way they are in my very complicated head, or a better sense about life.

One of the things I realized today is why reading some of these self-help books is so painful is that perhaps they’re not intended for me. Maybe they’re painful to read because they don’t fit a certain pattern that God established for my life. He says he is making us like Christ, but ‘Christ in me’ looks different than ‘Christ in you’, as expressed through our unique personalities and emotional makeup.

One problem is that I’m unsettled in my identity and I don’t feel successful in life, so I latch on to someone who seems self-assured and is successful, then I wonder why their approach to life doesn’t seem to work for me. There’s probably a reason for that: I’m not that person, and I suspect that for me, self-assurance and success is going to look very different.

I don’t know what I’m becoming; I’m still in that ugly stage where it feels like, at times, I don’t know which way is up. Maybe, just maybe, that confusion is OK. As I learn to focus through meditation, that extra step that helps me keep centered in the Spirit, I believe things are getting better, slowly. But I have to let go of the idea that I am going to look like other people, that my success is going to be the same as theirs. Sure, I can grab some helpful pointers here and there, but God isn’t making me into that person. He’s recreating me according to my original intended design, reducing the complicated to the simple, turning pain into peace.