Life Didn’t End Back Then (A New Creation)

Yesterday afternoon, I was catching up with some YouTube sermons of a preacher I used to follow, when a scripture he was teaching out of really caught me, 2 Corinthians 5:17:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

The Mirror has it thusly:

In the light of your co-inclusion in his death and resurrection, whoever you thought you were before, in Christ you are a brand new person! The old ways of seeing yourself and everyone else are over. Acquaint yourself with the new!

I reckoned at that moment that my thinking had been wrong: I had been thinking that my life had ended five years ago, when I had a mental breakdown, and that I would never get past that–something along those lines. The shame of having broken inside was something from which I could never recover.

But I am a New Creation. It remains to be seen what I really am–but I know what I’m not.

I’m not crazy. I’m not a mental case. I’m not a hopeless wreck on the side of the road, doomed to rot. I’ve been born again. My life isn’t over–it’s just getting started. I’m new inside–a kainos creation (new in quality and kind).

Therefore I can move on. And since you are part of the new creation too, so can you.

You’re Not A Mess (Even When You Are)

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

One of the biggest problems that people with mental health issues have is their perception of themselves. The Church hasn’t been of much help in this, focusing on sin and depravity more than focusing on how God actually thinks about us. We think many thoughts daily that are unworthy of our grand position in Christ–and this goes for both believers and non-believers, for ‘God is no respecter of persons’. His opinion of us stands, no matter what.

I’ve collected a few quotes here that may help with this.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you. (Psalm 139)

I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of. For to have been thought about—born in God’s thoughts—and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest, most precious thing in all thinking. – George MacDonald

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. – C.S. Lewis

Continue reading “You’re Not A Mess (Even When You Are)”

‘Forbidden’ Music and ‘God-Absent Holes’

My teens and twenties were dominated by an obsession with music. At one point I owned over 1,000 compact discs. I would carry the huge binders in my car, ready to punch up on the stereo system in my old Buick (where the stereo system cost more than the car was worth).

Then I hit a religious point of zeal and get rid of all my ‘secular’ CDs. Anything by non-Christian musicians was out. I destroyed most of my music collection, believing that God wasn’t in the music and that he was unhappy with me.

They say that every man has a ‘God-shaped hole’. My problem was that I had some very large ‘God-absent’ holes in my life, areas where I was convinced that God would not go. I was afraid that if I listened to ‘secular’ music, that I would drive away the presence of God, so in order to please him, I needed to listen to Christian music only. This eventually narrowed to ‘worship music only’, so Jars of Clay was out and Hillsong was in. This made my world narrow and unpleasant! But God was happy with me in my misery, or so I thought.

The problem I constantly experienced was that I still loved the music that I had thrown away. Artists like Yes and Peter Gabriel and Genesis and Gentle Giant were ‘bad’, but I still missed their music terribly. I wasn’t supposed to miss it–after all, I had given it up ‘for God’, but I still did miss it. This caught me in a trap: this music is ‘evil’, I love the music, therefore some part of me must be ‘evil’.

When I finally got the revelation of grace and started emerging from legalism in 2010, I slowly discovered–very slowly discovered–that God was not absent from any place in my life. John Crowder talks about this bipolar idea in a post from today:

There are no unbaptized parts of our lives that are out of His range. Drop the double-minded polarity. It never occurred in the mind of God that creation would be something separate from Him. As soon as we wall God off from certain areas, we jump to a place of insanity – a religious schizophrenia. Delusional separation anxiety. He does not exist in this area of addiction, my finances, my health, my dysfunctional family relationships. Before you know it, we are locked into this false pagan mindset that is based entirely on a lie. We start forming personality disorders founded only upon smoke and mirrors.

God was always here – and is shining right now in the midst of the darkness. Even the darkness is as light to Him. Plato and Aristotle could see a dualistic split between light and darkness. Good and evil. Right and wrong. But the apostle John throws us a brain scrambler in the first chapter of his Gospel when he tells us that the light is shining in the darkness! (John 1:5). There is nowhere you can hide from the inescapable love of God.

John Crowder

I like that ‘there are no unbaptized parts of my life’, because that leaves me free to enjoy listening to Yes or the Beach Boys and enjoy that music as much (or more) than that of Hillsong United or Jesus Culture. Whenever I get in my car, I’m free to whatever I want: I can cue up a sermon or a podcast if I’m curious about something, or just toss in a CD by whatever artist and enjoy it.

That freedom took years for God to work into my life. But the good news is, the freedom is there, and always available.

Allow God to set you free. Allow yourself to love the music. There is no secular-sacred divide any more. No part of your life scares God away. If you’re in sin, stop! But you’re not in sin when you’re just living your life.

‘Lord, Help!’

It has long been my belief that the most holy, most sanctified, and possibly the most important prayer one can pray is also one of the simplest:

“Lord, help!”

Often I find my emotions going one way and life circumstances going a different way and I am stuck in the middle, feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. It is at those times, which are frequent, that I pray this one prayer.

“Help me, Lord.”

There is also a personal adaptation of ‘Jesus Loves Me’ that I sometimes sing to myself on these occasions:

Jesus help me, this I ask
I’m insufficient for this task
I need you to light my way
Every night and every day

Oh, Jesus, help me
Yes, Jesus, help me
Yes, Jesus, help me
I need you every day

Sometimes I feel ashamed that I am in constant need of divine help just to make it through some days. But who else would I ask for help from? I already take my medication. I ask for prayer from my wife. But the quickest way to fix the situation is to go straight to the Source. And when I pray, I find my emotions calming down, my perspective shifting a little, and a bit of peace coming in where there was unrest.

“Jesus, help me.”

Perhaps much of my prayer seems self-centered. But how else should I pray? I cannot help others if the spark of joy, creativity, contentment, and peace are not active within me. Without that stability that comes from God, I can do nothing. I can’t write, I can’t sing, I can’t do much of anything. But what I can do is hunker down and ask God to help me.

“Lord, help.”

‘He is the vine, I am a branch; without him, I can do nothing.’ Thankfully, with him we can do everything that’s necessary. All we have to do is ask for help.

Works Righteousness and Mental Health

This morning I came across this post, and it helps explain how I went crazy. I’m talking literally crazy–mental-health-facility crazy–and this helps explain how God got me out of that mindset.

But first, the music: Soul Sloshing by Venus Hum off the album Best Remodeled, just because it’s catchy and happy.

Here’s the quote–and I apologize for the length, but all of it is good:

Dualistic and/or binary thinking seeks to comprehend things in a linear, formulaic pattern. This mindset typically results in a ‘if/therefore’ or ‘either/or’ perspective that really doesn’t fit well or function properly when it comes to attempting to comprehend and understand grace.

For example, this mindset says, “If I repeat the formulaic incantation of the sinners prayer, I am therefore saved.”

We witness this time and time again in our churches. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard, “Now, with every head bowed and every eye closed, repeat this prayer after me.”

Followed by, “If you just said that prayer and meant it, we believe you’ve been saved.”

The biggest problem with all this is that this mindset doesn’t truly direct anyone towards Jesus; it directs us toward ourselves. Salvation then becomes a matter of what WE do; Jesus may be the means, but man is ultimately the end by which salvation is finally decided.

This is works-righteousness, a fools errand, and is essentially anti-Gospel. If salvation depends on me reciting some magic words that changes God’s mind about me, then I’m totally screwed, and the finished work of the cross is rendered useless.

The beauty of Grace; the real-deal Gospel undiluted, is that it shatters these modes of thinking and restores Union; Oneness, even in our thinking and perceptions.

We realize we were home right from the start. We realize that Jesus is God’s overwhelming, resounding ‘YES’ to mankind. We awaken to the fact that salvation is a finished work, achieved on our behalf by, in, and through Jesus, and that He was never depending on us to finish what He started (and completed). It is in these moments where we encounter grace that we are equipped to rest and trust in Jesus; not ourselves, not our works, not our words.

It is in these moments of encounter that we are gifted with faith, and we begin partaking, participating, and enjoying this divine Union; where all illusions of separation and division are shattered; where we begin to understand that it is HIS faithfulness that moves us and draws us and engages us with salvation, not our own. –Pete Nichols

From the time I prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’ at 12 years old, up until around 2010, I was obsessed with righteousness-by-works and didn’t know it.

Works righteousness says, ‘I am OK with God based on what I do.’ The problem with that is, it’s impossible to be made right with God, for him to be happy with us, based on anything we do.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10, ESV)

Your salvation is not a reward for good behavior! It was a grace thing from start to finish; you had no hand in it. Even the gift to believe simply reflects his faith! If this could be accomplished through any action of yours then there would be ground for boasting. We are engineered by his design; he molded and manufactured us in Christ. We are his workmanship, his poetry. We are fully fit to do good, equipped to give attractive evidence of his likeness in us in everything we do.  (Eph. 2:8-10, The Mirror)

Works righteousness led me down so many wrong paths. I mentioned when I wanted to be Jewish? I wanted to be Jewish because I thought I had be, to be righteous and keep God happy. I had ministry prophesied over me as a teenager, so I tried so many times to start ministering and form a ministry, to make it happen, a goal which nearly tore my family apart. I wanted to go to Japan and was hell-bent on learning the language and trying to convince my wife that we needed to move there. Guess what? None of this worked. I’m not Jewish, there is no Stephen Shores Ministries, and I still haven’t gone to Japan.

It’s actually good that this stuff didn’t work out, because eventually it revealed that I had this secret, hidden idea: ‘I have to do all this stuff to keep God happy.’

Keeping God happy is not the primary goal of the Christian life. It is not a sign of maturity, it is a sign of immaturity.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zeph. 3:17 ESV)

God is already happy with you.

If I don’t have to keep God happy any more, then what does God want?

Love.

The end goal of the Christian life–and every step of the journey–is love: pure love, for God, for self, and for everyone, everywhere.

I could predict the future in detail and have a word of knowledge for everyone. I could possess amazing faith, and prove it by moving mountains! It doesn’t make me any more important than anyone else. Love is who you are! You are not defined by your gift or deeds. (Love gives context to faith. Moving mountains is not the point, love is.)

Love is not about defending a point of view; even if I am prepared to give away everything I have and die a martyr’s death; love does not have to prove itself by acts of supreme devotion or self sacrifice!

Love is large in being passionate about life and relentlessly patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others with kindness. Love is completely content and strives for nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2-4b)

Love doesn’t strive. Love rests in what God did on the Cross. Love is at peace in the ‘righteousness that comes by faith’–simple trust that comes by believing God.

I wish I could tell you that this mentality goes away easily, but I spent a couple of decades under the thumb of works righteousness, thinking I had to do stuff to keep God happy. I did a lot of stuff!–but it accomplished next to nothing. When I learned to live life ‘by grace through faith’, my marriage became better, my relationship with my kids became better, and I became a better employee at work.

Note that this wasn’t the entire key–I still needed treatment for mental health issues (anxiety and depression), and you might need the same! But living by grace is the best place to start, something you can learn to live by right now. It will lead to inner peace, something that is sadly lacking in the modern world. That inner peace will manifest on the outside, and eventually you’ll have people asking you, ‘Why are you so peaceful? The world is falling apart!’ and you’ll be able to give a good answer.

I bless you in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. May you see as God sees: that pleasing Him is something that he does through you. Amen.

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’”