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)”

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.

Growing Up and Growing Beyond

Getting back to the daily songs, today’s song is, of course, ‘Growing Up’, by Peter Gabriel, off of the album Up.

When I had a nervous breakdown a few years ago, I finally got medical treatment for mental health conditions that I had been struggling with for some twenty years. My doctor put a name to what I was struggling with: chronic anxiety and depression. With medicine and counseling, the ‘demons’ that I had been struggling with (sometimes literal voices) disappeared over time, in dramatic fashion. Being able to think clearly, without fear, is something new to me. Having the creative spark be a normal thing instead of a fleeting feeling that disappears into months of writer’s block (due to depression that I didn’t know was there) is tremendously liberating.

So life, for me, has essentially started over, or did a few years ago. It’s a liberating feeling, but also discouraging at times, because I realize that if I live to 75, my life is nearly half over. I’ve spent a few years growing out of various obsessions: learning the Japanese language was one, comic books, video games, geek culture, spending lots of money on toys and memorabilia and Blu-Ray discs and physical copies of books I liked, all of this immature behavior that I went through in my teenage years and went through again in my early thirties–a sort of midlife crisis. I’ve emerged from that. I’ve grown up a bit. It’s a relief.

Life can begin again, if you get help. If you feel like life is wrong all the time, if you’re uncomfortable in your own skin, if you look at life with despair, get help. Your answer might not be medication–I have a chemical imbalance, and medication definitely helped me, but you might just need to talk with someone. There’s no shame in that! You only have to reach out.

p.s. I’ve been growing up politically and theologically as well, exploring ideas outside of traditional Protestant, Evangelical, and Republican thought. If I seem a little edgy at times, chances are I’ve discovered something new about how the world works and it’s made me mad. There’s a lot of redpilling I need and a lot of redpilling to dispense! 🙂

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.

 

Lead A Normal Life

Today’s song is Lead A Normal Life, by Peter Gabriel, off of his third self-titled album.

One of the reasons I like Peter Gabriel is that he doesn’t shy away from tackling issues in his music that other artists won’t touch. On this third album, he peered inside the mind of a burglar (‘Intruder’) and an assassin (‘Family Snapshot’), tackled world peace (‘Games Without Frontiers’ and ‘Biko’), various states of agitation (‘No Self-Control’, ‘I Don’t Remember’), and social pressure (‘Not One Of Us’).

On the second half of the album is nestled this quiet, simple, beautiful track, starting with the peaceful marimba and then, as texture, some muffled shouting in the background, which ceases before the marimba continues and the lyrics start:

It’s nice here with a view of the trees
Eating with a spoon?
They don’t give you knives?
‘Spect you watch those trees
Blowing in the breeze
We want to see you lead a normal life

photo-1441312311734-f44cc0bda31dI said this in a tongue-in-cheek manner on Twitter the other day: the reason I can talk about going crazy is the fact that I’ve been there. Mental health, like the tagline to this blog says, is a huge priority in my life, because it’s been something I’ve struggled with for years.

Several years ago, an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, combined with lack of sleep due to some medical issues led me to literally run away from home. As an adult. Twice.

The second time this happened, my family demanded I get help, and I let them put me in a mental health facility. It was a terrible experience–probably not quite as bad as prison, but close–but it was good for me, in that it was a wake-up call.

The years hadn’t been kind to me.

Years of legalism, piled atop a hidden mountain of undiagnosed mental illness, filtered through Charismania and a personal obsession with a wrong idea of ‘ministry’, all of these things combined to literally drive me crazy, to the point where I required medical treatment.

Now, let me tell you this: I am a Christian.

I want to let that sink in for a second. I am a Christian, and I have struggled with mental health issues.

The reason I want you to understand that is because there is a poisonous lie in the modern church that goes like this: “If you are a Christian, you cannot be mentally ill.”

Sometimes it takes a more Charismatic form: “Depression is of the devil.” “They have a demon.”

This is a lie.

The Church is a hospital, and I believe that most congregations have individuals with undiagnosed mental illness, who have come to the church to help, and have not received it.

In some churches, these individuals are shuffled off to the side. Out of sight, out of mind. They’re looney, but harmless. ‘We’re not sure how to deal with them, but they’re not hurting anyone.’

In other churches, the ‘demons’ are ‘cast out’, and the individual is told then that they are healthy and normal, when they are not. The unhealthy individuals are then recruited to ‘spread the Gospel’. This usually doesn’t work out very well, because normal people can clearly see that there is something wrong with these individuals, and nobody normal wants to associate with a Jesus being proclaimed by someone who is clearly mentally unstable.

This needs to change.

I am no pastor, nor preacher, nor teacher, but I encourage those of you who are, to study abnormal psychology, to study mental disorders.

Remember that the Church is not only there to carry out the mission of physical healing, but holistic healing: spirit, soul, and body, the wholeness encompassed by the Hebrew word shalom.

Those with a broken mind, broken emotions, are no less worthy of attention than those with a broken back or a broken leg. You might get less attention on stage, because mental illness is invisible, but if you are genuinely interested in helping people, all kinds of people, you need to learn how to heal all of these ailments.

Is it a demon? Maybe. I’ve come to the conclusion over the years, though, that I know almost nothing about demons, because all my ‘demons’ disappeared with medication and counseling.

More likely, it’s a combination of a problematic upbringing, wrong ideas of God, and sometimes (though only a doctor can diagnose this), a chemical imbalance that needs to be treated with medication.

This takes both discernment and education.

If you value your family, your friends, and your flock, please find out the signs of depression, suicide, and anxiety disorders. Online classes and information is freely available. I’m not saying to send them to the psychiatrist when a few sessions of counseling would do just as well. I’m saying that this requires both a spiritual sense and education, so you can really know what you’re seeing.

To those Christians who have been hurt by religion, who are on their last legs or the end of their rope: come to Christ. If you’re not at peace, if you are unable to find spiritual rest, please, get help.

If you can’t get help at the church you’re going to, pray and look elsewhere. Ask, seek, knock. You’ll find help if you look for it.

We, meaning Jesus Christ and myself, we want you alive, whole, and well.

We want to see you lead a normal life.

Doing Something About It

Today’s song (click here if you can’t see the player) is ‘Bad Body Double’ by Imogen Heap, off the album Ellipse. It’s a strange little song, because the speaker is essentially talking to herself as if she had a split personality, thinking about the things she doesn’t like about herself (‘a little extra weight on the side’, for example) as if those things were attributes of someone else.

For the longest time, I’ve been packing on the pounds as if I was deliberately trying to fatten myself up for the slaughter. My desk job is literally killing me, but so is the habit of eating bad-for-me things all the time and not getting enough exercise.

Last week I came to a sudden realization that what I am doing is committing slow suicide–I know that I’m killing myself and doing it deliberately. At that point, I had to decide: do I want to live, or do I want to die?

The answer before was obvious: I was depressed. I didn’t value my life because I didn’t enjoy it. I was worried about my wife and kids, sure, but I was also miserable, and while I would never have done anything to deliberately sever the silver cord, I was essentially doing that anyway in a slow manner.

So I’ve made a few changes. But I’m doing it my way, and that way means the fun way. My brain is wired in what I think might be a slightly hedonistic way: if it’s not fun, I generally won’t do it. So I’m making it a sort of game, ‘gamifing’ it, if you will. Do I need to eat those M&Ms? Can I shave a few calories off by not eating the fries? Can I fit in some more exercise somehow? And when I successfully resist the temptation to eat more, rather than rewarding myself with food, I’m rewarding myself with the understanding that every little bit I do now is an investment in my future: a thigh gap, the ability to wear XL or 2XL shirts again, not feeling exhausted all the time, et cetera.

But this didn’t happen because of any effort on my part. Jesus said that ‘in myself, I can do nothing.’ And he only uses the ‘weak and foolish things’. Being weak and foolish and recognizing that is essentially what qualifies me for miracles. And a ‘miracle’, in this instance, is a change of thinking.

In order to change our thinking (metanoia), we have to rely on the Spirit to work within us. Often God’s voice sounds like our voice, a clever, new idea in our head that is the answer to a problem. Those sudden ideas, or sudden surprising questions that pop into my head, are things that I value, and something any believer should value.