A Good Day

Photo by Samantha Lynch on Unsplash

A while back I explained how I was using this phrase, or mantra, or confession:

Today’s going to be a good day, whether it is or not.

Over the past few weeks I’ve shortened that to:

Today is a good day.

Maybe it’s the former Charismatic in me talking, but I think that what I’m saying is working.

Let me clarify what I mean by ‘a good day’:

  1. One in which I didn’t have a panic attack or other mental health breakdown, or if I did, it wasn’t too bad.
  2. One in where I was able to ‘get in the flow’ and stay there for at least part of the day.

Neither of these are exciting things that make me gush with happiness, but that’s the point: to set the bar low, and anything above that low bar means I had a good day.

Maybe I’m being overoptimistic here, but it seems like this has helped me have more ‘good days’ than not. Give it a shot yourself for a few weeks and let me know if it helps you.

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.

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.

 

 

Affirmations, Persuasion, and the Prosperity Gospel

Creflo-Dollar-Facebook
Creflo Dollar. Source

I am still reading the books I mentioned two weeks agoGorilla Mindset and How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

To me, both books seem come to the same conclusions: using personal affirmations is a good idea. (I think that Mike Cernovich basically says that affirmations work because they strengthen the mind, and Scott Adams says they work for some unexplained reason. They’re most likely both right.) Both authors also use strong persuasion.

The other day, I came to the realization that Prosperity Gospel preachers, and, to some extent, Gospel preachers as a whole, have also come to the same conclusions, but by a different route. Continue reading “Affirmations, Persuasion, and the Prosperity Gospel”

Toughen Yourself Up And You’ll Toughen Up Christianity

Via RoK
Via RoK

For men who want to be men, we have to fight two things: society and ourselves.

But it is fighting ourselves–or rather, toughening ourselves up, that makes us so we can change society.

I’m convinced that most of what passes for Christianity in America (and probably Europe too) is a pale, softened, feminized reflection of what the Apostles had and what their immediate predecessors had. Men were strong and resilient in the choice of certain death at hostile dictators and a backwards culture. They boldly led their wives and families around the known world to spread the Good News, without fear. Our generation, when we even make it to church, we tend to either hear feel-good messages designed to tickle the ears, or outdated ‘beam me up, Scotty’ theology that makes us wimpy Christians.

I’ve been at the mercy of feminized Christianity off and on for more years than I would have liked. I hung around with the hippies in the ‘prayer rooms’, trying to appease Jesus by singing songs at him 24 hours a day. I thought that spirituality was all about embracing Jesus as a Bridegroom, the whole Song-of-Solomon-being-a-parable-for-Jesus nonsense. (Today I take Occam’s Razor to the book and I see it as a book of romantic, sometimes erotic, poetry.)

I’ve seen Christians re-discovering grace, discovering that God destroyed sin and destroyed us on the Cross for our freedom. If you’re not preaching grace so it can be interpreted as a license for sin (the same accusation levelled at Paul), then you’re preaching it wrong. But what we see now is that the grace movement has emerged from the thought of an angry Father and Son to the image of…well…the land of teddy bears and marshmallows. Some of us went from the idea of an abusive God to the polar opposite: passive, loving, gentle, and never offensive. As always, the truth is in the middle, the via media.

When I think about a father, I think about my dad teaching me how to drive, yelling at me when I was stopping at a green light or missing nearby cars in my mirrors, laughing as I would make my second car, which had a manual transmission, buck like a bronco across the parking lot and then die. I think of long hours spent taking my old Buick Regal apart to replace the fuel pump and alternator. Burn myself or cut myself a bit? It’s all right, just suck it up.

Dads are there to toughen you up in addition to providing you love and stability. If half of the weak twerps on college campuses who call themselves ‘Social Justice Warriors’ (there’s nothing war-like about them unless they’re wearing bandannas and protesting; perhaps we could call them ‘Sad Jellyfish Weasels’?) had had a real father tell them to ‘suck it up’ and stop being so weak, there wouldn’t be a problem with that. But no, the millennials had absent fathers or distant fathers who didn’t know how to raise kids, or didn’t even want to raise kids. This problem with weakness and lack of strong guidance goes all the way back to the Baby Boomers, the original children of privilege. Fortunately, I was one of the lucky few Gen-Xers with an intact nuclear family and Christian values, which helped keep our family together and helped keep me together through all the years of hell I suffered at the hands of mental illness.

I want to help reshape the picture of modern Christianity. I want to see Jesus as a man’s man, a conqueror who laid down his sword and died for humanity, to defeat sin and the grave forever. I want to read Paul, Peter, and John in the context of strong men who walked for days and weeks on end, sometimes going without food and sleep, to tell people of Christ everywhere.

To do that, I need to become strong. I need to change my mindset. To do that, I am reading the book Gorilla Mindset by Mike Cernovich so I can toughen up my mind and body. Scott Adams’ How To Fail At Everything And Still Win Big is also important, and I plan to work on his persuasion reading list so that while I am strengthening myself mentally and physically, I can learn how to influence others for good.

The other nonfiction book I’m reading off and on is The Jesus-Driven Life, by Michael Hardin. I like Hardin because he embraces mystery in spirituality but he’s also a no-nonsense fellow who doesn’t pull any punches (at least as I have encountered him on Facebook in the past).

Physically, I am working on finding a good martial arts studio that combines sensible cost with a serious attitude towards the study. I’ve figured out a way to make myself watch my eating and lose weight by making a system out of it: making it like a game. I don’t want to share any details on that yet because I’m only five days into it and I want to make sure it’s a viable, sustainable system first. So far it’s working pretty well.

In order to shape the world around us, Christians need to get strong. There is plenty of good we can be doing in the world–defeating globalism, socialism, feminism, Cultural Marxism, racism, immorality…all sorts of clear and present dangers. The dragons we have to slay now are not physical, but are ideas in peoples’ heads that are weakening us and causing them to be susceptible to every whim of the poisonous culture around us. Sometimes these ideas are helping weaken our countries’ borders and making our citizens unsafe. We, as Christian men, should be doing something about that.

As Christians, we should be leading the world. As men, we should be shaping Christianity into an effective force. I want to see Christians with backbone, modern Crusaders with guts who can stand up against Islamic invasion, globalism, and liberal insanity.

In order to fix what’s around me, I am fixing myself, by the power of Christ within, and by good guidance. Are you strengthening yourself? If not, isn’t it about time?

Fix Your Brain, Fix Your Life

photo-1464013778555-8e723c2f01f8I’ve come to realize that in order to succeed, I’m going to have to change my thinking.

There are two books I am reading right now in order to change my mindset.

The first is Gorilla Mindset: How to Control Your Thoughts and Emotions to Live Life on Your Terms by Mike Cernovich, an unapologetically masculine and prolific writer who I admire.

The second is How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams of Dilbert fame, whose articles on persuasion I very much admire as well.

Cernovich has an interview with Adams here, for the best of both worlds.

Getting more exercise is also a top priority. I have to get into martial arts classes somehow. I know that if I get more exercise, my thinking will be clearer and I will be able to write more. I used to write every day on this blog, and I want to get back to that.

I am to become an influencer, a strong, masculine man who can shape the world around me. Jesus did that, the disciples did that, and the only reason we can’t see that is because the Gospel has been feminized. I want to take the Good News back from emasculated men so we can see what we are supposed to see when we look at the Bible.

I also want to be a role model, someone men can point to and say, “I want to be like him,” and someone women can point to and say, “I want my man to be like that, or I want my sons to be like that.”

I’m not there yet. But this is what I am doing, and I’m on my way.