God is the Sorter

While ensconced in my current reading through the Gospel of Matthew, something that is popping out of the text is the idea that at the end of the age, God, with the assistance of some angels, is going to sort us out.

Skeptics or deniers of the validity of the Bible and the Christian message often point to its exclusivity claims as their primary objection. How can it be, they ask, that God will judge people according to their beliefs about this one man, Jesus Christ? How can we believe that trusting Jesus is the only path to eternal life—if there is such a thing as eternal life?

Others ask, what about the Buddhists, and the Muslims, and the people who’ve never heard of Jesus, and the little babies who die before reaching an age where they can understand such things, and those with intellectual disabilities who lack the cognitive skills to comprehend abstract ideas?

These are all valid questions, and there are some very grounded theological answers to them. It is not my aim in this little blog to present all of those biblical arguments. But I’ll point to a few: the fulfillment of thousands of years of prophecy, the resurrection, the teachings of Jesus, and his claims about who he was and what he came to do. These may not be satisfactory arguments for people who have no openness to the gospel. They would call them self-referential and circular arguments. They are somewhat correct on that count, so it requires more discussion if we are to convince these folks.

But my reflection today is not on the arguments for the exclusivity of Christ. Instead, my reflection is on a truth Jesus taught through several parables, that God does make a distinction somehow, between those fit for his kingdom and those who are not.

God is allowing human history to unfold until the time he has foreordained that he will bring it to a conclusion. In the meantime, he is building a new kingdom populated with a certain category of people and will remove all who don’t fit into this category. Before going any further, let me share three of the illustrations provided by Jesus, the master storyteller.

And he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats:And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand,’ Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matt. 25:32-34).

Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets but threw the bad away” (13:47-48).

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The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared… “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-26,28- 30).

The sheep mill around in the same pens and graze in the same fields as the goats, but only the sheep will remain after the sorting. The kingdom net takes in all kinds of fish, but only some will be kept, and the rest thrown away. In this kingdom, weeds grow up right along with the wheat. The wheat will be harvested, and the weeds burned in the fire.

I didn’t say these things, Jesus did. And he said them with authority, because he knew God had assigned him to be the chief sorter at the end of the age.

I don’t know everything about how Jesus and his Father and the Spirit and the angels will do this sorting. If they wanted me or anyone else to have a full picture of it, they would have given it to us. I know a few things, but only a few. This makes me very grateful that God is the sorter and I am not.

The criteria for sorting have nothing to do with ethnicity, or age, or intelligence, or skin color, or nationality—I’m certain of that.  I know it’s not just about good and bad works. It’s not about religiosity.

I argue (with good biblical support) that the criteria for the sorting process is whether people acknowledge and love the King. And this is tested and validated by how we love each other. Because these things are matters of the heart, God must be the one who sorts us out, because we don’t even truly know our own hearts.

This is the answer I give when I don’t have time for a lengthy theological discussion. I don’t have all the answers, but there is someone who does. And he does the sorting.

All I want is that I’m a sheep and not a goat, a stalk of wheat and not a weed, a healthy fish and not a stinker to be thrown on the compost pile. That’s enough.

Sobriety (revisited)

I originally wrote this post, “Sobriety” in August of 2020. Little did I know that less than a year later I would be working as a substance use disorder counselor. I’ve never specialized in the recovery field, and I’m learning much about what is clinically helpful for those in recovery and what is not. But as always, my chief calling and purpose in life is to keep my thinking and practice rooted in Scripture, and to share how Scripture comes to life in every experience, if we are awake to it. So I’m re-sharing some of the Bible’s teaching on this very timely topic.

“Sobriety” is a word so beautiful when spoken by recovering alcoholics or addicts celebrating freedom from controlling addictions. My big brother is one of them. He calls me now and then and reports to me, “I’m still sober,” and I give joyful thanks and praise to God every time I hear it.

If you ask those who have gotten sober, they will tell you that there is a lot more to it than merely abstaining from a particular mind-and-body-altering substance or behavior. Sobriety encompasses a comprehensive life change–in thinking, behavior, emotional regulation, relationship, purpose, and value system.

The founders of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous understood this well. Though AA has been adapted to be applicable to a diversity of worldviews, its founders were Christians, and the Steps started and ended with God, their “higher power.”

The program starts with confessing helplessness to manage our own lives and surrendering our unmanageable lives to God. We ask him to restore us to sanity. We accept conviction over our harmful behavior, seek to make amends, and commit to following a more honest, morally clean life. The pièce de ré​sis​tance is Step 12:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Sobriety turns out to be a spiritual awakening, to be shared with others who long to be awakened. It sounds a lot like repentance to me, and receiving one of the fruits of repentance, a sober mind. A sober mind allows us to live a principled, righteous life. A sober mind gives us a capacity to overcome self-obsession and begin serving others.

Did you know that the Bible speaks in many places about the need to be sober, or sober-minded? It is one of the benefits of the new birth, as well as a characteristic of a maturing disciple. One of the most familiar passages is this:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

Sobriety means we aren’t asleep at the switch, or under the influence of any worldly power. If we are to avoid the plans the enemy has for us, we must be sober and watchful.

 The same writer, Peter, also tells us that when our minds are “alert and fully sober,” they become more hopeful also, joyfully watching for the return of Jesus Christ. We are empowered not to conform to our former desires, but to live in obedience to God, continual prayer, and a love for others that “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 1:13-14; 4:7-8). Don’t we want to grab onto that way of living and not let go?

The Apostle Paul, after exhorting disciples to become living sacrifices, as their “reasonable service,” admonishes them,

“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (Rom. 12:1-3).

This expresses another important aspect of having a sober, sound mind–that we have a realistic, honest appraisal of our own strengths and weaknesses. In my encounters with recovering addicts, this is one of the most refreshing aspects of their awakening. They are able to admit their faults, and at the same time, discover the ways that God has gifted them with strengths and talents. They—and all of us—need to understand how God wants to use us, even in our weaknesses, as he has uniquely fashioned us.

Some passages in the New Testament are more literal in their use of the two Greek words translated “sober.” In the Pastoral Epistles to Timothy and Titus, sober mindedness is a way of life expected of elders, deacons, older men, older women, young men, and young women. No one is left out. We are all responsible for the way we represent the name of Christ in the world.

This doesn’t just mean that we aren’t to be drunk and disorderly. Other words used in connection to this picture of sobriety are discipline, dignity, self-control, faith, love, patient endurance, solid faith, purity, love, devotion, hospitality, nobility, integrity, wholesomeness (Titus 2:1-7, TPT)As I said, comprehensive life transformation comes with a sound mind. It’s a whole package.

There is a sense in which every compulsive, sinful behavior can be characterized as lust—an inordinate, illicit craving for something to satisfy our fleshly desires. When we begin to live our lives in God, the flesh still lusts against the Spirit. But the good news is that the Spirit fights back. If we commit our time, energy, attention, and wills into the keeping of the Holy Spirit, he will help us. He will show us the way to keep our hearts and minds pure.   

I’ll finish with Paul’s wonderful exhortation to the Thessalonians. It applies to all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and want to please him in every way:

You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet (1 Thess. 5:5-8).

We don’t need alcohol, drugs, or any other life-controlling compulsion if we can embrace this joyful path of sobriety in the Lord. Let us put on the mighty armor he has provided and live as those who belong to the light.

Verbs and Adverbs to Live By

As I’ve been reading along in the Scriptures recently, I’ve come across some verb-adverb pairs that form simple statements about living a life that pleases God.

Sometimes I can be a woman of many words (as my readers may have noticed!). But I like the way the Bible sometimes condenses meanings into few words. The Hebrew and Greek languages promote this. When translators attempt to find the best match for a Hebrew or Greek word, often simpler is clearer and more accurate.

So here are a number of these verb-adverb pairings I’ve searched. They could be bumper stickers. Or cross-stitched on a quilt. I’m sure you can find more; this is only a beginning.

Put together, they could form a personal creed. They are stated in the imperative second-person tense, so you can also consider them commands to YOU from the High Commander. Your mission, should you choose to accept it.

Listen carefully.

Give generously.

Act justly.

Walk humbly.

Lend freely.

Speak boldly.

Judge righteously.

Live honestly

Love fervently.

Do it….daily. (That one’s mine).

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The Potter and His Pots

Last week I wrote about the bigness and majesty of God. This week I am led to speak of the smallness and fragility of humanity.

A chief metaphor for this contrast between God and man is that of a potter and the pots he forms from fresh clay or he re-forms from shards of pottery that have been discarded and reclaimed by him. The metaphor appears first in the Psalms, several times in Isaiah and Jeremiah, and in three New Testament passages.

We are pots in the hands of a Master Potter.

The prophets use the metaphor to emphasize the audacity of human beings who disrespect the creative actions of God, and think they are more important and powerful than they are. Isaiah speaks of “those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord…as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!” He asks rhetorically, “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘You did not make me?’ Can the pot say to the potter, ‘You know nothing?” (Isaiah 29:15-17).

Isaiah returns to this theme 16 chapters later, crying,“Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter,‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?” (Is.45:9).

Then, Isaiah answers himself:Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay; you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand”
(Is. 64:8).

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Paul quotes these verses in Romans 9 to prove the point that God decides what to do and what to impart to the many different kinds of pots he has created. We dare not question him on this as though we are smarter than he, or as though he lacks the power or wisdom to rule and reign over his creation.

Period. It’s not complicated.

Throughout human and biblical history, human beings in every generation challenge the artistry of God in their lives and circumstances. They think thoughts and pursue exploits that challenge his sovereignty and authority as Creator. They use their bodies in ways that bodies were never meant to be used, sexually and violently. They use political, economic or demonic power to oppress others far outside of the will of God.

In Psalm 2:9, the psalmist reminds his audience that when the leaders of nations exalt themselves above the knowledge of God, God is able to “dash them to pieces like pottery.” It doesn’t take a lot of strength for a person to smash a clay pot. Think of what the omnipotent Lord of the universe can do if he chooses to.

But our God loves mercy. I rest on this rock of truth as a child of God, and as a minister to broken people.

Jeremiah’s book contains perhaps the best-known reference to the Potter and his mercy toward his broken pots. Jeremiah travels to the potter’s house to learn the lesson God has for him there. As he observes the potter at the wheel, he notices that “the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him (Jer. 18-4).

Added to the other passages about pots and potters, this one tells us that God is interested in picking up broken pieces and forming something new, “as seems best to him.” He is not scared off by our marred nature. He is perfectly able to make a new, more beautiful, more functional, more pleasing pot out of shattered shards.

How great is the creative, life-restoring goodness of God!

If he promised to do this restoration work for the fractured nation of Israel, he can do it also in his church. Paul writes to Timothy,

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use.Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Tim 2:20-21).

As Christ-followers, we are vessels in God’s exceptionally large house, his kingdom. He knows where to find us, and he knows how to utilize each of us for distinct purposes. He even has a personal development plan! If we desire to be made holy and most useful, there is a path to that goal: to allow him to cleanse us, sanctify us.

I know some brothers and sisters in the Lord who stay in a spot very close to the Master’s hand. He can reach for them easily, and use them to accomplish his purposes. I learn from them as I desire to move closer and closer to the throne, to always be within his reach.

He is working on all of us. We just need to stay on the wheel, and not jump from his hands.

The Bigness of Everything about God

In the flurry of activities and tasks that come with starting a new job, I’ve been finding it harder to settle myself down to write my blog each week. But I’m determined to show up and publish something. When I show up faithfully, Holy Spirit is already waiting for me. He is more faithful than I could ever be.

I love how creativity works in this relationship with him, or how being in relationship with him spurs us on and inspires us to use our creative gifts to bring glory and honor to him.

This morning I was reflectively reading Isaiah Chapters 40-44. And what I saw there was how grand and exceedingly EXTRA God is in every way. I simply want to extol him and ascribe to him all that he is due.

  • Where he has knowledge, he has all knowledge beyond compare, and seeks no counselors to advise him.
  • Where he is vast and majestic, sitting “above the circle of the earth,” he makes us look like grasshoppers.
  • Where he has mercy, he “never grows faint or weary…no one can measure the depths of his understanding.
  • Where he is creative, he spins out stars, “one after another, calling each by name.
  • When he is tender and protective, he feeds his flocks and carries the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart.
  • When he renders judgment, he is perfectly just, and “will not stop until truth and righteousness prevail throughout the earth.”
  • When he makes a covenant, he never fails to confirm it and fulfill everything he has promised.
  • When he sees his people in trouble, he comes near with exceedingly great compassion and words of comfort: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”
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I could go further, of course. These are only a few passages that attempt to describe the extraordinary greatness and goodness and power of our God. This sums it up, and these are his words, not mine:

You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am God. There is no other God; there never has been and never will be. I am the LORD and there is no other Savior.”

These days I have to shield myself from the consciousness of the extent of foolishness and wickedness displayed by our human leaders. When I look at earthly realities face on, I am so sickened that it makes it hard for me to function at my best.

Instead, I need to fix my gaze on this God who knows the end from the beginning. This one who never falls or fails. This one I can only adore because I can’t hope to ever understand him. He is so EXTRA in every way!  

Faith and Common Sense

(This is a somewhat revised post originally published in November 2019. I kind of like this one, and thought it was worth revisiting. I hope you enjoy it too.)

Faith in antagonism to common sense is fanaticism, and common sense in antagonism to faith is rationalism. The life of faith brings the two into right relation.” (Oswald Chambers)

This is worth a thought or two, and even better, an application to the lives we live.

Having been a Christ-follower for 36 years, I’ve been involved with many communities and churches. I’ve led worship and/or taught and/or counseled God’s people in multiple settings. The Lord has enabled me to navigate in Baptist, Anglican, Pentecostal, Vineyard, non-denominational, and a variety of charismatic streams of doctrine and practice, including a cult or two. I also spent 3 years studying in an evangelical seminary where I had wrestling matches at times with my classmates and professors about how to properly handle Scripture and how to lead in Christian discipleship.

All this exposure to diverse viewpoints within the church have required that I attend to Oswald’s wisdom stated above. Early on, most of those who had known me well before my conversion thought I had become a fanatical Christian. I went from being a hippie intellectual to suddenly subletting my cozy co-op apartment in New York City and venturing into the unknown as an evangelist. I wound up in west Texas of all places!

There was little of common sense involved in my decisions back then. I was in a wild romance with Jesus and it didn’t matter if it made sense to anyone. But because of my fanatical zeal, I wasn’t as effective a messenger of the gospel as I might have been. Ordinary people just trying to survive probably found me immature and off-putting, and I don’t blame them.

Then I began to pursue the appropriate developmental goals of people in their twenties. I found a husband. We had babies. We bought houses. We worked, we played, we worshiped, and we struggled at times, like most people do, with keeping it all going in the right direction. My husband and I became thoroughly responsible, reliable, sensible people.

I went to school to become a licensed counselor, and as the Lord would have it, I attended a very secular, clinical program. This turned out to be of great benefit to me, because at every turn I tested the theories and practices I was being taught against the revelations of the word of God. I kept a lot of stuff and discarded a lot of stuff from the realm of psychology and counseling. What remained after that reinforced a passionate and common-sense approach to the life of faith.

Faith is not simply mental assent to a particular set of ideas. Neither is it an other-worldly floating above the very real difficulties of being a human.

Faith is a way of life that allows for sublime mountaintop experiences and mundane everyday tests. It is the rebar that undergirds the road on which we travel. The life of faith is a life of experiencing the peace and joy of Jesus in all circumstances, especially in our suffering. It works just as well on cloudy days, rainy days, sunny days. It keeps us steady in the storm.

The steadiness provided by this “right relation” between faith and common sense is greatly needed in our chaotic contemporary life. We need people around who can think and feel deeply at the same time.  I love the fact that I can be a fool for Christ and at the same time offer wisdom to others in their confusion or despair.

I’m by no means a rationalist. I don’t dare dismiss the supernatural in favor of science, and there is no good rationale for doing so. God doesn’t need my permission to perform miracles all around me. Please do, Lord.

But I also live in a place called reality, where people sin and suffer, use and abuse, divorce and die too soon, and I am called to minister to them where and how they are. Someone must remind them of the enduring hope that we share.  Someone must clearly articulate the standard for disciples to live by and exhort and comfort when they fall short of it, which we all do. Sometimes I am the one who needs that exhortation and comfort, and I turn to trusted friends at those times.

All the while Jesus keeps calling us to him with great gentleness and love:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-29)

Doesn’t it make perfect sense to follow that call?

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Staying Connected

I love being a musician and worship leader. I love playing my guitar before the Lord, because I know that the sound it produces when I play changes atmospheres. And in that changed atmosphere, I see the Lord touch peoples’ hearts.

Many guitar players are gifted with technology, but all the pedals and wires, switches and inputs and outputs—not my thing. Cables especially; I’m always tripping over them or getting tangled up in them.  When I led worship up in Ohio, before leaving the platform after a practice or service, I would wait for my husband to come and make sure I was untangled enough to safely walk away.

For this reason, I always appreciate those who have a gift for running sound and making sure equipment is working as it should and helping the musicians flow in their anointings.

This morning, as I was setting up and plugging in, getting ready to run through our songs for the service, I hit a snag. The tuner wouldn’t give me a reading and my in-ear monitors weren’t feeding me my guitar sound. But I could hear my voice in my vocal microphone.

The worship pastor and sound man and I looked at the monitor panel, the sound board, and the guitar settings and didn’t see anything out of place. And then, we saw that my input cable was not completely connected to the pedal board that was connected to the system.

What occurred to me in that moment was a concept I learned called Occam’s Razor. Occam was a philosopher and theologian known for the brilliant idea that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Or at least, it should be considered, and not eliminated just because it seems too simple.

The answer in this case was simple: I wasn’t getting any power because I was not properly connected to the source. The analogy to spiritual power is pretty obvious.

If there is no connection at all, there is no power at all. That’s clear. Without the infilling of the Holy Spirit that connects us to the source of all truth, wisdom, and goodness, however we might try to make an impact on the spiritual realm, we can’t do it. Jesus said that if we are not integrally attached to him, “abiding in the vine,” we can do nothing (Jn 15). We can do nothing in his name that is, or for his kingdom. The stuff that matters the most.

Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ (John 3:5).

We don’t have access to spiritual power until we become born again of the Spirit.

We can also be connected in part, but not as completely as we need to be, like I was this morning. The tuner was receiving a signal, but it was garbled, and the tuner became confused and unstable. I could hear only part of the mix.

If we are not careful, we can find ourselves with one ear tuned to the good news of the Lord and the other ear tuned to the endless flow of bad news from the world. It can become difficult and confusing to discern the truth, and without the truth, we can’t operate in full spiritual power. We must worship him “in Spirit AND in truth” (Jn. 4:24), and to do this we must remove the impediments to our solid, reliable connection with him.

I’m glad we were able to quickly solve our little technical glitch and get on with the ministry. Often in the spiritual realm, it is also a simple answer:

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
(Ps. 27:8)

Let’s stay firmly connected to him this week, my friends.

Discipline: Confession of a Recovering Tostitos Addict

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11)

My latest big adventure is my new job as an online substance abuse disorder counselor. There’s so much to learn, but I love to study, so it’s all good.

I will be conducting three-hour recovery groups, so part of my training is to sit in on groups facilitated by other counselors and learn from them. On Monday night, I sat in on a group led by my friend Leanette. There were five clients.

The second half of these group sessions is educational, and Leanette’s topic on Monday was “Addiction 101.” She played an excellent video about anhedonia and how it can lead to relapse, and we had some great discussion about it.

A bit of explanation in case you’re not familiar with the term anhedonia. You may recognize the word hedonism, which comes from the same root word. A hedonist is someone who runs after pleasure as his main purpose in life. Anhedonia, therefore, is the inability to experience pleasure, or a loss of interest in things that normally would interest an individual.

Addicts are hedonists in a sense, because they are obsessed with the next high, whether it is to seek pleasure or avoid pain. Addictions result from the brain’s adaptation to the presence of a drug that artificially elevates the brain chemicals that bring a sense of wellbeing and reward. Over time, the brain stops producing those chemicals, and if the addict doesn’t keep using the drug, he will experience cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Consider also that some addicts live secretive, criminal lifestyles that are quite intense, exciting and dangerous. That produces a need for continued adrenaline-producing activities for the person to feel normal.

Most people in recovery would tell you that recovery from addiction is not fun, exciting, or glamorous. Yes, it has many rewards, but in the initial phases, it may feel like all of the motivation to pursue other activities that formerly brought pleasure just drains away. The simplest way to describe it is, “blah.” So, while the addict is withdrawing physically from the drug, and prone to depressive symptoms anyway, he or she may also experience anhedonia. Both the physical high and the psychological excitement are gone.

 At this point the person may think, “If this is what sobriety is going to feel like forever, I can’t do it.” This triggers them to use the drug or alcohol again. This is relapse, and it is an incredibly common experience in recovery.

It is especially important, then, for addicts to begin engaging in safe, sober activities that kickstart the brain to start producing those lovely endorphins again. They might have to “fake it ‘til they make it,” but they have to start somewhere. Attend a meeting, take a walk, throw a ball, get a dog, meet some sober friends for dinner.

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This whole topic, and the ensuing discussion in group, made me reflect on my own experiences with anhedonia. I haven’t experienced it chronically, and I am not a recovering addict, so if you are, please don’t think I am minimizing your struggle in any way. This was just a recent experience that came to mind, and it helped me connect with the more serious process that happens when an addict is struggling to stay clean and sober.

Last Saturday, I was home alone, resting and reading on the couch. I had the impulse to munch on some Tostitos. I know from lots of experience that once I start dipping into that bag, I’m hooked. I know that if I want to have some Tostitos, I need to get a small bowl out of the cabinet, fill it with Tostitos, and put the bag away.

But I didn’t do it this time because I wanted to indulge myself. I wanted my own little hedonistic salty-crunchy party.

My plan for that afternoon was to write. I’m working on several writing projects concurrent to starting this new job, so I have to intentionally schedule time for writing, or it doesn’t happen. This is a discipline I work to maintain, because living a disciplined life is of high priority for me as a woman of God.

So as I was overindulging on chips and lying like a slug on the couch, I started feeling grosser and grosser, and increasingly disappointed with myself. I had felt that “blah” feeling, and had gone to food to try to feel better. I realize now that my compulsive snacking had been driven by a bout with anhedonia.

Eventually, I forced myself to move. I got up. I put the Tostitos away. I asked myself what I needed to do to change my emotional state. It’s not complicated. I had to get my behind off of that couch and do something different.

The answer was, I needed to write. But I needed to go to another place, a different environment (with no Tostitos handy). So, I took my laptop up to the club in our neighborhood and sat on the balcony overlooking the lake.

I sipped on a cold drink and gazed out at the beauty and my pleasure receptors started firing. There was a rising “yes” in my spirit.

I fired up the laptop and typed a sentence, and then another. And two hours later, I had several pages of writing on the screen. It didn’t have to be the most brilliant words in the world. It just had to fulfill my intentions for the day. I could now end my day with a feeling of satisfaction that no quantity of chips could ever provide. And I decided to forgive myself for my Tostito relapse.

You may ask what this has to do with Scripture coming to life. I’m not sure.

But what comes to mind is the whole biblical idea that discipline is its own reward. When we move against laziness, selfishness, apathy, gluttony, and addictive behavior—which is admittedly hard work—we often find contentedness and peace waiting on the other side.

Maybe it doesn’t make sense to go after contentedness and peace when the flesh is craving excitement and self-indulgence. But I think this is another shift the brain makes after we practice sober disciplines for a while.

Our appetites change. We desire real relationships, real conversations, authentic experiences of joy and communion. We’re no longer satisfied with the world’s high. We crave a higher high. A God-shaped high.

Then, when anhedonia hits—and it does hit us all sometimes, addicts and non-addicts alike—we don’t panic about it. We remember that we know how to find center again. We know that feelings come and go, and they may provide important information, but they don’t have to be the basis of our behavior or choices.

We learn how to find our joy in the originator of joy. We remember to seek out others on the journey who let us be ourselves without judgment. We embrace discipline as a gift. We surrender the flesh hour by hour, day by day, so that the Spirit can take the lead.

Whose Fool are You?

The reading plan I’ve settled into for the year has me alternating between Old and New Testaments throughout the week, and presently I am in Job and 1 Corinthians. Last week I wrote about Job, and honestly, I was left with more questions than answers. I’m sure I’ll have another go at that book before I’m done with it.

But what I’m noticing this week is the parallel between Job’s message and Paul’s message to the Corinthians about what it means to be wise unto godliness or foolish unto futility and destruction.

John Wimber and Brother Andrew both famously posed this wonderful question (I’m not sure who said it first): “I am a fool for Christ…whose fool are you?”

This quote means a lot to me because I grew up in a family that elevated pursuit of knowledge to a position of highest value. It has always been a given that I would be a lifelong learner, seeking intellectual command of whatever domains were of greatest interest to me and benefit to those around me. I was taught that this would lead to a good life.

This was a great way to start out, actually. I’m glad God gave me a curious mind, and that I had parents who, without his conscious spiritual influence, spurred me on to become intellectually accomplished. But as I became immersed in study of the Bible in my twenties, I discovered that all the learning in the world, about the world, would not necessarily make me wise.

The Apostle Paul, who was quite a learned man, a teacher of Jewish law and member of the religious ruling class, admonished the Corinthian Christians with these words:

“The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.As the Scriptures say, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.’So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:18=21). 

When I came into faith as a young adult, my family had no frame of reference to understand the transformation they were observing in me. They thought I had gone off the rails because I had arrived at the conclusion that the Bible truly is the inspired word of God, and that it was able to make me “wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15). I had started to embody this passage. To my family, I had embraced a path of foolishness.

Paul goes on,

 “But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength” (v.24-25). Beautifully stated, Paul.

Job, in what is believed to be the oldest book in the Bible, agrees with Paul. As he cries out in complaint and lament to the God in his affliction, he repeatedly circles back to God’s wisdom and sovereignty in his life. When his wife tells him to “curse God and die,” he rebukes her, saying: “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10).

Later, he scolds one of his friends, …True wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are his. Yes, strength and wisdom are his; deceivers and deceived are both in his power. He leads counselors away, stripped of good judgment; wise judges become fools” (Job 12:13-17).

How are we to understand this distinction between God’s wisdom and human wisdom? And how do we grapple with this idea that we must become foolish enough to believe the preaching of the word, and wise enough to surrender our lives to God?

Jesus helps us here, when he tells us that “the foolish person builds his house on sand” (Mt. 7:26) and “a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth and not have a rich relationship with God” (Luke 12:21). He contrasts this with the wise person who listens to and follows his teaching, building his house on solid rock. It seems evident to me that he is saying that we can have all the worlds’ wealth and knowledge, but if we ignore God’s wisdom and his ways, we will ultimately be judged as fools.

Walking with the Lord requires humility and surrender.

It isn’t wrong to go to school and learn about science, or literature, or mathematics, or any of the “ologies” of the academic realm. Lord knows, I’ve done it plenty. But while we are gathering knowledge, we must keep in mind the true source of wisdom, which is different from knowledge.

True wisdom comes from above, and this wisdom is “pure…peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere” (James 3:17). True wisdom leads to love, and love keeps us from being puffed up with pride (1 Cor. 8:1).

As believers, we are wise when we direct our time, our talents, our money, and our affections toward pursuits that matter to God. We pursue godliness. We pursue radical love and mercy. We pursue the wisdom of his word.

I know I’ve quoted a boatload of Scripture in this blog, but what can I say? I can’t express myself better than Holy Spirit does. So, I’ll end with yet more Scripture, a passage I requested to be read as part of my ordination ceremony. I wanted it to be publicly noted that my ministry would be devoted to seeking God’s priorities above my own, and his wisdom instead of the world’s wisdom.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you.Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:26-29).



I’ve been reading Job recently, and I’ve become a big fan of this book!

I’m impressed with Job’s incredibly bold lament and complaint toward God. The poetry is incredible, but it truly fits in the category of wisdom literature. Such deep spiritual counsel straight from the mind of God.

One thing that stands out of course is the reminder of how NOT to minister to a friend who is stricken with tragedy and loss. It should be included on reading lists for counseling programs as an example of the WRONG approach to grief counseling.

The three friends who came to console Job in his devastation spoke as though they had been appointed to speak for God and set Job straight about how things really are. In the end, we realize that Job received God’s healing, affirmation, and blessing directly from God, and not through the ministry of these “miserable comforters” (Job 16:1).

What Job ultimately received was validation by God. As Job cursed the day he was born, and pled for God to give him a break, he needed someone, whether God himself, or the believers in his midst, to validate his deep suffering and confusion. Not to argue with him about it.

Validation is defined as “the act of confirming something as true or correct;” or, “the act of affirming a person, or their ideas, feelings, actions, etc., as acceptable and worthy.”

When someone feels angry and forsaken, we must let him or her express these feelings without judgment, criticism, or correction. Feelings are feelings. They just are. We don’t attempt to argue with them. We listen and validate. This is what restores and helps and promotes their receiving the goodness of God.

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The best usage of this concept in the New Testament comes from Jesus Christ. Jesus, like Job, faced unjust, untrue, and hostile opposition to his message and his very identity. When challenged about his authority as the Son of God, he told the religious leaders,

“If I were to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. But someone else is also testifying about me, and I assure you that everything he says about me is true” (John 5:31-32).

He refers in part to John the Baptist, a primary source witness who validated Jesus at every turn, especially when he told his disciples, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:35). John’s whole purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus by affirming Jesus as “acceptable and worthy” of following.

Jesus also pointed to his own teachings and miracles as validation that the Father had sent him into the world. He declared that he only did the things that God does, thereby confirming that God’s power was present and real in him, and his teachings were always true and correct (Jn. 5:36).

Thirdly, Jesus plainly stated, “The Father who sent me has testified about me himself” (Jn. 5:37).

Where and when did the Father testify about him? Pick any book in the Old Testament, and you’ll find frequent validation of the coming Messiah. You’ll find it in Moses, and David, and Elijah, and Jeremiah, and Malachi, and dozens of other witnesses as the Spirit inspired them to write the Father’s true feelings and intentions toward his only begotten Son. They hadn’t met him, but they knew him prophetically, and validated his coming kingdom.

When the Pharisees insisted, “You are making those claims about yourself…such testimony is not valid,” Jesus was not intimidated. He replied,

These claims are valid even though I make them about myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going…You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact.I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other” (Jn 8:13-18).

God and Jesus make a majority, always. God’s position trumps every other position, however gifted the orator stating an opposing position. He declares who we are, and what his intentions are toward us.

Back to Job, who affirms this!

If someone wanted to take God to court, would it be possible to answer him even once in a thousand times? For God is so wise and so mighty. Who has ever challenged him successfully?…God is not a mortal like me, so I cannot argue with him or take him to trial. If only there were a mediator who could bring us together…”(Job 9:3-4,32).*

Job recognized his friends’ theological arguments and accusations for what they were—cruel, self-serving, self-righteous. They not only invalidated Job’s feelings about his tragedy, they invalidated God’s sovereignty and his compassion for Job, a man he called “the finest man in all the earth…blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.”

It’s fascinating to me how honest Job is with the Lord, even to the point of exhaustion. I picture him falling in a heap and sighing, “I am nothing—how could I ever find the answers? I will cover my mouth with my hand. I have said too much already. I have nothing more to say” (Job 40:3-5).

God’s response?  “When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before!…So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning” (Job 42: 10,12). God knows the end from the beginning.

It is foolish and wrong to harshly judge someone whom God has declared righteous. Including Job, and Jesus, and you and me. We are validated by God’s word about us, even if no one on earth is available to validate us.

So when we are called to the side of those who are rejoicing, we validate them by rejoicing with them. When they are grieving, we validate them by grieving with them.

We honor God by acting like him in those circumstances, asking him to bring his truth to bear. And we hold our tongues unless we are sure we have a word that will help and not harm.

*There is a mediator, Job, there is…you just hadn’t met him yet!