Donald Trump: Fascist or Narcissistic Bully?

Let me start with the bad and then the potential good. Do I think Donald Trump is a fascist or a bigoted racist? No. BUT I do believe he is a thinned-skinned, revengeful, narcissistic bully who masks his deep insecurities with an ego that ought to give everyone second thoughts. He has a very small capacity–indeed a dangerously small capacity– to absorb personal criticism with courage and learn from it. He adores only those that adore him–which is why he actually ISN’T a fascist or a racist.Trump I don’t think a person’s ethnicity or their skin color is of great importance to him. His principle concern is, “Is my need of personal affirmation being met by this person or group?” He can heap love and praise on you one day and viciously belittle and despise you the next day, and it all depends on whether or not he perceives you as an adoring fan or a castigating critic.

In short Trump has a very large capacity to be extremely generous, warm, kind and loving to people he knows that already love him. But his capacity to show consideration, tact, understanding and decency to those he perceives as threats to his nurtured self-image is so small (think pea-sized) it ought to give everyone pause for concern. If people are going to vote for Trump they ought to at least walk into the voting booth without the pretense and illusion of thinking they are voting for a man of decorum, propriety, maturity and patience (qualities we ought to expect before we give them a nuclear arsenal!) Every Trump supporter should fully recognize that they are about to vote for a man who can turn against anyone at the drop of a hat. A vote for self-preservation, border protection and national security (all valid, genuine concerns) may be at the cost of more than you can possibly imagine.

Now for the potential good.

Trump’s blowhard, Lex-Lutheresque personality (with hair) and his ability to completely circumvent the normally, restrictive limitations of a PC culture rooted in alleged “tolerance” is flabbergasting to the left-wing media. He is exposing the true, ugly, unsightly underbelly of a bloated, liberal society that has draped itself in the flag of “tolerance” while simultaneously ignoring its historical and lexical meaning. For many on the left “tolerance” only counts when the views to be “tolerated” are ones you already affirm and celebrate! But “tolerance” by definition implies the view to be tolerated is disagreeable to you. Otherwise you wouldn’t tolerate it–you would agree with it! This critical distinction has been lost on many liberals today and it is good to see the hypocrisy of it all being revealed.

For example the liberal media did everything they could to celebrate Obama’s run for president, but in 2012 when Herman Cain, a successful black business man, shot into first place in the Republican primary after a stellar debate performance, the liberal media did everything they could to disavow him as a black man, dismiss him as an anomaly unrepresentative of his race and disparage him as nothing more than an Uncle Tom. They did the same with Ben Carson when he was leading in the polls at one point. The liberal media just can’t “tolerate” independent-minded black men breaking out of their assigned, political place and leaving the Democratic “plantation” of ideas (ideas that unfortunately keep many stuck in dependency and de-motivating victimization).

Oddly enough the danger of both the far-right and the far-left is authoritarianism that can easily bloom into fascism (if left unchecked). The authoritarian fascism of the far-right is unbridled nationalism and patriotic fervor run-amuck, in which the orderliness of the state is the highest good. The authoritarian fascism of the far-left is anchored into an ideology of alleged progressive equality that subsequently picks who benefits from “equal” and “progressive” status and who does not. Any viewpoint that doesn’t fit into their narrow definition of “progressive” is judged to be archaic and unworthy of toleration and continuance.

To a certain extent a country needs to always vacillate between both points of view if it is to avoid becoming mired in the extreme elements that exist on both ends of the political spectrum. If you paddle too vigorously with only your right hand you only move in an endless circle and create a spiraling whirlpool, and the same holds true if you insist on only paddling with your left.

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Dorito Chips and Fetuses

When pro-abortion activists, specifically NARAL, can be offended by a Superbowl commercial over a snack chip that shows an ultrasound of a 9-month old baby and suggest it is part of a pro-life conspiracy to “humanize fetuses” you know you are dealing with a mindset that has completely capitulated to an anti-science recognition of what constitutes “human” and “alive.”

A small caveat is in order: I think the issues that surround abortion are numerous, delicate and very complex. But the larger point to be made is what others have already pointed out. If pro-choice people are crying “foul” over an ultrasound because it “humanizes a fetus” one needs to ask them what sort of species the “fetus” SHOULD belong to? After all a “fetus” is a general term used in biology to refer to everything from unborn whales to unborn cats and unborn rats. When a HUMAN mother is pregnant she is pregnant with a HUMAN fetus–not some unidentified organism! So how can anyone cry foul over an ultrasound “humanizing” a human fetus? It just goes to show how far removed some are from objectively considering the facts before them. What they really mean by “humanizing” is better defined as “rendering life and assigning value.”

Ultrasounds add value to the unborn by bringing to light a beating heart in “the dark.” The science of the womb threatens the carefully crafted narrative of the pro-choice community, and that is why abortion advocates would rather keep the public in the medieval dark ages. 

It is not that NARAL and PP are evil people. Many are decent and kind. They are just ill-informed, closed off to further reflection and wish to remain so because fiction is so much more convenient than truth when your own ability to look at yourself in the mirror depends on whether or not you can personally maintain and sustain a philosophy of life that necessitates that the “nameless face of protoplasm” and the “object of tissue” you visit death upon every day has been sufficiently dehumanized in your heart.

That being said people caught in such a deceptive lie NEED grace, forgiveness, truth, understanding and our prayers. Condemnation alone is not their “need” nor has it ever been lost humanity’s need. The Church often gets this backwards. Condemnation alone never changes anyone–which is why Christ said he didn’t come to fulfill that purpose. Condemnation is a self-imposed consequence OF rejecting light. It is not a purpose FOR light.

“For God so loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son… He did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him…This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. …anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light…” (John 3:16-20).

In short a non-political, non-threatening commercial about Doritos threw uncomfortable “light” on NARAL’s dark philosophy of dehumanization. And that is what made both NARAL and PP queazy and reactionary. But the reaction is a good sign! It shows their hearts are still tender. Better that than a calloused and cauterized heart beyond feeling.

And that’s my 2 cents…er…5 cents.

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Looking at Gethsemane Anew: The Fall and Rise of Jesus

gethsemaneBefore he rose up from the depths of the grave, Jesus needed to first rise up from the ground upon which he fell. Don’t be put off. The fall and rise of Jesus that I refer to is not a veiled reference to any alleged failure. Far from it. I am speaking of his greatest triumph– a victory over the dark night of the soul that sealed his journey to the cross and our redemption. In my previous post I ended saying I wanted to next explore how Jesus is a model for us— not just for our times of joy but also our times of great sorrow and distress.

For starters when we find ourselves dealing with great pain or great disappointment I think we need to give ourselves the allowance to be emotional and brutally honest with our feelings before God.

Truth be told we need to allow ourselves the freedom to say:

1) God—life is getting too hard for my will to accept.
2) God—I am overwhelmed by sorrow.
3) God—I feel like my soul is being crushed in death.”

Do you know that Jesus is on record in the Bible feeling exactly that way? We will see why in a minute.

Sometimes we can read the Bible and we feel constantly condemned! We feel we are always failing the tests of faith and trust. For example the Bible says in Isaiah 26:3, “God will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on him.”

And yet when we are in the midst of a great affliction, our heart feels far removed from peace and our mind is filled with anxiety and stress. And then to compound our misery we begin to think, “Oh no–I am failing the Christian life. If I really trusted God I would have perfect peace and inside of me and I would be like a tranquil lake of calm water. But instead I feel a raging storm inside of me and I feel like I am drowning in sorrow.”

The truth is Jesus was not always a man who looked like he was in perfect peace. We forget that Jesus gave himself the important allowance to be honest and raw with his emotions. In the garden of Gethsemane, Luke, records Jesus as “being in anguish… His sweat… like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Lk. 22:44).

Is sweating drops of blood and being in agony a sign of being “in perfect peace”?

The fact is Jesus lived his life as one of us. The Bible says in Phil. 2:6, “He did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped” which really means Jesus did not consider the fact that he was 100% God on earth as something to be used for his own advantage when life as a human became too difficult. Jesus was determined to live as one of us. We don’t have God buttons to push when we go through difficulty and so Jesus didn’t push any either. He truly lived life as we do—and that is why he serves as a model for all of us.

Gethsemane means “olive press.” And it was in the garden of Gethsemane that the soul of Jesus was pressed and crushed until his very blood was being squeezed out of him. I want us to look at how Matthew describes the emotional distress Jesus experienced in the garden of Gethsemane because I think there are some things we can learn and digest for our own “gethsemane” moments in life.

36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and He told the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow —to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with Me.” 39 Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He asked Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with Me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

42 Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 And He came again and found them sleeping, because they could not keep their eyes open.

44 After leaving them, He went away again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.45 Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?Look, the time is near. The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up; let’s go! See, My betrayer is near….

…Then they came up, took hold of Jesus, and arrested Him. 51 At that moment one of those with Jesus reached out his hand and drew his sword. He struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his ear.

52 Then Jesus told him, “Put your sword back in its place because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot call on My Father, and He will provide Me at once with more than 12 legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:36-46 HCSB).

We discover the humanness of Jesus in many ways here. Moreover we discover several essential truths we must import into our own journeys of pain:

1) JESUS SAW COMPANIONSHIP AS A LEGITIMATE NEED

The first thing I want to highlight is that even though Jesus prayed to his Father—it wasn’t enough. Three times he went to his disciples looking for their companionship, asking them to stay awake with him, pray with him and support him during his distress. As great as God is, he is invisible and sometimes we just want someone with skin on. Have you ever felt that way? We should not be ashamed of that.

2) JESUS DIDN’T FAKE STRENGTH OR HIDE HIS EMOTIONS

In verse 37 we read, “He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.” And in verse 38 we read, “And he told his disciples, ‘My soul is swallowed up in sorrow— to the point of death.’” The NLT (New Living Translation) translates the Greek as saying, “My soul is crushed in grief to the point of death.”

The point is Jesus felt like he was dying inside! He didn’t try to fake strength or hide his weakness. It says, “And he told his disciples…” He let them in. He got real. He allowed them to see it. We need to understand it is appropriate at times to share our honest, raw emotions with others and not try to pretend we are stronger than we are.

3) JESUS ADMITTED WEAKNESS AND FELL FACEDOWN

Verse 39 says, “He fell facedown and prayed.” No matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel, we really need to allow ourselves the theological permission to see Jesus as incredibly weak at this moment in time. Jesus_in_GethsemaneWhen he “fell facedown” this was not some sort of controlled, pious fall. Jesus literally collapsed in a heap on the ground. His legs buckled under him and he fell into the dirt like a dead man as the weight of the world crushed his soul.

In verse 41 Jesus says to his disciples, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” During great pain, hardship, disappointment or grief we feel as if all our strength and bravado has leaked out of our bodies.

Like a car broken down on the side of the road leaking oil, we can sometimes feel as if our lives are broken down–and all we are doing is leaking tears. We need to give ourselves permission for that. If Jesus allowed Himself to experience that—so also to do we.

4) JESUS CHOSE TO LIVE OUT OF HIS SPIRIT–NOT HIS SOUL

I want to return again to verse 38 where it says, “the soul of Jesus was swallowed up in sorrow.” In other words, Jesus could not look to His soul for strength.

And in verse 42 we have already noted how Jesus “fell facedown” in the dirt–telling us Jesus could not look to the flesh for strength to get back up.

So what do you do when your soul has no strength and your body has no strength—but you know you must continue on?
In any difficult trial of life you either FAKE strength, FADE AWAY in strength or LET GOD BECOME your strength.

How does that happen?

We choose to live out of our spirit and not our flesh or our soul. Remember Jesus’s important words in verse 41: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Our spirit is where we find the refuge of God. It is where our vertical communion with God takes place. Our soul is the vehicle we use to emotionally communicate and mentally relate with the horizontal world around us. But our spirit is where we find the willingness to do what our emotions and body say we cannot do. During his greatest trial, Jesus chose to live out of his spirit.

5) JESUS CHOSE RESIGNATION AS THE WAY FORWARD

How did Jesus live out of his spirit? How did he strengthen his spirit even though his soul, his emotions and his bodily strength was failing him? I believe the answer is resignation and surrender.

Three times Jesus prayed and said, “Not my will but your will be done.” Jesus resigned himself to God’s will three times. As long as we are trying to bargain and negotiate with God saying, “If you do this… then I will do this” then our spirit cannot be strengthened.

If we are honest with ourselves we will admit we do this all the time. We are always trying to bargain with God. We say, “Ok God, if you take this problem away, this pain away, this difficulty away… then I will serve you and obey you.”

No—it doesn’t work like that.

Jesus did not say,”If you… then I.” In other words, Jesus did not advance conditions to his father, saying, “If you do this…then I will do that.” He offered a yielded will, saying, “If it is possible do this… yet not my will but yours be done.” I do find it comforting that Jesus did not feign or pretend false confidence or emotional courage at the moment of his greatest trial. He was transparent and honest about how his human emotions were disconfirming rather than supportive in regards to choice before him. He unashamedly discloses his emotional state as being the antithesis of desire, essentially admitting to his Father, “This present moment is so distressing to my soul, I am left wondering if there is any other possible route we have overlooked that can achieve what needs to be achieved, such that this coming tribulation can be avoided.”

He candidly lays out all his cards on the table; he holds back nothing. But then he utters those famous words that sealed our redemption, “…yet not my will be done, but your will.”

For what its worth, I don’t think Jesus was distressed so much by the coming physical pain as much as he was distressed by the knowledge he was about to drain the cup of sin and drink it down to its dregs–every putrid, vile act of wickedness was about to be consumed into his very being. He “who knew no sin” was literally about “to become sin” and experience alienation from his Father (2 Cor. 5:21, Mt. 27:46). We cannot even imagine the horror involved in personified Holiness becoming hell.

6) JESUS RECOGNIZED THE FOLLY OF WAITING FOR EMOTIONS TO ESCORT HIS WILL

Despite the grief and sorrow overwhelming his soul, Jesus would not let his emotions run the show and dictate his course of action. He acknowledged his emotions, yet knew emotions serve as poor custodians of truth. We often want emotional escorts before we launch out and do anything worth doing, but Jesus knew better.

Not to belabor the point, but true spirituality is not saying “If you…then I.” It is saying, “Yet not I, but you.” But neither is spirituality to live in pretense or denial. It can admit preference and desire–but it doesn’t end there. True spirituality is saying, “If possible I would prefer this way—yet not my emotions, not my will, not my hope, not my affections, not my plans be done— but your will alone be done.”

7) JESUS NEEDED TO BATTLE HIS EMOTIONS THREE TIMES–NOT JUST ONCE

Three times Jesus went to His Father, got gut-level honest with his Father about his weakened, emotional state, but then each time he resigned himself, surrendered himself and re-committed himself to God’s will. Sometimes we need to take repeated steps into our earlier confessions before we are ready to live them out.

8) JESUS’ REPEATED RESIGNATIONS LED TO RENEWED STRENGTH

What was the result of Christ resigning his will three times? We see a hint in verse 46. After resigning his will 3 times to the Father it says he went to his disciples and said, “Get up! Let’s go!…”

What that tells me is that somewhere between Jesus falling facedown in agony before his Father and telling his disciples “Get up—Let’s go!” Jesus himself got up, dusted off his knees, picked up his bleeding heart and said to himself and to his Father, “Let’s do this!”

From that point on we see Jesus walking in a renewed strength that only comes through resignation and a surrendered posture before God.

We can see the change that comes over Jesus almost immediately in verse 53. After Peter cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus rebukes Peter and say, “Do you not think that I cannot call on my father, and He will provide me at once with more than 12 legions of angels?”

We need to pause on that phrase, “Do you think I cannot call…” Let it not be missed. He could have, but did not. The surrender of Jesus was not due to helplessness or powerlessness; it was due to voluntarily letting go of that which he knew would have saved him. Jesus is saying, “Peter— if I wanted to I could call on 12 legions of angels. But Peter I don’t want to. Maybe an hour ago in the garden when you were sleeping I wanted to—but I have surrendered that; I have let that go. My will is now to submit to the will of my Father.”

From that point on we see a different picture of Christ– a Messiah living out of his spirit– determined and renewed in strength to face the storm and let it carry him all the way to the grave.

Of course the good news is, the story of Christ doesn’t end in a grave. We don’t sing songs to dead bones or pray to a corpse lying in the ground somewhere in Jerusalem. Resurrection comes to all those who pick up their cross.

9) JESUS MODELED PERSEVERANCE THROUGH SURRENDER

Some of you reading this may feel like you are in your own Gethsemane–a place of utter darkness where you feel the tentacles of despair enveloping your emotions, pulling you down and swallowing up your soul in sorrow. Or you may feel you are on the cross, where you feel forsaken by God. Or you may feel you are in a grave, where there is no hope.

There are many stages to suffering, affliction and grief. You may feel like life has cut you deep and you are bleeding out and you don’t know how to clot it. Your spiritual platelets are low and you know you are in desperate need of a spiritual transfusion. It’s during those times that we need to do what Jesus did—surrender our emotions up to our Heavenly Father, surrender our soul over the Father, surrender our will over to the Father, and choose to live out of our spirit by trusting that resurrection Sunday, not the grave of grief, is the final end for all who put their hope in trust in the Lord.

The Bible calls that “perseverance” (Rom. 5:4) and “endurance”(Heb. 10:36) and “steadfastness” (Jam. 1:2-4) and like it or not we are all going to have to learn those lessons from time to time if we are going to mature through this life with our love and faith in God intact.

10) JESUS DID NOT DEMAND IMMEDIATE DELIVERANCE BUT ENTRUSTED HIS FUTURE DELIVERANCE TO HIS FATHER 

Amazingly we see a window into the mysterious union between the Father and the Son and Father’s love of His Son when Jesus declared to Peter that he could request at any time immediate deliverance and his Father would “provide me at once with more than 12 legions of angels” (vs. 53).

That tells me the Father never would have forced His Son to take on the sin of the world and suffer the bitter pill of death, had Jesus not freely chosen to surrender himself up to death. Even more it means the Father would have resigned his will and aborted the mission with legions of warring angels had Jesus asked him! That shouldn’t be missed. At anytime Jesus could have ended his torture with but a whisper to his Father. It cannot be stressed enough that Jesus models for us ultimate surrender because it was within his power to abort his suffering at anytime. We often feel helpless and hopeless when we go through adversity given that most painful circumstances are out of our control. If given the option most of us would reach for the ejection lever and opt out of our afflictions way before the “testing of our faith” has had a chance to “do its complete work so that [we] may be mature, lacking nothing” (James 1:3-4).

But not so with Jesus. His resignation was not due to circumstances beyond his control overwhelming him. Once again we aren’t witnessing a helpless, hapless, hopeless surrender. We are witnessing a surrender infused with grit and determination to see things to their bitter end–for our good. No doubt Jesus took courage in knowing his journey through affliction would be just that– a journey– not a destination. He trusted in his Father’s plan to exploit all the pain and evil he was about to endure for an eventual and enduring good that would eclipse the momentary suffering. It is no wonder that Peter would later write of his Lord and friend, “When he was suffering…he entrusted himself to the One who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:3).

Whatever adversity you are going through, give God the water of your present tears. Trust him to turn them into new wine when the time comes. Ask God to turn the deep pit you are in into a deep well you can draw from later. Surrender to the breaking down of your old wineskin as he tenderizes your soul and refashions you further into his image and likeness. Resign yourself to not needing to understand all things at this present time. Rest in God’s ability to usurp, overrule and exploit every intended evil against you, every heart-breaking disappointment and every tragic accident into your eventual and enduring good (Rom. 8:28).

If you do not know where to begin, simply say, “God I still love you.” Your Savior will never ask of you anything less or anything more.

 

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Clotting a Wound with Spiritual Platelets

BleedingHeartA few weeks ago one of the orphans at the Children’s Home I oversee, named Vantha, came down with a very severe case of dengue fever.

His case was so bad that the private clinics did not want to accept him because they saw early signs that he might not make it and they didn’t want to be held responsible. One of the signs that your case is severe is your platelet count drops quickly in the early stages of the sickness.

Platelets are important. When your body is wounded platelets clump together and form clots to stop the bleeding. When you do not have enough platelets in your blood your body cannot form clots and you can die.

After a blood test a healthy platelet range is a score between 200 – 450 (200,000 – 450,000). When your platelet count gets below 50 you are in the danger zone because you can begin to bleed internally. When your platelet count falls below 15 you need a donor to give you a platelet transfusion because your blood’s ability to clot is not possible and the risks are too great. Vantha’s count fell down to 11— but we didn’t know until 3 days after the blood test was taken (because the machine at the dirty, public “hospital” to separate the blood from plasma was broken and this information was kept from us because they knew they couldn’t do a transfusion. But that’s another story!) Despite the setbacks Vantha did pull through and he is now recovering well.

Now why I am telling you this story?

Because when you stop to think about it, our need for physical platelets and even a platelet transfusion has many spiritual applications.

Sometimes in life we get injured in some way and we begin to bleed. Maybe someone cut you deep with their words and now you are bleeding; or your your job has cut you open; or you have suffered a deep disappointment; or life itself is simply making you bleed right now. No matter what happened the reality is you are wounded and hurting.

And if your “spiritual platelets” are too low you will simply continue to bleed out because the blood can’t clot and therefore the wound can’t heal. Now the question is what would “spiritual platelets” be? What can spiritually clot the bleeding in our souls and hearts?

I think the answer could go multiple directions.

One thought is knowing our self-worth and value in the eyes of God—especially when this world tries to take it from us. When our self-worth takes a hit from this world and we feel our value bleeding out of us, we need to remember that we are highly prized by God.

Secondly I think when life wounds you in some way we need to remember the promises of God—such as his promise to redeem our sufferings and one day work them for our eventual good. Whether it is accidental tragedy or intended evil—both can become our eventual good as we place it in God’s hands. It doesn’t mean what happened was good. Neither does it mean God’s hand caused it or willed it. Rather it means God’s sovereignty has the last word in the lives of those who cling tenaciously to God’s promises rather than bitterness. As such the promises of God become our spiritual platelets. Our faith will take the promises of God and then add to them other promises– and slowly the bleeding will begin to clot.

Sometimes when the bleeding is so bad we just need to be humble enough to tell the Lord, “I can’t recover what I have lost. I need a platelet transfusion. I really need YOU to be for me what I cannot be for myself. For I don’t have it within me to clot this injury, to clot this stress, to clot this anxiety, to clot this disappointment, to clot this pain, to clot this betrayal, to clot this offense.”

I think God actually wants us to get to a place of honesty where we stop trying to find the answer to life’s problems within ourselves. In other words I think we are meant to recognize that the Christian life was designed by God in such a way that we cannot succeed without Him. 

The Bible says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mt. 5:3). That really means, “Blessed are those who are broken enough to know their need of God.”

Knowing our desperate need of God is the beginning stage for our own platelet transfusion.

There is a calm that can settle in our souls when we realize we are actually called to live in a state of dependency or a state of transfusion—in which God is pouring the life of Son into us to do for us and be for us what he knows we cannot do and cannot be for ourselves. For as Paul reminds us, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

The following are some of my personal “Platelet Promises” that I have taped to my ceiling. They are the last thing I see before going to bed and the first thing I see when I wake up. They are the bookends to my day and put my life in the context of God’s ability to work all things together for my good:

“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17).
“I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be courageous and let your heart be strong. Wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:13-14).
“God’s way is perfect; the word of the Lord is pure. He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is a rock? Only our God—He clothes me with strength and makes my way perfect” (Psalm 18:30-32).
“Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to the former things. Look—I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19).
“Happy are the people whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the valley of weeping, they make it a source of spring water… they go from strength to strength, each appears before God” (Psalm 84:5-7).

Those are my “Platelet Promises.” What are yours? I encourage you to search the Scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you specific promises he wants you to absorb into the wounds and sorrow of your own soul. Write them out. Tape them on the ceiling above your bed. Start and end your day with them.

In the upcoming post I want to explore how Jesus is a model—not just for our times of joy but also our times of great sorrow.

 

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Adversity Lesson 3: How the end product of affliction can be a hope that does not dissappoint

Romans 5:2-5 says, “Through Him, we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

There is a great deal of deep truth packed into these verses, and the Lord has been helping me to unpack some of it:

(1) What is proven character? To have character be approved it must be measured by a fixed, perfect standard. Who or what is that standard? It is the character of Christ. Christ’s character is character proven at the highest level—perfect holiness. Therefore when Paul says affliction can result in proven character, he is repeating his common theme that God’s desire is for Christ to be formed within us. It is God’s intention that the afflictions He allows in His wisdom not be empty of purpose, but pregnant with purpose. One of those purposes is that the character of Jesus be produced within us.

(2) In Proverbs 13:12 it says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” In others words when our hopes end in disappointment we are left desolate, empty and heartbroken. But in Rom. 5:5 Paul says there exists a “hope that does not disappoint.” There is only one hope in the entire universe we can grab a hold of that will not leave us disappointed, disillusioned or heartbroken. It is the “hope of the glory of God” (v. 2). But what hope is that? What does that mean? How is that acquired? Does it simply mean a hope to go to heaven and escape all pain on this earth? Is it a hope we have to wait to experience, or is it a hope we can have now and live in now?

I believe the “hope of the glory of God” we are to have and which “cannot disappoint” is given more definition in Colossians 1:27. There Paul declares, “God wanted to make known…the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” In other words, the “hope of God’s glory…that does not disappoint” in Rom. 5:2,5 is nothing other than “Christ in you, the hope of glory” in Col. 1:27.

(3) But that only pushes back the question one step further: What does it mean to speak of “Christ in me?” Throughout the N.T. we find a common theme coursing its way through the Scriptures like a winding river. It is the theme of being conformed to the image of Christ and having Christ’s nature and character formed within us. That is why Paul in Romans 5:2-5 connects our “hope that does not disappoint” with “proven character.” Paul is essentially saying the end result of affliction that God allows is meant to produce and form within us the transformative character of Christ. And the character of Christ is indomitable, invincible and cannot be overcome by anything this world throws at us. In contrast other things we put our hope in can be taken away, such that we are left heartsick and in despair

But when Christ’s character becomes formed within us, we become more than conquerors, and many of the promises of God that use to seem so distant and unrealized, are now within our reach—such as having peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7), finding rest for our souls (Mt. 11:29) and souring high on wings as eagles (Is. 40:30). When the character of Christ becomes formed within us, we may suffer disappointment and sorrow in other areas of life, but we can never be left permanently disappointed or disabled emotionally.

(4) It is interesting to note how Paul connects our “hope that does not disappoint” with the reason why it does not disappoint. He states, “This hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (v. 5). In other words the Holy Spirit has been given to us an agent of divine love to pour into us none other than God—who is love (1 John 4:8). This is the essence of the gospel that makes it good news.

However to “pour into” signifies there is both a vessel and room within the vessel to pour into. It implies we are soft, new wineskin that has the capacity to expand to the measure God pours in. When our lives are cluttered and congested with the “gospel of self-fulfillment,” wherein we always run from “x” if “x” is hard and pursue “y” if “y” is easy and pleasant, then we cannot experience how God can both allow and redeem the afflictions of life to produce within us a hope that does not disappoint based on a love that cannot be overcome.

We need to work from this verse going backwards to see how God’s ultimate desire to pour His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit can become our personal experience with God. So if we “connect the dots” by starting with the last truth and trace the sequence back to the beginning we discover the following:

(A) Individuals who can testify of God’s love being poured into them through the agency of the Holy Spirit are those who have a hope that cannot leave them disappointed (v. 5).

(B) And those who can testify of that hope are those who have allowed this unique hope to be produced within them through their character be proven (v. 4).

(C) But proven character—the character of Christ— cannot be produced within unless it first be produced by endurance (v. 4).

(D) Yet endurance only comes by persevering through hardship and affliction (v. 3).

(E) Nevertheless in order for this entire process to progress forward we need our starting place to not be bitterness, anger or resentment, but an attitude of “rejoicing in our afflictions” (v. 3).

(F) However our attitude of rejoicing in affliction grows out of our rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God—which is submitting ourselves to Christ being formed within us—the hope of our glory.

(G) If we truly want it, the grace of God to persevere and rejoice is available to us because “we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (v. 2).

(H) And lastly all of this is made possible because “we have been declared righteous by faith” and “ have peace with God through our Lord Jesus” (vs. 1).

That last point is a critical point of origin for any journey we take in the Lord and with the Lord. We must know that our starting place with God is always peace and goodwill, not hostility and opposition. We don’t have to “win” God over to our side. He is already there—ready and willing to be our refuge in time of trouble. No matter what comes our way we can be assured that God is for us, not against us; He comes to us as friend not foe.

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Adversity Lesson 2: “They will pass through the valley of weeping and make it spring” (Ps. 84:6).

There are two authors and speakers that God has graciously used to bless me and teach me over the past weeks. One is Bob Sorge and the other is Francis Frangipane.

Early on when the pain and confusion was most intense I found a sermon titled “Falling Forward” preached by Francis Frangipane on YouTube. I probably listened to it four times. It deeply touched me and gave me a helpful and desperately needed context to weep before the Lord. It also exposed me to the beauty and promise of Psalm 84:5-7, a section of Scripture I never saw before–  but shall now carry within my heart till the day I die. I have typed out the most helpful parts and only slightly changed some of the grammar and word order.

“Falling Forward” a sermon preached by Francis Frangipane
(click here to hear)

“When things aren’t going your way and the Lord is working to break you, if you resist the breaking, you prolong the process. You prolong the process by just not allowing yourself to be broken. How do you know you’re not broken? You have to go through it again. And as we go through it, if we keep hardening our heart, it takes longer and longer. You see God is after the soft dimensions of our heart to be released.

In every difficulty there is the opportunity to allow it to soften us. If we go through difficult things and it actually hardens us, then we need to beware. Friends, this is not a minor issue—please listen to me. Many Christian go through difficult things and instead of passing through it and becoming broken and soft, they become hard and cynical. A huge percentage of American of Americans say they believe in God, but they aren’t in church. Why? Because they went through some difficult thing, and instead of softening their hearts, they hardened their hearts.

Jesus told a parable in Matthew 13 about the end of the age in which he spoke about the tares and the wheat. The thing about the tares and the wheat is they look the same. They have the same coloring and the same blade structure. In fact you can’t tell the difference between the tares and the wheat—except at harvest time. When the grain grows at harvest time the head of the wheat begins to bow from the weight. But the darnel, or tares, is still standing straight up and stiff. It is pointing straight up—it cannot bow. It can’t go through difficulty and “bow” on the other side.

Do you understand what I am saying? We are all going to go through something unpleasant, and how you go through it, what happens to you on the inside, is critical. You either allow it to break you, to relax you on the inside in the destiny God has, or you become hardened and embittered. It is God’s desire that you allow the breaking to do its work so that Christ can come out of you. You might ask, “How does Christ come out?” He comes out in many ways, such as forgiving the one that perhaps God used to break you.

The only way you can really prove that you are wheat is to not worry about the tares, but instead simply make sure you are growing as wheat. It is inescapable that sometime during your life you are going to grow side by side with someone who does not have a sense of love, does not have a sense of timing, does not have a sense of compassion and does not have a sense of what is truly going on inside of you. They may hurt you or offend you in some way, but you cannot say, “Well they are a tare!” I will tell you what the wheat does—the wheat prays for the darnel. The wheat prays for the tares. In contrast the darnel judges the wheat and other tares.

The truth is we have Christ. We don’t need to try and be holy, we are holy—if in fact Christ is in us. If we really want Christ to come out through us, then He comes out forgiving, He comes out praying, He comes out blessing those who curse us and He comes out going extra miles. He seeks to come out in the very context of our conflict so we can survive that conflict. And that’s how you know you are wheat in the process of life.

In the expanding of your destiny in God you will go through breakings, and how you relate to the breaking is critical. If you still have in your mind what so-and-so did to you 2, 6, 10 years ago, you are in jeopardy of becoming darnel—a tare. If you have not forgiven your way out of that “thing” then you need to examine whether you are moving as wheat or developing a tare-like nature. The darnel can look just like wheat. It can go to church, it can go through all the motions, but it does not have the character of the life of Christ at the center. You know it’s the life of Christ because in the breaking time Christ comes out. What you bleed when your cut determines what’s inside of you. And so we need the failure, we need the difficulty and we need the conflict so that Christ can emerge in that area.

Look again at Psalm 84:5 “How blessed is the man whose strength is in thee.” Note it does not say “whose strength is in himself.” We all have an innate strength within us, where we rely on our abilities to promote and make something happen. But in this passage the Psalmist is saying, “Blessed is the man whose strength is in God—whose strength is not centered in themselves.” In other words it is God who makes happen for them all the things that need to happen. God goes before them and prepares the way. God does what only God can do and we discover the strength of God is supplying what we can’t get within ourselves.

The Psalmist continues, “How blessed is the man whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are highways to Zion. Passing through the valley of Baca, they make it a spring…” (Ps. 84:5-6). You will see in your margins the word, “Baca” means “weeping.” So the Psalmist is saying, “Passing through the valley of weeping, they make it a spring.”

Everyone has a valley of weeping. Some of us have more than one—there are many valleys of weeping that we must pass through. But if your strength is in the Lord, not yourself, and you have gone through the breaking of your outer nature and now realize your strength is in God who loves you, then the tears from your weeping—which were as bitter as salt water— become something to drink. They become a spring, something that refreshes you! You see, the things you go through when God is breaking you can become the very things that refresh you later on in your spiritual journey.

The Psalmist says, “Blessed is the man”—happy is the man, indwelt by God is the man, to be envied is the man—“in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” You see it is Christ’s heart that is the highway to Zion. The person of Christ, the seed of inner life whom you received when you said, “I take you into my life” is the blueprint and pattern that will continue to unfold, grow and emerge throughout all of our lives.

It is “Christ in you” and therefore to give yourself always over to Jesus in every single conflict enables you to come out on the other side and “go from strength to strength…appearing before God in Zion” (v 7). That is what God is after when we go through these breakings. Failure becomes our friend, because the breaking produces an end to the old way of us—and the beginning of a new way in Him.

No one is super-natural, we are all only average. We are all going to make mistakes. We are all going to fail. But with God none of those things become limitations, because  we are told “God chooses the weak things.” The only thing we need to do is not remain stiff—not remain unbending. Allow Christ to emerge. “Passing through the valley of weeping, they make it a spring.” Brothers and sisters there is something to drink in your tears that you’re going to need later on in life. They will become something you will be able to fill your canteen with, and it will give you life and refreshing later on.

Lastly when the Psalmist says, “Everyone appears before God in Zion” he is not talking about landing up in heaven one day and appearing before God in Zion. He is saying, “Right now in your context, in the life you are now living, in the failure you just experienced, in losing your job, in going through whatever conflict you are currently going through, you can appear before God. God is looking—He is watching—and He knows the battle you are going through. And He has allowed that battle to give you the opportunity to be broken—but even greater—to give Christ the opportunity to emerge.” – Francis Frangipane in a sermon titled “Falling Forward.” 

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Adversity Lesson 1: God comes to change us not only console us

“Dear Matt, what I am about to tell you I say with a very heavy heart. I met someone else when I returned home last month, and he recently proposed to me. It was not planned–it took me by surprise. I know it might sound crazy, but I felt peace about it. I am now engaged to be married to him in three months time. Please know everything we shared together was genuine and from the heart. I am so sorry.”

I will probably never forget those words. They became seared into my heart as if they were put there by a branding iron.

It has now been a month and a half since the woman I thought for sure I was going to marry this year turned my world upside down and emptied my heart on the floor. Her news was a total, unexpected shock to my soul. I was left completely undone, devastated and shattered. Depression and nausea enveloped my soul in thick darkness as I saw my hopes and dreams of the future vanish before my eyes. Truly, as the proverb declares, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Pr. 13:12).

I have been through difficult breakups before and buried a best friend not too long ago, but the intensity of loss, the sting of rejection and the inexplicable, sudden reversal of her heart was of such a nature that it sent me into a tailspin of emotions and confusion to a degree never before experienced.

I was too broken, frail and tortured within to be angry or embittered at God. I ran into His arms for my very survival. Even now my day must start with the Lord as a source of strength, perspective, trust and surrender. It is not easy to surrender all, but I believe reaching that level of desperation and surrender incorporates two essential truths:

1) It is the only way through the shadowy valley of death, loss and disappointment.

2) It is the only means by which the valley can become a rich and fruitful experience as we deny ourselves and become more conformed to the image and character of Christ.

The beloved song we often sing in our churches does not say, “I surrender some.” Nor does it say, “I surrender most.” No, it says, “I surrender allall to you I give.” If the analogy can be followed I feel as if the past few weeks have upgraded my hunger for the Lord and my worship of the Lord from the obsolete “spiritual software” of an iPhone 1 to an iPhone 4 (not yet a 6–always room for improvement). As I have laid before the Lord my entire life, hopes, dreams and perceived “rights” to marriage, sex and intimate companionship, I feel as if there is an excavation of sorts occurring in the deepest chambers of my heart. I know I am being changed, I know that sin is being dredged out of me, and I know that Christ is being formed within me as I cling to Him through this crucible of disappointment and discipline.

That being said, there have been some days when all I can give to the Lord is my tears–and I have learned to be ok with that. As the Psalmist says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name (Ps. 103:1). Sometimes all we have within ourselves are tears–and so if nothing else we can learn to give God our tears as a sacrifice of praise.

I typically blog about theology, culture and apologetics, but I would like to take a short break from that and over the next 3 posts personally share some of the lessons the Lord has graciously deposited within me over the past one and a half months. I would like to begin with a poem I memorized years ago when I was going through an earlier, dark night of the soul.

I walked a mile with Laughter;
She chatted all the way;
But I was none the wise wiser,
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow;
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me.” –Robert Hamilton

Lesson #1: God is zealous about changing us not just consoling us.

Since this season of brokenness has begun, one of the most pivotal encounters I have had with God’s word has been the story of how Jesus did not congratulate, console or even comfort Peter after he took 3 or 4 steps and then sank beneath the waves. Though He reached forth and saved Peter from drowning, Jesus also rebuked Peter for not having sufficient trust to walk on the water! This was revolutionary to me. I first became aware of this perspective on day three as I was crying out to God on my knees amidst a puddle of pain and perplexity. I picked up a book written by Francis Frangipane called The Shelter of the Most High and I began to read the following excerpt:

“It is one thing to trust Christ to calm the storm around us; it is another matter to leave our security and venture out with Him on the water! This very setting of raging wind and sea is the classroom that the Son of God seeks to perfect His disciples’ faith.

Let us affirm the Father’s highest purpose for us: Jesus did not come simply to console us but to perfect us! This is exactly where He will take us once we are willing… We should repent of carrying the image of a Savior who fails to confront our sin or challenge our unbelief, for such is a false image of God. If we are to genuinely know Him, we must accept this truth: Jesus is irrevocably committed to our complete transformation!

Of all the disciples, Peter alone responds to the occasion with vision and faith… Peter did not rest his weight on the water; he stood on Christ’s word: “Come!” Peter trusted that if Jesus told him to do the impossible—even to walk on the water— the powers to obey would be inherent within the command.

Moments later Peter’s faith faltered. He began to sink. But there is something extraordinary to be seen in Christ’s response—a view into Christ’s actual nature and His ultimate purpose. Jesus did not commend or congratulate Peter. He rebuked him! We would have expected praise and encouragement, but none came.

Was Jesus angry? No. The truth is, Jesus Christ is relentlessly given to our perfection. He knows that wherever we settle spiritually will be far short of His provision. He also knows that the more we are transformed into His image, the less vulnerable we are to the evils of this world. Thus He compels us toward difficulties, for they compel us toward God, and God compels us toward change. And it is the transformed heart that finds the shelter of the Most High.” [1]

Frangipane’s insight into Christ’s rebuke of Peter helped to snap me to attention early on before self-pity enveloped my soul. It was really a slap in the face and made me realize that self-pity and unbelief would be my greatest enemies to progressing forward as God intended. We often doubt our beliefs but sometimes we need to doubt our unbelief! As I put the book down I immediately felt captured by the conviction that God not only wanted to comfort and console me— but also change me into His image!

I knew God was giving me a desperately needed starting place— a point of reference to help me navigate my way out of the swirling pit of confusing emotions that would visit my soul in the weeks ahead. As I personally absorbed the rebuke the Lord gave to Peter, I sensed God setting me straight in my attitude as to what would be an acceptable form of grief in His eyes and what would not. The following message is what the Holy Spirit dropped into my heart like a weighted stone:

“Matt, this is how this is going to go down. Certain attitudes are unacceptable to Me if we are going to graduate you to a higher place of trust. I don’t want to just comfort you in your distress, or console you in your grief like I did your past heartbreaks. I don’t measure growth in years, height or age—I measure it trust and Christlikeness. I want you to grow in trust. I want you to reflect My image. I want you to fix your eyes on Me. I want change. I don’t want to just come to you as a Comforter, I also want to come to you as One walking on the water who commands you to do the same through keeping your eyes fixed upon Me and not doubting that I am greater than any storm.

I am zealous for you to become more conformed into My image. I am zealous for your faith and trust to graduate to a higher place. Therefore I will rebuke you if you fail this test and do not learn how to keep your eyes fixed upon Me in the midst of the raging sea and the strong wind blowing against you. I want you to walk on the water of distrust, fear, anxiety, rejection, sorrow, disappointment and grief by learning how to let your weight rest upon my command “Do not be afraid. It is I. Come to Me.”

Many years ago I declared to all wanted to follow me, ‘You will go through tribulation in this world, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ Your challenge is to not give in to despair, hopelessness, anger, accusation, or distrust. You must believe I am greater than your current confusion, distress and trouble. You must trust that my way is perfect and my word is pure and I alone know how to exploit every distress and manage every trial to redeem it for good—just walk towards Me and let the strong winds blow by. 

Surrender your hurt and pain. Cast your cares of worry and anxiety over your own life and that of Sarah upon Me. Learn of Me. Be yoked to Me through this and know I am not giving you the burden of protecting, providing, or caring for Sarah at this time, so you must surrender her to my faithful love and not take upon yourself that burden or suffer from that regret. I know what is best. I know how to achieve what is best. Trust Me.”

[1] Francis Frangipane, The Shelter of the Most High, Charisma House, 2008. p 62-63

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