Archive for August 25th, 2009

25
Aug
09

Cynicism or joy

A choice that I’m often presented with is the choice between cynicism and joy. Growing up and in most of my life I have always had a tendency to be very cynical (‘honesty’ I used to call it…), negative (‘realistic’ was my term for that…) and sarcastic (‘having a sense of humor’ in my words…). Cynicism, negativity, sarcasm, fault-finding are all different words that have to do with judgment. Judgment of God as being incompetent and not living up to my expectations, so I decide that he is a liar with his lofty promises (“abundant life?….yeah right!”) and I choose to live a life as a believer where I profess to be a Christian, but spend the vast majority of my energy judging other people for their mistakes and hating God for not giving me what I want. I also judge other people and deem them not worthy of my time and energy. Soft, good-hearted, forgiving people are seen as weak and pathetic, and it becomes very hard for me to relate to a God of compassion, grace and relentless love.

I am a cynic in healing. Some Christians I have met say that “it’s just natural for me to be more negative and cynical than other people“. That’s simply not true. It’s a lie. There is simply no way that it’s ‘natural’ for a born again child of God with the Holy Spirit living inside of him or her to be cynical, harsh, negative and judgmental. It’s flesh. It’s ugly. It needs to be recognized, confessed and exposed and put in its right place under Jesus’ leadership.

I am a cynic in healing. I have spent much time in my life finding faults. I have often found myself belonging to the large group of Christians who just never seem to find a church that fits them. There is always something that they don’t like. The other people never live up to their expectations. They think they are spiritually mature and have the gift of discernment because they can see that no churches are perfect. The problem is that we all know that no churches are perfect. It’s truly stating the obvious! But the tragedy is that these people, these cynical Christians, either just sit miserable in their bitterness and self-righteousness in the seats of whatever church or they conclude that church is a waste of time altogether and find themselves church-less, and often after a short while life-less as well. It’s a slow fade, but I’ve seen it happen for too many people I hold dear, and I thank God that he stopped me in my tracks when I was going down that well-worn path. And I thank him that he is healing me for the cynicism and negativity that used to control my life all the time.

It doesn’t mean that I’m not able to find faults anymore. Trust me, I’m great at that. I can find faults anywhere. But I don’t have to entertain that thought, invite it in for dinner and invite other people to share that discovery with me. I can say to God that I don’t want to live in darkness, and he will gradually show me more and more what it looks like to live as a child of the light.

hope

Grace-healed eyes

I was very challenged by the following sections from The Return Of The Prodigal Son. It speaks volumes to me and challenges me to continue down the path of healing with Christ where he changes me from a son of cynicism to a child of joy, just the same way he changed the Apostle John from a son of thunder who wanted to call fire down on unrepentant people (Luke 9:51-55) to the apostle of love who couldn’t stop celebrating Christ’s love for him and named himself  ‘the disciple Jesus loved’ (John 20:2) when he wrote his gospel.

“The father of the prodigal son gives himself totally to the joy that his returning son brings him. I have to learn from that. I have to learn to ‘steal’ all the real joy there is to steal and lift it up for others to see. Yes, I know that not everybody has been converted yet, that there is not yet peace everywhere, that all pain has not yet been taken away, but still, I see people turning and returning home; I hear voices that pray; I notice moments of forgiveness, and I witness many signs of hope. I don’t have to wait until all is well, but I can celebrate every little hint the Kingdom that is at hand.

This is a real discipline. It requires choosing for the light even when there is much darkness to frighten me, choosing for life even when the forces of death are so visible, and choosing for the truth even when I am surrounded with lies. I am tempted to be so impressed by the obvious sadness of the human condition that I no longer claim the joy manifesting itself in many small but very real ways. The reward of choosing joy is joy itself. There is so much rejection, pain, and woundedness among us, but once you choose to claim the joy hidden in the midst of all suffering, life becomes celebration,. Joy never denies the sadness, but transforms it to fertile soil for more joy.

Surely I will be called naive, unrealistic, and sentimental, and I will be accused of ignoring the ‘real’ problems, the structural evils that underlie much of human misery. But God rejoices when one repentant sinner returns. Statistically that is not very interesting. But for God, numbers never seem to matter. Who knows whether the world is kept from destruction because of one, two or three people who have continued to pray when the rest of humanity has lost hope and dissipated itself?” (The Return Of The Prodigal Son, pages 115-116).

A few years ago I would have been in the large group calling Nouwen and people like him ‘naive, unrealistic, sentimental and ignorant’, but they are not. The more I get, what Philip Yancey in his masterpiece What’s So Amazing About Grace, called grace-healed eyes, the more I see that I am called to be like Nouwen and the other naive dreamers. I am also called as a child of the light to point to the light in the world when it’s visible. I’m not called to be ignorant about the real problems that are in this world. And I doubt that will ever be a temptation for me to not be aware of the real problems that are going on. But being aware of the problems and talking a lot about them, doesn’t do much to solve them. I have spent a lot of useless time dwelling of the problems in the world, and the problems in the church, instead of being a part of the minority that is always active in loving people and bringing forth life and light where darkness, bitterness and mediocrity rule.

hope2

Darkness/light, cynicism/joy

I will give the scene to Henri Nouwen again in these two segments where he contrasts people of cynicism with people of joy. I recognize myself very well in the cynical people, but thank God (!!) I’m beginning to see more and more of the simple joy in my life. And joy, not cynicism, is after all, one of the fruits of the Spirit living his life in and through me.

For me it is amazing to experience daily the radical difference between cynicism and joy. Cynics seek darkness wherever they go. They point always to approaching dangers, impure motives, and hidden schemes. They call trust naive, care romantic, and forgiveness sentimental. They sneer at enthusiasm, ridicule spiritual fervor, and despise charismatic behavior. They consider themselves realists who see reality for what it truly is and who are not deceived by ‘escapist emotions’. But in belittling God’s joy, their darkness calls forth more darkness.

People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God. They discover that there are people who heal others’ wounds, forgive each others’ offenses, share their possessions, foster the spirit of community, celebrate the gifts they have received, and live in constant anticipation of the full manifestation of God’s glory” (The Return Of The Prodigal Son, page 117)

These are powerful words indeed. They expose the darkness that’s still inside of me. They expose how often I’m tempted to look at the dark instead of the bright colors of life. They expose that I often find it easier, more comfortable and even more spiritual (!) to criticize instead of encourage.

Paul urged the Ephesian church to: “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Real truth is always filled with love. And real love is always filled with truth. This is not a call to blindness, stupidity, a childish outlook on life or anything like that. We are called to be aware. Be aware of both the good, the bad and the ugly. But in this day and age where most people are focusing on everything that doesn’t work in and outside of the church or in their own lives, the calling to celebrate the light is even stronger than ever before. I rarely have any problems speaking what I believe is the truth. But if it’s not spoken in love, it’s worth nothing (1. Corinthians 13), and I always have to ask myself a key question: “will what I am about to say build up relationships or break down relationships?‘. If it will break down relationships, it is probably better to stay quiet, but if it will build up relationships, I am free to speak what’s on my heart and trust that God put it there.

Here is the song A Place Called Grace. The place that we can all run to no matter how caught up in cynicism and resentment we may be. It’s a place where God starts to melt the iceberg that is around our true selves and we get to experience that God’s forgiveness and mercy changes us slowly from within

Blessings, Torben – who is glad that it’s God doing the changing of focus! It’s not about me tricking myself into seeing more of the light in this world. I simply see it the more I see Christ – who is the light of the world – in my life!

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25
Aug
09

Gratitude or resentment

As I already mentioned Henri Nouwen’s book The Return of The Prodigal Son has been a great read for me these past weeks. I like to eat this type of deep, spirit- and truth-filled book in small bites with some space in between the meals to properly digest all the beautiful food that is packed into less than 150 pages.

And so I have taken my time reading this book that talks about the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke chapter 15 and the many aspects of life with God that the story, and the painting by Rembrandt portraying this story, point out.

Nouwen discusses many choices in the book. Choices I can make as a child of God. Choices that determine whether I get to live in the joy and peace of Romans 8 and the rest of the New Testament or whether I end up in the misery and mediocrity of Romans 7 and the reality of too many believers today.

Our choices have consequences. If I choose to live in the darkness even though I am a child of the light, I miss out on what God has for me. If I choose bitterness and not brokenness, complaints and resentments instead of gratitude and hatred and unforgiveness in place of love and forgiveness I miss out on a multitudes of gifts that are mine as a child of the king of the kingdom of God.

This passage about choosing gratitude over resentment spoke to me about one of these choices:

Gratitude goes beyond the ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. I can choose to listen to the voices that forgive and to look at the faces that smile, even while I still hear the words of revenge and see grimaces of hatred.

There is always the choice between resentment and gratitude because God has appeared in my darkness, urged me to come home, and declared in a voice filled with affection: “You are with me always, and all I have is yours”. Indeed, I can choose to dwell in the darkness in which I stand, point to those who are seemingly better off than I, lament about the many misfortunes that have plagued me in the past, and thereby wrap myself in my resentment. But I don’t have to do this. There is the option to look into the eyes of the One who came out to search for me and see therein that all I am and I have is pure gift calling for gratitude” (The Return of The Prodigal Son, page 86)

I know this choice between gratitude and resentment very well. I have often spend a lot of time in the darkness complaining, whining, arguing, debating…without many positive results! Resentment and bitterness are like bacteria that start small and insignificant, but the more you and I feed them the more space they’ll take up, until we can’t see any beauty and love for all the negativity that occupy our thoughts and feelings. Resentment is also dangerous because it attracts company. You’ll always be able to find people to sit and share your resentment and bitterness with. I never had a hard time finding whining-session-partners, but I have begun seeing more and more how destructive it is for me to be a person of always finding fault and always concluding that God is holding out on me. I have been bitter at God many, many years, and for me it was a huge step to allow myself to forgive God. That may sound absurd, and obviously God, who does not make mistakes, does not need my forgiveness. But I had to go through the painful process of forgiving God for making me that the way he made me, and allowing the things – good, bad, and ugly – to happen to me that have helped me shape me into the person I am today. I had to forgive him in order to come to the place of being able to thank him for everything he has done, is doing and will do in my life! I still have some steps to take with him, before I am at the place of giving him thanks in all situations and under all circumstances. But that’s where we’re heading, God and me. And I trust him to continue to change me with his love and care, so I live a life of gratitude and not a life of resentment and bitterness.

Blessings, Torben




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