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Posts Tagged ‘change’


When I taught thru the Westminster Confession of Faith I had to spend some unscheduled time on the topic of emotions when we got the subject of impassibility. The subject of emotions among Christians is often fraught with danger. I was glad to see the release of Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith. They are coming from the same general theological tradition that I am. The timing was also good as I go through an extended season of loss personally and professionally. The last year has been very difficult and a swirling mess of emotions. Or, to borrow their metaphor a paint can of emotions that create a unique color in my life.

The book is divided into three sections: Understanding Emotions, Engaging Emotions, and Engaging the Hardest Emotions. They laid a good foundation for engaging those most pesky of emotions in the early chapters of the book. The book ends with an appendix on the doctrine of Impassibility and what they mean by saying God feels.

Emotions can often get the best of us. They seem to sneak up on us, and control us. They can get out of control as well. It is important for us to understand God’s purpose in giving us emotions. This is addressed in the Introduction and the first section.

“… we hope three different kinds of people pick up this book. First, we are writing for those whose emotions tend toward extremes. … Second, … if emotions baffle you. … Finally, we are writing to you if you want to love and care for people whose emotions, for one reason or another, have them over a barrel.”

Each of us probably find ourselves in at least one of those categories, if not more.

Their initial premise is that emotions are a gift, essential for how we bear God’s image. Jesus, as God Incarnate experiences emotions as God and man. He alone among us lived in perfect relationship with emotions. We see Him expressing sorrow, anger, compassion and more. These emotions, unlike ours, are not in control but under control. So, as they lay out the scope of the book it isn’t “about how to change our emotions but to bring them wisely to God and other people.” In this sense there are shades of Ken Sande’s Relational Wisdom which focuses on God-awareness & engagement, other-awareness & engagement, and self-awareness & engagement.

The authors want us to know that even bad emotions aren’t always or necessarily bad. Jesus wept. Jesus was angry. “God made us to respond to things as they actually are.” And in a fallen world there is plenty to be sad and mad about, sometimes at the same time. We were made in His image to see the world as He sees it, and respond as He responds. Unfortunately as sinners, we don’t see it as He does, nor respond as He does. Nevertheless emotions are a gift and like all other gifts can be misused.

They then move into what emotions actually are. Philosophically they are generally understood as arising from the body or the mind. Theologically, however we are a body-soul union. Such theories don’t quite fit. They involve our bodies (bio-chemical) as well as our thoughts. But emotions do communicate what we value or love. They function as signpost revealing what is important to us.

“Your emotions are always expressing the things you love, value and treasure, whether you understand them or not.”

Emotions also help us relate or connect to other people. Because they reveal what we value they communicate who we are. If you want to know what a person loves see what makes them sad or angry.

Emotions also motivate us into action, to put our values into action. They are also an expression of worship, the valuing of God Himself. Our love for God should shape all else that we love.

With all that in mind they enter into the complexity of our emotions. They don’t enter “single file.” They are streams of color filling the can of be base that create a single color. When I worked at Ace we’d get the right base and set the machine to put in the right amount of each main color to create the precise color you want to stick on your wall. Except, of course this is not precise and you don’t necessarily want the world to see.

Sadly, people oversimplify emotions. Some ignore them and focus on action, while others obsess over them and find someone to blame. This fails to identify emotions that are helpful, if unpleasant, and those that aren’t or are expressed in destructive ways. “Mixed emotions are the right response to a mixed world.” Jesus experienced both sadness and anger with respect to the death of Lazarus.

They move into the bodily aspects of our emotions. We have bodily reactions: chemical surges, skin changes and more. Our bodies are messengers of emotions too. Our soul communicates through the body God has given us. Made good by God, our bodies do experience corruption due to Adam’s sin, and don’t always work properly, including emotions. They mention that they can be too slow or too quick to respond, too long or too short of a time as well.

“Your body is the vehicle through which the passion of your soul flows.”

The shift into the process of connecting or relating with others through emotions. This is the sharing of the heart, and emotions flow from the heart and all that it loves. This is not about changing the other person, but discovering who they are. Some of what we discover will need to be forgiven, but love covers these things even as it prays for change.

We don’t change our emotions. Emotions are instinctual. We “listen” to them and take that message to heart. We listen to what we love and how we love it and that is where our repentance needs to be. Faith won’t grant us control over our emotions.

“Rather than selecting our emotions on a whim off a menu of ways to feel, God gave us emotions that are actually designed not to change unless what we love changes or what is happening to the thing we love changes.”

Change happens by changing what we love, and that happens as we engage or emotions. This is the second part of the book. They warn us to avoid the two extremes: letting emotions run everything or ignoring them completely. You don’t emotionally vomit each time you feel something, letting it all hang out. Neither do you stuff them until you implode. To engage them is to identify them, examine them, evaluate them and act. One problem they seemed to over look is that when we are highly emotional, it is difficult to evaluate due to flooding- we stop thinking and acting rationally because the amygdala takes over for instinctual action. But we can do this after the fact and begin to address our loves as necessary.

We then begin to engage God with our emotions, pouring out our hearts to Him. Talk about the strongest emotions in the mix. They also address why God is trustworthy to talk to about our emotions. As we do this we are able to bring our emotions into our relationships in a more healthy way. We begin to be more aware of other’s emotions as well. We talk together about what we were each feeling during a conflict: “I was scared because other’s hoarded the items we we didn’t have in sufficient quantity. The lack of control made me feel angry, and then left alone due to what I thought was a lack of support or concern on your part.” It is a sharing of what you learned in the earlier “steps”. You can also talk about how to begin doing things differently, the loves that need to change.

“Therefore, as a mixed person, living in a mixed world, with other mixed people, you may well respond to the complexities of the people and situations around you with complicated and mixed emotions.”

The next two chapters are on nourishing healthy emotions and starving unhealthy ones. It is much like vivification and mortification when we speak of sanctification. They begin by pointing us to the means of grace, so the parallel continues. The Scriptures also give us examples of a healthy way to express negative emotions, lament for instance. There is also a good emphasis on corporate worship as a place to express emotions in a healthy way. In terms of putting unhealthy emotional patterns to death they address the lies we often believe causing us to spill or stuff them.

“Instead of developing an either-or perspective on the world, develop a both-and perspective. There are absolutes in God’s universe. But our experience is sandwiched by both-ands. So reject black-and-white thinking. More often than not, it obscures truth rather than fortifies it.”

Inside Out: about a child learning about their emotions.

In the final section on managing the hardest emotions they address fear, anger, grief, guilt and shame. I found their interaction with these to be quite helpful, even though they were not long. In each chapter they walk you through their engagement process. The chapter on anger was more helpful to me and the questions that have nagged at me for the last couple of years: discerning righteous from unrighteous anger. Seeing grief as loss of connection was very helpful for me as I go through a season of loss. I’m losing my connections with my childhood as older family and extended family members pass away.

In the final chapter they address our eternal state. We will no longer experience negative emotions. Nor emotions negatively. But, they argue, we will remember the pain and sorrow, and not just the good God worked from them. We see this in Jesus, who is known by His scars, as Michael Card sang. Jesus’ trials and suffering were memorialized not white-washed. Our tears matter to God who stores them in a bottle. We won’t lament, but we will remember.

As I noted above, the book ends with an appendix on Impassibility and emotions. They develop the distinction between passions an affections. God values things too, and His affections are a response to their circumstances. But they don’t control or change Him, like they can control or change us. I used to work at a men’s shelter and heard many stories of how tragedy changed men, negatively. God’s affections reflect His unchanging character. His affections are important if He is to be a God who relates to His people or just another mute idol. Or a robot.

“God is energetically enthused and emotionally invested in creation by his own free will and consistent choice, but God’s emotional life does not compromise his character or change his essence.”

I found this to be a very helpful book. I think they were sound in their theology, and there was plenty of it. They concluded with Deuteronomy 29:29 to indicate we have true knowledge of God in what He has reveal, but He hasn’t revealed everything. I believe they were sound in their application of theology as well. I found it personally helpful, and will recommend it to some people in my care who struggle with emotions. There is much wisdom in this.

 

 

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Suppose a homosexual comes to faith in your church, what next? Perhaps you had some constructive conversations and they realize the issue is SIN, and not “just” homosexuality. They come to see that Jesus has born their sin, all of it. What next?

That issue of change is the next subject of Peter Hubbard’s Love Into Light. The process of change that he talks about isn’t peculiar to homosexuals. He applies the biblical concepts of gospel transformation to homosexuals. But he is also honest about what changes to really expect.

He begins in an unexpected place though. He talks about misdiagnosis, about misunderstanding the real problem. For years the high incidence of depression and suicide among homosexuals were connected to being “in the closet” unable to express who they really are. That has changed in many ways. They are counseled to live out their homosexuality in full view of the world. Yet, the high rates of depression and suicide seem to persist. Perhaps the problem wasn’t being closeted. Though they are gaining cultural power, these emotional problems they were promised would diminish remain.

“… this link is no longer clear since sexual expression and social acceptance do not always alter the levels of depression, substance abuse, and suicide. So maybe the ‘cure’ (sexual expression) is actually part of the ‘disease’.” Ritch Savin-Williams, homosexual professor and researcher

This does not mean that the “antidote” is heterosexuality. This is where many get lost. They think that change means becoming heterosexual. That might not be God’s plan for a repentant homosexual.

“Jesus is not our get-out-of homosexuality plan, but “the way and the truth and the life.” Real change is not simply a reaction t our latest problems, but a miraculous step toward our new eternal identity.”

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No, I’m not talking about progressivism. I’m not talking about evolutionary progress. I’m not talking about the progress of civilization.

I’m talking about progress in sanctification. Sometimes we fall into the trap that it really isn’t possible. We see our sins more clearly and more abundantly than we did before. We seem mired in it.

In the final chapter of The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung address the very real possibility, and expectation, of progress. There is such a thing as hope and change, in the life of a Christian.

He starts in 1 Timothy 4:15. Shortly after his ordination, it clicked for him.

15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Paul wanted people to see Timothy’s progress, not just as a pastor but as a godly man. He was to practice “the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” But in verse 12 he’s told to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” He was to be growing, making progress, in these things. This implies that while Timothy was godly, he was not perfect and could become more godly.

“Paul didn’t think “set an example” means “get everything right the first time.”

(more…)

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The struggle between faith and doubt takes place in every Christian’s heart.  Our circumstances can foster doubts.  These doubts will either drive the roots of faith deeper, or expose that our faith is misplaced such we “lose our faith.”

Dan Allender addresses this in The Wager of Faith, part of The Healing Path.  Here are some things I need to remember, and perhaps you need to remember as faith and doubt do war in your soul.

“Faith involves placing our well-being into the hands of others who we hope are committed to do us good.”

God is committed to my well-being.  Ruthlessly committed to my well-being.  This does not mean that my circumstances will be good, but that God is conforming me to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:28-9).  Not everyone is so committed to my well-being, and sometimes we are betrayed.

“Our past may blind us or distort what we consider good or bad, but our conscience continues to warn, chide, and rejoice in truthful loving. … Faith is trust in the goodness of God.”

Our own sinfulness, our particular sins and how we’ve been sinned against color our perspective.  This creates some of the doubt we experience.  We struggle to believe that God is good when life is particularly difficult.  I know I do. 

(more…)

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I’m prepping my sermon on Hebrews 10:19-25.  My previous text, Hebrews 4:14-16, focused on Jesus’ intercessory work as our Priest.  This one focuses on Jesus’ sacrificial work as our Priest and how the Old Covenant has been fulfilled in Him.  As a result, we live in a new way: boldness, hope and consideration for the community of faith.

It is one of the many one another passages in Hebrews.  One of the complaints of those who are discouraged by the “institutional or organized church” is that people aren’t involved in one another’s lives.  They have a point.  Often church-going can be nearly anonymous.  People want Jesus, but not one another.  Jesus offers some great benefits.  His people offer us sin and misery: relationships with imperfect people are very messy.  Often it is easier to opt out.

The solution of some folks is to opt out of the “institutional church”.  They hope to find this relational ministry among their friends or in a house church.  This passage argues against such neglect of assembling yourselves together.  These meetings appear to be formal, and the root word is “synagoge”.  They were to forsake the disconnected worship of the temple.  It was first disconnected from Christ, and then disconnected from one another.  People were minister to- they didn’t minister to one another. 

The vision of the author of Hebrews is to keep our assemblies connected with Christ by faith, and one another as we stir one another up to love and good works.  I need others to stir me up to greater love and more good works.  Perhaps a better way to think of this is that Jesus stirs me up by using other people.  And He stirs them up by using me.  Jesus uses us to minister one another- we are instruments in His hands.

I don’t say this accidentally.  I began reading Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul Tripp last week.  It is going slowly as I actually minister to people.  I began to read it in preparation for a new call (I still have hope that God will show me mercy).  I recognize that this is God’s design for the church, and I want to be better prepared to help a body of believers actually do this.

If more churches read books like this, and began to implement such “one another” processes, the church in America would look an awful lot more like what Jesus intended.  It would be healthier, people would be growing and (I think) fewer people would be opting out.  But it is messy because you are applying the balm of the gospel to sin-wrecked lives.  You are getting in the midst of it.

First, we are afraid to get our hands dirty.  We are afraid we don’t have what it takes, and will really mess things up.  We are afraid of how much time and energy it will take.  We are just plain afraid.

Second, people are often afraid of receiving help.  They are afraid to show you their sins, warts and to be vulnerable.  They are also afraid of change.  Their problems are their ‘normal’, and change invites them into an uncertain future.  They are afraid to give up cherished sins, comfortable lies and cozy accomplices.  They are afraid of rejection by those comfortable with the old person and not wild about the new one that is emerging.

Yet, this is precisely the work the church is called to by this and many other passages.  We are to be a place where people change as we help one another apply the gospel to the sin-stained and maimed parts of our lives.  This is the biblical view of Christian community.

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I found this in How People Change this morning, and it seems all too true.

“I had an epiphany one Wednesday evening in the middle of our small group meeting.  People were sharing prayer requests, but it was the same old grocery list of situational, self-protective prayer requests masquerading as openness and self-disclosure.  I found myself thinking, Why did we all feel the need to clean up our prayer requests before giving them?  Why were we all so skilled at editing ourselves out of our prayer requests?  Why were we so good at sharing the difficult circumstances we faced, yet so afraid of talking about our struggles in the middle of them?  Did we really care more about what the people thought than we did about getting help?  Did we really think that God would be repulsed by our sins and weakness?  I wondered who we thought we were fooling.  It was as if we had all agreed upon an unspoken set of rules, a conspiracy of silence.”

David Powlison talks about our tendency to focus on our circumstance in prayer in his book Speaking the Truth in Love.  We neglect prayers for spiritual growth (which requires sharing where we are tempted and tried), and prayers for kingdom expansion (which requires that we participate and sacrifice). 

Here, Lane and Tripp, point to this conspiracy of silence as one of the reasons people do not change.  Change happens when we break the conspiracy of silence (or Code of Silence in a bad Chuck Norris movie, which are at best guilty pleasures).  They don’t go there, but I am reminded of Jack Miller’s comments on the idol of reputation.  The fact is that our reputation is an illusion for it is based on only some of the data about us.  The fact that we refuse to acknowledge ourselves as the “biggest sinner we know” means that we pretend trials don’t tempt us with great sin.  We focus on the evil “out there” and avoid the evil within our own hearts (James 1).  This is stuff that stifles the spiritual life of churches, not just individuals.  It is time to break the conspiracy of silence if it exists in your small group, family or church. 

Contrast our churches with this experience of Anthony Bradley‘s.

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