Saturday, August 18, 2012

If The Snakes Don’t Get You, God Will!

Everyone makes mistakes. In fact, we all fail in one way or another each and every day we live. I hate that! It's even worse when your failures affect those around you.

I've come to realize throughout the years that at the core of my being, I really am a people pleaser. I want people to be happy with me. Some may doubt that based on my antics, but nevertheless, it is true. This is also true of my relationship with the Lord. I desperately want to be a "good" Christian and NEVER fail Him in any way. If you know me, please feel free to laugh now because it rarely happens. I am constantly saying and doing stupid things. Regardless, I do possess a deep desire to be pleasing to Him in all that I say and do.

As I said, we all make mistakes. The real problem for me is knowing how to deal with my "shortcomings". What do you do when you cannot seem to do as you should?

With that, I'd like to share with you some thoughts about my own process of transitioning from living as a depressed, guilt-laden failure to a loved and completely accepted son.

If you know me, you know I love to make people laugh. Unfortunately, I possess a very warped sense of humor and consider few topics to be off limits. One outlet I utilize to entertain the public at large is the creation of ridiculous videos. I've made many over the years and I can tell you I really believed each and every one was just brimming with giggles. Occasionally though, someone will let me know that they really didn't enjoy my desperate attempt to fill the world with laughter. Instead, a video of mine produced the exact opposite effect for that person. It completely offended them. As I said, I do have a warped sense of humor, but I can assure you I would never intentionally post anything that I actually believed would seriously offend anyone. I'm not crazy. People pleasing people just don't do that sort of thing. Our highest goal in life is to have each and every person we encounter fall madly in love with us. Yes I realize that is sick, but it's a sickness I live with and it makes me crazy. So, what happens when I do offend someone? I become deeply depressed and immediately begin the process of wallowing in guilt and shame for hurting someone. Did I mean to? Absolutely not, but the reality is I did…and it kills me. Yes, failure sucks!

It's really no different with God. The only real difference is that with God, my failures bring about a far more profound sense of guilt, shame, and my favorite…depression.

Okay, at this point I'll need you to strap in because the following will most likely push you into the realm of complete belief that I am a "bona fied" nut.

Each and every day I go through a completely irrational ritual on my way home from work. There are various neurotic components, but at its core is a review of all the ways in which I failed God and man throughout my day. The ride home is only about fifteen minutes, but it is just long enough to send me spiraling into the quagmire of each of the negative emotional responses listed above…and it is misery! By the time I do get home, I am looking for a cliff to jump off of because I am completely convinced this world would be far better off without Mr. "Funny Britches".

How often did you say you do this Ken? EVERY DAY!

So, I guess a reasonable question to ask at this point would be why? Why in the heck do you do such a thing if you know what it is going to "do" to you? Ahhhhh, a good question indeed and after many clueless years I finally have an answer that I really believe many will relate to.

I "do" it because I am convinced it is the right thing to "do".

You see, I am a Christian, and somewhere along the way on my Christian journey I became convinced of the idea that I must experience profound hurt, crawl on my belly through the mud, and suffer severe mental anguish before I am eligible to receive God's forgiveness and restoration. The whole idea is universal really, and we all know how it works. You do "bad" in this world, you get punished. As a child, I did many foolish things at home and at school. When I got caught, I was punished. That's how it worked. That punishment was generally dealt out by my parents or teachers if it happened at school. The problem is when you're all grown up, and you "do bad", who's going to punish you? Well, I suppose mom or dad could once again break out one of my dad's leather belts of destruction if called upon, but I'm guessing that day has come and gone. So who's left? Who is big and bad enough to put the "uh oh" in a grown man or woman? If you're a Christian (and many non-Christians) that job has been handed over to God. You know, the "Heavenly Father". After all, you always get caught by God. Nothing gets by Him…right? And besides, who is scarier than God? No one that's who! Now, I can tell you, I hated getting punished by my dad. He would whack you with a belt so hard you'd start to sweat. It was scary. Still, as scared as I was of dad whacking me, nothing compares to the unadulterated fear I experience at the prospects of getting whacked by a holy and just God. Just read the Old Testament! He is a real pro at whacking people. That will really give you something to cry about!

So, what do you do if you don't want to get whacked by God (which I most certainly do not)? You "whack" yourself. Here dear friends is where the neuroticism really kicks in. You see, the line of thinking goes something like this:

I did "bad", so I now deserve punishment. I do not want super scary God to whack me, so if I beat myself up just enough and prove to Him how terribly sorry I am for being such an idiot, He might take pity on me and not break my legs.

It gets better.

If you're a fruitcake like me, this whole process not only makes sense, but is absolutely necessary because that is how one comes to terms with sin and learns to avoid it. I sin, I go through an unspecified period of self-deprecating abuse, constantly reminding myself what a loser I am, and then….I'll be better. And if I'm truly fortunate, I will have avoided the "God whacking" in the process. By the way, this whole mess is easily justified if you'll just tell yourself enough times that this is all part of God's chastisement of those He loves.

Now, doesn't that just sound peachy? Nothing like the "I've been set free" Christian life! It really puts gas in my tank to run to and fro shouting the good news of the gospel to all that will listen. NOT!

Finally, the saddest part of this whole mess is that I absolutely know in my heart it is all a lie from Hell (and some pulpits). Yet, for years I have embraced this demented process as representing the heart of God. Like I said, neurotic!

You'd think a guy would eventually catch on that such an approach is not only unbiblical, it also NEVER works. I never get better, the process is never ending, and I live in constant misery, running from a God of my own creation that scares the bejeebers out of me!

So, what now? What in the world do you do with such thinking and how does one go about getting better?

I once heard Steve Brown of "Key Life Ministries" say (and I'm paraphrasing here), "The only way you'll ever get rid of a demon is to look that sucker straight in the eye and keep staring till you're no longer scared". Well I've never actually seen a demon, but I really don't think that is what Steve is saying. I think that he is challenging us to stop and really ponder what it is that is making us believe, speak, and act in ways that are contrary to the truths God has given us. Instead of just blindly accepting all the junk that derails our life, we should be willing to face our "issues" with courage and faith-filled belief that Jesus really came to set us free. I mean, either He came to set us free or He didn't. It isn't easy to go through the process of separating that which is true from the lies. Demons are scary and the lies seem so very true, but we are sons and daughters of the King, and He promises to stand with you while you stare those "suckers" down.

Now the big question: How the heck does this happen? How do we go from living life in a cage to experiencing the sweet freedom Jesus offers? Let's talk about it.

Most of the people here in the South hate snakes and will generally do one of two things when encountering a snake. They will either run screaming like a girl (especially if you are a girl), or grab the nearest implement of death and kill it. Why? Because, somewhere along the way, they took up the belief that snakes are evil and should always be destroyed. Is that reality? Are snakes really evil? Of course not, but like many other animals they will fight back if they feel threatened. So, after hearing enough stories about snakes biting people, most folks assume that it is the goal of each and every snake to seek out humans to bite. And that…is stupidity! Still, it drives most to hate and fear these creatures and seek their destruction. This false belief is based on bad information, yet causes most folks to respond in a way that is senseless. Now, I'm not going to pretend that snakes are my favorite animal. They are not, but I generally do not fear them. I realize they play an important role in nature and here for a reason. How did I escape the ever popular fear induced hatred of snakes?

Here's the key: I sought out the truth, rejected the lie, and stood my ground regardless of what my feelings or people were telling me. Simply put, I replaced the "bad information" with truth.

As many of you know, I am a science teacher. In fifth grade science, we study all sorts of cool stuff including…you guessed it, snakes! Now there's a big difference between science and say reading. Reading presents many different genres including both fiction and non-fiction. In other words, some of the stories we read are true, some not so much. Science is different. In science we work hard to present only those things which are factual. So, as I prepared to teach my students about snakes, I learned that they really are pretty neat creatures and not the slimy killers (they're not slimy…that'd be amphibians) people have made them out to be. That bad information is false regardless of what most folks are feeling, saying, and believing.

So, the question is what does all this mumbo jumbo about snakes have to do with getting "whacked" by God? Everything!

If we see God as some kind of heavenly policeman (a lot of times I do) who is just waiting on us to make a dumb move, it is only natural that we would see every bad thing in life as some kind of punishment dealt out by an angry God. Again, you mess up; you have to pay the price! Act, speak, or think wrong, and you better know it's whacking time! Is this view of God correct? Heck no! Do countless numbers of folks (including me) believe it is despite what God has revealed to us through the scriptures and His Son? Absolutely! Why? Because that is what makes sense, and that is how the world works. Still, none of this kind of thinking is based on truth. It is bad information, and that demon needs to be faced and dealt with. Too many of us (including me) in the church have embraced this faulty view that God is at least part of the time some kind of bipolar, cosmic child abuser. This is a lie from the pit of Hell and must be replaced with truth. So, what is the truth?

If God did not create us just to have someone to slap around, what is my purpose? Why am I here? Who is God and what is He really like? Why am I seeing Him as a child abuser? Is God really for me and not against me? Do I dare to actually believe He loves me?

What is the truth?

Well I suppose I could list an endless number of scriptures here in an attempt to prove that God really is the benevolent, amazingly loving, caring, and compassionate God He claims to be, but I would be guilty of perpetuating the process that got us in such bad shape to start with. That being, people listening to other people instead of finding out who God really is and what He has to say for THEMSELVES! Remember the whole snake analogy; you probably would not fear snakes if others had not instilled that fear in you. It is bad information based on the opinions of others not the facts. One of the greatest tragedies that exists within the church today is that many Christians only know God as revealed to them through the words of others. Everything they hear and live by is second hand information, and unfortunately some of it is just not true.

I will risk telling you that the bible does admonish us to taste and see that the Lord is "GOOD". Have you ever had someone describe how tasty something is that they are eating? No matter how "delicious" you tell me something is, I'll never really understand until I put it in my own mouth. "Tasting" is something you have to experience for yourself, and honestly, the same is true when it comes to really knowing God. It doesn't matter how many people try to convince you of this. In the end, knowing truth and the God of truth, is always personal. People can tell us all day long that the fear, guilt, and shame we feel is not based on truth nor does it represent the heart of the Father towards His kids, but until we (especially me!) spend some time seeking His heart "which is His truth" for ourselves, we will never really get it. We will never know how "tasty" His truth really is.

In closing, I hope that you truly get what I'm trying to say here. I tend to ramble and lose my way at times. If God says He loves us, forgives us, and wants nothing more than to help us, we can believe it! Our opinions and the opinions of others mean nothing. If you are struggling with the thought that God is trying to kill you, or at least make you miserable, let me assure you and remind myself that it is not true. BUT, don't take my word for it. Get a big mouthful of "tasty" truth, stare that demon down, and know that you have the full support of a loving Father who wants nothing more than to lead us all out of that cage of lies. Jesus kicked the door open and set us free over 2000 years ago. He took the keys from the snake, and defanged that lying rascal for good!

And that….is a great place for an "amen"!

May our dear heavenly Father help us all to reject that which is false, hold tightly to that which is true, and trust that He is absolutely a God who stands by what He says.