Wednesday, January 26, 2011


THE PATHWAY TO HEALTHY SPIRITUALITY - LESSON 13:  Surrendering to our limits
Tonight we are going to dig into the concept of surrender… surrendering to our limits and through that… we must process grief and loss.  Limits are behind all loss.  God has placed enormous limits around even the most gifted of us.  Why? – to keep us grounded and humble.  In fact, the very meaning of the word humility comes from the Latin word humus which means ‘of the earth’.  

Our world interprets loss as alien invasions that interrupt our normal lives.  We numb ourselves to them through denial, blaming, rationalizations, addictions, and avoidance.  We search for spiritual shortcuts around our wounds.  We demand others to take away our pain.  We all face many deaths in our lives.  The choice we have is whether these deaths/ losses will be terminal (crushing our spirit and life) or.. open us up to new possibilities and depths of transformation in Christ.  In fact, if this topic stirs you and you realize you need further assistance than this class permits tonight, please plan to attend Healing from Losses – our Feb 12th ‘Change Your Life’ Saturday seminar.

To be forthright, we all need to understand that none one of us will escape having to deal with grief and loss.  For this reason, we need to learn how to deal with it the right way – in a healthy way.  As we consider God’s word and a possible ‘life example’ the story of Job stands out as one who dealt with extreme losses.   The story of Job is the story of us all.  Job lost everything in one day – family, wealth and even his health (Job 1:13-2:8), most of us experience our losses more slowly, over the span of a lifetime…
We lose our youthfulness; our dreams, our routines & stability.  We lose our influence and our power decreases.  Our parents age and we become their caretakers.  Most of us in one or more moments of our lives, experience catastrophic loss – unexpected death in the family through accident, a suicide.  Our spouse has an affair, we find ourselves single after a messy divorce, we are diagnosed with cancer, we lose our place of employment after 20 years, a loyal friend betrays us and on it goes….    We grieve the many things we can’t do --our limits.  We experience greater or lesser losses from our families growing up.  Some of us feel like we lost a leg in a war because of our family of origin wounds and we walk with a limp it seems.  

Another loss…..maybe we lose our wrong ideas of God and the church (hmmm.. that could be good).. Depending on how much we invested in those beliefs, and now we realize they were wrong or foolishness, will provoke feelings of betrayal and loss… wasted time…loss..  

Back to Job – Job was the Bill Gates of his day.  His wealth was staggering.  The Bible says he had 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 donkeys as well as a very large staff.  Job 1:3 says ‘he was the greatest man among all the people of the East’.  He was also very godly – faithful and obedient.  Job 1:1b ‘He feared God and shunned evil’. If he was alive today, we would say he was one of the most well-known, respected Christian leaders of the day – maybe like Billy Graham except he has great wealth unlike Billy Graham.

As we know…everything that could possibly come against Job did.  Enemies invaded. Lightening stuck. A tornado unleashed its fury.  By the end of the day, the richest man alive at the time was reduced to poverty and his ten children had been killed in a natural disaster.  What will really blow your mind is that Job never blamed God, he did not sin – He responded beautifully: He worshiped. 
That’s not the end… after all this, his health was hit – can you imagine having painful boils all over your body – from the sole of your feet to the top of your head?  Job’s suffering was undeserved. He was innocent. There was no connection between sin and his suffering. This seems unfair doesn’t it? How might you have responded if you were Job?  How would you grieve if you were Job?  Before we go into the details of how Job dealt with loss, I’ve asked Mike to come and share his story – how he has dealt with grief and loss over the years.

(Mike’s Story - LISTEN TO AUDIO)

Let’s discuss the value of grieving and how to do it. First of all, we need to understand that grieving differs from family to family, from culture to culture.  Both play a role in how we learn to grieve.  We will even find some seeming extremes in some.  There are those that turn the funeral into a celebration and others that time stands still for a very long period of time – like in Italy or Greece where women wear black for the rest of their lives after a husband’s death.
In our American culture, addiction has become the most common way to deal with pain and grief.  We watch tv incessantly. We keep busy, running from one activity to another. We work 70 hrs a week, indulge in pornography, overeat, drink, take pills.  Some of us even demand that a person or ‘something’ take our pain away or relieve us of our loneliness – a spouse, our children, an achievement, a career or even a church.  

We have been learning throughout this class that we must turn toward our pain and stop running from it.  That is counter-intuitive…but, we must come to realize and face the fact that the heart of Christianity is: the way to life is through death – the pathway to resurrection is crucifixion.  The requirement for growing up, becoming spiritually healthy and mature is to drop our defense mechanisms and honestly feel and look at what is true..  Following are a few of our defense mechanisms that block our growth and healing:
1.   Denial (or selective forgetting) – refuse to face reality externally and/or internally. Looks like comments such as: “I feel just fine. It didn’t bother me a bit. I’m not worried in the least’.
2.   Minimizing – We admit something is wrong but not to the degree of seriousness that is really is.  Looks like: “my son is ok with God, he’s just drinking once in awhile’ but in reality he is drinking heavily and rarely coming home at night.
3.   Blaming Others – We deny responsibility for our behavior. “The reason my sister is sick is because the doctors messed up her medications” – reality is, it’s her lifestyle and choices.  So.. not only do we blame others for our problems but we even blame others for others problems rather than face reality
4.   Blaming Yourself – We inwardly take on fault when we should not.  “It’s my fault Mom doesn’t take care of me and drinks all the time. It’s because I’m not worth it.”  This has more to do with lies we believe
5.   Rationalizing – Offer excuses, alibis, justifications that provide an inaccurate explanation of what is going on. i.e., ‘didn’t you know that Joe has a genetic predisposition to anger because of his family of origin? That’s why the anger management group didn’t help him’.
6.   Intellectualizing – We give analysis, theories and generalities to avoid personal awareness and difficult feelings: ‘my situation is not that bad compared to how others are suffering in the world.  What do I have to cry about?’  This often happens in a support group setting.  I’m ok.. everyone else here had a lot more problems than I do.. so ..maybe I don’t need this.
7.   Distracting – We change the subject or engage in humor to avoid threatening topics.  ‘Why are you always so focused on the negative?  Remember what a great time we had last Christmas?’
8.   Becoming Hostile – We get angry or irritable when a topic comes up we don’t want to deal with. “Don’t talk about dad, he’s dead.  It’s not going to bring him back.”

So… if we stop using all these avoidance tactics and we are faced with grief in loss, what do we do?  Back to Job..In the book of Job we find God’s path to new beginnings and moving through grief.  There are five different phases we go through:

1.   Pay Attention – when Job was approached with any questions about his feelings or state, he was honest – he screamed out in pain, holding nothing back. Job 3:3-4, 6:2-4  3 “May the day of my birth perish,
   and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
4 That day—may it turn to darkness;
   may God above not care about it;
   may no light shine on it.                             
2 “If only my anguish could be weighed
   and all my misery be placed on the scales!
3 It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas—
   no wonder my words have been impetuous.
4 The arrows of the Almighty are in me,
   my spirit drinks in their poison;
   God’s terrors are marshaled against me.
Job did not avoid the horror of his situation. He confronted it directly. Just like we see from the psalmists – often we are uncomfortable with that kind of bluntness but they are in the Bible for a reason; A model for us.  There is a lot of anger, frustration, sadness as well as joy expressed.  We must give ourselves permission to let it out and stop stuffing.  It’s all part of the process of dealing with grief and loss.  As we discussed before, if we do not deal with these emotions properly, we will leak.. we can only push them down for so long.  

Job’s misery lasted for several months or it may have been years, we are not certain.  What we do know is that he paid attention to both God and himself, choosing to enter the confusion in his soul and pressing through his wall of pain and suffering.

2.   Wait in the Confusing In-Between – Job waited for a long time when the people closest to him quit.  They did not have a big enough God or theology to walk through phase two of grieving – waiting in the confusing in-between.  Job’s 3 religious friends believed that Job was somehow reaping what he had sown.  They were convinced that his suffering was due to some sin.  His 3 friends represent ‘classic religion’ and ‘legalism’.  In our day, it might sound like this: “The reason you’re not healed is you don’t pray enough, fast enough, read the Bible enough, have enough faith.  You are suffering more than most because you have sinned more”. 

The problem with Job and many of us is these things are simply not true.  Job was an innocent sufferer just as we are at times. During the confusing in-between, we must fight the comments of our internal and external critics.  And.. we must resist quick solutions and explanations. 

3.   Embrace the Gift of Limits – As we consider this point, I wonder as many of you may… if the greatest loss we grieve is our own limits.  Our limitations will drive us to humility before God and others like nothings else.  Let’s consider our limits:
-        Our body – hello! We’re all day we will return to dust.  We will all finish our lives with unfinished goals and dreams.  What other limitations do we have with our body?  Hmmm.. why is plastic surgery so popular and people spend millions of dollars a year to make themselves look different?  Not accepting limitations perhaps?
-        Our family of origin – our family, ethnicity, culture, all have given us the gift of limits. Did you have 1 parent or 2?, adopted? All of us enter into adulthood with limits due to our families
-        Marital status – Marriage and singleness are limits given by God.  If we have children, how many? Or none.. all are limits
-        Intellectual capacity – None of us are brilliant in everything – we have intellectual limitations
-        Talents & gifts – Jesus has them all… We may have 10, someone else has 3.. limits!
-        Material wealth – Our level of prosperity limits us.  Even if we are a millionaire, we are still limited.
-        Raw material – We are all ‘unique’ – you have a certain personality, temperament, high feeler, low feeler, introvert, extrovert – all of which are gifts and limitations
-        Time – we only have one life to live. We can’t do it all. Time is always running out… it is limited.
-        Work & relationship realities – Our work remains thorns & thistles (Genesis 3:18).  It is often hard and we never totally finish anything. There is always grief in never having complete fulfillment.  Therefore, we must accept that we may never have the ‘perfect’ job or relationship we desire.  We grieve the limitation and accept in our relationships what the person is able to give.
-        Spiritual understanding – Deuteronomy 29:19 says “The secret things belong to the Lord our God”. God has revealed himself to us in many ways, however, so much of who He is, is incomprehensible/ impossible to understand.
Acceptance Defined:  the act of taking or receiving something offered.
2. favorable reception; approval; favor.
3. the act of assenting or believing
4. the fact or state of being accepted or acceptable. 

John the Baptist models wonderfully what it means to embrace our limits.  People began following Jesus rather than him when he came on the scene.  John’s response was John 3:27  27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. and John 3:30 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”[a]
Understanding and embracing our limits will also help us realize we are not the center of the universe.  A baby screams and cries for its needs to be met – they are grandiose, arrogant and childish.  Unfortunately, we can all stay there and not grow up and mature.  The universe does not exist to meet our every need.  Our egos can be pretty inflated and coming to a place of seeing and knowing our limits and the limits of others can help in breaking our ego.  Getting off our thrones and joining the rest of humanity is a must for growing up. Of course.. there will be a battle.. there is a part of us that hates limits. We won’t accept them. This is why grieving a loss is biblical and necessary – it humbles us like nothing else.  Accept your limits – limits at home, the workplace, your community, your church and within yourself.

4.   Climb the Ladder of Humility- Job emerged from his suffering transformed. He was a broken and changed man. After his great loss and long waiting on the Lord, God spoke to Job referring to him several times as ‘my servant’ which suggests a new level of intimacy and closeness with Job (see Job 42). One of the signs of humility in Job was his reaction to his 3 friends.  He chose to pray and bless them rather than seek revenge (Job 4).  He climbed the ladder of humility.

5. Let the Old Birth the New….in His timeAs Job followed the difficult path of allowing his losses to enlarge his soul for God, God blessed him supernaturally… Now we get to the good part..  Not only was he spiritually transformed, but Job 42:10-17 tells us that “10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver[a] and a gold ring.
 12 The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. 13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. 15 Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.
 16 After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17 And so Job died, an old man and full of year

I wonder what it would have ended like had Job not accepted his limitations, what the end would have been had he not made the decision to press through the grief and loss?
The story of Job is to encourage us to trust God with the many mini-deaths that we experience in our lives.  Suffering and death bring resurrection and transformation. When we grieve God’s way, we are changed forever.  We will have an intimate prayer life with God and a connection that runs deeper than we have ever known and a life that can be defined as ‘abundant’ and ‘fulfilling’ – a life blessed by God.

GROUP WORK – Surrendering to our limits
1.        What has traditionally been the way you have dealt with your grief and limitations?
2.        What are some of the defense mechanisms you have used?
3.         Going through the phases of grief & loss.  How are you doing with:
1) Paying Attention/ Self-Awareness? 2) Waiting in the Confusing In-Between? 3) Embracing the Gift of Limits? 4) Climbing the Ladder of Humility?  5) Letting the Old Birth the New….in His time

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Ask the Director
                                                                                   L i l l i a n   E a s t e r l y - S m i t h
"Why does God sometimes require us to confess sin to another person, when we've already confessed and asked forgiveness to/from Him?  Especially when that sin didn't affect another person..."
Dear Confess:
I believe that God has a specific plan for each of us that enables us to heal, grow, and recover.  I also believe that there are certain issues-hurts or sins that will never be healed apart from confession to another human being.  James 5.16 says, "Therefore
confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective".  This is God's instruction.  If we are 'doers' of His word, we will reap benefits/ blessing.  I believe that oftentimes confession breaks pride and shame that could never be broken apart from that face-to-face confession; and other forms of healing as well,  based upon the truth we read in James 5. Alcoholics Anonymous understands this crucial part of recovery  - Step 5 in the 12 Steps is all about confession which is a Biblical principle.  There are many at LifeCare that have taken this scary step and now they are reaping the blessing of freedom because of it.  I trust you will too.
If you would like to submit a question for the Director to have it answered in this section, we will be choosing one or two questions to be answered here for each newsletter. Please submit your questions to the Editor at

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Our last lesson focused on ‘the wall’.  For review .. what did we learn the wall is and what should we do when we hit one in life?
It may be difficult to discern precisely when we began the journey through the Wall and when we might be on the other side.  I know many people who have been through great sufferings and hit Walls yet the Walls did not change them.  They only bounced off them.  They returned to a similar, but different wall later…. And often they become more bitter angry than before.  So.. how do we know we are making progress or if we are, perhaps been on the other side?  There are four dynamics to consider as indicated by Pastor Scazzero:

1.  A greater level of brokenness.  People who have been through the wall are broken and humble.  You see much less judgment and prejudice in them.  Before we are broken, we may have tendencies to judge other people’s journeys.  We have an opinion and attitude about almost everyone who is different from us.  Jesus tells us in the first Beatitude:  Blessed are the poor in spirit – what does that mean?  It is the realization of our brokenness, our frailty, our humanness..  The word Jesus used to describe ‘broken in spirit’ is a term used to describe a beggar who had hit rock bottom, having been stripped of everything.  It is in this place, the end of ourselves that recognize our desperate need for God. 
Picture right now a person who knows they will die unless someone has mercy on them.  Can you imagine this person saying:
§        I wasn’t always like this; I graduated high school.
§        I don’t like the way you are looking at me.  Keep your money.
§        I earn more money than the rest of these beggars
§        Look t what that other beggar on the  corner is wearing. Doesn’t he have any shame?  

This reminds me of the scripture when the tax collector and Pharisee go before the Lord.. each had an approach significantly different.. “Luke 18:10-14 

10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
   13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
   14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 

People on the other side of the Wall are freed from judging others. Of course, none of us are homeless beggars on the street, our judgment and pride take on a different form.. rather than the examples I mentioned, our comments would be something like this:
§        I can’t believe she calls herself a Christian
§        Their church is small and dead
§        Look at what he is doing.  There is no way he is a Christian

Besides getting some freedom from judgment, another way we know we have come to a place of brokenness is to consider how offendable we are.  If this is us we will know it by how we react to criticism and insults.. do we immediately pull back and react?   Do we go on the attack or basically disappear.  A broken person, who is secure in the love of God more often than not when criticized or insulted, they think “it is far worse than what you think!”  
“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall enjoy everything”. Said St. Francis of Assisi.  He realized that all of us, whether we realize it or not, in every instant must depend on the mercy of God for everything!
2.       A Greater Appreciation for Holy Unknowing (mystery)
Any of you like to have control?  You want to know exactly what God is doing, where He’s going and the exact route to get there?  Of course, I think we would all agree that – that is simply not how this faith walk works.  And.. to top it off.. God is utterly incomprehensible we will never fully understand why He does or doesn’t do certain things.  If we haven’t fully come to this conclusion, we may still bargain with God.  This is how that looks: I obey and keep my part of the bargain.  Now, God, you bless me.  Do not allow any serious suffering.  Sound familiar?  Maybe you have never used these exact words, but maybe.. just maybe.. you felt this way.  I know I have.  I will never forget when my daughter was growing up – I was a fairly new Christian.  Here I am.. making all these changes in my life, learning how to parent God’s way, investing my life in serving God, learning, growing and it just seemed like every time I turned around I was having to deal with another challenge with my daughter.  We went through some very tough years – learning disabilities, friendship problems, issues with teachers, kids in the neighborhood, her moodiness and rebellion at times.  I am not kidding you.. there were times where I literally wanted to quit the job of being a parent and yes… I was angry with God and I didn’t ‘get’ why He wasn’t making everything ok.  Let’s face it.. I was doing all the right things.. so .. why wasn’t it working.  I ‘thought’ it was working for everyone else but not me.
Anyway… a mark in knowing we have gone through the wall is the realization that I simply do not always know what God is doing.  It is often a mystery. God is mysterious.  God is knowable, yet He is unknowable.  God is inside us and beside us, yet He is wholly different from us.  For this reason, Augustine wrote, “If you understand, it is not God you understand”.  

There are times in our life where things happen and they are a tragedy or so it seems.  However, in the end.. they become a blessing.  I remember an old song by Philips, Craig & Dean – the words basically speak to this … ‘the thorn becomes a blessing’.  And then there is the flip side.. sometimes something comes to us that seems like a blessing and it ends up being a detriment or hardship.  I heard some research recently about lottery winners – it was very sad to hear the devastation that followed in people’s lives after winning all that money. Of course that’s not the best example of a blessing from God per se’ but… I am sure the people who receive it feel like this is wonderful – a blessing -things are going to be great now.. and sadly, that is not what happens at all.  Many end up divorced, depressed, and broke.

So… this particular characteristic of life on the other side of the wall will help us be more childlike in our faith and we will have a deepened acceptance and even love for the mystery of God.  We will rest more easily and live more freely on the other side of the Wall, knowing that God is in control and worthy of our trust. 

3.  A Deeper Ability to Wait for God
An outgrowth of greater brokenness and holy unknowing is a greater capacity to wait upon the Lord.  Going through the Wall breaks something deep within us – that driving, grasping, fearful self-will that must produce…must make something happen.. must get it done for God (just in case He doesn’t).
We can all be impulsive.  We jump ahead of God because we don’t want to wait.  I would have to say.. that’s probably when I have made my greatest mistakes.. not waiting.   
Psalm 27:14 14 Wait for the LORD;
   be strong and take heart
   and wait for the LORD.
and Psalm 130:5-6   5 I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits,
   and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord
   more than watchmen wait for the morning,
   more than watchmen wait for the morning.
I have finished people’s sentences.. made large purchases and other decisions way too quickly in the past.  Hmmm.. well.. I think I still finish people’s sentences but thankfully, I have improved in making decisions too quickly.  This is not to say that there are times that we have to decide quickly because there are times that we must and it is in those times that you pray and then act.. trusting that the Holy Spirit in you is working with your soul to do what God’s will is.  The wonderful thing is.. God knows the intention of our hearts.  If we truly want to be in His will and in line with what His desires are, we can trust our decisions and the outcomes.
However, there are times when God wants us to wait.  Just wait.. simply wait.  There are many life examples in the Bible of those who waited for the fulfillment of God’s promise to them – consider Abraham, Moses, Hannah.  What we need to be mindful of is that God is active in the waiting.  There is internal activity even in us in the waiting.  It is good.

Another characteristic of life on the other side is:
4. A Greater Detachment – detachment is the great secret of our interior peace.  What does this mean?   The critical issue in our lives is not ‘are we happy’, it is ‘am I free?’ Am I growing in the freedom God gave me?”  Paul addressed this central issue of detachment in 1 Cor 7:29-31 “ 29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
We are to live our lives in the world – but always with the awareness that this world and all that I live in and experience, is not all there is.  I must keep eternity in mind and be free of the dominating power of things, pleasure, all the things this world offers.  The power struggle is always there…”God I must have.. God I need..God I want…  God answers ‘no.. you don’t need that – you need ME!’

When we put our claws into something and we don’t want to let it go, we are beyond enjoying them.  We now ‘must’ have them, we are convinced.  We must be aware of growing attachments. 
Richard Rohr wrote about the five essential truths that help us grow up into our God-given spirituality.  Those truths:
-        life is hard
-        you are not that important
-        your life is not about you
-        you are not in control
-        you are going to die
Going through the wall and developing maturity will enable us to embrace these truths – they are the reality that we no longer need to fight.
The journey with Jesus calls us to a life of undivided devotion to him.  This requires some simplification of our lives and removing distractions.  And it calls us to live in reality and truth.

Thursday, January 6, 2011



The Christian life is a journey – A journey involves movement, action, stops and starts, detours, delays, and trips into the unknown.  Think for a moment about the day your journey started… your journey in following Christ.  What was that like?  What were the days and months like that followed?  Was your first year like a honeymoon or more like death or both?  What has your journey been like over the years?  Do you see any patterns.. any places that represent some of the terminology I just used in defining journey?   WOW.. I do…  (audio - some of my story)

Now.. let’s think about some of the people in the Bible..  what were their journeys like?  Abraham.  Moses.  David.  Do you see some differences?  Do you see similarities?  What about those you know right now – what do you see?

So, what’s this business about ‘a wall’ as this lesson is titled?  Pastor Scazzero explains the wall as being a part of the stages of faith.  Let’s go through them together as he writes in “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality”.
Each stage/season builds upon the other. Just as physically, we grow from babies to adults, faith grows/ or spirituality grows / builds in stages or seasons.

Stage 1: Life-Changing Awareness of God – the beginning of our journey when we become aware of His reality.  We realize our need of Him and His mercy and grace – we start our relationship.
Stage 2: Discipleship – characterized by learning about God and getting to know Him.  We are learning what it means to be a Christ follower – we get connected in a community and get rooted in the disciplines of the faith.
Stage 3: The Active Life – the ‘doing’ stage. We get involved and actively serve – work for God.  We take responsibility for using our talents and gifts.
Stage 4: The Wall and the Journey Inward – The wall compels us into an Inward Journey – hopefully.  What could this possibly mean for us?  I believe the author is trying to communicate to us that there comes a time where we get stuck it seems – there’s a wall.  It is in this place that the Lord is attempting to get our attention to go inward which is where we can grow and heal.  Do many stop here or try to skip over it?  What do you think?  I think so.

LifeCare is starting up a ministry called the Synergy Gathering - a place where everyone fits!  A place where we can take an Upward, Inward, and Outward Journey together as God leads...
Which leads us to the next stage…in our lesson tonight.
Stage 5: The Journey Outward – Once we pass through the wall and go through our inward journey, we begin once again, to ‘do’ for God.  We may even return to doing the same things we were doing in service before or it could be something new .. regardless, what makes it different now is that our service comes from a heart of love.. our ‘doing’ comes from having a grounded center in God – We are at the place where we have discovered and rely on God’s deep perfect, unconditional love for us – all of which impacts our work for Him.
Stage 6: Transformed by Love – God, who is love continues to send books, people, circumstances, etc to keep us moving forward.  Philippians 1:6
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
He is faithful and determined to complete His work in us – whether we like it or not!  J  His goal as written by John Wesley is that we be made perfect in love, that Christ’s love becomes our love both toward God and others.  We realize love truly is the beginning and the end.  By this stage, the perfect love of God has driven out all fear (1John 4:18).  And our spiritual lives are all about surrender and obedience to God’s perfect will.

Let me share a couple of real life examples of what this looks like – I recently read a book called “Crazy Love”.  I highly recommend it.  Here are a couple of real life examples of people living the ‘surrendered life’.. the life of full devotion to Christ.
 - Rich Mullins, Cornerstone Community Church, Rings (see "Crazy Love" or listen to audio)

Let’s go back to Stage 4 – what do you think prevents people from moving through this stage?  What do you think brings them to this stage?  I think for most of us, the wall appears through a crisis:   death, job loss, divorce, financial challenges, depression, a bad diagnosis, even a negative experience at a church or with fellow believers.  God can and will use a variety of life circumstances to get our attention to the need for the inward journey.  The choice is ours to make it of course .. but the opportunity is there in our painful situation.  I think it was Dr. James Dobson from Focus on the Family that coined the term having a ‘crisis of faith’.. He talked about this extensively as he discussed the book he wrote “When God Doesn’t Make Sense”.  During the tough times, we go through doubts.  We question, the church, God, or faith.  In fact, it seems like we have more questions than answers.  Sometimes our wall is a series of events that pile on one after the other.. and we feel we are breaking underneath the load of it.  Nothing seems to work anymore – our prayers, our duties, our efforts, etc..  all of which are really means to go over around or under the wall.  The wall represents that inward journey – that journey into the pain we have been discussing.  We must go through it in order to get to the other side.  Will we go through the wall only once?  I think not… as we consider Paul, Moses, Jeremiah, Elijah and many others in the word.. it seems that they went through several walls in their lifetime.  Why?  Well it seems that we all have some tendencies to get too comfortable.  We get complacent.  God will use those times as opportunities to take us even deeper inward until there is no more. So.. what does a healthy faith… a healthy response to the wall look like?

Well it definitely doesn’t do what most do.. ‘count it all joy’.. speak Romans 8:28 immediately.. it doesn’t pretend there are no emotions surrounding this event.. it doesn’t ‘act like’ it’s strong for the weaker in the faith but inside the voices are different..  It doesn’t smile and keep on singing…

A genuine faith…emotionally healthy faith, admits the following:
§        I am bewildered
§        I don’t know what God is doing right now
§        I am hurt
§        I am angry
§        Yes, this is a mystery.. maybe I’ll never get it or understand
§        I am very sad right now
§        God, why have you forsaken me?

When we are in this place it may feel as if God’s presence has evaporated as described in “Dark Night of the Soul”.  We feel the door of heaven has been shut. We feel the darkness, helplessness, weariness, a sense of failure and defeat, emptiness, dryness.  The Christian disciplines that have served us for so long, just don’t seem to work during this time.
What could God be up to during this time?  What is he purging and purifying in our lives?

St. John of the Cross wrote the following as well.. His perspective was that ‘the dark night is a loving fire’ to free us.  He lists 7 deadly spiritual imperfections that must be purified:

1.    Pride:  if this is an issue we will have a tendency to condemn others and become impatient with their faults.  If we have pride… we may be very selective on who we let teach us. (note – I believe we can learn something from ANYONE) – get your eyes off the messenger and on the message.
2.    Avarice: (def excessive or insatiable desire for wealth or gain : greediness, cupidity )  discontent with the spirituality God gives us. Never have enough learning, are always reading many books rather than growing in poverty of spirit and our interior life.  more and more knowledge with little or no action...
3.      Luxury:  take more pleasure in the spiritual blessings of God than God Himself.
4.    Wrath:  easily irritated, lacking sweetness, and have little patience to wait on God
5.    spiritual gluttony: resist the cross and choose pleasures like children do.  I would also say this would be considered using our liberties without taking others into consideration / causing them to stumble - we use our liberties in appropriately
6.    spiritual envy:  feel unhappy when others do well spiritually.  Always comparing and complaining
7.    Sloth: run from that which is hard. Aim is spiritual sweetness and good feelings only

We discussed in earlier classes about the importance of emotions / paying attention to our feelings in order to know God and ourselves.  “The dark night of the soul” protects us from worshiping them or giving them greater place than they should in our lives.  Our pursuit of God cannot be based upon feelings and experiences.  They are important but .. they cannot be the priority.

How long will this last? – when we go through the dark night or hit the wall and need to go through it?  It varies for everyone.. the length of time, the intensity, it is all different.  Will it only happen once?  Probably not.. sorry for the bad news..  God has predestined us to be conformed into the image of His son.  One way this happens is through the wall.. through the dark nights.  Keep in mind that we are not talking about the typical annoyances and trials of life.. this is not about traffic jams, annoying bosses, cars breaking down, barking dogs in the middle of the night, etc.  These are what James refers to in James 1:2-4

Trials and Temptations
 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Walls are David fleeing from a jealous king for 13 years in the desert.  Walls are Abraham waiting 25 years for the birth of his first child. Wall are Job losing his 10 children, health and possessions in a day!
Next class we will discuss what life is like on the other side.. we do have blessing to look forward to.

1.       As you consider the stages/ seasons of faith where would you currently say you are?  Share your journey that brought you to this point.
2.       Share your reaction to the real life stories shared from ‘Crazy Love’.
3.       What has been your ‘wall’(s) during your walk with the Lord?
4.       Of the 7 deadly imperfections that need to be purified in us as we grow in Christ, which are those you have seen change and those that God is currently purging from your life?
Pride:  Avarice: Luxury: Wrath:  spiritual gluttony: spiritual envy:  Sloth: