Enjoying the freedom of being good enough

Archive for the category “Restoration”

Sacred reality

I’ve been noticing in my reading of the Gospels that Jesus appears quite comfortable with reality–even when it gets messy and awkward. He doesn’t avoid, divert or deflect. He doesn’t put a spiritual spin on it. He’s never anxious or embarrassed.

Instead, Jesus allows life to unfold as it will. He steps in the midst of it and welcomes what is. It’s there that he does the extraordinary, and people are radically changed.

Real is sacred.

Case in point is the passage in Mark 9:14-29.

A desperate, distraught father brings his severely afflicted son to Jesus. It’s the man’s last hope.

He’s already asked the disciples to cure his son, but they struck out. A ruckus of theological debate breaks out as a result, and the tension is now running high.

I would have been looking for the nearest exit. I hate conflict. I could see no good coming of the scene being made.

At my best, I would have given Jesus an anxious look, letting him know he better step in and take care of this mess. The sooner the better, too.

Jesus doesn’t rush into action. He seems in no hurry to heal the son, nor relieve the father’s angst.

He simply asks a question. Then waits.

The father spills his story. He tells Jesus and the gathered crowd his painful secret.

Shame makes one keep their story of a demonized son silent. It’s best to keep such family secrets behind closed doors. We work hard to hide our shame, making sure no one knows.

But reality refuses to cooperate. Eventually life events converge and our secret leaks out. The cat’s out of the bag, and the father has little choice but to tell his story.

Just when it can’t get anymore uncomfortable, the son acts out right there on the spot. Right in front of God and everyone.

The son writhes and convulses. Dirt combines with spittle, smearing mud all over the young man. Shrieks add to the drama.

Jesus is unfazed. He doesn’t put an end to the scene. He doesn’t rush in to rescue the father or son. Jesus allows truth to spill out everywhere, for all to see.

No denying reality now.

The father can’t take it any longer. He begs Jesus to intervene. Just when we expect Jesus to save the day, one more bit of truth surfaces.

The father comes to terms with his conflicting thoughts and emotions. He confesses his doubt.

“I believe. Help me in my unbelief!!”

I imagine there were times when the man’s son was free from the demonic affliction. For days, perhaps weeks and months, all was calm. The father could conveniently ignore his son’s condition. Faith came easy. He had his theology and doctrine lined up straight.

But when your son is flailing and contorting and thrashing on the ground, saliva bubbling out of his mouth, streaks of mud on his face and clothes, screaming shrieks of anguish and obscenities—well faith tends to unravel.

Jesus lets it come apart at the seems. The father has an important confession to make. Miraculous intervention before the father has a chance to come to terms with his truth–before he wrestles with the reality of the paradox of faith–would be premature.

In due time, Jesus intervenes. The boy and his father are restored to wholeness.

A good deal of contemporary theology teaches us to minimize, avoid, deny and skirt reality. We invest much time and energy attempting to pray away reality.

We see it as an enemy.

We assume Jesus is uncomfortable with our reality as well. Shame convinces us we are unacceptable in our reality, so we opt for damage control and reality management.

We become heavily invested in our denial, self-protection and shame. We go great links to avoid acknowledging our truth.

It takes reality, real-life experience, to blow the covers off. Even then, we’re a hard sell.

But when reality comes, when we finally embrace what is real, we discover an amazing truth. Jesus is standing with us in the middle of it all.

Redemption comes.

The healing begins.




All we like lepers

Lately I’ve been developing my holy imagination by meditating on the Gospel accounts of Jesus.

Instead of reading the stories for “information-about-Christian-living” or for “principles-to-live-by,” I’ve been simply seeking to get to know Jesus. I want to watch him at work, observe how he is with people, and listen to what his words convey about him.

I came across Luke’s story of Jesus’ interaction with a leper (ch. 5). In his account, Luke points out that the man is “covered with leprosy.” Not just a rash hidden under his shirt. Not just a spot on his arm.

But covered.

No hiding or faking his condition.

As horrible as leprosy itself was in this culture, the physical condition paled against the emotional pain of shame that leprosy inflicted on its victims. Lepers were labeled (the name itself is enough to cause one to shudder). They were ostracized and minimized and shunned. They were untouchable–a blight to society.

The self-disgust and shame  this man defined himself by is seen in his approach to Jesus. “If (and that’s a big IF) you are willing you can make me clean,” he tentatively offers to Jesus in his  request for help.

All this while laying face-down.

This man has fully bought into his shame and learned his place in society well.

Jesus is unfazed by the man’s leprosy and all that it was supposed to represent. Apparently Jesus hadn’t got the memo that such a person was too gross, undesirable and dangerous to interact with.

Jesus reaches out and touches the man. Touches him. This guy probably hasn’t experienced this basic demonstration of acknowledgment of his humanity in years.

As Jesus touches the man, he speaks words of life. “I am willing, be cleansed.”

These aren’t merely words packed with physical healing, as incredible as that is.

Jesus’ words obliterate the shame, rejection and unworthiness that have chained this man.

“You’re clean.” It’s a message of belonging, value, validation and permission. Permission to join in life. Permission to participate. Permission to contribute.

As I imagined Jesus interact with this man, Jesus’ seemed to turn his focus on me.

I realized that I’ve been carrying my own leprosy–the shame of my own sin and the accompanying assumption that I don’t really belong. I’ve believed I’m not worthy of participating in life-giving contributions in Jesus’ kingdom work.

I contemplated Jesus’ words to me. He was offering to remove my leprosy.

I was struck with the audacious nature of Jesus’ grace.

Jesus doesn’t seem to care that we’ve been covered with leprosy.

Jesus has the nerve to reach out and touch us in our grossness. His only interest seems to be cleaning us, setting us free and giving our value back.

It’s as if he were saying to me, “Come on and join the party. I don’t want you to miss out.”

It’s almost scary to take it in.

I don’t think I’m alone, either. As I shared this experience with some of my friends, each one acknowledged they, too, have their leprosy.

As we explored our respective leprosy we concluded that at its core, leprosy really isn’t the particular sins we’ve involved ourselves in–addictions, lust, porn, jealousy, prideful competition, whatever.

Rather the real leprosy is the sense of shame of not being good enough. Whatever our stuff is, it tells us that we don’t measure up, don’t qualify and don’t belong.

I’m thankful that Jesus doesn’t buy into our beliefs in and loyalty to our leprosy stories. I pray we can hear him loud and clear.

“I don’t believe a word of your leprosy. All that stuff it says about you doesn’t mean a thing to me.  I’m all about cleaning you. Come on and join in the party. You belong. You’re enough.”

A failure in defining failure

“Failure is an education, not a judgment,” Donald Miller.

We are a people obsessed with measuring and quantifying. We believe they determine and measure success and, therefore, validation. If we can demonstrate that we’ve performed enough units of measure in the desired outcome, then we have succeeded. If we succeed, we have value and worth.

Measuring and quantifying allow us to compare ourselves with others. When we score high, we take a certain satisfaction that we’ve outdone others. Our value and worth elevates. This provides us with the much needed psychological cushion of being better than others.

But pity when we miss the mark. When our scores don’t measure up or others out-perform us, we’re left with the bitter taste of failure. Our worth and value plummet. Shame shrouds us like a thickLondonfog.

In that light, I find it interesting that Jesus comes through the back door when emphasizing value. In the Beatitudes, he promotes characteristics that we deem as weakness and failure.

“You are blessed when . . . you are poor . . . you mourn . . . you are meek . . . you are hungry and thirsty . . . “

Maybe what we see as failure is actually success in disguise.

I find this plays out in life experience. The character traits that we associate with spiritual maturity typically come through dealing with some kind of failure.

  • Humility comes when we taste the reality of weakness.
  • Grace comes through experiencing brokenness.
  • Courage comes by facing our fear.
  • Forgiveness comes by acknowledging our sin.
  • Mercy comes after we’ve been hurt and betrayed.
  • Mercy also come when we hurt and betray.
  • Hope comes from embracing loss.

I’ve seen this demonstrated by people who have courageously allowed Jesus to restore their lives after catastrophic failure.

Sal and Terri (names have been changed) are great examples. They are good friends of mine and they give me permission to tell their story.

About 15 years into their marriage, this pastor couple saw their lives blow up in front of them.

Sal confessed that he’d had a series of one night stands with women he’d met online.

The news was like boiling oil scalding Terri’s soul. She wailed as she balled up in a fetal position. 

It was no less painful for Sal. Shame, embarrassment, the knowledge he’d hurt so many gnawed on him relentlessly. Death would have been a welcome escape.

Their church was devastated. Bewilderment, grief and anger swelled in the congregation as they futilely attempted to reconcile the disclosure with their heretofore image of their trusted leader.

It was a shipwreck of catastrophic proportions.

But Jesus was just getting started in His restoration work. He began to walk Sal and Terri through the difficult, perilous road of recovery and healing.

Sal and Terri faced their pain head-on. Sal stepped into a level of honesty he never knew existed. He owned up to the pain his betrayal caused those he loved the most. He stayed present with Terri as she expressed her hurt and anger over what he’d done.

Sal ventured into the chaos of his childhood. Abandoned by his father and burdened by a needy mother, Sal had turned early to pornography to escape his pain. Sex became his avenue for validation.

Terri carefully waded through the difficult decisions of what she should do with her shattered trust and marriage. She courageously counted the costs. She allowed herself to fully taste her anger. She wrestled with the question of being able to trust Sal enough to stay in the marriage.

As she weighed her choices, she chose to commit herself to the process of forgiving Sal. She resolved to stay in the marriage and to make every effort she could to see it restored.

Together, Sal and Terri went to work on their marriage. They left no stone unturned. They examined the systemic nature of their relational style. They learned to more authentically express themselves to each other. They recognized past patterns of shoving certain issues under the carpet and committed to practicing more direct address with each other.

It’s not been an easy road for Sal and Terri. Old habits don’t go away overnight. The hurt and anger occasionally threatens their resolve. They can grow discouraged. But they haven’t quit.

It’s now been six years since Sal’s disclosure. Sal and Terri are still together. Their family is thriving. They report their love for each other is strong. They’ve learned what forgiveness, commitment, perseverance and faith are all about.

Are Sal and Terri failures? Certainly some would say so. They would point to Sal’s moral breech as a permanent disqualifier for a Christian testimony, and certainly church leadership. Some would shake their heads and wonder why Terri would stay with him.

But Sal and Terri demonstrate the essence of success as defined by Jesus. They know brokenness. They know vulnerability. They’ve walked through their dark side.

Precisely because of their journey of failure they’ve demonstrated what it means to follow Jesus.

In many amazing and painful ways they’ve successfully exhibited what forgiveness, mercy, perseverance, hope, reconciliation and repentance are all about.

As Rob Bell says, “When a marriage has been to hell and back, when a couple has gone through their failures and yet they’ve found a way to get through it and restore their relationship, to forgive and grow, now THAT”S a story.”

Tombstones and Death Wraps

In John 11, we find the story of Jesus raising dead Lazarus to life again. Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus, had been seriously ill. Jesus delays coming to his aid, even when Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, send an urgent plea for Jesus to help.

Lazarus dies.

Finally, three days too late, Jesus shows up. The girls let him have it. Had Jesus cared enough, He could have healed Lazarus and spared them all of heartache.

Jesus shares their grief, but is undeterred in His intentions. He has a method to His apparent tardiness. He’s laying the groundwork for something big, something that will catalyze faith in those involved.

Jesus doesn’t allow their emotional reactivity to distort or rattle His sense of self. “I’m the resurrection and the life, here and now. Lazarus’ death doesn’t change any of that. The story isn’t finished yet. If you dare to believe it, a resurrection is about to take place.”

Mary, Martha and the disciples look on, understandably perplexed by the events unfolding before them. Jesus tells the crowd to roll away the stone covering Lazarus’ tomb.

Martha can’t keep silent at this point. “It’s been three days, Jesus. What are you doing? This is ludicrous. It’s not proper. Don’t toy with us like this. There will already be the stench of death.”

Jesus holds His ground. Their doubt doesn’t become His own. He pushes them to trust, to dare, to see beyond the conventional. “Believe and you’ll see the glory of God here.”

The stone now out of the way, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb. Once out, Jesus turns His attention to the onlookers, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Belief breaks out in the crowd.

While this is one of the all-time great stories, for a long time it made me uncomfortable. It goes back to an experience in college.

I was involved in a charismatic student group that was caught up in the hyper-faith teaching. We were told that faith was measured by results. You pray, you get exactly as you pray–an obvious indication you have faith that God rewards. You’re successful.

You pray, you don’t see prescribed results–well, a faith-failure. God is not pleased.

This put large amounts of pressure on the members of our group to compete with each other over our levels of faith. My hunch is that we faked each other out for the most part. After all, who would really know if we actually paid our school bill on time, or if we got that prime parking spot we prayed for?

But something happened one fall semester that threatened to expose my faith for the sham I feared it was. A friend of mine got married the summer before. One weekend, he and his new wife were in a head-on car wreck, and his wife was killed instantly.

I grieved for my friend for his unspeakable loss. But a thought began pestering me. If I really had faith, I would be able to raise my friend’s wife from the dead, just like Jesus did with Lazarus. In fact, not only could I, I should do it. I had a responsibility.

I sat through her funeral, tormented. A real man of faith would stand up in the middle of the funeral and create a Lazarus moment. But I stayed glued to my seat, immobilized by fear and doubt.


Shame taunted me.

Thankfully, I’ve since grown through that stage of my Christian formation. My theology has matured. I now understand faith differently.  But the Jesus and Lazarus story has always carried a level of discomfort.

I recently experienced a new insight on the story. I was visiting with a man who was describing the impact his abusive childhood is having on his life. He has bought into a belief system that says he possesses little personal value, is not allowed to voice his opinions, and cannot state what he wants and needs. He’s adopted a life pattern of placating those around them, particularly  his spouse and family members.

It dawned on me that this person is wrapped in the grave clothes of false beliefs and ineffective life strategies. This bondage limits his capacity to experience the joy of loving and being loved. The stench of death hangs heavy on him, snuffing out each flicker of life.

But like Lazarus in his death wraps, the person God created is still in this man, buried under his pain, beliefs of worthlessness and ineffective relational patterns. God continues to see his value and potential. The real person, the authentic expression of who God made this man to be, waits to be released, set free to live.

Jesus uttered three commands that play into the release of new life and freedom.

“Remove the stone.”

“Lazarus, come forth.”

“Unwrap him, and let him go.”

There are layers upon layers of meaning here, no doubt. In simple form, I see this as a dual process.

One, we have a role in setting others free. We help remove their tombstone and undo the death wraps of false beliefs, pain, unworthiness and bitterness. We carry the privileged responsibility of speaking words of life and healing. We offer practical, hands-on assistance where appropriate.

Second, in our own Lazarus experience we’re to exercise personal responsibility. When Jesus calls us out of our grave, it is ours to respond.

It’s this second area that I’ve been working with lately. I’ve come to realize that I can stay in my tomb of shame, refusing to let the wrappings of failure to come off. Or, I can dare to experience resurrection, leave my tomb and step back into living, with all the joys and risks involved.

I’m realizing anew that once we taste the death of failure or pain, we can allow our tomb and grave-clothes to define us. Yet underneath is the person God created long before the death of failure, pain and shame got its hold on us.

That’s how He defines us.

That person is the real us.

He intends to set that person free.

When that person comes out of the tomb and is unbound, we discover we’re good enough.

Dare we latch on to Jesus’ promise that He is the resurrection and the life–right here, right now?

Kansas Sunset

Learning to rest in being “good enough” restores our soul, much like a Kansas sunset.

Multnomah Falls

Our family took a winter trip to Oregon to visit our daughter. We discovered Multnomah Falls is more magical than ever in the winter. Waterfalls symbolize refreshment. Jesus invites us to such a relationship with Him. He offers us rest and promises that His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matt. 11:28-30). Is that our experience in ministry?

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