We all know the feeling. When a loved one sticks their finger or merely bumps up against somewhere tender or wounded or rotten. We know they speak the truth but we aren’t ready or weren’t looking for it. Automatically our guard comes up. It hurts to be hurt. It hurts worse to be hurt-able. So we run for hiding, deny the accusation, deny our vulnerability. We deny reality, the pain that throbs just below the surface: I’m good. You’re wrong. Let’s move on. What’s for dinner?

But maybe we’re cut to the quick. Rage lashes out, suddenly unchained, and we feel free (justified!) to strike back. So on the offensive we go with aggressive or passive-aggressive words (through true! we tell ourselves). We want them to see the pain on our face and to feel our stony coldness or the heat of our anger. We want them to know they are being punished for what they said. Maybe we shut down, or physically withdraw, or maybe things get broken. Words hurt worse than sticks and stones. Soft tongues break bones (Proverbs 25:15).

What’s happened? Aren’t we supposed to speak the truth to each other (Ephesians 4:25)? Shouldn’t we rejoice in true words (1 Corinthians 13:6)? Yes and yes. The willingness to lovingly give and receive truth defines intimacy. Faithful are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6). But wounds are wounds. The pain of a faithfully given wound still hurts. Akin to life-saving surgery, we ought be grateful to have received the faithful wound but... ouch! Must it hurt so?

It must. Worse than facing painful truth is being unknowingly eaten alive by what is false. Surgical pain is better than that of an unseen but advancing gangrene or cancer. The truth is we live in a decaying world with a weakening body as one among nearly 8 billion other weakening, selfish, and thoughtless people. But the real cancer, our real enemy, is unbelief. The weapon formed against us that must concern us most is that which, right now, designs to draw our attention, affection, habits, trust, hopes, and joy away from Jesus Christ who is truth and life (John 14:6) and love (1 John 4:8) and light (1 John 1:5). Because we are so prone to follow our limited logic and selfish desires, and because this world’s (and many counselors’) continual message is “believe in yourself” and “put yourself first”, and because Satan is a liar (John 8:44) and tempter (2 Corinthians 11:3), we are continually vulnerable to unbelief in the God who is there (John 20:27).

But the worst of it is, not one of us wants to admit our vulnerability and weakness, let alone our failings. No one wants to reckon with the truth. Yet only when we do reckon with it, do we have the glorious blessing of running with our wounds and failings to the God who heals and forgives (Psalm 51, 1 John 1:9). With confidence we can draw near to him (Hebrews 10:22). Only with God will we find freedom from defensiveness, because while true words do cut and wound, they do so that we might be whole and healed. They prune away what is dead. They cut out what is rotten or malignant. They work in us for the sake of what is truly life.

If you have a friend (or pastor, counselor, spouse, loved one, or even a critic) willing to draw near and speak truth, thank God for them. If you don’t, get one! It’s not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). As God himself shines light into dark places through your friend, praise God! In humility, allow yourself to be exposed. Christ will cover you (Galatians 3:27). Admit weakness. Christ is your strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). Acknowledge failings and sin. Christ is merciful (Ephesians 2:4-5). Agree with and cling to truth (Romans 12:9). Don’t take on shame and condemnation (Romans 8:1) but confess and be free (John 8:31-32). Christ died that you might live (1 Thessalonians 5:10). His wounds are your healing (1 Peter 2:24).

For the joy set before him

There’s no other way to say it. 2018 was hard. I faced challenges in almost every sphere of my life. And here’s what rang startlingly true by the time the holidays were ending: God has been faithful. He has held me fast. He has held me, my family, my church, and my business fast. In almost every way, we are better off now than we were at the end of 2017. I am so grateful! I love him even more. I am more hopeful. I feel more confident in his care and provision. I feel more settled in my calling to give what he has given me for the sake of love and of the kingdom. Last year’s challenges left me more prayerful, or at least, more eager to be more prayerful (prayer is hard!). They left me more hungry for Christ to come and make all things right. He gave me this perspective as I reflected on the year and talked about it with my wife and friends.

So I turned my attention forward and asked, What do I need to remember in 2019? And this thought came: Hold on to what is of heaven, while letting go of what is of the world. YES, my heart said. I DO want to be less enamored of the world and less desiring of the world’s shallow pleasures. I want to be less beholden to what my body and mind impulsively demand. I want my life guided by what is eternal rather what is temporary and what is yet still invisible rather than what is visible.

Then I decided, at my wise wife’s suggestion, to study Hebrews this year. I’d planned to read the whole bible again, but then agreed that I needed to slow down. God confronted my desire to check boxes and enjoy a cheaper sense of accomplishment, rather than giving time and energy for the Lord to massage his word into my soul. Massages hurt, by the way, when they find a spot that requires more pressure. Oh, but the relief that flows in when God mercifully pries loose tightly held feelings or assumptions or (what I thought were) needs, all of which actually hindered what is best and true.

So I’ve been reading Hebrews over the last 2 weeks and today I read this: ...Let us lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before us, endured the cross… Hebrews 12:1-2

There it is! Hebrews is about looking past what is temporal to what is eternal, past what is seen to what is unseen and past the pain of the present to the glory of what is to come. Cling to what is of heaven and of him. Let go of what is of the world and of the flesh. Pursue what is truly life and leave behind fleeting pleasures. It is no easy task to let go of what I thought I needed, what I thought kept me and satisfied me. It’s not easy to let go of hurt or self-pity or self-righteousness or angry grumbling. So, I am thankful that God has revealed himself to be the one priceless treasure. He is worth everything I could give or give up in order to have him and him alone.

I pray that the Lord would reveal himself to you and allow you to see what is truly precious and worth pursuing this year. I see the goal of biblical counseling as a means of revealing what is true of us and the Lord. It is God’s truth that will change us, set us free, and bring us to life.

If I can be of service in this or any way, please reach out.

How Awesome are Your Deeds

With Hurricane Florence on the way to the Carolinas it can be easy to get carried away with worry and dread. No doubt we should take thoughtful and practical precautions, especially if we live near the coast or in harm's way, by purchasing non-perishables, protecting our property, etc. When facing the prospect of a natural disaster, God would have us be wise and thoughtful like the ant that prepares ahead of a time of scarcity (Proverbs 6) or like the man who builds on rock instead of sand (Matthew 7).

However, God means us to give even more thought to our spiritual food and house by trusting in and clinging to the Lord of the Harvest (Psalm 85), the very Rock of Ages (Isaiah 26). The same hands that formed the earth and seas and heavens steadfastly holds, saves, and provides for us all still (Psalm 136). He alone is our sure source of aid, sustenance, security, and life in a world that is still not as it should be.

I love the timely words from Psalm 65 that I read this morning:

By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas;
the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs. (Psalm 65:5-8a)

Our God is indeed God of the earth, seas, and of our salvation. He is still Lord of the creation and still doing awesome deeds! While we prepare for and endure what this stormy world throws at us, let us remember and cast every anxiety into the strong and capable hands of the righteous one who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

May God bless you and keep you today and every day in his might and kindness.