Envy: Deadly Destroyer of Relationships

By envying what we feel to be more beautiful, just, good, true, etc. or trying possessively to hold it for ourselves through jealousy, one of the dread daughters of envy, we cut ourselves off from becoming [Christlike]. To envy is to hate. It is to attempt to reduce all we fear to be brighter or better than ourselves to a size whereby we can be a master (god) over it. We thereby cut ourselves off from receiving into ourselves (by loving them) the very things of which we are envious. . . . introspection, perpetuated by deep feelings of rejection, often has this deadly vice in its train.

Leanne Payne, Curing the Soul through Union with Christ, 195.

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But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your hearts, don’t brag about being wise. That is the worst kind of lie. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and motivated by the Devil. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil (James 3:15-16 ) (NLT).

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Have You Had Joy Inside Pain?

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials”

(1 Pet 1:6) (ESV).

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Peter says that many of his readers are in deep trouble and sorrowful–yet at the same time they are rejoicing. Two present tenses.

. . . Peter does not say, ‘You used to rejoice in Christ, but you are in a time of pain and suffering. But don’t worry, you will rejoice again.’ Nor does he say, ‘Its good to see that during these trials and tribulations, you are not sad or filled with grief, but you are rejoicing in Jesus.’ Peter does not pit these things against each other. He does not say that we can either rejoice in Christ or wail or cry out in pain, but that we can’t do both. No, not only can we do both, we must do both if we are to grow through our suffering rather than be wrecked by it.

This is a difficult concept for modern Western people, since we think of our feelings as almost holy, sovereign things. We either feel happy or we don’t, and, we think, we can’t force our feelings. And that is right; we must not deny or try to create feelings. But we must remember that in the Bible, the “heart” is not identical to emotions. The heart is understood as the place of your deepest commitments, trusts, and hopes. From those commitments flow our emotions, thoughts and actions. To “rejoice” in God means to dwell on and remind ourselves of who God is, who we are, and what he has done for us. Sometimes our emotions respond and follow when we do this, and sometimes they do not. But therefore we must not define rejoicing as something that precludes feelings of grief, or doubt, weakness, and pain. Rejoicing in suffering happens within sorrow.

Here’s how it works. The grief and sorrow drive you more into God. It is just when it gets colder outside, the temperature kicks the furnace higher through the thermostat. Similarly, the sorrow and grief drive you into God and show you the resources you never had. Yes, feel the grief. There is a tendency for us to say, “I am afraid of the grief, I am afraid of the sorrow. I don’t want to feel that way. I want to rejoice in the Lord.” But look at Jesus. We was perfect right? And yet he goes around crying all the time. He is always weeping, a man of sorrows. Do you know why? Because he is perfect. Because when you are not all absorbed in yourself, you can feel the sadness of the world. And therefore, what you actually have is that the joy of the Lord happens inside the sorrow. It doesn’t come after the sorrow. It doesn’t come after the uncontrollable weeping. The weeping drives you into the joy, it enhances the joy, and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without its sinking you. In other words, you are finally emotionally healthy.

D. M. Lloyd-Jones . . . makes the same point. He says that we are to expect that God will exempt Christians from suffering and inner darkness, nor that he will simply lift us out of the darkness as soon as we pray. Rather than expecting God to remove the sorrow and replace it with happiness, we should look for a “glory”–a taste and conviction and increasing sense of God’s presence–that helps us rise above darkness. He says:

. . . the Christian is not one who has become immune to what is happening around him. We need to emphasize this truth because there are certain people whose whole notion and conception of the Christian life makes the Christian quite unnatural. Grief and sorrow are something to which the Christian is subject . . . and the absence of a feeling of grief . . . is unnatural, goes beyond the New Testament, it savors more of the stoic or psychological state produced by a cult than of Christianity . . . . [The Christian] has something that enables him to rise above these things, but the glory of the Christian life is that you rise above them though you feel them. It is not the absence of feeling. This is an important dividing line.

Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, 253-54.

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What is Social Sin?

The larger understanding of human nature is reflected in a larger conception of sin. Sins are not just acts of isolated individuals or isolated acts of individuals. They also pertain to interpersonal relations (such as alienation) and to the social order (such as structural evil—injustice and oppression). The spirituality . . .  that is developed to address this enlarged concept of sin cannot be confined to the cultivation of the individual’s relationship with God; it must incorporate the interpersonal (for example, a spirituality of friendship) and the social (for example, a spirituality of some form of social engagement . . . )

Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology, 57.

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Looking for Someone Beautiful?

serbia_0“When someone whose mind is but partially developed sees something clothed in some semblance of beauty, he believes that this thing is beautiful in its own nature . . . but someone who has purified the eyes of his soul and is trained to see beautiful things . . . makes use of the visible as a springboard to rise to the contemplation of the spiritual.”

Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity, (PG 46, 364).

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Spiritually Dry, But Deeply in Love

. . . aridity in our prayers is not a sign that something is broken and needs to be fixed. Rather it may well be that our prayers have matured. They may have changed in the same way that the relationship between lovers changes. The expression of love between two newlyweds on their honeymoon may have a character that is very different from that of a couple who have been married for fifty years. Sitting on the veranda at sunset in their rocking chairs, the older couple are clearly not on their honeymoon. Yet they have something incredibly rich–richer, indeed, than anything the honeymoon couple can imagine. They have moved past the effervescent delight of first romance and into a depth of love and joy that reflects their long-term covenant relationship with one another. Similarly, a Christian who is experiencing a dark night [of spiritual dryness] may actually have reached a level of exceptional depth with God.

Gordon T. Smith, The Voice of Jesus, 174.

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How Are Impurities of the Soul Removed?

Melting-Gold-At-KMG-GoldWhen you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. . . . You are honored, and I love you. Do not be afraid, for I am with you (Isa 43:2-3, 5) (NLT).

So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while. These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold — and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world (1 Pet 1:6-7) (NLT).

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. . . adversity is like a fire that, rather than destroying you, can refine, strengthen, and beautify you, as a forge does with metal ore. How does it do that? How can it do that?

Gold is a precious metal, and if you put it through fire it may soften or melt but it will not kindle and go to ashes. However, gold can be filled with impurities that indeed can be destroyed. If put through the fire they burn off or rise to the surface to be skimmed off by the goldsmith. In one sense, the fire “tries” to destroy the metal put into the fire but only succeeds  in making it more pure and beautiful.

Mixed in with our faith in God are all sorts of competing committments to comfort, power, pride, pleasure, and self. Our faith is largely abstract and intellectual and not very heartfelt. We may believe cognitively that we are sinners saved by God’s grace, but our hearts actually function on the premise that we are doing well because we are more decent or open-minded  or hard-working or loving or sophisticated than others. We have many blemishes in our character. We are too fragile under criticism or too harsh in giving it. We are bad listeners, or ungenerous to people we think foolish, or too impulsive, or too timid and cowardly, or too controlling, or unreliable. But we are largely blind to these things, even though they darken our lives and harm other people.

Then suffering comes along. Timidity and cowardice, selfishness and self-pity, tendencies toward bitterness and dishonesty–all of these “impurities” of soul are revealed and drawn out by trials and suffering just as a furnace draws the impurities out of unrefined metal ore. Finally we can see who we really are. Like fire working on gold, suffering can destroy some things within us and can purify and strengthen other things.

Or not. It depends on our response. Peter urges his readers in various ways not to be shocked by suffering (1 Pet 4:12), not to give up hope. While suffering, they should “commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Pet 4:19), promising that “the God of all grace . . . after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong” (1 Pet 5:10). Peter is saying that the fiery furnance does not automatically make us better. We must recognize, depend on, speak with, and believe in God while in the fire. God himself says in Isaiah 43 that he will be with us, walking beside us in the fire. Knowing him personally while in our affliction is the key to becoming stronger rather than weaker in it.

If you believe in Jesus and you rest in him, then suffering will relate to your character like fire relates to gold. Think of four things that we want. Do you know who you are, your strengths and weaknesses? Do you want to be a compassionate person who skillfully helps people who are hurting? Do you want to have such a profound trust in God that you are fortified against the disappointments of life? Do you want simply to be wise about how life goes? Those are four crucial things to have–but none of them are readily achievable without suffering. There is no way to know who you really are until you are tested. There is no way to really empathize and sympathize with other suffering people unless you have suffered yourself. There is no way to really learn how to trust in God until you are drowning.

Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, 228-229, 234

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What is Addiction?

 

Addiction goes deeper than obsession and compulsion. It is worship. It is giving my heart and soul over to something that I believe will ease my pain and provide an outlet for my fury at being out of control in a world that hurts me, scares me, or leaves me alone.

Sharon Hersh, The Last Addiction, 15.

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I Would Prefer NOT to be Spiritually Transformed

Despite the rhetoric, transformation is seldom truly desired by most Christians or welcomed by most churches. Most of us prefer to keep the change process under our control and limited to the small tinkerings associated with our self-improvement projects. If we are genuinely open to the unfolding of self that is involved in transformation, we will generally encounter resistance in most of the places that we normally expect support. Families, community, and culture often conspire to keep us safely in a place of conformity. . . . most religion–and this certainly includes Christianity–is more tribal than transformational.

David Benner, Spirituality and the Awakened Self: The Sacred Journey of Transformation, 60.

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Got Lustful Passions This New Year?

“When God is not treated as the source and center of our existence, our desires, which are not bad in themselves, become disoriented and excessive. Torn from our foundation, we anxiously attempt to drown ourselves in the pursuit of every type of passion. When God is negated as the center of our life, human volition becomes disturbed. Off balance, we are given over to a variety of vocations that are never an expression of our created nature. As our pride pushes the divine out of our life, so sensuality binds our will in its sometimes reckless search for expression. Our desires are ‘disordered’ because we have lost our connection to ultimate significance, our relationship with God”

Terry D. Cooper, Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance, 60.

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