November 15, 2012

Breaking Addictive Habits

Addictions are frequently mislabeled, misunderstood, and inaccurately counseled.  Although I agree that programs that equip people to abstain from destructive behaviors are valuable, I do not believe that they are the answer to freedom.

Addictions are usually rooted in deeper issues than the behaviors that people seek help for.  We cannot deny the fact that addictive behaviors are multi-layered and contain emotional, physical, spiritual and natural components.  However, we must also examine the reality that addictive behaviors set up habits that require intentionality to break.

Most addictive behaviors have compulsive thoughts attached to them.  Thoughts, emotions and behaviors cannot be separated.  Destructive actions are always rooted in dysfunctional thoughts.  I suggest that people who are trapped in addictive behaviors address the thoughts that ignite their behaviors.

Compulsive thoughts create anxiety.  The Bible tells us that if we will pray and release our anxiety to God he will replace it with peace (Philippians 4:6).  God's peace is so complete that the Bible says it is beyond our ability to understand.  Prayer begins the process of overcoming addictions and the Holy Spirit extends the process to guard our hearts and minds (v. 7) and enables us to sustain our freedom.

In order to break a negative habit, research says that it must be replaced with a positive habit.  People that stop smoking often start chewing gum.  This is an example of exchanging a negative habit with a positive behavior.  The Bible tells us to exchange our negative, compulsive thoughts with godly thoughts, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable---if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things---put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you" (Ephesians 4:6:7).   We have the power to control our thoughts.  We can choose to think about positive things when we are being triggered to think about the thoughts that lead to addictive habits.

Breaking the power of addiction requires a multi-dimensional approach and the pursuit must be done in the context of community because it is important to have safe people to talk to (James 5:16) who understand that the devil wants to sabotage your freedom.  We need friends who are willing to stand against demonic spirits in prayer on our behalf (Ephesians 6:11) and remind us that Jesus has empowered us to defeat demonic strategies (1 Peter 5:8).

If you have decided that you are ready to overcome an addiction, I encourage you to begin by giving Jesus permission to be in control of your steps to freedom, seek prayer ministry to resolve the lies that are fueling your behavior, contact your physician or health care provider if your addiction includes chemical dependency or a life-threatening eating disorder, ask a few close friends to pray for you and support you in the hard work required to overcome your addiction.  I also want to encourage you to pursue a multi-dimensional approach because narrow focused programs do not produce permanent fruit.  It is a good idea to give yourself grace if you 'mess-up', and understand that new habits must be established to satisfy the triggers attached to your initial addictive behavior.

God is faithful to help you complete the process once you give him permission to activate it.  I think we can agree that Philippians 1:6 extends beyond the salvation experience and includes God's willingness to resolve the things in our hearts that are connected to unhealthy behaviors and that he won't stop until they are healed if we allow him, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it..." (Philippians 1:6).

September 26, 2012

Are You Disqualifying Yourself?

What you believe about yourself controls what you do in life.  What you believe about yourself often influences your spiritual life with God and shapes your world view.  World view is usually defined by categories such as Naturalism, Pantheism, Spiritism, Postmodernism, Theism.  People like to get philosophical, intellectual, political, discussing the topic of world view.  I like to keep it simple and frame it as a person's ideas and beliefs about life, the world and God.  As Christian believers we should embrace many absolute moral and spiritual values as outlined in the Bible, however our personal experiences both positive and negative create the lens by which we view ourselves and our place in the world.

How we define ourselves also determines what we allow ourselves to do in the Kingdom of God.  People who are trapped in a dysfunctional lifestyle seldom contribute to others.  They are often preoccupied with self-descriminating tapes running in their mind telling them that they are too damaged to interact with others. They create belief systems and behaviors that are anchored in helplessness. People who believe they are worthless, helpless and broken beyond repair often become introspective and isolated.  Isolation leads people into deeper levels of dysfunction.

I recommend that broken, hurting people intentionally pursue inner healing and the emotional, spiritual work required to become whole.  I also recommend that they connect and remain connected to a healthy spiritual community and interact with healthy people during their healing journey.  A mature spiritual community that understands the transformation process is a vital component for people who don't know the truth about themselves.

Learned helplessness is related to negative messages that children have heard and believed that influence their self worth.  It creates a sense of helplessness that restricts a child's ability to function at their full potential.    The behavior of these children reflect the labels that have been spoken over them.  Age and time do not remove the stain of labels.  God's love and truth removes everything that is false.
Many adults enter our spiritual communities still dragging the effects of their historical labels.  They disqualify themselves from engaging in community life because their identity is entangled with their labels.

The Apostle Paul says that part of our community life should include encouraging people that are timid, helping those that are weak, and being patient with them (1 Thessalonians 5:14).  He also encourages us to love each other (4:10).  As we grow in the virtue of love for those that are weak we can help them understand that through Jesus they are labeled with truth (John 14:6).  We can help them discover their place in the Kingdom of God and their value to others.  Godly communities should release hopeless people from the darkness of historical labels into the light of belonging to Jesus, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9).

September 5, 2012

Community Includes Broken People

What comes to your mind when you think about a spiritual community?  Many people imagine a Godly group of people who have all been delivered from their emotional and social issues.  They perceive a gathering where the people are understanding and relate to newcomers in a way that makes them feel safe and welcome.  A spiritual community is often expected to be free from any resemblance of human weakness because perfection is expected.
    Although Christian communities should reflect the thoughts and actions of Jesus, there are no perfect communities.  Communities are composed of healthy people as well as broken people.  It is easy to invite people into your life that are pleasant, emotionally stable and exhibit a high social IQ.  If we are being honest, it is often difficult to embrace people that bite.
   As wounded people enter our lives and our communities we are faced with the challenge of learning how to relate to individuals in a way that makes them feel honored but doesn't enable their dysfunctional behavior.  There is a tension in developing relationships with people who lack social skills.  Many broken people feel entitled and expect others to fill their emotional and spiritual needs.  They believe that we can cure vacant places in their heart that only Jesus can heal.  This brokenness often manifest in a 'needy' demeanor as people demand time and attention from those around them.  Although awkward people are challenging Jesus says that we should love them.
   We should be patient with those that are weak in their faith (Romans 15:1) and anemic in their ability to engage with others in a healthy manner.  We often restrict 'bearing one another's burdens' to prayer (Galatians 6:2) but I want to suggest that bearing a weak person's burden has a practical aspect which includes embracing them, including them in your life and learning to love them the way Jesus loves them.  When people question why I place so much emphasis on loving unlovely people my answer is simple and repetitive, "Because God loves us."
    There is a spiritual cycle that is rooted in God's love that is applicable to developing communities that represent the Father's heart.  God loves us--we love God--when we learn to love others the way he loves us--we complete the cycle (1 John 4:11).   God's love can diffuse toxic environments created by toxic, broken people.  We can begin to partner with God in creating healthy communities by asking ourselves how we feel about broken-hearted people. Be honest with yourself and examine your heart, do you feel compassion for difficult people, or judgement?  If you think you love God, but you don't love broken people you aren't being honest with yourself, "We love God because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.  For whoever does not love their brother and sister whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen" (1 John 4:19).


July 19, 2012

What Motivates You?

My definition for motivation is very simple, it is the internal or external factors that control your behavior.
Motivation is a very engaging topic with significant insight into a person's success or failure.  Psychologist, sociologist and economist agree on the science of motivation and how it relates to a person's productivity.  Research tells us that productivity extends beyond rewards to increase positive behavior, and punishment to lessen negative behavior.  Research also tells us that financial incentive does not always lead to a person's top performance.  Top performance, producing products that meet universal needs, answers to world problems are a result of a person's desire to obtain autonomy, mastery, and creativity.  This explains why volunteers are often more productive than experts.  It is because they are not motivated by money, they are motivated by passion.

It is true that different people are motivated by different things, however internal motivators are either positive or negative.  I want to narrow the discussion and ask you to consider whether you are motivated by fear or passion.

In my office people frequently request prayer because their lives are ruled by fear.  Fear guides their decision-making, controls their interaction with others, and sets the parameters for what they will allow themselves to experience.  Fearful people tell me that they feel lonely and unloved.  They are often full of anxiety and physical dis-ease.
It is interesting that fear makes people feel unloved because scripture tells us that God's love is the answer to fear (1 John 4:18).  Fear and love cannot co-exist.  When I talk about this scripture to fear-driven people they cannot relate to the concept of perfect love so they proceed to tell me about the people in their lives that they love.

It is important to understand that perfect love is associated with maturity. To reach the maturation stage in any area we must grow and develop.  Most people understand that unresolved fear grows and becomes stronger and stronger often reaching a paralyzing state.  Many people who once were mildly afraid of something are presently living with phobias.   All phobias are rooted in unrealistic fears.  Although the progression of fear is more familiar to many than the growth of divine love it is important to choose to embrace God's perfect love to replace our fears.  When fear is replaced by perfect love passion becomes the motivation that leads us to accomplish great things.

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love".   1 John 4:18


June 28, 2012

Moving Forward In Life

What do you want your life to look like, and what will it take to get there?
These are two appropriate questions I pose to people that want to make sure they don't miss their destiny.

Many Christian believers agree with a world view that God's will for every follower of Jesus is the same.  It is a world view that discounts personal dreams and visions and restricts each person's future to evangelism.  It is a standard that places guilt on those that share Jesus outside of the religious lines of conformity.  World views are composed of our basic beliefs about God, relationships, professional pursuits, self-care and influences our approach to life.

Although I agree that life with God should include introducing others to Jesus and telling them that He is the only way into the Kingdom, I believe that God has designed each person with unique gifts and skills for the purpose of sharing Jesus in a way that does not compromise who He created them to be.  I believe that God cares about the desires of our heart and our dreams for the future (Psalm 20:4, Psalm 37:4) and delights in our individual expression.

Assuming that you are committed to Jesus let's return to one of our original questions, "What do you want your life to look like?"  The first step in defining your future is to connect or reconnect with the desires of your heart.  Dreams are often lost when painful experiences are not properly dealt with.  Unresolved issues rob our ability to remain fixed on the passions that God placed in our hearts.  Unhealed emotional pain hinders everyone's ability to live from the fullness of who they are.  A dysfunctional, unrealistic world view also defines our self-perception.

Identity and dreams cannot be separated.  People that know who they are often know what they want and how to get there.  However those who don't know the truth about their identity are frequently crippled in their ability to move forward in life. They often loose hope in the future.  They don't realize that God has a plan to release them to a promising future (Jeremiah 29:11).

I suggest that people who feel disconnected from their destiny begin by asking Jesus to tell them the truth about who they are and remind them of their forgotten dreams.  Once connected to your passion you can ask God to order your steps and begin to move toward your destiny (Proverbs 16:9).
 "In all your ways acknowledge him and He will direct your paths" ( Proverbs 3:6).

People frequently tell me that it is encouraging to know that God is willing to help them move forward.  They feel comforted knowing that He is the answer to their internal confusion concerning their future.  It is exciting to discover that embracing your dreams is actually partnering with the Lord's vision for your life.
"The steps of a man are established by the Lord; And He delights in his way"  (Psalm 37:23).

June 20, 2012

Insight Into Your Behavior

Have you ever considered why you act the way you do?
People have always attempted to embrace, defend and explain human behavior.  Health conscious individuals believe that we are what we eat.  Intellectuals promote that we are what we know. Behaviorists defend that behaviors are a result of a person's response to stimuli and discount inward experiences or cognition.

I want to suggest that our behavior is a manifestation of what we believe--we act the way we think, therefore we are what we think (Proverbs 23:7).  If our thoughts and beliefs are true we possess the ability to live in truth and reality.  However if our thoughts and beliefs are rooted in lies and deception we are likely to act in unhealthy, unholy ways.  We cannot separate what we think from how we act.
If we want to act like Jesus, we need to think like Jesus.

Our life experiences cannot be discounted as we attempt to change the way we think.  Painful life experiences often lead to lies, lies often create dysfunctional beliefs and dysfunctional beliefs promote unhealthy, unholy behaviors.  God's truth and wisdom is the answer to a person that desires to be transformed.  When we seek truth and wisdom it leads to understanding (Proverbs 23:23).

Last week our family experienced a tragedy.  My 31 year old niece Sarah was murdered. This life experience is an example of how a painful event could give opportunity for me to believe lies, harden my heart and eventually begin to relate to God and other people based on the meaning I assigned to the tragedy.  I want to act like Jesus as I process this tragedy.  I don't want the pain in my heart to affect my future in a negative manner.  Nor do I want to get stuck in the pain and allow it to define me in any way.  I need God's wisdom to process this tragedy.  I need His truth to interpret this event because I do not want my future compromised by lies. I choose to seek His wisdom for my heart.
"Know that wisdom is thus for your soul; if you find it, then there will be a future.  And your hope will not be cut off."  Proverbs 24:14

If you want to know the truth about your behavior, ask God to reveal your beliefs. We are what we think!  

June 7, 2012

Insight Into Your Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart because they will see God (Matthew 5:8).  Defining a pure heart is often related to abstaining from a list of behaviors deemed off limits to those that love God. To some extent this is true, however I want to suggest that a pure heart is a heart that practices forgiveness.

Abuse survivors as well as people that have been emotionally wounded often ask me why they should forgive since they are the victims.  My answer is always the same, "Because Jesus forgives us and we are trying to be like Him." (Matthew 5:44-45; Mark 11:25-26).  I frequently remind people that Jesus forgives us every time we ask and that the degree of our misconduct does not affect His willingness to erase our sin.  Many often object because they believe that forgiving the person that has violated or offended them means excusing the abuse.  They believe that unforgiveness gives them control.  In reality unforgiveness gives abusers control over us.  I want to suggest that developing a lifestyle of forgiveness is a great way to create a pure heart.

It is common for hurting people to tell me that they don't 'feel' like forgiving those that have hurt them.   Forgiveness is not an emotion, it is a decision.  God will honor a person's choice, and their choice is the key that opens their heart to God's healing work.  Many people misunderstand forgiveness and believe that genuine forgiveness means establishing a relationship with the person that abused them.  Forgiving someone that has violated you does not mean that you have to meet them for coffee.  It does require that you release offenses, judgement and vengeance to the Lord.

Forgiveness is a life force that transforms a hardened heart into a pure heart.  The process of forgiveness begins with acknowledgement of our need to forgive.  Jesus said that if we confess (acknowledge) our sin (unforgiveness) that He will not only forgive us but that He will cleanse our heart (1 John 1:9).  In this context 'confess' is defined as 'to speak agreeable with the truth'.  When we choose to forgive someone that has wounded us we are choosing to embrace God's truth.  God's ways are always the path that enables us to create a pure heart.

I want to suggest that when we pray and ask God to create a clean heart in us (Psalm 51:10) that we understand that a pure heart cannot be separated from a forgiving heart.  Our ability to forgive or not forgive is valuable insight into the condition of our heart.

May 30, 2012

Becoming Like Jesus

Many people react to the term inner healing and associate it with new-age practices, bizarre doctrines, or weird people with strange beliefs about Christianity.  I like to keep it simple and tell people that inner healing is the process of becoming like Jesus.  This often leads to the question, “how do we begin the process of becoming like Jesus?”

The transformation process begins with an understanding that we become like Jesus when we think like Jesus (Romans 12:2).  Our thoughts must be rooted in God’s truth and His truth must become our standard of reason if we want to become healthy and whole.  Inner healing has a practical aspect that includes acknowledging places in our hearts where we have been wounded and haven’t allowed Jesus to heal the pain.  When emotional pain is disregarded it creates opportunity for lies and deception to enter our hearts.  We must intentionally choose to give Jesus permission to heal our broken hearts.

When people decide that they want to pursue inner healing I encourage them to think about why they want to be transformed.  Many people are honest and tell me that they want their internal pain to stop.  I understand that pain is often a great motivator, however our healing journey should include the desire to know the truth about the Lord and His plan for our life.

I want people to understand that there is no amount of inner healing that will make God love them more.  However, when broken places in our hearts are healed we are positioned to experience how much He loves us.  God loves us so much that he desires a relationship with us.  Jesus said that he views us as friends (John 15:12).  When we pursue God’s truth through an inner healing journey and remove emotional and spiritual barriers we become free to develop intimacy with Jesus and other people.