When Doubt Invades The Heart

Bob Damrau

There are two universal qualities that are foundational to this week’s topic. First, every man having been made in God’s image and likeness is a person of dignity.  Then God spoke to Adam and said, ‘Every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat(Genesis 2:16-17). Adam then made a character choice. Today, it is our’s.

Second, every man since Adam (except one) is a person of depravity, i.e., we sometimes make wrong choices. The third chapter of Genesis informs us that ‘he ate.’ When Adam saw his wife being deceived and that she broke God’s law he had no confidence that the goodness of God would resolve the mess Eve had created. After all, forgiveness was never required up to that point in time. So, Adam attempted to solve this new problem by joining his wife in sin. Eve doubted that God was good. Adam doubted that God was good enough. That active disposition to abuse freedom in a self-centered manner has been passed along to you and me.

VERTICAL DOUBT

A client once said to me, ‘God seems far away.’ This man had lost his job and his house. His wife’s physical health was deteriorating and his own emotional health was marked by depression. Antidepressant medication didn’t seem to help. He doubted God and was angry at Him because of what he perceived as His mistreatment of him. All this, in his eyes, deprived his life of meaning.

When we perceive God as malevolent and unpredictable’despite everything His revelation in the Lord Jesus tells us’we can become sick in mind, emotions and body. When the trials of life seem to strengthen our doubts, we tend to take control in an effort to make up for what is thought to be God’s lack of goodness or greatness. We shift our trust from Him to someone or something less.

HORIZONTAL DOUBT

When doubt invades the heart it affects each of us at the relational level. The fall brought about a reversal of man’s rule over the earth to the point that it fights back with thorns. Man’s task went from trimming and dressing the garden, to toiling against the soil in order to eke out an existence. Whenever we give up on this task, the impact of the reversal becomes evident. Instead of subduing the earth, we allow the environment to dictate our behaviors.

A core desire in every man is to pursue and deeply impact a woman. Coexisting with this desire is the core reality that our drive to initiate leaves us at great risk of exposing our inability to fully understand a woman. We doubt ourselves. We tend to feel inadequate. Our thoughts reflect a shameful self-image as we think, ‘I don’t have what it takes to love a woman.’ In his book, Inside Out, Dr. Larry Crabb says, ‘The problem (men face) is threatened sexuality, an inevitable consequence of moving away from God. The symptom of the problem is sinful sexual expression. The function of the symptom is to provide a counterfeit, momentary sense of maleness . . . (but) that, too, is sinful.’ It appears easier to pursue a fantasy and maintain a false intimacy, while the genuine article seems to evade us.

OVERCOMING DOUBT

There are two more universal qualities that are germane to this discussion.
First, every man is a dependent person. Our first, ever, problem is recorded in Genesis 2:18, when God, Himself, said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone.’ We need one another in order to survive in a place that can not fulfill our deepest needs. You don’t have to, nor are you required to go it alone. Get healthy and stay connected.

Second, every man is a person of duty. ‘God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it(Genesis 2:15).

We are designed to serve Someone greater than ourselves. When we do not come to grips with this characteristic, our behaviors often reflect our depravity. Some call this a worship disorder.

Until we are adequately connected to God and others, we will try to preserve our fragile self-image, but when the focus of our love is only inward, we can not adequately build the relationships our hearts long for. Love God with your whole heart and others from your heart, and doubt will diminish.

Celebrating His Attributes: The Message of Love from the Manger

Pastor Ed Grant

It was the day after Christmas. The pastor of St. John Lutheran Church approached the sanctuary from the parking lot and noticed that the beautiful, life-size nativity scene on the front lawn had an empty cr’che. He shook his head in disbelief and looked up and down the deserted road. About a block away he saw a young boy pulling a shiny red wagon with a passenger in the back: it was the baby Jesus. The pastor ran towards the boy and called out to him. When he reached the boy he asked him what he was doing with baby Jesus. The boy answered, ‘The week before Christmas I came to the manger and had a talk with baby Jesus. I promised Him that, if I got a red wagon, I’d come back and give Him a ride in it. I was just keeping my promise.’

There is a beautiful innocence about the boy’s attitude toward Jesus: He considered Jesus very approachable. As I prepared my Christmas sermon this year and considered the timeless accounts of the nativity I was profoundly touched by the message of love from the manger. I hope God refreshes your heart with a renewed sense of His love for you.

The first truth I grasped is that God comes to us whether we think we are ready or not. There is an old saying that goes ‘time and tides wait for no one.’ Surely a baby’s entrance into the world can be added to that list. No matter what we are doing when junior decides to enter the world, we stop what we’re doing and make for the hospital right away (Romans 5:8). When God reveals Himself to someone He doesn’t wait until the person feels worthy or until he has achieved some victory over the sinful aspects of his life. In fact, I have observed that He usually comes to us when life seems broken beyond repair or when we become painfully aware of our sins against Him. When we’ve exhausted every attempt to blame others for our failures and mistakes and finally accept personal responsibility, God is there to meet us.

St. Paul, who regarded himself as the ‘chief of sinners’, wrote, ‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ His amazing love encourages us to turn from our sins and our self-directed life and gives us hope that He is willing to forgive us, fill us, heal us, and receive us as His beloved children.

Secondly, I realized how vulnerable God made Himself when He sent His Son as a babe in the manger. More than any other creature God fashioned, babies are the most helpless creatures for the longest period of time. Feeding, dressing, cleaning – the parental responsibility list seems endless. Isn’t it amazing that God made His Son to need the care of His earthly parents? His vulnerability also means that He was susceptible to the full range of emotions and hurts we experience: rejection, betrayal, anger, surprise, laughter, joy and grief. He is still susceptible to these emotions. That’s the paradox of love: You cannot love imperfect people and open yourself to receive their love without the potential for pain. God is willing to take that risk with you!

Finally, I was deeply moved as I considered how much love a baby requires. Most babies enjoy being held, cooed at, watching adults make funny faces at them, playing peek-a-boo, hearing music, being carried around, danced with and bounced on the knee. Babies always seem to stir up the funniest reactions in people, even during Sunday worship. More than once I’ve watch a baby steal the show when a parent puts him on their shoulder during the sermon. Adults for two full rows back can’t resist waving to the baby or making faces at him!

When I think about the baby Jesus in a manger I observe a profound invitation from God to love Him back. Read that again and let it soak into your heart.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.’(1 John 5:1) God wants us to love Him by loving His most precious Son. All the love God has for you is bound up in that precious child Who would one day give His life in your place. He left the splendor and glory of heaven and came to us in a way that everyone can receive Him – even a boy with a red wagon.

Learning to Live Within Limits in Our Recovery

Clint Thomas

Do you like to live within limits? Chances are, if you checked your Sunday school answers at the door, you answered no. Sometimes it becomes very easy to think like our individualistic culture and say, ‘everything I want can and will be mine.’ We may begin to think very much like an entitled two-year old whose favorite word is ‘mine.’

Unfortunately this attitude can hurt us in the long run.

Have you ever watched TV all day, or eaten nothing but junk for one day? By the end of the day you feel no energy for anything. It might have been enjoyable in a small dose but excess leads to misery.

And so it goes in our recovery. We have taken a good thing that God made (sex) and overused and misused it to the point that it is no longer truly satisfying.

Because we tend to dislike limits we tend to think pushing the limits will increase satisfaction when all it does is lead us into a prison of misery that may feel hopeless to escape.

This tendency to push limits and want more may have cost some their job, wife, children, and /or dignity. More subtly it produces a lack of intimacy leaving relationships feeling empty and unsatisfying. It also may lead to habits that become so ingrained that they go unnoticed.

One of these is hyperstimulation. You know this one. It plays out like this-someone during a meeting at work says something and you smirk because you thought about the obscure sexual innuendo. Your colleague asks you what is funny and you say embarrassed, ‘Oh, nothing.’ Or how about the way the eyes wander when and where they are not supposed to automatically. It’s enough to make a man want to throw his hands up and say, ‘this is just the way I am wired’ and give in to the impulses. What’s missing is an understanding that you have trained yourself to live without limits.

Now its time to train yourself to live within limits.

Proverbs 7:7 says, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.’  We have been fools that need wisdom and discipline. God’s Ten Commandments give us perfect picture of what this wisdom and discipline look like. I once had a wise teacher who gave a picture of how the Ten Commandments operate. Imagine life is like a playground. On the playground are lots of games and playground equipment that are fun and good for play. There is a fence around the playground. The teacher tells you that you can have lots of guaranteed safe fun within the limits of the fence. He also tells you that you have the freedom to go outside the fence but he cannot guarantee fun there, in fact you may get hurt.

Gentlemen some of us have played outside the fence and have gotten hurt. The good news is God lets us come back on the playground and have fun with the rest of the kids. This does not mean that the games you played outside of the fence aren’t still attractive or that the games inside the fence seem as fun at first. We now have to go about the task of deadening our taste for those games on the outside and develop a taste for the games on the inside.

Practically we may have to increase accountability about Internet use or terminate it altogether for a time. We may have to get rid of cable. We will need to develop some real intimacy with others and get an accountability partner and an accountability group. Engage in effort to get to know your wife better. Actively engage in more Bible study, meditation, and prayer.

Developing and practicing habits like these will begin to ground you and you will grow to appreciate and even cherish the limits of your recovery.

For more help on this subject, see Every Man’s Battle.
If you have already attended Every Man’s Battle, please join us–with your wife–at our next New Life Weekend.