Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Burden of Guilt

I did something wrong. I failed. I let you down. I’m sure that you must think less of me now. I don’t know how to be right with you again. Every time I look at you I see how I let you down. So I turn my eyes down. That way you can’t see in to my soul.

I look down. I cannot see outward, cannot see forward. So I look inward. Inward at my inadequacy. My wrongdoings. My shame. My guilt.

All I see is the emptiness that once was me. A huge hole where I was once whole.

And it will never be made right.

I’m so sorry.

Not even God will forgive me.

And so the burden of Guilt takes hold. Gripping. Controlling. Suffocating. It can weaken even the strongest of bonds. Yet it is one of the worst types of bondage there is.

We’ve all been there. Some are still there. Inside a prison cell, without a key.

I look up. For the first time in what seems like months I let you see my eyes. Afraid. Anxious. I look at yours. The eyes of my Savior. I see compassion where I expected anger. Acceptance instead of scorn. Love, where contempt should be.

Is this the key to the cell door?

How can this be? I hurt you so deeply. I don’t deserve this kindness. Not from anyone. Not from you.

You simply stand in front of me. You raise your arms, but not to strike me. They are stretched out, inviting me to embrace you.

You offer hope, where I had none. You offer forgiveness, in exchange for my guilt. Healing to make my hole whole again.

But the choice is mine.

Lord Jesus, help me to let go of the guilt and run into your waiting arms. I want to be whole again.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Three In One

Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

-- Ecclesiastes 4:12

I am the middle of three siblings in the Thuente family. As a child, I was often content to sit alone in the corner of the living room, even though I wasn't in trouble. My dad would ask me what I was doing, and I'd tell him I was "thinking." "What are you thinking about?" "Nothing..." "Then when do you know when you're done?" I'd just shrug, and contemplate some more.

In a home with two sisters growing up with an older brother, alliances are continuously being formed, and eventually someone gets left out. Our brother would find some reason to try to pick
a fight with my sister and me. If my sister and I happened to be in alliance at the time, the fight-picking would not be very intense. BiggieBrother knew that his two sisters were able to fend him off ... most of the time. However, there were times when he would try to wear us down with his persistence. One tactic he used was to try to get either my sister or me to take his side. "If you let me do this, I'll be your friend..." We all knew that two was better than one. We also each knew that being the "one" would be devastating ... it meant that you didn't have a friend.
Even in early childhood we know that we were not created to be alone all of the time, but to have relationships with one another.

We know the comfort and security of having friends. But we also gain a sense that having only one friend is not good enough. We started our mornings with the famous breakfast trio "Snap Crackle and Pop!" We are told the story of the Three Musketeers with the motto "One for all, and all for one!" We watch the Three Stooges on television, and realize that if there weren't three Stooges, there may as well be
no Stooges. Each trio, united in their own purpose, was inseparable. Thinking of any of them in terms of only two is unthinkable. (Whoever heard of "Snap-Pop!" in the cereal bowl?)

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of assisting an "experienced" citizen on my job. When she mentioned that she was a triplet, I recognized her as Millie Boyd, the only surviving Del Rubio Triplet. I had seen these charming identical sisters perform at a local restaurant several years earlier. They rose to notoriety due mostly to their campy style of dress and their goofy interpretations of songs. Think about it - three women in matching hot-pants and go-go boots, performing songs such as Devo's "Whip It" and Madonna's "Like a Virgin." And it was good, clean entertainment!

During my too-brief conversation with Millie, she told me of how she and her two sisters never married because they couldn't stand to be apart. They chose a career in performing because that was the only thing they could do where the three could be together. I found this
quote from Millie's sister Eadie:

"It's obvious that we were meant to serve God by being together. It reminds me of the blessed Trinity and the sense that each one is individual, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. But the three together is God. That's the same thing with us three. Each one is individual, and it's our individuality that makes the act what it is. But it's the three together that make the act. The three make the whole. We've sensed that ever since we were little kids, that the three make the whole."

Most people that we have a relationship with are not triplets with nearly unbreakable bonds. But we do have access to an eternal Cord of Three Strands that will never, ever break, and that is the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. When we feel overpowered or defeated, tie a knot in this Cord, and hold on tight!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oprah and the Lifeboat Theory

In elementary school, a common lesson in teaching the value of others is this lifeboat scenario:

If there were a lifeboat adrift at sea, and in the lifeboat were a male lawyer, a female doctor, a crippled child, a stay-at-home mom, and a garbageman, and one person had to be thrown overboard to save the others, which person would we choose?”

This type of thing is done every day. You see it in the school yard when teams are chosen for dodgeball. The weakest players are seldom chosen first. Why? The team captain doesn’t want them in the lifeboat. It carries over into adulthood. Recently on Celebrity Apprentice it happened in the final show. You had two team captains, and thus, two “lifeboats.” The first captain chose the player who the other team captain had grown to rely upon the most, which weakened the other captain’s team.

In a family, even small children have a basic understanding of lifeboat theory. Mom is fixing lunch, and little Suzy is perfectly content to play in the floor in front of the TV. Why? Because she feels safe in the lifeboat that she shares with Mom. There is no threat to whether or not Mom will forget about her in favor of something else. But the instant the telephone rings, Suzy goes into a mild panic. There’s something that is competing for space in her lifeboat, and she has to make sure Mom knows that this intruder must go. So she cries, or she clings to Mom. Anything so that she can have more value than what Mom is showing value to at that particular moment. Eventually, Suzy becomes secure in the knowledge that Mom values her no matter what, and that her place is firmly established in Mom’s lifeboat.

As we grow up, we find ourselves in many lifeboats along the way – popularity in school, competing in the job market, finding a mate. We are validated as a person from how we relate with each other. We are validated by people outside of ourselves. In the lifeboat scenario that I opened with, each one of these people has worth, all of them equal worth. Yet when the exercise is presented to the students, this ideology is rarely, if ever, considered. There are too many in the lifeboat, and someone must be thrown overboard! But of course no one will voluntarily throw himself overboard to save the others because his life is just as important, if not more valuable, as the next person’s.

So, what does this have to do with Oprah?

Let’s look at our relationship with God as a lifeboat. It’s us and Jesus (God in the flesh) in the boat. When Oprah was sitting in church and heard the preacher say that God is a jealous God, her reaction was “What? God is jealous? Of me?? Her place in the lifeboat was in jeopardy. Rather than clear up the misunderstanding, she chose to get out of the lifeboat. Not only did she get out of the lifeboat, she built herself one of her own.

If she had sought understanding, Oprah would have learned that yes, God is a jealous God. He does not want us to put ourselves ahead of Him, because that is his rightful place. But He also does not want us to perish adrift in the ocean. In order to save us He willingly gives up his place in the boat so that we will be able to live. If we had placed our lives ahead of God, we’d still be in jeopardy of losing our place. By freely offering his place in the boat, our relationship with God is secure now, and for eternity.

Monday, April 07, 2008


Lately it seems as though I have been drawn to books and blog posts about people who are not "set in their ways" about Jesus and Christianity. Monday morning a friend of mine sent me the YouTube link about the "church of Oprah exposed." Combined with the "10 questions that every intelligent Christian must answer" video and the "God is imaginary" website, it is easy for me to see how people can have serious questions about what they believe about God and about Jesus.

I’ll be honest – as a Christian I’m a little afraid to deeply explore the ‘God is imaginary’ and ’10 Questions’ links on my own. It’s like voluntarily walking into a dark cave and leaving the light of the world behind you. My fear is that I will get too far from the light and the light will grow too dim, and I won’t be able to find my way out. But at the same time, I feel like God is preparing me for something. My Epiphany word this year is “compassion”. The “theme verse” that I found for compassion is Matthew 9:36 “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

The dictionary definition for “compassion” is “Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. The word “rescue” comes to mind. Jesus so much wants to rescue people from the darkness. But if someone is so entrenched in darkness, light is a scary thing for them (The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it – John 1:5). They fear what they do not understand; it is as though they are afraid of the one thing that can save them. They need someone to guide them toward the only source of salvation that they can trust: Jesus Christ. And in order to do that, we have to be willing to go into some dark caves sometimes. Why would someone do that? Why would someone go on a “rescue operation” that is outside of the comfort zone? To relieve the suffering of the one who is helpless.

Something that I have heard various people who don't believe in God say goes something along the line of "Everything I (spiritually) need I can find within myself." That leaves me with a couple of questions. One is, what happens when life gets out of control and they can't fix it? And another is, what happens when they have a question about something greater than what they can find within themselves? Do they spiritually self-destruct, only to retreat into a dark cave, as far as they can, not realizing their state of helplessness?

Jesus is the light of the world, the beacon that will guide them out of the cave. It is up to the "search and rescue team" to guide them to the light.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Doubting ...

Is God imaginary?
Earlier in the week I read a blog post titled “Ten Questions Christians Should Know” (or something like that – I don’t exactly remember). I linked to the post, more out of curiosity than a sense of needing to make sure I knew.

The author posed some of the tough questions of life. Questions like “If God has the power to heal, why doesn’t he heal amputees?” “If God is good, why do bad things happen in the world?” and the list went on. The point the author made was that Christians can’t give definitive, conclusive answers without sounding like they’re talking in circles, and the only Then there was a link to a YouTube-type film that supported the argument that “prayer = superstition.” definitive, conclusive answer is “God is imaginary.”

The whole thing had me actually questioning what I believe, and why I believe it. What if I had been lied to all this time? What if the things I had attributed to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were all fake? If I were less mature in my faith than where I am now, this whole thought process could have really messed with my head.

You know how sometimes you have someone who has no way of knowing what you’re going through telling you something that makes you think they’ve been reading your private journal, except there’s no way they could have done it? Well, the next morning it happened. Except it came from a stranger, through a blog from a guy named Josh, who had read my previous blog post. He was talking about how adamant non-believers try to question us in order to question ourselves, and that our job as Christians is not to defend our Lord and Savior, He can do that well enough on His own. Our job is to love these confused souls and spread the love of Christ.

Reading that was like splashing cool, refreshing water on my face, although I am still trying to find out how this guy in Houston got his hands on my hand-written journal in California J

Searching for God Knows What
This past week I’ve also been reading Donald Miller’s book Searching for God Knows What. Wouldn’t you know it, but the day after reading Josh’s blog I read the part in the book where Miller talks about how he tells God that he (God) doesn’t exist. Think about it … If someone does not exist, then how can you tell him that he doesn’t exist? It’s like … I can’t even think of an analogy for it. The non-existent being won’t cease to be, because it never was!

Miller later explains that the God he banished is the “formula” God that we make out of him. The “Do steps one through seven, and you’ll find that your spiritual life is soaring on wings of eagles” type. The problem with this is that if God uses formulas, then the same formula should work for everyone, right? But not every formula self-help book or formula church “program” works the same.

So the “formula God” is out. The God of the Bible, the relational God, the one Miller explores deeper, is the true God of the universe. The Bible is not a “formula” self-help book. It is the story of our perfect creator who wants to be – even longs for – an intimate friendship with imperfect men and women who, it seems, can never get their lives right and keep them right.

I can’t seem to name the emotion that comes to mind when I think that perfect holiness actually wants to have friendship with impure, dirty friends. Parents tell their kids to stay away from the “bad” kids and pray that they befriend and become one of the “good” ones. But when God determined that the time had come to send his perfect Son to the world that we live in, he sent Jesus for the purpose, and with the expectation that he would hang out with the “wrong” crowd.

To me, that sounds like a curious method of parenting. But that statement alone just tried to put God into the step-by-step format that should not exist.