Why I Need Easter (and So Do You)

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I live in a world of pain. It is the world I chose to enter when I became a Clinical Counselor. Nobody can escape some amount pain and suffering in their work but in my case, I invite it into my office every day. Nobody sees a therapist because they are happy and content with their life.

But I also live in a world of transformation – a place of wonder and unlimited opportunity. For where there is pain there is an opportunity for comfort where there is despair there is room for hope and where there is death there is resurrection.

This is the message of Easter. It is the story that is written in our hearts if we chose to believe it. We simply need to open our eyes and see it everywhere, for God has revealed our true destiny in a new blossom of Spring, the birth of a child and the rising of the sun.

Even our modern agnostic culture has embraced Easter in its most popular media. Who can imagine a superhero movie ending tragically?

This is because the fundamental truth of human existence is hope for redemption. Tolkien wrote of the life of Jesus as the archetypical story of humanity. He called the resurrection a eucatastrophe

(eu = good, catastrophe = disaster)

The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality.’ There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.
— On Fairy Stories by J.R. Tolkien

Easter is not only a day we celebrate what was done for us – it is a day we celebrate our own resurrection if we are willing to believe it. But there can be no resurrection without death and there can be no great eucatastrophe without first passing through the valley of hopeless desperation. The sooner we accept this great theme the sooner we will be able to participate in the powerful truth of Easter.

So what hopeless situation do you struggle with? Is there an obstacle that seems insurmountable? If so you are perfectly set up for your own personal eucatastrophe. This is not some self-improvement psychological mumbo-jumbo nor is it a quick fix that will make everything around you bright and shiny.

Remember, eucatastrophes come in the last chapter.

This doesn’t mean that you need to wait until you’re physically dead to experience a resurrection but you will need to be willing to die to whatever has held you down and caused you to become hopeless. The sooner you get to that place where you run out of options and are frustrated with all that you’ve tried the sooner you will find your own personal resurrection.

This is the way of the resurrection – when all hope is lost something penetrates the darkness and brings about a metamorphosis that was not expected and could not have been anticipated. The disciples did not expect the resurrection … in fact they were disbelieving even when they heard eyewitness accounts. This was because they “knew” that Jesus was dead and that all hope was lost. Fearful, grieving and stuck in their limited understanding, they huddled in the upper room believing all was lost. It was not until they were shaken from their disbelief by Jesus’ appearance that their minds and hearts were open to a new and powerful reality.  

This is what it means to die. Whatever you “know” must die to make way for the new.

  • You may “know” that a relationship will never improve
  • You may “know” that your career will never be fulfilling
  • You may “know” that you will never be healthy
  • You may “know” that you will never be truly happy
  • You may “know” that you will never be loved

Your personal eucatastrophe will not come from what you know but from you have yet to know. If the resurrection is true then all the other promises of God are also true.

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
— Romans 8:11 NIV

When we continue to live in our failure we are denying the resurrection of Jesus and choosing to live in doubt and fear. It’s as if Jesus steps into your room and shows you his nail pierced hands and you refuse to believe.

When faced with the reality of having true resurrection power available to us do we still choose to live in our fears?

But even when we “see” the truth we still need help – so God has made that available to us also. We simply need to honestly admit our own futility, confess our faithlessness and accept the free gift of resurrection power who is the Holy Spirit. This is the doorway to your personal eucatastrophe.

This is not a “one and done” choice, (oh, I wish it were!) but a continual choosing of the Spirit’s power to work in and through us, in ways, we cannot do ourselves.

I confess that I am so weak that I must do this daily. Every morning the clouds of doubt and fear creep over me like a morning mist and I must begin each day with reminding myself that God is in control, that he is good, that he loves me, and he is worthy of being trusted because he is faithful. This is not a small matter to me – it is as important as breathing for if I fail to do this my spirit will wither and die. If there is any good that comes from my life I attribute it to this daily cleansing of my mind and heart and the resurrection work of the Holy Spirit.

Are you ready for your eucatastrophe? Have you reached a point where you are desperate to see resurrection power in your life? Then you are in a blessed place and ripe for miracles.

If we at Total Wellness Resource Center can be of any assistance on your journey or serve you in any way please don’t hesitate to reach out to us through the confidential form below.

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Does “Turning the Other Cheek” Really Work?

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I was sitting with a client yesterday who was alone even though they had originally come with their spouse for marriage counseling. She told me things were going better in her marriage and she wasn’t quite sure why. Our recent sessions had been focused on how she responded to unfair, unkind and hurtful situations in her marriage. She had been focusing on not escalating the battle of words and when she was ill-treated to respond with kindness.  My thoughts immediately went to the words of Jesus.   

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
— Matthew 5:38-41 NIV

When Jesus said these words the prevailing wisdom was that when someone hit you, you needed to hit them back harder. (that philosophy is still very common) Jesus was expressing a radical ethic that has its roots in trusting in an all-powerful and just God who will ultimately bring down judgment on the wicked and reward the innocent.

But there is another very practical reason to employ this new ethic. It works.  It works because it is based on the way humans relate to each other. This should not be surprising. I have found that EVERYTHING God has said we should do is both empirically true and relationally effective.

That is why my client is experiencing greater success in her relationship.

The predictable pattern is to respond in kind to others. When someone is nasty to us we respond by being nasty to them. If they are kind to us we respond by returning the kindness. In other words, the old “eye for an eye” ethic. And as someone once said if we live by the “eye for an eye” ethic everybody will be blind. But if we are maligned we respond in kindness and when treated harshly we are gentle the whole dynamic of the relationship is turned on its head. The downward cycle of aggression and retaliation is broken. How do you stay angry with someone who simply refuses to return the anger? How do you continually criticize and malign someone who refuses to return the insults? You simply can’t. Either the dynamic in the relationship changes or the oppressor gives up and finds another victim to justify their behavior.

Please hear me on this, I am not talking about physical or emotional abuse. It is not right to allow unchecked aggression to be directed toward you or anybody else. If this is the case then you need to seek help to correct the situation and/or get separation from the abuser.

I am referring to those arguments and personality conflicts that are common in most marriages and dissolve into long-standing resentments and perpetual arguments.

This new way of being in a relationship is not easy – in fact, it is practically impossible apart from a powerful spiritual transformation of the heart. It is also not a quick fix cure. The aggressor is not likely to suddenly “see the light” and change their pattern of behavior overnight. But for those who decide to walk as Jesus walked there are awesome rewards waiting for them. Here are a few.

  • The soul-destroying cancer called resentment is reduced or eliminated
  • The potential for developing reconciliation is vastly increased
  • Harmful conflict is greatly shortened and vastly reduced
  • Intimacy with God is deepened. (whenever we choose to obey the words of our Lord we deepen our love for him) John 14:15
  • We become more open to examining our own hearts and correcting our own faults
  • We set an example to other family members of how to deal with difficult people and situations

Again, this is not easy to do – especially if there is a long-standing pattern of tit for tat conflict. But it is so worth the effort to escape the hopeless maze of unending struggles.

As always if there is anything we can do for you or if you have any comments or questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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Happiness Truly is a Matter of the Heart

What do you really desire in life? What keeps you up at night and gets you up early in the morning? What do you clutch onto so hard that you will protect it with your last ounce of strength?

That is your treasure and that is also where your heart is.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
— Matthew 6:21 NIV

In my work, I see a lot of people who are desperately trying to hold on to something that is not giving them the life they desire. It could be money, relationships, a career or score of other things that seem to melt away the tighter they clutch on to them. The problem is those “things” never satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. I am not advocating quitting your job or leaving your relationships, what I believe we need to do is to no longer see those things as the fulfillment of our desires. In fact, the more we try to make them do that the more miserable we make ourselves.

An example of this is money.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs
— 1 Timothy 6:10 NIV

The point Paul is making in this verse is that when we pursue (love) that which cannot satisfy our souls we end up doing ourselves harm – akin to stabbing ourselves.

God knows we need money, and careers and homes – but we were made for something much more satisfying than this stuff. We were made for God himself.

When we “wonder” it often starts innocently. We become delighted by some new toy or someone strokes our ego. Pretty soon we’re saying this feels good … I want more. So we start chasing this new shiny object and then it happens. That object becomes our treasure rather than the one who ultimately gives all good gifts.

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
— Matthew 7:11 NIV

Is there anything that we need that he is not willing to give us?

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
— Romans 8:32 NIV

This is a call for deep reflection. I confess I am guilty of seeking the gift rather than the giver – of longing for the resource rather than making the source of all blessings my heart’s desire.

Could this be why there is so much depression, anxiety and relational brokenness in our lives? Could we be deceived into believing the lie that something other than our Creator can satisfy our deepest longing?

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Blaise Pascal

"There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator made known through Jesus Christ.” 

So are you saying, James, that we’re not supposed to desire anything but God? No, I am saying that we are not to desire anything MORE THAN God. And when we receive what we desire we are to immediately thank him for what we have received.

God has no problems with us asking him for … whatever. But like the excellent father he is, he withholds the right to give us only what is best for us. If we become enamored with the shiny things of this world and he knows that they will cause us to wander off into places that will cause us harm, then like any good father he will withhold these things. Wouldn’t you?

Ask for whatever you wish and if your dearest desire is to honor the Lord and bless him with your life, it will be irrelevant whether you receive it or not because he will give you the ultimate desire of your heart. Your soul will be abundantly satisfied. And isn’t that what we truly crave?

Prayer of reflection

O Lord, I come to you seeking to open my heart to your gaze. Look deeply into my longings Lord and see if there is anything that I desire more than you. Search my heart Lord and reveal any attachments to whatever is not you. You are my source for all that I need. You have promised to graciously give me whatever is necessary. Help me to take my eyes off of all the “shiny things” in this world and fix them upon you. I confess I am so easily distracted. You know all things and you also know that my deepest, passionate desire it to bring you honor and glory in my life. Create in me a steadfast spirit that will live this desire in every area of my life.

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One Thing Which Can Make Your Life Successful

I know that my title seems a bit over the top, but I am tired of talking about creating successful strategies to people who have absolutely no capacity to put them to action. So, I’m going to get really basic and real simple.

What you believe about yourself and the universe are the most crucial pieces of knowledge you will ever possess. They are the common denominators in all events, relationships, and goals in your life.

  • Overcoming failures is completely dependent on your view of yourself
  • Pushing through trials and enduring through prolonged times of frustration is a factor of how you see yourself.
  • Your level of satisfaction with living is dependant upon understanding yourself in context to the universe

Yet, I find so few of us really comprehend this fact. Instead, we are continually looking to other people or circumstances as the arbitrator for our lives.

When something bad happens. (and it happens to everyone)

  • Some resign themselves to their fate and give up
  • Some see it as an insurmountable obstacle and choose a lesser path
  • Some see it as a temporary setback and press on

The only difference in these responses in how one sees themselves and what they believe about the universe.

Your view of yourself is a consequence of how you view the universe.

I have had the privilege of traveling the world and in some places, I have seen unimaginable suffering. When asked why this is so the answer I receive is something like this, “it is their fate”.

  • Karma
  • God
  • The random nature of the universe

It all comes down to whether the universe is cooperating with or in opposition to our success. This will determine whether we have the internal resources to achieve the life we desire to live. If that answer is our lives are under the control of some external force then the next logical step is to forfeit our dreams and abandon our hopes because we are powerless to achieve them.

Some would challenge me on this and say, “You’re a Christian – aren’t you a fatalist?

I say no. In fact, it is entirely the contrary. Since I believe in a supreme being who has demonstrated his great love and compassion through the life of Jesus Christ I am convinced that the universe is not an obstacle to my happiness - that I have the ultimate victory no matter what circumstance or peril I may find myself in. In fact the present obstacles serve a tutors to mold my character and deepen my faith. Therefore no person, no event and nothing else in this world can thwart my inevitable triumph as promised by God.

So you see – my self-confidence is derived from my view of a good and loving God and anything and everything must yield to this truth. Therefore ...

  • When I become discouraged I return to the belief that God is my helper and he has and will provide all that I need.
  • When I am doubting my own wisdom he has said that I can come to him with any question and he will give me understanding.
  • When I am feeling alone and rejected he has said that I am unconditionally loved
  • When I am disbelieving my own value he reminds me that he died for me and I have infinite worth.

What other religion, philosophy, or world view can offer this confidence?

So the bottom line is this.

As goes your view of the universe so goes your view of yourself.

As goes your view of yourself so goes your life.

Next time you feel stymied by a situation in your life or paralyzed by debilitating emotions look to where your confidence lies. Look at your view of God and integrate that view into your identity. 

If I can be of any help you to you don't hesitate to reach out

James

Is Meaning Meaningless?

We are all wanting to live a life that is full of joy; A life lived with purpose and meaning. But sometimes we get stuck and stagnation sets in. Our days heap upon each other; all the same with no real substance in them.  The dreams we had have faded like childhood pictures and the hope for the future is growing dim. Sound depressing? It is. And to a certain extent we all find ourselves thinking like that from time to time. But that is not the way we were meant to live. The very fact that what I just described is repugnant to us is proof that we were created for much more than a dismal life.

The first step is to break free from acquiescing to the view that our life has no real meaning. We are not doomed like Macbeth to a certain hopeless fate. We are not even to accept the belief that our life (or any life) is common or ordinary.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)

This view is a product of our celebrity crazed culture that mistakes popularity for importance and wealth for value. What you believe about life’s meaning and value is critical to finding your true purpose. And when we live out of our purpose we live a life of significance no matter if it is noticed by a few or many. We need to wake up from the lies that have put us in a hapless stupor and begin exploring the truth about who we are and more importantly why we are.

The next step is to push out into the deep sea of truth exploring the distant lands of meaning. Where do you find truth? For some it is found in natural science. We are no more and no less a product of a meaningless series of evolutionary mishaps. If this is true then the search for meaning stops right here because meaning becomes meaningless, and it is meaningless to even say meaning is meaningless. (think about it)

I advocate another road; one that leads to a Creator who put into the heart of mankind a desire for purpose and a quest for significance. This road runs through a dirty little town called Nazareth where an obscure young woman had a baby that she named Jesus. Many a philosopher has dulled his intellectual blade upon this rock and many a powerful leader has tried to crush his message; but all have failed.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him
— Colossians 1: 15,16 NIV

He is our true north, our reason for being. Our goal must be to purge from us the lies that have entwined themselves about our souls and integrate truth into every area of our lives; especially our identities.

Total Wellness Resource Center is cosponsoring a workshop called Journey of Significance Saturday October 8th from 9-12 at Ascension Lutheran Church in Ranch Palos Verdes, CA. If you’d like to know more please click on the link below. We’d love to see you there!