Do You Struggle with Dark Memories?

Our core memories have a strong affect.  A bad memory can paralyze us in anger, fear and helplessness.  A good memory can free us to joy, hope and confidence.  But our memory isn’t static.  It changes over time.  Remembering rightly is difficult because our desires and our fears often reshape our memories; especially when we value self-protection, affirmation, revenge, or comfort more than truth.

51L9wnCkiiL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Miroslav Volf examines the role that memory plays in the lives of victims (and even abusers) in his book The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in A Violent World.  He clarifies God’s persistent call to remember responsibly in order to heal comprehensively.  He illustrates how the story of Jesus Christ gives unique resources, especially the necessary courage, to face even the most painful memories with truth and grace.   He writes with hope-filled humility and provides readers with a framework useful to redeem even their darkest memory and then set them on a trajectory toward a timely and healthy forgetfulness.

Volf writes vulnerably as a fellow pilgrim and wisely as a disciplined academic.  He is currently a Professor of theology at Yale Divinity School.  But, in 1984 he was summoned to compulsory military service in, then communist, Yugoslavia.  He was suspected of being a spy for the CIA simply for being married to an American woman and the son of a pastor.  His every step was monitored by secret police and his every word recorded by big brother.  He endured long-term arrest, aggressive interrogations, and psychological abuse.  He was threatened with 8 years of prison and denied an open trial.  He suffered most intensely under his inquisitor “Captain G”.  Volf’s real life story is a powerful testimony to the unique resources Christianity gives to people imprisoned by dark memories.

If you want to discover increased freedom from the dark memories that steal your joy and hope; or you know a friend who needs support and encouragement, this book can help.

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Does God Give You More Than You Can Handle?

3963368371_095254caf0_z“God won’t give you more than you can handle!”  The promise sounds beautiful and encouraging — like poetry from a greeting card.  Many claim it as their favorite Bible verse.  The only problem is that it’s not in the Bible.  While Hallmark may make this promise, God does not.

As strange as this may sound, this should come as a relief to you.  First, history and experience vividly illustrate that it is not true.  Imagine making this promise to a Jew in Auschwitz, or a parent who has just lost their only child, or a person with stage four pancreatic cancer.  Who wouldn’t be tempted to punch a person in the face for giving such “encouragement”?  Second, it should relieve you that the Bible is for real people, not just those so sheltered from life’s hardships that they naively fall prey to sentimental well wishing.  Third, identifying this promise as false will help you more quickly recognize the real Jesus.  He came to earth precisely because we’ve failed to handle what God has already given us.

So yes, God gives us more than we can handle.  In fact, Jesus seemed intent on putting his disciples in impossible situations — way beyond what they could handle.  For example:

“Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side. . . [the boat was] beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them and in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.”  Matthew 14:22,24-25  and Mark 6: 45-52

When a dangerous storm hits, where is the last place you want to be?  Flailing about the sea in a tiny fishing boat might qualify.  Yet, that is exactly where Jesus sent Peter and the disciples after they helped him feed 5,000 hungry people.  Why would Jesus send his exhausted friends into a devastating storm?  Jesus even lingers on the shore until the LAST watch of the night before He walks by their sinking boat.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  Jesus intended to pass them by (according to Mark’s account).

Children’s Bibles gloss over these details.  As a child, that’s probably why I confused Mr. Rogers and Jesus.  Mr. Rogers would never give us more than we could handle.  But the real Jesus is not so tame or predictable.  He seems fine overwhelming us with more than we can handle so that we see our need for Him.

Think about Peter’s experience with Jesus in just one day.  After working all day, Jesus asked him to feed five thousand people.  With what?  Five loaves, and two fish!  Really?  Then Jesus sent him into an unyielding storm.  Peter strained at the oars all night long, unable to bring his boat to safe harbor.  When Peter realized he could not handle his situation, something dawned on him.  He cried out to Jesus in desperation and Jesus responded.  He enabled Peter to walk on water.  But Peter, habitually self-reliant, turned his gaze from Jesus.  As Peter sank into the depths, Jesus grabbed him.  Even in Peter’s best moment, he was clearly in over his head.

In a specific situation, we may never completely understand why God gives us more than we can handle.  We’ll feel frustrated and even terrified when it happens.  But God will use it to replace our self-reliance with a fuller reliance on Him.

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Contagious Joy

I’ve discovered that joy is contagious.  If I surround myself with joyful people I become more joyful myself.  Reading a great biography has the same affect.  Even though I am separated by time and space, I get to spend time with a person who has overcome despair with hope and discovered joy even along sorrow’s path.

When I develop a relationship with a joyful person (whether in real life or in a book) I often feel embarrassed by the silly, little things that I permit to steal my joy.  It’s humbling, but it forces me to take responsibility to reclaim joy that I might otherwise forfeit.

51v7xq4JNiL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Spending time with Richard Wurmbrand has been both humbling and refreshing.  His autobiography Tortured For Christ chronicles his tremendous suffering under Russian occupied Romania after WW2.  When the communists took over, he was arrested for preaching and suffered unspeakable torture in prison for 14 years.  He writes about the Holy Spirit’s power to free prisoner’s hearts from despair even under the worst circumstances.

“I have seen Christians in Communist prisons with fifty pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold — praying with fervor for the Communists.  This is humanly inexplicable.  It is the love of Christ, which was poured in our hearts… Other prisoners and even the guards often wondered how happy Christians could be under the most terrible circumstances.  We could not be prevented from singing, although we were beaten for this… Around me were “Jobs” — some much more afflicted than Job had been.  But I knew the end of Job’s story, how he received twice as much as he had before.”  (Chapter 4: Defeating Communism with the Love of Christ)

Richard Wurmbrand started a ministry called “Voice of the Martyrs”.  Surprisingly many voices you’ll hear are unrelentingly joyful.  I recommend you spend time with them.  Learn more at

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Leaking Peace? Plug the Drain with Gratitude

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Phil. 4:6-7)

This verse promises an unfathomable, divinely empowered, peace that guards the hearts and minds of Christians.  Why then, does God’s peace elude so many of us?

First, notice that the promise comes with a prohibition: “Do not be anxious about anything”.  Nothing drains peace like worry.  And nothing is as useless as worry.  That’s why Jesus said,

“Do not be anxious about your life… Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they?  Who by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Matthew 6: 26-27.

Birds have a lot to teach worrywarts.  This fact sheds new light on the derogatory term “bird brain”.  Some of us should consider the term a compliment.  At least birds have the wisdom to trust God. But a worrywart only trusts himself and that becomes his undoing!

Second, the peace God offers is inseparably linked to gratitude.  Nothing sustains peace better than genuine thankfulness toward God.  Unfortunately thankfulness doesn’t come naturally, and people are as unaware of their ingratitude as they are of their bad breath.

Recently, I was complaining to my wife about having to wait too long on the phone (I mean my new iphone) for the greedy drug company to put me in contact with a real person (The company had developed a new medicine, without bothersome side effects, for our son). And even though I remember sending in correct paperwork twice already, (actually email saved me postage and time) the drug company failed again to update our health insurance information (to reflect the new, cheaper rates).  I could only see every annoyance, so as I lay down that night I offered a vague thanks to God. But, I failed to notice that my “thanksgiving” list was functionally empty.  I was too focused on thinking through my “to do” list for the next day.  Thanklessness and anxiety had drained my peace dry.

2682157559_c49267be69_b-2So how can you keep peace from leaking down the drain?  The good news is that God provides a constant stream of peace.  So, it shouldn’t take long to fill up when you follow Philippians 4:6-7 and plug your leaks.

First get serious about giving thanks to God. If you’ve felt melancholy for some time, its likely you need to change your perspective from worry to thanksgiving. When you fail to appreciate your blessings it will result in only feeling exhausted by them. So, slow down! Pause longer than you think reasonable and thank God for every little thing. Get specific. You’ll discover untapped joy, and renewed energy special gifts God reserves solely for thankful hearts.

Second (and more importantly), remember God is for you.  Jesus is proof!  When he died on the cross, he paid the ultimate price to guarantee your peace forever.  His resurrection establishes that he really is who he claims to be — so there is nothing to worry about. Get busy thanking God for all the good things coming to you, simply because you are connected to Jesus. The more specific you can get in your thanksgiving, the more leaks you will plug.

  • Feeling overlooked, or forgotten? Thank God that He has tattooed your name on his hands (Isaiah 49:16).  You are precious to Him.
  • Feeling overcome with grief? Thank God, Jesus knows what it’s like to suffer intense grief (Isaiah 53:3). He is with you in the darkness and he will bring you through it.
  • Feeling exhausted with anger? Thank God that He endures your anger with patience and he responds with loving kindness (Exodus 34:6). He’ll bless you as you wrestle with Him (Genesis 32: 26-29).
  • Feeling hopeless to change? Thank God you are discovering your need for Jesus. Let your skepticism drive you away from self-reliance and toward a greater dependence on Jesus (John 15:5)

As you plug the leaks caused by ingratitude (and worry) expect your peace to overflow its normal reservoir and become a “peace that passes all understanding.”

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Book Recommendation: Unbroken

I am reading a book by Laura Hillenbrand called Unbroken.  It’s a captivating biography of Louis Zamperini that illustrates the power of hope and the beauty of Christ’s redeeming work.  If you don’t have time to read the book, you can see the movie.  (However, the movie glosses over his journey toward faith in Christ.)

The Amazon book summary:

“In boyhood, Louis Zamperini was an incorrigible delinquent. As a teenager, he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when World War II began, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight on a May afternoon in 1943. When his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, against all odds, Zamperini survived, adrift on a foundering life raft. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.”

My favorite quote:  [Context: Lost at sea, for weeks, in two small inflatable rafts.]  

“Though all three men faced the same hardship, their differing perceptions of it appeared to be shaping their fates.  Louie and Phil’s hope displaced their fear and inspired them to work toward their survival, and each success renewed their physical and emotional vigor.  Mac’s resignation seemed to paralyze him, and the less he participated in their efforts to survive, the more he slipped.  Though he did the least, as the days passed, it was he who faded the most.  Louie and Phil’s optimism, and Mac’s hopelessness, were becoming self-fulfilling.”  (Chapter 14, Thirst)

Pain in Hindsight

 “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews: 12:1-2)

Crossing the Finish Line

Dawn Pinkchick, 2015, Creative Commons

Life’s struggles turn precious over time.

I ran a 12 mile race called The Fun Run with college students. To me the name sounded like something out of a George Orwell novel. The run was not fun and my pace never exceeded a jog.

The race was more difficult and painful than I expected. I grew impatient to pass each new mile stone.  At times, I doubted I could make it to the next one.  But after the race, a strange thing happened almost immediately – my perspective changed.

The heat, the cramps, the thirst – so vivid in my experience became hazy in my reflections.  I asked the other runners, “Were there two long hills or three?”  It was hard for me to remember.  Everything blended together and I nearly forgot about a hill that seemed indomitable only hours earlier.  The Fun Run, it turned out, wasn’t that bad after all.  In fact, the race went surprisingly well.

The glory of finishing the race had worked backwards transforming my experience.  It replaced doubts with confidence and complaints with joyful reminiscing.  Strangely, days later, the race had earned its name.

What race are you running? Is it for: health, beauty, moral excellence, status, security, freedom?  Have you exhausted yourself yet?

What if your race was already over and the goal was achieved? The hope of Christianity is that the race is already over.  Jesus ran the race for us.  He declared on the cross, “It is finished!”

He ran an amazing race against sin and death – and he won.  His victory restores glowing health, lasting beauty, absolute purity, incomparable status, eternal security, and real freedom.  He currently sits at the Father’s right hand in the winners circle.  He waits for us to join him.  His Spirit strengthens us toward the only possible outcome – victory.

Jesus’ accomplishment changes everything. Not only is sin and death defeated, but we will ultimately view all our suffering and pain from the perspective of His total victory.  The glowing health and lasting beauty of our resurrected bodies will make it hard to remember our present blemishes and limitations.  Our hearts, purified by His love, will forget what it was to fear.  Our status as members of Jesus’ royal family will drown out the inferiority complex that currently deafens us.  The security of heaven will make our daily worrying look nearly insane.  The freedom of holiness will permanently break any concerns of being trapped against our will.

Rear-view rainbow

Aaron Landry, 2007, Creative Commons

When we understand Jesus finished the race for us; hope replaces fear, peace replaces anxiety, and trust replaces resentment. Only then can we run through today’s pain, with the attitude of winners – confident and sure that victory is ours.

And looking back on our journey, we may even unexpectedly find beauty in our pain – like spotting a rainbow in the rear-view mirror where only dark clouds lingered.