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Leaning into God When Life Is Pushing You Away
With William Kruidenier
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The good news is that when His people are struggling, God stays close. There are many ways to reestablish a dynamic connection with Him. Schuller calls these “Connection Corrections” and leads readers through identifying communication barriers and how to break them. Each chapter delves into the reasons readers fail to connect with God, how to begin repairing the broken wires, and the life-altering benefits of restoring a positive, power-filled relationship with Him. Readers who feel adrift from God will no find that no barrier is too big to keep them from a close, loving relationship with Him.
Copyright © 2009 by Robert A. Schuller
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations noted nlt are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations noted nkjv are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations noted nasb are from the New American Standard Bible®. Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations noted The Message are from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
Scripture quotations as noted are also taken from J. B. Phillips: The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition. Copyright © J. B. Phillips 1958, 1960, 1972. Used by permission of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.; Today's English Version, Copyright © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992; The Amplified Bible: Old Testament. Copyright © 1962, 1964 by Zondervan Publishing House (used by permission); and from The Amplified New Testament. Copyright © 1958 by the Lockman Foundation (used by permission); and God's Word® Translation. Copyright © 1995 God's Word to the Nations. Used by permission.
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Without the contributions of the following people, this book would be nothing more than a thought or an idea. The process from conception to reality is a long, arduous journey. It begins like all works of art or projects with a vision, a dream, or a hope. Those mental images evolve into plans or outlines that when executed, adjusted, and persistently moved forward will produce a desired outcome. This book was no exception.
The idea began with the hope of writing something that would help people establish and maintain a relationship with God and others in spite of the forces that work against them; to create a tool to help build a church without walls; to edify the kingdom of God, not with bricks and mortar, but with the lives of God's children. With this vision an outline was written. In the spring of 2008 Sheila Coleman presented the first outline. This became the frame, the skeleton, and the road map. From there, William Kruidenier put the meat and muscle on those bones as we pushed the dream forward. Course corrections were made. Details were tweaked.
When it looked as if the book was complete in October of 2008, we realized that there was a major component still missing: we needed to help readers integrate the thoughts and the ideas into daily living. We needed a series of questions that could be used individually or collectively. Beth Funk, who has worked with me for nearly fifteen years, was brought onto the team and wrote the questions that you see at the end of every chapter.
I want to also acknowledge the publishing team of FaithWords, the assistance of Sealy Yates, my book agent, and all the other people who have had a hand in making this possible. Finally, I want to thank my wife, Donna, and my children, Chris and Angie Wyatt, Bobby and Hannah Schuller, Christina Schuller, and Anthony Schuller for their faithfulness to the dream of building the kingdom of God—a church without walls.
1. Reconnecting When Disconnected by Guilt
BORN INTO THE LATE FIFTEENTH-CENTURY mix of poverty, plagues, and performance-based religion in Europe was a boy named Martin. His parents were taskmasters who treated him harshly but who ultimately saw in Martin a future lawyer. A civil or ecclesiastical lawyer would make enough money to help support the family in the parents' latter years.
Hans Luder, Martin's father (Martin later changed his last name to Luther), was right. Martin earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in law at Germany's University of Erfurt in the shortest time allowed by the university. He was promoted immediately to the law faculty.
Unfortunately for the Luders, young Martin's heart was not set on law. At least, in law he had not found the peace with God he so desired. His father had done such a good job putting the fear of God into Martin that the young man's heart was in turmoil. He knew he was deserving of God's punishment for his sins but didn't know what to do about it. The standard answers of the church—confession and penance—left him unsatisfied.
Nearing his twenty-second birthday, Martin was caught in a thunderstorm one day and a bolt of lightning hit the ground so close to him that he cried out to Saint Anne (the patroness of miners, his father's vocation) for protection: "Help me, Saint Anne, [and] I will become a monk." He interpreted his close call with death as a warning from God that he'd better get on the straight and narrow, and his response was to join a monastery and become a monk.
As far as Martin's soul was concerned, this was a jump from the frying pan into the fire. His legally trained mind soon began to find all sorts of inconsistencies in the teachings of the church, for which his superiors had no answers. Recognizing his intellectual and academic gifting, his spiritual leaders sent him to earn his doctorate in theology so he could become a "teacher of the church." That only encouraged Martin to dig even more deeply into the Bible and the teachings of the church.
During his monastic years, Martin was a model Augustinian monk. Not only did he practice all the disciplines expected of him to attain righteous standing before God—prayer, fasting, and ascetic practices such as sleep deprivation, living in a freezing cell in the monastery, and self-flagellation—he practiced them better than anyone ever had.
But with all his efforts, Martin's guilt—the conscious, continual awareness of his own unrighteousness—persisted. The wrath of God was his tormentor: "When it is touched by this passing inundation of the eternal, the soul feels and drinks nothing but eternal punishment." He applied his logical mind to the study of salvation, seeking the cool water of truth to assuage his burning soul. He tried to understand how it was possible for a guilty sinner like himself to do what Jesus had commanded: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). He had executed the formula for perfection that Jesus gave in Matthew 19:21: "Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor… . Then come, follow me"—but he knew he was still imperfect.
The primary biblical stumbling block for Luther was the seventeenth verse of Romans chapter 1, where Paul is quoted as saying that "the righteous will live by faith." Martin focused only on the need for being "righteous" in order to live by faith. He knew he wasn't righteous, so he knew he couldn't live by faith. And he grew increasingly angry with God over this conundrum. The one thing he wanted to do in life—escape God's wrath—was seemingly made impossible by his very guilt. He was guilty and therefore unrighteous. And only the "righteous will live by faith."
Fast-forward: history tells us that Martin gradually began to focus on the word faith in Romans 1:17 instead of the word righteous. He saw that he could be righteous only by having faith in Christ and accepting God's gift of forgiveness (freedom from sin and its guilt). He saw that he was, just as he thought, totally undeserving of having a relationship with a holy God. Therefore, if such a relationship were ever to exist, it would have to be on God's terms, not his. And God's terms were simple: "The only way to be righteous—to be resolved of your guilt—is to believe Me when I say you are free" (author's paraphrase of Romans 1:17).
The chain of events set in motion by Martin Luther's discovery included not only his own freedom from the guilt of unrighteousness, but that of millions who have followed in his wake. The Protestant Reformation—ignited by Martin in 1517—recovered the biblical truth that freedom from the guilt of unrighteousness is a gift from God. Receiving it by faith is step one toward experiencing a life of faith. 1
Marghanita Laski (d. 1988) was a British journalist and author and an avowed atheist and secular humanist. She is famous for making this statement before she died: "What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me." 2 She apparently knew that she needed forgiveness (like Martin Luther) but lived and died completely unconnected (unlike Luther) from the God who could take away her guilt. Ms. Laski assumed "God" was a figment of the Christian imagination: we invent a forgiving God to release us from our guilt and then say, "I'm free," when He does.
But that's not true of all those who struggle to remove the yoke of guilt from around their necks. There are plenty of people who believe in God's existence and at one time had a fruitful relationship with Him. But then something happened (things always happen) that created a guilt-yoke that was too big to get through the door marked "Guilt Removed Here." They can see the door and they know what's on the other side. But twist and turn as they will, the yokes they're bearing won't allow them to enter. So they live with their guilt and live without God. They know God can remove their guilt, but they think He's made it too hard to get to Him to have the procedure done.
Since everyone has a conscience—that part of us that "hurts even when everything else feels so good" 3 —we are left with only one choice: having our consciences cleared of guilt. This is one of the rare tasks in life that is no harder to do than it is to say. What it took to make it possible to remove guilt was not easy—but that heavy lifting has been done for us by God. All that remains is for us to appropriate the result. But more on that in a moment.
How is your relationship with God? As I see it, you (along with me—and everyone else) are in one of three places:
- You've never had a relationship with God.
- You have a relationship with God that has been broken/damaged/hurt.
- You have a great relationship with God.
If either number one or two applies to you, this book can help you identify what needs to happen in order for you to connect or reconnect with God. And if you are in place number three, this book can prepare you for obstacles that may appear down the road—bumps and pitfalls that have the potential to short-circuit your relationship with God. And in my experience of talking pastorally with people for many years, guilt is an obstacle that has broken the God-connection in many people's lives.
The famous psychiatrist Karl Menninger (d. 1990) was told the following story by a friend of his who witnessed the event: It was a sunny day in Chicago in 1972 when a stern-faced, plainly dressed man stood on a busy corner in the downtown Chicago Loop. As pedestrians hurried by he would periodically hold out his straight arm, point to someone walking by, and speak a single, loud word: "Guilty!" He would then lower his arm and resume his stance while waiting for his next "victim." The effect of the man's actions was unnerving, to say the least. Those receiving his glaring accusation would pause, lower their eyes, and move quickly away. Menninger's friend was with a person who said, "But how did he know?" 4
Truth be told, it didn't matter to whom the strange man pointed that day. He could have closed his eyes and pointed or put on a blindfold and thrown a dart, and he would have hit a guilty person. The ones who didn't get pointed out were spared a bit of embarrassment, but not because they weren't guilty.
The bottom line is that everyone is guilty of something. The question is not whether we are guilty, but what we have learned to do with our guilt.
The Bible says that every human being is guilty of two things: Adam's sin and a person's own sins. From our forefather Adam we have inherited, as his descendants, the guilt that he passed as progenitor (and the first sinner) to the human race: "Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12). (Jesus, having been conceived by the Holy Spirit rather than a human father, did not inherit culpability for Adam's sin.)
While we might have needed the Bible to pinpoint that initial source of guilt, we need no one to tell us about the second—our own sins: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23); and "Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (James 2:10). You and I know full well that we are sinners—that we are guilty of doing many things that a righteous God would not do. (And He is the standard, after all.)
So, taking the Bible at its word, we conclude that it's not a question of "if" we are going to experience guilt, but what we are going to do about it. Here's the simple remedy for guilt I mentioned earlier: just as we inherit the guilt of Adam when we are born, so we inherit the innocence of Jesus Christ (the second Adam [1 Corinthians 15:45]) when we are born again.
This is what Martin Luther came to understand five hundred years ago that freed him from his fear of the wrath of God. We can't erase our own guilt. God provided an innocent (guilt-free) man—His Son, Jesus Christ—to create an exchange: we give Him our guilt, and He gives us His innocence. As I said earlier, the theological mystery that undergirds that exchange is not simple, not to mention the pain and suffering it cost Christ to enact it. But on our side, it is simple: we give Christ our guilt and unrighteousness, and we trust by faith (Romans 1:17) that His righteousness will become ours.
There is one thing we have to do: admit our guilt to Him and allow Him to make the exchange. And deep down, that's something we all want to do. We want to say what we're guilty of—but we want to say it to the person who can do something about it. Ironically, we're afraid that whatever we tell God we're guilty of (as if He didn't already know) will be too gruesome, too wicked, too juvenile—too something—for Him to forgive us and draw close to us. Everybody else's guilt is fixable, but not ours.
In 1993, British police accused two ten-year-old boys of brutally murdering a two-year-old named James. But the two boys insisted they were innocent. There was a two-week trial, during which it became increasingly obvious that the two boys' stories were filled with inconsistencies. They appeared to be guilty. The trial came to an end when one of the boy's parents assured him that, even if he was guilty, they would always love him. At that moment, and in the face of overwhelming evidence, the boy softly confessed, "I killed James." 5
It was only when he was convinced that his parents' love would not be withdrawn that he felt free to acknowledge his guilt. That's how it is with us. We have to believe that God's love will not be withdrawn, regardless of what we have done, and the Bible assures us of that very thing: "Where sin increased, grace increased all the more" (Romans 5:20). As the hymn says, "Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt." 6
Children learn to receive God's forgiveness (or not) primarily by how their parents handled the subject. If a child fears unkind or unbalanced retribution will follow his confession of an act of disobedience, he is likely to remain silent. But if he knows that the person to whom he confesses—the authority against whom he has "sinned"—will accept his confession with understanding and forgiveness (and a fair discipline when appropriate), he will gladly confess. Even a child feels the relief that follows the unburdening of a guilty conscience.
That's why removing guilt from our souls should be easy when it involves confessing to God. His response is always loving, forgiving, and just (fair). If you have guilt about something that involves another person, you may need to confess your guilt to him or her. But ultimately, as the psalmist said, all sin is against God (see Psalm 51:4). Even if you receive human forgiveness from another person, you still need to say to God, "Here is what I have done." When you do that, God says, "Not guilty. My Son, Jesus Christ, paid the penalty for what you have done. You are free."
Leonard Jones, a Christian songwriter and singer, writes powerfully biblical songs. Think about the lyrics to this song as you consider becoming reconnected with God:
Many are they that rise up against me
Many are they that say of my soul
They say—"There is no help"
They say—"There is no one"
They say—they say… (who are "they," anyway?)
But this is what the Lord says
This is what the Lord says
This is what the Lord says
We're not guilty!
They say—"There is no help"
They say—"There is no one"
They say—they say… (I don't care!)
But this is what the Lord says
This is what the Lord says
This is what the Lord says
We're not guilty!
If God be for us
Who can stand against us?
Spirit of condemnation
You've got to go! 7
If you will listen to what the Lord says, you will hear Him say, "Not guilty!" God has the authority to remove whatever guilt you are carrying. Asking Him to do so will allow your relationship with Him to be immediately established again.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- There are two kinds of guilt in life. True guilt is when we've legitimately done something wrong and need to make amends for it. False guilt is when we agonize over something we've done that wasn't our fault or we had no control over and we're just punishing ourselves. Which kind of guilt do you tend to struggle with most often? Think of a time recently when you struggled with either kind of guilt.
- Guilt over a bad choice can hound you your entire life. Is there anything for which you still feel guilty even though it happened a long time ago? What keeps you hooked to those feelings of guilt? What steps do you need to take to move past those guilt feelings?
- What are some negative ways people deal with guilt in their lives? What are some positive ways of dealing with guilt?
- What do you learn from Psalm 32:3–5 about the consequences of not dealing with legitimate guilt? What do you learn from the writer about finding resolution from guilt?
- What correlation do you see between knowing God's love will not be withdrawn from you in spite of what you have done and your relationship with Him?
2. Discovering Redemption When Short-Circuited by Shame
A YOUNG REVOLUTIONARY WITH A MESSAGE that was resonating among working-class folk had made his way to a nation's capital city to take on the establishment. The powers-that-be were not happy about his arrival, so they put their heads together to find a way to discredit him, hoping he would take the hint and leave town. And they were not above creating trumped-up charges that would land the young firebrand in jail—or worse.
As for the young reformer himself, he had warned his committee of supporters and advisers that their reception in the capital would likely be less than welcoming. When the man who served as his chief of staff brushed off such predictions, the young leader took him aside and shared a personal concern about the man's loyalty: "I've been through this kind of opposition before, Pete. I know what to expect. But you haven't, and I wonder if you'll be strong enough to risk being identified with me if the heat gets turned up."
Pete did not stutter in his reply: "No way, boss. There are a few others on our team that I'm a little worried about, but you needn't be concerned about me. Even if everybody else bails out when the pressure is on, I'll be with you."
Almost as a way of proving his point, Pete actually physically attacked one of a group who came to request the young leader's presence at a meeting with some of the city's leaders. They accompanied the group to city hall, only to discover the young leader was to be arraigned and interrogated about his business in the city.
Pete suddenly saw his life flash before his eyes. Arrest? Conviction? Jail time? Or something worse? He had a wife to support and a business to run back home. Was this really happening? He needed time to think and moved to the edge of the crowd that had formed in the courtroom.
Suddenly a young reporter standing next to Pete recognized him and said, "Hey, aren't you one of his supporters? Can you give me a comment?"
Pete didn't have an answer. He was still thinking about the cost of what he had gotten himself involved in. Before he realized it, he heard himself saying, "I don't know what you're talking about"—and he turned quickly and left the courtroom.
Not wanting to miss the story inside, the reporter didn't follow him, so Pete felt he was safe mingling in the crowd that had gathered in the street. The young reformer's notoriety had preceded him—Pete was surprised at the size of the crowd and the opinions he heard being voiced. People were arguing and taking sides.
When Pete passed by a particularly vocal group, a woman stopped midsentence and pointed directly at Pete: "Hey—that guy is one of them. I saw him a couple of weeks ago at one of their meetings out of town."
This time Pete panicked: "You're out of your mind! I don't know that guy. I never saw him before in my life!"
"Then why do you dress and talk like him?" a man said. "I can tell you're not from around here, and neither is he. How do you explain that?"
Pete was in trouble—his cover was blown. The crowd was angry and he wasn't sure what they might do next. For the third time in a matter of minutes, Pete denied any association with the young leader: "I swear to God I don't know what you're talking about. I'm not here to see him. Now back off—I'm late for an appointment." He broke free from the group and made his way down the street, turning into a dark alley.
As Pete tried to regain his composure, he thought he felt a knife blade go through his heart. But it was only his conscience. His back slid down the wall he'd been leaning against until he crumpled into a heap on the dirty pavement. He wept out loud—deep sobs—as he remembered what his leader, mentor, and friend, Joshua, had warned him about—about succumbing to the pressure. And how brash he had been when he boasted that he would never fold—that Joshua could count on him.
He was not the man he had bragged that he was. He had never before felt so ashamed.
Most people, churched or unchurched, will recognize the framework of that story—when Peter, the disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, denied that he knew his own Lord on the night He was arrested in Jerusalem. In all of world literature, it stands as a dramatic example of a man's failure to live up to his own standard of belief, and his subsequent painful experience of personal shame.
I'm sure there's not a person alive who has not experienced the humiliating pangs of shame. It's awful to be ashamed! We feel shame as children when we're caught with a hand in the cookie jar or telling a lie to our parents. And we have felt shame as adults. Guilt is bad, but somehow, to me, shame feels worse.
- On Sale
- Nov 12, 2009
- Page Count
- 272 pages