Pain and Restoration

Jesus used every day events to help his followers understand more about the kingdom of God and I believe that He still weaves our daily activities into teachable lessons for us.

Since I broke my elbow in February, I have been going to physical therapy (PT). This has been my first experience with PT and I have been PT2thinking about it a lot.

The reasons someone needs to have PT are varied. Usually it is one step in recovery from an accident or disease because the body has been injured or harmed and is not working up to its full potential.

The therapist uses many methods to help the body return to maximum flexibility and efficiency. But it takes time.

There are no quick and instantaneous exercises that will miraculous restore your health; however, with much patience and diligence your body does become whole again.

So it is with our walk with the Lord. There are many times when we are emotionally hurt and spiritually broken. Sometimes it feels like we have been mutilated and destroyed. Other times our pain or confusion is less severe, but we are still broken and need repair.

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A Love Story

Tonight, Marianne and I will have a romantic dinner at the country inn where I asked her to marry me.

Marianne

Marianne

Our friends often kid us, because we take time to celebrate key events in our life together. Our first date, our engagement, our wedding, and other anniversaries are important to us.

We don’t go on anniversary dates to create intimacy and passion between us, but to express the amazing, ever-deepening intimacy and passion that continues to grow between us – from the first time my heart unexpectedly fluttered at the sight of her, to the profound thrill I still feel when I see her.

There is a love between us that I seldom see in others. It, and our marriage, are testaments to the power of God to redeem lives.

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Bearing One Another’s Burdens

The other morning a young man stopped by the house.

burdenHe had been struggling with emotional pain and bondage, and said he hadn’t come earlier because he didn’t want to be a burden.

I shocked him by responding that he and his problems were a burden – that there were other things I could be doing that morning. But, I explained with a huge grin, it was my joy to be burdened by him.

He paused and thought about it, then nodded as he realized I was being totally transparent and real with him. Thus started an amazing time of talking, sharing and ministry.

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Pastoral Counseling

Several ministries are offering a free class in Pastoral Counseling on Wednesday evenings in Prince William County, Virginia, beginning April 17, 2013, from 7:00 to 9:30 pm.

The class is open to all members of the Body of Christ from local churches (not just “pastors”!), and likely will run about twelve weeks.

To give some idea of the type of counseling we will be teaching others to do, I’ve reprinted below a blog about one session I had with a deeply troubled man last year.

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Discipleship

Marianne and I have the greatest privilege in the world. God allows us to introduce Him to those who have reached the end of themselves, and then allows us to walk with them towards healing and wholeness.

We have the privilege of then seeing those who some consider the discards of society grow in the Lord to become mighty men and women in His Kingdom.

But the highest privilege of all is this: To call them friends.

This is the story of so many when we first met. Listen, and may the Lord move your heart to compassion.

Words

Words have the power to not only define, but to create reality – for good or for bad. Too often, we forget the power of words: not only ours, but of God Himself.

power-of-wordsI don’t think it was a coincidence that God spoke the universe into existence, chose to reveal Himself through His spoken Word of scripture, or came to dwell among us as the Word made flesh.

I also don’t think it is a coincidence that God still speaks to us today, or that He has empowered us to speak authoritatively on His behalf.

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Life or Reaction?

So much of our “theology” (and we all have “theology”!) is forged these days by hurts.

The Bible has been used as a club to beat us into conformity, so we reject its plenary authority.

Our need for mercy has been abused, so we latch onto a concept of grace that excludes the Lord’s occasional rebuke and discipline.

We have suffered from authoritarian leadership or a controlling church, so we become autonomous and discount the need for healthy, accountable community.

We realize that some pet doctrines were wrong, so we seek a purely existential Jesus and cringe at objective truth.

In doing so, we are reacting to hurts, wrongs and mistakes – rather than embracing life.

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Finding Freedom From Life’s Hurts

Finding Freedom From Life’s Hurts

This is a fifty-five minute teaching I shared with about thirty men, based on hundreds of pastoral counseling sessions where God showed up and brought freedom and healing from deep hurts – including abuse, abandonment and so much more.

My blog is a feeble attempt to upload a lifetime of service to the King of Kings. I believe this audio teaching, however, captures better than anything I’ve written some of the most significant things I’ve learned as I’ve walked with folks to those ugly places of bondage and hurt in their lives. When we get there, and they exposed their hurts and lies to the Lord, He brings His loving, healing truth.

In this talk, I also share some of my own very personal story about my own places of hurt, which I had to expose to Lord so He could then bring wholeness to me.

You may think you know me from my writings, but this captures my heart in ways that a written blog never can.

 
If this resonates with you, I also recommend my related blog, God Shows Up.

Becoming Our Past

Often, longstanding hurts, disappointments and emotional wounds are like old, familiar friends. We let them become so engrained into our sense of identity that they begin to define us.

When that happens, we often aren’t willing to transparently expose and turn them them over to Jesus, but tightly hold onto them like a child clinging to a security blanket.

Instead of finding transformation and wholeness, we become our past.

If this is a struggle for you or someone you know, let me suggest an old blog I wrote years ago called God Shows Up. It’s a good starting point on the road to healing.

I Am Content

Marianne

Marianne

I’ve advised Presidents and heads of state,

And ministered forgiveness

To murderers and inmates,

In Your name.

I’ve been rich,

But know poverty.

I’ve plowed the earth

And wiped sweaty dirt from my face,

Yet poked holes in clouds.

I’ve seen the world,

Stood firm against oppression,

And dodged its secret police,

While dancing with gypsies.

I’ve changed laws

And the course of nations,

While counting the homeless

Among my closest friends.

I’ve led the march of thousands,

And brought stadiums to their feet,

Yet walked with death and a cane.

I fought the mob and won,

And silently saved my daughters

From their threats,

Yet been broken and used up.

I’ve known the joy of hopeless battles won,

And the brotherhood of warriors brave,

Yet cried alone before their graves.

I’ve spoken truth to power,

Hugged the brokenhearted,

And helped set the captive set free.

For all these things, Lord, I am grateful;

It’s been a life well lived.

But most of all,

I thank You that love did not pass me by:

For the joy of Marianne’s embrace

And the wonders of her grace,

I am content.

~ Jim

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Beauty from Ashes

Since early this year, I’ve been working on a huge sex abuse case involving a large, local Assembly of God church.

Hurt and Confusion

The human carnage and shattered lives have been great.

I take on these kinds of cases not only because I believe in justice, but because I also believe in redemption. Often, I have the privilege of seeing God’s grace shine through as healing comes and the survivors begin to find the strength to reclaim their lives – and their stolen voices.

As I interview and get to know various survivors and their families, I’m often asked if the pain will ever stop. I tell them how I have seen God bring beauty from ashes time and again, both in others and in my own life.

It is hard, but once we pass through the fire and begin to see what God does with the ashes of our lives, we experience gratitude for who we start to become.

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Christian Counseling Class

I will be teaching a semester-long Christian counseling class beginning next Tuesday, September 6th, through early December. We will be meeting every Tuesday evening at my home just south of Manassas, Virginia, from 7:00 to 9:15 pm.

The course is being offered through Emmanuel Christian Institute, in conjunction with Fulcrum Ministries, for a very modest $200 (this fee goes to ECI for much appreciated administrative support, not me!).

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Abusive Church Leaders (Part 1) – My Personal Angst

Much to my dismay, God keeps bringing people to my door who have been abused by a pastor or other trusted church leader.

Over the last year, I’ve taken on three cases against abusive pastors. Two involve significant embezzlement and fraud by pastors in different churches. A third involves extensive sexual abuse and misconduct by around half a dozen men on the pastoral and ministerial staff at Christ Chapel Assembly of God in Woodbridge, Virginia.

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Transparent

My spiritual DNA — the way God put me together — makes me instinctively encourage others to give away what God has given them. Sharing God’s blessings is a key component to spiritual growth, I’ve found.

I often teach and minister in a faith-based dorm at the local jail. Rather than me “leading” this Friday, however, I took a seat among them and let the men bless each other by sharing what God is showing them and doing in their lives.

Some rose to sing songs they wrote to the Lord, some read and commented on short passages of scripture that had become alive to them, while others gave testimony to how God is now healing and making them whole men.

One brother read a poem he wrote about dealing with the issues of his heart and finding healing through confession, repentance and forgiveness. I’ve seen tremendous peace and maturity emerge over the last couple of months as he’s been totally transparent with the Lord — even though it’s sometimes hard and painful to expose those secret and hidden places to Him.

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Whole Health

The more pastoral counseling I do, the more I realize how often people deal with life’s traumas, hurts and disappointments by suppressing either their mind, their heart, or their spirit – and thus some vital aspect of who God created them to be.

integrated_wholeFor example, instead of being healthy, integrated people, they numb out or otherwise retreat exclusively into the realm of their minds – i.e., their analytical logic and reason – to the exclusion of their heart and their spirit.

They are alive, but hardly living – as they deny themselves the catharsis of honest emotions and the wonder of new-found belief.

For others, their heart is the oppressor as they subjugate their mind and spirit to their feelings and sensibilities.

Some even allow their spirit to squelch their minds and hearts by super-spiritualizing everything, and treating reason and emotions as irredeemably corrupt.

I now realize that God created our mind, heart and spirit to be equally vital aspects of the whole, complete individuals He wants us to be.

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Repentance, Forgiveness and the Kingdom of God

Recorded before a group of men in the local jail, this 55 minute audio teaching explains how we find peace and freedom when we allow God, through authentic Biblical confession, repentance and forgiveness, to change what we think, believe and perceive. That, in turn, allows us to know the righteousness, peace and joy that comes from finding and doing His will — which is what the Kingdom of God is all about.

This teaching arises from hundreds of intense pastoral counseling sessions through Fulcrum Ministries. In those sessions, I’ve seen how God uses Biblically authentic confession, repentance and forgiveness to bring quick resolution and lasting freedom from the lies, hurts and deceptions we carry from life’s circumstances — including routine disappointments to extreme situations like sexual abuse, occult ritual practices, childhood abandonment and many other life-crippling situations.

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A Very Public Confession

Here’s a news brief I came across that really stood out.

In it, the CEO for Continental Airlines admits that his company in the past was racist and refused to hire black pilots. Past racism, in and of itself, is hardly surprising. What is surprising, however, is the candor of Continental’s public confession and the public amends it made to set things right.

It is rare to see anyone anymore who is willing to publicly admit to public sins, mistakes and improprieties — especially among our leaders. In this case, I was very impressed by what Continental and its CEO did, and hope this can be an inspiration for us all.

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The Gift of Mercy

The Gift of Mercy

Of the seven spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12, the last – but, I believe, the greatest yet least appreciated and most abused – is mercy.

As I watch and sense what God is doing with an emerging new spiritual generation, I see that their dominant characteristic is mercy. I also have begun to realize that God wants to use “mercies” (those with the primary spiritual gift of mercy) as catalysts to unleash additional gifts in others. That, in turn, will bring this rising generation to new pastures where God wants to dwell among us.

This doesn’t mean everyone in this new spiritual generation has mercy as their dominant individual spiritual gift. But as a whole, they nonetheless seem to collectively exhibit the main motivations of mercy – which are a deep, personal craving for the presence of God and for genuine intimacy with others.

As a result, this rising generation has little interest or patience with the moral and cultural wars of my generation, or with our prevailing hypocrisy as we tried to fix everyone else but failed to exhibit God’s presence in our own lives. Nor can they understand the focus on programs and institutions – with a resulting lack of authentic community – among older Christians.

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Dealing with Chronic Fatigue

My closest friends have seen me walk through some very difficult times with my health over the last several years. Where others see the “together”, upbeat and accomplished Jim, they see the reserved, careful and slow-paced Jim who is learning to live with chronic fatigue.

This all started several years ago. I had founded and was running a number of successful international businesses, including a law firm and a cutting edge scientific consulting firm. But in 2006 I had to walk away from it all due to debilitating chronic fatigue that began more than a year earlier.

Stress As a Factor

At first, I thought I was struggling with routine burnout – which I now realize may have been a factor but was not the full story. In early 2008, my doctors discovered that I had been suffering from a very rare autoimmune condition called systemic sclerosis (sometimes known as scleroderma).

Initially, I was relieved to know that my fatigue wasn’t “all in my head” and that I really hadn’t gotten lazy. But that didn’t make the fatigue or the impact it was having on my life any less devastating.

Eventually, as I researched systemic sclerosis and talked to my doctors, I learned that stress – as typically is the case in many autoimmune diseases – was a big issue. It doesn’t necessary cause the disease, but it can trigger the onset and then exasperate the symptoms.

With me, those symptoms – which on top of the fatigue also included mild depression, chronic pain and joint stiffness – had become so bad that in 2007 I couldn’t function anymore in the basic aspects of life. By early 2008 I was reduced to walking with a cane due to the fatigue and the overall pain, and my prospects were bleak.

I ended up losing everything: my marriage, my family, my businesses, my wealth and eventually my sense of self.

Since then, God has been bringing resolution to many of the stressful relationships that were making things worse – sometimes by giving me the grace to let folks go who couldn’t otherwise handle my deteriorating situation.

As I began to find my validity in how He defines me – rather than how I and others were defining me – I’ve seen great improvements. As part of that process, I’ve also been learning to manage any stress that still occasionally surfaces by understanding, more and more, that God – rather than some circumstance – is sovereign over my life!

Overall, as I’ve been re-discovering the joy and wonder of life, most of the more severe symptoms of the disease have abated. The pain has lessened (although I still need various medications, but at greatly reduced doses) and since early this year the intensity of the fatigue has decreased.

Nonetheless, I still have fairly constant, low-level chronic fatigue.

Running Out of Energy

To those wondering about chronic fatigue, the best way to describe it is to contrast my life with “normal” folks.

Most folks wake up each morning with essentially a full reservoir of energy. Think of it as a big gallon jar (although the size of the jar will vary from person to person) that’s filled with stamina and spunk.

Someone who is healthy uses and replenishes the energy in their jar throughout a typical day. They do some things that are a net energy drain, but they also restore their stamina by doing other things that energize them. Those things vary from person to person, but their jar very seldom runs totally dry and after a good night’s sleep the jar usually is full again and ready for a new day. (And please, don’t tell me how drained you are at the end of the day — unless you have experienced chronic fatigue, you have no idea how much energy you really have even after a particularly exhausting day!)

Someone suffering from chronic fatigue has the same gallon jar, but they struggle with all of the expectations – both their own and from others – of what they once could do each day with their normal reservoir of energy. But now the gallon jar is never full – it is partially empty even when they wake up from a good night’s sleep. More significantly, as they participate in the activities of life, those things that once energized them can’t replenish their energy as quickly as before.

Two Kinds of Fatigue

With my systemic sclerosis, I’ve experienced two kinds of chronic fatigue. With one kind, the valve used to draw energy out of my jar is very, very constricted. I can’t suck much energy out at any one time. It’s like stepping on the gas pedal, but the car barely sputters along and lacks power. There’s gas in the tank, but I just can’t get it flowing fast enough to run the engine at full speed.

That’s what it was like when my fatigue started and I ended up divesting myself of all of my business and professional interests. I just couldn’t get enough energy flowing to do much of anything. The simple, routine tasks of life were nearly impossible — even when I was motivated and wanting to do more.

With the second kind of chronic fatigue, the valve is able to handle a full flow of energy and I rev up my engine just like normal people. The problem is, there’s just not as much energy to keep that flow going. In this example, I step on the pedal and the car accelerates to 60 mph just fine, but it’s just not going to go very far before the tank runs dry. To use another analogy, I am “good in the moment” and full of spunk and life, but when the task at hand is finished, so am I! This is more like my life now, although I’ve learned some important coping mechanisms.

Pacing Myself

Under either type of chronic fatigue, I’ve learned to pace myself if I want to keep from depleting my energy jar. I don’t have as much energy in my jar as most folks, and even if I’m able to get a good flow of stamina going, I know I can’t replenish that energy fast enough to take on the whole day at a “normal” pace.

This means I need to carefully regulate my activities throughout the day so that I don’t use more energy than is needed for the entire day and it’s expected activities, while also protecting my ability to do those things that energize me (howbeit more slowly than normal) – which may be a nap, lunch with a close friend, taking a quiet walk, reading a good book, generally just chillin’ out, bass fishing or whatever.

For those suffering from chronic fatigue, and those dealing with this condition in friends and loved ones, accept what’s happening. Denial is deadly! Everyone involved needs to adapt to an entirely new reality. If you have chronic fatigue, don’t beat up on yourself because you can’t do everything you once did at the pace you once did it. Such guilt only causes more stress and makes your situation worse. Rather, find joy in simplifying your life and learning to focus on what’s truly important. Also learn to let others do some of the things for you that you previously did yourself – for me, allowing this remains very hard but I’m learning to adjust.

Most of all, learn to monitor how much energy you have left in your jar at any given time, how much energy is needed (and how quickly you need it) when evaluating what you should and shouldn’t do, avoid over-doing things, and find time for the things that uniquely replenish your energy reserves (while factoring in the reality that it will take longer than normal).

Adjusting to Reality

When dealing with chronic fatigue, you will feel guilty and struggle for a season over what you can’t do. Others may not understand your slower pace, or why you can be perfectly “normal” when doing one thing but then need to excuse yourself from further activities. But if that relationship is worth keeping, they will learn to accept and understand your limitations. But most of all, take joy in learning all of the new things you can do as you re-order the obligations and responsibilities of life. If you let it, that will be a wonderful journey of discovery.

The bottom line is that you need to get comfortable with figuring out your own pace and activities so that you minimize how frequently your energy jar runs dry. It will take some time, but I’m learning that it certainly can be done.

Despite it all, I have found that a slower paced life – where I can take the time to relish fulfilling relationships, focus on the truly important things of life, and enjoy those things that renew my energy – is more fulfilling than my past life. For that, I’m grateful and I can’t imagine ever going back to the hectic, stress-filled existence I once fought so hard to foolishly preserve.

In an odd way, I have become a better and a happier person.

~ Jim Wright

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Fellowship and Light

Self Delusion

Self Delusion

“This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:5-9 (KJV)

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