Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Message of Hope for All Us Crooked Sticks

After many decades of pastoring, I've come to realize that Christians often function very poorly in relationships. Dysfunction in relationships is so normal that when subnormal relationships become normal, they almost seems abnormal.

For example, we Christians often struggle to comprehend our full identity in Christ. It's difficult to understand that our performance in life does not define our personhood. Every one of us is a crooked stick, but none of us wishes to admit our crookedness. The flesh believes acceptance comes from our perfection. This is a lie that encourages us toward self-preservation, but in the Kingdom of God, whoever tries to save his life will lose it. God's grace will eventually enable us to crucify this desire for self-preservation, but the act of dying to self is a process, not a point in time, and it can be quite painful, rarely pleasant. "Take up your cross and follow me" is not nearly as enjoyable of an event as "Take up your picnic basket and join me." Jesus called us to the former, not the latter.

Dying to self involves the dysfunctions of our soul surfacing so that we can crucify them. Here's the good news:

Real love is best experienced in the midst of the agony of our dysfunctions dying.

 The greatest intimacy with others and with God comes during those times you stop hiding your desires to be perfect, admit your crookedness, and embrace love--risking the rejection of others who relate to you based on your performance. If you are rejected in the midst of your honesty and transparency, you were relating to someone who has never fully comprehended the difference between personhood and performance. Those who reject you should feel your pity, not your anger.

It is always healthy to not hide your problems in life. In fact, I propose you should embrace them. It is in the embracing of our personal struggles and sometimes ugly stories that we really begin to be spiritually refreshed. God's love is like an artesian spring. It is never pulled by the object being loved, but flows naturally, pouring itself forcefully into the sinner He loves. It is a faithful statement and worthy of your full acceptance that Jesus Christ came to love sinners. The more you embrace your dysfunctional and crooked life, acknowledge it for what it is, and then learn to open up yourself to His unconditional and everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3), the more healing your soul will find. The reign of God through Jesus Christ in you is the only answer to your feelings of helplessness, lack of identity, absence of security, and loss of control.

When it comes to relationships, we crooked Christians need to learn to be honest. Real honesty and transparency is difficult because we struggle to try to get our acceptance, signficance and security from other people, rather than God's reign in us through Jesus Christ. How do we know if we are getting our sense of worth, identity and signficance from our performance and from other people's acceptance rather than from God and His love for us through Jesus Christ?

There is a test. A good one. Ask yourself this question: "Am I attempting to control the perceptions and opinions that people have of me?"

When you are attempting to control what people think of you or how they perceive you, you will use language like: "I just  really want you to think that I'm ...." or "I really don't want you to feel that I'm..." or "I  am praying that don't perceive me as ...."  I could give you hundreds of other statements that are clues to where you are finding your worth.

In addition, you can know you are trying to control others when you are afraid to say anything because of "How others will react." So, we are in very dysfunctional relationships when we are never honest about our feelings, our thoughts, and our thinking. Dysfunction is charactized by a paralyzing fear.

Interestingly, the people whom we desire to control the most (i.e. to control "what they think, what they feel, what they perceive") are the people we believe can hurt us the most.

Give it up. The One who counts already knows every wart, knothole and bend in the crooked stick that is your life--and He loves you. Rest in Him.  Follow your call to be a servant to others and stop trying to control others. Only then will you find true health and freedom.


Bob Cleveland said...

I have found great freedom, and also a great testimony to the power of God to transform, in being up front about the fact that I'm just an old college flunkout from Indiana. I failed both times I tried (Purdue U. and Butler U.). My point has always been that, if God can use a guy like me in His work, He can use ANYbody.

That is, if we want in on the deal. IF we want an abundant life, which (of course) is not about owning stuff.

I tell folks to look up the term "abundantly" (in Jesus' quotation), on the Strong's online dictionary some time. It'll blow your mind.

Tanya Kennedy said...

Thanks Wade this was a great way to start my morning

Anonymous said...

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

Victorious said...

Oh boy!...:(

This post hit a nerve with me today. I truly don't understand it, thought God knows I've tried.

Here's an example of confusion for me:

Dying to self involves the dysfunctions of our soul surfacing so that we can crucify them.

First, "dying to self" is such an ambiguous term. How, practically speaking, does one do that without calling it a performance-based effort?

And second, how, practically speaking, does one "crucify them?"

I hear these things quoted so often by believers and have never been able to differentiate them from a "works-based" gospel.

If someone will help me understand those two things, I have one or two other questions about this topic.

I really, really want to know... :)

Ramesh said...


This passage encapsulates for me the entire oneness with Jesus:

38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’[k] feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

41 And Jesus[l] answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Fellowship with Jesus is just that. Realizing that life and everything you are is from Jesus.

Ramesh said...

I should add that we are continually being made (or changed) in His image.

Some thoughts on fellowship with Jesus. The image I have is when Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden of eden (before sin entered). This same takes place when we are in Jesus. We walk in fellowship with God (now, today) just as Adam and Eve walked in fellowship with God.

And then this ...

But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it,[j] for the glory[k] of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. 24 And the nations of those who are saved[l] shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.[m] 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). 26 And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.[n] 27 But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes[o] an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Wade Burleson said...

Thy Peace,

Excellent comments! (As usual)

Wade Burleson said...


You are welcome! :)

Wade Burleson said...

Bob, as usual, great application of what I'm saying!

Wade Burleson said...


"Dying to self involves the dysfunctions of our soul surfacing so that we can crucify them"

Here's what this means.

When you live your life trying to GET PEOPLE to like you, think good about you, and perceive you IN A CERTAIN WAY... you have a dysfunction of the soul.

When Christ becomes your Source of identity and significance, then you CAN BEGIN to live your life with an identity and purpose tied to HIM, and you stop worrying about peoples' perceptions, but the battle is PUTTING OFF THOSE OLD THOUGHT PATTERNS OF TRYING TO CONTROL OTHER PEOPLES' thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of you.

When the dyfunction of your old way of living comes to the surface (that means that when you begin to find yourself desiring to CONTROL other people's thoughts, feelings, and perceptions), YOU ACKNOWLEDGE WHAT YOU ARE DOING (that is bringing it to the surface by saying what you are doing and acknowledging it as SELF-PROTECTION).

Then you "crucify" that old way of control by "killing it" (giving it up) and going on with your life fulfilling your calling and vision regardless of peoples' thoughts, perceptions or feelings.

Victorious said...

Thank you for that, Wade. I'm trying very hard to digest it. God only knows why this particular principle/subject is so difficult for me.

So based on the truth(?) that someone's perception is their reality, are we saying it's controlling to try to defend yourself or change their perception if you knnow it's wrong?

For example, if I make a statement about something/anything and someone calls me a "liberal" or "intolerant"...I examine myself to see if that might be true simply because they see me that way based on my conviction? After doing so, I don't think their label fits, I can stand firm in my statement?

I haven't knowingly tried to control another, but often find myself on the opposite side; the one being controlled. I'm trying not to perceive myself as a victim/martyr, but on the other hand, I get mighty tired of people trying to control me.

Can you hear my confusion? What should be the response of the one who is controlled who is fully aware of the fact that she's a "crooked stick?"

Scripture tells us, if possible, to be at peace with all so far as it depends on us.

Mary Ann

Wade Burleson said...

Mary Ann,

You write: "I haven't knowingly tried to control another, but often find myself on the opposite side; the one being controlled.

I make a statement about something/anything and someone calls me a "liberal" or "intolerant"...

I get mighty tired of people trying to control me.

Can you hear my confusion? What should be the response of the one who is controlled who is fully aware of the fact that she's a "crooked stick?"

Answer: I have placed your words in a little different order to help you follow the logic of this next sentence. You precisely illustrate what I am writing about.

(1). Someone has an opinion of me.

(2). I believe that opinion is wrong.

(3). I must work hard to change their opinion.

(4). I get tired of trying to measure up in the mind of another.

If I have accurately and logicaly laid out what you have written, then I say...

You are trying to control people's minds, perceptions and thoughts about you--even though you think, probably accurately I might add, that people are trying to control you by putting you in a box that doesn't fit.

What I'm saying is people who get their acceptance from Christ don't even worry about what other people think of them.

For example, you can't get tired of trying to disprove someone's FALSE opinions of you if are uninterested in whether or not they think highly, fairly or rightly of you. You won't even be trying to change someone's opinion of you being a liberal if you are making statements out of conviction, calling and principle.

Strong, secure people with a firm identity in Christ find no need to defend themselves; they follow the example of their Lord quite naturally---Jesus was silent before His accusers because He had no need to prove them wrong about Him.

Wade Burleson said...

Mary Ann,

One final thought.

If someone asks you the question "Who are you" and it is impossible for you to answer that question in terms of the grace of God, then it might be difficult to understand your identity in Christ.

Most people say, "I am PASTOR OF EMMANUEL BAPTIST CHURCH" (nope, that's not who I am, that's what I do) or "I am THE WIFE OF ____ (nope, that's not who you are, that's to whom you are related).

The Apostle Paul said, "I am what am by the grace of God."

Who am I?

I am ____ by His Grace.

I am ______ by His Grace.

I am ______ by His Grace.

I am _____ by His Grace

Fil in the blanks. I have written the book filling in about 25 blanks from the Scripture. When your happiness comes from the "I am what I am by the grace of God" passages of Scripture, you don't worry about people falsely labeling you.

Bryan Riley said...

Excellent. So true and so simple, yet we do everything we can to make this difficult. Our entire flesh screams against it. May our faith in the One increase.

Victorious said...


Oh my...oh my.. :(

Finally. Finally I understand. The "victim" has become the "controller." I wouldn't have believed it in a million years had you not taken the time to help me understand what has confused me for so long.

I have tears in my eyes as I write this, because now your whole post is clear to me and I didn't like what I saw about myself. I was indeed justifying "self protection." I also now have a much clearer understanding of "dying to self."

Thank you so much for taking the time to shed light on a topic the meaning of which escaped me for so long.

Your mention of Jesus being silent before His accusers brought to mind something similar many years ago. I was enjoying a big-time pity party following divorce and flat out told the Lord that that was one thing He never had to endure. I heard Him say in no uncertain terms..."Mary Ann, what emotions you are experiencing through divorce do you think I didn't experience? (You always know it's the Lord speaking when it's something much wiser than you could have ever come up with.:) I've never forgotten His words that day, and I'm certain I won't forget yours to me today either.

Bless you.

Wade Burleson said...

Bryan and Victorious,

Thanks, both of you, for your kind words and friendship.

Anonymous said...

Amen, brother! As ole' Martin wrote, "God rides the lame horse and carves the rotten wood.”