I was recently asked to journal my response to the following question:

What behaviors reveal a different core belief than what I say I believe about You, God?

My mind, sorting through the technicalities of my religious activities, couldn’t come up with an answer. But the Spirit told me I am, at times, a fraud. A deceiver. An imposter to my faith, claiming one thing but doing another. Sensing God’s intention to use this opportunity to teach me a bit of truth about myself, I prayed He would be specific.

He didn’t disappoint.

In a way that only He can, God scooped me up in His arms and held me close while He tenderly chided me for not trusting Him to bridge the gap between my worth and His acceptance. He pointed out that when I tell myself I’m not good enough, I’m actually saying that He’s not enough.

That His atoning death on the cross wasn’t quite enough pay off the debt of my sin.

That His words in Isaiah 1:18, though true for everyone else, are less than true for me.

That His forgiveness, broad as it is, just can’t cover up my dirt. (Can you relate?)

Lies. Debilitating lies from the pit of hell. Lies that swallow me in self-absorption and that don’t even make sense in light of the proof God gave on Calvary and continues to give me every single day.

Why, having been given the opportunity to lay down the burdens, do I insist on hauling them around? Why do I choose to run around in rags when God wants to clothe me in glory?

I’ll tell you why: Because God’s character is unbelievable. It goes against everything we’ve learned about people. People hang onto the bad, but God throws it into the sea of forgetfulness. People heap guilt, but God lavishes mercy. People find us un-amazing, uninteresting, and unworthy of their time, but God knit us together in our mothers’ wombs, knows the number of hairs on our heads, and traded His life so we could spend time in His presence.

It’s time to kill the lies and believe the unbelievable. God’s actions prove His beliefs about you: You are forgiven. You are accepted. You are free.

Take a few minutes to answer the question I had to answer. Ask God to show you the discrepancies between your behavior and your belief, and let Him teach you how not to devalue what He has done on your behalf by believing the lies.

I have forgiven people lots of times. Jesus said 7 times 70 right?  And sometimes it takes that many.  I’m sure I’ve been forgiven even more.  Sometimes I think I’ve gotten pretty good at this forgiveness thing, but there are some times when forgiveness is really tough.

The last time I spoke to my dad, it was actually to his answering machine. We were planning to leave for the mission field soon and we had just discovered that our baby’s heart had stopped beating in the womb.  My wife delivered little Samuel with no first breath to follow and we began planning the funeral.

I debated long and hard whether to call my father to invite him to the funeral. The last time we had seen each other, I had basically had to throw him out of my house.  We had never had much of a relationship, though I had sincerely tried since reaching adulthood and certainly since having children.  I wanted them to know their grandfather and I held out hope that he would be redeemed through forgiveness and a relationship with the next generation. Nothing else had worked.

On that day, with my children in the room, my father lost control once again…and all the dysfunction I had grown up with came crashing home again. I made a quick decision but one that I really haven’t regretted…well…maybe once.  I decided in that moment that my children needed to be protected.  That they would not grow up the way I had…and I made my father leave our house.

The one day that I regretted that decision was the day I called him on the phone.  I thought once again how sad it would be for the man to never know that Samuel had lived, albeit only in the womb, or that he had died.  So I called him on the phone and got the answering machine.  I left a message and told him about the funeral.  Part of me hoped he would show up and that finally we could begin an adult relationship based upon truth rather than the distorted view of my childhood he liked to remember.  But he didn’t show up. It seems he really didn’t care.

Just a few weeks ago, I discovered that my father died while I was in China. And no one let me know about it so I could pay my last respects…whatever those are.  None of my siblings knew either. Apparently he wanted it that way…or that’s the word that has been passed along through a cousin.  At this point in the story things could be worse I suppose.  I could write the next paragraph about the many regrets I have that I didn’t try to reach out “just one more time.” Except I really don’t have any.

What I do have…still lingering in the back of my heart…is some regret that I didn’t find real forgiveness while he was living.  I wanted him to be sorry.  To be in a place to receive my forgiveness…to want my forgiveness.  I hope he’s in such a place now.  I wish I knew for sure.  Either way, I’ve got to forgive him so that I don’t carry that burden nor pass it along to my children.  I think I can do it…7 times 70…but you know, forgiveness is really tough sometimes.

I’ve experienced a wonderful time of healing old wounds over the past two years, largely the result of deeply redemptive community. One of the paradigm changes for me was moving away from times of isolation and into moments of solitude. You see I wrongly believed those two concepts were essentially the same—that both expressed the idea of being utterly alone. What I came to see was that I had lived most of my life diving in and out of isolation, purposefully shutting myself (and my heart) off from others…most often out of shame.

When I began my journey into real community with the guys at Serendipity, Ron Keck introduced me to the idea that Jesus rejected the shame and embraced the pain of the cross but too often we do just the opposite, we reject the pain and embrace the shame. Because I had no real connection to my heart and had no concept of redemptive community, the idea of others seeing sin in my life was too painful to bear, so I ran to isolation in an effort to hide (not the first man to do that) and avoid the discomfort of disclosure.

There is nothing redemptive about isolation. It’s merely an attempt to go unseen while making the necessary penance, or allowing enough time for the shame to subside. When I choose to embrace shame and reject pain, I am held captive by the lies that I will not be accepted, I will receive condemnation, or I will disappoint those I care about. However, when I choose to embrace the pain and reject shame instead (as Jesus did), I find freedom and healing. Though there may be some pain in expressing mistakes made and seeking forgiveness and restitution, the enemy has no hold on me when secrets are revealed. And rather than the condemnation I so feared, I am greeted with understanding and encouragement from those closest to me who choose to love me through the challenges and continually remind me who I truly am—a restored son of the sovereign Lord!

This freedom allows me to leave the false security of isolation and move into moments of solitude, where I can seek deeper intimacy with God rather than hiding from him. These moments are so rewarding as God, a loving and engaged Father, speaks into my innermost being with Truth and Beauty and Love.

This has been my experience and I would love to hear some ways you have learned the difference between isolation and solitude. What experiences from your journey can you share? How has the Father been inviting you to move from isolation to solitude? How did this come to you? Was it like me when you were brought into true community or did you experience this in a more individual setting?