I’ve Got Some Bad News

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Have you ever read something in the Bible and thought, “Nope. Don’t like that!” I did that the other day, thinking THIS DOESN’T EVEN MAKE SENSE!

I know. I know. I’m being a bad pastor again.

Allow me to set this up for you.

Psalm 112:1 (NLT) How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands.

That wasn’t it. I like that part. This is great. Walking in obedience to the Lord leads to being joyful! That’s excellent. I could always use a bit more joy. However, later on the psalmist writes this:

Psalm 112:7 (NLT) They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.

WHAT?! Don’t fear bad news?! Perhaps you are a bit more spiritually advanced than myself, but I can honestly let you know today that I do not wish to receive bad news. Seriously who would? Imagine it. You’re waiting to hear news. Perhaps it’s a doctors report or a family situation. Maybe you’re on the brink of financial ruin and the call is coming at any moment. It could be good news. Or it could be bad news. You telling me you’re not even SLIGHTLY afraid of the bad news?

Get your head out of your rear David! I don’t even know if David wrote this psalm that’s how annoyed I was when I read it.

*sighs*

I guess I have some bad news.

Once again the Word of God has revealed an area of my life where I have room for improvement. The Bible is good that way. Many times it is a mirror revealing parts of myself I would never recognize on my own. The scripture sums it up quite nicely. If we fear bad news it illustrates we lack trust in the Lord to truly take care of us.

Of course, I trust the Lord, but when real-world circumstances start to overwhelm it is easy to lose sight of my faith. It’s easy for my perspective to shift off of God’s protection and provision and on to the fear of my circumstances.

Recently I read the book “It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way” by Lysa Terkeurst and at one point she exclaims that there is a difference between news and truth. For example, if you receive a bad medical report, that is the news. But the news does not negate the truth of God’s Word.

I’m not suggesting we deny the news. Declare that it’s untrue and we are really healthy while storming out of the den of lies doctor’s office. I am suggesting we can still trust completely in the character of God and in His ability to care for us. This bad news is not a surprise to God. It is nothing He can’t turn around and use for His glory.

When I gave my life to Jesus I gave my whole life. My aim is that everything in it would make His name known. When I am at my best, may God receive glory. When I am at my worst, may God receive glory. When the ugliness that still lurks within me surfaces, may God receive glory. When circumstances are great, may God receive glory. When everything seems to be descending into the abyss, may God receive glory.

I don’t get to control every aspect of my life. Parts of it are going to catch me off guard. Relationships will be strained. I will make bad choices. Injury may come my way. I will experience loss and the grief that accompanies it. Life is not always going to go according to my plan, but my trust was never in MY plan. My trust is in a God who is bigger than myself, my hurt, my choices, my mess. God is ever in control. I may not always have a say in what happens to me, but I can choose to honor God through it all.

Still, I sure do hope tomorrow is a good day.

For you and me both.

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Rest in the Rhythm

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It was 11:45pm and my mind was not a safe place. Our church had just finished a three-day conference and it was only Tuesday. I still had two more work days left, including Wednesday which for me would the 4th 12 plus hour day in a row. Ordinarily, I would go right to bed. I am not a night owl. When 9:30 comes around I expect to be well on my way to sleep. However, for much of the past few days, I hadn’t done any of things I ordinarily do “for me”. The things that give me energy. It was late, but sleep wasn’t my primary need at that time. I needed soul restorative rest, not physical sleep. So I sat quietly for a few minutes, processing the day’s events. I turned off my mind for a short while with a show and I was able to chat with a friend for about half an hour before I finally turned in. I needed rest, but it was a different kind of rest.

My Rhythm had been disrupted and I needed to reclaim soul restoration.

Every day, week, month and season has a rhythm, a cadence through which things progress. There are busier moments and quieter moments. If we let it, the world will drown out our quiet moments and rob us of the “empty space” on our calendar. That space is, for me anyway, the most important part of my day. That is when I can breathe, create, process and connect with God. It is not “less important” because it isn’t productive. Without it, I quickly cease to be my best self during all the “more important” or “productive” times.

I believe every day should have at least one “breathable moment”. A break from the pull to engage. A moment to be you. A moment of solitude. A moment with the Lord. A moment to do something that fills up your soul. What is it that fuels you?

We are all different and find that kind of rest in different ways, for me it includes reading, meditating, praying, walking outside, writing, or even a quality one on one conversation if my social tank is feeling low. (Even introverts need social energy from time to time, just less often and in smaller doses and perhaps smaller crowds.)

Fight to find those breathable moments in your day, week, month and season. No one will make it a priority for you, so love yourself enough to take a break. Cancel a social engagement, turn off social media, disconnect from the world, take a walk outside. Figure out what gives you rest and seize every opportunity to engage in it

I fear in today’s world many have “down time”, but rarely have true rest. Our world keeps us increasingly busy, or at least it keeps our lives loud and disrupted. The constant call of social media and the notifications on our phones keep our mind engaged. I’m convinced that many times it keeps us from actual rest. We need moments where we disconnect from it all and just be. Moments in God’s presence where it is really just us. No agenda. No pressure. No noise. There is something profoundly restorative in prayer that truly is just about being with the Lord.

God is always fully present. How perfect it is when we decide to be fully present as well.

Unlearning My Faith: Revival

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The word revival has been a buzzword in every church I’ve ever been in. I can’t have a series of unlearning my faith without evaluating something that has so clearly been a part of defining my Christian experience. However, the word “revival” is a bit aloof. It is used often and yet when we come down to talk of “what is revival” not everyone has a clear answer. Or rather it seems everyone has a slightly different definition for this word that is not found in the Bible.

When I was seven the church I grew up in had a truly unique experience. The power of God manifested with unmistakable power, an undeniable move of the Holy Spirit. In an age before the internet fully took over the world, news spread and suddenly people were lining up around the block to come and see what was going on. No. Literally. Around the block. They would start lining up as early as five in the morning and would stand there all day waiting to get in for the evening service.

Every day of the week.

Seeing as I was only seven when this started, I just kind of accepted that this is church now. It wasn’t until my high school years when my family moved that I began to fully realize my childhood experience was NOT the normative church experience. Still, it seems like every church I’ve been involved with since looks back, longing to again ignite the fires of revival.

In my later teenage years, people were constantly prophesying over our generation about the great things we were gonna do for God. Constantly putting before us the expectation of encounter. This revival produced some wonderful fruit and some not so good fruit. The tragic side of growing up in this culture is that I have seen many of my friends become disillusioned with the talk of all the great things we’re going to do and experience. For many of them, they just never saw it happen and they grew weary of hearing people say the same things.

Today, I still hear the word often, but I’m not always sure what someone means when they say they want or are praying for “revival”. Some seem to want God to replicate exactly what He did before. They want people to be drawn to the church. They want services that seem to never end. They want that electric atmosphere, flags waving, people shouting, souls weeping. Honestly, I would never be upset by a service like that. God is welcome to move on our hearts in such a way whenever He’d like, but is that revival? 

What about when God is not moving in that way? There are certainly those who have made me feel like less of a “passionate Jesus follower” when I’m in a more contemplative worship mood, rather than my usual more exuberant expression of worship.

When I was younger I saw many “slain in the Spirit”. The presence of God was so strong on them, that they could not stand. They would fall to the ground and I’ve heard many amazing stories of the deep work God did. However, I can’t say I ever experienced this. I spent a lot of time thinking something was wrong with me because I didn’t share in the experience. In fact, there have been many such times when I felt like I wasn’t fully saved because I didn’t seem to feel God’s presence like every else. Do I desire a greater encounter with the presence of God? Yes. But I should not be made to feel like less of a Christian because my level of encounter is not what I had hoped? Absolutely not! My faith is not in today’s experience level, but in Jesus!

If I never “experience” His presence again until Heaven, guess what? I’m ok. I know that He is with me, fully present whether I “feel it” or not.

One scripture I have often heard related to revival is the prophecy found in Joel 2:28 and again in Acts 2:17.

‘In the last days,’ God says,
    ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young men will see visions,
    and your old men will dream dreams.

I love this scripture. In times where the Holy Spirit is evidently moving people love to say, “This is the fulfillment”. I grew up honestly thinking that the revival of my childhood was the fulfillment of that scripture. I didn’t realize that in Acts 2:16 Peter proclaimed to the people what was happening right then was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy. I bring it up simply to say this: sometimes I feel like we spend much time chasing after some hyper-spiritual experience when the truth is we are already living in it. We are in the season of fulfillment. On the day of Pentecost God poured out His Spirit and He has not taken it back! We have access to the gifts of the Spirit always!

So when we say we long for revival what are we saying? Is “revival” even for the church? Possibly? To be revived would indicate that we are dead or near dead. Is the church dead? Perhaps there are pockets where that is true, but I have to believe that the true church, the bride of Christ is not dead, but thriving. For the true follower of Christ to say we are in need of revival it shows we have a lack of understanding of the complete work God has done in us. We are not dead. Perhaps a better word would be an awakening. We need an awakening of revelation. An awakening of the power of God that dwells within us.

Revival is for the dead. Therefore I believe that the purpose of revival is to bring the spiritually dead back to life. Our nation truly does have a rich heritage of Christianity woven into its fabric. Even 100 years ago much of our nation would have professed to be Christian. I would contend that revival is NOT for the church, but rather for the NATION.

Yes, I believe there are special moments when God truly does something spectacular to get the attention of the world. I believe in the miraculous! I believe in signs and wonders, but I also believe what Jesus said in Mark 16. The signs are meant to confirm the Word of God is true.

Sometimes it seems like we want the manifestation of revival without the fruit of revival. A move of the spirit accomplishes the will of the Spirit. It is not for our own spiritual satisfaction. The fruit of revival is repentance. Hearts turning from sin and lives being transformed. Again, I’m all for a powerful service. We need those moments when God awakens our hearts anew to His passions, purposes, and plans. We need those moments when God calls us again to fully surrender. I do believe that our sin, our lack of full surrender prevents us from fulfilling all that God desires to do. What would it look like if we corporately fully repented and were fully surrendered? Laying down our sins, our expectations and our will, fully yielding to Him.

I believe every “revival” is ignited from the embers of prayers from fully repented hearts crying out for lost souls to come to Jesus.

Repentance is the spark of revival and the fruit of revival.

I love the Lord and I am so grateful for His presence. I do long to experience more of His presence, but more than that I long that people would be saved. Church, does your heart break for the lost? I believe it is the heart of God that none should perish, but all would have eternal life. For me, revival is not about powerful services, but people coming to Jesus!

So what does revival look like today? Will it look like it did in the past? I don’t think so. We have to acknowledge that our world has changed a LOT in the last ten years. The spiritual climate of our nation has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. If God were to do the exact same thing, I believe many people would be unimpressed. I’m convinced that the move God is wanting to do today is not centralized to one church building, but will take place simultaneously all over the world. In schools, office buildings,  malls, movie theaters, wherever people are gathering. I am convinced that when we mobilize as the body of Christ and truly depend on the power of the Holy Spirit we will see a powerful move of God. It will look different than anything we’ve seen before, but that’s ok! People will come to Jesus.

It’s time to stop expecting people to flock to our buildings and for us to truly do what Jesus told us to do before He left the earth. It’s time for us to GO into our world, filled with the Holy Spirit and armed with the good news of Christ. It’s time for us to truly share God’s love with the world.

It’s time for revival.

Unlearning My Faith: Love

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Many have the perception that Christians are judgmental, hate-fueled, and even dangerous. I’ve always found it strange considering the message of Jesus is a message of love, acceptance, and forgiveness. The power in the cross is truly good news for all who come to believe in the resurrection of Christ. So why do so many view it differently? I’ve often wrestled with this question. Do they just misunderstand? I am certain that is a part of it. Do the few genuinely hateful ruin the image of the church for everyone? I suppose that factors in, but deep down I think we all need to wrestle with the hard questions. What if they’re right?

Do I love really all people? Does my heart genuinely break that they might come to know the love of the Father? Am I concerned for my neighbors? Do I notice the hurting? Am I generous to those in need?

When I honestly and objectively look at what much of the conversations revolve around it seems like “the church” has been far more concerned with being correct than those that they reject. Not that we intentionally outright reject people. I’ve always heard that we “love the sinner, hate the sin” and in principle it makes sense. However, in practice, I think too many times we have failed to portray “love” for those we hope to save.

When discipling new Christians, I have found that I rarely have to give them a list of ‘don’t dos’. I might ask them a probing question every now and then, but those who really give their hearts to God, over time begin to recognize where transformation needs to happen. Too often we expect instant recognition. Even more, we expect instant agreement. We will accept the sinner, but only so much as they agree with every point we have to make.

There are many areas we could apply this too, but none more culturally significant than those who identify as gay.

Homosexual.

The moment that word was spoken some of you reading this tensed up. You are now more concerned with whether what I might say is theologically correct than if a gay person experiences the Father’s forgiveness. That’s the whole problem. We assert our firm beliefs with no thought to how it might make someone else feel.

It is a tragic reality that gay people are the rejects of the church world. They are not welcome in our congregations. We are so concerned that they immediately conform with what we consider acceptable, and if they resist or are offended they are often shown the door. Why is it we are willing to walk people through sins such as pornography, being patient with them as they progress, but aren’t willing to extend the same grace to a gay person? Is it because we are guilty of the first and don’t understand the second?

The reality is that it makes us uncomfortable and we are so concerned with regaining our comfort that we give little thought to how our words and actions might make them feel. We don’t really take the time to hear their story, to understand where they’ve come from and where they hope to go. My biggest question is why does it make us so uncomfortable? How can we ever show them love if we can’t learn to welcome them in our midst, to be comfortable around them and to allow them to feel comfortable in our buildings?

We treat homosexuality different in a couple of other areas too. We seem to have a fear that if we accept gay people, they won’t know that engaging in homosexual activity is a sin. We fear that if we accept, we affirm. We don’t have this fear with any other sin. We also seem to confuse homosexual desire with homosexual action. We all have innate sinful desires, but we have the ability to not give into them. We rarely afford that same opportunity to those same-sex attracted. We treat it as something they chose or could control and we find it challenging to show them genuine love.  Why can’t we accept them, stand beside them and walk with them through their hurt and temptations just like we do with everyone else?

I’m not suggesting these kind of situations are easy, but I believe we must do better at demonstrating the love of Jesus in every situation.

There is another statement I grew up hearing that I believe may not show sinners as much love as we think it does. “Some come by love and some come by fear”. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I realized the expression is not in the Bible. Something that is found in the Word, “God’s kindness is intended to lead to repentance.” (Romans 2:4) Which, by the way, in context is a pretty stern warning not to judge others. My point is this, I grew up afraid! I was terrified I’d get left behind, terrified I wouldn’t measure up. I got saved every time I went to church. And I’m not mad about it, but why was I so afraid of the judgment of God? Perhaps because I saw people who consistently judged each other for the movies they watched, the clothes they wore and the issues they struggled with. I didn’t understand the perfect love of God that casts out fear! (1 John 4:18)

I hope my heart is coming through. I’m not talking about watering down the truth or telling people that they can just keep on sinning. I do believe in living with high moral standards, but we have to present God’s truth in love. I remember hearing people say, “the most loving thing you can do is tell people the truth.” I agree! It would be most unloving to let people believe they can be “saved” and continue in sin. However, this phrase was often used to excuse harsh words spoken in judgment. “Conform or leave.” I am all for speaking the truth, but do they hear it in love? When you are speaking the truth, does the person know you love them?

I am convinced that showing people the love of the Lord isn’t about bringing them to a change of mind through debate. It’s about loving them and allowing God to do a work deep inside of them. I believe that head knowledge will fall against heart knowledge. When we love people and allow God to do the work of transformation it will tear down every lie, deception, and argument the enemy has woven into their minds.

While talking with a friend of mind about this topic they said, “right versus wrong never wins in the arena of love.” And they were right. As long as our primary objective is to prove others wrong, they will never feel loved by the church.

John 1:14 tells us that when Jesus came He was “full of grace and truth.” He offered full grace and full truth. They weren’t competing against each other. I think we struggle to strike that balance of truth and grace. We sometimes offer full grace, but lack truth which creates an untransformed people. Other times we offer full truth, but lack grace which creates a beaten and bruised people.

I don’t write this to say I have it all figured out. I only wish to say this one thing.

We must do better.

Unlearning My Faith: Truth

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Freedom is an interesting thing. I’ve been told my whole life that through Christ we have freedom. Freedom from sin, freedom from death, freedom from the yoke of bondage. It’s wonderful to hear, yet for much of my life, I did not feel free. In fact, there were moments when the very thing meant to give me freedom felt more like bondage than I’d care to admit.

John 8:31-32 (NLT) Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

I have believed the teachings of Jesus to be true, but I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason I have struggled to experience freedom is that I never fully understood the truth? That I had accepted lies and mixed them with the truth. Perhaps I never experienced true freedom because I never fully believed I was forgiven? I consistently put the burden of my salvation on my own shoulders, rather than accepting that Jesus fully paid it all.

I stumbled upon a quote this morning by Oswald Chambers that says, “The reason salvation is so easy to obtain is that it cost God so much.” So why then did I continually feel as though it was a difficult thing? It is simple.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (NLT) Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

It is all about what Jesus did! That is sincerely freeing.

Yet, I have seen many good “church people” pretend like they never had a past. I understand I am a “new creation,” and the past is gone, meaning it holds no bearing on my future. However, it is because of my past that the glorious grace of God is able to shine in my life. It is because of the grace I have received that I am able to extend grace to others. Often I felt so ashamed by my misdeeds because it seemed like no one else was afflicted by them. However, I believe that the power of the gospel is what Jesus did in spite of my misdeeds. He didn’t wait for me to obtain perfection, He simply offered me the free gift of salvation.

I would encourage all of us to stop trying to cover up our past. What are we trying to hide? When we accept Jesus our past is put to death. It holds no power of us. We are free from shame and condemnation! We don’t need to hide it.

Don’t avoid your past. Don’t avoid your pain. Don’t avoid your doubts. Embrace them, for they make you uniquely you. They give you a voice that is uniquely you. 

I used to believe that Jesus wanted to make me into something else, remove my past. Overlook my mistakes. Make me forget my doubts. I thought healing meant I can ignore it. Now I recognize that God takes us as we are. He accepts us, takes us and makes us completely beautiful. “All things become new” does not mean they are replaced, but they become repurposed. Infused with fresh, spirit-breathed life.

Finding my identity in Christ doesn’t mean I disappear. It means in Christ my identity is clarified, healed and given purpose.

I spent so much time trying to be “new” that I at times forgot to be authentically me. I spent so much time trying to appear like a “normal” Christian that I at times stopped being a healthy Christian. My friends, be you! Allow God to work in the midst of who you are. Receive His freedom, healing, and restoration. Allow God to give you a fresh purpose.

All of us are called to genuinely and authentically love the world. We are called to extend to them the very same love that Jesus offered to us. The truth of the gospel. The simple truth of God’s love.

No strings attached.

 

Unlearning My faith: Recognition

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When you grow up hearing the same lie over and over, you believe it. Not every lie we believe are lies we’re told. We make our most basic assumptions about the world and our faith during a period of our lives where we are still trying to figure out ourselves. As a result, at least for me, we sometimes learn things that are a misrepresentation of truth. It is only through the process of deeper self-discovery that I now can look back and begin to uncover some of these misbeliefs.

Let’s start with something that I never really had words for, this feeling that I didn’t measure up. This is for sure not something I was taught, but it is certainly what I thought. I may never have thought about it in those terms, but looking back it is easy to see how that idea shaped my approach to pursuing God. I prayed, I worshiped, I sought the Lord as if everything depended upon me.

I very vividly remember hearing a couple of key phrases from the pulpit.

“There’s more.”

“You never arrive as a Christian”

“Don’t be satisfied with where you are.”

“You just need to press in tonight.”

I was constantly challenged to pursue the “more”, to press in and pursue the depths of the presence of God. Some of those phrases might hold an element if truth. I mean in the right context “you never arrive” is a powerful motivator to keep us pursuing a deeper understanding of scripture and the character of God. There is a deeper level of knowledge to attain, but that isn’t specific to our faith. That is specific to being human. We should, hopefully, continue to grow until we enter into eternity.

However, I felt if I didn’t “press in” I wasn’t going to be accepted. I now realize that when preachers would say this they were speaking to the attendee who was disengaged. They were in the room physically, but not actually engaged spiritually or mentally. They were present, but not considering what God was desiring to do in their lives. When I was at church I was usually engaged. Yet, I still kept hearing the instruction to press in. I assumed I must not be doing enough and I must work harder. Do more. If I wasn’t encountering the presence of the Lord I assumed I hadn’t done enough, that I was missing the mark.

Beneath the surface, I was convinced that I hadn’t arrived unto salvation. Again, I never thought those words, but the idea was evident in my actions and emotions. My constant need to do more stemmed from the idea that I hadn’t earned my place as a child of God and that is a flat out lie. When it comes to our belonging in the family of Christ we arrived fully and completely the moment we first accepted Jesus in our hearts and made Him our Lord and Savior. You will never be more a Christian than you were at that moment.

In the same vein, you can never be more loved than you are right now.

God doesn’t withhold the fullness of His salvation. God never withholds His love. He always offers it completely and without reserve. Our experience with His love might shift, some days we may feel incredibly loved, some days we may feel very distant. I find it wonderful that God’s love is not relegated to the smallness of our experience. Our sometimes limited perspective does not negate the fullness of his love.

We are always completely loved. No matter what I may feel from one moment to the next I have the full confidence that I am enough. I do not need to do a thing more to earn acceptance from my God. He has already accepted me fully and loved me beyond my level of experience or understanding.

In front of me was this constant need to have a greater encounter with God. I was taught to never be satisfied with yesterday’s encounter and when the days came that I didn’t have what I believed to be an encounter I felt like a failure.

I listened and received it every time I was told “Don’t be satisfied with where you are.” or “As long as your satisfied with what you have, you’ll never be motivated to pursue more.” I took this to mean I should not be content with the amount of God I have. I didn’t understand that I have Him completely. I didn’t understand that as surely as I was working to surrender my life to the Lord, God had withheld nothing from me.

We have to be careful with our talk because if we aren’t, we can make it seem as if our entire goal is to “experience something” beyond ourselves. We can unintentionally make it seem like if we just do everything right; if we can find the right formula then God will do this amazing thing. God has already done the MOST amazing thing by bringing me to salvation and filling me with His Holy Spirit. It is almost as if we think we deserve a reward for fulfilling our religious duty. We can get so caught up in the pursuit of encounter that we become dissatisfied with what we have. We forget that we have everything.

And we earned none of it.

That’s not to say we should become spiritually lazy. Yes, we should pray, read God’s Word and worship the Lord. Yes, we should fully surrender our lives to God, living not for ourselves but for Him. Hopefully, we understand that we do not “pursue God” to “earn” greater spiritual privilege. We desire to more fully surrender, to live pure, to honor God because we love Him. However, I spent my whole life believing that my faith journey depended upon my outward effort. Now I am learning that spiritual growth is not based upon the outward work of pursuit, but the inward work of recognition.

Spiritual growth is not based upon the outward work of pursuit, but the  inward work of recognition.

When people would proclaim, “There’s more!” They were trying to instill a holy dissatisfaction, to prod people to delve deeper into their faith. To avoid becoming complacent or apathetic. I get that, but it caused me to have a misunderstanding of the completed work of Christ. What have I to be unsatisfied about? I am convinced that we should be wholly satisfied in the work of the cross. What God has given me is amazing and complete, yet I felt like it wasn’t good enough. Like I always had to be better, to pray harder. As if I could earn something that was given freely.

The truth is there isn’t more to attain in outward pursuit.

I am simply saved and that’s beautiful.

Jesus did it all. He conquered death and defeated the grave. He paid the price for me to be adopted as a child of God. I constantly felt like I needed to push through to the next level of salvation or God couldn’t use me. How silly, for my salvation never depended upon my work, but His Work on the cross. As if I could ever do anything to improve upon what God has already made perfect. All I needed to do was to simply recognize that God is present. Recognize that the fullness of the Holy Spirit lives within me.

This inward recognition is the greatest pursuit. It is not a one-time event, but a process to continually acknowledge Jesus in everything I do. I don’t belong to Him less on the days when I struggle to be engaged. I am not loved by Him less on the days when life prevents me from prayer time. Do I continue to improve and strive to remain consistent? Yes! But should I feel guilty or ashamed if I fall short? No!

If I can challenge you in this one aspect, don’t seek more.

Seek consistently.

Yes, consistently seek understanding. Seek wisdom. Seek to learn more about the nature of Christ. Who He was. How He is revealed through scripture. Most importantly, how He loved. Can I even begin to express the incredible love God has for us? I spent years thinking I needed to pursue God, to live out my religious duty, to ascribe to a higher standard of moral living in order to be accepted and all this time my God has been pursuing me.

In that same way, He is pursuing the world. Where I should find a holy dissatisfaction is not for myself, but for those who have yet to receive this wonderful gift God has given to humanity. If I be dissatisfied it should be because of my neighbors, family members, and friends who don’t know Jesus. God forbid that I would keep the incredible news of Christ to myself!

To be sure, the inward work of recognition will impact how I live outwardly. The more I come to understand God, the more I long to live according to the standards of His Word. The more I recognize how complete the work of Christ is in me, the greater joy I feel. The greater freedom I can taste. The more confidence I find with Christ as my source of life the more ludicrous it seems not to share this truth with the world.

I can’t help but wonder. If I spent so much time without truly recognizing the completeness of the forgiveness God offers us, how was I to effectively share it with others? If I spent so much time not being fully convinced I was completely loved by God, how I was I extend that love to those who do not yet know Jesus?

Unlearning My Faith: Discovery

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We are only as strong as our foundation. What do you do when you begin to realize your foundation is cracked? My formative years were spent in a church building throughout the 1990s. At one point we were in church services just about every night and we witnessed God do some incredible things. It was unusual, wonderful, powerful and I have always considered myself fortunate to have the experiences I did. Looking back I now can see growing up in the 90s that the church, for all its good qualities also possessed a healthy amount of legalism and judgment. It may have been full of truth, but was lacking in grace.

I am writing now to express some of the things I learned in church that were not only biblically incorrect but also left me feeling hopeless, constantly reaching for what could never be achieved. I want to be clear, not all of what I’m about to write over the next 5 posts were things intentionally taught. I learned them none the less. Perhaps it was the tone in which some truths were presented or maybe it was the way people treated me. Regardless of how I learned these things, there are some things about myself and my faith I have believed for most of my life. This past year has been a painful, gut-wrenching journey in which I have been unlearning the faith of my childhood and discovering faith in Jesus.

How did I get here?

I didn’t set out to pick apart truths that were embedded deep within me. I didn’t set out to question my childhood. I’ve actually never been one to question. As a youth pastor so many times students will ask me questions and I just smile and say, “What a great question. I’ve never thought about it.” However, when you truly set out in pursuit of personal growth, you don’t always get to choose how you grow.

Over the last three years, I have become someone who sincerely desires to learn. I am constantly consuming content, rather it’s books, podcasts, sermons, meaningful conversation. Throughout that process, I came across something called the Enneagram. (in-e-a-gram for those not sure how to pronounce that.)

One artist I greatly appreciate is called Sleeping At Last. Through his music, Ryan O’Neal creates some incredibly moving and thought-provoking songs. As a part of his Atlas project, he decided to create a song for each of the nine types of the Enneagram. I had never heard of this, but I quickly realized it was an examination of nine different personality types. That isn’t something that never interested me in the past, so I wasn’t super excited about the upcoming series of songs. Then he released “One”. The lyrics of this song truly captured me. Something deep inside identified in a way I couldn’t quite explain.

On the Sleeping At Last Podcast, Ryan goes into great details about the songs he creates and reveals the incredible amount of research, thought and genuine art that goes into creating each song. For each of the Enneagram songs, he does something truly special. He invites Chris Heuertz, author of The Sacred Enneagram, to reveal a little about each type and to even offer some wonderful words of encouragement to that type. Listening to his podcast on the song “one” was like an awakening I didn’t quite have words for at the time. I’ve listened to each of the following songs and podcasts with eager anticipation, enjoying learning about the different types.

A friend of mine is a type six and she listened to the podcast on her type and said, “I feel like a stranger knows me deeply, and that is weird, but feels amazing to be understood through his narrative language all at the same time.”

I even bought the book and have enjoyed reading it and learning more about the Enneagram. It was through that journey that I really began to understand myself in a way that I never have before. If you’re not familiar with the Enneagram you need to know two things to understand what affected me so greatly. Each type has a basic need and what is usually referred to as a childhood wound. I’m a type one. The basic need of the type one would is the need to be perfect. I see that innate desire to strive for moral excellence in every part of my life. The childhood wound of the one is something I found particularly interesting.

In the EnneaApp, Lori Ohlson describes it like this: “These children felt heavily criticized, punished, or not good enough. Household rules may have felt inconsistent. As such, they became obsessed with being good/not making mistakes to avoid condemnation. The principle message was: “You must always be better than you are.”

As I read that I thought, this doesn’t sound much like my family or my home life growing up and then I read the last line. “You must always be better than you are.” I may not have felt that way at home, but that was the core message I took away from the church. I never felt like I measured up. I never felt like I was enough. I always felt like I must strive to be better or else I was a failure.

This discovery has crawled into my mind and refuses to loosen its hold. The Enneagram is so important because I’m learning there is this incredible connection between how I view myself and how I view the world. It carries over into how I perceive God, how I think God sees me. I’m learning that if I don’t understand myself, I can’t fully understand God. I can’t understand my relationship with Him. The more I grow in understanding myself, I am looking back and realizing so many things that I learned that are completely wrong. I’m not even just talking about head knowledge, but things I learned in my soul. Things I didn’t even have words for. Things deep within me that have negatively affected my outlook on so much of life. As I learn more about how I relate to He world I find myself unlearning much of my faith. In its place, I am finding a Jesus that is fully life-giving, restorative, healing, freeing and completely full of joy. 

I’m not writing to bad mouth the church. I love the church. However, I cannot ignore the faults past and present. It is my hope that as I share how I’m unlearning my faith over the next few weeks that you might be able to relate. Perhaps you will see some of these faults in yourself. Maybe you’ve been hurt by the church and no longer find it a safe place. There is always the chance you will be angry with me for the things I say, that’s ok too.  I just hope we can all learn to love Jesus better and just as importantly demonstrate that love to the world He gave His life for.

Look for part two, “Recognition” on Thursday evening and the remaining parts Monday’s and Thursdays throughout May.