- Al Michaels
I haven’t known what to pray for many years. I sit near my bed each night and stare at a wall. I conjure up a couple of words that I don’t usually mean. But, today, I start to understand what they mean by the groaning of the Holy Spirit. My prayers are without many words. Just an aching of the heart. A leaning in toward God. Whispering the names of those I love. Begging for relief. Because, I need prayer more than ever right now. I need to believe that God is real. That He is here. And that He is working. That’s what prayer is. It’s a desperation for God. An acknowledgement of some sort of faith. I have no idea what you’re doing, God. But if I don’t trust you are doing something all I have is despair. And so I pray. Because I have not much left.
The number of days
in between these brutal frays
grow too few
we can’t get some relief
it threatens our belief
that hope is here
that God is real
that love can heal
I am crippled by my sadness
I am paralyzed by the madness
I’ve forgotten the face of gladness
It eats at me
like a disease
my eyes glued to a screen
is darkness our new reality?
I can’t get some relief
my joy stolen by a thief
What a mystery
Surely not just my history?
Can it be my present and future
can it close these wounds as a suture
I should number my days
but I am numb in my ways
I should stand and fight
but that demands some might
I am so fragile
with shaken faith for quite awhile
All I can do is keep breathing
Lacking in motivation
to do anything of meaning
Sleeping through the light
Blinded by the night
I hate this state that I relate to
sedated by my own fears
I admit I’m hiding, I’m not
crying for change
or justice for the slain
but I can’t take the berating
and hating and fighting
Sad for the lives I never knew
that left this earth too soon
Sad for the meaningless arguments
That lead us not a step toward agreements
but push us farther into isolation
so much for a united nation
Sad for my personal enemies
Oh me of selfish tendencies
the demons that are stored inside
that I keep alive
because it’s easier than to try
No easy way out
But surely there is something
we can do about
these evil acts
lay off the facts
the statistics, the data
look in the faces
they are not nameless
and weep, that’s a
brother, a mother, a friend
ask for this to end
And Lord, help my unbelief
You are my only relief
I went to India in 2012. While there, I was invited into the home of a family that I, and the people I was traveling with, had met. The second time we were invited and came over, the father of the family said he had a message from God for each of us.
I don't remember what he said about the others. But I remember what he said to me. And I have thought about it thousands of times since.
He told me that many people would move faster than me. That I would see others zoom through life in front of me. And my pace would be slower. But, that I would have the faith to see me through. I would make it to the end.
I didn't know what to do with this message at first. It wasn't what I wanted to hear honestly. But, even though I try hard to not let these words inform the world around me, I can't help but see truth in this message.
I have always felt a little behind. A little slow. I've felt like the world was slipping out of my fingers. I'm a late bloomer. It takes people a little more time to get to know me. I don't impress people the first time I meet them. I'm terrible in auditions and interviews. I don't make friends very easily. When I feel low, I might equate these facts to being less than. Then I remember what he said. And hope springs.
So, I give it time. I keep going. I give myself grace to go at my own pace. I carry the hope of finishing. I keep showing up. I move forward one step at a time. I tell myself that it will be okay. I will make it to the end. I will get to the finish line. I will see things through. I will find what I've been looking for. What I've wanted. I will find life. I will find hope and grace and love. People will see. I will see.
I may be a slower pace but I am not less than.
I've always been really bad at body awareness exercises, which usually surprises me because I consider myself a spiritual person. Or maybe that is my downfall. I felt awkward and didn't know what I was doing most of the time, but I set aside 20 minutes and told my body it could do whatever it wanted. Then I was supposed to try to be aware of what my body was telling me.
I had to be in my room because my roommates were home and the only place I have to sit is on my bed. I wasn't sure which position I should take so I moved around a couple times. I tried to stay "open" but I found myself pulling my knees to my chest. I guess that's what my body wanted to do. I wasn't sure what my body was saying to me (or if it was talking at all). I could hear my roommate talking on the phone. But I leaned in and focused.
My neck hurt. But it's been in pain since November. Maybe I should go to a doctor. Maybe that is the message my body is sending. But, I've known about that pain. I've just been ignoring it. Forgetting for days that it's there until it decides to remind me again.
I found my mind wandering. To my life in Michigan, my dreams of what my life could turn out to be, my loneliness, my fear -- you know, the usual.
Other than that, I didn't really "feel" much or gain much insight.
I wanted to try to connect the dots and come up with something deep and meaningful from those 20 minutes but everything just feels silly. There was nothing deep that happened. It was frivolous and awkward. And I think that is the point. I've been trying to conjure up some answers or explanations and I fumble around with words -- because I have to. People are calling on me to make my answer.
But, maybe it really is that simple. Maybe I'm just trying to find a comfortable position, trying to stay open but sometimes needing to be closed off. And there's a pain in my neck that I've been ignoring. And maybe I should get some help. Maybe I should do something about it.
I've got the answer.*
So, I feel like everyone - everyone - no matter what wing you're on or what side of the spectrum you range or where you buy your groceries - needs to take a chill pill. For real. I think we all need a vacation.
In lieu of just about everything happening on the internet these days, I've been thinking about why we get so mad and riled up. For example, Leo won an Oscar this week (of which he will #neverletgo) and used his speech to bring up concerns about climate change. And, I'll admit, at first I was a little annoyed that yet another Oscar winner was trying to one up the other Oscar winners in how altruistic they are. Let the awards show just be an awards show. Ya know>? That kind of thing. But then I was bothered that I was bothered. Why do I find it annoying? Why can't I be confronted by the harsh realities of the day?
The answer I came up with is because sometimes I get tired of everything -- literally everything -- becoming an "issue". Like, we can't breathe anymore without someone analyzing whether our breath was pro-women, pro-equal rights, pro-civil rights, anti-gun, and pro-environment. Beyonce made a video and then got depantsed with backlash because even her progressive video wasn't progressive. We're also in the middle of one of the weirdest (I think) presidential campaign we've ever experienced. So, we're all thinking about, eating, breathing, and sleeping with the issues of the days. And that can be tiring. And a little doomsday-y.
That led me to another question. Why do I not want to think about the issues of today? Am I too lazy? Too scared? Too closed minded? To helpless? And that is the question I am marinating on for a while.
When someone sees something different than me, can I put myself in their shoes? (I've put myself in Trump's shoes and then I quickly cut off my feet.) Can I explore their side of the issue? Can I stop pretending for one moment that climate change doesn't exist, or that racism is no longer an issue, or that I as a white middle class person have been persecuted? Can I stop being lazy and actually try to do something about rape culture and police brutality? Can I consider that maybe life begins at conception and abortion is not just a women's right issue? Can I see others who are different than me and actually learn about their culture, their background, and what makes them them? Do I have the ability to do this?
I'm not advocating giving in to every little thing because that's what the cool kids are doing. But, I think all of us can do a better job of understanding each other. Take some time to point your fingers at yourself. How can you be more graceful? More loving? More serving? More humble?
Do you wanna know why so many people in this world are committing hateful crimes? How man is capable of such evil? How they can brutally attack innocent people? I think it's because they have let themselves stay angry. Their anger has become a monster inside of them that they no longer know what they do. When someone threatens their way of life, instead of thinking how that person may have a point, they go to facebook or their friends and say "I'm tired of hearing about how them liberals think the world is gettin' hotter" or "I'm tired of hearing about how I need to make room for other people's voices and stories". It might have started as an innocent rant, but now we are seeing the culmination of years of anger not being dealt with. And it comes out harsh. And scary. Don't think that you are safe from becoming just like them. We can't let our anger win us over.
Think. Research. Come up with your opinions but listen first. Then share. Fight against evil and for good. Also, don't stay on facebook too long. It only leads to despair. No matter who you are. And don't trust everything you read on the internet. I don't care what you think or how many articles you shared, only like 2 people were concerned about the starbucks cups.
I admit that I can be a little too concerned of what others think of me, especially unbelievers. I can focus a little too much on seeming cool and okay with everything. I can be fickle in my beliefs. And that is something that I need to figure out with God and allow him to work in my life.
That being said, I firmly believe that what we do in this life is more important than we are taught to believe. And I don't think it's particularly biblical to only look ahead to eternal life. Yes, we need to be ready and to prepare, but God left us here for a purpose. And he created life and this earth and he thought it was good. So, to be like God and to be holy means to also think life and this earth is good.
It always irritates me to the core when I'm in a group of people and the worse person of that group is a christian. They can be mean or rude or outspoken or prideful. They're jerks. And the rest of the group- though definitely not perfect- are more compassionate, level-headed, thoughtful people. I get embarrassed to be on the "same team" at the christian honestly.
(I am making a lot of generalizations and blanket statements, I know, and there are a lot of Christians who are some of the best people I know. Those are the people I want to be more like and surround myself with. But, I proceed.)
We christians are so consumed with our "total depravity" and "no good in me"-ness that sometimes we use that as an excuse to not change. We've gotten this idea that this life doesn't matter and it's all about our heavenly home and we have neglected to just work on ourselves as people. Today. We leave all the work to God. He's "changing us from the inside out." So we let ourselves be the angry, mean, racist, sexist people we are because we are totally depraved. The only good in us is Christ.
We are not good people. We are jerks. And that is not a good thing. That is not just us "understanding who we are a part of Christ". No, Christ came to die for us so we could put those parts of us to death. We won't be perfect, and there are plenty of jerks out there who aren't christians, but we should be the best people in the room not the worst. We should be the kindest, the most loving, the most compassionate, the most forgiving, the most understanding because JESUS was all that to us.
It's not okay to just go around talking about how "totally depraved" we are and do nothing about it. Yes, we're sinful and evil. Fix that. Work towards holiness. And that doesn't mean that we need to be more judmental and righteous and make sure everyone lives to our standards. No, to be more holy means to be merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. That is God describing himself in Exodus 6. Wanna be more like God? Be that. He says himself to leave the vindication and judgement to him. That's the part he doesn't want us to be like.
There are ways that I could be more unashamed of God and the gospel, but I will never apologize for trying to be a better person and caring about this world or this life. Don't be a jerk. Be a light of the gospel to a dying world. Be kind. Be loving. Help someone out physically, not just spiritually.
I just read the uber famous play by Edward Albee, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,and it's one of those plays that stays with you. For me, it was partly because the whole play I was thinking "what the heck is this play about?!" or "what is going on?!". But, it's also due to the fact that the play is incredible and it's not easily forgettable.
There are a lot of plays I wish I had written. This play is definitely on the list. As a young writer, you hear a lot of "that wouldn't happen" or "this doesn't make sense", etc. I'm not arguing these aren't valid points- because they are- but one day I want to write a play where I get to make all the rules and I get to say what would and wouldn't happen and, when people read it, they say "okay, yeah I believe that."
The given circumstances in this play are kind of ridiculous. The play begins at, like, 2 in the morning where the characters have already been drinking at another party. George and Martha, the first couple, invite over the second couple, Nick and Honey, for there own little after party. They basically drink all night long which means that by the end of the play they are probably three levels past drunk. But, you also believe that they are the most honest they've ever been. You don't for a second think they're gonna wake up in the morning and not remember what happen or just chalk it up to another drunken night. These events have lasting consequences on their lives.
The characters are outlandish but strangely very human. At first, I was thinking that no one talks this way and no one is this cruel, but then the whole time I could picture people I know who are these characters. They may not act like these characters, but they could. And that's the point. Albee was able to write real people who do things and say things that most people would stop themselves from doing and saying. But, they are not too far from reality.
Albee also uses dialogue to walk all over you. It is so weird but it flows so well and the whole time I was just in awe of his ability to take out-of-this-world circumstances, characters, and dialogue and make a beautiful play from it.
I read up a little about the play after I finished because I wanted to try to understand everything. Once you finish the play, in my experience, you feel like you have a better understanding of the whole thing than you did at the beginning. (That's kind of a "duh" statement, but true.) The play wraps everything up so nicely and drops a bomb that destroys everything all at the same time. It's awesome. But, reading about the play, the analysis talks about your typical, familiar story of social pretenses and taking off masks. SO many plays are about that. (It works, I guess). But, for me, what I took from this the most was the power of words and the power we gain through our words. The stories they told, the secrets they revealed, the insults they poured out on each other all were ways to gain power and to keep power. And George ends up winning the power, sorta ironically since he is the weakest at the beginning, by speaking things into existence that, because of the understood "rules" between Martha and George, could not be unspoken. He got what he want through his words. Ugh, it's so good.
Those are some of my initial thoughts and take-a-ways. I'm curious for others who have read this play what they took from it.
This is a weird Christmas for me because I am away from my family and home and in a new town that is about a road long. But, it's okay. I've got my icecream, my favorite artist playing, a puzzle to do, and a couple presents under the tree. I'm debating whether I'll go to the Christmas Eve Service tonight at the Methodist Church. I would like to go, but I am worn out from the week and quiet evenings to myself are few and far between these days.
All that being said, I still want to stop and listen and reflect on the implications of Christmas. I still want to make room for Jesus and remember him on this day.
I was listening to a song called "Belly of the Deepest Love" (by Tow'rs) and one of the lyrics says "I tried to get to you but you came to me instead." I feel like that sums up the good news that the Angels proclaimed to the shepherds and that we still share today. All of history, people have been trying to understand God and work their way into goodness or acceptance by God or people. And there has been varying degrees of success in achieving those goals. But our efforts have yet to get us to God. So, Jesus gave up his throne and came down to us. He walked on this earth. He came to be with us.
He came so He could die for us and make a way, but it is also nice on Christmas to just reflect on the first part: He came.
I don't really know why but whenever I think about that fact, I always am stopped in my tracks. It's the most beautiful story every written, told, and lived.
God did not leave us on our own. He came and He is coming again. And whenever we need him, He is there. He is here and all around.
That is good news and that is enough for me today.
I had a realization today. And not necessarily something that translates for everyone everywhere. Not a profound truth. But, a truth for me right where I'm at. And, it just kinda came out of my mouth. I didn't understand the importance of what I had just said till I really listened to what I said.
I was having a conversation with a loved one and mentor about God's will for my life, a #typical conversations for Christians. I've stopped pretending like I really know what "God's will for my life" even means. I've stopped thinking that I have to seek out some plan. But, I noted that there seems to be two camps: the people who believe God's will for your life is a specific path, place, person, and profession, and then there are the people who believe that God's will for your life is to love him with all your heart, soul, and mind, love people, and do whatever you want along the way. I kinda hope it's the latter, especially since one of my biggest passions is a road that most people think the devil himself laid out.
I was asking her which camp she was in; secretly hoping she'd also say the latter because her opinion holds a lot of weight in my life, even if I can and do think for myself. She didn't have a straight answer, but she was saying that what's most important is staying in the "plumb line": the line that connects us with God.
And that's where my revelation began to take form. I blurted out that I can't say for sure that if I went into "the industry" I would honor God through my job because I don't know if I'm strong enough. But, if I became and accountant or a teacher I also don't know if I would honor God through my job. The job itself has nothing to do with honoring God. It is how you bring your "worship to your work place". It is what you do from 9-5. It is the conversations you have. It is working to please God and not man. And whether you are a TV writer, CIA spy, teacher, minister, or evil insurance worker you can either honor God or not honor God. And I feel like we put down certain jobs so much and we put down the people who go into those jobs. But, why give up the thing that gives me the most life and joy and peace because it doesn't look like I could honor God in it to go to a job I don't like and is not the thing I was "made for" because it doesn't look as evil or dirty?
God's will for my life is to love him, and worship him with everything I do. It is to be an ambassador for Christ. It is to look to him and not to man. To please him and not man. If I can do that as a writer or actor or janitor at the NBC studios because that was what I felt like I wanted to pursue, then I think I have accomplished the will of God. But, if I go and use the gifts I feel like I've been given and never speak of God, never worship him, never pray for my co-workers, and give in to the way of the world, then I would not be honoring God and that would not be his will or best for my life.
Where I'm at right now, that makes the most sense to me. God isn't going to write me a letter with where I am supposed to go with what job, but he has called me to bring him into every job I have and to show the world his light.
I can't justify abandoning certain careers to appear clean. And it's not even about bringing the "light to dark places". I wanna do what lights a fire in my heart and there are people there who need to know the love of Christ. And life may lead me somewhere different. God may slam doors in my face. But, I don't think it's cause God is like "you didn't choose the right career path". Life is fluid. There are rules that were set up by God and they play out. I may never make it where I think I want to go. But, that journey could be a part of God's will. At the end of our life, his main concern was whether we knew him and whether he knew us, not whether we had the right job.
You know how people sometimes start their stories by saying, "So I was in the shower..."? And then go on to tell some grand idea or revelation about life that they had whilst showering. Well, I had a pre-shower moment. (because I'm cool and hipster). I was in the bathroom about to take a shower after a less-than-victorious run and I was reflecting on the feelier things in life. I wanted to write it all out and post it but then I hesistated because I thought that it was too angsty and I am tired of being angsty. I mean, sometimes it's fun because I make fun of myself for it and my friends find it endearing. But, no matter how much I convince myself I'm just writing about my fears or things I'm learning or going through it always comes out so dramatic and heavy? I justify it by saying I'm just being truthful and honest and vulnerable. But, no one else takes it that way or appreciates it. But, then I realized something that stopped me in my tracks. And I unlocked the secret key to the meaning of life! (JK). But, I think I've gotten closer to shedding off my angsty-ness and becoming a more mature, spiritually normal (I won't say healthy just yet) person. I have found the difference between angst and a lesson worth sharing: distance.
I can feel things pretty quickly. And usually the second I feel something my mind goes into inner-monologue mode. Which translates to me immediately wanting to whip out my journal or computer and write something out. Which then leads me to want to share what I wrote because why write something if you can't share it? But, the problem with that, and why it turns out so heavy and dramatic, is because I'm right in the middle of it. The emotions are all around me. I don't have the right perspective. I'm probably feeding myself lies. I can't really write something that speaks to lessons learned that others can glean something from because I haven't actually taken the time to learn the lesson.
When I step back, process what I'm feeling privately and with prayer, and then live I might actually learn the lessons that I was meant to learn and not the lessons I think I need to learn. I need to live through it, get past it, and then maybe sit down and write out what I gained from it. Then, I can write about the heavier, more open and honest and vulnerable things in life without sounding like a junior high kid who discovered the color black for the first time.
So, I will try to live this way. I will try to not give life to my feelings, thoughts, and facts of my life before they are ready to be birthed. I will try to live life before I comment on it. I will try to let God and life and others show me what lessons I need to learn. And I will try to be less angsty as a result.
Or, I should just become a song writer. They can be as angsty as they want and people pay them to do it.
I'm scared for my life. I'm scared I won't work hard enough. Because, I see this life in the distance that I think I want. And I am beginning to see the different roads I hate to travel to get there. And it all seems so good. But, that doesn't mean I'm tempted to want to take the easy way. But, the road is narrow that leads to life. And I know that is talking about Jesus and about Heaven, but I think it fits in other instances too (God can do that). The road is wide that leads to death. Or failure. And a life that is less than. But so many people go down that road or are at least tempted too.
If you really want your dreams, you have to take the narrow road. I am starting to realize you have to live life a little differently. Too often I live by the rule "she's doing it, so it must be okay for me." I have wasted so much time on that excuse. To have life, to do the things that bring me the most peace and joy, I have to work. I have to know that I don't know anything and seek to understand. I have to practice every day. I have to ask for help. I have to read. I have to write. I have to watch those who have gone before me and try to find their footsteps.
But, what if what I think I want is actually not what I want? I'm scared for that too. I think that's why we put off the hard work. Or dread it. We like to keep our dreams in our heads. Sometimes, we don't want our dreams to turn into reality. Because it's so much funner and easier to live that fantasy life in my head. I could spend hours and hours imagining my life. And that brings me a slight satisfaction. But, if I do it enough, I believe it can be enough. Because if I bring this dream to the light and strive for it, I may never get it and it may go away. And that is scary.
Somedays I don't know why I have these dreams. Somedays I am jealous of people who's number one dream is to be a teacher. Or an accountant. I want dreams like that. I don't want to dream to be a writer and actor. I don't want to dream to live in LA. It's too hard. It's too scary. And I'll probably fail. I know that. But it is the "what if" that wakes me up. The "what if" that has gotten me this far. And it is the life lived in between. Who I will be on the other side, no matter the outcome, makes everything worth it. The things I'll learn and the people I'll meet will surely enrich my life in some way.
So, I'll try to take the narrow road. I'll try to fight the temptation to stay on the wide road. To only work half as hard as I should. To not work at all. I'll try to always be a reader and a learner. I'll strive to practice every day. And to sleep more. And to enjoy the life lived in between.
If you know me even a little bit, you probably know a couple things about me: I want not much more in life than to be a hipster and I care way too much about instagram. I try very hard to dress like, talk like, listen to the same music as, and take as good and artsy pictures as hipsters. I want my instagram account to appear in magazines for it's beauty and creativity.
But, I have come to realize that that's not me. In some ways, I am hipster-ish and I am artsy-ish, but I am not what I think I want to become. I have come to find a style that's my own, a personality that's my own, and a feed to reflect my uniqueness. And I'm becoming more and more okay with that.
I like my instagram account. I like it for what it's not. I like it for what it is. I like that I try to only post 4X3 pictures (because horizontal is the best) but every once in a while there is a picture worth posting that is not 4X3. I like that my instagram is mostly big group selfies mixed in with some "self portraits" that are usually as awkward looking as I am. I like that I still try to capture the beauty of every day things just because. I like that instagram is a highlight reel of my life. I am reminded enough about how mundane, boring, hard, and sad life can be. I don't need instagram for that. I need to be reminded more of the good parts that meant something enough to document. I like that I'm slowly accepting that sunsets will always be prettier in person but that it's still nice to take the picture.
I like that it's not a hipster account but it's also not a junior high boys account. (I'm still salty that they will, without a doubt, get more likes than me). I like that I don't have pictures of objects placed on my bed in a certain way to show my "study hour" even though we all know you weren't actually using all those items. I like that I don't feel the need to take pictures of my food. Or my coffee. I like that my account doesn't look like every other single account on instagram. I like that it has multiple colors and is not the same picture over and over.
If that's you, I like that. But, I also think we're more unique than we show through our instagram pictures. I like that I'm becoming more okay with not becoming what I've always wanted to become. And I like that every year I feel like I'm finding more and more who I am.
If this is angsty, sorry.
One of my biggest pet peeves, that I have admittedly done plenty of times but am trying to stop, is when people don't ever really deny you. They deny you under a lot of maybe's and false hopes. When people respond to an invite with "I don't know if I can come." Or "I'll try to come!" or "If I get done with my homework in time!" or "If my only other option is to hang myself, sure, I'll come!" Across the board, people have learned to accept this as a "no", but technically it's not a no. It's a very cowardly way of saying "I don't want to come." I have done that so many times even when I know without a doubt that I can't come. "I don't know if I'll be able to make it because I will be working." I'm so afraid to say no. To hurt their feelings. But, I do have work.
While that is a pet peeve, I think a deeper frustration is how easy it is to flake out on people these days. Back before cell phones, if you had a plan to meet up with someone- if you didn't show you were standing them up. And they might think you're dead. Now, all you have to do is send a quick text "I'm going to have to cancel!" So people follow through less and less and become increasingly flaky. Or, maybe the better way to say it is we make a lot of empty promises. I have done this countless times, but I have also been on the receiving end of it. And I realize how crappy it makes you feel. Especially when you know they're empty promises. You can read it through every text they send promising they will come soon. And they keep pushing back the time. Keep adding on the excuses. Now, sometimes the excuses are real. Like, your friend is throwing up everything inside of them at the moment. And I've had to cancel for health relating reasons in the past too.
I think we just need to be better at meaning what we say. And we need to learn how to say "no". We can't be afraid of that word. But we can't say "yes" in the moment, knowing later we'll find some reason to say "no". If you say "yes"-- do everything in your power to do it. Be there. Follow through. Don't say "yes" unless you know you can and you want to. I know I would be less offended if people outright denied my invitation. I'd still be offended, but it wouldn't sting as bad. At least there is no room for false hope.
Kingdom of God and Grace
This week was slightly different than most because we had a guest speaker: (and a boy! Uh!) Russell Minick! Although, this week was not without tears. He came to speak on the Kingdom of God and Grace and help us define what they are.
He used slides and many of them came from Dallas Willard himself (who Russell knew! AND who graduated from Baylor. Sic 'em.) The lesson was more intellectual than emotional, and I will try to help you understand it. Bear with me because both Russell and Willard are incredibly smart people.
The Bible commands us to walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6). And, contrary to popular belief maybe, that is possible. Russell says that we make Jesus to be other from us because we blame everything on his deity, but in reality he did everything through his humanity. Chew on that cookie.
Russell said his goal for this week was to clarify the Kingdom and Grace. Here is what he said about these things (and a couple other things).
The Kingdom of God is, most simply, the range of God's effective will, where what God wants done is done. For God, that is probably literally the whole earth. But, it's less about a place and more about a jurisdiction. And the Kingdom of Heaven is interchangeable. Jesus is first and foremost Lord and King (not Savior as we often think).
"The Gospel of the Kingdom is the gospel". Jesus heard and was baptized not to show us but He did it for him. Ithought that was so cool. It was not something I had thought of before. The gospel announces the King of Kings and asks us to change our thinking to align with him.
Kingdom of Heaven is a different sphere, not a different place. It is all around us, we just are not in sync. But, there are specific moments in time when the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth overlap (Jacob's ladder, the tabernacle, Jesus, etc). The "end times", or what you will, will be a reconciliation of Heaven and Earth. It is a going back to our original purposes.
Our original purposes are to Love God, Love others and represent him on this earth. And that's where Grace comes in. We are saved to love well. If we don't love well, we do not understand the gospel. So Church should be about relationships.
We don't contain grace. It is always working around us. It is not a passive thing. It is working in us and through us. It is changing us. It is important for us to not nullify grace so we must work out our salvation. God is not freaked out by our bad habits. But, he empowers our progress with grace.
That's where the Spiritual Disciplines come in. And, according to Russell, memorizing scripture is the most important discipline. So, again, like we've been learning this whole summer, reading the Bible is important.
If you get anything out of this summer, I hope it is a longing to read the Word. Or even just a sense that you should. The longing will come later. Just do it.
Kinda like Russell said about Willard, the truths are actually very simple and what we've known since we began getting to know God. It's just another way to look at it to slightly understand the mystery of God better.
Transforming the Soul, or Gingers Have Souls Too
Hey guys. I'm back from the land of the rich and famous (LA).
So, I went to Sphlashtown yesterday. The kids I was with and I spent a long time at that water treehouse thingy-- you know, the one that has the huge bucket above the playground that is constantly being filled with water until it dumps over and everyone gets soaked. Well, there we are with a huge group of strangers all waiting under the spot where the water would rush down. No one knows when it's gonna rain down, you just have to wait. And then all of the sudden it comes and it is the most water you've ever had poured on top of you. And I was thinking about how silly it is that we would wait for liquid to get poured on us. But, as I was being rained on, I couldn't help but feel like this was one of the best feelings in the world. WHY?! I have no idea. But, for some reason God put it inside all of us to not only need water to live, but to love being in it and having it wash over us. I think he did that so that people for millions of years would have good analogies when talking about God's living water for us. But, it is a good picture of God's living water that he pours into our souls. Our souls cry out to God, waiting for his love to rain down on us. It is our refreshment, our life, our peace, and our joy.
I really enjoyed this lesson. I think partly because Willard kinda takes a break on slamming you down with deep conviction. Instead, this week literally felt like taking a drink of water (my use of water analogies might run dry in this blog........ pun intended..........). I also liked it because it shifted the way I thought about myself and God and the connection between us. Here is the outline of the lesson and what stood out to me:
The soul is a mystery to us all and that is what makes it beautiful. This lesson was not about pinning the soul down, but to give us enough insight into how the Lord uses the soul and to keep us marveling at it.
We have all used the term "soul" about a thousand times. But, I was surprised that I didn't fully know what it was. We all know instinctively it is the deepest part of us. I usually "feel" my soul in my gut. I like the definition I think Stephanie (or maybe Willard) gave us that it is the fundamental, foundational part of who we are. It is your "sim card". The other interesting, important point is that it is not accessible to us. We don't have the same relationship with the soul as we do our emotions, our thoughts, our will, our body, or our social aspect. But, it influences every part of us.
When we think of our soul (the deepest part of us) it would make sense that the soul would be the most central ring in the circle of our life. But Willard actually says that it is the outer ring. Because it is the access point for God. He first comes to contact to us through the soul.
The soul is the access point, and it is also our source for food and drink. One of the analogies for the soul comes from Psalm 1:1-3. We are a tree planted by a stream, and our soul is the roots that go deep under. The roots drink from the water (see, water) and then provide nourishment for the rest of the body. Stephanie shared the analogy of a company as well (the soul is the computer system that allows all the other parts of the company to be able to do work).
Okay so I want to share with you what I understand the soul to be after this lesson. I can't guarantee that I'm right, but here is how I see the soul:
When God created us, He breathed his image and likeness and life into us.* So, every one of us -- whether we believe or not -- has a soul and has a piece of God inside of us. The deepest part of us is the likeness of God. We can't access it, only God can. I think that maybe the soul is the only part of us that was not affected by the fall. It is the only thing in us that can't be evil. It is solely a door way for God to access our spirit and it is a bucket to hold the living water inside of us. We can choose to neglect it and keep the door shut, so that God has no way to pour refreshment and life into us, letting our emotions and will drive us or we can choose to keep ourselves open to the rushing flow of the Lord to take us over. That is why there is a tension inside of us. Our soul and our flesh are literally waging a civil war inside of us.** Our soul is thirsty*** and I think it deeply longs for God, but our mind only feels the longing (which is why we can fill our souls with things other than God). Our soul knows that we need nothing more but a huge bucket of God's peace and love and nourishment to rush over us. To overcome us. Our soul knows it even when our mind and heart do not. Our soul longs for the word like it is a nice bucket of Texas Roadhouse rolls. What we can do is feed it with the word and open up the door into our soul to allow God to come in and keep our soul from shriveling up inside us. When our soul overflows, it will clean out our bodies. And when our soul is healthy, so is everything else in us because we will be submitted to God.
"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (KJV).
**1 Peter 2:11
"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul" (ESV).
"My soul thirsts for you" (ESV).
Transforming the Body
I know what you’re thinking: “You weren’t in class on Sunday?!” Calm down*. Actually, most of you probably weren’t thinking that. Most of you had no idea because you don’t ever notice me in the class and some of you don’t even know who I am. It’s cool, I don’t know who you are either. But, alas, here I am: recapping the lesson because I can read minds and see the future (and/or the past).
Does anybody else secretly want to throw this book in your fireplace and stop this series? I hope so so I don't feel like a horrible person. I mean, I thought I was doing pretty well until I started coming to class. Now, I am convinced of how completely totally depraved and heretically I am. (I am using dramatic language on purpose). It’s annoying.
I thought Ms. Shawn did an awesome job with the lesson. She tackled another super lofty lesson and made it relatable and, just like every other lady who has taught, her personality shown through.
We can’t have full, complete redemption without any of the pieces we have talked about so far. The body being one of them. We can be slave to our body just like we can be slave to our emotions, our thought, or our will. We must not give in to our bodies but we must give over our bodies to the Lord to let him begin a deep work in us. A beautiful, but daunting work. Just like every other element, you can’t just simply throw your body away or even ask for a new one. You’re stuck with the one you got. Uneven nostrils and all. But, the body is amazing. It breathes while you sleep! It doesn’t need us to tell it what to do. It just reacts. And to sum up what Shawn unpacked in 23 (20 pt. font) pages… We have to train and program our body to react right. If we don’t train, we’ll never react right in the moment.
Have you ever thought “Okay next time that happens, I will react this way”. I do all the time and when that thing happens I react in the same way I always do. Cause I don’t really train. I just try to have good will power. Which, we learned last week, no one has good enough will power. Our body is a very powerful tool. But it can be trained. And we must train it.
Shawn used Roger Federer and computer programming as her example of training our bodies. Federer has won like a million trophies for his tennis playing but he has also probably spent a minute for every trophy he’s won (that’s a million minutes) training his body to do exactly what he wants to do under pressure. It’s not easy. Nothing about renovating the heart is easy. And that’s why I want to chunk this book against a wall. But it will be worth it!!!!
God is gonna do his part in caring for our body. But we have to do our part too. Take care of your body. Watch what you put in it (both physically and emotionally and spiritually), watch how you use it, watch what you say to it, and let it use its muscles every once in a while.
(That above paragraph needs its own book in expansion because it is easier said than done. But, alas, I am trying to make these slightly shorter.)
There is hope yet. I like thinking of my body as a computer because it kinda calms my angsty ways. My body is just a machine, it is not a monster that is constantly trying to destroy me. It can be trained like a dog. When you say “sit” the body will sit. (Wow, I was using that as a metaphor but that is quite literal). So once I start inputing the program Holiness 3000, I will output gold and doves and peace and love. Your body is just a machine. You can transform it.
How do we train it? Heck if I know. But, you gotta use it to train it. Journaling is the example Ms. Shawn brings up. The actual act of taking your thoughts through your veins to your fingers through the pen onto paper is a powerful thing. And, it slows you down. (which I hate but I try to do it). Write down Bible verses, say them till your blue in your face. And get on your knees. Make your body low. Pray, pray, pray. And wait. God is faithful to answer.
Also, service. Using your body for someone else’s gain is an easy way to put your body in it's place.
Jesus came down and put skin on his deity and that is more significant than we’ll ever realize. If we want to transform our body, don’t you think we should look at what Jesus did when he had one? Ms. Shawn says that to train our body we have to follow Christ’s overall lifestyle and take on his disciplines of prayer, solitude, fasting (denying the body), etc. And I love that Ms. Shawn says the difference between Federer and Jesus is that Jesus comes inside of us and transforms us from the inside out. Don’t we all wish that Federer’s spirit could maybe come inside of us too? Give me some body coordination please!!
I didn't really do this lesson justice. This just barely touches the surface of the complexity of the body. But, hopefully it will get you thinking and will lead you to the truth. Or hopefully it just makes you laugh.
The will. A much more abstract and wide-ranging topic than I first thought. Also, a more important topic than I first thought. Thankfully for you, the reader, this topic appeals more to my logical, practical, thinking side so it won’t sound like a 13 year old emo kid who just discovered what a diary was (although, as Marilyn pointed out, your thoughts, feelings and will are all connected. So this week is not void of emotion). Marilyn spoke this week and it was a simple message, but a powerful one.
So what exactly is your will? Words that were thrown out were: drive, desire, determination, stubbornness, and control.
Letting go of your own will and giving into God’s will requires trust. You have to trust God to want to follow him. And for someone who is a control freak, like me, I only trust myself. (Who is the LEAST trustworthy person cause I deceive myself like a boss). So, to give up the will is to give up control. For me, at least. But, as my mom said, I am not alone in this. Getting off my chair is really acknowledging that I’m not in control. And saying that I am okay with whatever happens. But, control freaks aren’t okay with “whatever happens”. They want to know what is going to happen. Even if it’s not what I would want, necessarily, I want to consciously decide to do that thing and know exactly the outcome. But, that’s not how God works. And there’s the rub. Giving in to God is supposed to bring you peace but it literally causes me to shake.
I remember my freshmen year of college I had to make a big decision (it was actually pretty petty) and I was kinda new to walking with God through my decisions so I really wanted to be super holy and spiritual and just ask God and whatever he says I wanted to do. But, I was completely riddled with anxiety. The second I would open up my Bible I would start shaking and my heart would pound because I was afraid of the answer. I was “hearing” all these weird things that were probably the devil messing with me. I couldn’t see straight and I ended up making the decision that I would have wanted to make. I think that it was the right decision- for that time- but I never came to a “peace” that that was what God told me to do. But, I thought my heart might actually explode if I prayed about it anymore. That happens to me more than I would like to admit. I want control. I want God to bend to my will and bless me through it all, but I don’t want to bend to his. If I knew the answer to how to fix this, I would. And I would share it with you right here. Alas, I don’t.
Marilyn said that it isn’t about “will power”. It’s about the “want to” factor. Our will, when aligned with God, is our desire to do what God’s will is. And God’s will is the things he wants to see happen in this day and age.
There is a timeline for conquering the will: Willard states it as Surrender Abandonment Contentment Participation.
Surrender: Losing control. (See above).
Abandonment: Living life with open hands as I like to say. Knowing we deserve nothing so being thankful for everything. And living like we know the end of the book (which we do). One of my favorite lyrics in a worship song is from the song Strong Love by Jon Thurlow (everyone admire my hipsterness). He says: “I know the end of the story I come up from the wilderness, leaning on my beloved.” I love that so much. That’s all I wanted to say about that.
Contentment: Peace with God and peace with ourselves.
Participation: God is cool and gracious and loving enough to let us take part in his will. It’s much better than ours.
Marilyn made a good point that it’s not about getting past step one and never returning. You will go in circles with this. You will have to start over. And… I say that to be comforting. To better explain these points, Marilyn made her own timeline: I don’t want to I have to I want to want to I want to I get to.
What would your life look like if you were completely abandoned to the will of God? Think about that. Me? I’d probably have more peace and more joy, which is ironic because those are the things I desperately want. If I am honest, right now I am in the “want to want to” stage and about some things I am in the “I don’t want to” stage. But the first step to freedom is admitting you have a problem, right?
To be honest, I don’t remember where this fit into the lesson because I take really vague, horrible notes, but it’s an important point: We’ve got to talk about what is going on in our head. (Which I hate doing). We have to get it out, we have to process, and we have to not believe that we are the only ones thinking these thoughts. So, start talking about your thoughts (no matter how scary, dirty, awful, crazy they are). Do work today and don’t let this lesson collect dust on the shelf.
Spiritual Formation and Our Feelings.
You know, I give Jeannine major props for tackling this lesson. Trying to just dictate what she said has been days of anguish and rewriting and thinking and reading. I’m gonna go out of order for this recap, if you will let me. To begin the lesson, Ms. Jeannine stood behind a decorative chair and delivered a scripted, but not lacking in honesty and meaning, monologue urging us to climb out of the chair of our hearts and place God on it for he is the only one worthy. But I wanna save that for later. (Hopefully my 1am brain will get there and will make sense.)
I read the chapter. And I would say that, if you read only one chapter in this book, you should read this one. (I am saying that only having read this one and sorta the first one). And, like I said, props to Ms. Jeannine. Willard does such a great job at unpacking feelings and emotions that it’s kinda overwhelming. But, I think Jeannine captured the essence well. I will try to capture the essence of the essence somewhat coherently. Though I filled up about 5 pages in my journal, my notes aren’t that great.
Feelings are important. We got ‘em. We ain’t getting rid of them. We have to understand that. Feelings are powerful. They will carry us into sin if we are not careful. We can’t deny they are there, repress them, or try to starve them. We have to reorder them and let God renovate them to be the healthy, beautiful gifts he made them. (Just like everything else). Faith, hope, love, joy, and peace are the key to a spiritual transformation. Faith and hope give us the confidence in Jesus and his word. Love is the foundation. And it is a circling flow. God first loved us so we love him which in turns makes us love others and those other’s love us because we are the other’s others. Make sense? We don’t have to worry about being loved. We already are by God. And if we focus on loving our brothers and sisters we will be loved if the body is the body. Joy is our strength and our anthem that shouts “all is well” in hard times. We gain joy through thankfulness and meditation on the goodness and love of God. Then comes peace. We have peace with ourselves, with God, and with others. And that helps us love more. Thus the cycle continues. All we have to do is let go. Loosen the grip and let go.
That recap is short and sorta shallow and for that I do apologize. But I can’t go into any more depth without a) my brain exploding and b) being completely overwhelmed with feelings. Talking about feelings makes me have a lot of feelings and those feelings usually start with ‘a’ and end with ‘ngsty’. But, honestly, her lesson was less about feelings and more about God. And that’s how it should be.
So what I really wanna talk about is the first five to ten minutes of the lesson. Like I said, Ms. Jeannine used a chair to illustrate her point of us being on our own throne. She encouraged us to get off of it. I remember tracking with her and doing the holy-agreement-moan, but I also thought it was a strange place to start. What does this have to do with feelings? I mean, sure, sometimes (all the time) we put our emotions on that chair, but that's not the only thing we put on the chair. But I realized it was the perfect place to start. For every single lesson. Because if we don't get that part right we might as well stop. Close the books and go home. God cannot renovate our heart with us still inside. No one is going to bulldoze a house with the former owner still inside. They cannot renovate it. No one’s gonna cut down the tree with Butterfly staked up in it in protest. When we are on the "chair", we are in constant protest of what God wants to do in our hearts.
And that’s when it dawned on me. I’ve been focusing more on changing my behavior and less on just walking out of the stupid house or getting up off the stupid chair. It’s so simple, right? But, that’s the thing. We always act like surrendering our lives to Jesus is simple and easy. That’s why we get so defeated when that doesn’t work. If I knew how to actually literally surrender my life to Jesus I would do it. Because I have prayed the prayer, I have stood up in countless sermons and shouted, whispered, prayed, or raised my hand in surrender so many times. I have again and again fully committed my life to Jesus. I have sang "my life is yours" “take my life” “you’re all I want” probably a million times. And some of those times were truly moments of myself walking out of the house. But, it’s annoying how I can feel like I really learned something or took a step forward and then I walk out of the room and it all just fades. Honestly, I’m not worthy to write these recaps. Because how many times have I listened to my own words? About 0 times. It’s like in the movie Father of the Bride. (I think it’s in the second one but I can’t remember exactly). (if you haven’t seen those movies please stop reading and go watch them.) They sell their house to this couple who wants to demolish it. They have the bulldozer and they are about to bulldoze the house down when Steve Martin’s character runs in front of the bulldozer to save the house. How many times have I done that? I walk out of the house and give over the keys, and God finally begins the renovation process. But, at the last moment, I run in front of the bulldozer- almost destroying my life- to protect the house. And the work stops.
If we were just honest with how hard it is and how much work it takes… maybe more people would begin to see transformation. Spiritual transformation and surrendering to Jesus is gonna be hard. It’s gonna take time. But, it’s work that has to be done. And God is doing all the hard work! We just have to stop digging our finger nails into our palms. Literally, Jesus is like “dude, come chill at my super cool party 24/7” and we’re all like “it’s too hard! Wahhhh”.
But who can really blame us, right? Life is confusing. Our hearts are deceivers. Our emotions are stealthy. They protect us so we trust them and then they attack us from behind. And so many sermons tell us that God gave us our emotions, so feeling isn’t bad. And that’s completely true. But I can’t keep straight was is good and what is bad and everything in moderation and take your thoughts captive to the Lord and so forth. But my thoughts are kind to me. On a good day. Yeah, they can be kinda harsh sometimes… but they never lie… right? And what can I trust besides my thoughts? I can't trust my circumstances. I most certainly can’t trust in relationships. Because they'll leave. And that's not fair. Most of the time I don’t even know if I can trust God. He’s the only one with a perfect track record of faithfulness but he is the least trustworthy. (I seem to believe).
But I know I don’t actually believe that. Because I am sitting at my kitchen table feeling empty and lonely for the umpteenth time. I don’t consider myself a lonely, depressed person until someone I care about leaves or just simply doesn’t care as much as I do. God has been so good to constantly provide a group of friends in my life but I use them to mask the loneliness I feel in my heart. I don’t know where or when or why the loneliness began but I think I’ve felt it most of my life. I won’t try to explain it away because it doesn’t need that power. Anyway, I’ve been shaking my fist at the sky and succumbing to cynical ways about how nothing in this life is safe and I can’t trust anything but my pain and blah blah blah when God simply, in his goodness, whispered to me to stop using people as Band-Aids. No one will fill the deep holes in my heart the way God will and no one was meant to. But, I have gone from person to person to temporarily fix my aching and I have continually ignored God’s call in the morning to let him love me. I have pushed it away for years. And I always thought it was just because of laziness or business or some small excuse that I could easily fix tomorrow. Like, I really do wanna accept his Love but I gotta run out the door. But, honestly, I don’t want to be satisfied in God alone because it’s scary and it’s not secure because it’s not based on feeling. And feelings are all I know. They are all I have listened to my whole life. They are my false sense of security. God will definitely give you feelings, but he will not let them master you. Because there is only one master. So, when it boils down I am more afraid of not feeling than I am confident in the goodness of God’s love. And that is the ruined condition of my heart. I won’t let God take away my feelings. But, still, despite my doubts, he’s so freaking good. (pardon my language, mom). Because he just lets me go and lets me make dumb mistakes. But he’s always ready to run to me when I come crawling home. So, at 2 in the morning I know in my mind that he is the only trustworthy source. I do know it. I just hate it sometimes. Because, God is risk. He is a safe refuge. But he is a risk. With God, your life is a hard-hat zone. (that metaphor I just came up with sounds brilliant in my current state of mind.)
So, for me, I have to raise my white flag. And I am learning more and more through this book and this class that I don’t think I truly have. I still sit on my chair. And I’m stubborn. So, my simple prayer this week has been: “Jesus, teach me how to live.” I just need him to teach me what it means to live this life with him. Because, I don’t know.
“Transforming the Mind, 1: Spiritual Formation and the Thought Life”
Ah, the mind. What a strange, scary, complex, irrational, amazing place. Everything that has been created – both good and evil – started as a dream or a vision or flash of brilliance in the mind. The mind is the kindest and cruelest thing to you. It is the best secret keeper, but it never lets you forget. It has no limits and no boundaries to the things you can achieve, giving you your dreams and telling you to follow them. But it also spews at you the worst insults and makes you swallow the most dirt, telling you to never believe in yourself. All in about .2 seconds. See: Scary.
It is important, then, to talk about the mind. And to work out our thought life. And that is why, I’m assuming, Dallas Willard spent not one but two chapters on our mind. (The next one is next week)
“As we first turned away from God in our thoughts, so it is in our thoughts that the first movements toward the renovation of the heart occur. Thoughts are the place where we can and must begin to change” (p. 95). I think this quote sums up perfectly what Willard is trying to get at in the sixth chapter in the book. We must get our thoughts right. We must think rightly about God, ourselves, and our faith. And that takes working out our salvation (cue last week!)
Now, to recap this week’s lesson: It was taught by a vulnerable and open Stephanie Tipton. The lesson sorta unpacked how we think. Willard calls it the Four Factors of Thought: Ideas, Images, Information, and Our Ability to Think. Ideas are the general models of or assumptions about reality. Images are the concrete perceptions that occupy our mind (like symbols i.e. the cross). Information is kinda self-explanatory. And Our ability to think is “the activity of searching out what must be true, or cannot be true, in light of given facts or assumptions” (p. 104). So, basically, this means actually thinking about and dwelling on the other three categories. Stephanie kinda rearranged the order to show the flow that they go through. We receive information (in all different types of ways) and that filters through our ability to think. We form ideas about what we just thought about and then an image solidifies our abstract idea.
Stephanie said that the thinking portion is key but the most neglected. We too often just take things for granted and become a sponge taking on whatever it is whoever we happen to be listening to at the moment believes. I know I do that like crazy. That’s probably why my mind is a mess. It doesn’t have much to stand on. We, as Christians, sometimes act as if we believe that our faith will take a hit if we think. But, that is so false. I love that Dallas Willard says on page 105: “We too easily forget that it is great thinkers who have given direction to the people of Christ in their greatest moments: Paul, John, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley…” These guys were scholars. Thankfully, you don’t have to even go to school to know the depths of God and his word… but you don’t have to fear knowledge or thinking. How freeing! We don’t have to fear our questions or our doubts or our general curiosity. A song I really like says “all the doubts I’ve faced, I continue to face them/but nothing is a waste if you learn from it/ and the sun, it does not cause us to grow/ it is the rain that will strengthen your soul” (“I Have Made Mistakes” by The Oh Hello’s). I love the powerful, simple, and sorta angsty truth of this song. Doubting is not bad. Doubting can bring you closer to the truth. It can and will strengthen your soul. Asking tough questions should never be shameful. It is shameful to NOT ask tough questions.***
Stephanie shared how she, through circumstances, has discovered some false views of God that she has believed. And she was honest that it’s hard not to continue to believe them. But, identifying our false views of God is the thing. It forces us to go back to the word and seek out what it really says. It is all a part of the process. It is our sanctifying. It is taking back the thing that has been stolen from us through the fall of man and it is the renovating of our heart.
We have to take note of our thoughts. What do I think about God? What do I think about myself? Is that the truth? I don’t know. But I do know where I can find out. And it ties in so wonderfully with last week’s lesson… KNOW THE WORD. Read your Bible! I cannot stress that enough to myself. Read. Read. Read. It can be boring. It can be dry. But, hey, Stephanie found a big answer to a big question she had in her life in Leviticus. And I have had many revelations through reading Numbers. (Talking donkeys!) And think about what you read. Figure out what it’s saying. Read other books. Pray. Talk with people. And don’t fear when people have different views from you. Listen. I think we’ll all surprise ourselves with how we come one step closer to the truth every time.
And I loved how the lesson ended. Thinking will always lead us to worship. Cause when you think… you think “man, God is awesome.” or “Wow! God thinks THAT about me?” or “I didn’t realize God promises this!” or “Look how faithful God is to those stinking Israelites” or “Wow. God is the most creative person ever I wanna go paint something” etc.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably scared of what’s up there. What’s inside of you. What you’re about to start thinking about. But, a good friend (Paul David Tripp) once told me: “do not be afraid of your heart.” (or, in this instance…. Your mind.) (He’s not really a good friend… I just read his book). And, more importantly, don’t be afraid of God. He’s not surprised or thrown off by ANYTHING you do.
This week was more about the thinking processes and next week Willard continues with the mind and talks about feelings (Jeannine is speaking!). And, just like we have to reorder our thought life, we definitely need to reorder our feelings. I have to remind myself about 20,349,170,283 times a day to not let my emotions run me. I can’t satisfy the insatiable feelings I have no matter how hard I try. So, I must give in and let God satisfy my feelings and change them to be the beautiful thing they should be. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Can’t wait for Sunday to hear this lesson.
*** Willard makes a solid point that I want to clarify. When we think about God we begin to think about him more steadily. Meaning: we’re not gonna be doubting Thomas’ forever. When we think, we get a right view of God. And that, again, sanctifies us.
The lesson was on chapter 5 of Renovation of the Heart, which, honestly, I didn't read. (I was hoping to be really good with the readings and keep up every week but I'm still on chapter 2... but that's okay.) The chapter is called Spiritual Change: The Reliable Pattern. The lovely Marilyn Maddox spoke. She shared her story which intertwined nicely with what she wanted to teach in the lesson. She spoke about running from God in her earlier years and how he continually pursued her. It was when she had to face her beliefs and began to question her faith that she began to turn to God. She began to let God work in her and to go to scripture to figure out what it said about God and about her beliefs and that changed her. (I hope I didn't completely butcher your story, Marilyn.)
The lesson was about obedience and working out your salvation to really know what it is you say you believe. The book gives an acronym VIM which stands for Vision, Intention, Means. To undergo spiritual change, we must have a vision that aligns with God's vision. His will and our will are one. And that does not mean that our will is the way, but it is God's will that will prevail. (How many times can I say "will" in one sentence?) That, honestly, is the hardest part for me. Which, when I think about it, I will say that for each part. Marilyn, and the book, talked a lot about how if we don't work at it, we won't get change. It is an active decision on our part to begin the change. It is through the grace of God and he does the changing, but we daily have to work out our salvation. And part of that is reading the word and figuring out what the heck it is that we say we are aligning ourselves with. That is the Intention part of VIM. The Means is how God changes us. And how we go about working out our salvation.
I've never been good at obedience. I like to think I have a delayed obedience to the Lord. I usually (sometimes) do what God asks me to do but it may take a couple days or couple of months. So any lesson on obedience usually makes me slightly uncomfortable. (Conviction is hard). But, even though we have to have the mindset of "duty to delight", it' not always about willing your way into it. It's about working out your salvation and getting in the word and really getting to know the God we confess to follow and know the things we believe. And through that-- my favorite phase-- "beholding is becoming". We behold the Lord and his word and we become more like him- if only slightly -day by day. And that is encouraging. I think it's important to realize that we do have to work. We do have to do something with our faith. And I fully believe that if I am 1% faithful, God will be 99% faithful. He will close the distance because he is THAT good. Way too good for me. I don't deserve the grace he has bestowed upon me. So I just have to bring the very little I offer and let him take that tiny thing and make it a kingdom. I won't begin to try to explain why he chooses to do this or why he chose to walk with us and give us his spirit and work in us for transformation but He did. And that is awesome. If I can get this first part right, then I will start to see the obedience be slightly easier. And I will want to because I will be so in love with Jesus and I will know fully that his ways are best and he is a safe hiding place. I just wish I wasn't so fickle.
Marilyn mentioned that when she counsels she looks for biblical thinking and how there is a lot of unbiblical thinking in people. That is why she really encouraged us to question whether we really believe what we say we believe. I was talking this morning with some friends that we know the truth in our minds but we don't feel it in our hearts. So we are plagued with doubt, fear, and uncertainty. And it's true. We have to look within and say "do I really believe this?" and, if I don't, why not? Why am I not convinced? And then go to the source. The breath of God. Man, I need to do that more. I am so weak in my mind. I just let it sway back and forth. We need to have a firm foundation (and we do in Christ), but we need weapons to fight off the enemy. I too often run on my own strength or on past seasons of plenty. Honestly, right now I am living as if I don't need to refuel and learn more about Christ. I am living on what I have built in Christ these past 5 years. On a shallow surface that might seem like it would work, but it doesn't. I am swayed. I want to lean on my own opinions. I am fearful. But, starting in his word and letting that be my daily bread will a) give me a firm faith that, when trials come my way, I will know that I know that God will be good and will work it out and b) I will be more willing to lean into his will and obey.
So, get your weights and treadmills and cute workout outfits on and don't sit back. Let's be women who build our muscles to fight off the temptations and trials with a knowledge of Christ and who seek to obey him in all that we do. I hope you didn't hate my awful metaphor.