Already Included #31 – You

By Sarah Nyhan

I think I know what Saul/Paul was doing for those first few years after his conversion. I think he had to go off and be by himself while everything he thought he knew fell away and was replaced by truth. Less of an intellectual exercise. More of a rebirth in the sense of so thouroughly experienced that every single cell is saturated with this new real life. Actually lived and alive versus simply conceptualized.

This is what has been happening with me. To use Paul Young’s analogy, I didn’t realize I had constructed and others had helped me build such a monstrosity of a facade. My entire identity was totally tied to what I did, what I had, and what I thought I knew. Versus truth. All of the facade is now being burned away.

I was ready to jump in and repeat the same old formula with this new-to-me “already included” knowledge. But I feel like God is saying, “No, baby girl. We’re going to do things totally different this time. I appreciate so much your heart and enthusiasm, but I have everyone else. What I want us to focus on for now, for this time, is YOU. You are important also. Your healing and wholeness is the priority right now. What eventually overflows will organically be shared with others in due time.”

This is TOTALLY different than the experience modeled for me by the church as an incorporated entity in society. What do most churches do that I have experienced? They have not been hospitals for the soul, even though they claim such. Instead they have been like labor camps. Oh sure, there is initial love-bombing if you are considered an outsider. But once you’ve converted then it’s all about what you can do for them, dressed up as what you can do for “god”. And then the only acceptable answer is: always more. To them, Jesus’ sacrifice was not enough; you also must die.

This is my new litmus test for truth: are you offering me anything? Are you invested in me as a person? Is relationship with me a priority? Or are you just doing the same ol’ dance with new clothes? You know the one. In its extreme form it looks like what we think of most televangelists. Although more subtle and maybe more insidious forms are likely manifesting in most local church entities. In my experience.

And although the damage is the same no matter the motivation, I suspect the great majority of pastors and preachers start out with absolutely fabulous intentions. I really believe that. Maybe even some seasoned folks still think this is the right way. I mean, it’s all they have ever known. Like me, it’s all that was ever modeled for them from the pulpit.

Though I suspect at some point, as I experienced, you encounter a crisis. If you pursue truth hard and long enough then you must eventually, even in short time, face a crisis. Where the religious machine fails and your heart has a choice to make. I can’t tell you what to do. That is between God and you. But eventually you’ll have a decision to make. Is your trust in the religious machine or is your trust truly in God?

And really, to be even more specific, is your trust in yourself or in God? Again, I never saw it that clearly in the beginning. But over and over and over, it’s been made clear to me that is the core problem. Religion says I am responsible. That I can’t really trust God all the way.

Let me tell you a story. A true story. The other day some people from the city came out to the property I manage. They wanted to cut some trees near the powerlines. Caught off guard, in the heat of the moment, I was convinced by the city workers to approve them completely removing the trees versus only trimming them. Later when I was not under their influence, I looked at the trees and regretted my approval. But I thought that it was too late to change my mind.

As I stressed about this, one day they entered the property while I was gone. However, the property owners just “happened” to also show up at the same time for a rare site visit. The property owners were able to speak with the city workers and save the trees. All without any help from me.

This is our God. Who knows that I mess up. And knows that I don’t know how to fix my mess up. And He cares for me. So He somehow makes the property owners show up at the last minute and save the trees. This is a God I can trust. To be way bigger than me.

This is the God that is interested in me. Not just what I can do. Not just what I can give. Whose priority is relationship with me. As long as it takes. Not so that I can do anything for Him.

I was reminded this week of the verse in the Bible where it talks about a good man leaving an inheritance for his family. Not the other way around. Who among us has even ever experienced that? With our biological or church parents?

And again, I don’t think most know any better. Just passing on what was passed to them.

But how different would it look if we cared more about healing the person and being in relationship with the person versus setting them up to be another cog in the religious machine? Versus stripping them of everything they can possibly give? Fleecing them. Until they can’t take it anymore and run away out of desperation. For their lives.

All I am saying is there is another way. All things work for good. We get there one way or another. If not in this life, then I am sure we will see clearly during whatever comes after. But why wait that long? We can choose life now. Jesus came not to build another religious machine. He came to give us life, and life more abundant!!! Right now. The kingdom of heaven is at hand – right now. Jesus came and showed us what we have been missing all along. What is available to us right now. Without having to jump through hoops of performance or poverty in all its various forms.

You absolutely will encounter loads and loads and loads and loads of trouble. But it will be different trouble. It will break your heart versus breaking your back. In that sense, there will be some dying. Of your ego mainly. As everything that is false is burned up. That is a dying without counting Jesus’ sacrifice as incomplete or insufficient.

In case you’ve never read anything I’ve written before, I am not talking about a legal or accounting transaction. Merely that WE needed to kill Jesus, the Son of God. So we would finally have proof that no matter what we can think of or do, God is always and forever for us. The resurrection proved that God is not the least bit intimidated by or ever against us. As individuals. Even as He drives out ever last bit of hell that we hold onto in our blindness.

God doesn’t destroy us.

Already Included #29 – Works versus Work

By Sarah Nyhan

Life is so funny and God is so much bigger than the boxes I try to nail Him into. When I first started these “Already Included” posts, I had such a different idea of what I’d be talking about. My desire was and still is to be able to explain and expound on all the purely intellectual theological aspects of this already included message.

Much to my surprise, it was rather revealed to me that I spent the overwhelming majority of my life in my mind and now I was going to learn how to really rejoin the human race and learn how to live again. To really live. Something that I had forgotten how to do after so many years spent just reading the Bible and listening to preachers. Hours and hours every week.

I am confident that once I learn to live again, once I really am living then God will open my mind again to allow me to be able to fulfill these pressing desires I have, these heavy burdens I have to be able to first share what has happened for and to me. And then be able to explain this new-to-me way in terms that will be understood by those that are still where I was.

But first things first. Jesus didn’t say the number one law was to learn the Bible. Jesus said to love God and love others as you love yourself. All of those I’ve had to learn from a totally new angle. Start from the beginning. Back to basics, almost like a newborn. Hmmm. 😉

All to say my ideas of how I wanted to post were in short time thrown out of the window. Instead real life took and is still taking priority. This is a very good thing. But it took me a long while to come around to accepting it and seeing the good in it. To be able to let go of my plans. To let go of my ego also.

If there is one thing I hate, it’s being so sure of something and then having to eat humble pie with those I’d like acceptance from when things turn out differently. So frustrating. Sometimes I feel so humiliated. But even that is helping me let go and not tie my value to the acceptance or lack thereof from others.

Kinda needed in this business of going against the grain. Not that I aspire for that life; just how it played out. My Ezekiel experiences, as I call them. Funny from my perspective because most of the time I am clueless to the bull I can be in people’s china shops. A former pastor called me a pitbull more than once. Apropos in terms of my pursuit of truth, for sure. It’s taken me many years to realize others have a limit for truth.

I’m sure on some level I also initially resist difficult truths, but at the end of every day there is something so innocent in me that is truly relentless in determining what is real and what is not. In every situation. Realizing lately that the journeys I take in those efforts are not wasted time even if they take longer than others.

After the first decade of so of my life, after I saw hypocrisy in adults I previously took at face value, I have always needed to make everything add up. It wasn’t enough to just tell me. I needed to see it for myself. I needed to know how A led to B. I needed to know the why.

I would pray nightly: “Lord, please help me not to be deceived.” Be careful what you pray for. Truth is a blessing that sometimes feels like a curse. There is a certain appeal to ignorant bliss.

As much as I needed to know, this left absolutely no room for mystery. No room for God to be God and surprise us. Trusting Him has been the hardest thing in my life. Letting go and trusting His heart for me.

All the reading in the world won’t move your foot to step out into the water. I wish it worked that way. Real life takes God out of your head and makes all of this come alive.

Just like a baby cries when leaving the womb – every cell, every feeling in me aches as I stretch into this person I am fully intended to be. Not just a brain. But a heart, a soul, a body, a spirit. I feel set on fire sometimes. Every step out of my mind and into the moment like leaving a completely dark cave for high noon on a hot summer day.

Often I collapse in the real physical exhaustion of it all. But I sleep better these days. Especially as I learn to talk to God more versus allowing anxieties to paralyze me. Because there is so much to learn and do. So easy to get discouraged if you don’t stay in the moment and if you forget you are in God’s eternal embrace.

And these are things I still wrestle with: prayer and work.

I think for the majority of my life, my view of prayer was really wrong. I saw it more like a way to manipulate God into doing something. I still don’t know and haven’t had the time to dive into the old texts with this new-to-me lens. Maybe I’ll see things more clearly one day. But so far I’ve surmised that prayer, if we want to keep calling it that, is merely conversation. And primarily for the purpose of changing MY mind.

I used to do the whole prayer and fasting bit, but with what I now believe is the wrong way of going about it. I used to fast and pray for specific things to happen. Now fasting for me is more just a concept of isolating myself from distractions. And now the prayer aspect is just asking for God to help me see things His way, to see the truth. To clear my mind from all my own ideas and make room to see things as they really are. I have had such powerful experiences and successes in approaching prayer this way. It has been an absolute joy.

If only all of me would catch up and on. After so many years of doing things the wrong way, I find I still miss now more than I hit. But the times I hit are becoming more frequent. That is very encouraging. I am so blessed to have sojourners who have come alongside me and paved the way by their examples. We give each other grace, eh?

And so this work business. I don’t think I have it mastered yet. At all. But I certainly have come a long way from where I started. Thank You, Holy Spirit and those who have been patient with me. I really want to talk about what I think is such an incredible and important distinction that I personally feel was not adequately communicated in previous churches I attended. Actually, their rhetoric may have contributed greatly to how confused I became.

Because I remember I was not raised the way I turned out. I was raised to always work hard and take care of business. At least those that claim to follow Christ never approved of any kind of “crazy faith” or “prosperity gospel”. I have no idea how I fell into that. I imagine it was just little changes in language that eventually added up so that I was gradually led over a period of decades to where I ended up. And yet you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Which is this super difficult line for me to figure out.

As an example, I recently met with a former youth pastor of mine from the church I attended with my parents decades ago. He tried to tell me that any experience or feeling I have is basically inadmissible in the court of truth. Yet I’m sure out the other side of their mouths they tell people to have a relationship with Christ. How exactly am I supposed to have a relationship with Christ if I never experience God?! Ohhhh, do you mean I am supposed to have a relationship with the Bible instead? Or that only those in power have the authority to say that their experiences are valid but others’ experiences are conveniently not valid?

That is probably the kind of treatment that initially led me to be more and more open to other lines of thought. But I think I went to the extreme opposite end of the spectrum in my pursuit of truth. I ended up in a group where they preached basically that if I was good enough then God would provide everything I needed in the physical. Note, it wasn’t said exactly that way. Of course. But that’s basically what it boiled down to. If I had enough “faith”, if I “believed” enough, if I “followed Christ” enough, if I “died to myself” enough then God would provide for all my physical needs. And the real evil in that was there was this unspoken but understood condemnation that was communicated when your physical needs were not met: it meant you were doing something wrong or not doing enough. So the answer was easy: just do more, just be better. Because there is no end, eh?

I spent YEARS on that horrible rollercoaster. Fear consumed me because there was no love in that god we created through our own projections. It literally drove me to feeling suicidal and then eventually giving up instead of killing myself. Because even at my worst I didn’t kill myself for fear that would send me to hell before I had a chance to figure out the “right” way, how to get back to heaven. Little did I know my blindness was hell enough; no more hell was needed.

And in giving up, the pendulum swung again. I let go of thinking that I had to do anything for God to give me anything. And that was a good start. I finally realized, through Holy Spirit, that God’s perfect love casts out all fear. I accepted it like a thirsty man accepts water after walking through and almost dying in the desert. BUT… I only solved half the equation. I laid down works but I didn’t know yet how to value work. Only one letter difference but worlds apart.

If I could tell my former self what I know now, I’d say: start everything from the position of refusing to compromise on the fact that God is anything besides absolutely good! That has to be the beginning of any conversation we have. And so…

If God is always good, then it’s my perspective and understanding that is wrong if I’m doubting His goodness. This is where prayer comes in. Do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, go to God. And He will help you. Maybe not by providing you with the explanation you want, but always with the step you need to take next. Trusting His heart and thereby His timing and ways. I realize this sometimes seems like a trite statement in the faces of very real significant losses and pain. But I am sharing what has worked thus far for me.

So that’s what I did after I felt so disillusioned when God did not provide for all of my worldly needs in the ways that I expected after I accepted this already included message and rested from all my “works”. I was angry. I thought I had been given something really important. I didn’t understand why my desires to focus on sharing it were not rewarded in the physical in the ways that I thought were reasonable. This was an extremely difficult time.

Finally I stopped praying for God to do specific things and instead I started to quiet down and ask Him to show me what I was missing. Every time I felt abandoned in the physical, I would feel Him so strongly in the spiritual. There was no denying it. Even if I tried. What gives, God?

Slowly my mind started to shift. I started to understand that work is very different than works. Work is not “bad” in general. But “works” tend to not be great when commonly misused. Work is what you do to pay your bills and put food on the table. Works are things you maybe only unconsciously do in order to manipulate God into doing something for you.

Works can look like a form of religious superstition. Like I have to give the church 10% of my income in order for God to bless my business to make more money. We could go down a rabbit hole on this one, but to keep the focus, in practical matters – ONLY giving 10% to the church will not make your business successful if you sit at home on your laurels and wait for money to fly into your bank account. Work is also required. And work in this context is good.

I hate to go here because I still believe God does miracles, but I think it is cruel to preach from the pulpit that paritioners should ONLY pray away certain health conditions. I’ve heard some churches get crazy with this and attribute every negative thing to a “spirit”. To the extreme this can look like people praying away the “spirit of diabetes” or “the spirit of lung cancer”, etc. Unfortunately some of that thinking got into my head and I think it is wrong and kills people. Literally.

The alternative is to explain to people that it is ok to pray for miracles, but in the meantime we live in a physical world where if you jump off the edge of a skyscraper, probably 99.99% of the time you are going to die. Not great odds. And similarly if you don’t put in the WORK of stopping smoking and getting your diabetes under control then your chances of dying from those things are very high. All the Bible reading, serving at church, praying, tithing, etc probably ain’t gonna save your lungs if you keep smoking.

I’m one of the last to give up on a miracle, but I’m also starting to become one of the first to get to work doing what I can do in the meantime.

Does that make sense? Once you start to accept this, I’ve found you can experience a lot of anger. You can feel cheated out of sooo much by all these pastors that were more concerned about you helping build up their kingdoms while appearing completely unconcerned about how your life was being neglected and destroyed in the process. Countless people have burnt out physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Others have experienced their families and marriages falling completely apart. Even suicides and worse. Now you know why I am so passionate about seeing people freed from wrong thinking!

They are afraid the pendulum will swing all the way back again. That we will give up on God totally. I admit some or my actions might lead outsiders to wonder. I haven’t picked up a Bible in a long time. I don’t have a church I attend. But these desires are slowly coming back in better measure. I’ve learned to look to God first.

I turned a really hard corner this week: I realized the feeling of love is not enough. It might sound unrelated, but it’s not. It’s easy to feel love for someone. It’s a lot more rare to find someone who does the hard work of being a loving person. To find a person who loves because that is their character whatever the weather. Versus a person who feels love but only behaves in like kind so much as serves their purposes. Then they jump ship and leave you high and dry.

Too long I have confused the two. Works and work. And those that feel love versus those that truly are loving.

As I accept this knowledge and move forward, I have enough work to do in minding my own business. But I share for any on the same journey.

Already Included #27 – I Believe

By Sarah Nyhan

I still believe in miracles. I just don’t believe I am a fortune teller.

I still believe God can do the impossible and nothing is too difficult for Him. I just don’t believe that He always does what WE, in our limited vision and understanding, think is best.

I don’t think I have to believe enough or have enough faith to make miraculous things happen. I don’t think I have to fast enough or pray enough to make miraculous things happen.

It sounds rather harsh, but I now think that thinking there is a formula to manipulate God into doing something I want Him to do sounds a lot like witchcraft. The Bible is not a book I use to cook up spells as I stand over a boiling brew.

I now think it’s quite the opposite. I think letting go of all of that “magical” thinking is maybe more the catalyst for God being free to pour out supernatural stuff into my life as it won’t now be reinforcing any stinking thinking that would otherwise be the death of life in me.

This comes down to trust. If I think God is always and forever for me then I can relax completely. I know He wants more for me than I want for myself. I know He is not satisfied with any death or sickness in me that I am willing to settle for.

I don’t have to try to predict or control the future. I can just be. I am free to choose and make my own decisions. At the same time that I hold my dreams, desires, plans and goals very loosely. Not that I don’t aim for anything, but I now make a lot more room for God to surprise me.

I don’t think God is tricky. I now think of “signs” as more to catch my attention than literal direction. To get me thinking or to get me to the next step. Versus a literal end in themselves.

In my last post I shared an example of “signs” being used to challenge my thinking. Not in a destructive sense, but in the way where you let a kid struggle to learn something new because you know they are capable and ready.

Now let me give an example of signs being used to get me to the next step versus signs meant to be taken literally.

Back in 2009 I was living with my girlfriend. I had a dream one night where I dreamt that it was “The Rapture” and all these bodies were being lifted up into the sky, but I wasn’t. In my dream, I looked over at my girlfriend and I heard God say, “So she’s worth it?”

I woke up and shot up in bed. The dream was so realistic that I wondered if what I dreamt really happened. I called my mother and figured if she answered then “The Rapture” didn’t happen. She answered and I asked her to pray for me.

My girlfriend at this point had woken up and came to see what was going on. I told her I had to leave. In less than five or so hours later, I was moved out and living two hours away. Two years cut off just like that.

My best friend. Everything. I cried and cried and cried. I was so mad at God! But if He was that serious then I had to do what I had to do.

Flash forward ten years and I’m learning about this “already included” message. I’m realizing I was wrong about a lot of things. So my mind is more open to revisiting everything I thought I always knew. But this gay thing, that is too painful and too much to rip open right now.

Until it’s forced upon me over and over. Three specific times. The last was an encounter with a leader of a local gay Christian group. I can’t run from facing this anymore. But my “signs”?

So I followed Brad Jersak’s example of asking God what He thinks. I said, “God, what about those ‘signs’? I thought for sure you told me homosexuality was wrong? I don’t believe anymore like I did before that homosexuality is cause for someone to be separated from You. But some things are still ‘wrong’, right?”

And as God often does, the answer I received back delivered truth with surgical precision versus the hack job I was attempting: “That was the only way you would have left her before she broke your heart.”

Literally, stunned silence! I did not expect or anticipate that response at all!

When truth hits you so hard and deep that to explain it is to do it an injustice. But for the sake of my point, I’ll try to continue to communicate:

God works within our logic. He masterfully blows it up from the inside out. As Paul Young says in The Shack, not all roads lead to God but God will find us on whatever road we are on. Something to that effect. And so every moment He asks me, “What road would you like to take?”

I’m amazed that even in our brokenness, God allows us to cross paths with each other for times. So the good in us can bless each other. So the not-so-great parts in us can keep being worked out. Iron sharpening iron.

And this is the case. We needed each other for a bit. And enjoyed each other for a bit. But in retrospect I can see the time was probably coming to an end.

But back then and even until recently, I didn’t have enough self-esteem to walk away from people who weren’t all the way for me. I would have stayed until the bitter end.

God knows me better than I know myself. God knows I would never let go. God knows my heart couldn’t have taken a hit from her that would have broken my heart anymore than it was already broken. It would have knocked me down further than leaving the way I did tore me apart. Maybe the way it worked out was easier for both of us compared to the alternative.

And so He worked within my logic. He worked within what I now believe was my very false fear of eternal damnation. Because that was the only thing big enough to get me out before my heart was broken. Even to save her from having to live with breaking my heart. Wow! God is an amazing genius like that!

I wasn’t ready then to see what I see now. A lot of junk and fear had to be worked out of me before this “already included” message could be received. I need to remember this when I am so impatient for others to understand.

And the gay thing? Still being worked out. Maybe I already have the answer but I’m not ready for it. I don’t know. And honestly that’s ok right now.

God is powerful enough to make the answers obvious if that was the point of this human experience. If we’re all here just preparing for some final exam.

The process is obviously much more important than just having the right answer. The depths we explore in our working things out are beyond rich in opportunity for growth – in terms of our relationships with God, our relationships with ourselves and each other, and otherwise.

This Bible I used to love to live and die on is in my new opinion now an invitation to relationship more than the religious equivalent of a Ouija board.

It sounds like I’m being crass and bordering on blasphemy, but I’m really not. I still hold the Bible in high regard for what it actually is and what it can really do. I think it is masterfully used to achieve its intended ends – which to me is absolutely NOT to take everything in it literally.

Any rational person already picks and chooses how they interpret it. Even the most orthodox people don’t go around stoning each other in today’s society. So to consider what else may not be exactly as we have always interpreted it is not such a stretch.

But I think the Christian church at large, at least the circles I’ve been exposed to, still leans a bit more on superstition than God’s heart. And in this context, I am learning to let go of fortune-telling. I am learning to let go of trying to figure out the future. I am learning how to make a concerted effort to stop future-tripping, as I’ve heard Paul Young refer to it.

Yet I still believe God can and probably will do the impossible. Whether that looks like moving mountains in my heart and mind, or showing off for the world to see in more concrete ways – I now trust Him to decide. And I stop trying to figure it out. Common sense and experience says God being God and me being so very human, the likelihood of me accurately foreseeing how the future will play out is really low anyway.

This involves a lot of mystery. A lot of letting go. A lot of being present in the moment. A lot of trust! That only grows through experience, but not the kind of crazy “leaps of faith” we thought we needed before. True rest is risky and revolutionary for the super-religious.

“Your salvation requires you to turn back to Me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves. Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on Me – the very thing you’ve been unwilling to do.”

Already Included #26 – Signs

By Sarah Nyhan

As much as I’m ashamed to talk about this subject, I write for the little Sarah that I used to be – in case there is another like me out there that Holy Spirit somehow steers towards this page. So they’ll feel validated and less ashamed. So they’ll feel hope.

Today I had a breakthrough. A major victory. But there is quite a back story. Let me see if I can condense it enough to get you caught up fairly quickly.

I could unfortauntely write a book about the subject of “signs”. Maybe I will. But today I’ll just say that when I think back, I’m unsure of how long it’s been since I made decisions based on “signs”. I wonder when and how it started.

I know for sure it originated from being among religious people. I don’t think there was ever a sermon or study on “signs”, but more is caught than taught. I am now becoming aware that the language that people around you are using can subconsciously seep into your thinking and change you without your realizing it is happening.

For example, in the church that I started walking away from a few years ago, you could be telling someone that you were going to make a decision to pursue a certain thing and you might hear responses like: “Oh, is that what God told you to do?” Or, “Oh, so you received confirmation that that is God’s will for you?”

Another example would be when someone would be talking about a decision they made and they’d say something like, “I feel God is ‘calling’ me this way.” Or, “I’ve been led to do [such and such].”

The language is so subtle. And in that sense, insidious. No one actually ever tells you directly to start looking for “signs”. But their words imply that somehow they are hearing from God. So naturally just being around that language invites your mind to entertain those concepts.

My theory now is that unfortunately I think when you are looking for something, you will tend to only focus on seeing what you are looking for and ignore other evidence. I don’t think this is conscious. I think it’s just a fact of science and how our brains tend to operate.

The classic example is when you are looking to buy a new car. You have a car in mind and then every car you see on the road tends to be that car. Suddenly it’s like everyone owns that car.

Another example can be on the more negative side. Say you just broke up from a long-term relationship and your heart is broken. Suddenly it seems like every song on the radio is a love song sent to torture you, every person you see is flaunting the fact that they are in a happy thriving relationship, every movie is a love story, every advertisement you see is about love, etc. You get the point.

Again, this is only my opinion – but when you are in a group of religious people that tend to read the Bible in a literal way as God’s main Word to us, versus reading it more literarily and viewing Jesus as God’s Word to us, then I think we can basically end up using the Bible like a Ouija board or tarot cards.

Let me be clear: I have been one of the worst offenders I know in this area. Unfortunately bordering on… well, let’s just say my passion for God mixed with this horrible “signs” mentality led me to have a huge list of things I regret doing and are difficult to admit to even those that know and love me. Much less, publicly. I have dug myself into so many holes and have the battle scars to prove it. But I can assure you the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

This is why it is so important to guard our minds. This is why I think since I heard this “already included” message that I believe God has allowed me to be somewhat socially isolated not as punishment but rather for protection. Spiritually I have been reborn in my mind and just like you protect human infants, my newfound freedom is being protected until it has a chance to grow and get rooted in deep enough. I didn’t realize or appreciate this until recently.

This is what I think is also meant when Jesus talks about putting new wine into old wineskins. I am not able to take this “already included” message back into my old ways of being. I absolutely cannot. The box I used to live in has been blown to smithereens. I can only move forward. Sheltered by our actual God versus trying to setup a religious house of cards.

And as much as I am not used to actually totally trusting the God I always talked about, I am so thankful He is allowing the fig leaves I’ve been hiding behind to wither away. In the dying of all I thought I knew, I am finding real life. I am coming alive.

And so it goes for signs. The genius of God is that I see Him working in my logic. Blowing it up from the inside. Letting me hold onto it as long as I insist. Until I let go of my understanding and lean on His heart, His matchless unending love. Until I stop trusting in my knowing, believing, doing, etc and instead trust solely in the Father I’ve always wanted. That we’ve all always wanted. Even in the best of circumstances.

When I think back, I see there has always been an easy way and a hard way. The easy way was to take love at face value. The hard way was to do it all on my own.

The easy way was to trust God’s heart and let go of “signs”. The hard way was to not know God’s heart, to drown myself in Bible knowledge and miss the big picture. The hard way was to depend on myself and always need to know because I needed to control.

This is primarily what “signs” are about: a lack of trust and a need to know in order to control. Maybe for those who have been in a better place of knowing God versus just knowing a lot of facts about Him – maybe they have never fallen in or as far into this “signs” mentality as some of us.

And on the flip side, maybe a blessing of leaning more towards the agnostic or the atheist side is having a more grounded common-sense approach towards decision-making versus the magical thinking train of thought that I fell into as I pursued “signs”. Maybe it is easier to have that foundation and then at some point be able to see the true God and filter out all the circus of witchcraft that many Christian churches tolerate – knowingly or otherwise.

I am taking a hard line. I can because I know from first-hand experience how absolutely evil and destructive these things can be. And this is not ok. Not in any way. To turn any away from the unconditional everlasting depths or God’s very personal love for each one is the epitome of heresy and blasphemy. Is wickedness. Is the Pharisees all over again. In different clothes and different houses of worship. Jesus died for that!!! Anything else is more the work of the “anti-Christ” than what I’ve been accused of.

And that is the real interesting kicker to all of this. Never, in my entire life, have I taken more responsibility for my decisions and actions than after this “already included” message seeped into my heart, mind, and spirit. And yet the first objection I usually hear from those that oppose that everyone is eternally safe in Christ is that they think people will run totally wild if they feel like they are eternally safe with God.

I agree that there might be some testing of the waters so to speak. Some pushing of limits. Looking into the sky, waiting for lighting to strike. Waiting to fall out dead on the ground. Things you thought were off-limits before. Maybe you’ll take a taste. We see this with kids in real life quite frequently when they get their first freedom from their parents.

But from personal experience, I’d wager you might not encounter the same “grace” and “protection” you experienced in the times of your delusion. You are a big kid now. You are growing up. God prunes us. His passionate wrath FOR us knows when we are strong enough for the next step. He doesn’t quench the smoking flax or break the wounded reed. But when we are strong enough, He takes off the training wheels.

Quite a shock to me! Kinda like I was a little girl taken in by a great King and at first He provided lavishly. I didn’t to do anything. He knew I needed healing and recovering. Anything I needed, He provided. But a long time went by and He prepared me to be a full person. To be able to go our and do whatever I wanted. I was excited at first. But then the responsibilities of this freedom hit me and I was used to not having to think for myself. I was used to always having Dad bail me out. He still loved and loves me as much as ever, but he knows it’s sometimes good to tell me ‘no’ now. To help me understand the power I have by letting me experience the natural results of my choices. Never to harm me. I see this now, but not at first. Always a beloved child, but not a baby, not an infant anymore. I am designed for so much more. I need to learn and develop in order to continue to explore and enjoy the full richness of this human experience.

And here we return to the talk of “signs” and my major victory.

In 2014 I told “signs” ‘no’ for the first time in a long time. Out of desperation. Not trust. GOD showed off for me in a huge powerful way. I’ve written about it before in a piece I entitled “Iniquity“.

A short time after that, God helped me when again I said ‘no’ to “signs” out of desperation and chose a career in real estate versus teaching. That struggle had me feeling suicidal. When I say this is serious business, I know what I’ talking about.

But I still didn’t get it. Hindsight is 20/20. I look back now and see over and over and over the past five years how God has always been telling me, “I love you completely and you are totally free, but if you don’t see it then we will spend as much time as you need to in order to get through this.” My forty years, literally, wandering in the desert I insisted on. “No, I’m not ready for the Promise Land.” That was never the point. God is always big enough for us. Not that we always get what we want, but that our strength isn’t what we lean on.

I learned to trust these past two years. I felt like I failed and fell on my face more than any time in my life. And no condemnation. None. Only my choice for how long I wanted to keep banging my head against the same walls.

This is where a book would do better. I could give you chapters of examples. But let’s fast forward to two from the past month.

When I say God works within our logic, this is what I mean. I think He frustrates my thinking on purpose sometimes. So I’ll let go of bad thinking, specifically this “signs” mess. About a month ago I was wondering if I should move to Corpus Christi. As I had this thought, I crossed a street named “Corpus Christi”. Why, God?! That is way too random to be a coincidence. BUT that does NOT mean it is a “sign”. And this is where I failed before. The old Sarah would have said, “Ok, God is saying I should move to Corpus.” NO! The new Sarah sees the literal street SIGN as a challenge from God: “You get to decide, Sarah. What do YOU WANT? Would a move to Corpus get you where you are trying to go in life? Is it even feasible realistically?” Etc etc etc. I didn’t have enough “faith” to believe the literal sign was a “sign”. I actually had enough TRUST in God to turn down the “sign” and decide that a move to Corpus is not what I WANTED right now for many reasons. And it was like almost immediately after that a great job opportunity in my current city came up and I ended up being offered the position.

And yet again, that decision in regards to Corpus was more desperation even with more assurance and calm than ever before. But today!

I bought my current vehicle based on “signs” even though God allowed me to hear the salesman tell me to my face, “Sometimes I feel like the devil when I am selling cars.” I kid you not. How more obvious can you get?! Yeah there were signs all right, but my brain only saw what it was looking to see. Even as probably Holy Spirit was bringing to attention how badly my gut was feeling about the deal. But this was before I knew I was “already included”. And that vehicle ended up being a pile of junk! A continuous blaring reminder to not make decisions based on “signs”. But it takes longer for some of us.

And even though I’ve been on my Dave Ramsey hustle after finally starting to dig myself out of the giant holes my “signs” dug for me (with my help and participation), I was considering buying a new car just so I wouldn’t have to worry as much about my car’s problems.

So I went to a mechanic. He tells me he doesn’t think fixing my car is worth it. He recommends buying a Hyundai instead. Is that a “sign”?

The very next day or so I get a letter in the mail saying I am approved to buy a Hyundai at a local dealership. Is that a “sign”?!

Then a man from a Hyundai dealership calls me this morning. AND I notice this morning that a guy who spent the night at the same place I am staying is driving the same Hyundai model that I was thinking of buying. This must be a “sign”, right?!

Well, the old Sarah certainly would have thought so. The new Sarah was certainly tempted to think so. But, with the sting of following so many failed “signs” still fresh in memory, coupled with God’s unrelenting pursuit of my total freedom in His unending love for me, my mind finally had space and room to slow down this morning.

I did not ignore the signs out of desperation. This might sound like ABC 123 common sense, but for me and those who have been where I have been, this is revolutionary! Courageous, audacious, and full of bravery. To be fully present and think, “Yeah, it would be nice on many levels to have a new car. But do I really need one? No, this car I have will last a little longer and it is not my identity. I have as much value driving a beat up car as I do driving a new car. This car is a tool and it does the main job I need it to do. My priority of paying off my debts is more important to ME than buying a new car and more than doubling the debt I am trying to get out of. This isn’t about what God wants or what is “bad”. Either choice is ok to make, but I will most likely incur the natural results of whatever choice I choose. I know better now. Buying a new car does not meet my financial goals right now. So I will wait. And I have enough trust in God that if He wants me to have a new car then He will make it clear to me by providing the money. I know He can. I know it doesn’t depend on me proving anything through taking ‘crazy’ leaps of ‘faith'”.

And all of heaven rejoiced! Finally, Sarah is starting to get it. Actually They saw progress in this area in me YEARS before I ever had a clue. Many of my most “rebellious” acts have been gut responses to lies about God that I was being pressured by others to accept.

Love give you wings. Love gives you some fight in your heart. Love LIFTS YOU UP!! Real love doesn’t kick you down or when you are down. Real love isn’t scary.

First we see people teach us this. Then we experience God for ourselves. Don’t let them talk you out of what Holy Spirit has done and is doing. Tricky to balance this without falling back into the other extreme. Just trust God’s heart for you; Jesus is Their real SIGN that this is absolutely true! With an exclamation point! You can truly embrace the process. This is not a test. This is learning who and Whose you ALREADY are. More like learning to hear see what already is versus jumping back on the performance hamster/torture wheel. Relax.

This is my new manifesto: I am ready for easy love! I have done enough time. I have tried to restring myself up on the tree; I sang “Hard Love” loud and proud with the rest of them. “You can depend on me, Lord. All the others might turn away, but I’ll never give up.” No more. I am done. And it is finished. I am ready for easy love.

Lord, I believe. Thank you for continuing to help my unbelief. You are not satisfied for even one wounded lamb to think they are lost and outside of your safe embrace. I love You and You love me. You love every one of us. You love us like we never knew love before. Thank You for continuing to show us; to help us see and hear and enjoy! You do not give us the spirit of fear; but rather of power and love and a SOUND MIND!

Already Included #23 – Values

By Sarah Nyhan

I’m learning recently that just because I have the same spiritual beliefs as someone, that doesn’t mean we have the same values. I think many times in the past, I’ve excused people’s behaviors because they were in the same group of “believers” as me.

Often that group was disproportionately smaller than the general population. There is more to lose in many senses when your community is small. You might accept behavior that you would not otherwise accept if your community were larger.

This can lead to people protecting and defending perpetrators of abuse. I mean, really; let’s call it what it sometimes can be. You hate to think that some people relish the opportunity to exploit the desperation of a smaller group of passionate people. But we see this time and time again across history. Sometimes with lethal or other devastating results by the time those in control have run their course or those in the rank and file finally gather the courage to start anew.

I think one of the most important things I’ve learned with this “already included” message is that no one has the market cornered on spirituality. There are no gurus or prophets in the exclusive sense.

There are gifts, for sure. There is experience also. But without love and true communion with God, I’ve observed people holding onto yesterday’s manna (i.e. revelations) – which then leads to an ugliness taking over, usually with ego at the helm.

We should have our relationship with God as our first and maybe only authority? And then allow others to supplement that relationship when appropriate? We are each able to go to God anytime every day and get a whole new batch of manna, a whole new spiritual refueling, whole new insight. This is relationship. Versus the detachment of abdicating that role to another as intermediary.

I find most often those people who actually speak into my life, do so unknowingly. Those experiences do not feel heavy and conflicted like when another struts around with self-imposed authority, well-meaning or not.

So what does this mean pratically? A few things.

First, unfortunately I’ve had to accept the fact that just because someone believes in this new-to-me “already included” message, that does not mean they have been changed by it in the ways of heart matters. And for me to excuse their hurtful behaviors because of their beliefs is something I do not want to do anymore. This takes courage as the physical “already included” community I am aware of numbers less than several dozens of people. Much less locally.

There is also grief. Especially for someone like myself who has spent so many years operating out of a different paradigm that left me so weighted down for so many years. To understand this “already included” message is literally the best thing I’ve ever known in my life. The first real freedom. Every.single.thing has changed almost. Always for the better.

So to see another from maybe a less oppressive paradigm claim the “already included” message but not value it practically as lived out in relationship – feels like such a loss! It’s as if I discovered a stash of gold and shared it with others. They then took it from me but just stored it in their houses and did nothing with it. Maybe they even put it away for safe-keeping, but it means nothing in the experiential sense. For all practical purposes.

I find it takes longer than I’d like to accept this reality in those I’d like to behave otherwise. And yet, I’d be remiss if I focused on everyone else and neglected analyzing my own behavior in this regard.

The interesting thing is that I am finding plenty of people that don’t have any interest in this “already included” message or Christianity or any spiritual discussion for that matter. And yet, they share my same values even if our beliefs differ. This is so challenging for me to wrap my head around practically even as this makes total sense intellectually.

If all are included, then we each have varying degrees of connectedness with our Creator and manifest that in different ways. What others may lack in the more easly-recognizable spiritual stances and practices, they may make up for implicitly in their authentic actions. Motivated by a heart not numbed by theological addictions. Then are they not behaving with actual spirituality? Possibly even more so than those who would spend hours and years pressuring them to convert and say the “right” things and join the “right” groups, sing the “right” songs, etc. Oh man, this stuff gets messy.

I ask myself as a single person, what matters more? To the extreme – the man who actually values me but has no interest in talking about God? Or the man who can say and even knows all the “right” things, but only values me for what I can do versus who I am?

I am hopeful that the best of both worlds exists out there somewhere for me. The thought of being with someone who values me but is uninterested in God is very sad to me; yet I’d probably choose that option over the alternative described above if I had to make that choice,

But I face this issue not only in terms of a spouse. Suddenly I realize those in the organized corporate church might actually not be the friends I elevated them to be merely by association. There may be others “outside” that actually value me more. Actually treat me better.

I’m almost sick of words these days. For all our talking, I think we could use a lot more doing. Not to condemn others. But just to say, c’mon fam – we can do better. And maybe holding each other to higher standards is part of that.

As always, I have more than enough of my own work to do and keep me busy.

God help us.

Already Included #21 – Will It Be?

By Sarah Nyhan

A few weeks ago I was driving down the road and wondering whether I should go live in Corpus Christi. Right after I had the thought, I passed by a street sign with the words “Corpus Christi”. The old me would have seen that as a “sign” to move.

The new me saw it a little differently; saw it as a friendly challenge. As in, “Do you really need to go down this literal road again? How many times do you have to bang your head against a wall before you turn around and go a different way? Cause we can keep doing this as long as it takes. The wall ain’t going anywhere.”

Out of all these years, this has been the one thing that seems the hardest to let go of. I’m sure this has some deep-root in needing to feel safe. And in control. Whew!

We only need control when we don’t trust. Think about it. Think about a lover, fictional if need be. If you implicitly trusted that person’s heart for you, you would be ok letting go of control. But not so much if you have doubts.

And there I am with God. Still unsure after all these years. Light years beyond where I started, but still not all the way there yet. Maybe never will be. But I’d like to continue growing.

And so these signs. It’s about being able to predict the future. Which rationally is impossible. Yet our culture is so obsessed with the illusion of being able to control and predict the future that we take it for granted. We hold each other accountable for things we are really unable to promise.

I’m learning to live in the grace of each moment. Borrowed primarily from Paul Young. Like he also says, letting go of outcomes. This makes me seem like I don’t care. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. But those still on the “other side” have become very upset with me; even to the point of not speaking with me.

Because I am learning to use different language. I am not so certain anymore. Learning not to over-promise and under-deliver. Still a long way to go, but making good progress.

All to say I’ve slowly, painfully been coming around to the concept of “writing my own story”. This is completely opposite of the deterministic god I was taught in previous religious circles. That god has a plan and I was along for the ride. Hence, the signs.

This new-to-me God I think is different. Maybe not totally hands-off; I’m not buying that yet. But whenever I ask what to do, mostly all I ever get back now is, “What do you want to do?”

What do I want? I never asked those questions in the old way. That was blasphemous talk in the old way. Literally and seriously. In the old way god didn’t care about me; I had a job to do and good soldiers were rewarded.

Ironically it is the study of the history of science that is clearing things up for me. Whole worlds. These scientists were not special guys in many senses. We make them larger than life and they certainly had gifts. But in a way I think some of their non-religious focus contributed to their freedom to abandon themselves to the pursuit of the wonder of Creation they saw and experienced. To me now, science in good measure is one of the highest most beautiful forms of worship.

I imagine God not looking down on Mr./Ms. Scientist and being disappointed that they are in the lab versus going to church. Rather I now picture Holy Spirit right there across the lab table giddy with excitement as one of Their kids starts to unravel a mystery that will change the world. Totally unthreatened by the questions and debates that will ensue. All a part of the process of inviting us to draw closer. Even in our anger and disbelief. Not a puppet master; rather able to handle anything and everything we come at Him with.

And here is where my mind strains at current capacity. What might we do if we really got it? If we really understood how Creation yearns for our full release into all we were designed to be. Not in a plan so much as possibilities.

This is where the ceiling blows off all my previous boxes. From the INside out. Instead of figuring out one storyline, now the entire cosmos is a possibility. Do you know what this means?! We get to write our own stories! As in, what would your life look like if you started over with no signs, no plan. Just a pen. What would the next line be?

This means you can pursue that dream. To borrow a bit from my brother, this means it is almost a sin NOT to pursue the dream inside of you.

Now don’t get carried away; as with anything – my words can be incorrectly extrapolated to unhealthy extremes. Remember, if our choices will impact others in ways that look a lot different than love then I’d say tread so lightly and do a lot more considering and talking to God about that.

But the point remains. You could have been created as a dog or a donkey. Instead you were given the highest place on this earth and in the known cosmos. You were given life in Their Image. You are not God, you do not exist on your own. But you are definitely given so much power to create. Anything. For better or for worse.

Have you really embraced that ability and power? Is your story going to be coming home and watching TV until you go to bed? For the rest of this life? I mean, I get it; the world is really sad – sometimes you just want to get away. All I am saying is maybe don’t blame that life on God.

It hurts to dream. It hurts to pick up the pen and try again. Fact is we’ve lost a lot; we’ve been sold a bag of bad goods for a long, long time. That’s hard to take. There is anger and deep deep grief. And time to mourn. But at least for now, also another tomorrow.

They already took enough; don’t let them give us a life sentence. Take today back. Take YOUR life back a moment at a time. What does writing your own story look like in this minute?

I don’t think God is a tricky God. I don’t now think He has some magical plan that He hides from me and leaves breadcrumbs in signs for me to find. That would be too tricky, in a bad way.

Now I see it differently. I see it as He opens in my mind windows of possibilities; gives me insights into avenues for exploring. And any are mine for the pursuing. Knowing the participating is more the point than the outcomes.

This means I can dream bigger. This means I can ask for more. This means even a simple life is worth as much as solving the latest planetary crisis. We dance with this God. We are not being dragged.

I used to pray as a little girl that I wanted to walk with God like Enoch. I used to pray as a little girl that God would help me not to be deceived. That He would never leave me to myself. I see so much how those prayers have been answered over and over. To the point where I was shown I can stop praying them out of fear and relax in God’s total love and acceptance. He hears, He knows, He sees. I don’t have to beg Him for things He already is happy to give us.

I’m still not really settled or sure what prayer is anymore after all I’ve been through after the past almost two years. But what I know for sure is that there is so much more out there for us to experience and embrace. Our God is not the icon on a throne with scepter in hand as subjects prostrate themselves around on the floor. Now that is blasphemy!

Our God embraces the little children who run to Him. Children who instinctively knew He was safe to run to. Our God puts on astounding displays in new sunsets and new sunrises every day. Our God sings to us from night skies and northern lights. Everything saying there is more, there is more, there is more! More beauty in us and for us. More love. More of Him to explore.

I wonder how far we can take it? How far can we take “you have not because you ask not”. I know this is NOT name it and claim it. But unanswered questions are invitations that continue to beckon.

Whether you do much or do little, whether you do big or you do small – today you write a story. What will it be?

Already Included #18 – Beeee Still

By Sarah Nyhan

This afternoon I am sitting in the living room when I start to hear furious buzzing! I look to the window and see a bee flying up and down trying to get out. He doesn’t seem calm, rather his buzzing indicates anger.

I wanted to help but I was afraid he wouldn’t see my interference as help and would instead attack me. So I opened the front door which was less than a foot away. And waited.

I hoped Mr. Bee would realize that I had opened the door, but he was so focused on his own way that he didn’t realize me or the gigantic opening available to him if only he’d be open to another way.

I sat there wondering how long this might take. I couldn’t go back to my work. I needed to make sure he was out so I could close the door. I decided to pray. “Lord, please help the bee find the door and fly out.”

Nothing. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Up and down he went over and over literally banging his head trying to get where he wanted to go when there was a huge open door just a little step away.

So then I wondered if I could somehow mentally communicate with the bee and tell him to move. Not really expecting it to work, but happy if it did. “Bee, move to the right, move to the right.”

Nothing. He’s as lost as ever. So I’m standing there staring at the bee and wondering what to do next.

Soon these people start walking outside and talking. Then a big truck drives by. Then a hawk calls. Then birds start chirping. And the breeze is whipping in. Surely the bee could hear and feel how close his freedom was just a foot away?

No change. Finally I realize this is a metaphor for me. God knows I need pictures like this.

The bee represents those people that I want to experience the same freedom that I now experience. We are both looking at God, but they are separated from the experience that I get to enjoy by such a small but important difference.

I want them so badly to stop banging their heads and just take one extra step over and consider another way that will help them see God to be greater than they already know.

Yet, in my previous attempts these past two years of trying to intervene and “help” people get to freedom, I have not been well-received because they don’t think I am helping.

Now I’ve learned to step back, but I admit I get impatient. I still try to pray them in or send them thoughts hoping something will get through.

Finally with the bee today, I started to pray for myself. “What should I do, God?” I felt like He gave me the sense that I should do nothing other than to share this story. After I started writing, the bee changed course and flew through the open door and out into freedom.

The lesson for me was to stop focusing on changing other people. Holy Spirit was fully invested and completely able to get me where I needed to be. In the same manner, God is also revealing Himself to everyone else.

In the meantime, I feel like the most I can do is embrace what I experience and simply share my story. Just beeee still and know that He is God.

A well-lived life, marked by genuine love for others, and the genuine fruits of love that grow as we experience our Creator’s unending passion for us, will speak volumes more than the most carefully-crafted theological defenses.

A sure change from times past. Where it all depended on us. Now I begin to actually live and truly love.

God’s got us.