Already Included #7 – The Gospel of Blindness

Last week I attended Port Orchard Church of the Nazarene in Port Orchard, Washington. There was a guest speaker named Dan Schiopu from Woodland, Oregon. As an interesting coincidence, four months ago I had listened to another talk by Dan that was recorded at the same Port Orchard church back in 2012. I didn’t put two and two together until about a week before Dan was supposed to speak this time. I loved the talk that was recorded in 2012.

The talk Dan gave last week did not disappoint either. I asked Dan if I could have his notes and share where I wanted. He gave his gracious approval and said I could edit them as I saw fit. So here we are. Most of what follows is direct quotations from his notes. Other times I might paraphrase.

I am not going to offer my own commentary because I think the words speak for themselves. However, if there are any comments, I can address them at another time. So without further ado, here is the talk Dan gave. He started with John Godfrey Saxe’s version of a poem entitled “Blind Men and the Elephant”:

It was six men of Indostan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear,
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approach’d the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” -quoth he- “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” -quoth he,-
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said- “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” -quoth he,- “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

There are two streams of the gospel that are in the church today. And in a sense there always was. The first is the gospel of separation and the second is the gospel of blindness. Each of these two streams deal with different issues or address different problems.

The gospel of separation has its roots in Greek dualism. It has been greatly impacting our western worldview through the teachings of Augustin, who lived in the 4th century.

The gospel of separation starts with the premise that Man is separated from God because of sin. Sin is primarily a behavior – the bad things that we have done. The gospel of separation says that God is holy and because of man’s sin, because of Adam’s sin, there was this big gap that was formed between God and man. And because God is too holy to look at sin, God is too holy to be in the presence of sin, God is allergic to sin, then God needed to separate himself from man because of sin. And because of his holiness and justice, God is actually angry, offended, and estranged from His Creation. Therefore, we are objects of His wrath deserving of punishment and eternal damnation.

In the gospel of separation, God is our first problem. God is angry with us. God is against us. There is a big gap between man and God. Something has to happen before God can even look at you. God needs to change before we can have any kind of a close relationship.

The gospel of separation is focusing on sin, or what you have done wrong. Your sinful activities are the main issue. Jesus died for the bad things that you have done. Jesus died for your sins. Jesus died to change God. Jesus died so God can change from angry, vengeful, and ready to punish you to being kind,

gracious, and benevolent towards you. The gospel of separation is behavior-focused and the primary objective is to change God’s predisposition towards you.

There is another alternative: the gospel of blindness. Paul and John are the ones who champion this presentation of the gospel.

Light does not create things. Light reveals things. Light brings to the surface things that were hidden but that were always there. When you enter into a room that is pitch black, you have no idea what is in that room. So you could have access to amazing riches, wisdom, and resources but they are of no avail to you because you cannot see them. When you turn the light on, suddenly you could say: “Wow, who brought these things into the room? When did they get here? How did they get here?” The reality is that they were always there but because you were in darkness you did not know it. It was hidden from you. And when the light came, when the light was turned on, things did not suddenly appear into the room. But rather you were able to discover what was always there even though you did not know it. And because you did not know it, you could not access it, you could not benefit from it, and you could not enjoy it.

One of the primary things that the gospel of blindness reveals is that God has never changed. God has never changed His predisposition towards you. He was always for you. He never deserted you or separated Himself from you.

Let’s look at the two words that most Christians agree are the right response to the Gospel – even though I think we still ask the wrong question: What must we do to be saved?

I think Peter, Paul, and the other disciples gave the right answer. The two words that Jesus used in his interaction with people were repentance and belief.

Repentance simply means metanoia: change the way you think, look at things from a different perspective. Look at God, life, and yourself from a different angle. This invitation of Jesus takes us back to The Garden – where we can look to see where things went wrong. What was the command that God gave to Adam and Eve, the charge that God gave to Adam and Eve? You can eat from any tree of The Garden – life is open before you. Life is a full of possibilities. You can eat from any tree, no restrictions.

God had a big yes for Adam and Eve to experience life – and life more abundantly.

But one thing you need to be aware of: Do not eat apples. Apples are bad for you. Don’t eat from the tree of anger. Don’t eat from the tree of lust. Don’t eat from the tree of… Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

There are so many ways you can look at that passage of Scripture. Let me shine the light on it this way:

Guard your mind: take care of your thoughts. Be careful of what voices and thoughts you allow to roam in your mind. Because your mind and your brain are the center of your life. A healthy mind, a healthy brain can lead to life. A mind that thinks wrong will lead to death.

Neuroscience reveals that all the main aspects of your life originate in your brain. Sometimes we think that our brain controls only the intellectual aspects of our life. Like ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. But your brain is the emotional center of your life. How well you control your emotions starts in your brain – the regulating factor. Your character is shaped by your brain. Your resilience, your self-control, your capacity for compassion and empathy – all have your brain as their starting point. How you interact with the world around you, how you see the world around you – that originates in your brain. Your ability to hope, to anticipate good. Or to despair, to be anxious. These are not functions of your physical heart. They are functions of your brain. Your relationships are shaped by what is going on in your brain. You can also turn that around and say that your relationships are shaping your brain. Your brain determines how you experience life. And your life experience shapes your brain.

God says: You can eat from any tree. Life is open for you. Full of joy, adventures, exploration, discoveries, awesome relationships with one another and with the Trinity. I created you for life and life more abundantly. Your responsibility is to steward your mind. You are in charge of your thoughts. And the quality of your thoughts will impact the quality of your life.

It is an empowering statement. God says: I made you powerful. What happens between your ears determines the direction of your life.

We know the story: Adam and Eve did not heed the charge that God gave them. The results have been tragic. Humanity’s understanding has become darkened. Our whole perception of reality has been distorted. Our images of God, ourselves, and those around us have been perverted.

Isaiah 59:10 graphically describes the problem of the human race: “Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong we are like the dead”.

Jesus comes on the scene and announces: Metanoia – for the kingdom of God is at hand. Life is available for you again. You can eat from any tree. I came to lift the blinders off your mind. I came to give you a new perspective on life. I came to heal your mind. I came to heal your life by healing your brain.

One thing becomes clear when you look at the fall through this perspective: behavior was never the main issue. God’s charge was not about obedience to a command: Listen to Me or else. I am God and it is your job to obey Me. If you obey Me then things are going to go well for you. If you disobey Me then I will have to punish you. Submission, compliance, and obedience are your main responsibilities. I am God and you are man. I am the Creator and you are the creature. I know everything and you know nothing.

Is that why God made you? Let me ask an even more important question: is that how God made you? Is your main goal in life obedience, submission, and compliance? Why have a will in the first place? Why not make you with a default capacity to only say “yes”? To always comply, to always submit, and to always obey.

It is very interesting when you look at Paul’s encounter with God on the way to Damascus. Remember the story about how Paul fell from his horse and was blinded by a bright light. What was Paul’s question? Who are you, Lord? And then the second question was: what do you want me to do?

We build discipleship programs on that question. Many people have made that question the cornerstone of discipleship.

What if we look at that question from a different angle? At least we are allowed to. What if that question tells you more about how Paul saw God than how God really is? What if that question reveals Paul’s idea of a God who by definition requires submission and compliance from his creatures?

Let me shine the light on the angle a little bit more. It is interesting that in Jesus’ interaction with people, Jesus flipped the question around. So instead of people asking Jesus “what do you want me to do?” (sometimes they did), Jesus asked people: What do you want? What do you want me to do for you?

Those are very powerful questions that greatly reveal God’s heart for humanity. God is asking you: What do you want me to do for you?

In some cases, it seemed evident what the people needed. For example, the blind man needed healing. Jesus’ question to the blind man almost seemed like a redundant question. But I believe it was a very important question that reveals a lot about how God treats us. In asking the question, God does not make any assumptions. God honors you by listening to what you say. God does not say: I know what’s best for you; let me just give it to you. He doesn’t push Himself on you. In asking what you want, God is communicating to man: I value you. I respect you. I want relationship with you. And relationships require consent, mutual desire.

But on a deeper level, Jesus addresses a really important core aspect of humanity: your will, your need for autonomy, your need for freedom. God created you in His image and in His likeness. That comes with a need to have a sense of control and autonomy over your life.

Big question: What is God’s will? What is God’s will for my life? People spend hours and days and weeks and years trying to figure out God’s will for their lives. Can you imagine my son asking me every morning: “Dad, what do you want me to do today? Give me a list of things that you want me to do.” Next day: “Dad, what do you want me to do today?” While that would make for a very peaceful life around the Schiopu family, after a couple of days of indulging myself and enjoying my power over him, I would start to be very concerned about his development as a human being. I would then turn the question around and say: “What do you want?”

Relinquishing your ability to choose makes you less human. This is why we as a human race stand up against slavery and any kind of attempt of humans to control, manipulate, or take advantage of other human beings.

Jesus came to restore your humanity. God’s will for your life is for you to discover that God values your will. Part of what makes you human is your ability and the freedom to make choices. God is not interested in your compliance, but rather He is interested in your cooperation. God is not interested in your obedience, but rather He is interested in your participation.

You can command and demand obedience and submission. But you cannot demand cooperation and participation. Cooperation and participation are things that only love can produce.

Is God like a carpenter or is God like a gardener? Does God have a predetermined design for your life or and outward plan that He wants you to fit into. Words like “destiny” and “calling” are big words in Christian circles.

Or is God like a gardener who wants to water, nourish, and protect the seeds that are inside of you? His ultimate desire being that you become your authentic self.

God has no desire to control, manipulate, or coerce you into being someone else. Or into doing something for Him. God does not have a higher agenda that he wants you to accomplish while sacrificing you in the process. God’s highest agenda is you being you – to the fullest. The world is most blessed and changed when you discover what you want and are your most authentic self.

We have images of what a Christian should look like. Todd White is a good model: very evangelistic, outgoing. Reaching out, talking to people on the street. Healing the sick. Words of knowledge.

I am grateful for Todd White, but God did not create you to be Todd. God created you to be you.

We like to create models of what Christians should look like. Every denomination has their own models that depend on their value system. What if we give up trying to live up to a model? What if Jesus’ question for you is: what do you want? What makes you you? What do you desire? Why don’t you stop comparing yourself with other Christians? Why don’t you stop trying to live up to an ideal about what you think you should be and let me help you discover who you are. And part of who you are are things that you might be really good at and some things that you are not very good at.

Metanoia is God’s invitation for you to partner with Him to change, rewire, and heal your brain. It is a partnership.

Circling back around, the second word Jesus used was belief or faith. Sadly, because we looked at the Gospel as a transaction then we made faith or belief a currency of that transaction. We defined faith as:  do you believe the right things? We said the four spiritual laws are you are a sinner, you are separated from God, Jesus died to bridge the gap (He died for your sin), and if you believe the right things about God then you are in the “saved” category. If not, then you are in the “damned” category.

What if we look at the word “belief” or “faith” and replace it with the word “trust”? Trust is a relational word. In this second model, you realize that you cannot command someone to trust you – even if you are God. Trust is not something that you choose to do. Rather, trust is the result of Someone proving Himself as trustworthy. You can only fully trust someone after knowing them and realizing that they are worthy of your trust. Trust is not something that you demand. Trust is something that you earn.

John 16:8-9: When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me.

What does that mean? Is the Holy Spirit going to make them feel guilty because they don’t believe in God? How does he do that? Beat you over the head? “You don’t believe, you don’t believe.”

How is the Holy Spirit going to heal your unbelief? By revealing Himself to you!

Let’s switch the word “believe” with the word “trust”: “The Holy Spirit is going to convict the world of sin because they don’t trust Me.”

How do you make someone trust you? By proving yourself to them as trustworthy. The Holy Spirit is on a mission to gain humanity’s trust back.

What happened in The Garden? Adam and Eve were afraid of God, they no longer trusted God. Because they listened to the wrong voice and were not very good stewards of their minds. Because they believed lies about God then they no longer trusted God.

What was the purpose of the incarnation? God came in the form of a man in order to regain humanity’s trust. God came to prove to the human race: you can trust Me. I was always on your side. I have never deserted you. I was never against you. My name is Emmanuel – God with us!

Scott Schang, a dear friend, had this saying that took me awhile to understand: Jesus came to exonerate the Father.

Jesus came to show us that God is not like how we have thought.

Let me show you what God is like. What did the life of Jesus reveal?

John 3:16-21: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world though him might be saved. He that believes on Him is not condemned; but he that believes not is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God; and this is the condemnation, that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light for fear that his actions will be exposed; but he that does the truth comes to the light to make it plain that all he has done, has been done through God.

“For every one who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light for fear that his actions will be exposed.” Is that a legitimate fear? Should we be afraid to come to the light? Why are we afraid of our deeds being exposed? What would happen next after our deeds are exposed? Can we trust “the light” with our deeds? Or do we have legitimate reasons to be afraid?

John 4 illustrates this powerful truth with the story of the Samaritan woman. You know the story about how the Samaritan woman had a discussion with Jesus while she was getting some water. Jesus uses the water analogy to pinpoint her real problem as “her heart being thirsty”. He promises to quench her thirst forever. Jesus was speaking metaphorically about the thirsting in her soul.

Then Jesus comes a little closer and says: go and call your husband. And she says: I don’t have a husband. And then Jesus says: this is true because you had five husbands and the one with whom you are with now is not your husband.

It got a little too personal. So the Samaritan woman tried to then engage in a religious discussion about worship. Jesus then makes, in my appreciation, the most powerful statement about worship: you will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. There is more going on in that discussion than we have time for right now.

Verses 28-29: The woman left her water pot, and went her way into the city and said to the men, come and see a man which told me all things that I ever did. Is this not the Christ? Then they went out of the city and came to him.

Isn’t that a little strange? This woman was known for her immoral lifestyle. She comes and tells the people from the city: “Hey, this guy told me all the bad things I ever did.” And then the response of the people is: “Wow, that’s cool! Let’s go and have all our dirty laundry exposed for everyone to know. That sounds like a good idea. This guy knows all our secret sins and wants to expose them. Let’s go and meet him. Who wouldn’t want that? Let’s run into the light.”

That completely contradicts what John 3 says. What happened to these people? What did the woman say to the people that caused them to not be afraid of the light? What did the woman experience that caused her to trust the light and encourage others to do the same? What happened? How did Jesus gain her trust?

What do people expect to get when their evil deeds are exposed? Judgments, accusation, punishment, shame, and labeling. See John 8 about the woman caught in adultery. If this is how the religious leaders of the day treated people when their evil was exposed, then probably this is how God must be like? No wonder people are afraid to come to the light.

How did Jesus gain her trust? Jesus understood her. Why did Jesus bring up her five husbands? To embarrass her? First of all, to show her: “I know you as you are and I accept you as you are.”

Religion only accepted her with fig leaves on. As long as she could hide her evil deeds then she was accepted by religion. That is why she was afraid to come to the light.

In opening the door about her past, Jesus showed her: I know you and I don’t judge you, I don’t condemn you, I don’t shame you, and I don’t turn my back on you.

Jesus opened the door to her history, to listen to her story: I want to know you and understand you. I know what happened to you when you were a little girl. I know about the toxic environment you grew up in. I know you never encountered unconditional love. I know your heart was always searching for love, but unable to find it. So, you went from relationship to relationship. I understand you. I fully accept you. I embrace you where you are, as you are – with no expectation, no obligation. I love you. I see beyond your actions, beyond your behavior. I see the pain of your heart. I see the hunger of your soul. I see the goodness that I put in there when I made you. I believe you.

So, when she went to her friends in the city, maybe she said: “This man knew everything about me and I felt no accusation from him, no condemnation from him, no judgment. I actually felt safe. I felt loved. He listened to my story and He understood, accepted and embraced me as I am. I felt valuable and important. I actually felt clean. I actually felt alive. I feel like I am not thirsty again in my soul. My soul has found what it was looking for. His light penetrated my darkness and set me free from it. Could this be the Messiah?”

This is the condemnation, the judgment that the world is under; They are afraid to come to my light, they are afraid to come to me, because They don’t trust me, they think that , if they come to my light, they will be judged, accused, condemned, rejected; So they prefer to stay in darkness; This is the condemnation that I came to lift from the people – that somehow their evil deeds are a problem for me. This is why Adam and Eve have hidden behind the trees in the garden, because they were afraid to come to me, thinking that I want to expose, accuse, condemn and judge them for what they have done wrong. I came to regain their trust, by identifying myself fully with them.

Hebrews 2:14-18. Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death. It’s obvious, of course, that he didn’t go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham. That’s why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high

priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed.

Hebrews 4: 14-16. Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. For we have no superhuman High Priest to whom our weaknesses are unintelligible—he himself has shared fully in all our experience of temptation, except that he never sinned.

Brennan Manning, the author of “The Furious Longings of God”, shares how he went into a European country. In order for him to be able to minister in a certain prison, he would have to turn himself in as a prisoner. He would have to live in the prison. He chose to do that in order to minister to the criminals in the prison. Even though he was innocent, he put on prison clothes.

Why did Jesus became a man? One of the reasons is to bridge the gap of trust. He became like us, lived like us, saw and experienced life through our eyes – so he can look every human in the eye and say: I understand you and I accept you.

One of the greatest needs of the human heart is to be understood and accepted for who they are, as they are, where they are. That is what builds the bridge of trust. That is what opens the heart to the process of healing.

Metanoia will change your life. The healing of your brain, the healing of your mind, will bring personal transformation.

Trust heals our hearts and opens the door for metanoia to happen in our lives.

Triage

“I give you permission to be mad at me… I’m going to fight for your life even if it means I have to fight you to get it.”

Spoken by Iyanla Vanzant, but I hear the heart of Papa. Our Father. Maybe one of the more succinct pictures of the redeeming wrath of God personified.

And why not? Iyanla is included and participates in the conversation, in the great dance that is relationship, not religion. That we all are involved in. Even as we stumble. Even when we turn our backs and see only the hell of the darkness of our own shadow.

Christ in you, the only hope. And you in Him.

I don’t know the answer to every little question about how it all works. But I finally don’t need to. It’s the difference between reading a bunch of books about a person versus actually knowing them. Think of the person you know the most about. You might not be able to explain everything about them to someone but you know what you know and that’s enough. If someone else wants to get to know them then they will truly understand also. Beyond the cerebral.

I’m all about sharing insight. That’s why I write. I am 100% interested in knowing all the answers. But the difference now is that my security doesn’t depend anymore on knowing the right answers. My security is now in God alone. Who God is and how much God loves us. Loves me. Loves you. I need a God that big.

I think about people who vehemently disagree with me and, with a few exceptions, most of them are much better people than I am. Some of the best people I know. And I hesitate to say it, but I know eventually you get to a point where you need a God that is bigger than you. When the wind gets knocked out of you spiritually, emotionally, mentally, etc and you find yourself face down on the ground.

Not that God is punishing you. Not that He has some sick power trip where He wants to see you suffer. But if you insist, He lets you carry a big enough chunk of the whole world so that you will figure out you can’t and don’t need to.

I heard someone say the other day that faith is knowing you have nothing to offer. Not that you are nothing. Jesus didn’t die for nothing. God so LOVED you that He hung bleeding and naked on the torture device we nailed Him to just to prove that you can give Him everything you got and you still won’t exhaust His love. Your healing is His mission.

You are free to surrender. You are free to rest. You are free to fall back into arms that already hold your heart.

I am learning to give up.

Heads Up

They call it crazy until you’re “successful”. If you “make it” then they come asking you to show them how to do it. Until then, courage in this capitalist consuming society is not only extremely expensive but also very dangerous. Don’t be fooled by all the “go after your dreams” rhetoric; success is idolized and they permit process only to that point. God’s love and acceptance gives you wings but the crabs will still try to keep you in the bucket. Especially if they consider your performance a reflection of theirs. Can we give people a little more room to be human and not have everything figured out? There isn’t a manual for this kind of flight. It’s not blasphemy to try something and learn a few lessons. Trust yourself and others with God and His never-ending love.

To You

Dare I say that a theology that divides and separates is no gospel at all. If my theology doesn’t help me see all in Christ then I think it is headed in the wrong direction. Back to the spiritual stone ages.

If my theology doesn’t lead me to love people more then I don’t think it is correct. Now let me clarify that love is not the same thing as enabling or condoning all behaviors. There is no love in lies. Deeper connection is sometimes associated with increased costs required to take a stand for what is the ultimate best for all involved.

But if my theology puts us back into an us/them or in/out mentality, then I think we’re circling back around the same old worn out mountain. The same tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Same song, different verse. No real substantial difference than the rest of the religions out there.

Real life is so much more complicated. Existing on continuums. Spectrums of awareness. We need each other. The difference between asking why versus the pride of certainty. Investigating. These are real people with real lives. And Jesus loves them all. God loves them all. Holy Spirit loves and is constantly at work with and in all.

If The Good Shepherd goes to gather every last little sheep, what gives us the right to give up on someone? Giving them over to God is not giving up on them. We do what we do but their healing is not our responsibility. We participate. Salvation does not originate in us. Relief from the condemnation rained down by probably well-meaning clergy and also a multitude of common every-day religious folk.

Loving you means I can tell you no as well as telling you yes. Loving you asks, “What can I do to help?” Versus circling around the sinner with stones ready to throw. This is a heart issue. Not another behavioral checkbox. We comfort with the comfort we have been given.

Start by looking inside first. This is not about posturing. This is not about simplistic “happy thoughts”. Real relationship rises to face reality. With a heavy dose of hope. From our Creator, our Father. Whose heart is full of eternal unfailing love.

This love happens organically. This theology arrests your heart and new life flows upward to your mind. Unforced joy and peace that passes understanding lifts you up out of the performance pit and into the everlasting arms of a Father that enjoys you and doesn’t do abandonment.

Will you rest in Him?

We all want to be loved. At what point did you give up? At what point was it too much? What is the next root of deception that we can expose and remove in the pursuit of embracing the truth of your identity in Christ and the wonder of all that entails? How can I help you embrace the new life that is already yours for the taking? That will free you as no other formula ever could.

Thoughts to consider as you continue in conversation with those you encounter in this moment. Relying solely on Holy Spirit for protection and specific direction.

Selah.

Summit

I was on the top of a mountain. I went to the Northwest School of Theology conference. It was the last full day. I hadn’t said much until this point. But my passion was stirred. My spirit was heavy. So much energy in the room. I spoke. Some congratulations followed.

Then another moment to speak a little while later. I knew the time was coming. I had prepared something. I almost didn’t share it because it seemed more serious than what others had shared and I didn’t want to be the person to shut down the party. But at the last minute I decided to share what I wrote and leave it in God’s hands. The reaction was overwhelming. I had to turn away.

I’ve experienced this before two or three times. It’s difficult to describe but it’s like I’m not even in the room when it happens. It’s like my mind can’t really take it all in and understand it. I’m there but I’m not seeing everything and I can’t remember much afterward. Only bits and pieces.

I remember a lot of people talking to me in a congratulatory way. I remember someone I know giving me a hug. I remember someone saying I am a theologian. I remember one of the speakers, Brad Jersak, saying he wanted to put what I wrote on a blog: http://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2018/09/never-give-up-by-sarah-nyhan.html

So I was really pleased. It seemed like all the struggles of the past year were paying off in a sense. I felt like God helped me to communicate the comfort with which He has comforted me. And hope. Especially hope.

My expectations were that maybe I’d finally reached the top and it would be all downhill driving from here. Not a fall but more like smooth sailing. I was pretty disappointed when faced with problems soon after. The very next day in fact. More than blowing a tire on the interstate on the way home at 3am after my flight was delayed over two hours, the real disappointment was in sharing my excitement with others outside the group and receiving little to no response.

It was good in the sense that it humbled me. I’m afraid of becoming prideful and ruining everything. Having my mountain top experience during the conference and then nobody outside of the conference really giving a flip about what I said afterward was great for keeping my feet planted firmly on the ground.

At the same time I felt frustrated and disappointed. I feel most times like I have the best news on the planet and nobody wants to hear it. I feel like I have invitations to the best party in town and nobody wants to go. Jesus talked about this also. So I’m in the best company.

It was also interesting to think about why the reactions are so different. God is not weak. Think of all the stories. If He wanted to, He could make this all known in such a way that people would hear it and see it. Why doesn’t He do that?

All I can think of is that the not knowing leads people to seek Him in the process of trying to figure out life and themselves. So again I am faced with the new perspective that knowing the right answers isn’t the main point. The main point is relationship.

Maybe some of these people aren’t at the place where they are ready to hear what I have to say? Not that I as a person am better. But in some ways I think WHERE I am is better. In other words, it is what it is and that’s ok either way.

It’s just such a mental trip to see something so clearly and put it in front of someone else and they have no idea what you are talking about. They don’t see what the big deal is.

It reminds me of “the dress” that went viral awhile ago. Some people swore it was black and blue. Others swore it was white and gold. How can we both be correct and be so different? Or the yanny/laurel phenomenon?

I read once that the color blue doesn’t even exist in nature. It is only our eyes that see it based on the filters we have for the light that we see. Or that’s my understanding at least.

In like manner, I read somewhere that people with blue eyes like my own see shades of colors differently than others. Maybe that’s why sunsets and shades of blue resonate so deeply with me when others could care less.

All to say it seems like the same applies spiritually. I have to come to the place where I don’t need anyone else to validate what I am saying. Where it’s ok if nobody gets it. Where I can be happy and let others be where they are in this adventure.

Yet share anyway. Still open my heart. Still be available. Not get bitter or discouraged. This is all so much bigger than me. My identity and value cannot be wrapped up in what I share or who cares about it.

Let others be. Trust God with the details.

Not everything I wanted to say on this. Or the way I wanted to say it. But life calls…

A picture is worth a thousand words. I’ll end with a meme and a quote a friend shared with me. She’s the only one outside of the conference who seemed to understand and share my joy.

Huddle

My ex tried to warn me. When I told her I found a church back in 2011, she said it was just a club. I thought to myself, “What’s wrong with being part of a club of people that are headed in the same direction as I am?” Well, it’s fine when you are accepted, but it turns really ugly when they reject you.

I say ‘they’ knowing full well at times that I probably treated others the same way that I am being treated now. Maybe Justin Timberlake’s lyrics are wisdom: what goes around comes back around. Or more to what my readers may know: judgement, so to speak, begins in the house of the Lord. We, those who have at times incorrectly esteemed ourselves to be quite elite, forget that to the measure we judge others is the standard by which we also setup our own medicine.

And so I sit here after being rejected by those still in the club. They tell me that what I now believe is from the devil. They tell me that I am with the anti-Christ, even though the whole crux of my hope is the incarnation of Jesus and I can’t shut up about what that means to me.

They tell me that I am a heretic and they are going to warn others about me. Which in a funny ironic way is “free press” that might in the long run reach more people and have more of an impact than would be possible without them. Takes a whole new meaning to the concepts of “no bad press” and God working all things for good. They are spreading the good news without even intending to or realizing it. Their prayers being answered contrary to their expectations and without their awareness. Evidence that we are all participating with Holy Spirit, even and maybe more so in our weakness. All glory to God.

They tell me that I don’t care about the truth anymore and so they distance themselves from me. Which is ironic as their mission is apparently to bring people to truth. Yet in their own words and actions, they leave those they have identified as lost. I am thankful Jesus doesn’t do the abandonment I experience from some of those that sing His name every Sunday.

Again, I say this knowing I’ve done the same in the past. All well-meaning actions motivated by verses in the Bible that I thought justified and even commanded my actions. So I get it. In a way I am now quite blessed to have the perspective of both sides. Hopefully my words will bring healing to all. To those that are probably ignorant to how they are hurting others. And to those that are being hurt.

But as this journey continues, I am encountering a phenomenon that I did not anticipate: I am learning how to be a real person and live a real life. Grieving the multiple decades that I have formerly lived pretty much in a cult mentality. More generously referred to by those in the club as a “holy huddle”.

It is literally like I am learning to be a human again. Thinking all along that I was light years ahead and now conversely feeling so far behind. Like an alien that has landed on a new planet. Worse than being a child because I have to unlearn all the old junk in addition to figuring out the new ways. A huge serving of humble pie. More prayers being answered in unexpected ways.

The beauty being those teaching me by example are completely unaware of how much they are challenging me in the best ways. People those in the club deem unworthy. Children of God even if they have sex with the wrong people, imbibe the wrong substances, and don’t look the part. Waiving the wrong flags but expressing more love. In actions, where it counts most.

This stretches every part of the former me still hiding out deep within my psyche. All my boxes are being burst open. For the better I’m sure. But it’s taking time for me to get my bearings. To navigate this new course. Or rather to be led. To be held, quite literally. Not on the performance treadmill anymore. Not trying to balance the world on my shoulders while spinning all the so-called “spiritual” plates.

Finding my safety not in deciding who is in and who is out. But rather experiencing a firm foundation in the absolute security of my identity as a beloved child of God in Christ. Perfect love casting out fear after fear that silos me when I attempt to self-protect. Some of which include the fears of failure, not having the correct answers, not having all the needed information, not having enough time, and never experiencing relief or justice during my time on this planet.

Increasingly ensured that God is bigger than me. Bigger than us. Bigger than our failures and our pain. Bigger than our minds can know. Better than our hearts can imagine.

His love the only strength that keeps me from shutting down in the face of such relentless suffering and sadness that is endlessly experienced and broadcasted. His love in those moments where He shows me He sees me. His love surprises me, catches me completely off guard when expressed even sometimes most grandly through the seemingly selfless gestures and generosity of relative strangers outside of the religious clubs.

And as tempting as it is to swing the pendulum in the extreme opposite direction, happiness is found in releasing everyone from my expectations. Relishing and celebrating those moments of connection where our actions align beautifully with who God created us to be. Yet relying only on Him. Understanding all are human; still broken at their best. Giving each other permission to be in process. While not excusing, enabling, condoning, or allowing behaviors that should not be. And in that regard, realizing the dance of defining every minutia is way above our pay grade. We do our best and trust God with the rest.

A person I am especially fond of advised me to mine for diamonds. Or in the words of another human I appreciate, eat the meat and spit out the bones. That is what is helping me a lot as I learn what this new life of relationship looks like. Celebrating the good keeps my heart and hands open. Enjoying people when they stay and genuinely giving them grace when they go. Knowing whatever happens here in this life is only the beginning of the story.

Views

Looking at the mountain is not the same thing as being on the mountain. The views are completely different. So is our experience when we make a religion out of spending all our time inspecting the invitation to relationship with God. We substitute looking the part for real healing. And yet God is with you now wherever you are. Ask Him. Ask Jesus to reveal God to you.