Already Included #59 – No Condemnation

What an adventure. Trinity never ceases to amaze me.

I pictured Peter tonight. It sounds to me like he left his day job to follow Jesus. Jesus who looked like a human man, but Peter undeniably saw something different about this man. Peter probably heard all the gossip, all the naysayers, all the arguments against Jesus. And he tried his best. He dove in head first. He knew there was something Divine about this Jesus. Who leaves their day job to follow someone around without a plan? Surely Peter experienced God.

But then they are sitting in the garden and here is his Hero giving Himself over to the bad guys. To all the people who were fighting against them. Jesus just gives Himself up. I imagine Peter must have been so confused.

Here he left his job, defended Jesus to probably so many, maybe even his loved ones doubted his decision to join this rough group of followers without a plan. Just going here and there without any concrete outcome.

I mean these people come from and are surrounded by and were born into a very concrete religious community. Their entire society revolved around this monumental structure of a religion. Every facet of their lives were defined by the religion.

And Peter has the audacity to break away from the system. Peter has the audacity to throw away everything he’s ever known. Peter has the audacity to stand up to the pillars in his society.

And then his Jesus, this man he was so sure about, just gives Himself over and seems to throw in the towel.

I imagine Peter watching from a distance thinking, “Any time now my Jesus is going to throw these dogs off His back and show them who is boss. Show them who the real God is.” But then he watches them beat Jesus mercilessly.

Maybe as they place the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head, Peter says, “Surely my Jesus will save Himself now. He saved everyone else.”

Maybe even when they placed the cross on Jesus’ back.

Maybe even when they stabbed the nails into Jesus’ body on the cross. Maybe even then Peter still held to His Jesus saving the day.

But then the cry. Then the water from Jesus’ body as the spear was thrust inside.

I imagine the sick feeling in Peter’s stomach as the people took Jesus’ body down from the cross. Maybe the doubts screamed so loudly inside of him. Maybe all the memories of the gossip and the naysayers and the religious arguments came flooding back to him. Maybe the most insidious of all flooded his mind: logic.

Maybe the other followers stood looking at Peter for an explanation. Maybe he had to go home to his family who were already past their last bit of patience with him. And then this.

The darkness of the night settled in. The stone was rolled over the tomb. And Peter’s Jesus looked very much like a human man who was dead. And Peter may have thought he looked to many like a fool following a crazy man.

But the miracles? But all the experiences with Jesus? Peter had been so sure. But now his Jesus lay very much dead. And with Him all that Peter had invested. Everything. His entire life. His reputation. His friendships. He had been so sure. Why did Jesus let him down and leave him? Alone.

The silence the next morning must have been unbearable. The deafening roar of a million questions. Of all his doubts coming true: “What if I was wrong? I probably took it too far like they told me. I probably should have just watched from the sidelines. Now look at me. I have nothing. How can I ever recover from this? And more – my heart. How will my heart and mind ever recover from this? Who on earth will have me now?!”

The looks in the street. Maybe haughty. Maybe filled with disgust.

Maybe it felt like a giant kick to the gut back to square one. Starting all over again except this time even farther down. “Look at me. I’m not a young man. I should have known better. Maybe I just saw what I wanted to see. Maybe I made it all up. Maybe I should have listened to them and just settled down and into place.”

Where was his Jesus to protect him now from all the people with power? Where was his Jesus to provide for him?

Where did you go, Jesus?! Why did you let them do what they did? How will anyone believe in You now?

Peter didn’t know his Father. We don’t know our Father.

No condemnation. But maybe you can relate. I can relate.

No sin was committed. This has happened so that people may believe. And be free.

Trinity has the last Word! Not death. Not “logic”. Not earthly powers. Not even our doubts and especially our failures.

The grave could not hold Him!! All was not in vain! For Peter or for us.

But I imagine those three days of silence must have felt like the end of almost everything. And maybe it was the end of one of the most important things: all of Peter’s well-meaning strength. All of our well-meaning strength.

I want to believe enough, but I can’t. I want to trust enough, but I can’t. Even the strength of our faith is not needed.

I cried out in anger and frustration, “God, if You are really God then….” God showed up. God saw me. God heard me. Alive for another day. Not just in body. But I mean really alive. Another monument. Another deposit into my trust account.

I cannot manipulate God with my belief. It is not needed. Again, the Father’s heart, Trinity’s heart. Or otherwise it will never work out. If anything is dependent on me.

“Peter, lead my sheep.”

“But I failed You, Lord.”

“I never needed your strength, Peter. Go tell them how much I loved and love you. Even when you thought you had failed and screwed everything up. Tell them how much I love them. Tell them that their strength is not needed.”

Help us see, Father. Help us hear. Thank You that You already and always are!

Already Included #58 – First Frogs

By Sarah Nyhan

I was thirteen years young when I started high school. My best friend had an older boyfriend. She told me to go talk to his friend. I walked over to this older guy that I had never seen before. He told me, “You’re going to break up with your boyfriend and I’m going to be your boyfriend now.” And I didn’t fight back. I hate that.

I hate that I was taught to value myself so little. Now looking back, I blame a whole community completely soaked and saturated in separation mythology. If you’re told your whole life that your Creator is angry with you, that you are nothing, that you deserve nothing good, etc etc etc then it’s no surprise that you’ll settle for the first frog that comes along asking for a kiss. Or the first church that will have you. Or the first job that will have you. Etc, etc, etc.

It makes me sick now. Sick with anger. Sick with grief. To think about how much we are lied to and how we pass that mess along to each other. Crabs in the bucket. Dare someone to break out and the whole lot will come trying to pull them back down. Because don’t you dare challenge this sickness and sadness they’ve married themselves to. Don’t you dare challenge anyone’s fears.

What if I’m wrong? What if Trinity really isn’t concerned about my feelings? What if Trinity leaves me hanging? Leaves me making big dreams and big talk? I’d rather try and fail then rot away with regrets. I didn’t fight this long or this hard just to settle out of fear. No sir, no ma’am.

What on earth are we fighting for anyway? Why are we even doing all this studying and seeking? At the top of my list: real life and real love. A real God.

There is a song by Clint Black entitled, “Love She Can’t Live Without” that pretty much sums up my thinking. The chorus has the lyrics: “She can live with what goes with leaving, she knows it’s the only way, though it kills her to give up believin’, she can’t live with herself if she stays, she could settle for what she’d be feeling, if she gave in and worked this one out, she doesn’t want the kind of love she can live with, she wants the kind of love she can’t live without.”

There’s another song by Martin Garrix and Dua Lipa. The chorus has the lyrics, “Is the only reason you’re holding me tonight is that we’re scared to be lonely?” In my experience, that is hell. Trying to fit yourself into someone else’s life, someone else’s world. Just to be accepted. Just to belong. The new toy for whoever. For the lover, the “friend”, the employer, the religious community. As long as you play the part then they’ll keep you around. Swimming in shallow waters.

I want more. I want real connection. I want real life. Real love. I want a real God. I want a Creator of this magnificent universe that cares about me. That didn’t spin me out on my own. I want the love story Trinity writes for me. I want all the life Trinity wants me to explore in this human experience.

We were Created just to tread water? I can’t buy that. It’d be easier if I could. But I feel like I’m completely cheating myself when I try. Totally letting myself down.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a beauty in simplicity. There is rest in God. I’m not talking about ambition for the sake of. I’m talking about not betraying my heart. I’m talking about being authentic. Being honest with each other. Valuing ourselves and each other.

One thing I did right in my life. There was a male and his family. After many decades, even recently, he told me I hurt him by not marrying him. Years and years go by. What you were so sure of gets less clear. You wonder if maybe you ask for too much. But I know I would have been miserable as his wife. No matter how much I love him. We just operate out of completely different values. It would have been oil and water. The lies creep up all around saying I should have just been happy someone wanted me around. But that’s not the point. I at least loved him and myself not to ruin our friendship. Not to force something out of fear. And that’s a love I hope he’ll understand someday. A love I wish a lot of people understood.

Maybe love made that decision easier. I loved him more than I love myself. However, these past few years have been an intensive course in learning to say no. Learning to walk away. Learning to fight back. And unfortunately learning to stand alone. Learning to trust myself. Learning to honor myself. Learning to value myself. Because Jesus didn’t come to die for nothing. Trinity didn’t Create this amazing planet for nothing. For trash. No way. That’s not my God. That’s not my Jesus.

I want this inheritance of fear to stop here. With me. With us. Not because of our strengths. But because we are safe in Trinity’s heart. Jesus proved it. I need God to help us see, help us hear. Help us be free!

Already Included #56 – Give Me My Mountain

If I trust Trinity for anything then why don’t I trust Trinity for everything? Do we get as much of Trinity as we settle for?

I think about where it was written that Jesus did not do many miracles for a certain group because of their unbelief. If that translation and interpretation is correct, I don’t want to be in that group.

I don’t want to be the Israelites who saw Trinity move in their lives and then assigned their fears and weaknesses more power than God. Always no condemnation, but I want to be like Caleb who believed God to be stronger than any challenge.

Isn’t that the whole issue? We believe we are abandoned. We believe Trinity spun us out, left us alone, and expects us to do our part. Like I’ll believe God to bless my efforts, but to trust Trinity into and beyond my failures? Not anymore than for eternal safety and reconciliation.

But what about here? What if God is in the healing and redeeming business right now?

Do we throw the baby out with the bath water if we totally distance ourselves from what is commonly referred to as “name it and claim it” or “prosperity preaching”?

I don’t know. I just think about my own life. I think about the stories I’ve heard in the recorded testimonies. And I wonder. I don’t want to miss out.

There is this fine line between trust and witchcraft. One involves rest. The other is very much about the illusion of control.

Witchcraft still says I have to do something. Witchcraft says it depends on me. Witchcraft reduces the uncontainable love of Trinity down to a formula to manipulate God. And I think that might be one of the main things being worked out of me. Because the old way of religion versus relationship was most certainly about a formula.

It’s almost blasphemous if you think about it: that I, this little speck on earth not even visible from a plane, have the power to flip a certain switch to make Creator God behave towards me a certain way. And then of course it is my job to keep that switch flipped. Totally ridiculous! I’m just a kid. I was thrown into a body on this earth without a clue about what is going on. How can I possibly have that much power and responsibility?

Maybe earthly parents expect their children to do for them, instead of the other way around. But I think Trinity is teaching me that They are different. They lay up an inheritance for Their children. As quoted in Isaiah, even a nursing mother may neglect their child – but the eyes of God’s heart never wavers; we are continually before Them.

I have been thinking on Psalm 127:
“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.”

In times past I interpreted Scripture from a perspective of God telling me what to do. Versus the way I now have been leaning: where all Scripture points to Jesus. So from that different viewpoint I look at Psalm 127 and I wonder if Trinity is saying: “I love My children. I take great joy in My children. I take care of them. I protect them. It’s useless for you to scrounge about like an orphan. You were lied to. Focus on Me and My heart instead of your fears and weaknesses.”

I mean that’s the whole story of so many starting with Adam and Eve. David and Goliath also comes to mind. If that scenario repeated itself today, David would be chastised endlessly up until he knocked Goliath out.

Heck, it was those that saw Jesus based only on physical appearances that sought to murder Him.

Who or what is the Goliath in our lives? Where are we limiting God? Again, such a fine line between resting and turning this concept into yet another “spell” to get what we want.

I think the healing of our inward brokenness may be the first versus the final frontiers in all of this. I don’t know, that’s just where I am today. But in that, I was thinking about Joseph. How he endured so much in the physical and yet we know in hindsight those experiences were not an indication that God was unhappy with him. Same as with Jesus.

But how beautiful is it that Joseph’s dream played a part in getting him rejected by his family and ending up in prison and yet God redeemed the whole dream thing by using that as his ticket out of jail.

I mean can you picture yourself young and excited because you feel like God is working in your life? And then something major happens like ultimate betrayals. But you’re still fresh off time with Jesus so you roll with it.

But then a little while turns into a long while. And it seems like God left you or put you on the sidelines and picked someone else in maybe what felt like a place you saw yourself fitting into.

You sit there wondering whether you went wrong. Replaying all the decisions. I mean surely you messed up. “But THIS badly, Lord?! I mean, I don’t want to compare, but how can I not when you look at so-and-so?!”

And at some point you just give up and try to forget about all those dreams. You try to learn to live a simple life in the prision you feel like you’ve failed to break out of no matter how hard you’ve tried. You feel like at best you can muster up the motivation to go through the motions some days. But it’s too painful to hope anymore.

And then one day, even in this state, God says it is time for Trinity to redeem even those private points of pain that are too raw to share with anyone anymore. Maybe you’ve even minimized them in your efforts to move on. But Holy Spirit sees. Holy Spirit knows. Holy Spirit is not content leaving any part of your heart broken. Holy Spirit takes whatever time is needed to get close to our great sadnesses. To delicately place them in Their hand. To not only help us move on but to redeem that which was lost along the way.

That’s what happened with Joseph. He probably doubted himself so much. He was probably done for the most part. I imagine. And God says, ‘Not only am I going to get you out of this prison, but I am going to restore all that was lost to you. Publicly! Your shame will be no more. You will not have all these people looking down on you ever again. And I’m going to redeem dreams – the very thing that seemed to lead you into this.”

Now that’s a God I can trust!

What is God redeeming in our lives? We want deliverance and relief, but what deep healing could Trinity also be up to? What is that Achilles heel in us that we’ve lived with so long that we have considered it something that will never leave us? That place where our best intellectual efforts haven’t been able to speak to our wounded hearts? Maybe the place where deep down we can’t see anything other than God failed us. Or that we failed ourselves or others beyond repair? I don’t think Trinity is content with leaving us alone with any of that darkness. All of you, all of us, will be redeemed, is being redeemed.

Now therefore, give me my mountain. As Peter said, wash all of me, Lord. I don’t want to let go until You bless me.

Already Included #55 – Living!

2020 has once again reinforced for me that there is a big difference between living and being alive. I always joke that I will roll out of this life and into the next one looking like one of the last cars in a demolition derby versus a vintage garage-kept low-mile showpiece.

I just don’t want to leave with regrets. I don’t want to leave wondering what if. I don’t want to leave money on the table or gas in the tank, so to speak. Even with all the bumps and bruises, overall this is a beautiful human experience that I want to make the most of. I have peace that any pressure is off. But I still want all that is mine for the taking.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my time on this side sitting and staring at screens. I feel so protective of my energy and time now in that regard. I want real life and real conversation. I want real connection.

We’ve let so many fears paralyze us. I wonder how life would look for us if we went back to living life with each other. So much has changed already in the past few months. I wonder how much more could change.

In reality these devices can have very helpful uses. So I am trying to find that happy and healthy medium.

I hope we can collectively see things for what and how they really are. Not in terms of being dogmatic. Just in terms of primarily reacquainting ourselves with who and Whose we really are. Versus letting our fears have the last word.

As knowledge of our identity increases, I hope fear will decrease in at least the same measure. I find I have to exercise that muscle at least once a day; bring all the various pressures and let Trinity speak truth into and for my life.

More and more I understand the directive to guard our minds. Not in the sense of fearing punishment. But in the sense of guarding the precious life growing inside us that the world is unrelenting in attempting to strip away, even if only in ignorance. I dream of us all getting to a place in my lifetime where statements like that are the exception rather than the rule. With God all things are possible.

If we could just lay down our fears and feel safe that our breath, resources, and anything else we need is provided through God versus having to muscle and guard it from one another.

If we could just get to a place where we felt safe enough not to hold people hostage.; emotionally, spiritually, and mentally to start. If we could just trust ourselves and each other to God.

If we could just get to a place where we embrace and were open to people with different perspectives so we could love, honor, and learn from each other. If we could base our value on Whose we are and let all other compulsions to please others for approval fall to the side.

How free would we be? What could we do with all of that energy and time? Surely we were made for more than this stalemate we seem to sometimes get stuck in.

And yet all will be ok. Either way. If not here than on the other side.

But I wonder how much heaven we could bring back to earth if we felt safe in our Creator’s heart? Really safe. Perfect love drives out fear. What would we do and who would we be here and now if we stopped worshipping fear and instead spent that time in contemplation of God’s heart and our place in it? In seeking direction and wisdom?

I don’t mean to blame any victim for anything they have endured. I’m just saying what if the prison doors are already open and it’s just a matter of us feeling safe enough to walk out? Not depending on ourselves. But running to The Father’s embrace. Taking our seat at the table.

There is no condemnation. There is no pressure. This is about you. Who you want to be and why. Who you are free to be. What makes you uniquely you. And to that I pray and say, “Amen and oh sleeper, wake up.”

Am I living the life I want to live or am I simply alive?

I celebrate even the person who sits in front of the screen as a survival tactic. So don’t let condemnation or any external pressure determine your path. I now truly believe that receiving God’s love is the main objective during this time.

But I’m just wishing, hoping, and praying that we will discard fear and have fun exploring whether our hearts yearn for more.

What if we saw ourselves as sons and daughters of the most generous King and Queen? What if They made us feel completely safe? What if They provided us full access to everything They had? What if They were excited and encouraged us to follow our hearts and explore all that we could be without any fear of rejection or punishment?

Who would we be? And do we dare explore that freely today?

Already Included #54 – In the Waiting

There is a difference in how I approached patience before versus now.

Before I hoped for a specific outcome. I thought that if I believed enough and didn’t give up then that outcome would manifest.

Now I am learning to approach patience a lot differently. I still desire certain outcomes – after all, I am 100% human. However, now I am learning to detach myself more and more from specific outcomes. I am learning to trust God’s heart more.

My mind has been opened to realize that God works within our logic to bring us to whatever healing is next. I always think back to the story of the rich young ruler in that regard. The rich young ruler couldn’t see the open door. The rich young ruler was hung up on his own perspective. Jesus never expected the rich young ruler to be perfect. That directive was funny enough a form of playing devil’s advocate per se. It was climbing inside the logic of the rich young ruler. Working with what was. Basically getting to the point the hard way, at the insistance of the rich young ruler versus the insistance of God. After all They long to embrace us as a mother embraces her young, but we are often not willing.

The tax collector, the blind men, the woman with the issue of blood, and many others – they were ready for the easy way. Some of us take a bit longer. That may be why it is more difficult for the rich, talented, intelligent , etc people to see themselves running to the safety of the Trinity. If I’ve mostly been able to hopscotch around and over vulnerability my whole life then it may be a long stretch to see weakness as welcome versus a burden, shameful, dangerous, etc. I pray to God that I will not need some even more horrible tragedy to put me in a place where I am completely dependent and then can finally see beyond my own strength.

The old me kinda resents the process sometimes, honestly. But I try to remember the Israelites. Their minds had been so warped that they could only see the crumbs of what they resorted to seeing as comfort in their Egyptian slavery versus understanding that our eyes and ears haven’t ever even imagined what good things God is more than ready to give us in exchange for our dysfunctions.

Sometimes people hold on so tightly to what is hurting them. The idea of really trusting has been proven to be that dangerous to them in the past. But God is always and ever patient. Trinity doesn’t operate out of ego. They can use anything and everything we give Them and turn it for good. Our crucifixion of Jesus being the prime example.

And so I am learning to let go. To open my eyes. To be honest at least with God. To trust in Their heart versus my strength. To ask where we are going next versus demanding my way. When I ask, wisdom and comfort beyond myself floods my heart and real peace dissipates my fears. In this moment. And then again the next time I need God to be bigger than any boxes I can imagine. I am continually amazed. And that builds real trust. Versus saying I believe in hopes it will guarantee or rush along some desired outcome.

I may have told the story before, but it bears repeating again as I think about it almost daily. Such a seemingly benign moment that really changed my life. I was sitting in the lobby of the Business building on campus. There was an incredibly long hallway in front of me. I watched as this father walked behind his toddler. The toddler was just learning to walk and his little engines were on go. The toddler was not steady on his feet but you could see he was loving his newfound power. I felt Holy Spirit nudge me with, “Pay attention.”

As the toddler fumbled down the hallway, probably having no real understanding of where he was or where he was going, the father stood behind him smiling a big smile. Super proud of his child. Enjoying watching his son exercise his given strengths. He stood just behind, letting the toddler find his legs but also ready in an instant to catch the child if he stumbled.

Then the toddler turned to go down a hallway for faculty. The father jumped in front of the son. He didn’t touch the son. He wasn’t angry at all. He just stood in the way so the toddler couldn’t go down the faculty hallway.

The toddler had no frame of reference to understand why the father didn’t want him to go down the faculty hallway. And the toddler wouldn’t have understood at that time even if the reason was given to him. He might have been young enough to just barely be understanding and acquiring language.

But nonetheless, the child was unhappy that the father was blocking him and tried a few times to scoot around the father in order to continue down the faculty hallway. The father never was upset. The father never touched the child and never said anything. He only moved his body in order to block the toddler if he tried to go around him.

The child finally surrendered and turned around and went another direction. The father followed him and stood behind him, ready to catch him as he continued on his new way. The father continued to smile and his pride in his boy was still apparent.

God used that to show me how Trinity sees us. That sometimes the rejections and obstacles we experience are forms of protection. Sometimes we don’t have the ability yet to understand why our seemingly harmless desires have not been fulfilled or our ways are being frustrated.

I’m not saying there is never a time to fight for what we want. What I am saying is the attitude I have found most helpful is to slow down, look to my Creator, and ask for understanding and direction beyond my strength. And in doing so, I find God honors my desires so much. I find Trinity wants more for me than I am willing to settle for. And as I experience God, my patience organically grows.

But what to do in the meantime, in the waiting? I feel repeatedly encouraged to do the work I want to do. That God works within my desires, that following my heart in trust versus orchestrating my own salvation out of fear will be what often may lead me to experience the most healing and joy.

In other words, what is the right now? What work do I want to do right now? If I really trusted God’s heart for me, what would I do right now? If I really believed that the Creater of the entire universe loves me so much that even if I was the only child, Jesus would still have gone to the greatest lengths to prove that my strength is not needed, what would I spend my right now doing?

And there is where color comes back to my life. There is where I find my emotional, spiritual, mental, and sometimes even physical “legs” again.

I share in hopes that if your ways are frustrated, or as you are waiting, I encourage you to seek understanding and direction from Trinity versus repeatedly requesting and persuing a specific outcome. Picture The Father smiling, proud of you, excited to see where you want to go and what you want to do. Would that Father not want the best for us? Ask to see. Ask to hear. Ask for comfort. This is about relationship. You are a child that is so welcome. Let’s not only know that, but live it also.