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.

Already Included #17 – John MacMurray: March 2nd

Today I attended the event in Belton, Texas where John MacMurray was speaking with a focus on the material in his latest book, A Spiritual Evolution. As God always does, I went expecting certain outcomes and was completely surprised by what God seemed to have in store for me personally. I also met some new friends and enjoyed talking with so many people. Community is always my favorite part of these events.

But how RICH we were to have John travel all the way from Oregon to speak with us for over four hours! A spiritual buffet if you will. And we were stuffed with so much goodness. Here are my highlights from thirteen pages of notes taken in my new journal gifted to me by the beautiful Clarice:

  • People are not going to look for other answers or be open to new information that challenges their current paradigm until life brings them to a point where they consider that their current way of thinking may be incorrect.
  • Relationship takes a long time. Life is about relationship. Information is not the end goal.
  • Love is not something God does. Love is who God is. The deepest, truest thing about God is NOT that He is a narcissist.
  • God is always better than whatever metaphors we try our best to use to explain Him.
  • The way I used to think said God’s highest aim was to create us for His glory. It is different and totally beautiful if rather God creates to share the relationship experienced by The Trinity.
  • In The Trinity there is now humanity through Jesus.
  • We cannot control others. We can only influence others. And we influence through love.
  • It is a holy privilege to have children.
  • We can live out of already being embraced by God versus living to be embraced by God.
  • God is interested in destroying the sin that comes between Lover and beloved. This is versus loving rules over relationship and being focused on punishing sin.
  • In this way we also should think of sin in relational terms versus moral or legal terms.
  • No one wants to get into our mess to clean it up. God not only gets into our mess, but He jumps in to heal us – not just clean us.
  • Jesus comes to give us His knowledge of OUR Father. Our problem is we don’t know our Father.
  • Eternal life is also relational.
  • God is completely invested IN and committed to us. To you. To me.
  • The truth of my being is different than the way of my being. And obviously we aim for the way to eventually match the truth. This is at least a lifelong process. Without a pass/fail final exam.
  • Reconciliation is a different conversation than forgiveness. You can’t have reconciliation without trust.
  • Beauty shortcircuits intellect. Beauty gets behind our watchful dragons.

Already Included #16 – Emmanuel

For God so loved rules that He needed to see blood and have someone die before He could let His creation off the hook? That’s not what is recorded. God so loved US. Not rules and laws.

Today I listened again to Dan Schiopu’s message entitled “Emmanuel, God Is With Us“. Dan has a unique gift for delivery. I recommend you listen to the entire message.

However, here are some quotes mixed with my own thoughts after listening:

Our initial error is doubting God’s uncompromising goodness. And that continues to be our struggle.

We have a perception problem. Not a legal problem.

Man changed with the fall. Not God.

“You are not valuable because of the price Jesus paid for you. Jesus paid the price for you because of your value.”

“The Bible doesn’t say that your goodness leads God to repentance.”

“Repentance is not something that you do to change God’s mind about you. It’s something that happens to you, to your mind when you discover who The Father really is.”

“You can reject your own sonship, but you cannot change it.”

The parable of the prodigal son is not about a Father waiting for a son to come home and humble himself. The parable of the prodigal son is not that we need to change our behavior. The point of the story is that God has never loved us less even when we are at our worst. The story is about changing OUR minds to see that God is always the Father that never walks away from us and never stops being our Father. Who loves us forever. A love without end. AMEN?

The gospel is not about mercy being given to undeserving sinners. The gospel is about God coming to get His kids back from being alienated from Him only in their minds.

The blood of Jesus was not shed to appease God. The blood of Jesus was shed to appease OUR conscience. Now we have no excuse. The worst has already been done to God. And we did it. Not The Father. We threw our best punch at Jesus and God didn’t stop loving us and He didn’t leave us.

So we can run to Him even at our worst. The same Jesus who ate with prostitutes and touched lepers. To prove to us that we have nothing to be afraid of.

The blood of Jesus was not shed so God can accept us. The blood of Jesus was shed so WE can accept God!!

The blood of Jesus is not the barrier that protects you from God. He is always Emmanuel.

Lexus Lights

Another memorable true story from my adventurous life:

It was almost ten years ago. Between 2am and 5am in the morning. I received a notification for an out of town taxi trip. I was a little disappointed when I scrolled through the trip details. On out of town trips, the dispatcher is supposed to provide you with the destination and the estimated fare that was quoted to the passenger. In this case, they did not provide me with any of that information. They only said that the passenger agreed to a minimum $50 trip charge. Less than I was hoping for but better than nothing. So I headed out to the pickup location.

The passenger was being picked up out in the middle of the country on the far south side of San Antonio. Much farther away than any of the regular business of the night.

I drove out to the location wondering who the passenger could be, where they could be going, and what their story might be. Why would they need a taxi at 3am in the morning? I was cautious because a trip like this was out of the norm, but I settled myself by deciding that maybe they could be an international traveler preparing to leave for the airport super early in the morning.

I left the main part of town and started driving in the country towards the passenger’s pickup location. I noticed a vehicle had pulled out of a gas station and seemed to be keeping pace with my speed. They were behind me and weren’t passing me. When you drive twelve hours a day, you notice little odd things like that. Usually in the country there are two types of drivers: people who know the area and ignore all the speed limits and just drive to get where they are going. Or there are people who know the area and drive really slow because they don’t have much else to do.

There was something about the person behind me that was different. I didn’t know where I was going so I was driving slower than normal so I could try to read the street signs in the dark. And this driver wasn’t passing me but they weren’t riding my bumper either. They seemed to stay the correct amount of distance away the whole time. But they were close enough that I noticed that their headlights were different than most vehicles on the road. I’m not knowledgeable about vehicles so I referred to their headlights as “Lexus lights” because those were the only vehicles that I knew of that had those lights. Again, not a huge deal but kind of out of place for a Lexus to be driving around at 3am on the country roads.

I was worried at this point. I was wondering if someone had placed a call for a taxi, was following me, and was going to trap and assault me at the destination location. My mind was devising all kinds of ways to escape. You never know who is going to be in your taxi. You don’t have the luxury of waiting for the police to arrive if someone is attacking you.

As I was thinking these thoughts, I was distracted by trying to find the street I needed in the dark. I found it and made the turn. I looked behind me and noticed that the Lexus hadn’t followed. I dismissed a little of my worry and proceeded to concentrate on the situation I would be encountering in a few short seconds.

When I located the passenger’s house, immediately I noticed that there were at least three vans in the driveway and a lot of people. That was odd to me. Sometimes people call for taxis because they don’t have a working vehicle. This was obviously not the case in this situation.

Other times people call for taxis because they don’t have anyone else who can give them a ride. This again was obviously not the case.

I thought to myself, why would someone call a taxi if they had a vehicle and someone else to drive them? My guard was up at this point. Something was wrong. My gut knew it.

As I watched the scene of people on the front porch, I noticed nobody was hugging. Usually when loved ones are separating, there is at least the appearance of affection as they hug each other goodbye. Again, my mind was telling me something was wrong.

Also, no one from the group of people immediately came to the taxi to acknowledge me. Usually there is someone in a group who will greet the driver and will ask the driver to wait while the others come to the vehicle. Nobody acted like I was even there.

Then a man brings a suitcase to the vehicle. He doesn’t say anything to me. I just get out and open the back door of the van and he puts the suitcase into the trunk. He walks back to the house. Only one suitcase. I was thinking maybe a whole group of people were going to the airport so maybe that is why they called for a taxi. But no, only one suitcase.

Then a lady comes out and asks me to wait. Since this was a $50 trip and I had driven so far already, I decided to wait. I notice people are talking and walking back and forth on the porch. Something is wrong but I can’t figure it out.

Then an older bigger man walks towards the taxi and angrily says to me, “Where are you taking her?!” I say, “I don’t know sir. She hasn’t told me.” “You don’t know where you are taking her?” “No sir, “ I say with enough force to match his. He realizes I’m not going to be bullied and he walks away back towards the house. Being somewhat of a champion for women, I was not going to let him push me around. This was my taxi. I thought of it as my house. I had to protect myself. I was proud of sticking up for myself but now I was concerned for the woman who had asked me to wait.

When she finally came back to the van, she was alone. This was odd. Usually when especially a female leaves in a taxi, the group of people will go with her to the taxi and check out the taxi driver to make sure she is safe. Nobody was coming to the van to see this woman off. I knew something was wrong.

Immediately after she closes the van door, she tells me, “Drive. Please. Quickly.” Now, I might be a champion for women, but I also know just because you are a woman, that doesn’t mean I can trust you. I was worried about being setup by a woman for an ambush. I was worried about her taking advantage of me and not paying. I was already on guard from the whole situation.

Also, in the taxi business, it’s a bad sign if people don’t tell you where they are going. Sometimes people just want you to drive so that they can assault you on the way. I knew I had to take control of the situation. I told her, “Hey, wait a minute. I need to receive the payment first and I need to know where you are going.”

“I’ll pay you. I promise. Just drive. I need to get away from here.”

I tell her, “Fine, I’ll drive a few blocks and pull over and then you can pay me first. And then tell me where you are going.” She agrees and I start confirming the price of the trip with her. I relax a little because she doesn’t seem concerned at all about how much the trip is going to cost and she is working on getting her cash out to give to me. Usually if someone is up to no good, they will try to bluff you into believing they didn’t know how much the trip was going to cost, or that the dispatcher quoted them a difference price, etc.

I drove a few blocks and then pulled over in the dark on the side of the road. She gave me the money and then asked me again to drive. I asked her again where she was going and she just said, “I’ll let you know. Just turn to the right.” We turned onto the main road and headed back towards the city so I was not as scared. I figured if she was leading me to an ambush, it would have been deeper into the country versus off a main road headed to the city.

I was starting to relax but I was not going to let her just drive me around aimlessly. She seemed sincere but I needed more information. I started asking her, “What is going on?”

She started telling me that she had been studying in medical school in Chicago. She was only a semester or two away from graduating when her mother called her from India and advised her that she was being married off to a man in Texas in an arranged marriage. She had never met the man before. She was expected to leave medical school in Chicago and move to Texas and get married. So that’s what she did.

After she was married and arrived in Texas, the new husband and his family put her to work in the gas station that they owned. This was no corporate gas station. This was one of those little gas station dumps out in the middle of the country. She said they violated all the labor laws and she was stuck at the gas station working all kinds of hours. Then when she came back to the family compound, the family treated her like a slave and she was expected to spend her time at home doing housework. Here she was about to graduate from medical school and now reduced to a slave working for strangers.

As she is telling me this story, all of a sudden, what do I see in the rear-view mirror? “Lexus lights!” I’m sure it was the same white car that had followed me so many miles on the way to her house. Before I even had time to think about what was happening, the Lexus races up next to the side of the van and starts honking and driving erratically. I felt like I was in an action movie!

I was scared but somehow incredibly calm. She wasn’t reacting at all. In a very surreal moment, I turned and asked her, “Do you know these people!?!?”

In my mind, I’m thinking her in-laws have tracked us down and are going to run me off the road and kill us both in some kind of twisted honor killing.

She calmly responds, “Yes, follow them.” I have no idea how to explain it, but I trusted her. The Lexus speeds up and I switch lanes and follow it. Almost immediately, the Lexus pulls off the main road and onto a dirt road.

I’m thinking, “Great, a dirt road. Of course it’s a dirt road. This is like a bad B movie. Is this how my life is going to end?”

I ask the passenger, “What’s going on?” She tells me that these people in the Lexus are friends she met at church and they are helping her escape. For some reason I believed her. I assume that she didn’t want this couple to drive to her former residence for fear that her in-laws would find out who was helping her.

The Lexus drives over a cattle guard and stops in the middle of the pitch black night in a literal field in the middle of the country. The only lights are the headlights of our vehicles.

A man and a woman step out of the Lexus. The man wastes no time in approaching the taxi and opening the van door and helping the woman out of the back seat. I somehow decide that I feel safe enough to exit the vehicle and open the trunk so they can retrieve her luggage. The woman from the Lexus comforts my passenger as the man takes her luggage back to his vehicle. He tells me thank you and they all get into the Lexus and drive away quickly.

I’m left by myself in the middle of some random cow pasture in the pitch black night. I catch my senses and drive away as quickly as possible to get back to the city.

I call my dispatcher and I tell him to please not give out my name or number to anyone who might call it for that trip. I was worried her in-laws were going to track me down once they realized that their free labor had escaped.

In the end, I felt honored. That I would be provided that opportunity to help a woman escape from bondage.

On this Valentine’s Day, remember that you are still loved, still important, and still matter even if you don’t have a romantic significant other.

If I Die Then I Die

To start, I love living and am in no way interested in dying. Read more for the explanation of the title of this post.

Today I was reminded of the story of Esther. I was reminded that Esther started out as an orphan. Raised by someone else. Then chosen to be Queen. But in some ways probably feeling abandoned all over again. The story reminds us that Esther noted that her husband hadn’t called on her for I think over 30 days. And so she is Queen but probably still feeling like that little girl that is alone in the world. After so much excitement. Probably hope also. Maybe this is my deliverance. Maybe this is my forever story. Being chosen. Not just another season of disappointment. “God, I thought we were going a certain direction?” It must have felt like such a let down. Then fear on top of fear. Being asked to lay her life down in order to attempt to protect others. She gets to the point where she decides to act in accordance with letting all of her dreams go. She says something to the effect of, “If I die then I die.”

I think now of Abraham. Told that he and Sarah would have a child. Years and years go by. No child. Then he finally has the child and is asked to sacrifice the child. Not literally. That isn’t the point of the story. But while he was going through it, that is what he saw. Here you give me this promise God, and then I have to let it go. God prevailed in a powerful way, but the theme is similar to Esther.

I think of Moses. Same thing. Promised he would lead his people out. Then off to the desert until he was an old man. Tending sheep. No hope in sight. He gets to the point where he doesn’t even want the call anymore. In a way. He tells God to send someone else who he thinks would be more qualified.

David. Told he would be king. Then he has to deal with Saul trying to kill him over and over. Running and hiding in caves. Not living the life he probably associated with being a king.

Joseph. Given a dream. Then shipped off for years and years. Enduring so much unfair treatment.

All of them having to get to the point where they know they were given a promise, but having to accept their current circumstances as is. Having to let go and trust the timing to God. Trust the way to God.

I can relate. I don’t feel like I see the full picture yet. There are probably so many things happening right now that will only make sense later. Right now the suffering blinds me to the bigger picture. Blinds me to anything other than wanting relief. I empathize with those who sought solutions and resolutions. Who fight against the pressure.

I feel like I can continue to wear myself out. I can continue to cry and carry on. I can panic. Or I can let go and trust God. I can seek Him inside my heart.

Silence is torturous for me. I don’t want to hear all my fears. But tonight for a few minutes I ran out of things to distract me.

I tried to sit with God. I told Him I was angry at Him and disappointed. He already knew. I felt like He assured me that He wasn’t angry or disappointed with me.

I felt a brief settling. More like a child who is too exhausted to fight anymore. Not giving up the battle for control. But too tired to take up arms.

I felt again like I have so many times before, absolute assurance of being loved by God. And the kind encouragement to trust. That I am not alone, that there is more going on than meets the eye, that good things are in the future, and that this is not the end.

I rely on the testimonies of those we read about to give me any hope that these things are true.

My new motto is to lessen the self-imposed stress I put on myself. I don’t yet understand why, but a big part of that is letting go. Of the compulsion to be “great” or do “great” things. Of the pressure to be “successful” as society defines success. Of the need to do anything other than try to be the best person I can be to myself and others. Starting with mastering the basics first.

It is both sad and ok. Sad in that I have spent so many years driven by this need to perform, be perfect, and excel. The ego part of me mourns letting myself down in that respect. But on the other hand, it is also ok. Suddenly I can enjoy a day, I can genuinely enjoy a rest. I can take the time to appreciate a meal for simply being appealing and delicious. Versus analyzing the macros that will tilt the balance of my plans for world domination. I speak facetiously to the extreme to prove a point.

This letting go feels like a good thing in the long run. As completely uncomfortable as I feel even in releasing so little at a time. It feels like I am finally handing the wheel over to God and saying, “Will you drive?” Not in a legalistic sense. But rather like when you finally are getting to know someone and letting them in. My heart. Not just my mind.

I anticipate more adventures are ahead. Now that I don’t have my checkboxes to manage, I can better enjoy the ride.

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.

Responsibility

One of the biggest rebuttals I’ve heard when I tell people that I believe that everyone is safe with God in Jesus Christ after their physical bodies give out in this world is: then that means I am telling people they can do whatever they want and it doesn’t matter. Well, let’s talk about that.

First, yes, I am saying that I think being completely safe in Christ means that people CAN do whatever they want. BUT it does NOT mean I am telling people they SHOULD do whatever they want with total disregard for anything other than their own desires.

Second, and VERY importantly, I am absolutely NOT saying that you can do anything you want and it does not matter. Actually, since I have changed my mind about things a little over a year ago, I have experienced the greatest unveiling of how much my choices actually matter very much.

Freedom comes with almost unbearable responsibility – at least it feels that way sometimes for someone who has inadvertently been blaming a lot of their life on destiny or God. As the depth of the implications of the weight of true freedom sinks into my being, I am so burdened by the new realizations of how decades of less than ideal decisions have impacted my own life and the people I could have loved a lot better. The hope of God’s never-ending love and patience for all of us is the only way I can bear even thinking about the things I wish I had done differently. Much less, the overwhelming amount of things I need to change and repair in my life going forward.

And that my friends, is hell. Hell is very real. Real enough. And yes, we get to choose life or death. In this life for sure. Is that not enough hell for you? Maybe you’re young or fortunate enough to not yet be reaping a harvest of poor seeds you have sown. Some take awhile to mature.

Judgement begins in the house of the Lord. You can take that as far as you want. But in practical terms, I think you’ll have enough to keep you busy for quite awhile if you start with His home being in our hearts. Those new temples, if you will. I finally am starting to see the planks in my own eyes – and they are not pretty.

It is really impossible to face all of that without absolute security in regards to my position in God’s heart. Only the true love of Jesus can do this.

I spent how many decades focused solely on myself because I couldn’t put to rest the future of my soul? Or the souls of those I love? Perfect love drives out fear. And helps you relax enough that you can receive love and then love God, yourself, and others. Probably in that order. And organically and sincerely versus posturing – however well-intentioned.

The effects of all this change leaves me sometimes dealing with a lot of anxiety. More than in many times past. If I rely on my own strength and forget that God finishes the works He starts and leaves none alone on their own.

This feels like getting new feet under you. It’s real relationship of unlimited depths. It’s ICU for your entire life. Whether you feel ready for it or not.

Even then the choice is up to you. Life or death? Will you participate? Will you not hope in what you can see, but in the unfailing character of your Creator?

No condemnation. But I wager the unfathomable love of Christ will not cease compelling you forward for ever-increasing healing. For your benefit; not God’s ego.

This is real life. I’d guess most of us could stop right now and do much much more with what we already know. To whom much is given…

Real life. Your heart and eyes may start to be opened to those around you. It can be quite a shock with ever-increasing awareness and insight. But I have a feeling that things will be better than ever before after walking through this part of the journey. In Christ, with Christ alone.

Let God’s real love lift us up.