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.

Famine

A thought this morning: that it is ok to be sad, to be in sadness. No need to rush and paste on a happy face with Bible verses at the ready. Jesus felt sadness. Deep sadness and grief. He, of all people, had assurance. He of all people had perfect heart and mind. And yet He cried deeply as time approached for The Cross.

What a comfort for us. Father God was well pleased with The Son and yet Jesus was not spared The Cross. In the same way, even if we don’t understand, that is proof that our circumstances have zero correlation with how much God loves us. Be it pride, anger, shame, confusion, grief, humiliation, etc crouching at the door to convince us otherwise.

I always remember how Jesus was affirmed by The Father and then immediately led into the desert for forty days of lack. Forty days of temptation. (As an aside, I wonder if there is any correlation with the Israelites’ forty years in the desert.)

On a different note, but kind of related, I was thinking just now: had it not been for the famine, Ruth never would have met Boaz. Had there been plenty of food, Naomi never would have left where she had established a presence and taken on the long journey that led Ruth to Boaz. They did not make that journey in the spirit of a joyous homecoming. They were both broken women.

Ruth didn’t know she needed a Boaz. Neither do we, spiritually speaking. We just get stuck most times in the doing of what we’ve always done. Sometimes we need something beyond our control to happen in order to be repositioned. We can get lost in the arguments related to God’s sovereignty and character in that regard. Or we can choose to trust.

Jesus sent His main guys, those in the thick with Him – He sent them out on the waters knowing that a storm was brewing. Yet He met them there also. He NEVER left them alone. He NEVER abandoned them. And He doesn’t leave us to ourselves or abandon us either. Whether we see it in the moment or not.

Lately Jesus’ words to the disciples keep coming to mind. Not so much a rebuke as an exhortation. “Why are you afraid?” He stills the seas and He stills the turmoils in my heart. He rests in absolute assurance of belonging in Trinity. And we can do the same.

Does that take away the pain of famine, the pain of losing a husband or children, the pain of shame, the pain of whatever Cross you are facing today? I dare say, absolutely not. BUT it is a frame for renewed hope. Just as our emotions cry, “Why have You forsaken me?” God hears and lifts us. If not in the physical present, at least internally. Manna for another day. Grace for another moment.

My words fail. You need God right now. God’s Presence. An encounter with Holy Spirit. Ask. With all your anger and all your tears. With all your unbelief. Ask.

Perfect love casts out fear.

Five Percent

Being given a promise is in many ways similar to being with child. There is excitement at the beginning. Planning how to celebrate after the promise has been fulfilled. Other people are initially eager to discuss your hopes. It all feels so grand.

And then everything settles down and the work of waiting begins. Every day you check to see how much closer you are. Eventually the days blur and the excitement of the revelation of the promise fades. All you can see is the burden and the weight of carrying desire. Heavy, heavy. None around you can do the heavy lifting for you. This is yours alone even if they have been through similar times.

You alone sit with this promise growing and growing inside of you. It feels like you are a shadow of what you once were. It feels like this thing you think you have created has overtaken everything you were and ever will be.

Where am I? Who am I? Do I even want this anymore?

All you want is to be done with the waiting. Get on with life already.

There is a saying that goes something like: it takes proportionally significantly more effort to get from 90% to 95% than it does to get from 0% to 90%. And then even further, it takes proportionally significantly more effort to get from 95% to 100% than it does to get from 90% to 95%.

That’s what this picture represents to me. The photo was taken in Idaho. Such a small distance between the two sides, but look at the depth and the work it took to make a way from one to the other. How much longer did it take to build the bridge that spans relatively a few small feet compared to the time it took to pave the road that led to this crossing?

This bridge is a monument to blood, sweat, and tears. And yet, the visitors who flock to gaze upon this accomplishment are probably correctly focused on the beauty. For years and years and years.

And yet you can’t do it for anyone else. This is your baby. You know you have to do it even if nobody else comes along for the ride. You have to see this through. Even if all you feel is pain. All you see is work.

Our promise will be worth it. #nevergiveup

And yet there are no guarantees. That’s why most tap out or never even try. At least you will be able to look yourself in the mirror and respect the effort. Your heart.

Why not? One life. Not a final exam. What will matter most once you are facing your last moments? Less regrets.

At least I tried.

Hopeful.

Soar

God’s love gives you wings. When you understand how BIG God’s love is for you then life changes from a pass/fail final exam to a participatory party. You can take risks without being paralyzed by fear. Perfect love casts out all fear. Know God, no fear. Not the kind of ignorant overconfidence that typically is associated with so-called liquid courage. But rather, an unshakeable assurance that settles you down in the deepest parts of your heart. Peace beyond understanding. To be known and accepted. Never abandoned. Always God is for you. Ask Him to help you see today.

Redeeming Wrath

Trying to manipulate God is religion. Or as I prefer to call it, witchcraft. It is no different than the idea of witches sitting around a boiling pot with a book of “spells”. The key is that you think there is a formula where if you do xyz then God’s switch/button is pushed to automatically do abc. And if He doesn’t do what you thought was His side of the deal, then you must have gotten the formula wrong. That is religion and witchcraft. That is not relationship. Even if your book of “spells” is the Bible. Even if your formula consists of doing things that are so-called “good” when done on their own without any agenda. This is subconscious stuff we’re talking about. As you mature, you grow away from blatant prayers like, “God, if you do abc then I’ll do xyz.” But even if you know not to explicitly say it, your heart might be at the wheel still making decisions to that effect.

Relationship is entirely different. Relationship is not about control and manipulation. Which is why it is so difficult to accept. Total respect for the other person. Total freedom. To walk away or stay. I choose to love you even at your worst. Because of who I AM. Letting the other person go completely. Yet not enabling. Not consenting, not condoning. My releasing you is not me giving you permission to treat me however you want. To do to me whatever you want. I still have the ability and responsibility to exercise my power to choose how much I expose myself to your behavior. This is relationship.

Where you are invited to participate. Where your choices and decisions matter. But not in terms of performance. Where you as an individual matter. But not in terms of conforming as if we were created with our highest good being religious robots or so-called “spiritual” yes-men. To reduce it down to that is an insult to the beauty of who we are and who God is. Not an insult in terms of an affront to ego. But insult as in a gross miscalculation, a severe understatement.

Real love does you no favors by allowing you to continue on in stinking thinking. Even when it means I get something out of the deal, out of your wrong thinking. Real love doesn’t use you like that. Real love, even though it wants you close, will endure the pain of pushing you away when it is better for your ultimate and highest health and healing. It looks like punishment, but nothing could be farther from the truth. I AM passionately furious FOR YOU. Not against you. I will not stop and settle for using you as if ego was everything or anything. You mean too much. I want more for you than you want for yourself. That is real love.

I long for your embrace. I wait day in and day out for your return on the horizon. Even a word. A glimpse of hope. I would search under every rock and behind every tree if I knew it was better for you. But you’ve chosen a different path. One you have to get to the end of on your own. Not because I want it that way. But because you insist. You don’t see yet. You don’t trust because you don’t know that you are safe and that you are loved. Dearly. Deeply.

I Wonder

One of the top responses I receive when I tell people that I believe every human will be with Jesus after this time on this earth, is that they think that means I am telling people that it doesn’t matter what a person does in their lifetime. That’s a tricky statement. I’ve learned to ask people to be more specific when they throw statements like that out at me. Otherwise my answer could have nothing to do with their real question.

But there are two different ways to answer that question. One way is to answer the question how I know they mean it: whether or not I think what happens to us after our physical bodies give out has anything to do with what I do here on earth. For me, now, I think we all existed in Jesus before He was born on earth, and I think when He died, we died. And when He rose, we rose with Him. So no, I don’t think the end result of what happens to me after my physical body gives out is dependent on me. I think it depends on Jesus. But what that looks like from now to the end result – I think I’m wise enough to probably not know how it all works out exactly.

The other way to answer their question is literally: does it matter at all what I do? I think yes, absolutely. To a point. Which is not me trying to dodge the question. I’m just speaking from experience. And experientially, I have never taken more responsibility for my decisions and choices than when I finally accepted God’s total and unconditional love for me. Notice, for me. Not necessarily all my behaviors. But when you know, you really know that you are securely loved – there is now real motivation to do better. The odds are not against you.

The flip side is that you cannot flippantly toss aside every failure as circumstances outside of your control. And yet, to a point. I’ve experienced situations where I’ve tried everything I know to try and the situation doesn’t work out. It seems like the door is shut. But for most of life, it seems like my choices matter more than ever now. When there are no rules, per se, you can’t put the blame for your screwups onto God and blame Him for the “formula” not working out.

I started thinking about this today in terms of wondering about how people debate whether there is “the one” out there for them to marry. It seems almost like a dirty trick if there is this person out there and you don’t feel like God gave you the secret decoder to figure out who they are. Nowadays I’m more apt to say it’s not God’s character to play tricks on us like that.

The more initially terrifying thought is whether there is NOT “the one”. Then that means everyone is a possibility. Then that means it’s your responsibility alone in regards to who you pick to marry. And you alone are responsible for that decision. For better or for worse. That puts the pressure solely on you if you married too quickly or ignorantly. In hindsight even.

Taking full responsibility would mostly give the deliberations about who to marry a much more serious tone. First you have to know yourself and figure out what you really value. What is really important to you. And then drop the fairy tale romantic crap. Little girls are especially indoctrinated with that fantasy crap. From Snow White to Cinderella to Beauty and the Beast. All crap. Just hang around and wait for Mr. Prince Charming to rescue you off to wedded bliss and riches. Am I jaded or is it true that isn’t likely to happen?

And yet there is an awesome connection when you meet someone with your same values. Undeniably. My point is most people jump the gun before they even get to that point. They confuse lust with like values. Or they connect in their brokenness. Which isn’t a sure sign of failure, but isn’t a great bet alone for success either. Others connect based on enjoying similar activities. But what happens when tastes change or abilities and resources change? What reason will you have to stick around then?

At some point commitment comes into play. But I’d like to believe there is still love out there that stays mostly without feeling pressured to do so. And so there comes my God. He knows who needs who. Sometimes who we need isn’t who we want right now. Or sometimes who we need right now is not someone we should marry. Maybe they were only in your life to learn something. But you incorrectly took it somewhere farther than it was supposed to go? Having the option of learning a lesson the easy way or the harder way. Scary to consider that choice may truly be up to you.

But on the flip side, I’d say more people settle for something is better than nothing right now. And probably keep repeating the cycle over and over until the repercussions finally slow them down enough to face the wreckage behind them and consider their part in it all. I’ve been there. Not raking you over the coals without including myself.

And yet I still have hope. Looking back and thinking of all the good that was still worked out of even the worst situations. Not that the good justifies the bad. But only that I think God’s grace can be found even in our worst failures.

And is it really failure if you keep putting one foot in front of the other and are a better person today than you were yesterday? I’d say no – failure is when you give in to giving up. There are times to walk away, but for me failure is defined by completely giving up hope for any good to be found in the future and giving up on God’s love for you. If you’re there right now, ask Him to help you see Him and help you see what’s good and where your hope is. He promises you will find Him if you seek Him.

I read a story today about a man and a woman who grew up in the same town in Mexico in different classes. The male was attracted to the female from afar but they never interacted because of the class separation. Then they both moved separately to New York and ended up working in the same restaurant and eventually getting married. How do you explain that? That’s too coincidental to be random.

So I wonder. With love as well as so many other things in life, what part is up to me and what part is up to God? And I find He answers my heart cries through experiences versus words and head knowledge alone. Be prepared to live it when you ask big questions like that. And hang on for the ride! Never a dull day with Jesus. I am thankful for this epic adventure of a life.