Category Archives: Christianity themed essays

Essays with a general theme of Christianity and or life as a Christian

What Are You Feeding?

I recently read a post from Mel Wild (http://melwild.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/working-from-rest-part-one/ ) on “why we should work from rest, which is simply abiding in Christ when you’re busy doing other things”. One of the main things that I got from it was a notion  that I felt I had slipped recently from living a life of worship into more trying to find time slots for God. This is a message I have heard several times before & something I have tried so hard to implement over the years, especially the past few years. The thing is, it is difficult, very difficult. It takes an initial conscious discipline that I am not always very good at.

In a way the most difficult part is rationalizing my life in my mind. I am without questions my harshest critic, often times I focus only on what I perceive to be the negatives of my life & behaviors instead of recognizing and embracing the good.

The problem with this way of thinking is that when we focus on the negative, we feed the negative and when we feed it grows, it becomes bigger, it becomes all you can see when you look at yourself. All of a sudden you are beating yourself up form not reading enough or meditating enough or praying enough or whatever it is that you’ve convinced yourself you should be doing more of.

It is the same with most of our struggles, struggle with working too much or drinking too much? The more you think about it the more it is all you focus on & invariably the more you do if it regardless of the fact that you know you need a better balance in your life.

Sometimes we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of our life, not just the perceived negative. For me that is almost always initiated by a moment from / with God. Following these moments I always find myself focusing on God more & life in general just works better when I am living that way. When I focus on Him instead of the rest, the rest sort of just fades away.

This past weekend I had one of those moments, actually several. Following on from Mel’s message last week, there was a powerful sermon at my church on Sunday which taught on being patient, waiting for God to do what He has promised. To surmise, we were looking at when Joshua was walking around Jericho, six days they marched around with only trumpets playing, yet nowhere does it say that Joshua ever told his army why they were walking around this seriously fortified city & then going back to camp without saying a word.

What do you think the soldiers were thinking as they sat there in the evening? What were they saying to each other? Yet they prevailed, they trusted & on the final day the walls came tumbling down. Sometimes we have to remember that we may only be on day 2 or 3 of what God has planned (in this context). We have to trust, keep going, keep believing, keep pressing.

Sure, maybe you’re not who you think you should be yet (I know I’m not), but you are a work in progress & God, unlike us, is not in any hurry, so be gentle to yourself, be kind to yourself & trust that in His time, your struggles will pass away. The struggles or doubts or fears that you may be going through now are just a small part of your much larger journey. They are an opportunity for growth, and opportunity for faith. Hold fast, keep believing, he will see you through the whole journey, not just this one part.

Prior to this message on Sunday though was a real moment of God speaking identity to me through someone (I love it when He does that). A moment that confused me slightly at the time, yet has caused me to look a little differently at myself this week. Maybe I need to stop focusing on my perceived lack of time management skills that makes me feel somehow less devoted and instead live out of this identity that was spoken to me. Somehow I feel that my failings and struggles will seem less significant if I do this (it always has in these seasons in the past).

So what happened? On Saturday I was at Solomon’s Porch leading worship as I usually do once a month. In between sets a young lady came up to me and asked if I was the worship pastor. She asked as she wanted to thank me for leading worship and offer some edification. My initial reaction to the question was, no, that’s not me, I’m just a guy who plays guitar and sings here some times.  I’ve been called many different p-words before, but never a pastor, lol. Yet, in that moment at least that is exactly what I was.

Later in the day another person asked if I wrote songs, when I explained that I write many but finish few she strongly encouraged me to get working on them & to finish them. She told me I had a gift & that God would use it to help people if I would let Him.

Now, here’s some absolute honesty, I really wasn’t feeling it that morning. I felt physically a little under the weather, dehydrated or something, also my allergies were messing with my throat. To me I wasn’t doing that well, but to everyone that spoke to me during or after I brought the gift of beautiful worship.  Leading worship is not about the leader, I get that, yet in those moments I think it finally really sank in. Even when I am not “feeling it” personally, genuine love, devotion & worship will still be heard.

In these few simple moments, my loving Father spoke to me, He spoke to my true identity in Him. Yes there are some wonderful titles that people used, but that is not what I am referring to, He showed me once again that He loves me & He sees & loves my affection for Him. I need to stop looking at what I am “doing wrong” and get back to just focusing on loving my Father, for when I do, the rest will fade away regardless.

Focus on the good my friends, not the bad, feed your love, not your fears. Your life will be better for it, I promise you , my Daddy told me

 

Be blessed

 

 

PS Part 2 of Mel’s post came online this week while I was (slowly) figuring out what I was trying to say here J you can find it here: http://melwild.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/working-from-rest-part-two/

 

 

Healing, Your Story & The Journey – The JIBTYI Notes; part 7

The original plan was not to do a chapter by chapter break down of Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined (by Jonathan Merritt), although thus far I kind of have, as such I am going to stop and wrap this thing up today.  There are so many great thought provoking pieces in the book from Jesus’ baptism and the question of what it might have symbolized to finding Jesus in sacrilege, dealing with tragedy, fighting the impression of God’s absence in your pain. There is a great piece on the community of the church and what that means, I have written on community many times before and I’m sure I will again.  There is a great section looking at the use of sheep and the shepherd that will radically change your thought process.

It wasn’t my intention to paint myself as some kind of victim when writing my thoughts, all though in some respects I certainly I was. Those incidents were just the things that came to mind, more the things that happened to me to cause my brokenness rather than the choices I made as a result of my brokenness (a revelation previously that cured much of my guilt struggles).  It is written that he who is forgiven much will love much, I think the same is true of the one that is healed much.

The past is the past, for me it is dealt with, it no longer holds a controlling influence in my life. However my story is still my story and if my brokenness or my stupidity can help just one person, then it is not for nothing, this is the reason I share things. While I didn’t really learn anything new about the actual incidents from my past itself when revisiting, finally understanding that God was there with me through it all was worth the price of admission itself.

The great thing is that when we are connected to God, truly in relationship with Him, He can make all kinds of miraculous changes to us. The pain of my past is no longer an anchor that I drag behind me, it is my story, it is my history, but it does not define me. I found healing in Jesus, He brought me to the place and to the people that He wanted to use to help me and it has been an incredible journey. Getting healing is not easy. Facing your demons is a challenge, but when compared to experiencing the pain of being in those challenges it is nothing. Sure it hurts for a while, it is certainly not fun, but if you have survived what caused the wounds, you can certainly survive the healing. Once you survive the healing, that’s it, it is healed, there may be more to work on, but that is it, no longer a festering wound, but a scar that can point to your history. Now you get to face the next challenge of figuring out how to live life without the wounds you have used as a crutch or an excuse for your behavior for so long, that is a whole other kind of challenge right there.

The life of faith is not to be one of an introspective self-help course. There is of course a great need for personal healing in order to be fully free. However if you remain in the introspective process you will become trapped by a religion and not experience the freedom offered by salvation. Instead press forward through your infancy as you become healthy, this may take days or this may take years. However, there will come a time, a clearly appointed time if you listen to the Lord, when it is time for you to move forward into maturity.

For all the wonderful guidance and revelations in JIBTYI, life it always seems to come back to the things I know to do, no matter what book or what sermon. Keep your focus on God, make time for God, and guard your heart (be careful with how you live your life, one wrong step easily leads to another). Do these things, live life well and it will make sense. It may not go the way you would like, but if you are deeply connected to Jesus, if you have His peace, if you can find the joy that Paul writes about, then life works. This to me is the secret to the free life, the life after healing, the life free from the bondage of simply surviving.

It is not always easy to keep pressing, it’s not always easy to keep wanting to. It can be difficult at times to keep your focus on God when life is happening all around you. Sometimes you will forget, sometimes you will royally screw up, but He will use that, He uses all things. Sometimes we have to be reminded (hopefully briefly) or our capacity to fail and of how much we still need to be in relationship with God in order to focus, and really start to make progress. It is important to keep moving forward because any attempt to stay still will result in stagnation, attrition and a general reversal of progress.

The fun part is that this journey looks different for all of us. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. We have to find what it means to be us, what it means to honor God with your life. Striving for some unattainable level of excellence, of righteousness, is not pursuing God, it is seeking to glorify oneself and leads down the path to become a Pharisee. God is glorified when we are authentic, not when we try to pretend to be what we think the world says that we should be.

We are called to a life of honor, a life of love, a life of mercy, a life where our faith is displayed by our deeds. For how can you truly say “I believe” if your faith and belief does not spur you into a way of life that was foreign to you previously. Instead of anger and judgment, offer love and grace. Instead of hiding behind business and stimuli, consciously make the effort to be aware, take time, even a short time to be still. For it is in the stillness that you will be refreshed and directed, not when the volume of your life is so loud that you can hear nothing around you.

When your story does not bring you to your knees anymore, when your relationship with God is healthy, then you are really ready to start using it. That is not to say you could not use it before, but when you reach some undefinable level of maturity, then it is time to really move. Your testimony is your story and the gospel of your life is a story that should be shared. People are desperate for community, deep meaningful relationships. Being authentic and transparent is the way to share your story, not with window dressing or exaggeration, nor recklessly. If you are a believer and want to lead people to Jesus, you should end with the bible, not begin with it, you begin with your story, you begin with a relationship. Most people who do not know Jesus will run from a “religious nut job”, however they will run to a genuine friend, so start with coffee, certainly not judgment. When that friendship allows you to share your story of redemption, that is when the seed is sown to allow it to become their story of redemption.

Now please don’t think that I am trying to somehow minimize the bible, the bible is unspeakably important, it is the written word of God, living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. However the bible is rarely going to draw in a pre-believer, the bible is where you take them after you have built the relationship. We need to be careful not to minimize God to a book, yes it is His book, but He is so much more than the bible, when we limit Him to just the bible we do Him a great disservice.

Community is something that must be built and entered into, not demanded on odd moral grounds. It is the purpose of life, it is the greatest way to bring honor to God, it is not just for us, it is a legacy that will be left.

Community is built on relationships, great relationships are built on mutual respect and compassion. Compassion is the choice, not the obligation, to enter into someone’s world & feel the intensity of their life, to share their pain, to offer a plan for relief. Not because you had to, or it was the right thing to do, but because you need to, you want to, because you love enough, because you are loved enough, because Jesus will always be better than you imagine.

 

The previous posts related  can be found here:

 

The book “review” for Jesus is Better Than You Imagined

Good Gifts – The JIBTYI Notes; part 1

Slow Down – The JIBTYI Notes; part 2

Limiting the Limitless – The JIBTYI Notes; part 3

Getting Mugged and Believing the Impossible – The JIBTYI Notes; Part 4

Bullying and Masks – The JIBTYI Notes; part 5

Waiting and Bartering – The JIBTYI Notes; part 6

 

notes

Waiting and Bartering – The JIBTYI Notes; part 6

Hopefully you’ve been reading all week and know what is going on here. If this is your first visit this week, welcome and thank you!

I recently read a book, twice, the experience I had reading that book was profound to say the least, the conversations I had with Jesus throughout will stay with me the rest of my life. So here is the story of my experience with reading the book “Jesus is Better Than You Imagined” by Jonathan Merritt.

In chapter six of the JIBTYI, the author broaches the subject of “encountering Jesus in waiting”. This is not usually something I do well with; waiting. God is outside of time, He is infinite, He has no clock. He can see all times at once, which incidentally confuses me because if we have free choice to do what we want, can God see all the possible outcomes of our choices at once? Or does he know what we will choose, because he is God, even though we are free to make our own choice? If He knows what we will chose is it possible for us to choose differently? Can we surprise God? The implications of predetermined destiny is something I need to look into one day, because I don’t like it, unless my destiny is awesome, maybe then I do like it.

Back on track, encountering Jesus in waiting, or as I wrote in my notes; dealing with God’s annoying patience, trying to understand His timing. My pastor at church describes God as a crock-pot God in a microwave society. I love that description because it is so accurate. So often we want things now, now, now. However God knows better, if he did everything now, then we wouldn’t appreciate it for what it is. Most of the time it is in the waiting where He is teaching us something. There is a purpose in the waiting; learning, growth, purpose, perspective. Sometimes our loving Father knows that we need to be left alone in order to receive what he is trying to teach us.

One thing that has struck me when reading the bible is how often I ignore the days, weeks and years etc between the parts of the stories. There was an awful lot of regular life lived in between huge biblical events. So why would it not be the same for us & our Godly events? Just because we live in the now age, just because I am in the now generation, this does not affect God’s timing. It is so true when they say “good things come to those who wait”. “Sometimes waiting isn’t waiting at all”

There was a time when I still lived in England, that I felt something inside of me that wanted to go back to church. This was in what I call my recovery period, I was living alone after a chaotic couple of years of living with “friends”. I felt this call, but I only went one time, on a Christmas Eve, I snuck in the back of the church and enjoyed the service before fining my Dad & step Mum afterwards. I’m not sure why I never took that step on a Sunday morning, part of me felt that it would achieve nothing, part of me felt that I had not business walking into a church and of course there was another part that just needed to sleep off the night before. It was around this time that the thought of the monastery came to me too. I also remember having a recurring dream of me coming out of water, standing up feeling alive and new, shaking my head & the water going everywhere. I always assumed it was some idea for a music video that I would one day make. However now I believe it was a vision of my baptism.

Around that time I have a clear recollection of praying to God while laying in bed. It wasn’t a great prayer, in fact I recall imitating a guy I’d seen on a soap opera once who didn’t pray but wanted to ask God for a favor for his sick wife, basically rolling the dice incase God was real. Anyway, at the time the woman who has now been my beloved wife for 12+ years, was just a friend in another country who I had met through work. Yet I knew I loved her, I knew that she was the one, I knew that somehow, my life would be better if I could just get to be with her. So I prayed, I asked God to somehow make it happen, and then being the faithless non-believer that I was, instead of asking out of love I bartered with Him. I told God that if He would just make this happen that I would go back to church, I’d go every week if He wanted me to.

Yes, we all ride cows to work ;)

Yes, we all ride cows to work 😉

At a rough guess I’d say this happened at some point in the year 2000. In March of 2002 I moved to Texas on a K1 fiancée visa, we were engaged in August of 2001 and filed our visa papers right before 9/11. We were married in a church, the faith of my youth, somewhat revived, but then again not really there at all. My conversation with Jesus that night back in 2000 was far removed from my memory. Fast forward to the spring of 2004 and I lost my job, it really wasn’t a bad thing, I hated that job, it made me so miserable that I had calculated how many days I had to go until I could retire, I was just about 27 when I left their employment. The scary thing about not having a job was paying the bills, I was pretty confident I would find work soon, but there was always that doubt.

At some point while I was working my notice my wife told me over the phone that she had been praying for me and the situation. At that moment I was grief stricken, this woman that I loved with all my heart was a good strong Christian woman, she has the most steadfast belief in Jesus of anyone I know, there is no hot and cold like you find with me, she is unwavering & I love that about her. Anyway, we had not been to church since we got married, because I had no interest in going to a church. Yet at that moment I was struck with grief, I told her that maybe we could go to church that weekend.

So we went to church, I wasn’t struck by lightning, the service wasn’t terrible & the building wasn’t miserable. We went back the next week and I think the following week was Easter, so we went again, 3 weeks in a row seemed a bit much to me but we went one more week anyway. I had intended that to be the last time we went until Christmas, I figured that we could start going at Easter and Christmas, that should be enough to pacify my wife right?

The internet tells me that the date was April 18th 2004. The sermon that day spoke to me in a way that is difficult to describe. It was a message on having a heart for God and guarding that heart, but the content is not really relevant here. What happened that day was Jesus spoke to me through one of His messengers. God caught my attention that day in a way that you can only understand if it has happened to you. The weeks that followed I was gripped by the sermons; God seemed to be speaking directly to me, specifically about me, with every word. You could listen to the message and not get that at all, yet that is what happened to me. Throughout that summer I wrestled with what was happening, as we got more involved, joining a small group, making friends. Was this something I wanted to do? Was this something I could do? If I were to make the decision to accept Christ into my life I knew I was making a rest of my life decision, one that I didn’t want to take lightly, although with hindsight it was inevitable.

Around Labor Day of that year we took a trip to England, spent a great time visiting family

Never before and never again have I looked more like an American tourist - 55 miles from where I was raised

Never before and never again have I looked more like an American tourist – 55 miles from where I was raised

and friends and enjoying being tourists in the beautiful county of Yorkshire. It was while I was there that I realized that my old life didn’t make sense to me anymore, it was while I was there that I knew that this new life was the one for me. I had made my decision, not in a moment, not in some great salvation moment, not even in church specifically, if anything it was in a pub and a football stadium and in traffic and in conversations with someone complaining.

The important thing is that the decision was made. I was baptized on October 31st of that Ludbrook, Chris 10-31-04 1 - 1200year. The date didn’t trigger at the time, but the sense of humor of God was clear for me to see later, He baptized one of His hell raisers on Halloween.

So that is the very much abbreviated tail of how I began to keep my part of the bargain I made with God. All that time, He just patiently waited and loved me. Maybe it is not us who are waiting on God at all, maybe it is God who is waiting on us.

If that is the tale of how I returned to God, what the bigger picture is, is that over a period of many years, one incident at a time the devil was attacking me and moving me slowly further and further away from Jesus. The innocent young boy that loved Jesus, but didn’t really understand Him or what it meant to be in a relationship with Him, was moved away from Him.

The thing I learned more than anything while reading this book, the thing that God finally got into my thick skull, is that throughout it all, no matter what happened, what I did or where I went, He was still there. Jesus is better than I imagined, because He never gave up on me, even when I had given up on Him, even when I denied His existence, He always knew better. For years I have struggled with the notion that because God has done all this for me, brought me out of such darkness and pain into such an amazing life with such an amazing family, that He must have some really big plan for me. That I must have some great mission to accomplish in order to justify what He has done for me. I felt Jesus smile when I finally realized that He did not do this under condition, that I do not have some holy bar tab to pay off. He did this because He loves me, that is the only reason, He loves me, just like He loves you! Now that is not to say that God will not use me for a big mission or whatever, He can do all things, even through me, that is just not why He saved me, He saved me because of love & I will be eternally grateful for that,

 

Bullying and Masks – The JIBTYI Notes; part 5

Sometimes something comes along that just rocks your world and removes any question of the status quo that was threatening to creep into your life. Something that prompts you to keep pressing and pushing for a deeper richer experience in life than you have ever had before. Sometimes someone shares a story with you the helps you to make a little more sense of your own story. Sometimes you have a blog and a place to share the thoughts that you had during that process. So here is the continuation of the story of my experience with reading the book “Jesus is Better Than You Imagined” by Jonathan Merritt.

Chapter 5 I noted was the darkest chapter, yet probably the most powerful. This is the chapter that I had read online that began the process of me reading the book. In this the chapter the author is forced to confront the demons of his past, the abuse he suffered and all that goes along with that. I wasn’t sexually abused as a child and I thank God for that. However as I read that chapter and the author’s painfully honest account of his young life memories of my teens came flooding back, the beatings, some severe, some not. The verbal abuse, the feeling of being alone, of being worthless, the feelings of hopelessness. It wasn’t just in school either, it was out of school too, I was terrified when I walked the streets at night, coming home from a friend’s house or my Dad’s apartment. The shame I lived with, somehow believing that I deserved it prevented me from telling anyone.  These wounds coupled with other events led to a dark period in my life that I was lucky to survive and needed the healing power of Jesus to get unchained from.

While reading the book I remembered  the worst beating that I took, it was at the hands of so called “friends”. Clearly it was my fault for trying to be funny, at making a joke that was laughed at but apparently also offended, just trying to fit in, just trying to find a place in the world. It was a stupid teenage quip that ended with me on my back rolling down a hill with I don’t know 5 or 6 of them kicking and punching me. I remember escaping when they stopped, I remember sitting on a park bench while the sun set, alone, crying. I remember a friendly young woman trying to console me, listening to me through my sobbing. I believed I deserved it, I believed in my heart of hearts that I deserved everything bad that ever happened to me, yet I have no idea why I believed that.

The hours I spent in tears that night were not just about that night, it was about all that had gone before it, from the bullying, from the name calling to the crippling lack of self-esteem. I used to think my pain had all begun when my parents divorced, that didn’t help, the pain from that that I wouldn’t process for another 20 years certainly added to the emotional mess that I was, yet there was darkness before that, there were thoughts of suicide long before that.

At the time I didn’t consider myself a victim of bullying. I don’t know what I felt that was, but I wasn’t being bullied, I was being toughened up, that is what they said as they hit me. Relentless violence and verbal intimidation were part of my life for the best part of a year during high school. I didn’t say it then, but I know now, I was bullied, viciously, because for whatever broken reason I could not defend myself, something internal was always stopping me. I believe today that was caused by my chronic self-esteem challenges, obviously the bullying didn’t help that situation to say the least. The toll this all took on my life is difficult to put into words and will most likely never be fully detailed here.

img072The grace and love of my Heavenly Father, who rescued me from my darkness, in His time, when I was ready is beyond explanation or comprehension. It was ten years ago that I was “saved”, 2004. However I knew God when I was a boy, I loved Jesus when I was young, to this day I cannot remember what it was that took me away from the church. I remember leaving the choir after my grandfather died, but I don’t recall what made me stop attending. Maybe it was simply having the choice, maybe it was a cold stone building, dreary music and boring sermons, somehow after I had heard slash play the guitar, a church organ didn’t slashquite have the same draw. Maybe subconsciously I was angry at God for taking one of the men I loved most in the world, someone who made me feel special, someone who made me feel loved. I don’t know, I don’t even know what I’m trying to say here.

In the book the author talks about the mask that he wore in public and that when he was forced to confront his demons he began to dismantle the mask and for the first time finally be okay with being himself in public.

theatre-masks-hiMasks – do we all wear them? I became an expert on making and wearing masks. In my early twenties, scarred by my life so far and afraid of the road I felt I was headed down I began to develop these masks. I learned how to fake being confident, aggressive, brash, how to have a hard exterior so that nobody could ever hurt me again. If I didn’t feel things then there would be no pain, or so I thought. It wasn’t so difficult to do either, after all that is what the world teaches us that a real man is. All I had to do was look around and imitate whatever I felt I wanted to be. So I became a confident aggressive (asshole), I developed over time coping mechanisms for life that let me recover from leaving high school at 16. I became a fully functional, fully assimilated man of the 20th / 21st century western world. I became louder and drank more and worked harder and started to succeed at “life”. Yet at the core of my soul I was rotten and broken and I still could not comprehend what the point in living on this planet was.

Jesus is better than I imagined because while I thought I was suffering and living this miserable existence without Him, and suffering the consequences of the choices I made as a result. He was aligning things to bring me into a new life, a better life, a life in the land of my dreams with an amazing wife and most importantly, in relationship with Him.

It makes be sad that this is such a broken world, a world that causes us to live lies so often.

“The irony of masks is that we wear them to appear strong – yet people are drawn to us when we take them off” (@note2leaders)

It is ok to be you. You are enough, you have worth, value. You are unique and beautiful in the eyes of God. Be the best you that you can be, don’t be the you that the world tells you to be, be the you that you were created to be.

 

Getting Mugged and Believing the Impossible – The JIBTYI Notes; part 4

 

The book “Jesus is Better Than You Imagined” by Jonathan Merritt was quite the read for me. It stirred my mind and soul like none other. I wrote page after page of notes and as I have a blog, the expanded notes are finding their way here in what I am calling the JIBTYI notes series.

Good Gifts – The JIBTYI Notes; part 1

Slow Down – The JIBTYI Notes; part 2

Limiting the Limitless – The JIBTYI Notes; part 3

In chapter 4 of the book Mr Merritt describes a mission trip to Haiti, a country still desperately reeling from the aftermaths of the dreadful earthquake of 2010. After setting the stage for a desperate broken country beyond hope, a place in while he was robbed, held up at gun point and fear his abduction or worse. He goes on to describe how God is working amongst the people there, where collections of hope are springing up. It is a beautiful picture of how God works, not in the way that humans usually think he should which is from the top down, but God, as always it seems, is working from the bottom up. Which I believe is how a community is really changed, not when the politicians are given more power, but when the people are given hope, independence and skills to care for themselves and each other.

The author quotes the popular scripture “Nothing is impossible with God” and then asks the question has this become a cliché, or do we really believe it? Do we really believe it in desperate situations, in places like Haiti? Or maybe today for Nigeria? Do we believe it when a marriage is crumbling or when health is failing? When describing his own struggles with this subject Jonathan described himself “as an overchurched youth growing up”. Over churched? Is this a real danger? I think it can be.

When your faith becomes a structure of rules, a set of right and wrongs, a judgment system, even though the words make it out to be about God, it has very little or nothing to do with this. This is a line in the sand that I have stumbled on several times over the last 10 years. When I was first saved I walked the “Barbarian way”, the way that God had called me to be, yet over time I felt the need to try and fit in, to assimilate.

Fortunately every time I have gone too far down that road I have heard that still small voice reminding me that this is not what I was saved for. Reading this section stirred thoughts on this, on my desire for the supernatural God, the God of miracles, the God of creation. Not the angry headmaster sitting in the clouds. The real, living supernatural God. Once I get over my preconceived notions, the ideas that modern western society has put on me of what is “normal” and what is “weird”, I find myself craving the “weird” more and more, to see the supernatural, this is probably why I have been so drawn to Bethel church over the last year. Somehow for me they seem to have found the perfect line between true religion and flat out strange, they believe that God is bigger than the world imagines; and so do I.

It’s funny, I truly believe that God can and will do all things, yet at times I forget that; usually when I have been listening to the world instead of my heart and the still small voice. Sometimes though, we have to learn to be ok with Gods plan not being the same as our plan. Sometimes we see things that make perfect sense from our finite perspective yet to God and His infinite perspective they make no sense at all. To quote JIBTYI; “Believing in a God of the impossible is not the same as having a heavenly bellhop who always services my needs on my timetable and according to my specifications”.

In the chapter we are challenged to slow down and look deeper. How do you see things? How do you see people? Do you look inside, do you look into the potential of the creation standing before you? Do you see the possibilities, the positives in people and situations? Or do you just see a bad person, a bad situation? Something that will never change or get better? My natural state is to see the positive, however when I am caught in the business of life, when my soul is in a hurried state, it is still too common for me to return to the mask of negativity that I used to wear. Sometimes the old programming kicks in and I find myself disgusted at myself and the things I have said or thought, regardless of it anyone heard them.

 

At the start of the chapter, the stories of their car being held up at gun point and of being robbed in town brought back memories of the time that I was mugged in Leeds. Memories of the fear of that moment and the feeling of being chastised by the police officer who didn’t understand why I was compliant instead of trying to fight. I remember the fear returning to my life when traveling. Subconsciously it was this fear that helped me make some really bad financial decisions so that I could have a car that I couldn’t afford and then stay in a car when that one was wrecked. At a time when I had just about recovered from high school, this mugging trigged a chain of events that frankly came close to costing me my life on several occasions.

If I recall correctly I was either 18 or 19, it’s something of a blur. I had spent the evening at a friend’s house on the other side of the city to where I lived. To get home I had to catch a bus to the city center and then another bus home from there, it was no big deal, I did it all the time. I had to cross the city center on foot to catch the bus home. I had my headphones on, walkman blasting (probably some homemade mix tape), carrying my case guitar in one and my backpack of gear on me. As I neared my bus stop there was a back street that I regularly walked down and I sensed someone behind me talking. I assumed this person was going to ask me the time and removed my headphones to hear what he was saying. The words were not as I expected; “there is a knife at your back, give me your money if you don’t want to get hurt”.

Well I didn’t have any money, I showed him my wallet to prove it, but while doing that he saw my ATM card. So I was frog marched to the closest ATM machine, all the while feeling a knife prodding my back. All I could think to do was try to pacify the guy, try to reassure him that I’d get him what he wanted and keep him calm. There were 2 things I wanted to avoid, getting stabbed obviously, but also I didn’t want him trying to take my guitar. We got to the ATM and he took all the money it would give me, it wasn’t much, I was on a pitiful salary back then and was not particularly skilled at managing it either.

As quickly as he had come he disappeared into the night. I was scared, shaken and broke, but fortunately physically unharmed and still in possession of my treasured guitar. I don’t recall much of the night after that, I assume I caught the bus home then probably woke up my Dad when I got there to let him know what had happened. I remember my Dad called the police and some afternoon shortly following there was a detective sat in our front room asking me questions. After I had told the story he felt the need to tell me how he would have elbowed the guy in the face and got rid of him. The detective was built like a linebacker, if someone was stupid enough to try and mug him they would probably have expected to get elbowed in the face. At the time I was probably 135 pounds, a skinny average kid. One who had just recovered (sort of) from being on the receiving end of violent bullying at high school. A boy with massive self-esteem challenges, I wasn’t going to stand up for myself, somewhere deep inside I felt that I had no right to stand up for myself. All I did was be scared, to try and protect myself and my guitar the best that I could. I know he didn’t mean to, but that detective added one more weight to the chain I was hauling around, one more person who showed me how I would never get life right or amount to anything, he may have been trying to give guidance, but that is what I received.

Incidentally they caught the mugger a couple of weeks later, he had apparently been on a mugging spree and he was caught red handed. I’m assuming he pleaded guilty as I never heard from the police again (that I remember). I’ve honestly never given much thought to that young man, what desperate situation he found himself in to resort to that. I wonder what he is doing now, I wonder if he has turned his life around or if he is still searching desperately for the answer to a question that he does not know he is asking.

Now within the context of the book or a positive Christian blog post I guess it would be great if I told you that this is when I returned to God, when I felt His protection, but it wasn’t, because I didn’t. This was just another deep wound that added to my brokenness. This was one more thing that I didn’t know how to process that led to me looking to fill the hole in my soul with the ways of the world. This was, with hindsight, the beginning of a chain reaction of self-destruction, of mask developing and coping mechanisms that would be the theme of my early twenties.

Yet, I can look back and believe that I emerged physically unscarred because I was protected. My words did not provoke my attacker, they calmed him down. My core nature came to the fore in that moment, that nature that was given to me by God, and that nature was not aggression, it was peace. My time had not yet come to return to the Father in this world, but He was with me, I know that now.

Limiting the Limitless – The JIBTYI Notes; part 3

 

The last few days (and the next few) are the result of my notes from reading the book “Jesus is Better Than You Imagined” by Jonathan Merritt. These posts are my way of processing those thoughts and notes and also to tell the story of my experience with reading the book.

Chapter two begins with an encounter in nature, the author is singing a song on his back porch, the winds blow, trees shake and he knows that God is there with him. Now I understand how to a non-believer this could seem like simply imagination, but I have experienced similar things, sometimes you just know when you are experiencing the presence of God and not something of this world. Which again goes back to the whole, if we are wrong, we don’t want to know, because life is better this way.

The chapter goes on to ponder how much we miss, how God is there so often in the ordinary while we are busy looking for Him in the spectacular. The main point of the chapter though is to challenge you to remove the limits that you place on when, where, how and why you can experience God, particularly the manifest presence of God. Before I became a believer, or when I was a believer as a young child, the notion of God’s presence, of someone experiencing being with the invisible God was just lunacy to me. That was something for the wackos that they showed on tv, you know, the Americans 😉

I don’t suppose I really gave it much thought at the time, but it was very early into my “walk” that I began to experience the feeling of God’s presence. In fact it was part of what made me want to make that decision, it was part of what made God come alive to me. That, I suppose, is what it took for me to realize that this wasn’t just some religion, not just some “nice” people with a lot of rules and a “boring” way to live life. It seemed clear to me that what I felt, I’m not even going to try to explain it, but what I felt was oh so very real. If I, in all my brokenness, slightly pre-salvation, could experience God like this, how in the world could I say no?

Down the road as I was trying to figure out what it meant for me to be a Christian, these experiences grew to be somewhat faint memories. As I was sucked back into the world a couple of years down the road, they became things that happened, but wouldn’t happen again for me, one of the first limitations I placed on our limitless God. The funny thing is, I usually do not place limits directly on God, I am blessed with an unshakable faith, I truly believe that God can and will do all things.

My problem is placing the limits on me, placing the limits on what can be done with me for me or through me. When I place those limits on me, what I am doing as a consequence is placing limits on God, saying that He cannot do these things with me because I feel unworthy or insufficient. Ultimately that is the point, I am unworthy and insufficient, however my Father in heaven who loves me dearly can do all things. Fully believing in what He can do and fully understanding that He is with and within me is an ever evolving process.

Ephesians 3: 20 (Amplified Bible)

20 Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]—

The limits that we place on God appear so much more when we look at Him through the regular western view point. We ignore the mysteries of God, we ignore the supernatural, the spiritual realm that cannot be explained with rational or logical thought. There was a time when I remember looking at eastern religions and cultures and wondering why it is that they are still able to live with mystique and mystery, yet if Christians do that we are considered weird.

I feel like western culture has a lot to answer for in this respect, regardless of the “enlightenment”. I feel like much more damage has been done in our culture to the mystery of God by televangelists and fraudulent spirit healers. Do I believe that God can and does still supernaturally heal disease? Absolutely. Do I think he will do it if you call in now and pledge $150 to the “bishop’s” new car fund? No, I don’t, He could, but He probably will not.

People today want an answer and an explanation for everything, with God sometimes there is no human explanation, sometimes you cannot rationalize why your parent or spouse got cancer, why the children were murdered in their classroom. Sometimes this broken world seems so broken that the notion that there is a living and loving God actively involved seems just a ridiculous concept. Yet, this is one of the very things that I love, not the pain and suffering, but that God is beyond explanation, beyond logic, beyond reason. Would you really want a God that you can get your head around? I wouldn’t. If I can figure God out, then He is not big enough to be what I believe He is.

Sometimes we look too much to the grandiose to see God, we are quick to celebrate His amazing grace in the life of the rapidly transformed former drug addict. Yet we frown at His apparent absence in great tragedies, yet much of the time we miss where He really was in the midst of His apparent absence. Where He was comforting, saving, changing and redeeming with an eternal, infinite, not finite, mindset.

Why else would he have come to say hello that lunch time?

Why else would he have come to say hello that lunch time?

We were designed to be in relation with God, to walk with Him at all times, not just in the big moments; so why do we think that god can only show up in enormous miraculous ways? Much more often, when we open our eyes and ears and mind, He shows up in the small things; a squirrel at the park, a song that you just love, help paying your bills, getting an unexpected hug. Sometimes we have to remember that our loving father is just that. When I seemingly randomly stumble upon a new artist or song that I love, is it really out of the question that God made that happen, saying “Chris, check this song out, I think you will really like it”? When someone receives help to get them through a tough situation, is it just nice people helping or is that the Jesus we see in the bible? If I would do these things for my daughter, how much more would our heavenly Father do that for me and for you?

One of the things I love most about God is that He is infinite, he is outside of time, he is 100% there, everywhere, all the time. This means that he can love me and give me 100% of His attention, yet at the same time He can love you and give you 100% of His attention. His love is perfect, there is nothing we can do to make Him love us anymore just as there is nothing we can do to make Him love us any less. He loves us 100% all of the time. What we have to do it to accept His love, to receive our position in His kingdom as His adopted children. As His perfect, indescribably wonderful love flows into us, we then let it flow out to affect the lives of those around us.

Ultimately the question of why we limit God all boils down to the question of do you trust Him? Sometimes trusting God’s provision or reason is just that, trust. It is like a marriage, you trust that it will always be there. Sure you work on it, but you (in a good marriage) don’t spend the days worrying about the end, there is such a thing as a healthy level of taking it for granted (for a lack of better words). This is trust

I will leave you today with my favorite quote from the book. “My limitless God loves breaking out of the prisons I construct for Him”.

jibtyi

 

Slow Down – The JIBTYI Notes; part 2

 

I read a book “Jesus is Better Than You Imagined” by Jonathan Merritt and it made me think, a lot. I had ten pages of notes after the first read, notes that I had no intention of taking when I started to read the book. The JIBTYI notes series is my efforts to process those notes, thoughts, memories and revelations

notes

In the introduction the book starts out with the author painting a picture of how he has pursued God his whole life, yet has missed him. Like so many of us he was raised believing in a distant angry headmaster for a god, one that always seemed different to the Jesus shows in the bible.

Knowing something is missing, he presses in, trying to understand God he takes on more and more responsibilities. Eventually he is so busy that there is no time for God and he feels lost and pretty much ready to give up, which is when he cries out to God. I have to wonder if that is not in fact the moment that God called to him, that moment when God awakened his heart, which in turn caused the reaction to cry out to God?

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