Are You Feeling Like You’re In Exile?

I try to share from my heart, things I’ve read, things I’ve experienced, not to preach at or down to anyone but simply to say “I’ve been through this, maybe you’ve gone through or are going through something similar. Let’s walk the path together.” At least, that’s my hope. Sharing our stories, I’ve found, brings freedom, enlivens us who are despairing and equips us to continue on this journey with Christ in this world. Many have done this with me over the years, and I am so thankful for them. It may sound cliche, but I honestly don’t know where I would be right now if it hadn’t been for the countless people who continue to walk alongside me.

There have been a couple times where, even though I had that group of people, I felt as though I were in exile. That group of people that supports me, prays for me, listens to me and gently helps me see where the Spirit is in the midst of my struggle, most of those people don’t live close to me. Technology affords me the ability to interact and engage with them. And, for that, I’m thankful. But there is something to be said about having people nearby. I mean physically near by, close enough to have a face to face cup of coffee or commune over a micro brew. To be able to see the body language, eye contact and the occasional hug speak make up a conversation so much more than just a dialog made up of words.

Exile, or the feeling of exile, is hard. The feeling that the world as you know it is against you. Perceived or real, it’s hard, it’s sad, it’s a horrible feeling of aloneness. Two years ago was such a year for Iris and I. I felt alone, in exile, with no one truly understanding what I was feeling and what I was perceiving. There were one or two people who were physically there to listen and be with me in that. But, most of “my people” where thousands of miles away so very distant from what was going on in my world. Yet, God still had them in my life. I felt alone but I never felt abandoned. For almost a year, it seemed as though my exile was increasing in intensity. Iris and I had each other and we had our people, but that feeling of being in exile, an outcast and rejected was there and more overpowering than my people at times.

Sometimes I feel like I’m in exile, abandoned, on the edge of civilization when in fact I am being pressed to the center…where God is. social-icons-01

I was journaling one day and decided to draw out what I was feeling. I later recounted to my spiritual director the image I had so crudely drawn. I was on top a hill, looking out to the valley and the village by the sea. But I was surrounded by forest in every direction, fog settling in and no clearly marked path. I saw the village, a Zion maybe, but I had no earthly idea how to get from where I was to that place. I felt like I was in exile. I could have chosen certain paths to remove myself, my family from the pain I was feeling (quit, slander, gossip, etc), but that would not get me to that village by the sea I drew. Instead, Iris and I continued to follow God’s leading by staying in the fog, moving ever so slowly down the hill. I felt as though I was in exile, abandoned on the edge of civilization when in fact I was being pressed to the center where God was. I was being pressed into deeper communion with Him.

The Pulitzer Prize winning poet and novelist William Faulkner once wrote “It’s hard believing, but disaster seems to be good for people.” Everyday we are given a set of choices from rolling over and hitting snooze to whether we should run that red light because it will get us somewhere faster. Some choices are bigger than others and what may seem small to one person may be a monumental decision to another. And the same holds true for those moments we are in disaster, in exile or in crisis.

We are given choices as to how to work through, move forward or simply engage with the situation we find ourselves in. When we are in exile, again perceived or real, it feels like a catastrophic disaster. But it is in those times we have a choice to either allow ourselves to be pressed to the center where God is, or to excuse ourselves from stepping deeper into Him. Some times this is pressing into the exile, sometimes it is accepting and sitting in it and sometimes it is removing ourselves from it. Depends on what God is leading you to do.

Whatever He is leading, if we are being pressed to the center where He is, we will never be abandoned, crushed or destroyed. That is a true promise of His. I’d like to say that in that time of exile that I followed His leading in every choice, but you know that’s not true. I am a fallen human saved by grace. But I can say that in the times that I did follow His leading I was never alone. I still had my people that God had so divinely and timely placed in my path, no matter how close or far away they were. And regardless of them, Jesus was always present. Maybe He wasn’t revealing everything He was doing at one time, but He was guiding my next footsteps even if it was one at a time. After a long time of leaning into the exile and sitting in it, He led us out of it. But it was hard. It was depleting.

I say all of this to simply share a bit of my journey and past. Not from a desire for someone to look at me and say “oh look at this holy chap.” No, I am the worst of these. I share this for those who might feel as though they’re in exile that you may know you are not alone. Others have gone done a similar path and were not crushed, abandoned nor destroyed. My prayer is that you won’t be either. He is a God of peace.

be blessed today

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/
Advertisements

The Sin Of This Modern Era and What We Can Do About It

Ed Stetzer tweeted in June, “In the last 5 days: 700 refugees drowned off Greece, 9000 babies were aborted in U.S., and 68 were shot in Chicago…and a gorilla dominated the news.”

There is this subtle sin that has crept in the world and grown in power the past several years. Sadly, the Church has not been immune to it. What is it? The subtle deadly sin of disengagement.

Why are we so disengaged?

Let’s look at what has happened in recent history. In the last ten years the Iphone, Ipad and cloud computing have taken the world by storm. We are more connected in more ways than any, ANY other generation in the world…. ever. We are more interconnected as a human race than we ever have been before. But the world has changed in other ways as well. More fighting, more wars, more tension, more offense, more distraction and more taking sides. I wish I could say this was only outside the Church, but you and I both know it is happening in every religion, every country and in every nation. And yes, that includes those who are following Jesus.

I’m thankful and grateful for modern technology. I am. I can send videos to my friends back home in the States in milliseconds. I can communicate, in real time, with anyone I want no matter where they are in the world with an internet connection. I have files stored in a server thousands of miles away from where I live. I can listen to any music I want, watch any movies or shows I want, and keep track of how many minutes of sleep I get a day. I can publish a book, on my own, and have it sent worldwide in a few hours. It’s unbelievable.

And it’s distracting. Simultaneously, we are the most engaged and the most disengaged generation in history. We are the most engaged- engaged with knowledge that is. But, completely disengaged with reality. Disengaged with life, people, living human beings. Disengagement, it seems, is the sin of this modern era.

Second, it seems this way especially when looking at current political circus in the States, it’s clear that there is something darker going on. There is an underlying idea that the world is going to Hell, everything is falling apart, but we as Christians will be ok. The idea that we need to circle up the wagons, grab our guns and protect ourselves. And at the same time, held in tension, there’s this idea that we’ll be ok, so let those who don’t know Christ die knowing that their eternity is uncertain…as long as we’re ok.  It’s the, “I’m in, you’re not; I win, you lose. Sayonara,” mentality that for whatever reason the Church just can’t shake. I’m not saying that everyone in the Church believes this. But there are those who do, and no matter how small they may be in number, they seem to be the loudest.

How have others been engaged?

We have disengaged from the “least of these.”  If we’ve done it to the abandoned, forgotten ones in the world, we’ve done it to Christ, Matthew 25. But there are examples of engagement.

God reveals to us that we are to be active participants. Think of Esther in the Old Testament standing up for her people before the king. Think of four simple fishermen who were content doing just that the rest of their lives until someone showed them the Truth. Peter, Andrew James and John became active participants in the world and did not sit by and let it fall apart. In recent history we can think of so many more….Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Lyman Stewart, Amy Charmichael and more.  These people did not say “Sayonara” to the world. They became actively engaged in being a part of its redemption history.

Taking an honest look at ourselves

Let’s look at the Church in a couple of areas. First is social justice. To be fair, we are considered aliens in the world. So, it is hard to look around and not allow the thankfulness of our salvation in Christ to turn into some sort of prideful sneer towards someone who does you wrong. It’s hard not to feel some sort of weird justification when something bad or hard happens to someone who was hurtful to you. We want justice but only in those things we deem important. When we look at social justice or fighting for justice to those oppressed innocently, it seems that the Church in many ways does this well. And I am so grateful for this.

But in other areas, we as the Church fall way short. Even now I hear from fellow believers in my home country, this attitude of “Well, that is unfortunate for you. You should work harder, be stronger, get over that, move on.” We fail to see that many things in life aren’t up to us. Many things aren’t something we can just get over or work harder at. They aren’t things we can immediately, from out of no where, become stronger in. Many of us are completely powerless to either situations or privileged people.

Go to any Alcoholics Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Over-Eaters Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery or any other recovery type of meeting and you will soon see people who are unable to just “get over it.” I honestly believe there is no difference between the ones who attend those meetings and everyone else except for one thing- the ones who attend those meetings know how helpless they are and how much they are in need of a Savior. The other group of people would probably have a hard time admitting that.

Second is the area of knowing versus doing. David Fitch in his book “The End of Evangelicalism?”   writes, “the ‘inerrant Bible’ allows us to believe we have the truth while at the same time remaining distant from actually engaging in it as a way of life. We assent unabashedly to the perfect book without it truly meaning anything. It acts as an “ideological fantasy” wherein we live in a projected world where we can believe we have the truth, but in real life have to make little or no changes to the way we live.”

I admit that I have given give into the selfish desire to become judgmental and disengaged at times as well. Knowing I have the Truth and no one else does gives me a sense of power and of judgment. It gives the idea that because I know the Truth, there’s no reason for me to change. Knowledge somehow gives us power and control…. we think. We are still grasping for control and think we can do a better job than He can. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be people burning out, falling from moral failure, blindly sticking with one political group, having more protests about what they are against rather than what they are for, among other things. But knowledge doesn’t cause us to become engaged.

And third, the area of spectators versus participants. In recovery groups there’s a level of grace towards one another that is unmatched to almost any other group of believers that I’ve ever been in. Why? Because those in recovery all understand that they are in the same sinking ship in this world. Citizens of the world or citizens of heaven, we were all born into this fallen place. It’s what we choose to do with this time while here that counts. Giving grace and living a life of honesty, vulnerability and forgiveness allows us to transcend the boundary between disengaged spectators and participators. Spectators watch the world fall apart like they’re watching a movie in a theater. Participators are the ones who are scratched, beaten and bloody because they decide jump in the pit and help those who need it.

What do we do now?

So, how do we stop this and start becoming engaged with the world?

First, spend time in reflection asking that the Spirit reveal to you areas in which you have been disengaged. If you think you haven’t been, that’s a good sign that you probably have. Then as those areas come to mind, seek forgiveness. This is not a one time reflection, but an ongoing one.

Second, for those who have lived a life of engagement listed earlier, and the countless others, it came down to a decision. A decision to become active. Willing to face the pain and suffering around them and become “one” with those in the midst of it. They went against the trends of the culture they were in. Becoming engaged with the world is starting to see faces, eyes, of those suffering. Not just read headlines.

Third, it begins with looking around your world and finding the suffering that is around you. Looking up from your phone, laptop and tablet, and seeing the world for what it really is. Not the digital world we have become too comfortable living in.

Fourth, becoming engaged starts with being honest with your own emotions and acknowledging the feelings of those around you. Just like Christ did. The women at the well, the oppression of the merchants in the temple, the lame man unable to get to angelic pool to become healed just to name a few. He empathized by being honest with what He had gone through in order to engage with those in pain around Him. He wept.

By becoming engaged with the world and not just informed about it, we are living out that second commandment of loving our neighbor like our self; and, almost on divine accident, the first like it, loving our Lord our God with all of our heart, all of our soul and all of our mind. May we be known as the generation that engaged the world for Christ.

be blessed today

 

 

 

Photo Credit: http://www.kickvick.com/21st-century-photos/

How to Better Understand Others

A friend of mine and I had a long discussion a while back about looking inward at ourselves. We were talking about whether finding our faults, taking personality profiles, mode of operation analyses, the Enneagram studies, genograms and other evaluations where actually important. And why we as believers in Jesus, focus so much of our time on them as opposed to “just the Word.”

Up to this point, there had been a wave the past decade or so prior, of spiritual formation and focusing inward on ourselves…”the journey within,” I’ve heard it called. Though I perhaps dabbled in it growing up, asking God to search my heart, and then ask for forgiveness for those things, it was never an intentional desire. The intentional, continual and consistent inward journey only began about six  years ago. I’ve talked about it before in other posts, but it really was a stripping away of falsities and untruths that were either put on me or I had accepted as truth.

I have had many conversations the past few years on the idea that we just need the Bible and nothing else, and all of these extra things were a waste of time, taking away from the Truth of the Gospel. Some have said those very words and, sadly,  weren’t open to the idea that perhaps other things may add in our understanding of Christ, ourselves and ourselves in Christ. I also used to be this way, until I came to a point and began to realize that there is a great journey both inward and upward in my soul.

Marjorie Thompson said in her book, “Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life,” that  “One of the most precious results of self-knowledge is greater compassion.   The more clearly we see ourselves, the harder it becomes to  judge the weaknesses and failures of others.” I’ve also found this to be true. The moment I am quick to judge, I also quickly remember when I acted similarly and suddenly have more grace. I am human, so it doesn’t happen all the time, but I hope it has become more frequent (that might be a question for Iris 🙂

Looking at scripture we see the same pattern. The more the disciples began to understand themselves and those around them, the more compassion they began to have towards others. No more talking down to those sick, in need or children. In the early church and church history we also see this pattern. The early Desert Fathers and Mothers, missions to help the poor, sick and destitute all understood this concept as they practiced daily times of silence and meditation on scripture .

 The more clearly we see ourselves, the harder it becomes to  judge the weaknesses and failures of others. -Marjorie Thompson 

As with anything, this life of following Jesus requires a change of perspective from what we know. No matter what culture, social strata or color of skin, we all need to see life from  different perspectives in order to have a fuller understanding of ourselves and the God we serve. When we have a better understanding of ourselves, we then are able to come to others in humility, to learn from them and about them. To better understand them and give grace as grace as been given to us.

Nothing earth shattering here, I know, but a reminder to us all as I was reminded this past week as to why I desire to have a better understanding of myself. May our journey inward be upward focused in order to better love ourselves, those around us and our Creator.

be blessed today

Photo Credit: https://plus.google.com/105843274581171636167/posts

What Does Being Honest Mean?

I ran from God for a while. I was angry at my parents, at God, at other people. That was middle school to early high school. My sophomore year hit and I got to a point where realized the only person I was really angry at was me. I was selfish. I was self focused, and that caused a rift in my relationships. My desire to live a life that modeled helping others began to grow, but there was still a fear that God would punish me for being angry at him.

I would pray in bed at night, and as if some small way to appease a wrathful Creator, I would go through this small little saying of “goodnight, good morning, good afternoon God.” Trying to win His favor with some humor. If He is omnipresent, then I would need to say all three of those greetings, right? Unfortunately, this fear of His wrath was always with me. I could never just be me in a prayer or conversation with Him. I had to put on some kind of show, character or act in a way as to not make Him more mad.

Screwed up, I know, but it was what it was. As I began to grow in my faith and knowledge of Him, the more I began to see that there is a raw honesty in the Bible. Even at looking at other historical texts not in the Bible, but pointing to Him, there is an honesty that is stripped of niceties. From Song of Solomon to David almost cursing God at times, there is nothing more raw.

“Praying wasn’t being nice before God….The psalms aren’t pretty, they’re not nice… but it’s honest.”-Eugene Peterson

Bono, the lead singer for U2, and Eugene Peterson, recently got together at Peterson’s home to talk about faith and life. It’s 20 minutes, but this clip is definitely worth watching as these two creative minds who love Jesus are simply being honest. I’m sure I’ll refer more to this video in the future, but there was comment in particular that spoke to me.

Peterson states, “Praying wasn’t being nice before God….The psalms aren’t pretty, they’re not nice… but it’s honest.” There was an honesty, a breaking down of any desire to save face or put up a front. The honesty that David had to question God’s motives and actions. The honesty that David had to dance before his troops out of pure joy. An honesty in the prayers of Jesus pleading with God for another way for man to be saved. An honesty in Moses telling God of how useless he was and how he didn’t want to do what God was asking of him.

As I continue down this road, I am continually reminded how God desires honesty with Him. If he does really know all, well, He kind of knows what we’re thinking already. So, why not be honest with Him? With ourselves? That “hustle” I keep talking about, that fear that motivates us to try and make ourselves look better than others, that drives us to wear so many masks to save face, that hustle keeps us from being honest with ourselves. If we aren’t honest with ourselves, to the depths of even our darkest secrets, then how can we ever expect to experience the depths of God’s love? Love deep enough to cover us and bring peace even to those deep dark places we try to coverup?

The answer is we can’t. The more honest we are with ourselves and with God, the more understanding we have of His love. Some days I wish there was an end, an ultimate point we come to where we can say, “ok, that’s all of His love..we now know the end,” simply so I could know how deep it goes. But, then I’m reminded again of how limitless it is, and how grateful I am for it. The only way to gain greater depth of His love is to be honest. Stop pretending, stop hustling, stop putting up walls, and finally be you.

And enjoy living in your new freedom.

be blessed

 

 

Photo Credit: https://www.verywell.com/how-to-tell-if-someone-is-lying-2795917

 

Do You Have The Courage For Empathy?

There have been several times where I’ve had no words. There are some people who might find that hard to believe about me (I tend to talk a lot), but it’s true. At times I have been known to hustle-try to make myself look better in others eyes by providing some sort of “wisdom” or “advice.” But what it amounted to was me simply floating, fading, smoke filled words to build my ego, or at least save face.

There’s been a series of ads run in the U.S. from a help line for those who are dealing with family members struggling with substance abuse. The commercials usually have two people chatting, one obviously upset about something and the other simply there. The person struggling reveals that their child has a drug problem and then the other person doesn’t know what to say. Or perhaps worse, says something very similar to what I mentioned I do above. The commercials premise is great, helping people help their family members by giving them tools and resources.  But, it seems to be lumping two  very important things together that should never be linked.  Empathy and Sympathy.

I used to hand out sympathy left and right to people. To me, sympathy was pity. Sympathy can also mean having compassion, but often times to show someone sympathy is to show them pity. To say that they are lesser than, weaker than, worse off than myself or yourself, that’s pity. Knowing that I love Jesus and Jesus loves me, I walked around with some sort of arrogant pride in the love Christ has for me, and therefore had pity on other people. Perhaps it was simply my Western, White, American mind that had pity on those who had less than me. Perhaps that is why I still struggle with it. Perhaps, but that’s for another post.

To have pity on someone, only, is to simply put yourself above them. To have pity, only, is to feel bad because they feel bad. That isn’t compassion, that is co-dependency. Jesus showed compassion to others around Him. He wept because He was so overcome with compassion. Even God showed compassion on Jonah in the midst of Jonah’s judgemental pity on Ninevah, by letting a giant weed grow to provide Jonah shade from the hot sun. Jobs friends, on the other hand, had nothing to offer. They didn’t really seem to listen to Job. They simply handed out their advice and in the end, said it was all Jobs’ fault. Not only was this not true, it also wasn’t compassion. It was pity.

Having empathy is something a bit different. Empathy is trying to relate to another person, tying to see what is going on from their perspective, trying to have an idea of what they are going through. I wrote about my daughter last week, grieving saying goodbye to her school and friends she may never see again. I had compassion because she was really hurting. And I also had empathy because I have had to say goodbye to people I knew, not knowing if I would ever see them again. I had to be real, honest and vulnerable with myself in my emotions in saying goodbye to those I knew and loved in order for me to relate and have compassion for my daughter. And I had to dig deep into myself to find the same feeling that she was having.

My sister in law passed away unexpectedly three years ago. Iris was in the middle of grief and mourning. So was I. But, understandably so, Iris’ grief was far deeper than mine. This was her older sister. She shared a room with her growing up. She learned from her, watched her, and spent most of her life with her up until she met me. I had lost all four of my grandparents years ago, and that was a time of grieving for me. But I was young, and both of my siblings are still alive. So, I didn’t know how to relate or even understand what Iris was going through.I hadn’t had that experience. So, what was the only option? Sympathy?

Sympathy as compassion, yes. But not pity. Her walking down this road was also the beginning of my journey of understanding what I was feeling and allowing myself to feel. Thankfully, I was able to lean into my support system of friends, coaches, spiritual directors and others. God began a work in me to become more in touch with my feelings, why I was feeling them and what they were. This also came about from starting down the road of recovery. Sitting in meetings, talking with people and hearing their stories allowed me to dig deep and find those same feelings from past experiences in my own life. What I learned was that simply listening to her, acknowledging what she was feeling and honestly saying I had no idea what to say, was the most empathetic response I could have given. And she was thankful for me sitting in the midst of the darkness with her.

But digging deep, just like loving, is a process that brings about pain. Empathizing with someone going through a hard situation means you are tapping into the same feelings you had after going through a painful situation. We don’t like pain, because, well, it’s pain. It hurts. But when we have the courage to dig deep, be vulnerable and honest with ourselves and tap into those feelings, the joy of building relationship comes through. Empathy and compassion build relationship. Sympathy in the form of pity drives wedges between people. It holds others at an arms distance because we are too afraid to dig deep into ourselves to find those same feelings.

Empathy does not only come in hard times, but also in joyful times. Empathizing with someone when they are joyful of a pregnancy, marriage or promotion can also happen even if we have never experienced those exact things. But again, it comes with digging deep and being honest with ourselves. And even those times of joy can come om pain.

Jesus empathized and showed compassion. Though He was the most courageous of all, my prayer is that we strive for the same courage of our Savior.

Be Courageous. Be honest. Dig deep.

be blessed

 

Photo Credit: http://weheartit.com/entry/13536737

Changing Your Ordinary: Living a Celebratory Life in Ordinary Time

I love celebrations. Mainly holidays. There’s so much that goes into our holidays, really. For me, Christmas is a big one. The food, the music, the presents under the tree. Easter is another big holiday in the West. We have certain traditions that we hold to both culturally and in our families. There’s a lot of preparation work that goes into it. Shopping, preparing for guests, taking time off of work, etc. But that’s all part of it when we get to just spend time with our families. It’s all part of celebrating.

It seems that in the Church in the West, we tend to pour a large amount of financial resources into outreaches for these two holidays. It makes sense, right? It’s an open door to talk about why Jesus came to this earth. It gives us an opportunity, that perhaps the secular world is almost inviting us to use, to share about why Jesus died and why He miraculously rose from the dead. Therefore, it make sense why we as the Church would pour so much money into these two times of the year. We want to create a place, a mountain top experience where others can encounter and experience God. But what’s interesting is that we pour so much money into these two holidays and those two holidays are a small percentage of our actual life every year.

There was an important holiday, a historical marker, that passed today, May 15th, that we heard little, if anything, about. It was really the foundation of the explosive early church movement. Today, May 15th is 50 days after Easter…today is the day of Pentecost. This day written about in Acts 2 was not only when the small group of followers of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit for the first time, it’s when the Church became the Church and started to grow.

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.”-Acts 2:1-6

I never used to consider the church calendar, but over the years have come to appreciate it’s purpose in bringing focus and order to our sometimes crazy lives. When looking at it, there are some important things to take note of. First is that the calendar year starts on the first day of Advent, not January 1st. Then, there is Advent time (the time starting a few weeks before Christmas) and Christmas time (starting Christmas day and leading up to the first day of Lent). This time combined makes up 15% of our calendar year, or 55 days. Next, there is Lent (usually starting in February and leading up to Easter day) and Easter time (starting Easter day and ending on Pentecost). This time makes up about 25% of our calendar year or about 146 days. Finally, comes a massive portion of our calendar year, 60% of it actually. It’s called Ordinary Time and it lasts 219 days.

Most of our lives are lived in the ordinary time. The normal everyday, go to work, come home, sleep, wake up kind of place. We do our shopping, eating, sleeping, playing, schooling and our normal routine during this time. We have a rhythm during this time. We all do. Besides birthdays and anniversaries (and a few national holidays) most of our lives are lived in ordinary time-reality. Holidays and celebratory times are not reality per say. They are celebratory, not the ordinary. Our ordinary, routine, habitual lives.

I have met a lot of believers, followers of Jesus who live for those holidays. They are only a part of a faith community on Christmas or Easter, but that’s it. I’ve been in churches who pour a lot of time and money into those two holidays for outreaches. But other than that, they really don’t reach out the rest of the year. The problem with living this way is that we are basically saying God only cares about us during those mountain top experiences. Or perhaps, what we’re saying is we only care about God during these few times a year. By living this way, we are showing that God doesn’t really care about us at all apart from these times. That He doesn’t care about us when we are in the ordinary time of our lives, or worse yet, when we’re in the valley and the pit. Man, what a horrible relationship that sounds like, right? Could you imagine a relationship where your spouse only cares about you on their birthday and anniversary and ignores you the rest of the year? Or let’s think about heaven. If there are no celebrations, no holidays in heaven, how boring it’s going to be for all eternity. No mountain top highs there. Do we really believe that?

No. No, we know that’s not true, don’t we? We know that God loves us no matter where we are, mountain top or deepest valley. But it seems we only live for the mountain high.

So, what if we changed our ordinary? What if we created a new ordinary? What if we began to live a celebratory life in our ordinary time? What would that look like? We’d have to change our routines, our habits, but could we? We can, and it’s not something earth shattering or even something new. It’s already been shown to us, modeled for us.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47

Before Pentecost no one knew what to do. Jesus was gone, ascended into heaven. His followers had no idea what to do next. Their leader gone. But, then the Spirit fills them, Peter gives an incredible speech, and then we read this. The apostles, the early church, their ordinary changed. And God moved dramatically. They ate together daily, they prayed together daily, they listened to teaching together, again, daily. Starting in Acts 3 we read that healings began on a regular basis. And, it says that God added to their number daily. Daily!

So what happened?

At some point, we as broken humans, looked at what was going on daily and decided to condense it to a Sunday service and Wednesday night bible study. We did that. And then those times of communion happened less and less. Healings happened less and less. These ordinary things back then, became extraordinary. Or sadly, perhaps even non existent.

We created a new ordinary that took those days and condensed them and in doing so we put the responsibility of our own spiritual growth and development onto the pastor. We put the weight of that onto someone else so we didn’t have to have the responsibility of being more disciplined, having compassion, of growing in Christ. And by doing so, we could excuse our lack of discipline and put the blame on the pastor.  I don’t think we set out to do it, but we did. And it continues on.

We need to create a new habit so that what happened in Acts 2 becomes our ordinary. Perhaps our new habit will include daily reading in the Word, or daily prayer. Perhaps it will include regular confession to another or regular sabbath and rest. And maybe even consistent, regular service towards others around us.

By doing this, we won’t just experience God in the mountain top or on Easter, but we’ll be continually engaged with Him all year long. We will become more aware of His presence both on the mountain peak in the hellish pit we’re in. Perhaps we’ll be more able to see and be grateful for the blessings of abundance and the blessing of learning in the struggle. I can say that others will see that our God is a God who cares about us no matter where we are, no matter what we’re going through, no matter what holiday it might be. And through that, perhaps that “added to their number daily” will no longer be an action of the past. What if we all lived a celebratory life in our ordinary time? What could happen?

be blessed today

 

Photo Credit: https://lidtop.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/black-and-white-colouring.jpg

 

 

 

You Are Not As Unique As You Think

     You’re not unique. At least that is what someone told me once. Well, let me be honest, he said “You, you are unique. Your situation- not unique.” I am unique. Intricately made in God’s image. Carefully placed gifts, skills, personality and character traits, physical attributes and everything else. We are uniquely us. You are uniquely you. However, we think that because we are uniquely made that our situations and struggles we face are also unique.I wrote a post on being awesome, and how this new desire to “be awesome” isn’t really helping anyone’s self esteem. It’s not helping anyone become better people, better influences in their local communities. Being awesome is a grand idea, but how?
      When I started down the road of recovery, one of the first things I encountered was having to admit I had a problem. After that, the struggle became to continuously recognize that the problems I face are not unique to me and therefore I have no excuses for how I choose to react to them. To put it as Iris so eloquently put it, when it comes to struggles “there is nothing new under the sun.”
     What do I mean? Well, let’s take guys for example. Just one simple example. Guys, generally speaking,  tend to struggle with purity and sexual integrity. That struggle is not unique to John down the street or the guy who just got arrested for hiring a prostitute, it’s something that has been struggle for guys for a long time. David, Job, Solomon, and more struggled with that thousands of years ago. Or let’s take control issues-Pharaoh, alcoholism-Samson, grief-Naomi, Fear-Abram (Abraham),  blaming-Adam, physical disability-Jacob, being cut off from family and friends-Paul (while imprisoned), too much to do leading to burn out-Moses,  to name a few. The list goes on and on in the Bible.
     I find myself getting into those places in my life where I think that my issues are only unique to me. “Well, ya, I could do that…but it’s different for me, for my situation, for my family, for my job, for my ministry,” and the list goes on again. I justify this by thinking I’m unique therefore my situation, hurts, hangups habits, addictions are solely unique to me. And that’s simply not true. This mindset is a victim mindset. Thinking this way is like saying “this is the way it is because life happens to me, therefore it will never change.” And we begin to go down the road of self pity and simply trying to survive here as long as we can. I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating, surviving life is no life.
     This differs from being an actual victim. Living a victim and being a victim are two different things. Being a victim is where you are totally powerless to what has happened to you. Living a victim, which is what I’m talking about, is allowing things to happen to you even though you have power to not let them. For a great post on living a victim, see Donald Miller’s recent post about the dangers of living this way.

     Another good friend of mine has been in recovery for a long time. He gets it. He understands compulsivity, addictions and hangups. I was talking to him one day over a nice cup of coffee, giving my long list of excuses why I couldn’t forgive, couldn’t recover, how life was going to change because of a big move and others around us might react harshly to our new journey of recovery. Again, a long, very long list of excuses how my situation was unique and no one could understand. Never. He called me on my crap, my excuses.
     He then proceeded to tell me a bit of his story.
“I used to believe my situations, tensions, hurts were unique to me. This way I could justify my behavior whether it be lashing out at someone, or hiding in my workaholism, escapism or shopaholism. No one lived my life and no one understood everything I was going through because no one was me. And part of that is true, no one is me. But my issues, my addictions, those were not unique to me. When I sit in those breakout groups on a Friday night after the Celebrate Recovery big meeting, or I sit in a Step Group with other guys working the 12 Steps along with me, I hear my situations and issues coming up. They come up in all those other people who are going through recovery along with me. One person in the group may not be going through the exact same things I am, but collectively, we all are. Therefore, my situations are not unique to me. Therefore, I have no excuses and justifications for my behavior and choices. Once I realize this (and notice how I said that in the present tense), I can stop being the victim and start living my life. Making choices that will bring life, not simply try to survive till I die.”
      I can find the things I struggle with in other people, no matter race, age, profession or gender. Honestly looking at them and myself, I can then stop the excuses and start living. Start setting up boundaries. Setting boundaries isn’t so much as keeping things and people out, it’s setting up space that once was God’s and giving it back to Him. It’s an act of submission, of humility. It’s showing that I’m done playing god, and relinquishing what little control I thought I had, to Him.
     But, as my friend mentioned above, it’s in the present tense. It’s not a “been there done that” kind of thing. It’s an on going, life long growing process of recognizing my own stuff, admitting it, and continuing to move forward. I pray that we all continually do this.
What about you? Are you able to find your struggles in other people? Have you reached out to them for guidance, help and support? Do you struggle with the victim mindset?
be blessed today
Photo Credit: image from the movie “Being John Malkovich”