Already Included #6 – I Do

I think in many of our journeys, there comes this breaking point. Where you’ve done everything you know to do and it just isn’t working. And then either God is bigger than you or there isn’t any hope.

My new friend Neil said it perfectly on Thanksgiving this year. Unfortunately I don’t remember how he put it exactly, but the jist was he puts his trust in God, not in himself OR even his own understanding.

Those of us deep in religion have paid lip service to trusting God for years, but I’m personally amazed at the continual layers of unbelief that Holy Spirit uncovers and heals in me. Depths that were so ingrained I thought they were part of me, part of the human burden. Only to have Holy Spirit masterfully peel up the damage and reveal a true self I had long forgotten.

I now think Jesus is God’s Word, but I am still amazed at how our Bible holds so much God-given wisdom. How it is a prism of genius sorts: either way it shines light into you, but how you look at it matters.

For years I looked at the story of the rich young ruler a certain way. I was taught that the story of the rich young ruler was about a man who loved money too much to follow Jesus. The application was to be sure not to love money so much that you wouldn’t lay your life down for the church, um I mean for Jesus. Which then resulted in allowing myself to be fleeced by some who were not so quick to lead by example.

Ironically it was during a semester where I was in a World Religions class taught by a professor that was very anti-Christian that somehow what I now believe is another angle was revealed to me about the story of the rich young ruler.

In the new way I saw the story sandwiched between other stories about people who were blessed in their weakness, who cried out for a Savior. The rich young ruler on the other hand is only seeking a teacher for further self-sufficiency.

Jesus loves him. Let’s get that out of the way first. But Jesus meets him where he is at and, for lack of a better way to put it, plays devil’s advocate for the purpose of working through the problem.

He knows the rich young ruler isn’t ready yet for the right answer. So He answers the question being asked while exposing its insanity. A challenge. Not to punish, but to help the rich young ruler get to the end of his delusion as quickly as possible in order for true freedom and healing to occur.

The rich young ruler doesn’t get it. He chooses to continue to carry his burden. Jesus continues to loves him. And probably knows he will have to go through hell to get to a place where he asks a different question, where he needs a real God who is bigger than himself.

I wonder whether this rich young ruler could have been Saul. And whether Saul’s zeal caused him to be murderous maybe out of true mislead devotion, but also sadness and anger. Seeing these people who weren’t even trying being undeniably healed around him and yet here he is in all his striving with no happiness, no joy, and no peace.

This richness in question is a word left open to many different angles also. We can be rich with money and still something is missing.

Or we can be rich in relationship with God and not know it. Like this rich young ruler especially; and I’d wager also like most of the modern day world.

Or we can be poor as in third-nation poor and yet really rich because of our relationship with Christ. Like the people in the stories sandwiching the rich young ruler story.

The genius of this story, whether it is true or not, is that all angles apply and become relevant for teaching something helpful.

If I was to teach this story, however, I’d teach it with a focus on what I think is the main point: the quickest gateway to true freedom in Christ. I would explain not that you need to give up all your money and risk your life chasing down isolated tribes in India that don’t want your company in order to make God happy.

But rather, if you insist on a god that has a tit for tat spiritual economy, then be prepared for Him to lovingly push you to the end of that logic so that its fallacies will be exposed and lead you to finally look for the real God who is bigger than all your striving.

He is either God or He isn’t.

We were created in His image. If we as broken humans find it appalling for a parent to abandon their child, why would we insist on our Creator abandoning us? If we have grace for our children, if we know their mess is part of the process, where did that come from? We are Created in His image. I imagine our mercy is but a glimpse of His.

I find it difficult in the infancy of this new freedom in Christ to listen to too much spiritual belly-gazing. Not because I dislike the mental gymnastics, but because I find those exiting oppressive unnecessary religion often want to fit this new Jesus into their old boxes. The talk is still of explaining the old with the new. Trying to put new wine in old wine skins. Versus embracing the new and keeping it simple: God, we need You and You love us unconditionally.

Trying to fit the new into the old right now just confuses me and leaves me trying to save myself again. Which hasn’t ever worked. So I can’t go there much anymore.

I used to be gung-ho about going back into the delusion and leading my loved ones out. This Already Included project is still an attempt at that. Maybe deeper dives will occur with time and God’s strength in me. But for now I have to put on my own oxygen mask. I have to focus more on what I know before I dive back into the sewer of stinking thinking that I came out of. I am called to be a witness, not the Holy Spirit. For now I will tell you what I have experienced versus trying to correct your thinking.

The rich young ruler was so close. He knew what he was doing wasn’t working. He knew Jesus was the right source for the answer. But he wasn’t at the end of himself yet. He didn’t trust Jesus to be the complete answer.

I was like the rich young ruler for the majority of my life. My early years all my striving resulted in no relief from hard times. I believed that I had failed to please god and so he abandoned me to hell on earth and after.

I used that as an excuse to let go and not try anymore for a few years. Even then Holy Spirit never abandoned me. Working inside the logic of whatever god I chose. The denying of God impossible, so the seeking of Him unstoppable.

And in that, finally a sweet time of just me and Him. In a car for hours and hours every day for a couple years. Listening to music, talking to people, and wanting more and deeper connection.

So I did what I knew to do. I sought out teaching by men who were in theory supposed to get it. Instead the ensuing condemnation slowly boiled all my joy away. Slowly I slipped from singing with my Jesus to slaving away to the point of feeling suicidal.

And I couldn’t do it anymore. I broke. It was either God was going to save me or I was a goner. If it was up to me then there was no hope. The cry of my heart was literally the lyrics from the song: “I wanna go back to Jesus loves me”.

Finally I was asking the right questions. And He met me there. He showed off in such a big way that all the theological explanations were unnecessary. I had seen my God and more importantly – He let me know that He saw me. And that I didn’t have the power to run Him off. Blessed assurance that comes not intellectually but only from an encounter with the real, true and living God.

I’ll tell the story of that event maybe next week. I call it my iniquity story. But for now I encourage you to ask yourself which burdens are you insisting on carrying on your own? He promises this world will give us plenty of trouble but that HIS load is easy and light. Ask Him to help you discern the difference. Ask Him to help you see. I dare say, ask Him for a real encounter to break through all your theology – be it on course or not.

Jesus is mine. And I am His.

Already Included #5 – Real Life

It’s been difficult to focus on making something to post today. Not because the week has been uneventful. Quite the opposite. Let me explain:

In the old ways and older days, my life was church. I was in a community where services were held on Wednesdays, Fridays, Thursdays, and three times on Sunday mornings. In addition, more Bible studies were held on Mondays, Saturday mornings, Sunday evenings, and offsite on Tuesdays. I could go to church in some form literally every day. And many weeks I went at least three times, if not more.

The overwhelming amount of times, most of that was my desire. No one forced or pressured me. I wanted to be there. These people were not blood but they were truly family to me. They embraced me.

But what happened over time is that they literally became my whole world. I hardly kept in touch with anyone else outside of that group. I wasn’t interested in going anywhere else. I wanted people to join the group and experience what I had for themselves.

Now looking back, that was a dangerous position that proved problematic when I started to question things. I was rejected. Directly and indirectly. My entire world crumbled apart. Not only did I lose my housing and employment when I chose to leave, but I lost my entire social community and my family over time.

This was devastating to me. I grieved for years. I was scared to get attached to any other group ever again.

But God.

Little by little He walked at my pace. He showed me little by little new people. Then new ideas. Then joy. Then peace. Then new community.

I am very thankful this holiday season for renewed hope. You can get through almost anything when you have real hope.

All to say this new season is refreshing, but also uneasy for me. There was a formula for the old way. It was simple: you’re either for us or you’re against us. And if you’re against us then we don’t associate with you.

The new-to-me way is TOTALLY different. I am at a loss. I am like a toddler trying to find my legs. I don’t know how to navigate all this freedom. I don’t know how to be. I don’t know what to say. I feel like I’m becoming human again.

My best teachers are those very fine human beings who most often are not in the church. Who treat other people with dignity, respect, and compassion. Who don’t take themselves so seriously. Who allow themselves to be completely enraptured in moments of love and laughter. Who celebrate the beauty of Creation in animals, artistic expression, and food.

It is like I am alive for the first time. I see God everywhere when I step outside my mind. When I actually open myself up to deeper connection with the people that I cross paths with every day.

I was completely stuck in my head before. I can get lost there. Intellectual pursuits can be extremely stimulating and captivating. But this new way is all about relationship. With God and others. Real relationship. Beyond the superficial.

Either address your b.s. or it’s coming for you. Not in a tricky sense. But for our healing. For me that means less of me talking at you. Less of me talking at all really. Which is why it is difficult now to switch gears and get inside my head again. I’m too busy actually living. Actually putting the things we’ve been learning all these years into practice. Not in an insulated superficial sense, but rather allowing myself to risk connection by truly being vulnerable again.

Now I feel like I have less and less to say. But so much more to do. I feel like a person who was just released from decades in prison. I have so much to catch up on. To make up for what seems like lost time.

I’ve been spending less time seeking all the right answers and more time being a better coworker, a better friend, a better neighbor, a better… etc. etc. etc. It’s almost as if my learning opportunities and appetite have both dried up. Like, “You already know enough. Go live. Go practice what you preach.” All very good changes. Not that knowledge is bad. But our precious Bible does say all is loss without love in action.

And yet I have this desire to create this Already Included project. I want to share my experience in hopes that similar seekers will find the encouragement they need as they go down paths I’ve traversed recently. So I press on. Even as I realize real life is the priority.

Already Included #4 – Getting It Out There

Two people asked me this week to explain what I believe. So I think it’s time to cut to the chase.

My brother refers to the people I associate with as “‘The Shack’ people”. Others say I am a universalist. Those in the conversations I prefer use words such as Trinitarianism and inclusion. Even the word orthodox.

I used to be a label person. But not so much anymore. I feel like one of the main reasons for labels is to identify who is in and who is out. As you can tell from the title of this project, I now believe everyone is included. Everybody is in. Nobody is out. Of what? Well, we will get to that.

But for the purposes of trying to identify who I am and what I am up to, I guess the way I like to see it now is that I simply want to follow Jesus; I am a Jesus-follower.

I’m guessing people with big fancy words and volumes of doctrines would prefer I be more specific. Because there are important differences in what I believe and what others believe. But I don’t feel like I have to label myself in such a way as to make sure I differentiate myself from every other possible theological perspective out there.

Simply put: I want to follow Jesus. I want to share what that means to me. And I want to hear what that means to you.

And even if you don’t believe in Jesus, even if you don’t believe in God, I still think you were Created by Him, are in Him, and have something valuable to bring to the conversation. Maybe what pushes you away from “religion” is an important issue to be wrestled with. Not dismissed. Can my God handle your unbelief? Is He bigger than your unbelief? I think so. I think He wouldn’t be God if not.

So, the journey to this point started even before I was born. What happened to my parents, grandparents, and so on has impacted my life. But it’s only been a little over a year since I have been immersed in a new way of looking at things. And to cut to the chase: even a lot of the people I listen to will come right up to the edge of what I am about to say but then will back off and not fully commit. And I understand why.

To be sure, none of us really knows exactly what happens after we take our last breath. But my opinion now these days is that there is a Creator God made up of Father, Holy Spirit, and Jesus. And we are in Him and He is in us. All of us. And when we die, I believe we are all safe in Jesus. Just like He rose, we will rise. And I don’t think any of that depends on anything we do.

Whoa. Are you still with me?

This isn’t something I even know how to break down and explain. I’ve never officially laid it all out before. This thinking is new to me as of a little over a year ago. And I hope to be able to think back and share how I arrived at this point. The story is so much bigger than me. It feels like an impossible task. But I trust God can use whatever I put out there. And I trust He will help me break this experience down into bite-sized chunks.

At the same time that I know I can’t convince anyone with mere words. This is about relationship with God. The whispers and the knocking in your heart and in your spirit will be the flow that I hope my words will come alongside of. I hope people who are searching and already here will stumble across this page and find a tribe. People who speak their language. People that they don’t have to explain themselves to. Or feel pressure to apologize to.

The difficulty for me in even beginning to address these things publicly is that I’m not interested in debating anyone. Or proving myself right to anyone. And although I’m flying below the radar a little bit right now, if the good news is spread then the bared teeth will be right behind.

I’d rather just live my life than fight. I’d rather just hide away and enjoy what is left for me in this place before I go on to whatever is next.

But I know the words of others led me to this point. And I can’t believe I am simply here to just consume. That doesn’t make sense to me.

We as humans are driven by purpose and meaning. Not in the legalistic sense like before. But as in there is a seed of desire that is unique to us and I believe pulls us forward to who we were created to be, what we were created to do. For times and times such as these.

And this is NOT everyone’s burden. I am not putting this on anyone else. But it is my great joy to be able to share what I find the best news ever. What has given me the greatest peace and joy. What has led me to true freedom.

So I press on. Hopeful and yet very much aware of potential stress that may ensue. But if God is for me… and I believe He is. For ALL of us. So much more than we realize.

I want to participate. I want to be right in the middle of the grand party. Right at the table. I want to be there as others wrestle with these things. Such an honor. And find my other friends I haven’t met yet.

Happy Sunday and I hope you have a great week.

Already Included #3 – Some Background

Good morning. Another Sunday here on Planet Earth. I haven’t really had time to plan where I want to go with this too far into the future. However, that seems to be the theme of life lately: living in the grace of each moment. So I’m going to leave the “shoulds” behind and roll with it.

I used to host a Bible study at my place. I liked to give people some context the first time they joined me to study. So that seems like the next best step here right now.

Please keep in mind that this in an incomplete super high-level fly-by. There is no way I could touch on everything in the little time I have right now. I’m hoping one day to be able to have the time to put something more substantial together in at least book format at first. But again, living in the grace of just this moment. So let’s get to it:

My family background as much as I know it is Catholic and Protestant. One side of my family has Catholic priests. The other side has Protestant preachers. I’m no preacher’s daughter per se, but I come from a line of people who are both religious and spiritually-minded.

In my experience that translated practically into a lot of rules, a lot of guilt, being hyper-judgemental, and being hyper-focused on behaviors and appearances. In short: oppressive.

My parents came from the Catholic and Presbyterian traditions. I was raised Baptist in the beginning. The kind of Baptist where people we associated with didn’t believe in women wearing pants or swimming with men. Where people were not to be associated with if they were divorced. Where I thought I was going to hell because I watched Dirty Dancing at a neighbor’s house and looked at a teen magazine with pictures of pop culture hearthrobs and Tina Turner. I also hated dressing up in costume for the nativity play at church. Maybe that meant I didn’t love Jesus enough?

I remember it was my dad who walked me through the “sinner’s prayer” and “accepting Jesus”. At the time it seemed like an easy logical choice even as young as I was. I can’t ever think of a time that I didn’t know of God. To me it was obvious that you’d want to choose Him.

Thoughts of Him didn’t permeate my young child’s mind at that time. It just was. I was just living life. But if someone told me I had to say a prayer in order to be, well ok, not a problem. It was like an afterthought. I already was even then. Maybe even deeper inside than I know now.

The older I got, the more I transitioned from the Sunday school “Jesus loves me, this I know” to adult church where it was all “sinners in the hands of an angry god”. I don’t know if everyone is like this, but I feel like I took a logical mathematical approach. I listened and weighed everything. It seemed like they were saying there was a formula to God and to life. And if you could just figure it out and do all the right steps then that was the key.

Enter reality. When I was a kid, the formula was simple: say a prayer and mean it. Then do good things. But as I got older, there were so many other things added to the formula. I spent years and years and years trying to figure it out. Just as soon as I thought I had it, a new thing would throw off my mix.

No assurance. Absolutely no security or peace. I was that rich young ruler: “Just tell me what to do, God”. And I want to go into that story more in-depth another time, but basically God was like, “Ok, you haven’t figured it out yet that it doesn’t depend on you, so let’s pile on as many more rules as you want until you get the point.” Obviously with a lot more love and not those words, but I am trying to prove a point.

And so I pedalled my little heart out on the religious hamster wheel. In fits and starts. The longer story takes many twists and turns. But it climaxed with me basically walking away from the incorporated church, as in the denomination that was almost my entire community and life. I was completely burned out.

I was afraid I was also walking away from God. I was afraid I was blaspheming the Holy Spirit. I was afraid I was Esau trading temporarily relief for heaven.

And that is where God met me. When I gave up. Actually He had been there all along. But that’s where I saw Him loud and clear. And it’s been a fantastic journey ever since.

But also a dying. A painful dying. And that is where my heart is right now. God has blessed me with community along my way. After being rejected by people who used to at least tell me I was ok. My different current community now may be much smaller in numbers that I am aware of, but the quality is deep and rich. I feel spoiled in fact. And I want to give back. Not out of guilt, thankfully. But because I know how difficult it is. Going from one side to the other and the messy in-between. If I can be there for others like a special few have been there for me – then the joy is mine over and over.

Also, I need you. I don’t have anyone in my physical space like I did before. I can’t go to a meeting house this Sunday and talk about the real great news I think God has led me to see. I deeply miss that and hope one day I can say differently. I think it is really important. But for now I feel like this is my path. To share what I have experienced. To extend an invitation to others to participate in conversation. And see where this goes.

I don’t want to even say this because I wish it went without saying, but because I know where the heads of people go that are still in or have come out of what I have been through:

This is not me taking a spiritually authoritative stance over anyone. Yet real truth carries its own authority. And this is not me wanting to be what many commonly think of as a preacher in the posturing of authority sense. Yet, I do want to share and will do my best to stand up for truth. As best I know how. Yet resting in Holy Spirit doing the heavy lifting. This is way bigger than me. Way above my pay grade. Taking a tip from Baxter Kruger: if I didn’t believe God was already totally for you, in you, and at work all the time – I’d never open my mouth.

Just because I speak, that also does not mean I am claiming perfect knowledge. Again, this is about participating in conversation and community more than establishing dogma.

You are already included. Amen and enjoy.