Already Included #19 – Biggest

By Sarah Nyhan

I’ve noticed a phenomena in myself and many others where we choose to align ourselves with whoever is “biggest” versus best. We tell ourselves that biggest equals best, but that is more a lazy convenient argument than actual truth.

I’m sure many of us have gone to a new city and chosen to eat fast food instead of exploring the local fare. The best restaurant we’ve never tried could be located around the corner, but instead we’ll choose the bigger fast food chain rather than do a little investigative work. We tell ourselves we’re making the right decision because the fast food chain is bigger and “safer”, even though in more familiar surroundings it would be our last choice. All to avoid venturing into the unknown.

The great majority of us who are U.S. citizens exclaim that America is the greatest country on earth without having travelled enough outside of our bubble to say that as an experiential truth. We’re one of the biggest countries, but does that automatically make us the best? How different are we than the homeless person who chooses to sleep on the streets of an over-priced city with few realistic prospects rather than venture out to a more affordable smaller city only miles down or up the road?

We do this with employers, universities, and even churches. Yet bigger doesn’t always mean better. As a mentor told me, more isn’t better – better is better.

Yet it’s not easy to do the work of finding out what is actually best. Maybe more to the point for some, it’s also not easy to do the very difficult work of facing the disappointment and mourning of having invested so much into something we hoped would turn out differently. To the extreme, people have literally lost loved ones to wars fought by this big country – the ultimate sacrifice. How can they even start to consider that loss might have been in vain or unnecessary? (I’m not saying this is true in all cases; only that thinking it could be even in one case is close to unbearable.)

It can even be difficult to accept that we’ve invested more time than was warranted with a big church or a big employer. We end up playing on tilt; hoping one day our investment will pay off if we keep pouring all we have into it. Especially insidious when those in command misapply good spiritual principles to guilt those looking up to them to not hold them accountable.

Then there is the hard work of facing the rejection of others. Less of an issue when you try to buck the system with your friends in a new town. If they all reject your attempts to try a new local restaurant instead of a bigger fast food chain then you’ll probably choose not to die on that hill. What’s a few less-than-optimal meals?

But if we’re talking about leaving a big country or even an big employer, there will be a measure of pretty fierce rejection by many of our comrades. My personal experience has been that leaving a big church or a big theological way of thinking is not much different.

I never initially considered that even jealousy could be a reason for rejection versus outright disagreement with my new viewpoints. Sometimes there are people who don’t even feel free enough to even admit to themselves that they long for something different and better. When someone else speaks their truth or has the audacity to act on it and then experience undeniable freedom and joy – that threatens their entire house of cards. Your courage can be offensive in that sense. And their reaction might be anger towards you. It’s too much for them to face – until the pain of staying the same becomes unbearable.

Just because a theological belief system is the biggest, doesn’t mean it is completely true. Over and over we have proof of this not only in general history, but also in our own Bibles. People have paid with their lives and livelihoods in order to leave these systems and speak and live out truth as was revealed to and embraced by them.

What motivated David, Daniel, and Esther to stand against the great big human powers of their time? They knew how much bigger and better their God is compared to the greatest displays of human power.

“…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”

Even Jesus showed us that all of man’s worst is not to be feared. Being with God is the true majority no matter if all of Creation turns against you. As I’ve said before, I’d rather be in the desert with Jesus than in a “promised land” without Him.

And yet that isn’t the end of the story. Human nature says stick your tongue out at the other side and clob them over the head when you get the chance. For all your troubles and to give them something to think about. But is that the example of our Saviour? He certainly didn’t subject Himself without purpose or in all cases, but His attitude and being was humble service versus ego.

In that regard, when rejected we can fully trust Holy Spirit with our comrades and loved ones. We are free to go live our lives without having to devalue them or anything positive we obtained through our time with them. To every thing there is a season. Just because it is time to go different directions doesn’t mean there was never anything good.

And likewise, just because I love you doesn’t mean I can never disagree with you or that you are never wrong. This is the beautifully big business of navigating relationship in the context of God’s perfect and complete love.

Although I cannot turn back and join you just because you won’t leave, and although I will not stop seeking the destruction of every lie that destroys us or destroys the connection between us, my growth doesn’t have to mean your annihilation. And vice versa.

Wish each other well.

Already Included #18 – Beeee Still

By Sarah Nyhan

This afternoon I am sitting in the living room when I start to hear furious buzzing! I look to the window and see a bee flying up and down trying to get out. He doesn’t seem calm, rather his buzzing indicates anger.

I wanted to help but I was afraid he wouldn’t see my interference as help and would instead attack me. So I opened the front door which was less than a foot away. And waited.

I hoped Mr. Bee would realize that I had opened the door, but he was so focused on his own way that he didn’t realize me or the gigantic opening available to him if only he’d be open to another way.

I sat there wondering how long this might take. I couldn’t go back to my work. I needed to make sure he was out so I could close the door. I decided to pray. “Lord, please help the bee find the door and fly out.”

Nothing. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Up and down he went over and over literally banging his head trying to get where he wanted to go when there was a huge open door just a little step away.

So then I wondered if I could somehow mentally communicate with the bee and tell him to move. Not really expecting it to work, but happy if it did. “Bee, move to the right, move to the right.”

Nothing. He’s as lost as ever. So I’m standing there staring at the bee and wondering what to do next.

Soon these people start walking outside and talking. Then a big truck drives by. Then a hawk calls. Then birds start chirping. And the breeze is whipping in. Surely the bee could hear and feel how close his freedom was just a foot away?

No change. Finally I realize this is a metaphor for me. God knows I need pictures like this.

The bee represents those people that I want to experience the same freedom that I now experience. We are both looking at God, but they are separated from the experience that I get to enjoy by such a small but important difference.

I want them so badly to stop banging their heads and just take one extra step over and consider another way that will help them see God to be greater than they already know.

Yet, in my previous attempts these past two years of trying to intervene and “help” people get to freedom, I have not been well-received because they don’t think I am helping.

Now I’ve learned to step back, but I admit I get impatient. I still try to pray them in or send them thoughts hoping something will get through.

Finally with the bee today, I started to pray for myself. “What should I do, God?” I felt like He gave me the sense that I should do nothing other than to share this story. After I started writing, the bee changed course and flew through the open door and out into freedom.

The lesson for me was to stop focusing on changing other people. Holy Spirit was fully invested and completely able to get me where I needed to be. In the same manner, God is also revealing Himself to everyone else.

In the meantime, I feel like the most I can do is embrace what I experience and simply share my story. Just beeee still and know that He is God.

A well-lived life, marked by genuine love for others, and the genuine fruits of love that grow as we experience our Creator’s unending passion for us, will speak volumes more than the most carefully-crafted theological defenses.

A sure change from times past. Where it all depended on us. Now I begin to actually live and truly love.

God’s got us.

Already Included #17 – John MacMurray: March 2nd

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

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

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

Already Included #16 – Emmanuel

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

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

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

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

We have a perception problem. Not a legal problem.

Man changed with the fall. Not God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Already Included #15: A Spiritual Evolution – Justice

Whew! I’ve been meaning to write on John MacMurray’s new book “A Spiritual Evolution” as I am reading it. However, life has been so busy that I haven’t been able to do more than read it. However, I had to take time out tonight to comment on Chapter 7. The theme of the chapter is justice. Without spoiling how John masterfully articulates the old view with the new-to-us view, I’ll share a few thoughts.

There is so much to take away from Chapter 7, however the biggest practical application for me was considering whether I truly want restoration or vengeance towards those who have harmed me? I think back and I realize more often than not I want others to hurt as badly as they’ve hurt me.

Understandable some might say. But I have dressed up my desire for them to hurt by cloaking it in the illusion of religious piety. I’ve made God out to be their punisher instead of me.

That’s helped me move on in the face of such great pain and suffering. That has helped me put one foot in front of the other. And should we tell the victim fresh out of tragedy that they should desire the offender’s restoration? I wouldn’t dare! Even God says be angry. And do not sin.

This is the messy, messy business of real life and relationship versus religion.

Maybe this is the reason the theme of forgiveness keeps coming up in my life. I’ve run the gamut from repeatedly exposing myself to people who have hurt me because I incorrectly thought God wanted me to do that. All the way through to allowing myself to be angry, then learning how to protect myself, and now this. Now this. Like a ton of bricks.

Maybe forgiveness doesn’t just mean we only choose not to punish them. Maybe forgiveness also means at some point, organically through the Love of the Trinity being poured into us and the power of Holy Spirit, eventually we can actually want the offender to be restored in the sense of regaining their health. Not in the sense of necessarily letting them back into our lives.

I hope John continues to explore this in his book. This is not a book to rush through if you can relate to John’s journey. The implications of what he is saying are many and warrant time spent in contemplation. And action.

How many relationships has this desire for vengeance impacted in my life?! Moving on requires substantial efforts in letting go of ego. But then also dealing with past hurts. These modern day frustrations do not often warrant the responses I give them. There is still that sting of being wronged years ago that is so easily hit upon as I am still waiting for my version of justice to be served all this time later. I am still waiting for the news that they feel some level of pain that makes them understand what they have done and feel sorry enough to humble themselves and make amends.

And probably the latter part of that is necessary to restore relationship. But do I actually want to see them recover from their fall and be happy and successful? How “fair” do I feel it is for me to be imprisoned by this pain for so many years and then see them successful and doing well without going through at least the same amount of pain? I do not want this on my own. And yet I do not want to face my own version of justice for my own failures. Aye, the quandary!

Thank God that He is faithful to complete the work He starts in us. Easier said on paper than put into practice. But He doesn’t leave us for one second. We are not abandoned. We are not punching bags. We are not doormats. Somehow all this works out on a supernatural level.

For now we ask Holy Spirit for comfort, direction, understanding, and strength. One step at a time. Trinity has always been and always will be for us more than we are for ourselves. And to that we can rest and say “amen”.

Already Included #14 – Written Testaments

I feel blasphemous saying this. But I think God is big enough to handle me. To handle my questions and my searching for understanding.

And so I’ll say: I wonder if maybe the point isn’t to go back and try to fit Jesus into the testimonies written in our Bible. Maybe the point is to have our own encounters, our own experiences, and our own relationship with God. Maybe He is still that real for us. Maybe Jesus in the flesh, Jesus accepting the little children, is proof that His heart is for us to come out of hiding and walk with Him again. All over. Maybe even for the first time.

Maybe instead of looking to the Bible for direction, maybe we should look to God for direction? Did Jesus in the flesh not show us that God is that personal? Did He not say Holy Spirit would be with us?

How do we then know that we have experienced God? Versus our own thoughts and feelings? People can get a little crazy with this stuff. That’s probably what many of us are afraid of. Especially the more intellectual types.

Lean not on my own understanding, sure. Easier said than done. How does that play out practically?

It all boils down to trust. I need a God who is that big. A God who is bigger than me.

As a person who writes every day, this is not such a far stretch for me. I write most often for myself. I am not writing theological legal briefs with every stroke of the pen. I have no intention that people six thousand years from now will read my writing. But if they do, I hope it will encourage them to seek their own relationship with the God I know that I know. When so much else is unknown.

Just food for thought. I’m not saying throw out the Bible. I’m just saying, as a writer, maybe the highest goal isn’t making sense of every little line of the Bible and using it as the mirror to make sense of our experiences. Maybe the highest goal is taking the main points and living our own stories out.

Already Included #13 – Black & White

I laugh to myself now when people say that the “already included” news that I like to share means I am saying God doesn’t “punish” people. I am coming to the conclusion that punishment is an easier somewhat-lazy way of addressing interpersonal conflict. It is a much taller order to hold a person in such high value as to come alongside them and restore them without losing yourself in the process. To sacrificially, generously, sincerely give what you have to give in the healthiest sense.

No longer can I barge into every relationship resting on the supposed safety of whatever illusion of control I think I have in the situation. “Off with their heads” if I am feeling like I have enough or paralyzed by fear if I feel outnumbered.

Now the world is no longer cut and dry, black or white, in or out, etc. The letter of the law is significant, but I now see more the importance of the spirit and the heart of instruction. Didn’t Jesus say basically the same when He summed up all in loving God, ourselves, and each other?

Law only asks, “What is legal?” Love asks other questions such as, “What is best for all involved?”

Law says, “What can I get away with?” Love says, “How have I been uniquely empowered and emboldened by The Trinity to express God’s heart in this situation?” This can look as simple as making room for someone to safely merge in front of me in traffic. Or it can look like choosing not to allow my ego to be offended by another’s ignorance. Or it can reach so far as to open our hearts to orphans, fight for those who are unable, use our energy and individual talents to solve worldwide problems that initially appear as economic opportunities, and endless other shades of love.

Law cuts off the nose to spite the face. Love says not one little lamb, even the injured smelly rebellious lamb, is an acceptable casualty.

Law keeps score. Love says I don’t win if it’s at your expense. Yet, love sometimes means telling you no and not giving you what you want.

This “already included” news has changed everything for me. My political views, my financial goals, my relationship approaches, etc. In fact, I am reeling. So many decades in and I feel like I am starting completely over again. Ashamed because those I preached AT in the past, those that wouldn’t go near a church, are light years ahead of me in living out what I was so sure I had been studying all this time.

My world is shaken. I do not have a formula anymore. This new life, this real life, resists every attempt at being cordoned off to an intellectual exercise. And didn’t our beloved Jesus show us this from the beginning? By His example, He prepared us for the beautifully messy experience of risking to dive deep and embrace this existence from our hearts. As it was always intended.

Whew! God help me.