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.

Already Included #2 – Timing

You have to start somewhere…

I had an interesting situation happen yesterday. I needed to be somewhere in the evening. I hadn’t looked at the address to see where I needed to be. Instead I had been running all around town doing business.

All of a sudden my business dried up. I spent a long while getting caught up on some emails and updating my calendar. Then frustrated by not having anymore business, I decided to call it a day and head over to where I needed to be in the evening.

Well, I looked up the address and it was only six minutes away! My business, or I’d like to think God, had situated me right where I needed to be without me even knowing.

It brings up two points that I’ve been wondering about this week. #1 about the extent of God’s intervention in our lives. #2 about how the miraculous happens as we go about our daily work. Let me explain a little more.

To start, I find it really difficult to believe in “random” coincidences with really high odds. Rather than defining what is and what isn’t a “random” coincidence, I’ll just say that if you think about it honestly, you have to admit there are some things that happen where the odds are so mathematically unlikely that there seems to be Someone making things happen.

Yesterday wasn’t the best example of that, but it wasn’t something to be ignored either. The odds of me going all around a big city with miles and miles of land and I “randomly” end up right where I need to be? At that, I had been getting business all day and then suddenly it dried up for an extended abnormal amount of time.

Thinking about the odds of how unlikely things like that are, makes me rest a little bit more when I have times in my life where it doesn’t seem like anything is working out. Maybe it isn’t just me failing to produce. Maybe it isn’t just me not working hard enough. Maybe I am rather being positioned by God to a place where I need to be.

This is where a struggle between our understanding and those spiritual whispers occur. Do we just stick with pure “logic” or follow our “heart”? As much as we may aim for the safety of purely “scientific” explanations, even then we are only taking our best guesses. History has proved that we as a group have been so wrong for long periods of time about certain things until new discoveries expand our perceptual capacities. Why would we not experience the same in our personal relationship with God?

The God of all Creation says His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts are higher than His thoughts. We want the perceived safety of a formula rather than the safety of being in the heart of Him who is always for us.

If He blocks a door, if He has us waiting on the tarmac for what seems like an interminably long time, if we are in the delivery room and the labor seems like it will never end… on and on; you have your own. We can think back to times before. Monuments in our lives. Where we knew He saw us and showed off. Moments where we later were thankful that He didn’t give us the thing that we thought would crush our hearts to be without. I’d wager even maybe more often than not, we will only know after the fact.

Will we trust Him in the middle? Will we release ourselves from the opinions of others who are not in our shoes or on our path? Will we surrender our well-meaning plans and let a Father, who thoroughly enjoys us, blow our minds?

Which leads me to my second main point. Earlier in the week so many were so sure they were going to be the winner of the billion-dollar Mega Millions lottery. What is that? How can people have what feels like a real emotional experience that turns out to be so false? How can we ever trust our own thoughts? How do we know what is really true?

(These days it seems like the only thing I know for sure is God loves me. Loves us. Loves you.)

Spiritually I am angry at the institutionalized church for leaning so much on similar emotionalism. For stressing thinking along the lines of “what do you FEEL”? That thinking seems to have led me to so many humiliating places.

Yet at the same time, God created the capacity for us to feel and think in those ways. I don’t know how it all goes together, but I know He finds us wherever we are and we are always safe in Him.

All to say I think our culture, with at least a lot of the American church included, has this tendency to pitch stories where the central character has some “holy grail” experience. In that they receive a super-special directive and then follow “signs” that lead them to win the prize in question. And probably completely unconsciously, that thinking has permeated into our decision-making process at times. Some more than others.

In contrast, this week I have been considering how maybe God works more often by coming alongside of whatever we are doing in our normal daily lives. Versus best revelation only being experienced on metaphorical mountain tops.

I think about my own life first. How the most important events of my life occurred on “normal” days where I had zero inkling of any hint as to what would transpire. I was just going about my regular business and then BAM – a life-changing event.

Then I think about people in the Bible. Many examples, but one of the first to come to mind was Ruth. Women around the world are on the lookout for their own Boaz. But Ruth didn’t set out that day to find a man. She set out to work, to gather food to eat. Handling her business. It was too much of a “random” coincidence that she ended up in the field where she didn’t even know she needed to be. That’s where I see God.

But the directive for me is just to live. To stop trying to figure God out. To just handle my business as best I know how, release most of my expectations for what and how things should happen, and ask God to help me see.

To see what He is doing when it looks like nothing is working out. To see where He is in whatever situation I find myself. And to see myself and others in Him when the panic of not knowing and the waves threaten the boat.

God, You are only good all the time. It is my understanding that is flawed. Here I am begging You for crumbs when You have baked me my own huge cake. Thank You for helping me learn to receive Your limitless love.

I don’t want to cross the line into name it and claim it thinking. But I don’t want to limit God. I don’t want to repeat the stories where Jesus said there were limits due to their unbelief. I don’t want to be so well-meaning and hard-headed like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time that I don’t leave room for mystery and instead try to force God into the box I’ve made for Him. Even as much as I believe He will get inside whatever box I build for Him and blow it up from the inside out. Just like Jesus did on The Cross we murdered Him on. He works all things for good, but I don’t want another forty years in a desert. Amen?

Flight attendants, please prepare for takeoff…

Already Included #1

So what is this all about? Participating in the conversation. About who God is, who we are, and how all of that fits together.

I’ve been on a really long journey, the most interesting adventure of my life. I already share my musings on my personal site: sarahnyhan.com, but I want this Already Included space to hopefully become more of a community. A place where people can dial in at their convenience from wherever for conversation with like-minded seekers.

In my own experience, the information I would like to discuss here has caused people to push me away. I have been craving connection and community as I experienced before. I imagine there are others across the world who are in a similar situation. I hope this Already Included space might develop into somewhat of a harbor for them. Even if just for a season. I trust Holy Spirit to do the heavy lifting.

In my vision so far, I see this as being a place where I will take more of a systematic approach towards sharing what I have learned. I have some ideas, but it is going to take time and testing to figure out what that will look like.

My immediate goal is to invite others to comment and connect. I hope later to formally invite others to share or join me in sharing. And if time and resources permit, long-term I hope to eventually comb through the conversation and develop a more concise definition of what I now believe, why, and how it is different from other ways of seeing.

First of all this is about relationship with God and others. I think most people discussing religion have drastically underestimated God and we have lost ourselves because of that. We have lost connection with each other. I think God is way bigger than most dare to hope. I’m excited to hopefully explain why I believe that.

Perfect love casts out fear.

That’s all for now. Thank you for your time.