A Broken Cycle

Religious people often live in this cycle of sinning, feeling distant from God, getting depressed, trying to repent, feeling better about themselves…

and then sinning again.

It’s the most unfortunate thing. I believe it is what makes so many people give up on their faith or find spirituality unappealing in the first place. And the whole cycle is totally unnecessary.

True Christianity wasn’t supposed to be centered on our relationship with sin. It was always about Jesus, the Person of the Godhead who proved the Lord is loyal to us. He’s not intimidated by our sin.

Jesus exposed the fallacy of the idea that our sin separates us from God when Christ — who is fully God — came and lived with sinners. Then He died on the Cross, not just “for” our sins, but according to 2 Corinthians 5:21 He actually “became” sin itself.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (ESV)

God-in-the-flesh became sin, and He didn’t stop having a divine identity because of it. Further, the Father did not separate His Presence from the Son here because of the sin He was carrying to the Cross. Rather, the Trinity stayed fully intact. Second Corinthians 5:19 tells us, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” God was “in Christ,” even when the perfect Son assumed our sinful identity. The Lord was not letting sin(s) stop Him from being radical, loyal, Love — even in that most shameful of moments.

God never withdraws.

This ruins the idea that we need to somehow do anything ourselves to get back on God’s good side when we fail. God is always on our side, even when we are not on His. We don’t have to climb back into His manifest Presence somehow. The Manifest God already came down and got into our presence.

The Manifest God already came down and got into OUR presence.

When I sin these days, I am careful with how I go about the “repentance” process. I might say some kind of heartfelt apology, but not because I worship the kind of Father who withholds forgiveness until I admit my failure. He teaches me to love more unconditionally than that, as a reflection of how He has loved me (Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:23). Besides, I know that our relationship is not based upon me getting it right in the first place.

When I repent, I express to God that I care about His feelings, and I move straight to discussing with Him how I might find ways to change the thought-patterns that led to the bad decision I made in the first place. I don’t question whether or not God is still with me and for me, in any sense, for any amount of time.

Don’t let yourself come under any kind of shame in the name of practicing “humility” and “repentance.” It will only slow you down in really growing and maturing. Plus, it can keep you from fully enjoying the grace God gave so freely to us already — grace that we are qualified to likewise share with others freely.

In other words, guard yourself from trying to get back into union with God. Jesus already did that for you. Any efforts on our part to repeat that Finished Work will only lead to an endless cycle of regret.

For your own good — don’t waste your time on that.

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Opportunities for Humility

One of the most defining characteristics of a Christ-like person is humility.

Jesus is the one who taught us that it is the “meek” who will “inherit the earth.” He modeled this by laying down His life for His friends. Friends He could have just won over with charm, charisma and divine power if he would have just asserted himself more agressively and practiced a little self-promotion. Instead, he chose an alternative wisdom and confidently did NOT defend, protect, or glorify Himself. He did not let some self-ambitious “ego” control Him.

I think God is constantly offering us opportunities to make the same type of humbling decisions. It is these kind of decisions that ultimately shape us into His image — into our full potential as Christlike leaders. All day, every day, these kinds of choices are presented to us…

Will we “save face” and over-explain ourselves when someone at work notices we goofed up on something we were working on?

Will we avoid working out because it feels disappointing not being as fit as the others around us at the gym?

Will we skip church on days we feel depressed, because we don’t want people to see us when we aren’t our best?

Will we refuse to share our art, our talents, our voices, or our thoughts with the rest of the world until our work feels PERFECTLY edited and never in need of revision?

Will we avoid starting a conversation with someone we have serious disagreements with, because there is a chance it will get awkward?

I feel like we are constantly faced with the dilemma of either making ourselves uncomfortable or preserving some shallow sense of dignity in order to “play it cool.”

If we can’t win these small battles, how can we ever be trusted to really do something courageous? Something that impacts history?

If we believe we are God’s children, fully backed by His validation, we have plenty of instances available where we can actually practice walking that out. Let’s not run from them.

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Guest Writer: “Holy Saturday”

In the Church, we spend a lot of time on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday. And with good cause. It’s critical to remember to serve with love even those who will betray and deny us. It’s even more crucial to see the myth of redemptive violence canceled by the Cross. And who doesn’t love the joy of an empty tomb? A Man risen?

But today is Holy Saturday. And today is actually the kind of day that most of us live in all the time.

Holy Saturday is about waiting in the silence of the Divine. It’s about having seen the worst that the world has to offer — pain, greed, violence, death — and not yet being able to see the glory of the restoration of all things. Holy Saturday is about having to get up — on Shabbat (a day of rest) — and from that rest, get on with your day, get on with your worship, dive back into the Word and the promises of God… and WAIT.

God knows I hate waiting.

There are a lot of theological ideas about why it was three days in the tomb, in death. But what if God was simply mirroring the reality that we all face? That when we crucify something, when we sacrifice in order to achieve a better goal, it almost never comes right away. There is always the tension of now and not yet. There is always a waiting.

So on Holy Saturday — my Sabbath, a day of rest — I am trying to pour myself back into the Living Word. I am trying to remember that healing takes time. Tikkun Olam isn’t overnight. Building anything worth having requires waiting.

Bless you in whatever you are waiting for… a job, a husband, a child, a home, a community, health.

And bless you on this Holy Saturday.

— Katie Hunt Sturm

TheWhisperedLife.com

The Best of Both Worlds

Within some Christian circles there is often talk about sacrificing the “good” in order to have the “best.” Some would say we give up “legitimate, natural pleasures” in order to enjoy deeper, spiritual joys. 

I wonder if we can actually have both.

What if it’s not God’s will for us to downplay the significance of good, permissible ways to have fun in order to focus more explicitly on honored, spiritual experiences? And what if He actually wants to blur the lines between what is a “natural” pleasure and what is a “spiritual” pleasure?

There are so many types of pleasure we are blessed with in life. There is certain euphoria we get only in corporate worship settings, and a certain peace that tends to be found more in solitude. There is an adrenaline rush we get while playing sports, and a release of endorphins when we work out. There a taste we get from delicious food, and a joy we get when our friends tells us jokes that make us laugh from the belly. There’s an appreciation for beauty that can fill our souls when we are scrolling through Instagram, and a satisfaction that comes from a good day’s hard work. And there always so many rewards that come from relational investments — when we are overcome with gratitude for the friendships that we are developing.

There are countless ways to experience heavenly bliss. Some of these might be easier to categorize as “spiritual” opportunities, while others are easy to view as “unnecessary.” But what if life is meant to be interlaced with both, continually? What if we aren’t meant to devalue or rate such experiences, but to savor them all? Maybe they are all a part of God’s benevolent plans for our lives.

I understand that there are times for prioritizing the kind of activities we will give our time to, and that sometimes we have to say “no” to good options in order to say “yes” to things the Lord has invited us to focus on. That said, we need to be careful not to create too much of a dichotomy between the material, temporal realm and the spiritual, eternal one. God is highly invested in both realms, and the two are highly intertwined with one another. I believe our lives are more fully lived when we are growing to explore and delight in the whole of the opportunities provided for us to experience joy in its manifold forms.

If we neglect any means through which God is working to lift our spirits in the name of “holiness,” we just might be getting stuck in an unnecessary rut. The Lord is highly creative, and He can make our hearts rejoice in so many ways…

That is, if we are willing to receive and celebrate all He is offering.

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Where Are You Headed?

My name is Destin Michael, which means “destined to be like the Lord.” It’s not hard to guess that the concept of “destiny” has played a huge role in my thought life since I was a young kid.

I often think about where I am headed in life and how I am going to get there. I want to grow in the direction God would have for me — to know and enjoy Him more, and to fulfill His purposes.

In the process of reflecting on this, I have grabbed a hold of a few ideas others have shared over the last several years. I believe each of these proverbial statements can add guidance to the formation of our destinies.

Consider these ideas and how they might help you reflect on where you are headed:

  1. You are going in the direction you are pointed.

What do we put most of our focus and attention on in life? How do we spend most of our time? What practices and routines do we each follow on a daily and weekly basis? All of this can be highly predictive of where our lives will be in five years, or even further ahead.

Put some consideration into the choices you are making in this season. Our divinely-inspired dreams will not just come to pass on their own if we are always casual with the lifestyle we are engaging in currently.

2. You are who you hang out with.

People rub off on each other. It’s just the way life works. We tend to talk like those we spend the most time with, assume the same mentalities that they have, and learn to like a lot of what they like. If we want a good picture of where we are headed, we can look at the people we are closest to.

Surround yourself with people who inspire you, who challenge you out of your comfort zones, who encourage you and believe in you. And choose friends who are givers that are dedicated to contributing to your wellbeing. A community of healthy, mature, non-toxic peers is essential to our growth as people.

Whatever type of leader or individual we want to become will be determined largely by the character type of the those we are inviting into our inner circle today.

3. You will live in the fruit of this moment.

It’s easy to dream about the big picture of where we want to go in life. Often that dream feels intimidating to try to reach for. Really all destinies are fulfilled though as the result of the continual investment we make in a brighter future, starting right now.

Don’t just think about the kind of steps you want to take in the right direction through major lifestyle changes. Think about how you can make the most of your time and fully embrace the opportunities given to you over the next few hours. Set your intentions in the best direction you know how, and find simple ways to realign your trajectory in the space of time immediately before you.

If we think like this continually, in due time — we will see a harvest from these very moments.

4. You are already a success.

Our culture often encourages us to “make something of ourselves,” as if we can become a better, higher quality person based upon the accomplishments we achieve in life. I don’t like this perspective.

Human potential is best manifested in those who really learn to just be themselves, rather than striving to “make something” of themselves.

We are all created with the image of God within us. That is, with the desire to serve others, to impact society for the greater good, to create and to influence. These things will come from us naturally as we progressively learn to accept and express our God-given identities.

We are not reaching to become something great. We are already incredibly great in our Father’s eyes, and it is the validation He gives us that motivates us to practice walking in greatness through our life’s work. We need to be constantly reminded that we are already a success just because He says we are lovable… long before any external successes we accomplish in days to come.

5. Invest in the Eternal Kingdom.

Our dreams and passions are shallow if we are limited in seeking to serve our own interests. A truly significant dream is one that includes others, even future generations.

Every life has a ripple effect on the lives of those it touches. Let’s be conscientious about what kind of things we are setting in motion in the lives of those around us. We are contributing to the progress of humanity, joining in with Christ’s ageless movement to bring redemption wherever it is lacking.

Each one of us is leaving some kind of legacy. Our aim is to have it be one that fully maximized in helping bringing about God’s long-term agenda for total, widespread restoration. We don’t want to waste our short lives on what only we can experience for ourselves before we die.

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“Who” (Not Just “What”)

 

God is a Person.

Sometimes I feel like that just needs to be stated.

I listen to a lot of speakers from a lot of backgrounds, including some of the most progressive voices in the Christian community. Many of them have a great understanding of how definitively loving God is, and how pervading His (and many would say Her) Presence is in all of life. One thing I have found to be seemingly lacking in the theology of some of these teachers is that God is personal.

He’s a real (Triune) individual with a personality, and He is highly relational.

In other words, He’s not just a “force.” Nor is it appropriate to equate Him with the Universe itself. He is the Creator of the known world, and the lover of our souls. Without that understanding, our concept of “love” and the Divine “Presence” becomes somewhat detached from reality. We are missing a more full picture of the Lord’s nature if we turn Him/Her into an ethereal “it.”

God actually has a heart. He actually has passion for us. He sincerely wants to communicate with us — back and forth. He really is relatable, just like Jesus is in the Gospels. Saying all this is not a form of “anthropomorphism” or personification. Christ was being straight forward when He claimed, “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). He truly is “the brightness of God’s glory, and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3). We can know Him intimately… just as with any other close friend (John 15:9-17).

Yes, God is Spirit (John 4:24). Yes, He is the inner light in our souls. And yes He is everywhere. But He is also a distinct Being initiating and building a unique relationship with each one of us. Further, He personally desires the reciprocation of love from each one of us. We cannot fully respond to or appreciate His love if we do not actually address Him as the interactive lover that He is. He gives heartfelt devotion to each one of us, and He is worthy of our happy, voluntary adoration in return.

So let’s just be a little careful with how we describe “The Divine.” This Transcendent One has a Name (Philippians 2:10-11), and we can consciously connect with Him much deeper when we acknowledge Him for who (not just what) He says He is. 

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Repost: A Prophecy

The following is a repost from a previous blog I published online at a different address:

Do you ever feel an unhealthy lack of fulfillment in your relationship with God, like you need more of His Spirit but sense a great distance between your heart and His? Like you know He loves you in your head, but part of you still feels unconvinced?

While in a time of contemplation back when I worked at a house of prayer in my city, I felt led to prophesy against that sense of spiritual dryness. God gave me a word to share with brothers in the Faith who are in such a discouraged state. It is a word all about His Son(s). This is how that message came to my heart as I began writing it:

“Sons, sons, sons. You are all in Christ My beloved Son, so you are all My sons. You are mighty ones, all of you children of the Most High (Psalm 82:6). You are seated with Christ in heavenly places, for you have died and your life is hidden with Him in Me (Ephesians 2:6, Colossians 3:3). You have received of His fullness as My Word says, ‘grace upon grace’ (John 1:16). Here at My right hand you have been made to sit – in the epicenter of joy where there are pleasures evermore (Ephesians 2:6, Psalm 16:11). You couldn’t attain to any better position. You can’t get any more favor than this (Psalm 5:12). So I say to each of you, ‘Son, you have always been with Me, and all that is Mine is yours.’ (Luke 15:31)

“I ask you, have you ever seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread? (Psalm 37:25) Even the Syrophoenician woman looking for crumbs to fall from the table was fed (Matthew 15:21-28) – and she was not consciously walking in divine sonship like you are. I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst (John 6:35). I have not left you as starving and neglected orphans, but I have prepared a table before you in the presence of your enemies (John 14:18, Psalm 23:5). Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good. Delight yourselves in abundance (Isaiah 55:2). I have provided for you every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). Take and eat My flesh (Matthew 26:26). Drink of My cup that overflows (Psalm 23:5). Find your contentment in My presence, as you have been given access by faith (Romans 5:2, Ephesians 2:18). Taste and see that I am good! (Psalm 34:8)

“I tell you, out of your belly will flow rivers of living water (John 7:38)! You’re not just looking for rain from above, for behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst (Luke 17:21). I live within you. Your hope does not disappoint, because My love has been poured out within your hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to you (Romans 5:5). My divine power has granted to you everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Draw from those deep inner wells and rejoice in the intimacy you have with Me (Isaiah 12:3). You are one with Me forever (1 Corinthians 6:17). Do not let the joy of knowing that be taken from you. And don’t be misled into thinking I am reserving some of My goodness from you. I withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).

“Did I not say, ‘Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied?’ (Matthew 5:6) You have hungered, and I answered by not just giving you My righteousness. You became the very righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). So receive your sense of satisfaction! Enter into a greater appreciation of your own transformation that took place by My offering. Jesus became poor that you might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He sacrificed His own sense of connection with Me so that you could experience the wealth of that love. He cried out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) so that you could host the Spirit of adoption by which you cry out “Daddy, Father!” (Romans 8:15) You are not in lack! The whole earth groans for you to realize that and to live out of the relationship that you have with Me (Romans 8:19).

“My sons, jump into the river of my delights (Psalm 36:8)! I am with you and I will never leave you (Deuteronomy 31:6). My nearness is Your refuge. It is a strong tower (Psalm 144:2). Nothing can separate you from My love (Romans 8:38-39). Rest your hearts there and receive your peace. Just look at Jesus and experience Me. For in Him, I already pursued you. And I won! Now you are sealed with My Spirit (Ephesians 1:13) – even unto the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

“Be thankful therefore in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and be continually filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). This is your inheritance. This is your life. You are going from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18) and you have nothing less to look forward to. You worship Immanuel – the ever present God. And I will never change…”

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Eternal Life Today

Jesus said that He came “to bring life, and life more abundant” (John 10:10). Some versions say “life to the full.” This is eternal life – the life found in the Kingdom of Heaven.

In religion we sometimes piously project this “abundant life” far into the future. We put all our hopes in the after life, a postmortem experience. We wait to die or to be resurrected from death at Christ’s return. We limit our understanding of eternity to this future experience, downplaying the significance of the here and now.

Even more commonly though we take a less spiritualized approach. We look forward to a future day when things will get better on this side of eternity. A day when we will graduate college. A day we will get married. A day we will finally get into shape like we want. A day we will get a better job.

But Jesus said He came to give us life to the FULL. And we are alive right now. Today.

Everyday we can choose to live in abundance. This is not an exaggeration. We can live in expectation of what is yet to come, but we can also take full advantage of our present opportunities.

We can connect with people who contribute to our well being. We can indulge in contemplative prayer, appreciating God’s nearness and dwelling on His goodness. We can go outside and enjoy the Sun and get our bodies moving with physical exercise. We can express ourselves through art, or through purposeful acts of service to our communities. We can make decisions big and small that result in our health and well being, following the rhythms of grace that produce both greater maturity and a more constant sense of delight in our lives. We don’t have to wait until tomorrow to live to fully and to practice contentment.

I frequently remind myself that the Spirit of God is within me already, so I already am walking in eternal, Kingdom life. Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is… righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” These things are all given to us freely in the space we are in right now.

It takes a conscious shift of mind sometimes to fully appreciate all that is at hand. When we do though, our days grow much brighter. We live much more accomplished and much more restful if we just lean into the life Christ offers us as we walk with Him in THIS season of life.

And we trust that there is only an eternity of more life to unfold before us.

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Feeling the Impact of this Crisis

Someone said to grab my five year old nephew and a friend of mine and go take cover in a small stairwell. “Don’t worry, this is just practice,” I was told. “But take it seriously.”

Thinking, “This is going to be fun,” I put an arm around my nephew and pulled him down into the corner of the wall. I assured him with a grin that this wouldn’t be too bad. My friend leaned into the wall of the stairwell with us. Before we could get comfortable though, a booming explosion went off. 

Holy crap. That did not sound safe.

The explosion did not sound like “practice,” and it sounded close enough that I thought the bomb could come flying through the top of the stairwell at any moment and penetrate the level we were hiding on. I pictured a massive rock blasting through the wall to crush us.

In a matter of mere moments I scrambled to pull my nephew closer to my chest and to make sure my friend a few feet away was still okay. At the same time I was struggling to move my jacket to cover all three of our heads and was trying to get us into a safer, lower position. I had no time to readjust everything, but I was desperately hoping I could protect us from the force of any debris now flying our way. And the explosions only continued to roar through the little stairwell one after another — coming from who knows where.

My nephew starting crying loudly, and then the dam broke in my own soul. I too began to weep profusely as I shook with the impact of the bombs hitting near us and with the fear and pain now rising in my soul.

It was real. And it was terrifying. 

All at once it had become clear that I was not preparing for battle. I was in the middle of war, and for the first time in my life I felt responsible to somehow preserve the life of someone else I cared for who was also under attack. But I had no idea what we were even up against.

I was in a swirl of intense emotions and feeling like I could only process them by just letting them all out. Then I woke up.

It was just a dream. Yes, I literally just woke up on a Thursday night from a nap and realized I’d just had a dream. But I was smart enough to know it wasn’t “just” a dream.

God just gave me a very vivid picture of what it is like to be in a war zone like Syria right now. I actually felt like He was processing His own emotions through me in the dream… conveying that He stands in complete solidarity and empathy with the victims who are currently suffering in this tragic situation. He was showing me how He really feels as He is present in the bodies and hearts of His children in that nation, seeing things from their perspective.

Jesus is not apathetic to the pain and injustice of this crisis.

However we respond to what the news is showing us, we must not become apathetic. Let the situation hit home, just as if it was your own nephew or friend going through this.

The Lord wants us to allow ourselves to feel the impact of what is taking place. He wants us to care.

 

More From Robbie

It’s been less than a week since I last posted one of his podcasts… but you’ve got to hear this new talk from Rob Bell. He’s a master with communication and he does a beautiful job of capturing and revealing the nature of the Gospel in this episode. That is, especially as the Gospel relates to our personal identities as the objects of divine love.

Listen and be refreshed. Keep your Twitter account pulled up too, you might want to quote a few lines from this message if you’re like me!