Guest Post: “Beautiful”

Today, I had a friend casually tell me that they adored my soul.

And then suddenly I was crying awkwardly by myself in Starbucks. 

We live in a society where what you do and how you look is often seen as more important than who you are. In fact, think about it — what is typically the first thing you ask a new acquaintance?

“So, what do you do?”

You are what you do, what you supposedly contribute. I’ve witnessed this first hand. Since I can remember I’ve been introduced to people as “the dancer.” It was as though, aside from my career, I had no identity. 

But where are you left if that identity is taken away from you? 

A couple months ago, I was forced to contemplate that question. Suddenly, I found myself unable to do the one thing I’d always been known by. I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t even walk comfortably. Now let me tell you, I freaked out

Not only did no one else know who I was outside of being a dancer, but I hadn’t the slightest clue either.

If I couldn’t dance, what was I? Was I useless now?

I sank into depression, trying to push my recovering body too hard. I restricted my diet, often going all day on a single cup of coffee. My anxiety kept me up at night and during the day I was always a second away from tears. Mentally and physically exhausted, I found that I had nothing else to give. 

It was then, finally, that I started to notice things about myself. 

I could make people laugh. I gave excellent hugs and was a good listener, with friends often coming to me just to vent and be heard. I was capable of making people feel comfortable and a little less awkward. I had a proficiency for language and found peace in writing. I read books I’d somehow never found the time to read before. I found that I was brave, I was strong, and I was so, so LOVED. 

You are not what you do. 

Even if you had no elaborate career to offer, no incredible talents to show, you would still be valuable. 

Because you are you. 

Look around you. See the colors in a sunset. Feel the wind kiss your skin. Listen to the trees as they rustle their leaves. In all of this crazy, awe-inspiring beauty, you were somehow included. Deemed worthy and needed. A necessity, something given for the world to be more complete. That in itself is incredible. You, just existing. 

You are beautiful. 

I love you.  

— Ericka Goss

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You Are Not Your Own Worst Enemy

     One of the most annoying things I hear on a regular basis is the idea that “you are your own worst enemy.” For the sons and daughters of God, this is simply not true. In fact, you are not your own enemy at all.

     Christians tend to articulate this idea by saying that you are still “in the flesh,” bound with some carnal, sinful nature. You need to repetitively “die to self.” Humanists say they same thing essentially when they always talk about how our “ego” controls us. Both seem to think this problem is inescapable and always in need of our attention.

     Whether in religious or secular terminology, the idea is that we all are inherently selfish and proud creatures, and that to do something selfless for the good of others is contrary to our most basic nature. This is ludicrous.

     The truth is, we are all made in the image of our Heavenly Father. His nature is selfless, self-sacrificing, and other-centered. He is Love and His Love is genuinely caring. For those of us who have put our trust in Jesus, the image of our Father is redeemed in us. As His children, filled with His Spirit — His very heart — we overflow with the same love (John 7:38). It is our JOY to serve others, not our task.

It is our JOY to serve others, not our task.

     Yes, there is effort expended in putting the needs of others before our own. Nevertheless it is energizing when we esteem the well-being of others above our own comforts. We are fueled by the passion we experience along the way. As Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work,” (John 4:34).

     This joy is ours is precisely because we were designed and reborn in such a way that service to a higher calling would bring us a sense of reward and fulfillment in life. It is not contrary to our deepest desires or truest nature when we care for others and make sacrifices to serve them. It is an EXPRESSION of our truest nature. 

 It is not contrary to our deepest desires or truest nature when we care for others and make sacrifices to serve them. It is an EXPRESSION of our truest nature. 

     As John Crowder says, “you look just like your Daddy.” Your first and primary nature is as eternally cruciform and kenotic as His. “We have the mind [the way of thinking] of Christ,” 1st Corinthians 2:16.

     Loving others is only insincere when we are doing it because we think some external voice is telling us we have to do it. When we know how unconditionally loved we are by the One who knows us best, service to the world around us becomes a privilege, a delight, and an adventure. It is not a burden or a requirement that we need to challenge ourselves to try to reach for. We do not have to be talked into it through pressure.

To Be Humane is To Be Godly

     Further, we should know that our humanity is not our problem. Our ability to appreciate our own humanity (as it has been sanctified through the Cross) is actually what makes us humane. It connects us to others and helps us to esteem them as the beloved children of God that they are as well.

     Ephesians 6:12 says, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” There is a real enemy to resist, but that enemy is not within. Within us is the living Christ — the hope of Glory. Within us is the compassion and humility needed to see the value of others and fight for them to experience the same goodness and kindness that we have been given.

     So yes, do hard things for the glory of God. Live on mission, go low in humility and service, expend yourself fully on the fulfilling the vision. Do it BECAUSE it’s what you want though, not in spite of what you want. 

     You and God are on the same page in your desire to do good to others. He is with you and for you in this endeavor — and you should be for yourself in it too.

Follow @dmichaelSTL

You Have Full Permission to Indulge

Often I find myself having discussions with other believers about God’s nature and character. It’s not unusual for someone to express to me, “My view of God is changing and expanding. I need to know though, is it really okay for me to explore the idea that He is as good as my heart is coming to believe? Shouldn’t I try to maintain some sense of Him being [insert judgmental, controlling, retributive, etc.] too?”

It seems to me that our souls actually need to be given permission to trust that God is radically good. We need to be told that there are no contradictions to God’s goodness within His personality. This is often a struggle though, especially for those of us who are well versed in traditional schools of theology that painted a more confusing picture of the Divine as we were growing up. Sadly, much of the Christian world is responsible for using the Bible to portray this false “balance” within God’s heart. That is, a balance between Endless Mercy and Harsh Judgment, Life-Giver and Destroyer, Intimate Friend and “Holy, Scary King…” etc. etc. Of course we don’t straight up acknowledge that is is the idea we are presenting. This is the impression honest seekers of truth are left with nevertheless.

Our souls actually need to be given permission to trust that God is radically good.

God spoke to me through a vision on 11/11/2011 that helped me as I was starting to grow in clarity on these matters. I was approaching Him in prayer, and I pictured in my mind the Throne Room in Heaven. Ephesians 2:6 tells us we are already seated in heavenly places in Christ, so I wanted to make that position of intimacy and authority with the Lord my starting place for communion with Him.

As I looked toward the Lord, I felt Him say to my heart, “Look at Me!” I realized I was shamefully looking down a little, rather than confidently looking Him in the eyes. I lifted my gaze, and when I did I saw His two beautiful eyes of fire that the Book of Revelation speaks of. They were warm and radiant. Immediately I was hit with the realization that they were gateways to His heart. The impression that I received was that one is the eye of Grace and the other the eye of Justice. Both eyes though were blazing with a fire that poured from the same pure heart. It is a heart of burning Love.

This was a metaphoric lesson I needed to learn.

The vision ended, and I was left with this feeling that God is for me. He’s never against me. I was liberated to indulge in my love for God’s grace, knowing that that grace consists of the same substance as His justice. The two are flawlessly in union with each other and in no opposition in how they shape God’s perspective of myself or the world.

Since this experience, I’ve learned a lot from Scripture and study that has convinced me God is only and always loving. It’s not just something that is “technically” true to me anymore. I am gorging myself on His goodness, His grace, and His love for me. Through this process I am finding it only to brings me greater health and maturity. It even gives me better discernment when needing to recognize false gospels and heresies that would seek to interfere with my relationship with Jesus.

Now I want to be a voice that gives others the freedom to search out the endless depths of God’s goodness.

So to those of you who are starting to revel in God’s extravagant kindness, but wondering if this is safe… 

Don’t over-complicate things.

Don’t feel you have to have an immediate answer for every objection that comes to your mind when you doubt that God is really as enjoyable as you find Him to be.

Don’t let tradition or skepticism hinder you from thinking outside the box and trusting the Holy Spirit to lead you.

Let God take you on a journey of discovery, and be willing to follow Him wherever He brings you.

I promise, as long as you are falling deeper in love with the Man Christ Jesus, you will not regret it. There is a feast to be had for you (Isaiah 55:1-3). You have full permission to indulge in it!

Follow @dmichaelSTL

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!

 

Learning to Like People

I was at the gym the other day when a song came on the radio with the lyric, “I love you, even though I don’t like you right now.” 

That didn’t sit well with me.

I had heard the same sentiment expressed growing up in the Church in the past. Some people would say, “As Christians, we don’t have to like everyone. But we do have to love them with the love of Jesus.” After years of having my heart changed by the work of the Holy Spirit though, I can no longer agree with such statements.

You see, in order to “love with the love of Jesus” I think we have to actually like people. Jesus does not practice loving us unconditionally as if it’s just His divine duty. He loves us affectionately.

Passionately.

I could do a whole Bible study on this, which would be worthwhile. To save time though I will just suggest you read John Crowder’s The Ecstasy of Loving God. It covers the subject of God’s fiery affection well.

All that said, after extensive time having my mind renewed to recognize and receive the Lord’s love for myself, I can’t project on Him some heartless “love” that doesn’t really include a liking for people. Nor can I excuse such a heartless “love” in my own lifestyle anymore.

Everyone has their quirks. Everyone can be in a bad mood, in a rough patch of life, or in a place where they push people away instead of behave like someone who we would call “likable.” Some even get stuck in a toxic, long-term cycle of being unnecessarily difficult to get along with.

But none of that defines a person. As those called to live with prophetic vision, we take it as our responsibility to find the gold inside of people even when it is more of a challenge. This takes work, and sometimes we have to practice more firm boundaries with people because they are making a close relational connection more risky for us. Nevertheless, it is inexcusable for us to just “put up” with people and think we are still committed to loving them.

Love likes.

And I have found that people can feel it if we don’t really like them — even when we don’t necessarily critique them or say anything rude. Trying to just keep things “professional” with people who we really don’t want to be around won’t always work. It doesn’t legitimately help them to trust us.

Thankfully, we actually have the power to find things in people that we can appreciate and celebrate about them. We can call out the best in them even if they don’t see it themselves. Our connection with them will thrive much better when we do.

It might sound too good to be true to think that this kind of love is something we can walk in on a regular basis. I will admit — with some people, learning to like them may actually take a miracle. But that shouldn’t intimidate us in the least bit.

Our God doles out miracles like candy.

As Jesus put it, “With God all things are possible,” Matthew 19:26.

Follow @dmichaelSTL

Praying for The Guy in the Whitehouse

When Obama was first elected I was not incredibly fond of him (to say the least). Back then I was more staunchly Republican for sure. Thankfully though, I was around a lot of prophetic people at that time, and prophetic people hear from God. And God was telling several prophets that Obama had a huge destiny to be fulfilled. So, joining with my cohorts, I started praying for my President to be the best version of himself and to live up to his true calling.

Then, one night while I was sleeping, I had a dream where Obama came to me for consolation about the stress he was carrying from all the responsibilities weighing down on him. In that moment, he was even more humanized to me — and I couldn’t help but feel for the guy. He had emotional needs just like everyone else I cared for.

Now, years later still, I actually really like the guy. (I happen to share a birthday with him too, so I’m rather glad I like him now!)

I was put off though when a close friend of mine told me that he refuses to pray for Obama. “But the Bible commands us to pray for our leaders!” I protested. I was shocked at how someone claiming to be a Christian could hold so much bitterness against another child of God.

Then Trump got elected.

I, like many others, shared feelings of strong disdain for Trump. One of my spiritual leaders mentioned to me that he felt unqualified to lead others in prayer for the President, because he has long been appalled by Trump’s personality. But again, I had a conviction that Trump is one of God’s children and needs His Father’s approval. Trump needs approval not for everything he does, but for who he is as a person made in the Lord’s glorious image. And I heard someone on a podcast encourage his listeners to pray for Trump to have real, sincere friends — because the President needs people he trusts to speak wisdom into his life.

So I have prayed for Trump, and I believe I (at least sometimes) really feel divine affection for him. I am once again learning to repent of my self-righteousness in feeling like my President is a more difficult person to treat well than I am.

Christ said in Matthew 5:43-45 (English Standard Version), You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

God treats all men with equality — no matter how far on the Right or the Left. In the same way we are called to sincerely bless (with our mouths) those who we could be label as our opponents.

I want to encourage you, if you feel like you have trouble praying for the guy in the Whitehouse (or for any other leader in your life), you are actually the most important person to intercede for their well-being. Why? Because it will take more faith for you to believe God sees good in that individual.

It will take more faith for you to see how God wants to use that person for the benefit of our generation.

And faith moves mountains.

Follow @dmichaelSTL

Be Perfect…?

It’s surprising what kind of things you will discover in Scripture when you mature in your understanding of who God is.

Matthew 5 didn’t used to be one of my favorite portions of the Bible. After I first started to grasp the goodness of the Gospel, passages like this were not ones I was especially drawn to. The Sermon on the Mount in this passage sounded like it was just more talk about our need to perform better to appease God, rather than to rest in His amazing grace. After my heart soaked in the revelation of grace for several years though, I finally could see this portion of the Bible as actually being super practical to life.

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” Jesus says in verse 48. That can sound intimidating. Some preachers will say “perfect” just means “holy,” “complete,” or “mature”… but those words still sound difficult to live up to.

I now recognize that the whole passage gives us a picture of what being “like your heavenly Father” looks like. It looks like being meek and servant-hearted. It looks like being gentle and peaceable. It looks like being forgiving, humble, and embracing persecution.

When we realize how extravagantly our Lord demonstrated His merciful heart toward us through His life, death, and resurrection — our hearts likewise become tender towards God in reciprocal love. As a result, we further become tender toward OUR enemies. If we are truly touched by the kindness we were shown by our Savior, it is a natural progression for us to learn to embrace the “Sermon on the Mount” lifestyle. We want to treat others as great as we have been treated by the Father!

I believe this is why Luke, when writing in his account about the exact same speech that Jesus gave in Matthew 5, ends the Sermon with a different word. He quotes Christ as saying, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

What….!

Could it just be that to be “holy,” to be “perfect as our Father is”… is simply to express divine love like Christ models (1 John 4:8, 10)? Maybe it’s God’s exorbitant loving-kindness and mercy that makes Him so outstandingly distinguished from the “imperfect.”

Luke 6:32 -36 (English Standard Version)… “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

God is not challenging us to reach for a standard He knows we cannot attain. He’s given us mercy, and as we learn to savor it, we are also expected to give it away freely. 

Suddenly, “holiness” doesn’t seem so elusive and abstract to me anymore.

Follow @dmichaelSTL