March 21, 2020
Welcome, friends, to my recap of February. Allow me to begin with a story:
I arrived at school a little late one day, and all the good seats (the ones on the auditorium floor, where there is proper leg space) were taken. I ended up grabbing a random seat with another classmate who had also arrived late, and the school day commenced.
And, internally, I was a bit of a mess.
Frustrated. Irritated. And, I suppose, sad.
It took me awhile to figure out exactly what was going on inside of me, but I finally came to the conclusion that, essentially, I was sad because no one had saved me a seat, forcing me to scramble for one.
Now, let me be clear that I wasn’t thrown into some deep depression because of this, but I was still sad. I allowed myself to come to terms with that. And, more than that, sad because of something that felt very small and insignificant.
In the past, my tendency would be to brush such emotions under the rug, deeming them too silly to take seriously. After all, it’s just a seat for a few hours; who really cares?
But my time here at BSSM has taught me to value my emotions more than I ever have before. Not to be ruled or driven by them, certainly, but to notice them, value them, and understand what it is they are trying to tell me.
So, I leaned in. I owned the fact that circumstances around me had made me sad. And then I started processing. What exactly did this mean?
I knew it wasn’t as if I had been wronged. There wasn’t anyone to be mad or offended at. What’s more, I realized that this desire of mine (to have a classmate be intentional about saving me a seat) was entirely uncommunicated. There wasn’t anyone in the world who knew that I wanted this; indeed, I suppose I just barely come to terms with it myself.
I was then faced with a decision. As I was now fully aware of a small, simple thing that other people could do for me that would make me feel loved, would I choose to communicate it to those around me?
In retrospect it seems a bit silly, but stepping out to communicate that want honestly felt like a decent risk. First, there was the chance of straight-up rejection:
“Actually, I don’t really want to sit next to you.”
With the incredibly high quality people around me, that didn’t seem too likely, but it was still a possibility. More likely, I felt, was a subtle mocking and minimizing of my request:
“Pssh, you really care that much about where you sit? It’s totally not a big deal.”
Regardless, as I walked through the process, I realized I had been given an opportunity. An opportunity to practice “Brave Communication,” a concept our main Bible teacher, Dann Farrely, teaches on.
Perhaps it was true that this was a small thing, that most people would say I should just get over. Perhaps I could survive just fine the rest of the year without communicating this desire to my classmates. Perhaps it wouldn’t really end up bothering me that much at all.
But perhaps this was practice. Practice for when it matters much more, when something deeply impacts me and communication is more necessary and more difficult. I came to the conclusion that if I couldn’t communicate a simple desire like this one well, I likely wouldn’t be able to effectively talk about crucial needs in my future relationships.
So, I risked it. I created a list in my head of a few specific classmates that I wanted to connect with a little more, and asked them if they’d be interested in planning specific days to sit together, and save seats for each other. And they all laughed out loud in scorn and mercilessly made fun of me for days on end.
Ok, just kidding.
No, in reality response from everyone I talked to was more than just positive; to me, it seemed like they all had had similar thoughts floating around in their heads, and just hadn’t gotten to the point of communicating it quite yet.
And it made me wonder how many times in the past I have had simple little things that would increase love on both sides of a relationship with a fantastic person around me that I have just never bothered to communicate.
There is, as I’ve mentioned, some risk associated with communicating these things. But if we trust the person enough, that risk should be minimal. In hindsight, I know I never had anything to worry about. All of my closest friends here are such high-quality people that I know they would value my emotions, even if they couldn’t necessarily fulfill my request for some reason. I know I can trust them. I trust them to care enough to love me in simple ways that mean something to me.
This has always been part of God’s design. Living with people. In community. And, even more wild, for some reason He somehow designed it so that His love requires people to be complete. Check out the end of verse 12 of 1 John 4, which has been on my mind for much of the school year:
… if we love one another, God makes his permanent home in us, and we make our permanent home in him, and his love is brought to its full expression in us.
“… in us.” That means God’s love actually isn’t complete… Not without people. We don’t get to experience the fullness of His love without encountering it through the people around us. It is an irreplaceable part of the formula.
So. What’s all this mean?
For me, at least, it means I need to keep valuing my emotions. It means I need to keep digging at them until I understand the core desire or need that isn’t being met when I experience a negative one. And it means bravely communicating that desire or need to the those around me, and giving them an opportunity to love me.
Because it turns out that even God's love isn't complete; not without people.
March 10, 2020
Yes, my friends. Though I’m still working on a proper monthly blog update for February, I’ve had some thoughts in the last couple days that were too long for an Instagram post. Hence, my thoughts on “The Lull”:
It was, perhaps, bound to come at some point. That slow-but-steadily-growing feeling of familiarity with something that once seemed, and in reality still is, absolutely, mind-blowingly, incredible.
Is it any less amazing? Nope. Not an ounce. Every day, every session, every worship moment is no less amazing than it was on day one. But is it harder to keep the wonder? Absolutely. And chatting with a few of my fellow classmates, it seems I’m not alone.
I know it’s natural for this to happen for anyone with anything. A new job, a new city, a new church, a new relationship… Everything starts off new and shiny, each day bringing with it a sense of awe, time seeming to crawl in comparison to the breakneck speed of the old context. But then, you get used to it. It becomes familiar. And it becomes a little harder to find the wonder in the every day.
The hour-long worship sets that once seemed to hold fresh breakthrough every time now start to become the excuse to go to the bathroom. Bible sessions that once felt revelatory and breath-taking start to become a long lecture to sit through.
And, for me, this slip towards the dull ache of familiarity has crept into my personal times with Jesus too. Some days I still leave with a deep sense of closeness to Him, but other times I end my devotions wondering where He’s gone.
Am I just tired? Worn out? Lacking alone time, or lacking friend time? Did my fatigue bring about this, or is it the other way around?
This, my friends, is The Lull. And though this little post is aimed more at those living in Redding attending a School of Ministry that proudly defines itself as Supernatural, I’m guessing anyone who has lived twenty or more years on this planet can relate. At some point, The Lull seems to find everyone everywhere.
So what’s the solution? I’ll admit I don’t fully know. While I do feel I am perhaps starting to break out of The Lull, as I’ve felt some things shifting in the last few days, I wouldn’t consider myself entirely free of it yet. I still feel the pull of the mundane, of the dull tiredness.
But I have had recent some thoughts I believe will be helpful for me; perhaps they’ll do they same for you:
First, when you feel The Lull hit, don’t freak out. Remember that God is crazy in love with you. Stand firm on that, first and foremost, and never let that be shaken. I think it’s important to invite the Holy Spirit to investigate you, and see if there are thought patterns or behaviours that are preventing connection, but I also think it is critical to trust our relationship with God enough that if we don’t hear anything specific from Him, God isn’t using the silent treatment as punishment for some sin we’ve unwittingly committed.
On a related note, remember that God’s presence isn’t a formula. True, there are principles at play, but ultimately I believe His presence is a gift. That means when it comes, it’s not a reward for our good behaviour, and when it doesn’t come, it’s not punishment for our bad behaviour. Keep trusting Him in the relationship.
The other main concept I’ve been mulling over in my efforts to combat The Lull can, I think, be best summed up as adventure.
Maybe God isn’t silent. Maybe He just moved, and you haven’t followed Him. Maybe He’s not punishing you for screwing up; maybe He’s inviting you to chase Him into a brand new way of experiencing Him. If so, you will likely find yourself thanking Him for his apparent lack of communication as it entices you into this fresh way of relating to Him.
If you’re used to sitting down during a corporate worship setting, maybe it looks like standing and shouting. If you’re used to dancing around, maybe it looks like just standing there quietly and staring at Jesus. If you usually start your personal devotions with worship, maybe start it with 10 minutes of silence. Or unstructured Bible. Or move to a different room of your house. Or wander off to a lonely hillside with nothing but a ukulele and see what happens. Or sit with a stack of notebooks and spend an hour simply remembering what God’s done in the past few months. Or wander around your city streets looking for someone to pray for; perhaps Jesus is hiding in our obedience to partner with Him in seeing His Kingdom invade earth as people experience His presence, get healed, and get free.
These are just a few of the very real things I’ve been thinking about and plan on trying out in the next little while.
Perhaps you think it’s rather silly to simply choose an item from the above list and do it in hopes that some encounter with God will result. But I actually think such an approach would absolutely thrill God, even if not all of the attempts turn out the way we would hope.
Hebrews 11:6 talks about how Faith is a vital, irreplaceable part of the formula to pleasing God. It’s a key ingredient. Further, I would argue that the goal of worship is ultimately to make God happy, and thus true worship can’t be achieved without Faith. If we can agree with that, we need to see if we can agree on what Faith actually is.
I’m still working on it, but my current best attempt at giving a definition for Faith would read something along the lines of “a deep trust leading to risky obedience.” Assuming that’s true, this type of “let’s-try-something” approach to God is exactly what He’s looking for. He’s looking for risk. He’s looking for someone who is willing to go on an adventure with Him, without any guarantees on how it will turn out. In fact, without some level of this understanding of Faith, true worship isn’t possible.
The beauty of this is that even if the approach we try out to get closer to God “fails” from our perspective, God is still pleased with it, because we have made an honest attempt. We are risking. And the only way to know for sure that we are risking is if we sometimes fail.
So that’s what I’m hoping to do over the next few days, as I continue my journey away from The Lull. I plan on taking risks in my personal and corporate times with Jesus. I plan on trying new things, some of them rather uncomfortable, and seeing if, perhaps, a new understanding of Jesus is hiding inside of that risk.
But perhaps so.
That's a risk I'm willing to take.
February 13, 2020
Quick missions update:
TOMORROW! That is my very last fundraising deadline for my missions trip to the Netherlands. I currently have $507.20 left to raise, and would love it if you’d consider contributing to what promises to be an incredible Jesus adventure to impact my motherland 😊
If you wish, you can do so here.
Hello January. You’ve been a tough one to write. And a long one. Consider yourselves warned, dear readers.
Yes, this blog is going to be about questions. Hard questions. The kind of questions that threaten to shatter the very foundations of your worldview. The kind of questions that point a shotgun at the reason for every major decision you’ve ever made in your life and flick the safety off. The questions would that impact eternity.
Now that I’ve got you interested, let’s step back to provide a bit of context. Let’s discuss the concept of truth:
I. Love. Truth.
I’ve come to love truth more fully since coming to BSSM. Words like “repentance” or “conviction” that once sounded scary I can now honestly say generally bring me joy and excitement because all they really represent is a process by which I trade my incorrect beliefs for God’s absolute truth. That sounds like a win to me.
Is it costly? Absolutely. Embarrassing? At times, yep.
It always means admitting you were wrong in some way, and changing the way you think and act. And it can be scary, because it’s unknown and mysterious. Even if you’re believing lies that are terrible and have kept you locked up outside your destiny for years, they still provide the world in which you have grown accustomed to living, and so even a freedom-infused, glorious, empowering truth from God Himself can feel costly to accept because it means shifting into a new world that has new rules to learn. It might be amazing, but it’s still an adjustment, and that can spark fear.
But I’ve decided that if it’s not truth, I don’t want it. I don’t want to live in a fantasy land. I don’t want to live in a comfortable mindset just because it’s what I’ve always believed. I want the truth. What’s more, I trust the truth. Enough to let go of whatever lies I am carrying, no matter how deeply engrained they are. Because I love truth.
In all of its forms, in all of its contexts, in all of its nuance, and no matter what the costs. If it means looking foolish, trading my dignity, admitting I was dead wrong, changing my priorities, blowing my life up… I love truth. It’s worth anything to align to it.
So truth: valuable. Essential. Costly, but worth it, every time.
At least, that’s what I claimed. And then January came along to challenge that.
I suppose I shouldn’t be so hard on January. It really was quite kind to me, especially the first few weeks. I felt a closeness to God that I have rarely if ever experienced before, highlighted by a conference with Randy Clarke, who started a movement in Toronto in 1994 that, in many ways, paved the way for Bill Johnson to start the Bethel movement that I’m living in now. The first big chunk of January was really quite great.
But then, the questions. Or, in my case, really only one question:
“What if the truth was that the real God was Allah [the god of Islam]?”
I know, I know, I know. If you’re freaking out right now, concerned for my eternal destiny, thank you, but please just keep reading.
So yes. It wasn’t quite as fully-formed as that, but that is, in essence, the question that came tumbling unbidden through my consciousness during what would’ve otherwise have been a normal “Revival Group” meeting filled with lots of Jesus awesomeness.
“Why not Allah?”
Instead of staying in the wonderful, joyful, peaceful headspace that is the norm for revival group meetings, my mind was suddenly all twisted up into knots, fighting to come up with sound reason and logic to counter the argument while simultaneously attempting to take hold of the thought and throw it right in the trash bin. I managed to shove this unwanted question into the back corner closet of my mind and shut the door quickly enough to prevent gravity from pulling the mess out onto the floor for all to see.
And there that ugly mess stayed… For about 12 hours.
But the following day, that monster crept on out. I didn’t even notice it at first. I was just irritable and agitated without any real reason. I found myself bugged at a couple of my classmates for really petty things.
Later on, a few of us were hanging out at a fellow students house, and the question come back to my consciousness with a vengeance.
“Why not Allah?”
I fought with it for a few moments before I stopped myself. After all, why was I fighting this question so hard? If I truly love truth, should any question really scare me or intimidate me? After all, what if… What if the implication were true? What if I was actually following the wrong God? If I indeed love truth, I certainly can’t just bury my head in the sand and pretend that the question doesn’t exist.
Now, I realize most of my Christian friends out there are probably screaming something along the lines of:
“Experience! You can’t argue with experience! You’ve had tons of moments with the God of Christianity that prove His legitimacy!”
Yep. Entirely agree. Personal experience should absolutely be part of our confidence. And I have experienced the God of Christianity in ways I don’t believe I could ever deny.
But for reasons that weren’t clear, that argument just didn’t work. The question stood just as strong in my mind, refusing to be impacted by my experience.
And so, I pondered it. I toyed with it. I measured my love for truth against the impact of this question.
Do I love truth that much? To allow myself to entertain the possibility that the very foundations of my entire life might be wrong? Do I really love it?
As you might imagine, the risk felt high. It wasn’t just my relationship with God that was being called into question. The impacts would ripple out into almost every single human relationship I have.
My family, immediate and extended. All my friends back home. My many new friends since starting BSSM.
Now, this might sound a bit odd, but my relationship with God didn’t feel like the biggest risk. True, things would obviously need to change, but if I trust truth whole-heartedly, that means I’ll trust the real God, even if I don’t have Him. If I’m chasing down the wrong God, following the right one has got to be better. I suppose I just trusted that truth would win out, and even if that meant blowing up my life, I was, to a degree, ok with that ramification. It felt relatively safe in that regard.
My friendships though... Here’s where things got interesting. This is where the risk felt greatest.
Would they still accept me? Would my questioning scare them off? After all, we are all at a School of Supernatural Ministry. We’re supposed to be the Jesus Freaks, the crazies who would die for Him. And, though I’ve grown into some really deep friendships with some of them, I’ve only known them since August.
Would they allow me to continue being in this community even in light of my deep questioning?
It was a risk. Maybe my question would be too hard, too extreme for them to let me stay inside this family-like community. Maybe I’d be rejected, forced to tread this terrifying path alone. And that was what scared me the most in the moment. Not even that I might need to change which God I was following, but that all the friends I had gained might abandon me.
Now, I should pause here to say that all this was stewing around my head during this hangout at my friend’s house. And to a large degree, I was just trying to breathe. I was just trying to survive. I was trying to endure until it was socially acceptable for me to leave. And as anyone who knows me decently well will tell you, this is far from my normal state at any social event.
I was in turmoil. I was wrestling with what this all could mean, but at the same time I felt a strong pull to let my friends in to my process. To be vulnerable, and see what would happen. It felt like there was so much friction to let them in to this questioning. It felt like it might cost me friendships that have become so very precious to me.
But finally, at what felt like the last possible moment, I risked it.
I should clarify that I did not reveal any specifics; only that I was struggling with what felt like major doubts. But regardless, I chose to risk. I opened up and told them.
None of them hesitated for a moment. Within 30 seconds, they had me surrounded, prayed for me, and spoke truth over me. And it was there, right in the middle of the risky vulnerability of community, that the breakthrough came.
They all prayed and spoke incredible, encouraging things, but one of the girls got what I firmly believe was Spiritual insight to the situation that resonated so deeply within me that I knew it was right:
This question plaguing my mind didn’t originate from satan. It wasn’t an attack from the enemy to torment me. It also didn’t come from Allah, or even myself.
No, this question was given to me by Jesus, the God of the Bible. And it was given to me because He trusts me enough to wrestle through it.
Suddenly, in an instant, it all made sense. This wasn’t some crisis of Faith I was fighting through. This wasn’t even me having long-hidden doubts rise to the surface.
This was God, my God, the true One, inviting me into a fresh journey of discovery. And, I think, a journey that is for more than just me. I think Jesus is calling me to wrestle through this question until I get an answer that is re-usable. I think that’s why my experience wasn’t enough to quell it; Jesus wants me to come up with a rock-solid, logical, undeniable answer that doesn’t need experience to prop it up. Perhaps one day the answers I come up with will end up in a blog, or a book.
But it started with what felt like a completely illogical and offensive question.
Now, if this seems like strange behaviour for Jesus to you, let me assure you there is Biblical precedent. I suppose Jesus is self-confident enough that He doesn’t mind playing with people a bit, making wild statements or asking questions that no one else could answer in an attempt to get them to think in a new way. Jesus has done this sort of thing before. It’s not a new style of communication for Him.
First, in Matthew 22:41-46, Jesus asks the religious leaders of his day (the Pharisees) an interesting question:
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?”
They said to Him, “The Son of David.”
He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying:
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool” ’?
If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?”
And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore.
So… This is hilarious to me. These Pharisees had studied what we now refer to as the Old Testament like no one else. They were experts in it. And Jesus, as is His habit, asks them a question. In the process, He points out what appears to be a blatantly and undeniable contradiction in their holy texts. When He does, no one can answer him. None of them could come up with any good explanation for the inconsistency He just pointed out. They are left speechless, wondering, and questioning.
And Jesus just… Leaves them hanging. He doesn’t bother to explain it for them. He doesn’t even give them a hint. He just plops down what must have felt like an earth-shattering question, drops the mic, and leaves.
Keep in mind that Jesus Himself is the resolution to this apparent contradiction, which just makes this whole situation that much more comical from our perspective. He obviously believes in the Old Testament. He knows that it is not in any way flawed or faulty. He knows that there is a good answer for His question (which happens to be Him). He just doesn’t seem to care about providing it to His audience.
If we bring it into today’s context, I imagine this would be very similar to a pastor closing out his sermon by pointing out some apparent contradiction in one of the gospels, and then dismissing everyone for the week, leaving them wondering and confused.
The Pharisees must have let with doubts. Questions. Wondering. Jesus knew that, and He wasn’t afraid of it. He wasn’t afraid to ask hard questions or leave people in the dark.
Another example which I like even more is that of the story in John 6.
For context, this is the day after Jesus fed 5,000 people and then walked on water. A crowd follows Him, hoping for more free food (because who doesn’t like heavenly bread?). Then, Jesus claims to be the source of the manna that the wandering Israelites ate in the wilderness some 1500 years before (v. 35). The Jews aren’t super happy about that, and seem to have a hard time accepting that idea (v. 41). Instead of apologizing and explaining Himself to keep His followers around, Jesus actually ups the ante by claiming that His true followers would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood (v. 53). As you can imagine, this doesn’t sit well with anyone, and many of His disciples leave Him (v. 66).
But Jesus doesn’t explain Himself. He just says ridiculous things and waits for the response. He doesn’t apologize. He doesn’t try to make what He says more palatable. He just says things that sound incredibly offensive, and watches His disciples leave Him.
Again, this all makes some level of sense to modern-day Christians who understand what Jesus did on the cross and how it fits in to what He did at the Last Supper. But His audience didn’t have any of that. In some ways, Jesus must have started sounding like a babbling madman. Eating His flesh? Was He inviting His followers to cannibalism? And offering Himself as their first meal?
Jesus is loving, kind, patient, and compassionate. But sometimes, He can also be a bit savage. He doesn’t play by our rules. He doesn’t fit in our nice neat boxes. He seems to love breaking out of them.
Like, for example, asking me why I don’t believe in Allah, and then not bothering to immediately explain why this question was bouncing around my brain.
I love this story about Jesus because of how it ends. Jesus turns to closest disciples, the 12, and essentially asks them: “How about you guys? You gonna desert me too? Is what I say too offensive for you?” (v. 67).
Peter’s response has became my response.
He didn’t pretend to understand what Jesus was saying. He didn’t analyze it and try to come up with reasonable explanations. He didn’t try to create a doctrine around what Jesus just said. I think it’s fair to say He was just as confused and bewildered as the rest of the crowd.
He didn’t have an explanation. But He had encountered Jesus. So His response in verse 68 was this:
“But Lord, where would we go?”
No fancy Theology. Not even a faint hint of Him understanding what Jesus had just said. Peter didn’t have a good answer. All Peter knew was that He had experienced Jesus and there wasn’t any other options for him. And that’s where I’ve landed.
I don’t exactly have a great, re-usable answer to Jesus’ question of “Why not Allah?”… Yet. I do expect to dive into that question more fully at some point. I think there’s a really good reason I was prompted with that question.
But none of that questioning changes the fact that I have experienced Jesus, and there is no turning back. There might be some really strange, confusing, bewildering times in the journey, but I, like Peter, only have one response:
“Where else would I go?”
There’s no one else for me. No one but Jesus.
Phew! Ok. Yeah. So that was January.
First, I learned to trust my community. To be vulnerable. To risk, even when I don’t want to. I learned that they are more committed than my doubts could shake. And sometimes the friends around you are the ones that hold your breakthrough. Sometimes that’s the only way to get it.
Second, I rediscovered first-hand that Jesus has no problem whatsoever asking crazy questions or making bizarre statements. And there are good reasons for those questions, and better answers. But even in the in-between, when I don’t understand and simply don’t know, there still isn’t any other place for me to go. It’s Jesus or nothing.
And finally, I have begun my journey of wrestling through the question of “Why not Allah?”
I haven’t gotten far, but I’m gonna keep wrestling through it, because I believe God gave me this question for a reason.
This is part of my chase of Jesus. It’s not Him being cruel by asking an impossible question; it’s Him inviting me to playfully chase Him in area He holds no concerns whatsoever about. He’s not worried. He loves the questions, and He’s with me every step of the journey to the answers.
Yes indeed, Jesus. Where else could I go?
In the crazy questions, in the wild statements, in the strange leadings… There’s nothing else for me.
It's You or nothing.
January 29, 2020
First, a quick missions update:
I am on my last fundraising deadline for my missions trip to Netherlands, with only about $500 to raise by February 14. If you’re interested in donating and haven’t yet, you can partner with me in this adventure here.
Now then; life update:
December was a good month.
I drove around California a bunch with my little sister, chasing coasts, forests, tourist traps, coffee shops, and concerts.
I flew back home to Canada, reconnected with friends and family, played drums at my home church, and spent New Years Eve praying with some lifelong friends.
God continued His gentle schooling as I learned of the community inside the Trinity, and a bit more about what it means to “turn the cheek”. I received His reassurance that the changes He has done in my life while I’m here, the work He’s started, will be “sticky,” even when I go back into old contexts.
Indeed, December was a good month.
But it was also a month in which God led me through a challenging process of surrender, sacrifice and faith on the road to peace.
Welcome to (the latest phase of) my journey with FEAR.
December started with the tail end of a trip that involved the Pacific Ocean and the beauty of Yosemite National Park, including El Capitan, as well as learning (a very small amount of) German from my two adventure-mates. My soul was well-fed, my body well-used, and my Spirit ready to have the firehose of fuel that is BSSM turned on it once again. In other words, I was flying high.
And then the first day of school happened. Or, I suppose more specifically, Jenn Johnson happened.
I guess at this point I should mention that I had started making plans about my future. And, let me tell you, they were good plans, filled with clarity and purpose, direction and adventure, and, most of all, the Kingdom. After all, I’m all about that Kingdom.
And then, near the end of Jenn Johnson’s message in class, I felt God lean in and essentially ask me:
“Hey… What if I told you to do this instead?”
To which I responded, quite rationally:
“Actually God… That would terrify me to the core. How about we not do that?”
To which, of course, God nodded, winked, chuckled a bit, and said “of course, of course. I was just kidding. That would be ridiculous.”
Yeah. Or not.
And so began my trek through a mountain of fear. Seriously.
It was large, it was looming, it was reasonable, and yet… Here God was asking me to face it head-on.
Stepping back, I saw myself with two possibilities:
Choice one was my plans. Plans that felt so firm, so concrete, and so full of hope, joy and life. I could see all the possible outcomes, and they were so, so good.
But then there was choice two. And, strange as this might sound, I literally could not coerce my imagination to dream up a scenario for that choice was not disastrous.
Seriously. I tried.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this before, but my mind just couldn’t manage to combine thoughts into a theoretical story that ended happily when I allowed them to start walking down that path. That choice was dark, unknown, and mysterious, but, if I trusted my mind and my imagination, it was not good. It simply could not possibly be good. I could’ve imagined a million possible outcomes without one of them being good.
But… It seemed choice two might be God’s idea. There He stood, quietly and steadily asking what I would do with that possibility. And I started to wonder if this is what trust looked like.
Maybe when my hope is done and has failed, my trust and Faith in God needs to take over and borrow some of God’s hope. One thing I learned through this process is that God is much more hopeful of the future than I am.
Part of Ephesians 3:20 in The Passion Translation (which I’ve come to love; I suppose I may truly be a Bethel-ite) reads:
He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination
I used to interpret this verse to mean something along the lines of “even when I imagine incredible, outlandishly-good things, God can still top that.” I still think that’s an accurate application.
But in this process that verse took on a whole new meaning, which started reading something like “when my imagination is so completely void of any hope that it cannot dream up a single good outcome of this decision, God is still entirely able to work that scenario into good.”
In short, God is never daunted by a situation.
And yet, fear still loomed so large, so real. It felt so utterly and completely hopeless. It felt like so much was on the line: my dreams, my destiny, my hopes for what the future might look like… And against all of that fear was stacked God’s gentle, consistent prodding.
A concept I have hung onto at several pivotal junctions in my life is that I have never regretted trusting God. It’s still true. I have never looked back at a choice to trust God and regretted it. Never.
And so, slowly, painfully, over the course of a few days, I started to let God’s hope take the place of my fear. I started choosing to believe that my idea of a perfect plan isn’t ever as good as God’s plan, even if I think it looks straight-up awful.
And as I did, I felt the sadness at what I had to surrender start to thin. And I started to remember that all I really wanted was Jesus anyways.
I’m not on this journey for the collateral blessings. If all I get is Jesus, I win. If Jesus walks along a beautiful beach dotted with cliffs while the sun sets majestically behind the horizon, you can bet I’ll be walking next to Him. But if Jesus starts wandering down a dark, foggy path, lined with jagged cliffs and lighted only by burning trees and molten lava flowing from a nearby volcano, well, I’m gonna recklessly charge down that path after Him.
Wherever He is is where I wanna be.
Now, remember, God still hasn’t actually told me which path to go down. Really, this was a process of Him poking (rather persistently) on a big clump of previously hidden fear in my life and in essence saying “hey, no matter where we go, this junk can’t stay here.”
So maybe God guides me down that foggy path that once held so much fear for me. Or maybe God gives His stamp of approval on my original plans, that ones that, if I trust my perspective, are obviously better. Or maybe He takes me somewhere else entirely, some path of which the starting point isn’t even visible yet.
Regardless, I’m in. And what’s more, I’m finding myself genuinely excited for it. Because if God is in it, what appears to be the worst possible choice out of a hundred will end up being the best. It’s what He does.
If I’m with Jesus, I win. And I’ll follow Him into whatever.
So I suppose by some standards you could say I’m back where I’m started. I still don’t know where God wants me to head next, and I’m still leaning towards the plans I had before God’s challenge near the beginning of December.
But the reality is that my internal state is entirely different. I can now say with confidence that with the two paths currently in front of me, the decision I make about my future will not be made out of fear. It will be made out of some combination of God’s leading and His giving me space to choose.
And that, friends, is what I learned in December.
To listen carefully when God asks questions. To not run away from His challenge, but instead to lean into it. To let Him poke and prod at my internal state, and to trust that I’ll be better for it in the end. To let Him cut out that fear that could’ve been a dangerous undercurrent to my decision-making process. To trust that His plans really are the best, every time, even when my wildest imaginations can’t fathom how. To remember that God, who is smarter than me, always has more hope for a situation than I do.
And to remember that, at the end of the day, if I get Jesus, I win.
If I get Jesus, I win.
January 18, 2020
Oh. Hello there.
Yes, it’s January. Yes, this blog post is going to be about November. Yes, there’s a decent duration of time between those two things.
But one of the many things I have decided since starting BSSM is that I don’t do shame. So stop trying that on me 😉
I promise I did start writing this in early December, but somehow time just slipped away. I suppose more of that can be discussed in my already-late post about December.
All that to say, this blog post is going to be written as if December hadn’t been completed and January hadn’t started yet. Think of it as a time machine, back to sometime around early December. Exciting, right? Bet you didn’t think you’d be time travelling when you clicked on this post.
Ok then... Ready to go? Press that button over there, and let's go back…
- Cue very realistic time machine noises -
What. To. Write about.
Three months? Really?
It just feels impossible. Was it really only three months ago that I stepped into the Redding Civic Auditorium for the first time, wide-eyed and completely mystified at this breed of Christian I was far less prepared for than I expected? That I went to that pool party to meet with my Revival Group for the first time, and somehow left without meeting some of the people who have now become some of my closest friends?
It also feels like three months is some laughable mid-estimation because of how much I feel I’ve changed. In fact, trying to sum up this month alone feels rather daunting:
The love of God and how little I understand it.
Why risk feels more and more like an essential lifeline.
How God is not a puzzle to be solved.
Worship nights & pillow fights.
Stars & guitars.
The deliciousness of truth.
How does one talk about all of these things in a single blog? Or how does one choose one thing to properly expound?
Oh well. Life is too short to be perfect. Let’s just pick one, shall we? Let’s talk about relationships.
No, no, not THAT kind. It’s still the first half of the year, and it’s been made pretty plain that dating relationships really kick into gear after Christmas. Perhaps I’ll talk about it more then. For now, let’s talk about Jesus relationships, and how I’ve come to value my own more deeply than ever before.
So. The greatest part of BSSM is Jesus. The second greatest part is the people. Yes, the leaders, but also my classmates. They are incredibly diverse, from tons of countries and a thousand different family, cultural, and religious backgrounds.
And, let’s just be real, different people can make you uncomfortable. Or, ya know, offend you.
Such was my experience with one classmate in particular. My knee-jerk reaction to him was to suspect him, feeling concerned that he was pretending or acting to gain approval from the rest of us students, rather than operating out of a real, honest-to-goodness relationship with Jesus.
I know none of you have ever made snap judgements, but it turns out I’m not immune to them.
Anyways, after I actually took the time to get to know him, my attitude shifted completely. I recognized that he actually carried things in God I didn’t, and I started being intentional about honouring him and learning all I could from him. I quickly counted him as a friend, and looked forward to hanging out with him.
Then, a couple months later, I felt something shift again. A vague, unsettled, uneasiness came over me whenever he was around. I would find myself getting irritated or frustrated without any obvious stimulant. I started mentally and Spiritually distancing myself from him, filtering what he said and not allowing it to easily impact me. And so, I started asking questions. Of myself and of Jesus.
Was this my discernment kicking into gear, warning me against an unsafe person? Was this arrogance on my part? Some sort of insecurity?
Spoiler: it wasn’t discernment.
It was certainly a more involved process than I’ll delve into here and now, but what I came to realize was that my feelings really had nothing to do with my classmate, other than perhaps his behaviour causing my brokenness to bubble up to the surface.
What I came to recognize was that I was comparing my personal relationship with God to my classmate’s relationship with God, and coming to the conclusion that mine was somehow less-than, lacking, insufficient, and thereby raising my insecurity level. After all, I have never related to God in some of the ways he did, ever; that must mean he is further along in God and I am dragging behind, right?
As with most types of comparison, this was already causing relational distance between us, though he hadn’t done a thing wrong. And then I felt God step into the scene and start to guide me into a few fresh understandings.
First, He helped me realize how futile this comparison to my classmate was. After all, I’m also in an environment with people I consider to be absolute giants in the “Kingdom of God,” such Bill Johnson and Kris Vallotton. That must mean I’m behind them too, right? Which one is the one I should most compare myself to? Whom should I try to emulate most closely? With whom should I feel the most insecure when examining my relationship with Jesus?
Then I felt Jesus say something so simple and yet, for me, so revolutionary:
“I don’t want you to be like him.”
Oh right. I seem to remember something like that... God created us unique on purpose.
I don’t suppose I had really forgotten that fact, but it had somehow just slipped too far into the background.
That thought led to another:
The fact that I was insecure in my relationship with God revealed a lack of trust in God. I realize that might seem like a bit of a jump, but hear me out:
Really, part of what I was saying in deciding my relationship with God was inferior to my classmate’s was “God, I don’t trust the way You are leading our relationship. Clearly we are supposed to look like that over there, and we don’t, and I don’t know how to get there, so the problem is that You haven’t showed me how.”
Mhmm. That’s for real.
And then we went deeper still. I felt God essentially ask me if, given the opportunity, I would trade my relationship with God for my classmate’s, or, for that matter, Bill Johnson’s. If it was possible, would I simply switch my relationship with God for what I apparently deemed to be a better relationship with Him?
The answer I came to and will cling to until the day I die is “no.” I have become convinced that there is no single thing more important or valuable to me than my relationship with God.
Because if you step back and think about it, any relationship is based on history, whether it's moments, months, or decades. And the history I have with God is something I realized I wouldn’t give up for anything. Thus, the relationship with God that that history has created is the most valuable thing I have.
From my 6-year old self praying some sort of salvation prayer I only just barely understood to my 12-year old self beginning to journal my endless prayers that the Ottawa Senators would win the Stanley Cup (apparently I need more faith).
From an experience at a youth conference at age 17 that convinced me anew that God was real and that He was the only thing worth chasing for the rest of my life to brutally hard seasons that made me question almost everything about my life. From wild nights of worship at youth church to solitary nights in my parents backyard under a moonlit night with nothing but a guitar and my untrained voice.
From the mountaintops to the darkest valleys. My victories and my defeats. My failures, successes. From the childish hopes and dreams that have long since melted away to the ones that have persisted, and the new ones. From my uncertain decision to take Computer Science in college to the jobs that seemed to fall into my lap afterward.
And, most recently, this journey to and through BSSM in Redding California.
Would I trade that? Would I trade the history that my relationship with God is built on?
No. Not for all the money in the world or my name in the brightest lights or the most glorious leadership position in the grandest organization. Not for anything or anyone.
My relationship with God is the most valuable thing I have. It is unique and beautiful and unlike anything anyone has seen before.
This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s how it was always supposed to be.
God creates billions of people and yearns for unique, individual, personal relationships with each one of them, somehow reserving a little special slice of Himself for each person that no one else gets to see in quite the same way.
My relationship with God is something no one else could ever have. It’s all my own, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And I am so thankful for fellow classmates who relate to God so radically differently from me that I am forced to realize that.
Truly, the most valuable thing I have is my own relationship with God.