Thursday, October 16, 2014

prayer minstrel: Michael Card

 I am going to be straight-up honest: I don't have much inspiration for blogging or any form of social media lately. I am in an indescribable season of emptiness at the moment. So, I lack quite a bit of motivation. However, I wanted to share another prayer minstrel post for my series and this one is another special artist close to my heart because I grew up listening to his music: Michael Card. I cannot remember a time in my life where his music wasn't present. Most would recognize him as being a well-known name during the late 1980s and early 90's. El Shaddai, Love Crucified Arose, God Will Provide a Lamb are just a few of his originals that are most familiar. His discography spans over 25 albums, most of which are all original songs. Not being a fan of the vast majority of Christian music from the 80s and 90s, I firmly believe that Michael was ahead of his time. He never allowed his songwriting to be boxed in by the industry standards (or lack thereof, ha!). Upon listening to his album, although some of the instrumentation or arrangements might sound "dated" and "old", one can immediately sense the deep connection between Michael Card and his creations. Each song is special and stands out as a unique masterpiece. 

Honestly, it has been many years since I have sat down and listened to an entire album by Card. Time has flown by, but I have always remembered his tunes fondly. Each and every song by him made up my child. His tunes painted my days with colors and, I believe, nurtured my tender faith in Christ at a very young age. When I listen to his music, images and memories come to mind of every home I lived in from ages 4 through 14. I remember moments in solitude, with family, vacations, and daily activities that were accompanied by his albums. While my parents introduce me to Christ early on, I believe the music of Michael Card nurtured a deep love for the Lord and His Word in me. When I think on this, I am truly grateful that my parents brought his music into our home. His thought-provoking, Scripture-filled lyrics encouraged me to dwell upon spirituality and life in Christ at a very early age. I have no doubt the Spirit was at work in little-Erika through Card's songs. Recently, I have begun listening to his songs again. Why? Life has become hard. My parents' divorced last year and I've wanted to hold the pieces of my childhood again. If you have read any of my previous posts, I think I've stated how it has felt that I have lost a certain aspect of my childhood with the recent divorce of my parents. Yes, I have been an adult for quite some years now, but the foundation that was laid has been shaken and the innocence that I once knew as my family history has now been lost. So, I am looking back into the past, trying to find traces of the Lord's hand in the history of my life with my family that manifest His faithfulness to us even when sin abounded underneath the surface. Listening to Michael Card this entire past month has been a confirmation to me of God's work in my imperfect family and my imperfect life.

Again, as with most of my prayer minstrel posts, I feel at a lost for words in describing this music that has played such a significant role in my life. Michael Card's songs are a sweeping epic! He is a storyteller, a preacher, an artist, and a counselor through all that he composes. His Ancient Faith 2-disc album is literally a soundtrack of the Old Testament. I've yet to see anyone arrange a collection so skillfully. His album, The Unveiled Hope, arranges a score for the book of Revelation that captures the terrifying, buy redemptive nature of that time to come. The Life albums encompass the life of Jesus Christ. The Promises celebrates the birth of Christ. Present in Reality puts words to this journey of the Christian life. He utilized choral and orchestral arrangements quite often throughout his albums, which added to the epic nature of his songs. The fact that he covers nearly every well-known Biblical story or topic on the Christian life is impressive! I feel that he could deliver a thorough presentation of the Gospel through song to anyone who has not known Christ or anyone who hasn't understood the basis for the Christian Faith/Life. And I believe any true musician and songwriter would appreciate Card's mastery of song. Whether or not you are drawn to this particular style or subject of music, his ability to weave meaningful stories and human and heavenly themes into thickly layered and rich melodies and instrumental arrangements can be admired by everyone. His songs age very well, I think, and will live long for decades to come. In fact, his "art" of music reminds me very much of Bunyan's book, Pilgrim's Progress. Pilgrim's Progress, like many Christian allegories, lives well beyond past its time because it speak of themes so near to us who are merely pilgrims passing through this world. If Pilgrim's Progress is still alive 300 years after it was published, I predict that the songs of Michael Card will see such future days!

I am drawn to the good-natured, friendly, and humble personality of Card. While I've never had the opportunity to see him perform life, I have watched videos of him preaching and I have been struck by his down-to-earth nature. He has a humor that I "get" and he seems so approachable and understanding. I love getting to see bits of the "person" behind the masterpiece. It makes me appreciate their work all the more! The songs I have listed below by him are merely the tip of the iceberg of his incredible and timeless work. These particular selections have been speaking life into me lately so that is why I chose these 8 songs for this post. May any listeners who come across this page be blessed and comforted by these selections!

I will Bring You Home
Though you are homeless
Though you're alone
I will be your home
Whatever's the matter
Whatever's been done
I will be your home
I will be your home
I will be your home
In this fearful fallen place
I will be your home
When time reaches fullness
When I move my hand
I will bring you home
Home to your own place
In a beautiful land
I will bring you home
I will bring you home
I will bring you home
From this fearful fallen place
I will bring you home
I will bring you home

Job Suite
(lyrics on video)

Song of Gomer
 Don't know what he sees in me
He is spirit, he is free
And I the wife of adultery
Gomer is my name

Simply more than I can see
How he keeps on forgiving me
How he keeps his sanity
Hosea, you're a fool

A fool to love someone like me
A fool to suffer silently
Though sometimes through your eyes I see
I'd rather be a fool

The fondness of a father
The passion of a child
The tenderness of a loving friend
An understanding smile

All of this and so much more
You've lavished on a faithless whore
I've never known love like this before
Hosea, you're a fool

A fool to love someone like me
A fool to suffer silently
Though sometimes through your eyes I see
I'd rather be a fool

This God of yours would not have told
To lift a love that you couldn't hold
And though time and time again I flee
I'm always glad to see you coming after me

Simply more than I can see
How he keeps on forgiving me
The wife of adultery
Gomer is my name


Why did it have to be a friend
Who chose to betray the Lord
Why did he use a kiss to show them
That's not what a kiss is for
Only a friend can betray a friend
A stranger has nothing to gain
And only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain
And why did there have to be thorny
Crown pressed upon His head
It should have been the royal one
Made of jewels and gold instead
It had to be a crown of thorns
Because in this life that we live
For all who seek to love
A thorn is all the world has to give
And why did it have to be
A heavy cross He was made to bare
And why did they nail His feet and hands
His love would have held Him there
It was a cross for on a cross
A thief was supposed to pay
And Jesus had come into the world
To steal every heart away
Yes, Jesus had come into the world
To steal every heart away

A sign shall be given a virgin will conceive
A human baby bearing undiminished deity
The glory of the nations a light for all to see
That hope for all who will embrace His warm reality
Immanuel our God is with us
And if God is with us who could stand against us
Our God is with us
For all those who live in the shadow of death
A glorious light has dawned
For all those who stumble in the darkness
Behold your light has come
Immanuel our God is with us
And if God is with us who could stand against us
Our God is with us
So what will be Your answer? Will You hear the call?
Of Him who did not spare His son but gave Him for us all
On earth there is no power there is no depth or height
That could ever separate us from the love of God in Christ
Immanuel our God is with us
And if God is with us who could stand against us
Our God is with us
Immanuel our God is with us
And if God is with us who could stand against us
Our God is with us

Then They Will Know
 I will speak
I will wait
I will send prophets among them
That they might hear
That they might see
And understand how much I love
Then they will know that I am Father
They they will know I am Lord
They'll walk with Me
And be My people
I'll walk with them as their God
as their God
I will strike
I will scourge
And carry out vengeance upon them
But I will heal the woun
ds I make
And tenderly take them back to me
Then they will know that I am Father
They they will know I am Lord
They'll walk with Me
And be My people
I'll walk with them as their God
This is heaven
This is salvation
This is their great hope and M
He will come
My own Son
A Word faithful hearts can't help hearing
And by His death
With His last breath
A Father's forgiveness comes flowing
Then they will know
That I am Savior
I am Redeemer and Friend
The God who is with them
The God who gives all He can
He is salvation
He is the kingdom
To know Him is paradise
Then they will know that I am Father
They they will know I am Lord
I am Lord

Stillness and Simplicity
(lyrics during video)

The New Jerusalem

I saw the Holy City 
Descending from the sky 
So brilliant with the light of God 
The city is His bride 
There is no temple in this town 
No sun, no moon, no lamp 
For God's own glory is it's light 
Illuminated by the Lamb 
And God Himself will wipe the tears 
From every weeping eye 
No death, no pain, no mourning cry 
And every tear made dry 

And now our God will dwell with them 
The new Jerusalem 
And He Himself will walk with them 
The new Jerusalem 

And so let all of those who thirst 
Come now and drink for free 
And to the one who overcomes 
Come now and you will see 
Behold the old has passed away 
Now everything is new 
The Alpha and Omega's words 
Are trustworthy and so true 
And God Himself will wipe the tears 
From every weeping eye 
No death, no pain, no mourning cry 
And every tear made dry

Monday, September 8, 2014

redefining perfection

Shortly after last week's post, I came across this gem of a quotation. It so accurately summarized the aim of my recent posts on grace and surrendering spiritual perfection to the Lord.

The tension of living in the aim while feeling like you continually come up short creates humility which is God’s aim in the first place. Even through our “failure” we are often hitting the true target. I have found in my life failure has produced as much fruit as devotion when I don’t yield to condemnation but rather throw myself at His kindness and strength. The Potter is aiming at humility, gratitude and meekness. His goal is not perfection in the way we define it, but perfection in Love and the one who is forgiven much, loves much. It’s all working for me, if I keep running to Him, never give up the aim and don’t get caught up in measuring myself. I don’t want to be preoccupied with my success or my failure, cause only He can see the true target and His hands are working good in me, if I just don’t give up, hit delete on the good and the bad and keep aiming.

~ Misty Edwards

Friday, September 5, 2014

preoccupation with spiritual life

Last month, I shared some personal words on my post, In the Lack of Response and Receptivity. This post is a continuation of that same thread of thought. Let me share a story that has proven to be my healing and yours as well. A story that has proven to be our redemption, our hope, our life!

In the book of Genesis, we briefly catch a glimpse of an Egyptian female servant name Hagar. She is the servant of Sarah, wife of Abraham. For years, Hagar's mistress is infertile. She must have seen her lady eaten up with some anxiety and sadness over this barrenness, especially after the Lord promised them a child who would bring a multitude of generations. In effort to obtain that promise, Sarah gives Hagar to Abraham to sleep with and produce a child. This did not go as Sarah had planned. Hagar looks upon her with contempt after this and Sarah is offended by her servant's attitude and behavior. This results in Sarah dealing harshly with her which forces Hagar to immediately flee.

Stop for a moment and think on this. We are familiar in how this passage of Scripture is taught today. Obviously, it was an act of the flesh and produced nothing good. Hagar and her soon-to-be-child represent the fruit of the flesh. It is the lineage of slavery, not of life or freedom. True.
 This vein of teaching on the flesh continues further today, sometimes so subtle and almost unnoticeable that we do not realize the conclusions it is pushing us to. If the flesh equals nothing but slavery and death, therefore we must "do away with it." Therefore, we must stomp out everything that comes from the flesh, in our lives, in others' lives, in media, in music, in the world, in everything. We must call it out. We must proclaim it for what it is. We must not allow it any part of Christianity. It must not taint. There must be a security system set up within our lives and our churches to ensure that it does not spread and taint the purity of the free life of the promise that we have in Christ. We must manage, we must control...our own lives, our family, the lives of those around. Set up the sin-management security system, folks, because we must protect the sacred church!

While there is much to be said for upholding Truth and values, the attitude and methods we've adopted to enforce them have all come from one source: fear. I can't say (even for myself) that I meet many Christians who just simply trust God with the messiness of His own children.

Now, let us return to the story. Something very sweet is about to take place here...

"The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur." Genesis 16:7

The Lord found her. Oh, He found her! The Lord gives her something special in this moment. He promises her a son whose offspring He will multiple. Even though her son will become a man whose hand is against everyone, and everyone's hand against him, his name will be Ishmael, which means "God will hear."

"So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing," for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi (the well of the Living One who sees me); it lies between Kadesh and Bered." Genesis 16:13-14

The story continues in Genesis Chapter 21 soon after the birth of Isaac, the true son of Sarah and Abraham. We are not given many details, but Sarah catches Ishmael laughing. Was he laughing at Sarah and Isaac? Was he mocking them? I get the feeling that Ishmael may not have been the sweetest boy. He might have lacked respect towards Sarah due to the upbringing of his own mother, Hagar. Nevertheless, God allows (again) for Hagar to be driven out after Sarah demands Abraham,
Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 

This section stood out to me in a way I never realized before. It sounds like Christianity's moral police. Sarah would have been immensely humbled if she had been given a peek into the future and how both their lineages would share in the same Promise, only it would come about very differently than anyone could have ever imagined.

Before Abraham casts them out, God actually talks to him and says not to be displeased with Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham then sends them off into the wilderness with food and water.  At some point during their wandering, Hagar runs out of water and food for her and Ishmael. Life has become extremely bitter for them. She truly believes she must watch her son die. So, she walks a distance away from him and weeps. Then, something amazing happens! It says, "God heard the voice of the boy..." (Gen 21:17). 

Was Ishmael praying and calling upon God? Had this boy's heart softened in the affliction? I wonder how old he was, how much he was able to comprehend from the struggles between his mother and Sarah, and did he understand why they were sent off to the desert? Had he grown up hearing about God from Abraham? What did Ishmael know of God? Clearly, it was enough to lead him to say something to the Lord. Then, it's as if the heavens open...

 "...the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.  And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow."
Genesis 21:17-20

In both chapters, there is a well or spring of water. The second time, God actually opens Hagar's eyes to see the well. The word used for "opened" in this passage is the same word used in Isaiah 42:6-7 in a prophetic word about Christ coming to be a light for the Gentle and open the blind eyes. Also, the use of a well or spring of water is often used through Scripture, particularly in Isaiah, as a symbol of life and rebirth in the Savior to come. And it is almost always in the context of a wilderness.  


Hagar. An instrument of the flesh. 
Ishmael. A product of the flesh. 
Yet, through Abraham' and Sarah's child and lineage, a great favor was extended to Hagar and Ishmael. The Lord set upon them and their lineage - heathens, idolaters, Gentiles - a promise that He would see and He would hear them. The Lord was going before them. He would make a way.

That is Grace. Amazing Grace. The Lord says, I will make a way. I will provide a way to put my favor upon you.  

 Grace. So gentle. So ridiculous. So unrelentingly good.
Every day available. Every moment, free. All because of Christ. All because of this untouchable God that, since day one of humanity's existence, wanted us to touch Him and be the very part of Him. He would have it no other way. 

I once thought that there was such a thing called cheap grace. Yeah, you know...the "license to sin under the banner of Jesus." The freedom to follow the flesh and do whatever I want while still claiming Christ. 

One day, I got hit on the head extremely hard. 

The Bible never once teaches cheap grace? 

I followed the jargon, the Christian lingo, the ideas produced from pulpits and thought it was fully outlined in Scripture. Then, during a tumultuous season of my life, I was awakened to the deep, interconnected relationship between Grace and Identity and Receiving IN Christ. If separated from these, Grace becomes merely a nice idea, but easily redefined by Christendom. Grace is never, ever separate from Identity. In fact, Scripture never separates unconditional favor and who we are in Christ. The two play hand-in-hand. Most often, when we say a Christian is willfully sinning, we might say they believe in cheap grace, which is really just a shallow phrase for what we see happening on the surface level of that person's life, their choices, their actions, their behaviors, etc. It's easy to think, "Oh, they are taking advantage of the free ticket just so they can do whatever they want." In truth, what is occurring beneath the surface is an enormous identity crisis. Perhaps that person is trying to run from this inner-confusion unscathed and still be thought of as favored and loved. We have all done it in varying degrees. Such is our human nature. And we often misplace our identities, yes, especially us Christians.
 It's what I had realized that I have done over and over again. My identity became holy perfectionism, the call of the upright, the victorious Christian life, the gentle and meek and selfless heart, the ever-deepening and intense relationship with Christ. Rather, my identity really only comes from Christ Himself. 

But, one might say, isn't holiness, selflessness, a deepening relationship with Christ, etc all part of taking upon His identity? Yes, I would agree. But it is not those things, in of themselves, that makes us who we are. Because when those things aren't visible in my daily life, I need something absolutely real and solid to fall back upon. When I'm shattered by life experiences and feel myself changing with the ebb and flow of this earthly existence, I need something, someone, who is unchangeable. Christ. And I need Him to be the One to define who I am in those moments when I cannot recognize myself, to remind me of who I truly am in Him, because of Him.

Can I accept that I don't have to pray at certain times for certain lengths to achieve more holiness?
Can I accept that I don't have to read the Bible at appointed times and lengths to achieve more holiness?
Can I accept that I don't have to go to church, manage my own sin, think continually on spiritual thing, do the right "Christian" acts to receive a special, more intimate favor from the Lord?
Can I accept that I don't have to toss out that immodest piece of clothing, that rated-R film, those CDs that speak nothing about Christ to remove the "fleshly hindrances" that keep me from "going deeper with Christ"? 
Can I accept, now that I am in Christ and He in me, that I don't have to do more, be more, and say more to grow in holiness? 
Can I accept that increased devotion and diligence will not make me feel close to God again?
Can I accept that I don't have to keep flagellating my own heart for those mess-ups I did the other day? 
Can I accept that I don't have to put myself on an orderly and strict daily schedule to keep my flesh and sinful tendencies in line?
 Can I accept that I don't have to work for my sanctification and make it "happen" because God wants to do it all His way and in His time?
 Can I accept that I am just a child and that maturity is not the "next level up" but rather an attitude of the heart in receiving what He wants to share with me right here, right now and depending entirely on Him (and not my spiritual unction) to produce fruit in my life, to grow me, and get me where I need to be on His time?
Can I accept slow progress? Can I accept slow growth in myself and others? 
Can I accept that Love is truly patient? 
Can I accept that God doesn't put me on a time-table? 
Can I accept that He doesn't need me to do anything to get me perfected in His love?
Can I accept that real life is not always going to be victorious?
Can I accept that sometimes sin abounds so that His grace can abound all the more?
Can I accept that I won't always experience peace, joy, and some nirvana spiritual/emotional state through every trial? 
Can I accept that the all-encompassing truth of His never-ever changing affection for me is enough when the rubber meets the road?
Can I accept that I am born-again child of God still stuck in a human shell and never will be some superhuman on this earth? 
Can I accept that the motivation of grace will always bear greater fruit than the coercion of demand? Can I accept that He values me, all of me, because He made me?  
Can I accept that instead of trying so hard to become godly, I can just trust that I already am?
Can I accept that I am free from lists, rules, and demands?
Can I accept that who I am as a Christian and who I really am have become the same person?
Can I accept that God is not afraid to risk the consequences of what we do with His grace
Can I accept that God is infinitely less interested in my vision of holy, Christ-centered perfection than He is with my person?
Can I accept that God is totally patient with my self-centered habits and thoughts and motives? That He knows it will take time, experiences, failures, and joys for me to realize I don't have to hold onto them since those aren't who I am in Him?
Can I accept that fragile but authentic trust is more enjoyable to God than strong inborn capacity?
Can I accept that on my worst day, Christ is in me, loving me, treasuring me, adoring me, pursuing me?

It's scary, I know. To relinquish all forms of control in my own sanctification, my own growth, my own maturity, my own relationship with God. I know very well the thoughts that unravel from this:

"So you're just saying to give into the flesh? To do what you want? To forget Scripture, prayer, church, etc? To watch any film you want to watch? To wear anything you want? To speak however you desire? To listen to whatever music you want? To just go on living as if Christianity is not life-changing and doesn't set us apart from non-Christians?

 I have questioned myself with these time and again. But Christ never said that the world would know us by how much we pray, or read Scripture, by what films we watch or don't watch, what clothing we wear or don't wear, what church we attend, what words we speak or don't speak, etc. He said they would know us by our love for the other. So, I conclude that, even when we mess up, even when we don't speak the right words, even when we don't go to church, even when we don't look, act, or live a certain way, there has to be one thing that remains consistent about us: Love. It's got to be the one thing that remains, day in and day out. It's got to change the way we view God, the way we view ourselves, the way we view others - and others will see that and it will baffle them! If Christ had meant for there to be a certain lifestyle or culture about us, He would have said so and clearly outlined it. Instead, He desires us to learn along the way, not to get it right all at once. The Holy Spirit is the One too speak, guide, and confirm in us and, yet, it takes time for us to become attentive and dependent on that Voice. More and more, I have become aware of how much being a Christian is like starting out as an infant and growing through many long years of childhood as He does His work of maturing us. While children inherit the physical qualities of their parents, much of childhood and even in the early years of adulthood, the child may not reflect at all everything their parents instilled in them. For some individuals, it does takes years and years of patience. It is very much the same with us. We can hammer ourselves and others all day long about being childish and needing to grow up, but none of that will ever produce true maturity. It may takes years of Christ patiently touching and whispering to our hearts for us to finally become open to receiving what He has been saying to us the entire time. Just like a child who may have grown up being taught principles and values, etiquette, how to do this/that, and even hearing his parents tell him how much they love and adore him. It might not come until a later point in that child's life when he awakens to experience those truths and decide to receive them as his own.

So, how shall we live?

Questions on the practical aspect are always good questions, but not always necessary. The answers come slowly as one opens to receive and experience grace and identity through Christ. It's not a straight-line to glory. We find those answers along the way, not always all at once. Yes, the Scriptures has some specifics. The purpose of this post is not to debate or discuss those specifics. That's for another day. I write all this merely to express and outline my personal revelations, growth, questions, and thoughts concerning the fundamentals of the Christian faith. There is so much noise in modern Christianity today, from every angle, from every denomination, theological circle, pastor, blogger, worship leader, etc. So much noise and not enough quiet honesty.In fact, authentic honesty is what is missing from much of Christianity today. We are still human, my friends.

Preoccupation with the spiritual life is often one of the most dangerous forms of a misplaced identity. I know it because I've suffered from it. And I am still recovering.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In the lack of response and receptivity

  I have been wandering through the maze of faith and doubt this year like never before. Life has progressed in such a way that I feel the need to toss overboard nearly every theological bent that's been ingrained into me over the past 5+ year of intense Biblical discipleship and training. I believe that this is precisely the purpose of trials in our human existence. Hardships lead us to have decide what is truth, what is important, and what we most value. Pain strips us humans of everything. And it leaves us with a desperate ache to stake our lives into what will hold, stabilize, and support. Unfortunately, many times, it can lead the human heart to toss everything overboard...even eternal, universal truths. As for me, I do not feel shaken in regards to salvation by and through Christ alone, the Cross, and the ultimate, eternal purposes of God. To be honest, it's all that I am left with in the harsh realities that I have been awakened to. That's very good, very comforting, is it not? Yes and no. By nature, I am able to live with conceptual knowledge. I can live in my mind, my daydreams, ideas, and possibilities. None of it ever has to be tangible or immediately gratifying to my five senses. I just "get it" and I've been okay with it being untouchable. The Gospel in its fullness is very easy for me to grasp and give full mental assent to. And it's not merely cold mental assent. I can feel inflamed by knowledge. It moves me and I seek to own it beyond just agreeing to the facts. I have long pursued to connect my heart and mind in my most basic beliefs. But something funny happens with my usual way of thinking, feeling, and living when I experience heat and pressure in circumstances. I fall apart. Concepts, ideas, and possibilities don't hold anything for me. I need something to physically grasp, something that touches me with an experience that is all-surrounding and tangible to my five senses. Heat and pressure are known to reveal, to strip away, to make known what is true. It might be easy, as humans being afraid of that level of vulnerability, to pick up the scorched shreds of our existence and continue walking on as if we truly are okay, as if our whole world didn't just explode. But as much as I would like to be, I have never been very good at pretending or hiding...

   This past week, as I was purging items in my home, I decided to be more selective about what books I own in my collection. I love books, but let's be I really going to re-read all the books that I have read over the years? Not really. I could always make a trip to the local library if I really needed to read a classic again. Thus, I've made a note to keep the books that have truly touched my heart at many different seasons of my life, those books that can travel with me through all my personal changes and never grow old or under-valued. In my mind, that is what makes a book worthy of keeping. I have lots of fun, insightful, and sweet non-fiction/fiction/historical/christian living/theological/natural health selections that have been great. But many of them don't stand the test of time for me. So, out with them! As I have sifted through each selection, I have come across a few books that I never read but always meant to. One of those selections is Practicing His Presence by Brother Lawrence, a short read of personal writings by Brother Lawrence (brother of the Carmelite monastery in the 1600s) and Frank Laubach (modern missionary and mystic writer of the 1930s). I concluded that it probably wouldn't stand the test of time in my collection, but I thought I should at least read it before giving it away. Each night before bed this week, I read a few chapters until I completed it. I turned the wheels of mind, produced many questions, and pricked my heart. Both men were wholly devoted and given to God. It is admirable. Four years prior, I probably would have been so intensely inspired by this book that it would have thrown me into feverish thoughts of how much more I ought to love and pursue my Lord. This time, my heart is sensitive to its impassioned words and pious thoughts. Rather than drawing me in, it turns me away. It tires me as I have to think about pursuing God, keeping Him near in my thoughts, and keeping up with an attitude and thought-life that models selflessness. Both Lawrence and Laubach wrote of the resounding peace and joy that filled their hearts and their everyday life experiences because of God always being on their mind and on their lips. It's not like they are advocating a works-based salvation. They constantly lend full credit and gratitude to the Lord doing the work in them and producing the fruit of the Spirit in them. They genuinely loved God and truly did not desire many of the normal, earthly pleasures or experiences. With full hearts, they ran after Him. That sounds so dear, so admirable, so spiritual. It's a sweet thing that they lived such a life. However, for the past five years of my life, I have burned myself up with passion to just know that kind of life every single day, with consistency, and increasing in zeal. I never doubted that I was ever exempt from suffering. I only resolved to be thrown head along into devotion to God even through the pain.

But something changed.

I changed.

It's a confession that I still feel shame in revealing. It has exposed my pride to the depths.

Oh, how I wanted it - that Christianity that is high, almighty, ever-triumphant, ever-victorious, ever- increasing in holiness, purity, devotion, faith, and selflessness! I never felt "forced" by religious mindsets or works to pursue it. No, precisely the opposite! From the fullness of my heart, I desired that! And I wanted my relationship with God abounding in intimacy, peace, and joy. Always, I wanted to surrender everything, the wholeness of my being, to Him and be totally swallowed up in Him!

It was as if the heavens shut me out from all this. It was as if God Himself might have been mocking me, laughing at my impassioned heart obsessed with all things holy when I am really just a silly girl living in a raw and disappointing carnal world. That's when I experienced the present reality of pain and loss which feels increasingly more real than all that Christian fluff. That's when I gave up all those lovely desires of God Himself and told Him that if He wanted me, He'd have to come down to my level and bring me up to those sacred, untouchable things of heaven.

What happens when a genuine believer no longer seeks Christ?
No longer prayers?
No long reads Scripture?
No longer worships Him? 
No longer even responds to or receives anything of Christ?
And is no longer associated with a local church, a ministry, a fellowship group, or any community aspect of the faith?
What happens when a genuine believer actually finds themselves on the outside, unable to relate, fellowship, or agree with any denomination, theological circle, or group found in modern Christianity?

I ask these questions because these are real questions springing from real battles that many Christians face. I ask these questions because I am that Christian. I have had to ask those questions every day for many months. I've sat and wallowed in tears because the answers don't come easily.

All my previous discipling and theological training would tell me that I am surrendering to my flesh. It would tell me that I am sinning and rebellious and complacent and selfish. In fact, I would not deny any of these things. Objectively speaking, this is true of me. If this meant that I need to go to a special boot-camp or jail, well I'd gladly turn myself in! But I have never felt the need to hide it from God, considering the fact that He is already aware of my heart. In fact, I have thrown it in His face. He's tough; He can take it. I wanted everything that was pure, good, holy, Scriptural, and of-Him and what did I get it? None of it. All I have been given is disappointment, disillusionment, exhaustion, loss, and pain.

So, I have wasted away days not pursing Him, not responding, and not receiving.

Is the "abundant life" that Christ spoke of only achieved when we pursue it? When we act on His promises? When we respond to Him and receive what He says?

Many of the theological circles and ministries that I have aligned myself throughout the years have never once told me that I can do it on my own. They always proclaimed Christ-in-you and the powerful indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If ever I have tried to "produce" holiness, purity, maturity and ever-deepening relationship with Christ on my own, then I clearly never listened to the fundamentals of what those ministries, books, and Christians preached. So, I cannot blame any such persons. The blame must lie in myself. Or, God.

I have thrown out enormous piles of my Christian living and theology books. In the heat of my emotions, I might say it's all their fault that I am where I am. But that would be avoiding the real issue and just trying to play the blame-game. Personally, I just cannot read those books or even listen to many sermons or certain Christian music anymore without viewing it all through the lens that I once wore. Maybe I am just the exception, the "special" one that failed to live the abundant and victorious Christian life...

I like to blame myself, because it feels very noble and self-responsible. I am too extreme. Too black and white. Too passionate. Too all-or-nothing. I have never been down-to-earth. I feel too much and I'm too sensitive and too obsessive. I am too zealous about spirituality and perfection in the context of Christian living. I take everything too seriously.

Self-flagellation is one of my darkest secrets. Not many know this about me. It's self-flagellation in my thought life and its twisted and corrupted. In truth, it has no place in the life of Christ. It takes many shapes and forms through the working of the creates lists, and rules, it tells me what should and should not be in my life now that I am a "holy Christian," it even creates demands, goals, and conditions. It calls the shots, it separates, it controls, and it tells me and others what we should look, live, speak, and think like now that we are good Christians. It's uptight. It's obsessed with restraining itself and employing discipline. It's ready to point out faults in others and even in myself! The reign of control that it spans is nearly endless. It even redefines the Love of Christ into a more Christ-like reflection...that sounds incomprehensibly opposing, doesn't it?

Truly, I am a mess these days. But what a revealing mess it has been! I sense I am becoming more acutely aware of flaws in the "system" of much what passes for Christianity these days - much that I have adopted and accepted without question for years. It has definitely not been my own ability to perceive it, but rather the fire of God in my life, tearing down and making known, as in Peter 4-17, a "time for judgment to begin at the household of God." Judgement seems like a terribly harsh word, unloving, and wrathful. Perhaps our sensitive human hearts will always initially perceive it in that way, but I am coming to see it has a sweet mercy. Whether or not I respond to the Lord, He takes great patience in drawing me to Himself by removing the boundaries, the hindrances, the methods, the lists, and the expectations. I learn every day that the Lord is ever more patient with me than I or a million godly souls would ever be with ME. So, He takes great pains to remove me from my own ways of thinking, from the ways of even the most spiritual and godly of communities. He has set Himself to the work of of my sanctification and He doesn't require me or anyone else to meddle with this process. What shall I look like on the other side of this fire? I cannot imagine and I even find myself with an irrational fear of the result. But what have I ever to fear if it means that I will come to a day when prayer, worship, and Scripture shall flow from me as natural as I breathe today? What do I have to fear in knowing that I shall one day learn to trust Him as He truly is? 

Christ my Lord, my dear Savior...He whispers to me in the bitterness of my life, "You shall love Me. You shall love Me. It will take time, my child. Do not fear the anger, disappointment, anxiety, sorrow, disillusionment, and loss of identity that seems to define you at this point along the journey. I am allowing you to taste the depth of your own humanity, the frailty of your flesh, because I love you. You will one day walk by my side with a surrendered trust that only comes through the most bitter disappointments and disillusionment with everything that your human eyes have perceived as holy, good, and sacred. You will one day love Me, not with the zealous heart inflamed by My holiness and perfection, but because of My own humility that has ever-pursued to enter into your days, including those days marked by your own flesh-dependence and obsession with My holiness. I wish for you to accept that you are pure to Me now, without blemish, glorious in My sight. But you do not know this now. Although you accept it as an objective, eternal truth, you have not accepted it as an always abiding, present truth. I wish for you to accept that I love you for who you are now - the you that I've always delighted in, the you that I not only love, but I like! The you that I not only accept, but that I want to be with! But you do not know this now. You will one day. Then, you will enter into the deeper fullness of what it means that My truth sets you free. You are free, but presently live as if you are shackled by people, theologies and ideologies represented by various communities of My children, methods, opinions, painful losses, the changing seasons of your life, and even your own manner of thinking and feeling. My heart aches that you hurt yourself with these things, pounding them over yourself each day. But I see the day when you shall become weary enough to let all of this go and take hold of my hand as if for the very first time. That day you shall also see all these confusing experiences and the losses that I did not prevent as your freedom. The greatest and most painful experiences of your life are setting you free to take hold onto Me alone. Up until now, your hands have been full of all that you have gathered along the path of following Me. I don't just want you to follow Me, I want you to hold onto Me. I want you to identify yourself with My very being. I want you to know, as you and your husband have known each other in your most intimate moments, that you are My perfect daughter, My delight, My beauty, and I withhold nothing of Myself from you ever, not even when you doubt Me, not even when you rage at Me. I am always fully yours and you are ever fully Mine. This will set you free. And you shall love Me."

  There's a sweet story that I would very much like to share. It touched my heart when I read it recently, but that shall come in the second part of these posts on my inner reflections. It should be noted that these words of mine are not meant to stir up strife or resentment. This is a snapshot into my journey. Writing and sharing about it as how I have chosen to express it. There are some in my life who have known me as aligned to specific ministries and church circles throughout seasons of my life. I have no personal qualms with anyone. It is all a very inward struggle that I communicate here and wholly between me and the Lord. I find release in sharing this struggle with honest but grace-filled words because it is my way of upholding hope that, despite the many differences within the Body of Christ today, the love of Christ towards us is and will always be central, knitting us together. Although I very much sense my "differences" in relation to many Christians, I do not see myself as separate from them although common ground between us, in regards to ways of living and thinking, may be rare to find. The Love of Christ and the work of the Cross is and always be sufficient. Thus, I do not seek others to necessarily agree with me in my reflections and conclusions. We're all on different paths with the same destination.