Casting Out Fear

I lived this story for years. I preached it. I fully bought into this narrative of an angry God needing to be placated. I understand the reason it works and the crushing effect it has on us when we embrace it, and I know how disorienting it is to be compelled to cling to a loving Creator while simultaneously being taught to be terrified of what that Creator wants to do to you if you don’t cling correctly. It hasn’t happened in an instant, and I can’t quite say how I got here, but I am simply living in a different story now. I still have God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit — but I don’t have fear anymore the way I used to. That isn’t to say that I don’t have “the fear of the Lord” that the Bible speaks of, that awe and wonder that recognizes my smallness and God’s indescribable scale and beauty. In fact, my view of God is as expansive and reverent and breathtaking as it’s ever been. It just isn’t defined by the rigid Christian narrative of my childhood that says I am an enemy of God at birth.

If God is God, then God is intimately aware of the path you’re on. God sees your striving, your desire to know, your efforts to love better, and so even when these things take you from tradition or orthodoxy or surety, there can be peace there and trust that God is present. Looking at the long, meandering road you’ve been on, how can you possibly define some precise pass-fail in all of that? If you feel the table of your hospitality expanding, if you feel the container you had for God being shattered, if you yourself are being drawn to something deeper than the religion of your past, that is the pull of God. It is the extravagant, barrier-breaking, tradition-transcending heart of Jesus that is demanding to be yielded to. To the gatekeepers and the finger pointers, this surrender to God will look like rebellion. They will demand guilt for the conclusions you’ve come to and repentance from the path you’re on. you will need to be steadfast and rest in the love that casts out all fear. They will snicker and condemn and dismiss. They will name this heresy. They will call this a mutiny. To you, it is a progression.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 166-167

Photo: Sunrise, South Riding, Virginia, March 16, 2015

Triumphing

Consider all you’ve outlived — including the life you thought you would have. You are durable, adaptable, resilient; just being here is a triumph. Hour by hour, prove the voice inside wrong — the one that says you can’t do it. Do it.

KEEP MOVING.

— Maggie Smith, Keep Moving, p. 16

Photo: Centreville, Virginia, February 7, 2010

New and Improved

Revise the story you tell yourself about starting over. Consider not only how terrifying change can be but also how exhilarating. Consider this time an opportunity to make a new and improved life.

KEEP MOVING.

— Maggie Smith, Keep Moving, p. 12

Photo: American Library Association Annual Conference, Washington DC, June 22, 2019

Dearly Loved By God

The more I’ve studied the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation, the more I’ve started to notice something about those who embrace the view: they tend to be more loving and accepting of those who are unlike them.

Maybe it’s because when you realize that everyone is equally loved by God and that God is really intending to bring everyone to repentance, and that, one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will gladly confess that jesus Christ is Lord, well, you kind of relax and enjoy being alive.

See, instead of seeing people as “saved” or “lost,” and grouping everyone you meet into the “Christian” or “non-Christian” category, you may start to see people as simply people.

Not only that, but you also begin to see them as God sees them. You slowly recognize that everyone you meet — regardless of their beliefs or spiritual condition — is someone who is dearly loved by God. You also start to understand that everyone you meet is indeed your brother or sister, and you realize that we all have the same Heavenly Father.

This really starts to change the way you treat other people. It starts to bear good fruit in your life. It even makes it easier to love others as Christ has loved you, without conditions or strings attached.

Eventually, you begin to recognize that God loves everyone much more than you could ever love them; even your own family members who may be far from faith in Christ as the moment. You start to realize that God has a grand design in motion to draw everyone to Himself, eventually. We get to take part in that, if we can learn to abide in Christ and collaborate with the Holy Spirit in the process. But, we can also enjoy a newfound sense of ease with this process. Because now we’re not fighting the clock or worried about closing the sale. Instead, we’re trusting in God’s ultimate victory which is inevitable and unstoppable.

— Keith Giles, Jesus Undefeated, p. 155-156

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, December 2, 2020

Moralism

You know moralism has displaced your life in Christ when living faith is reduced to a system of correct behavior and moral merit badges instead of a dynamic relationship with the indwelling Holy Spirit. We don’t acquire the presence of the Holy Spirit by accumulating moral merit badges.

— Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike Way, p. 72

Photo: Burg Lahneck, Germany, August 11, 2000

Silencing the Voice of the Accuser

What God claims to love, do not deem unworthy of that love.

What God has called good, do not call anything other than good.

What God has animated with God’s own breath and endowed with a soul and God’s own image, do not treat with anything less than dignity.

When that accusing voice is on repeat in your head, know that it is not the voice of God. God’s voice is found in the warm singsong of a mother to her newborn, the one who says, “You are beloved.” God’s voice declares us clean, justified, forgiven, and new. It imparts to us a worthiness that has nothing to do with our efforts or our accomplishments or our becoming some imagined ideal.

This is the use of Christian community, as I see it. We help each other silence the Accuser. We tend each other’s wounds, show each other our scars, see and forgive each other’s shortcomings, let each other cry, make each other laugh, and are absolutely adamant about grace for everyone. We insist on freeing each other from the grip of the accusing voice, and we amplify the voice of God.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shameless, p. 181-182

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, July 12, 2020

Transformation Through Suffering

The supreme irony of life is that this voice of Christ works through — and alongside of — what always seems like unwholeness and untruth! God insists on incorporating the seeming negative. There is no doubt that God allows suffering. In fact, God seems to send us on the path toward our own wholeness not by eliminating the obstacles, but by making use of them. Most of the novels, operas, and poems ever written seem to have this same message in one way or another, yet it still comes as a shock and a disappointment when we experience it in our own little lives. But apart from love and suffering, both of which are always underserved, I see no other way that humans would recalibrate, reset, or change course. Why would we?

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 83-84

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, July 10, 2020

Steeped in Joy

Through my experiment in joy, a whole dimension of Christianity has opened up to me, like a beautiful flower blossoming from a bud long dormant. This new spirituality is of such sweetness, light, and grace that it entirely entrances me. I’ve always suspected the existence of this and have had many glimpses of it. What’s different now is the confidence that I know the way into this new country and how to live there, because I’ve discovered for myself that it’s real. I believe! Finally I believe enough in the Bible’s offer of everlasting joy to see this great promise fulfilled in my own life. I shall never be the same. The veil of the world’s lies has been torn away, and now I know for certain that the Christian life is meant to be entirely steeped in joy. With the author of Hebrews I can say that I’ve already come to “the city of the living God . . . to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly” (12:22).

My experiment has been wildly successful. Joy has indeed become an ingrained habit of my soul — so much a part of me that it hardly seems possible that I lived without it for nearly half a century. Not only am I much happier now than ever before, but I know it’s possible to keep moving in the direction of joy and to have more and more of it. In the search for joy a certain point arrives where the balance tips in our favor. We find we’re no longer striving for happiness, we’re simply happy. It’s like getting out of debt: Without a fat mortgage payment to dole out every month, life takes on an entirely different feel. Difficulties still come, perhaps grave ones, but joy keeps flowing into the hurts like a self-renewing stream.

Is it really possible to be happy all the time? Three years after my experiment, I still cannot quite join Brother Lawrence in saying, “I am always very happy.” What I can say is that every day is full of moments of happiness, as full as the sky is of stars. Yes, an immense expanse of cold black space yawns out there, but that’s not what draws my eye anymore. My gaze, and with it my understanding, have shifted. To believe in God is to believe in good and to see its preponderance everywhere. All I see now are the bright, jewel-like moments of joy that keep coming to me and that, taken together, do not seem a jumble of random sparks but comprise a great and dazzling picture — a vision so beautiful as to utterly overwhelm the darkness.

— Mike Mason, Champagne for the Soul, p. 187-188

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, May 22, 2020