To my few faithful readers and many passersby, if you’ve noticed, I haven’t been very active in writing here lately. I’ve been wondering and wrestling with the purpose of this site for a little while, on top of the other goings-on in my life such as finishing college, looking for the next step God wants me to take, and as always, growing more into the person God wrote me to be before time began.
I’m certain now that I’m coming into a new season–even as the whole Body is entering into new seasons–and that in this season, this site will look potentially very different than it has so far. I’m intimidated by the things I might begin writing here. But God is moving, and He has something to say in every season so that we all would know His love and His sovereignty. We humans are privileged to be the vessels God chooses to use, to work with and through, to bring the glory that is His goodness. And who am I to turn down such an exciting invitation?
So to all my faith-filled readers, please pray for me as I walk in this new land; and pray also for the Bride as she is raised up like never before for the glory of God. Thank you all!
If anyone were to ask me what the most beautiful animal on earth is, I’m sure I could think of a few, but sea slugs would definitely be on the list. I mean, type “sea slugs” into a Google image search.
Just look at them.
Their vibrant colors, their ethereal forms, their variety. Some of them are just breathtaking. Yet these humble invertebrates spend their lives essentially vacuuming the ocean floor, rocks and reefs, and they are essential to the ecosystems they abide in.
It seems my God is not without a sense of humor. Though I’m sure He likes to have fun sometimes, I’m also convinced He never does anything without purpose, even if that purpose is relatively small.
I’m certain that God uses all the extravagance and diversity of sea slugs to make a statement about beauty–I can’t help remembering “The Teacher” in Ecclesiastes going on about vanity. But sea slugs don’t need anyone to tell them they’re beautiful. They’re just fine going about their cleaning business, fulfilling their purpose in the deep blue sea.
Affirmation and compliments in our lives are encouraging, even desirable, but could we be more like sea slugs? Can we live out our divine stories, content knowing who and what we are (and whose we are), even if no one else is reading our stories?
The Body of Christ is a body indeed–no members exist in isolation–but imagine what could happen if all its members began to focus on their divine design for the good of the body and the glory of the head (that is, Christ), rather than on their desire to be something else, or to be affirmed in their assignments by other members. Imagine what the Body could do if Christ himself and the story he authored and finished for us was enough.
Imagine if we could humbly wear our beauty with confidence, rather than insecurity, and simply go about our business in the Lord. After all, we are all of us beautiful creatures to Him. And we all have an essential purpose, even if that purpose seems relatively small.
I was driving on Ruston Way last night. It was after dark, and I was surprised multiple groups of people out, and I thought, Yup, it’s Spring now. There are jokes about what constitutes appropriate weather for going out in the Pacific Northwest; our threshold for what counts as “too chilly” seems to be higher than in other regions, and especially after long, gray winters, we tend to look outside and think, “close enough.” The people I saw walking the waterfront were mostly bundled up in blankets and puffy coats because, despite the lovely sunny day, the evening was very chilly.
I couldn’t help thinking how these people were determined to enjoy the season. Despite the weather report or the temperature, the fact remains that it is Spring, and people are starting to live like it’s Spring. And I couldn’t help thinking that this is a spiritual truth as well: When the season we’re in changes, sometimes the weather of our lives looks pretty much the same at first; or maybe a terrific storm comes when before it was simply cold, and it seems like Winter is only restarting and nothing is improving, or it’s actually getting worse. But the fact remains that the days of death and cold are over, and the days ahead are getting warmer and brighter; new life is blossoming, things are changing, because despite the weather, the season remains.
Of course, tomorrow is the day believers across the globe celebrate the Resurrection of the Son of God, and the consequent resurrection of every story that was marred by death. This season, the season of Abundant Life, zoé perissós*, goes on without end. All the darkness tries to hide the truth, to convince us that the storm and the cold and the gloom are here to stay; but the darkness cannot change the fact that life is here and now. We are able with Christ to live the way we were meant to, to walk out the story God has written for us, despite the weather. The days of death are over; Spring is here.
The phoenix is one of my favorite symbols: It’s a mythical fire bird which consumes itself in flames and rises renewed from the ashes. It doesn’t do this just once, but many times, so that it lives on and on. It reminds me of the beautiful passage from Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. . . to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit… (Isaiah 61:1, 3 ESV)
I can’t help thinking about this creature and these verses on this first day of the new year, as I say goodbye to 2015 (I won’t miss it at all), and look forward to a brand new year. I woke up today and it was as if I had new eyes too see everything; I had hope and joy for the days ahead like I haven’t had in quite some time—maybe ever. Today truly is a new day; all the days before are gone, and they cannot tell me who I am or hold me back from where God is leading me. I am ready to leave those ashes behind, no looking back, for the beauty and the joy of walking with the Lord in His all-consuming fire.
It is a happy new year indeed.
I was driving home tonight after hearing a popular Christian speaker, who at one point talked about becoming everything God has designed us to be. This entails believing who He is and what He says, and who I am, which led me down a rabbit hole of thoughts until I distinctly heard, “What is keeping you from believing God?”
So don’t quote me on this, all you math and science people, but I heard once that, mathematically speaking, there’s no such thing as “deceleration.” It’s actually represented in equations as negative acceleration: If you’re going faster and faster, the number is positive, and if you’re slowing down, the number is negative, but both numbers in the equations represent a change in speed. And you’re thinking, I didn’t come here for a math lesson… So the point:
There’s a man in the Bible who, when Jesus talked to him about his belief, honestly and wisely blurted out, “I do believe! Help me in my unbelief!” (That’s in Mark chapter 9). Now the unbelief here is in reference to Jesus, what he is capable of, who he is. But if the man didn’t believe one thing, it’s because he did, ever so subtly, believe something else.
So when Adam and Eve were in the garden, God basically told them, “All I have here is yours: All the food, the whole garden to enjoy, except just leave this one tree alone. But everything else, have at it!” And they were content for awhile to dwell there, believing God’s word that He had given them everything they needed.
And then there’s this snake.
He comes up to Eve and says, “Did God really…?” And she questions what God said. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, she just has to stop and think. But the serpent keeps going, on and on about how this one tree is so great, and how important and special it is, and how God is withholding this from her, and how she’s missing out on something… The lies begin to creep in, clashing with the truth, and all Eve is doing so far is weighing these two opposing words, but now she has a choice to make: Who will she believe?
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate… (Genesis 3:6)
We all know how that turned out.
The point here is that she only began to disbelieve what God said when someone else started talking. The enemy whispered in her ear, just like he did to the man in Mark, just like he does to us: You don’t have what you need, God won’t come through for you, you can’t trust God… And there is a choice to make: Will you believe the fear, the shame, the past, the coworker or friend or family member or random stranger who said that thing? Because if you’re having trouble believing something God says, it’s because you believe something else—it’s a negative belief. If you’re not believing the truth, you’re believing a lie, and lies are all the enemy has. He can’t tell you who you are, but he can try to convince you of who you are not.
Believing what God says about who you are and what you’re capable of, even if you’re not entirely sure what that is yet, will cause an acceleration in you to live the story He wrote about you while He was still singing the stars into being. And God is immeasurably excited about you and your amazing story (because Amazing are the only stories God writes).
So: What is keeping you from believing God?
The other day, I was minding my own business when the Lord, as He often does, spoke up to tell me something I needed to hear. It was actually a question: What are you being saturated by?
I’d actually had a pretty rough day, the kind where all these relatively little things added up to a very frustrated me. I was completely flooded by my own negative thoughts; I had allowed myself to soak in my funk all day. I had to choose instead to allow myself to be saturated with God’s presence, to soak in His word instead.
This is true of life in general. What do we allow ourselves to be saturated by? The past? Present circumstances? Pain? Offense? Fear? The things we are full of are the things that will pour out of us. It’s a daily choice, I’m finding, to be in the flow of His word and Spirit, so that praises pour out instead of complaints. We all need to get things off our chests sometimes, of course. But I find that when I’m full of nothing but negative comments, it’s because I’ve allowed my mind to dwell on unlovely things for far too long in a day. I long to be saturated by the presence of the Lord 24/7, so maybe others will get soaked by the river around me.
At night, and especially in the rain, everything can look very different. Streets you’ve driven many times look unfamiliar, the lines on the road become hard to distinguish among the many reflections from streetlights and businesses, and even though you know where you’re going, suddenly it seems like getting there has become more challenging.
This will be honest.
A friend of mine recently asked me why I seem to have changed so much in the past few months, and I realized tonight (while driving home, in this midsummer weather bummer) that part of it is because my life has become very unfamiliar to me. A lot of changes have happened in my life in a relatively short span of time, and I have been grasping for something that feels like the way things were; something familiar, from what I think of as a good time in my life. Even though it’s the same road I’ve been on, a turn somewhere brought me into the night; the lines on this road are harder to see amidst the distractions and deceptions coming from the side. I feel alone on this road, and I’m nervous about driving it. Suddenly the path I was sure of has become foreign and even frightening. Suddenly, I feel like I don’t know where I am.
I realized the things I’m grasping for are times and seasons and places that I have passed through, but can’t get back to, or things that aren’t here yet that I keep hoping will be. What I’m missing, what I’m really looking for, is something unchanging. I hunger for that place that can be reached from anywhere I am—I want the peace, the quiet stillness, the presence of my Father.
I’ve also realized the quiet is something I’ve come to dread. All my fears find a voice there, and all the worries begin to shout in the silence, and the many things I feel I must do to keep occupied suddenly seem so very important. I ride the wave of the clamor right past the secret place into more chaos, and the things I do just to keep busy really just keep me cluttered and confused. Then, when the desire to meet God in my prayer closet becomes so strong I might actually act on it, I feel guilty or ashamed for having put Him off, and so continue to put Him off (which totally fixes the problem..?). Yet in the times when I find that place, and the voice of the Lord breaks through with a blast of peace, I remember the comfort of His presence and the joy of His word. He is the solid ground I’m looking for while this ground seems unstable. He is the light that shines without distortion, though the night is dark and the rain is heavy. When I live by His presence, I find the road I’m on to be one I’m able to travel, regardless of how hard it is. I am reminded that I’m not driving alone, either in my own vehicle or as the only vehicle on this road.
I am also reminded in these times, when I allow the Holy Spirit to refresh and strengthen me, that there is no time or place in life when I can’t seek Him. Another friend of mine was recently talking about “getting to that place” where she can find God again, and when I opened my mouth to reply, the Spirit came out and said, more or less: “You don’t have to get anywhere. Find Him where you are, because He’s seeking you where you are.” How often we think we must be a certain way, or change certain things, or find a new circumstance, before we feel like we can come into His presence again. God is always where we are, right there with us. Certainly He wants to lead us into new places—but it’s impossible to be led by someone who isn’t there, so how can God be elsewhere? This brings a whole new dimension to that familiar phrase, “Be where you are.” You can’t live in either your past or your future, for better or worse. You’re not what you were, nor what you will be, but you are, here and now—and so is God. Find Him where you are, without fear or shame, without regrets, without reserve; and let Him find you, every part of you. Whether you feel completely lost or completely on track, seek Him; He already knows the road you’re on.
So I’ve written before about all the stressful things that are going on in my life; it is crazy hard and frustrating right now. I had had it with one thing after another cropping up without reprieve, and was wallowing in this despair one day recently when suddenly, as I was preparing eloquent complaints in my mind, I heard very clearly: “What do you want people to know about your life?” That stopped me dead in my thoughts; before I share my answer to that question though, I’d like to share this:
If anyone ever suffered for the sake of the gospel, surely Paul did. He was ridiculed, slandered, imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, threatened numerous times with death, and generally lived a fairly miserable life after his journey on the road to Damascus. Yet he writes to the Philippians (most likely from Rome during his imprisonment): “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul’s secret was trusting God and relying on His strength, in every circumstance, no matter what it looked like. Some people say faith is blind, but that’s not true at all. Faith does see, yet it does not rely on sight but on revelation from heaven. Paul went to Jerusalem on purpose, even though he knew terrible happenings awaited him; one prophet even bound himself up with Paul’s own belt as a prophetic gesture to the imprisonment Paul would face (Acts 21:10-11). Paul had a heads-up that after Jerusalem, things would not be so fun for him; and yet, in response to the pleading of his friends, he says: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). Paul had his eyes on the Lord, and was determined to allow God’s glory to be brought through him no matter what happened.
It’s not easy to hope for what you can’t see; to keep your eyes fixed on the Lord and not on the trials. How hard it must have been for Paul, not knowing if this imprisonment would be to his death. We all hope for things to change for the better, and we know God can do miracles, but what if He allows us to be tested, as He did Job? What if He wants us to bring glory to Him in terrible dark places? To show the enemy that our praise and worship of God isn’t because of what we get from Him, but because of who He is?
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (better known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) faced this dilemma. When ratted out by malicious Chaldeans for not worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, and threatened by the king with death in the superheated furnace, they responded (honorably) to him thus: “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18, emphasis added). The three of them were resolved that no situation or outcome would sway them from worshipping the Most High God, even if it meant death for them. What if there is no rescue, no healing, no deliverance? Do we love and trust the Lord so much that we pray, like Jesus did, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39)? Do we really want glory brought to His name more than anything else? This kind of faith, this kind of living, is not easy. It cannot be done without the power of His Holy Spirit, His strength in us; it can’t be done without daily being immersed in His presence, falling more in love with Him, dying more to ourselves.
And so, as the question of what I want people to know when they look at my life echoed in my mind, I realized that I don’t want people to know how poor and miserable and pitiful I am, sucking the life out of every conversation and relationship. My spirit rose up in me then with a desire for people to know instead how God is always faithful, always good; how He is trustworthy, and gracious, and powerful, and worth all of the suffering there may be ahead of me: for the people who would see Him clearly for the first time because of His light shining from me, illuminating His face for them, and for the glory that might be brought to Him through it all.
Hebrews talks about how all those great faithful people of the Bible never actually saw the fulfillment of the promises made to them while they lived on the earth, but they were not dismayed because they knew they were part of something huge, bigger even than their whole lives; something that had eternal significance. This is what they had faith in; this was their hope.
This is why I am striving to be joyful in my life, no matter what it looks like. By no means have I even begun to live this way. But my heart and my eyes are set on Him, as I slowly let my own desires die, because really, my life was never supposed to be about me anyway.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the term “afterlife” in the context of the question, “Do I believe in an afterlife?”
I suppose the answer would have to be no, and I’ll tell you why:
To say that I believe in an “afterlife” implies that the only “life” there is takes place while we walk upon the earth, and that what follows “after” is not life, but something else. However, the truth is that although life begins for us when we are born in our physical bodies, it does not end when our physical bodies cease to function.
Our lives begin physically when we are born on the earth; they begin anew in the Spirit when we choose Christ as our King. His kingdom is not of this world, but it is of heaven, and so we become citizens of heaven, even while we continue to live on the earth. Heaven, then, isn’t a place where we go when we die, but it’s a place we live in currently, and where we will continue to live even after our bodies pass away. There is only one life—in Christ—the end of which is not concurrent with our physical end; and there is one true death—to reject Christ. If we reject Christ, then even the life we live on the earth is death—we are not truly living, because we were meant to live in heaven, in the presence of God, always.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18
Life is continuous; we who choose Christ are continually being shaped into who God has always said we are. Sometimes we are granted glimpses in the Spirit, but we see “in a mirror dimly,” as Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 13:12). When we “die,” we are changed yet again—the veil of the physical is removed completely, and we see clearly what has always been present: the Kingdom of Heaven.
So I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I believe in eternal life.