Your past does NOT define you.
Your past does NOT define you.
The Wizard of Oz says, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
When Jesus breathed His last, the curtain was torn.
Our enemy is the man behind the curtain that weighs us down and separates us from our Creator. We hide ourselves behind the curtain, ashamed of our failures and perceived inadequacy.
God asks, “Man, where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)
Know the man behind the curtain, but pay attention to the One on the other side.
The first step required for any kind of change is ultimately confession, admitting a problem exists and change is imperative. Not just a private confession to God, and not within the safety of anonymity, openly presenting your personal failures to another human being at the risk of rejection (but also risking love). After 37 years on this planet, the person I have the hardest time relating to without a filter is myself. Unless we strip away the curtain that hides the reality of our imperfection from ourselves, authentic relationships with another human being is impossible.
The Bible recounts the tale of shame entering the world in Genesis 3. The world is exploding in color and life, leading up to this point. The figures of Adam and Eve are figuring out who they are and how to navigate the world around them. Then, they get arrogant, thinking they have it all figured out. They cross a clear boundary God set for them, symbolized by taking a bite of fruit off a forbidden tree which was a step down a path not meant for them. In that moment, recognizing they failed their creator, shame blanketed them both.
In a popular Ted talk, Brene Brown tackles the nature of shame and exposes it as the root motivator of destructive and broken behavior.
Human behavior leads us to conceal our faults and avoid that which has potential to hurt our spirit, at least from our perspective. Physical threats create the option of ‘fight or flight’, but, as physical beings, we are powerless to combat threats to our spirit so we hide ourselves away in hopes of avoiding them. A child who has disobeyed their parents avoids facing the consequences of their failure by physically hiding. An employee who has failed their employer hides their mistakes by redirecting blame or covering up the error if blame is unavoidable. We naturally want to please others and avoid failure. When Adam recognized his failure, he hid himself from God. When God came looking, He did not angrily cry out “Boy, what have you done?!” or “You had better hide. Don’t come back until you get yourself right!” No; He came asking one simple question. “Where are you?”
God didn’t come searching to place blame or scold, He searched to find His creation so by seeing, acknowledging and confessing their failure, the would no longer feel like they must hide. Exposing faults, then being accepted despite them, renders shame powerless.
The key to defeating shame is finding someone you can lean on to be completely vulnerable and authentic, exposing your soul without fear of judgement or rejection. Someone who will listen while you confess your darkest thoughts and your deepest failures, loving you at your worst simply for who you are. This doesn’t mean overlooking or justifying blatant negative behavior; it is loving you through it, taking you by the hand and finding a way out of it together.
Being completely known and not being loved is a deep fear of man; being completely known and loved anyway is one of man’s greatest needs.
Risk being loved just as you are.
Wake up from your self-induced tranquilization. Where are you?
Do you want to stay there?
Week 1 made us recognize where we are at; in some, exposing truths about ourselves we’d rather ignore and confessing our role in getting us there. For week 2, we spoke about how to get moving and knowing which path to follow.
Jesus emphatically desires a relationship with each of us, but it is not demanded from us. We find and develop that relationship by following His example, obeying the life principles and philosophies He embodies. Jesus’s life and example recorded in the Bible are our map, the Holy Spirit acts as our compass.
There are many paths in life. The Holy Spirit guides us, showing us direction, but we can’t know where we’re going without also looking at the map.
It’s not always black and white, knowing what we are leaning on for direction and which road is “right”. One thing I have learned through my life is to have multiple resources. The compass tells you what direction you are facing, the map gives you a glimpse of possible routes and the terrain that lay ahead. Using either of these tools exclusively leave you with only half the information.
Moving ahead through the this installment of our series, we’ve talked about what we need to do to awaken and free ourselves (confessing and accepting our faults) and we’ve talked about how to find our direction and move forward, stepping beyond our failures. The third installment encourages us to be confident in the steps we take and let the world see the light of our God and feel his love through our scars and brokenness.
I’ve always been intrigued by the interwoven shapes and light refraction of broken glass. Glass is so much more beautiful and interesting after its been broken. Such is the human life. Broken glass inspired this drawing. To create this broken effect in a two dimensional drawing, I paused in the middle of creating the image to crumple and damage the page with seams and wrinkles.
No one is immune from being broken. Some of us have more scars than others, some scars are self-inflicted.
God did not give us the example of Jesus to teach us how to disguise and bury those scars, He illuminates our world when we risk being present and being seen, despite our scars, loving people without reservations or minimum requirements.
Jesus is the light, beautifully refracted through our brokenness.
The fourth and final installment of Awakenings was a commission to take assessment of our lives and purge it of anything that clouds our relationship with ourselves, our relationships with others and our relationship with God. The message was titled “Remove Doubtful Things”, but I believe “Questionable” is a better word than doubtful, in this case.
It is part of our nature to push our limits, to question authority and discover ourselves through experience. This is a double-edged sword that does not cut cleanly.
Michael referenced Sodom and Gomorrah in this message this morning. The main focus of his message was about removing “doubtful” (I think questionable is a better word) things from you life to make way to be who you are designed to be in your life.
The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were held to to the condition of only 10 faithful people in the entire population to avoid destruction and they could not even meet that.
The point of remembering that story is not about the cities, its not about how terrible the people in those cites were, and its certainly not to condemn specific sin.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is the story of you and me.
I am Sodom, I am Gomorrah. I it is my responsibility to look in my life to create and keep any righteousness inside me. Check your own life. Is anything righteous? Focus there.
The last four weeks have laid out methodical steps to re-awaken our complacent and sleeping souls, to come alive in who we are meant to be.
It’s time to wake up.
As Jonah’s story continues, we find him washing up on shore and being faced with the exact same call that made him run to sea to begin with. Go to Nineveh.
Jonah rejected God, then he ran to escape his shame. In his shame, he brought torment on his companions and was thrown overboard. Alone and desperate, it still took Jonah three days to turn to God in prayer. Tossed onto shore, Jonah pulled himself up from the sand, only having to face the very thing that caused him to run in the first place. Yahweh is a God of second chances. When we turn our back on him, he will always bring us back around to the place we rejected him and give us another chance to change our mind.
When Nineveh repented of their brutal sins and warped worldview, they buried their heads in sackcloth and ashes to symbolize their mourning. Imagery of rising out of ashes is often used to describe coming out of a dark time. Ashes are more than just the leftover matter of what used to be, ashes are a valuable cleansing system. Charcoal filtration has been used to produce clean drinking water since the Ancient Egyptians in 2000 B.C. When contaminated water is poured through a charcoal filtration system, the pores of charcoal capture pollutants, allow the beneficial materials pass and exit as clean drinking water on the other side. Ashes have the same affect on our lives. When we fall and parts of our lives burn, it is a time to mourn, but also a time to grow. The ashes of what was captures the pollutants that have worked their way into our lives. As we rise, we are also purified; brought back to the place where it all began in order to begin again.
Today’s drawing is rising up from the ashes. The figure is strong, but humble. They were beaten, but not defeated. New life is rising from the old, more powerful and confident than before.
Burning to ashes is not punishment, it is graduation into new life.
Rise and embrace renewed strength.
Grace can be defined as an undeserved gift from an un-obligated giver.
For grace to be offered, an offense must have occurred. Most often, the offense is overshadowed by the offender’s unwillingness to receive grace from the offended. We hold on to our faults with a death grip, but then describe them as if they have permanently leeched onto us. We are a sadistic people in this way, torturing ourselves when the pathway to freedom is simply letting go of our perfectionist mentality. When we give ourselves enough grace to make mistakes and learn from them, we open the floodgates to building real relationships and creating a community that can withstand the greatest adversity. I believe grace is the key missing ingredient that makes real friendship a fleeting phenomenon among adults.
From birth through preschool, we are all equals. Race, sex, religion, favorite color, none of this matters. We see each other as we really are, just people riding on a rock, breathing the same air and doing our best to figure out how to do this thing called life. Everyone is our friend, we welcome each other in without a second thought and play together as complete equals.
With the beginning of elementary school comes the start of organized sports and friendly competitions. My two oldest sons are baseball players, Jacob is wanting to try soccer this fall. They are beginning to find and roots of the most valuable relationships the will nurture their young lives are beginning to grow. We learn to work together, in competition with other teams who work together. The seed of competition has been planted. We being developing our smack-talk skills, boasting in our inflated perception of our abilities and emulating our favorite athletes and superheroes.
As the teenage years begin, so does a new level of competitiveness. Sports teams are no longer pickup leagues where everyone gets to play, participants compete in tryouts. Bullies have defined their reputations and cliques take their form. Friendly banter over abilities and faults evolves into insults and hurt feelings. In high school, even more areas of competition find their way onto our plates. We compete over academics. We compare everything; skin complexion, hair styles, clothing, musical tastes, each others’ friendships. The older we get, the more meticulous we are about the comparisons. We put all our energy into creating a facade of perfection that bests even the people we care about. This competitiveness is amplified by the system, pushing the importance of SAT scores, end of course tests and making college applications the engines for yet another race to be won.
We graduate into the next chapter of life and divide ourselves further by competing over things that have potential to define the rest of our lives. If we enter the work force, we compete to be the best at what we do be noticed and rewarded more than the next guy. Those of us in college compete to establish our value in the community we’re chosen. Some compete over grades, some compete over sports, some compete over relationships, others compete for position in their own sub-communities. The philosophy we’re indoctrinated with regardless of the path we choose is that the rest of our lives will be a competition for survival. Give no grace, take advantage of every opportunity, become your own person and fight to be better than everyone else.
No wonder we have such a hard time finding friends after 25.
Small groups are the lifeblood of most new church communities. Speak with any of the core leaders and they will lay out the same reason for nurturing small groups. Friends. Small groups exist for the soul purpose of helping adults become friends, to break the mentality of competition. Friends help ease the weight of competition, but only our ability to give and receive grace will eradicate it. Without the ability to forgive and move forward, no relationship will survive.
I’ve heard it said, “when you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” I no longer believe this philosophy is beneficial to anyone. In fact, I am sure it has locked souls into a prison of self-reliance that destroys lives.
What if you weren’t designed to hang on to a rope to begin with? What if the rope is what keeps us restrained and chokes the life out of us?
Once we can let go of everything, no more competition, no more entitlement, truly set down our selfish pride; then we can dip our hearts back into the life of innocent freedom we so easily forgot from out early days. We are still all just humans riding on this cosmic rock, doing the best we can with the time we have. Let go of your irrational and unattainable need to “do it better” than everyone else. Let go of your ropes and just enjoy the ride. God will not let you fall, if you let him take the reigns of life. Your only obligation is to live.
There’s no competing your way into happiness and freedom, there’s just setting each other (and yourself) free.
Having just finished up our summer series on prayer, we dove into a new focus this week; Titus – Believe. Do. The day’s message spoke to me at a very personal level. Based on the first chapter of Titus, it’s mostly words meant form me than imagery.
I lay my life down to live like Christ; but I must remember, I am not Christ. It is not my place to be anyone’s savior. I am not responsible to rescue people, even from themselves. Disappointing someone else by creating and maintaining a good relationship with myself does not make me a failure or a disappointment. It’s not my load to carry.
The gospel is not just a message of spiritual salvation, it is freedom to acknowledge and live in the light of self worth. The gospel is the manifestation of complete love; salvation lies within.