Losing My Worst Self

I had recently been walking around in the rain on a 41 degree February work day. It was the kind of day when the rain would just. not. stop. And to be honest, I had not really thought that much about the cold and rain throughout the day. With my job, I am in and out of offices all day and I have gotten used to the wildly variable Indiana weather. But as I was nearing the end of the workday, I walked out of the last office and directly into the pouring rain toward my car.

In that split second, I almost grumbled in frustration about the cold and wet.

But I caught myself.

I’m always amazed at how many thoughts and questions can go through a person’s head in just a fraction of second.

Why am I getting frustrated?
Why am I getting frustrated with the rain and cold?
Why am I getting frustrated when I will be in my car in 15 seconds?

The quick succession of questions immediately took me back to one of the most emotionally difficult days on our 2014 Alaskan backpacking trek from Stony Creek to the Toklat River in Denali National Park. It was our third day and we were covering eight miles of rough terrain, all without trails, fighting miles of alder and tussock. The rain was unrelenting, as it pounded us in the cool 40 degree wind. There was not a single dry place along the entire route for a short reprieve, not even for a short, dry lunch break. We were in the unforgiving heart of Alaska, out in the wide open, completely exposed to the elements. And we had to deal with it, because there wasn’t anywhere else to go.

I snapped back into the present, still walking through the parking lot. That quick memory of Alaska made me smile. And within seconds I was laughing audibly, like a crazy man who had just lost his mind, thinking of my relatively insignificant present inconvenience. The joy of unlocking my door, getting into my dry car, and turning on the heat eviscerated the frustration before it could even be birthed. I was immediately thankful.

So why in the world do I share this short account of my frustration, my anger, and my resentment with you?

You may think it is fairly innocuous compared to the deeper issues and problems each of us face every day. I mean, come on, is it really a life accomplishment to not be frustrated by a little rain and cold at the end of the day?

I completely get it.

But I have to tell you, it goes so much deeper than that for me. I have always lived a very reactionary life, in which my automatic internal frustration gauge was always set to maximum. And while many people may have never seen my frustrations visibly, they were always there raging within me. I leaned heavily toward frustration and anger when my circumstances were not ideal. Words like self-reflection or contemplation were not a part of my vocabulary, let alone a regular rhythm of my life.

The hard truth to admit is that I resided in a relatively joyless existence for the majority of my adult life. I was always frustrated with my own personal situations and with the people around me, whom I believed were making my life difficult. And it didn’t help that during much of this time, I was addicted to news and politics, which was a lethal cocktail for that much more frustration. It was an exhausting existence to always be frustrated or angry or outraged about something or someone. And it was starving me from living this life in fullness and abundance and joy.

Even more, when anyone would confront me on the absence of joy in my life, I would summarily dismiss the assertion, or perceived accusation, by claiming that I was using my cynicism in a positive way. The truth is that I was a joyless person hiding behind pretense and justification. And that is the ideal place for an egocentric man to hide and remain unchanged. My resistance and excuse-making were the perfect ingredients for an unhappy, unhealthy, and stagnant life. And the ideal facade to keep my false self intact.

So while it could be easy to dismiss my story of rediscovering joy while laughing like a wild man as the rain poured down on me in a parking lot, to me it represents a man who has been slowly changing and patiently transforming into someone more content and joyful, and hopefully, someone growing more beautifully each day.

Maybe you are like me, a person living each day, veering further and further from your true self, spiraling in disunion, longing for a life that isn’t so angry or disappointing or hopeless. Maybe you have spent the majority of your life in constant, and maybe increasing, frustration with the small irritants of your daily life. Maybe this constant frustration has accumulated over the years and has been robbing you of joy and the experience of the beauty and magnificence and wonder that surrounds you and envelops you in every moment. Maybe your frustrations and irritations have hardened you through the years, disabling you from recognizing the small miracles and beauty of every seemingly ordinary moment.

Maybe you have been experiencing pain or carrying a heavy burden with you each day as you walk out the door. Maybe you are in a place where you are depressed, where you feel worthless, or in a place where you are living in constant shame. Maybe you wake up each morning grieving your life, thinking about the life you used to have, and living in remorse for what you have lost or how you have pushed others away. Maybe you hate yourself, hate what you have become, and you know that you are about to hit rock bottom.

Only you know exactly what you are dealing with or going through.

When we find space for self-reflection and contemplation, we begin to see ourselves more clearly, maybe even for the first time. And in all the ways we have propped up and defended and preserved our false self, we now begin to be transformed into something new and even more beautiful.

That is what the holy inner work of shalom begins to do in each of us. It frees you to become your very best self, the self you were always meant to be from the very foundations of creation, the self that is wholly and completely loved, as you are, by God. And that is the most beautiful and liberating thing in the world.

Peace…

Brandon

Rediscovering the Word Evangelical

There is a beautiful word… an elegant descriptor… that has been maligned, tarnished, lampooned, distorted, and completely misunderstood. It is a name many have abandoned for all of it’s negative connotations and ugly stereotypes. But this bruised and battered identifier… this lowly mark tossed carelessly to the side by a cynical generation… is finally being rediscovered, reclaimed, renewed, and washed clean by those hungry to wear it and hold it high for the world to see clearly.

The word is Evangelical.

And it is beautiful because at it’s very heart, it’s very core, it simply describes anyone who proclaims the Good News. But it seems that many have skewed the Good News and given the name Evangelical a bad rap by proclaiming messages that don’t seem so good… that make people feel worse on the inside and not so hopeful that there is an alternative to this confusing, messed up world.

As an Evangelical, as a proud proclaimer of the Good News, I want to share with you the Good News of the Kingdom of God… and the reason why I will continue to wear the name and preach the message until the day I die.

The Good News is that there is an alternative. This is another way. There is a reason to have hope.

The great alternative to this world, that Jesus preached about and was preoccupied with establishing, operated by a new set of values, a new way of thinking, a new way of being human. The Good News that Jesus announced was like nothing the world had ever known or seen before. As such, Jesus was not preoccupied with fighting violently against the kingdoms of the world, or the prevailing governmental or political order. Jesus wasn’t even preoccupied with trying to reform them or preoccupied with trying to establish a new or different political system or governmental system. And, he was certainly not trying to build up a bricks and mortar palace where he would rule from the top-down.

The Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim would be established much differently than those of the world, and it would not look like anything the world had ever seen, because the people in this Kingdom would do everything opposite from the ways and workings of the world. It would be a grassroots, organic movement that changes the world from the bottom-up and from the inside-out, defying every bit of worldly wisdom in the process.

When the world hits you, do not retaliate, but give the other cheek. When the world is weighing you down with heavy requests, don’t just go one mile with the request but go two miles. When the world takes everything you have, even the coat off of your back, don’t just give your coat but go even further by offering your shirt. When the way of the world harbors anger and holds grudges, be one who forgives your friends and your enemies alike. And, don’t just forgive once, but forgive and forgive and forgive.

When the world is quick to respond and rip a person to shreds, be one who controls your anger and the words that come from your mouth. When the world devalues relationships and marriages, be one who looks to the interest of others, honors commitments, and always remains selfless. When the world looks out for and protects its own pursuits and interests to the detriment of others, be one who treats others as you would want to be treated yourself. When the world is ready to cast the stone of judgment at the sinner, be one who loves and stands beside every single person without judgment. When the world shuns the outcast and pushes him to the edges of society, be one who befriends the outcast and welcomes him back into loving community.

When the world lords over you with mighty power and authority, be one who is humble and comes from the bottom-up to serve everyone. When the world takes the seat of honor so it can be seen and noticed by everyone, be one who takes the seat of low-position in the back of the room. When the world puts on a show of being pure and good but is corrupt at the very core, be one who is pure from the inside and let it work out through your life. When the world continues in the ways of injustice and is merciless to the least in society, be one who stands for the least and for those who cannot defend themselves by demanding justice and mercy.

When the world fights and wars, be one who always stands on the side of peace no matter the situation and no matter the circumstance. When the world insults, ridicules, and curses you, be one who blesses in return. When the evil of the world assaults you, be the one who does not resist the evil. And when the world beats you, spits upon you, and is preparing to crucify you, continue on the way of forgiveness and self-sacrificial love.

That is the Good News of the Kingdom of God! That is what it means to be a true, genuine, authentic Evangelical. That is the treasure of great riches that the world so desperately needs to discover. That is the pearl of great value that we sell everything we have in order to attain it. That is what will spread like an infection, a mustard seed, yeast in the dough if the world would ever hear it and see it put into practice by a transformed people. That is the in-breaking of heaven into the house that has been held hostage for far too long. That is the occupation, proclamation, task, and obsession of the follower of Christ… of every Evangelical… in the vineyard of the world!

The Kingdom of God is the full-on reign of God in the hearts and minds of those who believe in the way, life, and teachings of Jesus, who have died to the old, tired, and worn-out ways of the world, and who have been made new by the working and empowering of the Spirit of God in order to bring heaven on earth, while awaiting and anticipating the return of Christ as Lord at the renewal of all things!!! It is what a life looks like when God reigns in and through a person here on earth in every single thought, action, attitude, situation, or scenario. The Kingdom of God looks like an invasion from heaven into the strongholds of a person’s life, a cleaning out of the house, a light breaking through into the darkness, and a constant and continual in-breaking of heaven through one’s life into the world. It is a Kingdom that reigns in the hearts and minds of people, not through the political, governmental, bureaucratic, religious, institutional brick and mortar systems of the world. The Kingdom of God will never come through those systems, because they will all pass away one day.

That is why Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is not something that can be seen or observed. It is not visible with the eye for anyone to see or to visibly discover. In fact, people will not be able to say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the Kingdom of God is within the hearts and minds of those who follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus. In this way, the Kingdom of God can not be conquered, destroyed, or defeated, but it continues to grow larger and continues to spread from person to person all throughout the world like a mustard seed in a field or yeast in dough. It breaks into our world like an infection to displace the kingdoms of the world and to establish the reign of God, through and through, in the hearts, minds, and lives of people who are like Jesus in everything we do.

That is what it means to be an Evangelical. That is why I wear the name with honor and will hold the banner high. It is to Jesus Christ and the Good News of his Kingdom that I pledge my allegiance and give my life.

Spiritual Transformation

Words on pages are not enough to transform you.

Inspirational and motivational words are energizing, but they are not enough to sustain your fleeting emotions and not powerful enough to completely change you at the core of your being. Sure they may lift you up and get you excited for a bit, but those feelings will soon fade and you will remain untransformed in your life.

We, as Christians, too many times have this belief that our lives will necessarily begin changing when “we say the right words” or “take on a new label” or “hang with a different group” or “read the Bible more.”

Transformation is not that simple. It is not a flipping of the light switch or “getting dunked” and then becoming magically new.

In fact, there are those who have verbally professed to give Christ their lives…but yet remain untransformed, and likely even painfully empty, in their lives- day by day, week by week, or year by year.

Spiritual transformation… being made new… is a process. It is a daily walk of letting go and receiving, of dying and coming to life, of the edges being knocked off and refined into something new… something glorious. It is not for those seeking quick fixes, instant gratification, or a new life without sacrifice.

It is only in a life centered on Jesus Christ and the moment by moment sacrifice of your will and your way to the Spirit of God that you begin to change inwardly. When this happens, the Kingdom begins to break out through your life in power. It is only through your continual and perpetual worship that the Kingdom begins to reign inwardly then outwardly in your life.

The Kingdom seed is planted. It takes root. It grows wildly. It bears fruit.

We must understand from the beginning that it is not about what you can do in your own power, but rather what the power of God can do to transform you. It is not about what you can do outwardly to be a better Christian; rather it is coming face to face with Jesus Christ and His in-breaking Kingdom that begins to change you inwardly. It is allowing Christ to come so close that your heart, your mind, your desires, and your feelings begin to change. It is the easiest (and hardest thing) you will ever do, but it is essential to understand that you do not have the capacity to live a righteous and holy life in your own power, rather it is only when you are reborn from the inside that God’s ways become your own.

You must pray for the Spirit to come into your heart and your life, for that is the only place where transformation can begin and the only place where the Kingdom can take root and reign. It is a spiritual problem that needs a spiritual solution and it can only be cured by the Spirit of God. When the Spirit comes close and begins to work intimately in your life, you begin changing. You are able to see the world as God sees the world. You hunger for those things which God hungers. You pursue those things which God pursues. You desire those things which God desires. You cannot get enough of Jesus and His way and His Kingdom. You change so radically from the inside that the power of the Spirit cannot help but work its way out into your life in everything you do. But sacrifice and surrender to God the Holy Spirit is essential.

The way of Jesus always means sacrifice. It is a sacrifice in which you become so hidden in the fullness of Christ that it is no longer you, only Him. It is never what you can do; it is only what can be done through you when you get out of the way. It is essential for each of us to pray and plead to God for a transformation from the inside and for a deep hunger for His Kingdom to come into our lives and work through each of us.

Seven years ago I did not know much about the Bible. I did not have any passion or excitement to read it. My guess is that I was a lot like many Christians today; the thought of reading my Bible seemed more like a chore than anything life-giving. One day I began to pray that God would change my heart and that I would have a passion and a hunger for Him and His Word. In ways that I can only explain as miraculous, my heart and my life began to change. I began to have a hunger for anything and everything of God.

I wanted to pray without ceasing. I wanted to give up my own pursuits and desires. I wanted to read and understand more about God. I wanted to know what God was doing in and through my life for others. The changes in my life didn’t come from guilting myself to death. It didn’t come from arm-twisting or beating myself into submission. My inner passion, desire, and hunger came from God emptying me of me and filling me with His Spirit. That is when I began to find Life and began to understand the words of Jesus, “I came that [you] might have Life and have it abundantly.” I wholly believe that for any one of us to change, it has to begin in humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice of our own ways coupled with an insatiable hunger and desire for God to come close and change our hearts and minds. It is then that the Spirit is invited to begin the transformative work of raising you to new Life.

But how deeply inside our lives do we allow the Spirit to work? How much of ourselves do we really fully sacrifice? Are there certain places within you that are off limits? Are there certain areas that have been purposefully blocked off? Are there areas of darkness that you keep hidden because it is just too difficult or too embarrassing to go there? You have to admit, we rarely ask questions like these in our churches. It is as if we are all completely cool with a superficial scrub of the house, but we are reluctant to open up all of the windows and doors to the house and even more reluctant to open the closets inside. The truth is that the entire house needs cleaning, but we have to be willing to open all the windows and doors and every single closet for the work to begin.

For me, words like humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice had always been these abstract words that really didn’t mean anything for my life. I knew that a Christian ought to exhibit those qualities, but it was just a mental thing, not a real way of living. In essence, I was comfortable opening a couple of windows and doors for the Spirit to come into, but I kept the shades drawn and other doors securely locked deep inside. Not only was there no possibility of cleaning the restricted areas, I would not even allow the Light to break in.

One evening I gathered with a handful of my Christian brothers from my church. I told them how important it is that we come together as sinners at the foot of the cross to confess our sins to God and to each other in repentance. The truth is that it was my way of finally opening up every window, door, and closet that had remained closed and off limits. It was my way of finally exposing every bit of darkness within me to the Light of Christ.

In the presence of God and my Christian brothers, I began to verbally confess every sin I could remember in my life. All of the windows were opening and every door to the house invited in my dear Friend. Humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice became a real part of my life as I began carrying the cross of Christ. I went through every room, kicked down every closet door, and asked my Friend to do the work I was completely incapable of doing. The pockets of darkness that had been hidden deep in my life and that kept the Light of Christ from penetrating my heart had now been opened up. The cleaning of the entire house could now begin. There was no longer a place for the darkness to hide. The Light of Christ broke into my heart and began to transform me into a new man.

The man who had been the cheater, the liar, the adulterer, the perverse, the foul-mouthed, the self-centered, and the verbal abuser had been exposed, put to death, and forgiven by Christ and my brothers. It was evident that there was absolutely nothing spectacular about me, only Christ in me. I had never felt so much appreciation and gratitude for Christ and His love for me. I also had never felt so much appreciation and gratitude for the Spirit that began to do the work in my life that I could never do and to teach me new and higher ways. Life completely changed for me that night.

Are you willing to open not just the windows and doors, but also the closets that you have kept hidden deep within your life? Are you willing to let the Light break into those hidden places so that the Light of Christ will begin to shine through you? Are you willing to let the “old man” be exposed so that the new man might come to life? Are you willing to lead by example the way of humility, selflessness, repentance, and sacrifice by being confessional with your other brothers and sisters in Christ so that they may see you not as someone who is perfect, but as a sinner who is forgiven and who is being made new? For the Spirit to begin the deepest cleaning, you must be willing to walk the sacrificial pathway of Christ for transformation to begin. It is only on this pathway where Christ and His Kingdom together are glorified in and through your entire life.

peace…

brandon