How do we grow in a world that constantly pulls us back to be who don’t want to be anymore? The great reformer, church planter, apostle Paul had this on straight: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…” And of who of us can even begin to compare characters or philosophical abilities with Paul.

For the past 3 years I’ve been living in a purgatory of sorts, trapped in a holding cell of my own doing. Amazingly through this dark time, I’ve also experienced the greatest peace ever in my entire life. Why is it that only in darkness do we begin to search for light? It makes sense right, when we see everything our way, the path ahead looks and seems fine, it’s not till vision falls apart that we begin to search for truth or hopefully, at least reasons as to why things fell apart to begin with.

For 20 years now I’ve been what I call “bible aware”. Perhaps the way a young doctor is “health aware” or a banker is “risk aware” aware. But knowing truly is only half the battle. The other half is practicing what we know, only then can our theories be tested by the fires of this world that looks to refine us dross on fine gold. Richard Rohr wrote a book called Falling Upwards, expounding on Carl Jung’s “two halves of life” philosophy, that sums this all up perfectly. In fact, I attribute much of my life changes to that book (along with Pilgrim’s Progress) that brought me into a much deeper journey then I ever thought possible.

In summary we spend much of our lives constructing the box that essentially defines who we are. This box has all sorts of influences, the people we meet, the books we read and dare I say the programming we’ve watched over our lives (i regret much of the latter).. Some folks never get out of this 1st stage, we’ve all met elderly folks that still live and act as if they’re in high school, “living in the glory days”.  America, more than any other country, perhaps, has created great disdain for our elders and conversely elevated youth to godlike status. We admire and bow down to 25 year old sports stars, yet self actualized by the pitfalls of life, and we have disdain for the proposed “wisdom” of elders, for after all, what are they going to teach us, we don’t have time to listen, we are too busy blazing our own trails, and we will NOT end up like our parents, NO WAY…

So, we can linger in this “first half” of life for a long long time, perhaps trying to prove to ourselves and everyone else that we get it, that we are good, and relevant and that we’ve figured some things out.

But then something, hopefully sooner than later, but sometimes never, happens. We crash, or we go through an excruciatingly devastating event, a loss, a tragedy, a death, a break up, that alters our paradigm, that forces us to examine the box we’ve created for ourselves. For the first time in our lives, it seems, we begin to look at the box we’ve been in for 30, 40, 70 years and we begin to question things. This epiphany moment hits all of us in different ways, in various time frames, with all sorts of examples and life experiences.

For the apostle Paul, it happened on his way to Damascus where he had letters to put Christ followers to death, he was struck by lightning, knocked off his horse, blinded and heard Jesus himself speak “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? And for the rest of Paul’s life he would be challenged with site issues, certainly having to rely on Jesus for his direction, no longer being in control of the “box” he once had so perfectly figured out

For the apostle Peter, he denied Jesus, 3 times and in his sorrow went back to what he knew best: an unsuccessful night out fishing and not catching a thing before Jesus appeared to him, alive again, somehow, on the shore, inviting him to trust Him once again “let down your nets on the other side”. Peter, seemingly would wrestle throughout life with his doubts, but every morning when hearing the rooster crow, certainly he would reflect on that night he denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed, and re-examine his life and the box he had created and the new life Jesus had called him to live.

For myself, I got swept up at 19 in a religious group that changed my life. I went from an underperforming art student, insecure and uncommitted, unmotivated and ill equipped to deal with this big world, to a overly confident, God fearing, self righteous even, young man. I began my college career on academic probation, hating God and organized religion, and ended 4 years later as an unpaid minister, with honors, working as an artist, confident and capable of getting things done in a world that no longer seemed big compared to God’s universe.

That being said, I now built a magnificent box around myself over the next 20 years, that i’m still breaking out of, shedding, figuring out etc..

What’s extra confusing is compared to many of my, say college peers, is I thought I already had this life changing event.. I thought I was in the 2nd half of life already, right?? I mean I was a drug dealing, party going, skateboarding, graffiti spraying, one night standing dude of the world, a perfect product of our society, I was honest – I didn’t believe in God and my life proved that. Then, I was shocked by the bible, it’s honestly, it’s mirror like qualities, It’s candor and love and transparency. God had my number. The chase was over, I could stop running now and stop trying to prove I was someone that I wasn’t.  And there were tangible, quantifiable results. Top grades, good job, good relationships, sobriety, purity, I served people, gave away my possessions, wrote to prisoners, housed homeless people, fasted, sacrificed money, I shared my love for God with others and watched them change their lives too.. Wasn’t this enough?

But as life would have it (I believe as God would have it), there was a lot more He needed me to understand. My FB page used to have a quote from Led Zeppelin “in the days of my youth I was shown what it means to be a man”.. And thinking back, that wasn’t true, at all. In fact, I was shown how to be a boy, and how to remain a boy. I was taught to self sooth, using drugs and alcohol or porn, or other forms of escapism. I didn’t have a clue how to raise children or how to lead a woman or how to provide for a family and to build up my wife and make her feel radiant. I thought buying her love would be enough, give her fancy things, and go on lavish vacations would do the trick. We made tons of money, but were always broke because of how badly I mismanaged our priorities.

The adage was true, knowing is only half the battle. I knew the bible, like really knew it, I read the entire thing every year for almost 15 years straight, cover to cover, in different translations, I memorized chunks of it and could explain concepts to people. Yet, embarrassingly, the reality is, I was clueless, but the worse kind, a pious, religious person, who was really clueless is actually dangerous. I wasn’t willing to admit this until my world came crashing down. Oh, how I wish I could have spared my wife and children those poor choices. I wish I knew then what I know now, right, how many of us have said that, and really meant it? All of us, at some point in life.

And so I’m left with this question on how do grow. On one side, I have to be willing to admit my mistakes, as well intentioned and good hearted as I may have been all those years, I was off and own this, I fully 100% take responsibility that I was religious but lacked relationships that were righteous. Yes, I had a version of Christianity, but Christ did not fully have me, because I truly wasn’t fully willing to give up my self for Him. Whether I understood this then and willfully denied His calling, like Peter, or I willfully did His will, in my mind, Like Paul, either way, God got my attention and I began to seek Him for answers in a way that was raw and naked and broken. Growing meant dying. I needed to be dead before I could live. What I mean is, I needed to realize how empty my way really was before God could truly begin the process of filling me up in the right way.

This is NOT a self help blog.. Good grief, help yourself my friend. But I will say, I’m super grateful for all the pain I’ve gone through these past 3, 4 years. Broken marriage, broken family, broken hearts, tears upon tears, begging God for answers and for help and for wisdom, I wouldn’t trade it all for anything.  Paul figured this out at the end of his self reflecting discourse in Romans: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! the answer is in Jesus Christ…” Romans 7:24-25

I want to live in the 2nd half of life, looking at the box or house I built and being able to explain it with my actions. I want to live for Christ and figure out how to truly serve Him by following His commands. These commands are counter-intuitive to my human nature, they are foolish in fact, to any great intellectual minded person. But to me, a broken man, who once followed the scheme of this world and saw it all crash and burn, God’s ways are freedom, they are  away out of the traps of this demonic world that try and keep you trapped by boxes.

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When I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10)

The great evangelizer Paul understood perhaps the greatest concept ever. The freedom that comes with surrender. If a child fights sleep, he fights himself. If an adult fights The Lord, he hates himself.