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Take a deep breath.  Hold it.  Breathe out.

I’m so glad I began this journey, but I’m also glad to be finished.  It’s hard to believe I’m here… finally? already? Both.

There are a couple of things I want to say before wrapping up this blog series.  God has spoken to me and taught me a lot, but He also used many others to poke and prod around in my thoughts as well.  I don’t think I can fairly name everyone, but let’s talk about a few that stand out in my mind.

The first to be mentioned is none other than Donald Miller.  Through his book, Blue Like Jazz, as well as his other works, Miller showed me that it’s not only ok but necessary to think simply and practically about my faith.  He also helped me understand that perfection is not my goal, but rather to be who I was made to be, dirt and wounds included.

Similar, but distinct, is Anne Lamott.  If you had told me a few years ago that my faith would be shaped, in part, by a brooding, snarky, liberal hippy, universalist, and feminist, I would have never believed you.  Her famed work, Traveling Mercies, opened my eyes to think about those that are not so high in our American caste system from a different perspective.  Maybe the culture I know and live in isn’t the only way to honor God, if at all.  She also helped me see that God prefers us as we are, raw with brutal honesty, self-awareness, and humility.  He wants holiness and reverence, absolutely, but we are better presented to Him as we truly are, rather than white-washing our tombs and showing up on Sunday morning saying, “Don’t I look pretty?”

Ian Morgan Cron is one of the most godly, well-spoken men I’d never heard of.  After roping me in with his memoir, Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me, he then took me on a journey in his fictional work, Chasing Francis, that helped reaffirm and compliment my most recent thoughts and ideas concerning God and the way He interacts with us.  Cron helped me better understand and embrace the Eucharist like I had never done before, stepping back from the flash and dash of evangelical churchianity and walking me through a faith that goes beyond external stimuli and instead goes straight to the heart through tradition, history, and liturgy.

Scholars like Dr. John Lennox, Dr. Ravi Zacharias, Dr. Francis Collins, and most certainly my mentor and close friend, Dr. Scott Ellington, opened my mind and helped me not only to worship God with all of my heart and strength, but also with the way I think.  These are some of the most brilliant people you could learn from in your search to understand how God and ourselves fit into this world together.  They have allowed me to ask questions like, “Why do I believe?,” “What do I believe?,” and “Do I believe?”  No longer did I have everything figured out.  There are so many questions that I don’t have answers to and that can be really unnerving.  But as with the seasons of weather, it’s only when everything dies can it bloom and grow again.  These men don’t pretend to have all the answers, but they most assuredly have done their homework and I highly recommend listening to what they have to say.  They will help you wrestle with what you think you know and rest in admitting what you do not know.

Through this ragtag group of people sharing pieces of their own journey toward God have I been moved to think and live in whole new ways.  I’m forever indebted to these and many more that God has used to influence my love and understanding of Him.

The last thoughts I want to leave you with are best said through the lyrics of the song posted below.  I understand that parts of it will not appeal to everyone musically, I only ask that if you start it that you also finish it, as it is best experienced holistically.

Because of Him,

Brent Hemphill

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Well, here we are.  Month #23 and we’re almost home.  It’s been a long journey with lots of falls, scrapes, and bruises.  As we crest the top of the hill, home awaits us in the valley with church bells ringing, smoke rising slowly from a few chimneys, and the smell of dinner greeting us from afar.  Relief washes over like warm honey as the weight of the journey slides off our shoulders and falls to the ground beside us.

Pitch a couple of tents with me and let’s take some time to debrief and think about what we’ve experienced, what’s changed in us and around us, and what’s happened between God and ourselves.  And let’s not rush.  We’ve been on a long trip, but we’ll get there soon enough.

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First, let’s be clear that I have not reached the pinnacle of perfection.  Listen,  I know you’re disappointed and all but if you thought I could actually do this without fault, shame on you.  I followed most of the rules, most of the time, for sure.  And I’ve tried to be conscious of everything and make the best decisions, but flawless I am not.  Where I’ve failed is a reflection of my brokenness, and where I’ve done well is a reflection of His grace and provision.

I think that’s been critical, though.  My desire is not to fail, of course, but through my failures I now have a far more realistic idea of my humanity.  If we’re honest, I think few of us really understand that.  But, from where I sit now, my sin and what seems like my inability to avoid sin, are more evident than I thought possible.

This past month I’ve developed a short list of things that I’ve learned and realized during the past two years.  This, of course, is not exhaustive since I’ll be processing this journey for a while, but it’s more concise than just rambling and I thought you might appreciate that.  So, here ‘goes:

  • Life is a metaphor.

Everything in this life is an illustration for everything else.  The good, the bad, and the ugly of our existence directly correlates with some aspect of God or the spiritual realm.  From the beauty of flowers and stars to the taste of your favorite meal to the way animals and people interact with one another, God has painted a picture of who He is and how He works.  Take some time to notice these things.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

  • Life is a story.  

And that story can be such a beautiful thing.  But know, your story is made beautiful by the hands of conflict, pain, and tragedy and the redemption of such.  I’ve known a few friends that really didn’t like some of my favorite movies because they had a sad ending, or because everyone dies in it.  And I think if beauty rested only on the pleasant things in life, they might have a point.  But it doesn’t.  Trouble and difficulty were not only promised by Jesus but it’s also the first thing you learn in Creative Writing 101.  It’s a technique that all good writers and storytellers use called narrative arc.  The rising action and the climax are what gets us interested and excited about what’s going on and the gist is this: without first having resistance, our story is a snooze-fest with two thumbs down.

  • A beautiful life is valuable.

I’ve had to put a lot of time and thought into what exactly I mean by that.  I know men who would raise their eyebrows at it, dismissing it as feminine.  And yeah, there are some aspects of beauty that many women represent very well.  But they’re only that, a physical representation of a very non-physical concept. The beauty I want comes not only from the redemption of pain but also in the form of integrity, love, and humility.

I want to leave X better than I found it.  I want to leave people feeling that I’ve somehow added value to their lives.  I want to know that I am honest in everything that I say and do.  These qualities give weight to your words and actions.

Another way of thinking about beauty is this: To be beautiful is to fulfill your intended purpose.  In that sense, almost anything can be beautiful if it is protected and used only for the purpose for which it was created.

My friend Adam is from Pakistan.  He’s good at everything and very intelligent.  He asked me the other day, “If you could solve the world’s problems with one word, what would it be?”  I had to think a minute to come up with my word, purity.  He likened that to his answer, honesty, and I had to agree.  The concept is as I said earlier, if we fought to keep everything in it’s purest form from coffee, beer, and cheeseburgers to clothing and sexuality to words, people, and money, we could live in a far more beautiful world.  It’s only when we become selfish and pervert these things to increase our gain, negligent of who it must come from, that we get such tragedies as rape, divorce, murder, poverty, slavery, and fast food.

I think we can do better and it starts with purity.  I’m sure I look hypocritical if you watch my life up close, but I’m not claiming to be completely pure, honest, loving, or humble.  I’m claiming that these are goals worth working for, despite our deficiencies as citizens of a fallen world.

  • God made both the heart and the brain.

Paul taught us that everyone is a part of the body.  Nobody can survive on their own, but we need each other to function properly.  In the same way, we must seek God with all of our heart as well as all of our mind, to say the least.  If we get bogged down in theological mumbo-jumbo, we’re going to miss the relational, emotional, inexplicable love and presence of God.

But also, if we are only focused on feeling Him with our emotions and trying to get that rush, then the deep, rich truths that reveal God’s character, personality, and values will never be known.  If you don’t know him, Ravi Zacharias is a brilliant scholar, apologist, and philosopher.  The motto of his ministry is this: “Helping the Thinker Believe.  Helping the Believer Think.”  I’ve found few other ideas that I can endorse as firmly as this one.

If we want to know God beyond the Sunday morning gathering, we must engage Him with the artful, fluid emotions and wonder of our hearts, while also not neglecting to weigh everything we do and believe with logic, facts, and good common-sense.  We can’t understand everything about God, given His eternality, but we should strive to avoid being a moron in the name of Jesus.

  • God loves me far too much.

For years I’ve felt God and I could talk openly.  I tell Him about my day, how I feel about this or that, and He dialogues with me.  Sometimes He brings correction and sometimes encouragement and even sometimes I sense a divine facepalm when I’ve done something stupid.

Often though, I’ve ventured to speak to God, more specifically asking Him to speak to me, and He says little more than, “I love you.”

Misty Edwards of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri once spoke of a similar experience she had in her late teens.  I’d be ready for God to hit me with His master plan or reveal some profound theological concept never before known but instead, He would just say, “I love you.”

It began to really frustrate me.  A lot.

“I know,” I would complain, rolling my eyes, “But that doesn’t pay my bills or tell me what I’m supposed to do with my life.  Couldn’t you say something more useful?”

“I love you,” He would repeat.

Ugh.

But I was missing the point.  Often, I’ve got my binoculars out, scouring the horizon for any sign of God and His deep truths when He leans over my shoulder, glances at me, glances towards the horizon, and says, “What are you looking for?”

I believe there is an eternal depth to the truths of God and I want to spend my life searching them out, one by one.  But He is not so far away.  If I can’t accept His love and intimacy as an immovable fact, then everything has fallen and there is no hope.

– – –

I feel I’ve been taught and been changed more in the past two years than during any other time in my life.  And yet, one concept stands head-and-shoulders above the rest.  If you don’t hear anything else I’ve said for the past two years, please hear this:

You can’t hear past the explosions.

I heard Propaganda say that in one of his poems and he’s right.  We take no time to pay attention because we’re so caught up in the important things.  And out of everything I’ve experienced on the course of this journey, that has been what I keep coming back to.   He’s not off waiting for us to find Him one day when we finish the race and “arrive.”  He met us back at the starting line when we decided to be apart of this race and we’ve only glanced over at Him a few times since.

Stop looking for Him and be with Him.  Stop talking about Him and talk to Him.  Stop making Him an occasional event.  You’re not dating, you’re married so to speak.  Two become one.  He’s the blood in your veins, the air in your lungs, the thoughts in your mind.  Put down the cellphone, log out of Facebook, and turn off Netflix.  Clear your mind.  As with the things I’ve gone without, there’s nothing wrong with these in and of themselves.  They’re just getting in the way and He’s simply saying, “Pay attention.  I love you.”

P.S.

Thank you so much for being apart of this.  Whether you have been in and out, scanning over a post here and there, or you’ve been a faithful reader all the way through, THANK YOU!  It’s meant so much to me to have you along for this process.

Please join me again on Christmas day for the last post of my Nazirite Journey!

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