This post is personal, in-depth, and, unusually long. I'd love for you to read it, but keep in mind it'll take 15-20 minutes to do so.
Have you ever wondered how our heart and character determine how we see God and ourselves? Jesus tells us the pure in heart see God
. What's that all about?
I went through a challenging season of personal discovery from 2009-10. The years following are where I had to live out my newly anchored intentions in life, marriage, family, community, and country. Living life with this updated foundation led to multiple revelations about myself and my past.
Contrast has a way of teaching us deep and powerful lessons. As I journeyed through 2012, recognition of my greatest fear came to light.
"An intellectual conception of God may be found in a bad vicious character. The knowledge and vision of God is dependent entirely on a pure heart. Character determines the revelation of God to the individual. The pure in heart see God." -Oswald Chambers
I saw this Oswald Chambers quote in 2015 and it grabbed me. It pulled me back to my moment of fearful revelation. This passage expands on the words of Christ as expressed in Matthew 5:8, the Pure in heart See God. So, what does this scripture verse in Matthew mean?
The Image In The Mirror Is Tough To Look At
Let's explore the answer by asking another question. What does an impure heart look like? What is a flawed character, according to God? What does it look like for us to become corrupted?
To help me think through it, I parlayed this message with an extreme contrasting example of someone who characterizes God as a villain. In the following video interview with the comedian Stephen Fry, he's asked the question about what if it (God, as described in the Bible
) is real and when he dies, Fry is face to face with Him. How would he respond to God? Watch the clip here
or read my transcription of the video below to find out.
"Suppose it's all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates and you're confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to him, her or it?" - Interviewer
"It's not right. Bone cancer in children? What is that about? How dare you?! How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault! It's utterly, utterly Evil. Why should I respect a capricious mean minded stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain. That's what I'd say." - Stephen Fry
"Do you think you're going to get in?" - Interviewer
"No, and I wouldn't want to. I wouldn't want to get in on his terms. They're wrong...Because the God who created this universe, if it was created by a God, is quite clearly a maniac. Utter maniac! Totally selfish. We have to spend our lives on our knees thanking him!? What kind of God would do that? Yes, the world is very splendid, but it also has in it insects who's whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. They eat outward from the eyes. Why? Why did you do that to us? You could have easily made a creation where that didn't exist. It is simply not acceptable. So, you know, atheism isn't not just about not believing there is a God, but on the assumption there is one, what kind of God is it? It's perfectly apparent he is monstrous, utterly monstrous and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him, your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner and more worth living. - Stephen Fry
In the video, Stephen Fry does not hold back in his horrific characterizations of God. In fact, if I believed God was like how he describes, I too would highly resist God. When I reflect on Fry's words, I wonder what happened to him, or to someone he cared about, or what he has done to another person that has caused to him to become so jaded and so hostile towards God. And, what's to keep it from happening to me?
In many ways, he represents the person I feared becoming. In contrasting his comments with the quote from Oswald Chambers above, there is something deeply seated in his heart and character that fuels his hatred towards God.
But, while I've not gone as far as Stephen has done publicly, we're not unlike each other. While we may look different on the outside, I'm just as broken and depraved as he is. As we all are.
If there was one thing I would define as the difference between us, it's that he heavily resists God's love and will for his life while I've chosen to embrace it.
Actually, it's more accurately depicted that I choose to embrace God more often than I resist Him. I've got plenty of examples and seasons where I've actively resisted God in areas of my life, but through his mercy, He did not let up the pressure. Although to be honest, It usually did not take much pressure from God to move me to the state where I was saying, "God my way is not working, how about we do this your way?" Fry and others are much stronger willed than I am.
I've Now Got An Effective Way To Audit Myself
When it comes to looking in the mirror, we can avoid it, run away from it or try to destroy it. But at some point, we can't escape it, no matter how hard we try.
One benefit of understanding this reality that Oswald Chambers shares is that I now have a way to check myself. How I view God is an indication of the state of my heart and character. It's not a pleasant or invited realization to conclude that Fry and others I know and care for have become corrupted and their character fractured. Without a personal relationship with Fry, there is also not much value in me hovering in this judgment, so I find it better to use it as a mirror for myself. How do I gauge where in the past and present my heart has not been pure, and where my character has been lacking? How corrupt have I become?
How I see God and how I see myself are two powerful revelations. The more aligned to the truth these two perspectives become, the better my vision of God and His character. It also provides me an accurate view of myself and demonstrates just how amazing God's love is for me. To deny my radical depravity is to minimize God's love. This is how I understand His healing process of the corruption in me plays out.
"Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world." James 1:27
I love this verse because James gets to the heart of the matter. Our actions reflect what we believe. If what we believe is true and pure it will look a certain way. But, what do those of us who've not guarded ourselves against corruption from the world do? How do we move forward if we're broken and jaded?
When I expect God not to show up when I need Him, or to do something that would cause me harm, it is a signal that there are wounds in me which require His healing
. These signals are helpful guides of where I've been corrupted and broken.
Facing Fears Is The Real Deal, Let's Dive Further Into Mine
Facing my fears was a scary thing. It's scary for all of us. But, as scary as it is, it can be a powerful experience to draw us near to our creator and a process for the growth of our character. My great uncle Norman once said God is in the business of developing characters as much as saving people.
So, when I talk about facing our greatest fears, this is a real exercise for me. And for me, corruption was my worst fear. It was a corruption that permeated my body, mind, emotions, and soul. It was a corruption resulting not only in my falling away from God, but becoming an enemy of Him.
The fear of physical corruption is a reality none of us can stop. We will decay, age and eventually die. I feared this decay and death.
I also hovered in the fear of losing my mind or to have thoughts and ideas which corrupted me. What if I no longer could control it and I used it for ill? What if I wanted this ill? I feared the loss of my intellectual capacity and losing myself to my evil desires.
I feared my emotions corrupting me. What if my feelings were telling me to do the opposite of what I knew to be true and right? I feared this malfunction.
My greatest of these fears was the corruption of my soul. What if I not only turned my back on God but I instead became an enemy of Him? Of all the elements of this fear, becoming an enemy of God was the most challenging. It crippled me and caused chaos throughout my life.
And then one day in 2012, I was directed to face it head on. In that moment, I realized, I was a corrupted. In a sense, I was blind to this fact which was right in front of me. Growing up as a Christian made it harder to see, I was an enemy of God. The Apostle Paul states it clearly in Romans.
"For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son (Jesus) while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son." Romans 5:10.
There Is Good News To This Depressing Truth
But here is where the good news of Jesus met me. No matter how many times I was corrupted or was adversarial towards God (or continue to be), he pursued me, found me and healed me. Over and over. Today, yesterday and tomorrow.
I knew in that moment, I need not fear because no matter how corrupt I ever became, he would always find me and bring me home. It was the reassurance of His deliverance that I found comfort.
I always felt like God had a tether to me. No matter how far away I strayed or got off track he was always connected and pursuing me. My biggest fear was that God would abandon me, that when I was slowly drifting away he would let me go and sever the connection. It scared me. Fortunately, like the lost sheep that wandered off, he relentlessly pursued me. And this pursuit changed my life. It gave me life.
Good News Empowers Me To Face The Facts
Can I just blame others and ignore this difficult reality? Sometimes that is how I want to deal with the hard facts, but instead, I've got to embrace responsibility even when I don't want to.
Even with God's saving grace, I still had to face this fear and trust Him to do what he said he would. To rescue me. When I was growing up I was unusually small and my growth was way behind all other kids. I did not hit five feet tall until I became a junior in high school. Despite my small stature, I had amazing confidence and faith that with God I could conquer all things, even the impossible. I had grown up in an amazing family, community and church all founded on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ. His presence filled me and it poured out onto other people. God's presence and support protected me. I never was bullied or made fun of. In fact, I was the one leading friends when I was the smallest. Whether it was making a movie or going camping, I relentlessly pursued and led my friends. I brought them to our home and church. Out of relentless tenacity, my friends experienced the love of God.
But somewhere along the way, I lost my way and wandered off
. I pictured the story of David and Goliath. Many times when we reflect on that story, we put ourselves in the shoes of David the underdog facing the giant. But for me, I was part of the group of soldiers quivering on the sidelines cowering in fear.
When I moved to Atlanta I left with this confidence to conquer the world. I misunderstood the vision God had for my life and so I attempted to do it my way. I ended up going down this road towards a reef of failure. In my business and marriage, I got pulled into a rip tide riddled with distractions. I became a shell of who I was and my confidence was gone. The person God created me to be, the true version of myself I once was, was now gone. This light had dimmed and only a small glow remained. I felt as if I had been beaten up, thrown into a ditch and left to die. In fact, I wrote a fictional story fragment as a result
I had been the one who hurt others and also allowed people around me to get hurt. I stood by while I caused and allowed destruction to those I loved, and to me. As I cowered in fear, I was directed by God to walk over to this giant, Goliath (my fears, and the people who embodied them) and lay down in front of them. I was to trust that as I faced my giants, God would slay them and they would not harm me. I walked over and laid down. And when I expected them to destroy me, he delivered me instead.
Judgment Day Is Here
During our Sabbath year
(the final year at my marketing company
) I experienced the first half in wonder. It was like sitting on the mountaintop with God experiencing his love and miracles. The second half was the opposite. I felt despair, panic, and true fear like I never had. It was a dark time for me, and others around me were filled with confusion as we attempted to make sense of this onslaught of unexpected emotions.
Funny enough, before I emotionally unraveled, I went through an interesting spiritual exercise with God. What if I were to die. What would happen, how would it play out and how would I respond to this eternal scenario before God. If God is going to judge me, why not go ahead and get this out the way now? Why not just face Him here on earth instead of waiting until I die? I was inviting His judgment, but in hindsight maybe I should not have.
One of my favorite films is Terminator 2: Judgment Day. If you've seen the first movie, you're aware of the premise that a terminator was sent back into the past to kill Sarah Connor, the leader of the resistance against the machines. In the second film, the Terminator is sent back again but instead of destroying Sarah, he is sent back to save her and her son to prevent judgment day (the end of the world
). There is a moment in the second film where Sarah meets the Terminator and flees out of fear that he's there to destroy her. She runs away from the one trying to save her towards the actual enemy. In the video clip of this scene below
, it's also overlaid with a fascinating audio of a scene from the Terminator TV series talking about the spiritual element of this moment.
(End the video at 2:09 to avoid some profane language)
"He came down the hall. It was a large man, I thought it was a man until he threw the guard into the window like a rag doll. Not an ounce of emotion, this blank death mask. She [ Sarah ] was there, she was on the floor and the boy was with her screaming. And then the first one, the big one, he reached out his hand. And he said, "Come With Me If You Want To Live". It was like God reaching out to man, like the Sistine chapel. Then the other one came, I was told. He was different, the second one was almost beautiful, like perfect, like a changeling with the face of mercury."
When we face our fear and Jesus shows up, it feels like judgment day, and rightfully so. But there is good news. It doesn't have to end in destruction. It can start our new life.
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:17
Coming Back To A Past Relic
When I was young, my grandmother bought me a bracelet with a fish on it from the local Christian book store. I loved it and wore it everywhere. When I moved to Atlanta in 2005 I lost it. As I spiraled into addiction and despair during the first few years in Atlanta
, I finally had a moment during my year of personal discovery where I realized in Christ, I have victory. And in that moment, I decided to climb out of the hole of shame I was in, and live from this revelation. When I did, I walked into our bathroom and was compelled to open the drawer. Sitting there was the bracelet I had lost. I quickly put it on in this moment of intimate connection with my creator.
Fast forward a few years to 2013, right before I had my nervous breakdown, and I was still wearing this bracelet as a reminder of how God had restored me. As I was sitting, I bumped my wrist against the wall and the metal plate on the bracelet broke in half. It was several days later when I literally broke down spiritually and emotionally.
As I continued to fall apart during this time, I expected God's wrath and judgment but received just the opposite. I received his grace and love, and it was too much. I could not handle it. Thankfully, it broke me in a good way, and in a way that would strengthen my faith and character.
Nothing To Lose, Everything To Gain
Much of what motivates us is that we have something to lose. It could be our health, our family, our community, our work or something else. Holding on drives us towards unhealthy and destructive behaviors We do bad things when we're isolated and in survival mode. I didn't realize the depth of my depravity until I was pushed into this state. It was a state I wanted to get away from and never turn back. It was part of the motivation that drives me to help others surviving in isolation.
Part of what God used to help me conquer my fear of corruption was the idea I had nothing to lose. My salvation was secure in Christ so anything, even death was not to be feared or to cause panic. Jesus faced death head on and as a result, gives us new life. Again, the Apostle Paul says it well.
"Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. "- Paul, The Apostle
In order to live this way, it requires trust in God. We trust him to provide, to protect, and to heal. I walked out in this faith and God continued to show up in my life, restoring and growing my confidence in Him. When he showed up during my darkest times
, it gave me a new level of confidence in Him.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” - Psalm 23:4
Moving Forward Into The Next Great Season
During our hardest days when we've been hit so hard, we don't know what's up or down, sometimes we need someone to push us forward. For three months I unraveled while everyone around me watched. I struggled to regain control of myself. In this state of despair, my dad reminded me to get up and move forward.
It was also during my teenage years, my dad took me to a father son bible study that revolved around the book, Raising A Modern Day Knight. In the book, they communicate four important pillars, as follows:
- Reject Passivity
- Accept Responsibility
- Lead Courageously
- Expect God's Greater Reward
For years, my dad prioritized this time to model the life of Christ and foster sharing of wisdom to plant the seeds that would come to bear in my life. When I first moved to Atlanta, I thought I endowed these attributes. And, maybe I did to some degree, but the work of deeply instilling them in me further was yet to come. In a safe and wonderful context, it can be very easy to follow these values. It's not until one can live these out in the worst of circumstances that they're truly infused.
Over the course of my journey, I've learned the deep lessons from each of these principles. It's now been the last one, where I am learning to expect God's greater reward. He has more in store for me than I ever realized. While he wanted to bless me, there was a reckoning that needed to happen before it would be appropriate. It reminds me of the story of Job. When his journey of suffering is finally over, he speaks to God.
“Job answered GOD: “I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water, ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’ I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head. You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking. Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’ I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise! I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.” - Job 42:1-6 MSG
I attempted to question God and take control of my destiny so I could get to the destination my way. It only served to show me that it was the much longer and harder road.
As I humbly move forward I seek to value the small things and live in the moments that come. I recognize I have much to receive from God and others, and I have an abundance to give. This is where my mission statement
, to share life, comes into play. It's about embracing the life I've been given and sharing the overflow of this life with others. This empowers me to thrive in my relationship with God. The abundance of God's love gives me the energy to serve my family, community, and country.
This is what it means to thrive together. To love God with all my strength, mind, and soul and to love my neighbor as myself.
Moving forward, I'll focus on loving God and following His commands. I'll trust, as he's proven over and over, to take care of the rest.
And with that said, I move forward.