Unfinished

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” – Romans 8:22

During our time in Israel we visited the Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. As we walked through the children’s memorial, the precious names of God’s created ones were read with somber respect. The memorial was dark, and candles surrounded us as we moved through the mirrors and flickering lights – each honoring one life. There were so many valuable, defenseless little ones killed during the Holocaust that names are listed for days without repeat in the memorial center. The memorial was built by a couple living in California. The couple had a son killed in a death camp during the Holocaust when he was only four years old. Four. The architecture of the center is unfinished, purposefully, to symbolize the incompleteness of such young lives. This effect conveyed a fragmented feel, incomplete. We too live much of our lives in a fragmented state because we experience pain, loss and death. I couldn’t help but think of my young friend Kelli who recently passed away unexpectedly at twenty-five years old. There is no pat answer or easy explanation for this kind of loss. This is because God’s plan is unfinished, the earth is in a state of waiting and groaning – it’s incomplete. We have the Spirit of God, but live in a world broken by the effects of sin and decay. However, the unfinished architecture of our lives is not the end of the story. We know that we are moving forward, we are going somewhere and instead of settling to be fragmented, we can decide to be constantly “In progress”, marching on towards wholeness as God brings His Kingdom to Earth in our hearts through His mighty Spirit. March on soldiers! Shalom.

The Long Haul

 

In the water I was reminded – The cross is the epicenter of heavenly hope and the doorway to daily freedom.

When I jumped in the water, I had a deep sense I should hop out and let my comrades brave the lake without me – but I was rather determined to swim across once I had committed to the challenge, and I let my stubborn spirit and my flailing arms carry me on. We were all supposed to take the challenge together after all – and let’s just say I don’t back out of a challenge easily. I was in it for the long haul.

It didn’t take long and my muscles weren’t propelling as quickly or swiftly as I’d like – I was legging behind and feeling mighty weak. By the time I realized I needed to turn back – I was halfway across the lake. My hands were white, and I couldn’t feel my arms or my legs. My teeth were chattering and anxiety coursed through my body. I knew I was in trouble.

My friends were yelling and signaling for someone to come help us. They helped me onto a raft – but I wasn’t warming up, my thoughts were jumbled and my blood deprived brain moved slow. I remember praying for a motorboat and thinking this could be the end.

None of us know when the end is coming. Life is unpredictable. One thing we all have in common: We will all get there … one day. Thankfully, that day in the lake, the motorboat did come and I spent the next hour in a hot tub with blue lips. However, we aren’t guaranteed a motorboat and peace with God is worth pondering.

I believe the most important question you will ever consider is this: When you meet God, will you be confident that you have peace with him? If so, why?

In the water I was reminded – The cross is the epicenter of heavenly hope and the doorway to daily freedom. The Cross, when fully trusted, is confidence in life and in death.

This confidence helps us to live our best lives – with Jesus at the center. This fall, people are back-to-school-shopping, meal planning, setting personal goals, budget planning and routine building. As you decide what your fall routine is composed of – be confident that God’s desire is for your flourishing – physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s not the big things that lead to joy – it’s often the small building blocks of routine – so make the mundane count.

As Christians, we have the same power that tore Jesus from grave clothes alive inside of us – the power of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. We have the choice whether to practice these things. We can list the things that will lead to God’s best – and stick to the list. Staying with a plan or accomplishing a goal is not for those with exceptional amounts of inspiration or motivation. It is for those who recognize life is short – so they make plans for health, wholeness, love and laughter  … and when the euphoric sentiments cease, they stay committed for the long haul.

The Writing’s On The Wall

“According to Dr. Siegel, while nobody wants to be ill, many patients say that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them. It helped them appreciate life and to express their feelings to their loved ones. They were able to pick up the paintbrush they previously had been too busy to hold. Even illness can be a blessing.” – Lori Beth Jones Jesus CEO

Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor wrote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Sheryl Sandberg confirms this in her book Option B, as she discusses grief, resilience and her path to finding Joy. She says her life is better after losing her husband because of the joy and gratitude that she has cultivated as a result. Although she wishes she could have her husband back – she acknowledges her life has improved greatly since his passing.

Hardships can produce personal growth and can be catalysts for the creation of monumental works. Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman writes, “Adversity can provide powerful inspiration for work that strives to make sense of the artist’s inner life and emotional state” –Wired to Create. In fact, some of the world’s most celebrated works have been squeezed from dire tears and lonely hours. Some examples are Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. There is a strong link between trauma and creativity, and varying modes of creativity have proven to be healing – this is not surprising.

God can transform the lowest moments of our lives to make mighty movements of restoration in and around us by building gratitude and resiliency in our hearts – and helping us to find meaning in adversity.

The good news is we don’t have to experience difficulty in order to grow or obtain inspiration for great conceptions or creations. We can choose to make meaning today no matter our circumstances.

Recent research says, “Positive events grounded in meaning – as opposed to accomplishments, relationships or events evoking pleasure – are most likely to lead to growth.” These experiences include awe, wonder, inspiration and connection to God. These experiences can lead people to see the world anew, experience inner growth, and produce great works. If people choose to make meaning from these positive experiences, they are able to “Move towards new goals, change their relationships, priorities, identities and even spiritual beliefs” – Wired to Create

We don’t need to wait for tragedy to strike in order to grow resiliency and joy and we needn’t experience grief to create with robust fervor. Perhaps we can have gain without pain after all.

We can do this by pausing at the painted sky, stopping throughout the day to re-align the heart, mind and soul with God through prayer and meditation, and we can pause to ponder the unfathomable love of the cross. These experiences can be catalysts for growth and creativity in the same way suffering can be.

I have been spending days making meaning of the world as a camp speaker with energetic teenagers. The cabin walls of this rustic place are covered with names scripted by campers from decades past. The writing on the walls tells stories of people who have experienced the wonder of God here. I recognize many of them to be people who were impacted and grew in astonishing ways through experiencing God in this place.

Choosing to make space to experience God is choosing to grow and be inspired. Don’t wait for mighty storms to hit in order to pursue the best life. Today waits for you – with moments of awe and wonder to be uncovered and discovered. We can indeed have gain without pain; the writing is on the wall.

Miracle Message

God has given one message.

The entire Bible is an expansive account that works to point to One Big Truth. We call it Gospel. Gospel means Good News. The Hope of the World.

What exactly is this good news?

The Apostle Paul spent his life focused on sharing the Mighty Message. He describes it like this:

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” – 1 Cor 1:17

What exactly is this power?

“God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified…” -1 Cor 1:22

I’ve always wanted to witness miracles. Lately, I recognize, they are everywhere.

Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Paul said, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”

What exactly is this message?

I have been talking about this “Good News” with one friend in particular for months. Her response to God’s Cross-Grace has been, “It just doesn’t make sense. How can I be accepted by God? The cross. Forgiveness. Freedom. I want to get it but it doesn’t make sense.”

Prayers paved the way for her to experience this good news…

On a summer adventure drive, she flipped open her smartphone to Paul’s words and read, “Christ Jesus who has become for us wisdom from God – that is – our righteousness, holiness and redemption” – 1 Cor 1:30

She read and said, “This means that I actually am given the rightness of Jesus? God sees me as He sees Jesus? I get it!” She laughed and said, “I get why they call it Good News now!”

Those words carry great power – they are living and active. They carry the message. The truth. The miracle.

Like a light switch – a shift took place and the same old discussion of the cross-forgiveness-and-grace became a True Tale of Freedom. Truth changes everything.

There was no new explanation – no new presentation – just True Words inspired by God. Miraculous.

The good news was not just heard – but experienced – and she felt free to live the best life on earth, that will stretch into eternity – connected to God himself by Love.

No, There is no catch. The Good News is that good. No guilt. No fear. No condemnation. The most amazing relationship designed to fulfill human hearts. Unconditional love – demonstrated on the cross – freely available.

The response I witnessed this week was a Miracle.

It’s a Miracle Message.

The Moment You Were Born

At the moment you were born, your mom’s brain got a shot of oxytocin and she was likely feeling love towards you as a result. (Thank you oxytocin!)

This week, my sister accomplished what I would argue is the greatest feat known to human existence… (giving birth!) She said exuberantly, “I didn’t know I could feel this way about another human being!” Oxytocin was flying high in her brain at this moment and this surge felt like love. It was designed by Love himself.

Did you know – It’s not strong legs that keep a person standing through life’s instability – it’s strong chemicals! The right chemicals…. It’s all part of God’s divine design. People prosper when they feel loved.

A common church message is … the unimaginable, unconditional love of God can satisfy the soul in the midst of all kinds of circumstances – and that we thrive when we receive and give love. … This is true. But there are brain factors that make it tough for us to experience this … A few years ago – I sat with my Bible open and read the words, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” – Psalm 90:14

Instead of pretending I was experiencing this satisfaction God promises – I honestly admitted – I wasn’t feeling satisfied at all! What did it even mean to be satisfied by love? I remember praying to experience this kind of divine satisfaction.

Simon Senik, human psychology researcher, says that a happiness chemical called oxytocin surges through our brains when we feel secure, safe, like we belong and are valued. Senik calls this the “trust” chemical – and everyone knows it takes time to establish trust! This chemical increases slowly over time in a body and mind that lives and enjoys healthy relationships where deep trust is cultivated. This requires vulnerability – and openness – NOT an easy way to live!

Oxytocin in a body means a resilient life. Most of us have had life-changing moments that define our days and paths. Those moments remind us that we are not in control – we will all face these. This week I heard many tales of people facing uncertain life moments: My sweet sister with a new baby, a brave entrepreneur, the mama of a child with down syndrome, and the audacious adventures of a committed ministry leader. Each one faced the unexpected – dopamine doesn’t sustain satisfaction through struggle. It’s a short term happy feeling producer. Oxytocin, on the other hand, gives strength for the long haul. It builds a foundation that stands firm in family life, business challenges and personal endeavors.

The brain is a tricky grey matter. Dopamine is also a happy chemical, and we get a shot of it when we buy something new, check something off of a “to-do” list or finish a project. Senik calls this the “greedy chemical” in leadership because it is released instantly when we do something for ourselves. This chemical is highly addictive and easily accessible! We don’t have to be vulnerable to experience this one – and we don’t have to wait for it to build up over time. When we get dopamine flowing lavishly, our brain can be tricked to think it has all it needs in the department of “happy chemicals” – and the commitment to build deep, trusting relationships can disappear. When this happens – our deep resiliency disappears too. This is a fast-acting happy chemical!

An experience of unconditional love produces oxytocin – and God’s supply is endless and always available and accessible. People with high levels of oxytocin live longer. They are happier. Their immune systems are strong. When we build a deep, trusting relationship with unconditional love – we have lots of love to give away. We get all the courage and desire we need to love people well, even if we have been hurt.

Senik says organizations thrive when they build a culture of trust – the key for all of us is to: build up oxytocin in the body – and God’s love in the heart. This is lasting satisfaction – and it is connected to the right chemical! When people feel safe, they flourish – it’s part of God’s divine design and it begins the moment we are born.