More to Risk

A girl looks out to sea.When I started freelancing in 2016, I felt as though I were taking a huge risk—a step that felt akin to Abram walking into the desert. I never heard God say, “Freelance,” but it seemed like he wanted me to pursue it. I felt a certainty about the action that could only have come from him.

And yet…

Two years later, I’m discovering that there is yet more to be risked. I thought I trusted God, however haphazardly. Trust, though, seems to be a thing that requires continual growth to remain alive and influential.

Then again, maybe I stopped trusting God a long time ago. I never stopped believing in him, but I hesitated to ask him for anything. Why pray when he’d said no to healing me so many times before? How could I address someone so distant and removed?

However, the more I treated him as distant, unknowable, uncaring, the more out of control and disgusted with myself I felt. I coped with that, not by rebelling or turning to a parent, but by retreating inward. The motion led to self-harm; I skirted the edges of anorexia in high school. By the time I was fifteen, I weighed somewhere between ninety and 100 pounds, and my endocrinologist was threatening me with hospitalization and a feeding tube.

The starvation method stopped, but it has its consequences: It tempts when life gets hard, when someone breaks my heart, when I hate myself for doing the one thing I promised I’d never do. I want control, even if it’s a false one. The desire to punish myself — instead of repenting and moving forward — takes hold for a moment. Fortunately, I know where anorexia leads. It may tempt me, but its lies no longer work on me and are thus never acted upon.

And yet…

My lack of trust, though, remained. In college, it appeared in quiet rebellion: I went to church, occasionally participated in the Baptist Student Ministry, and served in AWANA, but the actions meant little to me. They were rote, rudimentary, removed. They belonged to a girl who followed the rules either to follow the rules or because she was afraid to break them, not because she loved the rules or the Rule-Giver.

Graduate school brought a shift, although, looking back, I didn’t do any of the shifting. God did. He made me tired of rote actions by settling me at a church focused on social justice and moral living. The messages irritated, sort of like the sand that gets into an oyster’s shell.

The pearl: finding Three Rivers Community Church. There, the process of walking back toward God started. The pastor and his wife adopted me into their family, demonstrated that God cared about me, a quietly rebellious rule-follower.

They also showed that God cared about the arts, something I’d yet to see or hear at any church. Three Rivers’ pastor, in a previous life, studied and worked in graphic design. His background affected everything, especially how he communicated biblical truths. He used stories and imagery, sometimes giving the congregation a take-home aid like a seed or stone.

In doing that, I felt more at home than I’d felt in a long time. God seemed close and knowable again. He wasn’t far off but invested deeply in me, one of his daughters.

And yet, there’s more…

I’m still working on the trust issue; it may be something I work on for the rest of my life. Other churches and pastors have helped along the way, included Beth El Bible in El Paso. Today, it occurs at The Austin Stone and through Creative Missions.

It also happens with the books I read. My “baptism” into a church where the arts were present has led me to ponder how faith and art intersect and inform each other. It’s also caused me to think about how art might be a way to build bridges with and transform a culture unfriendly to the gospel.

And yet, there is more to risk.

All of that is healthy, an indicator I’m returning to the unshakeable trust, the unswerving faith, I once held. God, though, seems to be pushing for more lately. That, or he’s placed a desire for more in my heart.

Either way, it’s made the past year somewhat difficult. I’ve felt something akin to growing pains but without knowing what I’m growing toward. Try to describe it, and I fall silent, grasping for words I don’t yet know.

The words, perhaps unsurprisingly, arrived from outside myself. Perhaps somewhat ironically, they appeared on Twitter, the same place I once learned about Creative Missions.

Are you gifted in research, education, and writing with a passion to see others equipped? Join this residency to work alongside our experienced staff to lead and equip others through process, content, and training.

I read those words and responded with a resounding “yes.” However, a residency requires a whole new level of trust because, if accepted, I will have to raise support. I might as well as be going overseas on the mission field or…or fighting the final battle with King Koopa. If I die, I’ll have to start the game all over again.

That place is dangerous and hard. It’s also simultaneously good and exhilarating. Freeing, even. Living in it means I’m risking everything for the sake of the kingdom of God. In doing so, I’m returning, maybe, finally, to the little girl who confidently prayed to be healed, but this time, I’m asking for something much bigger. I’m asking for God to be glorified in and through my life and the work of my hands.

And yet,

there is more to risk,

for to God belongs

all glory and praise.

He is more than enough.

Image: Giuseppe Milo (Creative Commons)

How to Know Oneself

Man walking on the shore of a lake. Black and white photograph.“God gave us the Bible so that we might know ourselves.”

Creative Missions

Most modern advice to know oneself says to turn inward. By examining one’s feelings and desires, so the thought goes, a person can determine one’s direction and purpose. The problem with the thought is that the person who travels inward rarely leaves the space. Rather, he or she remains there because the self often changes. Purpose and direction become murky, mysterious, unknowable.

The self regularly lies or misplaces facts, too, saying a person is better or worse than he or she is. Either way, the end result is the same: The inner self turns out to be a prison rather than a foundation for right thought, behavior, and action.

The Heart is Deceitful

The Bible offers an alternative, and ultimately helpful, perspective. Knowing oneself never comes from introspection. It’s impossible for, as Jeremiah points out, the heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Only God knows the heart, the self, for he sees past man’s external trappings. God makes this clear when he tells Samuel not to anoint any of David’s kingly looking brothers: “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Jesus echoes the idea when he exposes the religious elite as “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27–8). The men may look pious and respectable on the outside, but they are filled with bones and decay on the inside.

The Bible is Honest

Such knowledge seems scary, and it is. God is holy and just. He doesn’t pretend man is good or dismiss sin; he says man is evil (Genesis 6) and requires payment for sin. However, God also is gracious, loving, kind, and merciful. His Son, instead of sheep or people, pays the price for man’s sin.

The Bible recounts all those aspects of God’s character, as well as many others, to illustrate not only how terrible mankind is but also how loved. The person who accepts that conception of reality finds freedom, not fear or imprisonment. Paul speaks explicitly of the reality in Romans 6, comparing the slave of sin and death to the slave of God and eternal life. The former leaves a person rudderless and in shackles; the latter produces a wellspring of joy, freedom, and life.

The Bible Offers Confidence

A biblical perspective on man and the world provides more than honesty. It offers confidence and comfort, too. Man may be entirely messed up, but they now have a person to run to with their sin and weaknesses: Jesus.

Being a great man or woman of God is about recognizing how broken you are and not skipping past the things that are uncomfortable. It’s about addressing the really difficult things and running to Jesus. He perfectly lived out every one of your flaws, did everything you can’t, didn’t avoid what you ignore or are too lazy to confront. He’s not just your example; he’s your substitute.

Creative Missions

Lecrae, in his memoir Unashamed, expresses the idea slightly differently: “Rather than ridding you of problems or temptations, following Jesus just means that you have a place — no, a person — to run to when they come. And the power to overcome them.”

That is, Jesus’ ability to overcome temptation means man can do the same. The person who believes in Christ receives an opportunity to say, every day, “That’s not who I am anymore.” They set down their burden of sin and shame and run toward God, recognizing that no sin is so deep or final that God’s love cannot cover it (1 John 1:5–10).

In God and his Bible, man acquires something much better than information about how to know oneself or how to live a moral life. They gain the capacity for transformation, for living as conquerors (Romans 8:31–9). How? By admitting the truth: God knows man’s heart, but he loves man anyway and makes a way, in Jesus, for the restoration and reconciliation of all things, including man’s deceitful, evil heart.

Image: Anne Worner (Creative Commons)

Let’s Fill This Town with Servants

Two friends give a side hug while hiking in Austin, Texas.| SERVANTS |

A FAMILY, with their eyes lifted UPWARD, and their love pressing OUTWARD, and their ambition pushing DOWNWARD, is UNSTOPPABLE.

Riley Sheehan, The Austin Stone

At the Austin Stone Worship Collective this year, we’ve focused on a single idea: filling our town (and ones nearby) with servants. We want to see Jesus lifted high, and one of the best ways to do that is through serving God, each other, and the communities in which we live. I like how Riley Sheehan frames the concept, explaining why I’m borrowing it.

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