How to Eat an Elephant? We’ve Come this Far

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Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: holiness!

It’s a journey. It’s a mystery. It’s a God thing that seems to have nothing to do with us.

For the last few weeks, we have been discussing holiness in our current sermon series. In week one, we recognized that we broke God’s trust when we sinned against him. We failed. All of us. And the first step in repairing our relationship with him is to admit that we failed.

During our second week of exploring this journey toward holiness, we talked about the past and the future. We recognize that we have spent too much time, an unhealthy amount of time, lamenting the past. The best way to eat this elephant called holiness is to break from the past. We cast our anchor into the future and secure it to Jesus who draws us forward. We are no longer sinners saved by grace. We are children of God being transformed by grace.

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In week three, we were confronted with holiness beaconing us to be different.

Holiness is terrifying, overwhelming, and incomprehensible which is why we do our best to ignore it. God’s grace has given us freedom. And, while everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial. Yet, when we talk about holiness, we are not talking about preference or gray matters. God is calling us to be different; godly, holy.

St. Paul tells St. Timothy that in the last days…

“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power.”

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Paul is not talking about the world or non-Christians. He’s talking about the Church.

We [the Church in the U.S.] spend all of our time talking about those things that are “permissible, but not necessarily beneficial”. And we should be spending our time cleaning our house. Until we are walking in holiness, we have no authority with the world to comment on things permissible, but not beneficial.

Last week we left the discussion with unresolved tension. And it’s exactly where we need to be. We need to allow ourselves to feel the tension so that it can do its work in us.

On Sunday, we will work to resolve the tension. We will talk about bicycles, butterflies, and how to eat an elephant! We will work to answer the questions: what does it look like and how do we get there?

Sunday at 11AM 

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Mind Dump

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For most of my life, I have been an easy-going person; unflappable. I prefer my days to unfold and find schedules to be anxiety-producing. Some would break out in a cold sweat thinking about an unscheduled or unstructured day. Some find solace in routine. I find it in flexibility.

However, after my children were born, I found myself living in a structured, scheduled daily routine. Babies like to eat at regular intervals and prefer sleeping routines that follow suit. And my life changed.

I discovered my mind would race throughout the day overwhelmed by the things I was trying to remember. My to-do list was growing longer and the anxiety was building.

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At night, when I lay my head on the pillow, all I wanted was for my mind to stop…thinking. It felt as if my mind would explode trying to remember it all.

I was already using a calendar and I had a couple of systems in place. But my mind didn’t want me to forget. So it kept reminding me.

It was around this time that a friend introduced me to the book, Getting Things Done, by David Allen. Allen’s system is a great step to productivity. But the concept of “Mind Dump” is the biggest takeaway that most people neglect.

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Allen contends that the reason most of us experience insomnia is the inability to turn off our brains. And our brains don’t want to shut down because there is nowhere to put the information it is trying to remember. If we give our brains a safe place to store the information, then it can trust itself to rest.

The first step in doing this is called a Mind Dump.

Step One: get yourself a blank notebook or journal

Step Two: write everything that comes to your mind

  • ideas you want to explore
  • projects that need to get done
  • appointments you need to keep or schedule
  • errands you need to run
  • people you want to talk to about something specific
  • places you want to go or visit
  • things you want to accomplish
  • stuff you hate about your job, family, life, house, etc.
  • keep writing until you run out of stuff to write
  • put the notebook somewhere you will see it in the morning
  • schedule a time/date on your calendar/phone to review it
  • go to sleep

Step Three: you will need to keep that appointment (of reviewing the list) or your mind will return to reminding you of all the stuff

Step Four: at the appointment, begin to categorize the items on the list.

Step Five: create a “next step” for each category. If your mind knows there is a list you will review and the next step to follow, then it will allow you to rest. Follow through is the key to getting your mind to stop and rest though.

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Since I have implemented the mind dump, I rarely have trouble falling asleep (unless caffeine is involved). On those nights, or even during the day, when I’m feeling anxious, I use the mind dump to clear my anxious thoughts. It’s one of the greatest gifts I have been given! Give it a try and you just might get some rest.

 

When God is Silent…

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Someone I know is going through a “season of silence”. God seems to have ceased all forms of communication. He is not there.

My spirit resonates with every description she gives of this season. I have been through seasons of silence as well. Those seasons made me wish I had never heard God speak in the first place.

Before I knew Christ, there was a sense of emptiness in my soul. But once I heard Him calling to me, I was filled with purpose, meaning, love, and peace. God filled me with His Spirit and He filled me with awe for the Divine. And then one day, it was gone.

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I am not alone in my experience and neither is my friend. There are many reasons God seems to go radio silent on us. It could be that we have pulled away from Him. It could be we no longer place ourselves in grace’s way. It could be we have chosen sin over God’s presence.

But what if it is none of those…

St. John of the Cross, one of the great Catholic mystics, called it “The Dark Night of the Soul”.  The dark night of the soul is a poem written by St. John to describe an intense season of spiritual dryness. And yet it is more than spiritual dryness. The dark night of the soul is more akin to a mid-life crisis except that it can happen at any age and more than once.

In Chuck DeGroat’s article, he highlights that the dark night of the soul prompts us to wade into the deep waters of life. We ask the deep questions; the ones with answers only God knows. It is a time when we are certain we are losing our minds, but in reality, we are finding our soul.

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During my dark night(s) of the soul, there were a few things that helped me through the silent days and still more silent nights.

Listening – I stopped thinking of God as being silent and started thinking of Him as being a really good listener. There have been many times in my marriage when my husband and I are having an intense conversation. At some point, he will “accuse” me of not participating. And my rebuttal is usually, “I am participating. I’m listening”. So let God listen to you. And every once in awhile stop to listen to him.

Go Deeper – My dark nights of the soul were often precipitated by answers that no longer worked for me. I thought I had figured out life and God and people and myself. Then I realized I was wrong. It’s a time to take things apart, examine them, and put them back together. And God wants to help us do this.

Confess – During my dark nights, I confessed…everything. I confessed sin. I confessed doubt. I confessed to God. And I also found at least one person I could confess to my season of spiritual crisis. In confessing to that one person, I discovered that my problem had a name; the Dark Night of the Soul. And somehow I felt normal again in my abnormality.

Read – I read other people’s accounts of their Dark Nights. I read St. John of the Cross. I read the book of Ecclesiastes. I read Job. I read Spurgeon and Finney and Wesley. And I found comfort that God didn’t stay silent forever.

Hang in there! God appears to be asleep in a recliner. But He is preparing you for a spiritual awakening like no other.