Affected By Truth: Valuing What Matters Most

THE VALUE OF PERSPECTIVE

As I’ve gotten older (now in my early 30s), I’ve witnessed the value of what matters most to me change over time. What’s more, I’ve noticed what changed those values for me was the cost of loss during those times.

For instance, I remember distinctly how, for years during my adolescence, spirituality meant nothing to me at all; I had other interests that were far more important to me than the idea of an invisible God who allowed suffering to exist in my life (Notice the acute selfishness of my plight: My loss was, circumstantially, more significant to me than recognizing and acknowledging that I was not the only person suffering in the world!). That was my unapologetic perspective at a pubescent time when I was experiencing ineffable emotional pain and extreme loss. In hindsight, what actually shaped my personal concept of God was an amalgam of variables: the Catholic school I was a part of but didn’t feel received at, the music I listened to and embraced, which boundaries I did or didn’t have, the religious but not-so-spiritual people I was surrounded by—and my personal translation of all of those variables (and more) through a rigid, hurt, and docile mind and heart. It wasn’t until years later, after losing more of what I didn’t realize I had, that I began to value what it was that I did.

INTROSPECTION ON TRUTH

One valuable lesson I’ve learned through some experience and maturation is that with perspective comes Truth: the Truth of what matters most. I’ve learned what matters most sometimes isn’t what we think it is in the moment, and that what we think Truth is in the moment we’re in is based upon where our heart and spirit posture is.

What I want to explore in this article is how our Truth impacts the manner in which we live our lives, and how Truth changes the way we view our lives as a part of (or apart from) others’ journey in life together. I believe the Truth behind this matter can drastically influence how we live in every moment.

GOD’S GRACE LIFTS US UP—THE ENEMY’S LIES TEAR US DOWN

I identify myself as a Christian. While I believe in God’s grace through Christ, I understand—though I have a considerably hard time believingthat I am a masterpiece in His eyes through Jesus’s blood on the cross (Ephesians 2:10). As imperfect and flawed as I am, it requires consistently surrendering to God for humility to embrace and recognize I fail, constantly, to put Jesus first in my heart, mind, and decisions. One could easily condemn me for how frequently forgetful I am, or for how many areas I have yet to mature in, such as in my self-forgiveness, criticism, and working through frustrations. However, we are not the judge, and the Judge who has all authority in Heaven and on Earth has grace for the humble (James 4:6).

If God, the Judge of all, has grace on me even after all of my fallouts and misguided actions, what could man think of me that matters more? One valuable lesson as a Christian who is hyper-aware of his shortcomings is to understand that the most powerful Being in existence wants what is best for me in spite of my sin, wrongdoings, and failures. For me, that message—that Truth—is empowering and encouraging, uplifting and invigorating. Do we take the time to thank God for His grace, for seeing us as white as snow because of Jesus (Isaiah 1:18)? Do we slow ourselves to appreciate His goodness in spite of our shortcomings?

If we do not, then we are listening to the manipulative, fruitless voice of the enemy in our heads more than the bold, whispering promises of God in our hearts.

OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD’S PROMISE TO RESTORE US

One of my favorite past times is reading a great book and soaking up some fresh knowledge to appreciate understanding something new. The books I would read were written by people about their own experiences, or about experiences shared by friends or clients, and the message/lesson would be powerful and moving; transforming and introspective. I found value in understanding how the perspectives of the people involved were shaped either by pain (I.e. Disappointment and failure) or fulfillment (I.e. Success story/overcoming “impossible odds”). The point wasn’t that the stories had a happy ending or that things always go well, the lesson was that even when life is arduous and challenging, there is something valuable to be taken away from the pain/suffering involved. That wasn’t and still isn’t always easily digestible information, but its inspirational truth has the potential to renew a person’s inner perspective.

These same elements are found in the Bible as well, but they are much more complex because, not only are they as relatable as they are historical, they are also infused with God’s incorrigible Truth: the Bible is so spiritually transformative that, even written two millenniums ago by witnesses who experienced God so intrinsically—it is still helping people to follow Christ today.

I love when Jesus enters the story (in the flesh), and not only because He is the main character, but because of the promises and the hope He brings. I love how every person He comes across is impacted in some fundamental way; no one meets Him without some inner ripple effect taking place: He heals, He forgives, He influences; He offends, He loves, and He serves. Jesus as God in the flesh never leaves someone the same once He has introduced Himself, and the Bible tells this story.

Do we take enough time to relate to the people who lived and told the story of how God influenced their lives? Do we embrace and receive, fully, the magnitude of the Good News Jesus brings, and the restorative power of His promises to raise us up as new?

If we don’t, then we are putting the weight of our purpose and existence into the flawed, empty promises of this world through the flesh, rather than the freeing, fulfilling hope and joy that comes with receiving the Truth of God through Christ in the spirit.

INFLUENCES OF THIS WORLD vs EFFECTS OF CHRIST-FOLLOWING

Previously, I would watch more horror films and listen more to darker rock music with aggressive, explicit lyrics because that was what I was drawn to, and that is what I sought out. What changed is that later on (in my late twenties), I began seeking more peace in my life and in my spirit. During this transition, I found a very practical way to find peace was to reallocate my mind and heart’s energy to more fitting, realistic sources.

In the midst of my pursuit for peace, I discovered that by not watching as many horror films, I no longer carried a heavy sense of darkness in my heart about the world, and I experienced less violent imagery floating around in my mind from what I’d watched. Also, by listening to more uplifting, light-hearted music, I came to feel more upbeat and relaxed; less anxious, frustrated, or bitter towards people and the world around me.

Even further yet, joining a warm, inviting community with authentic Christ-followers brought me to experience others in this world who believe in a loving, provisional God in Jesus Christ, and that their love for Him inspired them to live their lives in a different manner. When I joined the community, I found myself feeling less isolated from the world and more fulfilled in my desire to be a part of something meaningful.

Where do we spend most of our mental/spiritual/physical energy? Do we give ourselves to the plight of this world; to pain and vindication for being wronged by other hurting, boundary-less individuals? Do we consider turning to a different Source for grace, strength, acceptance, peace, and unconditional love?

If not, then we dull our spirits by exhausting ourselves on the yolk of heavy sin, rather than on the light and easy yoke of the spirit who wants to give us rest, comfort, peace, and passion for what matters most.

INEVITABILITY OF THE EFFECTS OF OUR TRUTH

How we define our Truth will dramatically alter the way we live our lives, the way we do or don’t express an appropriate and unconditional love towards others, as well as the way we view our purpose in the lives of others around us. Our Truth is that by which we see the reason we are who we are, the reason why who we are matters, and how who we are impacts the choices we make, effecting the people around us. When our truth is based on the promises of this world (I.e. money, sex, power, etc.), it is prone to be more selfish, narcissistic, cynical, envious, and boundary-less. In turn, the way we live our lives may be isolated, condemning, clandestine, conditional, and non-transformative. Whether we want to or not, our actions, whether good or bad, impact the other people in our lives; whether someone close, or a complete stranger. The importance of understanding the significance of the way Truth impacts our lives is the difference between how we love others (or how we barely even love ourselves) and how we deviate others from experiencing God.

If our truth is that Jesus is not Lord, and that loving others depends on certain parts of a person rather than accepting a person as different than ourselves (in a general but boundary-loving manner), then our truth is limiting us from experiencing God more fully, and limiting others from experiencing Him through us. When we can learn to realize, accept, and embrace that the manner in which we see our lives and the others in it is largely significant and therefore impossible to bypass, we will also grasp the pertinent nature of the selflessness in choosing to intentionally impact others in a positive way, because we will understand the ways we are also impacted by others‘ choices and their Truth.

THE WALLS OF SHAME: BLOCKED FROM GOD’S GRACE

How are we living our lives? How is our Truth shaping the manner in which we live? How can we be more intentional with people in order to unveil in ourselves the empathy and compassion necessary to impact them with unconditional love?

Though God is constantly extending His grace, we aren’t always ready to receive it, and therefore we aren’t always living in gratefulness for it. Instead, we sometimes fall prey to living under the umbrella of shame. As a result, the shame of our flaws ends up stalling or stopping us from extending God’s gift of grace for us onto others, and in turn, how others end up receiving us is the way we live and act through our feeling shame rather than how we act through feeling thankfulness and joy. This backwards spiral keeps us from experiencing Jesus in full, and consequently, this limitation prevents us from displaying to others the love we are freely and unconditionally given in Christ, which is given regardless of our shame and sinful nature.

Our shame is a lie of the enemy, not a Truth from God; God convicts, only the enemy condemns. The difference is that condemnation points out our sin, the problem, whereas conviction reveals the answer to the problem, and the path towards changing our ways according to God’s love and Truth. God’s unconditional love is more powerful than the enemy’s condemnation; only a person who refuses God’s love out of self-deprecation and shame will be less likely to comprehend the unlimited nature of God’s love, nor the immeasurable depth of His grace, to consequently act and speak out of love towards others in response to these blessings. This person needs to let go of past hurts that have convinced him he is deserving of such condemnation and worthlessness, which do not come from God—and to turn his heart towards God, living from the heart posture of gratitude.

HANDCRAFTED MASTERPIECE

What is God’s Truth for you right now? In what area do you feel God calling you to turn from the lies of the enemy? Which lies are you believing, and how can you learn to live in the Truth of God’s grace so you will not only receive His love, but extend it to others? I invite you to open your heart, drop to your knees, and humbly give yourself in surrender to God’s will for you and your heart. You are never a prisoner to God, but a masterpiece handcrafted to serve His kingdom with love, grace, forgiveness, the surrender of your spirit, and your obedience to His will. There is no other truth like the Truth of Jesus’ abiding love and perfect desire for us to be in relationship with Him.

What is your Truth?

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Niceness and Vices: What Lies Underneath

When genuine Christ-followers (those who live authentically different lives after declaring Christ as Lord) meet me, they recognize my faith and smile at my joy. When unbelievers meet me (atheists/agnostics, and those only attaching a religious title to their unchanged lives and hearts), they’re taken aback by my joy, curious about what lies underneath. I’ve been told that I seem nice, and I can sense others want to dig deeper to know why I am the way I am. One man even asked me, “So do you have any vices?” After years of meeting a large diversity of people of various religious beliefs and faith-based backgrounds, I’ve come to understand these people looking for vices are either trying to 1.) Prove that I have a weakness underneath all the smiling, and 2.) Compare levels of shame, proving how much better or worse they are compared to me. Since I used to be an unbeliever, I empathize with their position. But since I am now a believer in Jesus Christ, I can’t leave this unaddressed. There is a deep misunderstanding about this concept of “niceness and vices”. I want strip away the misconceptions and divulge the main reality.

When everything is said and done, it all comes down to shame.

Shame lives as subtly as it does explicitly. You can find it in addicts just as you can find it in the countenance of a single mother or father whose spouse has possibly given themselves over to drugs, or other selfish pursuits (whether it be alcohol, gambling, or even an affair). Some single parents carry the shock of defeat in their eyes, ashamed for having found themselves in such a precarious position and perplexed that such a storm has seemingly destroyed the same life that seemed so idyllic. This shame is relatable, but it is but one of many manipulations of reality dropped on us like bombs from the enemy.

If shame has the power to roll us into our grave, why do we smear it all over our hearts? Sometimes we live masochistically, thinking the feeling of shame is the appropriate punishment for a wrong we’ve committed. Too often we live in a reality where either everything is our fault, or one major thing is—which, in turn, makes everything else seem to point back to us (at some point or another), proving us punish-worthy. Shame in this example seems justifiable—BUT—justifiable according to who? Us? Do we ever slow down enough to catch ourselves trying to play God? More importantly, what kind of God do we believe we’re playing?

I’ll return to this. But first: “Do you have any vices?”

Yes, of course I have vices. We all do. I’ve been writing about my past in placing women ahead of God, lusting after them following the trauma of my parents’ divorce when I was 11. I’m not proud of this, but this ugly truth doesn’t define my life. That isn’t me dismissing my sin; that is surrendering my past to the birth of a new lifestyle in Christ. If anything, this blemish in my history is more evidence of God’s love— insofar that He has been helping me to turn my life around by changing my perspectives, views, and thoughts towards women in ways that I hadn’t even tried to when I was an unbeliever. When others try to compare their shame, I feel sympathy for them: “Wouldn’t you rather believe in a God of love than of a God of impending doom?” are my thoughts. Others who want to find the weak spot, where I give in and admit that I have a weakness—honestly, you don’t have to dig far; I became Christian because I was so flawed that I was desperate for a Lord who could save me from myself. Even though I may be considered nice, that doesn’t mean I’m hiding; it means I don’t have a reason to hang my head in self-deprecation. Jesus was waiting for me when I opened the door of my reclusive house of shame and secrets. When I invited Him in, everything changed.

Along with God’s direct intervention are His gifts to me: Christian friends who support me, who care about me and who lift me up in prayer, listening to me and not judging me. That is the body of Christ I’m talking about—the church itself.

Until I finally accepted Christ, the shame I felt was dark, heavy, and without a remedy–the shame itself acted like a teeter-totter: I would feel the shame without having the capacity to justify it anymore than the capacity to fully condemn it. I had no Biblical framework. Basically, it was my view versus the view of the world. When you argue with the world, you get several billion voices, and the numbing effect of such a castigating cacophony would eventually run anyone numb and stale inside. For me, turning to lust was opening the bottle of liquor for the alcoholic.

Shame, in this case at the time, didn’t make as much sense because, along with society’s castigations to consider, I was judging myself with a worldly morality (I’ll touch more on this later in this post). Soon after accepting Jesus as Lord, the shame finally began making more sense from the perspective of moral obligation, wherein the shame flooded through me from a deeper spiritual place (my belief in hurting my relationship with God), tearing me apart. I came to understand, from God’s point of view, the unbearable disconnect of lust (God, who made woman in His image too, shared with me His love for women, helping me see how detrimental lust really is), and the reason why lust is a sin and not just a frowned upon blemish (or dismissed as a commonplace excuse for dirty jokes) in the eyes of society.

As a believer of Christ, I do not believe shame is the intended punishment for my life or anyone’s life—that is a lie of the enemy. The difference between that lie and the truth of God is found in the argument of the source of morality. The unbelieving world tries to define morality for itself, defining good and bad as it sees fit, each person judging another for having a different point view, completely ignoring the source of morality–God–therefore misunderstanding its His authority which draws the line between good and bad, right and wrong—for us. To see morality from this angle, shame is a lie man takes from the enemy’s hands and feeds himself—this isn’t of God. A contrite heart, ready to apologize and surrender the specific area of selfishness which we are struggling with (to God)—that is of God. That is what we feel when we humble ourselves enough to admit that we’ve disconnected ourselves from God. A contrite heart and shame are not compatible; one is of the world, the other is our way back to God.

What kind of God is this?

Above, I brought up the question of what kind of God we try to play when we repudiate ourselves with shame. To answer our question about God, let’s consider something. What did God do when He found us choosing the world over Him? He came in the flesh through Christ and died for us—a death that was our punishment for sin—so that we wouldn’t have to be punished; if we surrender our lives to Christ and receive the love of His sacrifice in our hearts. Does that sound like a God who wants us to feel shame, or a God who wants us to feel loved?

See, for me, the punishment for my lustful past isn’t shame—it’s what Jesus did on the cross. For others’ vices, whether it be anger, gluttony, drugs, etc.–the punishment is the same thing. How does this make you feel, knowing someone else took your place, taking your punishment away from you so you could live a better life? Personally, this feeds me hope. My future looks and feels hopeful in Jesus because I have been forgiven, and because I’m not standing in the middle of my sin, waiting to do it again. I’m fighting my battles with the support of community as encouraged in the Bible, and I’ve formed healthier habits to replace old habitual patterns; such as reading more frequently, talking with friends about Jesus and the things which make me passionate, sharing Jesus’s love with them by giving them encouragement and praying for them; listening to worship music, not watching sexualized TV shows; practicing the art of talking from a place of love to each person I interact with, and being productive with healthy chores around my apartment when I’m alone—all things that lead me to a healthy relationship between myself and Christ, and also a newfound respect for women which I didn’t have earlier in my life. Do I battle shame still? Of course! But it doesn’t define me, and it isn’t the basis for what drives me in life. God inspires me, Jesus gives me hope and love, and these gifts have been changing my life in a visible, noticeable way to others around me.

I’m “nice” because not only do I believe in treating others the way I want to be treated, but I believe even more so in Jesus’s command to love others as God first loves us. I choose to be nice because I want others to know Jesus through their interactions with me. I am nice because I want others to know there’s someone (one of many) in this world taking their faith seriously—intending to be a light leading to Christ in a world that can be so corrupted and cruel.

Now, why have I been open and vulnerable about stating my vices and the battles I fight alongside trusted Christian friends? I know my blog articles can be seen by the world, so why would I be so personal? I’ve explained why before, and I’ll explain it again: Truly, my life isn’t my own. My life is God’s, and I want others to read my articles because my only intention in writing is to bring others to Jesus through the truth of my story. I want you to know, no matter what past you have, Jesus’s love for you is infinitely greater than your darkest sin. I believe this for my sins as well. My joy and hope come from believing in this truth, which feeds me peace and freedom from not only shame, but also from living in banality and monotony. Sharing my story is but a means of hopefully opening a way for you to see that you are not alone, and that God is good.

From another point of view of mine, every moment of my life leads me to the reason I exist (and the reason why everyone exists, if we would accept it as truth): Life with Jesus in Heaven. Beyond sharing my story and seeing others recognize how they, too, are loved by God through Jesus Christ through my words and actions, nothing else matters as much to me. I extend myself to others in hopes that they will feel the warm love of God through the inspiration of Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf. This isn’t about being nice, this is about sharing my hope with others; the very hope which inspires me to live my life and share my story with people I’ve never even met, all in the hopes of encouraging them to live their life differently—and in so doing—allow God to transform them from the inside, consequently effecting others’ lives in the process. What could be better than helping others learning to see what I see and feel what I feel in order to live a more fulfilling life in Christ?

On yet another note, I’m single. This is only relevant in regards to the truth that whether or not I get married before I die doesn’t matter to me as much as impassioning others with the zeal to know Jesus. It would be nice, marriage, but what is more important is bringing people to Jesus? I have life goals—yes, of course—but in the center of my personal goals is being close to God through Jesus. If that isn’t there, nothing else falls into place, nor does anything make any sense. There’s no explanation for our lives, our challenges, our successes or failures beyond the love of Christ. Jesus works through our best moments just as he does our worst defeats. I write this paragraph for those of you who want marriage as deeply as the way I have. Marriage has been my most significant dream, but I’ve been willing to surrender that—especially since it became something of an idol for me—to the love of God, in faith that if His will is for me to marry, He will provide the right woman, and if His will is for me to remain single, I accept the glorious life of praising His name. That choice is a win-win. I want to extend this humility to you, readers, who dream of marriage, to let go of clinging to this world and remember Jesus created marriage to remind us of Him; not to replace Him.

I cannot impact people’s lives by being nice “just because”. That is an empty, uninspiring basis for acting in any way. Is it nice to have someone do something just because—okay, sure. But how much more powerful is it for someone to actually believe in Jesus so strongly that when they ask, pleasantly surprised to a selfless gesture of yours, “Why did you do that?”, you can answer, “Because Jesus loves you, and He wanted you to know.” Personally, that would catch me off guard, but ultimately the encounter would humble me because that’s exactly my perspective. I don’t do what I do “just because” anymore—that no longer holds any weight for me. It’s not enough. If Jesus is not at the center of the reasons why I do anything I do, then it would make just as much sense if next time I didn’t do anything nice, helpful, thoughtful, or selfless. “Just because” simply doesn’t explain niceness because someone could just as ruthlessly kill “just because”. We cannot immediately associate ‘just because’ with some neutral sense of good if with the same words we can associate unspeakable evil and cruelty.

All that matters to me is that others know the way I speak and act is grounded in my faith. I don’t have another reason to be who I am beyond Jesus; there’s just no reason to be this way without Him. Basically, I have just as much reason to be a thoughtless punk as I do a thoughtful Samaritan if I don’t declare Christ as Lord in my heart. There is honestly no viable argument for secular morality because morality cannot be based on an emotional whim and retain a firm foundation. Innate morality (a secularist view of our worldly, situational, and emotional sense of what is good or bad, right or wrong), as it is many times referred, is ungrounded on anything infallible. Moral obligation however, is bound by God, and indelibly written in the Bible. That is also why being nice “just because” is a dangerous game of contradiction. For the rest of the world, it’s “I guess I just got lucky, catching you at a good time,” whereas the Christ-follower has something deeper and more promising than the fluctuating emotions on a good day. Even the sacrificial “I’ll do this because I know it’s the right thing to do” undermines itself on the same level as ‘just because’ since there isn’t a baseline reason beyond sentiment for such an act; selfless or not.

In the Christian mind, we have everything to look forward to; everything we do, think, speak, and act upon takes us one step closer to being in the presence of our Lord for eternity. There is no greater hope than this to inspire us to transcend mere niceness and extend mercy, compassion, forgiveness, love, and selflessness. This is the basis for unconditional love; that forgiveness and love wouldn’t be searched for by us, but given to others from us as an overflow from Christ. We are loved and forgiven by Christ’s through the shedding of His blood on the cross. In accepting this life-changing sacrifice from Jesus, we love others, knowing this promises us eternal life beyond Earth. Everything on Earth pales in comparison; including Earthly pain, heartache, suffering, confusion, trauma, sickness, and yes–even death. When we see the depraved colors of death diluted by the bright light of Jesus’s love for humanity, and we find ourselves in a state of peace unlike anything we can imagine— that’s because what we’re experiencing is a glimpse of something literally out of this world: We’re experiencing a glimpse of Heaven, the location for which our soul is intended. We were created for Heaven, despite how so many of us live our lives as if we believe our lives only end here—and when we can see how our life here is just a bridge to get there, it truly changes the perspective of life while we live it.

Coming full circle, that is the basis for my niceness, which isn’t merely niceness as it is joy in the Lord for giving me hope, even in death. I fear nothing, not even telling the world my ugliest secret so they understand God can remove anything to help us make more room for loving Him through everything in our lives. He can remove addictions of any kind, habits of any depravity, mistakes and sins of all depths and levels–if we would surrender ourselves to Him, pick up our cross (release our shame and our Earthly desires into His mighty hands) and follow Him in all our ways. One of those ways, for me, is releasing myself through my blog, that you might know God’s love through my testimony; that you may know men like me are not merely nice, but that we are joyful in our faith—impacted and encouraged that we don’t have to cling to our sins of the past—that we can cling to the love of Christ as Lord of our lives, loving everyone through Him until we draw our last breath, inhaling our first in the glorious Kingdom of Heaven.

Be encouraged, readers! You are loved by the God of all creation, and He doesn’t want you living in shame, He wants you living in the freedom of His love; freedom to love others whole-heartedly through the confidence and faith in His love for you. He died for you because He loves you that much. He rose again to prove that He wasn’t only man, but God Incarnate. What will you do with this Truth? What will you do with this testimony? How does this change your life, and your very reality? How will you move forward knowing someone—God Himself—wants to know you and lead you through this life, and all you have to do is ask Him to? Have faith, readers, and be steady, knowing He is God. There is nothing to fear; not gossip, not bad news, not a lost job or relationship breakup. There is nothing more important than knowing how loved you are by Jesus. This world will let you down time and time again. No matter where you travel to, the world’s corruption follows; but not without the love and God following to remind you that there’s hope. Which one you heed more will determine the way you live your life, and how you explain your kindness, your niceness, and how much or how little shame you will feel based on the world’s censuring eyes or God’s loving embrace. I encourage you to pray over this and wait for God’s reply. It may come faster than you think, or in a way you don’t expect. I hope you will do this for your own sake, that you may know the Lord, His love, and His promises for you. There is no one like our God!

Unseen