Part I: What Are You Eating?

Even if they seem redundant, don't ignore the warning signs.One night a few weeks ago, my godsister and I sat down to watch a Netflix movie that had come in the mail. The movie was called “Crash,” an edgy  2004 drama with a some-star cast set in post-9/11 Los Angeles. As soon as I looked at the summary and the rating, my stomach fluttered uneasily. But I resigned myself to sit and watch the 112-minute feature, silently praying as I always do before I watch a movie, that the Lord would reveal His heart to me through it and that I would be able to glean some hidden Kingdom gold from the creative dreams of this team of writers, directors, producers, and actors.

The red flags began to pop up within the first scene: cruel racism, intense swearing, and abrasive anger that was fast-paced and nonstop for the first 15 minutes. I kept telling myself, “It’ll get better, it’ll get better.” Meanwhile, my heart was dropping into my stomach. At last, there came a point where I knew the Holy Spirit was telling me to stop. So I jumped up and excused myself, jammed earbuds into my ears and drowned out the screaming drama of the movie with worship music. My heart was pounding and I literally felt nauseous.

It was like I had been under rapid-fire attack in a matter of minutes and was now weak and shaken. I grabbed for my Bible and journal, and dove in for the next two hours. I spent much time repenting of watching the movie and asking Jesus to wash my feet and make me new again. I felt restored after a short time, but the message came through loud and clear: I need to start watching what I eat.
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Daniel 1:3-5 Then the king ordered Ashpenax, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites form the royal family and the notiblity–young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned ot them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. 

So you’ve had a blood transfusion with Jesus and had all your affairs exchanged to your mansion in the Heavenlies. You’ve just said “Here am I, send me!” to the Lord’s cry of “Who will go for us?” Welcome to the war zone. You now have dual citizenship in this world and That one. You’ve been given a new set of instructions for how to live life (significantly shorter than the one you used to have, this one just says “Love God and love people”). You’ve been grafted with a new, soft heart with which to be convicted of everything that rendered you slave to your old (now dead) lifestyle. Your response protocol to offense is new, different and honestly a little offensive to your mind. You have been drafted into a school of how to shed the hollow husk of your worldly paradigm in exchange for taking Christ’s yoke upon you. You have been exhorted to be in the world, yet not of the world.

You may feel disoriented and confused–that’s all right. But just remember, now that you’ve made the leap into Eternity, there is no going back. Your friends and the kings of this world will expect you to join in their feasts and banquets, partaking of the foods they find rare and attractive. But you mustn’t touch–these foods are nothing more than poorly disguised and cleverly advertised poisons. The decadent, rich foods of the kings of the world that once sated your hunger (or seemed to, for a while) are pollutants.

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Daniel 1:8 – But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

Daniel respectfully requested that he and his three comrades be allowed to keep to a diet of vegetables and water instead of eating the king’s food and thereby defiling themselves. That couldn’t have been an easy petition for Daniel, a captive of the king with no former rapport that we know of to cover even a hint of defiance with mercy. Daniel and his three comrades were captives in a foreign land under the command of a king who had the right to kill anyone who disobeyed him. There was a lot at stake, but Daniel was a man whose standards were shaped by God Himself. The first 3 chapers of the book of Daniel are an illustration of the young Israelites’ courage under the pressure of a forgetful, vengeful king.

Titus 1:15 says, to those whose hearts are pure, all things are pure. These four boys of Israel had been taken captive from their home, where there was a standard of purity, into Babylon, where the only standard of righteousness was what they themselves carried–and whatever the king said was right. Daniel and the other three could have had a number of reasons for choosing to eat the food of the king anyway. They would have had every reason to submit to king Nebuchadnezzar’s authority and do what they were told.

But the sense of purpose displayed by these young men is astounding. Many of us may just have given up hope in their situation. Why? Because there is no instant gratification in keeping up with our standards in such an environment. What’s the point? No one would see, no one would care what we do. What difference would it make if we hold ourselves to a standard of holiness when we have no support and we’re expected to act just like everyone else? There are countless excuses we can make to justify crumbling in the face of peer pressure, but that’s all our justifications add up to–excuses.

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I’m not so naive as to think that this situation is anything special; peer pressure (to dumb it down simply to that) is something every believer faces. In every home, every public arena–and yes, even in every church, there is great temptation to succumb to the majority vote at the cost of your integrity.

Ultimately, it comes down to whose opinion we value more. Proverbs 9:10 says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. If you respect and revere God first and foremost, the opinions of your friends, coworkers, teachers, classmates, and bosses will pale by comparison. Obedience may very likely cost you the popular vote among your peers…But it might not.

Daniel 1:9-10 – Now God had caused the official to show favor and compasison to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would have me beheaded because of you.”

When Daniel asked Nebuchadnezzar’s chief of officials if he and the other three Israelite boys could keep to their normal diet of undefiled food, the cheif was immediately fearful for his life. Being charged with training these young men, he was instructed to keep them strong and healthy. He was afraid, and for good reason–how could the meager diet Daniel spoke of compare to the diet of other young men who partook of the king’s meat and wine?

So Daniel, again treating the king’s man with utmost respect and honor, proposed an alternative:

Daniel 1:11-14 –  Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah,  “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.  Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.”  So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

At the end of the 10 days, not only were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego not frail and thing–they were stronger and healthier than the other young men who had eaten from the king’s kitchen!
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So now, here is my question to you, beloved reader. Re-examine your diet. What are you eating? What are you taking in that could be clogging up your channel to a heart of flesh, deadening it once again to a senseless stone? Once we find them, we are not to hide them, cling to them, justify them, or hate ourselves for having them. There is only one thing we can do: Give it up.

Receive it Forward

Alternatively titled, “How My Momentary Materialistic Desire Yielded Heavy Revelation.” The following is the result of a thought that crosses my mind only for a fleeting second on a semiregular basis. The subject I use for this illustration is not something that takes up a great deal of my life or my attention—just so you know. Be warned, there is satirical content ahead.

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Doesn't it look like she's having just a little too much fun?

I wish I had a blow dryer.

You see, my hair is getting to the length now where if I don’t do something to it right after I get out of the shower, I’m ruined until the next time I take a shower. My hair will be completely uncooperative to anything aesthetic save pulling it back in a ponytail—if you could call that aesthetic.

For everyday use, I have an adorable little straightener that isn’t anything like the Hana I used to have, but it gets the job done. I got the straightener from my friend Ebony in Redding, who offered it to me as part of a set with a matching blow dryer.

She offered me the entire set for free because she didn’t need an extra one. And me, naively thinking I would want my hair less than four inches long for the rest of my life, decided only on the straightener, because the was the need that I had in the here and now. Well, that was back in March. Clearly, my hair’s quite a bit longer now.

Like, it's the end of the world if, like, every strand isn't, like, uniform and stuff.

I’ve used the blow dryers of the women of the three houses I’ve circulated staying in for the past five months, so I haven’t gone completely without—but there are times when the coveted appliance is unavailable for my use and so I must suffer. Every time I find myself faced with the woes of towel-drying my hair, I flash back to the time Ebony offered me her blow dryer along with the straightener. And I kick myself rigorously for not just receiving what she had to give me and saving it for a later day.
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Seriously. Our gift table looked like THIS.

In case you didn’t know, I got married a month ago, on September 9th. It was a glorious day filled with sunshine, lots of behind the scenes stressing, and a MOUNTAIN of gifts  accompanying the 250-guest turnout. On the first day of our honeymoon, my husband Levi and I went to my mom’s house for lunch with my family from out of state and to open our gifts, as I was going to be returning to Federal Way for classes immediately following the honeymoon and would not have time to do gifts in between.

We were radically blessed by all our friends and family pouring out their love and support to us through many of the items on our registries, as well as personalized, tasteful gifts reflecting either theirs or our personalities. By the time we were done tearing the wrapping paper off our 80 or so gifts (and writing down accompanying names for thank-you cards), we had noticed a common theme: towels.


We got towels out the wazoo. We got duplicates of towels taken from our Target registry, Ralph Lauren towels from Macy’s sent to us by a great aunt in Oregon, cushy luxury towels that weren’t even on the registry, and a heap of bright, beautiful kitchen towels. But mostly bath towels. At first, my thought was to take most of them back in exchange for store credit we could use for whatever didn’t get taken off our registry that we still needed.

Thankfully, our seasoned peers encouraged us otherwise, each with the same response to my lamentations of too many towels: “Those’ll come in handy!”

And while I don’t want to think about having children right now, I admit it will save time and money when that season of our lives does come around and we find ourselves with a towel deficit. And once we begin hosting large quantities of people for extended stays (once we have the means to), we’ll have an abundance of guest towels! Keeping this future need in mind, we have all our extra towels stored away either in tubs or in their original packaging, unpacking only a few to use for right now.

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Proverbs 27:12 – A prudent person foresees the danger ahead and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.

This brings me to my point. I know my dilemmas of towel abundance and lack of hair-drying appliances hardly warrant the severity described in Proverbs 27:12 of “going blindly on and suffering the consequences;” nor is saving towels “foreseeing the danger ahead.” It’s merely seeing a need in the future and preparing for it.

For the sake of this illustration, I want to focus on things (blessings, prophetic words) we receive from other people rather than on physical resources.
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Poor Chicken Little...we can relate.

Let’s face it: as believers and as human beings in general, we’re pretty routinely in the middle of some dramatic mess in our lives where we need God to show up and speak the solution into our circumstance. As soon as a symptom of hardship arises, we start flapping around like the sky is falling, trying to call God down from His heavenly throne to intervene in our situation.

We go to our friends for counsel, asking for them to pray and speak encouragement over us. Sometimes the word of encouragement hits right on the nail for that exact situation we’re going through at that exact moment. Other times, we’ll get prophetic words from people that don’t mash up with what we’re going through at all. It’s so easy to dismiss those words and let them pass us by just because we’re not living in the need for that word in the time of its delivery.

One thing I can almost guarantee: if you get spoken over prophetically and it doesn’t have to do with the situation you’re in now, you’re going to need that word whether you received it when you heard it or not.

If you don’t receive the message when you first hear it (and I mean actively—confessing it aloud, writing it down to read and declare over yourself later), chances are you won’t remember it when the time comes you actually need it.

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Something supernatural happens when you allow yourself to receive. It’s so important to take what you’re given, sift it through your filter of the Holy Spirit’s discernment of the truth of the word, and then receive it wholeheartedly as a preemptive weapon in your toolbelt to fight that battle when it comes.

There is wisdom in being prepared and equipped for battles that have not even hit the field yet. When you anticipate and are constantly looking to the future, soaring up and up for God’s perspective on our lives as writing from the end to the beginning, you won’t be taken off guard.

Amos 3:7 states that God doesn’t do anything without first sharing His secrets with His servants, the prophets. So if you’re wondering where God is going to take you next, how He’s going to deliver you out of this situation, maybe you should just receive a word and be encouraged that the fact you have prophetic information for a season that has not yet arrived means your assignment is not yet complete.

Paradigm Shift: Priority, Perspective

1 John 2:15 – Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.

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The love of God causes many things in our lives to go topsy-turvy. We must now humble ourselves to be promoted, and serve others rather than exalting ourselves, and pray about everything and surrender rather than worrying about anything.

It also reverses our priorities as well as shifts our perspective. In the world, it is our nature to cling to the material while we shove everyone else out of the way.  We label anything that offers us something we want as a good thing, and anyone who speaks against what we want as an enemy not to be trusted.

Matthew 5:43-44 – “You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say, love your enemies!

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If someone offends us, instinct says to turn that offense right back at them, to aim our irritation and our hatred at them. That’s the easy way to deal with misunderstanding or hurt–BOOM!–And now it’s their problem. Unfortunately, that method is far more destructive.

Ephesians 6:12 – For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6 tells us that we no longer fight against enemies that are tangible, but rather against the agents of unseen worlds. Upon our entry into the Kingdom, we have been equipped with a new lens to perceive the natural world through. This lens gives us a glimpse into the depths of the unseen. The glaring offenses of others we used to remember and regurgitate as justifications for our judgment are now revealed to be symptoms of heart conditions.

Once, we defined a person’s character by their actions. Now, we define their actions by their character.  We are empowered with the ability to recognize behaviors as symptoms to root causes and other spirits at work. And rather than attack the person, we now do not hold them accountable for their reactions. For what do sinners do but sin? Would you really hold a new believer fresh off the streets accountable to the same level as one who has been walking with Christ for years or decades?
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Granted, there are varying levels of responsibility for our own actions that we’ll all have to answer for eventually–but that is not for us to decide for other people. Now that we have been made new in Christ Jesus, we have no place, no right at all to point the finger and judge. We have been given a new protocol entirely for how to respond to offense.

Now, say that this person who offended  you is your friend, with whom you share a bond of mutual trust. Then you may address the symptom, speaking the truth in love.

The best way to model this type of confrontation is to imitate how the Holy Spirit brings conviction: gently, tenderly but firmly saying, “You’re way too good to be acting like that.”

Galatians 4:9 – So now that you know God (Or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world?

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I find that the most effective rebuke of a person is to remind them of who they are. If a king walking among pigs forgets he is a king and begins to walk on his hands and knees with his nose in the mud, you probably would not be very successful in getting him to return to his throne if you said, “You pig! Stop it!” All that does is further infuse a false identity.

Ephesians 4:15 – Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will come to be in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ. 

Speaking the truth in love allows for both of you to achieve greater heights. By speaking in love rather than just loving to speak the truth, you allow yourself to become vulnerable. You communicate to the other person that you really are concerned for them and not being driven by reaction to offense. Rather than superimposing your standpoint, it’s like you join them at the level they’re at, humbling yourself without lowering your standards, and invite them to come back up to the surface with you.

When we are transplanted from earth reality to Kingdom reality, our perception of value changes drastically. Things that seemed so important before–money, time, gas prices–pale by comparison to a human heart. We would gladly lay our lives down for one another just because of how valuable they are.
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Make no mistake, the things I have spoken of in this post–taking the high road, looking at things from God’s perspective, reversing our priorities and choosing humility over retaliation–these are nothing short of humanly impossible. How, then, are we to accomplish all this, especially if we have been explicitly instructed to do so in the Scriptures? The same way we got into the Kingdom in the first place–simply, beautifully, humiliatingly not on our own strength. Ultimately, it continues with where it started: grace. Encountering Him, on our knees, blindingly aware of our own insufficiency.

Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

2 Corinthians 12:9 – But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you; My power is made perfect in weakness.

Psalm 121:2 – My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and earth!

Firestarters

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. When we were all in elementary school, that was a difficult concept to grasp, as we were all fighting for a firm grasp on our own identities. I recall indignantly crowing on multiple occasions, “You copied me!” I have also been on the flip side of that scenario, however. While being copied may leave one feeling hollow of inspiration and void of worth, being the admirer whose admiration is misunderstood as plagiarism is also a deep blow.

I have been inspired by several people throughout my life, but there is one in particular I would like to highlight for this illustration.

Her name is Lorie. She is a stunningly beautiful young woman who has been my light for going on six years now. We met in middle school, where we began the tug-of-war of who was following whom. Lorie has always had a depth to her that strikes me simultaneously with awe and humility. I have watched this once-intangible depth blossom over the years into a rushing gaizer, an explosive force of Spirit that can and will not be contained.
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When I was younger, I felt so inferior to Lorie at some points that my awe and inspiration morphed into ugly jealousy. Lorie sang better, wrote better, spoke better, and was just cooler in general. My desire to be like her was perverted by a spirit of competition. For years, I battled with this ugly beast, scarcely ever able to surface for air whilst drowning in the exhausting momentum of trying to keep up with her—and not only that, but actually trying to outshine her. Since then, I have entered into my walk with Christ and have been healed of the identity crisis that got the spirit of compare roiling all over me to begin with– but that’s a different story for another time.

I think this is something a lot of people struggle with, not just me. I think somewhere along the line, we were taught that it’s not okay to champion someone else’s cause, that we all have to find our own ten-gallon hat, our own stallion, and our own sunset to ride off into alone. For years, we’ve been spoon-fed the notion that the only way anything we do will ever have value is if it has our own name stamped on the front cover.

What of the sculptors of the European cathedrals? So much painstaking time and effort went into carving out details in the framework that would be forever hidden from view. When asked why they bothered to invest so much into something that no man would ever be able to see or appreciate, their response was that they did what they did for the eyes of the Creator, the One Who sees all. That is the kind of humility we need to have. Not the humility that is self-deprecating, and certainly not the arrogance that demands entitlement. I’m talking about the humility that won’t shy away from the opportunity to follow a good lead.

There are certain people in the world who specialize in sparking fires. They may be considered as forerunners, scratching out the perimeters of new territory so that when the rest of us pioneers come along looking to settle, we can dig deeper past the surface. There are some people whose vision is so sharp, so far-reaching, that they only have time to briefly sample the tippy top layer before their flying feet carry them away again. And then there are people who, at the first sight of gold etched out by a fellow panhandler, dig and sift and pan and search until they have run the creek dry, and then it’s on to the next thing.

I would like to propose that both of these types of people are healthy, relevant, and very much needed for the starting and stoking of revival in communitty as well as for the progress of society in general. For this note, however, I’ll just focus on the first group: the fire-sparkers, the forerunners, the champions of the movements that propel us into the next seasons of greatness.
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Lorie is one such forerunner. She blazes through life with seemingly precarious steps, each one pre-ordained by a loving Father. She has quoted to me at least once that living by faith and not by sight is like “jumping from lily pad to lily pad in the dark, without knowing if the next lily pad is going to be there, but still jumping anyway.”

When she commits to something, she chases it with all her might until she can latch onto it with bulldog-to-the-leg precision to shake it till it’s dry. She has sparked a great many flames in my life and in our community. She has united many of us in unlikely friendships, and is catalytic to the great Olympia stirring of the Spirit we are privy to in this day. Lorie’s family started going to our church in Lacey, and now there are many more of us. Lorie is a

passionate worshiper and leader, and because of this my husband, Levi, and I have both been involved in the worship ministry at our church.

A few months ago, Lorie started talking about this cool organization called Sevenly, which sponsors a different charity each week by selling custom tee shirts and donating $7 from each sale to the charity. Lorie bought me my first Sevenly shirt and began to spam her Facebook wall with information about Sevenly and their causes each week. This warmed me up to the cause, so I started watching. Then Lorie became an Ambassador for Sevenly, something I immediately wanted to be involved in. So I jumped on the bandwagon, and my Levi did also. Week by week, I am privileged to watch Sevenly grow in its followers, donators, and various supporters. Were it not for Lorie, I would not have this great honor.

Last year, Lorie casually announced on her Facebook that there was a storm approaching. She did not specify whether this storm was to take place in the natural realm or the spiritual, though the latter was implied. Levi picked up on this sensation and began feeling restless and anxious for quite a while—then the hairs on the back of my neck began to tingle, and I joined my two best friends in wide-eyed anticipation. Then one day, with little warning, the storm hit. A massive windstorm barreled through our city, toppling trees and snapping power lines. Levi and I stayed the night at Lorie’s house that night when a fallen tree in the road deterred us on our journey home, and the storm blew on.

The next morning, we woke up to an earthquake. It was gentle enough that there was no damage, but it served its purpose in getting the message across. Something had shifted in the atmosphere, and the local prophetic people all confirmed it with reports spanning all the way down to California.

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There have been several other instances where Lorie’s curiosity led us band of merry men into various adventures, and many times where her wisdom and gifts have kept us out of grave mishaps. I’m always on the lookout for what she’s doing and what direction she’s headed. Pastor Bill Johnson describes this in worship as “honoring the point.” In hunting, when more than one hound dog is on the field sniffing about for the first scent of prey, if one dog catches the scent before the other and locks into point, then the second dog will honor the point and lock into position also.

To wrap up this rather verbose post, I would like to make an impartation to both the firestarters and the firespreaders. Both have an invaluable role to play, yet I think both have been force-fed the idea that they are to fit into the opposite mold from what they were made.

Firestarters, I think, are either trained to feel guilty for running ahead of the group, or self-conditioned into indifference and stubbornness. The curiosity and vision of a forerunner is vital to the mission to run forward with everything they have, without looking back. There should be no shame in running ahead—by all means, GO! How else do we expect to shatter the apathy of plodding along with the norms and being satisfied with how things are? If something glitters in the horizon, chase after it fiercely, knowing that goodness and mercy are in turn chasing after you and that you cannot possibly outrun them. Know that you have the baton in your hand and that you are a World Changer by the things you discover and uncover, even if your time to delve into them is limited. If you feel like you are being flung from place to place or project to project, idea to idea, roll with the punches. It is simply because the fires you start are spreading so fast that you cannot walk fast enough to touch something that is not already aflame unless you are taken to a different arena entirely.

Followers and firespreaders, do not be ashamed of who you are. It’s not copycatting. It’s not plagiarism. It’s part of a culture of honor. There is nothing wrong in following the markers of someone else’s trail. There is nothing bad about shadowing another’s footsteps. I don’t mean to imply that you don’t have identity of your own, because you do. But we were created for community, to champion causes together. One of us may sample, and of us may stop and really savor; both are of equal value and importance.
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John the Baptist is probably the best-known Biblical forerunner. In Matthew 11:11, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has no risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.” John the Baptist was a great forerunner, and were it not for him, the world would not have been prepared for Jesus (not that it was really ready for Him even then). But “the least of these,” those who approach Jesus as a small child, with humility and wide-eyed curiosity, with the gift of being able to be content in the moment—those, He says, are even greater in the Kingdom. Small children don’t play with something you give them for two seconds and then toss it aside and say, “What’s next?” They are so delighted and enamored with what they have that it is impossible to distract them from their object of adoration.

Yet were it not for the explorers, no progress would ever be made. Were it not for the daredevils, we would never discover new territory. In a great move of God such as the one we are witnessing now, it is just as important to be firmly rooted in the now as it is to be conscious of moving forward.

If you are called to run forward, then by all means run. We weave in and out of seasons in our lives where we are sometimes called to rest and be content, and at other times we are called to move and be moved. Whichever season you are at, the matter of utmost importance is that you are clinging to His heart, running toward His face.