I sat down at a local Starbucks and looked up, the scene was so different from where I had found myself for the past 8 months. I had to make an emergency trip to America and found some time between it all to sneak in some meetings with my Pastor. I had seen him the day before at church and he had one observation for me. “Jim, I said hello and you hung your head in shame.”
There are few people in the world that have the capacity this man has—it is an ability to see into your very soul. For months prior to me leaving for Africa he had tried, unsuccessfully, to help me deal with my past. I think I just couldn’t see it. I just did not have the same insight to my soul that he did. But now the time was right.
To backtrack a bit, I grew up very much in the church… Doors open, we were there. I was schooled in the look right, act right, talk right, and whitewash your warts theology that often accompanies very conservative Christianity. I attended Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Youth Group, and College that all reinforced this way of living. I became fluent in its ways, and then I began teaching it, first to youth, then to adults. Deeply entrenched in this way of thinking is a “measure up” mentality. It is usually unspoken, but thinly veiled.
Enter the Gospel. Shortly after being installed in a position to ingrain this way of thinking more deeply into adults, I had an encounter with the Gospel. I met the more-than-pray-a-prayer Jesus. The One who lived on earth and said stuff like “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” or “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” It changed me. I was different. I had to rethink everything. I had to separate so many things I was sure I knew from others things I was certain were true. I was hard. I am still working through it.
In the midst of God unveiling Himself to me, I knew very early on that the “measure up” theology did not fit with the Gospel. I knew it in my brain, but I had spent more than 30 years “measuring up.” I went through a phase where I intentionally didn’t dress, talk, look, or act right—I pushed my warts to the surface and just begged everyone to reject me. When you come from a “measure up” faith community and you ask them to reject you, they are usually quick to oblige. As much as I knew it was coming, it didn’t keep it from hurting. (Also, it really wasn’t the wisest approach.)
Back to Starbucks: As I sat with my Pastor, I talked and he listened, asked questions, and picked at my thoughts. Then, finally the Spirit broke through. I had never really given up my “measure up” mentality for me. I couldn’t be good enough, I couldn’t do enough, I wasn’t enough.
It was then that my Pastor invited me to breathe. Specifically to breath in and breathe out the following : “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” It the message God had for Jesus, before He had done anything. It was not, “when you measure up to what I want from you, I will be happy, but if you fail I will be disappointed in you.” It was a declaration of Who Jesus is and how God sees Him. And, through the gospel, we are joint heirs with Jesus. We are Sons of God, we are beloved—it is who we are and how we are seen. It is not dependent on us.
So, Breathe in ,“You are my beloved son”
Breathe out, “In whom I am well pleased.”
You are my beloved son
In whom I am well pleased
Breathe. And as you do, the breathe of heaven will whisper breaths of truth into your very soul.