We have long desired to visit Seattle and we have finally had the blessing. Visiting friends, some famous sites and engaging in valuable and meaningful ministry and work. Our Heavenly Father is causing stones to appear on the lake as we are willing to take steps of trust. Looks like we are walking on water, but it's actually a precursor to the real miracle!
Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 hold out to us the promise of entering the "rest" of Christ. In 4.3 it says that this rest has been ready since God made the world! Walking into this promise is obviously something that our Papa has had on His heart a long time. The writer states that the generations under both Moses and Joshua did not enter this rest. However, through Jesus (who is superior to Moses the deliverer, Joshua the general and Levi the priest) we are invited and beckoned to claim this amazing part of our inheritance in Him.
Simply put, it involves surmounting the fear, doubt, hardness of heart and unbelief that hounds us in order to put our trust in the finished work of Christ Jesus. By so doing, we "cease from our [own] labors" (4.10) and find true and abiding rest for our souls. The context makes it clears that this is not just for the "then and there" but for the "here and now".
Toward the end of chapter 4, we see that entering this rest requires both Vulnerability and Exposure in the sight of God...but with a surprising outcome. Rather than evoking Groveling and Shame in us, the Absolute Light and Love of our Merciful High Priest imparts an astounding Grace for us to come into the very Presence of the Father with Boldness...despite our human weakness...to receive His help with anything we might face in this world. (4.16) The truth is that we long to strip off all of our masks and lower our self-protective guards before the One who knows everything anyway and then see what He might make of us after all!
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)
Our full inheritance in Christ is secure for us to enter into and enjoy through His finished work. However, we do not walk into all the goodness of it automatically in the unfolding practical experience of it. Rather, it is in humble and consistent cooperation with the Holy Spirit and by growing strong through every kind of trial and all spiritual warfare that always attend this process that we are enabled to receive the manifestation of the precious promises.
I heard a story some time ago now that deeply touched my heart and I captured it in writing. It's worth retelling.
She had been no stranger to some hefty relational disruption, pain, disappointments and sufferings. The challenges that come with all of this were in her face from the time she was still a child. But at around age twelve a goodness was set in motion that would inaugurate a tested and true redemptive narrative into the midst of her young life. She found Jesus. (Of course...we all know that he actually reached out through the Holy Spirit and found her!)
Her new community of faith became her extended family and throughout her teen years, she courageously chose to invest much of her time and energy into learning about knowing and following Jesus and serving the people in her life...both young and old...for the sake of her Savior.
When sorrows, fears and temptations would rise up to confront and and seek to overwhelm her, she would often retreat to a sacred space on the church property that is known as "prayer hill" to pour out her heart in conversation and communion with her heavenly Father. Up on prayer hill is a large cross that has helped the pilgrims to this place to find their center in Christ once again. It had obviously become a very special place for her and she continually grew strong in spirit and wisdom...despite a profound "alone-ness" that she would often struggle against. It was on prayer hill that she would hope and believe that she actually was not alone.
A few years back, she was pursued by a young man (who had already caught her eye) and they agreed to become boyfriend/girlfriend. Their friends and teachers could immediately see the good chemistry and good effects of this new relationship in both of their lives. This man had enjoyed both the favor of God and man from his youth and his heart had become full of Christ's love and passion. They quickly fell in love in a deep and genuine way.
That summer, the young man had the opportunity to go and work in her home town while she was doing an internship with her church's youth ministry. Some months before , he had purchased a diamond ring that he was hoping to put on her finger sometime that summer...if she would say "yes" to making a commitment to spend their lives together and become "one flesh" in the sight of God and people. He, of course, had heard about "prayer hill" and knew the special place that it held in his lady's heart.
It was during that summer, after he had gone to prayer hill to prepare a small table with some refreshments, that he subtly suggested to the young lady that they make a trek to this sacred place during the beautiful sunset and to which she joyfully agreed. He followed her up the hill. When she saw the table, without looking back, she quietly informed him that they probably needed to leave as they were obviously disrupting someone's event. Then...as she turned to look at him...he was on his knee holding out the precious token of his love for her. The table had been set for her! It was a perfect moment in the midst of our quite imperfect world. An amazing day had dawned for them both and their lives would never be the same.
She said "yes" and they kissed. Then they prayed at the foot of the big cross and committed their love and relationship and its future to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It was on her special place on prayer hill that she would come to know and be reassured that indeed...she is not alone.
The wedding happened at sunset May 28, 2010 in Phoenix AZ and guess where?...in the beautiful outdoor forum that lies beneath the shadow of...prayer hill. We are so pleased to be the parents of this wonderful man, Mike Sullivant. And were overjoyed on that amazing day to welcome an inspiring and beautiful young woman, Jeri Jensen Sullivant, into our family circle.
Jeri is a vibrant and radiant young woman who, after finishing her Masters Degree with high honors at Washburn University this past May, has now become a family field counselor helping at risk families in the Kansas City area.
We know how important the development of core muscles is to overall physical strength and health. So it is in the spiritual life.
Our Heavenly Father is preparing us for eternal purposes that are beyond our imagination. And though Christ's work of redemption is finished, we are called upon to cooperatively exercise and develop the core muscles of hope and faith and love that make way for the power of His victory over evil to flow freely into and through our lives. He wants us to become an inside/out kind of people.
This wise developmental dynamic requires us to battle through and overcome our enemy's resistance to the accomplishment of God's good will in our lives and in the earth. If we are to "live from heaven to earth", we will experience our share of spiritual adversity from what some have called the "second heavens" where evil princes roam and have their ancient thrones. We must grapple against them from time to time with the might that God gives to us in Christ by the Spirit. To become inside/out people we must embrace this strategic "contending for the good" to prevail that our Papa has ordained in order to walk into and enjoy our full inheritance as His royal priests in this world.
Some of Terri's and my greatest hopes and heart-felt prayers for our oldest four children (Luke, Lisa Sam and Mike) have been met and answered by our heavenly Father in a most gratifying way. As they entered into their serious dating relationships with the four people who would ultimately become their spouses (Rebekah, James, Caitlin and Jeri), they welcomed us (and the other sets of parents too) into their romantic journey's in a very meaningful way. What a mind-blowing honor that has been. They sought out our counsel and advice, they prayed with us, they were humble, vulnerable and transparent with us about their romantic growing pains and they shared with us their relational joys and triumphs. What more could parents ask for?
As a result, each couple now has the wholehearted support and blessing of both sets of their parents and all the good will and relational resources in the extended family that have naturally flowed back to them. All of the parents involved know what a blessing this is from God and do not take credit for this. We all know great parents who have not experienced this particular blessing. I guess all of us get our "special kisses" from the Father. On our end, I do think back on how our kids substantially "bought into" our philosophy of how to engage in and pace a potentially romantic relationship long before the "real one" came along--not that there weren't any bumps in the road for them.
Today, I'm thinking back on how James and Lisa approached their romance with intention and principle, at every stage...from a special mutual attraction...to getting to know the other as friends...to deliberately entering into a year-long "steady" relationship to see if there might be a future together...to James asking me if he could ask Lisa to marry him with my blessing...to a joy-filled six month engagement...to their walking down the aisle to say "I do, 'till death parts us" on a extremely romantic snowy night in January some years ago. They did this with a wonderful and graceful cadence that was full of divine rhythm and endorsement at every turn. (Luke & Beka, Sam & Cait and Mike & Jeri have similar love stories to tell.) How glad they all are now that they embraced the loving wisdom and disciplines of Christ's ways and kingdom that initiate, govern and guard healthy romances and happy marriages.
Alright...what are the three mysterious T's! They are very simple observations of how people of the opposite sex (or the same sex for that matter) bond with one another. They are: Time, Talking and Touching. I have watched the romantic journey's of many younger and older people alike through over thirty years of pastoral ministry and the three T's are always primary operative dynamics within these relationships.
Before I say more about them, I have to begin by saying that we spoke with our kids about the naturalness and normalcy (because of the way that God has designed us) of having "romantic attractions" to the opposite sex--sometimes even from very young ages. I was smitten by Dale Evans as a 5 year old even though she was married to Roy Rodgers! (Her granddaughter, Mindy Peterson, became a friend of ours before Dale passed away and Mindy told her about my childhood crush on her and Dale gave me a signed copy of one of her books. :-) We spoke with our children not to be embarrassed about these feelings (even though they still struggled with this), but to acknowledge them without shame. I explained to them that we are capable of having romantic attractions toward any number of people along our way in life. The challenge is not to repress these feelings, but to "steward" and "process" them well in the sight of God and people. It's what we do with such emotions and attractions that will make the difference between failure and success in our honoring of God, parents and others. Once they "bought into" and "personally internalized" the reality, that they were unwilling and unable to pursue a "serious" romantic relationship in their youth, it was a manageable step for them to intentionally plan and discipline themselves to "keep it cool," romantically speaking, in their early teen and even into their twenty-something years.
People bond romantically to others by engaging in the three T's. They spend time together (especially by being together for long hours in private or semi-private situations). They talk at length directly to one another about the deeper and deepest contents of their hearts--even spiritual things. And...they touch one another in affectionate or intimate ways. The simple and obvious plan for slowing down and/or pacing a romantic relationship, until the proper time for engagement and marriage has come, is to place deliberate limits and boundaries on relating to another person in these specific ways. So to answer my kids' question about how to get a plan to "not fall in love" until they wanted to and to maintain their sexual purity, I was able, to help them in a concrete and practical fashion.
It's amazing to see how both unmarried and married people (emotional affairs almost always precede sexual ones) often plunge headlong into relating to someone of the opposite sex, who is not yet, or not, their spouse, engage in these bonding behaviors without any apparent conscious intention to "fall in love" with them and then be surprised that shortly they, and/or the other person, has "fallen head over heels in love"--hello! A lot of young teens pretend that they're seriously committed to their boyfriend/girlfriend so they can feel better about acting like they're going to be married one day. People also often play head games with themselves or others and are simply lying to themselves and/or another about their deeper motives and desires.
There are a lot of sexual brokenness and unhealthy basic identity issues present in the vast populace of our family-fragmented culture. Our families and churches (extended spiritual families--large or small) must become equipped to bring the healing and restoring power of Jesus Christ into the broken hearts of our children and fellow believers to bring some sanity and joy back into an over-sexed and "boundary-less" society that is now reaping the fruit of relational paradoxes and confusion that have been sown by the seeds of deliberate deviation from both common sense and the wisdom of the Scriptures.
A good place for us to begin is by consistently and gracefully influencing our children into the winsome ways of Jesus--the Prince of Life.
The "Three T's" are rather infamous in our family history. They relate to a teaching and a tract on romance that I wrote and taught to young people in our church community through the years. Of course, as my kids got older I also "shopped" the ideas out to them too...I couldn't resist! I remember asking each of my early teenage kids some very penetrating questions.
The personal conversations would typically go something like this:
"Hey...(Luke, Lisa, Sam, Mike or Steve)...do you want to fall in love with someone when you're 15?"
The boys definitely said, "No way, Dad!" So did Lisa.
"How about 16?"
"Come on, Dad, that's too young to fall in love. I wouldn't be ready to get married at that age...or even engaged. There are too many things to do before I would be ready for being 'in love' for real."
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely." (Then a strategic break in the conversation would typically occur.)
"So...do you also want to be a virgin when you get married?" (The angst would always rise a bit at this point!)
"Uh...yea..sure..of course I do."
"Come on Dad! Because...like you've taught us before...sex is a special and powerful gift that is protected by marriage...like keeping something valuable in a safe until you're ready to use it for the right time and purpose...do we have to talk about this???"
"Just a little longer. I just wanted to know what your plan is for not falling in love until you want to and for keeping your gift of sex in it's safe place until you're married."
"What...I need a plan?"
"I think so."
"Because people, even really young people, 'fall in love' very quickly and easily without even trying...or at least act like they have...and many of them lose their virginity long before they're ready to take on the responsibilities of marriage and family. In fact, most of the people in the culture around us don't think it's realistic for a young person to remain a virgin until they're married."
"Wow, Dad. I guess I've never thought about like this before."
"Well...that's why I asked." (Pregnant pauses were normal at this point in the conversation.)
"How can I get a plan to 'not fall in love' or 'have sex' until the right time?"
"I'm so glad you've asked! It revolves around three T's."
"What are the "three T's?"
"I'll tell you about them in our next talk!"
When adolescence arrives, cognitive development in the brain and the drive to individuate from parents (and their teachings) merge and often cause a young person to seriously question their childhood belief in and their experiences with the Almighty. What once were mysteries about God and His universe that stimulated and stirred their hearts as little children can become seemingly irresolvable unreasonable concepts to their active and inquiring minds. This is especially true as they experience and observe more injustices in our broken world and also more serious disappointments in life.
I believe that this struggle can be a very important and even, vital, part of their larger spiritual journey over a lifetime. I have heard that if one tries to help a butterfly out of it's cocoon out of compassion for it's struggle, one can actually seal it's premature death. The given reason for this is that the butterfly's wings develop the necessary strength for them to function properly in "flight" though it's "fight" to emerge from the cocoon.
I remember speaking to my kids about the possibility of doubts that they might encounter as they transitioned into young adulthood. (Terri and I were careful to assure them that we were not worried about them "keeping up an image" of spirituality or perfection because their Daddy was a minister. There was enough of this pressure that just "came with the territory" without us adding any extra weight to it. We tried to communicate to them that we were infinitely more concerned about their journey as children of God.)
This then is the kind of advice that I gave them.
"Try not to freak out if doubts about spiritual things begin to rise up in your hearts--this is very normal. Many great Christians before you have gone through such soul searching. Please don't feel embarrassed or ashamed if this happens. Also know that we are here for you to listen to your heart anytime you want to talk about such troubling feelings and/or questions. We will never lay a guilt trip on you because of these things. Jesus said, 'ask (and keep on asking) and you will receive.' There are answers to be found for the most difficult questions that may initially seem absolutely unanswerable to you. Any question or doubt that you can ever imagine has already been asked by many before you--so you're not alone. And...a lot of very highly educated and brilliant people are dedicated believers in Jesus and the Scriptures and have even written books about such questions and the answers they discovered in their struggle."
"When you were little everything was very simplistic, but there is a simple and refined wisdom that can only come on the heels of working through complexity. God 'plays hide and seek' with humanity and He loves to play and then lose the 'game'...just like I did when I first started playing hide and seek with you as a toddler! It's all for 'love's sake'...to create the tension of apparent loss and the joy and passion of personal experiential discovery. God is very secure in His reality (His name is 'I AM'!) and can absorb any blows of doubt you may sincerely land on His massive chest in your struggle and frustration. Pour your heart out to Him--even the writers of the Scriptures did this--He is not offended by this."
"And finally, (after I heard and applied the wise advice of my dear older brother in Christ, John Gilman) no matter what, don't give up on love. If you find true love...and receive it and give it back...you will ultimately find God because God is Love."
A VOICE OF HOPE
Michael Sullivant's Blog
I am a child of God, husband, father, grandfather, spiritual father, author, speaker and hope coach.