twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Archive for June 2013

reckless, scandalous, and out of control

with 5 comments

“Do not worry, because God is in control. He has a plan and a purpose for you. “

I have heard these words (or similar expressions) many times before. I have seen them written on home decorating products and facebook walls and internet ads. I have heard them come from the mouths of people I love, respect, and admire. And when I heard them spoken over a worship gathering I attended recently, I was hit with an overwhelming, essential realization. I wasn’t trying to find fault or be contrary, but the assurance came out of nowhere and hit me squarely in the heart.

I don’t believe God is in control. 

Ok. That is a statement. Breathe in and out with me for a bit. Come on in and sit a while. After that, blow up the comments, debate, engage, encounter, seek. But first, let’s walk through a few steps together.

Here is how I think we (middle and upper class USA culture) understand control. At the center of control is immense power. When we seek to control some aspect of our lives, we are often primarily seeking to exert power over it. We schedule our days to the hilt, seeking power over time and space and people. We plan our futures in month or year or 5-year increments, seeking power over spans of time that contain unforseeable mountains and valleys, praying that we will never “spin out of control.” We organize our relationships in rigid categories and strict expectations, seeking to control our friends, family, and neighbors rather than love them. We look down on those in our lives who have “lost control” or are “out of control” , assuming that their inability to align with our proscribed structures indicates a basic human failure. But our lawn is pristine, our house is in order, our shirts are ironed, our retirement is planned, our property is insured. We. Are. In. Control.

So when we say that God is in control, it is comforting to us. We want to know that there is plan, purpose, and meaning, and that God (like we so desire to be) has all of his ducks in a row and that nothing happens outside of his will. We want a King who is powerful, authoritative, and majestic. We want him to have all the answers, make all the decisions, fight all the battles, and always, always win. But our concept of control is a poor choice to frame our understanding of a God who is love.

There is one who seeks complete control at all times, because he does not understand love. Satan, the fallen angel who sought power over God in heaven and continues to seek power over God on earth, approaches people with a desire for control that is unsurpassed. All of the sins that have plagued the world, lies, fear, addictions – they are all fighting for control of our hearts. And why do we give in to them?

In our fallen nature, we believe we would rather be controlled than loved. We would rather be given a simple, understandable set of rules about the way the world works, and, falling victim to the lie that through understanding the rules we will gain control over the system, instead fall prey to the lie of control and it’s immense power over us. We worship control, praising our own ability to order the universe as we see fit, and every grab for power builds the illusion that we are able, of our own accord, to hold everything together. And when the cracks begin to show and our attempts at perfection fall short, we are left with a gaping awareness that in our thirst we have allowed control to supplant the role of love in our lives.

Love is bigger than control. Love is more powerful than control.

Our lives are spent in a vicious spiral of control seeking – beating our head against the wall and screaming “Why isn’t this going my way!” At times, we feel we have succeeded – we are happy, successful, achieving, well off. In. Control. At other times we feel lost, alone, afraid, and as though everything we held power over has slipped from our grasp. And there are only two exit gates from this spiral. One is the aforementioned way of the Controller. To claim control as our right, power as our inheritance, and ultimately fall slave to the power which seeks to control us.

But there is another way. This way is the way of love. And this way is the way of surrender.

God did not choose to control the world. He chose to love it. In a radical departure from the way any ancient or present culture has or does understand what it means to be God. He made us, completely, from the ground up. He should have been able to claim what artists call “creative control” over his creation, the right to oversee how it is used, what it becomes, who can influence it, and how far it can stray from the original vision.

And then, in love, He set us free, desiring only that our response to this freedom would be to choose to love Him back.

In the absolutely crucial, most pivotal moment of our faith, Jesus could have rewritten the story we know so well. He could have claimed control as King, ruler, sovereign, authority. He could have broken the whips and shattered the cross, taken revenge on the men who sought to do him harm, taken the seat of the empire and seated his disciples in positions of power. That would have been a picture of a God in control. None would have been able to stand against him, and everything would have proceeded in exact accordance with his specific will.

But instead, Jesus chose to surrender. He surrendered his right to control his circumstance. He allowed himself to be consumed by the will of God, to be instrumental in communicating God’s great love for his people, and redeemed a relationship fractured by our desire for control. (In eating from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve sought equality with God, greater control over their circumstance, and power that was only meant to be held by God. This deeply fractured their love relationship with him, their ability to live fully in his presence and to walk in his ways. God has been calling his people back to himself ever since.) 

In surrendering control, Jesus gained a power that control-seekers could never imagine or understand. Jesus is the only human who has ever managed to perfectly exchange control for love. Jesus, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself  by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” And what a glorious deluge he unleashed. 

Because when we begin to understand God’s love, our response becomes so much greater than a simple acquiescence to a higher power’s control. Yes, God is the god who makes order from chaos, life out of destruction, bringer of peace, hope, and healing. And he wants us to choose to be part of his story. To choose to accept a love that refines, cleanses, purifies, makes whole. We love because He first loved us. And through his love, we are able to join him in the work of redeeming his creation.

So we cannot hold the freedom, the choice, the love that he lavishes on us and wishes to express through us in one hand, and tell others to “Relax, God’s in control” in the other. God’s power is so great, his sovereignty so vast, that he can choose to exert his power through love rather than through control – and it is through this love that He is calling us to come home to Him.

In summary. God created us. God loves us. God has immense power and is fully able to alter any circumstance, change any heart, fulfill any dream. But God does not control us. In him we live, and move, and have our being. We acknowledge and fall prostrate before God, from whom all blessings flow. But not because he has bent our necks. Because his love has broken our hearts. His reckless, scandalous, completely nonsensical and entirely out of control love. And no matter how strong the temptation to be controlled by the world may be, we who have known what it is to live in God’s love will constantly be searching to follow His light home, and to invite as many as we can to join the journey with us.

I feel as though I could write for days on this topic, and maybe I will someday. This is an attempt to follow the grace I’ve been given, to start a dialogue, to scratch the surface. Please, engage with me in the parts that  speak love to your heart, the parts that are poorly constructed , the parts that are jarring, the parts that wrestle and debate. How have you experienced God’s love? How has that shaped your concept of God ‘being in control’? 

Written by Taylor Webster

June 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm

teach my song to rise to you

with 3 comments

I write best what I most need to hear. This posting does not come from a place of confidence and authority, but from a place of humility in constantly receiving the grace to keep fighting.

The chronology of Jesus’ life story often deserves more attention than we give it. Because before the resurrection. Before the last supper. Before the feeding of five thousand. Jesus was tempted. 40 days in the wilderness. 40 days where all of the first-class demons assaulted every desire, longing, inclination towards brokenness, fear, and potential for weakness that comprised his fully-human nature. And yet, despite this vicious assault, he lived a life that was perfect. Spotless. Free from any sin. His knowledge of scripture and his identity as the beloved son of his Father gave him the power to fight off sin, but it’s impossible to imagine that this made the fight easy.
He was offered bread after fasting 40 days. He was offered a miracle which would have erased the need for subtlety in claiming his identity. And he was offered power as a man over all the kingdoms of the earth, which would have seemed easier than the work he was about to begin in building a new kingdom. When I was younger, I looked at this story and said “Well, of course he ‘did the right thing and said no’ because he’s Jesus. God. That wouldn’t have been hard at all.” My understanding of Jesus’ divinity was well-founded. Problem was, I was missing his humanity. And for a man to face such temptation. That would have been ages beyond hard.

So here’s the thing. Guys, this probably shouldn’t have been as revolutionary to me as it has been. But hang with me for a second, because the most foundational truths are often the simplest.

Temptation isn’t inherently wrong. It isn’t our fault, not in the way that temptation itself should bring us guilt. Our God does not define us in terms of our weakness, but in terms of His strength.

Whoa. What. No. No. Because we’re supposed to not ever want to make that cutting remark, eat that fifth slice of pizza, navigate the darkest corners of the internet, fudge the numbers on that tax report, hold on too tight, let go too soon, cut someone off in traffic, ignore a cry for help, or even be unkind to ourselves. Right? But we do. Oh, how often we do.

Looking at the world with longing , desire, misdirected hopes, weakly formed identities, we are tempted by every thing that promises to satisfy the ache. And how do we support each other in this? Well, we’ve created some sort of culture where we can’t even talk about the fact that we want those things (and many, many more) – so how will we ever be able to confess when we give in to temptation?

The temptation I face so often feels as though I should surrender to it. And surrendering would mean exactly that. Giving up the fight. Looking the darkness in the face and saying “Alright, you win. I’ll do things your way.” And at times that seems so simple.

But I have not chosen to surrender. I have chosen to fight. Fighting means approaching the battle knowing full well the strengths of your enemy, but also knowing the glorious power of the One who is on your side.

Dear friends, temptation does not define you. The strength of the temptation you may be facing does not invalidate you as a person, as I have so long been convinced. C.S. Lewis’ comments on the subject are particularly apt.

“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is…A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.”

Mmmmhmm. I’ve been spending a lot of time by myself this week. Reading a lot. Researching a lot. It’s what I tend to do when there are things in my life that don’t make sense to me. And here’s the deal. Reading and researching can take you a fair ways. I can think of countless times where the words of others, packaged and processed, have lent clarity to a troubled or clouded state of mind.

But there’s a downside to reading a whole book at once. The process which took the author months or years or decades to evolve through, you can devour in a couple of hours. And after the book is finished, you will feel as though you will never be able to grow as they have, to learn as they have, to love as they have.

Because you can’t force a lifetime’s worth of growth into a weekend. You just. Simply. Can’t.

So sometimes, before you can answer the question, you have to live the question. Before you can fight the temptation, you have to feel it. Yeah. Feelings. Feelings aren’t wrong. They’re human. Let it get all up inside of you and claw at your heart and try desperately to  build a foothold, to force action, to remake you in its own image. Wrestle it – a form of fighting that disallows the impersonal distance of a firearm; grab it by the arms and pin it down and look it in the eye. Get to know your temptation.

And then. Fight. Back.

Not because you are strong. Not because you are capable. And most definitely not so that you can adhere to a prescribed timeline, measuring healing or standards of success. Fight instead because the one who has conquered the world’s greatest temptations is on your side, fighting for you and fighting with you. Fight on the assumption that whether you choose to fight just might be more important than whether you are able to win. Fight because temptation, when confronted, will cease to define you and will instead become part of the furnace that shapes you.

The book of James says it best:

” Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

So to all facing temptation. To each and every broken, lost, hurting, and guilty soul out there. Persevere. Hold fast. Wrestle. Join hands with the One who knows your heart. And together we will fight, not because we know the night to be so very dark, but because we have already seen the dawn and believe in the promise of a glorious sunrise.

Written by Taylor Webster

June 2, 2013 at 9:17 pm