When I was a kid, I thought meditation was boring.  I never really tried it but, what western kid has the patience to sit still and find their center? As I grew up, I respected people who would take the time to meditate, but I never really understood how they could do it. It was my understanding that meditation was about clearing one’s mind to the point of not thinking about anything and just sit there, existing. I would have no idea how to quiet all my thoughts, and all the negative voices within, to achieve such a state. When I became a Christian, I didn’t understand how meditation could fit into a believer’s life, because it requires you to find your center and become more aware of yourself in your environment. It all seemed too self-centered to be Christ-like. I am supposed to be focusing on God, giving God all the glory, and constantly look for the will of the Father in every circumstance. This is the way I have always grown deeper into my relationship with Jesus. And that is the point, right? The dance between humanity and God, getting close to one another as we struggle to just let Him lead. Jesus came to restore the relationship between humanity and the Godhead because the enemy came between us and created separation.

The enemy’s main goal is to separate humanity from God and he has a strategy.  Distraction, Division, and Devastation are the tools he uses for keeping God’s children apart from their loving Father. This has not changed much throughout the ages, though some of the items that distract us and the issues that divide have evolved. In my experience Satan’s strategy is not progressive, it is an all-out onslaught. Death and decay are always stalking us and more often than we like, directly engaging us. There seems to always be something in the air for us to take offence over or some cause demanding we pick a side. And there is always a new thing, a new device or piece of technology, sometimes its an older one that we can’t seem to pull ourselves away from. Sometimes it’s a task, or a chore, another batch of laundry that needs to be folded, another dish to wash, there is always something that we can be distracted by. If we are not careful, and intentional, we can go from one distraction to the next only to take brakes long enough to get offended by something on Facebook or in the news until we get so angry that we must distract ourselves from the issue that is creating the extra division. Round and round, we go until the death of a friend of family member punches you in the face and leaves you wondering, “where is God?” Therefore, the spiritual disciplines are paramount to our walk because by engaging in them we put on the armor of God and the Fruit of the Spirit blossoms in our life.

Meditation is an indispensable tool we must use in the fight against the spiritual attacks we feel but cannot see. I like to start either in silence or by listening to the words of Jesus being read aloud. Something in the red letters, John 15 is a personal favorite. I will sometimes sit in a comfortable chair, but most often I like to lie flat on my back to allow my spine to stretch out as I have back issues. I rest in the silence or in the sound of His words being read and concentrate on my hands and my feet being aware of every detail of what they are feeling. I take intentional breaths and listen to my lungs fill up and deflate. I try to expand my awareness from my hands, feet, and breath, to the rest of my body. As I do this I begin to become more aware of myself, my surroundings, and God’s presence in it all. This may be a stretch for some of you, but I want to remind you that the Holy Spirit is God and the Holy Spirit is in you. Just as the Tabernacle could not hold God under its roof neither can our bodies house the fullness that is God.  Therefore, when we focus inward, intent on getting closer to God, we will not be able to avoid becoming aware of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and be affected by the peace of God’s presence. Overcome by the peace of God’s presence I expand my awareness to the objects in the room with me. A couch, a bed, a chair, the walls all around me, and as I do I feel God’s presence in the room with me and I become aware of the peace of God in this place. It’s a peace that has always been there, but I have been too distracted to be aware of its closeness to me. From there, I can get up off the floor, leave the room and still be aware of God’s peace and presence with me.

As we close out our series on the Spiritual Disciplines I can’t help but think about how much I have failed to take the time to pursue them throughout my journey in the faith. Not in a self-judgmental way as I may sometimes do, but more in the way that I am amazed at how much my life and walk has benefited from the little bit of effort I have made. What might my life and my mental health look like if I were to have done more? I won’t stay with that question for long, nor will I think about what the future might look like if I continue to fail as I have. Instead, I will thank God for being faithful to me throughout it all. I will be grateful for God accepting the little time I give Him and blessing me with so much more than I deserve. I won’t dwell on the what ifs, instead, I will take this time to decipher what spiritual discipline I can engage in, at this moment, right now, and if I can stay in this present thought, I can be effective for the kingdom of God.

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We will be back next week with a full length episode. Until then, join us in Romans Chapter Five.

Check out this episode!

School is back in session, summer is winding down, new rhythms and routines are being learned, and new chapters of life are beginning.  As things begin to take new shape, and old familiar shapes begin to reappear, I find myself reflecting on what brought me here and where I may find myself in a year or five years from now.  Recently however, one thing I have really began to appreciate is that while reflection and wondering can be good, the best place to be is the present.  The present is the only place where anything gets done.  Whether that thing is rest or work related it happens in the present.

I find that when I am feeling anxious my thoughts are stuck in the uncertainty of the future.  I do hope some people find it easy to think of the future with hope and optimism but for me it is far easier to fall down the slippery slope of worry and fear.  My imagination goes out of control.  I find myself playing out years and years of worst case scenarios that never even seem to have a chance for a happy ending.  I don’t really know how much time I spend in these horrible, desperate fantasies of mine but I get stuck.  I may only actually spend one to five minutes thinking about the future but even when I try to get back to the present I find myself still shackled to the worry.  I can spend days there, weeks, even months.  It will get to the point where I start to wonder why I feel the way I do and then I’ll go to my memories from childhood on to figure out how I got here just to find myself stuck in a new place.

The Past.  It’s only natural for us to go back there, right?  For me, it always starts with my earliest memories and feelings of security, comfort, and love.  But that changes quickly.  I can’t help it really.  I go from the warm fuzzy memories to the cliff.  That cliff is different for everyone but we all have one.  It’s the place, the moment of time, where our life filled childhood got its first glimpse of death and decay.  While I am certain we all responded to this moment differently I found myself stuck looking over the edge of loss and I still get stuck there today.  It is like vertigo and depression wanted to play a trick on me.  It’s a feeling of falling but not moving.  I am just stuck in a downward spiral scared to hit bottom but also wishing I would, so it would just all stop.  I will literally want to die so it will stop.  But I don’t want to die.  I have a family I love and who love me.  I do not want to be separated from them by death. So, I will force myself to think of the things I have to live for.  My wife.  My Kids.  Future grand-kids.  The future… See where this is going?

It’s a vicious cycle.  Anxiety about the future, depression of the past.  Anxiety.  Depression.  Over and over again, for years and years.  People have often told me I should live in the present, but I don’t find it easy.  I am not lazy or complacent about this either.  I work at it, and while I don’t know if I really need medication to keep me from spinning out, I know that has saved my life at least one time.  That time was recent as well so thinking about getting off the prescriptions makes the anxiety well up within.  My doctors put me on a couple of different cocktails before landing on Prozac and Lithium.  I hate Lithium.  It helped my suicidal thoughts and I was able to slip into the present, but every emotion was squashed.  I understand “that means it’s working” but it’s no way to live long term.  It also gave me the shakes and made my body twitch.  I had to get off it.  So, after consulting my doctor and therapist I slowly weened myself clean.  I chose to use CBD oils and tinctures during this process as well as techniques of mindfulness, meditation, and probably most importantly, I refocused on the spiritual disciplines of Prayer, Worship, Fasting, Service, Bible Study, Meditation.  It’s been a few weeks now, my lithium levels are virtually nonexistent, and I feel so much better.

The spiritual disciplines have been the topics of our podcast for a couple of weeks now and this is not a coincidence.  I needed this and the rest of the quadcast were awesome in their wiliness to spend a few weeks on this journey together.  It hasn’t always been easy and there have been times where I have failed miserably, but I have never quit.  Each day I give a little bit of time intentionally recognizing God as I practice a discipline and He truly does bring peace.  The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  We see the Spirit blossom, bloom, and produce fruit in our lives when we tend the vine, and we tend the vine by participating in the Spiritual Disciplines.

For some people living in the present may be easy.  For people like me, it is a discipline.  It requires work, intentionality, the ability to focus, and the willingness to let go.  One thing I tend to do is get too focused on a task, like making my kids lunch for school.  The problem is that when my child comes up to me while I am doing this with a question or needing help, I am so focused on the task that I get frustrated at the interruption.  This is not good.  Living in the present requires my willingness to let go of what I am currently doing so that I can pay attention to the greater needs that surround me.  There were some things about mindfulness that rubbed me the wrong way when I first started learning about it.  Centering myself from within didn’t sit right with me.  Honestly it seemed to self-centered but now I am seeing how short sighted I was being.  I start with being aware of my breath and my body, but I end with being more aware of everything that is going on around me.  Now, when I sit in stillness and silence I become more aware of God’s presence within me and surrounding me as well as all the other life around.  The awareness of God’s presence and the lives of the people I get to interact with becomes so encompassing that I have no time and no desire to occupy my thoughts with things of the past or the uncertainty of the future.  I begin to live in the present.

-Curtis Perea

I wrote this blog after recording the Podcast titled “Church Shopping” (you can find a link to it on this page below this blog entry and it can also be found on our Podcasts page). If you have not already done so please give it a listen and tell us what you think, we would love to continue the conversation with you!

Church Shopping. I hate the term. There is something about the phrase “Church Shopping” that just doesn’t sit well with me. It is too consumeristic. I should not be going to a church because it has something other churches do not have, that would be self-serving, and I cannot be seeking self-satisfaction and at the same time worship God. So, I find myself in the strange place of needing a new church home that can also accommodate not just my special needs son, but his service dog as well. For my family, visiting a church is not as simple as just popping in on a Sunday service and checking things out. The first thing we must do is call the church to make sure they are receptive to the service dog being in the building as a House of Worship is not required to comply the Americans with Disabilities Act when it comes to service animals. We wouldn’t want to cause a scene on a Sunday morning, so we always call ahead. Either my wife or myself must stay with the dog until another handler can be trained and a good children’s ministry will require a background check on people who will be back with the kids, so we will need to take care of that as well. Our son will need one on one assistance during our visit, so an extra staff member or volunteer will also need to be available. It’s all worth it, it is just an ordeal and we wouldn’t feel good about springing it on any church.
So, finding a place that is a good fit for my kids is a must as any parent can relate but church is not just about the kids having fun, there is more to it than that, like the preaching…Right? When it comes to the teaching and preaching during a Sunday service I always want to hear the Gospel. Personally, I believe that if a subject is fit for a Sunday morning talk then it will always be able to point to the Gospel of Jesus. But, I also want the preacher to do it in a way that is relatable and never political. I get enough politics from the left and the right on Facebook, I don’t need it on Sunday morning. The only government I want to hear about in a message on a Sunday Morning is the Kingdom of God. The preacher needs to get into the message and be excited by it, get loud at times but never make me feel like I’m Being yelled at. I need to see the Passion!
But the church is not about the preaching any more than it is about the Kids. What about the band? The Music needs to be good right? The musicians need to be rehearsed, playing tight with the singers who need to be on key. The volume needs to be just right, not so loud people need earplugs, and not so quiet that you hear Betty Jo singing just as loud as the worship leader. Seriously though, trying to worship Jesus while having to wear ear plugs is distracting as all get out. It’s like trying to eat your favorite dessert with a scalded tongue. You get a feel for it, you know it’s happening, you can even taste it a little bit, but in the end, it is muted beyond enjoyment and you walk away knowing it could have been, and should have been, a more intimate experience. But Church is more than a solid kid’s ministry, biblical preaching and an on-point music ministry, right?
What else can I add to my list of church must haves? Excellent and Focused missions? Small Groups on every night of the week so I can find one to fit my schedule? Good Coffee? Ample parking? What’s their stance on women in ministry? Alcohol? Gay Marriage? Am I sounding like a consumer yet?
The point, though you may not 100% agree with me, is that while all these things are important, it is unreasonable to think the perfect church is out there. The church is, after all, the community of people that worship together and people are flawed. Therefore, every church is flawed. Yes, there are things we look for when looking for a church home. We need some place that can accommodate our unique, loud, messy family but ultimately, we are not church shopping, because we do not shop for people, we do not shop for community. We build Community by sharing our lives with the people around us and that is what a good church home is all about. I may be looking for a Sunday Service that can check the most boxes off my list but that is only a small part of what it means to find a church home. A Church can provide or put on a Sunday service, but that Sunday service will never be the church. So, if we try to judge whether a church is a good fit for our family by the Sunday service alone, we’ve missed the point entirely.
In our family situation it will take a couple of weeks to get a feel for a Sunday Service. One week I will be in the service while my wife is with the kids and the Dog. The next week I will handle the Dog while she experiences the worship service. And we will reevaluate in a couple of weeks. And in all honesty, it is not entirely on the people at the Sunday service to make us feel like this could be home. The responsibility is on us as well. We need to be willing and able to make ourselves available to meet with new people and begin to share life with them. Time must be spent together, experiences must be shared, relational equity must be built up for us to form the friendships that will help us grow. As iron sharpens iron, people sharpen people, but the act of sharpening is rough and abrasive, it can be painful, so we need people we love and who love us to help us through. All this takes time and a lot of work, but I know it will be worth it in the end.

What is the calling? To fulfill the Great Commission.

What are we calling people into? The Kingdom of God.

We as people, have a hard time seeing the big picture. Even the people who we see as not looking at the individuals but rather the situation as a whole are missing it. Whether we like to admit it or not, we often miss the point and instead we look for something to point to. Let me explain. Most people go through life looking to succeed at what they put their minds and hands to work on. Jobs, relationships, family, churches, hobbies, what we do, we typically want to do well. We take a sense of pride out of what we put our time, blood, sweat, and tears into. We are proud when we do a good job and are successful and our ego takes a gut shot when we see ourselves as having failed. The problem with this way of life is that we become like horses with blinders on, only seeing the track right in front of us instead of everything around us. We see the road but miss the Kingdom, and this has been the case for me while working in vocational ministry.

Head down and power through. That’s my motto when things get tough, and in the physical world while fighting spiritual battles it is one that has kept my faith charging on. I have served with two Churches that have closed down and each one hurt more than I knew what to do with. There comes a point in the dying of a church when you realize that it’s too late to save it. And if you ever feel like you can save it, you’ve already lost. Closing a church is hard. The relationships that have been forged through time and service are hard to let go of and the prospect of starting new relationships at a new place can be overwhelming. In my experience the best indications that God is shifting me into a new season is the relocation of others. It seems that every time God moved me into the next thing He proceeded it by removing the relationships I had grown accustomed to. I do not know why this has been the way He has worked with me, perhaps it is so I would finally listen or maybe it’s just been so I have less and less holding me where I am that it makes it easier for me to go. Maybe a little of both.

Experiencing relationships falling away is hard, painful, even like morning a death. I would suggest that is all death really is, a separation of relationship. If this body dies my soul lives on but I would no longer be in relationship with anything in the physical world. This is a basic belief of Christianity. So, when a church closes it’s doors a separation of relationships occurs and what we feel is a death. Depending on how much an individual put into the church will directly correlate with how much grief they experience. If they have put a lot of emotional stock into the body of the church it will be devastating to watch it close. If the person also put in physical work such as volunteering time, leadership, money, and labor the pain will be even greater and a sense of personal failure will arise as well. It is these people that need the most help taking the blinders off so they can see the Kingdom and not just the road coming to an end.

The American church is more than a group of believers coming together to worship. It is also a non-profit business so that we can get a tax write off for our tithes and offerings. Whether or not this is pleasing to God is another subject all together. Regardless, because we are now in a non-profit business model we have to maintain financial viability to stay open. Again, whether or not this is pleasing to God is another topic. The point is that because we function on a business model we open ourselves up to measuring our successes and failure in a worldly manner. The Kingdom of God, however, is not a corporation, local churches are not chain stores, and the Gospel is not a product. In this world, churches are like campsites. We set up camp, do Kingdom work, and then move on to the next place. That is the model set up for us by the Israelites they kept making camp and then moving on waiting for the promised land. We should look at their example as a foreshadowing of our current reality. We await the promised land, the Kingdom of God come to earth, but until that day comes we set up camp, we do Kingdom work, and then we move on. Sometimes we pick up the whole camp and travel together, sometimes we leave and join up with another camp, and sometimes, when we are too tired we shut down the camp and find a place to take a rest.

It’s hard to not look at the closing of a Church as a failure. I recently had a discussion with someone about why people were not staying at the church and all sorts of reasons went on the table. The Pastor’s message, the music, the kids program, the youth group, missions, hospitality, connections, small groups, and a combination of all these areas were discussed. It was even suggested that the individuals who left were to blame because of some internal struggle they were going through. But never did the idea that God was moving them on come into the conversation. Could it be possible that God is not having people stay because He sees His children are tired, burnt out, and in desperate need of rest? Could success not be in the thriving of a non-profit business but in the Children of God recognizing their place in the Kingdom? There is nothing we do on our own that brings growth for the Kingdom of God. Why then do we look for validation from the work of our hands? Success is seen when God’s children gain understanding of their place and their role in His Kingdom and not just in the growth of church members. When we are part of a church that closes we will undoubtedly be sad. But with that sadness comes a sense of relief because the burden of keeping it open and succeeding is no longer on our shoulders. The truth is it never should have been on our shoulders to begin with.

I am not the lead role of my own movie. I am not the hero, the villain, the star, or the protagonist. I am not a supporting role, or a comic relief (though I do think I am hilarious), and there are two main reasons why. Life is not a movie, and the world does not revolve around me. It is easy for people who live in the West to start to look at their life in this way because of the media centered culture we’ve created. We all like to be entertained and there is nothing wrong with leisure time or spending it watching, listening, or engaging in stories. However, I have a tendency to look at myself as a good guy, someone who is innocent of any real harm, even though I know it’s not true.

When I was younger, Junior High School age, I used to believe that I was destined for heaven because I never did anything that made me deserve to go do Hell. I looked at Hell as a place of punishment that you earned your way into by doing bad things and being mean to people. Since I hadn’t done anything to deserve eternal damnation for my soul then naturally I wouldn’t go to Hell. The problem with that logic is that not earning a trip to Hell means earning a trip to heaven. But where’s the line? I’m not a thief, or a murderer so I go to heaven? I murdered someone, but I’m not Hitler so I shouldn’t deserve going to Hell, at least not the same Hell and someone who committed genocide. So, I guess now there must be many levels of Hell? A really bad place for the Hitlers of the world, a not quite as bad place for the mass murderers and serial killers, a different bad place for murderers, one for the liars and thieves, a medium place for the normal average people who told a couple of lies, parked in disabled spots without a placard… I could go on, but, it is already past the point of ridiculous isn’t it? Now I know there are people who think there should be a special place in Hell for disabled parking violators but maybe that’s just as absurd.

I believe this line of reasoning is what has led a lot of people to come to the conclusion that there is no heaven, there is no hell, there is just nothing. We came from nothing and after this life there will be nothing. Bleak, isn’t it? Now, whether something is bleak or not, should not be a determining factor for a system of belief. However, it is presumptuous to think that just because we do not remember anything that may have happed before our entrance into this life that nothing must exist after we exit. When it comes to complex and confusing things I don’t understand, I turn to the words of Jesus who was either the Son of God, or a stark raving madman (hint, it’s the former).

Matthew 8:12 “‘But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Matthew 13:42 “‘They [Gods’ angles] will throw them [everything that causes sin and those who do evil] into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Matthew 24:51 “‘He [the Master] will cut him [the wicked servant] in pieces and assign him a place it’s the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Matthew 25:30 ‘“And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”

Luke 13:27-28 “‘But He will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping there and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets is the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.’”

These are five examples of Jesus Himself talking about what happens after life. It’s important to note that these excerpts all come from parables and to better understand the passages it is best to read them all in context. For now, let’s just look at this. One of these five speaks of a fiery furnace, one speaks of being cut to pieces, one speaks of darkness, four speak of being thrown out, and all five mention weeping and gnashing of teeth. So, what can we take from this? Let’s break it down. Being thrown into a furnace and being cut into bits are very different but the result is the same, destruction. Whatever is burned or cut to pieces no longer lives and no longer remains in its previous state of existence. So, these two spell out the total destruction that awaits those who are separated from God at the end of this life. Meanwhile, the casting out into darkness and seeing into the kingdom speaks to an existence separate from God but not complete destruction. But in all of it there is this weeping and gnashing of teeth going on that tells us, “you don’t want any part in this”.

If we read the entirety of these parables we see that there is a way to earn your place in the Kingdom and that is by loving God and loving people all the time. Doing this is spelled out for us in the 10 commandments and other parts of the law of Moses. However, over time we have learned that fulfilling these laws every moment of every day is actually impossible. That is why we needed Jesus and still need Him today. Because the truth is that we have not always shown love to those who love us, we have not been honest with others (or ourselves for that matter), we are not innocent victims. Sometimes we are the perpetrators.

We are not the lead role of our own movie. We are not the hero, the villain, the star, or the protagonist and there are two main reasons why. Life is not a movie, and the world is not a stage, it is all much more important than entertainment.

~ Curtis J. Perea

I love Jesus’ example of relationship. From the way He called the disciples to follow Him to the way He performed His healing miracles. Once we go to Him Jesus always goes with us as far as we need, and He recognizes when we are ready to go before we can see it for ourselves. For me, this is one of the most beautiful things about Jesus. Reading about the way Jesus approached and lived out relationships made me want to be like Him. Being a naturally socially awkward person, I’ve always found relationships hard to start, difficult to maintain, and impossible to keep. Many people around me have adult friends that they knew from childhood. I do not. Deep down I wish I had those kinds of relationships and am envious of people that do have those people in their life.

This is probably part of the reason I love my brother’s as much as I do. They were the ones who were there with me from the beginning of my journey of life. Being the youngest I always looked up to them and wanted to be like them even when they would exclude me and treat me harshly. I never understood why they didn’t want me around or why they found someone who wanted to be like them so annoying. I get it now of course; youngest siblings are often needy and confused. They need to be taught everything and have no one to teach. This is undoubtedly a driving force to my desperation for discipleship. I want to be taught how to live life better and then I want to show others how to do the same. I am not sure I would be the same as I am today had I not grown up the youngest child by default. I think it likely had my younger brother survived infancy that I could have ended up excluding him the way my older brothers excluded me but it’s hard to say for sure because I was a sensitive and compassionate kid and my brother would likely have had special needs. But I guess I’ll never really know and it doesn’t really matter since this is the reality I grew up in and live with today.

One thing that came out of my childhood was a desire for brothers to treat each other better. It’s true for biological brothers and spiritual brothers as well; we need to be taught by the more experienced and teach the inexperienced. This is the essence of discipleship. It is the thing we are all called to from the beginning of our lives and is without a doubt closely tied to the meaning of life. Some will laugh at the very notion that life has meaning at all. However, I believe that the reality is not that life has no meaning rather that, the real meaning is so simple we miss it. I fear realizing the meaning of life right before I die and then it being too late to do anything about it, too late to live it out. The closest thing to ‘the meaning of life’ I see in the Bible is relationship with God and People. Love God, love people, period. The two greatest commandments spelled out by Jesus are very much in line with the discipleship examples given to us in Genesis’ creation story all the way through the New Testament. God created man, showed him everything, had him name everything, gave him a partner and had him show her everything he learned and then told them to make babies and teach them about everything on earth as well. It has been our call from the beginning and it is still true today. I have heard it suggested that the meaning of life is one thing and that one thing is different for everyone. This is not the example I see in the beginning of scripture all the way through to the end. Nor is it in regards to my own life experiences, childhood desires, and adult longings, they all point to the same thing. The meaning of life is found in relationships of discipleship.

We are all called to live life with others and to help one another. To live in relationship with God and people in a selfless, peaceful, and harmonious way is simple, but not easy, much like the life of Jesus. Now it’s interesting to me that I often hear people say that Jesus called the disciples to Himself or that He gathered them. However, in the beginning of the relationship the first two followed Him and He asked them what they wanted. Then they told their friends to come and meet Jesus. This is significant because Jesus was there but waited for those who would seek Him out and accepted them into relationship. The only times Jesus went to the people it was for public teaching or in the few cases of healing those who could not be moved from their beds. All other intimate moments were initiated by the other party. They went to Him, then He pressed in.

This is true also when we watch Jesus perform miracles. When Jesus healed people they either approached Him for the healing, or they were brought to Him. Again, Jesus only went to the ill when they were confined to their rooms. It is also interesting to note that Jesus went as far as people needed Him to go to receive their healing. Some people needed mud made from His spit rubbed on them, some needed to touch His clothes, some needed to just hear Him say the healing command, while that one gentile just needed Jesus to say it would be done. Jesus met them where they were.

Jesus, being the perfect disciple maker, also knew when the disciples were ready for ministry. Jesus sends them out after some time spent with Him, watching Him, and learning His ways of doing things. They were not ready to do it all without Him, still He knew they needed to experience some of what their ministry would look like while He was on earth to help and assist them. He didn’t just do this one time, but twice and by the third time He sent them out with the aid of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is an amazing example when it comes to relationships. He makes Himself available, waits for a response, presses in deeper and again waits for a response. Now, when we make disciples, we too should make ourselves available to the people around us and then press in when we get a response. If we follow this balance of invitation and challenge and pray that Jesus helps us keep each part in balance with the other. Then we should see some Kingdom breakthrough it the lives of those around us. Life with Him is like a dance and His love is the great romance.

Curtis Perea~

The devil is a liar and manipulator, the king of fear who makes you question the most important things you hear from God. This is not a new trick of his, clearly, he has been up to these shenanigans since we roamed the Garden with God. And here on earth, this is never clearer to us as people than when we go through “The Dark Night of the Soul”. There is no greater joy for a Christian than to feel close to God. The peace His presence brings is like the warm embrace of a loving mom and dad who give you a group hug, sings to you that everything is good, and tells you “we’re going to have some fun today”. The dark night of the soul is the opposite of that. It is when you feel far off from God and you’re not sure where He went. You feel like you’re a kid lost in a crowded place and at the same time isolated and alone in a remote part of the world where no one ever goes because there is no food or water to survive.

It seems impossible or at the very least illogical to feel both at the same time but that’s what It is like for me. My experience going through the dark night of the soul has very much been like being surrounded by the enemy completely cut off from God, but the reality is that I am more like a kid at the grocery store who turned down an aisle when my parents kept going straight. God is still very near, but you don’t know how to get back to the place by His side. For me, the normal prayer, worship, and scripture reading has not been doing it anymore. It no longer brings me back into the arms of the Father and the embrace of the Holy Spirit. It got so bad and so lonely that I needed to seek the help of medical professionals because I started to want it all to just end. I needed it to stop to the point where it was all I could think about.

I feel blessed that these suicidal thoughts have not won the day. I believe that they easily could and I have to fight to survive. God gave me the strength and the resolve to hand my guns over to family members and admit to everyone that I wanted the pain of this life to end. Asking for help was the hardest part I had to deal with and then God surrounded me with grace. Going to therapy and getting on medications was the right move for me and while I am hopeful to not have to take pills the rest of my life, I am also not willing to risk going back to that place, that state of mind. I am not yet out of this spiritual battle but the pain and suffering has been quieted enough for me to realize that part of my problem has been living an unsustainable rhythm of life. Not so much that I have been overdoing it, but I have been tremendously off balance. I have been going up to the proverbial mountain to meet with God but I have been failing to be in true community with others and I have failed to reach out to those who are still struggling to hear and understand the gospel.

I believe I know why I have failed to do this and I don’t want to admit it but I am going to share my theory. I have been afraid of opening up to a group of people who might not be there for me next year. After being a part of a church where I was finally able to experience life sharing discipleship that had to close, I have been hurt and I am afraid of getting hurt again. It didn’t feel good to watch those relationship go away and I tried to hold on to them as tight as I could. But, for me, I think the reality is that I needed to let them go so I could go somewhere as well, and start over. Because that’s what making disciples is all about. We are supposed to be fishers of men but we should be fishing, catch and release style, when it comes to discipleship. I should not have mourned the loss of what I had without celebrating what these other churches were going to get when they received my people. Not my people in the sense that they belonged to me but that I belonged to them. This is of course just one theory and not that of someone who is impartial.

Today I am hopeful with a side of pessimism. I have many reasons to stay secluded and could easily let my fear of losing relationships and grieving that loss keep me from engaging but I know this is not the will of the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit. The path that should be taken in times like these is one of vulnerable transparency. It is only when my hurts are exposed that I can draw people out of their protective walls and be able to get close enough to people that we can both be healed. Feeling withdrawn from community hurts and it makes you think pulling farther away from community is the only way to make it stop, but that’s a lie (that the king of lies is whispering in your ear). That when it’s time to be intentional and press into the relationships around you.

The dark night of the soul is more than just depression. Depression is a mental and emotional state of sadness, feeling isolated, hopeless, and with a pain that has no way of being bandaged. The dark night of the soul is that but also with a deep spiritual component that makes you feel separated from God when you once had closeness. It makes you question your calling, your purpose, your worth to the kingdom, and even your standing as an adopted child of God. I don’t know why God will let you go through it, but I do know that God is faithful while you do and is waiting for us on the other side. There is no quick fix to this, it is something that must be worked through. You must claw your way out with purposeful, intentional, faithful, and focused effort. You cannot defeat the valley of the shadow of death but if you look for it you will find the light that will lead you out and back to life.

Curtis Perea~

A friend recently made a post on Facebook with an innocuous question. What do you want out of life? But then it hit me. I should be obsessing on life instead of death. I have been obsessed with death for almost my whole life. It started at the age of two when my younger brother died. My mother carried Matthew full term only to give birth to a baby who couldn’t survive in this world more than three days. This was a devastating experience for my parents as you can imagine. I do not remember much from this time. The memories I do have are feelings and thoughts I have attached to pictures that slightly move like the ‘live’ photos an iPhone captures. This is not surprising, after all he was born and died in 1981 and I was born in 1979. I have made great attempts at remembering everything I can from that far back but when I have mediated on deeply buried memories I get pieces of the puzzle. I am not even sure if these are actual memories or my own imagination at work. But this was a significant event for my mother and my mother was my world at the age of two and I am still a bit of a momma’s boy. Watching her grieve, though I do not remember details, had a real impact on my own emotional development.

Somewhere in this process is where I believe I broke. God has been slowly trying to put the pieces back together but that’s been like gluing a vase back together, a vase that has legs, likes to run away, and doesn’t know if it even wants to exist. It was during this time that I became obsessed with death. I did not understand death or what it even was. What I knew of death was simple and very confusing. My mother was pregnant with my baby brother, she went to the hospital, came home, and was very sad. She wasn’t pregnant anymore and my baby brother had died. Like I said, my mother was my world and seeing how much my brother’s death hurt her made me not ever want to die or else I might hurt her as well. Thus, I became obsessed with death, what it was, how to avoid it, what it meant, and what happens when it happens.

I don’t think I ever asked my parents a lot of questions about Matthew and if I did ask any the answers probably left me more confused. To this day thinking about death creates feelings of confusion and anxiety. I have spent so much of my life trying to avoid the inevitable. Here I am, almost forty, realizing that I have spent all this time answering the question, “what do you want out of life?” With my answer being, “to not die”. I have spent half my life with the ridiculous goal of not dying. In my brokenness I answered a question about life with a statement about death. What is wrong with me? It took me almost forty years, half my life, to figure out that I have obsessed about the end. I’m glad I am having this realization now. At forty a lot of people start to face their mortality but I feel like I’m finally ready and able to stop focusing on my eventual death and start to face life. I want to be obsessed with life and that is not just the medication talking.

Since becoming a Christian my views on death have changed, but I’ve still been obsessed with it. I’m always thinking about the end of my time here in this body and how freeing it will be, yet still scared that it will happen too soon and I’ll end up hurting my mom and dad like the death of Matthew did. And now that I am married with children I know that my death would have such an impact on the lives of my own family that I am in no rush to have this happen. In fact, I really, really, really, don’t want to die so I can be there for them. But my focus is still wrong. I am still obsessed with death and avoiding death when I should be focusing on what to do while I’m alive.

Now, when I look at the question, “what do you want out of life?” I wonder if that is even a question I should be asking at all. Is it about me? Should I be trying to get anything at all out of life? Is this not a self-centered question? Now, I am not trying to say we shouldn’t have fun. Enjoy life. Eat, drink, and be merry. Find what pleasures you can and enjoy them but, like death, they are not something to obsess over. Some might say we shouldn’t obsess on anything, but for me, that’s asking this fish not to swim. Obsessing on things is what I do so obsessing on the pleasures in life will inevitably become a life of self-obsession.

Besides, is our life our own or is it owed to the people around us? I honestly feel like I owe my life to God and I can best give my life to God by living for the people around me. I worship God by living for the only thing the Bible said are made in the image of God (humans) so if I live to only serve myself I am in essence worshiping an image of God. I do not want to worship the image of God (humanity) by serving myself. I want to worship God and I do this by serving the people made in God’s image, helping them and caring for their needs.

I do not have a bucket list. There are things I want to do in life but I do not really care if I ever experience them. Life is so much more than the sum of all our experiences that completing a list of things to do before I die seems meaningless. That is not to say other people should not have a bucket list. They are a great tool to help people begin to face their mortality. But, facing my mortality isn’t my problem, it is how do I best live life in spite of my mortality.

Curtis Perea-

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In this episode we sit down with Ann Lowry and discuss the highs and lows of her life in the Kingdom of God. 

Check out this episode!