Today, I want to build on an idea I’ve previously journaled on but not shared publicly: reputation is the essence of the flesh.

I’m referring to the “flesh” talked about in the New Testament. In most places where Paul talks about the flesh versus the spirit, you can understand him to be referring to one’s reputation, not the physical body.

In Galatians 5, Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit: 9 positive characteristics that demonstrate together the manifestation of the Spirit in your life. Since we know that the Spirit is opposed to the flesh, it is a given that the fruit of the flesh, of reputation, is a negative contrast to these qualities.

As I was thinking about this idea one day, my mind jumped to the book of Ecclesiastes. That whole book is a great example of the reasoning of the natural mind, whose origins of thought are based in the land of reputation.

The portion in chapter 3 about there being a time for everything is often interpreted as a balanced view of life, pairing things that have positive associations with things that have negative associations. I think that this section is an example of allowing disappointment to convince you that the mindset of the spirit is imbalanced by itself (big lie!).

Look at how easily you can divide the list in verses 1-8 into competing perspectives between the spirit and the flesh (positive versus negative).

The Spirit:

  1. A time to be born
  2. A time to plant
  3. A time to heal
  4. A time to build up
  5. A time to laugh
  6. A time to gather stones
  7. A time to embrace
  8. A time to search
  9. A time to keep
  10. A time to sew together
  11. A time to speak
  12. A time to love
  13. A time for peace

The Flesh:

  1. A time to die
  2. A time to uproot what’s planted
  3. A time to kill
  4. A time to tear down
  5. A time to weep
  6. A time to throw stones
  7. A time to shun embracing
  8. A time to give up as lost
  9. A time to throw away
  10. A time to tear apart
  11. A time to be silent
  12. A time to hate
  13. A time for war

I’m convinced that the Spirit doesn’t ignore any parts of life or try to sweep them under the rug. However, I think that we often lack knowledge and understanding of God’s intentions about the circumstances we encounter and allow our desire for meaning to give the flesh permission to tutor us on how to interpret the things we don’t understand so that we don’t have to wrestle with mystery.

I believe that this list in Ecclesiastes is excellent raw material for us to reframe the reasoning of the flesh into ideas that give insight and hope into the work of the Spirit based on the knowledge that His intentions are good and are for us rather than against us. Here is my reframing of the negative ideas in verses 1-8:

Mystery reframed:

  1. A time to be born again
  2. A time to make room for more planting
  3. A time to destroy what keeps you from healing
  4. A time to clear the way for stronger foundations or improvements
  5. A time to release what keeps you from the laughter of joy
  6. A time to help others gather
  7. A time to embrace your independence
  8. A time to discover new meaning or value
  9. A time to prioritize freshness
  10. A time to repurpose and recycle
  11. A time to speak in a different medium
  12. A time to focus your love (deep love of one thing is often perceived as hate of another)
  13. A time to defend healthy boundaries which are the pillars of peace

All negatives in life are really misunderstood positives. The flesh seeks to clarify what we don’t understand according to the assumption that anything hurtful or extreme is probably intended to hurt us. However, the spirit affords us the opportunity to rework our assumptions about these circumstances from the intimate knowledge that God is love and intends to bless us by working all things together for good. Negatives develop from ignorance and short-sightedness; but positives emerge from long-term vision and intimacy with God.

Yep, I feel like God was using the movies recently to prophesy His intentions for us in 2017. Specifically, the new Rogue One Star Wars movie had wave after wave of Presence on various aspects in the plot. Here’s what I believe God wants us to know, cling to, and rejoice in this year, as conveyed through a movie!

* God is breaking in suddenly and setting free people who have gone through trauma or deep loss in their childhood. This will be a turning point where these people will begin to see how God is working things together for good to redeem their story.

* If you are one of these people who suffered trauma or deep loss as a child, you have the ability to give hope to those who are in the midst of suffering now. Your willingness to engage with society and fight on behalf of the oppressed will ignite hope within others that reaches far beyond your direct sphere of influence and outlives you for years to come. In other words, your choice to hope in spite of your past will empower others to choose hope in spite of their present.

* People in authority may not listen to your words, but people of influence will be drawn to your lifestyle and the people of authority will follow what you initiate among the people of influence.

* This is a time for you to be true to yourself, know your story, and not apologize for who you are – wounds and all. Your honesty about what’s going on inside of you will allow trust to flow both ways in your relationships with others.

* In the midst of this season, God wants to get a message across to you: He loves you as a Father, not a day goes by that He doesn’t think about you, and He has always had your best interests in mind.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.

Romans 12:14 (NLT)

I remember watching a video not too long ago of a police officer dragging a black girl out of her school desk and not knowing what story about the context to believe. I also remember feeling a strong sense of anger emanating from the student and from the officer. It marked the first moment of my awareness of the deeper issues we’re now facing today.

As a white male millennial, there are a lot of things you could assume about me. There are certain areas of life where I have experienced “white privilege” (if you call a lack of discrimination and being evenly and fairly considered among many options to be a “privilege”) and others where I’ve felt discriminated against. I’ve been discriminated against because of my height, my age, my beliefs, my poor financial status… usually not my race, but that doesn’t make the discrimination any less real.

All I know is that holding on to anger would have kept me stuck in a mess of insecurity, a mental and emotional prison, an unhealthy and stunted worldview. It’s for this reason that I want to share specific areas that I have chosen to forgive others so that I can be free to enjoy life and spread joy to others. These things I’m about to share may be real problems or they may be merely perceived by me. Either way, these are negative beliefs and experiences that I refuse to hold on to and I will also share areas where I am choosing to bless instead. This is what taking action on the issues of the day looks like for me. Maybe there will be another step after this, I don’t know. For now, let’s begin:

I Forgive White People

  • I FORGIVE any and all white people for knowingly or unknowingly exercising any level of privilege, real or imaginary, at the expense of other human beings instead of on the behalf of others
  • I FORGIVE any and all white people who deny that racism still exists today for not seeking to understand the world they live in and for not actively seeking to help those who are hurting
  • I FORGIVE any and all white people for any real or perceived attempts to drown out the voices reminding us that black lives matter by creating a cacophony of “all lives matter”
  • I FORGIVE any and all white people for being unnecessarily reactionary and unskillful in dealing with conflict and exercising humility

I Forgive Black People

  • I FORGIVE any and all black people who knowingly or unknowingly hold on to anger against white people for refusing to forgive me for the injustices of the past and present, and any injustices yet to happen, intended or unintended
  • I FORGIVE any and all black people who rail against all white people as being ‘privileged’ for not realizing that privilege doesn’t necessarily come to you because you are white but because you are affluent and for making unfair generalizations about me
  • I FORGIVE any and all black people who are equally as stubborn and naive as white people for not taking the time to walk a mile in my shoes and still have the audacity to point a finger of accusation

I Forgive Police Officers

  • I FORGIVE any and all police officers who have consciously or unconsciously allowed their prejudices to influence the way they treat black people in a manner that differs from the way they treat white people for not actively uprooting their unhealthy world views and presenting the best version of themselves possible

I Forgive The American Church

  • I FORGIVE the church for not always setting the best example of how to love people across generational and racial lines and for often serving to help divide rather than restore society
  • I FORGIVE the church for not emphasizing the necessity of forgiveness enough and demonstrating how to walk it out

I Forgive Angry and Defensive People

  • I FORGIVE any and all people who hate, argue, and disparage others for not listening to the heart cry of society today and for not being moved with compassion

BLESSINGS

I Bless White People

  • I BLESS white people with humility and joy so that they can discover the privilege and power of becoming the servants of all and establishing a standard of living that becomes other people’s floor rather than their ceiling
  • I BLESS white people with maturity and confidence to ask excellent questions and to become skilled listeners, especially when talking with people of unfamiliar backgrounds, upbringings, and persuasions
  • I BLESS white people with bravery to face criticism, however harsh, and still respond with love and honor

I Bless Black People

  • I BLESS black people with a double portion of grace and honor so that they can begin to rise up and initiate the greatest movement of healing and racial reconciliation the world has seen to date
  • I BLESS black people with abundant peace so that they can rest in the assurance that God doesn’t show partiality and His vindication is strong and complete
  • I BLESS black people with unquenchable endurance, an indomitable spirit, so that the world will know that the One who breathes life into mankind is powerful enough to sustain the people He loves

I Bless Police Officers

  • I BLESS police officers with the wisdom, strength, and love they need to serve and protect our citizens with dignity, honor, and respect
  • I BLESS police officers with insight to recognize situations and circumstances where they could be harboring potentially compromising beliefs
  • I BLESS police officers with divine action strategies to pursue personal development and foster goodwill in their communities

I Bless The American Church

  • I BLESS the church with an irresistible pull of the Spirit to make Jesus the starting and ending point of their conversations so that unity becomes the norm rather than the exception and so that they can lead the world as a light of hope in the midst of the darkness of division

I Bless All People

  • I BLESS humanity with the realization of the love of Christ, and the wisdom and understanding to apply it in everyday life
  • I BLESS humanity with heavenly keys to conflict so that people from all walks of life will be able to accurately express who they are and what they’re feeling and so that those listening will know how to interpret what they hear and understand things as they are intended and not as a different worldview or belief system may cause them to falsely appear

I’m not waiting for another opportunity. I am not waiting for a chance to make it big in life, strike it rich, or become famous. The truth is that I am famous to God. Being known and adored by God is the most elevated position in the universe. I’m already at the pinnacle of success, fame, and wealth. I am now free to pursue everything I do without a worry in the world because I’m not looking for personal gain, I’m looking to share the wealth.

Jesus Christ does not give me opportunities—He is my opportunity. He gives me permission to live abandoned to His care, to build healthy relationships simply because I enjoy it, to demonstrate to others that they’re worth my time because I am worth God’s time and now I have all the time in the world. I’m not worried about my next paycheck, finding a place to live, or having the right friends/network/connections. I’m motivated to find the people who don’t know who they are, the people lost in the negativity of the enemy, and share the abundant wealth of joy, fellowship, and provision in my life.

The truth about me is that God accepts me. I know this because I have joy. Since God accepts me, my main goal in relationships is to accept other people and demonstrate their value by listening to their stories, celebrating their victories, and plotting ways to bless them. I am looking for people to accept, offenses to forgive, and kindnesses to celebrate. This is who I am because Jesus Christ exists—there is no downside whatsoever!

I’m done with waiting for my next encounter.

I’m going to give thanks for everything I consume and everything I partake of and everything I engage with as though they were each different expressions of God saying directly to me: “I love you.”

I refuse to live like a love-starved beggar. I am not love-poor. I do not live in a poverty of love. No one lives in poverty—they waste away, they decay, they die.

I will subvert every experience of the ordinary, subduing them to serve the needs of love. The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.

Do I feel safe right now? I will receive this as a moment of “I love you.” Thank you, Jesus. Am I enjoying this meal? “I love you.” Thank you. Do I appreciate the way this table allows me to write comfortably? “I love you.” Thank you. Does a particular song pull on my heartstrings in all the best ways? “I love you.” Thank you!

I have a vast host of raw materials around me to frame within the context of love. I refuse to fail to take advantage of them. I refuse to allow a narrow-minded poverty paradigm tell me that only a few select and choice encounters, experiences, and interactions equal true love. I refuse to be a picky love-eater.

My next big love encounter could very well be found in the way the sunlight falls on the floor as easily as it could be found in a person literally saying the words “I love you,” or spending quality time with me or giving me gifts or a hug. God transcends space and time. Every moment could be a moment of quality time with Him. Every item I receive could be a gift from God. Every appropriate touch from someone could be a loving touch from God—we are all His ambassadors. Every thought of love, wonder, thrill, and satisfaction could be God’s own voice within my mind—His spirit dwells in me and interacts with me all the time.

Any mindset that allows for the idea that I am unloved is a mindset of rebellion against God because He gives us all things to enjoy.

I will do violence to apathy and self-pity. I will do violence to the ho-hum, mundane ordinary. I will do violence to the spirit (attitude) of poverty and desolation. I will find and experience the heavenly kingdom of love in the here and now. I will become the encounter I desire and go from one love encounter to even greater love encounters. My mind can re-wire my brain. My healthy loving thoughts can cause my DNA to reproduce correctly in healthy ways. I will restructure my experience by framing all things as coming to me out of love.

I’m done with waiting and pleading. I’m going to live like I’ve been answered, even before I’ve asked. I’m not waiting, I am enjoying and I even have enough to share.

This is the second time it’s happened—hitting a wall, that is. You know, the emotional kind. You know you’ve hit the metaphorical wall when you can’t think, you can’t process conversation, you can’t make a sound. The air gets stuck in your throat and the universe seems to pause. In moments like these, I’m not sure if it’s easier to know why you’ve hit the wall or easier to not know. All I know is I knew. I knew why I hit it and I know now.

It seems to be really easy for me to think God is the source of my trouble. I’ve grown partial to the understanding that it’s possible to run headlong into God’s work and suffer pain, not because He’s trying to hurt you, but because you ran into Him by running against Him. At this point, I don’t know if it’s a general rule of life, but it generally feels true for me.

We were talking. I was currently speaking when she interupted me, “Don’t be so literal.” I didn’t think I was. Without warning, my mind began churning out arguments in defense of accusations—she hadn’t even accused me of half of the things flooding my thoughts. The first and only sign necessary to signal that this is about something else. It’s about the first time I felt whacked upside the head by a passing remark. Both times I’d been talking with people I had met through church. Neither one meant their comments in a hurtful way, yet I was crushed by both of them. This brings me back to God.

The stunning simplicity of these interactions was like being suddenly blind-sided by a huge wave, knocking me back and leaving me strangely bitter. I attributed this to God since He was the topic of our discussions. Now I’m wondering if that’s really the case. I suspected a dutiful “thank you” would bring me through it, but I carried mounting guilt and shame out of my interactions with these people. Something didn’t add up. Maybe, despite their best intentions, my friends’ words had been appropriated by a demonic agenda. Maybe God had nothing to do with it. After all, aren’t the righteous supposed to be able to run into Him and be safe?

Maybe it’s been part of an assignment to derail my pursuits, to steal my joy, to convince me that advancement will only lead me in circles of futility. Yet here I find myself, in the words of Misty Edwards, “walking on a tightrope stretched across the universe, way too high to go back from where I came, overwhelmed at the miles I’ve yet to tame. I’m too far in to turn around now and I’ve got too far to go to sit down now…” I wonder how this will all play out.

Whenever I speak out of frustration:

  • I end up partnering with someone else’s demonic opposition
  • I fail to partner with God’s answer of provision for the person or issue I’m speaking about
  • I act as though I believe the person I am speaking against does not hear from God
  • I neglect my ability to contribute personal meaning to the conversation through the lessons and growth that I am learning and experiencing
  • I stunt the personal growth I could have through the tension of honoring a perspective that is “other” than me
  • I miss out on an opportunity to seek understanding before being understood
  • I pave the way for offense in the relationship
  • I choose pride in my opinion against someone else’s
  • I make the path of humility to feel far more costly
  • I succumb to every form of negativity
  • I rob myself of enjoying the company of another human being
  • I idolize being right over being connected
  • I forget that my identity isn’t found in my beliefs
  • I fear that the person or idea I’m frustrated with will harm me if left unconfronted
  • I sabotage my ability to shape or influence the person or idea I’m frustrated with

Whenever I speak from a place of revelation (understanding of who I am and what I’m experiencing):

  • I bless those who hear
  • I encourage those who need hope
  • I honor others’ ability to contribute shared meaning
  • I become a safe person to confide in
  • I attract more goodness from my Father in heaven
  • I enjoy being present in the moment
  • I delight simply in sharing and don’t fear being rejected
  • I gain clearer vision for my dreams and goals
  • I feel grateful
  • I see the good in other people and situations
  • I have more grace for the things people say that I think are wrong
  • I spur dialogue which leads to a synthesis of new ideas
  • I maximize my potential in my current season of life
  • I free myself from old perceptions and stereotypes
  • I create forward momentum for more growth