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3 Simple Ways to Start a Sabbath Practice

I am a fledgling sabbath-keeper. Though I’ve written a book about it, embraced my 52 chances per year to practice it, and have even preached it, I am a less-than-perfect sabbatarian.

And that’s OK.

But Americans think we have to be the best at everything. As my friend Rev. Elizabeth Hagan writes, “I’m a better do-er than rest-er.” Like her, we thrive on the “go big or go home” mentality. “Good enough” equates to mediocre, which is why our bookshelves are lined with tomes on mastering a craft and becoming our best selves.

I’ve spent the last two years trying to perfect the art of shabbat,or “ceasing” from labor. I researched it from both a scholarly and lay perspective; I interviewed countless clergy and a rabbi on scriptural wisdom and sabbath theology. Combining all the knowledge I gleaned, I wrote a 144-page how-to guide on keeping the fourth commandment. When For Sabbath’s Sake headed to print, I was confident I had mastered this spiritual practice.

But then it came time to talk to real-life folks about how to (realistically) keep sabbath in a noisy, 24-7 world. I had to boil down two years of research and writing into bite-sized bits of “be still” that a frenzied culture and community could digest. Nobody had time to hear me pontificate about how to “master” or “become” a sabbath keeper. In truth, I realized I hadn’t “mastered” or “become” a perfect sabbath keeper, anyway.

So instead of becoming, I decided to “be.”

I decided to invite others to catch glimpses of sabbath rest, devotional practice, and community whenever, wherever, and however they can. I call these “sabbath moments.”

We don’t have to wait for the calendar to bestow these “sabbath moments” upon us. We only need to be open to the Holy Spirit’s movement, and be willing to “see” the sacred among the ordinary. God has given us all the tools we need to catch eternity in a minute (or 15). Here’s how:

  1. Put away your phone. Research indicates that having a smartphone within sight drains your cognitive capacity. Stowing it for even 15 minutes gives you the opportunity to just sit, think, and engage your brain (and soul) in a meaning-making or thoughtful ritual.  
  2. Get more sleep. There’s no shortage of data on how sleep deprived we are. A delicious 15-minute sabbath nap can feel like an entire night’s sleep. Remember: “resting your eyes” on the couch with People magazine also counts. The point is that you lie down and relax sans screens.
  3. Talk with someone. I mean really talk—like face-to-face. When’s the last time you attended a community gathering (worship, civilian club, or activism event) and chatted with someone you knew or didn’t know well? Scientists have uncovered the correlation between increased social media use and loneliness. Being online tricks us into thinking we’re connecting in meaningful ways, but it actually leads to FOMO (fear of missing out) and the feeling of being alone.

That’s my 1, 2, 3 broad-strokes key to keeping sabbath: think, sleep, connect. Repeat.

There is a right way to observe sabbath—Jesus taught us this. Christ fought against the legal fiction that declared folks needn’t be healed or fed on the holy day. Instead, Jesus was “Lord of the Sabbath.” He worshipped, he prayed, he gathered people, and he served. Each sabbath looked a little different, but the core themes remained: rest, worship, and community.

If we follow his lead, we would be wise to try these baby-steps. Then, we just might catch a glimpse of eternity in the ordinary moment.

Think. Sleep. Connect. Repeat.

Rest. Worship. Community. Repeat.

The Rev. J. Dana Trent is an ordained Baptist clergywoman, award-winning author and World Religions faculty member at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, NC. Her work has appeared onTime.com,Religion Dispatches,Religion News ServiceThe Christian CenturyandSojournersHer second book,For Sabbath’s Sake: Embracing Your Need for Rest, Worship, and Community,is available now. She loves naps with cats, vegetarian food, and teaches weight-lifting for the YMCA. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @jdanatrent on Facebook.

Interested in a deeper conversation about sabbath?

Listen to Steve and Dana on Episode 36 of The #AskSteveAustin Podcast. Just click the “play” button below:

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The Hardest Question I’ve Ever Asked

We have the ability to change the course of our lives when we become aware of that core of sacredness—which I call the Beloved—and begin to live with it as our guide. Whenever we have a flash of love, innocence, acceptance, inspiration, awe, or wonder, or we’re moved to tears or filled with joy, we must remind ourselves: this is the real me. We must not let such moments simply pass us by. We must stop and appreciate those moments and act on them—and ask that we receive more of them in the future.Rev. Ed Bacon, 8 Habits of Love

The Hardest Question I’ve Ever Asked

The first time I took my old 85 Isuzu pickup out on the interstate was in college. I’d been driving that old truck for a few years, but only on country backroads below 45 miles an hour. At those speeds, on those roads, that little truck did just fine. But as I eased onto I-65 for that first time and the speedometer crept past 55 and onto 60, the pistons began to scream. Every joint was rattling. The tires were begging for mercy. The axles were wide-eyed. And the motor couldn’t believe what was happening. This was too much.

I had a similar experience Saturday night. It was one of those rare soul-shifting, theology-shaking, heart-wrecking, tear-inducing kinds of experiences. It was just a small gathering with friends. A little wine, some light hor d’oeuvres, and lots of love.

But the conversation that transpired over those two and a half hours, sitting in conversation with Ed Bacon, changed me. And maybe it didn’t change me as much as it confirmed in me that I do have an inner-knowing deep inside of me, and that I have all the permission I need to fully explore those truths.

[clickToTweet tweet=”God is not a Christian. God is not a Muslim. God is not an Atheist. – @revedbacon #graceismessy” quote=”God is not a Christian. God is not a Muslim. God is not an Atheist.” theme=”style3″]

He made a statement, during the “lecture” portion of his talk with us, “God is not a Christian. God is not a Muslim. God is not an Atheist.” The list went on, but you get the idea. In the whole of the evening, this statement was really just a side note. And though Ed really just said it in passing, he fully meant it. He fully believes it, but it wasn’t the point of the night. And it wasn’t said to be shocking. It was said to show us the fullness of God, to impress upon the group that yes, God is so much bigger than we have ever imagined.

All Over But the Shoutin’

My chest began to rattle like that old 85 Isuzu. Every inch of my body was shaking. I could feel my bones rat-a-tat-tatting against each other. It was as if my soul would climb the rungs of my ribs and makes its way up and out my esophagus to scream, “YES! Hallelujah! Amen! Say it again!”

And that is exactly what happened. In my friend’s living room, I yelled like the recovering Pentecostal that I am. And we all laughed. And I was relieved. I wasn’t trying to get attention. I didn’t need it. But this wrestling, which has been such a part of my private life, has only become more public in recent months, and this affirmation from “a man of the cloth” was such a powerful moment for me that the only right response was to holler.

But the night wasn’t over. When it turned to time for questions, I knew the one I’d have to ask. The question I confessed to my wife on our way to this event. “This is the question I’ve been wrestling with for a while. This is the question I have but can’t tell anyone else but you.” I knew I’d have to ask it, or the entire evening would be a waste for me.

There was a great question about Hell, followed by an intimate discussion. But I was still clenching my question, knowing that saying it aloud would surely send me straight to the Lake of Fire. My wife confessed that walking through postpartum depression was Hell on earth, because she couldn’t feel God during that time. And there was more great discussion.

But I still had my fearful claws in my question. The one I’ve been wrestling with for a long while. The one that would officially brand me a heretic. The one question that, once uttered, can never be silenced. It can’t be reeled back in. It can’t be erased or taken back. Once you put it out into the universe, everything changes.

I made eye contact with our speaker. “I’ve got a question.” My typically confident tone was shaky. And, like I do when I get nervous, I prefaced it with all sorts of rambling and warnings and a little bit of humor. “Y’all may want to move back before the lightning strikes. I’m on staff at a church, but I can’t skip over your statement about God not being a Christian and not ask the one question my soul is begging me to ask.”

Silence.

The speedometer passed 55 and the pistons were screaming again.

“Is Jesus the only way to God?”

*Stay tuned for my response to this post.

This is part of my “Why I’m Giving Up God for Lent” series. For more articles like this, click here and here.

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Steve Austin: This is My Story (Video)

As part of the launch for Radical Hope Church, our core team has been sharing snippets of their story in video confessionals.
Here’s mine…

Feel free to share it on social media, if you know someone who needs grace in the midst of the mess. And buy my 21-day self-care journal today at graceismessybooks.com!

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The Importance of Being Real

I blog often about how the power of vulnerability and transparency has changed my life. But it’s only because a lack of those things created an environment of toxicity and shame that nearly killed me. I was recently interviewed by Jon Fuller for the R U Real Podcast and in our talk, we cover the power of vulnerability for the Christian and anyone recovering from abuse, addiction, or a suicide attempt.

Are you real?

 

Check out my interview with Jon today! Just click here.

You can also like Jon’s Facebook page, follow him on Twitter, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (leave a review!), and see all the show notes on RUReal.org

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Why I Trust God in the Midst of Tragedy

One of the most important lesson I’ve ever learned is that I can trust God in the midst of great tragedy.

Why I Trust God in the Midst of Tragedy

I was raised in the Charismatic Movement, taught to believe we could believe it and receive it, name it and claim it.

Because I believed in God’s plan to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me a hope and a future, I knew that all things were possible if I just believed in God. In those days, I wrote Scripture on index cards and carried it with me until I had the verse memorized.

After growing up in the church, I got my first taste of freedom during my freshman year of college, and I quickly burned out on the church game. Like many kids that age, I grew jaded and bitter. I questioned everything and doubted everyone. I hung out with the party crowd and dared anyone to question my choices.

Yet I still tried everything to find my purpose, which I expected to be magnificent. I was accustomed to excelling, and didn’t God promise me a hope and a future? But after being President of my Freshman class, making the Dean’s list, and dating a couple of cute girls, I still wasn’t satisfied.

So, at the ripe old age of nineteen, I did the next most logical thing I could think of, and walked away from a four-year scholarship. I joined a ministry internship program at my home church, because church was a place I could be anonymous, as long as I performed like the rest of the crowd.

It wasn’t nearly as fun as my previous year of drinking and partying, but it was respectable and a place I knew I could excel. I’ll never forget my Dad’s words, “In ten years, you’ll look back and realize this was the biggest mistake you’ve ever made.” Dad wasn’t right. I’ve made bigger mistakes.

///

I served as a youth pastor and worship leader off and on for the better part of the next decade, believing I could change the world and change the church. Around the age of 26, the shiny things lost their appeal and I began to wear myself out. Trying do everything extraordinary, I lost myself. I almost lost my family. For a time, I even lost my will to live.

I am no longer the boy who intentionally memorizes Scripture, and I haven’t been the President of anything in nearly two decades. I work a part-time job, live paycheck-to-paycheck, and being hired by a new church was one of the scariest experiences I’ve had in the past four years.

So what about that hope and future God promised me? And what about this one:

I can do all things through Christ Who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

I don’t think this verse is our promise from God that we can do anything we put our minds to. I think it is actually a verse of comfort from a guy who wrote it while chained in prison, encouraging the rest of us who are stuck in dire circumstances to keep trusting. I think this verse actually drives home the very crux of the Gospel of Grace: we can face all sorts of things and persevere through them, as long as we keep trusting in a faithful, changeless God.

I have always called this verse and Jeremiah 29:11 “the graduation verses” because that seems to be when they are most used. We want to tell our kids they can do anything. What we mean is, they can graduate with honors, get the job, get the girl, and have the life they want. But I believe this verse goes much deeper than the superficial spin we have put on it. I think Paul was actually saying when we don’t get the job, or the girl, or the life we wanted, but instead lose our house, or our baby, or our will to go on, we can still do all things.

Christ’s strength replaces our human weaknesses.

When Lindsey experienced the hell of postpartum depression following our first child’s birth, it was the scariest time of my life. No young guy ever dreams of having his wife placed in a psych ward. I would have rather died. When she was rolled away on that stretcher, I couldn’t imagine anything worse.

A year later, Lindsey got the call no wife wants to get. “We found your husband’s body. He’s been transported to ICU.” In both situations, we faced our darkest days, but we trusted in God in the face of great adversity and uncertainty and He walked with us through every experience.

And most recently, we were convinced we had been called to Alaska, and God was going to use us there. When the job fell through and we were left with a hefty rent and the nearest family members were 4,000 miles away, we wondered what the hell God was doing.

When I am weak, He is strong…

Today, I no longer want to do “all things”. Instead, I want to do a few things well. My hope is in raising my kids to know their value and in loving my wife in such a way that she never questions where she belongs. My future has never looked better, because I am convinced that I can truly do all things, as long as I trust in God. And so far, His track record is stellar.

Get your copy of my new book, “From Pastor to a Psych Ward” today for only $2.99!

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One Question About My Faith That Really Makes Me Squirm

“So, are you Pentecostal?”

After almost 3 decades of Sunday’s spent within the four walls of various charismatic denominations, that question still squeezes my stomach into knots and induces awkward laughter befitting a pubescent boy talking to his crush. Mainly because the question is accompanied with a look of disgust, followed by a litany of questions to point out that I am, basically, a heretic.

One Question About My Faith that Really Makes Me SQUIRM

“So, you, like, speak in tongues and stuff?”

“Um, yeah that is part of what we do.”

“Well, my pastor/parent/Sunday school teacher/friend says that’s not real.”

*back sweat*

“Uh…”

*stomach squeezes tighter*

“Well … Ok then!”

*increased awkward laughter*

Thanks for answering a question no one asked.

Then, the conversation takes an inevitable turn. “Do you believe in miracles?” they will ask. I will then breathe a sigh of relief and answer yes. I’m relieved, because at this point they will usually say, “Oh, me too.”

While the nuances of belief comes in various forms, and this is not indicative everywhere, most people raised in the Bible Belt have decided that, despite Charismatics’ deep “theological flaws,” they can agree with us on miracles.

The general perception around our beliefs about miracles come from the pink-haired, screaming, fire-and-brimstone preaching people at TBN. They talk about crazy miracles. People seeing gold dust fall from the sky or palms sweating with “anointing oil” (which is just olive oil anyway). Crazy miracles, and usually pointless.

Next question: “Have you seen one?”

If you ask this question to any “normal” charismatic person – which I think of myself as one – the answers will vary. Some might tell you the story of their aunt who was riddled with cancerous tumors that suddenly disappeared. Or maybe they heard about someone in their congregation with chronic back pain that immediately stopped after intense prayer at an altar call.

I’ve been thinking about miracles a lot lately. My mind keeps going back to my go-to answer. I have always responded that, yes, I have seen one. However, something has changed.

The story I usually tell happened when I was around 18. I had gone to a worship service at another church. They had invited this musician that is fairly well know in charismatic circles. His music is considered “prophetic” and involves a lot of “free worship.” If you don’t know what that is, basically it’s where someone allows the music to flow organically from where they think the Spirit of God is leading.

During the middle of this service a lady in a wheelchair rolled up closer to the stage. She looked like her body was paralyzed from the waist down. She had those gloves on to reduce blisters and calluses. Every outward detail said she had been in that chair a long time.

Then, during the middle of a moment of “free worship” she got out of her wheelchair and walked up and onto the stage. A miracle! It was a big moment and everyone started cheering and crying. It was powerful.

One Question about My Faith that Really Makes me Squirm

But, something about this story for me had changed. I stopped answering the “miracle question” with that story. I started saying I had heard about miracles, but never seen one for myself.

This was a massive moment. Why had I given up that powerful story? Because I remembered what happened after the service….

She was still in her wheelchair.

This woman who had been touched by God and healed, exited the building in her wheelchair! That completely changes the story. Now, I don’t know who she was or if things got better, but the truth is she didn’t walk out. While everything said she was paralyzed, maybe it was just a temporary paralysis. I couldn’t explain it, so I stopped trying.

Whether we can admit it or not, we all want to believe in the miraculous. I think that is why I wanted to believe this stranger was healed. However, reality did not match my desire. What do we do if we never see the miracle we are looking for?

One thing about my faith that really makes me squirm.

Jesus and his disciples performed amazing miracles, from healing to walking on water. These moments were huge narrative shifts in the Gospels. The lives of minor characters, those receiving or witnessing the miracles, had their lives changed! I wonder, though, how many heard of, or even saw, these miracles during Christ’s ministry, but never received their own? Did doubts circle their mind? Were they frustrated? Did they feel deceived?

Doubts are problematic because they disengage our minds from what we thought we knew and draw attention to our present reality. They call into question how we were raised or what we were taught, and can even ostracize us from our own faith communities.

Modern Pentecostals have suffered the same sin as our fellow Evangelical brothers and sisters: we have shrunk our beliefs into a tiny box that we lock shut to prevent doubt, and angrily guard what we hold sacred. Ironically, we made up these beliefs. They come from our minds, but we defend them as if our understanding is as reliable as God Himself. There is no room for questioning our theologians or spiritual leaders.

With that being said, probably the biggest disservice my faith tradition has done is attempt to make the move of the Holy Spirit into a science, as if the supernatural could be drilled down. I grew up hearing “if only that person would have more faith, then they would be healed,” or “if you would live a purer life then maybe God will change this.”

Here I was with a wheelbarrow full of doubts, wondering if everything I was taught was true. What was I supposed to believe about miracles now?

I opened the box.

Could it be that there is more to the miraculous than what I previously thought? What if we, instead, quietly hope for that which we cannot see and loudly proclaim grace to questions we cannot answer? Would that simple act be a miracle?

When we hope with the woman who longs for a child, but her body does not comply, or hold the hand of the man going through chemo with a bleak outlook, or refuse to give cheap answers to the parents of a drug addict … aren’t those moments miracles, too?

When we look the person struggling with a mental illness in the eyes and say that their personhood matters even when they don’t feel or treat you the same way, we offer a grace that comes from beyond ourselves. Isn’t that a miracle, as well?

So, do you believe in miracles? I do, because I have seen hope and grace in action. And, just like those receiving miracles in the Bible, lives were changed.

If Pentecostalism did anything, it pointed out the small, quiet stream of love that douses us if we will just jump in.

“So are you Pentecostal?”

Yes I am.

I do believe in miracles. Here's why.

Luke Williams is a husband, father, musician, Sunday School teacher, and lover of books (and Steve Austin’s IRL friend). The combination of coffee and talking about Jesus could take up all of his time. 


 

*This post is part of the This is My Story series. Check it more real life confessions by clicking right here.

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Is the Holy Spirit Your Comfort…or A Crazy Cousin?

When you think of the Holy Spirit, what images come to mind?

Is the Holy Spirit Your Comfort...or A Crazy Cousin?

Growing up, the Holy Spirit felt like that distant cousin we saw only at family reunions. The one who had no boundaries, no respect for personal space. A crazy guy who made everyone laugh nervously as he threw Grandma in the swimming pool. The Holy Spirit always seemed scary, loud, and destructive.

He seemed to like flashy preachers in packed arenas best. Televised showmen, with anointing oil and forceful prayers. I can still feel those cold, soft palms on my forehead pushing me backward, ”encouraging” my faith.

I always pictured the Holy Spirit as a force, knocking little old ladies to the floor, “slaying” them. He was a message in unintelligible tongues that would need to be interpreted (usually only by the showy preacher with the slicked-back hair). The Holy Spirit was “thus saith the Lord” and a woman clucking like a chicken in the aisle at my Grandma’s little country church, with shouts of “Glory!” stretched into four syllables.

I grew up in the era of the “Spirit of…” whatever outward signs and wonders we saw that particular Sunday morning. As a little boy, the “Spirit of Laughter” was the funniest and most confusing of all. I had never read about such a spirit in the Bible, but it seemed to come over the entire congregation in waves, as people laughed, snorted, and cried uncontrollably, right in the midst of the preacher’s sermon. The teaching would be upended for the day and folks would fall all over one another, at the very throne of God. It was the happiest and certainly the silliest I’d ever seen many of those typically grumpy, stern-faced and straight-laced church folks.

Is the Holy Spirit Your Comfort...or A Crazy Cousin?

For many years, I wondered why my personal times with God were often so different from the public experiences others seemed to have. I think it was the abuse. Alone with God was the only place I felt safe enough to fall apart. I spent the first twenty-eight years of my life performing on and off the stage, but I longed to believe that God only wanted the most raw, unfiltered parts of my heart. I needed a God who was powerful and protective, not loud and showy. I longed to feel God the Father, wrapping me in his arms, whispering, “You’re safe here.”

During my childhood, I saw people act forcefully on behalf of the Holy Spirit, but I never experienced Him that way. I knew the Holy Spirit as a gentle nudge, a Comfort, like one of my Grandmother’s quilts. But what I heard was that He was the hall monitor of our souls: the ever-watchful Eye of a perfect and holy God, who was more interested in finding the secrets we hid in the darkest places of our wandering hearts than being the balm for our weary souls.

As a result, for a while, I grew jaded, skeptical, angry. Every day of my college life, I drove past The Church of the Holy Comforter and referred to it as The Church of the Divine Duvet. Church had become a joke, mainly because I was tired of constantly trying to reconcile my personal encounters with God’s careful and kind spirit against the public outbursts I had seen so many times as a church kid.

But as extreme as my childhood experiences may have been, let me tell you: these days, I still believe in the Holy Spirit.

It turns out the Comfort I knew in God’s presence was the Holy Spirit all along. During my second day in ICU, I heard him as a gentle whisper. As I laid in a hospital bed, waiting to see if my liver would recover or not, I heard that soothing voice again, and I recognized it as the same voice from my youth. God was with me.

Even in that place, when there was not an ounce of performance or pretense available. In that moment, I met the strongest version of God I have ever known. He never shouted. He never pushed or “encouraged” me. He just stayed. I’ll never forget His words: “I’m not finished with you yet.”

What about you? In what ways has the Holy Spirit shown up in your life? Do you feel the Holy Spirit more in rowdy churches, or in the quiet spaces of your life? The last thing I want to try and do is to put God in a box. He is certainly capable of operating in different ways for different people, at different times. I would love to read about your experiences. Leave them in the comments or email me.


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