(by Tricia Gunn. Written in July 2016)
Have you ever felt like you were on-the-outside-looking-in?
Here's how C.S. Lewis described it:
"It is not easy, even at a given moment, to say who is inside and who is outside. Some people are obviously in and some are obviously out, but there are always several on the borderline... I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside." (from "The Inner Ring")
Some of us have more sensitivity to whether we are in or out. As for me, I had a particularly strong awareness of my status of in-ness or out-ness for most of my life. To paint the picture, here's a survey of the history of my life:
I was born in Memphis, Tennessee. I am the middle child of five, having three sisters and a brother. Our family moved “out to the country” when I was little to get away from big city life. My hometown became Grand Junction, Tennessee, a town of less than four hundred residents about forty-five minutes from the city. For three years during my elementary school years, we lived near Brussels, Belgium, because of my father’s job; then we returned to our small town in Tennessee. After high school, I attended Ole Miss where I met my husband-to-be, Mark. During college I moved to Washington, DC, and graduated from Mount Vernon College for Women. Mark and I were married during my senior year in college. In the thirty years of our marriage, Mark and I have lived in DC, Memphis, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Chattanooga, and Birmingham (where we’ve lived for the past twenty years). We have five children - the first four were born in different states. My husband’s job had him not only “moving up the ladder,” but also moving the family all over the Southeast.
With all the moves in my life, I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of many church fellowships. When I was a child, I was a Methodist (even though Mama taught us from more of a Presbyterian mindset); while living in Europe, I attended a Catholic school; and then we went to the Baptist church when I was in high school because they had a good youth group. After Mark and I were married and as we moved from city-to-city/ state-to-state, we were Methodist, Presbyterian, non-denominational-non-charismatic, non-denominational-charismatic. And to top if off, we’ve attended our share of Word of Faith meetings.
I’ve been involved in ministry for over two decades, taught many Bible studies, and led about twenty conferences. For several years I oversaw an “inner healing” ministry, wrote the curriculums used by many thousands of church-goers, and oversaw hundreds of leaders in a mega-MEGA church.
After some serious burn-out in ministry, I had an encounter with Jesus that changed my life forever and my perspective on everything - and I mean everything. I was ambushed by grace and realized that everything I had ever believed and taught had been from the perspective of an unfinished work - a misunderstanding of what Christ has accomplished for me. (Click here to listen to “my testimony”). After continuing in the ministry for a while and teaching from this new (but ancient, New Covenant) perspective, I resigned from full time ministry for a season to care for my mom who was ill. A couple more years passed, and then four years ago, we joined with some friends and started a simple grace church focused on Jesus and His finished work. During that time period, I wrote a book, Unveiling Jesus, and launched a new ministry, Parresia.
I’ve learned alot over the years having traveled all over the world to conferences and meetings, getting to know believers from every walk of life and every stream of Christianity. I’ve read a whole lot of books, listened to a bazillion of sermons, and participated in many Bible-based programs designed to help us grow spiritually. I’ve rubbed elbows with famous Christians, I’ve found myself so far up the hierarchy of church life that I forgot what it was like to be a “commoner,” and at times I’ve been friends with the most forlorn, rejected, outcast, unstable, and even downright strange souls. You could say I’ve been a busy Christian.
It might seem with all that Christian activity - some of it of very “high level importance” - that I would have had some assurance that I was an “insider.” Surely with so many friends, so many looking up to me, so many depending on me, and even so many on the "inside" who had pledged a “covenant relationship” with me, I belonged. Then why, for most of my life, did I feel like I was always on-the-outside-looking-in? Why in the back of my mind was the Sesame Street song always playing, “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong…”
At one time I thought I had it figured out. Years ago, I was asked to speak to the elders’ wives and staff ladies at the church we were involved in. I entitled the message “On the Outside Looking In” and gave my best attempt to explain my feelings in hopes that I could encourage anyone else in the room who might be able to relate. My theory was that I was always different than the people I was around - either culturally or spiritually or both - and that’s why I never felt like I belonged.
I was a city girl in a small town
I was an American in a foreign country
I was a protestant in a Catholic school
I was a small town girl at a big college and in big cities
I was a Presbyterian in the Methodist and Baptist Churches
I was "spirit-filled" in the Presbyterian and non-charismatic churches
On the one hand, I think the ladies to whom I was revealing my insecurities felt sorry for me; but on the other hand, the topic of not belonging can inspire anxious introspection. Even the thought of being on-the-outside-looking-in is terrifying for those who have their identity in what they do for God and in what others think of them - which probably included most in the room. Many of us have slaved to give the perception that we really are on the "inside" even though deep down we're sure we aren't. Knowing what I know now, I think many of those ladies may have been wrapping themselves a little tighter in the Emperor’s New Clothes while I bore my heart, checking to make sure their masks were squarely in place.
That day something in me just wanted to be honest - at least honest enough to say that I didn’t feel like I belonged. The problem with me, though, wasn’t that I was culturally or even spiritually different. The problem with me was that I was tirelessly trying to serve God and please people - the very things designed to create an identity of significance in the religious world and make us feel like we belong, while at the same time causing us to feel like we DON'T belong! Why? Because we can never do enough. The carrot just dangles out there on the end of the stick taunting all of us us. I’ve learned that this same carrot (the prize of being "in") and this same stick (the punishment of being "out") is a motivating force in much of Christianity today, regardless of a church's denomination or non-denomination.
Many of us are “doing to be” instead of realizing that we already are. Already are what? Every believer is already forgiven, holy, faultless, blameless, and redeemed by the only One whose opinion really matters. We may not be right with people, but we're already right with God... because of Jesus.
“Yet now he [God] has reconciled you [past tense] to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him [present tense] without a single fault. But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News.” (Colossians 1:22-23, NLT, brackets mine)
Before my eyes were opened to this truth, a veil covered them - the veil of condemnation. On my side of that veil was a mirror that caused me to look at myself and to see the world as peripheral to me. I defined myself by the mirror and what I could naturally see and feel. I lived by what my five senses were telling me, and my feelings were constantly telling me that I didn’t belong anywhere.
Then at my lowest point when I could not tolerate that mirror any longer, one single encounter changed everything. In that encounter the veil was removed. The mirror that always told me I wasn’t complete was taken away. That veil was lifted by God Himself, and in its place was the unveiled face of Jesus. In its place were His loving eyes staring straight into mine without shame. In its place were waves of grace enveloping me. In its place was His voice whispering to me, “Tricia, you belong in Me.” Even though it seemed so fresh and so brand new, it was what I knew to be true in my spirit all along. I knew He was that good.
In a moment’s time the eyes of my understanding were enlightened to the knowledge of Jesus and to the truth that He is the center of everything. Everything is peripheral to Him. I am not assessed based on my natural lineage or my status among people or what I do for God or for anyone. I am defined by HIM - who HE is, what HE has done for me, and who He has made me to be in Him.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, NKJV)
The more aware I am of Him, the more I experience His intimate fellowship. The more of His grace I receive, the more I realize He Himself is grace, and I can never receive too much of Him. The more I behold Him, the more I learn who He has created me to be as a new creation. The more I learn about His ways, the more I see His power and His love towards everyone, especially myself. The more I feast on His love, His joy, His peace, His patience, His goodness, His faithfulness, His gentleness, and His self-control towards me, the more I bear these fruits in my life towards others.
Seeing, hearing, knowing, believing, and receiving from Him is all that’s needful. It’s all about Jesus. The more I know Him, the more I know I belong.
Every day since my grace awakening I have experienced explosions of joy, peace that passes understanding, hope that propels me forward, assurance the He’s always with me, and love that absolutely takes my breath away and leaves me speechless.
Jesus loves me, this I now know.
In the years since since the veil was lifted, I’ve given my life to share this message of amazing grace, extravagant love, and intimate fellowship with Jesus. JESUS - there’s just something about that name. I sing it, I say it, I dream it, I speak it. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus - You are our all in all. We can do nothing apart from You. We find our breath in You. We live and move and have our being in You. In You we belong.
That’s why I tell others about Jesus - especially Christians who are still looking in the mirror of condemnation instead of beholding Jesus in His amazing grace. I want to share the Good News:
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, [not counting their sins against them] and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:19-21, NKJV, brackets mine)
I can’t read that without being compelled to share it!!! Oh! For God SO LOVED us, He sent His Son! Oh! He doesn’t desire that ANY should perish! Oh! He didn’t send Jesus to condemn us, but to save us! In fact, God is NOT COUNTING MEN'S SINS AGAINST THEM! Why? Because all of our sins were counted against Jesus. He became sin that we might become righteous.
The shocking fact is that many in the church world don't know that. Not even many who claim to be Christians know that God is not counting their sins agains them. They look in that mirror of shame and are constantly reminded of their sin, while God has promised that He would never do that:
“'For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.' In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete.” (Hebrews 10:12-13, NKJV)
You'll never meet anyone who will love you like that. There isn't a man alive who will never find fault with you. Even the person who loves you the most in this world will remind you of something you did wrong. The love of Jesus in them may cover over a multitude of sins, but the fact remains, they still remember.
Do you know what happens when one person finds fault in another person? The guilty party is disqualified in some way and counted not worthy to belong - even if it's in the slightest manner. Perhaps you offended a loved one and for the next hour you got the cold shoulder. You mess up with people, and you'll quickly find yourself on-the-outside-looking-in.
However, even if I am banished to solitary confinement in prison for the crime of murder, God will never leave me! I may deserve to be alienated from the life of people, but I will never be alienated from the life of Jesus. I will always belong in Him.
Jesus is the anchor for my soul. He is my everything. Without Him I am nothing. When I talk about "grace" I'm actually talking about Him. He IS love, and He demonstrated who He is by loving me and dying for me when I was still a sinner. He traded my sin for His righteousness: the undeserved gift of belonging in Him.
There’s alot of talk about “grace” these days - it’s quite trendy - but I'm noticing something peculiar: discussions of "grace" with no mention of Jesus.
I have a litmus test for anything labeled “grace”: is Jesus the center? Do they talk about Jesus? Do I walk away from reading the article, listening to the message, or singing the song more secure in Him and more aware of His love?
~ Some talk about the FATHER, but downplay Jesus, even though Jesus is the image of the Father. If you want to know what God is like, just look at Jesus. If you want to know the will of God, just look at Jesus defending the guilty, loving the unlovable, touching the untouchables, healing the sick, providing for the hungry, calming the storms...
“He [Jesus] is the radiance of His [the Father’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature.” (Hebrews 1:3, NASB, brackets mine)
~ Some talk about the HOLY SPIRIT, but rarely bring up Jesus, even though the Spirit was given to testify of Jesus:
“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.” (John 15:26, NASB)
~ Some talk about ANGELS, but don't mention Jesus even though the angels are HIS messengers to minister to us. 24/7 they give Him their undivided attention. Thousands upon thousands of them gather around the throne of Grace upon which the Lamb of God is seated and sing,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12)
~ Some describe US as if we are gods ourselves, but hardly talk about Jesus. Yes, we are children of God, but He is the firstborn among many brethren. Yes, we are royalty, but He is the King of kings Yes, we are priests, but He is our High Priest. We are who we are because of Jesus:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” (Colossians 1:15-18, NKJV)
~ Some talk about the POWER of God and all of its results (provision, wholeness, health, miracles, signs, wonders, spiritual gifts) and only mention Jesus as if He's a good luck charm - “in the NAME of Jesus!” - even though every manifestation of the power of God is because of the finished work of Jesus:
“[Peter after the healing of the lame beggar] ‘Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?”… 16 And His name [Jesus], through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.’ … ‘By what power or by what name have you done this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘…let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.’” (Acts 3:12, 15; Acts 4:7-8, 10, NKJV, brackets mine)
Paul instructs us not to focus on what what we can see with our natural eyes:
“…while we do not look at the things which are seen, ["look at" literally means give attention to] but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18, brackets mine)
If we are focused on the manifestation of God's power, then we are giving our attention to what is seen. Manifestation means "something that is visible." Similarly, if our focus is on OUR FAITH to make a promise of God manifest, we've taken our eyes off of Jesus. However, if our attention is on Jesus, we will see the power of the gospel displayed in our lives. To make it simple, how about we just put our faith in HIS faith? Do you believe that HE believes that He is enough? Here's how I "see" it:
Jesus, You died believing that Your blood would be more than enough to cleanse me from all sin and make me righteous! (1 John 1:7 and 1 John 1:9)
Jesus, You believed that You were the one sacrifice for sins forever that would redeem me from sin and death. (Romans 10:12)
Jesus, You took those beatings on Your back believing that those stripes would heal me. (1 Peter 2:24)
Jesus, by Your grace, though You were rich, for my sake You became poor, and You believed that through Your poverty I would become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
Jesus, You believed when You hung on that cross, that You became the curse for me that I would never have to suffer the curse of the law. (Galatians 3:13)
Jesus, You believed that when You were forsaken, it would open the way for me to never be forsaken. (Romans 13:5)
I just ride on His faith ~ His faith becomes my faith as I behold His goodness ~ and that's more than enough for me.
If we believe a doctrine where Jesus isn’t the center of it all - no matter how “spiritual” it sounds - we will ultimately feel like we don’t belong because all other doctrines point to man: man’s ability and man’s faith. Man-centered doctrines breed comparison and competition among men and result in one of two feelings: the false sense of superiority or the feeling of always being on-the-outside-looking-in.
“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2, NKJV)
Why do we want to keep Christ crucified, Christ resurrected, Christ ascended, Christ seated, and Christ’s life as our central focus? Because the cross removed the veil that stood between us and now we belong! Without the cross, we would still be in our sins, still condemned, still alienated from the life of God.
“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. ...if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:13, 17, NKJV)
But Christ IS risen! As believers in Him, we are NOT dead in our sins! We are alive together with Christ seated in heavenly places, all because of His love for us. We are citizens of heaven. We are IN Christ. We are spiritually joined to Him.
If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31, NKJV)
Back to my story...
In one moment of time, a few years ago in an encounter with Jesus, I saw reality; and what I saw I can never un-see. I am my Beloved’s and He is mine. Nothing can ever separate me from His love. Never again will I be on-the-outside-looking-in.
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3, NKJV)
Today, I’m on the inside looking out!
From that perspective, His love compels me to share this Good News with others: “He knew you before you were born. He loved you while you were yet a sinner. He was crucified AS YOU, rose from the dead AS YOU, and is seated in heaven having finished the work to remove your sins and redeem you so that you could be AS HE IS in perfect union with God. He did all this so you could belong!”
“'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart' (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, 'WHOEVER BELIEVES ON HIM WILL NOT BE PUT TO SHAME.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For 'whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!'” (Romans 10:8-15, NKJV, emphasis mine)