What I am Reading – Blogs

There is so much out on the internet, so much material to grow our faith and connect us with God.  Here are some blogs that I have been reading.

Derek and NT Wright

I have been reading Derek Vreeland’s new book BTW which is about Christian Discipleship.  It is in line with other great books about discipleship such as the Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.  In his article for Red Letter Christians, entitled “The Jesus Truth The Jesus Way”, he writes:

Jesus didn’t say, “Go into all the world and get people saved.” He didn’t say, “Get people to ask me into their hearts.” He didn’t say, “Go make good citizens of the empire.” Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). His words conveyed a clear command: Go into every person’s world and invite people to become followers of Jesus. We are not called to manipulate people into making a decision. The way of Jesus is the way of invitation, not the way of manipulation. The constant call of Jesus wasn’t “ask me into your heart,” but “come follow me.” The question we ask is not when did we “get saved,” but when did we start participating in the life of salvation? Faithful followers of Jesus will make good citizens because Jesus teaches us to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). However, making good citizens isn’t the primary task of the church.

https://www.redletterchristians.org/the-jesus-truth-the-jesus-way

Derek is an Associate Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph Missouri.  Derek taps into something that is lost in most American Churches.  That is discipleship.  Jesus call is to come follow him.  The charge he gave to his disciples was to go out to all nations and make disciples, not converts (Matt 28:19-20).  I recommend his new book entitled, BTW: – BTW-Getting Serious about Following Jesus.

Keith Giles is one of the heretics from the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast, is an author with Quoir Press, and has a truly loving heart.  He has a series of books on Jesus.  His first one is called Jesus Untangled which is about keeping politics out of Christianity.  His second book is entitled Jesus Unbound which is about how the Bible is conduit to Jesus.  We worship Jesus not the Bible.  His third book in the series which was released last month is entitled “Jesus Unveiled” which is separating Jesus from the church, and is a how to book to start an organic house church. 

In this blog post, Keith writes about seeing Jesus in everyone.  By seeing Jesus in everyone, we can become more loving.  He writes, “Still, Christ is in them, as the verses above affirm. In the case of those who have yet to recognize Christ in themselves, Christ is dead, or dormant, and waiting to be inevitably resurrected within them.”  I love that even in those that claim not to follow Jesus, we can still see Christ in them, because the Universal Christ is waiting to be awakened in them. 

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/keithgiles/2019/07/christ-in-everyone-yes-every

Like Keith, I also read Richard Rohr’s book entitled, “The Universal Christ.”  The risen Christ is in all of us whether or not we are regenerated (Titus 3:5).  This is a radical statement because many of us grew up believing due to our sin, that our sins separate us from God.  Yet at the same time we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).  As image bearers of God, there is a God spark within all of creation that needs to be lit and awakened.  This is exactly what Keith wrote about in his latest blog.

Richard Beck is a college professor in psychology at Abilene Christian University and is an author.  He is from the Restoration Movement (The Churches of Christ), yet is both an Evangelical and Progressive Christian.  I can relate to him in that arena because I am both of those as well.  I like what he writes about here:

“I AM A PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN in that I believe that salvation in inherently political, social, and economic, that salvation involves, in the words of Jesus, release of the captives and freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4.18).

I AM A POST-PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN in that I believe that we are all sinners in dire need of grace. Every one of us is lost and trapped within “the kingdom of darkness.” And not just politically, but emotionally, spiritually, and metaphysically. I believe that our sins have been forgiven and that grace comes to us in the substitutionary and atoning sacrifice of Jesus’ death on the cross. And I believe that the grace and mercy we receive in Jesus is the only thing that can keep the pursuit of justice on earth free from darkness and blood.”

https://feedly.com/i/entry/uuvafTiJTrXpIOH1hDcHwENnbAwKWItmwc2GS2m5rC8=_16bdb538173:921b6b:d044c787

He is right that most Progressive Christians only focus on systemic sin and not on individual sin.  Most Progressive Christians are loving, inclusive, and do not speak about Jesus saving those caught in their sin very often.  Yet, we are all sinners in need of God’s grace.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God and cannot save ourselves (Rom. 3:23).  Jesus death is more than just an example for us to follow.  His death conquered both sin and death.  There is a holy tension between Progressive Christianity in its desire for inclusiveness and its fear of judgment, and Evangelicalism with its hypocrisy and insistence on discussing our individual sin.  I do believe like Progressive Christians that a right cruciform theology reveals a need to free the oppressed, marginalized and bring God’s justice to social causes (Luke 4:18-19). I also believe that for true freedom to be experienced, the discussion about a need for a personal savior and why Jesus came to save the world from sin and death (John 3:16-17; Col. 2:15) is also important.

Abba Yoga, Cornelius, and Evangelism – After the Meeting House Podcast with Guest Brad Jersak – Acts 10

Cornelius’s Vision

1 There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment. 2 He was a devout man and feared God along with his whole household. He did many charitable deeds for the Jewish people and always prayed to God. 3 About three in the afternoon[fn] he distinctly saw in a vision an angel of God who came in and said to him, “Cornelius.”

4 Staring at him in awe, he said, “What is it, Lord? ”

The angel told him, “Your prayers and your acts of charity have ascended as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa and call for Simon, who is also named Peter. 6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.”

7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, he called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, who was one of those who attended him. 8 After explaining everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/csb/act/10/1/p1/s_1028001>

34 Peter began to speak: “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, 35 but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/csb/act/10/1/p1/s_1028001>

Gentile Conversion and Baptism

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in other tongues[fn] and declaring the greatness of God.

Then Peter responded, 47 “Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? ” 48 He commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay for a few days.

From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/csb/act/10/1/p1/s_1028001>

On my way to work today, I was listening to a podcast from the Meeting House which is an Anabaptist church in Canada.  They were doing a podcast on evangelism and how to share the good news of Jesus with those that statistics would label as the “nones” and the “dones”.  One of the guests on the podcasts said that 86 % of those that have left the church and consider themselves “Exevangelicals” have also deconstructed not just away from the church, but also are pursuing another religion or spirituality apart from Christianity.

Myself being part of the Generation X where we are sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and their optimism, materialism, and desire for productivity, and Millennials who have been raised by the internet.  The Barna group did a survey, and found that the majority of Millennials like Jesus and admire him, but do not want people to talk to them about Jesus. 

So how do we share the good news of the Gospel with those that are looking for God, but may not like our message?

This was the discussion that Bruxy Cavey, and Brad Jersak were having with those from the Meeting House, and their topic was evangelism.  Brad shared that the story of Cornelius was a good example from scripture how to share the good news of the gospel with those that are seekers, who may have left the church because of its toxicity, and with those that are attracted to God’s love.  Brad highlighted that Cornelius was a Gentile who was a God Fearer who had a relationship with God prior to hearing about Jesus from Peter.  He was already on the road with his relationship with God.  Brad pointed out that we are all the same as humans and are all drawn to the love of God whether we know Jesus or do not know Jesus, whether we have been raised in the church or outside the church.  With God’s love there is no in and out and we don’t have to say the right prayers or believe in the right stuff to be close to God.  Here are some things we know about Cornelius:

  • He was a friend of the Jewish people;
  • He always prayed (thus he was spiritual);
  • He gave alms to the poor (he was good);
  • He had visions from heavenly messengers from the other side (he had spiritual experiences).

Thus, God was already working in his life despite not knowing or having ever heard about Jesus.  Cornelius responded to the message of God’s angel, by sending for Peter.  Peter also spending time in prayer, had a vision from God about eating food that is unclean.  Peter also responded to the vision by going with Cornelius servants to see Cornelius.  In those days, devout Jews would not associate with anyone who was not Jewish.  Peter struggled with whom the good news of the Gospel should be shared to.  Should it only be shared with those that are Jewish, or with all of humanity.  In this case, God showed Peter when the Holy Spirit descended on Cornelius and his household that the good news of the gospel was for everyone.

Brad shared an example of someone who was like Cornelius.  He had a yoga instructor who was spiritual, but not religious.  She taught yoga from a strictly physical and athletic perspective.  Brad asked her about her relationship with God and shared with her the breathing technique by saying the personal name of God that Jesus used (Abba).  This woman immediately felt the love of God while saying “Abba” and indirectly as Brad shared God’s love with her, she was also experiencing not only God’s love, but Jesus love as well.

Application

The issue isn’t whether we are sharing the right words or dogma about Jesus with those that we love, we are sharing God’s love with those that are already in relationship with God or are close to God (but may not know it) (Rom. 2:10-11, 14), but may not know that they are also on the path to knowing Jesus as well.  As Christians as we observe and acknowledge someone’s journey with God whether they are “spiritual, but not religious”, or from a different religion and we are having an inter-religious dialogue, we point people to the “Universal Christ.”  If we have seen the Father (like doing Abba Yoga), we have seen Jesus, or the other way around, if we acknowledge Jesus love, we have experienced the Father.  According to John’s Gospel:

John 14:6-7

Jesus told him (referring to Phillip), “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will also know my Father.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.

This is eternal life:  that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent-Jesus Christ (John 17:3).

The above passages show that Jesus is a representation of God, and God in the flesh is Jesus.  God is both transcendent (holy and sovereign), but also immanent (close and intimate).  People come to God sometimes through Jesus, and others come to Jesus through their spiritual practices and experiences of knowing God’s love.  Unfortunately, the above passage in John 14 is an Evangelical soundbite that Evangelicals use to distinguish those that belong to God, and those that are outside of God’s Kingdom.  Brad was making the point that when he shares the good news of God’s love, the Gospel is inclusive and that everyone was included into the cross of Christ (what Eastern Orthodox refer to the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus), and that Cornelius and the yoga instructor were conceived on the cross.  All of humanity is included in the Kingdom of God through the cross of Christ.  There are no distinctions, we are either close to God or far from God.  My wife would call this raising our vibration. 

As we build relationships with fellow humans, we journey with them as co-seekers of God’s love.  The question for all of us is are we close to God or far from God?  A person can have a personal relationship with God through Jesus because of their religious traditions and be far from God.  Someone who is a devout Muslim, who does not know who Jesus is, maybe closer to God and his love than others that are confessing Evangelical Christians.  Likewise for those that come from loving secular homes who are flourishing, while some that come from Christian homes maybe not flourishing because of toxicity, brokenness, and abuse in their life.  God’s love is not preferential.  It is open to all.

Hard Conversations about Love and Truth – Part 2 – And Rachel Held Evans Legacy

Isaiah 42:3 – a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

1 Corinthians 13:6 – it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (ESV)

Over the weekend, popular Progressive Christian writer, Rachel Held Evans passed away at the young age of 37 leaving her husband Dan and two toddlers.  She was someone who was not afraid to have those “hard conversations” at church about polarizing topics and with the gate keepers in Evangelicalism (Russell Moore, John Piper, Timothy Keller) over those topics.  She had a profound influence in both the Evangelical and Progressive Christian Communities.  As someone who was raised Evangelical, she knew the arguments for exclusivity and the arguments for Christianity (especially Evangelical Christianity) being the only way to God.  As someone who had doubts about the traditions that she was raised in and saw the lies that was perpetuated by broken systems within Evangelicalism (Calvinism) and its rampant tribalism; she could understand those that were hurting due to the abuse that many have suffered from churches that were part of the Evangelical system of thought.  Many of those that were wrestling with their own doubts about their faith especially those coming out of strict complementarian Calvinistic systems, looked to her to be their friend (online), champion and advocate.  When news of her passing from complications with the flu, many felt like they received a sucker punch from God.  From the Facebook groups that I am part of, and podcasts I listen to, many people younger than me who have been holding on to dear life in their faith, are ready to throw in the towel with God.  They are so angry because someone who they can identify with and understood their doubts, died.  The gate keepers that Rachel often argued with are still alive like Timothy Keller, Mark Driscoll, and John Piper.

Denny Burk who is a professor at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky was one of Rachel’s opponents. He writes this about their online relational feuding:

Ms. Evans fearlessly challenged traditional authority structures, which were often conservative and male. She would spar with evangelical men on Twitter, brazenly and publicly challenging their views of everything from human sexuality to politics to Biblical inerrancy.

That was us. We had countless online interactions and debates over the years. I did a search Saturday night on my twitter feed and read through some of the old threads. I had forgotten about so many of them. They were direct and concerned fundamental issues of the faith. We were often at loggerheads.

Somewhere around 2014, I stopped following her, and she stopped following me. It’s been relatively quiet for these last five years or so. Still, I’m grieved that so many of the fundamental issues we differed over are left unresolved. There’s nothing for it now except to pray for those precious little ones, her husband, and the rest of her family. I can hardly imagine what they are going through.

Even though Denny and Rachel were at the opposite ends of the theological spectrum (Denny being a white, cisgender male, theologically was a Calvinist and strongly believes in Complementarianism), he still respected her and grieved over her passing.

Mandy Smith from missioalliance writes:

As a pastor of a university congregation, I watch young people walk away from faith almost every week. I’ll never get used to the grief as I watch the backs of people, some choosing to walk away from church in an effort to find God, some walking away from God entirely.

Rachel Held Evans captured hurting hearts because she understood the very human reality of struggle and the emotional side of doubt. As much as a doubter will argue facts with you, most often they just need a hug. As much as one struggling with the Church will tempt you to justify the Church, most often they just need someone to say, “I’m so sorry you were treated that way. That wasn’t okay. And that wasn’t the way of Jesus.”  From <https://www.missioalliance.org/grieving-for-rachel-as-rachel-would-grieve/>

As someone who is nearly 50 years old, and in the midst of deconstruction/reconstruction, I too am not so certain of my beliefs like I was 20 years ago.  I was firmly rooted in the Evangelical parachurch systems in college participating with the Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  I learned the four spiritual laws, and the bridge diagram as tools to share my faith.  As I have grown older, these methods of evangelism do not work.  Sharing Jesus with our lives and pointing to his love speak volumes than systematic theology and dogma. 

Hard Conversations about Salvation – Love and Truth

As I was sitting in church yesterday, we had another guest speaker who gave the sermon.  This man was a campus minister and has a ministry to college students.  Part of his role was to keep students connected to their Christian faith that they were raised in while in college.  College is a trying season in a person’s life where they find out who they are, what they value, and what they believe in.  A lot of ideologies are vying for their attention.  Belief systems like atheism supported by Philosophical Naturalism, usually taught in a Biology 101 class, raise questions about anything dealing with belief in a supreme being.  Same with philosophy classes.  So I understand this campus minister’s desire to fight for truth that he finds contained within the Bible, and sharing those beliefs with others especially within academia.  That is part of his passion and job description.  He also strongly believes in the reality of hell.  I squirmed in my seat when he brought up the “h” word.  Like Francis Chan, he believes it is unloving to not tell someone if based upon the behavior and beliefs that at the end of their life, they are going to end up in hell, separated from a loving God.

Like many of the young people that are leaving the church today, hell or the “h” word is a fighting word that raises questions and doubts and can cause someone to walk away from their relationship with God.  Rachel knew how the “h” word impacted her life.  She was one of the first proponents to question the validity of hell especially  when Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, came out.  According to her blog, she has wrestled with the questions, where do we go, if we go anywhere after we die?  She objectively looked at every side of the debate on hell from the traditional position of eternal conscious torment to conditional immortality and Universal Reconciliation, and on her blog had interviews with experts in each position on the debate of  belief about hell.

Right now that is what I am trying to sort out especially after my brother passed.  My wife is a metaphysical Christian who believes that there is “another side” whether we call it heaven, Valhalla, the multiverse, life on other planets, she sees the afterlife as something to long for and not be afraid of, and that everyone will go there regardless of their system of faith (Pluralistic Universalism).  She deconstructed 30 years ago from a Fundamentalist Baptist background.

Like Rachel before me, I too am investigating the possibility that there is a post-mortem salvation and that there really isn’t a “hell.”  The speaker giving the sermon yesterday, strongly believes in hell (unfortunately).  This goes against my faith in a loving God (thus why the squirming in my seat).  He was implying that God is a holy and a just God who hates sin.  This is true, sin is the opposite of God’s nature.  Yet God’s love and mercy for us is greater than our sinfulness (James 2:13; 1 Peter 4:8).

I believe that pointing out the truth of our sinfulness will never win new converts to Christ. This is the hard conversation that the speaker was pointing out.  He shared a personal story of his own life when he was far from God in college and a friend of his roommates called him a “heathen”.  He was speaking the truth about his lifestyle, but not in love.  His response to this person who is not a friend, was less than Christlike.  Yet the person planted seeds in his heart to draw him back to Christ. 

As a side note, when discussing sinfulness with those that do not believe in sin and evil, Timothy Keller’s discussion of idolatry has been helpful.  Also, discussing the law of attraction, karma, and consequences of our actions from eastern religions and eastern philosophies have been helpful when discussing sin with non-Christians.  It uses common sense, and other techniques to show how our ego separates ourselves from both God and others. 

Nevertheless, the text he used for his sermon was 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 which is the love chapter in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  He emphasized how we can do amazing things for God, but do not have love we are nothing.  Our good works for the Kingdom of God are not good if we do not have love in our hearts coming from sincere and authenticity in our motives.  He also emphasized verse 6 in 1 Corinthians 13 which says, “love always rejoices in the truth.”  

Jesus embodied both grace and truth (John 1:14).  A friend of mine who is a pastor at a church Westerville always used to tell me, you lead with grace and follow up with truth.  Whether it is sharing the Gospel, or helping a friend with some weak areas in their life.  Basically he is saying that when we love others honestly, they may be more open to hearing the truth of their life from us if we are loving.

As another side note, since we are Christians, our lives are to reflect God’s love within us.  Because we are both saint and sinner, we often fall short of God’s holiness and perfection.  Part of the mystery of who we are is that we already perfect because of Christ’s work on the cross and resurrection, yet in process of becoming perfect as he is perfect (2 Cor. 5:21; 2 Peter 1:4).  Eastern Orthodox Christians call this theosis.  Unfortunately, Evangelical Christianity has turned tribal and political, judgmental, and its turned into petty rivalries, etc. 

Going back to the debate over the existence of hell, Rachel writes from her post in 2010 about Rob Bell’s book Love Wins how theological issues can be polarizing and egotistical:

When we reduce this complex and important conversation to two “sides,” as though it were some kind of college football rivalry, we do such an injustice to the Bible, to Christian history, and to the millions upon millions of real people whose lives and whose futures we are discussing.  This is not about taking sides. It’s not about shouting each other down. It’s not about black vs. white, right vs. wrong, good vs. bad. There’s too much at stake to try and force Christianity’s cacophony of voices into two competing tones. We must embrace the complexity—within the Bible, within Christianity, and within one another—and avoid the temptation of turning this conversation into “my team” vs. “your team.” From <https://rachelheldevans.com/blog/after-love-wins>

My reaction to the sermon and Rachel’s Legacy

I am not going to throw out what the Preacher said in his sermon because he brought up the “h” word.  I do believe that God will give those who don’t receive Jesus as their savior another chance to receive Christ after they die which is contrary to what the Preacher believes.  Like the Preacher, I also believe that Jesus is the only way in which a person is saved (which sounds exclusivist).  Unlike the preacher, I believe that the resurrected Christ is much grander, bigger, more expansive than what Christianity and the church has taught over two thousand years.  I believe that the mystics who see the resurrected Christ as the “Cosmic Christ” or Universal Christ are closer to knowing by not knowing than the church is.  I believe that most world religions point to the Universal Christ or what Deepak Chopra calls “this” from Hinduism, what Rob Bell calls the “Divine”, or what my wife calls “The Source”.

Also, I can respect the speaker who is a college minister, his passion for the least, last, and lost within his arena of being a minister on college campuses.  I can respect the speakers sense of urgency that loving people and telling them the truth about salvation, sin and death is paramount to his ministry.  I also understand since I was where he is at, that winning souls for Christ is a priority in his faith.  Since his arena is college campuses, colleges and universities are the arena of ideas.  The ideas proposed, debated, and researched on college campuses shape culture and influence society.  Thus, apologetics and defending the faith is just as important to the speaker as his passion for saving souls for Christ.

Like Rachel, whose legacy will live on, I too am going to continue to wrestle with my questions concerning my doubts, my desires (that everyone will one day be connected to the universal Christ), and my beliefs.  Like Rachel, I have my own people within my church that I have a different opinion about polarized beliefs (like “Hell” and LGBQT rights).  Like Rachel, I need to have discernment when to speak and not speak up at church.  Like Rachel, my heart goes out to those that are losing faith in the God of their youth.

Again, according to Mandy Smith speaking to us who feel at home and comfortable in the church how to be empathetic toward those that have doubts, are ready to leave the church, and are ready to throw away their faith:

If we want to honor Rachel’s memory, one thing we can do is learn to recognize the deeply emotional reality of the statistics and arguments. The best way to respond to hurting millennials and “nones” and “dones” is not to get defensive but listen, even if their hurts are hard to hear. Will we perpetuate the damage by reacting to how their woundedness wounds us? How their questions make us anxious? How their rejection of the Church feels like a personal rejection of us? How will we even respond to their grief and questions as they process Rachel’s death?From <https://www.missioalliance.org/grieving-for-rachel-as-rachel-would-grieve/>

She also writes that Rachel with all of her doubts about the church, God, and Jesus, was a sold out follower of Jesus even though her questions were obnoxious at times and drove the powers that be, crazy:

She leaves us with many wise words:

The bravest decision I’ll ever make is to follow Jesus with both my head and heart engaged . . . It means I’ve got a long race ahead of me, but I’m going to run it with abandon. I’m going to run it as me. Because I think that’s what God wants—all of me, surrendered and transformed, head and heart engaged. From <https://www.missioalliance.org/grieving-for-rachel-as-rachel-would-grieve/>

That is what I want as well.  I want to run the race set before me as a follower of Jesus with reckless abandon, fully surrendered, transformed, with both my head and heart engaged in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Deconstruction, Death, and finding the “Real” – Luke 9:23-24, 27

Then he said to them all, “if anyone wants to follow after me, let himself take up his cross daily, and follow me, for whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whosoever loses his life because of me will save it…Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Kingdom of God. (Luke 9:23-24, 27)

One of the catch words that many people in my generation and those that are the generation proceeding me is deconstruction.  When people go through seasons of deconstruction, they are questioning and doubting the systems that they grew up with.  Whether those systems of order is their religious traditions, their family structures, their beliefs about the economy, politics, or life in general.  Deconstruction can feel like a death.  Yet in the process of dying and letting go, new life emerges.

According to Richard Rohr,

I believe Jesus says this in such a strong and absolute way because he knows that the human ego fixes upon roles, titles, status symbols, and concocted self-images;       and he wants us to know that these are passing creations of our own minds and culture. They are not, in that sense, objectively “real.” Nor are they our true and deepest self. All of these images must die if we want the Real, but they do not die easily because we have mistaken them for elements of our real self for most of our life. We all suffer from a tragic case of mistaken identity.

The Real is that to which all the world religions point when they speak of heaven, nirvana, bliss, eternity, or enlightenment. Our mistake was that most Christians delayed this inner state until after death. This distorted and misshaped the spiritual search, making it into a cheap reward and punishment system—for later. Honestly, it too often attracted fear-based or self-interested people, not really lovers.

The human ego wants two things: It wants to be separate and it wants to be superior! This is why Jesus says this self must “die” for something much better to be “found.” As long as the ego is in control, not much new will ever happen.

If we want the “Real” or the presence of God in our life, everything that we think we know about God or have experienced God in the past must die.  Our preconceived notions, our theology, the “us and them” culture created by the human ego and the “Church” must be forgotten.  This happens through deconstruction.  This is what Jesus means that those of us “must taste death until we see the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:27).   It can feel like death and can seem painful because we realize those areas in our life that we identified with are not true when we are going through deconstruction.  For me, when I am experiencing deconstruction, it can feel like being “undone”.   I know when those close to me have questioned my beliefs, what I value, I can become easily upset.  Becoming upset is a “heart” indicator that not all is right.  In today’s reading from the Anglican Lectionary, the prophet Isaiah writes:

 Isa 30:22

Then you will destroy all your silver idols.
and your precious gold images.
You will throw them out like filthy rags,
saying to them, “Good riddance!”

I believe that some of those things that we easily identify with such as politics, religion, nationalism, addictions, relationships, can be idols.  We need to consciously throw them out, or let go of them.  In of themselves, there is no life.  Those significant relationships that our “ego” draws life from, such as those in our families and churches may disown us when we start asking authentic questions about those structures.  We may be labeled a “heretic” in our church circles, and rejected even by those in our own families. 

Yet at the same time, God is with us.  His presence is more acute, more authentic, and intimate as we press into him during this season. 

So can I ask, what does death look like to you?

In what ways can deconstruction help you die to self, and see what is truly Real?

How can we become an ultimate follower of Jesus when we let go, and let God, or as those in the recovery movement say, “drop the rock”?

Richard Rohr concludes today’s meditation with this:

Mystical experience connects us and just keeps connecting at ever-wider levels, breadths, and depths, “until God can be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28) or, as Paul also says, “The world, life and death, the present and the future are all your servants, for you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God” (1 Corinthians 3:22-23). Full salvation is finally universal belonging and universal connecting. Our common word for that is some kind of “heaven.”

From <https://cac.org/finding-our-life-2019-05-01/>

A true mystic sees themselves connected to God, and then sees how God is in everything and everywhere (panentheism).  True knowing, authentic awakening and enlightenment comes from experiencing the Kingdom of God within ourselves (Luke 17:21), and where our life is hidden in God and in Him, we move, live, and have our being (Acts 17:24-25).  We see the goodness of God in all creation, we see God in every living thing.  New birth happens as we connect to our true self which is connected to God simultaneously as we let the “ego die” and consider ourselves dead to sin (Rom. 6:11).

Prayer

God, please let me ask the right questions about my beliefs and identity when it comes to the structures, institutions, that I value.  Help weigh what is good and true about those structures, and reject what is false about them.  Awaken my soul to your presence in everything and everywhere.  Give me hope that as you are deconstructing me, you are also rebuilding and reconstructing my “true self” that is connected to you.

Amen

Growth and Awakening – Order, Disorder, and Reorder

Some of you say that you follow me, and others claim to follow Apollos. Isn’t that how ordinary people behave? Apollos and I are merely servants who helped you to have faith. It was the Lord who made it all happen. I planted the seeds, Apollos watered them, but God made them sprout and grow. What matters isn’t those who planted or watered, but God who made the plants grow. The one who plants is just as important as the one who waters. And each one will be paid for what they do. Apollos and I work together for God, and you are God’s garden and God’s building. God was kind and let me become an expert builder. I laid a foundation on which others have built. But we must each be careful how we build, because Christ is the only foundation.
(1Co 3:4-11 CEV)

One of my spiritual teachers right now is Franciscan Priest, Father Richard Rohr who oversees an organization in Albuquerque, New Mexico called the Center of Action and Contemplation. He is a Christian mystic that has been rekindling the fire of the Holy Spirit in many believers souls for something deeper more intimate relationship with God. He just authored a book, entitled The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality can change everything we see, hope for, and believe. As I have connected on a deeper level with Jesus, Richard Rohr has become one of my new teachers. As it relates to theology, my teachers have been Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, NT Wright; and now Origen, Michael Gorman, David Bentley Hart, and Brad Jersak. When it comes to spirituality, Richard Rohr, Brian Zahnd, the late Thomas Merton, and Thich Nhat Hanh have been my teachers.

It can be distracting and misleading to follow men rather than being a follower and disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. The means by which God works is through awakening and growing. Like a good lover, God arouses the soul through order, disorder, and reorder. This is the process of transformation. Richard Rohr writes:

To grow toward love, union, salvation, or enlightenment (I use the words almost interchangeably), we must be moved from Order to Disorder and then ultimately to Reorder. (Rohr, Richard. Universal Christ (p. 243). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. )

This is the process of transformation or as Eastern Orthodox Christians call theosis or participating in and with the divine (2 Peter 1:4). As we grow up, God uses order through our families, through our churches that we were raised in, our schools, and communities to provide a foundation and framework for maturity and growth. Yet, if we stay in our bubble, we can never experience a deeper walk with God. Disorder is when outside stressors in our life challenge that order for which we were raised. It could be a job loss, a death of a loved one, a chronic illness, or a divorce. These events will take us on a journey where we feel unsettled, discombobulated, and undone. The easy answers that we learned through our religious systems do not help us when we go through suffering. God uses these instances as opportunities to grow, change and be transformed. He uses suffering, pain, loss, and past hurts as a means of dying to self.
Some people call this redemptive suffering. As we are aligned with Jesus through the Holy Spirit, true life can happen.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a short time, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
(1Pe 5:10 LEB)

Awakening happens during the reorder phase. Richard Rohr calls this resurrection. He continues:

Resurrection and renewal are, in fact, the universal and observable patterns of everything. We might just as well use non-religious terms like springtime, regeneration, healing, forgiveness, life cycles, darkness and light. If incarnation is real, then resurrection in multitudinous forms is to be fully expected. Or to paraphrase a statement attributed to Albert Einstein, it is not that one thing is a miracle, but that the whole thing is a miracle! (https://cac.org/the-universal-pattern-2019-04-22/)

The Resurrected Christ is the icon of reorder. Once we can learn to live in this third spacious place, neither fighting nor fleeing reality but holding the creative tension, we are in the spacious place of grace out of which all newness comes. God is now in charge, not us. (https://cac.org/order-disorder-reorder-2017-07-14/)

so that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
(Php 3:10-11 LEB)

Paul talks about the tension between the power of Christ’s resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings. By learning to die to self, hence conforming to his death, we may attain restoration, regeneration, and resurrection. My wife calls this contrast and expansion. Suffering and pain can be a good teacher to help us grow.

Prayer

God, give me courage to ask hard questions about the structure and container that I was raised in. Give me new insight as I get ready to journey on the second phase of my life.

Amen.

Change our Minds, Change Ourselves, Change Our World – Part 1

Romans 12:1–2

A Living Sacrifice

[1] I appeal to you therefore, brothers,(1) by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.(2) [2] Do not be conformed to this world,(3) but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.(4)

Last week, I was listening to a podcast called the Lovecast with Jamal Jivanjee whose guest was David Hayward, otherwise known as the “naked pastor.”  They talked about life transitions, career change, and how to make money on your own as an entrepreneur.  He went from pastoring a church of thirty years to doing what he loved, which is being an artist.  They discussed how to break out of the mentality when a person decides to do a career change, how to become unstuck, and other things.

He said a phrase that got my attention.  The phrase is “change your thoughts, change yourself, change your world.”  To become unstuck, we have to change the way we think about ourselves, our relationship with God, and our relationships with other people.  David’s identity for the past 30 years before he made the life change was a pastor.  He had to see himself other than a Pastor.  He asked himself the hard question of what am I supposed to do with my life, and what is my purpose?  Pastoring the church wasn’t making him happy, and for him it was time to move on.  Something needed to change.  He took a big risk when he retired early from the ministry.  What excited him was drawing cartoons, writing books, and sharing his relationship with God in a pictorial, visual, artistic way.  God gave him a vision of what that would look like and how he could become sustainable being an artist working for himself.

Changing Our Mind

The battle begins with our thought life (2 Cor. 10:4-5).  How we perceive ourselves, how we perceive our relationship with God and the world around us is either based upon how God sees us, or as our egos see us.  To live an abundant life and go through the transformation process, it all begins in changing our thoughts. This is what Paul means when he says to be transformed we need to renew our minds.  The first part of transformation is changing our mind/thoughts.  There is a lot to unpack in this phrase.  First, our beliefs, worldview, and actions flow from how we perceive ourselves.  It is either driven by the false self, or by our true selves that are aligned with God.

Recently, I participated in the first module of faithwalking which is a tool to be used by the church for spiritual formation, and discipleship.  A lot of what we did over the weekend was learning how to not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  The four principles of faithwalking is awareness, authenticity, action, and alignment.

The first module was a mirror view called the “first formation” and looked at how we respond to stress in our life.  Our formative years have an impact on us as we relate to God, ourselves, and others.  The two big stressors according to the people that developed faithwalking is consumerism and fear.  Both of these stressors wreak havoc on who we are and our identity.  We all have gone through experiences, both positive and negative that had an impact in forming how we perceive ourselves.  As we become aware of those formations, we can then become authentic, and begin to see ourselves in a new light. 

The process of having our minds transformed comes by breaking vows we made as children.  We usually had an experience that might have been traumatic or not, which affects the way we think.  We usually make “all or never” vows based upon that experience which is usually driven by part of us that wants to protect ourselves from being hurt.

A lot of this is re-orienting our life where Christ is our true center.  Out of this true center we can give and receive God’s love and learn how to abide in that love (John 15:9).  As we do this, we can begin to renew our minds.  Sometimes renewing our mind is becoming undone and falling apart.

During a discussion about spiritual things this past weekend with my wife.  I confessed to her that I don’t really know who I am any more.  She said, “good, now you can begin…”  This is what Richard Rohr calls death within death.  As I let go of the traditions, beliefs, worldview that sustained me as a child, it can feel like a death.  In reality, it is my false self dying.  This is what Jesus means when he says, “you have to lose yourself for my sake in order to save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)  It is also how we carry our cross.

This is also what Paul means by offering our bodies as a holy and living sacrifice.  We are dying to something better, more grand than what we have known.

According to Richard Rohr:

The relinquishment of ego ambition, as fueled and defined by first-half-of-life complexes, will in the end be experienced as a newfound and hitherto unknown abundance. One will be freed from having to do whatever supposedly reinforced one’s shaky identity, and then will be granted the liberty to do things because they are inherently worth doing. . . . One can experience the quiet joy of living in relationship to the soul simply because it works better than the alternative. The revisioned life feels better in the end, for such a person experiences his or her life as rich with meaning, and opening to a larger and larger mystery.

Vocation, even in the most humble of circumstances, is a summons to what is divine. Perhaps it is the divinity in us that wishes to be in accord with a larger divinity. Ultimately, our vocation is to become ourselves, in the thousand, thousand variants we are. . . . As all of the great world religions have long recognized, becoming ourselves actually requires repeated submissions of the ego.

From <https://cac.org/relinquishing-ego-2019-03-21/>

Thus, the purpose of our life is to become ourselves.  That is by envisioning and recasting life as our ego is let go of. 

One of the most important prayers that can help us change our minds, ourselves, and change our world is the serenity prayer which is below in the long form.  It is recited in recovery groups throughout our nation.

Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that you will make all things right, if I surrender to your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you in the next.

Amen

Second Sunday of Advent – Repentance and Preparing for the Lord’s Coming

In my Facebook Community, also known as the Heretic Happy Hour, and the Hippie Heretics, repentance is a bad word.  It is bad word because many of those that are part of the Heretic Happy Hour and the Hippie Heretics are coming out of Evangelicalism and associate the word repentance with shame and fear.  I can relate, yet for many of us, the word repentance is not the way that John the Baptist and  the early prophets used the term.

Repentance used in the New Testament comes from the word metanoia which literally means to change one’s mind or perspective.  Yet more times than not, when the repentance is used or it’s verb “to repent” is used, it is more about changing our behavior from what is considered wrong to what is considered right.  Again, when the word repentance is used in this context, it does bring shame and guilt.  That is because more often than not it is used to make people angry and ashamed of who they are.  To me this is not the way, in my opinion that the word is used.  According to Cynthia Bourgeault , she defines repentance as:

But as I said in the previous chapter, the word metanoia, usually translated as “repentance,” literally means to go “beyond the mind” or “into the larger mind.” It means to escape from the orbit of the egoic operating system, which by virtue of its own internal hardwiring is always going to see the world in terms of polarized opposites, and move instead into that nondual knowingness of the heart which can see and live from the perspective of wholeness. This is the central message of Jesus.

(Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind–A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (p. 41). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.)

I think that most of my friends in the Facebook groups that I am part of would probably agree with Cynthia of her definition of repentance.  In this case the word is used to show that our faith has to evolve and that we really never arrive.  This was the purpose of John the Baptist’s ministry.  It was to call people to repent of their sins of certainty and be open to the Lord’s arrival.  Isaiah writes:

He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins.  As it is written in the book of Isaiah the Prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight the paths for him.  Every mountain and hill made low.  The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways made smooth.  And all mankind will see God’s salvation. (Luke 3:4-6 NIV 1984)

John was calling his fellow Jews to repent, literally to expand their minds and be ready for the Lord’s arrival.  He will do things that are not certain, but mysterious, and he will put us on the road to restoration.  During John’s day, many people were waiting with expectancy for the messiah to arrive and bring the Lord’s salvation and deliverance.  This meant that he would show up, free the people from their oppression from the Romans and the Herods, and set up his earthly Kingdom where Israel would be revered by all the nations of the earth.  This is what the people were expecting.

Yet, John was asking the people to repent and expect the unexpected.  To be surprised, to be ready for the Lord’s arrival.  I think my fellow heretics would agree with John, that as we press into the Great Divine, to expect the unexpected, and to be a willing participant to usher in the peaceful Kingdom that Jesus preached and taught.  A kingdom of thankfulness, gentleness, love, peace, joy, long suffering filled with mercy and grace.  A Kingdom where love covers a multitude of sin.  A Kingdom which is built on love and peace not fear and shame.  This is the type of repentance that my fellow heretics are willing to do.  A repentance that not only leads to communion with God, but also union where we know that God resides within all of us.  A kingdom of unity within diversity not uniformity.  A Kingdom of oneness not dualism, a Kingdom where every tribe, tongue, and nation lives under the love of God.

This is what Cynthia Bourgeault  means by changing our operating system, and what Peter Enns means by repenting of our sins of certainty.  Pressing into the unknown one day at a time.

So I challenge my fellow heretics as they follow the Great Divine as best as they know how, to expect the unexpected, and be prepared for an intimate encounter with the Great Divine.  There is no shame in who they are whether they are Jewish, Atheist, cis-gender white male, LGBQT+, or other, and that we need to repent from what we think about repentance and have our minds expanded.  I get it that for many of us, the word repentance brings back ugly memories of our lives when were either fundamentalist, evangelical or both.  Shame based legalism has no place in the Kingdom of God.