Surrender as a Means of Grace – James 4:1-12

Jas 4:1-12 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? (2) You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. (3) You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (4) You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (5) Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (6) But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (7) Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (8) Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (9) Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. (10) Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (11) Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. (12) There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

When I entered church this morning, I was hurting. I was challenged by Pastor Robb to consider the impact of my decisions on others especially those I love. The weight of my sin and brokenness, my habitual disobedience and how it has impacted others was weighing heavily on me. I was close to the point of tears. My friend Robert prayed for me. He reminded me it can be the work of the enemy to be a part of arguments with couples and spouses right before church. He also coming from the first service, said that this weeks message, I will be able to resonate with.

Pastor Julie had a lot of good insight into this passage. James is a straight shooter and gets to the heart of the matter. He is writing to the church especially the believers in Jerusalem. From the opening verses, James asks his audience, “what is it that causes fights among you?” He then asks that the motive behind most conflict and arguments is because of the passions that are at war within us?” Those passions and desires are unmet needs that only God can meet. The need for belonging and acceptence, the need for significance and value, and finally the need for safety and security. Sometimes motives for arguments come from a deep need to be in control, to be right (usually in my case), or to have my way.

James goes on and says, that “we desire and do not have, so we murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You ask and not receive because you ask with wrong motives.

Julie then discussed some of the comparisons that James was making in this passage. That is friendship with the world and enmity towards God. The proud verses the humble, judging and being judged. All of this can seem overwhelming because the world says, “it’s my way of the highway, my will be done, not yours, and pull yourself up by your bootstraps, be all you can be, live in the moment.” All of these slogans point to the self, not to God. It reveals a proud heart that puts ourselves as enemies of God.

Yet James reminds his listeners, that there is grace. Grace is God’s empowerment for us to do something that we cannot do in our own strength. It is also a gift. James says he gives grace to the humble.

Julie then discussed the way to be free to be friends with God is through surrender. That is letting go, letting God be God, and coming under God’s reign and rule moment by moment. We do this every time when we pray within the Lord’s prayer “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, and also within the serenity prayer (the long version) when we pray, “trusting you will make all things right, if I surrender to your will.”

Giving up control, and coming under God’s authority is really hard. Yet it is necessary for transformation. Brad Jesak writes in his new book, “A More Christlike Way: A More Beautiful Faith”:

Surrender is a kind of faith. Surrender entrusts God with our needs and loved one. We hand over, release, let go of our lives and our will to our loving Abba. In return, we can fully expect Abba to deliver mercy (every single time!) without dictating how must that look. I resigned as Abba’s dictator.” (Jersak, page 203). He goes on and says surrender falls into Abba’s love for us, and surrender is a work of grace. (Jersak page 195)

So, as I let go, release, and hand people and my needs over to God, I receive his peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:6-7), his freedom, and a supernatural joy raises up within me instead of sorrow. Part of the work of surrender is learning how to resist Satan as I surrender and let go, the Devil will flee. (James 4:9). Brad continues is chapter on surrender:

Even as we bottom out on Our ways (my need to be right, my desire for control, and having my needs met in illegitimate ways), Christ is at work, healing us of pride, defiance and rebellion (willfulness) and restoring us to the Christlike ways of humility, willingness, and surrender. (Jersak, page 200)

This is how we resist the enemy.

At the end of Julie’s message, she had us be still and silent before the Lord. She had a song being played in the background (Kyrie Eleison) which means “Lord have mercy”. Part of letting go is praying the “Jesus prayer”. The long version is Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. In this short prayer, it acknowledges who God is (Jesus, the Son of God), it confesses my need (mercy), and my struggle with sin. It also guards the heart and mind (Jersak, page 207).

After Julie gave the benediction, I went up to her, and thanked her for her message. I said that release and letting go has been a big theme in my life lately. She was glad that someone in the audience could relate to her message.

To conclude, on the surface this passage can be convicting and overwhelming. James can be blunt, brutal, and can wreck us (in a good way). Yet, he also gives us a way to overcome. That way is through submission, humility, and surrender. Surrender frees us from the weight of our sin (James 4:8-9), and also is a tool to resist the enemies lies.

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.

What Would You Do? – Acts 16:1-5

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey

1 Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 Timothy was well thought of by the believers[fn] in Lystra and Iconium, 3 so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek. 4 Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.

From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/act/16/1/p1/s_1034001>

One of the TV commercials that was catchy and that is now being recycled is Klondike’s “what would you do for a Klondike Bar?”  This commercial had a funny jingle which would stick in your head.  It also proposed the question that Robb, our pastor asked us which was “what would you do for the sake of the gospel?” 

The background of this passage is that Paul came back from the first ecumenical council in Jerusalem with the results of the council as it relates to Gentiles being part of the Kingdom of God.  Gentiles who came to faith in Christ and received the Holy Spirit did not have to become Jewish, that is males being circumcised and following the ritual purity laws in the Torah.  As a result of this, the churches that Paul planted in Asia minor especially in Lystra and Derbe were strengthened with the news coming from Jerusalem.  The people could rejoice that they were truly free in Christ (John 8:32).  They could imitate Paul as he imitates Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).  In Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes:

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. (Gal. 5:1 NLT)  From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/gal/5/1/s_1096001>

13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[fn]   (Gal. 5:13-14 NLT)  From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/gal/5/1/p1/s_1096001>

Yet, at the same time that Paul was giving the good news of the results from the council in Jerusalem, he was asking Timothy a young disciple from Lystra to be circumcised.  So why would Paul who champions being free in Christ and not having to be under the law, ask Timothy to circumcised?  It was because Timothy was half-Jewish, and Paul needed a fellow Jew to accompany him on his missionary journey into the synagogues throughout the Roman Empire.  Timothy’s parents were well known throughout the area.  So Paul was asking Timothy to laydown his rights and freedom in Christ to become circumcised on behalf of the gospel.  For Jews to accept Timothy and Paul and welcome them into their synagogues, they had to be Jewish.  By Timothy being circumcised, it removed a barrier and paved the way for the gospel.  Yet inwardly, both of them had their hearts changed and circumcised (Ez. 25:36-27; Rom. 2:29).  Just as the verse says above, we need to use our freedom to serve one another in love.  (Gal. 5:14)  Again, the question is “what would I do for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the Gospel?”  In 1 Corinthians, Paul was dealing with a messy church which was highly divided by those that followed a cheap grace gospel (licentiousness), and others that were more legalistic in their faith.  Paul argued that flexibility was needed when sharing the Gospel.  He writes:

19 Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law,[fn] I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.

22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.  (1 Cor. 9:19-23)  From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/1co/9/1/p1/s_1071001>

Application

So Robb called some of us forward for prayer, especially for those that wanted a radical change for the sake of the gospel.  Those that would lay down their freedom for the sake of others.  Again, since it is PRIDE month, I have become Gay affirming in the past year.  Yet for the sake of the Kingdom, and to be part of Robb’s church, I need to lay down my right to affirm Gay couples for the sake of those that are in the church that believe contrary (that homosexuality is a sin).  He prayed that I would choose people over theology and the right to be right.  There definitely felt like a weight was lifted off of me.  Even when someone is going off about homosexuality as a sin, that I would be able to hold my tongue and not argue with them.  Yet at the same time to encourage those that see homosexuality as a sin to welcome and accept everyone as Christ as welcomed us (Rom. 15:7).  Even though the church may be traditional with its standards of human flourishing (supporting the traditional view of sex is to be practiced only in marriage), I can love those that believe differently than I do about it.  As someone who sees himself as a bridge builder, the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19-21) is important to me which means laying down my right to be right for the sake of others.

Part of that freedom that Christ offers is to use our freedom to serve others in love.  Sometimes, serving others is doing things that we may not want to do (like helping people move, cooking for the homeless, doing housework for the elderly and shut ins).  For those of us that are introverts, it may be having lunch with the annoying coworker, sharing the Gospel in the grocery line at the grocery store, etc.  It is sharing God’s love in a practical way that is tangible that points people to Jesus as our Lord and King.

Being Born of the Spirit – Merton’s Palace of Nowhere – John 3:1-8

John 3:1–8

You Must Be Born Again

[1] Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. [2] This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” [3] Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” [4] Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” [5] Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. [6] That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [7] Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ [8] The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (ESV)

It seems like lately, my life is discombobulated, scattered, and disorderly.  I wonder if that is where God wants me.  My life affirmation or mantra this year is, I am deeply loved by God, I am enough, and a Child of God.  Yet, every situation I am in whether at home or work, this affirmation seems to be challenged.  My personal adversary accuses me of the opposite, that is I am not loved by God, I am disposable, and not worth living for.  In my head, I know this isn’t true, but when mistakes happen at home and at work, sometimes I wonder.  Yet, I know they are all lies.  Jesus has come to give life abundantly, but the enemy has come to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10)

Thus life can seem unfair, obscure, and fleeting.  Yet, the journey of transformation can sometimes feel that it is through fire.  In the above passage from John’s Gospel, Nicodemus who was a Pharisee came to Jesus asking him questions about life.  Jesus answers a question with a question.  He says, that in order for us to see the Kingdom of God, we need to be born again. (John 3:4)  Nicodemus seems confused and asks Jesus how someone can be born again as a grown person.  Again, Jesus answers Nicodemus with a spiritual answer not physical, material, and biological.  We must be born again by the Spirit.  When we are born again through the Spirit, our eyes can be opened and we can see who we truly are.

James Finley writes:

The spiritual life is a kind of birth.  In fact, Jesus proclaimed that unless we are born again we will never enter into that life that knows no death.  But every birth is a kind of dying.  Every new stage of growth (transformation) calls for a letting go of what went before it.  And this letting go hurts.  The cross is the source of life yet it pierces us and drains us of any life we know…(James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, page 99)

The process of being born again according to mystics, is through contemplative prayer.  James Finley continues:

The journey into prayer is a journey directed toward a fundamental”…return to the heart, finding one’s deepest center, awakening the profound depths of our being in the presence of God who is the source of our being and our life.  In prayer we sit alone and empty.  As we sit, though nothing happens, there is a subtle parting of a curtain.  As lightly as a falling blossom lands upon the water, we touch  down upon the Kingdom of the heart.  We enter into the domain of the spirit that stands within, yet beyond all that is observable and logical.  We sit in solitary exposure to the force of time not softened by distractions, to the enveloping silence not broken chatter.  Above all we sit with a growing, unfolding desire, a waiting that is vast.  Even the one who waits with patient urgency does not know or even try to know what it is that must appear.  (James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, page 99)

I long for solitude.  In solitude and silence, I can hear God’s voice from within my heart say that he loves me, that I am enough, and that I am his child.  God’s essence is not judgment, but love.  Within me, I can see that divine love, that surpasses all understanding, through the Holy Spirit connect with my spirit and reveal God’s Kingdom within me.

Finley continues:

As we struggle more and more to expose our hearts to God’s purifying action (acts of transformation) within us we discover for ourselves that even now, in mystery, what is last is first, what is least is greatest, and what is cast off as useless is our only treasure.  And this is so because of our own most secret identity which is given to us by God as Merton expresses it…To say I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love.  Love is my true identity.  Selflessness is my true self.  Love is my true character. Love is my name.  (Finley, page 102)

Sometimes, as I enter into God’s presence, darkness floods over me.  I see the lack of love, lack of light, where I long to be satisfied and filled with his Holy Spirit.  As I enter into the “dark night of the soul”, I see the contradictions based upon what I perceive to be real, and what is unreal; what is a true desire, and what is a false selfish desire; what is true and what is not true; what is certain and uncertain.  This is all part of the purification of the heart (transformation process).  Yet in the process of letting go, I embrace the true mystery of unknowing because everything seems impermanent and uncertain.  Yet God is good, and bringing more of his kingdom into my heart.

Application

I am excited to participate in the next step of Faithwalking which is a discipleship program that my church has adopted.  It will help me walk out my true identity as God’s precious son who is deeply loved.  I will learn to walk in authenticity as I become aware of the discrepancy between my true self and false self.  Not just being aware and authentic, but also be active in where God is leading me in my life so that I can experience the best that God has for me.  Part of it will be entering into a time of solitude doing the Centering Prayer and Daily Examen.

To live in the True Self and be fully Awake – Colossians 3:1-4; Ephesians 5:14

1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your[fn] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  (Col. 3:1-4)

From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/csb/col/3/1/p1/s_1110001>

What Jesus so profoundly demonstrates to us in his passage from death to life is that the walls between the realms are paper thin. Along the entire ray of creation, the “mansions” are interpenetrating and mutually permeable by love. The death of our physical form is not the death of our individual personhood. Our personhood remains alive and well, “hidden with Christ in God” (to use Paul’s beautiful phrase in Colossians 3:3) and here and now we can draw strength from it (and [Christ]) to live our temporal lives with all the fullness of eternity. If we can simply keep our hearts wrapped around this core point, the rest of the Christian path begins to fall into place.

From <https://cac.org/the-mystical-body-of-christ-2019-05-03/>

Cynthia Bourgeault makes a profound point in the above passage where she says, “if we can simply keep our hearts wrapped around this core point (our identity being found in Christ), the rest of the Christian path falls into place.”  I agree with her, the core of who we are and what it means to be fully human, and fully alive is learning who we are in Christ.  This is where our true selves are found and lived.  The God who is, was, and forever shall be resides in all of us as the universal Christ where we move, live, and have our being (Acts 17:24-25).  As we live our lives, we look to Jesus who is our archetype and gives us an example of what it means to be truly human  (Col. 1:15-20).

One of my affirmations that I recite daily that the Holy Spirit gave me for the new year is:

I am loved by God, I am enough, and I am God’s child. 

Even when the world around me says that I am not loved, not good enough, and not worthy of anyone’s love, I know that it isn’t true.  That is my false self, and ego separating myself from who I am as God’s child. 

Part of staying connected to God and living out our true identity as God’s child is doing spiritual practices that affirm the reality of our true selves and higher self.

According to David Benner:

The spiritual life starts with awareness.  Limited awareness equates to a shallow spiritual life.  No one can ever be more aware of the self-transcendent than they are aware of things going on within and around them.  The spiritual journey starts, therefore, with awakening – and with being prepared to awake again and again as we realize that we have once again drifted to sleep. (Soul Spirituality, page 96)

“Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/eph/5/14/s_1102014>

The way people go through the spiritual formation process is by practicing the spiritual disciplines. Dallas Willard writes, “The aim of disciplines in the spiritual life-and, specifically in the following of Christ- is the transformation of the total state of the soul.” The Spiritual disciplines put people directly in the path of the Holy Spirit in their life and positions them to practice God’s presence and grow in a deeper sense of intimacy with Jesus (John 15:1-6).

They are:

  1. Meditation and Contemplation
  2. Unplugging (a form of fasting)
  3. Fasting
  4. Stillness and solitude
  5. Silence
  6. Secrecy
  7. Devotional Reading
  8. Prayer
  9. Celebration
  10. Connecting with Nature
  11. Worship
  12. Confession
  13. Rest

As we see these natural rhythms of the spiritual life played out in our daily lives, the result is that we become more aware of who we are in Christ, become more authentic as we walk in our true selves, and learn how to take action as we listen to God’s voice that comes from our true selves.  All of those brings us into perfect alignment with the Holy Spirit.  Hence, becoming sanctified and holy as he is holy (Matt. 5:48).

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