Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Journey IS the Goal

I've had a recent setback in my journey towards recovery, and as I was silently listening one day, a thought came to me along the lines of the following: "the journey is the goal." As I considered that, I realized afresh that we humans typically see the goal as some "shiny object" out there that we're working for and we miss the reality that this day, this moment, is the goal, and how I live it will determine where I arrive one day. 

I'm not saying that having goals is wrong or bad but that it's wise to be aware that focusing too intently on that "shiny object" can prevent us from enjoying God and others and oneself today on the journey. I read the following poem recently in a Lent devotional reading along these lines:

Patient Trust
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing though
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

~Pierre Teilhard di Chardin, SJ

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Letting Go and Giving Up

I was recently on a panel in a small gathering of college young women. We were gathered to tackle their questions about dating and marriage and family and singleness. One question asked was something to this effect: "Does being content in singleness mean I relinquish my desire to be married?"

In my journey of injury and pain, I remember that around 2-3 years into it, there was a moment when I let go of the idea that I might walk again without the aid of a device. I accepted the reality that perhaps I would need help the rest of my life with walking. In some circles of faith, this is anything but faith! But I had a sense of peace in letting go of my determination to walk independently someday.

This, however, didn't mean that I gave up on a normal desire; you can't really let go of what is normal human desire without dehumanizing yourself to do so. But I placed that human desire within the space of peace. I continue to work towards wholeness in my injured leg but now I do so in and with peace, without trying to control the outcome. (Control, by the way, always has some form of fear behind it.)

All this to say that I believe that letting go and giving up on certain good normal desires doesn't mean that the desire leaves us. It simply means we cease to try to control and force the outcome but instead we give the desire a place of peace to dwell in as we continue to hold it in our being.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Incarnating God: Jesus' Childlikeness and Ours

God's coming as a baby highlights what he's like and what he prioritizes. The following are random thoughts about what this means; you will have other insights to add:

Dependent on flawed creatures: a baby doesn't chaff about needing others nor about their imperfections. God genuinely wants to partner with flawed humans; he shows this by his lowly birth in which he emptied himself completely and relied on the protection and upbringing of a poor Jewish family and community of the first century. He never quit relying on others as an adult.

Unself-conscious: a baby is delightfully unself-conscious. God is not so caught up with himself that he has to have praise from his creation to bolster his sense of importance; he is secure in himself, not obsessed with his own glory but seeks to put others in the spotlight. This attitude carried on into his adult life where, rather than seeking to elicit praise from others or one-upping others we see him downplaying his own acts and uplifting others.

Not in charge: a baby doesn't even think in terms of who's in charge but simply is who she is, and as Jesus matured into manhood, He maintained this childlike posture; he lived and taught that in his kingdom there is no hierarchy where humans "lord it over" other humans.

Indiscriminate: a baby doesn't categorize people nor see some as superior to others; Jesus demonstrated by action and word that he saw all people as equal in God's kingdom. After Jesus' death, one of his followers (Paul) wrote eloquently that in Jesus there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.

No agenda: goals and productivity are not what concern a baby but rather relationship. God cares more about relationship than about mission statements and strategic goals. Jesus did not establish an institution or corporation or religion but lived his life in simple and profound relationship with God and with people.

Non argumentative: a baby doesn't engage in the energy-draining exercise of attempting to prove himself "right" and the other person "wrong". God cares more about life (tree of life) than about who's right and who's wrong (tree of knowledge). As an adult human God didn't engage other humans at the level of knowledge but of wisdom.

Approachable, winsome, delightful: a baby is the safest and most approachable creature there is; in fact, she is approachable to the point of being delightful and magnetic, drawing people to her. God is delightful and winsome - easy and safe to approach for all humans; if we really knew this, we would desire him and be drawn to him.

God is like the childlike Jesus. He operates in an entirely different realm and prioritizes partnering with imperfect humans over acting independently,  other-consciousness over self aggrandizement,
organic over organization,  inclusion over exclusion,  relationship over agenda,  giving life over winning debates,  and approachability over rules.

Because the kingdoms of this world require independence, self-aggrandizement, hierarchy, tribalism, personal agendas, winning, rules and regulations in order to survive, Jesus' life and teachings and actions were a threat to their existence, and so they murdered him. We who follow him are called to deny the false 'adult' self that is easily seduced by earthly kingdom values and take up the cross of childlikeness as Jesus did. This is how we incarnate God in the eyes of others.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Doctor, Warrior, Judge or Parent?

The early Genesis story is filled with wonderful insights about God and humans. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree in the Garden, they experienced "dis-ease" (lack of peace) for the first time and hid from their Maker with whom they had enjoyed pure bliss and peace. God's response to their hiding was to call out to Adam, "where are you?"

If you were to retell the story putting it into a setting that fits your view of God's primary way of relating with humans, would you say that Adam and Eve needed a Doctor to heal their wounds, or a Warrior to fight their battle, or a Judge to apply the law, or a Parent to unconditionally love and comfort them?

In other words, do you picture God as a Doctor asking Adam, "What happened? Let's look at your injuries; I'll heal you..."? Or do you picture God as a Warrior asking Adam, "Where are you hiding? It's safe to come out; I'll fight for you..."? Or do you picture God as a Judge saying, "What did you do? You have offended me and my law and will be sentenced to death..."? Or do you picture God as a Parent longing and looking and calling at the top of his lungs, "Where are you?! Come out of hiding; I love you..."?

All of us lean more heavily towards certain pictures of God by virtue of many factors, not the least being our inherited theology. I see all of these metaphors for God in scripture, but the one that I see most in Jesus' teachings and in his example of self-giving love in life and death is the parental or family metaphor.

A good book that presents the differing atonement theories that have been adhered to in the church through her history is Brad Jersak's Stricken by God?  Many who are raised in Christian homes or taught from youth by modern western Christians don't realize that there are various legitimate atonement theories about God and the cross, not simply the one that they were raised with. It can be a life-altering experience to explore how God's people from various theologies have thought and believed about him and his relationship with us. It is a fairly scholarly book, but I recommend it to help expand one's way of knowing and loving God.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Dark Night of Loving Fire Brings Peace and Rest

I'm going through a simple devotional book that I've recently discovered entitled Daily Office, Remembering God's Presence Throughout the Day by Peter Scazzero.

Here is a quote from Week 4 of this book that I trust will encourage you; the theme of Week 4 is "The Wall" which refers to times of great difficulty:

"The best way to understand the dynamics of the Wall is to examine the classic work of St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, written over 500 years ago. He described the journey in three phases: beginners, progressives, and perfect. To move out of the beginning stage, he argued, required the receiving of God's gift of the dark night...This is the 'ordinary way' we grow in Christ.

"It is God's way of rewiring and 'purging our affections and passions' that we might delight in his love and enter into a richer, fuller communion with him. God wants to communicate to us his true sweetness and love. He longs that we might know his true peace and rest. He works to free us from unhealthy attachments and idolatries of the world.

"For this reason John of the Cross wrote that God sends us 'the dark night of loving fire' to free us from such deadly imperfections as: pride (being judgmental and impatient with the faults of others), avarice (suffering discontentment), luxury (taking more pleasure in spiritual blessings than God himself), wrath (becoming easily irritated, impatient), spiritual gluttony (resisting the cross), spiritual envy (always comparing), and sloth (running from what is hard)."

The prayer at the end of the reading:
"Lord, I invite you this day to cut any unhealthy attachments or 'idols' out of me. You promise in Psalm 32 to teach me the way to go. Help me not be stubborn like a mule but rather to be cooperative as you seek to lead me to freedom. Lead me to a place of communion with you where true peace and rest is found..."


Saturday, October 21, 2017


In my meditations on scripture, I'm presently in Psalm 44; I typically look at different versions to start with, and this week I was struck with the wording of vss 6,7 in The Message:

                                                      I don’t trust in weapons;
                                                     my sword won’t save me—
                                         But it’s you, you who saved us from the enemy...

As I read this, the following question came to me: what 'weapons' do I trust in to 'save' me?

To start, why do weapons exist? I believe they exist because of fear, and that the enemy I need saving from is death in its many forms (Heb 2:14-18); in other words, the fear of death drives me to accumulate weapons. Fear of death is a foundational human predicament and a subject that Richard Beck deals with very well in his book, The Slavery of Death. (For a review of his book and some understanding of why I propose that weapons exist because of fear of death, you can read what I wrote a couple of years ago on this: Disinterested Love...

Now to the question about what weapons I trust in to save myself - I identified several weapons that I tend to lean on in this season of my life when I feel threatened. I will summarize them as follows:
1) Weapon #1: knowledge or gathering information to bolster my point of view when I feel my worldview is threatened.
2) Weapon #2: possessions or holding tightly to what I have when I perceive that my lifestyle may be threatened.
3) Weapon #3: relationships or people-pleasing when I feel certain relationships could be threatened.

Knowledge, possessions and relationships are legitimate needs that, when met, contribute towards general health and well-being; it's natural and acceptable that we instinctively reach for whatever will satisfy our needs. But it is the fear or anticipation of loss of these things that drives us to turn these things into 'weapons' to dehumanize or neglect others for the sake of our own survival.

The psalmist says that my weapons will not 'save' me but rather that it is God who saves me from the enemy of death and loss. Motivated by love, God in Jesus broke the power of the fear of death over humanity by submitting to death (Heb 2). In doing this, He has empowered humans to love selflessly; and disinterested love is the antidote to fear. Each day I get to choose love over fear whether I am conscious of it or not. I still need that which knowledge, possessions and relationships can give me, but I must not find my sense of security and well being in knowledge, possessions or relationships or I will end up weaponizing them to survive. 

A life of self-giving love is the way of trusting in God to save me rather than resorting to using weapons to protect myself.

Can you identify particular 'weapons' that you are tempted to trust in when feeling threatened?


Saturday, October 07, 2017

Is Spiritual Maturity Possible without Emotional Health?

I'm presently reading a book entitled Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It's Impossible to be Spiritually Mature while Remaining Emotionally Immature, written by Peter Scazzero.

Although the material in Scazzero's book isn't new to me, it has given greater focus, clarity, and language to a reality that I have embraced and taught for some years, which is that all of God's heart and intention is summed up in Jesus' words when he was asked about the commandments of God: “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 NLT)

Scazzero uses his own experience as an emotionally broken pastor of a multi-ethnic congregation in New York City to illustrate the need for joining contemplation with emotional health in order to be spiritually mature. He equates contemplation of God with 'loving the Lord you God with all your heart...'; and he equates emotional health with 'loving your neighbor as you love yourself.' In other words, loving God and others is necessary for spiritual maturity, and we cannot genuinely love others without emotional health.

The following are some quotes from the book:

"Being productive and getting things done are high priorities in Western culture. Praying and enjoying God's presence for no other reason than to delight in him was a luxury, I was told, that we could take pleasure in once we got to heaven. For now, there was too much to be done. People were lost. The world was in deep trouble. And God had entrusted us with the good news of the gospel...

"Are these things wrong? No. But work for God that is not nourished by a deep interior life with God will eventually be contaminated by other things such as ego, power, needing approval of and from others, and buying into the wrong ideas of success...Our experiential sense of worth and validation gradually shifts from God's unconditional love for us in Christ to our works and performance...

"The greatest commandments, Jesus said, are that we love God with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul and that we love our neighbor as ourselves...Brother Lawrence called (contemplation) 'the pure loving gaze that finds God everywhere.'...We are not simply about experiencing a better quality of life through emotional health. Awareness of and responding to the love of God is at the heart of our lives...

"Emotional health, on the other hand, concerns itself primarily with loving others well. It connects us to our interior life, making possible the seeing and treating of each individual as worthy of respect, created in the image of God and not just an object to use. For this reason, self-awareness -- knowing what is going on inside of us -- is indispensable to emotional health and loving well. In fact, the extent to which we love and respect ourselves is the extent to which we will be able to love and respect others."

I highly recommend this book as foundational in making disciples (mature followers of Jesus).

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Prioritizing What Jesus Prioritizes Requires Letting Go, Self-denial

Following up on the two previous posts, What Does It Mean to be 'Blessed'? and Jesus' Priority, Inordinate Attachments, and Self-denial, I will share concluding thoughts here.

Why does God prioritize oneness/unity among His followers? Jesus tells us in John 17 and also in John 13:

John 17:20,21 "...that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
John 17:22,23 " that they may be one, as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
John 13:34,35 "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Apparently in God's mind, the family likeness that is most attention-grabbing and most attractive to those looking on is our love and acceptance of one another. This does not mean that we agree about everything; in fact, there's plenty of room for disagreement because that isn't the main point! Even though I may think other things should be priority, God says that in His design of how things best work, this is what matters most. 

In conclusion, the following are two steps we can take to start prioritizing what Jesus says is most important. These are just the ground floor (contemplative) steps but are necessary in order to healthily move forward in the action to come afterwards:

First, study and meditate on and discuss this issue honestly with God. This requires time and an honest effort to put aside our dogmatic opinions concerning what is most important in the kingdom of God. Letting go can be scary for many of us who have been raised with the idea that God cares most about right beliefs (generally defined as my inherited list of 'correct doctrines') and therefore expects us to prioritize proving other family members wrong who have a different list of 'correct doctrines'. The way to dare to step out of the correct doctrine boat onto the water with Jesus is to begin to look at and agree with how utterly kind and big-hearted God is - so much so that we can be assured that He won't let us drown if we dare to trust in Him rather than trust in our beliefs about Him. This is a form of self-denial and of laying down my life for the sake of Jesus and what matters most to Him.

Second, take the first step to another level and begin contemplating this with someone else that you feel safe with (and who won't try to keep you in the 'boat'). Until you move out of your private deliberations with God into deliberations with others in the family of God, you won't be able to take the needed action steps towards prioritizing what He prioritizes.

These initial steps will lead to an enlarging of the heart towards God and towards our spiritual siblings. After this, who knows what will happen?? The Spirit of Jesus is very faithful to lead each of us according to our unique personality and situation. From personal experience, I highly recommend this adventure with Him!

Friday, September 01, 2017

Jesus' Priority, Inordinate Attachments, and Self Denial

Chapter 17 of the book of John is a wonderful peek into Jesus' conversation with His Father after speaking intimately to His followers in the final days of His earthly life. He converses with God about those He has just been speaking with and all those who would follow His ways in future generations. In this prayer He leaves no doubt about His priority and intense desire for unity and love among His followers.

Five times Jesus prays for oneness among His own: " that they may be one, as we are one"; "...that they may all be one"; "...may they also be one in us"; " that they may be one, as we are one"; "...that they may become completely one" (John 17:11, 21a, 21b, 22, 23 New Revised Standard Version).

I mentioned the following in my previous post (What Does It Mean to be Blessed?): " any good parent, He longs for His children to get along with one another, to be in unity, loving and caring for one another in visible and obvious ways that attract others." I've observed over the years that the thing that perhaps gives parents the greatest joy is to see their children genuinely caring for one another.

I confess that in earlier years of my walk with God I prioritized other things over family unity among God's children; but the longer I live and walk with Him, the more I desire to align my heart and mind with His priorities. One reason most of His followers (including myself) don't prioritize Jesus' desire for oneness is that it requires that we hold our favorite doctrines loosely, not finding our identity in them. In overemphasizing adherence to correct beliefs, we modern western Christians have unwittingly developed an inordinate attachment to belief systems rather than to the Person of Jesus. This is a great obstacle to oneness since there is wide difference of opinion within Christ's body about what the "correct doctrines" are. If adherence to a certain set of beliefs about God is the standard by which we can be united with others, then widespread unity among God's people will not be possible.

The experience of letting go of unhealthy attachments in order to more fully receive and give God's grace and love is part of what Jesus refers to when He talks about His disciples denying themselves and being willing to lose their life for His sake (Luke 9:23,24). It's a willingness to "die" to anything that provides me with a sense of deep security and rightness apart from Jesus. It's stepping outside the "correct doctrine boat" (or whatever "boat" one is in) to walk with Jesus on the water.

Next time I'll share thoughts about why Jesus wants our oneness and suggest a couple of ways we can prioritize unity with one another.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What Does it Mean to 'Be Blessed'?

In Genesis 12 God calls Abram to leave his home and tells him, "I will make of you a great nation and will bless will be a blessing...all the families of the earth will be blessed because of you."

Though there are other meanings to what it is to be "blessed", I want to focus for a moment on something I heard years ago related to one meaning of what it is to be blessed. And that is that we are included in God's family. Applying that to this pronouncement to Abram, we could hear it more or less in this way: "I will make you and yours part of My family; in turn, you will be a visible family attracting all the other families of the earth to My global family..."

Generally our thinking as affluent American Christians is that to be blessed is to have good things happen to us or given to us. We often say things like, "God has been good to me; I've been blessed with everything working out well in this situation..." It's appropriate, of course, to be thankful for good things, but what about people who never have anything good happen to them? What about the followers of Jesus around the world who suffer without any of the simple things humans need to survive?

So I propose that we look at being blessed more in terms of being in relationship, both with the Father of all the families of the earth (see God's Dysfunctional Family) and with all His children. After many years of living and working among diverse peoples outside of the US along with years of studying and teaching scripture, I'm increasingly convinced that God's priority in His kingdom is relationships. He shows from start to finish in scripture that He wants to bless all people; in other words, He wants all people to be included in His family.

And like any good parent, He longs for His children to get along with one another, to be in unity, loving and caring for one another in visible and obvious ways that attract others.

(Next time I'll touch on Jesus' desire for oneness among His followers as seen in His prayer in
John 17).