Thursday, December 28, 2006

Trust me

Gandhi, who had closely observed Christianity as practiced around him in Great Britain and in Europe, remarked that if only Christians would live according to their belief in the teachings of Jesus, "we all would become Christians." We know what he meant, and he was right. But the dismaying truth is that the Christians were living according to their "belief" in the teachings of Jesus. They didn't believe them! They did not really trust him . . . The idea that you can trust Christ and not intend to obey him is an illusion generated by the prevalence of an unbelieving "Christian culture." In fact, you can no more trust Jesus and not intend to obey him than you could trust your doctor or your auto mechanic and not intend to follow their advice. If you don't intend to follow their advice, you simply don't trust them.---Dallas Willard

This kind of trust implies a willingness to bet ourselves and our stuff on Jesus' Way--especially since Jesus' teachings deal with ourselves and our stuff. Along with my earlier posts (and Jesus' statements on discipleship), it's an 'everything' kind of trust. Assuming for a second that we somehow get this willingness to risk everything we have and are on Jesus, what would we really be risking? If we persistently and consciously let go of every 'right', and just accept whatever he gives and takes away through mercy, what do we think we'll lack exactly? Aren't we already dependent upon his mercy for every breath? Literally, aren't I still breathing because he chooses it to be so? Aren't you? What does anyone have that isn't ultimately a gift from God? I know that, for me, the thought that my ongoing life--including my eternal life--hangs completely on the undeserved kindness of Another made me very afraid for a long time. "I'm such a loser. How can I secure (control) his ongoing approval?! There's no way I can make him show me mercy!" I still have a hard time accepting that everything I have now, or will ever have, comes through mercy. I'd rather trust my rights; I just don't think I want what I'm entitled to. Trusting mercy, embracing mercy, showing mercy is just stepping out of denial that I've ever had anything else--in this world or the next. It's stepping into the only reality that there is. It's not really a risk, it just feels like it. God is committed to me--forever--in undeserved love. Showing such love to others, even to my apparent loss, is the truest evidence that I trust this all important fact of my existence.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Muhammed & Jesus - practically twins

"No way!", you may say, and I agree. But there are many who view them and the religions they founded as essentially the same. This bothers me, especially in light of the simple fact that Jesus taught--and more importantly lived--that the rule of God in the world (his favorite topic) wouldn't come by physical force (neither his own nor that of his followers), but by overcoming evil with good, by turning the other cheek, by loving our enemies. Muhammed, on the other hand, taught, but more importantly lived the exact opposite. For this reason alone, it doesn't surprise me when Muhammed's current followers . . . well, follow him. I don't see how it should surprise anyone, actually, and it seems to require a denial of simple logic to expect otherwise, like expecting children to do what you tell them to do instead of what you actually do yourself.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that the contrast between Mohammed's followers and those of Christ is frequently not as stark as between the leading men themselves. This doesn't really surprise me for the simple reason that Muhammed's example is more appealing to follow than Christ's--even for those who believe Christ is the Son of God. Muhammed's overall story isn't exactly rare, historically or currently--get passionate about the way you think things should be (based on ideas about God or nature, or something bigger than one person), gather the masses around your zealous ideas, and, using the power you've amassed, give your opponents the beating they deserve (then write the bestseller about your opinion on everything). How many times have we seen this story just this century? Wow, if not for the current international politics, Muhammed's life would make a great and typically American hero movie. It's a pattern that many have followed and continue to follow.

But that life story isn't--at all--like Jesus' story, nor is it what he taught. Jesus' teaching and example are about showing mercy--even to the point of spilling one's own blood and money, and even toward those currently smacking you in the face in the name of God or something much less. Jesus' life and teachings are consistent and forceful on that point. Could this be any more different from Mohammed's example? Or Donald Trump's, for that matter? Victory over evil (even evil within one's enemies) through self-sacrificing, physical-loss-embracing, God-trusting love? Here in America and in other places throughout history, though, we've frequently managed to make following Christ about something not centered on this unique focus of Christ's life and teachings. It's sounds like quite an accomplishment, but it's really just a matter of supply and demand. We want to have the option of getting Jesus' blessings without having to personally trust his 'costly' Way of life and love, and such a religion has been supplied. But his example and teachings remain, forever providing the Way to overcome evil in the world and the violence and death it causes. A few actually find and follow this Way, Truth, and Life. And when they do, they don't act anything like Muhammed acted. They're not even typical Americans. They're little Christs, or, at least, that's the Road they're on.

+++ God, May we all recognize and follow your narrow Road to Life without end.+++

Monday, December 18, 2006

On cross examinations . . . of myself

My attitude frequently does not make any sense in light of what I profess to believe about Jesus. For example, I say I believe that God's mercy, his undeserved goodness, is at work in the world--even toward me. I believe that it will "pursue me all the days of my life." Now, even a minimal appreciation of the implications of that fact would prevent me from getting bent out of shape about pretty much anything--ever. And yet, I bend out of shape. Why? Because I am failing to recognize the significance and breadth of what God is doing, or (worse) just turning a deaf ear to it. I fail to listen to and and contemplate God's good news and instead follow lines of reasoning based on something other than the gospel that I profess to trust.

It's these inconsistencies of thinking that a few well directed questions can bring to light with shocking clarity. Better to shock yourself (to yourself) than leave it to someone else, I think. Here are some questions that I zing myself with to snap me toward gospel thinking when I find myself using something much less worthy:
  • For use when I'm angry, hurt, etc. about not getting something I want or feel I deserve: "So, is Jesus not enough for me?"
  • For use when I am enjoying my "right" to be upset, disappointed, etc.: "What does God deserve from me, this moment and always?"
  • For use when I'm about to run out of patience with anyone: "What kind of love does God have for me? (What does he want shown to anyone?)"

Anyway, there are more, but you get the picture. I find that any scripture or fact about God that I would like to honestly hold can be turned into a question to point out my current rejection of it. Most people, I imagine, talk to themselves for the purpose of self-correction among other things. Feel free to add these to your repertoire and give me some of your own favorite corrective zingers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Practice Six - Entirely Ready for Change

Becoming entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character and to become a different person. -- Practice Six

Entirely ready to become a different person. Entirely ready. A different person. Remove all defects of character. To me, this practice is very closely related to my previous post on Jesus becoming enough for us. Being willing to be remade is a willingness to die, to cease to be as I currently am. It's not a denial about who I currently am, but an intention to be something else. That something else is Christ himself. I don't see this happening, biblically or from experience, without a willingness to let go of what I currently am. For those of you who have seen this kind of thing become a repressive, homogenizing reality, I am sorry for that experience, but I have no doubts that letting Jesus have free and total reign in me will do anything but make me the same as everyone else. In fact, it's the inevitable difference, uniqueness even, that I know I embody when I do this (I have done it from time to time in the past), that frequently tempts me away from being willing to do it wholeheartedly 'today'. Sometimes I don't want to be different in the way Jesus makes me.

The thing that strikes me about Christ right now is the utter inability of fear or desire to move him where it wants him to go. That is completely amazing. All desires, even for food, were subject to the desire for the Father, subject to the understanding that God was more than, or included, everything else. That is impressive. Only the Father was 'worthy' of his ultimate loyalty, reaction and obedience at any moment. (This, to me, is what actual worship is.) If I can make Christ the only one I need to please--if I could give the Father even my right to eat when I want, trusting his love, intelligence, and purposes--I would begin to get acquainted with Jesus' sufferings and his power. Peter, I believe, says, "the one who is prepared to suffer is done with sin." I can certainly see that if I'm not prepared--not willing--to lose the things that I want, to have some desires go unsatisfied, indefinitely or otherwise in favor of God, then I'm not prepared to be a exclusively loyal to Jesus. I'm not willing to be his disciple. I'm not ready to become just like my teacher. I'm not ready for real change.

But today, I am ready--in the belief that everything I need is in Christ. Thank you, Lord, for the willingness.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Dying to live

(For those of you that are keeping track, I'm not off the twelve practices, though I am messing with them as they mess with me. More on that to come . . .)

Some of my current cases for work--some that have been going on for a while--have gotten me thinking. And reading. And thinking. And praying. And reading some more. And talking to pastors. And discussing with my business law class. And on and on. These cases involve conflict--conflict caused by the clear evil of the other party.

I've decided that what Jesus personally modeled and taught regarding overcoming aggressive evil is as clear as it is disturbing. And no one likes to do it, for obvious reasons. Chief among them being we want to save our life and the cash that makes that life fun for us. We don't want to lose either of these. For people who want to 'follow' Jesus, this is a problem. An impasse, even. Not only because Jesus says it's an impasse--repeatedly--but because this 'love your enemies, do good to them, lend to them' advice, is the nutshell version of God's strategy to conquer evil in this world. I hope the significance of the last sentence is gripping to you. This is how God beats evil in the earth--with your blood and money and life and mine, as sheeps to the slaughter, just like Jesus. I don't intend on quoting all of the various texts that make this obvious. The bottom line: He let everyone wrongfully hate him and hurt him, he let go of all rights, and gave his enemies everything, confident in God. In doing this, he won the full on love of many former enemies, and the highest recognition from God. And now we follow the brilliant plan that he taught and modeled. If we're not willing to pick up our cross and follow him, we can't be his disciple--because this is the plan. I'm not oversimplifying it. This is what it means to follow Jesus--letting God's love be enough to let go of everything else. Jesus knew it, Peter, James and John knew it. Paul knew it. Job knew it, Jeremiah knew it, Abraham knew it. This is how good beats evil. I'm feeling a little like a rich, young religious person lately, finding it hard to enter the kingdom of God.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I'm not dead yet . . .

I'm not dead. I'm just not blogging much. There's a big difference.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Practice Four (& Five)--Part I

"Making a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves (paying particular attention to our fears, our wounds, our sources of comfort and vexation, and our failures to love.)"

"Admitting to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the contents of our inventory."
Prepare to start getting somewhere. That's what I feel as I start thinking and writing for step/practice four---the inventory of . . . me. Since I'm putting some of the inventory on this blog, and giving the rest to others, I'm also into practice five. Before anyone gets up in arms about only posting "some" of my inventory here, let me just say that I've debated with myself a lot about how much to put on the blog. For now, I've decided to at least apply the limitation that restricts making amends, namely, to refrain when going forward would injure others. Let me add here too that my "sponsor" in this process made a recommendation to include assets as well as liabilities in the inventory. I think I see the wisdom in that, but I'm not going to start with the assets, and I don't know when I'll get there.

As I look at it now, it's easier to start with my "sources"--the things that I use to manage/comfort myself--and to work backwards from them to the motives, and, then I think my failures to love will be obvious. So, some of my "solutions" to life:
  1. Procrastination. This is a big way for me to avoid life in general or specific tasks that scare me somehow. Just put them off. Of course, the more I put them off, the more I want to avoid them. This is one of the things I use to comfort myself instead of the comfort provided by God. I've definitely given away a lot of time and money by running from good things to do. I also get angry by the suggestion that I do something that I'm avoiding, as if it's Kim's (my wife's) fault that X or Y is something I need to do.
  2. Food. Yep. I definitely use food to avoid stuff or just make life about me for a spell.
  3. TV, movies, the internet, books, etc. Distraction is great. I've heard that it's the primary tactic of Satan in America. Well, I guess I'm just another lemming.
I know there are more, but I just realized something: Part of my plan for staying numb to whatever I'm running from is diversification. If I became a heavy user of just one of the above, both the addiction and the fact that I have built my world around myself would be harder to hide (from myself and others). But if I diversify, I can appear to be "normal", maybe even godly with just occasional 'outbursts' of selfishness. It makes denial much easier. Wow. I'm not kidding, that plan was really down in there somewhere. So, for me I imagine that any socially acceptable distraction from life will do. Alcohol doesn't fit because of my personal history, and there are others that I have a genuine hatred for, but you get the picture of what I go to and why.

I'm still working on finding out (with God) what exactly makes me want to use the above things, and here's what I have so far, in no particular order:
  1. Fear. Fear of screwing up someone's stuff. I work as a lawyer so the idea of making a mistake that effects someone else in a big way (much more than it effects me) is a daily concern. I remember on the first day of law school, I think the dean said to all us first-years, "Welcome--you'll never have a good night's sleep again." There's a sense in which that's true for me, just from feelings of responsibility.
  2. Selfishness. Whether it's work, or God, or my daughter or my wife, the selfish part of me only wants to do things it considers "fun" or enjoyable (like sleep). Sometimes, maybe all the time, I'm just all about me feeling good, and if you get in the way of that, you're in the way.
  3. Fear (again). Fear of God, in a bad way. In a way of avoiding the light that sees every part of me--parts I don't want to acknowledge. Fear of shame, of failure. Fear of reality because I don't seem to do well there. Fear of actual life, of participating in the real thing, because I don't trust myself with the consequences.
I imagine there are more, but the above seem to hit, as I look at them, the positive side (desire) and the negative side (fear) of selfishness. All the above have serving me in common.

Well, as I suspected when I started, my failures to love are fairly obvious. I'll get into particular people later, along with some of my wounds. God bless you in your journey of life.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Practice Three

Sorry for the delay, but the delay has been due largely to me working with practice 3: "Turning our wills and our lives over to the care and unfolding work of God through Jesus." It turns out, God had priorities for me in the last week or so other than blogging.

As usual, my version varies slightly from the original step 3. This time, the changes were really just twofold—I added "unfolding work" and specifically pointed to God's work and care through Jesus. In short, this step is a response to Jesus' good news--the gospel (see previous posts for a few details.) For now, let me just say that the announcement that "God's reign has come near" is an announcement of God's willingness to function as our king again--to protect, to lead, to care for us, and so much more. Step three, to me, is saying "yes" to that. Jesus' character, teachings and healings are all revelations of what God's leadership is like. And God is not a king that sends his people out to be slaughtered as he and his family stay safe inside a huge castle. No! If there is blood to be spilled, if there are feet to be washed, he goes first, and gives us hope that even death can't break his loving care for us, his willingness and power to provide us with life. Life to the fullest. This is God's reign. The fact that we can be in God's reign, be his subjects, his children, his instruments--this is the good news Jesus brings. It's the news he makes possible with his own blood. As the apostles make abundantly clear after his resurrection, he was and is the King with us all along.

Regarding the "unfolding" language, Jesus compares God's reign on the earth to a mustard seed, which, even though it is the smallest seed, it will eventually become the largest tree in the garden. It is also like yeast that eventually works its effects through an entire lump of dough. This world is the garden; this world is the lump of dough. Jesus—his character, his power over death, disease and demons, his love—is the seed, the yeast, doing it's work in the world, until everything is renewed, and at that time he will hand the kingdom over to the Father. This is what I'm surrendering to. This is who I'm giving myself to for complete overhaul. This is a moving, a growing kingdom doing good--the best--in this world. My surrender to God is surrender to a God with legs. Yes, I will have rest, rest like the world has not known for a long time. But I will trust him to care for me and lead me in my getting up and my lying down. Further, I will come to know a rest even in my work with him that is unlike anything of this world, because he will be working with me, or, through me.

Anyway, there's a lot there with the "theory" behind this practice, because this one happens to be a "yes" to Jesus himself and all of God's plans through him. The scriptures literally say that it is beyond what we can hope or imagine. For better or worse, I'm giving my life to Jesus, and we'll see what happens. With him I place my hope for all things.

Honestly, the way this has been playing out for me is that the thought of God's intentions has led me to worship. Not necessarily sing, but worship. The result has been less of me invested in my addictions. More often, though not always, when they call lately, their offer seems smaller, less glorious. I think the glory of God, which I've dared to look at lately, has changed my view. Also, I let God control more of my actions. I had more desire to do so for my own good and that of others. I've also had more desire to learn about what I'm giving myself to in this "Jesus life." I've been reading more of the bible to hear God's voice, get his thoughts and his "ways." I've also been more suspicious of influences that I've tolerated for some time. I haven't done much yet, but I'm feeling suspicion, and I'm thinking that's a good thing.

On a related note, my buddy Ahren and I have been talking about starting a group who will use the steps and traditions as a means of progressing in our life in Jesus. (This has been a long time comin'.) I can't go into all of it right now, but all feedback has been encouraging at this point. We have two different places that are eager to host and get some people involved. We're working on specific times. I'm really excited and thankful. May God's will be done. Amen!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Practice Two

Practice Two: "Coming to believe that Jesus is God's appointed Way for healing the entire universe."

First, the theory: Depending on how you look at it, this version is significantly different from the original. First off, since I'm doing this for the express purpose of fully entering what God is doing in the world through Jesus, acknowledging him by name seemed appropriate. Further, coming to a conclusion that God is doing something very, very big uniquely through Jesus seems necessary to becoming his disciple (as opposed to someone else's).

Another change was "healing" rather than "sanity." I dig the 'sanity/insanity' language, but I thought 'healing' deals with insanity, as well as all kinds of other things, things that Jesus and his followers have been involved in 'healing' for some time. I want to embrace the full spectrum of God's healing work. This is linked to the final change: instead of talking about God restoring just "us", I expanded it to "the entire universe." I guess my biggest reason for this is that it's true. God is literally healing/recreating the entire universe ("heaven and earth", in biblical language) through Jesus! What began with the resurrection is spreading like a healing virus. And it's not just for humans (though we are the pinnacle of God's creation), even the trees can't wait for God to complete what he began (it's in the Book, really). I'd be happy to go into this further, but there are several very large books already written--email me if you want some elaboration from various informed sources. Additionally, I think it is helpful for me to remember that God is not just healing me. I am very glad that I am part of that universe that he is healing, but he is, in fact, at work in the whole thing. God said of Jesus in the prophets, "Saving Israel is too small a thing for you; you will be a light to the nations." Indeed.

So, anyway, that's the theory. The practice, so far, has been me thinking about God, specifically Jesus, being in control of all kinds of things that I'm not, having power to do things that I can't. It's actually pretty exciting. Admitting my powerlessness has given way to recognizing the extent of his power. I'll report more on this later. So far, so good.

PRACTICE One, cont'd.

A few quick things to report with practice one. That's actually the first thing to report. Part of the goal of doing these things at all is to give some staying power to what God is doing in my life. The stuff I wrote below about not being God (or his boss) isn't something I want to leave my consciousness. I want to have it with me at all times, bearing fruit in its season; but, I find that it is no sooner in my soul than I can feel it being assaulted by birds of the air, and crowded out by other concerns of life. My spirit replies, "No!! It's mine!! God gave it to me!!! I need this revelation to become like Jesus and really live!!!"

I am now more convinced than ever that I should get in the habit of calling them 'practices' instead of 'steps.' A step, in my mind, is something I approach, stand on for a second, and move beyond. That's not what I'm doing here; nor is it what I think God wants. (Incidentally, it's not how AA uses the 'steps' either.) I want my life to contain each of these practices ongoingly, to be shaped by them. And I actually need practice admitting my God-given limitations--I can do it now sporadically, not routinely.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Doing Step One

Alright. I've been 'working' step one of my revised steps. As I go through these, I want to share a little of what was behind the changes, if any, that were made to the AA version, as well as how working the step played out for me in practice. Since this is the first post, I'll also deal with the preamble a little: "In order to give ourselves fully to God's dream for us and others, we adopt the following practices:" Essentially, to me, this is about entering what Jesus called "the kingdom of God" which I take as operating here and now, and will never end. Jesus once chastised the Jewish leaders, saying "You have the keys of the kingdom, but you don't go in yourselves, and you prevent others from entering as well." I want my life to be about doing the opposite--entering the reign of God myself, and helping others do the same, to the extent possible. That's what the steps are about to me in a nutshell. See also, Philippians chapter 3. I want to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold of me. Now to step one:

Step One: "Admitting that something is wrong—in us and/or in the world at large, and that we are powerless to fix it." Since I'm not addicted to alcohol (I never acquired the taste), I obviously needed to drop that reference in the original version. Rather than mention the things I am addicted to, which would take a while, I opted to be generic at step one. The inventory is coming, anyway. Also, coming to God isn't just about our own issues. There is hurt and evil around us, outside of us that can also send us looking for someone more powerful than ourselves. I felt that admitting that something is wrong in the world is also a valid starting place in our lives toward Christ. Finally, admitting that our own resources were insufficient to the task at hand seemed like a key component in the original step and in our search for God, generally speaking. So that was the theory; now for the practice:

This one surprised me. Honestly, I expected to admit where I was personally off, where the 'world' was wrong as I knew it, and then move on to step two in pretty short order. It kind of started off that way, which was good in and of itself. I recalled a 'big' time with God in which I really got a good look at what God expected from me in terms of doing right by Kim, my wife, and in all the other areas of my life--and I was fully aware of my inability to do it. At the same time, I felt God agreeing with me (maybe I was agreeing with him), and offering to do it through me, if I would let him, which was scary all by itself. It was a great thing to remember and re-experience. Those thoughts have been ruminating now for a while with good fruit.

Then, a few days ago, while a few friends and I were praying for a friend of ours who deals with seizures, I was hit with: "I am powerless over God." I know, no duh. But it's not 'no duh' for me. I can't explain to you the peace that just flooded me when that thought filled my mind. I think I carry some pretty heavy crap. I think that I've been feeling bad/guilty for not being able to get God to do stuff that I or others think he should do. You may laugh--I did (not during the prayer). It literally tickled me that the truth "I can't control God" was somehow news to my soul, and extremely relieving and joyous news at that. I haven't felt something that strong as a result of a truth in a long time. It was nice. Really nice. And it was obviously correct, which was also nice.

Humility, it is said, is the proper estimate of one's self. I don't think that I've achieved the 'proper estimate' yet, but I think coming to grips with the fact that I can't control God is a step in the right direction. Sorry if you wanted something deep. What can I say; I'm not God. Apparently, I'm not his boss either.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

That says it pretty well.

"It is crucial to move from principle to practice — from idea to embodiment. The Word became flesh. And we beheld his glory. The essence, the very being of the ultimate, was there for us to look at, to behold, to touch, to be with. Just as we see God in the historical Jesus, now people will see God in us, as the resurrected Jesus forms us into a literal cell in his own global body. Of the early Christians it was said, 'See how they love one another.' About us will it be said: 'If you want to know what God intended for human life to be, free of the idols which can’t produce, which can’t save us, look at that little group, that little cell. That’s who God is. Hang around with them. You’ll be touched by the divine, by eternity, by the holy'.” -- Gordon Cosby


Monday, April 24, 2006

12 steps toward Christlikeness

Alright. If you want some background about why I'm doing this, see the previous few posts, and feel free to ask me as well. The guts of it is this: God has invited us all to join with him in the renewal and healing of the world. Of course, the first thing he wants me to help him renew is me. (Not really my first choice.) God has highlighted (repeatedly and from all kinds of sources over the last few years) the twelve steps of AA as the means he's chosen for me and some of my friends to bring ourselves to Jesus and learn how to live anew; how to become that which God has died to create.

Below is my working version of the 12 steps, which I have modified to pursue not just a life of serenity, but life in God's will--his reign on this earth through Jesus. For those of you that are familiar with the steps, you will notice that I have changed, among other things, the verb tense from a past tense to a "present continuous" tense. This is more accurate and helpful to me, since I'm hoping to be doing all the "steps" as a lifestyle, long after the first time through, as the steps hopefully become a regular rhythm in my life. Changing the tense has made the original step ten obsolete, which I think was providential for me to be able to include a practice not among the original 12, but has been a necessary part of my (re)formation. I'm totally open to questions and feedback (even the "T, you're crazy!!" kind), including recommendations for changes. So, here they are:

In order to give ourselves fully to God's dream for us and others, we adopt the following practices:

  1. Admitting that something is wrong—in us and/or in the world at large, and that we are powerless to fix it.
  2. Coming to believe that Jesus is God's appointed Way for healing the entire universe.
  3. Turning our wills and our lives over to the care and unfolding work of God through Jesus.
  4. Making a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves (paying particular attention to our fears, our wounds, our sources of comfort and vexation, and our failures to love.)
  5. Admitting to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the contents of our inventory.
  6. Becoming entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character and to become a different person.
  7. Humbly asking Him to remove our shortcomings, to make us into his likeness, and to give us his Spirit.
  8. Making a list of all persons we have failed to love, and becoming willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Making direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Dwelling on God's loving actions toward us, and, therefore, loving God in return with all of our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.
  11. Seeking, through prayer and whatever other means Jesus recommends, to improve our friendship with God through Christ, praying primarily for knowledge of His will for us and for his Spirit's power to carry that out.
  12. Having experienced some genuine transformation as a result of following Jesus, we gladly share Jesus with others, and let God continue to lead us in all our affairs.

Allow me to say (with AA) that I am not claiming to live up to these all the time, or even ever. This list makes my stomach flip a little to be perfectly honest, and making it public kicks it up a notch--but even that is a confirmation to me that I'm on the right track. This is a scary and exciting thing. Becoming more transparent is part of this anyway. I'm very glad I expect some company on this road. For the forseeable future, and hopefully longer, this is how I'm going to submit myself for recovery from 'normal' life, into eternal life, the kind Jesus came to bring, until further notice from the One rightfully in charge.

I feel like I'm reaching the apex of the big ascent at the start of a big roller coaster . . . I am nervous and smiling. Lord, help us!!

Friday, April 21, 2006

A plan of transformation (or, for entering the dynamic reign of Jesus)

As may have been obvious from my last post, or certainly from Mike's post, our little band of disciples is taking a serious look at the twelve steps from AA (watch out for the loud colors). "So who's addicted to alcohol?" you may ask. No one, that I'm aware of--we have other drugs of choice. But AA itself realized that their 12 steps (which were born out of a combination of scripture and experience with alcoholics) might have application in other endeavors besides pursuing sobriety, and they have been right.

I'm not going to go through all the reasons that have led our particular band of Jesus students to look at the steps as a means of getting ourselves on the Way, but let me throw out a few summary reasons why I personally respect the steps as a fully viable way for a group of disciples to guide and examine their supposed discipleship to Jesus:
  1. Helping people to enter the reign of God, which is here and now and will last forever, seems to be the thrust of Jesus' ministry and purpose for us.
  2. "Entering a reign" of any kind involves the submission of our will and our lives to the sovereign, and thereby trusting the sovereign a fairly great deal for wisdom, protection, etc. The overlap between the will of God and "the reign of God" is substantial, to say the least. (See the Lord's prayer) Therefore, entering the kingdom can often be accurately discussed as a matter of entering the will, or activity of God. As Jesus said, "Calling me 'lord' isn't the issue; the issue is doing the will of my Father." This is, in reality, more of a moment to moment issue, than a once-and-for-all event; more about discipleship than what we've tended to call 'conversion.'
  3. The twelve steps of AA deal with alcoholism indirectly, as a symptom of a larger disease.
  4. The larger disease is a life that is lived for self, and by self. It is a life unwilling to submit to the reign/will of God out of distrust, fear &/or pride.
  5. Hence, the steps focus primarily on getting a person to stop doing life their own way, and give their life, one day at a time, to God to run instead--to surrender their little kingdom, with its little rescources and knowledge, to God's kingdom.
  6. AA embraces the reality that what will be needed to stop the particular 'sin' of drinking, is a total overhaul/transformation of the person. Make the tree good, and the fruit will be good, is the way Jesus put it.
  7. If the one who sins is a slave to sin, it makes sense that getting (and keeping) a new master is part of the solution. In this vein, talking about our addictions rather than just our sins seems to be a more helpful and honest way to talk about ourselves.
  8. I've met few people who were more humble, honest and truly transparent than those who were working some version of the steps.

There are more reasons I dig the steps, and I'm open to talking about them or the ones above. The guts of it has been my understanding of the kingdom of God, discipleship, and what God has always been inviting us into through Jesus. I think the steps have a better handle on God's offer and what becoming a disciple means than most churches.

For a couple of weeks, everyone in our group has had an opportunity to look at the steps, and think about what our primary purpose is, as little Christs in the making, according to God. Everyone was encouraged to make any changes to the steps that they felt would be necessary or helpful in light of that primary purpose. We will likely share everyone's thoughts this weekend, and I look forward to some good insights. I plan on making my version of the primary purpose and the steps the subject of my next post.

+++Thank you, God, for leading me again to a place where I can be honest, unashamed, and hopeful--all at the same time. Your love, your leadership, is amazing. Thank you. +++

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Step One (and maybe two)

One of the comments to the last post was essentially, "I agree, Jesus talks to us as addicts when he talks about money. But what do we do about it?" Here are few thoughts in that direction, and I'll probably stay with it for a few posts. (Because of the path our church is on right now, my friend Mike also has some great thoughts on this issue. Feel free to think a few of your own.)

A big reason for making the previous post was to be part of the solution for myself and others: Every addiction is harder, if not impossible, to overcome if you deny that it is an addiction. If we come to terms with the fact that we are in fact addicted to money (and many other things), we have just made our recovery much more likely to succeed. And this is not as simple as it sounds. I'm sure someone will read this or the previous post and inwardly say, "It's not like Jesus, or any of the biblical writers, actually used the term 'addiction'." True enough; they didn't have that language. But go and read the things they did say. I guarantee you their words will not make your denial any easier. You probably won't make it past what Jesus said himself, assuming you start with him. God gets us, and he tells us what he knows. You can build your life on it or not.

The reason that calling an addiction by its name is important is that it changes which actions actually make sense for us to take, and which don't. I don't even know how many of our current actions as individual followers make no sense in light of our attachment to money and other things of this world. We are steeped in society's expectations and practices ("people who don't know God are deeply concerned about these things"--what we will wear, what we will eat, etc.) Images of nice things are the staples of our minds' intake. Our eyes are full of them, and our body follows. They keep us putting thought, energy and time toward taking care of the things of this life. We're cultivating weeds. The seed of God's new creation is being neglected for weeds and thorn bushes.

But what can rival money's images and expectations? Is there a vision that can spur us toward godliness and contentment, toward truly productive lives and actions? There is. And according to Jesus, the image is that of God getting his way on the earth. He called it the reign, or kingdom, of God. It was Jesus' favorite topic; it's arrival was his message, his good news; it's continued emergence is the center of the prayer he wants to teach us. As Jesus made abundantly clear, God has not abandoned this earth to the dark powers. This is his world, and he's decided to keep it, and make it the way he wants it. God has already planted the Seed of his rule in this world, and it is growing. Eventually it will be the largest tree in the whole earth (it may already be). Christians often mistakenly think that this world is getting the fate of the devil rather than the fate of Jesus and his followers. It will be tested, and with fire, but that fire will result in a new heavens and a new earth: all that wasn't planted by the Father will be completely uprooted; all not made with the master carpenter turned to ash. But things made with his gold and precious stones will remain. Healing, removal of demons and their lies, kindness to the poor, and true knowledge of God, these are just a few of the staples of the growing and inevitable reign of Jesus, the King, in the world.

Some may be thinking, "This is great, but what does this have to do with our addiction to money?" Everything. Money has captured us by visions and/or experiences of what it can do and by convincing us that there are no functioning alternatives. It has brought us into a lifestyle which is organized around getting and spending money. It casts a vision ahead of us and our paths are chosen in accordance with that vision. (Jesus' statements about serving God or money are all about this.) God has cast a rival vision and offered a rival path. Money isn't just an object, it's a paradigm, a way of ordering your life. In order to leave the money-ordered-life, you need a wholistic alternative, and you need to know what that alternative can do for you and those around you. The gospel Jesus brings is that alternative. "God is reordering the world around himself. Consider your options and trust this good news." It is not an event; it is a Way. But, assuming that actually living this Way is more involved than praying a prayer to get into heaven, how do actually we jump ship from the kingdom of money in this life into the emerging reign of Jesus? Does God's alternative mean we won't have jobs?

But I think this enough for one post.

Monday, March 13, 2006

"Sure, I'll manage that for you . . ."

It's unfortunate to me that the word that best encapsulates current evangelical teaching on money is 'stewardship.' I totally dig the reasoning that God owns everything, therefore, I must steward his stuff, not mine. However, we're running by a few steps that Jesus camped out on. I think it's fair to say that whenever Jesus talked about money, he talked like he was talking to a group of addicts. As always, I'm open to hearing some disagreement on that point, but I don't think the guts of his message was "steward it"; the guts of his teaching seems to be "put it down, and then take my hand." Now, what happens when you tell a group of addicts to 'steward' the object of their affection? . . . Something very similar to what we have now in American churches, I think. Of course, our whole lives become an issue of stewardship (being a good, trustworthy servant) eventually, but we've got to give up 'stewarding' our very lives before we're even a student of Jesus (again, according to Jesus). The first issue that must be dealt with, and repeated as necessary, is our white-knuckle grip on our lives, our dreams, our cash. Jesus' counsel is not to steward it, but to lose it, and follow him.

I know this has big implications. But the first issue to be dealt with when it comes to money isn't stewardship or tithing, but attachment, at least according to Jesus.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Serious Devotion

I don't think I'm done yet talking about money's tendency to hijack people that rightfully belong to Jesus. Maybe I won't be for a while. Oddly, I've actually been thinking more and more about the gospel. Specifically, the gospel of the reign of God coming to earth as announced and practiced by Jesus. The good news is that God, through Jesus, is becoming the organizing center of the world again, usurping and judging the current powers that be. I have to say, it's an amazing thought to me! God's will is going to be done here!! God's power and love are available here!!! The thing is, the more I think about the gospel in this way, the more I see how cash (and the dreams we think it can fulfill) is exactly the often preferred substitute for God and his gospel that Jesus said it was.

There's a (relatively) old song from nine inch nails (head like a hole) that has stuck with me from the first time I heard it. Something about the juxtaposition of 'god' and 'money' that was cutting, disturbing, and accurate:

god money i'll do anything for you
god money just tell me what you want me to
god money nail me up against the wall
god money don't want everything he wants it all
no, you can't take it . . .
no, you can't take that away from me . . .

god money's not looking for the cure
god money's not concerned about the sick among the pure
god money let's go dancing on the backs of the bruised
god money's not one to choose
no, you can't take it
no, you can't take it
no, you can't take that away from me

Why, again, are Americans so busy? Why can't Americans have meaningful prayer time, or time for loving relationships and selfless service? Because we're devoted servants. We've got to take care of those tasks that serve our master's interests first. He says we can do the rest on our own time, whenever that may be.

Maybe we don't think that Jesus would take us as his servants. Or maybe we don't like or, more likely, don't really understand Jesus' dream for the world and for our lives in particular. Maybe we overestimate the extent of money's power, and fail to perceive the ways in which it will fail us. Maybe we're just unthinkingly doing what everyone does. Here's hoping we all rethink our devotion to money in light of Jesus' message: "The time's finally here. God has come to earth to rule and provide. Reconsider your life and trust this good news."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

It's Still "News"

"God has finally come to rule the earth! Get on board with the real administration!"

If I asked 1000 random people to tell me what "the gospel" is in a sentence or two, I don't think I'd get one answer that has any similarity with the above statement. I think I might get a few like it if I limited the survey to people who identify as Christians. (I'll ask 30 PBA students tonight, so we'll see what turns up.) Now, I am not a guy that thinks there only a few ways to accurately talk about the good news that God has brought to humanity through Jesus--there are lots and lots, and even the best words can't fully capture it. In fact, I would love more people to think creatively about how to express the good news of Jesus. All that being said, though, the fact that even few Christians conceive of the gospel in a way that is at all similar to Jesus' announcement of it is, at least, worth some thought, at least for Christians.

Now, a couple of quick thoughts: Any version of the gospel is still news to me every morning when I wake up. I have to take a little time and effort to hear it right off the bat to have a decent shot of basing my day's decisions on it. I know I'm not alone in this. But what would happen, what would be different, if more and more people who already think about, remind themselves of, and otherwise try to "repent and believe" some version of the gospel started adding this version into the mix? And secondly, what if people who had never heard the gospel heard something like the above as their primary hearing? Assuming someone would still regard it as the best opportunity they had ever heard, what would they feel compelled to do in response? In addition to whatever those responses are, would the Lord's Prayer then become the standard and fitting prayer for new and old believers alike?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

For love or money

Working as a lawyer has been a wonderful and fruitful opportunity for me, all in all, even though I feared it for years. One of the best and worst parts is the in-your-face exposure to people's actual ideas of how the world (and God, if they think he's a part of it) works. By ideas, I'm talking about the ones we actually act upon, the conscious and subconcious conclusions about reality we pick up or make up that we use to choose and navigate our jobs, our schedules, what we do for entertainment and why, what excites us and how often, what threatens us, and how threats should be handled. In my experience, when it comes to business and money, if the gospels are the gospels, then most (American) Christians are not Christians, at least if we use the word to mean "little Christs."

One of the things I'm supposed to teach in my Biz Law class (from a Christian Theistic Worldview) is dispute/conflict resolution. So during our coverage of contracts last week, I brought up the facts of a current case of mine in which an elderly couple has invested their home equity with a guy and he's way, way late on returning it. Issues of even criminal theft/fraud are legitimately in play. All parties identify themselves as Christians. A student asks me, "Why don't you call the police and report him?" I respond with my own set of questions that begin with, "Can anyone give me a reason from Scripture--a story, a teaching--particularly from the New Testament, that might give my clients a reason or desire not to pursue criminal sanctions?"

The discussion that insued began with a vague reference to forgiveness and then turning the other cheek. I took the "turning the other cheek" verse and gave some of the surrounding verses and some similar teachings (including doing good to your enemies, and loaning your money to enemies without expectation of return), and also brought Jesus' personal example into play and then asked my question again for other relevant passages. With no takers (but a growing sense of interest and nervousness in the room), I gave a few more love your enemies examples and teachings. Then I asked someone to give me a reason, from the New Testament's teachings or examples, that would lead my clients to call the police and/or file suit, if there were any. At this point they were pretty disturbed. "I don't think Jesus wants us to be a doormat." It's funny, I've heard that in sermons. But it doesn't really answer the question, so I said that, and again I asked for a teaching or example from the NT, or an argument by analogy. One student offered the turning over the tables story. Without getting into the specifics of it, it gave us a couple of bricks, but no house.

I then offered to my class the following ideas and I invited them to disagree with me (and invite anyone, really), using some example or teaching from the NT: 1. All of Jesus' teachings and his personal example seem to form a clear direction (as opposed to a 'law') that show us how he thinks we should deal with evil people, generally speaking. 2. His way has more to do with the innocent party's blood (or money) than that of the evil person. 3. Jesus is in the business of winning enemies to his/God's side, and this "voluntarily giving them even more than they ask for/take" seems to be the settled method.

Now, it was interesting to me the level of shock in the room at these suggestions. I wasn't really surprised, but I was, after all, standing in a Christian university, in a junior-level class. It just showed me how we have made Jesus in our image. We don't want him messing with our business, literally.

Where is the theology of the cross? We have made it into a teaching that only deals with God and his need to punish sin; it (supposedly) has little to do with our sins against each other. It reconciles us to God and . . . well, that's it. What exactly is "our cross" that we have to pick up in order to follow him? Does his loving us and dying for us while we were still his enemies give us an example to follow? How exactly does a "little-Christ" treat his debtors? How do you show a culture, or better, a specific person, who is willing to hurt you in order to get money, that they are trusting, seeking, serving the wrong thing?

The answer, according to Jesus' teachings and life seems to be: You let evil people have what they want, and then some; you love them more than "it." ("It" being your stuff, of course, while trusting the real king to take care of you). I share this episode of my life because the fact that this was a shocker to my junior-level class at a Christian university (and to many of my adult Christian clients) , despite its obviousness from scripture, makes me want to talk explicitly about the way in which money fosters loyalty to itself over and against God and his son. Of course, Jesus talked about that too--it's part of his attempt to save us, his former enemies.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Brant does it again.

Being serious for a second, I want to take advantage of an opportunity to be encouraging to a friend, and introduce Brant to anyone who doesn't know him. Brant is a good-hearted and thoughtful guy. He has a strong tendency to use his mind in constructive ways, and to use it often. He doesn't just go off and theorize, he listens to writers and to people that he talks with. He's a guy looking for good thoughts. And he does it all with a great sense of humor.

Oh, and he's not afraid to raise issues and ask questions others won't, or won't do very well. He does both.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Becoming charismatic (again)

In response to some patient friends who might stop visiting if I don't post some of my life on this blog . . .

I haven't, for several years now, been quite the "charismatic" that I used to be. Not that my theology changed (in theory), I just wasn't living it. I don't know what "charismatic" means to you. Maybe it means rolling around on the floor (which I've personally never done), but here's what I mean by it, in terms of practice and attitude:
  • My praise and adoration for God aren't just in my head--I put my body and my heart into worshipping God and present myself for whatever he wants, publicly and privately. And I do it regularly and with a certain lack of dignity where helpful. (I have a sense of my own dignity that grows like a weed. I find that being undignified, or being willing to be so, in my worship or service of Jesus helps--Look up the definitions of "extol" and "exalt" or even "worship" if you need some biblical basis, and there's more besides.)
  • This giving of my emotional, mental and bodily attention and my offer of service to God (my whole being) has pretty nifty side effects. The more I do it, the less I care about my stuff and the more "the peace of Christ rules my heart"; the more I am unoffendable, impossible to threaten with harm. I know where/who my favorite persons are, who and where I am, and who's ultimately in charge of things here. This personal peace means my walls come down. I don't even care about how people see me, nor does bad news typically shake me, though it might sadden me. I become genuinely present and compassionate with people--and I actually see them. Not being consumed with my needs does wonders. I basically begin to just have "extra" love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.--that Holy Spirit is quite the fellow.
  • This actual caring for others and simultaneously communing with God leads to praying for others' needs and hearing God's thoughts about and for other people. I become a physical location through which God communes with people, and they see and hear from him as well. I become the temple of God. A few important subpoints here: First, of course this praying/listening to God for others includes times when I'm alone, but it's also when I'm with people. I'm really looking at and listening to the person I'm with, and I'm doing the same with God at the very same time. It's amazing the things God has to say to people and the effects are equally amazing, miraculous even. Some might say to me at this point, "Doesn't that make it harder to hear the person you're with if you're trying to talk with God at the same time?" Not once you get used to it. And getting used to it usually means actually coming to terms with the fact that God is always part of your conversations anyway. He always has been, we just don't always acknowledge or believe in or accept his presence in the way we do a physical person. And/or we don't assume he has anything to say, or we assume he only wants to say things that are in tracts, or is limited to quoting scripture. Once you come to terms with the reality of his active, creative presence (whether we like it or not), and that he's got a pretty large vocabulary and repertoire of available actions and emotions, it's just a matter of time. It becomes a matter of not being rude and ignoring someone who's right there; someone who happens to have more insight than either of you, someone who loves you both like no one else does or can. Which brings me to my second subpoint: God's communications are "wholistic", for lack of a better term, just like he is and you are. They've got feeling. They've got a human touch. He grips you with his thoughts and his feelings for someone so that you can communicate the whole package. We don't typically believe God will do this through us, but we long for him deeply to communicate to us in this way. There's a clue there via the Golden Rule. God's best vehicle to communicate himself isn't a billboard or a pamphlet or a book; it's not even the Bible. His best vehicle is a living human being who embodies and obeys him. Obviously, Jesus was and is the prototype, but God's taking on flesh and bone didn't end with Jesus. It just began there. We are his living, acting, thinking, feeling sons and daughters, his vehicles of creative expression and action, or we are those of a much smaller inspiration. God doesn't just want to fill your mind with some logical point to be made in a mechanical fashion. He wants to fill you with a logical point that has unbelievable emotional and physical consequences. He wants empathy, for his feelings and those of others. He wants us to embody, to surrender to, to hear his message(s) with our whole being, and you won't have embodied all that he has to say in a hundred life-times, if you did it every second of every day. And then my final subpoint is a little more painful: he wants us to trust him, which in my experience has meant he didn't feel the need to explain the whole deal to me before directing me to act in a wholistic way on whatever he did give me. I was given the "strong leading" once to just hug a guy I barely knew in the middle of a worship song. Since I care about how people see me, and since this guy had his eyes closed, and probably didn't know my last name, I really wanted to give him a verbal warning like "Hey." or "Hi." first. But I got this sick feeling in my stomach like I was chickening out and disobeying God if I did that. So after sweating through one song and halfway through another one, I reluctantly hugged him, full on. And he hugged me back without ever knee-jerking away. And he broke down. And a tear or two came down my cheek as we kept embracing. For a while. After it was done he told me that his dad is one of those always tearing-him-down types and he was just saying to God before I hugged him, repeatedly, "I just need to know what you think of me."

These are things I've experienced but have let go of over the last 4 or 5 years. There are lots of reasons, but that's another post. I'm pursuing again a kind of wholistic practice of worship and love that I learned from some dear folks who were willing to be called charismatics. I hope to do the label justice soon, and be consistent out in the world that thinks it's alone. Thank you, Father, Son & Spirit, for your patience and for continuing to talk and act for me and for all of us. Thank you, Jesus.