Category Archives: Jesus

An Audio Intro to Isaiah

True Self

We are created in God’s image. But what does that mean? Some have argued that to be created in God’s image means we reflect something of God’s nature, like the ability to reason, the ability to develop culture or language, to create art and music, observe ourselves, or critically deduce conclusions. 

The problem with all those definitions is that they don’t apply to every person. The brain damaged person lies vegetative in a body that is breathing and with a heart that beats, but who is unable to reason, communicate, create, or observe. Is that person no longer in God’s image? If they were born brain damaged, were they never really human beings? Have they no dignity? Moreover, animals and trees communicate, apes display selflessness, and puppies are full of love.

Rather than define the imago Dei with attributes that some humans have and others do not, I prefer to define it as simply the ability to be loved by God. God loves all of creation – sea cucumbers, turtles, and willow trees. Perhaps I’m a speciesist, but it appears to me that God has a special love for humans. I say that because God became a human being, rather than a goldfish. Nevertheless, God cares deeply about goldfish and sparrows and mushrooms. It’s all good. It’s all beautiful.

God is love – perfect self-sacrificial cruciform love. God lavishes that perfect love unconditionally on everyone. Every part of creation reflects God’s love. 

Our true selves are who we are according to God. For all of us, that begins with Beloved. Every human being is beloved of God, deeply and unconditionally. Many of us affirm that truth but have a very hard time truly believing it. Voices within tell us we are only loved if we do good stuff, or reach some level of perfection. We’re reminded of our failings, faults, sins, of those we’ve hurt, of the times when we’ve been selfish and mean. At some level, we doubt we are lovable.

Your true self, the innermost you that God unconditionally loves and cherishes regardless of what you do or accomplish, is Beloved. In my experience, it takes years of contemplation, Lectio Divina, biblical meditation, prayer, silence, service to those Jesus called the least of his siblings (Matthew 25), and spiritual companionship with wise elders in the faith to begin to really believe that I am God’s beloved. 

My goal as a spiritual director and counselor is to deeply listen, pray for, unconditionally love, and walk with people as they slowly discover their belovedness. We’re all created in the image of God and beloved by God. 

Each of us is also an individual. Each of us is unique. It is that unique part that we’re referring to when we speak of finding your true path, growing into who you were meant to be. 

Finding your true path involves discovering the unique ways God created you, the unique gifts God has given you, and the unique bit of kingdom work God designed you for. That also takes a lot of prayer, contemplation, and guidance. And, it changes. Different seasons of your life open up different roles. It’s about the journey.

https://www.theunstuckspirit.com

Don’t Ignore the Past

I believe that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation and that old things have passed away and all things have been made new (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). I believe that there is no life so ruined it cannot be redeemed by the Spirit of God. There is no sin so great God won’t forgive it. 

Baptism symbolizes a cleansing, a death, a burial, and a resurrection. Our sins are washed away; off the table; gone. The old self died with Christ and is buried with Christ. We are connected to a new humanity as we rise with Christ.

However, ignoring the past is unwise. We are forgiven, true. Yes, we are new creations. We are also, all of us, the sum total of the experiences, influences, and genetics of our past. To one degree or another, we’ve all been wounded by life. We live in a fallen world. All of us grow up having developed an outer shell to protect us from the world. Those experiences, wounds, that shell of ours, needs to be explored, understood, learned from, and integrated into who we are. We need to enter the heart space of our true identity as beloved in Christ. We cannot do that without fully owning our past. If new creation in Christ is used to avoid working through the past, we will never enter into the newness of the gospel.

Spiritual formation, discipleship, is the process of being molded increasingly towards the image of Christ. We never fully arrive in this life. Perhaps the process goes on for eternity. Perhaps the journey rather than the destination is the point. Regardless, we all know that we are not suddenly zapped into perfection by our baptism. We are forgiven. We are new creations. We are justified. Now begins the process of sanctification, of formation. To be formed into the image of Christ requires deep digging into the past. Before we can do that effectively, we must know that we know at a heart level that we are unconditionally loved by God. 

There the journey begins.

https://www.theunstuckspirit.com

That it? Seriously? Mark 16 audio

Everything in the Universe Changed. Audio on Mark 15:38-47

a memory

That miracle-working rabbi is near

Quick! Bring your baby

Perhaps he will condescend to touch

Even an insignificant child.

Insignificant!? Not to me

For this child is the light of my life.

This way to Messiah.

Blocked. By his disciples.

Too busy. Don’t bother.

But he comes, indignant at them,

A stern rebuke then a gentle smile as

He takes this precious babe from my arms

And not only touches, but

Holds, hugs, cuddles, coos, smiles, laughs.

I have but a faint memory of that time

It was so long ago and I was so small

Perhaps no memory

Perhaps only memory of the story

And yet

I can feel those arms,

See that smile,

Hear that gentle voice

Sense that heart throbbing

I can see those eyes even now.

Nothing has ever been the same.

Gently Drawn By Love

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 NRSVUE)

I hear the gentleness of the call. “If you wish to follow me…” No pressure. No coercion. No psychological or emotional manipulation. The call to spiritual formation, to discipleship, to true worship (which is simply doing what Jesus said to do, as unpopular as that may be) is given in freedom.

Deny yourself – I think Jesus means the false, egocentric self, the false personas, the superficial images we try so hard to maintain so others will accept us and so we can feel good about ourselves. Deny, set aside, the ego-driven self that cares about success, achievement, reputation, legacy, and honor.

Denying ourselves feels like a pouring out. At first, the pouring out feels like loss, a death, a loss of identity, but it actually makes space for to embrace the true self, which is who I am as defined by God. 

The true self is soul-drawn. It is not driven. It is beckoned by grace. It is invited into wholeness by Love. It is free. It cares nothing for accomplishments or prestige. Drawn by divine love, it loves to serve, to take up the banner of justice, to be identified with the weak, rejected people on the margins. It cannot be offended because it has no ego to offend. It joyfully takes up the way of the cross, the way of cruciform self-sacrificial love. 

The Most Important Prayer in the Old Testament

Shema Yisrael is the most important and central prayer in the Hebrew Bible.

·      Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 

·      (Or, The Lord our God is one Lord; or, The Lord our God, the Lord is one; or, The Lord is our God, the Lord is one)

·      Hebrew: YHWH ‘elohenu YHWH ekhad

·      English: Lord our God, Lord one.

There is no verb “is” in the original. It must be supplied by the context.

Deuteronomy 6:5: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Leviticus 19:18b: you shall love your neighbor as yourself

Which commandment is the most important, the one that ties together all others?

Mark 12:29-31: Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Love YHWH our God with all your:

·      Heart = kardia = center of being, that which controls everything, the drive behind all thoughts, feelings, and actions

·      Soul = psyche = breath, life-force

·      Mind = dianoias = thinking, reasoning, logic

·      Strength = ischuos = anything that gives us agency, free-will, power, choice, such as physical ability, talent, position, privilege, reputation

In other words, love in four directions:

1.     Love the God of Israel with your whole being

2.     Love others, all others

3.     Love yourself

4.     And, from Genesis 1, Love creation

Love is cruciform, self-sacrificial, altruistic. It involves loyalty, justice, doing what is right and best for others. It looks like Jesus on the cross forgiving his enemies as they were torturing him to death. 

I came across a sermon recently in which the preacher was giving examples of loving. Among them, mow your lawn, go to church, be on a church committee, use whatever skills you have in a church.

That kind of preaching makes me want to scream. There were no church buildings for the first 300 years of church history. Christians loved God and others by taking in orphans, tending to the sick, visiting and advocating for the incarcerated, refusing military service, eschewing weaponry and violence, and forgiving their enemies. 

As a result of their cruciform love, multitudes were attracted to Jesus, and through Jesus they came to know and love YHWH, the God of Israel. They loved God with all their beings. They loved others – all others, no exceptions – with self-sacrificial love. They loved themselves, not egotistically, but by recognizing their belovedness to God. They loved creation by caring for natural world.

There are a lot of such folks around today. You can find them in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice in-patient units, prisons, among the homeless, in soup kitchens, shelters, mental health agencies, visiting the sick, frail, elderly, and broken. You can find them standing firmly against racism, antisemitism, homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny. You find them adopting babies, welcoming immigrants into their homes, and disobeying unjust laws. 

You’ll find them caring for the environment, never exploiting it.

These people come from all backgrounds, are of all nationalities, and speak every language. They identify as citizens of the Kingdom of God, not any particular earthly nation or kingdom. They are pro-life, opposing war and capital punishment. They fight poverty, disease, and addiction. They see every person as created in God’s image and deeply loved by God.

There’s a lot of good in church history. Christians invented hospitals, science, charity, hospice programs, care for widows, orphans, poor, the marginalized and displaced, etc.

There’s a lot of bad in church history (empire-embracing nationalism, violence, wars, crusades, inquisitions, support for despots, greed, etc.)

I choose to identify with those, then and now, whose lives reflect the self-sacrificial, cruciform love of Jesus, regardless of denominational affiliation, ethnicity, culture, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.

Historically, they were the Christians persecuted by other “Christians.”

The Day That Changed Everything in the Entire Cosmos. An audio teaching on Mark 15:1-37

We Need to Doubt

Based on my reading of scripture, I’m convinced that God doesn’t mind doubt. In fact, I think doubt is an essential part of faith. The opposite of faith is fear, not doubt. That’s why perfect love casts out fear. Almost everybody in the Bible doubted. Eve doubted God’s goodness. Abraham doubted God’s ability to protect him, so he threw his wife under the proverbial bus (twice, no less). Job, David, Peter, Jesus’ mother Mary, Peter – they all had times of major doubt. Even Jesus himself expressed doubt on the cross.

It seems that every dedicated follower of Christ doubted. St. John of the Cross had his dark nights of the soul. Mother Theresa (now St. Theresa of Calcutta) had extended periods of doubting even the existence of God.

I’ll go a step further – doubt is essential for spiritual growth. The person who never doubts is thinking very superficially, living on the surface. The thundering, self-confident preacher who exudes certainty does us no favors. Arrogant certitude is the opposite of humility. Certitude is judgmental and unteachable. Humility admits I don’t know it all. I can learn from everyone and every circumstance. I may be wrong about things I believe. Honest doubt is a part of being poor of spirit. Honest doubt makes me teachable. 

Yet, we’re attracted to certitude. We like the feeling of having all the right answers, of having life and God figured out. We enjoy the self-satisfaction of believing that me and my tribe are right and the other guys are wrong. We are attracted to certitude in our houses of worship, in politics, and in the world of business. Certitude feels very American. Certitude is essential for the fundamentalist and the patriot.

The way of Messiah Jesus requires us to jettison certitude along with the pride, arrogance, and judgmentalism that comes with it. Jesus leads us by way of Gethsemani and Calvary. Rather than dismiss doubts by plugging our ears to alternative ideas, an unpretentious disciple brings her doubts honestly to God and others. The genuine apprentice of the Master complains in prayer like a psalmist.

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