Author Archives: cathy

Belief/Faith/Discipling

#199 akoloutheo p.1525: to follow accompany to follow or be a disciple of a leader’s teaching or disciple

#3412 p.1568, mathetes n. disciple, student committed learner and follower of Jesus

Greek word noun pistis #4411, verb pisteuo #4409 – faith, faithfulness, belief, and trust with an implication that actions based on that trust must follow.

To me, belief in Jesus Christ, his life and death and resurrection, and his teachings is at the beginning of the life that God calls us to. If belief isn’t married to faith, and faith to discipleship, then we are stuck at the beginning of the journey. Belief and faith imply a trust in God and a total giving of one’s life to Christ; discipleship, then, is following His suggestions for our lives faithfully. If we are true to that commitment, that obedience, that love of God, then we will live lives deeply imbedded in that faith and trust, we will be His disciples. If we don’t, we’ll be living in this world, of this world, knocked around by the vicissitudes of life without a real rock to hold on to, without God to cling to when those moments come to us, as they inevitably will.

It is not enough to just believe in God and Christ and the Holy Spirit; we must trust them with our lives. We must await their inspiration for what we do and say. We must depend on them in every aspect of our lives—our work, our families and friends, our churches, and our leisure time. That means we are following Jesus, discipling with Him, allowing Him to lead us, to teach us, so that we can live out the fullness of who we were created to be and to serve the Lord in all that we do. Short of that goal we are living in this world, of this world.

Following/discipling take a long time to learn from and to become like the master. In Jesus’s time it was not unusual for rabbis to wander the countryside teaching and training disciples. The main goal of a disciple, a follower was to become like the master as much as possible, as well as to learn everything that He taught. In those times it was an oral tradition that was being followed by these itinerant teachers and their disciples.

It is still an oral tradition for us, even though we have all the books, references and such of a learned life. We have to listen to Christ in all that we read and do and in what happens to us; we have to acknowledge what Christ is saying to us in all of it and to follow His lead.  We have to focus on His teachings, both in the Bible and in our lives. We must follow the suggestions of His “still, small voice” in our minds, to obey Him, even when what He proposes is beyond our own self- image. We will experience what Paul did in shipwrecks and in jail and in people not believing Him—that Christ’s “‘grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I [Paul] will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”[1]

The journey of each disciple is what Christ lays out before him or her. He lays out a path that will take us to the fulfillment of who God created us to be. It will reveal our purpose and how to execute it. Christ will accompany us every step of the way. The more we are aware of His presence in our lives, the sooner we will realize who we really are. And then we can truly relax and let Him carry all the burdens.[2]

[1] 2 Corinthians 12:9
[2] Matthew 11:28-30

The Wilderness

Last year I published a book about the Exodus story, Exodus is Our Story, Too! I spent a good four years researching and writing the book and one major thing I have taken away from that experience is a huge appreciation for the wilderness and what that bleak landscape contributes to our journey in Christ. I think of is as a major character in the four books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy along with God, Moses and the Israelites. Sometimes we follow God into the wilderness, like the Israelites who followed Moses out of Egypt, but life sometimes throws us curveballs like the loss of a loved one or a hurricane which destroys our home or the loss of our job and we land in the wilderness suddenly.

Almost the first thing one notices about the wilderness in the Bible is that God is highly visible there. The book of Exodus describes Him as visible in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.[1]  In some ways it is the bleakness of the landscape and our dis-ease at being in the wilderness that makes God so visible. It brings out our dependency on Him. Where else can we turn in this hostile environment? The Israelites could not have found water in the desert without God’s help. And food, without God’s provision of manna and quail for over 40 years, where would they have gotten their physical nourishment? His presence assured their spiritual nourishment, as well.

The wilderness is not a natural landscape for human beings. It is lonely and prickly and dangerous. It is not a place where we can relax and soak up the rays like at the beach. It is not a friendly place in the slightest. It has us on edge and grasping for safety. It highlights all our fears and angers. Its main purpose in the Exodus story is to keep the people off-guard so that God can communicate with them, so that they can adopt a new way of seeing life, so that they can find a new way of being in the world.

For most of the forty years the Israelites spent in the desert, the issue highlighted was their rebellion against God and His laws. They complained about everything. They hated being in the wilderness. They longed to go back to Egypt: “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out in to this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”[2] Over and over again. Finally, God told Moses that the first generation that He brought out of Egypt would never see the Promised Land.[3] They would die off before He led the Israelites across the Jordan River.

Think of Moses as the part of us that can hear God which comes forward in us in the wilderness.

But with all the familiar aspects of life missing and with the Israelites’ own discomfort, God first hands down His Ten Commandments. Then He begins to organize their lives, naming their gifts and what purpose He has for them.  He does the same for the tribes, for example, naming the Levites as the ones to support the priests.

Interestingly, it is in the wilderness that we learn to own all our own stuff—especially, our rebellion. After the incident with the building and worship of Baal, God tells Moses to turn the statue into a liquid which the Israelites are to drink.[4] Later in Numbers after another siege of rebellion, God has sent snakes which bite and kill the Israelites. When the people complain, God tells Moses to fashion a bronze snake and to hang it up on a pole. Anyone who looks at the snake will be saved. And so the Israelites looked at the snake and saw it for what it was and lived.[5] Both of these incidences point to the importance of owning our own stuff, our rebellious nature, whatever stands between us and God.

As the first generation aged and died off, new leaders emerged, Joshua and Caleb who, unlike their brethren, had never rebelled and were fit to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Even Moses had rebelled at one point—he struck a rock for water, when God had only told him to speak to the rock.[6] Moses at an advanced age was to die on the near bank of the river just short of the Promised Land. Still, God called Moses a servant of God at the time of his death.[7]

The wilderness had done its work of taking a rebellious population and transforming it into an obedient one, ready to follow Joshua now and do whatever the Lord their God asked of them. Now, moving as one people, following God’s orders through Joshua, they had moved into a full partnership with God and were now ready to conquer Canaan, the land of milk and honey, promised to them by God as descendants of Abraham. Interestingly, in the whole book of Joshua there is only one rebellious act—Achen’s sin of keeping some of the sacred things of the Jericho people. For that he and his whole clan had to die, so as to not distract the Israelites from obeying God’s strategy for conquering each city-state.[8]

This is the work of the wilderness: defining who we really are in our depths, not as the world knows us. Beyond this goal is the letting go of the rebellious self. For it is only when we’ve given up our rebellion– our preferences, expectations and assumptions, that we are able to appreciate what has been given us, to live in gratitude for all that we do have and to follow God wherever He would take us.

Any transition in life throws us into the wilderness where we are to figure out how to respond to this latest change in our life. There we are to work out how we will adapt to the new reality in our lives whether it is the loss of a loved one or a job, whether it is a natural disaster or we’ve made some horrible mistake. The wilderness is where we work out our difficulties, where we leave the past to the past, where we adapt to the new reality. We can use the time in the wilderness to solve the immediate problem than sent us there or we can work on the lifelong challenge to love God with all of ourselves. With the first, and short-term goal, we return to the world and our place in it, somewhat changed. With the second choice, we are led to give up the world and to just focus on God and what He wants for us.

If we’re attuned to our deeper self, to our soul, we will go beyond the current crisis and will answer the deeper call of the wilderness to engage our lives into a true partnership with God. We will go beyond just the latest dilemma to a life-long commitment to follow God wherever He would lead us. And where does He lead us? To living a full life as we were created to be in this world and to fulfilling our purpose in this lifetime. We move beyond the world’s influence as our rebellious nature dies off and we can finally see the true benefits of living in God’s arms and following His direction for our lives.

In a similar way, after His baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness working out his relationship with God and how to listen to the devil who tempted Him with the world’s longings. Then He was ready to begin His ministry. Notice the 40 days and the 40 years—it takes a long time to come to terms with our human qualities which stand between us and God, which call us away from God.

See confession, owning our own stuff—next month’s topic.

[1] Exodus 13:21
[2] Exodus 16:3
[3] Numbers 14:20-23
[4] Exodus 32:20
[5] Numbers 21:8-9
[6] Numbers 20:7-12
[7] Joshua 1:2
[8] Joshua 7:1

After Theology and Beliefs

Theology is the “study of religious faith, practice and experience; especially the study of God and of God’s relation to the world.”[1] Our first step into Christianity begins with understanding the Biblical teachings and where I, where we, fit into God’s relationship to His creation. We need to understand how our particular church or group believes in God. If you grew up in a church you learned the basic beliefs in Sunday School and church. Or many churches have a class for aspiring members to teach them their theology. This is an important first step—to learn what your denomination teaches about God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus and our role in the relationship with them. And to believe in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The second step is to immerse oneself in the Bible itself, Old and New Testaments, to know at least the major passages, to seek their wisdom and what they imply for us.  In the New Testament that would mean knowing the Gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount, the parables of Jesus and the teachings of Paul through his letters to various communities as he helped to spread this new religion. And in the Old Testament the creation of the world and the very early history of mankind, the history of God’s relationship with His people, the Israelites, the beauty of the Psalms which express every possible human emotion to God, the Prophets who call the people back to God and more.

The third step, not necessarily in order, is to give our lives over to God, Christ and the Holy Spirit, to be born again. We do this in answer to a call from God. When we surrender our lives to God, that is the beginning step in a life-long journey into the arms of God. We will go from slavery to the world’s ways to the kingdom of God as long as we keep saying “Yes!” to God.

Once we have these basics down the next big step is to listen to and to heed/obey the Indwelling Spirit of God, the “still, small voice”[2] within us, through various spiritual practices which would still the very loud and insistent voices of our minds so that we can hear that “gentle whisper.”[3] Basically various meditative practices like Centering Prayer help us to get a hold on our habitual thinking and help us step back from it. And when we become an observer of our thoughts and begin to identify the sources which are often way back in our childhood, then we can just observe them and not get emotionally involved in them. Their clamor then begins to die down and we can begin to hear that quiet voice of God’s. Then, of course, we do whatever it suggests to us, be it to speak to this particular person or do this next or read this book or look at this attitude of ours. My experience of following God’s lead is that He often surprises me with something that is just beyond what I think I can do, but that when I do it, it always works to affirm my soul(not the ego). It’s in this way that I have really gotten to know who I am.

In addition to a meditative practice, and once we are familiar with the Biblical teachings, then it is important to find out on a daily basis what God is saying to us through the Bible. Through a practice called lectio divina we take a few short verses of the Bible and read them through slowly three times looking for the word or phrase that has a particular resonance for us. Then we are to meditate on that word or phrase, seeking to understand what God is trying to tell us.

As we enter into this “school” of God’s for us, with daily practices of, say, Centering Prayer and Bible study, we will begin to see and sense changes in how we are and who we are. God is revealing the person that He created us to be. It is in the direct and deep relationship with Him that we really come into our own, beginning to serve Him as He calls us and, mainly, entering into the healing and transforming process that has us owning all that we are. For we are called to love God with all of ourselves—heart, mind, soul and strength.[4] We cannot do this if we are holding anything back. And who are we hiding our pain and suffering from? Not God, He already knows everything. We are only protecting ourselves.

Once we can acknowledge and own all that we have done and said that was sinful, when we can own what someone else did to us, then we have torn down the walls inside us and can step into a much deeper relationship with God. After that the final step is to forgive ourselves and anyone who hurt us. Then the walls are gone. God does not violate our free will on any issue until we tell Him we are ready to deal with it. When we say “Yes!” to Him, that we are willing to look at our defensiveness or greed or other issue, He will heal and transform it for us.

I have found it most useful to set intentions around each issue that God has highlighted in me. An intention is a focused prayer, utilizing our whole self to declare that I am free of this particular issue. At the suggestion of my first spiritual director I set an intention around being so scattered. A few months later I noticed a brand-new feeling—I felt integrated! As I thought about it, I traced it back to setting an intention. From then on I would set an intention for any issue big or small that the Lord called me to examine. [See Spiritual Practices] At any one time I might have a few intentions set and in process. Setting my intention—an invitation to God to work on this issue in me—was all I had to do. The Holy Spirit did all the healing and transforming.

Now we are following Jesus as He called us to do. Doubts that arise in us are just invitations to expand our thinking about something. Prayer is our main vehicle for the ever-deepening relationship with God.  And there are so many methods of prayer: the Lord’s Prayer, petitions, just sitting in the presence of God like in meditation or Centering Prayer and carrying on an ongoing dialogue with Him.[See Spiritual Practices] The goal is to spend not just a dedicated time of prayer, say every morning, but to rest in God’s presence throughout your day, whether you are working, talking to your spouse or child, enjoying leisure activities, consulting Him, listening to Him, praising Him and much more.

There are many ways to approach focusing on God throughout our days. If like, Frank C. Lauback, a missionary to the Philippines in the early 20th century[5] you are determined to think of God in every minute of the day then you would focus on making that a reality. To get even close to this requires God’s help, because I just don’t think we are capable of it on our own. We have to start with a stillness of mind. Then there are a number of ways to raise our level of awareness of what God is blessing and gracing us with during our days and of what He is whispering to us. Keeping a daily gratitude journal can help us focus during our days for God’s presence, blessings and more. Or a daily examen in the evening which looks back to where we might have missed Him, blessings or presence, during our day. [See Spiritual Practices] As we begin to notice more and more of God throughout our days, we also grow in praise and gratitude within ourselves.

By this time you are in God’s arms and He is directing your every step. You are no longer outer- or world-referenced. I don’t think we’re actually done with the healing process for the human side of our being until the day we die, but now there is just the richness of living in God’s presence and doing what He gives us to do. There are no worries about the future, no burdens from that past that we still carry. There is just this moment and what we are called to do. God carries all the burdens and we have the true freedom to be just what we were created and called to be.

Perhaps you can see the progression from living in the world totally to living in God’s presence totally, from beliefs to living a life in God. Maybe you have a feel for how much change there will be in each individual as s/he gives his or her life over to God. Possibly your beliefs have expanded and grown since you first joined a church. Often most of what we give up to God is our own personal narrow point so that we can see more like God sees. The beliefs become much less important than the relationship, the true partnership with God. The theology, the beliefs in God and Jesus Christ are still the foundation of our lives, but they are no long our guide: our guide is Christ Himself.

[1] www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theology

[2] 1 Kings 19:12 KJV

[3] 1 Kings 19:12 NIV

[4] Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28

[5] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Laubach

To have the same mind as Christ’s mind

Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.[1] To have the mind of Christ is a very difficult thing for us to understand. We think we have to do something, know something, generate something in ourselves, but that is not the task at all. This journey does start with believing in Jesus and aligning our lives with His. It involves the church, many different churches, but that is not the way either. Bible study is a big part of this journey, too, it’s important to know God’s word, as written and preached, but that is not everything, either.

The truth is that we already live in God, that we are each a child of God, made in His image. So the journey into having the mind of Christ is about peeling away everything in us that gets between us and God—all the world-based thinking, all our egocentricity, our guilt and shame—so as to reveal what is already in us: the Indwelling Spirit of God, all the holiness, all the willingness, all the faithfulness that is inbred in us and then covered with a thick layer of the world’s ways. We are to bring that Spirit forward in us, so that we live in that Spirit.

As overwhelming as this sounds, there is very little we can do to accomplish all this needed work on ourselves. We are far too close to the subject to be able to see what needs to happen within us at any given time. So our main role in the healing and transformation of ourselves into one who can love God with all of who we are as Jesus commanded[2] is to get out of God’s way, to be willing to let Him lead us wherever He will. And He will lead us to the fulfillment of our creation which is His work anyway. To always say “Yes!”

The only way this can happen is to listen to God in everything we do. And the only way to do that is to be able to hear that “still, small voice”[3] or the “gentle whisper”[4] of the Indwelling Spirit of God. And how do we do that? We have to quiet the much louder voices of our minds so that we can “Be still and know that I am God.”[5] And that takes practice. Centering prayer or other meditation forms help with this. [See Practices Below]  Here is how the 18th century French mystic, Jeanne Guyon, puts it:

“Your way to God begins on the day of your conversion, for conversion marks your soul’s initial return to God. From that moment you begin to live and have your being by the means of His grace. After your conversion, your own spirit—the human spirit(which is deep within your inmost being)—is touched by God and is made alive and functioning. Your spirit—in turn—invites your soul to compose itself and to turn within, there to find the God who has newly come to reside at the center of your being. Your spirit instructs your soul that, since God is more present deep within you, He cannot be found anywhere else. Henceforth, He must be sought within. And He must be enjoyed there alone.”[6]

But there are two additional steps, too. First, we have to step back from our repetitive thoughts and become an observer of them. We have to know the sources of the tapes that play out in our heads. These thoughts were fixed in our minds very early in our lives and grew out of our own frustration, guilt and shame at not being obedient to our parents and teachers at an age before our cognitive brains begin to function. They are trying to make up for our errant behavior way back then. At 4 or 5 or 6, we can’t see context, we can’t forgive ourselves for our mistakes even though we might just be too young for perfect obedience(as if we can ever be totally obedient!). Just an example from my own life: even today the pressure to be on time arises in me even when I will be 10 minutes early for a meeting or appointment. I start worrying about the cars ahead of me, looking at the clock every minute, even when I’ll be early. Being on time was a big deal in my parent’s house.

We need to figure out the source of all these thoughts, like my parents’ admonitions to be on time. And as we observe our thinking and know the source and see how irrelevant it is to the present, those repetitive voices in us lose their volume and we can begin to hear God’s “still, small voice.” And I can tell you that God does not think at all like I do. Here are just two examples from my life. I heard this thought run through my mind one day; it changed my life: :I have an agenda for my life!” I was in my early forties still living out of all the “shoulds” in my life. As I realized that I had no idea who the “I” was nor what that agenda might be. I began to ask, “what do I really want to do?” instead of what should I be doing?

The second thought was this: “How can I say I love God, if I can’t love my mother?” Since my teenage years I had been passive aggressive with my Mom. Confronted by this thought and realizing that I had to change, I started on a journey of trying to engage her in more positive ways, but I felt like I was talking back to her all the time. After a year and a half or so of my trying, God changed it all. Mom and my husband and I were standing on the railroad platform in Wilmington DE. She was seeing us off after spending a weekend for her. We were surrounded by a cloud of love. That’s the only way I can describe the experience. I might have lasted for a minute or 10. That experience changed everything. My mother was from then on grateful for everything I did for her whereas before I had never called or visited often enough. And I, I was able to love my mother. She lived the last years of her life ten minutes from our house, a real part of our family.

The second step is this: as we begin to hear God’s “still, small voice” thinking in our minds, the most important thing is to do whatever He suggests. My experience is that He has a step-by-step plan for us which will bring us right into His arms, into the mind of Christ. Often His suggestions have left me breathless, but when I do them, there’s no problem. They are usually just beyond what I think I can do. Those steps will be about doing or saying something, they will also be about facing something about ourselves. And here is where the real healing and transformation takes place. If we will look at whatever issue He is highlighting for us, like my relationship with my mother, if we are willing to invite Him in to heal it, then that is all He needs. He doesn’t violate our free will. He doesn’t just pounce on us with punishment. He is really just asking our permission to heal this one issue in us. That’s all.

And as we follow His suggestions, we will also feel the changes He is making inside of our mind, our soul, our body and our heart, so that we can eventually love God with all of ourselves, bring our whole selves to the altar before Him.

[1] Philippians 2:5
[2] Matthew 22:38
[3] 1 Kings 19:12 KJV
[4] 1 Kings 19:12 NIV
[5] Psalm 46::10
[6] Madame Guyon, Union with God, Seedsowers Publishing, Jacksonville FL, 1981, p. 1