Me Free 4: A Good Lamp

We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. – Step 4

But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. – James 3:14 (NLT)

“Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!” – Jesus (Matthew 6:22-23 NLT)

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Jesus (Mathew 7:3-5 NLT)

This step has everything to do with how we see – ourselves, others, our experiences.  If our seeing is off, our perceptions and interpretations will be off as well.  Seeing ourselves with great clarity is critical if we are interested in growing more and more into our True Selves. As Jesus noted, if our eyes aren’t seeing correctly, it can severely limit our capacity to experience life in all of its fullness.

We’re pretty good at seeing other people’s junk, but as Jesus’ statement indicates, we may struggle seeing our own, larger problems.

In his book, Breathing Under Water, Richard Rohr acknowledges that for some of us who may have grown up in a legalistic environment where our sin was regularly pointed out to us, this step may seem like an awful return trip to a hell we’re glad to have escaped.  So, he notes, “Shadow boxing, a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory,’ is for the sake of truth and humility and generosity of spirit, not vengeance on the self or some kind of total victory over the self.  Seeing and naming our actual faults is probably not so much a gift to us – although it is – as it is to those around us” (36).  This process is not easy – it is difficult and induces a lot of fear, actually, because we are naturally afraid of what we might find.  When Jesus said “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), he was referring to the truth of our sin, our natural capacity to mess things up.  Rohr notes that before we enjoy the freedom, the truth makes us miserable!  Why else would we avoid it?! Rohr reminds us of the goal of this step: “The goal is not the perfect avoidance of all sin, which is not possible anyway, but the struggle itself, and the encounter and wisdom that comes from it… People only come to deeper consciousness by intentional struggles with contradictions, conflicts, inconsistencies, inner confusions, and what the biblical tradition calls ‘sin’ or moral failure” (35).

In case you were wondering who needs to take Step 4, it includes you because we all have our shadowy side.  Rohr: “Your shadow self is not your evil self. It is just that part of you that you do not want to see, your unacceptable self by reason of nature, nurture, and choice. That bit of chosen blindness, or what A.A. calls denial, is what allows us to do evil and cruel things – without recognizing them as evil or cruel. So ongoing shadow boxing is absolutely necessary because we all have a well-denied shadow self. We have that which we cannot see, will not see, dare not see. It would destroy our public and personal self-image” (37).

I thought it would be fun to play along with this idea of seeing, and take a look at three scenes from Jesus’ ministry where he helped restore vision to those who were blind. The first story comes from (Mark 8:22-26 NLT):

     When they arrived at Bethsaida, some people brought a blind man to Jesus, and they begged him to touch the man and heal him. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?”
     The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.”
     Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly. Jesus sent him away, saying, “Don’t go back into the village on your way home.”

I like this story for two reasons. First, it appears that this blind man wasn’t born blind, otherwise how would he know what trees looked like?  That’s helpful because perhaps he had an accident or something that had incapitated him.  To be healed meant to not just have his eyesight restored, but also his past.  The second reason I like this healing story is because the healing took two steps.  Nobody can be sure why the first spit-treatment didn’t work, but the point was that it took more than one attempt.  That’s how it is with Step 4.  We don’t see everything clearly all at once. Things come into focus over time and with effort.  This is a lifelong process, actually, of getting to see more and more clearly for the rest of our lives if we choose.  What a gift!

The second story I wanted to look at took place on the other end of ancient Israel (Mark 10:46-52 NLT):

     Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
     “Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him.
     But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
     When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”
     So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.
     “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.
     “My Rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”
      And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.

What I like about this story is the commitment shown on behalf of Bart.  He knew what he wanted and was willing to risk embarrassment to get it.  There were forces within him and certainly outside of him trying to dissuade him, but he stayed the course.  In our pursuit of seeing, there will be no shortage of distractions to knock us off track.  Seeing is worth the effort – persist!  As you persist, realize that God is with you to help you in the struggle.  Like Jacob struggled with God, so we struggle – but God is on our side in the struggle, not our adversary.  Our fear is our adversary, and God helps us to win that battle.

The final healing-of-blindness story is one I’ve referred to many times over my years as a pastor.  It is a story of more than just physical seeing (John 9 NLT):

     As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
     “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”
     Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!
     His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!”
     But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!”
     They asked, “Who healed you? What happened?”
     He told them, “The man they call Jesus made mud and spread it over my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash yourself.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see!”
     “Where is he now?” they asked.
     “I don’t know,” he replied.
     Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!”
     Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said,      “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them.
     Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What’s your opinion about this man who healed you?”
     The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.”
     The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents. They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?”
     His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. That’s why they said, “He is old enough. Ask him.”
     So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”
     “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”
     “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”
     “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”
     Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.”
     “Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.”
     “You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue.
     When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
     The man answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”
     “You have seen him,” Jesus said, “and he is speaking to you!”
     “Yes, Lord, I believe!” the man said. And he worshiped Jesus.
     Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.”
     Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?”
     “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.

Yes, this story is a miracle story, this time featuring a man born blind – a sign of God’s judgment in the mind of the story’s original audience.  But much more than that, it is a story about a man’s growing understanding of Who is at work in the process.  First, Jesus appeared simply to be a healer.  But as he pondered as he was prodded, he then understood Jesus as one who surely had more going on – he must be a prophet!  By the end of the story he has truly had his eyes opened while the religious leaders remained blind: Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the one clearly anointed by God.  His proclamation got him kicked out of the “church” and cut off from Social Security.  But he didn’t care.  He could clearly see.  This is the work of God, as Rohr notes: “The God of the Bible is best known for transmuting and transforming our very evils into our own more perfect good. God uses our sins in our own favor! God brings us – through failure – from unconsciousness to ever-deeper consciousness and conscience. How could that not be good news for just about everybody?” (39).  Over time you will realize that God has been with you in the struggle to help you see everything more clearly for your benefit and for those you impact.  God is always about making you whole and holy.

Stuff to process…

1.       “Moral scrutiny is not to discover how good or bad I am and regain some moral high ground, but it is to begin some honest “shadow boxing” which is at the heart of all spiritual awakening.  Yes, the ‘truth will set you free’ as Jesus says (John 8:32), but first it tends to make you miserable” (35).  What part of you are you afraid to see? What are you afraid will happen if you are honest with yourself?

2.       “The goal is not the perfect avoidance of all sin, which is not possible anyway, but the struggle itself, and the encounter and wisdom that comes from it… People only come to deeper consciousness by intentional struggles with contradictions, conflicts, inconsistencies, inner confusions, and what the biblical tradition calls ‘sin’ or moral failure” (35).  When have you struggled to face the truth?  What happened?

3.       “Shadow boxing, a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory,’ is for the sake of truth and humility and generosity of spirit, not vengeance on the self or some kind of total victory over the self.  Seeing and naming our actual faults is probably not so much a gift to us – although it is – as it is to those around us” (36). Recall a time when someone criticized your behavior.  Step back from your defensive reaction and look for the truth that may lie at the heart of that criticism.  How does that help you begin and honest moral inventory?

4.       “Your shadow self is not your evil self. It is just that part of you that you do not want to see, your unacceptable self by reason of nature, nurture, and choice. That bit of chosen blindness, or what A.A. calls denial, is what allows us to do evil and cruel things – without recognizing them as evil or cruel. So ongoing shadow boxing is absolutely necessary because we all have a well-denied shadow self. We have that which we cannot see, will not see, dare not see. It would destroy our public and personal self-image” (37). Recall a time when your unwillingness to acknowledge an inner failure led you to hurt someone else.  How might you have handled the situation differently?

5.       “The game is over once we see clearly because evil succeeds only by disguising itself as good, necessary, or helpful.  No one consciously does evil. The very fact that anyone can do stupid, cruel, or destructive things shows they are at that moment unconscious and unaware.  Think about that: Evil proceeds from a lack of consciousness” (38). Think about a time when you admitted failure. How did that experience bring personal change?

6.       “The God of the Bible is best known for transmuting and transforming our very evils into our own more perfect good. God uses our sins in our own favor! God brings us – through failure – from unconsciousness to ever-deeper consciousness and conscience. How could that not be good news for just about everybody?” (39). How have you experienced God using your sins in our own favor?  Have you ever witnessed it in someone else?

7.       Most of the time we learn from experience when it comes to our personal morality.  When we blow it and it catches up to us, then we have to pay attention.  We can be proactive, however.  There are a number of things we can do that will help us envision a higher standard which may help us see where we have accepted a way that is not as healthy.  Reading resources that provide that vision helps pull us up before we fall (the Bible, helpful personal growth resources, etc.).  How have you been proactive in becoming more whole instead of waiting to find out the hard way?

*This teaching summary is part of a series that dovetails the deep spiritual components of Twelve Steps and the rich insights of the time-tested Enneagram.  Understanding your Enneagram Type can provide helpful insight into how you “do life”.  There are several free tests that will surely narrow things down for you, but the Enneagram Test from the Enneagram Institute by far offers the best assessment and provides the richest feedback (look for the RHETI test).  In addition, we will be drawing insight from two books as we follow Jesus through these steps.  You can get Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water (and its companion journal) and Christopher Heuertz’ The Sacred Enneagram online and in digital formats.  CrossWalk will have a limited supply of the books on hand.  In addition, you may find songs for different types helpful in understanding what you’re working with.

Me Free 3: Sweet Surrender

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God. – Step 3

Work for your salvation in fear and trembling. It is God, for his own loving purposes, who puts both the will and the action into you. – Paul, Letter to the Philippians 2:12-13

Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened. – Jesus (Matthew 7:7-8)

Naked and Afraid.  My wife gets into this weird, can’t-look-away show every so often called Naked and Afraid.  Have you seen it? I assure you that my wife is not a pervert.  The critical nudity is blurred out, which is actually a wonderful gift given the angles and settings viewers would be forced to endure!  The gist of the show is simple: A man and a woman who do not know each other get dropped off in some extreme, remote location, take off all their clothes, and try to survive for three weeks.  Each of them can bring a tool of their choosing.  It is not uncommon for one or both of the contestants to “tap out” before they hike to the pickup location.  How long before you would tap out? What would push you over the edge – mosquitos, snakes, cold, spiders, heat, fleas, hunger, wild animals, just being naked?  Would you ever say yes to such an invitation?

There is an invitation that Jesus extended many times in his ministry: Follow me.  As we continue moving into this series dovetailing the Twelve Steps and the Enneagram, this phrase came to mind as we recall Step Three: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.  Step Three was common in Jesus’ ministry, and is still prerequisite if we hope to experience life abundant and free.  Harkening back to last week, it may be helpful to remember that the invitation to follow wasn’t a once-and-done proposition, but an ongoing invitation to experience greater depths of life and faith.  Following the disciple Peter’s experience of multiple invitations gives us something to consider for our own journey.

The first invitation came near the shores of the Sea of Galilee – a Tahoe sized lake where Peter made his living as a commercial fisherman (Mark 1:16-20).  Jesus saw Peter and his brother and invited them to follow, promising that he would make them fishers of men and women.  They dropped their nets at once and followed Jesus.  Would you do that?  What would have to have happened beforehand for you to make such a decision?  For starters, the brothers had to have known something about Jesus already.  Unless there was some incredible sign from God pointing to Jesus, why would anyone entrust their lives to a total stranger?  Jesus grew up in a nearby community.  His cousin, John the Baptist, was well known for his preaching, and undoubtedly Jesus was around for a lot of it.  In other words, it is highly likely that many people were familiar with Jesus before his public ministry began, just as many people are familiar with political candidates long before they announce their bid for office.

Peter and his brother had to be at a place in life where the invitation was attractive, too.  This is the case for most people when it comes to faith – we don’t really consider it until we sense a need.  Sometimes it’s because our lives are in a particularly rough patch, and we sense that God offers hope and direction.  Sometimes people are afraid of death and the hereafter, and the promise that God offers hope is alluring.  Sometimes people are captivated by a vision of what could be if God was in charge and they can’t help but take the leap toward such hope.  My initial “adult” surrender waa motivated from the last category.  I grew up in church and knew a lot, but when I caught a glimpse of what could be, I wanted the potential future desperately.  I imagine that was largely what Peter and his brother experienced, especially since the nod to reaching people was mentioned.  Later in my life, after I tried my own way and failed, the rough patch brought me to my knees where I heard once again the same invitation.  From hopelessness I leapt for hope, from brokenness I lunged for wholeness – I found both and more.

Much later in their journey, Peter would hear the invitation again, but the circumstances were much different (Matthew 16:13-28).  Jesus gave the disciples a pop quiz with just one question: who do people say that I am?  One after another disciple got the wrong answer, and then Peter got it: You are the Messiah (anointed one), Son of the Living God.  Jesus then gave Peter a high five and let him know that his answer was more correct than he could have possibly known – that it would be the cornerstone of the entire Jesus movement. Peter was feeling pretty proud of himself for sure, and smart too, especially having aced the test.  The cat now out of the bag, Jesus proceeded to let the boys in on what was ahead for them: they were going to head into enemy territory where Jesus would be arrested, severely beaten, falsely tried and found guilty, sentenced to death, die, but then come back to life on the third day.   Peter, feeling quite smart now after the test scores came back, promptly took Jesus aside and told him he was wrong.  Oops.  Jesus retorted, “Get behind me Satan, for you have in mind the things of men and not of God.”  I’m guessing Peter wasn’t feeling quite as wise at this point?  Jesus went on to say some powerful words about losing your life if you try to hold it tight and saving your life if you lose it for God’s sake, putting the question to listeners forevermore: what does it profit a person to gain the whole world yet lose your very soul/life? Then the invitation once again: follow me!

There is a lot here.  Peter was on the wagon, feeling great about everything, but then lost himself in overconfidence, forgetting his new identity as a follower of Jesus.  Lack of perspective and humility led to poor choices that resulted in a come-to-Jesus moment.  I think this is actually pretty common.  We feel like we’ve got everything under control and we let our guard down.  With our guard down, we become increasingly vulnerable and find ourselves one step away from disaster.  This is why there is great value in recovery group meeting folks declaring themselves alcoholics – it keeps them respectful of the disease they are struggling with.  I have found it helpful to remind myself of my “happiness program” that is doomed to perpetual failure.  My obsession with equating my worth and wellbeing with my always escalating, always out-of-reach understanding of success has been a disease I’ve been fighting my entire life.

We also get a glimpse on another facet of what follow me entails: following even when to do so seems and feels counterintuitive.  The initial response by any sane person hearing what Jesus was saying would be Peter’s response.  Let’s not rip on him too quickly.  Jesus was saying he was going to drag the boys with him on his death march.  They could easily become collateral damage.  To not feel challenged by Jesus would be weird, honestly.  And that is the point.  The Way of Jesus is different than that of the culture.  They will rub.  The question at that point is, will we trust and follow or not?

The final follow me (in the Gospels, anyway – there are more invitations later for Peter throughout the remainder of his life) comes at the end of John’s Gospel (John 21:18-22).  Context: Peter denied knowing Jesus three times the night of Jesus’ arrest, which Jesus predicted would happen.  Peter felt terrible about it, no doubt.  After the resurrection, Jesus met the boys up at the lake where he reinstated Peter in a powerful scene where Jesus asked Peter three times whether or not he loved him, recalling the three denials.  After that beautiful scene, Jesus shared with Peter that his story is not going to end well.  In fact, he will likely be crucified just like Jesus.  Peter heard and understood.  Very sobering.  But then he wondered if everyone else would suffer, too, or would it be just him?  Will our levels of suffering be fairly distributed?  Jesus scolded him, telling him that the call on his life has nothing to do with the call on another’s life except that both were called to follow.  Humbled again.

We are fully capable of being like Peter here, hinting that our faithfulness in working the program may be contingent on whether or not it seems fair in comparison with others.  “I’ll suffer so long as I know everybody has to suffer.”  Like before, Peter’s allegiance came into question.  I think it does for us, too, and I think it is related to our sense of entitlement.  We live in an American Dream culture where we tell ourselves that everybody is equal, and everyone has the capacity to realize their dreams and achieve their goals.  Of course, data suggests otherwise, but let’s not be burdened with facts.  The point is we are just like Peter – we each come up with things we consider deal-breakers – I’ll follow you, Jesus, unless you ask me to

Surrender is sweet.  Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light. But not if we don’t actually surrender.  If we fail to declare our powerlessness and look to a Higher Power to lift us out of the miry clay, we will remain stuck and perhaps even more so because we know we are in our own way.  We don’t like surrender because, as Rohr notes, “surrender will always feel like dying”.  But he adds, “and yet it is the necessary path to liberation” (18).  Of course it feels like dying, and of course it is the only way forward.  Our way sucks, relatively, in comparison to the Way of Jesus into which we are invited.  To let go of our way is to let our will and way die, which is the point.  Why don’t we readily do this?

I don’t think humans in general like the idea of surrender, and I am sure Americans don’t.  Giving up is a sign of failure in our culture – that’s what losers do (we tell ourselves).  Perhaps we need a different way to think about the term.  Rohr is helpful in that regard, as he states: “Surrender is not ‘giving up’, as we tend to think, nearly as much as it is a ‘giving to’ the moment, the event, the person, and the situation’” (27).  We “give to” all the time in our lives, deferring to others’ expertise over our own.  We see a doctor and listen to the advice given even if it means getting cut open in surgery or treatment that will make us miserable for a long time.  We listen to lawyers who advise us to take actions that will cost thousands of dollars to avoid spending even more thousands of dollars.  We listen to building experts who advise us on how to address structural issues in our homes so that we can continue to live there.  We listen to counselors who give us advice on how to process things we really don’t want to process.  The list goes on and on – all of them facets of “surrender”, giving in to a moment and trusting another more than ourselves.  This is what it means when Jesus invites us to follow.  Surrendering our lives to God is the ultimate wisdom because God is the very source of life; God’s presence is everywhere and God’s wisdom is unparalleled. What are you sensing “surrender” means for you today?  What “Follow Me!” invitation is before you?

Stuff to Process…

1.       “Surrender will always feel like dying, and yet it is the necessary path to liberation” (18). What does the word surrender mean to you? What does the word conjure up in your mind and heart?  What have been your experiences with “surrender”? What is our culture’s perspective, and how might that influence your relationship with “surrender”?  What kind of death in your life would bring liberation to you?

2.       “Surrender is not ‘giving up’, as we tend to think, nearly as much as it is a ‘giving to’ the moment, the event, the person, and the situation’” (27). How does this way of thinking about “surrender” affect your relationship to the word?

3.       “How long it takes each of us to just accept – to accept what is, to accept ourselves, others, the past, our own mistakes, and the imperfection and idiosyncrasies of almost everything. It reveals our basic resistance to life, a terrible contraction at our core or… ‘our endless capacity for self-loathing’” (27). What do you find difficult to accept about yourself? About people close to you? Does our ability to accept ourselves or others change with age?

4.       “We each have our inner program for happiness, our plans by which we can be secure, esteemed, and in control, and are blissfully unaware that these cannot work for us for the long haul – without our becoming more and more control freaks ourselves. Something has to break our primary addiction, which is our own power and our false programs for happiness… What makes so much religion so innocuous… is that there has seldom been a concrete decision to turn our lives over to the care of God” (20). Have you ever had the experience of turning your life over to God? What happened?

5.       “Jesus made it step one, you might say: ‘If anyone wants to follow me, let him renounce himself [or herself]’ (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; Matthew 16:4). Have we ever really heard that? It is clear in all of the Gospels: ‘Renounce the self!’ What could Jesus possibly mean or intend by such absolute and irresponsible language?” (29). What is your first reaction to Jesus’ words?  Spend some time working toward greater understanding and acceptance.

6.       “The common way of renouncing the self, while not really renouncing the self at all, is being sacrificial! It looks so generous and loving, and sometimes it is. But usually it is still all about me (29)… ‘Personal sacrifice’ creates the Olympics and American Idol, many heroic projects, and many wonderful people. It is just not the Gospel, but only its most common substitute… So much that is un-love and non-love, and even manipulative ‘love’, cannot be seen or addressed because it is so dang sacrificial” (30). How do you handle situations when you sense that you’re being manipulated by someone else’s “goodness”? How do you feel when someone calls your bluff for making sacrifices that only serve to make you look noble and heroic?

7.       You see, there is a love that sincerely seeks the spiritual good of others, and there is a love that is seeking superiority” (22). From your relationship with others, share an example of both ways of loving.

8.       “We can only live inside the flow of forgiveness if we have stood under the constant waterfall of needed forgiveness ourselves. Only hour-by-hour gratitude is strong enough to overcome all temptations to resentment” (34). Reflect about a time when you were forgiven for something you did.  How did that feel?  Reflect about a time when you forgave someone else. Was there any connection between the two experiences?  Could you make a connection between either one and a future experience of forgiveness?

9.       “We have been graced for a truly sweet surrender, if we can radically accept being radically accepted – for nothing! ‘Or grace would not be grace at all’! (Romans 11:6). As my father, St. Francis, put it, when the heart is pure, ‘Love responds to love alone’ and has little to do with duty, obligation, requirement, or heroic anything. It is easy to surrender when you know that nothing but Love and Mercy is on the other side” (27). How have you known unconditional love?

*This teaching summary is part of a series that dovetails the deep spiritual components of Twelve Steps and the rich insights of the time-tested Enneagram.  Understanding your Enneagram Type can provide helpful insight into how you “do life”.  There are several free tests that will surely narrow things down for you, but the Enneagram Test from the Enneagram Institute by far offers the best assessment and provides the richest feedback (look for the RHETI test).  In addition, we will be drawing insight from two books as we follow Jesus through these steps.  You can get Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water (and its companion journal) and Christopher Heuertz’ The Sacred Enneagram online and in digital formats.  CrossWalk will have a limited supply of the books on hand.  In addition, you may find songs for different types helpful in understanding what you’re working with.

 

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Me Free 2: Desperate Desiring

We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. – Step 2

The God of old is still your refuge: This God has everlasting arms that can drive out the enemy before you. – The Bible, Deuteronomy 33:27 (recalling a period around 1500 BCE)

Yes, we are carrying our own death warrant with us, but it is teaching us not to rely on ourselves, but on a God whose task is to raise the dead to life. – Apostle Paul, The Bible, 2 Corinthians 1:9 (c. 54 CE)

May the God of peace make you whole and holy, may you be kept safe in body, heart, and mind, and thus ready for the presence.  God has called you and will not fail you. – Apostle Paul, The Bible, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (51 CE)

The storm was brewing, but Dorothy had no idea what the day was going to bring for her (and her little dog, too).  Toto was supposed to act like a mature, intelligent human being but instead chose to be a dog in his interactions with a wicked witch of a neighbor who did what she had to do to put the dog down.  Too much for Dorothy, she opted to make a run for it.  She ran into a traveling conman with a big heart who discerned the familial struggle she was in.  He tapped into her love for her Aunt Em which motivated her to return to the house long before she was really ready.  Once home, the storm caught up with her and she found herself on an adventure she didn’t know she needed – all to get back home.  The Wizard of Oz was a great book and movie, not simply because of the surface-level storyline, but because it is our story, it is the human story describing the journey we all go through to get to our true home.  We discover in our respective processes that we have a lot of fears to face, and a lot of ourselves to develop.  We all have minds to develop, hearts to grow, and courage to foster along the way.  We put our hopes in the wrong things and discover in the end that home was a wish and a few clicks of the heels away from our grasp.  Sometimes, however, we get stuck in Oz.

During his ministry, Jesus taught about the endless, unconditional love of God everywhere he went.  He taught with his life, his healing, his very person how powerful the love of God is to change and sustain life abundant.  Likely on several occasions he told three parables (Luke 15) that drove the point about God’s love deeper and deeper.  The first pictures a shepherd carrying for 100 sheep.  One wandered off, and the shepherd left the 99 – a major risk – to go rescue the one that was isolated and in danger.  When he got back to camp, he called for celebration.  The second parable features a woman who lost one of her ten silver coins.  Jesus portrays her searching high and low, sweeping under the couch and throw rugs for that lost coin of significant value. When she found it, she was so happy that she threw a party!  The shepherd and the woman represent God here, who is willing to go to great lengths to find that which was lost and rejoices when the lost was found (instead of scolding the sheep or coin).  Sheep are pretty dumb, and a coin doesn’t have a brain at all, so we may be left wondering how God might treat more intentional wanderers – would the love of God be present in the same way?  Thus, the third parable. Do you know the parable of the prodigal son?  Here it is in The Message translation:

     “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
     “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
     “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
     “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
     “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
     “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
     “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
     “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

Do you know this story? The focus of all three parables was the prodigious love of God who looks for those who are lost and rejoices when they are found, even if the “lost” one got lost in worst way imaginable.  This is the happy ending.  I imagine the disciples upon hearing the story the first time were sitting on the edge of their seat wondering how the story was going to play out.  Surely for the first few times they were stunned by the implications of God’s grace.  But the subsequent 100+ times they heard it – and shared it – I wonder if they were then free to examine other parts of the story, especially since they knew how it was going to end.  Like when we watch The Wizard of Oz for the gazillionth time, we don’t get too worried about whether or not Dorothy will make it home even when the hot air balloon drifts away (spoiler alert).  Because we are confident in the end of the story, we can slow down and appreciate the full story.

Rest assured in Jesus’ teaching: the nature of God is so loving and graceful that when we’re lost, God is all about us being found, restored, and healed up. When we’re found, God rejoices.  No “I told you so” scolding necessary – our lostness exacted suffering enough.  It might even help for you to read and hear these words aloud: “I will be welcomed home.”  Meditate on that for as long as you need to really allow it to become a foundation for you before we look further into the story.  It might take you a few minutes/weeks/years, but it’s worth it.

Resting in the security of a happy ending to our story, let’s embrace the sons.  The younger sons gets lots of attention for his unthinkable request (Dad, I wish you were dead) and his reckless lifestyle which landed him in a pigsty.  It was in that thoroughly non-Kosher, unclean space where he could finally hear what the Spirit of God was trying to tell him his whole life: come live at home.  This is so often the human experience, isn’t it?  We don’t really get it, we don’t wake up, until we hit rock bottom.  Until we realize we are powerless against the thing that has us, we will resist health.  When we recognize our powerlessness, however, and embrace it, a lot of things begin to open up.  Surrender is a critical step to victory, and it is a really, really hard step.  Richard Rohr writes:

     The surrender of faith does not happen in one moment but is an extended journey, a trust walk, a gradual letting go, unlearning, and handing over. No one does it on the first or even second try. Desire and longing must be significantly deepened and broadened. To finally surrender ourselves to healing, we have to have three spaces opened up within us – and all at the same time: our opinionated head, our closed-down heart, and our defensive and defended body (20).

The younger brother in Jesus’ parable was “lucky” enough to find himself in a pigsty.  There was no denying that he was at the end of his rope.  People in the Twelve Step program speak of this as the “Gift Of Desperation” (G.O.D.): their lives became unmanageable and they really didn’t have much choice.  They either moved forward to live or they would soon die (or experience many faces of death until their final breath).  Are you the younger son?  Do you recognize that pigsty smell?  Can you see the mud mixed with all manner of filth that has accumulated all over your body?  Are you able to hear the squeals of the pigs?  By the way, alcoholics don’t get all the fun – you can struggle with some serious stuff and find your life a mess without ever touching a drink or a drug.  Sometimes our particular Enneagram type gives a nod to our struggle.  When we are in the extreme throes of the darkness of our despair, we are in the pigsty.  Perhaps you have been to the extremes of one or two in the following graphic:

Types and Needs Chart.jpg

If one of these describes you, then you know this story.  Are you ready to surrender?  Are you ready to believe that there is a God who can help you out of the pit and into new life?  To come home for each of you is to find your most painful wounds healed and your deepest needs met.  That’s what the Jesus Way of life offers: a life that is whole and holy.  That’s what faith is really about, as Rohr notes:

     Mere mental belief systems split people apart, whereas actual faith puts all our parts (body, heart, and head) on notice and on call, and offers us a new broadband station, with full surround sound, instead of a static-filled monotone. Honestly, it takes major surgery and much of one’s life to get head, heart, and body to put down their defenses, their false programs for happiness, and their many forms of resistance to what is right in front of them. This is the meat and the muscle of the whole conversion process (20).

As you younger brother types are hopefully marching home, let’s take a moment and consider the older sibling in this family.  As you can easily discern from the older brother’s reaction, he may have been living in his father’s house, but he was as far away from home as he could get.  If you do not relate to the younger brother’s story at all, you are not off the hook. True, we are dealing with extreme examples here – one who can no longer deny his powerlessness and one who is in complete denial – but you probably fall toward one side or the other.  The older brother type is on autopilot, unreflective and unaware of that which controls him (and has his entire life).  He is unfortunate in that he apparently has not had his heart broken until near the very end of the story.  Brokenness seems to be a prerequisite to transformation, the one step that we must get 100% right.  As Rohr states, I think your heart needs to be broken, and broken open, at least once to have a heart at all or to have a heart for others (23).  But we don’t like heartbreak, do we?  In fact, we work hard to avoid it, the very thing that keeps us real.  Because when we are honest about life – our life, Life itself – it is never “all good”.  We may be in denial, but there are times when we tip our hand and those around us realize there’s some brokenness lurking in us.

In my PraXis groups this week, we wondered aloud about how to recognize our addiction when it’s not alcohol or drugs.  What are we trying to quit?  Our Enneagram is helpful in this regard as it directs our attention to how we think about ourselves and the world around us.  I have found this question quite challenging, and yet I have found God to be quite faithful in bringing some insight.

I am a Type 3 on the Enneagram.  I have been wanting to call myself a 7 – in part because it ranked #2 and is often mistyped as 3, but also because there are parts of Type 3 that I don’t want to be true of me.  Turns out this is often a clue for what type we are – we don’t want to be that type!  Each type has it’s own tendencies and coping mechanisms.  Type 3’s are usually driven, successful, and efficient.  We usually perform well, get along well with people, and are high achievers.  And we also don’t want anybody to know about our failures and struggles because we deeply value what other people think about us.  Success is really important, and if people don’t think highly of us (we often assume it to be predicated on our achievement) or think we are unsuccessful, it kills us.  So we mask it, deny it, disguise it, and are occasionally deceptive about it.  We’re always fine even if we’re not.  We might even believe the lie we tell about how good we’re doing even if our pain is catching up with us.  Can Type 3’s become older brothers?  Absolutely!  That stupid younger brother totally blew his role costing everyone around him dearly!  What a failure!  And now we’re celebrating him?  For what?  That he somehow survived the pigsty?  It’s like celebrating Preschool, or 5th Grade, or 8th Grade Graduation – is this really a significant accomplishment?  Threes can get pretty judgmental of others’ not playing their role to their satisfaction.  When left unaddressed, threes can secretly writhe in pain as they wonder if they will ever be good enough to deserve love.  If people really knew them – especially apart from their performance – would they still love them?  This can lead Type 3’s to deep insecurity and a perpetual identity crisis as they shift their role playing as the scene dictates.  It is a miserable, pigsty kind of place to live.  But on the surface, everything looks great (because we try to look good).  And, as stated before, we may even believe it.

The amazing thing about this story is that the Father sought out his older lost son, too, and made it clear why they were celebrating: there was death, and now there is resurrection.  God is all about resurrection.  The Father also made it clear for the older son that he was invited to not just live in the house – he was invited to come home.

The story ends hanging.  We don’t know what the older brother does next.  A real cliffhanger.  A cliffhanger that we choose.

To come home means to wake up to what has held power over us for so long, to name it and something we are obviously powerless against, and look to God to save our lives.  Slowly and surely, that is what God works toward.  We actually see progress when we work with God toward it, too.  But that’s future step stuff.  For now, let’s just get out of the pigsty.  For now, let’s discover, like Dorothy, that heading home is just a few easy clicks away.

     When all of you is there, you will know.

When all of you is present, the banquet will begin (Rohr, 20).

*This teaching summary is part of a series that dovetails the deep spiritual components of Twelve Steps and the rich insights of the time-tested Enneagram.  Understanding your Enneagram Type can provide helpful insight into how you “do life”.  There are several free tests that will surely narrow things down for you, but the Enneagram Test from the Enneagram Institute by far offers the best assessment and provides the richest feedback (look for the RHETI test).  In addition, we will be drawing insight from two books as we follow Jesus through these steps.  You can get Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water (and its companion journal) and Christopher Heuertz’ The Sacred Enneagram online and in digital formats.  CrossWalk will have a limited supply of the books on hand.  In addition, you may find songs for different types helpful in understanding what you’re working with.

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Me Free 1: Power in Powerlessness

Today we launch a series that will carry us for the next three months.  More importantly, this series will invite us deeper into personal growth and spiritual development than we might imagine, should we really apply ourselves to what is available.  The series will have us walk through the Twelve Steps that have helped millions upon millions of people in their struggle with addictions of many kinds, first beginning with focused attention on alcoholism.  The Big Book, as it is called, provides a roadmap for recovery written as words of advice from those who have ventured into this challenging journey.  Father Richard Rohr taught many years ago about the spirituality of the Twelve Steps, discovering how aligned the steps are to spiritual transformation.  His book, Breathing Under Water is the written byproduct of his teachings of the subject.  In his book, Rohr rightly notes that we are all addicted to something – our way of seeing and engaging the world that has helped us survive yet simultaneously limits our capacity to truly live into who God has invited us to become.  Thus, the twelve steps are really for everyone who wants to live into their True Self (see Thomas Merton), a place of freedom of living in the grace and space of God that we may not have experienced for many, many years.  I invite you, fellow addicts, to join me in pursuit of the invitation to a richer, fuller, more deeply connected life infused with the Spirit of God not just for our own wellbeing but for the hope and healing of the world.

There is a really interesting story in Jesus’ ministry about the healing of a Gerasene man (Luke 8:26-39) that provides a good launching point for thinking about the first of the Twelve Steps: We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.  We catch up with Jesus in his home region around the Sea of Galilee. He had been teaching and healing on the Jewish side of the lake, and told his inner-circle disciples that he wanted to go to the other, non-Jewish side in the region of the Gerasenes – a significant city in ancient (now) Jordan.  As the story goes, as soon as they arrived on shore the were met by a deeply disturbed man afflicted by demonic possession.  The man was living like a wild animal in isolation in a cemetery – locals couldn’t keep him under control so they let him be in the place of the dead.  The picture brings to mind people we see today afflicted with certain types of mental illness.

Apparently, Jesus immediately began handling the threat this man posed by speaking healing into the man, which the “demons” recognized with a shriek.  Whatever was torturing the man did not want to die.  Jesus asked for some identification and found out there were many demons plaguing the poor man.  Realizing Jesus was all about bringing healing, the demons requested to be cast into a herd of nearby pigs, which Jesus granted!  What Jewish man cared anything at all about pigs, anyway?  The possessed pigs hurled themselves into the lake where they drowned – one last destructive act costing someone other than the formerly possessed man to pay for.  The man was healed.  The people in the region were respectfully freaked out, and begged Jesus to leave (for fear of losing more pigs?).  The man was instructed to stay behind and share the good news that had happened to him (Step Twelve, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves).

You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy who lived so much of his life plagued with these demons.  Thinking in term of mental illness, we know that things happened to him that were largely out of his control.  His was a nasty mix of nature and nurture, his genetics dancing with the environment he was born into.  We don’t know much about him, but we know a bunch about how our hardwired genetic code can impact our mental health.  And we also know how much the environment into which we were born can shape our state of mind, literally wiring our brain in ways that may not be healthy at all.  Like a curse, those who experience significant adverse childhood experiences are more likely to exhibit a wide range of unhealthy behaviors that negatively impact their future.  Unchecked, the painful future is generally predictable – a tough road is ahead for these folks who did not choose their genetic code or their parents’ approach to raising them.

We are all born, however, with a certain orientation to the world, and we are all shaped by the world into which we are born.  Nature and nurture shape us into who we are.  If we spend much time at all in honest reflection about our own origin stories we will admit that we didn’t grow up in sterile labs with perfect environments but rather messy kitchens with last night’s (or last month’s/year’s/decade’s) dirty dishes still sitting around.  We were born into human environments.  Those who raised us were raised by humans as well, shaped by their own nature and nurture – all of which simply “is” and none of it benign.  We are all impacted, affected, blessed and wounded.  Recognizing this truth is an important step in our own maturation as we begin to see ourselves differently and perhaps choose to take ownership of our own personal development.  To take responsibility for our lives requires us to be honest about where we’ve come from and how our nature and nurture have shaped us.  We have to address this, otherwise we are stuck before we start, choosing to run a race without legs to stand on, let alone run.  Or like wanting to live in sanity without first addressing our insanity.

Some of us may not recognize a struggle at all, to which Richard Rohr says:

People who have moved from seeming success to seeming success seldom understand success at all, except a very limited version of their own.  People who fail to do it right, by even their own definition of right, are those who often break through to enlightenment and compassion… Until you bottom out and come to the limits of your own fuel supply, there is no reason for you to switch to a higher octane of fuel.  For that is what is happening!  Why would you? You will not learn to actively draw upon a Larger Source until your usual resources are depleted and revealed as wanting. In fact, you will not even know there is a Larger Source until your own sources and resources fail you. – Breathing Under Water

In his book, The Sacred Enneagram, Christopher Heuertz provides some helpful insight into ourselves using this ancient tool that has helped countless people move forward in their understanding of themselves.  In short, the Enneagram seeks to identify how we engage the world – how we’re wired – and what that wiring seems to bring with it for good and bad.  While we all are mixed bags with a little bit of every one of the nine types thrown into the batch, there is generally one type that seems to describe us more than others that helps us recognize our True Self.  Our type also seems to predict some tendencies when we are under stress – the way we cope mentally and emotionally differs from one type to the next.  When we are not in a healthy place, especially, we can find ourselves thinking, feeling and acting in ways we wouldn’t when we’re healthy.  And we can’t stop until we get relief, even if that relief is hitting bottow.   Sometimes, especially if our wound is deep these coping mechanisms become extreme and we find ourselves feeling like we’re living naked and alone in places of death.  Vulnerable yet shrieking.  Costing ourselves and others far more than we could have ever imagined.

In truth, we’re all in the same boat to varying degrees, all powerless against what has formed us and incapable of becoming free apart from the power of God to help us.  We may yet be in denial about this, by the way, telling ourselves it’s not that bad and that it’s under control.  But if we could see what our True Self looks like, radiating the image of God unencumbered by what holds us, we would realize that we have not come close to arriving, no matter how comfortable we may feel.  If we could get beyond our egos and the never-ending need to manage our egos, we might discover the True Manager who can actually help us move forward.  To be human is to struggle along these lines.  Even the Apostle Paul struggled with this stuff:

I cannot understand my own behavior. I fail to carry out the very things I want to do and find myself doing the very things I hate…for although the will to do what is good is in me, the performance is not. – Romans 7:15, 18

Like Jesus with the suffering naked guy in the cemetery, our healing starts with naming what we’re struggling with.  For alcoholics, it’s alcohol on the surface, yet something deeper, too.  Depending on your type, you may struggle with the passions of anger, pride, deceit, envy, avarice, fear, gluttony, lust or sloth.  You may also find yourself fixated on resentment, flattery, vanity, melancholy, stinginess, cowardice, planning, vengeance, or indolence.  These are ways we manage our deepest fears which are tied to our deepest wounds from early in our life.  Naming is hard, humbling, yet freeing.

When we name what we’re addicted to, the process begins.  Expect shrieking – our addiction has become normal for us.  Changing it is difficult.  But the goal of healing is worth it.  That poor guy was too sick to live with anybody – he didn’t want to live by their rules and they didn’t want him wrecking their world either.  Healing brings people together.  The power of God to help us is all around us – it goes where we don’t expect it to in order to reach us, just as Jesus crossed physical and sacred boundaries to heal the possessed man.

The question ever before us is are we willing to admit our powerlessness?  Our True Selves are found in God, and are brought to life only with God’s power.  May we have the strength to admit our weakness and find ourselves empowered by God to overcome that which seeks to continually draw us down.  This is the first step toward healing.

Go Be Jesus: Motto or Mission?

Have you seen the latest Direct TV commercial promoting NFL Ticket?  Clearly, the father has limited time to communicate key life lessons to his son before he ascends into the coming football season! 

Before Jesus left the scene after his resurrection appearances, he was remembered giving final instructions, too:

·       Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 (New Living Translation)

·       And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.” – Mark 16:15-18 (New Living Translation)

·       So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:6-8 (New Living Translation) Note: Luke and Acts share the same author.

·       Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” – John 20:21-23 (New Living Translation)

The reality is, of course, that the little kid getting the speech while sitting on his bed wasn’t left with just these 30 seconds before kickoff.  He may not realize it, but that kid has been in an internship from the moment he was born, learning about how to do life from the people he trusts the most – his parents.  So it was with the disciples.  Unconsciously, that little son will naturally follow in the footsteps of his mother and father.  Nature and nurture combined provide an incredibly well-formed paradigm – for good and bad.

We can assume with pretty good confidence that the disciples who first received Jesus’ final instructions were committed.  By their ongoing allegiance they verified that they were willing to die for the cause.  I would be so bold as to suggest that they were, to a person, born again (to use Jesus’ famous phrase from John 3:3).  Being born again, they had spent time with Jesus deconstructing the nature and nurture that had formed them.  In truth, the moment of their decision to follow Jesus may have felt so powerful that they may have even blurted out that they had been born again – new life was being infused into their very being, or perhaps a better way to say it is that the Spirit of God was being awakened, freed within them.  The greater truth, however, is that being born again is a lifelong process of discovering where the Spirit of God is inviting us to go and grow next.

After the dust settled a bit, the disciples must have had a lot of dinner meetings wondering what it meant for them to carry out Jesus’ instructions.  I imagine they went through a lot of the same stages that everyone goes through when an unavoidable life transition hits them square in the face.  When you finally launch into real adulthood when you’re on your own, or you get married, or you get divorced, or you get fired, or you have kids, or your kids leave the nest, or your spouse dies, or…  When these things hit, we are left shocked for a season.  We come to grips with reality.  We begin feeling our way into the new normal.  We do this over and over again as “normal” changes.  So it must have been for the disciples.  They likely just saw themselves as part of the larger Jewish movement until they were essentially kicked out.  Then they shifted focus toward a non-Jewish audience.  But all the while they remembered that they were given the instruction to go into the world and continue the mission Jesus had begun.

How did they know what to do?  I think they attended CrossWalk, actually.  I think they picked up our most central and essential motto, which I think truly functions as our living mission statement here as well.  We say it a lot and we do it a lot.  Do you know what I’m talking about?  I think the earliest disciples owned our statement: Go Be Jesus.

I believe the disciples did their best to continue doing the things that Jesus did with them while they walked the earth together.  I think some things had become extremely natural for them, and yet other things had to be learned and relearned.  I imagine they remembered again and again with the public and each other what they experienced with Jesus.  Their shared experiences and memory informed their steps, their policies, their vision – everything.  All shaping what it meant for them to “go”.

This past Wednesday I had both of my PraXis groups tackle a story remembered in Luke’s Gospel that exemplifies a lot of Go Be Jesus principles:

     One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus.
     Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.”
     But the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, “Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”
     Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”
     And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God. Everyone was gripped with great wonder and awe, and they praised God, exclaiming, “We have seen amazing things today!” – Luke 5:17-26 (New Living Translation)

We used a method of study and discussion used by missionaries all over the world to shape our interaction with the text and each other.  Amazing insights came in both groups.  Here are a few:

·       The religious leaders who were known to be very narrow and legalistic in their thinking were not only an apparently negative presence but were in the way of healing – because they were taking up space, people who actually needed healing couldn’t get in the door.  That’s still true today.  How are we like these religious leaders?  Are we in the way of people who need what God offers?

·       What incredible friends – bringing their buddy to the source of healing, surely at great risk as they dismantled someone’s roof to lower their friend carefully in front of Jesus (interrupting whatever he was doing).  How are we like these friends?  Do we believe God has something for our friends who are in need of some sort of healing and hope?  Are we even aware of what God has to offer?

·       What a gutsy paraplegic!  What could possibly go wrong here?  And eventually he was called to exercise great faith as Jesus instructed him to get up, take his mat and go home.  Are we trusting God with our healing or are we comfortable in our limited experiences of life?  How have we said “no” to Jesus’ invitation to be born again, again?

·       And then there’s Jesus, who didn’t flip out when he was so rudely interrupted, who was able to speak into every human being’s deepest fear: we are loved not condemned, we are of great value not trash.  And how beautiful that he chose to let the healing power of God flow through him appropriately.  All of this while under the critical gaze of those who wanted to restrict and restrain him.  If we’re to be like Jesus, how are we speaking love and life to those who struggle with shame and interior death?  Are we allowing the healing power of God to flow through us or are we too chicken to offer such hope?  Or do we even know it flows within us?

As the disciples walked and talked, surely they had similar exchanges over and over again.  And because they did, something new caught on and spread.  More and more people not only heard good news, they experienced it alive in those sharing it.

CrossWalk is well known in Napa for living up to our motto-mission statement.  Corporately, we are here for Napa in so many ways.  We strive to Go Be Jesus beyond Napa, too.  Globally in Mexico and Kenya.  Plus we help struggling churches in our region move forward.

As Pastor of CrossWalk, I wonder which part of the story gripped you?  Are you in the way like the religious leaders, so critical that you are cramping the space where God is moving?  Are you a good friend to those who need help God can give, pointing them in God’s direction in some way?  Are you acting as Jesus speaking and offering hope and healing in your life? Are you willing to be well even though it requires risk and a new future?

I do want to speak into an issue every church in America is struggling with.  I am wondering if you know what struggles those closest to you are facing, and wondering if you know how God might help them in their struggle.  I am wondering if you could find out so that as we discover those areas we might do something to serve people with the healing power of God to help them.  I’m wondering if you might be so courageous and sacrificial as to be the kind of friend that shows up, who removes barriers as much as possible so that your friend gets help.  Not simply mentioning in passing that Jesus is in town, but that you will join them in finding help.  How do we pull this off?

I think there are multiple dimensions to this commission to which we’ve been called.  The first has to do with reorienting our lives to be available to others, and the second has to do with our own awareness of what God is offering.

As far as being that friend goes, I would recommend that you simply begin by praying for them daily, asking God to bless them and if possible, use you to be a blessing in their life.  Then, stay awake and see what moves in you and them to actually see that prayer answered.  When the opportunity comes, Go Be Jesus to them, offering what you have, being a conduit for the healing power of God in some way.  And then encourage them to discover this faith thing for themselves.  Point toward CrossWalk – we have a ton of help available already and more is to come. 

Are you aware of all that our faith has to offer?  Are you “dialed in” to all that Go Be Jesus offers you and others?  It reminds me of the scene in the movie, The Help, where Minnie shares with Celia some of the uses of Crisco vegetable shortening:  Gum in your hair?  Squeaky door? Bags under your eyes?  Dry skin? Husband’s scaly feet?  Crisco.  The best use, of course, is for fried chicken. Please take a break and go get some fried chicken.  Addendum, anyone?

Like Crisco was largely unknown to Celia, I think many people are really not aware of just how helpful following in Jesus’ footsteps can be.  Could it be that our Go Be Jesus has greater implications than we have allowed?  Like Crisco is good for much more than dead chickens, so Jesus is good for so much more than dead humans…

Feeling rudderless in your life?  Not sure how to handle conflict well?  Having trouble getting over something someone did to you?  Having trouble getting over something you did to yourself?  Feeling worthless?  Bored with your faith?  Want to make a difference in our political system?  Having trouble with stress? Financial realities freaking you out?  Wonder if you’ve done enough to merit God’s welcome in your life now and later? Not sure how to balance your time?  Wondering about pretty much any major issue we will face in life?  The answer you’re looking for is found in our motto-mission: God Be Jesus.

Much more than a glib phrase or an idea for the next best-selling wristband, Go Be Jesus calls us to deeply rooted action.  “Go” is pretty clear – get off your butt – nothing changes if nothing changes.  “Be” is much deeper than “do” – the stuff of life and faith is much more a being thing than a doing thing.  Sometimes the doing helps shape our being, but the sweet spot is when our doing is the good fruit of our well-being.  And the inspiration for our being?  Jesus. 

Some of you may have looked over the list of questions I raised that can be satisfied with the answer Go Be Jesus, and you have no idea how that can be possible because you really don’t know that much about Jesus.  That is awesome!  You know why?  Because it means there is so much hope for you as you discover who this man was that was so infused and free in the Spirit of God that everyone could see the difference, calling him Anointed, Christ, Messiah, Son of God (all essentially the same thing).  I’ve been learning to Go Be Jesus pretty much all my life.  I know Jesus, and I know the Spirit that made him Christ.  I’m not making this stuff up – Go Be Jesus works.  If you’re clueless, that’s fine – it simply means you get to discover more than you could ever possibly imagine.  This discovery is what caused Paul to stop midsentence in a letter to write this:

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
     Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” – Ephesians 3:14-21 (NLT).

For your sake and the sake of all who live in the world as well as the creation of which we are a part and on which we rely for our survival, I invite you, I implore you, I encourage you, with anticipatory celebration I challenge you: Go Be Jesus.

U2 Sunday!

As any good CrossWalker can tell you, my favorite band of all time is U2.  The Ireland foursome has been my favorite for over 35 years.  I love that they deal with serious matters of life in their music - not just tales of love gone awry.  Bono (lead singer) has used his voice to speak for all those in humanity who have little or no voice.  This stems from his deep faith which informs a lot of their music.  The following offer the lyrics to the songs we enjoyed Sunday.  Video links are embedded in the title.  If you only want to watch the Conversation with Bono and Eugene Peterson, you can view that here.  Enjoy!

I Will Follow

I was on the outside when you said
You said you needed me
I was looking at myself
I was blind, I could not see

A boy tries hard to be a man
His mother takes him by his hand
If he stops to think he starts to cry
Oh why

If you walk away, walk away
walk away, walk away, I will follow

If you walk away, walk away
walk away, walk away, I will follow, I will follow

I was on the inside
When they pulled the four walls down
I was looking through the window
I was lost, I am found

Your eyes make a circle
I see you when I go in there
Your eyes, your eyes, your eyes, your eyes

Where the Streets Have No Name

I want to run, I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside
I wanna reach out and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name

I want to feel sunlight on my face
I see that dust cloud disappear without a trace
I wanna take shelter from the poison rain
Where the streets have no name, oh oh

Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
We're still building then burning down love
Burning down love
And when I go there, I go there with you
It's all I can do

The city's a flood
And our love turns to rust
We're beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled into dust

I'll show you a place
High on the desert plain
Where the streets have no name, oh oh

Grace

Grace
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

Grace
It's the name for a girl
It's also a thought that
Changed the world

And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness
In everything

Grace
She's got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She's got the time to talk

She travels outside
Of karma, karma
She travels outside
Of karma

When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty
In everything

Grace
She carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips

She carries a pearl
In perfect condition
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings

Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Grace finds beauty
In everything

Grace finds goodness in everything

Song for Someone

You got a face not spoiled by beauty
I have some scars from where I've been
You've got eyes that can see right through me
You’re not afraid of anything they've seen
I was told that I would feel nothing the first time
I don’t know how these cuts heal
But in you I found a rhyme

If there is a light
You can’t always see
And there is a world
We can’t always be
If there is a dark
Now we shouldn't doubt
And there is a light
Don’t let it go out

And this is a song
A song for someone
This is a song
A song for someone

You let me into a conversation
A conversation only we could make
You break and enter my imagination
Whatever’s in there
It’s yours to take
I was told I’d feel nothing the first time
You were slow to heal
But this could be the night

And I’m a long way
From your hill of Calvary
And I’m a long way
From where I was, where I need to be

If there is a light
You can’t always see
And there is a world
We can’t always be
If there is a kiss
I stole from your mouth
And there is a light
Don’t let it go out

Love Is Bigger than Anything in its Way

The door is open to go through
If I could I would come, too
But the path is made by you
As you're walking start singing and stop talking

Oh, if I could hear myself when I say
(Oh love) love is bigger than anything in its way

So young to be the words of your own song
I know the rage in you is strong
Write a world where we can belong
To each other and sing it like no other

If the moonlight caught you crying on Killiney Bay
Oh, sing your song
Let your song be sung
If you listen you can hear the silence say
"When you think you're done
You've just begun"

Yahweh and "40"

Take these shoes
Click-clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes
And make them fit
Take this shirt
Polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt
And make it clean, clean

Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul
And make it sing, sing

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still, I'm waiting for the dawn

Take these hands
Teach them what to carry
Take these hands
Don't make a fist, no
Take this mouth
So quick to criticize
Take this mouth
Give it a kiss

Still waiting for the dawn, the sun is coming up
The sun is coming up on the ocean
This love is like a drop in the ocean
This love is like a drop in the ocean

Take this city
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city
If it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart
Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it break

"40"

I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the mire and clay

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song
How long to sing this song
How long, how long, how long
How long, to sing this song

He set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm
Many will see
Many will see and fear

Unafraid: The Fear of the Lord?

“Come in, the waters’ fine.”  As a kid I heard this phrase many times in various forms.  Swimming lessons where we had to tread water for 15 minutes or so in the deep end.  The diving board.  The high diving board.  The cliff.  The lake with water skis attached.  In all cases, I had to be coaxed.  I feared the water in these situations.

We have a funny relationship with water.  When in the form of a stream coming from a super soaker, or contained in a water balloon, or directed by a hose nozzle, or perhaps a bucket being thrown in our direction, we fear it enough to run from it.  When the rain comes we shriek as if being eaten by acid showers.  If you’re like me, you are captivated by the power and grandeur of the ocean yet fear it and it’s bigger-than-me contents.

We are born of water, and we are made up of water so much that if it were taken out, we would die.  We can’t live too many days without water.  When we are dehydrated, we struggle to live.  No water, no life.

The idea of fearing God is not uncommon in the Bible and in the faith.  The writer or Proverbs said that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  For some, fearing God seems a contradiction – wasn’t the message of Jesus that we are deeply loved by God?  Why should we then fear God?

As Hamilton points out in his book, Unafraid, there are two ways to understand the word fear.  First, fear can describe being terrified and scared-to-death of God.  This rendering is commonly used in churches that use this type of fear to frighten potential converts into embracing the faith.  Verses supporting this approach exist in the Bible, because fear was used to manipulate people during the time when the Bible was first written and experienced.  Our human nature is always on alert for a threat, too, which predisposes us toward being motivated by fear.  So, even today, terror is effective in getting a reaction, and in some cases a reaction of submission to God.

On the whole, however, this was not Jesus’ approach with people.  He didn’t use fear to gain followers.  Rather, he used love and grace.  Following Jesus was always an invitation.  Jesus did use extremely strong language to admonish religious leaders who were abusing their role resulting in hurting those they were called to care for.  But for everybody else, Jesus was graceful, and represented God as one who was deeply loving and with humanity toward their wellbeing.  He personified God and showcased the power of God through miracles that defied logic.  People were in awe of what God was doing through Jesus.

Experiencing awe and reverence is the other way to understand the intended purpose of the word fear.  This type of fear wins people to reverence instead of demanding it.  We are drawn to such experiences and are left with a “hush”.  Certain experiences seem to draw this from us across the broad spectrum of humanity.  Standing before the ocean.  Or a mountain range.  Or a thunderstorm.  Or a baby’s birth.  Or in the midst of new love.  Or _______.  We are left in a hush. 

In the biblical witness, water was a means of commanding fear of the Lord in terms of awe.  Creation itself was born from the waters of chaos.  The Great Flood wiped out all who didn’t heed God’s message.  The sea was parted, allowing Israel to walk on dry ground.  Water came gushing out of a rock while the Israelites were in the desert.  Water cleansed the enemy leader of leprosy.  Water carried the fish that swallowed Jonah.  Jesus walked on water, buoyed by the Spirit.  Jesus turned water to wine.  Jesus calmed the storm that caused the water to become violent.  Jesus met the Samaritan woman at a well where she came to fetch water at the wrong time of day.  Jesus was baptized – dunked – in water and called his followers to do the same.  And more…  Water was a key component toward the fear of the Lord. 

I wonder if we should be thinking about faith using water as a metaphor.  I think we sometimes fear God in the scared-to-death sort of way.  I think we are more prone to such fear when we’ve done something that we believe offends God deeply enough to warrant retribution.  God is holding a super soaker and water balloons and the nozzle and a bucket of water – all trained on us if we don’t’ shape up.

But I wonder if that’s not particularly healthy in light of Jesus.  Maybe we should think of God in other ways.  In a deeply personal way, I wonder what might happen if we drank of God as intentionally as we drink water.  Maybe our faith is dehydrated because we have not drawn of God in our lives.

I wonder if our experience of God would be different if we could begin seeing God as present as the water all around us.   Because water is all around us and within us all of the time.  In the air we breathe.  In every living thing.  What if we could begin imagining God being present everywhere and in every living thing – how would that change our sense of God’s closeness?  How would it impact the way we see other people?  How would it affect our stewardship of creation?  How would it create a sense of awe in us at the pervasiveness of the presence of God?

This week, I encourage you to think about how little you think about water, how comfortable you are taking it for granted and not recognizing its presence everywhere.  Think about fears you have associated with water.  Think also about when and how you long for water. How are these related to your faith experience?  How is your attitude toward water similar or different to your attitude toward God and faith?

Unafraid: Aging

This teaching within this series is based in part on Adam Hamilton’s book, Unafraid.

Age is a funny thing.  When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be 10.  There was just something cool to me about finally making it into double digits.  When I was 12 I couldn’t wait to be 13 – finally a teenager like most of the older kids I looked up to.  Becoming 14 meant I was in high school; 16 meant driving; 18 meant I was a legal adult; 21 meant I could buy alcohol at reputable stores; 25 meant I could rent a car.  For me, my late 20’s was the beginning of my career.  I was looking forward to the day when I wasn’t a “rookie.”

Even though I looked forward to getting older in some respects, I was still aware of some milestone birthdays that I was conditioned to dread: 30, 40, 50 (just a couple of years away).  When these bigger birthdays approach, you realize that while they are simply a number, they represent the slipping away of youth.  I am not a Young Adult.  I am not a 30-something.  I am aware that in terms of my career years, I have crossed the halfway mark.  My body isn’t as forgiving as it used to be – pushing my limits means weeks or recovery whereas is used to be measured in days.  My increasingly platinum hair – all natural! – reminds me that the clock continues to move forward.  My parents’ aging is more evident and important to me as well now that they are both in their 80’s.  I cherish my moments with them now more than ever because I know, statistically speaking, they are running on borrowed time.

Some questions…  How have you navigated the emotional labyrinth that is aging?  How have you lived with the weird tension we hold in our culture where youthfulness is the measure of good looks even while we also celebrate wealth and success that require more years than less under our belts?  What age milestones have been difficult for you?  What fears do you have revolving around aging?

Hamilton provides some interesting data on aging that I found helpful and hopeful.  First and foremost, the research indicates that people experience more happiness in life as they age, not less.  He does note that there is a shift somewhere in our 40’s where our happiness finds it’s lowest ebb, and then climbs for the following decades.  That’s hopeful.  His research offered similar data in terms of marriage – once marriages reach the empty nest stage, the happiness level increases.  Conclusion?  Kids bring a lot of pain and suffering…  Well, not exactly, but parents are deeply concerned about their children, and when children are beginning to feel out their identity through their teenage years, there is more to be concerned about!  Fears of Alzheimer’s and Dementia also weigh heavily given that together they are the cause of death for a third of seniors currently.  This also means seniors have a 66% chance of not acquiring the disease, which gives some hope.

If I may, I’d like to offer some pastoral encouragement on this subject. First, to those in your 20’s and 30’s.  For the most part, it gets better, not worse, as the stats indicate.  You will go through tremendous stress, but it will not always be so.  Be wise in your pursuits.  Trust the ethic of Jesus which loves God and others prodigiously and much good will come online for you.  For you who are married, learn to love each other through every stage.  You are not who you were when you fell in love.  Grow together, learn what it means to love deeply and be loved deeply.  If you find yourself in a rough patch, you’re not alone – every marriage goes through rough patches.  Seek counsel if necessary, yet realize that an ounce of prevention really is worth more than a pound of cure.  For those of you with kids, the data suggests that life and marital happiness keeps decreasing until the kids are out of the house.  That’s because it is really hard to raise kids, stay in love, and remain sane!  Take comfort that you are not alone!  Hard is normal!  Lynne and I worked hard over the years to grow a companionship marriage – we are each other’s favorite person to be with at the end of the day.  That’s still the way we are because we made “us” a priority throughout our lives.  Do the same.  You can love your kids and be all about them and grow your relationship, too.  Like Lynne and I, you want your kids to grow up healthy in every respect.  I believe the greatest variable which you can influence is you.  Your kids will, for better or worse, base their lives on what they see in you.  If you’re healthy and growing, you are modeling health and growth, which they are more likely to follow.  By the way, we don’t choose our parents.  Some have been born to absolutely lousy parents by anyone’s definition.  Some of their kids catch a clue early on and make a note to never be like their parents.  If you grew up with lousy parents, you’re not stuck – for your sake and the sake of those you influence, choose health and growth.  For Lynne and I, doing our best to follow as fully as we know in Jesus’ footsteps – which results in being made more and more well/whole – has given us a great life and has rubbed off on our kids.  If you want the best for your life and your kids’ life, follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  Jesus was all about love, which is where we know true, abiding happiness resides.  Follow him to love.  The good news: we deeply love our kids and they deeply love us, and we are happy empty nesters looking ahead to a really great future.  It gets better.

 Now for you old people over 50…  As Hamilton noted, the reason happiness tends to grow is because we’ve lived enough to know what actually matters.  We’ve seen fads come and go.  We’ve watched people lose their lives in the pursuit of wealth, and we’ve been to a lot of funerals.  We know increasingly that love is the true source of happiness.  Being loved and loving others – an inseparable combination.  Yes, we’re generally more stable than previous decades, but that stability affords us perspective to not get sucked into perilous pursuits.  Some of you may be wondering how to increase your happiness.  The answer is simple: love.  Give yourself to something or someone who needs your help.  Many of you are already doing this.  Love someone through your time and attention, and you will find yourself less lonely and more loved than if you don’t.

Tying into our younger folks given their stage… There used to be a pervasive attitude in the church that when it came to any kind of children’s ministry, you would hear someone say, “I did my time – let the next generation do theirs!”  I am so glad that so many of you have not adopted that line of thinking!  We have a number of people helping in the nursery that are beyond their own child-rearing years.  I want to challenge more of you, however, in the name of Jesus, to step up and be helpful and present to support our younger families who are living through an increasingly hard stage of life.  Be a blessing to them.  Help shoulder their load.  That can happen by volunteering in our ministry here, or on an individual level.  This was done for Lynne and I through Gary and Karen Mills.  Their offer to watch our kids every Friday night meant Lynne and I could keep dating.  The byproduct was that we each found “family” in each other – lifelong bonds that have extended way beyond what started.  It was a win-win-win.  I am encouraging you to be Gary and Karen to someone’s kids.  You have no idea how such an act of love will influence you, the kids, and their parents.  And not just those with kids – why not do lunch or coffee with a younger adult or young couple simply to offer support?  They probably would love to have someone with some wisdom and perspective in their corner.

Finally, as Hamilton pointed out, remember that some of the greatest contributors in our faith story began their work when they were older, not younger.  Noah, Abraham, and Moses were all old when they were just getting started.  May it be the same for you, too.