Ask Questions to Move Forward on Your Spiritual Journey

Use the Why?/What If?/How? Inquiry Process

I’m reading a book by journalist Warren Berger entitled A More Beautiful Question. It is a fascinating look at the powerful nature of questioning to ignite change in companies, schools, and individuals. Deep and imaginative questioning can help us identify and solve problems, develop life-changing ideas, and pursue fresh opportunities. 

Berger presents a “Why/What If/How” system of inquiry that guides the questioner through the process of innovative discovery. 

Why? A person encounters a situation or problem and asks Why? 

What If? Person begins to come up with ideas for possible improvement/solutions — What If possibilities. 

How? Person takes one of those possibilities and tries to implement it or make it real — this involves figuring out How. 

One Question

Most of my adult life has been given to one question. That sounds a bit dramatic. But it’s basically true. The question is in great part what led me to theological studies, the pastorate, earning a PhD, living a semi-monastic life, and blogging.

The question: 

Why do some Christians strive to experience (know) God more fully and other Christians do not? 

If I apply Berger’s model to my exploration, I’ve asked What If questions like: What if I experimented on myself and pursued God with my whole being? What if I studied sanctification, appropriate Bible passages, motivation and education theory, and what it means to be human and developed a model that might answer the question? What if there is no answer to the question? 

Then How questions: How would I pursue God with my whole being? How can I actually experience God in my inner being, outward living, and ministry situations? How can I contribute to the “knowing God” conversation? 

More Questions

What has happened along the way is that I’ve simply got more questions. Berger says this usually happens: “It’s common for questioners to do this; each “answer” they arrive at brings a fresh wave of questions. To keep questioning is as natural, for them, as breathing.” 

Here are some more recent questions that haunt me as I pursue God (they may haunt you as well), informed by Berger’s model of questioning:

Why would Jesus command me to be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect and yet not seemingly give me a way to get there? (Matthew 5.48)

Why do I rarely deny myself, unsuccessfully carry the cross, and fall short in following Jesus when He asks this of me over and over? (Matthew 10.38; 16.24, Luke 9.23; 14.27)

Why don’t I live as a “partaker of the divine nature” when God has “given [me] all things that pertain to life and godliness?” (2 Peter 1.4)

Why would Paul pray that Christians be “filled with all the fullness of God” if it was not possible? (Ephesians 3.14-19)

What if I could actually be an imitator of God as his dear child? (Ephesians 5.1)

What if I could actually “pray without ceasing?” (1 Thessalonians 5.17)

What if I could “be holy in all [my] conduct because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy?’” (1 Peter 1.15-16)

How can I live as a partaker of the divine nature? 

How can I be filled with all the fullness of God? 

How can I imitate God as a child? 

How can I be holy as God is holy or merciful as God is merciful? 

How can I train myself to become godly? 

How can I consistently offer my body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God and intentionally not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of my mind? 

Applying Berger’s inquiry process to a particular spiritual problem

Ask yourself these questions: 

Why do I settle for anything less when God invites me to train myself for godliness?

What if an effective way to train for godliness could be discovered and lived?

How can a training strategy for godliness be developed and engaged?

Or another:

Why do I continue to fail at partaking of the divine nature and thus live an anemic Christian life?

What if a way to participate in God could be discovered so that I could live more like a Christian?

How can I live more fully in the life of the Triune God?

Or another:

Why am I unable to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Jesus?

What if I took Jesus seriously and fully devoted myself to do what he asks?

How could I start denying myself in response to Jesus’ invitation? 

Why?/What If?/How? Applied to WOW

As I think about the Way of the Warrior, the questions above and many more like them come to the surface. Like: 

Why are most modern Christians complacent and apathetic about their own soul and relationship with God? 

What if modern Christians prioritized their relationship with God? 

How could modern Christians actually “seek first the kingdom of God?” 

Or: 

Why do we struggle to love God with our whole mind, heart, body, soul, and relationships? 

What if there was an effective strategy to help transform my mind, heart, body, soul, and relationships so that love became natural? 

How could a strategy or process like this be developed? 

That’s enough questions for one day, maybe for one lifetime. 

And you? 

The challenge, of course, is to take this questioning format and apply it to the problem areas of your life. 

Why the problem? 

What if the problem could be solved or at least managed? 

How can it be solved or managed? 

If one of those problem areas is your spiritual life, I’m here to help you. Stay tuned as I continue to explore the WOW project. Visit (or re-visit) some of my past posts which address aspects of the spiritual life, especially prayer. Contact me and we’ll set up a time for a conversation. Let me be part of the answer to your “How” question. 

Dr. K 

The WOW Strategy for All of Life

Seeking to Transform Heart, Soul, Mind, Body, and Relationships

Are you tired of the same old information for Christian living and spiritual growth rehashed and repackaged again and again? If you’ve observed the direction of evangelicalism the past 4-5 decades you’ve seen this happen. Speakers and writers try to convince us that what they have is new and more effective for living as a Christian. Better worship experiences, discipleship programs, small group Bible studies, men’s and women’s retreats, and special conferences are supposed to help us more effectively walk with Jesus. But, like the “new and improved” look of the Wheaties box, it’s still the same stuff inside. 

Here’s the problem: as good as this information and these programs are, they fall short in enabling real-life transformation that our hearts long for and need. The same message and methods are unable to support the journey of someone who is either hurting from their years of experiencing Christianity or hungry to know God more.

Stale drivel cannot satisfy the deeply-rooted appetite for what is truly life-giving.  

Perhaps you’re a veteran Christian having listened to hundreds of sermons, sat through as many Sunday School lessons, read dozens of books but still don’t really know the basics like how to pray or how to love people who are unkind. 

Maybe you’re a minister or missionary and can’t seem to avoid conflict with other Christians around you. 

Or maybe you want to live a moral and decent life but are constantly overwhelmed with temptations trapping you into feelings of defeat and guilt. 

You may have even taken classes on spiritual warfare or how to fight the battles in your life but have not discovered a truly effective way to live in daily, moment-by-moment victory. 

Ben has been attending church practically his whole life. Before moving to Southern California, he and his wife, Ava, enjoyed a good life in Kansas City where he worked for General Electric and seemed to flourish under the preaching of Dr. Lewis Franklin. When transferred to Los Angeles he enjoyed a good job, a solid church with good teaching, and a wife who took care of him.

Now at 71 years, he feels like he knows quite a bit about the Bible and God. However in retirement, everything is falling apart. Ava’s health is so bad there are days she can’t get out of bed. He is miserable with no work or hobbies, furious with God for not healing his wife. She’s supposed to take care of him and can’t. Ben thinks God refuses to answer his prayers and won’t keep His promises. One day while talking to his pastor about his situation, he gets so angry that he throws his Bible across the room.  

There is so much wrong in this real-life story. How can Ben, a Christian for close to 60 years, not know God and His ways better than this? Why is he so out of control, angry, and miserable when Jesus and the scripture writers teach otherwise? Why does Ben not know how to deal with his own issues while blaming God for His failures? 

Unfortunately, Ben’s kind of “Christianity” is too common. There’s a confidence in one’s intellectually understanding about God but little transformation of the heart and mind into God-likeness. When faced with overwhelming challenges, this kind of Christian lacks the much-needed godly strength and wisdom that comes through training in grace.

There is a better way.

The Way of the Warrior is a refreshingly practical strategy taking the best from ancient and current practices giving you the tools you need to navigate your way through fruitfulness and failure. Engaging the WOW experience will give you what you need to meet life’s challenges no matter how they come. 

Warrior

Why the term “Warrior?” Isn’t it too militaristic? Aren’t Christians to be lovers not fighters? Of course, the answer is that they need to be both. They are to love God with their our whole heart, mind, soul, and body and their neighbor as their own self. Yet, they are also to put on the armor of God, deny themselves, die daily and do battle against their flesh. 

The Way of the Warrior provides life-giving and practical means to:

1) deal with your own internal conflicts and issues 

2) deepen your resolve for and knowledge of God

3) deal with external challenges that would try to defeat you. 

Therefore, being this kind of warrior is more about batting our own deadly passions than what is happening in Washington DC. It’s about confronting the world’s hold on our own heart rather than whatever we may think is “worldly” out there. We need to battle our own inner “demons” more than the demonic powers we think lurk everywhere. It’s not that these external issues can be ignored. But they need to be addressed from a place of inner calm and strength. The Way of the Warrior will explore and point the way to how this can be done. 

A warrior spends much of her time preparing herself for battle. The training itself is a type of battle. Boot camp challenges the body, will, and mind to depths never experienced before. Eventually the warrior develops a keen awareness of the constant dangers and challenges which are all around. She never knows when she’ll be called on to engage. Yet, she’s always on the alert and ready. 

Praise be the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues people under me. (Psalm 144.1-2) 

Advantages of WOW

The Way of the Warrior integrates a full spectrum of valuable insights together with all aspects of our being to develop whole-person growth as a warrior conditioned for battle.  

What does this mean? 

Integration means to put together elements and combine them into a whole. For our purposes, ancient and current insights on how to live as a Christian will be combined with who we are as human beings – physical, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, intuitional, and relational. There is much currently overlooked which can effectively inform us to be the Christian we desire to be (and God designed us to be). WOW is an attempt to put together truly effective elements of Christian living into one “package” that when implemented will transform heart, mind, soul, body and relationships. 

It is tempting to get off balance here. Perhaps you’ve read something or heard a sermon where one principle or practice is proclaimed as the secret to the Christian life. Learn these love languages, or learn the prayer of Jabez, or learn about the eneagram, or learn to journal, or eat these foods, or be part of a small group, or join Dynamic Church, or believe in predestination, the pre-tribulation rapture and six-day creation, or experience all the gifts of the Spirit, or learn to meditate, or find your spiritual gift, or read the KJV. The list is endless. 

Truth is, there is no one secret method, belief, or organization which holds the magic key.  

But there must be a time-tested basic and simple model which can be integrated with our whole person helping us, over time, to transform into a more authentic Christian. 

WOW! If only that could be true. 

Now, here’s the (really good) catch. For this WOW experience to work, you must participate in it. There is little real benefit to you if you only read and don’t actually practice it. Even if you only practice some of it to begin with, you will benefit. Take baby steps, then walk, then run, then do the marathon. It really is possible. 

WOW & Theosis 

The term ancient writers use to describe this model or process is “theosis.” (Even as I type the word my spell-check doesn’t recognize it so out of touch are moderns with this reality.) Theosis is the transformative process whose aim is likeness to Jesus Christ and union with the Triune God. Christians cannot become like God in His essence. Yet, they can become more like Him in His character and virtues. This only comes about as Christians learn to participate in God as He reveals Himself to us in creation, providence, and redemption. 

Theosis is the purpose of the WOW experience. All the elements in the Way of the Warrior are for the purposes of transforming your life into the likeness of Jesus Christ and of helping you to live more fully into your union with the Trinity. Engaging in the Way of the Warrior will probably improve the quality of your life but that is not its goal. More than making your life better, more productive, or healthy, the aim is to make your whole being (by grace) more like God. 

Theosis is a distinctive of the WOW experience. Where is this understanding found in sermons you’ve heard or books that you’ve read? Though this has been the teaching of the Church for dozens of centuries, few today are acquainted with the idea of theosis. We hope to change that in your understanding and in practice. 

Theosis is the catalyst of the WOW experience. Since God took on a human body, will, mind, and relations, He has the power to transform our body, will, mind and relationships. This is not just a spiritual journey. The WOW experience includes every aspect of your life as does Theosis. 

Are you tracking with me? As I continue to explore the WOW experience, I hope you’ll hang with me and give me some feedback whenever you can. 

Dr. K 

A WOW Strategy for Christian Living

We Need Well-Trained Warriors

There is a story in the July/August 2018 edition of Reader’s Digest by Mark Divine, Commander, U.S. Navy SEALS (Retired) that relates well to how we are to really live the Christian life. Some Christians believe the Christian life is all about living morally and ethically, following the rules of behavior set down by some authority. They think how you look and sound before others matters before God. Others believe being a Christian is about right doctrine and beliefs, any deviation of which keeps you out of heaven or at least out of God’s good favor. They think how one acts doesn’t matter as long as one thinks right about the right things.

It’s not that these ideas are unimportant. But they are extremely limiting. The Christian life is about being transformed into the image of Christ in union with the Trinity. There is so much more to this kind of life than our behavior and our beliefs.

Story

Here’s the story that illustrates the necessity of real transformation: 

In the pitch black, the sound of the helicopter’s roter blades was deafening. The jumpmaster gave us the thumbs-up as the light turned green. I leaped out into the dark. The static line did its job and pulled my main chute from its rig. I counted one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, and looked up to check the canopy. Whew. Everything looks A-OK. 

Ahead in the darkness, I could see the vague outline of my teammate Chris’s canopy. Something was wrong. I took a closer look—yep, he was coming toward me. Standard operating procedure for potential midair collisions is for both jumpers to pull their right toggles, thereby moving them away from each other. I turned right. Chris turned left and collided with me. 

My canopy collapsed into a wobbly sheet. I began plummeting to the earth, picking up speed. I had about eight seconds remaining in my 26-year-old life. 

My mind slowed. My breathing slowed. Time even slowed. Each second seemed like a minute as I moved through the malfunction checklist: Pull on riser to try to reinflate canopy (nothing). Pull on reserve chute cord, punch the bag and rip the reserve out, and throw it as hard as possible into the wind (no good—the reserve shot up and waffled a bit around the main). I’m screwed. I took a deep breath and shook the risers of the canopy again. Ticktock. Six seconds to impact. My mind was clear and silent, watching, waiting for results. I felt no fear, no panic. I was not aware of the past or the future, just the “now.” 

Suddenly the chute caught some air and then I hit the ground like a ton of bricks. The canopy had only partially inflated, but it was enough to slow me down for a survivable landing. I waited a moment and took a deep breath to confirm I was still alive. Amazingly unscathed, I got up, dusted myself off, and marched off to find Chris so I could deck him. 

What struck me most from this experience was how my Navy SEAL training kicked in, allowing me to perform under extremely stressful conditions. Things felt almost mystical as my mind slowed down and allowed a larger intelligence and calmness to flow through me. I know I would’ve died if I’d tried to think my way out. 

The last sentence is powerful in its implications for living as a Christian. In an immediate life or death situation, thinking may get you killed. When directly threatened or dealing with impending trouble, actually knowing how to deal with the situation and calmly but deliberately acting on what is known saves you.

Training 

Every moment is life or death. We are either living in the life of God or dying in our sins, defeated by our passions. Only as our inner person is reconstructed do we have any hope of surviving a threat or thriving in holiness. 

This is probably contrary to how you are being told to handle the struggles and conflicts that come in being a Christian. You’re told to think like a Christian. Remember your identity. Imagine something different. Quote a scripture verse. Reflect before you react. Recall how God has acted in the past. Remember God’s promises. 

But when you intentionally train yourself in godliness, the “thinking” has already been done. In training, you’ve learned to act out spiritually, physically, emotionally, and reasonably what needs to be done. You don’t need to pause, reflect, and decide a course of action. Instead, you’ve taken that course so often already that it’s second nature to you. 

The other day I heard a popular radio preacher admonish men how to deal with sexual temptations. From Colossians 3.5-10, he exegeted the passage beautifully describing in appropriate detail how the passage should apply to men today. He then concluded by saying, “So men, when you face these kinds of sexual situations think about what I’m saying. Remember what Paul says here about living life in Christ. You don’t have to sin. Think about these things.” I about drove my car off the road. No wonder men, Christian or not, succumb to temptation.

An enemy would scarcely flinch if facing a Red Ryder BB gun (maybe I’m giving our thoughts too much credit here). But they’d quickly high-tail it if facing a black eagle tank. I’m afraid we’ve got a bunch of BB-gun Christians walking around popping off their little cliches and Bible verses when what we need are spiritual warriors diligently and purposely trained in heart, mind, and body to know God and know how to battle all that seeks to defeat them. 

It’s too much to expect our thoughts alone to control our emotions and behavior – even good Bible thoughts. In do or die situations, when emotions are high, the body is stimulated, the mind is racing, and the soul is ignored (or so shriveled it can’t function), thinking has little chance of carrying the day. 

Perhaps that is why St. Paul exhorts Timothy (and us) to: “Reject anything irreverent (coarse, indecent, obscene, vulgar) and silly myths; instead, discipline (train, exercise) yourself to be like God. Though physical exercise has limited value, godliness is valuable for the present life and the one to come.” 

Here’s how this might read today: “Reject Maury, Springer, TV sitcoms and soaps, most politicians and entertainers (including modern sports figures); instead discipline yourself in an ascetic struggle for spiritual perfection necessary for an unhindered, intimate union with the Trinity so your life reflects the character of God.” This is how godliness develops in a person. Godliness comes through grace-infused and rigorous struggle, discipline. and training of the whole person not just our thinking. 

What Next? 

What is your reaction when temptation hits you full force? A co-worker insults you and you want to retaliate. Already stuffed, there’s the last slice of pizza calling your name. Your spouse, for the fourth time today, pushes your hot button and you’re ready to explode. You’re blindsided by bad news and you want to wallow in despair.  

What can you do to actually begin to defeat a personal known sin like anger, self-righteousness, apathy, or greed? How can you train yourself in grace and practice to withstand the control of sinful passions and act in ways reflective of Christ’s life in you? 

How can a humble, steadfastness accompanied by a quiet, calm spirit be characteristic of your life?

What if we can we really become more like our God and Savior, Jesus Christ? How can this be done? 

The answers to these questions and many like them are what I am exploring these days. I’ve got some companions who are exploring with me. Will you follow along with us, too?  

I believe the answers lie in a wholistic, integrative approach to training ourselves in godliness. Brought about by grace-intoxicated effort in key practices that transform our heart and character, we can experientially learn to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and body and with our relationships. 

I’m thinking this strategy for Christian living could be called the Way of the Warrior – WOW for short. 

There is so much here to explore. Walk this journey with me and let’s see what we discover.

Dr. K  

3 Essential Practices on Your Journey to Godliness

Simple and Challenging

You don’t drift into Godlikeness. You don’t automatically become godly just because you are a Christian. For many years, I thought this way. I thought that God would pick me up and toss me into a place called “godliness.” Since I was justified by faith alone, surely I’d be sanctified by faith alone. After all, I didn’t want to be accused of believing in works-righteousness. So, it took many years of frustration, heart-ache, and re-orientation for me to realize the error of my thinking.  

A journey to godliness involves desire, vision, intention, and means. I’ve written about the first three components already.

Three Basic Practices

I am learning that these basic exercises do wonders in moving me more towards godliness. Why these three? 

  • These three basic practices are taught by Jesus, the Apostles and the early Church moving forward. Unfortunately, they’ve fallen on hard times. Modern Christianity has reduced Christian living to less helpful and more convenient practices. Struggle and “long-suffering” have lost their necessary place in a psychologicalized and superficial Christianity.  
  • You will become more and more godly as you take up these simple challenges. For these practices to aid your journey to godliness, they must be…well…practiced. Growth comes as you struggle and persevere in their practice. You do what you don’t want to do in order to accomplish what you want to be. 

1. Prayer – Quietly commune with God in your heart and mind. This is not an incessant chit-chat with God. It’s more like a meaningful conversation filled with listening. Jesus teaches us to do this by his own example. He often went out to a secluded place to commune with his Father. Training yourself in the art of prayer is the first step to godliness. You become like the One you spend time with. Begin by praying: “Lord, teach me to pray.” 

How does prayer help you become more like God? The persons of the Trinity are in communion with one another always. So much so that they probably do not even use words to communicate. They know one another. Christians in silent prayer also allow for this God-like kind of communion. 

2. Fasting – Abstaining from what is good so that something better will result. This is the practice of letting go of what you think you “need” in order to learn to rely on God’s provision. Jesus, in his humanity, fasted. By fasting, you confront your mind’s faulty perceptions of certain foods and activities as absolute essentials to life. And, you discover new places for God in your life. 

Fast from certain foods – meat, sugar, fast food, caffeine, or dairy and see what happens. Or, fast from certain activities – watching TV, listening to the car radio, going to movies, talking, interrupting a conversation, complaining, criticizing, or spending so much time on your computer.

Exercise yourself by fasting and you will experience what a hold these things have on you – how attached you are to them. You will learn how little you trust God. You’ll get a glimpse of how weak you are and how much you need to experience God. 

Fasting helps you become more like God as your inner passions and the world lessen their grip on you and as the life of God finds more room to operate in your life.  

3. Almsgiving – Offer something valuable for the good of another and yourself. Give what you have for the good of others especially if it’s inconvenient or sacrificial for you. I’d recommend giving to people to whom you wouldn’t ordinarily give. God sends rain on the good and the evil. Jesus teaches us to bless our enemies as well as our friends. 

Give money to the man holding the sign at your exit. Ask his name. Pray for him later by name. You don’t know what he’ll do with the money. Don’t presume you know. Give without judgment, like God.

Find something you value – a collector’s item, books, clothing, time – and give it to someone you don’t like all that much. Do it anonymously if need be. Offer hospitality to a stranger.

You become more like God as you give graciously and sacrificially to others. God gives to sinners and saints alike. God-like love grows in you as you care for the poor. God continually gives of himself. When you imitate him, you become more like him.

Prayerfully pick a practice. Determine how you will implement it. Begin today. 

Dr. K

Words To The Wise For Your Journey to Godliness

Frustrations, Training, and Godlikeness

When it comes to “godliness” most Christians come up short. Though the word “godly” is only mentioned about 25 times, the whole Bible is a book about godliness. Unfortunately, most evangelical commentators want to reduce its meaning to something like “devotion to God.” I believe its more like “Godlikeness.” For example, “friendliness” is more than a devotion to a friend. It’s being a friend. “Laziness” is not a devotion to something lazy. It’s being lazy. Both words describe a characteristic of life. It’s who they are not just what they do. In fact, they act a certain way out of who they are. Godliness is the characteristic of a person who is like God. 

My journey towards godliness has been hindered by two mistaken beliefs: 

  1. That will-power is enough. I had a college professor, 6 foot 6 inches with a resonating deep voice, who often repeated this phrase: “You are spiritually where you want to be.” He may have been taking about desire. But I interpreted his saying as emphasizing the will – “You are spiritually where you will to be.” So for years I tried to will myself to spiritual growth like The Little Engine That Could – “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” 
  2. That ministry is the answer. I associated serving God with knowing God. Being active and serving is good. But it is no substitute for a vital, experiential relationship with God. In fact, it can be the factor that hinders the journey. Oswald Chambers (1874-1917), the popular devotional author writes, “We slander God by our very eagerness to work for Him without knowing Him. Our greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him.”  

Acting on these beliefs only led me to frustration. I needed to learn to walk a journey of participation in the life of God in faith, grace, and…effort. This is the path to godliness. 

Tom Landry, one of the best coaches football has ever seen, said, “The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they’ve always wanted to be.” Something similar could be said about St. Paul’s instruction to “train yourself to godliness.” To become godly you need to engage in practices you may not want to do. But eventually, these practices become the enjoyable means to godliness. 

Exercise is Necessary 

The Church for centuries has encouraged its people to engage in ascetical practices that actually help them become more and more like God. These practices are not for the purpose of punishing the body. They are engaged for a couple reasons: 

  • To manage the fleshly passions, directing them to a positive end.
  • To open the heart to know God and experience His life, love, and light. 

It’s fascinating that many so-called Christians spend thousands of dollars and hours focused on their physical well-being while spending little or nothing on their spiritual well-being. These dear folks are barely Christians in the full sense of the word let alone walking the journey to be like God.  

But this is not you. You’re reading this because something inside you desires to know God and become more like Him. You’re simply looking for good ways to have that happen. You recognize that physical exercise is good as far as it goes. But, exercising yourself to godliness is good for this life and all eternity. You know that you don’t drift into godliness. You know that you must do something about it in the grace of God. 

Training is Good

The word translated “training” that St. Paul uses in 1 Timothy 4.7, is the word from which we get our word “gymnasium” – in modern usage, “gym.” “I’m going to the gym” usually means I’m going to work out, exercise, or engage in some activity that will benefit me physically. You know what a “gym” class at school means. Kids practice or play basketball or volleyball, train or wrestle in a gym. A gymnast works hard on various apparatus and floor exercises to hone his or her skills. Usually this “training” involves a coach, coaching, and a team that helps in the training.

Much effort goes into this physical training. Similarly, much effort needs to go into your spiritual training. Going to church, sitting in a pew, listening to sermons, and singing a few songs is not going to do it. Your church is not a gymnasium though it could be. You need to “exercise yourself for godliness” in ways that make all of life a gymnasium. stupidity1

In my next post, I will present a few simple means you can practice to help you become more godly. These are ancient practices taught by the Church for hundreds of years. They are not your usual practices. But as the saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results.” 

How are you doing on your journey towards godliness? Moving forward? Stuck? In the ditch? Lost? Enjoying the journey? Are you taking time to exercise along the way? 

Dr. K 

Lunch with Kevin: My Conversation With A Dying Man

Lessons About Life While Facing Death

On August 7, 2018, Kevin left the struggles of this earth and entered eternity. Kevin was born December 11, 1949 spending most of his life striving to appropriate Christ’s life into his own. In this struggle, he impacted thousands of lives towards a fuller faith in the Triune God, including mine. He will be eternally remembered by His Lord and so many on earth.

This post was written over two years ago. Yet, it’s message rings true today.

Death teaches us how to live.

Life is learning to die.

Kevin is an good example of these connected truths (though he would probably deny this). 


Here’s the post from June 6, 2016:

What is it like to face death head on? To know you are going to die in 2-5 years? To experience the reality of death without actually dying? Two weeks ago I had lunch with Kevin. He’d been recently diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a terminal disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the famous baseball player who died of ALS in 1941. Kevin knows that he will pass from this earth sometime in the next 5 years. It is that final. There is no cure. He is dying.

As an Orthodox Christian, Kevin deals with his impending death with a radically different perspective. It’s actually more than a perspective. It’s a reality. He is experiencing the reality of death before he dies. And as a result, he is experiencing life as never before. You might say, in dying he is coming alive.

Counsel From The Conversation 

  • Everything changed with the diagnosis.” His relationship with his wife, children, grandchildren, and friends came alive. Almost instantaneously, familial and friendship love deepened. He wants to be with his wife and family constantly. They want to be with him. His friends no longer assume he’ll be here tomorrow but declare their love as often as possible.

In an email Kevin wrote: “the love of family and close friends is an especially soothing balm. My relations with my beloved wife and rock of 37 years have been transformed overnight. We see into each other’s eyes deeply; we speak meaningfully and with sensitivity, and hold each other with true love; and we now are beginning to understand what “pure love” means. I also cannot believe the number of friends and acquaintances who have reached out with kind thoughts and words and acts. I am spending as much time with my relatives and friends as possible, even though I am more prone to being introspective.”

  • I can see more clearly now. I see what I could not see before.” He writes, “My thoughts are clear and more focused. My mind does not wander as it did. I am more “watchful” over my thoughts…Useless thoughts are driven away more easily by repeating the “Jesus Prayer:” Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
  • I am less preoccupied.” He’s not attracted to doing or thinking about certain things. Some activities he once gave his time to are not important anymore.
  • “All I want to do is pray.” He has a deep commitment to commune with God. He is ramping up now for what he will do for eternity.  A “bucket list” is nonsense. He’s preparing for eternity.
  • “This is for my transfiguration.” He told me that a friend who is a faith-healer wrote him advising him to resist those who would tell him he could not be healed. But, Kevin isn’t desperate for physical healing. He desires spiritual healing that he knows dying brings about. For him it is more important that he experience God’s presence to transform than God’s power to deliver. He doesn’t doubt God’s ability to physically heal people. He just knows that his need for inner “transfiguration” is much more significant than his need for physical comfort. He is being transformed by death.

Life From Death

Life is coming out of death. True living begins to happen when you begin to die.

Isn’t this how Christians are to live all the time? St. Paul died everyday (1 Corinthians 15.31). He was “crucified with Christ:” dead already. Yet he lived (Galatians 2.20).

Jesus teaches that new fruit only comes from a buried and dead seed (John 12.24). His resurrection demonstrates that life comes out of death.

You and I struggle to know how to live because we struggle to know how to die.

I asked Kevin to teach me how to die. He wasn’t sure he could do that. Yet the words he spoke were lessons I needed and wanted to hear.

Now it’s a matter of struggling to live out the lessons. I hope not to be diagnosed with a terminal disease before I begin practicing them. But, I am not even guaranteed tomorrow. I better start dying today.


I miss Kevin. Yet, he is in my thoughts and prayers more now than ever. He’s also much more aware of what I’m up to. I look forward to seeing him again someday. I love you, brother!

Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K 

 

Stirring the Secret Sauce of Christian Living

Synergy is How It All Happens

Every Spring, with the harsh winter behind her, Kathy begins to prepare her little plot of land for delicious vegetables. She tills and feeds the soil and makes sure the garden is protected from pesky deer. She can taste the greens and peas, tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers and squash as she plants the seeds and starter plants. Heavenly showers and the radiant sun along with ground-level nutrients will feed these plants to maturity. Kathy fertilizes and weeds to help things along.

When it comes to having beautiful vegetables, Kathy knows two things: 1) she must exert necessary time and wise effort to prepare the soil, plant, and tend her vegetable garden and 2) she has no vegetables without all the resources God provides. She knows that good gardening is a divine-human enterprise. God gives life to all creation. She is simply participating in that life in a particular “gardening” way. By God’s grace she plants and He gives the increase. 

The technical word for this interaction of human and divine effort is “synergy.” Synergy is normally understood as “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.” “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” could be one way of expressing synergy. 

Synergy and Salvation 

Though not the emphasis of this post, there is some debate among a few modern evangelical theologians about synergy as it relates to justification. In what ways do God’s will and the human will interact resulting in salvation? Synergism, as a theory of justification, is rejected by most evangelicals due to its association with Roman Catholicism and the belief in human free will.

In this debate, consideration is rarely given, if ever, to the understanding of the early Church regarding salvation. Augustine may be quoted but only as he fits into someone’s preconceptions. Perspectives are skewed in the direction of Reformation and post-reformation writers who shape modern theological understanding. Scriptures are often torn apart and used as daggers to slay the theological enemy of the “true gospel.” Without the grounding of established (early) Church dogma, it’s a chaotic and heartbreaking free-for-all.

It seems the first 1000-1200 years of the Church are ignored as if they knew little of the meaning of salvation and how God brings humanity to Himself. How was it possible for people have a relationship with Christ without the insights from the reformers and their devotees? 

But, as I said, synergism related to justification is not the emphasis of this post. ☺️

Synergy and Christian Living 

I want to emphasize synergy as an explanation and secret sauce for the Christian life. Synergy for Christian living, using the definition above, is the interaction or cooperation of God and humans to produce God-likeness and, actually, anything in the Christian life. 

The word “synergy” comes from the Greek words SYN: same, together and ERGOS: energy, work. It literally means: “work together.” In the New Testament synergism is the idea of being “workers together (Gr. sunergountes) with” God (2 Corinthians 6.1). 

Paul beautifully describes this work when he writes: work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2.12-13). Our past, present and future salvation is being worked in us by God as we cooperate with Him. This is not the normal evangelical understanding of salvation. Perhaps we need to pause, take a second look at Paul’s words, and wrestle with what he’s saying. 

In the past, I (mis)interpreted the word “salvation” in this verse as “sanctification” only to fit my theology. Now, I understand salvation to be the broad term for all the various aspects of our relationship with God – justification, calling, sanctification, glorification, adoption, imputation, etc. These are all aspects of our one “salvation.”

God is working each of these aspects into our lives. It’s our role to cooperate with Him. We are workers together with Him for everything related to salvation, in the broad sense of the term, in our lives. 

Synergy and Early Writers 

From the beginning of Christian thought, the reality of synergism, though the word was not used, is seen. Listen to St. Clement of Alexandria (190 AD): 

A man by himself working and toiling at freedom from sinful desires achieves nothing. But if he plainly shows himself to be very eager and earnest about this, he attains it by the addition of the power of God. God works together with willing souls. But if the person abandons his eagerness, the spirit from God is also restrained. To save the unwilling is the act of one using compulsion; but to save the willing, that of one showing grace. 

St. John Cassian (360-435) in his Conferences (Chap. 13) declares that human efforts cannot be set against the grace of God but that human effort and grace co-operate. 

And therefore the aforesaid teacher of the Gentiles [Paul], though he bears his witness that he had obtained the grade of the Apostolate by the grace of God, saying: “By the grace of God I am what I am,” yet also declares that he himself had corresponded to Divine Grace, where he says: “And His Grace in me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: and yet not I, but the Grace of God with me.” [1 Cor. 15.10] For when he says: “I laboured,” he shows the effort of his own will; when he says: “yet not I, but the grace of God,” he points out the value of Divine protection; when he says: “with me,” he affirms that [the grace of God] cooperates with him when he was not idle or careless, but working and making an effort.

Or, St. Peter of Damascus (12th c): 

Human effort is profitless…without help from above, but no one receives such help unless he himself chooses to make an effort. We need always both things, we need the human and the divine, ascetic practice and spiritual knowledge, fear and hope, inward grief and solace, fearfulness and humility, discrimination and love.

The early Church, the apostles, and patristic writers did not pit grace and works against each other. The synergy of grace and works made possible all things related to God. To accomplish anything worthwhile for God on earth, there must be synergy between God and humanity. 

For example, God alone is holy. We are not. Our actions and thoughts make this very obvious. The only way we become holy is cooperating with God; interacting with His holiness. We don’t make ourselves holy. And, God doesn’t make us holy against our will. We, God and us, work together to see holiness come about. Synergy makes holiness a possibility. 

Without the experience of synergy we’re in danger of swinging the pendulum between strict legalism and complacent libertinism – we think it’s all up to us or we don’t do a thing. Synergy stops the pendulum. 

Synergy in the Scriptures 

There are examples of synergy all throughout scripture.

We see synergy in Joseph’s life: “The keepers of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper” (Genesis 39.23). Joseph worked yet it was God who prospered the work. How was the work accomplished? By God and Joseph working together. 

Nehemiah worked hard to prepare and build the walls of Jerusalem but only because “the good hand of my God” was upon him (Nehemiah 2.8). When opposition came, Nehemiah replied, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build…” (Nehemiah 2.20). The servants built. God prospered their work. The walls were finished because God and Nehemiah (and hundreds of helpers) did the work together. 

An understanding of synergism makes certain Bible passages come alive.

For the the Apostle Paul, synergism is how his and our life, ministry and inner transformation take place.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gave the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it (1 Corinthians 3.6-10).

This whole passage demonstrates the interaction of God and His servants to accomplish His work. The Greek word for “fellow workers” is sunergoi (syn – with + ergoi – work) from which we get our word “synergy.” You work with God and He works with you. 

In this case Paul is pointing out that we work together with God as He plows the field of our heart and builds the building of our lives. God works within us yet we participate in His work. Without our participation, nothing is accomplished. Without God’s work, nothing is accomplished.  

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me (1 Corinthians 13.9-10). We are to work hard yet God works with us. 

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2.20). How can Paul no longer live but still live? Answer: Christ in him; living life in Paul as Paul lived life. 

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3.20-21). His power works in us to do above what we ask or think. 

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2.12-13). We work for it is God who works in us. 

Even Peter gets in on the action. Note that God has given us all His resources to live and be like God. Yet, as we become participants in God’s nature we are to make every effort to supplement our faith: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature,…For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1.3-7)

God develops all His virtues in us as we participate in Him and cooperate with Him in that process. 

Illustration of Synergy: Sword & Fire 

Pastor Jon Braun writes about a sword in a fire as an illustration of what strength is available to us when we are joined to Christ. This is an ancient illustration of synergy. 

“Imagine a steel sword being heated in a fire. The sword becomes red hot. Does the sword become blended with the fire so that the fire and sword become one substance? Obviously not. The sword is still distinctly steel and the fire is still distinctly fire. The steel does not become fire, nor does the fire become steel. But the sword does get hot. It partakes of the heat of the fire. The heat of fire, the energy of the fire, interpenetrates the substance of the sword.” (Divine Energy, pp. 74-45)  

“To expand on this ancient example, you heat a sword in a fire until it’s white hot. Then you dip it in a tub of water. What happens? The hot sword makes the water sputter and hiss. Or, if the red-hot sword is pressed against a piece of word, the wood will scorch — perhaps even burst into flames.  

Let us make two observations from this illustration. First, the fire has one kind of nature and iron a nature quite distinct from it. It is the nature of a sharpened sword to cut; it is the nature of fire to burn. Yet, now the heated sword can both cut and burn. The heat of the fire penetrates the sword. The sword does not become fire by nature. But it does participate in the heat, the energy, of the fire. Through all this, though, both the fire and the sword maintain their distinct natures. ”  

Now is it the fire or the sword that burns the wood which the sword touches? The answer is both. Once the sword participates in the heat of the fire, it can inflict a burn quite easily. The energy produced by the fire is passed on to the sword and heat becomes characteristic of the sword as well as of the fire. It is accurate to say that the fire burns through the sword. And it is every bit as correct to say that the sword itself burns the wood with heat from the fire.” (Divine Energy, pp. 114-115) 

“What causes wood to burn when touched by a heated sword? There are a least three correct answers: the fire, the heat, the sword. It is inherent in the nature of fire to radiate heat, and thus it has the capacity to burn. It is not inherent in the nature of steel to radiate heat. But it is in the nature of steel to be able to participate in the heat of a fire and radiate that heat. Similarly, energized by union with Christ, we have access to the qualities needed to be godly. Then we are capable of living God’s way….Living God’s way is not just getting a bit of help; from God, nor is it the old, “God is my co-pilot” scheme, where I’m in charge and He cooperates with me. It is me cooperating with Him. In cooperation there is one operation, but two parties working together. Our God and King works, and we, His servants, work with Him. In dynamic union with Christ, participating in the energies from God’s own nature, we are able to work together with God.” (Divine Energy, p. 125)

Thoughts on Synergy

  • Synergy is not among equals. Limited and finite humans work together with Almighty God. In our weakness, brokenness and nothingness, God is strong, pure, and all we need. Our contribution is minuscule compared to His power. He is great, we are not. 
  • Synergy changes the way we consider certain supposed dichotomies: law and grace, faith and works, Old Testament and New Testament, nature and grace, spirit and body, reality and symbol, God’s faithfulness and humanity’s faithfulness, secular and sacred, Church and state. These pairs of concepts are no longer in conflict but cooperate in a true understanding of the Faith and God’s will for us. 
  • Synergy sheds light on the interactive operation of the Trinity. Three Persons are indeed One as they work together in perfect unity. It is this unified cooperation into which all of us are invited and for which Jesus prayed (John 17.20-26). 
  • Synergy is the way you and I are to live. Our goal is to live in union with the life of the Triune God. God’s work, then, becomes our work and our work is God’s work. We seek to be in such (com)union with God that we do His will with ease and effectiveness. We spend the rest of our lives in this quest. 
  • Synergy gives us theological equilibrium. We are not carried away with fanciful notions related to grace and faith, works and righteousness, Jesus and Church, prayer and scripture. Accepting and practicing synergy provides a clarifying perspective on divisive theological issues. 
  • Synergy challenges us to be humble, to trust, to be faithful, and to commune with God. If we know that nothing happens in our life apart from God’s work in and through us, then we will do what’s necessary to allow God full access to our heart, mind, soul and body. Moment by moment, we acknowledge our need for His mercy and grace. 

Those who would oppose synergism believing that any work of humans diminishes God’s grace, fail to see that a greater sense of God and His grace are actually experienced in synergism. As Jesus teaches us, “apart from me you can do nothing.” Synergists actually know that to be true. 

Conclusion

Seek to live in such communion with God that His will becomes your will and your will becomes His will. Then HIs work will be your work and your work will be His work. 

Always recognize you have work to do, yet it is God who does the work in you. 

Are you familiar with synergism as it relates to your own Christian living? Share your thoughts about synergism below. Thanks! 

Dr. K 

P.S. It is my prayer that this post is written in cooperation with God’s work in your life and mine. 

15 Shocking Statements of Jesus

If Jesus Doesn't Disturb You, Then You Don't Know Him

Seeking to accept Jesus’ words with a heart and mind which are free from preconceived ideas, is practically unthinkable. We’ve been trained to make sense of such teachings, making sure we’re accurately interpreting Jesus’ words so we can understand them better. It’s my contention that the sayings of Jesus are given to us not primarily to understand but to practice, not to comprehend but to experience. But realize, it’s in the real struggle to practice His words that we begin to understand them. We don’t think them into reality, we experience them into reality. 

So, here are 15 teachings of Jesus with which you can wrestle. In the context of our modern world and cultural norms, let alone our theological biases, these sayings are shocking. Taken at face value, they are unreasonable and impractical to live. Yet, because Jesus said them, we know they are true. 

I do not present much commentary since the point here is to challenge you to struggle in living these not to struggle in comprehending them.

Instead of asking, “What does Jesus mean?” ask, “How do I make this a reality in my life?” 

15 Shocking Teachings of Jesus 

  1. Assuredly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18.3)
  2. Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18.4)
  3. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives me. (Matthew 18.5)
  4. From the days of John the Baptist, until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. (Matthew 11.12) 
  5. Whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12.25) 
  6. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25.40) Jesus’ brothers and sisters are the hungry, thirsty, stranger, person needing clothes, sick, and imprisoned. 
  7. But I tell you, do not resist evil. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5.39)
  8. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. (Matthew 20.27)
  9. For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give HIs life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10.45) 
  10. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6.20) 
  11. I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. (John 6.53)
  12. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And this bread, which I will give for the life of the world, is My flesh. (John 6.51) 
  13. If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers, and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be by disciple. (Luke 14.16)
  14. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. (Matthew 5.11) 
  15. I am the way, the truth and the life. (John 14.6) The source of our processes (systems, designs), all reality, and all active being is a Person not propositions. 

Bonus: “And Jesus strictly charged them to tell no one about Him.” (Mark 8.30) Though not a direct saying of Jesus, he did tell the apostles to not spread the word about Him. 

It is easy to dismiss these sayings, explain them away, or soften them so they mean little. Down deep we know that taking them at face value is dangerous. Surely there’s some way to step around these realities so we don’t have to be confronted with their truth. 

But, being confronted by their truth is needed. You and I need to be shocked out of our mediocrity. Our openness to accept the status quo must be challenged. Jesus does this with Hislife and words. Do we see it? Do we hear it? Does it matter? 

Jesus’ teachings are often ignored because we don’t want Him to disrupt our ideas, theology, or opinions. We want Him to get us to heaven but not get heaven into us. We’d have to change so much about ourselves. Keeping Him at arms length allows us to live more comfortably. 

That’s why Jesus’ words are dangerous to the Christian life as we know it. They challenge us to change and they make us uncomfortable. 

But, I hope you’ll take up the challenge:

  • Decide to struggle with Jesus and His teachings.
  • Battle your “reasonings” and rationalizations.
  • Test your ideas against Jesus’ truth.
  • Be courageous and unassuming.
  • Let Jesus be your guide for living. 
  • Repeat this prayer to Christ for guidance and illumination daily: 

Christ, the true Light, You enlighten and sanctify every man who comes into the world. Make the light of Your countenance shine upon us, that in it we may see your unapproachable light, and guide our steps that we may keep your commandments. Amen. 

What is your response to these shocking statements of Jesus? What will you do with them? Share below. 

Dr. K 

Taking On Christ’s Yoke: A Fresh Perspective

Christ's Yoke is Participating in the Son's Communion with the Father

Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11.29-30)

These familiar and well-loved words from Jesus are cherished by many Christians. Jesus’ invitation with its promise of “rest,” draws many to come to Him, take up 

His yoke, and learn from Him. We can easily understand what it is to come and learn. But when Jesus uses the word “yoke” without comment, the reader is left a bit befuddled as to its meaning. Jesus does not literally wear a yoke around His neck. So He must mean something else; it must be a metaphor. But, a metaphor of what? 

What is a “yoke?” 

Literally, a yoke is a wooden frame joining two animals (usually oxen). There is such a thing as a single yoke, too.     

Metaphorically, a yoke describes any number of ideas as we will see below. 

Explanations of Christ’s Yoke 

On a Church of Christ website, Bailey McBride interprets the “yoke” to be some kind of force that enables us to defeat our immoral passions, helps us address our stubborn hearts, and provides an instrument of discipline. It is a powerful guide for our thoughts and actions, shapes us in the image of Jesus, and equips us to “deal with egos that drive us to all kinds of accesses.” 

Wow! I think he’s covered all the bases. Or has he? 

According to a Mormon website the yoke means, “To humbly do his will and allow him to guide and direct our lives.”

“Take my yoke,” according to John Wesley means to “believe in me: receive me as your prophet, priest, and king.” 

A writer in Ellicott’s Bible Commentary says, “the yoke of Christ is His teaching, His rule of life.”

Meyers claims the yoke is “His guidance and discipline, to which they are to subject themselves through faith in Him.”

A writer of Expositor’s Greek Testament says Jesus is referring to his disciples taking Jesus as their “Master in religion.”

Barnes says that the yoke “refers here to the religion of the Redeemer; and the idea is, that they should embrace his system of religion and obey him…and the Saviour here means to say that the restraints and laws of his religion are mild, and gentle, and easy.” Jesus still has laws and requirements but they are easy and light.  

“The yoke is the service that Christ gives us to do, and therefore implies more than his teaching.” (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible) 

The yoke is a submission to an occupation or obligation. “by the coming of the Saviour, they would first take on them the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, and then that of the commandments, finding this yoke easy and the burden light.” (Vincent’s Word Studies) 

“To take Christ’s yoke means to submit oneself to the authority of Christ. It means to put ourselves under his rule, to join together with him. He is inviting people to put their shoulders into a new yoke, one in which he is the yoke mate. And he promises that, as they submit to his authority and are yoked with him, they will find rest for their souls.” Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost 

Benedictine monk Br. Francis de Sales Wagner writes: 

So then, what precisely is the yoke of Christ for us? It is the vehicle of grace on the path of life by which we progressively and obediently come to know, love, and serve God. It means being a disciple of Christ, being true to one’s vocation in life—which may be lived out in many different ways.

This yoke, this right mind of obedience under the law of freedom, this Love, is symbolized in different ways for those living out other vocations. It may be a wedding ring, or a clerical collar, or it may be something less visible but no less demanding—such as an illness, loneliness, or other difficult circumstances.

Yoke = Weed? 

It’s surprising what one finds on the internet. Here is Ras SpiritLeaf’s take on “yoke:”  https://spiritleafministries.org/articles/2-take-my-yoke-upon-you

When we take Hemp (Cannabis) upon ourselves in this way we are yoked to JahShua’s Father (Jah) and this is how he brings forth judgement unto truth (enables every individual to know what Jah is saying directly without any need for an intermediary).  Anxiety is relieved as the external noise is quieted.  Intermission and recreation and judgement unto Truth are found… via our breath. This is how Jah governs man. Yoke yourself so you yourself know… and the external controls, religious and otherwise, are replaced by what you now know as Jah reveals directly to you (babes; common folk) via his yoke.  Your anxiety and stress dissolve as you know and are known by Jah. Your life is preserved / health is restored. This is the result of “knowing” Jah:

HEMP is Jah’s government for the minds of men and his sustainable provision for every need. This is why Jahshuah instructed us to take it upon ourselves. Us… the people; the common folk. He did not instruct a leadership of any sort to manage this for us. He didn’t consult the reigning authorities. He understood separation of church and state. It isn’t up to any earthly authority. It is mandated by JahShua directly to The People to take his yoke (Hemp) upon themselves and via this sacramental practice find rest in our breath.

The NIV Study Bible has no note on Christ’s yoke.

The Life With God Bible (NRSV) indicates that the yoke is wisdom unlike the Torah. “Jesus is offering his yoke, which involves both old and new teachings, not simply the yoke of the Mosaic law…Jesus’ person, life, and teaching are the climactic expression fo God’s wisdom and will.”

The Orthodox Study Bible relates that “Jesus’ yoke is submission to the Kingdom of God. A yoke could be seen as a sign of hardship, burdens, and responsibilities…but in Christ, the yoke is easy, for the power of God works in each person.”

St. Theophan the Recluse writes:

A soul desiring to be saved from sins knows what to say to the Lord: “Take my heavy, sinful burden from me, and I will take Thine easy yoke.” And this is how it happens: the Lord forgives one’s sins, and his soul begins to walk in His commandments. The commandments are the yoke, and sins are the burden. But comparing the two, the soul finds that the yoke of the commandments is as light as a feather, while the burden of sins is as heavy as a mountain. Let us not fear readily accepting the Lord’s easy yoke and His light burden. In no other way can we find rest unto our souls. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 135

Questions I Have 

Is a yoke always for two creatures? In many of the explanations, it is assumed that this yoke is for two. Jesus refers to “My yoke” which implies his own, solitary yoke. 

How is the yoke obtained? It seems obvious that the yoke is not forced upon us. We are not oxen compelled to be in subjection. Jesus does not place His yoke on us. We are to take it upon ourselves. We are free to take it upon ourselves or not. 

Does the literal translation, “take the yoke of me” have any significance? If this is Christ’s own yoke, in what way does it become ours? 

Meanings of Yoke

From the writers above, I conclude that Christ’s yoke can mean any of these ideas:

  • Submission – to Christ’s authority as Master and Lord not only as Teacher; “submit to me and become my disciple.” Or, submission to the Kingdom of God (God’s rule) 
  • Belief in Jesus Christ 
  • Anything that Christ uses to manifest his grace – His rule, doctrine, and leadership                                                                                 
  • A means by which God guides our lives
  • Christ’s commandments (which are light)  
  • Discipline – training under the challenge of discipline; Dallas Willard takes the ‘yoke” as referring to all spiritual disciplines. 
  • Christ’s teachings/Instruction – learning from Jesus Himself 
  • Commitment/Discipleship – to Christ’s authoritative understanding of God’s truth
  • Instruction under discipline
  • Smoking cannabis  – Is this what all Christians must do? I know some up-tight ones that might benefit. But, I’m sure Jesus wasn’t inviting us to smoke weed. 
  • Sevice
  • Symbol of obedience 
  • Symbol of obligation and subjection 

This list demonstrates the challenge to discern the meaning of Christ’s yoke. Perhaps this is by design – it doesn’t really matter “what” the yoke is as long as we come to Jesus and learn from Him. Yet, I am unconvinced this is the case.  

I have two major reasons to question these explanations of the yoke and to espouse another explanation: 

1. Jesus’ use of the personal pronoun “My.”

Not one commentator on this passage notes this. I guess they all assume the “My” means nothing. He’s simply talking about “a” yoke, any yoke, the yoke that means nothing unless we give it meaning.

Perhaps they assume Jesus is using “my” as some kind of thing or idea that He possesses that He’ll share with others. If so, then most of the explanations of yoke given do not make sense. For example, if Jesus is wearing the yoke of discipleship, then Jesus must be being discipled. Nonsense. Is Jesus subject to discipline or even spiritual disciplines? Hardly. Is he receiving instruction from someone? Nope. This idea may have merit if the yoke is a symbol of obedience. However, I think something else is going on here with Jesus’ use of the personal pronoun making his invitation tantalizingly incredible.  

I take Jesus’ words at face value – the yoke He mentions is His yoke. He wears it daily. It is His experience of living life on earth. His experience is what He wants us to wear. 

What is “My yoke” that Jesus is wearing? Instead of guessing from the metaphor itself, why not take our clues from the context of His invitation. 

2. The context of Jesus’ invitation.

The often-forgotten verses preceding Jesus’ invitation are key to understanding the meaning of “yoke.” 

 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. (v. 27)

Jesus states that only the Father fully knows the Son and only the Son fully knows the Father. And, if the Son wills, there are those to whom He will reveal the Father. Only then is the invitation given to come, take His yoke, and learn from Him.

Two realities stand out

  1. Relationship – the terms “Father” and “Son” denote a kinship bond deeper than mere organizational authority or educational mentorship. Here we get a glimpse of their essential oneness and their undivided nature. They know one another fully. This is a likeness like no other. 
  2. Knowledge – they are intimately, consubstantially (of one substance or essence) known by or in one another.  This is an experiential union like no other. 

With this in his mind, Jesus invites us to place His own “yoke” of intimate relationship with the Father upon ourselves. Their relationship is in union and oneness; love and goodness; beauty and peace. Christ lives life in the Father and the Father experiences life through the Son. By taking His yoke, Jesus invites us to do the same. 

Communion = Co-Union 

In real communion with Jesus Christ you enter into union with the Trinity. This is gradually accomplished as you continually place Christ’s yoke upon you. 

And when you do, all of life – being and doing – blends together in one unified expression of your union with the Trinity. All that God has for you, over time, becomes useful, kindly, good, beautiful, gracious, and holy. No longer is the Christian life burdensome and hard. Even the demands, rules, struggles, pains, and trials are experienced as good since they all are experienced in union with the Father, Son, and Spirit who are transforming every aspect of your life.  

It is as if Jesus is saying: “What I wear is union and participation with the Father and He with me. We are in complete union and oneness which can be yours when you come to me as a baby and take this yoke of union upon yourself.” 

Only Jesus can make such an offer as this. That’s what’s so amazing. When He offers Himself to you, as He does here, He is inviting you into the Mystery of life in the Trinity. This goes beyond anything you can imagine. It certainly goes way beyond any idea of humility, meekness, and rest you may conjure up from this passage. 

Christ’s yoke is a unified relationship with the Trinity, not a “thing” or “activity.” 

However, to take this yoke, experiencing the reality of union with Christ, is an ongoing, constant activity. That’s where “communion” comes into play. Do all you can to commune with the Trinity through Jesus Christ. Find that path and walk it diligently every moment of every day. 

Walking the path begins by faith when baptized into Christ, continues by partaking of His body and blood, and by coming to Jesus all the time in prayer. It persists by sustained communion with Jesus. And, it never ends even in eternity. In fact, eternity involves walking the path in communion with Jesus all the time.

The invitation for us all is to start coming to Jesus now. Then, start coming again tomorrow. Then, start coming everyday. Take Christ’s yoke always. Learn from Him moment-by-moment. Your soul will experience the rest which this kind of relationship with Jesus can provide.

If you have comments on this perspective or if you have questions, share below. 

Dr. K 

WHY Have Quiet Time with God?

Inspiration for Meeting God in Solitude

You can no longer ignore meeting with God. You’re too broken. You’re too busy. You’re too preoccupied. You’re living in a cesspool society. But, you need good reasons to do so…a powerful WHY that will inspire you to keep at it no matter what. You need a vision that resonates deep within that keeps calling to you in times of struggle and confusion.

A WHY is a reason, belief ore cause that motivates and inspires.

WHY

Made popular by Start with WHY and his TED talk on the subject, Simon Sinek presents an alternative way to live life and motivate others. Inspiration comes when people know WHY a company, organization, or product exists. Answering WHY helps capture the heart and motivates people from the inside out. 

The problem with evangelical Christianity is that many WHYs are presented which do not measure up. Why do we exist as Christians? What’s our purpose?

The answers are all over the map. Often, one phrase is taken from scripture and is made the absolute purpose for our existence. For example: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16.15). Or, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6.8). Or, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6.33). Or,”Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12.13-14). Or, “Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22.37). 

Then there’s St. Paul. In Philippians 3.9-10, Paul says that he wants nothing more than to know Christ and “be found in Him,” to have His righteousness and to live by faith in Him, even if it meant suffering and dying. Paul’s purpose was knowing Christ. Are we to be like him? 

Good Presbyterians would answer WHY with: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That sounds good. I wonder how it works out in real life. 

This all sounds confusing. Maybe there isn’t just one WHY to the Christian life. Or, maybe the answer is so simple we miss it.

Could it be that we’re trying so hard to find the answer in the Bible when the answer is a person? What if our purpose – our WHY – to the Christian life is Jesus Christ? He is our source, inspiration, cause, purpose, life, and reason for living. As we experience Him, we experience all we need to know to “live, move, and have our being.”

That sounds really good. Now, how in the world do we get to know Jesus Christ? 

The Heart 

Christians talk about the heart when they talk about knowing God. Yet, they primarily think this means engaging God with the intellect or emotions. It is good to use these faculties. However, knowing God is not just an intellectual understanding or emotional feeling. Knowing God includes the whole person – body, soul, and mind.

Knowing God begins and continues by engaging the heart. God wants your heart. You need God’s heart to be yours. 

An overlooked but trustworthy means to know Jesus Christ is to be with Him in solitude. It is in quiet, secluded time with the Trinity that Christ’s life in you can be experienced and can begin to be lived out. 

WHY solitude?

I share with you three WHY’s for your spiritual journey, especially as you commit to being with God in solitude. 

1. To experience communion with God; to know God. Is there any greater reason for living? Most of what we think about the Christian life has to do with WHAT we do or HOW we do it. But the reality that we exist to live IN the Triune God blows everything else away. To know God is to live in union with Him; it is not primarily an intellectual experience. Think of this in terms of your relationship with your spouse in marriage. To be in solitude with God is to learn to be in communion with Him all the time. 1 Cor. 1.9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the communion of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

2. To enter the Mystery of the Trinity. This is similar to #1 but with an emphasis on the mystery that God is. God is beyond our knowing. This seems to contradict what I’ve just said about knowing God. But they are both true. I like how Dr. Thomas Hopko says it, “We cannot know God, but we have to know Him to know that.” What he’s saying is that we can’t know the essence of God but we can experience some of what He reveals to us about Himself. God is a Mystery we’re invited into, not to solve (as we often think of “mysteries”) but to explore. The Trinity is a mystery we enter into and spend a lifetime searching and probing. 

3. To know that you are being obedient. There is something to the feeling of assurance – a sense of goodness – when you know that what’s going on in you and in your actions is right. It’s a feeling of “shalom” — peace, delight, goodness, fulfillment, satisfaction, wonder, and joy all rolled up into one real awareness of the presence of God. All of this comes in true obedience as you “seek first the kingdom of God,” “come after [Jesus], deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow [Jesus],” and “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and body.” Why be with God in solitude on your journey? Because of the shalom of obedience  that comes from actually being with God.  

Please take some time to think about and meditate on these WHYs. It will make a difference as you meet the Trinity in solitude and as you struggle in these times. 

Dr. K