How to Have a Full-filling 2018

The Secret is Letting Go

The good life does not mean getting more but means letting go. True spirituality has more to do with subtraction than it does with addition. This is the teaching of Jesus, His Apostles and Church, and all saints throughout the ages. It’s only in modern Christianity that prosperity, gain, and success have been made part of the gospel. It’s the poor that are blessed while it’s almost impossible for the rich to enter the Kingdom. How has the Christian life and its teachings gotten so messed up? 

Here is a powerful truth that can change your life…

All great spirituality is about letting go. Instead we have made it be about taking in, attaining, performing, winning, and succeeding. Spirituality has become a show we perform for ourselves, which God does not need. True spirituality mirrors the paradox of life itself. It trains us in both detachment and attachment, detachment from the passing so we can attach to the substantial. But if you do not acquire good training in detachment, you may attach to all the wrong things, especially your own self-image and its desire for security. Self-interest becomes very well disguised, often passing for religion. Richard Rohr in Adam’s Return, p. 5

God let go. He let go of His heavenly position, took on flesh, coming to earth to live and die and live again. St. Paul writes about His self-emptying in Philippians 2 – “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing [a prize] to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus Christ did not hold tight to all the glories of heaven but released them emptying himself to take on the nature of a human being.

You and I are to have this same mindset – letting go of everything deemed significant, becoming nothing, so we might become truly human in Christ. 

Bible Examples of Detachment 

Every godly Bible character and every saint has lived a life of detachment. They willingly gave up family, lands, possessions, wealth, ideas about God, friends, country, and even physical life to gain what God willed for them. 

  • Moses let go of an excuse – “I cannot speak” – to do God’s bidding. 
  • Abraham let go of his native land to go to a country he did not know but God did. 
  • Ruth let go of her Moabite culture and followed Naomi to new life in Bethlehem, marriage to Boaz, and motherhood to the grandfather of King David. 
  • Mary willingly became the fleshly home of God, devoting every fiber of her being to the Son of God. 
  • All the Apostles let go of their vocations and families to follow Jesus. 
  • Peter let go of his understanding of Christ’s crucifixion and of a Jews-only gospel. 

The examples are endless. The core activity in our relationship with God is letting go. 

God or Me?

Does God detach stuff from you or do you do it? Like all of the Christian life, it is a synergistic, cooperative effort between God and you. Apart from Christ, you can do nothing especially when it comes to ridding yourself of your attachments. 

In our church youth group in the late 60’s, with all the sincerity a 13-year-old could muster, I’d sing these words…

Treasures

One by one He took them from me,
All the things I valued most,
Until I was empty-handed;
Every glittering toy was lost.

And I walked earth’s highways, grieving.
In my rags and poverty.
Till I heard His voice inviting,
“Lift your empty hands to Me!”

So I held my hands toward heaven,
And He filled them with a store
Of His own transcendent riches,
Till they could contain no more.

And at last I comprehended
With my stupid mind and dull,
That God COULD not pour His riches
Into hands already full!

Author: Martha Snell Nicholson

 

It is true that fingers clenched around our obsessions, addictions, and attachments prevent God from filling us with His treasures. However, we must open our hands. He does not force those attachments from us without our cooperation. We’re in this emptying process together. That’s what makes detachment even possible. He invites and enables us to empty our hands before He invites us to lift them to Him. 

New Year’s Resolutions in the Light – Detachment

Why not apply these ideas to your New Year’s resolutions as you approach 2018? What attachment might God be asking you to detach from this year?

Here are some areas to consider…

  • Certain theological ideas
  • Divisive political views 
  • Crusty Attitudes
  • Unrealistic dreams for yourself or someone you love
  • Unwarranted opinions about people and ideas
  • Harmful behaviors and habits
  • Subtle love of money or wealth
  • Need for recognition 
  • Demand to control and/or to manipulate people or events
  • Toxic emotions like anger, anxiety or fear 

A unique detachment takes the form of forgiveness. Forgiveness means letting go of the desire for payback, justice, revenge, or punishment. According to Dr. R.T. Kendall, author and pastor, a key component of forgiveness is releasing the bitterness in your heart concerning what a person has done to you (Total Forgiveness, p. 8). Forgiveness is about letting go. 

It is heartbreaking when a Christian stubbornly holds on to beliefs, habits, opinions, wealth or possessions, and feelings unwilling even to consider the harmful spiritual effects these attachments have on their own life and their relationship with God.

Though not a one of us is exempt from attachments, we fear letting them go. 

The challenge is to take time now to evaluate and begin cutting yourself free of harmful attachments. 

2018 Detach – Attach: A Personal Challenge

For me, it’s sugar. I’m addicted to sugar. I have a visceral attachment to sugar that makes candy, sugared cereal, sodas, and cookies almost irresistible. This is not primarily a health issue but a spiritual one. I want to see if I can experience God’s grace and power in the midst of my addiction to sugar so that the result is self-control, a fruit of the Spirit. Detach from sugar; attach to self-control. Seems small and simple, huh?!?  I don’t think so. 

Due to writing this post, I’ve already started detaching from sugar. Good grief! As I walk through the grocery store, every sugary item shouts at me: “Buy me!” “Eat me!” “I’m so delicious!”  Leave it to me to start doing this right at Christmas time. Sometimes I wonder if I’m insane. 

“Let sugar go by the grace of God” is my 2018 “mantra.”  Please pray for me as I go through withdrawal. 

What will you “let go” in 2018?

If you are concerned about your relationship with God this coming year, there will be something He’ll invite you to release. Cooperate with Him. Face your fear of letting go. Find His grace sufficient. Experience a result that makes you more like Jesus. 

Share below what you’ll detach from this coming year. If you do, I commit to pray for you and your struggle to detach. 

Dr. K 

The Way We Think About Christmas Is Messed Up

Celebrate the Incarnation and Find a Proper Place for the Birth Event

This is not a post yelling at people for taking Christ out of Christmas. Nor am I going to take a poke at the commercialization of Christmas though it is out of control. As good and fun as it is to give gifts, attend parties, sing about Santa Claus, dress in red, and celebrate Christ’s birth, it’s more profound to recognize that Christmas is about God becoming human. In other words, Christmas is more about the incarnation of Jesus than about the birth of Jesus.

We’re just messed up when it comes to understanding Christmas. For example:

We think Mary was just an empty vessel God used to bring Jesus into the world. Nothing more. Her total devotion to God in the Temple is forgotten. Her purity is dismissed. That she is to be called “blessed” by every generation is rejected. The fact that God took human flesh from Mary to become a human being is new information to most Christians.

We also think it’s critical that we get all the details of that first Christmas night exactly right. People argue over the exact birth place of Jesus – manger, cave, home, barn, etc. What was Joseph’s role? Since no exact time of year is given in scripture, people quibble over an exact date – spring, winter, summer or fall? December or January? Pagan holiday? December 25? There’s debate over the timing of the Magi’s visit. Yet, no Christmas details are given in Mark. Add that early Christian writers were more interested in Jesus’ death and resurrection than in his birth and you’ve got quite a debate on your hands. If only Matthew and Luke could have been more specific about all these “necessary” details.

We wonder why the Gospel writers provide scant information about the birth itself. Matthew records that Mary “brought forth a Son” and Luke writes, “she brought forth her first-born Son…” That’s it. There are only two short phrases in the Gospels about Jesus’ birth. We’d like to know how long Mary was in labor or Jesus’ height and weight. Was it an easy delivery? Who assisted? Any complications? What time? How well are mommy and baby doing? Sorry. He is born. Enough said.

We’re just messed up when it comes to the Christmas story and Christmas itself. Could it be that the birth of Jesus is not the real story? Could the significance of Jesus’ birth lie elsewhere, not in the details? I think so.

Simply put, the real story of Christmas is that God becomes flesh and blood. He is Emmanuel – God with us in the form of a human baby.

Examples in Scripture

Gabriel explains to highly-favored Mary that she will give birth to a son who is named Jesus. He will be called the Son of the Most High and be given his father David’s throne, rule the house of Jacob, and have an everlasting kingdom. He is the Son of God though born of a human being.

Elizabeth calls Jesus before His birth, “my Lord.”

Matthew comments that Jesus fulfills Isiah’s prophecy that “the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is interpreted [literally] ‘with us, God.’”

The shepherds are told that Jesus is a Savior, the Anointed One, and Lord. The details given to the shepherds are a “sign” to the truth the angels declare.

In other words, there’s more said about who Jesus is than his actual birth. That needs to be our focus as well.

The Significance of the Incarnation 

I fear that with the focus on Jesus’ birth, the understanding of Jesus’ incarnation is lost. Modern Christian culture and her people have become so narrowly enamored with the “birth-of-Jesus event “ that His being and purpose have grown fuzzy on the periphery.

Early Christian writers, unfettered by modern ideas or concerns, knew what God coming in the flesh meant. A good example of this is found in the writings of St. Athanasius (296-373) in his work entitled On the Incarnation. He states that due to the corruption of the human race with resulting death, Jesus Christ took on flesh so humans could be made incorruptible through life in Christ.

Pitying our race, moved with compassion for our own limitations, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father – a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt.

The significance of Christ’s first coming lies in the fact that He takes on flesh rather than the fact that he is born. Obviously, His birth and physical development are not insignificant. God didn’t just appear as a mature young man. Yet, His simple birth, amazing life, and confounding death only make sense in light of the incarnation.

I can’t help myself. Here are a couple more beautiful and significant excerpts from St. Athanasius on God becoming flesh, the incarnation:

The marvelous truth is, that being the Word, so far from being Himself contained all things Himself. In creation He is present everywhere, yet is distinct in being from it; ordering, directing, giving life to all, containing all, yet is He Himself the Uncontained, existing solely in His Father.

At one and the same time – this is the wonder – as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father. Not even His birth from a virgin, therefore, changed Him in any way, nor was He defiled by being in the body. Rather, He sanctified the body by being in it. For His being in everything does not mean that He shares the nature of everything, only that He gives all things their being and sustains them in it.

Glorious incarnation indeed! It must not be ignored.

Irenaeus of Lyons, born in 130 AD in Asia Minor and dying as a martyr in the third century, fought against Gnosticism recorded in Against the Heresies. He taught that the flesh and blood which the Gnostics despised, was assumed by God in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Irenaeus provides multiple reasons for the incarnation, one of which is:

It was for this reason that the Word of God, though perfect, became a child in solidarity with mankind. He did not do this for His own sake but because of the state of childhood in which man then existed. He wanted to be received in a way that suited man’s capacity to receive.

He most famously wrote: “In His immeasurable love, He became what we are in order to make us what He is.” God became like a human so a human can become like God. The implications of the incarnation challenge your very being. This reality gets lost if your focus is only on Christ’s birth.

Again, in the writings of these early Christian theologians and in the ongoing unified witness of the Church, Christ’s coming to earth was a celebration of His incarnation not His birth. Be cautious to not let Luke 2 overwhelm Philippians 2.

This Christmas, I hope we all live more fully into the reality of Christ’s incarnation. He became what we are in order to make us what He is. Thanks be to God. 

Dr. K 

Prayer 101: The Essential Prayer to Essential Prayer

Jesus Knows Best

I could hear the frustration in her voice. Listening to a call-in podcast, I heard Lisa talk about her failings with prayer. She wanted to pray, but didn’t really know how to make it a better experience. “I know I should pray. So I do it. But, it’s so hard. I must be doing something wrong. I have to make myself pray. I feel guilty when I’m not consistent and when I struggle. What would you say to someone like me?” she asked the host of the talk show. 

The pastor-host proceeded to give her excellent advise. Prepare a space for prayer. Include natural light and/or candle light or light from an oil lamp. Involve the body by standing, kneeling or crossing yourself. Include a cross, icon, or picture of Jesus. Use a prayer book that includes some psalms. Repeat the Jesus Prayer throughout the day. Establish a prayer rule for morning and evening prayer times. Pray at meals and with others at home and church.

Since he focused on the practical (vs. theological) aspects of prayer, because that was what Lisa was asking about, I thought his response was spot on. I’ve often written about all these elements of an effective prayer life. It was all good. 

It was all a bit overwhelming as well. 

As the pastor-host suggested one good prayer practice after another, I got the feeling that he might be piling on too much information. Sadly, that’s exactly what I would have done in that situation. It takes one to know one. I wondered if Lisa got lost in all the suggestions. What do I do first? What’s most important? Do I have to do it all to be successful? 

So, it got me thinking. What is one simple, doable, practical means to begin establishing a solid prayer life? Is there one essential to prayer that if overlooked makes something of prayer that’s out of character? 

I think this is exactly what a disciple asked Jesus when he said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 

No doubt, the disciples of Jesus were already praying. They often entered the Temple at certain times during the day to pray. They observed Jesus praying and perhaps tried to imitate him. Their observance of the Sabbath would have included prayers. The question asked of Jesus was not because the disciples were at ground zero. 

But, there was something not quite right. They were not used to nor were they familiar with the prayer life Jesus modeled before them. Though He never critiqued how they prayed, they intuitively knew something was amiss. They needed help.

Who better to help them know prayer than the one who actually knows prayer. (That’s a good lesson for us, too!) 

What’s amazing to the spontaneous, “led by the Spirit,” say-what’s-on-your-heart Christian, is that when asked, Jesus gave His followers words to say and a way to say them (in forgiveness, with persistence, while fasting, in humble devotion). He gave them a prayer book not a prayer lecture; words to say not words to study.  

“Out of my experience and understanding of what it is to commune with the Father,” Jesus says, “say these words and you will learn how to pray. When you pray, say…

Our Father, hallowed be your name. 

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread and

forgive us our debts as we forgive everyone indebted to us. 

And lead us not into temptation, 

But deliver us from the evil one. 

This prayer from the lips, heart, and experience of Jesus is the one essential to your prayer life. To neglect this prayer is to neglect prayer. It is prayer. It is how you learn to pray. Say what you may, it must be essential to how you pray. 

Those who would push back on this due to their bias against set prayers, liturgical prayers, or written prayers are pushing back against Jesus himself. This is what Jesus prescribed. How do you argue against Him? 

This prayer is not primarily given to analyze, sermonize, or exegete. It is given to pray. Just pray it! 

The way to pray is to pray this way. 

How can you do this? 

  1. Memorize the words by praying them over and over. 
  2. Pray these words during the day. Early church fathers taught to say these words morning, noon, and night. For us that might be when we awake, at noon, and before we go to bed. This might correspond to your meal times so that you pray these words in giving thanks before each meal. 
  3. Pray this prayer when awake during the night. These words can replace anxious and niggling thoughts making sleep possible again. 

It’s that simple. Say the “Lord’s Prayer” three times a day. Can you do that? Of course! 

The challenge is to remember to do this. Here are some practical suggestions: 

  • Pray this prayer before you eat. Rarely do you skip meals. If you eat three meals a day, it’s a natural. 
  • Set an alarm on your phone or watch to go off morning, noon, and night. 
  • Connect it to an activity like driving to work or home after work. Pray these words before you pull out of the driveway in the morning and when you pull into it in the evening. Pray it when you boot up the computer and when you shut it down. 
  • Pray it anytime but especially when doing physical labor. 

The important thing is to pray these words from your heart in communion with the Holy Trinity. You don’t even need to know their full meaning. The prayer will become meaningful as you pray it. 

Praying the “Lord’s Prayer” three times a day is an essential and simple way to learn to pray. It’s not complicated or intimidating, difficult or exhausting. It is beautiful and satisfying. 

You can succeed in prayer by following Jesus’ instruction, fittingly, three times a day. Why not begin right now. 

How are you struggling with prayer? How can this simple prayer reminder help your prayer life? Share below. 

Dr. K