Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God…

Note:  This is the conclusion to yesterdays post.  Both pieces are also posted together– here –in a single article.

The admonition of the Lord is to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”, trusting God to supply our needs and to work in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.   This means, on the one hand, giving priority to the order of Being (i.e. “learning in whatsoever state we are, therewith to be content” and praying, in any event, “not my will, but thine be done”); and it means, on the other hand, being content to let the order of appearances unfold as God wills (just without falling asleep at the wheel).

To be sure, we all know, in many respects, what the will of God is–and it is up to us, indeed, to be about our Father’s business.  And while it is certainly up to us, as well, to exercise discernment and discretion as we follow the particulars of his leading in this or that area of our life, it is also the case (regardless of the particulars) that “I” am called (without exception) to exchange “my” will for God’s will and to exchange my own “headship” for the headship of Christ.

With regard to the former– the surrender of our will to the will of God –a G.K. Chesterton quote comes to mind;

The truth is, that all genuine appreciation rests on a certain mystery of humility and almost of darkness. The man who said, “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed,” put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised.” The man who expects nothing sees redder roses than common men can see, and greener grass, and a more startling sun. Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall possess the cities and the mountains; blessed is the meek, for he shall inherit the earth. Until we realize that things might not be we cannot realize that things are. Until we see the background of darkness we cannot admire the light as a single and created thing. As soon as we have seen that darkness, all light is lightening, sudden, blinding, and divine. ~ Heretics

God has a way of pleasantly surprising us, does he not? As such, we must never fear that in following the order of Being (instead of attempting to manipulate the order of appearances), that life will somehow pass us by.   No price is too high that keeps us in the center of God’s will.

With regard to the latter– the surrender of our headship to the headship of Christ the truth sounds so silly, on the face of it, that we may hesitate to articulate it (fearing also, perhaps, lest we cast our pearls before swine).  But then again– it is so obvious –no one can fail to see it if only they will have a look for themselves (unlike the priests in Galileo’s day, who refused to look through his telescope).

So, here goes:  Did you ever notice that you don’t really have a head as you ordinarily imagine it?

Given our neo-Darwinian conditioning, especially, it is natural to think of ourselves as simply these bodies that we see when we look in the mirror.  It’s no wonder that we tend think of ourselves merely as higher primates whose truth and being extends no further than the epidermis of our apparent bodies.  Of course, we have all been conditioned to think like this, but when we suspend our conditioning in this regard and really have a look for ourselves, we see that where other people see a head, we don’t see a head at all.  Rather, we see the light of the world and all that appears therein:

single-eye-hands

1p-pointingNote:  These images are borrowed from The Headless Way website–an organization promoting the work of Douglas Harding (the general contours of whose work, it is worth noting, C.S. Lewis was acquainted with and admired).

Of course, one’s initial inclination may be to reject this out of hand as some weird “belief” or strange “doctrine”, but anyone who is sincere would do well resist that inclination and, as before indicated, have a look for yourself…  For, in fact, it is neither a doctrine nor a belief, but a more authentic way of seeing ourelves and the world.   Thomas Traherne had a look for himself (about) 350 years ago and described this pristine awareness in terms of a boundless capacity:

My Spirit

MY naked simple Life was I;
That Act so strongly shin’d
Upon the earth, the sea, the sky,
It was the substance of my mind;
The sense itself was I.
I felt no dross nor matter in my soul,
No brims nor borders, such as in a bowl
We see. My essence was capacity,
That felt all things;
The thought that springs
Therefrom’s itself. It hath no other wings
To spread abroad, nor eyes to see,
Nor hands distinct to feel,
Nor knees to kneel;
But being simple like the Deity
In its own centre is a sphere
Not shut up here, but everywhere.
It acts not from a centre to
Its object as remote,
But present is when it doth view,
Being with the Being it doth note
Whatever it doth do.
It doth not by another engine work,
But by itself; which in the act doth lurk.
Its essence is transformed into a true
And perfect act.
And so exact
Hath God appeared in this mysterious fact,
That ’tis all eye, all act, all sight,
And what it please can be,
Not only see,
Or do; for ’tis more voluble than light,
Which can put on ten thousand forms,
Being cloth’d with what itself adorns.

This made me present evermore
With whatsoe’er I saw.
An object, if it were before
My eye, was by Dame Nature’s law,
Within my soul. Her store
Was all at once within me; all Her treasures
Were my immediate and internal pleasures,
Substantial joys, which did inform my mind.
With all she wrought
My soul was fraught,
And every object in my heart a thought
Begot, or was; I could not tell,
Whether the things did there
Themselves appear,
Which in my Spirit truly seem’d to dwell;
Or whether my conforming mind
Were not even all that therein shin’d.
But yet of this I was most sure,
That at the utmost length.
(So worthy was it to endure)
My soul could best express its strength
It was so quick and pure,
That all my mind was wholly everywhere,
Whate’er it saw, ’twas ever wholly there;
The sun ten thousand legions off, was nigh:
The utmost star,
Though seen from far,
Was present in the apple of my eye.
There was my sight, my life, my sense,
My substance, and my mind;
My spirit shin’d
Even there, not by a transient influence:
The act was immanent, yet there:
The thing remote, yet felt even here.

O Joy! O wonder and delight!
O sacred mystery!
My Soul a Spirit infinite!
An image of the Deity!
A pure substantial light!
That Being greatest which doth nothing seem!
Why, ’twas my all, I nothing did esteem
But that alone. A strange mysterious sphere!
A deep abyss
That sees and is
The only proper place of Heavenly Bliss.
To its Creator ’tis so near
In love and excellence,
In life and sense,
In greatness, worth, and nature; and so dear,
In it, without hyperbole,
The Son and friend of God we see.
A strange extended orb of Joy,
Proceeding from within,
Which did on every side, convey
Itself, and being nigh of kin
To God did every way
Dilate itself even in an instant, and
Like an indivisible centre stand,
At once surrounding all eternity.
’Twas not a sphere,
Yet did appear,
One infinite. ’Twas somewhat every where,
And though it had a power to see
Far more, yet still it shin’d
And was a mind
Exerted, for it saw Infinity.
’Twas not a sphere, but ’twas a might
Invisible, and yet gave light.

O wondrous Self! O sphere of light,
O sphere of joy most fair
O act, O power infinite;
O subtile and unbounded air!
O living orb of sight!
Thou which within me art, yet me! Thou eye,
And temple of His whole infinity!
O what a world art Thou! A world within!
All things appear,
All objects are
Alive in Thee! Supersubstantial, rare,
Above themselves, and nigh of kin
To those pure things we find
In His great mind
Who made the world! Tho’ now eclipsed by sin
There they are useful and divine,
Exalted there they ought to shine.

~ Thomas Traherne (?1636–1674)

Alas, the language is rather archaic, so a second and perhaps a third reading is in order.  But since the poem is also rather long and time may be limited, perhaps it will suffice to revisit these lines in particular:

  • Being simple like the Deity…
  • Not shut up here, but everywhere…
  • God [hath] appeared in this mysterious fact…
  • O sacred mystery!
  • My Soul a Spirit infinite!
  • An image of the Deity!
  • A pure substantial light!
  • That Being greatest which doth nothing seem!
  • The only proper place of Heavenly Bliss.
  • To its Creator ’tis so near…
  • In it, without hyperbole, the Son and friend of God we see…
  • being nigh of kin to God…
  • O wondrous Self! O sphere of light,
  • Thou which within me art, yet me!
  • Thou eye, and temple of His whole infinity!

Once again, it is very easy– and perfectly natural for the egoic mind –to think that we are trapped in these lumps of clay and are peeking out of those two holes which we refer to as “our eyes”.  And while there is no reason to suggest that our bodies aren’t real or that what we refer to as “our eyes” and “our brain” have no relation to the details of what we see, this idea that we have of ourselves as being discrete individuals– individuals who exist separate from one another, from God, and from creation as a whole –is (mytho-poetically speaking, at least) the result of our having eaten of the forbidden fruit and our having become preoccupied with “the knowledge of good and evil”.   As William Blake put it, “Man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

As such– by virtue of our having eaten of this fruit, whether literally or figuratively construed –we find ourselves in exile from our Father’s house and from the garden of God and the Divine presence.  But by the grace God, there is a point of access through the cross of Christ to the mind of Christ which offers a way out of our predicament.  For just as soon as we are willing to abandon “the story of me”– and along with it all our attempts at evading “the cross” and “manipulating the turn of events” in the order of appearances –we can enter into life (i.e. the order of Being), here and now:the pearl hidden in the field of aware presence

Whereas the earlier illustration (i.e. “the story of me“, several pages above) is all about “me” and what “I” hope, fear, and desire (and all about “my” various reactions to what “I” imagine are the current prospects for “my” hopes, fears, and desires being realized), this illustration (immediately above) is about what IS–the gift of God that is given, here and now:

“I know that good . . . is always coming; though few have at all times the simplicity and the courage to believe it. What we call evil, is the only and best shape, which, for the person and his condition at the time, could be assumed by the best good.” ~ George MacDonald

The “present moment”, which in the first illustration is (at least implicitly) “paper thin”, is actually “the narrow gate” that, in the second illustration, opens up into the spacious awareness of our abundant, eternal life in the Spirit (as described by Traherne in his poem and also by Jesus in the sermon on the mount).  This is similar to what Paul Tillich refers to as The Eternal Now and what Boris Mouravieff calls The Real Present).  Thomas Kelly also writes of it in his Testament of Devotion (see below).

Let us speak frankly to anyone who has cared enough– been desperate enough, per chance –to read this far.  This is the key you have been looking for: 

When the Divine presence is recognized and honored, the struggle of Romans 7 is transcended.  There is still a discipline of sorts, but it is the discipline of lucid awareness conjoined with our unconditional trust in and reliance on the presence of God which IS Here & Now.  This is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (aka the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit) which is with us always.

It is easy enough to see these two two orders– these two “gestalts” –and to flip back and forth between them.  Number 1, in the image below, is how we tend to see ourselves in our neo-Darwinian mind’s eye (i.e. in a merely conceptual way, having eaten of the forbidden fruit and having become preoccupied with matters of good and evil).  Number 2, on the other hand, is our actual, first person experience, but most people don’t recognize it–or if they do, they are not inclined to honor it, but quickly revert back to Number 1, instead:

ingen findes

To walk in the Spirit is to relax into the easy yoke which is the mind of Christ (pristine awareness & unconditional trust).  The separate self and all that it desires (in Number 1) must be offered up in exchange for the pearl of great price which is our new life in the Spirit ( present your bodies a living sacrifice ).  So doing, we begin to enjoy the grace and dignity of children of God who, together, participate in the life of the Trinity in this vast community of Spirit that “I Am”.

Taking up our cross in this way– i.e. leaning into the Reality of that which is given, here & now –we receive the gift of God with thanksgiving.   And so doing, we can begin to respond in living faith– creatively and compassionately –to one another and to the challenges of life.  Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof…  My yoke is easy, my burden is light…

“But now what…???”,  the ego is apt to respond (when these two ways of life are first considered).  What’s in it for “me” ???

Indeed, the ego may decide that the cost is too high and choose, instead, to persevere in its prodigal pilgrimage.  And even when we, on balance, have recognized and are committed to the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit, the ego may continue to assert (or attempt to assert) its independence from time to time–attempting to initiate a tug of war…    But having recognized the light of the world in this way, we need no longer play that game…  We have the mind of Christ…. We can simply observein lucid  awareness –the shenanigans of the egoic mind which will eventually play itself out (being deprived of the energy previously supplied to it by our very willingness to play its game).  Indeed, in light of awareness, the various elements of the conflict will tend to reorganize themselves in new and dynamic ways that “our understanding” could never have anticipated.  As such, what before confronted us as an almost demonic conflict, will (in the light of Christ) become a creative cooperation (as we continue to abideclothed and in our right mindin the presence of the Lord).  Or, to use a less extreme example, think simply of the “worries” of Martha, in contrast to the peace of Jesus which Mary enjoys:

mary and martha

This way of seeing or mode of being does not mean that our lives are free from pain or that we have a license to sin.  Rather, it is inextricably bound up with the way of the cross and the surrender of our will to God’s will, whatever the turn of events.   As a result, we begin to live primarily with reference to the order of Being (instead of merely with reference to the order of appearances) and the kingdom of God begins to be reflected in and through our lives as we honor– day in and day out –the Divine presence that is with us always.

In (t)his light, that which needs to be done is done.  In (t)his presence, we can bear the pain of our infirmities and the dis-ease of those desires that must (for whatever reason) go unsatisfied.  Whatever the turn of events, the LORD is our inheritance and, in Him, we find an unfailing sufficiency.  From this standpoint, the Word of Godthe bread from heaven –is our sustanence; and hearing and obeying (t)his Word, we have meat, indeed.  As Thomas Kelly writes:

“The Now is no mere nodal point between the past and the future. It is the seat and region of the Divine Presence itself…. The Now contains all that is needed for the absolute satisfaction of our deepest cravings…. In the Now we are at home at last (A Testament of Devotion).

No doubt, many of those reading this are intimately acquainted with the satisfaction that is to be found in the presence of God (their personal struggles or disappointments, notwithstanding).  The only question is how best to describe this and to share it with others.  The key elements, as presented above, are the light of the world and the Divine presence, “I Am” which are two ways of designating the same Reality — i.e. the image of God in which we are created (the light in which we see light, which is obvious–cf. Psalms 36:9) and the Image of God in us (the Divine presence or Word of God in our hearts–living and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword, per Hebrews 4:12).  Together, these indicate Christ in us, the hope of glory– our point of contact with the order of Being –the point of UNION between our lives and the life of God, between our lives and the life of other human beings (in Christ), and between our lives and the life of the cosmos, as a whole (which is, by extension, the body of Christ/True Nature).  Recognizing and honoring this Divine light/presence, we need only wait upon the Lord who works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

While, in the material above, we have placed more emphasis on what may be characterized as a transcendent (or transcendental ) point of view (i.e. the light of the World and the headship of Christ ), it is worth repeating that the mind of Christ is not disembodied, but is immanent within these apparent bodies and within creation as a whole.  As such, we do not honor Christ by ignoring or disparaging these temples.  Breath awareness and inner-body awareness are also worthy of emphasis.  While these two apparently physical orientations may seem pointless to the those who are lost in the conceptual labyrinths of moral and dogmatic abstractions, they are widely associated with moments of clarity like the one that marked the beginning of the prodigal son’s homeward journey (Luke 15:17-19).  And for those who have ears to hear, the most profound answers to life’s enduring question(s) can be found in the “I Am” presence which transcends all social, cultural, and political categories.  This is not just the thought that “I am”, but the aware Presence that is beyond all that we ask or thinkthe profound sense of Being that is encountered in alert stillness, between each breath we breathe; and in deep silence, between each heartbeat…  This is the essence of contemplative prayer:

  • Be silent and listen (cf. Deuteronomy 27:9).
  • Be still and know that “I Am” God (Psalms 46:10).
  • Open your heart and dine with Him (cf. Revelation 3:20).
  • Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalms 34:8).
  • Abide in Him as He abides in you (John 15:4).
  • Pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17).
  • Trust God to work in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).

Let this be our testimony.  And if anyone finds it incredible– if anyone is tempted to  dismiss it, out of hand –at least be courageous enough beforehand to have look for yourself…

Related articles:

Flesh and Spirit in Conflict
This is an older essay outlining the problem…

The Order of Being and the Life of Faith
This offers further scriptural analysis leading up to the solution…

The Mind of Christ and the Power of the Spirit
This describes the kind of transcendental vision and existential decision which effectively resolves the conflict…

tug of war

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The Mind of Christ and the Power of the Spirit

“Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.”― C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

great divorce1C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce is a classic (those unfamiliar with it may click here for a synopsis).  Given its allegorical nature, it seems reasonable to consider life in Lewis’ “grey town” (hell or purgatory) to be analogous to the life of “the carnally minded” in “this world” [i.e. the life of the “separate self” or “ego” which imagines itself and its concerns to be of absolute importance; and which also considers (what we have elsewhere referred to as) the horizontal dimension to be the only reality].  And like the life of “the ghosts” in “the grey town”–  however dismal (and mostly imaginary) it may be (considered in and of itself) –the life of those who are “carnally minded” (whose “conversation” and “citizenship” is in “this world”) is, nevertheless, not without a point of intersection with  (what we have elsewhere referred to as) the “vertical” dimension (i.e. the Reality that IS the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit).

In fact, our local churches can be understood as vehicles of sorts which, as in Lewis’ novel, offer a kind of transportation to heaven for whosoever will...  Anyone who wishes may get on a bus that will take them to the outskirts of heaven and, arriving there, they really are free to stay if they wish.  So far, so good…

It is worth noting, however, that life on the bus is also subject to a fair amount of deception and confusion for those who are carnally minded.  In order to operate efficiently and effectively, the bus lines must follow certain protocols and may recommend, advocate for, and sometimes even require certain standards of behavior or ways of comporting oneself that all travelers are expected to follow.

This is all well and good– and apparently necessary –but it is not in and of itself sufficient to make our calling and election sure.   In and of itself, such a religious  subculture can quickly devolve into legalistic forms of personal piety (at best) and petty tribalism and hateful sectarianism (at worst).  Following Christ means moving beyond such outward forms of religiosity towards the deeper realities to which these outward forms were originally intended to direct us.

To be sure, we are often exhorted to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) and to “make every effort” (II Peter 1:5), but in the end it must be acknowledged that “he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5); that, indeed, it is “God who works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13); and that it is His divine power that “has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (II Peter 1:3).

So, with regard to the “ego” in Romans 7 (which was the focus of the first article in this series), it seems clear that however sincere and determined he may be, his life is characterized by an inordinate emphasis on “works” and “effort”.    For however desperately he desires to measure up to the law of God, his efforts, nevertheless, continue to reflect his own strength and his own understanding rather than the mind of Christ and power of the Spirit.   This is indicated, in part, by the numerous times that the word “I” is used in chapter 7 (in contrast to the many references to “the Spirit” in chapter 8) as illustrated here.

One of the lessons from all this is that people who attend church and contemplate giving their life to Christ are somewhat like the “ghosts” in The Great Divorce who– if they wished to stay in heaven –had to be willing forget their former lives, in “the grey town” (and their lives on earth, too, for that matter, which seem to have prefigured their afterlife in “the grey town”).

Moreover, those of us who commit our lives to Christ must also move beyond the outward forms of life in and around “the bus”, moving further up and further in– becoming more substantial (spiritually speaking) –as we explore the depths and the riches of the kingdom,  leaning (initially) upon those who have gone before (the saints and fellow citizens with whom we travel) but also (and ultimately) on the grace of God and the power of the Spirit.

As such, to continue with The Great Divorce analogy, while our participation in the practical organization of the bus line (schedules, seating, drivers, protocols) are important, it is also the case that our personal ambition to excel in such activities– our zeal for God, in a sectarian or institutional sense –must not be confused with the abundant life that is possible in and through the power of the Spirit.  Just as the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, so in many respects, the order of our services and many of the contours of our evangelical subculture– both theoretical and practical –are merely preliminary to the kind of deeper walk to which we are called.

And while the local church rightly spends a good deal of time on outward activities and basic teachings which serve as an on-ramp to the Way, these must not to be confused with the Way itself.  Indeed, one of the local church’s primary functions is to facilitate an increasingly profound realization of the depth and riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God among those who are already on the Way (vertically speaking).  And this function would seem to be at least as important as its function as a bus stop which shares the gospel with the world at large (horizontally speaking).

Nevertheless (i.e. despite the undeniable importance of what we sometimes refer to as discipleship and sanctification), there seems to be a natural tendency (among professing Christians and non-Christians alike) to mistake the outward forms of worship and personal piety for the inward grace.   As such, even the most sincere and determined seeker– one who, according to his or her lights, delights in the law of God after the inner man, per Romans 7:22 (συνήδομαι γὰρ τῷ νόμῳ τοῦ Θεοῦ κατὰ τὸν ἔσω ἄνθρωπον) –may not yet have been strengthened in [his or her] inner being with power through [God’s] Spirit, per Ephesians 3:16  (δυνάμει κραταιωθῆναι διὰ τοῦ Πνεύματος αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν ἔσω ἄνθρωπον).  So, the question remains, how to more clearly recognize (and more effectively share with others) the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit so that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith–not merely in a nominal way, but in the living and powerful way that Paul has in mind in Romans 8 and Ephesians 3.

With regard to that question, we discussed in some detail the following equation (or approximate equation) in the first article in this series, The Order of Being and the Life of Faith:

Two Men ≈ Two Minds ≈ Two Worlds or Two Kingdoms:
The Order of Appearances & The Order of Being

And apropos of that discussion, while there is plenty of room for disagreement about this or that detail (or the meaning and application of this or that verse of scripture), it is impossible to deny the general contours of the relationship between these two men, their two minds, and the two very different “worlds” in which they dwell.  While an ego like the one portrayed in Romans 7 delights in the law of God as (s)he understands it– whether the law of Moses, per se, or the ideals articulated in our contemporary Christian communities —(s)he is still attempting to actualize those ideals in his (or her) own strength and merely with reference to the “horizontal” plane (i.e. the order of appearances).  (S)he is making certain efforts, it seems, with a view to obtaining certain results– i.e. (s)he is hoping and expecting to conform to the law of God and, as a result, to appear a certain way in his (or her) own eyes and in the eyes of others –but (s)he perpetually falls short.  Nevertheless, (s)he is sincere and determined and, by the grace of God, eventually finds deliverance through a living faith in the living Word of God:

“Wretched man that I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God [who will rescue me] through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin [until I am rescued through faith in Jesus Christ]” ~ Romans 7:24-25, [paraphrased].

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For [having been rescued through faith] the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death [so that you are no longer a slave to the law of sin]” ~ Romans 8:1-2, [paraphrased].

Note:  For an explanation of this paraphrasing, see Flesh and Spirit in Conflict.

This hearkens back to Chapter 6:

“We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:6-7).

And while the word “faith” and “grace” (somewhat surprisingly) do not appear in Romans 7 and 8, clearly, those primary themes from the earlier chapters (especially 3 – 6) are implicit in the text:

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.  

In contrast to this statement of faith in Romans 5– and to the detailed description provided in Romans 8 –the ego in Romans 7 does not seem to be living an authentic life in and through the Spirit.  Listen to Romans 8:

Romans 8:9 But if God’s Spirit lives in you, you are under the control of your spiritual nature, not your corrupt nature. Whoever doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ doesn’t belong to him. 10 However, if Christ lives in you, your bodies are dead because of sin, but your spirits are alive because you have God’s approval. 11 Does the Spirit of the one who brought Jesus back to life live in you? Then the one who brought Christ back to life will also make your mortal bodies alive by his Spirit who lives in you. 12 So, brothers and sisters, we have no obligation to live the way our corrupt nature wants us to live. 13 If you live by your corrupt nature, you are going to die. But if you use your spiritual nature to put to death the evil activities of the body, you will live. 14 Certainly, all who are guided by God’s Spirit are God’s children. 15 You haven’t received the spirit of slaves that leads you into fear again. Instead, you have received the spirit of God’s adopted children by which we call out, “Abba! Father!”

Unfortunately, when the person who is stuck in Romans 7 reads Romans 8, this description of our new life in the Spirit is usually misunderstood as an exhortation to work that much harder in an effort to appear a certain way and to achieve certain outward results on the horizontal plane.  Here is the way the natural (wo)man (or the carnal Christian) conceives of himself or herself:

old-self

Note that this way of understanding ourselves is illustrated here in the form of a “thought bubble”.  While this “idea” of ourselves seems plausible enough, at first glance, a closer look will reveal that it has little correspondence to Reality.  Far from reflecting the order of Being and the Reality of Life, this is the order of appearances at its most superficial and deceptive.  It portrays “me” as separate from God, from nature, and from other people–and attributes a measure of freedom to this imagined separate self for which there is little if any justification.

Imagine trying to prove to someone that the earth is round when they think that it is flat…  One way to do this (assuming they are very obstinate and you both have the time and resources) is to take them, compass in hand, and follow some precise bearing along the surface of the earth (e.g. along the same latitudinal or longitudinal line) until, together, you reach the point you set out from (at which point, they will see the light).

In a similar way, the person in Romans 7 mistakenly thinks that it is up to them to live up to their ideal by the sheer force of their will, but if (s)he is both sincere and determined, chances are (s)he will eventually explore all the nooks and crannies of the carnal mind and will, eventually reach the place (s)he set out from and know it for the first time (at which point (s)he may be ready, by the grace of God, to relax into the easy yoke which is the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit).  But in the meantime, the struggle continues and (returning to The Great Divorce analogy) is even encouraged by many of his or her fellow passengers on the bus (and perhaps by the bus driver, too–and by much of the literature distributed by the bus line).

Perhaps this is a necessary stage that must be traversed.   Perhaps we should even entertain the question as to whether (or to what extent) it is really wise to try to help others to circumvent this struggle (remembering the story that is sometimes told  about caterpillars and how trying to “help” them out of their cocoon can have a deleterious effect, leaving without the necessary muscles to support their wings in flight).  Nevertheless, it still seems a shame that so many people– rather than recognizing and trusting in the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit –continue to live defeated, frustrated lives (often giving up completely), not realizing that there is, in fact, a way of seeing and a mode of Being that transcends the tug-of-war in Romans 7.

In the first article in this series, we referred to this way of seeing as “the order of Being” in contrast to “the order of appearances”.  No doubt many people (by the grace of God) discover the order of Being without fully understanding how they happened onto it and without really being able to explain it to anyone else (and we must acknowledge that it ultimately defies our conceptual categories, in any event).  But it is also the case that many others want nothing to do with this even after it has been pointed out to them (and explained to the extent that it can be).  Nevertheless, for those who both recognize and honor it, this is the Way of Truth and Life.

No doubt many of us caught glimpses of the Way long before we saw it clearly (or were morally and emotionally prepared to follow it).   This is especially true, perhaps, if we had no nominal “faith” and/or no living cultural context through which to understand those glimpses.   In such circumstances– in such relatively barren, rocky soil –the significance of such glimpses may not be fully appreciated and the way of Life which they suggest may not be given the attention that it deserves.

Moreover, even when we are open to the idea of God and to the possibility of being led by the Spirit, we may still imagine ourselves as failures and may still be hoping to somehow set things right by virtue of our own efforts and intelligence (through sheer determination or force of will in conjunction with our native talents and abilities).

At some point, however– by the grace of God –we finally realize the futility of this way of living and abandon that strategy once and for all when the choice between these two ways of life finally becomes clear and we consciously surrender to the order of Being.  Prior to that,  however, we may feel that we have no choice but to lean upon our own understanding as we attempt to coerce ourselves into achieving certain goals– and sometimes  attempt to manipulate others, as well –in our unceasing efforts to control the turn of events.  All of this is, on balance, an effort to redeem the past and secure the future as we attempt to make the story of “me” end happily and successfully (both in our own eyes and the eyes of others).  Such efforts, needless to say, are a fool’s errand…

If, during such struggles, we identify ourselves– and are identified by others –as Christians, we nevertheless do not (on balance) experience the joy of our (putative) salvation.  Fear, guilt, and despair tend to dominate our lives as we persevere in our attempts to secure the objects of our desire and to cultivate habits and relationships that we imagine to be “good”–and to avoid those things and people that we imagine to be “evil” (or otherwise undesirable).

By and large, the present does not really exist for us when we are in this state–and the presence of God is by no means consistently recognized and honored.  Instead, the Reality that is NOW is, for us, primarily a means to some imagined end (a paper-thin dimension in which we are both haunted by the past and alternatively teased and terrified by the future); and whether we are “saved” or not, in any technical sense, when it comes to the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we still haven’t found what we are looking for.

Of course, this is not to suggest that our concern with particular objects of desire and with our personal relationships are always illegitimate–not by any means…  Our heavenly Father knows that we have need of such things…  And, as indicated earlier, it is not as if our sincere and determined effort to honor God is not also good and necessary.  But in both regards, the admonition of the Lord is to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”, trusting God to supply our needs and to work in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Note:  To read the remainder of this article, follow this link and scroll about a third of the way down the page:

–> The Mind of Christ and the Power of the Spirit

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The Order of Being and the Life of Faith

Leaving aside the problem of evil (which is touched upon in our Skeptic’s Corner), perhaps the biggest barrier erected by our modern minds against a saving knowledge of the truth is the chronic incongruity between (both) our sincere ideals (and our pious rhetoric), on the one hand, and our actual lived experience, on the otherWhile we may rightly refrain from judging others, it is difficult not to despair in the face of our own failures and inconsistencies.

This general sense of incongruity and personal inconsistency comes to light as follows:

  • in the conflict that we experience between the flesh and the spirit (a la Romans 7)
  • in the apparent absence (in our personal experience) of anything remotely resembling the promised victory over this conflict (a la Romans 8)
  • and in the underwhelming evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (a la Galatians 5).

The purpose of this essay (together with its sequel) is to attempt to remove the aforementioned sense of incongruity (construed as an obstacle to faith) by further illuminating this classic conflict, together with its ultimate resolution.  We will attempt to accomplish this by drawing a careful distinction between the carnal mind, on the one hand (together with the order of appearances which is its correlate), and the mind of Christ, on the other (which is itself the order of Being) — and also by showing how those who sincerely desire to transcend this conflict (which arises in the order of appearances) can do so if (and insofar as) they authentically recognize and honor Reality (which IS the mind of Christ).

If that seems like a lot to take in all at once, try breaking it down as follows:

  1. The order of appearances is generated in, by, and for the mind of the flesh…
  2. The order of Being, in contrast, IS the mind of Christ, aka Reality or True Nature (in contrast to Fallen Nature).
  3. The conflict of Romans 7 arises at the point of intersection between these two minds (or orders) as we take our eyes off the Lord and attempt to proceed (in the order of appearances) on the strength of the flesh alone.
  4. More precisely, the individual who is experiencing the conflict is attempting to replicate, in the order of appearances, an ideal that can only be realized– indeed, IS only realized –by the mind of Christ in the order of Being.
  5. Deliverance comes when we are able to recognize (and distinguish between) each of these “minds” or “orders” and are willing to give due honor and precedence to the mind of Christ.
  6. It is at this point that our apparent lives begin to reflect that which we ARE– in Chirst –in the order of Being, rather than our desire to merely appear a certain way (whether in our own eyes, in the eyes of others, perhaps, or even– as we may imagine it –in the eyes of God).

Assuming that is at least partially intelligible, so far so good…   Let us consider two additional points of reference that should help to further situate and frame the discussion which is to follow:

1) Just as there are two archetypical men– Adam and Christ –so there are two archetypical minds: that of the flesh and that of the Spirit…

With regard to these two men and their respective minds, it may be helpful to think of the former (the carnal mind) as being entirely oriented towards that which is sometimes referred to as the horizontal dimension, while the latter (the mind of the Spirit) is vertically inclined.  Whereas the former tends to think (exclusively) in terms of genealogy and causality and is preoccupied with control in its temporal relationships (perpetually attempting to reconstruct the past and anticipate the future), the latter is, in contrast, steadfastly attuned to our Spiritual origin and destiny (i.e. our eternal life in Christ).  As it is written:

  • “Marvel not that I say unto you, you must be born from above” (John 3:7).
  • “We have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16).
  • “Old things  have passed away, behold all things have become new and all things are of God” (II Corinthians 5:17).

2) The flesh and the mind of the flesh can be fruitfully compared to the “ego” or the “egoic mind” (see also: The Carnal Mind ≈ The Egoic Mind).

With regards to this second point of reference, more conservative readers may want to consult John Piper’s The War Within: Flesh Vs. Spirit.  While this reference to Piper should not be construed as an endorsement of his more general perspective, it is worth noting that he also seems to acknowledge that “the flesh” or “the mind of the flesh” is at least roughly equivalent to the ego.

And when it comes to the egoic mind, generally, let us each simply look within ourselves and observe:

  • the running mental commentary that is seldom absent from our lives…
  • our personal preoccupation with the story of “me”
  • our preoccupation with manipulating outcomes so as to secure that which is “good”, in our eyes, and to avoid that which we fear or otherwise judge to be “evil”…
  • our overarching concern with our personal ambition or success and, generally speaking, with that which enhances our personal prestige…
  • and even, at times, our inordinate awareness of and preoccupation with our own personal failures and regrets.

Each of the bulleted items above are– or at least can be and tend to be –a manifestation of the carnal or egoic mind.  Moreover, in the New Testament (especially in the gospels and the Pauline epistles), it is repeatedly said that such personal preoccupations must be left behind–that, indeed, even the most innocent of our personal preferences must be subordinated to the will of God as we take up our cross:

  • “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me…” (Matthew 16:24).
  • “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized” (Mark 10:39).
  • “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
  • “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ…” (Philippians 3:7).

In short, whatever the turn of events, His grace is sufficient… (cf. II Corinthians 12:9).  We need not lean on our own understanding… (cf. Proverbs 3: 5).

Moreover, in addition to these foregoing points of reference, most of us would also agree that the story of Adam and Eve, the gospel narratives, and the Pauline epistles– together –serve to illuminate our first-hand experience of these two minds and their respective orientations to these two very different dimensions (i.e. the flesh and the Spirit; the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God; time and eternity; fallen nature and True Nature; appearance and Reality; etc).

Perhaps we can agree, as well, that as we (by the grace of  God) become more fully aware of (and more appropriately oriented to) these two dimensions, we can begin to properly distinguish between “the carnal mind” and “the mind of Christ” in our own experience–and can, as a result, stay more fully connected to the locomotive of the Spirit (according to Piper’s metaphor) through which we find deliverance from the conflict in Romans 7.

With these things in mind, then, let us consider a series of scriptures with which most readers will be familiar, but which they may never have considered in this light.  In addition to highlighting the distinction between the flesh and the Spirit, generally, this analysis will also serve to demonstrate that while, in the order of Being (i.e. with regards to our eternal life), Christ (and our creation in Christ) is prior, it is nevertheless the case that in the order of appearances (i.e. with regards to our personal and cultural narratives), Adam (the so-called natural man) comes first.

Referring to these two “orders”, as such, is not without its limitations, but this way of framing the discussion should help to clarify the distinction between these two minds and their respective worlds or kingdoms.  With that goal in mind, we will paraphrase the scriptures below by interpolating [in brackets] some references to each of these two “orders”, as follows:

[the order of Being] or [the order of appearances].

As we shall see, the carnal/egoic mind, considers the horizontal/natural/temporal dimension (i.e. the order of appearances) to be the only reality (or the only reality that really matters, at any rate).  And when the personal ego or “I” usurps the place and presence of God in our hearts– attempting to rule, instead of being willing to serve –this is the “mind” with which we become wholly identified.  As a result, we become fully immersed (or lost) in the (merely) apparent world which is thereby generated. 

But it is also the case that we have the mind of Christ and that (in and through Him) we also have access to the vertical/eternal dimension (i.e. the order of Being) in and through the power of the Spirit.  As such– insofar as we live and walk in the Spirit — it may legitimately be said that we are crucified with Christ and that we no longer live (which means that the “I” no longer sets on the throne of our hearts, trying to manipulate the flow of appearances), but that Christ lives in us (the One who IS before Abraham was – in the order of Being, as such – in the beginning with God).

Relinquishing the throne of our hearts in this way, we die to “the world” (as represented in and understood by the carnal mind) and become alive to the kingdom of God (which IS the mind of Christ–aka Reality or True Nature).

When it is said that we have access to “the vertical dimension” or “the order of Being”, this is not to suggest that we will have (or should desire to have) imaginal (or prophetic) visions of supersensible realms or celestial beings (or future events).  Any such (alleged) experience– and even the desire to experience such things –is usually considered suspect (and rightly so).  Without denying or disparaging any experience that may authentically unfold in our lives, we would do well– as a general rule of thumb –to adopt Thoreau’s deathbed observation as our motto, namely, one  world at a time! 

What is important is not whether we have celestial or prophetic  visions, but whether (and to what degree) we see the Reality of the kingdom– here and nowthrough the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit.  For it is by clearly recognizing and honoring this Realitythe Way, the Truth, and the Life that is with us always –that we find deliverance from the Romans 7 conflict.

The ego in Romans 7 may “believe the gospel” and “accept Christ” (perhaps in an intellectual way; perhaps in an emotional way; or perhaps in a way which reflects some combination of the two).  And while it may be necessary and appropriate for us, as a community, to acknowledge  and affirm that such a one is “saved” and will “go to heaven” when (s)he dies by virtue of such “belief” and “acceptance” (insofar as this kind of intellectual and/or emotional posture reflects a sincere desire to participate in the life of the church), it is nevertheless difficult– when and for as long as the conflict of Romans 7 persists –to acknowledge that such such a one really recognizes and truly honors the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit.  Rather, given the lack of trust and reliance indicated, it would seem to be the case that (s)he is still attempting to understand and control the flow of appearances merely with reference to the horizontal plane–that (s)he is not fully connected, vertically speaking, to the locomotive of the Spirit (referring, once again, to Piper’s metaphor).

NOTE:  Piper’s metaphor of the locomotive must not be taken out of context.  He is not suggesting that the Spirit somehow gives us brute strength to power through difficulties.  Let us remember, rather, that His strength is made perfect in weakness (cf. II Corinthians 12:9).  Indeed, Lao Tzu’s water metaphor may be more apt (and may also be more comparable to the living water that Jesus spoke of then is generally imagined).

It is also worth noting that none of this is intended to disparage or discourage anyone’s desire to understand the natural world or to take action on the horizontal plane as long as such understanding  and action finds its ultimate inspiration and satisfaction in the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit.  Indeed, it is by virtue of such enlightened action (or inaction, as the case may be) under God, that our lives begin to reflect the kingdom of God into this world, Here & Now.  But as with most matters of the Spirit, this too is subject to much misunderstanding

Finally, the idea of being “vertically connected” can, itself, become a matter of pride–and can itself, therefore, be a kind of spiritual trap (i.e. yet another “achievement” or “identity” for the ego to lay claim to).  So perhaps it is with some trepidation that we should speak of these things, fully realizing our many limitations (and personal shortcomings) and without suggesting that our lives, as a whole, necessarily provide a very good example for others.  Nevertheless, those of us who have struggled with this conflict over many years– and have reflected rather carefully on the transition between Romans 7 and 8 (both in the text and in our own lives) –are naturally inclined (if not duty bound) to share what we have learned.  As such– our personal shortcomings and trepidation notwithstanding  –let us continue by working our way through the following scriptures which may be fruitfully understood in light of this general framework:

Two Men ≈ Two Minds Two Worlds or Two Kingdoms:
The Order of Being & The Order of Appearances

Note:  To read the remainder of this essay, please follow the link below and scroll about a third of the way down the page…

–> The Order of Being and the Life of Faith continued….

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Our Sunday School Theology

Getting to Know Jesus in the 21st Century is, in part, a creative response to our (all too typical) Sunday School Theology which can be outlined as follows:

  • Outcasts from the Garden of GodWe often speak of an all powerful, all knowing, all loving God…
    • …who chooses to create a world which he knows will fall into sin…
    • …and who knows that the result of that sin will be:
      • …untold generations of natural suffering in a fallen creation
      • …untold generations of human suffering throughout history
      • …and the eternal, conscious torment of untold numbers of human souls in hell.
  • We also (often) say that this is due to the sin or our original parents…
    • …who are often understood as two, historical human beings living approximately 6000 years ago in a literal garden of Eden…
    • …whose sin resulted in our being born into sin so that…
      • …because of their choice, we had no choice…
      • …and, as a result, we are condemned already.
  • subdeath2Against this backdrop, we often teach that:
    • God in his mercy sent Jesus in the middle of human history…
      • Our perfect/penal substitute…
      • Who died a substitutionary death…
      • Thus paying our sin debt…
      • So that, because he died, we don’t have to…
    • And that whoever hears and receives this good news will go to heaven when they die (instead of hell).
    • However, we also often teach that those who live(d) and die(d) without accepting the Judeo-Christian revelation cannot be saved…
      •  …whether or not they have been exposed to the gospel…
      • …or may have heard and rejected a misrepresentation of it…
  • for the bible tells me soMoreover, in order to preserve our preferred standards of Christian behavior and our preferred modes of Christian discourse, we often teach our children to believe that:
    • …the library of 66+ ancient texts written over 1000 year period (which we refer to as The Holy Bible) are basically free of errors and internally consistent and coherent with one another.  This is true, we may say…
      • …not only when it comes to matters of faith/salvation…
      • …but also when it comes to any claims that might seem to have a bearing on science or history
    • As such, we often teach our children
      • …to disregard the theory of evolution and interpret Genesis literally…
      • …that they should never question the historicity of any of the other Biblical narratives…
      • …that they must accept Christ as their penal substitute…
      • …and that so doing, they will be saved–along with all the others who “accept Christ” in this way.
      • …while everyone else will suffer eternal, conscious torment…
  • indoctrinationBy persuading our children of this at a young age and by limiting insofar as possible their exposure to alternative points of view, we desire to:
    • Preserve our tradition and to…
    • Create the optimal conditions for the salvation of our children’s souls…

What’s wrong with this picture!?  Does this really do justice to the depths and the riches of our knowledge of Christ?  While this Sunday School Theology may work after a fashion as a kind of initial instruction for children, it comes across as logically incoherent and/or morally repugnant when understood and promulgated among adults in a rigid and simplistic way.  Moreover, because the moral and intellectual horizon of those Christians who never out-grow this understanding of the gospel tends to be rather limited,  they are often low-hanging fruit for demagogues of various kinds.  We can do better than this…

–> Reading the Bible in the 21st Century

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Christmas Morn

Christmas Morn“, by Already Shining ~ John Astin
[Listen Online]

What We've Always Been

When you lose your life you’ll find me
You will find me everywhere
There’s a joy inside of laughter
And a smile inside despair

When you lose your life you’ll find me
There’s a love in everything
Nothing can be separate
When there’s only this it seems

You are the wonder–glory, the life…
Miracle gazing from your eyes…

When you lose you’re life you’ll find me
You will find me everywhere
There’s a joy inside of laughter
And a smile inside despair

When you lose your life you’ll find me
As a love in everything…
Nothing can be separate
When there’s only this it seems

You are the wonder–glory, the life…
Miracle gazing from your eyes…

When you lose your life you’ll find me…

–> What Do We Have To Lose?

lamentations 3 -- 22-24

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For God So Loved The World

Our Categories Give Us Our World

Whether we are:

Theists, Atheists, Agnostics

Idealists, Materialsts, Phenomenalists

Realists, Essentialists, Nominalists, Nihilists

Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Jews

Ascetics, Aesthetes, Sensualists, Legalists, Libertarians, Libertines

Liberals, Conservatives, Centrists, Center-Left, Center-Right

Capitalists, Communists, Socialists, Fascists, Anarchists

Heterosexual, Homosexual, Transexual, Asexual

Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender

Masculine, Feminine, Androgynous

Rich, Poor, Begging, Thieving

Mr. Mrs. Ms. or Miss

We must admit:

Our Categories Give Us Our World

The possibilities are seemingly endless and we can mix and match as much as we see fit!  Such worldviews give form and structure to experience…   Consciously or unconsciously, we define ourselves and others…  Categories within categories… Cultures within cultures…  Layers upon layers…  Our name is legion for we are many…

“Precept upon precept; line upon line . . . here a little, and there a little; that [we] might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken” (Isaiah 28:13). 

But has it always been this way?  Under Popes and Monarchies, western culture seemed more uniform, perhaps… More stable…  More circumscribed…  Our available categories relatively limited… Our use of them more strictly choreographed…  God was in his Heaven and all was right with the world…

But perhaps this is just a superficial impression.  Maybe there was a relative stability and uniformity– at least we can imagine it that way in retrospect –but, if so,  it would seem to have been largely imposed from the top down by a power elite who’s worldview (at least to our minds) did not really do justice to reality.  In any event, that world is gone and its passing seems to have been marked by the protestant reformation and the subsequent transition from monarchies to democracies.

Progress?  Age of enlightenment?  Perhaps…  But this new-found freedom resulted in an even greater proliferation of social and cultural categories– which resulted in a corresponding proliferation of worldviews and worlds –so that, increasingly (especially in this technically astute, socially networked, post-modern age) each individual seems to have the option of constructing and defending a unique vision of the world.  But this raises several seemingly unanswerable questions:  In this hall of mirrors,

  • What is truth? 
  • Which world is real?
  • Is God, in fact, dead?
  • Must the phenomenology of Spirit finally be reduced to the will to power?

For God So Loved The World

“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” ~ Albert Einstein

As the quotation, above, suggests, it is unlikely that answers to the preceding questions will be found by those who seek them in moralistic rhetoric, hermeneutical wrangling, or other conceptual gymnastics.   But for those who have an ear for it, answers can be found in the “I Am” presence which transcends all social, cultural, and political categories.  This is not just the thought that “I am”, but the aware Presence that is prior to thought–the profound sense of Being that is encountered in alert stillness, between each breath we breathe; and in deep silence, between each heartbeat…  Indeed, this is the One who is with us alwaysthe One who is given that we might have life and have it more abundantly:

John 3:16 [paraphrased] For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son [to the world], so that everyone who [trusts in and relies on] him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who [trust in and rely on] him are not condemned; but those who do not [so trust] . . . are condemned already, because they [do not trust] in the name of the only Son of God [“I Am”].

John 10:7 Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I Am the door of the sheep. 8 All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I Am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes not, but to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I Am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (KJ2).

–>  Joint Heirs With Christ

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Joint Heirs With Christ

John 15:15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

Romans 8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

i am exodus 3-14Language (in general) and spiritual modes of discourse (in particular) are often ambiguous and Jesus’ teachings are no exception.  At times they seem intentionally cryptic and were– more often than not, it seems –grossly misunderstood.  His frequent references to himself, for example, seems to have given his critics the impression that his teachings were self-serving–that he was seeking his own glory.  Indeed, his repeated use of the phrase, “I Am”, as reported in the gospel of John, must have seemed to them like shameless self-promotion which– given its association with the name of God in Exodus 3:14 –bordered on blasphemy.  Jesus responds to such criticism as follows:

John 7:16 Then Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. 17 Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. 18 Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him. 19 “Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking for an opportunity to kill me?”

imagesCALNH9PFThey were, indeed, looking for an opportunity to kill him and, a few chapters later, they thought that they had him dead to rights when he said,

“The Father and I are one” (John 10:30).

This claim followed on the heels of several of the aforementioned “I Am” expressions which, as indicated above, are provocative enough in their own right.  They are itemized, below, compliments of Henry Morris:

“I am the bread of life” (John 6:35,48,51).

“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

“I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7,9).

“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11,14).

Moreover, his assertion that, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30) is, in turn, followed by three more “I Am” expressions:

“I am the resurrection, and the life” (John 11:25).

“I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

“I am the true vine” (John 15:1,5).

Egoic minds are, indeed, self-serving and self-promoting–imagining as they do that the whole world should revolve around them.  And perhaps it is natural that it would seem to such minds that Jesus had a similar agenda–albeit one of megalomaniacal proportions:

John 10:31 The Jews took up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.”

But looking ahead a few chapters, it does not appear that Jesus is necessarily claiming or desiring anything for himself that he does not also claim and desire for everyone else–if only  they are willing to receive the Word of God as he receives it and are willing to know themselves to be in the way that he knows himself to be.   For if they are willing– indeed, if we are willing –he prays for both them and for us as follows:

We are One in the LordJohn 17:18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one…

As such, it is at least questionable whether or not Jesus intended to set himself apart and glorify himself, personally, in contradistinction to the rest of humanity.

–>  Seeing Beyond Worldviews

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What Is Looking!?

St. Francis in he woods...St. Francis is supposed to have said, “What we are looking for is what is looking” and Meister Eckhart wrote,

The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.

That’s the mystery…  That’s why it is forbidden (and impossible) to make a graven image of God.  Nevertheless, the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handywork (Psalm 19:1).   And we live and move and have our being in the Divine ‘image’ which is the light of the world… 

headless circleTo recognize the Lord is to notice what is noticing…  The light which lights everyone who comes into the world…  The stone which the builder rejects…  The gate of the Lord…  Whosoever will may come…

Have you noticed what’s noticing?  Listen to this song by John Astin and/or scroll down if you’d like to read the lyrics:

What is Noticing?  [Listen Online]

John Astin ~ Already ShiningHave you noticed…
That something is here…
You can’t see it…
But it’s nearer than near…

Have you noticed…
What is noticing…
And listened…
To what is listening…

Oh, what you’re searching for
Is what is searching…
And what you’re looking for…
Is what is looking…

Have you noticed…
That something is here…
You can’t see it…
But it’s nearer than near…

Have you noticed…
What is noticing…
Have you listened…
To what is listening…

Oh, what you’re searching for…
Is what is searching…
And what you’re looking for…
Is what is looking…

Have you noticed…
That something is here…
You can’t see it…
But it’s nearer than near…

Have you noticed…
What is noticing…
And listened…
To what is listening…

You’ve been searching for the truth…
And all the time…
The One you’re looking for…
Is seeing through your eyes…

Have you noticed…
something is here…
You can’t see it…
But it’s nearer than near…

Have you noticed…
What is noticing…
And listened…
To what is listening…

Have you tasted…
What is tasting…
And remembered…
What’s remembering…

Have you noticed…
What is noticing…
And listened…
To what is listening…

–> What Is Awareness?

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Seeing Beyond Worldviews

Our categories give us our world, do they not?  And is it not the case that if we can control the categories through which people see the world, we can also control them?  How, then, do we know that Jesus’ teaching isn’t just another power-play?  Is he not, by virtue of his teaching, attempting to control our categories?  And if he succeeds in controlling our categories, is he not circumscribing our worldview?  And what might his motive be if not to secure power and glory for himself?  perception and realityAnd even today, if we can control the way in which his teachings are understood and applied, are we not similarly attempting to take charge?  Are we not attempting to secure power and glory for ourselves–at least among those who are willing to follow our lead (i.e. those who are willing to say “Lord, Lord” in more or less the same way that we say, “Lord, Lord” — cf. Matthew 7:21-23) ?  How can we show that Jesus’ teaching is different?  Indeed, how can we show that this representation of Jesus’ teaching different?  Why is this not just another worldview?  Why is this not just another power-play? 

To be sure, many people– associated with many different groups and institutions –are happy to invoke the name of Jesus as they promote themselves and their particular worldviews.  They honor him with their lips, but their heart is far from him (cf. Matthew 15:8).  not everyone who says lord lordThey are quick to say, “Lord, Lord,” but not only do they not enter the kingdom, they do their best to prevent others from entering, as well (cf. Matthew 7:21 and 23.13).  Indeed, it has been incredibly easy (and very tempting) for later generations to project their misunderstanding of his teaching (not to mention their intentional distortion thereof) onto the person of Jesus.  In contrast to the scribes and pharisees who, in their pursuit of power, opposed him (fearing that his popularity threatened their position), later generations– looking back at him in an idealized way, his name having triumphed –are eager to hitch their wagon to his star as they attempt to secure power and glory for themselves (showing themselves, in the end, however, to be like the scribes and pharisees after all).

Language is notoriously ambiguous, but there are two particular ambiguities that makes it especially easy for us to associate ourselves and our worldviews with Jesus of Nazareth.  We quite naturally assume, as we read the gospels, that his references to himself– especially his use of the expression “I Am” in the gospel of John –are, as far as we are concerned,  merely (or primarily) references to himself as a historical personage on a historical mission–a person who (in our frame of reference, at least) also happens to be the only begotten Son of God (aka the second person of the Trinity).  Subordinate to this, but closely related, is our further assumption that any references to “my word” or “my words” refer merely (or primarily) to the words reportedly spoken by him (or to the words that allegedly apply to him) that we find recorded in the scriptures.  And while all this is plausible enough from a particular point of view (i.e. a particular worldview that idealizes the Bible as “the inerrant word of God” and that projects the conclusions of later theological speculation back onto the life and teachings of Jesus), the real jesusthe end result is that these two icons– Jesus  and the Bible –are simultaneously powerful enough and ambiguous enough to attract and accommodate a wide variety of (more or less) self-promoting prophets and conflicting worldviews.  But rather than attempting to sort through all these as we search for one that is true, let us see if we cannot discover a deeper and more authentic significance in Jesus’ references to himself and his words that will lead us beyond particular worldviews– and beyond the power struggles implicit within them –to the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that Jesus said, “I Am” (John 14:6).  We shall attempt to do this by strategically paraphrasing a series of texts from the gospel of John in hopes that they will speak to us in a fresh and authentic way.  To the extent that we are successful, we will be in a much better position to ascertain the relative value of the various worldviews we encounter.  Like the prisoner who was released from Plato’s cave and who– having left the cave, and having seen the form of the Good –decides to go back into the cave out of concern for the other prisoners, we too may choose to re-engage the world and debate, on some level, the shadows on the cave wall (but we won’t mistake these shadows for reality); we, too, may once again consider the relative value of various worldviews (but we won’t mistake these worldviews for the Truth).

Two Dangers

Before proceeding with this enterprise, however, the reader should be aware of two dangers:

1) like Jesus, himself, we may open ourselves up to the charge of blasphemy (the reasons for this becoming apparent, below); and 2) we may risk actually blaspheming– in a manner of speaking, at leastinsofar as we are liable to mistake the relative for the absolute (e.g. the egoic mind for the mind of Christ–or a particular worldview for the Truth).

Godman! by devan78 via Flickr

Godman! by devan78 via Flickr

While, at this point in history, the first of these two dangers is not a huge concern– unless, of course, we are beholden to a particular church or related institution for our paycheck and/or our sense personal identity –the second of the two may be related to the Jungian concept of inflation and should not be taken lightly.  Indeed, whether we ourselves suffer from this kind of “inflation” and are engaging in a kind of megalomaniacal “self-promotion” OR whether we are promoting a particular “world-view” as if that worldview were, itself, the Way, the Truth, and the Life that is sought– whether we do either of these things  –a certain prospect of judgment looms over us as the thoughts and intents of our hearts are exposed to the light:

Hebrews 4:12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Nevertheless, while we would do well to pause for introspection, at this point, we should not imagine that any attempt to avoid the light of life would be a virtue:

John 3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Ephesians 5:13 . . . but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,  14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake!  Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

–>  Recognizing the Light of Divine Presence

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Recognizing the Light of Divine Presence

It is worth considering– with the help of some strategic paraphrasing –whether Jesus of Nazareth may have intended neither to point to himself, in the flesh (i.e. to his social or historical persona) nor to make theological pronouncements about his unique standing (as the second person of the Trinity or the long awaited messiah), but that he was instead pointing to the Divine presence that is also in us–the Divine presence which is both deep within and high above that which we normally take ourselves to be.  still-small-voiceMoreover, let us consider, in addition, whether his references to the importance of hearing and obeying his word(s) [or the Father’s word(s)] were not merely (or primarily) references to his literal words (or words about him), as recorded in the scriptures, but rather to the possibility of recognizing and abiding in his Divine presence and of becoming attuned to the still small voice which is the Word of God in our hearts, here & now (cf. Hebrews 4:12 and the reference to “the sword of the Spirit” in Ephesians 6:17; cf. John 16:13).  For if we have access to the same Divine presence and living Word of God that Jesus shared with his disciples, rather than taking refuge in worldviews, however plausible (or consoling; or personally empowering), let us instead take this opportunity to enter into life– the abundant, eternal life that Jesus offers –here & now:

John 17:3 [paraphrased] And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ [the Divine Presence] you have sent. 4  I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. 6a “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.

I AmIt is worth remembering that Jesus is said to be “a prophet like unto Moses” (cf. Deuteronomy 18:18-19; Acts 7).  Not only is his description of himself, in verse 6a, above, somewhat reminiscent of the role of Moses, in the Exodus, his repeated use of the “I Am” expressions most certainly calls to mind Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush:

Exodus 3:13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, “What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.’ “

But in contrast to the children of Israel, in Exodus– who are characterized as a rebellious and stiff-necked people –the disciples are said to have kept God’s word:

John 17:6 “I have made your name [“I Am”] known to those whom you gave me from the world.  They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;

This is also in marked contrast to the scribes and pharisees:

John 7:19 “Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law.

The disciples, however, being both hearers and doers of the word (cf. James 1:22; Matthew 7:26-27), now know with certainty that Jesus’ teaching is not just another worldview– that it is not some conceptual scheme intended to bring honor and glory to him, personally –but that it is, indeed, from God.  This also calls to mind another verse from chapter 7:

John 7:17 Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.

I Am PresenceThere is no question, then, of merely “adopting” some abstract doctrine or worldview on the word of some itinerant preacher, however charismatic, and then mistaking some combination of  group think and confirmation bias for a demonstration of its truth.  Rather, when the word of the Lord– the Divine presence that “I Am” –is both heard and hearkened to, the Truth is obvious and it is seen to be in no way dependent on the turn of events.  Indeed, the Divine presence that “I Am” is the condition for the possibility of any turn of events.  One may simply

“Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalms 34:8).

Moreover, it is also obvious– to those who resolve to do the will of God in this way –that Jesus was not seeking his own glory, but the glory of the one who sent him:

John 7:18 Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.

Thus, in Chapter 17, he continues to pray as follows:

John 17:8  for the words that you gave to me [in the stillness of the Divine presence] I have given to them, and they have received them [in the stillness of that same Divine presence] and [they now] know in truth that [the Divine presence that “I Am”] came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

Moreover, just as Jesus had earlier affirmed his oneness with the Father (John  10:30), in the latter half of this chapter he prays that his disciples, including  those of subsequent generations, will be also be oneone with God, one with him, and one with one another:

John 17:17 [paraphrased]  Sanctify them in the truth; your word [the Divine presence that “I Am”] is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me [in the Divine presence that “I Am”] and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  22 The glory that you have given me [i.e. the glory of the Divine presence]  I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I Am, to see my glory, which you have given me [i.e. the Divine presence that “I Am”] because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them [“I Am”], and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and [the Divine presence that “I Am” may be] in them.”

In light of this prayer, then– if we are truly hearing and obeying his words –we:live simply

  • are sanctified through the truth…
  • are sent, by Christ, into the world…
  • are one with Christ and the Father…
  • share in the glory of Christ…
  • are  indwelt by Christ and the love of Christ…

It should be stressed, at this point, that those who attempt to “hear and obey” the words of Jesus in their own strength and according to their own understanding, will sooner or later realize the futility of their efforts (cf. Romans 7), while those who those who recognize the “I Am” presence and walk in that light– those who resolve to do the will of God, both in Spirit and in Truth –are truly free (cf. Romans 8).

–>  I Am” Not What You Think

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