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Blessing Janet (and Others in Your Life)

In their book The Critical Journey, Robert A. Guelich and our beloved Janet O. Hagberg write, “Those who have been through this stage (The Journey Inward Stage) themselves and may be specially trained in spiritual direction, spiritual formation, or pastoral counseling are unique people and are to be sought out.”

In 2004 that is exactly what I did. I sought out Janet Hagberg. I wanted to learn from her wisdom, her experiences and her heart. And she responded. I met with her and a friendship was born. Over the last 12 years, Janet has been a tremendous source of encouragement and inspiration. She models the relationship with God I want to have. She has served as a mentor and guide through a transformational way of living. And my guess is she has done the same for you in some way…through this blog, her website (http://www.janethagberg.com/), her books, her teaching, her ministry or through her everyday way of life.

This is my last blog entry for At River’s Edge, so I want to take the opportunity to invite any of you who has been blessed by Janet to return the favor and send her a blessing. The best way to do this is through her website: http://www.janethagberg.com/contact.html. Let her know what it is you appreciate about her or her ministry.

I’ll go first:

Janet,

I appreciate your willingness to help people grow and heal. I appreciate the way you not only listen to God, but surrender to His voice. I appreciate the way you live simply and modestly which opens you up to God even more. I appreciate your listening ears. And I appreciate your friendship and encouragement.

 

Speaking of blessings…

Is it more difficult for you to give a blessing or receive a blessing? Here is what I have noticed about myself when it comes to blessings:

  • It is more difficult for me to receive blessings than to give them. Receiving a blessing has been an area of growth for me. The more I see myself as being loved by God, the more I am able to receive blessings from God and others.
  • Sometimes it is difficult for me to give blessings verbally especially if I think the person is “fishing” for a compliment or acknowledgement in some way.
  • Giving a blessing verbally can feel vulnerable for me.
  • I am much better at giving blessings in written form through cards, emails and text messages than through verbally speaking them. For me it feels safer and the words I write are more thought out and meaningful.

My wife and I used to read to our kids each night from a book of blessings called Bless your Children Every Day by Dr. Mary Ruth Swope. It is full of simple blessings to read over your kids in areas such as courage, abundance, abilities, a free spirit, humility, and much, much more. Our kids ate it up! They craved the times we read from the book. And after a while, my wife and I started making up our own personal blessings for the kids. I highly recommend this practice for parents.

The most common “mistake” made when giving a blessing is when the blessing is limited to praise for accomplishments, achievements and a job well done. It is more important to praise someone (anyone, not just your kids) for WHO they are, not for what they DO. The easiest way to do this is to think of character traits you see in the other person. If you are like me, it helps to have a cheat sheet. Character First is a curriculum that teaches on 49 different character traits. So here is what I do: I cheat. I look at the list of 49 character traits and pick a couple or a few (sometimes I may only see one) from the list that I see in that person. Click here to see the list and definitions: http://www.characterfirst.com/assets/CFDefinitions.pdf

So now I encourage you to practice giving a blessing. Give a blessing to Janet. Give a blessing to your loved ones, Give a blessing to your friends.

In fact, I dare you to try an experiment!

The Experiment

  1. Select one person to bless this week.
  2. Look at the list of 49 traits and pick 3 traits that are exhibited in the person you selected.
  3. Choose a way to deliver the blessing: speaking it verbally; writing it in a card, a note, an email or a text.
  4. Start the blessing by saying, “I appreciate you because you are ___________________.”
  5. Notice what goes on inside your heart after giving the blessing.
  6. Notice how the relationship with that person changes over the next few days or weeks after giving the blessing.

I pray that this exercise is a powerful experience for you.

Barry Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On God’s Mind

In his book Surrender to Love, David Benner opens the first chapter with a simple exercise. He invites his readers to do this: “Imagine God thinking about you. What do you assume God feels when you come to mind?” What a great question! Simple, yet deep and thought provoking. A person’s response to this exercise is very telling. My experience has been that the word that comes to mind for most people is the word: disappointment. The first reaction of most people is that God is disappointed with them. I believe most people know intellectually that God loves them. Their head tells them God loves them, but their reaction says something different. Our behavior and emotions point to what the heart truly believes. Why is that? Why is there a difference in beliefs between our heads and our hearts?

In John chapter 8, Jesus has some very strong words to say about Satan. Jesus says Satan is a liar and calls him “the father of lies.” Jesus also says that lies are Satan’s native language. Satan uses lies to get a person’s heart to believe something different than what their head is telling them. And he is really, really good at it. Most of the time these lies come in the form of messages that play in our heads: “You’re not good enough”; “You don’t have what it takes”; “You’re not lovable”; “You are bad”; “You are ugly”; “You are stupid”; You fill in the blank: “You are___________”. When a person believes lies such as these, it is difficult for he or she to believe that God’s love and grace is for them (which is another lie Satan gets us to believe).

So what about you? What is your response when you imagine God thinking about you? If the answer is something other than love and delight, then there is some work to do. In order to grow spiritually, most of us Christians need to do some work around the lies we believe: lies we believe about ourselves, about others and about God.

 

Reflection:

Imagine God thinking about you. What do you assume God feels when you come to mind?

What are some of the negative messages that play in your head about you? About God?

What is something that is true about you (that counter acts the negative message)?

How would your life be different if you were to see yourself the way God sees you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Adapted Buddhist Lovingkindness Meditation for Christians

Years ago, I stumbled across a book by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn, and it changed me forever. To my astonishment, nothing in it contradicted my Christian faith and the author’s straightforward and thorough way of explaining spirituality struck me as something I needed, something wholly true, because my own experience could testify to it. . Most memorably, Thich Nhat Hahn was tackling Jesus’ command to “love thy enemy.” I had heard this command all my life, and had done the best I could to be loving towards all, but no matter how hard I tried, I was judgemental, patronizing, and even hateful towards those who held views different from me, those I considered enemies. How could Jesus give us such an impossible mandate without a user’s handbook on how to actually love those who make our lives difficult? And how could the Apostle Paul give us list upon list of spiritual attributes to live up to without telling us how to embody these states of being? For me, I found the answer when Thich Nhat Hahn wrote, “before loving your enemy, you must first understand him. Understanding comes before love.” A lightbulb went off.

I had in my mind hundreds of examples of what it looked like to love from the Christian scriptures: the Good Samaritan, the woman giving her last coin to the temple, Rahab protecting Joshua’s men in her home, Ruth and Naomi sticking together through thick and thin. These were all stories I loved dearly, but oftentimes, when I found myself acting lovingly and generously towards others, I didn’t have loving motivations, and ended up with resentments. How to love in word, deed and in my heart?

In Eastern languages where Buddhism originated, the word for “mind” is the same as “heart.” Much of Buddhist teaching is about thought processes and observing the mind, but in our English translation, we miss that it is also about the heart, about feelings. The Buddha taught that the fruits of spiritual practice would be lovingkindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. Therefore, if we sit and meditate all day and these attributes are not the natural result, it is not the Buddhist Way that we are practicing. Learning all this, I felt myself inching closer to Jesus’ command to love my neighbor, and even my enemy.

Years later, I discovered the formal practice of “lovingkindness meditation,” also called “Metta.” In this meditation, one practices cultivating a feeling of lovingkindness towards oneself, those one already loves, neutral people in one’s life, and to those with whom one is experiencing conflict. Typically four phrases are chosen and repeated over and over. The traditional phrases are below, but you can adapt them to your liking:

May you be happy

May you be safe and protected

May you be healthy and strong

May you be peaceful and free from suffering

Set aside about 15-25 minutes to do this meditation. Begin by settling into a comfortable position and taking a few deep breaths, relaxing your muscles, and releasing any tension. (As Christians, we can take some time to invite the Holy Spirit into this experience with us.) Then begin to recite the Metta phrases first to someone who is easy to love, someone with whom we have no conflict. Often, it is easiest to start with a young child or a pet because they have a magical way of opening our hearts. Imagine your Loved One in front of you, and you are saying the wishes/prayers directly to them. I like to imagine the Light of the Spirit enveloping them in a warm embrace. Take a few moments to just sit and notice how it feels to love another. Appreciate this feeling, this moment. We naturally return to what we noticeably appreciate. Take this feeling with you throughout this meditation.

Next, recite the phrases for yourself. Remember that Jesus wants you to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  This means that loving yourself is not selfish, but essential in the process of loving others. Let the Light of the Spirit embrace you as you pray with the Spirit. Really take some time to have compassion for your present circumstances. If it is particularly difficult at this time in life, you may want to stay with yourself for several minutes, repeating these well-wishes for yourself again and again:

May you be happy

May you be safe and protected

May you be healthy and strong

May you be peaceful and free from suffering

When you feel ready to move on, let a benefactor come to mind, someone who has helped you in your journey and toward whom you feel gratitude. Repeat the phrases several times for this person, allowing them to be true in your heart with no strings attached. If more benefactors come to mind, feel free to switch to a new person. Remember, the Spirit is guiding the process, so whoever comes to mind is likely just the right person!

Now allow a neutral person to come to mind, someone with whom you have no strong feelings towards. Perhaps this is a co-worker, a barista at a coffee shop, or a stranger you passed on the street today. Send the phrases of lovingkindness and the Light of the Spirit toward them. You will notice that when you practice this in silent prayer and meditation, it will become natural to think these thoughts when encountering strangers, and will result in more loving interactions.

Next, choose someone you are having a difficult time with, perhaps someone from the news, a politician, or someone who cut you off in traffic this morning. It is important to not choose the most difficult person in your life right now. When first practicing, we warm up to more difficult people by first focusing on those with whom we have small conflicts or irritations. It is likely that after repeating these phrases for them, when you see them the following day the conflict will have diminished because your attitude will have changed. When we wish our “enemies” to be happy, we are really wishing for a more peaceful world. We know that those who cause harm and those who feel hatred in their hearts would not do so if they themselves were happy and at peace.

Lastly, we send the Lovingkindness phrases to all people around the world, and then to all living beings, to those with four legs or six legs, those with fins or feathers, and to those with roots and leaves. All living beings deserve to be free from suffering, and in the interconnectedness of all life, we all do better when we are all thriving.

This Buddhist practice has been a great blessing to my life, and has enhanced my Christian understanding of the Gospel in a very close and personal way. When I know I am loved unconditionally by the Creator, love naturally flows out of me to all beings. Taking intentional time to receive lovingkindness and compassion for myself, to send it to others, and to view the entire Creation through this lens of love has transformed my resentful non-love to Metta. I pray that this practice would also be a blessing to you.

May you be happy

May you be safe and protected

May you be healthy and strong

May you be peaceful and free from suffering.

Amen.

How Much is Enough?

 

Several years ago I was sitting on a bench in front of one of Minnesota’s ten thousand lakes. This one particular lake sits on the campus of Bethel Seminary in St. Paul. While sitting there I heard God ask me, “How much of my love is enough for you?” I had never thought of that question before. I had thought of God’s love being unending, but I had not thought about how much of that love I needed or wanted? How much of God’s love is needed for me to be satisfied? How much would be enough? I had never tried to actually quantify it before.

 

(Caution: Nerd Alert. Don’t judge.) I then thought, “What if God’s love for me was the volume of this lake?” Now most of the lakes in Minnesota aren’t very big and this one was probably about 60 acres in size (It’s actually 64.5 acres, but I don’t want to come across as too nerdy.). So I looked up the size of the lake on a map and calculated the volume of the lake by estimating an average depth. (Yes, I actually did this.) Next, I estimated the volume of my body. (Yes, I actually did this.) I then asked, “If God’s loved refilled my body every day, how long would it take to drain this lake?” (Yes, I actually asked this.) After doing the calculations, the answer was an astonishing 1,170,675 days! That is 3,207 years! Here is this small lake on a collage campus in Minnesota and it’s only one of ten thousand lakes in the state and it would take over one million days to drain it.

 

How much of God’s love is enough for me if His love refilled me every single day? It is definitely less than the volume of that one small lake. God was telling me and showing me that His love for me was more than enough. There is more love available to me and for than I can imagine.

 

If you could get better at one thing this year what would it be? Would it be something physical like losing weight, exercising, eating healthier, running faster or running farther? Would it be something mental like reading, meditating or problem solving? What about something emotional like connecting, listening, enjoying? What do you want to be better at?

 

For me, it would be to be able to receive God’s love in greater measure. If I was able to do this one thing, it would affect all areas of my life. I imagine I would have more confidence instead of insecurity; peace instead of fear; compassion instead of criticism and joy instead of anger. Overall, I would be able to see myself more of the way God sees me and be able to love others better.

 

How much of God’s love is enough for you?

 

Ephesians 3: 17b-19

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Anti-Resolution

By Barry A.Thomas

 

Since it’s the beginning of a new year, it would naturally be a good time to talk about New Year’s resolutions. What do you want to accomplish in 2016? How do you want to change? However, there is part of me that wants to not talk about New Year’s resolutions since that might be what is expected. So today I’m going to lean into that part.

Don’t get me wrong, I like setting resolutions. I don’t do it every year, but there are times when I need resolutions to keep me from wandering aimlessly. In 2015 I had three resolutions for the year: to read through the Bible, to run a marathon (my first and only) and to write a book. I was able to get two and half of these done. (I won’t bore you with the details.) My point is that without making them goals, I would not have even attempted them, much less accomplish any of them.

And then sometimes resolutions get in my way. They get in the way in a couple of ways:

  1. Resolutions get in the way when I leave God out of the picture. I can leave God out of the picture when I resolve to do something purely out of my own will and power. I can also leave God out when my resolve does not allow my plans to adjust to God’s plans. For instance, I had a friend who was training for the Boston marathon this past year. At the same time, it was his son’s senior year playing baseball. He missed much of his son’s games because he stuck to his training regimen. In my opinion, the resolution got in the way of more important things.
  2. Resolutions get in the way when I depend on accomplishing something to feel good about myself. Personally, I have difficulty with this one. I’m a do-er. That can be a good thing. Being a do-er has served me very well over the years. It has helped me be successful in my career and in my ministry. And I believe that our weaknesses often times are our strengths that are out of balance. This is a huge principle! It’s so important that I’m going to say it again for emphasis: Our weaknesses are often times our strengths that are out of balance.* This doing thing is one of those areas for me because the doing gets in the way of the being. I am reminded of the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10. Martha was doing hospitality and serving Jesus in her home and it was the doing that kept her from sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to what He had to say.

In light of all this being said, here is my encouragement to you: make resolutions (if you’re into that kind of thing), hold your resolutions loosely and be with God in the process. So I am making a New Year’s resolution for 2016: to be with God. I want to learn how to do this better (pun intended). I want to be with God in the busyness and I want to create space in my life so I can be with God in solitude.

So here is the question I really want to ask: Can you be okay with yourself if you don’t accomplish anything or if you don’t change a single thing about yourself in 2016? How do you imagine God would feel about you if you that happened (or didn’t happen)?

 

 

*Here is an example of a weakness being a strength that is out of balance: My wife and I are both analytical. When making a decision, especially big decisions, we gather as much data as possible and list out all the options and do our best to asses which option is the best one. This analytical process has served us well throughout our marriage. However, this strength becomes a weakness when it is out of balance. When the analytical part is too strong it becomes indecisiveness. The desire to make the absolute best decision gets in the way of making a decision. The weakness (indecisiveness) is a strength (analytical decision making) that is out of balance.

An Inconvenient God

A word that is being thrown around a lot in the media and conversation these days, in relation to Black Lives Matter, is “inconvenience.” It’s inconvenient when bus lines are diverted to go around marches demanding police transparency and accountability downtown. It’s inconvenient that people have to wait at stop lights for seven extra minutes while the throng of protesters file down the street, chanting “Black Lives Matter.” It’s inconvenient when highways get shut down by human chains demanding justice in exchange for peace. And most recently, it has been inconvenient for holiday travelers to have some flights delayed for 45 minutes at the MSP airport, and shops closed at the Mall of America for a couple of hours so that the protestors could disturb the status quo and remind people that Black Lives are inconvenienced every day. Every day a black person steps out of their house, they must live in fear of police violence. Black mothers fear that their sons won’t live past their 18th birthday without ending up dead or in jail. Schools, places of employment, housing, banks, food systems, and the “justice” system are all stacked against Black Americans. The daily stress of discrimination grates on Black Americans to the point of causing higher rates of depression and anxiety, heart disease, and high blood pressure. I’d say that is much more inconvenient that a single incident of tardiness for travelers.

Dr. King certainly had similar conversations with city officials, asking him to “move slower and more gently” but they shut down the bridge in Selma anyway. The bus boycott in Montgomery inspired by Rosa Parks was highly disruptive to the city. White Jim Crow shop owners who had their business disturbed by protestors at lunch counter “sit ins” were outraged at the disturbance of business as usual. (Sound familiar?) If things are to change, we must all of us be disturbed and inconvenienced. 400 years of oppression and discriminatory systems don’t just disappear on their own. They will not go away by people being nice.

While these actions are meant to disrupt and create discomfort, let us remind ourselves that they are being done with the greater purpose of equality, peace, and justice, through a motivation of love. Come to think of it, most love is inconvenient. I just got a puppy, and he has quickly become the love of my life, even though he takes up all my free time and has churned my daily schedule into chaos. Having children does the same. So does falling in love romantically. We make sacrifices for love, but never would we consider doing otherwise, because there is such great reward. And it just feels good.

This week being Christmas, with all of creation groaning in anticipation for the arrival of the baby who brings peace and justice to the world, let us stop and consider the inconvenience of his arrival. First, his poor parents had to travel to another city while pregnant, then flee to a neighboring country because the government was slaughtering Jewish babies because Jesus was threatening the throne. As he grew to be a man, his radical love disrupted many people’s lives. The disciples left behind families and jobs. Pharisees and Sadducees were put “on blast” for their discriminatory religion that barred women, children, the poor, and sick people from entering the temple. Through embarrassing confrontations with Jesus, some of those leaders changed their ways. The disciples were frustrated that Jesus was constantly slowing down and changing their schedules so they could play with children, talk with Samaritan women, and feed thousands of hungry people. The disciples were tired. They just wanted business as usual. They wanted to keep their reputations intact, but Jesus didn’t care about maintaining their egos or schedules of sleep. He constantly went out of his way to show mercy and love to those who showed up in his path, to those experiencing oppression, sickness, and isolation. He asks the same of us.

Black Americans (and other Americans of color) are currently experiencing oppression, sickness, and isolation. And they are showing up in our path. They are refusing to be cast aside, ignored, locked up, beaten, shot, used, and blasphemed. They are saying that their lives matter. This doesn’t mean that white lives (or any other lives) matter less. They are just pointing out that black lives currently do not matter, according to all the staggering evidence of history and current times, and they should matter.

When people get desperate, they reach out to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak. They cry out “Son of Man, have mercy on us!” They lower family members down through rooftops. They demand loaves and fish. Black America is desperate. Jesus’ merciful hands were so far-reaching that they were threatening enough to be nailed to a tree. His disciples could have gone back to business as usual after his death, had the story ended there. But they saw him resurrected, and with that sight, there was no turning back. What is seen cannot be unseen. What is known cannot be unknown. As the inconvenient prophet Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, we have been to “the mountaintop” and have seen the other side, the Promised Land! With determination, we will have justice and peace! So go ahead, #blacklivesmatter, do your thing. Let’s get uncomfortable in the name of Love.

Chelsea Forbrook

The Interior Castle (a book by Teresa of Avila)

illustrated by Michael and Isaiah Bischoff

Sweet Surrender

by Barry A. Thomas

 

In the first statement of the first chapter of the book Follow Me, Jan David Hettinga writes: “The ultimate issue in the universe is leadership. Who you follow and what directs your life, is the single most important thing about you.” In the book he describes the tension between living in the Kingdom of Self and living in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not a reference to a place with territory and boundaries. The Kingdom of God is referencing the reign of God – God’s lordship.

Often times the Kingdom of Self is the chief competitor to the Kingdom of God. Yes, there are times some external evil is the main problem, but most often it is us. I am what gets in the way of God fully reigning in my life. Jesus taught that a person cannot serve two masters. A person must let go of the Kingdom of Self in order to fully experience the Kingdom of God. The key word that best describes this process is: SURRENDER.

It is impossible to experience the Kingdom of God without surrender. I must let go of me: the things I cling to for value, significance and identity. Jesus showed an example of what surrender looks like when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified. Three different times He asked God to take away the responsibility of dying on the cross AND each time Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” He surrendered His own will (and body) in order for the reign of God to be fully present in Him and in this world.

The Locked Door

Several years ago I had a dream or a vision or a mental picture (whatever you want to call it) that had a major impact on my life. I pictured myself walking with God down a long narrow hallway with several doors on each side. We squared up in front of one of the doors. God tried to open the doors, but it was locked. I looked up and read the sign on the door. It said “Career.” For the first time in my life I realized that my career was off limits to God.

Up to that point, God had blessed me with a good career working for a good company. I had always rationalized my job by saying, “God has blessed me through this career and because of it I will be a blessing to others”. And I was. I gave to church, I helped support missionaries and I had financially helped under-resourced people. What I did not realize was a fear that was running in the back of my mind – a fear that God would take it away. So after saying “God you have blessed me through this career so I am blessing others.” I would mentally whisper to myself, “So don’t mess with it.”

Through this picture of a locked door, God was making it clear that I had not surrendered my career to His lordship. Now He wanted the key and He wanted control of that part of my life. So I gave Him the key. I surrendered my career over to God. I didn’t know what the implications would be, but I didn’t want anything to be off limits to Him. Except for my baptism, it was the most meaningful act of surrender in my life.

The Surrendering Process

The surrendering process involves three simple steps:

  1. Surrender everything you have to God – everything.
  2. Listen to what God has to say about it.
  3. Do whatever God says.

Very simple, but not easy. Maybe surrendering everything feels too overwhelming. If so, take surrendering one step at a time and start with one area of your life, or one decision or one day. Journaling has not been one of my strongest disciplines, but for a period of time when I did journal I would start out every entry with this simple prayer: “Dear God, You are Lord of my life, every part of it. I will follow wherever You lead.” There were some days those words were hard to write, but it was important for me to surrender one day at a time.

There are two primary movements to surrendering. The first movement is letting go of something – letting go of self, letting go of control, letting go of a dream, letting go of what I cling to for worth and significance. The second movement is submission to something – trust, faith, God’s promises, God’s love. Letting go of the Kingdom of Self and submitting to the reign and Kingdom of God.

Often times surrendering involves not knowing the outcome. When I gave God the key to the locked door labeled “Career”, I did not know what the implications were. Was God going to ask me to stay on my career path or instead ask me to sell all my possessions and go live in a grass hut in Africa? I had no idea what was going to happen.

Grief and Surrender

Last week in my blog post I talked about embracing the grief process, what grieving has looked like for me and some of the lessons I have learned along the way. The graphic below illustrates what stages of grief look like.

(Sorry graphic did not transfer). It is a large V shape with words describing the various ways grief is expressed, getting darker and harder as one goes down into the V and then lighter as the grief is embraced to reveal wholeness.

 

Here is the Big Idea: The surrendering process is a grief process. When a person surrenders, he or she will most likely go through the stages of grief: denial, anger, fear, isolation, new strengths, new patterns and hope. Surrendering is a process of letting go of control and giving that control over to God. Grieving is the stages of emotions one experiences after any kind of loss. Both of them are processes of letting go of the old before experiencing the new or even knowing what the new looks like.

 

Here’s the next Big Idea: The surrendering process is a death, burial and resurrection. It is a letting go of the old even before I know what the new may look like. Going back to my locked door vision, I was afraid of what would happen once I gave God the key to that door. I didn’t know if God would go in the room and simply look around or if He would go in the room and remodel the place. In the middle of the process I felt disoriented, confused and depressed.

Here’s the last Big Idea: The surrendering process is a transformation process. This surrendering business is not just a one-time conversion experience. For Christ followers, surrender is a way of life. In Luke 9:23 Jesus says, “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” As Christ followers we are called to die to ourselves. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Surrendering is be a rhythm of life for those living under the reign of God.

The Rest of the Story

Within a couple of months of giving God the key that day, I considered making a career change into full-time ministry. There is no way it would have been an option as long as that door was locked. Within five months God opened up an opportunity for me to make that change. Many people have asked if it was difficult to make the change from an engineering career to full-time ministry. I tell them the change was actually easy. God made it clear this was the direction He wanted me to go. The difficult part was surrendering – giving God the key that day. Once that was done, the rest was easy.

 

And because I gave God the key that day, I have been blessed in immeasurable ways. I would not have experienced Kingdom living as fully as I have if I hadn’t surrendered. I agree with Hettinga’s declaration: leadership is the ultimate issue. I believe surrendering is the secret to living in the Kingdom of God.

 

 

What do you have difficulty giving up control of in your life?

Is there an area in your life that is not submitted to the Lordship of Jesus?

What step can you take to begin to surrender that part to Jesus?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Grief

by Barry A. Thomas

 

2005 sucked. There is not a much better way to describe my experience of that year. In the beginning of that year I was leading a small group and using the book The Emotionally Healthy Church by Pete Scazerro as curriculum. When we got to the chapter titled “Embracing Grieving and Loss”, I told the group, “I don’t think I know how to grieve, much less embrace it.” Within a few weeks of saying those ill-fated words, I was hit with a series of losses: my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I resigned from serving in a ministry I loved and my spiritual mentor moved away to another state. It felt like big parts of my world were falling apart. This happened during a period in my life when I was doing some intensive soul work. Before this period I would have stuffed my emotions, stayed busy and got on with my life. I would stay calm and carry on (as the Brits say). But not this time. For the first time in my life I was learning to pay attention to my heart, so for the first time in my life I gave myself permission to be sad. I didn’t try to hide it or deny it, I simply allowed myself to feel the sadness. This may not seem like much, but for me it was a huge step. I didn’t try to make myself sad; I simply acknowledged the sadness that was there and created space in my calendar to experience it.

So here is what grieving looked like for me:

First, I blocked off time in my calendar for solitude – time to simply get away to think, feel and be with God. This too was a new area of growth for me. I’m a “do-er” and have a difficult time being a “be-er”. Often times I would (and still do) approach a time of solitude asking, “How do I do solitude?” I was nervous at first. I wanted to “do” solitude right. It got easier and I got more comfortable the more times I practiced. I took whole days of solitude several different times. I read. I journaled. I prayed. I slept. The solitude gave my heart the space it needed to feel the sadness, anger and confusion of the grieving process.

Second, a friend of mine recommend I read a book by Sue Monk Kidd called When the Heart Waits. In it the author uses the analogy of a cocoon, the transformation phase between a caterpillar and a butterfly, to describe the dark and unknown experience of grief. She explains what it looks like and feels like to go through times of darkness. God used this book to tell me that what I was feeling was normal and that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. This was huge. Without reading this, I would have been full of fear. Instead I was able to okay with grief. I didn’t like it. It was not enjoyable, but somehow, deep down, I knew what I was going through was good.

Third, I was given the opportunity to get angry. This was a big deal for me because I usually stuffed anger. I have learned that if anger doesn’t get expressed in healthy ways, it will get expressed in unhealthy ways. I had some men teach me how to express anger in a healthy way and gave me the opportunity to let it rip in a safe, controlled environment. This was the lynch pin for me. By letting the anger flow I believe it propelled me through the grief cycle.

So that’s what it looked like for me. Eight months from the time I told my group that I didn’t know how to grieve, I had taken one full trip around the block.

 

So here are some of the things I gave earned about grief over the years:

  1. Any kind of loss is meant to be grieved. Obviously, the loss of a close friend or loved one is meant to be grieved; however, less obvious losses are meant to be grieved too. Losses that are not so obvious can be: a change in job; a change in season of life; loss of health; or a change in a relationship. In fact, any kind of change brings some sort of loss.
  2. The amount of grief to be experienced is proportional to the depth of the loss. Big loss – big grief. Small loss – small grief.
  3. People grieve differently. Some are very open about it; others are very private. Some need support; others need space. There is not some recipe book or formula on how to handle grief. It looks different for different people. I have seen several sets of parents who have lost a child. Most of the time, the mother and father have grieved the death in completely different ways. Friction can occur when one spouse expects the other to grieve the loss the same way. Perhaps this is why the divorce rate for parents who have lost a child is near 80%.
  4. Grief is experienced in stages. Depending on who you read, there are anywhere from 3 stages to 12 stages in the grieving process. If you were to ask ten different counselors to label the stages of grief, you would probably get twelve different answers. However, the stages look something like this: denial, anger, sadness, despair, confusion, void, hope, imagination, action and order.

The first benefit of embracing grieving and loss is that I have experienced God’s love and favor in new ways. I know what it is like for Him to walk with me through dark times and to have peace in the process. The second benefit is that I have much more compassion for other people. I am able to mourn with those who mourn. There is no doubt my heart has become more alive.

Yes, 2005 sucked. And because it did I grew by leaps and bounds. I now see grief as a good thing and my life and relationships are much richer as a result.

 

 

 

What are some of the losses you have experienced recently?

Which loss feels like the biggest one on the list?

What emotion are you feeling in regards to that loss? Anger? Sadness? Fear?

Greetings from Minnesota, to my dear brother Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, the first of us to encounter the mysterious Spirit of Jesus in the middle of our Suffering Road.

 

I give thanks for your dedication to all men of your region. Your compassion, love, and commitment to diverse peoples amazes me. Poor Peter, have mercy on him, for he was so entrenched within the walls of his culture that he could not comprehend the Gospel touching the lives of those beyond the walls of Judaism. So thank you truly for your vision and courage to go where no man had ever gone before, a Light in the darkness, sharing Good News.

 

Dear brother, it’s time for me to get real. I’ve been talking about you behind your back in scorn. Please forgive me. It’s time I finally bring my concerns directly to you.

 

I cannot pretend to comprehend the thorn in your flesh that you have tried in vain to remove. We all have our defects. Go easy on yourself! Is it that you are attracted to men and feel you must keep it a secret to show your separation from Roman culture? Is this why you write so hatefully of men sleeping with other men, because you hate this part of yourself? Is it that you are a transgender person, fearing the female spirit inside you, and in your confusion the only way you can act out is to tell women to stay in their place and be submissive, because you are secretly trying to subdue the woman within? If it is either of these dear brother, fear no more, because the church (at least parts of it) will now accept you, as God accepts you!

 

But if it is not this, then we’ve got a bone to pick. I’m pissed. Radical honesty: you’ve been my nemesis for years. You’ve given men the world over a religious and theological excuse to abuse, manipulate, neglect, degrade, confine, and oppress women and LGBTQ folks. I know I can’t speak for all of us, but many, if not most of us, are sick of you! You’ve done your fair share in turning The Way of love, equality, and community (The Way that Jesus taught, that always included women) into the Christianity of hierarchy, exclusion, tyranny, and patriarchy! Thanks a lot!!! Your writing makes me so nauseous and angry that I’ve avoided it altogether for the last eight years! I can’t even bring myself to read the beautiful parts because I feel I’m paying tribute to your bigotry!!

 

…Ok. I had to slow down and breathe. There is something you wrote that I memorized as a child that I’m so grateful for, because it has comforted me many times.

 

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life,

Angels nor demons,

Neither present nor future,

Nor any powers,

Neither height nor depth,

Nor Anything else in all of creation

Will be able to separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus.”

Chelsea Forbrook

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