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Transformation Blog: Readings from Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus

 

 

R-I-S-K (Becoming Naturally-Supernatural I)

Brandon Cook

Being one of Jesus’ earliest disciples would not have been boring. Think of all the crazy things the twelve Apostles witnessed: the blind seeing, demons cast out, the dead raised back to life. And that’s all before encountering the resurrected Christ. Following the rabbi from Nazareth would have been an adventure, to say the least. 

Discipleship is meant to be the same: an adventure. Part of the value of identifying People of Peace, for example, is that ministry ceases to be primarily an event we schedule into our calendar or a trip to a third world country. Those are both good (and even great) things, but Jesus taught his disciples thateverymomentis a potential intersection with the Reign of God. A person of peace, for example, can P.O.P. into our lives (see what I did there?) at any moment. Each new day is a day for becoming grounded in ouradoption and focused on loving others as an ambassador of God’s Kingdom. Each new day is a day for asking, “Jesus, what are we up to together today?” Indeed, The Grounded Life, anchored in Scripture and prayer, is meant to keep us centered in these realities of adoption and a life of generous compassion. But a life of ministry—of learning to love and focus on others, transcending the natural self-focus which weighs down our lives—takes intentionality. Beyond that, it takescourage.

John Wimber,founder of the Vineyard movement, famously said that faith is spelled “R-I-S-K.”[1] In other words, we often practice our faith by doing things we aren’t entirely comfortable with. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”[2] Oftentimes, so does faith. Our natural human desire for stability and routine resists getting out of the boat of comfort; our ego does not want to be out of control. But we all want adventure, too, so we are caught between our desire for stability, which makes us play it safe, and our desire for something wild and exciting, which demands that we take risks. If tension is the only path by which we are transformed, well… risk is certainly full of tension and it’s often necessary for transformation. I remember an admonition, read on some inspirational quote board on the Internet: “Each day, do one thing you’re terrified of.” Personally, I’d prefer to make it each week, but it’s good advice if you care about transformation. Disciples are those who place the development of their souls above development of their comfort.

Indeed, we don’t grow unless we are pressing into the places we are tempted to avoid, the places we fear. It’s always this way with faith, which is why true faith is never easy, as Jesus himself says.[3] “Going to church” is very different than this type of faith; in fact, “going to church” can sometimes dissuade us from a life of faith.[4] It’s easy and common to be a part of a church without actually having to follow Jesus. If we do follow Jesus, he will no doubt call us to do things that are uncomfortable: having a conversation with a friend who’s offended us, engaging our own emotional wholeness with a counselor, crossing the street to meet a new neighbor, inquiring about the stories of a lonely person in need of an ear.For the sake of our thriving and our transformation, The Holy Spirit constantly calls us to do things that require courage. This is all so that we can live in the fullness of God’s Kingdom. And he will call us to risk in how we love others.

For all of these readings in one place, order my book 'Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus.'


[1]A phrase he used often. See Power Healing by John Wimber with Kevin Springer. HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, CA. 1987. Page 217.

[2]Seen on a magnet in my mother-in-law’s kitchen and often attributed to Neale Donald Walsch. 

[3]Matthew 7:14.

[4]If, for example, a church culture is more focused on teaching us to “be right” or “be safe” than to follow Jesus (which happens quite a bit).

Finding Our Hearts (Fasting V)

Brandon Cook

Our bodies are connected to our hearts. What we do with our bodies matters. As Paul said, “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you…This is truly the way to worship Him.”[1] You will notice, for example, that each of the three areas—food, technology, and buying—is connected to what we do with our bodies. As we fast, we train ourselves to live from our spirit and not from the varied impulses of our body, with its endless hungers and lusts. 

It’s not just about mastering the body; it’s about putting our soul in a constant state of trust in the “enough-ness” of God. It’s all about the posture of our heart. I have slowly been learning this reality over my lifetime and especially since meeting and marrying my wife, Rebecca. 

When she and I started dating, I committed to her not to watch pornography.[2] I kept the commitment, but I found that I was often looking to throw curve balls past my conscience. Okay, I won’t watch pornography, but is (whatever X might be) over the line? Is reading a salacious article—text without any images—a violation of conscience? I’d be on a website that wasn’t pornographic, but the articles took my brain to a salacious place. I found that I engaged in all sorts of behavior which, while technically in bounds and “following the rules,” still violated my conscience. I was going to get away with as much as I could! So I had to keep making new guidelines for myself about what was in bounds and what was out. 

One night I found myself looking through the descriptions of a number of crude movies on Netflix which I could watch. Even if I wasn’t going to, the thought was alluring. The posture of my heart was hungry to indulge, full of lust and longing, and though I didn’t watch any of the movies, I realized later it wasn’t about the letter of the law. Though it was far better not to watch, it wasn’t simply about that alone. I violated my conscience simply by dancing toward an inner belief: I need this and I deserve this. Even if I didn’t technically break the rule, the posture of my heart had drifted deeply into the belief that I wasn’t going to be okay without pornography and, more generally, without having things on my own terms. I wanted the power of knowing I couldindulge if I wanted to. I wanted to dance with my entitlement and that I didn’t have to say “no” if I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to have to depend on God’s enough-ness. It’s always about the posture of our heart, and I violated the spirit without violating the letter.  

I have friends who watch shows with content I cannot watch because I know what it would do to my brain. But I don’t judge the posture of their heart, and I know and trust that they are walking according to their conscience.[3] Each of us must ask, Where do I not believe that God is enough? Again, the root of any temptation, including the first temptation in Genesis 3 and the three temptations of Jesus in Matthew 4, is that God is not truly good. The invitation of darkness is always to believe that God is not enough for our souls. 

You must come to know you will be perfectly okay.[4] We must come to the place of knowing I am perfectly okay without this food, this sugar, this having, this buying, this spending, this screen, this Facebook, this noise. As you fast, just as when you turn away from temptation, you have an opportunity to discover that your soul is perfectly okay in God. Fasting is about increasing this confidence, this capacity of knowing, that God is enough. Ultimately, fasting will increase our capacity for awe and wonder and our ability to live into that second discipleship question, “How can You be so good?” How can You be so good, God, to be enough for my soul? How can You be so good that I don’t need this, that, or the other to be content?

Fasting, then, is a way of living beyond a life of mere comfort into a life led, as Paul says, “by the Spirit.”[5] As we are led by the Spirit, God will free our hearts. We will become outposts of the Reign of God who can make present the love of Jesus for those all around us. The world needs people who aren’t overly rigid or overly indulgent, but who demonstrate the power of delight, restraint, and thanksgiving. Such people can reveal the joy of knowing God’s generous heart. 

May it be so in us.

For all of these readings in one place, order my book 'Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus.'

[1]Romans 12:2.

[2]A noble venture since pornography destroys the brain. See, for example, Hypofrontality: How Using Porn Destroys Your Willpowerby L. Gilkerson. http://www.covenanteyes.com/2014/02/28/hypofrontality [January 10, 2018].

[3]Romans 13-14, I Corinthians 8.

[4]I feel sure I heard or read Dallas Willard make some such statement, but I can’t find a source reference for it.

[5]E.g., Romans 8:9, 14.

The Challenge (Fasting IV)

Brandon Cook

What are some areas for fasting? We simply need to look to God’s good gifts in the world. Remember, fasting is detaching, for a season, from the good things to which we’ve become (or might become) overly attached. It’s recognizing and correcting over-dependence. As Tim Keller says, idolatry—the great sin of Israel which serves as a warning to us—is making any good thing into an ultimate thing.[1] It’s bending our knee to something and asking it do something which it was never meant to do. Take food, for example. Enjoying food is a good thing, meant to delight our souls. But over-indulging and abusing it—trying to make food our emotional savior—can be crippling. A relationship with a spouse is a good thing, meant to shape us and teach us about God’s love within a covenantal relationship. But when we make that (or any other relationship) the place from which we get our sense of identity or our ultimate emotional security, it can put a strain on the relationship which ends up corrupting the relationship itself.[2] We are meant to have an inner sense of self in God which frees us from finding our identity elsewhere. 

Unfortunately, our human hearts will often wrest (or try to wrest, anyway) a sense of security and stability from good things, trying to make them into ultimate things. Here are three basic categories for good things we are meant to enjoy but which we might also misuse.

Food and drink  

         including alcohol, sugar, junk food, and so on 

Technology 

including screen time, social media, and various forms of entertainment 

Shopping and spending 

         including anything we don’t really need 

These three categories are not definitive nor do they cover everything from which we might fast, but they do cover quite a bit. You might fast from food for a day, or you might fast from sugar for a month or more. You might adjust your diet to eat only fruit and vegetables and proteins for a time (though consult with your doctor before doing so). You might limit or fast from consuming media—the TVor the Internet, for example. Or you might put down your smart phone except for using it to communicate with others (the original use of a phone before they became super-computers available to us at all hours). You might fast, as I said above, from buying anything non-essential for a period of time.

But again, these categories are not comprehensive. I remember, at one point in my life, being so concerned with reading and study that I was perhaps becoming overly attached to it. Then I read the words of Ecclesiastes: “…my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.”[3] Not only did I read these words of Scripture, but they also read me; they pierced me, and I took a period of time to fast from reading. Reading, of course, is a great thing, but I was becoming so attached to my process of study. I was overly concerned with sounding smart, and it was crowding out space in my soul.[4]

Fasting from reading is an unusual fast, and indeed, you might need to choose an unconventional fast that is specific and meaningful for you. This, too, takes discernment and listening to God’s Spirit. While our hearts are uniquely the same, the shape of our souls is different. Whatever the case, the goal, above all, is to experience freedom in our soul, such that we experience God’s nearness and are empowered to love as He does. To that end, look over each of the three areas above, as a starting point, and take a moment to note the place(s) in your life where you most incline toward hedonism. Write it/them down in the margins of this page. 

Now, here’s the challenge: choose one thing from which you will fast in the next month.

You get to set the parameters—what and how and for how long. Make sure it’s something that’s a challenge for your soul. Something that will make you a bit (or a good bit) uncomfortable. Set the time when you will begin and end, in advance, and when the times comes, engage the fast with commitment and curiosity. Commit to see it all the way through, which will create self-confidence, and engage it with curiosity, to see what you learn during the fast.

Finally, while you are fasting, notice each time you are gripped by the longing for the thing from which you are fasting. When that happens, just notice, without judging, the impulse. And then, ground yourself in prayer by saying: “I want X (whatever X may be), but I redirect that energy and longing to You, God. You are enough for my soul. Help me become open to you.” Repeat this process over and over: notice your desire, then release it, directing your energy back toward God. As you practice this, you will expand the capacity of your soul to walk in trust before God. 



For all of these readings in one place, order my book 'Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus.'

[1]Keller, Timothy. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power and the Only Hope That Matters. Viking Press, New York, NY. 2009. See Chapter 1.

[2]Our ultimate sense of self cannot come from any other human being. It must come from a source that transcends any person. In Christian thought, transcendence comes in experiencing love or beauty, which are signs pointing to the ultimate Love and the ultimate Beauty, God. 

[3]Ecclesiastes 12:12.

[4]To fast from reading then was fasting from the lust and hedonistic pleasure of wanting to appear smart. Cf. 1 John 2:16.