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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

TRAJECTORY: Am I Christ's Or Am I Mine?

For the past couple of months in the midst of the unsettling I wrote about recently regarding church, I've also experienced a persisting nudging to go deeper into the spiritual sensibilities I learned in my mid-30's and practiced most assiduously in my 40's and 50's. During my 30's I went through a number of formative experiences which changed my sense of self and what it meant to be a Jesus-follower. In my mid-30's, I went to through a year of inner healing with a wise and gifted Episcopal priest. A few months later, I was stopped in a stairwell after church and prayed over to receive spiritual gifts, especially teaching. Months later, through my brother, Stacy, (who journeyed from Albuquerque at God's prompting), and my wife, Tricia, prayed over me to receive the gift of tongues. A few months after, my brother in-law, Steve, called to tell me of a book he read which revolutionized his way of praying. I knew him to be a man of prayer already, so I heeded his advice, read the book, and began a 30-year journey of listening prayer and journaling. Finally, while going to a Methodist church in Bakerville, CT, I was invited to go on a Tres Dias retreat for men, and later, co-led a mens' retreat at the church. That led to attending the BARN in Simsbury, CT soon after where we were invited to take the elders on a retreat. We taught them listening prayer, and were soon invited to move into the Center For Renewal Retreat House where we led retreats, offered counseling and spiritual direction for the next 20 years prior to moving to Northampton to plant imagine almost 5 years ago.

I wrote all that to give you a sense of the spiritual disciplines we have practiced as normative in our Christian journey, especially over the last 30 years (Tricia even beyond that). I also wanted you to see a bit of the spiritual "trajectory" our lives have taken. According to the dictionary, a trajectory is a path, (chosen or taken), a progression or line of development. In a physical sense, it's the angle, arc or orbit of a projectile as it moves. I think you can see from the little bit of my spiritual history I was moving in a particular direction even though I had no clear perception where all of it was heading. I was just experiencing the movement of the Spirit as I acted according to invitation and opportunity. In many ways it was all quite mundane, but God had a trajectory in mind for me as it turns out. I made decisions about things that looked good to pursue and he moved me into position for what he wanted. At the same time, my sense of the realness and Presence of Jesus with me was acute. Much of my life was about being in the silence with him to pray, listen, read, contemplate and seek. That could happen even when I was with others and it did. I took action because I know when God was nudging me to go.

But at the heart of this blogpost is one question, a central question of eternal magnitude, I think. It's a question more important than any other you or I could answer in this life. It determines where we will give our deepest heart and our best gifts. It reveals how we actually walk with Jesus through our days. This question illuminates what we'll truly give our lives to, and what is our greatest treasure or pearl of great price in reality. Such a question exposes our egos, fears, vanities, confusion, lusts, weaknesses and what we protect more than anything.

There are only seven words to the question: Am I Christ's or am I mine? Put differently, do I belong to him, or to me? Do I spend most of my time on things which serve me or serve him? It's a matter of to whom or to what I give my heart; i.e., my deepest, most persisting allegiance. 

Ask yourself as many of these questions that fit:

  • What fills my head most of the time? 
  • Where in life are my most cherished and protected pleasures or interests?
  • Where, if I were ruthlessly honest with myself, do I want to be left alone to do as I please - including by God sometimes?
  • What are my dreams; do they have anything to do with relationship to Jesus and his Kingdom? Is my spiritual life mostly routinized to-do's: go to church, have a quiet time, read the Bible, tithe, be a nice, responsible person, sing in the choir, volunteer for a project, stop cussing or smoking or watching TV, etc.?
  •  When was the last time I was overwhelmed with my love for him or sensed the closeness of His Presence?
  • Do I ever get the sense I'm going through the motions because I'm spiritually bored or detached from a spiritual life. 
  •  Am I struggling with hidden sin which causes me to shy away from being with Jesus much less feel I belong to him because I don't want to give it up?
  • In reality, how much am I working to secure my piece of the American Dream for myself and my family?
The thing of it is when we look at the call of Christ on all who would be his disciples there is a pretty rigorous summons to sacrifice their lives and follow him. They were, and we are to be at his service. The motive to do so is because we've experienced the ravishing goodness of who he is on our behalf. One way or the other, we've come to know him as real and near us. Remember that once the disciples saw the risen Christ, they devoted all of their days to proclaiming him in the world no matter if it cost their lives, They finally recognized the enormity that he is God Incarnate who sacrificed himself for the world because he chose to out of unfettered love. When you see God, the other stuff just doesn't sparkle as much.

We all know this because we've read and heard the stories a gazillion times. But curiously they seem a little unreal to us. They're the heroes of the faith, the exemplars. We're just folks. And the reality is we have our hands full needing to keep our jobs in this economy, pay our bills, keep our health insurance, put our retirement plans in place, get the kids to college, maintain a style of living we're comfortable with, and have some time to have a little fun once in awhile. That's reality, right. Yeah ... it's a perspective of reality, and distinctly western. Is it the trajectory we've been called to maintain in lieu of something better? I think not.

Wrestling over the years with my own issues of belonging mostly to me rather than Jesus, I recognize how easy it is to subtly drift into dual trajectories of seeking to attain the felicities and comforts of the world while trying to maintain a respectable spiritual life as a Christian. The problem I found, with notable exceptions, is that Christians spend a larger percentage of their time trying to build a trajectory that makes them feel comfortable, free, fulfilled or safe, and end up largely avoiding actually following Christ where he is working in people around them because it's messy, scary, time-consuming, or they have to sacrifice the quality of life they really want in the end. If we can can get the best of both worlds we feel pretty satisfied. God understands. 

Again it comes down to ownership. Do we belong to Christ who is our Lord and has a trajectory he calls us to which mostly reflects his values, and eternal interests in the world he has placed us in, or do we belong to ourselves which largely reflects American Dream ideals and personal preferences. I think when we finally decide we genuinely want to be Christ's, and that it means a trajectory of shouldering our own cross to carry through a preferred life of service, our spiritual perspective changes, and we begin to see our identities primarily as followers of Christ who is at work all around more than we cared to notice before. Yes, we need to eat, and pay bills and keep a roof over our heads, but the American life of creature comforts, gadgets and leisure pursuits no longer satisfies like it did to one who has crossed over the line of ownership.

Here's why I think that's so. Belonging to Christ defines a spiritual trajectory that is both contemplative and active, spiritual and practical, inward and outward. We seek to be alone with him who is our Refreshing Source and Abiding Fountain of Life. We listen to his voice, study his thoughts and ways, learn to notice his Presence in the ordinary, and find pleasure when we recognize his unabashed love and goodness toward us. It's called FASCINATION. Anyone who has heard his voice or had a revelation he is real, or been touched by freedom and healing because of him stays fascinated because WONDER who is real and loving has opened REALITY which stays close.The more you sit with Jesus and enjoy his company , the more your trajectory will remain in him and flows from being with him.

At the same time because we've been in the company of One who loves and frees us we want to take action in service that the Values and the blessings of the Kingdom are manifest in the lives of people who can't see Him. We want to bring grace, healing, freedom, food, comfort, dignity, courage, friendship, wisdom and reality to our corner of the world or beyond if he summons. Our spirituality is not cloistered away, but in the crowd, out in the streets, and in the homes and workplaces, over the back fence. It's real because we've been with the most REAL and know his heart for this groaning creation. Our spiritual trajectory leads us to benignly overwhelm hatred with fierce love that won't back down because we're Christ's. Our action joins his Presence. We don't make it up; we follow because we've noticed him at work and come to help (nor because he needs us, but because he invites us to join him.

So ownerships begins 

 *****

Learn to sit in the silence in the early morning at home, or by a lake, pond, or river at some point in the day to just be with him who's trajectory of ownership frees you.

Talk to him and listen for his response. Go for a walk with him and open your heart to his beauty and truth.
His trajectory of ownership enlivens you.

Examine your day or the one before, and ask for the grace to notice his Presence there. Thank him for the blessings he sent you that day. His trajectory of ownership lavishes you with grace.

Ask him to show you your sin, especially those which reflect your selfishness and belonging to yourself in your heart, Ask him to reveal your offenses that you might make amends with others.Thank him for his forgiveness.Ask him to free you from any selfish trajectory which steals your heart. His trajectory of ownership washes you abiding forgiveness.

Then, just be quiet and learn to rest at peace for a few minutes.






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