Musing on Days of Awe: Repentance and the End of Self

For those that do not know right now in the midst of what is known as the “Days of Awe” (Yamim Noraim). It is the ten days between the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) and The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).   The focus of these days is on repentance for the day of meeting God and being cleansed was coming.  Now we have had the day of the great atonement, the once for all  sacrifice, yet I believe God still works in accordance with his time table.  Personally at this time God has led me to focus on some things He wants me to change.  Things that are not easy for met to let go of and turn from, but it is for me to follow and obey.  For me this stirring within and the choices that are being made are not some self motivated need to change. It is listening to God, looking at where I have been in past year and having to make changes.  Either follow as God leads and be blessed, or keep going with what pleases self and suffer the consequences.  If there is to be progress there is to be letting go and turning from that which holds back.  Actively walking in faith involves the “throwing off” of sin that entangles” (see Hebrews 12:1).  It is not easy.  For the things that need to be repented from are things that have let become engrained and perhaps deeply lodged.  God wants to set us free and lift us up to follow His ways. To do so takes actions of repentance. Actions of being freed from that which holds back, the areas of self and the idols that we turn to for life apart from God.  So if you do not have any area in your life being stirred during these remaining days, take time to pray and listen to God to know what God asks you to turn from at this time; then simply follow through. It will be a difficult thing but also truly healing as it is letting go of the ways of self and walking in step with the Holy Spirit. There is no better way.

Personal Musings: Feeling stuck in “mud”

Well, it is time for an update of where things have been. The blog has been strangely quiet since returning from the AACC National Conference.  It is not personally what I expected or anticipated. As left feeling recharged, refreshed, and energized.  On the Monday following the conference returned to work and work it was, as the it was the busiest morning for me at that job ever.  My second job also was very busy.  So jumped in full steam. By the middle of the week there was what was thought by me to be some allergy issues but ended up being a head cold that is even now still lingering.  There are still all the thoughts and promptings that occurred and are being developed but rather than moving forward it seemed got stuck in mud.

What does that image mean, getting stuck in mud.   Well the kind of being stuck in mud here pertain more to reaching a point in a path that is filled with mud and that progress is difficult.  Here there was a sudden being overwhelmed upon return followed by an ongoing drain that made it difficult to progress.  Some of that is the physical nature of things where there is an ongoing viral infection that slows down.  Rather than ramping up and broadening all the steps that need to be done, it was more a time being slowed and in that time thoughts simmer and process. In other words it is meeting with resistance from what is beyond self, and resistance from within self pertaining to issues of fear, faith, and health.  There is much work ahead, still much preparation to be laid, but time is getting to the point where some serious pursuits and work needs to be done.  Let  me review a little bit of what some of that entails.

1.  Getting the framework set and established for making a push to market private practice and generate clients.  There has not been a whole lot of push forward on that front since was hoping credentialing would go quicker and would be able to add the private practice office with little difficulty.  Credentialing is in itself like moving through mud or pour molasses.  Just a lot of patience needed and not much that can be done.  Yet, there needs to be some networking that goes on with local churches that needs to begin and it starts with getting website up.  Some of what I need done is at the help of others gracious enough to help with the things I do not have the knowledge of, and making sure my communication is clear. Once all I need help with is done then need to spend some time getting the base web content up.  The other steps are getting the printing of letterhead and business cards done so can actually send material out promoting self.  None of these things are enjoyable for me and come with resistance.   These things need to be done. 

2. There is a felt prompting to take the article: https://peacebringer7.wordpress.com/2010/04/24/seven-spiritual-principles-for-transcending-suffering/, into a book that may use the newly forming POD publishing branch of AACC to publish. It is a task and process that is specific and work needs to be done to get started.  My good friend Craig even challenged to consider signing up for NaNoWriMo as part of getting moving. The challenge did not feel right, but the fact is needed to get through own personal resistance and get started on the project whether or not it ends up something beyond my putting it together. 

3. There is still the ongoing goal of writing more intentionally for the blog. Need to set and stick to some personal goals in all of this. And perhaps that is a good starting point, is sitting down and setting objectives to work through these resistance areas of life and to make progress.  But I am well aware of need to be more intentional and consistent.  I think for awhile the objective was writing everyday, and while did that for awhile it may have been more than appropriate, resulting in falling by the wayside when there is took much going on. This is especially true if spend time working on a “book project.” The other aspect is that really have felt led to have a separate blog focusing on Christianity and Mental Health that is overall different with a particular focus on those issues.  It will serve in part as a way of marketing for private practice, as well as get some thoughts out there on what true sound Christian Mental Health theory and practice is. 

So in writing this, it seems clear that in order to make moves through the resistance and mud need to have a few things happen.  One for me is setting some established personal goals. And honestly that is difficult for me. The resistance to personal goal setting goes back to days at Chapel Hill Academy when faced a “self paced” educational system with a process of self-determining goals and meeting those goals.  The final year of my time there, I loaded up a ton of detention for failing to follow through with goals as became tired of there whole way of doing things. 

So what can you the readers do to help me?  There are a couple things. Pray for God give me strength and encouragement to fight through my own areas of resistance.  Some of the resistance is the externals such as waiting for credentialing and the recent health issues. The other is emotional resistance due to fears, work load, and the rest.  In order for there to be any progress though, cannot sit and be passive. The temptation is to simply sit back, engage in the varied distractions, and move from one day to the next.  Yet, doing such would result in a lack of productivity.  So pray for me to grow through that area and meet what God desires.  The other thing people can do is to give words of encouragement.  If there is silence, drop me a line.  If you see me, ask me how doing setting and making goals.  And feel free to challenge and push me to give and meet varied goals.  For I know one thing is clear, that it is easier to move through periods of resistance when there is either encouragement or even help. 

Let me close this bit of personal musing with a question?  How are you in your own lives and in moving toward that which God has prompted within you? Are you slowed down due to resistance?  Have you stopped any progress? Have you gone silent?  Even what are the resistance areas in your own life and what are they tied to?

News Commentary: Death follows author of The Secret

Recently the Star Tribune posted an article about Liz Neuman who died while attending a New Age retreat which uses sweat lodges and billed itself as a spiritual warrior retreat.   The primary focus seems to be on the large number of people involved in the sweat lodge ritual.  She is the third person to die during self-help guru James Arthur Ray’s retreat.

James Arthur Ray is a self-help guru promoted by Oprah Winfrey. He is the author of Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life You Want and The Secret. There also has been a movie made promoting The Secret in which James Arthur Ray also appears.  He promotes the new age concept of Law of Attraction which generally is about directing your thoughts to think positively about what you want.

Now according to a New York Post article these recent deaths are not the first time trouble has followed James Arthur Ray.  In July of 2009, Colleen Conaway committed suicide by jumping off a mall balcony. James Arthur Ray also was reported to bully a women into shattering her hand at one of his seminars. 

The recent incidents have police considering charges.  In a recent article, a least one witness has come forward describing the events of the retreat as purposeful deprivation and embracing suffering.  It was all a focus on “mind of matter” that is part and parcel to the “law of attraction” mindset of James Arthur Rays teaching.  It seems the central tenet is that in order to overcome anything hindering you from what you want, you need to train your mind to overcome suffering.

Some of the focus on what went wrong at the retreat pertains to the construction of the sweat lodge.  Certainly the sweat lodge design may have contributed to the tragedy.  Yet the mindset and teaching of James Arthur Ray contributed significantly to the deaths and injuries suffered.  Cries of warning and signs of distress were ignored.   This is really because the teaching center on using the mind to control the universe. A central tenant the law of attraction is that life is illusory. You can get what you want by focusing your thoughts. You can overcome barriers by controlling your mind and thinking.  You can even overcome felt suffering by controlling you mind. These teachings are not new and are central to many eastern and new age religious practices and constructs. 

James Arthur Ray has turned such teachings in to  a well marketed means of income generation.  The ill-fated retreat is one costing attenders at least 10,000 grand.  He has sold millions of books, well aided by Oprah and other celebrity endorsements.  James Arthur Ray certainly has gotten what he has wanted.  Yet, James Arthur Ray star is now fading because of these deaths. It was recently reported that his publishing firm has delayed upcoming book releases due to the recent tragedy.

It is the position of this blog writer, that James Arthur Ray is more than just a slick con man separating fools from their money.  There are very real spiritual elements going on.  Now while the focus here is on fulfilling desires by training the mind, there are spiritual forces at work as well.  The spiritual practices embraced lead to opening doors to spiritual forces of darkness.  Death is around, because the forces behind The Secret and other such teachings want to destroy people.  There is always the promise of having desires fulfilled.  There is always promises of great success.  But the powers behind the words are all about destroying lives.  The suicide of the woman could be pointed at the psychological manipulations of James Arthur Ray, but in reality much darker elements were likely at work.  A clear indication of spiritual darkness at work was James Arthur Ray’s reaction to a sliver of light poking into the sweat lodge. It brought an angry outburst over light intruding on the religious ceremony.  What James Arthur Ray teaches is pure darkness.

Now there is an alternative to the teachings of James Arthur Ray.  The alternative though is not about getting what you want or having your desires met.  The alternative is about achieving true peace.  The alternative is about a spiritual power far greater.  The alternative is the Gospel.  The alternative is Jesus the Messiah.  The only true peace is found in being reconciled with the creator, and being right with God.  What James Arthur Ray offers in training your mind to deny suffering.  What Jesus and God offers is peace in the midst of suffering.  What James Arthur Ray offers is getting what you want now. What Jesus and God offers is love and true life that is not about self, but about that which is far greater and everlasting.  The choice is always in front of you.  Turn to God or find ways to seek to elevate self.  One path is life, one path is death.

Question of week 9-23-2009: Where do you find your identity?

In this day and age we are all about who am I and what do I want. We have books about finding purpose, finding self.  There is a lot of money made on developing self, identifying self, and observing self.  The world we live is really obsessed with self.  So my question is, where really do you find your identity? What is it that makes up your self?  For me my identity is found in Jesus. Sure there are other things I can focus on including the my given name as well as the name peacebringer.  Yet, everything that makes up my self, is insignificant compared that what Jesus gives me.  He gives me far more than anything I could want or need,  though at times I do not recognize it.  Each of us is only truly at peace with self when we surrender the whole of self.  When we surrender whatever aspect of identity to Jesus, only then are we truely able to be what God intended.  Each of us when living solely for self, walk in distortion of God’s intended identity for us.  When we twist what God has created we suffer and lack peace, because what God created is twisted.  The only way our true identities become untwisted is through surrender to Jesus.  We get involved in fully trying to straighten out self it still ends up a twisted mess.  So think for a moment and ask yourself the question: where do you find your identity.  Any answer that comes up different from in Jesus and you are simply walking a distorted version of who God created you to be.

Post-birthday Musing: Forty-four years and counting

Yesterday was my birthday. It marked the start of my forty-fourth year on earth. Forty-three years have come and gone. Plenty of good, bad, and ugly have gone on those years. For me, the anniversary of my birth is essentially my personal New Year. It is a time to focus on God’s working in my life in the past, present, and future. As such it is a time of reflection, evaluation, submission, and thanksgiving.

    In terms of reflection, it is a time to look back to the changes that have occurred in the past year, the steps accomplished and the personal growth. It is a time truly to examine what it is that God has done in my life. The growth and progress in our lives can go un-noticed or seem insignificant unless time is spent looking back at how things have changed. Granted some years there seem to be more regression then progress but each year brings about change. In this past year though there has been definite growth in the spiritual, emotional, and relational level. The biggest area of growth is beginning to use and exercise the voice God has given me. Also and besides using the voice, my eyes, ears, and heart have been made aware of things previously ignorant or dismissive of in terms of the levels and layers of deception in the church.

    Not only is time spent reflecting on what progress have made in life but also time looking ahead at what areas still need work and what steps are needed to take to meet goals and vision. In doing an evaluation it is a good time to think about steps to take in year ahead and make plans for reaching those objectives. Certainly, in doing personal evaluation there are dangers. One danger is to start engaging in making comparisons rather than honest self-appraisal. At times it is hard to accept and recognize the differences in life. It is easy to look at folks my age who have children graduating from high school, for example. Another easy comparison is to look at where I am in my career and profession versus other people my age. The truth is God created each of us different and we do have different experiences be they good, bad, or ugly. How God shapes, guides, heals, and uses each of us is unique to our own personal journey and relationship. Yet, it is real easy to focus on what we think we lack. It is also really easy to focus on ways things may not have worked out as expected.

In terms of our agendas, plans, goals, visions, or objectives things often do not work out as we expect and it can be really easy to get caught up in our plans for bettering ourselves and engaging in our own plans and visions. As such, we need to constantly be evaluating whether we are pursuing our own plans or God’s plans. Ultimately such an attitude requires an evaluation of personal level of submission. A person’s birthday is a good time to take a hard look at self and renew submitting to God and serving his Kingdom versus our own. Granted, this is needed even day to day, moment to moment, but I find that a Birthday is a good time to commit the year ahead and any personal goals or plans to the King of Kings. It is a good day to renew the surrender of self.

Finally above all else, it is a time to be thankful before God for what he has done in your life, what is coming ahead, and what is going on in the moment. We need to remember whether we perceive progression or regression, if we are happy or unhappy, to be thankful. We are directed to rejoice in the Lord always, regardless of what else is happening. Our rejoicing really is not about our circumstance or what is happening but really about our surrender to Jesus the Messiah as King of Kings and His working in our lives to refine us. So whether the year was filled with many blessings or many trials, still rejoice for God is at work and He is the source of any peace or strength. Really after taking a step of surrendering self to God and submitting to him, the step of thanksgiving and rejoicing should be natural.

    In closing this article, I do want to simply encourage each reader to take time ask God to give me clarity and wisdom to see what he has ahead. Pray that I grow in my dying to self and practice greater moment by moment surrender of self. I have plans for the next year of my life, I have hopes that have yet to be fulfilled, but not as I will but as He wills. Above all my forty-fourth year of life is in God’s hands and I am thankful for whatever lies ahead.

SPRING MUSING: Time for Renewal and Preparation

    Well, the Spring season is well underway and some thoughts on Spring are well overdue. God did something profoundly amazing in creating the seasons. It is a blessing to live where the full experience of the change of seasons occurs. God has chosen the Spring as the time to enact his plan of salvation and give the gift of the Holy Spirit. When thinking about the season of Spring the words that come to mind are growth, new life, planting, cleaning, green, flowers, Robins, and change. God, being wonderfully creative has placed meaning in the seasons for us to learn personally, that can even help us in our personal and spiritual growth. In terms of personal growth, spring seasons of life are about moving into areas of change and growth. In moving into change and growth there are really two processes that are key elements to change and growth, RENEWAL and PREPARATION.

First, let’s examine the process of RENEWAL. In terms of this process there are really two key elements, Re-invigoration and Purification. Regarding Re-invigoration, it is really describes what happens in the spring. Things go from being dormant to bustling with new life. Trees bud, animals come out of hibernation, birds return from migration, flowers bloom, and things turn from brown to green. Two words really describe this coming to life of spring re-invigoration and that is being revived and inspired.

    Revival is a word used a lot but really catches the essence of the re-invigoration that comes with spring. Revival is about reawakening what has lied dormant. In our personal and spiritual life, we can reach a point where recognize that the talents and gifts we have were not being utilized. Perhaps there has been a period of quietness and withdrawal and areas that once seemed dull becomes quickened and renewed. The revival of spring is something that happens in the due course of time, it is not about going anywhere to stir up what has been quiet, rather it is about reawakening. Now with any period of revival, while that which is dormant becomes animated, there is also that which is new that springs to life.

The newness springing to life is really the essence of inspiration. In terms our personal and spiritual life, what often happens that while skills, gifts, and talents that have been unused become quickened back to use, often the ways that they are used can take on a different flavor or shade. Perhaps even new gifts, talents, or skills are discovered. Ideas and thoughts can come about where to go. Dreams, goals and visions are readily brought forth with the inspiration of spring. It is important to note that no real re-invigoration can be complete without the second element of renewal.

The second element of renewal really goes hand in hand with re-invigoration and in terms of our spiritual and personal development can even lead to moving into a spring phase of growth. Purification is really a key process that occurs within the spring. We even have a term for this purification: SPRING CLEANING. The purification process really has three actions involved: removal of debris, refurbishing the broken, and refining the dirty. Removal of debris is a key action because there is often things dealt with in other seasons still have remnants that need to be dealt with and eliminated. Spring is also a time when things that have been broken can be fixed and rebuilt. Spring also is a time for simply refining areas of life that need more work and polish to the point where there true essence and beauty shine. Unfortunately when we think of purification, we think of the garbage in our lives that need to be changed, the things we need to repent from, and certainly those actions and choices are key components but also is necessary to bring areas of our life into proper alignment and honed to their best condition.

The process of Renewal does not happen in a vacuum for at the same time the process of PREPARATION begins. Renewal really has to do with your own life and the changes happening within, whereas, Preparation is all about what is needed to be fruitful and productive. It is a time certainly where ideas, plans, and goals can be set. In other words, a direction for the activities related to the production of summer season and the harvest of falls season need to take place. The first action of preparation really related to “tilling the soil.” This action is all about identifying the potential areas for growth and doing work to prepare for planting of seeds. In other words, once a direction is picked the tasks that need to happen need to be identified and engaged in before you can even think about attempting to move in any direction. If there is not the early work done in terms of making sure you are headed in the right direction. Forms of tilling the ground really include prayer and time seeking God’s word and even the advice of others. The actions really describe the breaking of soil and spreading of fertilizer that is part and parcel to tilling the soil. If you head in a direction without any of those elements, the ground really will not be properly prepared to allow for full production and the optimum harvest.

Once proper tilling has been done then the time comes to plant the seeds. Planting the seeds is all about exploring the possibilities and trying varied directions to see what be the direction to bring forth the appropriate harvest. This phase of preparation even involves really thinking out the steps needed to allow the seeds to come to fruition after being planted. In our lives, it may seem that the planting of seeds really is what the spring season is about, but it is really the last action to be taken. Yet, even though it is the last action, it is also vitally important. There is no harvest if no seeds are planted. In our spiritual and personal life, if we are not active and intentional in choosing the proper course we can be less then productive.

Granted, God can and does bring about fruitful harvests regardless of our efficacy in terms of the spring, yet if we hold back at all we can miss out on things God has in store for us, if we but follow the direction He leads. The real success of Renewal and Preparation comes when we seek not our own efforts and plans but work on and through the areas God leads us toward, rather than our own thoughts.

In closing, please take time to consider what season of growth you are in and ask God to direct your steps. If you are in a spring period of growth with newness on the horizon and filled with much hope, submit this season to God and ask for direction as to what steps of Renewal and Preparation God is asking of you. If you don’t know what season your life is in, ask God to reveal it to you. If you are feeling like you have been through a long winter and wondering when spring will really come, start by seeking God and asking God to bring you renewal and prepare you for what He has ahead for you.