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Who are you?

Readings:

  • John 1: 6-8; 19-28

God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light.

19 This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” 20 He came right out and said, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 “Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?”
“No,” he replied.
“Are you the Prophet we are expecting?”
“No.”
22 “Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?”
23 John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah:
     “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness,
    ‘Clear the way for the Lord’s coming!’”
24 Then the Pharisees who had been sent 25 asked him, “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?”
26 John told them, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. 27 Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.”
28 This encounter took place in Bethany, an area east of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.

So, I would ask each one of you this morning: who are you?

John the Baptist, knew clearly, who he was. Do you know who you are?  Are you living the life that God intended for you to live, being who God made you to be? Have you reached a place of maturity where you know and accept what God says about you, agree with Spirit that this is true of you, and become the best version of you that exists?

Let’s do a small exercise, and review different areas of our lives: starting with our bodies.  I want you to close your eyes for a moment, and just be present in your body. Be aware of your head, of your neck, your shoulders, your left arm, your hand, your right arm, your right hand… and now let’s move down to your legs. And now let’s move back to your head. And now, I want to ask you: are you your body? Or is your body simply the vessel that carries you?

If you are not your body, then who are you?

What about your possessions? Do those define who you are? Your home, your car, your bank account? Is that who you are?

How about your job, profession and career? Does that define who you are? How many people do you know that have changed careers? How many times in your life has your career and profession changed? How many people do you know that have been laid off or fired, that have quit, that have moved to another country and had to start over in another field? Is a person truly defined by their career or profession? Who are you?

What about your family? Are you mum, dad, the black sheep, the only single one left, the life of the party, the grandmother? Is that who you are? How many people do you know who have lost members of their family? And yet they still continue to live and find new identities and purposes.  Who are you?

How about your emotions? Are you happy, sad, angry, fearful, ashamed, tired? But is that who you are? Or is that simply a state of feeling and emotion that comes and passes?

John responds rather cryptically to the Pharisees and scribes: “I am a voice…” The first verses of John tell us a little more about John the Baptist’s identity:

“God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light.”

And you, who are you? What were you sent for? God sent you… Have you discovered yet what for? Are you living out that purpose? Are you being everything that you could possibly be?

Your identity doesn’t depend on something you do or have done. Most of us confuse doing, having and feeling with being.  Instead of saying I feel sad, we identify with the sadness and say “I am sad”. Instead of saying that I work as a lawyer, we say “I am a lawyer”. Instead of saying I have a family, we lose our identity within that family.  But is that truly who you are?

John knew who he was. And Jesus certainly knew who he was.  Jesus said:

  • I am the bread of life.
  • I am the light of the world.
  • I am the door.
  • I am the good shepherd.
  • I am the resurrection and the life.
  • I am the way, the truth and the life.
  • I am the vine.
  • “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I Am!

And who are you?

Now, I don’t care much for Joel Osteen, but I quite like part of his start to Sunday services and his declaration about the Bible:

This is my Bible.
I am what it says I am.
I can do what it says I can do.

Who are you?

Who does God, through the Bible, say that you are? Let me give you some ideas:

  • You ARE a child of God, complete in Christ – John 1: 12; Colossians 2:10
  • You ARE loved, accepted, redeemed, holy, forgiven, free from condemnation, chosen, established, anointed and sealed by God. 1 John 3: 3; Ephesians 1:6; Colossians 1:14; Romans 8:1; 2 Corinthians 1:21; Colossians 3:12
  • You ARE a joint heir with Jesus, united with God and one spirit with God Spirit. Romans 8: 17; 1 Corinthians 6:17
  • You ARE a temple of God: his Spirit and life lives in you. 1 Corinthians 6:19
  • You are God’s co-worker; a living stone on which the spiritual house is being built. 2 Corinthians 6:1; 1 Peter 2:5

So, if that’s who you are: what are you doing that lives up to this description of you? Does your life reflect who you are?

If you embodied this description of you: what would be different to how you are living your life at the moment? What needs to change in your life, for this to really be you? What would new things would appear in your life if this was you?

What scares you the most about this description of you?

  • Being a child of God? a joint heir with Jesus?
  • Being united with God – complete Oneness?
  • being complete?
  • being loved, accepted, redeemed, holy, forgiven, free from condemnation, chosen, established, anointed and sealed by God?
  • being God’s temple?
  • being God’s co-worker and co-creator?

What obstacles or idols in your life keep you from living this out? What habits or practices do you need to incorporate into your life to live this more fully?

What’s keeping you from living this life today? From walking out of the Church today and being You, the best You that there is, the You that God created you to be in all your fullness and glory, so that others might see Christ in you?

Because today, YOU are the hope of the world. You are the voice in the wilderness. You are the light in the darkness. God sent you!

So, who are you?

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Defining God

So one of the books that I’m reading at the moment is “In Tune with the Infinite“, by Ralph Waldo Trine. I am loving this book! Hard to believe it was originally written some 115 years ago – it’s easy reading! But what I really love about the book is that he focuses on Oneness with God, every moment of each day. Life hasn’t always been this way: I haven’t always valued being present and being aware of Presence or oneness with God.

I am much more comfortable with the terms he uses to refer to God than with those of some other books, but my awareness of the names we use to refer to God are also a reflection of the image we have created of how and what God is.

Is God personal or simply a Presence?

I really struggle with identifying where I stand on this? Maybe because I think God is both! God is God (omnipotent & omnipotence; omniscient & omniscience; omnipresent & omnipresence): why must we put God in a box and a definition?

A bit of background:

I grew up in a fundamentalist (of course, we didn’t call ourselves that!) group, where Mum & Dad worked as missionaries. Now when I look at the “do’s” and “don’ts”, the corporal punishment expected to be given (i.e. my parents were looked down on if they didn’t punish), and the control over how everyone lived their lives, I wonder how close to being a “cult” we were. Thankfully, Mum & Dad got kicked out of the mission, although it was heartbreaking and earth-shattering at the time. It was all I knew. Then we moved back to New Zealand, where I discovered that we were Presbyterian.

How does a Presbyterian end up in a fundamentalist group? Trying to save the world! I have to hand that to Mum & Dad: they truly believed that they were doing God’s will and this was the best that they can be. And I will say this for them: every time I go back to Soloy or Tolè, they are remembered by everyone with great love and affection. They positively impacted people’s lives. And in some cases, literally saved lives (mum was an RN and midwife, so in the boondocks with no EMTs or hospitals, sometimes mum was everything). And dad was love. He loved these people with his heart. If I had just an ounce of the amount of love that dad has for the world, I would be a great person! Do I disagree with some of dad’s opinions? Yes. But I can agree to disagree with him!

By 17 I had “left” the church: blame it on the hormones, the rebellious years, starting University and living the student life. But, the explanation that I gave to myself – as does every self-righteous 17 year old – is that I was sick of the hypocrisy. And by hypocrisy I mean: you know I go out drinking on Friday & Saturday night, and you want me to come to church on Sunday morning and pretend to be a good Christian. I would much rather sleep in and sleep off the hangover!

Reality, which I came to face years later, is that I was mad at God, at Christians, at the mission (especially leadership), and at “organized religion”. I didn’t know enough then to be able to think through all of those things or actually verbalize it yet. So, it was much easier just to be a rebellious teenager that no longer wanted to go to church with my parents.

Forgiveness & moving on

At 21, in the midst of an existential crisis, my flatmate leant me a book she had just finished reading as she went through her separation & divorce that had really helped her: Louise Hay “You can heal your life“. I read it through once. And then I read it through a second time, and did all the assignments as it suggested. And my happy (well, actually, miserable at the time) little bubble finished bursting! I literally packed a weekend bag and my dog (you can’t cry if you don’t have a dog to hug!), borrowed a friend’s bach in Kaiaua (pronounced: Ky-ow-ah), and went off to say goodbye to my demons! I spent the better part of 3 days grieving and forgiving. Letting go. And coming to terms with “what do I believe now?”.

I realized that I blamed God for everything: everything that had been done by so-called Christians in God’s name was God’s fault! A child’s view? Perhaps. But also the consequence of the way I was brought up!

My broken heart and broken dreams and broken family all tumbled out. I came to terms with everything that I blamed Mum & Dad for: and came to an understanding of how they were also victims to some extent of what had happened. And I realized, as a young adult, that they were human. They had done the best they could with what they had and they knew. They were not perfect: they could have done things differently, but they didn’t know any different. They protected me to the best of their ability, they same way they looked after my sister and brother. And for all 3 of us, it hadn’t been enough. We were hurt and broken. But so were they! Life had dealt them a beating and they were lucky to still be standing! I’ll write about all of that another day!

And most importantly, I started to forgive myself!

Twenty years growing up in Christianity and I had to learn from Louise Hay what forgiveness and letting go meant! I’ve read somewhere that tears contain healing properties. I must have completely healed my body in those 3 days with all the tears I cried!

Who & what is God?

Having said that, after that weekend, I came away with a view of God as an impersonal entity that was not involved in the daily affairs of men. I was done with Christianity! God and I were good, insofar as I no longer blamed God for how I had reacted to everything that had happened to me over the past 20 years. Man-made situations were simply that: created by other men & women who had claimed to be acting on God’s behalf. And I was done with organised religion and others telling me what God had said and how to read and interpret the Bible.

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And so there I stood, happily: standing on my own two feet. Responsible for my life and the life I wanted to have. Not some rebellious teen that didn’t want to go to Church on Sunday morning because she wanted to sleep off last nights drinks, but someone who simply decided that God was “out there” and not “in my heart”. Religion was organized to control and manipulate us, but each person had to decide for themselves what they believed.

I was suddenly comfortable talking to Mum & Dad about God and beliefs and life in generally without feeling guilty that I was living differently from what they believed. I built a new relationship with Mum & Dad: one that to this day is amazing! They’ve done a great job of growing up.

And so, for the better part of the next 15 years, I was a happy agnostic. I am totally responsible for my life and being, and God may exist, but it has nothing to do with me personally.

Living as a happy agnostic

So, as a happy agnostic, at 23, I came back to Panama to say “goodbye” to the ghosts and ghouls of the past, to forgive and let go of any last vestiges that might be in my subconscious. The plan: spend 3 months on holiday in Panama and then move to the UK to go backpacking for a year while I decided to do with life. But free and clear of anything that I was still hanging on to, because I always felt in New Zealand that I was in the wrong place. Something was still hanging onto me that wouldn’t let me move forward with life.

Of course, life never quite goes as planned: twenty-one years later and I am still in Panama. It is still home!

When I stepped out of the airport doors (which was air conditioned), and I was struck by the hot, humid air, something inside said “Welcome home”. And so, in a second, I changed my mind. I am not going to stay 3 months, I’m going to get a job and stay for 2 years. That plan isn’t the one that happened either. I’m still here!

Living in a predominantly Catholic country, where I would venture to say that the vast majority are non-practicing, it’s easy to be agnostic. No one is worried here about what church you do or don’t go to; no one worries about your “salvation” or what you personally believe. There’s superstition, possibly more than your fair share. I adopted a black cat – so I was definitely a witch! And I let people believe it, if that was what they wanted to think. It’s just a cat! But if you want to assign my cat some supernatural powers, so be it.

And so it went for about 15 years.

Sermon: Slavery or Freedom

Yesterday, July 1st – was Canada Day… in a couple of days, the United States will be celebrating 4th of July – a day of celebration of independence.  Choosing whom to serve.  It seems very appropriate then, that today we consider Romans 6: 12-23 that Phil Edmonstonread for us: freedom or slavery, discussing who we choose to serve.

For my example today, I’m going to use “anger”, because it is such a controlling emotion. How many have not felt controlled by their anger, rather than in control of their anger.  But the reality is that you could replace anger with any sin, because there are so many to which we can be slaves. Proverbs 6, verses 16 to 19 caution us:

16 There are six things that the Lord hates,
    seven that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes (pride of the heart – arrogance, someone who is holier than thou, looking down on others because someone is better than…), a lying tongue (deception in speech, a lie is a lie – no matter how white or little),
    and hands that shed innocent blood (while it’s talking about murder, it even applies to gossip & character assassination),
18 a heart that devises wicked plans (remember – “as a man thinks in his heart, so he is”, this is premeditation, planning)
    feet that make haste to run to mischief (they have gone from machinations to execution readily – from planning to doing without restraint. But it’s more than that!  It is also when we know what to do and we consciously choose NOT to do it! It could be not participating in gossip – when you listen avidly and fuel the fire; it could be character assassination),
19 a false witness who breathes out lies (knowingly speaking falsely about another person, not simply lying – and that, once again, could include circulating rumours and gossiping),
    and (this is the worst one of them all, the 7th) one who sows discord among brothers (this is basically the sum of the previous 6… and we are back again to gossip & slander, speaking ill of another behind their back, creating divisions rather than unity).

But, unlike animals, humans suppress anger, and more importantly we have anger problems because we forget the purpose of anger.  Instead of using anger to protect our “cubs”, life, loved ones or friends, we have started to use anger to protect our ego!And the reason that I want to talk about anger, is that it is so closely related to many of these sins mentioned in Proverbs.  You know, that emotion that you feel: fury; wrath; rage; mad; ticked off; peeved… whatever you want to call it!  However much we may value loving kindness, we still get angry.  But what happens when anger controls your life? Let me clarify what I mean: there is a healthy and normal anger.  It is part of our fight/flight/freeze response, in which many species, not just humans, get a driving force of adrenaline that helps them escape from danger. With this, we respond to a perceived threat, whether to our children, our self, or our home.  We also see in animals, the same as in humans, the anger that arises from frustration, when we are trying to do a task, and confront failure in our performance.  I’ve watch more than one horse kick the bucket to get the water out!

And by ego, I mean our perception of our ego, which is partly how we want to regard ourselves (internal) and how we want others to perceive us (external).  Ego is our sense of “I”, the way we differentiate ourselves from others.  For some, it is an intoxicating sense of self-importance, something that must be protected.  But it is interesting that the Western view of ego is so different from the Eastern view of ego. For us, our ego is the self, the conscious part of me (my mind, my being) that knows the experience.  But, in Eastern tradition, ego is simply a part of the mind, a trait, a characteristic – but it isn’t actually WHO you are.  And this is important to differentiate when we are talking about anger, especially anger that is directed at protecting the ego! And this kind of anger is poisonous to us.

You all know the story about the boy with the bad temper, whose father sent him out with a bag of nails, and to hammer a nail into the fence every time he lost his temper, right? The first day, he had to drive 37 nails into the fence.  Over time, he got control of his temper, and it gradually dwindled down.  He discovered that it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.  Finally, the day arrived: the boy didn’t lose his temper at all.  He told his father, and for a moment they celebrated that he had finally learnt to control it.  The father than suggested that for each day that the boy was able to hold his temper, he pull one nail out of the fence!  It took a long time, but finally the boy was able to return to his father and tell him that all the nails were finally pulled out of the fence.
The father took the son by the hand, and they went to look at the fence. And here they saw all of the holes that the nails had left.  The fence would never been the same.  And the father told his son: “When ou say things in anger, or lash out at another person, the words leave scars like these.  You can put a knife into a person and draw it back out, but the hole remains.  Saying “I’m sorry” will not fix the wound.  It is still there.”

Many of you may think that you handle your anger well: “I don’t express my anger, I hold it in and don’t say nasty things.”  But bottling the anger up inside, if you are not actually addressing it, leads to problems also.  In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5, verses 21 and 22, Jesus said:

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

So, a small question:  how many of you know how a worm gets inside an apple?  You may think that the worm burrows in from the outside.  But scientists have discovered that the worm actually comes from the inside.  What happens is that the insect lays its egg on the apple blossom.  The blossom becomes an apple, and when the worm hatches, it is already INSIDE the apple. This is how our ego works on our thoughts, words and actions.  It is already inside of us, and we are busy protecting it!

But, like I said, our “ego” is not “us” – it is our perception of how we “see” ourselves and how the world “should see” us. It is only when we are able to not identify with our ego, that we are able to stop protecting it against every attack and begin to look rationally at our anger! Many of ous think “that made me so angry” or “if so-and-so hadn’t said that, I wouldn’t have reacted that way”.  But the truth is: they didn’t actually “make us” do anything. They may have been a source of temptation, but the reality is that they simply EXPOSED us and how we relate to our ego! And what comes out of our mouths when we are angry, is simply an expression of what is in our heart!

If we would take a moment, and “listen” to the thoughts in our head when we are angry, our self-talk, you might hear:

  • I can’t believe they would say that me!
  • How dare they think they could treat me this way!
  • They aren’t going to get away with this!
  • Karma will teach them a lesson!
  • This isn’t fair!

And so our mind  and thoughts escalate it… IT controls us! How many times have you been angry about a perceived injustice and your mind just won’t let it go? You know you need to relax and stop thinking about the situation or the words, but it keeps playing over and over in your head.  It’s as if there were a recorder stuck on replay! And you decide you’re going to forgive, and the anger just keeps welling up inside of you.  You start praying, and the thoughts interrupt and keep side-tracking you. How long are you a slave to these thoughts and this anger? How long does the replay keep popping up in your mind?

Think about it: how many times is this anger about getting our own way, self-centered desires. You feel righteous indignation – but how righteous is it really? Wasn’t it really about getting your way? Being right? Having your needs met? Ephesians 4:26 warns us:

Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.

The whole purpose of the Bible is to draw us closer to God: the same God that is LOVE! God is love and we are called to draw near to God, draw near to LOVE. How do you draw near to love when you are controlled by anger? And what happens when you hold onto that anger past nightfall? You push it aside, deeper down, put a lid on it and ignore it. But it’s still there. You haven’t actually dealt with it, you’ve just covered it up. And when you try to draw near to God, you feel that there is something blocking you.

The truth is anger is a powerful emotion that deceives us into using it to demand our own way, and then we arrive in front of perfect love and we don’t know how to accept it, because perfect love drives out fear. Our ego can’t handle us letting go of our fear! It has been protecting itself for so long, that it can’t afford to let us let go of anything! It has to be right! It has to be protected! It cannot be vulnerable. It cannot be open and accepting. It cannot be forgiving.

If you want to get a handle on your anger, anger is not the problem you must address. Your temper is a symptom of what’s going on in your heart. If you gain self-control over your temper that’s great, but the deeper problem that causes your anger is what needs to change. How we act and live flows from what is in our heart – what we desire or want the most.  So, who do you serve this day? Are you a slave of your ego and your desires? Or do you have the freedom to love others? To see their interests, their point of view, and weigh what they want or need as well as your own wants and needs?

Freedom is being open to love – no longer under the yoke of EGO, but rather under the yoke of LOVE. Choose this day whom you will serve!