|Lake Michigan off Holland State Park (MI)|
I'm meeting by phone conference tonight with the 15 pastors in my Spiritual Formation Tele-Class. We've all been praying an hour a day, 5 days a week, for the past month. I'll ask each of them to share for 1-2 minutes on: One thing God has spoken to you during these prayer times.
We'll also discuss Greg Boyd's book Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now. I'll lead this discussion. Here are the notes I'll be sharing from. I'm connecting Greg's ideas with my own phenomenology of spiritual formation. (All quotes from Greg's book unless otherwise indicated.)
GREG BOYD – PRESENT PERFECT
A PERSONAL EXAMPLE
One of the things I have done for many years (44 of them!) is: attend to the present moment, and to what God is doing now. For example, when my sons were little I would often return from a prayer time and look in the window of our living room from the outside. I would see Linda, Dan, and Josh. And I would thank God for this moment, and savor it to its depths.
And: many times throughout the year I step outside when there is a clear sky and look at the starry skies. I take in the moment, now.
Ps. 118:24 says: This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it. (NRSV)
let us rejoice and be glad in it. (NRSV)
Greg quotes de Caussade – “No moment is trivial since each one contains a divine kingdom, and heavenly sustenance.” (115)
“NOW” IS WHERE GOD LIVES
God is present in all places at all times.
God is part of our surroundings each and every moment. (10)
“In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
Being absorbed in the past or future causes us to miss the wonder of the present. (14)
God is the great “I AM,” not the great “I was” or the great “I will be.”
(See W.L.C. on God as temporal in relation to the creation, and non-temporal without the creation. See Craig’s essay “Timelessness and Omnitemporality”)
THE PRESENCE MOTIF
The only thing that’s real is this present moment. (10)
“The only thing that matters is waking up to God’s presence.” (10)
“The present moment is all that is real.” (14)
What about the “past” and the “future?”
We only remember the past and anticipate the future NOW, in the present.
[See N.T. Wright, The Case for the Psalms, esp. Chapter 4, “Where God Dwells.” For everyone interested in the biblical "presence motif" this is a beautiful chapter!]
“Over the past twenty-plus years since my waking-up experience in the woods, I’ve become absolutely convinced that remaining aware of God’s presence is the single most important task in the life of every follower of Jesus.” (15)
How do we do this?
“No spiritual discipline is easier or more accessible to everyone than this one, for waking up to God’s presence requires nothing more than remembering God’s presence each moment.” (19)
This is challenging. “The challenge is not in doing the discipline: it’s in remembering the discipline.
Remind yourself that you are in the presence of God.
Greg writes “Are you awake?” on every page of his sermon notes.
A breakthrough can come where reminders are not needed anymore. Greg has yet to experience this. Brother Lawrence, Jean-Pierre de Caussade, and Frank Laubach did.
THE PAULINE EMPHASIS ON “IN CHRIST” as SUPPORTIVE OF FOCUSING ON “NOW”
Paul, in his letters, uses the term “in Christ” (with variations)180 times.
Quoting Frank Laubach: “The most wonderful discovery of all is, to use the words of Paul, “Christ liveth in me.” He dwells in us, walks in our minds, reaches out through our hands, speaks with our voices, if we respond to His every whisper.” (118)
When we live “in Christ” and abide in him, an otherwise trivial moment is transformed into a Kingdom moment, because we “are allowing God to reign over it.” (125)
BEING AND DOING
I embrace the classical distinction between “being” and “doing.” Namely, that authentic “doing” (deeds, acts) comes from “being”; viz., from one’s heart-connectedness to Christ.
This brings discernment. (See Ruth Haley Barton’s distinction between “discerning” and “deciding.”
“Be aware that God is closer to you than the air you breathe. Don’t try to feel his presence. In fact, don’t try to do anything at all. Simply be mindful of the fact that you are, in this present moment, submerged in the ocean of God’s perfect love.” (11)
Jesus said that “fruit-bearing” comes out of the abiding relationship.
John 15:5 - 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
ABIDE IN CHRIST
To “remain” in Christ means “to take up permanent residence” (Greek meno).
“Branches don’t visit a vine once in a while on special occasions. Rather, branches are permanently attached to their source of life. So too, followers of Jesus are to take up permanent residence in Christ, remaining attached to him at all times as their source of their Life.” (34)
“The New Testament’s command to love is not only difficult to obey, it’s impossible—if we’re trying to obey it on our own power. If we’re not operating out of the fullness of Life that comes from God, everything we do—including our noblest attempts to love—is inevitably motivated by a desire to acquire Life.” (106)
The challenge, then, is not first and foremost to love like Christ. The challenge is to live in Christ’s love, for only then can we love as Christ loved. (108)
NO STRIVING ALLOWED!
“Remember, it’s not your job to make anything happen. Your only task during this time is to be open to whatever the Lord has for you.” (77-78)
It’s not true that: “If you build it, He will come.” (That’s from a movie, not Scripture.)
It is true that: “When He comes, He will build it.”
His kingdom. And, he wants to use you in the building process.
THAT is the point of human effort, the moment when we work hard at all He calls us to do.
SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION HAPPENS IN THE CHRIST-ABIDING RELATIONSHIP
“I have found the simple practice of remaining aware of God’s presence each moment brings me to the point toward which all other disciplines aspire. It is, I’m convinced, the bedrock of a vibrant relationship with God and the key to transformation into the likeness of Christ.” (19)
To be formed and transformed, abide in Christ.
Gal. 4:19 – be formed into Christlikeness.
IMPORTANT: “Information” by itself doesn’t transform the human heart
Therefore: I’m focusing on connecting people to Jesus, and nurturing this relationship.
“Acquiring information in and of itself isn’t able to bring about lasting transformation.” (87)
“We’ll simply become a slightly more informed slave to whomever or whatever programmed us. This explains why a person can believe they’re loved by God and yet feel unloved and unlovable most of the time.” (88)
“No amount of resolutions, sermons, Bible studies, self-help books, or conferences will rectify this situation if they just provide us with more information. There is only one thing to be done, as James says, and that is to submit ourselves to God—not just intellectually, theoretically, or abstractly, but truly. Which means, submitting ourselves in the now—for the only actual life we have to submit is the one we have this moment.
The only solution to double-mindedness, in other words, is to become single-minded—to seek the Kingdom of God first, in this moment, and in every subsequent moment.” (89)
Western Christians “believe that acquiring information is the key to helping us grow spiritually and solving our personal and social problems.” (98)
Sometimes information can help someone grow. Sometimes information can help people solve problems.
But knowledge “does not on its own empower us to become more Christlike. When it comes to living in the Kingdom, moment-by-moment, our typical Western confidence in information is misplaced.” (98-99)
Western Christians are today “massively informed.” Yet…
“Despite all our sermons, Bibles studies, books, seminars, and conferences, we are, to a large degree, spiritually dead. We don’t manifest much of the uniquely beautiful Life of the Kingdom. This clearly isn’t a problem created by any lack of information or a problem that can be solved by acquiring more information.
In fact, one could argue that our historically unprecedented confidence in the power of information is part of the problem.” (99)
We need a “reprogramming.” Only God can do that.
“The challenge of living in the Kingdom is not about figuring it out. There’s really nothing to figure out! The challenge, rather, is in submitting to it.” (100)
“Submitting to God in the present moment transforms us in a way no amount of knowledge can. When we submit to God in the present moment, his Life flows in us and through us. This Life frees us from the automatic programming of our flesh-mind-set and the “pattern of this world” and leads us into conformity with Jesus Christ.” (101)
I'll add: the challenge is to "be still" and be figured out by God.
Be yourself exegeted in the presence of God.
IDOLATRY HINDERS LIVING PRESENTLY
“We are rarely in the present moment when we’re hungry and chasing after false gods. This is yet another aspect of the grand illusion that entraps us. The very process of trying to acquire Life on our own forces us to miss most of life, for real life is always in the present moment. When we live as though we can acquire Life from things other than God, we inevitably live as though reality wasn’t always in the present moment.” (52)
“Let go of the world as a source of Life. Offer yourself up to God moment-by-moment.” (75)
Let go of the false sources of life.
Trust in the real source of life, which is God.
NOTE: This is an active, intentional life-stance.
“Get free of idol addiction and become aware of God’s presence.”
RELIGION CAN BLIND US FROM THE GOD-RELATIONSHIP
Religion can become a substitute for the living God.
“If we’re not careful, our own religion can blind us to the ever-present God. Instead of relying on the living God to give us the worth and significance we crave, we can easily start relying on religious traditions, doctrines, and ethical rules for Life… The more tightly we cling to our religion, the more our judgments will blind us to the living God who is always active right under our noses.” (134)
“Traditions, doctrines, and ethics are important. But they help us enter into Kingdom Life only to the extent that they facilitate a loving relationship with God, ourselves, and others in the present.” (134)
“If we can’t discern God’s presence in our day-to-day lives, it’s unlikely that we’ll find him at a revival. We may find a lot of excitement, great speakers, superb music, and maybe even some “signs and wonders.” But unless a person learns to find God as much in the ordinary as in the exciting, the exciting will do nothing more than serve as a momentary distraction.” (135)
TRINITARIAN THEISM AND THE PERICHORETIC UNION
“Our deepest hunger is only satisfied when we’re rightly related to God. Only our Creator can give us the fullness of Life we crave.” (45)
“Why did God create us with this hunger? Because he wants to share himself with us. He wants us to participate in his divine nature (1 Peter 1:4). As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he longs for us to join in his eternal dance of perfect, ecstatic love… The Trinity is our home, and we are never fully satisfied or at peace until we rest in him.” (45)
“To die to the flesh is the greatest liberation possible. Now one is in a position to live in the moment and feel fully alive.” (53)
We are freed from the grand illusion that we can meet our own needs.
“Freedom from fear and dread is one decision away, and it can be made in this moment. In fact, it can only be made in this moment. Freedom is simply a matter of letting go of everything as a source of ultimate worth and significance as we surrender ourselves completely to our ever-present, loving Father.” (68)
Greg suggests this exercise.
- Begin by reminding yourself that the only thing that is real is this moment.
- · The only thing that matters is that you are submerged in God’s love right now.
- · Remind yourself that God’s perfect love expressed in the cross of Christ engulfs you, right now.
- · Remind yourself that you could not be more loved that you are this moment.
- · You could not have more worth or significance than you have at this moment.
- · Remember that this is not because of anything you have achieved in your life, but is because of who God is and who you are.
- · Remind yourself that this perfect love never began, never ends, is never threatened, and never wavers. (69)
- · “Relinquish all your possessions, achievements, reputation, future aspirations, health, beauty, relationships, and anything else that could possibly be a false source of worth and significance to you.”
- This is a way to “practice the presence of God,” and a way to become free of anxieties, fears, and the fear of death.
- Our treasure is no longer in things that moths can eat and thieves can steal (Matthew 6:19-20). Our heart is no longer set on things that aging and misfortune can affect. Our life is securely hidden in Christ, whose love never changes (Colossians 3:1-3). In fact, to the extent that we’re surrendered to God every moment, we’ve “been crucified with Christ and [we] no longer live, but Christ lives in [us]” (Galatians 2:20). (71)
“Anchored in the fullness of God’s abundant Life right now, we’re freed from the pointless, idolatrous exercise of judging our past or stressing out over the future.” (71)
Freedom from judgmentalism. (pp. 121 ff.)
Released into social activism – “Jesus was a social activist.” (138)
E.g. – 8 years ago we started a Soup Kitchen in our Monroe community.
“People are often impressed by large political or religious rallies calling for social change, but the main way the mustard-seed Kingdom expands and transforms the world is by God’s people staying awake and responding to him each moment.” (138)
“The truth is that the hope of the world resides in people learning to humbly surrender to the Life of God moment-by-moment. The key to changing the world is to change our hearts and consciousness. As we are freed from our idolatry and learn how to abide in God’s fullness of Life, God uses us to impact and influence others and the mustard-seed Kingdom grows (Matthew 13:31).” (140)
NOTE: How we have structured our seminary program at Payne, and before that at Palmer.