"I love to tell the story..." I am paid to tell the story of NASA Science, but I feel most fully alive when I tell God's story. I believe that "threads of glory" from that larger Story weave their way through all the other stories we tell. My writing is a quest to discover those threads and expose them. I live in Waldorf, MD, with my wife Laurie (a United Methodist pastor), son Brady (10) and daughter Becca (8).
Discipleship: A Lifetime Journey of Transformation
Discipleship is more than turning over a new
leaf.It is more fitful and disorderly
than gradual moral formation.Nothing
less than daily, often painful, lifelong death will do.—William
Laurie and I sometimes watch the show Extreme Weight Loss with Chris Powell. Each week Chris Powell invites someone to
embark on the “transformation of a lifetime”. As the name of the show implies, the surface
goal is weight loss, but most of the time, the weight doesn't really come
off—and stay off—until the participant deals with a “deeper” issue.He or she has to face an “old wound” in their
lives that is still holding power over the individual, which they compensate
for with compulsive overeating.
Extreme Weight Loss participants are offered
the "transformation of a lifetime".
Chris has to bring the participants to the breaking point (usually via a very
difficult workout, particularly for individuals that are so badly out of
shape). It’s a moment of choosing
between fight or flight. This is an important
part of the process of transformation because it forces the participant to face
up to the fundamental question: Do you really want to change or are you just
playing at this?
Occasionally the participant answers, “No”, and Chris has to
accept that.He can’t force a person to
transform if they aren’t ready to do so.Not every weight loss story ends happily.For every happy ending we see on TV I’m sure
there are many more that fail. Honestly,
the average person would probably choose
flight when pushed to the breaking point. (I sometimes wonder what I would
do if pushed to that point.) This level
of change is more than most of us are willing to bear.
It’s the rare
individual that can reach down and say, “Yes.I want this!I want this so much
I will push past all my excuse-making and commit to doing whatever it takes to
change—not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually as well.I will push on toward total transformation of my life.”
The final scenes of a typical Extreme Weight Loss episode are a celebration as the participant reveals their “new look” to astonished friends and family.There is a level of joy that comes not just
from shedding a significant amount of weight but also from shedding the
“weight” of old habits and old wounds we have been carrying and replacing them
with something better.
This is the kind of
change we’re aiming for as individual followers of Jesus and as worshipping
communities.Like Chris Powell,
Jesus is all about total transformation
of our lives. Our life in Christ will
be a lifetime journey of transformation.
Jesus comes to us and says come follow me—100%.Take up your cross—in other words,
expect it to be demanding.Leave behind
the ways you once knew and I will show you a new Way that offers the potential
to usher in a new world.
Body and mind are usually the first things we change. The Extreme Weight Loss participants usually
begin losing weight before they are ready to confront the “deeper” issues.Ultimately, however, changing our
body and even our mind is not enough.These changes are external; change
that endures (total transformation)
comes only as we change internally—as
we “renovate” our heart. Our heart is the control center of all that we
are—Proverbs 4:23. Heart change is
deep and fundamental—and worthy of our best effort.If the heart changes, our mind and body
generally follow suite.
On the whole, change
is hard for human beings.Sometimes our
motivation to “want to change” only comes when circumstances in our life
conspire to make not changing more uncomfortable than changing.
Sometimes it takes being desperate to see things with
clarity.We finally glimpse a vision of a “better” life that is compelling
enough to (at least temporarily) overcome the strong inertia of excuse-making.We
are now willing to do whatever it takes to make our vision a reality—pursuing
whatever means are necessary to make it so.
Participants in Extreme
Weight Loss often find themselves in such a place.They reach out for help from Chris Powell
because they have, frankly, run out of options.They realize that if they don’t make a radical change—and soon—there are
likely to be severe consequences to their health.
Just as Extreme Weight Loss is about more than
just shedding physical weight, spiritual
transformation is about much more than “giving up something for Lent”.
“What are you giving up for Lent?” It’s a question a lot of people
will get these next few days. If you
want to change your body, perhaps alcohol and candy is the way to go. But if
you want to change your heart, a harder fast is needed. This narrow road is
gritty, but it isn’t sterile. It will make room in ourselves to experience a
love that can make us whole and set us free.—Time Magazine Article
This is not to say we shouldn't do the time-honored Lenten practice
of self-denial as much as to suggest that the true work of Lent goes far deeper.If we merely “give something up for Lent” (say,
chocolate, soda, or social media) but then rush to pick it up again as soon as
the season is done, we are kind of missing the point.We are like the people on Extreme Weight Loss who lose the weight
initially but never confront the deeper issues that they used food to cover up
and caused them to gain weight in the first place—and thus struggle to keep the
pounds off over the long haul.Without a
commitment to total transformation,
the “old habit” we gave up is likely to come right back afterwards—maybe worse
For the follower of
Jesus, discipleship is not just a six-week exercise in self-denial but rather a
commitment to a lifetime journey of
transformation, following a spiraling path that leads ever closer to the
heart of God.
If we sense God revealing an area that “weighs us down” and
holds us back from taking the “next step” toward the deeper relationship with
God we desire, Lent is certainly a good opportunity to begin to make a change.We would be in the company of many saints that
have walked the ancient Threefold Way
of illumination, purgation, and contemplation (union) during this season.
If we are doing it
right we make progress on our spiritual journey not just during
Lent but at all times.John Wesley would
say we are always “moving on toward perfection”. During Lent, however, we intentionally focus on drawing closer to God in the days leading up to Holy Week. The idea is that we arrive
at Palm Sunday and "enter Jerusalem" with our soul less encumbered by the ”weight” of our “stuff”—our sin. This should allow us to enter more fully into
Jesus’ suffering and death during Holy Week—and then, precisely because of the 40-day intentional journey we took to the
Cross before arriving at the Empty Tomb, our experience of the
Resurrection should be all the more meaningful.