Thursday, August 31, 2006


There is no refuge from confession but suicide; and suicide is confession. - Daniel Webster
"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." - St. James in James 5:16

While spending 3 days in the beautiful Christ in the Desert Monastery 4 weeks ago, the combination of silence, solitude, the reading of St. John of the Cross' "Dark Night of the Soul", combined with my intentional desire to be rid of subtle sin in my life and exploded into a pretty continual self-awareness of my secret sins popping up within me while I was there.
I kept opening to the back cover of my book, and recorded each "Episode of Conviction", and the circumstances there that surfaced it, so as not to lose sight of each one. I wanted to document my desire to be rid of these sins that are distracting and hindering me from truer righteousness and Christ-likeness.
So here are my Eight Confessions of Subtle Sin: I am sorrowful for...
1) ...for noticing the "audience" watching me. I had submitted myself to the schedule and routine of the monastic life while I was there. During one of the 7 daily community prayer times, where I joined the Monks for their Gregorian Chantings of the Psalms, I caught myself caring about how spiritual I appeared to these monks.
2) ...for wanting to be some great teacher of others vs.. only a learner of God. Maybe this doesn't sound like an evil to you, but that's why I'm calling it "subtle sin". Even if I'm teaching others great truthful things, and their lives are being increasingly "saved" and transformed all the time, if I value my effective teaching of others over God Himself, I have made my work for God my idol. Subtle...but real.
3)) ...for wanting to "bless my team back home" with quotes from my readings and meditations with my own "wise" insight for them. Maybe this doesn't sound like an evil to you. But you have to understand that this was dedicated time with God for my good and His glory in my own learning. To be "learning in order to teach" sabotages my being with and knowing God more intimately.
4) ...for feeling a sense of spiritual superiority when 'day guests' came into the monastery to look around. I'm so ashamed of how quickly I latched onto the sin of ranking people by some superficial (even if it's disguised in spiritual) standard in order to feel better about myself. It's like one cockroach looking at another and feeling superior to him because he only scavenges food from the carpet, and not the nasty tile floor.
5) ...for being afraid that my journey towards every-increasing intimacy with God would ruin me as a preacher/minister. This one might require you reading "Dark Night of the Soul" by St. John of the Cross. He talks of a singular esteem for God that, once it grips your heart and your singular love, changes and annihilates everything of the flesh. Quite frankly, there are things about me that I DO like, and I depend on, and it scares me to try to be something without them.
6) ...for pride of placement in the eyes of others that such spiritual insight would give me. It has taken me weeks to write this email because of (my laziness and) this one. The people who I care about respecting me are the ones who respect my honesty, self-awareness, humility, and vulnerability-regardless-of-the-cost. So to be humble and confessional for the purpose of being respected by some for doing so is something I don't want diluting God's work in me and through me.
7) ...for having the appearance of a "singular-esteem" for Christ in order to stand out among men. These are all starting to sound the same to me, a little bit. But as I got a new definition of what "singular esteem" for God looks like, I realized I don't have one relative to Christ and to others more advanced in this area. This humility forced me to see that in my world, I appear to have a singular esteem for Christ relative to the people I am around (not in all areas, by any means, but in this one). I made this confession to remember to evaluate myself only relative to Christ, so that I will stay humble and useful among men in His name.
8) ...for spiritual satisfaction (arrogance) felt when Brother Markus (a monk I had the honor of doing manual labor with each day) told me that 1) he had not visited with guest in such a spiritually connected way, 2) that God might be using me to tell him to do something personally and spiritually significant to him, and 3) that he might come for a visit in Amarillo at my house when he has a chance. Nuff said, really. Something puffed up in me, I'm once again ashamed to say, when I felt useful and respected by this monk. I am truly pitiful.
But God loves me, and from that I get all of my value. I only desire to be rid of these revealed sins and move on to my struggle with removing the next ones. It is an astounding and life-giving journey, even when it is hard.
Because of what James said in his letter, I'm calling all "righteous men" out there to pray for me so that I may be healed.
May God bless us all.

Monday, August 21, 2006

FW: The nature of transformation

For Sunday?

From: Jim Spivey []
Sent: Tuesday, July 25, 2006 6:02 AM
To: Jim Spivey RC
Subject: The nature of transformation

"Transformation happens when God's desires clash with our ego's desires, and God's wins, much to our unexpected benefit and delight, but you will NEVER experience transformative change in areas you won't allow to be confronted."

                                                                                                                                                -- Rob Thompson

Yes, it's true.  Transformation requires confrontation, and most simply won't allow it, until after we've suffered enough or caused enough suffering.  We often claim that we want to change, but then when the pathway to change is placed right before our feet and lighted, we turn and walk the other way, often claiming ignorance or blind victimhood.  I can't tell you how many people I've heard say, "I just don't know.", when after a few moments of further direct questioning it is clear that they DO know, they just won't own what they know, and then refuse to do anything about it.  There is nothing to do about that but wait.  God has a uniquely personal way of bringing our inner conflict to the surface.  And it's nothing overt; it's simply in the design.  For me, it's been "anxiety attacks," a form of living death.  And it never fails to deliver the goods.  I stop resisting; the clash occurs; He wins. Thank God. 

Jim Spivey
Revolution Consulting
2219 McDuffie
Houston, TX  77019
(713) 854-4848
"helping people come ALIVE, and thrive,
in their personal and business relationships"
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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

How To Serve God Without Pleasing Him

"Our lives improve only when we take bold, outrageous chances -- and the first and clearly most difficult risk we can take is to be brutally honest with ourselves." -- Walter Truett Anderson
"Without faith it is impossible to please God." - Hebrews 11:6
"What if there were two doors to choose from; behind one door was the complete will of God for your life and behind the other door was how life could be according to your own preference. Which door would you choose?" -- unknown, but forwarded to me by my friend Roman McCoy
It's a tougher question than it may first appear.
To choose door #1, the Complete Will of God, would mean to shut the door on my own choosing, which feels like prison to my flesh and ego. But the Promise of this door is to not ever again have to be the one responsible what I "should" do, yet the right and best thing is always done by me, which feels like freedom to my heart.
To choose door #2, My Complete Will, would mean to open the door of designing my life according to what I think is right and best, which feels like freedom to the flesh and ego. But the Curse of this door is that I have to give up the guarantees and blessings that will only come from God, which (if true) feels like prison to the heart.
Door #1 takes unlikely faith. It's like signing up for slavery, totally surrendering to a Slave Master, hoping that life under His rule is better and more meaningful than what I can design myself. No wonder so few take this narrow road! From the flesh's and ego's perspective, it is absolute insanity!
But without faith, it is impossible to please God.
On a skeptical note: I see so many God-followers trying to please God without exerting anything coming close to resembling faith. Many more who aren't really trying to please God, but hope against hope that their puny expressions of religion, which take no faith at all, will qualify them for a rich life after death so that they continue seamlessly the rich life they have designed for themselves before death.
On a hopeful note: But I also see so many life-cravers laying down their lives with faith...actual and improbable faith. You'll notice them. They are the ones with fire in their eyes, spring in their step, suffering in their flesh, and joy in their heart. They are untouchable by any human skeptic, and reaching out touching every human being. They are like God in this way. They are like Christ.
I don't want to be over-dramatic, but please pray for us at the Southwest Church of Christ in Amarillo, TX. Something wonderful and life-giving is happening here, by the grace of God, but our ego's and our flesh is battling against it with all their strength, screaming (with the urgency of a mom who's 2-year-old just started running towards a street with a car coming) that we are idiots for making a bold and intention-filled move towards Door #1.
I don't want me and my family of Christ-followers up here to be busting our butts serving God without it being the kind of service that pleases Him. What a waste of time that would be! Pleasing Him is the key to my life. So the key to my life is doing only the things that require faith. And key to giving life to others is to invite them to make decisions that also require faith.
The ancients were commended for "being sure of what they hoped for and certain of what they did not see" (Hebrews 11:1-2). In other words, they were commended for what we would call insanity. It's fine line, this one between faith and insanity, and our fear of the latter keeps way too many of us from ever experiencing the former.
God help us. Yours is the only commendation I want.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Futility of Preaching

"Beginners feel such passion about divine things and are so devoted to their spiritual practices! Sometimes they presume to teach, rather than learn." - St. John of the Cross in Dark Night of the Soul 
"Our bodily sense is slow because it is bodily sense and is bounded by the physical. It is sufficient for the purpose for which it is made, but it is quite incapable of grasping and holding things as they run on their appointed way from their beginnings to their endings." -- St. Augustine in Confessions
"Open your heart to him and with great trust abandon yourself to him...O most devoted Jesus, you are the source of all our hearts' secrets and you dwell in the hearts of those who love you." -- Thomas a' Kempis in On the Passion of Christ
Horses that live in the wild are linked up, in my mind, with unreal beauty, incredible strength, blazing speed, and unrestrained freedom. Wild horses summon images (I'll blame it mostly on movies that I've seen) of both enticing mystery and tranquil peace.
Imagine a large (but not too large) fenced in area out in the wilderness containing well over 1,500 of these wild horses....Horses that had somehow been tricked into this unnatural pen. Imagine this unheard of number of brilliant creatures being in this trapped condition long enough for all of them to be going stir crazy, the prison being so unnatural and disturbing for them. Imagine that the creators of this bondage had no real plans for the amazing animals, pinning this mass of energy and power because they thought surely it would come in handy or be valuable to them somehow, some day.
Imagine stumbling upon this unusual and disturbing site. Imagine some powerful hand throwing open wide the gates of this pen, and that every one of the hundreds of stallions instantly "felt" their freedom at hand and, with all of their strength and glory, simultaneously and unanimously sprinted out of the fence and out into the wilderness freedom where they belong. Running and running, unable to stop as their hearts are unleashed along with their legs.
Imagine somehow getting to steal away on one of the backs of these stupendous horses during this emotional and physical release of excitement and energy. Imagine feeling the power of this massive exodus...any one of these creatures represents far too much power for you to handle...but imagine getting to ride with them, as an invited guest of the horses, as they refuse to stop enjoying their regained freedom by slowing down.
Can you imagine? Just to see such a collection of horses in the pen would be a life-long memorable event. Just to be standing in the distant woods to only hear the thundering sound of them running would be a life-long memorable event. Just to be above then on a cliff to watch them pass by like running water would be a life-long memorable event. Just to be within 500 yards and feel the ground pulsate underneath your feet would be a life-long memorable event. But to BE WITH THEM FOR THE RIDE? We can only imagine such a thing. So, thank God, we have imagination and can have a taste of the experience of such things.
But once you do imagine the experience, I then want you to imagine reigning one of those powerful horses in, attaching a plow behind it, getting on it's saddled back and then making a measurable, real, tangible, and visible groove in a plot of dirt. Imagine that you are doing so in order to explain what your experience was when you were riding like the wind in the midst of that thundering herd.
Strange request, perhaps. Most would agree it to be an impossible assignment.
This is often how I feel in my job as a preacher or teacher. I have this incredible life of getting to know God, and if I have the least bit of success at doing so, it is such an overwhelmingly powerful and emotional and mind-blowing experience that I have difficulty knowing where to start in trying to communicate it through the humble means of a sermon series, or a Bible Class, or a devotional talk. Quite frankly, it's partially why I haven't been writing often to this (most beloved) list of people in my life on email. I have trouble knowing where to start, what story to tell, or which "stream" of thought to put my boat in and float down with you.
To tame just one of those horses would be hard work enough (and forget about asking it to behave indoors behind a pulpit or podium). And to saddle him so I could ride him before a crowd would seem almost cruel for such a noble steed (not to mention it would feel like an unappreciative, maybe even treacherous act, after being his guest for such an experience). And to attach the heavy plow and make a mark in the dirt, while it would be visible, explainable, and done slowly enough for an audience to understand what is happening, would fall utterly short of describing even one little detail of the experience I had.
I spent 3 days in a monastery last week with a bunch of men who have decided to throw in the towel on trying to teach about what they know of God, and instead indulge in the incredible ride of just being with Him in every moment of every day, and while with Him, pray to Him that the world would know Him, too.
Many of you have asked me, "what do those monks do all day?" and "where is the mission of Christ in what they are doing?" and "what Kingdom difference are they making on actual people in the world?" Good questions, all of them.
[For a moment, let's put aside the 3 guys I quoted at the beginning of this email and the millions of actual people in the world that their writings have had significant Kingdom impact on (2 of which were either actual monks or reclusive enough to have a monks lifestyle, and the third contemplative enough to be one as well.]
But before we let them answer, let's you ask the same question of yourself, as I am of myself..."What do I do all day?" and "Where is the mission of Christ in what I am doing?" and "What Kingdom difference am I making on actual people in the world?"
The monks would answer confidently (and Biblically), "To love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength is the greatest thing a man can do, according to Jesus Christ. So we spend all of hearts, souls, minds, and strength doing just that. And loving others as ourselves is just as important, according to Jesus Christ, and the greatest thing we can do for our neighbors is go to our God on their behalf in prayer and petition. And while we are with Him, we are doing just that."
Okay, so there's way more to this powerful "wild horse ride" than this one thought, as I hope you are gathering from my parable. It goes beyond the monastery visit, beyond the thoughts I'm presenting, beyond what I can even get my own heart, soul, mind, or strength around. Such as it is with God.
Getting to know God is linked up, in my mind, with unreal beauty, incredible strength, blazing speed, and unrestrained freedom. And his exact representative, Jesus Christ, summons images in my mind (I'll blame it mostly on my hearts apparent undying need of him) of both enticing mystery and tranquil peace.
Maybe one day, I, too will get to indulge in Practicing the Presence of God (A book title, by the way, of another monkish-type dude name Brother Lawrence) as my full-time vocation. But as impossible as it is, I love the current assignment that He has given to me of trying to teach about it.
May God bless us.