What follows are the notes I took from one of the best spiritual life conferences I’ve ever attended, led by Pastor Barry Brown onboard the m/v Africa Mercy in April-2015. Over four nights, Barry taught on the topic of Jesus’ four-phase cycle for our spiritual transformation. The series theme was on “Following Jesus & Becoming Like Him”.
Jesus’ cycle for discipleship was 1-Being, 2-Becoming, 3-Belonging, 4-Doing — or, stated another way: 1-Identity, 2-Formation, 3-Community, 4-Mission.
Most Christian organizations (including many churches) do this backwards. They start with mission. And very soon they realize there are other people involved in that mission that they are going to have to try and get along with (community). This is when they usually begin to encounter tests and trials (formation). Then if they do enough for God, get along well enough with people, and endure the trials – if you can make it through all that – then maybe, just maybe, you can discover who you really are in God (identity). THAT’S BACKWARDS. That is the opposite of the way Jesus did it. (See Mark 1:9-28.)
Thomas à Kempis, in his book Imitation of Christ, said, “Choose one thing to learn from Christ each year, and soon you will be like Him.” So, what is the next step for you? What’s your next ‘one thing’ that God is calling you to focus on this year to become more like Christ? Do this, and in a few years you will “soon be like Him”.
Barry Brown to Mercy Shippers: “God’s desire for us is that we become like His Son. You came here to serve God, and that is great! Now, how are you going to become more like Jesus while you are here serving in His Name? Jesus’ first call, before ‘do what I do’, is ‘come be with Me’ (Mark 3:14). The call to be with Jesus precedes the call to do Jesus’ work.”
Jesus was a minister for three years; He was a carpenter for 18 years. Jesus can be with us and in us – and we can with Him and in Him – in any vocation, job, or line of work. Jesus is the most brilliant and competent person there is in EVERY field of life and work: Great Physician, Good Shepherd, Righteous Judge, Wonderful Counselor, Master Builder… Ask Him, “Jesus, if you had my job, how would You go about doing it?” He is astonishing to know, and He is brilliant in every type of work we are facing.
Barry Brown, on having a “boundary-focused religion” vs. a “centered religion”: “If our center is strong, we don’t have to run around constantly managing the boundaries. Jesus is the only Center able to keep people from running out to manage the boundaries.”
Jesus learned and He grew and He became, and He enables us to do the same.
Jesus in the temple at age 12 – what was He doing? Sitting among, listening to, asking questions. When his mother finds Him and scolds Him, He responds, “Didn’t you know I had to be about My Father’s business?” What, then, was His Father’s business? This is great advice for chaplains, pastors, and Christians as a whole: the Guy with all the answers spent a lot of time asking questions.
If you want Holy Spirit power to flow through you, don’t seek power. Seek compassion. Whenever Jesus felt compassion, that’s when the power of God would flow through Him. Jesus’ compassion triggered God’s power. What is compassion? Sitting with people, listening to them, and asking questions.
Following Jesus – Phase 1: IDENTITY (BEING)
As we mature as followers of Jesus, we move from merely believing IN Jesus to believing LIKE Him:
- IN — with our minds, cognitive
- LIKE — with our hearts/souls, transformative
This is our first step to following Jesus into the Kingdom of God: identity – knowing who we are in Him.
The first message that Father God had for Jesus as He came up out of the baptismal waters was not, “Boy, have I got a job for you to do…”, or “Boy, have I got a cross for You to bear…” – NO! God’s first message for Jesus was, “This is who You are: You are My beloved Son, and in You I am well-pleased.” Whoever determines your identity charts your course.
You can only receive your new identity in this Kingdom of God that is at hand. You cannot achieve your identity; you can only receive it. It comes down. It is a gift of grace. Repent of thinking you can earn your identity from God; you can only receive it.
In Matthew 16:15, Jesus asks the disciples if they know who He is. Then, He asks one of them (Simon) if he knows who he is (Peter). Identity is a two-way street in the Kingdom of God: as we learn who Jesus is, He teaches us who we are. Only after He has taught us who we are can He give us a mission to do.
When Jesus is led into the wilderness, He is tempted around His IDENTITY: “If you are, then…”
Following Jesus – Phase 2: FORMATION (BECOMING)
Our Bibles start in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3. Yes, there is a fall, but that is not where mankind started. Mankind started as a good creation.
Wilderness is sacred space in the Scriptures. It’s where God sends His best. It’s where God takes His people to FORM in them the new identity that He gave them at baptism. Wilderness is where character is formed.
Character is solidified will. Character is what your will is able to do without thinking.
The Soul is all of who we are. It encompasses our entire being: Spirit-Mind-Body-Relationships. We are social / relational beings at our roots. We do not exist in isolation; our souls exist in relationship to God and other people.
When God calls you “Beloved” in your spirit, your mind (thoughts/feelings) isn’t there yet. That doesn’t mean it’s not true – that just means you need to renew your mind (Romans 12:2).
Jesus doesn’t say, “Try harder!”, He says, “Train: train with Me.” We are in training – we are exercising, practicing. Growing in grace is progressive work. Grace is God acting in your life, helping you to train to become like Jesus.
So when you say something like, “I don’t pray enough…”, I think, it’s sad that you have a spiritual discipline that shames you. When the One you are praying to (ever how often or long that prayer is) – He loves you, and loves your prayers. It makes me want to ask, “Who are you praying to? Describe the God you are praying to, that you would feel shame from your prayers…?” Because that is not the Father of grace from the Bible – who through Jesus calls you His Beloved – that would shame you for your prayers.
Sabbath – 1/7th of your time is to be spent DOING NOTHING.
The wilderness is full of wild beats. What’s the wild beast that has you in a pattern that fights against your belovedness? Now: in what way – through what means – can you, by God’s enabling grace, begin to remove that wild beast?
God won’t do TO you what He is inviting you to do WITH and IN Him. He won’t force transformation upon you.
Many Christians say, “I believe”, but the saints through the centuries said, “I know”. They had an experiential faith.
Wounds are not sins. They often result from sins – ours or others’ – but they are not sins in and of themselves. Wounds, however, can become infected if not cared for or dealt with properly. Once we begin to nurture and feed our infection – and to refuse or ignore healing – that is sin. You were wounded – yes – and it hurt like hell! But that was years ago, and since then, you’ve built a home out of your pain. Move out! Stop living in the comfort of your pain, your victimization, your martyrdom. There is healing in the Kingdom for every wound. The question is, are you open for it?
In the wilderness, sometimes the wild beasts are not things that you’ve done; they are things that have been done to you. You have to open up and let God deal with them in you. Wounds cannot be fixed, controlled, or explained. None of those things work with a wound. The only thing you can do with a wound like this is grieve it. Until we grieve a wound, it cannot be fully healed. Grief is the process through which God begins the work of healing us at the place of our woundedness. And it is very dynamic, spiritually. It is soul-work.
Jesus is a man acquainted with grief and sorrow. He is acquainted with yours. He knows. Open up. Invite Him in. So He can touch and heal.
Following Jesus – Phase 3: COMMUNITY (BELONGING)
The Apostle Paul never started any of his letters with statements about what the people were doing or not doing. He started every letter with statements about their identity – who they are – truths about their status before God and with each other.
Formation in Christ looks like work without sweat: see Matthew 11:28-30. It’s work. But it is work without worry, anxiety, fretting. Like Adam and Eve’s work in the Garden before the Fall. Before they had to work “by the sweat of their brow”.
As a long-termer, what do you most need or want from other long-termers? From short-termers? As a short-termer, what do you hope to learn or experience from the long-termers? From other short-termers?
As a short-termer, I expect the long-termers to demonstrate for me what following Jesus looks like in this Community of Faith. I expect to be able to look at our long-termers and say, “oh – that’s what it means to follow Jesus on the Africa Mercy”.
At the core of any Christ-centered mission is the life of the community. Jesus had a mission to serve the multitudes. But it was in the midst of a developing community of disciples. He spent much more time with 12 than with the multitudes. He invested far more in community than mission.
John 13:34 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
John chapters 13-17 is one long speech of encouragement and purpose that Jesus gives to His disciples. The setting of this speech is that they are in the Upper Room together on the Thursday night of Passover week – these are some of Jesus’ final moments with His beloved disciples! He has just instituted the Sacrament of Communion with them, He has just humbly washed their feet, to show them what true Christian service looks like, and then in these closing moments together with them, He says, “Guys – listen – I’ve got an important mission for you to do – but our mission is really only as good as our love for each other.”
We all know that mission matters – it’s why we all came to Mercy Ships. But mission never trumps or becomes more important than the lives involved in that mission. The most important thing that we are doing here is building a loving community in the Name of Jesus. We accomplish our Mercy Ships mission most effectively when it flows out of our knowing & caring for & loving each other.
In this community, we hold each other’s identities as sacred and valuable as God’s Beloved.
A Church broke out in the middle of worship. The broken led into a place of authenticity, vulnerability, trust, openness, and by showing their brokenness, the community became the Body of Christ, bringing healing and hope to that brokenness.
In the Gospels, Jesus always restores people to community.
When you pray, before you say “Amen”, speak to your own soul, and tell it – instruct it – regarding what your response to your own prayers is going to be. You’ve prayed to God. You’ve asked Him to do something, and you are expecting Him to act/respond. You can also speak to your own soul and say what you expect yourself to do in response to your own prayers. That’s your self-talk in the Presence of God.
4-5 “Why?’s” – People are usually 4-5 “why?’s” away from the real issue: “Why do you think that is?” When people present a problem, ask this question. After they answer, ask again. Help people go deeper into their own souls to the real root of the issue. Listen to the person who is presenting the problem. Address the person more than the problems they are presenting.