Saturday, April 25, 2015

Something to Think About and Discuss...

In his book, "Christ, the Sum of all Spiritual Things", Watchman Nee says something wonderful about what God has given us in Christ Jesus. I'll quote from him and then suggest a question for discussion with others. Nee says the following:

"There is nothing more important than to know the Lord...Knowing Him requires a spiritual seeing ...everything depends upon Christ, and not upon us...When we first became a Christian, we were inclined to do everything ourselves, fearing lest nothing would ever be done or matters would fall to pieces if we did not do them...Later in having seen the Lord to be our life, we know that all is of Christ and not of us. Consequently, we learn to rest and to look to Him...

"What we need to comprehend before God is that in our experience...(it is) not that He gives us light, but that He is our light; not that He leads the way, but He is the way; not that He gives us a life, but He is our life; not that He teaches a truth, but He is the truth. What Christ gives is His very own self...

"Christ does not come to sanctify us, He comes to be Himself our sanctification. Our sanctification is not a thing, an action, or a behavior. Our sanctification is a person, even Christ...

"Thank God, Christ is our redemption as well as our redeemer. He is our sanctification as well as our sanctifier. He is our righteousness as well as our justifier. He is our wisdom as well as the One who makes us wise. Christianity is none other than Christ Himself."

The question that I suggest worth taking time to ponder and to discuss with someone else is this: if we truly believe that Christianity is more about getting to know and trust a Person than about adhering to particular doctrines/beliefs, how might this change the way we live and how we relate to others? I believe that if the implications of this are carefully and prayerfully thought out and talked out with others, we could be surprised at how it might shape and reshape our mindsets about what it means to be followers of Jesus (both individually and collectively).

Saturday, April 18, 2015

God's Road Signs and His Favorite Speed

Now that I'm in my third year of recovery from injuries to my right leg, I think I'm beginning to understand a little bit about God's favorite speed: apart from a miracle, He seems to like SLOW, really slow! Dr. Curt Thompson, a psychiatrist who studies the brain and applies that to our walk with God, wrote along these lines in his blog post One Millimeter per Month from which the following is a quote:

"When I was in medical school, we learned that if a nerve is severed, it can begin to regenerate, but only at the rate of about 1 millimeter per month, depending on how serious and extensive the injury is. Some injuries can repair more quickly, up to 1 millimeter per day...Imagine how long it will take for a damaged nerve in a hand to return to health... Even more complicated, what about the neurological implications of relationships that have been traumatized in innumerable ways that seem beyond repair? What has any of this to do with God’s pace?

"What the story of the brain and nervous system seems to reveal is that God is very serious about the change he is bringing about in this world. And his seriousness translates not only into large, sweeping sea changes (think, the work of William Wilberforce or Martin Luther King, Jr.), but perhaps more often in the most microscopic, detailed spaces such as a single moment of restraint when disciplining a child; confessing a wrong done rather than sweeping it underthe rug; or beginning a practice of regular, rhythmic fasting, solitude, or journaling in order to open up channels for God’s spirit to have access to you. None of these latter things listed would seem in and of themselves to change the world. No journalist will cover these events for the Washington Post. But if neurons only grow at the pace mentioned above, it will take lots of practice, and lots of time to coax them to create new networks. If God has made me with neurons, then I can’t change any faster than they can...

"Now, if I begin to pay attention to this reality, this awareness of God’s comfort with his own pace, perhaps I need not worry so much that I’m not changing quickly enough—more importantly, that others are not changing quickly enough either. And the odd thing is, when I am less worried, I am more likely to be open to the changes I so long for in the first place, especially if I am closely connected with others whose pilgrimages are moving in the same direction."

Now that I'm beginning to see a bit of daylight in my recovery, I'm not only more aware of what seems to be God's preferred speed of working but am also beginning to appreciate the wisdom that I see in the slower pace and the detours and roadblocks that come along the way to make the already unbearably slow 15-miles-per-hour speed come to a full STOP from time to time.

As Dr. Thompson says, if God is comfortable with this pace, then perhaps we can find peace in the slowness of His working and reap the fruit of patient daily perseverance.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Spiritual Disciplines: Sailing or Rowing?

Some years ago, the Lord quickened Galatians 3:1-3 to me as a watchword and loving warning when I was helping to begin a prayer ministry.

The Holy Spirit's faithful reminder to me of this word through the following years in this particular ministry served us well. In fact, it was a large part of what gave us alertness to continually change the way we did things and gave me direction when the day came that I sensed I was to step away entirely from it.

The Message expresses this portion of Galatians 3 as follows:
"Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God's message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren't smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing?"

I was blessed by a blog post that applies this idea to the spiritual disciplines; the following is a quote from it: 
"One of the things that I’m discovering about spiritual disciplines is that I often take that which is relational in its very nature and turn it into something mechanical. Sometimes I find myself thinking: If I carve out time to engage in lectio divina, then God will reveal Christ to me in a way that almost feels tangible. The problem with this approach is it assumes an A + B = C sort of spirituality. If I read the Bible and pray, the formula will yield intimacy with the Spirit of Christ. So, all week long as I fail to create space for my personal holiness mechanism, I begin to use words that contaminate any spiritual vocabulary. The words – fail, success, must, accomplish, achieve, or should – usually demonstrate that one’s faith journey has moved from relational to mechanical approaches to God. When we get to this point we’re basically taking a 'should' on our lives as kingdom people."  (Kurt Willems)

Further down in his short post Kurt recommends that we see our walk with God more like being in a sailboat, discerning and catching the ever-changing direction of God's wind and going with Him, rather than as a rowboat in which we are trying to get somewhere or make something happen through hard effort. I agree. In our fallenness, we humans are strongly bent towards mechanizing that which begins organically, and I'm convinced that only the power of the resurrected life of Jesus can enable us to continue in the same spirit as we began (be that in our personal journey with God or in our collective walk and ministry).

It's a great little article that I recommend if this topic is pertinent to you now: Taking a 'Should' on our Spiritual Lives.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Hound of Heaven

In the recent post, A Much Safer Subject, I quoted C.S. Lewis who said that the love of God for us is a much safer subject to meditate on than our love for God. This is because our love for Him flounders and is weak, but His love for us is strong and unrelenting and unending.

The Scriptures are full of different ways of encouraging God's people to depend and trust in His unfailing love for us. Ultimately this is the only place of peace and rest for the human soul. When all looks hopeless and impossible in the natural, we find rest in knowing that God is love and that He will not relent nor quit in His pursuit of us and in His pursuit of all humans.

... becoming catholic was francis thompson s the hound of heaven it sHe is an all-consuming Fire of desire for weak humans, and He is filled with divine energy to tirelessly seek and chase us down! In this desire of God is where I find my confidence in prayer for myself and for others - not in my zeal nor my intercession nor my efforts nor my love, but in His unrelenting zeal, His unceasing intercession, His divinely initiated works, and His selfless love.

The cross of Jesus is the highest expression of this reality in God, and this is the solid ground on which I plant my feet when my zeal falters and I'm surrounded with impossible situations. If my focus and trust is in the strength of my love for God, I will be discouraged; if I meditate and trust in the strength and endurance of His love for me and for those I pray for, my heart will be strengthened to believe and to remain steady even while trembling.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Darkness is God's Best Gift to You

In her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor has a chapter about the "dark night of the soul", a term made famous by John of the Cross, a sixteenth century monk who wrote the book by that title during the 11 months that he spent in a monastery prison.

Taylor writes in this chapter about how averse we are to uncertainty and how all of our carefully crafted creeds and doctrines over the centuries have attempted to make us sure about who God is. But John of the Cross says that "one of the central functions of the dark night is to convince those who grasp after things that God cannot be grasped."

She goes on to write the following about John of the Cross: "...he says that darkness is God's best gift to you, intended for your liberation. It is about freeing you from your ideas about God, your fears about God, your attachment to the benefits you have been promised for believing in God, your devotion to spiritual practices that are supposed to make you feel closer to God, your dedication to doing and believing all the right things about God, your positive and negative evaluations of yourself as a believer in God, your tactics for manipulating God, and your sure cures for doubting God.

"All of these are substitutes for God, John says. They all get in God's way...God puts out our lights to keep us safe, John says, because we are never in more danger of stumbling than when we think we know where we are going. When we can no longer see the path we are on, when we can no longer read the maps we have brought with us or sense anything in the dark that might tell us where we are, then and only then are we vulnerable to God's protection..."

Taylor ends the chapter by saying that this kind of faith "will not offer me much to hold on to. It will not give me a safe place to settle. Practicing it will require me to celebrate the sacraments of defeat and loss...I think I can live inside this cloudy evening of the soul for a while longer, where even my sense of God's absence can be a token of God's presence if I let it..."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

God is Thinking About You Right Now as You Read This

J.I. Packer writes the following:

“What matters supremely is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it — the fact that He knows me. I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him, because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me, and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted from me, and no moment therefore, when His care falters.

“This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort — the sort of comfort that energizes — in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love, and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based...on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me. There is, certainly , great cause for humility in the thought that He sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow-men do not see, and that He sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself.

“There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, He wants me as His friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given His Son to die for me in order to realize this purpose.”

For this truth to have practical impact on our lives, it's important to actually embrace it, accept it and practice it; so my suggestion is to pause a few moments during your day (doing this regularly) to listen for the Father's affirmation of you and to agree with Him. One way of doing this is to take these words of J.I. Packer and turn them into a personal statement by God to you, saying something like this: "(Your name), what matters supremely is not the fact that you know Me but that I know you. You are engraved on the palms of My hands, and I never stop thinking about you; I'm thinking about you right now. You know Me because I knew you first and continue to know you. I know everything about you, the good, the bad and the ugly, and I still want you as My friend; I want this so much that I went to death to win you for Myself..., etc."

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Best Investment and the Return on Investment

This week I thought I'd share a simple story from my life that bears out the return on investment that we get with God.

A couple of years ago on Thanksgiving I wrote a very short and simple affirming statement on the back of a business card and gave it to a dear lady who was having dinner with our family that day. I had taken a few minutes to genuinely think about her and the value of her personhood and shared the thought that came to my mind for her.

She was so struck by those simple few words that ever since then, she remembers me with great affection and has a heart to do anything for me if she can.

Think of it! I invested a few minutes of time and care; the return on that has been a friendship, the value of which can't be measured. The best investments you'll make are investments in people, just as Jesus did.

We don't always find out the return on our investments in humans, but knowing how utterly generous God is, we can be sure the return is balanced in our favor. I know you readers have many such stories as well; it's encouraging to pause and remember some of these stories from time to time.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Peripheral Vision - Tunnel Vision

Some time ago I shared thoughts about opening more of the windows of my soul in order to receive greater light about God (Opening the Window Blinds to Let in More Light).

Along the same lines, I will share a thought about the importance of peripheral vision in our growing understanding of God and of all of life. I read the following from an article about 2 Kansas State University research psychologists: "We found that your peripheral vision is important for taking in the gist of a scene and that you can remove the central portion of an image, where your visual acuity is best, and still do just fine at identifying the scene..." (Adam Larson)

It's not unusual for us humans to have tunnel vision as it relates to our particular worldview, including those of us who follow Jesus; in other words, we focus on only one paradigm or way of viewing Him. In order get the whole scene, it's important that we have and practice "peripheral vision" or the ability to see beyond a single point of focus. This requires venturing into the worlds of other people who see things differently and daring to ask questions about our own point of view. This takes courage since often our sense of security is based on thinking that what 'my tribe' believes is THE truth.

When you lose peripheral vision in the physical eye, not only do you miss out on the wider beauty of the scene but there's danger involved since you can't detect movement out of the corner of your eye. Walking and driving, among other things, are dangerous activities for someone without peripheral vision.

And so it is in God; we may think we're protecting ourselves and others by confining ourselves to our favored theologies and ideas, but we may be in more danger by not receiving wisdom and understanding of God from the wider community of faith and even from those who may not share our beliefs about God but who have learned things we can gain by. This doesn't mean we give up our focused vision (that which we see through the tunnel) nor that we adhere to everything others teach; it means we add to the picture all the colors and variety of the larger scene.

A couple of ways to start developing peripheral vision are: first, simply practice putting yourself in the shoes of whoever you tend to react in disagreement with. This takes effort and concentration but produces empathy and a larger understanding of humans even if you may not agree with the person. Another way is to begin to read the materials of others who look at God from different angles.

Here are a few names of many good and real followers of Jesus that I recommend for help in this matter of getting peripheral vision; most of them have blogs where you can find a lot of material:
Richard Beck Experimental Theology
Rachel Held Evans Rachel Held Evans Blog
Brian McLaren Brian's Blog
Peter Enns Rethinking Biblical Christianity
Derek Flood  The Rebel God
Kathy Escobar  Love.Mercy.Peace   

As I have ventured into other ways of seeing God with the help of people who are from other traditions and worldviews, I'm finding the landscape and scenery to be more beautiful and exciting than when I looked with tunnel vision, and I'm thankful.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Pain's Other Name and the Gifts She Brings with Her

I will conclude this small series about the unwanted guest named Pain (part 1, part 2, part 3) by sharing a few of the unexpected gifts that have come along with Pain when she is hosted well. Like the child Much Afraid of Hinds Feet in High Places, we need a lot of help to scale the mountain that takes us to the kingdom where Love rules; her strong helpers were Sorrow and Suffering. The delightful surprise later on in the story is that it turned out that Sorrow and Suffering's real names were Peace and Joy!

I like to say that my visitor, Pain, has another name that I'm discovering, and that is Grace. An outstanding feature of Grace is that she is fully focused on the present, on today. She has all that I need for today, but when I start to focus my attention on tomorrow and fret about how things might be then, she feels neglected and steps aside, making room for Fear to step up and intimidate me.

Grace is about living today as fully as possible, and one of the beautiful things about her is that she has many good gifts that are helping me make the most of each day, one day at a time. Here are a few:
  • Dependence - although undesired at times, the gift of Dependence is deepening community for me. I need the friends and family who kindly tend to my needs in a variety of ways, whereas before I could do most of it for myself.
  • Expansion - this gift is widening my community. In my case, the many and regular trips to physical therapy and to the YMCA pool for exercise have given me a whole new and different set of friends and acquaintances that I treasure now, people such as Alyssa, Abe, Layla, Natalie, Sadiq, Willie, Herb, Jessica, etc., who I would never have met without Pain's presence in my life.
  • Empathy-Solidarity - this has been another big gift which has opened my eyes in much greater ways to see and identify with others who suffer. One experience that all humans have in common is a visit from Pain. The gift of Empathy-Solidarity is enabling me to move past the tendency to categorize people and instead see a person to comfort and identify with; in turn, I find myself being comforted and strengthened.
  • Enlargement - a lot like Empathy, this gift is making my heart more spacious, which is a lifelong prayer of mine. I desire to have a heart like God's all-encompassing, inclusive heart that embraces all people no matter their race or gender or status or religion, and this gift of Grace is helping.
These are a few of Grace's gifts. There are more but this will suffice. I can't help but think of the One who because of His intimate acquaintance with pain and full solidarity with all humans, was given gifts of grace to give to humans. May His voluntary experience of pain and solidarity with you make your visit from Pain, not only bearable, but filled with gifts of grace. To Jesus be thanks and praise!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Sorting Out Who's Who of the Unwanted Guests

Following up on two previous posts about Pain (An Uninvited, Unwanted House Guest and Other Guests that Sneak in the Door with Pain), I'll share thoughts about sorting through all these unwanted guests in order to benefit from Pain's visit. It turns out that Pain is a beneficial visitor if received well and put to good use. She can be a great helper in the journey to mature self-giving love. The problem is that there are many and sundry other guests that slip in with her, and these visitors will destroy love if not handled well.

I'm not going to attempt to present anything comprehensive because our lives and situations are unique and very complicated. So this is simply a couple of things I've learned that may help as we each struggle to find what most helps in our own unique situation.

There are two really big guests that we should not have anything to do with from the start. First is the insidious guest named Perfectionism (sometimes called Religion). Anyone who has Pain as a visitor will need time to process her undesired visit in order to discover her value, and this process can take time. Perfectionism is quick to speak up and demand a correct attitude and behavior, thereby aborting the necessary process. Perfectionism is squeaky clean, very controlled and controlling. A couple of his cohorts are Guilt and Shame who do a lot of taunting when the person doesn't measure up to the demands of Perfectionism.

Beware of Perfectionism! There will be a period of time in which the host will likely need to entertain Self-Pity and Anger and Discouragement and others of the guests who have slipped in the door. Part of the host's way of finding his/her true humanity is having to sort through these guests by experiencing some of them firsthand. In time he will discover for himself the negative effect that they can have if entertained too long.

The other big visitor to avoid at all costs is Isolationism. He convinces the host to lock the door so that no other humans can get in. Some of the lies he whispers in order to get us to lock ourselves in are: "You can handle this on your own..." or "No one should see how you're really feeling so put on a good face" or "Everyone has their own problems and they don't want to hear about yours...", and on and on. In order for Pain to be a positive influence in our life, it's important that select others be involved and walk with us. They help by empathizing and by providing a perspective from outside ourselves which is needed in order to handle the many visitors that come and go as a result of Pain's visit.

Perfectionism and Isolationism - keep them away, and you may find that you will have discernment as to how to deal with the other undesirable guests.

Next I want to share a little about the gifts that have come with Pain's visit...