Readings: Psalm 30, 97 ◊ John 16:29-33 ◊
O Light, shine on our senses and dispel the sleep of our soul. To you before all else may our voice resound and let us pay our vows to you. O God, shape and renew me until I bear full the image of my Savior Jesus. Hear, O LORD, and be faithful to me; O LORD, be my help. Amen.
“A well-cultivated spiritual life is the best way to find peace and security. Countries in the far north are cold and frozen because they are at a greater distance from the sun. Some Christians are cold and frozen because they live too far from heaven.” -Richard Baxter
Lectio Divina: A Scripture Reading from John 16:29-33
29 His disciples said, ‘Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.’ 31 Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’ [NRSV]
As I read these words, several points jump out to me. I consider why they grab my attention and what they are speaking to me.
- “By this we believe you came from God.”
- “Do you now believe?”
- “You will be scattered.”
- “You will leave me alone.”
- “I am not alone / the Father is with me.”
- “I have said this so you may have peace.”
- “You will have trouble, but take courage; I have conquered the world.”
The disciples, now approaching three years or so having been with the company of Jesus, have witnessed countless miracles by his hand. They have seen Jesus command the elements of earth, calm the stormy sea, walk on water, change the molecular structure of water to wine, multiply bread and fish, command human cells to heal themselves, and even raise the dead to life… and now they proclaim; “By this we believe you came from God.” They boldly make this proclamation because Jesus announces that he speaks plainly.
Considering miracles and the challenges that we might face in a lifetime, there might be many occasions when our faith will be called into question. Here, in this particular setting, Jesus even challenges the belief of his own disciples calling their faith into question based on their confession. “Do you now believe?” he asks them. Then he announces to them what he knows about their belief and their heart; he says, “You will be scattered…You will leave me alone.”
I think of the many ways I am “scattered” and a flood of ideas stream into my mind. The context of “scattered” in Jesus’ words refers to the night of Jesus’ arrest and may indirectly follow through to the persecution of the believers in Jerusalem following Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost blessing of the Holy Spirit, but I believe there is more that can be gleaned here on a personal level.
Jesus also tells his followers, “You will leave me alone.” So I ask; “In what ways do I leave Jesus alone and how might I become separated from him?”
I think it might be true to say I “leave Jesus alone” and become “separated” from him whenever I become overwhelmed by the tasks or circumstances from any given day. The noises and voices that can suddenly fill my peace unexpectedly also have the potential to “scatter” and “separate.” In fact, I believe that any moment that my peace is disrupted, I have momentarily become scattered and separated. Now, this is not sin. Jesus did not call it such. What he said was “you will be scattered… and you will leave me alone.” The point in clarifying this is that when I become separated and scattered…leaving Jesus alone… this should not induce guilt.
Let me repeat, This should not induce guilt, but neither should it induce denial.
Two important things come to my mind here. First, there are times we will become scattered and we will leave Jesus “alone.” This does not mean we have been cut off from Jesus or abandoned by the Holy Spirit. What it means is that we have lost our focus and locus (our place of centering). It is for this reason that Jesus speaks very clearly when he follows his challenge to them with these words:
“I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
I am not alone. The Father is with me. You may have peace. Take courage. I have overcome.
These are good words. Real words. Comforting words. Encouraging words. Especially when I consider that I will have days when my thoughts and even my heart are scattered…and I leave Jesus alone.
There are several notable takeaways here for me. First, as we walk after Jesus and with Jesus—as we are also filled with the Holy Spirit—it is true that we (also like Jesus) are never alone. We are never actually cutoff or separated in a real sense. We are forever connected and joined with the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is always with us. Since this is a promise of Jesus to us, we can have the confidence to know that we may have peace, and this no matter the circumstance. We can have peace.
Jesus advises us to be anxious for nothing and do not worry. Being anxious and overcome by worry are the precursors of scattered and separated. It happens; Jesus knew this and said it to his disciples…and to you and to me. The point to remember is that when we become scattered and we leave Jesus alone, we can easily become reconnected to our peace, Jesus, unscattered and reattached to the Vine. No matter our doubt and no matter our fear, we can “take courage” because Jesus has overcome and because He has, we can overcome too.
I am reminded, as I sit here now, God is gazing on me with love and holding me in being. I pause for a moment and think of this. I need to close out the noise, to rise above the noise. .The noise that interrupts, that separates, the noise that isolates. I need to listen to God again.
Today I just want to be especially sensitive and attentive to your presence. Help me and let my heart respond to your love. (Sacred Space)
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Be a Tree… A Faithful Tree
Sometimes you just gotta “be a tree…”
Faith can be difficult sometimes. Any myriad number of circumstances or lack of circumstances can be the catalyst for a faith spinout. Faith, as it is defined for us from the Bible, is the “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrew 11:1). This can be disconcerting sometimes when the “things we do see and feel” overwhelm the “assurance about what we do not see.” I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days. I haven’t felt my best physically or emotionally for starters and there are some issues regarding spiritual discernment I am working through that lend another element of complexity to the way I “feel” at present. I realize there are those brothers and sisters in the faith who are going through much more difficult seasons of life than I am, but that realization doesn’t diminish the sense of what I think or feel.
What does a soul do in times like these?
The most important and helpful exercise I’ve learned for these difficult times is to be careful of what I feed my soul. I have noticed that I am very sensitive during these seasons and can be susceptible to harmful influences. The old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out,” is very apropos in times like these. The best practices I have found are to limit the amount and be careful of the content that I allow my soul to feed on. The words of the Apostle Paul come to mind from his letter to the Philippians where he writes; “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:8-9)
The question remains, where to go for these “praiseworthy” things to think on? The first place might also be the most obvious; I go to the Bible. The Scriptures verses God the Holy Spirit was gracious and loving to provide me with were these that follow:
The heavens proclaim the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth the work of God’s hands. Day unto day takes up the story—and night unto night makes known the message. (Psalm 19:1-2)
The Lord provided an added blessing on top of these words with an exceptionally beautiful week of marvelous weather for me to examine and soak in His glory day unto day and night unto night. As I would awaken to a new day and I would open my Bible and the prayers of the Psalms, a fresh reminder and prayer from God would fall upon my lips and my heart—“Remind me each morning, of your constant love: for I put my trust in you” (Psalm 143:8).
These words alone were enough to help me see beyond the momentary aches and afflictions of my body and my mind, but God, in His abundant and overwhelming love, provided more encouragement and word pictures for me. This next blessing came from the Song of Jeremiah.
Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by the water, sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8)
These words from verse eight were most inspiring and encouraging to me; “it shall not fear when heat comes, its leaves stay green, in drought it is not anxious…and it doesn’t cease to bear fruit.” Yes.
I will be like a tree, a tree sending out roots along the stream of my God. I will be a faithful tree. Me, a tree.
Sometimes life turns up the heat. Sometimes my life feels like a drought has come, spiritually speaking; however, Jeremiah writes that we are blessed when we trust in the LORD anyway. He says that in those times of heat and drought, we can… not only survive, but we can THRIVE… not becoming fearful or anxious…staying green (no sign even that there is drought or excessive heat), and bearing fruit always. Yes. I will be a faithful tree.
Glory to You, Source of all being, Eternal Word, and Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Book Review: A Life Together
Author: Bishop Seraphim Sigrist
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557258007
“To discover the church is to discover community.”
Community is a word that seems abuzz in our contemporary church circles, oft used and even more often misunderstood. What does it mean? Where does it get its meaning? How is it most accurately defined, and more importantly, how is it realized and experienced?
I don’t know if the answers to these questions can be obtained from a single book or much less from a book review, but these are some thoughts I had when I started reading A Life Together. The Eastern Church is the oldest of the Christian traditions and there is much wisdom to be gleaned from these ancient fathers of the faith.
The first half of the book seeks to define community with a Russian word, sobornost, which is interesting and brilliant in my opinion. I say it is interesting because Bishop Sigrist says on several occasions throughout the first half of the book that sobornost is a word that is hardly translatable, he calls it “a riddle, a word hardly translatable from its original Russian and yet not fully mined or understood in Russian either. Herein lays its brilliance. True, Biblical, holy, community is a mystery of the divine, a mystery that I think defies concrete definitions such that it must be lived and experienced in order to be realized. I think this is the reason for Bishop Sigrist’s choice to talk about community in the terms of sobornost.
Sobornost: spiritual community of many jointly living people; spiritual harmony based on freedom and unity in love. The hierarchy and structure of the church is secondary to a life that is absolutely organic, a life of all joined in all—”the spiritual communion of all with the plenitude of the whole church.”
“Sobornost is the ‘I’ grounded in ‘we,’” wrote the philosopher and priest Fr. Sergius Bulgakov. “In this plural unity of the Church—the Body of Christ—lives the Spirit of God.” (p.39)
Bishop Sigrist employs a unique writing style particular to the Eastern Church (brief sections, loosely linked, that provide differing angles of approach). If a person is unfamiliar with this writing style, it can be a bit disconcerting. I felt like I was following a bouncing ball at times, but once I got into the rhythm of the style, the ideas and the connections began to flow much more freely.
If we go back to the root of the idea of sobornost in the Gospels and then ask ourselves how sobornost would most basically express itself in the coming together of Christian churches in ecumenism, the answer is clear. It would be in love. In an ecumenism of love and friendship. (p.69)
The second half of the book consists of three parts: Part Two—Seeing, Part Three—Each Complete in the Other, and Part Four—Prayer and Mission. I don’t know if I understand these parts in their proper context or not, but I received them as complimentary extensions and supporting pillars of the concept of community found in sobornost. I don’t think sobornost can be found and realized without the I/we of “seeing” one another and watching for the Divine in all that we are and all that we do. Likewise, I think that “seeing” is contingent upon our living in a mode of complementarity (completion of opposites in each other—p.99). Finally, it is prayer and mission (Part Four) that is one of the primary the binding agents for community-sobornost.
This book has provided me much to consider and meditate upon. I’m sure I’ll be reading it again…and again.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Paraclete Press to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements
Book Review: The Dark Night of the Soul
Author: Gerald G. May, M.D.
Publisher: HarperOne ISBN: 9780060750558
It is too bad that many folks will discount this book because it is (was) written by a psychiatrist. It is equally bad that many Protestants will avoid the book because of its Catholic heritage. I believe that even worse still, there will be those who miss the wisdom inside the pages of this book, who could benefit from the guidance and spiritual insight during their seasons of the dark night.
“At the outset I must confess that I am no longer very good at telling the difference between good things and bad things.” -The Dark Night of the Soul; Gerald May, M.D.
I rather wish the title of this book had been different. I think it gives a false impression of what the subject really explores; although, it does address the dark night of the soul. May uses the backdrop of the writings from St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross to lay his foundation for his exploration of the phenomenon of the “dark night” or spiritual darkness (which might also be known as spiritual awakening or enlightenment). I have read quite extensively from both Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. Their writings can be something of a bit archaic depending on the translation and they can be somewhat romanticized within the context of their poetic settings. I say this to make a point that they can sometimes be difficult to completely understand. Despite his academic and clinical background, Dr. May writes clearly and in a very personal voice that I find very easy to grasp. His writing is warm, friendly, and very down-to-earth. He takes complex ideas and difficult situations and makes easy conversation with them. Not only was I enlightened by what I read, I was also comforted by someone whom I believe shared understanding of my circumstances and experiences.
What might be the greatest contribution of this book in my opinion is the synergy that Dr. May creates between the spirit and the psyche… perhaps another way of saying this is the convergence of the soul and the spirit. While some voices would discount the science of psychology, I believe it is helpful for us to understand the workings of the mind and soul. God instructs us to love Him with all our “heart, soul, mind, and strength.” It is obvious then, we should pay attention to these various facets that make up the essence of human beings. It is my opinion that Gerald May handles this material with humility and reverence, which helps in bringing attention to the work of God in the process of the dark night. It might be for this reason that I most liked chapter five, Three Signs and Three Spirits, where May teaches at length about the psychology of the dark night… very, very good instruction here.
“As John makes clear, it is not God who disappears, but only our concepts, images, and sensations of God.” -The Dark Night of the Soul; Gerald May (p.146)
Another very helpful chapter to me was chapter six, The Dark Night Today, where May discusses the dark night in modern contexts. While there is no substitute for reading the translated original writings from John and Teresa, Dr. May’s exploration is arguably one of the best companion guides I have read to date and I have several expositions on the writings of Teresa and John in my personal library.
The book includes a very well annotated notes section and an exhaustive index at the end of the book. Personally, I think this is a book every Christian should read and I am very glad I did.
Book Review: Heart & Life
Publisher: Aldersgate Press ISBN: 9781609470357
I truly enjoyed the content and format of this book. Two primary notions come to my mind after having spent several weeks in it; they are: (1) It is a needful conversation today—especially within the circles of the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, and (2) The topics and treatment thereof are relevant and well attended in the context of the individual essays.
Personally, I have been part of the holiness tradition for almost forty years. I have lived through many changes in the expression of holy living and I have experienced the interpretation of holy living across several denominations as well as how those interpretations might be lived out in regional applications (Deep South, Northeast, and Pacific Northwest). This book is helpful in bringing the conversation of holiness back to the table. I cannot speak for every holiness denomination, but I do know from my personal experience and from a number of national surveys the topic of holy living (i.e., sanctification) is rare in many of our Wesleyan-Holiness churches today. I have appreciated the treatment and relevancy of topics that I have found in Heart & Life: Rediscovering Holy Living.
This book has its origin in a group of Wesleyan-Holiness denominations who recognized the need to reconceive and promote biblical holiness for the twenty-first century. To this end, the Wesleyan Holiness Study Project was founded in 2003 and embarked on a three-year study (2004-2006) to realize the crisis we face in articulating the holiness message, recognize the message we have to share, and identify the action we must take in order to make the holiness message known. Heart & Life is the fruit of those studies.
The book is a collection of twenty articles from the perspectives of men and women across a broad spectrum of the holiness tradition representing some of the most highly respected theologians within the Wesleyan-Holiness sphere. A complete biography of the contributors is included at the end of the book. The articles/essays are arranged in four main parts: The Foundations of Holiness, The Experience of Holiness, Applications of Holiness, and Church Life and Holiness. Each of these sections contains four to six individual essays.
The format of the essays is very user-friendly and suitable for individual reading and group discussions; actually, I think they are ideal for groups. Each chapter-essay begins with a focus statement, which addresses a particular challenge and identifies ways to approach the challenge. The accompanying essay (most are between six to ten pages) then delves deeper into those focus thoughts and is completed with a grouping of discussion questions.
As I have already mentioned, one of the strengths of the book is how relevant it is to our contemporary society. Another strength of this book is the great diversity of the contributing scholars. I have no criticism for the book with one small exception, which might just be a personal preference. I always like to see an accompanying bibliography to aid me in further study should I desire to dig deeper on a topic. There was no bibliography or detailed annotation record. Each chapter had references where required, but it is always nice to have these in a single collection where possible.
I am thankful for the efforts put forth by the contributors and the Wesleyan Holiness Consortium (www.HolinessandUnity.org).
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. -Romans 12:11
David loved God with absolute abandon; this is how I read the account of his life from the Bible. I see this one thing common about David, remaining constant through the entirety of his life… I see his passion and intensity as the guiding example of his life. In fairness, I think his fervor and force cut both ways, for good and for not-so-good. Passion and intensity… it seems that almost all David did, he did with all his heart, soul, and strength. Could this be one of the reasons God loved and favored him so much despite the fact that David’s zeal led him to make some very poor choices? I don’t believe that David loved God as much with his head as he loved God with all his heart and I think this is a difference maker. We remember the Bible teaches us that God looks upon the heart as he determines the love of a man… “The LORD does not see as mortals see: they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” -1 Samuel 16:7 NRsV
So… zeal and passion can be the catalyst for some pretty bad “cuts and bruises.” This was evident in the life of David and it has been true in my life too; I read that passion and zeal was a characteristic of the apostle Peter too, who was one of Jesus’ closest buds. Oh, and Peter’s zeal got him in some rather tight spots on more than one occasion too, but I think it was what was so endearing to Jesus.
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God… -2 Timothy 1:6
What does it mean? What’s the takeaway? There are times that my passion and zeal have been choked for fear of making a mistake and missing the mark. Exercising caution, being prudent, showing maturity, and being conservative… I think these can all be euphemisms for fear. I’m sure that I’ve missed God opportunities for both being a blessing and being blessed by curtailing my fervor and intensity. I think; after reading this past week on the lives of Saul and David…and remembering Peter, I would rather live a little reckless in my passion and spill my zeal all over the hands and feet of Jesus rather than living a cautious and clean life and risk missing Jesus altogether. It’s obvious that David and Peter were both forgiven for every fail they committed. Maybe this is closer to what Luther meant when he advised to “sin boldly.” I don’t think the sin is intentional, but the wide-open, live-love-large passion and zeal are.
Sometimes some of the greatest plays that make the highlight reels are made by players willing to risk it all, body and limb, diving to make the play with reckless abandon. Sometimes they miss, but sometimes what they do is spectacular. The misses are often quickly forgotten; the spectacular plays rarely are and these players willing to risk it all for the love of the game, often become our favorite players because of their passion and fervor. I think this is how I want to pursue Jesus. I can live large for him, because his grace is large for me. Amen.
A Prayer of Scripture
O LORD, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise.
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. I will confess my transgressions to the LORD. It is with clean heart I ask, Lord, grant me the gift of seeing my life through your eyes. Help me to see this time as an integrated part of my life’s journey right now. Teach me to continue my dialogue with your Spirit as I go about my tasks this and every day.
But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.
Glory to you, Source of all being, Eternal Word, and Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, world without end. Amen.
Reading from Daily NRSV: 1 Samuel 16:1—24:22
The past few days I have been reading from the Book of 1 Samuel, looking into the lives of the Kings Saul and David. Each time I read from these narrative accounts I come away with an equal part of encouragement and “dis—ease.”
All through these ancient stories, I read of many of the men and women in the Bible showing equal parts of “faithful” and “faulty.” There are countless stories depicting deep love of God and then it seems like there comes the counterbalance of fleshly foible revealing the frailty of their humanity (i.e., not one of them lived perfect lives).
“The LORD does not see as mortals see: they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” -1 Samuel 16:7 NRsV
King David is especially notable in this sense, described as a man after God’s heart and arguably one of God’s favorites…and not perfect by a looooong shot. He lied, he stole, he cheated, he adulterated, he murdered, he showed poor parenting skills…and these are just off the top of my head, but even in the midst of these moral failures God loved him, favored him, and blessed him immensely. This is one major example of why I come away from these readings encouraged. It is also for the same reason I come away from this with a heavy conviction of “dis-ease.”
How often am I tempted to redefine obedience so that I am not doing what God requires but what I desire instead?
The reason I feel so uncomfortable with their fleshly failures is not that I think we should live morally perfect lives…even with the Holy Spirit upon or within us, (David had the Holy Spirit upon him and still committed epic failures). No, the reason is much more vainly motivated than that… I feel disturbed and dis-eased because I realize how easy it is for me to justify and excuse my failures and weaknesses in light of God’s forgiving nature toward me and Christ-imputed righteousness to me. This is pretty sobering to think about when I consider that “God looks upon the heart…” What does my heart really look like, when I redefine obedience to fit my desires? Am I really living to deny self, so I might conform fully to the image of Christ? Or, do I slack off from that transformation of character and nature, assuming that God forgives my frailty? I mean… “He knows we are dust” Right?
I don’t particularly like this tension I live in, but I think it is healthy for my soul. These questions and my honest answers keep my running on my knees to the Cross of Christ feeling very poor in spirit. I want to be righteous for the sake of my God, Jesus. I do want to live a morally perfect and Christ-like virtuous life; I do. I think the balance is in setting the bar for my goal as the life Jesus lived. I don’t think I should be satisfied or comfortable with my weaknesses and failures, but I don’t think they should paralyze me either. God the Holy Spirit is with me and has empowered me to succeed and live a life that reflects Christ in me; I know this and should let this be the guiding principle for how I go about my daily living.
I want to live like and leave the legacy of the person the psalmist writes about in Psalm 92.
“The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap, showing that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” -Psalm 92:12-15
A Prayer of Psalms
O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me. I call out to you, O LORD, with all my heart… answer me, O LORD, and I will obey your decrees. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. I call out to you; save me and I will keep your statutes, I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. Come, Creator Spirit, Paraclete, gift of God most high, visit the souls of your people, and fill with supernal grace the hearts which you created. Amen.
“So I forced myself…”
Reading: 1 Samuel 13:1—15:35
As I read about the actions and heart of Saul, I find similarities between his life and my own that I wish I did not. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say I’m probably not the only one, but I won’t project my thoughts on anyone else… at least not today, not in this post.
Reading in chapter thirteen, Saul had been given specific instructions by Samuel. The details of the instructions aren’t critically important, but Saul’s situation was deteriorating as was his patience. Saul felt as if he had to “do something,” so he did. Against Samuel’s instructions.
I think the interesting points I noted as I read this account was the wrestling it seems that Saul went through. It might not be obvious in the written account, but it certainly seems implied. It is evident that Saul knew his instructions because he waited as he had been told. Also, when he was confronted by Samuel, he began to explain himself and offer up an excuse…even to the point of projecting part of the blame on Samuel.
“When I saw that the people were slipping away, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines were mustering…” -1 Samuel 13:11 NRSV
Saul goes on to fully explain himself and then caps his excuse with the words that really caught my attention; “so I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12).
“I forced myself;” says Saul. Some versions read, “I felt compelled…” In either event, what comes across to me is there was a deliberate weighing of a decision to choose against what he knew to do. “I forced myself.” Indeed. As I reflect on the choices of my life, if I am transparent, I have done exactly as Saul did in this account. There have been more than a few occasions when I have known the right thing to do and I deliberately chose a different path. Some of these decisions were not so obviously blatant rebellion against something I was instructed to do, but I think there have been times when I had a strong sense of what God wanted from me… I sensed the Holy Spirit guiding me and I felt “compelled to go a different direction.” Like Saul.
This attitude in itself is bad enough, but when confronted and rebuked by Samuel for his actions of insolence and disobedience, Saul appears to simply shrug off the rebuke and go his way.
“Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which he commanded you…’ And Samuel left and went on his way…” (1 Samuel 13:13-15)
There are a number of lessons here for consideration, not the least of which is Saul’s continuing downward spiral toward complete self-absorption. Saul continued to “force himself” to make the decisions he wanted to make and then justify his disobedience in words that were couched in religious pontifications. He always did what he did for the glory of God… so he said. Interestingly, every choice he made “for God” was against the instructions and commandments of God.
I think the primary lesson I’m taking from this reading today was how easy it was for Saul to first turn his back to God. I wonder if he had been repentant when first confronted by Samuel if there would have been a different outcome. I also think while this might have been an obvious transgression, there are probably less obvious acts each of us might wrestle with, “feeling compelled” to do what we want to do that ultimately take us in a direction other than where God wished to take us. Perhaps when I “force myself” to do things my way, I don’t turn 180 degrees from God… I just turn 45 degrees away from him. And the slide begins.
I don’t want this to be me, not even a little bit. I’m in a season of seeking God’s direction for a new chapter of life for me and my wife. I don’t want to be second-guessing God and justifying guesses with religious reasoning. I don’t want to pontificate as Saul did that by doing what he did he could glorify God all the more. Samuel responded to Saul’s dogmatic excuses with these words:
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
I do not want to take for granted hearing the Word of the Lord to me. When I ask God’s direction, I want to hear Him speak. I want to act in obedience to all He speaks to me. I do not want to reject His Word. I think paying attention to the little decisions and acting with integrity with those choices might be preparations for the bigger decisions. Getting the little decisions right and obedient might be what helps deter me from “forcing myself” to do what I think best instead of choosing to wait and obey God.
Book Review: Bernard of Clairvaux
Author: Bernard of Clairvaux
Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco ISBN: 9780060750677
It is hard to quantify the enormous value I have gleaned from studying from the classic spiritual writings. The Christian community has such a wealth of wisdom in her history and I am so very grateful and fortunate to draw from this wonderfully rich and deep well .
The HarperCollins Spiritual Classics series is edited by Emilie Griffin and includes a number of writings from the Christian tradition. Some of the titles in the series follow: John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, John and Charles Wesley, William Law, and the subject of this review, Bernard of Clairvaux.
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was a Cistercian (Trappist) monk and founding abbot of Clairvaux Abbey in Burgundy. He was a very distinguished and influential leader during the course of his life and left a vast collection of writings that have significant impact upon the shaping of Western monasticism and Christian mystical traditions. It is said that his writings had a profound effect on the likes of Martin Luther and John Calvin. This volume in the HarperCollins Spiritual Classics series, bearing his name, is an accessible introduction to some of Bernard’s foundational writings that shaped Western religious thought and culture.
This small book introduces the reader to four primary works of Bernard; they are On Conversion, On Loving God, Sermons on the Song of Songs, and Selections from His Letters.
It is hard for me to choose a favorite chapter as each of these writings has influenced me in uniquely specific ways at different points of my spiritual journey. If I were pressed to choose one writing however, it would be On Loving God as it is a teaching that continues to circulate in my memory and affect my daily living more than some of the others. In describing the journey of loving God, Bernard details four stages or degrees of love. He identifies the stages as follows: First degree—love of self for self’s sake, Second degree—love of God for self’s sake, Third degree—love of God for God’s sake, and Fourth degree—love of self for God’s sake.
“What are the four degrees of love? First, we love ourselves for our own sake; since we are unspiritual and of the flesh, we cannot have an interest in anything that does not relate to ourselves. When we begin to see that we cannot subsist by ourselves, we begin to seek God for our own sakes. This is the second degree of love; we love God, but only for our own interests. But if we begin to worship and come to God again and again by meditating, by reading, by prayer, and by obedience, little by little God becomes known to us through experience. We enter into a sweet familiarity with God, and by tasting how sweet the Lord is we pass into the third degree of love so that now we love God, not for our own sake, but for himself. It should be noted that in this third degree we will stand still for a very long time.” -Bernard of Clairvaux; The Love of God
It is my opinion there is no substitute for learning from these spiritual classics. I am reminded of the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews who said, “Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith” (Hebrews 13:7 NLT). There is much we can learn from those who have traveled the journey that is the Christian life. Some of the original writings from these great spiritual masters can be hard to obtain and very difficult to read. I am thankful for those who have brought these ancient writings to us in a package that is accessible and affordable.
Book Review: Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul
Author: Lars Kierspel
Publisher: Kregel Academic ISBN: 9780825429361
This is the first experience I have had with one of Kregel Academic’s Charts books. My cursory description, in a word is phenomenal. Perhaps there are other academic resources that are more comprehensive and/or exhaustive, or at the least, equally comprehensive…but I am unaware of them. This is an indispensable resource when studying the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul or any of his epistles.
There are one hundred eleven charts in the collection arranged in four primary categories: Paul’s Background and Context (9 charts), Paul’s Life and Ministry (25 charts), Paul’s Letters (43 charts), and Paul’s Theological Concepts (34 charts). Kierspel also includes a commentary section, which provides a summary of the information in each chart. I found this commentary very helpful, and in some cases, almost as helpful as the chart itself. The final section of the book is very thorough (thirty pages) bibliography.
As I mentioned earlier, this is my first experience with information of this nature arranged in charts, but it will not be my last. While I have worked with other academic resources and used computer software for study, I found this arrangement of information one of the most intuitive and easy to work with of any method I’ve used to date. This Kregel Chart Book will not be the last I use.
I could share a little more detail about the nature of the charts, but a link on the Amazon.com site provides a look inside the book itself, which will speak much more than what I could here. This will allow you to see for yourself the beautiful functionality of the chart system. I think one of the highlights of this study tool is the objectivity of the presentation. It seems to me that the collection of information is simply “just the facts.” There does not appear to be any bias coloring the presentation of data at all. The great consolation about this detail is that I can enter my studies with a more relaxed attitude, knowing that I do not have to be on my guard filtering opinions or denominational perspective from my research. This alone is a priceless feature in my view.
I am beyond impressed with the book and a little disappointed this is my first exposure to the Kregel Charts Series. I do not know if every book in the genre is as good as this one, but I will be finding out and posting future reviews. If you have never seen or worked with one of these magnificent resources, don’t wait any longer… you won’t regret the investment.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Kregel Publications to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”