Shaping Me

Free of Guilt—Prayed for by God

Saturday: Day 4 of Lent

Free of Guilt—Prayed for by God

I don’t know where the Spirit is leading me this Lent, but it is starting out with a very serious departure from my previous seasons of penance, contrition, and somberness. I have several devotional books that have been labeled specifically for Lent and I’m following the Daily Scripture readings from the Book of Common Prayer, providing evidence to me that I have not subconsciously planned or contrived the direction my heart is drawn.  I will continue my practices and devotion, and follow where God leads.

I began my morning with reflection on Psalm 30 and 32. I came away from that reflection with the following as my prayer:

I will exalt you, LORD, for you rescued me—you restored my health, and brought me up from the grave. O LORD, you have kept me from falling into the pit of death. Weeping and my tears may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. You are the morning, my LORD, You are the Bright and Morning Star! You are my Joy! The Bringer of Light and the Giver of Life! You have turned my mourning into a morning of joy-filled dancing! I will sing joyful praises to you and not be silent. O LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever. (Personalized from my heart from Psalm 30)

My disobedience is forgiven. My sin is put out of sight. The LORD has cleared my guilt. He forgave me! All my guilt is gone! I will give thanks to you, My God and King, I will praise you forever! (Personalized from my heart from Psalm 32)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything… God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds as we live in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7 NLT)

The past three days, the Gospel reading has come from John 17. This passage of Scripture is among the most influential passages found in the whole Bible for the context of my spiritual development and continues to be one of the most formative passages of Scripture no matter how many times that I read it. There is something mysterious and divine about the energy that soaks into my soul each time I encounter Christ Jesus, the Living God, through this text. It is the prayer of Jesus, perhaps that is part of its mystery. I find this prayer always challenging and always inspiring. The promise and intercessory petition of God (Jesus) for us, his disciples, is mind-blowing.

Excerpted from John 17:9-26

My prayer is for those you have given me… Protect them, so they will be united just as we are… Keep them safe from the evil one. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. I am praying not only for these disciples, but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message—I have given them the glory you gave me. I pray they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. I am in them and you are in me…May the world know you love them as much as you love me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so…

Simply an amazing passage of Scripture. This, prayer of Jesus, is this God praying to God… himself? And praying for humanity, not only for his immediate disciples, but all those who will believe in him/Jesus through their message. Yes, that will make me inclusive in that prayer!!! One of the things that I find so moving about this prayer is how it reveals the heart of God in it. Jesus says as much; “I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so…” (John 17:26). It seems safe, then, to me, to assume that what is happening in this narrative account  of Jesus in the Garden is Jesus revealing God the Father, his heart for us, the loved ones who will follow him and believe in him.

I am so grateful for this “reveal” of God to me… it seems fitting for this season of my life. The “Type-A” personality I am, I can often be tempted to guilt over performance issues where I feel I am not ready, studying, writing, or praying enough (as far as Christian disciplines go). I sometimes feel my thoughts are dark, evil, and unholy… There is no shortage  of stuff that can bring me down and I can be tempted by the darkness and doubt to accept a false image of God—not unlike the false image  that was offered to Adam and Eve during their Garden Temptation, which they ultimately accepted. I can see where that has brought us. I don’t want that image or the catastrophe it brings; no thanks!

What I continue to learn and constantly affirmed is that the Father is far more loving that I can ever imagine. And this loving Father, according to the prayer of Jesus, loves me as much as he loves the Only Begotten Son (John 17:23). Out of this world AMAZING. How can I not praise HIM!!! How can my heart not be joy-dancing-Glad!??!

Here is what my heart sings today:

I am flesh, but I am Divine because Christ is in me.

I am mortal, but my soul is immortal, promised by God to be with Him forever.

I am broken, but in the process of being restored.

I was the son of Adam, but now am the adopted son of God through the Son of God

Glory be to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Book Review: The Uncontrolling Love of God

Book Review: The Uncontrolling Love of God

Author: Thomas Jay Oord

Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830840847

The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence

I like Tom Oord. I like that he is a thinker. I like that even when he postulates an idea, he’s not always resolute in its absoluteness. He seems to always be exploring, processing, and attempting to understand. I remember the first time I was exposed to the “open view” of God, sometime around twelve or thirteen years ago, and I immediately rejected the idea as something that could ever be considered within the paradigm of my theology. I could not escape the gnaw of this open view though, and when it appeared on my radar again around eight years ago, I started to do some investigation and deeper reading. Tom Oord and others have been instrumental in the continuing evolution of my thought, perception, and growing relationship with God through their writing and lectures on a more open and expansive understanding of God’s relationship and His engagement in the lives of men and women. While I’m not an open theist, I know for certain my understanding of God and relationship I live with Him is far more healthier now than it has ever been in my life, in large part because of my willingness to engage this dynamic of the uncontrolling love of God. I share this preface for those who may be highly resistant to ideas previously foreign to your thinking about God. I was that guy. I am no longer that guy. This is a worthy book to read.

Oord begins this work with questions regarding the goodness of God and the tragic events that can call that goodness into question; these are the “why questions” and the reasoning behind the chapter title Tragedy Needs Explanation.

The case for God’s uncontrolling love builds with chapter two as Oord further develops his thesis, drawing distinctions between God’s sovereign control over every detail of existence and the possibility of randomness as a factor in the circumstances and happenings of life. It will be necessary for each reader to draw their own conclusion, but one thing I particularly enjoyed from this chapter was the brilliant synthesis of philosophy, science-physics, and theology. I think, in general terms, we are often want to speak and quantify our beliefs in binary terms… If I am reading Oord’s ideas correctly in this section, he promotes a mixed view of causation and randomness in all the events and circumstances of life, he concludes this chapter with these words; “Both randomness and regularity persist in the universe.”  I have likely way oversimplified his wonderful presentation, but this is my simple review and my very, very brief synopsis.

The elements of free will and determination are explored in chapter three, which was a very insightful and interesting read. There are far too many excellent points in this chapter to do justice in this short review, but I can share a teaser with the following quote:

The two words, free and will, capture what most people mean when they talk about the freedom to choose in any particular moment. But philosophers use various terms to talk about free will. The philosophical label libertarian free will describes what I believe is the most plausible view of freedom. Libertarian free will says genuine freedom is irreconcilable with being fully determined to act in a particular way. Libertarian-free-will supporters are incompatiblists because they believe we cannot be simultaneously free and entirely determined by other forces. In other words, free will and complete determinism are incompatible. We choose among alternatives, and other agents and factors do not completely control us. (p. 59)

I think, one of the big takeaways for me from this chapter, is the affirmation of my own conclusion regarding my conversion from Calvinism (many years ago). In my opinion, as echoed in the above quote, theistic determinism is incompatible with free will. Now, granted this statement leaves much unanswered, but those unanswered questions are much of what Oord’s book, The Uncontrolling Love of God, explores (and a great reason to purchase and read it).

As I have alluded previously, I appreciate the approach of Oord to not bifurcate the discussion of theodicy with “either/or” statements about God and instead embrace more of a “both/and” approach to understanding this complex conversation. Again, this is my interpretation and I hope I am not oversimplifying or misrepresenting the nature and discussion in this book. You’ll need to read it and judge for yourself. A great case for my observation can be found in the presentation of Models of God’s Providence (beginning pg. 83, chapter four). Once more, in my opinion, this might be one of the more important chapters in the book. I think it can serve for some very deep and healthy discussion (albeit possibly fired with much passion), and would be an excellent reason for introducing this book in a study group. The ways we think about God and His actions among us have serious repercussions and ramifications. A conversation concerning the models of God’s providence is a great introduction to explore ways we think about God.

Tom Oord has written and lectured extensively on the open and relational view of God. It is in chapter five that he begins to fully engage this position deeply with relation to tragedy, free will, determination, and love within the scope of the God and humanity relationship. For the sake of ease and the benefit of my friends who will read this review and likely be unfamiliar with the open view of God, I will include Oord’s major defining points for this position. He writes in the opening statements of chapter five.

Open and relational theology embraces the reality of randomness and regularity, freedom and necessity, good and evil. It asserts that God exists and that God acts objectively and responsively in the world. This theology usually embraces at least these three ideas:

  1. God and creatures relate to one another. God makes a real difference to creation, and creation makes a real difference to God. God is relational.
  2. The future is not set because it has not yet been determined. Neither God nor creatures know with certainty all that will actually occur. The future is open.
  3. Love is God’s chief attribute. Love is the primary lens through which we best understand God’s relation with creatures and the relations creatures should have with God and others. Love matters most.

Advocates of open and relational theology may describe their views a little differently from the way I have here. Some add other beliefs. Among the open and relational theology books of importance and in addition to those cited, but most advocates embrace at least these three statements. (pg. 107)

Please note as quoted above that Oord describes this as his defining points of the Open and Relational View of God, while others will add other defining points to the position.

While this chapter represents a big-picture view of the open and relational dynamic of God, it is not just a high-level fly by. There is much depth to the presentation and Oord has done a remarkable job of annotating sources from a diverse group of thinkers and theologians. Additionally, with such depth of thinking, one can often get lost in the academic structure of the discussion; this is not so with Oord’s presentation. He has also performed admirably to bring the conversation to an every-day-man level of understanding. I believe this chapter could easily be a standalone work expressing this particular view of God.

Chapter six is a chapter I will have to return to and read more closely. I admit that it is a portion of the book that I skimmed more than I digested, unlike the slower more deliberate approach I took with previous chapters. In it, Oord dialogues quite extensively with John Sanford’s work in his book, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence. Oord expresses the importance of this chapter as a preface to his summary conclusion.

Similar to my statements from chapter six, I extend my thoughts to the concluding chapters of seven and eight where Oord offers the brunt of reason behind his position and his concluding statements. It is with complete transparency that I offer my inconclusiveness. The jury is still out for me with regard to theodicy and the working of God within the parameters of His sovereignty and humanity’s unrestricted free will. I admit I don’t understand all the myriad ways of God’s working within the scope of humanity and free will. At this juncture, I’m willing to live in the divine tension of God’s mystery. I say this while fully engaged in asking questions of God and pondering with deepest contemplation (love) all the knowledge that God will impart regarding these deep and soulful questions about our existence and the ways of life in the midst of brokenness and people still separated from God by the distorted image of God within them. Even while I make these admissions about myself, there are several points that Oord makes in his Kenosis chapter (seven) that put me on edge…and for the very reasons that he gives his voice under his subheading Essential Kenosis and Evil, also found in chapter seven. I have learned that this type of discomfort I describe is when I need to pay attention very closely; I need to proceed slowly and allow God the Holy Spirit to guide my understanding. That is not to say that I will eventually be swayed to another view, but that I will remain objective in my search for truth and be wary of my personal biases as well as positions anchored in personal conviction. I think I’ll end my review on that note.

This is an excellent and very thought-worthy book. I think it will make a fabulous group study. In my opinion, there’s no way a person can read The Uncontrolling Love of God and not find subjects worthy of engagement. There’s a lot here and some deep thinking, but not too difficult to approach even for high school students. I think it also serves as a compilation and expository summary of many of Oord’s earlier works, which can be helpful if you’ve read much of his writing or if you’ve read none. The book is well annotated with extensive footnotes. I’m reading a proof copy, so I’m not sure if this is the final version of the book or not. I do not know if there will be additional appendices or if there will be a bibliography included, but in either event, this is a very worthy read. Thanks Tom for stretching my theology and giving me pause to evaluate my positions.

The book is currently available for preorder at Amazon and is scheduled for release Dec. 06, 2015

Book Review: What Your Body Knows About God

Book Review: What Your Body Knows About God

Author: Rob Moll

Publisher: IVP ISBN: 9780830836772

What Your Body Knows About God: How We Are Designed to Connect, Serve and Thrive

This has been without doubt, one of the most fascinating and brilliant books I have read in years. I may be putting a lot of trust in research that I have no background or knowledge of, but it seems that the claims and data presented by Rob Moll in What Your Body Knows About God is sufficiently supported in the notes section of the book for fact checking. Why would I make a statement like that? I make a qualifying or disclaimer statement because the information shared is almost too fantastic to fathom. On the other side of fact checking, is intuition and experience, and this is where I have made the connection with What Your Body Knows.

Here are some salient details about my experience. I am a former addict. Although I was raised in the heart of the Bible belt and taught the Christian faith most of my life, for many years I was living my life very far from God. Quite a few years ago, I made my pilgrimage back to the Christian faith with hopes of finding a deep connection with God that I could never find in some of the earlier forays into Christian spirituality during my younger-self life. Somewhere around ten years ago, I was introduced to the ancient and classic methods of spiritual formation,  engaging in spiritual exercises and disciplines practiced by souls for centuries who were on the Way of Jesus who sought whole life transformation in the image and nature of the Christ they follow. Ultimately, these practices were supposed to help facilitate deep reconciliation, restoration, and union with Creator God and many, many of those practicing this lifestyle of devotion did report deep personal transformation…with equal affirming reports from witnesses and peers to the same. My testimony is similar. I have found peace with myself, peace with God, and realized a renewed mind and changed heart.  My spiritual life was not the only thing that changed with me through this process. In addition to my spiritual health, my emotional health, my intellect, and aspects of my physical self have changed… in some cases, these changes have rendered me unrecognizable as the man I was formerly known. I am, in every sense of the word, a new creation. I know others will attest to these changes in me as well, but the challenge has been quantifying and validating the process and methods. This is especially true of my Christian tradition, which remains highly skeptical of any efforts that might resemble “works” or self-effort on the way of spiritual recovery.

I have struggled with language to articulate my experience, but that struggle is ending due in large part to the work Rob Moll has done in this most excellent book. While I have known the changes in my life (and others’ lives) have been real, I have needed something more to help communicate the rationality of what has happened. The reality of living in the information age and the age of reason dictates a language the culture can understand. What the Body Knows About God is providing me this language. Moll produces deep science and medical studies to corroborate the experiences of those who have been spiritually transformed. Evidence that supports the “renewing of the mind” and rewiring of the emotions (think fruit of the Spirit) are all included in this magnificent study. Verifiable connections to the disciplines of spiritual formation and life transformation producing “abundant living” are all recorded and explained in terms non-science person like myself can understand.

I am beyond grateful for the work put into this book and know it will be a game changer for me as I continue to share my testimony, now in ways that might better communicate the miracle of God in a life transformed. We are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made” and made so that we might be in faithful fellowship with one another and with the God who created us. What Your Body Knows About God helps to make all of this clear. A must read!

Advent (2014): Christmas Eve—The Power to Save

24DEC2014—4th Wednesday ADVENT Year B

Advent: Christmas Eve—The Power to Save

Scripture Reading:  Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 45, 46  Isaiah 59:15-21  Phil. 2:5-11  Luke 1:67-80

As for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord. My spirit, which is upon you, and my words, which I have placed in your mouth won’t depart from your mouth, nor from the mouths of your descendants, nor from the mouths of your descendants’ children, says the Lord, forever and always. (Isaiah 59:21 CEB)

Today is the eve of Mystery revealed; Advent is upon us, and darkness is now at dawn. The question begs asking; “Are we ready?” Are we prepared for the greatest and our most longed for Visitor to arrive? Are we looking for and anticipating his living amongst us…living within us? Arrival is nigh. He comes. Ready or not.

“How can we expect to find Jesus if we do not seek him in the states of this earthly life, in loneliness and silence in poverty and suffering, in persecution and contempt, in annihilation and the cross?” -Francois Fenelon

The time and place of Jesus’ birth makes me wonder if many of us in this modern and over-busy world would recognize his coming today. We people living in “first world” countries have a debilitating habit and hunger for the loud, proud, and shiny things. Many of us like busy and entertainment filled lives; we do not crave the quiet or silence, and many of us do not like being alone or in solitude.

Jesus was born in the shadows…and lived in relative poverty on the edges of his society hidden from the world’s stage for more than ninety percent of his life. Would we know him? Would we recognize him? In all likelihood, many who claim to know him today probably would not have recognized him then… Truthfully, many who say they know him today, probably would not recognize him if they saw him face-to-face today. I count myself as one of those who likely would not have known or recognized him.

For Christmas is not merely a day like every other day. It is a day made holy and special by a sacred mystery. It is not merely another day in a weary round of time. Today, eternity enters into time, and time, sanctified, is caught up into eternity… We are then, above all, obliged to reveal Christ in our lives… Every day of our mortal lives must be His manifestation, His divine Epiphany, in the world which He has created and redeemed.”  -Thomas Merton

A Psalm and a Prayer

God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart, when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea, when its waters roar and rage, when the mountains shake because of its surging waves. There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city, the holiest dwelling of the Most High. God is in that city. It will never crumble. God will help it when morning dawns. Nations roar; kingdoms crumble. God utters his voice; the earth melts. The Lord of heavenly forces is with us! The God of Jacob is our place of safety. (Psalm 46:1-7 CEB)

Lord God, our Father in heaven, you have sent u the Savior, who was born to bring great joy to all people. Glorify your name, we pray. Give the world the peace you along can give, the peace that wells up in our hearts. Let your favor rest on us so that we may hold out under our sufferings on earth. We need your loving help to remain inwardly steadfast until everyone can be reached by the message, “Be strong in the grace of Jesus Christ.” Amen.

Advent (2014): Real Beginnings and Standing Firm

12DEC2014—2nd Friday ADVENT Year B

Advent: Real Beginnings and Standing Firm

Scripture Reading:  Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 31  Isaiah 7:1-9  2 Thess. 2:1-12  Luke 1:46-55

All preparation has a starting point—a place of beginning. Advent, the coming of Christ Jesus is our beginning. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

“With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter. (2 Thess. 2:15 NLT)

I’ve been thinking about this idea of beginning places and starting points, how it relates to preparation. One idea I’ve had is that the starting point for my faith journey may not have been with the moment of the Incarnation. The preparation for my Christian experience was muddling around with a bunch of different spiritual experiments and concepts. I discarded this theory though, because all of those experiments failed. They were “sputter” starts and never really launched into anything significant.

“Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.” (Isaiah 7:9 NLT)

I think my real starting point and preparation did begin when I looked to the Incarnation. When I really took Jesus at his word and began to model my life from the beginning point of His condescension (Philippians 2:5-7; John 12:24-26), my journey started. This beginning point was not a failure to launch, but has been met with real change having a true spiritual vision to realize Christ-like transformation. Joan Chittister holds a firm line in her belief that the Coming of Christ is the beginning point of the spiritual journey.

If, focused on the Christ Child at the very beginning of the liturgical year (Advent), we do not have the spiritual vision to see meaning there and to develop it within ourselves, there is nothing else on earth that will ever be able to supply it for us. -Joan Chittister; The Liturgical Year

A Psalm and a Prayer:

I take refuge in you, LORD. You are the rock that protects me; the strong fortress that saves me. You guide me and lead me for the sake of your good name! I entrust my spirit into your hands; you, LORD, God of faithfulness—you have saved me. I trust you, LORD! I affirm, “You are my God.” My future is in your hands. Bless the LORD, because he has wondrously revealed his faithful love to me. All you who wait for the LORD, be strong and let your heart take courage. (Psalm 31 CEB)

O Lord, my God, grant us your peace; already, indeed, You have made us rich in all things! Give us peace of being at rest, that Sabbath peace, the peace which know no end. O great God of Peace, sanctify me entirely; may You keep my spirit, soul and body sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because You have called me and You are faithful, I believe You will do this.

O Lord, mindful of Your Great mercy, grant that I might serve You without fear, in holiness and righteousness this day and all the days of my life. May it be so to Your glory and the coming of Your Kingdom Eternal. Amen.

Advent (2014): Hope-filled Longing

04DEC2014—1st Thursday ADVENT Year B

Advent: Hope-filled Longing

Scripture Reading:  Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 18:1-20  Isaiah 2:12-22  1 Thess. 3:1-13  Luke 20:27-40

A sense of “longing” haunts me…an insatiable desire of spiritual hunger. My soul is ravenous for my ultimate completion in Christ…to fully and completely with my God. I know these feelings, this sense, is true in my deepest self, but my mocking flesh hurls insults and taunts of hypocrisy at me for speaking my thoughts of spiritual hunger. I despise this conflict and groaning of soul.

It seems in the interim of here and Eternity, this tumultuous battle between the spirit and flesh is a self-perpetuating cycle. The more my soul is awakened and drawn closer to the things of God, the more I am made aware of the catastrophic effects of sin, and consequently, the weakness and failures of my own physical nature.

~ And I long…~ Maranatha

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… They shall be comforted and they shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:3-4

I look at the world around me and gaze upon the world within me, so many things remain broken; even if I want to feel safe in the promise of my own redemption and salvation, I am conflicted…spiritually bipolar at times… even manic. Still, my faith does not waver; the hope and promise of my completion is strong…my eternity secure in Christ and for this I rejoice, but my hunger is not satisfied. I long to see my Jesus face-to-face, triumphant in victory, sitting on His throne as He rules the nations…the insidious destroyer who is sin forever removed from the face of a New Earth.

I Long for His glory and I hope for completion… Maranatha

Famine is a reminder, disease is a reminder…physical, emotional, and sexual abuses are all reminders of the cancer of sin. Decay, pollution, birth defect and poverty are the tinnitus to my spiritual ears. War, climatic catastrophes, pestilence, idolatry, and death blur the “eyes of my heart.” Lies, slander, hypocrisy, and pride from my fellow humanity bear the scent of terminal cancer to my nostrils. Time itself is a reminder of sin…we were not created seconds, minutes, hours, or years… God created man with Eternity in his heart. Our destiny was, and is, to be immortality in eternity with our Creator God. The process of aging, keeping track of schedules, and the tyrannical ticking of the clock…all vicious and relentless in their reminder of man’s rebellion and disobedience toward God.

My soul longs for the King of Peace… Maranatha

In light of our longing there is hope. God has sprinkled His DNA across the universe; creation itself bears the promise of hope and glory. We awaken to the splendor of His spoken word; “Let there be light,” in the glorious rising of the sun. We marvel at the mystery and complexities of conception and birth. The incredible science behind osmosis and photosynthesis (life as we know it depends on these earth actions) are hints of God’s handiwork. We have hope looking forward…a hunger and a longing for the eternity that God has planted in us with the same breath in which He gave us life.

“I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

“I am making all things new…” Revelation 21:3-5

Longing… it is the groaning burden of a soul that hungers for completion

Maranatha… Come, Lord Jesus, Come

The way of the Lord must be prepared within the heart; for great and spacious is the heart of man, as if it were a whole world. But see its greatness, not in bodily quantity but in the power of the mind that enables it to encompass so great a knowledge of the truth. Prepare, therefore, in your hearts the way of the Lord, by a worthy manner of life. Keep straight the path of your life, so that the words of the Lord may enter in without hindrance. -Origen

I can think of no better prayer and praise than our Psalm reading from this day to end our reflection.

I love you, Lord; you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies. The ropes of death entangled me; floods of destruction swept over me. The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path. But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears. (Psalm 80:1-6 NLT)

Advent (2014): Thankful for Hope

02DEC2014—1st Tuesday ADVENT Year B

Thankful For: The Promise of Hope that God gives to us — A Time to Pause; A Time to Reflect; A Time to Give Thanks.

How do we express thanks to God? Many (probably most often) times we simply say “thank you, God” or openly say, “I’m thankful for…” This is fresh on my mind just coming off the Thanksgiving holiday. Other than verbal acknowledgment though, how do we really give thanks to God? I’m sure there will be lots of answers, but when I ask myself this question the first thing that comes to my mind is “relief.” That’s kind of weird, but this is the first thought that gives expression to my feelings of “thanks.” I don’t think relief is an inappropriate “feeling” or response. In fact, the more I consider it, the more I think it may be one of the most sincere acts of response to my gratitude and thanks to God’s promises.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  Jesus (Matthew 11:28-29)

What is it that gives me relief? My belief… My absolute trust and belief in God’s Promise: that He takes my burdens; that He promises to return and make right every injustice that has ever been perpetrated against His Creation and His Holiness; His promise that I am His child… and His promise that He has made a way to restore my right-standing in our relationship so we might be together for all eternity. For this, I am relieved. This relief has given rest to and restored my soul.

Real Belief Results in REAL Relief…

I wonder how God’s Promise resonates with others. As we “wait” for the Second Advent (coming) and the ultimate fulfillment of His Promise, how does His promise resonate in our lives today? I am skeptical there is heartfelt understanding of God’s Promise. The reason for my skepticism is this: His promise of the ultimate “righting” of all things is also wrapped in the promise of “His Kingdom is in you and among you today.” Visible evidence, or lack of, this Kingdom in us reveals very little relief in people’s lives today.

I believe the overwhelming majority of people suffer a terrible disconnection of “head knowledge” from “heartfelt belief.” Take for instance; the Twenty-Third Psalm… this Psalm is quoted by believers, nominal-believers, and even some non-believers around the world. It is the rare soul though, who exhibits a life lived, reflected and embodied by the words of this psalm.

 1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

 5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

For most people, it seems, the promise(s) of God bring very little relief. I question the authenticity of hope and the depth of thanksgiving in those people. How can someone be grateful for something they have not experience and never possessed?

Perhaps the greatest tragedy and heartbreak is the knowledge that God’s Promise comes with verifiable evidence that we can experience today. The promise and gift of the indwelling Life of God in the Holy Spirit changes unrelieved hearts and burdened minds into hearts at rest and worry-free minds… This gift; this verifiable and experiential evidence is free for the asking, but precious few will or do ask… their lack of relief tells us so.

We have begun the season where the Church, historically, has set aside a time to pause, reflect, and give thanks for the hope and promise of the Advent of Christ. Our culture rebels against this time of slowing down and has put the season on steroids amping up the hustle and bustle to stress inducing levels that suck the peace, joy, and goodwill-toward-men out of most people. May we reject the fruit of angst and stress our consumer driven society produces and be deliberate about our habits which give evidence to our professions of faith. If we are, or claim to be, people who are followers of the Way of Jesus Christ, Christians, may we pledge today and days going forward to Pause, Reflect, and Give Thanks to God for the Promise of Hope He has give to us. May we welcome and embrace the relief He offers to us and may it be the evidence of lives changed to a world in need of His Peace. Amen and Maranatha.

Advent (2014): Waiting for the Light – Watching for the Light

01DEC2014—1st Monday ADVENT Year B

Advent (2014): Waiting for the Light – Watching for the Light 

Scripture Reading:  Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer

God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. You are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us. (1 Thess. 1:4, 10)

 I continue to ponder and feel the tension of what it means to “wait and watch” for the coming of the Lord. Truly it is much more than waiting and watching. The tension and the pressure rise exponentially when waiting and watching are seasoned liberally with the spices of “remain alert” and “be prepared.” How does one remain in a state that requires perpetual alertness, preparedness, while waiting and watching for a time and occurrence that “no man knows the date or moment?” Just the mere consideration of such a riddle is enough to drive a soul mad.

The more I consider such answerless questions, the more I am convinced they do not originate with God. I believe the way I have phrased the questions above are clothed with pious musings disguised with spiritual yearning, but infused with the aftertaste of guilt…and this I know is from the enemy of my soul and not the Savior of my soul.

How then does one approach “waiting for the Light?” How does one maintain a perpetually alert mind and an always-prepared heart? I think I have a response to these questions.

The Season of Advent marks not one, not two, but three comings of Christ. The first coming of Christ is the incarnation, his birth to the Virgin Mary, which we celebrate at this time each year. The second coming of Christ is the future return of Christ at the fulfillment of time, this is the coming we look forward to when the Kingdom of God will come in the full. The third coming of Christ lies in between these bookends, the third coming of Christ is the fulfillment of the indwelling Spirit of Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus and delivered on the Day of Pentecost following the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God. Here, in this third coming, is the answer that I seek.

The third coming of Christ, experienced in the Baptism and infilling of the Holy Spirit, is my response to “waiting and watching for the Light.” As the Apostle writes, “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Eph. 5:8-9). In a very real sense, I do not have to “wait or watch” for the light, for now in the Lord, I am light. I realize how this might sound a bit half-baked, but I’m sure it is not. Here in this third coming of the Christ, I partner with the Triune Godhead and I become Light on a hill… the very Light of Christ burning inside me is perpetual Light for it is the Light of Almighty God. It is with this knowledge then I remain prepared and the Spirit of the Divine One keeps my spirit, my soul, always alert. Here now the pressure abates. This is the peace that Christ offers. This is the joy of experiencing the kingdom within as we wait for the Kingdom in full. Christ in me waits and watches with me. Christ in me is always alert and always prepared. This is the easy yoke.

I have been rescued in the full. There are no partial rescues by God. The revelation of this has shattered the mantel of fear and destroyed forever the bitterness of doubt. Hosanna to the Rescuing Savior King, Hosanna in the highest.

Lord our God, we thank you for letting hosannas rise from people’s hearts and for letting us cry out to you all the more fervently in dark times. Help us, O Almighty God, and help your king, Jesus Christ, to his final victory. For he shall be victor, bringing grace, peace, life, and victory for all that is good, on earth as in heaven. He shall be victor at all times in our lives, enabling us to keep faith in trouble, fear, and need, yes, even in death. Hosanna to the  victor, Jesus Christ, the victor you have chosen! O Almighty God, proclaim him on earth. Let all the people know he is on his way, to the glory of your name. Amen. -Prayer by Christoph Friedrich Blumbardt

Things that Go Plop (polyp) in the Night… Or silent, debilitating, cumulative scariness

Things that go plop (polyp) in the night… or silent, debilitating, cumulative scariness.

Anyone that follows my blog knows that my posting has been sporadic (at the very best) for the past year or so. I have had occasional bursts of regularity, especially posting around the high seasons of the Church Calendar during Advent and Lent in particular, but outside of those special times, my writing has been very sparse.

What’s been up?

I’ve been reluctant to write about myself these past months, mostly because I didn’t understand what was happening with me…and well, I just didn’t feel like it.

I first started to notice I was having some problems a little over three years ago. I think I really pinned it down to the time of my first visit to the Pecos Monastery in June of 2011. It was at that time I remember having a sinus infection that never really went away. Having a sinus infection is no new thing for me, I’ve been subject to sinus issues, infections, allergies, and the like for most of my life, but they’ve always cleared up and I’ve had seasons of respite. Like I said, this 2011 infection/allergy was a bit different. It never went away; of course, I didn’t and wouldn’t have known that at the time, but I digress.

So, 2011 turned to 2012 and I returned to the monastery again. This time I recognized that I could no longer sleep turned on my right side as my sinus passages would become completely blocked. My fix to this problem was learning to sleep on my left side, which was no small feat, but learn I did and my sleeping habits returned to a version of normal where I’d get a somewhat cumulative amount of nightly sleep, but interrupted over the course of the night with frequent wake ups.

2012 turned to 2013 and new health problems emerging in my life. Most of these I attributed to genetics and the aging process and a predominantly sedentary lifestyle. My sinus issues continued right alongside my new health headaches and my sleep patterns continued to worsen with time. At some point, I was asked by one of my physicians how my sleep was. I said with a nervous chuckle; “I don’t sleep, I nap throughout the night and during the day.” He asked me why that was and I responded, “I can’t breathe.” This was the first time I really opened a conversation about my sinus problems. I always thought it was just something one had to deal with… “Allergies were normal” and antihistamines never really did much for me, so I just learned to deal with it. My Doc took a scope of sorts and looked into my nose and said, “You have nasal polyps” very matter-of-factly. I asked what that meant and didn’t get much of an answer other than “it’s no big deal…”

This brings us up to the current year (2014) and my continued struggle with breathing, sleep, and a host of maladies that joined the party. I started doing some reading about my newly acquired health problems and found many (maybe most or all) were related to “Sleep deprivation, which has been shown to alter the balance of hormones such as leptin and ghrelin that regulate appetite, leading to overeating, higher glucose levels and insulin resistance, all of which are risk factors for type II diabetes. It is thought that, without enough sleep, our bodies may get ‘stuck’ in a state of alertness, leading to an increase in the production of stress hormones, which increases blood pressure.” I was experiencing these very problems along with lack of energy, loss of focus, and generally feeling tired most of the time. This brings us up to present day. It was about four months ago that things started to get so bad that I was unable to sleep much more than an hour at a stretch during the night.  This progressed until a few weeks ago when my “sinus infection” hit new heights and my “nasal polyps” started commanding front stage attention. No longer was just my evening life affected, my daytime life was becoming intruded upon in a major way. My face and eyes were swelling with sinus congestion and infection, I couldn’t talk well at all, and my personal health seemed to be causing people to be noticeably uncomfortable when I would be in their presence. I had to do something.

In the span of two short weeks, I made the rounds from PCP to Specialist to Surgery. I’m still in recovery mode as my surgery was less than a week ago, but so far my outcome is nothing less than spectacular. The post-op discomfort is certainly present, but the ability to breathe again outweighs those irritations by far. I’m hoping for a big (if not full) comeback. I want to see my overall health rebound with the expectation that my sleep patterns will also return to something resembling normal. I don’t know if it’s just adrenaline or giddy hope, but I think I feel an increase in energy already…time will tell.

I’ve noticed something else during this frustrating chapter of life, this season of declining health and all that it has brought with it has been deceptive and patient in its attack on my physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual state of being. I think there is a deeper and much more sobering spiritual truth with this revelation and awareness. This temporal, physical, and broken existence we live in subjects each of us to the insidious onslaught of wave after wave of attacks upon our very being. Nothing that happens to us affects us in a void. Every action, every experience, every bite and breath of life contain inertia and energy that reverberates in us and through us, tickling and tumbling internal latches and locks that release doorways of life and/or windows of death. No one escapes, and everyone is subject. This is the nature of the world we inherited post-Adam. The scarier aspect of this reality is the stealthy and relentlessly cumulative nature of this attack upon us. Left unawares of how we are being affected, we wake up one day and realize something or many things are broken, some irreparably.

We are multi-faceted creatures, fearfully and wonderfully made…incredibly resilient, but dangerously fragile too. We are told to love our God with “all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength.” This should be a clue to us that we are inextricably linked through all these aspects of our being. One doesn’t come under attack without the others becoming influenced or affected. Many times, because we are so wonderfully made, we don’t notice the auto compensating nature that our bodies function under. Something begins to fail or falter and another organ or aspect of our being jumps up to get “its back.” Amazing stuff we humans are. The wonderful nature I point to though, doesn’t come free, there is always a cumulative effect and left alone and unattended, it can be our demise. The spiritual truth here is rich and shouldn’t be glossed over. Paying attention to our souls is an important task and much more complex than what many of us might give deep thought to—there might be risks far greater than some of us are willing or capable of paying for this kind of neglect.

Jesus and the Church have left us a great legacy and means of taking good care of ourselves so we might be ready and “healthy” for the Bridal Feast of our Lord. None of us should be so foolish that a “sinus allergy” would be our eternal undoing.

Leaven, Stability, Patience, and Humility [Pt.2]

Leaven, Stability, Patience, and Humility [Pt.2]

Readings: Psalm 119:49-72  Joshua 8:1-35  Romans 14:1-23  Matt. 26:36-68

“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong… Let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up” Romans 14:1, 19

Today I am impacted with thoughts surrounding these very rich, deep-meaning words as I am in the throes of discernment and decision-making. There have been a blur of days where the input I’ve received has been very affirming and positive; with the positive input, my receptivity and the consideration of my choices have been heavily weighted in a direction that has minimized my objections. Now, some of my more recent conversations have re-introduced thoughts and circumstances that I’ve pushed against and walked away from. My soul is conflicted.

My last installment in this ongoing series reflected a positive attitude and hopeful look forward, but today I second-guess that hope and positive attitude. In Part One of this series, I was considering what it might look like to be leaven and I considered how leaven interacts with the mix it is introduced. Today, I think I’m being invited to a deep reflection upon the meaning of patience and humility.

The first thought that comes to my mind regarding patience and humility is this: What does it mean to me in the very formation of patience and humility when the first signs of stress and opposition stir feelings in me of resistance or the desire to retreat? Neither resistance nor retreat can coexist with humility and patience…at least not in the sense that I am speaking.

Humility is the glue of our relationships. Humility is the foundation of community and family and friendship and love. Humility comes from understanding my place in the universe. -Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily (p.55).

As I consider these twin pillars of spiritual formation, I realize that neither is formed alone; they are inextricably linked. In order to grow in the way of patience, one must exercise an attitude of humility; likewise, humility cannot manifest without at least a modicum of patience. Neither one can exist without the presence of the other. This strikes me as an interesting dynamic. Scripture, the Saints, and the Fathers and Mothers of the Church teach us that we grow, and are nurtured, best in community. Now, deep in my reflection of some of these godly virtues that lead us in the way of Christ-like formation, I notice even the godly attributes we seek for our spiritual formation exist in community. Saint Benedict, in chapter seven of his rule, makes a codependent link between humility and patience saying, “The fourth degree of humility is that he hold fast to patience with a silent mind when in this obedience he meets with difficulties and contradictions and even any kind of injustice, enduring all without growing weary or running away.” Saint Benedict closes out his thoughts on this fourth degree of humility with these gut-checking words; “Moreover, by their patience those faithful ones fulfill the Lord’s command in adversities and injuries: when struck on one cheek, they offer the other; when deprived of their tunic, they surrender also their cloak; when forced to go a mile, they go two; with the Apostle Paul they bear with false brethren (2 Cor. 11:26) and bless those who curse them (1 Cor. 4:12).”

I sit here this morning pondering these thoughts; in my mind’s eye, I stand sheepishly before the Lord with my head hung looking down at my feet as I shuffle and nervously kick at the ground. I believe I have a reasonably solid understanding of what and where God wants me to exercise my vocation and calling. Part of me says, “yes,” but another part of me is desperately looking for almost any shred of evidence that would help me to justify a “no” answer.

“If it is possible, let this cup be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” -Jesus (Matthew 26:39, 42)

My heart longs to live in communion and fellowship with people who are open and hungry to taste and learn that the Lord is good. I desire to dwell amongst a people who believe there is much to learn from others and people who do not think and worship as we do. I crave community with people who are not indoctrinated and acculturated to the privileges and consumerist worship of the west. I yearn to run alongside fellow disciples who have counted all things as rubbish, leaving them behind, to chase after Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. The problem with all this yearning desire is that I believe God is calling me to a different place to serve…and this “place” conflicts with most of what I long for.

This is part of the reason my soul is in conflict… “I” do not want to be a Sisyphus rolling a boulder uphill for eternity. I don’t want to be Ezekiel who was sent to a proud and hard-headed people (Ezekiel 2:3-8); I don’t want to be a Jeremiah, whose message was ridiculed and rejected. I’m also tired of wandering like Abraham and I’m ready to settle in and put down roots… and these are all part of the systemic problem of me, myself, and I.  This is part of the reason my soul is in conflict. This is part of the reason God has given me these words: leaven, stability, patience, and humility to ponder. I made a covenant promise to God that I would “deny myself” and follow Him, no matter the where and no matter the cost. I asked God to help me and to shape me in His image…He has been faithful to do these things and so much more.

These are the stages to freedom from self-centeredness, to humility, the centerpiece of life. The first stage of humility is to keep the sacred nature of consciousness and the world in which it exists always alive in us. Everything we think, everything we do, everything we feel, is cast in time forever. Every moment that we live is irreplaceable, therefore each moment is hallowed. We must be on guard against despair, against fear, against bitterness, against self-seeking, and have the tenacity and courage to think optimistically and act affirmatively, and to put the needs of others always before our own. -John McQuiston II, Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living (pp.39-40).

At this moment, I know I will say “yes” to where God leads, but my soul is downcast and I want this to go away. This, I believe, is part of the lesson and practical exercise of learning patience and humility. They cannot be learned without testing, application, and practice. Real life and real adversity is my lab practicum. I will surround myself with the Saints of the Church, I will lean on my mentor Saint Benedict, and I will look for living companions to help me in my journey and with days when I suffer with the afflictions of “self.”

I’m sure this reflection has not come to an end. I anticipate more writing and thoughts will be shared in this series, but I will close with thoughts shared from Father Alexander Men who writes the following:

“Patience.” “What is patience or long-suffering? It is not the state of cattle that simply endure everything. It is absolutely not the humiliation of a person. It is certainly not a compromise with evil. Patience is the ability to keep an undisturbed spirit in those situations that otherwise do not allow for such tranquility. Long-suffering is the ability to go for the goal even when you encounter various obstacles along the way. Long-suffering is the ability to maintain a joyful spirit in the midst of great amounts of sadness. Long-suffering is to have victory and to overcome. Real long-suffering is a form of bravery. -Fr Alexander Men, An Inner Step Toward God (p.79)

So, it is with all the thoughts from above I close out my meditation with this prayer:

O Lord and Master of my life, Take from me the spirit of sloth,, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yeah, O Lord and King, Grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, For blessed art Thou, unto ages and ages. Amen. (Prayer of Saint Ephrem of Syria)

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