Posts Tagged ‘Galatians’
Seasons Change and So Is Me
It’s a different season of devotion for me. It seems this is a continuing cycle, but I’m still trying to figure this “season” out… what it is and what it means to me and for me.
Self-awareness plays a big part in this figuring out. I have always been very “Type-A” the way I pursue life. I am goal and task driven. In my past, I’ve been almost fearless, sometimes a bit reckless, in the way I zealously engaged life. I’m a bit more tempered these days, but there are number of hold-over attributes that I tend to wrestle with as I navigate the life Jesus is leading me. One of those attributes is my tendency to lean into performance-based aspects of my devotional practices. Because I am goal and task driven, I like to have metrics to understand my progress. I have been taught that having real goals means they should be attainable and measurable, so I like to consider my devotional practices and spiritual exercises in this light. For the sake of clarity, when I mention spiritual exercises and devotions, I am referring to things like Bible reading, prayer, fasting, solitude, praise, worship, etc.
With my spiritual practices and my propensity to measure them, I am given pause from time to time and wonder what the basis of my measurement truly is… am I measuring my success in the discipline? Or, is the discipline drawing me closer to God, which I believe, is the desired intent. Perhaps an even greater question is, “How do I truly measure my closeness to God?” Is it a feeling or emotion that can be measured? Is my closeness and devotion to God measured by the manifestation of tangible acts? Is my devotion qualified and quantified by my confidence of relationship through faith?
I might mention that my soul “feels” good, but sometimes my measured devotional practices feel a tad abysmal. This feeling is in comparison or measured against some of my previous years “performances” or my numbered achievements in devotional acts (how much Bible I read and how often, how robust “I think” my prayer life is, how many personal retreats I’ve taken… you get the picture). Are these valid assessments? Maybe. Maybe not. I think it depends on a number of factors. What is the intent of the heat? What is the desired outcome? Who is my audience for the disciplines I pursue??? Me? Others? God alone?
“If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant…” (Gal. 1:10)
I was reading from the Letter to the Galatians while some of the aforementioned thoughts were flitting about in my mind. When I sensed the Holy Spirit ministering to me through the words I share from the Apostle Paul (above).
I felt my response rising within me that I should be careful to remember that I am “people” too (if pleasing people…), and I can easily be caught in the trap of pleasing myself or measuring myself against how I feel or measuring me alongside my expectations for me. This can become a form of narcissism and self-worship as I try to please me over pleasing my God. Lesson: Don’t please me – Please God alone.
The other side of this coin is also important for me to remember. While conviction through the internal witness and guidance of the Holy Spirit is real and necessary for my spiritual development, I can be persuaded to use this conviction and guidance in unhealthy ways. In doing this, I can become a slave to self. I want to remain a slave only to Christ. He alone is the fair and just Master and He alone can be trusted with my soul and my developing self.
“No one will ever be mad right with God by obeying the law…” (Gal. 2:16)
While conviction to change and become more like Christ is one of the primary ministries of the Holy Spirit, and as a soul in development, I should be ready, surrendered, and obedient to respond rightly to Him, “Being right with God” is found through faith in Christ—and not through the measurements of my spiritual exercises and/or devotional practices. Naturally, tangible fruit (love, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, etc.) is born from this relationship of rightness. The opposite is not true and has a great potential to be my spiritual undoing when I pursue the path of works-based righteousness. So… I’m changing. God is making like Jesus through the coaching of the Holy Spirit. I should not cling relentlessly to other seasons I have received great enjoyment from during the life of my Christian journey. Instead, I should be more open to trust the work God is doing today and measure my development on how faithful I am to respond to Him in each successive moment. He leads me always and never leaves me alone. God is with me. God is within me. May Christ be glorified in my every moment in my every breath.
My preaching assignment this past week was to share teaching on the text from Galatians 5:22-25, famously known as the Fruit of the Spirit. My particular focus was on the “Fruit” of patience. Let me say again: I. LOVE. TO. PREACH & TEACH. LOve It…absolutely LOVE IT!
So this weekend I shared my heart and God’s Word with my church family. I have included the audio of that sermon and teaching below. As always, I’d love to interact with your thoughts in the comments section or email me direct. God Bless!
I love conversing with my God through His Word. Not only does His Word know my words, frame of mind, and heart condition, but God’s response to me through His Word is always perfect…perfectly timed, perfectly articulated, and perfectly delivered. Perfect.
For the past couple years now, I have been using the Revised Common Lectionary as my guide for reading through the Bible. I also enlist the support of a couple devotionals and prayer books that supplement my reading, but my primary tool has been the Lectionary. Today’s reading was particularly well-timed for a few reasons.
I am closing in on four months of being unemployed without benefits. This has been difficult, but rewarding at the same time. The difficulty comes in the form of pride issues, self worth, penny pinching, and a few other less demanding challenges. The reward has been the gift of time for deep reflection and prayerful discourse with God. I feel that through this time, both the difficult and the reward, the Lord is helping to clarify how we (Laurie and I) might serve Him as we approach the “empty nest” season of our lives. The waiting and the uncertainty during the interim can create quite a tension at times. My faith is firm, but my emotions tend to ebb and flow at times. I am thankful for God’s Word; I am thankful for the prayers and songs of the Psalms, and I am thankful that the Holy Spirit speaks to me prophetically from the Prophetic Books of the Bible.
I began my early morning with slow, quiet, reading and prayer from Psalm 119:49-72.
Zayin— 52 I meditate on your age-old regulations; O LORD, they comfort me. 55 I reflect at night on who you are, O LORD; therefore, I obey your instructions. 56 This is how I spend my life: obeying your commandments.
Heth— 57 I promise to obey your words! 59 I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to follow your laws. 60 I will hurry without delay, to obey your commands. 64 …teach me your decrees.
Teth— 66 I believe in your commands; now teach me good judgment and knowledge. 67 I used to wander off until you disciplined me; but now I closely follow your word. 68 You are good and do only good; teach me your decrees. 72 Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver.
After reading and praying these words from Psalm 119, I am reminded in the midst of my “ebbs” and height of my “flows” that my God is a constant I can depend upon; in seasons of high or seasons of low. His Word is my compass and His Spirit my Guide. I am reminded when I have wandered, I have failed. I am reminded that His decrees are good and He only wishes to teach me good things. Praise Him.
I think my heart and my mind were in a place to receive an encouragement from my Father at this point and as I opened the selected reading from the prophet Isaiah, this is the Word He gave to me…
1 The LORD called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name. 3 He said to me, “You are my servant and you will bring me glory.” 4 I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand…” 5 And now the LORD speaks—The LORD has honored me, and my God has given me strength. –Isaiah 49:1, 3-5
How fitting that one of my final readings from today’s Lectionary schedule be from the Epistle to the Galatians. One of the verses that were revelatory and life transforming to me come from the Galatians letter. In fact, this blog has been named for this verse Galatians 2:20.
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 NLT
God’s Word is food for the soul.
Make me afresh, O God… Renew me, O Lord, by the power and presence of Your Holy Spirit.
On this first day of the new month we look ahead, recalling the many opportunities God gives us to start afresh and begin new ventures in discipleship. We walk with the Living God… before us, behind us, and indwelling us. Amen.
Christ Jesus purchased our freedom, so we might be adopted as the very children of God. And because we are His children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba Father.” Now you are no longer a slave…neither to yourself or the things of this world, but you are free. You are now God’s own child, an heir of the Living God, the Uncreated One who Is, Was, and Always Will Be. (Galatians 4:6-7)
O good Jesus, Word of the Father, the brightness of the Father’s glory, whom angels desire to behold; teach us to do Your will, that guided by Your good Spirit, we may come to that blessed city where there is everlasting day and all are on spirit; where there is certain security and secure eternity and eternal tranquility and quiet felicity and happy sweetness and sweet pleasantness, where You, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, are alive and reign, One God forever and ever. Amen. Gregory the Great
Pathfinders & Pathlosers: Another Meditation from Galatians
“You are following a different way that pretends to be the good news but is not the good news at all…” Galatians 1:6-7 [NLT]
The Galatians had been introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ receiving salvation and reconciliation to God through the atoning work of Jesus as taught to them by the Apostle Paul. The Letter to Galatians finds them deserting the path of Jesus (and/or adding to it), and following the Law of Moses and the traditions of man. The tone of the apostle’s letter reveals this new direction of the Galatians is terribly wrong. Jesus had rebuked the scribes, Pharisees, and the teachers of the law while He walked among them for following a path that was not unto God. Paul himself had been converted from a path of false righteousness, and the writer of the Letter to Hebrews spends a large portion of his treatise arguing his case that only Christ’s way is the true path of salvation; a salvation promised from the beginning of time, and superior to any other way…this including the Law of Moses… Yet, the Galatians had been duped…, fooled…., deceived.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ, and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you, and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-7 [NRSV]
Sister Joan Chittister writes in her book, The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages, the following:
“The seduction of embarking on a spiritual life is that people can be fooled into believing that wanting it is doing it. They begin to believe that by traveling they have arrived. Worse, perhaps, they begin to allow others to think that by traveling they have arrived. They mistake the idea for the thing and perpetuate the idea.”
The Galatians were choosing to follow another way. Although our circumstance and/or situation may be different from theirs in some capacity, how often are we also persuaded to follow an “idea” that is really not THE WAY? My experience has been a sad one. Many of the circles of “believers” I have been a part of have not been students (disciples) of Jesus. Many have professed to receive His grace, but do not follow His teaching… Many do not know His teaching well enough to know how to follow it. What does it take to know the teaching of Jesus? How can we guard against being deceived or persuaded to follow another (wrong) path?
Christine Sine begins to uncover the root of our problem with her insightful reflection on discipleship: “Salvation is free, discipleship is costly. Salvation is paid for through Christ’s death and resurrection. Discipleship is risky; it costs us brothers and sisters, possessions and livelihood. Discipleship means yielding; a call to count the cost to carry our own crosses and follow. Discipleship remakes us; building us afresh, remolding us into the image of God.” As Sister Chittister spoke; “people can be fooled into believing that wanting it is doing it…” Many professing Christians have not made the commitment to actually begin following the Ways of Jesus.
The way we avoid being fooled, duped, and/or misled is to be wholly in tune and completely connected to the Person, Spirit, and Working of God. Brother Lawrence called this “Practicing the Presence of God.” Len Sweet calls this Semiotics in his latest book, NUDGE: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There. He writes that semiotics is the art and science of paying attention… He also writes; “Our quest is to be so filled with the Spirit of God, and to be wearing interpretive Jesus goggles, that we not only notice, but are able to interpret and respond.” (Respond to where God is and already has been and respond to what He is doing and already has done). This is practicing the presence of God. When I consider these things, I remember words and sayings of Jesus when he prefaced his teaching with statements like, “Let him who has ears hear” and “my sheep know my voice and follow me.” Of course he used other words as well that reflected these sentiments, but I think the point is the same; Pay Attention. It is not easy. Once more let me share words from Len Sweet’s book NUDGE:
One of the earliest admonitions in life is this: “Pay attention.” One of the hardest things in the world to do it is this: “Pay attention.” Nobody attends to attention. People teach us how to think, but not how to pay attention. But paying attention changes your brain, your being, your future. According to some scholars, the root lig in the word religion means “to pay attention.” If so, from its very definition, religion helps us learn to pay attention to people and to life. (pp.50-51)
I believe (most) people (including myself), as broken and depraved as we may be…want to do right and good things although, as Joan Chittister writes, “wanting is not doing.” In order that we are not “duped” into following another path, we must be fully immersed and engulfed in the Light and Life of Jesus Christ. I cannot say with complete fact what was the weak point of the Galatians who were being led astray by the Judaizers, but it is clear that something was weakening their understanding. Later in the letter Paul begins writing in more detail about following the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit and thus overcoming the dark desires of our heart. I believe, based on this detail, the Galatians were not wholly connected to the Person of God and not following the Spirit. How this connects and relates to us is as relevant today as it was two-thousand years ago. I don’t think the Galatians or any other Christian would willingly begin to follow a path that leads away from Jesus and toward destruction… no intelligent person would make that choice. The problem with my statement is that it did happen and it continues to happen even today. The truth is that we don’t know what we don’t know. Say again? We don’t know what we don’t know… and this is what gets us into the snares of the enemy.
I wish to share a few Scripture passages that I was reflecting on in conjunction with this passage.
John 8:12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”
John 8:23-24 Jesus continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You belong to this world; I do not. That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I Am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.”
John 8:31-32 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:58 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I Am!”
It is in these passages that Jesus is announcing to his hearers and the world that He, the Presence of God (see Exodus 3:14), is in their midst…He is, here to lead them (you and me) in order that we will not be “lost to darkness” or duped into following another way. “If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12) — I think what I get from this line of thinking is that we do not have to fear being duped. We do not have to be ever cautious or fearful that we would be led astray… as long as we are connected to the Presence and the Illuminating Guidance of our God in Christ. The Psalmist reports the same conclusion writing the following words of praise:
“You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” (Psalm 16:11)
The point of this reflection is my attempt to consider how someone (like the Galatians) who had tasted the sweet Presence and Infilling of God in their lives could so quickly desert that sweetness for something that ultimately resulted in bitterness and death. What I think happened (and happens to us) is that it is not a sudden and conscious act. We ever so slightly and subtly become unattached to the Presence and Leading God. We become more sensitive and easily manipulated by the things we are surrounded by and very gradually we are removed from the Light that once led us. Indeed, the Presence of God is still near us, but we are unable to see or respond to it. I would liken it to a trestle that a healthy grape-producing vine is attached to. The trestle has life all around it and sweet fruit surrounds it in all directions, but there is no life or fruit in the trestle at all. The trestle has no conscious awareness of the life that surrounds it because it has no life in it… it is not connected to the vine. Our lives can become very similar to that of the trestle. God’s Presence is everywhere. There is nothing that does not bear His “fingerprint.” Everything that exists was created for Him and by Him (Colossians 1:15-20). Even though this may be true, we can be seduced by the siren song of darkness… following the “dark” path draws our attention to exaltation of “self” or “some other gospel that is no gospel at all.”
Living in the Presence of God is more than a choice and more than a verbal affirmation. As I have written earlier, it is a deliberate and disciplined act that takes constant attention. I do believe that it becomes more of our nature with discipline and experience as God’s Spirit has more reign and influence in our lives, but I think that should never be taken for granted. We must be diligent in the way we pay attention (Luke 8:18 and Hebrews 2:1), so we are not distracted and fooled into following another path. Consider the fates of these “souls” written about by the teacher in Proverbs.
The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like total darkness. They have no idea what they are stumbling over. Proverbs 4:18-19
We might not lump ourselves in with the “wicked” or want to consider ourselves as in the dark; however, if we are removed from the Light of God’s guiding truth, we are in darkness… and we have no idea what we may stumble over. Even worse, we may even emphatically think and swear we are believing and following truth… We can easily find ourselves in the dark… and have no idea what we are stumbling over. Just like the Galatians.
“What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation…” [Galatians 6:15]
I wonder why we so often push back against the Holy Spirit? Here we are, heirs and inheritors of all the promises of God, every one, and so many times we are want to push back against Him and follow our own inclinations and desires. This summer has been a roller coaster ride for me in every facet of my being; emotionally, physically, and spiritually… and while I continue to implement the tools God has given me through the gifts of spiritual discipline I continue to wrestle and war against the nature of self within me. The flesh of “me” pushes back against the “perfecting nature of God” within me. I despise that. I give thanks and glory to God that I can choose to submit to His Spirit, but I don’t like for one minute that I have to choose in the first place.
“…and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” [Galatians 3:28] “And because we are His children, God sent the Spirit of His Son (Jesus) into our hearts, prompting us to call out ‘Abba, Father.’” [Galatians 4:6]
God has sent the Spirit of Jesus into our hearts… therefore; it would seem to me, that we can follow Him. We can truly, literally, and successfully live a life, walk a life, and exhibit the grace and presence of the life that Jesus lived [1 John 2:6]. So, back to my question, I wonder why such a battle rages within me. I wonder why I consider my wants first; I wonder why I filter things through my perspectives first? I wonder why I seek out my comforts first. I generally will choose to make these thoughts subservient to the concerns and needs of others, but I wonder why, so often, I have to make the choice to choose their needs and thoughts over mine in the first place. It would seem to me that my old nature has not been completely crucified. [sigh]
“I have been crucified. With Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now love in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself up for me.” [Galatians 2:20].
And this is my cry… This is my prayer; that one day I will be able to say these words, as did the Apostle Paul, with conviction and authority. One day I will know that the war of my flesh and the raging “me” of self will be complete. I live by faith today that all the promises of God are yes and amen, but I live with hope looking forward to the culmination of all things Christ… including Him within me. May it be so, for the glory of You, Christ Jesus, my Savior. Amen.
I’m Special – You’re Special
I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead. [Galatians 1:1]
How freeing and affirming is the consolation that comes from this passage. While every child of God may not be “appointed” to do the work of a “Paul,” it does not diminish the reality that each child of God has been “appointed” or chosen specifically, individually, and particularly by the mind and hand of God. He chose us. He chose me. Jesus reached out for me from beyond eternity for His unique purposes and no “group of people” or “human authority” can alter that truth. This is a great reminder when life feels lonely or the pressures of our circumstance begin to rob us of our joy… Jesus chose me. Amen.
But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by His marvelous grace. Then it pleased Him to reveal His Son to me so that I would proclaim the good news about Jesus… [Galatians 1:15-16] …God shows no partiality. [Galatians 2:6]
Distraction or Incarnation …the choice is ours
For the majority of this month (August) I have been reading and meditating on the letter from Paul to the Galatians. As reflected in some of my other blog posts, one of the prominent thoughts I have had during this time of meditation has been the apostle’s concern for the Galatians and how easily they have been distracted from the path of Christ Jesus [Galatians 3:1]. In my opinion, we have not made much progress since the letter was written… We too are easily distracted, or “bewitched,” to borrow the word most commonly used and translated from Paul’s letter. Let me share with you a personal example…
Among other things, my new job has been weighing on me; there are several factors that contribute to this weight, but they are not really the point of this posting. What is important is that I recognize how easily I can be distracted if I allow myself to be “bewitched” by the weight of my job or any other of the myriad of things taking place in the machine works of my daily life. As I’ve paralleled this Letter to the Galatians alongside “my world” I’ve realized how quickly my love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) can be tested and jeopardized by my choice to remove my focus from the illuminated and guiding voice of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
This morning while on my way to work, with all of this weighing on me, I turned to my wife and said to her; “I don’t like being distracted… I don’t like being bewitched. I don’t want to have my focus removed from the Presence of God even for a minute. I don’t want to be lured into a chase that does not lead to embodiment of the fruit of God’s Spirit.” We continued our conversation during the short ride to my job and I resolved to be a living representation of Jesus to the people I encountered… it is, after all, what we are called to be, incarnations of the Christ. I am pretty sure that some people I spoke to may not have been aware that they encountered Jesus, but I know that they did. As I prayed before entering work and as I prayed again before speaking to my first customer, and as I prayed again before interacting with my fellow trainees and peers I asked God to help me live Him. It is my most humble and heartfelt prayer:
“Dear Jesus, through Your grace and by Your Spirit, help me to allow others to encounter You through me and likewise, help me to remain focused upon Your Presence that I do not miss You living through the life of others I encounter. May Your Presence be in me and in my view through every moment of every day. Amen.”
Agitated, Distracted, and Bewitched – Part 2
I extend apologies if my words that follow sound somewhat random in my opening remarks. I don’t know if you are following along or not, but you can catch up here if you’re interested in where this is coming from… I’m still following reflections on the Letter from Paul to the Galatians.
Regardless of our understanding with issues of spiritual depression or those “dark nights of the soul,” Jesus said He would never forsake us… “Lo, I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20). So then, what happens when we feel removed from, or distant from, the Presence of God? Consider emotions like anxiety, stress, anxiousness, aggravation, and agitation (to name a few). Where do these feelings come from; how do those feelings invade our being when we may have been (just moments before) experiencing sweet peace and fellowship with God’s indwelling Holy Spirit?
I realize my commentary may seem to have deviated from the original intent of the Letter to Galatians, but I think my thoughts remain true to the uber-arche that is the human and “that” is part of the narrative that is this letter. The writer, Paul, asks his listeners what has “bewitched” them… what has distracted them to the point they would leave the greatest liberating force of their lives in order to follow a paradigm that is no force at all and whose destination is sure despair, destruction, and ultimate defeat.
16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. [Galatians 5:16-26]
The blessing of new creation (which is what we become) through the redeeming, reconciling, and restoring work of Jesus Christ provides believers the means and empowerment to live daily and always in the Presence of the Triune God. The formerly broken relationship between man and God is reconciled and restored… on this side of Eternity, in this present and physical world, we are permitted to walk in whole and holy relationship with the God of the universe. We are capable of and invited to experience the blessed guidance and counsel of the same Spirit of God that inhabited and empowered the risen Savior-God, Jesus Christ.
Personally, I can’t help but examine and ponder my own experience compared to the “new creation life” that I read about in the Bible (especially the New Testament). I fully believe the Bible and its entire claim to be true; otherwise I would not be striving to follow it. Therefore, I believe my experience should be more closely aligned with, and reflective of, the thoughts I share in the paradigm of the aforementioned paragraph. Is it? Is my experience fully submitted to the Spirit’s leading? Do I live in complete harmony with Jesus?
I want to answer yes, but find myself becoming distracted or “bewitched” by the smoke and mirror trickery of powers and principalities of this world. Don’t misunderstand my words; I do not believe there is demonic influence or oppression behind every distraction or trial of man. I do believe our present world is still in a fallen state and subject to that “fallenness.” However, as I have also expressed in other blog posts, I believe that we are in a state of redemption and being redeemed… meaning there is still yet to come a whole and ultimate redemption, but we are still permitted and invited into participation of redemption-reconciliation-restoration through the work of Jesus Christ today… now.
What about distractions and being “bewitched” though?
Ok. So, (1) we are permitted to live in reconciled relationship with God, (2) we are able to take control of oppressive thoughts and bring them into submission to the Lordship of Christ, (3) we are capable of living in peace, joy, and godly love, and (4) we are given the choice to follow the unfailing guidance of the Holy Spirit of God Almighty who indwells the heart, mind, and soul of the transformed believer. We believe, according to Jesus, the kingdom of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of God is here today and still yet to come, but we are capable of experiencing the fruit of the ultimate kingdom today… on this side of eternity. Why do we still choose to pursue distractions and allow ourselves to become “bewitched?”
Speaking out loud from my own experience and observation, I think the problem of our “bewitching” (the distractions of life that remove our focus and sight from God) is twofold. The first is our failure to truly accept the forgiveness and freedom of His grace to us. I think this stems from a continued lack of trust in the God we profess to trust. This problem goes back to the first sin of man (Adam) and we continue to suffer from it. In most cases with man and sin, we can find that pride and trust intermix to overthrow God as the Sovereign in our lives. Ultimately, since we do not trust God, we seek to find bastions of our present reality to cement our trust and place our faith (work-career, social status, participation or non-participation in certain activities, affiliations with groups and organizations, and etc) …and this, removes our focus and relationship with God to something else which ultimately deceives and fails us.
The second problem is systemic to our Greek influenced Western world. Our general approach to the essence of life is dualistic and also suffers from various forms of Gnosticism (follow the links to learn more on those terms). In very simple language, we separate our relationship and compartmentalize most facets of worshiping God and following the ways of Jesus Christ in our lives. We toss around terms like “spiritual life” and “secular world” as if this is the normal way of viewing our relationship with God… the inner life and the outer life. We have been bewitched by thinking this way. The Hebrew mind (and the teaching God gives to us) does not separate the essence of man or the life he lives. We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” There is so much more that can be said about this, but I’ll save that for another time.
A recent reading from a piece from Joan Chittister expressed much more eloquently than I could, a clear image of this duality. She writes as follows:
The private preserves of the spiritual life are far from dead, however. It is so much easier to go to daily Mass and feel good about it than it is to serve soup at a soup kitchen. It is so much more comfortable to say bedtime prayers than it is to speak peace in a warring world. It is so much more satisfying to contribute to the building of a new church than it is to advocate welfare legislation. It is so much more heroic to fast than it is to be patient with a noisy neighbor. It is so much easier to give the handshake of peace in church than it is to speak gently in the family. And yet one without the other is surely fraud if life with God in community is truly of the essence of real spiritual growth.
The messages of the Prologue (The Rule of Benedict) are clear: Life is very short. To get the most out of it, we must begin to attend to its spiritual dimensions without which life is only half lived. Holiness is in the Now but we go through life only half conscious of it, asleep or intent on being someplace other than where we are. We need to open our eyes and see things as they exist around us: what is valuable and what is not, what enriches and what does not, what is of God and what is not. It may be the neighborhood we live in rather than the neighborhood we want that will really make human beings out of us. It may be the job we have rather than the position we are selling our souls to get that will finally liberate us from ourselves. It may be what we do rather than the prayers we pray that will finally be the measure of our sanctity.
God is calling us to more than the material level of life and God is waiting to bring us to it. All we have to do is to live well with others and live totally in God. All we have to do is to learn to listen to the voice of God in life. And we have to do it heart, soul, and body. The spiritual life demands all of us. ~~Joan Chittister; The Rule of Benedict – Insights For the Ages [pp.31-32]
Why are we so easily bewitched? Why are we so quick to follow a way that is not The Way?
I caught glimpse of another parallel this weekend. Paul writes with direct reference in his letter to the Galatians concerning the old covenants (Abrahamic and Mosaic) and the new covenant of Jesus Christ. This past weekend I was in a worship gathering and heard a teaching from Hebrews 12:18-29. In this letter the writer recalls the first meeting of the Israelites with God at Sinai following the exodus from Egypt. I don’t recall the entire point of the teaching, but my mind was drawn to the similarities I noticed from my own study and reflection on this Galatians letter and this text from Hebrews. The writer is sharing his words in a very forthright manner or so it seems. There appears to be an urgency in his words for his readers to understand what he is saying… it’s as if they too have lost their way. Sinai still exists today for so many Christians who decide that living in the shadow of fear, the unknown, and an angry, unpredictable god (lower case intended) is better than living in wholly continuous fellowship with the God of Zion. The problem, in my opinion, is that many people consider “living in Zion” to be more work and more costly in personal sacrifice than the cost of living in the shadow of Sinai. Truthfully, it is…more costly to live in Zion. Zion cost Christ his life, the cost for us is nothing less than the same. The cost of Sinai is occasional sacrifice, but Sinai brings with it the covenant reward of death. The consequence of choosing Sinai over Zion is eternally catastrophic…and the ripples of that forward-reaching catastrophe reverberate with every tick of the second hand during our present-world existence. We follow our own truth and our improperly lit paths, because we have rejected the illuminated path of whole-hearted surrender that is the price of the Christ Journey.
Can we live in harmony with God; experiencing the sweetness of His Presence in every moment regardless of circumstance? The Scriptures tell us yes. If we disagree, the logical conclusion is that Scripture is a lie or we are a lie. If we follow Scripture according to our own interpretation and selection, we do not follow the God who has chosen to speak to us through His Scripture. The writer of Hebrews emphatically reminds us; “Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking.” (Hebrews 12:25)
How is God speaking to you? What is He saying…? What is your answer? Are you tired of being deceived?
Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? (Or “who has cast an evil spell on you?”)[Galatians 3:1] Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits. [Galatians 4:8-9] I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. [Galatians 1:6]
I continue to meditate daily on the Scripture from Galatians and seek God to teach me understanding from these passages as I go through my dailyness. One of the thoughts in an earlier post included some consideration given to the question from Paul the Apostle; “who has bewitched you?” I haven’t been able to completely shake this question and I keep returning to it, seeing so many things that “bewitch” us and mislead us…taking us away from the Presence of God during our day and wandering off on the “rabbit trails” that would bewitch us and distract us from His Glory. This morning, I read the following from Sister Joan Chittister:
Agitation drives out consciousness of God. When we’re driven by agitation, consumed by fretting, we become immersed in our own agenda and it is always exaggerated. We get caught up in things that, in the final analysis. Simply don’t count, in things that pass away, in things that are concerned with living comfortably rather than living well. We go to pieces over crying children and broken machines and the length of stop lights at intersections. We lose touch with the center of things.
At the same time, a kind of passive tranquility is not the aim of Benedictine life. The call of this spirituality is to be gentle ourselves and to bring nonviolence in our wake. It is an amazing position for a sixth-century document to take in a violent world. There is no Armageddon theology here, no call to a pitched battle between good and evil in a world that subscribed to dualism and divided life into things of the spirit and things of the flesh. Joan Chittister; The Rule of Benedict, p.24.
We can be so easily distracted… the one thing that everyone seeks, regardless of their awareness of it or not, and regardless of the visible object of their chase …is God. It is the hunger of our souls. It is amazing how easily we are distracted from seeking Him and settling for a lesser god. What is bewitching you?