Thursday, April 15, 2021

Entering the Darkness

Most of us know the familiar territory where darkness prevails and we usually work to avoid it at all costs, from the extremes of addiction to keeping a good (false) attitude of the place we are in.  We are just avoiding the darkness.  We fear it.  It is not fun.  Yet, what if, in it, we could find God? What if, in it, we could find the greatest truth of all?  God is not afraid of it.  It doesn’t surround him like it does us.

To you, the night shines bright as day.  Darkness and light are the same to you.  Psalm 139:12

Oh, God! Of course, you can see through either.  Both can dispense your truth and your presence.  What if the darkness might hold just as much truth as the light?

Places of darkness are different for each of us.  Maybe it’s the darkness of a hurt we have buried or the darkness that befalls us when we quiet ourselves from shiny, noisy or blustery practices and we have to sink into the center of who we are.  Maybe it’s the darkness of an unresolved relationship or truth about ourselves.  The list goes on, but God’s truth about each can often only be revealed in the chasm. 

And since He is there, seeing it as clearly as if by daylight, if we allow ourselves to enter with him, he can shine the light on the truth we need.  We can stay in the darkness knowing he is there, whether resolution comes or not, knowing that he is there to comfort or guide, satisfy or use it for our good. 

I am not so afraid of quiet now or even the darkness that some would claim to be the absence of God.  I think in the end the only one refusing to be in the darkness is me.  Now I know to enter it and relish the pause it gives, the truth it shows, and the comfort it brings.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Enemies

 But I tell you this:  love your enemies.   Pray for those who torment and persecute you - in so doing, you become, you reveal that you are children of your Father in Heaven...for He causes the sun to shine on evil and good alike...It's easy to love your own kind (those who love you), for even tax collectors do that.  So be perfect as your Father in heaven is.  Matthew 5:43-48

Some key words to consider.  Enemies - ekhthro - haters, those who are actively hostile.  Perfect - mature, virtuous.

What enemies, Lord?  Haters.  Those who would steal my joy and subvert my path towards godliness.  I am thinking about how I can act righteous and pursue godliness with support and how certain dreadful people get me off track - make me want to swear and obsess about their dreadfulness.  

How about the system which oppresses my black/brown friends?  It breaks my heart and steals their joy.  How do I pray for those enemies of God's people?  Martin Luther King said they would only be won over with love.  Which prayer could I pray "for" them.  By implication my prayers are that they would be moved towards God.  

The scariest prayers I pray for my loved ones, these enemies deserve:  "Lord, do whatever it takes..."  Do whatever it takes to remove oppression, to return hearts towards the Lord, to allow love to flow between people instead of hate and eliminate hostility.  Such a focus would move me and them.

I think of how I want to pray for my friends, colleagues, brothers and sisters in Christ.  May I want to pray for all enemies with the same fervor.  Feels daunting, but I must.


Monday, March 08, 2021

Linger

 Having weathered many storms (gulf coast freezes and hurricanes, midwest blizzards and tornados), I know how to prepare and improvise  through a catastrophe.  As a city, country and world traveler I thought that during the pandemic, this would be a nice time to regroup.  This would be a good time to collect myself.


But I didn't need 12 months to regroup.  At first, the puzzles mollified me.  A few things got cleaned that needed it.  I increased my meditation and study.  These were all good.  But 12 months?  There was no way I was going to stay away from grandkids and kids for 12 months, and they pretty much stayed in the same bubble protocols as we did, so I didn't have to give up visiting. 


Now, in the 12th month, I have had some new revelations.  I have learned to love the space I am in.  I like being in the rooms of my house.  That may sound like an obvious thought, but I mean that I actually take time to enjoy a picture or an item, sometimes for its inherent artistry, its source - the aura of its presence adds a color or a memory.  I love my yard and gardens. They speak to me; I speak to them.  (They really need some encouragement right now.)


This kind of quiet presence in the company of great blessings, I must admit I haven't always held.  I'm usually on the clock, or worse yet, a stopwatch for activities. 


A pandemic lull has been the place I have really learned to linger.  In some fashion, I am at peace in a new way.  I don't want to go back to "normal."  I want to rest, take in nature and humanity, my own and others.  I want to continue some sense of deeper knowing that I didn't have before.  My words are slack in telling it, but I want to stay where this pandemic has put me.


I have given much thought to this:  Do less so you can be more.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Rise

 God is so rich in mercy and he loves us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sin, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. It is only by God’s grace that you are saved.  For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and sealed us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.

Ephesians 2:4-6, 7-10

Over and over I read about the generosity of God and the sacrifice of Jesus to deliver these riches to us.  These origins of the faith, I cannot forget.  My peace from His torture, my healing from His wounds.  Heavenly realms are spoken in the present tense.  It’s now.   “He raised me up” is the song by Josh Groban:

            He raised me so I can stand on mountains…

            He raised me up to walk on stormy seas….

What low place might we feel right now?  How might we “sit” ourselves in the heavenly realms with Christ?  Take 2 minutes and breathe that truth.

So God can point to us in the future as the example of his incredible wealth of his grace and kindness, to show what is available for those united with Christ.

A life of meaning comes from the design of God.  We are to be the example to a lost world of his incredible grace and kindness.  To allow His gift to us to flow out is a gift, an honor, a burden.  The world doesn’t always seem to welcome it, but we an do no other thing.  Consider how we can show grace and kindness in all the places we are.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Nourishing the Soul

 May the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit (pneuma) and soul (psyche) and body (soma-life) be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.  God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. 

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

It is an exercise in metacognition to be able to think about our feelings:  to step back from them and use vocabulary to name and describe them, which is more than just experience and act on them.  When a person can engage in such self-awareness, it causes them to be able to use their emotions rightly and not just be reactive.  This is a basic practice in emotions management.

Similarly, with that same kind of self-aware cognition, I can begin to think about my soul.  I wonder what is my soul, different from the whole of whoever I may be.  I wonder how I can recognize my soul, differentiated from my heart or spirit.  In teaching others about their spiritual selves, I realize we must grasp the greaterness of the depths of being.  To fail to do so is to live reactively if we cannot locate a language and understanding of the soul.

I realized my physical center--my heart-- gives me the metaphorical lesson for my soul.  My heart sustains my body.  Even my brain cannot operate without my heart.  And though my heart can function with minimal brain activity, it is also dependent upon my brain.  For my heart to be at its best, I must take care of my body by keeping it fit and active, or my heart fails.  The interdependence of my body, brain and heart is clear.

So, my soul. 

My soul sustains my life.  My spirit cannot operate without my soul.  And though my soul, which is my identity, can function with minimal spirit(ual) activity, it is dependent and enlivened by my spirit.  For my soul to be its healthiest/fullest/truest self, I must take care of the entirety of my life by keeping it engaged in righteous pursuits and relationships or my soul loses its fulfilment, its greatest capacity.  The interdependence of my spirit, soul and life is clear, especially in the pursuit of blamelessness, complete blamelessness, as Paul writes here.  The language here means to be preserved completely for a whole and righteous life.  To be blameless means to have no cause for disapproval and to be free from fault or defect.

The metaphor continues.  For my heart to be well, my doctors and medical community say I need to exercise and to be selective about what I eat (less sugar and fat, and more plants) and less gluttonous about what I eat.  Exercise needs to be regular (as in daily) and with enough exertion to raise my heart activity to what they call cardio. 

So, my soul.

For my soul to be well (and souls do become sick and damaged, unable to sustain a healthy life), I need to engage in spiritual activities and be selective and less gluttonous with intake of worldly activities.  What is the “sugar” of this world that sets up my lifestyle to damage my soul?  Maybe idolatrous practices of which I can’t get enough and which completely distract me from God, such as addictions to TV, social media, shopping, food, or other substance abuse.  And the gluttony:  those behaviors which are legitimate needs of the soul, such as relationships or service to God, in which I indulge to the exclusion of God and to the condition of my soul. 

The activities/exercise for my soul need to be regular (daily) and with enough passion and engagement to raise my soul activity to a level that engages the power of God and brings the energy necessary to strengthen and sustain my soul.

Like a heart which can get injured through accident or attack, the soul can be harmed, too.  And like the heart, which can be healed with the intervention practices of a doctor, so can the soul be healed by the practices of spiritual healers and guides who use prayer, companionship and coaching into wellness.  The Greek word for soul is psyche.  Those spiritual guides and healers could be called psychologists, but they could also be called prayer warriors and partners, sponsors and mentors, and friends. 

Jesus would call us brethren, which means “of the womb,” those who are born into new life by His work on the cross and the Holy Spirit’s engagement in this new life. To know and nurture your soul, you must be born again, Jesus would say, into a community of reborn souls and sustained by a soul-healthy lifestyle and a soul-fitness community.  I would call it the Kingdom of God.

To use the metaphor shamelessly, when the heart is strengthened for exertion and endurance, it can stand the rigors of a demanding life; it can bear the physical burdens of caring for household and community well into old-age; it can lead the rest of the body into wellness if injured or attacked.

So, the soul.

The soul, strengthened, will respond and enable a strong lifestyle on a parallel level to my heart responding to the care and exercise it receives.  The soul then can be equipped to bear the demands and burdens of the struggle with sin.  It can then carry the heavy load of loss and grief of self and others.  The soul can forge new paths and develop a life that serves the greater good and bears the glory of God into a hurting world.  Only a strong soul can carry that weight. Then the entirety of what is life will be preserved (taken care of, guarded; specifically from external attack).  It will be a fortress.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Reconcile 2

So, we have stopped evauating others from a human point of view...anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.  The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  This is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ.  And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them.  And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.  So, we are Christ's ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.  We speak for Christ when we plead, "Come back to God!"

2 Corinthians 5: 16-20

I began thinking about reconciliation's purpose, including my own reconciliation with others.  My motivation for reconciliation has been only because of my own hurting heart.  What if my motivation was another's reconciliation with God or, better yet, for the glorification of this intent for reconciliation:  to return people back to him.  Would I proceed differently?  Would I see the stakes as higher than just my own relief?  More importantly, how could I do this without seeming high and mighty, but, instead, humble and lowly?

How do I get over my hurting heart?  Did I have the wrong expectations of my relationships?  I do I make sure my motivations are God's?  

My confession would be, Lord, change me.  Help me to facilitate reconciliation of others to you and not just to me.  Not for me.  Not even for them, but for you.  Because you paid a high price.

For God made Christ, who never sinned to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right (reconciled and righteous) with God through Christ.  2 Corinthians 5:21

This reconciliation effort is not to assuage my guilt when my conflict with them has created barriers.  I need to push through the hurt I hold due to our differences.  Instead I administer the same grace that was offered me, the only avenue which allows redemption to flow.  Amen. 



Friday, February 19, 2021

One Master

 No one can serve two masters.  If you try, you will end up loving one and despising the other.  You cannot serve both God and money - You must choose.

Matthew 6:24

Here the word for money in the King James is "mammon," which means wealth or treasure and, specifically, riches when it is personified and opposed to God.

What is wealth personified?  

When our interaction with wealth becomes a relationship, to which we answer and serve.  This happens when we have an intimacy with wealth, preferring it and being ruled by it,  rather than seeing it as a tool.  This relationship becomes a barrier to our relationship with God when it becomes a master relationship - where we serve wealth and its purposes.  

What is wealth's purpose?  

To love it (and not God), to let it be an idol (main focus) to the point where other parts of life are sacrificed to its pursuance is sin's purpose for wealth.  When we use wealth to dominate and influence others, thus proving its high status in our lives, this demonstrates that it has gotten out of place.  

What is God's purpose for wealth?

Wealth's purpose is to serve God and to take care of others with it.  Our time is not to be overused simply in the accumulation of wealth.  We are to balance our time, God getting preference over all.  Most of all, we are to remember who we are to serve with our being and our efforts - the God of the universe.  He provides.  He may use us to provide for others.  We must remember that wealth is a tool and not a toy.