The Solace of Solitude…

Modern life grates.

Constant commotion

 Noise.

The scraping motions of connection.

The soul seeks relief.

A moment of peace & quiet.

The Solace of Solitude.

In the midst of Frenzy,

Quietness

Within

Stillness

Clear enough to hear…

A still small voice.

On Simplicity…

We’ve all had the experience of over-eating and suffering a tummy ache as a result.   When the feast before our eyes overwhelms our better judgement, it’s easy to turn off the natural sensors which tell us that we’ve had enough.

But we pay for it long after the tickling sensations which enticed our taste buds have been satiated.  It is during these moments of miserable regret that we ache for simple things.   The simplicity of being able to eat without pangs of pain and digest without regurgitation.

Excess is not limited to the arena of food, it’s become a large staple of modern western life.   Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been studying the discipline of Spiritual Simplicity.   The movement towards a life grounded in integrity and truthfulness…

The challenge of Simplicity is simply this…we love our excess; even when we know it is not good for us.  The mega movement in Christianity today has produced the fastest growing, largest  churches in the history of America.

But what is the result of the excess?  How has excessive growth in the physical dimension impacted the transformation of our culture?  And to what degree is simplicity merely another form of outward process which creates a false legalism that shields our conscience from the areas that really matter?

In some ways, I think simplicity is complex…it’s far more nuanced than the wider path which seems so tempting in an arena of abundance. I think that  Simplicity is calling to an inner state of being…not merely a thing to do.

It’s a shedding, stripping and pruning which opens up the cluttered regions of a stuffed up existence so we can breathe and enjoy life fully and abundantly once again.  But it will not necessarily come easily…something as solid as simplicity requires a dedication of commitment and focus.  In other words a singleness of mind & body which we instinctively crave but often ignore.

Picture is courtesy of madelinetosh on flickr.com

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The Art of Meditation…

12171_RAIN DROPSWhat do you know about meditation?  The response to my question was largely blank stares from the folks in the class this Sunday.  This was not really surprising as to most modern day Christians, the practice of meditation is a lost discipline or worse…one associated with traditions which are not aligned with the Christian faith.

But, the truth is that the Bible speaks about mediation; there are over 20 specific references.   One of the first references is about Isaac meditating just prior to his first encounter with his future wife Rebecca.  In the book of Joshua 1:8, God tells the Israelites to meditate on on His Word during the day and night so they will be careful to obey it.   David starts the book of Psalms and in verse 2 refers to the blessings of meditating on the law of God.  In fact, David speaks about mediation several times.

We all meditate.  Meditation is simply the process of contemplation and deep reflection.  The question is WHAT are we meditating on…what’s the focus of our meditation.  For many of us, the focus of our deep and on-going reflection is the stuff we worry about.  We fret about the issues of our lives…what we will eat, what we will wear, what will happen tomorrow.  Jesus had something to say about this type of meditation…Don’t do it!

Instead, the Bible instructs us to mediate on the Word of God and to reflect on His goodness.  There are many ways in which we can incorporate the practice of meditation into our daily devotional life.  Meditation as a discipline can supercharge your prayer life by helping you to still your mind so that you can focus more completely on God and attach yourself to His truth and the guidance of His Word.

For the modern day Christian, one of the most attractive benefits of mediation is the guidance that seems to bubble up within us when our minds are stilled from the ceaseless, abstract relentless stream of thought that consumes our lives.  Through meditation we learn the true meaning of ‘being still and knowing God’.  In the stillness there comes guidance for the issues which affect our lives.  In this sense, Christian meditation is a way for us to download divine instructions for the everyday challenges we face and to gain insights which are not readily discernible in the hectic pace of everyday life.

Wikepedia reference on Christian Meditation

Christian Meditation…is it really Christian?

Love Lessons @ The School of Hard Knocks…

“Love is Not Proud

Resumés are interesting.  I’m not a HR professional, but I’ve had the experience of sifting through resumes trying to find an appropriate hire.  Sometimes, it feels like cracking a mystery code.

Looking at the nicely typed sheet of paper (or more commonly these days, e-mail),  it’s a challenge to discern what really motivates an individual.  Why did they apply for the job?  What sort of contribution will they be able to make?  Are they telling the truth?

Sometimes, it’s what a resume doesn’t say which is most valuable.  For instance, if there are gaps in the job history or sketchy details, examining these items more closely can yield valuable insight.

One of the most famous resumes in the world is found in the ancient book of Philippians 3: 1-9.  It’s the resume of Paul the Apostle.  Here Paul describes some of his proudest life accomplishments…circumcised on the 8th day, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, as for zeal, persecuting the church.  Whoa…How does one start as a Hebrew of Hebrews and then end up actively pursuing innocent people to put them in prison or kill them in the name of God?

Our weekly study on 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter focuses our attention on the nature of Pride & Arrogance.  Here’s a question.  Is Pride always ugly? Can we instantly recognize the hazard for what it is?  And when we become depraved, when does the slide down towards hellish elements of our human nature start?

Can this downward descent within our moral/spiritual sensibility occur even while we are completely unaware…thinking that things are actually doing pretty good,  patting ourselves on the back for our accomplishments, pedigree, education, talents etc; not recognizing how indebted we are to the grace of God and to the contributions of others.  Becoming numbly blind to the remarkable coincidences and opportunities that we have been given?  And, perhaps more importantly, now knowing how close we stand on the precipice of a certain type of destruction?

Paul ( who was previously known as Saul)  had to be knocked of his high horse (literally) and blinded for 3 days before he became fully aware of far his heart had strayed and how craven his base instincts had become.  (Acts 9:3-17)

At the end of this experience with a revelation of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostle now enlightened by the presence of the Holy Spirit has a very different view of his lofty resume…he counts all the “stuff” as dung.

But gaining that perspective was a process aided by humility; one of the greatest lessons learned in the School of Hard Knocks.  And as Paul describes it in Philippians, these lessons changed how he judged the process of accomplishment.

Instead of aiming for glory, Paul emerged wanting to understand what is was to suffer the process of refinement to such a degree that it resulted in a Resurrection.  A new life freed from the petty boundaries which hinder so much of what God truly desires for us to become.

Love…In Defense of Itself or not.

first-spring-blushI’ve been thinking about tomorrow’s lesson. It’s been a couple of weeks since our last meeting as a group.

This week’s lesson is supposed to be about jealousy. We’re starting to delve more deeply into what love is NOT…

It strikes me that there is a central theme inherent in how 1 Corinthians describes what love is not. And it can be summed up in 3 letters. Ego.

Love is not about…

 

deflating another’s accomplishments or traits to enhance my own = envy

wanting what belongs to another = jealousy

puffing myself up to feel better = boasting

thinking myself better than others = pride

looking out only for my own interests = selfishness

All these types of activities fan the flame which guards the throne of our ego. They are a natural aspect of human nature when it operates with it’s baser instincts. At anytime in which these instincts inform our actions, intentions and motives…we are walking somewhere outside the sphere of true love.

One might actually conclude from looking at the list above that the manner in which love defines the defense of self is NOT to defend the egoic self at all. In fact, true love seems to require us to do just the opposite.

But does that mean that love weakens into a mushy sentiment devoid of any timber or fiber? Absolutely not! Infact, love is a strong defense; but in a way which turns ego on it’s head. Do you know the mystery of love’s defense? Have you witnessed the transforming power in your own life?

The Grey Life in Fast Forward…

Isn’t the principle inhibitor on our effectiveness, the fact that we’re dealing with a fiction?  George Will on the ABC News Program, ‘This Week’ April 5, 2009.

 

Have you ever seen a person without the artfully applied layer of make-up that so many have become so skilled in applying and not recognized them without the mask?  Some celebrities are known to use the unlikely cover of no make-up to appear incognito in public.

Interesting thought…especially within the context of a discussion about love.  When love is artificial, does it count as love?  Can we divorce love from the reality of truth?

This is the question we wrestled with in group discussion this morning. Aided by a revealing section on love from the book, ‘The Spirit of Truth’ by Arthur Katz and Paul Volk; we had a discussion about how Christian communication often obscures the truth about who we are and what we really feel.  The authors have this to say about the resultant emptiness in life…

“We give each other bear hugs and say “God bless you” to one another, calling that love, and then go on pretending that all is well when all is not well.  The gnawing hunger in our hearts persists.  We begin by insulating ourselves from truth in order to protect ourselves.  But we end by insulating ourselves from love.

Wow, pretty potent stuff.   In our search for true acceptance,  the denial of truth costs us what we so desperately crave and long for.  Love cannot be divorced from truth, nor will it flourish in an atmosphere which celebrates unreality, whether that fiction exits on a movie screen, within a relationship or in a house of worship.

Peter was very clear about the implications of being deluded by the lie that true love can exist apart from truth.  Afterall, he experienced the limitation of his love and commitment to the Savior first hand and was challenged by Jesus about what was really in his heart when Jesus asked him several times about if he loved him.  (John 21: 16-18)

When you think of what Peter went through and how that loving confrontation must have deeply impacted his heart, you see this instruction in one of his letters to the early church in a new light…

1 Peter 1:22 KJV  “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.”

Jesus is clear about the life he intends to give us.  It is abundant life, free and deeply grounded in truth.  In our search for love without the truth, we condemn ourselves to a grey life; one which is in fast forward but devoid of the rich vitality which we long for.

Love…When Patience Shows Up with A Dirty Face.

Patience is a virtue…Virtue is a grace…Grace is the little girl who didn’t wash her face.

That little ditty is childish, but I remember it because of its incongruity.  The high minded elements of virtue somehow seem at odds with the picture of a little kid with a face covered by dirty smudge marks.

I‘ll be the first to admit, that Patience has not been a virtue which I’ve eagerly sought.  And to be frank, there’s precious little in my modern world which actively supports a drive to learn more about this character trait.

My world, as is your, is fueled in large degree by human impatience.  Food is nuked in the microwave to speed up the cooking process.  Dial-up service has been replaced by DSL for computers.  Cooking is something that many no longer do simply because it takes time.

But, what are we using this extra time to actually do?   Studies show that the average person spends at least 5 hours a day in leisure including approximately 2.7 hours watching images racing across a TV screen.  This was in contrast to the amount of time (1.1 hours) spent reading a book and 46 minutes per day spent on providing primary care to children between the ages of 6 – 17.  (Primary care was defined as primary activity done with children such as reading to them or taking physical care of them)

So, why is it that patience is something we struggle with so much?  Perhaps because we instinctively know that it’s hard…really hard work to develop this character trait.  It’s certainly not ingrained in our human nature.  Witness the loud wails of a newborn when mom delays a meal for a minute.

Yet, 1 Corinthians 13 starts off it’s description of Love by telling us that this is precisely what Love is.   Love is Patient! In fact you could group the first two descriptive traits about love together in a fashion.  Like two sides of the same coin…patience is the passive component of love while  kindness might be thought of as love in action.

Patience is the inner resilience which does not strike back in the face of antagonistic behavior.  It’s the unique ability within love to wait through the discomfort that is an on-going part of human interaction and support the other individual with grace and dignity even when their actions offend.

It is indeed a virtue which is developed in us through the ongoing grace of God’s work in our lives precisely through circumstances which tempt us to be impatient.  I think where the ditty goes awry is in the descriptive of grace…but perhaps not as awfully as one might first suspect.

Because it is God’s grace in our lives, despite our uncleanliness, ugliness and selfishness which most exemplifies His love and patience towards us.  In many ways, we are like ‘Grace’…the little girl with an unwashed face whom the Father loves unconditionally.  Not because she’s perfect and all cleaned up…but precisely because she isn’t.  And for that…I remain grateful.

 

Picture courtesy of Mexikids on Flickr w/Creative Commons

In Search of Thorns…

In search of thorns...

In search of thorns…

One thing is certain about thorns, they’re not hard to find!  I love roses and have tended them in my garden for many years.  Although I’ve used all sorts of gloves of varying degrees of thickness, more often than not, the thorns win.  They just seem to  have a way of finding some part of my body which is exposed even when my hands are protected by gloves.

I’ve sometimes wondered why one of the most beautiful flowers on the planet, the rose, would have a stem which could wound so dramatically.  I don’t know the answer, but according to this wiki author, the thorns on the stems of roses are there to protect the rose from being eaten by wild animals attracted by its beauty and scent.  I guess that sounds plausible…

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been talking about the power of love.  It’s awesome potential to transform life is unparalleled.   But our recent class discussion was about the issues that stand in the way of love.  We explored the dimension of the small stuff.

You know… the minor irritations, grudges, resentments and agitations which have a way of stealing the joy of life.  The stuff which we fail to notice when love is in it’s initial bloom, but somehow seems to crop up and grow bigger the longer we’re in relationship with another.

The thing about holding grudges is that we tend to regard it as an innocuous activity.  Our grudge bearing and resentment takes place under the wraps of pretensions, hyprocrisy and passive aggressive behavior patterns.  Within this actively potent fertilizer, these small  negativities grow and flourish.

And not unlike the thorns on the stem of a rose, they become protective measures by which we undergird our hearts from getting hurt.  But the trouble with this solution is this…thorns sometimes wound.  When a small child grasps a rose to smell it, the child does not intend to harm the rose.   Unfortunately, the thorn doesn’t know the difference  between the innocent grasp of a child and a hungry animal.  It will harm indiscriminantly.

This is to some degree what happens when we nurse our resentments and irriations as a means of staving off further hurt.  We may actually end up wounding the hand that was sent to embrace or miss the opportunity for growth which can only occur when we choose to harness the courage to love, regardless of the risk.

photo is courtesy of peasaps photostream on flickr.

*this blog post is from the challenge of excellence blog.  You can read more entries from this series by visiting the blog.

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Entrapped by a Millstone…The Nature of Fake Affection.

What if Everyday Were Valentines?

Entrapped by a Millstone…The Nature of Fake Affection.

12346_white-gazania-2

I just saw the  movie “Doubt”in which Meryl Streep plays a nun who faces a crisis of faith as she confronts the certitude she feels in her heart about an evil being perpetuated in the name of ‘love’ towards a young defenseless child.

The tension in the film revolves around the nature of a falsehood and the substitution of false affection for true love.

Over the past several weeks, our class has been exploring the journey of the “Most Excellent Way” through a passages in 1 Corinthians 12:31 to 1 Corinthians 13.

Last week, we explored exactly where this love which comes from God resides.  Are we recepients of this ‘love’  from somewhere out there or is our experience in faith the process of allowing the presence of God manifested through relationship with Jesus Christ to be revealed through us?

To aid in this process, we looked towards the world of art and discussed how some of the world’s greatest artist have spoken about their muse…the inspiration behind or perhaps better stated, within a painting, story or sculpture.  The idea of a work being inspired in some ways points towards the release and revelation of something which is apart from oneself.

In one of the last recorded prayers of Jesus for his followers before he left the earth, He prays these words:  John 17: 21-22, 23. “That they all may be one; as thou Father art in me and I in the, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou has sent me…I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou has sent me and hast love them, as thou has loved me.’

Why might Jesus most earnest plea to the Father before leaving the earth be about giving his follower His glory and making them perfect through His presence dwelling in them?  Perhaps, because he understood clearly, what we only see through a glass dimly.  The more excellent way is a revealed path, not a product created by our own self-aided design.

Jesus completed a perfect work on the cross.  The imperfections which continue to exist within it’s full revelation in our lives are there not because there were any blemishes in His sacrifice.  The imperfections are the result of hindrances of sin within our hearts through thoughts, words, actions and deeds…spoken or unuttered.

Watching the movie “Doubt” gave me  renewed insight into why Jesus says that if we lead others astray (particularly little ones) it is better for us to jump into a lake with a millstone wrapped around the neck. (Mark 9:42)  A commentary note in the NIV version of the Full Life Study Bible puts it this way; ‘One of the highest priorities for believers is to set a holy example for their children by life and teaching.  In doing so, they demonstrate a sincere love for them…To fail in this responsibility can bring eternal disaster.’

God clearly defines and demonstrates true love for us in 1 Corinthians 13 and in several other passages of the Bible.  When we miss the mark, it is as much about our choice to remain cloaked within the safety of our darkness as it is about our denial of biblical truth.

The light of God is love in its purest form and intention.  It’s a work that was completed when Jesus gave his life to redeem us and said ‘it is finished.’ That is why it can never fails.  It is also the reason that Paul can say with conviction that there will be a day in which this perfect love of God will be fully revealed  in all of Christ’s followers in an untarnished fashion .

What’s Hidden in Your Block of Marble?

Love blooms...

Love blooms…

It is sometimes said that great pieces of art are not so much created as they are revealed.  The inference being that the music, picture, sculpture and poem are received as creative gifts to individuals who were able to process the divine download.

It’s interesting to observe how variations of this theme run through the lives of many famous individuals.  Inspiration is truly a gift from God  And the wonderful thing about God is that He is incredibly generous.

But I wonder how often we miss the best gifts because we’re unable to peer through marble?  Or see through paper…or understand that the packaging of God often masks the treasure.  That’s just His way.

Who else but the Creator of the Universe would think about showing up in a tiny embryonic earth suit tucked within a teenagers womb?  Or would envision the shameful, painful death on a cross as an arc between man and God?

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s attempt to describe the nature of love ends with an apt description…”now, we see through a glass dimly, but then we shall see face to face.”  His descriptions about what Love is are balanced by admonitions of what it is not.  A sort of divine paradox.

Perhaps in this give and take, we can begin to chip away at the marble that obscures the deeper truth.  Yes, love just like faith without words is ultimately dead, but as the opening of the chapter declares…just the works, faith and power aren’t the real deal either.

We’re reminded that LOVE IS.  Love exists even when our earthly vision obscures it.  Love exists within our perplexed and mangled human experience.  God is Love.  God coming to dwell within human flesh as Emmanuel; making His place within us.  Love is revealed through the chisel of life circumstances and the choices we choose to make or avoid.  LOVE IS and there fore LOVE DOES…not the other way around.

Which actually is a very hopeful place.  To know that within this earth suit, the great Sculpture has not finished his work.  But, He does have an end in mind.  It’s the image of Himself, and thus He works with purpose and compassion, knowing that He who began the good work in us will be faithful in his duty to bring it to completion.

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