police crime area tape with car in back at night

You’re Not a Likely Victim – Trust / Spiritual Meditations

The world has evolved to a place where nobody can feel safe. Violence in the news and on social media permeate our lives. Are we a species doom to kill and be killed?

The New Testament tells us not to be anxious or fearful. It is our trust in God that protects us. Today, medical science warns us of the health implications and psychology tell us how fear and anxiety often escalate into anger, which can result in violence. Our constant exposure to bad news is overpowering our sense of trust in God. I see fear as the major cause behind many of society’s problems and many of our interpersonal issues. So I’ve presented posts about different aspects of fear in an effort to help you, my friends, sort some of it out: fear of death in Afraid of Death?, fear of people unlike yourself in Who are Your Neighbors?, fear of criticism and low self-esteem in Advertising Creates Fear, and politically created fear in The Hidden Poison of Politics. This post is about your fear of being a victim of violence. I expect you will find the statistics as surprising as I did.

Hostility and Kindness are in Our Genes

What is in our genetic makeup makes us aggressive or kind? Fundamentally, our brains struggle with control over our violent impulses. The hypothalamus contains a cluster of cells that play a key role in aggressive behavior. When neurons in this cluster are stimulated in mice, they immediately become aggressive and their aggression is proportional to the strength of the stimulation. This cluster is also in humans in the most evolutionary ancient part of our brains. Almost every sexually reproducing species shows aggression.

But we are also wired for kindness and morality as shown in a study of babies. When presented with a puppet show of stuffed dogs, infants repeatedly preferred the nice puppy who was helpful instead of the mean puppy who was obstructive. Even at three-month-old, the infants demonstrated a sense of justice, by choosing the dog who was the defender, banishing the mean dog. Basically, intimating that “you are mean and you don’t deserve kindness”.

So, both morality and violence are baked into our biology and we humans switch between them depending on which is most effective at the time.

An interesting change has been seen in our biology. “Genetic self-domestication”, which bred peaceful individuals to other peaceful individuals, produces more peaceful offspring over several hundred thousand years. (so long.) This was evidenced by scientific examination of human skulls over the centuries. The ancient longer faces indicated more aggression producing testosterone. The faces of today are shorter and wider….less testosterone and a larger reasoning pre-frontal cortex. Studies show that the impulse control provided by the pre-frontal cortex, functions poorly in murderers.

Surprising Evidence on the Trend of Violence

Based on a variety of data sets, the reality is that we live in one of the most peaceful times in history but it doesn’t count as news. Over the centuries, we have lowered our rates of death by 90%. Paleontologists’ records show that, on every continent, ancient history was a horror show of violence and cannibalism. Spanish scientists have scoured the records of over 600 societies in existence between 50,000 years ago and today. Violent death among prehistoric people was three times what it is now.

During the last decade, data was collected on historical murder rates for several European countries. Over the span of 800 years, rates decreased, being cut in half every hundred years. The homicide rate fell from one in a thousand to one in a million. Why? There is a strong case for the “civilizing process”. Society changed and more penalties were enforced for harming another person. But this was not all due to altruism…. violence also interfered with the economy. The value of a person became more equated with how much self-control they had instead of how good they were at fighting.

During the Middle Ages the slave trade and torture were lawful and often conducted in the presence of judges. Therefore, equality was the radical idea of the 18th century, probably starting with printed materials, such as the Bible, as well as an increase in literacy. This was followed by newspapers and other print which created a broader sense of community. Empathy was and is increased by identifying with characters in novels and the questions driven by scientific experiment and reasoning. These made people think about social issues and equality.

197,734 case records from the Old Bailey, a judicial system in London, were scanned into a computer. For the years 1674 through 1913, data was searched for matches to violent words such as “knife”, “beating” and “killed”. During those years there was a strong shift away from interpersonal violence indicating that by the early 20th century people were using more civilized methods to resolve conflict. (yeah)

Even deaths due to wars is declining. In spite of the astronomical number of deaths during WWII, the wars of the 20th century show a decrease in deaths per capita. During the 13th century in the Mongol conquest, Genghis Khan’s troops killed an estimated 10% of the world’s population!

So violence is down, yet there is still a danger of totalitarianism in the election of nationalistic leaders who can destroy the trends of peace. Experiments were formulated in Poland to test whether people would inflict pain on others when ordered to do so, as in the WWII Nazi regime. Psychologists found that 90% of people will commit violence if ordered to by an authority figure. Which says that you and I would probably have done the same with the additional economic and survival stresses experienced during that war. (Yikes)

Where Violence is Being Reduced

News and social media inundate us with violence and we judge risk and danger by how many examples come to our minds. Surprisingly, the risk to Europeans and North Americans is less than that of being hit by lightning. But violence is concentrated in time and space in certain communities.

Education, government and equality drive down murder rates but they are not distributed evenly. Income equality is one of the strongest indicators of violence and violent acts are contagious (e.g. revenge). A program in Baltimore called Cure Violence sends trained “violence interrupters” into the community to intervene in the interpersonal pyramids of aggression at early stages. The program also connects with services to address the source of the violence… typically economic. Cure Violence has been duplicated in 50 cities around the world resulting in a decrease in violence by 40% to70% with sustained outcomes.

A mass shooting killing 36 people in April 1996 prompted the Australian government to take action. They banned and then collected assault weapons totaling 650,000. Killings plummeted. In the following 23 years only 2 mass shootings occurred resulting in only 10 dead.

Connecticut passed stricter gun laws after the Sandy Hook school shooting. The five-year average of gun homicides has dropped by 1/3.  Comparing other states in the US, the greater the gun restrictions the lower the gun violence.

In the Middle East there are strong religious and ethnic tensions. Prejudice results in dehumanization of ethnic groups, which then can escalate to the justification to inflicting harm. But in North Iraq, researchers wanted to test the idea of “contact” as a way to reduce prejudice. Integrated soccer teams were set up as a league with a few non-integrated teams as control groups. Although some players were initially uncomfortable, the integrated teams became social groups off the field with a more understanding perspective on people who were different from themselves.

Conclusion

Recent incidents in the news have not escalated to world war. New monuments are named for martyrs and civil rights leaders instead of war heroes. Requests for human rights are crossing international borders. As exemplified by Gandhi, nonviolence resistance is more effective than violent resistance by a factor of two. Human rights parallel this statistic. Will we stay on this path? If we don’t let media frighten us away from our trust in God, we can do so much more with His help.

Reference:

The information above was derived from an episode of Nova in November of 2019. I strongly encourage you to watch the video. It will give you further perspective on the chances of becoming a victim of violence and more background on what you have just read. It will also provide some support for some of the statistics that you may find astonishing.

Relevant Scripture:

 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of Sonship. (Romans 8:15)

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)

Then Simon Peter drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. “Put your sword back in its sheath!” Jesus said to Peter. “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given Me?” (John 18:10-11)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matt 5:9)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” (Luke 10:36-37)

At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, (2 Cor 8:14)

 

 

 

 

 

the word fear crossed out with marker by hand

Fear-the Hidden Poison of Politics | Spiritual Meditations

There are many things that motivate us. But the most powerful motivator of all is fear.  Yet scripture tells us not to be afraid….God will be with us.

Fear is a primal instinct that served us as cave dwellers and still serves us today. It keeps us alive, because if we survive a bad experience, we never forget how to avoid it in the future. Our most vivid memories are born in fear. Adrenaline etches them into our brains.

Cultural norms also teach us whether something should be feared or not. Think, for example, about how certain social groups are feared and persecuted because of a societally-created impression that they are dangerous.

Nothing makes us more uncomfortable than fear. And we have so many fears: fear of pain, disease, injury, failure, not being accepted, missing an opportunity, and being scammed, to name a few. Fear invokes the flight or fight system, and our first reaction is often to flee back to our comfort zone. If we don’t know the way back, we are likely to follow whoever shows us a path.

Marketers use fear as a motivator as often as they can. They present a scenario they hope will invoke our sense of fear. Then they show us a solution – a path back to our comfort zone – that entails using their product or service. Fear is used to sell almost everything: cars, tires, and life insurance are classics. But clever marketers also use it to sell breakfast cereal and deodorant. As a result, we purchase all sorts of things that a generation ago were considered unnecessary: antibacterial soap, alarm systems. The list goes on and on. To use fear successfully as a motivator, a solution must be offered with it. A new path to follow.  (Robert Evans Wilson Jr. Psychology Today 9/23/09)

Politicians Manufacture Fear

And that is exactly what many political candidates do. If we buy into the ‘new path’ they are attempting to steer us into, through the fear-based scenario they present as likely, if not imminent, the only benefactor is the politician or political party that is doing the steering. Instead of being sucked into a belief in the politically proposed picture, let’s do our due diligence, use our logic and come to reasonable conclusions about the likelihood of the various threats and promises presented to frighten us into voting for them. Be confident in your spiritual beliefs of what is right and wrong, don’t let them manipulate you and then look for those who are honest in their speech and actions.

The Media Creates and Distributes Fear

Just as the government functions like any major conglomerate, as stated by Peter Vanderwicken, “Journalists and politicians have become ensnared in a symbiotic web of lies that misleads the public.” Some so-called news programs repeatedly sensationalize and create baseless hype for the purpose of entertaining, maintaining and controlling their audience. With self-interest and manipulation, their goals are not to inform the public but rather to make money from the public. Their stories often revolve around politics with a slant in the direction they have decided will excite the most attention and keep the viewer coming back for more.   If you have ever been aware of a news story first-hand and compare it to what was reported in the media, you know that there are usually discrepancies that can greatly change the readers conclusion.

Paul H. Weaver, a former political scientist (at Harvard University), journalist (at Fortune magazine), and corporate communications executive (at Ford Motor Company), states that we have become addicted to this culture of lying. Weaver states, “The culture of lying is the discourse and behavior of officials seeking to enlist the powers of journalism in support of their goals, and of journalists seeking to co-opt public and private officials into their efforts to find and cover stories of crisis and emergency response. It is the medium through which we Americans conduct most of our public business (and a lot of our private business) these days.”

Another tactic that we must beware of is the use of the sound-bite or snippet. Used by both politicians and the media to excite, entice or anger, it is a short poisonous phrase taken out of context. Look for the whole story by finding that news source that is complete and balanced in its reporting. If the announcers are pushing extreme opinions, this is probably not the one you want to listen too. Be assured that God is a better guide and don’t let them manipulate you.

How to Avoid the Hidden Harm of Politics

Yes, I know finding the truth takes some research which can be time consuming and requires tenacity. Unfortunately, it is easy to throw our support to whomever our friends or relatives have chosen, opinions often based on no more than the opinion of their friends or relatives….an endless chain, possibly based on misinformation and snappy slogans with no substance. Or, worse yet, a desire to be part of a ‘team’, possibly the same ‘team’ your authority figure is on, just to be a part of the contest without any real interest in the ‘players’ or their background and abilities. We all want to belong, but don’t let them manipulate you….do your own research and use the ‘golden rule’ as your gauge.

So how can we avoid being the politicians’ patsies? Remember: very little that a political candidate says can be considered the whole truth. Nothing fans anxieties like an absence of solid information, and nothing resolves anxiety like concrete data.  If the statements in a news story lead you to believe it could impact your life, don’t worry, but investigate the facts provided by a non-media source.  Preferably from someone directly involved or an expert on the subject.  If it is available, check the candidates’ voting record. If it isn’t available, ask yourself “how realistic is the picture he or she is painting”. Take an objective look around you; does your experience support their assertions? Self-monitor your fear-feelings (usually exhibited as anger) to determine if you are being taken in. We can also check the numbers candidates make up or exaggerate, thinking that we won’t check. But you are capable and can find the real statistics.

Fact Checking Resources

Here are a few sites that can help with ascertaining the truth. If you are aware of others, please share them in the blog post comments where readers can access them. Comments on Facebook will not always be available.

Politifact (fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others on its Truth-O-Meter) https://www.politifact.com/

FactCheck.org (The special interest groups behind the TV ads and more) https://www.factcheck.org/search/

Washington Post‘s Fact Checker (Checking the truth behind the political rhetoric.) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/

OpenSecrets (Data on Campaign Finance, Super PACs) https://www.opensecrets.org/

The Sunlight Foundation (Making government & politics more accountable & transparent) https://sunlightfoundation.com/

Snopes https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/

FactChecker (for India) https://www.factchecker.in/

FullFact (regarding European politicians and media) https://fullfact.org/europe/

AfricaCheck (sorting fact from fiction)   https://africacheck.org/

Your Good Stewardship

Why bother with all this research? Good stewardship. God has created a world full of the wonderful creatures, the people He loves, the most beautiful scenery, an exciting universe, and a very sophisticated ecology. We, humans,  do not always do our best to sustain it; sometimes out of ignorance….many times, because of a greedy use of resources and thoughtless dumping. And in war-torn areas, environmental issues are a low priority. We aren’t necessarily doing this damage ourselves, but we are putting people in positions that make a difference; good or bad.

This is why your educated vote and involvement is important in sustaining and restoring the world that God made for you and your children. Instead of letting the politicians and media manipulate you with their fear tactics, research whatever issues concerns you. You are capable to take the road less traveled instead of being part of the frightened herd.

If you are trying to guess what political party or candidate I support, let me be very clear that I try to listen to God and support those who act as though they are following the teaching of Jesus. Verbiage meant to solicit the religious vote does not qualify. Do their actions show that they love God and love their neighbor as themselves? If they are attempting to frighten us into a particular vote or support, this is contradictory to scripture which repeatedly tells us to “fear not”. As my friend, Pastor Nathan writes in the following excerpt, ‘shine a light on it’, whether it be fear created by politicians or the media or something more personal.

Dealing With Fear

One of the modern classics of horror is Stephen King’s “It.” Anyone who has seen it and analyzed it can tell you that, as much of King’s work is, the movie serves as an extended allegory for what fear can do to people, groups, and even whole towns. What ultimately can defeat IT (fear), is laughter, even love….Much like the movie IT, fear itself becomes the monster inside of us, paralyzing us, hurting us, eating away at us, until it nearly kills us.

God tells us over and over again in the scriptures (365 times or there about) “do not fear.” And we hear later that “perfect love casts out fear.” Yet, IT happens to all of us from time to time. Small fears, or big fears creep into our psyche and play against our minds, hearts, and wills. Much like the classic horror films I used to watch, the unseen monster only hinted at in our imagination is the enemy, but who or what is the vanquishing hero? Classic Sunday School answers work here, I think. Jesus, God, love, laughter, yes all of these are good at overcoming fear.

But I think something else is a great place to start. Light. Shining light on the enemy within is a great starting point. Naming it, illuminating it, and facing it head on helps us to get a handle on it. Most of what we are afraid of will never happen, and if it does happen, most of the time it’s not as bad as we imagine it, and even if it is, we often find that we have more strength to get through it than we thought we would.

It’s amazing then, isn’t it, that love and light are but two ways Jesus gets described in the Gospels? I don’t think it’s any accident. I don’t know what you’re facing this week, or month, or year. Perhaps you have big fears, maybe only small ones.… But trust in God, lean on Jesus, shine some light, be filled with God’s love, and let God lead you through.   –Pastor Nathan

Relevant Scripture:

Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1)

  I went past the field of a sluggard,
past the vineyard of someone who has no sense;
thorns had come up everywhere,
the ground was covered with weeds,
and the stone wall was in ruins.
 I applied my heart to what I observed
and learned a lesson from what I saw:
 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man. (Proverbs 24:30-34)

Again, I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter. (Ecclesiastes 4:1)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil 4:6-8)

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. (John 3:20)

For “Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”   Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” (1 Peter 3:10-13)

References:

Theo Tsaousides, Ph.D. is a neuropsychologist, assistant professor, and author of the book Brainblocks: Overcoming the Seven Hidden Barriers to Success. Article in Psych Today   https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/201511/7-things-you-need-know-about-fear

Paige Gilmar, B.A. English Literature & Journalism, McGill University (2019)

 

 

stairs ascend into clouds

Demystifying Spiritual Growth | Spiritual Meditations

Where are you on your spiritual path? It’s hard to determine when the beginning and the end of that path can be vague and varied. Did it start when you first spoke to God in meditation or prayer, when you were baptized, during communion or confession? Maybe a revival meeting. While acknowledging the relevance of mountaintop experience, perhaps your focus is not on a specific moment, but on progress, which doesn’t happen linearly, but has it’s ups and downs.

And what is the spiritual goal of your journey? If we can’t define it, how can we gauge our progress or even know if we are going in the right direction?

Brian D McLaren, in his book Naked Spirituality, describes four phases of spiritual maturity based on his experience and study. He makes it clear that we will have transitional periods that look like a mixture of two phases. I find that, although I endeavor to reach his fourth phase, I find myself between phases, with some issues in one and some in the other. What does your experience suggests?

Phase One of Our Spiritual Journey

In our spiritual infancy we see in a dualistic way. Everything we see is immediately categorized in relation to our ego. It is evaluated in relation to self-interest: good and evil, us and them; advantages and disadvantages; superior and inferior; benefit and cost; right and wrong; in and out; pleasurable and painful; safe and dangerous; acceptable and unacceptable; winner and loser; ally and enemy; and so on. At this stage, our comparisons and contrasts are our absolute judgments, end of story, case closed.

Phase Two of Our Spiritual Journey

As we develop spiritually our dualism begins to break down. We move from black and white to shades of gray. We go from seeing the world in terms of twos to seeing the world in multiples. We go from fixed categories to arrays and ranges. We move from binary categorization to sophisticated classification, and sound judgment and analysis becomes more complex. In this stage we begin to be able to see some good in what we had previously thought w as evil, and some evil in what we had previously thought was good.

Phase Three of Our Spiritual Journey

As we further progress in our spirituality we see in a relativistic way. We take the scrutiny we have developed to dissect the opinions, perspectives, and beliefs of others, and we turn that scrutiny on our own opinions, perspectives, and beliefs. We self-distance enough to self-examine, and self-critique. The philosopher Socrates rightly said “the unexamined life is not worth living”. So we give everything a second thought; in other words, we repent. Like leaves falling off trees, our previous certainties and judgments fall to the ground, until the only absolute left is that there are no absolute.

Phase Four of Our Spiritual Journey

When we reach stage four, the chattering, hyper vigilant consciousness – that first judged in stage one, and then analyzed in stage two, and then self-examined in stage three – now goes silent. When we open our eyes in this space, we begin to see and know with the meditative mind. What you look for determines what you see. What you focus on determines what you miss. The way you see determines what you are blind to and what you render invisible. So, this meditative kind of seeing accepts the limitations of earlier ways of seeing, and it practices, in their place, a new vision.

The Spiritually Transformation

It’s not that everything is good. It’s that there is good in everything or there is potential to bring about good out of everything. It’s not that everything is the same. It’s that everything both differs and belongs, everything can be redeemed, everything can be forgiven. It’s not that everything is relative, with no firm or fixed identity, but that everything is related, so its identity is bound up somehow with the identity of everything else.

Brian McLaren writes:

We used to look for evil to judge, evil to name, shame, and blame. But that was an easy thing, so easy that we now find the whole exercise rather boring, childish, and small minded. It was also an ego flattering and prideful thing, placing us in a god-like position. We now wish to see without that arrogance, without that air of superiority or supremacy. Now, as we learn to behold the good, the world is bathed in a gentle luminosity of compassion instead of a harsh light of analysis, inspection, and judgment. Before we looked for flaws, which gave us an excuse to reject, but now we look for goodness, which gives us a reason to respect. Instead of looking for dangers to flee and fear, we look for possibilities to pursue and encourage. We turn from evaluating to valuing.

The New View of Other People

This new seeing, of course, includes the way we view other human beings. In our spiritual infancy and youth, we were scorekeepers or fault finders. We stood with the Pharisees, stone in hand, staring at a woman caught in adultery. Now we stand with Christ, in Christ, beholding a daughter needing love. This new way of seeing is so different from our old way of seeing that we now say, “though I was blind, now I see “.

Behold, a new creation! A new reality! And the old flawed, egotistical mindset is gone. We used to see some people as friends and others as enemies, some as superior and others as inferior, some as “us” and others as “them”. We judged their value in relation to our safety, our interests, our opinions, our pride, our profit, our lust, our affiliations, our fear. Now we are able to escape the black hole of old egotistical perspective, described by novelist Walker Percy as “the great suck of self. “ Instead, we rise to see with the living God, seeing others with loving, compassionate eyes. We see the connection and oneness of all souls.

The New View of Myself

Brian McLaren continue:

But my renewed vision doesn’t stop with the faces of others; it continues when I look in the mirror. Up until now I have seen myself as a mix of good and bad, good I am proud of and bad I am ashamed of – again, seeing myself in relation to my own interest in being popular, powerful, approved, successful. Now, if I’m tempted to self-worship, I live with one kind of blindness about myself: failing to acknowledge my character defects. If I’m tempted to self-loathing, it’s another kind of blindness: failing to see my worth and God‘s beloved creature made in God’s image.

The New View of Nature

But there is still more. an empty field was called “undeveloped”, oblivious to the beautiful ecosystem that had developed there over millennia….Now with Jesus, we see the flowers of the field and birds of the air as God‘s beloved creatures, each and every thing possessing an intrinsic value apart from any price put on it in the meat markets of human economy. Martin Luther said, “if you could understand a single grain of wheat, you would die of wonder“.

The New View of God

Most wonderful of all, if we dare venture into the new creation, you and I will behold God in a new way. We used to encounter God from our self-serving vantage point – for what God could do for us, advancing our agenda, coddling our insecurities, fulfilling our desires, reinforcing our prejudices. But now, even God shines in a new light. God has been transformed for us – not that God has changed in essence or character, but that our concept or image of God has changed, adjusted, expanded, and corrected, slightly at least, in the direction of the true undefinable God.

Something happens at this stage that is very difficult to describe: we learn as never before to separate God from our God-concepts. We learn that it is one thing to trust our beliefs, believe in our theology, or have confidence in our doctrines and creeds about God. But it is a very different thing to be one with and have a personal connection with God.

How do We Transform Ourselves?

To progress along our spiritual path requires prayer and meditation  on spiritual principles . Mountaintop experiences give us confidence in our beliefs and spiritual experiences transform belief into knowledge. To reach the personal connection with God that we desire, we must quietly listen for the still small voice at all times which is made possible through a practice of meditation and prayer.

Spiritual maturity is evident in the ability to tolerate the stress that is often part of the growth process. This includes the willingness to display uncertainty. Confusion and indecision can be interpreted as weakness. But in fact, they are the door to spiritual growth and are nothing to worry about.  Good change is a movement toward your best self.

Spiritual growth may come to you quickly or progress throughout your life and beyond. Christian A. Schwarz, in his book The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality, writes “Process spirituality necessarily demands more time. Nevertheless, I am extremely reluctant to see….“duration“ as a quality criterion. This could lead to the fatal argument that quick equals bad, and slow equals good. But not everything that proceeds slowly should be seen positively. Slowness can also be the result of laziness, procrastination, passivity, lethargy or fatalistic attitude. You can run away from God even by means of impressive sounding process vocabulary.”

The Pursuit Can be Challenging but Worth It

What man is striving to attain in his search for God is a state of complete peace and harmony, a state in which we are not at war with one another, but in love with one another, a state in which we do not deprive others, but share with them.

It must be clear to every thinking person that It is our work to establish a relationship of oneness with God.  Jesus said, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. “ Time and time again he reiterates that it is our responsibility: “You shall love the Lord your God… Ye shall love thy neighbor as thy self… You shall pray for your enemy… You shall bring the tithes into the storehouse”.  Nowhere does he indicate that this is God’s responsibility.

In Practicing the Presence, Joel S Goldsmith writes that Jesus has given us the way, the where, the when and the how of this demonstration of unity: The way is prayer; The where is the kingdom of God within us; The when is now; the how is action. Jesus causes us to withdraw our gaze from upward and outward and turn it in the only direction in which we can find peace and harmony – within ourselves.

Through inner contemplation of the Father within, ultimately, “I and my Father“ mold and melt into one. God is love. No God can operate in our experience except through love, and we must become the instrument through which that love is permitted to escape as directed in the commandment “thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thy self “ will have no significance to us except in proportion as we are loving.

This commandment has been known for thousands of years. Today – now, this teaching should be put into action, there should be an end to the meaningless repetition of those words. Now that commandment must be brought down into the heart and lived, implemented by obedience to the Christ’s injunction: “do unto others as you would have others do unto you… Forgive seventy times seven… Do not condemn… Do not judge”.

Knowing the truth with the mind does not guarantee that it will be put into action: it is when truth seeps down from the mind and penetrates the heart that the Spirit reigns, and love is enthroned.

Conclusion

You know what the goal of life is – to be reunited with the Father, to be consciously one with God. You know the way – the prayer of inner contemplation and meditation, the recognition of the Christ, the love of God, and the love of man. Now carry this message in your mind where you will always remember the principles. And in your heart, dwell upon the gift which has been given to you, delivered to you from the Father – the gift of the realized Presence within you. Bless It always that It may increase.

Relevant Scripture:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Cor 5:14-17

The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.  Isaiah 58:11

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Act 17:11

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

References:

The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality by Christian A. Schwarz

Naked Spirituality by Brian D McLaren

Practicing the Presence by Joel S. Goldsmith

angel blowing kiss

Real Love Never Ends | Spiritual Meditations

Have you heard from your loved ones who have died? They have “full access to happenings on earth”, Gareth Atkins states, unambiguously, in his book Making and Remaking Saints in Nineteenth-Century Britain.

Who is he referring to and what are they doing with their access? The following excerpt is from the book Creed, by Adam Hamilton, the pastor of a large Methodist church. He explains how this idea syncs up with basic Christian beliefs.

The Communion of Saints

The apostle’s creed (central to Christian belief) speaks of the communion of saints. It is important to realize that the “saints” in the New Testament were not those who had been canonized by the church after death; rather, this was (the apostle) Paul ‘s preferred way of referring to all Christians. He addressed many of his letters either to “the saints” or “to those who are called to be saints.”

There’s one last thing to note about the phrase “communion of saints”. It involves the word communion and is one of the most beautiful ideas in Christian theology. The idea is that those who are becoming saints here on earth, and those who are saints in heaven (link post on heaven), still commune together.

I think our loved ones who have died continue to love and care for us and await the day when we will be reunited. I think they do pray for us. While protestants don’t pray to saints, they can pray for them, and I believe we can ask God to share with them what is in our hearts.

I believe the communion of saints means that there are moments in our lives here on earth when God says to those dear to us in heaven, “I want you to see something,“ and allows them to join us from above. I can’t prove it by quoting a chapter and verse in the Bible, but when I think of the communion of saints, this is one example of what I think that looks like.

Rev. Hamilton goes on to describe what has become a common practice at weddings in which a candle is lit in honor of a deceased close friend or relative.

Sometimes a memorial table is set up with photos and mementoes representing the inclusion of the deceased in the happy occasion. But do our deceased loved ones visit us on earth in special circumstances, as Hamilton and Atkins suggest?

Love Permeates the Curtain Between Life and Afterlife

Messages from heaven are real for those who receive them. However, this is a personal gift which is not perceived by people around them.

The Love of Fathers and Daughters

During an outdoor wedding, my friend Sophia, noticed a robin alight on a wall adjacent to the ceremony. The bird remained there until completion of the wedding; its attention fixed on all that was happening. Because it was odd behavior for a bird, Sophia wondered if someone close to the wedding party had recently died and was able to find out later that the bride’s father had just passed on…. someone who would definitely want to be there to see his little girl wed.

(This brings up a question about how God uses animals, which I’ll address in a future post.)

My friend, Jan, is an organist. She played for a wedding in which the bride’s father was to walk his daughter down the aisle. Unfortunately, he inopportunely passed away and his brother performed the honors. But during the rehearsal, Jan witnessed a diaphanous white vapor following close behind the bride and her uncle as they processed up the aisle. It was the bride’s mother who made the identification when she mentioned that she felt a strong presence of her deceased husband during the practice. He didn’t want to entirely miss giving his daughter away.

Family Love Overcomes Death’s Division

God’s great love for “the communion of saints” allows the love of the earthly saints and the heavenly saints to continue to be exchanged. This is a common occurrence, which I also have experienced with both of my parents and my grandmother, soon after their earthly departure.  Although, I had never told them, upon reaching heaven, my family knew what my concerns were and gave me the verifications that would relieve my mind. Based on their messages there can be no doubt that they were the source.

When Other People are the Conveyors of Love Messages

Not everyone, however, receives these messages via the ‘still small voice’ of the Holy Spirit, or their family members. Because He is all-loving and all-knowing, sometimes God uses methods of communication that are more vocal; that are more appropriate and effective for the person and situation. Sometimes He uses other people. This was the case with Lucy.

In December of 2015, Lucy’s mother died at her home in Austria. Lucy lives in the US, and made regular trips to see her mother, but she wasn’t there at the time of her mother’s passing. Rationally, she knew that the chances of her being in Austria when her mother died were unlikely, but she still regretted her own absence. To help bridge the gap after her death, Lucy would sometimes smell a lock of her mother’s hair so that she would feel closer to her.

A couple of months after her mother’s passing, Lucy was invited by a friend to attend an annual fashion show at which representatives of various clothing lines and beauty products would be available for consultation. Now, Lucy is a very busy lady and had declined her friend’s invitation for several years. But this time her friend insisted that she take a little time to have some fun and accompany her to the event. Lucy did not immediately accept but told herself that, if she found purple shoes to match a particular outfit that she wanted to wear, she would consider going. “What are the chances of that?” she thought.

However, five days before the show she was passing a local shoe store and thought she should at least make an effort, so she walked in. As soon as she was inside the door, she spotted purple shoes on the clearance rack in the back of the store. They were her size and the required shade of purple. Astounded, she made the purchase and was out of the store within minutes, now committed to attend the event.

During the show, Lucy felt urged to meet a man who was representing cosmetics. Having enjoyed the show and finishing lunch, she approached him on the pretense of making a small purchase. After the initial greeting, his first question to her was not about cosmetics but was “Did your mother recently pass away?” When she replied that she had, he grabbed her arm and said “I want you to know that she is right here with you” at which point he described Lucy’s mother. The man then said “She wants you to know that it is OK and she understands that you couldn’t come to Austria when she was dying. Don’t fret anymore.” He then told her how she, Lucy, smelled her mother’s hair on a regular basis.

Afterward, Lucy told her friend that she now knew why she had to come to the fashion show.

Biblical Reference to the Saints Among Us

Adam Hamilton rounds out his thoughts on deceased saints with these words:

in chapter 11 of the new testament letter to the Hebrews, the author describes the heroes and heroines of faith that came before his time, mentioning, among them, the patriarchs and matriarchs of ancient Israel. He begins the new chapter by writing “therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1-2)”

Conclusion

As heaven is more wonderful than we can imagine, it is not surprising that our deceased loved ones are given the opportunity to occasionally observe the joyous events in the lives of their earthly family and give comfort, care, and messages.

Rev. Katie Shockley explains further our continuous close proximity with other saints.

When we gather in worship, we praise God with believers we cannot see. When we celebrate Holy Communion, we feast with past, present and future disciples of Christ. We experience the communion of saints, the community of believers –– living and dead. This faith community stretches beyond space and time. We commune with Christians around the world, believers who came before us, and believers who will come after us. We believe that the church is the communion of saints, and as a believer, you belong to the communion of saints.

References:

 Creed by Adam Hamilton

Atkins, Gareth (1 August 2016). Making and Remaking Saints in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Manchester University Press. p. 227. ISBN 9781526100238. In the other direction, he was willing to state unambiguously that the ‘saints in paradise’ had full access to happenings on earth.

 

the words "thank God"

The Priceless Advantages of Gratitude|Spiritual Meditation

“Rejoice always…. give thanks in all circumstances”. This Biblical wisdom tells us to celebrate God’s creation and blessings.  Science tells us why.

Before we get started let’s pause for a moment and establish a base line. Think of a few things you are grateful for, then continue.

Hurdling Consumerism

In his book Naked Spirituality, Brian D McLaren writes:

It’s not how much you have that brings happiness; it’s how much you appreciate however much or little you have. Spirituality in today’s world is constantly under assault by consumerism, which claims that the source of joy is not in God or within, but in a new pair of shoes, a trip to southern France, or a new flat screen TV…. In relation to consumerism, gratitude could be called downright subversive. A lot of people (advertisers) spend a lot of money every day trying to keep you from being grateful. They want you to think a lot more about what other people have then what you have, so you’ll want more of what they have to sell.

Consumerism thus robs the soul of happiness…. But this petty larceny on the individual level leads to far greater crimes on a global level. Just think of where this sick, never-enough system drives us: to mountains stripped of gold or coal, to oceans plundered of fish and seas toxified with oil, to hillsides denuded of trees and wildlife, to fields scraped by bulldozers and paved with blacktop, so we can have yet another shopping mall (or storage facility) where we can buy (or store) more things we don’t need and won’t take time to appreciate.

Habitats are thus stolen from other creatures which means those creatures die and are stolen from other creatures that depend on them. Ecosystems that have developed over millions of years are tipped into disequilibrium and collapse. The cascade of extinction and imbalance rolls on like an avalanche or gushes out like an oil spill, stealing not just from the humans of today, but from the humans of forever.

Economist tabulate the gross domestic product, but who’s spreadsheet measures the gross domestic destruct – the losses extracted in advance from our great-grandchildren – when wild elephants, giraffes, wood thrushes, gopher tortoises, sea turtles, chimpanzees, horseshoe crabs, and swordfish have gone the way of the dodo?

We could give another name to the insanity of ingratitude: addiction. Just as it takes more and more heroin or cocaine to deliver the same high, ingratitude continually turns yesterday’s luxuries into today’s necessities. More and more stuff is required to get the same feeling of satisfaction. And just as addiction ultimately leads through insanity to misery and even death as the addict “hits bottom “, an economy driven by ingratitude whether global, national, family, or personal races through over-extension toward collapse.

That’s why gratitude is important, not just as a personal practice, but also as a group practice. It is a kind of immunization against both personal and corporate addiction. Gratitude is the spiritual practice that raises its fist in the face of this insanity; but that raised fist is actually a raised hand reaching up in gratitude to God. The naked spirituality that fosters this kind of gratitude may, in the end, be the only thing that can save the planet.

What You Have is a Gift

But let’s bring it back to the individual level; the things we may take for granted, that others would consider a great blessing.

People in Cuba are currently experiencing a food shortage but food is filtering into the country for some. Imagine the heartfelt appreciation of those who receive the additional nourishment.  Food is a gift.

The category 5 hurricane that swept the Bahamas, left the people with nothing. Many NGOs have collected, transported and distributed a long list of items to meet the basic needs of the lucky ones. Batteries and baby food are precious gifts.

A friend of mine has moved to Kenya to help set up a dorm and school for 20 disabled kids who are often left to beg on the streets because their families don’t or can’t support them. Can you imagine having accessible housing, a consistent food source and an education for the first time? Their level of gratitude for these gifts will escalate to levels most of us have never experienced.

Even in my own life, I had an accident that resulted in my inability to walk. After major surgery and weeks of recuperation, I no longer take my mobility for granted and am thankful to the medical staff, friends, family and especially God who made it possible.

Now, what can you add to the list of things you are grateful for? In light of the next section of this post, make that a long list.

Science Condones Gratitude

When we feel overwrought with negativity and pandemic heartache, it can be easy to overlook the parts of our lives we should feel grateful for. Creating a more active awareness of the abundance and positivity in our lives is a good idea. This shift in focus from a mindset of lacking to a mindset of satisfaction has mental and physical health benefits backed by science.

Improved Relationships

Grateful People have More Relationships

Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends. According to a 2014 study published in Emotion, thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So, whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or send a thank-you note to a colleague, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.

Grateful People Have Stronger Relationships

Gratitude nourishes our close and intimate relationships. Quite a few recent studies found that gratitude can help deepen and maintain a relationship by promoting a cycle of generosity between partners. On days when you are feeling more actively valued by your partner, you are more likely to feel an increase in your own gratitude toward your partner. This dynamic promotes a desire to hold on to the relationship and a deepening of connection.

In a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, participants who reported feelings of appreciation for their partners not only found more joy and contentment in their relationships, but were also more likely to be together nine months after the study took place than were those who did not share these feelings of gratitude.

Grateful People have Improved Mental Health

Grateful People have Improved Self-Esteem

In our digitally-driven world, it has become easy to compare our own lives to the “highlight reels” we see on our peers’ social media. This contemporary version of “Keeping Up with the Joneses” can produce in us  self-doubt, negative thoughts, and the destructive, and usually inaccurate belief, that our current circumstances simply don’t measure up.

The distortion of social media can overpower appreciation of our own lives and disconnect us from the good that surrounds us in the here and now. When we begin to actively appreciate who we are and God’s many blessings, self-esteem will naturally increase, leading to a higher quality of life.

Gratitude Improves Psychological Health.

It reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher at UC Davis, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.

Gratitude Enhances Empathy and Reduces Aggression

Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kindly, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when criticized. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.

Gratitude Increases Mental Strength and Stress Resistance

For years research has shown that gratitude not only reduces stress, but may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was also a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for —even during the worst times—fosters resilience.

Grateful People Sleep Better

Bedtime can be an anxiety provoking time for many. People often find themselves having negative thoughts about parts of their days while trying to fall asleep, resulting in delayed or fragmented sleep.

Several studies have recently been done on the practice of gratitude and its impact on sleep time and quality. A study psychology professor Nancy Digdon of MacEwan University, found that writing in a gratitude journal for just 15 minutes before bedtime helped students decrease their anxiety and sleep both longer and better.

Another study at the University of Manchester included more than 400 adults (40% had sleep disorders). Researchers asked subjects to fill out questionnaires about gratitude, sleep, and pre-sleep thoughts. Gratitude was directly correlated to more positive thoughts, and fewer nagging, negative, or anxious thoughts. The subjects with gratitude and positive thoughts  not only fell asleep faster, but experiencing higher quality rest.

Gratitude Boosts Physical Health

Expressing gratitude can improve your physical health in numerous ways including heart health, dietary behavior, kicking unhealthy habits, and exercise. According to Robert Emmons, giving thanks on a routine basis can help you meet your exercise goals. In his 2003 study, he found that those who regularly expressed feelings of gratitude (as opposed to hassles or neutral events) by means of a daily journal, also engaged in more cardiovascular physical activity each week.

Additionally, Emmons identified that expressing gratitude can improve eating habits and cut down on unhealthy habits like cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse. When we are at peace and grateful for what is abundant in our lives, we are less likely to self-medicate with potentially harmful substances.

To add to Emmons findings, Psychology Today cited several studies that discovered that people who report being more grateful also experience fewer aches and pains, and are more likely to visit a doctor on a routine basis.

Ways to cultivate gratitude

  • Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
  • Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down, or share with a loved one, thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.
  • Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
  • Pray. People who are spiritual can use prayer to express gratitude to God.
  • Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as “peace”), it is also possible to focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, being one with God, etc.).

Gratitude to God

Another word for gratitude, that we can borrow from the Hebrew, is dayenu. The word is from a Jewish song that has been a key part of the Passover celebration for over 1000 years. It means “it would have been enough“, and functions within the retelling of the story of God‘s goodness over the generations:

If God had brought us out of Egypt, dayenu….it would have been enough

If God had split the Sea for us, dayenu…. it would have been enough,

If God had led us through on dryland, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had provided for our needs in the wilderness for 40 years, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had fed us manna, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had given us Shabbat, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had led us to Mt Sinai, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had given us the Torah, dayenu….it would have been enough.

Singing this song fills one with a sense of surplus, of being super abundantly blessed, and being saturated with good things, of one’s cup being full and running over. And it fills one with a corresponding appreciation of Gods unlimited generosity.

Conclusion

Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.

How long is your gratitude list, now?

Relevant Scripture:

A Psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:1-5)

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Cor 2:14)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes 5:16-18)

Oh, give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! (Psalm 105:1)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James1:2-4)

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (2 Thes 1:3)

References:

Harvard Medical School   https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/in-praise-of-gratitude

Psychology Today by Amy MorinWhat Mentally Strong People Don’t Do  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude

Gretchen Bove, https://www.talkspace.com/blog/4-mental-health-benefits-of-gratitude-to-keep-in-mind-this-thanksgiving/

Naked Spirituality by Brian D McLaren

time chasing people down a hill

Simple Guide to Know God Better | Spiritual Meditations

Momma always said “Stop, Look & Listen”. Although excellent instruction for children crossing traffic, it is also good advice in polite conversation, especially polite conversation with God. My friend, Stephanie, explains how these simple words can guide your improved connection with God.

Is it the busy-ness of life that sometimes makes you feel that God is silent? Are the hours at work, family responsibilities, and self-care routines actually building a wall that keeps you from hearing His voice? Does the instant gratification created by the information age make you feel impatient and want to put a time limit on getting the answers to your prayers?

Now let’s be real. God is never really silent. we only have to open our Bibles and He speaks to us. However, there are times when you think you need a timely answer. When life, love, and liberty might hang in the balance and each moment waiting to hear from God is excruciatingly long and exhausting. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you’ve repeatedly petitioning God, and you’re getting impatient to hear from Him:

Are you listening for God’s answer?

Sometimes the answer is ‘No’ when you really want ‘Yes.’ Or, vice versa. The question may already be answered, but you are hoping that God will change His mind. Other times, the noise around you won’t allow you to hear the whispered voice of God. Just imagine being on a roller-coaster at Disney. You’re strapped in and ready to enjoy the sights, sound, and physical aspects of the ride. The cast member gives the go sign and you’re off! At that same moment, the person in the seat next to you leans over and whispers something really important in your ear. Any chance you’re going to catch what was said? And even if you do hear the words, any chance that you’ll be able to give it the focus it deserves? Probably not. In fact, more than 3000 years ago, God gave you the answer to this perplexing challenge of a busy life in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God…” So, find a place to be still and silent before the Lord. Pray as you always do, but before the ‘Amen’, take a moment to listen and see if God is whispering to your heart.

Are you watching for God’s activity?

God is at work all the time. All….The….Time. God does not take a vacation, which is confirmed by Jesus in John 5:7 “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” And if He’s working, then something is happening, just like a clock without a second hand moving from one minute to another. Somewhere inside that clock something is counting the seconds until the minute has passed. You don’t see the counting but you know it’s going on. The awesome and amazing thing about God, is that He can work on us all at the same time. He doesn’t have a schedule that says, “Okay, today I work on the people whose names start with L and tomorrow I move on to the M’s.” No, he works on us individually and collectively simultaneously! That movement from who you are, to who God longs for you to be is the journey of transformation, and if you are truly seeking God, you can look back on your life and see the growth and evolution that is your story for His glory. Take a moment to look for God, in your life and in the lives of those you love. It’s an amazing metamorphosis. (Accounts of real experiences of God working in people’s lives)

Are you open to God’s answer?

I think that this is a really challenging aspect of this whole thing. Somewhere along the line, we humans became really stubborn. Really stubborn. We’ve either become so sure that we have all the answers, or realize that we don’t, but we want to ‘fake it till we make it’ and we forget that the only one with all the answers doesn’t answer to us. Allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in you can be difficult, yet Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be your counselor, intercessor, and guide. This Spirit of God is your biggest fan when you’re reflecting God honestly. Yet the Revealer (Holy Spirit) will also admonish you and nudge you toward God when you’ve strayed or rebelled. It is hard to be open to an answer that will probably change you. Yet growth produces the seeds that will start the next exciting cycle in your life with God.

Finally, remember that you don’t need to be in church for the change to occur, yet having a family (your church family) who recognizes your gifts can be an awesome thing. And you don’t need another person to intercede for you, yet having others praying on your behalf can be extremely comforting.

Conclusion

If you combine these things with a quiet place to regularly listen for the Lord, you will hear Him. He’s waiting to speak with you. You just need to give Him your attention. Stop, look and listen.

Confession-Blogging Was Not My Idea | Spiritual Meditations

You would think that we all have something we consider worthy of being conveyed to others.  But not me.  I had no aspirations to write, but my husband suggested it, so I took it under advisement for several days.  My passion for spiritualty was the only realm in which I felt I could generate any worthwhile thoughts.  Yet I had no topic ideas whatsoever. Because my husband’s suggestion came out of what looked like thin air, I thought perhaps God was behind it.  So I prayed something like “God, if you want me to do this, I’m going to need your help and some topic ideas”.  As I got up from that prayer, eight topics poured into my mind, so rapidly that I had to run to write them down, so as not to forget any.  As this was not the first time that God had spoken to me, I recognized His voice and knew He was endorsing the blogging project.  So here I am, a year later.

If  you did not start following my blog from the beginning, you’ve missed the story of God’s big intervention in my life – the first post listed below.  This one I did feel had to be told as it is a good example of how God is active in our world.  I hope you will find these, my first articles, interesting and/ or inspiring.

Clouds that represent God's presence with my at the airport

God’s Faithfulness Changed My life and Restored My Income by introducing Me to a Lady on an Airplane.

https://yourspiritualinspiration.com/2018/08/18/god-makes-things-happen/

 

Sunset over mountains and trees

A Glimpse Through the Thin Curtain between Life and Afterlife as Witnessed by Myself and a Friend.

https://yourspiritualinspiration.com/2018/08/23/curtain-between-life-afterlife/

 

Methaphor for the many who have entered the afterlife

Afraid of Death? Get to Know Your Unknown.  This points to the conclusion that Near Death Experiences are real with profound significance and meaning, and also provide evidence of life after death.

https://yourspiritualinspiration.com/2018/09/15/afraid-of-death-know-your-unknown/

 

Our genetics select the needy. You are born to help.

Why do You Think Low-Income Families Deserve Your Help?  Do we have a moral obligation to share the fruits of our inherited personality traits with individuals who inherited traits that don’t make money?

https://yourspiritualinspiration.com/2018/09/02/low-income-families-deserve-help/

 

 

 

 

many hands in prayer

3 Steps to Successful Prayer | Spiritual Meditations

How to Make Prayer Work for You

If your prayers are not being answered, it’s time to take a look at your attitudes, your pride, your trust in God and your connection with God and His Spirit. The following, written by my friend, Reverend Dr. Tim Ehrlich, talks about the power of prayer and how you can tap into it.

“I have been crushed and completely defeated at least four times in my life; I am talking about times I was brought so low by my circumstances that I felt like I was walking through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’, and I could not find my way out. Neither could I see the sun. I could only see doom and gloom. I felt completely empty inside, like there was a dark cloud on my soul. Every time, it was prayer that brought me back up out of the valley.

The Interview I Tried to do Myself

I am going to tell you about the second time I was crushed and defeated; it happened in my second year of my first church appointment.

I had already graduated from Duke Divinity school with a three-year masters degree, and I was serving as a Licensed local pastor. To be an ordained Methodist Pastor you had to be a Methodist for two years before graduation. I was not ordained yet because I had gone to Duke as a Presbyterian and became a Methodist in my second year. but if no ordained pastors were available, I could be appointed as a Licensed local pastor before being ordained.

For my first assignment I was appointed to serve two little churches in the Catskill Mountains. After about a year and a half, my boss, the DS (District Superintendent), told me I should go before the Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry to seek approval for ordination. I told him I wasn’t sure that it was a good time for me; my wife had just had our baby girl, and my sons were ages two and four. It was pretty crazy in our house, and my two churches, that had been declining for 20 years, were now growing, and there was a lot going on.

Going before the Board of Ordained Ministry is a big deal; you sit in the hot seat in front of about 20 ministers and they pepper you with questions, to determine your knowledge, your calling, your commitment and your suitability to be a pastor. If they say “no” you are done….out….finished. But the DS said, “Tim, you are one of my best pastors, you will do fine, but if for some strange reason you don’t get approved, no problem, I will just reappoint you and you can try again next year.”

I went before the board and I was nervous. I didn’t know enough at that time to just put it in God’s hands and let go of it. And I was holding on to it like it was all on me. My boss was wrong. It didn’t go really well. I will never forget that, at the end of the day, I was alone in a room in a church…. waiting. A bearded pastor came into the room and sat down. He told me, “it didn’t go well for you. There were 28 people applying to be ordained and because you weren’t in the top group, you won’t be ordained and they are giving your church assignment to an ordained pastor.”

How Did I Get Here?

When I was 17, I had offered to give my life in service to God if He would save my sisters life when she was terribly injured in a car accident and expected to die. (Link) God had poured out his Holy Spirit on me to let me know he had accepted my offer and that my sister would live. God confirmed my calling with several other miracles, and I was completely convinced that I was called into ministry. I could not wait to become ordained as a pastor. It was the great joy and desire of my life.

Revived by Prayer

Now it seemed like it was over and my dream was dead. I drove home that day tired, defeated and completely crushed, empty of joy and hope. I am not sure if I cried but I sure felt like it.

There was a group of five or six Christians in that area who called themselves ‘prayer warriors’. They would get together weekly in one of their homes. People who needed healing would go there to be prayer over. I was friends with several of the prayer warriors who would attend my church when the Spirit led them.

The next morning, I called Loretta, who was in the group, and asked her if I could come over for prayer during their next meeting and she said ‘sure’. At the meeting, I sat in a chair and they stood in a circle around me and put their hands on my head and on my shoulders and back and they prayed out loud for me. After about 30 minutes they stopped and asked how I was doing. I said, “I am half way there. Please don’t stop praying.” They laid their hands on me again and prayed. And over the next 20 minutes I could feel myself getting filled, until I was overflowing with joy!

I can’t remember a single word that was prayed over me, but, in less than an hour, those people transformed me from the worst depression of my life to being filled with joy. That is the power of prayer!

Witness to the Power of Prayer

Since then I have seen dozens of amazing miracles brought about by prayer; a woman burned all over her body instantly healed, a man brought out of a coma, another man who flat lined brought back to life. I have seen two different people who were going to die within hours brought back to health. I have seen people rescued from drowning and disaster. I have twice seen my son, Timmy, recover from bouts of cyclic vomiting through prayer when medicine wasn’t working. This week I heard the wonderful testimony of Melissa Hill who told how God miraculously rescued her from death, through prayer, after being stabbed 30 times. Over the years I have seen so many great examples of the power of prayer that it brings tears to my eyes when I stop to think about them.

My Story Continues

My feeling of emptiness was healed and I turned my situation over to God. My boss, the DS, appealed the decision to the Board of Ordained ministry. They met to reconsider my case, and my boss brought with him letters from 124 members of my congregation, written to the bishop on my behalf, and a video the Sunday school kids made. My boss told me afterwards that, because the bishop was angry with him about another matter, the appeal on my behalf was turned down. But the very next day, he called me and said he had another appointment for me in another nearby conference through a friend of his who was a DS there. I went on to get ordained during that appointment.

Prayer – What Works and What Doesn’t

A recent survey found that 55% of Americans say they pray every day; and only 23% say they seldom or never pray; so, I know that many of you know how prayer works and you already rely on it. But some of you may not. Jesus’ apostle James wrote “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” And in Proverbs we read, “God hears the prayer of the righteous.” What makes a person righteous? Hold that thought.

I want to start by telling you about how prayer doesn’t work.

Prayer is not a magic spell that you say and results occur. On TV, in cartoons and in movies I have seen people using incantations, magic spells, which basically are a string of words or sounds that, when spoken, are supposed to have the ability to release some supernatural power. That is BS.

It is not the words you say, but the intentions of your heart that matter to God. The famous Danish, Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.” Actually, there are three things that happen inside us when we pray.

1     The first thing that happens is that your thoughts and actions become righteous or in agreement with God’s will.

God’s will or desire is that we love Him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. Any thought or action that is in opposition to love, to the decrease of love, or that is damaging to the love of God or neighbor, is something that God finds objectionable (i.e. sinful).

Pray with openness to God, surrendering anything that is in your heart or mind that is against this love. God will bring your thoughts into alignment with His will as you pray earnestly via the gradual inflow of the Holy Spirit which acts to align your thoughts and intentions with God’s will in the same way that a magnet gives order to a pile of iron filings.

This is a process that is not instantaneously obvious, although, it can happen quickly. It depends on how tightly you cling to your anger, your hurt, your improper desires, your depression, and / or anything that is opposed to the love of God. It can take hours of prayer, even hours over several days. But your prayers will not be powerful or effective if you skip this step.

2     The second thing that happens inside you when you pray, provided you pray long enough and sincerely enough, is that prayer opens a channel in your heart. In some ways opening up that channel is like the work of an icebreaker creating a channel. The ice is all the thoughts and distractions you have floating around your mind. See Transcending Mind for guidance on how to stop those thoughts

3     The third thing that prayer does inside you is it prepares a place for the Holy Spirit to come in and rest. The apostle Paul said that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. You are a temple for the Holy Spirit, but the temple is unoccupied if you keep the doors locked. You have to invite the Holy Spirit in. Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if any hear my voice and open the door, I will come into their house…” For you to have effective prayer you need to be willing to have the Holy Spirit living inside your heart and all that that implies.

When you have all three of these, things happen, God will answer. God’s answer is not always “yes,” but it is always in your best interest. When what you are asking lines up with His will; when you pray passionately enough to open a channel of communication; and when you are willing to invite the Holy Spirit to live inside you, then God responds powerfully to prayers. A good example from the Bible is when Paul and Silas were put in jail for teaching about Jesus; they prayed and their chains fell off. (Act 16:16-36)

I was talking to my son, Timmy, recently about prayer and he finally got it. He said, “You mean all I really have to do is talk to God like I am talking to you?!” Paul wrote to the Philippians “Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace,” That’s all there is to it.

Why Does God Care?

Why does the all-powerful Creator of the entire universe care what we say or what we pray? Lucky for us, God sees all people on earth as His sheep and Himself as our Shepherd; and when God sees those who believe in Him and in Jesus, He sees His children. That was a part of God’s plan in creating the universe and it gives Him great pleasure to adopt us as His children. It gives God pleasure to interact with us as a loving Father. And for those of us who have committed our lives to following and serving Jesus, God sees us, not just as children but as holy and royal priests. When we get to that point then we too become prayer warriors.

Conclusion

Through prayer, God opens eyes, changes hearts, heals wounds and illnesses, saves lives, and grants wisdom and power. Prayer is the key that opens the door to all these blessings from God, so let us resolve to pray more, to take full advantage of all that God is offering us.”

Relevant Scripture

James 5:13-18 (TEV) Are any among you in trouble? They should pray. Are any among you happy? They should sing praises.  Are any among you sick? They should send for the church elders, who will pray for them and rub olive oil on them in the name of the Lord.  This prayer made in faith will heal the sick; the Lord will restore them to health, and the sins they have committed will be forgiven.  So then, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you will be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has a powerful effect.  Elijah was the same kind of person as we are. He prayed earnestly that there would be no rain, and no rain fell on the land for three and a half years.  Once again, he prayed, and the sky poured out its rain and the earth produced its crops.

Proverbs 15:29 (NRSV) The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
Mark 11:24   So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Acts 16:24-26 ( TEV ) About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was a violent earthquake, which shook the prison to its foundations. At once all the doors opened, and the chains fell off all the prisoners.

Philippians 4:6-9 (NLT) Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 1:4-5 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

1 Peter 2:5-9 And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God… But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

Psalms 116:1-8 (TEV) I love the Lord, because he hears me; he listens to my prayers.  He listens to me every time I call to him.  The danger of death was all around me; the horrors of the grave closed in on me; I was filled with fear and anxiety. Then I called to the Lord, “I beg you, Lord, save me!” The Lord is merciful and good; our God is compassionate. The Lord protects the helpless; when I was in danger, he saved me. Be confident, my heart, because the Lord has been good to me. The Lord saved me from death; he stopped my tears and kept me from defeat.

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child reading Bible in bed

The Baffling Look of a Christian | Spiritual Meditations

Who or what is a Christian?

The ambiguity encourages criticism and accusation of hypocrisy against all Christians when non-Christians witness, or become aware of, unchristian acts performed by professed Christians.

In a broad sense, a Christian is anyone who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. Some people are better at this than others.

Christians Are Not Perfect

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:13)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building other up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

Granted, nobody is perfect and, try as we might, we do the things we don’t want to do and we don’t do the things we want to do. (Roman 7:15) It may not be in a person’s personality to be generous because their economic circumstances were less than desirable as children. Or perhaps, due to low self-esteem, someone criticizes others a little too much. But for the person who is trying to live the teachings of Jesus, these should be mistakes, not a way of life.

Christians are Diverse

The amount of devotion to Christianity varies widely among individuals and progresses along a continuum. On one end are the politicians who say they are Christians to solicit the Christian vote. On the other end are the people who have dedicated their lives to God’s work through various ministries or by becoming missionaries.

In between there is a host of people, from many denominations, with priorities that they have chosen or have been imposed upon them. Their development toward God can stall at any point as they mature, resulting in a group that lacks uniformity with an inconsistent application of Jesus’ teachings.  Christians do not all develop their faith at the same rate or at the same time.  I expect there is a continuum of devotion or interest with most religious and secular groups.  We humans have the free-will to decide the extent to which we want to be involved.

My Relationship with God is of Little Importance

Many individuals were taken to church by their parent when they were children. As soon as they reached puberty and had more voice in their activities, church fell by the wayside. Another group views church attendance as a part of the expected festivities on religious holidays, similar to fireworks on Independence Day.

This group self-identifies as Christian, but is missing the regular reminders of what their relationship with God could be and what kind of people they need to be to have a relationship with God. As a result, they have less knowledge of what the Christian life entails. They are not guided by the Holy Spirit and are, therefore, more likely to provide a poor example to non-Christians.

Is Church Necessary?

It is possible to have a healthy relationship with God without Christian fellowship, but it requires much individual study of resources that you may not be aware of. Building your understanding and relationship with God can take years and not everyone has the inherent personality traits that allow the consistent prayer and dedication required. Church resources and the help of other Christians makes it easier.   If you are a person who wants to help others, such as the economically disadvantaged, service opportunities are generally already initiated by churches and you can just plug in to them or lead new ones.

Once a Week is Enough for Me

There is a group of people who attend church regularly because they started as children, were told it was the right thing to do, and it is now a habit. Some churches try to frightened parishioners into attendance and are successful in doing so, but the individual may regard it as a duty rather than an opportunity to grow in their faith. Yet others have so many commitments that church attendance once a week is all they can manage. The type of services to others, that Jesus asked his followers to embrace, is largely ignored.

The exception in this group, of course, are the folks who have served God during their earlier years, but no longer have adequate health to continue in an active way. They generally do their best to attend religious services regularly and contribute financially to support others in good works.

I’m Born Again

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”  Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”  Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8)

A ‘Born Again Christian’ is someone who has had a conversion experience. A person accepts Jesus Christ into their life and they are filled with the Holy Spirit. They may have already considered themselves a Christian or not. It may be a very quiet or a very charismatic episode, but it is always emotional. Afterwards, the individual is highly motivated to learn all they can about Jesus and God and they are ‘on fire’ to put their new found Spirit into active service.

Their heightened response to the experience may continue for a life time or it may resolve into a more internal dedication, depending on the personality. Some people may have a decline in interest, called ‘back sliding’, but this can reverse again at another time. Jesus compared being ‘born again of the Holy Spirit’ to the wind….it is difficult to explain and must be experienced.

Let Me Help

You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

Individuals who have developed a connection with God, no matter how strong it is, get involved in God’s work. Having received the Holy Spirit, they cannot help themselves…. they are compelled by God’s love from within to do so. Their contribution can be physical and/or financial.  It may be out of their own abundance or, as Jesus extoled, they may give all that they have. (Mark 12:41-44 see below). For those that can, the occasional mission trip may be part of their service to God and humanity. Local community needs are identified and church groups are organized to address those needs.

I want to Minister to Others Full Time

….to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Jesus Christ, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. (1 Cor 1:2)

One hundred years ago a trained missionary moved to an area in the world where non-Christians lived and tried to convert them to Christianity. They were the administrators of evangelistic schools, hospitals and churches

People involved in missions today, sacrificially cross social, cultural and political boundaries to spread God’s love through service. They come from all walks of life and may receive many months of training which is broader based than a century ago. With the advent of cheaper airfares and the internet, medical, business, agricultural, and apostolic short term and long-term missions have proliferated. There is now an emphasis on working with a community to develop solutions to its needs and train it to maintain those solutions.

The ministers or pastors of churches are generally called by God to fill that role. Additionally, they must meet the educational and experience requirements of the church that is hiring. This could be very little or could include up to four years of college and two to three years of graduate school. This is a big decision, but because of their ability to sense God’s guidance, it is a decision they are confirmed in making.

Conclusion

Those who lump together all Christians, expecting them to meet the single perfect standard that Jesus encourages, are not aware of the continuum of spiritual development. The amount of time and effort one puts into reading spiritual texts and meditating on Christian values, which is invisible to non-Christians, is the determining factor in the level of Christian maturity that is achieved.

Each Christian may be the only Christ that some people will ever see and we must be vigilant to be the best role models we can be. It is possible with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Relevant Scripture

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you (John 14:26)

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watch the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, the poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on. (Mark 12:41-44)

Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)

References

http://www.bu.edu/cgcm/files/2009/09/101015dldanarobertpaper.pdf

The Bible

 

name of Jesus

Who is Jesus? A Peek at the Unique /Spiritual Meditations

Hundreds of thousands of people ask this question every month. If you asked it, I’m going to assume that you have an interest in developing, or, at least, exploring your spiritual side.

Jesus is considered a prophet by Muslims.  The Jewish faith considers him a teacher at best.  Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world, but is found in our hearts, souls and in heaven.  The Jews were expecting a Jewish ruler who would relieve their earthly persecution. Because he did not meet this expectation, Jesus is considered a false-messiah by many of them.

But Jesus is the central figure in Christianity creating a stronger connection between God and man.  There has been so much written about who he was that an exhaustive answer would be …. exhausting. So, I’ll just touch on a few important aspects from the Christian perspective, which provides the most in depth information. Even if you have had significant Christian experience, you will find some food for thought and maybe a surprise or two in this article.

What did Jesus do?

I posed this question to my friend, Pastor Nathan. In his opinion the following four acts performed by Jesus while walking this earth, were the most important. The vast majority of Christians would agree with the first two. There may be various opinions regarding numbers three and four, but Pastor Nathan’s reasoning is eye-opening.

Crucifixion

Jesus’ crucifixion is the most important thing that He did. He voluntary clung to the cross in death and took upon himself all of our sin and punishment fulfilling the role of the Hebrew Scriptures as scape goat.

Resurrection

Being resurrected is the second most important thing Jesus did. It is important because through His resurrection we are given the down payment on our own resurrection. His death consumed death, His resurrection restores and promises life. [This event is celebrated at Easter. ] A Bible reference for Jesus’ resurrection.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well

The next most important things Jesus did was to have a conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well.  [Samaritans were a people scorned and avoided by the Jewish community because their beliefs about God were somewhat different than the Jewish teachings.) Because Jesus embodied God, this conversation revealed the radical nature of God’s grace and inclusion in the salvation plan carried out by Jesus. This conversation paved the way toward the recognition that all people are offered the opportunity to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and it extended the ministry of Jesus beyond the Jewish people.

The Feeding of the 5000

When Jesus was teaching, huge crowds could gather and follow him. One of the stories documented in the Bible describes a day when 5000 men plus women and children gathered on a hillside to hear Jesus teach. After several hours it became clear that these people were hungry and had not carried food with them. A boy offered his lunch of fish and bread which Jesus multiplied to feed all the people there.

Feeding the five thousand was the fourth most important thing that Jesus did. This is because he demonstrated, in a significant way, the radical nature of God’s grace, mercy, and power. The number of people fed matters little other than that it was a lot. The nature of how they were fed, revealed who Jesus was, and that they were fed even though they could give nothing in return. This reveals the truth about God’s economy in this world and the next.

[Parentheses are mine]

Who was Jesus?

By reading one of the first four books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) of the New Testament, you will learn about the miracles Jesus performed and how he went everywhere doing good.  He was helping, loving and encouraging to others. He was merciful and humble.

There are several names for Jesus found in the Bible. Because they usually contain information as to who Jesus was or thought to be, let’s take a look at some of them. This review is also useful as sometimes Jesus was written about, using one of these titles, without telling the reader that Jesus was being referred to.

“Emmanuel”

means “God with us” in Hebrew, which was the language that the Old Testament (OT) was originally written in. It refers to the idea that Jesus embodied God’s spirit when he walked this earth. In the NT (New Testament) it is found only once where it refers back to a passage {verse} in the book of Isaiah in the OT. (Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14)

“Rabbi”

is a Jewish teacher or master. Used in several NT episodes but most often in the gospel of John.

“Lord”

is used over 700 times in the NT. It was a respectful form of address for one who was more than a teacher, closer to a rabbi.

“Christ”

means “anointed one” and was taken from the Greek language which is what the NT was originally written in. The idea was that Jesus was anointed (blessed/chosen) by God. In religious ceremonies of the time, a person could be anointed by having oil rubbed on them as a symbol of this blessing.

“Master”

is used only in Luke and seems to indicate a status just below Lord.

“The Word”

is found only in the gospel of John and Revelation, which was written by John. John indicated by its use that Jesus was eternal, existed before he walked the earth and was divine like God.

“Son of God”

is used many times in the NT. It was spoken by God as a voice from heaven in Mark 9:7 and affirmed by Jesus himself. This indication of family relationship with a deity was used for centuries by some political rulers and was adopted by the early Christians in reference to Jesus. The concept of Jesus as the Son of God has had a lasting impact on Christianity and is part of the basic beliefs of Christians.

“Son of Man”

appears many times in the gospels (first 4 books of the NT-Matthew, Mar, Luke, John) and is an affirmation of Jesus’ humanity in contrast to his divinity as indicated by the title Son of God.

“Son of David”

indicates ancestral lineage from King David to Jesus. This was important as Jewish teachers taught that their Messiah would be of the Davidic line and, therefore, one of the Jewish people. Jesus, the man,  was Jewish.

“Lamb of God”

is only in the book of John.  John the Baptist exclaims “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world “ in John 1:29. The Jewish people sacrificed lambs and other animals at the temple as restitution for their sins. John the Baptist here predicted that the coming sacrifice of the sinless earthly life of Jesus, would compensate for all the sins of humanity, thus allowing forgiveness by God.

“Light of the World”

is only in the gospel of John where Jesus applies the title to himself. It indicates that the teachings of Jesus provide the pathway to the Truth and a relationship with God.

“King of the Jews”

is used on three occasions coming at the beginning of his life and at the end. In the account of the nativity in the Gospel of Matthew the wise men called Jesus “the King of the Jews”. All four Gospels mention that the “King of the Jews“ title led to charges against Jesus that resulted in his crucifixion. The title is used only by the Gentiles (non-Jews) mainly by the Magi (wise men), Pontius Pilot (who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion) and the Roman soldiers.

“Brother”

is one of my favorite titles. Jesus repeatedly referred to God as our Father and as his Father, making us all one family and highlighting the fact that the same Holy Spirit that filled Jesus is available to us and is waiting for us to realize it.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8. 15-17,” For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of Sonship. And by him we cry “Abba, Father”. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children then we are heirs – heirs of God and coheirs with Christ”.

Recognizing Our Gifts from God

So, why aren’t we experiencing all the great gifts, joy, harmony and love that an heir of God should expect? God’s gifts are there for the taking but we must develop spiritual consciousness to realize it. Joel Goldsmith gives some insight into how we can achieve this.

People ignorant of art may behold an oil painting done by a master and say that it is only daubs of paint on canvas. To them that is all it is and can ever be, they cannot appreciate it. Yet the person who has learned art appreciation goes into raptures over it. So it is with music. Some will hear a magnificently performed symphony and think that it sounds terrible, while others sitting beside them are in raptures. The difference is art appreciation and music appreciation. To appreciation art or music, we behold what those without it can never know.

When we have been touched by the Spirit, we have a “spiritual appreciation” which we call spiritual consciousness or spiritual awareness or spiritual discernment. With it, what has heretofore been unreal, ephemeral and transcendental becomes the reality. The heart and soul of our experience, of our entire lives, and the things of the outer world, become the shadows. Oh yes, we continue to eat and drink and sleep and enjoy, but the things of the outer world never move us or thrill us to the same extent as the things of the inner world that we now perceive.

You must realize that this God …is not external to you or separate and apart from you, but is your own selfhood, your soul, at the center of your being, which you call your Self, the Spirit that is of God, the God individualized as you, the Christ, son of God, who is heir of God, and with whom you are joint heir to all of the heavenly riches. As a child of God, you cannot be disinherited.

Today we may be a worm in the dust and feel unworthy to sit at His [God’s] feet. With a little spiritual enlightenment, we may come to the point where we say, “oh no! I am a Truth student and something higher than a worm in the dust”. Then a little more enlightenment comes, and we say, “I am the child of God”. That brings more enlightenment, and we say that “not only am I the child of God, but I am heir, joint heir with Christ to all the heavenly riches”. We seem to be growing now, but we are not. We are merely becoming more and more aware of what we already are, always have been, and always will be.

Jesus said the way is straight and narrow and few find it. Once we achieve spiritual freedom in Christ, we are challenged to maintain and sustain it in the world that we live in. But anything that can bring us better health, greater harmony, greater supply, or that can enable us to bring these freedoms to our family or friends is worth working and striving for.

With the study of spiritual writings, prayer and meditation,  and following the example of Jesus, it is possible for you to increase you “spiritual appreciation”.

Relevant Scripture

Hebrews 2. 11-13 We who have been made holy by Jesus, now have the same Father he has. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers. For he says in the book of Psalms, “I will talk to my brothers about God my Father, and together we will sing his praises.” At another time he said, “I will put my trust in God along with my brothers.” And at still another time, “See, here am I and the children God gave me.”

1 John 3 Tree of Life Version (TLV)  See how glorious a love the Father has given us, that we should be called God’s children—and so we are!

Gal 3.:26-27.  For now, we are all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and we who have been baptized into union with Christ are enveloped by him. We are no longer Jews or Greeks or slaves or free men or even merely men or women, but we are all the same—we are Christians; we are one in Christ Jesus.

Gal 4:6-7. And because we are his sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, so now we can rightly speak of God as our dear Father. Now we are no longer slaves but God’s own sons. And since we are his sons, everything he has belongs to us, for that is the way God planned.

References

The Bible-New International Version

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_and_titles_of_Jesus_in_the_New_Testament

Invisible Supply: Finding the Gifts of the Spirit Within by Joel S Goldsmith,  HarperSanFrancisco 1983