man in surgical mask from shoulders up

Why Does God Allow Suffering? / Spiritual Meditations

In our confusion this question is frequently formed in our minds, if not on our lips, in these crippling times.  Religious commentator, Father Jonathan Morris offers the following brief, but complete, answer in his book The Way of Serenity.

Praying deeply for serenity to except the things I cannot change is nearly impossible if at some level I am still blaming God for not changing these things for me. The temptation to just trust, blame, or resent God’s ways is wholly human. If I were God, I would do things differently. I think I would eliminate hunger, and floods, and earthquakes. I would have thought twice before creating some people who have made so many others suffer. Certainly, mosquitoes would disappear without anybody really missing them. I would change a few things about myself too, airbrushing out a few needless moral and physical blemishes.

Most of us have a good idea about how the world could be made into a better place. So why doesn’t God do it? How to improve things seems so very clear to us. Doesn’t He get it? Doesn’t he care as much as we do about little children who suffer? About poor people who go to bed hungry at night? About people with no jobs?

I have to believe that He does care. In fact, I believe that He cares much, much more than I do. At the same time, He cares so much about us that He is willing to allow our free will to have real consequences. We live in a fallen world because our first parents rejected God and His order for creation in the garden of Eden. They wanted it their way, and God respected their wish. We want it our way, and God respects that too.

Imagine, on the contrary, if every time we try to do evil, God were to intervene and protect us and others from all harm. Would we be glorified robots?

Free will exercised without consequences is fiction.

God was willing to risk the presence of all the evil in this world for the chance of entering into a relationship of love with us. For God, every act of human love is that precious.

God‘s love for us goes even further. Although we have sinned and chosen to do things our way, God makes a promise to us that out of every instance of suffering and sin in this world, He will bring out of it a good even greater than the good that has been lost and that we now mourn. We see the fulfillment of this promise most perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ, who gave up his life so that we might live with him forever in eternity, and where every tear will be wiped away.

For this reason, we can have confidence that God knows what He is doing. If He doesn’t do things my way, I am the one with poor, shortsighted vision, not Him. Someday we will all find out how everything had a purpose and came together in a wonderful symphony of God‘s goodness. Some people would call this a pie-in-the-sky optimism, or a Pollyanna-ish, fairytale faith. I don’t think that’s what it is. My confidence that God knows what He is doing, is not only from the history of Gods dealings with His people, as we read in the Bible, but also from my own experience with God‘s goodness in my life.

When we don’t understand why things are going the way they are, there is good reason to give God the benefit of the doubt.

There are many mysteries in life, and there is perhaps none as troubling as the mystery of evil. In his last published book before his death, Memory and Identity, Pope John Paul II devoted the first six chapters to what he called the Mysterium iniquitatis – The Mystery of Evil. It [evil] has been a stumbling block for philosophers and common people alike since the beginning of time. It is so hard to understand how a God who is all good and all powerful allows bad things to happen in the world. Some of it can be explained as simply Gods respect for human freedom (since much suffering results from people’s bad choices), but much of it cannot be explained this way. What about earthquakes and floods? Little children with horrible birth defects? Terrible diseases and calamities?

There can be only one satisfying explanation for all this. Somehow God must be able to turn evil on its head and bring good out of it. Somehow God must be able to take even the most horrible of tragedies and bring them to a happy ending. In John Paul’s book, what begins as a philosophical study of evil incarnate in history, merges into a broader theological reflection on the roots of evil itself and the victory of redemption. In the mind of this pope, evil has never been total or absolute. It is always, he says, circumscribed by good. “If redemption marks the divine limit placed upon evil,“ he writes, “it is for this reason only: because thereby evil is radically overcome by good, hate by love, death by resurrection.“ Saint Augustine had a great way of expressing this too: “for God judged it better to bring good out of evil then not to permit any evil to exist.“

I often think that this is the great revelation of Good Friday. This yearly commemoration marks the greatest evil in human history: the day we put God to death. It signifies humanity’s rejection of love, purity, innocence, and goodness when we strung up God and nailed Him to a wooden cross. And yet, from the pinnacle of human evil God wrought the greatest good: our redemption. As Joseph Ratzinger once wrote, “In the abyss of human failure is revealed the still more inexhaustible abyss of divine love.” God took evil and exploded it from within, turning it’s venom to nectar and it’s sting into a healing balm.

If God is able to bring forth this immense good from the evil of Good Friday, He can surely turn all the lesser evils of our lives into surprise packages of unexpected grace.

Prayer

Jesus, I don’t know why certain things have happened to me or why people who I love have to suffer so much, but today I reaffirm my faith that you do know why. Lord, I promise to move forward with the assurance that you will bring forth a greater good out of every instance of evil and suffering in my life and in this world. I love you, Jesus.

Relevant Scripture

 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!”  So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying,  ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.  So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Gen 50:15-21)

sketch of Jesus and woman at well

Are You Smart Enough to Judge Others?/Spiritual Meditations

Many of us live in a society drowning in shallow judgments based on a people’s appearance, vocabulary, dialect, education, fashion, sexual preference, ethnic group, where they live, where they’re from, are they interracially married and other characteristics that are meaningless to God. We even judge ourselves based on how well we think we measure up to such standards. Often those standards are hoisted upon us during our developmental years by parents, teachers and peers, and now our mind accepts them.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Of course, we know there are more important issues in life; loving others, humility, gratitude, patience, generosity and all the guidance we find in the ten commandments and the sermon on the mount among other texts. How do we prevent ourselves from criticizing those who have a speck in their eye?

In order to swim out of the riptide of biases, we need to focus on that which is meaningful to God; a person’s heart, their soul, their Inner Being. But are we so wise and discerning that we can see that deeply into a person? Do we know and understand all the pieces of their life that have come together to make them who they are? Their behavior may not be what God would wish for them, but is it up to us, with our limited knowledge, to correct them? Let’s explore.

Generally, Don’t Judge

It is easy to quote the Bible verses that support our position on any issue, but if we look at all the verses regarding judging others, we find that the list is more heavily weighted against it.

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God…. Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (Rom 14:10-13)

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. (John 12:46-48)

For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” (Heb 10:30)

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:37-38)

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. (Rom 14:1-13)

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. (Rom 12:16)

Judgment pollutes our heart as we often intend malice, while slandering another person (Mark 7:20-23). It also makes us vulnerable to hatred as we plant seeds of unforgiveness and condemnation that take root in our hearts and minds (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Judge With Understanding

In John 7:7 Jesus told his disciples that the world hates him “because I testify about it that its works are evil.” He also repeatedly criticized the Pharisees. So, he couldn’t have meant that we’re all supposed to just throw up our hands and say, “Hey, to each his own. Who am I to judge?”

We are blessed to have words of guidance and direction from Jesus. Unfortunately, we do not have his inspired understanding of a person as he demonstrated in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. After speaking with Jesus, she announced to her neighbors “see a man who told me all the things that I have done”

When Jesus told us the harsh truth about our sin, he brought us close. He made us his friends, even as sinners.

The ultimate goal of confronting a person, with the way they are separating themselves from God, is to bring repentance. We are called to judge sin—always with the goal of repentance and reconciliation.

The following two verses support judgment, but in a spirit of teaching.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:24-26)

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. (Gal 6:1-6)

John 7:24 says “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” which speaks to the necessity of being wise enough and discerning enough to know what ‘right judgment’ is. Who can make this claim?

Proverbs 31:9 comes right out and says it “Open your mouth, judge righteously” but then goes on to qualify what we should be judging “defend the rights of the poor and needy. “

The Apostle Paul, however, came up against gross immorality in one of his fledgling churches. Not only did he point out the offending individual, but he identified the characteristics of persons that the church should shun. Although there certainly was/is merit in eliminating bad influences within the church, influences that could hinder spiritual growth in others, it is difficult to apply first century descriptions to twenty-first century society. If one covets the car of his rich neighbor or idolizes a celebrity should they be shunned? What we consider to be immoral today is also significantly different than 2000 years ago; just compare the typical attire of a first-century middle eastern woman with the norm of today. Yes, we should use these verses as guidelines, but we must be very careful in how we apply them, keeping in mind that Christians already have a reputation for being ‘judgmental’. Here’s what Paul said:

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you…. that someone has his father’s wife…. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present….Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?  Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened….But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:1-11)

When are You Being Judgmental?

  • When you are more enraged at someone else’s sin than you are embarrassed by your own.
  • When you gossip. What makes gossip so dangerous is that you are judging someone without giving them the chance to change. At least if you judged someone to their face, they could do something about it.
  • When you refuse to forgive – To refuse to forgive someone is to be almost entirely ignorant of the enormity of what God has forgiven you.
  • When you think the other person is hopeless and assume they won’t change and won’t listen to your fully considered guidance. You’re consigning them to their sin without ever giving them the chance to receive grace.
  • When you “cut off” those who disagree with you. This is the essence of judging.

Being Judgmental Says Something About You

We usually judge others in the areas where we feel the weakest. We expose our own insecurities when we criticize someone else.

Although it is an admirable goal, I don’t think that it’s possible to live a life where we never judge anyone, ever. So, I’d like to offer a practice that may help.

Stay out of judgment and be in curiosity.

Judgment shuts us down and keeps us from understanding the full situation. If we’re being honest, most judgments about people are based on incomplete information.

Curiosity, on the other hand, keeps us open to the possibility that there is something about the situation that we don’t fully understand.

Conclusion

John tells us in I John 4:20 “If a man says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar. for if he doesn’t love his brother, who he can see, how can he love God , who he can’t see”.

We must realize the balance between grace and truth. Don’t judge others by withholding the truth. But don’t judge them by speaking the truth without grace. Instead, give them the grace and truth of the gospel. Truth without grace is judgmental fundamentalism; grace without truth is liberal sentimentality. The gospel combines both.  But if there is any question in your mind as to whether you should criticize someone, don’t.

References

Shola at “The Positivity Solution”

“Judging Others” by All About God

“7 Signs that You are Judging Others” by J.D. Greear

 

 

2 small boys, one has caused the 2nd to cry, ball solic background

Are You Creating Your Own Guilt? / Spiritual Meditations

I’m still regretting a couple of things I said / did while in high school. I’m sure you can think of a couple as well. It is surprising how often we have feelings of guilt. Some say that the moments of guilt add up to about 5 hours a week. With our constant striving for perfection, whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslin, Buddhist, or Hindu, it is no wonder we don’t always live up to our own standards and moral codes. The guilt can be beneficial or unhealthy depending on the situation.

Just to be clear on what’s being discussed here, let me point out the difference between guilt and shame. They are frequently used interchangeably, but there is a difference.

How are Guilt and Shame Different?

Shame involves feelings about yourself, generally reflecting early psychological damage that impedes positive personality growth. It could be your feelings about who you are or who you aren’t, projected by society, which can become ingrained into your own self-evaluation, whether they are legitimate or not.

Guilt is a common feeling of emotional distress that tells us when our actions or inactions have caused, might cause or we imagine will cause harm to another person—physical, emotional, or otherwise. Because guilt hinges on empathy for others, the capacity to feel guilt could be seen as emotional progress.

When is Guilt a Good Thing?

Healthy feelings of guilt motivate you to live according to your authentic values, which, in turn, can improve your relationships with others, since you are more likely to treat them with respect and do your fair share. Guilt protects our relationships.

In small doses, guilt can benefit us. But when it runs free, it can cause havoc.

When is Guilt Harmful?

Unnecessary or excessive feelings of guilt, even mild guilt, can be a psychological burden that interferes with your emotions and quality of life.

If you feel guilty too easily your guilt alarm goes off when it shouldn’t. As a result, you end up feeling guilty about impacting others adversely, when you haven’t. This is no minor issue; by over-interpreting people’s disapproval when it’s not there, you’re exposing yourself to constant and unnecessary stress and impacting your own quality of life.

On the more serious end of the spectrum, excessive or inappropriate guilt can be a symptom of clinical depression, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Unwarranted guilt has also been associated with a history of childhood trauma with critical, neglecting, or abusive parents. These feelings of guilt can instill a sense of unworthiness and can result in self-punishment.

Unresolved guilt is like having a snooze alarm in your head that won’t shut off. Your attention is constantly monopolized by bursts of guilty feelings which compete for your attention to work, school, and life in general. Guilt usually wins. Studies have found that concentration, productivity, creativity, and efficiency are all significantly lower when you’re feeling actively guilty.

What are Some Causes of Guilt?

Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D. suggests that guilt may occur when “a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a universal moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation.” This would include stealing, lying or cheating and much more.

Yet much of the unhappiness we experience is due to our own irrational thoughts about situations. We know that our memory of past events is highly unreliable. It’s possible for you to have done nothing wrong at all but misremember and think that you did, particularly when there are highly charged feelings involved.

One typical mental source of guilt is the magical belief that you can jinx people by thinking about them in a negative or hurtful way. Perhaps you’ve wished that a romantic rival would experience some evil twist of fate. Should that evil twist of fate happen, you may, at some level, believe that it was due to your own vengeful wish.  At some level you “know” that you’re being illogical, but it’s hard to rid yourself completely of this belief.

Then there are the accidental social blunders. Perhaps you didn’t realize how much you hurt your friend’s feelings with what you thought was a humorous remark. You wonder how many other people you have offended unintentionally. Beware; it is possible to unwittingly make matters worse by distancing yourself from the person who is the focus of your guilt.

People with eating disorders often feel excessive guilt about eating, putting on weight, or not exercising enough. This guilt often co-exists with a distorted, negative body image.

Women, in particular, are prone to feeling guilty, according to research. A 2009 study by Etxebarria, published in the Spanish Journal of Psychology, surveyed women and men from three age groups (156 teenagers, 96 young adults, and 108 older adults) about which situations most often caused them to feel guilt. The researchers found that habitual guilt was higher for women than men in all three age groups, with the biggest gap in the 40 to 50 year-old range. This age corresponds to the “sandwich generation” years, in which many people juggle taking care of teenagers as well as aging parents.

Especially during those stressful years, you may feel you haven’t done enough to help someone. You’ve given hours of your free time to them, but now you have other obligations or are getting burnt out. You feel guilty because you are pursuing your own life when they are suffering, dysfunctional, or need a lot of emotional care. Adding to the overall emotional drain of the situation, your guilt overlaid on the fatigue, ultimately makes you a less effective helper.

Another study found that women report more guilt than men, overall, when they take work calls or answer work emails in the evening. Finally, research shows that millennial women—and millennials in general—feel guilty about taking vacations.

A more deeply disturbing experience is that of survivor guilt which is addressed by professionals who work with combat veterans who outlive their fellow troops. Survivor guilt also occurs when people who lose families, friends, or neighbors in disasters while remaining untouched, or at least alive, themselves.

Additionally, this kind of guilt characterizes those who make a better life for themselves than do their family or friends. First-generation college students, for example, may feel guilty that they are getting opportunities that their parents or siblings did not. To “protect” their family members, they might engage in self-destructive behaviors that ensure they won’t make it in school.  Logic would dictate that the family truly wants the student to succeed (and thus bring honor to the family), but this logic is lost on the student.

How do I Deal With My Guilt?

Before you start accusing yourself of wrongdoing, make sure that the wrongdoing took place. If you’re distorting your recollection of events to make yourself seem more at fault than you are, it’s time for a reality check. “We assume that others place far more importance on our thoughts and actions than they actually do”, Dr. Whitbourne adds

In the case of excessive guilt, it is important to realize that everyone errs and that occasionally behaving in a hurtful way doesn’t make someone a bad person; it just makes them human.

But if truly at fault, some people may attempt to stave off guilt by rationalizing or minimizing the harmful effect that their actions had on others. More helpful, however, is an acknowledgment of the offense, accompanied by an apology if appropriate.

In the case of survivor’s guilt, or a person who tends to blame themselves for circumstances that are beyond their control, help often involves the person letting go of a false sense of responsibility for what happened, refraining from negative self-talk, and developing greater self-compassion. If you change your thoughts, you can change your emotions

When guilt surfaces because you are doing better than those around you, remind yourself of how proud, glad, and invested those who care for you are. As hard as it might be, your own failure will not make others who love you feel better about themselves. You need to gain your inspiration from the knowledge that your efforts are a tribute to them. And don’t get down on yourself if you can’t reach your loftiest goals (or the ones they have or had for you) but at least know that you’re giving yourself the shot at success that they would want you to have.

If you are prone to feeling the unhealthy kind of guilt—in which you are always beating yourself up for not doing enough—use the tips and tools below, develop by Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D., to set yourself free. It takes a lot of practice and deliberate re-thinking to change an entrenched pattern of guilt, so be patient.

    1. Look for the evidence.

If you feel guilty because you’re “not doing enough” for your kids, partner, or family, list all the things that you regularly do for them. Then, keep the list in your purse or wallet to pull out when guilt rears its head.

    1. Be direct and get more information.

Ask the people you think you’re neglecting whether they feel neglected. Consider whether they have a tendency to expect too much and not take enough responsibility for themselves (e.g., teenagers who expect you to pick up after them). Then, think about how an outside observer would view the situation. If you conclude that you really aren’t doing enough, then come up with some solutions or compromises that balance everybody’s needs.

    1. Appreciate yourself and all that you do.

Write a “self-gratitude” diary at the end of every day, noting at least three things you did that day that furthered your goals or helped someone you care about. At the end of the week, read what you’ve written. Guilt and perfectionism have a negative bias. They make you pay attention to what you’re not doing right. By writing down what you did, you can overcome this bias and force yourself to focus on your accomplishments.

    1. Think how you would see things if the roles were reversed.

Would you think your friend or partner wasn’t doing enough, given all they had going on? We often find it easy to be compassionate and understanding with others but are too harsh on ourselves. By deliberately taking the other person’s perspective, you’ll likely see your situation in a more objective light

    1. Curb the “black and white” thinking.

Are you thinking about the situation in all-or-nothing terms? Do you think that if you’re not the perfect partner (or daughter, or parent) you must be the worst one on the planet? Try to find the gray amid all that black and white. Consider other ways of seeing the situation. Try to judge your efforts in context, rather than always expecting perfection.

    1. Look for the emotions underneath the guilt.

Might the guilt be masking other feelings like anger, intimidation, or resentment? If you’re in a relationship with a very needy person or a narcissist, you or your partner may convince you that you’re being selfish by setting limits and saying no. Over time, your guilt and inner conflict may be masking resentment.

    1. Decide how much you’re willing and able to do.

If you honestly feel that you haven’t done enough for your partner or family member, then make an authentic commitment to take specific caring or helpful actions going forward. If you can’t do all the housework in the evening, decide which pieces you can commit to doing. Then, communicate this willingness to your partner in a proactive way.

    1. Realize it’s okay to take care of your own needs.

Some of us were the family peacemakers who took care of others all the time. Perhaps you had an alcoholic parent who was incapable of properly taking care of you. As an adult, you may still silence your own needs or feel they are less valid than those of your partner, child, or friend. But you don’t have to let this reaction to past trauma shape your relationships in the present.

Guilt is a useless emotion—useless because we don’t need to feel bad about ourselves to take corrective actions. Guilt is useless for three basic reasons:

  1. You can’t change the past, no matter how long or how often you practice feeling guilty.
  2. Rehashing guilt-arousing thoughts in your mind keeps you locked in the past, rather than focused on the present.
  3. Feeling guilty does not help you correct troubling behavior because you expend your mental energies putting yourself down rather than learning to change your behavior.

In cases where guilt is driven by a mental health issue, it is important to seek professional help. Sometimes treating the underlying concern can alleviate strong feelings of guilt or shame.

The Spiritual Person Attempts a Greater Goal

Each person is at a different place in their spiritual journey and this can be seen in how seriously they attempt to fulfill the teachings of Jesus or their spiritual mentor.

The Ten Commandments alone are a challenge. How often do we hear someone exclaim “Oh my God”, or work on Sunday or wish we had a house as nice as so-and-so?

Additionally Jesus asked much more of us; to be humble, generous and merciful, to love our enemies and not resist insult, to not worry ourselves or judge others, and much more – traits we should strive for and the basis for the thinking that we are all sinners. But only Christ and spiritual icons can surpass this threshold.

So these values increase the number of things to possibly feel guilty about. Fortunately, with the help of the Holy Spirit (and possibly some of the helpful hints above) we can reduce our offenses and be forgiven for those for which we feel regret or remorse.

What Did Jesus Say About Guilt?

 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.  Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. (Mat 5:23-25)

Here Jesus shifts from the external meaning of the law against murder (6th commandments) to the inner attitude of the heart. Hatred and insult toward another are as serious violations of God’s will as the act of murder. It is God’s intention that people become reconciled. To support this, he introduces a parable indicating the wisdom of ingratiating oneself with one’s accuser while they are on their way to court. This could also be a metaphor suggesting how much more a follower should be reconciled with others before their time of judgement.

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.  The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”  They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.  But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again, He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.  Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:1-11)

In this passage the Pharisees are attempting to trap Jesus into putting himself in conflict with either the Romans (who said only they could carry out a death sentence) or the Jews (because the law of Moses required stoning in this situation). Jesus’ answer avoids the trap by turning the question into a moral challenge to those who are willing to play politics with this woman’s sin and misery.

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, not to condemn them but to offer God’s forgiveness and acceptance. The story certainly does not mean that Jesus condoned sin. His clemency and compassion indicated his concern for the motives of the woman’s accusers.

Conclusion

We can imagine ourselves in the role of the woman and in the role of the Pharisees. As the woman we have received forgiveness but are told to “sin no more”. As the Pharisees we are reminded that we are no more perfect than the woman and should treat others as we would wish to be treated.

References:

Guy Winch in Psychology Today

Adapted from The Stress-Proof Brain: Master Your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity by Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D.

“The Definitive Guide to Guilt” Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Psychology Today

Understanding the New Testament by F.F. Bruce

What is Your Purpose in Life? / Spiritual Meditations

One of the sure signs of our continued growth as followers of Christ is that we feel our hearts being broken by the things that break the heart of God. Growing into the likeness of Christ means being drawn more deeply into the compassion of God so that we hear the cries of injustice in our world, see the broken people along the way, and seek with a divine urgency a way to make a difference in places of suffering, injustice, and pain.

As you follow your passion and search for your place to serve, you will also discover that awakening to God‘s call is not a one-time experience but an ongoing process by which the Spirit of God continues to open our eyes in new ways of serving as we grow in our discipleship, as we face major transitions in our lives, and as we become more fully awake to the constantly changing needs of the world around us.

This process is a step along the spiritual journey that John Wesley called “Christian perfection“. It’s the lifelong process by which the Spirit of God shapes our lives into the likeness of Christ. It leads us more deeply into the love of God and guides us to new opportunities to love others the way we have been loved by God.

Service Inspired Joy

Shame our wanton selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul. Harry Emerson Fosdick

There are frustrated people who, by world standards, have more than they could ever need but live with a nagging dissatisfaction in their souls. The things they’ve acquired and the success they’ve achieved have not made the difference they were hoping for. They are haunted by a desire for something more valuable and more lasting than anything money can buy. They still feel gnawing desire for their life to make a more significant difference in the world.

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. Albert Schweitzer

The people Schweitzer speaks of have found an unambiguous joy by discovering that their lives can make a difference. They are faithful disciples who have followed their passion, found their way to serve, and are making a real, tangible, transformative difference in the lives of others. They’ve seen small signs of the impact their witness is having on unjust systems and institutions. Seeing their lives, hearing their laughter, sharing their hopes, and listening to their stories confirms the truth in Schweitzer’s words and the difference it makes for a person to find his or her custom designed place to serve.

If you haven’t found yours, watch the faithful servants of Christ who are like mustard seeds, which, Jesus said, are the smallest of all seeds but which can grow into a flourishing bush. You will often find these “seeds’ in unexpected places where they have found their way to make a kingdom-shaped difference. Ask yourself if, perhaps, your spiritual gifts and desire to serve align with theirs.

God’s Servants are Everywhere

You will find God’s people in likely places doing the kinds of things you might expect: teaching children in Sunday school, serving in leadership to their congregation, singing in their church choirs and playing instruments in the worship band, facilitating small groups for spiritual growth, leading mission teams, visiting in hospitals and nursing homes, arranging flowers on the altar or counting the Sunday offering.

You will also find these difference-making people in unlikely places doing things that you might not expect. You will meet them in homeless shelters and in migrant farm worker camps. You will find them delivering meals on wheels in economically underprivileged neighborhoods; registering voters in neglected communities; tutoring children in low achieving public schools; organizing groups for economic justice and creating bridges for communication between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. You can stand with them in prayer vigils for non-violence and see them risk imprisonment because they refuse to participate in war. You can walk with them between the crowded tin shacks in the sprawling townships of South Africa. Their courageous witness for racial reconciliation is humbling. Wherever they are there is a persistent passion and an incorrigible joy.

Stay Connected

Desmond Tutu once said, “we are only the lightbulbs and our job is just to remain screwed in”. It could have been the archbishops paraphrase of Jesus’s words, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life”. (John 8:12)

But It’s frighteningly easy to fall asleep and miss out on the way God wants to use our lives to make a difference in the world. It happens when we are not fully awake to the voice of God‘s Spirit within us or the needs of the world around us.

God’s call usually comes to people who practice the spiritual discipline that enables them to hear and respond to God’s Spirit. They are consistent in their practice of worship. They soak themselves in the words of scripture. They develop patterns of prayer that keep them awake and responsive to the new things God is doing and through which they discern the guidance of the Spirit. They live in community with other faithful disciples.

The spiritual discipline of prayer that is grounded in scripture and nurtured in worship is the starting point for our discovery of a life that really makes a difference. It is the sustaining center of a relationship with God that continues to fuel our passion and leads us to our place to serve. It is the renewing source of our vision for the future.

 3 Steps to Successful Prayer

The World Needs You

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the worlds deep hunger meet. Frederick Buechner

The practical implication of a Biblical understanding of discipleship is that the Christian life is not primarily defined by sitting in the pew on Sunday morning but by the way we live and serve outside the church walls during the week. We live out of our discipleship in the world rather than inside the church. Our experience and worship are like the team gathering in the locker room before going onto the field where the real game will be played. What we do inside the church is intended to equip us to be the servants of God‘s love, grace, justice, and peace on the outside. Paul said that we are reconciled to God in Christ so that we can become the agents of God’s reconciliation of the world. (II Corinthians 5:19)

God can take the activity you love to do and use it to make a Christlike difference in somebody else’s life.

There are people who provide guitars and teach music to underprivileged kids: who like to bake for the homeless street ministry: who extended their love of scripture to prison mates: who like to shop and do so for homebound elderly.

We are sent from worship to become the people through whom God answers our prayer for God‘s kingdom to come and God‘s will to be done in our world. When we see the injustice and suffering of the world and ask, “God, why don’t you do something about this? “ we will probably hear God asking us the same question. God is already out there, and we are challenged to join him in the kingdom work of healing, peace, and redemption.

Listening for the Still Small Voice

Most of us need to stop what we are doing in order to hear God’s voice. The pressure of time and over-commitment is often a barrier to service. We, the church can begin by providing opportunities for faithful disciples to stop, take a deep breath, and be still in the presence of God. It’s the only way to be ready to hear the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The first work of the spirit in helping us find our calling is to open our eyes so that we begin to see the world around us through the eyes of Jesus. Searching for and finding our places to serve involves looking with spirit awakened eyes at the needs of the world and at the gifts, talents, and opportunities we’ve been given. If you have not discovered your spiritual gift, this link will help you to find it and provides a Spiritual Gifts Survey.

Determine your Spiritual Gifts here.

What Does Hinder You?

One of the unique challenges of our day is that it is frighteningly easy to live in a media defined bubble. Many of us get all our information about the world through the lens of a particular social, economic, and political perspective. We spend most of our time in racial and socioeconomic enclaves in which most of the people around us look, think, and act the way we do. We gravitate towards news sources that constantly reconfirm our preconceived assumptions. It’s not that we are insensitive, mean, or bad people but that we are blinded by our own reflection in the mirror-like glass bowl in which we live.

But disciples who hear God’s call to make a difference in this world intentionally look at the world in a new and different way. They see the world through the lens of the infinite compassion and love of God. They look at people who are struggling and in pain as their “own people”. With Christ like eyes open to the world around us, we look then for the place where our strengths, talents, and availability connect with that need.

Strength in Numbers

The good news is that we are not called to do this alone. Being “born again “means that we are born into the family of God with brothers and sisters in Christ, who share the same vision, burn with the same passion, and live by the same hope. Paul said that our unique talents, passions, and personalities are gifts of God’s grace that are drawn together in the body of Christ to accomplish Gods purpose in this world (I Cor 12:1- 12).

Moses father-in-law, Jethro, said to him “Moses, why are you doing all this by yourself? You will end up totally wearing yourself out. You can’t do it alone.“

The apostles needed to learn the same lesson. The early Christian movement was growing so quickly that the apostles couldn’t handle it. The result was that widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. So, the disciples appointed a team composed of Steven and six others to be responsible for the feeding ministry. As a result, “God‘s word continues to grow and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly“. (Acts 6:7)

When we set out to make a difference, we will soon discover that we cannot do it alone. We need to do it with a team of people who share the same passion and are finding their way to serve together. You can join a team or organize a team.

Focus on the Goal

When a group is centered on a clear, compelling, and commonly held mission, faithful disciples can handle diversity of conviction about practices that are on the circumference of their life together. The mission that unites them is stronger than the differences that would divide them.

John Wesley describe this pattern of life when he said, “though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without doubt, we may. Here all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding the small differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works“.

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

Being a servant means that we are not in charge here. We enter the lives of others as servants who know that our lives are under the undisputed authority and control of our Lord.

Making a difference in the lives of people who experience oppression, suffering, or injustice begins when we choose to enter their experience, listen to their story, and join them in their pain. In the same way God’s son became one of us to share our human life, we are drawn closer to Jesus by drawing closer to people in pain.

Get In On The Action

Stephen Kobe taught us to “begin with the end in mind“. He sounded like an old testament prophet when he defined imagination as “the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes“. He challenges us to “begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of the desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.“

God is inviting us to get in on the action. Eugene Peterson declares, “we are not spectators to a grand cosmic show. We are in the show. But we are not running it. “The coming of God‘s kingdom is only and always God’s work, but we can live now in ways that are consistent with the way thing will be then. By the power of the Holy Spirit, even small, apparently insignificant things can make an eternal difference.

We don’t necessarily need to be looking off in some distant horizon to find our calling. God only calls a few heroic souls to go to distant places. Most of God’s work in this world gets done in ordinary places by ordinary people like us who see our world through the extraordinary perspective of God‘s Kingdom  revealed in Jesus Christ. The task to which God calls us is often the task most closely at hand. At the same time, we remain open to the possibility that God may enlarge our vision and call us to make a difference in ways and means that stretch beyond our immediate boundaries. God has a surprising way of expanding our small efforts to touch the world in ways that go beyond anything we expect.

It’s what Jesus meant when he described the Kingdom of God saying that it is “like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough“ Matthew 13:33 This is us. We are the yeast. We are the mustard seed.

Your Service is the Beginning of the Kingdom on Earth

Disciples who serve the most passionately in the present are people who have a firm grasp of God’s future. The way they serve “now” is defined by the way they envision the world will be “then“.

We care about the environment NOW because THEN the renewed creation will be the place where God will be at home with God’s people. (Rev 21:3)

We work for peace NOW because we know that THEN swords will be turned into plowshares and spears into pruninghooks and people will not learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)

We work to overcome racism and ethnic conflict NOW because we know that THEN heaven will be filled with people from every race, tongue and nation. (Rev 7:9)

We invite others to become disciples of Jesus Christ NOW because we know that THEN every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Phil 2:10-11)

We care for one another in Christian community NOW because we know that THEN God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. (Rev 21:4)

We feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, and seek economic justice for the poor NOW because Jesus said that’s the way every nation will be judged THEN. (Mat 25:31-46)

Conclusion

To find your joy in God’s service, ask yourself these questions and explore your response.

What is my vision of the end towards which my discipleship is leading me?

Where have I seen tangible signs of God’s Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven?

Considering the list above, where can I make a difference NOW that is in anticipation of the way things will be THEN?

Reference

Make a Difference: Following Your Passion and Finding Your Place to Serve by James A. Harnish

 

 

wrapped packages and flowers

Unwrap Your Spiritual Gifts / Spiritual Meditations

Every Christian has received at least one spiritual gift through God’s grace, given to them for the edification of the local, regional or global church family and perfectly suited to their situation in life. The central thrust of your ministry depends on the spiritual gifts you have received. You will discover a significant part of your purpose for being on this planet and realize that God has made you competent to produce something that will last for eternity. You will have a sense of fulfillment and joy in the service of others as you become an available instrument through which the Holy Spirit can work. But many of us don’t know what our gifts are.

Maybe you are a young person and you haven’t discovered your gifts or haven’t explored or developed them yet. Spiritual gifts can be abused and neglected, but if they are received as a new believer, it would appear that they cannot be lost as illustrated in the Corinthian church where some believers were highly gifted but spiritually immature. Sometimes it takes years for just the right circumstances to come together before you are aware of what God encourages you to do. And ‘voila’, your gift is there waiting for you to use it. If you have multiple gifts you may start your Christian journey using one dominate gift and in later years a different one may take over. Isn’t it exciting to watch God’s activity in your life?!

How Many Spiritual Gift are There?

There is some discussion as to the exact nature and number of gifts of the Holy Spirit. Don’t get hung up with concern about why one list mentions 9 gifts and another lists 20. That’s not the point. We are all different and God uses those differences for the benefit of His people. There are more possible gifts than those we know of…let’s not think we can limit God in His choices for us. And why put ourselves into categories…. we are unique and a combination of gifts can produce interesting results.

Also, the translations of the Greek can add to our confusion. For instance, one text may say ‘compassion’ is a gift and in another the same gift may be called ‘mercy’.

What Does Scripture Say About Spiritual Gifts?

To get yourself started in this exploration, please watch this video which gives you an introduction to spiritual gifts, than pick up back here to discover your gifts.

Video Introduction to Spiritual Gifts

Besides the scriptures mentioned in the video, the main New Testament verses regarding spiritual gifts are these:

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions ? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7-13)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:3-8)

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:8-11)

Steps to Determine Your Spiritual Gifts

Asking. Begin to ask God to show you your gifts (Phil. 4:6-7; Jas. 1:5). God wants you to discover and implement the gifts He has given you, and this is a request you can make with confidence and expectation.

Awareness. Expose yourself to other Christians who clearly know and use their spiritual gifts. Ask them about their gifts and how they discovered them.

Aspiration. God is committed to your joy, not your misery. Then you will take “delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). As you pray and learn about the various gifts, ask yourself what you would most want to do. For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). Your feelings should not be the only test, but they may indicate the direction for you to take. For example, Paul told Timothy, if someone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a good work (1 Tim. 3:1).

Activity. Just as we discover our natural talents by trying our hand at numerous things, in the same way we can discover our spiritual gifts by experimenting with several of the available gifts. If we don’t try, we will never know. This requires availability and a willingness to learn our weaknesses as well as strengths.

Ability. Activity eventually points to ability. Don’t be premature in your personal evaluation, because ability increases with practice. Be sensitive to areas of improvement. Look for opportunities within the community of believers of which you are a part, and seek the evaluation of mature Christians who are familiar with your activities. Because of the danger of self-deception, spiritual gifts are best recognized by other members of the church family.

Affirmation. The final affirmation of a spiritual gift is the blessing that should result from its exercise. As you use your gift or gift-combination in the power of the Spirit, God will confirm and establish you in your ministry, and there will continue to be positive feedback from those to whom you minister. It has been said that desire may indicate it, ability will confirm it, and blessing will accompany it.

In addition to contemplating the steps above, you can take a survey to obtain additional direction.

There are many Spiritual Gift Surveys available. This one was chosen from a list of the best and it is also FREE. It should take 10-12 minutes. I suggest that you print the results page because when I copied it, it put all zeros in the totals per gift.

Spiritual Gifts Survey

Now that you have some idea of what your gift(s) may be, I’ll give you some more information about each.

What are the Spiritual Gifts

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF ADMINISTRATION

This spiritual gift, like helps, appears only one time in the New Testament, and it is used outside of Scripture for a helmsman who steers a ship to its destination. This suggests that the spiritual gift of administration is the ability to steer a church or Christian organization toward the fulfillment of its goals by managing its affairs and implementing necessary plans. The gift of administration allows a person to organize people and resources for greater efficiency, effectiveness, and success. Administrators have the natural ability to apply resources where they will do the greatest good. They are good with details and are deeply aware of how all the parts of a group or organization work together. A person may have the gift of leadership without the gift of administration. (1 Cor. 12:28)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF APOSTLESHIP

The gift of apostleship compels people to reach out to new and unfamiliar groups and individuals to invite them into relationship with God and community. Apostles share the story of faith in other lands, cultures, and traditions, as well as welcoming the stranger in their own land. Apostles extend the hand of friendship to those of other generations, nations, and languages. Many apostles desire to be missionaries. (1 Cor. 12:28,29; Eph. 4:11)

In the New Testament, the apostles were not limited to the Twelve, but included Paul, Barnabas, Andronicus, Junias, and others as well (Acts 14:14; Rom. 16:7; 1 Cor. 15:5,7; 1 Thess. 2:6). If the requirement for the office of apostle includes having seen the resurrected Jesus (Acts 1:21, 1 Cor. 9:1), this office ceased to exist by the second century. However, many believe that the gift of apostleship continues to be given.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF COMPASSION

The gift of compassion moves people to action on behalf of those in need and those who are often overlooked. Compassion is not a simple caring about others, but such a radical caring that we have no choice but to make sacrifices for others. Those with the gift of compassion rarely ask, “Should I help,” but instead focus on how to help. Compassion makes us fundamentally aware of the Christ in others and springs from our desire to care for all of God’s creatures and creation. (Rom. 12:8). Your exhortation is Ephesians 4:32.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF DISCERNMENT

Discernment is a gift of deep intuition and insight. Discerning people can separate truth from fiction, in some cases, spiritual versus carnal motives. and know at a visceral level when people are being honest. Deeply sensitive and “tuned in,” those with the gift of discernment are open to feelings, new ideas, and intuition as valid and credible information. Discernment is not irrational, but trans-rational—beyond empirical—knowledge. (1 Cor. 12:10, 1 John 4:6). Your exhortation is 1 John 4:1

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF EVANGELISM

The gift of evangelism is the gift of faith-sharing and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to those we meet. Evangelism is primarily a one-to-one or small group experience, grounded in building relationships with others and inviting them to make a decision for Christ. Gifted evangelists do not force their faith on others, but offer relationship with God as a gift, and are ready to tell the story of God and Christ in their own lives. (Eph. 4:11) Your exhortation is Acts 1:8.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF EXHORTATION

The gift of exhortation is manifest in people who offer encouragement, wise counsel, unflagging support, and empowerment. Those who exhort stay focused on helping people maximize their own potential and live from their own gifts and skills. Exhorters help people feel good about themselves, build confidence, and not grow discouraged. Often, those with the gift of exhortation make others feel good just by being present. (Rom. 12:8). Your exhortation is Hebrews 3:13; 10:25.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF FAITH

The gift of faith is more than belief in Jesus Christ, but an abiding foundation of confidence that God works all things together for good, and that the people of God can rise above any obstacle. Faith is the bedrock upon which we build lives, congregations, and communities. People with the gift of faith hold fast to the deep conviction that no matter what we see with our eyes, we can trust the promises and plan of God. (1 Cor. 12:9). Your exhortation is 2 Corinthians 5:7.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF GIVING

The gift of giving is the deep commitment to provide whatever resources are needed to support God’s will and plan.  In addition to radical generosity, those who possess the gift of giving have the uncanny ability to discover and channel new sources of money, time, and energy to needs. Money management skills, grant writing abilities, and the easy knack of asking for donations and cultivating donors are among common skills of gifted givers. Christians with this spiritual gift need not be wealthy. (Rom. 12:8). Your exhortation is 2 Corinthians 9:7.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF HEALING

The gift of healing is about the ability to channel God’s grace and healing love to those who suffer physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. The possessor of this gift is not the source of power, but a vessel who can only heal those diseases the Lord chooses to heal. Healers pray for those who suffer, visit those who are ill, and are usually moved to extend a hand of comfort and touch to those who are afflicted. Healers give their time and energy to offering aid and comfort to others. Inner healing, or healing of memories is sometimes associated as another manifestation of this gift. (1 Cor. 12:9, 28, 30)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF HELPING

Helping is a gift of support and behind-the-scenes effort that make groups, families, and congregations more effective. Not everyone is gifted to lead, but many are gifted to follow and handle the tasks that are so essential, but less glamorous. Helpers love to serve others, support others, and assist others in the important work of ministry and mission. Tireless in their willingness to serve, helpers are less interested in receiving thanks and recognition than in doing good, valuable work.

1 Cor 12:28 is the only usage of this word in the New Testament, and it appears to be distinct from the gift of service. Some suggest that while the gift of service is more group-oriented, the gift of helps is more person-oriented.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF INTERPRETATION OF TONGUES

Those who are gifted to interpret tongues help build bridges across cultural, generational, and language divides. People who possess this gift have an innate ability to learn new languages and cultural practices and can help others understand them as well. Foreign speaking people are attracted to those with this gift and feel intuitively that they will be better understood and received by interpreters. Interpretation breaks down barriers. (1 Cor. 14:13, 1 Cor. 14:26-28, 1 Cor. 12:10, 30, 1 Cor. 14:5, 13, 26)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF KNOWLEDGE

The gift of knowledge allows people to automatically convert facts, data, and information into useful and important knowledge for the benefit of others. People possessing this gift can learn in a variety of ways, retain what they learn, and understand how learning can be applied in meaningful and productive ways. Some also associate supernatural perception with this gift. Those gifted with knowledge have a voracious and insatiable desire to learn more, and they seek multiple avenues for deepening their understanding of God’s world, God’s will, and God’s people. (1 Cor. 12:8). Your exhortation is 2 Peter 3:18.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF LEADERSHIP

The gift of leadership is a visionary, and forward-looking gift that enables people to stay focused on where God might be leading us as individuals, congregations, and communities at any given time. Leaders look more to where we are going rather than where we currently are, or where we have been. Leaders motivate others to work together in ways that help them achieve more together than any could on their own. Leaders provide examples of how we should order our lives to honor and glorify God. (Rom. 12:8)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF MIRACLES

There is some difference of opinion regarding the gift of miracles. Some think that it is the ability to serve as an instrument though whom God accomplishes acts that manifest supernatural power.

Other believe the gift of miracles is not about performing miracles, but about living in the miraculous reality of God’s creation. That those gifted with miracles never doubt the power and presence of God in creation and can help others see and believe in God’s power. Living in the spirit of the miraculous, people see God in nature, in relationships, in kind acts, and in the power of love. (1 Cor. 12:10, 28, 29)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF PROPHECY

The gift of prophecy is the ability to speak God’s word to others, or more appropriately to be open for God to speak God’s word through us. Prophets do not predict the future but offer insight and perspective on current conditions and how things might turn out if changes aren’t made. Prophets are incisive, clear, and often controversial, communicators. Prophets see things that others often don’t, and they have the courage to “tell it like it ought to be.” Some maintain that prophecy is still operative in this sense today, while others say that the nearest current equivalent is Spirit-empowered preaching. (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28, Eph. 4:11)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF SERVANTHOOD

Servanthood is the gift of doing for others, sometimes to the exclusion of meeting personal needs.  Servants look for ways to do for others both within and beyond the congregation and community. Servants do not choose to serve but serve from a sense of identity and call. Gifted servants never feel put-upon or taken advantage of but see each opportunity to do for others to be true to self. The Greek word for this gift is the same as that for ministry or deacon, but the gift should not be confused with the office. (Rom. 12:7). Your exhortation is Galatians 5:13.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF SHEPHERDING

The gift of shepherding is the gift of mentoring and providing spiritual guidance to others to help them develop in the discipleship and faith formation. Shepherds take an active and individualized interest in the life of faith of others. Shepherds share from their own faith journey to make the way easier for others. Shepherds are good at asking provocative questions, recommending appropriate resources and experiences, and helping people find their own way to the next level of their development.

The Greek word “poimen” means pastor. In Paul’s spiritual gifts listing in Ephesians 4:11, this term is translated “pastor.” Although the word “poimen” is translated pastor only one time in Scripture it is used sixteen additional times. The remaining sixteen are all translated “shepherd.” Therefore, we are discussing the GIFT of shepherding, not the POSITION of pastor. Though a good pastor must have the gift of shepherding, everyone who has the gift of shepherding is not called to be pastor. The gift can be used in many positions in a church.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF TEACHING

The gift of teaching allows people to transform data and information into life changing knowledge. Teachers do not have to stand in front of a class to teach. Often gifted teachers communicate best in informal, one-on-one settings. Teachers have the uncanny knack of helping people learn effortlessly. People internalize and retain the knowledge and learning they receive from gifted teachers. Good teachers transform more than they inform. (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11). Your exhortation is Matthew 28:19

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF TONGUES

The gift of tongues is a communication gift that allows people to speak foreign or spiritual languages they had not formally studied. People with this gift “pick up” the ability to communicate across barriers of language, culture, age, or physical limitation (some people with the gift of tongues work with the deaf or blind).  The identification of the gift of tongues as a “secret” prayer language is often misunderstood. This gift is given for the upbuilding of the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12:10, 28, 30; 1 Cor. 14:1-40; 1 Cor. 14:13; 1 Cor. 14:26-28)

Because of the controversial nature of this gift, here are several observations:

  1. Paul qualified the public use of this gift, stating that in a meeting of the church, two or at the most three could speak in a tongue, it must be done in turn, and a person with the gift of interpretation must be present so that the body would be edified (1 Cor. 14:26-28).
  2. There are several differences between the manifestation of tongues at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) and its use in Corinth (1 Cor. 14), and these differences suggest that the two are not identical.
  3. In his list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul spoke of kinds of tongues. This, coupled with the statements in 1 Corinthians 14:2, 4, 14-15, 28, has led many to distinguish a private use of tongues, often called a prayer language (1 Cor. 14:14-15), from the public use of tongues which must be interpreted. Paul wrote that if there is no interpreter, the possessor of this gift should be silent in the church. Let him speak to himself and to God (1 Cor. 14:28).
  4. This gift is easily counterfeited and often abused. It can be a source of spiritual pride, excessive preoccupation, and divisiveness.
  5. Contrary to some teaching, tongues are not the only sign of the filling of the Spirit, and not all believers are to manifest this gift (1 Cor. 12:17-19,30).

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF WISDOM

The gift of wisdom allows people to understand deeper meaning and apply knowledge, beliefs, and experience to everyday situations. Wise gifted individuals make connections and help other make them as well — to understand the implications of our beliefs and actions. Those gifted with wisdom often understand root causes of disagreements, conflict, and barriers to growth and development. People with wisdom help others understand and clarify options to make good decisions. (1 Cor. 12:8). Your exhortation is James 1:5

None of the lists in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 is complete, and it is evident that there are other spiritual gifts apart from those listed above. C. Peter Wagner in Your Spiritual Gifts suggests these additions:

Voluntary poverty (the ability to renounce material comfort and adopt a lifestyle of relative poverty; 1 Cor. 13:3);

Martyrdom (the ability to display an attitude of joy while suffering or even dying for the faith; 1 Cor. 13:3);

Hospitality (the ability to welcome and provide for those in need of food and lodging; Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:9);

Intercession (the ability to pray for a long period of time on a regular basis for the ministries and needs of others).

Other spiritual gifts (e.g., music, craftsmanship) are also given to members of the body of Christ for mutual edification.

These are Not Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts are not the same as the fruit of the Spirit. Spiritual fruit is produced from within; spiritual gifts are bestowed by the Holy Spirit. Fruit relates to Christlike character; gifts relate to Christian service. The fruit of the Spirit, especially love, should be the context for the use of the gifts of the Spirit. Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that spiritual gifts without spiritual fruit are worthless. Fruit is eternal, but gifts are temporal (1 Cor. 13:8); the former is a true measure of spirituality, but the latter is not.

Spiritual gifts are not the same as natural talents. Unlike the natural abilities which everyone has from birth, spiritual gifts belong exclusively to believers in Christ. In some cases, the gifts of the Spirit coincide with natural endowments, but they transcend these natural abilities by adding a supernatural quality. Both are given by God (Jas. 1:17) and should be developed and used according to their purpose for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

All Christians are called to a ministry, but not all are called to an office. Ministry is determined by divinely given gifts and opportunities (Eph. 3:7). Offices (e.g., elder, deacon, evangelist, and teacher) are humanly recognized and appointed spheres of ministry within the body.

Have the Gifts of the Spirit Ceased?

You are probably familiar with the following verses, but do you remember what is says about the gifts of the Spirit?

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

So now that you’ve possibly just started exploring your spiritual gifts, I give you pause. But fear not.

In the video below, Raymond Goodlett discusses whether the Gifts of the Spirit have ceased to be present or necessary in the modern age. Did all or some of the gifts cease to be given since the time of Jesus? You will need to skip an ad before getting to the good stuff.

Video Discussion of Whether the Gifts of the Spirit Still Exist.

Diversity and Unity in the Body of Christ

When the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, a new entity was created. This entity consists of all those who have received the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus and become sons and daughters of God. The most frequently used metaphor for this new creation is the body of Christ.

The three major New Testament lists of the gifts are all introduced by a description of the unity and diversity in the body of Christ. Paul’s metaphor for the church could not be more appropriate, because both the universal church (all believers) and the local church (geographically localized groups of believers) are unities which are built out of diverse elements. All believers have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Christ is the head, the ruler of the body (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; Col. 1:18), and believers are the individual members or components.

In this analogy, each Christian has been given a special function to perform and the ability to fulfill it in a way that will benefit the other members. There is quantitative and qualitative growth when believers discover and actively use their spiritual gifts. Each part of the body depends on the rest for its well-being, and there are no useless organs. This is why edification through teaching and fellowship is so necessary in the local church. Just as no organ can function independently of the others, so no Christian can enjoy spiritual vitality in a relational vacuum. The Spirit has distributed spiritual gifts to every member of the body, and no single member possesses all the gifts. Thus, growth does not take place apart from mutual ministry and dependence.

Developing Your Spiritual Gift(s)

Having discovered your gift or combination of gifts, you are accountable to yourself, others, and God to develop and cultivate that which the Spirit has implanted within you. In The Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts, William McRae suggests that the gifts of the Spirit are developed in three ways:

By exercise. Like natural talents, spiritual gifts are developed by practice, not just by desire. Without regular exercise, they will suffer from atrophy. Continue to pursue opportunities and persevere in the use of your gift(s).

By evaluation. Be open to the evaluation and counsel of other believers. Periodically ask godly people to evaluate your ministry in terms of strengths, weaknesses, and ways to improve.

By education. More educational and developmental materials are available today than ever before. Take advantage of the best books, classes, tapes, and seminars that can help you improve your God-given abilities.

Danger of Abuse

The mobilization of spiritual gifts is critical to the qualitative and quantitative growth of the body of Christ. For this reason, we must be careful to avoid the many pitfalls associated with this crucial subject. Here are some guidelines:

Spiritual gifts are not merely for personal use. They are designed for the edification of others. Others should benefit primarily; the barer of the gift should benefit secondarily.

Spiritual gifts cannot be useful through your power alone. If they are not used to channel the power of the Spirit and through the love of Christ, they are of no value (1 Cor. 13:1-3).

The discovery and use of spiritual gifts is not a game or an option. Your gifts will determine your ministry, and your ministry can have eternal consequences. God has called us to be committed and faithful to Him, and this is reflected in part by our stewardship of the abilities and opportunities He has given to us.

Spiritual gifts should not be a cause of pride. Since they are distributed according to the grace of God, they ought to be regarded as divinely entrusted responsibilities, not status symbols, achievements, or trophies. Christian character and maturity are measured by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), not spiritual gifts.

Spiritual gifts should not be sought as ends in themselves. In some circles, there is a tendency to exalt the gifts above the Giver.

Avoid extreme positions on the gifts that are not warranted by Scripture, like the teaching that we should not seek to discover spiritual gifts, or the teaching that a Spirit-filled Christian can have all the gifts.

Avoid the temptation of projecting your gifts onto others. Our thinking is naturally colored by the gifts we have been given, and if we are not careful, we will take the prescription that works for us and turn it into the norm for everyone. This can lead to a judgmental perspective on our part and a sense of guilt on the part of others who are not gifted in the same way.

Conclusion

Here are four principles that should govern our use of spiritual gifts:

Remember that the Holy Spirit is the true dynamic behind the gifts. They must be exercised in dependence upon His power.

Spiritual gifts function best in the sphere of love (the way that is beyond comparison; 1 Cor. 12:31). Paul placed his great description of love (1 Cor. 13) right in the middle of the most extensive biblical passage on spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14). It is no accident that the two other major lists of spiritual gifts (Rom. 12 and Eph. 4) also include exhortations to love (see Rom. 12:9-10; Eph. 4:15-16).

In your ministry, concentrate your energy in productive areas. It is wise to maximize time in gift-related activities and minimize time in activities for which you are not suited.

On the other hand, Scripture commands all believers to perform certain ministries regardless of individual gifts. Christian roles like intercession, faith, service, helps, mercy, and giving are the responsibility of all Christians, not just those who are specifically gifted in these areas. For example, some have the spiritual gift of evangelism, but all believers have a role of evangelism that corresponds to the opportunities they have been given. Be careful to avoid the spiritual cop-out mentality that says, That’s not my gift!

If you found this post inspiring, interesting, useful or informative, please share it on one of the platforms below. Thank you.

References:

Kenneth Boa in his article “The Gits of the Spirit

Exploring Your Spiritual Gifts” by The Methodist Church

 

 

 

 

 

Your Wondrous Kingdom of God Matures/Spiritual Meditations

I find the Biblical references to the Kingdom of God puzzling. Is it the future ‘coming of age’ at Christ’s second coming or is it God’s people who are living now? Is it the earth transformed into Heaven or is it a separate heavenly realm? Does it include all those that God loves (meaning everyone) or is it the souls of those who have given their lives to Christ as believers?

Consider the following:

The Kingdom of God (KOG) is the realm in which God’s reign is experienced. This realm is sometimes something present, sometimes future. It is a realm introduced after the ministry of John the Baptist into which people entered with violent ‘determination’ (Luke 16:16). Jesus offered the Kingdom to Israel for they were its proper heirs (Matt 8:12), but the religious leaders, followed by most of the people, not only refused to enter its blessings but tried to prevent others from entering (Matt 23:13). Nevertheless, many tax-collectors and harlots did enter the kingdom (Matt 21:31 & Col 1:13). In these verses the KOG is a present realm where people may enjoy the blessings of God’s rule.

Elsewhere, the KOG is a future realm inaugurated by the return of Christ. The righteous will inherit this Kingdom (Matt 25:34) and will shine like the sun in God’s Kingdom (Matt 13:43).   Entrance into this future kingdom is synonymous with entering the eternal life of the Age to Come (Matt 19:28).

There is also an abstract meaning of KOG evident in many passages. Only those who ‘receive the KOG’, (i.e. accepts God rule here and now), enter the realm of its blessings in the future (Mark 10:15). When we seek God’s kingdom and righteousness, we seek God’s rule in our lives (Matt 6:33). And “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

However, God’s Kingdom is not just an abstraction. The Kingdom is God’s rule dynamically active to defeat evil and redeem sinners. I Corinthians 15:14-16 says that Christ must reign as King until he has destroyed all enemies, the last of which is death. He will then deliver the KOG. From this passage we understand that the KOG is the dynamic rule of God manifested in Christ to destroy His spiritual enemies and bring to humanity the blessings of God’s reign.

The diversity of the New Testament data has led to diverse interpretations, but one thing seems to be clear; entrance into the kingdom is by the new birth (John 3:3-5), and that there are two stages of the KOG; present and future. Because the future KOG, synonymous with the Kingdom of Heaven, is only symbolically described in John’s Revelation and unknowable by us at this time, I want to explore the present KOG; the KOG that we can experience on earth.

Some of the most notable scripture verses related to our search for God’s Kingdom are:

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here that will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” (Mark 9:1)

For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom 14:17)

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

At some point in our lives, with enough ‘seeking’, we can come to an actual experience of that Presence which Jesus called the Father within. Not only can we individually experience His presence, but we must contribute in every way possible to making it a part of our world experience.

Experiencing the Kingdom of God

There is no higher goal attainable on earth than an inner communication with this Presence that never leaves us or forsakes us.

To attain it, we have to lose all desire for the visible in the realization that we live not by that which is visible but by that which is invisible, and then we shall find that the Infinite Invisible will produce in our experience the persons, things, circumstances, and conditions necessary to our daily life.

Only by losing our carnal desires, our mortal, selfish human desires, do we prove that we are making advances towards a higher state of human hood and a realization of the Spirit of God that dwells in us.

It is our goal to come to a place where we do not pay lip service to the statement, “I can of my own self do nothing”, but where we demonstrate that it is actually true and let the power of God, assert itself and do the work. When the mind is open to receive the divine impulse, harmonious and perfect form flows out from it.

In the human sense, the mind is creative. It can create good and it can create evil. In the spiritual scene, however, the mind is not a creative faculty, but an avenue of awareness of God’s messages and divine ideas.

There is a spiritual kingdom and dwelling in it would make us completely indifferent even to the good things of life. Only at the beginning of our journey on the spiritual path do we think the goal is the improvement of our human experience. The true God experience that we are seeking is not merely the increase of dollars or an improvement in health, as desirable as these are, but rather it should it be a rebirth, an entrance into that state of consciousness which is My Kingdom not of this world.

The First Steps to Entering the Kingdom of God

We become the light of the world in proportion to our degree of illumination or connection with God. Some attain illumination quickly; and some wait and wait for the great experience to descend upon them. When it comes, however, it comes suddenly, although the preparation leading up to it may have taken many years of study and meditating, during which time we seem to have made little or no progress. From the first moment, however, that we seriously seek the KOG our progress is rapid even though, to our outward appearances, imperceptible.

When we come to the place of realizing that there is a son of God in us, but that the prodigal son of man is still struggling for survival, we begin to understand the warfare between the flesh and the Spirit.

God gave to Moses the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and Jesus gave us the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  This is where we begin our contemplation and absorption of the principles that lead to God’s Kingdom.

Living in an atmosphere of spiritual wisdom and feeding your consciousness with Biblical truth, there will come a moment when the truth takes over the mind, and then it is no longer necessary to fill the mind with Truth. From then on, the flow is the other way. It is not we who are thinking truth, remembering, declaring, or meditating on truth: it is the Spirit using our mind for its expression, always using us, always flowing through us.

The Kingdom of God is Within You

When we become spiritually attuned and live in accordance with the law of God, we begin to realize that all that the Father has is embodied within us – the bread of life and the wine of inspiration – the whole KOG is established within us. Then, instead of living life with the idea of gaining, getting, or achieving, we reverse that, and our attitude is one of serving, giving, bestowing, sharing, and cooperating. The good things that come to us on the human sphere are the reflex action of our giving and sharing.

Right where we are is the very KOG. All that is in heaven is on earth; but whether we find earth a heaven or a hell depends on whether we are seeing the earth through spiritual or through material vision. The minds interpretation of experience determines whether it is a heaven or hell.

Indifference to Good and Bad

Let’s not take our finite views of what is good and what is bad to God, nor take our human hopes and ambitions to him, but let us go to God as if we really trust him more than we would trust our own mother, trust him as a divine Love and the divine Wisdom of this world, which in truth he is.

There is a spiritual kingdom and dwelling in it would make us completely indifferent even to the good things of life. We can determine how close we are to this kingdom by observing to what degree we still react to good and bad. How joyously do you react to the good and how much are you disturbed by the bad? And to what measure are you becoming indifferent to either the human good or the human evil, knowing that God will handle it.

Seeing God in Others

Any good human being can overlook the faults of others and even forgive them. but it takes spiritual vision to be able to say, “I cannot see anyone, only the face of God. The soul of God looks out through all eyes. “

Everyone has a soul – not a separate soul, but the same soul – and God is that soul. When this is understood a spiritual relationship of harmony, peace, and grace is established, and then the relationships in our lives are mutually beneficial; whereas, if we look to one another humanly, we shall be disappointed. Only in the realization that God is our soul and that that soul is the source of the good in our lives, can our freedom from bondage to the material way of life and material things of life be attained.

Love of the Worldly

Why do we seek for bread, wine, or water, for clothing, companionship, money, or capital when God promises that in His presence there is fullness of life and that it is His good pleasure for us to share His riches? There is no such thing as God and. It is for this reason that all we have to do is seek God‘s presence. And living with God‘s presence, we live life eternally, with an infinity of supply, brotherhood, peace, joy, protection, and safety. In His presence there is fullness of life – nothing is absent. But there is one requirement: to have His presence – not meaningless affirmations or the mouthing of the deep truths of Scripture – but His presence.

So, we learn that we no longer need to fight for the things of this world; we don’t need to fight either aggressively or protectively. We can stand still and think no thoughts – just be receptive and allow the Spirit to permeate our being. And then our work will be accomplished. But I must remind you that the Spirit is never working for us. It is working in and through us as we yield and surrender ourselves and even our thoughts – so that God can take over.

Judgement and Punishment

To be spiritually whole, harmonious, and complete, and enjoy the KOG on earth, it is necessary that, in addition to our knowing the truth for ourselves and those within our orbit, we branch out and know the truth of universal kinship so that we do not judge some people as separate and apart from God or as unworthy to be God’s people.

God does not accept our idea of what constitutes justice, love, and mercy, but if we listen, God imparts His idea of justice, love, and mercy to us. Instead of telling God what we think He should do, let us be so silent within ourselves that we can hear the still small voice.

The practice of true Christianity lifts us to a consciousness of grace and truth which reveals a God of love instead of a God of rewards and punishments. We should never return evil for evil, never pray or hope or wish or desire that another suffers for their offenses.

Jesus never taught that God punishes – no, not even the thief on the cross. Always it was, “go, and sin no more. “. Whatever evil we are experiencing we are bringing upon ourselves – it’s not God inflicting it on us. Whenever we have pushed or elbowed someone aside mentally or physically, we reached out for what was rightfully theirs. To that degree we have violated spiritual law.

Only when the Spirit of God touches us, can we feel spiritual love, and that love is not limited to our own family, but extends to our neighbor and enemy far and near.

Matthew 5:23, 24, 6:15  plainly states that if any malice, envy, jealousy, revenge, or hatred is in our hearts, there is a block in our consciousness which prevents our prayers from being answered. If you are finding this difficult, please read How to Forgive.

Prayer

When we are not thinking of food or money or climate or anything that constitutes our security and we realize that our real life is sustained by the word of God, we are living the spiritual life with no dependence on human beings, human investments, or human positions. Not throwing them away but realizing that they are the added things in life, part of God’s grace, and we have no fear that God will not provide for our needs.

Is asking God for things an indication that we understand God to be intelligence and love, or do such requests imply that we believe God is withholding something from us? Let us learn to sit quietly, resting in the realization that underneath us are “the everlasting arms”, and that no amount of praying will put those everlasting arms there: they are already underneath us.

When we pray in secret, our oneness with the Father and because of that oneness, all that the Father has is ours by divine inheritance. It is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. We then need no longer look to any man for reward, compensation, gratitude, cooperation, or affection.

Conclusion

As we come to this place in consciousness where we can relinquish human might and power, human opinion and judgment, a divine grace, invisible, yet perfectly tangible to the person experiencing it, takes over. We cannot see this transcendental Spirit, hear it, taste it, touch it, or smell it, yet it is here, and it is now – we feel it, and we know it. When we let go of our human rights, human will and human desires – even the good desires – and absolutely resign ourselves to God‘s will, the Spirit rushes in as if there were a vacuum, and then it takes over. We are one with the rhythm of the universe, and all is well. All that the Father has is now flowing through us into this world as a divine grace, bringing to us all that we need and bringing us to all those who need us. When we are touched by the Spirit, we become one with it and allow ourselves to be a channel for the mystical presence and power which we called God.

It is the ultimate yet lofty goal. When we look around at those who are God’s people, we see varying degrees of this utopia. We may be filled with the Holy Spirit, but we sometimes have lapses. It has been said that “God does not demand that I be successful. God demands that I be faithful.” So, we continue to do our best. We meditate on His truth and we progress.

If you found this post inspiring, interesting, informative or helpful, please share it.

References

The Thunder of Silence by Joel S. Goldsmith

The Zondervan Topical Bible

Pictorial Bible Dictionary published by the Southwestern Company

 

young boy praying with Bible

What to Know About the Bible / Spiritual Meditations

The Bible belongs to the whole world as no other book does. Phrases from its pages have become common idiom and illusions to its stories are widely understood. Yet relatively few people are familiar with it as a whole, and acquaintance for the most part is limited to a small selection of passages. Much is not easy to understand and not all is equally rewarding for all purposes. What every reader should first understand is the range and variety of the Bible, and what parts can best serve the purpose for which one turns to it.

The Briefest Summary of the Old Testament

The opening chapters of the OT deal with human origins. They are not to be read as history, but neither are they to be dismissed as myths. They teach that God created man to be obedient to him, and that in that obedience man’s well-being exists. By disobedience man turned from the true source of his life, so that before Adam and Eve were ejected from the garden, he hid himself from God. These chapters think of sin not as a theological abstraction, but as something real which recoils upon man. It broke up the first family, brought murder, strife and corruption, and ate into the heart of man.

These chapters are followed by the stories of the patriarchs, which preserve ancient tradition known to reflect the condition of the times, though they cannot be treated as strictly historical. It is for religion that they are preserved and the reader should be alert to understand not merely Gods dealing with the patriarchs, but what he is saying to us through these stories.

In a one illustration, the story of Abraham’s narrowly averted sacrifice of Isaac is more than a memory of times when human sacrifice was common, or of the first awakening of Israel’s ancestors to the recognition that God did not desire it. It is a story of a man who loved God more than all else and who was willing to surrender to God even the son in whose life his own was bound. There are sacrifices which God does not ask; there are none a man should be unwilling to make.

With the story of the exile and the settlement in Canaan we come nearer to the historical, though we are still dealing with idealized history. The main purpose of this narrative is to bring the reader to realize that God chose Israel to be His people and delivered her by His power, thus revealing His own character and laying on her the constraint of obedience. God’s election of Israel was to privilege but it was also to service.

Into this story the legal section of the OT has been fitted, and especially, all the provisions for the sacrificial rituals. Much bears the marks of the social and religious background of the times and not a little is without authority for the Christian. For the Christian, animal sacrifices are superseded by the sacrifice of Christ. The letter to the Hebrews links the death of Christ with the ritual of the Day of Atonement.

Other references in the New Testament (NT) allude rather to the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. This chapter contains the most remarkable thought on sacrifice found in the OT. The Servant was one who willingly gave himself to be sacrificed, a morally blameless man instead of a physically unblemished animal, and his sacrifice was wider in its efficacy than any sacrifice mentioned in the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the OT).

When we come to the books of Samuel and Kings, we have much very good history. The unsurpassed account of the reign of David probably comes from the time of Solomon, and it is without equal as historical writing in the literature of any country at so early an age. All these books, as also in the latter books of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, are concerned with the lessons of history as much as with the history itself.

The Prophetic books offer special difficulty to the modern reader. They contain utterances of the profits to their contemporaries exposing the political and social ills of Israel without mentioning the context. The reader should seek to penetrate beneath all that belongs to that age to that which is significant to his own life and times.

The prophetic oracles are mostly in poetry, but the poetic book of the OT par excellence is the book of Psalms. Here we have poems which were created for religious use, many of them probably to accompany the rituals of sacrifice and feast and they have continued to serve us, publicly and privately today. Not all the Psalms reach the same height, but as a whole, they still nourish our spirit of devotion.

Of the OT wisdom books I will mention two. The book of Proverbs is mainly a collection of poetic observations used for the instruction of youth. They are governed throughout by the conviction that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that the way of wisdom is the way of integrity and of obedience to God’s will.

The book of Job carries one of the profoundest messages to be found in the OT. Its story is of a godly man who suffered grievous pain and loss, and who was tormented by his friends who came to comfort him until he was goaded into an appeal both to God and against God. God then answered him out of a whirlwind to remind him of the folly of passing judgment on God out of his ignorance. The author teaches that more important than discovering the reason for suffering is finding God in the suffering.

The Briefest Summary of the New Testament

When we pass from the OT to the new, we move to a different world. Yet the two testaments are bound together in a very real way. In the first three gospels we have stories of Jesus which are linked together by the use of common sources, while in the fourth gospel we have an independent account which is more concerned to interpret the significance of our Lord.

None of the gospels offers a biography of Jesus, yet by their study we may come to know him better than others are known from full and careful biographies. By the intimate study of the gospel we may know much about Jesus; but better than that, we may come to be infused with something of his spirit.

History is represented in the NT by the book of Acts. Yet here again history is not recorded merely for its own sake. The reader is told of the spread of Christianity until, in the person of Paul, it is carried to Rome, so a great deal of what we would like to know is left unrecorded. Yet we see the spirit of the early church and can understand its message. More importantly, we can realize that from the beginning it was perceived that the Christian faith was not something to be enjoyed alone, but was given to the church so that it may be communicated to all men.

In the letters of the NT are reflected some of the churches which were founded by the apostles, and – more importantly – we see the unfolding significance of the Christian message. The death and resurrection of Jesus are seen not simply as the facts of history but are charged with meaning for us.

When the cross of Christ becomes the means of our surrender by faith to him, in a profound sense, we die with him and are born anew in him. His resurrection becomes the means of our renewed life, whose essential character lies in the union of our life with him, so that he lives in us, and we are linked with his character and purpose and live no longer unto ourselves but become extensions of his personality in the world. The son of God lifts us to become the sons of God, in whom our Father is seen, and heirs of God, whose heritage is to share His spirit and purpose.

The final book of the NT came at a time of suffering and persecution, like the book of Daniel in the OT, whose character it so much shares. Neither scripture should be read as a cryptic plan of the ages, but as the expression of an underlying hope in God and a great faith that humble loyalty to him transforms suffering for him into a privilege. The wise reader is less concerned with the intricate symbolism then with the spirit which penetrates it.

The Unity of the Bible

There is a place for the study of every detail of the Bible considering the situation in which it arose with all the illumination of science, archaeology and history. But more important is the recognition that this is a book of the living oracles of God, which may speak to us and nourish our spirit when we approach them in devotion and humility. We should always remember the variety of literary form found in the Bible and should read a passage in the light of its own literary character. Legend should be read as legend, and poetry as poetry, and not with a dull prosaic and literalistic mind.

There are themes throughout the Bible which impart unity despite its diversity. Throughout, God is One and reveals Himself to humanity and who desires their fellowship. He reveals Himself in history and through persons, until He finally revealed Himself in One who is both God and man. In both testaments it is the same God who is revealed, and this above all else gives unity to the Bible.

At the same time, it must be recognized that much of the OT is superseded in the New, and there are ideas of God in the OT which are not to be approved. For though both testaments bring us revelation of God, the revelation came through men who could not always understand it in its fullness. Just as light is modified by the glass through which it passes, while none derives from the glass itself, so revelation whose sole origin is God, is modified and often marred by the personalities through which it comes. That is why the perfect revelation could come only through the perfect Man.

In both testaments God is revealed as compassionate and saving. He had compassion on Israel in her Egyptian bondage, and on those who were in the deeper bondage of sin. Throughout the Bible God is concerned to save humanity from sin, but in the NT we have the supreme expression of that concern when God, in Christ, takes upon Himself the curse of sin, that by the sacrifice on the cross deliverance might be complete. The saving character of God was revealed in bringing Israel out of Egypt; but it was revealed on a new level at Golgotha.

Again, in both testaments, religion is seen in terms of covenant, and the covenant is the response in gratitude for the deliverance that has been accomplished. When Israel was saved from Egypt she went to the sacred mount and there pledged herself in covenant to the God who had saved her. The new covenant in Christ calls for the cherishing of the larger revelation of God given to us in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Yet another theme that runs through the Bible and demonstrates its unity is faith. Faith is something more than a belief about God. When the Israelites stepped onto the sand left by the receding Red Sea, they showed more than their belief about God. And Christian faith is more than an intellectual persuasion; it is the abandonment of ourselves to Christ so that henceforth we live in him and he in us.

In both testaments the theme of judgment figures. When Adam sinned and isolated himself from God, his self-judgment lead to the judgment of exclusion from the garden. The prophets announced the coming judgment when Israel, by her disobedience, cut herself off from God. All judgment begins in self-judgment. So, too, in the NT: “he who does not believe is condemned already “ (John 3:18). This is the flip side of the teaching that man’s well-being consists in walking in obedience to God.

Yet the judgment of God is ever tempered with mercy. His mercy is shown in his patience and in sending his servants, the prophets, to warn and to reclaim. It is shown, too, in the sparing of the remnant. Sometimes it is a righteous remnant, spared for its own loyalty, and sometimes it is a remnant spared to preserve for another generation the revelation it so lightly regards.

From the earliest pages of the Bible the thought of the remnant appears. Noah and his family are the remnants spared at the flood, and throughout the prophetic words of judgment there appear promises of the remnant that shall remain – the remnant to whom alone the heritage of the covenant belongs, and through whom it is to be shared with those who do not belong to Israel according to heritage. And in the NT the church consists first of a remnant of Israel. The first disciples were all Jews, who inherited the revelation of the old covenant and the new revelation from the same God given in Christ. They brought the response of faith and obedience, and then shared their heritage with Gentiles who brought the same response.

Conclusion

A rich diversity of types of literature marks the Bible. There is progress in revelation; part of the OT was outgrown before the OT was itself complete, and more was superseded in the NT. Yet amidst the diversity runs a unity, and in all the progress there is the thread of a true continuity which derives from the God who speaks through it all. The goal of true study of the Bible is to hear His voice, and all who have ears to hear may hear it. The wise student of the Bible will welcome every aid to understand its background and meaning, for his supreme need is one no other book can supply: it is a humble desire to find God in His word and hear His word that you may find repose in gratitude and obedience.

Basic Q&A about the Bible

Why is it called the Bible?

By about the 5th century the Greek Church Fathers applied the term biblia – ‘books’- to the whole Christian scripture. Later the word passed into the western church and in Latin became ‘book’. The names ‘Old’ and ‘New Testament’ have been used since the close of the 2nd century to distinguish the Jewish and Christian scriptures. The word ‘testament’ is the Latin translation of the Hebrew word ‘berith’, which meant ‘covenant’ and referenced the covenants God made with His people.

What languages were the Bible originally written in?

The OT was originally written in Hebrew before the Babylonian Captivity. After it, Aramaic was used as it was the language acquired in Babylon. The NT was composed in Greek the common language used in that area of the world at the time.

Why are the Protestant and Catholic Bibles different?

The Protestant Bible consists of 39 OT books and 27 NT books. The 39 books of the OT are the same as those recognized by Palestinian Jews in NT times. The Greek speaking Jews of that period recognized the 39 plus 7 more and additions to Esther and Daniel. These became the Catholic Bible.

The Hebrew Bible and Protestant OT contain the same material, although they are organized a little differently. In the Greek (now Catholic) OT, the number of books and their arrangement is different than the Hebrew Bible. It is evident that the NT writers were familiar with the Apocrypha (the additional material in the Greek/Catholic OT) but there is no quotation from it in their pages. The books of the Apocrypha are all late in date, confirmed by the fact that they were originally written mostly in Greek. The more scholarly of the Catholic Church Fathers did not regard the Apocrypha as canonical although they permitted its use for edification.

All branches of the Christian Church agree on the NT canon.

Is the text in our current Bible the same as the original?

The Bible was written over a period of approximately 1400 years ending during the 1st century AD.   Until the invention of the printing press in the middle of the 15th century all copies of the Scriptures were made by hand, which resulted in some errors by the scribes. However, the Bible has come to us in a remarkable state of preservation. There is evidence that ancient Jewish scribes copied the books of the OT with extreme care. The evidence for the reliability of the NT is large and includes about 4500 Greek manuscripts dating back to about 125 AD as well as quotes taken from the NT material by Church Fathers in their writings beginning at the end of the 1st century.

How did chapters and verses come about?

The books of the Bible originally had no chapters and verses. For convenience of reference, Jews of pre-Talmudic times divided the OT into sections and these correspond to our current Bible. The chapter divisions we use today were made by the Archbishop of Canterbury who died in 1228. The division of the NT into its present verses is found for the first time in an edition of the Greek NT printed in 1551 in Paris. In 1555 the first version to include both chapters and verses as we see today was published by the same printer in Paris. The first English Bible with these divisions was printed in 1560.

When were the first translations of the Bible?

The OT was first translated into Greek between 250-150 BC. Parts of the OT were rendered into to Syriac in the early 1st century and a Coptic translation appeared probably in the 3rd century. The NT was translated into Latin and Syriac c. 150 and into Coptic c. 200.

According to Wikipedia “As of October 2019 the full Bible has been translated into 698 languages, the NT has been translated into an additional 1,548 languages and Bible portions or stories into 1,138 other languages. Thus at least some portions of the Bible have been translated into 3,385 languages.”

What is the Bible’s overall message?

The Bible is a collection of books recognized and used by the Christian church as the inspired record of God’s revelation of Himself and His will to mankind. Although the Bible was written over a long period of time by a great variety of writers, most of the authors of the Old Testament (OT) did not know each other. It has an organic unity that can be explained only by assuming, as the book itself claims, that its writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit to give God’s message to humanity. The theme of the message is the same in both testaments; the redemption of man.

References

The Oxford Annotated Bible revised standard version college edition published by Oxford University Press

Pictorial Bible Dictionary with topical index published by Zondervan

 

 

woman holding green apple

3 Ways to Conquer Temptation/Spiritual Meditations

Are you tempted to criticize your mother-in-law or something more serious?  The treatments suggested here by psychologists and mystics  can be utilized for your particular temptation while taking into consideration your personality and depth of faith.

Using Willpower to Overcome Temptation

Citing Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow study from the 1960s, some very smart people consider willpower as the key to success in overcoming temptations. In the study, young children were given a choice between eating one marshmallow now or two marshmallows in 15 minutes. Some gobbled up the marshmallow immediately but most did their best to resist temptation so they could have two.

The follow-up study 40 years later contributed additional confirmation that willpower was the key to success. Published in Psychological Science, the researchers revealed that the kids who were able to delay gratification went on to have more success in high school, higher SAT scores, better grades in college, better jobs, better relationships and were even in better physical shape than those who couldn’t wait.

As a result, policy makers, educators, psychologists and parents were convinced that the key to self-control is learning how to overcome emotion. Recommended strategies include distraction and distancing, as highlighted in an article in the New York Times:

“Don’t eye the basket of bread; just take it off the table. In moments of emotional distress, imagine that you’re viewing yourself from outside, or consider what someone else would do in your place. When a waiter offers chocolate mousse, imagine that a cockroach has just crawled across it.”

Rebecca Gladding M.D. in her Psychology Today article “Tips to Resist Temptation” outlines rational steps to overcome temptation utilizing willpower which could be effective for you. The challenge is to diligently use the four steps even when you don’t need to, so that you keep your brain wired and trained the way you want it to be.

As an example, Dr. Gladding applies the steps to her love of chocolate.

  • I start by being more aware of my cravings, urges, and thoughts. I use step one: relabel to make mental notes. I literally say to myself, “Oh, there’s that craving for chocolate again.” I notice and investigate the craving, but do not give into it.
  • Then, I reframe the experience by reminding myself that my brain is generating this desire for chocolate, not me. Sure, I started the habit by responding to fatigue, boredom or stress by eating chocolate a few days in a row, but now my brain has taken over. My goal at this point is to change my perception of the importance of this unhelpful brain urge and move on.
  • I use step three to refocus and choose to do something that is healthier for me. If I truly am hungry and have not eaten, I will eat something less desirable, but filling and healthy. If I am not hungry, I will go take a walk, call a friend, work on a project, or do something else that’s fun.
  • As the craving continues trying to tempt me, I use step four: revalue to remind myself that this is just the feeling of craving. I need to realize that this craving does not define me—it is not something I have to pay attention to or prioritize. In fact, I can let it be there and move on with my day without giving in.

Using Compassion to Overcome Temptation

Dr. Samantha Boardman says that while will-power strategies can be effective, they are not fool proof for everyone and agrees that genetics, environment, stress and fatigue among other factors play a role in the ability to resist temptation. Additionally, most experts agree that willpower is in finite supply. It’s the reason you can skip the candy aisle at the market but can’t resist buying a candy bar when you reach the gauntlet of tempting treats at the checkout counter. The thing is, it takes a great deal of energy and effort to combat emotional impulses with cognitive thinking. Plus, suppressing emotions is stressful.

So, what else can we do? David Desteno, Ph.D., author and professor of psychology at Northeastern University, proposes a counter-intuitive approach to building self-control. Instead of demonizing emotion, he argues that some emotional responses may be the most powerful weapons we have against temptation. According to his research, socially oriented emotions like gratitude, love and compassion greatly enhance self-control and facilitate delayed gratification.

As he writes in Pacific Standard:

“…there are two routes to self-control: cognitive strategies that depend on executive function, willpower, and the like; and emotional strategies that rely on the cultivation of specific feelings…You might prevent yourself from making an impulse purchase by placing your money in an account with stiff penalties for early withdrawal…Or you might do the same by taking a few minutes to stop and count your blessings.”

Other research supports this approach. Kurt Gray, a researcher at Harvard University, found that when people donated money to charity or thought about helping another person they were able to hold up weights longer  than those who didn’t engage in pro-social thoughts or actions. According to Gray, helping others heightens willpower and self-control. As he suggests: “Perhaps the best way to resist the donuts at work is to donate your change in the morning to a worthy cause.”

And Dr. DeSteno concludes: “We can’t just exert self-control by willing ourselves to resist the first marshmallow or averting our eyes from it; we have to be grateful that someone’s offering it to us in the first place.”

Spiritual Redemption

If the suggestions above seem feeble against your temptation, a deeper spiritual way of thinking and being may be the answer.

You may wonder as you go through the years with no apparent change in your affairs, why this thing called God isn’t doing something for you. You can go on for your entire career and still find no increase or improvement unless there is an expansion of spiritual vision.  There is no external change without an internal development. Where you are on your spiritual path will influence the time it will take to get your more serious temptation under control.

The Judeo-Christian can use the 40 years of desert experience as a metaphor. We go forward and fall backward; we progress and backslide – but with every trial, temptation, persecution and conflict we develop more faith, hope and courage coming with the Lord’s support.

I highly recommend meditation and prayer to help you recognize a temptation before it becomes ingrained.  Temptations can visit us disguised as ‘angels of light’. The soul may fail to recognize them until they have done it a great deal of harm; they suck our life blood and put an end to our virtues and we go on yielding to temptation without knowing it. We should pray to the Lord that we will not be deceived and that light and truth will not be hidden from us. For God knows our intentions to please him and serve him and keep near to him in prayer, and the Lord is faithful.

Although you are familiar with the 10 Commandments , meditating on them in a new light, as steppingstones to the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, is helpful in making the transition to a more spiritual life.  For example, “You shall have no other gods before me.” The first commandment is in admonition to look to one source for our good and it indicates that God is that source. If we always followed the first commandment, the journey into the Kingdom of God will be a quick one.

As you acknowledge God as the moving factor in your experience,  you no longer see evil or error in the circumstances governing you.  Your spiritual vision is awakened and you are lifted above all material conditions and limitations.  You can discern spiritual abundance right where lack and poverty is claiming presence and power.

Your Inner Being is God’s Holy Spirit.  You are one with God.  It is only as you give up the belief in a self-hood apart from God that you achieve the awareness of your true spiritual identity,

Consider the real significance of Jesus‘ ministry.  It is lost if we do not grasp his statement: “I can of mine own self do nothing “and “the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwells in me He doeth the works.“ Jesus did not say these things in modesty, but as actual facts. There is a Spirit within you. Jesus was always conscious of His Presence.

The evils of temptation are universal, and if you have permitted them to use you, it is an opportunity for correction rather than condemnation. Every evil craving that befalls you is the evidence of some belief not yet consciously thrown out of your thought. You are for the most part pure, but sometimes tempted by that in your consciousness which is impure or incorrect.

You may believe that your evil thoughts, traits and deeds bring you into punishment, slavery and bondage, but the healing state of Christ-consciousness and forgiveness rescues and lifts you and you learn that God has gone before you every step of the way.

As your spiritual nature unfolds, your human conduct improves. Too many believe that if they can improve their thoughts and acts, it will bring them closer to a spiritual sense. Reverse that: in proportion as spiritual consciousness becomes more real, the conditions of human existence improve. Therefore, do not make the effort to improve yourself humanly but keep your vision on the spiritual, let your life unfold progressively. As you live in a higher consciousness – on a higher plane – your world will unfold harmoniously, joyously, peacefully and successfully. For this reason, the human thought is not the factor in healing or in being healed. As spiritual truth reveals itself in your consciousness, the harmony of body, family or business appears as tangible evidence. Therefore, receptivity to God’s spirit should be your watchword.

Receptivity to God’s spirit should be your watchword.

It may be tantalizing to be told that the attempted improvement of human thought and conduct is not the basis of spiritual development. We are trying so hard to be careful of our thinking and acting. Well – that does no harm; perhaps even that effort is Spirit’s way of breaking through. Only be careful – don’t stop there. Human goodness is but a step on the Way.

The Temptation of Pride in Our Humility and Virtue

Have you known anyone who you would consider sanctimonious or self-righteous? We should be cautious, and not let our humility break down or to become our pride. For, when we attain virtues, we feel that we are doing nothing but receiving God’s gifts, and, therefore, have a greater obligation to serve. But when we become proud of these gifts we think our giving and serving, obligates God to reward us, and this, little by little, does us a great deal of harm. On the one hand, our humility is weakened, while, on the other hand, we neglect to cultivate that virtue, believing we have already acquired it. The best thing seems to be what our master teaches us: to pray, and to ask God not to allow us to fall into this temptation.

If you think the Lord has given you a certain grace, you must understand that it is a blessing which you have received but which God may take away again, as indeed, in the great providence of God, often happens.

For example, I may think I am extremely detached from material things, and, in fact when it comes to the test, I am: yet at other times I feel I have such attachment to things (which the day before I should perhaps have scoffed at) that I hardly know myself.

Sometimes it seems not to matter in the least if people complain or speak ill of me, when the test comes, I still feel like this, indeed, I even get pleasure from it. And then there come days when a single word distresses me and I long to leave the world all together, for everything in it seems to worry me. Teresa of Avila 

This being so, whoever says that he possesses a virtue, may find himself devoid of it at the very time he needs it most. If others, thinking we are good, bestow favors and honors upon us, both they and we shall look foolish when it becomes clear that our virtues are only lent to us. This is a great favor on God‘s part, for it helps us to realize fully that we have nothing which He has not given to us.

Our Past Failures to Overcome Temptation

Do not become depressed by your failures to overcome temptations so that in time you withdraw from Christian fellowship and give up your private prayer because you feel unworthy to engage in it. You can get to the point where your soul can be made to believe that, being imperfect, you have been forsaken by God, and doubt his mercy. All the service you render, however good, seems to be fruitless. When you find yourselves in this frame of mind, stop thinking, as much as you can, of your own faults and think of the mercy of Jesus and of his love, forgiveness and sufferings for you.

There is another very dangerous kind of temptation: a feeling of security caused by the belief that we shall never again return to our past faults and habits. If this temptation comes to beginners it is very serious; for, having this sense of security, they think nothing of running once more into the arms of their temptation. Despite the pledges of love the Lord gives you, you must never be so sure of yourself that you are not afraid of falling back again, but continue your vigilance.

Teresa of Avila suggests that we take great care to begin and to end every period of prayer with self-examination. We need to constantly pray for God‘s help.” Show us, Lord, some way of recognizing temptations and guarding against them.”

The road is a safe one and you will more easily escape from temptation if you are near the Lord instead of far away from Him. Your developing enlightened consciousness goes always before you, carrying you beyond your temptations in a purifying experience until at last you are the ruler over your body, thoughts and actions.

Relevant Scripture

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 1 Timothy 6:9

And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. Matthew 6:13

Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41

Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. Luke 8:13

Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 1 Corinthians 7:5

Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also. Gal 6:1

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. James 1:13

References

The Way of Perfection by Teresa of Avila

Spiritual Interpretation of Scripture by Joel S. Goldsmith

Samantha Boardman M.D. Psychology Today “Forget Willpower: A Smarter Strategy to Resist Temptation”

Rebecca Gladding M.D. Psychology Today “Tips to Resist Temptation”

 

Jesus child walk away in forest

God Wouldn’t Want Someone Like Me / Spiritual Meditations

In all my years of ministry, it might be one of the hardest conversations that I’ve ever had with someone. A family member called me up early one morning (about 2 am) saying, “I think it’s my mother’s time.” After jumping in the shower so I could at least be presentable, I rushed the three or four blocks up the road with some sliced up whole wheat bread from our personal breadbox and some cranapple juice we had in the fridge so that I could administer “Methodist last rites” as requested by the person on the phone.

Walking into the living room felt like walking into a funeral home parlor. The mood was so somber that I guessed the person passing would be very young. A man approached me and led toward the stairs. I’d never seen him before in my life – to this day I don’t know how he got my phone number. “Mom never went to church that we know of” he said. “None of us do. We didn’t know who to call, but she started…. seeing things. She won’t drink, she won’t eat, and she started saying, ‘Just take me Jesus.’ I didn’t even know she thought twice about Jesus. So, we called you.”

Ever since that night, I have thought myself unbelievably lucky and blessed that, for whatever reason, this family reached out to me; a 23-year old, second year in solo ministry, new father and seminary student to attend at this woman’s bedside. For over a decade now, this one circumstance has shaped my understanding of the deep need and desire of individuals in their last days on earth.

Walking up the stairs of this house for the first and only time, the smell and the screaming were something terrible. I felt as if I had been transported into the middle of the film “The Exorcist” or something. What awaited me up there?

When I turned the corner, I saw her. Frail as could be, white as a sheet, curled up into a ball yet somehow sitting erect in her bed, wishing for death, and in absolute agony. As lovingly as I could muster, I walked towards her, placed a hand on her back and introduced myself, “I’m Pastor Nathan from the church down the street. Your family has called me here. They say you’ve seen Jesus and are ready to go.” She looked me in the eyes and said something I’ll never forget, “I saw HIM. He was standing there with my mother. I never knew He was real. I…. AM…. SO…. SCARED.” I looked at her with love and tears in my eyes and asked, “why are you scared if you think he’s here for you?” And the tears began to stream down her face as she entered into a coughing fit.

Her daughter, who was sitting near, said, “Well, mom has never believed. She always said she was an agnostic, but that’s probably because she didn’t want to just say she was an atheist. She always disliked Christians generally. She had me before she was married when it was socially unacceptable. She was married four times and had four divorces. She spent all her money quickly, and then in retirement had to move in with us. She doesn’t have a penny to her name and recently she was telling me that she didn’t think she was a very good person or mother. Now that she ‘saw’ something, she’s afraid of death.”

Who are the “Good” and the “Bad”?

This experience profoundly shaped how I understand the basic needs of most of us in this world, especially when it comes to the spiritual. Generally speaking, I think we fall into two categories as individuals.

  • Either we believe we are good people and so something good must be waiting for us after this life
  • Or We think we are not great people and we don’t think about what’s waiting for us or we don’t WANT to think about it.

The truth is, however, as we read the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament, we understand that while we might have all started out OK, something along the way has become fundamentally broken in us. Most self-thought “good people” tend to spend most of their lives actively fixing what is broken or ignoring the brokenness of the world believing that they won’t be impacted by it – leaving them whole and good.

When we read the New Testament, we see these attitudes strikingly on display. In the stories of Jesus, we see self-thought good people – Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, religious leaders – who talked about their religious piety and constantly criticized Jesus and the disciples for attending to the broken underbelly of the world. Their criticism was simple – if you’re a good, righteous, holy person then you can’t possibly associate with the broken, unholy, and unrighteous people.

Jesus and the Leper

In Leviticus 13:45-46, we get a glimpse of why the stories of Jesus and lepers, caused such a fuss among the religious elite,

“Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease, they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.”

Anyone who the priests considered to be “unclean,” were thought to have been made that way as a punishment from God. Therefore, when Jesus related to them, even reaching out and touching them, He was associating with them and crossing the boundary set up in the minds of “good people”. That is just something you didn’t do in the Middle Eastern, Judeo worldview of Jesus’ day. If people were broken, in ill health, and suffering it was because of something bad they had done – in other words, they were “bad people.” To be a “good person” one must not associate with them.

Have things changed at all in our day? Don’t we still have a strong cultural current that says if someone is suffering it’s because they don’t work hard enough; if someone suffers from a mental illness it is because they are thinking wrong; diseases and even plagues are judgments from God? Certainly, we understand this view, even if many of us don’t subscribe to it in whole or in part. Yet the woman I met that night in the bed felt her death would be painful and she was awaiting her punishment, not because she cast herself in such a bad light, but because she had been told that everything she did was wrong. Yet at the last, as she was catching glimpses of the truth of Jesus, she wanted something different for herself. She wanted to be able to reach out and touch him. She wanted to be able to be with Him and NOT be afraid of Him. Is the scripture below so very different?

When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

This person came to Jesus as “unclean, unclean,” and approached Jesus through a crowd just as Jesus had come down from the mountaintop to teach the crowd and disciples about the shape and character of His ministry and what His disciples should do. This person could have suffered from any number of skin diseases because back then leprosy wasn’t exclusively what we think of it, in fact it may have been merely a case of psoriasis. This person had been confined to the underbelly of society. Is he so different from any of us? If we understand the fundamental truth that none of us are “good people” and we are all in need of a savior to do what we cannot do for ourselves, then can we not see ourselves in this man? And is this man not even further along than many of us because he recognizes his own need?

Jesus’ Earthly Ministry to the Broken

I’ve built this up long enough, let me share with you what this scripture passage is really all about and why it matters. We have here in these four verses, an entire shorthand for the Scriptures and the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. It begins with Jesus coming down from the mountain. The wording here parallels Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai after receiving the commandments directly from God. It also intentionally recalls God, in Jesus, coming down to earth and encountering the brokenness of humanity as typified in this leper.

God in Jesus had come to earth not to go to those who think of themselves as “good people” but to be with those who were ostracized, marginalized, felt penalized, and had been victimized by the brokenness and fallenness of this world. Jesus didn’t spend much time healing or ministering with the Herods, the Pilates, the Ceasars, the Pharisees, of this world. Only when people approach HIM with an acknowledgement of their own brokenness, of our own brokenness, can Jesus truly get to work. And this man, this leper did exactly that.

God, in Jesus, came down to this world to be in ministry and mission to the broken and acknowledging needy of this place. This leper approached him and cried out, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” Now, imagine that scene. This leper, this outcast, this less than a person in many people’s eyes, approached Jesus, through the crowd of “good people” coming down off the mountain with Jesus. Imagine how that sea of humanity might have parted in front of him as all of those “good people” got out of his way, casting a wide berth so that whatever punishment of God had fallen on this man would not fall on them. And he approached Jesus with something that looked a bit like faith, did he not? He didn’t approach Jesus with a question, “can you heal me?” or even “would you consider it?” He didn’t approach Jesus with a doubt, “I heard you might be able to do something.” NO, he approaches with what looks like a confession, “if you choose, you CAN make me clean.” It was a bold statement from someone we never hear from again in the story. It was a bold statement about who Jesus is – to this man, Jesus is Lord. The Lord who CAN do something. The Lord who at the strength of His word or grace of His hand can reach out and effect the situation.

The Living Dead

Did you know that lepers were known in the Bible as “living dead?” In 2 Kings in the story of the healing of Naaman the leper, we read that the king of Israel declared that all humanity is powerless over leprosy and that to heal Naaman would be like “[bringing him] back to life?” Yes, lepers were the walking dead, and here was the walking dead crying out to Jesus for what? For healing? Or for life? This one who the world considered dead cried out to Jesus not just for a skin healing, but to be raised to life! And the way it’s phrased, “if you choose, you can make me clean” is an early confession that points to the Easter truth that Jesus is the Lord of life and death! Jesus, yes, this Jesus, CAN bring the dead to life – but it only works for those who know they need it. In this man’s quest for healing and resurrection, he had placed the entire onus of this healing, restoration, and resurrection not in his own power and will, but in the hands of Jesus.

God Wouldn’t Want Someone Like Me

We have to this point the image of Jesus coming down from the mountain, God stepping out of heaven, into a world where many believe themselves to be good, but one person has come up to Jesus with the confession of His own brokenness and the confession that only Jesus, God, the Lord, has the power to save, if He wills. And I think back to that bedside and that conversation with that woman who had come to the end of her days and faced the realization of who she felt she had been and decided that she wanted a different ending to her story and, in the last moments, when she had come face to face with Jesus, didn’t know what to do. So, someone was called to step in and help her find the path. And her question for me was never going to be “how can I be saved” or “how can I have eternity”. It was always going to be the question that resonates deep inside of every single one of us, “Does God, does Jesus even want me???” The leper said, “if you choose.” This gave God, this gave Jesus who contained and assumed the power of God, the ability to choose this person’s fate. The question the leper was asking went like this, “I know you can, but do you even want me, Jesus?!” And isn’t this the question that burns in your heart? And isn’t this the question that burns in the heart of the world? And isn’t this the question that arises from those who are lost, and hungry, and hurting, and in need of healing, and broken? Isn’t this the question and the pain and agony of existence rolled into one that we hear repeated over and over, “God, do you even want me?” Or putting it in the negative which we hear too often, “God wouldn’t WANT someone like me!” And on this woman’s deathbed was her question and confession. “Why has Jesus come for me? What would he want with me? He wouldn’t CHOOSE me! He’s not here for me! Is he?”

Yet we have in this story of this nameless, faceless leper at the foot of the mountain making confession and plea to Jesus, the answer all of us wait to hear. The one that our hearts hope to receive. We have the words of Jesus and the response that the world groans and longs for each moment of each torturous hour, when Jesus reaches back out to the man and says, “I do choose. Be made clean!”

We hear these words echo down through the ages when we listen for them. We feel them in our hearts in a new and vibrant way if we wait for them and long for them. Wherever we are and whatever circumstance we find ourselves trapped in or victimized by, however sin has manifested itself in our lives, however we have experienced our separation from God or from others. WE, WE TOO, can hear these words spoken through this text to us, into our lives and hearts today, “I do choose!” We can shout these words of assurance that “I, yes, even I have been chosen by God”. We hear these words of Jesus echo throughout this scripture into eternity to each of us saying “I. Choose. You.”

Jesus Christ Chooses You

The words I shared with that woman whose family had called me to be there before she took her last breath were these from Ephesians 1:4 “God chose us to be in a relationship with Him even before He laid out plans for this world.” In a different translation “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” And it didn’t matter to God, to Jesus, that she had waited her whole life before realizing that she was included in God’s heart and in God’s plan; that Jesus was there for her; that she was loved by Him; that He did choose her.

And for the first time since she was a little child in her mother’s church, she received communion that evening with a little sliver of bread from my kitchen. As it rolled around in her mouth, she did her absolute best to choke down the cranapple juice that stood in for the blood of Christ, even though her body wanted to violently reject it – she wanted it for the first time. She wanted to make that confession. She wanted to say that prayer. And she laid there and said, “I do believe, Jesus. I know you can do something.” And she wretched and she wasted, but she was also overcome by – peace.

I can’t tell you that there was a physical miracle that occurred, and she returned to health and lived many more years. I can tell you peace came over her that night and after she passed away a week later, her family told me that the last week of her life was the most peaceful and joyful they had ever experienced with her. That the pain had gone, the violent thrashing had gone, and when her time came, she “went with Jesus with a smile.” I believe that her peace came from knowing that God and Jesus Christ chose her.

Conclusion

John Wesley had an experience we call the Aldersgate experience because it happened at a meeting on Aldersgate street. He wrote in his journal about that evening and the power it had over him and how it set the course for his ministry, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” We can hear this story time and time again, through the leper, through Wesley, in the course of our lives, and from this woman. Yet what matters is this – do you know? Do you know and believe and trust that yes, Jesus is saying “I. Choose You.”?

Written by Rev. Nathan W. Carlson

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What’s Hiding Behind Generosity? / Spiritual Meditations

Psychologists advise us that generosity provides numerous benefits, not only for others, but for ourselves.

How Generosity Improves Our Lives

A 10-year research study of 2700 people done by the University of Michigan revealed that the positive effects of generosity include improving one’s mental and physical health and promoting longevity.   Researchers found that men who did regular volunteer work had death rates two-and-one half times lower than men who didn’t. Generosity reduces stress, supports one’s immune system and enhances one’s sense of purpose.

In an article for Psychology Today, Lisa Firestone Ph.D.  tells us that “generosity is a natural confidence builder and a natural repellent of self-hatred. People who battle depression have been shown to benefit from volunteering, as it gives them a sense of value and purpose, while placing them in a social environment.”

Though we may fail to see a downside to living an altruistic life, and readily applaud acts of generosity in others, many of us fail to allow others to be generous to us. Those of us who have been taught to give without asking for anything in return, feel ashamed or embarrassed at being given a hand. However, accepting from others allows them the opportunity to experience the aforementioned benefits. It’s truly the give and take that brings us our greatest sense of joy.

What Constitutes Generosity?

You may be familiar with the following Bible verse.

When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.  But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. (Matt 6:2-4)

As you read it, do you first think of the ‘gift’ as money? The word ‘alms’, which is used in many Bible versions of this verse, is also defined as food given to poor people with synonyms that are, for the most part, indicating the giving of something concrete, like a handout or contribution. And this was the direction of my earlier thinking because the synagogues were notorious recipients of monetary contributions and because ‘charity’ is typically thought of as money or goods.

Yet generosity also includes kindness, hospitality and service to others; acts that everyone has the resources to provide. My Hebrew language advisor, Dr. Frank Leeds III, tell me that

“The giving of Alms is rooted in the Hebrew word Hesed.  Hesed is translated scores of different ways with the accent not on what is given but rather what flows from a loving heart …which is also the key characteristic of God.”

What Flows from a Loving Heart?

Service to Others Flows from a Loving Heart

Mother Teresa was a shining example of a giver of ‘hesed’.

“In determining which work would be done, there was no planning at all”, she said. “I headed the work in accordance with how I felt called by the people’s sufferings. God made me see what He wanted me to do.”

Her ability to ‘see’ was one of her gifts from God. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit gives every believer a spiritual gift that he chooses for them. He explains:” A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.“ (I Cor 12:7) There are different ways of serving, but the same Lord is served. There are different abilities to perform service, but the same God gives ability to all for their particular service. So, these gifts are much more varied than any list you will find in the Bible and we each have at least one that we can use to serve.

Mother Teresa also expressed that

“Whoever the poorest of the poor are, they are Christ for us. -Christ under the guise of human suffering. The Missionaries of Charity (her convent) are firmly convinced that each time we offer help to the poor, we are offering help to Christ. The work is nothing but a means to express our love for him.” Then she said “let us not be satisfied just by giving money. Money is not everything. The poor need the work of our hands, the love of our hearts. Love, and abundant love, is the expression of our Christian religion. “

This attitude is based on Matt 25:31-40, where Jesus tells the disciples about the future separation of the righteous and unrighteous.

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;  and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Jesus claimed His acts of service channeled the loving acts of service of His Father and the acts themselves were proof of this claim. Healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, calming the storm, raising the dead, casting out demons, and dying on the cross are some.

Jesus said “I am in the Father and the Father is in me “.   Likewise, Christ will recognize those who are in him and in whom he is. Jesus’s acts of service were evidence that he was the Son of God, just as we are sons and daughters of God, sisters and brothers of Christ, also evidenced by our acts of loving service.

Hospitality Flows from a Loving Heart

Generosity also includes hospitality which is more than a simple welcome or an offer of food or drink. Hospitality is an attitude of a loving heart that opens us to the enrichment of new ways of thinking and living that are brought to us by others. It is to receive them on their own terms by offering friendship without binding the guest and freedom without leaving them alone.

Hospitality implies attentiveness to others and to the needs of others, even anticipating their needs. Often our lack of hospitality is simply the failure to notice and acknowledge others and their needs—both the needs of the larger world and the needs of those closest to us. Jesus models that attentiveness; He noticed the sick, the excluded, the hungry, and those that others passed by.

Kindness Flows from a Loving Heart

If you live in a busy world, kindness is a form of generosity that is hard to find. It is being gentle, thoughtful, helpful, and forgiving at times when it would be easy to be angry. Your level of kindness surfaces when the sheer inconvenience of a situation would seem to justify non-involvement. Kindness much prefers considerateness to anger, and leaps enthusiastically over the barriers of inconvenience.

Kindness is being gentle, thoughtful, helpful, and forgiving at times when it would be easy to be angry.

It is only too evident that Christians should be ambassadors of kindness. As the Apostle Paul advises in Ephesians 4:31: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

But kindness is not exclusively Christian. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius understood the personal as well as the social benefits of kindness. “Ask thyself daily,” he wrote, “to how many ill-minded persons thou hast shown a kind disposition.”

The expressions of kindness may be simple and undramatic. The results, however, can be decisive and most dramatic. A young man, named Mark, was trying to negotiate his way home one day with his arms full of paraphernalia he had just taken from his high school locker. The inevitable happened. He tripped. Suddenly his precious cargo was no longer in his arms but scattered on the sidewalk. A Good Samaritan bystander, a student from the same high school, stopped and helped his distraught neighbor. A small act of kindness, undramatic and unpretentious. A conversation ensued and, before very long, a friendship developed.

In time, Mark explained to his friend that the reason he cleaned out his locker was because he did not want to leave a mess behind for someone else. He had saved up enough of his mother’s sleeping pills to put himself to sleep permanently. He was going home to kill himself when an act of unexpected kindness gave his plans and his life a new direction. Kindness, truly, can save lives

Conclusion

A generous heart knows no bounds. Our ability to give to others is not limited to money, for there is often a greater appreciation for your kindness, hospitality and service particular to the need, which is often unexpectedly presented. We must prepare our hearts to allow a spontaneous loving flow. This can be done by meditating on the spiritual truths found in scripture and putting them into practice. All that we have been given by God drastically outweighs the time, talents and virtue we give to Him in service.

Relevant Quotes

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. —Simone Weil

If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one. —Mother Teresa

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. – John Wesley

If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. And if you want to be first, you must be the slave of the rest. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matt 20:26-27)

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart. (Prov 3:3)

The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all. (Acts 28:2)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Heb 13:2)

References:

The Love Languages of God by Gary Chapman

“Generosity-What’s in It for You” a Psychology Today article by Lisa Firestone PhD

Putting on the Heart of Christ by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

“Virtue of Kindness” – Dr. Donald Demarco