stairs ascend into clouds

Demystifying Spiritual Growth | Spiritual Meditations

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

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

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

Phase One of Our Spiritual Journey

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

Phase Two of Our Spiritual Journey

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

Phase Three of Our Spiritual Journey

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

Phase Four of Our Spiritual Journey

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

The Spiritually Transformation

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

Brian McLaren writes:

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

The New View of Other People

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

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

The New View of Myself

Brian McLaren continue:

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

The New View of Nature

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

The New View of God

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

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

How do We Transform Ourselves?

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

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

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

The Pursuit Can be Challenging but Worth It

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Relevant Scripture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality by Christian A. Schwarz

Naked Spirituality by Brian D McLaren

Practicing the Presence by Joel S. Goldsmith

the words "thank God"

The Priceless Advantages of Gratitude|Spiritual Meditation

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

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

Hurdling Consumerism

In his book Naked Spirituality, Brian D McLaren writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You Have is a Gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science Condones Gratitude

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

Improved Relationships

Grateful People have More Relationships

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

Grateful People Have Stronger Relationships

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

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

Grateful People have Improved Mental Health

Grateful People have Improved Self-Esteem

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

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

Gratitude Improves Psychological Health.

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

Gratitude Enhances Empathy and Reduces Aggression

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

Gratitude Increases Mental Strength and Stress Resistance

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

Grateful People Sleep Better

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

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

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

Gratitude Boosts Physical Health

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

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

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

Ways to cultivate gratitude

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

Gratitude to God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

How long is your gratitude list, now?

Relevant Scripture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

Naked Spirituality by Brian D McLaren

time chasing people down a hill

Simple Guide to Know God Better | Spiritual Meditations

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

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

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

Are you listening for God’s answer?

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

Are you watching for God’s activity?

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

Are you open to God’s answer?

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

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

Conclusion

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

Confession-Blogging Was Not My Idea | Spiritual Meditations

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sunset over mountains and trees

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

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

 

Methaphor for the many who have entered the afterlife

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

many hands in prayer

3 Steps to Successful Prayer | Spiritual Meditations

How to Make Prayer Work for You

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

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

The Interview I Tried to do Myself

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

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

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

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

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

How Did I Get Here?

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

Revived by Prayer

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

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

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

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

Witness to the Power of Prayer

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

My Story Continues

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

Prayer – What Works and What Doesn’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Does God Care?

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

Conclusion

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

Relevant Scripture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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child reading Bible in bed

The Baffling Look of a Christian | Spiritual Meditations

Who or what is a Christian?

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

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

Christians Are Not Perfect

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

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

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

Christians are Diverse

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

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

My Relationship with God is of Little Importance

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

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

Is Church Necessary?

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

Once a Week is Enough for Me

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

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

I’m Born Again

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

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

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

Let Me Help

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

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

I want to Minister to Others Full Time

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Relevant Scripture

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

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

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

References

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

The Bible

 

name of Jesus

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

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

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

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

What did Jesus do?

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

Crucifixion

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

Resurrection

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

The Samaritan Woman at the Well

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

The Feeding of the 5000

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

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

[Parentheses are mine]

Who was Jesus?

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

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

“Emmanuel”

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

“Rabbi”

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

“Lord”

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

“Christ”

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

“Master”

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

“The Word”

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

“Son of God”

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

“Son of Man”

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

“Son of David”

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

“Lamb of God”

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

“Light of the World”

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

“King of the Jews”

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

“Brother”

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

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

Recognizing Our Gifts from God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relevant Scripture

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

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

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

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

References

The Bible-New International Version

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

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

 

door representing the coice of life and free will

God’s Unsung Gift to You-Free Will/ Spiritual Meditations

The agony we feel when we see loved ones or friends ruining their lives, or, at least, making bad choices, often brings us to our knees before God. At times we worry about the unknown and fear the worst. Even years of ceaseless prayer may appear to prove useless. What does this say about God? My friend, Lisa, describes just such an experience.

Separation

My family lived in a small town where everyone went to church. My mother was the church organist so we were the first family to arrive and the last family to leave on Sunday. We were a typical Midwest American family. There were 4 children in my family; 1 boy and 3 girls. My father was a farmer and my mother was a stay at home mom.

As I was starting high school, my older brother, Kevin, left to join the Navy. I expected he would do a lot of cool things and see interesting places, but I was also sad because I knew I would rarely see him. I knew the importance and power of prayer and I prayed for him often.

As the years went by, my parents seldom mentioned my brother. After I left home for college, I was busy with my own life and made fewer inquiries about how he was doing. Did he have a wife, kids etc. My mom would say “Oh you know your brother; he’s married to his job.”

The truth was that 6 or 7 years had passed and I no longer knew my brother. Every time I would drive to my parent’s house for dinner or a holiday, I would see his photos on the wall, but nothing recent. I was told he frequently traveled to different countries and my mother sometimes wasn’t clear on where he lived. I thought this was just how the military was but also thought it odd that he was in the navy for so long. There weren’t cell phones then and I was told he had no home phone to call.

I finished school, began my career, got married, had children, bought a home and never spoke to my brother. My mother’s conversations with Kevin were always repeated at holidays. I can remember the phone ringing at Christmas one year and I prayed it was him. My heart stopped for a moment at the thought of hearing his voice again. But it wasn’t him. What if he just walked in the door? That would be a glorious day for my family.

In later years, my dad told us that Kevin was working in Alaska on a new pipeline and would be out in the uninhabited free land zones. I felt my family had lost him.   The distance and lack of communication had taken its toll and I had stopped praying for him every day. The days of praying with my parents and siblings sitting around a table holding hands was becoming a very distant memory for me. I missed that and I missed my brother.

My husband and I taught 1st and 2nd grade Sunday school. As the children talked of their brothers and sisters, I would get a glimpse of Kevin again in my own life as we grew up. That ache in my heart and the hope that my brother was OK would come rushing back.

When the family gathered at my parents’ house, my sisters and I would express concern that my mother’s only comments regarding Kevin were “Haven’t heard from him in a while”.  We heard the same comment many times.

Frustrated, I asked my mother for the name of the company Kevin worked for…. or was he still in the military. She said it was a private company and gave me the name. I called the human resource department to get an office phone number or a supervisor name. The lady I spoke to was very kind to me and understood how anxious I was to speak to Kevin. She said she would look up his contact information and call me back later that afternoon. When she did, she simply stated that he was unreachable. This made no sense to me but she had no details. The ache I had was very palpable now. My prayers to hear his voice were not going to be fulfilled. I prayed that afternoon for his happiness, and his mental and physical health wondering if he still prayed or missed us.

On a busy Monday morning at my hospital. I received a page that my mother was trying to reach me. Initially she asked me to just listen. She explained that my brother had become homeless and had been addicted to heroin for the last 2 years. He had been found in a shelter, very ill, and had been sent to a hospital. That was all she knew that morning. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I didn’t want to believe that our God had forgotten about Kevin and left him this way.

I left work, went to my car and cried harder than I ever had in my life. I remembered my scripture in Deu. 31:6; “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.”    I prayed out loud asking God ‘why?’. How did I not know that Kevin needed help? I was so mad at myself for being so involved with my own family that I didn’t try harder to find him. I could fix all my patients at work, but not my own brother. I was also mad at God. “Lord, why did you leave him?” How could this happen to an educated man from the Midwest with a good family?

The next day I received another call from my mother letting me that Kevin had passed. I learned much more of my brother’s life after his death; not much of it good. Throughout my life, the power of pray was amazing and worked. I’d seen it many times with my church family. My only hope is that now God is holding him close so Kevin feels his addiction was not the heart and soul of his being. Addiction had taken over his life and my hopes to see him again, to hear his voice, to hug him, dissolved.

This is a scenario repeated in far too many families. But as stated in Romans 8:28, for those who are God-conscious and listening to His Spirit, some good will develop from it. In this case, Lisa was drawn to take on the organization of a large street ministry at her church, feeding hundreds of people each month.

The street ministry from Oakhurst United Methodist Church is the perfect way for me to lift up my brother by feeding the homeless. I think of him while I’m there. The faces of those being served each have a story. They may be there due to addiction, health reasons that prevent work or a financial crisis in their life. I see my brother’s face in them. When I pray with them, I feel I’m praying with my brother standing next to me.

Free Will

Due to the lack of communication with his family, it isn’t possible to know what Kevin’s relationship was with God during his adult life. The choice to take drugs, which then turned into an addiction, doesn’t mean Kevin turned his back on God. The addiction may have been a battle for him that he lost.

However, if Kevin did give up the faith of his youth, this is the option that God provides which we call Free Will. God wants us to have communion with Him by our own choice. He is not going to force anyone to value their life more, to act in a certain way, or to use their resources reasonably, even if many others pray that He will.

A thorough discussion of Free Will delves deeply into philosophy and there are many well developed as well as vague views on the subject. Below are abridgements of a few of them that may give you some insight.

The Catholic View of Free Will

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church asserts that “Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will”. It goes on to say that “God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel, so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.” It concludes with the role that grace plays, “By the working of grace the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom in order to make us free collaborators in his work in the Church and in the world.”

Catholic Christianity’s views on free will and grace are often contrasted with predestination in Reformed Protestant Christianity, especially after the Counter-Reformation, but in understanding differing conceptions of free will it is just as important to understand the differing conceptions of the nature of God, focusing on the idea that God can be all-powerful and all-knowing even while people continue to exercise free will.

Oriental Orthodox View of Free Will

The Oriental Orthodox church explains that the more one follows one’s conscience, the more it brings one good results, and the more one follows one’s arrogance, the more it brings one bad results. Following only one’s arrogance is sometimes likened to the dangers of falling into a pit while walking in pitch darkness, without the light of conscience to illuminate the path.

Eastern Orthodox View of Free Will

Some Eastern Orthodox Christians use the parable of a drowning man to plainly illustrate their teaching regarding free will; God from the ship throws a rope to a drowning man, pulls him up, saving him, and the man, if he wants to be saved, must hold on tightly to the rope; explaining both that salvation is a gift from God and man cannot save himself, and that man must co-work with God in the process of salvation.

The Methodist View of Free Will

Christians who were influenced by the teachings of Jacobus Arminius (such as Methodists) believe that while God is all-knowing and always knows what choices each person will make, He still gives them the ability to choose or not choose everything, regardless of whether there are any internal or external factors contributing to that choice.

The Lutheran View of Free Will

Lutherans adhere to the teaching that Humanity is free to choose and act in every regard except for the choice of salvation. Luther used Jesus’ image of “a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). Like the bad tree that can only produce bad fruit, before a rebirth through faith, people are in bondage to the sinful desires of their hearts. They only want to do bad. Luther concluded that, without a spiritual rebirth, the “free choice” that all humans possess is “not free at all” because it cannot of itself free itself from its inherent bondage to sin.

The Anabaptist View of Free Will

The Anabaptist movement was characterized by the fundamental belief in the free will of man. Denominations today representing this view include Old Order Mennonites, Amish, and Conservative Mennonites.

The New Church View of Free will

As an example of one of the deeper philosophical views, Emanuel Swedenborg, upon whose writings the New Church is founded, argued that if God is love itself, people must have free will. If God is love itself, then He desires no harm to come to anyone: and so, it is impossible that he would predestine anyone to hell. On the other hand, if God is love itself, then He must love things outside of Himself; and if people do not have the freedom to choose evil, they are simply extensions of God, and He cannot love them as something outside of Himself. In addition, Swedenborg argues that if a person does not have free will to choose goodness and faith, then all of the commandments in the Bible to love God and our neighbors are worthless, since no one can choose to do them – and it is impossible that a God, who is love itself and wisdom itself, would give impossible commandments.

The Islamic View of Free Will

Disputes about free will in Islam began with the Mu’tazili vs Hanbali disputes, with the Mu’tazili arguing that humans had qadar, the capacity to do right or wrong, and thus deserved the reward or punishment they received, whereas Hanbali insisted on God’s jabr, or total power and initiative in managing all events. Schools that developed around earlier thinkers searched for ways to explain how both human qadar and divine jabr could be asserted at the same time. Ash’ari develops a “dual agency” or “acquisition” account of free will in which every human action has two distinct agents; God creates the possibility of a human action with his divine jabr, but then the human follows through and “acquires” the act, making it theirs and taking responsibility for it using their human qadar

The Hindu View of Free will

In Hinduism the Advaita (monistic) schools generally believe in a fate-based approach, and the Dvaita (dualistic) schools are proponents for the theory of free will. The Bhagavad Gita also states: “Nor does the Supreme Lord assume anyone’s sinful or pious activities (Bhagavad Gita 5.15).  From wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the self (Bhagavad Gita 6.26)”, indicating that God does not control anyone’s will, and that it is possible to control the mind.

The Judaic View of Free will

In Judaism, the belief in free will is closely linked with the concept of reward and punishment, based on the Torah itself: “I [God] have set before you life and death, blessing and curse: therefore, choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). God exists outside of time, and therefore, his knowledge of the future is exactly the same as his knowledge of the past and present. Just as his knowledge of the past does not interfere with man’s free will, neither does his knowledge of the future.

Conclusion

If you so choose, there is much to ponder and study regarding free will  and you may even develop your own thought.

Relevant Scripture

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!”  Luke 13:34 (NKJV)

One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord,
And He will repay him for his good deed. Proverbs 19:17  (NASB)

He who]is generous will be blessed,
For he gives some of his food to the poor.  Proverbs 22:9 (NASB)

And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 Berean Study Bible

References

http://www.theopedia.com/free-will

https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/Free-Will?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI-Ijlg-7L4wIVC5-fCh2mMwmdEAAYAyAAEgIfyPD_BwE

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

 

2 people holding hands over scripture

Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers | Spiritual Meditations

Fear, suffering, hope and empathy are some of the reasons we turn to God in prayer for ourselves or for others.  We’ve done all we can without the results we hoped for.  So we turn to God, usually as our last resort, and ask Him to do what we couldn’t….wondering if He has even heard us or will do what we’ve asked.  Some times we hear nothing.

The most unfortunate thing about “unanswered prayer” is that since you don’t know God’s mind, you may turn away from God because He didn’t do what you asked Him to do.

After I went away to college, I came home to visit friends and family when possible. During one visit, I stopped to see my friend, Tammy, with whom I had attended high school (secondary school).  Tammy was also a regular at my church.  Tammy’s mother had recently died and Tammy was mad at God for not stepping in to prevent it….she turned her back on Him.  I never saw her again, but would get occasional updates from mutual acquaintances.  Tammy became the president of an agency for handicapped individuals but then died in a car accident when she was in her 30s.  I’ve always wondered if she reconciled with God.

Even if many people pray for something, it doesn’t mean that God is going to respond in the way that seems obvious to us.  Jesus said “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I also”.  But He doesn’t say He will answer prayer as we outline it.

Hyperbole, the Art of Exaggeration

Part of our misunderstanding about God’s response to prayer is because of our literal interpretation of Biblical scripture.

 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, …. even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:21-22)

We read this and are confused when our prayers aren’t answered.  Some will say that the failure lies with you.  You were not trying to please the Lord, or you had unconfessed sins, or you didn’t have enough faith.  Read the miracles that Jesus performed and you will see that those who received those miracles had not always asked for them or confessed their sins.

Adam Hamilton says, in his book Why, that he doesn’t suggest that living for God and seeking to please God is not important. But to explain that God does not answer our prayers because we are not holy enough seems odd for a faith built on Grace, whose Savior gave his life for us “while we were still sinners“ (Romans 5:8), and which teachers that we are saved by God’s grace and not by our works.

Jesus said, “truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain “move from here to there “, and it will move. “A mustard seed is smaller than a grain of salt, Jesus’ point was that the smallest impulse of faith would touch the heart of God.”

So lack of response to your prayers isn’t because you have unconfessed sins or lack of faith.  But what is the reason?  Adam Hamilton suggests that the answer lies not in how we pray but how we understand what Jesus said.  When Jesus spoke, he frequently used hyperbole, an overstatement or exaggeration, used by prophets and first-century teachers, to make a point.  However, when we read the Bible, we take it too literally.

In Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus said that if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  Jesus wasn’t encouraging self-mutilation, he was saying that we should do everything we can to avoid sin.

In Luke 18:25, Jesus said ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God’.  Taken literally, compared to the world at large, anyone with a roof over their head and adequate food for the day isn’t going to get in.  That isn’t what he meant.  What Jesus was saying is that wealth can have a destructive impact on your soul, so handle I carefully.

We use hyperbole in some of our modern expressions and we all know not to take them literally.

  •               It’s raining cats and dogs
  •               It’s hotter than hell
  •               I have a million things to do today

And we can’t take some of Jesus’ word literally either.  We want to ask God to do something, we ask in Jesus’ name in faith (we “claim” it) and then it should happen. Right?  What if we prayed for something that would hurt someone else, even though we may not know it?  Perhaps what we prayed for limited another person’s choices.  Would God force them to do as we asked?  God will not suspend another person’s free will to satisfy our request.

If we take these words of Jesus literally, we human beings don’t have to work, do research or do anything.  We pray for food and it appears.  We pray for money and our pocket is filled. We pray for health and we are instantly well.  We have no need for other people, there is no opportunity to build character,  we don’t need to exercise or eat healthily, and initiative is pointless.

God Works Through People….Miracles are Rare

God knows far more than we do and what we pray for may not be the best for us or for others.

Rather than suspending the laws of nature, that God created, and bypassing the human beings that God created to do God’s work, God typically works through natural law and through people. In the Bible this is how God most often worked, and it is how God typically works today. I believe that miracles can happen but by definition a miracle is rare. The miraculous is not God’s ordinary way. Miracles occur for reasons we cannot always see at the time, and they are the exception, not the rule. Most often God works through people, calling us and nudging us into action, working in our hearts and lives to be the instruments God uses to answer the prayers of others.

I have also learned over the years of that, in the face of suffering or adversity, Gods answer to my prayers is often not to deliver me or others from the suffering, but to walk with me or them through it, and then to transform it and use it to change my life, their lives, or the world.

Adam Hamilton

Here are a couple of examples of how God is using people to change the lives of abused women and children in Malawi and the lives of abandoned and orphaned children.

Pray With Your Heart….Quality is Better Than Quantity

“But when you pray, don’t use vain repetitions like the pagans do, for they think they will be heard for their much speaking.” (Matthew 6:7)

No one experiences answered prayer when he prays merely with his mind, relying fully on words and thoughts, because there is no opportunity for the spirit to break through into our consciousness. The absence of the fruitage in prayer merely bears witness to our failure to go deep enough into our inner being to make contact with God’s presence which is always there and available.

The prayers that are answered are those deep within a person. No words or thoughts are needed, but the hunger, desire, or longing for God makes the connection.  Here is more detail about how to talk to God.

Prayer must be a desire for spiritual fulfillment. Through seeking first the kingdom of God, giving up hope of gaining anything, and being satisfied to let God provide for us, we open ourselves to fulfillment. In prayer, it is important that we leave behind all our preconceive notions or ideas of what we want -our hopes and ambitions and desires -because there is no assurance that God will fulfill them on our terms.  He is not our servant.

As long as we are advising, suggesting, or outlining to God, or even hoping that God will act according to our personal wishes, we are not praying or going to God, but to our own limited mind.

God Can be Trusted to Provide for Us

It is not the nature of God to withhold from you and then give you things when you pray for them because you have been good. The more you realize that God is not a rewarding God or a punishing God, but that the nature of God is infinite love and infinite wisdom, the clearer you will see that there is no need to tell God of your needs or ask Him to for fulfill them.  Joel Goldsmith

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him”.

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9).  In other words, those who love God cannot even imagine the great things that He has in mind for them.

Let us go to God as if we really trust Him as the divine Love and the divine Wisdom of this world, which in truth He is.

“Not my will, but Thy will be done”.  God is the all-knowing intelligence of the universe. When we pray, we must surrender ourselves – our hopes and desires, our fears, our aims and ambitions– into His hands.

If we hope to see the fruitage of answered prayer, let our prayers be an inner stillness in which God‘s words flow into us reminding us “Son, all that I have is thine”.

We need to learn how to release the whole situation to God, willingly admitting, “I certainly have messed up my life so far. Let me give it to You and You take over.“ Then we may be amazed at how the miracle begins to work in us and how quickly what, we have thought of as our destiny, changes.

Conclusion

If we interpret scripture literally, we are confused when God doesn’t answer our prayer in the way we ask Him to.  We tend to tell God what to do when it comes to the things we care about the most.  But is God NOT our servant.  He knows everything about us and loves us anyway.  And because God loves us, we can trust Him to take care of us without telling him how to do it. After all, He is all-knowing.  God may not give you the answer you are hoping for, but He will be with you through bad times and good times.

 

 

 

 

statues of Christian Apostles on Roan building

15 Elusive Apostles Unlocked|Spiritual Meditations

More than historical names, the Apostles were real people with strengths and weaknesses, like you and me.

We often lump the first followers of Jesus into a group with few distinguishing characteristics. The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles present the facts and it takes some deduction to find the story behind the faces. These were real people, who made up a tiny, vulnerable group, often persecuted, and on fire with the Holy Spirit, making missionary efforts in major city centers. “The Apostles were the cutting edge, spreading the message across the vast trade networks of the ancient world and leaving small Christian communities in their path. The reach of science is limited, so much remains inconclusive. We must rely largely on legend and historical accounts” (National Geographic March 2012).

Jesus chose 12 Apostles, possibly paying homage to the 12 tribes of Israel. On this list of great original evangelists, I am including Mark, Paul and Luke, who, although not part of the 12, made huge contributions to spreading Christ’s good news to all parts of the world.

Theologians, Bible scholars and historians can tell us a little about them as people. Unfortunately, there is very little documentation available about some of these inspired men. We must assume that those who are not fully represented had similar experiences to those whose activities are better documented.

Inquisitive Andrew

Andrew was the first disciple. Because he had an enquiring mind, he was actively looking for the truth.

He was a fisherman, like his brother Peter, with whom he lived in the area of Bethsaida and Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. The two brothers were followers of John the Baptist and it was Andrew who introduced Peter to Jesus. They became Jesus’ first followers.

Andrew had a very different personality from his brother. He was less impulsive, more approachable, a man who thought quite deeply. He had educated Greek friends who respected his opinion. Some of them asked to meet Jesus, and Andrew introduced them to Jesus and his ideas. He may have been something of a quiet intellectual among the group of people who formed Jesus’ core supporters. Every time Andrew is mentioned as an individual, it is because he is bringing someone to Jesus.

After the events described in the book of Acts, he is never mentioned again. According to tradition, Andrew spread the teachings of Jesus Christ in Greece and perhaps the area adjacent to the Red Sea, now Georgia, Bulgaria and Ukraine. He suffered martyrdom in Achaia (Greece), and was there crucified on the X shaped cross, now called St Andrew cross.

Outspoken Peter

Jesus gave some of his disciples a second name – Simon the fisherman was also Peter, the rock. No other man in the New Testament bears the name Peter.

Peter was a married man with children.  Andrew, his brother, and Peter’s mother-in-law, as well as his children lived with him.  It as possible the Mark the Evangelist (author of the book of Mark) also lived with him for a time.

Most of us find Peter to be likable – he was outgoing, gregarious, transparent and enthusiastic. Most important of all, he loved Christ. And Simon could be anything but a rock. He wasn’t dependable. Without God’s Spirit, he often spoke or acted in a way that would be inappropriate. His actions belied an underlying insecurity in spite of his outward confidence. He could be audacious, presumptuous and foolish.

Because he was impulsive and strong-willed, his faults were obvious. That’s what enables us to clearly see the contrast in his personality after he received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Because of this, Peter’s example and writings are a great inspiration. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter was no longer self-centered and vain. He sought to do all to the glory of God.

Peter’s first recorded sermon is related in Acts 1:15-22. Already we see an added dimension of sobriety, maturity, wisdom and knowledge of Scripture. With his second sermon in Acts 2, we see a mighty preacher of the gospel giving a focused and powerful masterpiece of a sermon.

When Peter and John were arrested, they were inspired and fearless in their testimony because they were “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8). The officers “saw the boldness of Peter and John” and marveled (verse 13).

Peter’s humility and loving-kindness are evident all through his two epistles, I Peter and II Peter.

He was the first to invite non-Jews to join the early church. With John, he went to Samaria where, with laying on of hands, the Holy Spirit fell on the Samarian believers. He also toured in Judea.

With the opening of the door to the Gentiles and the spread of Christianity, Peter receded in the Biblical narrative and was last mentioned in connection with the Jerusalem conference where he championed the liberty of the Gentiles. It appears that Peter traveled widely, taking his wife with him, doubtless in Jewish evangelism. Tradition uniformly asserts that Peter went to Rome, that he labored there, and then in his old age suffered martyrdom under Nero. New Testament reference to the closing years of Peters life is found in John 21:18-19. Tradition says that he was crucified on an upside down cross at his request, as he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Christ.

Peter spread the good news to modern-day Turkey, Betania on the West Bank, Italy and Asia

Practical Phillip

Like nearly all of the apostles, Philip came from Bethsaida in Galilee, the region in the northern Israel were Jesus‘ ministry was centered. He was a good friend of Andrew and Peter who lived in the same fishing village. It is almost certain that he was first a disciple of John the Baptist, because Jesus called him near Bethany on the Jordan River where John was preaching.

It appears from the Apostle John’s account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, that Philip may have been in charge of the supplies and food, the road manager of sorts. He was the kind of guy who was practical, always thinking about the bottom line. And on this occasion, Jesus, trying to stretch Philip’s faith, posed a question to him as the crowd gathered:

“Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (John 6:5). Philip responded, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little” (verse 7).

Philip didn’t do so well on that test. He didn’t have the most faith, but he was a follower of Jesus who was used by God.

Philip is known for bringing Gentiles to Jesus. His days after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are shrouded in legend and mystery, but the best tradition says that he did mission work in Asia Minor. The historian Eusebius says that he was a “great light of Asia” and that he was murdered, possibly by crucifixion, and buried in Hierapolis, which is in what is now South-Central Turkey.

Skeptical Bartholomew

Some believe he was also called Nathanael.

The one and only opportunity for Bartholomew to shine in scripture, comes in a very curious and intriguing passage found in John 1:43-51.

The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me” Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses told in the law, and also the prophets wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael said to Him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

This passage is interesting for a variety of reasons. It reveals at least two important aspects of the apostle’s character–his relationships with other apostles, and his honest and sincere personality.

There is no further reference to him in the New Testament and the traditions concerning him are not trustworthy. He may have gone to Turkey, India and Armenia.

Ambitious James the Greater

It is thought that this James was called “the Greater”, to distinguish him from the other James, being either taller or older. His home was in Galilee, probably Bethsaida.

James he was a fisherman with his brother John and they may have been in partnership with Peter and Andrew early in the ministry of Jesus. They were the sons of Zebedee and Salome. Salome may have been Mary’s sister, making the sons cousins of Jesus.

From the reference to “hired servants” in the employee of Zebedee and the mention that Salome was one of the women who ministered to the needs of Jesus and his company, it may be inferred that the family was one of some means.

The Apostle James and his brother John were, in the beginning, hotheads. They received from Christ the name “Boanerges,” meaning “sons of thunder,” for their impetuosity. When they went with Jesus to a Samaritan city, they were spurned by the local residents and this angered James and John. They asked Jesus “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and consume them” (Luke 9:54)? Jesus rebuked them for their attitude (Luke 9:55) and said “the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:56). This was not likely the only time that they lost their tempers.

Because of the ambitious self-seeking of James and John, they asking Jesus for a special place in his coming Kingdom, calling forth the wrath of the other apostles.

James occupied a prominent place among the apostles, and, with Peter and John, became a special confidant of Jesus. Only these three are present at the Transfiguration, at the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and when the daughter of Jairus was raised from the dead. He was also present when Jesus appeared to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias after His ascension.

James was the first of the disciples to die.  In the year 44, the zealous temper of James and his leading part in the Jewish Christian communities, probably led King Herod Agrippa to choose him as his first Christian victim in his attempt to please the Jewish community. James preached in Judea and was beheaded in Jerusalem, although, some believe that he preached in Spain and was buried there.

The book of James is not attributed to him.

John, Transformed

John was a fisherman and the son of Zebedee and Salome and brother to James the Apostle.

The fact that John knew the high priest well enough to gain entrance to the court where Jesus was tried and could also get permission for Peter to enter, further reinforces the thinking that the family made a comfortable living.

John is introduced as a disciple of John the Baptist. One day as he stood with Andrew and John the Baptist, he heard John say as Jesus walked by “behold the Lamb of God“. The two disciples immediately followed Jesus. That day changed their lives and was so memorable, that many years later when John the Greater wrote his gospel, he still remembered that it was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

During the course of the Lord’s ministry the experiences of John were common to all the apostles. There are, however, a few scenes in which he takes in important part. The Gospels makes it clear that he was one of the most prominent of the disciples. With the other two in the inner circle of the apostles, James and Peter, John was also chosen by Jesus to be present at the Transfiguration. They were nearest to Jesus during the agony in Gethsemane and the raising of Jairus’ daughter.

John had an explosive or fiery personality and could be over zealous to protect Jesus interest. Further, John and his brother offended the other Apostles because they and their mother asked Jesus if they could sit at His right and left hand in glory (cf. Mk 10:35-41).

However, John is known as the “Apostle of Love.” He really loved the church and always encouraged the brethren to love each other. John was brave enough to stand at the foot of the cross where Jesus was nailed, while all the other Apostles were still in hiding. John could also be trusted; he received Jesus’ commissioned from the cross to look after his (Jesus’) mother.

Five books of the New Testament are attributed John; the fourth gospel, three epistles, and Revelation. The only one in which he his name actually appears is the last.

Very likely the seven churches of Asia enjoyed his ministry. The book of Revelation was written on the small Greek isle of Patmos, where he was exiled for preaching the word of God as the testament of Jesus. Tradition says that he wrote his gospel in Asia at the request of Christian friends, and that he agreed to do so only after the church had fasted and prayed about the matter of three days.

It is evident from his Biblical writings that John was very aggressive in dealing with heresies in the church, while at the same time remaining very loving and gentle. He was a man who studied and knew the scriptures. Throughout his gospel he tells how Jesus fulfilled certain scriptures. In fact, John was so knowledgeable that he was able to call Jesus the “Word and the Word was God” (cf. John 1:1).

John was described as the “disciple whom Jesus loved”, no doubt because of his understanding of and love of his Lord. The defects of character with which he began his career as an Apostle –intolerance, and selfishness – were in the course of time brought under control, until he became especially known for his gentleness and kindly love.

John was a man of prayer. In his golden years, the historian Eusebius reports that John was still a mighty intercessor and he was considered a sacred priest devoted to God (Eusebius, 106, 107, 116, Roberson, 2).

John was the last survivor and died peacefully in Ephesus about year 100.

Matthew was Scorned

Since double names were common among the Jews, there can be little doubt that Levi and Matthew (meaning “Gift of God”) were one in the same person. He was the son of Alphaeus and as a tax collector, he would have been literate in Aramaic and Greek and skilled in record keeping and writing.

Jesus met him at the tax office in Capernaum and called him to be one of his disciples. Society was shocked when Jesus dined with Levi because he was a  tax collector, and therefore, an outcast. Under the Roman Empire’s system, Levi would have paid all the taxes in advance, and then collected from the citizens and travelers to reimburse himself. Tax collectors were notoriously corrupt because they extorted far and above what was owed, to ensure their personal profit. Because Roman soldiers enforced their decisions, no one dared object.

The readiness with which Levi responded to Jesus’ call seems to indicate that he had previously encountered Jesus and his teachings and had already decided to dedicate his life to his cause.

In addition, he must have been a man of deep spiritual conviction. This is revealed by his concern for his former colleagues, whom he invited to a dinner at his home, Jesus being the honored guest. No doubt, his purpose was to win these men to Christ.

Matthew seems to have accompanied Jesus in his ministry up to the time of the Last Supper. After Jesus’ death, Matthew retreated to the Galilee (Matt. 28:16), where he became one of the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Later, he was among the apostles in Jerusalem said to be present at the Ascension and the election of another “Matthew” (Matthias) to replace Judas Iscariot among the Twelve (Acts 1:10-14).

The Gospel ascribed to him does not claim to be written by “Matthew,” but he has been characterized as its author since the second century. Modern scholarship now doubts that he was in fact the writer of this work.

It is thought that Matthew preached the Gospel to the Jewish community in Judea, before going to other countries – possibly Ethiopia, Persia, Macedonia, and Syria.

There is wide disagreement in the sources as to the place of Matthew’s martyrdom and the manner of his death, which is variously reported as being by burning, stoning, stabbing, or beheading. According to the historian Hippolytus, Matthew died at Hierees, a town of Parthia (near modern day Tehran in Iran)

Mysterious James the Lesser

The Bible reveals very little about James the Lesser – only that he is a son of Alphaeus. He is usually identified as the brother of Joses and son of Mary. Since Matthew/Levi is also called the son of Alpheus, it is possible that he and James were brothers.

There are only a few Biblical verses about James the Lesser and what he did for the early church. He was one of the Apostles who witnessed Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7), a confidante of Peter when he was on the run from Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:17), and later rose to prominence in the church along with the other apostles (Acts 15; 21:18; Galatians 2:9).

The writer of the epistle of James refers to himself only as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” As many as six different men in the Bible are named James and there is little consensus as to who wrote the book.

According to Roman historian Eusebius and Hippolytus, James became the bishop of Jerusalem and was killed by a Jewish mob. He was thrown down from a parapet and clubbed to death after he refused to abandon the Christian faith – all the time praying for his attackers. He was possibly buried beside the temple.

Matthias the Replacement

Peter wanted to maintain 12 disciples after Judas’ death and developed two qualifications that were necessary in the replacement. First, the new Apostle must be someone who had been a follower of Jesus from his Baptism to his Ascension. Second, it had to be someone who had witnessed Christ’s Resurrection. The choice came down to two men: Joseph, who was sometimes called “Joseph the Just,” and Matthias. Both men were qualified, so the disciples drew lots. This means that they made their decision by drawing or pulling a marked piece of straw or cloth from a bundle. Matthias was the winner. The Bible does not give us any information about him after his selection to the Twelve.

Nothing certain is known of his career or subsequent to his appointment. Various traditions have developed to fill in the details of the future ministry of Matthias. One says that he evangelized in Ethiopia, where he was stoned to death. Another says that Matthias traveled to Damascus and later died in Judea. A third tradition says that he spent most of his time in Jerusalem, where he eventually died and was buried.

Paul, Inspired Traveler

Paul was born in the busy first century Greco Roman city of Tarsus, which is located on the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea, now Turkey. Paul’s Hebrew name was Saul. The change to the Greek name Paul, was timely as he entered upon this position of leadership in bringing the gospel to the Gentile world. Providentially, three elements of the world’s life of that day-Greek culture, Roman citizenship, and Hebrew religion-met in this Apostle of the Gentiles.

Tarsus was a trading center, known for its manufacture of goats’ hair, and here Paul learned the trade of tent making.

His Gentile connections greatly aided his ability to bridge the chasm between the Gentiles and the Jews, but of central significance was his strong Jewish heritage. His racial affinity with the Jews enabled Paul to begin his missionary labors, in each city, at the synagogue. Born of parents of Jewish blood, the son of a Pharisee, he was cradled in Orthodox Judaism.

He made his first appearance as a “young man “, probably at least 30 years old and already an acknowledged leader in Judaism. He actively opposed Christianity making him an enthusiastic leader of the persecution that arose upon the death of Stephen.

At Damascus the transforming crisis occurred. Repeatedly he refers to it as the work of divine grace, transforming him and commissioning him as Christ messenger. When the supernatural Being identify himself as “Jesus persecuted“, Paul at once saw the error of his ways and surrendered instantaneously and completely.

In assembling an approximate chronology of the apostle’s labor, Ramsay calculated that Paul was converted around A.D. 34, and likely was executed at Rome about A.D. 67. If this dating is accurate, the apostle’s earthly life and labors spanned some thirty-three years.

Paul was a skilled traveler. In the December 1956 issue of the National Geographic Magazine, there appeared an article entitled, “In the Steps of Paul.” The authors, who did  considerable research on Paul’s travels, estimated that his missionary endeavors consumed some twelve thousand miles, some by ship on the Mediterranean Sea, and across the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. In addition, hundreds of miles were traversed by land. He visited approximately fifty cities in his evangelistic endeavors (McRay 2003, 11).

Yet within the thirteen epistles known to have been written by Paul, and penned over an era of maybe just under twenty years, there is no complaint of fatigue, no whimpering at the hardships, no disappointment expressed of having been “crucified with Christ,” or of wasted years, or lack of family, wealth, or fame—just adulation. There was the simple joy in serving his Lord, and for the blessed hope of life to come. Paul could not be budged from his resolute course.

map of the journeys of the apostle Paul

“Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles par excellence, so much so that the church became predominantly Gentile by the end of the first century” (Ferguson 2005, 37).

Paul had a basic understanding of himself as a sinner with all other human beings, and he accepted responsibility for his sins. Yet he was extraordinarily confident in three things:

  1. the importance of the work he was called to do,
  2. the benefit of the gospel to all those he approached, and
  3. the authorization that he had from God for his message.

This confidence came from two sources – from the scriptures, in which he believed completely, and from his personal encounter with Jesus in the road to Damascus. In addition, he did not hesitate to express himself in strong language when he felt strongly about a particular issue.

He was executed at Rome in late AD 66 or early 67. Tradition says he was beheaded on the Ostien Way.

Obscure Simon the Zealot

The most obscure of the Apostles, Simon was the son of Clopas, and was also called Jude. His title may be a reference to his political affiliation, although there are some translations which indicate the meaning of Zealot to be ‘jealous’ or ‘zealous’. Later accounts depict him as a missionary to Persia, where he was murdered; either crucified or sawed in half, but this is not definitive.

According to the historian Hippolytus, Simon the Zealot became the second bishop of Jerusalem, after James the Just. He died in his sleep and was buried in Jerusalem at the age of 120 years.

Little-Known Thaddaeus

Thaddeus was also known as Labbaeus or Jude. His name is included in only 2 of the 4 gospels lists of disciples.

We know that Thaddeus, like other disciples, preached the gospel in the years following the death of Jesus. Tradition holds that he did so in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Libya, possibly alongside Simon the Zealot.

According to eastern tradition, he founded a church and converted the city of Edessa after healing its king. Church tradition holds that he was crucified there as a martyr. One legend suggests he died in Persia because he was executed by an ax or club and these weapons, typical in Persia at the time, are often shown in artworks depicting Thaddeus.

After his execution, his body may have been taken to Rome and placed in St. Peter’s Basilica, where his bones remain to this day, interred in the same tomb with the remains of Simon the Zealot.

Ancient historians agree that he died at Berytus (Lebanon, near Syria and Turkey), and was buried there. Armenians, however, for whom St. Jude is the patron saint, believe that Thaddeus’ remains are interred in an Armenian monastery.

Probing Thomas

The Apostle Thomas (Hebrew or Aramaic for “twin”) was also called “Didymus” (Greek for “twin”). Little is recorded of Thomas the Apostle. He was probably born in Galilee to a humble family, but there is no indication that he was a fisherman. He was a Jew, but there is no account of how he became an Apostle to Christ.

Thomas was courageous, willing to stand by Jesus in dangerous times. He also relentlessly sought the Truth; constantly asking questions. In addition, his wonderful profession, “My Lord and my God,” is the clearest declaration of Jesus’ divinity in Holy Scripture.

Famously, Thomas is remembered for being absent from the Upper Room the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples after His Resurrection. Thomas dismissed the accounts of the others by saying, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nail marks, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (Luke 20:25). Eight days later Thomas made his act of faith. He fell at the feet of Jesus and said, “My Lord and my God!” and Jesus replied, “Because you have seen me, Thomas, you believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe” (John 20:25-29). This incident gave rise to the expression “doubting Thomas.”

Thomas, Reluctant Missionary

According to the Acts of Thomas, one of the New Testament apocrypha written in the city of Edessa, the apostles divided the world for their missionary labors, and India fell to Thomas. However, Thomas claimed that he was not healthy enough and that a Hebrew could not teach Indians.  Even a vision of Christ could not change his mind. Therefore, Christ appeared to a merchant and sold Thomas to him as a slave for his master, a king who ruled over part of India.

One story suggests that Thomas offered to build a palace for the Indian king that would last forever. The king gave him money, which Thomas gave to the poor. Asked to show his progress, Thomas explained that the palace he was building was in heaven, not on earth.

Ultimately, after giving into God’s will, Thomas was freed from slavery and planted seeds for the new Church, forming many parishes and building many churches along the way.

Many historians believe that Thomas did indeed land on the palm-lined coast of Kerala on a site now called Cranganore. Here’s he is reported to have established seven churches – the first in AD 52.

Thomas is said to have raise the first cross in India and performed one of his earliest miracles when he encountered a group of Brahmins throwing water into the air as part of a ritual. He asked why the water fell back to earth if it was pleasing to their deity. “My God”, Thomas said, “would except such an offering”. He then flung a great spray into the air, and the droplets hung there in the form of glistening white blossoms. Most onlookers convert it on the spot, the rest fled.

Although, accounts of Thomas’ missionary activities are unreliable, the most widely accepted report holds that though he was reluctant to start the mission. he went east through what is now Syria then Iran. Historians believe he then traveled to Southern India. He traveled further than any of the other 12 Apostles and represents, most profoundly the missionary zeal associated with the rise of Christianity.

To this day,  Thomas is venerated as the Apostle of India. In fact, there exists a population of Christians on the western coast of India, who lay claim to conversion by Thomas. Their tradition holds that he was martyred during prayer by a spearing on the “Big Hill” near Madras, and was buried in Mylapore, on the east coast of India. Thomas’ remains may have been transported to Ortona, Italy, although some say he is still buried in Inda.

The following two famous authors, although not generally considered to be Apostles,  were disciples of Christ, and instrumental in broadcasting the Good News.  They cannot be omitted from any list of original Christian evangelists.

Mark, First Gospel Author

One of Christ’s 70 disciples, his original name was John and his surname was Mark. He was mentored by Peter, who was his likely source for writing the second gospel-the Book of Mark.

Mark was born in Cyrene of Jewish parents, near the western border of Egypt and his date of birth is unknown.  His parents, Aristopolos his father and Mary his mother, migrated to Palestine shortly after his birth because of the Berber attacks on their town and property. They settled in Cana of Galilee not far from Jerusalem.

A few years later Mark’s father died and Simon Peter, who was married to a relative of Mark’s father took care of Mark and considered him a son. Peter saw to it that St. Mark got a good education, studying law and the classics.

Church Traditions state that Mary, Mark’s mother, was an admirer of Jesus Christ and followed Him everywhere and that Mark was one of the attendants who served at the feast in Cana of Galilee where Jesus turned the water into wine.

Mark traveled with Barnabas and Paul on many religious missions, during which he founded the Church of Alexandria Egypt and established the Coptic faith. He died circa 68 A.D. in Alexandria. In the 9th century, some of his relics were relocated to Venice Italy where he had been adopted as their patron saint.

Luke, Loyal Companion

Many scholars believe that Luke was a Greek physician who lived in the Greek city of Antioch, Turkey. Other believe that, based on Colossians 4:10–11, 14, Luke may have been a Gentile.

A gentle physician who joined Paul‘s mission, Luke chronicled the development of the early church in the third gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. He, therefore, contributed over a quarter of the text of the New Testament.

In Acts, Luke wrote in both the first and third person, indicating that he may have lived in Troas and was in the company of Paul when Paul was in Troas. The composition of the writings, as well as the range of vocabulary used, indicate that the author was an educated man

Based on his accurate description of towns, cities and islands, as well as correctly naming various official titles, archaeologist Sir William Ramsay wrote that “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy… [he] should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” Professor of Classics at Auckland University, E.M. Blaiklock,

Luke followed Paul until his [Paul’s] martyrdom. In II Timothy 4, Paul wrote that Luke alone remains with him as he sat in prison awaiting his execution.

Luke was an evangelist, a historian, a physician, a pastor, a missionary, a companion, a brother, and a theologian. Christian tradition, starting from the 8th century, states that he was also the first icon painter. He did not write a gospel for fame or recognition, which is why he does not mention his own name in either of the books he wrote. His goal in writing a gospel was to document the exact truth concerning Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation.

Luke died at age 84 in Boeotia Greece. His tomb was located in Thebes Greece, from which his relics were transferred to Constantinople, modern day Istanbul Turkey, in the year 357.

map of mediterranean Click here to see how Christianity spread during the first 1000 years.

IT IS SO COOL.  There is a second video that covers the 2nd 1000 years at the same site.  FASCINATING.

You can skip the ad.

Conclusion

The original Christian evangelists were a brave group, each with his unique set of strength and weaknesses. Although God assisted them in their endeavors, most endured arduous travel conditions and they all endured constant persecution. They would have missed their families, due to travel that could last for years. The dangers of the road required that they evangelize in pairs so their travel companions and converts became the closest thing they had to family. Although, inspired and motivated with the joy of the Holy Spirit, they deserve our greatest admiration and gratitude for the sacrifices they made.

If you are aware of additional information regarding the personal lives of the Apostles, please let me know and refer me to your reference.  I’m interested.

References:

The Coptic Orthodox Church Network (http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/synexarion/mark.html)

St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church (http://www.stapostle.org/st-thomas-church-parish-history/saint-thomas-biography/)

Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/)

Crosswalk.com (https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/5-things-to-know-about-luke-from-the-bible.html)

National Geographic March 2012 edition

Pictorial Bible Dictionary, Southwestern Company

The Bible

St Paul by Litsa Hadjifoti, Michael Toubis Publications