young boy praying with Bible

What to Know About the Bible / Spiritual Meditations

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

The Briefest Summary of the Old Testament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Briefest Summary of the New Testament

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unity of the Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Basic Q&A about the Bible

Why is it called the Bible?

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

What languages were the Bible originally written in?

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

Why are the Protestant and Catholic Bibles different?

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

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

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

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

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

How did chapters and verses come about?

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

When were the first translations of the Bible?

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

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

What is the Bible’s overall message?

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

References

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

Pictorial Bible Dictionary with topical index published by Zondervan

 

 

Jesus child walk away in forest

God Wouldn’t Want Someone Like Me / Spiritual Meditations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are the “Good” and the “Bad”?

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

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

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

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

Jesus and the Leper

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus’ Earthly Ministry to the Broken

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

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

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

The Living Dead

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

God Wouldn’t Want Someone Like Me

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

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

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

Jesus Christ Chooses You

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Written by Rev. Nathan W. Carlson

Munch watercolor

Add Patience to Your Bag of Tricks / Spiritual Meditations

Patience is a lifelong spiritual practice as well as a way to find emotional freedom. It’s opposite, frustration, is not the key to any door.

Before starting this article, I told a couple of people that I planned to write about patience.  Their immediate question was “Do you have patience” and my immediate answer was “No”.  However, having now learned how to increase my patience and the benefits thereof, and with some effort,  I expect to improve.   I hope you will also find it useful.  Let’s give it a try..

Frustration

Frustration is a feeling of agitation and intolerance triggered when we get something we do not want and/or  2) we don’t get something that we want.  In those instances, we have a sense that things are not going our way and that’s when our egos kick in. It’s tied to an inability to delay gratification.

We’ve become so used to immediate results that anything else is unacceptable. Emails zip across the globe in seconds. Parents text messages to their kids to come in for dinner instead of yelling from a front porch. You can get the temperature in Kuala Lumpur or the Malibu Beach surf report with a click of a mouse. So, when our free flow of information and movement is interrupted, we become annoyed. Another long line. Telemarketers. Crazy drivers. A goal isn’t materializing “fast enough.” Slow computer and glitches. People don’t do what they’re supposed to. My blood pressure goes up just thinking about it.

Expressing frustrations in an effort to resolve problems is healthy, but it must be done in a non-irritable, non-hostile way. If not, your desire to force an outcome alienates others and brings out the worst in them. A general frustration with others can cause you to treat spouses and friends as disposable instead of devoting the necessary time to nurture love and invest meaningful time in a relationship without giving up or giving in. When you unleash frustration against yourself, you become our worst taskmaster. Patience allows you to step back and regroup instead of aggressively reacting or hastily giving up on someone who’s frustrating you.

A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense. (Proverbs 19:11)

Impatience makes us tense and kills our sense of humor. I can attest that frustration leads to procrastination as I put things off to avoid the annoyances involved. Conquering frustration allows us to make better choices in handling daily hassles and stresses.

The challenges to our flow have us feeling more vulnerable, possibly afraid, and we have an automatic response to protect ourselves, our values and anything else that’s “ours.” That’s when we feel the energy charge behind our likes and dislikes. Buddhist’s call that charge Shenpa- the heat behind likes, dislikes, opinions, and values. You know it. It’s the urgency, the pressure to make things go your way.

Frustrations Equals Anger

Let’s go a step further. Be honest…impatience is anger. Expressing the energy of anger can be addictive. Why? Well, for one thing, there is an immediate, though short-term release of the distress underlying the anger.  This is the same reason drinking when one is scared or eating when one is lonely works…. for a few minutes.

Aggression separates us from others and blocks our access to our inner wisdom. As we run our seemingly endless loop of “story” we are no longer present to ourselves or others. “I can’t believe she did that again! After I told her it bothered me. How does she get along in the world acting that way? Maybe I’ll just never agree to meet with her again . . .yada, yada, yada.” Who could notice a rainbow or hear the voice of wisdom within while preoccupied with spinning the tales of woe and wrongdoing?

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)

The everyday irritations and judgments that we experience in relationships may be subtle. We may not even quite recognize that we are being impatient. But those lesser irritations can be destructive to maintaining the trust we all want in our most intimate relationships.

When everything is going along fine in our relationships, no problem. But then somebody makes us wait when we are ready to leave, or makes a snide remark, or talks over us, or criticizes our parents, or calls us stupid and we’re off to the “nobody’s going to treat me like that” races.  And so, the cycle goes.

A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. (Proverbs 15:18)

The Escalating of Anger

Anger can be addictive in that the more often we dig the hole of impatience, the “habit” becomes more entrenched. Think of how an alcoholic develops a tolerance for alcohol. The same with anger; the more we let ourselves stay there, the more the neuronal pathways deepen. And as we age the irritability just increases.

When frustration is triggered, we can mindlessly, automatically, escalate from minor irritability to full-fledged fury. And we are usually in denial about the effects of our anger on others-as well as on ourselves. This rising tolerance for angry expression explains the fact that domestic violence may start with contemptuous remarks, and over time escalate to more and more dangerous physical attacks.

Well, if you want to escape the endless cycles of irritations and build your character at the same time, there is a way out. It’s working at developing that old-fashioned virtue of patience.

The Benefits of Patience

First, let’s look at what patience is not. It is not watching the other person and being angry inwardly, while trying to maintain an appearance of dignity and not showing your inner tension.

Patience recognizes the “Shenpa” that urges us to DO something in reaction to our trigger points. The urge might be to criticize, to defend one’s self, to overeat, to use a substance or activity to get away from the uncomfortable energy of the anger underneath that urges you to act.

Having patience is often difficult yet utterly indispensable for accomplishing great works. It defends us against foolish, impulsive behavior, gives us time to consider our options carefully, plan appropriately, and execute effectively.

Patience is an expression of power. It’s an emotionally freeing practice of waiting, watching, and knowing when to act. 

In an article in Psychology Today, Judith Orloff MD, defines patience as an active state, a choice to pause until intuition says, “Now is the time.” It means waiting your turn, knowing your turn will come. Once you’ve set the steps to reach a goal, it entails trusting the flow. At that point you have learned to delay gratification for something that is worth waiting for.

How to Grow Patient

So, what is the purpose of cultivating patience in yourself. In a word, happiness: better relationships, more success. Well worth the effort, I’d say. But it indeed takes effort.

Jane Bolton Psy.D., M.F.T. tells us that we can all work to develop more patience. An important idea here is that developing patience is just that. Developing a skill. We aren’t born with it. Think of a hungry infant, shrieking with all its red-faced, rigid-bodied impatient demand for satisfaction.

After all, we can’t just sit down at a piano and play it without ever learning to play and practicing, practicing, practicing. That practicing includes 1) paying attention to when we are not patient, 2) being kind to ourselves for not being “perfect” already, and 3) changing the automatic judgmental, critical thoughts and feelings.

One path to turn the tables on frustration is to find a long, slow-moving line to wait in. Perhaps in the grocery store, bank, post office. Lines are an excellent testing ground for patience. To strengthen this asset, I highly recommend standing in as many as possible.

And here’s the switch: Instead of getting irritated or pushy, which taxes your system with a rush of stress hormones, take a breath. Tell yourself, “I’m going to wait peacefully and enjoy the pause.” Meanwhile, try to empathize with the overwrought cashier or government employee. Smile and say a few nice words to the other beleaguered people in line. Use the time to daydream; take a vacation from work or other obligations.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-8)

Realizations to Ponder and Develop the Patience We Desire

  1. Have the self-confidence that you can win. The more certain you are that you can achieve your goal, the less you’ll worry over the possibility of failure and therefore the better you’ll be able to tolerate not achieving your goal right now.
  2. Recognition that your goal isn’t crucial for your happiness. No single goal, no matter how important it may be, no matter how badly you may want it, can ever create the entirety of your happiness. Reminding yourself of this even as you strive toward your goal with all your might helps to calm the sense of urgency you feel about obtaining it.
  3. Be determined to advance one step at a time. Recognize the need to break large tasks into smaller, manageable ones enables you to focus on doing today’s work today and tomorrow’s work tomorrow. Add up enough of those days and you’ll find yourself standing right in front of your dream.
  1. Get in touch with the addictive quality of the opposites of patience — anger, irritation, blaming, shaming. Usually, it starts with a slight discomfort and tensing in the stomach area that goes along with the interpretation that things are not going your way. Then the storyline of thoughts appear. “I have never seen such incompetence … how could they … don’t they realize … did they do it on purpose or are they just ignorant … blah, blah, blah.” You know the rants. We all have them. And you can grow beyond them. “Don’t bite the hook” as advised by Pema Chodron, acclaimed Buddhist teacher and writer. When the storylines of abuse start in your head, just stop it and move on.
  2. Upgrade your acceptance of discomfort and pain. So many of us have the belief that being “comfortable” is the only state we will tolerate. Learn to say to yourself, “This is merely uncomfortable, not intolerable.” It helps enormously to break the habit.
  3. Don’t go astray with the “solutions” that changes the other person, situation, or thing that we think is causing our discomfort. It is not the outside thing that’s the source of our pain, but how we think of it. No matter how bad or good the outer thing is, it’s our mind that has the aversion or attraction. It’s our mind that is the cause of discomfort, not the outer circumstances. In the mind-training model of dealing with the pain of irritation, the idea is to reduce the pain and suffering that our impatience gives us and to increase our ability to act in a way that has a higher probability of achieving our goals. So, the solution to pain is an inside job. Get curious about what’s happening in the moment inside you.
  4. When you are impatient or irritated with yourself, you can remind yourself that you are growing, and that, “Sure, this is understandable, this is what happens to me when I’m bothered.” You can say to yourself, “It’s true, I don’t like this, this is uncomfortable, but I can tolerate it. And, “I can be tolerant of my own flaws and inadequacies.”

Just imagine how it would feel if we never felt rushed or hurt by another’s impatience with us. And how it would feel if we were never (or rarely) irritated or impatient with someone — either someone else or ourselves. What would that be like? Is it worth practicing patience?

How to Actively Manipulate the Subjective Experience of Time

Here is one more suggestion that you can utilize when you have chosen to work on your patience by waiting in line. Our subjective experience of the passage of time tends to accelerate when we’re immersed in an enjoyable experience and slow when we’re bored or in pain. For this reason, viable strategies for subjectively speeding time up, when waiting, might help.

  1. Immersing yourself fully in the action you’re taking. Allow yourself to live in the NOW. Lose yourself in it and cast off your tendency to look beyond the present moment.
  2. Distracting yourself. If you’ve already taken all the action you can and must now wait, wait actively rather than passively by distracting yourself with another engaging activity. Make it something vitally interesting in order to lend it the power to tear your mind away from your urge to hurry.
  3. Vividly imagining you’re already enjoying what you’re waiting for. Anticipation can create impatience, true, but also great enjoyment. Savor the waiting, fully explore in your imagination what it will be like when your goal is achieved. In fact, anticipating something good is sometimes even more enjoyable than having it happen.
  4. Advanced to an even greater degree of belief in the inherent goodness of people. Strike up a conversation with those around you.

Whether impatient with a person or impatient to achieve a goal, I try to remember that every person wants to be happy and every goal worth achieving takes time—and that if I’m patient and take each step as it appears before me I can count on the “gravity” of my efforts to pull me in the direction I need to go to achieve victory, whether that means helping another person rather than being short with them or accomplishing a goal.  And even more importantly, I can enjoy the process of both. Alex Lickerman M.D.

Conclusion

Practicing patience will help you dissipate stress and give you a choice about how you respond to disappointment and frustration. When you can stay calm, centered, and not act rashly out of frustration, all areas of your life will improve.

I’m also struck by the fact that every world religion sees patience as a way to know God. That gives me an incentive to practice it, and perhaps it does for you too. While frustration focuses on externals, patience is a drawing inward towards a greater wisdom. Many actually use the practice of patience as a spiritual tool for growing compassion and getting karma points.  Ultimately, our relationship with patience depends upon why we think we are on earth, and what we choose as the purpose for our relationships.

Lastly, patience doesn’t make you a doormat or unable to set boundaries with people. Rather, it lets you use the situation to get a larger, more loving view to determine right action. Patience, a gift when given or received, moves within reach when you can read someone’s deeper motives.

Relevant Scripture

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)

References

Judith Orloff M.D.     https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/experts/judith-orloff-md

Jane Bolton Psy.D., M.F.T.,     https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-zesty-self/201109/four-steps-developing-patience

Alex Lickerman M.D.     https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-in-world/201002/patience

 

 

 

 

silhouette of 2 people forming heart with extended hands

The Key to Loving Your Enemies / Spiritual Meditations

No part of the Sermon on the Mount is more challenging than it’s teaching to not only love our neighbor as ourselves, but our enemies as well. How we react to that command depends upon our answers to these questions. Is there something or someone outside the range of God‘s power? How great a God do we have? What limitations do we placed upon God? To what degree do we believe that God operates on this side of the street but not on the other side?

We are All One in God

According to the Master Jesus, we are to “call no man our father upon the earth: for One is our Father which is in heaven.” Therefore, no one has an American, African or Asian father; or white or black father. There is but one Father – the Father in heaven who is the creative and governing principle of each one of us and all that is.

We do not live in a world made up of separate people and things. It can be likened to the Hawaiian Islands. From the air, they appear to be six or seven islands, each one separate and apart from the other, but if we were able to go deep into the water, we would find that the Hawaiian islands are really one piece of land – just one island with six for seven upward projections, all one and united.

If we could see beneath the surface and investigate the heart of all mankind, there is no doubt that we would find that we are all united in the one common ground of God. Each one of us is merely a projection, or individualization, of that One, and when we penetrate beneath the surface of outside appearances, we soon discover that we are not alone, but that we are connected with the Source of infinity. We are one with It, and It is flowing out as our individual experience to the extent that we allow.

Carl Jung, noted psychiatrist, was convinced that the similarity and universality of world religions pointed to religion as a manifestation of the “collective unconscious”, those traits that all people have in common and a concept very similar to our understanding of the connectedness of all souls.

If You Love God, You Love All

Only when the Spirit of God touches us, can we feel spiritual love, and that love is not limited merely for family, but extends to our neighbors and enemies far and near. Surprisingly, this universal love deepens and strengthens the love a person feels for the immediate family; it is a love so complete that each member of the family has a genuine feeling of belonging but is a separate individual known by God.

It is easy to acknowledge that we have an Inner Being or Soul, it is pleasant and satisfying to think this about our friends and family; but it is far more important for our own spiritual growth to be able to go beyond seeing the true identity of those we love and admire and begin to realize the true identity of those we like least. Regardless of an individual’s origin or station in life, God is the creative principle of every man, and all that the Father has and is, is his for the asking.

There may be those who because of their ignorance of this principle of oneness do not yet know this truth about themselves and therefore cannot demonstrate it, but that does not prevent us from knowing it about them. Jesus tells us that if we go to the altar to pray, knowing in our hearts that we have not accepted all men as sons of one Father and therefore brothers, we might as well stop praying, get up from the altar, sit down quietly, and decide within ourselves that we must become reconciled with our brother. Only then can we hope to reach God.

We all know that not only are there people whose offenses are as great as our own, but that there are some that are far worse than we are, who seem to be almost beyond human redemption, much less spiritual redemption. For us to be spiritually whole, harmonious, and genuine, and to enjoy the kingdom of God on earth, it is necessary that, in addition to knowing the truth about ourselves and our friends, we expand our faith and know the truth universally so that we do not judge some people as separate and apart from God or as unworthy to be the sons of God, and thereby set up a divided household.

We all have human traits – some good, some bad, some indifferent, some we admire in each other, and some we dislike. But that is not you or I or they. That is the mask that we have built up since birth; molded by prenatal experiences, the environment of early home life, childhood, and school days and then later by personal experiences in the world. All these influences have formed not the soul but the outer armor of a person.

In so far as we can keep from thinking of a person only as their outer appearance and keep our mind stayed on God, realizing that everything emanates from Him and everybody lives and moves and has their being in Him, to that degree we can love our neighbor even though he is an enemy.

The outer signs indicated that Jesus was a carpenter, and a rabbi in the Hebrew synagogue, but because of his spiritual discernment, Peter was inspired to see through that appearance and recognize that it was the Christ that was really functioning as this man Jesus. When Peter was able to say, “thou art the Christ, the son of the living God”, it was because he was able to look through the human appearance and see what it was that animated Jesus and made him a savior and a world leader.

Consider the person who is the most troublesome to you. How do we know exactly except through our mind that he is the kind of person we judge him to be? Is the person we are seeing an actual person, or does what we have in our mind represent our concept of that person, that is, our opinion or thought about him? We must realize that our concept of him is entirely wrong, because in his true identity his soul is a piece of God, individually expressed on earth, and against whom we are bearing false witness. Therefore, we are the sinner, not he. God’s grace is upon this person. He lives and moves and has his being in God‘s household as a member of God’s family.

If we are honestly seeking God as a way of life and not just as a means to some desired end, not only do we discover that we are one with the Father, but also that there is not a man, woman, or child in the world who does not also have a spiritual spark. There are people who we may not like and yet, at some moment of conversion or transformation of consciousness, their past will be wiped out and suddenly they become liberated and new.

Every human being comes from the hand of God, and we all know what the love of God for us. God has His own ways and means to work in the hearts of men, and we do not know how close they are to Him except by their actions. We will always know whether they are at His disposal or not. Whether you are a Hindu, a Muslim or a Christian, how you live your life is the proof that you are fully His or not. Mother Teresa

Everyone is called. Everyone is chosen. Not everyone says yes to the calling. Jesus. Buddha. Martin Luther King. Mother Theresa. They said yes. They reached for the stars not just for themselves, but to inspire you. They have opened the door and shown you what is possible. Jesus himself said, “the things I do, greater than these you can also do “. Kute Blackson You are the One

A Hymn

This well know hymn asks us to pursue unity and guard the dignity of all people as a defining characteristic of a Christian.

They’ll Know We are Christians by Our Love

  • We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
  • We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
  • And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
  • And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
  • Yeah they’ll know we are Christians by our love

 

  • We will work with each other, we will work side by side
  • We will work with each other, we will work side by side
  • And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride
  • And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
  • Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

Conclusion

When we think of the word ‘love’, what comes to mind is the warm fuzzy love that we feel for our significant other, close friends and family.  If you can experience this kind of love to strangers and enemies, I thank God for you.  However, the kind of love that is possible for most of us is to strive to do what is best for strangers and enemies, humbling ourselves when needed.  Let us forget the good that we believe about some and the evil that we believe about others and see what the spiritual truth is. Then we will understand why we have been told not only to love our neighbor as ourselves, but our enemy as well. The Father within will reveal this to you.

Relevant Scripture

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Reference

The Thunder of Silence by Joel S. Goldsmith

Sign on urban wall

Eye Opening Events Between the Testaments/Spiritual Meditations

One of the most beautiful biblical stories is not found in the Old Testament or the New Testament, but in the space between the two.

There are those who would call this approximately 400 years, the years of silence. There are no prophetic statements made in this period. Nothing is written as the oracles of God as revealed through the prophets. The “word of the Lord” does not appear again until the Gospels when the angel of the Lord appears unto the priest and informs him that his wife will have a child named John.

Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you are to give him the name John.  Luke 1:11

So what happened during these four hundred years? Was there silence? Were there activities? Life always goes on but was there anything significant in these years?

 I would like to tell you a story. If you went to high school or college, you may have already heard this story but it has been my experience in studying history that it is very easy to become so swallowed up by the dates, the names, and the places, that history can become as tedious as reading a phone book. For that reason, I promise not to list any dates. I will offer you few names and when I do, the information I will share with you regarding them will be skimpy by design. I do not want you to become so side-tracked with individual people, philosophies, places, and dates, that you lose the over- all picture.

Back to my goal: It is my intent and hope that this little read will allow you to hear the music. To hear the glorious music of the movement of history as it existed between the Old Testament’s ending with the promise of the anointed One to come at an appointed time [Habakkuk 2:1-4], and the New Testament’s claim that the One arrived “in the fullness of time” [Gal 4:4].

As you begin to hear the music, I hope you will bow afresh to the birth of Christ. Then I would encourage you to go back and check out the people, events, and dates. Catch the big picture and then fill in as much detail as you will. The detail can be found in numerous history books of your choosing for this period of time.

Little Israel at the Close of the Old Testament

At the close of the Old Testament, the Hebrew people were limited because the rest of the world did not understand their language. They were small in area. And they were small in numbers, made even smaller by the number of people that were taken into captivity by the Babylonians. When finally released, many of these people, who had never lived in the land surrounding Jerusalem, simply chose to live in any place where they had business contacts and could support their families. As a result, Jewish communities developed both on the north and south sides of the Mediterranean Sea, but mostly on its far East coast.

The land of Israel was located in a rather insignificant portion of the world. There was some traffic passing through on the North/South interchange but little on the East/West. Likewise, sailors of the Mediterranean had little need to go east to the dead end side of the Mediterranean. Thus, the land of the Israelis was relatively small and insignificant on the big picture scale.

One thing they did have was an unusual claim. Beginning with Abraham, and then later with Isaac and Jacob, and the prophets, they made the claim that the Holy One, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Invisible One in the visible universe, had spoken to them.

Now these people were not naive. After several generations of these ‘encounters’ they set up a way to ‘Test the Spirit’. Even though they had a trustworthy history of hearing “thus said the Lord” and it was so, they were more than aware of manipulations and other possible shenanigans. Thus, the three way test was this:

Whenever someone said “Thus said the Lord” they would pick up stones and be prepared to kill the one who would make such a statement. Then the would-be prophet would have to give a sign and the sign would have to come true. If it did not, the prophet was stoned to death. If the sign did come true, then the obligation was theirs to heed the advice or warning.

The prophets foretold that the Holy One would send someone. This someone would reveal the connection between the visible world and the invisible. His coming, they were told, would be at the appointed time. {Habakkak 2:1-4] The prophets then turn silent.

The Astonishing Spread of Greek Culture

If you were to look at a map of the Mediterranean Sea area at this time, you would see all of its coastal areas with the little area of Israel on the far east coast. But the lights of history shone on the area we know as Greece.

Perhaps, dear reader, you are Greek and would totally embrace the words of the bride’s father in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” who said, “When the rest of the world was still swinging on trees, we were writing philosophy.” There have been many great cultures of the world before and after the Greeks, but at this period in time, the father of the bride was fairly accurate.  Think of any Greek sir name you have ever heard of. With the exception of Aristotle Onassis, just about every one of them surfaced at this interlude between the testaments.

School of Athens painting

Raphael’s’ painting of the School of Athens,  portrays my thought. All of these ‘heavy thinkers’ come from this period. Raphael not only paints them, but he organizes them as well.  In the center of the painting we find the two ‘Big Boys’ in Plato and Aristotle. Their thinking can be roughly equated and separated into ‘right-wing’ and ‘left- wings’ or ‘right-brain’ and ‘left-brain’ activities.

Aristotle and Plato painting

Plato in red, with his hand up, was interested in the invisible things in life. His interest was in unity, or what the classical philosophers called “universals.” He wanted to know what holds everything together and his thinking was upward and outward. He was interested in transcendence. You beauty lovers, who may not be very interested in how it works, but are mesmerized by its beauty, would be considered followers of Plato.

Aristotle on the other hand, with his hand pointing down, was interested in what was visible, what he could see, and hold, and take apart. He was more interested in what is known as ‘immanence.’ Those of you who are interested in science and it’s many branches would be considered followers of Aristotle.

Not to belabor the point, but others sitting at the feet of Plato and Aristotle are: Zeno, Epicurus, Averocs, Pythagers, Aleibides, Xenophon, Aeschines, Parmenides, Socrates, Heraclitus, Diagenes, Euclid, Zoroaster, Plolemy.  You may not be familiar with all of them but you have probably heard of at least some of them.

These men changed the way people thought. By all of their questioning, they underscored the ‘individual’ rather than just one person in the ‘herd.’ As an individual, one had privileges, duties, and responsibilities. These people of Greece wanted to produce good citizens. A citizens ‘civita—civilized one’ was not to be ruled by a despot but would be able to rule themselves. Although it was many years later, Emmanuel Kant said there were four big philosophical questions:

  1.  What may I know? [epistemology]
  2.  What must I do? [ethics]
  3.  What may I hope? [eschatology]
  4.  What is man? [anthropology]

These Greek philosophers incorporated all of that.

You may be asking yourself at this time, “so what. What does this have to do with the significant events between the scriptures?” Please bear with me. The story goes on.

North of Greece, there was a ruler by the name of Phillip of Macedon. He was a warrior. He wanted to go to battle, to fight, to control. He also recognized that the people we call Greeks were not typical of humanity. They seemed more advanced than everyone else. They were more civilized, more cultured, more aware.

I have already acknowledged that there were other great cultures in the world so let me share two things that those other cultures did not possess. They did not have the number zero. You may be saying to yourself, “so what? What is the big deal with having a zero?” The Greek aquisition of the zero from the Egyptians became the basis of our economic system and our currency. Every time you handle money, move a decimal point, etc. you are indebted to the Egyptians for that magnificent zero.

Another thing other peoples did not have but borrowed from the Babylonians was counting by 12.  You are probably asking the same question:“So what?” Are you wearing a analog watch? There is a reason those numbers go from 1 to 12. You can thank the Babylonians for figuring out that system.

Anyhow, Phillip of Macedon was so impressed with the Greeks that he insisted that his son be taught by them in order to learn their ways and thinking processes.  He sent his son, Alexander, to the Academy to study with Aristotle. After absorbing a great deal from Aristotle and his new found Greek culture, and after Phillip dies, Alexander, decided it was time for him to do his own conquering.

His goal was not to destroy the world around him, but to conquer and expose these tribes or peoples of the world [nations is too strong a term] to the Greek culture.  In his path, he left the Greek language for people to learn. He left Greek food and culture. He built libraries where the people were exposed to the books of all of the philosophers previously mentioned. He constructed theaters where the questions of the philosophers were asked. Because he was opening up the minds of the people to cultures different than their own, it becomes a time when synagogues flourish and expanded westward as far as Spain and along the north African coast.

Having libraries, theaters, and synagogues may not seem like a big deal to you who have TV sets in your home or ipads, iphones, etc. but these were all channels of communication. It allowed people who were preoccupied, as we are, with providing food and shelter for their families, to learn about other people. It gave them a place  to listen and to know what others were thinking and doing. It encouraged them to think for themselves and to ask those haunting questions about what is real and what isn’t. What is important and what isn’t? Why am I here? What am I supposed to believe? In a world where everyone dies, what my I hope?

At the age of 33, Alexander the Great dies. The entire Mediterranean area is marked with his footprints and the Greek language, Greek books, Greek theaters, and synagogues are everywhere.

The Roman Takeover

With the death of Alexander, a different people began to expand. Unlike the expansion of Alexander with the desire to conquer and to spread the virtues of Greek culture, these people expanded with the idea of control, power, and money. Beginning in the area we call Rome, a series of smaller expansions turned into larger and larger expansions. They wanted to ‘annex’ all of their neighbors. Motivations often became mixed. They quickly discovered that if they could build A, and someone else could build B, together they could be A&B. Likewise, if this new ‘merger’ could build A&B, and another people  could build C, then the combined group could build A, B and C.

map of roman empire

It was the same for the opportunity to purchase from a larger area and to sell to a larger area. They would import grains that they needed and sell wines that they produced. Over the years they learned where to get what was needed. They did not have their Home Depots, Lowe’s and Wal-Marts, but they knew exactly where to get their tin and marble, silk worms and cloth, fruits and vegetables. With this knowledge and power, they became more knowledgeable and more powerful—and richer. The cast of their shadow expanded everywhere that Alexander had controlled and a great deal more.

The Romans were in it for the long term and their expansion needed to be managed. Although the Greek language continued around the Great Sea, these people spoke Latin and it was an essential ingredient in the management of the government, commerce, and military control.  Many construction projects, including a huge network of roads leading to Rome, were built with Latn as the working language.  Thus, three languages existed throughout the land: Native tongues, Greek, and Latin.

As part of the management, and building on the Greek’s concept of citizenship, with privileges, rights, and obligations, the Romans built a system of law. The Roman citizens were accountable to and protected by the law. This is where it becomes interesting. Not everyone in the Roman Empire was a Roman citizen. The people of the City of Rome were,  but the rest of empire was a different story.

It is not my intent to romanticize the Roman expansion with all of its warfare.  It was often a bloody war with deaths throughout the lands. But it was not always that way.  So valuable was the “Roman Citizen” title that much of the land was conquered, not by force but with a bribe. Sometimes soldiers would simply surround the town and make a deal with the movers and shakers (the influential) of the city. “Don’t fight with us, just join us. If you do, we will make you Roman citizens.” There was generally about a 10% limit on the number of people allowed to do this in any city.

Especially for the merchants, the Roman citizenship classification was a “Golden Ticket” in the world of commerce. It meant that one could travel throughout the empire and still be protected by Roman law. Thus the merchant was free to sell his wares anywhere. He could even sell someone else’s wares as a sales representative. This was a time when merchants from different lands could be found throughout the empire and their buying and selling made commerce work.

It was also the time when signage came into being. Before people traveled a great deal, the shops of the village did not need a sign that said “Butcher”, “Baker” or “Candle-Stick-Maker”. One simply knew where to buy their shoes, get a hair-cut, or purchase cloth. With all of the strangers in town, signage was needed.

In Alexandria, a city named for Alexander, it was decided to build the biggest and the best library in the world. They wanted a copy of every book written. This was especially interesting and important to the Jewish communities. The synagogues around the Mediterranean did not speak Hebrew. That was lost to them. They spoke Greek. They requested of the library in Alexandria that the Old Testament scrolls  be translated into Greek. The library then contacted the Jews in Jerusalem and made their request known. The Jewish authorities appointed six Hebrew scholars from each of the 12 tribes. They did all of the translation work and this highly significant Old Testament translation is known as the Septuagint and you may see it written simply as LXX for the 70 translators who did the work. This Old Testament was then shared with the synagogues around the great sea.

Are you getting a glimpse of how the world had changed? Looking at the same map, with its libraries, theaters, and synagogues spread around the sea, note again the land of the Hebrews. It is still in the same location, but now it is more than a dead end of the Mediteranean cul-de-sac. Rather, it is in the middle of the significant commercial trade routes between north and south. Given the nature of the mountain, one has to travel through a narrow pass known as Megiddo. The New Testament speaks of Armageddon and notes that whoever controls this pass controls the world. As sand travels through an hour glass at its narrowest point, so too the land travelers must go through here.

We have arrived at that point in time when the entire area is tied together with language, with roads, with commerce, with communication centers with the theaters, libraries, and synagogues. It order for it to function so that trade is not interrupted, where money and supplies continue to flow freely, where prosperity can continue to be a hope and dream, there has to be peace in the land. There is always war and rumors of war, but turf battles interrupt business. All of these diverse cultures, though united in language, and dependent on commerce and law, were free and encouraged to maintain their own culture as long as they kept the peace.

Encouraging peace, and successfully keeping the peace, was a Roman accomplishment that became known as the PAX ROMANA.

It is Time for the Extraordinary

Let us now turn our attention to the New Testament. It is not my intent to offer NT lessons, but merely to connect a few of the dots. Let us begin with the birth of Christ.

  • When the entire area of in this part of the world was with one tongue [Greek]
  • When the ground work had been laid where people knew they were individuals, with rights and obligations,
  • When the major questions of the world were being asked,
  • When theaters and libraries flourished,.
  • When synagogues were numerous and the old testament scrolls were being translated into Greek,
  • When merchants and scholars possessed Roman Citizenship that allowed them to travel anywhere in the empire and still be protected by law,
  • When peace was plentiful, and the rule of the land,
  • When this little land of Israel became the gateway connecting North and South,

Then and only then did God send an angel to a young girl named Mary and say to her:

The time has come. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God. Luke 1:35.

Pentecost Ignites the Good News

God the Giver

Let us now take a quick look at Pentecost. Christians look at Pentecost as the time when God gave his Holy Spirit and a time when those gathered were speaking in tongues. To the Jewish community, which represented the people who were attending this regular service of worship, Pentecost was a time to celebrate God’s “giving”. People receive, but it is the Lord who “gives”. How does the Lord give? The Lord gives in three specific ways

  1. The Lord gives through His harvest. Human kind may plant and water and work, but it is the Lord who gives of the harvest. It is all the Lord’s creation. I have come to the persuasion that if one properly understands the term “creation” one understands the rest. If one fails to properly understand “creation” then one does not understand the rest of the scriptures.
  2. The Lord gives through His law. It is the gift of the law that leads to prosperity. It is the law that forms the type of person we are. It is the law that points to the direction we need to go.
  3. The Lord gives “as in the book of Ruth”.

Without going into it, the book of Ruth is a great story. It never tells the reader what to do, what to say, nor what to believe. It shows you what the Lord does and how He does it. The workings of the Lord are such an “easy yoke”, such a mature and smooth wine, so kind and gracious, that His workings become revealed after events and generally not before or during. Whenever you smack your forehead and say in amazement, “look how that all came together!” you will understand.

The Old Testament used the term “HESED” throughout the Scriptures to indicate the “Loving Kindness of the Lord”

These are the three characteristics of the Lord that are being worshipped when the worshippers are gathered together in Acts 2. They are worshipping the Lord—the GIVER.

Tongues of Fire

Now, consider the people who are at this service.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment because each one heard them speaking in his own language. [Remember, they all knew Greek so there was no need for them to hear in their native tongue]. Utterly amazed they asked, “Are not all these men, who are speaking, Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; resident of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Tonus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the part of Libra near Cyrene, visitors from Rome [both Jews and Jewish converts], Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues! Acts 2:5

Jewish merchants from around the Sea are in the major trading center of Jerusalem when they hear the story of the resurrected Christ from Peter and when the Holy Spirit is another gift, given by the Giver, who they have come to celebrate and worship.

These merchants were all passing through on business but eventually they journey home. When they get to wherever their homes are, their wife and children meet him at the door and say, “Daddy, what did you bring me? How was your trip? What did you learn?” When the time is right, perhaps after dinner, he shares with them his story and his experiences at the Jewish Pentecost Service. The wife will eventually ask, “What will our Rabbi say to all of this?”

I image the Rabbi asking him to remain quiet awhile until the Rabbi himself can examine the scriptures. Rabbis seek counsel from other Rabbis and a Rabbi in Cappadocia can readily contact [via Roman snail mail] any Rabbi throughout the empire. So he does. And when he does, he soon learns that the story he heard from the merchant in his synagogue is the same story other Rabbi’s are hearing from the merchants in their own. Pretty soon, the Jewish community is spreading the gospel of Christ throughout the Roman Empire.

And the questions! Oh, the questions!!! All of the rabbi’s have them and they need to ask for help. The news quickly spreads that the rabbinic scholar in Jerusalem, originally from Tarsus, has gone from trying to kill the Christ followers to becoming one. He even changed his name from the Hebrew Saul to the Greek Paul. So, they write to him. When he writes back, his letters become circulated from synagogue to synagogue. He even travels to a number of these places, since as a Roman Citizen, he is free to travel the Roman Empire and to be protected by Roman law.

Conclusion

It is my hope that this little story has helped you connect some of the dots. During these 400 years of silence, it may not seem that anything significant happened, but as you can now tell, one of the ways the Lord works is “as in the book of Ruth” where the truth sneaks up on you.

Regarding your celebration of Christmas, my prayer continues to be that you will be able to bow afresh to the Christ child and all of the events that had to happen before he came. If He had arrived a few hundred years earlier, no one would have known about it. It would have been an isolated event amongst a far away people. If it had happened a few hundred years later, everyone was embroiled in war.

In happened, as foretold, in the fullness of time.

In your personal life, you too will discover periods of silence. You too have had and will have your years of silence. When you do, smile. He who gives the harvest, and gives the law, and “as in the book of Ruth” gives silently, graciously, easily, and smoothly. It is done with such purity that the movement of the spirit is generally seen in hind-sight. Remember, Robinson Caruso only had to see one footprint in the sand before he knew, he was not alone.

Written by my friend Dr. Frank Leeds III

Michelangelo Gods hand human hand heart

The Magic of Courageous Love / Spiritual Meditations

Extolled as the greatest virtue, love is fascinating and complex, and takes courage to reach its pinnacle.  Yet for a language containing over 500,000 words, English is short on the distinctions between the various kinds of love. It uses the same word to show as much preference for a cup of tea as for your soul mate.

Greek, on the other hand, does not need any clumsy clarification when talking about love. In fact, Greek has several words to choose from, for different kinds of love and for different people whom you love. By deciding where your relationships fit into these types, you may find you are loved or love more than you think.  Always a good thing.

Eros or Erotic Love

The first kind of love is Eros, which is named after the Greek god of love and fertility. Eros represents the idea of sexual passion and desire and the ancient Greeks considered it to be dangerous as it involves a “loss of control” due to the primal impulse to procreate. Because Eros is centered around the selfish aspects of personal infatuation and physical pleasure, Eros must grow into a deeper love to be sustained. When misguided, Eros can be misused, abused and indulged in, leading to impulsive acts and broken hearts.

Kane, a marriage and family therapist says “A person newly in love sees the world through the lens of love and most everything is tolerable and everything their partner does is delightful. Romantic love evolves when one feels a sense of interdependence, attachment, and that their psychological needs are being met”

Philia, or Deep Friendship

As Aristotle put it, philia is a “dispassionate virtuous love” that is free from the intensity of sexual attraction. It often involves the feelings of loyalty and sacrifice among friends, camaraderie among teammates, and sharing of emotions.

Another kind of philia, sometimes called storge, is a love without physical attraction. Storge is primarily to do with kinship and familiarity as between parents and their children.

Ludus, or Playful Love

Although ludus has a bit of the erotic eros in it, it is much more than that. This was the Greeks’ idea of playful love, which referred to the affection between children or young lovers. You may have experienced it in flirting and teasing, during the early stages of a relationship. But we also live out our ludus when we gather together, bantering and laughing with friends, or when we go dancing.

Mania or Obsessive Love

Mania love is a type of love that leads a partner into a type of madness and obsessiveness. The person exhibiting Mania love, needs love to feel a sense of self-value. Because of this, they can become possessive and jealous lovers. If the other partner fails to reciprocate with the same kind of mania love, many issues develop. This is why mania can often lead to problems such as codependency.

Pragma or Enduring Love

Pragma is a love that has aged, matured and developed over time. It is beyond the physical, it has transcended the casual, and it is a unique harmony that has formed.

You can find pragma in married couples who’ve been together for a long time, or in friendships that have endured for decades.

Pragma is about making compromises to help the relationship work over time, and showing patience and tolerance.

The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said that we spend too much energy on “falling in love” and need to learn more how to “stand in love.” Pragma is precisely about standing in love—making an effort to give love rather than just receive it.

Psychologist, Rachel Needle says. “The truth is that you have to put in time and energy and make a conscious effort to sustain the relationship and the passion. Basic communication with your partner on a daily basis is important to continue connecting on an emotional level. Also, remind yourself why you fell in love with this person.”

Philautia or Self Love

The Greeks understood that in order to care for others, we must first learn to care for ourselves. This form of self-love is not the unhealthy vanity and self-obsession that is focused on personal fame, gain and fortune as in the case with Narcissism.

Instead, philautia is self-love in its healthiest form. It shares the Buddhist philosophy of “self-compassion” which is the deep understanding that once you feel comfortable in your own skin, you will be able to provide love to others. As Aristotle put it, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.

The only way to truly be happy is to find that unconditional love for yourself. Often learning to love yourself involves embracing all the qualities you perceive as “unlovable”.

Agape, or Love for Everyone

The highest and most radical love is agape or selfless love. Agape is what some call ‘spiritual love’. This is an unconditional love that you extended to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. It is the purest form of love that is free from desires and expectations, and loves regardless of the flaws and shortcomings of others. Agape was  translated into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of our English word “charity.”

C.S. Lewis refers to it as the highest form of Christian love. But it also appears in other religious traditions, such as the idea of mettā or “universal loving kindness” in Theravāda Buddhism.

Agape is the love which we intuitively know as  Divine grace: the love that accepts, forgives and believes for our greater good.

In his book “You are the One”, Kute Blackson shows us the courage needed to live our lives fully engaged in agape love within a world that discourages it.  He  makes a good case for transforming ourselves into a conduit for God’s love to reach everyone.

True love is always freely given, with nothing expected in return. It is a commitment to share what is in your heart with another person, no matter who they are, or what language they speak.

Yet most of us have been conditioned to hold back our love. We go from being young children who say “I love you“ to the dog on the street or the man behind the counter and we become adults who reserve our love for people we can trust, for people who earn our love, for people who love us back.

We are taught to believe that love is based on certain conditions. Get good grades, be a good girl, look a certain way. That love is dependent on a certain set of actions. If someone doesn’t measure up, love should be restricted. We learn that our love should be held in reserve. It is for our family, our girlfriend, our children, our spouse. We cling to these people. They are the ones who get our love. But we hold the power to love anyone in any moment.

So, when do you hold back? Do you hold back with your spouse? Do you expect him or her to meet a certain set of expectations and then you will offer your love? Do you hold back with your siblings? Still harboring resentment from some inequality or injustice in the past? Do you hold back with your coworkers? Your neighbors? Your kids? Everyone that you meet is desperate for love. When you realize that love is something that can be shared with everyone, there is no limit to the love you can give.

I am not saying that the path of love is going to be easy. It is a muscle you have to exercise. It is a daily choice that you must make. Don’t refuse it. Love is not a feeling you have no control over, but a fierce commitment. There are no good excuses to hold back the one thing everyone in this world is craving more than life itself. Begin to ask yourself the question daily: “Am I loving fully? Could I love right now?” This question becomes a kind of moment to moment meditation, and it can open your eyes to opportunities you may miss otherwise.

Love is not a passive word. Love is not something to store high up on the shelf in your closet and bring out only on special occasions. Love is a living thing to be used every second of your life. Love is not just for the great saints and heroes of history. It is our birthright. Our destiny. Our responsibility. The more you use it, the more it grows. At the end of your life, the only thing you get to keep is the love you give away. All of life is a gigantic temple. Everything in it is an expression of the divine. Everywhere you walk is holy ground.

What the Apostle John Says about Love

Looking to the Bible, the Apostle John clearly indicated that it was God who initiated love.

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says “I love God “, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen. And he has given us this command: whoever loves God must also love his brother. “

John  echoed the words of Jesus. When asked by the religious leaders of his day to point out the greatest commandment in the law, he answered,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind “. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself “. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.

Then John summarized it best when he said,

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

As Jesus Christ lived out his enlightenment and realization of his fundamental unity with God, he had a unique urgency, a poignant wild passion, and a hunger for justice that made him the hero of love to the human race. Christ came not to found a new religion or to ingratiate a new set of dogma but to open up a fierce and shattering new path of love in action, a path that seems now, with the hindsight of history, the one that could have saved – and still could save – humanity from its course of suicidal self-destruction.

Love Your Enemies

In his book What’s so Amazing about Grace, Philip Yancey states “There is nothing we can do that will make God love us more. There is nothing we can do that will make God love us less”.  That being true, a theology of love is grounded in the realization that God loves our enemies as much as God loves us. And we are all created in the image of this God. We are all precious in God’s site. We are all children of God. This is going to be a stretch for many of us, but one of the highest and most powerful forms of love and compassion flows when we learn to pray for those who persecute us, when we dare to love even our antagonists and enemies.

Apartheid

In his book ‘Naked Spirituality, Brian D McLaren describes an example of agape love that touches a life with it’s magic.

A white South African once told me about a time when he was on the receiving end of such a blessing.

During the apartheid years, he believed what he was told by white authority figures, namely, that those working against apartheid were evil troublemakers, rabble-rousers, communist, and heretics. Chief among the troublemakers was an activist Anglican priest named Desmond Tutu.

Once, walking through an airport, this large white man saw Tutu coming towards him. Overcome with rage, he moved toward Tutu and roughly, intentionally bumped him as he walked by. Tutu, much smaller in stature, fell down, landing on his backside with a thud. When Tutu open his eyes, angry blue eyes glared down at him with a sneer of obvious distain, only to see Tutu’s shocked and dazed face gradually focus and form into a smile. “God bless you, my child”, Tutu said, his brown eyes gleamed with an impossible mix of passion and mischief.

The man strutted away, all the more infuriated because Tutu found a way to transcend his acts of hatred. During the hours and days that followed, the words of blessing echoed in his memory and gradually the big, proud white man was brought to repentance by a simple, spontaneous blessing. Tutus nonviolence wasn’t simply a political strategy; it was a spiritual practice. It was rooted in this practice of intercession. The only way we will learn to respond to violent actions with non-violent actions is by learning to respond first with nonviolent words – words of blessing, not cursing, words of prayer, not revenge, words of compassion, not retaliation.

Ghandi

Kute Blackson recounts yet another incident of agape love in action:

Gandhi was in prison many times throughout his life. But he never allowed feelings of anger, victimization, and hated to overpower his call to love now. On one such occasions, after being imprisoned, Gandhi requested a pair of scissors and some leather and cloth from the prison warden. He was given these items, and during his stay in prison, he made a pair of sandals. He made them with great love and attention to detail. Upon Gandhi’s release from prison, he asked to see the army officer who had imprisoned him. He handed the sandals to the officer and said, “Officer, while in prison, I made this for you. A gift from me to you. “ The officer was speechless and stood in silence. Gandhi simply turned around and walked out. No words were necessary.

Even when staring injustice and cruelty in the face, we can choose to love. It’s easy to love when you get what you want. When life is kind to you and people are nice to you. But this takes great courage to love when your life is difficult or you are treated unfairly, and even greater courage when the people around you are unkind and rude. But Jesus taught us that this is when loving really counts.

Mother Teresa

Love is not something that fossilizes, but something that lives. Works of love, and declaring love, is the way to peace. And where does this love begin? Right in our own hearts. We must know that we have been created for greater things, not just to be a number in the world, not just to go for the diplomas and degrees, this work and that work. We have been created in order to love and be loved.

If you find yourself saying, “Oh, well, only the great ones know how to love that unconditionally. They are special.” Kute Blackson tells us “This is an illusion. If it was possible for Gandhi, it is possible for you. The great ones weren’t special people with special powers. They were like you and me. They were simply examples of what was possible. They showed us our capacity to love and what we can all be. They simply dared to exercise their hearts capacity to love more and more.”

Divine love is inside us. Divine love constitutes forgiveness, charity, benevolence, kindness, cooperation, sharing. All of these and more.  We just need to release it and exercise it.

Conclusion:

The ancient Greeks found diverse kinds of love in relationships with a wide range of people—friends, family, spouses, strangers, and even themselves. By mapping out the extent to which all types of love are present in your life, you might discover you’ve got a lot more love than you had ever imagined. You are loved. You were born to love. Everyone is waiting for your love. What else is there to do but love?  Be courageous and share the agape love God has given you with everyone.

Relevant Scripture:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1 NIV)

We love because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

References:

8 Different Types of Love by Mateo Sol https://lonerwolf.com/different-types-of-love/

The Ancient Greeks’ 6 Types of Love

You are the One by Kute Blackson

Naked Spirituality by Brian D McLaren

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

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.  He understood that as we become consciously one with Spirit we attain eternal harmony of spiritual good.  This was evident in his refusal to lead an army to fight the Romans; in his refusal to set up an earthly kingdom; in his statement, “My Kingdom is not of this world”; in his refusal to call on material powers to save him from the crucifixion.

There has been so much written about who Jesus 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