Your Wondrous Kingdom of God Matures/Spiritual Meditations

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

Consider the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experiencing the Kingdom of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Steps to Entering the Kingdom of God

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

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

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

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

The Kingdom of God is Within You

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

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

Indifference to Good and Bad

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

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

Seeing God in Others

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

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

Love of the Worldly

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

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

Judgement and Punishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

References

The Thunder of Silence by Joel S. Goldsmith

The Zondervan Topical Bible

Pictorial Bible Dictionary published by the Southwestern Company

 

young boy praying with Bible

What to Know About the Bible / Spiritual Meditations

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

The Briefest Summary of the Old Testament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Briefest Summary of the New Testament

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unity of the Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Basic Q&A about the Bible

Why is it called the Bible?

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

What languages were the Bible originally written in?

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

Why are the Protestant and Catholic Bibles different?

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

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

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

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

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

How did chapters and verses come about?

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

When were the first translations of the Bible?

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

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

What is the Bible’s overall message?

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

References

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

Pictorial Bible Dictionary with topical index published by Zondervan

 

 

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

time chasing people down a hill

Simple Guide to Know God Better | Spiritual Meditations

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

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

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

Are you listening for God’s answer?

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

Are you watching for God’s activity?

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

Are you open to God’s answer?

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

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

Conclusion

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

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.

­­­­­­­

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