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

 

stairs ascend into clouds

Demystifying Spiritual Growth | Spiritual Meditations

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

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

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

Phase One of Our Spiritual Journey

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

Phase Two of Our Spiritual Journey

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

Phase Three of Our Spiritual Journey

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

Phase Four of Our Spiritual Journey

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

The Spiritually Transformation

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

Brian McLaren writes:

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

The New View of Other People

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

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

The New View of Myself

Brian McLaren continue:

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

The New View of Nature

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

The New View of God

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

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

How do We Transform Ourselves?

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

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

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

The Pursuit Can be Challenging but Worth It

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Relevant Scripture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality by Christian A. Schwarz

Naked Spirituality by Brian D McLaren

Practicing the Presence by Joel S. Goldsmith

many hands in prayer

3 Steps to Successful Prayer | Spiritual Meditations

How to Make Prayer Work for You

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

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

The Interview I Tried to do Myself

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

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

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

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

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

How Did I Get Here?

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

Revived by Prayer

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

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

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

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

Witness to the Power of Prayer

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

My Story Continues

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

Prayer – What Works and What Doesn’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Does God Care?

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

Conclusion

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

Relevant Scripture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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child reading Bible in bed

The Baffling Look of a Christian | Spiritual Meditations

Who or what is a Christian?

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

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

Christians Are Not Perfect

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

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

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

Christians are Diverse

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

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

My Relationship with God is of Little Importance

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

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

Is Church Necessary?

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

Once a Week is Enough for Me

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

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

I’m Born Again

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

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

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

Let Me Help

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

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

I want to Minister to Others Full Time

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Relevant Scripture

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

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

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

References

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

The Bible

 

door representing the coice of life and free will

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

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

Separation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Will

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

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

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

The Catholic View of Free Will

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

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

Oriental Orthodox View of Free Will

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

Eastern Orthodox View of Free Will

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

The Methodist View of Free Will

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

The Lutheran View of Free Will

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

The Anabaptist View of Free Will

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

The New Church View of Free will

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

The Islamic View of Free Will

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

The Hindu View of Free will

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

The Judaic View of Free will

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

Conclusion

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

Relevant Scripture

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

 

2 people holding hands over scripture

Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers | Spiritual Meditations

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

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

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

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

Hyperbole, the Art of Exaggeration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Works Through People….Miracles are Rare

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

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

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

Adam Hamilton

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

Pray With Your Heart….Quality is Better Than Quantity

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

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

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

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

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

God Can be Trusted to Provide for Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

 

 

 

foggy cross suspended aboe water

Why Doesn’t God Show Himself? |Spiritual Meditations

According to Google, there are over 246,000 searches each month asking:

what does God look like.

The movie industry facetiously gives God the face of George Burns in Oh God. Even the Bible gives God anthropomorphic characteristics.  God is formless yet takes many forms.

God Appeared

In the Biblical old testament we are told that God appeared to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and others. But these appearances are vague and have a variety of manifestations.

Some Forms God Takes

Jacob wrestled with a man, but did not recognize the man as God until God revealed Himself by saying

“Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And He blessed him there” (Genesis 32:28,29).

The important thing to observe here is that when God appeared to Jacob, His appearance was as a man. No mention is made of glowing white garments or brilliant light. Jacob did not and we would not have known it was God by mere appearance.

Another biblical example is the form God used to guide His people in the famous Exodus account.  As Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt, God took the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. (Exodus 13:21)

Vague Descriptions of God

Isaiah also saw God:

“In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1)

Then Isaiah goes on the describe the angels, but no further description of God. The angels did not proclaim what God looked like.  They proclaimed the character of God. They spoke of His holiness and of His glory.

God appeared to Solomon in a dream, but he makes no attempt to describe God’s appearance. 1 Kings 3:5

There are many more Biblical examples, some of which are referred to the excerpt below by Bob Deffinbaugh

To See God’s Face is Fatal

Bible scripture repeatedly says that to see God’s face would be fatal.  In the following Biblical examples, although people were said to have seen God, descriptions are vague or nonexistent.

In those instances where men are said to have seen God, surprise is expressed that they lived to tell about it.

Jacob marveled that his life had been preserved (Genesis 32:30).

Moses noted that God “did not stretch out His hand” against the 74 men who are said to have seen the God of Israel (Exodus 24:10-11).

God informed Moses that he could not see Him and live (Exodus 33:20).

When Gideon realized he had seen the “angel of the Lord face to face” (Judges 6:22), he was encouraged with the assurance that he would not die (verse 23).

Manoah and his wife, soon to become the parents of Samson, were amazed they did not die for having seen God as the “angel of the Lord” (Judges 13:21-23).

Paul seems to be saying that men cannot see God and live when he declares that God dwells in “unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16).

Getting close to God is like drawing near to a blast furnace. It is dangerous to one’s health (see also Exodus 33:2-5).

Bob Deffinbaugh write in his article Invisibility of God

Speaking to God Face-to-Face

The expression, “face to face” is a figure of speech. Consider the example of Moses, where, in the early portion of Exodus 33, Moses is said to have spoken to God “face to face:”

“And it came about, whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Lord would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.”

God spoke with Moses. Moses could hear His voice but could not see Him in the cloud. Just as people today can hear God’s voice, but do not see Him.

The Nature of God is Not Visible

The Bible tells us God’s nature, but none of His qualities are physical qualities that we can see.   A few examples:

God is Infinite

“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” – Colossians 1:17
“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” – Psalm 147:5

God is Immutable

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” Malachi 3:6

God is Omnipotent

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” – Psalm 33:6

God is Omnipresent

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.” Psalm 139:7-10

God is Wise

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” – Romans 11:33

God is Faithful

“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” – Deut 7:9

God is Good

“O, taste and see that the Lord is good” – Psalm 34:8

God is Gracious and Merciful

“The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in loving-kindness.” – Psalm 145:8

God is Loving

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” – 1 John 4:7-8

God does show Himself, but not so we can see Him. We may hear Him or feel His presence, but we will not see Him. We may see His angels, and people have seen His son, but we will not see Him. We can understand His qualities, but they are attributes, not physical characteristics.

Other posts on this site describe spiritual experiences when God has shown Himself through words or activities, but still, God is not seen.  God is far too big and all-encompassing to be seen.  Some say God is a spirit, but even this word, as we understand it, is too narrow.

God’s Touch and a Soul Ascended –  in which God touched Tim’s hand to reassure him

God’s Faithfulness Changed My Life-in which God restored my income through a chance meeting on an airplane.

A Miraculous Intervention by Accident-in which God saved the lives of Tim and Lisa

God is Within Us

Jesus summed it up when he said;

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will behold Me no more; but you will behold Me; because I live, you shall live also. In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:18-21). [italics are mine]

Nowhere does Jesus say we will physically see God while on earth, but we will be aware of God if we love Him. And we will recognize God’s disclosure to us through regular prayer and meditation as described in How to Meditate to Reach Higher God Consciousness.

For a more in-depth understanding of how to become aware of God’s activities in your life refer to Joel Goldsmith lecture on the Inner Kingdom and The Art of Meditation.

Conclusion

God does not have physical qualities and, therefore,  cannot be described regarding appearance.  However, God does show Himself through His many ‘personality’ qualities that are evidenced by experiences and interactions people have had with God.  Each individual can become more aware of God’s activities in their lives through meditation / prayer as described in How to Meditate to Reach Higher God Consciousness.

 

 

little leaque challenge effort today results in rewaards in future

Effort and Attitude | Spiritual Meditations

A Little League Challenge

At the beginning of this last baseball season, I told my players I was looking for improvements in effort and attitude as the season went along and not results. The results, I promised them, would not be there this season, but would show up in the far distant future if they kept putting in the work and having the right attitude.

Most of the kids accepted this and, with course corrections along the way, really took to heart the challenge of playing in this setting. Most of our players were 8 year olds playing against teams comprised of mostly 10 year olds.

It is the spiritual application of a ‘todays effort = a future reward’ attitude that I want to share with you today.’

A Little League Challenge Applied to Life

This morning I had a conversation with a man who has begun the process of turning his life around. I’ve known him for a few years and we talk every so often (it’s getting more frequent). He has intentionally set himself on a path that will eventually lead to great things – restoration of his lifestyle and independence, the possibility of forming relationships with others, and even potentially a rewarding career one day.

However, none of this has happened yet. In fact, what he wanted to talk to me about today was that he feels like his life has gotten WORSE since he started making an effort. There were more demands on his money (which is severely limited), more demands on his time (which is less free than it used to be), and more demands on his character (which increases the more he goes out into the world).

I assured him that this is all perfectly normal for what he’s going through. We have to work hard and put in the effort for a long period of time before we see the results.

God’s rewards

  • God does something, forms something in us along the way, as we walk closely with Him and others who share Christ’s name.
  • God does something in us as we focus on developing Christ like virtues and values in our lives.
  • God does something in our lives as we put our heart and soul into our work and relationships.

These are all seeds that have been planted, but must be watered and be allowed to see the light of day before they will be able to grow and bear fruit in us.

Delayed Gratification…hmmm

As human beings, we don’t do very well with delayed gratification. We want what we do today to bear results today (or maybe tomorrow at the latest).

  • Yet in most situations, the best we can hope for is a pay check every two weeks showing us some marginal return on our effort.
  • In the best situation, the most we can hope for is a phone call two weekends a month from friends wanting to get together during free time.
  • In the best situation, most of us get new cars every 6.7 years or longer, according to the US census.

These things take time and cultivation.

  • If we stop working today, we get more time, but in three weeks we will really feel it.
  • If we stop cultivating relationships with others, we might not feel lonely for a week or two, but after a month we will notice.
  • We might enjoy spending all of our money today on fun things, but in 8 years, when our car dies on the side of the road, we’ll feel it.

Our Walk with God is the Same.

We might not notice if we stop praying today or reading our scriptures today or worshipping this week, or serving others this month. But in the long run, we will notice.  And it will make a difference in our lives and in the lives of our children and grandchildren.

We might be able to get away with not focusing on cultivating the virtues and values of Christ in our lives today.  But several years from now these virtues and values will be like fruit withered on the tree.  When called upon or needed they will be rotten instead of ripe.

And that’s what this season taught our players (most of them), We can get away with not working today, but by the end of next season and in five years, our lack of effort will show up.

Conclusion

We can get away with not focusing on following Christ today.  We might even have more free time if we don’t focus on following Christ.  But in five days, or weeks, or months, or years, where will that path lead us? We won’t see how God will use us, or even bless us, in the future…especially when we are going through trials or hardships today. But we do know that everything we go through today, trains who we are for the future.

May we all choose to follow Christ today.

Written by Rev Nathan W Carlson

Relevant Scripture

2 Peter 1:5      And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge

Philippians 2:5      Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus

angel sculpture

Angels in Our Lives…Literally | Spiritual Meditations

Do angels exist?  I’m not talking about your grandmother or the person that let you cut in line at the grocery.  I’m talking about the messengers of God, the beings who give guidance, protection, care and comfort to us lowly humans.  I’m talking about God’s army or angels.

I’ve never encountered an angel…at least not to my knowledge.  Have you?  The Bible is loaded with them, but I’ve never given much thought as to how they relate to my life.  But this week they are becoming a little more real to me.

My friend, Becky, was hesitant, but I encouraged her to tell us about her beach angel experience.  Here’s is what she shared.

Childlike Acceptance

I grew up in a coastal town with a beautiful harbor and a mountain which graced it’s entrance. On the outer side of the harbor, the mountain connected to a 20 mile long surf beach.

I was brought up in the church and, at the age of eight, I gave my heart to the Lord at a large evangelical meeting. I didn’t totally understand what I had done and didn’t follow up on it much.

Witnessing the Spirit at Work…I Want It !

As I grew into a teenager I became rebellious, but I found God again through my older brother. He had accepted Christ into his life and I could see the love of the Holy Spirit shining through and into his life. I desperately wanted this change in my life also.

I started attending the Baptist church that my brother was attending and, at age 18, I decided to be baptized. In the Baptist church, baptism is by full emersion and it was the most incredible feeling. As I came up out of the water, I felt the Holy Spirit fill me. My old life was washed away; I was born again; and I felt God’s power running through me.

But I Have Questions !

My close girlfriend (who was baptized the same day), my brother and I were enthusiastic to learn more about and serve the Lord. But as the months passed, we became disillusioned with our church. We were not getting the growth and mentoring that we needed to deepen and mature our faith.  Our questions were not being answered.

We had to rely on each other and frequently prayed together believing that “where two or three are gathered, there I am also”. And Jesus was there, leading us through some wonderful spiritual experiences, including the gift of tongues.

Ascending the Mountain

One sunny, winter afternoon, the 3 of us, climbed part way up the harbor mountain to a grassy hill overlooking the ocean and the beach. We desperately asked God what we should do about our unsatisfying church experience. We had stopped going and felt that perhaps the Spirit could lead us through life. But were we doing the right thing? beach where angel appeared

An Angel at the Beach

After about an hour, we descended on a path that took us to the beginning of the beach and led into a rocky area close to the base of the mountain. There was a beautiful long white beach in the other direction.

My brother and my girlfriend walked to the local shops and I went down onto the beach near the rocks. I walked towards the water, still silently praying that God would give me some direction.  Should I continue to attend church or should I leave the church that was not fulfilling my needs and be guided solely by the Holy Spirit without any Christian fellowship?

Due to the cooler weather, the beach was deserted. Or so I thought. But as I walked towards the water I noticed a man standing not far from me. He was possibly in his late 40’s or 50’s, with light brown hair slightly balding. He was of average height and build and smiled as I approached him.

I had always been a shy girl and never would normally have started a conversation with a stranger, but somehow when this man spoke to me I felt only calm and comfortable speaking with him. I do not remember the whole conversation but I know that we began speaking about the Lord almost immediately.

I explained to him that my friends and I had been praying on the side of the mountain; that we were dissatisfied with our church; and that we had asked the Lord if we were right to leave our church and be led solely by the Holy Spirit. Right away he answered me, looking deep into my eyes and said; “You are doing the right thing”. I felt like God was speaking to me…it was so profound and touched my very soul. After this we said goodbye and I turned to walk away.

After only a few steps I turned to glance at him, as it had been such a special encounter. I expected to see him still there, or to see his back as he started  to walk in the opposite direction. But there was no one there. The rocks were too far away for him to have reached them in such a short time but I walked to the nearest, largest rock and looked behind it. There was no one anywhere.

I knew than that God had sent an angel to answer my fervent prayers and give me unquestionable direction. I was to live my life, following only the direction of the Holy Spirit.

This was a great faith building experience; knowing that God was listening to me, heard my cries and cared about my path. Ever since then I have trusted that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing in this life, even though it was not a typical Christian life. In hindsight, I look back and know that God was shaping me and molding me for his purpose.

This was a life-altering experience for Becky.  God had sent her a messenger in response to her heart-felt fervent prayer.  The kind of prayer that God responded to for Pastor Tim and his sister, and for me.

A Follow Up Note From Becky:

I did eventually find a close relationship with the Lord and a wonderful church, however, it was many years later. Living life guided only by the Holy Spirit is not right for everyone, but this is how God spoke to me and he did keep me close and was molding and shaping me, unbeknownst to me at the time.

Dad’s After Death Message

Becky’s story stimulated my mind on the subject of angels, which reminded me to take a look at my journal of spiritual experiences and growth.  (I recommend you start one if you haven’t already.)  I found this.

My dad died in 2010.  Although he had always gone to church and read the Bible, especially during his final years on earth, I didn’t know for sure that he had accepted Christ into his life.  Maybe he was a Christian by habit.  It isn’t something we talked about and it is nearly impossible to really know another persons heart.  But 2 weeks after dad died, I was walking down the hall in my home, when I heard tinkling bells and my mind was struck with a line from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life  ‘Every time a bell rings, and angel gets his wings’.  I could find no physical source of bells, inside or outside.  I knew this was my father.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Part of the story in It’s a Wonderful Life was of an Angel 2nd Class who wanted to earn his wings.  To do so he had to prevent the main character, George, from committing suicide, which he was able to thwart.    At the end of the movie, a bell on a Christmas tree rang and George’s small daughter, Zuzu, tells everyone that ‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings’.  The implication was that the life-saving angel had been rewarded.

What I found out this week was that the angel in the movie had the same name as my dad…Clarence.  In 2010, I was aware that my father sent me a message addressing my concern about his presence in God’s Kingdom.  But when I realized the connection between his name and the movie angel’s name, I was amazed by how specific he had been about being an angel.

My dad always liked to joke around.  It’s just like him to give me a message based on one of his favorite movies and then wait for me to figure it all out. Thus, I have to believe that we keep at least some of our personality in the next life.

So do I believe in angels?   Between what Becky has shared and what my father has conveyed from heaven, I have to.

How about you?  Have you had an angel experience?  Please leave a comment.

Relevant Scripture

For the angels are only spirit-messengers of God sent out to help and care for those who are to receive His salvation.  Hebrews 1:14

 

 

miracle spiritual intervention man at cross praying

A Miraculous Intervention by Accident | Spiritual Meditations

We’ve all been there.  Our situation is so desperate, we are in such pain, our heart is breaking, or all of these at once.  We may not believe there is a God, but when we are at the very bottom, we plead with God, just in case He’s there.

The following is just such a story related by Rev. Dr. Tim Ehrlich.

My Sister’s Car Accident

I was my first solo trip into the world.  My junior year of High school had just ended, I had just turned 17, and to celebrate I hitchhiked up to Burlington Vermont from Long Island to visit my twin cousins Kim and Kerry who were attending the University of Vermont. I woke up happy on the morning of the fifth day of my visit. I had breakfast and was laying on the couch in the living room, singing along to the Beatles’ I am the Walrus when the phone began ringing somewhere in the house.

My cousin Kim came rushing to get me.  It was my mom calling for me.  Mom asked me to sit down because she had some terrible news: “Your sister has been in a terrible car accident; she has 14 skull fractures. The doctors say it is a miracle she is still alive but they say she is going to die in the next 2-4 hours. Would you like to try to see her before she dies or wait for the funeral?”

My sister Lisa was my only sibling; she was 13 months younger than I am.

She had been traveling up from Long Island to central Massachusetts with three teenage friends, to join a group of people who were helping the choir director of our church build a summer home.

They were speeding and as they came up over a rise in the road a highway department grass cutting tractor was crossing in front of them blocking both lanes. They swerved to avoid it and the car rolled over several times. The other three passengers had their seat belts on and received only cuts and bruises and one had a broken arm. My sister was not wearing a seat belt. She was thrown out of the car and her head smashed against rocks on the side of the road. Her face and her entire head was shattered.

I am told that when the troopers found her they thought at first she was dead so they tended to the others first. They transported her to a local hospital and notified my parents and my mom called me.

The Worst Crisis of My Life

In an instant my mom’s words took me away from feeling blissful to being consumed by the worst crisis of my life. When you grow up in a dysfunctional home like ours, (my dad was an alcoholic), your siblings become co-survivors and that is a special bond. That was the case for us and the result was that Lisa was to me—my sister, my friend and my co-survivor in a crazy household.

After I hung up with my mom, I told my cousins what happened, and I went outside and sat in the sunshine on the side of the small hill next to the house to absorb this news. I sat and I thought about my sister. My memories of her starting from our earliest childhood, ran through my mind.  As I thought about loosing her forever, I realized that it would truly be very difficult for me to live without her. So I sat on the little hill, with my head down and the sun beating down on my back, and I began to pray. The air was cool and I still remember how wonderful the hot June sun felt on my back.

I am certain now that it was God’s timing because two days before, I had been on the green of the university when a group of students erupted out of a building onto the green. I asked my cousin’s friend who they were, and she told me they were the campus Christian group. As I looked at their obvious joy and unfeigned friendliness towards each other, I said to myself, “whatever they have, I want it!”

Nevertheless, if you had asked me an hour earlier if I believed in God I probably would have said no, or that I did not know what to believe about God. But now that my sister’s only hope was God, suddenly, all my intellectual arguments were gone, all the doubts and questions I held for years were silent, and instinctively I just prayed. I prayed as only a person with a truly broken heart can do. I prayed earnestly, truly, intently and with every bit of my heart.

The Essence of Prayer

As I prayed, I told God how I would feel without my sister, what her loss would mean to me, that it would damage me irreparably, that I wasn’t sure I could live without her. Finally, I begged God to accept my life in service to him in exchange for letting my sister live. I know this sounds like desperation and bargaining, but just because we are desperate and bargaining doesn’t mean we are not earnest or that God won’t respond to us. I was earnest about giving my life to God, and God did respond to me.

At that moment I was at the very bottom emotionally…completely brokenhearted.   I have since come to realize from scripture (“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalms. 34:18 ESV) and from experience, that only desperation can produce in us the level of seeking that is required to produce the breakthrough to actually finding God as referred to by Jeremiah: “You will find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”

All of your heart is a tremendous amount when you consider all we keep in our heart. To truly have an encounter with God we must put everything else in our heart to the rear and God to the front.

God’s Answer to My Desperate Proposal

So as I prayed that day, God gave me three great gifts: first, he miraculously saved my sister; second, he baptized me with the Holy Spirit; and third, he allowed me to join his service, fallen as I was.

As I humbled myself before God with my head bowed, suddenly a comforting warm sensation began sweeping down over me, outside and inside. I lifted my head and it continued to pour out on me and through me. It felt like water but lighter than water, like a large bucket of warm water slowly, gently being poured down on my head.  It was approximately body temperature, as it felt warm on my skin but neutral inside me. It continued to pour down on me for several seconds washing me completely inside and out. This must be why it is called a ‘baptism’ of the Holy Spirit.

I now realize that God’s plan was to cleanse me first before accepting me into his service by pouring the Holy Spirit over me and through me; but at that moment I didn’t even know what the Holy Spirit was. All I knew was that God was pouring something on me that felt warm and comforting inside and out, and I knew that it meant God had accepted my offer and my sister was going to live. Relief flooded my heart and I felt deep joy and peace and calm assurance.

God has also given me the proof of his reality, a question that had tormented me for so long. How good God is to take me all the way from being filled with horror and desperation and anguish to complete peace and joy and assurance in an instant! To this day I know I have gotten the best out of the agreement I made with God that day. God saved my sister and saved me too, He saved me from a wasted life, a life without knowing the greatest Being to exist!

When I stood up from prayer I had such profound peace. I knew with complete certainty that as surely as God had just poured something wonderful all over and through me, that my sister would live.

My cousins in Vermont and everyone around me at the hospital were still fearful and horrified, but I was calm. They were all certain she was going to die but I knew my sister was going to live! And of course, miraculously, she did.

As one doctor indelicately described it, her head was “shattered like a hard-boiled egg.” We would soon find out she had not 13 but 22 fractures, and there is no way she should have lived! Her forehead was bashed in, the bones around her right eye were pulverized and there were fractures in the top, sides and back of her head.

When I got to the hospital I was allowed to her bedside in the intensive care unit. Lisa always had the coloration of Snow White: the whitest skin, jet-black hair, and beautiful blue eyes. Now she was unrecognizable, her head was swollen and round almost like a basketball; her skin was entirely black with tinges of purple and blue, her face was so swollen that the only recognizable feature was the end of her nose that was just sticking up above the swelling.

Amazingly she was conscious, she heard me and said, “who is that?” I said “Its me, Timmy.” She said “What are you doing here?” I said, “You have been in a bad car accident so I came to see you.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because I love you!” she said “Oh.” I was so happy as I stood at her bedside because I knew God was saving her life.  At that point she went into a coma which she remained in for most of the next month.

Lisa’s Recovery

After about a month, she was conscious and talking and they discovered that she was nearly blind and could only see out of the bottom half of her left eye. After about a month she was flown by helicopter from Massachusetts to the hospital at Port Jefferson on Long Island. Lisa spent a total of four months in the hospital. She remains legally blind, but fortunately she can read and can navigate independently, although, she can still see only out of the bottom half of her left eye.

After spending several years learning to deal with her new handicaps she got a GED then a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s Degree and is now a social worker in the Veterans Administration, where she helps veterans ever day.  I thank God every day for accepting the offer of my life in service in exchange for hers.  I am so blessed and so lucky that God agreed to my offer. It is the best thing that ever happened to either of us.

Miracles Can Happen to Skeptics

If I look at what happened as an unbiased, detached theologian, the first thing that jumps out at me is how unworthy I was to have received such a miracle, much less to have been accepted into God’s service. I was an agnostic, or a skeptical inquirer, certainly not a believer. Theologically, it is significant that a person should have a profound, miraculous experience under those circumstances.

The stereotype and the expectation most people have is that miracles and spiritual experiences come to saints or at least to the devout and not to agnostics and skeptics living in sin.

I now know that none of us are ever worthy to receive a miracle from God, that his miracles are always given in grace. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter seven about his struggles with sin. He said: “ I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate” (7:15 GNTD). The greatest apostle in history struggled with sin and yet was a part of many miracles.

So I conclude from all this is that God loves and responds to the love and desire for Him that we have in our hearts.  God also knows that, in the world, love and our higher instincts are often overpowered by physical and psychological desires.

For me personally, I was skeptical about the reality of God from an early age. Like doubting Thomas, I was resolved to believe in nothing I could not see or touch or that could not be proven to me. Even though I attended church and Sunday school regularly in all the years between age five and my sister’s car accident, I still didn’t know God, nor had I seen any proof of his existence.

The Seeds of Faith

When Lisa was miraculously saved I discovered that seeds of faith had been planted inside me by all the years of Church and Sunday school. Watered by the prayers of my deepest need in the darkest time for my soul, the seeds of faith burst forth suddenly with amazing life. I have come to realize that unlike physical seeds, which can take weeks to germinate and sprout, spiritual seeds can and do spring to instant growth when watered with the sincere and urgent prayers of a person facing catastrophe such as I was then.

I have also come to realize that this is an illustration of the reality of the words God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah: “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart” (29:13 NRSV).

 

Relevant Scripture

You will find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah. 29:13)

I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15 GNTD)

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalms. 34:18 ESV)

When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 NRSV)

John 20:24-29 New International Version (NIV)
Doubting Thomas
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”