Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

I Am The Guardian Of A Vision

July 9, 2015

Some 20 years ago, I served as chairman of the board of trustees for our local church. Our main task was to oversee the health and repair of the physical property. With a building older than 100 years, that is a task.

There were some marvelous servants on the board. We all worked together with the skills God had given us, and I believe we were good stewards of the building and property–and the financial health of the church.

Writing in the Celtic Daily Prayer, an unknown author was talking about place (geographic, local) and especially about old places in England. He (she?) said, “When we say, ‘I’m in charge of these ruins,’ it must mean that we are guardians of a vision, not curators for the department of ancient monuments.”

There was a sense when I was attempting to lead the group that I felt part of a long line of people stretching back to the mid-1800s (a long time in western Ohio where settlement really didn’t begin in earnest until about the 1830s). They had a vision of being Jesus’ witnesses in the frontier.

In a way, we are still on the frontier wherever we go. Jesus remains a stumbling block to many. And my great sorrow is when Christ-followers themselves help throw up stumbling blocks instead of looking for ways to help people turn the stumbling block into a cornerstone for the foundation of their lives.

Let’s take the thought even further. When are we guardians of a vision laid out thousands of years before? When are we merely curators of an ancient monument out of which has been sucked all the life and spirit?

When we consider our spiritual formation, at what point do we look for what adds life? Or, should we consider at what point we began just curating an ancient monument and have lost the life?

A Living Contradiction

July 24, 2014

When you think of the Apostle John, you know, the one who wrote a Gospel, three letters and an apocalypse, what is your vision?

Is he the messenger of love? Or a Son of Thunder?

John MacArthur wrote in his book on the apostles, Twelve Ordinary Men that John grew from a strong, opinionated, ambitious person to someone who could also embody the type of love Jesus pointed to.

MacArthur says that John learned to temper his passion for Truth (one of John’s favorite words) with Love (his other favorite word).

How often are we as young people, perhaps freshly educated (or semi-educated) from the university, so full of truth and ourselves that we just want to command everyone into the proper ways?

Then we grow up at some point in our lives and learn that this truth needs to be tempered by patience, empathy, joy, grace (love). Then we are a complete person.

John has always been my favorite, but not so much for either truth or love, but because he seemed the most “spiritual” whereas Peter seemed the most “practical” of the apostles. Paul also was more of a practical preacher than a spiritual teacher.

MacArthur rightly points out that being a walking contradiction is not a bad thing. Strongly defending truth yet showing love to our neighbor–they go together.

The Truth About You

March 19, 2014

John Ortberg, senior pastor of the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, is teaching a series now on “The Truth About You.” He says, “The truth about you is that you don’t know the truth about you.”

The most famous phrase on this subject is the inscription at the Temple of Delphi, home of the so-called Delphic Oracle, which says, “Know Thyself.” Christian theologians have picked up that phrase over the centuries–including Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, John Calvin.

During the course of years of my meditating, there have been periods where recurring images would come to me. I’d explore the images during meditation. Sometimes reflecting on them. Then some conclusion would happen, and I would never revisit that image again. Doesn’t mean that I forgot them. I just never went back to that experience.

Paul begins his letter to the Romans talking about how sinful we are. Those can be just words. In my meditations many years ago, there was an image that recurred over the course of many months.

One day during meditation, I opened a door and came face-to-face with all of my sins and all of the sins that I was (am) capable of committing. It was a a shocking experience.

Later, I could understand Romans. And other such works. Forget that I’m so good. I know that within me is the power if unchained has great capability for committing evil deeds.

I’ve said that I’m not really a “Lent” person. It was just never in my heritage and I’ve not picked it up very much. If we take it as a time of reflection of how much bad we have done and how much we are capable of doing, then the release from all that sin and evil (a subsequent experience in that series of meditations) is all the more sweet. That would be the climax of Lent–the celebration of Easter and the Resurrection.

Know yourself. It’s hard. It’s necessary.

Living In The Spirit

March 11, 2014

John’s Gospel makes it very clear that what Jesus was talking about always pointed to living with the Spirit of God. When you interpret what Jesus said, you should always put your thoughts in the context of Spirit.

Philosophers and thinkers in the late 18th and the 19th Centuries discovered the lineage of spiritual writings. Much of it was from India and was Hindu and Buddhist. There are other sources, too, that pointed to meditation and the reality of the Spirit.

A German philosopher in I guess what we would call “typically German” wrote a few very long and in-depth books on how the Spirit moved through history and created history. His name was Hegel.

Another German came along at about the same time. He also wrote a huge book–Das Kapital. Marx’s thesis was that Hegel had it all wrong. It wasn’t the spirit that moved through and formed history. It was economics–money, material wealth. He said that he turned Hegel upside down.

Sometimes when we observe people, don’t we conclude that economics is indeed what drives people? We discuss politics and conclude that it’s all about the money. They’re chasing money. In business, we have people who chase money to the neglect of relationships and the spirit.

I even have run across Christians who are suspicious of people who may exhibit too much of the Spirit.

I’m reading the discourse in John where Jesus talks about eating his body and drinking his blood. Sounds pretty gross, doesn’t it. But Jesus said, in the same discourse, that it is the Spirit that gives life and that the words he spoke were in spirit and life.

We aren’t cannibals. We are participating with God in the spirit. The Spirit overcomes economics. The Spirit leads us, strengthens us and gives us life–in the present time.

Copy The Right Master

December 27, 2013

Yesterday, I wrote about human development. How we learn from copying the master and then incorporate those learnings into our lives so that we can then create within our own personality.

What about choosing the right masters to copy from? That is important for art, but even more so in spiritual development.

Jesus is such a hard model to follow. He was so perfect. He could do things that we’ll never do. On the other hand, he taught in the tradition of creating disciples. These are people who follow the master and try to emulate him. In certain Jewish religious circles even today you will see men wearing clothing of a certain style. This is the style of clothing that their master (teacher) wears.

What do we do to look like our teacher–Jesus? I am more and more convinced that the main point of the Bible story is to teach us how to live your lives. Jesus spends very little time talking about heaven. He spends almost all of his instruction time on how to live.

He’ll answer such things as how we treat other people, upon whom do we focus when faced with decisions (hint: God), how we manage our resources, how to teach, what to teach, how to bring healing to people.

People will say, “I believe.” Maybe they will even say, “I believe in my heart.” Jesus would say, “Fine, but what about that decision to spend money on another new TV rather than provide help to the homeless?” Or, “How about the way you treated the people you met today?”

It boils down to whether we focus on what God would have us do or whether we settled for satisfying our own pleasures or wants. It’s whether we model our lives on the way Jesus lived or on a rock star.

Choose your master consciously with discernment.

The Still Point

November 14, 2013

Someone once asked how I come up with these thoughts. Some are derived from reading or listening to teachers. Some from news or observations. And then I think about the idea and try to relate it to a deeper teaching.

Focus is theĀ  hard part. Last week I traveled three days beginning with a 6 am flight which meant rising at 3:45 in order to shower, pack my laptop bag (aka briefcase in the old days) and drive to the airport. On that trip I arrived at the destination, met my colleagues, made some sales calls, had a business discussion over a long dinner, and then get to my room after 10 pm. Up early for meetings, driving around, another business dinner.

It’s about the same this week. Now, it’s four days in Houston rather than three in Philadelphia.

I’m not looking for sympathy. I chose to do these trips. When I’m home, I have a normal routine which includes 15-30 minutes of quiet time to read and contemplate. Sometimes on business trips, I don’t carve out the time. It is a failure of focus.

This morning I decided to carve out some quiet time. When I do that, my body slows down, my thinking slows down, and I can focus on a topic. It’s all about focus and attention.

T.S. Eliot, a quite misunderstood poet, wrote in Burnt Norton (one of the Four Quartets) about the still point–at the still point of the turning earth, there is the dance, and there is only the dance. Eliot was a contemplative and understood the value of slowing down, focusing, achieving that still point.

Today, I switched my focus to, well, focus itself. I became close to the still point. The day will go much better because of that.

Meditation Is Neither Complicated Nor Exotic

October 22, 2013

Ah, those New Age people. Always trying to make things complicated or exotic. Bookstore shelves are no longer filled with computer and business books. Now they are filled with New Age books.

If you are around my age, you may remember that the Beatles traveled to India, met the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (making him famous along the way), and popularized meditation. Allen Ginsberg, the Beat poet, was interviewed in a magazine in the mid-60s and talked about meditation as if it were some exotic being that only the adept could gain access to.

Let me debunk that idea.

You, too, can begin meditating today. Right now. It’s healthy. It will clear your mind. It will help you focus. And, yes, it may help you experience God. I have studied Transcendental Meditation and Zen. But did you know that there is a rich Christian tradition of meditation? Well, there is.

I like to begin every day with silence and meditation. I’ve been meditating for at least 45 years. I know how it changes your personality. And, yes, I’ve had God experiences. That’s the bonus, not the everyday experience.

The real benefit is to slow your thought processes and your body rhythms. This latter point is actually beneficial for such things as high blood pressure and mild anxiety. As you practice over time, you’ll notice that you become less anxious and agitated. Your focus increases. You can approach situations calmly. As you center, you will be more aware of your body–where you hold tension, where you feel relaxed.

As you become still and slow your mind, then you are able to receive those whispers, nudgings, shouts from God. Ancient wisdom traditions teach the value of becoming empty in order to be able to filled with the right stuff.

You don’t have to sit cross-legged on a prayer pillow with your forefinger and thumb connected in a circle such as you see in pictures. Although you can. Or, you can sit in your favorite chair, preferably not a soft one. After all, the goal is not to go to sleep! You can actually lie on your back on a firm surface such as the floor (called corpse pose in Yoga).

Close your eyes. Check your body to release any tension you may be holding especially in your shoulders, the back of your neck, or other places. Then just focus on your breathing. There are “chants” or “mantras” you can say. These are merely designed to help you focus. I like the sound of God. Some Christian meditators use love, spirit, Jesus. You get the picture. Or you can simply say a vowel such as o, or ah, or a, or oooh (u).

Just do it 10-15 minutes. After a while you may want to mediate longer. But just a few minutes a couple of times a day will work.

Then just be open to the Spirit.


Passionate Pursuit

August 20, 2013

A young relative is in love. How do I know? He writes with great passion about his beloved. He thinks about her constantly. Her well-being is on his mind.

Jesus said, “Whoever will come after me, must deny himself…”

The phrase come after in the social context of the time usually refers to a romantic passion. The phrase must have been one of those that Jesus was famous for–using words in new ways to point to a relationship with God and totally confusing his audience to the point of making them think about what he said.

What have been the passions of your life? Remember pursuing a boy/girl or woman/man? Can you recapture that passion in your mind? Better yet, maybe you still have it. I wrote last week about what happens when that feeling dissipates.

Let’s think about this in terms of denying yourself. If you are pursuing someone so passionately, you don’t care so much about yourself (if you are, then you’d better check your emotional maturity index). You deny yourself such that your beloved is honored.

Paul tried valiantly, if confusingly, to describe this in his description of marriage–a picture of mutually denying yourself in order to honor your spouse. It seems confusing to read it. Paul would have been better served in getting his point across by telling a story about a husband and wife and how they act toward each other.

The world would have been spared much grief had translators understood denying oneself and become a servant (some translations slave) of Jesus. Perhaps a story rather than intellectual discourse would have helped. Nineteenth Century philosophers hated that word slave and the picture of Christians as sheep and wrote philosophies that ended up enslaving millions and murdering hundreds of thousands or maybe also millions.

How about a story about loving Jesus so much that your every thought is about him. All you want in life is to serve God passionately. You’re a servant. But an empowered servant, because the more passionately you love God, the more you will deny your own will to serve him and conversely the more God will make you stronger and stronger. They forgot that last part in the Nineteenth Century.

We need to remember it. The more passionately we follow Jesus, the more we try to please, honor and serve Him. But, Jesus then gives us great power.

Becoming Mature in Christ

March 21, 2013

I was thinking many things this morning–such as it’s the first full day of spring as I gazed out the window on the inch of “snow flurries” that visited during the night.

Then I picked up the daily newspaper–yes, “Mr. Online” reads the daily newspaper on paper–and saw the featured story was about many young teachers who have lost their career and even spent time in jail because of sexual misconduct with their students. It may range from inappropriate texting or Facebook posts all the way to intercourse.

I then recalled the many reports from research into poverty and lack of children’s achievement that directly correlates to single-parent homes usually headed by a woman. I don’t think any reports say it’s as much because the head of the household is female as much as it means that there is little or no male influence in the family and in the development of the young people.

Some people who were at university with me had the idea that they would never be a “role model” but just wanted to live the way they wanted. That evolved into Boomer parents who didn’t want to be parents but friends with their children. That has evolved into a “do your own thing” society where seemingly no one wants to grow up and accept responsibility. I see that in so many actions.

Fortunately, this is not descriptive of everyone. But it is descriptive of far too many.

Remember your adolescent years when you hated structure and rules? I do. I still don’t like to be told what to do. But I also had a goal of spiritual maturity. And because I believe (and I hope act) with responsibility people often mistake me for a conservative Republican.

I just think that we all have to grow up. And to those who are not, they are lost. Lost in the sense of no direction. Drifting through life.

Spiritual maturity comes through practicing the Spiritual Disciplines. Learning the goal. James says, “and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Paul writing about spiritual gifts in Ephesians says, “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

You don’t really “teach” Spiritual Discipline. You “guide” people into beginning and then deepening their practice. If there is one thing I wish I could do it would be to help many more people begin their journey to life with-God and help them break their cycle of wandering without purpose.

Achieving Balance in Spiritual Life

March 18, 2013
Balance requires focus and relaxation.

Balance, focus, awareness, relaxation

The idea of achieving balance in life came up several times the past few days. Our pastor spoke yesterday about how easy it is to equate busyness with doing something valuable. Someone told me that I was selected for a leadership position with our missions team. Others were talking about busy.

Balance requires focus. When I teach balance poses in Yoga (basically standing on one foot and doing something with the other one), I always begin by teaching focus. You must focus on one stable object.

The spiritual implications of this should be obvious. No matter what you are doing, you must remind yourself of your focus every day. First thing in the morning in your meditation and prayer time is best. Then organize your schedule (remember Hybels’ teaching?) to achieve the important things.

Balance requires emptying your mind. The second teaching point I give in Yoga is to empty your mind of all senseless chatter that goes on incessantly. I teach that after students try the first and discover that after a few seconds they begin to wobble and then have to drop the other foot. A quiet mind goes along with focus. Again this works for life, as well. And early morning quiet time–coupled with regular breaks for intentional breathing–help to quiet the mind.

[As an aside, “productivity gurus” advise working in 90 minute bursts followed by a break to refresh and renew. A few minutes of deep breathing, concentrating on your breath, letting the mind relax, all work toward spiritual and mental refreshment. You can do this sitting, walking, or laying down.]

Balance requires relaxation. This may seem paradoxical. But once you have achieved, say Tree Pose (pictured), you are focusing, clearing the mind, then relax your shoulders. Clear the tension. Settle in.

TS Eliot talked about the “still point” in his poem Burnt Norton. Follow these three steps to reach toward the still point where you find balance in your life.