Posts Tagged ‘seeking’

For Christmas, Jesus, I’d Like Your Presence

December 21, 2015

“Jesus, I want your presence for Christmas.”

That sentence appeared somewhere last week. I love plays on words. They often drive ideas home. Several books of the Bible are full of these word plays–especially Psalms and Proverbs. Sometimes I think Paul sneaked one or two in his writings.

Presence–Presents.

There are people who, as children, received few presents. Then they went to school and saw what some of the other kids got. Cue jealousy, greed leading to a life of self-absorption, narcissism, and/or greed. Even into late adulthood, they still crave presents.

Even as Christians, as self-professed followers of the guy whose birth we celebrate. They can’t help it. This most likely was not a decision. So many things we get blamed for by the Pharisees who still live amongst us are not really decisions. Just reactions reinforced by family or peer group becoming habits of self-thought.

Others of us learned from those “poor” beginnings that all the gifts really had little meaning. Open the present, check out the (most likely cheap) toy, play for a while, then it’s over.

What remains is experience. All the family gathered. Special church worship. People especially cheerful, wishing peace for everyone.

Me, I seek the presence. As a contemplative, I’ve had experiences. They are deep and meaningful. On the other hand, some of the best experiences of presence have come in service. Sometime just a helping hand. Or picking up a dinner check for some stranger spontaneously. Or working with orphans in international ministries. It can be in the same house or half-way around the world.

We celebrated the 4th Sunday of Advent in a church that celebrates diversity. In just about every way. What a welcoming group of people. The presence was felt.

I only wish that we could spread that presence of the one whose birth we celebrate.

Could I be more witness and less preacher? Seek and share the presence of Jesus.

Curiosity Is The Foundation of Learning

November 9, 2015

How could you draw that smile (on the Mona Lisa)? How do you draw? What do you know how to draw? How do they paint the Eiffel Tower? Do they tie ropes to the guys? Why can’t they make a light bulb that lasts longer? Why can’t they make a better battery? How did they know about waves in the air when they invented them to make a radio?

That wasn’t even the entire conversation with my 8-yr-old grandson. I just asked him about his trip to Paris.

I told him that the world is filled with problems to solve. That’s why we need engineers and scientists.

I’m worried that school will kill some of that curiosity, but that’s another story.

The thing is–he’s always been curious. At 18 months taking a walk down the street could take a long time as we stopped explore all manner of things.

The conference I attended a few weeks ago featured a keynote speaker called Michael Gelb. He wrote a book, “How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci.” It is a fascinating book about a fascinating guy.

The first of seven characteristics–Curiosity.

What is that doing in a spiritual discipline blog?

Think of all the curiosity in the New Testament.

All of the original 12 close disciples were curious about Jesus. Who is that guy? Paul at first was opposed, then he too wondered, “Who is that guy?”

Paul also had to answer the question, Now what do we do after we believe? (Hint: Love the Lord and love your neighbor.)

I’m incessantly curious–what is God trying to say to me? What does the Bible say? What should I be doing? Why do people act that way? How can I help? What can I do to serve?

Curiosity can be a powerful spiritual discipline. It keeps us from becoming complacent.

Prepare To Meet Thy God

November 3, 2015

I was driving some back country roads this evening on my way to dinner. Passed by a small country church with a sign about as big as the church. “Prepare To Meet Thy God” it proclaimed.

Do you also get the feeling that that comment is an in-your-face remark? The picture of a black-bearded, black-suited, black string bow-tie wearing, finger waving, American country preacher springs to mind?

Maybe I get that image because I know so many people that way. It may be a caricature. But unfortunately, the phrase just strikes me that way.

Many of those “bumper-sticker” phrases do. There is something impersonal about them. It’s like shouting at someone. Not like conversing with someone.

Maybe that is my problem. This should be personal–not something shouted out.

I remember meeting God. It was personal. And life-changing. In the quiet of meditation, the experience was unmistakable. Then again in celebration time during an Emmaus Walk. And other times.

Preparing to meet your God–THE God–takes a life of getting ready. There was study so that I knew what was real. There was prayer. There were the disciplines of meditation and contemplation. There was an openness toward and expectation of the reality of God.

Like Paul, I hesitate to write things such as this. It is not boasting, which Paul abhorred. It is merely witnessing. Pointing to a reality that exists no matter what materialists say. No, it is not delusion as much modern psychology maintains. If they would prepare….

I don’t like in-your-face evangelizing. I am praying right now that God would lead someone into my life to disciple. Personally. Not just shouting slogans, but really preparing to meet our God.

Finding Our Way

September 30, 2015

Lake Tahoe

Last week on vacation in California we decided to drive up to Lake Tahoe from Folsom where my conference was held.

The tourist spot that overlooked Emerald Bay was packed. We kept driving. Found this nice rock outcropping.

We found  place to park and hiked around to a small, barely noticeable trail that led from the road to this small rock ledge.

The view was beautiful. I sat cross-legged on the rock and contemplated the view for a while.

Lake Tahoe 2

Then we turned to head back.

We had only traveled about 500 feet. There was no sign of the road. No sign of a path on the rock ledge. Looking up the terrain was just a pile of rocks.

For about five seconds I felt what people who have gotten lost in the wilderness must feel.

Or, people lost in life. There is nothing distinguishing with which to become oriented. If you go one way, it is sure death from a several hundred foot fall. The other way appears insurmountable.

What to do?

I took a deep breath. Quit looking far ahead. I knew the general direction from which we came.

So, it was one small trail. The noticing the small path that cut through some brush. Then the broken tree we had gone under. Then the tricky balancing act around some fallen rocks. Then the road was there above us. A short climb, and back to the road.

I thought–the spiritual life is like that. Sometimes we venture out to live life. We want the beautiful, the spectacular. We find ourselves in a spot where we’ve lost our bearings.

We only need to take that deep breath. Relax. Reorient.

In the spiritual life, the steps are opening the Bible again. Not to understand the whole thing. Reading Romans or James or Galatians. Simple paths.

Prayer, stopping to converse with God becomes another step.

Finding a spiritual mentor or guide or small group is another step.

Then we find our way through the rocks and brush. We’re on our way home.

Discerning God’s Will

August 19, 2015

“You will win the election if it is God’s will,” the lady told a political candidate.

Subsequent conversations with others about God’s will centered on the question of how do you know and what do you mean.

Is it God’s will for whether the politician wins or not? Or, is the issue whether the politician is following God’s will–his calling–for his life? Maybe he sat in contemplation and God whispered that his talents would be best used as a politician. Although I have to say from personal observation (I’ve met him briefly, he’s my representative somewhere) that he probably had a better calling as a Navy SEAL than as a legislator. But, who am I to question God?

Psychologist Henry Cloud spoke the past two weekends at Willow Creek Community Church on that topic. God’s will for your life–not my legislator.

He talked about finding your passion. Getting your passion aligned with your talents. That will be a hint about following God’s will for your life.

But you need discernment. Is this a real passion or a momentary infatuation? Does it match my talents and skills with passion for service? Can you visualize a beneficial outcome?

He talked of two builders. Each made a pile of money developing tracts of land, building houses, and selling them.

One was tired and burned out. He found it boring to do the same old thing over again–even if he did earn millions of dollars.

The other was energized. “I just love what I’m doing. I fly over the undeveloped tract of land and visualize houses and parks and families grilling and kids playing. I just love this.”

One found his passion. His heart was in it, and his heart was in a right relationship. He made a lot of money, but his heart was on helping others.

This one, no doubt, had found God’s will for his life. And many benefited. The other merely found a job he was good at.

Pause to Find Self-Awareness

December 19, 2014

Everywhere are conversations among people this week, “Are you ready for Christmas? I have so much to do. Not enough time to do it.”

We hurry from work to shopping to wrapping to parties to work. It’s all a big blur.

We don’t have time to “feel the Christmas spirit” because we don’t have time to notice.

Gene Appel, senior pastor of the Eastside Christian Church in Orange County, California, drew a lesson from one of Jesus’ stories to (and about) his local Pharisees in a message a few weeks ago.

It seems that a man had two sons. One tapped into the old man for a chunk of money and took off for the good life. One day after the money was gone, the friends were gone, the women were gone and he woke up in a pigpen, he “came to his senses.” He became what is one of the hardest things for us to do—to become self-aware.

When did he become self-aware? When he stopped. There was no more hurry. No more drinking, no more women, no more friends, no more hurrying from one party to the next. He stopped. And then he came to his senses.

Perhaps it is time we stop. Just pause and take a deep breath. Inhale until the lungs fill; then keep going until the stomach is “filled”; then keep going until the abdomen grows. Then slowly release the breath. Two or three of those should slow us down until we can become aware of our circumstances, our emotions, our environment.

Stop. Look around. Place your thoughts on Jesus. Rejoice in the celebration.

Why Do We Feel The Need To Know the Future

April 24, 2014

Why is it that humans keep reaching for a sense of certainty in a life that has always been quite uncertain? We want to know the future. But even today’s most sophisticated computer models can’t tell us with certainty what the weather will be next week.

Even so, there are people who study the Bible looking for hints of the future. It gets so bad that there was a guy I heard about in the 70s who had figured out the size of the “New Jerusalem” and the cubic feet of gold as described in John’s Revelation and the weight of that amount of gold and multiplied by the price of gold to figure out the US Dollar value of that gold. I was so put off by how much that person (and the people who spouted that off as if it meant something) missed the spiritual point, that I still remember the episode.

I didn’t want to write about Revelation. But the small study group I attend is still in the book. It’s still on my mind.

There are many interpretations of the meaning of the writing. Several interpretations hold that it is an actual description of historical events to come. Even though God is explicit in his condemnation of fortune telling–predicting the future. (My interpretation, picked up from some of the early Church Fathers–who, by the way didn’t agree not only on the interpretation of the book but on whether to even include it in the official canon for teaching–is that it “describes” events that have already happened. Its focus is on the horrors of Rome, the destruction of the Temple, and how God’s people will triumph because God has already won the war.)

Don’t bother trying to argue the points with me. I don’t care. Someone in the group asked why our church doesn’t teach from the book. Well, I don’t teach from it. I can understand others.

The purpose of study is to learn how to live a life that’s pleasing to God–the with-God life. If a writing is so open to conjecture and argument, how can we learn from it? Paul condemned idle argumentation. I go with him.

Jesus said, “Follow me.” He said the Kingdom of God was there. I’m with him.

Set Your Path For the New Year

January 2, 2014

New Year’s Day coming on Wednesday really screws up a week. Normally there are several days strung together where I do year-end analysis (of myself and my businesses), prepare for tax season, and think about my direction for the new year.

This year, I worked on Monday and most of Tuesday. Here it is Thursday morning, and I’m going to spend most of the day on normal work.

I just read Andy Stanley’s book, “The Principle of the Path,” and my small group is studying the letter of James. As I contemplated these this morning, I found some parallels as I often do.

The principle of the path, to unjustly summarize, basically builds from the idea that you do something (consciously or re-actively chosen) and that starts you down a path of life. It may guide future decisions.

James follows a lineage of thought that is sort of, “to be is to do.” That is, the word “faith” does not mean a principle to which I agree with in my head (logically) or feel is write in my heart (emotionally). Faith is more of an action verb than it is a noun.

Back in my days of singing folk songs and campfire songs with my beat-up classical guitar, there was a song we sang called “Love is Something You Do.” Same idea.

Jon Swanson asked his readers for goals or words for the year. I don’t really choose goals in the usual sense or have a theme word for the year. But thinking about his question, I decided this year should be one of focus and energy. I got too diverted into too many things in 2013 and my energy sapped at times.

But as a disciple of Jesus, I feel more like it’s a “put one foot in front of the other” sort of thing. Where faith is choosing the path and assuring that each decision and action continue me on the path this year. Living consciously and intentionally.

Your End-of-Year Spiritual Review

December 31, 2013

We are always in need of the discipline of pause and reflect.

Each week, best on Sunday evening, it is good to check your next action and review notes and compile a to-do list of the most important things you need to do during the week.

Each month, pause and reflect on the previous month. Did I accomplish the things I needed to get done? What were the distractions? What do I need to focus on this month to move me toward my goals?

Each year, take at least a full day and pause and reflect on the preceding year and the next year. What was the state of my spiritual health over the past year? Was I diligent in my Spiritual practices? Prayer, meditation, study, service, worship, teaching? Was I the kind of person that I want to be?

What things did I habitually do that helped me grow? What things did I habitually do that hindered my growth?

Aristotle, writing in the Nicomachean Ethics, said, “Some thinkers hold that it is by nature that people become good, others that it is by habit, and others that it is by instruction.” He thought habits were the thing. “The behaviors that occur unthinkingly are the evidence of our truest selves.”

“However, to modify a habit, you must decide to chant it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routines, and find alternatives,” wrote Charles Duhigg in “The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in Life and Business.”

This is a good day to pause and reflect. I have done this “religiously” for more than 30 years. Some years it’s only smaller things that come to mind. Some, like last year, precipitated major life changes.

For today, look at yourself as an objective observer would. What did I do habitually that was detrimental to my becoming the kind of person I want to be? The first step of change is to decide to do this work of identifying them.

Making a List And Checking It Twice

December 6, 2013

Remember the song about Santa? “He’s making a list and checking it twice. Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.”

Bet you’re making a list this time of year. Present for Johnny, present for Sue, present for spouse, present for me, too.

I like Jon Swanson’s daily meditations, 300 Words a Day. Someday when I’m making the trip from Sidney, Ohio (with an “i”) to Chicago, I should set an appointment just to meet him. I drive past a couple of times a month. He has written a book about Nehemiah, Great Works, available on Amazon. I have purchased it ($4.99) for my Kindle reader on my iPad just now. Looking forward to reading it.

Jon says in yesterday’s blog post that he was afraid that it might become just a list. Well, lists are not all that bad. One of my favorite writers, Umberto Eco, wrote a book about lists and says that the ability to make lists was essential to the development of civilization. Ben Franklin was a list maker. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, proposes that we make several to-do lists (one for when available to use the phone, one for when running errands, one for when we’re online, etc.). I am a disciple of GTD, use a software application called Nozbe, and fail to refer to my lists often enough 😉

Lists are how you organize yourself if you are busy like I am (see yesterday’s post). One key is to know your “one great work” and key your essential to-do items to point toward accomplishing your one great work.

Andy Stanley made a verse from Nehemiah one of his key verses for personal life and teaching his children. While Nehemiah was organizing the people for the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem (financed by the country now known as Iran, by the way), his enemies invited him down to the plain for a “diplomatic discussion.” Nehemiah replied, “I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down.”

Nehemiah teaches us great lessons. What is your great work? Figure it out and then start making lists.