Posts Tagged ‘spirit’

The Inevitable Result of Great Expectations

December 26, 2016

Clark Griswald had built up a great expectation of a “fun, old-fashioned, family Christmas”. It all went wrong, of course. Or the movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” wouldn’t be funny.

One of the subtleties within the movie revealed that the “old-fashioned” Christmas gatherings were not fun. They were stressful. 

And talk about stress–from the failure to bring a power saw to cut down the “perfect, Griswald family tree” at the tree farm, to the dried out tree that flames out, to the new tree from the front yard that contained a squirrel, then the dog and squirrel destroying the house, to the SWAT team–there was plenty to go around.

Some expectations stress us out. And everyone around us. Stress breeds like rabbits.

Jewish people 2,000 years ago (plus or minus a couple of hundred years) had built up great expectations for a new king (called Messiah, or in Greek, Christ–the anointed one of God).

Jesus came. But he fulfilled a bunch of other expectations than what many had. It was a confusion time for many.

Still confusing today.

The disagreements stress out many. Cause many splits among people.

Do you continually build great expectations only to be crushed by reality?

Do you allow others’ differing expectations of the same event to derail your own hopes?

Advent is another way of saying expectation. 

Perhaps that one expectation has been fulfilled. But perhaps we continue to build other expectations. 

Be careful what you hope for.

What is your expectation in the light of Jesus coming?

An Invitation To A Way Of Life And A Life

December 19, 2016

I thought, wow, this is one heck of a poor invitation.

At the airport last week traveling on a vacation, I spotted one of those religious pamphlets someone left behind. It said something about going to Hell.

I had been lost in thought, or maybe non-thinking, and the headline jarred me back to consciousness.

Is that any way to invite someone into a better life?

We are in Advent season–the annual time of reflection upon the miracle of Jesus. Something we think we can understand, but really we can’t.

But isn’t the coming of Jesus an invitation? An invitation into a better life now, as well as “life” in a philosophical or theological sense?

The shepherds were invited to participate in the birth story. The Magi were invited through the special star they saw, contemplated and followed.

Later we have John (the Baptizer) who invited people to turn their lives around and live spirit-filled lives.

Then we have two sides of Jesus. He was the teacher who updated Wisdom teaching to a new level. He invited people to live a new life and taught how to do it. Then came death and resurrection and the invitation to life after death.

Jesus’ invitations were not without risk and challenges. But he always invited people. Disappointed many times as people fell away or refused to accept the invitation, to be sure, but the invitation–that was always out there.

And I don’t think he left pamphlets in restrooms shouting out that we’re all going to Hell.

Advent is a time of invitation into a fuller, richer life with-God.

Overcoming Distrust Within Families

December 16, 2016

When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

Not only had Joseph and Mary not lived together, yet, but they also must not have engaged in some of that “heavy making out” without actual intercourse. There was no physical way Mary could have become pregnant–at least by Joseph.

So Joseph’s first reaction was disbelief. The only possible thing that could have happened was illegal, immoral, unethical.

Imagine she comes to him. “I got pregnant. I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but God said it was through the Holy Spirit.”

“Riiiggghhhhttt” he said.

But then he’s visited in a dream. It’s OK, go ahead and marry her.

So, in a normal marriage, how often would the wife remind her husband about that initial distrust? Weekly? Daily?

But there is no indication of any further marriage problems. We hear almost nothing about Joseph. Couple of mentions. We have a lot of useless speculations. But when we don’t know, we don’t know.

But I thought how great it is to be open to new revelations. We never know when we’ll hear a whisper, have a dream, get slapped up against the side of the head to get our attention by the Spirit?

If we are open even though it forces us to reconsider our opinions and prejudices, we listen.

Yesterday I talked about mindfulness. Being present in mind when we’re present in body. This is part of it. If we slow down and are present to the possible whispers of the Spirit, the whole trajectory of our life can change.

There Between Passion and Prejudice Lies Jesus

December 6, 2016

Human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid – and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God. — Evelyn Underhill

I love this picture. It captures our inner condition and ties it to the Christmas theme.

Making the mistake of scanning news this morning, I saw yet another example of Christians proudly wearing their prejudices. Why do we make everything political? Even theology?

I figure that to follow Jesus I must study Jesus. How do I know if I am doing what he wants and being the kind of person he wants me to be unless I study?

So I study.

And nowhere do I find Jesus telling me to do or say the things that millions of people who call themselves followers do and say.

Noel Paul Stookey, the “Paul” of folk singing Peter, Paul, and Mary, wrote a song with the title “Hymn.” He talks about a person who shows up at church occasionally and finds things sterile and political. He says about when they passed the collection plate, “I just had time to write a note, and all I said was ‘I believe in you’.”

It is the simple things that are so hard. What inhabits your stable?

Ten Lessons for Long Life – Something We Need Now

November 30, 2016

I have published this slide before, but I thought that some of the points needed an emphasis these days.

Let us consider “More Laughter; Less Anger.”

Some people may say, “But times are bad, we need to express anger at ( fill in your favorite hate here   ).” You can’t talk facts to emotion, but we are actually in general much better off than previous generations. Even “poor” people can go to Wal-Mart and buy cheap stuff–but still stuff that the middle class or wealthy have. We live in much larger houses. Most of us have plenty of cars. Many of us have storage sheds either in our back yards or that we rent to hold our stuff.

We can choose to find humor and laugh more.

Let us also consider “More Giving; Less Wanting.”

We want so much stuff. We want higher paying jobs–without putting forth the effort to learn new skills or deepen our knowledge. People who mindfully set aside money to give to specific charities find they can live on the rest adequately. They find that they actually have plenty.

Or as a Buddhist proverb says, “Enough is a feast.”

“More chewing; Less swallowing.” Let’s slow down. Enjoy what we have. We’ll eat less–something most of us need to practice.

We choose these lifestyles. We choose the path of unhealthy negativity. We can also choose the path of health, enjoyment, generosity.

These are all disciplines. We choose to be a better person that people want to be around.

Especially these days, let’s try the More Laughing; Less Anger route. You can choose to let the President-Elect get your emotions riled up one way or the other. Or, you can choose to walk with God secure in the knowledge that we know who wins in the end. And it’s not politics.

Are You In or Out?

November 22, 2016

This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…  Jesus quoting Isaiah

The Pharisees (remember them, the rule-followers of Jesus’ time) were complaining about Jesus followers not following precisely the traditions of the elders. Again. And Jesus quotes their passage back at them.

Did you ever wonder if they got it?

Jesus commented often to them. We know of a few who “got it.” But one wonders if the words just flew around them like so much noise.

As I read and reread this part of Mark 7 this morning and meditated on the passage, my mind was drawn to churches and religious organizations. And I thought about being “in” and “out” of the group.

How many times during the famous “10 am hour on Sundays” when many are attending church are the walls of the various buildings actually separating people into “in” and “out”?

Do we expect people to say the believe what we believe, how we believe it, and vote like us before they can come in?

As Jesus explained himself a little later, he said it is all about what is inside the person that counts. And I meditated on whether we are busy wondering if the people around us are following all the traditions and rituals that we have put our faith in or if we are concerned to bringing hurting, lost, and searching people into a deeper, life-changing faith?

Then I thought that we, like the Pharisees, are more concerned about whether people believe what we do and act like we do and dress like we do than about what their needs are and how we can help meet them.

And I thought (meditation goes this way–if you’ve never tried it, give it a shot) about how most likely the wrong people are “in church.” The seats should be filled with people who are seeking God–or something they don’t know but that it is really God. And the people now in the seats should be outside introducing people to God and enticing them into a safe place where they can learn and be equipped.

Not to say that worship isn’t great. But is our focus on our worship? Or is our focus on walking with God–24/7?

Change In Personality–It’s Inevitable

August 29, 2016

Don’t you understand, I’m never changing who I am. — Imagine Dragons

No, this song didn’t come from the rebellious, “us-against-them” Heavy Metal genre. It played on Sirius XM Coffee House–acoustic, folk, coffee house type of music.

But it reminds us of our rebellious teenage years. “I’m never changing.”

Do you recall your teenage years? I do–with deep regret and chagrin over my social and relational stupidity. Now, I’m only partially challenged relationally and socially.

Even that statement implies change over time.

My wife is not even close to the same person I married. She’s changed a couple of times. Then I think, “poor woman, I’m not even close to the guy she married.” It wasn’t some sort of bait-and-switch marketing. We just grew. That’s life.

I like to “joke” about some people of my acquaintance who used to be addicted to substances and now are addicted to Jesus. Sort of a fundamental addictive personality, but growth happened. Jesus is much better than drugs.

That’s the process of spiritual formation. We grow intentionally toward being (OK, here comes the M-word) spiritually mature. That’s not so bad.

A spiritually mature person grows to enjoy the fruit of the spirit. Paul, writing to the Galatians (5:22-23), tells us that a person mature in the spirit has the fruit of the spirit–But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

Really, now, do we want to remain selfish, anxious, obnoxious people? Adrift in life? Slave to every whim and emotion that buffets us?

We are designed to be free, strong, and caring. People who’ve never grown up may scoff at such people, but wouldn’t you rather be around people filled with such fruit? Wouldn’t you rather be a person filled with such fruit? The Proverbs tells us about scoffers and their inevitable end.

Unity In The Spirit

August 3, 2016

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience. — Pierre Teilhard

Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a French Jesuit priest, paleontologist, theologian, and philosopher. Those Jesuits, they’re always over achievers. He is also one of my favorite writers.

I love it when people observe something and turn it on its head.

This seems to fit what Paul was praying for in Ephesians that I pondered yesterday. He prayed that we would be filled with God’s spirit.

But Paul continued just after his prayer to say, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” And “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all in all.”

Teilhard loved that phrase “all in all.”

Paul warns us a little later to remain focused on that which matters. To be filled with the Spirit speaking the truth in love. We are spiritual beings, and Paul keeps trying to show us how to live like spiritual beings.

And we resist.

We don’t want to grow up. We don’t want to break down those prejudices, those walls, within which we’ve grown quite comfortable.

I’ll never forget reading John Calhoun, an early 19th Southern American (US) writer who proved conclusively from the Bible that black people were actually a sub-human race of beings who were deserving only of slavery. In fact, slavery was a step up for them.

Vestiges of that thought line continue among some Christians even unto today. I’ve sat with people who would fervently identify themselves as Christian, yet they disparaged black people, Middle Eastern people, and all manner of other non-white, non-American peoples. And they could blithely continue speaking of Christian values.

Let’s go back to the source. Listen to Paul’s prayer for us. Be filled with the Spirit and then speak in love.

Jesus Lived, Jesus Died, Jesus Lives Again

March 25, 2016

The very first misunderstanding about Jesus was that he could not possibly have been a human being. Taking Greek rationalist thought (which still screws us up even today) to a logical extreme, some thought that material things and spiritual things could not abide together.

Christians put that heresy away. Jesus lived as a man, a human. He was born a baby, grew up a boy and adolescent, taught as an adult male. There is not even a hint in the New Testament writings that Jesus may have been just an apparition.

My Muslim friends are taught Jesus lived, was a spiritual leader, and will return in glory. My friends from India whether Hindu, Jain, or Sikh all believe that Jesus spent time in India learning from the spiritual masters of the day.

Being a Galilean and looking at the texts, Jesus apparently was comfortable interacting with people from a diverse set of cultures and languages. It appears he spoke Latin and Greek as well as Aramaic and Hebrew. He’d have grown up with people who did. It wouldn’t be unusual.

A side note–modern Americans, especially those of us in the Midwest–are very uncomfortable dealing with a multitude of cultures. Unlike the mixtures and melting pot of the ancient Mediterranean world, we expect everyone to be “American.” We’re shocked, hurt, maybe even fearful, of those who are not. That fear leads to a number of political and social problems.

The thing that energized those early disciples to believe to the extent that they were willing to die for the cause was the resurrection. Christmas may be a big holiday, but Easter is the reason. Without the resurrection, we are nothing but fools–to paraphrase Paul.

The shock, surprise, consternation that followed discovery of the empty tomb is a huge story right there. And then Jesus appeared among them for forty days. The witnesses were many. The power of their testimony beyond all measure. They overturned the world. In 300 years, the mighty power that none of the New Testament writers thought would ever be destroyed became a Christian government. Without a war being fought.

We can have that power today.

What Happens When We’ve Lost Our Savor

March 10, 2016

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its savor (taste)…it is no longer good for anything. — Matthew 5

I’m reading yet another book on nutrition. Someday, maybe, I’ll stop reading and start eating properly.

Anyway, this author talked about telling everyone in Chapter 2 what the book was about. He’d just read a book where the author said at the end what the “word of the book” was.

I thought, the word of this book is “energy.” This author exhibits a deep energy and optimistic outlook on life. In fact, he’s the type of person who would drive an introvert crazy.

What if he lost that energy? He’d be dead, even while still breathing.

Jesus was addressing that problem. Maybe you’ve heard it said of someone, “The light’s on, but no one is home.”

Maybe you know an organization like that. I’ve seen it in business, civic organizations, churches. The lights are on, but no one’s home.

Had a conversation this morning about a couple of churches. I said, the Spirit’s not moving. My friend said, “The spirit is always here.” “But,” I retorted, “sometimes is just seems like the spirit is not moving, not alive in the people.”

There are people still there. But they just go out of habit or tradition. Or just too lazy to seek out anything different. Or comfortable and don’t want to be moved.

They’ve lost their savor.

People who have lost their savor are no fun to be around. Too many, and an entire organization may go into decline.

How do we keep from losing our savor?

We do it by developing certain habits. The number one best habit is to decide to spend at least 15 minutes in your favorite chair, preferably early in the morning, reading either the Bible or other spiritual guide (Henri Nouwen, Oswald Chambers, for example). That starts the day off well.