Posts Tagged ‘Spirituality’

Let Us Lay Aside Every Weight

September 14, 2016

Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us . — Hebrews 12:1-3

Bill Hybels at Willow Creek Community Church often talks about having a “life verse”–a verse from the Bible that is a statement of your faith.

This is not a concept I had been taught. But if I had a life verse, this one might be it. It was the theme for the Emmaus team I was on once.

Let us take this verse in relation to the spiritual discipline of simplicity. Just think of all the “weights” we carry around.

Let’s think this way as I was taught by a co-worker once. He lost 16 lbs. once. He was a big guy, but you could really tell he was down some. He talked about how much better he felt. “It’s like I was carrying a bowling ball around with me all the time, and now it’s gone,” he explained.

Sometimes our weight (as in excess body weight) is the result of carrying other weights–anxiety, depression, worry, fear, low self-esteem.

Sometimes we carry the weight of a past sin–something we did or said that we wish we had not done or said. How it would be so great for that weight to be laid aside.

Some may be carrying an addiction–sex, food, porn, drugs.

Often the weight is just simply too much “stuff”. We accumulate more stuff. We need more money to get more stuff.

But there is forgiveness. God’s forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice. It is there for us.

As we experience that forgiveness deeply, we can shed some of those weights. We can live more simply. We do not need more stuff. We lay aside, true with much work, the weights of addiction or emotional illness. We begin to heal.

We learn that living simply is possible–and healthful–and spiritual. We are lighter, as if the bowling ball or two we were carrying around was gone. We have more energy.

We can now run that race that God set before us, doing what was intended for us from the beginning. And we take a step, and another step, and another, until God says Well done.

Jesus Turned Everything Upside Down

April 11, 2016

Matthew had an interesting outline for how he wanted to present his friend Jesus to the world. He introduces Jesus and the scene. Then he skips to Jesus baptism and what we call temptation (actually a period of spiritual formation followed by facing temptations which always happen to us after a deep spiritual experience and we’re strong enough to deal with them).

Then he consolidates the core of Jesus’ teaching. Chapters 5-7. I have now decided to reread these annually along with my annual reading of the book of Proverbs.

If you can clear your mind, throw away footnoted, transport yourself back to the scene in your imagination, then read the teaching, perhaps the message will sink in.

Many of us need time to let things sink in and become part of our awareness.

Looking at the “blessed” statements with eyes open to the world of the Romans, you see how Jesus turned it all upside down. Instead of the powerful being blessed, it is the opposite.

Then Jesus proceeds to raise the bar on following the law. It was already hard for people,¬† especially common, ordinary working people, to follow every bit of the law. Then Jesus says, you have heard it said, but I say… He made it impossible.

Then you think about it. If you think you can follow the law to become right with God, you have set an impossible task. However, if you have the right relationship with God and people, then you will in fact be following the law. It’s all upside down–God’s way and our way.

So it’s sort of weird, our spiritual practices. They should help us maintain a right relationship with God and at the same time help us focus on being right with other people.

We don’t study just to be knowledgeable. That is useless. We study so that we know how to relate to others and how to help point them to a relationship. We also study (people have said in surveys) to achieve and maintain our own right relationship with God.

Same with prayer. Same with worship. Same with fasting.

Spiritual is not just what’s inside you. Spiritual is also how you manifest that which is inside to other people. Are you helpful or a hindrance? Generous or selfish? Thinking of others or all about you?

He Came To Serve

March 24, 2016

Can you imagine being only a few hours away from trials, beatings, and execution–and knowing it was coming–sharing a meal with your friends? And doing the servant’s work of washing their feet?

I’ve had communion in the Upper Room (or where they think it is). It was a most memorable experience.

In my religious tradition, we celebrated Maunday Thursday. Even as a kid I liked to play around with words, so I’d drive Dad crazy playing on “Monday Thursday” themes. Even today, I have no clue as to the word Maunday. But the celebration or remembrance–that is important. It’s actually a discipline of worship and celebration to remember Jesus’ last meal with his closest disciples and the meaning of taking Jesus into my life.

My wife, on the other hand, never even heard of Maunday Thursday. They remembered Good Friday and had a service that day. Those Baptists–what can I say?

I find remembering the celebration a spiritual moment. Sacred, if you will. I find myself somewhat annoyed when parents give it to their little kids simply because it’s the thing to do rather than with a feeling of the sacred. Rebel that I am, I kind of think that the Catholic First Communion at around 7 is pretty early. (Good thing I don’t make the rules, I guess.)

What really stands out isn’t communion–the bread and wine. That was somewhat common except for Jesus’ new meaning. But the foot washing. By the host. That was radical.

We gloss over that in our remembrance. Up until the end, Jesus came to serve. And he told us–we also were called to serve.

I just finished reading (again) Bill Hybels’ book Holy Discontent. This book contains stories about people who experienced something that caused them to change their lives and go serve.

Do we think about this enough in our Lenten devotions to move from the disciplines of remembrance and celebration to the discipline of service. Certainly Jesus pointed the way.

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.

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?

How To Come to Understand Righteousness

August 28, 2014

We find in Proverbs 2:

making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding

leads to:

For The Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding;


Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path;

This is like one of those “if…then” statements in computer programming. Only in this case, it is God teaching us about our programming.

If we tune into God, because God gives wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, then we will understand.

Henry Cloud, speaking last Sunday at Willow Creek Community Church, told a story about “Joey” and his dad.

Seems dad owns a very large business. He is thinking about succession planning and wants Joey to take over. But Joey doesn’t seem to have the fire in him to run a big company. Dad wanted to keep on providing experiences for Joey in the hopes that he might eventually catch on. Henry told dad, the fire must come from Joey. It can’t come from dad, or anyone else.

God is that way. He is always out there ready for us. But we must be the ones to catch on and ask.

If we tune in to God. How do we do that? First we decide. We’ll do a 15-minute “chair time” with God, reading from the Bible and listening for what God is saying. Then we find a small group of like-minded people with whom to share. That would be a great start.

Oh–a forewarning to you poor readers. I just got my sweaty little hands on 1,500 pages of N.T. Wright’s “Paul and The Faithfulness of God.”

In my college years while full of the liberalism of the time, I had great dislike for Paul and his supposed dislike of women and his preaching conformity to the state. (Hey, it was the late 60s. Need I say more?)

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate Paul greatly. I can look beyond all the vast misinterpretations that have been spouted as theology. Romans is the greatest spiritual formation book I’ve ever read.

So, there will be more of Paul to come.

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.

Fasting For Lent

March 6, 2014

Have you given up something for Lent?

My friend is a very religious man. He is Catholic, traditional. He goes to Mass every morning. He also goes to the Y to exercise every day–he’s religious about that, too. Typical of the old German Catholics in our area, he likes his beer. He really only has one or two a day, but he makes it sound like he has more.

Every Lent, he gives up beer, fried foods and pastry (cakes, pies, and the like). Some of his family tell him that such a thing is bad for him. He’s 84 and healthy. He tells me that the he always feels much better physically when he fasts in that way. He started doing it for Advent, too.

My religious tradition recognizes Lent, but never talked about giving up something. That was something the Lutherans and Catholics did. Methodists might have an Ash Wednesday service (actually, we always had Maunday Thursday not Ash Wednesday as a regular service). My wife was a Baptist and also did not have very much of a Lenten routine.

Never taught about the Spiritual discipline of fasting, I guess I always thought about it as somewhat frivolous. We always talked about old Johnny G. who always gave up watermelon for Lent. In those days, you only got watermelon in season–and February, March and April was not the season!

I read Jon Swanson’s 300 Words a Day blog. He has written Lent for Non-Lent People. I probably should buy it.

The one thing that sets Christianity apart from other religions–especially the other monotheistic religions of Judaism and Islam–is the resurrection of Jesus. Lent is the period of time traditionally set aside to contemplate the mystery of the event. As Paul wrote, without the resurrection, we are all fools in our belief. So, setting aside 40 days (you don’t count Sundays) to contemplate on the resurrection is worthwhile.

I’m in the contemplative tradition. That’s not really Methodist. But I am what I am. This post reflects my contemplation as I enter into the season.

Now, what should I give up?

Beware of Materialism

February 24, 2014

I was always aware of the subtle irony when I worked in product development at a company that made products for wealthy people. It’s not that I’m completely non-materialist–I’ve always like tools and gadgets–but that having material goods has not been a priority of mine since somewhere in my college days.

Bible Study Magazine contains an article this issue that is a story about the president of China Bible Seminary in Hong Kong. Julie Wu grew up there, but obtained a Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

She discusses the difficulties of talking with people whose religion is Buddhism or ancestor worship. Today’s materialist culture in Hong Kong, which she compares to the West, presents the biggest challenge to talking to people about spiritual things.

“Materialism powerfully draws away Christians’ attention to God and our dependence on Him. It leaves us with no time to develop a closer or deeper relationship,” she says. This orientation toward life leaves one open to sin or helplessness.

Jesus, the Proverbs, and countless other teachers have preached on the problems of materialism. This is not a distinctively 20th-21st Century problem. I find it interesting that people were teaching about that some 4,000 years ago.

Every once in a while, it is good to step back and do a self-check. What am I holding on to? Are my urges pointed toward acquiring something material? Am I able to control those urges?

Early in my career, I was interviewing for a position whose compensation would have been substantially greater than what I was making. “What would you do with the additional money?” the interviewer inquired.

A good thought to ponder.

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.