Posts Tagged ‘Study’

Lost In The Futility Of Their Minds

January 7, 2016

Have you ever met someone who is so smart that they are actually ignorant? They have so many ideas rattling around inside their skull that often nonsense comes out of their mouth (or computer)?

These people are not only atheist philosophers. I have met people who call themselves Christians who live entirely in their heads. Religion is intellectual, ideas, agreements with propositions.

Sometimes people study things to overcome their own deficiencies. Perhaps I’m that way. For a couple of years at the university, especially the year I wasted in graduate school studying political philosophy, my goal was to be an intellectual. University was all about ideas. In fact, some philosophers who were really all about spirit were labelled “idealists” meaning they thought ideas were real.

Now, I often observe that people think too much. They read too much into other people’s writings.

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God. They have lost all sensitivity. (Ephesians 4:17-19 excerpted)

After the era of Freud, people seem to like to psychologically analyze other people. They think about others problems. Sometimes they explain away evil acts by saying it’s all their mother’s fault or some other such nonsense. (OK, I like Jung and James far more than Freud from that era, I’ll admit.)

We read the Bible and try to dissect every word as if we were scholars who had lived with the nuances of the language for a lifetime.

Jesus basically said it’s all about the status of our heart. It’s how we live out love. Paul emphasized grace. He also was concerned about how we live out love–but he was worried that people would return to being legalistic about it instead of living in the freedom of grace.

But freedom didn’t mean thinking about whatever you wanted to until you slowly went insane. Thinking that leads to understanding of God is good. Better is getting up every day and deciding to once again live out God’s grace by sharing it with others.

Stop sitting around thinking; start reaching out to others in love.

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.

Free To Be With God

October 29, 2015

“The purpose of the spiritual disciplines is to make you free.”

Both Dallas Willard and Richard J. Foster warn about the proper use of the practice of spiritual discipline. The point is not to be able to say that I fasted so many days, or read the Bible every day, or prayed diligently. To have that attitude is to return to that old human attitude of works being the way to get right with God rather than trusting in God’s grace.

This morning in my meditation, my thoughts turned to freedom. It’s a topic I’ve pondered and written on for my entire adult life. I was greatly influenced by a book by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin I came across at age 20 or so. He looked at philosophers of freedom and divided the concept into two–freedom for and freedom from.

Without chasing the squirrels of various philosophical traditions, I’ll just ponder Paul.

He said that God’s grace and our response in faith does both!

Grace frees us from the tyranny of our emotions, our self-imposed boundaries, our jealousies, fears, worries, greed.

The discipline of meditation that I’ve practiced for more than 40 years has calmed my emotions, freed me from worry (something passed down from my mother and who knows how many generations), helped me deal with the winds of emotion which can enslave.

That is just one example. The discipline of reading the Bible or great thinkers about the topic such as Augustine or Henry Nouwen or many others has added depth to my understanding and guidance for my direction.

Paul does not stop there. Grace frees us for service. Why are we here? To serve others in love. That is Jesus’ command. That is what Paul repeats. Many times.

These are words that I never wanted to hear as an adolescent. I can still remember being 17 or 20. No bounds. Discipline is a bad word foisted upon us by conservative old people. Service to others is slavery.

Trouble is, many people today have yet to outgrow those adolescent urges.

Adolescents hate paradox. I’ve always been fascinated by paradox. Here’s an important one–discipline leads to freedom. Who would have understood that at 17–or sometimes 57.

Have We Become Voyeurs

October 28, 2015

One of my Spiritual Disciplines is fasting–fasting from TV news, that is.

No, I’m not a flaming conservative who thinks all the media has a liberal bias. Nor do I think about whether there is a conservative bias. TV news has a distinct sensationalism bias.

It’s all about how each network can get the largest number of people to watch for a long enough period of time to serve up plenty of advertisements. Don’t kid yourselves. You get sucked in to your news source of choice because they have figured out ways to get you to watch. This is simply a business model.

We fall for it.

The TV in front of me the other day while I was running on the treadmill showed off some so-called “expert” speculating about the motives or mental health of someone who injured and killed a number of people with her out-of-control car.

What good was that speculation? There was no fact discussed. Merely opinion. And not even informed opinion. Just the fantasy of speculation about someone they don’t know and really don’t care about. And a million people watched it. I even read the closed caption for about a minute to see what was up.

This is what you get when someone thinks that showing news 24-hours-per-day is a good thing. They quickly discovered that filling all that time with valuable information was either too costly or too boring. They have to hook you and reel you in. Not enough viewers means not enough advertising which means not enough revenue.

But people watch. And not just in North America. It’s a human trait.

Why do we get so wrapped up in idle gossip and speculation about others when there is so much of ourselves that we need to pay attention to? Maybe that’s too hard.

Practice the Spiritual Discipline of fasting from TV news. You might just discover your blood pressure dropping, your emotions more centered, your friends and family more understanding, and your attention fixed upon others whom you can love and serve. I call that a good thing.

Thinking and Doing

October 14, 2015

Seth Godin is a marketing consultant. He’s written a few books and has a blog. The blogs are short pieces these days. Usually pithy. Recently he wrote on opportunity and left a few good suggestions.

You can learn a new skill, today, for free.

You can take on a new task at work, right now, without asking anyone.

You can make a connection, find a flaw, contribute an insight, now.

Or not.

We like to complain about lots of things. Work. The boss. The church. Leaders. Not getting ahead.

Godin reminds us of simple things that put the responsibility right back on us.

Today, Jon Swanson wrote on his 300 Words a Day blog about reading. And doing. He read a lot about running. Then he started running. He didn’t read any more. He ran.

He thought about Jesus who said you can sit and listen all day, or you can get out and do.

Preparation is good. Your 15 minutes a day in your chair reading the Bible is good. Your other reading is good.

But, in the end it isn’t good enough. It’s like the athlete preparing for the contest and never entering the competition.

You can do it. Godin says take responsibility for yourself and get up and do. Swanson suggested that there’s a time for preparation and then a time for doing.

What are you doing today?

Be Careful Lifting Quotes From Context

October 1, 2015

The last 6 minutes or so of my Yoga class ends in “final relaxation” where we lie in a comfortable position, close our eyes, focus on slowing our breathing, using our imagination perhaps to find (as one student puts it) “Gary’s happy place”, and relaxing.

When I wake them up (sometimes quite literally), I end class with a quote for inspiration or guidance.

The Bible is packed with sentences that can be taken for this purpose. 

Meditating on the beginning of Romans 12, I began to consider the importance of context when we lift quotes from scripture. 

Paul says that as much as is possible, he teaches that we should not think more highly of ourselves than we should. In itself, that is a worthy thought.

But why did Paul say that? What is the rest of the paragraph?

He says we should use sober judgement when we look at ourselves. Why? He continues that just as a body has more than one member, just so a church (group) has people with a variety of roles. Some teach, some offer compassion, or prophecy, or leadership, and so forth.

He’s telling us not to desire being the preacher when we are better suited for teaching, or maybe service.

In this case, I don’t believe that lifting out the first verse hurts that much.

Andy Stanley recently looked at the passage where Paul says he can bear all things. This one can become dangerous when someone quotes it to another who is hurting. Telling the  to bear all hurts is hardly empathetic. It can cause further hurt. Knowing the context is helpful, sometimes even essential.

Knowing the context is all important in understanding another. Sometimes in a soccer game a player will get kicked or tripped. They may utter a “bad” word. Maybe the word would warrant a booking (yellow card). But if the player was just hurt, the context would tell us to give a little grace.

Others we may meet may have hurts that we cannot say. They may say something bad. Perhaps if we knew their context we’d know to show them some grace.

There is much effort to understanding what we read in the Bible–and what we read in our relationships.

You Can Toss It Down or You Can Savor It

September 29, 2015

This may be a strange post for a spiritual formation blog. But that hasn’t stopped me before.

I’m writing this on a United flight from Sacramento to Dulles on my way home from a business / pleasure trip to California. For three days I discussed industrial software technology and trends. Then for another three days, I learned about how to savor wine during some winery tours in Napa Valley.

What applies to wine, applies more broadly to about anything you do. Let’s think about it.

When it comes to a glass of wine, you have two options.

You can just toss it down and go for another on your way toward changing your mood.

You can savor the wine. Pour some out into a glass. Smell it. Use some imagination. What smells do you detect? Maybe a peppery smell of a Cabernet? Maybe the fruity smell of a white. Sip it. Check the flavors. Match it with appropriate chocolate or cheese. Check how the flavors of the wine and food enhance each other.

I have long noticed the same differences watching people eat. Some people put their face close to the plate and just shovel it in. Don’t ask them about taste.

Over time, I have discovered taste. Flavor. Take your time and savor the flavors. Find the unique spices and herbs and the qualitites of texture.

I’m thinking the same about Bible study. You can read quickly so that you get your Bible-in-a-year done. Or pick up a few superficial quotes that you can use in an argument.

Or you can read. Read again. Put the book down and think. Visualize the scene. Meditate and ask God for enlightenment over the passage. Read the passage that comes before again in order to gain context.

Swirl the thoughts. Breathe in the spirit. Savor the tastes. Unless you’re at Seminary or grad school where quantity and speed is more important than understanding, take you time. Spend time. I’ve been about eight months in Romans. No problem. I’m not going for a degree. I’m aiming for wisdom.

Renewing Your Minds

September 23, 2015

Paul brings so much wisdom into his writing of the letter to the Romans. And to think, he may have been happy just to know that it reached Rome at all. Let alone be studied by so many thousands or millions over the years.

He leads Chapter 12, where he moves from theology to practical matters by talking about being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Renewing our minds???

I’m pondering that phrase. What did he mean? More important, how do we accomplish that?

First–transforming ourselves. Most of you know the cartoon (or whatever) Transformers. Even I know a little, pop culture challenged that I am. That’s what-a car that transforms into a robot or person or something?

So, we started out as something or someone. Then we become someone else. 

That’s a little like when Bill Hybels recommended that you decide who you want to be when you construct your calendar and to do list. Not so much what you want to do.

In the context of Romans, we want to transform ourselves from a person who is captive to our emotions and base instincts into a follower of Jesus. From a prisoner (even though we think we’re free) into a free person living in the spirit.

We decide what we want to be. Now, how to get there.

Well, by transforming our minds.

Here are some of my first thoughts. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts.

Read the Bible daily. First thing in the morning. So you fill your mind with higher thoughts. A mind filled with God has no room for thoughts that will get you into trouble.

Read books about the Bible, about leadership, about  successful people, about the needs of other people.

Develop an open mind that is receptive to the right messages coming in and disrupting complacency.

Practice real listening. Pay attention to other people to reduce your own selfish thoughts.

Volunteer for service. While you are acting for the benefit of others, you don’t have time to fill your mind with junk.

I wonder how else I can transform my mind. I keep trying.

Leadership Through Mentoring

September 18, 2015

Paul (the Apostle) must have been quite a leader. He is credited with almost single-handedly spreading the Christian church all over the northwest and northern Mediterranian area. Yet we know him through his letters and some stories in Acts.

He wasn’t a bishop. He evidently was not a pastor. He was a speaker, teacher, and writer. Yet he did plant churches and shepherd the people and their leaders.

We lack much detailed information. Reading carefully through the letters and stories in Acts, we can find examples of many other leaders who also went about starting and nourishing churches.

I became a leader in an organization first by saying Yes. I decided to serve the group.

Then I applied myself to diligently learning and growing in experience. I studied so that I could answer questions.

Then, I started looking for the next people to do that and carry on further than I could go.

I think Paul did much the same.

He was the most educated of the Apostles. That education served him well enabling him to provide documentation of the theology and practice of the new movement.

Then he said Yes.

After saying Yes and committing, he applied himself diligently to learning beyond his formidable education. And he gained experience speaking.

In this way he could teach, and speak, and write.

Then we notice his letters to Timothy. We see another side of Paul–Paul the mentor.

He picks his next generation leaders. Then he nurtures them. Giving advice, consolation, support, encouragement. 

We can say Leaders are [lots of things]. But for sure, Leaders are Mentors.

Drinking From The Source

August 18, 2015

Our children and family pastor had an 8-year-old ask the people in church Sunday morning a series of questions. The questions related to the Christmas story. All came directly from the Gospel record. 

Most people missed at least half of the questions. Almost all missed these:

  • How many wise men?
  • Were wise men at the manger scene?
  • Did Mary ride a donkey to Bethlehem from Nazareth?
  • Is the story in all four gospels?

People get confused all the time. I see it ofen relating to the Bible. I see it other places.

You see a picture someone painted of a scene. That becomes real in your mind even though it was an artist’s interpetation with no thought of being literally true.

The other day in a study group a question came up. I suggested, “Read 1 Corinthians 5.” Someone else said, “Did you hear the pastor’s sermon on that? Go listen to that.” I repeated, “Read 1 Corinthians 5.”

What is so hard about going to the source material.

In college I got so frustrated. We read about Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Euclid, Newton, and so on. We didn’t read Plato, et. al.

If you are discussing things related to Scripture, then read the Scripture. You can say subsequently, so and so said this about the passage. Then everyone can discuss. But you have as close to the source material as you can get.

It is so important to get the facts before we go off constructing wild hypotheses represented as fact when actually it is unfounded conjecture.

Wow, wouldn’t that raise our discourse above the shouting matches our politicians love!