From My Reading

“Knowing and naming brokenness is essential in the journey toward wholeness. We will not be well by denying the wrongs that we carry within us as nations and religions and communities. Nor will we be well by downplaying them or projecting them onto others. The path to wholeness will take us not around such awareness but through it, confronting the depths of our brokenness. . . . ” (John Philip Newell, quoted in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, October 16, 2018).

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“Man suffers most through his fears of suffering”  (Etty Hillesum,Diary entry (September 30, 1942). See An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 19411943 and Letters from Westerbork, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (Henry Holt and Company: 1996), 220; quoted in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, Oct. 25, 2018).

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“While we can find deep fulfillment in a relationship with Christ, it’s normal and healthy to feel unsatisfied with the relationship we can achieve with him now. Perhaps this is even what God wants for us. As we are more intimate with God, he does not want us to decide we’ve had enough; instead he wants us to desire more.  He does not want to merely satisfy our desires, he wants us to desire more.  He does not want to merely satisfy our desires; he wants to transform them

Rather than simply redirect our appetites and consumerism toward Christ, let’s question whether satisfaction is a legitimate goal for our lives. We can, instead, learn to accept and even embrace our lack of satisfaction and lead intentionally unsatisfied lives. And when we let go of our pursuit of satisfaction, we open ourselves to all the other things Christ in- tends to do in and through us”(Amy Simpson in Christianity Today, January/February, 2018).

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“It’s in that convergence of spiritual people becoming active and active people becoming spiritual that the hope of humanity now rests” (Van Jones).

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“Jesus is the Christ appearing among us to reveal God’s love, and the Church is his people called together to make his presence visible in today’s world. . . . Would we have recognized Jesus as the Christ if we had met him many years ago? Are we able to recognize him today in his body, the Church?” (Henri Nouwen in Bread for the Journey).

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Lamps, Lifeboats and Ladders

How can I be a life-giving presence in a world that is so desperate for love and compassion? How can I even begin to serve the broken people that  whom I hear and read about? Dallas Willard, spiritual leader and author of many important books on spiritual formation, comments that “it is very important to understand that the command [love your neighbor] is not to love everyone. God does. You can’t even begin to. Love can only be specific, and love cannot exceed our resources.” That reassurance is priceless to devoted Christ-followers who sometimes bear guilt about not loving or doing enough.

So the question is “How can my love become specific?” How do we stop trying to “exceed our resources?” Persian poet and theologian, Rumi* (1207-1273) has some beautiful images to help us here.

Be a lamp or a lifeboat or a ladder.  Help someone’s soul heal.   Walk out of your house like a shepherd” (Rumi).

Be a lamp –  Think a minute about the purpose of a lamp or light.  What  does a lamp do?  It turns darkness into light. It helps you find your way.  It can enhance fellowship.  It can make a place safer. Some lamps are works of art; they beautify their surroundings.  Every day we can look to light someone’s path, share knowledge, give direction and inspire lives of beauty. Jesus, said, “Let you light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father” (Matt 5:16; NIV).  The light we bring reflects  the love of  God.

Be a lifeboat – the purpose of a life boat is to rescue. As God’s lifeboats we can ensure the liberation of  others. We can also make sure we are inclusive. God’s lifeboats are for all people; we can make room our lifeboat for anyone who needs relief.  We can help others ride out their stormy seas.

Be a ladder – a ladder helps a person climb; who do you know who is “climbing” and needs your support? A ladder is used to rescue someone who seems beyond help. Have you given up on someone who could benefit from your love and care? For example, at times it seems as though the three teens I support through Compassion International have so many strikes against them that they are beyond help. But with God in the equation, no one is beyond help. 

Lamps, lifeboats, ladders. All of these are symbols of the ways we can help others heal. Rumi concludes this poetic line by encouraging us to walk out of our houses “as shepherds.” A shepherd is someone who provides for the needs of others.  Someone who can see the way ahead and lead in the right direction. Someone whose rod and staff create safe boundaries. Someone who knows others by name – personally and deeply. Shepherds light the way, rescue from harm, and support those persons or those causes that seem beyond our help. There is no more important role for a Christian to play in a world that becomes more and more angry, vengeful and  hate-filled  every day.  

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* Rumi was a Muslim scholar and poet who took Islam seriously, but the depth of his spiritual vision goes beyond sectarianism. According to Professor Majid M. Naini, “Rumi’s life and transformation provide true testimony and proof that people of all religions and backgrounds can live together in peace and harmony. Ru-mi’s visions, words, and life teach us how to reach inner peace and happiness so we can finally stop the continual stream of hostility and hatred and achieve true global peace and harmony.”

Shahram Shiva, performance artist and Rumi translator, asserts that “Rumi is able to verbalize the highly personal and often confusing world of personal growth and development in a very clear and direct fashion. He does not offend anyone, and he includes everyone…. Today Rumi’s poems can be heard in churches, synagogues, Zen monasteries, as well as in the downtown New York art/performance/music scene” (Wikipedia),

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Speaking of Lies – Again

This post was first published on October 12, 2016.  The only comments I received at that time were from people who wanted to remind me that all politicians lie. Now, two years later, most of us realize that Donald Trump is not a normal politician. Fact checkers have been busy especially during the mid-term election campaign counting our president’s lies. Trump’s tsunami of untruths helped push the count in The Fact Checker’s database past 5,000 on the 601st day of his presidency. That’s an average of 8.3 false statements a day. In fact, in a nine-day period in September while Trump holding campaign rallies, he averaged 32 false or misleading claims a day. In the past two weeks his biggest lies claimed that a new tax cut would be passed by the legislature before the mid-term election (when Congress isn’t even in session) and that he is going to write an executive order to end “birthright citizenship” – something promised in the Constitution. Trump evidently doesn’t believe the truth about lies in Scripture

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Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  Thelies woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,  but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”  “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3: 1-5, NIV).

I was watching the second debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, feeling sick to my stomach. As Donald Trump continually lied, evaded, and falsely accused, I was reminded of the verses in Genesis 3 quoted above. The devil is well-known throughout Scripture as the Father of lies. Speaking to a group of Jews, Jesus called him out:

“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

The devil is father of lies and it seems that Donald Trump is his disciple. I am well aware that politicians since the beginning of time have evaded the truth and even lied to protect their agendas, their power, or their “electability.” But this 2016 election seems to have brought out a new breed of liars personified by Mr. Trump.

I am reminded of a book by M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie, which takes up the question of evil. In it he posits that there are some people who are so morally bankrupt that they can be termed “evil.”  Here are a few quotes from that book:

  • The evil of this world is committed by the spiritual fat cats, by the Pharisee’s of our own day, the self-righteous who think they are without sin because they are unwilling to suffer the discomfort of significant self-examination”  (p. 72).
  • A predominant characteristic of the behavior that I call evil is scapegoating. Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, they must lash out at anyone who does reproach them. They sacrifice others to preserve their self-image of perfection” ( page 73).
  • “Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad.”
  • “They project their own evil onto the world. The evil attack others instead of facing their own failures” (page 74).

Sound familiar?

The website “gotquestions.com” says that “Satan has told more lies to more people (and even angels) than any being ever created. His success depends on people believing his lies. He has used everything from “little white lies” to huge, pants-on-fire whoppers to deceive folks. Adolph Hitler, a man who learned how to lie effectively, once said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

Lies are important; they cannot be defended or excused. We cannot justify lies by saying “every politician lies.” We cannot defend lies by saying that “sometimes we need to lie to gain what we want or to prevent something we don’t want” (James Bryan Smith in The Good and Beautiful Life).  Smith goes on to say, 

“These are two of the main reasons why we lie:  we think we need to (1) to get what we want, or (2) to avoid something we don’t want. And if the universe revolves around us, then the lying is justified. We now have a narrative that allows us to sleep at night. Unfortunately we are destroying the integrity of our own souls. According to Jesus, even if we gain the whole world but lose our soul, we have truly lost what is most important (p. 108).”

As Christians, we must fight for our integrity. We must tell the truth. Paul urged the Colossians “Do not lie to each other since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9 NIV). We need to monitor our thoughts and our words. We need to avoid exaggeration, “little white lies,”and outright falsehoods. We need to follow Jesus, not the Father of lies.

But we also need to question and promote the integrity of our leaders – and those who want to be our leaders. They, too, must tell the truth. We cannot turn a blind eye to the character of someone would be our president. A man who lies, who covers up and defends his lies, who lies about the fact that he lies, and most importantly feels that lying is just a smart way to do business and get what you want, is not fit to be our president. I believe that Christians must recognize this lack of integrity and speak out against it.

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Going Deeper with God – Rich in Every Way; (2 Cor. 9: 8, 10-11)

In Eat this Book, Eugene Peterson teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our early Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. These verses remind us of God’s abundance to us and through us.

II Cor. 9:  8, 10-11 (CEB); Rich in Every Way

“God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work.  . . .  The one who supplies seed for planting and bread for eating will supply and multiply your seed and will increase your crop, which is righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us.” 

CHEWING

What would life be like if we truly believed in the abundance of God’s grace – grace of “every kind”?  Grace to  forgive and grace to be forgiven. Grace to give help and grace to ask for help. Grace to creatively collaborate with God in his activity on earth. Grace to make and keep friends. Grace to bless others with God-given insight. Grace to smile in the face of hardship. Grace to recognize the hand of God in creating  the universe; grace to sustain and protect that creation. Grace to believe that we live in the unshakable kingdom of God – available now and coming in eternity. Can we truly believe Paul when he says that we will have everything we need? The Message tells us exactly this in Psalm 23: 1: “The Lord is my shepherd; I don’t need a thing.”  

If we believe that God provides us with more than enough grace, we must also believe that God blesses us with enough for “every good work.” Paul says that we “will be made rich in every way so that [we] can be generous in every way.” The first book of the Bible reminds us that we are blessed to be a blessing (Gen. 12:3). The path out of selfishness and self-interest is the courage to give away even what we think we need because God promises that we will still have enough.

DIGESTING

  Sponsor a child through Compassion International. Children all over the world need good food, clean clothes, medical attention, education – and the news that Jesus loves them.  I am on a small fixed income, but God has enabled me to sponsor three children for more than seven years.They all are now in their mid to late teens and are looking forward to contributing to their family’s income and their country’s welfare. These young people faithfully answer my letters, repeatedly saying that God has blessed them through the Compassion program.  

♥  Don’t listen to President Trump’s claims  that hordes of people are coming to America to take what “belongs” to “us.” Don’t believe the Fox News reports that a “caravan” of mothers, fathers, and children is a national security threat to the country that is the best armed in the world. Don’t listen when people blame immigrants for all our problems. Don’t accept the fear that immigrants will take our jobs.  Remember: “will be made rich in every way so that [we] can be generous in every way.” Our fears only reveal our lack of trust in the goodness of God and his promise to care for all his people – sometimes through us.

♥  Remember to share your stories of God’s grace. Look for ways to share those stories. People are desperate to know that someone cares about them, that their broken lives can be resurrected and have meaning, that the grace that you give them can be shared with someone else.  

MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Paul tells Corinth’s Christians: ‘In everything, you will always have enough’. Paul’s word for ‘enough’ is the same as he uses in Philippians 4:11 and 1 Timothy 6:6. In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul describes his own experience. Sometimes Paul was very poor, sometimes he had plenty. However, in every circumstance, Paul was content. In 1 Timothy 6:6-10, Paul urges Christians to respect God and to be content, even if they can only afford the basic things in life. Paul’s word for ‘content’ is the same as his word for ‘enough’ in 2 Corinthians 9:8. The meaning in all these verses is that God satisfies his people; he provides enough so that they can be content.That is his promise to rich and poor people alike. He does not only provide what they need; he also provides enough so that they can do his work: (www.usefulbible.com)

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Give it Away!

A few days ago, I played the raucous, high-spirited, Spirit-filled song Give it Away by the Gaither Vocal Band during the last session of a class on The Twelve Steps.

 “If you want more happy than your heart will hold
If you want to stand taller if the truth were told
Take whatever you have, and give it away
If you want less lonely and a lot more fun
And deep satisfaction when the day is done
Then throw your heart wide open and give it away”

The last step of the famous Twelve Steps is:  “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” It is shortened to the phrase: “Give it Away.” The good news of the Gospel (on which The Twelve Steps are based) gives us the same marching orders: Having experienced life with Jesus, we try to carry his message of love to everyone we meet and to practice his teachings in everything we do. We give what we have away. Professions of faith are dry dust unless they are accompanied by open hands and giving hearts.

Not all members of my class were able to think about “giving away” because they have struggled with keeping their lives together for so long. But in the end, they came up with love, friendship, and what they have learned through life and through The Twelve Steps.  When professed Christians think about our give-aways, we probably focus on financial resources, physical and emotional aid to others, and sharing the gospel – all of which are God-inspired and crucial to keeping the Kingdom of God on earth strong.

But the Give it Away song tells the story of an old farmer offering some freshly picked sweet corn to someone passing by. His simple gift reminds us that our giving also can be small and personal and spontaneous – and also God inspired. Here are some of my “sweet corn” give-aways.  What are yours?

The gift of laughter – We all have funny stories from our lives that can brighten the world. Here’s my favorite: One day I came across my 3 year-old son standing by the TV as the automatic message repeated, “We are experiencing technical difficulties. Please stand by.” My son, now becoming impatient, yelled I am standing by!” I tried hard not to giggle as I explained that standing by in this case did not mean standing next to the TV but waiting for the TV station to solve its problems. 

We all need the blessing of light-hearted camaraderie. I remember a time when Chris Web, Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, James Bryan Smith, John Ortberg were all sitting on a stage together. They had gathered for a formal discussion of spiritual formation, but “holy hilarity” (as Richard Foster puts it) was front and center with this group. We left that room a little bit wiser, but also “more happy than our heart can hold.”

In a time when we are weighed down by the serious issues facing the world order, we can have a “lot less lonely and a lot more fun” if we give away the joy of laughter

The gift of listening –  Think about the last time someone sat patiently with you quietly listen to your story with out trying to fix you or the situation. I vividly remember a time recently when I shared a part of my life that I had never discussed with anyone to a person who just listened without interruption. Offer that gift soon to a family member or friend. Both can both leave your encounter with “deep satisfaction when the day is done.”

The gift of encouraging words – Decades ago, I wrote a book for new adult readers about a family disrupted by the father’s abrupt departure. It was meant to encourage single mothers to become strong and independent. Several weeks after it was published by New Readers Press, I got a short letter from a woman somewhere in Pennsylvania. In painstaking printing she wrote, “I read your book. I really liked it! How did you know about my life?” I had given this reader her life story, and she gave it back. What a gift of “deep satisfaction when the day is done.”

The gift of book recommendations – I have a lot of time to read these days. When I love a book, I LOVE a book. I am always sharing my new favorite book with someone. I’ve found that “Nothing’s quite as good until you give it away.”

The gift of  the unexpected  – two family members gave me gorgeous chrysanthemum plants for my balcony this fall; they are still in full bloom. A friend came for a visit this summer bearing a large container of blueberries she had just picked. Another friend told me recently that while she was sorting things that had been stored away for years, she found one of her father’s old fedoras. She decided to give it to an elderly friend. He was so delighted with its fit and style that she was motivated to find other things she could give away.

In comments about her lyrics to Give it Away, songwriter Gloria Gaither said, “An old friend of ours told us early in our marriage, ‘You’ll only be able to keep what you give away.’  We’ve found what he said to be true. And not only do we keep what we give away, we seem to lose, in one way or another, what we insist on keeping.”

So, as the song says, “Throw your heart wide open and give it away.”

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Living with the Spirit: Thomas Kelly and the Death of Eugene Peterson

A few days ago (Oct. 20, 2018) I published a post about  attempting to live on two levels of thought at the same time:  the practical experiencing of life as it happens  around us and a second level of  attention … Continue reading

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Continual Renewal – The Renovare Way to Discipleship (Part 4)

This post is part 4 in a series based on the Renovare organization’s covenant and “best practices” – which are six Common Disciplines drawn from the six Traditions of Christianity explored in Richard Foster’s book, Streams of Living Water. (Find earlier posts in the Categories list in the right margin menu on the blog home page  home page under Continual Renewal).

Common Discipline #3:  By God’s grace I will welcome the Holy Spirit, exercising the gifts and nurturing the fruit while living in the joy and power of the Spirit (The Charismatic Tradition).

Our writing group was intensely focused on listening to one member’s writing for October.  I was facing the window. As I listened, I happened to look away from the group and out the window. To my amazement, I was treated to the most beautiful sunset at twilight that I have ever seen. Dark shades of pink slid in and out of purplish black clouds. The contrast was stunning. 

I glanced at the other members of the group. They were caught up in the words of the writer. I thought, “This is a once in a lifetime experience.  I should let the others know.” Then I second-guessed, “No, that would be rude to the person reading.”  I peeked out the window again. Suddenly I felt compelled. “Hey, you guys, stop a minute and look out the window,” I said. The result was instant joy from everyone. One person even got up and ran to the window exclaiming, “How beautiful!” the whole time. We were held in a space of shared awe. Then we automatically shifted to the person who had been reading, and she began again. A few sentences later, I looked out. The sky had totally changed. The moment was gone forever.

I have mused about that moment several times.  I have come to believe that my moment of “rudeness” was prompted by the Holy Spirit.  “Welcoming the Holy Spirit,” the heart of the third common discipline, is one of those disciplines that takes constant daily awareness if it is to be turned into instinct and habit.  I remember reading with great longing the words of Frank Laubach and Brother Lawrence as they described their attempts to live on two levels. One level is a practical experiencing of life as it happened around them. The second level is attention to experiencing life with the Holy Spirit. From their experiences, I learned the discipline (habit) of listening for the prodding, teaching, and comforting work of the Holy Spirit. That evening, the Holy Spirit, wanting to cultivate a sense of awe-filled worship in me (and my friends), called me from one level of experience to a higher level.  

The Common Discipline goes on to call us to use our gifts and to experience the fruits of spirit-filled living. Recognizing our gifts allows us to transform the world around us. Choosing  to live by the fruits of the spirit ( love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) promotes the experience bring the light of the Jesus Way into the world. But I believe that all of this requires first  learning to live in the “higher atmosphere” of the Holy Spirit.

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From my Reading

“In light of today’s information overload, people are looking for a few clear certitudes by which to define themselves. . . .  We cannot settle today’s confusion by pretending to have absolute and certain answers. But we must not give up seeking truth, observing reality from all its angles. We settle human confusion not by falsely pretending to settle all the dust, but by teaching people an honest and humble process for learning and listening, which we call contemplation. Then people come to wisdom in a calm and compassionate way. There will not be the knee jerk overreactions that we have in so many on both Left and Right today” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, Oct. 4, 2018).

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“We should be perfectly clear about one thing: Jesus never expected us simply to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, bless those who persecute us, give unto them that ask, and so forth. These responses, generally and rightly understood to be characteristics of Christlikeness, were set forth by him as illustrative of what might be expected of a new kind of person—one who intelligently and steadfastly seeks, above all else, to live within the rule of God and be possessed by the kind of righteousness that God himself has, as Matthew 6:33 portrays.

Instead, Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do.…Oswald Chambers observes:  ‘The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting his way with us;’” (Dallas Willard in Spirit of the Disciplines).

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“Virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices become second nature” ( N.T. Wright).

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“Praying the scriptures has found particularly colorful expression in practices derived from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. A hallmark of these exercises is the use of sensory imagination in meditating with the Gospels. (It is worth noting that other narrative portions of scripture are equally adaptable to the Ignatian method.) By entering into the stories and characters of the Gospels imaginatively, we are invited to encounter the living Lord—the Word Incarnate—in a more vivid and personal way.” (From Prayer with Scripture by Marjorie J. Thompson in Weavings, May/June 1990. )

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“It’s important to be clear what we’re talking about when we say “spiritual formation.” Consider Paul’s words in Galatians 4:19: ‘I am in travail until Christ be formed in you.” The word travail is a birthing image. He’s saying, essentially, “I am in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.’ That’s a biblical, foundational way of thinking about spiritual formation.

I think of a couple of old hymns that speak to this. The first is “Rock of Ages”—’Let the water and the blood, from thy wounded side which flowed, be of sin the double cure.’ That’s the key—the “double cure.” It then says “Save from wrath,” which is forgiveness, justification. But it goes on: “Save from wrath and make me pure.” When we speak of spiritual formation, it’s all of that together, not separate. It’s justification and sanctification going together”(Richard Foster, christianitytoday.com, October, 2018).

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