Posts Tagged ‘Peace’

The tough work of prayer

Prayer is like a battle. The enemy is constantly placing barriers in your way to keep you from reaching your final objective.

Life is a series of continual distractions that make it difficult to find time to commune with God. Even if one manages to slip away to a quiet place for a few minutes, odds are they will find themselves distracted by thoughts about what lies ahead in their day or week. I’ve heard so many people complain, “My days are so busy I just can’t find time to pray.”  In reality, if you have a busy day ahead you can’t afford not to pray. Paul’s epistle to the Church at Philippi says:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7

This is tough advice!  Who, after all, is not anxious about something, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?  And how difficult is it to present your prayers to God with thanksgiving in every situation? “Dear God, I thank you for allowing me to crash my car into that tree yesterday.”  Prayer is tough work indeed.

The nation has just gone through a painful, extraordinarily divisive presidential election process. The political rhetoric is still turned up to near the boiling point. Political disagreements have resulted in many friendships ending and have even caused divorces. Sometime it feels like the entire world has gone mad amidst the name calling, threats, riots, burning and looting. Many politicians will tell you that they have the answers to all our problems, but they don’t. Only God can fix this mess!

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  —Psalm 121:1-2

More than any time in recent history, America’s Christians need to join together in praying for our nation and those whom have been elected to serve. So, what about that politician from the “other” party?  Should you pray for him or her?  “God, please help this idiot to see how wrong he is.”  Well, not exactly.  You can certainly pray that the Holy Spirit would convict the individual politician to make decisions that honor God, especially politicians who profess to be Christ followers.   

If you have a beef with a particular politician—get over it.  I don’t mean this in the traditional fashion that contemporary culture says “get over it.”  I mean that, as Christians, we are obliged to forgive those who have trespassed against us, just as we pray to God to forgive us our own sins.      

“In Jesus, we experience freedom not only from sin and its hold on us but also from guilt, shame, worry, Satan’s lies, superstitions, false teaching, and eternal death. No longer hostages, we have freedom to show love to enemies, walk in kindness, live with hope, and love our neighbors. As we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, we can forgive as we’ve been forgiven” —Patricia Raybon, Our Daily Bread

Now here’s where it really gets difficult.  Not only are we told to “forgive as we’ve been forgiven,” but in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to love our enemies:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. —Matthew 5:43-45

Is there a politician or other leader whose behavior absolutely disgusts you?  If so, think of that person, then pray for him or her. Really!  Pray that God will soften their heart.  It they profess to be a Christian, ask God to fill them with the Holy Spirit.

Since 2001, The Presidential Prayer Team has been the source thousands of Americans have turned to for encouragement and inspiration to pray for America’s leaders. It is a non-partisan organization.  I encourage you click the “About Us” link below to visit their website and sign up for the daily prayer alerts.

A Prayer for Good Leaders

Father God, good leaders, come from you. Lord, this nation needs leaders with discerning hearts and wise minds. I beseech you today asking you today to give us wise leaders that will lead this nation in the right direction. Remove wrong people that are corrupt and living against your word from influential positions. Let our leaders be people who honor your holy name for it is only from you that they will get true wisdom. It is in the mighty name of Jesus that we believe and pray, Amen. —Anonymous

Easter 2016 – Resurrection Sunday

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

 Resurrection of Christ by Raphael

The resurrection of Christ by Raphael

 1 Corinthians 15 (ESV), The Resurrection of Christ

15 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

The Resurrection of the Dead

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

 May God bless you and keep you on this holiest of days!

Let Not Your Hearts be Troubled

ISIS

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?   And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  —John 14:1-3 (ESV)

The daily news is filled with hate and violence. The Islamic State (ISIS) is conducting a systematic genocide of Christians and other minority religious groups in Syria and Iraq. Iran routinely threatens to destroy the state of Israel. North Korea recently threatened a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States for what its leader perceived as threats.

Here at home the anger in many Americans is palpable. Violence is increasingly occurring at political events as the presidential election approaches. Respect among diverse people and groups in our society is waning. Many American Christians feel persecuted. Sometimes it seems as if God is no longer welcome in our society.

With all of the bad news it’s easy to become disheartened if you lose sight of the big picture. However, Christians may take comfort in the assurance that GOD IS STILL IN CHARGE. He reigns supreme in this World. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” (Psalm 103:19)

The world may turn its back on Christ today, but a time of reckoning will come.  Hebrews 12 reminds us that God is “slow to anger,” but his wrath is a “consuming fire.” God commands a kingdom that “cannot be shaken.” Neither should we be shaken when we hear of all the troublesome things happening in the world today.

God’s perfect plan is being played out in our lives, even though it might not be clear to us today. Speaking of the future, St. Paul reminds us, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The heart trouble Jesus speaks of in John 14 is a spiritual problem for which He is the only cure. Let not your hearts be troubled!  When we take our eyes off of Christ, the heart troubles begin. Christians must stay focused and avoid getting caught up in the daily distractions. As St. Paul encourages us, fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith! (2 Timothy 4:7)  

Perseverance means more than endurance— more than simply holding on until the end.  A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer.  God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly. Entrust yourself to God’s hands.   –Oswald Chambers

 

Cast Aside Your Fears

Walking on Water

Matthew 14:22-33

I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. —Isaiah 41:13 (ESV)

Many people today are afraid. Constant fear is slowly become part of the human condition. It’s running rampant right here in America.

The majority of Americans now believe that their children’s lives will be harder than their own. They worry about unemployment and the economy. Many fear illegal immigrants. Others are afraid to gather in public places for fear of violence.

Why wouldn’t people be afraid? The media and many politicians thrive on instilling fear in the public.

On a cosmic scale we hear about giant solar flares that could destroy technology, pushing humankind back into the Stone Age. A large meteor or asteroid collisions could destroy the Earth.

In our natural world, super volcanoes threaten to cause destruction on a planetary scale. Earthquakes and tsunamis in diverse places threaten thousands of lives. Global warming could cause killer storms, droughts, melting ice, coastal flooding and forest fires.

On the human plane, many people fear terrorism. Others worry about flesh eating bacteria, brain eating amoebas, and drug resistant bacteria and viruses. Some hunker down in their homes, worried about riots, violence by/against the police, and mass murders making public places unsafe. Some fear that computer hackers will steal their identities and wealth.   There are wars and rumors of wars. Religious persecution is increasing around the globe.

There are two types of fear mentioned in the Bible. The first is fear of the Lord. This fear is not associated with being frightened. It is a reverential awe of God and is to be encouraged. According to Psalm 111, fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and leads to rest and peace.

The second type of fear is detrimental. In the first chapter of 2 Timothy it is described as a “spirit of fear.” A person can be completely overcome by a spirit of fear, virtually frozen and unable to function. Such fear weighs a person down physically, emotionally and mentally.

Unfortunately, many Christians have succumbed to a spirit of fear. Some fear those of other religions and are reluctant to reach out to them in Christian love. Some fear those who are different from us culturally or racially. Some of us are hesitant to invite those in need into their lives for fear they might lose something or it might cost something. Some are afraid to leave the comfort of their homes and familiar surroundings in order to reach out to the needy. Others are hesitant to give of their wealth for fear they might later find themselves in need. A few are afraid of just about everything.

Christian fears often boils down to a fear of losing something—possessions, comfort, safety, security. In Philippians chapter 3, verses 7-8 (ESV), St. Paul describes how he has let go of the things of this world in order to focus on what is truly important:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

It is impossible to grasp the outstretched hand of Christ as long as we tightly cling to things of this world. David tells us in Psalm 34 verses 4-7 (ESV):

I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them
.

Take the fears before you today and give them to the Lord. You may be facing a health crisis, unemployment, divorce, a call to missionary service, or other difficult challenges. The best first step in any situation is to cast aside your fears—let go and let God!

“The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”    —Oswald Chambers

Stretch Yourself

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“It is perilously possible to make our conceptions of God like molten lead poured into a specially designed mould, and when it is cold and hard we fling it at the heads of the religious people who don’t agree with us.”  —Oswald Chambers

Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg are the co-principal investigators and co-directors of Project Information Literacy at the University of Washington Information School in Seattle. One of the areas they study is information overload and multi-tasking.

Since 2008 the pair has surveyed over 10,000 college students. One of their most significant findings is that, “Information is now as infinite as the universe, but finding the answers needed is harder than ever.”

In today’s complex, often confusing wilderness of digital information, it’s important that people periodically take time to slow down and think!  Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “Always keep in contact with those books and those people that enlarge your horizon and make it possible for you to stretch yourself mentally.”

I have to agree with his advice. I’ve found that a good way to slow down is to turn off the laptop or smartphone.  Instead, try engaging in meaningful conversations and reading.

My most meaningful conversations usually occur with my wife Linda.  She is one of the smartest people I know. Her logic and ability to find clarity in the midst of confusion have always amazed me. If she were the only person I ever talked with, my life would never lack for interesting, meaningful dialogue.

As for books, it’s hard to know where to begin, but I’d like to suggest a few good ones for Christians hoping to stretch their minds a little.  My top five, in no particular order are:

My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chambers, who died in 1917 at age 43, is widely regarded as one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. He wrote only three books in his lifetime, but there are many bearing his name.  They are the products of his devoted wife Gertrude, a professional stenographer who recorded all of Chambers’ sermons verbatim in shorthand.

My Utmost for His Highest is a book of daily devotions written by Mrs. Chambers. It draws from dozens of her husband’s sermons. First published in 1924, it is the most popular Christian devotional ever written.  The idea of total abandonment, i.e. completely surrendering one’s life to God, is at the center of its message. As the book’s title suggests, we must strive daily to do our utmost for God.

Chambers said, “We have the idea that we can dedicate our gifts to God. However, you cannot dedicate what is not yours. There is actually only one thing you can dedicate to God, and that is your right to yourself (see Romans 12:1). If you will give God your right to yourself, He will make a holy experiment out of you— and His experiments always succeed.”

The language of the original text is somewhat challenging for modern day readers due to its use of Scottish vernacular. Fortunately, there are versions available in modern English.  Personally, I find that working through the original version simply adds to the exercise of stretching my mind. When read as intended—one short devotion per day—this book will help you stretch yourself for an entire year.

Your God is too Small, by J.B. Phillips

J.B. Phillips was a canon of the Anglican Church.  He died in 1982.  His seminal work, Your God is Too Small, was published in 1952. According to Phillips, from childhood we are taught to package God in a tiny box conforming to our personal beliefs and preferences.  Look for all of the answers and you’ll find them by turning God into something simple and understandable. Phillips calls this “God in a box,” which is also the title of the book’s seventh chapter.

Oswald Chambers cautioned us against such shaping God in our own image, saying, “Our danger is to water down God’s word to suit ourselves. God never fits His word to suit me; He fits me to suit His word.” (Not Knowing Whither, 901 R).

David wrote in Psalm 8, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

Your God it too Small leads its readers through a series of intellectual exercises designed to expand their concept of the God who created the universe. If you find yourself marveling at God’s creation, unable to wrap your mind around it all, this book will help you see God in a totally different way.

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) is one of the most popular and prolific Christian authors and apologists who ever lived. He penned over 30 books.  Today he is best known for his classic series The Chronicles of Narnia, which have been transformed into an extremely successful series of films.

Originally published in 1942, The Screwtape Letters is arguably the Lewis’s most unusual book.  It is written in the format of a series of letters from an uncle attempting to mentor his young nephew through an important task. This would be nothing unusual, were it not for the fact that Screwtape is a senior demon and servant of Satan.  The letters are written to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter.  Wormwood has been given the task of ensuring the damnation of a British businessman who is referred to only as “the patient.”  Screwtape provides his nephew a clear strategy on how to undermine the patient’s faith and lead him into sin.

Lewis’s book is a dissertation on the human condition—a deep analysis of man’s inner makeup, with all of its strengths, frailties, temptations and struggles. Screwtape, through his keen understanding of human behavior, explains to Wormwood the best methods for ensuring the patient’s ultimate demise. The book paints an in-depth picture of spiritual warfare and the ultimate triumph of God.  It is guaranteed to make you think about your own inner self.

Luther:  Man between God and the Devil, by Heiko A. Oberman 

Originally published in German in 1982, this book is considered by many German scholars to be the most comprehensive biography every written on Martin Luther (1483-1546).  Luther was the central figure of the Protestant Reformation and remains one of the most influential theologians in history.

Even without the discussion of Luther, Oberman’s book would be worth reading just for its political, cultural and religious discussion of the Reformation.  However, it offers much, much more. Unlike many Luther biographers before him, Oberman attempts to describe Luther’s thoughts and deeds as something much more than just a medieval German monk who rebelled against the authority of the Catholic Church.

Oberman contends that Luther was convinced of the reality of the devil and viewed his own life as a continuous struggle against evil. (Not unlike The Screwtape Letters).  Luther viewed the world as an enormous battleground where God clashes with Satan. Approaching him from this angle lends a whole new perspective to Luther’s theology. This book is guaranteed to stretch your mind!

Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, edited by Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland

If you’re a middle-aged Christian like me you might recall hearing about a popular movement in the 80’s and 90’s centered on “the quest for the historical Jesus.” The movement, which still has some momentum today, was epitomized by the Jesus Seminar.  The Jesus Seminar was organized by the Weststar Institute in 1985.

According to the institute’s website, its purpose was to, “to renew the quest of the historical Jesus and to report the results of its research to the general public, rather than just to a handful of gospel specialists. Initially, the goal of the Seminar was to review each of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the gospels and determine which of them could be considered authentic.

The seminar began with a group of 30 Bible scholars, but eventually grew to around 200. Put simply, this movement was an attempt by Bible scholars, not necessarily Christian scholars, to refute the divinity of Jesus Christ by framing him in history as nothing more than a typical, popular Jewish teacher of his day.

Jesus Under Fire is a compilation of essays by eight prominent Christian apologists written to challenge the methodology and conclusions of the Jesus Seminar.  The book’s introduction describes the furor surrounding Jesus:

“Today some people say that Jesus never said most of what is recorded of him in the Bible.  Some pronounce further that Jesus never did most of what the Bible records he did.  They claim that Jesus of Nazareth was a far different figure than church history and the creeds have believed him to be.  Therefore, if we are to be intelligent people, even intelligent religious people, we must not simply accept what the Bible records Jesus claimed for himself and what the early church claimed him to be.  If we are to be truly modern in our religious quest, we must not simplistically hope that Jesus’ actions as they are recorded in the Bible are factual, or that they have any relevance for us today.  Jesus must be stripped of ancient myths that surround him as to what he said and did, so that the modern person can hear his true message.  Jesus must be brought down to earth from the status to which the early church elevated him, so that we can understand who he was as he walked under Palestinian skies and comprehend what, if any, religious relevance he has for us today.”

The chapter titles of Jesus Under Fire describe the authors’ response to the Jesus Seminar:

  • Where do we start studying Jesus?
  • Who is Jesus? An introduction to Jesus studies.
  • The words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive or Memorex?
  • What did Jesus do?
  • Did Jesus perform miracles?
  • Did Jesus rise from the dead?
  • Is Jesus the only way?
  • Jesus outside the New Testament: What is the Evidence?

This book is for serious mind stretchers only.  It is probably the most difficult book I have ever read…and reread.  I found each of the essays intellectually stimulating—the sort of stuff that makes me go back and reread each paragraph, underlining sentences as I go.  I spent about six months working my way through it the first time…and it was time well spent. I hope you will find it equally as enjoyable.

Give yourself a special gift this Christmas and start reading one of these wonderful books.  You won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

 

Living Without a Compass

Compass

Today we are engaged in a deadly global struggle for those who would intimidate, torture, and murder people for exercising the most basic freedoms. If we are to win this struggle and spread those freedoms, we must keep our own moral compass pointed in a true direction.      –Barack Obama

A few days ago I was on the phone with my good friend Joe, who lives in California. Joe and I have each spent a lot of time in the Middle East, so our conversations often drift into the current events there.  Naturally, we couldn’t have such a discussion without mentioning the Islamic State (ISIS), the radical group currently wrecking havoc in Syria and Iraq.

I was busy bloviating about the ISIS situation when Joe interrupted with a short but cogent comment summing up the entire problem. “This is typical of what eventually happens in every society that doesn’t have Christ.”

Wow!  I wish I’d thought of that.  Joe is right.  History is replete with examples of the same kind of godless butchery that is the ISIS trademark.  Not all of it was beheadings and ethnic cleansing, but it was ruthless and chaotic nonetheless. The cruelty of ISIS appears feeble when compared to the likes of the Roman Empire, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and dare I say the People’s Republic of China, the country upon which the economy of the United States so depends.

While life in the United States has yet to descend into chaos, there is little doubt that the country is in a state of moral decline.  Create a vacuum and something will fill it.  Take God out of our families and homes, and chaos will eventually replace the divine spirit. The evidence is all around us. American society is rapidly becoming more secular; we are entering a post-Christian era.

For Christians, this could ultimately prove to be a blessing in the final analysis. Christianity has historically endured its greatest tests and proven strongest and most effective when operating from a position of weakness within society as a whole. Jesus was the perfect example of this.  The son of God allowed himself to be crucified, and in so doing took all of the sins of mankind upon himself.

His Apostles all fled in fear after Jesus’ crucifixion and remained in hiding until the resurrected Savior appeared to them in the flesh.  The assurance they gained from this and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost empowered them to spread the Gospel around the known world.  Their faith remained unbroken, even though most suffered a martyr’s death.

Like the resurrected Christ appearing to his Apostles 2,000 thousand years ago, today Christ still manifests Himself to His followers during both the best and worst of times. A good friend of mine who is a priest and former Army chaplain was fortunate enough to visit Russia back in the 1990’s to help re-establish the chaplain’s corps in the Russian army.

Like early Christians of the Roman Empire who had to meet secretly in catacombs beneath the cities, during the Soviet Union era many Russian Christians gathered in secret places to worship God.  After the collapse of communism they were eager to bring the church back “above ground.”  Today, the Russian Orthodox Church flourishes where only a few years ago it was suppressed.

Remarkably, Russia’s current leader and former KGB officer Vladimir Putin is being hailed by some as a defender of the Christian faith.  In December 2013, Putin declared in a speech, “Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values. Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”  The world truly is turned upside down today!

I once had a senior Army officer tell me he preferred to work with men who possessed spiritual values, regardless of their religion.  He explained that having faith in a power higher than one’s self is an indicator of how one will perform under pressure; in this instance, the pressure he was referring to was the stress of combat. However, the truth of his statement applies to every facet of life. People and nations need a moral compass—something to keep them going in the right direction.  The best source of such guidance is a profound belief in God.

Nations rise and nations fall. Every nation has followed this progression from bondage to bondage. The nations of this century will be no different… As Christians we must recognize that nations will rise and fall just as individuals will be born and die. Our civilization will not last indefinitely, but will eventually pass off the scene. Only God’s Word endures forever. We should not put our trust in the things of this world for they are destined for destruction. Instead, we should put our faith in God and His word.    

                                                                                                            —Kirby Anderson, The Decline of a Nation*

*The complete text of Kirby Anderson’s “The Decline of a Nation” is available at this link:

http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/decline.html

Exercise for the Soul

Exercise

I’m not a big fan of reality TV, but there is one show I really enjoy.  The Biggest Loser is about helping morbidly obese people lose weight and regain their health and vigor. The contestants, all of whom are obese and suffering from multiple weight-related ailments, live at an isolated health compound and work with world class trainers throughout their stay.  It’s fascinating to watch the amount of work Biggest Loser contestants need to correct years of behavior problems like overeating and under exercising.

One phenomenon that is readily evident to viewers of the show is how former athletes—those who at one time were accustomed to vigorous exercise and discipline—seem to progress much faster than those who have never routinely exercised or disciplined their bodies.

Besides weight loss, The Biggest Loser delves into the psychological struggles waged by each contestant. Some succeed, while others never quite make it.  Now in its 10th season, the show has generated a Biggest Loser fitness movement across the country.

Many Americans are dedicated to physical fitness routines. Yet a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that 80 percent of American age 18 and above do not exercise sufficiently to maintain good health.

Far fewer practice a discipline of exercise for the soul.  What a shame we can’t seem to find a way to generate a spiritual fitness movement across our country!  For Christians, exercise for the soul is more important than physical exercise, because the Holy Spirit dwells within our bodies, which St. Paul calls, “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Left neglected, either by sin, complacency or getting buried in the business of day-to-day life, the Holy Spirit cannot speak to us.  Our bodies require daily attention on both the physical and spiritual levels. Prayer must be at the center of attention. Personally, this is an area I’ve struggled with lately.

Popular evangelist and church pastor Rev. David Jeremiah has said, “Prayer is the hard-work business of Christianity, and it nets amazing results.”  German Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was very specific in promoting the benefits of prayer, saying,

The entire day receives order and discipline when it acquires unity. This unity must be sought and found in morning prayer. The morning prayer determines the day.”

 Having practiced morning prayer for many years, I appreciate its importance to a Christian’s well being.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order of Roman Catholicism, was a Spanish knight who lived from 1491 to 1556.  As a young man, Ignatius kept a journal of his quest to grow in unity with God and discern God’s will in his life.  As his experience grew, the journal evolved into a well-defined set of prayers, meditations, reflections, and directions that are known today as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

These exercises are grouped into four stages, described as weeks but not literally seven-day periods, which are designed to be led by a director, or guide.  The Spiritual Exercises are intended to serve as a sort of lesson plan for the individual leading the exercises, not as a guide for individuals.

However, even without a director many aspects of the Spiritual Exercises can be useful to individuals seeking spiritual growth and greater commitment to serving God. This is particularly so for the way the Spiritual Exercises approach prayer through meditation and contemplation.

Meditation involves praying about the good and bad words, images and ideas that guide our lives.  Contemplation is emotion-driven, rather than thought-driven.  It focuses on placing ourselves in scenes from the Gospel and trying to imagine how it might have been.  Contemplation is praying through scripture rather than studying scripture.

One of the key elements of the Spiritual Exercises is the discernment of spirits.  According to St. Ignatius, the human spirit is influenced by three forces: an inward focus on self and selfish desires; Satanic power and suggestions; and God-inspired power and suggestions. Ignatius called these the “spiritual motions.”  The purpose of discernment is to discover the source of each spiritual motion in our lives, so as to help us help make good decisions.

Many contestants on The Biggest Loser reach so-called plateaus—a weight they just can’t seem to get below.  To overcome this barrier, they change their daily exercise routines, doing something different to restart the weight loss trend.

The same approach can be applied to spiritual exercises.  I do a fair job of exercising my body, but lately I’ve felt like my prayer life has slumped—I’ve hit a plateau.  I have difficulty concentrating and find my mind wandering when I pray. In the remaining days before the beginning of Advent, I plan to try a new prayer regimen built around the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.  Have you hit a prayer plateau?  Perhaps it’s time to change your exercise routine for the soul.

 “Prayer is exhaling the spirit of man and inhaling the spirit of God.”

                                                                                       Edwin Keith

An English text of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola is available online at: http://www.jesuit.org/jesuits/wp-content/uploads/The-Spiritual-Exercises-.pdf.  The Website “Ignatian Spirituality,” a service of Loyola University Press, was the primary source for this blog entry (www.ignatianspirituality.com).

Wounded Hearts

 Sorrow

“Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish; 

Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.”   —Saint Thomas More

                                                                                        

If you’re a movie buff and haven’t yet made it to the theater to see “Into the Storm,” please read on.  This is not a spoiler.

Fans of disaster flicks will love this movie.  When it comes to special effects, it’s Twister on steroids. Because of the awesome special effects, which include a trip into the “eye” of a monster F5 tornado, seeing Into the Storm on the big screen is a must.

The movie has several story lines and shifts frequently from one to another. A common thread is woven throughout several of them—people in dire circumstances who are overcome with sorrow because of bad personal relationships with loved ones. All are emotionally wounded to the core as they find themselves facing almost certain death.

A teenage son laments that his last words with his deceased mother were harsh. The deceased woman’s husband looks back on the way he has raised his sons after her death and wishes he could start over.

A teenage girl, buried in rubble, is sorry she lied to her parents about where she was going when she left home that morning.

A single mother caught in the midst of the storm, is sorry she has allowed her work to get in the way of spending more time with her small daughter.

The sorrow displayed by these storm victims goes beyond simple regrets over situations and relationships in their lives that went wrong. Regret is what many male politicians display when the media catches them having an extramarital affair. They aren’t truly sorry about their deplorable behavior. They’re sorry they were caught.  Rather than being sorry for the damage they have inflicted on themselves and others, theirs is a self-centered, worldly response.  It’s a sorrow stemming from knowing they will have to deal with the public and private consequences of their transgressions.

In contrast, the sorrow displayed by the characters of Into the Storm is the sorrow of repentance—selfless sorrow acknowledging that one’s transgressions have harmed others.  It is a repentant sorrow that says, “I understand my actions were wrong; I am truly sorry for the pain and hurt I have inflicted myself and others; and I want to change my bad behavior and way of thinking forever.”

This selfless sorrow is what 2 Corinthians, chapter 7 calls godly sorrow.  “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”(NIV)  Godly sorrow brings healing and life.

The Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21 tells the story of a wealthy man who lives a life of plenty.  He has all that he needs in this world—so much wealth and so many possessions that he believes he can simply “eat, drink and be merry,” for the rest of his days.  But at  the precise moment the man is gushing pride and personal satisfaction, God tells him he will die that very night.

What if you knew that today was the last day of your life? Would you regret that you haven’t done enough for yourself, or would you feel godly sorrow because of the way you have managed some of your personal relationships? More importantly, how would you feel about the way you’ve managed your relationship with God?

Today truly is the first day in the rest of your life.  Seize the opportunity to start setting things right today and embrace the family members, loved ones, friends and acquaintances who really matter in your life. You’ll have no regrets!

3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!  —Philippians 2:3-8 (NIV)

Also see: Recalling Some Life Lessons.

Memorial Day 2014

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Memorial Day isn’t just another three-day weekend!

In Flanders Fields

by Lt. Col. John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) 
    Canadian Army, World War I

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Tommy

by Rudyard Kipling

I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,

The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”

The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,

I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:

O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;

But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,

The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,

O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,

They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;

They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,

But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;

But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,

The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,

O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep

Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;

An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit

Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.

Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”

But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,

The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,

O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,

But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;

An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,

Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;

While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,

But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,

There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,

O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:

We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.

Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face

The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”

But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;

An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;

An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

 

 

 

One Journey Ends, Another Begins

Man on a JourneyI know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.    —Jeremiah 10:23 (ESV)

I just completed a long journey in my life.  This particular one, an 18-month job search, was extremely wearisome.  In retrospect, however, all of the waiting was worth it.  I have been blessed with a new job that appears to be a nearly perfect match for my skills and desires.

Finding good work in the current economy is challenging, particularly for those of us who are a little gray around the temples. To make my search more difficult, I had decided to take a new direction with my work. It was therefore necessary for me to convince potential employers that my skills accumulated over some 30 years were transferable into the new line of work I was seeking in the nonprofit field.

The long journey was fraught with emotion—anticipation, hope, disappointment, rejection, self-doubt and frustration.  I applied for dozens of jobs, preparing resume after resume and spending hours online completing application after application.  Oh, that businesses would all use the same application process!

In many cases, my applications went unanswered.  For others it was rejection letters or very impersonal emails stating simply, “We have decided to pursue another candidate.”  It was a situation in which I could have easily lost hope, but I found comfort in Saint Paul’s words, from 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  (ESV)

I focused intently on trying to remain faithful, casting worry and doubt aside as I searched for employment. Of course there were lapses along the way.  I had to constantly remind myself that I was working on God’s timeline, not my own.  I found peace in the knowledge that He would provide the right job at the right time.

Sizakele Lugojolo, director of Lutheran Hour Ministries – South Africa has written that the peace of God, “is the peace we experience when we put aside the selfishness and let God be the center. This is the peace we experience when we give God the glory and not take it for our own satisfaction. This is the peace we experience when the will of God prevails, not ours.”

Just as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, during my job search I frequently prayed that God’s will might be done—that I would end up in a place where He could use me as he sees fit.  Many dear friends offered intercessory prayers for me.  I could feel their power; it sustained me from day to day.

Along the way I came to realize that reaching one’s destination is not the prize.   The reward lies in how one handles his present circumstances—getting through each day of the journey.  For my many networking friends who are still searching I have but one piece of advice, “Let go and let God!”   As Saint Paul so eloquently wrote:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.                                                                                                                                                             —Philippians 4: 4-7 (ESV)

With my new job begins a new journey.  Like a good soldier,  I’m calling it my mission. Oddly enough, it entails something I’ve learned a bit about over the past 18 months.  I’ll be helping recently unemployed individuals find a new job. If I can help even one person find employment in less time than it took me, I’ll feel like I’m contributing to a worthy cause.

 Once you have a mission, you can’t go back to having a job.  —Shai Agassi