..."and a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; evil minded people shall not travel on it, but it shall be for those wayfarers who are traveling toward God. (Isaiah 35:8, adapted)

Monday, March 21, 2011

For Peace Comes Dropping Slow....

"I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; 
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

--W.B. Yeats--the Lake Isle of Innisfree

On this cold, snowy day in a New England that, is really taunting
us with the hope of spring then cruelly dashing our hopes, I found
this lovely poem by W.B.Yeats that matched my longing and what
I have been meditating upon.

Thank God that we can pray in all conditions and that God
accepts prayers from harried, hurried hearts as well as peaceful
ones but what I want to address is the place of praying from
a deeply peaceful heart: one of life's richest pleasures.

Yeats describes his longing to go to his little lakeside
cabin and so, he "shall have some peace there, for peace
comes dropping slow."  Indeed!

There is a certain gift of peace that God gives to us
when we are in over our heads and know that our
help comes from God alone. This is a precious
gift. But there is also a peace that we cultivate
in our hearts in order to hear the gentle and
sweet voice of God in every nuance.  This
peace is something we apply ourselves to, cultivate,
nurture, even sacrifice for: it is deep inner peace
and calm and Yeats speaks the truth when he
says it "comes dropping slowly."

My Lent has been a feeble and often failed
attempt to put myself aside and seek God but
what I do know is that I know I was heading for
that deep peace, that totally tranquil place within,
that cannot be come to overnight, cannot be
rushed,  and which has no earthly substitute.

I remember my country childhood, of a completely
different era, one where there was long and deep
lakes of quietude where all one heard for hours was
the sounds of robins, sparrows, peepers and crickets and the soft rustle
of willow and pine trees. Even as a child it is those
moments I remember most vividly and cherish most
deeply.  No one had yet told me the right words about
God  but I felt Him still, before I was formally introduced.

Our lives our so hurried, so rushed, and there is that
primitive if not biblical urge that calls us to slow down
into peace and which we ignore at our very peril. There are
some things that cannot be heard until we are absolutely
quiet inside. There are some truths that won't come to
us until silence reigns in our inner man and the Voice
of our Beloved can speak without the voices of a
million lesser things, madmen all,  interrupting. 

This, if you hadn't noticed, takes a long time. It is not a meander on
a country road, not knowing where you are going
that takes you there, but a deliberate determination
to come to quiet. The irony is that we cannot quiet
ourselves completely, we can only go so far and
the rest, as always and in all things, is grace.
It is worth, without a doubt, every minute.

Let us walk down the road toward that quiet
cabin in our hearts, so that "peace can drop upon
us slow," and there wait for our Lord to speak
in the "heart's deep core" 
If we can accomplish that this Lent, we will
have done well.

photo taken near Jacksonville, Vermont

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spiritual Examen: Is My Love Sincere?

I plead with you therefore, brethren, by the compassions of God,
to present all your faculties to Him as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to Him.
This with you will be an act of reasonable worship ...Let love be without
hypocrisy....(Romans 12:1 & 9a)
We have begun to look at Romans 12 as a guide to measuring
whether our worship is more than just flowery words expressed
toward God or whether our lives are, as Paul writes, full of
"reasonable, spiritual worship" ("λογικην λατρειαν").

He gives us a list by which to measure love in the community of
faith. This concept is in parallel with the book of James' struggle to balance
faith and works. Our spiritual works are a true form of worship.
They prove it is more than lofty praise words or ecstatic feelings,
but this kind of worship brings the kingdom of God to this earth.

First on the the list is the call to love. "Let love be without
"ἀνυπόκριτος"--unfeigned, without hypocrisy, --not
"alpha pretended" -- as the two words that make up this
word anypokritos come from two words "alpha and
hupokrinomai" --a sort of "Number One Faker."  The love
we are called to is genuine, unfeigned, unhypocritical, sincere.
Nothing in it is play acting. I am not pretending to love,
 I am genuinely loving.

Dear ones, we must ask ourselves today, "How much of my
love is pretending and play acting?"  When we say we love
God and man, is agape love, God's love, what is coming
forth? Or is our love some kind of whitewash, something
said to placate another, to deceive them, to pacify or
manipulate them?  These are tough questions but we
must look at our love.

No doubt you can sense when you are not being
loved even when the words are all right. The country
music business makes its bread and butter off of
such ideas. But we are often slow to see that
our love--given and received, is not love at all
according to God's kind of love. His is not an
emotional, convenient love. He does not pretend
to love while secretly despising, even hating us.
His is not love that gives with a hook in it, or
spouts high sounding platitudes to cover up
a cold and careless heart! His love does not
cover His true feelings!

God's love is sincere and unfeigned. He lives
out His love by remaining faithful to us, by
taking care of us even when we do not take
care of ourselves or others; by giving us what
we need and not what we demand.

The first act of worship is love: love full
of the deeds of a good life, love that
comes in tired after a full day of giving
itself for others.

Are we loving, or are we only pretending to
love? God knows, and we know, too, if we
sit with ourselves and allow this point of examen
to shine its light on our hearts.

Better to have a small bit of genuine love, than
to gush forth barrels of  "love" that have no substance.
Only those who dwell much with God have
that genuine, godly love to give. 

Therefore, dwell much with God.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We all adore God in different ways
but can join together in one symphony of praise...

photo taken in Northampton, MA

Monday, March 14, 2011

One Grand Providence

God's care is more evident in some instances of [His providence]
than in others to the dim and often bewildered vision of humanity.
Upon such instances we seize and call them providences. It is well
that we can; but it would be gloriously better if we could believe
that the whole matter is one grand providence.

- George MacDonald (1824-1905), "Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood

Photo: inside an orchid, Northampton, MA

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Garden of Kindness

"Kind hearts are the gardens,
Kind thoughts are the roots,
Kind words are the flowers,
 Kind deeds are the fruits,
 Take care of your garden
 And keep out the weeds,
 Fill it with sunshine
Kind words and kind deeds”

--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

photo taken in Northampton, MA

Saturday, March 12, 2011

How to Encourage Spiritual Hunger in Others!

"'A man can not lead others where he is not willing to go himself.
Therefore, beware of the prayerless church leader who no longer
readily admits his own need for more of the person and power of
Jesus Christ. Only a seeking, praying heart can truly encourage
spiritual HUNGER in others!' - David Smithers."

photo taken in Edinburgh, Scotland

Friday, March 11, 2011

Spiritual Examen: Is My Worship Reasonable and Spiritual? Part 1

I plead with you therefore, brethren, by the compassionsof God, to present
all your faculties to Him as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to Him.
This with you will be an act of reasonable worship. 2 And do not follow the
customs of the present age, but be transformed by the entire renewal of your
minds, so that you may learn by experience what God's will is--that will
which is good and beautiful and perfect.... (Romans 12: 1-3, Weymouth translation)

There is so much that is discussed about "worship" that relates to style and form, that often,
the true heart of worship,or its lack, is not talked about or understood. When we think
of "worship" we often think of what happens during a "worship" service in our particular
church. Some churchs are liturgical, some are charismatic, some are seeker--friendly, other
are hell-fire and brimstone (not so common today). In the charismatic/ pentecostal world it
would appear that not a lot of people have a clear understanding of the nature and purpose of worship.
Somtimes churches differ in their style of worship music but this is not the main issue.
Often, people say things, "Oh, wasn't the worship good this morning at church."  Or,
"I could really feel the presence of God."  But this is not really a biblical understanding
or accurate judge of what is "good" worship. 

The apostle Paul uses the words "λογικην λατρειαν"-- logiken latreain" (reasonable,
spiritual worship). It is whole-bodied and whole minded: rational and reasonable.
Reasonable worship is what is proper to give to God (which by our measure might
be unreasonably extravagant!). It is not just worship words, or felt experience, but
the whole of our life presented to God. What would hold more worth for "worthship":
for someone to say, "I love you" with great sentimentality, or for someone to actually
wholeheartedly walk in agape love every minute of every day ?

There is an aspect to worship that we miss at our own peril and which robs God
of what is due Him: not giving God the discipline of a carefully reasoned
offering of our ENTIRE life. This is not something that you can come to accurately without
a carefully reasoned inventory, ( i.e. a spiritual examen that brings us to the action of extreme
worship.)  I must become a living sacrifice offered to God: a conscious decision to
put every detail of my very  life on the altar, something not possible or reasonable
under the Old Covenant.

When we appeal to only the experiential in worship, without reason and discipline
backed up with a fully-converted life, then we soon will end up being steered by
personal agendas, power plays, human whim, cultural preferences, or doctrines
of demons.

In the article, Conformation or Transformation: Toward Reclaiming Meaningful Distinctives in Evangelical Worship Practice    Linda Schwartz writes,

"The New Testament call to identification in the Cross and to abundant
—not easy—life based on kingdom values, is being silenced by worship
practice which refuses to acknowledge the cost of discipleship. Worship
services approximate forms of entertainment that are designed to elicit
only passive response rather than active engagement from participants.
People have been lulled into checking their brains at the door...

It is disturbing, therefore, that evangelicals place so much stock in the
emotional experience or realm of feelings: this is the one area of human
nature that evangelicalism has traditionally regarded as an appropriate
response mechanism; and, for many, it has become an exclusive outlet,
the single gauge by which the validity of faith is measured. In fact,
‘gut feeling’ or the realm of emotion also internalizes and projects
 erogenous emotions, as well as feelings of misery, aggressiveness, and
 guilt; and these often become confused with appropriate spiritual behaviour.
When human feeling or emotion is compartmentalized from cerebral or
sentient experience, the worshipper is no longer able to engage in a balanced
or fully human response to worship.

Reasonable, spiritual worship is the whole of one's life, working in Godly harmony, and  lived
out of  Kingdom values, offered to God. The apostle Paul then proceeds to give us a spiritual
examen that will help us move toward such worship. We will discuss that tomorrow. :)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spiritual Examen: Using Spiritual Filters to Build Healthy Relationship with God

If we are to move toward a really intimate relationship with God then we must understand
that there are no secrets kept between two people that love each other. When we love
God we WANT to be known by Him and to KNOW Him. We want to hold nothing
back. We want to know every detail about God and we want Him to know every
detail about us

Notice what happens the first time that sin enters into the world in the garden of Eden:
hiding behavior! The beauty of unrestricted openness with God is gone. Somehow we,
in our blinded, sinful state, have allowed ourselves to believe that we can choose when to
come into God's presence or, on the other hand, when to choose not to.

 But God is everywhere and He is always with us, not as a Judge, or Chaperone,
or Watcher, but simply as our Father, our Creator, our Companion and Friend.
God created us for intimacy with Him.

Like attracts like. Goodness attracts goodness. How can two walk together unless
they be agreed? "But if we live in the light in the same way that God is in the light,
we have a relationship with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses
us from every sin." I John 1:7.  So it is not hiding from God that keeps us
safe, but walking with God in the Light of His Presence.

Think of all the filters in your life! We like to keep them clean because they trap
unwanted particles that clog up essential items: air conditioner filters trap pollutants
that you don't want to breath in; drain filters keep hair and debris from clogging
your drain pipes; water filters take out things that we would do better not drinking.
So let us not look at questions of spiritual examen as something that make us
feel ashamed and thus, drives us from God.

 Let us, instead,  use the questions as filters knowing that they catch unwanted
 things in our spiritual lives before they clog our relationship with God.  You do not
want to be separated from God. I know that I don't. And yet, sometimes God
feels distant. This does not happen for no good reason. God is still there, but
debris has come between us and Him.

If you only clean your bathtub sink drain once a year, your ability to enjoy
your cleansing time will be severely diminished. So let us catch spiritual problems before
they cause us further trouble. If you feel, "I have sinned so long and so much
that God does not want me around" then you misunderstand the dear heart of  God.

The prodigal son had many issues. If you met him in person you may not have liked
him, but he understood one thing: that his Father wanted him and that he could
always go back to him. Of course he had thought that life on the farm was a bore,
and that his older brother was a goody-two shoes, but it was his bad choice that
had caused him to leave, and it was his good choice that easily brought him back home.
Go back to God. What we learn in our exile is that God is always right and that
there is no place like Home.  Your sinfulness and mine is a paradox. Its right
to kill us has been dealt with on the cross of Christ: we have been forgiven.
Yet, our sinful nature still affects us because our complete conversion is a
gradual process. Of course, there is an initial moment when we choose God,
but it is lifetime of learning to give Him every bit ourselves freely and with
no reservations. All of my experience in life is custom made to allow me to
bring all of my heart, soul, mind and strength to Him. You are built for that
kind of connection with God.

So let us begin our examen with some general questions about our intimacy
with God. Its good to get in the habit of doing this often, even every day!
Our hearts should be going toward God continually, just like those
who love each other always want to know what the other is doing,,,
God, when did I sense Your presence the most in my day?

When did  I lose track of the fact that You are with me?

How do I see You loving me today, even when I didnt
see it in that moment?

How did I respond to the love You showed me?

and finally,

Did I love You today in such a way
that Your heart smiled?

Sit with these questions for a few moments and give
time for God to speak with you, and you with Him.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Spiritual Examen : Seeing Myself as God Sees Me

As we continue to explore the seven deadly sins, we need to lay
some groundwork. You may be asking, "What good will looking
at my sinfulness do me?"  Won't it be discouraging? What if I
get discouraged and give up? 

The important thing to remember in all this is that we are not
just routing out our sins as if we were finding rotten easter
eggs hidden in a garden. The point is to rid ourselves of
the false image of ourselves that cloaks our relationship
with sinful attitudes and habits. No one can argue that
we should agree with God and that His view of us is
the correct view, right?  So let us begin by asking God
for His view of us!

Heavenly Father, please show me how You view me.
Just as You looked at the seven churches in the book
of Revelation, pointing out both their strengths and their
shortcomings, please reveal to me what pleases you
about my life and what can be improved. Show me
what is hurting You as You watch me, and, show me
where I fail to see the effects of sin hurting me.
It is easy for You to hate sin because You
clearly see what it does to us. Give us that same clarity!

When I see that I have been entertaining such
dangerous and repugnant company it will be so much
easier to allow You to take action in my heart.
Please show me what I need to know, ...I know you
will do it in a way that is as easy as possible for me
to accept. Its ok if it gets hard. I love You and trust
Your hand and Your counsel in my life. Amen!

Part of what is amiss is that we too readily trust
our own opinion of ourselves. How we look at
something is often caught up in how it affects me,
what benefits it seems to have for me, and what
will be the easiest and least invasive route for
me to get to where and what I want. But Jesus
did not live this way. Jesus said, Truly, truly, I say
to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord,
but only what he sees the Father doing. For
whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my
judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the
will of him who sent me. ..If I alone bear witness about
myself, my testimony is not deemed true. There is another
 [John the Baptist]who bears witness about me, and I know
that the testimony that he bears about me is true... But the
testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the
works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very
works that I am doing, bear witness about me that
 the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself
borne witness about me. (John 5: 19, 30-32. 36-37).

Jesus lived before His Father in utter simplicity and trust.
He did not hold his own opinion. He only looked to God.
There was no pressured sense of Himself that He felt compelled to
"live up to." He listened to and lived for His Father alone. He
did not need to look to others to see what their opinion
was, He simply walked with God.

So let us put ourselves in the hands of God and ask
Him to show us how He views us: after we get
acclimated to the downgrade, we can enjoy the
upgrade :), for we are far worse than we know,
and yet, far more holy children of God than we can
take in.  Let the huge weight be lifted from your
shoulders: just be who God made you to be,
nothing more, or less!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Seven Deadly Sins or What I Can't Bear to Face about Myself X7

During the season of  lent, traditionally a time of self-examining and turning to God,
it behooves us to discuss things that one rarely ever hears preached on, usually
because they would make the preacher unpopular, or because the truth is not
something everyone wants to hear.

Human beings are quite predictable. Patterns develop in our lives quite
easily without our recognizing it. Think about how we always gravitate
toward the same seat at church; always seem to pick the same snacks
at the store; always seem to follow a certain series of tasks when we
get out of bed, and when we get ready for bed!

The enemy of our souls takes advantage of our predictability and
once we our enslaved to a bad habit, we are seriously held back
from entering fully into our freedom as sons and daughters of God.
Sin entrenches our direction down a path that we don't want to go,
and those sins start with bad attitudes.

Remember two words: inclination and  repetition. We have underlying
attitudes that incline us toward sin, and once we have gone down
that rode a few times repetitively, we forget that there are holier
and happier routes. We repeat our sins over and over until
they are firmly entrenched.  But how to be rid of them?

Underlying all sin, never mind the seven deadly ones, are
deadly attitudes. When we start to think about this it gets
uncomfortable really quickly and we can say we don't care (?),
we can say that our sins are forgiven (they are); we can say that all this is too
negative and discouraging, (as if denying the problem will make it
go away?) or we can use what we learn to find out where
are souls are leaking righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Ghost.
Wise spiritual guides down through the centuries have
recognized that these seven players are what most often
keep us from entering the World Series of  Truly Loving Jesus
on Team "Christ in Us the Hope of Glory."

If we understand where we fall short, we are that much closer to
knowing what we need to put on the altar of God. We are sinners:
not just before we are Christians, but after, also! God is not
surprised by the state of our souls, so seeing our self as He sees
us, and  knowing that His grace is big enough to fix us, should not
be cause for us to want to back away from a deep inward journey.

The point is not to navel-gaze, but to be set free so that
we might more unself-consciously gaze at Him! Sin is a fat
man in a room full of lithe spiritual worshippers! It keeps us
from decreasing and thus makes it harder for Him to increase.
He is a Gentleman and will not evict our sinful "alters" and
altars  unless we allow Him, too. He deserves all our spiritual space.

When we invite Jesus in, we should not make Him live with
the seven deadlies seated on seven thrones within us!

So let us begin by naming the 7 deadly sins: Pride, greed,
envy, anger, lust, gluttony and sloth. Throughout history,
there have been slightly different variations, but these
are ripe to begin with. See how the mention of them,
immediately starts an interesting inner process? :)

Tomorrow we launch in!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Spring is Dawning

Jesus is God! The solid earth,
The ocean broad and bright,
The countless stars, like golden dust,
Strewn 'cross the skies at night,
The wheeling storm, the dreadful fire,
The pleasant wholesome air,
The summer's sun, the winter's frost,
His own creations fair.
--Frederick Faber, Hymns (adapted)

photo taken in Northampton, Massachusetts

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Grace to be Taught New Things!

"In these days, God taught me as a schoolteacher teaches a pupil."

I remind myself that there are things God has to teach me yet,

and ask for the grace to hear them and let them change me.

--Ignatius of Loyola

photo taken in Worcester, Uk