Faith & Reason ... a mystery

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Are you thirsty or just gettin' by?

 The formation of one's spiritual self is not taken seriously in our post-modern lives. I can admit, it has just been recently that I have become more intentional in my spiritual formation. That is to state that my spiritual formation has relied on my daily devotional life, the sermon series at church or through the popular book I was currently reading. It is easy to assume that having a devotional life, regular church studies, and religious readings are the typical habit of the majority, yet it is more the truth to state that the typical American believer does not practice just one of the three elements.
Most clergy very rarely read books or have a study time beyond what is expected in sermon or class presentations. It is a sad commentary, but the truth is that the post-modern American church is lazy and has lost it's first love for Jesus. The average American believer lacks a Christ-like faith that is demonstrated in daily life. There is a virus among the western church that has infected believers to compromise grace and truth so as to be politically correct and avoid conflict.

Holt explains in his chapter on spiritual formation that it is not enough to read or study in order to develop a spiritual life but that it must be lived in our daily actions. These actions are to be seen and lived in order for disciplines of faith to be nurtured, grown and to be developed. Holt states how the, “Bible generally views a person as a unity of body, soul, mind, heart, and spirit.” The elements of body, soul, mind, and heart are not given an opportunity to be separated. Thus, it is important that any spiritual formation take an intentional and balanced approach. There is not any room for complacency or for lack of discipline. 
 
Holt reveals a great truth with the statement, “the complex ethical problems facing Christians today force us to listen carefully to the specialist who remind us of the context and the specifics of the Christian tradition that under girds us in making concert decisions.” Spiritual formation is reliant on the facts that ethics, integrity, dedication, and spirituality belong together. It is the fruit in which we lived that define our being in Christ. Thus, the believer who tries to refrain from discipline or development in Christ is a saved creature, yet lacks the essence of abundant life. It is in this mediocre stage of development where most of the American church lives today. 
 
Holt assesses that the modern church is very good in appreciation of God's goodness and in praise. Out culture thrives on entertainment. The modern church worship service is filled with entertainment. Normal standards includes a sermon that is easy to listen to, the music has to be upbeat and pleasant to the ear, and the technology must keep up with television standards. This high bar for corporate worship has often diminished our reality of the hardship and commitment that are a necessity in spiritual formation. Holt finds the hope for the future with these words, “Christian appreciation for the work for God needs to be matched in our day by taking responsibility for lifestyle and economics in order to preserve the creation from human destruction.” This statement needs to be taken to heart by every believer in the western church for a closer walk with God. 
 
The combination of grace and truth is the remedy which Jesus demonstrated for spiritual formation. The task at hand is to apply the combination in our daily living. This is accomplished as diversely as there are diverse amount of people on the planet. The hardship is the desire to make it a reality. The pool of information available to people is large and is a crutch that most of us lean on. We trust the sermon will be on target and assume the latest book will be theologically sound. We rely on others to take us to a place of formation while we neglect the work at hand. 
 
Another part of this combination of grace and truth is one where we tend to lean one direction or another. The modern believer will desire to be politically correct and lean heavily on grace while neglecting the truth. Another option to the modern believer is to desire to know God absolute while leaning heavily on the truth thus neglecting the demonstration of grace. This out of balance character is not spiritual formation as Jesus demonstrated. Jesus was dedicated to the truth that he was the only way, the only truth, and the only life. Jesus was also dedicated to the demonstration of grace to sinners at every opportunity. For example, the woman who was caught in adultery was guilty. Jesus tells the crowd to condemn her if they have no sin, consequently they leave in disgrace while Jesus tells the woman to go and sin no more. This is a perfect example of a balance of grace and truth.

Holt concludes with a plea that, “we must also feel empathy, a shared experience that allows the story of the past to live in us.” In reflection, I agree. Our past defines our essence in life through the experience. Thus, we can learn to demonstrate grace because of the grace that has been demonstrated on our behalf. We can also learn to live the truth of righteousness by the experiences of truth that are learned in reading, study and meditation. I agree with Holt's description of empathy as life that is demonstrated through the practice and development of the spiritual disciplines with in daily life. 
 
Therefore, I believe that the antibiotic for fighting the virus of mediocrity within our faith is to be discovered in cultivating our spiritual formation. This is accomplished in our study, commitment to daily development of reflection, and action revealed through the spiritual disciplines. I believe the result is as Holt states, “as a follower of Jesus, we must pay attention, act responsibly, and love without limits.” It is then that we will truly know the God we love.

Traveling this journey with you is amazing. You know I love ya, Don
 
Bradley P. Holt. Thirsty for God. (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2005)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Julian of Norwich...Wallowing in God's Goodness!

I think it is to pray according to the goodness of God as Julian of Norwich describes it, is to pray as a pig wallows in mud. I remember as a junior high school student being on a retreat in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Central California with my church youth group and one of our youth sponsors gave a devotion on the goodness of God. As I read Julian of Norwich excepts from "Revelations of Divine Love" I was reminded of Debbie Jackson and her devotion. I also remember how moved to tears I was even as a 13 year old boy. It was not new to learn that God  loved me so much that he would die for me and desire a relationship with me. It was a new realization of God's goodness that moved me to a better place because of Debbie's devotional testimony.

Debbie Jackson's devotion used the word "wallow" in it over and over and over. We are to wallow in God..."we are to wallow in God's goodness" she would say. Debbie talked about how our feelings can be completely covered in God's goodness. Debbie talked about how our actions at home, school and church could be completely covered in God's goodness. Debbie talked about how our fun and celebrations could be completely covered in God's goodness. She then finished the talk by holding up a picture of a pig completely covered in wet, sticky mud. Debbie than pointed to the picture and said, "This is what is means to wallow in the mud....it is to be completely covered in mud." Debbie went on to explain how a pig doesn't sweat and that a pig needs the mud in order to survive and that is why it is completely covered or why the pig is willing to wallow in the mud. The pig would not survive without its ability to wallow. She closed by asking us if we knew how to survive? The answer was and still is today, "to be completely covered in God's goodness." It was a powerful devotion that has remained with me for 28 years.

As I was reading Julian, I was thinking about how her prayer to know God more was revealed in a new awareness of Christ's passion, to know bodily sickness, and then in her willingness to receive three wounds. It was in Julian's prayer that she was truly was asking for opportunities to "wallow" in God's goodness and this new revelation granted her the gifts to know God more because He is a good God.

It is Julian's words that state it best, "Just as our flesh is covered by clothing, and our blood is covered by our flesh, so are we, soul and body, covered and enclosed by the goodness of God." We are truly wallowing in the God's goodness as we are covered head to toe, flesh and soul, action and rest so that we might enter into a time of prayer that listens and responds because his goodness reveals his grace, provision, and virtue.

My Prayer, "Lord, thank you for your goodness and then demonstrating that goodness to me. Help my unbelief and may my faith always be a source to point others your direction. Amen."

You know I love ya, Don

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

6 Great Streams for the Spiritual Life!


Foster identifies the six great streams of the Christian life as, “the prayer-filled life,” the virtuous life,” “the spirit-empowered life,” the compassionate life,” “the word-centered life,” and the “sacramental life.” Each of the great streams fit into the six great tradition of the church as, “contemplative, holiness, charismatic, social justice, evangelical, and incarnation.” It is through the dedication and development of the streams that a Christ-follower grows in faith and spiritual formation.

“The prayer-filled life” is the first stream Foster notes on the Christian walk. This stream is to be contemplative while offering oneself to God in reverence and dialogue. It is to give special attention to loving God with supplication while committing to multiple forms of prayer in which a person offers themselves to God. The second stream is, “the virtuous life.” This second stream is “concerned with the personal moral transformation that comes through the development of what the old writers called 'holy habits'.” It is through this stream a person develops a heart and desire for holiness and living a life set apart.

The third of the great streams is “the spirit-empowered life.” This third stream focuses on the “Holy Spirit who comes alongside us and animates and empowers our efforts.” Foster refers to it as a great gift and blessing for the Christ-followers. It is this stream that develops the individuals ability in submitting oneself so as to hear the discerning guidance of the Holy Spirit. The fourth great stream is that of “the compassionate life.” The compassionate life is to demonstrate social justice in a daily walk. Foster describes it as, “a trumpet call to a freely gathered people who seek the total transformation of persons, institutions, and societies. We are to combine suffering love with courageous action.” Thus, the Christ-follower demonstrates a compassionate life in the stream of liberating the oppressed and standing firm for the Christian principles.

The fifth stream is that of the “the word-centered life” or what is also known as the evangelical tradition. This fifth stream has a double focus. The first focus is the importance of the centrality of the word of God, and the second focus is the importance of evangelism. The word and evangelism dictate a humble approach that internalizes the word of the scriptures and then courageously shares the word with all people. The sixth and final stream is the “sacramental life.” In this stream the Christ-follower uses the material world to embrace the spiritual world. Foster states that the sacramental life is to, “participate in the physical sacraments of the church and live as God's people on earth, thus eliminating any material/spiritual dichotomy.” The goal of the sacramental life is to embrace the “physical world as good and full of mystery.” Thus, the final stream is the stream that allows for the world in which we live to bring revelation of the God that created it.

A Christ-follower is to grasp each of these streams in order to develop a healthy spiritual formation that leads to a relationship with God. Each of these traditions will throw us out of balance if one stream is all a believer knows or is willing to embrace. Thus, it is critical to acknowledge the stream that comes naturally to our personality as well as recognize our traditions that direct us to a particular stream. In response, a Christ-follower will seek to develop the stream not so natural or in our tradition so as to seek balance so that the Holy Spirit can use the streams to bring transformation in the life of the believer.

The stream that I feel is more natural to me or another way of stating the stream is a default for me is the streams of a “prayer-filled life” and the “the virtuous life.” I was blessed by a sixth grade Sunday School teacher named, Joanne McManus. She wrote out personal devotional thoughts with scripture and prayers for each of her class. It started me on a devotional journey that still resonates with me today. I am a person that looks to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is through his power and mercy that grants the strength to live everyday as if eternity matters the most.

The compassionate life is not the default stream for me. I struggle because I grew up in a family that had to work for everything. We are a group of people that strive for excellence and while we are do the striving, we are also too proud to ask for help. Thus, granting compassion is difficult because there is no excuse why another person cannot work hard and seek success. I am a person that often fights too hard for the social justice of the unborn or senior citizen, but in the end the compassionate does not strive for equality for all. My DNA does not naturally allow for grace, but my DNA does pronounce truth.

I don't view any of the streams as unattractive. I see great value in each of the six streams. On a personal note, the stream is not what is unattractive, but my lack of courage and dedication to implement the stream on a deeper level is what I find unattractive. As Paul would say, I want to do these things, yet the flesh restrains me and keeps me from embracing the action.

Just a few ways that I am implementing some of these streams is as a parent and in the Johnson master's program. I am growing in my head knowledge and in my heart knowledge. The children challenge me to be a better father. I want them to know Jesus on a personal level. Therefore, I seek to demonstrate a strong dedication to each of the streams so that I might have a healthy relationship with my God. This healthy relationship will be my guide in being a living demonstration of God's grace and truth. The master's program is causing me to look at the Scriptures with fresh eyes. There are nuisances in the text are coming forth so as to bring God's truth to fruition.

You know I love ya and together we travel these streams of life, Don


Fore More Information: 
Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, eds., Devotional Classics. (Rev.; New York: Harper Collins, 2005).

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bernard of Claivaux - "Loving Self for God's Sake"

A few months ago Park Chapel leadership hosted a counseling seminar that taught that all feelings/emotions are preceded by thought. The point was that if we program and work on our thoughts our feelings/emotion will follow. He also taught that emotions were caused by our thoughts and that we acted on our emotions and not by our thoughts. Thus, the diagram is as follows:

     Thoughts to -----> Emotions to -------> Actions = positive or negative results

Let me start by pointing out that I think this may be true 60% of the time, but I will never advocate that it would be the norm beyond that. There are times that we feel and then think. I agree that it is possible to program the mind with habits and disciplines so that thought might influence emotion, but that feelings come after thoughts is not an absolute...

UNLESS...we add the dimension of "Spirit" or as Bernard of Clairvaux labels, "love" to the beginning of the equation. Thus, the equation would change with the new variable added would be this:

    Spirit to -----> Thoughts to -----> Emotions to -------> Actions = positive results

The variable of the Spirit or the Holy Spirit added to the equation grants a "loving" aspect to our living. God's Spirit changes the result every time. Bernard discusses how "true love does not seek its own interest." Thus the stages are to first, "love self for self's sake," second to, "love God for self's sake," third to, "love God for God's sake," and fourth to, "love self for God's sake." It is this fourth stage that compels us to strive and work through the other stages. It is also a reality that we live the vast majority of our mature Christian existence in the third stage of loving God because God deserves our love. Yet, there is occasion that the fourth stage of loving our self for God's sake is achieved and the result is the completion of the second equation mentioned above at the highest level.

I like to think of this fourth stage as when the Spirit jumps over thought and directly touches the emotion. It is the pure essence of God's will in our prayer and the pure delight that satisfies the soul. These moments are events that catch us, take our breath away, and then reveal God's perfection in the here and now. It is hard to explain in words but I can describe it as joy, contentment, and memory all in one essential event that may last for hours but seems like just a few seconds.

The first time this happened to me, I was hiking in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in October. I came to a bend and clearing as I was praying and meditating when the foliage and cascade was in full roar of Fall color. It was a God moment of loving self for God's sake. Another time was when I held our first born child when he was about three months old. His eyes and mine were locked for what seemed like just a few moments that were truly hours. Another time, was when I was in prayer for our third child that was dying from heart complications. He eventually went to heaven, but I cherish that time when God was ministering and loving on me in groans and whispers. There are many times these are moments that are hard and difficult, yet in each occasion of this fourth stage I have been blessed with God returns satisfaction, contentment, and joy.

These times do not happen as often as I would like, but when they come it is truly a monumental occasion that I never forget. The moments that we are "entirely transfused into the will of God" are beyond my feeble words, but each event truly influences that equation of proactive living.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Thirsty Anyone? There is a fountain that quenches every thirst!

Last Sunday I was looking out the window and watching it rain. I could also hear it hitting the side of the house. There was a water spout on the house across the way that had water flowing out of it at a pace that if I were to turn on the garden house it would flow with the same vigor. I was not watching a gentle rain, but a rain that is pouring on. In addition, this rain had been raining all night and it is a cold bitter rain.

The bitter, wet cold made it a little more of a nuisance to get into church that morning, but no more than a nuisance. I know that the earth needs the rain and the ground has a need to absorb the water so that the water table will be replenished for the Spring and Summer water needs. In fact, as I watched the rain, I could see the ground and the grass and our evergreen trees soaked, but not in a way that is bad. The soaking is more like that of a bath and the natural surrounding were taking it all in. 
 
These events cause me to reflect on Bradley Holt's book, “Thirsty for God.” Holt refers to how our lack of fluid brings great calamity to the world around us. Our physical bodies need water. We need it to rain in our physical flesh in order for us to function. Our bodies need water. Being hydrated is essential for so many functions such as energy, healing, immunity, electrolytes, and reproduction. God has created our physical bodies to thirst for water as a means to survive. The interesting and note worthy aspect if this vital need is that when we become dehydrated the signals are not immediate or strong. The same dehydrated facts are true of our spiritual selves as well.

I am a person that has always struggled to keep that weight off. Some would say that it is genetic. I would agree that I am not the only one that struggles with keeping the weight down in my family. Holt talks about how his solution for many things is to eat. In our family, that was often the case. If it is a problem, lets get something to eat and talk about it. Another thing that food was used for in our family is that food and eating was a reward. If it was your birthday or you received a well earned high grade in school or any major achievement, the event was celebrated with food. Holt points out that our hunger is not truly about food, but about a lack of fluids. Most of our hunger pains can be put to sleep with a good glass of water.

Holt moves forward with these two ideas and talks about how “the basic premise of any spirituality is that our non physical selves also thirst.” From the beginning of creation, mankind has tried to fill the need for this thirst for God. The modern soul thirsty heart is reminded of Adam and Eve. They were physically hungry, yet they allow the tempter to take the basic thirst and hunger to a spiritual level while encouraging them to eat of the forbidden fruit. Another ancient story of thirst is that of Cain and Able. Cain kills his brother for the basic thirst to have God's approval. I am reminded of David and as he is looking out of the palace he sees Bathsheba and his physical flesh thirsts for her physically and he acts on it. David's rebellion is truly a thirst for power and control verse his spiritual submission to God. David had a number of beautiful wives, what David was thirsting for was his desire to control and posses anyone or anything. The story of time is filled with men and women that are thirsty for God and choose to fill that thirst with sin. My story is not any different.

The story is also filled with men and women that have chosen to drink of life from the living water of God. In John 4, it is recorded that Jesus is standing at the well and a woman comes up. It is the middle of the day and all the other village women were not around. The text implies she came at that hour because she was an undesirable and the women of noble character would not have associated with her. She lives a sinful life and she is also a Samaritan. Jesus was a Jew and he was a leader of a Jewish religious practice. The culture of the time dictated that Jesus would not have talked with her or even noticed she was around. In contrast to the culture, Jesus talks to her and asks for a drink. The woman is shocked and she questions Jesus' actions.

The conversation reveals that she is thirsty. The woman has tried to fulfill her thirst for God with men and sinful living. Jesus reveals to her that if she was to drink from his water, she would never thirst again. The woman asks for this water and Jesus grants it to her while revealing some eternal truth of God. God is seeking worshipers that are willing to worship in spirit and truth. The fulfillment of her thirst causes her to celebrate and then she goes out telling everyone she knows of the events that took place by the well. Her thirst for God is met and she experiences the love of God that transforms lives so that she is highly motivated to share it with others.

I can relate to these recorded events in the lives of people such as Adam, David and the woman because I also thirst for God. I can feel the thirst that calls for a relationship with God. Therefore, it is comforting to read Holts words, “discovering a path through the universe by living in relationship with a revealing God who surprises that traveler with loving gifts.” The amazing piece to this spiritual journey is that “the gospel of Jesus is contained in the truly clay pots of his human followers.” Thus, the created person desiring to have a relationship with the creator God can commit to developing the spiritual disciplines and maturity. 
 
It is mid-January in Indiana and the ground is still frozen and the rain water I mentioned earlier doesn't soak in too deep. I witnessed that ponds, the creeks, and the rivers that are at their fullest because the frozen earth will not allow for the rain water to soak in too deep. I think of the times that my inner and deepest parts are frozen in personal desire and sin. It is my frozen heart that keeps me from developing into a person that is truly hydrated by the water offered by the living God. I am encouraged that my spiritual thirst will continue to thrive and be met on God's provision while melting that frozen nature deep within. I seek to have God's love and spirit poured into me so that I might be a person that pours out love, service, and sacrifice on others much like that water spout pouring forth water from a hard rain.

You know I love ya, Don

Monday, January 14, 2013

Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections...shepherd to many

Jonathan Edwards was a theologian and Christian preacher. He was also a Godly man that had a heart for the people he was blessed to serve. (For more on Jonathan Edwards click: Jonathan Edwards) Edwards lists and describes nine affections that Scripture encourages us to have: holy fear, hope, love, holy desire, joy, religious sorrow, gratitude, compassion, and zeal. It is these affections that Edwards describes as motivation or as he labels, "the Spring of Action." These affections cause us to move and take action for the purpose of participation and engagement into our typical activities.

The three that I have found most often in my life are holy desire, gratitude, and zeal. First is holy desire. From a very young age, I have had a strong desire to know Jesus more. I think it comes from a healthy church family and healthy Christian family. I also know that my parents were models in this area for my sister and I. I want to be known as being a good person that was good because of his love for God. That was not something intrinsic to me, but something that the family demonstrated to me and what I see as holy desire. I truly desire to be holy, set apart for God and God's purpose.

The second is gratitude. Again, I tribute this to living in a family that did not have large amounts of wealth, but was very wealthy in graciousness. We had very little when I was growing up, but mom and dad always made a way to give and to be gracious. I remember after school in my Jr. High years going to the local food bank Monday through Thursday to restock the shelves. The food bank closed at 4:00 PM and we would work to fill the shelves from 4:00-5:00 PM. It was a large food bank in Central CA. It was good exercise for me as I was the one with the dolly and bringing in the boxes of canned goods and such. I also remember that Mom was actually on staff at the food bank as the purchaser, so we had an investment in the working. My parents were "go the extra mile" people and they demonstrated to us a graciousness that has become a normal for us as adults. Most evenings we would leave the food bank and go to the church for a meeting, bible study, or some event that always took us to another level of giving and graciousness. Through all of those experiences, I do not have one memory of my parents complaining about it. In fact, I look on these days very fondly.

The third is zeal. I think this is somewhat natural to my DNA. I am a pretty driven person. I easily become zealous about something I am passionate about. I praise the Lord for good mentoring, solid teaching, and godly people around me that have helped me to grow in a Godly zeal for the kingdom and for the advancement of the Gospel. It is evident in our marriage and children, but the recognition goes to those that thought enough of me to invest their time and effort so as to guide me in a zeal for God's Spirit and Kingdom.

I think I would like to see holy fear grow more in my life. I have loved the Lord in all that we do, but I could grow in areas that show more respect and discernment in listening to the holiness of God in every part of my life. I also want to be known as a person that loved. I want to love on others. I possess a desire and zeal that engages the flesh to leave compassion and love behind.

In all these things, I truly see these affection in a new light and will seek to discover them in more of my everyday life. You Know I Love Ya, Don

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A New Year's Thought...what are your thoughts?

Cathy Irvin writes;
I recently saw this quote, "No one can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending" (Unknown). I really began to think about that statement. The conclusion was that we don't start over; but we begin again right where we are, making things better in our lives.

As a believer in Christ, it is not about saying I will do this and I won't do that and then dropping the idea or falling short. It is more about asking the Lord to help us each day, to fall deeper and deeper in love with Him. This way our focus will be set on the things of heaven and not on all this earthly stuff.
If I were to make a New Year resolution, it would be to have a deeper commitment, a deeper love, and a deeper worship for the Lord. In the beginning of this past year, He spoke to me in that still small voice in prayer and said, "I am more than enough. I am more than enough in every area of your life." He also said to tell others the same thing. 

This year I am determined to make Him my all and all. He wants our undivided attention in spite of the distractions and temptations that lie waiting around the corner. He has to be our main focus.
How we will end this year will be determined by how we started it. Did we want to get more "INTIMATE" with the lover of our soul? I looked up the word intimacy and the meaning is to be close, familiar, very personal and private. 

Do you want a new ending this year? How do you want the ending of your life? If you're not a Christian, please know that this could be the best New Year of your life. Your life can be filled with hope and peace. To know what the ending will be is an extra bonus. Why should every year be the same as the one before with nothing really changing? After all, the New Year resolutions may or may not get accomplished. 

If you are a Christian and you feel stagnate in your relationship with the Lord, then now is the time to rekindle the love affair with Him. He calls us to Himself and says, "Come away my beloved." Can you hear Him? He is tugging at your heart. The real ending in our life will be when Jesus says well done my good and faithful servant. That statement will be for someone who took the time to get to know Him, love Him, and that obediently followed Him. 

Thank you, Cathy, for reminding us of new beginnings and that there is a positive to life as we choose it. God Bless, Don

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Prayer for 2013



"New Year's Prayer" is a Christian prayer by Jack Zavada. Written in poetry form, the prayer resounds with a re-dedication theme of daily surrender and obedience to the Lord.

New Year's Prayer

Lord, this year I want to change,
and I've said that in the past.
but now my prayer is different
'cause I understand at last.
I wanted my own way before,
I ignored your loving plans.
But now I'm putting everything
into your nail-scarred hands.
I promise to obey you
out of gratitude and love.
I won't be giving orders
to my Father up above.
I finally realize the truth
and so I've changed my prayer.
The safest place for me to be
is in your gentle care.
Please be my shepherd, Jesus,
that's all I ask of you.
In good times and in bad this year,
Take my hand and lead me through.
In Jesus' Name, Amen.
--Jack Zavada 

This prayer resonates with me this year and look forward the to the great things God is going to do and give Him the thanks for them in advance! You know I love ya, Don