Wanting God from that which is not God

Matthew 14:28-33

Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came towards Jesus.  But when he saw the strong wind he was afraid, and began to sink.

The more people set their eyes on the king’s servants and the more attention they pay to them, the less heed they pay to the king and the less they esteem him.

~St. John of the Cross

This quote has been in my mind for the last two weeks. I feel it names very succinctly what is poisoning so many minds and spirits within the church.

With regard to what we call “church” today, I’m convinced that a large portion of our dysfunction, lack of spiritual health and growth, confusion, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness is due to the fact that we seem to be focused on everything but God.

Most of us would readily agree that there is an obvious toxicity that comes to anyone who is focused on their own problems, on what is wrong with everything, or on what they don’t have.

Yet there’s also a damaging negative impact on spiritual (and emotional) health that comes from too much focus on “good things” that are not Christ Himself. Perhaps it’s looking to preachers, worship leaders, authors, or maybe even “non-human” good things such as books, church services, social justice programs, theology, music, morality, or podcasts.

It’s not that these deserve zero attention, but I believe they have been the stars of our Christian show for a while now, and it’s getting really old, boring, and frustrating. At most, their role should be “supporting cast”.

It’s amazing how many people I’ve encountered over the years who only have an idea of what God is like based on that which is not God. Our earthly parents, especially our fathers, are our first representation of God for most of us, be it good or bad. Then there’s preachers, popes, church people, books or whatever. But rarely do I meet someone who has an unhealthy view of God which came from their actual seeking of God through Jesus, through Scripture, specifically the gospel accounts. Whenever people express their unhealthy views of God, I gently direct them to Jesus Himself, and ask them, “What do you think of Him? All other distractions aside–church people, tragedies, etc. Who is He really?” Generally, there’s silence, some thought or confusion, and then, “I’ve not really thought about that.”

And that is understandable. Few have been challenged with that direct question. But that is the most important question:

“Who do you say that I am?”

That was Jesus’ question on earth two millennia ago, and it is His question to you right now.

“Who do you say that I am?”

At some point, we must all face this question with no help from anyone else.

Please know that I am in no way saying we cannot or do not encounter Christ through other people or countless material sources. I’m just reminding us to ask ourselves, “What am I really seeking?”

Or better,

Who am I really seeking?”

Get Your Assiduity In Gear!

Acts 2:42

They all gave full attention to the teaching of the apostles and to the common life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Assiduity. This is an old word I recently discovered and have fallen in love with.

  • Constant or close attention to what one is doing
  • Archaic–constant attentions to someone
  • The quality or state of being
  • Persistent personal attention
  • Constant or close application or effort; diligence; industry
  • Devoted or solicitous attentions
  • Application, concentration, intentness, constancy, continuity, perseverance

Oh how we need assiduity in our prayer life and Scripture meditation! How many of us have a dedicated time daily, or even weekly, for nothing but God–to focus on nothing but God alone so that we may be able to actually absorb His life? And this through His Scripture, and in prayer.

To just sit with a passage of Scripture with nothing on our mind but listening to the Holy Spirit through it, and what she might want to teach and say to us right now. We often “use” Scripture to bolster what we already know or think (or think we know) or to justify what we’re already doing.

I love the idea of constancy, consistency, and persistence that this word encompasses alongside the close attention and focus.

What do you keep coming back to over and over?

Whatever it is, intentional or not, it is shaping you, I promise.

I wonder what would happen if people who identified themselves as Christians kept coming back to times of prayer, everyday, over and over again.

What if we really took (made) time to sit and pray for each other in assiduity?

To take just 15 minutes a day to do nothing but focus on God through Scripture and in prayer….

The “How” of Divine Mutuality~Communication

“[P]rayer is not a matter of words or forms but an opening of consciousness to the life of the Spirit flowing in the present moment of God, the making of our mind to be one with the mind of Christ: not only to pray, then, but to become prayer.”

~Laurence Freeman

I’m sure we’ve all heard at some point in our lives that communication is the key to having a healthy relationship. And this does ring true, doesn’t it? It’s difficult to comprehend being close to someone with whom you hardly speak, or with whom you don’t understand due to poor communication.

We talked about trust last time, and now we turn our attention toward communication in our “how” of Divine Mutuality, or oneness with God. Since these two ingredients, trust and communication, are key to any good relationship, it only makes sense that these would be vital to a good and healthy relationship with our Maker–God, our heavenly Father, who is quite personal, as Jesus of Nazareth has shown us.

Therefore, let me throw this out there: I don’t see how you can have any sort of vibrant relationship with God without lots and lots of prayer. Lots and lots of communication with our Father. Now this communing includes sharing everything with God–thoughts, experiences, emotions, etc. as well as our desires and requests. But it also includes dedicated times of simply being with God, hanging out, talking back and forth, enjoying one another’s company. This we don’t seem to hear much from the preachers and teachers.

How the hades do you share life with someone if you never hang out, talk, catch up, rap about life?? Sometimes I think we forget that prayer is simply talking with God. It’s not a ritual of stilted language we recite to the wall or table in front of us. It is communication with our Creator, a real, living personal being of love. Yahweh.

This is one of those things I regularly harp upon, and feel I will all my days on earth in this form. It’s that important, and it seems sadly forgotten or neglected. Could it be that we are missing out on so much more that God wants to give and do through us because we are simply not asking, or sitting with Him in holy, trusting, communing expectancy?

It’s impossible for me to comprehend how one can stay spiritually strong to any degree without dedicated time for God alone. I know that if I don’t get that regularly, I’m a pathetic, fearful mess. But when I do practice it regularly, I’m a pathetic, Spirit-filled dork. Big beautiful difference!

The “How” of Divine Mutuality~Trust

Faith And TrustHe will carry you safely through the canyons of your life

Last time we looked a little at “Divine Mutuality”, oneness with God through Jesus. Now let’s skim the surface a bit on how we go about this, of our part in this all-important union.

There are two major, non-negotiable components to any healthy relationship: Trust and Communication.

Without one or both of these, you simply do not have much, if any, relationship at all. To be one with someone, you must have these two relational components, and I think it therefore applies to our oneness with our Creator, who is personal.

Let’s look at trust  today. So much in Scripture is about trusting God no matter what. Faith, trust, belief….pisteuo. Pisteuo is the Greek word we translate in English as “believe.” But that can, and has, lost a little punch over the years with us. I love the way St John uses pisteuo almost every time in his gospel account~pisteuein eis~this is literally “believed into”, as in John 2:11: His disciples believed into Him. We don’t really say this in English, but it gives a truer feel for John’s expression. To “believe into” is to place your trust in, or entrust your life to, or a really good word–confidence–to place one’s confidence in. It goes far beyond the rather mental ascent that our English versions connote with their translations as “believe in”. A couple of letters can make a big difference.

I like how one scholar said, “The idea which this idiom conveys is that of the absolute transference of trust from oneself to another.” And of course good ole Brother Lawrence: “We have a God who is infinitely good and knows what He’s doing.”

Do you believe in a God who wants nothing but the absolute best for us (no matter how things might look), and then back up that belief with an entrusting of your entire life to His infinitely good care?

Or do we merely say we believe, and live lives of stress, worry, and anxiety?

DIVINE MUTUALITY

John 15 & 17

“Radical equality”, as we talked about last time, is not truly possible without “divine mutuality”. This is what Jesus talks about in John 15 with Vine and branch imagery–to be so very intertwined…with God.

In His prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus prays for Himself, His disciples, and for those who will become His disciples (us!), and this is all held together by unity.

But not just any unity.

The unity of Divine Mutuality.

This is unity at its deepest level because it is based in God. Jesus prays that we will be able to reach that oneness, the oneness that He has with the Father. Many preach that John 17 is advocating unity with one another, but a more careful reading reveals that Jesus is speaking of union with the Father, which yields unity with one another, if it is Christ, as He really is, whom we are truly seeking. Branches on the same Vine are inescapably unified.

This kind of cosmic, radical unity, this oneness, is as Logos and Father are one [John 1:1-18]. Again, this is not just any ol’ run of the mill unity here. Unity doesn’t really come to fruition through our striving to be unified with one another, for that gets chaotic and breaks down very quickly. As A. W. Tozer so wisely said, “Don’t you know that a hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically in tune with each other?” It is in tuning our hearts in all sincerity, honesty, humility, receptivity, and openness to the Christ, the Son of God, that we will then be unified with others who are seeking the same. The Spirit in us will recognize the Spirit in them, and we will be one, aligned with each another at the soul-level of connection…without much striving.

This is how we can disagree, and yet be in unity. I have dear Christian brothers and sisters with whom we do not see eye to eye on several issues, but we are at the same time unified because of our pursuit of oneness with God through Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s connection beyond words, because it’s better than words.

RADICAL EQUALITY

John 13

So He got up from the supper-table, took off His clothes, and wrapped a towel around Himself. Then He poured water into a bowl and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel He was wrapped in.

“I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another! Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

My wife Ana and I attended our first conference given by one of the monks at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, Eugene Hensell, in November. The title of the conference was “Praying With The Gospel Of John”, and was rich and refreshing to say the least! It was exquisitely awesome to hear the gleanings of a man who has not only dedicated his life to prayer, reflection, and holy work, but who has taught on the Gospel of John for about thirty years! Seeing as how we are not to just keep these things all to ourselves, I look forward to sharing some of the insights we absorbed from a most wonderful weekend.

In taking off His outer garment and wrapping a towel around Himself, Jesus demonstrably and clearly takes the role of servant, an easy to see sign of great humility. In His time and culture, males did not touch another person’s feet in public. True, this is a private setting with the disciples, but still would have been pretty awkward for them. Honor and superior position were celebrated, and any shame was feared.

Recall from the incredible prologue back in chapter one of John’s Gospel that he tells us just who this Jesus is–none other than the Creator of the universe, of all things. And now here He is in human form doing what only the most servile would do, washing the dusty feet of other men.

Somewhat side note: Jesus asks the disciples in verse 12, “Do you know what I’ve done for you?” This would be a good prayer question for meditation and contemplation. You might sit with this question from Jesus to you, and listen to what the Spirit might speak.

Then in verse 34 Jesus gives a new commandment: To love one another. “Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

What’s so new about this?

How has He loved us?

Well, it goes back to the foot washing. He has become our equal!

RADICIAL EQUALITY.

That’s how He’s loved us. And that’s how we are to love each other.

Again, the Creator of all things is now on our level washing our dirty feet. Rarely do you really see people loving one another as true equals. No one says, “I’m striving to be radically equal!” But this is Jesus’s key instruction on how to live as disciples after He is no longer here in physical form (v.15). In 15:12 He says, “You’re my friends if you do this.” Wow.

You may ask, “How can love be commanded?” Well, the command is a specific way to love. How we love can be shaped, and here is how you love like God loves. Jesus showed us God, and here we see the way God, who is love, loves: by stooping, giving up all rank, position, and power, and choosing to sacrificially become our equal even to the point of the cross, showing us tangibly that there is no place too low, where He won’t go to love us and demonstrate it clearly in plain sight. Radically.

RADICAL EQUALITY.

Or we might even call it ridiculously humble service. Who is turned off by this? I mean, who doesn’t at least kind of wonder what a person has in them who serves others in this manner??

And this is how we are also to love–the way God loves (v.14). Recognizing, accepting, and internalizing just what He has done for us (not necessarily comprehending, because, let’s be honest, who really can?), will supernaturally energize and motivate us to love in this manner of radical equality.

Christmas is a fantastic time for gratefully remembering that God chose to enter the human condition, become one of us, taking on all of our limitations, problems, and suffering to make real the promise of redemption.

 

Called to Lose

Matthew 10:39

“…if you lose your life because of Me you’ll find it.”

Mark 8:35

“…if you lose your life because of Me and the Message you’ll save it.”

As Christ followers, it seems we are called to LOSE. And by LOSE, I mean Listen, Observe, Serve, and Encourage.

Listen without thinking. To listen to someone without thinking, without forming your response before they’re finished, without judgement–this is difficult, yet magical. How deeply it honors someone to simply listen to them, for it communicates, “What you have to say is very important, and it’s important because you’re you.”

Observe lovingly. Then we observe someone, mostly through what we see (since touching, tasting, and smelling people can be a bit creepy), through a loving look with the intent to notice what they may be needing right now. Trying to see them as God sees them, lovingly, and even asking God to show us how He sees them and/or what He would like us to see.

Serve out of your observation. I love that the word serve is in the word observe. From the Latin observare, ‘to watch’, from ob-‘towards’+servare, ‘attend to, look at’. Chances are, if you take action serving after you’ve listened to someone without thinking, observed them lovingly, and asked God for insight, you’ll serve them very well and accurately according to their true needs. You don’t want to be the missionary who enthusiastically built a library in a village only to find out after putting the roof on that the literacy rate there was 1%!

Encourage with words. Again, if we listen first, we’ll be better at giving an encouraging word, because it will communicate to that person that we’ve been listening to them. In The Ripple Effect, we’ve always stressed the beautiful command of Hebrews 3:13 to encourage one another every day. Encourage someone today. Just do it. It’s amazing how uplifting an encouraging word can be to someone, and it’s ridiculously simple to perform.

So may we LOSE in life in order that others may find Life.

Going against the kingdom of this world, you might say we’re each called to be a LOSER, a Listening, Observing, Serving, Encouraging Rebel..!

Filling at the Station of Contemplation

CPN5R9 transport / transportation, car, petrol station, BP petrol station, filling station attendant is helping customer during the ref

1 Peter 1:23

You have been born again, not from seed which decays but from seed which does not–through the living and abiding word of God.

Soaking in this verse recently, what shimmered for me was “the living and abiding word of God.”

“Word” here is translated from the Greek logos, a word so pregnant with meaning that some say there are no adequate words in human language to convey its cosmic depth as used in Holy Scripture. But since through this particular medium we’re using written words, let’s throw some together to give us a starting point.

We might say that logos is the creative expression of God, the agent of creation. God created the universe through His word. So, Jesus is the creative expression of God as a human being. Peter says logos here is the Gospel that was announced to you (v.25b). It is living and abiding–active now and always true, never expiring. I don’t believe we will ever completely comprehend the Gospel–God dying for us–in this life. Therefore, it will always do us good to sit and contemplate it, to just take it in and be grateful for this great mystery of love and sacrifice.

Our new life in Christ, our rebirth, is initiated and matured not by any human agency, but by this living and abiding word of the living and eternal God. “It is a means of spiritual life, animating us and exciting us in our duty,” said Matthew Henry in his commentary. It has vital, life-giving power because of who speaks it. “New life operates on the word of the living and eternal God,” said some dude named Bede a long time ago.

So as I was contemplating this phrase, the living and abiding word of God, I was thinking how non-negotiably necessary it is to run on this fuel for the spiritual life–to operate on the word of God, and how we must connect to this Source.

I was given the picture of a filling station (what people use to call gas stations). I wrote down, as I felt directed, in the margin of my Bible, “Filling at the station of contemplation–making a complete stop to do so.”

Your car runs on gasoline, and must be filled regularly. When you go to the filling station, one thing is required for sure in order to fill your car: You must come to a complete stop! I love this metaphor showing us that we too, must regularly come to a complete stop, not only to rest/sleep, but to really be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Typically, also, you turn your car off, which we might compare to turning your brain off. Sometimes we need some time to stop thinking. We tend to think ourselves into insanity, don’t we? After turning the car off, we get out of our car to refuel. When we sit with God and soak in His presence, His word, the Gospel, we needs must get outside of ourselves. Drop our preconceptions, hang-ups, etc. and let the Spirit take us and guide us. To just receive.

When we contemplate, we simply receive. Meditation is chewing on something, and contemplation is just sitting with something, allowing the flow of it to wash over you. Both are great practices, and vital for growth in spiritual life and health.

May we take time daily, even if for a few minutes, to fill up at the station of contemplation, receiving from God Himself, making a complete stop to do so.

Gratefulness is the Key Ingredient to Cultivating Joy

1 John 1:1-4

Our message concerns that which was from the beginning. We have heard it; we have seen it with our own eyes; we have gazed at it and our hands have touched it: the life-giving Word!…We bear witness to what we have seen and heard…so that your joy may be complete.

As we take in this week of celebrating thankfulness, it is a good reminder that gratefulness is the key ingredient to cultivating joy. And “Joy is the gist of the Christian Good News,” says Brother David Steindl-Rast, a very wise, old Austrian-born Benedictine monk. He goes on to say:

Joy goes beyond happiness. Joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens. It springs from gratefulness. When we begin to take things for granted, we get sucked into boredom. Boredom is deadly. Yet, everything within us longs for “life, life in fullness” (John 10:10). The key to life in fulness is gratefulness.

So tomorrow, perhaps you can be an instigator of joy cultivation in the midst of food and football, through a little intentionality.

A few Thanksgivings ago, our family tried a simple little exercise I read about in a beautiful book titled Joy Starts Here. After the meal, we sat in the living room, and one by one we shared our appreciation for each another. We started with my wife Ana in the “hot seat”, and we then went around the circle giving each person a chance to share what they appreciated about Ana. Then we moved on to the person to her left, and around until everyone was adequately appreciated. The children participated as well, of course, and everyone was in tears of joy by the time we were finished! I’m getting a little emotional right now just thinking back on it. I highly recommend it! Or at least some practice of intentional gratitude and appreciation such as this. With a little planning, we can make a routine gathering incredibly more meaningful! (I did give everyone a little heads up so that they could be thinking ahead of time on what they appreciated about each person)

And as a bonus, I’ll leave you with this individual practice from Brother David:

Try this: before you open your eyes in the morning, stop and think. Remember that there are millions of blind people in this world. Surely, you will open your eyes more gratefully, even if you’d rather keep them closed a little longer and snooze on. As soon as we stop taking our eyesight for granted, gifts spring into our eyes which we did not even recognize as gifts before. To recognize a gift as gift is the first step towards gratefulness. Since gratefulness is the key to joy, we hold the key to joy, the key to what we most desire, in our own hands….

To Obey is to Listen

Perhaps obedience isn’t merely what most of us have always been taught it is–doing what someone tells you to do. Sure, that is a quite helpful and needed aspect of it, but it’s so much more.

Obedience means literally a thorough listening.

In Latin, ob audire, “to obey,” means to listen thoroughly. The Jewish tradition says, “to bare your ear.” In fact, in many, many forms, in many, many languages, the word for obedience is an intensive form of the word listening.

Think about this for a minute. How does this deepen all those Scriptures in which obedience is emphasized or commanded? Maybe, just maybe, God’s chief concern is not that His creatures keep all the rules, but that they listen to Him thoroughly.

Isnt that of much greater depth? For it is in listening thoroughly that we honor someone. And in an intensive listening we are taking in to ourselves the other. Whenever you truly listen with all your being, there is a transformation that takes place on the soul level that simply doesn’t happen by the mere outward, thoughtless doing of what someone tells you to do. Surely God, who created the universe, is deeper than that.

I believe that a thorough listening to God, if there is any desire for Him and a teachable spirit, will automatically result in doing what He says to do anyway. Of course it will not be perfect every time, but we will continue to be perfected as His grace meets our weakness.

Do you ever take time to actually listen to God? Through His creation, His Scriptures, His people, His Son, His Spirit?

If not, why not?