Thursday, November 29, 2007
This morning, what I wrote last night appears cynical and lacks the life which springs from having a non-condemning spirit. I left the piece and draw attention to my failing in the interests of developing an honest, personal expression about myself with you, since that is what a blog is--personal.
I hope you will bear with me while I discover my voice and develop my skills as a blogger.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
In the interim, I took time to figure mid-term averages for my students, which I had to send home today. I hate grades. Sorting kids into categories of achievement and consequently building their sense of whom they are academically, when grades so poorly reflect whether or not they are learning to think, is an emotionally charged issue for me. Yet, I do it because the system requires that I do it. I can see a few benefits, I guess. The whole school thing is a wholly different line of thinking, at least currently, from what I intended for this blog, so I’ll drop this and move on.
I have also used the few days that I haven’t been trying to compose a new post to just hold the idea of open communication with an outside world before the Lord. Why am I writing, anyway?
Many possibilities come to mind, but one of which I am sure is a deep concern for the Body of Christ. Simply put, I think the theologies driving many Christian discussions are missing something vitally important. The common, everyday person is being left out.
When what is taught about God requires the hearers have an IQ over 120 to effectively sort through what is being said, something is wrong. The gospel is for everyone, and I think teaches very well when presented and lived as such. I am highly suspicious when folks with high IQ’s hold forth exegeses based on high-level, critical-thinking skills which marginalize the experience of God into something only the college-educated really understand. Additionally, when Christian organizations use the muscle and perseverance of every day folks in accomplishing the grunt work of the institution but teach toward intellect rather than the heart, there is a violation of brotherhood occurring. In such an atmosphere, the Body is divided into an intellectual elite favored by the system and everyone else who exists simply to serve the greater good of the institution. God bless ‘em, everyone, though, of course.
We fail the main issue of love on so many levels. I am as guilty as anyone here. I am not describing an intellectual elite without charity in my heart for them or in an attempt to distance myself from them. I speak about something more than just to complain over an attitude with which I take issue. The Body of Christ is a place where all things being human are not just equalized but are upended from what we understand naturally. The world values the talented, the beautiful, the strong and the intelligent, whereas the Kingdom exalts the humble, supplies the poor, protects the weak, and gives honor to vessels of lesser honor. The least are the greatest and the first are last, or some such opposite thinking to the-cream-rises-to-the-top philosophy.
Maybe this is about American values after all. Are we Christians who enjoy American citizenship or American citizens wearing the label of “Christian” to order our religious responsibilities aright?
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Today is a holiday tradition of simplicity and beauty with legendary roots. Those starving colonists survive in the wilderness due to the kindness and help of indigenous people, then celebrate a feast of thanksgiving before God together with their helpers. Strangers of starkly different cultural backgrounds move into fellowship. The "civilized and Christian" English were dependent on the kindness of the "uncivilized and unsaved" natives. Our heavenly Father is written all over that scenario!
This historical moment is usually rendered as one of the stepping stones that built our nation, and thus we quickly shift the topic of the holiday to the significant prosperity we now enjoy as the reason for our thanksgiving. We do not tend to celebrate the humility that underlines the story. The humble circumstances of natives who lived as functioning members of an ecosystem contrasted with the worldly sophistication of the ability to launch and achieve an ocean crossing. However, despite the colonists' technological and civilized sophistication, they are reduced by starvation into dependence on the aid of others. A final scene in the story is an act of grace, of humility, as both groups choose to join strangers, even potential enemies, at a meal of friendship.
A relationship with the Creator of the Universe is begun and lived by our willful decision to become humble. We humbly recognize the enmity between a holy God and ourselves due to our sinfulness. We adopt the humility of children to enter into trusting Him, and we must consistently embrace humility to reject our sophisticated self-effort at holiness in our day to day walk with Him. The love of God and His holiness is not achieved; it is simply lived through knowing His Presense on earth. We are strangers taken in by Him and sustained by Him. The whole of our relationship with Him rests on His generosity!
I am thankful today for so many blessings, but the greatest blessing of all is God humbled Himself to reveal the Truth through becoming one of us, that we would not be strangers to Him any longer and would be welcome at His banqueting table forever.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Recently I was reading Matthew 7, and I noted eight topic changes in 29 verses. Listed these were,
- instruction regarding improper judgment
- a warning about not giving what is holy to "dogs" or "swine"
- those who ask, receive; those who seek, find; unto those who knock, it is opened
- the golden rule
- the narrow way
- know the good and bad tree by its fruit
- the house built on the rock contrasted with the house built on sand
- Jesus is identified as one who teaches with authority by those listening
These are often considered as separate messages taught as each standing alone rather than taught in sequence as one related speech. (I know that the divisions of chapter and verse were added later, so separating these thoughts was not the intent of the Matthew as the writer, and I am separating these 29 Scriptures from the context of what precedes and follows.) For my purpose here, think about the bearing of context and infer within the reading by thinking of chapter 7 as one related essay. Then...
1. Verses 1-5, which exhort us to remove the log from our own eye before we attempt to remove the speck from our brother's eye or else we enter into the realm of being a hypocrite have a related meaning to not casting what is holy among us before dogs and swine.
2. In context then, metaphorically calling another human a "dog" or a "swine" is not judging brethren as Jesus is clearly teaching against such judgment. Rather, it is something else. I think the metaphor is intended to help us understand the total lack of understanding the lost have for spiritual matters. Little can be discussed with these folks except the need for salvation, as we are all sinners. Attempting to discuss issues of judgment as a violation of brotherhood or as something requiring humility with someone who is lost and hasn't bent the knee to God's judgment is a fruitless exercise which will only result in an attack from lost ones. Verses 1-5 are among many concepts too holy for the lost to comprehend.
3. Yet for all those who belong to Him, the deep things of the spirit which cannot be shared with the lost are available if we ask, seek and knock. All understanding can be opened to us, if such is the hunger of our hearts. We can be confident that the Father will deal faithfully with our requests to know and understand His ways.
4. Even as we can expect God to deal with us faithfully, that is the simple expectation He places on us: Treat others the way you wish to be treated. Be faithful. (No doubt, referencing other standards Jesus has related but which are part of the previous two chapters.)
5. This truth of living is the core of the narrow way which is of the Father, faithfully acting within the confines of love toward others.
6. Since this is an evident condition of heart, we can easily spot those who are "bad" trees and those who are "good" trees by the fruit they produce. The fruit of God always lines up with the golden rule.
7. Just before He finishes this teaching, He assures and warns His listeners of the consequences of living within the teaching--following this teaching stabilizes one's life against life's storms--and the reverse is consequentially the reverse, as well. (This is a summation applying to the whole Sermon on the Mount, not just Matthew 7.)
8. Those hearing the Sermon on the Mount were startled by the authority which His words revealed.
Summing up using inference, Matthew chapter 7 is about life lived according to the ways of the Father: avoiding judging brethren improperly; avoiding needless attempts to teach the lost the holy things of the Father; seeking to understand these deep issues ourselves and receiving the knowledge/understanding needed to do so; such are examples/details of the gospel lived out by following the golden rule; we accept this standard as the narrow way of God; and are able to identify the good and bad fruit of those who claim God by the standard of the golden rule; such a living of the narrow way sustains ones' life through the challenges of life.
Do you think inferring is an acceptable way to digest Scripture? Do you think the inferences I have drawn are reasonable? Do you prefer to just take each topic as an insight on its own?
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Set aside ten minutes, even if it is scheduled time usually dedicated to prayer. Get quiet and get your surroundings quieted from the noise of the culture. Decide for yourself what supports your endeavors, but even gentle background music is likely to distract. Think about Jesus. Nothing else. Most folks cannot do this. A solid ten minutes on one topic is harder than anyone might think! Make the thoughts come back again and again to just Jesus. Imagining events that include Jesus or Him actively teaching words like the Beatitudes which we associate with Him are a means of maintaining the focus. While disciplining the mind, be somewhat conscious of the body. Keep your breathing even, steady and relatively deep. If tension in one muscle group grabs the attention of the brain, for example you realize you are frowning, relax those muscles purposely and return to the focus on Jesus.
That's it. No bells and whistles, no deep spiritual insights...at first.
Why bother with this? Two things are being learned by the exercise:
Control of thoughts and a sense of dwelling peacefully in the heart with God.
The benefits over time are many. The control of thinking and focus on Jesus will begin to transfer to everyday life. It is discovered that the sense of peace and relaxation associated with a focus on Jesus is transferable to situations in the day to day challenges which are high pressure and intense. A person can learn experientially (not just academically) through meditation on Jesus that life springs from the heart not the intellect. I have heard this called "Practicing the Presence of Jesus."
Further, as the practice continues one learns to listen to the deep Presence of God within. He is alive and so much more than the printed words we have about Him! The written word is vital, absolutely. It provides the frame or mode for our intellect to experience during the exercise which is intended to develop the heart. Think on the things stated in the scripture which reveal Jesus, but avoid attempting to intellectually divide the Word. Rather, allow the heart to know a deep wonder and worship on His being alone.
Words fail to allow me to fully describe what I have come to know through meditation on Jesus. Nonetheless, I encourage it here. The practice itself is not the end. Adding the discipline just as another thing done to reach God is not the point. Rather meditation stands on the notion that the work of Jesus was finished at the Cross. The power of good over evil was accomplished in the Resurrection. The Presense of the Holy Spirit arrived at Pentecost. Meditation is an acceptance that all this is true and to "rest in Him" strengthens the new creature, birthed in spirit, whom the believer is. Prayer is a dedicated time of supplication and making one's requests made known to the Father. Meditation is learning to rest in the beauty and wonder of the Father, present within us through the Holy Spirit, and is a connection authorized by the sacrifice of the Son. Meditation becomes an act of communion with the awesome God we serve.
I do not contend this is a commandment of the Lord for believers from a doctrinal standpoint. However, if you are feeling distant from God, or some of your experiences within modern church practice are not a strength to your heart or you simply desire to increase your heart's capacity for loving God and your neighbor; this may be a useful tool to stir your heart to a deeper sense of the Father as a loving God caring for your soul. When we are more aware of the depth of God's love, we begin to overflow with love for others.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
We utilize the intellect and the teaching of the Word so that we might hide the Word in our hearts. Psalm 119:11. Interesting place to keep the Word, in the seat of our emotions, in the place we all acknowledge leads us to trouble, in the one part of our being absolutely subjective!
This is exactly the point! Culture has inculcated within us, including church transmission mechanisms, a perspective that trusts the intellect and disregards the emotions--one full third of our being. Yet our intellect can support the exercise of our hearts in meditation. Our understanding and familiarity with the Word is very important to successful meditation.
Talk of meditation is largely rejected in Protestant Evangelicalism because it does involve the emotions. We suspect our emotions will lead us astray. Hence we don't trust the idea of "Christian" meditation. But if we our honest, meditation is in our Bible.
Consider these OT phrases lifted straight from a Crosswalk.com word search:
meditate in the field
meditate on it (the law) day and night
Meditate in your heart
meditate in His temple
meditate on You
meditate with my heart,
meditate on all Your work
meditate on Your precepts
meditate on Your wonders.
meditate on Your precepts.
meditation before God.
meditation of my heart
Let my meditation be pleasing to Him
O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.
I have more insight than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation.
meditate on Your word
meditate on all Your doings
on Your wonderful works, I will meditate.
Your heart will meditate on terror (a statement attributed to God by the prophet Isaiah.)
Also, Philippians 4:8 doesn't mention meditation but describes what I am appealing for us Christians to do:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
Teaching fills our hearts with the parameters that safely guide long periods of holding an open heart to the spiritual realm. Learning to meditate (muttering to ourselves the Truth -- thanks Terry, commenter on the last post for this very insightful image) opens us to an interaction with the Holy Spirit that is rewarding, comforting and full of instruction on spiritual matters directly from the Lord.
Basically, meditation isn't mystical as in the meaning of mysterious or enigmatic. It is a simple practice which can increase our love for the Father and our sense of His love for us, which then supports a more active love for others. More in the next post.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I believe there is a fourth level of understanding, life according to the spirit-birth in Jesus. Living by the spirit, living in the spirit, being spiritual all receive verbal repetitions in Christian exhortations, but what is it?
It is the level of understanding that is illuminated by God. It is above and beyond the physical, cultural or human experience. However, it releases us from none of these levels. Rather, by learning to abide in the Spirit of Christ through understanding the division between soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12) we become better decision-makers regarding the three natural levels of our experience. Simply, it requires the illumination by God's Spirit within our spirits to develop the fullest maturity and the deepest sense of life as a human. The three levels of understanding that are of the earth only begin to make sense as we approach all levels of earthly knowledge with our knowledge of God in spirit.
Our sense of the Presence of God within us and our ability to live from a position of faith in His divine Presence is the key to maturity as a Christian. I do not propose that meditation is a requirement to facilitate this level of spiritual knowledge and the resulting level of faith. However, I do believe it is a missing element in the lives of many Christians, at least as a deliberate discipline. I think it is useful in developing Christian maturity.
Meditation is a unique Christian discipline which takes place utilizing all three levels of our human experience. Our bodies, our intellect, and our hearts all combine. This unity of being is in itself a strengthening time. As meditation opens one to knowledge of the spirit and of His Spirit, an individual grows in ways teaching alone cannot facilitate.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Please understand that I am not attacking the Evangelical movement. I do not suggest such is wrong. I believe it lacks understanding because it is a product of Western culture. From before the Renaissance, Western thought has developed along a philosophic path that traces itself back to the Greeks. Church scholarship developed and held the lamp of knowledge for Western culture through the Medieval period such that church and culture existed in a symbiotic relationship of sorts. This philosophic path has a practical component through which it meanders, the rational mind. Western culture emphasizes rationality and thereby cuts itself off from the human heart. There have been a few reactions like the Age of Romanticism, but the onward development of a rational explanation of the human experience has never lost steam. The Evangelical movement is both product of this combined history of church and culture and remains a participant today. It does not do so without consequence to its intellectual and spiritual constructs.
Remember my discussion on Christian diversity wherein sociologists define human social experience in terms which I contend reflect the whole human? (Oct. 10 post) This is our three-part being of body, heart, and mind. Western culture focuses primarily on the intellect and secondarily (pop culture in particular) on the body. The Western Christian church preaches there must be a changed heart, but I believe as an institution lacks in its understanding of how the heart affects the whole human. (I cannot here take the time to validate this assertion of mine, maybe another post.)
Our culture has developed a "heart" obsessed with the lust of the eyes. Literature, drama, the visual arts, musical arts and tech media are overrun with imagination applied to expressing the fallenness of the human heart. It isn't just pop culture of the day either. Ever read the lyrics of great operas or pay close attention to the themes in Shakespeare? Western religion's answer to this problem is to preach against lust. This is an intellectual exercise; and from a practical standpoint of the state of the human heart, is an ill-fitting application producing mixed results. In Western culture, we do not understand the effective application of meditation in overcoming our own hearts' vagaries. Consider this quote from scripture:
When I remember God, then I am disturbed; When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. Selah.
You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I have considered the days of old, The years of long ago.
I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart, And my spirit ponders:
Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again?
Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever?
Has God forgotten to be gracious, Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? Selah.
Then I said, "It is my grief, That the right hand of the Most High has changed."
I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all Your work And muse on Your deeds.
The author of these words is sorely troubled in heart over his relationship with God, the core relationship of life. His answer is to meditate on God and His work. Of all the words in the Hebrew which can be translated meditate or meditation, they share one common possible meaning. That meaning is muse. Actively, muse can mean in our language to meditate or ponder. Interestingly, another use in our language is drawn from Greek mythology. This use is muse as in "a guiding spirit". Within artistic expressions, to find one's muse means to discover inspiration.
I submit that to meditate as a Christian means to find guidance from the Holy Spirit by filling the eyes of our hearts (requires the faculty of the imagination) not with lustful concepts from the world but with the purity of God Himself. In so doing, we access a source of growth for both our souls and spirits which is of God. Further, this growth will not be stimulated by teaching our minds, the intellect.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Meditation is an act of focusing on God, deliberately, for an extended time period, with an openness to Him, with an intent to be impacted, and to bring Him pleasure.
Meditation is accomplished using all of our faculties including the imagination.
More in the next post.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Then I check the blog of another old friend, he can be read at Looking for the Long Ride link on the right. He has written his latest blog entry exploring among other things, contentment. I do not find such overlap a coincidence. God is in every aspect of my life, and such circumstances as these described here occur continually in my life. I always accept them without question as God calling my attention to something. This may cause you to question, but I don't anymore. I have seen this proven over and over. It a reason I am content in the Father. His faithfulness to communicate with me never fails.
Last year at work, a colleague lamented, "I want to hear from God, if that's possible." I ached for her. Her Christian tradition has shaped her by liturgy and tradition. Her concept of God is deeply carved but limited by the cut marks of her particular system. It has informed her for years on end how to perceive God, and so she does. The culture she participates in communicates strict boundaries for the structures she must abide in, the symbols she must reflect upon and draw inspiration from, and the conflicts which are hers in the natural.
After we left the church we had been in for 18 years, I visited many local congregations. I was open to the Lord leading me again into the arena of organized groups. On one Sunday, I entered a congregation to discover in attendance there a family whom my wife and I knew from community soccer. The husband was an usher and led me to the pew in which his wife sat. I slid over near her, and we greeted we another. Since I was seeking, and she was "full-time", I led off after the pleasantries with, "So how do you like it here?" She was visibly shaken and turned to me with newly formed tears and spoke of her disappointment and disillusionment with this particular system. I did my best to sound supportive and remain neutral. I began imagining what could cause such a reaction. She was a chronic complainer, though her example on the sidelines of soccer disproved that muse. She did not clearly understand her circumstances and was overwhelmed by life, though her respected position in a local public school undercut that possibility. Her true feelings erupted when I touched on the sore spot of her life. That clicked with me as the truth of that moment.
At another prominent evangelical church in our community a week or so later, after I had been handed a "Prospective Member" card to fill out in Sunday School. (I filled this in with the questions "Why do you automatically put me in the category of prospect?" and, "If I am in Jesus like you, am I not part of you already?") During the Sunday School class itself, a regular member (some one with far more status within this group than most) delivered a scalding message of condemnation against anyone who was not actively witnessing for the purpose of expanding the roles of the church. Hmmm...it was clear from these two social mechanisms, the card and the message, that the church was focused on numbers. Additionally, the abject disparity between Romans 8:1 and the empty-hearted scolding I had just heard demonstrated this group 's spiritual lack.
What did these three people have in common? My takes is a lack of contentment because of a failed or inactive spiritual imagination.
I understand. Well it should be suspect. The imagination has been used to promote much ungodliness in our world, and not just in the Arts. How about in education and philosophy in particular? Consider Foucault...no don't, he is nihilistic and hedonistic, but he is a good example of the imagination run amuck. Yet, I believe that when the Father redeems us, He lifts our whole being out of the miry clay, including our imagination, by virtue of the new creature referenced in 2Co 5:17. The imagination is part of our being. My renewed mind, and yours, has an imagination. This series of posts is about how to use the imagination in pursuit of a deepening relationship with our Father and His Son.
In my last post, I attempted to establish how the imagination is a part of us in ways beyond creative applications. Imagination is not simply about bringing creativity in arts, math and science applications. Our imaginations are a running sub-program of every one's thinking. I write this series of posts to encourage brethren to recognize the fullness of the whole being we are and learn, as commenter Josiah noted, "Our freedom to imagine is thus found in the charge to bring every thought into obedience to Christ."
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Think about thinking. How do you do it? What do you recognize as thinking when you do it; or what do you reject as feeling when you want thinking, but all the words in the brain are pouring forth rapidly out of your heart? What do you do when your thinking fails and you don't have an answer to the problem at hand?
The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding.
Hebrew word for understanding = discernment; act; faculty; object
Notice the variants of meaning include discernment, insight into what is going on around you, and faculty, the ability to do so. We all have the faculty to understand at some level. Commonly we humans, cleansed and dirty, work at gaining some degree of understanding about the natural world around us. This is often motivated by selfishness, which produces mixed results in gaining discernment of the natural world, and no results at gaining discernment of spiritual matters. (I will reference the following concept often, and so begin here.) Those who are not born of the spirit of Jesus can never gain discernment of spiritual truth, except by direct revelation from the Father at His discretion. Without birth in Christ's Spirit, one's faculty to understand is locked completely within the paradigm of the material world. True enough the material world is under the dominion of Satan. Knowledge gained through him can provide illusions of separation from the material; but as he is the Father of Lies, he cannot give one separation in Truth. I digress, that is probably a post of its own.
So this post is about using our faculty of understanding to increase what we discern about spiritual matters. (I feel as if I am about to plunge my hand into boiling water, but here goes!)
I think Christians need to do two things.
1. Be honest that the imagination is part of everyday life all the time. We need NOT be afraid of it.
- We engage in "fantasies" of how the conversation with our boss about a raise is going to go. This use of imagining interactions with others repeats, so ...
- If we do not have a calculator and do any math in our head, yes we are thinking; but we imagine the numbers visually; or we imagine their values calculating...one genius recently interviewed on television explained that numbers take on geometric shapes in his head and he "sees them combining" according to the function at hand.
Imagination is a function of the thinking processes in our heads. They go together. We think in concepts that are imagined, that is we use the faculty not to be confused with create an imagined object. What's more, I believe the heart is directly linked to the imagination. Our minds translate the feelings of our hearts into the words we speak and physical actions we choose by using our imagination.
2. Gain understanding of what purposes imagination can serve in gaining spiritual understanding of the Father. Apologies to whomever wrote this for not citing you as the source, but I read it back in the early nineties and have no clue where I did. This is stuck in the cobbed files of my brain, though: (this is not a direct quote just a remembrance)
Our development follows a course and our lives are a recurring function of our development. Feelings first (babies have "no" verbal constructs, though research indicates that fetal hearing allows the basis of language to develop in utero) then thoughts, thoughts lead to imaginations, imaginations spawn desires, desires direct actions, actions become habits, habits develop into lifestyle patterns and lifestyle patterns are one's destiny.
I submit breaking free from the natural existence into spiritual birth is the spiritual experience all humans need. Period. This occurs when the Father in His mercy reveals Jesus as Messiah to someone and they choose to so trust Him. However, walking out one's salvation in fear and trembling employs our faculties of understanding and the discernment so gained. There should be a continual gain in the mind and heart in these areas as one grows spiritually, I think...or am I just imagining this? Perhaps we can understand and grow in the utilization of our imaginations as part of walking with the Lord.
Yes, I knew the word "imagination" would cause some folks to pause and experience feelings, possibly even negative decisions about my blog. That's OK. Yes, I also knew it might stir in some a questioning of whether or not I was a New-Ager, full of double-speak about the word "Christ." Oh well. Such is how the spirits spar in the Wild Wood. It cannot be avoided.We must sort through "spirit" as Christians and understand what we can. While some things will remain unknown to us, the Father knows all, and we are safe in Him.
Next up: thoughts about being a Christian and connecting with the value of our imaginations before the Living Father. For those who feel a tug of concern about the topic, I'll tell you the "safety net" I will talk about in conclusion, so that you know it is place. The Word, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and heart to heart fellowship are together our safety net in this. We must all be grounded in realizing we are connected to the material world by our bodies. We are not creatures of the imagination. We are creatures of earth who experience a God-given imagination. Some of us are reborn. The imagination is available to common humans and is a tool He provided us. Our new birth renews our mind. Is the imagination exempt?