Welcome: An Introduction

Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Richard Foster Quote:Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation

"If we want to receive from the Bible the life with God that is portrayed in the Bible, we must be prepared to have our dearest most fundamental assumptions about ourselves and our associations called into question. We must read humbly and in a constant attitude of repentance. Only in this way can we gain a thorough and practical grasp of the spiritual riches that God has made available to all humanity in his written Word. Only in this way can we keep from transforming The Book into a Catholic Bible, an Orthodox Bible, a Protestant Bible, an Ours is More Accurate than Yours Bible...And so the test of whether or not we have really gotten the point of the Bible would be the quality of love that we show."
          ~Richard Foster,Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation

Some Bible verses that came to mind when I read that passage and others from Foster in regards to reading Scripture for spiritual transformation (emphasis mine):

2 Corinthians 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Matthew 16: 24-26 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

John 15:12-13 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

1 John 4:7-8  7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

I am no expert, but from experience and what I've read as I've gone through the gospels and Scripture, by reading Scripture with an open heart and open mind, with conviction and expectancy, one cannot help but be changed and transformed. Who could expect anything less from the very living and real Word of God?

In Foster's book he brings up the technique of reading the Bible with expectancy. Not just reading it as some kind of historical account of biblical times or just to get knowledge about the laws of God. But to approach Scripture with expectancy of meeting God there. To be continually open and receptive to the promptings of the Spirit and to expect change in one's heart. After all, that is what sanctification is all about-us moving away from our illusions and attachments towards ourselves and the world and towards the reality of Christ, our wills eventually cleaving to His. Becoming a "new creation" in Christ. And what better litmus test to our progress than the love that we exhibit towards God and to others?  A heart moving closer to God and becoming identified more and more in Christ cannot but help to experience a greater depth of love towards others as the Spirit prompts the heart to move from superficial love to agape love.

Do you feel yourself changed when you read the Bible? Do you feel yourself nourished and full when you finish reading through Scripture? Your soul lifted up and encouraged? Do you feel your heart opening up to new dimensions of love? Do you expect to meet with God when you open up the holy text which reveals His Word, His love letter to you and I and the rest of the world? When you meet with Him do you feel His presence? Do you feel a peace that surpasses all understanding?

If not, take heart...the very things which I just described are possible for everyone. God in His amazing love, makes it possible for all of His children to experience the love and peace of His presence and makes it possible for us humans, in our frailty and brokeness, to be transformed in His love and truth by means of His Word, prayer and meditation.

Let's Pray :)

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for the amazing love that is your reality. We thank you for Your mercy and grace that break the chains of sin in our lives and your light which causes darkness to flee. We seek to be changed and transformed in your presence. We seek to love others, not with conscious effort, but through a changed and transformed heart that makes it natural to love others the way you do. May the Holy Spirit touch our lives with truth and grace and enable us to draw close to you and give us the strength, clarity and spiritual insight to conform more and more to the likeness of Christ. May Scripture come alive when we enter into it with expectant hearts, may it breathe truth and light into our souls.

May you humble us in areas that need humbling, may you remind us of our need for you and may we never, ever cease to seek your face. May the Holy Spirit continually spur us on to greater heights of understanding and experiencing you. We love you and seek you with all our hearts, minds and strength. Thank you for being the kind of God we can call Father and approach with humble confidence.

In Jesus' name,

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Exploring Denominational Diversities

        A Prayer Attributed to St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair; hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.


This prayer, to me, says it all. In a simple and direct way it puts the role of the Christian into perspective. To pray it, redirects one's heart to what matters most-God's will. It's God's will we sow seeds of peace, that we love and forgive others, that we be like burning lamps blazing brightly to cast light in the world's darkness, to give hope to those who haven't any. I love the second part of the prayer too because it puts the focus off ourselves and on others. The theme of love rings out in this prayer-love for God, love to do His will, and love for our fellow man.

It's kind of amusing but the first thing that I was compelled to write was a disclaimer that I wasn't catholic because the prayer is from a catholic saint. I guess that's the early evangelical blood running in my veins! When I was first born again I tried out a few churches, but having received the message of the gospel from the words and ministry of Chuck Swindoll, I was drawn to an evangelical, Bible-based church.  I loved that church but I did find out early on that not every denomination was as open and accepting towards every other denomination. Catholicism, with its predictable and ritualistic liturgical prayers and other customs and outlooks, was frowned upon.

It wasn't until I went to a Catholic college and met some very dedicated sisters in Christ that took their faith every bit as seriously as I took mine that I realized there wasn't as much of a difference between them and I as some would make it out to be. Though we had slightly varied patterns that defined us somewhat differently we were all cut from the same cloth. We were all part of the same family and body that is Christ.

It was also, later on, in fact pretty recently, that I discovered Thomas Merton, a catholic monk and writer who I have read and respect greatly as well as many other catholic voices that ring out with truth and light and life. So, I suppose the point of all of this is and my advice, for whatever it is worth, is to not be a "denominational snob", (which I naively started out as). Instead I would encourage you to open yourself up to new experiences and new points of view. For sure, if something seems to not ring true with the Bible, it should be avoided, but there are many different ways to worship, many different ways to pray. To explore the diversity which God has imprinted in the hearts of man to reach up to Him and seek His holy face, can be a changing event in one's life. And a renewing time in one's faith.

It is my view that it gives God no glory to continually point out the differences that we have with other brothers and sisters in Christ but that God wants us to simply see Christ in others and have others see Christ in us. All other differences are superficial. If one is misrepresenting Scripture and God, then that is one thing, but if one's way to worship, pray or commune with God differs from our own, it should be respected and even investigated as a potential path for us to explore and practice to enrich our own experiences and invigorate our own faith.

~ abundant blessings in Christ

Friday, November 26, 2010

Brennan Manning Quote: God Excludes No One

"The outstretched arms of Jesus exclude no one, not the drunk in the doorway, the panhandler on the street, gays and lesbians in their isolation, the most selfish and ungrateful in their cocoons, the most unjust of employers and the most overweening of snobs. The love of Christ embraces all without exception."     ~ Brennan Manning

God's love shows no partiality and excludes nobody. This being the case, then how come so many times our love does just that? Why is it that so many times our cultural upbringings and other influences we come across can prove to shape our view towards others who are different than ourselves more than the gospel? Who has the power here, when this happens...who are we yielding to as being sovereign over our heart's response to others...the world, or Christ?

Let us give thanks to God for the rich diversity of brothers and sisters that we have in this world. For the tapestry of many colored threads that God has woven to make up His kingdom. May we appreciate the multi-faceted beauty God has created, knowing that all of us are given an essential role and all of us, no matter how different, no matter the sins that plague us individually, make up one body, in Christ. And heaven forbid us that anybody's difference from us, or sin, or blemish, would keep us from embracing them with the same love Jesus embraced this world, and bar us from sharing the gospel with them.

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for all the blessings that flow into our lives-the natural and spiritual blessings that you richly pour out on us; reviving us, sustaining us, guiding us in our walks with you. We pray that you continually soften our hearts to others that our suffering. That we show the compassion and love Jesus showed while walking on earth. That our love encompasses those that we don't understand, those we might even abhor, knowing that in our own guilt, in our own sin, if not for the blood of Jesus, God, you would be unnaproachable and would find us reprehensible in your Holy presence.  In fact, without Jesus, it wouldn't even be possible to enter into your amazing presence. Your gift of mercy and grace makes it possible, in our human weakness, fraility and impurity to approach your heavenly throne with confidence. Let us not think we are any more worthy than anybody else. Humble us, so that we might be servants who live our lives out advancing your Kingdom here on earth, bringing you much honor, glory and praise.

In Jesus' name,

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Passing Through the Dark Night

That there needed fidelity in those drynesses or insensibilities and irksomenesses in prayer by which God tries our love to Him; that then was the time for us to make good and effectual acts of resignation whereof one alone would oftentimes very much promote our spiritual advancements.
~ Brother Lawrence

There is so much one can learn from the Spirit-filled insights of Brother Lawrence. I like this quote from him because it is so real and I feel it can apply to most people, if not all, that seek to grow with God and experience Him fully.  As we progress in our walk with God, learning new insights, stretching and growing spiritually, we enter into new experiences that help shape and conform us more to Christ and helps strengthen our resolve as believers. One of these experiences that many Christian writers, monks, etc. have written about is a phenomena called "The Dark Night of the Soul." In fact, John of the Cross has a poem about this very thing titled, "Dark Night", it can be found on the "Inspiring Poetry" page of this blog.

This period in one's spiritual timeline can be interpreted by many as a time of great spiritual trial and testing. A time when the believer, removed (or seemingly so) from the presence of God, has to rely on the truest sense of their faith-believing in things that can't be seen (or felt) or otherwise proven in any tangible sense. This is when one's conviction towards God is tested and through the process, strengthened and refined. This is when our faiths are really put to the test.

It's also a time where great humility on the part of the believer is cultivated. Where any illusions of our own knowledge, strength and abilities of being means enough to be sufficient to carry us through this process are quickly vanquished. This is a time when the believer, whether literally or figuritavely, is drawn to her knees in total submission and surrender. A time when one's all is given to God and like a mirror, the believer's human brokeness, is laid bare for the soul to

Is God being unnecessarily cruel?...In Lamentations 3:33-34 it tells us of God:

32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
   so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
   or grief to anyone.

God does not want any unnecessary pain or turmoil for His children.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Sometimes, in this time, our human response to the void God creates in us is to lash back at Him. To doubt, to stomp our feet in anger, in sorrow, in distress. But the fact is, God wants the best for us. And sometimes growing isn't always comfortable. Our initial reactions might not show the best side of us, but God knows us, He expects that response.  He knows the pain we will go through during this time of apparant separation. He also knows what awaits us on the other side-and He knows it is well worth it!

God wants us to be strong. He wants us to advance His Kingdom here on earth-spreading love and compassion and hope. He knows our hearts will come under attack. He knows our souls will be tempted. He knows the snares of the enemy that lay ahead on the pathway of sanctification and He wants to give us the strength, direction, clarity and conviction to pass through such spiritual snares unhindered.

He wants us to echo that of Paul's resolve when Paul so faithfully declared:

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

When the believer passes through this Dark Night of the soul, their conviction towards God is solidified and God is truly glorified for the believer goes from being drawn low and almost broken in humility and contrition only to be lifted up by the Grace and Mercy of God in spiritual exaltation, where a reoriented sense of obedience, adoration and conviction for God and belief washes the believer with the renewing sense of God's Spirit and presence once again in his soul. The believer walks into the light out of the darkness truly changed.

Humilty is a central theme to this process and a term that sometimes isn't popular in today's culture. It's importance cannot be overstated. Without a humble and contrite Spirit, we will be barred from fully experiencing God's presence and blessings. I will end this article with some verses relating to humility.

 Let me just say this first, before concluding, if you are experiencing this type of spiritual phenemona, take heart-a whole new dimension of experiencing God awaits you! Oh..and one little tip...the quicker you surrender yourself to the process, and God, admitting your weaknesses, confessing and repenting your sins and giving God complete sovereignty over your life, the quicker you move through it. 

~abundant blessings in Christ

 Isaiah 57:15 

15 For this is what the high and exalted One says—
   he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
   but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
   and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Psalm 51:17

17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart
   you, God, will not despise

Proverbs 22:4
 4 Humility is the fear of the LORD;
   its wages are riches and honor and life.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Heart Zealous for God

I'd like to share a quote I read this morning in the book, Knowing God, by J.I. Packer. I read it this morning and couldn't help but want to share it here. It's all about having zeal for God, having a passion for God that consumes us so much that God is our one and only desire. I found it really inspiring, and would love to hear your thoughts, reflections towards it as well.

"Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire which no man feels by nature-which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when he is converted-but which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called 'zealous' men...A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies-whether he has health, or whether he has sickness-whether he is rich, or whether he is poor-whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offense-whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish-whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise-whether he gets honour, or whether he gets shame-for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God's glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it-he is content. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed him. Such a one will always find a sphere for his zeal. If he cannot preach, work, and give money, he will cry, and sigh, and pray...If he cannot fight in the valley with Joshua, he will do the work of Moses, Aaron, and Hur, on the hill (Exodus 19:9-13). If he is cut off from working himself, he will give the Lord no rest till help is raised up from another quarter and the work is done. This is what I mean when I speak of 'zeal' in religion."     ~ Bishop J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion, p. 130


Do those words touch your heart? Making it leap with excitment towards the notion of being consumed by God so much that all of our motivations, all of our heart's intentions, are devoted with a single-mindedness towards bringing him glory and honor and praise? Towards pleasing Him?

I have to say, it touched mine! I thirst to know God with all of my heart that sometimes it aches. I want to experience Him with all that He will allow my senses to endure. But do I want to please Him? Do I want to bring Him glory? I do...but sometimes I think my search for theological answers and to understand facets of His character and glimpses of His truth overshadow or even come before a simple desire to please Him and bring Him honor.

God wants us to get to know Him. He wants us to reach out with our hearts, our minds, our souls, towards Him and develop strong relationships that don't quake though the whole world might tremble and shake around us. But, from what this quote says, our supreme desire, our only desire really, should be to please Him. And that, really, when one contemplates it, makes sense. For if we wish to please Him, if that is our ultimate motivation, than naturally all other things will fall into place-the knowing and experiencing Him parts.

I want to have a heart zealous for God! Unendingly zealous! Do you? I pray so. It might be a good prayer, for all of us really to pray- that we might cultivate a heart that puts God first and puts the focus of our intentions and the motivations of our hearts in pleasing Him above all other things. If we are honest with ourselves, I really don't think anyone can have a perfectly zealous heart for God...I mean, it seems certainly a process, an unending one at that. The world is full of tempations, our hearts are permeable enough that influences that steal our focus from God, no matter how sincere we might be towards Him, invade from time to time. So, it would seem natural that prayer and communion with God would be an essential thing in sustaining a heart of zeal towards God.

Let's pray :)

Heavenly Father,

We praise you for the abundant blessings that you have given us in our lives. We may have to endure trials, suffering and pain but your love and the blessed assurance that you give our souls surpasses all temporary things we might have to endure. You have given us your Son, and His innocent blood was shed for our sins, wiping away all the mistakes, all the blunders that our sinful hearts create clean if only we reach towards Him with souls asking for forgiveness. Thank you. Thank you for your unending mercy, for your gift of divine Grace.

Forgive us for not always guarding our hearts, keeping them from the temptations that creep in, stealing our focus from you God. Create in us hearts that are single-mindedly focused on pleasing you.On bringing you praise and honor and glory. Create in us lives that are living testimonies to the power, wonder and love of your Spirit. Through your Spirit, help us advance your love, your compassion, your gentleness, your patience, to a world of suffering, to those who don't yet know you. Let us not care what the world things of our fervent zeal towards you. Let us not care that the world might call some of our words and actions to please you, foolish. For The things of God are foolish to those that don't yet know Him. Let us not care what the world thinks but let our hearts burn with an all-consuming fire of desire to please you. Direct our hearts, our minds and our actions to bring about your will and to bless others and bless your Holy name.

In the name of Jesus,

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Endless Refreshment for the Soul

John 4:4

But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.

Are you weary or tired today? We all go through trials and times of suffering, or even watching close ones suffer, that can cause our souls to become downcast and our spirits to become dry..

May we all, on this Sabbath, turn our hearts to God and receive the eternal waters of life that promise to continually revive, restore, and refresh us. Whether it's at church, a quiet place in nature, or just within the quiet and stillness of our souls, may we seek God with all our hearts today so that we might bring glory and honor and praise to His name and fulfill His will for our lives.

~love, light, and blessings :)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Breaking the Chains: The Path to Liberation (Part 1)

The following verses in Isaiah speak of what God calls the spirit filled believer to do-to preach the good news, to speak to others about the freedom that is found in Christ, to break the chains that bind our fellow brothers and sisters to the world that bars them from experiencing the true freedom and peace in Christ that is meant to be experienced.

Isaiah 61:1

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
   because the LORD has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
   to proclaim freedom for the captives
   and release from darkness for the prisoners

But what happens when we are not yet free from all the chains that bind us? Or perhaps we are experiencing a dry spell, a dark night of the soul where we are feeling distant from God?  How, then are we to announce the freedom promised to others when we, ourselves, are experiencing captivity, being bound by our own sins, letting the things of this world steal our peace?


Christ does set us free but it isn't as if once our hearts have been awakened by faith we will never have obstacles. I've found that it is a freedom that we have to nurture and sustain through continual refreshment and nourishment in His word.  If you've never had a dry spell in your faith or never had an unguarded moment where sin or lack of peace and restlessness crept into your soul, you might not relate well with this post. For those of you that have, perhaps you will relate!


I could write a book about this topic! There is so much to it, so much so that I am going to break this post down into four parts. I've found personally a few things that have been instrumental for me in guiding my heart in moments of waywardness and restlessness back to firm ground and I'd like to share some of them with you so I hope you join me in all four parts and contribute your own thoughts in the comments section.


I am no theologian or anything, this is just what I've learned personally through my own walk with God.  And frankly, most of it is common sense, but some of us, like me anyways, find it helpful to be reminded of some of the mose obvious things sometimes. It's amazing how sin can blind us to what is so readily available before us.


These are the four steps that were revealed to me that helped my soul transition itself from being  a desert to blossoming once again into a garden, drenched in the light of the Spirit, bearing fruit once again.


1. reading scripture


2. repentence (serves as  an active step of obedience which bears fruit)


3. prayer ( where we openly have discourse with God, admitting our shortcomings and asking Him to help us trust Him more)


4. meditation (where we can enter into the presence of God, receving peace that surpasses all understanding, being washed in His spirit and given precious insight and revelation)


I'd like to think if we are struggling  with a particular sin that repentence would be our first step towards freedom. For some it might be. And I've read places where it is, but there are times where we are so entrenched in our sin that it's easy for others to just tell us to repent, and less easy for us to follow their advice.


There is a time when our hearts aren't ready for repentence. This can be a scary and dark time, when we know we are willingly disobeying our God, and sometimes don't even care (yikes!). How the world has a tragic way of hardening our hearts! Or perhaps God does...for His own purposes..that will be discussed later! This is why I put reading Scripture as the first step. Because it softens the heart that has been hardened.


There was a time when I really felt disconnected with God and I felt like I was at a crossroads when it came to my faith. God didn't seem real anymore. He seemed more like a concept whose truth I accepted but less as a reality to be experienced. The advice I got from a trusted source to overcome all of this: read Scripture, starting with the gospels.


I almost scoffed at such a suggestion! I mean I had come up with real theological questions and concerns, many of them involving God's character. How could reading the Scriptures turn all of that around? In fact, I had come up with a lot of my concerns in the first place by reading the Bible! I was doubtful, but I trusted my source, for we should always find others that are more spiritually mature (pastors, elders) that we can trust to come to for guidance.


All that I can say is that I am so glad I humbled myself and listened to the advice given. I had read a great book by Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, where in one part he talks about reading scripture mindfully and with imagination. I used some of these techniques when reading through the gospels again during the drought that my soul had found itself in. I was amazed at what I experienced!


Foster talks about putting oneself right there in Scripture while reading it. Not using imagination in the sense of perceiving what you are reading as imaginary but rather using your imagination to sense the things going on in what you are reading in the fullest sense. (He explained this so much better than I!) For example, when the gospels talk about Jesus preaching by the Sea of Galilee, let your senses smell the salt air, stand there, listening to Jesus as he preached. Feel the crowd press in around you, hear their shifting feet, feel the sand brush up against your ankles as the breeze beside the sea lifts it, sending it about in swirls. It can be a powerful way to read Scripture. And when done mindfully, each word carrying weight as you read Scripture slowly, the reality of God's truth opens itself before you, unraveling like a red carpet, welcoming you to walk the pathway back home to the inheritance you've already been granted since your heart first awakened to faith.


I remember when I first read through Matthew this way, I couldn't stop. I was picking up so many truths that in earlier times when I read that book I had failed to notice. Truths and insights were lifted from obscurity and became real and defined. I began to feel my heart soften and my soul feel that blessed assurance it had longed for and had not felt for quite some time.


I also came to know Christ a lot better. I came to know the God who is love and compassion, the gentle shepard of our souls that one shouldn't flee from, but run to. I began to trust him again as he became more and more real to me.


I don't want to write too long of a post and lose some people so I will end it here. But I would suggest, and this is just from my experience, that if you are feeling distant from God, if your faith doesn't seem as real as it used to or if you are struggling from a sin that you don't feel you are ready to repent from yet, read Scripture. I would suggest Richard Foster's book. Another practice I've started doing before reading the Bible is lighting a stick of incense or a candle. It helps differentiate reading Scripture from the other things I read. It helps prepare me for the special time I am now entering into with God and His Word. It's a great way to start prayer too. Also praying before reading Scripture is a good idea too! :)

There is a great verse in Galations:

Galatians 5 1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

We need to stand firm against sin, we need to stand firm on the rock that God provides for us for refuge. But if you've found yourself off that rock or your knees buckling a bit trying to balance yourself once again upon it, I would heartily suggest you begin to find that strength once again by entering into God's presence through reading His Holy Word.




I wrote a poem after I felt my chains around my heart and soul loosen and finally break free. I'd like to share it with you. In Closing, I pray the Lord's peace over all of you. May your day, this day, and every day until God calls you home, be filled with His light and love.


Freedom leaps within me, like flames within a fire,
Fed by Your Word, sustained by Your promise,
I feel it grow ever higher.

The garden of my heart, once barren, color hard to find,
Blooms within, now a rainbow of life,
Held together by love that binds.

The bronze doors of my soul now openly ajar,
As you shatter the barriers between us,
Breaking in two the iron bars.

May my prayer be like burning incense,
Ever rising up to you,
A joyful fragrance, an offering to my King,
in its darkness the world once slew.

And when the pressures of this place,
Crowd around me once more,
May I bring your name glory as I seek your face,
That all may see the love upon your faithful you doth pour.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To Speak or not to Speak?

"Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you."

How many times did you hear that as a kid? I heard it plenty, said it plenty. And what's more is that many of us teach that little ryhme to our children to avoid them from being affected by the sometimes hurtful things their peers can say.

Is it true though?....

I would say that words can hurt, very much. If anyone has any doubts just look through the yellow pages (do people still do that?) or a quick google search with your zip code and the endless list of psychiatrists and psychologists will help give us an answer. Words wound others and they can cause deep wounds that sometimes take a lifetime to heal, if ever. That is, if we trust in man to help us heal...with God there is the promise of total healing...but that is for another post :) Today, I'd like to just talk about what God tells us about the words we choose to communicate to others.

Encouraging and compassionate words can build others up with. Hastily spoken words said in moments of emotion can disintegrate self-esteems, relationships and our hopes in communicating God's love to others if we aren't careful.

How important are the words we say? Very important. The Bible is full of verses warning us to choose our words carefully and stressing the importance that sometimes less is more. Let's remind ourselves, through His Word, of how God expects His children to approach one another in speech and God's view of speech itself.

Proverbs 10:19  When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent.

Proverbs 11:12  He who belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remanins silent.

Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful in building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

2 Timothy 2:16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.

James 3:6-10 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

Proverbs 25:11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh words stirs up anger.

The more we grow in Christ the more natural it will become to respond, even in moments where we are beginning to feel groundless, with words of love and compassion. God wants us to choose our words with care. If we are to grow in our walk and in our faith we have to learn when to speak and when not to. This is a very difficult thing (something I am far from mastering myself!), especially in this world where it seems like we can't go through a day without someone saying something that is frustrating or where an incident arises that threatens to steal our peace. When we allow the actions or words of others to steal our peace it is easy to respond in a similiar fashion. But God calls us not to! This is something I think that is worthy to pray for because certainly the words we express to others effect our relationships with them and the way we present ourselves to the world as followers of Christ.

So, let's pray :)

Heavenly Father,

Forgive us for the hurtful words that sometimes come out of our mouths that cause others to suffer. Reveal to us those that we have wounded so that we can apologize, with sincerity and love, for the hurt we have caused. Help us to let go of pride, let go of our own hurt, our own wounds and help us surrender completely to you so that we may be washed in the light of your love. May our lives be living testaments to your unending and free gift of mercy. We thank you unceasingly for this gift of mercy you show mankind for without it we'd be lostand have no hope! Help change us, through your love and compassion, through your Spirit working in our hearts, so that we may, with every passing day, be more and more like Jesus. We praise you, we honor you, we worship you.       
In Jesus' holy name, Amen.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Moving Past Hypocrisy Towards Christ

"If I were to be a good Franciscan, that is, Christlike, I would first of all have to be in almost all points as this peasant appears to be. That is-to set no store on pride in knowledge, or possessions, or ambitions, but completely obscure looking and acting: and with all that not envious, not ambitious, but quiet and good, and giving people things, and being patient, and working and living on little food. But being, first nobody: this peasant, obscure and dark, and silent, and not knowing much how to talk: of such were Christ's Apostles.
                                    ~ Thomas Merton, Run to the Mountain, p. 10

These are Merton's reflections after coming across an Italian immigrant woodcutter living in the depths of New York City during the beginning of World War II. He notes that this is a man who "never says anything and never understands the crazy political fellows, and is humble and poor in Spirit too and loves God and prays to Him like a child (for we all should)." Run to the Mountain, p. 70.

I recently watched an interview with Shane Claiborne. Until recently I had never heard of Mr. Claiborne but now I am waiting with anticipation to get my hands on his books! If you aren't familiar with him I'd definitely suggest getting aquainted. One thing that struck me when I heard him speaking: wow this guy really walks the walk! He is genuine and fervent in faith and puts it into action, calling others to as well. He lives in an intentional community where whatever money is made is dispersed to those in the community as needed, the rest goes to the poor. In the interview I watched he stated that if one has two coats, they have one coat too many. That if one has two coats than that means there is one person in the world that is cold that wouldn't have to be if that person with two just surrendered their material belongings in the name of compassion and love. (I'm paraphrasing). That is so true! And so very Christ-like! Why aren't more of us Christians like that?

All of this makes me wonder about all the lucrative pastors and preachers worldwide that go through the circuits and travel, spreading the Word from shore to shore and beyond. Are they really living the message out that they preach? Are they really living it out by staying in lush hotel suites when down in the streets not too far away there are those who are huddling over trash cans with small fires burning, trying to keep warm, stomachs aching, hopes faltering? Are they living it out eating at five star restaurants while there are those whose cupboards are bare, children crying, parent's hearts breaking, as they have nothing to feed them?  

Aren't we as Christians supposed to let our lights shine in the darkness? Aren't we supposed to bring the message of Christ, which is hope and love and life and light, to the hopeless and those that are wounded? One of my pet peeves is that many of these pastors preach all of these great things, but only to those that can afford a pricey ticket in order to get in to hear their message. The truth should be free! Not a means of lining one's pocket.

How does the Bible say we should go about following Christ, spreading His message?

Luke 9:23-24
23 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.
Matthew 25:34-40  
 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
   37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
   40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Enough about all the pastors that are blatant hypocrites...what about us? Are we living for Christ making God and our desire to follow Him our ultimate goal? Are we willing to give up material comforts in order to help others ? Are we willing to also let go of internal discomforts with dealing with others we might think we don't have much in common with? Sometimes it's easy to talk about those in the world that need our help and about the social justice issues that us Christians are called to engage in to help spread compassion and love without really actually putting some of those ideas into action. Mother Teresa had something to say about this:

"It's very fashionable to talk about the poor but it's not as fashionable to talk to the poor." ~Mother Teresa

Let's not let talking be more fashionable than actually walking!

Merton, who likens the woodcutter's character to that of an apostle, notes that the woodcutter, "never says anything and never understands the crazy political fellows, and is humble and poor in Spirit too and loves God and prays to Him like a child." That makes me wonder, are we Christians sometimes so involved in the political process that we forget about the spiritual process? Are we so involved in polling and advocating for our favorite politician that we forget to advocate and speak in favor of our Savior? As verse 25 in Chapter 9 of Luke reminds us, "What does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses or forfeits his life?". Politics has its place but, it is my view, that our striving to get our politicians into office should never be above our striving to get our Lord into the hearts of man.

I have so much to write about this! But I will end it here. I feel we need to pray for ourselves and our other brothers and sisters in Christ. God in America and in other parts of this world is becoming less and less real for people, less and less tangible. Less and less approachable. And I think some of that is the fault of those who bear His cross...not on their shoulders, hunched over in sweat laboring up the hill of adversity in the soul hope of bringing God glory, but by pulling it on a wagon, taking breaks whenever they tire and occasinally abandoning it as they take their rest on benches along the way. Let's get off our benches! Let's rise up and take our cross and carry it wherever God wills us to. Let's have that simple obedient faith of the woodcutter that touched Merton so deeply.

Heavenly Father,

Forgive us for sometimes putting our comfort first. For abandoning the true message of the gospel and what your disciples are called to be to pursue our own earthly ambitions. Forgive us for not approaching those who are different from us because it reminds us of all that we have and all that they don't. Help us overcome our guilt by asking for your forgiveness. Give us servant's hearts that are satisfied only by following your Will that you have for our lives. Help us rise above mediocrity of faith and take up the cross once again, with zeal, carrying your message and love and compassion with non-judgmental hearts to the weak, the weary, the hopeless-not just those that can buy a ticket. Help us be more like Jesus.

We love you, we praise you for all the blessings that you have given us and for your son Jesus, our precious redeemer who, by his blood, washed our guilt and sin away. 

In Jesus' name,

Monday, November 15, 2010

Finding Light in Darkness

Psalm 91:9-12 

9 If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,”
   and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
   no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
   to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

Does it ever seem like the dark things of life, the obstacles, ever seem to be crowding in, invading your thoughts, your moods, your perceptions with their insufferable presence? Almost like when you are walking in a forest and the gentle rays of the warm sun filter through the canopy of interlaced branches above, casting their light on the moss, illuminating it in an almost magical green hue. And then a cloud passes above and all around seems to be shrouded in a gloomy darkness, the light no longer easy to feel or find or sense. At that moment one can't help but feel utterly alone. Sometimes life can be like that. Sometimes solutions are hard to find and it seems like we stumble upon and find less answers but more roots and rocks. And when we fall, more wounds.

I have to confess, I fell this morning. I let the hardships of life steal my peace and in doing so I stumbled and fell. What I forgot to do was reach out to God in fervent prayer as soon as I felt the ground on which I stood on was shifting. When we are groundless, that's when we lose our center of gravity within our souls and our castle that we built on rock starts to turn into sand once again.

Perhaps there is a reason for us finding ourselves groundless once in awhile. Perhaps that reason might be to show us how much we need God. To show us that we are weak and he is strong. To teach us to trust in Him more and to instill in us a more natural attitude of turning to Him as soon as we know our peace is beginning to dissipate, our patience crumbling, our hope faltering.

For those that might feel a little disheartened, a little trampled this morning, let's pray. Let's pray that we get back on that rock which is God's truth, which we can stand on with confidence. Let's praise our God for the blessings which He's given. For the God of mercy that He is. In doing so, let's let the light within us illuminate our souls so much that darkness has no other choice but to flee. Let's let God heal our wounds with the power of His Spirit and let's let His eternal waters wash us clean, reviving us once again. Let's reclaim our inheritance and claim God as our only and sufficient refuge.

As I write this I don't have total peace, but even though things aren't always smooth and joyous in my life, and I'm sure in other's as well, I know God will prevail. I know if I put my hope and faith in Him, He will see me through, as the psalm above assures us.

Lord Jesus,
Son of God,
Have mercy on me a sinner.

(The Jesus Prayer)

~abundant blessings in Christ

Sunday, November 14, 2010

God Welcomes Seekers

Luke 11:9-10

9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[f] a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

God welcomes those who seek the truth about His reality and seek, with all their hearts, to experience Him within, with arms outstretched. For those of us that can't find rest until we rest in the fullness of God's reality, He is there, waiting, waiting for us to knock at the door of His holy gates. For those of us that want more truth than the world has to offer, He is there. And I would suggest to not walk timidly towards the gateway of truth but to run, with all fervor and to knock with fervor, as one with a thirsty and hungry spirit. God will flood us with His Spirit when we do that, with the fullness of His joy and we will be refreshed with His eternal water, receiving inight, truth, joy and peace. We will no longer be hungry or thirsty but filled with spiritual manna and waters that give life to the soul.

I pray that those of us who are weary and  lack that desire to come before God find the desire to pursue Him with vigor, for He is the only thing that really matters in this life when it comes down to it. Perhaps a good thing to pray would be that God would awaken that desire within us to pursue our Creator, to experience the reality of Him within and all around us. I pray that we all knock continually at the His door, continually being revived, continually being refreshed so that in the strength we receive we can be an encouragment to others to do the same. So that they might see the love and light that we receive from God's holy Spirit through us and might be drawn to seek that same assurance, that same peace. God is waiting, on the other side of the door. It's just up to us to seek after Him and knock.

~many blessings in Christ

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Key To Prosperity

Jeremiah 29:11-13

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

God wants us to prosper, to soar, to reach the heights of our dreams and ambitions, if they are parallel with His will for our lives. For when our life bears fruit it gives glory to God. God wants our lives to be living testimonies of the power of the Spirit that works through His children, so naturally He wants the best for us! He didn't make us to be stagnant, he made us to be active agents of His kingdom, spreading love and light and hope to the world.

He also didn't intend for us to have downcast souls, wounded by the world. If we lift the eyes of our hearts to Him, seeking Him with all that is inside of us, He will lift our weary, wounded souls up into heights unimaginable.

Sometimes we all reach our plateaus in life where it seems like we've been stuck in the same place and hope for change and growth seems like a remote possibility because we've been resting in the same reality for so long. In fact, it's easy to get comfortable in such a place. We know what to expect and what is expected of us. It's also an intimidating thing sometimes, rising above our comfort zones and trying new things, growing in new ways. We have to overcome our internal inertia to do so. But God doesn't want us to fear those things, he wants us to embrace them!

The way to get out of the rut we find ourselves in sometimes? The way to overcome our fears and insecurities? As the verses in Jeremiah tell us...pray and seek God with all of our hearts!...The Holy Spirit is, I've found, the best catalyst of change and the best source of hope and nourishment a weary, tired, or stagnant soul needs in being revived. God gives us the strength and encouragement to move forward. And when we move forward, trusting in Him only and seeking Him with all our hearts we start to see great changes in our lives. I'm not talking about money falling from the sky (though that would be nice!)..but perhaps prosperity also refers to the strengthening and growth and fruitfulness of relationships. When it comes to financial prosperity, that does seem a natural byproduct of an active, fruitful life.

The key I've found to grow with God is to have a regular devotional life of prayer and reading Scripture and meditating. If we do these things mindfully, giving to them while we engage in them our full attention, then we get to know our God better so that our prayers our conformed more closely to His Will. In Scripture it says that if you ask then you will receive. I've heard that misinterpreted though in the sense that people read it as if God is magically transformed into some type of divine genie. You rub your Bible a certain way while praying and...poof! You get what you desire. That just isn't so though. The New Testament over and over again tells us that we are to conform ourselves not to this world but to Christ. When we move through the process of sanctification and the truths and reality of God blossom before us like flowers in a garden, providing beauty and light to our souls, we start to want the things God wants. And when we pray for those things, God is overjoyed in providing them to us!

It is my prayer that all who read this find joy and hope and nourishment in our great God today. It might be a good thing too if we all pray for God to reveal the areas of our lives that need change (I know I have some!) and for God's Will for us to be revealed so that we can experience the greatest amount of joy and peace and prosperity God offers those who are seekers and humble and have open hearts hungrily thirsting for His Spirit. May we manifest His will in our lives so that our God may be glorified for all of man to witness, to draw those who haven't experienced Him closer by witnessing His power working through our lives, bearing much fruit.

~Blessings in Christ

Friday, November 12, 2010

Verse of the Day: Abiding in Him

John 15:1-4 (ESV)

1"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

Tree of Life

"Abide in me, and I in you." A beautiful way of revealing the fact that God is always within us, we just have to open our hearts to that reality...what an amazing thing that happens when we do :) Let's abide in God today and bear some fruit!

~ Many Blessings in Christ

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Enter the Gates

"The present moment is a wide-open gate leading to the depths of God."
 James Finley, Christian Meditation, p. 230

There are most likely as many ways to come before God and enter into His presence as there are people. Everyone is so unique, their souls and person stitched together in a unique and differing pattern. I would suggest ,though ,that we are all stitched together with the same thread, for we were all made in the likeness of God.  Those of us that have claimed our inheritance have God within us and if we learn to still our minds we can learn to open up to experience the presence of God and experience a peace that surpasses all understanding.

There is an immense amount of freedom I've found in experiencing the present moment. And I've found that using the tool of mindfulness in worship and prayer and in every moment is a powerful way of experiencing God's presence. I am going to write more on this, but perhaps this is sort of an introduction to this subject on my blog. Oh, and I just want to mention, these are just my own thoughts and reflections on this subject...I'm no way an expert (as this blog's intro states!). This is just an area that fascinates me, that I've experienced personally though am still a novice in fully comprehending and practicing.

I was reflecting the other day that our consciousness is like an onion with different layers. As we peel back the layers less of the onion remains but what does become even more real are the intangible qualities-it's scent and sometimes our physiological responses to it (like involuntary tears!). The more we enter into different levels of consciousness, peeling back the more superficial layers, peeling away our attachments, the ramblings of our mind, the more we start to get to the core of things. I would suggest, God is at our core.

When we let go of ourselves, or who we think are ourselves, and still our mind so that we are an observor to our illusions, to our mind's wanderings, we start to see things more clearly and we start to open our hearts up to God's reality more and more as we become less and less cluttered and hindered by the insufficient things we sometimes cling to for security in our ever-shifting worlds. The fact is, life is impermanent and sometimes it can be downright full of despair and suffering, filled with uncertainty, etc. That is why it is much to our benefit as well as salvation that we cling to the only sure rock there is in which to steady our uneven gait through this life...and that is God. And I believe there is much benefit in centering ourselves and our mind on God and in His presence. It provides us with peace, with direction and with a sense of compassion that we most undoubtedly will extend to others.

On this topic John of the cross wrote:

A soul makes room for God by wiping away all the smudges and smears of attachment. By uniting its will perfectly to God's; for to love is to labor to divest and deprive oneself for God of all that is not God. When this is done the soul will be illumined by and transformed in God.
There are many great writers who speak a lot more eloquently and with more experience than I on this subject. I will be sure to quote passages from them over time on this blog so that maybe we can learn together some of the wisdom and insight God has revealed to them. We all have much to learn from one another, but ultimately God is our infallible source of truth and all His truth is in His Word, so we will explore what His Word has to say about all of this as well.

What are your thoughts? Your experiences, if any on contemplative prayer and Christian meditation?

~many blessings