Jan 28, 2012

What it Really Means to Listen: Spiritual or Holy Listening

"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry . . . ." James 1:19

Spiritual listenting is a contemplative undertaking and not a problem solving task. It is essentially prayer....Spiritual listening as a contemplative discipline pushes us...to a level of listening beyond our own powers of analysis to the grace and the gift of divine life itself....To listen this way is to listen with the heart and mind and open wide. It invites us to be changed along with those to whom we listen.

Wendy Wright, "Desert Listening" Weavings 9:3 (May-June 1994)

Desert ascetics cultivated a heart engaged in intense listening. Listening for the Beloved's voice cultivated a wise and compassionate heart, able to yield to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Listening to the ebbs and flows of the Spirit was fundamental to a life of discernment. A still, focused attention was needed for fruitful discernment. True discernment does not presuppose how the Spirit will move, nor what God will say. In this life of cultivated listening, ascetics were open to the unexpected. They were willing to risk being surprised.

Desert ascetics were deeply aware that their cultural  backgrounds, educations, and life experiences framed and influenced listening...Ammas steeped their minds in scripture and other sacred writings in order to cultivate minds and hearts able to listen for God's voice. Growth in self-awareness clarified the lens that filtered and colored their listening. The clearness of the prism was the goal.

~ From Lauren Swan's book: The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women

Jan 27, 2012

Encouragement to Trust God! One of My Favorite Stories About George Mueller

George Mueller of Bristol is one of my favorite saints. He lived in the 1800's and was full of faith in God. His desire was to provide for the orphans around him. But how would he do it since the need was great and he didn't have money? He'd do it through prayer, not asking anyone for a penny in order to show that God provides and is completely trustworthy. He'd depend on God to nudge people. So through prayer, without ever asking for help or a handout, he provided food, shelter, and education for 10,000 orphans. God is powerful and good and works through his children. God hears our intercessions. May we be like George Mueller and seek God on behalf of those that have spiritual and physical needs so that he might provide and give us his power and wisdom to bring in as much of Christ's kingdom as we can. It is his doing not ours; we are simply vessels, like George Mueller.

Below I am going to include a little story about him from Streams in the Desert (August 17 for those who have this devotional classic) by L.B. Cowman and edited by James Reiman. I am encouraged every time I read it. I hope you are too!

I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me (Acts 27:25).

A number of years ago I went to America with a steamship captain who was a very devoted Christian. When we were off the coast of Newfoundland, he said to me, "The last time I sailed here, which was five weeks ago, something happened that revolutionized my Christian life. I had been on the bridge for twenty-four straight hours when George Mueller of Bristol, England, who was a passenger on board, came to me and said, 'Captian, I need to tell you that I must be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon.' 'That is impossible' I replied. 'Very well,' Mueller responded, 'if your ship cannot take me, God will find some other way, for I have never missed an engagement in fifty-seven years. Let's go down to the chartroom to pray.' "I looked at this man of God and thought to myself, 'What lunatic asylum did he escape from?' I had never encountered someone like this. 'Mr. Mueller,' I said, 'do you realize how dense the fog is?" 'No,' he replied. 'My eye is not on the dense fog but on the living God, who controls every circumstance in my life.'

"He then knelt down and prayed one of the most simple prayers I've ever heard. When he had finished, I started to pray, but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray. He said, 'First, you do not believe God will answer, and second, I BELIEVE HE HAS. Consequently, there is no need whatsoever for you to pray about it.'

"As I looked at him, he said, 'Captain, I have known my Lord fifty-seven years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to get an audience with the King. Get up, Captain, and open the door, and you will see that the fog is gone.' I got up, and indeed the fog was gone. And on Saturday afternoon George Mueller was in Quebec for his meeting."

Thank you O LORD for a strong reminder of your goodness and power. You are at work. Amen.

Jan 25, 2012

Life in the Kingdom of God

This is a wonderful interview with Dallas Willard where he explains the implications of our theology. He talks about the theology of the Kingdom and the theology of Atonement. We live out our theology and our theology also frames how we share the gospel.

It is definitely a worthwhile read and will help you in  understanding gaps in the theology and practice of American Christianity.

Jan 23, 2012

Waiting for Fire to Descend

"Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend." Psalm 5:3

Here is a brilliant physicist turned Anglican priest/theologian/philosopher/Benedictine from Wales now living in the US (President of Renovare) who teaches us about reading the Bible. I've met Chris and have been taught by him. I also had an extended conversation with him. He is dripping with humor and wisdom ... a young desert father. I highly recommend his book, Fire of the Word and him as a speaker.

If you're looking for a refreshing and wise and humorous soul for tutelage in the ways of God...here is one. His life and ministry are refreshing because so many American preachers/teachers are full of egoism and striving for numbers. He is not one.

Jan 20, 2012

Fighting Calculated Apathy (Acedia)

"The fathers of the early church who went out into the desert are popularly thought to have been fleeing the evils of civilization. But this is a simplification. They thought of themselves more properly as going out to fight evil. The demons, as well as the angels, were believed to live in the wilderness and there could be confronted and bested in all their horrible destructiveness.

The besetting sin of the desert fathers was acedia or accidie, tellingly described as 'the devil of the noonday sun.' Acedia is spiritual boredom, an indifference to matters of religion, or simple laziness. Symeon the New Theologian wrote to his monks, 'Do not forget your special tasks and your handicraft to walk about aimlessly and in dissipation and so expose yourselves to the demon of accidie.' His remark is almost a commentary on the axiom, 'Idle hands are the devil's workshop.'

The ancient sin of acedia lies at the root of the pastor's or priest's refusal to heed the calling to be the instrument of spiritual growth. In 1977, Carlyle Marney, a distinguished Baptist 'pastor to pastors,' spoke at the seminary where I serve. I remember him asking our students if they thought after ten years they would still love the Lord Jesus or if instead would have become 'hand tamed by the gentry." Of course, he would have been exceedingly suprised if any had confessed that probably the latter would be the case, but the fact is that many ordained persons quickly lose a sense of excitement of the spiritual quest. They succumb to acedia in those forms that are to a degree peculiar to our times, and yet share much with previous centuries of the clergy.

Many of us when we think of the sins of the clergy recall the 'fallen priest' in literature...he was a boozer, a wencher, and had lost his faith. Yet, such a person is less a sinner than he is a casualty. American religion is obssessed with teh 'warm sins' such as illicit sex and gluttony. Because many of us are Donatists--believing the validity of the sacrament depends upon the moral character of the minister, which was condemned as heresy long ago--we become inordinately concerned when warm sins are committed by the ordained. What we fail to realized is that pastor or priest who succumbs to the sins of passion is fallen in the same manner as a fallen soldier. These are demons that threaten anyone who sets out upon the path through chaos. Some will lose.

The sinse that should concern us far more deeply are those that prevent the ordained from ever exercising their spiritual vocation. These 'cold sins' truly violate the mission of the pastor of a pastor to be a symbol, a symbol-bearer, and hermeneut. They arise not from an excess of passion, but a fear of passion. They are the product of a calculated apathy, sustained only by the embers of a dying soul.

Acedia is the root sin of the clergy as spiritual guides. Like a cancer it eats away at our abandonment to the love for God and his creation. It takes a number of forms, which have much in common with those of other centuries but also have their own peculiar twists in our times."

Urban T. Holmes III in Spirituality For Ministry as excerpted in:

A Guide To Prayer For Ministers And Other Servants (Upper Room Books)

Jan 17, 2012

What should I do to please God?

Today is the Feast of St. Anthony, Father of monasticism, and here is his advice:

"Somebody asked Anthony, 'What shall I do in order to please God?' He replied, 'Do what I tell you, which is this: wherever you go, keep God in mind; whatever you do, follow the example of Holy Scripture; wherever you are, stay there and do not move away in a hurry. If you keep to these guide-lines, you will be saved.'" 

Jan 9, 2012

Away on Retreat

I will be away at a Renovare Retreat this week. I look forward to meeting together again when I get back. Hopefully, I'll have some nourishing words to share, words that I received from others.

In the meantime, feel free to scroll down on the right-hand side and see if there is anything here for you.


Jan 6, 2012

Is There A Way To Measure Humility?

"So outside of the laboratory, you might observe their behavior for yourself; humble people are relatively down-to-earth, intellectually open-minded, less focused on themselves, and have a relatively accurate view of their own abilities. Then, given recent research on humility, you might look at some of their outcomes to verify your hunch. Humble people have been found to be more helpful, more successful in the workplace, and more forgiving and thankful."

I snagged his excerpt from this study:

Jan 5, 2012

C.S. Lewis on Success (The Difference Between Good and Bad Ambition)

One of the pervasive problems of American culture is the relentless pursuit of success, which is

spawned by selfish ambition. Interestingly, one seldom hears anything about ambition in the
church today. Indeed, it is regarded as an American virtue, along with motherhood and apple
pie. However, the Bible addresses it differently. In Philippians 1:17 and James 3:14,16, such
ambition is described by the same Greek word that Aristotle employed to describe one who
sought political office by unfair means.Of course, not all ambition is bad. C. S. Lewis helps us distinguish good ambition from bad:

Ambition! We must be careful what we mean by it. If it means the desire to get ahead
of other people – which is what I think it does mean – then it is bad. If it means
simply wanting to do a thing well, then it is good. It isn’t wrong for an actor to want
to act his part as well as it can possibly be acted, but the wish to have his name in
bigger type than the other actors is a bad one.

Jan 3, 2012

The Gift of Weakness: Christ's Power Resting on Us

2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Sometimes I feel sorry for myself. During those times I recite my liabilities, weaknesses, sins, and station in life to God.

For example:

1. I am a woman. And I love being a woman. I love my husband and daughter and all the goodness that comes from those who surround me. But because I am a woman, people are less inclined to value what I say or write about you (God). People have said, "I am not going to listen to what a woman has to say about God." When a woman speaks the word of God she has less credibility for some reason. It is well-known that people don't read women authors nearly as much nor do they pick up their books nearly as much--especially when like me they are speaking of spiritual formation--of being disciples of Jesus. It's mostly women who read women or listen to women. But women, they pick up both men and women authors and listen to women (although not women pastors so much). So I tell God sometimes, "I am a woman but you gave me the spiritual gifts of men." Well, that's not what I really believe but people in Christian culture label my gifts as male gifts. Maybe I wouldn't have so many problems if I were one of Philip the Evangelist's four daughters. But you oh Lord have given me evangelist/preacher/writer gifts in this century and Philip is not my father.

2. I grew up poor and am poor compared to those in my environment (but I am rich compared to many in the world and U.S.). I am not sure that they know it though. I didn't/don't have the advantages they do. My desire to learn, love of words, education, and surroundings have made me adept at the middle class register.

3. I could write more about severe mental illness and poverty in my family...but I don't think that would be fair to them at this time.

Now I am already tired of reciting my weaknesses or handicaps or social status because of my situation in life. It sounds like I am whining. But  I only share this to show what I every now and then recount to the Lord.

But then he gently reminds me that indeed, he made no mistake with my station in life nor my gender. He reminds me that even before the world began he had good works for me to do, works that would make him glad and bring him honor (Ephesians 2:10).  He reminds me of how over and over he has been faithful to me. And the other night when I was reciting #1 and some others to him, he reminded me that his strength is made perfect in weakness.

So now I am reveling in II Corinthians 12:9. I am very interested in seeing how he reveals his strength through what many in the world deem to be social handicaps or liabilities. I think I have an inkling into some of it. I often feel super needy of him and of his grace because I don't have all those material and status and familial securities to cling to. Would I love him so if I were in a different station in life? Would I love him less if he didn't parent me? I hope that I would. But maybe I wouldn't.

My intent for this post wasn't to whine. It was really just to share why I am currently reveling in II Corithians 12:9. I want to contemplate it, digest it, and see what nourishment comes from it. Maybe Christ's power will rest on me if I truly see them as gifts instead of curses.

But the thing about Christ's power is that he doesn't always allow us to have full glimpses of  the power  that is resting on us and flowing through us. Otherwise we might become arrogant or even proud like Satan. There is no grace in pride.

Are you weak too? Maybe for different reasons? God promises to give grace to the humble and to never turn away those who call him. Maybe together we'll discover just how present and powerful and good God is as we meditate on his word and allow him to be our strength.

I liked the Message Version of this passage too.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (The Message):

Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn't get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it's all you need.

My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

Jan 2, 2012

Cynical & Hostile Toward The Church?

You love Christ but find yourself cynical and even hostile towards the church. What are the problems and possible solutions in your opinion?

I am honestly interested in your thoughts. Leave them in the comment section.
Blessings to you,

Seeking Paradise Favorites of 2011

"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." Hebrews 2:14-15

We're all driven by a desire to make something of ourselves, to find meaning and purpose, to know and be known by another person--to be loved and accepted for who we are. We seek the paradise that was lost, to return to ourselves and to our maker, to the way things were in the beginning. Whether we know it or not, we are seeking to become the people that God created us to be. We are seeking paradise, salvation and escape from death even though we might not be able to articulate what exactly we are doing or searching for.

We do things to attain this feeling of rightness, a feeling of all being okay. It is the feeling of biblical shalom that we seek--a feeling and knowledge that everything is and will be as it should be. But in our twisted states, in our desperate desire for shalom, in our desire for love, joy, and peace, we start to try to manufacture it ourselves.

Some of us do this through being control freaks--in our pain we are slavishly seeking to control ourselves and everyone around us. But in the end, we only make ourselves and everyone around us miserable. Perfectionism--it manifests itself in many ways--even through eating disorders.

Other pains. Maybe we are suffering from depression. So, we sleep our lives away in order to attain some peace. For others of us, our pain drives us to anesthetize ourselves (maybe a different way of dealing with depression). We might anesthetize ourselves through workaholism or illegitimate sex (trying to find solace in a person or virtual person) or by stuffing most minutes of our lives with frenetic activity. Others of us stuff ourselves with alchohol or drugs or food. We try a buffet of gods.

And of course there is the allure of success. We think that climbing the corporate ladder or having our fame and money will satisy the gnawing feeling in our souls that we just can't put our finger on.

Some of us think that marriage is the solution to quelling the ache in our souls.

You see, we (even some Christians) are held in slavery by our fear of death. We fear physical death to be sure, but also a death of who we dream ourselves to be. We fear the death of our dreams. In order to prevent these deaths--because of our fear of death and desire for paradise-- we chase after everything but God, the life-giver and sustainer.

Remember, God gives us life. He always leaves life in his wake. Jesus has come to free us from death--including physical and spiritual death and the death of us (the children of God he created us to be). Death encompasses so much. But Jesus has overcome death. He gives us life (which includes shalom and the fruits of the Spirit) abundantly. He restores life. He restores us to the people he has made us to be. Do we believe this?

In our decisions we are either moving forward in life or in death. That's why God tells us to choose life. We don't have to let the fear of some sort of death lead us into death-dealing and death-making decisions. We don't have to be held captive in slavery by our fear of death. Jesus has set us free. Now, we need to learn to walk in freedom and we need to learn and experience what it means to be free. Sure, because of the Fall, shalom and all the good and all the life God has for us will not be experienced in this life. But my goodness, a lot of it can be.

We need to learn the ways of the Lord, to take Jesus' yoke (his teaching) upon us and learn from him. We learn from him through faithful followers of Jesus whether living or dead, through spiritual disciplines, creation, etc. But we have to intend it. We have to want to move toward and into life. And God will give us life. Sometimes though, in his grace, he rescues us even when we're not looking for him.

My dear one, do you seek paradise, the paradise that was lost? God is restoring it to you and all of creation. I do pray that in some way this blog is life-giving. Turn to him and also ask for help from believers. We're in this together.

Hebrews 2:14-15 along with the Coldplay song, "Paradise" combined in me to bring these thoughts to you today.

The blessing of the Lord Jesus upon you this moment.