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Category: Religion vs. Spirituality

Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River

The greatest of all power is the conscious abdication and relinquishment of it.  The outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross signify that if we are to be like him (Matthew 4:19; 5:48) we must surrender that almost insatiable human appetite to pull things in to ourselves, to hold on to them and to control.  Finding strength and power in helplessness, vulnerability and letting go seems contrary to our nature.  But Jesus demonstrated that accepting our loss of control and power is the gaining of it.  Jesus modeled this as he submitted to church and Roman authority.  Knowing that irony and paradox ignite the human soul like bellows to a flame, Jesus stirred within us a passion for justice by suffering injustice and sparked a spiritual blaze that burns in the hearts of billions to this day.

We too must learn to stretch out our arms and let go.

If we are to be powerful, we too must learn to stretch out our arms and let go.  If we are to be transformed, we must learn to let go.  If we are to be happy, we must let go.  (Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; 2 Corinthians 12:10.)

Jesus promised us peace.  (John 14:27.)  That peace is like a fountain of living water—a river—flowing within and through us.  (John 7:38; John 4:14.)  We must get out of its way and let it flow through us if we are to ever find peace and happiness.

You are out of control if you need to be in control.

We were created to be a part of the divine flow, conduits for the presence of God.  (Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 4:6-7; Galatians 1:15-16Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17.)  You, like Jesus, are called to be the revelation of God through the enfleshment of the Word.  (John 1:14.)

Thirst for control dams the beauty of the flow and destroys our peace.

Get out of the way.  You are out of control if you need to be in control.  You are weak if you feel that you must be strong.  Any time you try to cage, capture, contain or control someone or something you are damming and destroying the peace and beauty of the flow.  And then you are damned.

You are dammed and damned if you are preoccupied with trying to receive revelation from God rather than revealing God to others through your goodness.

You are dammed and damned when you clamor for attention instead of attending to others.

You are dammed and damned when you spread your arms and reach to grasp rather than reach to give.

You are dammed and damned when you stretch and strive to pull things and pull others in to you as opposed to projecting and unleashing light, love and encouragement.  (Luke 11:33.)

You are dammed and damned when you clamor for attention instead of attending to others.

You are dammed and damned when you constantly worry about your health instead of healing others.

You are dammed and damned when you constantly think about your own appetites and yearnings instead of yearning to feed others who are hungry … and not just for food.

The creed weary and ritual worn Jesus showed us the way.

You are dammed and damned when you are preoccupied with knowing the right or being right instead of righting what you know to be the wrong within yourself.  (Matthew 7:3-5.)

You are dammed and damned when you care more about how others feel about you than how you feel about others.

You are dammed and damned if you constantly worry about the future or the past instead of doing good in the present.

Not revelation.  Transformation.

You are dammed and damned if you think you can know God through study, prayer and ritual when God says the way to know him is to know your neighbor.  (John 5:37-40; Matthew 25:31-40.)

You are dammed and damned if you are always looking for God in some holy place when he has said, “I’m always there in another’s face.”  (Matthew 25:31-40.)

You are dammed and damned if you think some method, magic or incantation will bring you to God when God has said your neighbor is his incarnation.

Pray we must.

But for what?

Not revelation.  Transformation.

We don’t need much guidance (a guise for control … a wish to make God the genie in our lamp).  This or that?  It matters not.

Not revelation.  Transformation.

What matters is courage, kindness, integrity, compassion.

To see God in another’s face.

“I’m always there in another’s face.”  (Matthew 25:31-40.)

Atonement.

Reconciliation.

To see that in another … God in his place!

The creed weary and ritual worn Jesus showed us the way.

To have the courage and the power to let go, get out of the way, and thus live it … for this I pray.

Do You Know How To Love?

Do You Know How To Love?

Do you really know how to love?  For Jesus, loving others is what it’s all about.  But do we, as a people, really know how to love?  Or are those who profess to be the modern-day followers of Jesus more like the Pharisees, who outwardly drew near to God but had hearts that were far, far away from him?  Are we merely whiting our social media sepulchers when we present an image to the world designed to manipulate how others perceive us?  In our effort to be perceived as good are we really being bad?  In our effort to project and convey righteousness are we really just putting on a bad disguise?

Are we really just putting on a bad disguise?

Nothing frustrated Jesus more than people who did the “right” things for the wrong reasons. Jesus abhorred pretense (Matthew 23:14) and hypocrisy (Matthew 6:2, 6, 16; 23:13-15).  While piousness and adherence to religious rules was something Jesus did not want to be left “undone,” he placed religious behavior on a hierarchy where there were some matters that were “weightier” than others.  (Matthew 23:23.)  Of course, the weightiest of all matters was to feel and then show love to others.

The path to true discipleship … requires that you care only about what you think of others and not what others think of you.

He said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you ….”  (John 13:34.)  Of course, Jesus loves not just in deed.  His very essence is filled with compassion and love for us.  So, to love as Jesus loved requires the right actions and the right motives.  Doing good when you “have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42) is ultimately unacceptable.  To love others as you were loved by Jesus Christ requires more.

Paul explains it this way:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”

(1 Corinthians 13:1-3.)

Jesus evaluated men from the inside out, not from the outside in.

The state of your heart is so important to the Lord that you could give all you have to the poor or die as a martyr, but if you “have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42), it “profiteth you nothing.”  (1 Corinthians 13:3.)  Nothing.  Those are strong words.  The bar is set.  It’s quite high.  Your motives for doing what you do—even if those things are “charitable” and good—matter to the Lord.

Jesus evaluated men from the inside out, not from the outside in.  (See Matthew 15:17-20.)  To him, this was the order of priorities: “cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.”  (Matthew 23:26.)  He wants your heart first.  Then, Jesus taught, “[a] good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.”  (Matthew 12:35.)  Hence, discipleship works from the inside out, forcing you to examine your motives; to examine the state of your heart.

Just as the physical human heart has four chambers, the spiritual heart has four main dimensions.

Because this aspect of Christianity is so vital to discipleship I developed a tool that helps me evaluate the state of my heart.  This tool can be used in every single human interaction.  The more you use it, the more your focus will change.  Hopefully, it can help you find the path to true discipleship, which requires that you care only about what you think of others and not what others think of you.

Just as the physical human heart has four chambers, the spiritual heart has four main dimensions, which are depicted in the following graphic:

Chambers of the HeartTo give you an example of how the four chambers works, think, for a moment, to the last time you were at a gathering of family or friends.  Most likely there were people there that you love.  And, most likely, there were people there that you struggle with and that you find hard to love.  For those for whom you have deep and genuine feelings of love, expressing that love probably flowed naturally for you.  It was easy to give compliments and hugs.  It was easy for you to listen to them.  Your behavior and your feelings were congruent with the highest in you and would put you in Chamber Four, where you feel love and show love.  This is the ideal.

Every human interaction is an opportunity to express the highest within you.

There may have been those that you genuinely love and care for but, for some reason, you found it difficult to express your love.  You didn’t know what to say to express your true feelings.  You didn’t know what you could do to express your love in a way that would be understood (or not misunderstood).  Or, for some reason (perhaps unknown to you), you just held back.  You didn’t express your love.  Maybe you were too tired.  Maybe you just didn’t have it in you.  This is Chamber Three, where you genuinely feel love but don’t show it.  In Chamber Three, your capacity to feel love exceeds your ability to express it.

We have to practice being disciples of Jesus Christ each and every day.

At this gathering there were undoubtedly those that you found difficult to have feelings of love for.  Seeing these people may have triggered anger, frustration, or dislike.  Whatever it was that you felt, it was not love.  As you felt these things, you had two choices.  You could either show love or not show love.  If you chose to show love, this was a Chamber Two behavior.  You did not genuinely feel love for this person but you acted as if you did.  If you chose not to show love, this was a Chamber One behavior where you neither felt nor showed love.  In Chamber One you probably avoided this person or perhaps you may have confronted or slighted this person in some way.  Whatever you did, you didn’t feel love or show love.

Is our love authentic or are we merely acting?

Most of us toggle through each of the Four Chambers throughout various social interactions.  However, over time, patterns emerge and through honest self-evaluation and introspection you will notice within yourself the chamber within which most of your behavior patterns occur.  There are, for example, people who are almost always in Chamber Two.  People who care more about how others feel about them than how they feel towards others are classic Chamber Two people.  They act nice and kind but do it for all the wrong reasons, such as wanting to be accepted, wanting to be valued, or wanting to be esteemed.  Like actors, they are constantly playing to an audience and have an insatiable longing and yearning for the approval of the crowd.  They value themselves when they are valued by others, failing to realize that valuing others is what actually helps us discover our true identity and our true worth.

I’m convinced that practicing Christianity is just that–practice.  We have to practice being disciples of Jesus Christ each and every day, which means not just doing the right things but also doing them for the right reason.  Chamber Two behavior doesn’t cut it.  We must evolve into Third and Fourth Chamber beings, who are filled with love and have the ability to express it.  The Four Chambers is a practice tool that will help free you from the prison-like atmosphere of the First and Second Chambers.

Hell has already arrived for them and they may not even know it.

Why do I say these lower chambers are prison-like?  Because for those stuck in Chamber Two behavior patterns, where they care more about being seen in the best possible light rather than seeing others in the best possible light, life is a living hell.  Those stuck in Chamber Two are constantly trying to control how others feel about them, which, of course, is totally out of their control.  And trying to control things that are out of your control is the definition of suffering.  Being manipulative and acting with ulterior motives does not bring happiness.  It’s a prison from which many people don’t ever escape.  Those stuck in Chamber One simply don’t have the love of God in them and, since God is love, they live their lives without God, which is a prison.  Both First and Second Chamber people find it hard to look inward because they are always looking “out there” and trying to control or blame what is “out there” instead of fixing themselves and looking at their own hearts.  In short, they cannot repent.  They are damned.  Hell has already arrived for them and they may not even know it.

Let your light shine.

What chamber are you in?  Do you really know how to love?  Are you honest with yourself?  Do you regularly and routinely work on how you feel about others?  Do you regularly and routinely evaluate your motives?

I would invite you to apply the Four Chambers paradigm for a week.  In every interaction that you have, label what you do and why you do it with one of the Four Chambers.  As you do this, you will start to think from the inside out rather than from the outside in.  You will begin to feel lighter as you shed the burden of worrying what others think about you and focus on how you feel about others.  You will begin to see every human interaction as an opportunity to express the highest within you, which is the light of Christ that is in us all.  And, most of all, as that light of Christ glows within you, you will be filled with his presence and his love, which will bring you happiness, joy and peace.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

The Parable of the Mona Lisa

The Parable of the Mona Lisa

“Deification of the established order is the perpetual revolt, the continual mutiny against God.”

-Soren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity (1848)

There once was a man who wanted to behold the Mona Lisa.  He sold all he had and traveled to the Louvre in Paris, France.  He paid his entrance fee.  That was expected.  What was unexpected, however, was how lost and confused he soon felt in the revered Museum.  You see, his experience in the Museum was dominated by the tour guides and the Museum itself.   At every turn, it seemed, Museum tour guides and staff, both senior and junior, stepped forward and encumbered his ability to experience the Mona Lisa.

The morning faded into the afternoon and the afternoon into the evening with one tour guide after another talking about the greatness of the Museum—it is, after all, the only place on earth that houses the “true” Mona Lisa.  But the tour guides spent more time talking about the Museum and its history and policies than the Mona Lisa.  In fact, he didn’t even see the Mona Lisa.

Dissertations about Museum hierarchy were given.  The tour guides spoke often about the head tour guide and how he is the only one with keys to the entire Museum.  Others boasted about their past interactions with other, more senior tour guides.  Others spoke about the rules of the Museum and how to get back into it if you’ve happened to get out of it.  Many spoke about the dangers of not listening to the tour guides, which is the surest way to become lost and find yourself outside the Museum.  There was mention of the Mona Lisa here and there but it certainly wasn’t the focus of the tour.

The man became more and more confused and disoriented.  He really felt out of place as he heard others around him comment, “this is the best tour I’ve been on for a long time” or “these tour guides are amazing!”  He asked others on the tour why they felt this way because—while the tour guides were obviously extremely knowledgeable about the Museum, its history, its policies, its goals, its objectives, etc. and were clearly in charge of the Museum (he didn’t question that)—he, unlike the others, was somewhat disappointed and frustrated with the tour.  He wanted to better understand the Mona Lisa, not Museum policy.  He came to behold the Mona Lisa, not the Museum or its tour guides.

Just then a female tour guide with a small group of children passed.  They were singing, “Follow the tour guide, follow the tour guide …”  He went back to his apartment that evening downtrodden.  It all seemed so strange to him.  Everyone seemed so fixated on the Museum, Museum history, Museum policy, Museum rules, the Museum code of conduct, the Museum dress code, etc.  All of this seemed so out of place to him and made him question the very purpose for going to the Museum in the first place.  Were all these things greater than the Mona Lisa?  Was there something wrong with him?

He heard more than one tour guide talk, with glowing adoration, about the chief tour guide and how important it was to understand that he had all the keys to the Museum and that everyone that volunteered in the Museum received their keys from him.  They talked about the succession of Museum keys and how they had been passed down from one chief tour guide to the next for generations.  Yes.  Sure.  But what did that have to do with his experiencing the Mona Lisa?  What seemed to him as things that ought to be only periphery or tangential to the Museum experience seemed to be at its very core.  It was almost surreal to him.

The area of the Museum that housed the Mona Lisa, he remembers being told, is locked off to everyone and only the head tour guide has the keys to it.  Apparently, he lends his keys (or duplicates) to other tour guides that he trusts in order to give people access to the Mona Lisa.  The man could accept this fact.  Indeed, it made perfect sense to him that not everyone could be trusted with keys to the portion of the Museum that housed the Mona Lisa.  He could accept their authority, but he wondered why they were always brandishing it before those who came to see the Mona Lisa.  He could accept the internal Museum policy but wondered what difference that made to his beholding of the Mona Lisa.

The man woke the next morning and went back to the Museum.  He was greeted by a happy-looking tour guide with a German accent, who riveted his attention on the Mona Lisa.  His words were edifying.  The man learned something new about the Mona Lisa.  But then the happy German tour guide went away and another took his place, and then another, and then another.  There were general Museum authorities and subordinate Museum authorities, each of whom looked the same, dressed the same, spoke the same and shared the same basic message about the Museum.

Some of these tour guides mentioned the Mona Lisa but, for the most part, it was back to a discussion about the Museum, Museum policy, what was expected of those in the Museum, how the Museum visitors should dress, act and conduct themselves; how the head tour guide had keys to the entire Museum, how this was the best Museum, etc.  By now, the man was growing very weary of the Museum, and he went home exhausted and confused.  He felt that he still had not truly experienced the Mona Lisa.

He got a glimpse of the Mona Lisa here and there.  But all the distractions he had to endure in the Museum and from the Museum staff soured his experience, were extremely distracting, and wearied and troubled him deeply.  The man knew he loved the Mona Lisa.  He knew that the Mona Lisa was housed in the Museum.  He knew that the head tour guide had all the keys to the Museum.  And he knew that he wanted to behold the Mona Lisa and couldn’t do so if the head tour guide and the general tour guides denied the man access to the Museum.  Had they, too, gone to the Louvre to behold the Mona Lisa only to become infatuated with the Museum?  Did he have to constantly endure all the trivial and peripheral distractions that went along with beholding the Mona Lisa?  Was there some way the man could make the tour better without offending the tour guides and getting kicked out of the Museum?  How had the Museum come to this, and did it always have to be this way?

Can You Remember Him If You Forget About Me?

Can You Remember Him If You Forget About Me?

2016-27-9-16-50-23At 6’3” “Bob” weighed only 128 lbs.  He was very weak from starvation caused by a chronic illness.  He was slowly dying.  With tears in his eyes, he recently told me the story of how people in his faith community would drive by and wave to him as he struggled to mow his front lawn.  He would walk very slowly down one row, mustering every ounce of strength he had to push the mower, and then, at the end of the row, he would stop and rest for a few minutes, then start the lawn mower back up and tackle one more row.  No one stopped to help.  Bob eventually had a partial recovery and is doing much better physically—at least he is no longer dying.  But the emotional scars left by his faith community are still very evident.

Hearing Bob’s story caused me to reflect deeply upon the words of covenant I hear each week as I attend church.  Evangelical churches typically recite these words when taking communion—or the Lord’s Supper: “Do this in remembrance of me.”  The Eucharists or communions of other Christian faiths typically have similar calls to action, which are based upon the admonition of Jesus, at the Lord’s Supper, to “do this in remembrance of me.”  (See Luke 22:17-20.)  My own faith tradition invokes a covenant to “always remember Him” each week as we take the sacrament.

But what does it mean to “always remember him?”

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For many, the call to action to “always remember Him” manifests itself in more rigid adherence to dogma, more faithful observance, more faithful attendance, more scripture reading, more praying, more thinking about Jesus during the week, all of which aren’t bad things.  For others, it results in visualizing the suffering of Jesus and trying to think more about all that Jesus has done for them.  But are you missing the point?  And can you remember Jesus if you forget about me?

Can you remember Jesus if you see a sad look on my face and don’t take the time to sit down with me, listen to me and find out why I’m sad or struggling?  Can you remember Jesus if you see me discouraged and don’t do what you can to offer encouragement and hope?  Can you remember Jesus if I’m sick and you don’t come visit me?

Can you remember Jesus if you forget to call your mother, your mother-in-law, your brother, your sister?  Can you remember Jesus if you forget to visit the sick and the shut-in?  Can you remember Jesus if you forget to hug, to encourage, to cheer up the sad?  Can you remember Jesus if you forget the dance recital or the soccer game?

Jesus saw no distinction between himself and all of those people.  He taught, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”  (Matthew 25:45.)  So, to Jesus, remembering others is remembering him.  Forgetting others is forgetting him.

He also saw no distinction between himself and you.  Have you ever thought about why Jesus instructed the disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood?  (See John 6:53-66.)  Could one of the reasons be that he was trying to use the strongest metaphor possible to convey the message that you need to be Christ to others.  You need to be their Savior.  He needs to be in you and act through you.  He wants you to incorporate who he is in the very fiber of your nerves, in the very tissues of your skin, in every sinew, in the very marrow of your bones.

He wants you to be worthy of the name “Christian” in every sense of the word.  He wants you to be Christian, not just in thought, but also in deed.

So next time you take communion, the sacrament or whatever your faith tradition calls it, remember that to remember others is the way, the truth and the life that Jesus is calling you to live.

Don’t ever let the Bobs of this world mow the lawns of life alone.