Prepare Yourself . . . Spiritually

In the early 1520s, a Spaniard of noble descent set off on a spiritual pilgrimage.  While a detour rerouted his pilgrimage, Ignatius experienced the touch of God’s Spirit in his life.  Moved by this experience, Ignatius set out to equip others with spiritual strength through his writing.  In his work “The Spiritual Exercises,” Ignatius outlined and explained several rules, or truths, to spiritual development.  Hear a portion of his work.
[The following are rules] for perceiving and understanding to some degree the different movements that are produced in the soul – the good, that they may be accepted; the bad, that they may be rejected.  . . .

The enemy is accustomed ordinarily to propose apparent pleasure to those persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin.  He thus causes them to imagine sensual delights and pleasure in order to hold them more and more easily and to increase their vices and sins.  The good spirit acts in these persons in a contrary way, awakening the conscience to a sense of remorse through the good judgment of their reason.  (Spiritual Exercises, p. 129)
In our second week of preparing ourselves to know and live in Christ’s power, we focus on Preparing Yourself Spiritually.  We want to “make further progress.”  Ignatius expressed well the battle you face as you seek spiritual growth.  The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, moves in you to mold you into a better reflection of Christ.  However, evil, both from your sinful nature and the attack of Satan, moves as well.  You face a counter attack. 
It is common for the evil spirit to cause anxiety and sadness, and to create obstacles based on false reasoning, through preventing the soul from making further progress.  (Spiritual Exercises, p. 129)
As you commit to preparing yourself spiritually to living in the power of the resurrection, you will need tools and weapons to demolish and defeat these obstacles.  Only one can equip you.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
  Galatians 5:13-18 (NIV)
Notice that Paul does not say, “Here are the steps to stopping your habit of devouring each other.”  No, rather, he directs them to the solution with two words…  “pneumati peripateō” -- in English, “live by the Spirit” or “walk by the Spirit.”  The solution to spiritual growth as reflected in love toward others is living and walking by the Spirit.

Pastor and Professor Raymond Stamm wrote that . . .

“By Paul’s definition a Christian was one who needed no law to make him love his neighbor and refrain from biting . . . But the old competitive drive . . . was always waiting to seize the opportunity to reassert itself.”  (Interpreters, p 555)
It still insists on reasserting itself!

The only answer to that is to walk and live by the Spirit.

Because of Paul’s words on freedom and especially the freedom from the law, some readers conclude that Paul spoke for anarchy.  However, Paul did not ignore the law; rather he replaced the flawed external law with the perfect internal presence of Christ.  The internal presence of Christ brings freedom. 

As a woman or man created by God, you possess freedom.  How do you choose to exercise your freedom?   You can exercise your freedom by doing as you please, or you can exercise your freedom by walking by the Spirit who will form you into the person God wants you to be.
God knows that you are caught in a battle.  Knowing that, He did not leave you alone.

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”  John 14:15-21 (NIV)
If right now I started listing the religions, spiritual pursuits, and causes through which men, women and teenagers seek to find spiritual growth, I could fill several blogs. Yet one simple sentence points to the answer. 
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.”  John 14:16 (NIV)
You and I need the Spirit of truth to reign front and center in our lives.  Our sinful nature wages war against our freedom in Christ.

What do you choose?

Four Choices – Free to Choose (Choose Wisely) –

Choice # 1 Glance

Some choose to give these words a quick glance and get back to life.  They see them as ancient words in an ancient text, which if they still “speak,” speak to others. 

You are free to glance.

Choice #2 Give In

Some choose to give in.  They look at their lives and know their faults and struggles.  With this knowledge, they see the battle to purify their lives and hearts as too difficult a battle to fight.   They give in to their addictions, struggles, depression and sin.  They erroneously see themselves as helpless pawns.

  • They don’t think it possible to control desire, so they give in to sexual pleasure.
  • They don’t think it possible to forgive, so they give in to hatred.
  • They don’t think it possible to win the fight against addiction, so they give in to drugs.  (The Greek word, here translated witchcraft, is pharmakeia, where we get our word, pharmacy.  Drugs!)

You are free to give in.

Choice #3 Gloat

Some choose to gloat.  They read or hear these words and excuse themselves from fault.  You know how that happens.  You read words like “debauchery” and “orgies” and think, “Well, that’s not me.”  But, not so fast.  Are you angry?  Do you cause discord in your family or at work?  Do you envy your neighbor’s financial situation or your friend’s car?  Or, maybe your record is clean on adultery; yet you give into on-line pornography.  Be careful. 

You are free to gloat.

Choice #4 Grasp

Still others choose to grasp.  According to legend, Sir Isaac Newton deciphered the Law of Gravitation while sitting under a tree.  Whether mere legend or historical fact, the lesson remains the same.  A piece of fruit led to a great discovery.  According to Scripture, fruit of a different variety can lead to a great discovery.  The fruit of love, joy, peace and the like, when displayed, leads the person displaying them to the discovery that he/she walks by the Spirit. 

Those who choose to grasp choose to receive the Spirit and the teaching and direction the Spirit brings. 

You are free to grasp. 

For further reading:
Ignatius of Loyola. “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.” Devotional Classics. Ed. Richard J. Foster. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993.
The Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. George Arthur Buttrick. Vol.10. New York: Abingdon, 1953.

Prepare Yourself . . . Emotionally

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven,” says the author of Ecclesiastes. 

What activities fill your time? 

While, indeed, there is a time for everything; we discover that we lack the time for everything.  Whatever your choice of tool – iPhone, Blackberry, or paper calendar – your dates fill up with haste.

This blog post and the next three will look to Scripture to find the tools to prepare ourselves emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and physically for service to God. 

Prepare Yourself Emotionally

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
  1 Peter 5:6-11 (NIV)
As Peter closed out his letter to the believers throughout Asia and Europe, he provided instruction to church leaders; then he broadened his focus by starting his sentence with “pántes de” – “And all of you.”  In other words, “Now everybody pay attention.”  His words to everybody tell us how to prepare ourselves emotionally.

Three Actions for Emotional Readiness:
1.    Humble Yourself –
Do you fear your emotions?  Some people even use the words “very emotional” as a negative descriptor of others.  Emotions should not be feared, nor should they be held in check; true emotions are positive gifts from God that help us navigate through life.  When He created us, He knew we would need to laugh, need to cry, need to recognize fear; He knew we needed to be real.

One of the biggest roadblocks we face in handling our emotions in a healthy manner is our pride.  Pride stops us from laughing when we listen to the lie that we should always maintain seriousness.  Pride hinders our tears when we fear that others will think we are weak.  Pride stops us from asking for help because we don’t want to appear needy. 

Ken Blanchard writes,
“Humility does not mean you think less of yourself.  It means you think of yourself less.”
In order to know the full power of the resurrection, you need to think of yourself less.  Some of you are blocking the full impact of God in your lives because you are too concerned with how it will appear to others.  We talk a lot about “loving your neighbor as yourself,” the second part of the Great Commandment.  We need to follow that.  However, you cannot serve God to the full if you are too in love with your neighbor’s opinion of you. 

Let go of pride and humble yourself under God’s mighty hand.

2.    Cast Your Anxiety –
We all encounter issues that wake us up in the middle of the night or cause our fingernails to lose some length.  We call that anxiety.  As we look to the cross and beyond, take confidence in knowing that the one that conquered death can handle your stress.

Emotions go haywire and get a bad name when we that possess them allow the healthy expression of them to sour and turn into uncontrolled outbursts.  God equipped you with emotions so that you could live your life with stability and honesty.  When we forget their purpose, we find ourselves presenting displays of outbursts to anyone who will listen, even if that “anyone” is oneself listening to a party thrown for pity.

Cast it on Him; He cares.

3.    Be Self-Controlled and Alert –
As His child, God cares for you; as God’s child, the devil considers you prey.  It’s nothing personal; the devil hates anyone who seeks to serve God.  You are doing well when the devil hates you.

In one of his classic works, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis imagines a letter correspondence between a head demon and a demon “in training.”  As a team, they set out to destroy the faith and testimony of a Christian they refer to as a patient.

My Dear Wormwood,

I note with grave displeasure that your patient has become a Christian. Do not indulge the hope that you will escape the usual penalties . . .   There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy's camp and are now with us.  All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favour. 
. . .  Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman.  The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour.  It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek.  It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together.  In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.  The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His "free" lovers and servants - "sons" is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals.  (p 15, 17)

You must be self-controlled and alert when the excitement of the new gives way to the demand of the laborious doing.  Goose-bumps, high-fives and moments of illumination, as good and rich as they are, last for brief moments.  True faith is founded on trust in Jesus as your Lord, not on highlights of spiritual experience.

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.
         Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)
In the Message Eugene Peterson expressed the prophet Samuel’s words this way,
“If you are truly serious about coming back to God, clean house.”  1 Samuel 7:3

As you commit to Preparing Yourself Emotionally, you may need to clean house.  Perhaps you need to dust or perhaps you need to scrub the grout with a toothbrush.  Whether a once-through or a deep cleaning, commit to preparing your emotions.
There is a time for everything!

Run Well

In one of his recent columns, Steve Rushin imagines a life without sports.  His summary?  "Life is a lot drearier." 

I write in the midst of Simone Biles' gymnastic dominance, Michael Phelps' unthinkable number of medals (gold, at that), and Kohei Uchimura's earning of the Olympic men's gymnastics individual all-around gold medal, just as he did four years ago. 

I also compose as men and women refugees compete as representatives of no country.  They are the exiled ones.  Athletes like Yusra Mardini and Popole Misenga swim, run, and display excellence in Judo.  They, while not homeless, compete as men and women who live in foreign lands among foreign peoples, some of whom are glad to welcome them and others turning their backs.  Asked about her Olympic experience thus far, Mardini said . . .

"It was really amazing and an incredible feeling to compete here in the Olympics and I am happy and glad for that . . . I'm really happy to be here and to see all of the champions and other swimmers here."  (Alan Baldwin, Alaska Dispatch News, 07 Aug. 2016)

As I read her words and recalled the image of "homeless" athletes entering a packed stadium with the Olympic flag as their "nation's" symbol, I thought of another team of people in a land not their own.  Followers of Christ.

1 Peter 2:11-12 (NIV)
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Hebrews 13:14 (NIV)
For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

As Christians await arrival in our true home, we know of the joy to come.  As we do so, however, we are to live . . . to live well. 

We, like Mardini, need to appreciate the opportunity to live in an amazing place among people who strive to succeed using their God-given talents. 

I share now some great words from Jesus and His early followers which offer guidance to us as we seek to live well in a land not our own.

Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"

Matthew 5:16 (NIV)
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:43-47 (NIV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?     And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?"

Jude 21 (NIV)
Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

And, in keeping with the Olympics theme . . .

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

1 Corinthians 9:24 (NIV)
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Mingling Allowed

Two Tuesdays ago, in this blog, I mentioned my attraction to books.  Today I received two more books.  One is a biblical commentary on the Old Testament book Zechariah; the other is a work devoted to touting the value of generous giving and is quite shorter.  The former is scholarly; the latter is strategic.  The commentary is thick; the "how to" is thin.  The prophet-explaining text is intense; the money-focused volume can be read while multi-tasking.  Both resources will further my knowledge and ministry. 

You and I live in a world comprised of a mixture of intense and lighthearted; thick and thin; and serious and silly.  We need to embrace all of the above.  We need to allow the stuff of life to mingle. 

If you are too serious, relax!

If you are too silly, give serious a try.

If you like TV, pick up a book.

If you read, go see a movie.

If you love your job, use your vacation.

If you love to play, work hard.

Zechariah and Money Sense 101 (not actual name of book) fit together better than you might think.  They will balance my brain.  They will require balance.  And, just to make sure I don't lean too far toward the "thick," I plan on dedicating some precious time to reading several strips from my Calvin and Hobbes collection.

Now that you've read this blog, turn from your screen and go get some fresh air.

The Beagle and The Bird

Manfried von Richthofen died in April of 1918; yet ninety-eight years later, he lives on.  The German pilot of WWI, better known by his moniker "The Red Barron," lives on in the pages of my favorite section of our local newspaper.  He shoots more holes than I can count in Snoopy's Sopwith Camel biplane.  Good Ol' Charlie Brown's beagle dreams of shooting Richthofen's red plane to pieces; yet he can never quite accomplish the feat.  Since Schultz is no longer with us, the world's most famous beagle's dream will remain unfulfilled.

Last week, during a trip to western Alaska's seaside village of Scammon Bay, I was privileged to hear a village resident tell a traditional Yupik tale of a persistent raven.  The story consists mainly of one beach, one raven, and five large rocks.  As the raven walks along the Bering Sea on a quest, the rocks (one after another) roll, each colliding with said raven.  The first four boulders break the majestic bird's feet and wings.  As the determined feathered traveler pulls himself along the beach with his beak, the fifth and final stone rolls off his head and ends his life.  The moral?  Don't ever give up. 

One cartoon and one traditional story.  One beagle and one bird.  Anglo and Yupik cultures.  One message.  Don't ever give up on your quest. 

You may feel all shot up or one stone away from defeat; don't give up.  You face an opposition with a name, like Snoopy's Red Baron, or a struggle with no name other than heavy, round, and rolling toward you.  In order to live the ordinary life, in order to use "your everyday, ordinary life" to the glory of God, the good of those around you, and the pursuit of the goal of a life well-lived, you must persist. 

Jump on your doghouse and fly.

Walk boldly on your beach, face set like flint.

Give your best.

And, whatever you do . . .

Don't give up!