Sunday, December 30, 2012

Eyesight to the Blind

Jesus often talks about sight and blindness. He states that if you think you can see, you are blind. I believe this to mean that if you look at things with a bias to serve your own personal beliefs, prejudices or needs, then you are more likely to miss the Truth. Whereas if you see and consider life while in communion with God, you will see more clearly through the heart of God, and therefore get glimpses of Truth.

It is important to have an open mind and an open heart, if you are to let the wisdom and love of God guide you. Unfortunately, many people today are like Pharisees who invest themselves in manmade belief systems and adapt biblical scripture to justify/fortify their lifestyle or cultural preferences. They shun anything that is contrary to their sensibilities. As a result, they blind themselves to other perspectives, ideas and potential wisdom. And sometimes, they even generate hatred and conflict.

There is much wisdom to be found outside of biblical scripture. In fact, by expanding your spiritual and philosophical studies, you will likely gain greater insight into the Truth found in scripture. For example, if more Christians had a basic understanding of Judaism, they would have a better grasp of the context of Jesus’s teachings, as well as how the Gospel writers tried to incorporate Jesus into their existing religion.

And that’s just the beginning. By letting go of manmade prejudices or rigid thinking we will be ready to learn and grow. By making spiritual and philosophical studies a greater priority in life, we can all expand our understanding and experience revelation and epiphany. Our vision will widen and sharpen. Things we have been unable to see will become clear. And our relationship with God will deepen.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Got a mountain you want moved?

In Mark Chapter 11, Jesus provides a concise explanation of how to apply the act of faith. First He tells us to have faith in God (11:22). Then he says that faith has the power to throw a mountain into the sea, IF you have no doubt in your heart. Finally, He sums it all up by saying that whatever we ask for in prayer, if we believe we have received it, we will receive it.

That's a pretty simple system. Which is good, because I've got a few mountains that need to be moved. Unfortunately, as effective as faith is, applying it to life isn't as easy at it sounds. There's a catch: You can't have any doubt in your heart. Doubt and faith cannot co-exist.

Jesus knows that. He wants faith to be a transformative process for each of us. We have to surrender our need for power and control. We have to trust God. HE is the one in charge of throwing the mountain into the sea. Don't try to figure it out for Him. Just trust.

While we are waiting, we need to do our best to feel as if we already have what we want. This requires us to stop focusing on what's wrong with our life, stop focusing on what we lack. Picture your desire in your mind. Feel good about the fact that you have received it, that your mountain has been moved. Be patient. Be joyous.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Born Again

In my spiritual life I seem to go through phases. Sometimes I focus on my own development, learning more about Jesus or trying to get a better understanding of God's purpose for me. Other times I am putting what I've learned into practice in my daily life. And still other times, I feel like I must accomplish something for God; or I must share whatever revelations I have received.

That's probably normal. Like in Ecclesiastes 3: to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. So is the journey God has charted for each of us. And as a result, we are born again and again in different ways. And for different purposes. That is why I am always listening for God's direction, always watching for forks in the road.

But it isn't easy. I can be determined and self-assured, blazing the trail that makes most sense to me. Without asking for the guidance of God. Who knows how far I have gone off course over the years. I shudder to think about it.

I bet a lot of people go off course, some maybe for decades of their lives, not realizing that they have missed the cues and sign posts from God. But even worse, many of us have missed opportunities to be born again, to become more of the creation that God had in mind. I know I have.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that "the Spirit gives birth to spirit." How wonderful is that?! The Holy Spirit gives birth to spirit within you and me. The God of the universe gives birth to spirit inside my pathetic, human soul. Perhaps that's why Mary gave birth to Jesus in a lowly, dirty stable. God wanted us to understand that His divine Spirit could be born within even the most broken, imperfect humans. If we give it room.

And while we Christians mostly focus on our initial experience of being born again, I think there are many times in life when we can experience spiritual rebirth. New aspects of our souls can blossom – compassion, selflessness, wisdom, love, nurturing, courage. We can enter new phases of our spiritual life. We can take new actions and incorporate new practices into our lives.

There really is much to learn and many ways for our spirit to grow and expand. Just think about the positive change that can occur in your life through continuous rebirth, allowing the Spirit to affect you, enhance you, inspire you. Simply let God determine the season and time for each purpose He has planned for your life.

Ask in prayer. Listen through meditation or whatever quieting practice you prefer. Let go of apprehension and doubt. And remember, rebirth can require a leap of faith, so be prepared.

Jesus said that we won't always know from where Spirit comes or where it will lead us (at least that's my interpretation). It may lead us somewhere in our physical life, or somewhere in our spiritual life. Hopefully both.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Time for a Soil Analysis?

In the Parable of the Sower(Matthew 13:1-23) Jesus identifies four classifications of listeners:
  • someone who hears the Word but does not understand it
  • someone who hears the Word and gets superficial joy from it, but then lets its affect fade
  • someone who hears the Word yet is too focused on worldly pursuits to be affected by it
  • someone who hears the Word, understands it and uses it for good

Let's take these one at a time. The first person does not understand the Word. Why? Well, there are several reasons. Right before Jesus explains the parable, He tells the disciples that He speaks in parables, so that those with dull hearts or those who think they know it all, will not be able to understand what He is talking about.

Jesus doesn't want to be easily understood, and this is true of many great sages as well. They speak in riddles and parables not just to make the lessons more memorable, but to encourage devotees to contemplate the layers of wisdom. Devotees must learn over time; wisdom is a slow-growing plant. So if a person is ignorant and has not taken the time to study and learn, they will not understand. Likewise, if a person is arrogant, and thinks that he/she already knows it all, they will not understand. For an excellent example of the layers of wisdom in a parable, read Tim Keller's book, Prodigal God.

The second person can be found today in churches all across America. We are a nation of consumers. And in many churches, especially popular mega-churches, we have also become consumers of Christianity. We love the music and the feel-good messages. We go to church every Sunday without fail, and we love, love, love Jesus. It's one big fan club. And while there's nothing wrong with feeling good, if our faith formation doesn't go deeper, it will not be able to sustain us in hard times. And it will not give us the energy and inspiration to be salt and light for the world.

The third person is everywhere you look as well. They may go to church on a regular basis and be upstanding citizens. But when they hear the Word, they are not moved by it. That is, they will not allow the Word to alter their path in life. To them, worldly pursuits are far more important than a spiritual journey. They are able to rationalize their success, their wealth and their hedonism, because they believe in God, in Jesus and have “accepted” Him as their Savior. But they are not followers of Jesus. They follow their own paths.

This why Jesus spoke so often about the pursuit of material wealth being inconsistent with following Him. He is pretty clear about this being a “one or the other” choice. But many of us in this modern, materialistic society just can't accept that. It is so difficult to go against the grain of popular culture. Material success is expected of us. Some pastors have even twisted Scripture to promote materialism; this is done in practically every religion in the world, by the way. And while there's nothing wrong with working hard and succeeding, it is not okay to do so if it excludes true spiritual growth.

Finally, the person who understands the Word when he/she hears it, is someone who is prepared to hear it. The soil is rich and fertile. They have taken the time to explore the teachings of Jesus. When they hear the Word, it nourishes them and causes them the grow and bear fruit. This bearing of fruit doesn't just benefit them, it multiplies and benefits others.

So the point Jesus is trying to make here and in a number of other instances in the Gospels, is this:
First, do not be arrogant. Do not think you know it all. Be humble and grateful.
Second, do not be ignorant. Read Scripture. Contemplate it and discuss it. Do not get mired in it, but allow it to provide greater perspective.
Third, do not let your spiritual experiences become nothing more than therapy. Do not worship your place of worship. Do not be a fan. Be a follower.
Fourth, make an honest assessment of your life. How do you spend your money? How do you spend your time? How often do you say, “If only...”? Who are you trying to glorify, yourself or God? Read Tim Keller's book, Counterfeit Gods, to get a clear understanding of this.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus points out a core problem of Mankind: we are not in the proper mental and spiritual state to receive His message. He talks about blindness and deafness and ignorance. And He usually points out this deficiency not in the unwashed masses, but in the Pharisees, who are the “churchy people” of that time. So if you don't think the Parable of the Sower applies to you, it probably does. And you may want to do a comprehensive soil analysis.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Restore, don't remodel.

I used to like to watch that PBS show called This Old House with Bob Vila and Norm Abram. They would take run-down but beautiful old houses and restore them to their original glory. 

Restore, not remodel. There's a big difference. When you remodel, you make the house the way you want it, reshaping and reorganizing it to your specific tastes. When you restore, you return the house to how it was originally designed and created.

Christianity has been remodeled over and over again through the ages. Mankind has built on many additions, most of which don't follow the original “architectural plan.” We try to make Christianity fit our lifestyle, instead of making our lifestyle fit Christianity.

Now is the time to restore Christianity, time to tear off the dogmatic additions and get back to the original vision and intent of the Architect. We must follow a divine plan, not a denominational plan, even that means leaving our current churches. By allowing the Spirit of the Architect to guide us, we will be able to restore our faith and ourselves.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Church people sometimes make me uncomfortable.

From time to time, I provide consulting to Christian organizations. And I've noticed that I am occasionally uncomfortable in the presence of these clients. Not always, but sometimes. They seem to have an air of theological superiority. I just feel like I'm being looked at with judgmental eyes, as if my worthiness is being assessed. Or as if they assume that I'm an outsider and couldn't possibly be at the same religious level. (By the way, I never feel this way with other types of clients, even Fortune 500 clients.)

What makes this even more strange is the fact that I grew up with Christianity as a central part of my life. A family member and role model was in the clergy, I went to church regularly, I went to a Christian school, have been on plenty of retreats, etc. So if I feel like an outsider when I'm in the presence of church people, I can't imagine how a real outsider would feel. And this is a huge problem.

Christians are often Christianity's worst enemy. Or at least, its primary hinderance. Leadership at churches, both clergy and laypeople, often lack humility, kindness and joy. Let's take these one at a time.

Humility. As a person acquires knowledge about a subject, he/she can fall prey to the potential arrogance that can come with it. Many church people naturally exude this self-righteous quality without even knowing they do. But trust me, they do. If you're one of them, please take your smarty pants off at the door.

Kindness. A byproduct of lacking humility is the lack of kindness. That is, some church people are critical, even silently, of people that don't live to their standards. And therefore, they feel justified to not extend kindness to these “substandard” people. Their kindness is reserved only for those who are like them, those who appear to be part of their club of righteous Christians.

Joy. This one may sound odd, but I often sense a total lack of joy in these serious, stuffy, legalistic, dogmatic church people. If they were really filled with the Holy Spirit, they would be overflowing with love, kindness and joy. They would actually smile instead of purse their lips and cross their arms, even when someone says something they don't agree with or appreciate.

I bring all of this up, because I am seriously worried about the future of the Christian church. I hear these church people lament the fact that they have few young adults in their congregations. And they desperately want to attract more to their church. But the vibe they give off is more likely to repel young adults than attract them. They have turned their churches into cloisters. Sure, the doors may be open every Sunday, but the hearts and minds of the church people are not.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

As a Christian, are you an astronomer or an astronaut?

This is a classic question about how people approach life. Are you an observer or an explorer? Do you “experience” the world through television, books and the Internet? Or do you walk out your door and engage with it? Do you spend all of your time at home, work, church, your kids' sporting events, your favorite restaurants, etc. Or do you venture out of your comfort zone, engaging with strangers in unfamiliar places?

I would apply the same types of questions to Christian faith, in two different ways.

First, your inner journey: do you simply follow the weekly worship and study of your church? Or do you go deeper into your own hidden questions? Do you seek a deeper understanding of God's vision for you?

Second, your outer journey: do you spend most of your fellowship time with friends and family, in safe settings? Or do you reach out to strangers? Do you serve in your community, or beyond? Do you take risks with your faith?

I'm not suggesting that you should walk up to strangers and ask if they are saved. That's annoying. But I do think that once in a while, we should all be astronauts and take leaps of faith.

The first step is to simply ask God to send you. Then keep your eyes and heart open. He has plenty of missions that need to be accomplished, both large and small. What He lacks are astronaut volunteers.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Can we live inspired lives?

Patanjali, the ancient yoga sage, described Inspiration like this, “Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.” I feel that this is a great way to describe our relationship with God through the Holy Spirit.

God created each of us with great possibilities. He wants us to be the best we can be. He wants us to expand and flourish, so that we can serve each other, preserve our world and experience joy and contentment. But we can't fully do that by ourselves, with just our own ideas, grit and determination. We need to be inspired, or in-spirit. The good news is, by allowing the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts, we can unleash those dormant forces, faculties and talents that God created within us. And, in turn, discover our true selves.

Unfortunately, modern society hinders our ability to experience inspired lives. Instead of being filled with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we see what society considers success and status and become filled with desires. And we imitate those who have achieved what we desire. We follow their paths, not our own. I have met far too many people who have fulfilled many desires, yet are still unfulfilled. They yearn to be inspired.

To live inspired lives, we must 'throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” (see Hebrews 12:1) Instead of being conformed to this world, we must be transformed by renewing our minds. (see Romans 12:2) This means that in order for our dormant forces, faculties and talents to become alive, we must let go of our world-influenced parameters and perspectives. Because they cloud, distract and distort.

I'm not talking about detaching from the world. Christians are called to engage the world. I'm talking about not living according to the material expectations of the world, detaching from the social construct so that we are not hindered or entangled.

To live inspired lives, we must first empty ourselves, not in order to be empty, but in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to be inspired. Only then will we discover and release the greater person within, God's true creation.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

We see our self-portrait clearly, but our mirror is often fogged.

Ever wonder if a jerk knows he's a jerk? Well, the answer is, probably not. We tend to paint pretty nice self-portraits in our minds. This idealized version is clear to us, because we invented it, built it and spend our lives enhancing and protecting it. Unfortunately, how we see ourselves is typically quite different than how we really are. Or how the world sees us.

What kind of self-portrait have you painted? How does it compare to the true reflection of yourself?

One of the desires of a New Age Christian is to wrestle the paintbrush out of the hands of the ego and give it to our inner spirit. Then through prayer, meditation and other disciplines, we allow the Creator to inspire and guide us to restore our portrait. As we strip away the layers of paint that the ego has piled on, we reveal God's original intention for us. Eventually, both the portrait and mirror have a new luster. And the same image.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Faith and the Law of Attraction

What is the Law of Attraction?
The Law basically states that you attract the things you think most about. If you think, “Life is so abundant. I get everything I need,” then you will attract abundance. Conversely, if you think, “I don't have enough money” you will continue to attract not having enough money.

There is a three-step process to the Law of Attraction. Step 1: Ask. Step 2: Believe. Step 3: Receive. This process is actually borrowed from the Bible. (Mark 11:24)

Asking is easy, perhaps even effortless. You have desires that naturally come to mind. And you have little control over thinking about or feeling your desires. But some desires occupy a lot more of your thoughts than others. You focus on them. At some point, you may consciously wish for something. “I wish I had more money.” “I wish I had a boyfriend.” “I want a better job.” Then, if you decide to practice the Law of Attraction, you focus on a specific desire. In essence, you ask for it.

Believing is next. Once you have asked for something, you don't have to ask for it again and again. You immediately switch over to believing that you will get what you asked for. You remove all doubt from your heart and mind. You don't try to figure out how you will get what you want. Instead, you detach from the outcome and go about the business of daily life. And you are patient, not holding the universe (or in our case, God) to any sort of timetable.

Finally, you enter into a state of Receiving. You pretend that you have already received your desire. If you want to be rich, you pretend that you are rich. You cultivate feelings associated with being rich, feelings of abundance, joy and security. You expect that money will be pouring in, or something is bound to happen that will lead to wealth. You adjust your perspective from that of needing money to that of having all the money you need.

Also, teachers of the LOA talk about being on the same vibrational frequency or wavelength with what you desire in order to receive it. The LOA states that whatever energy you are emitting has specific wavelengths, and these wavelengths that leave your body allow energy of similar wavelengths to arrive at your body. If you are emitting positive energy, it is easier for positive energy to come to you and more difficult for negative energy to come to you. So the teachers suggest that if you tune your emotions to a positive frequency, you will receive positive energy back.

Personally, I know that the more positive I am, the more good things happen. The more negative I am, the more negative things happen. And if I am filled with positive energy, I seem to receive positive energy from the world around me. I'm not sure how this happens, but this is my experience. And that's one of the things that intrigues me about the LOA philosophy.

Okay, that's the gist of the Law of Attraction. You can read more about it in books like The Secret or The Power of Positive Thinking. I find both books very helpful, and treat them as insightful perspectives that have actually helped me explore ways to apply lessons from Christian Scripture to my daily life.

So how does the LOA relate to faith?
The method taught by the LOA is a good way to describe how you practice faith. The big difference is that, with faith, you are putting your trust in God. He will provide for your desires. But God is not a cosmic vending machine. He is not a means to an end. Do not treat Him as such.

Remember, God is your parent, who loves you with all His heart. Every good parent wants to give their children what they need and what will make them happy. But at the same time, a good parent does not spoil a child. A good parent wants to raise a child of good character, a child who is appreciative, loving, strong and trustworthy.

So when you ask God for something, keep that in mind. Maybe instead of asking Him to help you win the lottery, just ask for a feeling of financial security. Instead of telling Him you need a boyfriend that looks like Brad Pitt, ask Him to lead you to true love. Instead of asking Him for a promotion, ask Him for more professional fulfillment.

Then after you ask, thank Him. Don't hope He will respond. Expect that He will. Know that He will. Believe that God will provide for your needs, and He knows best how to do so. Have no doubt in your mind. Act as if you already have what you asked for and feel wonderful about it. Only then will you have demonstrated true faith.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Idolatry begins with I.

I want...
I need...

Everyone has dreams, goals and desires – material possessions, status, career success, relationships, activities and experiences. And certainly there's nothing wrong with good jobs, relationships or nice things. If God has blessed you, that's great! The problem arises when those things transform from blessings into idols.

Do you ever feel such a strong need for a thing or a situation that your life won't be complete without it? Do you find yourself saying, “If only...”?

Do you constantly feel angry, anxious, frustrated, depressed or helpless? This may indicate that there is something you want, and you cannot find peace until you have it.

When you see people with things you want, do you say negative things about them? Do you think they must be greedy.

Do you feel an emptiness within you? Do you try to fill it by becoming a workaholic, shopaholic, golfaholic, pornoholic, promiscuous, a party animal, adrenaline junkie, etc. Or do you spend a lot of time living vicariously through your children, sports team, pop culture, politics, etc?

These are all indications of idolatry. We either need things to boost our egos, or we are too focused on attaining various forms of satisfaction.

If we are self-centered and egocentric, we become our own idols. We desire to glorify ourselves.

If we are dissatisfied with our lives, we feel vulnerable. This makes us much more susceptible to temptation. We may engage in shallow activities that provide temporary gratification. Or we may make critical life decisions that we believe will lead to satisfaction.

These forms of idolatry turn life into an illusion. Our perspective may be filled, but our heart will not be. Only God can give us the kind of deep spiritual satisfaction that we crave. Only God can give us the power and strength we need to eliminate vulnerability. By connecting to God and allowing ourselves to be a conduit for the Holy Spirit, we become part of His infinite presence.

Once we are filled with Spirit (inspired), we can engage in the pleasures of the world and simply rejoice in the experiences, instead of needing the experiences to somehow satisfy us. Instead of taking energy from the world and the people in our lives, we can provide energy. We can enjoy material possessions without feeling a need for them. This is true freedom. (John 8:31 – 32) It's the freedom from a life of sin and illusion that Jesus spoke about. Freedom from the need to engage in idolatry.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

You're saved? Saved for what?

So, you've accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Congratulations. Now what are you going to do? You see, in the fine print on your one-way ticket to heaven, Jesus asks that you do some things on His behalf. Don't worry. He won't revoke your ticket if you don't serve Him. But when you see Jesus some day and He asks what you did on earth, you'll be pretty embarrassed if you don't have a good answer. Oh, and just so you know, “I was a good person, and I went to church every Sunday” is not a good answer.

Am I getting in your face too much? Sometimes that's necessary. You see, an important part of Christian fellowship is accountability. Not in a judgmental way, but more like workout partners at the gym. “Did you do cardio three times this week?” With Christians it's more like, “How's your prayer time? Do you have any service projects planned this year, like at a homeless shelter or collecting canned goods? Are you treating your co-workers with respect? Would they know you are a Christian? Or would it shock them?”

You are not required to do anything special. You are saved by grace, not by works. But Jesus really wants you to reach out to those in need. Or find some other way to put your faith into action. Start small. Try a few things. See where the Holy Spirit leads you.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Yoga for Christians Part 2 – Mental

First of all, a quick rant. This week on The 700 Club they did a story about yoga. Most of it was about how Christians were practicing yoga, some at church. And while it showed how helpful and sensible yoga is for Christians, some who commented still don't get it. It's as if they are afraid that other religions or spiritual practices are like deadly viruses that will kill your soul. Even in the story, people who were differentiating Christian yoga from Eastern yoga, did it with a suspicious, condemning or condescending tone.

Don't they realize that these other religions are not Devil worshippers?! Many of these other religious directions profess the same types of moral philosophy as Christianity. And while Hinduism may have millions of deities and Buddhism may be a non-deity philosophy, they are generally based upon foundations like The Golden Rule, selflessness, service to others and purity of soul. So to be fearful of practices like yoga is ridiculous. One woman in the story mentioned that an Eastern yoga person said, “The spirit in me honors the spirit in you;” the woman acted like that was a weird thing to say. “I don't know what spirit they were talking about.” Seriously? No wonder so many people think Christians are morons. But I am thankful that the 700 Club story painted an overall positive image of yoga. (end of rant)

In a previous post, I mentioned yoga as physical exercise. Now I want to talk about how you can use it to meditate.

Raja Yoga involves mental conditioning. The aim is typically to imagine yourself as a soul within a physical human body, so that you can feel peace and connected to God. Often it is suggested that you focus on your third eye, which is located in the middle of the forehead just above the brow line. The third eye is also referred to as the sixth chakra. It is in the location of our semi-dormant pineal gland. This gland is found in some reptiles and amphibians and enables them to detect light. In humans, it produces the hormone melatonin.

Typically when you close your eyes and try to visualize something, your mental focus is on that area of the third eye. And that is why it is also called your mind's eye. This being so, it simply makes sense to focus on the mind's eye during meditation in order to clear all visual images that may distract your concentration. Personally, I like to focus on the mind's eye while also focusing on the breathing. The two combined help clear my head.

For a Christian, the purpose of this type of meditation is to mentally detach from the outside world in order to make a deep connection between the Self and God. By attaining a purified awareness, a Christian can listen for God's guidance, unencumbered by worldly and egocentric forces. You'll be surprised at what kinds of great ideas pop into your head out of nowhere. 

It's also comforting to imagine God's love entering your body and giving you strength. Even in Eastern cultures, practitioners simply try to imagine themselves bathed in the love and light of God. But if you want meditation process based upon Scripture, that's easy to find in the Bible.

Take a look at the beginning of Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul;

Wow. That's a lot of good instruction in very few words.
First, recognize that God is always looking after you (if you don't wander off).
Then, don't worry, don't want. Focus on your needs, not your greeds.
Next, stop running through life at 100 mph. Instead, lie down (or sit) and meditate.
Allow God to lead you to stillness and peace. He, not you, will then be able to restore your soul.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Born again, but still a baby?

It's wonderful when someone accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It is a life-changing experience.

Or is it? What are these born-again Christians doing to actually experience salvation? While they may believe that Jesus is the Son of God, are they becoming true followers?

You see, when Jesus gathered up His disciples, He didn't say, “I'm the Son of God. Believe in Me.” Nope. Jesus simply said, “Follow me.” Jesus wasn't trying to convert people to a new religion. He was trying to get people to understand the meaning of life, to turn away from sin (repent) and selfishness.

When Jesus asks us to follow, that means to take our lives in a new direction, so that others experience God's love and compassion through us. But in order for us to adequately reflect the light of God's glory, we must learn what that means. The disciples referred to Jesus as “Master.” We too can develop a Master/Student relationship with Jesus in order to grow spiritually and become a better disciple. So while it is wonderful to be born again, don't stop there. Grow!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Surrender to faith, not fate.

When you practice faith, you surrender to God's will, not circumstance. You let go of your need to have total control, but you don't let go of your dreams.

With faith, you don't sit back and let life happen to you. You don't resign yourself to the current state of things. You don't give up, shut down or retreat.

Instead, you engage life and actively move forward with joy and optimism. You approach each day with anticipation. You believe completely that God will bring into your life what is best for you.

When you surrender to fate, you merely hope for the best. You hope that your luck will change.

But faith does not require hope. With faith, you know that God will work wonders in your life. You have no doubt at all. With faith, you surrender completely to the benevolence of our loving God.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why does bad stuff keep happening to good people?

 We trust God. We give thanks. We pray. We sacrifice. We serve. And sometimes this leads us to feel that we are entitled. So when “life happens,” it is even more frustrating and confounding. We don't understand why things aren't going our way. After all, we're working God's program, aren't we? We're probably working harder to follow Jesus than most people are. And just when we think we're doing well, hitting our stride, WHAM! We get blindsided.

Then we start to think, “If God's going to let this unfair stuff happen to me, why am I bothering to be a good guy all of the time? I may as well be a selfish jerk like everybody else.” Well that sounds pretty logical, doesn't it?

This is one of the most difficult aspects of faith: how do you remain faithful to God and live as a Christian when you are not rewarded, but instead are made to suffer injustice? Thankfully, there are many stories we can read in the Bible (from Noah to Daniel to Job to Paul) that show servants of God who suffer many trials, yet maintain their love of God. But how?

To answer How, we have to address Why. Why does God not only withhold good things from loyal servants, but allow bad things to happen to them?

The entire discussion on this topic would be long and complex. But the answer I like to embrace is this: God cannot strengthen us by coddling us. He looks at good servants the same way military commanders survey their individual troops. When He sees potential in one of us, He will intensify our training. He cannot mold hardened clay, so He will tear us and wear us down in order to build us and shape us up.

Why? Can't He just leave us alone? Why does God want to strengthen us so much?

Because He needs strong men and women of integrity. He needs people who will answer His call. He needs many more leaders on the front lines (unfortunately most congregations are full of desk jockeys). He needs warriors who won't fold in the heat of battle. And our battles can be anything – from raising children to raising awareness for worthy causes to putting our life on the line in order to spread the Word.

Okay, now you know why. But how do we become strong enough to praise God when things go wrong? How do we embrace life when life isn't what we expected or desired?

That's a pretty tall order. So before you climb Mount Everest, you might want to tackle Mount Pisgah. Before you can enter the Special Forces and live life fearlessly with passion and purpose, you have to excel in Basic Training. You can't simply wing it. It helps to develop basic skills. For example, you may want to consider implementing the Five Ps for Spiritual Progress.

Praise: Develop an attitude of gratitude for the blessings you do receive. Wake up and give thanks every day. Eventually, you will be able to rejoice even in hard times.
Prepare: Read the Bible for instruction, inspiration and a better understanding of yourself. Start with five minutes a day.
Perspective: First, don't lose sight of the big picture of your life by letting a negative situation consume and obstruct your view. Instead, look at every challenge as a spiritual growth opportunity. When they arise, try to determine if there's a lesson or skill to be learned. Remember that God may be using you to do His work.
Practice: Through repeated actions, gradually change your behavior and develop positive habits where you need them. Find spiritual disciplines that work for you – solitude, meditation, service, music, fasting, fitness, etc. Develop character traits like honesty, kindness, charity, diligence, loyalty.
Pray and meditate: Keep your conversation with God continuous throughout the day. You cannot develop your most important relationship with a once-a-week interaction. Jesus truly wants to be your constant companion. So talk to Him. Then be quiet and listen.

When you really think about it, the training isn't hard work. Anyone can handle it. Over time, it all becomes instinctive, part of your natural life experience. You transform, gradually. Eventually, your heart will guide you more than your head, so that the negative life circumstances that your head observes and processes cannot overpower the joy and love in your heart.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Meaning of Life in 1,000 Words or Less.

Over the years I've met a lot of people who are confused about the meaning of life. Some feel as if they have no purpose, that they are just going through the motions, doing what everybody else does. This leaves them feeling empty. Others, typically in their 40s or older, have worked hard for many years in their careers and/or raising their children. But they get to a point when they say, “Is this all there is?” They too experience a level of emptiness. I even know millionaires who feel stuck on a treadmill, because they don't know what else they are supposed to do? Their lives are out of balance. Some are anxious or angry or sad. Others just try to stay busy. Most suppress feelings of loss or pointlessness.

A New Age Christian is someone who embraces the Word of God and follows the teachings of Jesus, while also looking for wisdom and understanding from sages, scholars and their normal fellow humans. Today, to help people who may be confused about life, purpose and fulfillment, I'm hopefully going to distill some basic philosophical principles into consumable form.

So what is the meaning or purpose of life?

For Christians, there are external and internal sources of meaning. The external, of course, is God. We derive meaning by pursuing a life that is pleasing to God. And as I've stated before, Jesus asked us to be “the salt of the earth,” engaging the world to make it a better place. But today, I want to talk about the internal sources of meaning and purpose. What can you do to feel balance in your life?

Before I tell you what to do, let me tell you why. The underlying meaning of life is to connect the self with the non-self. The self is you. The non-self is nature, other people and God. This connection to living things occurs through the expansion of the self.

The expansion of self occurs through the pursuit the three fundamentals of life: Pleasure, Virtue and Knowledge. All three must be pursued in order to achieve Harmony. Let me explain.

The pursuit of Pleasure brings enjoyment, happiness and satisfaction into our lives. Eating and drinking with friends, sex with our partner and playing sports are “animal” pursuits that give us physical and emotional pleasure (so easy, a caveman can do it). Listening to Mozart or going to the theater are higher level pleasures that enable us to expand ourselves, because we develop a broader appreciation of Mankind's creativity and expression. The point is, there is a wide spectrum of pleasure – from walking in nature or sitting in a hot tub to visiting museums or the ballet.

A big problem with society today is that too much of our lives are spent in pursuit of pleasure, which is called Hedonism. This lifestyle often creates an illusion of happiness and fulfillment. It's like when we're young, and we party with our friends every weekend, only to find out someday that some of them really aren't our friends. When the music stops, we are left with nothing.

The pursuit of Virtue involves living with a high level of morality and ethics. But it's much more than just being moral and good. It is also the practice of serving others. Participating in church or charitable activities is the most common way to pursue virtue. You can find tremendous personal satisfaction when you help make someone elses life better. Serving others expands your worldview and transforms you in unexpected ways. If you were to go to Africa to help build a hospital or a school, you and your spirit will never be the same again.

The problem with pursuing only virtue and denying yourself pleasure, like a Puritan, can turn you into a legalistic, self-righteous, cranky pew-hugger. You begin to see the pleasures of things like moderate drinking, dancing and sex as sinful. And instead of connecting self with non-self, you disconnect and detach from the humanness of life.

The pursuit of Knowledge expands our minds. It leads to Wisdom, which enables us to achieve a deeper understanding of the world and the human condition, so to speak. We transcend our own consciousness. Knowledge is something we can all share. It gives us new ways to interact with each other, discussing information and ideas. We get together with others, pooling our knowledge to solve problems or make discoveries. There are an infinite number of things in the universe that we have an opportunity to better appreciate through the acquisition of knowledge.

The problem with focusing just on knowledge and not pleasure or virtue can turn you into a hermit. You get just as frustrated as someone who pursues just virtue. And you miss the opportunity to use your knowledge in the service of others or the betterment of the world.

So, as discussed, there are three general pursuits that bring meaning, purpose and value to our lives. And while there is no specific formula, it is important to pursue all three in order to achieve Harmony. If we let one consume too much of our focus and time, we're not only in danger of becoming a hedonist, a puritan or a hermit, we are also missing out on the fullness of life. And that is what Jesus wanted for us (John 10:10).

It is up to each of us to decide the blend of Pleasure, Virtue and Knowledge that will bring us the most Harmony. And as you pursue these fundamentals, you will expand and transform yourself. Your life may grow to have much more than a single purpose. But remember, the underlying purpose is to connect the self with the non-self, to unite with nature, people and God.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Meditate on This - 3

Don't just consume Christianity; let Christianity consume you.

We live in a consumer society, and that consumerism has even manifested in our spiritual lives. At many churches, the weekend worship services have become powerful entertainment experiences with rock bands, stage shows and video presentations. The sermons are informative, emotional and inspiring. The congregations eat it up.

And I'm all for that, 100%. Getting people into a church setting to hear the Word is vital. Listening to praise music in your car is great too. I even like to watch certain TV preachers for their encouraging messages. But it's important to not stop there, simply feeding on the Word once a week, in order to find personal satisfaction, inner peace and fellowship.

Following Jesus is a lifestyle, not just a religion. How you conduct your life, make decisions and interact with the world should all be based upon the teachings of Jesus. Remember, we are supposed to be "the salt of the earth," preserving it from decay and bringing out the flavor intended by its Creator. That will happen only if we allow Jesus to become infused into our entire lives, through consistent practice of spiritual disciplines, and by gradually shifting our focus from self to others.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Remember to remember God.

 In this information-overloaded world, our attention is often pulled in many different directions. Even when we are focused on a task, our minds can be thinking of several other things at the same time. Ask yourself, how often am I actually 100% in the present moment? Most of the time our minds are probably in a mental pinball machine.

As a result, when something bad happens, we forget that God is there to help us. Negative situations consume our attention. We tend to either jump into the fight or run from it, seldom consulting God first. We may even face the problem with a positive attitude, but are any of our thoughts on God? Is God with us in these moments?

Certainly sometimes when we get stressed, we cry out, “God, why me? Please help me.” In this case, we've remembered God, but we are still full of doubt and worry. We are simply reacting to the situation, sending out a long-distance call for help. We are not fully aware of God.

Awareness of God is not simply knowing God exists, or even praying to Him. When you are aware of God, you feel His presence, His embrace. You can feel His love and light inside you. He enables you to view your experience with mental and spiritual perspective and proportion. Instead of relying just on your own strength and ability, you can allow God's strength to lift you up and work through you.

There are many activities and tactics you can use to maintain your awareness of God in your daily life. Here are two to incorporate into your day, in addition to whatever prayer and meditation practices you already use.

First, remember God by praying before you get out of bed each and every morning. Thank God for all of your blessings. Then say out loud, “This is the day the Lord has made!” This isn't just a statement, it's a decision. Let's say you have a boss who is always on your case, making you feel unsettled. Is this going to be a day your boss has made? Or is it going to be a day that the Lord has made? Whatever your challenge, you have a chance to set the tone for your day. Is this the day debt has made, or is this the day the Lord has made? Is this the day your ex-spouse has made, or is this the day the Lord has made? And yes, say it out loud; it makes a difference to hear yourself say it.

Second, connect with the Holy Spirit by taking brief (30-second) spirit time-outs at several times during the day (water, coffee or bathroom breaks work well), or before you begin a meeting or task. Simply stop doing whatever it is you're doing, close your eyes, take a deep breath and say something like this in your mind, “Spirit, please fill me with your energy and guide me along the right path through all of my words and actions.” Then imagine the Holy Spirit saying back, “Okay, I will. I am here. Keep me close by your side.”

At the very least, you should feel comforted by these thoughts. But hopefully over time, they will help you form a healthy detachment from the chaos that enters your life on a daily basis. The longer term goal is to establish a better sense of inner peace as your emotional baseline.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why is it important to read Scripture?

The First Spiritual Discipline of a New Age Christian is Immersion in Scripture. As I mentioned before, it is important to understand what Jesus was teaching us. His parables are pools of water where different things are learned at different depths. By reading and contemplating His words, we will gain a better understanding of how to live. It will enrich our worldview. But that's only part of why we read Scripture.

A minister I know cautions against getting too focused on interpreting Scripture. But rather, we should let Scripture interpret us. 

Who are you? Who were you? Who are you truly meant to be? God has a vision for your life. He wants you to transform, to blossom, to become more. Through immersion in Scripture, you will gain a better perspective and understanding of yourself. And your vision will improve. 

The word vision is key. Jesus used the concept of blindness and sight so often (see John Chapter 9 for an example). He healed the blind to call attention to the spiritual blindness of people, who rely solely on their own sight, instead of trying to see the world and themselves through the lens of God. 

And this is why we read Scripture. To see with a vision greater than our own. Whether we are looking at life, the world or ourselves. If you ever get frustrated with yourself, or you cannot break out of a pattern, reading Scripture is a good method of self-reflection. God will reveal what your own heart and mind cannot. You may not always like what you see. But self-awareness and understanding are important parts of transformation.