Enter into your closet….

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, all my being, His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all His bounties. He forgives all your sins, heals all your diseases. He redeems your life from the Pit, surrounds you with steadfast love and mercy. He satisfies you with good things in the prime of life, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” ~ Psalm 103:1-5

“The Lord gave you no strict rituals to follow. He teaches you to ‘enter into your closet,’ that is, to quiet yourself, open your heart, and without many words, to touch your Lord who is within you. The Sabbath is not just a day of outward rest, but the continual rest that you are privileged to enjoy when you are in union with God.” ~ Jeanne Guyon

I’ve been really busy in the past few weeks. I began this blog with good intentions. I wanted to pray and reflect and write. There are so many things that I want to say to you and I am anxious to share what I’ve learned in my journey with Christ. And then, life happened. I’ve been facing many changes – and I suspect that many more changes are on the horizon. And so I needed to back-up, reset priorities, open my hands and let go of some things that I want to do, and get back in touch with you.

I’m sure that you’ve also had times in your life when you were overwhelmingly busy. We all need to balance our personal lives with our jobs. We devote a lot of our time to other people, but need to take care of ourselves. And, of course, in the midst of all of that, we need to ask ourselves: “Where does God fit into the picture?”

I guess that it’s pretty easy for us to reduce our journey with Christ to “just one more thing to do” when we become busy and overwhelmed by life. We can jump out of bed and into the rest of our day before we pray. We can allow other responsibilities in our lives to rise-up and fill our time. We fully intend to pray and spend time reading our bible, but it’s hard to do that when we’re so busy. And we, sometimes, feel guilty about that – or, perhaps, we learn to cope with the guilt by pushing our hopes for an active life of prayer into the background of our lives forever.

My journey with Christ has continued in the past few weeks – but I’ve not set-aside time to write about it. The Lord has continued to forgive me when I’ve become distracted and when I’ve started to worry about things that I need to trust God to handle. God’s love and mercy have surrounded me, and I’ve been renewed by the Holy Spirit in times of daily prayer and weekly worship. I’ve grown, and I’ve learned some lessons about life and about spirituality in the midst of my crazy schedule. And I have something that I’d like to share with you.

Jeanne Guyon, a French mystic, taught us that Christ calls us to “enter into our closet.” Christ can still be found in the solitude of a quiet morning. We can find “Sabbath rest” in the quiet moments of life when we set-aside the cares and concerns that consume us, and when we focus our attention upon the ways that God is blessing us. The Risen Christ continues to bring peace in the midst of our busy lives. God continues to fill our hearts with faith and hope. In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself beginning my times of prayer by saying, “How good it is to be here!” – and by simply taking a deep breath – because it IS good to be in the presence of God and it IS good to find precious times of “holy union” in the midst of a busy schedule.

The presence of God brings peaceful rest. Our perspectives change and the storms in our lives begin to calm. “Holy union” helps us to look at life in new ways. “Holy union” refocuses our lives and changes our perspectives. “Holy union” reminds us that we’re safely held in the hands of God and that God is, ultimately, in control of our futures. As we quiet ourselves, open our hearts, and learn to touch the Lord within us – we realize, even in the midst of busyness and stress, that it’s still possible to be renewed and refreshed by God.

And so, I’m back. I’m going to continue to share things that I’ve learned about “intimacy with Christ” as I continue my journey and as I continue to grow. It may not happen every day – or every week – and that’s OK. The things that I’m going to share with you in this blog have been learned on a lifetime journey.

May God’s presence continue to warm your heart and strengthen your faith. May God’s peace continue to bring calm in the midst of storms. May we all experience “holy union” as we learn and grow and pray and live; so that, with each passing day, we may come to “know Christ” more fully and more intimately.

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The idols in our minds….

“You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to worship or serve them.” ~ Exodus 20:4-5

“To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart. As I have often said, it is the trust and faith of the heart alone that make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true one. Conversely, where your trust is false and wrong, there you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.” ~ Martin Luther

I sometimes question God. I’ve never been able to understand why God would harden the Pharaoh’s heart and bring additional suffering upon the people of Egypt. (Exodus 7:3) I’ve never been able to understand why God placed his servant, Job, into the hands of the Adversary – insisting only that the Adversary spare Job’s life. (Job 2:6) I’ve never been able to understand why God sent an evil spirit that gripped Saul and drove him into a rage. (1 Samuel 18:10)

I sometimes question God. I don’t understand why God allows children to die from cancer. I don’t understand why God stands by, in complete silence, when people are killed in automobile accidents. Can’t God stop drunk drivers before they kill other people? Can’t God stop children from being molested by perverted adults? I have questions. I want answers – but, they never really come. I’ve been known to create my own answers to questions that challenge my faith. And almost every time I do that – I create an idol.

Most of us think about the “golden calf” (Exodus 32:4) when we think about idols. We think about people worshiping items that they have made with their own hands. We think about idols as things that are made of metal or wood. But, we also create idols in our minds. We create an idol when we picture God as an old man with a long, white beard. We create an idol when we try to define God by attributing characteristics to the Divine. We create an idol when we think that we know how God should act in a specific situation. To say that we “know God” apart from the incarnate Jesus Christ is to enter into dangerous territory and to run the risk of idolatry.

We do not know the mind of God and, when we say that we do, we create idols. God is far beyond our meager descriptions and imagination. God’s plans for our world and for the Creation surpass what we can grasp through a “mirror dimly.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) We are doing nothing but defending idols when we strive to justify God’s behavior. We are doing nothing more than defending self-created understandings of God when we try to explain why God would allow pain or blessings – suffering or joys – to enter our lives. When we question God, our idol is what answers us – comforts us – gives us peace – or leaves us in despair.

To “know Christ” is to focus our mind – not on invisible speculation – but upon incarnate reality. God’s Incarnate Love releases people from the power of sin and brings healing. God’s Incarnate Love meets us wherever we are in life, and speaks a message of hope and resurrection. As we come to know Christ more intimately, our “Why?” becomes “What’s next?” As we come to know Christ more intimately – the kinds of divine speculation that drive us to idolatry are replaced by the message of God’s continuing love and favor and care for His people.

I sometimes question God, and every time that I do that I’m driven back to a self-created idol that’s supposed to act in a particular way because that’s how I’ve created it to act. To “know Christ” is to discover that we no longer need to defend God in a broken world. To “know Christ” is to live life, each day, focused upon God’s Incarnate Love. To “know Christ” is to know the Risen Lord who promises to be with us and to know the Eternal King who greets us with the words, “Peace be with you!” even in the midst of circumstances in life that we can’t fully explain or understand.

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Blessing God….

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, all my being, His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul and do not forget all His bounties. He forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases. He redeems your life from the Pit, and surrounds you with steadfast love and mercy.” ~ Psalm 103:1-4

God blesses us. Jesus teaches us to depend upon God for “daily bread.” We’re taught, from our earliest years, to see a deep connection between the blessings in our lives and God’s continuing faithfulness. We, sometimes, even ask for God’s blessings when we pray, and we long for the Day when our prayers will be fully answered and when God’s great purpose for His Creation will be fulfilled.

But there comes a time in our journey with Christ when we realize that we, also, bless God. Our lives begin to reflect God’s life-giving ways as we come to “know Christ” more intimately. We come to see that our walk with Christ draws us into tikkun olam (the repair of the world) as we come to see that our intimacy with Christ is not only experienced in times of solitude, but is also lived-out in a world that needs God’s people to be active advocates of the ways of God. To “know Christ” is to have an “incarnate spirituality” that lives in the world. To participate in tikkun olam is to speak and live and reveal God’s ways to the world. We become “like Christ” as we come to “know Christ” more intimately in prayer and bold action. Intimacy with Christ, in fact, connects us to the unfolding, redemptive plans of God – always challenging us to take an active part in the repair and resurrection of Creation.

“Let the mountains produce well-being for the people, the hills, the reward of justice. Let him champion the lowly among the people, deliver the needy folk, and crush those who wrong them.” (Psalm 72:3-4) God cares for the poor and the needy, for the weak, and for widows and orphans. To “know Christ” is to realize that we are not made for ourselves – but are made, instead, to bless God by remembering and caring for our neighbors. We bless God by realizing that the fabric of our world is torn and that we’ve been invited to participate in resurrection. As we become more intimately connected with Christ, we discover that our lives are meant to reflect the love and compassion of Jesus. Our lives and ministries are most pure when they sprout from times of prayer. Our ministries are most life-giving when they are consistent with Christ’s teachings. We step out of our own ways when we bless God. When we bless God — and when we fulfill God’s purposes for our lives — we remember those who are easily forgotten, overlooked, misunderstood, and harshly judged.

We more fully participate in the life of God in the world as we become more intimately connected with Christ. We actively participate in tikkun olam through steady, patient and loving concern for those around us. We are most “spiritually aware” when we realize that our lives are a gift from God. We “know Christ” most intimately when we become deeply aware of God’s unfolding plan for our lives and when we consciously participate in the “repair of Creation.” This is the fruit and the goal of our journey with Christ. As we come to “know Christ” more intimately – we discover that we’ve been placed on the earth to join in the redemptive work of God and to “bless God” with all our being.

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Living with integrity….

“Resist the devil, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” ~ 1 Peter 5:9-10

“Today, O Lord, let me put right before interest – let me put others before self – let me put the things of the spirit before the things of the body – let me put the attainment of noble ends above the enjoyment of present pleasures – let me put principles above reputation – and let me put Thee before all else.” ~ John Baillie

Christians are called to live with integrity. We know that we have been chosen by God (1 Peter 1:1) and that we’ve been called to be holy – even as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). We know that we’ve been called to “love one another from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22) and that we have been “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) to be people who do not lie and bear false witness against others (Exodus 20:16). But, living with integrity is not always easy. We’re quickly drawn toward materialism, present pleasures, popularity, and our own self-interests. We quickly stray from paths of integrity because temptations are all around us. The more that we come to “know Christ” the more we will realize that our integrity will be challenged every day. This is a common experience (1 Peter 5:9) and Christ does not leave us to face this harsh truth by ourselves (Matthew 28:20).

We are “living stones” that God is building into a spiritual house that is acceptable in His sight (1 Peter 2:5). We are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation” that has been called out of the darkness of our world (1 Peter 2:9) and that God continues to “perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish” (1 Peter 5:10). We are clearly called by God to live with integrity in our lives and to demonstrate holiness with our actions. To be “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) is to realize that we are “distinctly different” from other people, and to see that we’ve been set-apart from the rest of the world to honor and serve and glorify God.

Many Christians collapse before this truth and begin to believe that living a holy life (one marked by honor and integrity) is nothing more than a Christian ideal. But, this is not the case! The times that we spend with God in prayer and in worship change us. We discover that it’s all but impossible to go away from our encounters with God unchanged as we come to “know Christ” more intimately. Prayer and worship change us – and they deeply affect how we live in the world. The time that we spend with God challenges us to put what’s right before our own self-interests – to put other people before ourselves – to put things of the spirit before things of the body – to put God and God’s Kingdom before all else.

Integrity is born in our lives as God continues His work to “perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish” us (1 Peter 5:10). God’s at work, at this very moment, to create the types of holiness and integrity that exhibit His work in our lives! Integrity isn’t created in our lives through our own efforts and abilities. Integrity is the power of God at work in us – driving us toward peace with God; good-will toward others; healthy relationships in our families, in our workplaces, and in our churches; and compassion and concern for those who need to be touched by the love of Christ.

To “know Christ” is to personally experience God’s life-altering power! To “know Christ” is to realize that it’s impossible to go away from intimate encounters with God unchanged! Our hearts are grafted to the heart of Christ as God’s power comes to life in our lives (John 15:4) and as we come to more intimately “know Christ.” We are changed and transformed as our intimate connection with Christ alters the way that we live our lives and as we learn new ways to interact with other people in the spirit of love.

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Peace that surpasses understanding….

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, shall keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7

“To enter into that intimate relationship where Jesus becomes our Savior is to let Jesus be with us and within us, person to person, on the emotional and volitional levels of our being. It is to respond to the contagion of His presence. It is to let down whatever defenses we have in place so that we come together heart to heart, so that the Spirit in Him touches and resonates with the spirit in us.” ~ Donald Shelby

We all want peace and security. The world can change in an instant. We can find ourselves caught in the midst of nearly impossible situations that we can’t control. We desperately try to create stability and calm in our lives through times of planning and careful decision-making. But life continues to throw us curves and, in fact, everything in our lives can be changed in the blink of an eye.

This can be hard to accept. We are taught to rejoice with the psalmist who proclaims, “The Lord is our keeper!” (Psalm 121:5) We speak, as Saint Paul does, about a peace “that surpasses all understanding” and that “keeps our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) We reflect upon the fact that Christ said, “Let not your hearts be troubled!” (John 14:1) even as He approached the day of His own death – and we hope to find that kind of faith in the midst of our own struggles. And yet, even as people of faith, we have hearts that continue to be stirred by uncertainty – lives that continue to be shaken by change – faith that continues to be rattled by challenges – and hope that continues to be dimmed by an unclear future.

Donald Shelby reminds us that “to enter into that intimate relationship where Jesus becomes our Savior is to let Jesus be with us and within us, person to person,” in every situation. To “know Christ” is to understand that our lives and our futures are safely-secured, and are safely resting in the palm of God’s hand. To “know Christ” is to hear our Lord say, “Peace be with you!” during times of fear and uncertainty. To “know Christ” is to find ourselves saying, “How good it is to be here!” (Matthew 17:4) as we enter into times of prayer and devotion knowing that Christ is profoundly present. To “know Christ” is to find ourselves tearing-down walls and defenses that we’ve built in our lives, so that we can intimately connect with our Lord and discover the sweet, mystical union with God where we find ourselves being swept, heart-to-heart, into the very presence of an Incarnate Love that touches our core and that resonates throughout our entire being. We are loved! We are cherished! And all is well!

“The Lord is our keeper!” (Psalm 121:5) We come to see that Christ wants to intimately connect with us, and bring words of peace and calm as we come to “know Christ” more fully. Christ restores order in the midst of chaos. Christ shines with the light of God’s presence when it’s dark. To “know Christ” is to allow Jesus to rebuke raging storms. (Luke 8:24) To “know Christ” is to allow the presence of God to dwell both with us and within us in every circumstance of life. To “know Christ” is to find ourselves taking a deep breath and calmly letting it out – fully understanding that we are standing in the presence of God during every single moment of life and that, when we are safely resting in God’s hands, all is well.

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Always remember that it’s not up to you….

“Do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” ~ Romans 6:12-13

“To be ‘in Christ,’ to have Christ within, to realize your creed not as something you have to bear but as something by which you are borne, this is Christianity. It is more: it is release and liberty, life with an endless song at its heart. It means feeling within you, as long as life here lasts, the carrying power of Love Almighty.” ~ James Stewart

Christians struggle against sin. We know that we aren’t perfect and we wrestle with that truth. We find ourselves doing things that we later regret and, at other times, failing to do things that are important. We don’t always find it easy to love and forgive. We quickly find ourselves drifting into patterns of behavior that are destructive to our relationships with God and other people. We, sometimes, even know that our lives are moving in the wrong direction, but find it nearly impossible to change. And, when other people see us caught in the midst of that great struggle, they quickly call us hypocrites.

Our lives begin to change as we come to “know Christ” more intimately. We may find ourselves abandoning patterns of behavior that are destructive to our lives and to our futures. We’ll, most surely, find ourselves more intentionally struggling against things that tear us away from God and other people. We’ll be more compassionate and loving. We’ll be more forgiving and embracing. Our lives will certainly change because, when we find ourselves more intimately dwelling in the presence of Christ, we’ll also discover that we cannot go away from our encounters with Love unchanged.

But, we need to be careful! Many good and faithful Christians allow their journey with Christ to become little more than a human struggle against sin. We know that we have fallen short (Romans 3:23) and we want to change. We may even begin to feel more distant from God as we come to “know Christ” more intimately – if we begin to believe that our journey with Christ should lead us toward a sense of self-created perfection. Those who desire to present themselves “as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:13) will soon discover that they can’t do that by themselves. We don’t come to “know Christ” more intimately by building a bridge toward God, by moving toward self-created human perfection, or by living in the “proper way.” We, actually, come to “know Christ” more intimately as Incarnate Love takes root and as God becomes the “Great Mover” in the center of our lives.

James Stewart said that our walk with Christ is not some sort of creed that we have to bear. Our walk with Christ is something by which we are borne. We come to know the “carrying power of Love Almighty” as we come to “know Christ” more intimately. God does not leave us alone in our struggle against sin. God has, instead, promised to walk beside us. God has promised to take us by the hand and lead us as we come to “know Christ” more intimately. God has even promised to lead us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (Psalm 23:3) as our spiritual journey moves us closer to the heart of God.

To discover that God walks beside us – and even carries us through life – is to find release and liberty. To realize that God does not leave us alone in our battle against sin is to discover that life can be lived in endless song! We come to “know Christ” more intimately as we discover that we have been forever set free from the spiritual treadmill of self-created perfection. We sing and rejoice with happy hearts as we come to discover that we are safely held in the palm of God’s hand – long before we do anything to deserve it.

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God’s healing power in conflict….

“Be gracious to me, O God, for they have trampled upon me; fighting all day long they oppress me. My foes have trampled upon me all day long, for they are many who fight proudly against me. When I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee. In God, whose word I praise, I have put my trust. I shall not be afraid.” ~ Psalm 56:1-4

“If confrontation is to be an expression of patient action, it must be humble. Our constant temptation is to fall into self-righteous revenge or self-serving condemnation. The danger here is that our own witness can blind us. When confrontation is tainted by desire for attention, need for revenge, or greed for power, it can easily become self-serving and cease to be compassionate.” ~ Douglas Morrison

Conflict can be a terrible thing. We fight with each other for many different reasons and the issues can be either big, or rather small. Conflicts in our lives can begin as something that on the grand scale of life is huge, or they can begin with something that’s insignificant. People fight with each other because they’ve been hurt and they want revenge. People fight with each other because they want power and control in their lives more than they want lasting relationships with other people. Conflict almost always creates hurt and misunderstandings; but conflict can, also, help us to better understand each other and appreciate different perspectives.

Conflicts become ugly when we begin to think that the “issue of contention” is more important to us than our relationships with those who disagree with us. When that happens, as Douglas Morrison says, “Our constant temptation is to fall into self-righteous revenge and self-serving condemnation.” We trample upon others with no thought about their well-being. (Psalm 56:1) We oppress people and judge them harshly. (Isaiah 53:8) We begin to carefully examine the speck in the eyes of other people, but fail to acknowledge the log in our own eye. (Matthew 7:3) We place heavy loads of guilt and shame upon those who hurt us, make the path toward reconciliation all but impossible to navigate, and then withdraw from others and refuse to lift the heavy burden that we’ve placed upon their shoulders in any way. (Matthew 23:4)

We come to see that even “good” and “godly” people cannot escape conflict in their lives as we come to “know Christ” more intimately. We come to see that even Incarnate Love, itself, can be rejected and scorned in a broken world. When we find that we are at the heart of the brokenness and alienation in a relationship with another person, we need to be willing to openly and honestly confess our sin and seek a path toward reconciliation. We’ll, also, feel challenged to remain open to the reconciling attempts of those who have hurt and disappointed us, and to even promote the healing process ourselves – as we come to more deeply understand God’s plan for our lives.

To “know Christ” is to put our trust in God (Psalm 56:4) in the times of life when our relationships with others are strained. To “know Christ” is to remain humble and pure – even in the midst of the hurt and alienation in life that can drive us toward self-righteous revenge and self-serving condemnation. To “know Christ” is to realize that we are all poor in the eyes of the Lord and to see that we have all been invited, by Christ, into the healing work of God in our world – even as we continue to struggle with the reality of sin in our lives, and even as we continue to experience conflict and alienation in our relationships with other people.

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Moving beyond “Christianized” Self-Help….

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” ~ Isaiah 53:5-6

“He is the One who covered death with shame and cast the devil into mourning, as Moses cast Pharaoh into mourning. He is the One who smote sin and robbed iniquity of offspring, as Moses robbed the Egyptians of their offspring. He is the One who brought us out of slavery into freedom, out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of tyranny into the eternal kingdom.” ~ Melito of Sardis

We sometimes want our relationship with God to be easy. We find ourselves quickly drawn toward preachers of the “prosperity Gospel” who assure us that God wants us to have rich abundance and happiness in life. We find ourselves following those who proclaim a message of “seed faith” and can even find ourselves “sowing” financial gifts to ministries that ask for our help – believing that the contributions we make will, somehow, catch God’s attention and buy His favor. We are drawn to a message of forgiveness without the need for repentance. We prefer love to truth. We, sometimes, find ourselves confessing the exact same sin over and over again, and expecting God’s total and complete forgiveness – even though we know, deep in our hearts, that we have absolutely no intention of amending our ways. Our faith becomes “easy” and “non-confrontational” when we learn to simply approach God on our own terms, and when we expect God to anoint our plans and goals with the rich oil of His blessing.

The faith that Jesus sets before us is very different. It calls us to radical love and self-sacrifice. The faith that Jesus demonstrates cannot be separated from His call to “take up the Cross and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) The faith that Christ demonstrates is one that teaches us that the more we try to save our own lives by clinging to our hopes and dreams for the future – the more we lose touch with who we really are. We build our lives, and ministries, upon shifting sands when we focus only upon our own dreams for the future and upon our own fickle emotions as individuals – or, even, as a group.

To “know Christ” is to refuse to turn inward. To “know Christ” is to realize that our faith and walk with God is about far more than personal enrichment and self-fulfillment. “Whoever wishes to save his own life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake shall surely find it.” (Luke 9:24) “Resurrection power” isn’t something that’s only meant to bring peace into our lives and to provide new “self-help” strategies for successful living. “Resurrection power” is the life-giving and Creation-altering power of God – alive and at work in our lives and in the world.

To discover this truth is to better understand the “beating heart” of personal ministry and the mission of the Church. This type of self-sacrificing love transforms us. We cannot help but become people who much more intentionally bring hope to the poor and comfort to those who grieve as we come to “know Christ”more intimately. We may even discover a growing desire to become advocates for the victims of injustice. (Luke 4:18) We may discover, as we come to “know Christ” more intimately, that we can no longer love other people with just our words and our tongues because our spirituality drives us to more fully express God’s love and compassion through our day-to-day choices, decisions and actions. (1 John 3:18) We will, surely, come to see that the relationship we share with Christ is not just a “private thing” that’s only meant to enrich our own personal lives and to bring us comfort in times of distress. When Christ is borne in our hearts, we discover a living, active and dynamic faith that drives us to “bring people from slavery into freedom, out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of tyranny into an eternal kingdom.” (Metito of Sardis)

To “know Christ” is to see the world as it really is and to step-forward as the heralds of something new. To “know Christ” is to become more intimately connected to the hopes and dreams of God, and to grow more and more uncomfortable with broken realities and shattered relationships. The peace that we experience in our walk with Christ is not just a self-centered and inner-directed peace that we claim for ourselves – it is, instead, a peace that grows in our lives as we become more intimately connected with God’s plan for our lives. This is not the faith that we learn from the masters of “Christianized Self-Help” and “Christianized Self-Fulfillment.” In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s, instead, a faith that recognizes the world as it really is and that continues to struggle with the “great disparity” between “what we see in the world right now” and “what God is bringing to birth with His love.”

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God heals what’s been broken….

“God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” ~ 1 Corinthians 1:9-10

“If you see your neighbor sin openly and grievously, do not consider yourself better than he – for you do not know how long you will keep your own integrity. Since we are all weak and frail, we should not consider others to be more frail than ourselves.” ~ Thomas a Kempis

Christians sometimes fight with each other. We all have different experiences and perspectives. We look at the same things in different ways. Conflicts in our lives and in the Church are sometimes caused by our failure to communicate with each other in helpful ways. We, sometimes, become involved in conflicts with each other because of our own personality quirks and because of our own inner need to quickly identify those who disagree with us as “the enemy.”

We cannot avoid seeing that we have some growing to do as we come to “know Christ” more intimately. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart and I am pure from my sin?’” (Proverbs 20:9) We’re all on a journey, but we haven’t arrived yet. We are “saints of God” who continue to struggle with the power of sin in our lives and in the world. We are a people who can continue to live our lives with hope and joy in our lives because we know that Christ is at work in our lives, and in the world, so that we might be “transformed by the renewing of [our] minds” (Romans 12:2). That transformation takes time. We haven’t arrived yet. We’re still on the journey.

God does not want us to continue to live with unresolved conflicts and broken relationships in our lives. To find “peace with God” is to deeply experience the power of forgiveness and second chances. To find “peace with God” is to have our eyes opened to the fact that, even though human relationships can become strained, love and peace and hope trump brokenness. To “know Christ” is to discover the God-given power to love one another as we have been loved (John 13:34) even in the midst of our struggles. To “know Christ” is to learn to interpret the words and deeds of others in the best possible way. To “know Christ” is to realize that the “difficult people” in our lives are still dearly loved by the same God who loves us. As Thomas a Kempis says, “Since we are all weak and frail, we should not consider others to be more frail than ourselves.”

This spirit of compassion and forgiveness is born in the heart of God. We more clearly see that other people are growing and changing in the same ways that we are as we come to see others through the eyes of Christ. To “know Christ” is to continue to pray for those who are separated from us because of conflicts and strife. To “know Christ” is to continue to actively search for the precious bridges that can restore broken relationships and open paths toward reconciliation. To “know Christ” is to continue to speak about the power of the Resurrection, and about God’s ability to renew and refresh what’s been broken and destroyed by our conflicts and disagreements – even in the midst of the turmoil that can erupt in our lives when our relationships with others become strained.

Categories: Christ, Christianity, Devotions, Prayer, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

At peace with God….

“For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.” ~ 1 Peter 2:20 

“I counsel, admonish, and exhort my brethren, that as they go through the world, they neither dispute not contend with words; but that they be meek, peaceful, modest, gentle, and humble, speaking courteously to everyone, as is becoming.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi

People sometimes call Christians hypocrites. And, sometimes, that’s exactly what we are. The things that we do in our daily lives do not always reflect what we profess and teach. We don’t always live in the way that we say others should live. We, sometimes, treat people in our families (in the privacy of our own homes) in ways that we would never treat people in public. Christians, sometimes, even find themselves doing things in “secret privacy” that they would never consider doing before the eyes of other people.

It can be hard to be a Christian. We can begin to more clearly see the flaws and imperfections in our lives as we come to “know Christ” more intimately and as we reflect upon God’s plans for our lives. Our journey with Christ can move us into places where we become uncomfortable – because it’s never really easy for us to see the “great disparity” between “what we are right now” and “what God wants us to be.” And this can be discouraging. We can find ourselves becoming harsh and self-critical. We can begin to shrink back into an uneasy silence when other people criticize the things we do and when they call us hypocrites because they, also, can see the “great disparity” in our lives. Our spiritual journey can become burdensome when we begin to reflect upon the many ways that we fail – and we can even begin to lose touch with the message of forgiveness and new life in Christ in the midst of our own harshness. Our experience with the “organized Christian religion” can, also, become a journey filled with self-criticism, self-directed harshness, self-condemnation, and even self-loathing – especially when we find ourselves in the midst of people who beat us down instead of encouraging us with the message of the Gospel.

But, this is not what God wants for our lives! Our journey with Christ can become more peaceful as we discover that God wants our lives to be filled with “great courage and faith.” (Isaiah 35:4) Our journey with Christ can become more “balanced” as we discover that all of God’s people have times in their lives when self-examination will point toward times of glaring inconsistencies and faults, and when we see that other moments with God will create far more gentle thoughts. (Ecclesiastes 3) We will, surely, come to see that God continues to work in the midst of our imperfection to fulfill His plan for our lives as we come to “know Christ” more fully. One of the most important things we can discover in our walk with Christ is that “peace with God” emerges in our lives as we move past the always-burdensome “run toward human-perfection” that religious institutions sometimes place upon our lives – and when we discover, instead, that our “peace with God” is a gift that’s freely given to us because of God’s continuing power to love and forgive and renew.

We are not driven into spiritual despair as we come to “know Christ” more intimately. To “know Christ,” instead, is to be intimately connected to the God who always challenges us; and who always invites us into lives that are clearly marked with meekness, gentleness, peacefulness, modesty, humility, kindness and love – and who continues to forgive us – even when we continue to “miss the mark.” It’s a journey. It’s not a destination!

Our walk with Christ is a continuing process of growth and change - where we’ll continue to see the “great disparity” between “what we are right now” and “what God is moving us toward in the future.” Our walk with Christ is a continuing process where’s we’ll continue to experience God’s life-giving power of love and forgiveness.  Does that make us hypocrites? Is that “great disparity” in our lives something that should constantly send us into a downward spiral of self-directed harshness and self-condemnation? Not at all! The “great disparity” that we see – and that others can see, too – is simply a sign that reminds us that our journey with Christ is continuing. We’re not hypocrites at all! We are people, instead, who are coming to “know Christ” more intimately each day – and who are in the process of being changed and transformed by the power of God; so that, with each passing day, we might become people who are more able to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8)

Categories: Christ, Christianity, Devotions, Prayer, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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