Are You Seeking Where Christ Is?

"O my God..let it be the one business of my life to glorify thee, by every thought of my heart, by every word of my tongue, by every work of my hand; by professing thy truth even unto death, if it should please thee to call me to it; and by engaging all men, as far as in me lies, to glorify and love thee. Let me lie down with holy thoughts of thee and when I awake let me be possest with thee."
                                   -John Wesley from 'A Collection of Prayers for a Family'

In studying spiritual formation, I have been finding more and more gems of John Wesley such as this one. In both his person and his practice, Wesley was more than "practical theologian," "Oxford don," or "the little preacher." He was a Christian who sought daily and with every moment to be in communion with God.  I read this prayer for the first time as prepared for sleep last night.  It has been with me all this day. 

Look at your life.  Is it, in fact and in substance, different from the world?  What troubles you most in your life and heart?  Where do you find your thoughts lingering most often?  These are the very real questions of the season of Lent in the life of the Church.  I would argue, though, these are the very questions which the follower of Jesus should be asking of ourselves if we are to be about spiritual journey.

It is this reorientation which Paul speaks of when he writes to the Colossian church, "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (2) Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (3) For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (3:1-3, ESV)."  John Wesley comments further stating  "...your real, spiritual life is hid from the world, and laid up in God, with Christ - Who hath merited, promised, prepared it for us, and gives us the earnest and foretaste of it in our hearts  (Notes on the New Testament)."

Do you experience a longing for the things of Christ or does the world maintain a stronger hold, drawing you back again and again?  The "earnest and foretaste" which Wesley speaks of, are a grace given that we might pursue the way of Christ Jesus.  The practices of the spiritual life are available so we might receive more of this grace, a growing "earnest and foretaste" of being "where Christ is" with each day.

We have no problem with justifying the time to drive to the mall for a "need," attracted by the "foretaste" of the latest commercial or e-mail from Abercrombie.  How "earnest" are you for the next Apple or product on the market?  What thoughts do you lie down with each night and what thoughts capture you in the morning?  

Some may ask, "Why Wesley?"  And I ask, "Why another?"  The Character of a Methodist is as clearly and resoundingly a Christian way of holiness as other orthodox practices.  Were we to promote and practice ourselves, in our own personal life, this same practice and call to holiness of heart and life, I don't know if we'd come to full agreement, but I suspect we would be a church and clergy, more "in Christ" than infatuated with being liked by the world.

On The Glory Road: Costly Love

31 On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to Him,
 "Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You."
32 And He said to them, "Go, tell that fox,
'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.'
33 Nevertheless I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day following;
for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem.
34 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!
35 See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you,
you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say,
 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!' "
Luke 13:31-35 (NKJV)

I remember the first time kayaking at Camp Glisson as part of their outdoor adventure program called Summit Camp.  That first year, I learned about the history of Dahlonega and the gold rush.  The promise of easy gold paid out for only a few.  If you’ve ever gone panning up Consolidated Gold Mines, you learn quick what most of those gold rush miners discovered – it is a hard road to make a living mining.  The promise of easy riches didn’t work out so well.

Are you more inclined to align your life with the promises offered by earthly rulers or can you make sense of your life by bringing it in line with establishing God's kingdom?  Call them politicians if it makes it more palatable but don't be confused because we live in the United States.  Be wary as well of those who wear religious garbs too.

Do not forget the lesson of the past week...the time of testing.  Just a week has gone by and how quickly, how soon, we forget the testing time Jesus faced in the desert.  Jesus understood clearly that the glory road, the path to Jerusalem, the way to the cross, was not going to be paved by good intentions or a complacent Christ.

We prefer to keep our religious life and private life separate, kind of like an egg carton, keep our lives compartmentalized and in a shell.  If they break, well then, they may run together – get all mixed up.  Be religious on Sunday.  Be an employee/employer/student/teacher during the weekdays.  Be a family on weeknights.  Be the party animal on Friday and Saturday night.  All of our nice compartments – don't overturn them – we like them this way.  We resist change.  Keep things comfortable.

This encounter and the words shared between Jesus and the Pharisees seem strange to our ears.  Yet, there is something familiar here.  I'm reminded of a conversation I heard years ago, one regarding the growing popularity of Christian Contemporary music and the early days of establishing services similar to our 9:51 service.  The lady said, “I don't want to hear the music on the radio in my church.  One belongs in my personal life and the other belongs in my church!” 

But Jesus, in this passage, seems to care less what makes anyone comfortable.  We can't really get a good read on the Pharisees – do they care about what happens to Jesus or do they really want him gone?  Jesus doesn't care.  He tells them to go back to Herod an address him with an insult!  Clearly Jesus' isn't concerned much for Herod either.  Jesus has a time table today – tomorrow – the third day = God the Father has  laid out a path all the way to Jerusalem where the people will make their own decision.

Luke identifies three groups, groups, which aren’t so different than groups we find today.  I characterize them as…
1.  The Powerful: Herod (government)
2.  The Pompous: Pharisees (religious)
3.  The People: Jerusalem (majority)
Jesus, as always, is very careful with his choice of words and we should take note of the parallel structure of verse 32 & 33.  The words emphasize that being perfected (or becoming complete) is the goal.  To reach that goal, one is to travel the way of suffering OR the way of brokenness.  (See Hebrews 2:10 “made perfect (complete) through suffering”). 

The verb poreuomai (keep going – must journey) re-iterates the way or trajectory Jesus is on: first, to suffering and death on the cross and then on from there to glorification.  Now, to have glory, to be glorified means to be someone of great importance.  Jesus is saying to those who are resistant, “You are not the ones to determine when things are complete!  I am on the journey to completeness.  It will come when I’ve suffered, died and am raised and then you will see clearly the great importance of who I AM!”

Along the glory road, the road Jesus calls us to follow him along, you are going to find those who will resist, those who will seek to pull you down.  It is costly after all. I have at times resisted myself.  Haven’t you wanted power?  Has the pomp and preaching seemed attractive?  Have you been tempted by the praise of people?  The packaging of the world may change but what is inside is still counterfeit, it is like fools gold in the rivers of north Georgia.  The glory road will be hard.  Loving like Jesus does is costly.  We may not even see much benefit but it leads to a glory which never fades.

What Does It Matter?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on being a Methodist and reflecting on a recentarticle by Richard Rohr.  From that article I got some great questions and had some good discussions.  However, one response I had not expected came up and it surprised me.  I was asked a number of times in different ways, why does it matter?

Indeed!  Why does it matter if as a Methodist I read Richard Rohr?  Well, generally, it does not.  John Wesley read widely and encouraged his pastors to be informed.  But Wesley questioned a lot – nearly everything he read he examined it, tested it and then wrote about it.  There were few things he did not have an opinion on in his day and just because a person was a Christian writer, one did not get a free pass (Madame Guyon surely got no free pass from Wesley, nor did Toplady or Whitefield).

Still, the question was a fair one to ask and so I have been asking myself why it matters since for some it does not.  I can say it matters because I took vows at my ordination to do theology in a certain way, but it goes deeper than that alone.  In my opinion it is part of being honest with myself and with those who come to me seeking my direction and companionship on their spiritual journey.  

So I put myself back in my own shoes, going back to when I have sought out a spiritual director for myself.  I thought about the questions I ask, unconsciously usually, as I choose books and authors to read.  I came up with four, starting with...

1.  Who informs you?

I am no fan of Mark Driscoll.  Thought I was at one point, then I listened to a few sermons and…nah.  Recently I came across this video on youtube and all of a sudden I found a new respect for the man. 

I won’t be listening to his sermons every week now but I respect how he comes out in the open and shares about who informs his life.  I know where he is coming from and I know who Mark looks up to in his life.

Being in a spiritual direction relationship means the directee has to have a level of trust in the director from the beginning.  When you are about to sit down and begin sharing your faith journey, the struggles and joys you have with God, knowing who has informed a spiritual director’s life and ministry can matter.  My director is Roman Catholic.  I chose this director, in part, because of the tradition, because of who informed them.

2.  How do you do life?

This next one comes out of the first.  Who informs you as a Christian, or as a director often influences how one does life.  As a United Methodist spiritual director, I’m going to live out my life by those practices of my denomination.  For me, the “open table” of Communion (anyone who earnestly repents of their sin is welcome to come to take Communion) is part of how I do life – it is a value.  Free grace is another.  The means of grace, those practices of personal prayer and devotional life as well as being engage in issues of justice and mercy matter deeply.

I don’t go to a spiritual director to delve into their life – I’m going because I need someone to trust who I can share mine with them.  However, I need to know spirituality is not just a job but a vocation.  A director’s own life should influence a directee in a positive way toward holiness.

3.  Can you listen to me?

We change as we are shaped by God’s grace and the circumstances of life.  However, if those who inform you are not modeling in themselves a willingness to listen, are you going to be able to listen to me?  Are you able to listen to the Holy Spirit at work in my life?  The writer of Proverbs says it well, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm (13:20 ESV).”

4.  What will you say to me?

If I say I am United Methodist, you can look that up.  If I say I went to Garrett-EvangelicalSeminary and Asbury Theological Seminary and gave you the names of my professors and their classes and publications, you can look those up too.  You may already have come up with opinions just based on that alone!  You still will not know what I’ll say but it is likely you’ll have a better idea than if I withheld that information.  If I say that denominational affiliation or faith tradition does not matter?  You may well walk away thinking I’m living in denial. 

If you are a director, you come from somewhere and those places and experiences and teachings will shape you.  You may react against those formative experiences but that is something to be honest with yourself about for sure.  But have you thought about how it might come out with a directee?  If I am coming to you for spiritual direction and my story touches on those things, what will you say to me?  Are you listening to the Holy Spirit, your tradition, or your favorite author?

I expect these are not the only ones I ask.  I also think the application applies to more than just spiritual direction.  I think very few of us can say we have grown up on an island and have not been influenced by other people and experiences.  It matters because being authentic is not a buzz word for me.  It is similar to the word I use for one of the men I respect most in my life, my dad.  The word that best describes him?  Integrity and if for that reason alone, then I want to have integrity when I care for and guide people on their spiritual journey with God.

Lectio Visual for Tuesday

To practice Lectio Visual, walk through the following steps:

            Look (Read):  Consider deeply the image and what is being “said.”
            Linger (Reflect):  What is the verse or word being given to you?
            Led (Respond): How are you being called to respond?
            Lay (Rest): Be in God's presence.
            Live (Return): Moving back into the world with how we've been changed.

Take time to reflect on the image.  As you look at this image, what words come to your mind?  Look at the people, their faces, their body language.  What speaks to you about the location?  The weather?  Specifically, what Scripture passage or phrase does the Holy Spirit inspire them to speak to you?   You may think of a recent news article or a quote by a famous person.  So it maybe from another word or phrase that you are  inspired you to look up a Scripture.  If you need help, you might try going to to do a search through the Bible.  

Remember that there are those images, icons or symbols that appeal to us.  As an incredibly visual society images are incredibly important.  Christianity has been using images since the earliest days of the church.  BUT, we need to realize that there are also images that don’t attract us or inspire us with joy or peace.  These images are just as likely to be used by God.  

Whatever that verse or word or phrase, take that as a guide for your prayer through this day.  Read or say that verse or phrase out loud if you have time or space to do so.  If not, silently reflect and pray.  If it is a full story, consider using more of Lectio Divina which I talk about elsewhere on my blog.  You've probably figured out this is by Dr. Seuss.  I learned about this piece of art from a friend as part of The Academy of Spiritual Formation.  For a little more background on the Unknown Art of Dr. Seuss click through to the Smithsonian Studio Arts blog.

Rules for Relationships - One Final Thought

Sunday was Scout Sunday and I want to thank all the Scouts and Scouters out there who invest so much into these programs to build up young people.  You don't have to wonder what guides a Scout.  Through scouts' oaths and laws, you get a clear picture of what their ideals are – what they are shooting for in life.  No other group of young women or young men walks with such a transparent set of ideals.

Maybe you have wondered, wouldn’t it be great if God was as transparent?  Sometimes, it sure would make things easier especially when it seems so many other people God does seem to be more transparent than he is with us.  We read the Bible and hear the stories and ask," why doesn’t God speak to me in a burning bush?  Why don’t I get clear dreams about what God wants me to do?  Why don’t amazing things happen to reveal God to me?"

I have been convinced for awhile God prefers hide-n-seek and scavenger hunts rather than e-mail and cell phones.  But more recently I’ve come to a place where I think I maybe off just a bit.  I recently spent a week listening to Dr. Bob Mulholland, author of a great book on the Christian life entitled, "Invitation to a Journey."  He referenced an unknown author who wrote, “God is always at home.  It is we who have gone for a walk.”  If you’ll notice in the stories in the Bible how even when people like Moses sees the burning bush or Peter has a dream – they still argue with God about what to do – even when He speaks and becomes transparent.

God is mysterious.  God does keep secrets.  But when it comes to the heart of what matters most; when it comes to us – God is transparent.

For YEARS, people have wondered and asked – “what does God want from me and my life?”  But long ago, in a sort of three-way, conversation between God, a prophet named Micah, and the people, the people asked…

Micah 6:6-8 (GNB) (6)  What shall I bring to the LORD, the God of heaven, when I come to worship him? Shall I bring the best calves to burn as offerings to him?  (7)  Will the LORD be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or endless streams of olive oil? Shall I offer him my first-born child to pay for my sins?  (8)  No, the LORD has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.

God has made himself transparent with us.  How does he want us to live and what does he want us to do?  Do Justice.  Show love and mercy.  Walk humbly with God.  Clearly, there is nothing we can give to God – nothing that God needs from us.  But to us he makes himself transparent – sharing with us what he desires of us…

God’s heart says we should give all their due whether it is our boss or friend but also those who have no voice – the needy and the prisoner.  We should love mercy – not just seek justice but go farther and act with kindness – meet the need.  But that isn’t all, because God asks us to walk humbly.  And to do that, we must be transparent. 

When a person becomes transparent – authentic with God – then it follows, that we’ll become transparent with others.  If there was any doubt of God’s willingness to be transparent with us – we need only look at Jesus the Christ – God in the flesh.  This is what Christmas is all about!

How do we become transparent with God?  In his own words, Jesus said, “I can guarantee this truth: Those who listen to what I say and believe in the one who sent me will have eternal life. They won't be judged because they have already passed from death to life.”  (John 5:24 GW) 

To walk humbly with God means letting go of the idea that you are God – that you’re in control – because you aren’t.  To walk humbly means asking of ourselves a question Bob Mulholland asked our Academy group, "On whose terms is God, God?"  I did that for the first time when I was a junior in high school.  I’ve had to do it many days in my relationships. 

God calls us to be transparent with a God who has never hidden his plan and desire for us.  Though somethings are hidden, the rules for relationship with God and with one another are thankfully, quite clear.  Whatever it is, whatever part of your life that you’ve yet to share with God, may I suggest that today is the day to begin living these rules for relationships.

Lectio Visual on Transfiguration

Luke 9: 28-34  by Chris Cook

 For Lectio Visual, walk through the following steps:

            Look (Read):  Consider deeply the image and what is being “said.”
            Linger (Reflect):  What is the verse or word being given to you?
            Led (Respond): How are you being called to respond?
            Lay (Rest): Be in God's presence.
            Live (Return): Moving back into the world with how we've been changed.

Take time to reflect on the image.  As you look at this image, what words come to your mind?  Look at the people, their faces, their body language.  What speaks to you about the location?  The weather?  Specifically, what Scripture passage or phrase does the Holy Spirit inspire them to speak to you?   You may think of a recent news article or a quote by a famous person.  So it maybe from another word or phrase that you are  inspired you to look up a Scripture.  If you need help, you might try going to to do a search through the Bible.  In this case, the upcoming Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday so you may want to spend time with Luke 9:28-34.

Remember that there are those images, icons or symbols that appeal to us.  We are  now an incredibly visual society and images are important.  Christianity has been using images since the earliest days of the church.  BUT, we need to realize that there are also images that don’t attract us or inspire us with joy or peace that are just as likely to be used by God. 

Whatever that verse or word or phrase, take that as a guide for your prayer through this day.  Read or say that verse or phrase out loud if you have time or space to do so.  If not, silently reflect and pray.  If it is a full story, consider using more of Lectio Divina which I talk about elsewhere on my blog.  I would also encourage you to visit the website of artist Chris Cook, a native of Georgia and view his other works as well.

Rules for (Marriage) Relationships

I know that these verses carry a lot of baggage through the years and it is easy to just dismiss them.  But it is a poor approach to Scripture to simply dismiss verses we don't like just because they seem to be out of touch with modern thought.  You may not agree with my conclusions but I invite you to join me in wrestling with these Rules for Marriage Relationships that Paul wrote...

  Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church,because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.‭ (Ephesians 5:22-33, NRSV)

Before we got married,‭ ‬Heather and I went through premarital counseling.‭  ‬In fact,‭ ‬it was using the Prepare/Enrich program we are using for the Strong Marriage Conference this coming weekend.‭  ‬There I was introduced one of the two books recommend to couples that I counsel.‭  ‬One of them is called,‭ ‬His Needs.‭  ‬Her Needs,‭ ‬by Dr.‭ ‬Willard Harley.‭  ‬In his work and research,‭ ‬Dr.‭ ‬Harley identifies those things needed most by spouses.‭  ‬He takes the top‭ ‬5‭ ‬needs of men and women and helps us understand not just the need but how we might learn to meet that need.

‭‬Dr.‭ ‬Harley’s approach made such an impact on me.‭  ‬You see,‭ ‬he gives a cheat sheet‭ ‬-‭ ‬the answers to the questions about knowing what my best friend needs.‭  ‬But then,‭ ‬as I read through these words of Paul,‭ ‬I couldn’t help but place Dr.‭ ‬Harley’s lens on the text.‭  ‬I began to wonder,‭ “‬Has Paul also given us a cheat sheet on how the rules for a Christian marriage work‭?

You see,‭ ‬the role of women is fairly clear,‭ ‬if not very much misunderstood.‭  ‬But if we are looking at one another through the eyes of Jesus then something else ought to become clear.‭  ‬Specifically,‭ ‬what if we used his,‭ “‬Golden Rule:‭”  ‬Do Unto Others what you would have them do to you‭ (Matthew 7:12) – ‬and in doing so,‭ ‬we turned the tables on the text‭? ‬The first is most obvious,‭ ‬Paul writes to clearly identify the expectations of women in a marriage‭ (‬and to help us see more of the mystery of the relationship with Christ and the church‭)‬.‭  ‬To submit in marriage IS an act of sovereign will to one WORTHY of respect.‭  ‬It is not to the role of a servant but as a partner.

The second thing,‭ ‬which is not as clear is this: if you know you would like help in fulfilling a task and you know the task put before the person,‭ ‬then it only makes sense that you would do what you would want done,‭ ‬you'd help...and fufill the law of love‭ – ‬the way of Jesus Christ.‭  ‬Husbands,‭ ‬by knowing what it is that your spouse is being asked to do‭ – ‬a choice she gets to make,‭ ‬you have the freedom to choose to make that burden for her AS EASY and AS LIGHT as POSSIBLE‭ – ‬Become worthy of her respect‭!!!  ‬What does that look like‭?  ‬Try Paul’s words:

1Co‭ ‬13:3-8a CEV‭  (‬3‭)  ‬What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive‭? ‬I would gain nothing,‭ ‬unless I loved others.‭  (‬4‭)  ‬Love is kind and patient,‭ ‬never jealous,‭ ‬boastful,‭ ‬proud,‭ ‬or‭  (‬5‭)  ‬rude.‭ ‬Love isn't selfish or quick tempered.‭ ‬It doesn't keep a record of wrongs that others do.‭  (‬6‭)  ‬Love rejoices in the truth,‭ ‬but not in evil.‭  (‬7‭)  ‬Love is always supportive,‭ ‬loyal,‭ ‬hopeful,‭ ‬and trusting.‭  (‬8‭)  ‬Love never fails‭! 

Husbands does this describe you‭?    ‬We may need to trade in the spouse we are and become the spouse our spouse needs so they can be pleasing to God‭ – ‬that is our responsibility.‭

Okay,‭ ‬ladies,‭  ‬I really believe men DO understand what the words are saying‭ – ‬but that is some hard stuff to hear.‭  ‬We want to be men worthy of your respect that is why today all the husbands here will go back and LISTEN OR READ THAT AGAIN.‭ (‬Guys–NOD‭  ‬heads‭)
...‭ ‬but ladies,‭ ‬the question I have for you to consider is this:‭ ‬have you considered WHO HE WOULD LOVE TO DIE FOR‭?

Dr.‭ ‬Harley mentions that one of the‭ ‬5‭ ‬things men need is admiration.‭  ‬You know that‭ “‬Male-Ego Thing‭?”  ‬Yeah,‭ ‬that is real.‭  ‬You know what else‭?  ‬In our day and age‭ – ‬it takes a beating too.‭   ‬Someone once said,‭ ‬men are like M&M's,‭ ‬Hard Candy Shell on the outside‭ – ‬soft and chocolate on the inside.‭  ‬It doesn’t take long for this world to wear out that shell.‭

A husband will go through a lot,‭ ‬even die,‭ ‬for one who shows admiration‭ ‬-‭ ‬who encourages.‭  ‬Ask your husband or fiancee,‭ ‬who are some of the men you admire most and why‭?  ‬Chances are,‭ ‬it was someone who built them up,‭ ‬admired their abilities or gifts,‭ ‬and told them so.

It is your sovereign decision to be the spouse your spouse needs‭ – ‬to trade in the spouse you are now and become the spouse you ought to be.

It is here I think the mystery lies too,‭ ‬regarding Christ and the church‭ – ‬for in Jesus Christ,‭ ‬God has done for us what we couldn't even do for ourselves‭ – ‬he submitted to God's will and died for us all.‭  ‬He lived the Golden Rule and calls us in marriage to live out this Rule for Relationships in this way:‭     ‬“Meet your spouses needs as you would want your spouse to meet yours.‭”

MAY I SUGGEST:  If you are looking for more help with marriage, I strongly encourage you go to the website of Prepare-Enrich.  There are trained counselors in your community who would be willing to help your marriage become all that it can be.

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