Friday, January 20, 2017

Democracy’s Fall, the Day of Déjà Vu

Charlie Chaplin (18891977) in his depiction of The Great Dictator
HARDLY does the issue need to be named, yet many in the church today are falling for something that was only eradicated seventy years ago — the rise of a fascist threat on the global stage that promises clandestinely (at this stage) to take no prisoners; the church in its wake, ensconced.
It is appalling that people within its structure cannot see segments of the church go so easily to a potentially despotic regime. Yet, none of us should be surprised. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. These cycles shouldn’t astonish us, for they’re clearly visible in God’s Word, and these events litter humanity’s short history. Not being astonished, however, such a history-repeating-itself should be abhorred.
A day is coming — a day humanity should all fear — and it’s not the Day of the Lord.
The Disgustingly Redolent Day the Church Fell, Almost as One, to a Dictator
Hear this echo in the words of church historian, Justo L. González:
“Hitler felt that Christianity, with its teachings of universal love and turning the other cheek, was antagonistic to his ultimate goals of conquest and domination — but he sought to use the church to support those goals.”[1] (emphasis, mine)
Can anyone alive today possibly recall what that era was like? Only those who lived through it. Experience is the greatest teacher. Despite the history lessons, we’re destined the temptation to disbelieve what we never experienced. (How many people believe the Holocaust is a myth? Six million Jews murdered — systematic genocide — and some people still prefer a conspiracy theory.)
I see church leaders, lobbyists and Christians, some from unlikely sources, falling. You can stink the ignorance from years out. The key test is a political one: if a President sanctions one or two policies that church leaders, lobbyists and Christians believe so ardently in, those church leaders, lobbyists and Christians may throw their entire lot in with him or her, as if our innumerably diverse world could be reduced to an issue or two. Since when did the entire world revolve around one or even a few ethically-loaded issues?
And what is the price for flattery, one to another? Flattery is its own blank cheque sanction. Flattery, propagating a bloated façade, demotes all who partake, swooning them into the enemy’s arena of treason. More on flattery later.
Any discussion about Hitler leads to contemplations on the scourge of Fascism.
Fascism for Dummies
Fascism: (noun) a form of radical authoritarian nationalism. The term has roots from 1924, as a despicable era developed.
British Fascisti emerged out of the shadows of an Italian movement from 1922–1943 giving rise to Mussolini’s power, and features nationalism in the tones of ultra-royalism, social conservatism, and anti-socialism.
I want to show that, for us Westerners, who may erroneously think that we’re above falling for the evil of authoritarianism, that the roots of fundamentalism as a pathology are ever present, even in our culture. Perhaps at some point even a country’s constitution may not stop it. Fascism is not just a concept of Nazism. Enter the narcissist through international power and watch Fascism be fanned ablaze!
Any ultra-or-anti-anything should raise heckles. Such movements are set on control of every institution, carte blanche, through fear and monocracy.
The Merging of Church and State
Among the freedoms being eroded in our bipolar day is that of free speech within religion and without.
Another Justo L. González quote:
“Hitler’s own program included the unification of all Protestant churches in Germany, and then using them in order to preach his message of German radical superiority, and of a divinely given mission.”[2] (emphasis, mine)
Hitler’s regime used unification, by getting them all under possession of the Third Reich, to weaken not only the Jews.
Don’t forget that Germany was at its zenith as a zeitgeist for theological thought. And with all that theological might in their tenure these leaders, one by one, denomination by denomination, were still duped and/or coerced into capitulation. We should not imagine this time was easy to resist for any leader or person of faith. It must have been seemingly impossible to resist.
What should strike us like a Tsar Bell is the amount the state controlled the church. The Third Reich controlled the German church years before war broke out in 1939.
State control over the church doesn’t need to be overt. There are already rumblings that ministers and churches have been required to hand over their sermons to have them vetted by bureaucrats. State control over freedom of speech and religion is at a volcanic change point — even bureaucrats are confused where lines are appropriately drawn. One moment there is an abuse of human rights, only for a response of political correctness (read, overreaction) to ensue. One response is an abomination, the other an assault on good sense.
An element that confuses all of us even a little more is the fact we live in a postmodern world where truth has fluid relativity. In ethical settings, division is the predictable outcome. At a time when we’re most unified globally, technologically speaking, we live in a world never more divided. That is because everyone has a voice, and revolutions occur daily, not least through social media. Such tipping points into chaos are inevitable.
The world is seeking direction more than ever, but more than ever there’s so much noise. And less than ever people are looking to God, when they need Him most.
God’s Prophecy From One Source, One Only
I searched my mind and will for what the Lord would wish to say. He directed me to the Source, His Word. One prophetic utterance from Daniel 11:29-35 (HCSB):
“At the appointed time he will come again to the South, but this time will not be like the first. Ships of Kittim will come against him, and being intimidated, he will withdraw. Then he will rage against the holy covenant and take action. On his return, he will favor those who abandon the holy covenant. His forces will rise up and desecrate the temple fortress. They will abolish the daily sacrifice and set up the abomination of desolation. With flattery he will corrupt those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will be strong and take action. Those who are wise among the people will give understanding to many, yet they will die by sword and flame, and be captured and plundered for a time. When defeated, they will be helped by some, but many others will join them insincerely. Some of the wise will fall so that they may be refined, purified, and cleansed until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.” (emphasis, mine)
These are the signs of the times that could be coming; times that call us all to high alert, but times when some in key areas of influence, could be many, will perceive as high attraction. Could it be that some notable church leaders and lobbyists have already abandoned the holy covenant?
Even in a way that appears to be obedience to the holy covenant.
Hard to tell, exactly, but suspicion rises, as it has to in this Day. The church must watch for an autocrat who is not only prepared to punish naysayers, but who flatters supporters. Oppressors do that. With tyranny, they show disdain for a flouting audacity of a resistance that they, themselves, in their audacity, flaunt through provocation. Because they have power, as if power were a thing to appropriately abuse — where such abuses are not considered an abuse, but a right, for the fact that power’s residence gives them, they feel, unequivocal though self-assigned rights.
The Seventy Years
There is something very biblical about the seventy-year timeframe.
I simply wonder if there’s anything in the period 1946–2016, which, from a global viewpoint, we could call the dormant years. 2016 seemed like quite a remarkable year; the end of something, perhaps. Time will tell.
2016 highlighted more than ever a transition in the way our political world works. A latent toxin emerged, one that has always been there, one waiting for its stage to arrive.
The Toxicity of Today’s Political Environment in the Social Media Age
One reason the Despot thrives is he flourishes well in a toxic environment, even exacerbating and enchanting the trolls against him or her — paradoxically, it takes one troll to joust with another, for the way they bludgeon each other with murderous orotundity is bewildering.
Fury has words that should never be publicised, and yet with light-speed regularity Joe Public as well as Well-To-Do Celebrity eat away the middle ground of politics when they spray their venom. Their respective rancour contributes a volley of blows, as the extremities that crouch in the trenches convince the other ninety percent of the world by their behaviour (don’t go there; you won’t come out alive!) not to bother entering the bloody arena so inanely sordid and scornfully alien to fecund goodwill.
The very unfortunate trend is good people are not entering politics, or do not survive, but the bullies are and do. The bullies are winning and they will rule over a world that buckles to them, because they confound reason.
***
The signs of trouble are obvious. Take three salient examples, for I’m hardly a politics-watcher: the rampant intolerance with the media, the egotistical use of social media, where the word “me” is so regularly used, and the nationalism of Make-America-Great-Again-and-to-hell-with-everyone-else-not-with-my-agenda, particularly with separatist overtones. Calling some News organisations “fake news” because they are anti should ring warning bells of déjà vu. Can a President of the United States use Twitter like he has?
Let us watch for signs of intolerance, national seeking of and striving for perfectibility, the undermining of minorities, and the type of groupthink that underscores humanity’s resemblance to sheep. The church has folded as one before. It may happen again before the end.
It may take years for this to occur, recalling that Hitler’s fascist rise took place close to a decade before World War II was in full swing.
Where are the Dietrich Bonhoeffers and the Martin Niemollers of our age — those who gave their lives for the truth they, by God, could see? Those Christian leaders who heap a surfeit of flattery on a dictator will not glorify God but will earn for themselves an infamy of ignominy.
One test of the thesis presented is direct sanction and punishment as a result, like prison or conscription, as happened to those who resisted in World War II and at other times. Can we see the signs in others who have resisted? I think we can.
George Santayana (1863–1952), philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist, once said:
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Whatever happens, we can strap ourselves in for one hell of a ride.
Postscript: I pray that these words make a fool out of me in future years to come; that a certain Presidency is vaunted for its fruit.


[1] The Story of Christianity – Volume II – The Reformation to the Present Day, HarperOne, 2010, p. 308.
[2] The Story of Christianity – Volume II – The Reformation to the Present Day, HarperOne, 2010, p. 462.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Cosmic Order of Things Speaking Into Reality

“Everything in Christianity is some kind of anticipation of something that is to be at the end of the world.”
— John Wesley (1703 – 1791)
Reality. What does that term mean to you? For the purposes of this little piece I want us to focus, initially, on reality being the physical life we live in: the world, the universe, everything we can touch or see.
Reality is a marvellous thing, transcending mere concept. It breaks through the nebulous and convinces us it must be believed in. Our senses testify to what we cannot deny!
And, yet, despite the incontrovertible nature of reality, we know there’s more. Our hearts tell us, for God set it there.[1] That there is more than reality, however, is a reality we must believe by faith, for we cannot perceive it with human senses. When belief surpasses doubt and we bring God into matters of ‘reality’ then we really do start to live what Wesley said above.
Our faith can be envisaged as our desire to meet with the cosmic God, because we see that reality is not all there is.
Indeed, the more we believe, the more God breaks through past the distractions of this world, impressing His loving faithful Self on us through His Spirit.
God may be thought of as the cosmic order of things. And that reality at the end of the world — whether by death, rapture or some other meeting with God — speaks ever more urgently into our reality.
Death compels us to think of what’s coming, and faith reconciles difficult matters for us. The more we follow Jesus, the more the Father moves toward us by His Spirit. And our lives are enlivened and enriched as a result. This is the abundant life.
God reaches down and through into our lives. Eternity beckons. The end of the world. Now, next Thursday or five million years away matters little. The point is it’s inevitable. God wins. And in God winning, every believer, too, wins.
And still there is great sadness, for the reality we’ve been blessed to enjoy is coming to its end. Or perhaps it’s an all-surpassing joy, finally peace.
A bittersweet prospect. Who can comprehend it? Fortunately, comprehension is not the point. Which is: living now and hoping for then.


[1] See Ecclesiastes 3:11.

Monday, January 16, 2017

If the Preacher Doesn’t Impress You…

This is a sermon I wish to preach one day… if a church would let me…
My aim today is to convince you that my work in preaching is done, here, today, even if you don’t enjoy it or aren’t inspired by it. Even if you don’t like it. And I warn you, you may not like what you hear me say today. I accept that up front.
I want you to know, in 30 minutes’ time, that just because I’m not a charismatic speaker doesn’t mean God isn’t using me; that if I’m unimpressive on this occasion it’s not that the Holy Spirit isn’t speaking through me. Indeed, I’m wanting to say the opposite — that the fact I’m here today means the Holy Spirit is using and will use me.
Further to that, I want to suggest that God will use me today to show you that it’s an acute idolatry to come to this or any other church simply to hear a particular sermon or speaker, and to laud that person for their oratory brilliance. There’s no problem with compliments for your thankfulness, we just need to keep it at that. Say it, then leave it, for the person, themselves. Don’t go on about it. Going on about it serves nobody, and it nullifies the Kingdom effect.
God can and does speak through anyone, because most of what God has to say has to happen in you. This is a biblical fact. If you have ears to hear you will hear. And hear well. If your mind is piqued and curious, your cognitions will stimulate your thinking. You’ll be contemplative, both here and for days afterward. If your heart is prepared to receive, it will receive today, and we trust the Spirit for that. If your will is strong in the Lord today, you’ll leave with your spiritual hands readied to do some hard God work.
Besides, I’m only a little part of your experience here today. The words you hear me speak are only a tiny component of what you think as you hear me speak the words. All your life context, your experiences, personality, pastimes, your spiritual gifts, and many other components of you come into play as my words hit you.
Whilst listening, you’ll analyse my words for truth, for instance, checking to see that they’re true, and when that box is ticked in your subconscious thinking, then, because you’re seeking a performance, you’ll begin to rate me; but a performance I’ll not give you, for the truth in all its unadulterated splendour is all you need. It’s all God wants me to give you. I know you want a performance, because I want a performance out of me, just like I like a performance when I’m sitting in a pew. But God’s thinking is not our thinking, just as His ways are not ours, as it’s said in Isaiah 55:8-9. God wants His message spoken plainly, for willing ears to hear, for incisive minds to contemplate, for hungry hearts to receive, for hard working hands to apply.
It’s taken me twelve years of occasional preaching (I’ve preached only about one hundred times) to realise this: 
God doesn’t want you pampered by my winsomeness,
He wants you piqued by His Word.
All I would need to do would be to read fluently from His Word and His power should work through that spoken work, and if it doesn’t, that’s not my fault. His Word says that that would be your issue; a mirror back to you and your relationship with God. Of course, we want to contextualise God’s Word for today.
Just because I read from notes doesn’t mean God doesn’t have something profound to say through me. It doesn’t mean I’m not anointed to speak here. The very fact I’m here for this purpose says something powerful about God and His mighty church. I was chosen to give this sermon today, just as the person was last week, and the person next week is. I’m hoping you’re thinking about those who preach here.
Just because I don’t use much humour, as if God’s Word and His Kingdom were funny, doesn’t mean my delivery is getting in the way. Could it just be that preachers who use lots of humour are compensating for something? I mean, are you here to be entertained? It’s a serious question. Because church in our world has become that way. Not only are we required to entertain people, we’re indulging them in the process. Sure, some preachers are naturally funny people. It’s great if that’s who they are. I’m more your serious kind of guy, so God is happy for me to be me.
Just because I don’t tell lots of interesting stories, which, where there are lots of them, or a lot of narrative content, really are fluff for little kiddies, doesn’t mean I’m not presenting well. Are we mature enough to hear the Word preached plainly without mollycoddling you with stories?
I want to suggest that well packaged entertainment is milk when what all of us need, as Hebrews’ says, is more solid food. In the Holman Christian Standard Bible, Hebrews 5:11-14 reads like this… it’s heading is…
The Problem of Immaturity
11 “We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become too lazy to understand. 12 Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. 13 Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature — for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.”
When we seek to be placated by entertaining messages what we’re really saying is the sermon needs to suit me. Rather, it should be the other way around; every sermon suits me — it actually does — for, through its words the Holy Spirit will reach me and usher into me a cherished Word all for me, alone. The Holy Spirit, and not the preacher, will speak powerfully about where our faith is at, how we’re getting on with others, who we need to forgive, about our sin, and how we’re relating to God, Himself. All that goes on as we bathe in the Word during any sermon at all. But, if we listen to a sermon with derision because we dislike the preacher, their delivery, or their material, God is speaking to us… derision, really?
So, it’s not about entertainment or eloquence. It’s about the Holy Spirit’s engagement and energising of us.
As a speaker who cannot claim eloquence, and who refuses to entertain, I want to explore for a moment two key figures in the Bible who, too, were not regarded as eloquent:
Paul as Preacher
Paul felt this sense of not being impressive enough by the Corinthians when he said in verse 1 of chapter 10 of his second canonical letter… I who am humble among you in person but bold toward you when absent.” Nothing about being a bold preacher from his own nib. He preferred to boast in Christ, and indeed would refuse to boast in himself or anyone else. Paul reinforced this when he quotes them as saying, “His letters are weighty and powerful, but his physical presence is weak, and his public speaking is despicable.” (2 Corinthians 10:10) Such a person should consider this: what we are in the words of our letters when absent, we will be in actions when present. The Greek word for “despicable” can be read as “pathetic” and to be “considered of no account,” and even “contemptible.” And to be counted as “weak” in person, no wonder the Corinthians couldn’t regard Paul’s preaching ability — they were already convinced!
Yes, the apostle Paul!
If anyone was a super-apostle of the Lord, Paul was. And, even though Paul conceded he wasn’t professionally trained as a speaker (2 Corinthians 11:6), he counted all worth in his presentation to be the knowledge he presented, not in its delivery. Somehow, we forget this. That barring nobody, the most famous and influential Christian to live, Christ’s very apostle, leant not on his delivery, but on the knowledge he imparted — if only those there before him would listen. Many churches, of course, did. But not as recorded in Corinthians.
Paul faced criticism about his speaking when other apparently more eloquent Judaizers (leaders trying to bring Jewish principles back into the Christian faith, who were said to be super-apostles) received rave reviews.  Yet, isn’t it amazing the faith of someone so “unimpressive?” And yet the last word is that Luke depicts Paul in Acts as a bold and powerful rhetorician. Earlier, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he responds to the fact that the Corinthians are impressed by Apollos (chapter 3) and he apologises sarcastically that he did not come to them “with eloquent wisdom” (1:17), when he says that “Christ did not send me to baptise but to preach the gospel, and not with the cleverness of human eloquence, so that the cross might not be emptied of its meaning.” (1 Corinthians 1:17) Cleverness in this context is not a good word; it’s a worldly word. Do we hear Paul’s words here? Human eloquence empties the cross of its meaning — it shines the light not on Christ, but on the gifted speaker. Yet, Paul’s point was that it is spiritual immaturity to have partiality with men when we need to be impartial followers of Jesus, alone. And it is entirely possible that Paul suffered stage fright (a form of public speaking phobia), at least in some situations.
Moses as Leader and Speaker
What about other reluctant speakers in the Bible? Well, we know Moses (Exodus 4:12) was less than impressive, or at least he didn’t rate himself. What Paul was for the New Testament, certainly Moses was for the Old Testament.
If we analyse Exodus 4:10 and 6:12, where Moses laments in God’s Presence why he cannot accept the calling that he ultimately does accept. Moses says he is not eloquent, nor a skilled speaker, nor fluent. At best, Moses had a fear of public speaking; at worst, he was actually impaired in some way.
Some historians postulate that Moses was incredibly knowledgeable and gifted in speech, and Stephen in Acts 7:22 says it in plain words. Moses, these historians would convince you, was an Israelite who, because of the time he spent and the education he gained in Egypt, possibly found it hard to relate and communicate with his own people. He possibly fought for acceptance. Either way, God still used him to lead the people out of Egypt toward the promised land. He was still a capable enough orator to get the job done — an historically massive job at that.
Back to the Humble Preacher
As ministers we work hard at increasing our preaching skills. It’s our craft. It’s where we spend a fair amount of our time in professional development. It’s where we’re likely to make the broadest and biggest impact in church life. There’s no excuse for incompetent preparation. One pastor in his 80s who I knew told me about preaching, “it is and it’s always been 99 percent perspiration, one percent inspiration,” inferring not only the hard work that went into it, but the lack of savvy eloquence. There’s also no excuse for impassionate delivery. Many ministers, myself included, practice their sermons before they preach them, to hear the words as they come out, to refine the message, and to train the mind and mouth connection to say parts of the message that need to sound seamless.
I once heard Tim Keller, the famed New York pastor, say that he still puts in twenty-five hours into each of his messages. I’m not embarrassed to say that I usually spend that much time on my messages, praying, contemplating, reading, writing, practising delivery, re-writing, honing, praying some more. Most ministers I would venture to say would take at least ten hours to go through the same process. At least. Some are able to get up with less preparation, but these would be the significant few-percentile minority.
None of what I’m saying means I’m not responsible for preaching a sound Word faithfully to you. I must do that. Only if I don’t do that am I what they said of Paul — despicable, but for other reasons. And I trust you to let me know. But I’m sure, with the training I’ve had and the preparation I’ve put in, that this is a worthy Word for you to ponder upon, albeit an unusual message.
I want to challenge you to see your preachers and the preaching you receive in a new way. See them and it as God speaking to you through them, and not as them performing. It’s not about the preacher or the preaching. It’s about the capital-M Message.
I want to say it again, in finishing, that:
God doesn’t want you pampered by my winsomeness,
He wants you piqued by His Word.

God knows we all need to grow up and expect less entertainment from the pulpit, and receive more truth about grace. Because truth about grace that abounds in love is all that really matters… not personalities, goose bumps, rating scales, and the rest.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Why Forgiveness is Not About Closure But Resolution

“Hatred stirs up strife, but loves covers all offenses.”
— Proverbs 10:12
One of the purposes of conflict resolution is forgiveness, so quarrels are stopped quickly, for if they’re prolonged, hatred is stirred up, which leads to strife. And this is a lamentable result in any event; reprehensible between, or involving, Christians, who are devoted to their Lord of love.
What love does in us, whenever we know there’s discord between us and another person, is it compels us to do whatever we can to resolve the matter.
Love understands that forgiveness must take place between aggrieved parties.
Love knows that dissension cannot be simply left as it is, as if it had never occurred.
Forgiveness can be thought of, then, as something that cannot simply be one way. One could be prepared to forgive, or to seek forgiveness, to resolve the impasse, but unless the other party comes some way to acknowledging the damage, little progress can be made.
Simply put, no closure can be obtained for one when the other party brings closure.
When one person has nothing else to say or do, the other person is marooned into finding closure when their needs were not, are not, and won’t be considered or cared for. It stirs up a brooding hatred in the person, who could be trying to forgive, simply because of the lack of regard the other person has of resolving the matter to love’s standard of mutual satisfaction.
***
Love covers all offenses by agreeing that disputes must be resolved to parties’ mutual satisfaction. Hatred, however, is content to let justice meander into the wasteland of self-serving strife.
Taking our ball and going home leaves the person holding the bat with nowhere to go.
Love does not win unless everyone wins.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Prayer for Us in the World in Worrying Times

Without much doubt we’re living in tremulous times. The tectonic shifts of seismic proportions in the previous year should cause us all concern.
Our Eternal Father, Who justifies humanity so much as to live, and gives us breath and purpose, I bow before You, and give You what You’ve designed for me to give — recognition of Your Sovereignty over all of life, from eternity past stretched out eternally. You and You alone are worthy of my worship. Forgive me those times when I make idols of other things. I thank You that Your grace is sufficient for me.
Lord, we’re concerned, really disturbed. Firstly, God, it’s the leadership of the United States of America that threatens to destabilise our world most. No matter what people say about the outgoing President, the incoming President seems neither a man of compassion nor wisdom. How will he unify a nation? Why does he affront the world? Secondly, the state of the world’s economy is at a tenuous point, and another breakdown of the financial system can never be counted out, as greed abounds to insatiability. Thirdly, more than ever national governments are thinking selfishly, not inclusively, when the world needs more geopolitical cooperation, not less. The culture of the world’s peoples underpins and drives this, and there seems more a divide — a vicious and vociferous divide, accentuated through this social media age — between the right and the left than ever before. Fourthly, the environment and global warming are possibly beyond repair, even if there was sufficient world leadership to respond. What planet are we leaving to our grandchildren, Father? Is it to another planet You’re calling us? Would we even look after it? Fifthly, and lastly, Lord, what are we to make of terrorism; the insidious scourge, a war from within? How will this menace possibly be defeated?
Lord, grace us with this knowledge: that, no matter what, You and only You are in control, even when it looks like everything is out of control. Grace us with peace when we’re riddled with anxiety, joy when we’re saddened, and hope when despair threatens to swallow us whole.
We know, Father, that You have Your purposes in the way life works out. Assure us now and always, by Your Presence in our person, that You have Your purposes in the way the world is going. Give us vision to see positive things in this world, and passion and energy to join innovative responses within loving communities.
Father, give us hope as the new President is inaugurated, prudence with our resources and diligence for our work, courage to be the people of God who have a voice, faith that You have Earth in the palm of Your hand, and trust as we venture through the world, with Your Spirit’s wisdom guiding us.
We live for You, Father,
In Your Son’s precious and holy name, I pray, in and through the Holy Spirit.
AMEN.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

One Dozen Contemplations

Given that I could not answer easily the question, “How do you contemplate?” here is a contemplation how I contemplate. I find there are deliberate and non-deliberate contemplations.
The deliberate contemplations are:
1.     Reading the Bible – the most direct contemplations come from reading the words, the verses, and whole books of God’s Word. I read expecting to hear from God when reading, and most of the time I do, and especially when I engage in Lectio Divina, which is praying the Word slowly and repeatedly, emphasising words and phrases, imagining ourselves as the reader who is also divine speaker.
2.     Post-difficulty – the soul of lament, when all is despair, is a surprising source of revelation, and it is therefore a key contemplation that searches God. This is one of the reasons why Christians have the advantage in hardship; they use it as impetus for growth.
3.     Napping – an incredible contemplation occurs when we shut off our conscious mind and allow the unconscious mind its voice. Unlike in long sleep, when R.E.M. induces dreams, whereby the dreams speak for the subconscious, naps facilitate the unconscious mind’s voice, bringing it to the surface upon waking. The naps where this is possible, in my personal experience, are sub-15-minute naps.
4.     When praying – bent toward God in my consciousness, free of distractions, I’m His and He is mine. Such a contemplation is often revelatory. There is a discipline involved of praying simply as truthfully as we can. When we pray with others we inevitably have part of ourselves as part of the show. We have to limit this, trusting others and ourselves to the words that come which God wants us to say.
5.     Anti-thought – whenever I seek silence I’m trying to empty my mind. This is a habit, so longer intervals occur between the distractions, which is the noise of life. Stopping thought is the way to achieve mental and spiritual silence so emotional peace can be obtained.
6.     Fasting – although it may not seem to be a form of contemplation, fasting brings in many changes within my spirit, often in the form of challenges. Contemplations that are challenges are God’s revelatory truth — even some we don’t want to face, but beneficial all the same.
Non-deliberate contemplations come because of openness of mind, where and revelation results — i.e. hearing from or seeing God through non-deliberate contemplation — in other words, in the normal walk of life. Here are some that I find relevant in my life:
7.     Movement – I’m sensitive to movement, and anytime I’m moving, whether I’m on transport or walking or cycling, etc., I inevitably hear from/see God.
8.     In nature – like many people, when I’m out in nature I cannot help but be touched by God through what my senses experience.
9.     Marriage and family – so much raw material for contemplation comes through our relationships. We have such intimacy in a great many of our relationships, and God speaks through them all. I’ve always been the kind of person who ruminates on my interactions with others.
10. Learning, any learning – stimulus is contemplation of a most natural means. The greatest reason to take a university course is that the mind grows through constant contemplation.
11. Mentoring – whether I’m the mentor or I’m being mentored, God speaks in the transactions. True mentoring, a spiritual process, is one where we all learn, and that’s because the Holy Spirit speaks to anyone who will listen.
12. Observations – places where there is a hive of activity are ripe for revelation as I simply sit and am free to observe.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Enigma of Time and the Conundrum of Eternity

God’s glory superintends all creation, time, and eternity. His glory is a hefty thing. That’s why our lives, our time, and eternity matter so much to us. Like what happens to us once we die. God knows we fret about that. What would weigh us down should now give us hope through what we read in the Bible about the house[1] that is prepared for us in eternity.
But time is an enigma. The older I get the more reminiscent I become. The more I want to step back in time to reconnect with parts of myself that I feel could be lost. If I reflect, emotions come in, welcome ones, but hard at the same time, for they evoke memories that cannot be relived unless in the mind. They’re untouchable. I cannot go back there.
God understands. He made us.
More practically, time is enigmatic in that our perception of time affects everything we do and are. I’ve found that there are two time constants that are beneficial for my focus, and one that leads my focus astray. I must focus on the day, and the worries of the day only, and, simultaneously, maintain focus on the vision God has from a long time ago put in my sights. Those two; right up close, and so far away — years away. The constant of time that is problematic is the focus on tomorrow, next week, next month, even next year — because it busies the mind in so much conjecture. And for what? For no accurate prediction of a result at all. So there are only two time constants that bear truth: right now and the vision that directs our purpose which drives us in the present.
None of us can escape eternity. It’s coming at us, as we hurtle to it.
And it’s not just about our deaths that concerns us about eternity. It’s everyone else’s death that ensconces us there. We lose a precious loved one, and immediately we’re invested into where they went, and, because they cannot return to us, when we can return to them. We’re torn between time and eternity, because we have loved ones both here and departed. Even as we arrive in eternity there will be family and friends back in time. Then we will have to wait for them to return to us.
***
We spend our time thinking about the future and we arrive in the future thinking about the past. We’re constantly fumbling with future and past. And present is simply habit.
Time is best held in the now, with purpose from vision and a definite eternal hope driving us.
Eternity overwhelms us if we think about it too much, but thankfully we have a God who has planned it all before time existed.
The enigma of time and the conundrum of eternity. Neither can we reconcile. So we give up trying and remain content to simply live while we can and not fret about what’s coming.
God gives us time to experience life and grow, and He prepares us an eternal home. Life’s best kept that simple.


[1] John 14.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Never Be Afraid

Never be afraid when life is scary, because the mind provides options, and can steer the heart past fear toward courage, which is hope, a faithful ally.
Never be afraid of stepping out of a boat when the One who owns the ocean is ready to hold you afloat.
… and another like it…
Never be afraid of climbing out on a limb when there is Someone ready to catch you should you fall.
Never be afraid to smile when you’re tempted to frown, for a frown disempowers everyone, but with a smile you’ll warm anyone open to possibilities.
Never be afraid of being caught in a situation you know you can only be vindicated in.
Never be afraid of letting someone off the hook when they expect condemnation; that moment they see Jesus.
Never be afraid of giving yourself up as if that’s the only way to joy; the quickest, surest way to joy is to disappear to yourself.
Never be afraid to take a risk in the present for a future that invests in people.
Never be afraid of saying no, for in saying no power rises for saying yes.
Never be afraid in the midst of terror, in the face of anxiety, for the heart has piqued the mind for some reason, and it’s the mind’s task to discover it.
Never be afraid to listen, for knowledge is only gained when we listen, and ignorance is proffered to those who don’t.
Never be afraid to give up something bad to gain something good, because something good always comes when we give up something bad.
Never be afraid when time collides and priorities swarm, where resources are swallowed up. God is trying to say, “Rest, my little one…”
Never be afraid as a new season approaches, because change leaves us feeling isolated, but change is the only way we can be liberated.
Never be afraid when you feel small and insignificant. The God of time and everything brought you into being and you matter to Him as much as anyone ever has or ever will.
Get it?
Never be afraid.