Operation Falling in Love

This morning, I spent a great deal fo time pondering the spiritual life. Many of you are likely not surprised by that. Still, it is something I find myself doing regularly. The more I ponder human nature, and our attachment to selfish desires, the more I realize that we cannot live a holy life in this lifetime without falling deeper and deeper in love with God. We cannot be the best version of ourselves without falling head over heels in love with God.

As I think about my own spiritual walk, I see more clearly how it is rooted in selfishness. I want eternal life. I cannot deny that this selfish desire does not it impact my response to the Christian message. I want to do the right thing, and because I am a person of Christian faith, this driver likewise taints my spiritual life. I look at all of the effort I have put into dying to self, and realize how infrequent and how shallow my efforts. 

The more I take these issues to prayer, the more I realize that perfection of me as a person can only happen if I fall deeper in love with God. God is love. Therefore, the greater my love for God, the more God-like I become. The more I fall in love with God, the more pure my intention towards living the Christian life. In other words, the spiritual life will never reach the highest heights without an ever growing love of God. 

Of course, this leads to the question, how does one fall in love with God? I think this happens in a multitude of ways. However, I think all ways are rooted in the truth of the relationship between creator and created. Human behavior wants to bring God to our level. The truth is, he became one of us. He is one of us. However, he came to raise us up to his level. He came so that we might be one with God. The more we dwell on God as one of us, the less emphasis on becoming him. Therefore, pondering the nature of God is a way of increasing one’s love of God. By getting to know him, we cannot help but fall in love with him.

Another way we fall in love with God is in pondering human nature. In particular, our individual nature. I think true Christian joy comes in a deeper and deeper recognition of the horror of our sinful nature. It is so easy to get caught up in the fact that we are sinners, and we will always be sinners. There is a built in capitulation when we accept this as fact. It is just something that is. We can learn a lot from Teresa of Avila, who was horrified at her behavior when she caught herself gossiping. Her horror  helped her to fight against this behavior. I think most of us shrug it off as something we all do. Because we all do it, it is acceptable behavior. If it is acceptable, we do not throw sufficient energy at the problem to fix it. 

When we approach God with a greater awareness of the horrors of our sin, we open ourselves to an incredible prodigal son type experience. When we approach God with true repentance and contrition, we experience the greatest love of all. We experience mercy. By sitting in this love and mercy, we truly start to fall in love with God. In our encounter with the God who is love, we don’t rationalize our behavior, but we take it to him, and he helps us to learn from it. He helps us to heal the things within us that cause us to sin. Throughout this entire process, which happens over and over again during our lives, we fall deeper and deeper in love with God.

Send some time with the Holy Spirit analyzing the depth of your love of God. Because it is impossible for a human to attain perfect love in this life, there is always room to improve. Spend some time seeking guidance from your advocate, the Holy Spirit. Ask him how you can improve. Ask him to  show you ways of deepening your love of God. Spend some time praising God for his greatness. Spend some time seeking a deeper awareness of the horrors of sin, of your sin. Ask him how you can use the truth of both his greatness and your weakness to increase your love of God. Jot down some notes on how you can go about improving your relationship with God. Thank him and praise him for being with you during your time of prayer.

In Him,

dw

St. Stephen, Martyr

In Acts of the Apostles, we read about St. Stephen preaching the Gospel, and how he angered the people who did not want to hear truth. When they raised up against him, he lovingly accepted their response. He lovingly submitted himself to death. He trusted in God.

This ability to forgive others so quickly, even in the act of violence against oneself, is something that is rarely seen. Our world is full of anger, and being able to forgive others quickly is a trait that is desperately needed. I know that when I started practicing this trait while driving, I started realizing how much more peace I have when I quickly forgive others who drive in a way that I feel puts me at risk. The Holy Spirit has encouraged me to recognize that I have probably done similar things to other drivers over the years. This has helped me to have even greater compassion for those driving around me. 

We likewise need to see more forgiveness internally. Many of us have done things that we are not proud of. We have done things that we regret. It is easy to hold these things internally, but we need to forgive ourselves. We need to recognize that God forgives us. If he can, then we need to be able to do so as well.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit today pondering your own relationships. Are you holding grudges against those who have not treated you with respect and dignity? Are you angry with yourself for something that you did or should have done? Do you have anger in your heart? If you find that you do, ask the Holy Spirit to enter into this emotion. Ask him to help you find peace and forgiveness for the situation that comes to mind. If you find yourself unable, even though you desire it, ask the Holy Spirit to continue helping you until you are able to do so.

In Him,

dw

Becoming Agape – Part 3

Over the last few days, we have been talking about the spiritual journey through three aspects of spirituality gleaned from the story of the three wisemen. First, we talked about how they pointed the noses of their camels towards the star of Bethlehem, and how this represents a focus on the teleological view of human existence, how human life should be directed towards a face-to-face encounter with God. We contrasted this with the mechanistic view, which focuses on each person’s right to operate their bodies, their biological machine, as one sees fit. We talked about how the three wisemen went on a journey, and how this journey prepares us for the face-to-face encounter with God; it prepares us for union with God. We talked about God as love, and our union with love as the process of becoming agape. Today, we will talk about what we can learn from the wisemen having packed up their belongings before going on this journey, and how this concept helps us understand the ways in which we become agape. 

When we think about preparing for a journey, there is an understanding that one anticipates what is needed for the journey, a packing up of those items, and a leaving behind everything else. Through this lens, we can start to understand how through cooperation with the Holy Spirit, we pack up our sinful nature and leave it all behind. In this way, we move from a love tainted by selfishness towards agape. We will now exam a couple of different biblical principles to help us understand how this happens, and one process that we have become aware of through 2000 years of experience.

The first biblical perspective is self-discipline and moderation. When we practice self-discipline, we build habits that help keep us from sinning. When we become strong enough to avoid more and more occasions of sin, we start becoming agape.

The second biblical principle is imitating Christ, and we will discuss two lessons from his life that help us become agape. First, when we examine the life of Jesus, we see how he accepted what happened as the will of the father; he surrendered to the will of the father. In so doing, he accepted even death, death on the cross. In imitation of Christ, we, too, can accept the good and bad that comes our way. The bad may not be from God, but he does use them for his glory and the good of all who believe in him.  When we trust him to get us through the dark times, we imitate Christ, and in so doing, we die to our own will. 

In addition, we can add things to our life that help us die to self. In some circles, this is understood as self mortification. An example of this is fasting. When we fast, we sit in the discomfort of hunger, we not only learn to be ok with this discomfort, we also die to our selfish desire to relieve this discomfort. I would say that any time we find ourselves with a burning desire to flee or to numb ourselves, we should sit with the discomfort, allow it to curb our selfish desires, and in so doing, grow into agape. 

In reflecting on 2000 years of history, we can also see how mental prayer, like meditation, transforms us into the image of God. In mental prayer, we ponder things of God, and by this I mean we allow our minds to mull over the mysteries of God’s revelation. The saints have shown us that practices such as these, open us to the Holy Spirit, who enters in, convicts us of our sins, helps us to repent, and then works with us to heal our brokenness. In fact, the Holy Spirit will start to show us where our actions may not be sinful, per se, but where our drivers, our motivations behind the actions, are tainted with selfish desires.  This gives us the opportunity to repent, and with His help, our behaviors are purified. 

It is important to understand that the Holy Spirit is the one who drives the process of becoming agape. He is our star of Bethlehem, and he guides us on the way. When we invite him into our acts of self-discipline, he super-naturalizes our efforts. When we invite him in to our effort to die to self, we find ourselves able to go deeper in the process. Finally, I would say that mental prayer without the Holy Spirit is pretty much pointless. God is beyond our comprehension, and without God opening us to a deeper understanding of the meaning of life, we will not get very far. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit reflecting on these three aspects of becoming agape. Does your spiritual life include all three practices? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand more fully how a healthy spiritual life incorporates all three into your life. Ask him to show you how to cooperate with him in all three aspects. Ask him to be your guiding light. 

In Him,

dw 

Becoming Agape – Part 2

Yesterday, I shared with you my recent talk on the three Wiseman, and how I extracted three topics related to spirituality from the story. The first was pointing the camel’s noses towards the star of Bethlehem, which showed us that our lives are supposed to be aimed towards the beatific vision, a face-to-face encounter with God, just like these three men encountered God in the baby Jesus. We talked about the mechanistic model for explaining human existence. How it was focused on each person’s right to operate their own biological machine, body, as they saw fit. This was contrasted with the teleological model that was about aiming one’s life towards something greater than oneself. The former was a model that breeds selfishness, and the later was about transcendence.

Turning now to the second point I extracted from the story, we will look at the journey and how it prepares us for the beatific vision. Another way of saying beatific vision is union with God. In other words, the journey is about becoming united with God, and the Bible tells us that God is love. It is through this journey, that we become agape. For those who are not familiar with the word, agape is the highest and best form of love. Many define it as unconditional, but it is more than that. It is self-giving. Jesus was the perfect model of perfect love, and the Gospel tells us that we are to imitate him. Jesus was the perfect model, because he was agape, he was God. Now it is our turn to become self-giving love.

When you look at it from this perspective, we start to see how the journey is about shedding all of the trappings of the mechanistic view of life in favor of a life oriented towards the face-to-face encounter with God. The journey is about shedding selfishness, and growing in selflessness. In so doing, we become agape. 

In my next entry, we will discuss in more detail how this happens.  In the meantime, spend some time with the Holy Spirit analyzing your own journey. What are your current views about the journey? How does it look? How does it fall in line with my perception of shedding selfishness? Are you feeling tension thinking about my perception? If so, is that a sign of truth and resistance, or something else? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see more clearly the purpose of the spiritual journey. Ask him to help you see where your selfishness might be blocking you from understanding. Ask him to show you truth. Spend some time taking some notes about what you find. Journaling your encounters with God can be a great joy later in life because it can help you see more clearly how God has worked in your life. It can also be a great tool for understanding how God works in your life. If you see where God is calling you to make some commitments, be sure and jot those down, too. I find that the part of me that opposes the transition tends to wipe out spiritual insights if I do not write them down quickly. Feel free to learn from my lessons learned.

In Him,

dw 

Becoming Agape – Part 1

Earlier this week, I gave a reflection on the story of the three Wisemen to a small church group. From the story, I extracted three insights into the spiritual life. My talk concluded with the idea that our spiritual journey is about becoming agape. Over the next few days, I would like to summarize my talk for you.

The first point we discussed was how they pointed the noses of their camels towards the star of Bethlehem. In my crazy way, this point addresses the difference between the two philosophical models regarding the reason for human existence. 

The first model is called the mechanistic model. By model, I mean that this is the umbrella under which several views fall. For instance, the belief in the Big Bang, without some creative power behind it, would fall under this model.  While there are many views that fall under this model, I would suggest that one of the major elements of in this model is a belief that humans have a right to operate their biological machine, their bodies, as they see fit. Of course, one’s life circumstances may put limits on a full exercise of this right. Another element is a human’s right to decide what is right and what is wrong. 

This is contrasted with the teleological model, which emphasizes an external being that determines right and wrong, and also that one’s life is supposed to be aimed towards a goal. Many of the theories that incorporate an idea of transcendence fall under this umbrella.

Adding in the Christian emphasis, we understand that our aim is towards the beatific vision, a face-to-face encounter with God. The three Wiseman exemplify this understanding because they aimed their own lives towards the star, and because of this, they had a face-to-face encounter with Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God with Us.

From my perspective, I see the mechanistic model as the the one American society is currently focused on, and as a result, the one that we should spend our lives fighting against. By this, I mean, to personally work at untangling one’s life from its impact.   For instance, our culture focuses on the individual and personal achievement/advancement. The Christian view is about humility and helping the less fortunate. In this one example, I hope you can see many ways in which the two models conflicts, and how we should be ensuring that our lives reflect Biblical values, instead of those of our society. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit analyzing your own spiritual journey. Are you caught up in the mechanistic view that life is about one’s own choices, or is your life directed towards a greater goal? Can you see the difference between the mechanistic and teleological models in our society? Where in your life are you getting bogged down in the mechanistic? How can you better align your life to a teleological model aimed at union with God? I encourage you to jot down a few notes about what you discover, and maybe some ideas on how you can resist the impact of the mechanistic model, as lived in modern society, in your own life.

In Him,

dw 

Blessed is the One…

In Luke 7:18-23, Jesus is approached by John’s disciples, and asked if he is the one who is to come. Jesus basically quotes scripture back at them, and tells them to think for themselves. Then he says, blessed is the one who takes no offense at me. What an interesting statement! What does it mean?

Again, I don’t profess to be an expert, but I do have opinions on things, including this statement. When you look at the totality of the four Gospels, we find every human in every story struggling to comprehend Jesus. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He shows us what we were made to be, and encourages us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to become the greatest version of ourselves. When we accept Jesus for who he is, we should find peace in allowing him to help us become the one that we were meant to be. Because of this, we are blessed. When we are offended by his preaching, we find a lack of peace and resistance. It is hard to move in the direction we were intended to move when we are resisting.

The thing I want to note is what I mean by being offended. Any of us who claim him to be our savior might be surprised at how much of what he preaches goes against what we want.  Jesus wants us to walk in his footsteps. Figuratively speaking, this means carrying a cross, falling three times, being nailed to a cross, hanging on it for several hours, and then, dying with him. It means being flogged, ridiculed, and spit up on. This does not sound like a blessed way of living.

However, we are blessed when we allow God to use the good and the bad in our daily lives to reform us in his image. We are blessed when we die to self, and learn to live the gospel more fully. We are blessed when we stop rationalizing the gospel and watering it down. We are blessed by his very presence in our life.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit questioning whether you take offense to any of his teaching. Try to see if there are things that he says that you implicitly reject. Are you experiencing blessings in your life by accepting what comes from the hand of God? Where can you be working with the Holy Spirit so as to be reformed in his image? As you cooperate with the Holy Spirit, praise and bless him for his mighty works. Thank him for all that he does with you, all the patience he exhibits towards you, all of the expectations he has for your life, and all that he wants to do through you.

In Him,

dw 

Joy to the World

Today is Gaudete Sunday, which means it is a day of rejoicing.  We rejoice because Jesus is near. We rejoice because God became human.  He came to show us life to the fullest, and to reconcile our sinful nature to God, who is love.  He came that we might be united to him; he did these things because he loves us. Anyone who has experienced love, understands the joy that goes with it. It feels amazing to be loved.  It feels amazing to love.

This message of love is at the heart of the Gospel. The message isn’t choosing heaven or hell. It isn’t about choosing a particular moral ethic or lifestyle.  The message is about the greatness of God’s love for his people and all of his creation, and about the joy received when one lovingly responding to God’s love and mercy.  Everything else is secondary for when we love, we live in a particular way. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit contemplating your relationship with him. If it is not a life filled with love and joy, ask him to guide you to the place where you can experience the immensity of his love. Ask him to clear away any brokenness within you that prevents you from responding to these encounters with God with love. Ask him to make more clear to you the amazing joy that comes from a right relationship with him, and how you can cooperate with his efforts to help you more perfectly reflect his image and likeness to a world in great need of an agape form of love. 

In Him,

dw

Jesus Comes!

Today, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus remarked on how people responded to John the Baptist and to himself. Some claimed John was possessed by a demon, and people called Jesus a glutton. Mt 11:16-19.  It is amazing how we deflect the good news when we don’t want to hear it. At the same time, I am reminded of the portrayal of the disciples in the Gospels, and how confused they were and trying to ponder things that were beyond their comprehension.

This tells me that there is something within us that wants to avoid the deepest truth of the Gospel. There’s something within us that wants to keep some semblance of our earthly self, while doing the bare minimum to keep a foothold in the kingdom of God. We want eternal life, but we also want it be ok to live our lives the way we want to. 

This further tells me that we must spend our life being on guard against this dichotomy within us. We must constantly be at war with ourselves. We must be actively aware that the Gospel always goes deeper, and that we must always be striving for the greatest expression of the Gospel in our lives.

We are not alone in our fight. Jesus came to save, and he continues to come to save. He’s here in the person of the Holy Spirit, who is our advocate and guide. Be aware that he is constantly shining a flashlight on these areas where we do not want to see. We must be actively praying that he help us be open to where he is shining his light, and learn to cooperate with him in his efforts to deliver us from all that holds us back. In so doing, we will learn to live life to the fullest. We will learn to live in joy despite any negative circumstances. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit seeking to be open to where you resist the Gospel. Ask him to open your heart to the fullness of truth. Ask him to teach you how to cooperate with him and his salvific effort. Ask him to help you make a home for Jesus, that your heart may be the Inn where Jesus lays his head this Christmas. Spend some time praising God for all that he does for the good of his kingdom. 

In Him,

dw

Christmas Miracles

This morning, I awoke with a sobering thought, what would happen if Jesus’ disciples were once again able to heal in the name of Jesus? To work miracles in his name?  I thought how much different my life would look if this happened on a regular basis; how my lifestyle would be more devout. I think that seeing the Body of Christ in action, the way it was intended, would be a life-altering event.  

My next thought was about Jesus in Nazareth and how he couldn’t heal because of the lack of faith (Mk 6:5-6), which made me ask, is the lack of miracles because we don’t have enough faith? Maybe it is because we are not open to it because it would be a life-altering event.  Like I said yesterday, there is a sense of wanting the supernatural aspects of Christianity while likewise being tied to the status quo.  There is some sense of resistance to living a more devout life; of living no longer I, but Christ in me. Gal 2:19-21. So, what would the world look like if many of us were set afire because of the healing power of God? 

The thing is, God is constantly at work performing miracles. In fact, I volunteer for a ministry that has seen miracles worked, people healed.  So, why hasn’t my life been greatly altered? Maybe it is just because I wasn’t there when they happened. Maybe I am emotionally closed off to the power of this truth for the reasons stated above.  Maybe my mind justifies these as coincidence. I don’t know.  However, I do believe that the world would look different if we could all find a way of encountering the healing ministry of Jesus, just like the people who walked with him when he walked the Earth.  In some events, I suppose I am a lot like Thomas in the upper room. On the one hand, I don’t need to see to believe, but maybe something in me needs to see to amp up my response. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit considering how your life would be changed if you encountered the healing power of God; if you personally witnessed or received miracles.  Ask him to show you where you might be resisting a deeper faith that does not allow such things to happen in your life the way it didn’t work in Nazareth when Jesus returned as an adult.  God works miracles in and around us every day. Ask him to open your eyes to them, and to use them to help you become a more devout disciple.  

In Him,

dw 

My Burden is Light

This morning, as I reflected on the idea of the burden being light and the yoke being easy, I thought about wearing a yoke, and how it must rub against the skin when the animal wearing it moves, the weight of the contraption laying on its shoulders. I thought about how it clamps down over its head and shoulders, locks in place, and limits its motions.  

How does this apply to the spiritual life?  Jesus promised us freedom.  In particular, he promises to free us from sin. What does this mean? First, I think we need to identify sin. If God’s law is summarized as love of God and neighbor, then sin is anything that puts me first, that fails to be loving towards others.  

Jesus’ form of freedom is about freeing one from the desires that lead us to sin; from the brokenness within us that allows our will to be exercised in favor of sin. Anyone who has experienced God and his love in a deep and life changing way, has some semblance of not wanting to sin, but like Paul, we find ourselves choosing sin. Rom 7:14-17. So, what’s the deal? How are we freed from the burden of the yoke? How do we arrive at the place in our lives where we better exercise our will in favor of sinless behavior? 

The answer is love, an encounter with God, who is love.  Once we have this, it is about growing in our capacity to love as God loves.  We have to love God more than we love whatever it is that we think we want. For most of us, this is a life long journey, a journey of moving from selfish love to selfless  love. 

In effect, our desire for personal satisfaction (i.e., sin) locks us in, just like a yoke locks the animal in.  Even though it chaffs and weighs us down, we are still attached to it, even when Jesus releases the latch on the yoke, even when he frees us.  

What is the answer? Again, we find the answer in Paul, who says, I live no longer I, but Christ live in me.  Gal 2:19-21. From this verse, we can extrapolate that we find the answer in picking up our crosses and following in the footsteps of Jesus.  We find it in dying to self.  For instance, when we fast and live in the discomfort of hunger, we learn to tolerate the discomfort of wanting something, and choosing not to get it.  We die to the desire to fill ourselves. When we find a way to patiently endure an uncomfortable social setting, and offer it to God, we die to self, exercise self discipline, and when we do it out of love of God, we start finding ourselves free from sin.  This is especially true when we ask the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, to supernaturally enhance our desire to stay the course, we allow God to be our savior, we give him the credit, and we really start to experience freedom. 

The problem is, even after all of these experiences, we, like the ancient Israelites, still find ourselves neglecting him, we still find ourselves under the yoke, even though he has cut the bindings.  Luckily, God is as patient with us as he was with the Israelites. He is in our corner, rooting for us. All we have to do is persevere, pray for deeper conversion, and continue asking the Holy Spirit to help us untangle ourselves from the bondages of all that we think we want and desire. We ask him to continue to show us how his love and a sin free life is our true hearts’ desire. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit reviewing your yoke. How does it bind and limit you? Have you had an encounter with love that has caused you to want to go on this journey of dying to selfishness, and replacing it with selflessness, a form of love, which is God itself? Be honest with yourself. How much do you love him? How much do you want to love him.  Spend some time asking him to help you desire him ever more. Ask him to help you understand the life-long benefits of becoming selfless in this world that promotes the idea of looking out for self.  

In Him,

dw