Both historical knowledge and spiritual experience are needed for faith

We need both personal spiritual experience and knowledge of the Bible

About a week ago I was very impressed by a quote that I found in my devotional book.   The focus for the week was on the supremacy of Christ and how we get to know him. In today’s world it is popular to emphasize the spiritual in an almost mystic sense. But it is much less popular to do the hard work of reading Scripture and studying it to learn more about the historical figure of Jesus who inspires our Christian faith.    The  quote points out that both the spiritual response often associated with prayer  and meditation and the historical underpinning from study are needed in order for us to truly know what Jesus is about and how  his Spirit lives in and through us.  I pass it on to you.

Historical Christianity is dry and formal when it lacks the immediate and inward response to our Great Companion; but our spirits are trained to know him, to appreciate him, by the mediation of historical revelation.  A person’s spiritual life is always dwarfed when cut apart from history. Mysticism is empty unless it is enriched by outward and historical revelation. The supreme education of the soul comes through an intimate acquaintance with Jesus Christ of history.    (The Double Search by Rufus M. Jones)

Scripture speaks of both essentials

I think both ends of this balance are easily seen in the words of Scripture as well.  The Apostle Paul spoke of the spiritual side of our relationship to God:   

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  Eph. 3:16-17  NIV 2011

David wrote eloquently of the need to keep in touch with God’s written record and allow it to form us. 

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.    Ps 119:105

 

Help with coping after this election – especially for millennials

White House

 

 

As I was meditating this morning, thoughts came to me concerning further helpful ways to cope with this election.

 

Grieve the losses

 

Grief is a process given to us to help us navigate loss. Today we are more insulated from grief and the associated natural process of recovery because death is much less with us, thankfully, than in previous generations.  But there are times, like now, that we need to understand grief better.  We also need to know that we grieve for all types of losses, including the kinds associated with this election.   For example; there is no doubt as evidenced by the news every day that there’s been a loss in respect for minorities among some because of the election.   Also, the principle of respect for women has suffered a loss by the elevation of one who has disrespected women.   How do we react?    Feelings of denial, sadness, anger (both focused and projected), and second-guessing ourselves and others are normal parts of grieving.  Learning to handle our grief in healthy ways is part of the human experience.

 

Look for the balanced perspective

 

For those on the Democratic side, remember that anytime a candidate wins the popular vote while losing the Electoral College, it is a sign that the election was very close. Any time a candidate wins as strongly among younger people as Clinton did, it is a strong sign for future elections.  Democrats have some things to feel good about too.  For Republicans, to gloat is arrogant and counter-productive.  A strong majority of urban Americans voted against you and they live in the most influential centers of the country.  The Bible urges humility.  Humility is a lost virtue today and suffered further loss in this election.  But humility helps immensely in human relations.   Unfortunately, on-screen it is usually wrongly mistaken for weakness.  I would caution us to look for the balanced perspective in our circumstances.

 

Do not return evil for evil

 

One of the Bible’s most famous sayings is, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Rom 12:17).   Just because the election featured rude, crude, and obnoxious conversation, is no excuse for us to join that party.   “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21).   While Hillary Clinton’s embrace of the “nasty woman” epithet may have been a shrewd debate move, “nasty” is not exactly a winsome characteristic.  But kindness is.  Donald Trump’s past behavior and attitudes are a problem, not something to be emulated.    But if we copy the worst elements of leaders, we magnify the difficulties.  If we repay evil for evil we become part of the problem, not part of the healing solution.  Instead, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11).  

 

Be thankful for what is good

 

I, for one, am very glad that Thanksgiving follows this election. It will be very healthy for us all if we can get our minds off the divisions and contentious issues of the election and step back and be genuinely thankful for the blessings that we have.   It will lessen our stress, it will lower our collective blood pressure, and will help us to have a better emotional and mental foundation for the cooperation in daily life and in government that the people of this land desire and deserve.    

All Scriptures from Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2001 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved.

How to react to a disturbing election

White House

 

 

In the wake of a disturbing election how do we cope?  Here are a few suggestions from a long-time pastor. 

Do not live in fear. 

 

One of the most prominent messages from God to his people in the Bible is simply yet powerfully this; “Do not be afraid!”  These exact words occur 74 times in the current NIV translation.  The words were spoken in times more uncertain than ours.  While this election has elicited fear on all sides for multiple reasons, it is the heritage of believers in all times to “trust and not be afraid” (Isa. 12:2).  As Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  Our hope is always in God, not a person or a political process.  And when we feel threatened, we look to God for our hope and strength to overcome.

 

Do something fun 

Jesus himself recognized that we needed times to get away from the stress of thinking about things like elections (Mark 6:31).   Sabbath rests and time of exercise or recreation help us to keep our perspectives wholesome and they lift our emotions too.   Personally, I like to take a long walk in the nearby forest preserve. 

 

Stand firm in your own life for what is good. 

 

One of the most disturbing things to me about this election cycle has been that it has seemed to further legitimize the rude, the crude and the divisive in America.  Both parties set new lows in negative advertising.  So all of us face a challenge afterwards as to what our vison is for our country and what our behavior will be.  Will we be part of the decline or part of the recovery?   For Christians, our course is clear.  “Show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17).  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29).   This is a high calling that affects how we use language to emphasize a point or express anger, what movies we approve, what jokes we tell, how we speak about those with whom we disagree, who we choose as heroes and stars, and how we treat those different from us.   Let us be “eager to do what is good” (Tit. 2:14). 

 

Pray! 

 

A pastor friend of mine referred to this verse this morning in a post. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Ps 127:1).  No matter who is in charge on this earth, peace and blessing are ultimately God’s gifts.  This November is also a good time to remember one of our basic prayer verses, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).   Pray especially for our president elect whether we like him or not.  If you like him, pray that God will use his strengths to benefit all.  If you don’t like him, pray that God will protect the country from his weaknesses.  (The same prayers could be prayed for every public servant.)  Pray for the government transition in the US as well.

 

There is a time for everything  

For younger voters especially, I would encourage a little of the perspective of Solomon.  “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9).  I recall a conversation eight years ago after Obama’s first victory.  It was a chat between a fervent Republican and a strong Democrat.  The Democrat said pointedly to the Republican, “Well, if we can survive eight years of George H. W. Bush, you can survive eight years of Obama.”  I thought of that comment again last night as one of the commentators mentioned that it is extremely rare in American history for a party to hold the presidency more than eight years running.  There seems to be a cycle that occurs regularly in our sturdy democracy.   The pendulum swings repeatedly.  I have seen enough elections now to have observed that swing multiple times and I agree.  This is why parties in America go back to work and start thinking about next time, like sports teams planning for the next season.    

 

 

All verses from Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2001 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Praying Deeply

Lady at prayer
Praying with our whole lives

 

A Devotional Challenge

This year I’ve been reading from one of my favorite devotional books, A Guide To Prayer For Ministers And Other Servants. Each week, there are some readings to prod one’s thinking. Today the readings were about prayer that goes so much deeper than words. In our troubled world today, we must learn again that our religious life cannot be separate from our daily actions if we expect society to change for the better. I was meditating on the following quotes.

“Love to pray. Feel often during the day the need for prayer, and take trouble to pray. Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself” (from A Gift for God by Mother Teresa).

Today we feel so inadequate to the task of changing our world. Yet it is through prayer that God enlarges our capacity and magnifies our spiritual strength so that we are able to do the good works that he has planned for us. Through prayer the “immeasurably more” of God works through us (Eph. 3:20).

Prayer at Work Everyday

“If when we plunge our hand into a bowl of water, or stir up the fire with the bellows or tabulate interminable columns of figures on our bookkeeping table, or, burned by the sun, we are plunged in the mud of the rice field, or standing by the smelter’s furnace, we do not fulfill the same religious life as if in prayer in a monastery, the world will never be saved” (quoted from Gandhi by Carlo Carretto in Letters From The Desert).

How can we save our nation from violence? It will only happen as the hearts of people are filled with nonviolence. Through prayer God changes our hearts. Continuing in prayer makes us uncomfortable with any hypocrisy that remains in our attitudes and actions because ultimately they hinder our prayers.

“[Jesus] lived his message before he spoke it. He preached it by his life before explaining it in words. This was Jesus’ method and we too easily forget it. In many cases catechesis is reduced to words rather than to ‘life,’ to discussions rather than to the pursuit of Christian living. And here, perhaps, is the reason for the poor results” (Carlo Carretto in Letters From The Desert).

Jesus admonished us that those who are wise would not only hear his words but put them into practice. In so doing, they would build a strong and durable foundation for their lives.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” –Jesus  (Matthew 7:24).

A prayer for today

Oh Lord of life, teach me to pray deeply–with my everyday life, with my whole heart and also with my words of devotion.

Sexuality may be more fluid than our culture thinks

My reading of brain research has pointed toward the conclusion that human sexual orientation is more fluid than is culturally believed to be true.  This has been heretical to say.  If you are from a conservative religious perspective as I am, it was considered homophobic to say lest it undermine the gay political arguments.  But also, it is usually not the way we experience our own sexuality as the following author also admits.   The linked article is by a gay author who is arguing for the fluidity of sexual orientation, not just from his personal experience, but from scientific evidence and the conclusions of respected groups as well.    He holds that sexual orientation derives from multiple sources.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160627-i-am-gay-but-i-wasnt-born-this-way

 

Good news about church marriages and why

Church wedding

Contrary to some reports, a careful review of marriage statistics by a Harvard trained researcher, Shaunti Feldhahn, has good news about church marriages.  It reports that the divorce rate for people who practice Christian faith together regularly may be as low as 15-20%.   For those who also did not co-habit before marriage, the rate may be as low as 5-10%.    It makes a huge difference if we practice our faith together by attending services regularly.   Here’s the link.

http://www.charismanews.com/us/44398-church-divorce-rate-way-lower-than-anyone-thought

Why might this be so?  Here are a few of my ideas.

  1.  Submitting ourselves weekly to God’s Word read and expounded and participation in personal and cooperate prayer gives the Holy Spirit opportunity to whisper in our minds and hearts the little corrections and admonitions that we need to help us to love one another well.  Proper Christian worship combats pride, selfishness and materialism/greed/sensuality.
  2.  The group atmosphere and the teachings affirmed by Christian churches shape our personal values in the direction of solving our marital issues,  valuing our spouse,  learning to say ‘I’m sorry,’ and ‘I love you,’ and other such skills that strengthen relationships.  In short, the Bible teaches us to love.
  3.  Relationships within the community provide friendships, often assist in life’s stressful crises and model marital success.
  4.  Often pastoral care and coaching from church staff or trained lay persons is valuable to individuals or couples going through hard times.
  5.  The marital success stats of Christian couples are more evidence that God lives in and among his people.   God is with us!  God is blessing his people with peace.  The first fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence is love (Gal. 5:22).

 

Our Hearts are Broken

 

A wreath for grieving for the slain

A Christian singer is gunned down while signing autographs at the end of the concert by a gunman who did not know her and came there specifically to kill. Before the weekend is past another gunman, also driving miles to arrive at the end of the night, enters an Orlando club catering to gay men and opens fire with an assault rifle, killing dozens of patrons.  The shock and sadness of such needless, senseless, and depraved violence is deeply disturbing. And it should be.

We should pray

Our first response, is compassion and prayers for the families of victims and for victims facing months of recovery from their wounds.

O God, the brokenness of our world has evidenced itself again in these terrible acts. We pray for those who are grieving that you would comfort their hearts. We pray for those who are recovering from wounds that you would give them strength and healing. We pray that the Spirit of God would move in all of us in order that good may come out of evil. In the name of Jesus who also suffered unjust death, AMEN.

We should decrease availability of weapons for the mentally impaired

Our second response, as a nation needs to continue to be to seek ways to reduce the possibilities of such violence. As always, we will not agree as to the details, but we must work together to make progress on some solutions.

In the case of the Orlando shooter, it looks like from early reporting that officials had sufficient info to know that this man should not have had access to weapons.  Yet he did.  He was even working as a security guard–scary thought, but not surprising. Employers tell me they cannot find out anything useful from anybody for references.  Everyone is worried about being sued.   So people who should be flagged in that way are not.  His employer probably had no idea he had been investigated twice.  Stronger flagging of those who have shown they are dangerous individuals is needed.

Again, early reporting shows possible mental health issues for the Orlando shooter.   This also should have put restrictions upon his ability to obtain weapons but it did not.   This is the single most important change that we need to make as a country.  It is not without risks to individual liberty, as mental health risk is very difficult to define.  Yet, the evidence from all the mass shootings is piling up and becoming overwhelming.  Most of them are done by people of known impaired mental health who still had access to weapons.

We should increase our fear of God

Third, I repeat my insistence that one component of the problem is a lack of the fear of God in our land.   The Bible clearly teaches that God will judge murderers of this kind.  They are punching their own ticket to hell by their violence against the innocent (Matt. 5:21, 22; 1 John 3:15; Rev. 21:8; 22:15). God values life.  God loves the people in the human family.   Jesus revealed Satan as the one who loves murder, calling him a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44).   The lake of fire is a picture John uses to describe Satan’s ultimate punishment (Rev. 20:10, 14).  And it also describes the reward of those who practice Satan’s behavior.  But if there is no fear of God in the land, then potential shooters do not realize that it is not over when they are felled by the SWAT team.  Their accountability has only begun.  Listen to Jesus.

 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:4-5 NIV 2011). 

Life transitions are a time to connect with God

One of the unhealthy trends that pastors are noticing today is the secularization of life transitions.   Pastors are less frequently asked to perform weddings.  Baptism (or in some traditions dedication) of infant children is neglected.   And funerals are skipped or turned into something that is a weak combo of a party and a memory session.    These are not good developments.   They both express and accelerate the separation of our culture from its spiritual roots.

Here is an excellent reflection written concerning the lack of proper religious funerals.   Corresponding articles could be written regarding other big life moments where previously our culture and others have for good reason paused to remember the sacred.

http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/05/proper-religious-funerals-are-dying-out-i-mourn-for-them/