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Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.” – Hebrews 11:4 (NIV)

I think it’s safe to say that our world is in turmoil. When “tolerance” seems to be a prevailing value at the same time we have a growing sense of “intolerance” on many levels of society.

Daily in international news we are beset with stories of racial tension and violence, hate crimes, terrorist attacks and the list goes on. I don’t have to cite the stories which are most likely very familiar to you.

In these times of turmoil, I see the same story repeated through history, but I also see the same resolution as well. I’ve been reflecting in these days on the first recorded murder. In the Bible, in Genesis chapter 4 we see that the first death among the children of Adam and Eve was the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. The story is well worth a review if you haven’t thought about it lately.

The conflict began when Abel brought an acceptable sacrifice before the LORD and was commended. Cain brought another sacrifice and was rejected because of his heart condition. The situation really got Cain fighting mad.

As the story goes,

“. . . but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor. So, Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” – Genesis 4:5-7 (NIV)

When confronted with the condition of his heart Cain had some major decisions to make. Would he continue to bury his anger, brood and stew over his rejection, or would he take stock of his strong internal emotions, have his heart healed, and move on to a better place?

Unfortunately, we know the rest of the story. He misplaced his rejection, blamed his brother and violence and murder erupted.

Personally, I think this story is lived out again and again in our world today and we are seeing it played out on an international scale.

For each of us, when we begin to experience anger against an individual, a different racial, political, cultural or religious group, we are in danger of misdirecting our anger and letting it take us to places that are dangerous and destructive.

Anger led Cain to murder when internal reflection wasn’t the response of his heart. Unchecked anger can do the same for any of us.

I suppose that from here to eternity love and hate will both be opposing forces. The question for each of us, is what we will do and how we will react by hating the right things. We can choose to hate racism, for example, without hating racists. What we hate says a lot about us, just as who or what stirs our anger says a lot about us.

In the New Testament, the writer to the book of Hebrews, quoted above, says that Abel was a righteous man and was wrongly targeted for stirring up his brother’s anger. Even though dead, he still speaks. Abel was an innocent victim but was also the target of hostility. His example of godliness and suffering even in the face of violence and death is something that should speak strongly to us even today – especially today.

The ultimate expression of love in the face of hatred comes at the Cross of Jesus Christ. It was He who died in all His innocence and rose to life so that each of us could be set free from misdirected anger and hatred against anyone or anything.

Anger, along with love, is perhaps the strongest and most powerful of our emotions. When confronted with deep seated anger in our hearts, each of us can choose to step back, reflect and re-direct it toward something that is worth hating. It’s not a person or a race, a political party or country, but in reality a way of life that runs contrary to love which seeks the highest good of another fellow human being.

Abel lived a shorter life than Cain but there’s no question as to who serves as a better model for us today in these times of turmoil.

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“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:6-8 (NIV)

I’ve been making a lot of trips to see my Osteopath lately. He’s been the one healthcare professional that I’ve found to be most helpful with my recurring back problems. Every time I go to him he keeps giving me a lecture on “letting go.” It seems that the recurring theme that he sees with many people he treats for various health disorders is the tendency we humans have to “hold on” to memories, burdens, toxic emotions and almost anything that we deem necessary to carry with us through life. My Osteopath says this is particularly true in his patients with back problems! Carrying too much weight on the inside must be hazardous to your health!

I have to admit that “holding on” has been a life-long battle for me.

We come into the world naked and immediately those who care for us, rightly start putting clothes on us. We start grasping things and putting them into our mouths! We then start feeling comfortable and becoming attached to what makes us comfortable. We make necessary attachments, first to mom (hopefully) then dad and other significant people in our lives. We start to care about things – early on we care about getting our needs met and we scream and cry when we don’t get our way.

Eventually, if we have loving care-givers and friends, we realize that we don’t have to scream and beg our way through life. We can learn virtues such as patience and self-control and hopefully in a healthy environment. Unfortunately that is not a given these days.

Along the way we find that our emotions can get hijacked. We can start holding on to that to which we feel entitled, whether it belongs to us or not. Our jealous inner selves can see others who have what we want or whom we perceive to have it “better” than ourselves.

Now that I’m well into the later seasons of my life, I realize just how much of useless stuff has cluttered up my life through the years. I suppose as we mature we begin to discern the valuable and realize that most of what we’ve carried along hasn’t been all that helpful.

I love the words of the apostle Peter, quoted above. For those of us who accept and believe that there is a personal, Creator-God who knows, loves and cares for us and has revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ  – He is the One to whom we can and must go with all the care and anxiety we hold onto so desperately.

Peter gives three important commands in quick succession – first, “humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand,” then “cast all your anxiety on Him,” and “be self-controlled and alert!” I have probably read over this verse dozens of times without seeing the connection.

Humility, casting cares on God and being self-controlled and alert are all habits that can lead to a much more whole and satisfying walk through life. Peter reminds us too that there is a spiritual battle in place with an unseen enemy ready to devour the careless and unsuspecting. The thinking must be that our own pride, anxiety and lack of self-control will play right into the hands of the enemy of our souls.

I think what Peter is teaching here is that we have to let go of something before we can take hold of something much better. In humility we cast off the useless to take hold of the Eternal God who alone can help us through whatever issue is overtaking us at the moment.

I find that when it comes to life it’s much easier to cast out unwanted items of junk or clothing than it is to discard our negative emotions, grudges and toxic inner battles. Even to this day, I can still recall painful experiences that cause me angst if I think about them too long.

I’m seeing more and more that holding on to worry and anxiety has probably been a tool that has given me a false sense of control through the years. By continually fretting over what we have no control over, we feel slightly more in control. But unfortunately, it’s an illusion.

I’m not suggesting any quick fixes for anxiety and worry that plagues me and so many others in today’s world. I’m not ready to list out a three or six or ten step plan to combat anxiety. All I’m saying here is that I’m much better off when I habitually recognize when anxiety is mounting in my life and continually cast it upon a loving and caring personal God.

In a highly superficial and material environment, the temporal always seems to take precedence over the eternal. Ultimately we will leave this world behind and all of our possessions, worries and cares which we so desperately cling to now. By entering into a trust relationship with the Living God revealed in Jesus Christ, we take with us a life of wholeness that will never end.

I have to be reminded repeatedly that holding onto the Eternal God and letting go of everything else is the only place to find true freedom this side of heaven.

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“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48 (NIV)

 I face the temptation on a regular basis to think that I’m not personally responsible for the plight of people around me who are less fortunate than I. I’m grateful that I have experiences from time to time to rouse me out of my complacency and selfishness.

For some years now I adapt my weekly schedule to do some volunteer work at one of my local charity shops. I find the few hours a week I spend at the shop refreshing to my soul. It gets me out of my dusty routine and into the daily lives of many people that I might not otherwise meet during a given week.

Just this week while working at the shop’s “till” as we call it in Ireland, I was quite surprised to see a very destitute looking man enter the shop and begin to play with a child’s musical toy. I had only priced the toy at the value of three Euro some minutes before.

If I could only have had two free hours with this individual I would have gladly re-clothed his badly soiled garments, treated him to an hour bath and burned the filthy rags he was wearing. You could smell an individual like this coming from blocks away. He was that bad off!

After a few minutes of rummaging around the shop, he approached me at the till and asked if he could purchase the musical toy for a small girl who was with her mother in the shop. He inserted his filthy fingers into a long-worn pocket and found three Euro to complete the purchase. I left the receipt for the sale on the till as I guessed he wouldn’t be interested in it!

I admit that I have a strong tendency toward feeling entitled to more that I already have. We live in a world that is consumed with consumerism. It’s also very popular today to think that we should have the best of everything at reasonable prices and we should demand our rights if we don’t get what we want. Often I feel that I’m on the giving end far more than the receiving end, which is in fact, totally false.

The words of Jesus Christ, quoted above, come at the end of one of His many parables. In the parable, Jesus speaks of a faithful and wise manager who is entrusted with his Master’s possessions. The key is how the manager behaves, knowing he will one day be held to account for that which he has been entrusted. How the manager views the Master is the key to the parable. If the manager feels that there will not be a day of reckoning in the future, he can even go so far as to beat the Master’s servants and begin to believe that he will not be held to account for his actions.

There’s also an added precaution – the manager must face the reality of the trust he’s been given.  Those entrusted with more – more will be required of them.

Upon reflection, I find that even the most impoverished among us still have something to share with others. One person who is a most unlikely candidate for admiration, is still made in the image of God and can display generosity and kindness.

The reality is that I have been endowed with far more than I can ever imagine with grace, goods and gifts of many kinds. By one act of kindness, I’m reminded that I have been entrusted by my Master with infinite riches. The more I can manage to give the more I seem to gain. Perhaps He’s arranged it to work that way.

 

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“And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”  – Exodus 14:31 (NIV)

Trust is a very deep and mysterious thing and yet it something that we do every day to some degree. Without trust our lives would be in tatters. We trust everything from cars to computers, bus schedules to customer care employees. When you think about it trust is also risky. By trusting others, we can open ourselves up to hurt and disappointment.

Seven years ago today, September 1, 2009, I made a choice to trust someone with personal issues in my life that were beyond my own resources. The details are not as important as the lessons that resulted from that decision.

 In reviewing the story in Exodus 14 where Moses, under God’s direction led the children of Israel out of Egypt, safely through the Red Sea from the flight of the Egyptian army we find a very interesting statement.

At the close of this crucial chapter the text says, “The people feared the LORD and put their trust in Him and in Moses his servant.”

Trust is critical to our relationships both with God and others. As a Christian, in my work with other followers of Jesus, rarely do people argue the fact that we should be trusting God. However, the stronger pushback comes when we start talking about trusting others around us.

Trust is a matter of the heart and we don’t like having our hearts crushed, yet all meaningful relationships are built on mutual trust.

I’m sure that over time, the Israelites found God to be more trustworthy than Moses. However, I’m coming to see that we can’t fully say we are trusting God without being able to trust key people whom God has placed in our lives.

There are several “Moses” figures in my life and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not fully trusting God if I’m not trusting them at some level.

Seven years ago today, I took a step of faith by trusting a friend with things I had never spoken about to another living individual. Admittedly it was a risk, and there were many issues that flowed from my decision to trust another living soul with my “stuff.”

I have since regretted many of my life choices in the past, however, I have never regretted the decision to trust God and another person He had hand-placed in my life.

Looking back over the last seven years here are a few life lessons that will remain with me always as a result of my decision to trust God and a “Moses” in my life –

  •  Vulnerability and Relational growth – As a result of my decision I eventually discovered that I was robbing myself and others of the “real” me that was hiding behind a curtain, too scared to come out. These years later perhaps more people around me get to see the “real” me with fewer masks.
  • A Confidence that God is work in my life – Previously I was trying to be the best version of about five or six people whose lives I was sure were “better” than mine. I stopped trying to be my version of other people and instead trust God with who I really was and was becoming.
  • Transformation and the Inner lifeIn these years I discovered that everything in our lives really flows from the inside out. Jesus once said of men that “from the overflow of the heart, his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45 NIV) Cultivating our inner life is the means whereby God meets us at deep levels. Life circumstances may shape us but deep change in one’s life is from inside out, not the reverse.

I can speak from personal experience that trusting God and others made all the difference in my own life and even though it’s a difficult road I’m grateful for the growth.

Who are the “Moses figures” that God has placed in your life that you need to be trusting?

We don’t grow unless we’re vulnerable with someone we can trust. It goes without saying that we can’t trust everyone but we do have to trust someone. We often find out the hard way that we can’t trust everyone and we can often get caught out.

Was there ever a cook who has never been burned in the kitchen? Most good cooks I know had their share of wounds but bandaged them, went back to the kitchen and ended up being quite successful at what they did. They grew despite the pain of the wounds.

We should always be discerning when it comes to trust. We may never trust everyone that we should but we’ll certainly not develop as healthy individuals without trusting someone. Perhaps in doing so we’ll be safe and trustworthy ourselves, even a “Moses” in the making.

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Memento of my evening with Dr Bob Rotella

Memento of my evening with Dr Bob Rotella

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” – Romans 8:18-21 (NIV)

Recently I had the opportunity to hear and meet the famous sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella.

After reading many of his books and finding help for my own mental health in his writings I was wondering if I should even bother going to this special event which was held at my local golf club. It really was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity but to be honest I wondered if I was setting myself up to be disappointed. What if I make the effort to go along and find just him repeating the same stories and facts that I had been reading in his books?

As is often the case with me I found myself gearing up for disappointment.

As I grow older I often find myself more disappointed with life. My expectations of where I “thought” I would be at this stage of life don’t match where I actually am. The reality of what I can accomplish in life doesn’t match up with my former expectations. Although, I have to admit that many things in my life, because of God and His abundant grace, are actually better than I expected.

It’s another election year in the USA and even though I no longer live in North America it’s interesting to see what expectations are being generated by the presidential candidates. One wonders what disappointments lie ahead – and for whom.

In the passage quoted above from Romans chapter eight, the apostle Paul reminds us that we live in a world packed full of disappointments. The reality of what we imagine “could be” or “should be” doesn’t meet our expectations. Paul says that creation, of which we are a part, is subjected to bondage to decay and frustration and is waiting to be liberated from this cycle.

Until God steps in and liberates us along with all creation, we will, unfortunately continue to be disappointed. Life, and the people who are part of it – including ourselves – will continue to fall short of expectation.

This doesn’t mean that we should take a fatalistic attitude to life and give up, but we move ahead in the grace and power of God knowing that He is the one who gives meaning to life even when our hopes seem to fade.

My evening with Dr. Bob Rotella turned out beautifully. My expectations were more than met. I was able to meet and talk with him for a few minutes before his presentation. We exchanged stories about common experiences and he told me of his opportunity to spend a day in my home town of Fort Worth, Texas with the great Ben Hogan. It was a memory I will treasure into the future.

Dr. Bob, as he is affectionately called, works with athletes of all abilities and walks of life. One of his major themes is that of expectation and disappointment. He well knows that what one expects in a competition is not always the result that one gets so process is much more critical than result. He continually reminds his clients that if they are committed to the process that they can control they won’t be as frustrated by the things they can’t control.

That’s a great lesson for all of us! I’m finding that my disappointments generally revolve around things I have little or no control of and that’s a recipe for more disappointment.

As my evening with Dr. Bob showed me, even though the world is fallen and decayed we will have experiences that do match expectation. But this isn’t guaranteed!

Ultimately for those who are followers of Jesus Christ, we are promised a glorious future that will not disappoint. Until then we live in a twisted world where disappointment will be woven into the fabric of life.

No matter what pleasures we may enjoy this side of heaven only in Jesus Christ will experience ultimately match expectation.

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“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” – Hebrews 2:10-11 (NIV)

As we get into the Christmas season, the days seem to go by rapidly with thoughts of shopping, cards, and preparations for our annual celebration and the end of another calendar year. We don’t often take time to reflect on the reason we celebrate Christmas and our personal stake in it all.

At Christmas we who are followers of Jesus are often aghast at how the world around us prepares for the season with a mad frenzy. However, we ourselves become so caught up in the process that we forget our own sins, failures and shortcomings that were actually the reason God chose to send His Son to redeem us. This is denial at the highest level.

We are all subject to denial. For years of my life I tried to avoid or admit to personal failure not realizing that by doing so I was standing in the way of my own transformation. I’m sure during that time I never missed a Christmas Celebration.

The news this year has been full of heartbreaking stories of the victims of war, refugee movements and other major calamities. We don’t have to look very far to see the depths to which humanity has fallen.

If we ever needed personal and societal redemption it certainly is now! However, I’m not sure that true transformation of heart and character can be genuine without failure and personal setbacks. It’s very much an enigma to me.

Even though Jesus Christ did not experience failure as a result of personal sin, as fully human He did identify with all of us in His sufferings. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that He was “made perfect” through His sufferings. And in doing so He invites us into His family! He accepts the broken, the wounded and suffering and dares to call us family – brother, and sisters.

There was something that would have been incomplete about the life and ministry of Jesus without suffering and setback. I think the same is true for us. There’s something incomplete about our own transformation without suffering and failure. I’d rather this wasn’t the case but now I see there is no other way.

Jesus Christ came into this dark, broken world to bring transformation to our lives. We don’t often realize it was because of our personal failure and brokenness that He came. We’d like to think that we are “pretty good and decent” people who try to do our best and don’t have to ask God for very much. It’s that very attitude that blocks our personal transformation.

Now for me, Christmas is a time to reflect on my own neediness and failure for which I have no answer other than the Incarnate Son of God and His work in my own life and soul. Without His redeeming work I’m stranded without transformation and my sin and failure have no redemptive value whatsoever.

Christmas should be a reminder to us all the God sent His Son into a broken world to transform it. It won’t happen through political movements or self-improvement programs. God’s plan is more personal and profound that we ever realize.

Whatever failure, setback or suffering has been part of this year for us we must remember that Jesus joins us in our deepest struggles and doesn’t shrink back from accepting us as brothers and sisters. When we surrender to Him even failure can be transforming if we allow its lessons to transform our hearts. That seems to be what God’s family is all about and I’m so grateful to be accepted into it – all because of Him.

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“’So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’  But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’” Exodus 3:10-11 (NIV)

One of my earliest childhood memories, of which there are many, is that of constructing a home-made bomb that I nearly threw at a neighbor’s house.

I must have been around five or six years old at the time. One day our neighbors across the street had unexpected company and as a result I wasn’t being invited in to play with their children that day. It really messed up my plans! I got so mad that I thought I would construct my own bomb and throw it at their house!

The idea actually came from a television show that we had watched as a family some days prior to this. I can’t recall the name of the show but the lead character was being stalked by the bad guys on an island. To defend himself he found some gunpowder and rags and stuffed them in a hollow gourd he found in an old shed. Covering a strip of the cloth in gunpowder as a fuse the bomb was complete!

I followed my television counterpart by finding a small glass jar with a lid. I stuffed strips of cloth and soaked them in lighter fluid my father had for his cigarette lighter. The bomb came complete with a fuse which I was ready to light when my parents caught me looking for matches. Fortunately disaster was averted and my punishment was swift! Discipline was administered soundly in those days although I do recall my parents being more merciful than just!

Looking back on the experience, on the positive side it took real creativity, initiative, planning, and bravery to pull that off that stunt.  But you could also call my actions childish, selfish, stupid, cruel, and yes – evil!

That was my first and last experience of constructing bombs, although I grew quite fond of fireworks! Fortunately my life has not been defined by that mistake. However, since that time I have made other major blunders, mistakes and even evil practices that could so easily define me. I’m sure the same could be said about you.

In the passage quoted above God appears to Moses as He speaks from a bush that continues burning. It’s one of the most critical passages in all of Scripture where God commissions the His new leader of the nation Israel. Moses will go on to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt through the wilderness right to the brink of the Promised Land, a journey which will last for forty years. There are many things that define the life of Moses and his faithful leadership of His people under God’s direction. He’s known as one of Israel’s greatest leaders.

It’s not often that we reflect on the fact that Moses is also a murderer who some years earlier had killed an Egyptian slave, hid him in the sand and then fled to Midian. We tend to focus more on Moses’ identity as a chosen leader rather than a murderer but somehow in God’s economy there is room for both.

A significant lesson here that continues throughout Scripture is that God is continually redeeming people, especially in their sins and failures, and using them for His own powerful purposes.

Upon hearing God’s voice Moses first response was, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Neither God nor Moses make any mention whatsoever about the murder incident that is recorded just a few verses earlier, although it may have occurred around forty years previously. I wonder if Moses, after all those years still felt unworthy of such a role as God had for him.

Whatever we think of our sins, failures and shortcomings, either our own or others, it’s important that we don’t allow them to define or control us. I think God showed Moses and every generation since then that failure need not be final but even in our failure God can bring us on to a better place if we allow Him to do His work in and through us.

The lesson for us is to believe in ourselves and others despite their failures. And more importantly to believe in our Lord and Maker who in His Son Jesus is bringing redemption and restoration to all who turn to Him in faith.

If the Bible’s record is accurate – and I believe it is – it’s good to know that if there’s a second chance for murderers there must be many more chances for all of us. Yes, even for childhood explosive experts!


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