Sunday, August 8, 2021

The Need for both the Mystic and the Theologian

The mystics, and I consider myself in that category, sought after relationship with God through surrender and the practice of various spiritual exercises to increase intimacy with God.  This lead to the development of specific practices such as Christian meditation, contemplation and the practice of silence.  Many of them historically cloistered and lived in community or even practiced isolation in a hermitage.  It makes me different sometimes and has been the latest development in my own spiritual life.

I recently had some time with a pastor who was the opposite of me in style.  While he would agree with many of the things that I profess, he is also what I would classify as a theologian.  He is very concerned with orthodoxy and a black in white biblical focus.  We had a great discussion on a variety of topics of faith and it was very productive.  It was apparent after our time together that we viewed the world through a different lens.

In reflecting on our time together I realized how much mystics need theologians.  Both are essential to maintain balance and orthodoxy.  Our faith must be based on scripture first.  While a mystic provides the soul and passion of the gospel, the theologian provides the guardrails.  The church has been fighting heresy since the book of Acts.  The early centuries of the church were rife with unbiblical teaching that had to be corrected.  The Church Counsels were held to settle orthodoxy and correct error.  The standard remains the test of how any teaching or practice lines up with scripture.  Your spiritual experience is not the authoritative standard for truth.  Man is very capable of instituting heresy into faith with great enthusiasm without testing it against the Word.

As you travel your journey you will experience many questions.  Your faith and hope will be tested.  The Word of God is your source to test all things.  It provides the precious promises for whatever you need.  It provides the confirmation of his faithfulness and character.  This will provide an anchor for your soul when you are tested.  Another consideration while secondary in many respects is our own theological filter.  If your theology differs than scripture, then you have bigger issues.  But there is great value in measuring your experience in light of your theological framework.  A final standard in measuring your experience is against historical Christianity.  The early church fathers and historical Christianity remain a great value in assessing your experience.  Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us that, “…there is nothing new under the sun.”  All Christianity is indebted to the work of the early church leaders who defined the faith we inherited.  They faced many tests that challenged the scripture and early church tradition.  They were the closest to the era that Jesus actually taught.  The reality is that your experience is likely not new and there is a biblical precedent that has value.  It is important to respect each of these.  In your journey it will be easier to have guides who have come before.  They give a path that can offer great guidance.  Finally remember, it all begins and ends in scripture.


Sunday, July 25, 2021

Noise Pollution

One of the challenges that you face in your journey toward wholeness and truth is the volume of deception and the author of it, the devil, is 120 decibels the same as a running chainsaw.  His messages are so loud that they cannot be avoided.  Truth is most often found in the quiet.  The prophet Elijah needed to hear from God.  After a great wind that was so strong that it tore up mountains, an earthquake, and a great fire he still did not hear from God.  He finally hears God speak “in a still small voice” (a whisper is at 10 decibels). 

For this reason, the only way to hear God is to invite the quiet.  Stop all the noise and invite the silence.  This is not always easy with the routine you may have and in your effort to meet the expectations and responsibilities that you have.  To stop the noise is a choice.  It can even be an uncomfortable choice when you are getting started.  There may be voices that the noise helps you avoid.  Self-talk can be vicious when it is quiet.  You may have echoes of critical voices that have spoken into your life.  You may prefer the noise.  But it only masks the issues that are coming up. 

The only way to quiet the voices and move toward wholeness is to confront the voices and learn to enjoy the silence.  When you do you can hear the voice of God!  He can comfort you and tell you the truth about your identity.  This will eliminate the discomfort and create moments with God that are unforgettable.  He will comfort you and quiet the voices and negative self talk.

Thomas Merton encouraged Christ-based meditation and prayer.  He lived in solitude in a cabin in the hills of Kentucky near the abbey that he served.  He like you had voices to quiet but experienced a level of communion that allowed him to write very personally about God and his presence.  He was able to teach with a level of personal experience when he spoke of God’s presence.  He is not extraordinary.  This same level of communion is offered to you.

It is a deliberate choice to enter into silence.  It rarely happens without intentionality.  You may feel that there is no opportunity for this in your life.  If that is the case you must take control of your life and create the space.  Every one of us can carve out fifteen or twenty minutes if we are intentional.  The reality is that you need to do this.  It is not optional if you want to remain healthy.  In creation, God included a sabbath rest as a pattern for you.  He loves you and like any love relationship, you will make time for those you love.  Satan is the author of the messages that discourage this.  He does not want you to pause and connect with your creator.  He knows that when you pause and listen that you are one step closer to reality.  He has to keep you on the treadmill to keep up the illusions.  As long as you believe the lie that you cannot stop that you will not uncover his deception.

I want to clarify any misunderstanding as well.  While general meditation can be helpful, this is specifically focused on scripture and has the purpose of connecting to God.  It is not for the purpose of some inner tranquility although that is a byproduct.  Scripture promises that if you, “draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Like the father of the prodigal, he is waiting at the end of the road for you to come home (Luke 15:19-20).  Brennan Manning used to say, God not only loves you, he likes you!  This is a powerful truth.  Spend time with the Father, He is waiting and He likes you.  Whatever you have thought that is different than this is a lie.  He is not going to condemn you or hurt you.  He desires to spend time with you.  Meditation and prayer are a good start to hearing his voice.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Transcendent Truthteller

I recently heard a phrase from a speaker that stuck in my mind.  He spoke of repentance as “agreeing with God.”  This reminded me of Thomas Merton.  The false self has a pretty high opinion of itself generally.  The idea that you are sinful and need a savior does not fit his view of himself.  You have a fundamental disagreement with reality.  In agreeing with God you are agreeing with his reality and not the twisted view of the ego.  You are shedding the deception of the enemy and accepting the truth.  You are trusting God’s assessment of yourself and rejecting the lies and masks that you have created.

This helps clarify what Salvation is.  It is accepting his view of yourself and asking him for help in your need.  Salvation becomes establishing a relationship with the transcendent truthteller.  It allows you to begin to see reality and see the world and yourself as you really are.  This is a total change in your perspective and must occur to enter into reality.  Unless you know you need him, a relationship with him is an option.  Once you see the truth you know you have to have him for soul survival.  You realize that it is not about you and that you are not self-sufficient. 

After many years on this journey, I realize that am dependent on Him for all that is good in my life.  I can only make a mess without His help.  When I trust in Him, he leads me to all truth (Jn 16:13) and keeps the reality about myself and the world around me intact.  He clarifies my vision and exposes my deception.  He shows me the path ahead and gives me a realistic perspective as I navigate the journey.  It is the key to my survival as I travel the rugged path of life.  When I was in High School, I traveled to Ecuador on a missions trip.  My journey took me on a road trip into the Andes Mountains.  When I looked out of the bus window all I could see was a view of the thousands of feet below and could not see the road at all.  I had no choice but to trust the driver.  He could see the road ahead and had been down that road before.  Your journey will take you to places that are treacherous and fraught with danger.  Your saving grace will be the presence of your savior speaking the truth and keeping you firmly in reality.  It is your only hope in navigating the path and not slipping off the road. 

Each one of us needs the truth spoken by the transcendent truthteller.  It all begins with agreeing with Him” and acting on that truth.  He promises to be there for you the whole way of the journey and to lead you safely until your last breath.  “He will never leave you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:8).  The Psalmist David says with confidence, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” (Psalm 23:4).  This confidence comes from knowing and trusting the truthteller.  He will be with you.  You have no reason for fear.

Monday, July 12, 2021

The Expection of Fairness

 One of the issues you face is processing the events in your life.  In each of you from childhood expect there to be some sense of fairness in life.  You expect everyone will be dealt an even hand.  This is really an impossible expectation for God to accomplish.  Each of you has a unique path to follow in your journey.  Some suffer greatly, others avoid suffering, some experience great loss, others avoid grief, some live in material ease, others face a life of financial struggle, some have good health, others experience pain and physical suffering.  This is the nature of life.  This creates a crisis for the false self.  The need for control and to manage things will fail.  The True Self is submitted to the creator.  It can accept whatever occurs and lean the light of His presence to make it through the darkness.  This does not remove the suffering and impact of events.  It does provide the needed resources to make it through anything. 

You like everyone around you experience things that defy explanation.  Lewis B Smedes in his book, “Forgive and Forget; Healing the Hurts we do not Deserve” says that these events are deep, personal, and unfair.  These things often have a lifelong impact on your life.  The question of WHY is a part of this process.  It is not really a profitable exercise, but it is a natural and normal part of the process.  There is often no satisfactory answer for these events.  Cancer or some other terminal disease is never fair.  It is always tragic and full of suffering.  Accidents and There is no logic or predictability about life generally.  While you attempt to manage your life, so many things are out of your control.  Your task is impossible in the end.  There are many reasons that things occur.  You may be a victim of your own choices (or not).  You may be the victim of the choices of another.  Regardless of the cause, you can count on His presence.  You cannot manage your life like a project at work.  You must learn to respond in a healthy way to whatever occurs.  In moments of crisis and unpredictable events you can count on God’s character and presence.  He will be with you.  He will never leave you or forsake you.  This promise is repeated multiple times in His word. Each of you are on a different journey, but his promises are relevant no matter what.  But as a spoke of earlier, it is not managed or fair.  You are promised in Hebrews 4:16 “grace and help in time of need”.  So while your quest for fairness is destined to fail, His presence will stand with you in your journey.  That is something that you can count on.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

God's Help over Self Help

I picked up a self-help book recently.  It began with an inspirational story, then moved to a bunch of platitudes then began to instruct me on how I could find my authentic self by focusing on myself more and beginning to getting to know myself better...  Let me clearly state that while this may have some value, self-awareness is beneficial, it is not the ultimate to the secret to finding your true self.  The assumption is that it is buried deep inside you and if you concentrate hard enough you will find yourself.  This is not true.  Sin has obscured your perception of who you are.   Even at your best, you do not know your true self.  It is not somewhere to discover internally, if you dig deep enough. 

The hope of self-help is that if you just try harder you will succeed.  This is false.  When you are dealing with a sin issue you need the power of grace to overcome your fear and compulsion to hide.  Your compulsion to reject his way and to create an identity that you believe will meet the standards of others is so ingrained that supernatural transformation is needed from your creator.  You cannot do this by yourself.  The same effort that got you there cannot get you out.  It is you plus the power of God through the Holy Spirit that will help you rebirth the true self in you.

How do I discover my true self?  Since it was lost in your choice to take control and handle things yourself, it begins with submission to your creator.  You must go back to where you started.  It is found in connecting to the ultimate source of life and love.  God, your transcendent, loving creator grieves your confusion, loss, and pain.   He wants to embrace you show you yourself in that embrace.  He wants to love you unconditionally.  He wants you to rest in that love so that you can quit feeling the need to pretend and disguise your true self.  He wants to affirm you and show you that he made you exactly the way that he intended.  When you connect to Him you will begin to experience a level of growth and awareness unsurpassed.  It will result in what you were seeking by focusing on yourself.  It will give you confidence that allows you to be yourself and choose not to hide or create a mask when you are with others.  It will bring the satisfaction and fulfillment that you have been seeking, even if you didn't know exactly what you were seeking.  So while you can get some benefit from self-awareness, don't forget that your Creator knows you best.  He is a logical place to begin.  It is the relationship that opens the door to real growth.  It creates an exchange of love that you need.  Like the prodigal in Luke when he sees your move toward Him, He comes running to meet you(Luke 15:11-32).

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Pitfall of Expectations

Expectations are natural and normal to our lives.  I expect a great meal when I go to a BBQ house and when they deliver, I am gratified with the meal. You expect your car to start in the morning and according to its condition it probably delivers.  Expectations whether they are of yourself, others or of institutions or organizations can fail to materialize.  Sometimes your expectations will be fulfilled, but as you travel your journey you will also have expectations that do not occur as you anticipated.  When I got married I anticipated a lifetime partnership, but as my life unfolded I got a divorce.  I have had jobs that I expected to work out perfectly only to find out that I was mistaken.  So expectations can go either way.  There is a rock ballad that has a chorus, “Hold on loosely…”  This is good advice regarding expectations.  When you apply them to people you can be very disappointed.  Since you have little to no control over most people you are taking a gamble when you play the expectation game.  The odds may be in your favor or not.  But the point is that it in human relationships there are no guarantees.  Expectations whether they are of yourself, others or of institutions or organizations can

In the false self this can be very difficult.  When your ego self is disappointed it can choose to rage, depress, confront, attempt to force compliance to your expectations or adapt your behavior.  Since the false self is based out of your ego it does not know how to deal with not getting what it wants or expects.  It only knows how to want.  It never can accept or deal with reality.  In fact it creates its own reality.  I know you are acquainted with people who have little self-awareness and live their lives in their own unreal world  Their whole existence is lived inside the bubble that their ego and expectations create.  It is a delusional and not does not resemble reality.  They may get glimpses of reality now and then, but if it is unpleasant or does not fit their expectations they reject it.  When facing a breach in expectations the false self creates a mask that either pretends it is met, that it does not matter, or that

The true self can deal with reality.  It desires to live without self-deception and can deal with life when reality and expectations do not match.  Even unpleasant reality is better than pleasant deception.  The trues self does not need to deceive itself to survive.  Though you may not like what it see, you do not choose the option of creating a false face to cover their disappointment or to pretend and avoid facing reality.  If a person is in the true self and doesn’t meet the expectations of others it recognizes this and looking at the facts copes with it in a way that is in reality.  That may be ignoring the dissonance, talking it out, accepting it, and living in the present realizing that you will never live up to the expectations of others.  Randy Alcorn used to say at a meeting I attended monthly with he and other pro-life leaders,  “We live our lives before an audience of one.”  There is only opinion that matters in eternity. 


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Servant or Master, Your Choice


On this earth, you are housed in your physical body.  You have five senses that give you a constant flow of input.  This is your creator’s gift to aid you in experiencing the physical world around you.  They help you feel the cool breeze of the ocean or the warmth of a lover's hand in yours, experience the delicate flavors in hickory-smoked ribs, hear the nuances of sounds in the notes of a live blues performance.  They are also an early warning system to the smell of smoke in your home, the view of flashing lights ahead of you driving, and the sour taste of outdated milk.  All of these are gifts from your creator.  They add dimension and depth to your day-to-day experience of life.  They enhance every moment of your life experience. 

Both the true and false self utilize the input of the senses very differently.  The false raises the senses to a place of idolatry. Your life bends and contorts to somehow feel comfortable and or to avoid experiencing you want to avoid.  It will create illusions to help you feel accepted even to the point of total compromise.  The false self about survival and the present moment.  It is about pleasure or the avoidance of pain. 

I was an Eagle Scout.  I spent my early adolescence camping and experiencing the outdoors.  I can remember the smell of the smoke, the sound of crickets, the taste of breakfast cooked on a fire, and the skyline dotted with fireflies glowing as bright as the stars in the night.  I celebrated a unique view of God and life on those outings.  They were transformational in my faith and my perspective of life. 

The true self uses the senses as information points of truth.  While they can deceive, properly used they are signals that guide you to truth and open doors of self-understanding.  When you grieve, they help you understand your relationships and values.  When you hurt they point to areas of your life that need healing.  When you celebrate, they point to things that you value.

The biggest difference in the use of senses between the true and the false is whether they are servants or masters.  They are great servants and poor masters.  They are not universally true.  They do point to truth.  I experience depression.  In my life, my depression is like an indicator light on my life engine.  It tells me that I am tired, or overwhelmed, or just lonely.  It is a trigger that allows me to monitor my well-being.  In no way is it accurate as a point of information.  It simply gives me an early warning of something, whatever that something is.  Again it is a great servant and a poor master.  It does give me a point of action.  I have a choice at the moment that it occurs to act.  I can shift my thinking, my physical location or simply be aware and wait for it to pass and miss the opportunity.

Following your senses as a guide will never lead you to God’s best for you.  To live in the true self you will be required to experience pain and discomfort.  It will require you to face the uncomfortable truths.  It will reveal things that are uncomfortable.  None of them will be pleasurable to your senses.  But they will continue your journey of self-understanding.  God teaches you through each one of these things, but only if you are paying attention.  So the choice is yours. 


Monday, May 24, 2021

The Unknown Known

 One of the realities in living in the true self is living the in the unknown known.  I know this seems contradictory, but it is not.  There are many unknowns in life.  They cannot be avoided.  While some things may seem secure and knowable even this is an illusion.  The assumptions that you make can be misplaced and you only find out now that it fails you.  This is not to depress or disillusion you, but rather to guide you to the reliable place to lay your trust.

So what can be known?  What can we have faith in confidence in?  We can have confidence in our relationship with the transcendent God of the universe.  It is not confidence in a person or circumstance.  It is not in material or physical.  It is not in our own effort or ability.  It is squarely out of your control.  Your relationship with your God is referred to as faith.  It is a trust firmly placed in the trinity.  It is a faith that rests in the promise of who he is.  It is the promise of a future that is in His hands.  Even the unknowns of your life are known as your rest in Him.  Does this mean that you are on “Easy Street” or will have no difficulties?  Of course not.  Nothing can make those guarantees.  It means that the unknowns are held in his hands.  He is the Known that answers all the unknowns.  He is now a lucky charm or a rabbit’s foot that ensures the future.  It is a relationship with your creator and Father that assures you that no matter what occurs in life, his presence will never leave you or forsake you.

Life in the true self is based on that very relationship.  It rests in the fact that you know your creator and are known by your creator.  It is about him, not about you.  It is about confidence in Him and not anything else.  That allows you to rest no matter what you see coming.  I have experienced many moments that visible certainty would have been desirable, but I would rather have confidence in Him.  Back in the first paragraph, I addressed the reality that your perceived security is often misplaced.  But you can be assured that any trust put in Him is not misplaced.  Your true self knows it can rest.  It does not have to strive or struggle.  You are safe in the reality that you know the creator and he knows you.  So even your unknowns can be known. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Perpertual Death

 I was recently listening to Richard Rohr in an online course that I downloaded.  He used a phrase that has stayed with me since.  He was speaking of Jesus command that we have to die to live.  It is in the gospels multiple times and can be confusing or misunderstood.  He made the statement that as Christians were “perpetually dying”.  It reminds me of the scripture that adds the word “daily” after this command.  It is the ego self that drives the insurrection against your decision to die to self.  The ego wants to live and fights the spirit for rule.  The false self that depends on the ego will tell you all the reasons that surrendering your will to God is a bad idea.  All the fears that haunt you and motivate your creation of masks in the first place will make a full-scale assault on you.  If you listen to all the noise and interference you will never commit to voluntarily giving up control.  The false self and the ego will always demand control.  Your false self truly believes that only you can be trusted to control your surroundings.God created you and knows that with his help you can be restored.  It requires that you “perpetually die” to your will, your desires and your whole self.  The promise is that you will gain your life if you do this.  

The true self can express itself when you kill the sources of the false.  It can thrive in the soil of God’s love and acceptance.  The true self has room to experience its full expression when choose to allow him full control.  This control is never perfect.  That is why we die daily.  It is a choice to surrender our self to Him every day.  To surrender to your creator is the most logical and safe choice.  The belief that somehow you can do better than he can is ridiculous.  Remember that when you hear the lies from the deceiver.  Trade your masks for His reality.  He will reveal aspects of the real you a little at a time.  Through that relationship with him your identity and purpose will gradually become clear.  But it is an everyday decision to die “perpetually” to who you have created to embrace who He created you to be.  Do it today and every day!  It will give you life and life more abundant.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Westminster Catechism and Authentic Living Forever

 The Westminster Catechism was approved in 1646 by the Church of England.  It was drafted and revised by the Scottish and English theologians for 3 years.  Its purpose was to write a simpler presentation of the beliefs of the church for use in teaching its members.  It is formatted in the form of question and answer.  The first question was the most important and most basic.  It was, “What is the chief end of man?”  The answer, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

This is a powerful confirmation for the attitude of the believer who desires to live authentically in their true self.  Man finds his highest sense of purpose when he lives to glorify God.  You are destined to be a part of His plan to usher in His Kingdom.  His plan is for you to enjoy Him for the rest of your existence on this earth and beyond.  This is akin to Merton’s view of your existence.  When you are in union with your creator cooperating with Him and drawing your identity from Him it is the path to fulfillment and eternal life and satisfaction.  This is truly “enjoying Him forever” as stated earlier.  It is only possible if you embrace Him and learn to embrace your true self.  He is ready and willing to join you in your journey.  

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Demands of Authentic Living

 In his book, “No Man is an Island” Thomas Merton speaks of the demands of living in your true self.  He states that it requires that you and I, “go beyond the limits of my own egotism”.  In Christ I find myself, but it requires that I lose the masks and false selves that are not a part of His will.  You can only find yourself in Him.  As your creator he knows you inside and out.  He designed you and knows the purpose that you are designed a part of His Kingdom.  When you attempt to find your own purpose it is based on ego and you create masks and you end up deceiving yourself as well as others.  You create your own fantasy based on your desires or what you perceive will please others.  It is an illusion and has nothing to do with reality.  Your true self demands that you deny yourself and enter into union with transcendent god and creator. 

But as the scripture states, “If you lose your life, you will save it.  The life you save is the real you.  It is the one that is in union with your transcendent creator.  It is the one that experiences the joy and satisfaction of real fulfilment.  It is the one that has great joy in His presence.  The psalmist states, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are your works, And that my soul knows very well.  (Ps. 139:14).  My prayer is that you find that level of awareness of your value and uniqueness.  It is that you experience that union that brings daily affirmation of it.  It is that you too enjoy the satisfaction and fulfillment of working and living in the authentic individual that you are created to be.