Posted in Christian Living, Faith, Self-Help

In Search of Yoda

20130602-213904.jpg

Sometimes, when coincidences happen, you start to think maybe God is telling you something He wants you to listen to. I had just such a set of coincidences this week.

It began when I decided to grab my copy of the Oswald Chambers classic, My Utmost for His Highest, during my morning Bible reading and turned at random to the January 5 entry. Chambers has chosen for his text the episode in John’s account of the gospels where Jesus predicts Peter’s denial of Him (chapter 13). Christ tells Peter that the loyal disciple cannot follow Him at that moment. Skip ahead to the risen Christ, who reinstates Peter, ordering the “fallen” disciple in John 21 to “Follow me!”

Chambers concludes:

Between these times, Peter had denied Jesus with oaths and curses, he had come to the end of himself and all his self-sufficiency, there was not one strand of himself he would ever rely upon again, and in his destitution he was in a fit condition to receive an impartation from the risen Lord.

In other words, Peter was finally empty and ready to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Once he was filled with the Spirit, Peter went on to be the foundation of Christ’s church, just as the Lord had said he would be.

When I finished reading Chambers, it struck me that to know true peace and purpose in Christ, this emptying is something that we have to do over and over again. How else do we keep from being diverted by the distractions of this world–the entertainment media, our jobs, our family obligations? Some of these are things we cannot put aside, but all of them are things that should come after our commitment to the One and Only.

I think we all want to acquire the kind of calm that being rooted in the Spirit of God has to offer. With that kind of peace, no force can move us. Traffic can be bad, the weather can be horrible, the job can present one challenge too many. But for those who have emptied themselves to be filled by the Holy Ghost, there is a sense of peace, faith and hope that does not leave us.

I picture Yoda, so in tune with the Force, that even Luke’s whining does not divert him from raising the spaceship out of the water. Not even Darth Vader can divert Yoda from his centered being.

But I began by discussing coincidences. Later in the week, I happened to watch a 1962 movie, The Spiral Road. In this story about doctors in the jungles of 1936 Indonesia, a young Rock Hudson begins by denying the very existence of God. He is an ambitious doctor who is convinced that he is strong enough in himself to defeat all the challenges that trying to offer medical treatment in the middle of a jungle among people from a different culture present.

In the movie’s climax, Hudson takes on a task two other doctors before him have failed to complete, despite their faith–overcoming the tricks and resistance of a local witch doctor in an isolated camp near a village where people need medical attention. Because Hudson has no faith, he is convinced he will defeat the witch doctor through his superior mind and logic.

In the end, Hudson’s mind fails him. He becomes as empty as the two doctors who have failed before him. And in that moment of emptiness, Hudson cries out to the very God he said did not exist!

So, I think it is high time I pay more attention to the concept of my own emptying and the subsequent filling by the Holy Ghost. After all, when I have a difficult time clearing my mind from all its random thoughts in order to meditate for five minutes in yoga class, how am I making room for the Almighty to come in? No wonder I experience anxiety instead of peace!

But this is a journey that is just beginning, again. I have decided to share it as I go. I want to concentrate on practical steps I should be taking to grow closer to God. In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.” I want to do every day, in the peace of God.

So, I start with the promise of what we have because of our faith. In his letter to the Philipians, Paul explains it this way:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (4:11-13)

A mind that has learned to be content no matter what is a mind that understands how to empty itself and accept the peace of the Holy Spirit. I appreciate in advance any and all thoughts on how you manage this process in your own walk with God, the One with Whom there is no coincidence.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith, Self-Help

Legacy: Let’s Get Practical

20121111-160455.jpg
If you are going to sow seeds for the kingdom, you have to embrace not just the ideals of a life in Christ but also the practical, day-to-day actions you should and should not take if you are truly walking the narrow path to the kingdom of Heaven.

The best place to go to find practical ways to apply God’s truth in your life is the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus explains the Kingdom’s precepts and practices.

The practical matters of legacy are not exactly easy, which is why it is so important that we have the support of the Spirit in us to help us live in the light. For, Christ not only upholds the basic truths of the Old Testament law, He ups the ante on each of those truths.

Do not murder, He tells us, but also to hate is to do as much damage to one’s soul as to murder. Do not commit adultery, but to even lust after another is to commit adultery. Do not quarrel, but even seek forgiveness up to the point of turning your left cheek when your right cheek has been struck.

As I heard a preacher put it once, God sent His son to sacrifice Himself for us. Do we actually think He would expect less of us after that kind of giving?

Make no mistake. We don’t earn our salvation through our actions. Only by grace can we accept the belief in Christ’s resurrection that saves us. But once we accept that grace, our faith should compel us to want to grow in Christ.

Anyone who plays a musical instrument or a sport knows that there is no way to improve without consistent, disciplined practice over time. Even the most proficient musician still warms up with scales, the basic building blocks of music. And that proficient musician practices his/her art each and every day for several hours at a time.

Christianity has its basic building blocks as well, disciplines that those of us who limit our Christianity to church on Sunday quite frankly miss out on. Even people who approach their religion as a way of life need the daily, routine practice of the Christian “scales” in order to continue to grow in Christ.

What does this routine practice include? Again, look to the Sermon on the Mount. Do you pray every day, and not just the same prayer mumbled quickly before you go to sleep, but with your whole self, throwing your whole body into it? Have you ever fasted? Do you regularly reach out to those who do not believe? Do you have spiritual elders to whom you regularly report about your growth in Christ?

I am an academic. If I had chosen to stay in the college setting as an instructor, I could have easily fallen into the “ivory tower” trap of staying inside my head all the time, living in the world of ideas instead of the world of practical application. That’s a fancy way of saying that it is very easy for me to get caught up in my head instead of listening to what my body is telling me. Some days, it’s as if the two entities have never met.

In the past several years, I have been doing an exercise program that involves yoga, but not the kind of yoga that you are possibly thinking about. It isn’t a classroom filled with hot babes in skimpy clothes. It isn’t a torture chamber of hot temperatures. It certainly isn’t a metaphysical den of crystals and gongs.

Luckily for me, my yoga center is focused on the principles that help us understand how our minds and bodies work together to feel the energy that is all around us, the energy that makes up the planet, the energy we Christians know as the Holy Spirit.

Before yoga, I had prayed with my mind and my heart, but I had never prayed all the way to my fingertips. What I have also learned from yoga is that real change of any kind in our lives requires a commitment of our whole selves. With the guidance of a spiritual leader, such as the pastor at your church, you can learn the daily practices, actual things you need to do every day, that will help you meet your spiritual goals.

How many of us even have real, spiritual goals that we have committed to paper, much less to our hearts, when it comes to our service to God and our growth in the Spirit? Practical faith means practice.

As we have discovered over the past several weeks, legacy is not just a dreamy concept about what is left of us when we are no longer part of this planet. Legacy is about our partnership with God and making good on our faith in ways in which only He understands the potential impact.

Start putting the practice into practical this week. Maybe make part of your daily Bible study a re-read of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). And set down a list of daily actions you plan to begin for the next 21 days to reach a goal you have in Christ. Pray about it, share with fellow believers, and have faith that the Spirit will guide you where Christ would have you go. But go somewhere. No one leaves a legacy by merely standing still.

Posted in Living, Self-Help

Where Is Your Victory Garden?

A Live Sculpture of Sprouts some 50 ft. off the ground in Baltimore, Maryland

No matter which side of the current political race you choose to support, I think we can all agree that this country is in a state of crisis. A growing number of people are out of work. The haves are dwindling in numbers at the same time that what they have is outdistancing the have-nots by leaps and bounds. We live in a global community that, if recent events are any indication, want our heads on a very pointy stick. Somebody should do something about it.

Riding in my car today, listening to old-time radio on my Sirius XM, I got to hear the perspective of a time when our country was in equally high crisis. It was a “Dagwood and Blondie” show from the early 40s. At the end of the program, the actors playing the leading roles made the usual war-time appeal to buy bonds. But, they also did something I had a hard time imagining our current stars of today even thinking to do, much less having the courage. The radio voices urged their audience to make the sacrifices now that would ensure that the government could pull itself out of its war-time financial hole once the action was finally over. “Don’t let us suffer as we did after the last war,” the voice said. The actors also told the audience not to buy items for prices other than what the government had set for them, not to buy items they didn’t really need, not to indulge when that indulgence would mean somebody else would suffer.

I couldn’t help but contrast this blunt, everybody-does-his-part approach to a weird commercial I saw recently involving actors of our day. In this modern commercial, we are shown back after back of famous people. Finally, they show their faces to say, “don’t turn your back on our military.” We’ve been involved in severe action for more than 10 years in dangerous conditions abroad. We are fighting an economic and social crisis at home, and these actors are just now coming out to say “don’t turn your back?” What’s more, their commercial gives no positive steps to do right now, no action points. The organization or cause the commercial is supposed to be promoting is even unclear.

I wonder what would happen if George Clooney had the courage to put himself in front of a camera and tell us to quit relying on the government to take care of us, to look to our neighbor to extend a helping hand and receive one, to remember that an honest day’s work, no matter what kind of work it is, is more valuable than a lifetime of handouts to one’s esteem and for the community at large?

During World War II, people planted victory gardens, canned everything they could, ate all leftovers. Housewives even saved used grease to donate for the purpose of making rubber. Ford assembly lines shot out tanks and war machinery at an even faster pace than they produced non-war-time cars. Even the children were not exempt from doing without so that the country as a whole might benefit.

Where is your victory garden today? You can’t fix the problems swirling around this country, but you can control you. All it takes is each one of us taking care of business, refusing to do what isn’t right, even if every one else around us is doing it, and being a helping hand whenever possible to start making a difference. With God, all things are possible. Let’s bring Him back into the fore again in this country, one Victory Garden at a time.

Posted in Christian Living, Living, Self-Help

Are You Too Old To Be “Schooled?”

20120813-184144.jpg Anyone who has ever been a teacher in a formal setting knows that you learn materials best by having to teach others, but you also know that you have plenty of things you can also learn from your students, as long as you are open to the idea.

But, anyone can benefit from the possibilities that occur when we are open to learning from others, no matter if we are supposed to be teaching those others or not. And those others can be young people half our age as well as our “elders,” can be people who make almost no money to those who make millions.

Case in point: I have been doing desktop publishing for our family health food store for almost 17 years, an outcropping of experience I started gaining when I was just in high school journalism classes. Lately, I have had to hand over some of my duties to a young woman who works for us. She is about to begin her junior year in college. I am almost 20 years out from my graduate degree. Sure, so far, I’ve had to edit her work as she puts together test ads for me, but they are fairly small changes that I can easily explain to her to improve upon the next time.

What I have learned so far is that it is very nice to have a second voice offering ideas about advertising slogans and perspectives. It is quite a bit quicker to edit an ad layout that is already quite strong than to have to come up with the entire ad to begin with. I also have been reminded that other people can come up with creative and intelligent ideas.

Today, I even learned that I could use a computer program I hadn’t even thought about in a while to create cropped pictures with traced transparencies that will be very useful for my advertising and marketing and website purposes. I was so happy to be able to say to my younger employee that we could learn from each other during this process! And the employee was excited too.

My point is that in order to learn from anyone, from a superior at work to a young person you might otherwise write off as naive or inexperienced, you have to be open to the possibilities and willing to see the world through an unbiased lens. Forget the attitude and especially the fear that keeps you from admitting that you still have things to learn, especially when you are dealing one-on-one with somebody. I think you will find that people will respect you more when you are honest about what you know and don’t know instead of putting on an act of bravado and never admitting that you still have something to learn.

God wants us to be always open to instruction. The Proverbs discuss the importance of discipline. The Old Testament is replete with reminders that God will humble us if we do not take care of our attitude ourselves. In the New Testament, Jesus reminds us that we must come to Him as little children, meaning with an attitude of full faith that includes admitting we don’t understand everything but are willing to believe anyway.

None of us are ever too old to be schooled. And since we never know exactly how God is working the things that happen in our lives to the good, don’t we all have every reason to be open to learning from anything and everything that happens to us? Even a two-year-old knows a few things that we have managed to forget as adults. Have you ever seen a better nap-taker?

Posted in Christian Living, Living, Self-Help

By the Water

20120423-201130.jpg

There’s nothing more soothing than being near a running brook, hearing the burbling sounds of water rushing over silt and rock, the background noises of bluejays and crickets, the smells of wild grass and pure streams surrounding you in a cocoon of protection from the troubles and cares of your everyday world.

But we don’t have to be in the middle of the country to find our gurgling-brook moments. Even if you are stuck in the midst of the concrete jungle, nature finds a way. It may be a favorite park or a patch of grass used as a dog-run at your apartment building. It may be the butterfly you find perched on the windshield of your parked car. But nature is in the very air we breathe, and wherever there is nature, we have the most visible evidence of the existence of God. A deep, full breath of afternoon air can be the kind of break that reminds you what God means by a “peace that transcends understanding.”

Visualization is also a powerful gift that God has given us. Just closing our eyes in a quiet room can allow us to see, feel, hear and smell the perfect brook. We can see ourselves lying in the tall grass, our eyes closed, our breathing even and deep. If we can block out the worries of the world, our job responsibilities, our family’s needs, our perceived failings, we may just reach that inner part of ourselves where we can best hear the most real answer to our life’s questions, which is the answer that truly comes from God. Only if we are still will we truly hear Him.

We travel hundreds of miles and spend all kinds of money to take relaxing vacations, when our own mini-vacation is available every day. Take your moment to envision your brook, meditate on God, and listen to your inner voice today. The closer that voice is to the will of God, the happier you will be.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith, Self-Help

To Know What He Knows

Annie Dilliard writes about the experience of going to church and being caught up in the wonder of God’s sense of humor, for what else would account for His tolerance of the off-key voices and humanly-limited actions that we call a worship service? Doesn’t He deserve so much more than we could ever offer, and yet He puts up with our best attempts, and we deign to think these attempts at worship might be called good.
It is a fundamental flaw, really, to think that a human mind could ever really know God, and yet our perception of Him is constrained by just that, our very limited minds. The simple reality of our situation leaves us in a bit of a pickle. We can try to understand God through His word, but even that is limited to our own ability to understand and interpret.
Some of the biggest mistakes we ever make are done in full knowledge about what God has to say about our actions, wrapped inside a bubble of what we have convinced ourselves He really meant. How many times have you heard a cheating spouse OK her actions by claiming that God wants her to be happy? How many people explain their religion to you according to what “feels right?”
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord,” in Isaiah 55:8. God does not think like us nor act like us. So, why are we always trying to reason out what God is up to as if He was the keeps-to-himself neighbor in the creepy house at the corner of the street? Why do we think He would ever want us to do something that goes against what He has said, like loving Him above all else rather than putting fancy jewelry or cars before the work of feeding widows and orphaned children just because we are trying to “feel good,” and wouldn’t God want that?
The Spirit of truth can only speak to us if we are constantly in preparation for hearing what that Spirit has to say, even the words we least want to hear. God does things in His own time and in His own way, and we will not understand it, no matter how many words we write, or inspired movies we create, or lies we tell ourselves are real.
The Greeks envisioned the gods as superheroes who shared the same emotions as us humans, but amped to the ninth power. These gods were jealous, wrathful, petty, capricious. Only when the Jews claimed one, true and only God, did mankind begin to conceive of a God above the emotions of man, a God who was constant, consistent, and true.
We have used our understanding of God to validate wars, affairs of the heart, and our own plain meanness of spirit. Yet, His ways are not our ways, His thoughts not our thoughts. Ultimately, we understand what He wants us to understand, know what He wants us to know. If we do not test our knowledge of God through extensive Bible study, sincere prayers, and the validation of our thought processes through sharing with fellow Christians, then what we know is not only not what God knows, it is less than nothing.

Posted in Christian Living, Living, Self-Help

Reality vs. Real

Did you ever consider that a lot of people would face life with fewer difficulties if they didn’t live as if their lives were some kind of reality TV show? In reality TV, life never has a dull moment. If someone isn’t throwing a party, somebody else is planning a trip for all her friends to an exotic location where interesting activities and fancy dinner parties abound. And then, if people are not laughing together, they are picking one person in the group to dislike and pick on, until everyone is talking on top of everyone else. Drama abounds. And all the boring parts, like the daily activities required to actually live, get edited out.
If we watch these reality glimpses of life that are actually produced and scripted almost as much as a television drama without understanding that what they show isn’t actually real, then we are left with an impression of life that is dangerously distorted. In a truly real world, people may often get together, but not on private planes or for thousand dollar dinners. The drama in reality TV does not reflect a life lived solving problems with more than just gut reactions and emotional responses. Drama is so readily available in that quasi-life because people are not grounded in God, but in material possessions, a desire to be noticed, and lots of alcohol.
But Hollywood, with all its special lighting and sound effects, has a way of making anything look desirable. Somehow, we slip into the illusion along with the players on the television screen that what they are portraying is a magical, fun-filled and fulfilling life. But real life, not reality life, doesn’t need the drama fed by alcohol or back-stabbing or putting money before everything else.
Real life is most fulfilling when it is centered on God’s principles, seeks to love others instead of finding fault with them and enjoys each day to its fullest potential, which means actually smelling the roses and remembering from Whom they come.
Too much of anything is not usually good. Watch HGTV all day, and you suddenly need to redecorate your house. Watch the Housewives, and you live a dull life with nothing interesting to do. But if you take the time to watch yourself instead, you may just discover there are many gifts from God each day, loving friends, and small actions you can take that might just make a big difference in somebody else’s life.
Reality may sometimes seem enticing, but give me real any day. The ever-changing nature of life itself is all the drama anyone needs. Forget the created drama that is the current television rage and embrace real life for the better. What a change!