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Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

Letting the Donkey Make an Ass Out of You this Christmas

donkey[1]

What animal does the Bible say Mary rode while heading towards Bethlehem?

Easy trivia….but look it up and prove it.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Are you surprised?  How can the donkey not be there?  That is what we all picture and believe to have happened!

The idea that Mary rode to Bethlehem on a donkey comes from speculation and assumptions.  People do it all the time and it is dangerous.  Consider these thoughts held by many to be true: “God helps those who help themselves”, “wives must obey their husbands”,  and “God will never give us more than we can handle.”

Sure, if Mary didn’t walk she probably rode in on a donkey but we are never told that. We assume that. Assuming anything when it comes to God or the Christian life can be a dangerous thing.

Take heed of what you assume.  Chances are, something, somewhere,  has falsely crept in and it will make an ass of you if you stand dogmatically on it.  Maybe not in the nativity story, but when bigger ideas are wielded as if they were the sword itself it will always cause damage somewhere.  Remember that every time you see a donkey under Mary this season.   Remember to recognize and differentiate between assumption and truth.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2013 in Spiritual Growth

 

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Grown Up Prayer

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  (and yes, I prayed like a child).   When I became a man I put childish ways behind me.”  1 Cor 13: 11

There are several spiritual gray hairs of maturity: love, patience, forgiveness…and many others, but prayer is maybe the most obvious sign of growth.  You wouldn’t think it would be that hard to mature in but it is not as easy as moving from “now I lay me down to sleep” to the “PRAY” acronym.  (P-Praise R-Repent A-Ask for others Y-Yourself).

I consider myself an older teenager when it comes to prayer.  I am not quite a child anymore, I think I know more than I do and my practice of it often feels not fully developed.  I am comfortable in the ‘grown up’ world but I still revert back to childishness at times.  Prayer for me is at once simple and difficult to master.  I have tasted very deeply of what it will be like to be a grown-up but I do not dwell there continually.

Some truly do seem to master it.   When I need to ask for prayer for something, although I know many Christians, there are only a handful that I think will truly pray.  You know what I’m saying here.  I know all of my friends will bow their head and ‘lift me up’….but there is indeed a difference between those saints who will go to their knees and travail for a purpose, who will take the time to ‘meet with God’ and suffer in the request, and those who fling random wishes into the air with ‘Dear God’ in front of it….there is a difference and if something is critical to me….I ask my buddies with the calloused knees first.

I suppose all of us early on put formulas into practice and then stall out.  We seek to deepen our prayer life by expanding what we pray for and the time spent doing it, which is really not a deepening at all…..we end up as the guy in this video praying for everything we can think of and feeling obligated to do it for so long.   Instead of boldly entering past the veil we rush through the outside court and call out our thoughts to God as we pass by.  I suppose it may count as prayer but it doesn’t seem to affect much.  Or, maybe it does, but it doesn’t seem very meaningful.

I love communing with God.  I find nothing sweeter in life, not even my children.  But, I do not pray that sweet Holy of Holies way every single time I whisper ‘Father’.  I go to lonely places but I don’t always steal away each day.  I am mindful that I don’t go long stretches without it entirely.  Typically I practice continual prayer which takes some time to get into the habit of and is unfortunately, easy to fall out of.  It takes discipline to stay in and I think, an evidence of maturity.  For me, it does not replace going off alone to pray but it keeps me closely connected until I am moved to be alone with Him, or ….I just realize I need to get back in there.   Often I find that it is the practice of lifting every thought up to God that leads me to thirst to be alone with Him.  As I pray throughout the day something will catch my breath and I feel compelled to meet with HIm NOW.  And I do, but not always in the sacred way I envision best.  Instead I’m bowing my head in the grocery store as I wait in line, in the car as I am driving (scary, I agree), or I excuse myself and go to the bathroom for privacy.  Nothing feels very holy about it but it is real.  Then there are THOSE times, those hours when I am completely alone with Him and I can almost feel His breath.  Nothing compares.

If you think about it, both require maturity though we tend to think of being alone on the mountain camped out with God as more ‘sacred’. A ‘grown-up’ in prayer though, will probably do both.

And this is where formulas and life separate.  At some point I realized that I will not be the epitome of sacred life and that is okay.  I rest on God’s pull on my life.  I ceased relying on doing things ‘the perfect way’ and now trust that if I respond to Him in all things He will perfect my communion.  My prayer life is probably going to be a little different from yours and that shouldn’t freak any of us out.  None of us have a corner on the perfect way to pray because there is no perfect way.  Well, okay, Jesus had it down.  He did it perfectly.  So let’s take a look at what He says.

It is interesting that when Jesus taught the disciples to pray He did not say, “every day get on your knees for at least 1/2 an hour and pray for every conceivable need you can think of.  While you are doing that try to feel my presence.”  But that is exactly how we try to mature in our prayer life, through content, time and experience.

The Our Father prayer can not be duplicated daily in our lives by following its structure.  We pray that prayer when we truly enter into those phases of communication with God throughout the day….and it may not be all at once in one big sit down prayer.

But we must guard ourselves.  I am always fearful in posts such as this that I am providing an excuse for not doing something.   I felt the same way when I posted The Heart of Christian Devotions.  This is not the case.  Continual prayer is not careless wishing in your head.  It is pointed, directed, leaning.  It is hard to explain but I think one knows if they are truly doing it or not.  It does not always lead to a feeling of closeness but it always produces awareness.

Prayer is not easily fit into a mold, in fact it can’t be.  It is one of the richest disciplines I have thought deeply about.  I believe that one of the signs of a mature prayer life is that it is expressed in various ways, not under compulsion but out of response and need.

We are still and quiet, letting Him speak to our spirit.  We are loud and knocking, searching for Him first in all things.   We pray continually in desperation and peace.  We pray with stride as we rest upon Him.

One last thought to get the guilt off of your back for not praying for Aunt Sally everyday.  If we fail to pray for Aunt Sally or the Walmart checkout lady, or whomever… not all is lost, BUT, if we fail to be in communion with God when He seeks to bring our attention to those people….we have missed a grand opportunity indeed.  Our prayers aren’t answered simply because we mutter them.  Our prayers are answered because we seek God’s will, are mindful of his presence and purpose and are in a constant dialogue with Him about such things.  Our prayers are not about getting things accomplished….this is the way man thinks….our prayers are about dependence, oneness, presence and aligning ourselves with His will.  It is in that ‘being’ that deeds are done.

*The original preview of this video can be found here: Coffee with Jesus    After communicating with staff at Worship House I was told I could use the preview video in my post however wordpress.com does not allow me to directly embed from their site.  Hence the less clear (copied?) version.
 
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Posted by on November 18, 2013 in Spiritual Growth

 

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God-Shivers: the Handicap of Faith

I don’t think I was very old in the Lord miracle[1]before breathtaking things started happening.  Prayers were answered in ways that sent chills down my spine.   The Spirit provoked me to do ‘crazy’ things and incredible things happened.   I would go to my Bible and say, “Lord I need a word on….”, open my Bible and find something staring back at me so pointed that it would make me cower.  At times during worship I felt like I was on the edge of a trance and afraid He would make a spectacle of me. I felt His presence.  Saw His presence through events.  I had dreams.  Demon possessed people fled from me holding their ears when I proclaimed the truth.  I saw provision come when there was none to be found.  I snuck Bibles into Communist countries without incident.

It was all so exhilarating…and real.   It was exciting!  I woke up in the morning wondering what I would encounter next.

I’m ashamed to say that at some point the rush of the experience had purpose in itself.   My walk felt validated by what was outwardly happening.   I inwardly looked forward to the next ‘miracle’ like experience.  I liked my exciting life with God.

My focus subtly shifted from serving God to looking for His miracles and comforts. During this time, I thought that the closer I walked with Him the more consistent these amazing things would occur.  If I lived ‘this’ way, God would do ‘that’.

God showed me much of the realities of the spiritual life as a newbie and I cherish each of those instances.  But, as you know, only the wicked want to be entertained with the Vegas show of God.  Only unbelievers need to see signs and miracles to know He is in their midst.  Me, the new believer, so fresh out of the gates, had to learn that I was in the presence of God even when the bush never lit fire...I had to learn to know He was there by faith.  I also needed to stop relying on experience as a way to escape the tediousness of the mundane.

So God taught me that.

And for years I didn’t like it.  It felt cold.  I feared I was straying, that I was back-sliding, that I was becoming luke-warm towards God.  Heaven was quiet and I felt alone.  Why was I abandoned?  Why didn’t He do anything?  How did I screw it up?images[9]

It wasn’t just for a few weeks, or months.  He became quiet in my life….for a very, very, long time.  I still knew His presence but it wasn’t adorned with things I could see, feel or sense.  I knew it through faith.  Much of my walk during this time was done through sheer conviction and determination of mind to follow.  To believe in Him even if He appeared to fail me.

Must something stir us to experience it?

Of course not.  We can experience both the magnificent sunset and the crazy, boring drive through parts of the U.S. Midwest.  We experience both but one we enjoy, the other we do not.  We naturally run after things that titillate us and make us feel alive.   It doesn’t seem worth running after the mundane.  Why bother with the cake when there is frosting to be had?  Who chooses school over a field trip?   Living out our faith though is often a mundane experience.  It plods along and every day it grows quietly stronger.

I, like all of you, love the God-shivers.

Rejoice in those moments when God powerfully moves and you ‘see’ Him.  Rejoice, but keep it from becoming your focus, or you will handicap your faith like I unwittingly did at first.  Perseverance in faith is the only way we become strong and resilient.  We must learn to stand in naked faith, without the props of experiences, and become comfortable with the mundane.  When one has learned to walk in the quiet they also learn to hear God in the quiet. 

An unbeliever can see God in the apocalypse;

the believer sees Him when He doesn’t move.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Spiritual Growth

 

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No Deeper Christian Life to Find

From the beginning, Christ captivated me.  The first few years of my walk involved a lot of clean up: breaking of bad habits and getting rid of obvious sins.  Drinking, smoking  (neither of which I consider to be sinful necessarily), swearing, stealing, gluttony.  These were my battles.  My life became clean enough to comfortably go to church without standing out.  This wasn’t my goal but it happened none-the-less.  Once these were dealt with I found myself longing for something deeper.  I wanted to experience Christ more fully because I longed for Him.happy-womans-day2[1]

Some twenty-five years ago, about two or three years after I became a Christian, I started reading books that promised to show me the “keys to going deeper”.   Among these, common themes were explored: prayer, dying to self, living in position, acute focus etc.   Each had a unique way of explaining it, or an emphasis particular to an author, but ultimately all said about the same thing.   Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Spiritual Growth

 

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Out of the Closet: Deceiving Ourselves

I have met many people who deceive others but I have never met someone who wishes to be deceived.  All acknowledge that they want to know the truth and do not want to be tricked into believing a lie.  Furthermore, no one I know is willing to readily admit that they may have believed a lie.  It is shameful in a way and exposes a weakness.  Thus most people believe that what they believe is the truth.

But many unwittingly do believe lies.

Our extended family is a bit of a mess at the moment.  A nephew who has dropped hints of homosexuality for years used his college graduation party this last week to fling his closet door open in the presence of all who love him.  He emerged from his closet and his relatives had mere hours, some only a fraction of minutes, to formulate a response.

One uncle, only hours before the party, threatened to not show up on moral grounds.  He did not believe that homosexuality was right and did not want to appear to be condoning it.  His stance appeared hypocritical and narrow-minded even to me who also believes homosexuality is wrong.  What made it seem so hypocritical was it was merely his opinion.  It was not based on anything besides his perception:  he didn’t think being gay was right but he viewed what he does as right, just because he felt that way.  Unfortunately, there are many other things in his life and in his children’s lives that others could easily point to as being wrong based on some vague understanding of cultural norms.  And there-in, enters the rub.

The rest of the family lined up against him.  Who is he to call the kettle black?    On and on the self-righteous tongue wagging went until all, either politely or pointedly, agreed that the nephew was not doing anything wrong by living a gay life style.  The uncle who refused to accept it was considered to be wrong and needed to be chastised.

I commend my in-laws, nephews and nieces for wanting to be open-minded about something that they are in many ways uncomfortable with though none of them are big enough to admit it-they contend that it does not pulse them one way or another but the fact that they had to think through it exposes this lie.  I suspect they feel rather good about themselves for being willing to accept something they themselves would not do.  They feel good about themselves for they have not judged but accepted my nephew for his differences.  More importantly, they feel SAFE because they have eliminated through their tolerance any possibility of the finger being pointed at them in the future.   They went home congratulating themselves for taking such a loving stance opposed to the narrow minded one that insisted some sort of moral line was being crossed.

As for me, I sought to remain outside of the conversation because it was obvious no one was really trying to figure out the truth and it was therefore pointless to enter the debate.  Each had assumed they already knew what truth is.  Each was convinced of it.  Yet obviously one of the opposing sides has to be deceived because both can’t be right.  The strange thing is, if I have any discernment at all, all of them on both sides are deceived.

We all want to know the truth but what we want more often is for our pleasures to be granted and we get all bristly when someone wants to stand in our way.  People tote tolerance because they realize what goes around, comes around.  If I take the high road here, they might come back at me with the same high road.  So they all agree to allow everyone to do as they please.  Yet we each have this unexplained need to live rightly.  The only way to do that and allow people to live differently is to remove any moral grounds and replace it with something different-what makes one happy.

We welcome truth when it is on our side and dismiss it when it points the finger at us.  When it accuses us, we would prefer to live in a lie than accept truth.  One cannot reason with a stubborn heart bent on pursuing what they want.  They will find a way to justify their course in their conscience because nothing is more sacred to them than achieving what feels pleasing.

The truth however is often uncomfortable.  It will make us unhappy at times.  We love truth when it enlightens us but hate it when it accuses us.  To truly be happy, one must love truth itself, not how it affects us.  Deception happens when we regard what we love to be truth.

The folly of my family is probably obvious to most of you reading this but my folly is probably not.  I have found that there is no thought that I hold dear that should not be minutely examined.  Where have I allowed myself to be deceived?  What principle, right or pleasure do I cling to so tenaciously that the thought of releasing them makes me ill or despondent?  Why?  Look closely at what you love and determine how you guard it and why you guard it… never assume that the father of lies could not deceive you, even you, holy and blessed by God our Father!  Be careful, circumspect in all things, lest you fall.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Discernment, Spiritual Growth

 

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Why then, do you love God?

“What am I loving when I love you God?”The Thinker

I ran across this question while reading Augustine’s Confessions and it got me to thinking. If you take away the pat answers, you might learn a lot about yourself, and God.

Personally speaking,

I do not love his form, the beauty I may imagine.

I do not love His bounty, in that He does not fulfill the pleasures of flesh.

I do not love his embrace, as the embrace of a human and the joy that brings.

I do not love the way He purposed my life to unfold, the trials and disappointments, the dreams left hanging.

And yet I do love Him, but why?  What draws me to Him like a moth to a flame?  What fills me with a love so complete and overwhelming?

I scribbled some thoughts down and the first were revealing.  I encourage you to do the same before you continue reading.  My initial thoughts I think, were the way my flesh responded to Him.  As I continued I found my spirit genuinely responding and it was a wonderful exercise.

I love Him because He makes me feel secure,

I love Him because I think He is the only One I can truly trust,

I love Him because I can’t corrupt Him,

I love Him because He is superior, His ways always outshine mine,

I love Him because He is persistent despite my failures,

I love Him because He is beautiful, but not in a way my eyes see,

because he does fulfill me, but not in the ways my flesh would desire,

because He loves me so intimately, but beyond anything carnal,

because He is love, and though I can’t explain it, I am drawn to love.

He is love.  I was created to be an expression of His image, not merely an object of His love but another loving entity.   In sin I found I could not love, yet through love He made a way to reconstruct me anew, so that I could love again.  And the first one that I should love after He did this, was Him.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2013 in Discernment, Spiritual Growth

 

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A Christian without a Bible: the Heart of Devotions

I ran across this quote today,

‘The man who doesn’t read good books

has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.’

-Mark Twain

A thought struck me.  In the same way,

The Christian who doesn’t read the Bible

has no advantage over one without Scripture translated in their language.

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The Slovenian translation of Hebrews 4:12 “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

If I leave my thought here, I will most likely only be heaping feelings of guilt upon you.  I understand that many who read this today may have not yet sat with their Bible in their lap.  Those who have, are resisting a smug false-piety for having passed this unexpected test.

The ability to read and own books is new on the stage of history.  It is fascinating to consider Elijah, Daniel, Peter, (even the Bereans!) and others.  They lived powerful, godly lives without having 21st century devotions. They did not get up and read and pray, they probably only prayed.  It wasn’t until well after Gutenberg for the present concept of devotions to become even a POSSIBILITY.

There was a season in my life when I had five little ones under the age of seven.  I languished under a sense of guilt for not getting up before them to read and pray!  How I struggled!  I felt guilty for not executing a practice that I thought was not only beneficial-but ESSENTIAL. I assumed I was failing in some way.  In truth, I was just an exhausted Mother who was largely incapable of putting more into her schedule.

It took a few years for me to come to a sense of peace in this situation.  It was only after I noticed a vibrant habit of mine of converting every thought to a spiritual one that the guilt subsided.   As I brushed up against Scriptures from various places, and met with deeper thoughts, I would meditate upon them until a new one came along.  Often, something would strike me profoundly and when I finally had a moment to myself, I would study it further. I realized I WAS having devotions, I was just doing them unconventionally.

It is better by far I think, to consider devotions as the ongoing, deliberate act of meditating on God’s Word.

The sitting down and reading is not the crucial part.  More is gained if one walks throughout their day, brushing against the Word wherever they go, and relating all they encounter to the truths they have internalized.  The transforming element is the meditation of what is before you at any given time, not the habit, albeit good and beneficial, of opening to the reading for that day.  I can say with all honesty that I have gained more from this habit than from reading at prescribed times.  I am not dismissing the importance of habitual reading, only elevating constant meditation above it.

(I am not speaking of studying the Scriptures.  This is different from devotions. We need to frequently compare our thoughts with the truths in Scripture; this requires concentrated exploration of the Bible to find truth. This is not the same as ‘devotions’ as it is commonly practiced.)

Exposure to His Word can come from many things, in many ways… in my experience, being exposed and prompted to dwell upon God’s precepts is what is critical, not the habit of reading.  A foolish person will neglect the habit all together and then lament the slowness of his Christianity to produce fruit.  A deluded person will religiously sit each morning reading yet have the same fate as the first if they do not continue to meditate upon what they have read when they close the book.

The heart of devotions, is hearing the Word and putting it into practice…it is hearing, however that may be, and then staying focused on it to carry it out.  Productive devotions are the moments we spend responding more to our inner reality than that of the worldly circumstance we are in.    Devotions are not an act, it is a state of being, grounded on the truth we have heard.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2013 in Spiritual Growth

 

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