Archive for March, 2012

Pray WITH Rather than FOR

March 28, 2012

We usually pray FOR (things, people, results, etc.), but how often do we pray WITH?

Jesus was saddened in the Gethsemane experience by his disciples’ inability to “watch” with him for one single hour during his time of greatest struggle up to that point (Matthew 26:40; Mark 14:37) Admittedly the verb here does not mean pray, but rather to keep watch in earnestness. Still, it seems the Lord would have been glad for some company in praying.

Before I go any further, lest anyone get the idea that this is condemnatory, let me a confession: I am 59, and in the 55 or so of those years when I have been capable of consciously praying, I have not even touched the surface of prayer. Many times I have not prayed at all. I have never prayed systematically, regularly, or diligently. At 59, I would have to say I am a newbie at prayer.

Still, I see something worth pursuing here. Mostly we pray with an eye toward getting, accomplishing, doing. How often do we see prayer as relationship, as a “being with”?

I was reading the first chapter (of 12) in a book called The Kneeling Christian by “An Unknown Christian,” and making some notes on it, and all of a sudden it struck me: We pray FOR, but do we pray WITH?

Prayer FOR is adversarial and distant. It is sitting on one side of the table with God on the other, or standing on one side of the cash register with God at the till, or writing a letter to a Santa Claus who lives further than the North Pole and, yes, is checking his list twice—per minute. In situations of desperation, prayer is pleading with a Judge or a Policeman or the Principal, for mercy, for leniency, for release. And (maybe unfortunately) sometimes it even works—at least to get what we want.

Prayer WITH is relational and in-your-face. Prayer WITH is family. Prayer WITH is marriage. It is living and working and simply being TOGETHER.

How would it change our attitude toward prayer if we saw ourselves in living relationship with God?

What if we saw ourselves as seated next to God traveling somewhere together? What if we saw God as our guide blazing the trail for us? What if we saw him as our best friend, our ally, our business associate, our marriage partner?

What if we saw God on our side when we pray?

What if we saw ourselves on God’s side? Would we ever want to get back on ours?

Prayer, A Cat Named Esther, and Spreadsheets

March 28, 2012

I started out my time this morning by getting a nice cup of hot tea and reclining on my sofa to enjoy some prayer time and, hopefully, writing time. The latter came unexpectedly. Here’s how.

I’ve started trying to get more disciplined in prayer and Bible reading by doing spreadsheets, just to keep track of what I have done and where I need to go. Spreadsheets, like day-timers, iPad apps, and various other schedulers, are great tools. But they are just tools—something to help you get the job done.

Now, we have two cats, Esther (a darker gray tabby cat, with some underbelly tan-and-white, and white paws) and Maggie Moo. In the mornings they want to be fed, but I don’t feed them—at least not now, because we’re started trying to change them back to softer foods for their health’s sake. Not really my thing, all in all—I was never a cat-person before marrying Diane almost 13 years ago. But she loves them, and I’ve come to love them too.

So, I’m up, but Diane isn’t, and the cats want feeding. They’re getting used to my not feeding them first thing, but Esther, unlike Maggie, likes to be rubbed, and since there’s no food, rubbing is the next best thing. I’m trying to do my spreadsheet thingee and get going, but Esther wants to lay beside me on the sofa and press against my side and have me rub her. I’m thinking, “I really need to get going here,” and then I hear the Lord speak (internally, of course—I’m not on Mt. Horeb, after all)…

“Let it go for now.” And I realize what he wants me to do is focus on the moment, forget scheduling, just pet the cat. Doesn’t seem that spiritual—and I guess it’s not really, but as I start to stroke her and watch her purr and close her eyes and just soak it in, I realize that that’s how he wants to relate to me—just to have me soak him in, close my eyes, and enjoy. And so I lean back, stroke Esther, and just enjoy that, and thinking about him, and thanking him.

It really is about relationship. Spreadsheets and timer tools can help get you on your way and keep other things from distracting, but ultimately, it’s about the end-goal—not the means of getting there. Once you’re there, put the tools down.

Jesus even sort of viewed… [oops, just had to spend another 25 minutes stroking Esther—she came back, laid by my side with her paws against me and my forearm along her back, and I stroked behind her ears and drifted off myself for a while! Then my wife got up: FOOD TIME!] … Jesus viewed himself as a tool for relationship with the Father: statements like “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father,” “The time will come when you will no longer ask me—you’ll ask the Father directly,” and “I am the way/gate/door/etc.” point to him as the pathway to real intimacy with the Father—the kind he had.

Tools are great—but when you’ve built the house, put the tools away and just live in the house.

Why don’t you “ante up your kitty” today? Find something that helps you pray, and just soak it up!

Prayer As Messy As My Life

March 24, 2012

For prayer to become as real to me as I want it to be, it has to become as messy as my life. If prayer at its best is 24/7 interaction with God (“pray without ceasing”), then it has to wrap itself around my life like a wetsuit, a skin-tight bodysuit. It has to cover all the nooks and crannies of who I am, who I was, and who I’m becoming. It has to be totally me, all the time, in every possible way.

Life is messy. Being born is messy. Babies are messy. Growing up is messy. Lovemaking is messy. Dying is messy. Surviving is messy. Why shouldn’t prayer be messy? If prayer can’t handle all the mess of life, then can we really call it prayer?

I’m not there by any means, but it feels like it’s happening. Recently, I’ve felt an intense drawing to learn about prayer, to study it out, to experience it, to have it become part of the fabric of my life, and it’s happening. But it’s messy getting there.

Prayer that is messy encompasses the times I don’t want to pray. I woke about an hour and a half ago, too tired to get up, even I felt the Spirit tugging at me to come be with him and learn. “Let me sleep another hour, please,” I tried bargaining. And I felt it was OK, but then found myself wondering, “Can you pray in your dreams?” So the next hour was a mix of awakeness and dreaming that was filled with so many thoughts about prayer that I might as well have been up. I did wake up ready to get up, though, with more enthusiasm than an hour earlier. And I think I was a little more rested. Still, I find my thoughts more on the messier side than I’d like.

And prayer that takes in my messed-up relationships with family and friends—the only way it can cover everything is for prayer to be as messy as my life.

Prayer has always been messy. You don’t get much messier than making a covenant the way Abraham did with God—cutting some animals in half and then walking between them lying on the ground. The sacrifices Moses was told to make were messy. David said, “I won’t offer to God something that has cost me nothing.” Jesus’ life-actions caused a huge ruckus, and ultimately led to his demise. Even so, the mess of the crucifixion was not really his enemies’ doing—it was the result of Jesus’ 24/7 praying—doing what the Father wanted, no matter how messy. And the disciples followed in his steps, and church life as well as death proved to be a messy matter. And it’s still that way in the church today. Prayer just won’t let us NOT be messy—but it doesn’t leave us without hope in the mess, help through the mess.

So I’m letting prayer mess with my mind. And it’s becoming a real journey, one I’m glad I’m on. I’d be interested in how prayer has messed with your life too. What’s your messy story?

The Golden Rule of Blogging (and Most Other Things That Matter In Life)

March 20, 2012

Couple days ago, I read a blog called “The One Top Secret Blogging Tip You Can’t Live Without (Not Really).” It really is the best advice I’ve seen on how to spread your blogging (not that I’ve really seen that much—as you will see by what I say regarding his advice). It’s by, a guy named Bryan Daniels, by his own description “a budding husband, father, teacher, student, coach and friend.” His response was at least partly in response to a request by me (one he frequently gets) for help in figuring out how to make my blog better. His advice, in a single word, is this: Listen!

Listen to what other bloggers who are saying things similar to what you’re saying. Listen to bloggers who interest you. Listen, and network, and connect. Offer them honest praise.

And really, when you think about it, isn’t that what the “Golden Rule” says? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Duh. I want people to read my blog, so how do I translate that into the Golden Rule? Simple: Read their blogs. Connect with them. Make them feel the way I want to feel.

Honestly, I haven’t done that. Somehow I justified it with, “I don’t have time,” or some other blather I told myself. But I’ve started. Thank you, Chief of Least!

 In two short months it’s worked for Bryan—he’s gone from 16 subscribers (including his mom, wife, and good friends) for the entire fifteen months, to over 1,150 followers, according to his counter. Pretty good investment, I’d say—a 7200% return in two months, which translates into a 43,000% return in a year! (Man, if we could do that with money, we could wipe out the entire world’s debt in a few short years, and our own would only take the couple of months!)

Call it networking, call it connecting—at the heart of it, what makes it really work is listening. It’s about making the other person feel important. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian who stood against Hitler—at the wise young age of 33, six short years before he was martyred for that stand—wrote a little book titled Life Together, based on lessons he had learned as the leader of a small band of seminarians in pre-WW2 Germany. He identifies what he calls “Ministry” (chapter 4 in the translation by John W. Doberstein published by Harper & Row in 1974), and lists a number of little-thought-about “ministries,” the first being “The Ministry of Holding One’s Tongue.” The section on “The Ministry of Listening,” less than two short pages, has these gems (and this is about half the content that is there!):

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them…

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he may not be conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.

…There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person…It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today [keep in mind, this was 1939] is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously…But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.

So, I want to offer myself to listen to you. I need to learn this. My email address is on my blog here if you want to write to me personally, or just comment below.

I’ll probably get overwhelmed, so if I don’t answer right away, please be patient with me. And while you’re waiting, maybe you could think about giving someone else the gift of listening…


March 18, 2012

I am finding myself, in writing my blogs, using the phrase “more and more” more and more. <g> Why is that? What is it that I find significant in that phraseology that draws me?

1) Richard Swenson, M.D. first brought the concept of “more” as an idea to be considered in the mind. He is a physician/mathematician/futurist who wrote books on Overload and Margin. In his shortbook Hurtling Toward Oblivion (which I first heard about on a “Focus on the Family” broadcast years ago and subsequently purchased and consumed) he had been doing a lot of charts—some 300, if I remember right—that had similar shapes (S- and J-curves and such). He has an epiphany one day while driving and has to pull over to write down some 6 or 7 key concepts that, strung together, point to a conclusion that we are headed inescapably toward some cataclysmic event (he does not predict what). The first of these concepts is “MORE”: “There is always more.” We can say that “production was down on cars this year—we only produced 600,000, as compared to the previous year’s 1,000,000,” but still, there are 600,000 more autos in existence than there were last year. There is never less—there is always “MORE.”

2) Somehow, the 1st “more” is about an area in which God is doing more in my life (e.g., my marriage) and the 2nd about some other area (e.g., my relationship with men). God seems to be adding and multiplying at the same time. And even the multiplying is taking on an exponential base. (Hope that’s not a mathematical contradiction—wasn’t expecting that to crop up as I wrote!)

3) “More and more and more and more….” is a phrase conveying the idea of infinity. I remember a revelation I had many years ago about the scripture found in Isaiah 9:7, a passage included in Handel’s Messiah. It says (in the KJV): “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end….” How do our minds logically process that? We tend to make it mean, “Oh, his government [Kingdom] will never end.” But that’s NOT what it says! It says, “His Kingdom will NEVER STOP INCREASING!” It’s like the “Big Bang Theory” (the red-shift idea of the universe continually, perhaps endlessly, expanding) applied to Kingdom logistics: We, as kings under the King of kings, will never stop increasing the areas of our authority, our empowerment, our enablement! We will ALWAYS be growing, expanding, multiplying, increasing, fermenting, mushrooming—whatever other words the thesaurus might find to express that! We’re never going to stop being, and becoming, MORE! The symbol for infinity (∞) actually represents the Kingdom of God: Ever-increasing, never-ceasing!

George Eldon Ladd developed the concept of the Kingdom of God as both “now” and “not yet,” a concept that John Wimber latched onto and poured heavily into the application of Vineyard theology, believing and teaching that healing and miracles can take place now—but not always as something we can demand on schedule. It sometimes “breaks in,” and if we press in, we can make it happen “more and more.” If you will, picture a time line with a sharp shift upward at a single point, like this:



The lower line represents time. The higher line represents the Kingdom of God when time is complete and “over with.” In between, we have the “in-breaking” of the Kingdom (or “breakthrough”—Derek Morphew, another Vineyard influencer, has a book by that title) with jagged spikes reaching toward the top line that had occurred sporadically prior to Jesus’ coming, but increased radically with his in-breaking into time. Still, we live incompletely as we draw toward that final Kingdom, but if we are really following him in the “greater works” he promised, there should be “more and more” of that in-breaking in the here and now—the “now” should be being overtaken by the “not yet” MORE AND MORE!

4) At the same time, our hunger and thirst will be ever-increasing. I love that song by U2: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Lookin’ For.” Sure, we haven’t found it—but we ARE FINDING IT! The promise of the Beatitudes (“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled”) comes true, and keeps coming “truer” MORE AND MORE: Our hunger increases as we are filled, and our thirst expands as it is slaked. Yes, we are fed and watered, and we “lie down in green pastures…beside still waters,” but as soon as we’re rested, we’re at it again! There’s always MORE! We are satisfied, but we long for more satisfaction, “another” satisfaction, MORE OF THE SAME! (and more variety too!)

5) There is always MORE THAN ENOUGH. Heidi Baker of Iris Ministries (someone who, if anybody does, experiences the “abundant life” Jesus promised) wrote a book titled There Is Always Enough. There IS always enough, because there is always MORE! No matter what our desire, no matter what our need, there is always ENOUGH because God is always producing and providing MORE! Jesus even said it: “I have come so that they may have LIFE and have it MORE ABUNDANTLY,” and “GREATER works than I am doing they [we] shall do”! There is always MORE, and GREATER, and BETTER!

6) Maybe it’s partly being an American. There is a joke about a guy who gathered the materials for a book on elephants, and wanted to have a ghost writer put it together for publication. He gave it to a Frenchman, a German, an Englishman, and an American. When they handed him their final manuscripts, the Frenchman had titled his The Cuisine and Lovemaking of Elephants; the German, A Treatise on the Philosophy of Elephants; the Englishman, The Empire and the Elephant; and the American, Bigger, Better, and Faster Elephants. Maybe there’s something in the American psyche that wants it that way—who knows? I don’t. But if that’s part of it, hey, I’ll own it!

7) Maybe it’s partly being an optimist. Reading some of the quotes on is amusing, but if it takes faith for the creation of anything (after, someone has to envision a product before it can be produced!), then optimism is the only way to go. I remember hearing an Irish group performing at Belle Chere Festival in Asheville NC a number of years back. They had found a particular slogan particularly amusing, as it had opposite meanings on opposite sides of the Atlantic: They had seen a billboard advertising beer with a slogan like “It doesn’t get any better than this,” or maybe it was, “This is as good as it gets!” Here, it means “Great! Fantastic! This is the best!” There, it means, “Things are terrible, and they’re never going to improve!” To Brits and Irishmen, the brewery was saying how bad their brew was! They almost rolled in the road laughing at the billboard. I enjoyed their story, but I’m still glad I’m on this side of the Atlantic, at least in understanding that ad! I prefer “half-full” over “half-empty,” any day of the week! God is not pessimistic, is he? Can you picture him in heaven, slapping his head and saying, “Oh, no, I didn’t plan on that!” or “Could it get any worse? I’ll never make my Kingdom come!” No way! God HAS to be an optimist! He doesn’t do negative!

8) MORE is always a matter of perspective. We see what we want to, and we can’t see MORE until our eyes are opened. The story of three masons working on the walls of a medieval cathedral tells it best: One says, “I am building a wall.” The second says, “I am building a building.” The third sees MORE: “I am building a place to meet God.” God always wants us to look for more. Our perspective is the most limiting aspect of our entire existence!

9) I remember the song “More” from my high-school days! “More…than the greatest love the world has known… this is the love I give to you alone…” Can’t really be true, b/c God’s love is MORE than any love a man could give a woman… Still, it’s a nice romantic thought—maybe it expresses Jesus’ heart for us, and somebody was really writing it on his behalf!

10) “More and more” conveys to me a sense of time, timing and progression. It is sequential and cumulative, and connotes completeness, a sort of fullness of growth and progress, the way the phrase “heart and soul” conveys a completeness of commitment or emotion, or “soup and sandwich” conveys the idea of a complete lunch. It is not, however, a completeness of finality, but rather one of journey, of finally being “on the road again,” of traveling with purpose. (In a previous blog, I wrote on Memory and how it is a function of time and timing.) We may be limited by time, but we are also come alive, are made alive in time, with time and over time. In it, by God’s design and grace, we “live and move and have our being” in him—in his purposes, with an eye toward where we are headed, a destination.

The first “more” conveys a sense of adding on, of moving with purpose, of growing, of enlarging, of progress in a good sense. The second “more” layers that, but not necessarily arithmetically—it can be exponential—if 10 is the first “more,” then 100 is the second; if 100,000 is the first, 1,000,000 is the second, and so on.[My email and screen names that include the term “significant 0” (“significant zero”) come from a dream I had where I saw a whiteboard with the number 1,000,000 on it in bold black numerals. The last zero dropped off and I realized the number had lost 90% of its value. I heard a voice in the dream say, “I want you to be a ‘significant 0’—Hold your place for the One [1]!” and I woke up.]

11) And there are still more ways to interpret it, MORE AND MORE! It’s always growing in meaning. If I can create, then I can expand the meaning of MORE, simply by acting, by being who I was made to be, by finding my calling, by learning how to “BE ALL THAT [I] CAN BE!” There will never be “less”—only MORE—ways of understanding MORE AND MORE!

Why don’t you add yours???

Relationship with God: “Job ONE”

March 15, 2012

Remember the old Ford commercials? “Quality Is Job One.” The idea, of course, is that nothing comes before striving for quality. More and more, I am coming to see that relationship with God is our “Job One.” The goal of our whole existence is to learn to relate to him. Every good and wholesome human relationship in some way pictures the potential for relationship with God, and even the evil and destructive ones have lessons pointing us toward the right kind of relationship he longs for, and we cannot thrive without.

PARENT-CHILD: We are created into a relationship for his pleasure, we are told—he WANTED to make us, in much the same way that would-be first-time parents want to increase their joy by bringing a child into existence, “creating” it, birthing it, nurturing it, relating to it and having it learn to relate to them.

MARRIAGE: We are wooed into a bridal relationship, courted by the eternal God who longs to bring us into the intimacy pictured in marriage, even to the point of loving us, as he instructed Hosea to do, through our infidelities and selling of our souls to other loves.

FRIENDSHIP: Early on in the Bible, God calls Abraham “friend” and speaks of how he longs to let him in on the secret plans of his heart. The whole theme of Scripture is that we needed the revelation of God, that salvation is not something we could accomplish on our own, apart from his entrance into our existence. Thus the Incarnation is the initiation of the greatest of friendships, the willingness of the very God of the universe to die for his own fallen creation—us.

BROTHERHOOD: Being bonded together even beyond the level of friendship—becoming related by mingling of blood—that is the depth of the level of friendship God wants. Human culture over the centuries has longed to bring those who are not literally related into “blood-brother” relationship—even children become enamored with this concept, making slits in their fingers and rubbing them together.

ADOPTION: Being adopted into full family status is a picture of the kind of acceptance we long for in the natural when we have been abandoned, betrayed, or isolated. The outcast is made a son, and the prodigal, who has made himself an outcast, is given the sandals, robe and ring that are appropriate for one fully vested in the family.

We could go on and on listing other relationships that picture ours with God and his with us. But you get the idea. The title really doesn’t say it all, because what God desires is more than just our striving in a occupational way that excludes the rest of our lives. He wants total immersion in himself, total absorption in who he is and how he is related to us, not on a conscious level, but in a way that permeates our being and saturates us and makes us “into his image” (a phrase that, alas, still doesn’t convey the depth of what he longs for).

How that happens is as unique and individual for each of us as each of our fingerprints, our histories, our entire make-up. To recreate any one of our lives in exactness would be an astronomical feat—and we are literally multiplied billions of uniquenesses. But that only reveals the incredible depths of the wisdom and knowledge of God, that he would create such a vast number of unique individuals with whom he longs to relate, and place them into an even vaster number of relationships, families, clans, tribes, and nations—all of whom he similarly longs to relate to on each level corporately. But it all starts on an individual level. Jesus did it alone, and he calls us to follow. He came to save the world, but he did it all starting only with himself as he grew in the specific unique relationships he was placed into, and fully accomplishing in a short 33 years, the epitome of what relationship with God is meant to look like.

What is required on our end? Nothing—and everything. Nothing, because we have to first recognize that the calling comes from outside us, and originates in the God who longs for relationship. Everything, because once we begin to answer that calling, it will indeed bring all other relationships and our very beings into the alignment we were created for, transforming us so radically that we may not even recognize ourselves. How it plays out is not our call—but it is our calling.

Relationship with God is Job One, and more. It is our very lives, our existence. Once we come alive in relationship with God, all else pales, and our hearts begin to cry with the saints through the ages, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” because the totality of what we are called into is so far beyond anything we can understand or assimilate. We cast our crowns at his feet because we don’t know what else to do. We are overwhelmed in the presence of One so much more than we are, and yet we are drawn, like moths to the flame, to the point of being consumed in him, losing our very awareness of a separate existence, like moments of such ecstasy and flow that nothing else matters.

And then those moments of rapture fade, and we come back into “reality”—but begin to realize that what we call reality is not the reality we long for. And so we keep coming back to him for more. As our spiritual hunger and thirst is slaked, it deepens, so that, paradoxically, we are more satisfied while at the same time hungrier and thirstier! And we come back again and again, and satisfaction deepens and the yearning for more intensifies.

And that is what he wants—for us to so long for him that nothing else matters. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, that is what we have wanted all along, maybe from the very moment of our conception and—who knows? (only God)—before!

The WORD as Transformative Agent in Our Lives

March 12, 2012

More and more, I am convinced that the Word of God—the written Scriptures as revealed by the Holy Spirit and implanted and absorbed deeply into our spirits—is the real agent of effective change in our lives. Deep-rooted change only occurs as we are brought into alignment with the eternal purposes of the Living God by soaking in this Word. Listen to what one writer says:

      In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.

      Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

       But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action. (James 1:21b-25, THE MESSAGE)

Absorbing the Word into our very being—what has through the centuries been called “meditation,” “Bible study,” “praying the Scriptures,” etc.—is what changes us into the image and character of God. If he truly is alive in what he has called his word, then we do well to try to get hold of as much of that part of God as we can.

One of my greatest sadnesses—and yet one of the most powerful components of our present Information-Age society—is its focus on the visual (to the exclusion of the aural/oral heritage our ancestors valued). A century of visual media has brought us into a type of unquestioning EDtv mentality, where our lives are a 24/7 “reality show” that has become as unreal as that of the character Truman (Jim Carrey) in The Truman Show, like Jim Carrey. On one level we are watching ourselves and aware that we are being watched, and so we “performing,” on-stage, our own “American idol,” internalized and always playing to our own music. We post on Twitter and Facebook our locations, our actions, and our thinking, hoping somehow that all this will make us feel truly alive.

We used to say, “Seeing is believing.” Perhaps we have come beyond even consciously thinking in those terms—we are simply immersed in seeing, and being seen. We don’t want to spend time alone, time in the quiet of our inner minds. We need the distractions of the autistic, over-inputted culture we’ve created for ourselves. We can’t stand not being bombarded with information, with pictures and mindless information coming at us from all angles. Sometimes, we are afraid of being alone and quiet because we fear finding we really don’t have any inner substance that we can call our own.

Meditating and internalizing Scripture can change that. It can quieten us, lead us beside “still waters,” restore our souls. It can enable us to find value in ourselves, in that part of us that is connected with God, that is coming alive as we tune into him, allow him time and place to quietly replace that frenzy we have thought was aliveness, but was really distractedness and was slowly sapping any true energy we had, evaporating any residue of real life we once knew, if indeed we ever did know it.

Because we are so visual, pictures speak to us, and that is not a bad thing in and of itself. Visualizing something enables us to bring it into being, and if we can begin to visualize settings where the Word can do its transformative work, then we can use where we are to get to where we want to be. The verb “to meditate” in Hebrew has as one of its more visual meanings, “to chew the cud.” Picture a cow that has plucked enough grass to fill its first stomach, lying down peacefully and regurgitating to chew on it more fully before swallowing into a second stomach to get the most out of the meal. If we can take the Word and let it work in us that way, finding those Scriptures which fill our first longing, draw it into our mind again and yet again and truly digest it, finding more meatiness and deeper satisfaction as we “chew the cud,” we will find that we are changed “from glory to glory,” more fully into the ikon of Christ, the image of God.

Another image Scripture uses in speaking of the value of the Word is that of silver “refined seven times” (Psalm 12:6). Adam Clarke, a Bible expositor writing in 1832, described the process this way:

Silver tried in a furnace of earth
A reference to the purification of silver by the cupel. This is a sort of instrument used in the purification of silver. It may be formed out of a strong iron ring or hoop, adjusted in width and depth to the quantum of silver to be purified, and rammed full of well pulverized calcined bone. The metal to be purified must be mingled with lead, and laid on the cupel, and exposed to a strong heat in an air furnace. The impurities of the metal will be partly absorbed, and partly thrown off in fume. The metal will continue in a state of agitation till all the impurities are thrown off; it will then become perfectly still, no more motion appearing, which is the token that the process is completed, or, according to the words of the text, is seven times, that is, perfectly purified.

Picture ourselves as going through this refining process to such an extent that the Word in us becomes that mirroring silver, so totally pure that we truly reflect the glory (beauty, abundance, radiance, brilliance, weightiness) of God in our lives! What a goal! The Word does indeed have that transformative effect.

Another picture we can relate to is the full moon, which has no light of its own yet can shine in brilliance by reflecting the sun (Son?) to such an extent that there’s difficulty sleeping because of the light coming in the windows. Or that same full moon can sometimes be seen as a huge red or orange ball on the horizon, or the golden globe of harvest. Our lives can become this brilliant as we reflect on—and reflect— the Word that they too shine and hold in awe like such a full moon, or cause others and ourselves to have difficulty sleeping.

My words here are a feeble attempt to point to what the pure word “refined seven times” is capable of in our lives. Psalm 19:7-11 (NKJV) says it well, using multiple synonyms for the Word:

7The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
8The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
10More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 119 is another psalm that uses multiple synonyms for the Word. It has 176 verses, beautifully set up as an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet (the first 8 verses begin with the letter aleph, the next 8 with the letter beth, etc.; 8 x 22 Hebrew letters yields 176 verses).  One of those verses (72) says:

Your teachings are worth more to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver. (NCV)

If we really believed that, where would we be investing? What is the current value of a minimum of one thousand ounces of gold and one thousand ounces of silver? At a price of $1,700/ounce for gold and $34 for silver, that calculates out to close to two million dollars! Who wants to be a millionaire? Maybe we should take James’ advice:

Act on what you hear!”

Real Worship Comes Out of Real Poverty

March 10, 2012

Real worship comes out of real poverty, a deep realization that we have nothing to offer in worship that we have not first been given.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I realized this this morning as I woke from an incredible dream. In the dream, someone was pointing out to me a drummer who had the most unusual drum. It was slightly larger than he was, shaped like a fat pancake and played as it stood on edge. He had this and maybe one small drum. I was asked, “How would he play if this cost $62,000?” I said, or maybe just thought (because I know I wasn’t really trying to prove a point): “I don’t know, but I know there are drummers who have nothing but a set of bongos, and they make that work, and can do some incredible things. Some have a most elaborate set of drums, and make it sing.” I didn’t get any answer—as I said, I wasn’t really expecting one, and maybe had just thought the idea. But a most amazing thing happened next.

The drummer in the dream began to roll back onto the floor with his super-pancake drum, and the drum rolled on top of him and changed shape just enough to become like a large cornbread muffin turned upside-down—on top of him. Suddenly, he was inside, and the drumming was not longer drumming but a thrumming that resonated, he and the drum as one. He was playing the drum, but the drum was playing him: He was the drum. It was an incredible, awe-inspiring sound—not loud, but resonant, fascinating, captivating.

And I awoke with the thought that did not seem at all relevant:

Real worship comes out of real poverty, a realization that we have nothing to offer. As I mulled on it lying there in bed, it expanded slightly, but the essence was the same. And I had to get up and write.

The dream is probably a picture of my life. Maybe it could be a picture of our economy, our world. I will leave that to you, my reader, to fit or not. I just know that I am more blessed that I have ever known, more satisfied and thankful and glad to be alive—all in the midst of being having less of what the world considers “substance” than ever in my life, less reserves to fall back on, less “security” in the financial sense, less certainty of what the future holds. I won’t bore you with the details, because…

Ultimately, all of us are in that “real poverty.” We have nothing we have not been given. Are we able to find our true worship in it? Can we roll with the “drum” and become one with it?

Living in Like-mindedness

March 8, 2012

What does it mean to be “like-minded” as Christians? We tend to think it means no disagreements, no real differences, a homogeneity in thought and action that actually becomes repulsive. We value variety, creativity, differences that enhance and spice up life.

Bonhoeffer’s small book Life Together probably spurred my thinking on this idea. One of his key concepts is that, in order to live in community the way God intended, we can’t really primarily relate to each other through natural human affections and understanding. Our first line of commitment must—each individually—be to God himself. We then relate to each other via that primary commitment to God. (I remember an analogy used in a marriage seminar of how that works for in the husband-wife relationship, using as the object lesson a set of steel balls hung from strings touching each other. The balls move in relation to the strings they are strung from—a picture of being “hung” from God—and only interact with each other as they swing on that string.)

That concept became clearer to me today meditating on the book of Philippians. As I did a word and concept count, in just over 100 verses and over 2200 words, there are at least 15 words and 13 concepts that relate to living in like-mindedness—concepts such as considering others better than self and looking out for the welfare of others; sharing in sufferings, in giving and receiving, and in pressing into goals; and following patterns of Paul and others like him.

Clearly, though, this does not result in a blandness in relationships together, nor in a mass-produced cloning of mindless robots. Paul encourages two women to agree with each other “in the Lord,” not necessarily in living their whole lives exactly alike. He plans to send one of his aides to the Philippians for the purpose of getting news back, but another to stay permanently, since that was where he had come from in the first place.

Jesus certainly did not intend his disciples to “follow” in the exact same steps of each other: He pointed out to Peter (at the end of John’s gospel) that, no matter how long John lived, even if it happened to be until he returned to the earth, Peter’s call was to follow Jesus directly, not looking at John’s calling with envy.  And a look at how the apostles and other early Christians ended their lives of following reveals different geographic directions, different peoples to take the gospel to, and different martyrdoms: none except John lives out a long life, and even he suffered exile and perhaps even, according to some, having been boiled in oil in a futile attempt to kill him.

Like-minded following means that my calling enhances yours, and yours mine. It means that we complement each other, fill up what’s lacking, and together bring the Kingdom closer. You may be direct the instrument of meeting someone’s needs that I could never be, simply because of your specific background—e.g., someone who has come out of heroin addiction can speak far more clearly to an addict’s need than I ever could, but there are other areas I can speak into that they never could.

I have to give you grace to live out who you are and what your calling is, and you have to give me that same grace. Our perception of each other’s need has to go through the lens of the Father’s eyes, with a confidence that He knows far better than we how to satisfy that need best. If I try to meet that need out of my own limited understanding, I may get in the way of what he really wants accomplished in your life. (That’s where some come up with the concepts such as “tough love” and avoiding “enabling.”)

And in the final analysis, I cannot be the judge of whether you’re at the “right” place in the Lord, because he is able to bring you or me around to where we each really need to be. One picture I like is of us as located somewhere on the spokes of a bicycle wheel, held together at the center, but together allowing the wheel to function.

THE ONLY WAY for us to be truly “like-minded” is for each of us to have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). Philippians 2:5 in most modern translations says tells us to have the same “attitude” that was in Christ Jesus when he humbled himself, became incarnated, and took it all the way to the Cross—but a few older or more conservative translations still retain the word “mind.” What mind was in Christ, that we should have a mind to be like him? He did only what he saw the Father doing, he said (John 5:19). That is the only reason he performed no recorded miracles from the age of 12, when he knew with a settled certainty that he had to be doing the Father’s work or business, until the age of 30, when he entered ministry and began to do the amazing miracles he was known for over the next 3 years.

Each of us must learn to hear the Father individually, and only then will we really be “like-minded.” But how each of us hears him will be as unique as our fingerprints, our eye-scans, the imprint of our lives in the world. (The number of possibilities expressed exponentially would without a doubt have at least 3 digits, i.e., the number 10 followed by at least 100 zeroes! Imagine that many ways of hearing the Lord!) And, tucked away in Scripture, is a promise that that will be the case: In Jeremiah 31:34, quoted in Hebrews 8:11, the promise is made that EACH of us WILL KNOW HIM, from the least to the greatest, and that NO ONE WILL NEED ANYONE TO TEACH HIM!

Jesus, referencing the passage from Jeremiah in John 6:45, takes it to its logical conclusion, pointing out that like-mindedness we have been aiming for: “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.” (NIV) Jesus heads up the enterprise; he is the Maestro, the CEO, the head of the body, the Chairman of the Board, the Commanding General of the army. So as we relate to him individually, we come into alignment for HIS purposes at HIS direction—and thus become “like-minded,” even though my job or instrument or assignment is different from yours. Our goal is unity and harmony, to be able to play symphonies together, to maximize the efficiency and profitability of the corporation (the “body”), or whatever analogy we choose to use.

Even though we find our place in him individually, ultimately we find it corporately as well. Learning how to do each is equally difficult in its own ways, and finding the balance between is a life-long process. When and how do we need solitude, private prayer, aloneness? When and how do we need fellowship, corporate worship, ministry together? Jesus directs us in these, but we have to learn how to hear, and often that means missing the mark, the trial-and-error of learning how to listen. Ultimately, like-mindedness starts with listening to Jesus, and ends with listening to each other as well as to Jesus.

Memory: Key to Meaning in Life

March 4, 2012

Memory plays a far more important role in giving depth and meaning in life than we realize.

Music, for example, is only possible through memory. We have to remember the note that was just played, and the sequence before it, for the note we are momentarily hearing to have meaning. Added depth comes from having heard a piece played before, and anticipating (out of our memory) what is coming.

Relationship is possible only possible through memory. Witness the depths to which memorial services move us as we recall a person’s impact through past actions and statements, interactions we have had or hear that others have had. On a sadder note, we see it through the loss of memory through Alzheimer’s—an 83-year-old questions another family member who the “strange woman” is with her husband: it’s the 62-year-old daughter! [We’ve actually seen this happen in our family.]

Enjoyment in reading or listening, as well as learning from books, videos and audios is only possible by retaining what has gone before in the sequencing. Skills are a form of muscle memory and practice through using memory: The statement “You make that look so easy!” reflects that.

Many emotions, both negative and positive, are only possible through memory: anger for remembered hurts; unforgiveness and even the possibility of forgiveness; pride, both positive and negative kinds; even blushing—all require some form of memories unconsciously “re-collected” into our mind’s eye.

So where is this line of thinking taking me? (I’m trying to remember! <g>)

If we accept this as a fact, then we can begin to make memory our servant rather than, as is often the case, our master. It has been shown in tests that “exercising” our memories increases our capacity to remember, and often to think more creatively. So by consciously choosing to apply memory skills we can potentially improve our lives, increase our enjoyment of them, and possibly even maintain a higher quality of life over a longer lifespan.

It goes without saying that what we work on for developing our memory skills is important. Simply memorizing the multiplication tables may be helpful for everyday grocery shopping, but is unlikely to impact meaning in our lives—and memorizing the number π to 986 decimal places is almost certainly futile (as well as extremely difficult). Remembering names and associating with faces a la Dale-Carnegie-style memory systems is probably helpful in business and interpersonal relationships, and can have varying degrees of importance. Learning a foreign language could also prove useful functionally (if carried far enough), as well as beneficial psychologically.

I could try to go on more, but I am quickly getting beyond my level of expertise. I am not a trained psychologist, and I have no extensive training on how memory actually functions and how to get into the best position to maximize its potential.

What I can say, as a personal belief but also from some measure of experience in the area, is that memorizing Scripture is one of the best long-term investments. To date (March 2012) I have memorized the entire book of Philippians in the NIV (over 2,200 words in 100 verses), the first 19 verses of the book of James (also over 100 verses) in THE MESSAGE paraphrase, along with hundreds of other isolated scriptures from various endeavors in my life. At one point, when I led informal home-group-setting-style worship, I counted over 300 scriptures that had been set to music either in whole or in part. Music, by the way, is a great way to mnemonically “cross-train”—it encodes the words into memory synapses in a way that simple memorization does not. I have even set to music a few scriptures I felt impressed with simply for my own memorization pleasure, a technique practiced by many over the years—I even found a link for Johnny Cash Lyrics titled after a scripture: !

Is this for everyone? Probably not on the level I personally have developed. But the Gospel is meant to be enjoyed and benefitted from by all—I like Corrie ten Boom’s analysis (paraphrased) that the Gospel has to be simple enough for a child to grasp, yet complex enough that the most brilliant mind can never fully grasp it. This is true also, I believe, for Scripture memorization: Everyone can benefit from practicing it on a level suited for them, and from striving to increase that level.

Ours is a visual, not an aural/oral culture. Ancient and pre-printing-press cultures depended on transmission of values by memory. Even to this day, Middle Eastern cultures in particular have laid heavy emphasis on the value of memory: Youths in Jesus’ and Paul’s day were taught most if not all of the Torah by heart, and sometimes the entire Tanakh, the Jewish form of the Old Testament. And even today, Muslim fundamentalists extremists have their youths memorize large portions, and sometimes the entirety, of the Quran.

Our society does not value such things, and perhaps never can as a culture. We are a visual culture. That is both our strength and our weakness. At the very least, we can learn to value the things we are not enough to learn from them and add a layer of meaning, in the process coming to appreciate more fully who we are and where we’ve been placed in time and history. We can grow in depth and breadth one or two synapses at a time.