Spiritual growth: the conundrum

I actually wrote the following earlier in the year but felt with the actual release of my book,  The Wayfaring Stranger-A Layman’s Journeys in Spiritual Growth, that this would be a good time to publish this.

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selfI’ve just finished submitting my manuscript for The Wayfaring Stranger to Xulon Publishing. The book is subtitled, ‘A Layman’s Journeys in Spiritual Growth’.  I feel compelled to share the following, lest any should get the wrong impression, because, you see, the thing about spiritual growth is that it’s a really quite a conundrum. And even when you’ve sorted it out intellectually, being able to actually wrap your head around the concept, there remains the even more challenging task of coming to terms with the spiritual implications.

Spiritual growth is by no means a process that boosts your ego or gives you a big head; in fact, just the opposite is true. To grow spiritually, you have to die to self. You have to die to grow. Bury yourself in Christ.

In this sense, there’s nothing really glorious about it, meaning that it’s not a matter of self progression or self worthiness, or self aggrandizement in any way, shape or form. It is a matter of Christ’s life taking root and growing within.

The best description I’ve found to illustrate this growth is a two-line stanza poem the Lord gave me concerning it:

Wow, wow wow!
Ow, ow, ow!

The first line describes the wonder enjoyed, the second line describes the dying suffered.

Nature itself is replete with many examples of such ‘dying’. Jesus gave a prime one when he taught:

“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abides alone, but if it dies it brings forth much fruit.”

Or, as PT Forsythe so wisely noted:

“What we have to realize is a spiritual world not simply in man but in which man is, a world that has to temper him and master him, that has to prevent him from taking his needs, passions and energies for charter or standard, a world that has to stand over him, test him, sift him, lift him, and end by setting him on a totally different base from the egotism in which he began… It does not simply envelop us, it acts on us, and we react on it; and in that reaction we find ourselves, and we grow into spiritual persons with which we never set out. It does not swathe us and erase us, it besets us, it applies itself to us. It does not simply stand at the door, or pass and suck us into its wake; it knocks, enters, finds, and saves us — all in the way of creating our moral personality and giving us to ourselves by rescuing us from ourselves. It is an active not a static world. It moves, it works, it creates.”

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THE BOOK

The Book–was I reading too much into this situation? –I certainly came away with something to think about

I saw this book lying in a box amongst other disheveled boxes of books, themselves lying on the entrance sidewalk at a church rummage sale near home. I remember that it had this deep emerald green dust-cover with only the title written across its front: Isaiah 35 Explained .

It was a hardcover book, quite thick, with age-colored pages and so of a former generation or two. I noticed it as I quickly walked through the sale area. The venue itself was sadly rather dumpy and unattractive, as though those hosting it were either in too much of a hurry to arrange things nicely, didn’t care all that much how things looked, or perhaps lacked the personnel to properly conduct the event, and I found nothing at all that I would even remotely interested me, and so I passed in and out rather quickly. But I did, oddly notice this one book as if it spoke to me; as when in reading something jumps off the page at you and strikes you in a certain manner. That’s how it happened with this book.

The more I think of it the book seemed such a relic from time past: In its day perhaps a cutting-edge volume but in the present moment and setting it seemed to almost betray itself.  I winced as I read the title as it signified an approach to the Bible, which, while it was undoubtedly not the author’s intention, today represents such an uninspiring approach to scripture, as though truth is something historically explained, cataloged, archived, gotten to the end, by simply finding the proper explanation.

The book sat there in a sort of silent beckoning as if to say ‘just read me and you too can catalog things, come to the end of the meaning, and add it to your historical collection of truths known and understood; conquered even.’ Come, absorb my dead letter (rather than living spirit). I wondered how the author had fared with this sort of approach. Maybe in past times it may have been effective; I don’t know, but certainly not in the present.

Let me just say that there is no authentic, classical, accepted way to understand scripture, as though truth were some kind of closed system that can be gotten to the end of in some authoritative manner. Instead, we each have to let scripture speak to us in the present, in the here and now; to let it be a living entity. That’s the only way we can really understand and benefit from scripture.

We don’t need to even have a deep understanding of scripture to begin to benefit from it. In fact, we will never sound its depth because it’s unending and unfathomable. But we can let it impart understanding of ourselves and our world and those around us. We can grow in its knowledge and wisdom even and benefit from its enlightening but we can never know all of it that there is to know as if it was some kind of finality. It’s just not that kind of book. It beckons more as being only the opening chapters of an unending story, worlds without end; inviting and answering, rather than answered and finished.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that life and scripture are both so wondrous and mysterious that I  want what I consider to be true, what I believe, to be something I continually experience and grow in, not something that is explained away to me.

‘PS: In all fairness to the book mentioned in this article, this is not a critique of it or it’s contents in any way. For all I know, it may be a wonderful volume in its time. In this instance I’m writing of, it more became the focal point, the catalyst for an argument or viewpoint other than itself.

Life’s true heroes–Are you a winner or a loser?

heroes-5I see as life’s heroes; and how many multitudes of unseen there must be, those who quietly endure through life, ‘bearing all things’ without a lot of squeak and squawk, making  of ruckus, or drawing attention to themselves. I don’t mean to endure in a stoic sense or manner, as stoicism is really a carnal, natural response to difficulty, however refined in nature and elevated in spirit it may seem. A lot of people go through life with their ‘head bloody, but unbowed’. I don’t mean that kind of approach. But by ‘endure’ I mean to imply the most positive connotations of the word: those who last, bear, tolerate, suffer; those who do so without bitterness, resentfulness, seething anger, or in self-pitying woundedness.

It really is our lot in life as humans to at least suffer somewhat at some time or other; that’s just how it works. But how you bear it, in what spirit, attitude of heart, and frame of mind, makes all the difference in the world, and in my opinion constitutes the difference between a winner and a loser. Jesus Himself said, “he that endures to the end shall be saved.” Matthew 10:22

I must confess that this verse has largely been a bit of a puzzle to me; I don’t purport to ever understand it in its entirety, but it does point to endurance as being a vital component in our spiritual makeup, which obviously also has some sort of blessing attached to its presence. If anything, it means to me that just the fact that we are willing to endure something and see it out until the end, results in our deliverance, our salvation, so to speak, out of or through or because of that situation. In enduring, we haven’t lost that vital part of ourselves that endures, that makes us who we are, and in that sense we are saved.

God seems to have set some things up so that whether you consider yourself a believer or not, if you follow his general guidelines and spiritual laws on some point, they hold true for all. If you fulfill one of His spiritual laws, you are automatically commended for it, period. Just like a certain amount of suffering is inevitable due to the nature of life, fixed commendations are attached to being in sync with his spiritual laws.

Again, I’m not trying to push a doctrine here by any means, if anything I’m seeking to understand the subject a little more clearly. But have you ever considered that the right attitudes you put forth, that you offer up or back in life, constitute a form of prayer, just as much and as certainly as any words or formal prayer you might utter? And, I think they are just as pleasing, maybe even more so. If we’re to ‘go into our closet and pray in secret’ and are told that God ‘sees in secret’, don’t you think He can just as easily behold, see, commend, and hold dear our unspoken hearts and attitudes and they may be just as precious to Him? I believe it’s so. What I know of God’s nature tells me it’s so. How about you? Are you winning or losing?

(End of article)

Spiritual relationship–why should it seem so incredible?

relationshipI’ve been thinking lately, of just how does one go about communicating to a largely disbelieving and skeptical world one’s relationship with Christ, which, as Christians, is our utmost way of knowledge; that is–our personal relationship with him. And I think I have a little insight into doing just that. I think I would ask any questioner when seeking to understand the reality of Christian experience, to think about their own experiences of personal friendship, on all of what passes as or in friendship, all that is felt and experienced, which by nature are real, tangible, and yet mostly indefinable things.

You can communicate the reality and nature of your friendship to someone else, describe it even, explain aspects of it, but in the end, because it’s a metaphysical* experience between two persons, that person being told of the relationship has to experience a similar relationship for his or her self, and even then it will be a unique experience between that person and the one newly known to him or her. He or she may relate to your communicating of your particular friendship by using his or her own experiences as a gauge, but until he or she actually takes the step of making contact, of developing a relationship, of making friendship, he or she will never actually know.

It’s really the same with knowing Christ. And so when thought of in this way, it isn’t all that strange, or it shouldn’t be all that strange that this same dynamic plays out or exists on a spiritual level when dealing with relationship between a human being and God.

In such a relationship, there is the reality once again of  metaphysical experience and union, with all the inherent wonders, intricacies and intimacy involved, just as occurs between two humans. Now, others may or may not be aware of such relationship, nevertheless, even if they don’t, it doesn’t take away from or negate it.

I stop and challenge you right now as reader, before continuing with this article, to think about just one of your closest friendships or perhaps, love affairs. Think for a bit of the various qualities that make it a friendship or love affair? What are the things that pass between you as friends/lovers that you both value and cherish and that in turn continues to enliven and perpetuate that relationship? Are they things mostly known by others or rather just between the two of you?  And if others do or do not know, understand or approve of the realities, the intimacies, the benefits of that friendship, does it really alter, affect or detract from the quality, depth and reality of that relationship? I think you will readily see that it does not. And so why should it not be so with spiritual relationship between a human being and God?

I think by attempting this little exercise it may help you to realize the possibility and reality of experience that may lay outside what can be tangibly or intellectually grasped. And, again, this buttresses with what is known of Christ; that He is a person, a personality and as such we can relate to him. As believers, we do not relate to a theory, precept or concept of God. That is impossible. We may hold such things, but we do not hold relationship with them.

As has been succinctly said: ‘Christianity isn’t’ knowing ‘about’ God, it’s knowing God’.’ And we can do so in a rather down-to-earth, easily-relatable manner, just as we would carry on any other relationship, only this one puts us in relationship with what is and who is divine. Indeed, if scripture is about anything, it is about relationship, relationship with others AND God.

* of or relating to things that are thought to exist but that cannot be seen.

 

Mother’s Day, love’s pleasing & true riches

mothers day 3Making sure to have a Mother’s Day card with enclosed gift coupon waiting on the kitchen table as my dear wife started her day; our small gathering of loved ones sharing a special Thai lunch together; spending time with a dear elderly convalescing neighbor who has no immediate family and reading my stories to her upon request; taking my pent-up standard poodle for her customary, much anticipated afternoon walk so that she could expend some of that energy; a telephone call to my mom 1500 mile away: These seemed to be enough, those things that met the day’s needs.

This was a day I’d describe as my simply seeking in love, to meet the needs of those around me rather than trying to please myself, and in helping to meet those needs, finding wholeness and a pleasing fullness to my day. I’m learning that one’s day doesn’t have to consist of big, important events and accomplishments to be pleasing to God or worthy of our esteem, in fact, just the opposite may be true.

In fact, while I was walking my poodle and listening simultaneously to the Audible of Pilgrim’s Progress, at one point in the dialogue the scripture is shared:

That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate— 1 Timothy 6:18

reset buttonThe phrase in that scripture ‘rich in good works’ resonated with me and I mused upon it as I walked. How true, I thought. It’s so easy to get caught up in the mindset, worry-set, of measuring one’s worth in life; which is established one day at a time, by the magnitude of both accomplishment and prosperity. But this simple phrase amounted to, if you will, a little reset-of-thought-button that refocused my attention on that which is of true value. We are to be ‘rich in good works’. How wealthy are we? Well, I guess, as wealthy as we really wish to be.

What to do when you’re broadsided in life


couragea lesson from the past: Take heart

I was preparing to visit with a friend who has cancer and is facing an upcoming delicate removal operation. Knowing that we were to have a time of prayer and inspirational reading together towards the end of my visit, as is sometimes our habit, I wanted to be up to the occasion and offer my friend something besides mere human sympathy and so I was asking the Lord to in some way prepare me especially for the visit. What God did was give me such a wonderful insight and inspiration beforehand during my morning personal devotions, from 2 Chronicles 13, which I was able to share with my friend.

You can read the passage for yourself if you like: I’ll give a little rendering of it as follows. This goes way back to roughly 1000 BC., when a king named Abijah, a grandson of King Solomon of Jewish historical fame,  is ruling what’s left of the Judean throne against insurmountable odds. Civil war has torn the once united Jewish kingdom of 12 tribes apart and there is a power struggle taking place. The 10 northern tribes having rebelled have established themselves as a separate kingdom and the two remaining tribes, from which the royal line proceeds are united as a much smaller kingdom, basically the remnants of the former. Who will prevail?

The situation is bleak. Outnumbered 2-to-1, the Judean king, knowing he and his people are in the right, (he holds the royal bloodline), seeks diplomatically to avoid further warfare between them. When his peace efforts are rebuffed he knows that they have no choice but to stand and fight. At this point the king declares before his people the rightness of their cause and their utter faith in God as both savior and protector of the nation. Indeed, the truth and rightness of their cause seem certain, the outcome not so much.

At this point, when resolve is set and they are determined to proceed to save the kingdom, they are thrown a ringer. They look about them to discover that not only are they seriously outnumbered but that the enemy has seized the opportunity as they pursued diplomatic channels, to ambush them before and behind. They are surrounded. Now their precarious situation seems on even shakier grounds, victory much less certain. What are they to do?

They really only have two choices, cave in to fear and let the situation get the better of them, or to stand and fight, believing that God not only can but will deliver them. They choose the latter. And the final outcome is that they win a giant and improbable victory, overcoming the superior odds of their enemies and accomplishing the will of God in the bargain.

The whole account struck me as to what an amazing picture this is as applied to our spiritual life and walk today. As a believer and having a personal relationship with the Lord, it is relatively easy to know and believe the rightness of your cause so to speak, to recognize that the Lord is indeed with you, and to be committed in your situation, to pursue both progress and success.

But then what happens? Some situation(s) arise: adversity, trouble, sickness or what have you; you are ambushed, so to speak, broadsided by a situation that you didn’t see coming and what are you to do? This is the time and circumstances that your faith is put to the test.

Do you cave in to doubt and defeat, let the situation get the better of you? Or do you in faith commit yourself and your situation to the Lord? And do you fight on and fight through that thing, trusting that God is really on your side?

It’s one thing to know there’s a God out there somewhere, it’s another to know personally, to have that heartfelt faith that God is indeed with YOU. Some people struggle with that, they believe that there is a God or there must be a God, but more in a generic way. They don’t’ necessarily have the faith and assurance that He cares for and is concerned about little-old-them in their circumstances, much less that he is concerned enough to fight on their side to bring about their desired end. And then there is always the nagging doubt issue, that maybe you’re wrong about this or that, or maybe you’ve sinned too much or are too bad to be able to expect anything of or from God.

But to have that assurance that He is indeed with you personally, takes something more. You have to know and believe that God is both with you personally and that He’s with your circumstances and conditions, in fact, He’s often either engineered or allowed those circumstances and conditions and He’s going to take you through them

It’s no use to pray for the situation to go away, or to pray simply for rosy days and sunny skies, sans difficulty and possible defeat. You have to go with Him through the circumstances believing that He is in control and will never let you down, that your cause in Him and His cause in you is not going to fail and be defeated.

Indeed, as the Psalmist cried: “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.”

The earth is flat

dogmasHas mainstream modern speculative thinking got you flat?

I’m writing this as a sequel to my previous post, ‘Wildscape’ experiences & their numinous effects’, as I find my thoughts leading up to and inclusive of that article, haven’t, as yet, played fully out. For another effect of those experiences had been to leave me thinking about how much of mainstream modern speculative thinking is in direct contradiction to God’s revealed declarations of His works and intentions. This glaring contradiction is nothing new of course but what was new was the degree of forcefulness with which this contradiction was impressed upon me. It was like an epiphany to me. It couldn’t be made clearer: There is no reconciling the two, no half way; one is right the other wrong, one is truth, the other is error.

Let me just touch upon three major areas of accepted speculative thinking: Evolution vs. Creation; The generic view of Earth as being just one-of- a-billion other like unexceptional worlds vs. Earth as a unique creation; and, The existence of alien beings vs. humans as sole creations of a Universal Creator. Without getting into a lot of argument, let me just say there exists much   scientific analysis and evidence to support the later side of these comparisons as exists to seemingly support the former side of the comparisons, the real difference is that one voice dominates, one world view is accepted as fact, the other denounced as antiquated, unscientific, (our modern equivalent of the word ‘heretical’) and preposterous.

On the first, that of evolution vs. creation, to witness the geological conditions in the areas I visited (Glacier, Yellowstone & Grand Tetons National Parks) & the surrounding areas of Montana/Idaho/Wyoming was to realize that our present worldwide geological conditions (of which these were but a cross sample), bear the imprint of a catastrophic deluge or flood much more than they do a record of some evolutionary process stretching over billions of years. And the only actual way they could be construed to bear record of billions of years of evolutionary processes is because people have been told, indeed, indoctrinated to see it so.

What exists today is our modern equivalent of ‘the earth is flat’ mentality and teaching of the middle ages. The people of the world then, including the preponderance of the scientific community, all believed that the earth was flat, despite both evidence to the contrary and the truth that was staring them in the face but they couldn’t see it, being blinded by dogma. And if anyone  suggested the earth was perhaps round, of all things, he or she was denounced as a lunatic; indeed could very well lose both life and limb as the most horrible of heretics for having declared such things. But today we now know that the earth wasn’t flat after all, that it was and is the present sphere we see and know today.

This led me into yet more related lines of thinking. God in His word makes very clear that our earth is a unique creation amongst all of his creation. That, while there are untold universes and galaxies and celestial bodies and wonders of all descriptions and beyond descriptions out there, yet, the Lord very plainly says that of all these Earth is created for very specific purposes and functions, and that He is accomplishing something of universal effect and significance through it. And yet current scientific thought and conjecture would have us believe that there is nothing of any particular significance about earth besides the fact that we inhabit it and don’t ‘yet’ know of other such existences:  We are told that we are  just one-amongst-a-billion other such worlds. How flat does that make you feel? Want to knock the glory and wonder out of life, out of existence?—hang on to that handle for a little while and you’re well on your way to the muck and mire of futility.

And lastly this outward turning of thought lends itself to the third and final comparison: Are humans divinely created beings or are we just one particular race of people among thousands of other yet to be discovered alien races?

So, who and what are you going to believe?

You know the wonderful thing about Truth is that it can stand both infinite attack and infinite scrutiny. Put it under a microscope, peer at it through a telescope, examine it to the nth degree, choose to ignore it, contradict it, deny it, try to change it, it makes no difference, it will still be there, like the proverbial cork that bobs up in the ocean, staring you in the face: it’s not going away.

And so, I personally welcome 10,000 Hubble Telescopes, space explorations, and scientific discoveries of all kinds. I don’t think you’ll necessarily arrive at the whole truth that way; as the complete truth is something that is accepted by one’s total being, a moral decision much more than an intellectual one, but you will definitely learn of some of the infinite wonders that make up, shall I say, this great Universal Truth Package. Just don’t muddy the waters with your earth is flat mentality and mantra, none of that preconceived, predigested clap-trap, when I know it’s much more than you’ll ever know it to be unless you’re willing to let go of your preconceived ideas, tyrannical dogmas and outright error masquerading as enlightenment.

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