Pray without ceasing on behalf of everyone. For in them there is hope of repentance so that they may attain to God. Permit them, then, to be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting; to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error be steadfast in the faith; and for their cruelty display your gentleness. While we take care not to imitate their conduct, let us be found their brothers in all true kindness.
~Ignatius of Antioch, A.D. 50 – 117 (Letter to the Ephesians 10)
I have continued to ponder this closing quote from my talk about redefining the goal of spiritual conversations. Ignatius of Antioch was a disciple of the Apostle John, and was the 2nd (or third) Bishop of Antioch when the church was centered there. Ignatius was martyred in the Colosseum in Rome and as you can see by the painting, it was a gruesome death. Under the tutelage of John, the heartbeat of Jesus was a thin veil away and is easily encountered as you read his words and meditate on his willingness to die for his faith.
The responses of Jesus towards His accusers and executioners is hovering close to the surface of this statement…
The commands and interactions of the rabbi, that we so easily dismiss as possible for Him because He was God, seem to become enfleshed in Ignatius’ words leaving us no room for escape but plenty of room to squirm.
Broken down, each thought is completely others-centered, a sort of self-amnesia that majors on compassion unattached to self-need or self-promotion.
1. Praying all the time for everyone.
2. Your prayers can help those who are far away from God move towards Him because there is hope for everyone to turn towards God.
3. Preach to people by serving them, doing good, demonstrating compassion and godly service.
4. Control yourself when others unleash their anger on you.
5. Seek the higher road of humility when others fill the air with self-promotion.
6. Pray for others when they accuse, belittle, condemn or slander you.
7. Stay committed to what is true when others fall for all the false and empty philosophies of the world.
8. Be gentle when others are merciless.
9. Don’t imitate their path, but love them on their journey regardless of where they are at… exhibiting kindness and brotherliness.
These are powerful thoughts…
In fact, these thoughts are alarming because they promise pain and suffering without recourse, justification or a necessary happy ending. Instead, they offer us invitation into the sufferings of Christ, where our soul will be forged in ways that we don’t want, can’t handle, and will probably try to escape from.
Trust is the only response that will work. But trust is not something that can be conjured up like a late-night snack or story to cover your tracks, no, trust is something birthed between the worlds of chaos and confusion in that thin space where the voice of God speaks to the follower of Jesus who is forever doubting, struggling, running, ducking and hiding from the Voice of Love.
Trust says, “not my will but yours be done.” Trust cries “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Trust sighs, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
This desolate place is where Jesus rescues the bedraggled among us. The ones who have no option other than God. The ones who know their default system-setting is to try to create their own trust, build their own reality, convince themselves and others that they are someone they are not, and then wake up sweating in the night knowing the false world they have created is a silly sham that the Big-Bad-Wolf could easily huff, puff and blow down.
These are the ones Jesus came for. Brute honesty has a way of surfacing when we sit among the displaced straw, and God always responds to our honesty by increasing our faith which intensifies our hope that welds handles onto trust so that we can grasp it firmly. This is the great trial of the soul. Will I believe and hold onto the truth that God loves me even at my worst? Will I define myself, not by my mistakes and blunders, but rather as one unconditionally loved by the God who created black holes, raging seas, distant galaxies and human DNA?
The presence of Trinity dwelling within us by faith is not myth, idiocy, theological gymnastics, a last-ditch hail-mary nor the conjecture of weak-willed people. Jesus brings about God’s presence within us which is the most real part of me, the only solid ground in a world full of shadows.
So while I might want to run away, hide, pretend or shrink into the shadows, the gift of trust, born from the love between the Father and the Son revealed on the cross of Calvary, will rise laying ahold of me even as I lay ahold of it.
And all of it is a gift…
All of it is grace…
All of it is divine love…
Trust removes our fear of God and our fear of ourselves. He smiles as we approach Him with all our broken pieces because He knows we have finally allowed ourselves to be loved just as we are not the way we think we should be…
Here, in this sacred space, we choose to go beyond the extra mile extending to others the very same grace and acceptance we have received from God. We offer it willingly, sacrificially, and fearlessly because we finally know that God is good, even when the path is dark.
Father, help me trust.
In many ways, it would seem that we are a world of reformers now. Thanks in large part to the power of social media, everybody has a platform to say whatever they like regardless of how accurate, intelligent or worthy their thoughts may be. Some people like to troll and cause conflict while others simply like to demolish the ideas and people that they disagree with.
One of the problems with this platform in our current context is that most people who are posting status update after status update, using their agenda as a polemic, seem to have forgotten the basic laws of logic and reason. What has taken their place, you ask? Emotions, opinions, and half thought through arguments.
In order to be a true reformer one must understand the scope of the thing that they wish to reform before they destroy it. Many go about reform the way history tells us Cortés burnt his ships in the harbor. While there was no going back for Cortés, sometimes we burn the ships before we have reasoned through such actions.
Today we are in the midst of cultural reform. Facebook has proven to be the new “speakers corner” as people pontificate, throw in a meme or two that agrees with their viewpoint, erroneously thinking that the picture and soundbite alone should end all other disagreement.
People are unfriended when they disagree, or perhaps more to the point, when they become belligerent concerning their topic.
The problem with the new reformers is that too often they have not thought through fully the reasons that something existed before. They have not entered into the “whys” of the thing they wish to eliminate or change. Some areas of reform seem easy such as ending human trafficking or eliminating global poverty. Some areas of current reform seem less clear to the populace such as gun rights and same-sex marriage. While boats are being burned, and status updates are flying, the conversations that are needed are being ignored in lieu of trying to determine who is right…who is wrong.
When emotions rule the day, we don’t ask the deeper questions, we simply want everyone to agree with our position. These are not easy issues, and before we tear down the things that have been in place for a while, we need to understand why they existed in the first place. Maybe they do need to be changed, maybe they don’t. Until we can clearly understand why something has existed, we don’t have the clarity yet to remove it.
G.K Chesterton spoke profoundly to this:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.
Dialog is needed today on so many issues from global economics to civil rights. It would be my hope that we could engage the issues with honest reflection, being compassionate about the other person, even if we disagree on some issue.
But before we keep tearing down fences, lets make sure we know why the fence was put there in the first place.
Palm Sunday in the Christian tradition is spectacular theater in so many ways. Defiance against an empirical regime who would allow no other king than Caesar. Rebellion against a religious regime that would have no other authority than themselves. Challenge towards a people whose worship was given to many things from self to society.
Palms waved, branches laid
Hearts lifted, hopes persisted
Responses singing, hillsides ringing
A road made of clothing
Hosanna in the highest
Jesus rides upon a donkey, the donkey rides upon the cloaks of the people, the people shout with words of hope that will soon reveal they were mixed with doubt. The Sadu Sundar Singh would remind us that all honor goes to Christ, and when we begin to believe our own press we would be wise to remember our role is to hold up, lift up and point people to Jesus:
“When Jesus entered Jerusalem the people spread their clothes in the way and strewed branches before Him in order to do Him honour. Jesus rode upon an ass, according to the word of the prophet. His feet did not touch the road which was decorated in His honour. It was the ass which trod upon the garments and the branches. But the ass would have been very foolish to have been uplifted on that account; for the road really was not decked in its honour! It would be just as foolish if those who bear Christ to men were to think anything of themselves because of what men do to them for the sake of Jesus.
~Sadhu Sundar Singh
Palm Sunday reminds me that it is always about Jesus…
My best is still beneath the branches, beneath the clothing, beneath the donkey…
Beneath the branches, beneath the clothing is a powerful space to dwell in. Free from the need to perform. Free from the pressure of being more than I know I am. Free to be a pilgrim on a journey that simply acknowledges the incarnation of God in our midst.
I am not even the donkey. I am not even the branches. I am not even the clothing…
YET, He calls me His own, His treasured possession He calls me His son, His daughter. He lavishes me with love and gifts. He knows I might cry crucify, yet He loves me anyway.
May our shouts of Hosanna be free from agenda. the agenda to use Jesus to our own ends. Jesus belongs to no one and everyone. He is no ones poster-boy but He is everyone’s savior. Some shouted Hosanna because they wanted Jesus to be their political poster boy and reestablish the dominance of Israel. Some wanted Him to be their healing poster-boy so they waved branches hoping for a touch from the miracle worker. Some wanted Him to establish His religious influence so that they could be in charge.
Jesus alone new His mission…
Jesus alone didn’t allow all the shouts of Hosanna to sidetrack Him from His calling…
Jesus alone would stay faithful to His purpose while everyone else was committed to their agenda.
May our shouts of Hosanna be free from agenda
May we receive with joy the humility to be beneath the branches, beneath the clothing, beneath the donkey.
I know, I know…there is always an excuse for not doing something. In my life I have heard many excuses and erroneous beliefs by people who think that they are stuck, against the wall and that things just can’t possibly work for them. This infectious mindset is a dream and goal killer that will become a self fulfilling prophecy. Check out the top ten dream killing excuses I have encountered most. With each excuse I have written a rumination that I hope will push you past the wall that is created by that excuse. Life is too short to give up, throw in the towel, or choose to not even get to the starting line. I believe in you, so read on.
1. It’s Way Too Hard!
Well, it might be hard, but nothing of lasting value comes easy. File this excuse in the round-bin and determine to push through until you get a break through! As I consider the things that have given me the greatest amounts of joy and purpose, I quickly realize that “hard” was a part of the journey. Working through a hurt relationship…a mom in childbirth…launching a new endeavor…helping a team achieve their shared potential ..helping someone find God…helping someone find freedom from life’s hurts, hangups or habits. What are your greatest joys?
2. I Don’t Have Enough Education.
Well I have one easy word to say to this excuse…GOOGLE. Seriously, information is overabundantly available and easy to acquire. Another word is…YOUTUBE. You can watch and learn pretty much anything you might possibly need to know, along with a ton of stuff you don’t need to know with a click of the mouse. Read…learn…invest time in research. You might not have a degree, but all the information you need on any given subject is available if you look for it.
3. No One Will Buy It.
Well, they might not, BUT…just spend some time watching infomercials and that will change your mind. Just today I saw infomercials that are raking in millions on products like “Forever Lazy”, “Smokeless Cigarettes”, and “eco-friendly cooking pans!” Another great show to watch is “Shark Tank” where people are selling investors on some pretty crazy and unique items. You simply need to think through the”whys” of your idea and start thinking about how to communicate your idea to the world.
4. Better To Be Safe Than Sorry.
I have heard this voiced from the lips of risk managers for years! And every time this excuse is vocalized a dream dies somewhere. Play the movie forward…you are on your deathbed…your life is flashing before your eyes…all the dreams you had and the possibilities that found their genesis in your soul are playing… yet none of them finding fruition in your life because you played it safe. You struggled to make ends meet in life all-the-while making someone else, who took risks, wealthy . You gave your ideas away and other people not only did well with them, the idea made a major life changing impact. I think you’ll be sorry you always played it safe.
5. I Don’t Have Any Experience At This.
This might be true, but remember there was a time when:
- going to school was something you had never done.
- falling in love was a feeling you had never had.
- driving a car had never been attempted.
- playing a particular sport was completely unknown in your experience.
All of these are excuses based upon fear of the unknown. Your life has been built on many “firsts” so don’t let this one bench you!
6. I Don’t Have Enough Time.
This is by far the #1 excuse I hear. In my book Sacred Space I note that the average American will spend a total of 15 complete years in front of a TV or computer screen by the time they are 65 years old. That’s a whole lot of Pinterest, Facebook and Dancing With the Stars and it is amazingly sad to me. Everybody has the same number of seconds, minutes and hours in each day. The difference between those who accomplish much and those who accomplish little is in how they manage their time. Perhaps it’s time for you to master your schedule instead of things, events and other people mastering your time.
7. If I Succeed There Will Be Greater Expectations of Me.
This is a bit deeper, but is still rooted in fear. Many wonder, “What will people expect from me if I succeed at this?”, “Will I be able to meet their expectations?”, “If I can’t meet their expectations then I just can’t move forward.” My response to this is three words…”Not Your Monkey.” Sure, people will have elevated expectations of you, but guess what? They already do and you probably just don’t know it. At the end of the day you need to be able to stand clean before God, not your neighbor. What other people expect of you is their monkey not yours so let it go! It’s time to stop being controlled by the expectations of others by setting good boundaries based on grace and truth.
8. I Don’t Have People To Help Me.
Well, I have been there for sure. Sometimes I have felt very alone as I have moved forward, and other times I have had a great team around me. What I have learned is that when I commit and move forward with all of my heart, like minded people appear! If I had waited for people to come around and support me before any initiative, most of those ideas would still be on the launching pad. Instead, when I believe I have the right purpose, I start moving and visioning and the right people naturally connect with the vision. Had I not started though I would have never connected with those people. So decide, determine and detonate! Your team will appear.
9. It’s Been Done Before.
This is true, in fact King Solomon said it best in Ecclesiastes 1:9
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Everything is a synthetic remix of something else. A good friend of mine, and record producer, once told me that there is nothing new in rock music that the group Boston hadn’t done in some fashion! Whatever it is that you are considering, just make it yours.
10. If I Fail I’ll Be Crushed.
I really get this. Fear of failure is what keeps a large number of people from pursuing their dreams. And the truth is…you might fail, more than once. I take solace in the truth that most success stories were birthed in some failures,for instance:
- Henry Ford went broke five times before he founded the successful Ford Motor Co.
- R.H. Macy had seven failed businesses before he hit it big with Macy’s in New York.
- Harland Sanders’ recipe for chicen was rejected 1009 times before a restaurant finally picked it up.
- Walt Disney was told ”he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
- Thomas Edison was told in his early years that he was “too stupid to learn anything.”
If you have found yourself uttering any of these excuses it is time to let them go, set your sails, and move forward.
I also came across the following info-graphic on Facebook today that I thought was worth ruminating over. ~Monty
The best resolution you can make today, and is completely do-able in the next 30 days, is to read through all of the New Testament and immerse yourself into God’s story.
Amazing things will happen as you read through God’s message to us in the New Testament! The Bible says that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, so as you begin to read, meditate upon and digest all that God has to say to you in the next 30 days, I know that faith will be unleashed in your life!
As you read, find a comfortable space with limited distractions. That could be a challenge in and of itself! Also, you might want to keep a journal, or a notepad and pencil handy to write down what God is revealing to you as you read. I am sure you will have some insights and some epiphanies throughout the next 30 days.
Finally, ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate your reading. The Bible is alive, it is God’s living revelation to you! In it God is revealing who He is, and leading you deeper into who you are becoming! So write down what seems to jump at you from the pages. You may not even know why it is sticking out to you, but as you pray and meditate on it, God will reveal why He decided to bring that to your attention!
Feel free to send me your insights and epiphanies during the next 30 days to firstname.lastname@example.org
The ability to convert ideas to things is the secret to outward success.
~Henry Ward Beecher
If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.
Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind. ~Seneca
Goals are dreams with deadlines. ~Diana Scharf Hunt
Guess what? January is just a breath away. As the calendar turn us yet again into another year, there is a natural sense, hard-wired into us, to reset our souls, realign our priorities and establish goals to accomplish our dreams.
I have looked over many different lists of questions that others have asked themselves in order to move forward, and here I have selected the top 10. These questions are powerful, I would recommend that you schedule some time to be alone where you can pray, read through the questions, and then write out answers to the questions.
After you have answered the questions, the next step will be to prioritize them and set some short term and long term goals in order to measure progress and see movement toward the direction you are going.
1. What area of your life is most in need a change this year?
2. What is one thing you can do to dramatically improve your relationship with God this year?
3. What would happen if your best dream came true? What is your best dream?
4. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
5. What positive habit would you most like to establish this year?
6. Where will you commit and invest your time and talent this year?
7. What book(s) will you read this year (outside of the Bible) to enrich your life?
8. What area of doctrine/theology/spirituality do you want to study for better understanding this year?
9. What one thing can you do this year that will leave a positive and lasting legacy for your family and community?
10. What one thing do you most regret about last year, and what will you do about it this year?
After you have finished answering these questions, it is critical that you create a “next step” of what you will do to make your answer become a reality. Dreams and goals are great, but if they are absent an action plan they generally never see lift-off. As you create actionable steps employ someone you can share your list with and ask them to keep you accountable to doing what you know you need to do.
The choices and decisions you make today -will- determine your life experience and outcome in the next 5-10 years. So carefully answer the questions and establish a plan to accomplish the goals you have made.
Bonus Questions for those who dare!
1. Ask your spouse,
- What is it like having me as a husband/wife?
- What can I do differently this year to improve our marriage?”
2. Ask your kids, “What is it like having me for a mom/dad?
- What is it like having me for a mom/dad?
- What can I do this year to be a better parent?
3. Ask your co-workers,
- What one thing can I do differently this year that will make the most positive impact for our company?
- What is it like to work with me?
4. Ask your pastor,
- What is the greatest need our church has that I can help with?
- Where should I be plugging in at church to become the person God created me to be?
Here’s a final thought on persistence from Zig Ziglar:
“Persistence is the ability to maintain actions regardless of your feelings. You press on even when you feel like quitting. When you work on any big goal your motivation will wax and wane like the waves hitting the shore. Sometimes you’ll feel motivated, sometimes you won’t. But it’s not your motivation that creates results – it’s your action.
Persistence allows you to keep taking action even when you don’t feel motivated to do so, and therefore you keep accumulating results. Persistence will ultimately provide its own motivation. If you simply keep taking action, you’ll eventually get results, and results can be very motivating.”
The Advent season is always pregnant with possibilities.
A subconscious knowing resides deep within gnawing, in an awakening way, opening eyes and heart to a truer reality available only to those who seek it.
There is so much more to life…there is a deeper peace… a greater capacity to love…an irremovable anchor of hope.
Imagine feeling an inescapable smile, an unexplained joy resonating deep within, and a sliver of grace that pierces your soul for no apparent reason.
These are around and available all the time, yet we rush around with Black Friday hearts and choose to settle for far less than God graced our planet with and offers through benefits of the Incarnation.
I like what Thomas Kelly, a 20th century Quaker wrote:
“Over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call, a premonition of richer living which we know we are passing by. We have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power. If only we could slip over into that Center! If only we could find the Silence which is the source of sound!” ~Thomas Kelly
The following line of Kelly’s causes me to pause, “We have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power.” Ah…he is onto something here.
This is not a pipe-dream for God lovers and seekers, rather it is available, right now right where you are. No matter what stress, struggle, hurt or habit has you submerged, Advent shouts God came to earth…God came and infused His divinity with humanity…Jesus, then is the definition of who God is…Jesus came to rescue, not condemn, and He offers everyone a better hope of drawing near to God.
Advent also reminds us of longing…the longing for Messiah to come…
The longing for God to show up…
The longing for help beyond our capabilities…
The longing to know that we all matter, and that God cares and is involved…
The longing for the better hope of God’s presence,
May you slip over today into that center and find the silence which is the source of the sounds of life.