A New Way of Seeing

In my Via de Cristo reunion group, one of the questions we ask ourselves each time we meet is “what was the most helpful Spiritual insight from your study?” This week I’ve been reading a book about spiritual formation, and I came across this idea which struck me in a profound way:

“A Filipino-American pastor told me that American society views most of the members of his congregation as ‘machine people.’ Such people are invisible to busy professionals, who view them as merely an extension of service machinery that performs the duties we need done. They are an extension of dish washing, dry cleaning, or hotel services. He challenged me to simply pay attention to these invisible ‘machine people’ that I, as he correctly predicted, encounter every day and yet overlook. He urged me, as an act of following Jesus to engage these people with eye contact, affirmations, and questions about their lives or well-being.” From Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered by James C. Wilhoit

How often do we take for granted the people who serve us as we go about our daily errands and chores? The clerk at the grocery store, the UPS delivery man, the librarian at the circulation desk. Sometimes a simple and heart felt expression of thanks or interest in them as fellow human beings will make a big difference to their attitude and their day. Then there are the homeless we pass by without a thought. They are our brothers and sisters as well. My husband and I have started passing out ‘goodie-bags’ with some food, socks, and personal care items. I’ve been blessed to begin really seeing these folks, and their gratitude touches my heart.

The author states that developing a new way of seeing people is the first step in loving them, and love is the greatest commandment. Even if we are called to do “big things” for God, we must begin by being kind and available to those we meet every day.

So, here’s my challenge to you (and myself) going forward. Put on your God-goggles and see like Jesus.

For more posts about kindness see:

A Kind Word

Dare to be Kind by Lizzie Velasquez–Book Review

Be Kind at Christmas

Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself

I’ve been doing a lectio divina study of the works of John and this week I read his second letter. This is what jumped out for me:

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God…” 2 John 9a

John is cautioning his readers (and us) about false teaching. I don’t know about you, but I’m easily attracted to something new — the latest style, a novel recipe, a unique way of looking at the world. There’s nothing wrong with curiosity, or with shaking up our usual routines now and then. However, when it comes to the faith, we must make sure we stick to the foundational truths.

In order to do this, we must first know the truth. That means studying the Bible, and also knowing something about theology. Yes, this can be difficult — I sometimes accuse my Pastor husband of giving me a headache when he tries to explain doctrinal concepts to me–but as someone once said, “if you don’t know where you stand, you’ll fall for anything.” We’ve recently been studying the trinity, and some of the ideas that sound right to my human understanding — for example, that the three members of the trinity each have a different function– is actually a heresy known as modalism. God is one, the trinity is a unity, and each member is involved in everything God does.

We can “run ahead” for other reasons as well. Sometimes a new idea is just what our itching ears want to hear — things like God wants to bless us by making us healthy and wealthy (the prosperity gospel–another heresy). Or we crave the new because it gives us a spiritual “high” at least for a while. We forget that our faith is tested and matured through trials. Maybe we bounce around from church to church seeking the most charismatic leader or preacher — when what we need to grow is to root ourselves in a Christian community and bloom where we are planted.

We need to remember that running ahead can lead to false teaching and false teaching leads to our word for the month: SIN. So don’t get ahead of yourself. Study the Word until you know the Word. Understand the theology behind what you believe. Test the spiritys. Be committed to your congregation and serve the community. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

For more lectio divina study see:

Deceiving Ourselves

Honor Everyone

James Chapter 2 — What Stands Out

The Attributes of God part 2

I posted earlier about the class I’ve been taking on the attributes of God (The Attributes of God). In that post, I listed the characteristics of God that are incommunicable — unlike anything human. Now I’ll turn to the communicable attributes of God — those things that can be seen (although imperfectly) in us.

  1. Omniscience/omnipotence– God is everywhere and knows everything. Our knowledge is learned, but God’s is complete and innate. He is completely wise, completely trustworthy
  2. Goodness, love and mercy. These qualities of God are shown most fully at the cross. God saves us in order to change us, to make us more like Jesus.
  3. Holiness, righteousness and justice. We all have a sense of right and wrong, but if there is no God, there is no right or wrong. God’s ethical purity is in contrast to our sinfulness.
  4. Jealousy, wrath. These qualities take place in relationship to an offense against the majesty of God. The purpose is to protect us from sin and evil, to perfect our covenant relationship with Him.

You may wonder why it is important to study the attributes of God ( I did). Our teacher (my husband), explained that without a clear understanding of Who God is, we will can easily fall into heresies of different sorts.

The last section of this class dealt with the trinity — I’ll cover that in another post.

For more about the attributes of God see:

The Blind Men and the Elephant

The Holiness of God–R.C. Sproul–Book Review

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers — Book Review

A Glimpse of Heaven

Because the 4th and 5th chapters of the book of Revelation have been coming up in different ways in my study life, I decided to do a lectio divina reading of this text. In chapter 4, here’s what stood out for me:

“After this, I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven!” Revelation 4:1a

How amazing and wonderful that God would allow John (and us) a glimpse of the world to come! The description of heaven is, well, unworldly. Like nothing ever seen before. John uses words that describe valuable gems, robes of pure white, golden crowns and crystal. Imagine the most ornate and beautiful throne room and multiply that image by a million. The eyes are dazzled.

The animals around the throne are also only “like” the ones we know on earth– a lion (majesty), an ox,(strength) a man (intelligence) and an eagle (sovereignty). They are covered with eyes–maybe denoting that in heaven things will be seen completely and clearly. There are hints of the natural world, too– thunder, lightening, a rainbow. The kinds of things that produce awe in us, even here and now.

Everything is about the worship of God. This reminds me of the Santus, a hymn that used during many Christian liturgies:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts,
heaven and earth are full of thy glory.
Glory be to thee, O Lord most high.
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

When you worship on Sunday, remember the communion of saints — those in heaven are worshipping right along with us! Keep that beautiful glimpse of heaven with you for the rest of the week!

For more about heaven see:

Heaven is a World of Love by Jonathan Edwards — Book Review

90 Minutes in Heaven — Movie Review

Living in Heaven

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His Commandments

I’ve come to the last chapter of 1 John in my lectio divina study, and here’s what stands out for me:

“…his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3b

Many worldly people believe that to become a Christian, to submit to God’s will, would impact their life in a negative way. How boring to spend free time reading the Bible, praying, and going to worship services! How dull to be barred from behaviors that our society considers acceptable! Life would not be fun at all!

When our children were young, we tried to stress the truth that following God’s rules was not meant to be a punishment, but would make our lives easier. We might miss out on some momentary “fun” but the rewards were far more important. We would have better relationships, a support group in our church family, peace during difficult circumstances, and more. Better yet, at the end of our lives, we would not have too many regrets.

In the book of Matthew Christ tells us:

 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

That yoke is really simple, in fact it boils down to one word: love. Love God and love one another. The more you practice love, the easier it will be. And the rewards are great.

23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our LORD.” Romans 6:23

For more about obedience see these posts:

A Long Obedience In the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson — Book Review

Walking in Obedience

Obedience?

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The Attributes of God

In my husband’s weekly Bible study class, we’ve been studying the attributes of God, and I thought today I would share some of that information with my readers. So far, we’ve gotten through what are considered the incommunicable attributes of God. Incommunicable means that these are qualities belonging to God alone, and they cannot be used in relation to human beings at all.

The first attribute is simplicity or unity. This means that all of the qualities of God are present all the time. He is merciful, just, holy, wrathful and more all the time and all at once.

The next attribute is self existence. God was not created,

The third attribute is immutability. God does not change. Although there are times in the Bible when God seems to change His mind, this is really for the benefit of humans — God already knows and has decided what will happen.

The fourth attribute is impassibility. God does not suffer or experience emotional changes. Again, when the Bible says God is grieved, this is really an attempt to explain things in a way humans can understand — it is not a statement about the nature of God.

The fifth attribute is omnipresence. God is everywhere all the time.

Finally, God is eternal. He was not created (see attribute #1) so He has no beginning and no end. God does not exist with time — He is outside of time.

It’s hard to wrap your mind around these qualities, isn’t it? That’s because God is God, and we are not. Later on I’ll post about the communicable attributes of God, which are easier to understand because there is some human equivalent.

For more about Bible study see:

The Greatest Bible Study

Study Resources for Ladies

A Prayer Before Study

1 John Chapter 3– What Stands Out

As I continue my meditative reading of the letters of John, this is what stands out for me in Chapter 3:

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” 1 John 3:17

How often do you and I do this very thing every day? We pass by the homeless man on the corner without a thought; we ignore the fact that our consumer goods are often produced by people who are enslaved or exploited; maybe we even excuse ourselves from helping the person next door who lost his job, or the fellow church member with big medical bills. We can’t give to everyone and everything, right?

It’s true. It can be overwhelming. However, it’s a clear command, and the Bible has a lot to say about helping others. Here are just a few verses:

  • Deuteronomy 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.
  • Proverbs 3:27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is in your power to act. 
  • Matthew 5:42 Give to the one who asks you and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
  • Matthew 25:44-45 They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
  • Luke 3:10-11  ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked. John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’ 
  • Romans 12:13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 
  • James 2:14-17 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

So, what should we do? Well, pray; pay attention; when you see a need you can meet, don’t hesitate. Don’t worry about helping someone who is “undeserving” — we usually don’t have enough information to judge that correctly. Educate yourself–find out about what’s going on in the larger community and the world–remember everyone is our neighbor. Discover your our unique spiritual gifts and then use them in a way that benefits those around you. You may not be called to serve meals at a mission, but maybe you can help in a support position. Maybe you don’t have much excess income, but you do have time. Speak up when you know someone is struggling–maybe you can’t meet all the needs yourself, but together a group you are part of can.

I hope this gives you a few ideas. Remember the parable of the talents. Nobody who used their talents to make more was condemned. We can’t do everything but we can each do something.

For more posts about generosity see:

Spend Yourself

Walking With Jesus–Devotion #10

Being a Biblical Christian, part 2

Back in the Box

I’ve been reading through the letters of John, asking God to show me a phrase or verse from each chapter that’s particularly meaningful to my life right now (this is called lectio divina). What popped out in chapter 2 of 1 John is this:

“… the world is passing away along with its desires …” 1 John 2:17a

Years ago I heard a story told by James Dobson. He talked about playing monopoly with his family — he was winning, and he got really excited as he accumulated more and more money and property. At the end of the game, everybody else got up to go to bed and he was left to clean up. All that cash, all those buildings, all those “things of the world” that he was so pumped up about …. they all just went back in the box. The “rush” he experienced from acquiring them didn’t last very long.

Since my husband retired, I’ve been putting a lot of things back in the box (in my case, the box is the trash!). We’re cleaning out a storage locker, sorting through files and pictures, and in many cases wondering, why did I keep this? Why do I have hundreds of pictures of places I’ve visited? Often I don’t remember where they were taken! Why do I have file folders of notes and papers I wrote in college? Will my children care about these? Why am I holding onto books I read 20 years ago, even if they were really meaningful to me at the time? Wouldn’t it be better to pass them on?

The things of the world are temporary, and that doesn’t just apply to money and buildings. Even the things we read, the knowledge we accumulate, the things we create — none of this will survive for very long once we’re gone. So …

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions–is not from the Father but if from the world.” 1 John 2:`5-16

Love what lasts — God and His Word.

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:8

For more about Lectio Divina see:

Philippians Chapter 1 — What Stands Out

And He Said This Plainly

Learning to Pray by James Martin, SJ–Book Review

Deceiving Ourselves

I’ve started a lectio divina study of 1 John. Here’s what caught my eye (and pierced my heart) in Chapter 1.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8

It’s easy to deceive ourselves when it comes to sin. We like to think that we’re basically “good” people. Maybe we don’t lie, steal, murder, or commit adultery, and so we feel pretty complacent. Other people are sinful — not us!

Lately I’ve been thinking about something that’s contained in the Via de Cristo examination of conscience that I use sometimes. Here’s what it says about how we might sin against God:

“Not made an effort to bear with Him the sins of the world, especially those of my own social group.”

Recently my husband and I watched a documentary called Final Account, in which Germans who had grown up in Nazi Germany were interviewed. Most of them felt guilty about what had been done to the Jews and others. They admitted that most people knew or had suspicions about what was going on, yet they didn’t try to intervene. Why? They were afraid. They felt powerless. They believed their own lives and the lives of family members were at stake. Would I have behaved differently? I’m not sure.

Here’s a closer example. When I was a child, growing up in the 50’s, segregation was still the rule in school and other public places. Interracial marriage was considered wrong. This was not fair, or just, but it was accepted. It was the way things were. My family and most others, went along with the status quo. We were busy with our own lives and problems, so it didn’t seem like something to worry about. Of course, I was quite young, but if I had been older, would I have acted? Probably not.

Today we like to believe that we have progressed and would no longer treat those of another race so callously, but think again. Many of the consumer good that we enjoy quite cheaply (some prime examples are coffee and clothing) are produced by people in other countries who are being used as slave labor, or something close to that. Yet, as a nation, we trade with these countries. Why? It’s in our own self interest. We don’t see people being used this way, and so it’s easy to deny.– but it is happening.

So friends, you can see how easy it is to deceive ourselves, to believe that we are not responsible. We do it because we’re young or fearful; we do it because it’s easier to go along with the crowd, or because it’s beneficial to us.

There’s just no getting around this fact– we’re all sinners.

Getting to Know God

Recently, going through old newsletters and other things I’ve written, I came across this article I wrote years ago. I’ve adapted it a bit and I think the thoughts are still valid.

One Sunday I was sitting in the sanctuary before service and I had a really wonderful experience. My mind was wandering (I shouldn’t admit this ever happens, but it does) and I started looking at the people around me. I realized that I had some sort of special connection with just about everyone there! I saw coworkers (former and present), classmates from Bible Study, special Sunday School and VBS leaders who have taught my children, friends who have helped and encouraged me in many different ways. My list just kept growing and I know each of you could compile your own. I guess that’s what gives a congregation that “family” feeling.

I also realized that this sense of warmth and belonging doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and effort; a willingness to get involved and stick with the process of getting to know one another and become part of each other’s lives.

Isn’t that true of our relationship with God as well? If we want to feel close to God, to know His will for us and be comforted by His presence in our lives, we need to devote some time to building a relationship with Him. One way to do this is by studying His word.

Most churches offer a number of opportunities to do this. For example:

*Pick up a copy of a monthly devotional if your congregation makes one available. Portals of Prayer is an example.

*Go to Sunday School — it’s not just for kids! You’ll get to know fellow members and God better.

*Join an evening or daytime Bible study, or even start a small group study yourself.

*Volunteer to teach — teachers must first be learners!

For more information on getting to know God through study or educational offerings, speak with your Pastor or someone on your church education committee. They will no doubt be excited by your interest and glad to help you!