Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Me or Them?

Tuesday 8/8/2017 6:16 AM
I often pray that God would give me eyes to see the world the way he sees it. The result of that prayer is that I am more aware of the brokenness of our world and I look at people with more compassion that I did before. It’s easy to become judgmental and cynical if you have no empathy for others. In the book Living with Apocalypse, Tilden Edwards writes, “Spiritual awareness for Christians, at its fullest, means seeing life through God’s sound eye. We could use other senses to describe this awareness: hearing life through God’s ear, touching life through God’s strength, feeling life through God’s compassion. … Saint Paul called us to live in the mind of Christ so fully that we can say with him, ‘Not I, but Christ, lives in me.’ The ‘I’ that no longer lives then is the one that sees itself as an ultimately self-willed, self-centered being. The new ‘I’ is one that lives moment by moment in the awareness that we are an intimate and unique expression of God’s joy and compassion, living freely by grace, called to reverberate the joy and compassion, utterly interdependent with Creator and creation. The test of any spiritual discipline is whether or not it assists this deep awareness for us. Without spiritual discipline we become easier prey to the old ‘I’ that is full of possessiveness, fear, greed, anxiety, violence, indolence, untrustworthiness, willfulness, confusion, and all the other marks of life disconnected from our true being in God.”
When I look at the society in which I live I see many people who are possessive, fearful, greedy, anxious, violent, indolent, untrustworthy, willful, and confused. This is not surprising if Edwards is right about the way people live when they are disconnected from their true being in God. The most troubling to me is these are also the characteristics of those who make the strongest claim to being Christian. It seems impossible that those who are looking at others through the eyes of Christ would be so self-centered, concerned only for themselves without concern for others. As the broader Christian community we need to be more compassionate and less judgmental. This, of course, must begin with me.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Contentment in My Work

Thursday 7/27/2017 7:11 AM
I have always enjoyed my work as a math teacher. I feel as if I were created for the job. Of course, as in any job, there are times when I become frustrated by the bureaucracy of education, but overall, it is a wonderful job. I am content in my work and, although retirement is inevitable, I am not longing for it.
Today I read a quote by Mother Teresa from her book Words to Love By that speaks of being content. “The work we do is only our love for Jesus in action. … If we pray the work … if we do it to Jesus, if we do it for Jesus, if we do it with Jesus … that’s what makes us content.” While I make no claim to have done this perfectly I have tried to see my work as something done for God. I am teaching people made in the image of God, who are children of God. If I can keep that in the forefront of my mind I am more likely to give my best, to work my hardest, to be more patient, and in the final say, be content in my work as a result.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Foggy Glasses

Thursday 7/13/2017 7:38 AM
I am sitting on the deck at Ryan and Kate’s house after having come back from my morning run. It rained during the night and this morning it was quite humid as I ran. I found it difficult to run and I stopped after three miles, hoping to cool down a little before I got back to their house. Currently I’m sweating profusely and when I put on my glasses to read my devotional material they fog up. The combination of heat and humidity cause my glasses to steam up, which inhibits my ability to see things clearly. The humidity and the temperature are supposed to go down over the course of the next couple of days. Hopefully my runs in the next couple of days will be more enjoyable and my glasses will remain clear allowing me to see clearly.
My reading today included an excerpt from To Walk Together Again, by Richard M. Gula. He writes, “When we begin to confine God to specifically religious areas of life, we are forced to turn away from the ordinary experiences of life in order to be touched by the gracious reality of God. Yet this is not the way it was for Jesus. The fundamental message of Jesus about God is that human life is the home of God. Do not look anywhere else.” One thing that has frustrated me over the past year or so is that I have little desire to maintain my daily routine of personal devotions. In the past, when I would go through a stage like this, God would speak to me through everyday things that occurred and passages of scripture would come to mind even though I wasn’t reading my Bible. Over the past year I feel as if God has been silent, not even speaking to me through my circumstances. It seems like my world is fogged over, similar to my glasses this morning, inhibiting my ability to see God or to hear his voice. I trust that as I move past the grief of losing my mom and the stress induced through other areas of my life I will again experience the reality of God’s presence in my everyday life as the fog that is currently inhibiting my view clears.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Abundance and Relationships

Wednesday 5/10/2017 5:20 AM
When I’m on my motorcycle I have an unhindered view of the world. All of my senses are bombarded as I ride along. I see the beauty of a cloud formation, the distant mountains, and a flowering plant in the median as I wait for a light to change. I feel the subtle changes in temperature as the wind blows across my face. I smell the pleasant fragrance of a bed of flowering jasmine or a street lined with jacarandas, which also overwhelm with their purple beauty. I smell the rancid odor of rotting road kill and the pungent odor of a skunk that had to protect itself.
Last night I was watching a television show about new, bizarre life forms that have been discovered by unmanned submarines plumbing the depths of the ocean. It seems the universe is a cornucopia of differing environments that are populated by a plethora of differing physical structures and life forms.
Yesterday I attended the funeral of Joe, a family friend. After the service family and friends gathered at their house to visit with one another, and to reminisce. Food that had been purchased and made by family and friends festooned the island in the kitchen and the dining room table. The food that was displayed mirrored the abundance that is found in the world, with a wide variety of colors, textures, and savory flavors. We sat at tables decorated with different kinds of flowers: daisies, mums, lilies, carnations, roses, snapdragons, etc., each with its unique shape, color, hue, and fragrance. White clouds floated across the deep blue sky as birds flitted among the trees. Different groups of people were sitting at each table aged from a few months to ninety plus years. Among them were musicians, engineers, nurses, pastors, factory workers, technicians, educators, businessmen and businesswomen, to name a few. Different personalities evidenced themselves as people interacted, some withdrawn, seeking quiet and solitude, while others moved from group to group like a honeybee visiting different flowers in its search for pollen and nectar. Each person there was unique. Each with his own set of circumstances, her own talents and abilities, and her own personality.
Today I read an excerpt from Earth and Altar, by Eugene Peterson, that reminded me of my experiences yesterday. He writes, “We do not begin life on our own. We do not finish it on our own. Life, especially when we experience by faith the complex interplay of creation and salvation, is not fashioned out of our own genetic lumber and cultural warehouses. It is not hammered together with the planks and nails of our thoughts and dreams, our feelings and fancies. We are not self-sufficient. We enter a world that is created by God, that already has a rich history and is crowded with committed participants – a world of animals and mountains, of politics and religion; a world where people build houses and raise children, where volcanoes erupt lava and rivers flow to the sea; a world in which, however carefully we observe and watch and study it, surprising things keep on taking place. We keep on being surprised because we are in on something beyond our management, something over our heads. In prayer we realize and practice our part in this intricate involvement with absolutely everything that is, no matter how remote it seems to us or how indifferent we are to it. This prayer is not an emotional or aesthetic sideline that we indulge in after our real work is done; it is the connective tissue of our far-flung existence. The world of creation interpenetrates the world of redemption. The world of redemption interpenetrates the world of creation. The extravagantly orchestrated skies and the exuberantly fashioned earth are not background to provide a little beauty on the periphery of the godlike ego; they are the large beauty in which we find our true home, room in which to live the cross and Christ expansively, openhearted in praise.”
I am not meant to walk through this world alone. God provides infinite stimuli to enrich my life: colors, textures, odors, and temperatures, each tickling one of my senses that are perfect for detecting the stimuli. People too, like the rest of creation, have a variety of personalities and abilities that enrich my life. I can live most fully when I engage with others in healthy relationships, bathing my life with the uniqueness each person has to offer.
Over the past months I have withdrawn from this lavish creation as I deal with the grief of my mom’s death. I’m quite certain that Joe’s family will experience many of the same feelings I have as the year progresses and they may also withdraw. Today I was assigned to read Jeremiah 31:11-14. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet but his message in chapter 31 is one of hope for those living in want and under oppression. “For the Lord will deliver (his people) and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they. They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord – the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more. Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty, declares the Lord.”
Today, in the middle of my sadness and self-imposed withdrawal, God brings me hope that joy will return, and the bounty of his creation, animate and inanimate alike, will fill the void. I pray that Joe's family will also have glimpses of this hope and comfort as they meander through their grief.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

God's Presence

Saturday 4/22/2017 5:29 AM
Over the course of the past year I have not had a very strong sense of God’s presence in my life. I know what I mean when I say that but to some it sounds like voodoo or some sort of religious mumbo jumbo. In the past I have sensed God’s direction as I go about living my life. When I pray about what I should do I get a feeling as to which way to go. I will have a person or a circumstance come to mind and will have an inner urging to write a note of encouragement to that person, or to give him a call, or to invite her to lunch or coffee. Lately I have not been spending the same amount of time in reading my Bible and in praying so I have not had the same kinds of experiences.
Today I read an excerpt from Radiance of the Inner Splendor, by Lloyd John Olgilvie in which he describes what he means by God dwelling within his people. “When we say that Christ pervades all the aspects of our human nature, it does not mean that he effects a takeover of our will. He did not do that before we became his children; he does not do it now. It does mean that when we set our hearts in the direction of what we know to be God’s heart in the matter – and begin to model our behavior in that direction – then Spirit within immediately reinforces our finite strength with infinite strength. The synthesis is so smooth, it is sometimes impossible to tell where our strength ends and his begins.” Maybe the reason I have different results is because I am no longer intentionally setting my heart in the direction of God’s heart, nor modeling my behavior in that direction. I need to make my time alone with God more of a priority.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sing and Pray

Wednesday 4/12/2017 5:04 AM
I joined a local community chorale a few weeks ago. I have always enjoyed singing. It soothes my soul. There is something about music that reaches deep inside of me and touches me in ways that other things don’t. Saul, the first king of Israel, suffered bouts of depression. During those times he would have David play his harp for him to give him some relief. I joined the chorale for much the same reason, to help me deal with some of the sadness I have experienced over the past year.
Today I read a portion of Eugene Peterson’s book Earth and Altar that reminds me of this. He writes, “We are born into the web of relationships and continue in it throughout our lifetimes. But we often don’t feel like it. We feel isolated, cut off, fragmented, out of touch. We do not tolerate such isolation very well and move out to overcome it: we call up a neighbor, join a club, write a letter, get married. The disparate attempts accumulate. The self is less isolated. Society is less fragmented. The facts add up. But if we do not pray, they do not add up to enough: in prayer and only in prayer are we able to enter the complexity and depth of the dynamic and interrelated whole. A failure to pray is not a harmless omission; it is a positive violation of both the self and the society.”
Over the past year I have definitely felt isolated, cut off, fragmented, and out of touch. I have withdrawn from much of life, including my time of reading my Bible and meditating on God. I recognize that my isolation has caused me to suffer personally but I haven’t stopped to think about how my isolationism has affected others. In the past my time of meditation has often resulted in becoming aware of the pain and struggles of others. When that happens I often write them a note of encouragement and I spend time praying that God would ease their pain and provide some relief. This past year it seems the bulk of my thoughts and prayers have been self-centered, ignoring the pain of others or simply being ignorant or uninformed of their situations. I need to spend more time contemplating God and his desires for me instead of my own. Perhaps the music of his word and Spirit will soothe my soul in much the same way my singing in the chorale has given me some relief.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Faulty Logic

Friday 3/17/2017 5:31 AM
Being a mathematician I value logic and reason. In my world not much can beat a well thought out and well-reasoned argument. Elegant proofs of theorems are highly treasured and sought out. Principles like Ockham’s Razor are used to trim away excessive assumptions so an argument can be synthesized into its simplest form.
Sometimes I try to use logic and reason to try to convince others of the reality of God. Most of the time it falls on deaf ears and listener remains unmoved. Today I read a quote by John Wesley that reminds me of the futility of that kind of reasoning. He writes, “Permit me to add a few plain words to you likewise who overvalue reason. … Let reason do all that reason can; employ it as far as it will go. But, at the same time, acknowledge it is utterly incapable of giving either faith, hope or love, and, consequently of producing either real virtue or substantial happiness. Expect these from a higher source, even from the Father of the spirits of all flesh. Seek and receive them, not as your own acquisition, but as the gift of God.”
His writing reminds me of 1 Corinthians 1:21-25, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser that human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” I also thought of Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
Mankind’s most impressive minds and thought processes will not lead them to faith in God, sacrificial love for their fellow man, or hope for the future. These are all gifts from God and cannot be found through reason or logic alone.