Posts Tagged ‘Spirituality’

The problem of impatience

September 10, 2013 1 comment

Flemish 17th century

Flemish 17th century on Num 21:4-10

Can anything good come from impatience?  I imagine someone saying, “yes, when you are impatient with mediocrity.” Even if that is true, does not patience still needs to saturate our words and actions since we all know that patience is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22)?

As I reflected this morning about my own habitual cultivation of impatience, I yearn to see patient people distinguishing themselves as counter cultural beacons.

“And the people became impatient on the way” is the phrase from Numbers 21:4 that started my thinking this morning. A few of my own conclusions about impatience.

Why am I impatient?  I am often impatient because I am discontented, ungrateful, proud (thinking my self and my time as more important than others), and because I am not led by the Spirit.

What are the consequences of my impatience The short answer: sin.  Yes, when I am impatient, I sin; I sin against others;  I cause others to sin (when they get impatient with my own impatient–you know how that goes).
How can I avoid impatience? Go slow (driving, walking, eating, talking).  Practice simplicity (see Richard Foster for more on this). Be alert (to the Spirit’s leading, to what is happening around me and within me). Consider others (as more important than myself from Philippians 2).

And finally, how wonderful to mull over, What happens when I am patience? Four words come to mind. Joy. Contentment. Compassion. Humility.

Lord, I do not know if I can pray for patience but I do long that others would see me to be a truly patient man.

Your thoughts on impatience are welcome.

Finding my way out of the desert

June 12, 2011 1 comment

Personal photo of Wilderness in Israel

A better title to this post may be, “learning to live in the desert” since I have no way of knowing if this road leads out of the desert.  I would like to think so but past experience and the history of spirituality offer no promises.

I doubt the value of analyzing why I am currently in the desert but I offer the following: Completion of my dissertation project (Oct 2010)  and subsequent submission of my completed dissertation (end of March 2011).  Two week trip to Israel. Sinful choices. Insufficient exercise.  Lack of sabbath keeping.  Social isolation. Abandonment (neglect may be the better word but abandonment is not far off) of spiritual disciplines.

Symptoms of desert living: depression, fatigue, lack of motivation, loss of joy, not writing in my blog, withdrawal from other people. Eerily similar to symptoms of my burnout back in 2005.

Should others be looking for a way out of the desert or a way to live within the desert, here are a few glimpses of light I have seen in the last few days. A bit early I know to be writing about this but I have to start somewhere.

Radical change of morning habit.  Today was the third day in which, after making my coffee, I sat down in my chair to read RATHER than sitting down at my desk, scanning through emails and briefly checking updates on the web about news, sports and the financial markets.  Amazing how I have been able to find time to read a spiritual book and my Bible which helps a LOT!  Foundational I know and most of you don’t make such a simple error of priority.  So far, so good–now day 4

Plea for mercy.  Psalm for last week–Psalm 51.  As I began reading, the first line jumped off the page for me. Mercy, I desperately need mercy–so that my transgressions, iniquities, and sins may be blotted out, and washed away.  I want to intentionally focus on the prayer, “Lord have mercy” daily–actually on a moment by moment basis.  Plain and simple, I need mercy and I have forgotten that.

As I re-read Psalm 51 today, I see that I also need truth (6), wisdom (6), a willing spirit (12), and a broken and contrite heart (17).  Seems like a plea for mercy is not worth too much if I am not going to be honest.  Accountability. Confession to God and others. Then, Forgiveness.  Joy.  Finally, I may get to teach others (13).

A few other words coming out of  Psalm 84 (Psalm for this week) offer promise

Longing and Desire

Finding my way Home


Remember: No good thing does he withhold

Trust–keep holding on

How to develop a generous spirit

March 27, 2011 2 comments

After hearing a sermon about money this money, I decided to do a re-post from 2007.

I once made the mistake of calling friends frugal when they intentionally  reducing the amount of food they served our group in order to save money.  I think our friends did not understand the cultural value of celebration around a meal and how generosity would have communicated so much love.

Our friends were insulted and thought I was calling them stingy. Thanks to my wife, we managed to work it out. And, perhaps, providing them with a gift of a simple ride to the airport helped as well.

Mark Buchanan’s eloquent words in The Rest of God express my heart,  “Generous people generate things.” He continues on pages 83-84:

And, consequently, their worlds are more varied, surprising, colorful, fruitful.They’re richer. More abounds with them, and yet they have a greater thirst and deeper capacity to take it all in. The world delights the generous but seldom overwhelms them.

Not so the stingy. Stinginess is parasitic, it chews life up and spits out bones. The stingy end up losing what they try so desperately to hold. . . Hoarding is only wasting. Keeping turns into losing. And so the world of the stingy shrinks. . . . Because they are convinced there isn’t enough, there never is.

This all relates to Sabbath-keeping. Generous people have more time. That’s the irony: those who sanctify time and who give time away–who treat time as gift and not possession–have time in abundance. Contrariwise, those who guard every minute, resent every interruption, ration every moment, never have enough. They’re always late, always behind, always scrambling, always driven. . . .

I don’t think my friends were stingy when I called them frugal. It was clearly a cultural misunderstanding. But, I guess in the matter we were discussing, I don’t think they were being generous either. My daughter, a server at a local restaurant, once picked up the bill for three friends who came in to eat a few weeks ago. She paid the full amount and received no discount or complimentary meal for them. She felt like being generous. Why? Well, according to my friend, she said that she had learned it from her dad. Wow, what a compliment!   By the way, she did get the biggest tip of her young career from the friends!

Buchanan says, “The taproot of generosity is spiritual”, and cites the example of the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8:5. He makes the following suggestion:

Give yourself first to God. Stop, now, and give yourself–your breath, your health or sickness, your thoughts, your intents, all of who you are–to him. And your time, that too. Acknowledge that every moment you receive is God’s sheer gift. Resolve never to turn it into possession. What you receive as gift you must be willing to impart as gift. Invite God to direct your paths, to lead you in the way everlasting; be open to holy interruption, divine appointment, Spirit ambush (and ask God to know the difference). Many are the plans in a man’s heart,” Proverbs says, “but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21). Surrender to his purpose with gladness. Vow not to resist or resent it.

Give yourself first to God.

Now the hard thing: give yourself to others. Enter this day with a deep resolve to actually spend time, even at times seemingly to squander it, for the sake of purposes beyond your own–indeed that occasionally subvert your own (remember the good Samaritan?). That person you think is a such a bore but who always wants to talk with you: Why not really listen to him? Why not give him, not just your time, but yourself–your attention, your affection, the gift of your curiosity and inquisitiveness?

In God’s economy, to redeem time, you might just have to waste some.

Try this for a week, giving of yourself first to God and then to others. Be generous with time.

See if your world isn’t larger by this time next week.

May I practice generosity this week! I need to begin by letting go of . . . and giving . . .

Do you want a life of growth or a life of ease?

March 26, 2011 Leave a comment

“Pure joy is found in a life of growth, not in a life of ease,” writes Douglas D. Webster in  Finding Spiritual Direction.  Tough words to live by in a world that values comfort above else.

Webster uses a study of the book of James to provide a basis for the essential practices of anyone wanting to provide spiritual direction to others who seek to grow in maturity. He sees spiritual directors as “physicians of the soul” (14), as “parents” (16) and as “farmers who love the land and understand their work.” 171

Webster also talks about prayer, “Prayer sustains the resistance of the soul against an undertow of evil . . . Prayer does not tidy up life and arrange it in labeled folders. It focuses and intensifies life. Prayer orients our thinking, directs our actions and prepares us for God’s work.” 40

So, here is the question:  When given an option, do you choose a life of growth or a life of ease?  If you choose a life of growth, you should also understand that growth usually requires that we move through resistance as we encounter suffering and hardship. At the end of growth lies joy as Webster says above.

Still undecided?  Check out this article on what it is like to live a life of ease in Dubai


Can I accept that I am a work in progress?

March 23, 2011 1 comment

NOTE: Following is an update on a previous post.

Instead of being impatient with your progress, perhaps it is better to be grateful that you are still moving forward.  From Teillhard de Chardin:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are, quite naturally,

Impatient in everything to reach the end without delay…

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown,

something new. And yet, i is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through some stages of instability…

and that it may take a very long time


And so I think it is with you.

Your ideas mature gradually;

Let them grow, let them shape themselves,

without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on,

as though you could be today what time

(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own goodwill)

will make you tomorrow.


Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming

within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of your

believing that his hand is leading you, and of your

accepting the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and


Qualifications for Spiritual Directors

March 22, 2011 Leave a comment

According to Susan Muto, spiritual directors should be wise, learned and experienced:

“They are wise in the sense that they are prudent, saying the right thing at the right time. They can discern what is important and eternal and what is temporary and does not matter. A good spiritual director has learned the art of reading the soul They are considered to be learned not because of their academic achievements but because learned from the school of life and they have absorbed the truth of the Scriptures. They have experienced what it means to seek direction for one’s soul and themselves have been directed.” (Muto class lecture)

The qualifications needed to be a good director are qualities that cannot be gained by taking a course on SD or by reading books on the subject. These qualities are formed out of an experience in life over time and under submission to the Spirit of God. It is the “depth of intimacy with God that is more important than knowledge of the subject” (Dynamics 364)

Directees must be able to trust the Director with their soul and know that confidences will be kept. Muto advises that a Director not be a person with authority over the directee (class lecture). The directee should feel the acceptance of the Director, even if all of his or her views are not shared. Directors should be good listeners, not only to the words of the directee but also to the promptings of the Spirit as they prayerfully consider a response to the directee. There should be a genuine respect for how God is at work in life of the directee. A gentleness is required when matters of the spirit are shared and yet there must also be a willingness to be firm in offering up the needed direction (see 1 Cor. 4:21). Directors must be able to speak the truth but in love (Eph 4:32). Paul describes his gentleness among the Thessalonians “like a mother caring for her children” (1 Thes. 2:6). Even though there may be an element of spiritual parenting in SD, directees should be reassured that it is God alone as their heavenly Father who has all the resources that they need.

To be a spiritual director, a person should have some affirmation from their church leaders that they are gifted in this way.

Beware of hearing voices

October 9, 2010 Leave a comment

When we go beyond the Scriptures to hear God, we face significant dangers.

“Supernatural knowledge that reaches the intellect by the exterior bodily senses” must not be relied upon says St. John of the Cross. Why says John? Because we can be easily deceived by counterfeits from the devil.

“Individuals who esteem these apprehensions are in serious error and extreme danger of being deceived.” (AMC 2:11:3) He says false visions and communications from the devil “cause in the spirit agitation, or dryness, or vanity, or presumption.”

On the other hand, communications from God, “penetrate the soul, move the will to love, and leave their effect within. As Muto says, God’s self-communications …penetrate the soul like fragrant oil softens dry, cracked skin.” (58)

In our longing for these sensory communications we are vulnerable. We must detach ourselves from desires for these special communication. As Muto says, “If good, their effects will show up anyway; if bad, they will be eliminated from the start.”(60)

A good reminder to not seek out special experiences with God or from God. I do need to spend time listening rather than always talking but when I start hearing voices, it is time to be on the alert!

Purity of Heart

September 17, 2010 Leave a comment

According to Soren Kierkegaard, purity of heart is to will one thing–God. He closes his  book, Purity of Heart, with a prayer. Here is part of that prayer:

Unreachable by euroborne

Father in Heaven! What is a man without Thee!
What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be,
but a chipped fragment if he does not know Thee!
What is all his striving, could it even encompass the world,
but a half-finished work if he does not know Thee:

Thee the One, who art one thing and who art all!
So may Thou give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing;
to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding;
to the will, purity that wills only one thing.

In prosperity may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing;
amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing;
in suffering, patience to will one thing .
Oh, Thou that giveth both the beginning and the completion,
may Thou early, at the dawn of the day,
give to the young man the resolution to will one thing.
As the day wanes, may
Thou give give to the old man a renewed remembrance of his first resolution,
that the first may be like the last,
the last like the first in possession of a life that has willed only one thing.

God is eager to bless

March 10, 2010 1 comment

Lars Klotrrup Picture

You might expect the above statement to come from a health and wealth proponent but it comes from a man who is soon to die; who has lived with severe chronic pain and cancer the last few years.  Following are excerpts from an interview Timothy Dalrymple had with William Stuntz. One of the most compelling pieces I have ever read.  Thanks to my dear wife. Headings are mine but the rest is excerpted from an interview with Stuntz.

God is eager to bless

My experience of cancer especially is that God is just so eager to bless.  I find blessing all over the place, not in the cancer itself but all around it.  It would almost be easier to answer what blessings I have not found.

Since my cancer diagnosis, I have experienced more friendship from more people than at any other time in my life.  I’ve experienced not just a quality of medical care but a kind of medical care, humane medical care delivered by humane and decent people, that seems Christ-like to me.  I don’t know the religious convictions of all the people who have treated me, but I certainly believe that they are used by God in ways that are really quite extraordinary to bring blessing to people who are in circumstances that lead them to hunger for blessing.  I do hunger for blessing in the midst of these medical conditions, but I regularly find that hunger satisfied.

Life has become more concrete

Chronic pain and cancer both make life more concrete.  In times of good health, when our bodies are doing everything we want and expect them to do, there is a tendency to think of spiritual life as something that is anything but concrete.  That’s not possible, I find, in my present circumstances.  My medical conditions, independently and together, are inescapable.  Perhaps that’s the key feature.  They are there all the time.  There is no time when I am not aware of them.  I hurt all the time.  I’m exhausted all the time.  There is no escaping either of those states of affairs.  I simply never feel like I used to feel virtually all the time.

I am more than but not less than a cancer patient

I want to be more than a cancer patient and chronic pain patient.  But I cannot be less than a cancer patient and a chronic pain patient.  Those are large parts of my life.  They are part of who I am.  Although I would love to have my pain and my cancer removed tomorrow, that would not be an easy thing.  I would have to learn how to be somebody else.

NOT Believing in the God of Disappointment

What I am displeased with is my own living of life.  I feel an acute sense that I ought to have done better with the circumstances I was given.  This is one of the reasons why it cut me so deeply when people suggested that suffering is God’s discipline — because I find it so very, very easy to believe in a God who is profoundly disappointed in me.

It seems utterly natural to believe in the Disappointed God, because I myself am disappointed.  He must be even more disappointed, I think, because his standards are so much higher than mine.  How could he not be disappointed?  That makes complete sense to me.

It’s the other God, the God who does not experience that kind of disappointment, the God who sees me the way that Prodigal Son’s father saw him — that is the harder God for me to believe in.  It takes work for me to believe in that God.

God longing for me is unspeakably sweet

“You will call and I will answer.  You will long for the creature your hands have made” (Job 14:15).

I find those lines very powerful.  The concept that God longs for the likes of me is so unspeakably sweet.  I almost cannot bear to say them aloud.  They are achingly sweet for me to hear.

There are many passages I love, but that one in particular has grabbed hold of me.  Job’s hope, it turns out, is more realistic than his despair.

The Way of a Pilgrim

February 14, 2010 2 comments

Just finished The Way of a Pilgrim this week.  Published in Russia in 1881 and in English in the 1930s.  It is the story of a wandering Russian pilgrim (strannik) who learns to pray The Jesus Prayer.  It is one of the classics of Eastern Orthodox spirituality and most widely read book on Russian spirituality (according to the introduction of the book I read!).

Here is the Jesus prayer the pilgrim is taught by a spiritual director (starets), “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” As he breathes, he is to repeat this prayer frequently. If he does this, the prayer exercise “will open the doors” to his heart.

At first, he is told to pray the prayer 3000 times a day.  “Whether you are standing, sitting, walking, or lying down, continue to repeat: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’ Do not be loud or rush the prayer. He then increases the prayer to 6000 times a day which he does in the solitude of his hut for one week. The pilgrim writes, “I became so accustomed to the prayer that when I stopped praying, even for a brief time, I felt as though something were missing, as if I had lost something.  When I began to pray again, I was immediately filed with an inner lightness and joy.”

After a week, he is instructed to pray the prayer 12,000 times a day.  After some struggles, the pilgrim one day was almost awakened by the prayer.  He wrote, “As soon as I began to repeat it, I was filled with such lightness and joy that it felt as if my tongue and mouth spoke the words of their own accord, without any effort on my part.  I spent the entire day wrapped up in such joy and somehow detached from everything else—almost as if I were on another planet.”  When he meets his spiritual director, he is told to repeat the prayer “as much as you desire and as frequently as possible.” He is to give every “waking moment to prayer”, “not counting the number of repetitions” but calling on the name of Jesus and submitting himself humbly to the “will of God and awaiting his help.”

The rest of the book is about the joy he experiences in his travels across Russia. He begins to read the Philokalia as he travels. At one point, he explaind to someone else how to pray the Jesus prayer.  “Eventually, when you get used to it, you can begin to repeat the full Jesus prayer in your heart in time with a steady rhythm of inhaling and exhaling as the Fathers taught.  As you inhale, you visualize your heart and say, “Lord Jesus Christ.” As you exhale, you say, “have mercy on me.” Do this as much and as often as you can, and you soon you will experience a delicate but pleasant soreness in your heart, which will soon be followed by warmth and a warming tenderness.”

Next book up: The Philokalia, a book about interior prayer by 25 Eastern Orthodox church fathers.

Facebook and Faith

January 28, 2010 Leave a comment

What would you say to Brett Favre?

January 17, 2010 Leave a comment

What would a Christian response be to Brett Favre?  An article today quotes him with regard to his feelings of doubt and insecurity.  For those non-American-football fans, Favre is a 40 year old star quarterback who has come back with great success after retiring.  Talking about his self-doubts, Favre says:

“I think it’s human nature,” he said. “For me, I know it’s always been a source of drive or a sense of always needing to prove myself, not ever being satisfied. I think it’s OK to be confident. I don’t think it’s OK to be overconfident. Doubt to me at times is a good thing. It makes you work harder. You never get complacent.

I have had a few conversations this week about doubt and insecurity and am often confronted with my own.  I suspect that most of us have doubts and insecurities and about some very significant issues but not too many are willing to admit it as did Favre.  Not that he is asking but as a Christian, what would you say to Brett?

Knowing God

January 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Just read an article in which “knowing God” was stated to be more important to the Eastern religions of Buddhism and Hinduism versus the importance of “knowing about God” of to Christianity.  While I beg to disagree, there does seem to be some element of truth when you look at the experience of many Christians (and yes, I am including myself here).  According to Gary Moon, the reason why there is so little distinction between Christians and non-Christians is because Christians (and I would add especially evangelicals) tend to focus on salvation as judicial pardon from sin instead of intimate “knowing” of God.

BUT John 17:3 says, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  According to Moon, we enter into eternal life by “knowing” God, a knowing which he would describe a “deeply intimate, interactive, and transforming friendship built upon abiding, living in the other.” Apprenticeship with Jesus, p. 125

Moon gives a great quote at the beginning of chapter 14 in the above book from Dallas Willard,

In the purpose of God’s redemptive work communication advances into communion and communion into union.  When the progression is complete we can truly say, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20) and “For me, living is Christ” (Phil 1:21).

I know the progression is not yet complete in me!  The last few days I have been wrestling with lots of self-doubt and fear and only minutes after spending a lovely time alone with God early this morning reflecting on what it means for me to fear God, I found myself furious over an email that I received in which I felt publicly humiliated (another story).  But, I also know that God is not finished with me!

Moon suggested the following spiritual exercise to help us celebrate salvation as living in intimate union with God:

Spend the next twenty-four hours abiding in God and then resolve to spend as many present moments of the day “with God” as you can. (italics mine)

Helpful Hint: At any point you become aware of yourself thinking about either the past or the future, let those thoughts go and return to being with God in the present moment.  After a few deep breaths, ask him simply, “What should we do together right now?”

Let’s see what happens.

My favorite journal on spiritual formation

January 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Have just renewed my subscription to Conversations, a journal with Larry Crabb, David Benner and Gary Moon as the executive editors and Dallas Willard and Richard Foster as consultants. I read this journal when it comes cover to cover–it is that good.  Actually, my other favorite is Journal of Spiritual Formation and Theology but that is another post since I need to renew it also.

On the conversations website, you can download for free the first couple of issues and a few other articles. Back issues are available for $10 in hard copy or in pdf.  Check it out.

Here is what they say on their website

The purpose of Conversations is to provide spiritual accompaniment and honest dialogue for those who long for radical transformation in Christ. It stimulates hunger and illuminates the path by drawing on classical wisdom and practice, exploring the vital role of community, and illustrating the journey with realism and hope. Conversations is published semi-annually, in the spring and the fall.

Target Audience

The target audience for Conversations is purposefully broad—all thoughtful, seeking followers of Christ who long for a complete transformation of soul and full restoration of His image within. It is the intent of the editors to produce words that will inspire both those who seek help themselves and those who are helping others. The audience is also envisioned as being international, ecumenical, and interdenominational.

A large part of the vision for Conversations is the image of a table where representatives from each of the major tributaries of Christian spirituality can sit and talk openly and honestly about what matters most, authentic transformation into the life and character of Christ.

Piety, spirituality, religion and fanaticism

January 2, 2010 2 comments

After reading an article on Nidal Hasan, I was struck by the question about how  difficult it is many to distinguish between piety and fanaticism.  That got me going on a parallel track.  The author of the above article was actually commenting on an earlier article published in the Washington Post and asked the following:

In other words: when does piety become deadly? The question is not only how do you draw the line, but where? Daily prayer? Making a pilgrimage Mecca? Traveling to Pakistan for terror training?

Further, there is a serious societal danger in misreading piety for fanaticism.

Looking up pious on Wikipedia, I found the following: “While different people may understand its meaning differently, it is generally used to refer either to religious devotion or to spirituality, or often, a combination of both. A common element in most conceptions of piety is humility.”

Spirituality is one of those words that is often used today but seldom understood and has as many definitions as there are writers.  The word “spirituality” is not used in the Bible but there is “spiritual” or pneumatikos (greek).  Pneumatikos is used 21 times in the NT, 20 of these by Paul and 11 of them in 1 Corinthians.  It seems that the opposite of spiritual is unspiritual or fleshly (sarkinos) which is also translated as worldly in the NIV. Spiritual individuals are also contrasted with the immature or nerios in 1 Cor 3:1) Spiritual teaching is contrasted with human wisdom or sophia (1 cor 2:13).  Something is spiritual because of the work of the Holy Spirit (pneuma) and so we have spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:1, 14:1), spiritual people (Gal 6:1)  spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3), spiritual songs (Eph 5:19) , spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col 1:9) and a spiritual house (1 Pet 2:5).  The one exception is in Eph 6:12 in which “the spiritual forces of evil” are referred and there spiritual seems to contrast with the fleshly or bodily forces of evil.  One could also look at Gal 5:22-23 to see what the fruit of the Spirit should be.

Now it gets very interesting when one considers religion or threskeia in the NT which is only used in three passages.  In Col 2:18 threskeia is used to describe the worship of angels.  And what does Paul equate with this religion?  False humility, an unspiritual mind that is “puffed up with  idle notions,” someone who has “lost connection with the Head” (referring to Christ), “based on human commands and teaching,” have an appearance of wisdom, self-imposed worship, false  humility, a “harsh treatment of the body” that “lacks any value in  restraining sensual  indulgence.”  Sounds like fanaticism to me.

When you look at threskeia in James 1:26, 27, we learn that true religion (spirituality?), religion that God accepts as “pure and  faultless”,  means that we can “control our tongue,” that “we take care of  orphans and widows in their distress” and involves keeping ourselves from “being polluted by the world.”  If we don’t do these things, then we are “deceived” and our “religion is worthless.”

I find this to be quite convicting personally and would welcome comments.

Reflections on the Healing of the Blind Man in John 9

December 2, 2009 1 comment

El Greco

Following are a few reflections on John 9 as I thought about it over a few weeks.  Nothing profound here but maybe it will stimulate something in some of you?

One of the first thing I noticed was that this guy is known as “the blind beggar.”  No name is given, he is just the blind guy who sits and begs.  That was his identity, just as I might talk about the “crazy guy” in our neighborhood, the “guy who lives under the bridge”, the “person who always borrows money” or the “needy ones.”  There is a lot of discussion about his identity.  Even his neighbors and friends can’t imagine that the man who now sees is the same person.  “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg? . . No he only looks like him.” (9:8-9) The people seem to be in denial. In verse 9, the man tries to convince them, “I am the same man.”  Well, not really—he is not really the same man since he has been healed but  . . .  So what do I take away from this.  Our history is important but we are not defined or limited by our history.

John 9 by Tissot

Second point: Everyone wants to know the answer to a logical question—“who healed you?”  They want to know what happened.  Well, the man can only say that it was the man “they call Jesus.”  Why is there no mention of rejoicing by the friends and neighbors?  Are they also self-righteous and so take him to the Pharisees (9:9) since this act was done on the Sabbath?  When he responds to the logical, “What happened?” of the Pharisees, they can only say (I imagine with a sneer on their faces), “This man Jesus is not from God” (9:16); he is “a sinner” (9:24) and he is someone without a heritage (9:29).  Again no mention about praising God for the miracle that has just happened.

I can imagine today people saying that someone must not be from God. Not because they worked on the Sabbath but because they drank alcohol, went to the movies, have lots of non-Christian friends, like to dance, is known to sin, don’t read their bible, don’t like to go to church, use bad language, have tattoos . . . etc.

More thoughts from this passage: Christians would never stop going to church, take anti-depressants, see a counselor, be a P type of personality, be democrats, swear, enjoy sex, be competitive, not feel spiritual, not want to attend a prayer meeting, spend too much money, have too much money, make too much money, disagree with church leadership, listen to rock music, read Bibles other than the KJV, wear shorts to church, smoke, chew or go with girls who do, have addictions.

How could “a sinner have done such a thing?  Well, today, we might say, “How could someone do a miracle that

  • Is not one from our church?
  • Has no degree?
  • Is not ordained?
  • Has no qualifications?
  • Is too young?
  • Is inexperienced?


There was a deep division here.  They were looking for any indicators that would prove that God was not in this.  In 9:17, they question the man and ask him his opinion about Jesus? When he says, “a prophet?” they attack his credibility.  Then, they refuse to believe him.  They confuse the facts.  This story does not fit our paradigm.  There must be a logical explanation.  There must be some reason other than God has done a miracle.  They were AFRAID, they feared the implications of the event and were ashamed and embarrassed. They were threatened.

When the parents were grilled by the Pharisees, it seems that they feared the anger of the Pharisees and the corresponding threat of expulsion from the community of faith.  And so, fear seems to have overcome love.

When they interview the man for the second time, the Pharisees say that they want God to get the glory since technically a miracle did happen.   But, they are thinking that there is no way Jesus did this.  Sounds like they are projecting onto Jesus their issues.  They accuse Jesus of taking credit for what only God can do. They attack the person when they call Jesus a sinner.

Most hilarious statement in the passage is in 9:27 when the man asks them, “Do you also want to be his disciple?”  But then the pride breaks out!  “We are the disciples of Moses.”  They try to destroy the credibility of the man of Jesus by calling him a sinner.

Well, the sad truth comes out in 9:41, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty but you remain guilty because you claim to see.”  The roles have been reversed—the Pharisees turn out to be the blind ones and the blind one is the one who is able to see.

Heavenly Adoption

December 1, 2009 Leave a comment

I had written the following on a scrap of paper that I found as we were packing and sorting this week.  I think it came out of our conference in Chaing Mai a few weeks ago?

The question concerns the difference between heavenly adoption and earthly adoption.  When we have human adoption, is there not always some kind of loss?  But in heavenly adoption, rather than a loss, is there not a gain we receive? But for us to receive a heavenly adoption, Jesus had to suffer a grevious loss. And then, the question, “Do our losses here not stimulate a desire for a heavenly adoption?”

Responses welcome

Jesus, if you are willing, you can . . .

November 30, 2009 1 comment

In this first week of advent, we were challenged yesterday to come to Jesus for healing as we looked at Mark 1:40-45 and the story of Jesus healing the leper.  Pastor Steve Ruetschle of Union Church of Manila led us through the passage, pointing to four ways the leper teaches us to approach Jesus.   As soon as they upload the file, you can listen to the sermon if you are interested.

First, bring our brokenness to Jesus.  “He came to him.” Imagine all the rejection the leper had experienced in his life! Lepers were to be avoided and the religious establishment led the way in rejecting them. As Pastor Steve pointed out, often rejection leads us to have a hardened heart?  Yet this leper came to Jesus!  How did he know that Jesus would show compassion on him.  So, the first thing I need to do is to come to Jesus with my brokenness!

Second, the leper provides us with a model for faith.  “If you are willing.”  Unlike so many of us, the leper does not demand Jesus to heal him.  Instead, he recognizes Jesus as Lord when he asks him if he is willing; he recognizes that Jesus is God, not us.  Maybe this is one reason why does Jesus not always heal?

Third, the leper knew who Jesus was.  “You can.” He recognized the power and energy of Jesus; he knew that healing power available in Jesus and was not afraid to ask. As Pastor Steve said, “Do we really believe this?  Do we believe that Jesus has power and authority to heal today?”

Fourth, the leper came as a worshipper of Jesus.  “He begged him on his knees.” As Pastor Steve said, “We often come to worship because of what it does for us,” as opposed to remembering that it is really all about Jesus.

The second part of the sermon focused on the response of Jesus to the leper.  As Pastor Steve said, the fundamental response of Jesus was one of compassion in verse 41.  It is that wonderful greek word, splagchnizomai.  It is used 12 times in the NT (all in the synoptic), 8 of them describing the emotions Jesus felt that moved him into a healing ministry.  The word was also used to describe how the father of the prodigal son felt when he saw him coming home and to describe how the Samaritan felt toward the wounded traveler by the road.  Two things Jesus did.

First, he touched the man.  Apparently in the context of the time of Jesus, this was an inconceivable act.  Perhaps the aversion that many have to touching an AIDS patient would be somewhat similar although it seems the lepers had it far worse than do AIDS patients today.  Mark is very deliberate here, “Jesus stretches out his hand and touches him.  Another interesting verb here, hapto. Hapto is used of Jesus about 30 of the 37 times it is found in the NT.  Jesus touches those who are unclean right and left, touches lepers several times, touched a woman bleeding, touched eyes, touched a tongue, touched an ear, touched a blind man, touched babies and children, touched a dead man and many touched him since, “All who touched him were healed.” (Mtt 14:36)

As Pastor Steve pointed out, Jesus risked his own health, his own reputation, risked being rejected by all because he would also be considered unclean according to the law.  Of course, he touched the man before he was made clean.  The question for us here is, “Do you believe that Jesus fastens (the word Pastor Steve used to translate the touch of Jesus) himself to you before you are clean?”

Second, Jesus restores social community.  By giving the man a stern warning to present himself to the priest, Jesus was seeking to allow the healing to impact the community.  Suggested passage to read is Levit 14.  As Pastor Steve said, “Our healing affects the lives of others in our community.”

Finally, there is a picture here of the gospel according to Pastor Steve.  Instead of the man roaming around in lonely places, the story ends with Jesus staying outside the camp in lonely places.  Jesus became unclean so the man could become clean.  Jesus takes on his rejection, his lonely places so that the man could be free and in community.  The challenge for all of yesterday, for me and perhaps for some of you reading this, “Will you throw yourself on the compassion of Jesus?” And then, to complete the sentence, “Jesus, if you are willing, you can . . .”

May this encourage us all as we begin Advent!  Thanks Pastor Steve!

Signature Sins: Pride

November 23, 2009 1 comment

From Nick Hunter

The first signature sin Michael Mangis talks about is pride–the greatest sin for C.S. Lewis (see Mere Christianity).  Following are an expansion of the various types of pride that Mangis gives–sorry, I didn’t write down the pages on these. On a side note, as I was trying to find some pictures of pride, I discovered to my surprise by the extent that pride has been co-opted by the G-L-B movement.

Pride—refusal to submit to God; antidote–humility.  Wikki gives the following definition from Augustine, “the love of one’s own excellence.”

Outward Pride—arrogant, haughty and snobbish manners, oblivious to others

  1. Vanity—taking credit for, and boasting about that which should actually be credited to God.  An inordinate focus on one’s own image—antidote is modesty
  2. Arrogance—a demanding, overbearing and opinionated form of pride
  3. Snoberty—pride over race, family class etc that artificially creates a sense of superiority; antidote of simplicity
  4. Disobedience-disregard for God’s law-obedience is antidote

Inward Pride—obsesses with others and how they feel about him.  Secret pride

  1. Distrust—rejection of God’s will in favor of one’s own will
  2. Perfectionism—desire to do everything perfectly—grace or brokenness is antidote
  3. Sentimentality—substitutes pious emotion, pomp and beauty for true private reverence and obedience to God.  Antidote is seriousness or simplicity
  4. Presumption—distortion of hope, Placing inordinate and disrespectful reliance on self rather than on God.  Anitidote–contrition

    Pride by Pieter Bruegel

Despair or Depression?

November 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Picture from Linda Keagle

What exactly is the relationship between our spiritual health and our psychological health? Between despair and depression? I think most people would say that they are inter-related—what affects one affects the other.  But, even though they are inter-related, are the fundamental or core problems different? And thus, are the solutions not different?

Gordon Marino suggests in an article in the NY Times, Kierkegaard on the Couch, that today we have become “deaf to the ancient distinction between psychological and spiritual disorders, between depression and despair.”  Are not many happy and yet full of despair.  Quoting Kierkegaard, Marino says, “Happiness is the greatest hiding place for despair.”

If despair is a spiritual problem, then perhaps the solution is also physical? Marino said that despair equaled intensified doubt for K? Quoting, from From K’s Sickness unto death, “A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity.” For K, despair seems to occurs when there is an imbalance in this synthesis. Despair according to Kierkegaard is a lack of awareness of being a self or spirit, says Marino. Perhaps the dark feelings of depression and despair may look similar but come to be due to different causes.

So, if despair is related to a loss of hope or could we say a desperate longing for the transcendent, then a visit to a mental health professional alone will not bring the answer that is needed. A spiritual consultation may be what is needed, along with a visit to a mental health professional and to a medical doctor.  How do we provide care for depression and yet allow people to sense their despair at being disconnected from the Transcendent one?

Gordon Marino at NY Times on Oct 28, 2009


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