After wandering around without a (Bible reading) plan for several months, I finally decided I had to do something and began to read in Matthew, intending to read through all the gospels by Easter. With lots of travel, that idea has been blown out of the water but I am back in Matthew and trying to journal daily. I could not exactly remember how far I had read up to in Matthew but the sermon on the mount seemed about the right place. A most challenging place to begin and the following passage out of the ESV is one of the most difficult for me to understand.
Matt. 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
Matt. 5:39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matt. 5:40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Matt. 5:41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Matt. 5:42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Where to go for some help on understanding this incredible sermon by Jesus. I turned back to Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, published in 1993. Here is what Dallas says what we are to do when we are trying to decide what kind of action to take when faced with those who may be tormenting us,
We will decide, as best we know how, on the basis of love for all involved and with a readiness to sacrifice what we simply want. And in every situation we have the larger view. We are not passive, but we act always with clear-eyed and resolute love.
We know what is really happening, seeing it from the point of view of eternity. And we know that we will be taken are of, no matter what. We can be vulnerable because we are, in the end, simply invulnerable. And once we have broken the power of anger and desire over our lives, we know that the way of Christ in response to personal injury and imposition is always the easier way. It is the only way that allows us to move serenely in the midst of harm and beyond it.
Lest anyone think that Dallas or Jesus is suggesting that we tolerate abuse (sexual, emotional, verbal), that is not what they are saying here. As Willard says, “We must always be alert for acceptable ways of removing ourselves from the situation. In the case of abuse of any kind, one should begin by involving others, and especially appointed authorities.” As people who live in the love and under the rule of the King of heaven, we are able to respond in unexpected ways to personal injury and to requests for help. We have embraced and continue to experience the self-giving love of our Savior. These are not words of law that we blindly obey or burden others with. Again to quote Willard, “Of course, in each case I must determine if the gift of my vulnerability, goods, time and strength is, precisely appropriate. That is my responsibility before God. As a child of the King, I always live in his presence.”
As I read these words from Dallas Willard and from Jesus, I realize how much self yet dominates me–selfishness, holding onto my things, my time, my rights. Yet I am grateful that the solution is not law but an abiding relationship in his love. Here is perhaps the most profound and liberating statement from Willard in this section of his book, “He calls us to him to impart himself to us. He does not call us to do what he did, but to be as he was, permeated with love. Then the doing of what he did and said becomes the natural expression of who we are in him.” I am reminded of Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free.”
I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about learning what it means to live locally. This followed after I began to read Zack Eswine’s book, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being. Eswine writes, that we are “merely human and only local.” We forget that only “Jesus is human, but not merely. Jesus is local, but not only” What then are the implications for me (us) if we admit that we are merely human?
This requires a choice. To be merely human means, in contrast to Jesus, that we are not God. Most, if not all of us know this theologically but many of us resist this practically. To be human means that we accept that we have limits. It means we cannot do it all, we cannot know it all and we cannot be everywhere. Eswine’s writing should liberate us, “Being human does not mar greatness; it informs it and sets its noble boundaries.” 351
Sadly for ourselves and for those we live with and minister to, our refusal to accept and live within these limits only creates insurmountable problems, “Trying to be an exception to the human race encourages arrogance among most of us and burnout among many of us.” 246 We have bought into the serpent’s lie in the Garden, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Our grasp for attributes that only belong to God gets us into trouble and in the end prevents us from loving others. Again Eswine nails it, “As ministry leaders we endeavor to give of our lives in such a way that every neighbor we minister to will know that we are not God. The Serpent’s invitation to celebrity, immediate gratification, and using people to advance ourselves as if we are God poisons the air.” 652
We can only be at one place at one time. “We will resist and want to act like we are omnipresent. But he will patiently teach us that as human beings we cannot be, and this admission will glorify God. Others will likewise resist Jesus and want you to be omnipresent. They will use his name to praise or critique you accordingly, but they too will have to learn that only Jesus can be with them wherever they are at all times. This fact is actually good news for them and for us.” 766
We cannot do everything that needs to be done. “Jesus will teach us to live with the things that we can neither control nor fix. We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try. Others will also resist Jesus. Using his name, they will praise or critique us according to their desire that we fix everything for them and that we do it immediately. But they will have to learn too that only Jesus can fix everything and that there are some things Jesus leaves unfixed for his glory.” 771
We are unable to know everyone or everything. “Jesus will teach us to live with ignorance, our own and others’. In other words, we are not omniscient. Jesus will require us to stop pretending that we are. Others will resist Jesus and in his name praise us or critique us on the basis of their estimation of what we should know. They will have to learn that only Jesus knows everything they need; his invitation to faith and to trust in his knowing is a good one.” 777
In what way are you most tempted? Thinking you can do it all? Thinking you can know it all? Thinking you can be everywhere? Eswine asks us, “What do you feel you will lose if you stop pretending in these ways and entrust yourself to Jesus?” 782
David Benner in his book, Soulful Spirituality, identifies Hildegard von Bingen as one who described herself as a “feather on the breath of God.” I like that.
We are creatures made for both the earth and for heaven and so Benner writes, “Authentic spirituality leaves room for mystery and thus helps us preserve the lightness of being that is our heritage as creatures of dust and breath.”
After reading this section, I thought of the following passages that might be used to support these ideas. Other suggestions?
Abigail explains why David should not kill her fool of a husband, Nabal. “If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the LORD your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling.” (1 Samuel 25:29 ESV)
Jesus with Nicodemus. “Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:5–8 NIV)
One of my favorite passages of the NT from Paul “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV)
Jacob wrestling with God. “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”” (Genesis 32:24–28 ESV)
Paul in Athens “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:23–28 ESV)
NOTE: Following is an update on a previous post.
Does holiness provide refuge or bring condemnation? Gary Thomas in The Beautiful Fight says, “A holy man or woman is a spiritual force, a “God oasis,” in a world that needs spiritually strong people.”
The world needs holy men and women because it needs people transformed by God.
Isaiah 32:2 says, “Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.” Thomas writes the following:
A holy man or woman is a spiritual force, a “God oasis,” in a world that needs spiritually strong people. When the winds of turmoil hit, such people become shelters; their faith provides a covering for all. By their words and actions, by the ways they listen and use their eyes to love instead of lust, to honor instead of hate, to build up instead of tear down, holy women and men are like streams of water in the desert, affirming what God values most. When the heat of temptation threatens to tear this world apart, godly men and women become like the shadow of a great rock. These God oases carry Christ to the hurting, to the ignorant, to those in need. They will be sought out–and they will have something to say. 48
and all that it contains
and all who live in it (Psalm 24:1 NET)
If I really believed this verse, then like Mother Teresa, I would say, “I do not refuse him anything.” For Teresa, there could be no slight refusal to do his will. She was captivated and controlled by the words of Jesus, “Not my will but your will be done.” She would write,
Why must we give ourselves fully to God? Because God has given Himself to us. If God who owes nothing to us is ready to impart to us no less than Himself, shall we answer with just a fraction of ourselves? To give ourselves fully to God is a means of receiving God Himself. I for God and God for me. I live for God and give up my own self, and in this way induce God to live for me.
I disagree that I have to induce God to live for me but her other words are powerful in the above quote. In words foreign to most of us, she would write, “to possess God we must allow Him to possess our soul.” Indeed her life’s labors in the streets of Calcutta would demonstrate that God fully possessed her.
How could she do this? Brian Kolodiejchuk, co-author together with Mother Teresa in Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light wrote,
Only this certainty that she was loved unconditionally could have given her enough confidence to abandon herself to God so completely and without reserve.
It was in giving Jesus whatever He asked that she found her deepest and lasting joy; in giving Him joy she found her own joy.
What is even more impressive about Teresa’s giving of all to God was the absence of any personal consolations from God for most of her life. More about this to follow as I move my way through the book. Clearly, for Teresa, it was not about her, not about feeling good or fulfilled. I have a lot to learn from this beloved saint.
It is no coincidence I am sure that my other passage I read yesterday was in 1 Cor 9:15-23 where Paul concludes in v19, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”
Can’t sleep (having that coffee at 4 pm might have something to do with it) so why not get up and blog. I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s amazing book Outliers, in which he tries to analyze exactly what it is that makes some people successful and others not.Tonight, I finished reading the chapter called, “The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 2.” In it, he followed the story of two geniuses, Robert Oppenheimer and Chris Langan–one most people (that have studied science) are familiar with and the other a relative unknown. What struck me is what he said about Chris Langan, someone possessing what some would say is the greatest mental ability of anyone alive today. Why had Langan lived in relative obscurity and been unable to “make it” in academia? Listen to what Gladwell says,
Every experience he had outside his own mind had ended in frustration. He knew he needed to do a better job of navigating the world, but he didn’t know how. . . These were things that others, with lesser minds, could master easily. But that’s because those others had had help along the way, and Chris Langan never had. It wasn’t an excuse. It was a fact. He’d had to make his way alone, and no one–not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses–ever makes it alone. (bold italics not in original quote)
Following the death of one of the monks, Merton reflects on aging and memories of his youth. From A Year with Thomas Merton
If I were wiser, I would not mind, but I am not so sure I am wiser. I have been through more, I have endured a lot of things, perhaps fruitlessly. I do not entirely think that–but it is possible. What shakes me is that–I wish I were that rugby player, vain, vigorous, etc., and could start over again! And yet how absurd. What would I ever do?
Seems like I had a conversation about this earlier in the week. People sometimes assume a level of expertise or maturity or wisdom of us when we get older that may not be necessarily true. Lord, let me embrace both who I am and who I am not and be content with that.
I love these words from Thomas Merton about his simple focus
I give myself completely to God. He draws me more and more to that. I cannot know what lies ahead of me, for us, but more and more I realize God wants me to put myself in His hands, and let Him take me through the things that are to come, and I must learn to trust Him without fear, or questions, or hesitations, or withdrawal.
From Dec 12 in A Year with Thomas Merton
A few years ago, during a retreat, I began weeping when I shared a dream about my early family. The ladies in the group thought it was great! I am not so sure about that. But, since then, there have been times when I have longed for the gift of tears, to pour out my heart and my pain to God–but nothing came, unfortunately! The mystics talk about the first stage of mysticism as being the purgative way. This is when we realize our human failure and deficiency or see our sinful condition before God. As Jerry Root says, “To define oneself before the holiness of God leads to repentance, confession and tears.”
Well, I have been reading Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle and in her section on the sixth mansion she writes about the times when the fire of God within her leads to tears that are soothing and gentle rather than stormy and rarely do any harm. But then she writes:
Let us not fancy that if we cry a great deal we have done all that is needed–rather we must work hard and practse the virtures; that is the essential–leaving tears to fall when God sends them, without trying to force ourselves to shed them. Then, if we do not take too much notice of them, they will leave the parched sould of our souls well watered, making it fertile in good frueit; for this is the water which falls from heaven. However, we may tire ourselves in digging to reach it, we shall never get any water like this; indeed, we may often work and search until we are exhausted without finding as much as a pool, much less a springing well!
Therefore, . . . I think it best for us to place ourselves in the presence of God, contemplate His mercy and grandeur and our own vileness and leave Him to give us what He will, whether water or drought, for He knows what is good for us; thus we enjoy peace and the devil will have less chance to deceive us. Sixth Mansion; Chapter VI:9
I find this helpful and freeing and hope it can help me be less frustrated when the tears do not come.
I get tired just thinking about the last two weeks of activity. God has obviously been at work today because there is no way I have enough energy to sustain the pace of events. I am looking forward to recouping some energy over the weekend and reflecting on a number of events that have happened in the last two weeks. A friend lent me The Shack on Wed and I read a third of the book that first night. Have not had much time since for reading but in the few minutes I caught today, I continue to be impressed with the message of the book. I hope to finish it tomorrow if there are no unexpected visitors and make some posts about it. Something is happening to me as I read it that I think I like. More later.
I am about halfway through “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen E Ambrose, a book about the Lewis and Clark expedition in the U.S. in the early 1800s. Lewis was a young guy but he enjoyed himself immensely as he made his way across the western United States on an exploration to the Pacific Ocean. Ambrose has a great description of Lewis, one that would be worthy of any follower of Christ.
“Lewis had come to a point that he had longed for, worked for, dreamed of all his life.
He was ready, intensely alive. Every nerve ending was sensitive to the slightest change, whether what the eye saw or the skin felt or the ears heard or the tongue tasted or the fingers touched. He had an endearing sense of wonder and awe at the marvels of nature that made him the nearly perfect man to be the first to describe the glories of the American West.” 216
Would someone describe me as being “ready and intensely alive” ? If not, why not? What is the alternative? Sometimes, I want to make an excuse since I live in a mega-city like Manila but is it not also a place of wonder and awe? This is where God has put me, for now anyway. Why would I want to live any other way when I can live every day, treasuring each moment and every encounter, treasuring the world and people around me.
Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent–what our pastor said was that Advent helps us to focus on waiting, waiting not for the Lord Jesus’ birth but His second coming. Advent is the beginning of the year for the believer! Since we have not practiced the advent tradition much in our church, this makes me want to learn more about advent. We did some advent calendars with the kids when they were grown up, but it was more for the kids than for me. I don’t think I really understood. I have been using A Guide to Prayer and not surprisingly, it starts with the first Sunday of Advent. Actually, I began yesterday, a new reading guide, called Ancient Christian Devotional, edited by Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby. Each week, there is an OT reading, a Psalm, a NT reading and a gospel reading. Following these readings, various comments from the church fathers about the passages are given. Quite interesting. So far, I have liked the prayers most of all. The closing prayer this week was from Augustine.
O you who are everywhere present, filling yet transcending all things; ever acting, ever at rest; you who teach the hearts of the faithful without noise of words: teach us, we pray you, through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen.
Ruth Barton from The Transforming Center sent out a nice piece on Advent. Here is one paragraph. Follow the link to her website and complete article. If any of you see other links or articles on Advent, let me know. Thanks
Advent, in particular, is a season that teaches us to do something that is very hard for us to do: wait. It teaches us how to wait for the Advent or arrival of Christ into our world, not just way back then in Biblical times, but now–in those places where we long for his presence and need his intervention.
For some time, I have wanted to read Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence. Pulled it off the shelf a few weeks ago and have been reading it. Surprisingly, it is not as easy a read as I thought it would be. He goes into the physiology of emotions and with a biology background, I did find that interesting. Perhaps in his second book, he gets a little more practical. But, when he began to describe what happens in the emotion of anger, I had to do a post on it. This helps me to understand why it is such a great temptation for me to hold onto my anger and not forgive someone! Anger is one way we men to to deal with depression–we try to get control of our circumstances and that usually involves anger.
Anger is the mood people are worst at controlling. Indeed, anger is the most seductive of the negative emotions; the self-righteous inner monologue that propels it along fills the mind with the most convincing arguments for venting rage. Unlike sadness, anger is energizing, even exhilarating. Anger’s seductive, persuasive power may in itself explain why some views about it are so common: that anger is uncontrollable, or that, at any rate, it should not be controlled, and that venting anger in “catharsis” is all to the good.
Gen 1:3-5 God creates the light. Allen Ross in his commentary, Creation and Blessing writes the following:
It is natural light, physical light, but it is much more. The Bible show again and again that light and darkness signify mutually exclusive realms, especially in spiritual matters of good and evil. . . Light represents that which is holy, pure, true, life-giving, and gladdening. . . In the act of creating light in the darkened arena of the world, God thus manifested his nature and will.
The idea of the word “good” (tob) is that light is useful, fitting and healthy. That which is good is conducive for and enhances life—so light is good, not the darkness. 108
At the end of the chapter on Respect–the heart of love, van Breeman gathers together some of his thoughts in the following poem. As I read over this again, it sounds like a number of situations in which I have been involved in the last few months.
The other is also wounded.
you have mercy with the inability of both of us.
Therefore, give me the good will
to see the need of the other
and not to nurse my own wounds
like a dark treasure
which occupies my mind continuously.
The other is also wounded.
You see through the reasons
why we did not listen to the signals of our heart.
Prevent me from bargaining for myself
the deeper pain,
the smaller part of the guilt
as profit to which I am not entitled.
The other is also wounded,
and when I seek his presence,
then you, God, are with us both.
I want to begin seeing him,
whom the anger alienated from me so much,
with your eyes.
Lord, restore the shattered confidence
and when I cannot forgive,
then please forgive in me.
I pray for peace
which puts an end to all enmity.
Lord, say to us both:
peace be with you
today and every day
forever and ever.
We have visiting our field a potential new transfer from another Asian field and David and I discovered we shared similar reading interests. We lent each other a number of books and that is why I have been reading The God Who Won’t Let God by Peter van Breeman. I have now read most of the book and he has a number of insights that are helpful to me. His first two chapters on God’s love for us and our response of acceptance are outstanding. It is not surprising that what van Breeman has to say continues the themes about which God has been speaking to me. Here is a section on wounded people.
We are all wounded people. Therefore, we are all a burden to ourselves and to others. Let me repeat: we burden ourselves and we burden those with whom we interact. There is no getting around this. We must simply accept it. We must let ourselves be healed by others, and be open to healing, correction and deeper self-knowledge. We must also accept others without condescension as wounded people, bear with them, and contribute to their healing. 110
Sounds a bit like Henry Nouwen and The Wounded Healer. Accepting my own woundedness and God’s continued love for me in that woundedness is necessary for me to accept others in their woundedness. Van Breeman writes about the necessity for us to drink deeply of God’s love if we are to love others deeply:
There is only one stream of love, which originates from God and flows through us to our neighbor. When the stream reaches our heart, it changes its name. First it is God’s love for us, then it is our love of our neighbor. To put it more succinctly: the love which Jesus demands from us, he himself is already giving us. That is a basic pattern of all life according to the gospel. In many ways the gospel utterly exceeds our capacity, if we strive to live it on our own strength. But the art of living the gospel lies precisely in letting God work in and through us. 114-115
Have finally begun to dip into Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings, a running biography of van Goghs life with color plates of most of his works in the Taschen series, edited by Ingo Walther and Rainer Metzger. Received this for my birthday last May. Only frustrating thing is that the pictures are not in the same chronology as the biography. Certainly his faith influenced his life and paintings. Early quote, “If ever there was a genius against his own will, it was Vincent van Gogh.” 11
Started to read A Taste of Silence by Carl Arico on centering prayer. He is building upon what others have written so nothing really knew here. But he did work closely with …so good to read. Method of Centering Prayer (128 ff) seems standard to others—use of a sacred word, sitting comfortably and quietly for 10-20 minutes, return to your sacred word when thoughts distract, remain in silence at the end of the prayer time for a few minutes. The sacred word is saying yes to the Lord, it is us telling God that we are willing for him to do whatever he wants with us to make us however he wants us to be. It is a symbolic “I do.” “Thoughts are a normal part of centering prayer: they will always be there, you cannot get rid of them. You are not asked to empty your mind or stop thinking.” 134
As I read the chapter on “The Greatest Sin” in Christian Behavior by C.S. Lewis, I was struck by how fresh are his words today. Words in italics and bold print are the ones that hit me the hardest.
Of which no man in the world is free; which everyone one in the world simply loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.
No fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.
How to find out how Proud you are: Ask yourself, How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?
Pride is essentially competitive. . . Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. . . It’s the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride has gone.
Power is what Pride really enjoys.
Pride means enmity—it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God. In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself.
Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object.
It comes directly from Hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly.
For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.
If you really get into any kind of touch with God you will, in fact, be humble—delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got ride of all the silly nonsense about your dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life.
- The humble man won’t be thinking about humility: he won’t be thinking about himself at all.