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Posts Tagged ‘Spiritual Journey’

I have some thoughts concerning Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt after Jesus was born. Traveling with a newborn certainly wasn’t in their plans. They were just in Bethlehem to register for the census! They probably didn’t even have much with them, because it was going to be a relatively short stay. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream, in the middle of the night, and instructs him to leave Bethlehem immediately (not after daybreak, mind you) and head for Egypt. Talk about dreading late night phone calls! Now the young family was setting off on a long journey that would delay their returning home for several years. Imagine flying to California to sign a few important papers only to be informed that you had to fly to Canada in the middle of the night and then spend several years there. All you had with you was carry on luggage!

God often leads us where we don’t want to go or didn’t plan to go. As humans, our response can range from surprise to irritation to fear to anger. Once again, I am reminded that God is more concerned with my response to events and people rather than what is actually happening. He is building a temple – foundations must be laid, marble chiseled out of the mountain, columns used as supports. He does this by strengthening our character and making us more like his Son. This can only happen as we are obedient to him and malleable in his hands. His promises to walk with us and to never abandon us are our comfort and our joy in the journey, wherever that may lead us.

Holy God, my husband and I are on that journey to Egypt. We don’t know why or where we’re going, but we know it’s an uncharted path for us. Remind me that you are more concerned with my responses each day to events and people rather than my navigation techniques. Just as you didn’t tell Joseph everything that lay ahead for his little family, you have not revealed your plans for us. All you ask is for us to look to you for guidance, direction and strength for each day.

Joseph left his job, tools, resources in Nazareth, not thinking he would need them for the short trip to Bethlehem and back. There was no time to return to Nazareth and collect his tools before heading to Egypt. He had to trust you to provide for the daily food and shelter and clothing. He didn’t have a job waiting for him in Egypt. He would have to find work when he arrived. Lord, this is so applicable to our present situation. Thank you for revealing these promises to me and reassuring me of your presence in every situation.

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I appreciate the honesty of one of my favorite bloggers – Abbot Joseph. Today’s reflection – Where You Do Not Wish to Go – spoke directly to my situation and perhaps it will touch you also. Here are some excerpts (to read the full article, go to Word Incarnate)

One of the things that characterizes the life of one who would follow Jesus … is that by agreeing to be a disciple of Christ, we are agreeing to be led where we do not wish to go (v. 18). This doesn’t mean that we do not wish to follow Jesus or that we do not wish to go to Heaven as a consequence. But it means that discipleship is costly, and the demands are such that we would not choose for ourselves the hardships and sacrifices that the Gospel requires. The immediate context in John makes it clear that Jesus was referring to St Peter’s martyrdom, but the whole of Christian life is a witness (Greek martys) to Christ and retains something of that character.

“Can you drink the cup that I must drink?” (Mark 10:38).

Why does Jesus say all that stuff about drinking cups of suffering and having to go where we don’t want to go and denying ourselves and taking up our crosses and losing our lives for his sake? Probably because if we don’t do all that we will end up as self-centered, navel-gazing, spineless, complacent, arrogant, obnoxious, hard-hearted schmucks, and we’ll probably forfeit the Kingdom to boot. It’s just that we spontaneously shrink from hearing the summons to suffering and the call to the Cross. Nobody wants to go where they don’t want to go; nobody wants to drink what they don’t want to drink. But the Lord says that this is how it is going to be.

In order to wean us away from the tantalizing tinsel of this world, the Lord needs to set us upon the demanding yet invigorating and enlightening path of service, self-sacrifice, and genuine love. The cup He offers may seem bitter, but that’s only because we’ve become addicted to cokes and kool-aid. We need to acquire a taste for something a little more demanding. We may not wish to go where He calls us to go, but that’s only because we’ve become spiritual couch-potatoes who would rather not venture to climb Mt Everest, even if it promises to be the most exhilarating experience of our lives.

We have to overcome that resistance which is an inheritance of original sin and be persuaded that the Kingdom of Heaven is worth whatever it takes to enter there.

But I’d rather that the Lord give me a hard word than that He simply ignore me, leaving me to my own deficient devices. I’d rather be led to the Cross than left out of the Kingdom.

These are appropriate words for me. This is where I am. This is where I’ve been. This is where I’m going. I am being led where I wouldn’t have, on my own volition, chosen to go. This is not the comfortable path that I was traveling. I have been launched out into an unknown country with uncertain developments. I don’t even know at this point how we are going to pay our “daily bills”. But all praise be to God, he loves us enough to keep us from our self-centeredness. There is no growth when we are self-sufficient. The muscles of faith cannot be strengthened without exercise and stretching. We can look back at times in our lives when life was difficult and uncertain and be grateful for God’s leading and blessings. We say, “I wouldn’t trade those times for anything in the world!” And yet we hesitate the next time the slats are pulled out beneath our feet – so great is our desire for predictability and security.

For those of us who have been or are currently parents of small children, recall those times when your child was upset, rebellious or out of control. What did you say to them? “Look at me…” You wanted to change their perspective and give them assurance. They needed to look into your eyes in order to benefit from your strength and protection.

Lord, keep my eyes on you and my ears attentive to your words of comfort and direction!

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Prayer Warriors

Luke 9:29-31 – “As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.”

Here we have the Transfiguration passage. This miraculous event has been the topic of many sermons with an emphasis on God the Father’s endorsement of his Son and what was about to happen. Not much has been noted about the presence of Moses and Elijah in many sermons, other than the fact that Moses represents the Law and Elijah the Prophets of the Old Testament. This is indeed significant in light of Jesus’ words as recorded in the gospel of Matthew.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matthew 5:17-18).

Christ’s life, death and resurrection are the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament. It is fitting that Moses and Elijah should appear right before these events take place. But let’s step back from the theological implications and observe a few other things. The Son of God was facing the culmination of his mission on earth – the restoration of mankind’s relationship to God. He knew the pain and suffering that waited for him in Jerusalem. Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he would pour out his heart to his heavenly Father, asking that this bitter cup be taken from him. Christ wasn’t the only one who knew about this impending atonement. Moses and Elijah certainly knew and understood what Christ was facing. What an act of love from the Father to send these two holy men to his Son to speak with him, encourage him, and pray for him. Jesus would have known these men and loved them.

This passage also gives us some insight into the universal church – those saints in heaven and those living here on earth. The concept of believers who have died having a ministry of intercession for those of us here below was unquestioned before the Reformation. Somehow, this connection with the saints above has fallen by the wayside in the last 500 years. Undoubtedly, corruption in the Church led many to throw away the baby with the bath water. As a result, we Protestants have little understanding or appreciation for the ministry these believers can have in our lives.

Next time you start asking friends to pray for you, stop and consider those who are close to the throne of God and request their prayers for you too. What a prayer team!

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We have always had a love-hate relationship with the honey bee. Honey is a delight to our taste buds, but getting stung by the producer of this sweet liquid can be a traumatic event. For most of us, our knowledge about this insect revolves around the bees gathering pollen to make the honey for their hives, and we’ve learned how to harvest that honey over the centuries. For centuries, monasteries engaged in beekeeping in order to utilize the beeswax for the many candles they needed and the honey for food preparation and medicinal purposes.

Recently, there was a documentary on PBS that examined a troubling trend around the globe.

In the winter of 2006, a strange phenomenon fell upon honeybee hives across the country. Without a trace, millions of bees vanished from their hives. A precious pollinator of fruits and vegetables, the disappearing bees left billions of dollars of crops at risk and threatened our food supply. The epidemic set researchers scrambling to discover why honeybees were dying in record numbers — and to stop the epidemic in its tracks before it spread further. – PBS, Silence of the Bees

Most of us would be saddened upon hearing this, thinking that we might have to give up one of our favorite culinary delights. But the impact of this global extermination goes far beyond what we put on our toast in the morning. The agriculture of the entire world depends on this tiny insect. No pollinators – no plants – no food – worldwide famine. If you thought our planet was fragile before, well, the ice just got a little thinner.

I can’t help but be (no pun intended) amazed that God would create such a small creature that would have such an enormous impact on all of creation. For the most part, we go about our lives completely oblivious as to the role of the honey bee’s contribution to our “daily bread”. Such unawareness of the delicate balance in God’s creation is a reminder to me that He often uses the very small, the very weak, and the seemingly insignificant to have a tremendous impact in His kingdom. We are easily impressed with the strong, the verbally gifted, the over achiever, the highly intelligent. We may feel we don’t have much to contribute and that no one sees our efforts to reach out, to love, to show kindness to others. In God’s kingdom, no one is insignificant and even the smallest gesture or word can have eternal consequences in the lives of others.

The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. (Matthew 13:31,32)

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Off the Leash

We have never had a dog like this. Mason is a Golden Retriever who doesn’t like to go for walks. I truly think he has agoraphobia. He is afraid of every leaf that falls, every person that walks by, any gust of wind. But, because his desire to be with my husband and me is greater than any of his fears, he will go with us. As we walk the neighborhood, you can sense that he is eagerly looking for the way back home – “is it this house?…is it this house?”. We could take the leash off and he would stick close to us, just because he is so afraid of the unknown. There is no fear of him running off. Mind you, previously we have owned an Irish Setter who would scale six foot fences in order to get out into the world and another Golden Retriever who practically ripped your shoulder out of socket with her pulling on the leash. Perhaps it has something to do with Mason being a “rescued dog”. We will never know what fears and anxieties he endured as a young puppy that affect him even today. He is terribly afraid of thunder and hides under the bed shaking whenever the slightest rumble occurs.
My husband and I are at a point in our life where the slats have been pulled out from underneath us. His position was scaled back and he needs to look for full time employment elsewhere. It was unexpected and emotionally painful. Thankfully, God’s presence through this shaking of the snow globe has been very real and powerful. We know he has shut one door, but we’re in that long, dark hallway waiting for another door to open. My fearful dog, Mason, is a good reminder to me. Outside is a scary place for him, but he is happy knowing that he is with us. He knows us well enough to trust us to get him safely home. That’s all God asks of us – to be content to walk beside him, trusting that he will guide and direct our paths. We don’t need to see the map. He will take care of us. Enjoy his presence, learn from him and give him the glory.

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:28-34

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Limitless Resources

Is the world I live in one of scarcity or abundance? The answer to the question has much to do about almost every decision I make. The threat of scarcity tells me that whatever I have, like my own life, is limited. Nothing is ever enough. There is not enough money, enough food, enough love. The abundance enjoyed by another is always at the expense of myself and others because the world is governed by scarcity. Thus I must fight; I must wrestled to gain whatever I can and cling to it till death wrests it from my cold, dead fingers. – Father Stephen

We do view everything here on earth as “limited” – water, oil, gas, food, land, money, time, even the air we breathe. We can’t even imagine a resource that is limitless. And yet Jesus offered the woman at the well such a resource:

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:13,14

God commands us to love, forgive, show mercy, and give of our material possessions, because he will keep supplying us with all that we need. We don’t have to hoard and ration and stock the pantry. He will never run out. The source of this goodness and life isn’t a lazy trickle of water coming out of a dry, Texas canyon in August. No, it’s bubbling up and overflowing the rocks and cracks. It is cool, refreshing and life-giving to plants, animals and people. We can’t drink fast enough to slow down the speed with which it gushes forth. Then why do we withhold forgiveness and love from others? Why are we stingy and possessive of the articles we claim as “ours”? We will never be able to exhaust God’s resources. Whatever others take from me is taken from the abundance that God pours into my life. It will be replaced and multiplied a hundredfold!

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6: 37, 38


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Mystics

 

“Fundamentally, the mystical life is a life lived with and in God, being led and “walking” by the Spirit. God is both the goal of our pilgrimage and our companion on the way. We were created for divine communion. “Birds fly, fish swim, and man prays,” is a patristic dictum. When prayer and the awareness of the presence of God characterize your whole life and define your reason of being, you have become a mystic. Congratulations!– Abbot Joseph

A mystical life means that the life lived is a mystery – we can’t explain it. This drives Westerners crazy! Surely, we can explain it! Or at least most of it. Theologians take great pleasure in learning all the arguments and viewpoints on a particular topic or issue. They are arguing the case for Christ. They are defending the Gospel. They are explaining the difficult so that others will believe. They are fighting against heresy and confusion. Surely, God would be pleased with this. Have you noticed that as theologians (hopefully, most of them) age, they often become more and more unsure of what is correct. They are more willing to admit that they “just don’t know”. They have lived enough of life to understand that God does things that are beyond explanation or comprehension. They are humbled by His workings in their life and the lives of others. They are more willing to acknowledge mystery. When we are young, we want to figure life out, put things in categories, determine what’s right and wrong. We actually entertain the idea that we have come up with the answer to world hunger, conflict and economic woes, even though brilliant men and women have contemplated these issues since the beginning of time. Such pride and arrogance. Why would we imagine that we have the answers after only 18 years of living on this planet? Namely, our culture doesn’t value wisdom that comes with experience and age.

I marvel at the spiritual elders I read about – the monks, nuns, saints, missionaries – who have experienced the presence and workings of God for decades. They are the ones I want to listen to – they are the “experts” in spirituality. They are the trained technicians when it comes to our relationship with God. Hmmm…which would you rather believe? – one who has gone to seminary for four years and can argue any theological position or someone who has wrestled with the powers of darkness, experienced the very presence of God, and sat under the wings of the Almighty? If the world was coming to an end, I would gladly move in with the mystic!

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