Life That Lasts

I recall singing that old hymn, “Where the Roses Never Fade” at funerals. Tears fell down as people gathered to say their last farewell to a lost loved one.  During those times, when words never seem enough, I’m always grateful for the promise of a life that never ends.

I am going to a city 
Where the streets with gold are laid,
Where the tree of life is blooming
And the roses never fade.

We pass through many shadowed valleys here, and the soul is weighed down by the grief and loss of all that fades in this life.  What comfort it is to lift our souls up, and to look for the roses that won’t fade.  

“Too many people feel like emotional robots these days, and are not willing or able to engage in the ups and downs of life.” says psychologist Betty Phillips.   “This emotional numbness,“ she says, “feels like the phrase from Shakespeare, ‘creeping in this petty pace from day-to-day until the last syllable of recorded time.’”  The antidote to emotional barrenness, is found in our ability to smell the roses, and experience a full range of emotions such as joy and love in beauty.

The roses that don’t fade are the great spiritual virtues such as faith, hope and love. By desiring and pursuing these qualities within us, we will discover the life that lasts.

 “A man is raised from the earth by two wings–” says Kempis, “simplicity and purity.”  

The soul is transformed like a butterfly when it looses itself in Christ so that it may gain heavenly wings.  The Messiah proclaimed in his suffering, “I am a worm, and not a man.” Psa 22:6.  We understand from this that Jesus on the cross was reduced to the likeness of sinful man, the worm, in our place.   Because of Jesus, like the butterfly, we who were the worms are becoming people of righteousness.  This transformation happens when we learn to despise all that is passing and hold on to what is eternal.  Teresa of Avila says,

Oh, to see the restlessness of this charming little butterfly, although never in its life has it been more tranquil and at peace! May God be praised! It knows not where to stay nor take its rest; everything on earth disgusts it after what it has experienced, when we are transformed like the butterfly, having risen from the cocoon, we never again find a permanent resting place in this world. (Interior Castle)

Nevertheless, our new freedom brings with it new desires and the enjoyment of the things that last:  eternal qualities such as faith, hope and love. These qualities are the nectar the little butterfly now drinks.  

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  John 12:25

Faith inspires in us to see beyond our immediate situation and its passing troubles.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

Hope gives us an ability to rise above our dashed expectations and remaining optimistic about what is still possible.  “Hope is not disappointed,” says Paul, for it trusts in the ultimate goodness and mercy of God.

Love finds a way to heal and restore everything that is broken.  Love conquers all.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.  1 Corinthians 13:4

The Year of More Grace.

The Oprah Magazine has declared 2016 the year of YOU.  This announcement is about what we might expect from O magazine, but would someone tell me how I can handle another year of me. Definitely, knowing and improving ourselves is helpful but only if we are willing to be brutally honest in the process.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Psalm. 51:6

My desire is for more grace that will help me be patient in trails, to grow in my disappointments, to turn my heart more often to heaven and put my hope in eternal things above things of this world.   I need more grace to live more often in the presence of love and be okay with its inefficiency.

Inside of us are two conflicting natures wrestling for the title role of our affections.  As Jesus said, we cannot serve both God and the world — something must give.   The human nature with its disordered affections competes with my true desire for the pure nature of God.   I need great grace if I am to remain in peace in my present condition and even more grace if I intend to change. 

Paying attention to the movement of grace and nature within is an important practice for those who long for greater freedom in God.

……pay careful attention to the movements of nature and of grace, for they move in very contrary and subtle ways, and can scarcely be distinguished by anyone except a man who is spiritual and inwardly enlightened.  Thomas a Kempis

In describing the struggle within, Thomas a Kempis calls our fallen human condition nature, and the divine nature he calls grace.   He points out that the only way for grace and human nature to cohabit is for nature to submit to grace. In other words, like the Odd Couple, there are two roommates inside me that can only get along is if one is willing to give in to the other.   In the case of grace and nature, one is from above, one from below, one seeks the will of God the other it’s own way.  We participate in the divine nature of Jesus when we choose to pay attention to the subtle movements of grace and ignore the more demanding voice of nature.

If I am to grow in grace this year, it will take some humility and brokenness as I realize the truth that I am nothing and can do little if any good without God and a great deal of His grace.  In this place of surrender and weakness, I also discover that by grace, I can do all things through Christ who strengthen’s me. (Philippians 4:13)

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us toc his own glory and excellence,d 4by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Peter 1

O most blessed grace, which makes the poor in spirit rich in virtues, which renders him who is rich in many good things humble of heart, come, descend upon me, fill me quickly with your consolation lest my soul faint with weariness and dryness of mind. Let me find grace in Your sight, I beg, Lord, for Your grace is enough for me, even though I obtain none of the things which nature desires. If I am tempted and afflicted with many tribulations, I will fear no evils while Your grace is with me. This is my strength. This will give me counsel and help. This is more powerful than all my enemies and wiser than all the wise. This is the mistress of truth, the teacher of discipline, the light of the heart, the consoler in anguish, the banisher of sorrow, the expeller of fear, the nourisher of devotion, the producer of tears. What am I without grace, but dead wood, a useless branch, fit only to be cast away? Let Your grace, therefore, go before me and follow me, O Lord, and make me always intent upon good works, through Jesus Christ, Your Son. Thomas a Kempis

Love That Won’t Tie You Up.

The wedding party of smartly dressed young men and colourful bridesmaids lined the front of the chapel as the bride glided slowly up the aisle to meet her husband-to-be.  At the right time, I began to recite,  “Dearly beloved we are gathered here today . . . . ” Within any wedding crowd there are a variety of people:  some  married, others not;  some fondly remembering their wedding day, while others have sadly moved on. Yet, each one knows that this day is good, and love is wonderful. The two become one and live happily every after.   In reality they spend their first few years figuring out which one they will become. One piece of advice I shared that day was to love in such as way as to gradually, learn to set each other free.   True love is the most liberating and beautifying energy in the world.   Love that liberates however, also calls for the highest degree of devotion, forsaking all others.

Love, it will not betray you or dismay you or enslave you, it will set your free.  Mumford and Sons

Jesus love for us, bound him to the suffering of the cross, but in freedom He lives today.  His love releases us from the inner prisons of the soul that keep us bound.   Inside of us are self-destructive addictions that take root and wind around the soul. These passions keep us tied to destructive responses to life, such as rage. We are usually able to stay composed but then out of the blue our impatience flares up with even the smallest slight. In rage we feel for a moment strangely in control but then we are left with an emptiness. The ego self is energized by a desire for self protection and relief from the pain of living.  Yet, living for the benefit of our ego self we start to view others as obstacles to our happiness.  We can try to apply ourselves to the commandment to love others as ourselves, but our good intentions fail us.  The pure love of God can free us from our blindness, but we must be willing to be accept a love that won’t cater to our self centred demands.

Much of human life can be understood as addiction to patterns of life that ease pain but are physically and spiritually debilitating. They give the appearance of help but conceal the price. – Wendy Farley, The Wounding and Healing of Desire.

Like a flower opening up to the sunshine, a soul that is daily lifted up toward the source of light,  Jesus,  is able to outgrow the weeds of sin. Be captivated by this one great desire and love will set you free.

Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast!
Yet sweeter far Thy face to see
And in Thy presence rest.

On Following Your Heart

If you could have whatever you want, what would it be? Do you really know what you want? In my experience, my desires are all jumbled up. Sometimes, my wants are all about me. Then, it’s about money or affection. At another time, I’m benevolent and want others to be free and fulfilled. The longing for good is there but like Paul, “I don’t realize what I’m doing. I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15)

This question reveals our inner longings. The inner desires of the heart can seem like a scary underworld that we feel ill equipped to explore. Yet, within this underworld of the soul, we find the great hidden treasure of our true self.

Our deepest inner longings seek something outside of us for fulfillment. They seek the divine source from which they come.

In Christian tradition, however, misplaced and disordered desires are also within us. Alongside inner longings like, love, beauty, joy, peace and justice are urges and habits that keep the good far from us. These passions, as they are historically called, are responses of the ego either to the pain of life or the longing to be whole. The tragic reality of the human state is that we often destroy the very things we love and we hinder ourselves from attaining the good we long for. There is a disorder within us that defies our put-together exteriors.

Our problem is not with desire itself. The problem is that desire, which has an infinite spiritual source, cannot be satisfied with the pleasures and possessions that we often seek. Neither, will this thirst be cured with the more hidden responses such as jealousy or revenge. The Christian message is not opposed to passion, in the sense we understand it today as desire for the good, but warns of passions in the sense of misplaced desire.

Once, I was at the gas station and my mind was on many things. Before I knew it I was filling my car with diesel, not noticing the yellow handle on the pump. Since a gas car can’t run on diesel, I barely made it home and had to drain the tank before I could drive it again. We defeat desire, when we try to fill our emotional and spiritual tanks or ease our inner thirsty by attaching ourselves to passions that are destructive to others and ourselves. We are made for so much more than that. We were created for intimacy with divinity and nothing less can quench our inner thirst.

“Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.” St. Augustine.

Living Beyond the Rim

Only 5 percent of 5 million tourists that annually visit the Grand Canyon venture beyond the rim.  They do not mount a donkey or hike a trail to explore the rugged and interesting world below.  Some tourists are like drive-by-shooters; snapping shots with their camera, but not engaging in the world they are viewing through the lens.  Like these tourists, sometimes I find myself skimming through life without fully engaging in it.   Then, I’m living at the surface and avoiding the depth in my own soul and in the soul of others.  However, life is too precious to miss by passing  through it, as a casual observer.

Thoreau, in pursuit of life, built a small cabin on borrowed land near Walden pond.  He writes,

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life…… Henry David Thoreau.

Moving beyond the rim requires leaving the comfort of the crowd above to face our inner fears and the vast world below.  It is the inward journey that leads to God.  Living life fully engaged we wake up, take notice, simplify and “put to rout all that is not life.”  We discover stillness and an awareness of God, who is life eternal.  We find a path that is good and a place that is restful for our souls.

 This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the cross-roads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16

In this pursuit we will also discover delight.  This is the ability of childlike wonder that marvels at all life’s many colors and shapes.   In this same way, we delight in the Lord who made our varied and vast world and whose character is like the world he made.

Peter in the Bible speaks of “rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory!” and David says, “I would go unto God, unto God my exceeding joy!”

There is really nothing ordinary about the life of a believer in the divine, — once they have decided to go beyond the rim.

 

 

Work: Chasing after the wind.

Does work ever get you down? You are not alone. The author of Ecclesiastes lamented his work too:

“What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.”  (Eccl. 2:22, 23)


It seems healthy to me to occasionally look at work from this “under the sun” view of Ecclesiastes.  It prevents us from making too much of it.  Apart from a few classic works of art and music, some cool inventions and buildings, what is gained from the last 100 years of toil?  Are we in the brave new world?  Who will remember the great contributions of the 20th century a decade from now? Perhaps the likes of Gandhi, Churchill and Mother Teresa will be remembered, but what of the billions of ordinary people who we never heard of in the first place? In my own experience, I like to know the “why” of doing something. However, this can be idealism.

There may not be a point to everything I do except that it needs to be done. Yet, I must believe there is a divine point to all things or I am a practical atheist.

My view of work is changing. I expect less fulfillment from it and that keeps me balanced and encourages me to take some time to “work at” some fun things too.

However, laziness, isn’t an option either, since experience and scripture both indicate that slothfulness generally ends in poverty or dishonor. (click for Proverbs) So, we work, under the sun, but we do not have to submit to its despair.  Rather, work can be enjoyed when we find a purpose “above the sun” for what we do.

Above the sun, we work for the coming Kingdom of God that is already here.  Working in two kingdoms creates a healthy tension.  We may find we are pulled between the futility of striving after the wind and the hopefulness of changing the world through Christ.  It is not our politics or our corporations that will create meaningful change; it is the Christian working under the sun with an above the sun vision.  So much work today is motivated by envy and competition.  A higher, nobler motivation is love for God and for my neighbor. This way we work for something more rewarding than praise of man or financial reward, and work recovers a sense of meaning and joy for us.

 “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.”  (Colossians 3:23,24)

The Safest Place On Earth

What is your happy place? For me, it’s a lakeside cabin in Temagami, Ontario where I spent my summers growing up like Davy Crockett. (I’ve even saved my trusty hunting/whittling knife from those days.) Others may find their happy place in a more urban setting, like a local cafe or in the magic of Disney World.

We are, more than ever, a society of wanderers, living among strangers, which can become unsettling. As families get smaller, and are often separated by too many long miles to travel, it’s easy to feel restless and even disoriented.

In our transient times, we need more than ever to rediscover a home for our hearts, and the safest place I know is God’s heart. More than one child has explained to me their connection to God by saying, “God asked me into his heart.” The old hymnist also penned this concept in these words: “There is a place of quiet rest near to the heart of God.” This is a safe place like no other on earth. In Isaiah an invitation is given,

 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”

Isaiah 30:15

We remain strangers to others and to ourselves when we seek our home outside of the centre, Jesus Christ. Perhaps we will look to our politicians, our economic systems, our technology, or our religion. Each of these places, in some way, have failed to provide us with security. Or we might find comfort in a number of over indulgences, which only leave us needing to diet or therapy.

The security our hearts need is found in God. To find that safety, we must have what one person called “naked trust,” which means God, plus nothing else, is holding on to our lives. In Proverbs we are instructed to guard our hearts. This practice of guarding goes two ways: guard the treasure of God’s Word in your heart; and that Word will also guard you.

My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.  For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Prov. 4: 20-23

Love to Love

Georgia Porcupine

Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. Prov 4:23

Living with an open heart is a risky choice that takes courage and wisdom. The act of living generously can expose us to those who might take advantage. The disposition of trusting can leave a person vulnerable to the cold reality of the con. However, the alternative of a closed or guarded heart robs us of the gift of life. The practice of staying open in the face of every temptation to do otherwise is possible if our protection comes from God.

Joyce Meyers in a recent video clips said, “If you’re not willing to be hurt, then you’re not able to love. If you shut other people out, you also imprison yourself.”

To keep your heart is not the same as self-protection. A porcupine normally flares its quills when it is frightened or in danger. Ironically, my daughter recently pet a porcupine. When Georgia the porcupine was a baby, her family died crossing the road, and she was found in a ditch, alone and vulnerable. The local zoo decided to take it in, nurse it to independence, and integrate it back into the wild. It wasn’t long until they realized, Georgia the porcupine would never go back into the wild. Georgia became very calm around other animals and people during her time at the zoo. Georgia was socialized. For Georgia, the highlight of her day is when she is centre stage for a visiting group who all come to pet her and touch her quills.

The vulnerability of an open heart requires discernment.   Thomas Keating writes in the book, Open Mind, Open Heart, about the practice of being flexible.

“The fruit of ‘guard of the heart’ is the habitual willingness to change our plans at a moment’s notice. It disposes us to accept painful situations as they arise.”

Another discipline he mentions is the practice of unconditional acceptance. A friend of ours wears a bracelet that says, “Love to Love” as a reminder that when people are hard to love, love them for love’s sake. This is the practice of keeping the heart by guarding against resentment.

Jesus shows us, by his supreme example while dying on the cross, how to keep the heart open to God in the midst of hatred. His cry, “Father forgive them,” is a prayer we can all practice at those moments when cruelty threatens to shut us down.

It takes wisdom to stay open when our hearts are at stake.  Openness to God’s Spirit is a way to allow our hearts a divine protection while remaining in the flow of life. Then from deep within He springs up in us with hope, courage and faith.

As Scripture says, ‘Streams of living water will flow from deep within the person who believes in me.'” John 7:38

Trust Jump

A heart of trust is discovered on the outskirts of the familiar and the known.  As one poet said,

When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen: There will be something solid for you to stand upon, or, you will be taught how to fly.   Patrick Overton

I’m not one for heights but I couldn’t pass on a chance to join a couple young guys in their reckless and wild jump of a rock into the cold lake below.  Once my feet left the rock, hoping this was a good idea, I was fully committed.    It takes courage to move beyond the limits of our experience and into a realm we have yet to discover.  This is the realm where Google maps have yet to go, and where there are few guides to lead us. This last frontier is spiritual, and there is One who will lead us if we will trust him.

Trust is a matter of the heart according to the Proverbs.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Prov 3: 5,6

It involves a certainty that there is an author and director behind the scenes of our life.

By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;
by his knowledge the deeps were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.  Prov 3:19

The one who has gone this path ahead of us is Jesus.  He said of himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  (John 14) The Bible also states that he is the Word and through him all things were made. (John 1)  Therefore, we can have great assurance in our guide.

Knowing about God and trusting in Him is not the same thing.  I can know about aerodynamics and yet never dare to fly.  Religion can help us get to the edge of the light, but it is the person of Jesus Christ who holds our hand in the dark.  We are not alone; one is walking the road with us and removing the obstacles that can trip us up.

Nothing intensifies the mind like uncertainly and danger.  Trust is not passive; rather it is like the thrill of jumping from a rock into the lake below.  You feel in the moment fully alive.

 

 

Heart of Gold


A heart of gold is not something you come by every day.  Like Neil Young, you might just find yourself singing, “I’m getting old,” before you find one.  Although it is hard, it isn’t impossible if we mine for a golden heart in the right places.   Truthfully, gold mining itself can look rather foolish. To quote Warren Buffet, “[Gold] gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it.  It has no utility.  Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.”  However, when it comes to the matters of the heart and finding wisdom, the diligence of a miner pays great rewards. Wisdom offers benefits to the seeker that are far beyond the worth of gold.

Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
those who lay hold of her will be blessed.

Prov. 3:16-18

Proverbs promise that Wisdom will be found by those who seek her with all the diligence of a miner.

My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,
and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.

Prov. 2: 1-5

There is a progression in the intensity of the true seeker of wisdom. The person who desires wisdom must first passively accept wisdom’s words. It requires ears that are attentive and a heart that is still enough to perceive wisdom’s whisper. God speaks to our hearts when we are still enough in our soul to hear him. The son in these verses is challenged to do more than passively listen though. He must also call out for insight. Then the son must search for wisdom as for a hidden treasure. There are treasures of wisdom stored up for those who will apply their hearts with diligence to the pursuit. Veins of precious ore are discovered by miners through drilling deep into the heart of the earth.  In the same way, God has spiritual treasures for us to hide deep within our hearts. Once they are discovered, many others will find joy and be blessed by that treasure. However, as in mining, we have to believe that God has treasures for us to store in our hearts, and that as we do, we will discover our own heart to  be a heart of gold.