Going Somewhere?

Sometimes we can feel like life is going nowhere.  It is like the realization, when someone is travelling, that he has passed this way before, and he wonders, “Am I just going in circles?” Once in a while I look at myself and lament how little I have moved or changed on the inside, for all my going.   Every day around the world more than 8 million people fly somewhere and billions are spent in air travel.  Unless we honestly ask ourselves “Where am I going?” and I mean internally, in a spiritual sense of going and growing, we are in danger of moving a lot but going nowhere.  Jesus said, “I am the Way”, or in other words, in him we are truly going somewhere to Someone and to an eternal destiny.

The way of Jesus, the narrow road, is an inward journey of the soul, an exodus out of our weary burden of sin.  His way is the second exodus that far eclipses the first. He frees us from cruel slavery of the task master that refuses to let us go.  His way leads out through the testing of the desert, and into the paradise of the promised land.  His cross is our Passover and his resurrection is our new life.

Leaving is half the battle.  Just as Israel left Egypt but still longed for the pots of meat and bread, so it is hard to let go of this world and its temporal comforts.  We despise the daily miraculous provision of heavenly bread, when we go to the world to fill our hunger. We also forget what cruel burdens accompany those pleasures.  The apostle Peter, before he denied the Lord, was “warming himself” by the fire.  In a similar way, when we seek to warm ourselves by the pleasures of this world rather than heavenly consolations God supplies, we are also easily tempted to say like Peter, “I don’t know him.”

The way of Jesus is a journey of faith.  The pilgrims of the past all left not knowing where the path was leading.

“And he (Abraham) went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. Hebrews 11:9,10

These pilgrims chose the difficult path knowing that it leads somewhere beautiful.  Like Moses who left Egypt, “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Hebrews 11:26

What we are being called to leave is small, in comparison to the eternal gains of knowing Jesus and the eternal joys at the end of the road.  Leaving our earthly burden’s behind, we are able to climb to the highest places in God and to taste his eternal pleasures.

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,  which shines brighter and brighter until full day. Prov. 4:18

This is not the popular road nor is it the easy path, and at times we may feel like we’ve taken a wrong turn.  However, with the inner companionship of the Spirit to guide us and the word of God as a flashlight on the path, we will make our way home.

“Your word, says the Psalmist, is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psa. 119:105

 

 

The Elusive Spirit

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

Snow leopards are one of the world’s rarest, most elusive and little studied large animals. They are generally very shy and well camouflaged, and hardly ever seen. Most encounters involve villagers looking for firewood or herding animals. The first photograph of one in the wild was taken in 1970 by the legendary zoologist George Schaller. Its long tail gives it amazing balance as it scales mountains as high as 18,000 feet. Known to catch a falling rock with its paw, the snow leopard can sneak up on its prey and not to be heard.  It is so elusive the locals call him the Holy Spirit of the mountains.

Have you ever felt like God’s presence is as elusive as the snow leopard? He shows up, it seems, in his time and usually by surprise. Then, just as often it feels as if he has left you waiting for some sign or sense that he is near. Living in this linear time bound world, I can easily miss precious, life changing, “sightings” when God is breaking in. The feeling that life is somewhere up ahead and that I must strive for it, or that life is behind in some former lost and lamented time, can squeeze life now in God out. However, God is always in the Eternal Now, as Thomas Kelly describes it. Behind this busy active life of time and place, the Eternal Now of God is knocking, and He desires to enter our world through us and change time for eternity. This invasion of God’s presence can be upsetting to a life driven by the ticking of the clock of progress. Don’t we sometimes look upon those who are yielding to the Eternal Presence as odd and out of place? Yet, we intuitively know there is something entirely credible about their compliance to God.   Sighting are not as rare for those who wait on God, those who learn to live in both times zones simultaneously – time now and Eternal Now.   Yes, and that is the Christian calling and joy.

“The sooner we stop thinking we are the energetic operators of religion and discover that God is at work, as the aggressor, the invader, the initiator, so much the sooner do we discover that our task is to call men to be still and know, listen, hearken in quiet invitation to the subtle promptings of the Divine. “ (Thomas Kelly)

 

Jesus in Disguise

Being present with people in conversation and living in the moment, isn’t always something that comes natural, at least to me. Perhaps this woolgathering comes from insecurities or my short attention span. Being on the introverted side of the personality scale, I know I can be less interested in small talk and tune out unless the subject grabs me.

In an attempt to overcome inner obstacles to being present with others it helps me to remember Jesus words,

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matt. 18:20.

He is putting a value on human relationships in promising that this is a place where God shows up.

It is a worthy desire to seek after an encounter with God. Through the centuries people pursued these experiences through prayer and solitude and truly this is one of the most important spiritual paths. We discover the depth of God when we develop an inner stillness that allows his presence to be recognized and our earthly self to be quieted. However, bringing this sense of being present with God into relationships can be a challenge. We might even conclude that it’s easier to avoid relationships. Yet, God himself dwells in the perfect relationship of Father, Son and Spirit.

Being a pastor I am called upon to be with people in their difficult times, to listen and learn and see God as a present helper. However, today’s leaders are often conditioned to believe that it is the big events in front of the crowds that matter most. We might even begin to believe that one on one encounters aren’t that important in the work of God. If we think this way we will miss many opportunities to see God in the disguise of another human being. It seems from Jesus words that no encounter with another person is trivial to God.

When someone like mother Teresa says she saw Jesus in others she reminds me that God can be encountered in the ordinary interactions of life. She says,

“We try to pray through our work by doing it with Jesus, for Jesus, to Jesus. That helps us to put our whole heart and soul into doing it. The dying, the cripple, the mental, the unwanted, the unloved they are Jesus in disguise.”

With this open hearted approach, self is forgotten and God is discovered in even the uncomfortable conversations of our lives.

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)