Tag Archives: Spiritual

Fixing Our Eyes on Life

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

This life journey definitely moves through different seasons and stages. As a parent I am watching our girls move through the turn into adulthood with the establishing of lives and careers. It’s a time filled with a heady mixture of adventure, excitement, doubt, faith, and hope. It carries with it a subtle sense of immortality. I think back to what my life looked like at their ages (and shake my head in disbelief).

As a child I am watching my parents trekking into life’s final stretch with all of the unknowns regarding how events will ultimately play out at the finish line. I’m watching the mixture of feelings, experiences, and emotions that they walk through, and I’m trying to be open to what I can learn from their examples.

Wendy and I are currently feeling the back stretch of life. Literally, I now need to stretch my back every day as my body begins its natural aging progression.

One of the most fascinating observations for me  of late is to watch how we and others handle the process of aging and the troubles associated with our natural, physical decline. Every person has their own journey, their own struggles, and their own path to walk. I’m trying hard not to be judgmental, yet I am noticing stark differences in the way individuals traverse the process of physical decay. I’m observing that it is a cocktail mixed with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual ingredients.

In this morning’s chapter Paul addresses his own experience with life’s natural struggle of progressive decline. Having been pondering these things, it leapt off the page at me.

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

In Paul’s experience the physical and the spiritual coexist but are independent of one another. The physical continually declines while, in Christ, the spiritual continually grows. The former is in decay while the latter is budding into eternal Life. The key comes with where we choose to focus. Paul “fixes his eyes” on the spiritual with its perpetual growth and life, not on the physical and its perpetual decay.

This fits with what I have observed of late. Our thoughts and emotions  gravitate to wherever the eyes of our heart are “fixed.” If we are fixated on the grief and pains of physical decay then our thoughts and emotions are given to the pessimism and fatalism of impending death. If we, rather, reach further up and further in to fix our eyes on Life and Spirit, then our thoughts and emotions deal with our physical decline in a different manner.

Wendy and I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal a year or two ago about a group of friends in their 80’s. Together the group decided that when they joined together in conversation they each could say one thing about their present physical situation. After that, the conversation had to go elsewhere. It was their way of “fixing their eyes” on living and not on dying. What a great example.

This morning Wendy and I are preparing for a long holiday weekend at the lake with friends, fixing our eyes on life. We are planning to spend next week at the lake, and I’m going to be taking a week off of blogging to rest and live a little (right after I stretch my back).

On-Again-Off-Again Spirituality

…yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord.
Amos 4:11c

Along life’s journey I’ve noticed that we as humans think most about God when times are tough. When life is easy and things are humming along pretty well in our lives, we tend to shove spiritual matters to the back burner. There’s a certain spiritual sobriety that occurs when tragedy strikes and things suddenly get tough. It’s when we’re anxious and afraid that the spiritual becomes important to us.

In today’s chapter, the ancient prophet Amos recounts a whole string of tragedies and difficulties that God’s people had experienced in recent years. He names them one by one. It’s a top ten list of fear and anxiety producing events, yet with each recounting Amos ends with the same refrain:

…yet you have not returned to me,”  vs. 6

…yet you have not returned to me,” vs. 8

…yet you have not returned to me,” vs. 9

…yet you have not returned to me,” vs. 10

…yet you have not returned to me,” vs. 11

This morning I’m recalling a friend back in college whose friendship waxed and waned with the on-again-off-again relationship with his girlfriend. If they broke up and he was feeling lonely then he was my best friend in the world and wanted to hang out all the time. If he and his girlfriend got back together again I wouldn’t hear from him or see him until the next break-up. It only took a few cycles of this before I got really tired of the hot-cold treatment I received as a friend.

I wonder sometimes if that’s the way God feels with us. This morning I’m pondering the spiritual ebb and flow that often accompanies the ebb and flow of life circumstances. If I fall into the pattern of being spiritually connected when times are hard, but ignoring God when times are good, then I’m not really any different from my friend in college.

I want my relationship with God to be rock steady, no matter what I’m going through in life. If times are good then I want to be connected to share my gratitude and share the blessings. If times are bad then I want to be connected to share my fears and anxieties.

God doesn’t have to worry about me returning if I never leave.

Silence and Spiritual Authority

But Jesus remained silent.
Matthew 26:63 (NIV)

Just last week, on the 15th of April, the Major Leagues celebrated Jackie Robinson day just as it does every year. Every player in Major League Baseball wears Jackie Robinson’s number: 42. It was on April 15th, 1947 that Jackie Robinson  walked out onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and broke the color barrier in baseball.

This morning as I woke up in my hotel room I happened to have a documentary about Jackie Robinson playing in the background and reminded me of the familiar story. When Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Dodgers, brought Jackie to the major leagues he made Jackie promise that for three years he would not respond to the taunts, insults, and attacks that he would face as the first black man to play in the major leagues. Jackie agreed.

The abuse Jackie faced in those years is well documented. The treatment he received in opposing cities was unjust and unfair. Racial slurs and terrible insults by opposing teams and crowds rained down on him non-stop from batting practice until the last out of the game. Pitchers threw at his head intentionally. Runners intentionally spiked him with their cleats, opening up gashes on his legs. But true to his promise, Jackie remained silent. And, he played great baseball.

It seemed like a bit of synchronicity that this morning’s chapter documented Jesus standing before His enemies. They taunted Him. They falsely accused Him. They beat Him and they mocked Him. But true to what had been prophesied, Jesus remained silent. And, He fulfilled His mission.

I’m simply reminded this morning of the power of silence in the face of personal attacks and social adversity. Human nature and our own culture desires – even demands –  justice at an intimate, interpersonal level. If insulted, return the insult. If he talks smack to me, I’m going to dish it right back. If falsely accused, make a spirited defense. On the face of it, Jesus’ encouragement to “turn the other cheek” seems foolishly weak.

But it’s not.

It took incredible courage and spiritual strength for Jackie Robinson to remain silent those three long seasons. His silence was, in fact, an act of spiritual endurance while it took a tremendous physical and mental toll.

Turning the other cheek is not running away, slinking back, or cowering in fear. Turning the other cheek requires standing in, facing your enemy, and defiantly presenting him the opportunity to do it again. It reveals and highlights the injustice. It makes known the truth of the situation.

After three years of sticking to his promise, Jackie was released from his bargain with Branch Rickey. Then it was the wisdom of Solomon that took over. “There is a time to be silent, and there is a time to speak.” Three years of remaining silent before his enemies had earned Jackie Robinson the spiritual authority to be one of the greatest voices for civil rights and social change. Jackie Robinson Day continues that legacy each April 15th.

I find it ironic that Jackie Robinson Day fell between Good Friday and Easter Sunday this year.

Jesus, likewise, followed His own teaching before the kangaroo court that had been hastily and illegally assembled to arrange His execution. He remained silent. He stood in. He faced His accusers. He turned the other cheek each time He was beaten. All that Jesus would endure took its lethal physical toll, but the spiritual power that was unleashed would conquer death itself.

Out With the Old; Embracing the New

See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
Isaiah 65:17 (NIV)

This past weekend Wendy and I began a large clean-up campaign in our basement storage room. It’s time go through all of our stuff, and I mean really go through it. So it was that I found a number of large boxes of financial records, taxes, mortgage documents, and receipts. Many of these were much older than the recommended seven years you’re supposed to hang on to things in case of an IRS issue. It felt so good to be rid of them.

I have found on my spiritual journey that there is a continual process of recreation. In yesterday’s chapter we unpacked the word picture of God as a master Potter, constantly molding us, shaping us, fashioning us. If you’ve ever watched a potter at work you find that when one thing doesn’t work out the Potter goes back to the lump and begins again. But what is fashioned out of the same lump may look very different the next time the Potter goes to work on it.

God is an artist, and artists are always creating. You can’t stop the flow of ideas. It is quite common for artists to take a canvas with one image and cover it with an altogether new illustration. A media piece that was meant for one creative urge will be suddenly be used on another. Those who dare tap into the flow of creation know that it is a river that never stops running and those who dip into it are constantly being swept away in new directions.

If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. Old things pass away; Behold, new things come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5

In today’s chapter, Isaiah has a vision of Creator re-creating things on a grand scale. It’s the same vision that John is given at the end of his Revelation. Things are made new. The Creator is at work recreating. Old ways are gone. New ways have come.

This morning I am so grateful for the places following Jesus has led me. As I disposed of all those old receipts I felt such gratitude for the ways God has continually molded and shaped my life, constantly creating new in me. I literally felt old things passing away. As a student of history I appreciate the past and what it can teach me about my present, but appreciating the past and being mired in personal, spiritual stagnation are two completely different things.

Drop me in the deep waters of the Creator’s artistic flow. I can’t wait to see where it leads me, and what continually recreated life looks like downstream.

External Ritual Sans Spiritual Reality

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.”
Isaiah 58:3 (NIV)

When people think about what it means to be religious, the mind is quickly filled with mental pictures of what religious-types do. Taking an hour or two each week to attend services, praying over meals or certain hours of the day, reading the Bible (and perhaps, blogging about it :-)), lighting candles, burning incense, and all the other rituals and trappings that commonly seem to accompany the religions of the world.

As someone who could easily be labeled a religious person for most of my earthly journey, I can tell you that there are metaphorical reasons for most of the rituals and trappings. Metaphor is the language of God, and it’s the best we have for trying to embody that which is beyond our finite ability to fully comprehend and communicate. God gives us many and diverse metaphors to express His person: wind, fire, water, gate, bread, lamb, lion, and etc.. God also provided tangible external metaphors and spiritual exercises to connect us with the spiritual internal realities He wants us to experience in oneness with Him: bread, wine, water, rest, sacrifice, prayer, fasting, and etc..

The problems comes, however, when the external ritualistic metaphors are carried out without the requisite spiritual realities being experienced. What was supposed to connect us is disconnected. Ritual and religion without repentance, redemption, and righteousness becomes empty and even dangerous.

In today’s chapter God speaks through the ancient prophet Isaiah to address this very disconnection. The people of Isaiah’s day had ritualistically gone without food and covered themselves in the clothes of mourning and repentance hoping for God to respond with blessing. God, however, points out that while they are acting out religious ritual in public, in private they have been self-centered, exploitive, greedy,  unjust, and selfish. There is a fundamental core disconnect between true, internal, spiritual oneness with God, and external, rote religious ritual. When that happens, religion becomes all of the ugly and profane things it has been guilty of across time.

This morning I’m reminded that if my spirit is not connected to Holy Spirit in ways that tangibly increase my love for, and actions towards, others (especially those who are different, down-trodden, beat-down, and in need), then all of my church going, hand-raising, worship singing, communion taking, prayer whispering, Bible reading, (and blog posting) is empty and worthless.

Lord, have mercy… please.

Memorized Lines

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

When I became a follower of Jesus as a teenager, I soon found myself being spiritually mentored by a gentleman who was my boss in an after school job. Every Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. we would meet in his office. Very quickly he began to instill in me the discipline of memorizing verses and passages from God’s Message. The verse I’ve pasted at the to of this post was among the first that I committed to memory.

This morning as I woke and began to think about starting my day meditating on today’s chapter, I immediately associated Isaiah 41 with the verse I had memorized some 35 years ago. My soul smiled as I looked forward to journeying through the entire chapter once again.

As an amateur actor, I am used to memorizing words. I have memorized lines for many parts in many shows. In just the past few months, I had to refresh myself in memorizing that same lines for the same part I played 10 years ago. It’s amazing how few of them I actually remembered. I’m not sure having memorized them ten years ago was much of a help.

I find it fascinating that words from God’s Message memorized 35 years ago come so quickly to mind, while words memorized for a part 10 years ago were completely lost to me. I think there are reasons for this on a number of different levels, but I believe one of the key differences lies in fact that the lines of Eliot Herzog in The Christmas Post were committed to my brain for a finite period of time. I had to get through the handful of performances and then the lines had little value to me. Isaiah 41:10, however, was committed to both my mind and my heart. It became spiritually useful and beneficial to me whenever I traversed a particularly rough stretch of life’s journey.

This morning I am thinking of words that live inside my spirit, and words that I have buried in my mind. I am thankful for my old mentor and the discipline he instilled in me during those spiritually formative years. I am grateful for these words of Isaiah that have bubbled up to the surface once again as 2016 wanes and 2017 is about to begin. I am, once again, reminded not to be afraid of what the future holds, as I know Who holds me in the palm of His hand.

Siege and Parley

But the [Assyrian] commander replied, “Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the people sitting on the wall—who, like you, will have to eat their own excrement and drink their own urine?
Isaiah 36:12 (NIV)

It was a day of doom. The walled city of Jerusalem was under siege just as everyone had feared; The city was surrounded by the Assyrian army. The Assyrian army of which so many rumors had been whispered. The large army, well-trained and well-equipped that had swept through the region swallowing up every city in its wake. The army that tortured their enemies mercilessly. The army thirsty for blood. The army bent on violent destruction.

In today’s chapter we have front row seats in witness of what historians call siege warfare. For many centuries of history cities were surrounded by walls to protect the residents from invading armies. In order to conquer a city, armies would lay siege to it. Besieging armies would completely surround a city to cut off the inhabitants from food, fresh water, and supplies. They would then wait (sometimes years) until the people of the town were starving, weak, despondent and desperate.

In siege warfare it was common for envoys of the besieged city and a commander of the besieging army to have a series of an ancient version of a diplomatic meeting, called a parley. The city’s envoy(s) would do their best to display confidence that the city would not fall. The besieging army’s commander would do his best try to play psychological games with threats, intimidation, and insults.

Shakespeare, in Henry V, dramatically stages one of the best examples of a parley as, between attacks, King Henry of the invading English army parleys with the mayor of  the besieged French town of Harfleur …

The field commander of the Assyrians in Isaiah’s recounting uses the same classic parley tactics in taunting the envoys of Jerusalem’s King Hezekiah. He insults them and threatens them. He threatens their God, and tries to instill fear in the common soldiers on the wall. It’s a fascinating exercise to deconstruct the envoys speech and discover all of the psychological tactics he employed in his two speeches.

This morning I’m thinking about the ways these very base tactics are still employed. From trash talking on the athletic field to advanced siege and interrogation techniques of the modern battlefield  in which subjects are bombarded with negative audio stimulation while not being allowed to sleep or rest.

This isn’t very different than the way our spiritual enemy continues to attack on an on-going basis. Spiritual attack is an attempt to lay siege to heart and soul. The enemy attempts to isolate me from any network of support, surround me so as to feel there is no escape, then bombard me with an steady attack of messages designed to heighten my shame, shake my faith, cast doubt, and instill fear.

I am reminded this morning that, along life’s journey, I’m going to be spiritually besieged. Recognizing the enemies tactics is the first step in thwarting them. Once recognized for what it is, sometimes the best response (just like Hezekiah’s envoys employed in today’s chapter) is silent assurance.

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Featured image by MKorchia via Flickr