Archive for January, 2018

Blessed Are the Gentle

January 31st, 2018

Blessed Are the Gentle
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Blessed are the gentle [or the meek, humble, non-violent, unassuming]: they shall have the earth as inheritance. —Matthew 5:5
This Beatitude is a quote from Psalm 37:11: “the humble shall have the land for their own.” Some translate it “the nonviolent.” The translation perhaps most familiar is “the meek.” It is the unique power of the powerless, which people who have always had power never understand. It is claimed by Mary in her famous Magnificat where she mirrors and models the many “barren” women in the Hebrew Scriptures: “God has looked upon me in my lowliness. . . . God fills the starving with good things” (Luke 1:48, 53). She represented the pivotal biblical theme of “the poor of Yahweh” (anawim), taught especially by the prophets Zephaniah (2:3) and Zechariah (9:9). Surely Mary and Joseph modeled this stance for Jesus as a child. Their offering of two turtle doves at his presentation in the temple (Luke 2:24), which was the offering of the landless peasantry, reveals their social place in Jewish society.
There is, of course, an irony here. If there was one hated group in Palestine of Jesus’ day, it was landlords, those who possess the land. Nobody possessed land except by violence, by oppression, by holding onto it and making all the peasants pay a portion of their harvest. Jesus is turning that around and saying no, it’s you little ones who are finally going to possess the land. I can hear implicit critique in his voice, but also hope.
Jesus is undoubtedly redefining the meaning of land, building on what every Jew would have known. Hebrew Scripture teaches that only God possesses the land (see Psalm 24:1; Leviticus 25:23). In the jubilee year, all the land was to be given back to its original occupants (see Leviticus 25:8-17). Native Americans understood the freedom of the land, yet European colonizers did not. Private property forces us behind artificial fences, boundaries, and walls. People close to the earth know that only God “owns” the earth, and that we’re all stewards, pilgrims, and strangers with a duty and privilege of caring for it. Who will “own” our plot of land fifty years from now? Ownership is clearly not an objective or divine right, but only a legal one.
Eknath Easwaran writes:
To live simply is to live gently, keeping in mind always the needs of the planet, other creatures, and the generations to come. In doing this we lose nothing, because the interests of the whole naturally include our own. . . . In claiming nothing for [ourselves, we] have everything, for everything is [ours] to enjoy as part of the whole. [1]

This image of non-ownership is one Saint Francis fully embraced. He told his followers to live sine proprio, or “without possessions.” As a novice in 1961, I was encouraged to write ad usum simplicem (for the simple use of) on all that I had in my room. I still have this phrase on some of my books. Was that naïve or was it brilliant? Francis was just taking Jesus’ word to his disciples (Luke 14:33) and to the rich young man (Matthew 19:21) quite seriously. It astounds me that Christians missed this in our usual lists of the “musts” of Jesus! Both Jesus and Francis knew ownership was finally an illusion and that it would condemn us to spending the rest of our lives paying for, remodeling, and protecting those very possessions. They are just warning us against this entrapment and all that it entails. Personal ownership is not necessary for enjoyment, as no doubt you’ve experienced in a public library, park, or art museum. Truth be told, after a while our possessions possess us.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.


Do You See Your Calling?
By Oswald Chambers

…separated to the gospel of God… —Romans 1:1

Our calling is not primarily to be holy men and women, but to be proclaimers of the gospel of God. The one all-important thing is that the gospel of God should be recognized as the abiding reality. Reality is not human goodness, or holiness, or heaven, or hell— it is redemption. The need to perceive this is the most vital need of the Christian worker today. As workers, we have to get used to the revelation that redemption is the only reality. Personal holiness is an effect of redemption, not the cause of it. If we place our faith in human goodness we will go under when testing comes.

Paul did not say that he separated himself, but “when it pleased God, who separated me…” (Galatians 1:15). Paul was not overly interested in his own character. And as long as our eyes are focused on our own personal holiness, we will never even get close to the full reality of redemption. Christian workers fail because they place their desire for their own holiness above their desire to know God. “Don’t ask me to be confronted with the strong reality of redemption on behalf of the filth of human life surrounding me today; what I want is anything God can do for me to make me more desirable in my own eyes.” To talk that way is a sign that the reality of the gospel of God has not begun to touch me. There is no reckless abandon to God in that. God cannot deliver me while my interest is merely in my own character. Paul was not conscious of himself. He was recklessly abandoned, totally surrendered, and separated by God for one purpose— to proclaim the gospel of God (see Romans 9:3).

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

January 30th, 2018

Sermon on the Mount: Week 1

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit
Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Sermon on the Mount is the very blueprint for Christian lifestyle, and most scholars see it as the best summary of Jesus’ teaching. But we can’t understand this wisdom with the rational, dualistic mind; in fact, we will largely misunderstand it while convinced that we got it on the first try. As we saw last week, Jesus taught an alternative wisdom—the Reign of God—which overturns the conventional and common trust in power, possessions, and personal prestige. To understand the Sermon on the Mount, we must approach it with an open heart and a beginner’s mind, ready to have these normal cultural beliefs and preferences changed. Most people were never told this and tried to fit the Gospel into their existing cultural agenda.

The Gospel of Matthew sets the stage for the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus sees the crowds following him and heads to “the mountain” (symbolic for the new Moses giving a new “law”) with his disciples. This is his opening line, which necessarily must be central to his entire message; it is a key to everything else:

How blessed (or “happy”) are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. —Matthew 5:3

“Poor in spirit” means an inner emptiness and humility, a beginner’s mind, and to live without a need for personal righteousness or reputation. It is the “powerlessness” of Alcoholics Anonymous’ First Step. The Greek word Matthew uses for “poor” is ptochoi, which literally means, “the very empty ones, those who are crouching.” They are the bent-over beggars, the little nobodies of this world who have nothing left, who aren’t self-preoccupied or full of themselves in any way. Jesus is saying: “Happy are you, you’re the freest of all.”

The higher and more visible you are in any system, the more trapped you are inside it. The freest position is the one I call “on the edge of the inside”—neither a “company man” nor a rebel or iconoclast. The price of both holding power and speaking truth to power can be very great. You ricochet between being offensive and being defensive, neither of which is a contemplative or solid position. Further, you are forced to either defend and maintain the status quo to protect yourself and the group or to waste time reacting against it. My fellow teacher, Cynthia Bourgeault, calls this “pouring empty into empty.”

The “poor in spirit” don’t have to play any competitive games; they are not preoccupied with winning, which is the primary philosophy in the United States today. Jesus is recommending a social reordering, quite different from common practice. Notice also how he uses present tense: “the Kingdom of God is theirs.” He doesn’t say “will be theirs.” That tells us that God’s Reign isn’t later; it’s now. You are only free when you have nothing to protect and nothing you need to prove or defend. Trapped people have to do what they want to do. Free people want to do what they know they have to do. Admittedly, it takes a while to get there.

Eknath Easwaran writes that “the joy we experience in these moments of self-forgetting is our true nature, our native state. To regain it, we have simply to empty ourselves of what hides this joy: that is, to stop dwelling on ourselves.” [1] As we forget our false, floating self, we rediscover our substantial and anchored self—which is not very needy at all.


The Dilemma of Obedience

By Oswald Chambers

 Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision. —1 Samuel 3:15
God never speaks to us in dramatic ways, but in ways that are easy to misunderstand. Then we say, “I wonder if that is God’s voice?” Isaiah said that the Lord spoke to him “with a strong hand,” that is, by the pressure of his circumstances (Isaiah 8:11). Without the sovereign hand of God Himself, nothing touches our lives. Do we discern His hand at work, or do we see things as mere occurrences?

Get into the habit of saying, “Speak, Lord,” and life will become a romance (1 Samuel 3:9). Every time circumstances press in on you, say, “Speak, Lord,” and make time to listen. Chastening is more than a means of discipline— it is meant to bring me to the point of saying, “Speak, Lord.” Think back to a time when God spoke to you. Do you remember what He said? Was it Luke 11:13, or was it 1 Thessalonians 5:23? As we listen, our ears become more sensitive, and like Jesus, we will hear God all the time.

Should I tell my “Eli” what God has shown to me? This is where the dilemma of obedience hits us. We disobey God by becoming amateur providences and thinking, “I must shield ‘Eli,’ ” who represents the best people we know. God did not tell Samuel to tell Eli— he had to decide that for himself. God’s message to you may hurt your “Eli,” but trying to prevent suffering in another’s life will prove to be an obstruction between your soul and God. It is at your own risk that you prevent someone’s right hand being cut off or right eye being plucked out (see Matthew 5:29-30).

Never ask another person’s advice about anything God makes you decide before Him. If you ask advice, you will almost always side with Satan. “…I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood…” (Galatians 1:16).

The Wisdom Tradition

January 29th, 2018

The Wisdom Tradition
Sunday, January 28, 2018

As we explored over the past two weeks, Jesus reveals the divine image clearly, in a personal face we can relate to and love. The incarnation in Jesus tells us that there is no absolute distinction between matter and spirit, sacred and secular. They both reveal the image of God. Jesus also taught and modeled a path for growing into a living human likeness of that image. In particular, his Sermon on the Mount describes the qualities of those who are living truly and fully in the realm of God. (Later this week and next we’ll take a closer look at this classic teaching.)

My friend and Center for Action and Contemplation faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault writes about the power and depth of Jesus’ teaching:

[Jesus was] a wisdom teacher, a person who . . . clearly emerges out of and works within an ancient tradition called “wisdom,” sometimes known as sophia perennis, which is in fact at the headwaters of all the great religious traditions of the world today. It’s concerned with the transformation of the whole human being. Transformation from what to what? Well, for a starter, from our animal instincts and egocentricity into love and compassion; from a judgmental and dualistic worldview into a nondual acceptingness. This was the message that Jesus, apparently out of nowhere, came preaching and teaching, a message that was radical in its own time and remains equally radical today.

I’m mindful here of one of my favorite quotes, attributed to the British writer G.K. Chesterton, who reportedly said, “Christianity isn’t a failure; it just hasn’t been tried yet.” [1] In this great cultural monolith that we call Christianity, which has guided the course of western history for more than two thousand years, have we really yet unlocked the power to deeply understand and follow this Jesus along the radical path he is calling us to? . . . .

From [my] wider immersion [in the worldwide wisdom tradition] I’ve been reaffirmed in my sense that Jesus came first and foremost as a teacher of the path of inner transformation. That doesn’t take away the Jesus you may be more familiar with—the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity—but it does add a renewed emphasis on paying attention to what he actually taught and seeing how we can begin to walk it authentically from the inside. It also suggests that he did not really come out of nowhere, but rather that he belongs to a stream of living wisdom that has been flowing through the human condition for at least five thousand years.


Discovering Our Inner Divine Spark
Monday, January 29, 2018

Jesus was a remarkable teacher of the Wisdom or Perennial Tradition, a philosophy that has been taught “from age to age in culture after culture,” in the words of Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999). Easwaran was an Indian born spiritual teacher and author, as well as a translator and interpreter of early Hindu texts such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. I was personally introduced to him during a visit with Henri Nouwen in the late 1980s. Today I’ll share his description of the Perennial Philosophy so you can see for yourself how East meets West in Wisdom teaching. It’s important to recognize that deep truth is true everywhere and that the historical Jesus was, after all, a teacher from the Near East. Even for those who are not Christian, Jesus’ universal wisdom resonates at the non-dual level. As we look at the Sermon on the Mount, I’ll share a few of Easwaran’s own insights and applications from his reading of the Gospel texts.
In his commentary on Jesus’ Beatitudes [1], Easwaran shares four perennial principles taught by Christian mystic Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) that echo this year’s Daily Meditation theme, “Image and Likeness”:
First, there is a “light in the soul that is uncreated and uncreatable” [2]: unconditioned, universal, deathless; in religious language, a core of personality which cannot be separated from God. Eckhart is precise: this is not what the English language calls the “soul,” but some essence in the soul that lies at the very center of consciousness. As Saint Catherine of Genoa put it, “My me is God: nor do I know my selfhood except in God.” [3] In Indian mysticism this divine core is simply called atman, “the Self.”

Second, this divine essence can be realized. It is not an abstraction, and it need not—Eckhart would say must not—remain hidden under the covering of our everyday personality. It can and should be discovered, so that its presence becomes a reality in daily life.

Third, this discovery is life’s real and highest goal. Our supreme purpose in life is not to make a fortune, nor to pursue pleasure, nor to write our name on history, but to discover this spark of the divine that is in our hearts.

Last, when we realize this goal, we discover simultaneously that the divinity within ourselves is one and the same in all—all individuals, all creatures, all of life.
Easwaran’s description is so good and so clear, in my opinion. Fr. Henri Nouwen, surely no light-weight Christian, told me about this wise man when most Christians were not yet free to see these very common threads within other faiths.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.


How Could Someone Be So Ignorant!
By Oswald Chambers

Who are You, Lord? —Acts 26:15
“The Lord spoke thus to me with a strong hand…” (Isaiah 8:11). There is no escape when our Lord speaks. He always comes using His authority and taking hold of our understanding. Has the voice of God come to you directly? If it has, you cannot mistake the intimate insistence with which it has spoken to you. God speaks in the language you know best— not through your ears, but through your circumstances.
God has to destroy our determined confidence in our own convictions. We say, “I know that this is what I should do” — and suddenly the voice of God speaks in a way that overwhelms us by revealing the depths of our ignorance. We show our ignorance of Him in the very way we decide to serve Him. We serve Jesus in a spirit that is not His, and hurt Him by our defense of Him. We push His claims in the spirit of the devil; our words sound all right, but the spirit is that of an enemy. “He…rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of’ ” (Luke 9:55). The spirit of our Lord in His followers is described in 1 Corinthians 13.
Have I been persecuting Jesus by an eager determination to serve Him in my own way? If I feel I have done my duty, yet have hurt Him in the process, I can be sure that this was not my duty. My way will not be to foster a meek and quiet spirit, only the spirit of self-satisfaction. We presume that whatever is unpleasant is our duty! Is that anything like the spirit of our Lord— “I delight to do Your will, O my God…” (Psalm 40:8).

The Realm of God

January 26th, 2018

The Realm of God
Friday, January 26, 2018

Jesus clearly says the kingdom of heaven is among us (Luke 17:21) or “at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). This realm appears to be his singular and constant message. Without this utterly new and absolute frame of reference, it is hard to know what Jesus is talking about. It’s sad that many Christians made it into a reward system for a very, very few (if we believe our own common criteria); or as Brian McLaren says, we made the announcement of the Reign of God into “an evacuation plan” into another world. [1] As Frederick Buechner observed, “Principles are what people have instead of God.” [2] The Judeo-Christian God wanted to give us Godself, but we preferred ideas and laws. The greatest saints I have ever met eventually had to sacrifice their self-exalting principles in order to love God and to love their neighbor! This is the final and full death of self, which Jesus exemplified on the cross.
The price for real transformation is high. It means that we have to change our loyalties from power, success, money, ego, and control to the imitation of a Vulnerable God where servanthood, surrender, and simplicity reign. Of course, most people never imagine God as vulnerable, humble, or incarnate in matter. We see God as Almighty, and that vision validates almightiness all the way down the chain. Look at history to see Christianity’s role in affirming oppression and violence.
When Christians say “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20) or “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3), we are actually announcing our commitment to Jesus’ upside-down world where “the last are first and the first are last” (Matthew 20:16) over any other power system or frame of reference. If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not! If Jesus is Lord, then the economy and stock market are not! If Jesus is Lord, then my house, possessions, country, and job are not! If Jesus is Lord, then I am not!
This implication was obvious to first-century members of the Roman Empire because the phrase “Caesar is Lord” was the empire’s loyalty test and political bumper sticker. Early Christians changed “parties” when they welcomed Jesus as Lord instead of the Roman emperor as their savior. A lot of us have still not changed parties. In fact, political parties are many American Christians’ major frame of reference today. This is the “realm of silliness” that is nowhere close to the Realm of God.
G. K. Chesterton wrote, “It is merely that when a man [sic] has found something which he prefers to life itself, he then for the first time begins to live.” [3] We are all searching for Someone to surrender to, something we can prefer to our small life. Without such a lifeline of love, the span between God and the soul is not bridged. And here is the wonderful surprise: We can surrender to God without losing ourselves! The irony is that we find ourselves in a new and much larger field of meaning. Jesus’ metaphor for that larger field of meaning, purpose, and connection is “The Realm of God.”

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.

Look Again and Consecrate
By Oswald Chambers

If God so clothes the grass of the field…, will He not much more clothe you…? —Matthew 6:30

A simple statement of Jesus is always a puzzle to us because we will not be simple. How can we maintain the simplicity of Jesus so that we may understand Him? By receiving His Spirit, recognizing and relying on Him, and obeying Him as He brings us the truth of His Word, life will become amazingly simple. Jesus asks us to consider that “if God so clothes the grass of the field…” how “much more” will He clothe you, if you keep your relationship right with Him? Every time we lose ground in our fellowship with God, it is because we have disrespectfully thought that we knew better than Jesus Christ. We have allowed “the cares of this world” to enter in (Matthew 13:22), while forgetting the “much more” of our heavenly Father.
“Look at the birds of the air…” (Matthew 6:26). Their function is to obey the instincts God placed within them, and God watches over them. Jesus said that if you have the right relationship with Him and will obey His Spirit within you, then God will care for your “feathers” too.
“Consider the lilies of the field…” (Matthew 6:28). They grow where they are planted. Many of us refuse to grow where God plants us. Therefore, we don’t take root anywhere. Jesus said if we would obey the life of God within us, He would look after all other things. Did Jesus Christ lie to us? Are we experiencing the “much more” He promised? If we are not, it is because we are not obeying the life God has given us and have cluttered our minds with confusing thoughts and worries. How much time have we wasted asking God senseless questions while we should be absolutely free to concentrate on our service to Him? Consecration is the act of continually separating myself from everything except that which God has appointed me to do. It is not a one-time experience but an ongoing process. Am I continually separating myself and looking to God every day of my life?


January 25th, 2018

Jesus of Nazareth: Week 2

Thursday, January 25, 2017
(Feast of St. Paul)

Incarnation should be the primary and compelling message of Christianity. Through the Christ (en Christo), the seeming gap between God and everything else has been overcome “from the beginning” (Ephesians 1:4, 9). [1] Incarnation refers to the synthesis of matter and spirit. Without some form of incarnation, God remains essentially separate from us and from all of creation. Without incarnation, it is not an enchanted universe, but somehow an empty one.
God, who is Infinite Love, incarnates that love as the universe itself. This begins with the “Big Bang” approximately 14 billion years ago, which means our notions of time are largely useless (see 2 Peter 3:8). Then, a mere 2,000 years ago, as Christians believe, God incarnated in personal form as Jesus of Nazareth. Matter and spirit have always been one, of course, ever since God decided to manifest God’s self in the first act of creation (Genesis 1:1-31), but we can only realize this after much longing and desiring. Most indigenous religions somehow recognized the sacred nature of all reality, as did my Father St. Francis, when he spoke of “Brother Sun and Sister Moon.” It was always hidden right beneath the surface of things.
The dualism of the spiritual and so-called secular is precisely what Jesus came to reveal as untrue and incomplete. Jesus came to model for us that these two seemingly different worlds are and always have been one. We just couldn’t imagine it intellectually until God put them together in one body that we could see and touch and love (see Ephesians 2:11-20). And—in Christ­—“you also are being built into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). What an amazing realization that should shock and delight us!
The final stage of incarnation is resurrection. This is no exceptional miracle only performed once in the body of Jesus. It is the final and fulfilled state of all divine embodiment. Now even physics tells us that matter itself is a manifestation of spirit, a vital force, or what many call consciousness. In fact, I would say that spirit or shared consciousness is the ultimate, substantial, and real thing. [2] Yet most Christians, even those who go to church each Sunday, remain limited to a largely inert materiality for all practical purposes. Such emptiness sends us on a predictable course of consumerism and addiction—because matter without spirit is eventually unsatisfying and disappointing.
Matter also seems to be eternal. It just keeps changing shapes and forms, the scientists, astrophysicists, and biblical writers tell us (Isaiah 65:17 and Revelation 21:1). In the Creed, Christians affirm that we believe in “the resurrection of the body,” not only the soul. The incarnation reveals that human bodies and all of creation are good and blessed and move toward divine fulfillment (Romans 8:18-30).
Death is not final, but an opening and a transition for ever new forms of life. An Infinite God necessarily creates infinite becoming. God is the one who “brings death to life and calls into being what does not yet exist” (Romans 4:17b).


Leave Room for God

By Oswald Chambers

 When it pleased God… —Galatians 1:15
 As servants of God, we must learn to make room for Him— to give God “elbow room.” We plan and figure and predict that this or that will happen, but we forget to make room for God to come in as He chooses. Would we be surprised if God came into our meeting or into our preaching in a way we had never expected Him to come? Do not look for God to come in a particular way, but do look for Him. The way to make room for Him is to expect Him to come, but not in a certain way. No matter how well we may know God, the great lesson to learn is that He may break in at any minute. We tend to overlook this element of surprise, yet God never works in any other way. Suddenly—God meets our life “…when it pleased God….”

Keep your life so constantly in touch with God that His surprising power can break through at any point. Live in a constant state of expectancy, and leave room for God to come in as He decides.

The Mystery of Suffering

January 24th, 2018

The Mystery of Suffering
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

It is much easier to appreciate the glory of Jesus’ resurrection than his painful crucifixion. Yet, Mark’s Gospel, written around 65 to 70 AD, focuses on Jesus’ “suffering servanthood.” Christians believe that we are “saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus.” The key is to put both together. We need to deeply trust and allow both our own dyings and our own certain resurrections, just as much as Jesus did! This is the full pattern of transformation. If we trust both, we are indestructible. That is how Jesus “saves” us from meaninglessness, cynicism, hatred, and violence—which is indeed death.
God is Light, yet this full light is hidden in darkness (John 1:5) so only the sincere seeker finds it. It seems we all must go into darkness to see the light, which is counter-intuitive for the ego. We resisted this language of “descent” and overwhelmingly made Christianity into a religion of “ascent,” where Jesus became a self-help “savior” instead of a profound wisdom-guide who really transforms our minds and hearts.
In recent centuries, reason, medicine, technology, and efficiency have allowed many modern, middle- and upper-class people to rather “successfully” avoid the normal and ordinary “path of the fall.” Yet the perennial and mature tradition of all world religions, and even the modern addiction recovery movement, believes that growth comes through some form of “falling upward,” not climbing upward, which is all about ego. [1]
Many of the happiest and most authentic people I know love a God who walks with crucified people and thus reveals and “redeems” their plight as God’s own. For them, God is not observing human suffering from a distance but is somehow in human suffering with us and for us. Such a God includes our suffering in the co-redemption of the world, as “all creation groans in one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:22).
Is this possible? Could it be true that we “make up in our bodies all that still has to be undergone for the sake of the Whole Body” (Colossians 1:24)? Are we somehow partners with the divine? Of course we are! In fact, I think that is the whole point. The mystic knows there is only one suffering and we all participate in it together: the eternal suffering love of God.
Jesus takes on our suffering, bears it, and moves through it to resurrection. This is “the paschal mystery.” We too can follow this path, actively joining God’s loving solidarity with all suffering since the foundation of the world. Jesus does not ask us to worship him. He asks us to follow him by trusting and allowing this risky but revealing journey. If God is indeed Infinite Love, then humans and all of creation are Infinite Becoming (which is the core meaning of “divinization” or theosis, the process of salvation).
When I was young, I was taught that in heaven we would look at God for all eternity (the “beatific vision”). This sounded rather boring to a little boy. Perhaps heaven is not seeing God for all eternity, but seeing like and with God for all eternity.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.


God’s Overpowering Purpose
By Oswald Chambers

I have appeared to you for this purpose… —Acts 26:16
The vision Paul had on the road to Damascus was not a passing emotional experience, but a vision that had very clear and emphatic directions for him. And Paul stated, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19). Our Lord said to Paul, in effect, “Your whole life is to be overpowered or subdued by Me; you are to have no end, no aim, and no purpose but Mine.” And the Lord also says to us, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go…” (John 15:16).
When we are born again, if we are spiritual at all, we have visions of what Jesus wants us to be. It is important that I learn not to be “disobedient to the heavenly vision” — not to doubt that it can be attained. It is not enough to give mental assent to the fact that God has redeemed the world, nor even to know that the Holy Spirit can make all that Jesus did a reality in my life. I must have the foundation of a personal relationship with Him. Paul was not given a message or a doctrine to proclaim. He was brought into a vivid, personal, overpowering relationship with Jesus Christ. Acts 26:16 is tremendously compelling “…to make you a minister and a witness….” There would be nothing there without a personal relationship. Paul was devoted to a Person, not to a cause. He was absolutely Jesus Christ’s. He saw nothing else and he lived for nothing else. “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Jesus of Nazareth: Week 2

January 23rd, 2018

In Imitation of God
Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Theologian and New Testament scholar Marcus Borg (1942-2015) significantly contributed to our new understanding of Jesus in his historical and cultural context. Today I’d like to share Borg’s insights on how Jesus pursued the imitatio dei (imitation of God) as his life’s purpose. This is the best any of us can do: to act as God acts (see Ephesians 5:1). But first we must be clear about how God acts, which is why we need good theology. Borg writes:
The central imperative in the teaching of Jesus is to live in accord with God’s character: “Be compassionate, as God is compassionate.” . . . We are to feel for others as God feels for all of God’s children and act accordingly. . . .
The author of John’s gospel speaks of God’s love for the world: “For God so loved the world . . .” (3:16). Jesus, for John, is the revelation of God’s love, and so the imitatio dei then becomes an imitatio Christi, an imitation of Jesus. The Jesus of John’s gospel says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (13:34). The symmetry between the message of Jesus and the testimony of the post-Easter community is striking: love one another because the character of God as known in Jesus is love.
We move from how Jesus saw the character of God to how he saw the passion of God. God’s character and passion are not separate, but closely related, just as they are in people. Our passion—our dedicated devotion, our consuming interest, our concentrated commitment—is a major indicator of our character, indeed, flows out of our character. So it is in Jesus’s teaching about God. God’s character and passion, what God is like and God’s will for the world, go hand in hand.
God’s passion is justice. . . . As the social form of compassion, justice is about politics [the word “politics” comes from the Greek polis for “city”]. . . . Politics is about the shape and shaping, the structure and structuring, of the city and, by extension, of human communities more generally, ranging from the family to society as a whole. . . . Justice is the political form of compassion, the social form of love, a compassionate justice grounded in God as compassionate. . . .
The way of Jesus was both personal and political. It was about personal transformation. And it was political, a path of [nonviolent] resistance to the domination system and advocacy of an alternative vision of life together under God. His counter advocacy, his passion for God’s passion, led to his execution. . . .
What would Jesus do in our context? He might once again disrupt the temple—the unholy alliance between religion and empire. I think he would teach the wrongness and futility of violence in human affairs. He would be passionate about compassion and justice as the primary virtues of a life centered in the God whom he knew. And of course, he would teach the importance of a deep centering in God.


Transformed by Beholding

By Oswald Chambers

We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image… —2 Corinthians 3:18
 The greatest characteristic a Christian can exhibit is this completely unveiled openness before God, which allows that person’s life to become a mirror for others. When the Spirit fills us, we are transformed, and by beholding God we become mirrors. You can always tell when someone has been beholding the glory of the Lord, because your inner spirit senses that he mirrors the Lord’s own character. Beware of anything that would spot or tarnish that mirror in you. It is almost always something good that will stain it— something good, but not what is best.

The most important rule for us is to concentrate on keeping our lives open to God. Let everything else including work, clothes, and food be set aside. The busyness of things obscures our concentration on God. We must maintain a position of beholding Him, keeping our lives completely spiritual through and through. Let other things come and go as they will; let other people criticize us as they will; but never allow anything to obscure the life that “is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Never let a hurried lifestyle disturb the relationship of abiding in Him. This is an easy thing to allow, but we must guard against it. The most difficult lesson of the Christian life is learning how to continue “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord….”

God Is Merciful and Gracious

January 22nd, 2018

God Is Merciful and Gracious Richard Rohr
Monday, January 22, 2018

Most people naturally feel that God must be pleased and placated. The isolated ego cannot imagine infinite and gratuitous love. Until we receive the Gospel on a cellular level, the little mind processes reality in some form of “tit for tat.” As a result, people spend more time fearing and trying to control God than actually loving God. In fact, we do not really know how to love God. When one party has all the power—which is, for many, the very definition of God—the only natural response is fear, denial (practical atheism), hiding, or seeking to manipulate the situation. The flow of giving and receiving in a love relationship is not possible with such an imbalance of power. Love requires some capacity for equality and mutuality.
The only way for this pattern to change is for God, from God’s side, to shift the power equation and come to us in a vulnerable position. Jesus is the living icon of this power-shift: God becoming powerless in Jesus. God took the initiative to overcome our fear and hesitation. Jesus, the self-exposure of God (Hebrews 1:3), made honest, intimate relationship between God and humans imaginable! Seeing God in the form of a small baby radically illustrates this shift in power.
The possibility of a relationship with God was already planted in human consciousness with the early idea of “covenant love” as presented in the Hebrew Bible. A covenant is a sacred agreement between two mutually respectful parties. The God that Israel discovered and that Jesus incarnated was “merciful, gracious, faithful, forgiving, and forever steadfast in love” (Exodus 34:6). (This credo of five adjectives is often used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to describe God. [1])
Yet, in the biblical stories (and in our own lives), God leads people beyond the idea of a bilateral contract in which we must earn, deserve, and merit (which we never live up to!), to an experience of pure, unearned grace—an entirely unilateral “new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31 and Luke 22:20) initiated and maintained from God’s side. Knowing this, it becomes apparent that most Christians are still living in the “old covenant” (which does not mean Judaism, but any system of quid pro quo thinking). This is why so much of Christianity is frankly boring. Nothing genuinely new happens under the old covenant, only endless bargaining with ourselves and with God, leading to even lower self-esteem.
Free and un-earnable love is a humiliation for an egocentric or narcissistic personality. We have no control over it. Only a radical experience of grace can move us beyond the self-defeating and tired story line of reward and punishment, in which almost all lose. Only a deeply personal experience of unearned love can move us beyond a worldview of arbitrary requirements to a worldview of abundance and availability. It is indeed the banquet that Jesus says no one wants to come to, and most even resent! (See Luke 14:7-24, Matthew 22:1-10.) God has a hard time giving away God, it seems.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.


Am I Looking To God?
By Oswald Chambers

Look to Me, and be saved… —Isaiah 45:22
Do we expect God to come to us with His blessings and save us? He says, “Look to Me, and be saved….” The greatest difficulty spiritually is to concentrate on God, and His blessings are what make it so difficult. Troubles almost always make us look to God, but His blessings tend to divert our attention elsewhere. The basic lesson of the Sermon on the Mount is to narrow all your interests until your mind, heart, and body are focused on Jesus Christ. “Look to Me….”
Many of us have a mental picture of what a Christian should be, and looking at this image in other Christians’ lives becomes a hindrance to our focusing on God. This is not salvation— it is not simple enough. He says, in effect, “Look to Me and you are saved,” not “You will be saved someday.” We will find what we are looking for if we will concentrate on Him. We get distracted from God and irritable with Him while He continues to say to us, “Look to Me, and be saved….” Our difficulties, our trials, and our worries about tomorrow all vanish when we look to God.
Wake yourself up and look to God. Build your hope on Him. No matter how many things seem to be pressing in on you, be determined to push them aside and look to Him. “Look to Me….” Salvation is yours the moment you look.

Jesus of Nazareth: Week 1

January 15th, 2018

Love Needs a Face

Monday, January 15, 2018

It was probably St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1182-1226) who first brought attention to the humanity of Jesus within organized Christianity. During its first thousand years, the Church was mainly concerned with proving that Jesus was God. Prior to St. Francis, paintings of Jesus largely emphasized Jesus’ divinity, as they still do in most Eastern icons. Francis is said to have created the first live nativity scene. Before the thirteenth century, Christmas was no big deal. The emphasis was on the high holy days of Holy Week and Easter, as it seems it should be. But for Francis, incarnation was already redemption. For God to become a human being among the poor, born in a stable among the animals, meant that it’s good to be a human being, that flesh is good, and that the world is good—in its most simple and humble forms.
In Jesus, God was given a face and a heart. God became someone we could love. While God can be described as a moral force, as consciousness, and as high vibrational energy, the truth is, we don’t (or can’t?) fall in love with abstractions. So God became a person “that we could hear, see with our eyes, look at, and touch with our hands” (1 John 1:1). The brilliant Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1905-1995) said the only thing that really converts people is “an encounter with the face of the other,” [1] and I think he learned that from his own Hebrew Scriptures.
When the face of the other (especially the suffering face) is received and empathized with, it leads to transformation of our whole being. It creates a moral demand on our heart that is far more compelling than laws. Just giving people commandments on tablets of stone doesn’t change the heart. It may steel the will, but it doesn’t soften the heart like an I-Thou encounter can. Many of the Christian mystics talk about seeing the divine face or falling in love with the face of Jesus. We are mirrored into life, not by concepts, but by faces delighting in us, giving us the beloved self-image we can’t give to ourselves. Love is the gaze that does us in! How blessed are those who get it early and receive it deeply. (There is that dialogue of self-disclosure and response again!)


Do You Walk In White?

By Oswald Chambers

We were buried with Him…that just as Christ was raised from the dead…even so we also should walk in newness of life. —Romans 6:4
No one experiences complete sanctification without going through a “white funeral” — the burial of the old life. If there has never been this crucial moment of change through death, sanctification will never be more than an elusive dream. There must be a “white funeral,” a death with only one resurrection— a resurrection into the life of Jesus Christ. Nothing can defeat a life like this. It has oneness with God for only one purpose— to be a witness for Him.

Have you really come to your last days? You have often come to them in your mind, but have you really experienced them? You cannot die or go to your funeral in a mood of excitement. Death means you stop being. You must agree with God and stop being the intensely striving kind of Christian you have been. We avoid the cemetery and continually refuse our own death. It will not happen by striving, but by yielding to death. It is dying— being “baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3).

Have you had your “white funeral,” or are you piously deceiving your own soul? Has there been a point in your life which you now mark as your last day? Is there a place in your life to which you go back in memory with humility and overwhelming gratitude, so that you can honestly proclaim, “Yes, it was then, at my ‘white funeral,’ that I made an agreement with God.”

“This is the will of God, your sanctification…” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Once you truly realize this is God’s will, you will enter into the process of sanctification as a natural response. Are you willing to experience that “white funeral” now? Will you agree with Him that this is your last day on earth? The moment of agreement depends on you.

Awe and Surrender

January 12th, 2018

Contemplative Consciousness

Awe and Surrender
Friday, January 12, 2018

To begin to see with new eyes, we must observe—and usually be humiliated by—the habitual way we encounter each and every moment. It is humiliating because we will see that we are well-practiced in just a few predictable responses. Not many of our responses are original, fresh, or naturally respectful of what is right in front of us. The most common human responses to a new moment are mistrust, cynicism, fear, defensiveness, dismissal, and judgmentalism. These are the common ways the ego tries to be in control of the data instead of allowing the moment to get some control over us—and teach us something new!

To let the moment teach us, we must allow ourselves to be at least slightly stunned by it until it draws us inward and upward, toward a subtle experience of wonder. We normally need a single moment of gratuitous awe to get us started. Look, for example, at the Judeo-Christian Exodus narrative: It all begins with a murderer (Moses) on the run from the law, encountering a paradoxical bush that “burns without being consumed.” Awestruck, he takes off his shoes and the very earth beneath his feet becomes “holy ground” (see Exodus 3:2-6) because he has met “Being Itself” (see Exodus 3:14). This narrative reveals the classic pattern, repeated in different forms in the varied lives and vocabulary of all the world’s mystics.

The spiritual journey is a constant interplay between moments of awe followed by a process of surrender to that moment. We must first allow ourselves to be captured by the goodness, truth, or beauty of something beyond and outside ourselves. Then we universalize from that moment to the goodness, truth, and beauty of the rest of reality, until our realization eventually ricochets back to include ourselves! This is the great inner dialogue we call prayer. We humans resist both the awe and, even more, the surrender. Both are vital, and so we must practice.

The way to any universal idea is to proceed through a concrete encounter. The one is the way to the many; the specific is the way to the spacious; the now is the way to the always; the here is the way to everywhere; the material is the way to the spiritual; the visible is the way to the invisible. When we see contemplatively, we know that we live in a fully sacramental universe, where everything is an epiphany.

While philosophers tend toward universals and poets love particulars, mystics and contemplative practice teach us how to encompass both.


Have You Ever Been Alone with God? (1)

By Oswald Chambers

When they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples. —Mark 4:34

We have to get rid of the idea that we understand ourselves. That is always the last bit of pride to go. The only One who understands us is God. The greatest curse in our spiritual life is pride. If we have ever had a glimpse of what we are like in the sight of God, we will never say, “Oh, I’m so unworthy.” We will understand that this goes without saying. But as long as there is any doubt that we are unworthy, God will continue to close us in until He gets us alone. Whenever there is any element of pride or conceit remaining, Jesus can’t teach us anything. He will allow us to experience heartbreak or the disappointment we feel when our intellectual pride is wounded. He will reveal numerous misplaced affections or desires— things over which we never thought He would have to get us alone. Many things are shown to us, often without effect. But when God gets us alone over them, they will be clear.