Monday, December 30, 2013

Hear-Focus (Prayer)

God knows our hearts, our intentions and our plans. He knows our circumstances. He knows our intentions for us.

So, why pray? A large part of prayer seems to be beseeching God to do things he already knows about, convincing him of the wisdom and benefit of doing these things, and -- if you are really spiritual -- how good he will look in the eyes of the world. Doesn't this seem a little bit like putting the cart before the horse? Isn't God aware of all this long before we are? Prayer seems, in some ways, like a waste of time. Yet, it is God who recommends this practice. Doesn't the Bible say to ALWAYS pray?

Prayer is NOT for God's benefit. He is completely self-sustaining, completely independent. He does not need convincing to act in love, because he is love. He does not need convincing to right wrongs, to demonstrate his glory, or to advance his kingdom. All of these things agree with his purposes, and agree with his work of redemption and restoration.

Prayer is for us, his children, his kingdom, and his family. Prayer is focusing our hearts on God, receiving grace and receiving transformation. We are put into a new place, so we agree with God's heart, accept God's purposes, work toward God's ends, and complete our purpose in his kingdom. Prayer gets our heart in sync with God's heart.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Spiritual Fads

It seems like there is always something "hot" that the Christian community is engaged with. Currently, there is a large amount of noise about something a particular actor, who is a follower of Jesus, said about the gay community. Now, he is in trouble with the people who sponsor him, and the Christian community is yelling "Terrible! Terrible! Terrible!" (Read: He expresses what he believes in, and he is a terrible person; other people express what they believe in, and that's OK. Can you say "double standard?")

I obviously have some thoughts of my own ... or else, why would I be bringing it up.

(1) I have not read the gentlemen's comments. But, if you read the Bible, you know that God has certain standards about how we are supposed to speak about others. Did he step over the line?

(2) Also, if you read the Bible, you know God does not exactly approve of the gay lifestyle. And, as followers of Jesus, we ought to think what Jesus thinks, feel what Jesus feels, approve what Jesus approves, and do what Jesus does.

(3) There is an awful lot of breath expended in the Christian community about gay issues. Given the amount of breath and energy given, one would think this is the most vital issue of the age. What did Jesus say was the greatest command. It was NOT "thou shalt not engage in gay activities." The greatest command is to love God, and the second is to love people. Yes, it is sin to engage in gay activitiy. It is also sin not to love. Which means it is sin to be impatient, unkind, envious and to hold grudges.

Does it not seem wiser, better and more effective to put first things first? Maybe we ought to focus on first things -- the things Jesus said were most important -- until we get them right, and then go onto lesser matters. Or can we, at least, give equal breath to the first things as we do the lesser things?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Heart Focus (Challenges)

The result of a life in relationship with God is a life with a heart growing in focus on God. When your heart is focused on God, God reciprocates and focuses his heart on you. The result is his love, grace and Spirit flow into you heart. Your heart is purified. Your character is refined. You are empowered. And all of it happens from the inside out.

But God continues to test and challenge us. The point of his work in our lives is to refine our focus, to convince us of our need for him in relationship, and to build in us a heart for him.
Many people tend to think of challenges as adverse circumstances. And they can be. But positive or good things can be as well.

If we are in the midst of good things and god times, we can have elevated and incorrect thoughts about ourselves. We can say to ourselves, "I'm doing all right. I am being rewarded for all my work." And the result is -- your heart-focus is on you, your position, your work, and your heart-focus is not on God.

Success or fame can break your relationship with God. It can sever the connection between your heart and God's heart, stopping the work going on.

Failure, bad things and bad times can equally test our connection and heart-focus. In this case, we say "I'm a failure. A jerk. I'm not work anything." We doubt God's love. We doubt God's intentions. We focus on ourselves.

Failure or guilt can break your relationship with God. It can sever the connection between your heart and God's heart, stopping the work going on.

At the center of our lives as followers of Jesus is a relationship with God, and maintaining our heart-focus on him. All of life's circumstances are opportunities to enhance our heart-focus or to damage our heart-focus. Each circumstance has a different effect, and therefore, a different lesson on how to maintain our relationship and heart-focus with God.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Heart Focus (Distractions)

We often have foreign students living with us. They are either attending the local university or studying English in preparation for attending the local university. 

Currently, we have a student from China. And his father recently decided to visit the US. He has friends in San Francisco, relatives in Boston, and a son elsewhere on the east coast. They will return to China next week. (After the son will return to the US after winter break.) 

The father will be staying with us for a couple of weeks. He speaks little English, and the son attends classes Monday through Friday. Because communication is difficult, the normal means of expressing hospitality are very limited. His son translates and there are apps on the internet. But TV, normal conversation and asking questions are pretty much out of the question. And there are some transportation issues. Realizing this is not an earth shaking predicament, it does add up to a slight increase in stress. 

I believe people live from their heart, from their inner core, from the inside out. Jesus said that what they put in their heart automatically comes out of their mouth and in their actions. This is the normal way people work. But what happens on the outside does affect the heart. 

I have noticed that the ability to focus my heart -- to reflect, pray and meditate -- has been blocked somewhat. It could be the visit, the season, (the effects of too much turkey) or one of those bio-rhythm things. With a diminishing of my heart-focus, one would expect a diminishing of God's reciprocating heart-focus, an therefore, a lessening of grace, and the flow of God's Spirit getting blocked somewhat. 

One would also expect a decrease in appropriate behavior. Now, I haven't lost my temper. I haven't gone on a "bender" of one sort or another. But I have noticed a "tremor in the Force." A small loss of peace. (Or a small gain in anxiety. A stranger in the house? Too much turkey? The BCS standings?) But there is a definite sense that I am not functioning at 100%. And there is a definite sense that, at least in part, it is a result of a heart-focus that is not optimal. 

If what we have been discussing lately, the heart-focus being the conduit of God's grace, and the flow of the Spirit into our lives, and if, as followers of Jesus, we live by that flow of grace and the Spirit, then disruptions of that flow are serious. Then, anything that causes a distraction to that heart-focus is serious. 

One could say that our primary weapon is achieving God's purposes, growth or restoring God's kingdom is our heart-focus. It connects us to God, to grace and to God's Spirit, which are our primary resources in achieving the things mentioned above. Then, it would not be too much of a stretch to conclude that Satan's primary objective in spiritual warfare is to disrupt our heart-focus, and to cut us off from our primary resources. Anything that disrupts our heart-focus can be an attack from the enemy. (I would not get too hyper about this. All he needs to do in many cases is just let life work. Living is distracting all on its own.) Areas of sin, areas of every day life (politics, school, work) and even areas associated with righteousness (family, church) can become an artillery barrage to our heart-focus. 

NOTE: I am beginning to wonder if what we are calling our heart-focus is what Jesus meant by "abide in me." 

NOTE: I just finished a historical novel about the battle of Vicksburg during the Civil War. The deciding factors in the battle were (a) the Confederate army was cut off from their resources (food, ammunition and clean water) and (b) the Union army was well-supplied in all of the above. Demonstrating how vital maintaining connections to resources in war is.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Something New

Jesus was talking about following religious practices with some people. He told them that at different times, we need to adjust our practices. Like when God reveals something new to us.

He used two metaphors to illustrate this. The first was patching a hole in an old piece of clothing with new material. If one sews a patch on an old item of clothing, when it is washed, the patch will shrink, pull on the old fabric, weaken it, and, eventually, create a bigger hole.

The second was putting new wine into old leather skins. Fermentation causes gas to form. The gas will stretch the leather skin. New skins will stretch; old skins will not. Stretching the old skins will cause them to burst. Ruining the skins and the wine.

Pretty often, I read, hear or see some Christian announce that God is going to do something new. He will reveal himself differently. He will reveal his purposes in a new way. If these proclamations are true, then, according to Jesus, should we not be making adjustments in our practices? Should we not be acting differently?

(I have heard that old leather can be treated in a way that it will regain its suppleness and elasticity. But doesn't that mean someone has to do something different?)

The basic form of doing church has been set for hundreds of years. There have been some changes. The music is different. Many churches no longer use special robes. People still meet in special buildings. They are still led by professionals. The focus still is on the weekly meeting. Most people are still spectators. There is a fixed time of singing and prayer. Then, someone gives a speech. 

I do not mean to suggest that any of these things are bad or evil somehow. But, if God is doing something new, then we need to do something new.