Happiness Needs Help

“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.”
— St. Gianna Molla

I have recently gone through a nine week training course on ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy). I went through this course for my own self benefit and to add to my spiritual direction toolbox. It was a very interesting course. The basic premise is that we can, no matter what our circumstances, have control in our lives by putting our values first and learning to be mindful of these values as we deal with obstacles and challenges in our lives.

Let’s face it, happiness is difficult when we feel we are controlled by forces beyond our control. As a spiritual director, I understand that life, a fully satisfying and meaningful life, can be very difficult to obtain. I have been in the pits. I have faced times in which I felt I had no hope. I have made some very bad decisions in such times that can still bring up a sense of regret.

I have learned, however, that when I recognize I am in desolation, seek understanding for the reasons behind the desolation, and then act (respond) in an appropriate manner to confront the desolation, I can be sustained until I can again find spiritual consolation and return to a state of happiness. ACT training has given me more tools to use in all three categories of recognizing the situation, understanding what is taking place and then responding in a way that hope is again a light I can look forward with and patience can bring me to an anticipation of again being happy.

Happiness is only truly achieved when we are together emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I did not not physically because that often times is one of the things beyond our control. I made the mistake once of listening to a spiritual director who lead me to focus on the physical that produced a false sense of relief I later came to regret. Be very careful to whom you trust with your soul.

I would recommend to everyone who understands that sometimes happiness needs some help to purchase a couple of books on ACT = Acceptance Commitment Therapy and learn some of the techniques and plans for living that they offer.

If I can be of help, not as a therapist but as a soul friend who is on the journey of life with you let me know. Blessings

The Blind Person’s Guides

“Faith and love are like the blind man’s (persons’) guides. They will lead you along a path unknown to you, to the place where God is hidden.” — St. John of the Cross

If I have learned anything from all my negative experiences in life is the reality of just how blind I can be to the dangers, pitfalls, obstacles, and evil awaiting me on this journey of life. I have learned the hard way of just how important it is to have guides we can trust to be leading us toward the good and our own best interests.

My faith has changed. My first vision of faith was not a true vision but one given me by fundamentalism. Fundamentalism in religion can seem to be a life jacket when a person believes they are drowning in a sea of unclear parameters and a false sense of needing certainty. However, this life jacket will become a straight jacket that will itself become an obstacle to discovering the true path for which we are created. Fundamentalism is in itself a form of blindness that is prejudiced toward building walls and limiting freedom. It is more of a psychological and social barrier than a religious path to truth.

My unbinding of the straight jacket of fundamentalism required me to accept my faith not as something to be certain of, but a relationship I could trust and find assurance. My faith now gives me freedom to question and explore, to discover and to discern. Faith now guides me to recognize my limitations as well as my opportunities. I now am more adept at hearing truth rather than needing to see and touch it. Because of these new perspectives and abilities I am able to truly believe the words, “We live by faith and not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7 CEB) Faith is now a prominent spiritual director in my life.

Perhaps the hardest guide for me to accept in my life is the guide of love. I did not love myself for much of my life. I was continually at war with my own self perception. I would do things to try and escape from the person I believed I was. This self loathing only lead me into the traps of the enemy of humankind and influenced the many bad choices that I made.

Even though I believed I was a Christian, I could not really fathom the idea that God really did love me. How could God be so blind. It was not God who was blind. It was me. It took a miracle, a miracle resulting from an extremely horrible and destructive choice to bring me to a point where I could begin to understand that even someone like me could be loveable. I had felt (and was) betrayed so many times by those who said they “loved” me that I was extremely resistant to love breaking through. But, the think about love is that it does not give up on a person. Love pursued me and overtook me. It introduced itself to me and promised not to force me, use me, or deceive me. It made it clear it would gain my trust at the pace I set. It provides me with assurance that I had been blindly seeking and never finding.

Yes, there are times when it is hard to trust faith and love. Sometimes the road we travel can become so terrifying that I try to let go of their hands. They never let go of mine. They stay with me till I am ready to again believe and trust them to lead me on the best path for my life and will help defend me against the evil I am sure to encounter. They will do this for you as well no matter what stage of life you are in. They are always there waiting to be asked.

You have this faith and love because of the hope reserved for you in heaven. You previously heard about this hope through the true message, the good news, (Col. 1:5 CEB)

A Mission of Unity/a witness to truth in Political Parties

“We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”
— St. Francis of Assisi

I have a proposal for those who are already established in a political party. If you are a Christian, since you believe you know what your party stands for why not become a missionary to the other party? I know this sounds crazy, but think about it for awhile. We do not try to make Christians out of individuals who are already followers of Jesus (well, let me correct that, make Christians out of committed, active, and obviously in God’s will people). Why then, not seek to align the platform of both parties to one that supports moral and spiritual values and works against the evil that is an enemy of us all.

I am not just talking theory here. This is something I myself have done. Let me share a bit of my earlier resume’. I was the first Baptist to serve on the board of Dallas Right to Life. I was an organizer for the Religious Roundtable. I am the founder of Hill Country Right to Life and the Schreiner College Young Republicans. I was a delegate to the Republican Convention. I was train by NICPAC and the Young Republicans in political activism. Now, I volunteer and write to support Democrats who are like-minded in values and convictions. I feel I have been successful in convincing some of moderating their views to a point that they too are more in favor of stances that look at the big picture (also, I could never support Trump).

How can this work? Let’s take an issue like the abortion debate. This issue will never be solved by laws against abortion. The only way their will be change is to change our cultural perspective. What I propose is to seek to get other Democrats to see this. Democrats are big on the issue of women’s rights, this is a noble stance. Why not work to join an attitude of pro-life with position that seeks to support women who become pregnant with an unplanned pregnancy financially, emotionally, and with any other support they may need. Why not seek to promote research that would provide safe and effective contraception that is more effective than what we now have. Also, we need to educate men as to their responsibility in this issue and make them accountable. If Democrats would take the life of the unborn child more seriously and reflect this in their platform think of how much good could be done.

Another issue, the widening gap between rich and poor. The Republicans are extremely pro-business. What if some individuals with current Democrat leanings who are Christians would begin to work to seek to make that part more sensitive to workers needs? Think of good that could be done.

If you look at the platforms of both parties you can find good and find things that need to be adjusted. I am not so Pollyanna to think that we can bring about universal agreement, but we can make changes that would promote more civility and unity. Even the hardest of heads can be softened with the right approach and love. Our Lord taught us that. Our current cultural wars are only going to bring more hatred and suffering into a deeply divided world. Christians are to be reconcilers not pawns to be used by political power brokers.

Will this be difficult? Yes it will. However, our Lord never said that anything that we do for the Kingdom would be easy. Is this the right thing to do? If we really care about our call to be reconcilers and witness to God’s truth, then yes it is the right thing to do. I hope you will consider it.

Discovering God’s Paths

Rather than defining faithfulness as absolute conformity to authority and tribal identity, a trust-centered faith will value in others the search for true human authenticity that may take them away from familiar borders of their faith, while trusting God to be part of that process in ourselves and others, even those closest to us. Pete Enns, The Sin of Certainty, p206

After spending forty years in the pastorate and seeing the corruption, competition, and compromise first hand in three major denominations, I have concluded that we are deeply in need of a new reformation. I left one denomination due to the cover-up of a major fraud oriented scandal and a change in my theological understanding of salvation, was forced to retire from another due to being falsely accused of sexual misconduct (never officially charged-just not reassigned so I could be accused of being a bit biased), and as a member in the third I ceased to seek recognition of orders simply because I am tired of jumping through hoops in order to convince the powers that be (whoever they may be) that I do have God’s call upon my life. Boy that was a long sentence. Still, the church is the bride of Christ and will continue to await the return of the Lord and perhaps receive some needed plastic surgery to cover up the scars that have been self-inflicted. I still believe the church is the means through which we carry out God’s will.

For the last three years I have been seeking to understand what it means to seek God’s will. I finally found a definition that I can fully trust due to its biblical support and theological rational. (Quote) “God’s will is the vocation of every Christian, of every person. In every act of willing we should explicitly or at list implicitly be willing the glory of God for God’s greater glory.” I found this definition in my study of Ignatius of Loyola. I have also discovered that Ignatius put together a set of rules to help a person discern if a path is likely from God or not. These rules are very practical and take into account the reality of the existence and influence of an enemy of humanity and God.

In my own life I wish I would have come to find these rules for discernment sooner. It would have saved me a lot of grief, sorrow, depression, pain, and making choices I wish I would not have made. In all my theological training (and I have a doctorate from Perkins Theological Seminary) I was never given any aid or instruction on how to discern God’s will. Also, there is a great emptiness in how ministers today are trained in regard to engaging in spiritual combat and in dealing with the immaturity and hostility that thrives in most churches today. Even in the training I received to become a certified Spiritual Director I was not introduced to a way of discernment as helpful as I have found in Ignatius.

I love what Jules J. Toner, S.J. writes in his book on Discerning God’s Will; “We ought to take for granted that what the Lord of the whole world works in persons is either for the sake of giving us greater glory or for the sake of lessening our evil when we are not disposed to receive the greater glory (p.22).” God wants to work with us to not only our good but for the good of all creation. When we understand and work to be able to be available to God and to recognize His voice (the purpose of discernment of spirits) we are much better equipped not only to spiritually survive but thrive and bring defeat to our enemy.

I would (and do) encourage all who want to develop deeper confidence (not certainty which is idolatry) in their spiritual walk to seek out a spiritual director who is knowledgeable in Ignatius rules and also to read all they can get their hands on concerning this incredible gift this Spanish mystic has offered us. More on this later.

The Good Guidance of God

the-power-of-prayer

“Now surely I do see what an immense effect such a doctrine [of the Holy Trinity] must have upon life. It is no mere question for theologians, but one that concerns every living soul. Whatever is allowed by God’s power must be guided by His wisdom and urged on by His love. All that happens to me in life, the little worries and the great anxieties, the crises and the daily annoyances, the sorrows and the joys, the harms that reach me through the sins of others, the great crimes of history, the huge and devastating wars, the partings and loves and the whole cycle of human experience are permitted by Power, which is itself wise and loving. These three Persons determine my life, and, since I walk by faith, I must surely grow very patient in my attitude toward life. For how can I complain or criticize God’s Providence, since it all comes under that triple influence of Power, Wisdom, and Love? Under the guidance, then, of this mystery, I can walk through the valley of death or the more perilous borders of sin without loss of courage or hopefulness. Nothing can make me afraid. How these are separate, yet one, I do not know, nor can I reconcile in my concrete experience the claims of each. It is always a mystery, but a mystery in which I believe. Whatever Power allows on earth is designed in Wisdom and attuned by Love.”
— Fr. Bede Jarrett

Over the last four years I have learned the truth expressed in the above quote. After spending forty years of my life as a pastor, I was simply discarded. I wondered how God could allow this. Why would God not strike down those who mistreated me so?

But, in the end, after a failed suicide attempt, I can to realize that I was asking all the wrong questions from the wrong perspective and the wrong attitude. I had let the enemy lead me to believe that I was the one who had been wronged when in fact it was God. God had to watch what I went through. God had to watch me allowing myself to be deceived. God felt all my doubts, fears, hurts, sorrow and suffering with the understanding of how foolish and ignorant of His love that I was.

This world is not fair. It is a world under a curse. It is a world hateful of humanity for what we have done, what we are doing, and what we will continue to do. It is a world in which horrible and atrocious things occur ever day. It is a world lacking in compassion. However, within this world there is a God who understands, a God who works through others to bring good out of bad, to bring light into darkness, and give grace and mercy where it is needed most.

My life is still a struggle. I am still called of God to be his servant and I am more than willing to respond no matter what the obstacles are. I have been given new life, a renewed hope, and continuous consolations that give me happiness and joy. My personal, universal, wonderful, divine Trinity of Three that is One loves me and in the end will make it all good. For this reason I can help others understand as I myself proclaim, ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ Julian of Norwich.

The Storm that Just Will Not End

See the source image

I am currently working on a project in which I am re-writing, from my perspective and interpretation, a book written in 1589 AD by Lorenzo Scupoli entitled, The Spiritual Combat. I am rewriting this book for two reasons. First, it is a classic and the truth it has to offer is as valid today as it was when it was written (however it does need updating). The second reason is that our Enemy has not gone away and is perhaps more effective in carrying out its diabolical plots now than ever before.

My heart goes out to those who serve in churches where, because of the church’s size, they are vulnerable to continuous attacks from within and without. The smaller consumer based churches are clergy killers. Also, my heart goes out to the multitude of individuals in churches who are starving spiritually or are undernourished do to a diet of watered down beliefs and meaningless traditions.

I am also deeply grieved at what is being passed off as “spiritual direction” in our current culture. Most of it is at best a fusion of new age thought, situational ethics, pseudo-counseling, and a consumer oriented mentality. To speak about the possibility of the presence of personified evil quickly draws glances of criticism and disbelief.

I personally have turned my focus back toward a more biblically based spiritual direction and the tools offered by Ignatian spirituality. For me, the need for the discernment of spirits is perhaps one of the most important practices a spiritual director may offer to others.

One of the key aspects of Scupoli’s work is his emphasis on understanding the danger of self-deception. In a quote from “thegospelcoalition.org”, “Self-deception is a fundamental experience and the starting point of philosophy since Socrates. This article discusses a few aspects of self-deception as a theological concept. Self-deception is closely related to sin, often creates false assurance of salvation, and is caused by disordered love. Diligent effort to gain self-awareness is vitally important to prevent self-deception. We can counteract self-deception by acknowledging its pervasive and universal presence, opening ourselves to self-examination and questioning, and avowing disavowed engagements. God often uses trials to bring us out of self-deception.”

I have come to believe that self-deception is the root sin of all sins. I believe this is the primary tool the enemy uses today against us. We seek certainty that we can never obtain and thus deceive ourselves when we think we find it. The only way to avoid such self-deception is to recognize the danger, engage in critical self-examination, seek the aid of a competent spiritual director, and develop a disposition toward humility that can equip us for the storms we now face that just will not end.

Worship


Worship

I come into the gathering
with a humble and contrite heart
With eager anticipation, I sit
waiting for worship to start

I quiet my mind as I wait
for I know God will enter in
I ask for insight and willingness
to confess my every sin

I know my Lord is present
because of the promise God made
Just like the Holy Promise
that He would rise from the grave

A promise when two or more gather
there would our God be
Not only would God be present
But God promised to live in me

So I bow my head in worship
and I lift my heart in song
I take communion with assurance
To my Lord I do belong

From invocation to benediction
I participate in everything
My attention and my focus
For all the good that worship brings

Amen

Prayer, the Simple yet Profound Life

“Prayer, for me, is simply a raising of the heart, a simple glance towards Heaven, an expression of love and gratitude in the midst of trial, as well as in times of joy; in a word, it is something noble and supernatural expanding my soul and uniting it to God. Whenever my soul is so dry that I am incapable of a single good thought, I always say an Our Father or a Hail Mary very slowly, and these prayers alone cheer me up and nourish my soul with divine food.”
— St. Therese of Lisieux, p. 141, Story of a Soul

The more one prays, the simpler prayer becomes. Simple not in the choice of words or in the fact that one must work at maintaining a constant prayer life (as would one work to maintain any relationship that is dear and important), but simple in the sense of being with God. The more one prays, the closer one gets to God and the easier and more relationally real prayer becomes.

There are two types of prayer, mental and vocal. Mental prayer is when we converse with God in our own words. Vocal prayer is when we pray and use prayers that are written (usually by others) and are spoken to God. Hail Mary is a vocal prayer. The Jesus prayer is a vocal prayer and of course, the Lord’s prayer (Our Father) is a vocal prayer. Both types of prayer can build intimacy with God.

Some think that vocal prayers like the Hail Mary or the Jesus Prayer are meaningless repetitions. Not so! Any prayer can be meaningless if it is not from the heart or is said simply as a religious duty. Vocal prayer, repeated with focus and desire, can be one of the best ways to draw near to God. I know that some think that the Hail Mary is an act of worship or idolatry of Mary. Again not so. The Hail Mary is a request for intercession not worship. I have come to find it an effective, uplifting, and fruitful prayer in my life.

Praying is one of the most important works of faith we can be involved in. In prayer we speak to God who loves to hear our voice. Not only does God want to hear our voice, God wants to communicate with us in a manner that makes our relationship with God more assuring and intimate. 

So, let us bow our heads, or lift up our hands, speak our hearts desires from our thoughts or pray using the gifts and prayers given us by the Church. Let us pray often. Let us pray with hope. God is listening.

 

 

 

TODAY

Today

Today I seek your presence
Today I seek your will
I come without a pretense
I come with a desire to fulfill

You are my Lord and Savior
Of this I have no doubt
To love you and find your favor
Is what I hope to be about

Tomorrow may have its worries
Yesterday I cannot change
In the future there are likely furies
But only today is in my range

So, I bow my head in loving prayer
And offer myself to you
Knowing that You are always there
Ever loving, ever faithful, ever true

Amen

Elements of True Worship

taize worship

My doctorate is in liturgy and homiletics. My written project focused upon adding contemplative practices to the modern worship service using the format utilized in the contemplative community of Taizé.

I chose this path because I felt that current “worship” is mainly geared more toward us rather than toward God. I had heard the phrase, “doesn’t meet my needs” way to often. Worship is not primarily about our “needs” but is about our being with God who said, “let us make living beings in our image” (paraphrase mine).

As a pastor, I found that those in the administrative leadership in the denominations I served put emphasis on those things they felt added to the denominations financial and numerical survival. They would preach, teach and expect directly or indirectly that big is better. The size (attendance) of a gathered group was the primary indicator of success not on the spiritual growth of believers.

Also, there is an emphasis on the consumer (customer) mindset. This supports the “need” factor that has produced a failure to include practices that would build a community into one in which the heart of God’s compassion dominates producing the fruit of grace. There is a strong push to provide for people with what they want more than what God desires.

The Apostle Paul warns Timothy about this human tendency. “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”  (2 Tim. 4:3-4 NRS)

In order to worship as an individuals without the focus being on individualism there should be four elements in our lives as believers  included whenever possible to produce genuine worship.

First there must a faithful commitment. By faithful commitment I mean there must be a commitment to God that has a higher value than any other aspect of our lives. It is very easy for ritualistic activity and social tribalism to be thought of as “worship” when God has stated what God expects worship to be, a giving of our totality to our loving God. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:5 NRS) Jesus reiterated this in His discussion with the lawyer over the greatest commandment. “He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”(Matt. 22:37 NRS)

When we worship we need to do so with the intent to live our lives as God’s people doing those things which God expects. Our worship should flow out of our righteousness. It should acknowledge when we fail to do this bringing about a true sorrow for sin and a desire for forgiveness with a renew of our commitment.

Worship is not about the right music, the right rubrics, the right rhetoric or right ritual but the right relationship in which we seek to place God where God belongs, in the center of our hearts and lives. If this condition is not met then our worship is not worship at all.

Second, there must be focused remembrance. God gave the people these instructions concern God’s decrees, commandments, and actions:

Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deut. 6:6-9 NRS)

It is through remembrance of all that God has said and done that we find our purpose and our meaning in life. The ability to remember and reflect gives us an anchor for out faith. Our faith is not a blind faith. It does not require us to believe “just because.” Our God is a revealing God, an acting God, a God who is found in circumstances and events. We have Scripture that reminds us of God’s action in the past and God’s promises for the future.

Jesus, in his last act with his disciples, gave them this sacrament, “Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.“” (Lk. 22:19 NRS)

After spending a good portion of my life as a pastor of churches that made preaching to be the unofficial sacrament of the church, I have become more convinced that focusing on the Eucharist as the central element of weekly worship is vital to having true worship. There is a deep theology in the practice of the presence in the meal, the remembrance that continues the presence of Jesus within the community. Yet, again, because so many church members have not been properly instructed on the real purpose of the remembrance reality of communion, many do not find participating important. Such a spiritual poverty has damaged the spiritual vitality of the church. 

Third, there must be sincere praise. This praise must come from within a heart of gratitude and not simply from a catchy tune or theatric performance. And while music should have an important part in worship, that music should be a tool for deep internal expression of love and trust in God. Public prayers should focus on God’s actions and human response more that asking for intercessions and individualized desires. 

Again, praise itself should be founded upon remembrance and promises. It should emphasize faith even when understanding is not grasped. It should honor mystery and promote assurance rather than certainty which is never promised nor expected of us by God.

Fourth, there must be hope founded in cheerful confidence. Even in times of challenge and difficulty there should be confidence. Even in times of persecution and fear there should be confidence. God can be trusted. Jesus is our blessed hope. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Jesus will return. We need to be confidently ready and express this readiness as we worship. If any of these four elements are missing, we should be asking ourselves, other members, and our leaders why?