Have mercy on my Thoughts

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God
Have mercy upon me, a sinner.

As I was driving to Abilene, Texas to have a procedure done by a back surgeon. I tried to keep my mind off the surgery by allowing myself to just float from one topic to the next. The problem with this type of thought surfing is that it can be a perfect time for the Evil One to attack.

As I drove mile after mile, I first struggle with the directive of Jesus to love our neighbor as yourself. I have always had trouble with this. I believe I need to love my neighbor a whole lot more love than I love myself because I really do not love myself that much. So my thought surfing lead from one negative thought to another about the phoniness, the sinfulness, the foolishness, and destructiveness of my life for the past five decades. As I thought, the depression I began to feel deepened.

So then my mind went scapegoating. My first focus was the dubious character and malevolent activities of my former district superintendent. I could write some really dark stories based on my thoughts about her. But of course, thankfully,  came the conviction followed by the prayer of seeking forgiveness that added to the proof of just how stupid I can be. The Lord knows all about my feelings and I need to leave my thought on her with him.

The next target drifting into my thoughts were others that were involved in destroying my ministry (if you could call it that) and who forced me into poverty, horrible physical injury, and create in me the desire to sue them.  I serioisly prepared to do this and had ample evidence to win but I back down because that is what they would do so I thought. In reality, God just said no. Well, I least I did on thing right, I think. But these thoughts and all their negativity would not stop and I was getting close to complete despair as I drove. Not a good place to be.

I felt I had only one hope. Repeating the Jesus Prayer. So I began: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner, breathe out. Breathe in, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner, breath out, repeat. Again and again I developed the intentional rhythm and focus to continue this prayer for 40 miles until I reached the surgery center.  The dark thoughts were gone and I felt a bit a peace while I waited for my turn to be sedated and injected.

Every day of my life is a battle against my thoughts. Every day is a battle but the awareness I gain is both painful and redemptively truthful. I am an intuitive and likely function mostly under the seer/lover archetypes so I lean to the addictive which produces much of my negative shadow.

Being in this state gives me an awareness of when I am being played by politeness and conventionality. I can sense when people really do not want to be around me and I do not want to be anyplace when I am not wanted. This means I need to be sensitive to expectations that will not be fulfilled and not become to upset by those I bore or worse. They are not the ones to be scapegoated. The only scapegoat I have for my current state is my self.

Until I work through the mental mess and psychic potholes in my life I am going to be very vulnerable to attacks. I will be fighting my thoughts. I will be easily wounded and more self depreciating. But I know, as the pilgrim discovered, there is a prayer for this and every situation that changes the direction of thought to the One who can handle all that comes.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God
Have mercy upon me, a sinner. Amen

 

That Brighter Day

When dreams are filled with nightmares
And your thoughts are filled with dread
When you think that no one really cares
And you hopes are all but dead
You still can find some peace of mind
You still can find a way
To look beyond this world to find
A future with a brighter day

The struggle to surrender to righteousness is not a simple as making a decision. Anyone who believes otherwise is entering the realm of self delusion. The truth is that it takes hard work to move beyond the cheap grace of today’s prevision of good news. Salvation is a moment by moment process that is continually being attacked by a nature that is like completely corrupt. As Scripture rightly says, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12 NRS)

I am sick of those who say only focus on the positive. Focus on the power of redemption as if it were a form of magic that mystically transforms us into beings of light. Yes, focus on redemption, but understand the way to righteousness depends on God’s righteousness and a continual process of reflection, discernment, and decision. Repentance means going the other direction and this direction is the narrow road. “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt. 7:14 NRS)

One of the deadly sins is that of apathia or sloth which is a failure to carry out one’s spiritual  responsibility. It is to take the easy path of painless religion, convenient religion, the social religion that deceives and deludes. It is a path the requires very little and has the mantra, free grace.

I believe we can grow in our faith but the road is more like that of Abraham, Job, Paul of Romans chapter seven and Jesus rather than Joe knows church. At least for me, the path of righteousness only comes when I do not trust myself, do not feel empowered or secure, but when I reflect on the battle between my old nature and the powers and principalities. It is painful. It is filled with times of seeking to move from self loathing to fear and trembling. Yet, this struggle is worth the reward that is promised. It is worth a future with a brighter day.

When dreams are filled with nightmares
And your thoughts are filled with dread
When you think that no one really cares
And you hopes are all but dead
You still can find some peace of mind
You still can find a way
To look beyond this world to find
A future with a brighter day

Spiritual Direction?

I wonder in my limitation
How stark can darkness be
For even though I seek the light
I find it is darkness who chases me

Time after time darkness catches me
And I pay the most terrible cost
And even though I see the light
I feel as if I am lost

 

In our current days of disconnect and distraction, of comparison and consumption, seeking to grow in one’s faith can be exceedingly hard.

Now there are plenty of books, manuals, videos, and people claiming to be gurus who promise to lead us toward a deeper relationship with Christ, but I cannot help but wonder if they are the blind leading the blind. Perhaps they have been so deluded in their own reality, so deceived in their pseudo locutions of spiritual insight that the have crossed over into the fantasy of self-deception.

There are times I wish I could talk with someone who lived in the years between the story of Malachi and Matthew. What was it like when God went silent? What techniques did the spiritual gurus of that time offer?

There are clues in the likes of Simeon and Anna. They were old. They had an expectation and were wondrously surprised when God came into their presence. It is the living in the hope and expectation that sustained them. A faith developed through the Scriptures they had and the hope they came to embrace in their hearts.

I strive to read every book I can on spiritual direction and the “Christian” spiritual experience of every noted mystic I can find.  By Christian, I mean that which is based on the good news of the incarnation of God that has been preserved and believe by the faithful in all times and places. For me, Christian is a word meaning follower of Jesus who has made the commitment to be a disciple who tells others of the birth, life, death, resurrection and promises made by Jesus.

I put emphasis on the word “Christian” because much of what is passed off as spiritual direction today is much like current politics, swinging either to the fringe right or the fringe left.  I just left an organization that was started by Christian spiritual directors and has now drifted into a hodge-podge of eclectic psychology and new age magic of which I have no desire to be affiliated. On the other end are the Trump-ites whose idea of spiritual direction is MAGA, stockpiling arms, and building walls for the glory of Jesus.

Most of my life I have been trying to find those paths which we lead me closer to God. I am convinced the harder I try, the more difficult the journey gets. I am becoming more and more convinced that the more you try to find and follow the light, the more you attract the darkness. I have also discovered that I am no match for this darkness.

So,

I wonder in my limitation
How stark can darkness be
For even though I seek the light
I find it is darkness who chases me
Time after time darkness catches me
And I pay the most terrible cost
And even though I see the light
I feel as if I am lost

The Wise Choice

“Persevere in labors that lead to salvation. Always be busy in spiritual actions. In this way, no matter how often the enemy of our souls approaches, no matter how many times he may try to come near us, he’ll find our hearts closed and armed against him.”
— St. Cyprian of Carthage

St. Cyprian of Carthage

It is an easy mistake to make. You get busy. You become tired. You seem to not have enough time, and thus become susceptible to illusion that you can not make your practice of spiritual disciplines you primary goal of you day. This is exactly what the enemy is hoping for.

There is no cease fire in the spiritual war raging around us. No peace treaty, no neutral zone, no place that we can let down our guard concerning our souls. Once we allow a weakness in our spiritual life develop, the enemy will quickly use it to attack.

I have come to believe that we need to develop a mindset like that of the desert Fathers and Mothers. They look at their culture and understood the power it had in influencing human beings toward lives that did not honor God. So they went to the desert to spiritually survive. We need to create our own deserts of time and place that gives us labors and actions that can help us escape the powerful influence of our own cultures.

Some would say, “I go to church to do that!”

I am sorry, as a pastor for 40 years in two, now three denomination, I have found the church has chosen to compromise. Some of turned to politics. Some have turned to market shares and statistics as their means of self-evaluation. Some have become social clubs founded upon cultural preferences and self oriented consumer “needs.” No, the local church is not the place to find the spiritual strength to become what we are called to be. As part of the universal church we can still find nurture and guidance in the rituals that offer us an opportunity to encounter God, but even then discernment is needed.

In the desert, the Fathers and Mothers developed community. They developed a community of accountability and spiritual survival. I hope we can do the same. I believe this would be a wise choice.

Lectionary sermon 10/20/2019

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

There are many people, even people who proclaim to be Christians and pastors who are supposed to proclaim truth, who that believe the Bible is no more than a book, maybe a good book, but just a book nothing less.

Even though the church has believed in the authority and trustworthiness of the sacred Scripture since the time of Jesus up until the last century, more and more people no longer believe the Scripture is relevant for their lives.

These people obviously have a different perspective and faith than that of the Psalmist who proclaims, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.” (Ps. 119:105-106 NRS)

Perhaps, just perhaps, the reason is that people do not like what the Bible has to say. In the Old Testament lesson for today, Jeremiah speaks to the concept of individual accountability. According to Jeremiah 31:27-34, we cannot blame others for our actions. Jeremiah lets us know that God is not a psychologist who says we are victims of our heredity or our environment. God is not lawyer who gives us loopholes and legal definitions to make behavior legal. God is not a philosopher who postulates the positions of what is good or bad. God defines what is good and what is not and reveals this in the Scripture. Maybe this is the reason so many are seeking ways to undermine Scriptural authority. They want to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. They want to make excuses for their behavior or failure. They want a loophole for themselves.

If Scripture is not the authority for Christian life and faith, what is? Our feelings? Our reasoning? Our traditions? Without the authority of Scripture, without its guidance, our foundation for faith is relative and open to deception and delusion.

The history of faith is filled with misinterpretations of the Scripture that have been destructive to the faith. Image how much more destructive such mistakes and fallacious concepts would mislead the faithful without the foundational authority of the orthodox trust of Scripture. I believe we are seeing this in our western culture.

Paul understood this and gives this exhortation and warning to Timothy. First, Paul tells Timothy (and us), “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NRS)

Then, Paul tells Timothy, “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)

It is hard enough in this life to struggle against all we human beings face. However, when a person chooses to ignore the foundation of Scripture that God has lovingly given us, they open themselves to myths that will leave them empty and alone in times of crisis. They will leave themselves open to deceptions they cannot even imagine with a destiny no human being would ever desire if they understood the consequences Scripture clearly spells out.

Those who discover the purpose of the Scripture relish in the understanding it gives and the perspective it offers. Only embracing the presence of God exceeds its presence in the life of those who love God. Scripture communicates God’s love. It communicates God’s care and compassion. It also reveals the mistakes we human being make. It warns us against foes we cannot even see. It describes the pitfalls of ignoring its teaching. It makes us aware of how wonderful and how fragile how life can be. It is the Word, a written revelation which points to the incarnation of God as one us, what this means and what this offers.

God makes us a promise, spoken in the Old Testament and reaffirmed in the New, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isa. 55:10-11 NRS)

You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. For “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” That word is the good news that was announced to you. (1 Pet. 1:23-25 NRS)

This Word gives us hope, in a God who loves us and responds to us in times of celebration and times of sorrow, in times of joy and times of difficulty, a word we can always trust.

In the Gospel passage for today, Jesus tells a parable of an unjust judge who ends up doing the right thing because of the persistence of a woman who will not be denied. The point of the parable is to remind us that if this judge will give justice out of irritation, imagine what a God who loves us, seeks us, gives us His world and who sent his Son to become one of us to lead us to salvation will do.

This is the good news we are given in Scripture, “Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (Jn. 14:23 NRS)

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. (Lk. 11:9 NRS)

Upon this we can build a foundation of faith and hope. Amen.

Do Justice, Love Mercy, and Follow Trump

“Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.”
— St. Thomas Aquinas

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Mic. 6:8 NRS)

After listening to the prayer offered at the Value Voters (i.e., religious Trump republicans) I had to ask myself, “What kind of training in moral theology did “pastor” Brunson receive in seminary?” Not only was his prayer a mockery of praying to God who loves the poor and oppressed, he also pretended to have his eyes closed as he read from a visible paper he was holding in his hand. Who was the show for? I have never heard a prayer skirt the edges of idolatry so closely while “praying” for the president. I believe if Micah had been present he would have cried, “What are you thinking!”

Yes, I will agree that President Trump has pushed for some of the things those whose devotion to the Republican party often overshadows their commitment to Jesus, but to believe that the person elected to lead this nation has any idea of what it means to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God is ludicrous. I do not know which hypocrisy was worse, the prayer or the man for whom the “prayer” was offered pretending to be “blessed” by it. President Trump may not go down in history as the worst president, but certainly he will be in the running for the most immoral and as far as being the president who told the most lies, no contest.

Morality as a standard for our “values” has become quite strange. Morality should flow from the love of God which is the truth of God. This love should fill us with gratitude and humility considering the grace we are given. To be moral is to understand justice rooted in love not selfishness. It is to understand mercy as caring, not conceit. It is to walk with God not think we are god.

It seems to those who believe President Trump is a chosen agent of God. I have a question for those people.  Is it moral to lie if it raises doubt about one’s actions and tries to divert responsibility for one’s actions?  Is it moral to abandon people to be slaughtered simply because you can and it will help you make more money? Is it moral to use the tax dollars of this country to manipulate another country into helping one’s one political agenda. And these are only this leader’s most recent activities for which Brunson prayed (I find it ironic that Brunson was held as a prisoner in Turkey and now prays for the man who is allowing Turkey to commit ethnic cleansing).

I do not like to get into political controversies, but when such irreligious mockery takes place so publicly I feel it is wrong to be silent. Yes, we are to pray for our political leaders. We should pray that they are guided by God. However in this case, I think we find evidence for the truth of Scripture that tells us who dominates the political realm of this world. “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matt. 4:8-9 NRS) So I pray for President Trump that he is awakened to truth and if not I pray that he is impeached.

 

Lectionary sermon 10/13/2019

Jeremiah 29:1,4-7
Psalm 66:1-11
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

In the spiritual war that surrounds us, the battle is often waged on the field of perception. What is the field of perception? It is how we perceive our circumstances from either the perspective of the world or the perspective of God.

I want to begin with a story: A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

This is a battle fought on the grounds of perception. The difference in this tale from the battle we fight is that when a Christian fights this battle, the Christian has a promise. A promise I will carefully state now: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28 NRS)

Notice, I said I will state this promise carefully. because it is a promise that if it is misused if it causes pain or distrust. It is hard to see the good when a loved one dies. It is hard to see the good in personal suffering. It is hard to see the good in illness, violence, mental anguish and human sin. Never, ever say this promise to a person in such a situation. To do so is to profane the love of God.

What God is saying is that no human tragedy goes unnoticed. No human wrong is ignored. God will take that which has been bad and will use it in ways beyond our comprehension to bring about the ultimate good, even when we might not know the outcome this side of eternity. This is perhaps our greatest tool of faith we can develop. It is a tool we most definitely will need to use at certain points of our life.

Paul tells Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.” (2 Tim. 2:8-9 NRS) Paul, imprisoned for his faithfulness, his obedience, his sacrifice for his Lord, is fighting the fight of perception and winning. Paul is encouraging Timothy to fight as well.

However, our ability to win this fight is one of faith when we enter the battlefield of perception, we must first understand it is a fight the enemy is used to winning. Sometimes the only way we can even know we have been attacked and lost is when we lie devastated from wounds of deception, ignorance, complacency, delusion, and just plain selfishness in our own lives. The enemy capitalizes on these things and gloats over our suffering.

Take the covenant people of Judea. They lost the battle of perception by thinking false gods could help them. Thinking that military alliances could help them. Thinking that their cultural approach to their religion could keep them from being overtaken and exiled from their country. But it did. When they woke up, it was too late. For seventy years they lived in exile.

What did God tell them? Accept this captivity. Pray for the good of the land. Live your lives as you should. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer. 29:7 NRS) This is the perception you must have.

Why, why did God give this to Jeremiah to say? Why, because the first thing we need to do when we find ourselves knocked down by the temptations faced in perception or the results of letting the enemy knock us down is realization and acceptance of our situation.

In Psalm 66, the Psalm for today, we find a prayer lifting God’s glory as well as speaking to the danger we face in arrogance. “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; (Ps. 66:10-11 NRS) The Psalmist cries out that God has done this. No, God did not do this. God allowed this. God allowed this so that the people might wake up. If you were to read the rest of this Psalm you would see that the Psalmist is led to cry out for forgiveness and God does hear. This is the way out of the trap of a false impression. This is the path to true perception.

Last week the text of the lectionary spoke on faith. The apostles wanted more faith. The problem is God has already given them access to all the faith they would even need, not as a possession, for faith cannot be concocted by human effort. Faith is a state of being grown through trust. Faith is a duty, an expectation, an obligation that gives us true perception and defeat our demonic foes. When God enters our life we have access to all the faith we need, we just are too deceived to understand.

There is a prayer that can help us in “our awareness that the God’s gift rather than our accomplishment gives us the confidence expressed by Paul: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Phil. 4:13).” This prayer is the Prayer of Examen. It is a prayer founded upon the recognition of God’s love for us, our gratitude, our realizing how we need God to help us win the battle of perception through the power of discernment, and the promise of God’s forgiveness when we fail. It is a prayer of reflection and realization of this fallen world in which we live. An unexamined life is a spiritually defeated life.

The gospel story today is the account of ten lepers. Leper were likely the most isolated, feared, and hopeless people of their time. Yet, in this perception of hopelessness they take a chance and seek out Jesus. Jesus heals them all and the leave. Only one comes back, a leper who was also a Samaritan. He comes back and gives praise to God. You see the others had the perception that the leprosy was their battlefield. It wasn’t. Their battlefield was a state of mind that would allow them to walk away from a gift of healing without a word of thanks to what only an act of God could make happen. Only one understood. Only one perceived.

We live in a world in which perception is becoming more powerful. Deep fakes can create lies that are believable. We are continually being manipulated by mega data. We sold a bill of goods by people who serve their own interests and, likely out of ignorance and arrogance are serving the darkness that is drawing closer and closer. God has given all so much but way too many think it is not enough so they seek to live in a deceptive perception that for someday they must account.

Will it be asked of us, “Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” (Lk. 17:17 NRS) Will we be the one who understood or the nine who walked away?