Lectionary Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 6:1-13 We Need to Listen

How would you react if you suddenly encountered God in God’s divine splendor as Isaiah did? Use your imagination for a moment. Imagine getting up on a Sunday morning, picking your clothes, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and then coming to church. But as you walk into the sanctuary instead of seeing what you normally see you see the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. No big deal, right. I doubt it. I would likely respond much like Isaiah, in awe and with a certain amount of fear. Or maybe I would just collapse after wetting my pants.

Do you think you would pay attention? Do you think this event was something important? I imagine so.

Isaiah has quite an experience. He encounters God. He confesses his sinfulness and the sinfulness of the people he serves. His sins are atoned for (notice we are not told if the live coal was painful or not). He hears the voice of God say, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Then, without knowing what God is going to ask of such a person he says, “Send me.”

Before his experience in the temple, it can be assumed, due to Isaiah’s words and actions, that he was a man of faith. We know that he was a priest. We can tell by his response to the Lord that he is aware of the lack of faithfulness in the land. His words indicate that he is troubled by the cultural conditions and sinful situations that surround him.

In the first five chapters, before this vision, these conditions and situations are clearly spelled out. God’s people rebelled against God. They had abandoned the Lord who loved them and instead created a civil religion that God found offensive. The people allowed injustice and evil. The culture embraced depravity and violence. All this while suffering and darkness seem to prevail all around them. Despite the cause/effect reality that surrounds them the people do not realize their situation is caused by their unfaithfulness. God is calling them to repentance. God wants them to understand their problems come from their abandoning God and not God’s abandoning them.

I wonder if the church today understands that by embracing what has been called “Christian nationalism” is the same error embraced by the people of Isaiah’s day? I wonder if Christians can understand that we are in danger of, “Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.” There are plenty of false prophets out there preaching a gospel of allegiance to a political party in the guise of being faithful to God. There are plenty of people promoting hate and fear instead of love and trust. I wonder if we (even the church) are a people of unclean lips? If we are, I hope we can have the coals put to our lips.

As was stated earlier, Isaiah was a priest, a faithful priest. The Scripture states that the Church is the new priesthood. The Apostle Peter tells us, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet. 2:9 NIV) The Church is the nation God wishes for us to be the primary nation to which we serve. The Church is to be a holy nation. Any nation, any leader, or anything that takes priority over our obedience to God is an idol. Remember, the people of Isaiah’s day thought they were honoring God when in fact, they grieved God greatly. I believe the church is in danger of doing the same thing today.

What can we do?

There is a story of a brilliant scientist who came up with an idea that could change everything for the better. He decided he need to change the whole world. Then he thought, “But the world is so big, I should start with my own country.” But then he thought some more and decided his country was so large perhaps he should start with his own city. But then there were so many people in his city he thought maybe he should begin with his own neighborhood. Yet he thought, “There are so many households in my neighborhood I wonder what I should do?” Then he realized, “I know, I should start with myself.” This is where we should begin as well.

French sociologist who studied the goodness of America, Alex de Tocqueville, said, “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” Goodness comes from faithfulness to God. Goodness comes from compassion and love.

If we want to see faith become relevant in our land it must start with us. We must desire to be forgiven, desire to love other people regardless of whether they are like us or not. We must pray for them, love them, care for them, and be willing to tell them of the dangers against us and the destiny God offers us through Jesus. We need to remember they are not the enemy.

Listen to what the Lord says to Isaiah, “And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

That stump, that holy seed, did turn things around. God did restore the people, but it took time in exile for them to awaken and rebuild. God had a faithful remnant. That remnant had deep roots. Those deep roots brought them back to faithfulness.

The church in this country was once the most significant influence in people’s lives. Now, it hardly has a voice. The church is a stump of what it once was. However, God has not changed. The holy Seed can again thrive in the hearts of the faithful. This is where renewal and revival begins.

I have heard a verse of Scripture misused time and time again as a supposed promise to a political nation. This promise in 2nd Chronicles chapter seven, verse fourteen states, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chr. 7:14 NIV) This verse is a promise to God’s chosen. It was a promise to Abraham’s descendants.

God has not changed. This promise is still good, not for geopolitical nations but to God’s people, the Church. We can still choose to move from simply survival (focusing on trying to keep the institutional church solvent and mildly relevant) or learn from these words from Isaiah and seek revival (a renewal of faithfulness and trust in the Lord). The choice is ours.

Also, I hope you realize that we will see such an awesome presence of God. The Scripture is clear, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Heb. 9:27-28 NIV) Will our experience at that time be one of justification or condemnation? The answer will depend on the choices we make in this life. What choices will you make?

Desolation and Consolation

Desolation

Moves our perspective from God and others to ourselves

Pushes us down the spiral of darkness ever deeper into our own negative feelings

Tries to cuts us off from relationships both individual and community

Makes us want to give up on the things that used to be important to us

Seeks to take over our whole consciousness and limits our vision of hope

Hides and distorts all our landmarks [the signs given by God for our journey]

Drains us of energy and distracts us from love

Can move us toward the influence of the enemy of humanity

Consolation

Directs our focus outside and beyond ourselves toward God and others

Lifts our hearts and increases empathy, compassion, and celebration

Bonds us more closely to God and our human relationships

Generates new inspiration, spiritual desires, visions, dreams, and hope

Restores balance and refreshes our Kingdom perspective

Shows us God is active in our lives and that God loves us and is leading us

Revitalizes our energy and brings joy to our attitudes and actions

Should move us toward a deeper commitment to God

Understanding these two spiritual states is vital in a person’s ability to discern the will of God for each of us. Desolation is a time of spiritual struggle. Consolation is a time of spiritual renewal. Everyone will go through times of both. Taking a spiritual inventory, or developing the practice of using and Examen prayer can help us become aware of which of these states we might be experiencing so that we can respond accordingly.

Coming Home…….

Ten years ago, I took a different path in my spiritual life. I took this path based not on discernment but upon my own willfulness. I had been pastoring a local church but also had allowed myself to get into denominational politics. I recently asked a sympathetic soul (a person who knew about my involvement and who continued in the denomination I was associated with) if my actions were helpful or hurtful. This individual (who I call friend) said yes and no. I can accept such an evaluation.

The path I chose (with the advice of a friend) led me to work in a local church (sometimes churches) in a connectional denomination. I felt that the connectional nature of this denomination would allow me to avoid some of the conflicts I had encountered in the other denomination. I still find it hard to accept that I was so idealistic and naïve.  I swore I would not repeat my political mistakes of the past. I was faithful to that commitment. The problem was that the denominations I became involved with were much more politically oriented (denomination politics) than the denomination I had spent 33 years of my life with. I came to discover, the hard way, that to not be political was a sure-fire way to be consumed. I had hoped to find a spiritual path that would lead me closer to God, instead, I found a clerical club that was more than willing to use me until I was no longer needed.

The one good thing I found on this leg of my spiritual journey was my discovery of spiritual direction and my successful pursuit of my Doctor of Ministry. Spiritual direction made me a much better pastor and the discipline of the doctorate give me a better grounding in preaching and worship.

The thing that dismayed me the most in my time working with connectional churches with their hierarchical leadership was how it promoted a “career mindset” among the clergy and encouraged the pursuit of ecclesiastical power.  In my opinion, it was worse than secular politics with its intrigue and alliances. Now I do not want to sound completely negative. There are good, spiritual, orthodox (conservative), Jesus loving and obeying people in those denominations. However, the pursuit of power and the dependence upon the power of individuals to decide what the focus of the church should be I found to be counterproductive to the Gospel and a seedbed of evil pretending to be light.

There was a joke in the denomination I was ordained in that there was too much emphasis on nickels and noses in some of the churches. It is not a joke in the connectional churches but a serious fact.

I have returned to the church of my younger days. Currently, I am not an employed pastor but am helping others in discipleship and have a worldwide following in this blog. I returned because, for me, the best way to be a church, the body of Christ, in this world is to do so through a local, autonomous connection of believers who seek to share the Gospel and live according to the teachings of Jesus. I hope to again serve a local church (without getting involved in denominational politics) and use my skills as a spiritual director to guide those in my care to a closer, more meaningful, and involved relationship with God. I do not believe there is a greater honor and privilege in life.

Lectionary Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Jeremiah 1:4-10 Does God Have a Purpose for Me?

I believe the saddest of stories are those which tell us of a wasted life. A story revealed by someone who is at the end of life comes to feel their life was wasted. A story of someone who reflects upon the years they lived only to realize to their dismay that was no meaning or no seeming purpose to their lives.

This is happening more and more in this age in which we try and hide our finitude, our limited lives, our existence behind the illusion of obtaining things or seeking pleasure over pain.

How do we hide our finitude? Well, one thing we do is to attempt to conceal our dependence upon nature. (“Who cares what happens to our planet, we’ll just move to another one, right”). Another is our attempt to place emphasis on our human abilities. (“We will be able to conquer death. We are about to slow it down if we just put enough faith in human ability we will live forever”) However, the greatest lie we tell ourselves is that we do not have to depend on God. If we participate in these lies, we too will come to a time we also have a sad story to tell.

Is there a purpose for our lives? Jeremiah the prophet would answer yes. Jeremiah had received such an answer from God, an answer which produces assurance of direction, empowerment of confidence, an encouragement toward an expectation, and a power of purpose that enabled him to face hardship, suffering, and hostility. However, Jeremiah is not the only person to receive such an offer. Every human being has this opportunity.

In our age, the difference between the interested and the uninterested in being open to God’s guidance and aid in our lives is more significant than the difference between believers and unbelievers. I believe this is an accurate indicator of the true spiritual condition of this generation

How do people receive this guidance? To receive this guidance we find our purpose, we must first awaken to our calling. Jeremiah became a prophet while a young man. He was called to speak to the people about God’s displeasure. He was called to speak out against leaders which could not be trusted. Called out against apathy toward faithfulness to God and the general moral failure of the people. Needless to say, he was called to be someone who would not be popular, not accepted, not respected, not secure. His life would not be easy, it would not comfortable, however, he would never be forsaken, never forgotten, never abandoned by the one who called him. Jeremiah would truly walk with God.

Likely, the calling God extends to you is not nearly as dramatic as that of Jeremiah, it will still include three important factors that we find in Jeremiah’s calling (and everyone else’s calling). These three requirements are, the desire to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8)

Whether we realize it or not, God is involved in the creation of our lives, every one of us. We all are made for God. It does not matter the place or conditions of our birth. It does not matter our situations or circumstances be they assets or obstacles, we are all made for God. It is through God that we come into existence. We are formed in God’s image. Also, God wants to work through each one of us if we are willing to partner with God as we live in this fallen world.

Our human willfulness may resist this calling. Jeremiah tries to use the excuse of youth. God does not accept Jeremiah’s limited perspective. God will guide him. Jeremiah just needs to trust.

What excuses do we have? What would prevent us from the desire to walk with God? Are we willing or willful? Willfulness is resistance to God and focuses upon our selfish desires. But God does not give up on us. We all are called. The issue is will we respond to God’s call.

God calls Jeremiah to be an instrument of justice. This is part of our calling as well. Justice is not legalism. Justice is caring for what is right, to seek what is right. Justice is to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is where the guidance of God leads.

A prophet had a conflict to resolve. A prophet was to speak for God. A prophet also had relationships with the people the prophet identified with. It is never easy to go against those we live with. It is never easy to point out problems in our culture.

We may not be called to be prophets, but we are called to justice. We are called to do and say what is right. We are called to speak out against any collective or individual actions that take advantage of others, vilifies others, or manipulate others in this world. We are our brother’s keeper. We all should feel compassion toward anyone who suffers at the hands of injustice. If we feel the problems people face in this world are none of our concern, then we have bought the lie. We may be in a privileged position now, but what about those who come after us? If we do not stand for justice now, are we not setting up those who come after us for more sorrow? Do we believe we will not be held accountable for our apathy and inaction?

Remember the words of the example given by our Lord, “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matt. 25:44-46 NIV)

Do we believe Jesus meant business? Do we believe this to be true? Does our lifestyle and our choices reflect that we believe and respond?

Justice leads to mercy. We should rejoice in mercy, desire mercy, and love mercy. The good news of the Gospel is mercy. The message of Jeremiah is a message of mercy. How is it mercy? It warns us of the dangers of deceptions and darkness that seeks our fall and failure, our sorrow and suffering, and our death and destruction.

Prophecy is not primarily about telling the future, it is about seeking to guide people to what is right. It is bringing to light the cause/effect relationship our actions have and God’s desire to spare people suffering. It is a message of mercy.

The Gospel is a message of mercy. It is about the coming Kingdom of God. It is about the end of sin and death. It is about restoration to a relationship of love and comfort. It is about Jesus becoming one of us, God incarnate, God who becomes fully human and experiences all that we experience. It is about mercy overriding the justice we deserve and giving us an eternal future that we don’t deserve. It is about our ultimate purpose. If we accept, believe, and live the life the Gospel offers we will not have a sad story at the end of our life, but a story of the joy of walking with God, the satisfaction of doing justice, and the fruits of mercy.

The choice is ours.

Spiritual Direction and Following Jesus

I have been a certified spiritual director for five years. I have served as a local pastor for 40 years. My undergraduate degree is from a fundamentalist Bible college. My master’s degree is from a conservative (but not fundamentalist) seminary. My doctorate is from a more progressive mainline university. I still consider myself not to have arrived on the path God is leading me.

I have, in recent years, become concerned about the direction spiritual direction seems to be leading. I no longer am a member of Spiritual Directors International. I have watched this organization move more and more toward the human potential (new age) philosophy rather than one that is Christocentric.

I am continually reading books on spiritual direction. I find very little of it grounded in any type of Christian orthodoxy and find it leaning more and more into a pseudo-shamanistic orientation. Very few of the spiritual direction programs I have examined pay much attention to classical Ignatian discernment or have a focus to draw a person into the Trinitarian relationship Jesus emphasized. I find recent literature (apart from that produced by Jesuits and from individuals who are products of the now-defunct program of Duquesne University) promoting a view of God that is openly relative and very subjective. I have found hardly any reference to dealing with evil or even the existence of evil. Even in my own training for certification the only concept of understanding the spiritual war that surrounds us was in the reading of St. Teresa of Avila’s works.

I am fearful that many people who turn to the spiritual direction offered will be exposed to a spiritual opiate that will lead them into a false sense of spiritual security and open them to spiritual deception (idolatry) and not bring them closer to the Triune God of Scripture.

Jesus stated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. “If you know Me, you will also know My Father.” (Jn. 14:6-7 CSB). Spiritual direction is supposed to be a companionship of prayer that leads a person to be closer to God. Any relationship that seeks to bring us closer to God will face hostility and attempts of subversion.

Jesus also warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matt. 7:15-16 NIV) I would be very questioning of a spiritual director who strayed from the words of Jesus.

I firmly believe that spiritual direction should be grounded in seeking to follow Jesus. Jesus understood the profound struggle we human beings would face. Jesus defeated humanity’s true enemies but also warned us that the struggle is not yet over. I believe that growth in prayer corresponds with our growth in our desire to love Jesus and be loved by Jesus. Anything that would distract, dilute, divide, or demean this desire is not spiritual direction but spiritual deception.

The enemy of humanity can and does promote a false consolation. A false consolation can lead us to believe we are drawing closer to God but in fact, it is leading us away from the truth. It is the truth that sets us free.

Having been a victim of false consolation I am very cautious of any spiritual advice that conflicts with the centrality of Christ in spiritual growth. This is why a sound understanding of the process of discernment is so important for us today.

John gives us good advice in his first letter, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (1 Jn. 4:1-3 NIV)

In an age where lies are promoted for political, religious, economic, and cultural reasons we need to be continually cautious, humbly questioning, and solidly steadfast in our commitment to drawing near to God through seeking fellowship with Jesus who promised, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20 NIV)

Lectionary Sermon for the Third Sunday of Epiphany

Nehemiah 8:1-10  Gift of the Scripture

There is a humorous quote attributed to W.C. Fields, an American comedian, of the past, who was asked why he was reading a Bible. He replied, “I am looking for loopholes.”

There are no loopholes in the Bible. A loophole is a means of escape. It is an ambiguity or omission in the text through which the intent of a statute, contract, or obligation may be evaded. Loopholes are for evading judgment. The Bible is not a book of judgment.

The Bible is a book of relationships. Primarily it is a book of God’s love for humanity. It is a book given as a gift as a guide, a means of understanding. A covenant offered by the one God who loves us so much that God became one of us. And it is through this love that we have hope no matter what our circumstances or situation.

It is true that reading the Bible may trouble your heart and soul. It may bring conviction and remorse due to our actions. When this happens the problem is with us, not the Bible.

Historical setting. Israel has come home. After years in exile in Babylon, the nation has finally been allowed to come back to the land they had been promised. Why did they end up in exile? Because they chose to ignore God.

“You know what happens to people who ignore God? Bad things, really bad things. It is not that God will cause the bad things, it is that when a person, or people, pull away from God then they will find themselves on their own. God does not force love.

The bad things that happened are a cause/effect issue in their

Relationship with God. God wanted to bless his people, but his people thought they could do fine without God. So God let them have their way.

God will let us reject his help. It was not like the people didn’t know what was expected. God had made it clear. God gives humanity God’s word in Scripture. The Bible is a book for knowing God. God is known not through secret ritual, nor through esoteric disciplines, nor through mystical incantations. God is known through the revealed Word of God.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 Now what I am commanding

you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to

us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”

The Bible lets us know the heart of God. It is a relational revelation.

Even though the people had turned from God, God takes people back. God does not give up on anyone until they ultimately give up on God. God leads the people back to the land just as God promised.

The people came back to rebuild Jerusalem. And now, as the work is accomplished, the people gather. They gather to hear the word of God. They gather to hear how they hurt someone who loved them and what this hurt cost them. They had hurt God.

Listen again to what we are told, “Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” And then, “Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.””

And then we are told, The Levites instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there….and, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.”

Evidently, the reading of the Word to the people caused some to have an emotional reaction of sorrow or guilt. For Nehemiah said, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.”

This is what the living Word of God does. It reveals the truth. And sometimes, the truth is painful. The Bible gave the people a point of reference as to why the exile took place, why Jerusalem was destroyed, and why they had experienced the hardship they had endured.

Jesus told his disciples “When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment:” (Jn. 16:8) Conviction is not usually comfortable. The deeper the conviction the stronger the emotional response. However, the thing about conviction is that calls us to change, to seek what is right. The pathway to what is right is a pathway to freedom, a pathway to joy.

Scripture tells us, “For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a lifetime. Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning.” (Ps. 30:5 CSB)

It is what Nehemiah says next sums up the best of what the Psalmist communicates. It is the best that comes from our grasping God’s word, “Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”  (Neh. 8:1-10 NIV)

These are words of celebration. They are words of fulfillment that were spoken to God’s people by the prophets. This is what the Good News of the Kingdom of God says to us.

Our joy in the Lord. Our happiness in our God. Our hope for the future. This is the goal of Scripture. This is where faithfulness and dependence upon God’s word unveils. As the beginning of Psalm 119 begins, “How happy are those whose way is blameless, who live according to the LORD’s instruction! Happy are those who keep His decrees and seek Him with all their heart.” (Ps. 119:1-2 CSB) This is why we need to take what the Scripture says to heart. This is what God wants to bring into our lives.

The written word was the predecessor to the Word incarnate. Jesus came to bring us life, to bring us the truth, to bring us freedom, and joy. “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn. 1:14 CSB)

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, (2 Tim. 3:16 CSB)

Yes, the Scripture can convict us, make us uncomfortable, and trouble our conscience. It does this not to intentionally cause us pain, but to bring us to our senses, to open our hearts to the love of God, to guide us to forgiveness and hope. This is a reason to rejoice and celebrate. Let us learn from this record of the past in order to make our future brighter.

Developing Strength-Spiritual Strength

The strength of the soul consists in its faculties, passions, and desires, all of which are governed by the will. Now when these faculties, passions, and desires are directed by the will toward God and turned away from all that is not God, then the strength of the soul is kept for God, and thus the soul is able to love God with all its strength.” — St. John of the Cross

I believe St. John of the Cross was one of the most insightful spiritual directors to have ever lived. He acquired his understanding not just through the cognitive abilities of his mind but also through listening to the Spirit of God speaking to his heart.

I believe St. John had a good grasp of the difference between willfulness and willingness. We human beings are born with a drive toward willfulness which, if left to its own devices, would make us selfish, manipulative human beings.

We human beings are broken. We are socialized into a world that is broken. We are destined to a fate of believing lies, deceptions, illusions, and deteriorations leading to an eternity of inescapable suffering. It is this brokenness that opens us destructive attitudes within ourselves and to hostile, diabolical influences from without. What is really frightening is that many, many, people have no idea they are in this state. If it were not for the grace of God who continually tries to reach us and guide us we would be without hope.

If you believe you have, can have, or will have any real control over faculties, passions, and desires then you have entered the most deceptive way of thinking, feeling, and behaving known to humanity. You have entered the world of fools, illusions, and spiritual victims.

St. John of the Cross is someone who understands this reality. He is one who struggled with his own arrogance and ignorance. He struggled with the human responsibility to allow the Spirit of God take us from willfulness to willingness. St. John learned that only God could help us overcome the faulty thinking that works against us.

This is how this thinking works. We think that keeping the three aspects of our lives that St. John mentions should not be that hard. How hard could it be to keep our faculties in check, after all, our thought are of our own creation aren’t they (this is where deception has the upper hand)? And our passions, how difficult could it be to let them know that we are the boss instead of them? And lastly, desires of the things we want or think we want should not be that difficult to control by our will. If we adopt this kind of thinking we are likely already trapped.

In this state, the darkness that hunts us will used to our corrupted state to present us with apparent pleasures, leading individuals to imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more in their control and make a person grow in their vices and sins.

Thankfully, we have an Advocate. God, the Spirit strives to awaken us to this danger by bothering and reminding our consciences of the emptiness and discomfort that comes from this state. God gives us the grace to respond and thus to change. God also encourages us to grow in willingness that can aid us from falling back into the darkness.

Let these words remind us of what we need, “When the Advocate comes, the Advocate will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” (Jn. 16:8-11)

The path of willingness comes with this promise, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (Jn. 14:26-27 NIV) Reflecting and meditating upon these words can be of great help as we seek God’s will and not our own.

January 6th, 2021 A Day of Evil…Coincidence?

“And I saw that truly nothing happens by accident or luck, but everything by God’s wise providence … for matters that have been in God’s foreseeing wisdom, since before time began, befall us suddenly, all unawares; and so in our blindness and ignorance we say that this is accident or luck, but to our Lord God it is not so.”

–St. Juliana of Norwich

Was it luck, accident, or providence of God that saved this country last year from a coup? I believe it was the providence of God that spared this nation from a great evil.

Is the question of evil simply one of perspective or perhaps it is an issue beyond our mind’s capacity to understand in any form we currently call logic? Many would say the reality of evil would indicate that if there is a God then this good cannot be all-powerful or not good. If God were all-powerful and allowed evil, how could such a God be good? If God is not all-powerful then how could God be God and not simply another aspect of creation?

I have no doubt that evil exists. Experience has taught me evil can have a personality (a very dark and violent personality) and that evil can affect the thinking of people who consider themselves morally good and even would call themselves Christian. The breaching of the capitol last year on January 6th was an act of evil. Good people (deceived people) and evil people participated in that act. I believe that evil’s ultimate goal in that event was thwarted by divine providence.

God does act against evil. God may not act against evil as we would want God to act, but this is because, as the prophet Isaiah communicated to us, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:9 NIV)

Evil is always with us. Evil is always trying to spiritually damage us. Evil works through every human institution and endeavors to try to corrupt any soul it can. God seeks to love every soul and strives to make this love known so that a person can choose to love God if they are willing to respond. The existence of evil does not indicate God is not all-powerful. It indicates that God operates in a manner that respects the free will of every human being. God counters evil by giving grace to every sinful person (everyone sins, an action that separates us from the loving presence of God within our own hearts) in order that we have the capacity to acknowledge God’s love and forgiveness.

As we reflect on the events of January 6, 2021, we need to remember how evil used good people as well as bad people to do a wicked thing. I have no doubt Jesus would have (and likely is) deeply disappointed by the actions of those who claim to follow him who participated in that terrible event.

Today is Epiphany, a time for light. The political path was one that Jesus shunned. Some try to say, “Well, Jesus cleansed the temple.” The Capitol is not the temple of God, we are. Jesus driving the money changers out was because of the misuse of the temple. Perhaps driving the love of mammon out of our lives would be more appropriate than allowing evil to guide us down a different path other than one of violence, hatred, and division.

We need to remember this nation cannot save us. Today I remember the words of the prophet Isaiah, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isa. 42:16 NIV)

Lord, guide us out of the darkness of the political “cultural wars” and into the light of our blessed hope. God will walk with us.

Epiphany……2022

Tomorrow is Epiphany. Epiphany is January 6th, traditionally marking the end of the 12 days of Christmas. Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian feasts and one of the most important. Historically, Epiphany celebrated four things: Jesus’ nativity, the Magi’s visit to the Holy Family, Jesus’ baptism, and Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana. The word epiphany means, “a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you”[1]

To me, Epiphany is a time of celebrating the light Jesus has brought into my life. When Jesus was conceived the Light of the World became incarnate, a human being like us in every way except this human being was also eternal God. When I meditate and when I enter into contemplation, I still receive epiphanies through the guidance of the Holy Spirit as to the mystery and significance of the incarnation. When I focus on the visit of the Magi, I am reminded that God’s witness, God’s revelation has been given to others outside of the children of Abraham’s actual linage. I am reminded that all truth is God’s truth.

Jesus’s baptism is also an important point of reflection. I remember my own baptism and the benefits I have received from studying how this act of obedience and covenant has helped many in the spiritual journey. And the wedding of Cana offers insight into how the best is yet to come and that we have not yet fully realized the promise of Jesus’s return for his bride, the Church.

Events like Epiphany help anchor us to a great tradition of faith and spiritual growth. We are richer when we allow such special days to call us to such a great heritage. May the light of this Epiphany bring blessing to you as you seek deeper intimacy with our Lord.


[1] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/epiphany

Spiritual Direction and Encountering the Enemy of Humanity

We define Christian spiritual direction, then, as help given by one believer to another that enables the latter to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.[1]

Part of the help given in Christian spiritual direction (and there are many “spiritual direction programs that ignore this part) is helping the spiritual seeker to discern when they are under spiritual attack by the enemy of humanity. In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of the enemy in the parable of the wheat and tares. Jesus also, in the Gospel of John, that the enemy is like a thief. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jn. 10:10 NIV) The apostle Peter reminds us to, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8 NIV)

Spiritual direction needs to be aware of the tactics and deceptions of the enemy of humanity. To not be aware is to be dangerously spiritually naïve and vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks.

Ignatius’s second rule in discerning of the Spirits states, individuals who are going seeking the cleansing their sins and rising from good to better in the service of the Lord will encounter it is the way of the evil spirit to strive to attack, sadden, depress, and put obstacles, disturbing our souls with false reasons that discouraging us from not going on in the Christian life.   During such attacks the Holy Spirit is likely to give us courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and peace, easing of darkness, and aiding us in all obstacles, that we may go on in our spiritual growth.

In this rule Ignatius brings out the danger we face. There is no conflict-free life. We will face desolation and attacks from the enemy of humanity. There will be times that the enemy seems to, or does, get the upper hand. I for one have experienced the consequences of not being alert and prepared. I have been to the bottom of the pit the enemy can push a person into and it is not pleasant.

When facing desolation, it is important for the spiritual director to remind the person in direction that God does not give up on us when we fall and fail because God loves us, and we are made from this love for the purpose of this love. Evil hates this love and will do anything to disrupt it, pervert it, misguide it, crush it, and if possible, kill it. To ignore this reality is to aid evil in its endeavor.

To grasp the second rule, we must face what comes our way in life. This is a lifelong struggle. The enemy of humanity is insane as well as vengeful. The enemy cannot overthrow God but is insane enough to believe it can. The enemy believes it can hurt God through us. The enemy hates us as God’s creation and desires to us against one another and against the will of God.

The enemy’s voice speaks to our inner conscience negative thoughts and evil, selfish desires. This voice will tell continually tell us, “You have failed, you are worthless, you are a disgrace, you are bad, or the enemy will try a seductive voice to entice us to sin, “You deserve this, you are superior to others, you have a right to rule your life, etc.

When the enemy speaks, we need to ask God to quiet the voice, to help us overcome the influence the voice has toward our responsibility and will. It is a continual battle. However, God does give us the strength we need when we are willing to accept it. We can say to the voice with the authority of our Lord, “Get behind me Satan.”

The Apostle Paul warns us to prepare to engage the enemy of humanity. Paul tells us, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Eph. 6:11-13 NIV)

I am afraid the arrogance and ignorance of our “modern world” can lead us to believe our ancient enemy is only a myth, a human creation, or a delusion created by a mental illness or inferiority. This mindset plays right into the hands of the enemy of humanity and makes us vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks. Thus, we are spiritually unequipped and ill-prepared to stand against such a darkness. It is vital that a spiritual director help an individual or group of individuals to be aware of the enemy’s tactics and how God can armor us against them.

Our enemy is real. The enemy knows our weaknesses. The enemy is determined to destroy us. Our Lord wants us to be alert and aware. We are to test the spirits that come our way (do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God – 1 Jn. 4:1 NIV). We must be aware of how the enemy uses our willfulness against us. We need to learn to surrender our willingness to God so that can strengthen and equip us for this struggle.

As spiritual directors, we have been warned. As spiritual directors, we have a responsibility to make sure those whom we guide are aware of the dangers. God will prepare those whom we guide if we can help them listen and discern how God will lead them in the battle. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, we can stand.


[1] Barry, William A.; Connolly, William J.. The Practice of Spiritual Direction (p. 8). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.