All posts by Jamie

I help people listen for God in their lives.

God’s Glory, Our Triumph

It will end well.
You are never alone.

Concerning God’s Glory John writes:

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” NRSV Rev 21:1-5

My wife and I recently returned from Cambodia.

We visited their King’s Palace. His Throne room displayed his understanding of glory. Peeking through doors and windows we saw lots of angels around the ceiling . Cambodian kings claimed to be God upon the earth.  Looking through the doors and windows we saw swords, shields and war elephants dressed for battle and stuff like that.  Oh, lest I forget, there is a solid gold buddha there, right next door in the “Silver Pagoda.” There is a life sized gold buddha dripping diamonds the largest of which is said to be around 25 carats.

Kings display their wealth and power.

Now, think of the the crown jewels in London or Versailles dedicated to “All that Is Glorious in France.” Tens of thousands of people visit Newport, Rhode Island every year. Though people may not like systems that allow a handful of people to gain such wealth, we are fascinated by displays of power and wealth. People are odd cridders.

God’s glory is different.

Because God is the Creator of all that is, God could put together a display of power and wealth what would make even the greatest human palace look like a sad Disney World want-a-be. Herod had built an amazing palace glorifying himself in Jerusalem, and rebuilt the Temple to become the largest worship center in the world in his day.

John’s mouth dropped open because he saw God leaving his throne and coming among the people.  The Creator and Sustainer of the Universe knelt down before us, like a father with a child. God is glorious because

God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Rev 21:3b,4a NRSV

And in amazement John head the heavenly host singing:

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!”

God glory comes from living with us.

God’s glory is found among people.

God’s glory is about the power to heal, to restore and to recreate our hearts and minds to become, more closely, what they were originally intended to be. Hundreds of million of people speak the same witness.  God’s presence restores us to the person we yearn to be. When we do for others what God has done for us we glorify God. And we build our own souls. We were created for this, wiping away tears and dancing in the sunshine with others in their joy.

Therefore, Gold and Diamonds are fascinating. More importantly,  the God who dwells with us brings healing and joy and triumph.  No matter what, you life will end well if you trust God.

 

Beautiful Moments – Welcome Home or Relief?

Beautiful House in the woods speaks of beauty but does it speak of welcome
Beautiful or Home?

11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11

Noticing Beautiful Moments

We live in a sea of negativity. The constant focus on what is wrong affects us all.  However, from time to time we become aware of beautiful moments. They break through the dullness of everyday distractedness. We are touched.

As I see it, recognizing that God has planted a yearning for eternity in our hearts. Indeed, beautiful moments, whispers of  love and the feel of wonder transform nice moments into gifts from our Creator and Life Companion. All people respond to beauty. Christian return thanks for the gift.

One of the greats who celebrated beauty was Omar Khayyam. Living in the latter half of the 11th century, He was a Persian Mathematician, Astronomer and Skeptical Muslim Poet. As an agnostic, he would fit right in any gathering of today’s “smart people” who are living without God. Though more or less secular, Omar Khayyam loved beauty and pleasure. So he wrote about moments like the first shafts of light of the morning sun appearing from behind the clouds. He loved human love and wrote about the joy of spending time in a meadow with a woman. He is probably most famous for the words, “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and Thou.”

Omary Khayyam’s Thought about the Universe

We discover, from time to time, letters and limited circulation poems what say things like this:

The sphere upon which mortals come and go,
Has no end nor beginning that we know;
And none there is to tell us in plain truth:
Whence do we come and whither do we go.

Living in what he thought of as an impersonal world, Omar Khayyam considered the cosmos to be a  a sort of glorious cosmic clock.  So he believed that the Creator, if there was one, was not involved in our lives. That vision results in believing that  we are on our own. Beauty came and went, love was for the moment and both a diversion from the emptiness of life.

Understanding the Heart of God

In this Sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” CS Lewis wrote the following about seeing beauty but thinking there is no God:

“For a few minutes we [secular people] have had the illusion of belonging to that world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance.”

Welcome Home to the Dance of the Spirit

To know Christ is to know that beauty reflects God heart.  This is so because God wired us with various abilities including the ability to experience beauty as an outpouring of his heart. Indeed, the beautiful grabs our attention and God pours its sweetness into our hearts.

Therefore, the experience of wonder, love and beauty is a great gift. Our eyes and our hearts tell us that we have “been accepted, welcomed, [and] taken into the dance.” The house of beauty becomes our home.

So we notice wonder, return thanks to its Author and know that we are a part of the Creator’s family. If you dwell were God is to be found, you find home. By beauty God transforms nice moments into powerful, soul filling gifts from a loving Father. “Take time to be holy,” as the old hymn says. Notice beauty, love and wonder and be grateful to God for the gifts.

Finding Help / Freedom Today

Sitting with Another

In the midst of living we often need help to remember what we know.

Strong emotions may “shoot” us back into some old place where we did not know how to move forward in our lives. Many people speak of feeling confused,. Others experience being overwhelmed. Others feel imprisoned. However we experience such moments, God understands that this happens. In loving kindness, God has provided the tools of meditation, the presence of others and help through the Spirit.

I was sitting in a Tim Horton’s with a friend. He had had “the best day at work” he had experienced in a while. He was very happy. His joy was contagious. This was a very good moment between two people who wish each other well. God is kind.

Then his face changed. He looked troubled, even somehow frozen in time. He and his wife were in a difficult place. She gets loud. He freezes, always has.

Help begins with remembering what we know.

I begin to meditate when I see that look in someone’s eyes. Other’s old, black places are kind of contagious. So I ask for God’s wisdom. Like many others I tend to get hooked by similar old stuff in my life. When hooked, I don’t remember what I know either. As the 18th century essayist and moralist Samuel Johnson used to say,

“Memory is the mother of all wisdom” 

God has promised us that He will give us the words when they are needed. As my awareness filled with my own experience of feeling helpless in the face of another’s anger, I asked, “Lord, what do you want me to hear?” I waited and listened to both my friend and for the nudging of the Spirit within. From somewhere outside my normal thought processes I heard myself saying to my friend,

“Ah, do you expect that if you remain quiet and agree with your wife’s criticism, her anger will blow over, she will feel bad about having taken it out on you and you then get cookies?”

I experienced these moments as gifts from another intelligence. “Words of Wisdom or Revelation” Paul called these moments. One of the works of the Holy Spirit is to gift us with insight we cannot discover on our own.

My friends face broke into a huge grin.

“Yep, that’s what is meant to happen. In fact, she does not feel bad. No cookies for me, just frustration.”

Well, such moments of the connection between two souls is a gift. It is often not this neat, but if we invite enough people to disentangle themselves from their emotions and remember what they know, it does happen. And it is just wonderful for both when it does. God is kind.

When people shift our of their dark places and begin to think about what is happening today and about the other person, they are usually stuck at first. Help then becomes helping them find what they already know.

He asked me how he should move forward and I am always tempted to answer. “I can help you because I am so ….whatever.” Years of experience says that the “wise councilor role” is not much of a help. So I reminded him of the truth. Somewhere within himself he already knows that he needs to know. Jesus is eager to help him remember.

I also reminded him that his wife understands far more wisdom than she uses when upset. Jesus is eager for her to remember and to use what she has forgotten in the moment. So we ask Jesus to open our eyes to what  we know. Invite others to do the same.

When we invite others to allow God to open their minds, their hearts, their eyes or their ears to what the know, sometimes they say “What?” and get confused. They might get angry. Occasionally, a light goes on and they experience a moment of insight and healing. We are not responsible for their response. We just make the invitation. That is what Help looks like. My job was to invite him to know what he knows. His job is to invite his wife to know what she knows.

Invite others to meditate seeking the nudge of the Holy Spirit to experience the gift of knowing what they know.

Then I asked him to get still inside and when he was to ask a simple question, “Lord, what do you want me to understand about my wife?” That prayer is the prayer of asking God to help us remember what we know when we need it. It gets us out of our dismal swamp of ancient hurts and frustrations and into the here and now of loving each other.

His face lit up as the same Spirit that gave me a word of wisdom gave him the gift of insight. “Whenever she has a problem with her daughter she wants to be reassured that she is a good mother.”

When his wife is concerned that she has blown it as a mother, she forgets what she knows. She just begins to demand that someone else assume her responsibilities as a mom. She thinks she wants them to solve the problem.

Well, that works about as well as hunkering down and waiting for cookies. He realized that and now had a beginning place that allowed him to experiment with a new way of moving forward in his relationship with his wife.

I encourage you to remember three things, things your probably already know but need to remember when you need to remember.

Other’s hurts are likely to trigger old feelings within us. If we have allowed God to bring healing and insight into our own struggles, we have freedom to really hear them. Then we may sense God’s leading rather than flee our own hurts.  Learn to meditate as they talk in order to disengage from our immediate responses to their story and listen for God’s wisdom instead.

When we “hear” a word of wisdom that comes to us as a gift, share it without expectation. It might be right on target. It might not be. The other person may not be ready to hear it. Respect that. We have been unready often when others have given us a word of insight. So in the humility of honesty we extend the same privilege to others.

That said, at times it is our joy to connect with another at just the right time with good words and images that they can hear. Then it happens. We experience a moment that is holy, a moment in which our hearts, the hearts of another and the presence of the Spirit come together for healing, for blessing and even the immediate experience of God’s active love.

 

Resilience: You Are More Amazing than You Know

Resilience
Hunger for Life Is All Around Us

Three years ago I found this resilient little plant buried under a scrubby bush.

The plant reminded me that we don’t have to go looking for resilience. We just have to clear the trash out of the way.

Realizing I had found a 30 year old Rhododendron, I removed the bush that was choking it to near extinction. I worked appropriate material into the soil and and took other steps. If you have any interest in growing plants, the Old Farmer’s Almanac has a nice article.  When done, I waited.

In the course of the last two years it has grown to be the size of a healthy 5 year old plant. In another 3 or 4 years it will continue to grow quickly. You see, it has a deep root structure because of its struggle to live. Struggle can be a real asset in life.

You may already know this about yourself and resilience.

When you remove a bad habit or experience healing in some part of your soul, you begin to grow like this rhododendron. You have developed deep spiritual roots because you have struggled.

When we have new realizations, we experience broad ranging disruptions. Though we can use meditation as a tool to helps us gain new insights, we can also use it to help the process of personal growth.  As it says in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Rom 12:2

Resilience is a matter of cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit by clearing the ground of our soul, then wait. The Spirit will do its work.

If you have had a recent breakthrough it is often helpful to take time daily to clear your mind. Just allow what happens to happen.  

Sit quietly. Set aside your journal and your prayer list for about 10 minutes at a time once or preferably twice a day. Simply remember the words from Psalm 23, “still waters.”

Breath in and say “still” to yourself. Breath out and say “waters.” Just focus on the sound of our breath going in and the word “still.” Then focus on the sound of your breath going out and the word “waters.” Let whatever thoughts, memories or images that come flow through your awareness like leaves in the breeze. If you are a busy, busy brain type person, you may want to reflect on the difference between directed thought and attentive thought.

Once you have mastered the art of attentive thought, you are in for a pleasant surprise. Over time your thinking will become clearer with no conscious effort. Clarity just happens. Our minds are both adaptable and resilient. We need only clear the trash out and invite the Holy Spirit in.

Danger and a Friend: Using Meditation to Draw Near to God

Danger and the Presence of God
Put your Hand in the Hand

We all face dangers of one sort or another. We are broken people living with broken people in a broken world.

I read this tidbit about living through danger confirmed by recent research done at the University of Virginia. The information was in “Our Daily Bread” back in April of 2017.  After meditating on this, my take is a bit different.

Researchers ran the test on dozens of pairs, and found consistent results. When a person was alone or holding a stranger’s hand while anticipating a shock, the regions of the brain that process danger lit up. But when holding the hand of a trusted person, the brain relaxed. The comfort of a friend’s presence made the pain seem more bearable.

You don’t have to be a Christian to know that life lived with an intimate friend or two goes better than live lived as a solo “Lone Wolf” In fact,

Christians know three things more. First, the Resurrection means that even when there is no one physically present, God sits beside us and holds us close. Second, danger is something we pass through on our life journey. It is never a destination. Third, by making use of the form of prayer called Meditation we can experience the Presence. Sometimes we cannot call that precious friend that lives next door. We can always find the one that lives within. For that reason we have a peace that most people notice but do not have for themselves. So remember when you have found the power of peace. Be willing to share with others who find our lives attractive but confusing.

In the face of danger we know the joy expressed in Gene_MacLellan‘s song, “Put your Hand in the Hand of the Man.”

When danger breaks in, I look for “the Hand.” God is Faithful.

Part of Love, All of Love: What Do We Decide about the Pain of Loss.

Reflections Concerning a Parent's Loss of a Child
From a Parent Who Lost a Young Child

We are near the end of the Christian season of Lent, a time to ponder the positive meaning of loss.

Loss is just not welcomed anywhere. My wife and I see this reality each year when we teach as Christian people in a Buddhist country, Cambodia. Cambodians don’t like the pain of loss any more than Americans. This aversion to pain is human. Loss. Ugh. So many people conclude that the world as we know it cannot possibly reflect the intention of a God who is loving. The unexpected loss of a healthy young teen in our Upstate NY community brought this home to me. How can the world we live in make sense?

People everywhere ask the same question. When we are in Cambodia we always ask people why they became Christians. The second most common answer is that the Death and Resurrection of Jesus helps them deal with the pain of loss. Like people all over the world, Cambodians feel terribly alone at times when they allow themselves to be aware of their pain. Yet Christians view the world though the eyes of a risen Lord. We are never alone.  No one can change what is done. Still, God brings healing to broken hearts. The Bible provides many helps.

Loss means we all have a decision to make. Passionate attachment of people, ideas, ambitions, hopes and dreams will cost us something.

We just will become frustrated, upset or feel completely alone at time. On the other hand, we experience excitement, challenge, victory and fellowship. So are the gains worth it?

Jesus thought that deep attachment to his Disciples and to us was worth the pain. The Resurrection shows us that pain never defines us. There is always a next chapter. A new door opens. We step into a new opportunity each time until the end. They we step through the door of eternity.

Jesus offers life without the fear of being overwhelmed. I think that is more than a small gift. I am so grateful. Loss is never the final word. The presence of God and of others who will sit with us in our grief resolves our loneliness. Pain is not king. The Resurrection always comes.

Who Is Standing on the Sidelines of Your Life?

Who Cheers for You?
Who Cheers for You?

As parents, as grandparents, as friends, as fellow journeyers in the adventure of living, we are sometimes very aware of the people who are on the sidelines of our lives. Some cheer us on. Others remind us of just how difficult life can be but we can manage. Still others have a destructive message. They tell us how poorly prepared we are to meet the challenges.

The author of Hebrews was writing to people who had decided that they wanted to change the “cheering section” they lived with. He finishes Chapter 11 and begins Chapter 12 with this.

“32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies… For the joy set before him (Jesus) he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Our faith offers us the opportunity to get to know several hundred amazing people. They lived over 1500 years and they overcame the impossible. Our faith offers us the opportunity to invite them onto the “sidelines” of our living, a cheering section that cannot be beat.

So when faced with struggle who is on your sidelines and what are they saying to you? God is saying that anything that we are living with or through can be used well. God is saying that we are never alone and are always surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, a faith family who will lift us, encourage us and celebrate with us.

So if you don’t like what you hear from the sidelines of our life, why not invite God’s cheering section into your living? If you already know this cloud of witnesses, who do you know that needs a new cheering section? We receive from the hand of God so we can give to those around us. That’s the deal.

Paying Attention

sunset over fieldLast night I was talking to a wonderful fellow who is currently depressed. He was talking about all the stuff he does wrong as depressed people do. “I’m down so help me make it worse” was the unintended theme of his conversation.

He asked me what I did when I was down. “Well,” I said, “every day no matter how I am feeling, I take a phrase from the 23rd Psalm and repeat it to myself, then pay attention to what I become aware of. Like, ‘Lord, where have you led me in green pastures?’ And I look for where God has restored my soul.”

As I paused to allow God to gift me with something I suddenly saw the sun setting and the grass all around reaching out to distant hills. I suggested he do the same, then when he was done I said, “Look at the sky to the west.”

He broke into a broad grin and said, “How marvelous!” He then noticed the large field and said, “Wow, I wonder if it would be OK for me to bring my RC plane over and fly it here. This would be just perfect.” By now he was excited and grinning and looking forward to something. He knew the owners of the field so it would be easy to ask. If he did it right he could also give a gift to the neighborhood kids including  the grown up ones who like stuff like RC planes.

I then said, “Thank God for the gift of this evening, this moment and this good possibility, write it down where you can find it again and do the good thing you just became aware of. And did you notice that God just restored your soul just like the promise says? How can you be such a looser if God loves you so?”

You see, paying attention, using meditation to be aware of our internal life and the world around us and the possibilities today balances our experience. Seeing the moment allows up to act on positive opportunities as well as see new solutions for old, negative ones. God’s gift is balance and new possibilities to strengthen what is right rather than feed what is wrong. God helps us rejoice now and when we are struggling remember what is right.  So simple. So grand.

Life vs. Thought

God Is Wrapped In Light
God Is Wrapped In Light

According to those who study human though patterns, we have a new thought about once a second, or something like 60,000 of them a day. That is one thought per second for 16 hours of seconds. According the the work cited by the Cleveland Clinic “Wellness” program, 80% are negative. Negative thinking triggers the brains centers for anxiety and depression. If we don’t manage raw thinking we become sad.

Are you surprised? The Cleveland Clinic tells us that if we want to be happy, we have to spend time in “awareness” focusing on the happy aspect of our lives. So true. However, when people are depressed they are convinced that they don’t deserve happiness. And as logical as it is, the people most in need of change are very, very unlikely to get any where with awareness and the “Happiness movement.” There is something just silly and unintentionally cruel about secular psychology.

As I believer this awareness of “what might get us in trouble” is an aspect of God’s loving nature. As any good friend or parent, God wants us to avoid unnecessary sorrow, learn from pain and spend most of our time in joy. So we have an “equipping tool” for life. It does not define our life. It helps us to live well. Wisdom is knowing what to attend to and that to let pass by.

I know I need to put aside the constant bombardment of my busy brain with its 80% “danger” or “you dummy” alerts. I take 10 minutes once or twice a day. I relax, slow down and ponder, “Lord, where have I met love?” I might focus in on understanding, acceptance, generosity, gratitude, joy, peace, patience or others “gifts” of the Spirit.

Any of these focus questions allow us to look beyond the raw data of our immediate reaction in order to see what our experience is. Our actual experience is are more positive than our raw thinking. Knowing what we live allows us to use the gift of our mind’s danger/dumb thinking wisely.

River of Delights

river of delightsHow priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light. Ps 36:7-9

 

This picture was given to me by a Cambodia friend, Keo Vuthy. One of the reasons I meditate is to step away from the habit of seeing what is unfinished, what needs to be fixed and what is irritating me. Am I alone in this? I just see more quickly what needs work than what needs celebration.

I think sometimes that this is just the way we are. It is helpful to realize that needs work. However, don’t we also need to know what right?

How do you remind yourself of the “river of delights” God offers to each of us?