Here’s a very wise article from Relevant magazine. I’ve been learning a lot in the last few months about living in the now. It’s about being mindful, being present. I have always struggled with what this article talks about. Real life is always in the future. If “_____” happens, all my problems will be sorted out. This has been my subtle belief about life. It reflects a restlessness, a dissatisfaction about the present. Richard Rohr talks a lot about this.
Someone said once that these are the good ol’ days. What he meant was that joy comes from living in the present, not in the past or future.
The wisdom of St Paul is pertinent here: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Yesterday’s post looked at sitting with pain. It discussed the fact that in an analgesic society we have lost the ability to live life on life’s terms. So instead we do all we can to make ourselves feel better.
Having said what I did yesterday, I want to make clear that it is ok to make ourselves feel better at times, if it is in an appropriate way. Going to the footy or grabbing a chocolate bar is fine if it doesn’t take away from your growth as a person. Of course we need to be sensible about this. If you have an addiction to something, then obviously it is not healthy to indulge in that to make yourself feel better. That is the point I was making yesterday.
The best thing we can do however if we want to make ourselves feel better is to remind ourselves that we are loved beyond measure by the God of the universe. In his book, Inside Out, Larry Crabb says that when we are struck by the confusion of life, it is healthy to remind ourselves of God’s infinite love for us. That’s why being still and meditating on these truths is so beneficial, especially in our 24/7 culture that needs constant stimulation. Here is some of what Crabb says:
Cling to what you know is true. There is a God, He loves you, He sent His Son to die for your sins, He’s promised to never leave you, and one day He’ll return to make everything right. Remind yourself of these truths. In moments of soul-wrenching confusion [and I would add, pain], ponder the importance of these unchanging truths until they become burning realities in your soul.
Love is the most powerful transformative force in the universe. Surrendering all of our lives to God allows us to become more loving people, transformed more and more into the image of Christ. To become more loving is our ultimate goal in life. It is the highest reach for which the human person can attain. That’s why it’s so wonderful to remind ourselves of God’s incredible love for us.
This is the final in a 3-part series on how many – if not most – Christians have a deficient view of heaven and of what our eternal destiny is.
This is where the Gospel touches something deep within us, something that tells us that there really is hope, that what we are doing really is worthwhile in the end, that there really will be a day when everything will be put right. And it is not a hope in the sense of ‘gee I hope it happens.’ It is a hope based on historical fact. If we don’t believe that, it would ultimately be empty and unfulfilling and wouldn’t be real hope.
If God hasn’t come to earth in the physical person of Jesus, and if that Jesus wasn’t physically resurrected, then nothing really matters. We can make our own meaning and do all we can to bring justice while people are here. But if deep down we still know that it is not everlasting – that in the end everyone still dies and rots in the ground – then there is ultimately no justice, and no hope, and we come back to this sort of philosophy of a Richard Dawkins which says,
“In a universe of blind forces and physical replication, some people are going to get hurt, others are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
Another Richard, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr, says that the human soul can live without success but it can’t live without meaning. Deep down we all crave significance. We all want to be part of something that matters, something that lasts. Rohr quotes Albert Einstein who said,
“The only important question is this: Is the universe friendly or not?” Can it all be trusted? Is the final chapter of history victory and resurrection or a dying whimper?”
John 21:15-19 is possibly the most profound story in the whole Bible. It shows the simply, well ‘extravagant’ is too small a word for it, grace of God to sinners like you and me. Jesus deliberately singles out Peter and purposefully asks him three times if he loves him. This is not a sign of neurotic insecurity from Jesus, having to ask three times if one of his best friends loves him. It is a declaration of forgiveness of the highest order.
It follows directly Peter’s denial of Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ greatest need. On the darkest night of Jesus’ life, a night so dark that no one before or since has had to endure anything like it, Peter deserted him. Ever the outspoken one, always quick to declare his undying loyalty to Jesus during their three years together, Peter fails when the true test of his loyalty faces him.
The extravagant forgiveness of Jesus as a new day dawns by the Sea of Galilee – a new day in a truer sense than even the disciples probably then realised – is simply mind boggling. The interesting thing is how Jesus forgives Peter. He does not simply tell Peter that it’s ok, don’t worry about it. Many translations put a heading above this story called ‘Jesus reinstates Peter.’ I don’t think this goes even far enough. Jesus actually gets Peter to step up to the plate. He forgives him by commanding him to be a leader in spreading the Good News that he is now receiving, and to look after the new movement that is about to change the world forever.
When a person in a leadership in a church confesses something terrible they have done, the usual step is to get them to step down from their position for at least a time. This occurs even if the person is fully repentant. You see it over and over. But as we see in this incredible passage, it is not the way of Jesus. Instead of getting Peter to step down, Jesus gets him to step up. He affirms Peter, telling him that he will be one of the main leaders in the fledgling movement.
This excerpt from Richard Rohr relates back to my series on What is the Gospel? When we realise that, for the first 300 years of the Christian movement, the Sermon on the Mount was the Christians’ guiding framework, we begin to see the content of the Gospels in the light that they were meant to be read in.
We see in the Gospels that it’s the lame, the poor, the blind, the prostitutes, the drunkards, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outsiders, and the foreigners who tend to follow Jesus. It is those on the inside and the top who crucify him (elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, and Roman occupiers). Shouldn’t that tell us something really important about perspective? Every viewpoint is a view from a point, and we need to critique our own perspective and privilege if we are to see truth.
Many fail to appreciate liberation theology because of 1,700 years of interpreting the Scriptures from the perspective of the secure clergy class, rather than from the perspective of those on the bottom or the outside. After Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire (313 AD), we largely stopped reading the Bible from the side of the poor and the oppressed. We read it from the side of the comfortable and, I am sorry to say, from the priesthood, instead of from people hungry for justice and truth. Now you know why Jesus said, “I did not come for the healthy but for the sick” (Mark 2:17).
– Adapted from the CAC Foundation Set: Gospel Call to Compassionate Action (Bias from the Bottom) and Contemplative Prayer
When the Church became aligned with power, the Sermon on the Mount couldn’t be taken in its context anymore because it was a threat to power. So ever since then we have ‘spiritualised’ it or told ourselves that Jesus didn’t really mean what he was saying, it was just metaphor. Power is so seductive; it won’t let us escape from its deadly clutches without one heck of a fight.
This is the second part of the ‘Adding Power to Our Passion’ post. Read the first part here.
Often these words of life will not be easy to hear. Look at the words of life that Jesus spoke. They didn’t end up getting him very far in the popularity stakes. But they were words of life nonetheless.
For many people this will be a difficult thing to do, as we have been hurt at different times in our life. This is where we need to be sensitive to people, and sensitive to the Spirit leading us in our own lives. It is not loving to barge into someone’s life speaking truth but without love. That is just destructive.
(Firstly, thanks and apologies to Midnight Oil for the title of this post. I thought up the title myself but I then realised that it is very much like the title of their 1980s hit, ‘The Power and the Passion.’)
Yesterday we asked what our passion is. For me it is something that has to provide ultimate meaning in my life and in the life of the world. I need to be a part of something that is contributing to a greater cause than me. But how do we do this in real life? The sentiments are fine, but how do we get the power to live out our deepest passions? As has been said by many people, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and fine resolve. How do we find where the rubber hits that road and we turn around and start walking the uphill journey to the life we are meant to live?
Human beings are flawed. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work that out. Our biggest problem in life is that we so often don’t live what we believe. We need to start living ‘as is.’ What I mean by that is that we need to start living by what we say we believe. If we believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, then we need to live that out. Many people call this ‘acting as if,’ meaning to live as if it really is true that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. But as someone pointed out to me not long ago, it is really living ‘as is,’ not ‘as if.’ If Jesus really is true, we need to start living that truth – living it because it is true. We are not being true to who we really are if we don’t.
Here is another brilliant piece from Richard Rohr. This one reminds me of what someone said once about Christian conversion being like an experience of coming home. For me it’s been about finding what you have been looking for all your life (sometimes without even realising you’ve been looking!).
It is good to remember that a part of you has always loved God. There is a part of you that has always said yes. There is a part of you that is Love itself, and that is what we must fall into. It is already there. Once you move your identity to that level of deep inner contentment, you will realize you are drawing upon a Life that is much larger than your own and from a deeper abundance. Once you learn this, why would you ever again settle for scarcity in your life? “I’m not enough! This is not enough! I do not have enough!” I am afraid this is the way culture trains you to think. It is a kind of learned helplessness. The Gospel message is just the opposite—inherent power.
Thomas Merton said the way we have structured our lives, we spend our whole life climbing up the ladder of supposed success, and when we get to the top of the ladder we realize it is leaning against the wrong wall—and there is nothing at the top. To get back to the place of inherent abundance, you have to let go of all of the false agendas, unreal goals, and passing self-images. It is all about letting go. The spiritual life is more about unlearning than learning, because the deepest you already knows (1 John 2:21).
One of the things we tend to lose when we focus so much on following Jesus is the fact that he died for our sins. We lose sight of the forest for the trees. Jesus’ death on the cross served a number of purposes, which are ultimately tied to the fact that he died for the sins of the world.
Sin has long been a dirty word in much of the church. It smacks of condemnation and conjures up images of hellfire and damnation. But what Jesus did in dying on the cross for our sins is just the opposite. Think of the worst things you’ve ever done. Sin has consequences; that’s just the way life is. We really do reap what we sow. If we sow destruction, we reap it; if we sow peace and love, we reap that. Sin in my life has produced tears, pain, agony, shame and despair. How can anyone not take that seriously? How can anyone dismiss that as not so bad? Anyone who does is not in their right mind. A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If we don’t take our own sin seriously and want to get as far away form it as possible, we will inevitably make the same mistakes again and again.
“There’s a void in my heart that I can’t seem to fill. I do charity work when I believe in a cause, but my soul it bothers me still.
– John Mellencamp, Void in My Heart
In the heart of every human being is a God-shaped hole. A saying that has been mostly attributed to Augustine is that humanity was made to worship God, and we are restless until we do.
If we are able to grasp this truth, we will see more clearly that everything we do in life is done in search of meaning. Despite the decline of faith in Australia and the media coverage of the ‘New Atheism’ over the years, the search for meaning never goes away, even if it might be drowned out by our lifestyle of endless consumption.
One of the signs of this search is the rapid increase in recent decades in the tide of addiction. When the alcoholic takes another drink, thinking this one will be different; when the drug addict injects again honestly believing this time it will give him what he needs; or when the sex addict settles on what he believes is finally the perfect porn clip, they are all actually searching for something deeper. They are searching for God.