power versus love

July 21, 2021 4 comments

There are always two worlds. The world as it operates is largely about power; the world as it should be, or the Reign of God, is always about love. Conversion is almost entirely about moving from one world to the next, and yet having to live in both worlds at the same time. As you allow yourself to loosen your grip on the ego or bad forms of power, you will gradually see the inadequacy and weakness of mere domination and control. God will then teach you how to tighten your grip around the second world, which is the ever-purer motivation of love.

Any exercise of power apart from love leads to brutality and evil; but any claim to love that does not lead to using power for others is mere sentimentality and emotion. I must admit, it is rare to find people who hold both together in perfect balance—who have found their power and used it for others or people who have found love and use it for good purposes. I think the Reign of God includes both love and power in a lovely dance.

I think that is what Jesus means when he tells us to be “cunning as serpents but gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16). It is a beautiful combination of both authority and vulnerability.

*Adapted from “Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount,” p. 41 

I love this so much, and the truth of it all is enough to stop any serious reader in his or her own tracks. Have you ever been accosted in the middle of a power grab, with that small still voice that says, “What am I doing?” I have, so I’m not pointing a finger.  It’s not much different from the Voice that says, “What are you doing?” But, let me put it in bold for you: Any exercise of power apart from love leads to brutality and evil; but any claim to love that does not lead to using power for others is mere sentimentality and emotion.  Personally, I don’t think it’s possible in the least, apart from the supernatural influence of humility downloaded directly from the Holy Spirit. We beat our chests too easily in matters concerning power (politics, winning—things we want to control). It’s a convoluted cluster when we wear the label without the nature of our Source. Peterson translated it perfectly when he writes, “Love doesn’t strut” (1 Corinthians 13, The Message). Have we lost our “eyes to see” how messed up this can be?

I wonder if we’re doing the real math concerning these matters. It feels to me that the kingdom agenda has been completely derailed, or even worse—abandoned—for power politics by our horizontal (man-focused) allegiances to those who claim to be “followers of the Christ,” but lacks any real evidence of compassion, gentleness, peace, or love. I realize that Elvis has left the building on this issue, but what is required for us to readjust to “powerless,” “power-under” living?

A woman recently told me, “We (the Church) need revival.” It always makes me wonder what is really meant when someone utters those words. I suspect there is some deep longing for an emotional reattachment to some long-lost memory of the “glory days” of the past. We DO need revival, but what I know about revival usually begins with one person… then two… then a dozen… who decide that living and loving like Jesus is the main thing. We DO need a revival… no question, but it’s always going to reveal more fruits of the Spirit: less “me” power, and more of “God’s” love.  That is the real power. Power that counts. —MDP

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the normality of change

As we increasingly abide in Jesus Christ, live in that heart, see through those eyes, we begin to notice a strange paradox. We the sheep begin to take on the nature of the Shepherd! Every metaphor and parable has its limits, and this story in John 10 puts us in the role of sheep. Sheep are not notable for their charm or intelligence. They are singularly clueless. They wander off and get lost. They eat poisonous weeds. They fall into ravines. They graze at the same spot until they strip it of all grass and pollute the ground. (Actually, this does sound like a lot of us humans!) At best, sheep are neither exciting nor creative. Is this really the way God sees us? Does God want us to be, at best, submissive sheep?

Not at all. Jesus told many other stories that reveal humans as complex and potentially creative sons and daughters of God. We are not just to be obedient animals for all eternity. This story enters on the deep love, and trust, the bond, and the discerning recognition of the characteristics of the shepherd. This particular story does not emphasize the tremendous paradoxical truth that we the sheep change. In our shepherding role to others—as parent, teacher, caregiver, counselor, listening friend—we begin to guide as we have been guided. Our faces and voices will change. The way we listen and respond will change, not through imitation but spontaneously through deep love. “When he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

 —Flora Slosson Wuellner, “Enter by the Gate”

I wonder how often it’s noticed of us that the salute on our lives is easily discerned and attributed to that “deep love” of Jesus’ influence. Have our “faces and voices” been changed by His holy love? Is it noticeable… is it visible… tangible? Is it practically evident to those who catch a glimpse of the “real us” outside of religious environments? —MDP

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perfect pour

June 30, 2021 6 comments

“The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which has been given us.” —Romans 5:5

To span the infinite gap between the Divine and the human, God’s agenda is to plant a little bit of God, the Holy Spirit, right inside of us! (Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 14:16ff).

This is the very meaning of the new covenant, and the replacing of the “heart of stone with a heart of flesh,” as Ezekiel promised (36:25-27). Isn’t that wonderful? It is God doing the loving, in and through us, back to God, towards our neighbor and enemy alike, and even towards the sad and broken parts of ourselves. “You will know him because God (Spirit) is with you… God (Spirit) is within you.”

+Adapted from “Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality,” p. 97

The last time I was in Ireland, I was taught by a local pub employee how to pour the “perfect” pint of Guinness. It’s a three-part procedure that requires patience, a steady hand, and an astute attention to detail.

The first pour fills the glass about three-fourths full. Then the glass sits for a couple of minutes to let the beer settle down. Next, the glass is slowly filled to about 95 percent capacity and allowed to sit for another couple of minutes. The third stage requires gently inserting the long spout below the thick foamy head, and slowly pouring beer until the head (about three-eighths of an inch) rises comfortably at—and slightly above—the rim of the glass (without spilling over the glass). It’s known as the “perfect pour,” and is pretty much the expectation and part of the overall ambiance of any noble drinking establishment in that country.

Strong’s Concordance interprets the word ekchunnō (in Romans 5:5) as to pour out… figuratively to bestow: gushed, poured, rushed headlong, shed, spilled. It seems that the Holy Spirit is excited to, eager to, even over-willing to pour love into us in super-abundance. It makes me wonder if this is what gives the Spirit chill-bumps—when we release what has been given to us by the Divine and, in turn, pour our love into whatever we encounter in this life? Maybe that’s the logical finish to the “perfect pour”—a consumable product for another’s thirsty soul. —MDP

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believe and/or follow?

June 23, 2021 Leave a comment

Goodness! How difficult it is to believe in the sort of Messiah that Jesus of Nazareth represents!

To Believe that we win by losing our very selves!

To believe that love is everything.

To believe that power is a great danger, wealth slavery, comfortable life a misfortune.

It is not easy.

This is why you hear [people] in the street say, “If there was a God there would not be all this suffering.”

Two thousand years have gone, and there are still Christians whose doctrinal notions belong to those ancient days when the power and existence of God was revealed by displays of strength and the victory of armies. And especially by wealth and having more possessions.

The real secret had not then been received.

Nor is it received very easily even today.

Hence the blasphemy in general circulation denying the kingdom’s visibility, given the ordeal of suffering and death.

The old teaching that we, the Church, must be strong still feeds our determination to possess the land and dominate the work!

We must make ourselves felt. We must keep our enemies down. We must scowl. We must win, and to win we need money, money, money. And to have money we need banks, we need the means, and we need clever bankers. How can we do good without means, without money? Let’s have a big meeting, and then any opposition will be shamed into silence. Well, we must defend our rights, the rights of the Church. We must defeat our enemies.

Enemies, always enemies on the Church’s horizon! Yet Jesus has told us in no uncertain terms that we no longer have any enemies, since they are the same people we are supposed to love, and love specially.

Can it be that we have not understood?

Don’t we read the Gospel in our churches?

How long shall we wait before following the teaching of Jesus?

—From “Why Oh Lord” by Carlo Carretto

Sadly, the questions are legitimate. Don’t we all wish that filling pews on Sunday morning, writing our tithe checks, attending to our bibles, and wearing the cross, all satisfy the “follow me” of Jesus? There is so much emphasis on being a “believer,” and too little mention of followship, discipleship, and living the love of the Christ. Do we not see this — or do we just choose what is most comfortable to us now?

We should spend some time in self reflection, and not assume we’re in perfect flow with Him. If we’ve reached an ease of comfort with “following,” maybe we’re not. Jesus didn’t portray a lot of soothing imagery about what it looks like to follow Him. I think there are invasive elements in that kind of commitment. Everything gets touched and measured by that kind of “followship.” Is that why we’re hesitant? —MDP

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be fish

June 16, 2021 2 comments

So often we are too full of what we think should be happening to us in our spiritual formation to notice what God is actually teaching us. We must be still enough, simple enough, humble enough, to let him plan the course, and use whatever opportunities there may be for our instruction.

We must not think as we progress in prayer everything will necessarily become much more overtly holy. What it will become is more simple, more humble, more actual.

St. Ambrose gave his congregation some very good advice. Using the old Christian symbol, he compared them in this stormy world to fish swimming in the sea. And to them too he said: “Be a fish.” We must learn how not to be swamped by the situations that we find ourselves in. We must learn how to get through them with a minimum of damage, and a maximum of profit.

One aspect of this is simply learning to get through situations, and not always to want to take them with us. There is a story told of two monks in Japan, “traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling. Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection. ‘Come on, girl,’ said Tanza at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud. Okito did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. ‘We monks don’t go near females,’ he told Tanzan, ‘especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?’ ‘I left the girl there,’ said Tanzan. ‘Are you still carrying her?’ “

We must learn to pass through situations like a fish, rather than carrying them all with us like a snail. We should certainly emerge with a little bit more experience of life, there is no need to carry more with us than we have to—each situation carries quite enough trouble with it by itself!

—From Prayer by Simon Tugwell

Tugwell presents a beautiful concept that is not always popular with us modern-day Christians. It’s this whole idea of our being “fish” that doesn’t always sit well.  We want to believe we were designed and built to thrive and fulfill our own destinies—in our own strength—all while still conveniently living under the protection and “influence” of Christ.  But we “fish” are also suffocating under the pressures of life’s sometimes muddy or turbulent waters.

I wonder if fish panic and fret over muddy or turbulent waters?

I wonder if fish think, “something is wrong!” when they encounter any kind of threat?

I wonder if fish would rather live their existence in a sterile environment of privileged perfection (i.e. the aquarium) without stretching, challenges, or even mystery. Or would they rather brave the vast and wild uncertainty of rivers, lakes, and seas?

St. Ambrose was definitely onto something worth pondering.

“Be fish!” —MDP

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tendeth to peace?

June 9, 2021 2 comments

All desire peace, but they do not care for the things that pertain to true peace.

A peaceable man doth more good than he that is well learned.

Peace consisteth rather in true humility, than in self-exaltation.

A good and peaceable man turneth all things to good. He that is in peace is not suspicious of any. But he that is discontented and troubled is tossed with divers (various & questionable) suspicions: he is neither quiet himself, nor suffereth others to be quiet. He often speaketh that which he ought not to speak; and leaveth undone that which is more expedient for him to do. He considereth what others are bound to do, and neglecteth that which he is bound to do himself.

O how good is it, and how it tendeth to peace, to be silent about other men, and not to believe at random all that is said, nor eagerly to report what we have heard. How good it is to lay one’s self open to few, and always to be seeking after thee who are the searcher of the heart. Nor should we be carried about with every wind of words, but we should desire that all things both within and without, be accomplished according to the pleasure of thy will.

—Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

This last paragraph, written by Kempis, is killer! The rest of it is pretty dang good also, but those last few sentences peel back the religious facades of modern-day church people. Kempis reminds us that we preach peace, but we don’t live in peace. We don’t live in peace because of the messages we absorb, the things we do, and the ways we think. Kempis wrote these prophetic truths long ago… but, wowzah! Does it ever hit the mark now!

Are we “silent” about other people we may or may not agree with?

It’s doubtful.

Do we automatically and randomly agree with every ill-willed word towards one another, especially when that person is on the “other side” of what we think and believe?

It’s probable.

What about eagerly reporting that ill-will?

Hmmmm. Yeah… more than likely.

How far are we carried from peace by every “wind of words?”

Our favorite news (entertainment) sources, media, online personalitiesthey all keep us reeling in absolute terror and seething frustration (mostly anger and anxiety). We see the boogieman everywhere! Have you ever read of Jesus’ screaming about his freedom or rights or the loss of his own personal liberty?

“For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). It appears that we’ve never heard this before.

Who has your ear and your heart? The latest report from the “authoritative crowd?” Or the Spirit of peace and joy?

Are you sure about that? —MDP

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i’m going to wait

June 2, 2021 8 comments

Nicole (my eldest and mother of William the Warrior) sent me a link to this worship video, and said… “This has been my “go to” for the last six weeks.” Are you feeling anxious… panicky… stressed beyond measure? Try this. These kids rock these truths. Unbelievable talent. Incredible message. Let this roll over you. If it’s not your cup o’ tea, that’s okay too. It beyond refreshing to see this kind of energy from young people. Evidently not all millennials are bored with God. It’s wonderful! —MDP

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God in my pocket

To make way for a new birth of authentic being, we are not only willing, but even eager to give up present habits and imperfections and prejudices. No matter how far we have moved in the Christian life, we can still know that every opinion we hold and every act we perform is something less than the best. We never have the Holy Spirit in our pockets, completely domesticated and supporting everything we are doing. Any such sanctifying of personal imperfections is an obstacle to further growth. Instead of clutching fiercely to my foibles and fallacies, I had better cultivate the ability to change my mind, my political opinions, and my lifestyle when it becomes clear that this is the will of God.

—From Liberation of Life by Harvey and Lois Seifert

One of my top 10 favorite movies is, “Kingdom of Heaven,” (2005). Yet, there are moments in the film that can set you on edge. The setting is ancient Jerusalem during the Crusades. One scene is particularly chilling: outnumbered (and a long way from home), a Euro-Christian army is rousing itself to pick a fight with superior Muslim forces for control of Jerusalem. The cry from “church” authority to validate this unnecessary war is painfully telling: GOD WILLS IT! In response, the army shouted, “GOD WILLS IT!” In truth, it was man who willed it, though God was given both credit and blame, and the “Christian” army was completely annihilated. The assuming arrogance of shouting the words, “GOD WILLS IT,” evoked an unforeseen justice. Lady Justice is supposed to be blind. She doesn’t make biased choices (nor should she). Shouting, “GOD WILLS IT,” isn’t a magical potion ensuring your “win.”

If only this movie were just a grand fictional tale.

This cry to battle happens all of the time: “GOD WILLS IT!”

Are we certain about that?

The Seiferts remind us that we have a duty to follow the lead of our Source of life. We can get sucked into the muck if man’s systems provide our only beacons of direction. I realize we’re easily persuaded by the passions and emotions of societal addictions to power and nationalism, but I don’t ever remember reading in scripture that God belongs to a certain faith affiliation, a particular political party, or any specific nationality, race, color, or creed. Yet, we consistently think, “Our side” is owed favor, protection, and unwavering fealty, while everything NOT on our side can go straight to hell! What is this? Do we think, “We have the Holy Spirit in our pockets?” Are we certain that our certainties are certain? 

I like this offering from the Seiferts because they suggest that the maturation process of following Christ should be, “cultivating and developing” our willingness to change. I realize we hate change.  But we stop growing the moment we no longer allow ourselves to be vulnerable to change. Judgment and polarizing opinion do not change anything. 

The thing is — with time, patience, and unbiased eyes — it might actually be possible to discern the will of God. But we should not just assume the “crowd” (apply your favorite power label here) has cornered the market on truth, righteousness, and what’s right for the good of everyone else. Yes, you have a strong opinion.  But what is Jesus saying? What is the Spirit doing? Are you too certain that you understand the will of God? —MDP

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bitter coffee

May 19, 2021 4 comments

By way of encouragement, God tells us in scripture: “I will remove the stony heart from their bodies, and replace it with a natural heart…” (Ezek. 11:19). But I’m still waiting, asking myself when and how will this happen.

In our community the other day there wasn’t much coffee.

Coffee does me good down here in the desert… it helps me… I am old.

I was worried about not having any, about spending a few hours feeling dull and weak, and so—without perceiving the evil I was doing—I went into the kitchen before the others and drank up all that was left.

Afterwards, having suffered all day and made my confession, I thought in shame of my selfishness, of the ease with which I had excluded my two brothers from those black, bitter remains.

It seems a tiny thing, yet in that cup of coffee, taken and not shared with my brothers, is the root of all the evil which disturbs us, the poison of all the arrogance which selfishness, riches, and power create.

The difference between me and Jesus is right here, in an affair that seems simple but isn’t at all; after a whole lifetime it is still there to make you think. Jesus would have left the coffee for his brothers; I excluded my brothers.

No, it isn’t easy to live with hearts like ours: let us confess it.

—From The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto

I love Carlo Carretto’s writing. His confession is painful to read, only because I’ve done it a million times myself. Few people would ever want the coffee I willingly drink.  But it’s never really about the coffee, is it? Of all the “tiny” things we hoard unto ourselves, it shows our own willingness to make life about “me.”  That’s a big issue these days.  I’m not talking about self-care, healthy self-consciousness, or reverencing the temple of God. I’m talking about a mental and heart callousness that only sees life through a lens that considers “me” first… in everything.

It seems we’re not convinced there’s any good (or God) in us at all. How many selfies do we have to post in order to convince ourselves (and everyone else) that we’re okay… that we’re beautiful… or smart… or in the flow of positive light and love? We gorge and hoard “ourselves” because we’re not convinced.  We don’t trust what we know in our hearts or see with our own eyes. And maybe that is the problem. We just don’t know.

Carretto pretty much nails it in this little story, and he’s right: “[…] it isn’t easy to live with hearts like ours.” He’s also right about what Jesus would have done. Not just about the coffee, but the whole idea of getting-life-by-giving-life mantra. Our biases have us so selective, and so exclusively focused, that we rarely consider anything outside of our own intellectual or emotional packages as being legit, relevant, or important (INCLUDING: RELIGION, POLITICS, JUSTICE OR SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS). This addiction to making my life about “me” has massive drawbacks that we can’t even imagine. It’s harmful to the entire human flow.

The thing is, God will allow you to make your life about “you,” because we have free will.  And God will still love you regardless. But it is shrinking your world.  You might think that making everything about “you” makes life bigger, better, more exciting, sexier, smarter, or more interesting, but it’s a nasty little lie. Hang around people who have made life about themselves long enough, and you’ll be bored within 10 minutes. Spend time with people who choose to give their lives away daily, and you’ll feel the vastness of their spirit. Rohr calls these people, “larger-than-life people.” These are the people who live out of the mystic fragrance of Christ.

What are we to do? How do we reverse this ugly obsession of ours? Being aware that life isn’t about “me” is probably the right first-step. —MDP

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are you prayer?

May 12, 2021 2 comments

Most of us grew up saying prayers, reading prayers, or listening to others praying. Few of us were challenged to “be” prayer. There is a difference between a person who says prayers and a prayerful person. It is the difference between something we do and something we are.

Do you know someone who “is” a prayer? He or she is probably someone who views life in a different way than most—someone who seems to have found a way to be aware of God’s presence in an ongoing way.

We are called as Christian people to be present in each moment in order to experience that God’s time and our time have intersected. We are called to practice the presence of God. It is this for which our hearts yearn.

Most of us grew up saying prayers, reading prayers, or listening to others praying. Few of us were challenged to “be” prayer. There is a difference between a person who says prayers and a prayerful person. It is the difference between something we do and something we are.

Do you know someone who “is” a prayer? He or she is probably someone who views life in a different way than most—someone who seems to have found a way to be aware of God’s presence in an ongoing way.

We are called as Christian people to be present in each moment in order to experience that God’s time and our time have intersected. We are called to practice the presence of God. It is this for which our hearts yearn.

—Ron DelBene, “A Simple Way to Pray,” Weavings

DelBene is offering something here that few seldom consider. I would never discount anyone’s prayers.  In fact, how you pray is a personal privilege. Yet, I often wonder, how far do our prayers reach? Rhythms of systematic prayer can be very helpful in giving us a guideline on how to loosen the confines of restrictive time. But what Delbene is saying here is that our words in prayer are not more important than hearing His words in prayer. God has something to say to us despite our deepest and most dramatic longing to “inform” God with our prayers. There is another perspective, another way, another track that we might need to ponder in laying out our joys, concerns, and grievances. If we listen closely, we might find out that the splinters in our neighbors’ or our enemy’s eyes (the ones we want to make sure that God truly sees and understands) only look that way because of the planks and rods in our own eyes. Are we certain that we really understand all the intricacies of complex politics and human nature? Prayer that “hears” more than it “says” should often be challenging and changing our worldviews, our compassion levels, and building our thirst for relational unity and peace. Getting still in the presence of God should be sanding us down and rounding our edges. Yes, tell God your problems. But, wait around long enough to hear if you are part of those problems. —MDP

(The ministry of intercession is a different animal altogether, and most true intercessors have been trained that hearing is paramount to speaking. Serious intercessors work hard to pray prayers that they sense are in alignment with the moving flow and will of the Spirit of God. Literally, it’s like praying the words of the Holy Spirit.) —MDP

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