A Meditation On the Lord's Prayer

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray he gave them a short, concise prayer that really went to the heart of an authentic conversation with their Heavenly Father. For no reason I can explain, I woke up the other day with a desire to meditate on this prayer and now I would like to share it with you. Be blessed, not because of my thoughts but because God has given us such a beautiful pattern to follow!

Your brother in Christ;

James

The Lord's Prayer.jpg

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13 NIV

 

“Our Father”

Is there anything that can be more beautiful than to be able to claim the Creator of the Universe as our Father? What a privilege! It is beyond our limited capacity to comprehend. Meditate on this relationship you have with the perfect, loving, all-powerful God. You are not just his creation but you are born into his family and given the right to call him your Father. Is there any good thing your perfect Heavenly Father would withhold from you?

He is also “our Father” meaning you have a family. You are not alone but have brothers and sisters who join you in this beautiful family of God. Jesus the Son of God – the God-man who existed for all eternity with the Father is now inviting you into His family to join him as a child of his Father. This is a great mystery and we cannot come close to fully understanding it but what a wonderful contemplation. You will forever have a family that is perfect love, perfect harmony, and perfect truth. This is your identity – receive it.

“In heaven”

Heaven is a real place – even more real than the place you are at this moment. All that you see about you will someday be destroyed but heaven will remain. This is because heaven is the dwelling place of God and He is eternal. Places are important to God. Jesus has made it clear that he is preparing a place for us to be with him. So let your heart long for that place. Set your imagination free to explore its beauty. There is no way we can fully comprehend it but when we stop and contemplate our true home it causes our spirits to be lifted up and hope to rise in our souls. So give yourself over to meditating on that beautiful place that God has prepared for you. He knows you perfectly and has created it with you in mind. It will be perfect.

“Hollowed be your name”

Holy is a concept that we don’t use very often. It means “set apart”, “not common or ordinary” This is a great mystery, that we can at once be so intimate with the Creator of all things and yet he is infinitely unlike us. Steach your soul on this thought; the one who holds a billion, billion stars in place, and holds together every atom of your body, is the one to whom you are addressing. You are speaking to him and he is listening. This thought is humbling - it is good to be humbled when we come into the presence of the God of glory. Let yourself feel the power of Almighty God – give yourself over to the awe of this encounter.

Even the name of God, the word we use to represent Him is holy. It should be set apart for worship and adoration. It should never come flippantly from our mouths or carelessly tossed about in meaningless phrases or derogatory associations. Yes, Jesus taught us that the name, the words we use to describe Almighty God, are to be kept sacred. We live in a culture where nothing, absolutely nothing is sacred, so this concept is very difficult to articulate. But it is a necessary component of a right relationship with God. When faced with the majesty of our God our proper reaction is like Isaiah.

’Woe to me!’” I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’
— Isaiah 6:5 NIV

O Merciful Father, forgive me for making your name commonplace. Forgive me for associating your name with anything that depreciates your great worth. I truly am a person of unclean lips. Touch my lips with the holy fire from the altar and may I honor your holy name always.

“Your kingdom come”

The closer you are to God the more disconnected you become to the world and all its priorities and desires. This is because we are truly citizens of another kingdom and our purpose on earth changes from one set of purposes to a completely different set. As Jesus said …

My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place. 
— John 18:36 NIV

When we pray we are implicitly acknowledging and submitting to another King and the priorities of another kingdom. So why are we so often praying for the priorities of this earthly kingdom? Why are we praying for health, wealth and prosperity when the heavenly kingdom priorities are often exactly the opposite? If we are unsure of the purposes of our true heavenly kingdom we need to look no further than to the example of our King – Jesus.

… have the same mindset as Christ Jesus

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
— Philippians 2:5-8 NIV

We have entered into this kingdom through the new birth and are set to the task of representing our King to a world refuses to acknowledge him and openly rebels from his authority. We must realign our prayer life after the desires of our King. “How do you do that?” you may ask. There is only one way – to deepen your knowledge and love for your King. This is done by a transformation of our hearts through the Spirit of Christ. This is the only way, for apart from this transformation we will never know our true purpose and calling much less be able to pray for kingdom priorities.

O Heavenly Father I confess that I am so often seeking the priorities of this earthly kingdom rather than your priorities. I confess I often pray for comfort rather than endurance, wealth rather than wisdom, happiness rather than humility, popularity rather than bearing the shame of rejection that you bore for me. I often want to be first in this world and am ashamed to admit that it has made me last in your kingdom. I beg you to transform my heart and increase my love and devotion to you. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and let me love what you love, seek what you seek, crave righteousness, seek your justice and walk humbly in the way of my Master, my Lord, and my King.

“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”

Be assured that the rebellion will not be tolerated forever. Man’s shaking his fist at God’s authority will cease – the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords will be revealed and peace will be restored to the universe. This is a reality beyond realities! When we acknowledge this fact we are putting ourselves on the winning side. It’s like when Théoden the king of Rohan acknowledged Aragorn the true king of Gondor. There was still a desperate battle to be fought and evil to be conquered but the true king would come into his own and claim his rightful place on his throne. Tolkien knew that all great literature was based on the reality that good would eventually win out and evil would be ultimately defeated. So it is with us, we live in the middle of the greatest story where evil seems unassailable and the truth is twisted. Still, there is hope, for God has risen up those who will not bow the knee to the golden statue of King Nebuchadnezzar or shirk their calling to the true King even if it means death. Our confidence does not lie in our own abilities, or strengths. We are supremely confident because God has already written the last chapter of man’s sojourn on earth. The King is coming and this time it will not be as a helpless baby in a manger. He is coming in glory and power to judge the living and the dead. So when we declare our submission to his will to we are simply stating a historical fact.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of lords.
— Revelation 19:11-16 NIV

Lord help me to live in this reality. I confess that the pressures of life and the intoxicating lies of this present world too often lead me from the truth. You are my King, my Lord, and my Life. I desire everything I do, say, think and feel to be in total alignment with your will. All will someday kneel before you and proclaim you as King but I desire to do that here and now, laying all that I am before your feet in praise and worship. You are not only King of Kings and Lord of Lords but I proclaim here and now that you are my King of Kings and my Lord of Lords.

Give us today our daily bread

So much of our lives seem to be spent just trying to live. We spend so much time trying to accumulate stuff and then the rest of the time trying to preserve what we have accumulated.

O Lord I confess I am often anxious and fearful about the future as I become preoccupied with the “necessities” of this life. This is how faithless I am. But you are faithful and true. You are gracious and never withhold a single thing that is good and profitable – because you are good all the time.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 
— Romans 8:31,32 NIV

Father, all I am is yours and all I need comes from your gracious hand. Nothing that I will ever need is neglected and in fact those things that I don’t even know I need you give out of your abundance. I am above all blessed. So I acknowledge you as the giver of all good gifts. You are the sustainer of my life. The air that I breathe and the bread that I eat are all provided by you. My heart is at peace because you are my source for life and I will rest in your loving sufficiency. 

And forgive us our debts

Is it possible for us to completely comprehend the enormous distance between us and a holy and righteous God? No. Any comparison would be wholly inadequate. For example, could we say the distance is similar to an ant and a human? Most would say that’s quite a gap. But understand this, both you and the ant are infinitely more alike than you and God. Both of you are creatures made up of matter and bound by time and space. Both have bodies limited by natural forces and both will die. It is a matter of degree that we are different not a matter of essence. For both are made up of atoms and chemicals. But any comparison with God is completely absurd. He is beyond our knowledge and beyond our comparisons. He has no beginning and no end, no limitations, no needs, no requirements for existence. There is nothing he cannot do nor is there anything he does not know – intimately. So when we depart from his will we are not merely choosing another path we are rebelling against the super-reality of the universe – that being God. This puts us at odds with God and creates a list of offenses that put us in a deeper deficit than can ever be repaid. In short, he can never allow this active state of rebellion to exist in his universe because it is at odds with the essence of who he is. There is only one solution – forgiveness. God must forgive us and make us capable of living in his presence. The miracle of miracles is he grants us the freedom to accept or reject this forgiveness. When we accept his forgiveness, he gives us a new spirit, one that is eternal and alive to God. This is what happens when we call out to God in repentance. He doesn’t just wipe away our sin but he makes us new creatures that are now capable of living in harmony with him.

O Father, thank you for your forgiveness of all my debts. I receive your forgiveness and I accept your Spirit to wash and regenerate me so I can be alive to your will and ways. I could never repay the debt I amassed. But through your Son’s atoning death and resurrection, I now have a new life that makes me dead to the rebellion of this world and alive to eternal life in you.

… as we also have forgiven our debtors.

God calls us to live out in our horizontal relationships what we experience in our vertical one. We are not only to receive his love, forgiveness, mercy, kindness, and goodness but to be a conduit of those same graces to others. In fact, it is evidence of an authentic relationship with God that we treat others as God has treated us.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
— 1 John 4:7

The fruit of an authentic relationship with God is to be like God in all that we do.

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
— Acts 4:13 NIV

Peter and John were ordinary men with no special abilities or intellect. However, when filled with the Spirit they took on the characteristics of Jesus which was unnerving to the powerful people in Jerusalem. Clearly, they had been with Jesus and now in this moment when we are with Jesus, we can fully expect that there will be a change in us. Those that are with Jesus will always be different.

O Lord I come into your presence no only to seek your comfort and encouragement but also to be transformed into your image. I want all my interactions in this world to be empowered and motivated by your purpose and priorities. Give me your heart for all I encounter, grant me your wisdom to speak eternal truth, fill me with hope that is anchored in the certainty of your promises. May others see me and be drawn to you. And yes, I am also willing to bear the rejection that comes with my identification with you for if they hated you then they will also hate those who are like you. O Lord make me more like you.

And lead us not into temptation

It is good to be humble, but it’s not easy. To admit to our weakness’ and how easily we fall into temptation is the first step toward maturity. We need to recognize how weak we are in order for us to receive God’s strength, for God’s strength in us is perfected in our weakness.

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’
— 2 Corinthians 12:9

God’s grace flows into a life that looks to him for strength rather than relying on our own abilities, talents, intellect or skills. Why is this? Because when we rely on our own strength we cause two things to happen.

  1. We fail to utilize the incredible power of God which is far beyond our own meager abilities. This is like having a billion dollars in the bank and choosing to live homeless on the streets. It makes no sense!
  2. We fail to experience our true purpose which is to bring glory to God. Who gets the glory when we perform in our own strength? We do! But when we are tapping into the infinite power of God and all our activities are infused with his strength then we give him the praise. And he deserves it!

My Lord, I confess that I too often live life in my own strength, relying on my limited understanding, my limited capacity for doing good and my minuscule ability to love. Because of this, I have sought glory for myself and failed miserably to bring you the glory that you deserve. I am weak and I admit it. O Lord be my strength. Fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I can resist the temptation of relying on myself. May your power rest upon me so that you receive all the praise and glory.

but deliver us from the evil one.

We have an adversary. He goes by many names.

  • Father of lies
  • The Devil
  • Murderer
  • Lucifer
  • Deceiver

Jesus called him “the evil one” for truly he is. He is more powerful than you or I can imagine and capable of performing wonders that impersonate God. He is not a trifle and ignoring him will not make him go away. In fact, one of his greatest strategies is to hide his works so that none see “behind the curtain” and instead are distracted by the façade.

Jesus ends his prayer with a warning that we need deliverance from the evil one. He should know for he had a face to face encounter with him and would deal with him many times before he finished his work on earth.

The Apostle Paul also recognized that his true enemies were not the those who were threatening his life and standing in opposition to his ministry. Those were only the puppets of the true adversary.

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.
— Ephesians 6:12 NIV

If we fail to recognize where our true battle lies we do so at great risk. We need to be delivered from the evil one – and our deliverance is awesome!

… because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
— 1 John 4:4 NIV

We have the very power of God living in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Our ability to overcome the evil one is solely in the utilization of this power. Our foe is a defeated adversary, but his power is in deception and lies. As we proclaim the truth that is revealed through the Holy Spirit, (“… he will guide you into all truth” John 16:23) we will be able to not only stand against the devil but thwart his purposes and bring freedom to those who are held captive by his lies. God has defeated our adversary in the empty tomb. In this confidence, and through this power we shall stand.

O Lord I confess that I have often been deceived by the evil one, believing that the enemy was a person, circumstance or even something internal in me. I have tried to fix myself and those around me with no success. So now I come before you and recognize that my true enemy is, “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Help me to recognize his strategies and to be aware of his deceptive schemes. O Lord I now go forth boldly with the confidence that your Holy Spirit abides in me and your power rests upon me to accomplish whatever you call me to do. 

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One Thing Which Can Make Your Life Successful

I know that my title seems a bit over the top, but I am tired of talking about creating successful strategies to people who have absolutely no capacity to put them to action. So, I’m going to get really basic and real simple.

What you believe about yourself and the universe are the most crucial pieces of knowledge you will ever possess. They are the common denominators in all events, relationships, and goals in your life.

  • Overcoming failures is completely dependent on your view of yourself
  • Pushing through trials and enduring through prolonged times of frustration is a factor of how you see yourself.
  • Your level of satisfaction with living is dependant upon understanding yourself in context to the universe

Yet, I find so few of us really comprehend this fact. Instead, we are continually looking to other people or circumstances as the arbitrator for our lives.

When something bad happens. (and it happens to everyone)

  • Some resign themselves to their fate and give up
  • Some see it as an insurmountable obstacle and choose a lesser path
  • Some see it as a temporary setback and press on

The only difference in these responses in how one sees themselves and what they believe about the universe.

Your view of yourself is a consequence of how you view the universe.

I have had the privilege of traveling the world and in some places, I have seen unimaginable suffering. When asked why this is so the answer I receive is something like this, “it is their fate”.

  • Karma
  • God
  • The random nature of the universe

It all comes down to whether the universe is cooperating with or in opposition to our success. This will determine whether we have the internal resources to achieve the life we desire to live. If that answer is our lives are under the control of some external force then the next logical step is to forfeit our dreams and abandon our hopes because we are powerless to achieve them.

Some would challenge me on this and say, “You’re a Christian – aren’t you a fatalist?

I say no. In fact, it is entirely the contrary. Since I believe in a supreme being who has demonstrated his great love and compassion through the life of Jesus Christ I am convinced that the universe is not an obstacle to my happiness - that I have the ultimate victory no matter what circumstance or peril I may find myself in. In fact the present obstacles serve a tutors to mold my character and deepen my faith. Therefore no person, no event and nothing else in this world can thwart my inevitable triumph as promised by God.

So you see – my self-confidence is derived from my view of a good and loving God and anything and everything must yield to this truth. Therefore ...

  • When I become discouraged I return to the belief that God is my helper and he has and will provide all that I need.
  • When I am doubting my own wisdom he has said that I can come to him with any question and he will give me understanding.
  • When I am feeling alone and rejected he has said that I am unconditionally loved
  • When I am disbelieving my own value he reminds me that he died for me and I have infinite worth.

What other religion, philosophy, or world view can offer this confidence?

So the bottom line is this.

As goes your view of the universe so goes your view of yourself.

As goes your view of yourself so goes your life.

Next time you feel stymied by a situation in your life or paralyzed by debilitating emotions look to where your confidence lies. Look at your view of God and integrate that view into your identity. 

If I can be of any help you to you don't hesitate to reach out

James

The Cubs, Hope and God

I came to Cubs Nation later in life. Unlike many Die Hard Cubs Fans I was not born to the Ivy and Blue. I grew up with the likes of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and the melodious voice of the incomparable Vin Scully calling the Dodger games. But when I moved my family to Chicago at the age of 30 I became ripe for the picking and was wooed into Cubs Kingdom even though it seemed a futile hope to ever go all the way to become World Champions. When did my heart turn toward the Cubs? Was it on the purple line “El” ride to Wriggly Ville with its historic charm? You see Dodger Stadium is basically surrounded by a parking lot which has all the ambiance of the 405 freeway. Perhaps it was the first time I stepped out from behind the bleachers to see the painted message “welcome to the friendly confines” with the outfield ivy and the the the flags flying with the numbers of Cub's heroes.

No, all those external charms were not enough to spark my love for the Cubs. What really won my heart was the unwavering optimism that was present at each game. Let’s call it hope. Hope that someday we would go all the way; hope that next year would be this year. This hope compelled the faithful to get to the game early and NEVER leave until the fat lady sang. This hope was often excruciating, because the greater the hope the greater the pain of disappointment. But even in 108 futile years that hope would not die. People died; generations of families never saw a world championship come to the North Side but the hope … it never quit.

What is it about us that craves this kind of hope? I’m convinced it’s not about baseball, it’s bigger than baseball and more fundamental to the human heart. The Cubs tapped into it but they did not create it. Someone once said that humans can live 60 days without food, 30 days without water, 6 minutes without air but not one second without hope. We see this hope in every story we tell and every election we hold. We need it just as surely as we need air to breathe.

And that brings us to God. Implanted into the heart of man is an ancient memory of something far better than what we are now experiencing. In the still moments, when our soul is in deep reflection we remember the story of how we were loved and how we turned from our true Lover to seek another way. We feel the agony of being separated from something that is so right and good. Death, darkness and cruelty drive us almost to the point of despair but still we hope. We place that hope in surrogates like Cubs, or a new President, but it is never enough. Our hearts were made for a greater hope, a redemption beyond a World Series title. And so I love the Cubs for reminding me that hope can be fulfilled! I love the Cubs for awakening the deeper hope inside me for a victory that is beyond anything I can imagine. And that leads me to what my Grampa Swanson used to say:

Christ in you, the hope of glory
— Colossians 1:27 NIV

I love the Cubs for encouraging me to look up for the consummation of all my dreams and desires through the final redemption of creation. The “C” on my cap stands for Cubs and Chicago but for me it also stands for Christ who is the fulfillment of hope for all mankind.

Why Care for Animals? - A Christian Perspective

It is a proven fact that owning a pet has definite health benefits both psychological and medical.

Research in the field of human health and medical psychology has provided evidence to suggest that dog and cat owners have better psychological and physical health than non-owners. Dog owners are also reported to recover more quickly after serious mental and physical illness, and even make fewer visits to their doctor.
— Veterinary Record; Journal of the British Veterinary Association

The National Center for Health Research concluded that …

findings indicated that having a dog or cat lowered the risk of heart disease, as well as lowering stress so that performance improved.

Here is a very heart warming story of the therapeutic effect a dog had on an overweight, unhealthy man

Conversely the maltreatment of animals is an indicator of mental illness and social dysfunction. In other words you can tell how a person will treat people by the way they treat animals.

Animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people. Deviant behaviors such as animal abuse generally originate from a traumatic childhood. The American Psychiatric Association considers animal cruelty as one of the diagnostic criteria of conduct disorder.
— Canadians for Animal Welfare Reform

This truth was known a millennia earlier:

If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.
— Francis of Assisi

Two Secular Views and Animal Welfare

But having a commitment to animal welfare based upon what advantages they bring to humans is a shaky foundation. It leads to the possible conclusion that mistreatment of animals can be an acceptable behavior if it is in our best interest. An anthropocentric philanthropy will not sustain a vigorous defense of animal rights.

Neither is the Darwinist Evolutionary view an adequate foundation. The basis of this theory is, “survival of the fittest to reproduce”. Therefore if an animal is weak and vulnerable it should be removed from the gene pool and allowed to die so that its inherent weakness is not passed down to the next generation. But who can turn a blind eye to a suffering and defenseless animal?

So what foundation for animal welfare is adequate to promote a vigorous defense against animal cruelty and promote their well-being?  

The Biblical Mandate to Care for Animals

I propose that the Judaeo Christian view of animal welfare offers the strongest defense for human animal care because it transcends our personal utility and makes the care of animals a stewardship given to us by our Creator God. It also speaks to the commitment to even the "least of these" animals regardless of their ability to further the evolutionary process. 

God gave man authority over “every living creature”

Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.
— Genesis 1:28 NIV
So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals
— Genesis 2:20 NIV

Therefore our care for animals is a mandate from God and keeping it is an act of obedience  to God which is the primary way we demonstrate our love for our Lord.

If you love me you will keep my commandments
— John 14:15 NIV

When man rebelled against God the consequences were not only disastrous for mankind but also the animal kingdom because they also suffer under the curse of death. But in a very real sense their suffering is worse since they did nothing to cause it but were innocent victims of our sinful act of disobedience. 

But someday they too will be liberated and fully restored and in that they share in our hope for redemption. 

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God
— Romans 8:20, 21 NIV

Here are four biblical reasons we are to seek the welfare of animals.

  1. We were given authority over animals by our Creator and will be held to account for this stewardship.
  2. We are commanded to always act with our primary motivation being demonstrating God's loving kindness - this includes how we treat animals.
  3. We (Mankind) were the cause of the suffering brought on the animal kingdom (through our rebellion) therefore we have an duty to help alleviate it now.
  4. The Animal Kingdom will also experience full redemption when the Messiah returns to rule and reign therefore they are a continuing part of God eternal plan.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord
— Isaiah 65:25 NIV

Meanwhile what a beautiful gift they are to us … let’s cherish them!

Is Meaning Meaningless?

We are all wanting to live a life that is full of joy; A life lived with purpose and meaning. But sometimes we get stuck and stagnation sets in. Our days heap upon each other; all the same with no real substance in them.  The dreams we had have faded like childhood pictures and the hope for the future is growing dim. Sound depressing? It is. And to a certain extent we all find ourselves thinking like that from time to time. But that is not the way we were meant to live. The very fact that what I just described is repugnant to us is proof that we were created for much more than a dismal life.

The first step is to break free from acquiescing to the view that our life has no real meaning. We are not doomed like Macbeth to a certain hopeless fate. We are not even to accept the belief that our life (or any life) is common or ordinary.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)

This view is a product of our celebrity crazed culture that mistakes popularity for importance and wealth for value. What you believe about life’s meaning and value is critical to finding your true purpose. And when we live out of our purpose we live a life of significance no matter if it is noticed by a few or many. We need to wake up from the lies that have put us in a hapless stupor and begin exploring the truth about who we are and more importantly why we are.

The next step is to push out into the deep sea of truth exploring the distant lands of meaning. Where do you find truth? For some it is found in natural science. We are no more and no less a product of a meaningless series of evolutionary mishaps. If this is true then the search for meaning stops right here because meaning becomes meaningless, and it is meaningless to even say meaning is meaningless. (think about it)

I advocate another road; one that leads to a Creator who put into the heart of mankind a desire for purpose and a quest for significance. This road runs through a dirty little town called Nazareth where an obscure young woman had a baby that she named Jesus. Many a philosopher has dulled his intellectual blade upon this rock and many a powerful leader has tried to crush his message; but all have failed.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him
— Colossians 1: 15,16 NIV

He is our true north, our reason for being. Our goal must be to purge from us the lies that have entwined themselves about our souls and integrate truth into every area of our lives; especially our identities.

Total Wellness Resource Center is cosponsoring a workshop called Journey of Significance Saturday October 8th from 9-12 at Ascension Lutheran Church in Ranch Palos Verdes, CA. If you’d like to know more please click on the link below. We’d love to see you there!  

The Simplicity of being a Sheep

I do not come from an agrarian culture; I grew up in a stucco clad track home in a city where it was a novelty to find a building that was older than me.  That is why it is easy for me to idealize the idea of sheep. They are fluffy white creatures who live on grassy green hills with their flute playing shepherd gently lullabying them to sleep, Right?

No, they are pretty clueless creatures that if not for the protection and guidance of the shepherd would be dead. So when Jesus continually referred to his followers (a group of hearty fishermen and the like) as sheep I can imagine that they were just a little uncomfortable with that depiction. I imagine them squirming a bit and politely asking Jesus if he could maybe create another metaphor like eagles or lions.

But God referring to us as sheep has a rich tradition in Scripture and there is a good reason for that. We are sheep! We act foolishly, are vulnerable to predators and have but one quality; we know the shepherd, listen to him and we follow.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—
— John 10:14 NIV
The gatekeeper [shepherd] opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
— John 10:3 NIV

When a sheep stops following that is when they are in greatest danger. The shepherd leads them to food, away from danger and protects them with his very life. If a sheep decides to starts believing it is a lion it would be laughable - and tragic. We need to accept our "sheepness". Humbling yes, but very, very real.

So in keeping with our sheep intellect let me brake this down into two parts; our job as a sheep is to:

  1. Listen to the Shepherd’s voice

  2. Follow it

Here is a poem I wrote from the perspective of a sheep …

I am a sheep
I am to listen for my Shepherd’s voice and follow him
I am a Sheep
I have no protection apart from the Shepherd
I am a Sheep
I will go hungry and die in the wilderness unless I follow the Shepherd
My Shepherd goes before me and calls me to himself with his voice
My job is to hear his voice and follow
There are other voices, those that do not belong to the Shepherd
I must not follow those voices for they are out to kill and destroy me
I have only one job, listen for my Master’s voice and follow Him
Often I will not see Him; He is hidden from my view
For I am but a sheep and my eyes are close to the ground
But I can listen and follow and go where He leads
There are times when the way is rough and far from green pastures
My heart grows faint in these places
But I am not to look about me and try to understand the way
For I have but a sheep’s understanding
I am to listen for my Shepherd’s voice and follow
That is what I do
I can do nothing else
Nothing else matters
It is the Shepherd who is my whole world and He is Good!
His voice is true
In Him is my whole existence
I am His sheep
He is my Shepherd and I will listen for His voice and
Follow Him.

 

We at Total Wellness Resource Center are committed to helping with the Spiritual, Mental, Physical and Occupational wellbeing of our clients. Please reach out to us if there is any way we can assist you on your journey.

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Is it Okay to Feel Bad?

I come from a certain Christian tradition that puts a premium on being joyful even when we didn’t feel especially joyful. It was a “fake it ‘till you make it” mentality. But we chose to call it walking by faith. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for faith. The bible says:

For we live by faith, not by sight.
— 2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV

So faith is an absolutely essential part of living the abundant life. But faith is not denying what you feel or the reality of the condition of your heart. Faith is looking beyond our present circumstances or feelings to an ultimate truth and then placing our trust in that truth. As believers we have chosen to believe what God says is true more than our experience, emotions or human logic. That is because we trust in a God who has made everything, knows everything and has our future already guaranteed. So when he declares truth we can be assured, in his eyes, it has already happened. But I can hear you saying; “that’s great James but I live in the here and now and, I am pretty darn anxious right now!”

So that’s why we often slip into the “fake it ‘till you make it” philosophy. In other words, we deny our feelings and try to look positive. But let me give you an alternative.

Transcend rather than deny

What is transcending our feelings? Let’s first look at what happens when we deny our feelings.

  • When we deny our feelings we are closed to our hearts cries and shut the door to God’s comfort. How can God comfort our hurting heart unless we admit that our hearts need comforting?
  • When we deny our feelings we often shame ourselves for not being stronger in faith. Faith is not a feeling. The most powerful demonstration of faith is in the presence of our doubt.
  • When we deny our feelings we isolate ourselves from others who God could use to encourage, comfort and give us wisdom. God has put every believer in his family and this family is the way he brings us resources.
  • When we deny our feelings we are attempting to be someone God has not chosen to make us. As Brennen Manning said, “God loves us for who we are not who we’re not”. When we deny the true state of our heart we are trying to be someone other than the person that God loves … perfectly!

Okay if denial is bad what does it mean to transcend our feelings?

  • Transcending means that we acknowledge what is going on in our hearts. We don’t hide our feelings from God or try to “sugar coat” them with platitudes. Our prayers are real and our pain is exposed fully to his glorious light.
  • Transcending means we agree with God concerning his promises and proclaim them truer than our emotions, acknowledging that he is able to do just what he has said he will do. Note: This requires that we become intimately familiar with the Scriptures. We will never escape the power our feelings have over us if we don’t know the greater power of God’s truth as proclaimed in the Bible.
  • Transcending means that we become real in the presence of other people. We acknowledge the present state of our hearts all the while confessing the truth of God’s Word. We invite other’s encouragement and prayers because we accept the maturing process of Holy Spirit in our lives and in humility receive all the resources he graciously provides. Denial is often an excuse for our pride. When we deny the true state of our hearts we are often saying that we are better than we are. But Scripture says; “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6)
  • Transcending is the only path to healing. Jesus said; “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32) and that is true of the emotional prison our feelings put us in. When we set our hearts on what is true we set in motion a process of transformation that will ultimately lift our emotions out of the pit and free us to experience true joy and peace that are our true inheritance and children of God.  

One last thought. I have found that sometimes I have enjoyed wallowing in my negative feelings and resisted the need to transcend them.  Don’t ask me why, it’s a mystery. Why would I find it strangely comfortable to be in emotional pain? The one thing that pulls me out of this emotional masochism is the effect I am having on the ones I love. When I allow myself the “luxury” of remaining in my pain I am in fact inflicting pain on those around me. Therefore transcending my feelings is a gift I give to others especially those who are close.

Here are five tips for transcending your feelings

  1. Write down on 3X5 cards Scripture verses that state a truth or a promise from God that is especially meaningful to you.
  2. Carry them with you constantly and refer to them regularly, especially when you are tempted to go negative in your emotions
  3. Talk to God honestly about how you feel but always acknowledge that you will ultimately put your hope in him despite your current feelings. (this is a faith statement)
  4. Be real with others, especially mature believers, about the state of your heart and ask them to pray for you right there and then.
  5. If you get stuck seek godly counsel to help root out the underling source of your emotional pain. We all need help sometimes.

As always if you have any comments, questions or prayer requests it is our privilege and delight to respond