February 26, 2010
February 19, 2010
The Temptation of Jesus
1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’ ”
5The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”
9The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10For it is written:
” ‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
12Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
13When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
The season of Lent, at its core, is very much about seeking God.
The desert fathers understood this very well, and understood Jesus’ example of going into the wilderness to do battle by prayer and fasting- following Jesus in example and heart.
What can I learn from Jesus here?
1) Jesus set the example for us not to do this in our own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Following the Spirit’s leading is our best course of action.
2) Books could be written on Jesus’ answer to the temptations, however, today I will just suggest that though Jesus was the Son of God, He did not serve Himself. By denying the temptations, we see over and over that He denied Himself to ultimately serve others, to serve us.
3) Jesus’ answers “Man does not live by bread alone…Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only…Do not put your Lord to the test…” guide us in our seeking. He gave simple yet profound answers to the distractions that come when we seek.
Jesus also taught us to seek, ask, and knock. God, Our Father, wants to be found!
February 12, 2010
The World Is Not a Stage
1 “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. 2-4“When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—’playactors’ I call them— treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.
Pray with Simplicity
5“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?6“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
- Matthew 6:1-6, The Message
“When you’re trying to be good”
“When you do something for somebody else”
It seems clear, on first read, that Jesus’ starting point for this reminder is that he assumes that we are trying to live our faith, to wrestle with the implications of grace and of our engagement in the mission of God. But there’s a subtle element at play here: ”acting compassionate”, not “being compassionate”. ”Playing to the crowds”, rather than being content with our task.
“Just do it – quietly and unobtrusively”. Do it, but do it without fanfare – whatever the “it” of “trying to do good” is.
I’m writing this in a coffeeshop after visiting a nonprofit organization that I volunteer time with. I’m helping them use social networks to spread the word about the agencies they’re partnering with to help eradicate global poverty. I’m proud of their work, and I’m happy to be able to help. In fact, because I’m heading to a concert tonight, I’m wearing their logo t-shirt and hoping that other concertgoers notice the logo and I can share the story. I’m not quiet or unobtrusive, at least in my t-shirt choice.
And so I wonder, isn’t it good to tell people what we’re doing to help the less fortunate in our world? To give our friends opportunities to reach out beyond themselves?
If Jesus is consistent in His message – and I hope that He is – this is the same thing he’s saying when he says that murder is sin as much as being angry is. The attitude of my inner life matters as much as my actions; the meaning matters.
How I do what I do matters as much as what I do. And so, my life must be a constant purging of inappropriate behaviors and motivations, an ongoing challenge to center myself in my identity in Christ rather than my identity that I construct from my activities.
So, I must be in constant prayer, with a heart open to pruning and reshaping and corrective action. I must pray, simply and honestly, so that I may grow to be simple and honest.
The focus of my prayer must move from me (and my words) to my God, so that the focus of my life may move from me (and my actions) to my God.
“Just be there, as simply and as honestly as you can manage.” In my prayer, and in my actions.
February 7, 2010
5:1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,
5:2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.
5:3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
5:4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
5:5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
5:6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.
5:7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
5:8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
5:9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;
5:10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who are partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
5:11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Failure is not the end of the end of the story. Peter and his crew were calling it a night. They fished all night and hadn’t caught anything. It had been a wasted night. No productivity in spite of lots of effort. That is one of the most frustrating experiences in any job. That feeling of working as hard as you can and for long hours and then having nothing to show for it. I recently had that feeling when I went on a writing retreat to complete a paper for a class I’m taking. Worked for 2 days and wrote close to 20 pages. When I got home i went to open the document so i could send it off for review and… and… nothing! It was empty. I had forgotten to save it properly. No backup. It was just gone. A whole weekend away from home, family and friends wasted. Lots of effort. Nothing to show for it. Frustration.
This story also contains elements of unrealized potential and underutilized capacity. Peter and co. had plenty of potential to catch a lot of fish. They knew how to fish. They also had the right tools and equipment. They had a team, boats, nets – everything commercial fishermen of that time would need to have a thriving fishing business. They obviously had knowledge and experience and knew what they were doing. But it just didn’t happen, it didn’t come together for them.
This is a good place in the story to stop. To sit with it before moving onto to the resolution. Frankly this is where most of us live. This is where i spend most of my time. Feeling like a failure. Knowing there’s more potential and capacity but not sure how to get at it.
So we can ask ourselves some pointed questions here: Where do you feel like a failure? Sit with that question for a few minutes, a day or even a week… I’m not recommending we beat ourselves up with it just get real honest.
Once that is firmly fixed we can move onto the rest of the story and the resolution and ask: Are we willing to let Jesus lead us in that area and do what he says even if we don’t see the point? That’s my favorite part of the story when Peter essentially says, “Look! We’ve been fishing all night and nothing but if you say so…” I would have loved to have seen Peter’s body language at this point. i wonder if he rolled his eyes as he turned around to tell the crew they were going back out… I wonder if he was thinking “What does a carpenter know about fishing, anyway!” I wonder if he was little perturbed by the whole thing.
Sometimes we need to do what Jesus tells us even when (and possibly especially when) we don’t see the point.
So where is Jesus asking for your obedience?
Ultimately this story is about Peter’s call to be a “fisher of men and women.” He would later catch thousands of people for the first Jesus movement. That story is in Acts 2. This story is kind of like the prequel to that one. In both stories however God shows up in powerful ways and unlocks the potential and capacity we could never even see…
February 3, 2010
Did you know that there are professionals across the country who are studying the brain science of spiritual experience? They have taken the name ”neurotheologians” – those who research in the burgeoning field of spiritual experience and the brain - and they claim that prayer can sculpt your brain. Seriously, they claim prayer physically re-shapes your brain, and in-turn how your perceive reality. One such “neurotheologian”, Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania and teaching professor of the course The Biology of Spirituaity, has found that those who meditate and pray more have increased brain activity in the frontal lobe – where concentration and focus are centered according to brain scientists – while at the same time decreased activity in the parietal lobe – which is where we get our sense of orientation in time and space according to brain science. Therefore he posits this either aids or explains our experience of prayer, and those who claim to lose track of time and space during meditative prayer. In fact, Dr. Newberg has written a book: How God Changes Your Brain, in which he talks about the following:
- Not only do prayer and spiritual practice reduce stress and anxiety, but just twelve minutes of meditation per day may slow down the aging process.
- Fundamentalism, in and of itself, is benign and can be personally beneficial, but the anger and prejudice generated by extreme beliefs can permanently damage your brain.
- Intense prayer and meditation permanently change numerous structures and functions in the brain – altering your values and the way you perceive reality.
Interesting, eh? But here is the kicker: while these brain scientists/neurotheologians have focused most of their studies on those who pray and/or meditate for several hours every day (like monks and nuns), their research is now turning to more prayer-challenged people (like me!). In fact, Neuroscientist Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin, claims that most anyone can sculpt their brain with some experience and training and something they call neuroplasticity (brain/cortical organization, especially for the sensory systems, is often described in terms of mapping, thus, with training and experience we can re-map our brain…quick question: in faith community circles, is this what we call spiritual formation?). “You can sculpt your brain just as you’d sculpt your muscles if you went to the gym,” he says. “Our brains are continuously being sculpted, whether you like it or not, wittingly or unwittingly.”
In one recent-but-unpublished study many people – who were regular people and not monks and nuns – were very successful in cultivating a spiritual mind-set. According to Dr. Davidson, there were detectable changes in the subjects’ brains within two weeks. Two weeks! Another similar study, where employees at a high-tech firm meditated a few minutes a day over a few weeks, produced more dramatic results. “Just two months’ practice among rank amateurs led to a systematic change in both the brain as well as the immune system in more positive directions,” Davidson claims that the subjects developed more antibodies to a flu virus than did their colleagues who did not meditate.
So, I have been reflecting on all this and asking myself:
- what are the implications for spiritual formation in terms of neurotheology, prayer and neuroplasticity?
- Can spiritual formation and spiritual exercises like centering prayer, meditation and contemplative prayer ‘form’ a well-worn pathway to connect with God?