On Faith, Love, And Emotions

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I meet with a group of pastors every Thursday for prayer. This is not just any prayer meeting. About six years ago, at a time when I deeply needed a group of people I could trust and be transparent with, God directed me to these pastors. And I’ve been with my band of brothers and sisters since. To me, the meeting is a life-line.

Last Thursday, I facilitated the meeting. Wanting to gather us around a subject to pray, I shared the following story.

“Yesterday I got this email from one of the underground church leaders in the Middle East telling me about this amazing house church that has become well known for her good works and tenacity. The members are true believers, whom in the midst of all kinds of hardship and persecution, are trying very hard to please God and stick to their Christian faith. If you knew their story, you’d see how much they have suffered for Christ and yet, they’ve not given up being faithful to their Lord and savior.

Perhaps above all, they’re not only solid followers of Christ, but they’re also doctrinally sound. The teaching you hear out of that church puts most of us to shame. Throughout the years, this church has stood up to many bad teachers, but they have proven all of them to be wrong and have kicked them out of the church. What I mean is that their teaching is very biblical.

Now, let’s be honest. How many of us wouldn’t desire to have a church like that? Is there one church in America that wouldn’t do everything she can to be known by these qualities? Yet, with all her fine virtues, this church has a major problem. Let me read you the email…”

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.  I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

Well, I tricked everyone. The church wasn’t in the Middle East, but Ephesus. There was no email. I was simply reading what the Lord told John about this church in the book of Revelation. What is troubling about this wonderful church is what Jesus says next,

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Rev. 2:1-5) NIV

Apparently, according to the Cornerstone of the Church, Jesus, having all those wonderful qualities means nothing if you don’t have that first love. Without that love, the congregation in Ephesus is doomed/will cease to exist.

But what is the first love?

In all my years of being a follower of Christ, I don’t remember having heard too many messages on this subject. The ones I have heard always referred to the first love as witnessing for Jesus like you used to, reading your Bible like you used to, going to church like you used to, and so on. They completely overlooked the fact that according to Jesus, the Ephesians did not “used to” do all that, but were doing it at the moment, and yet they were in danger of being put out. In fact, one commentator says, “They had yielded to the temptation, ever-present to Christians, to put all their emphasis on sound teaching. In the process, they lost love…”

So, what is this first love?

To me, it all goes back to the Greatest Commandment in the Bible.

Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” (Mk 12:29-31) The Message

The love that God requires of us, that first love, is an all-consuming love. It’s a type of love that demands of you everything that makes you, you. It requests not just your actions, but your zeal, passion, and yes, YOUR EMOTIONS and FEELINGS. In this love, the Beloved is the life-giving center of the lover’s life to the point that without him, life for the lover is meaningless.

If in loving us, God gave us of his own very essence, his only Son, then it’s only fair that in return, He requires the same from us, our very essence. This love demands that the lover becomes one with his/her Beloved. And in doing so, to wholly lose him/herself in him. His heart, his will, his thoughts, his strength, his feelings, and emotions become yours and vice versa.

Molana Rumi, the great Persian mystic poet of the 13th century, describes such love with the following story.

There came one and knocked at the door of the Beloved.
And a voice answered and said, ‘Who is there?’
The lover replied, “It is I.”

“Go away,” returned the voice;
“there is no room within for YOU and me.”
Then came the lover a second time and knocked and again the voice demanded,
“Who is there?”
He answered, “It is you” “Only you are at the door”
The voice said, “Now, since you are me, O me, come in,
since there’s no room for two ‘me’s’ in the house.

And Paul, the Apostle puts it this way,

I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. (Gal. 2:20) The Message

As the author of The Cloud of Unknowing says, “Love is ‘ecstatic’ in that it takes us out of ourselves to live in the thing we love. If we love money, we live in money; if we love friends, we live in them, if we love them in God, we live in God. That means in love there is a real death.”

I’ve never claimed to be a theologian, but I’m convinced that what Paul is referring to is NOT some theological hypothesis, but an existential reality, which he has and is experiencing—a continued disappearing of Paul into Jesus. He realizes that to follow Jesus, it requires an actual dead to self/ego, a replacing of one identity with another, so that, as Rumi says, there are no longer “two me’s,” but only one “I AM.”

I believe the first love is the very river that guides every follower of Christ to strive to please him. Because when we learn to love with that intensity, we have no desire to do anything, but to please our Beloved.

But how does one learn to love with that intensity? Be assured that it isn’t something you just conjure up by yourself.

It first starts with God. He’s the one who initiates the relationship and comes after us. He’s the one who relentlessly pursues us until we are found in him. And as the Scripture says, He’s the one who first lavishes us with his unconditional love and makes us fall in love with him.

Have you ever been in love? When you fall in love, your lover is the total objective of your living. Every moment that you’re awake you think about him/her. Every breath you take, you take in his/her memory. You eat and drink dreaming of being with your lover. More than anything else, you desire to be in your lover’s presence even if he/she doesn’t utter a word. There’s nothing you will not do to be with him/her. As the song says,

Ain’t no mountain high enough

Ain’t no valley low enough
Ain’t no river wide enough
To keep you from getting to your lover

I love what Origen, one of the early Church Fathers, says about this love affair. “Without ceasing,” writes Origen, “the soul searches after the bridegroom, the Word, and when it finds him, it looks for him again, like an addict, in other things as well.” That kind of love is an addictive love. All one can do is to cry out for more of it and like a deer that pants after water pants after the Beloved — the only one who can satisfy that thirst.

Unfortunately, today, within much of western theology, this type of love is frowned upon because it is experiential and smacks of emotionalism. One of my Old Testament seminary professors used to say something like, “Through the influence of Hellenistic philosophy, we took a happy and emotion-filled religion (Judaism) and turned it into emotionless western Christianity.” And I can personally testify to that.

For most of my Christian life, my mentors taught me that my experiences and feelings are of little or no value because they can’t be trusted. Yet, as I read the Bible, I noticed that it is a book of human’s experiences with their Creator. Without those experiences, there wouldn’t have been a Bible. And if God wants me to love him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, then my feelings got to fit in there somewhere. Is it possible that in our own western thinking we have created a type of love that requires no emotions or feelings? In his book, Surprised by the Presence of God, Jack Deer gives the following illustration:

Suppose a husband comes home after work and walks up to his wife, who is cooking in the kitchen and says, “Honey, I want you to know that I’ll always be faithful to our marriage vows. I will never leave you nor forsake you. I will be your provider and protector for as long as I live. I’ll be a good father to our children. You will always have a roof over your head and food on the table. However, there’s one small issue that I hope you understand. I HAVE NO MORE FEELINGS FOR YOU!” How do you think the wife would react? One marriage counselor told me that he often hears wives complain that, “My husband is a good dad and provider, but he’s lost his passion for the marriage relationship.”

Is it possible that the church in Ephesus was being rebuked by our Lord for being guilty of the same thing? Like the above husband, she could be a perfect church, but without any passion and feelings, much like a robot? Are we guilty of the same thing in our relationship with our Savior? What if you had the exact conversation with Jesus, our Bridegroom?  How do you think He would feel when you tell him, “But I have no more feelings for you?”

I often ask people why they attend church on Sundays. They often give me sound theological answers:

  • “I went to church because it is scriptural.”
  • “I went to worship.”
  • “I went to fellowship.”
  • “I went to hear a message and get fed.”
  • “I went to find a mate.”
  • And finally, “I went to get away from my mate.”

But I have hardly ever heard anyone say, “I went to meet with God.” Because as far as they’re concerned, their hard work, their refusal to quit, not stomaching evil, weeding out apostolic pretenders, their persistence, their courage in God’s cause, and not wearing out must be enough in serving Christ.

Can we be honest here? Have you lost that first love?

 

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IS SILENCE MORE THAN THE ABSENCE OF WORDS?

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A friend told me how his sister talks a lot. She thinks people will judge her if there is a lull in the conversation. I don’t remember if he was serious, or joking, but the truth is that silence makes most of us feel uncomfortable.
Why do we constantly search for a shiny object to distract us? We can’t live without checking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, or other social media apps.

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If we’re driving, we have to have some kind of noise coming out of our radio, iPod, or CD player (Does anyone even have a CD player in their car anymore?) Even while studying, we can’t stand the silence around us, so we stream music or shows to our iPad or laptops.

Do you want to make a group of people, especially in church, feel uncomfortable? All you need to do is say, “Let us be silent for a few moments.” And then watch them become restless and preoccupied with only one thought: “When will this be over?”

Do you know why?

The easy answer is silence often creates hostility, resentment, or feelings of loneliness. We experience boredom or anxiety stemming from having nothing to do.

To some silence is the absence of culture, which means every worldly distraction stops. It is a place without iPhones, iPads, laptops, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, etc.

If this is so, then the deeper answer is silence forces us to face our mortality, weaknesses, and defects.

Please understand that by silence I don’t mean the absence of words. There are many introverts who are happy to take part in a gathering without having to say a word.

What I mean by silence is stopping the thoughts in our heads. Our chattering minds are our biggest noisemakers. Our greatest struggles take place there.

For example, I don’t know about you, but in my own life, I often fall into an old trap. Before I am aware of it, I find myself wondering why someone hurt me, rejected me, or didn’t pay attention to me. Or I find myself moping over someone else’s success or my loneliness. Or I often catch myself daydreaming about becoming rich, powerful, and famous. And all this takes place without me saying a word.

Thousands of years ago, God told his people to, “Be still and know that I am God!” What he was saying was something like “Hey guys, while leaving matters to me, I want you to be silent and wait for me.” To me, that silence also applies to the anxious chatter in our minds.

About 2000 years ago, a group of men and women moved to the desert to separate themselves from the world. Known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers they wanted to draw closer to God. They believed our chattering minds are the greatest barriers to becoming aware of God and being at peace.

These men and women came to realize that by silencing our thoughts they lose power over us. Over time we begin to find peace in freedom from our desires, restlessness, and anxiety.

It’s through the discipline of silencing our thoughts that we can achieve peace. It’s through silence that we fit every loose thought, emotion, and impulse into a life shaped by Christ.

It’s by controlling our thoughts that we can then achieve what God expects of us. He wants us thinking about what is true, moral, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.

But with all the noise and distractions around us, how’s silence achieved? Are you interested in learning how to reach that goal? Do you desire to quiet down your chattering mind, so you can hear the gentle voice the Creator?

Come join me for that journey. Go to: pilgrimsofcontemplation.com and drop me a note.

This Is Where The Pilgrims Of Contemplation Differ!

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When God commissioned Joshua, Moses’ successor, He told him,

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. — Josh 1:8

The Psalmist says, “I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” —Ps. 77:12

paulAnd finally, Apostle Paul encouraged his disciple, Timothy, to: “Ponder (meditate) these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all.” — 1 Tim 4:15

However, there are many followers of Christ who are either unaware of this ancient and biblical practice, or they immediately relate it to some Eastern, or New Age cultish practice. Something that Mr. and Mrs. Regular American also did for years.

I vaguely remember the trend that emerged after the Beatles went to Rishikesh in northern India to study Transcendental Meditation (TM) with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. TM became a popular word throughout the late 60s and 70s. But like most fads, it eventually faded away. Yet lo and behold, it has been reinvented over three decades later.

We can mostly thank Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is the originator of the term “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR). As you’ll see, the word “Meditation” has been replaced with the word “Mindfulness.”

How did this happen? According to Mary Sykes Wiley, it all started in 1979, when Kabat-Zinn, a 35-year-old student of Buddhist meditation and MIT-trained molecular biologist was on a meditation retreat. He had a vision of what his life’s work—his “karmic assignment”—would be.

Man meditatingWhile he sat alone one afternoon, it all came to him at once: he’d bring the ancient Eastern disciplines he’d followed for 13 years—mindfulness meditation and yoga—to people with chronic health conditions right here in modern America. What’s more, he’d bring these practices into the very belly of the Western scientific beast…

However, he had a slight problem. During the 70s the only people really interested in meditation were, New Age hippies, Asian studies scholars, and a small population of home-grown seekers (young middle-class adults, often left-wing Vietnam War dissenters at odds with consumer capitalism and looking for a spiritual lift they weren’t getting from drugs or the rejected Main Street religion of their parents).

So, if one was to mention meditation to Mr. and Mrs. Regular American, you might just get a blank look, or worse, they would ask, “Why would any normal person want to get caught up with one of those Eastern cults?” And this is where the genius of Mr. Zinn is revealed.

Kabat-Zinn repackaged Eastern meditation as a secular health intervention that wouldn’t frighten the locals. As he has said, “I bent over backward to structure it and find ways to speak about it that avoided as much as possible the risk of it being seen as Buddhist, New Age, Eastern Mysticism, or just plain flaky.” And instead of meditation, he called it mindfulness, a lesser known terminology. And millions of Americans rushed to sign up for it.

Some scientific research has shown that mindfulness and other meditative disciplines are genuinely useful to many people in many ways for many conditions. Mary Sykes says,

group meditation1Today, more than 20,000 patients have participated in the UMass program, which has produced 1,000 certified MBSR instructors and MBSR programs in about 720 medical settings in more than 30 countries. Mindfulness training—and other forms of meditation are now used for an almost unimaginable range of medical conditions…This has made mindfulness meditation a multi-billion-dollar industry in the US.

As one who believes and has practiced biblical meditation for many years, I was interested to see what MBSR means by mindfulness and meditation. So, I did some research, and this is what I came up with.

According to Kathryn Remati,

By definition, “mindfulness” refers to the informal practice of present moment awareness that can be applied to any waking situation. It’s a way of being actively aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it.

It is an attempt at focusing completely on the full experience of a usually “mindless” chore such as taking a shower. Be aware of the temperature of the water and how it makes your skin feel, along with the texture and smell of the shampoo. “Engage all five senses and see if you are actually more relaxed and less stressed when it is all finished.” In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn says that “When unawareness dominates the mind, all our decisions and actions are affected.”

On the other hand,

Meditation is the formal practice of finding peace within. Awareness of peace is achieved when mental chatter is decreased… While meditating, we are mindful of our thoughts from the viewpoint of an observer, without clinging to the thoughts themselves. Our thoughts float by like clouds, while we learn something about our inner selves…

To me, this all sounds good, but this is nothing new. The practice of mindfulness can (I’m aware that they are not exactly the same) be equated to what, 1500 years ago, Saint Ignatius of Loyola called the “Prayer of Examen” where, in thoughtfulness, one ponders on every event of the last 24 hours (taking a shower, washing a dish, watching a bird fly, and so on) and be thankful to God for it. Or how a century later, Brother Lawrence, a lay member of a monastic order in Paris sought to live his life constantly in the presence of God even while doing “mindless” chores such as washing dishes.

Monk prayingAlmost 2000 years ago, the Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers found peace within and overcame daily temptations by meditating on the Scriptures in solitude and silence. And by doing so, they introduced us to what eventually became one of the most fulfilling types of prayers called “Lectio Divina”.

In practice, there are some similarities between Eastern and biblical meditation. Learning how to avoid mental chatter to be quiet and find peace in silence are things that are common in both disciplines. However, what separates the Christian meditation from Eastern is the centrality of the Creator.

The Christian meditation is NOT for self-improvement—although that could very well be a part of it—but for drawing closer to the Divine. We do not empty ourselves of mental chatter to be filled with the universe, but we fit “every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by the ‘Creator’.” — 2 Cor. 10:5

For me, the following prayer by Saint Guigo II sums up all that Christian meditation is about.

Lord, you are not seen except by the pure of heart. I seek by reading and meditating what is true purity of heart. And how it may be had, so that with its help I may know you, if only a little. Lord, for long I meditated in my heart, seeking to see you face to face, it is the sight of you, Lord, that I have sought; and all the while in my meditation the fire of longing, the desire to know you more fully, has increased. When you break for me the bread of the sacred Scripture, you have shown yourself to me in the breaking of the bread, and the more I see you, the more I long to see you, no more from without, in the rind of the letter, but within, in the letter’s hidden meaning… So, give me, Lord, some pledge of what I hope to inherit, at least one drop of heavenly rain with which to refresh my thirst, for I’m on fire with love.

 

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Do you want to draw closer to the Creator? Let’s walk the journey together. Go to my website, pilgrimsofcontemplation.com, and contact me.

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