On Pressing Forward in 2016

 

We have moved into a New Year. It is a time when many evaluate their goals and make plans for change and moving forward for the year ahead. Time also is spent examining the impact and results of the past year.  Personally, 2015 was a year of many trials and difficulties. None of the trials have been devastating or severe but they have been persistent and draining. Some of them have been sudden and came with unexpected costs. My wife and I do have goals and desires for what is ahead but at times it gets overwhelming.  Since we have directions we are moving toward, my mind has been reflecting on moving forward and forging ahead.

As we moved on into the New Year, the Bible passage of Philippians 3: 13-14 has been on my mind. The passage reads: Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (ESV) There are three elements that are central to this passage that are worth reflecting on: the past, pressing forward, and the goal.  It is worth noting that the attitude described in this passage is referred to as the way mature people should think (Philippians 3:15.)

The first thought is about the past. The passage directs to forget about the past, to let it have no power or sway. In the verses preceding the passage, Paul, referenced all the thing in his past that were considered of value. He essentially says, what he did in the past is irrelevant to moving forward in his life as He follows God. The passage really does not mean we are not to address issues in our past and learn from the past. It is really about not holding on to that which is past, that in present moment, we are to be about what God has us doing.  We are not to keep mind focused on what has already occurred, but to engage in that which brings forward movement.  It is worth noting, that within scripture God often has called people to remember what he has done and set up places of remembrance. Even names of Cities and people are markers of things to recall. So, Paul is not suggesting a total avoidance of things in the past; good or bad. Rather, a focus off of the elements of self, as the good and bad of the past can easily become a center of focus and interfere with moving ahead.  We are to be about what God has called us to doing and to press forward.

The other element worth reflecting is to be pressing forward. It is moving ahead. It is imagery used in connection to running a race or engaging in a contest. Pressing forward is about persevering to completion with what you were called to do.  Pressing forward means facing difficulties as the come and dealing with them. It is about focus on the goal. As long as we are in this body and living this life, we are moving forward.  In my mind, whatever point we are in life, we are growing in some manner. Each day is the next day for the next step for moving ahead and facing obstacles.

The ultimate point though is the element of the goal. We are pressing forward, not related to our own self-directed goals or felt desire. No, we are pressing forward in what God has called us to, that which He has set forward. And what God has called us to, is found in Philippians 3: 8-10. It is what Paul referred to as gaining Christ. Our pressing forward depends on faith which allows for knowing God in all His persons and experience what God is able to bring alive even in the midst of great difficulties.  It is looking beyond any circumstances and pressing on in such away as we demonstrate that what happens as we press on is but temporary. We are citizens of heaven as seen in Philippians 3:20.  The call is doing what God has before us. It is making disciples. It is loving others. It is persisting through obstacles. It is focusing on God.  This is why it is a mark of maturity, for it is getting beyond self and living and serving as you are going in the course of your life.

So, take time to think about where God has you and what pressing forward in 2016 means? Is there things that are holding back? Are there good and bad things that deter from moving forward? Are your desires on things of self, or on God’s higher call?   Where is God moving in your life and what are the current areas where you are growing?  Ultimately, reflect on where God has you going and what steps you take to move forward while remembering that God is God and He is there with you as you press forward and forge ahead in 2016.

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Palm Sunday Musing: Check those expectations

Today is Palm Sunday. It is interesting to think how such a day might play out in this social media age. Tweets with hash tags of #hosanna, #messiahishere, and #downwithRome might be the trending topics. This was a day that was ripe with expectation that soon crashed. People were excited as the felt a great change would soon come. Well, a great change did soon come, just not what was expected. They expected Jesus to come and make a world to their liking, away from the tyranny of the Roman Empire, a world where folks could be content and everything would go swell. God’s way and plan was not what people expected or wanted. This is still true today. There are a lot of post and focus on the varied elements of the kingdom of this world. There is writhing of the hands and gnashing of teeth over decisions of the government that invade the comfort of how we want the world to be. The focus is too much on what we would like rather than touching the hurting, the lost, the dying in this world. We fail to reach out to others with love and offer freedom as we go about finding comfort in our own lives. We praise God for what He can or does do for us. Sometimes, we get angry over things God does not do to make things go our own way. We want what we want and God is good when he complies and when he doesn’t well that is harder to grasp. So, take time today to reflect on your expectations of God. Do you simply shout Hosanna over how you think He might do you good, or are you praising God for His love and making a way for you that may be different then your own expectations. Are you truly willing to submit to the King of Kings or only willing to do so when things line up nicely?

Reflections on Brennan Manning: A Teacher of God’s Love and Grace

Today 4/13/2013 news that Brennan Manning left this life on 4/12/2013. He was a man of God, a disciple who now has moved on. Yet, he was a teacher of much controversy. The top of the controversy was that he taught “contemplative prayer” with use of things like emptying thoughts and repeating words. This controversy exists and is out there, yet, I have no question that in He was a true follower of Jesus the Messiah. His teaching and from what I understand even his life was fractured and flawed. He knew fully what it was to experience God’s grace. Yet, he is really know different than any other disciple of Jesus. He tought things wrong, he did things wrong, he was flawed. Yet, he knew what it was to be loved by God. He was a teacher and preacher of God’s love. His messages focused on deepening the understanding of God and His love. This is true for me.
I heard Brennan Manning speak at Church of the Open Door in Minnesota two or maybe three times. When he spoke his words and presence displayed and shown the love of God. His words touched to the very core. I do not remember his words or his teaching at that time. I do know what he taught and spoke of on those days changed me. He gave words that brought closer awareness to the love of God. He taught in such a way that got beyond the fractured images I had of God the Father and God used to touch hurt and pain and let God’s love in. God used this man. And for that I am grateful. He served and was used by God and he touch my life and many others. There are a great many quotes out there that demonstrate the truth he taught. It is important to note in God’s economy the words of Love and truth have far greater impact than the things we speak that are flawed, dangerous, or destructive. Truth and love always have greater effect. In closing this article I am posting some Brennan Manning quotes that demonstrate the Truth and Love that he taught that impacted so many.

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

“In every encounter we either give life or we drain it; there is no neutral exchange.”

“God is love. In human beings, love is a quality, a high-prized virtue; in God, love is His identity.“

“God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.”

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ, & I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

“Christianity was not some moral code; it was a love affair, & I experienced it first hand.”

“If we conceal our wounds out of fear & shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”

God’s ways are not our ways

In the midst of the quietness of this blog God has been at work including within the life of this writer. The center point of the growth lessons comes down to some simple words that have great depth. 

 God’s ways are not my ways.

God states the fact that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways in Isaiah 55:8.  He establishes that there are differing perceptions and directions. God says he does what He does with His intent and purpose and that it differs from our own.  We can be convinced of something and pursue a direction. We can do what we think is right. We can have best intentions. Yet, God can have something else going on. In this writer’s life there was a moment where convinced that a small group of post college young adults could be turned into a ministry. It went the other way.  Perceptions differed and God worked as he did in that moment of time but not to create some bigger ministry.  In this writer’s life there have been ideas of going to “Christian graduate school” or work in “Christian environments” that did not happen, or at least not happen as thought. Yet, in it all God had  His ways and His thoughts and His intent.

 Now here is a piece of reality. Our own thoughts and ways are self-focused.  We get  wrapped up in our own thoughts and ways, in how we think things should be.  Even when following God and trusting his promises we get sidetracked by the ways of self.  If you read the Bible you will find countless stories of people going about their own way and having their own thoughts and not trusting God or trying to bring about God’s seemingly too long delayed promises on their own. See we turn to our own ways because we think we know best or think we have the best understanding of what is best for ourselves. We have time frames on when it should be accomplished. We often live in the moment of what is happening now without the full recognition of God doing what He intends.

See God always accomplishes what He intends. In Isaiah 55:11 it is made clear that God’s words, what He puts into being always accomplishes what He desires. God’s words do not return void, ever. What he sets in motion will not be stopped, ever.  Now sometimes it may take a long time. Sometimes it may appear differently than it is. We may not always see or understand how God is accomplishing His word and His way, but what God sets out to accomplish, He accomplishes.

Yet, we often miss those facts as we are focused on what we think is good for self. He have our plans or ideas. Even in following God we can try and achieve what God put forward by our own efforts and ideas.  Our ways and thoughts need to grow each day in aligning with God’s ways and thoughts. We need to trust God always does what He says. Always.  What is best for us in spite our own ways and thoughts and the leanings of our evil hearts is growing ever more in line with God’s ways and thoughts. Now, that is the truly difficult part because it involves giving up of self, of our ways and thoughts. We want to grasp on to what we think we need tightly. God tells us even the result of a grasping.  Luke 9:24 (ESV) For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  What then is needed is the giving up, the letting go of our preferred directions and thoughts about the way things should go. We needs to simply look to be each day more in line with God’s ways and thoughts. This is ongoing, day to day, letting go of self.

Saint Patrick’s day musing: learning from the Faith of the Irish

 Today, 3/17/2012 is Saint Patrick’s day. A day where people celebrate their Irish heritage. This writer does have family who immigrated from Ireland, so the day has some meaning. Yet, the meaning for me does not rest on green beer and alcohol, but rather the roots of the Church in Ireland. There is a lot of history related to Ireland. Now I am not talking about the modern and infamous Protestant and Catholic battles that can easily focus on. The history is not even the legend and stories related to Saint Patrick. Rather, it is the unique elements of the early Church in Ireland and what it should point us to today. It is very worthwhile to examine and explore the early church history of Ireland. Granted, this writer has only viewed a few articles here and there over years and seen varied writings about “Celtic Christianity” but there is a core element that runs through the early Church and Ireland that want to discuss and encourage others to take to heart. Some of these thoughts are triggered by an old article found here: http://www.cslewis.org/journal/hearts-and-minds-aflame-for-christ-irish-monks%e2%80%94a-model-for-making-all-things-new-in-the-21st-century. There are three key elements of the Irish faith that is important for us to learn from: growth focused, other focused, and wholly surrendered. Let’s look at each area briefly.

 The early church in Ireland stressed growth with a balance of both knowledge and spiritual.  The encouraged discipleship. Growth of the whole person. They developed schools, monestaries and varied means of encourage growth in relating to God and growing in knowledge.  Ignorance was not tolerated. In order for people to grow in truth they needed to learn, so people were taught through a variety of means. Growth was not just limited to education either as creativity was embraced and used to spread and teach the truth. The just not teach things from a growth in knowledge standpoint but encourage over all growth. They truly embraced Philippians 4:8 (ESV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. This focus should encourage us to each continue to learn and grow much like the early Irish Church.

The second area to examine is that the early Irish Church was other focused. They engage others. It starts with Saint Patrick who is rumored to have brought the whole Island of Ireland to be disciples of Jesus. Now, while that is interesting piece of legend, those reach in Ireland were reached because of actions Patrick took to share God’s love with others. The same is true for Columban, who brought the Gospel from Ireland to England and beyond. The Gospel spread greatly because of early Irish Christians. They lived not to hold back but to share and give to others. They did so by word and deed. They created great works that spread. Even the Hymn “Be Thou My Vision” has Irish history. The used the gifts they had and created whatever God put on their heart, by it for a few, or be a reach of many. They gave of themselves to others. Too often in today’s church the focus becomes on what is good for self and what makes me comfortable in the world we live in. We want the world to shape to what makes us comfortable. The early Irish Church impacted the world by engaging with the Gospel and living fully as salt and light. It is a challenge to us to be that engaging and not dependent on what others give, but to give what we have to give to reach others.

The third area is that of a while surrender. The early Irish church recognized that whole submission to God was vital. They gave of all. They even often pursued a “Green martyrdom” of giving up all of self. They encouraged the fully giving of all not just for the purposes of self, but to reach and touch others. A relationship with God was considered, that a relationship involving the whole person with total commitment. In terms of what is best for the whole person, it all stopped and started with growth in knowledge of God. As one grew deeper in knowing God, one also grew in experience of God’s love. As that grew, in turn it flowed to those with whom they interacted. That love built great passion for God and others and that passion was seen in their expressions of music and art. Today, we settle for “good enough” and too often simply lean on the works of others. We sing songs with passion, but do we create? We recycle what others have done, but how much of gifts and self do we give? Do we have limits, do we give all that God asks of us? These are things the example of many of the early Irish Church pushes us to examine.

Admittedly, the early Irish church was not perfect and there are elements of what they said and did that are flawed, for we are all but just a part with limits that skewed by our own minds and imaginations. The early Irish Church though did not shrink back. They advanced the Gospel. They encouraged growth with actions that impacted others with a passionate whole surrender to God. This is the Faith of The Irish that should impact each of use today.

Christmas Day Musing: Christmas Present- Moments of Reflected Love

Today’s thoughts focus on Christmas in the present; the here and now of the celebration. It is the actively taking time to recognize God’s gift of coming to earth, the “God with us.” So, the day is spent celebrating love. We engage in loving others in varied ways as a reflection of God’s gift of love to us. It demonstrates the “we love because he first loved us.” This celebration of love is highly anticipated. How we demonstrate love towards others goes through moments of preparation, anticipation, and then celebration with fellowship. We identify how we are going to bless others in preparation. We love forward both to giving and receiving. Even children look forward to reactions to simple small gifts and parents and family then show love by showing appreciation for the simply things. We want to see others touched by our gifts of love. Then comes the actual moment of giving which comes with celebration and fellowship. We consider others and look forward to seeing how we touch them. Granted, many times we can swing and miss in the connection. Yet, no matter what there are special times in the present moment of Christmas. These moments can display God’s love, for He thought of each of us and gives a gift beyond measure if it that gift is received. We are able to enter in relationship to God rather than continue in the separation due to our own falters and twisted being apart from God’s ways has been repaired and reconciled if agree to accept the gift and let it change you. If not, then these moments are moments and that either gives you a piece of love or builds you up, or fall short. The moments that do touch and precious and each moment forward it is a part of you as it enters from the present into the past. So, this year, in the hustle, the bustle, and the interaction with loved ones. How were you touched with love? How did you touch others? Where did you get a taste of love? For even in the worst of times, the driest of years, God’s love and reflections of love are around. For always in the Christmas present, and every day, God shows His love. He shows by his own interactions, by the loving acts of others, and your loving actions. God takes whatever is now, uses it to draw you closer to Him. So embrace the moment and accept the love. In whatever the season: be it pleasure or pain, planting or harvest, drought or abundance, storm or calm, joy or sorrow. God will use whatever is, in this moment and His love is there to be found for always in Christmas present and beyond God is with us, there is peace on earth and goodwill to mankind.

Biblical Holy Day Musing: Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)- Sorrow turns to Joy.

Tonight is the start of one of the final fall festival in the Jewish calendar. Sadly, as with most of the Biblical festivals we know very little about this day and the experience of the Holiday, yet it is one that will be part of the experience to come (See Zechariah 14:6). This festival is not just a day but an 8 day party. This festival does not involve fasting or sacrifices. This involves celebration. It is not a somber time, it is a time to celebrate. Now, admittedly this writer does not have much understanding of the rituals, traditions, or symbolism of the days of this festival but in reading about the Holiday the concept of embracing Joy and Happiness in this time is central.

There is a distinct flow to the fall festivals. It starts with the alarm, the call, the trumpet, the awakening of Rosh Hashanah and the ushering in of the new. It is followed by ten days focus on change and repentance. Then comes Yom Kippor, the day of Atonement, or At-one-ment; it is the day of cleansing, of sacrifice and ultimately of judgment. It is a solemn day. Then five days later it is party time. Note that during the days preceding Sukkot there is much focus on change, self, and being right with God. In that there is much sorrow. When truly engaging in recognizing areas of change and then stepping into them, it is not easy. Leaving old ways for the unknown new is tough. There is grief involved in leaving the old behind, in turning to follow what God leads without knowing how it will play out. Yet, starting tonight and for the next eight days, God designated a party. So what is that about?

Well, one thing I have learned about the day in learning about the events of this upcoming week is the booths/tabernacles/shelters/tents. Hand-crafted shelters are made and lived in or at least meals taken in the temporary shelters. The imagery really points to the temporariness of the things of this life and even that, which is of our own hands. We live in dwell in the temporary but there is something greater: God and His love. Everything that God offers pales to what we depend on. It is in recognizing the fragility of self and own works and the greatness and fullness of what God gives. It is taking focus off of own life, pain, and sorrow and embracing joy, letting the feeling swell because of the goodness of God who has given all beyond measure. Such consideration turns sorrow into Joy. The changes lead to what God will do when the focus leaves self and turns to God. In such action does sorrow turn to Joy, in this does mourning become dancing, as recognition is given that God brings that which is beyond measure and lasts.

The whole focus is that beyond our circumstance to what God provides. He provides refuge and strength. We change not of own accord but obedience empowered by the Holy Spirit through obedience in faith. The little bit of reading about this celebration points to demonstrating the whole submission of self to God in faith. It points to complete surrender of self in every aspect and direction of life. In such surrender is sorrow turned to Joy. For the focus is on God and His Glory. It is a focus on the great things He has done. It is a time to PARTY.

So here is a challenge. Each day for the next 8 days take time to focus on what God is done. Celebrate. When you feel sadness, pain, or anxiety, take time to praise God. Something stressful happens praise God. Make concerted effort to bring your mind, heart, soul, and strength to focus on what God has done and celebrate. This is a time for Joy, let Joy envelope you to the core. May the Holy Spirit feel you with Joy beyond measure as you set aside all that burdens and turn all to God; for His ways are not our ways, and He always delivers what He promises. Beyond measure! So rejoice. Party! For God is Good and His Love Endures Forever!