Solemnity and Joy- Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

COMMENTARY

To every thing there is a season
A time to be born, and a time to die
A time to kill, and a time to heal
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh
A time to mourn, and a time to dance

We have been discussing the need for times of solemn reverence and also times of unfettered rejoicing. Is it any wonder that we would need both, given the fractured, dual-natured world we live in? As these verses illustrate, we pass through all manner of different experiences, the entire spectrum of good and bad. We get to welcome new babies but also bury old friends. We build things, but we must break things as well. We have times of health, but also times of pandemic. To deny an entire side of this reality for the other would be deluded.
Does living in the gospel give us a hope for a happy ending, and does that hope instill us with an abiding joy and peace? Yes, but Jesus still wept when Lazarus died. And are there times when we are treated unfairly, hurt and offended, some of us even killed unjustly? Yes, but Stephen still passed away rejoicing, surrounded by the glory of his God and Savior.
We are complex beings in a complex world. There is not only space for the entire spectrum of emotion within us, it is necessary for us to embrace them all. We should let each have dominion over its proper season.

Calloused Hearts- Matthew 15:32, 34-37

Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.
And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes.
And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.
And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.

COMMENTARY

I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way
And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled
Yesterday I shared about a spiritual retreat where my heart reached its saturation point and had difficulty absorbing any more of God’s love. Spiritual connection is fulfilling, but at the same time it can also be emotionally and physically draining.
And while we seek to “bridle passions” and “master the flesh,” we are not meant to become ascetics, ignoring or abusing our physical forms. Jesus showed a great attentiveness to the capacity of the multitude gathered around him. They came to be spiritually fed and they received that. But the long duration had left them faint and he was sensitive to their need for physical revival, too.
It is a good thing to fast, to make physical sacrifices to embolden the spirit, to seek out spiritual experiences that fill us to the limit on a regular basis. But there is wisdom in resting after we have been filled and letting that rapture settle within us.

Give Thanks- Summary

There are a lot of things to be grateful for. I specifically tried to choose things for this #givethanks campaign that were universal, that anyone could still feel appreciation for, no matter how many trials are going on in their lives right now.

Certainly there have been a lot of trials for people this year. Not only in the form of large, international disruptions, but also in the quiet, personal tragedies that are an inevitable part of life. And from our trials it is all too easy to either become cynical and jaded, or else to hide our pain down deep where it will fester. The fact is that we should both be able to feel the weight of our sorrow and embrace the reality of still being very, very blessed.

In our lives we have both trials and blessings. And we have both of them in the exact same moments. It doesn’t do to deny either for the sake of the other. Even as we mourn our losses, we can also have joy for the things that we can never lose. The things that do not break or expire. The things that are promised for eternity.

The balanced heart knows its own sorrows, but its resting state is one of joy.

Dealing With Failure- Question

Each of us has had times where there was something we wanted to improve in ourselves, we made a conviction to change, and then we failed to keep that commitment.

And it is hard to know how to react to failure like this. I’ve had times where I was too hard on myself, berating myself in ways that were abusive and unhelpful. I also have had times where I’ve been too nonchalant about it, just shrugging it off with lip service and never making actual progress.

My belief is that failure should be devastating…but not soul-crushing. It should make us sad, but not hopeless. And my question is, how do we walk that line? How do we deal with failure in a way that is kind and compassionate, but also firmly committed to improvement? How does God react to us when we let ourselves down, and what can we glean from that example?

I’d be curious to hear if you’ve ever dealt with these issues as well. Do you ever find yourself giving yourself a pass when you shouldn’t? Do you find yourself holding onto guilt to an unhealthy degree? How do you make your recommitment sincere after you’ve let yourself down so many times before?

Personal Commitment: Month 4

August’s Review

At the start of August I stated my intention to maintain a healthy balance, even while working through the considerable task of moving out of our house. I committed to determine every two hours what I needed to be balanced, and make a conscious intention to accomplish that.

Overall I would say that August was a pretty good month. I did not remember this commitment every day, and I did not perfectly execute on it every day. But we did accomplish the move, and we did so in a way that I think was as healthy and as balanced as possible. There were moments of feeling overwhelmed, to be sure, but more so there was a calmness and steadiness through the entire process.

I began a new practice with my regular two-hour check-ins to help with this goal. In it I reviewed the interval of time that had just concluded, quickly jotting down every experience that had impacted me emotionally. There were ways I had let myself down, things I was proud of accomplishing, moments where others had mistreated me, moments where others had been kind, expectations that hadn’t been met, unforeseen blessings that had occurred, and so on. Anything that made an impact I took stock of, and in that moment was able to bring a sense of closure to the entire period.

Then I looked forward to the next two hours, and I listed out everything that I thought could be a challenge in it. I wrote down distractions that were likely to come my way, predispositions to failure, hurdles that I might not have the strength to clear. I tried to make specific intentions about how to meet each one, and deal with it in a healthy way. I wrote out clear hopes for what accomplishments I wanted to prioritize in this period as well.

This whole practice did not take very long, and I feel it helped me a great deal in having a clear intention for each new period of the day.

September’s Commitment)

Now that the move is over, there are a lot of practices that I used to be consistent in, that I want to get back into. Date nights with my wife, eating healthily, maintaining strong relationships with friends, and ticking things off my personal list of errands. I’ve tried maintaining each of these over the last month to some degree, but it was sporadic at best. Last month was about getting through a lengthy tidal wave, without losing myself entirely in it. Now I want to come out of survival mode, and start thriving again.

I am going to put together a list of my battle lines: what are all the good and healthy practices that I’m on the fringes of doing each day. What am I accomplishing some of the time, but would like to be accomplishing all of the time? Throughout this month I will try to push these lines forward every day.

Now I want to be careful to not set unrealistic expectations for myself. If I don’t hit every single area every day then I won’t stress too much about it. I’m not looking to be perfect in execution, but to be perfect in trying. I want to be making progress, and that is enough.

This particular goal is directly related to the study I am currently conducting on this blog. I am excited to take the principles of my research, and make them alive in my living discipleship. Come back on October 1st where I’ll give an update on my progress.

Thank you.

Personal Commitment: Month 3

July’s Review

Last month I examined my hesitancy to follow my own conscience. The nature of a conscience is that I’m not likely to be pricked by it, unless I am otherwise headed in an incorrect direction and need to be righted. But then, with any course correction, there is going to be friction. I have to overcome the resistance and pull into doing what I feel is right. Sometimes I succeed at that, sometimes I do not.

And something I have definitely noticed this month is that following one’s conscience is a spiritual muscle. Sporadic, occasional use is not enough to build strength. Regular, daily practice is the only way forward.

Overall I do feel that I improved. I followed my conscience far more this month, just by having that intention to do so. As I did so, I found a phrase that helped me a great deal in moments where I knew what I was feeling to do, but I didn’t know why doing it mattered.

“You don’t have to understand.”

Part of being guided by the spirit is acknowledging that most times you just aren’t going to know why it matters to do what you’re feeling to do. That’s why it’s called an act of faith. But doing it on faith is something one has to get used to. We’ve been trained our whole lives to think things through, to weigh pros and cons, and to be sure of what we do before we do it. And in general, that is a good practice to follow. But when it comes to the urgings of the spirit “you don’t have to understand.”

August’s Commitment)

This last month has been difficult, though, for maintaining healthy habits of self-care (exercise, meditation, getting enough rest, etc). My wife and I have been getting our home ready to sell and my team had a frantic deadline to meet at work. Thus far I’ve been able to keep pace with those new demands, but at the expense of a proper life balance.

At first I had this notion that it was alright to have things temporarily disrupted, but as that “temporary” period has grown longer and longer, I have come to realize that I need a way to find my balance even in the midst of everything else. I cannot just power through this, waiting for it to be convenient to be healthy again.

August is looking to be a very busy month as well, and so I want to come into it with a solid plan. It’s been a little tricky to come up with that. I don’t want to balance things out by trying to cram more stuff into already overflowing days. And I don’t feel that the solution is to give up on our efforts to move out of our house. We are stepping into a new phase of life that feels right, something that we should be doing.

What I’ve come up with for now is to be more deliberate with my time. When I am packing boxes I could be listening to scriptures on my phone. I could practice mindfulness, even in the act of tucking belongings into their corners. I could try to coordinate with my wife so that we do our work in the same room and are able to chat with each other.

I want to take my previous commitment for two-hour grounding exercises, and at the close of each exercise I want to state my intention for maintaining balance in the next two hours. That is my commitment for August. Come back on the first of September to see how it turned out.

Thank you.

The Captive Heart- Matthew 5:38-39, 1 Peter 2:24, Colossians 3:13

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

COMMENTARY

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also
Yesterday we discussed that the only form of justice our fallen world can provide is “an eye for an eye.” It is fair, but also harsh, and it is destined to worsen the whole human experience over time.
Jesus, of course, recommended a different way. By taking the insult, having the right to lash back in kind, but yet not doing so, the cycle of harm comes to an end. For the first time it becomes possible for the human situation to actually become better instead of worse. It’s an exciting prospect, but who has the strength to do it? How do we find the power to let go of vengeance, when our mortal frame cries for it?

Who bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we should live unto righteousness
Our heart cries for justice. There is an eternal force that sees offense and demands retribution, and that force resonates through us all. It is one of the laws of this world, and it cannot be denied, the compensation of an eye for an eye must be answered. What we need to recognize, though, is that it already has been.
When my fellow brother or sister has offended me, the offense that I would do to make things even has already been endured by Christ. He stands in for them, having that right as their spiritual father, and takes the pain until things have been made equal to what I endured. And because that balance has been made, I no longer need to hurt my brother or my sister. I can forgive them instead.

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye
And what is more, I am not only able to forgive them, I am compelled to! For I have also been forgiven by Christ, and not because of any merit of my own. I have been forgiven undeservedly, thus creating an imbalance, which that same eternal force of justice now compels must be matched by another act of undeserved forgiveness. Because I have been forgiven freely, I feel that I must forgive another freely.
And just like that, the self-destructive cycle of the world applies to us no more. It is not that it has been broken, it is that it has been fulfilled (Matthew 5:17).

The Captive Heart- John 15:19-20, Exodus 21:24

If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot

COMMENTARY

But because ye are not of the world, the world hateth you
In our lives, others will hurt us. Indeed, we experience this unpleasant heartbreak when we are still very small. Our parents are harsh with us and our peers make fun of us. Those we depend on for support and love while still so vulnerable betray us instead.
When we get older the circle of criticism goes out further. When we are children our view is limited to immediate family and friends, but when we grow older we become aware of the greater world. And there we discover that there are those who call us evil and wish we were eradicated. It frankly doesn’t matter which ideology or belief we subscribe to, there is always someone who sees our way of life as the source of all the world’s problems.
We feel the truth of Jesus’s words: that we are not a part of this world, and because of that the world hates us. This experience is true for all of us, for all of us are foreigners to this Earth. We don’t belong, and we distinctly feel the friction of that.

Eye for eye
And, of course, the natural reaction to being hurt by that friction is to hurt back again. An eye-for-an-eye is the rule of this world, it is simply the best form of balance and justice that the mortal realm can provide.
It is a hard law. Each of us will transgress it at some point, because we are imperfect. Each of us will unquestionably wound another, and then balance will demand that we must be wounded, too. Thus we must all be hurt, but should we just try to be hurt as equally as possible? This would mean each new invention of cruelty must eventually be permeated through the whole. The entire world situation could only become more miserable. In a way it is fair…but what a horrible fate for us all.
Can anyone question that somehow we need to be saved from this mortal condemnation?

Personal Commitment: Month 0

Today I start a new series in this blog, one where I commit to living the principles of the gospel more fully, and keep myself accountable by sharing the results of so trying in each succeeding entry. I do recognize the need to handle this with utmost delicacy, for I know that the cultivation of one’s soul is a very sacred, personal thing, and I do not want to tarnish it through over-exposure.

As such, these commitments are not going to be expressed as crude checklists, or detailed out in every degree. Some parts of my spiritual cultivation I simply will not discuss at all.

Still, I believe that if one handles such matters with thoughtfulness, a great deal of good can come about by having a bit more vulnerability to one another. Being able to honestly talk about where we are at with our own conscience, and to admit that there are things we are still working on, can help us reach for our better natures together.

I’d like to start the ball rolling by stating that I am a millennial, and I am over-saturated in media. Hardly surprising, I know! But just because a trend is common or understandable does not mean it should be condoned. I have felt for a while like I need to take a stance against my own over-consumption of the digital world, and I would rather that this part of my life be a pleasant seasoning, and not the main course.

Of course, excessive media use is never explicitly called out in the scriptures as a sin. And yet, my conscience tells me that it is an idol that at times I have placed before God. To check-in with my conscience now, I would say that I feel like I use media as a crutch to get through times of boredom and stress. I have noted how even after I turn off the screen, I can remain in a dazed state, unable to fully engage with the other aspects of my life. I do not feel that this is how I was meant to live.

Thus I have set some expectations for myself in how I would like to limit the role of media in my life. Some things are being sworn off entirely, others are being limited to specific times and situations. But more than all that, I just intend to follow my conscience, more than my “need” to look up that article or video. One month from now I will share how I have progressed in that journey, and what the effects of it have been. If anything particularly notable happens along the way, I will make note of it at the time.

Thank you.

Service to Others- Matthew 5:42-46

Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?

COMMENTARY

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?
Yesterday we observed how giving charitably is to give unfairly, or in an unbalanced way. It is giving where it is not deserved. And yet God is a fair God, and so if we give excessively, then justice must demand that we receive excessively in return. Thus by giving charitably you have simultaneously blessed the life of another and also tipped the balances in your favor. Everyone is lifted together.

That ye may be the children of your Father
God is the freest being we can conceive of, a personage entirely able to do as He pleases. His intention is for us to be as free as He is. The way of the world, is not this freedom. As mentioned yesterday, the way of the world is a pattern of choosing selfishly, followed by a predictable retaliation from another, followed by a predictable counter-retaliation, and so on forever. Thus begins a dance whose steps have been chosen for you. There is no freedom in this.
The only way to be an actor, and not one that is acted upon, is to do something entirely unnatural and unpredictable…like loving an enemy. One must receive a wound, be entirely justified in retaliating, and instead say “no, I’ll just take it.” It is the only way to liberation.

Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you
One is not only made free in this manner, they are also made the most empowered. If you can only love those that love you, then they have the power to make you love them or not. They can steer your behavior by their influence. Even if they were to steer you into a rage that destroyed them, they still steered you. But if you do one of these unnatural acts of freely giving and freely forgiving, then who is in charge of your actions but yourself? To act by no other compulsion than your own, even if it is to act in subservience of another, is to be a true master.