Tuesday, February 25, 2014

ACTIVATING THE SPIRIT WITHIN


Spirit Flame, Jamestown, NC

In Euclidean geometry, the equilateral triangle has all three sides equal with all three internal angles equal and congruent to each other. Among all the world’s religions, Christianity is the only faith that teaches that God is one being that exists as three; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each being in this Trinity delights in and glorifies the other. This Triumvirate has related to each other for all eternity and was introduced at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River when all three were present. Adam Hamilton writes that “Jesus was declaring that he was the Son of Man, God was declaring that he was the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit descended (in the form of a dove) to give power for the ministry ahead”.

The Holy Spirit was made available at Pentecost (in the form of wind-blown flames) to all who accepted Jesus. We receive Jesus at our baptism and we receive the Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus. John baptized with water to wash away sins while Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit to comfort us, guide us to the truth, remind us of His teachings, inspire us with the right words to say and give us power.

When I recently purchased a new vehicle, it came equipped with the electronics to communicate with a satellite out in space for flawless radio reception. However, to actually experience the technology imbedded deep within my dashboard, I had to make a conscious decision to activate my account. We work to follow Jesus’ teaching to establish a kingdom on earth by activating the Holy Spirit within us—the Spirit that we receive as a christening gift at baptism to be our counselor, our comforter and our guide. And there’s no activation fee—the price has already been paid. So may the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the communion of the Spirit be with you always.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

BEAUTIFUL TEMPLES


Cover Model, SI

God instructed the ancient Israelites to construct a portable sacred ark and tabernacle out of precious materials so that His spirit could dwell with His chosen people in the desert. A curtain of fine linen separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. After they were settled in Jerusalem, a magnificent temple was constructed for God’s presence which also included a curtain separating the spirit of God from the people due to their imperfections. When Jesus died on the cross, the temple curtain was immediately torn in half to finally symbolize our free access to God without priests and sacrifices. Before Jesus ascended to His Father, he promised that He would send a Spirit of truth to be with us always as an advocate, comforter, helper and counselor. And He made clear that this Spirit would dwell within each of us—within the temple of our unbelievable bodies.

If we really try to understand and learn more about the magnificent construction of our human bodies, they are truly a masterpiece of highly complex integrated systems working in harmony to sustain our mortal lives. And even though there have been billions of these models created, no two are exactly alike. Not even identical twins. There are an infinite variety of ways just our appearance can differentiate all of us, let alone how we think and act. Consequently, we all have a self-image that we relate to for both our inner being and outer appearance.

We now live in a culture that seemingly worships youth and beauty and perfection. “I’m not saying movies are the most important thing in the world,” noted 2014 Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres. “I’m not saying that—because the most important thing in the world is youth.” The tongue-in-cheek comment was a shot across the bow to the entire entertainment industry. Models and celebrities don’t look like the rest of us. We have a few bulges here and there, wrinkles and sagging skin, freckles and age spots, receding hair lines and split ends, irregular and off color teeth, eye glasses, shadow lines, etc. Constant media images fill our days with these ideal images, generally created to attract our attention and sell us something. DeGeneres poked fun at her celebrity audience when she welcomed “one of the most amazing Liza Minnelli impersonators I have seen in my entire life,” as the camera zoomed in on the actress’ lifted, nipped and filled face. “Just really, seriously,” DeGeneres added. “Good job, sir.” It was a sad commentary on a woman whose artificial quest for youth had reduced her to a sorry imitation of herself. The annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue now on the stands is a perfect example of our ideal-image worshiping culture. These young females are all touted as goddesses in bikinis! And they subconsciously leave a model of human image that is mostly unattainable for the entire human race, including the models themselves.

So it was very interesting to observe the reactions of four regular women who were recently invited to participate in a professional photo shoot. The women were attended by professional make-up artists and hair stylists. After the shoot, a Photoshop expert retouched the images to look like “cover models”. Their body lines were slimmed for more curvature and balance, skin was softened and lightened, eye shadows were removed along with all feature irregularities. Then the “models” were filmed as they were presented with the results.

Their reactions weren’t necessarily predictable. There was nervous laughter, surprise, shock to see their identity radically changed and immediate denial that these were the same people who were observing the images. They missed the little freckles and lines that added character to their unique identity. The Photoshop expert had literally stripped away their true self-image, leaving little authenticity. Having seen the flawless ideal they had aspired to, resulted in questioning why they had ever wasted their time. They resolved to be comfortable in their own skin and true to themselves, although it seems to be natural to aspire to something different. Ultimately, truth and substance represent universal beauty. And we should appreciate the temple that has been uniquely created for our care and the dwelling place of the Spirit of God.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

CULTIVATE YOUR GARDEN


Monticello Gardens, VA

Voltaire’s satiric novella Candide has been listed as one of the most influential books ever written. The story line follows the misadventures of a na├»ve and impressionable young man who leads a sheltered and easy life. He is being tutored by Pangloss, a staunch follower of Leibnizian optimism. The Leibnizian mantra of the time was “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”. Once these two have suddenly been cast out into the real world, disillusionment slowly follows as they are confronted with the realities of this broken world such as devastating natural disasters and mankind’s incomprehensible inhumanity.

One of the most quoted examples of Voltaire’s satire occurs when the two vagabonds witness the execution of an admiral on the deck of his own ship because he failed to engage a French fleet. The classic explanation was “to encourage the others”, a satiric quote heard ‘round many corporate board rooms after experiencing more than one consecutive quarter of low earnings.

I studied Candide in my college days and it made an impression. The conclusion of the book has been the subject of many academic papers and it’s still regarded as both enigmatic and contentious. Candide and his motley crew finally arrive on a farm which Candide purchases with the last of his once considerable finances. They’ve all experienced the fleeting possession of earthly riches—wealth, intellect, beauty, freedom, health, youth, prestige, and blind optimism. There they encounter a man working on a small farm with his family who shares his life’s plan; keeping occupied to be “free of three great evils: boredom, vice and necessity”.

As the story comes to a conclusion, we find Pangloss philosophizing to Candide that everything turned out for the best due to necessity. And Candide famously replies “Excellently observed, but we must cultivate our garden”. Academicians have speculated that the work’s focus is on the problems of Leibnizian optimism, the existence of evil, man’s inhumanity, environmental uncertainties, etc. My view hasn’t changed too much since college days—there’s nothing in this broken world that can be sustained; the best of all possible worlds cannot be found in this life but in the next; nurture and place your trust for survival within yourself and your Creator and not the external trappings of this volatile world; today’s treasures can be lost overnight, but any investment you make between your ears can never be taken away; passive retreat from the world is not the answer, but active industrious participation will help see us through so that we can hopefully leave this world a little better than we found it.

And I’ve always liked the ancient gardening practice of a small order of monks who planted one row of vegetables for the body followed by one row of flowers for the soul. We reap in this life what we cultivate.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

LINT FILTERS AND RELATIONSHIPS


CLEAN BEFORE EACH LOAD, Jamestown, NC

Valentine’s Day 2014

A Facebook friend recently shared a thought by Chip Ingram that caught my attention. It simply stated that “A perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other”. That’s a good thing to consider for anybody in a committed relationship on this Valentine’s week 2014. Perhaps it made more of an impact this morning as I finished the laundry and removed trapped cotton fibers from the dryer’s lint filter. It’s always wise to check the filter in case it’s completely jammed with anything that circulates out of the dryer as the clothes are readied for another fresh day.

So what in the world does a lint filter have to do with a perfect relationship? Well, as imperfect humans, we all need to come to grips with the concept that perfection is difficult to achieve. My wife Karen had developed a minor sinus irritation. As a consequence, she was always in possession of a tissue. And those tissues generally ended up in any possible pocket of her wardrobe. We both worked, so it was reasonable for both of us to share household duties and the weekend laundry fell on my side of the ledger. Needless to say, some of those ubiquitous tissues ended up in the laundry almost every week and I was always fishing their scattered remains out of the lint filter. Then I would complain and we’d exchange a few barbs back and forth in our weekly recycled tissue ritual. It was never a big deal but always a small irritation.

Then Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer. The next time I discovered a full lint filter, I was reminded that it was small stuff indeed and a blessing to validate her presence. And I never mentioned it again. That was a period of total appreciation for each other. Now whenever I clean the lint filter, I’m reminded of her memory and the day I resolved to filter out the small stuff and accept the imperfections in our relationship. The lint filter in my dryer is embossed with the instruction to “clean before each load”. That’s a good reminder to filter out all the small stuff in our head before each interaction. One of the biggest mistakes a couple can make is to commit to a relationship with the intent of changing the other person. And it always seems to be the small stuff that distracts us from the important stuff which can eventually destroy the relationship if not resolved—it’s much better to accept our little imperfections and refuse to give up on each other.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

IMMORTALITY


Immortal, Jamestown, NC

William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. He created a cast of characters four hundred years ago and breathed life into them through his unprecedented talent. They’ve been introduced to generations of people and include Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, Romeo and Juliet. These characters are part of a select club that have come close to the elusive concept of immortality through the written word. If history holds true, however, they will inevitably be lost in the sands of time. Even the bard himself can’t create a promise of hope for life everlasting and he's written about it. It’s been said that practically everyone will be forgotten within two generations.

One of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes from Macbeth says it all:

“Out, out, brief candle!
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.”

That’s a mantra for the existentialist in all of us. Solomon, acknowledged as the richest and wisest man who ever lived, writes in his opening chapter of Ecclesiastes that “there is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow”. Life is “a chasing after the wind”. And the apostle James writes in chapter 4, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”.

Fortunately, our Creator has left us with a much more positive message in the third chapter of John, proclaiming that if we believe in the redeeming power of His Son, our ultimate destiny does not perish with the short span of this mortal and sometimes difficult earthly life. We will transition into the priceless gift of a restored and eternal spiritual life where we’ll be reunited with those who remember us and our Creator who never forgot us!

Monday, February 3, 2014

SHAKESPEARE AND HAMLET


Shakespearean Players, London, EN

Timothy Keller has written that “our relationship to God is more like Shakespeare’s relationship to Hamlet. How much will Hamlet know about Shakespeare? Only what Shakespeare writes about himself into the play. He goes on to reference C. S .Lewis who reasoned that “we’ll only know about God if God has written something about himself into our life, into our world. And he has”. Keller continues, “God looked into our world-the world he made-and saw us destroying ourselves and the world by turning away from him. It filled his heart with pain (Genesis 6:6). He loved us. He saw us struggling to extricate ourselves from the traps and misery we created for ourselves. And so he wrote himself in. Jesus Christ, the God-man, born in a manger, born to die on a cross for us. Behold who Jesus is, how he loves you and how he came to put the world right”.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of a son who decides it’s time to cash in on his inheritance right now. He leaves his father’s land and soon squanders all the money. Saint Augustine observed that, “When people choose to withdraw far from a fire, the fire continues to give warmth, but they grow cold. When people choose to withdraw from light, the light continues to be bright in itself but they are in darkness. This is also the case when people withdraw from God.” The son finally returns home to a surprisingly forgiving father who rejoices that he is back.

Jesus relates this story to show the complexity of his Abba’s love for us. God is our Abba or eternal Father, and according to Jesus, we are his beloved children. We were created in His image and He considers you and me His children. We share many emotions. When Jesus taught us to pray The Lord’s Prayer, he started with the words, “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” and he addressed God as Father a total of 170 times in the Bible. Jesus created a new way of praying that is as natural as a child talking to his father. By creating us in his own image, God truly wanted someone to love and someone capable of returning that love.

To become more like God is humanity’s highest goal, by understanding and reflecting his characteristics. The path leads to becoming less self-centered and more God-centered.