Spiritual Searching

Master & Pupil

Many of us remember the TV show Kung Fu of the early 1970’s that entertained us with martial arts.  David Carradine (Grasshopper) played the part of an Oriental traveling nomadically across the American West of the late 19thcentury.  The TV drama introduced us to the lifestyles of Shaolin priests while teaching their pupils in a Temple in China.  I enjoyed the snippets of Grasshopper as he would travel back in his mind reflecting on his youth asking questions of his masters while he was growing up in the Temple.

“Master?” he says as he gazes out over the ocean from a cliff with the bind priest, his favorite teacher.

“Yes, Grasshopper?”

“Why is the ocean one color?”

“Ahhh, yes, Grasshopper, what appears as one color from this spot is totally different when one is closer, much less down under the depths.  I have been told there is vast array of colors, more than one can describe.  Tell me Grasshopper, since I am blind, describe to me what color you see at this time.”

I made this conversation up.  It was never in the script, but it sounds like it.  Now let me get to what I really what to talk about, that being “Master.”

I was blessed to be introduced to the Lord as a young teenager.  I have always prayed for wisdom, courage, guidance and so forth, however, let me share how I could have improved my walk with the Lord.  I’m not sure I looked upon Jesus as my master.  Let me explain.

If I prayed, “Lord be with me in this challenge,” or “guide me safely,” it was as if I was asking Jesus to be beside me.  To a certain degree there is nothing wrong with this, just as there is nothing wrong with asking for courage.  I used to envision God giving me confidence as I embarked on any new challenge or experience.  Athletics, college, a new job, whatever.  With Jesus beside me I felt safe and secure.  Sounds good doesn’t it?  But I’m not so sure anymore.

Like most Americans I was raised to be respectful of authority.  This was definitely reinforced when I was in athletics, or shall I say it was  forcefully enforced.    It was again definitely brought home with my time in the military.  However, I was never taught to be overly submissive to authority.  In some ways that is good.  I was also taught it is wrong to be a slave to anything or anyone.  Sounds good, but here’s the problem.  It has to some degree hindered my relation with Christ.  It gives me hesitation in allowing him be in total control, much less bow to him as I would if he were my King.  I do not recall ever bowing to anyone or anything.  For most of recorded history if you did not bow to a king it very well could have been the last thing you ever did.

The 12 disciples of Christ, his eventual apostles, were very young, much younger than any pictures, paintings or movies depict.  Most were probably in their teens while following Christ as their Rabbi.  He was elder to them in age and knowledge. I know they sometimes walked beside him as their Rabbi and teacher, but I think most of the time they were merely following him.  Watching, observing, learning as an apprentice would of their teacher or master.

As I mature in my Christian walk I am learning to bow more in my prayers, not just physically which I need to do more, but with a submissive reverence and abandonment.  I still am going to question things but I want to learn to bow spiritually with a profound respect and happiness when doing so.  For many of you this may have never been a challenge, but for me , well let’s just say I’m still a pupil.  As I enter into prayerful thought my mind asks, “Jesus, (Master)?”

A voice whispers in my mind, “yes, Keith.”

“What does it mean to rest in the Lord?”

“Ahhhh, yes, my curios one, a very good question,” as a voice once again whispers in my mind.   “Let us ponder this thought together.”

Ben Hur Part III

      

   My daughter recently emailed me a response to my recent Ben Hur blogs and mentioned her favorite scene.

         ”Hey Dad! Just wanted to say that even though I will only be home for one day this Easter, I hope we watch Ben Hur! Your blog just keeps on growing, and I know you love it! And just so you know, the scene that always sticks with me is the mother and daughter with leprosy and being in the leprosy caves, and when Jesus dies and the lightning and thunder happen, they are suddenly healed. Those leprosy caves always stuck with me though.
I love you always!”
Your daughter

            I must admit as a very young child I didn’t know exactly what was going on with the leprosy scene.  As I got older I understood but when you’re only five or six when you first see the movie it may be confusing why people were treated that way.  I also know that Hollywood embellishes things to the point of sometimes actually turning the audience off.  However, I don’t think that happens in this movie.  A few years ago I watched a movie about the 300 Spartans battling the Persians.  The actual real life battle remains amazing to me, and I don’t necessarily need Hollywood to make it so graphic.  I also did not like the way Hollywood portrayed Persian General/King making him look bizarre.

            In the movie Ben Hur  the lepers are healed shortly after the death of Christ on the Cross.  The implication being that the blood flowing down the Cross can bring healing.  It was not too graphic, a little bit on the tear jerky side I admit, but overall the story was told and the movie directed in a way for the viewer to believe or not believe in the power of the healing on the Cross. 

            The problem, however, is that after a person watches the movie they have to step back into the real world.  A world filled with lots of pain, suffering, disease, and ………unanswered prayers.  Do we see, much less believe God heals in today’s world.  If we do not see it directly, or in the way we think God should heal, does that mean God does not care?  Let me ask you this?  What about all the villages that Jesus walked through where some were healed while others may not have been healed.  It is interesting and I think wrong of us to think we know what  Jesus should have done, or how he should have accomplished his ministry on earth. 

            There is a story in the New Testament where a blind person is brought to Jesus for healing.  The people asked Jesus, “Who sinned here, the parents of the one born blind or the blind man himself?”  Jesus responded, “Neither, this happened to glorify God.”  Does this mean God created disease, deafness, and other afflictions?   

            I do not have an answer for such questions, but I do think they are worth exploring.  I think the reason we struggle with them is that we want to be in control, not God.  You see, we would make it right for everyone by healing everyone, wouldn’t we.  And yet, Jesus did not do that.  Instead some were healed while others were not.  What is my response to this?  As of today (I may have a better response tomorrow) I believe we should search and pray for healing during afflictions.  However, we should not overlook the fact that a lot soul searching occurs during those times and each of us can grow during those circumstances.  May not be fun, may not be what we would have chosen for our lives, but may be what God wants for us in some measure to experience. 

            Does this mean good can come out of all bad happenings or circumstances?  I’m not so sure.  I just know that I live in a culture that wants immediate closure to each and every problem; physical, financial, emotional, whatever.  That is human nature.  If we don’t get what we envision is best for us, then we believe something is wrong and God just doesn’t understand.  No, perhaps we are the ones that don’t get it.  I suspect difficult times makes us by nature do some soul searching and maybe that is what God wants more from us.  Maybe that is why we live in an imperfect world, one where bad things can happen.  Experiencing the difficult things can help remind us of the good things (most of us are not blind, deaf, or extremely sick), and to learn to hope.  Hope teaches us to live with a greater dependence on God.  We will treasure life more when we learn to do that.

Ben Hur part II

original Ben Hur book 1880

               In the early 1990’s I taught history part time at a junior college.  In the post Civil War time frame the book listed some of the outstanding achievements occurring in America at that time.  The transcontinental railroad, the telephone, light bulb, oil technology and so forth.  It also listed notable art and literary works.  I was pleasantly surprised the history book the college chose for me to teach out of discussed one of my favorite stories: the book, Ben Hur.  I have tried to read the book but did not finish it.  It’s a difficult read and I’m not an avid reader.  However, I love the story and the movie.  The book was written by Lew Wallace in the late 19th century to illustrate how God works in individuals’ lives.  I absolutely loved sharing with my classes what this story was about.

            Lew Wallace had fought in the Civil War as a general, but disliked all the horrors he witnessed.  Shortly before the war in 1854, Charles Darwin had published The Origin of the Species.  There were many campfire discussions about the nature of God; did He exist and if so, just how active is He in one’s life.  Did he create the world as we know it, set things in motion and then watch from a distance?  Benjamin Franklin is known to have believed in a Supreme Being, but he is also known to have believed it is presumptuous to think the God of the universe would take much interest in our small existence within the vastness of the universe.  In the difficulties and struggles of war many ask such soul searching questions.  A number reached the conclusion that there may indeed be a God, but it was difficult for them to believe the Creator would actually care for them on an individual basis.

 General Wallace was not a Christian while he served in uniform. It was after the war that he became a believer.  He was an avid reader and chose to write a novel as a response to the question and debate about the extent of God’s intervention in our individual lives.  It took him years to pen the famous novel Ben Hur.  After the war, Lew Wallace served as Governor of New Mexico, where he was respected as a devout Christian.  He soon thereafter served as an American ambassador in the Middle East and lived among Turks, Arabians, Eastern Orthodox believers, followers of Mohammed, and Jews.  His travels helped give a good understanding of life in the Middle East and weave it into a story of adventure with a strong message.     

            In the novel, Ben Hur is a devout Jew who finds he and his family falsely accused of a crime and all are harshly treated thereafter.  He is condemned to die in the galleys, yet, he never gives up on the hope that God has a purpose for his life.   Most reading this have seen the movie.  If you have not, I have not given away anything to diminish your enjoyment of watching it.  I encourage you to watch it.  The 1959 version of the movie won 11 academy awards and I believe deservedly so.  

 This year I read a biography by Ray Boomhower called The Sword and the Pen, A Life of Lew Wallace.  I enjoyed every minute of reading the book.  I’m not much into hero worship, but General Wallace in my mind led an exceptional life that has gone on to bless many others including the Union he fought to preserve.  It was not until I read the book that I now know he was the Union General that helped keep the Confederate forces under Jubal Early from capturing Washington D.C. in the summer of 1864.  The rebel forces had made a quick end around through the Shenandoah Valley in the hopes of relieving the pressure of Grant’s forces on Richmond.  The rebels came closer than many realize, and although the war was winding down, losing the Union capital may have encouraged England or France to intervene with the South.  I think the North still would have won the war no matter who intervened.  Anyone who has the courage to serve in uniform as Lew Wallace did and then go on to write such an exceptional literary work gains my highest respect.  It took decades for Wallace to write Ben Hur and it was not very well received at first.  Eventually after about ten years the public began to buy the book in volume.  

 

Ben Hur offers a message of hope.  A message that says there is a God that does know your suffering and can be active in your life.  Not a distant God that created the universe, set parameters in motion, and then watches the outcome.  On the contraty, the message of Ben Hur is that God can be involved in people’s lives in personal and intimate ways.  It is the same encouragement you and I receive when we reflect on the story of Easter.

Ben Hur, Part I

         The movie The Ten Commandments is shown every Easter.  It is not one of my favorite movies and I have only seen it about three times.  On the other hand, my favorite movie, and one that I choose to watch every Easter is Ben Hur.  It has become a family tradition with my kids.  They are adults now but expect the movie to be shown at our house sometime over the Easter weekend.

            I first saw the film shortly after its release in 1959.  I was six years old.  After church we went out to eat, which was a treat for a large family in those days.  Then the six of us took in an afternoon movie.  The theaters were huge back then.  Sometimes I would sit in the balcony with my older brothers while my younger brother sat with mom and dad.  I thought that it was an adventure to sit in the balcony.  It seemed like a very long movie, and I mostly remember the chariot race.  I think I may have gotten a “slow poke” (thick caramel on a stick) to eat.  They take forever to finish, as you know.  My lousy teeth are testament to the amount of candy I ate as a kid.

            I saw the movie again in 1964 and this time I remember the ship battle.  The third time I saw it at the theater was about 1970.  They used to recycle the classic movies in those days.  I had just gotten my driver’s license and my younger brother was with me.  After four difficult, unrewarding, harsh years of playing Texas football, the scene of the sweaty souls forced to row in the galley stuck in my mind.  My football experience was miserable in the 1960’s.  In those days very little water was given to drink, and the way coaches trained you was to taunt you.  To this day when I find myself in stressful situations I often think of the galley scene in Ben Hur.  When the Roman commander whips Judah Ben Hur, played by Charlton Heston, for no apparent reason.  The  Roman commander then says,

“You have the will to strike back, but the good sense not to.  That’s good.  There is hate in your eyes.  Hate keeps a man alive.  We keep you alive to row this ship, so row well, and live Judah Ben Hur.”

            That scene has haunted me my entire life.  I have very few good remembrances of coaches.  I’m also sure they would not recall a small, second string, expendable commodity like me.  I think a lot of coaches have a positive influence on young people’s lives, it’s just that that was not my experience.  Atheletics for me was all work and very little fun for years, especially four years of miserable Texas football.

          My parents were also domineering, offering little affirmation but lots of criticism.  This was followed by a number of hard to please commanders during my years in uniform with the military.  Whatever your circumstances, if you have not experienced what you perceive to be injustice, or for that matter gone through periods of unanswered prayer in your life, then I envy you.   Perhaps you have wrestled with why your child or loved one has a certain disability or illness.  Maybe you have experienced a deep sense of loneliness, wondering why you don’t have a spouse.  For me, in these times of questioning, it is almost as if Satan taunts me and says “row well and live.” 

             You would think over forty years later it would all be forgotten.  I also realize many others in life have experienced things that would make any of my life’s struggles seem minor.  Yet, admittedly, these experiences either haunt me or seem important in my mind.  On the other hand, my sweet wife of 35 years and the graciousness of the gospel of Christ have reminded me there is still love in the world, and during those recurring times in life when I feel abandoned to the galleys, a voice whispers in my ear,

“I have not forgotten you, nor will I forsake you.  The circumstances may seem hopeless but I will bring you out of the galleys even when it is difficult for you to imagine how.”

            The following passages are encouraging to me:

Isaiah chapter43, verse 2:   

“When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you.  When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.”

Hebrews chapter 13 verse 5: 

 For God has said, “I will never fail you,I will never forsake you.”  That is why we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will not be afraid, what can mere mortals do to me.”

         I’m in middle life now and the difficulties just keep on coming.  I still have many, many unanswered prayers.  Perhaps that is why I will always like what I percieve to be the underlying  theme of Ben Hur, a message of hope.  I also believe that is the message of Easter: hope.  That is also the renewed feeling I get each year when I watch Ben Hur.

Abandoned Temple

     

          

Have you ever wanted to explore the ruins of an ancient temple?  That would be a unique experience wouldn’t it?  If you had asked me what comes to my mind when I hear the word temple, I would think of King Solomon’s Temple.  I have been a bible reader all my life so I obviously have given much thought to the ancient Israelite Temple and its significance in God’s Kingdom.  God used the Temple to try and convey the nature of himself to mankind just as he had done with Moses and the Tabernacle.  God was trying to reveal His Holiness to them: His righteous.  He is still trying to do so to us today.  By the way, the following passage popped out at me as I was reading the bible just recently.

          “This is the basic law of the Temple:  absolute holiness!”          Ezekiel 43:12

          The Mayans had temples, the Greeks and Romans had temples.  There are temples all over Asia.  There are many to visit, but just for the sake of imagination, would it not be an interesting adventure to explore a temple all to yourself, especially an abandoned temple.  A temple no one else has explored, just waiting for you.  But, unfortunately, what are the chances of finding an abandoned temple?  You may be surprised you don’t have to travel to a distant or remote location.    

           

  In the New Testament, many times Jesus tried to teach his followers that God does not dwell in Temples or buildings but within peoples’ hearts.  I think this was a challenging concept to his Jewish disciples.  During the time of Moses while the Israelites were in the wilderness God would enter the Tabernacle.  After King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem for God, scripture teaches that God chose to indwell there.  But why would the Creator want to enter the hearts of people?  After all, it is not always a safe place to enter.  Greed, envy, anger, lust, deceit: you name it and where does it start?  In the heart.  Unfortunately, to some degree all of us carry some of this dirty baggage.  And yet, amazingly, that is where God chooses to live.  The Kingdom of God dwells in our hearts.  That is where His Temple is.  It is something I think most of us know intuitively, yet something I personally struggle with.                        

         I want God to walk with me on my daily journey but I am hesitant to invite the Lord into my temple: my heart.  There are too many distractions.  When I sit still and try to pray, my mind wanders; the day’s schedule, bills to be paid, the upcoming football game and so forth.  On a more sobering note, I’m not sure God wants to come into my heart when I have anger issues, some degree of unforgiveness towards those who have wronged me in the past, anxiety over finances, and so forth.  I have shared these thoughts with my wife.  She responded:           

          “You may need to relax more before the Lord and accept his graciousness.  You may not believe you are worthy enough to invite God, but that is a lie from Satan.  God is always more than willing to engage you when you genuinely seek him, even if you don’t feel up to it at that moment.  Remember , you don’t always have to pray,” she adds.  

        “What do you mean I don’t have to pray?  I thought that is what I was supposed to be doing during intimate time with the Lord?”  I add, “As a matter of fact I often pace back and forth in the backyard very early in the morning underneath the canopy of the stars in order to reveal the passion of my prayer petitions to the Almighty.”  However, I admit to her, “I have wondered if I am working at it more than just, ‘letting it flow,’ so to speak.  I’m a disciplined hard worker, so it just seemed natural I would pray that way.” 

         “But that is just it,” she says. “Sit still, try to clear out the distractions in your mind, and rest.  Rest in the Lord.”  She goes on to say, “As I said, you don’t even have to pray.  If you are inviting the Lord into your heart he will know your prayers.  Through Christ we are made righteous.  Because of Christ we have the holiness that God wants and therefore He can enter.  Some days you will feel the presence of the Lord more than others: some days when you are tired you may even fall asleep.  But enjoy it.  The more often you relax and enjoy his presence, it will be that much easier for him to indwell within you.  It will not be long before you earnestly seek to return to this place of rest and the easier it will be.  It won’t have to be in the backyard or in the study, much less a certain time.  It will be a state of mind that is abandoning itself to the Lord.  That is not to say you do not need to engage in prayer, just don’t feel guilty if some days it does not seem to come naturally.  The Holy Spirit will guide you.  There will be days when you are drawn to your knees.  Other times you may want to ‘just sit,’ and peacefully reflect: yet you are still praying even if you are not directly articulating the words in your mind.”

        My wife calls it, “Abandonment to God.”  She explains, “We all have experienced the feeling of being abandoned to God.  Yet it is those times that provide an opportunity for God to reveal himself or his nature to us: His mysterious ways.  You and I grew up with the word ‘surrender,’ but I like the feeling of being abandoned to God’s providence.  Each of us has a choice to feel abandoned by God or to abandon ourselves to him.”

         As each of us journeys through life we will realize more and more our human limitations physically and emotionally coupled with a spiritual neediness.  I think God encourages each of us to invite him into our hearts as we become Temples of Abandonment. Our exploration is probably the most important search of our life.  Life’s treasures await us all in these temples…..these abandoned temples………God’s Temples.

Holy Water

 

     Please be very patient with me when you read this article.  Please do not judge me too hastily.  Please listen to what I am trying to communicate.  Please understand I am only sharing from my heart.  Please remember we are all human mortals searching the mysteries of the world we live in, it’s hidden truths and treasures. If you are patient with me, I won’t hold it against you when you snicker at what you about to read.

          I was raised Protestant and still am, as is my wife.  We met at a Christian University 35 years ago.  We are both reflective people and enjoy sharing with each other.  We are also honest and try to create an atmosphere where we can question our walk with God and admit our concerns about how He works in our lives.  This includes sharing the positive as well as the disappointments in our perceptions of God.

          My wife Melanie reads more than I do, including a good many inspirational and devotional books.  I am not a good reader but try to read the bible daily.  I enjoy her sharing the highlights of what she explores; it is always edifying.  Being the honest and direct person I am, I share with her the things that I read in the bible that make me question God and his dealings with mankind.  I appreciate it when she says, “that passage has also always troubled me.”  If I go on to convey what I think God, or Jesus, or Paul, or John is trying to say, she listens and then often affirms what my understanding is.  She might say “I think that is getting at what the nature of God is,” or “I was reading something recently that sounds close to what you’re saying.”  Let’s get on with what this to do with Holy Water.

          Melanie recently read to me from a book written by a lady who has a degree in chemistry and sees the nature of God at the smallest element of creation; the atom.  Convergence of Quantum Physics, Scripture and Prophecy was written by Bev Robinson and her husband Ras, a Pastor.  They are not the first to see God’s hand working in all levels of creation from the stars to the microbiological level.  However, there was one chapter that captured my wife’s attention.  A chapter discussing the power of words.  It challenges us to remember that what we say to others and what we receive from others in word has a stronger impact on us than we may realize.  Even at the molecular level.  Yes, even at the molecular level.

          Bev shared in the book some research done by a Japanese scientist named Masaru Emoto.  He was searching for scientific evidence as to whether or not the molecular structure of water is affected by words and thoughts.  Let me briefly summarize my understanding of his research.

50 individual drops of water were taken from a polluted water source, frozen on separate petri dishes, and photographed revealing malformed crystals.  50 individual drops were then taken from the same source, however prior to be frozen had words of love and thanks spoken over them as a blessing.  The difference was the crystals that received a blessing were mostly symmetrical and therefore pleasing to the eye. Those droplets that did not receive words of affirmation had crystals that were not symmetrical appearing malformed and ugly.  Sounds like a bunch of nonsense doesn’t it?

          It may indeed be ridiculous, but just think if there is any truth to it.   It would indeed affect us.  After all, our bodies are over 75% water.  So what?   

          Remember, God spoke creation into existence.  He exists in all of creation including the cells of our bodies.  He reveals himself to us through in a number of ways including nature, science, his animals, his Son Christ, and through his Word.  The Word (the bible), was given to us through prophets, Kings such as David and Solomon, scribes, apostles, disciples, and of course Jesus.  It was the words that these people of the bible spoke that often brought physical healing, inspiration, victory in battle, release from demonic spirits and so forth.

          I have always tried to weigh my words before I speak.  I am well aware of the numerous times I spoke sooner than I should have or words spoken in anger that are so condemnatory.  I will hopefully be more mindful of the words I say to others.  I will also be more open to the idea that peoples prayers over others for healing are not in vain.  Those prayers may not bring the healing that was specifically sought but I am confident some measure of healing at some level is occurring, whether I visibly see it or not.  There could very well be improvement( healing) at the molecular level.  I will leave the amount of healing and the timing up to God. I don’t think I will be quite as hesitant to pray over others as I have been, and I believe I will have more confidence in those prayers.  In other words some amount of good is taking place.

          At the end of our conversation I began teasing Melanie when I asked, “what about that jug of Holy Water I saw in the corner of the baptismal area of the Catholic church we visited?”  I had a snicker on my face.  She giggled: then we both paused at about the same moment.  We looked at each other until one of us said, “Someone may have blessed the water in that container with words.”  Food for thought, isn’t it?  Or should I say, possibly life giving water.  

“A person’s words can be life giving water; words of true wisdom are  as refreshing as a bubbling brook.”    Proverbs 18:4

  “Words satisfy the soul as food satisfies the stomach.” Proverbs 18:20         

                             New Living Translation