Monday, November 17, 2008

Poverty of Spirit – The Doorway into the Kingdom of God

Poverty of Spirit – The Doorway into the Kingdom of God
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit for Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven – Matt 5:3

Jesus Christ begins His discipleship training of His followers with this single overarching principle. The blessed person is the person who is spiritually poor. The experience of the kingdom begins and is maintained through the experience of our spiritual poverty.

Describing the Experience

Just this morning, I by God’s grace had an experience of my poverty of spirit. As I had this experience, I knew that if I could bottle this experience, if I could learn to enter this place regularly, I would find a more consistent love of God and neighbor.

It started this morning as I reflected on my last few months of prayerlessness. A few months back, I had begun a quest to learn how to exercise moment by moment self regulation. Needless to say, I failed in this quest and have discovered that my habits of mind and speech are less regulated and restrained than a few months back. This morning I realized that I was again approaching the problem of self-control and self-restraint directly. I attempted to oppose my bad habits of mind and tongue directly. This approach is decidedly unspiritual. Of course, over the past few months, I have not been aware that I have been taking this misguided approach. As I arose and prepared for work, I realized the answer to this problem is the indirect approach of worship.

So, as I drove to work, I considered this different strategy to solve my problem of character.

As I was driving to work, I found myself accepting just how dreadful my thoughts have been of late. I was reviewing my past few months and accepting that my thought life and my contemplations have been even more crude and worldly than normal and that though I have been striving to behave better, I was actually behaving worse. These habitual ego-laden, worldly contemplations are an immutable part of my emotional makeup. It is not my nature to despair but to simply admit reality as it is. I am fortunate in this regard. But as I thought really how broken my thoughts are a thought entered my mind. Even this unhealthy condition is forgiven. This blessed realization came upon me rather unaware. I am entirely powerless but also entirely accepted. At this instant, I began to feel a joy I had lacked of late. I was experiencing what Luther calls being ‘simultaneously saint and sinner’. The fact is that only in this acceptance of my utter moral failure can I find the presence of Christ from which comes any joy filed power for moral strength. Here is the doorway into an actual righteousness. Here in lies the paradox of our faith.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.

The Anatomy of the Experience
As I attempt to define the recipe of this experience, I find two practices that I would consider keys to attacking our sinful habits of heart and mind indirectly. First, if the means that we are exercising do not in and of themselves produce joy in the presence of Jesus then these methods are not likely to work. Therefore, the key is to produce peace and joy in the presence of God. This practice is indirect in that it is not intuitively obvious that the answer to worldly desire is to practice a secret life of worship. This prescription seems rather unrelated and in fact it is. The key though is that the joy of the Lord is our moral strength. Enjoying God is what transforms our affections and it is a deep resolved joy in our relationship with God that produces holy moral action.

Secondly, the path to joy is to enjoy the admission before God of the details of our sinfulness. The fact is that the embrace of grace is deeper realization of our spiritual bankrupt state. Any acts to deny our weakness is a step away from grace. Confession is then an activity through which we are pursuing joy. The conclusion is that we are to pursue joy through savoring the forgiveness of Jesus while sitting in our own moral feces.

Simultaneously saint and sinner,
technorait tags: ; ;

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Easy N' Light

My good friends new blog:
Easy N' Light
My primary ministry partner and close friend is now a pastor at a local RCA church and will be blogging on discipleship regularly. Please put a link on your blog and visit regularly. His politics are lame, but his Christianity is exceptional. LOL

My new blog - Probama

Probama url:
first post: What is Probama?

The Harder Road - Matt 7:13-14

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." - Matthew 7:13-14

One lesson I have learned in the past month of blogging on politics instead of the teachings of Jesus is that the problems facing our country today are far more simple to solve and far less difficult to understand than the problem of following Jesus. I can write two posts a day on economics or politics without resulting in any deep exhaustion at all. But to write insightfully on discipleship is exhausting and difficult to write even one post a week. The problem of life transformation and articulating to others how this way works and how to walk in this way is exponentially more complex and difficult to practice and understand than fixing global finance.

Global finance is easy. Look to the great depression. How did it end? It ended when the US began to focus on arming for World War II. We ran up huge deficits to fund the war on totalitarianism, and America started working again. So, this path is basically what we need to follow. We need to fight a war on something like dependence on foreign oil and carbon emissions. We need to tool up for this economic war on energy imports as if our life depends on it. America will run huge deficits, but we will come out winning the economic war. In so doing, we will set ourselves up for another 50 years of prosperity. Problem solved. Now for more pressing issues and more difficult issues like becoming salt and light to a morally corrupt and self-centered humanity.

Difficult and Pressing
Every other time this word translated here as narrow in verse 14 is used in the New Testament it is translated as afflicted. The road we choose in following Jesus is a road which seriously constricts our freedom. It afflicts our choices, our momentary well being. This road is hard. This road of following Jesus is narrow and marked with moment by moment acts of self restraint and death to our ego and our impulses and we are called to do this through the power of God and not our own strength. This spiritual mandate only complicates the process all the more. Not only do we need to become loving but this love must come from God, and our victories must make us more humble and more worshipful. Nothing could possibly be harder to learn how to actually implement than the way of Christ.

The word used here originates from the idea of pressing grapes into wine. So, the idea is that you will be far more hard pressed trying to follow Jesus than anything else you or I ever attempt in life. Jesus teaches us, warns us in fact, that very few persist along this course long enough to attain the rest and peace that is promised.

The Problem of Discipleship and Becoming Salt and Light
The church is in crisis today. The outcomes of holiness are strikingly absent. In the church, divorce should not even be mentioned among us, but, instead, many church member's marriages fail. Greed is rampant in the world, but is not material self indulgence evident in the church as well? Christians, who are to find the path of peace, often experience tempers flaring in their homes. The cause of this is clearly a lack of training in the ways of Jesus Christ.

The root of this problem is that the way of Jesus, the way of death to self at the deepest level of our being, and the means of confession and conscious contact with God are not taught in the churches. I heard a preacher recently say, "So last week we learned to 'follow the Spirit'". I thought to my self, "Does he realize how difficult it is to follow the Spirit". Learning discernment to follow the Spirit into the path of self-denial and silence and meekness is harder than beating Roger Federer at tennis or Tiger Woods at golf. Yet, we teach it as if it is like taking candy from a baby.

I have a saying, "The Spirit is always saying the same thing". What the Spirit says is "follow Jesus". Following the Spirit is the most difficult thing in all of human experience. To follow the Spirit we need community and mentoring and discernment of our ego and our motives. We need to learn how to practice the presence of God in the midst of being threatened by people with different agendas than us. We have to learn to listen and prefer others and serve and love.

So, here we have a process to learn that is harder than brain surgery, and, yet, in our communities, we approach the task like we approach politics. Everyone has an opinion and everyone's opinion is just that an opinion.

What is needed is quite the opposite. If you wouldn't let a grade school kid perform open heart surgery, do not let a person with a temper, a struggling marriage or a control/ego problem teach people how to follow Jesus. Very few people are experts in the area of discipleship but it is our task to seek out experts and to dedicate our minds and our wills to becoming experts in this the most urgent and most strenuous of all human pursuits.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Happy and Hopeful - Today's New York Times

It is hard for me to put into words the positive emotions I feel as a result of the political changes happening in America. I believe it is a sense of being connected and of being affirmed. I am actually alarmed at the number of situations which bothered me before which are resolved by people of my thinking being in power. I never realized I cared so much.

Primary to all of these feelings is the realization that we now have an intellectual in the White House. It is a huge and central aspect of the philosophy of our household to value education and critical thinking. Better yet, I am not the only one who sees this development. Kristof article in the New York Times today, Obama and the War on Brains, proclaims his hope that a cultural shift could occur in which intellect is no longer seen as a liability but an asset.

Another positive development is how we have thrown the anti-scientific crowd out on its ear so we can reasonably address the economic and climate challenges that confront us, and hallelujah, these problems represent two birds that can be killed with one stone. Al Gore says it all this morning as well in his article on the Economy and Climate Change.

So I woke up this morning and realized that the news papers are filled with people who think like me on these economic and political issues and I feel at home again in America.


Friday, November 07, 2008

False Predictions of Obama - A Sign of Spiritual Disease

In an earlier post, , I stated that my primary motivation for discussing politics is because I desire the church to be a place of fair-minded, balanced, civil dialogue regarding issues of our day like politics, economics, and scientific progress. I would like to take this time to, for the record, articulate some of the dire predictions people of faith have made or claimed concerning an Obama presidency which I believe will prove to be false and therefore prove that political thinking amongst a certain segment of our population is hysterical and irrational. Not only are such false beliefs and predictions irrational but they betray a judgment or demonization of those one disagrees with which is not only partisan but contrary to gospel driven humility and love.

The most extreme views hold that maybe Obama is a secret Muslim or that because of the views of Jeremiah Wright that Obama will undermine our commitment to Israel. I have heard people say that a vote for Obama is a vote against Israel. I have heard people say that if Obama is elected Israel will be attached and that America will not come to her aid. These fear laden predictions seem ludicrous to outsiders but such views are actually present in some circles. At the root of this is a belief that Obama is not patriotic or even that he is anti-American. Certainly there is a belief that Obama does not have a heartfelt religious love of Israel. What is so insidious about these belief is that they are contrary to everything President Obama has stated publicly. Therefore, to hold such beliefs one must hold an irrational conspiratorial worldview and process of analysis of the world and its actors. Such a worldview and such a thinking process is dangerous, uncivil, judgmental, unchristian, and sinful.

Why do I say unchristian and sinful? This is a serious charge which I am making. I boldly characterize this belief as unchristian and sinful because at least the Christian heart and mind should be able to be objective. When feelings cloud one’s vision to negatively view another than these feelings must by definition be negative. The results of such a heart are morally repugnant. Such false and subjectively clouded views of others is the stuff of bigotry and tribalism. Could anything be more contrary to monotheism and the universal declarations of the gospel? Therefore I define such hostile and negative feelings toward another which are based solely on fantasy is the heart of sin. The source of this ill-conceived vision of Obama is bitter and hateful judgments upon whole segments of the human population.

Early signs show how misinformed and erroneous these anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli fears are. President-elect Obama will inevitably surround himself with the best minds in the world and these minds will be almost exclusively Israel loving. Can anyone question the Rahm Emmanuel’s loyalty to Israel and her security? Here is a short article from Jeffrey Goldberg, Rahm Emmanuel and Isreal. Goldberg is a long time friend who says the following about Emmanuel:

he is deeply and emotionally committed to Israel and its safety. We’ve talked about the issue a dozen times; it’s something he thinks about constantly

A second irrational view that finds its source in a fundamentalist and spiritually unhealthy heart is the view that Obama is socialist or a redistributionist. A simple look at the economic advisors that Obama has surrounded himself with, like the Rahm Emmanuel appointment makes this view equally ridiculous. Obama’s economic advisors is a who’s who of the new economy: Warren Buffet, Larry Summers, Tim Guithner, Robert Rubin, Paul Volcker,

From this mornings msnbc Article, Obama Meets with Industry Titans,

In addition to Summers and Volcker, the economic advisory board includes: former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin; former Labor Secretary Robert Reich; Laura Tyson, a former chair of the National Economic Council; Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Xerox Chairman Anne Mulcahy and Time Warner Chairman Richard Parsons. Famed billionaire investor Warren Buffett was participating by telephone.

To characterize Obama as socialist, then I guess Buffet et al are socialists as well. What then shall a misguided evangelical do? What is required is a humble submission to the facts? It has been said that republicans need to do a soul searching of a political kind but I suggest instead what is most needed is a deep soul searching of a spiritual and moral kind.

God Bless,

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Christian Ideals and American Ideals - The Obama Dividend

The Editorial pages of the NY Times and others are giving words to the sense of celebration felt here in the US and around the world. Nicholas Kristof, writes in his Obama Dividend editorial this morning that
In Switzerland, an American was bathed in compliments comparing the election to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Jessica watched the results from a bar in Cape Town and wrote: “For the first time in recent memory, I can shout in the streets that I am American and be proud of the progress, hope and color that now define us.”

An awed Tanzanian named Leonard wrote to say that this election has promoted democracy far more effectively than anything the United States could say or do. He ended: “Long live America.”

This resounding sense that we have done something good is a deep Christian value and faith in equality and equal opportunity. I state this love of equality as a profoundly Christian value as a result of the simple reflections on the person of Jesus and the theology of the cross.

Monotheism and Ethics
The life of Jesus was, on one level, the life of a man of humble beginnings and humble means who spoke powerfully and clearly the ethic of love and compassion. Such an ethic is founded on an understanding of monotheism. Monotheism presupposes that all humanity is the offspring of one God not many. This monotheistic foundation is the ultimate foundation of both equality and compassion on the oppressed.

If we are all God's children, we are all equal and all equally loved and cared for. This knowledge which is innate in us is the foundation for compassion and equality.

Today, we celebrate as a human family the triumph of this innate knowledge which resides in the heart of all of us. We are all God's children and His love reaches from the heights of power to the depths of suffering, from the white house to the plains of Kenya.

Praise the Lord,

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Its a Beautiful Day

All I can say is this is a wonderful day, a beautiful day. Not only are we seeing the progress of an American ideal but a Christian ideal. More on this tomorrow.

John McCain's concession speech was classy and patriotic. One of the great things in America is that our leadership succession is peaceful. McCain takes such grace to a new level by seeing the positive and historic significance of the election of Barack Obama.

Praise the Lord,

Voter Repression - Already Starting in Virginia and Pennsylvania

Oy....I hate this.

Voter repression is the ultimate drag. Polls are not opening in Virginia in area, aroung Virginia Tech, and in Pennsylvania.


Hour by Hour Voter Guide

This is the guy from 538. Very good and helpful.

Here is their tipping point graph. These are the states to watch in order of likelihood to be the state that tips the balance.

Monday, November 03, 2008

2008 Presidential Election Scorcard Spreadsheet

For your election returns pleasure, here is a helpful excel spreadsheet to use.
1. Download this file (actual excel spreadsheet). Update: something is wrong with this link. Will change.
2. I am going to sit on the couch with my laptop open and fill in the cells as returns come in and well keep score.
The spread sheet is taken from Rasmussens electoral college projections.
The top is the projections and the bottom section is with the toss-ups and the leaners left blank. Then as the toss-ups and the leaners come in just put them in the columns and the spreadsheet will do all the math.
Here on the left is the pic version just for reference.
WOW..24 hours to go....

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Last Gallup Poll for the 2008 Presidential Election- Breaks even Harder for Obama

Latest Nov 2, 2008 Gallup Poll

Check out Gallup numbers in the last two elections:
2000and 2004

In 2000, The poll shows Bush +2. The actual was Gore +.5. So it was about 2.5% off.

In 2004, the poll shows Bush/Kerry even. The actual was Bush +2. So the poll was again off by 2%. Both are obviously within the margin of error.

The most famous Gallup screw up was the Truman/Dewey in 1948. But the story there strangely was that the last poll was in mid-October. The poll was famously off by 5%.

BUT!!!!!! - Obama is up in the traditional likely voter polls by 11% traditional likely and 13% among registered voters.

Political Dialogue in the Christian Community

For many years of blogging and participation in Christian communities of faith, I have been rather vehement in my anti-political stance. As of late, for what I believe is affection for the church, I have decided to be more vocal about my political sensibilities.

The motivation behind this entrance into political discussion is a conviction that healthy dialogue on non-essential matters of faith needs to be open, civil, fluid, diverse and joyful and that the place for this discussion can and ought to be within the context of christian community. The fact of the matter is that at present political discourse in the church can be better described as closed, static, monolithic and bitter. This closed and monolithic political ideology within conservative christian community (of which I am an ardent member and supporter) has become outdated, anti-intellectual, and divisive.

The present political election with its transformational issues (issues which are not altogether political in nature) surfaces the need within the church for an environment in which decidedly Christian dialogue can flourish.

I personally have an emotional and visceral connection to the more transformational elements of the Obama candidacy. I find myself driven by motivations that I sense are more aesthetic in nature than driven by policy considerations.

Therefore, I find my love for the church and my vision for the church to become a place of this sort of dialogue to be the primary reason for spending my energy in political discussion and contemplation of late.

My prayer is that the church may we become a place where we make a place for believers to express and give voice to their beliefs and visions for both our nation and our faith communities.