Competition and comparison

Our society is full of competition. Competition and comparison causes people stress and is one of the causes of depression. Out of competition and comparison come spite between colleagues in work places. We look at pop culture and see how we don’t measure up to their good looks, fine voices, and persona. We compare ourselves to them. No wonder why people feel down on themselves.

People spite their co-workers with harsh criticism; slander them with false accusations. Low self-esteem stem from some of these things. A source of this can be the deception for one’s need to compete and compare ourselves to others. We want to be more significant and feel important about ourselves. It is one of the reasons why people who fall victim to this, or get tired of this endless wheel of competition end up quitting their jobs and severing their relationships and/or even marriages.

During my recent stay at a spiritual retreat centre, I came across a book by an author of whom I did not know or read from before. My host recommended to visit the library and locate the devotional writings of Joyce Rupp.

Compassionate One, when I think poorly of myself because I do not match cultural norms of how to speak, think, look, or act, lead me to acknowledge and appreciate the gifts I have been given. Draw me inward to my core goodness. I will sink into that cradle of kindness and gain strength from what has lasting value. Disengage my strong connection to the “rush, push, and shove” approach to daily life. Release in me whatever craves to be the best, to rise to the top, to show off who I am and what I can do. Hush the strong voice of insecurity that steals energy from my spirit. Calm the anxiety that aches to have the spiritual life of another. Lift the darkness from my inner eye so that I see wth gratitude how enriched I am in my relationship with you….”

This is from Prayers of Boundless Compassion, 2018 (p. 6). Rupp is a Servant of Mary, a Catholic spiritual guide, and retreat leader. I very much like her style of writing. This has imagery and is visual and it draws and directs the reader into a spiritual direction. It speaks to me and is well written and draws from her experience. I shared this excerpt as my personal prayer today. I pray to the Lord: Help me seek and trust in your goodness and the fruits of your Holy Spirit. Fill me with more of your compassionate presence, with who you are, and make me more like you, O God.

Be still before the Lord

Today, I finally found some time to rest.  I let out some tears and a moment to cry.  Nothing bad happening.  No evil. No chaos.  None.  Reason for my cry was that I finally found some time to rest.  Weeks and months and a year went by.  Work and life was busy. Non-stop without time to rest.

As a servant, the work of helping and walking with others through their struggles and chaos, and administration, and even sermon prep in chaplaincy does not equate to rest. Ministry is still work. Yes, it’s still work, though it’s a part of God’s calling.

During this moment during my spiritual retreat on a small island, I was reading Psalm 37 while listening to the song Still.  That’s when the tears started rolling.  I realized my need for a time to rest.  Rest from serving, from helping others, and just “find rest my soul…in quietness and trust,” as the song writer said in Still.  

Hide me now
Under Your wings
Cover me
Within Your mighty hand
When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with you above the storm
Father, You are King over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

Find rest my soul
In Christ alone
Know His power
In quietness and trust
When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with you above the storm
Father, You are King over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

(song: Still, Hillsong)

(posted while on my retreat at Rivendell on Bowen Island BC)

Does cheating pay?

Ever been tempted to cheat on an exam? Ever thought about taking a shortcut to achieve a means in order to make a gain? If you have, that’s normal. We’ve all come across one or two temptations to cheat within our lifetimes. It can happen in a person’s career, business, and in relationships.

At times, the temptation can be unbearable and eat away at you on the inside. It can be so irksome that you wish you didn’t have to deal with the temptation. What makes it worse is that you think you can actually get away with it without getting caught. Insane…right!

Do people ever get away with cheating? What makes us wonder about the possibility of getting caught is when we witness other people get away with it.

In the bible, a story about Jacob the cheater seemingly has no repercussions from cheating his older brother Esau out of his birthright, and later, also his blessing. As the story goes, Jacob had to run away because his older brother was very angry with him.

If the story were to end right here, it would seem to imply that Jacob got away without getting caught. We know he was caught and escaped death by running for his life.

Later, he would have to pay a price. He runs to his uncle Laban’s house. Meets his two daughters Leah and Rachel. He ends up having to work seven years to have Leah as his wife, then another seven years to have Rachel. He felt cheated out of seven years and then another seven years because Laban had the intention of cheating Jacob out of his labor.

Later, schemes of cheating one another would continue when Jacob tries to exact revenge on uncle Laban by cheating him out of large herds of goats, lambs, and sheep. He had to run away again.

This whole story of dishonesty, conniving and exacting revenge on one another takes place between chapters 25-33 in the book of Genesis. It seemed like an endless cycle.

In reading this entire story as a whole, we can see that cheating does not pay. An endless cycle of dishonesty, cheating and revenge will take place.

So if you ever had thoughts of cheating on exams, on your spouse, on your co-workers, better think twice. Cheating does not pay. You will get caught…eventually. Justice will be repaid.

When feeling unsure of ourselves

The Thinker. Artist: Rodin. Legion of Honor in San Francisco CA.

Struggling with issues in our culture, life and society is not a bad thing.  Everyone goes through these phases at different stages in our life.  Things can be at odds with our personal ideals and values and can challenge our spirituality.  You might even doubt your faith.

We might come to question and doubt ourselves because we wonder if what we value are right or wrong.  I also have also doubted too.  We can either become antagonistic toward culture and society and run closer to religion.  Or we can become antagonistic toward religion and shift toward secular/popular culture, or even agnosticism/atheism.

We all wonder at times whether what we’re doing is right or the cool or uncool thing.  We might feel, “Forget what the rest of the world thinks. I’ll do what I feel is right.”  We try to fit in.  Do things the easy way.  Walk the wide road.  At times, we lose a sense of who we are.

Sounds like it’s happened to you before?  Our lives are not static but can be in flux, changing.  We might still be getting to know who we are.  Figuring out what’s right… and what fits my situation and circumstances.

God and our conscience might be telling us one thing; and the world might be telling us something completely opposite.  Life can be confusing and society doesn’t always seem helpful.  Pressures all around us.  We don’t feel safe to give ourselves room, to ask, and reflect on whether what we practice makes sense to ourselves within our culture.

Jesus told his disciples:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17, ESV).

In the end, pray and ask God to give you grace. In Christ, God will absolve us from all our doubts, out wanderings, our hard-heartedness and rebellion. Let him be the captain of your soul and He will send you his Holy Spirit and his Word to comfort and counsel you.

 

Letting God do the impossible task: to love your enemies

Related image

Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 6:27-28, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”   It’s a parallel to Jesus’ sermon on the Mount in Matthew ch. 5-7. 

When I think on this, there are days when I might think to myself, “Yes, I can obey Jesus’ law to love my enemies—that’s easy.”  But in all honesty, there might be some bad days when I feel I cannot even love my friends or even my family, let alone my enemies.

There can be a real challenge in following through with this command.  For some, this might be easier to do depending on the day and on our circumstances.  It might depend on where people are at in their lives.  For some, our hurts and traumas can easily override our ability to love others.  The last thing we can expect someone who has been hurt is to love their perpetrators. 

A person’s visceral reaction in anger might be: “I’m going to wipe them out!  Give me a rock…give me a button… give me a trigger… At certain times in one’s life, it would not surprise me one bit if a person could do it without shedding a tear or breaking out in a sweat.  Jesus’ command seems to stand in stark contrast to the desire of our flesh.

How do we interpret this passage of Scripture?  Was this a piece of good advice or nugget of wisdom?  Or was it a command?  What if the entirety of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Luke and Matthew was meant to describe the impossible? What humanism has wanted to achieve perfection in humanity might actually be next to impossible. 

If the latter is true, it forces you and I to turn to God for mercy and grace each and every day.  You might see human perfection as a possibility. For me personally, at this point of time in my own life, the possibility of achieving human perfection is impossible.

If Jesus’ sayings from the Sermon on the Mount were meant to be prescriptions of laws that we must obey, then I would definitely be a failure.  Over time, we might, at one point or another, fail to live up to most or all of Jesus’ commandments.

When we are in the flesh and operating in the needs and desires of the flesh, it is very hard to love our enemies.  Our flesh will naturally want to destroy or defeat our enemies using our human means and methods.  Yes even when we are living as Christians, praying hard and committing ourselves each day to live with Christ, this spiritual battle won’t be easy.  But when we are operating in the love of Christ, there is less reason to give into the flesh.  Jesus asks us to give him all of our worries.

When Jesus asked us to bless those who curse us, it is because there is something that happens in the spiritual realm that we do not see.  On the surface, there is nothing to be gained eternally by blessing those who curse us.  If this was a command, then what reward would there be? 

There is a blessing in simply loving others without expecting to receive anything in return from our fellow neighbor.  We can love others just for the sake of loving others.  There is no ulterior motive to love our neighbor.  This is pure freedom. Christ can free us from the fleshly desires in this world so that we can love the unlovable, do good, and give without expecting anything in return (v.35).

To truly love our enemies who have full intentions of hurting us without mercy is the hardest thing to do in the world.  Personally, I know I don’t have the patience or the strength within myself to love my enemy.  My human flesh tells me to kill whoever might want me dead.  I do not have the tenacity to wait it out to see what happens.  To me, this command is like telling me to fail. 

After recognizing my human weakness, I realize that I need to fall upon the grace and mercy of God.  I would rather hold my hands up and say to the Lord, “Lord, if you are real, give me your grace. I cannot love my enemies.  I cannot stop hating them for even one second.  Pour out your grace upon my life.  Have pity on this poor soul.  I need you God.”  This would be me after God has driven me to utter submission.

Seek God’s kingdom

Luke 12:31-32 – Jesus told his disciples:  “Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.  Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

In these words is a secret that is hidden in plain sight. When we allow worries and anxieties to overtake us, we stumble and fall and resort to our own human will rather than allow God’s sovereign will to take charge in our lives.

Why do we worry?  We worry because we do not have faith that we will have enough.  We also worry that others will stop us from getting what we desire.

As a result, we get angry—angry with those who stand in our way.  We might even find ourselves directing our anger toward those we love, and toward those who may be trying to comfort our hearts.

If we can stop for a moment to calm down. Give ourselves space to reflect.  Reflect without anxiety and fear.  Ponder on the Lord without worries floating within our minds.  Think on godly things. Put aside things that prevent our hearts from feeling God’s love.

God who might be trying to get our attention might have a good message for us.  Focus on God and the spiritual things that belong to the kingdom. 

Things that concern God’s kingdom might be totally different from what we desire for our own kingdom.

Ask God. Pray.  Seek God.  See if he has something else within the kingdom for our lives.

Be open to receiving different things that we might never have expected.  Such things might result in becoming a huge blessing in our lives.

Everlasting Eternal Life

Nothing gets a person thinking more about death than: 1) When you have a death in the family, or 2) When an insurance salesperson gives you the sale pitch and sells you life insurance, or 3) When you have a lawyer ask you tough questions to prepare your final will and testament.

I’m getting a will done up through a lawyer.  It sure made me think about how temporary life can be.  Not much in this world is for sure.  What is for sure is that we will all live and die.

The bible teaches that on our last day on earth won’t be our last moment.  Our soul lives on.  There is still eternity to enjoy.

There will be no more death. Our bodies will not grow old and decay.

From a purely human perspective, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (v.50).

“Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8)

Thankfully, death in the flesh will not be our ultimate and final destiny as Christians.  It doesn’t have to be.  God has given us a way out.  The only way out of death is to trust in the mercy and grace of God.

God desires and has always intended for us to be spiritual beings.  Paul taught that what is sown in weakness is raised in power.  It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44).

John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

One day, whe our bodies decay and die, Christ will raise us up as spiritual beings.  We will no longer have to rely on the fleshly things of this world to bring us through to the end. Christ has become our victor. This is good news.  God in Christ Jesus has conquered sin, death and evil.  These things will have no power over us when we place our faith in the love of Christ and in the power of his resurrection power.

Image result for pearly gates