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Why does the Spirit feel so far away?

A couple of days ago, I read this by Madisyn Taylor

We all experience periods where we feel separated from the loving ebb and flow of the universe. These times of feeling disconnected from the source may occur for many reasons, but self-sabotage is the most common cause for us choosing to cut ourselves off from the flow of the universe. We purposefully, though often unconsciously, cut ourselves off from this flow and from the embrace of humanity so we can avoid dealing with painful issues, shun the necessary steps for growth, or prevent the success that we are afraid of achieving from ever happening.
When you choose to disconnect from the source, you block the flow of the universe’s energy from passing through you. You become like a sleepwalker who is not fully awake to life, and your hopes, plans, and dreams begin to appear as distant blurs on a faraway horizon.
Universal support has never left you, but if you can remember that you became disconnected from source by choice, you can choose to reconnect.

And I couldn’t agree more – how often do we distance ourselves from God & our Source?

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“A noble cedar or a humble mustard seed?”

A few months ago I threw some avocado seeds into my compost bin, and now I’ve discovered I have a beautiful avocado seedling growing in my compost.  I’ve very happy about that – but all I did was throw it away! I was expecting to make compost, but now I am very pleased that I need to ask Alexis to locate a great place to plant an avocado tree.  And we all know how big an avocado tree can get.  So, I’m not sure where that avocado tree will get planted, but I am pretty sure that it will produce some great avocados!Read More »

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The alien that resides among you…

As I see here in Panama wave after wave of Venezuelans arriving, running from the disaster in their country, I realise that it is hard for us to welcome them with open arms.  People here feel threatened by the mass migration wave that has hit Panama – “there are too many of them”. Crimes rates have increased over the past three years. Housing has become more expensive. Unemployment has increased.  The cost of living has gone up.

And “the Venezuelans are to blame”…Read More »

For God so loved the world…

Readings:

  • John 3: 16-21
  • Ephesians 2: 4-10

For God so loved the world… that over two thousand years ago, Jesus came to this earth in human form to show us what this love truly means. Through his life, his teachings and his example, we find a new way, a better way. He gave what we may consider to be the ultimate sacrifice, his earthly body, in a painful and excruciating death, so that we might receive the gift of Oneness of our spiritual bodies with God, no longer separated but as Children of God. Through this, we might fully understand the meaning of eternal life, as spiritual beings living continually in the presence of God.  Not waiting for our earthly death for eternity to start, but recognising that we are already living eternity.

Jesus came and taught us humility, as he lived as a refugee in Egypt as a child, much like Syrian refugees live today in Jordan and Lebanon. Do we treat our refugees any better than we have treated Jesus?  How do we treat the refugees from Venezuela? The refugees from Haiti, from Africa? If we imagine that each of these refugees was Jesus, how are we doing?

‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25: 40)

In Matthew 18: 1 we find the disciples discussing “Who really is the greatest in the Kingdom of the heavens?” He calls a child, stands the child in the midst of the disciples and tells them:

“Unless you turn around and become as young children, you will by no means enter into the Kingdom of the heavens. Therefore, whoever will humble himself like this young child is the one who is the greatest in the Kingdom of the heavens; and whoever receives one such young child on the basis of my name receives me also.”​—Matthew 18:3-5.

As we consider how we are treating the sojourners and refugees among us, then we known how great we are in the Kingdom! Before the last supper, we find Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

Because God so loved us… Jesus showed us the importance of reading the Word, as a twelve year old when he read and discussed in the temple the scriptures. Luke 2: 47 says that “all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” At twelve years old. He not only was willing to read the Bible allowed in the temple, but to answer questions and explain it. And yet, we seem to struggle each week for participants to read the scriptures aloud in church each Sunday.

Jesus showed us dedication and patience, as he worked as a carpenter, under his father’s tutelage. And yet we reject the authority of our parents, failing to honor our mother and father as we are called to do.  We push our way forward for honor and rewards, seeking the limelight, rather than being willing to work in the background.

Because God so loved you… Jesus showed us how to handle the temptations that arise in our day to day lives. Through his temptations of hunger (lust of the body), egoism (misuse of our power) and materialism (kingdoms and wealth) we see what is means to be a child of God, holding fast to that identity, and still standing strong in the knowledge of what that really means. In these temptations, we see the challenge to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God” – are you really a child of God? Prove it.

Through these temptations, we see how the ego wants to use our spiritual power and gifts to satisfy human cravings. This is attempting to turn stones into bread, the attempt to find gratification in using spiritual power to satisfy human, personal desires.And yet, Jesus shows us the better and higher way. Are you fully secure in your identity as a child of God? Can you, like Jesus, respond: “It is written”?  Our human nature wants to demonstrate prosperity and success or healing and “prove” that it works. We think some outer achievement will make us happy and successful. But Jesus teaches us a higher way: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”

Most importantly, Jesus showed us what it really means to have a relationship with God, to have the indwelling of the Spirit. Jesus showed us, in his every day living and loving, what it means to truly be One with God the Father.

John 14: 4-7 promise us:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
…7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

We are reminded of this again in John 17: 21-23

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 …  so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

For God so loved the World that he sent us Jesus… who taught us what it means to be a child of God (as each one of us has already been called to be). Paul says in Colossians 2:9 “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” The Message says “Everything of God gets expressed in him, so that you can see and hear God clearly”.”  Are you living out your life as a son or daughter of God?  Is every quality of God fully expressed in your life and living and loving?

Psalm 82: 6 says in a stunning way:

You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High.

The same calling to greatness and Oneness with God that Jesus had, each of us has.  To be the Son of God is to be of the same nature as God. The Son of God is “of God.” We were created by God, in God’s image, to do God’s will on this earth.  And God so loved each one of us, as sons and daughters, that God sent us Jesus to show us the way home.

Jesus reminds us of this in John 10: 33-38:

33 The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.”
34 Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled— 36 can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. 38 … know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

Like the Prodigal son, we have lived our lives without authority, power, belonging and sharing at the table of the feast: but God loved us. And so today we are reminded of this rich mercy, of the great love with which we are loved. We are made alive in Christ, seated with him, shown the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us! If we are living in separation from God, then we are throwing away the gift of love that was given to us.

And because of this great love that we have been shown, we are all challenged today to love each other! The test of how well we have overcome that which separates us from God is how well we love our brothers and sisters:

John 13: 35

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Meditation: Romans 6: 6-7, 14

We need to remember that each day we are “born anew”, we die to sin and rise to Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Because we are shown grace and mercy, we have the possibility of dying to whatever holds us back, and rising again renewed and full of life and light.

Matthew 5: 13-15

13 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its savor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 You are the light of theworld. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house

But until we actually recognize that living in the Presence of our Creator actually means shining forth every day as light in this world, we are only surviving, instead of thriving.

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Sermon: Accountable before God

Readings:

This morning in Romans we read:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. … So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

And in Matthew we read:

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

The reading in Matthew started with:

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
18:22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Some say that means that we have to forgive 77 times and others say that’s 490 times: seventy times seven.  So, imagine with me, for a moment, if God actually kept score of our forgiveness of each other, the same way that we keep score of how others have wronged us. How would that ledger look? Do you ever make it to forgiving someone 77 times for one offence? Ever?

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And then imagine if God was as quick to pass judgment on us as we pass judgment on others. Romans asks us today, why do we despise each other? Some versions say “treat them with contempt”, others use the word “belittle” or “look down on”, and still other versions say “set at naught”. To set at naught means to treat as of no account, to disdain, to hold in disregard, to treat with ignominy, to hold as insignificant.

A loving Christian is meant to care, deeply, for others: family, friends, church members & neighbors. But when we go into survival mode, that vulnerability and authenticity get shut down. Poets have long claimed that hearts grow cold and become hardened:  we treat others with disdain and insignificance. In our attempt to protect ourselves from distress and dull the pain, we divest ourselves of caring and responsibility.

When broken people live together in a broken world, pain is inevitable for anyone who loves. The only way to avoid the crushing pain of a broken heart is to make your heart unbreakable. So, we become the person that says “I don’t care” or “whatever”, when the luxury of giving ourselves the time and space to feel is threatened. And much of this despising or indifference towards others comes from looking inwards at our hurt and pain, and the defense mechanisms that we naturally have to block this out: just stop feeling. And so our hearts become hardened. If you choose the becoming “unbreakable”, you will also choose to lose your compassion.

What is critical to remember is when a heart becomes hardened, the brain has its own reasons for pressing down upon vulnerable feelings. To feel sets the person up to get hurt and the brain is geared towards survival at all costs. To bring emotional defenses down, the heart must be softened. The question is how can this be done? For me, personally, forgiveness has played an incredible role. I have repeatedly worked with Ho’oponopono meditation, where you sit and repeat: “I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you.” I’ve used this focusing on loving myself, loving others, loving God.

Forgiving and letting go is so much more than just my relationship with other people: a hardening of heart inevitably means I have hardened my heart towards God. And when you forgive yourself and others, truly forgiving them, you begin once more to experience God’s love and light in your life.

Jesus knew this: which is why he said we need to forgive an offense 77 times (or 490 if you read the KJV). If we want to be compassionate in this world, we need to allow people into our hearts. People will hurt you. People will take advantage of you. People will manipulate you. Not everyone and not all the time, but some will. And you have two choices: you can either choose to forgive or you can choose to become hard. You can’t have it both ways.  And forgiving is a hard practice: for most of us, it is not something we just do once and then we’re done. Hence the need to forgive again, and again.

When we remember the offense that the other person has committed against us, we have to repeat: practicing forgiveness. And for a while we will forget and let it go. But the memory of the hurt and offense will come back again, and we will have to repeat once more. And repeat once again. Not because you are going to leave yourself in a situation where that person will continue to hurt or take advantage of you, but because you are choosing a relationship with God over and above all things.

When you are consciously aware that such-and-such a person is “like this”: let’s say that they always ask you to lend them money and they never pay it back. When you make a decision to forgive them and also to keep that person in your life, you know that you will be exposed to more requests for money that will not be paid back. And then you have two choices:

  1. You can give them the money, as a gift, freely, with love; or
  2. If you cannot find it in your heart to give them the money lovingly, you can learn the life lesson of saying “no”. Of learning how to say “no” with love, without attacking them; without putting them down. Just “no”.

But if you give them that money with resentment, it’s like you are putting a curse upon them, because in your heart: you are cursing them and resenting them. If you are going to give, then give with love and joyously.  Make it truly a blessing.

1 John 4: 20 reminds us of this truth:

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”

There’s a lot of emotional intelligence involved in being a true Christian! You have to set loving boundaries in your life: where you love yourself enough to be true to yourself, and yet you love God enough to be willing to do the work to be open, vulnerable and authentic. We say we love God, but then we’re not willing to let go of our pain and hurt. That’s mine – my precious. I’m holding onto that pain. I’m not letting it go, I’ve been carrying it around for so long now, it’s part of who I am.

We say we love God, but then we’re not willing to let go of our judgments and prejudices against others. Paul says in Romans 14: don’t judge those who are vegetarians, or those who eat pork, or those who honor the Sabbath differently from us. Are we supposed to respect the Sabbath on Saturday, or on Sunday? We live in a society where dressing in a nun’s habit is okay, but it’s not okay to dress in a hijab. A society where girls should be allowed to dress anyway they like – but it’s their own fault when they get raped for dressing seductively. If we read Romans 4, verses 2 to 4 from the version The Message, we read:

For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

So who are we to judge another by appearances? Everyone has been invited to God’s table and is to be warmly welcomed. Even those who have hurt us. Even those who have somehow betrayed us. Our accountability before God is individual – I will be judged according to what I have thought, said, done or failed to do in honor of God. You will be judged and held accountable for what you have thought, said, done, or failed to do for God.

I leave us with this parting thought about the way we live our lives, in forgiveness and compassion for all others who are invited to the table:

None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It is God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other.  (The Message – Romans 14:7-8)

 

 

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Defining God

So one of the books that I’m reading at the moment is “In Tune with the Infinite“, by Ralph Waldo Trine. I am loving this book! Hard to believe it was originally written some 115 years ago – it’s easy reading! But what I really love about the book is that he focuses on Oneness with God, every moment of each day. Life hasn’t always been this way: I haven’t always valued being present and being aware of Presence or oneness with God.

I am much more comfortable with the terms he uses to refer to God than with those of some other books, but my awareness of the names we use to refer to God are also a reflection of the image we have created of how and what God is.

Is God personal or simply a Presence?

I really struggle with identifying where I stand on this? Maybe because I think God is both! God is God (omnipotent & omnipotence; omniscient & omniscience; omnipresent & omnipresence): why must we put God in a box and a definition?

A bit of background:

I grew up in a fundamentalist (of course, we didn’t call ourselves that!) group, where Mum & Dad worked as missionaries. Now when I look at the “do’s” and “don’ts”, the corporal punishment expected to be given (i.e. my parents were looked down on if they didn’t punish), and the control over how everyone lived their lives, I wonder how close to being a “cult” we were. Thankfully, Mum & Dad got kicked out of the mission, although it was heartbreaking and earth-shattering at the time. It was all I knew. Then we moved back to New Zealand, where I discovered that we were Presbyterian.

How does a Presbyterian end up in a fundamentalist group? Trying to save the world! I have to hand that to Mum & Dad: they truly believed that they were doing God’s will and this was the best that they can be. And I will say this for them: every time I go back to Soloy or Tolè, they are remembered by everyone with great love and affection. They positively impacted people’s lives. And in some cases, literally saved lives (mum was an RN and midwife, so in the boondocks with no EMTs or hospitals, sometimes mum was everything). And dad was love. He loved these people with his heart. If I had just an ounce of the amount of love that dad has for the world, I would be a great person! Do I disagree with some of dad’s opinions? Yes. But I can agree to disagree with him!

By 17 I had “left” the church: blame it on the hormones, the rebellious years, starting University and living the student life. But, the explanation that I gave to myself – as does every self-righteous 17 year old – is that I was sick of the hypocrisy. And by hypocrisy I mean: you know I go out drinking on Friday & Saturday night, and you want me to come to church on Sunday morning and pretend to be a good Christian. I would much rather sleep in and sleep off the hangover!

Reality, which I came to face years later, is that I was mad at God, at Christians, at the mission (especially leadership), and at “organized religion”. I didn’t know enough then to be able to think through all of those things or actually verbalize it yet. So, it was much easier just to be a rebellious teenager that no longer wanted to go to church with my parents.

Forgiveness & moving on

At 21, in the midst of an existential crisis, my flatmate leant me a book she had just finished reading as she went through her separation & divorce that had really helped her: Louise Hay “You can heal your life“. I read it through once. And then I read it through a second time, and did all the assignments as it suggested. And my happy (well, actually, miserable at the time) little bubble finished bursting! I literally packed a weekend bag and my dog (you can’t cry if you don’t have a dog to hug!), borrowed a friend’s bach in Kaiaua (pronounced: Ky-ow-ah), and went off to say goodbye to my demons! I spent the better part of 3 days grieving and forgiving. Letting go. And coming to terms with “what do I believe now?”.

I realized that I blamed God for everything: everything that had been done by so-called Christians in God’s name was God’s fault! A child’s view? Perhaps. But also the consequence of the way I was brought up!

My broken heart and broken dreams and broken family all tumbled out. I came to terms with everything that I blamed Mum & Dad for: and came to an understanding of how they were also victims to some extent of what had happened. And I realized, as a young adult, that they were human. They had done the best they could with what they had and they knew. They were not perfect: they could have done things differently, but they didn’t know any different. They protected me to the best of their ability, they same way they looked after my sister and brother. And for all 3 of us, it hadn’t been enough. We were hurt and broken. But so were they! Life had dealt them a beating and they were lucky to still be standing! I’ll write about all of that another day!

And most importantly, I started to forgive myself!

Twenty years growing up in Christianity and I had to learn from Louise Hay what forgiveness and letting go meant! I’ve read somewhere that tears contain healing properties. I must have completely healed my body in those 3 days with all the tears I cried!

Who & what is God?

Having said that, after that weekend, I came away with a view of God as an impersonal entity that was not involved in the daily affairs of men. I was done with Christianity! God and I were good, insofar as I no longer blamed God for how I had reacted to everything that had happened to me over the past 20 years. Man-made situations were simply that: created by other men & women who had claimed to be acting on God’s behalf. And I was done with organised religion and others telling me what God had said and how to read and interpret the Bible.

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And so there I stood, happily: standing on my own two feet. Responsible for my life and the life I wanted to have. Not some rebellious teen that didn’t want to go to Church on Sunday morning because she wanted to sleep off last nights drinks, but someone who simply decided that God was “out there” and not “in my heart”. Religion was organized to control and manipulate us, but each person had to decide for themselves what they believed.

I was suddenly comfortable talking to Mum & Dad about God and beliefs and life in generally without feeling guilty that I was living differently from what they believed. I built a new relationship with Mum & Dad: one that to this day is amazing! They’ve done a great job of growing up.

And so, for the better part of the next 15 years, I was a happy agnostic. I am totally responsible for my life and being, and God may exist, but it has nothing to do with me personally.

Living as a happy agnostic

So, as a happy agnostic, at 23, I came back to Panama to say “goodbye” to the ghosts and ghouls of the past, to forgive and let go of any last vestiges that might be in my subconscious. The plan: spend 3 months on holiday in Panama and then move to the UK to go backpacking for a year while I decided to do with life. But free and clear of anything that I was still hanging on to, because I always felt in New Zealand that I was in the wrong place. Something was still hanging onto me that wouldn’t let me move forward with life.

Of course, life never quite goes as planned: twenty-one years later and I am still in Panama. It is still home!

When I stepped out of the airport doors (which was air conditioned), and I was struck by the hot, humid air, something inside said “Welcome home”. And so, in a second, I changed my mind. I am not going to stay 3 months, I’m going to get a job and stay for 2 years. That plan isn’t the one that happened either. I’m still here!

Living in a predominantly Catholic country, where I would venture to say that the vast majority are non-practicing, it’s easy to be agnostic. No one is worried here about what church you do or don’t go to; no one worries about your “salvation” or what you personally believe. There’s superstition, possibly more than your fair share. I adopted a black cat – so I was definitely a witch! And I let people believe it, if that was what they wanted to think. It’s just a cat! But if you want to assign my cat some supernatural powers, so be it.

And so it went for about 15 years.