Dangerous Heights

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Meeting God through matter

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Jesus was the master sacramentalist. He used anything at hand to bring us into the awareness of God and then into a response to God. The moment Jesus picked up something it was clear it was not alien but belonging, a piece of God’s creation that was a means for meeting God. Jugs of water at Cana, the sound of the wind in Jerusalem, Galilean sea waves, a paralytic’s pallet at the Bethzathan pool, the corpse of Lazarus. Things. “There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He used material things like bread and wine to put new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He like matter. He invented it” [C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity]

–Eugene Peterson

The truth that sets us free

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Jesus sends the Spirit so that we may be led to the full truth of the divine life. Truth does not mean an idea, concept, or doctrine, but the true relationship. To be led into the truth is to be led into the same relationship that Jesus had with the Father. . . . Thus Pentecost is the completion of Jesus’ mission.

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On Pentecost the fullness of Jesus’ ministry becomes visible. When the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples and dwells with them, their lives are transformed into Christ-like lives, lives shaped by the same love that exists between the Father and the Son. The spiritual life is indeed a life in which we are lifted up to become partakers of the divine life.

–Henri Nouwen
Making All Things New

God only cares about spiritual things?

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His kingdom is a spiritual kingdom? Are you kidding me? . . .

That’s part of it, sure, but I was pretty sure that He made physical animals and a physical man and gave him a physical job. I was pretty sure that He made a physical tree with physical fruit and told that physical man not to eat it or he would physically die. He physically ate it anyway and now we physically go into the physical ground, physically rot, and become physical plant and physical worm food.

And because of this incredibly physical problem, He made things even more clear when His own Son took on physical flesh to lead a physical life that lead to a physical cross where He physically absorbed our curse, was physically tortured, and bought you and bought me and bought this whole physical world with His physical blood. If He’d wanted a spiritual kingdom, He could have saved Himself a huge amount of trouble (to say nothing of making the Greek philosophers and medieval gnostics a lot happier), by just skipping Christmas and the Crucifixion.

― N. D. Wilson
Death by Living:
Life Is Meant to Be Spent

The other point of view

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The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.

– C. S. Lewis

Two lessons to learn

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There are but two lessons
for the Christian to learn:
the one is to enjoy
God in everything;
the other is to enjoy
everything in God.

–Charles Simeon
(1759–1836)

Artwork: Stephen Darbishire

Listen for Him

17582_603996602948044_422615885_nTHE QUESTION is not whether the things that happen to you are chance things or God’s things because, of course, they are both at once. There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak—even the walk from the house to the garage that you have walked ten thousand times before, even the moments when you cannot believe there is a God who speaks at all anywhere. He speaks, I believe, and the words he speaks are incarnate in the flesh and blood of our selves and of our own footsore and sacred journeys.

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We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music. Sometimes we avoid listening for fear of what we may hear, sometimes for fear that we may hear nothing at all but the empty rattle of our own feet on the pavement.

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But be not affeard, says Caliban, nor is he the only one to say it. “Be not afraid,” says another, “for lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” He says he is with us on our journeys. He says he has been with us since each of our journeys began. Listen for him. Listen to the sweet and bitter airs of your present and your past for the sound of him.

–Frederick Buechner
The Sacred Journey

What next?

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If you are weary of some sleepy form of devotion, probably God is as weary of it as you are.

All during the day, in the chinks of time between the things we find ourselves obliged to do, there are the moments when our minds ask: ‘What next?’ In these chinks of time, ask Him: ‘Lord, think Your thoughts in my mind. What is on Your mind for me to do now?’ When we ask Christ, ‘What next?’ we tune in and give Him a chance to pour His ideas through our enkindled imagination. If we persist, it becomes a habit.

The trouble with nearly everybody who prays is that he says “Amen” and runs away before God has a chance to reply. Listening to God is far more important than giving Him your ideas.

–Frank C. Laubach
(1884 – 1970)

God likes matter

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There is no good in trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why he used material things like bread and wine to put new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.

–C. S. Lewis

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Untidy spirituality

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Surely there are guidelines to follow, principles to live by, maps to show us where to go, and secrets we can uncover to find a spirituality that is clean and tidy. I’m afraid not.

Spirituality is not a formula;
it is not a test. It is a relationship.
Spirituality is not about competency;
it is about intimacy.
Spirituality is not about perfection;
it is about connection.

The way of the spiritual life begins where we are now in the mess of our lives. Accepting the reality of our broken, flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws but because we let go of seeking perfection and, instead, seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives. Spirituality is not about being fixed; it is about God’s being present in the mess of our unfixedness.

–Mike Yaconelli
Messy Spirituality

The Giver of gladness

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Every spring-fountain of gladness about us is his making and his delight. He tends us and cares for us; he is close to us, breathing into our nostrils the breath of life, and breathing into our spirit this thought and that thought to make us look up and recognize the love and the care around us. . . . To recognize and know this loving-kindness, and to stand up in it strong and glad; this is the ministration of God unto us.

–George MacDonald
(1824 – 1905)

Image: Henri Martin

Tend the inner fire

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There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passersby only see a wisp of smoke coming through the chimney, and go along their way. Look here, now what must be done? Must one tend the inner fire, have salt in oneself, wait patiently yet with how much impatience for the hour when somebody will come and sit down—maybe to stay? Let him who believes in God wait for the hour that will come sooner or later.

–Vincent Van Gogh
(1853-1890)

In the midst of life

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Jesus is apt to come, into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable moments. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of a sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, but…at supper time, or walking along a road…He never approached from on high, but always in the midst, in the midst of people, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.

–Frederick Buechner
The Magnificent Defeat

The goal of faith

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The goal of faith
is not to create a set
of immutable, rationalized,
precisely defined and 
defendable beliefs
to preserve forever.
It is to recover
a relationship
with God.

–Daniel Taylor

Following Jesus

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Following Jesus is the yes that comes after the no. We have renounced self-initiative for Jesus obedience. We have renounced clamoring assertion and replaced them with quiet listening. We watch Jesus work. We listen to Jesus speak. We accompany Jesus into new relationships, odd places, odd people. We pray our prayers in Jesus’ name. Keeping company with Jesus, observing what he does, and listening to what he says develops into a life of answering God, a life of responding to God, which is a life of prayer.Page-divider

Following Jesus is not a robotic lockstep, marching in a straight line after Jesus. The following gets inside of us, becomes internalized, gets into our muscles and nerves. It’s much more like a ramble, and it becomes prayer.

Prayer is what develops in us after we step out of the center and begin responding to the center, to Jesus.

–Eugene Peterson
Living the Resurrection

The value of the ordinary

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Do not forget that
the value and interest of life
is not so much to do
with conspicuous things . . .
as to do ordinary things
with the perception of
their enormous value.

–Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

On the journey

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The resurrection stories reveal the always-present tension between coming and leaving, intimacy and distance, holding and letting go, at-homeness and mission, presence and absence. We face that tension every day. It puts us on the journey to the full realization of the promise given to us.

–Henri J. M. Nouwen

Make me new

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Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

–John Donne
(1573-1631)

God is the seeker

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I am beginning now to see how radically the character of my spiritual journey will change when I no longer think of God as hiding and making it difficult as possible for me to find him, but, instead, as the one who is looking for me while I am doing the hiding.

–Henri Nouwen
(1932 – 1996)

Image: Stephen Darbishire

Truth that liberates

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This [is] . . . the most liberating declaration ever uttered: “If you abide in My word,” said Jesus, “You are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:31-32). Free from narrow-mindedness and parochial bias; free from denominational supposition; free from received opinions and traditional ignorance; free from shackles restraining redeemed intellectual curiosity and redeemed imagination; free from cant and shibboleth and prescribed terms of speech. Free to begin thinking like a Christian!

Free to enter wholly
into all those good things
that the loving heavenly Father
welcomes believers to enjoy.

Free to become conscious, thankful recipients of God’s bounteous grace, wherever one finds it and however it may be mediated to him: as courtesy from a stranger, hospitality from mere acquaintances, civility from a bureaucrat, sportsmanship from a golfing partner, compassion from an emergency-room nurse, diligence from an auto assembly-line worker, not to mention all the other elements of God’s common grace poured out through the blessings of friendship, the immeasurable wealth of love, as well as the restraining power of God that holds back evil’s worst assaults.

–D. Bruce Lockerbie

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Loved where we are

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Resting in Jesus in not applying a spiritual formula to ourselves as a kind of fix-it. It is the essence of repentance. It is letting our heart tell us where we are in our own story so that Jesus can minister to us out of the Story of his love for us. When in a given moment, we lay down our false self and the smaller story of whatever performance has sustained us, when we give up everything else but him, we experience the freedom of knowing that he simply loves us where we are. We begin just to be, having our identity anchored in him. We begin to experience our spiritual life as the “easy yoke and light burden” Jesus tells us is his experience.

–Brent Curtis & John Eldredge
The Sacred Romance

Relying on grace

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True spirituality
consists in living
moment to moment
by the grace of
Jesus Christ.

–Francis Schaeffer
(1912 – 1984)

The grace of life

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Listen to your life.
See it for the fathomless mystery it is.
In the boredom and pain of it no less
than in the excitement and gladness:
touch, taste, smell your way
to the holy and hidden heart of it
because in the last analysis
all moments are key moments,
and life itself is grace.

–Frederick Buechner
Now and Then

The pleasure and the pain

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There is nothing life-denying or teetotaling or pleasure-eschewing about authentic Christianity; it embraces the joys of human existence with great enthusiasm. However, let me make at least a nod in the direction of the Puritans. Since pleasure – like all good created things – can become an attachment, it too must be disciplined if we are to stay rooted in the center.

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To stand with Christ is hardly to embrace a hedonistic campaign of marching from delight to delight; rather it is to do the will of the Father even when that costs dearly, even when it conduces to the cross. Therefore the centered person must be ready for pain as well as pleasure, for deep sadness as well as contentment, clinging neither to one nor the other.

–Robert Barron
The Strangest Way

Noticing Jesus

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Spiritual growth is not running faster, as in more meetings, more Bible studies, and more prayer meetings. Spiritual growth happens when we slow our activity down. If we want to meet Jesus, we can’t do it on the run. If we want to stay on the road of faith, we have to hit the brakes, pull over to a rest area, and stop.

Christianity is not about
inviting Jesus to speed through life with us;
it’s about noticing Jesus
sitting at the rest stop.

While the church earnestly warns Christians to watch for the devil, the devil is sitting in the congregation encouraging everyone to keep busy doing “good things.

–Mike Yaconelli

Alive with His life

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When you surrender to Christ, you surrender to the most creative and dynamic Person on this or any other planet.

You begin to be alive with His life,
enlightened with His light,
loving with His love.

You have surrendered to creativity. Therefore His yoke is easy, for you are made by the Creator for creation.

–E. Stanley Jones

On the ground spirituality

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By accepting Jesus as the final and definitive revelation of God, the Christian church makes it impossible for us to make up our own customized variations of the spiritual life and get away with it. Not that we don’t try. But we can’t get around him or away from him: Jesus is the incarnation of God, God among and with us. Jesus gathered God’s words spoken to and through God’s people and given to us in our scriptures and spoke them personally to us. Jesus performed God’s works of healing and compassion, forgiveness and salvation, love and sacrifice among us, men and women with personal names, with personal histories.

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Because Jesus was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, gathered disciples in Galilee, ate meals in Bethany, went to a wedding in Cana, told stories in Jericho, prayed in Gethsemane, led a parade down the Mount of Olives, taught in the Jerusalem temple, was killed on the hill Golgotha, and three days later had supper with Cleopas and his friend in Emmaus, none of us are free to make up our private spiritualities; we know too much about his life, his spirituality. The story of Jesus gives us access to scores of these incidents and words, specific with places and times and names, all of them hanging together and inter-penetrating, forming a coherent revelation of who God is and how he acts and what he says.

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Jesus prevents us from thinking that life is a matter of ideas to ponder or concepts to discuss. Jesus saves us from wasting our lives in the pursuit of cheap thrills and trivializing diversions. Jesus enables us to take seriously who we are and where we are without being seduced by the intimidating lies and illusions that fill the air and trying to be someone else or somewhere else.

Jesus keeps our feet on the ground, attentive to children, in conversation with ordinary people, sharing meals with friends and strangers, listening to the wind, observing the wildflowers, touching the sick and wounded, praying simply and unself-consciously. Jesus insists that we deal with God right here and now, in the place we find ourselves and with the people we are with. Jesus is God here and now.

–Eugene H. Peterson
Why Spirituality Needs Jesus

 

Living in a sacred world

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The world is not God, of course, but the incarnation goes all the way down, and the Spirit indwells all that exists. Nothing is without a witness to the divine; everything that exists praises the Creator . . .

God’s creation is a revelation
of divine presence.

This is the genius of Christian theology: It radically reconfigures the human conception of the sacred. Nothing is inherently “profane.” It may be profaned by sin; but it is inherently an arena of divine activity and spiritual insight. The locus and focus of biblical theology is the world, not the heavens.

–Leonard Sweet

Already connected

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One of the most difficult aspects of piety is learning that in a sense there is nothing we need to do.

No amount of spiritual experience
will get us more connected to the vine.

No virtue will bring us any more into union with Christ than we are already.

The only issue for us to attend with utter seriousness is what it means to be who we are in union with Christ.

-Andrew Purves
The Crucifixion of Ministry

One day we shall ride

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To shrink back from all that can be called Nature into negative spirituality is as if we ran away from horses instead of learning to ride. There is in our present pilgrim condition plenty of room (more room than most of us like) for abstinence and renunciation and mortifying our natural desires. But behind all asceticism the thought should be, ‘Who will trust us with the true wealth if we cannot be trusted even with the wealth that perishes?’

Who will trust me with a spiritual body
if I cannot control even an earthly body?

These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys. We must learn to manage: not that we may some day be free of horses altogether but that some day we may ride bareback, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world-shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting in the King’s stables. Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else – since He has retained His own charger – should we accompany Him?

–C.S. Lewis
Miracles

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