Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” JOHN 10:31-33
To the Jews Jesus' statement that he and the Father were one was blasphemy. The Jewish law laid down the penalty of stoning for blasphemy (see Leviticus 24:16). So they made their preparations to stone Jesus. The Greek here literally means that they went and fetched stones to fling at him. Jesus met their hostility by refreshing their memory of reality:
He told them that he had spent all of his days doing heavenly things—healing the sick, feeding the hungry, comforting the grieving—deeds so full of help and beauty and grace that they obviously came from God. For which of these did they wish to stone him? Their answer was that it was not for anything he had done, that they wished to stone him, but for the claim he was making.
Jesus claimed primarily two things for himself: He was 'consecrated' by God and 'sent' by God into the world with a message of good news and the task of reconciliation; "For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them" (see II Corinthians 5:18-20).
I am not asking you to accept all of my words, Jesus said in effect, but I do ask you to accept my good deeds. A 'word' is something which people can argue about; but a 'deed' is something beyond argument. Jesus is the perfect teacher in that he does not base his claims only on what he says, but on what he is and does. His invitation to the Jews was to base their verdict on him, not on what he said, but on what he did; and that, my friends, is something which all of Jesus' followers should be willing to do—build God's kingdom with good deeds, not just with words. Amen.
There's an old saying that God gave us two ears and one mouth so we may hear more and talk less. Indeed, how well we use our ears can play an important part in determining what we learn as we go through life. It is true that the good listener adds immeasurably to the art of true conversation - and to the enjoyment of those around them.
Listening, some say, is a 'learned' skill. And when we develop it to the fullest, we increase not only our capacity to learn but also our ability to maintain healthy relationships. A true conversation is an opportunity to learn something 'about' one another 'from' one another.
There is two kinds of listening - active and passive. Most of us are good at passive listening. We appear to be listening when, in fact, our minds may have wandered off to the movie we saw last night or what we are going to wear tomorrow. Our attention can drift from a speaker during a lecture, or a sermon, or while watching television, and even when we're with close friends and family members.
Active listening can be difficult because it requires staying focused on what the speaker is saying. It depends on using our ears the way a photographer uses a camera. to get the best pictures, the photographer must adjust the lens until the settings are correct. As active listeners, we must adjust the focus of our attention to remain aware of what the speaker is telling us. the more we listen and learn, the better able we are to develop our potential.
The value of listening has been emphasized through the ages. The Egyptian scribe, Amen-em-Opet (1200 B.C.E), for example, said, "Give your ears, hear what is said." And Ben Sira, a Hebrew scholar of the second century B.C.E., commented, "If you love to hear, you will receive, and if you listen, you will be wise."
It takes practice and concentration, but we can become better listeners, and better listeners are better learners. God gave us not only two ears and one mouth, but also the potential to learn. The more we listen and learn, the better we may be able to realize the God-given potential that each of us possesses.
"If you are yourself at peace, then there is at least some peace in the world. Then share your peace with everyone, and everyone will be at peace." - Thomas Merton.
Once upon a time a person who was tired of the frantic pace of city life gave up his job, sold his apartment, and moved into a small cabin in the woods. They wanted to find the peace of mind that eluded them in the city. For a few weeks, he thought he had found contentment, but soon he began to miss his friends and the conveniences of the city. When his restlessness got the best of him, he felt the urge to move again.
This time he decided to try a small town. There would be people with whom to talk, and he could enjoy the convenience of the city without the pressure of the noise and the constant "hurry, hurry' city atmosphere. Surely, in this best of both worlds small town, he would find peace. Life in the small town, however, brought unanticipated problems. People were slow to accept an outsider, yet they seemed quick and aggressive when it came to prying into his personal affairs. Again the man grew restless and discontented and concluded that it was not possible to find peace anywhere. So he moved back to the city, convinced he must live a life of inner turmoil.
This unfortunate man could have benefited from an important truth realized by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote, "Nothing can bring you peace but yourself." Emerson understood that inner peace does not depend on where you live - true peace is a quality you carry within yourself regardless of external circumstances.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." - Jesus Christ.
We all have fears of different sizes and shapes, and it is important to learn what they are and face them directly. Courage overcomes the feeling of helplessness and encourages us to think clearly and take action in any given situation. When we increase our understanding of ourself and others, fear and hatred are much less likely to take root.
We tend to fear the unknown. If we choose to remain in fear, then one fear can lead to another fear, which will only lead to additional fears. If we constantly live in a fearful state, there will always be something to be afraid of. "He who fears to suffer, suffers from fear." - French proverb.
Most fears are educated into us. The good news - they can also be educated out of us! “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when people are afraid of the light.” - Plato.
Perhaps one fear you may be dealing with is a lack of the awareness of the presence of God in your life? The good news - as we read and learn more and more about the promises of God found in scripture we begin to realize God 'is' actively present in our lives, and many aspects of our fears (hopefully) will disappear into the mists of the unreal. Like a snowball dropped into a pail of hot water, fear dissolves, and is replaced with reinforced faith.
Twenty-nine Bible verses about fear: (click here)
"The way of a superior person is threefold. Virtuous, they are free from anxieties; wise, they are free from perplexities; bold, they are free from fear." - Confucius
If you knew of one thing we could all do that would make the world a better place, would you do it? The Golden Rule can help us achieve this if only we will practice what it says. Jesus gave his own wording to the Golden Rule, and it is expressed in various forms in every major religion. Similar ideas of conduct are found the literature of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and the writings of Aristotle, Plato, and Seneca. In Jewish literature the negative expression of the Golden Rule appears in various places as "What you hate, do not do to anyone."
Think for a moment about the person, Jesus of Nazareth, to whom these words are accredited. Jesus started his career as a carpenter. He 'hammered' home the idea that it is just plain, good common sense to treat others the way you wish to be treated yourself. If you don't want to be cheated, don't cheat. if you don't want to be lied to, don't lie to others. And so on.
The Golden Rule offers a pattern, or a plan, that we can memorize and follow and build upon. To treat others as you wish to be treated is a plan that works wonderfully from all angles, on all sides, and for all concerned.
There must be something powerfully effective in the Golden Rule because its guidance, with slightly different phrasing, is found in every major religion and regarded as one of the basic principles of life.
Brahmanism: This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done unto you.
Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find harmful.
Confucianism: Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you.
Hindu: The true role of life is to guard and do by the things of others as they do on their own.
Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.
Judaism: Whatever is hurtful to yourself, do not to your fellowman. That is the whole of the law, the rest is merely commentary.
Persian: Do as you would be done by.
Taoism: Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain and your neighbor's loss as your own loss.
"Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18). If we do not have a vision or goal in mind or we don't know where we want to go, we may likely end up in a place not of our choosing.
The story of Florence Chadwick gives interesting insight into the importance of keeping our goals at the forefront. Chadwick swam the Catalina Channel in southern California and established national and international records. She then attempted to break the record for swimming the English Channel.
On the day set for the English Channel swim, Chadwick encountered heavy seas. However, because she had trained in the Atlantic Ocean, she was in peak condition and prepared to battle the large waves. Along with the rough weather, Chadwick encountered chilling cold. That was a problem, but, again, her training made a big difference. She was accustomed to cold water and her trainers had greased her body to help provide insulation from the elements.
Yet, with all the planning and training, the one thing Chadwick and her trainers had not anticipated was FOG. She ending up giving up on her attempt to swim the Channel. Later, when she was warm and dry, newspaper reporters asked her if she knew that she'd been only a very short distance from the shore when she gave up her effort for the record. She responded that even though her trainers told her the same thing, it simply hadn't made a difference to her. "You see," she said, "I lost sight of my goal. I'm not sure I ever had it firmly in my mind."
When we have no goal, or when our vision of the goal is obscured, we may lose our sense of purpose; even when we've prepared ourselves well. We can spend a great deal of our time, money, and other resources running around in circles. Unless we keep a clear vision of our goals, we may eventually falter and fail.
"No wind favors him who has no destined port." - Michael de Montaigne
Aristotle sees ethical theory as a field distinct from the rest. Its methodology must match its subject matter—good action—and must respect the fact that in this field many generalizations hold only for the most part. We study ethics in order to improve our lives, and therefore its principal concern is the nature of human well-being.
Aristotle follows Socrates and Plato in taking the virtues to be central to a well-lived life. Like Plato, he regards the ethical virtues (justice, courage, temperance and so on) as complex rational, emotional and social skills. But he rejects Plato's idea that to be completely virtuous one must acquire, through education in the sciences, mathematics, and philosophy, an understanding of what goodness is.
What we need, according to Aristotle, in order to live well, is a proper appreciation of the way in which such things as friendship, pleasure, virtue, honor and possessions fit together as a whole.
In order to apply that general understanding to particular cases, we must acquire, through our upbringing and habits, the ability to see, on each occasion, which course of action is best supported by reasons. Therefore practical wisdom, as he conceives it, cannot be acquired solely by learning general rules. We must also acquire, through practice, those deliberative, emotional, and social skills that enable us to put our general understanding of well-being into practice in ways that are suitable to each occasion.
~ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
“We believe that we can change the things around us in accordance with our desires—we believe it because otherwise we can see no favorable outcome. We do not think of the outcome which generally comes to pass and is also favorable: we do not succeed in changing things in accordance with our desires, but gradually our desires change. The situation that we hoped to change because it was intolerable becomes unimportant to us. We have failed to surmount the obstacle, as we were absolutely determined to do, but life has taken us round it, led us beyond it, and then if we turn round to gaze into the distance of the past, we can barely see it, so imperceptible has it become.”
~ Marcel Proust: In Search of Lost Time
In a culture where fast food restaurants dominate the landscape, fasting seems out of place, out of step with the times. The marketing menu fed to us today has convinced us that if we do not have three square meals each and every day (with snacks in between) we are on the verge of starvation.
Scripture has so much to say about fasting that we would do well to look seriously at this ancient practice. The list of biblical ‘biggies’ who fasted: Moses, David, Elijah, Esther, Daniel, Anna, Paul, Jesus… many of the great Christians throughout church history fasted: Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards…
Fasting is not an exclusively Christian Discipline. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle all fasted. Even Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, believed in fasting. More than any other single Christian Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. We cover up what is inside us with food and other comforts, but, while fasting, what is beneath will surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed. David said, “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Psalm 69:10).
Fasting helps us keep our balance in life. How easily we begin to allow nonessentials to take precedence in our lives. “All things are allowed for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). Outwardly you will be performing the regular duties of your day, but inwardly you will be in prayer.
Fasting can bring breakthroughs in your spiritual journey that could never be had in any other way. Values of fasting include: increased effectiveness in prayer, guidance in decisions, improved focus, answers, greater sense of well-being, and the list goes on.
~ Food for Thought: Lent
The ivory gods,
And the ebony gods,
And the gods of diamond and jade,
Sit silently on their temple shelves
While the people
Yet the ivory gods,
And the ebony gods,
And the gods of diamond-jade,
Are only silly puppet gods
That the people themselves
~ Langston Hughes
Some people do things completely differently from the way you would do them. It does not mean that they are right or that you are wrong. It means that people are different. There are things that people say which you would probably say in a different way, at a different time. It does not mean that people are wrong to speak up, to speak out, or to speak their minds. Nor does it mean that you are wrong for choosing not to do so. It means that people are different.
Different is not right or wrong. It is a reality. Differences become problems only when we choose to measure ourselves by our difference in an effort to determine who is right and who is wrong. All people are different from one another. Our different points of view shape our vantage point and our vision. Where we sit is a function of where we have sat. What we can see is a function of what we have seen.
Our differences sometimes make agreement difficult to achieve. They should never make us feel wrong or bad about ourselves. Nor should they lead us to believe that what others believe is wrong. Our differences should help us grow in grace and love.
~ Iyanla Vanzant
2 Corinthians 1:8,10: "We do not want you to be uninformed, sisters and brothers, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself ... God has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us."
One of the most interesting things about this passage is that we have no information at all about this terrible experience which Paul went through at Ephesus. Something happened to him which was almost beyond bearing. He was in such danger that he believed that the sentence of death had been placed on him and there was no escape.
There is an interesting human tendency; a common characteristic most everyone seems to share. When a person has gone through something extremely stressful or unexpectedly traumatic, like open surgery from a ruptured appendix, it will be the subject of our conversation for a very long time to come.
There is a story I once read about two men who met to discuss some business between them in the days of the First World War. The one began the meeting with telling about how the train he had been on was attacked from air. He would not stop talking about the frightening, dangerous, narrow escape encounter. The other said nothing at all, but eventually said quietly, "Well, let's get on with our business now. I'd like to get away fairly quickly because my house was demolished by a bomb last night."
Paul did not talk all the time, at length, about all of his hardships. But Paul did view this terrifying experience, whatever it is he had gone through, as having at least one remarkable use – it had driven him back to God.
There is an old saying that goes, "For every 'one' prayer that rises to God in days of health and well-being, ten thousand rise to Him in days of sorrow and adversity." As Abraham Lincoln said about his being 'driven back to God' – "I have often been driven to my knees in prayer because I had nowhere else to go."
It is often during times of turmoil and misfortune that a person finds out who their true friends are, who their spiritual supporters are, who their heavenly helpers are.
Edward Wilson went with professor Scott on his last expedition to the Antarctic as doctor and zoologist. He endured the terrible winter journey with Bowers and Cherry-Garrard when they went in search of Emperor Penguin eggs (and he was one of the five who reached the South Pole in January 1912. The following words are from Edward Wilson's diary:
The more we try the clearer becomes our insight, and the more we use our thinking faculties the quicker they become in their power of grasping points of truth.
Truths are not things we can pick up without taking trouble to hunt for them. And when we find a truth we really posses it, because it is bound to our heart by the process by which we reached it ... through trouble, difficulty or sorrow ... a man binds it into his life. But what is easily come by is easily lost.
Every bit of truth that comes into a man's heart burns in him and forces its way out, either in this actions or in his words. Truth is like a lighted lamp in that it cannot be hidden away in the darkness because it carries its own light.
Edward Wilson (1872-1912)
We are they that go, that go,
Plunging before the hidden blow.
We run the byways of the earth,
For we are fugitive from birth,
Blindfolded, with wide hands abroad
That sow, that sow the sullen sod.
We cannot wait, we cannot stop
For flushing field or quickened crop;
The orange bow of dusky dawn
Glimmers our smoking swath upon;
blindfolded still we hurry on.
How do we know the ways we run
That are blindfolded from the sun?
We stagger swiftly to the call,
Our wide hands feeling for the wall.
Oh, ye who climb to some clear heaven,
By grace of day and leisure given,
Pity us, fugitive and driven --
The flexible whip curling on our track,
The headlong haste that looks not back!
~ Florence Wilkinson
It's easy to see the tide of feelings in a child, where they come and go quickly and openly. As we grow, one of our spiritual tasks is to move beyond this purely emotional response to life and begin to cultivate "habits of the heart," as Daphne calls them. What this means is that we learn to love even when we don't feel loving, be kind when we'd rather be curt, and feel grateful when we don't particularly feel like being thankful. In this way, we turn feelings, which come and go, into conscious attitudes that we act upon even if we don't feel like it.
In some ways, our attitudes determine everything, because they are the glasses through which we see the world. Is the world a wonderful place or a firestorm? When we consciously cultivate healthy attitudes, such as love, joy, and gratitude, we begin to remake our perspective of the world.
The beauty of an attitude of gratitude is that it instantly connects us to everything else. In an important way, it is a recognition of the connection, the switch, between us and the rest of life. And consciously recognizing it opens the flow—the more grateful we are, the more of an abundant sense of life we will experience.
That's the irony about the relationship between attitudes and feelings. As the theory goes: the more you cultivate the attitude, even if you don't feel it, the more you experience the feeling. The more loving we are, the more love we feel. And the more thankful we are, the more we experience the richness of spirit that grateful feelings produce.
~ M.J. Ryan
Do you ever feel that life is just one long routine day after another? You wake up, take a shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, head off to work, and blah, blah, blah,. Well, if one more day of the "same ol' stuff" makes you feel cranky, it might be time for a spontaneity break.
Now I know that the idea of scheduling a spontaneity break sounds like a contradiction in terms, but when you consider how our society lives and thrives by the clock, it makes sense. Too often we fall into the trap of believing that life will become easier and more meaningful when we get really good at living and acting efficiently. But schedules, clocks, and well-planned time can squash our creative spirit--the part of us that thrives on spontaneous, open-ended time.
As creative beings, we all need periods of time to live spontaneously without commitments or distractions. By creating the space to live in the moment, we strengthen the connection to our inner wisdom and give ourselves a much-needed rest from the routine of day-to-day living.
Take an afternoon or evening and give yourself the gift of time free from appointments or obligations. Do whatever comes to mind in the moment.
~ Cheryl Richardson
People who are emotionally dependent often carry an unspoken feeling that life is passing them by, that they have missed their personal boat somewhere along the way. Life, which had promised to be so exciting, full of joy and surprises, has turned out to be as level and barren as the salt flats. The truth is, if life feels flat, it probably means we're letting others define what our life should be and haven't taken the risk to find out who we are and what we want.
Children are natural-born risk takers. They move out into the world and toward others with arms wide open. For children, life is full of mountains and valleys waiting to be explored. There's nothing level about the life of a healthy, spontaneous child. And when we do see a child acting level and flat, we take their temperature; thinking something must be wrong.
Often we fall into the habit of living blah lives so gradually that we are not aware of how flat and bland our lives have become. Eventually I realized that in order to live my life, I had to embrace life's whole package; the pain as well as the joy; the risks as well as the certainties; the entire gamut of emotions and possibilities. It wasn't a decision I made lightly or easily. I was helped immensely by the following passage from Khalil Gibran's, The Prophet:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises
was often filled with your tears
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,
the more joy you can contain.
~ Sue Patton Thoele
Hebrews 11:1-2 "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for."
The two key words here are sure and certain. Faith is about being sure and certain of something. This raises the question at the heart of the confusion often surrounding the topic of faith: Sure and certain about what?
Fortunately, the author of Hebrews (whose identity is a mystery) answers that question in no uncertain terms. Interestingly enough, he introduces his explanation in this way: "This is what the ancients were commended for." This refers to faith. The people whose stories the author is about to recount were all men and women who had faith; they were sure and certain about something. They were sure and certain about the right things. As the author recites the experiences of some of our favorite Bible characters, along with some of the most spectacular events recorded in Scripture, it becomes evident why the ancient men and women were so sure and certain. Furthermore, the author gives us some unmistakable clues about the things we can be sure and certain about.
The author begins with the creation story and moves right on through the story of Abraham. The author takes us on a historical journey through the life of Moses including the parting of the Red Sea. The author speaks about Joshua, Gideon, David, and Samuel. Each person's life is associated with "by faith." But something else is associated with each of these characters in Hebrews chapter 11. In some cases it is stated outright. In others it is merely implied. That something else is a promise. The men and women were so certain and sure because each had received a promise from God. They were confident that God would do exactly what God promised. And that is the essence of faith. Faith and the promises of God go hand in hand. Where there is no promise, there can be no faith—only hope. The basis of Abraham and Sarah's faith, for example, was the promise of God. They believed they would have a child in their old age because God promised they would (Heb. 11:11). Their faith followed a promise. Every person mentioned in this chapter was given a promise of some kind.
Faith, then, is confidence in the promises of God; or to say it another way, faith is being confident God will do what God has promised. "Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading." - Oswald Chambers.
‘O DREARY life,’ we cry, ‘O dreary life!’
And still the generations of the birds
Sing through our sighing, and the flocks and herds
Serenely live while we are keeping strife
With Heaven's true purpose in us, as a knife
Against which we may struggle! ocean girds
Unslackened the dry land, savannah-swards
Unweary sweep,—hills watch, unworn; and rife
Meek leaves drop yearly from the forest-trees,
To show above the unwasted stars that pass
In their old glory. O thou God of old,
Grant me some smaller grace than comes to these!--
But so much patience as a blade of grass
Grows by, contented through the heat and cold.
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning
When I play the piano, I sometimes finish a piece by holding my foot on the sustain pedal and listening intently as the sound fades and eventually merges with the surrounding silence. When the last note is barely audible, there is a moment when I am not certain if I am still hearing the note or imagining it, whether it is part of me or part of the world.
No matter how hard I struggle to discern where I leave off and others begin, ultimately I find that there is no decisive revelation. I cannot convince myself that there is such a place. I cannot find a solid boundary line, only watery expanses, and in the diminuendo I am always being carried out into the world. I grapple with a question once posed by the psychologist June Singer: "The space between us, is it a space that separates us or a space that unites us?"
~ Gregg Levoy
Jason E. Royle
Welcome to my blog. I'm an open-minded theologian committed to Christ-like compassion & understanding.
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