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Thursday, August 3, 2006

Trust in the least of saints

"Next to its love for the chief of sinners, the most touching thing about the religion of Christ is its trust in the least of saints." Henry Drummond in City without a Church

I love this line from the book by Henry Drummond. It is both encouraging and frightening to me realizing that God has entrusted me with this unbelievable treasure - Christ in me. In so doing he has given me everything that I need for my life and to live it godly in this world. He has given me the very Word of God deep within my soul, and he gives me strength to face my most difficult challenges with the power of Christ on the inside. He also has entrusted me with what in essence is the cure to all of the worlds "sicknesses and diseases" in that Christ brings life to all who receive him. He has entrusted to me the very answer to men's deepest needs and that which will prepare them for eternity. He has entrusted this to me, the least of saints.

So the question is this. Do I live in the power of that trust he has in me or do I squander the treasure within? Fear causes me to recoil, but his love within my heart beckons me onward. If God knows all then he knows his trust in me must not be in vain, therefore, I go on!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Seek Not the Praise of Men

I ran across this story about St. Macarius the Great recently. It spoke to me so I share it here. Macarius born around 300 A.D. was a former camel driver and trader, he was one of the earliest hermit monks living in an area of the Egyptian desert near Alexandria. Macarius lived before monasteries were established and as with many monks of his time was a wanderer, not living in any particular place for very long. He died around 390 A.D.

A brother came to see Abba Macarius the Egyptian, and said to him, "Abba, give me a word, that I may be saved." So the old man said, "Go to the cemetery and abuse the dead." The brother went there, abused them and threw stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it. The latter said to him, "Didn't they say anything to you?" He replied, "No."

The old man said, "Go back tomorrow and praise them." So the brother went away and praised them, calling them, "Apostles, saints, and righteous men." He returned to the old man and said to him, "Did they not answer you?" The brother said, "No."

The old man said to him, "You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you too, if you wish to be saved, must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of men or their praises, and you can be saved."

from "The Desert Christian," by Sr. Benedicta Ward, (New York: MacMillan, 1975), p. 132


Although a couple posts back I seemed to have tied my emotions all up into a neat little package, needless to say nothing is quite that easy. After all this thing is a journey no matter how often I try to make it a destination. During the past month or so I have been battling with anxiety like I had not felt for a long time. This fear and dread continued on and off even after I came to the realization of what was driving it. Last week I asked a couple friends to pray for me. And the feelings began to lift. I do not believe I merely have suppressed them, but they seem to have dissipated.

I believe that a couple things came together in addition to the prayers that have kept this a lasting sensation. One is that I became honest with one of the relationships that is important to me telling him what I knew he did not want to hear and set an appointed time to make a decision that I have been wrestling with for a very long time. Second is that I got together with some guys who heard one of the significant stories of my life and helped me process through both the emotions that I had buried deep and some of the twisted beliefs that seemed to have driven me in my situation. I was a wreck sharing it, but it was a very good thing to just be open and honest in a loving community of men fighting together for our hearts.

Through this I have come to realize in a greater degree how much I define myself by what I believe others believe about me. And when what I believe they believe about me is contrary to what I want them to believe I feel exposed and frightened because they obviously see that I am not what I want them to believe I am. I most likely put up a fight attitude or possibly a flight response. And what I am fighting or flighting is not truth in this case but merely what I believe others believe about me that is contrary to what I want them to believe about me. Even my definition of who I am has not been based on any reality, good or bad, but on this crazy believing. When this dynamic is at work, do I really know who I am?

I am reminded of what Augustine of Hippo a Christ follower in the fifth century AD wrote: "Our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee, O God". This is my prayer today.

Friday, April 21, 2006

From Anselm's Proslogion

I ran across this at the Brendan Center Website. It really spoke to me about the tension I feel on this journey between knowing what I am called to and how far I am from it. God has made us for relationship with him, I know him yet I know him not in the way both he and my own heart longs for. I am torn even in the midst of my longing.

Come now, insignificant man, fly for a moment from your affairs, escape for a little while from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside now your weighty cares and leave your worrisome toils. Abandon yourself for a little to God and rest for a little in Him. Enter into the inner chamber of your soul, shut out everything save God and what can be of help in your quest for Him and having locked the door seek Him out. Speak now, my whole heart, speak now to God: 'I seek Your face, O Lord; your face I seek'.

Come then, Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek You, where and how to find You. Lord, if You are not present here, where, since You are absent, shall I look for You? On the other hand, if You are everywhere why then, since You are present, do I not see You? But surely You dwell in 'light inaccessible'. And where is this inaccessible light, or how can I approach the inaccessible light? Or who shall lead me and take me into it that I may see You in it? Again, by what signs, under what aspect, shall I seek You?

Never have I seen You, Lord my God; I do not know Your face. What shall he do, most high Lord -- what shall this exile do, far away from You as he is? What shall Your servant do, tormented by love of You and yet cast off 'far from Your face'? He yearns to see You, and Your countenance is too far away from him. He desires to come close to You, and Your dwelling place is inaccessible; he longs to find You and does not know where You are; he is eager to seek You out and he does not know Your face.

Lord, You are my God and my Lord, and never have I seen You. You have created me and re-created me and You have given me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know You. To put it bluntly, I was made in order to see You, and I have not yet accomplished what I was made for.

Anselm, Proslogion 1
Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) was the outstanding Christian philosopher and theologian of the eleventh century.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Guarding my heart

In my journey I have been learning a lot about what makes me tick. During the past couple weeks I have had an increase in feelings of anxiety. It will grip me. As it grips I begin to feel it in my chest then a knot in my stomach develops and as it does I feel not only fearful but physically sick. My mind gets paralyzed in a circular thought process that produces nothing but a spiraling out of control knowing that some unknown devastation is moments away. I have not been feeling this as much in the past several months. It once was an ever present tormenter.

It began several days after I re-engaged my emotions after the darkness of depression that had characterized my emotional make up since the beginning of December. When this anxiety resurfaced it seemed so familiar. Chunks of my adult life were spent with this gnawing apprehension. I have lived it repeatedly and cyclically.

It is strange to write what I am about to write. I think that it might be a good thing that I have been so pressed by these senses of fear, anxiety and impending destruction. I described it to a friend as like the sword of Damocles, a sword hung by one hair taken from a horse's tail poised over my head that at any minute could fall splitting open my head.

Why would I say that it may actually be a good thing. Well, here is how I see it. For the past 4 months I have been shutting down emotionally. I realized that this dark, dark time was a strategy of my soul to shut me out of my own heart. As I began to emerge from the loneliness and disconnection I allowed myself to feel. I opened up my heart some. And this is what rushed out.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, Proverbs 4:23 says "Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life." In the Hebrew the words translated "Keep" and "with all diligence" are actually synonyms that mean to guard. The word translated "with all diligence" is a more picturesque word that can mean a literal prison. Bearing this in mind I suppose you could translate this something like "guard your heart like a prison house". This is what I had been doing (still do). There are so many vile things inside and what I seem to do is lock them up tight trying not to let one of them escape, guarding my heart like a prison house. Of course my anger would escape from time to time and hurt folks - especially my wife and family. And the "issues of life" that came forth were more like the venomous poisons of serpents or scorpions.

Well, I am no Hebrew scholar and none of them that I consulted agreeded with my translation. This is because the scriptures did not have this kind of guarding in mind. The wise man who relayed this wisdom did not have in mind locking up you heart so that prisoners don't escape. Rather, what he did have in mind was that we need to protect the heart that has been cleared from these vile felons and having been liberated it can be a spring of life. It needs to be guarded diligently from being contaminated again by unresolved issues putrifying in it like 3 month old left overs in the refrigerator. What comes out of a good and pure heart is both life and life giving.

I long for my heart to be so set free. A 2nd century AD Christ follower named Ireneas wrote that "the glory of the Lord is a heart fully alive." This is what I long for. But to get there I have to open my heart, even while the events of life begin to provoke this deep dread of impending doom. It came to me as I began feeling this again that what appeared to behind this feeling was a strong belief that if a situation deteriorated - say a business deal or relationship between two friends, or even my parents - it was my fault because I failed to control the situation or bring it to a positive resolve. I seem to hold a belief that I actually have the power to over ride others personal responsibilities and control things in such a way that everything will work out.

How these feelings began to rise in me again was when I saw a business deal I was helping to facilitate begin to descend into oblivion. I have a reputation in this field that I make it easy for everyone, but I found myself in the middle powerless to stop what was happening. No matter what I said, or how I thought it through I had no power to make it work. Later after the deal crashed and burned, we did actually get it back together and for the past couple days I have been trying to manage it so that it did not explode once again. Well as I should have anticipated (can you hear it) , last night it erupted again and it may very well die another cruel death. My anxiety level increased again to a flash point. Finally I just gave into the several realities. One was easier than the other. I can not control other people. That was easy. The second was much harder for me because it is much more core to who I am and it is this ... It is not my fault.

I have gone through much of my 45 years thinking that it is all my fault. The fact that I could have done something different that may have helped produce a different result has haunted me in all my relationships. From parents, my wife, girlfriends, friends, to working associates, employers and even strangers. My life has been either taking blame and harboring it in my heart or trying to avoid the blame that my mind told me belonged right here at my door. It has propelled me to stay in unhealthy relationships, situations and mind-sets too long simply because I hold out hope that my belief is true that I have the power to control the outcome and I do not like to face the "facts" that it is all my fault. (As I write this I may have a third belief that I do not have the power but I should and its my fault that I do not have it or exercise it even though I do not have it. As I am rereading I am wondering about a fourth belief that other people are actually out to sabotage what I believe I have the power to control.) These beliefs seem to hold me in no win situations till I can bear the pressure no more.

It is no wonder that I go back and forth from being in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean of despair to an anxiety that feels like I am spiraling out of control with the impending crash only seconds away. I can not seem to free myself from the false beliefs long enough to embrace God's truth. I seem to go from taking on someone else's responsibility to embracing someone else's dream to declaring someone else's vision and bearing them with such a level of responsibility that when they do not succeed(due to someone else's issues) it is really all my fault. God free me from this desperate cycle of deceit of heart in me. I identify with Paul one of Jesus' apostles who wrote, "Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death."

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

My Notes Along the Way & In a Lifeboat

My Notes Along the Way

Sometime ago I was surfing the web looking for something, didn't know quite what. Well, actually, I knew what I was looking for ... answers to some things that press on my heart when I think about what it is that God has designed me to be. Anyway, I ran into a blog and started to read this man's thoughts about the culture and life and God. As I read it I began to realize that I wanted to have a part in this conversation, not so much with him, but with others who are also like myself are on a journey. I have no grandiose thoughts that my ramblings will do much to speed anyone else along in their journey. But I hope it will have some effect. I do really expect that it will help move me along ... for there are so many pent up thoughts, emotions, attitudes that are just internally pressing me and holding on to me tight. For whatever reason this seemed to me to be a good place to let them out.

I have not always been so nebulous. I have been a strong conservative Christian for years. Pretty determined and fully convinced of many things. I am a teacher of the Word, a pastor. But as I look out into the world and check my heart as well I came to realize that I am but on a journey and I am not as far along as I once thought. Previously I had many things figured out. I really was assured of where I was going and how to get there. I could and did easily offer counsel to others on how to live this life for Christ and how to reach that for which God had designed them to be. But now I find that I am not so sure I really know how to go about being a follower of Christ today. I feel very much like Abraham who was a stranger and a sojourner in a land previously unknown to him, yet it was also a land given to him by a promise from God.

At the same time Christ's words ring loud in my heart "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill can not be hidden, " and I realize that I can't help but being watched by the world - not just those who know me the best or are merely acquainted with me, but the scores that pass by me daily all around me - and I wonder if what any of them sees in me is Christ's love or just a rule bound automaton. They all see my mask, but what if I really let them see me, a pilgrim with all my heartaches, fears and doubts mixed with my passionate love for the one who gave his life for me. Vulnerability expresses love the best, that's why God walked in flesh and blood when Jesus walked the earth. I pray my vulnerability will show his love as well.

So thus I begin these notes along the way. In this you will find my thoughts as I wrestle with my own heart, with my faith, with my doubt. I will share my joys along the road as well. Although I have no idea if these ramblings will be of any help for you on your journey, this is my prayer.

From a previous post: Why Notes Along the Way?Sometime ago I began to realize that so much of my effort was on straining to reach goals. Often my focus was so strong that I neglected to enjoy the journey and learn about myself, my God, my wife, my kids, and my companions on this path. I would often ignore the cries of my own heart that would have led me to a truer, more spiritual place. The Christian Scriptures speak of "laboring to enter God's rest" and this is what I seek as I work at a shift in my life to living more from the heart than for the goal. I believe that in re-discovering my heart I will begin to apprehend the goal for which I am called heavenward by Christ. As I press on in these sourjourns of my heart, please join me. Let's press on together. -- Keith


Recently I was with a group of men several of which shared some of there stories trying to come to grips with what was going on in their lives. As one man shared I felt like he felt like a man by himself in a lifeboat watching all whom he held dear going down but unable to help his loved ones. It felt like the whole of his relationships past, present and future were like the Titanic plummeting to the bottom of the deep. Faced with this he just checked-out his emotions and wondered why he was even sitting in the lifeboat himself. I realized later that I connected so much with him because this is how I feel some times. My friend just checked -out his emotions, disconnected them to the ones he loved because he was left with impossible choices. My emphasis personally is on the often times debilitating depression that will hit me as I take each of the hits sitting alone in the lifeboat.

Recently I was with a friend of mine. I got together with him to offer him a job, a job he had expressed to me previously that he wanted. I was excited. As we talked I found he was open to the job but he was more excited about another project that he and I have independent desires to do. I found that he had just gotten the needed accreditation to do the thing up right. I was floored, couldn't believe he got it done. I talked and did nothing. He mentioned it and did it. I felt astounded, but the deeper feeling was to my own inadequacies. I knew that certain educational requirements are required to get this accreditation at least a Master's degree. I couldn't believe my friend had accomplished this educational level. I knew that I had never even gotten my BA. So I asked him if he had his Master's degree, he told me that he actually held not only a Master's but a Doctorate. I was stunned, but really not stunned but hit in the face with feelings of my own illegitimacy, flooded with the waste of life I was living. It took my buddy 12 years to get the degree that I coveted. I neither had the 12 years nor could I imagine the money I would need seeing that I have one son who is only two years away from heading to college and the business of living pressing me.

What I long to do, what I am designed to do I do such a small part of it fitting it in between the press of my life, my work, my increasing debt and the increasing work I have to do to pay. What I long to do, what I am designed to do, I never prepared well to do so although I do it in some small means I leave it mostly in the realm of dream. Never able to apprehend it and that which I do in the realm of the dream feels so illegitimate, so far removed from the dream, so not what the dream is, I have no heart to do it. The struggles of the not quite the dream reality compels me to act but I find that I am so tired from the internal struggles with the dream, my own sense of inadequacy and illegitimacy, the remorse and the guilt that I try to disconnect from it. But instead I just hurl deeper into depression.

This sense of despair became overwhelming after my conversation with my friend I just shut down. Refused to connect with anyone or anybody. I came home ate something. Laid in bed all night wanting just to go to sleep. Not wanting any comfort. Refusing to talk to my wife, or read to my younger son, refusing any enjoyment, I just sat in my lifeboat paralyzed not able to do anything but sit there.

I have been having bouts of this in various degrees. I usually call it a deep sense of dissatisfaction with ... you name it. I get angry usually. I usually express my anger at someone other than whom I am angry with. The reality is that I am angry with myself, because I put myself in the boat I find myself in. This time I just sat in the boat despairing.

What knocked me out of my state was the effect my despair had on my wife. I love her dearly although rarely seems to express it much. I came home the next day from work. And went back into my stew. My wife sat across from me and wanted to know why I was mad at her. I hadn't expressed any anger to her. She started bawling. I assured her I wasn't mad at all. She didn't believe me. So I laid it out for her what was going on. This ameliorated my pain and cause her to believe me. But it did not settle my issues.

In the days following this experience I found myself completely engulfed by a flood of hopelessness. It is amazing how I can let myself go down that dark, dark road. Now being several weeks removed from this time I feel as though I have made a turn as I have been discovering much about myself. I will write more on this in another post.

As I finish this post I want to say that I am learning something I thought that I had learned a long time ago. Communication is a path of healing and wholeness. I can not be whole and healthy with out communicating with someone else. Me left to communicate only with me will always drive me deeper into my own self. But when I communicate with God or when I open up to my wife or a close friend, or when I sort through things with a caring community of fellow pilgrims I find that this lifeboat adrift alone in this sea can become so much more. It becomes a means to reach the promised land not only for me but possibly for many others as well.