Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Prayer Series 2 - Eyes of the Heart

 by Dina Sleiman

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.  ~ Ephesians 1:18

In last week's post, I proposed that we have spiritual senses, but they are generally crowded out by our more powerful physical senses.

This week I would like to talk about a style of relating to God that has revolutionized my personal life more than any other. It is the simple practice of engaging the imagination, otherwise known as the eyes of our hearts, in encountering God.

For much of my life I had a hard time praying, meditating on God, and hearing from God. What would happen was basically this, I would try to talk to God in words. Meanwhile, my mind would be flooded with images, daydreams, feelings, and distractions. It was like I was trying to talk at God through a radio script while the television was blasting right in front of my face. And I didn’t know how to turn the dumb thing off. As far as listening to God in such a state, well…just forget it.

Then I finally learned the secret. While you can’t turn off that inner television set, you can change the channel. You can use that inner imaging system to focus on God. You can picture meeting with him. Looking into his face. You can tune your thoughts to a favorite image of God from the Bible. The shepherd. The king on his throne. The loving father. Jesus the carpenter. The dove. Or something in nature that speaks to you of God’s divinity. The ocean. The mountains. A sunset. A campfire. You name it. Perhaps you can even meet with God on that mountaintop or beach and have a conversation, or hug, right there.

Somehow I had never thought of that. It seemed too simple. Almost like make-believe. But it is the way to engage all of ourselves in the process of prayer. To focus our whole minds on God’s presence. And here I thought a vision would have to be all super-natural and block out my normal eyesight. Not that it couldn’t happen, I suppose. But don’t you find that God often moves in much gentler, simpler, harder to pin down ways that require a bit of faith.

The ancient Hebrews knew about this. They understood dreams and visions. They understood that we had spiritual eyes that needed to look into the face of God. Imagine is one definition for the Hebrew word for meditate. The medieval Christians understood this as well. They called it Visio Divina. Who knows, maybe every Christian in the world besides me somehow understood this. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow vaguely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” Seems like this idea has been around for a long time. Maybe I just missed it. But since I did, I want to make sure no one else misses it like me.

A great book on inner vision
In fact, while reading the Bible you can use this same inner imaging system. You can picture yourself living Bible stories. Imagine what it would have been like to walk with Paul, to listen to Jesus on the Mount of Olives, to go to battle beside King David. More importantly, you can engage your faith by picturing what it would look like if scripture were truer than your circumstances. How that would change your life.

I first stumbled upon this concept when my kids were small. I would worry when I left them with the babysitter, picturing all sorts of horrible things happening to them. Prayer didn’t seem to help. Quoting scriptures just felt like some fear-ridden attempt at Christian magic spells. Finally it hit me. I could pray, maybe quote those scriptures, then I would picture the kids safe at home playing happily with their babysitter and surrounded by the angels. What a difference that made. My fear would melt away, and I could enjoy my outing.

Maybe this isn’t the thing for you. Or maybe you aren’t as dense as I am, and you figured this out long ago. But for others of you, this simple technique might hold the key to deepening your awareness of the spiritual kingdom, relating to God, and hearing his voice. I hope for someone today, this is just the thing you’ve been searching for.

How do you picture God? Where is your favorite place to meet with him? If you could take a three day vacation, just you and God, where would you like to spend it?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Prayer Series 1 - You Have Spritiual Senses

 by Dina Sleiman

Over the next two months I will be doing reposts of my favorite series that I've written. Enjoy these thoughts on prayer and devotion. I hope they will help you discover God in a new and more meaningful way. 

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. ~ II Cor. 3:18

When I started to write this post, I intended to call it “Through a Glass Darkly” or even “Dark Glass Ponderings.” You see, these words have been rolling through my head. I’ve been ruminating on their definitions and their impact on my life. What does it mean to see through a glass darkly? To look into a dim glass and ponder? What do we detect? Over time do we begin to distinguish shadows and shapes? Do our eyes attune to something very real on the other side?

Perhaps this all started when I picked up a book called Mystically Wired by Ken Wilson. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go all New Age on you. Simply substitute the word “spiritual” for “mystical” and relax. Wilson’s basic premise is this: we are all spiritually wired, but we are also spiritually challenged. Our minds have actually been created by God to fellowship with him and to discern the spiritual kingdom in and around us. Scientists have proven that prayer stimulates a unique area of the brain and that spiritual interest is at least in part based on genetics. As the Bible describes, we have spiritual senses, spiritual eyes and spiritual ears, perhaps even more. However, we are also mystically challenged, meaning we do not typically know how to use them.

Our normal five senses for detecting the physical world are so much stronger and clearer than our spiritual senses that we tend to dismiss them. I like to say that God is always speaking if only we’ll be quiet enough to listen. Our physical senses tend to crowd out our spiritual senses. They clamor for our attention. In order to regularly and efficiently commune with God, we must go to that still quiet place and learn to engage our spiritual senses. We must attune that inner ear and that inner eye. Take time to stare into that glass until the shapes and patterns become familiar enough that they begin to make sense. Until we trust ourselves to detect and understand them.
A great book on this subject

Wilson takes this analogy even farther by talking about something called “blindsight.” This occurs when a person’s eyes work, but the processing center for sight in the brain is somehow inhibited. Although individuals experiencing this condition cannot “see” in the traditional sense, they show a remarkable ability to dodge unfamiliar obstacles. While their brain is not giving them the visual messages in a logical manner, they are in fact able to see on some sort of intuitive level, and can even learn to better use and trust their “blindsight."

Faith is like “blindsight.” Although we can’t quite grasp it with our minds, some part of us “knows,” and we must learn to trust in that knowledge and harness it to change our lives. Prayer can feel like “blindsight.” We can’t prove that God is speaking to us and giving us visions, yet we “know” that he is, and that awareness of God will transform us into his image.

I had planned to leave the post there. Looking into darkness. Then this morning, I was having devotional time with my sons and came across the scripture above in II Corinthians 3:18. It seems that when we were dead to sin our spiritual eyes were completely veiled, but that as we are transformed into the image of Christ we begin to see his glory more and more clearly. Perhaps that glass begins to shine and glow as we stare into it and are changed by it. Perhaps our spiritual eyes can be unveiled as we are transformed into the image of Christ. Perhaps things don’t have to stay so dark on this side of eternity.

Something new for you and me to ruminate about over the next few months.

I encourage you to pray about this scripture and ask God to reveal a new depth of meaning to you. Which word stands out? What might God want to show you about this word? So many good ones to choose from “unveiled,” “contemplate,” “transformed,” “ever-increasing,” “image,” “glory” just to name a few. Consider journaling about one of these words. Trust your inner senses and allow God to speak to you. And if you don’t mind, share with us as well.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Home Mission

 by Pastor Bill Heffelfinger

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” ~ Acts 1:8

Go to any major Christian conference and it’s bound to happen.  You’ll hear a story of a lost soul in faraway (likely impoverished) land, and your heart will break.  Your soul will be stirred and you’ll find yourself asking, “God, is this for me?  Do you really want me to serve as a missionary?”

The answer, of course, is simple, yet not always what we expect.  You see, the answer could very well be that God wants you to serve as a missionary, either as part of a short-term mission or a long-term one. And, that mission could undoubtedly be to a part of the earth you never expected to visit.  These are the answers we often “hear” in that moment of high emotion.

But, if we really listen, or more aptly, read God’s Word, it’s easy to find a definitive answer.  You see, we are all called to be missionaries.  No matter where we are, or where we go, in some sense, we have been “sent” to our current location to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It seems that for some reason, we have created tiers of evangelism.  We hold the full-time missionaries in the faraway land at the top.  We put ourselves and our everyday lives talking to our friends, family, and neighbors about Jesus at the bottom.   And, as a result of this, we often ask ourselves, “God, can you really use me? I mean, I can’t give my entire life to the mission field, so maybe it’s just best for me to write a check for someone else to do it?”

But, perhaps, the reality is that God wants us to be a missionary right where we are.  Don’t get this wrong? In no way am I diminishing our responsibility to make disciples of all nations. Our commitment to reaching the lost includes going wherever they may go.  Our partnerships with missionaries and missionary organizations are of the utmost importance.  Our church-wide missions trip to West Virginia was a dream come true. However, as believers, we must understand Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8, when he said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

There are two major points in those words.  First, we are all called to be his witnesses.  We don’t need special powers, special education, or even a special “calling.”  We are all called.  Most of us, at least intellectually, get that.  The second point, however, is more often missed.  Much too frequently, we jump to the end of the verse and focus on “to the end of the earth.”  But, we miss that Jesus starts with our calling “in Jersusalem.”  That was an indication to the hearers of this word that they were to be witnesses at home, right where they were.

What if it is our neighbor down the street is needs to hear the gospel? Could it be the mom of your kid’s soccer teammate is your mission field? 

The real message of the gospel is that each of us have been saved by the grace of God alone, and with that, we are all called to be bearers of the Good News.  

If you have been called to go on an international missions trip, humbly submit yourself to God and watch him do powerful things in and through you.  We will partner with you. We will support you.  But, if your mission field is the street you live on, the school your children attend, or the soccer team you coach.  It’s no less of a calling. Humbly submit yourself to God and watch him do powerful things in and through you.  We will partner with and support you just the same.  We all have a calling.  It’s time for us to live like the missionaries He has called us to be.