The Imitation of Christ

An old friend today gave me a copy, leather-bound no less, of The Imitation of Christ, Classic Devotions in Today’s Language, by Thomas A. Kempis, compiled and edited by James N. Watkins. It’s amazing how excited I am to get a copy of a book I read  fifty-five years ago. The book is a Christian classic. I read a earlier version while a student at Immaculata Seminary in 1962 and 1963. 

The devotional classic, second only to the Bible in sales, was written anonymously in Latin in the Netherlands. Thomas Haemmerlein (1380– 1471), better known as Thomas à Kempis, is generally credited as the author/ editor, but purposely avoided claiming its authorship. The hand-copied manuscripts of the book were first circulated as early as 1420, with its first publication in English in 1696. Through the centuries, the book has been recommended by such diverse leaders as John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and Thomas Merton, the popular twentieth-century author and Catholic monk. The Jesuits, a Catholic order of priests and brothers, honored the book. Their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, was inspired by The Imitation of Christ to formulate his own Spiritual Exercises. The book has been published as more than six thousand editions in more than fifty languages.

I am excited for several reasons. I vaguely recall how inspiring the reading was back in high school. I look forward to being re-inspired. I am also excited because I have reached a relatively dry period in my writing life. I immediately formulated a plan to read the latest version and bombard readers with my thoughts as I go through it a second time after fifty-five years. I look forward to seeing what I may have learned, and may have forgotten, in the interim. 

The latest edition is broken into 90 readings, so this could take a while. I hope you will follow and get a little something out of my experience. Got to go now. Time to start re-reading.

 

Birthday Post Mortem

Last week I “celebrated” my 68th birthday. Principally because I have a great family, I had a wonderful day. I did take pause to consider how birthdays change over a lifetime.

As a kid, we enjoy birthdays as “me” events. The day is all about us. We get gifts and cake and ice cream. It’s a day that’s all me. 

As we get older, we see birthdays as milestones on what seems a very slow march to adulthood. It’s amazing how long a year used to be when I was 8. It seems like barely a month at 68.

Once we hit adulthood, the birthdays begin to come quickly and the youth we didn’t appreciated when we were in it, begins to spin away. I laugh now at folks who get black balloons at 40. Kids are so silly. 

As retirement years approach, we experience a bit of panic as we begin to realize that our time is limited and that life has not been all we imagined and we feel we better start really living. These are the years of mid-life crisis.

At 68, I realize I could have gone on social security years ago. I finally got over the fact that I’m now part of the medicare generation. Stuff isn’t as important as it used to be. I have seen much too much rust and ruin. Family becomes so much more important as I struggle to pass on what I’ve learned to those coming behind, while knowing deep inside that some lessons have to be personally learned.

In this process I have come to so appreciate just how loving our God is. I am amazed at how he has designed life. He has designed aging so that we slowly learn that we can’t depend on our shrinking physical and eventually our mental gifts. It takes a lifetime for most of us to learn the value of the spiritual over the physical. Our lives are designed to make us slowly more alien than ever in the world in which we exist as our belief in a future and better place becomes more real. 

I appreciate what a gift long life is, having seen so many get many fewer years than I have. I have learned about faithfulness from a wife who has stuck with me for 47 years. Together we have experienced a Father’s faithfulness, whose general guiding hand I can clearly see in the rear view mirror of time. 

These days birthdays are a lot less cake and ice cream and a lot more contemplation, hard knocks wisdom, and immeasurable gratitude. Thank you Jesus for 68 years and for the forever that comes when you’re ready. 

Loved “The Shack” Movie

Yesterday I went to see “The Shack.” I loved it. I really loved it. Before you pan me or the movie, please see the movie. I am NOT endorsing the book or the theology of it’s author, William P. Young, who has also written an awful non-fiction book Lies We Believe About God . I would have to re-read “The Shack” to analyze all the differences between it and the movie. I would rather just see the movie again.

We don’t fully know God. I understand the discomfort in seeing Father God portrayed as a full-figured black woman. We have no problem accepting God as a Jewish carpenter or described as a lion or a lamb in scripture or portrayed as a lion in literature. I guess our discomfort about the black woman thing says more about us than about God. We don’t know all about God. We forget that. 

Critics claim the movie portrays God as we would like Him to be and not how He is. I think the truth is that God is so much greater than we know or, in this life, can imagine. The movie dramatically lays out some truths about God that the world, and a lot of “Christians”should know and need to be reminded of. It portrays a God that is more loving and involved than we may be ready to handle.

The Love of God. God’s love is personal and beyond our understanding. That truth is sometimes lost in our imperfect attempts to convey the gospel. Love today is seldom experienced and often misunderstood. We were created to love and be loved and our loss of that truth is today’s greatest tragedy. 

The Power of Forgiveness.  The movie deals head on with perhaps the greatest tragedy one can face: the brutal loss of a child. It’s a great excuse for unforgiveness. It is unforgiveness, our own and our inability to forgive others that drains the joy of the Lord from our lives. That drain can only be plugged by the hard work of forgiveness. We need divine help to do that.

Sin is it’s own punishment.  In our war against sin, we sometimes forget that God’s laws are not an arbitrarily constructed set of tests of our worthiness to receive His love. They are very practical guides to keep us out of trouble. They are variations of the advice not to touch stoves to avoid burns. We keep getting burned and keep blaming God for the advice and not the stoves for the burns. 

We are not alone. We can live miraculously holding the hand of God. We can only live miserably alone. He never leaves us or forsakes us, even when it feels like He has. We walk lonely unproductive paths touting our foolish independence. 

It’s not about now. It’s about forever.  Delaying death is a multibillion dollar industry that perpetuates the lie that this is all there is. We need to better spend our time preparing for eternity rather than in trying to avoid it.

It’s not about religion; it’s about relationship. We have been saying this so much that I think we have lost an understanding of what it means. We desperately need to get that back and to learn how to retell that truth. We can only do that in relationship, not in religion.

Burn the book, but go see the movie. This movie doesn’t address every issue or answer every question. In fact, it raises issues and questions that followers need to be ready to answer. It’s another tool to help us understand why we are here and to appreciate and understand the God who put us here.  

Fellowship – The Power to Put God First

On Sunday, my pastor did a good job of explaining the Power of Fellowship.  God’s desire for humanity is that we be Saved and Sanctified. In other words, that we come to know Him and to be more like Him. 

 

 

That second thing,  the sanctification, is a process of being set apart. His goal for us is that we make a difference. It’s hard to make a difference if we are not different.

 

He accomplishes this “difference,” through the work of the Holy Spirit who spurs us through fellowship with His Word, His Presence, and His People. 

 

 

Fellowship is life-changing. We are changed by what surrounds us, our environment. Our moms were wise to be concerned about where we were and who we were hanging around with.

Our sanctification, our change occurs, when we surround ourselves with the Word of God, the Presence of God and the People of God. We are creatures of mind, spirit and body. The Word of God impacts our minds and our thinking, the Presence of God communes with our spirits and the people of God hang around our natural fleshy selves. We are balanced in our transformation into Christ Likeness when we practice all these forms of fellowship. 

We see imbalance in the “People” of God in those who saturate themselves in the word, but spend no time in His Presence or with His people. They are the intellectual followers.

Those who focus on His Presence. We call mystics. They are spiritual but have no theology or practical ministry with the rest of us who live in the world.

We know the social gospel types. They spend lots of time with other followers but their spirits and intellects are weak from a lack of time in His Word and Presence. 

The early church practiced the balance of tri-fold fellowship. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (The Word) and to fellowship (His People), to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (His Presence” Acts 2:42 NIV

Let’s practice balanced Fellowship. Hope to see you at Mel’s Diner tomorrow morning, March 10 at 7 as we plan out our God First Friday Breakfast. 

Be balanced and blessed.

Going to See The Shack

About a decade ago, when The Shack the book came out, it was pretty much universally slammed by “the church.” It was viewed as  inconsistent with scripture and main stream theology. The movie is out this month and it’s being proclaimed a tool for evangelism. What changed?

Apparently the movie isn’t the book. Check out the outreach.com statement.  However, I think the world and “the church” have both changed in 10 years. The world is much less “Christian” and the church is much less “orthodox.” That’s too much a subject for a blog. It would take a book to fully discuss that.

I’m going to see the movie and I have my reasons.

It’s topical.  People I love, people I know, and people I want to reach for Jesus are all going to see the movie. I want to be able to discuss it intelligently and accurately.

I’m open.  I am open to fresh perspectives about God.  Please don’t excommunicate me or demand I return my “Follower of Jesus” credentials. I still believe Jesus is the only way. I am just open. I don’t know everything there is to know about God and I don’t know anyone who does. There are many aspects of God I would love to learn about. 

I’m practical.  I have seen lots of movies and read lots of books that were not theologically correct or biblically based. I enjoyed many of them. I think I can sort out what is true. I can still be moved by many things. 

I’m missional. I want to reach people for Jesus. I want to make disciples. I am not willing to discredit any possible tool or path without checking it out. 

I like popcorn, milk duds and Coke Icees.  Okay so this one isn’t so important, but I provide it in the spirit of full disclosure.

I’ll let you know what I think after I see the movie. That will put me way ahead of those who are praising it and those condemning it and who haven’t seen it. I like to be out front.

 

First

I want to be loved for myself. I want the folks I love to want to be with me. I love doing things for my loved ones, but I don’t want to be loved for what I do,  but for who I am. In that way, I’m no different from God. 

We are made in the image of God and this mirror image is no clearer than in the way we love and want to be loved. Loving relationships include doing for each other, but FIRST comes the desire for each other. The essence of love is the pleasure of being WITH.

The lyrics of Lauren Daigle’s song FIRST expresses this wonderfully. 

Before I bring my need
I will bring my heart
Before I lift my cares
I will lift my arms
I wanna know You
I wanna find You
In every season
In every moment
Before I bring my need
I will bring my heart
And seek You… FIRST

We have little patience with those who claim to care for us, but who seek us only when we have something they need. God is so much more loving, and patient, than we are. How often do we go to him looking for something and not for Him? 

I wanna seek You
I wanna seek You
First
I wanna keep You
I wanna keep You
First
More than anything I want, I want You
First

One of the greatest acts of love is to listen. How often we want to express our “love” by giving the loved one a piece of our minds. We relish in “setting straight” and “getting things off our chest.” Isn’t that why when we think of prayer, the words we speak come to mind. The idea of silence and listening seems foreign to prayer. 
Before I speak a word
Let me hear Your voice
And in the midst of pain
Let me feel Your joy
Ooh, I wanna know You
I wanna find You
In every season
In every moment
Before I speak a word
I will bring my heart
And seek You First

Can we try to do better in putting God, and each other, FIRST?

Can we come looking to give instead of get?

Can we come listening instead of talking?

Can we come for presence and not presents?

FIRST. 

God First Friday

We know that we should put God First. The verses come easily to mind. You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:3 In everything you do, put God first, and he will direct you and crown your efforts with success. Proverbs 3:6 TLB

 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33

God first is a command with promises: Direction, success, food, drink and clothing. It would seem putting God first would get our every effort. It’s not so.  It’s just hard. 

I’ve tried. Each day I have intentions to pray and write a blog post before anything else, yet I end up checking my email, the weather and Facebook first. In fact, I start my day worrying about what I will eat, drink and wear. Not only do I not do my God stuff first, sometimes I don’t do it at all. 

I understand that putting God first is more than just focusing on Him early in the day. It’s about him being the top priority.  Aren’t our priorities revealed in our use of time? I spend time on important things that our not God. I also spend lots of time on things of no eternal significance. 

I’ve found that if I can get together with other followers early in the day and focus on God, my day becomes better. On Sunday, there’s church. On Monday I’ve been joining guys from my church for coffee. On Tuesday, I meet with guys from Lighthouse Family Church. On Wednesday, I drive my wife to Abbeville so she can talk to the residents at a nursing home about Jesus. On Thursday I meet with men from The Bayou. 

Friday mornings I’m free. It’s an important day to put God first. I’m wrapping up my work week and shifting focus to weekend activities. So I’ve decided to meet for breakfast with anyone who would like to talk about putting God first. I’m a big breakfast fan. There are lots of great places to have breakfast in Acadiana. I think I’ll try a different one each Friday. That way there’s a greater chance someone will see what’s going on and be curious enough to join in, kind of a Putting God First Outreach. 

Consider yourself invited to join me. I’ve created a Facebook page to discuss God First Friday Breakfast. Check it out here. https://www.facebook.com/GodFirstFridayBreakfast/ On Friday, March 10, I will be at Mel’s Diner on Johnson. I’m hoping you will join me and on March 17 we will have to find a bigger place. I’ll keep the Facebook page updated on how things are going and where we are meeting. 

Put God First at least on Friday.