Monday, January 31, 2011

Devotional reading 310111

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Thank God for such a beautiful morning. I pray that you will find time to enjoy His creation as much as His presence. Lately I have been preoccupied by several projects – my second draft of the dissertation, sermons for winter retreat, mission conferences and teaching materials on Pastoral Theology – something I have never done before. I covet your prayer for me in all these preparation in the next one and a half months. And starting from the middle of March, I will have non-stop (feel like it) out of the country traveling until October. My journey will cover China, UK, Africa, Canada, Mongolia, Indonesia and Singapore…Praise God for answering my prayer to witness His work in all over the world. Indeed, I thank you for your support!

Let’s go back to Kelsey’s book on Christian Meditation…We are still in chapter 2.
Since each person is unique, each one will have an individual way of relating the totality of his or her being to God. Other people’s ideas may be helpful, but only one’s own way which is uniquely individual and personal, will offer a relationship with the Other that is real and meaningful. Many of our fundamental divisions over prayer and ritual may well be understood as different ways in which different types of individuals prefer to relate to religious realities. When we love another person we try to understand and relate to that person just as he/she is, and we do not expect him/her to be a carbon copy of ourselves. My experience of God is that He is far more understanding than we are at our best. After all, He is the Creator who has made us and given us different ways of responding and relating to this world. Apparently He wants each of us to seek Him in whatever way is the best for us individually, and He honors each personality and does not try to force us into any particular pattern or mold in order to relate to Him.

Our task is for each of us to find the way that is best for oneself as an individual, by first learning how one functions best, and then developing one’s own relationships to the Other in that way. There are certain universal principles, of course, which must be followed. Beyond that, in order to find the deepest kind of relationship with the Divine, one needs to know oneself and the strengths one has been given so that they can be used in seeking and responding to God. Later on there is a time to try other approaches and methods. But until one has tested one’s own way, it is not wise to adopt another person’s meditational practice without knowing whether it will lead as far as one might go by following one’s own way.

It is so easy for a religious leader to assume that the way which is meaningful for him or her must be equally meaningful for everyone else. This has presented a real problem in many denominations, and also in religious in which the actual devotional practice of one leader could be made the rule for all. God experts those of us who seek Him to keep on growing, learning to use our personalities more fully so that we will be able to know and relate to Him more and more completely. This goal makes it even more important to know one’s own strengths and weaknesses so that each of us is prepared both to share with others and also to learn from them. At this point, trying out and sharing someone else’s way of meditating is important. Both for the leader and for the follower. This is one way that each of us can find hidden parts of ourselves and bring them to the meeting with God. With this in mind, let us take a look at our differences in personality structure and how they relate to devotional practice.

There is first of all the very basic difference between the extravert and the introvert, between one whose interest lies in the outer world of people, affairs and tangible things, and one who is comfortable being alone and turning in- ward. Since extraverts find meaning among people and in doing things, their prayer life will probably be geared to service with and to others. They are likely to find God more often present in the outer physical world than through inner experiences of quiet. Yet extraverts also need time for quiet and reflection; otherwise they have no chance to integrate what they have experienced among others and find its significance for their growth and their deeper relationship with God.

Introverts, on the other hand, already find the inner world fascinating and easy to deal with. They are very likely to have no trouble finding an inner experience of God’s presence, and then look down on those persons who find their meaning largely in the outer world. Since they enjoy quiet, it is relatively easy for them to find time to meditate and seek a personal relationship with the Other. Their need, then, is to be called back to the outer world in service to other humans and to society, which is difficult but necessary for them. Unless they will get out and deal with the realities of the outer world, both beautiful and sordid, their devotional life tends to become unrealistic and detached. Certainly it would seem that the introvert and extravert need each other if each is to find the deepest and most fulfilling devotional life.

In his tremendously important book Psychological Types, Jung has suggested that type structure may have been a basic factor in the great theological split of the Middle Ages when reason and revelation, the natural and the supernatural began to part company. In this clash between nominalism and realism, the nominalists were basically interested in the outer world. The realists were caught up by the inner world and its structure. This seemed to them to be the ultimate reality, For them the image or idea that came to the mind was more real than the outer physical thing which was mediated by sense experience. Because of this personality difference, neither side could see the possibility of getting along with the other, and so the conflict was brought to a head.

I tend to be introverted and my wife extraverted. We certainly have different preference and inclination on spiritual practices. Yes, it takes time for us to understand and appreciate our different ways in approaching God. However, the more I learn how my extraverted wife perceived God through people and services with others, the more I realize how I need to balance my introverted approach by being alone with God through quiet time. I saw how she could make spirituality more personable and dynamic in her interpersonal relationship with others. God created each one of our personalities differently, not for the sake of rivalry against one another, but for synergizing with one another, in order to accomplish a more holistic perception of God. By doing so, our life is enriched and the Body of Christ is beautifully decorated for His glory.

In Christ,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Devotional sharing 260111

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. We read Psalm 139 in our staff prayer meeting this morning. The Psalmist reminded us the fact that God knows everything – even the dark side of our lives. We have nothing to hide before Him. God wants to have a transparent relationship with us. He wants us to tell Him and ourselves who we are. He wants us to develop a genuine relationship with Him, like the way He treats us. If God does not reveal who He is to us, there is no way we can know Him at all. Through prayer and meditation, we grow in His love and learn how to love others…

We can begin to love and be loved only as we bring all of ourselves to the other person, all of our disappointments, our joys, our angers and hopes. This is the nature of love and communication. It applies as much between God and a person as it does between person and person, and perhaps even more. For this reason we shall say quite a bit about prayer in fear and anguish, in anger and sorrow, since modern piety mostly seems to assume that we cannot find God through these experiences. Yet, any good parent expects to love and comfort children, to help them pick up the pieces when things seem to go wrong. God is certainly not less than a human parent.

Communication is a growing process. As one comes to trust more and more, one reveals more and more. Sometimes these will be things which looked so black that we buried them deep in the unconscious. We could not bear to keep remembering them. As trust and concern and love begin to grow, even these things can be brought out of the darkness. And until then few of us can ever become free of the nagging fear, hidden in the heart of nearly every person, that no one could really stand us if we actually let them see the totality of our being. I recall one young man with whom I worked for over two years before he was able to reveal the things he disliked most about himself. When he finally did, the change in him was miraculous.

It is not easy for us to realize that the One who is love does care for us. We have to bring the more secret parts of ourselves up slowly and let the reality of the One who is love be tested. This takes courage, patience, time. In fact one of the reasons why I believe in a life after death is the way communication with the Other develops. Even in the best of lives this reality is just beginning to grow at the end of that life. Even when we have known this experience of communication with the Other early in life, and realize all along that this Other is trying to communicate with us, our lives are just not long enough to bring all the parts of them and all of our actions into accord with the Other. There is no good reason to believe that the One who begins this process, and offers us all the care we are able to take, then will end the process just as we are beginning to experience it. On the contrary, every now and then an experience comes to one or another of us which strongly suggests that this process goes on after our physical death.

The promise of eternal life is not just to help us overcome the fear of death. It gives us new strength to deal with life today. If we practice this loving relationship with our eternal God, we will find assurance that He is active in our lives and in our relationship with others. There is not by coincidence that we encounter the people in our lives today. God puts us in their midst for a purpose – that is to mode our characters to become more godly or Christ like. Without entering into daily communion with God through prayer and meditation, we easily lost sight of our priority in life and true values of relationship with Him and others. Pause and enjoy His presence now. You can tell Him your naked feelings that you dare not share on Facebook. He understands.

In Christ,

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Devotional sharing 250111

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. It has been two exciting two weeks that packed with meaningful fellowship with our comrades in the Gospel. Overseas Missions Fellowship (OMF) is a 150 years old mission organization started by Hudson, who gave his whole life to serve in China. We are a 15 years old mission organization following the footsteps of missionary like the Taylors. We have a lot to learn from their many years of experience. We praised God for giving us the opportunity to learn from them and hopefully partner with them in the future. I hardly have time to digest all the information that I learnt from these two weeks of gathering. But one thing is certain. We share the same value and commitment – to fulfill the Great Commission of God. One of the regrets that OMF missionary shared was that they had planted churches but not missions in China in the past 100 years. In another word, there are a lot of Chinese churches and Christians who had not participated in the mission movement of God, which is the ultimate purpose of our new life in Christ. Together we committed to change this phenomenon in planting indigenous Biblical mission movement in Asia and around the globe. We invite you to join us in prayer, giving, encouraging, or direct participation in short term and long term missions.

Hope you find time to read the following paragraphs on prayer and meditation by Morton Kelsey:
Sometimes we conceal our relation with God in prayer because we are afraid that others are closer than we are, that someone may be further ahead. But once we have turned and are actually seeking to confront the Other (God), then we will almost certainly find a need for someone to talk with. Real confrontation with love demands sharing of this experience. And in sharing we realize that all us, even the best, are babes in the woods.

So much growth and transformation are possible in one’s relationship with God that those who are trying are like the laborers in the vineyard. There is little difference between the one who has labored all day and the one who has been at work for only an hour. The first and the last are not far apart. And each of us, the best and the least alike, needs other human beings with whom we can share our deepest experiences and safeguard against deceiving ourselves. We each need some person with whom we can talk about any of these things, any level of experience, and we also need a group—which of course can be only two people—with whom we can pray. Although a real confrontation with the God revealed in Jesus Christ often comes alone and apart, in the desert or on the solitary mountain top, it draws us toward other human beings. This is a natural and integral part of the experience of meeting God. When it fails to happen. Something is wrong.

The practice of prayer and meditation is as complex and varied as human life itself. As we confront the reality of the Other, we bring every part of our being, our ideas and thoughts, our plans for the day, for the week, for our entire life to the Other. We disclose our fear, our hopes, our human love, our thirst for more than human love, our anger and vengeance, our depression, sorrow and lostness, the values that are important to us, our adoration and joy and thanksgiving. Leaving out any part of the spectrum of human life makes prayer and meditation incomplete, and that is like meeting a person whom one hopes to know better, only to find that the relationship cannot grow because the other person dares to share only a small part of himself/herself.

What is true of human relationships at their deepest and best is even more true of the relationship with God. It is not very hard to know when we are at our best in relating. At those times we want to know all about the other person. Including the darkness and shadow, so that we can love or care for that individual better. If one loves, one can bear everything. And the incredible mystery of Christianity is that God wants to know us in that way, in total depth and reality, the darkness as well as the light, the anger as well as the love. Indeed our human desire to know and love some other person in depth springs out of the very nature and reality of God Himself. This is perhaps the most essential way in which we are made in the image and likeness of God, this way of needing to love and to be loved…

As long as we feel that there is some part of ourselves that we cannot lay out and share with God, then we cheat Him fully as much as ourselves. For some inscrutable reason, something hidden deep in His nature, He wants to meet the totality of us, good, bad and indifferent, in the greatest depth. And only then can His love touch every part of us and transform or change the whole. For this reason the meditative process is a many-faceted jewel. There are as many different sides of meditation and prayer, of meeting and confronting the Other, as there are sides of human life. If there are parts of us that we do not bring to the Other, it is like letting part of the gem go uncut. So many people like to emphasize certain forms of prayer or meditation such as prayer of thanksgiving or adoration. But these are completed only when one’s prayer life involves all the other aspects of his life, from one’s anguish and despair to volcanic and explosive anger. There are prayer forms appropriate to each of these sides of life. It we want the transformation that can come, we need to bring all parts of ourselves before the Presence of God. Sometimes the very things of which we are most ashamed can become the most brilliant part of our being when they are touched by that Presence and changed.

It is certainly not an easy practice for us to expose our whole being to God, even though we know that God knows everything within us, regardless of whether we tell Him or not. Openly communicate with God through prayer and mediation is a healthy exercise to surface the dark sides of our lives to the Light. The more we harbor our “dark” feelings, the more we give Satan a foothold to launch his evil attack against us. None can handle our dark side more than our Lord Jesus Christ could. Only when we experience His healing more in prayer and meditation, we can truly share with others the healing words that edify in a deeper level. That’s why solitude and fellowship are like two sides of the same coin. Beware of fellowship if we don’t enter communion with God in solitude frequently. Beware of solitude if we could not share our lives in fellowship with others in a deeper level.

Have mercy on us O Lord! Give us the desire to enjoy our communion with you and with your people, because this is what you prescribe for all those who genuinely want to grow in you.

With love in Christ,

Monday, January 10, 2011

Devotional reading 100111

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. It is a blessing to have quiet time before the Lord and be ministered by the presence of the Holy Spirit. God cares about His children and wants to always nourish us like mother to a baby. And when we are contented with the fact that He is the Shepherd of our lives, we can rest to know that He will provide us with green pastures and still waters. As I meditated on Psalm 131 this morning, I was reminded of the importance of being as calm as a weaned child, “I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:2). A weaned child is not restless and cry out for his or her own needs from time to time. A soul rests in the assurance of God’s love finds inner strength to deal with uncertainty of life and complexity in human relationship. A rested soul seeks not his or her needs being met, but how he or she can be blessing to others. Contemplative prayer is to focus on the inner voice of the Holy Spirit, who whispers His love to my soul from day to day.

It is easy enough to say that God is seeking us, and even to stress how central this understanding is to Christianity. But it is harder to realize that we have to prepare so that God can break through to us. Meditation is simply the way we prepare, setting up the conditions that can help to make this possible. It includes various practices, even quite diverse ones, all aimed at making experiences of God as available as possible…bat meditation does mean is a way for us to unlock the door and come out from the places where most of us have been hiding. It is the process of opening ourselves to the realm of nonphysical reality in which God can touch us far more directly than in the physical world. It is that kind of prayer in which we seek relationship with God, and in this sense meditation is the preparation and foundation for prayer.

In meditation, there is a fresh emphasis on prayer as one and learning what God wants of us become far more important than what we want of God. Yet the amazing thing is that when we pray in this way, we often receive better than we would have dared to ask on our own. This is also the way Jesus taught His followers to pray. In the Lord’s Prayer we are told to begin by speaking directly to the Father and hallowing His name, putting the first emphasis on meeting God and expressing appreciation for what we have found. We then direct our attention to His kingdom and His will, showing our readiness to relate to His ways and wishes. Only then do we go on to ask for ourselves.

Today most of us are so caught up in the outer, material world that we forget that there is a nonmaterial inner or spiritual realm of existence. Our task is to come to know that realm again, and to realize that in it one can find sustaining and fulfilling experiences of God that give direction to the whole of life. Unless there is some such reality that can be reached, how can prayer itself make much sense? Why pray, if one is only calling out blindly into the void! Yet through meditation and the images that are evoked, one can touch and come to know the reality of the Other who is actually there.

Yet the masters of the devotional life and the depth psychologists need each other. They have each discovered something of the reality of the human soul, and each discipline has something important to say to the other. There is a burning need for us to see meditation in this new light. So many modern Christians have trouble with praying because they do not see how it can make sense in this complex modem world. Some psychological thought has made the complexity more understandable for us. The work of C.G. Jung and his followers has led farther than that. Their thinking and practice have helped many people to become aware of a need for prayer today. When the discussion of prayer leaves their discoveries out, it cuts off much of the sophisticated reading public and these people have as much right to prayer as anyone.

One of the great weaknesses among even the most religious depth psychologists is simply that their findings have not been tempered with the experience of those men and women who have plunged deepest into their relationship with God. These psychologists have not grasped the range and depth and richness of that experience, and so they can offer guidance only part of the way toward it. They often do not realize how common these experiences are to the ordinary “normal” person. Then there are psycho- legists who mistrust the entire experience of prayer and religious meditation, and these psychologists leave a great gap just where most of us need some direction and assurances that the road ahead leads somewhere worthwhile.

On the other hand, devotional writings, even down to the present day, have often left much to be desired. Some manuals insist upon the idea that we cannot grow in relationship with God without developing contempt for our emotional lives, our bodies and the physical world in general. Many of the classical Western writers have neglected the immanence or ever-present quality of God and the ways of finding Him within this world as well as beyond it. The result has often been practices so ascetic, one-sided and rejective of the world that they even caused emotional disturbance in some followers. It is difficult for the even average reader, lay or clerical, to sift the wheat from the chaff in this writing, even though popular devotional works of the last fifty years have sometimes suggested practices quite foreign to the total message of Jesus of Nazareth. Through the best of psychological understanding, however, we can find balance in our devotional lives and a return to His wisdom and practical directions.

I agree with Kelsey that we need a balanced view in our understanding of our practice of meditation. After all, it is God who created within us a mind to interact with Him. This mind exists within our soul which can be analyzed by a psychological approach. Of course, an atheist psychologist will not be able to understand the dynamics that go on within our soul in terms of our interaction with the Deity, until they humble themselves to accept the reality of God’s presence in the life of His faithful.

With the presence of His love,

Friday, January 7, 2011

Devotional reading 070111

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. I have not fully recovered from jetlag and exhaustion from my Asian trip. It was filled with much fun and activities. In 11 days, I covered Hong Kong, Shanghai and Macau. In each of those places, I walked a lot and ate a lot. It felt like nonstop traveling. I did not realize how exhausted I was until I came back. I really need another vacation to recover from my vacation. If you have time to visit my Google Album, you will understand what I meant. I took almost 2000 pictures in total. Two weddings in two different cities are nothing but joyous celebration. God is gracious to all His children all over the earth. There are so much to give thanks and remember…Praise God for giving us such a finale for 2010.

After much prayer and consideration, I decided to re-read the book on “The other side of Silence” by Morton Kelsey as my devotional reading. During our prayer time this morning, our staff agreed that we need to spend more time to “wait upon the Lord in meditation and prayer.” A lot of time, we consider prayer as a discipline to tell God about us and our needs. We did not spend time to quietly wait upon the Lord in contemplative prayer – listening to what God has to say to us through our mediation and reading of God’s words. I hope to use this book to remind myself of this practice, and expose you to this exercise in 2011. Let start reading it…

Many people seem to feel that meditation is not for everyone, particularly Christian Meditation. In fact more and more people, seeking a way of getting down to cases spiritually, have turned to Eastern ways of meditating in the hope of finding some discipline that the ordinary individual can follow. Much has been written about these Eastern disciplines. But neither the Western novices in Zen or Yoga or transcendental Meditation nor the more experienced writers about them seem to realize that there is a powerful and unique Christian method of meditation available to any ordinary person who wishes to use it. This Christian way of meditating can bring many people a whole new vision of reality and new effectiveness in their living…Simple people and beginners can have a genuine encounter with God. It is a matter of learning to respond to the presence and love of God which He already offers us. It is very much like Dante’s conception of heaven, in which each person has a particular place, while everyone who enters at all also has some basic experience of the whole of the heavenly spheres.

This is quite a different idea from that found in most Eastern meditation. On the one hand, the idea is to respond to the loving concern of God so well expressed in Jesus of Nazareth. Most people can learn this response…Our part is mostly to accept the hand already stretched out to us. Eastern religions, on the other hand, usually stress the painstaking discipline by which one detaches oneself from the world, losing personhood or individuality and merging with the Cosmic Mind to become one with pure consciousness. The basic difference between the two is whether one sees ultimate reality as a Lover to whom one responds, or as a pool of cosmic consciousness in which one seeks to lose identity.

Thomas Merton was one writer about the life of prayer who came to realize that imagination (or mediation) has creative and constructive uses in the contemplative life…He noted that imagination can discover real meanings. Not just produce distractions and delusions, and he stressed reading the Bible imaginatively, both as a way of exercising imagination and also to find the full meaning contained in the Bible... His ideas open the way to discover how imagination can be developed to lead one into a deep and fulfilling relationship with God.

The encounter with God and the Risen Christ is a present possibility. This is verified by those who turn toward Him, find new meaning and hope and love, and are then transformed by this experience. What this author is trying to offer is an understanding of one neglected method of meditation in general use in the days when Christianity was most alive and creative. This is a practical manual for those who would like to try out this method of finding the encounter with God, learning what it is like and practicing it.

I hope to embark this journey of encountering God with you. Do share with me your experience when you gradually pick up this habit of silence and contemplative prayer in your daily life.

With love in Christ,