The Key to Living Well?

Hey TD!

What is the key to living well? I believe it is abiding in Christ.  John 15 speaks quite a bit on this:

4“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

Our friend, Margaret Manning Shull, from Ravi Zacharias Int’l Ministries, recently posted a very valuable article in RZIM’s A Slice of Infinity.  Please read the article below and grow your acumen in abiding in Christ, not only for your sake, but for the sake of all those around you! – Arthur

The Art of Abiding by Margaret Manning Shull

When it comes to exercise many of us ask: “How long will it take?” or “How much do I have to do?” The shorter the duration the better, we hope. Scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario have researched the benefits of shorter-duration, high-intensity workouts. They found that the aerobic benefits were just as high as those who had worked out for much longer periods of time.(1) As one professor noted, “If you are someone, like me, who just wants to boost health and fitness and you don’t have 45 minutes or an hour to work out, our data show that you can get big benefits from even a single minute of intense exercise.”(2) This is good news for all who feel there are not enough hours in a day.

Yet, as good as this news may be for some, I am increasingly nervous about all the schemes and strategies to make one’s life more efficient. From the One Minute Manager to the One Minute Workout the short-cutting of our lives appears endemic. If one needs a quicker, faster, shorter version, there is an app for that. But I worry about what happens to our aptitude for endurance in the elevation of the efficient?

Edgar Degas, Musicians in the Orchestra, oil on canvas, 1872.

By contrast, author Malcolm Gladwell argued in his book Outliers that ten thousand hours of deliberate practice are needed before one can become good at some things. He cites Mozart, Bill Gates, and the Beatles as examples of brilliant artists and inventors whose patient practice and discipline began at an early age.(3) In fact, many artists suggest that their creative expression is something that must be practiced—exercised, as it were, just like any muscle. Significant achievement—in any area—is realized when bounded by discipline, and a tireless commitment to practice, routine, and structure. The painter, Wayne Thiebaud, once said that “an artist has to train his responses more than other people do. He has to be as disciplined as a mathematician. Discipline is not a restriction but an aid to freedom.”(4) Sadly, Thiebaud’s and Gladwell’s views are often the minority report in our hurried age.

Assumptions about growth in the spiritual life often parallel these assumptions about efficiency. Often, the drive to see measurable results creates unrealistic expectations. We often want a One Minute Spiritual Life that still yields unbounded growth and instant transformation. We expect the constant flow of “good feelings” surging through us. If we do not experience these things, or if we don’t perpetually experience something novel and instant from the rhythm of worship, prayer, or study, then we believe that something isn’t right. Sadly, we eschew the repetitive nature of discipline and routine.

Ritual, discipline, commitment, and structure seem impediments to growth, rather than the soil in which spiritual growth is nourished and fed. The drive for efficiency lures us into wanting a spiritual life more like osmosis—a process over which we have little control or responsibility.

There are not three easy steps to a vital spiritual life, nor an efficiency guide to greater transformation. And in his life and ministry, Jesus makes this connection between growth and discipline. In the gospel of John he exhorts his followers to “abide” in him—literally to rest and to take nourishment from the life Jesus offers.(5) Rest is the opposite of the efficient. In addition, he describes abiding in terms of love and obedience. “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”(6) Jesus insists that joy flows from a life of discipline and obedience that includes keeping his commands. They are not separate endeavors, but intimately enjoined to produce abundant life.

How ironic this statement seems when most of us do not associate joy with discipline or endurance! Our daily living often feels like monotonous routine. We can understand the desire to find a short-cut that brings excitement or instant results. But joy cannot be reduced to a feeling, nor is it dependent on the whims of our personalities. Joy is the result of a life lived in the rhythm of rest, routine, and discipline. Following in the way of Jesus can sometimes feel both tedious and difficult, as surely it is both tedious and difficult at times. But disciplined obedience is not a blockade to fullness of joy, but rather a doorway that opens into the abiding presence of God. There, we encounter one who produces something beautiful that remains.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) Gretchen Reynolds, “One Minute of All-Out Exercise May Have Benefits of 45 Minutes of Moderate Exertion,” The New York Times Blog, April 27, 2016, Accessed 20 May 2016.
(2) Ibid.
(3) As cited by Timothy Egan in “The One Minute Life,” The New York Times, May 13, 2016, Accessed 20 May 2016.
(4) As cited in Clint Brown, Artist to Artist: Inspiration & Advice from Artists Past & Present (Corvalis, OR: Jackson Creek Publishers, 1998), 87.
(5) John 15:4-5.
(6) John 15:9-11.

 

Something to Consider on Good Friday

Hey TD!

Blessed Good Friday to you. Have you ever wondered why it’s called Good Friday? There are reasons people have offered: that what God was doing was ultimately good, or that it was really God Friday and morphed into Good Friday, etc. One answer that seems quite plausible is that the word good used to mean holy; so, Holy Friday was more the idea than the usual meaning we ascribe to the word good. 

On this Holy Friday (holy means set apart), please take extra time to commune and relate with our Lord, in remembrance, in appreciation and thanksgiving, in prayer, in meditation and contemplation.  Fill your senses and faculties and imagination with Him. Make it all about Jesus.

Below is a Slice of Infinity by our friend, Jill Carattini, that will give you something to consider this Good Friday.  Blessings – Arthur

The Absence of Beauty

Posted by Jill Carattini on April 14, 2017
Topic: A Slice of Infinity

I stood in front of the painting long enough that my neck hurt from craning upward, long enough to make the connection that onlookers that day likely held a similar stance as they watched Jesus of Nazareth on the cross. Francisco de Zurbarán’s massive 1627 painting The Crucifixion hangs in gallery 211 of the Chicago Art Institute. Viewers must stand back from the piece and gaze upward in order to take it all in. Zurbarán depicts the point just before Christ takes his last breath. His body leans forward from exhaustion; his head hangs downward. All details of any background activity are absent, the black backdrop a jarring juxtaposition beside his pale, bruised skin. The artist’s use of light intensifies the stark pull of sympathy towards a body that is both clearly suffering and yet somehow beautiful. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I believed about Christianity. But there was something about the painting I couldn’t stop trying to grasp.

There is indeed something about beauty that for many of us is intensely spiritual. Whether peering into the natural beauty of a majestic waterfall or the exquisite lights of the Eiffel Tower, many describe a connection between beauty and the transcendent in religious terms—at times, even contradictingly so, our own theories of the world either undercutting or cutting off the very possibilities we want to espouse. For many of the minds I admire today, beauty is both a compelling part of their faith and compelling evidence for God’s existence. A blind and mechanistic universe cannot answer for the longings stirred by earthly beauty. Stated more personally, I could not account for the longings stirred by the beauty of a suffering God in person. Staring at Jesus in The Crucifixion, I could not explain the quality of beauty that seemed distinctive of his very soul—choosing even in pain and death to forgive tirelessly, though surrounded by people who do not. As a hen uses her wings to gather her chicks, there are indeed times I suspect the Spirit uses beauty to bring us quietly before the Son.

There are also times when the opposite is true and it is the absence of beauty that leaves us scattered and scurrying, aware and afraid, and longing for the shelter of divine wings. Good Friday offers such an occasion. In Christian churches all over the world yesterday, the last moments of Jesus were remembered and reenacted in various ways. In his final moments before he would be tortured and killed, he shared the Passover meal with his closest friends. He washed his disciples’ feet and he tried to comfort them, though death no doubt loomed with suffocating force. In some services, following a foot washing ceremony or a last celebration of the Lord’s Supper before Good Friday, a ceremony called theStripping of the Altar concludes the worship service.

I was privileged to participate in such a service one year at King’s College Chapel, the stunning cathedral built by Henry VI in 1446. With a deafening silence that amplified the sense of heaviness at the approach of the crucifixion, objects were removed piece by piece from the altar: communion chalice and plate, the altar cross, the holy Bible, the altar candles, the liturgical coverings. As the altar was slowly stripped to a stark table, the dramatic Tudor glass windows were simultaneously growing dark as the sun set. I was struck with the impending sense of death. What happened next unexpectedly heightened that sense. Behind the altar, a massive painting by the artist Peter Paul Rubens portrays Jesus as an infant in Mary’s arms; the magi are gathered around in adoration, leaning toward the child expectantly. The sound of the painting being shut was jarring; the echo sounded like the closing of a tomb.

But it was the image of the baby suddenly and jarringly absent, beauty extinguished, that finally compelled tears. As the congregation exited in silence, I left thinking about the crucifixion in way I hadn’t before. I left with the disquieting thought of God’s absence—a Son crucified, a mother mourning, a world without Christ.

In his famed Nobel Prize acceptance speech Alexandr Solzhenitsyn eloquently hoped aloud that when the day comes that truth and goodness are crushed, cut down, not allowed through cultures and minds, then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of beauty will push through and soar to that very same place.(1) Today, on this Good Friday, it is the absence of Christ, the death of truth and goodness and beauty himself, that pushes through, pleading with a noisy world to stop and listen to the deafening silence, which just moments earlier heard him plead: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

 

 

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

(1) Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Lecture in Literature 1970, from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1968-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Sture Allén, (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co.: 1993).

 

The Risk of Seeing

Hey TD,

Isn’t it weird how we can look at something and just not really see it?  Looking and seeing are two very different things.  As you embark on your summers, we want to see what God wants us to see.  Let’s start the week off by putting ourselves in a position to see life more as He sees life.  This article by our friend, Jill Carattini, at RZIM is a good start.  Enjoy! – Arthur

The Risk of Seeing

Posted by Jill Carattini on June 13, 2016

In an essay titled “Meditation in a Toolshed,” C.S. Lewis describes a scene from within a darkened shed. The sun was brilliantly shining outside, yet from the inside only a small sunbeam could be seen through a crack at the top of the door. Everything was pitch-black except for the prominent beam of light, by which he could see flecks of dust floating about. Writes Lewis:

“I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it. Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving in the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.”(1)

 

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Each time I come to the gospel accounts of the woman with the alabaster jar, I notice something similar. “Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks, as if he is speaking as much to me the reader as he is to the guests around the table. With a jar of costly perfume, she had anointed the feet of Christ with fragrance and tears. She risked shame and endured criticism because she alone saw the one in front of them all. While the dinner crowd was sitting in the dark about Jesus, the woman was peering in the light of understanding. What she saw invoked tears of recognition, sacrifice, and love. Gazing along the beam and at the beam are quite different ways of seeing.

The late seventeenth century poet George Herbert once described prayer as “the soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage.” At those words I picture the woman with her broken alabaster jar, wiping the dusty, fragrant feet of Christ with her hair. Pouring out the expensive nard, she seems to pour out her soul. Fittingly, Herbert concludes his grand description of prayer as “something understood.”

The woman with the alabaster jar not only saw the Christ when others did not, Christ saw her when others could not see past her powerless categories. “Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks while the others were questioning her actions, past and present. “I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much.”(2) Her soul’s cry was heard; she herself was understood.

There are many ways of looking at Jesus: good man, prophet, historical character, provocative teacher, God in flesh, one who sees, one who hears, one who loves. At any point, we could easily walk away feeling like we have seen everything we need to see, when in fact we may have seen very little. The risk of looking again may well change everything.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 212-215.
(2) Luke 7:44-47.

 

TD Friday – “Everywhere & Nowhere SG Study

Hey TD!

In this post you will have nearly everything you need to prepare for our small groups this Friday – the mp3 and small group study of “Everywhere and Nowhere,” as well as a meaningful Slice of Infinity by Margaret Manning Shull entitled, “An Answered Prayer.”  It’s like a TD small group kit!

“Everywhere and Nowhere” (message) – Sandra

“Everywhere and Nowhere” (small group study)

Please prepare as well as you can for our first small group study of 2016!  The better everyone prepares, the better our small groups will be!  Prep well, TD!

An Answered Prayer 

Just type the word “prayer” into an internet search engine as I did the other day and you’ll find almost a hundred million different articles, sites, books, and periodicals on the topic. Discussions about prayer are as ubiquitous as the praying football player in the end zone after a touchdown. Every major world religion has some form of prayer, and in some of the earliest words to the church Christians are exhorted to pray “without ceasing.”

And yet if we’re honest, prayer can be a frequent source of confusion and deep mystery. Confusion comes not only with questions concerning what to pray and how to pray, but also in questioning whether or not prayers make a difference or are being heard at all. Phillip Yancey’s book, which asks one such question in the title, attempts to address many of these questions about prayer. Why does God seem silent so much of the time to our prayers? Why does God seem to answer prayers affirmatively for some and not for others? And when all we seem to receive in response to our prayers is “no,” how are we to understand both prayer’s efficacy and the God who loves us?(1)

If these questions aren’t difficult enough, Jesus’s own bold statements about prayer make us all the more confused. The Gospel of Matthew seems to record some matter-of-fact statements about prayer. After all, Jesus proclaimed, “I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and the one who knocks, it shall be opened.” Likewise, Jesus promises that like our earthly fathers, God longs to give us what is good in response to the asking, seeking, and knocking of prayer.(2)

Yet Luke’s Gospel narrative makes explicit what Matthew’s Gospel keeps implicit about the gifts given in response to prayer. Jesus tells his disciples, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?(3) According to Jesus, the goal of all prayer is the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and in the world. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate “good gift” that God gives in response to our asking, seeking, and knocking.

So, then, Jesus describes prayer in terms of connection and affiliation, a linking of our lives by the Son with the Father who gives the gift of the Spirit. The more this connection grows and develops, the more one desires it. Hence, God promises to give us more of the Holy Spirit-in and through all the circumstances of life-as the deep answer and the good gift in response to prayer.

Further, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as the comforter, and the one who comes alongside us.(4) This is the same Spirit the apostle Paul suggests “intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words,” and “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”(5) Therefore, when difficulties come, when our prayers seemingly go unanswered, there is the unfailing assurance that we are not alone. The Father longs to come near to us as tangibly as the human Son of God has come into the world and as assuredly as the comforting presence of God’s Spirit who comes alongside us.

Craig Barnes, former pastor of the National Presbyterian Church, adds:

“Sometimes life gets overwhelming, and we realize we could use a little help. So we pray for our health to get better, for our marriage to work out, for success in our work that has taken a turn for the worse. There is nothing wrong in praying for these things, but they are not what our salvation is about. Don’t expect Jesus to save us by teaching us to depend on the things we are afraid of losing! He loves us too much to let our health, marriage, or work become the savior of our lives. He will abandon every crusade that searches for salvation from anything or anyone other than God. So he delays, he watches as we race down dead-end streets, he lets our mission du jour crash and burn. To receive Jesus as Savior means recognizing him as our only help. Not our only help for getting what we want. But our only true help.”(6)

God’s promise to be present with us through the power of the Holy Spirit suggests that God’s presence with us is the deepest answer to prayer. It is God’s “yes” even if God answers our specific requests with “no.” Ultimately, God desires to bring comfort, not from dependence on the things of this world, but in God’s presence with us and alongside us through the Spirit.

Through the power and presence of the Spirit, God longs to be the very answer to our prayers. Ask, and the Holy Spirit will be given to you. Seek, and you will find the Holy Spirit with you. Knock, and the door of God’s kingdom will be opened to you. For how much more will our heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit, to those who ask?

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006).

(2) Matthew 7:7-11.
(3) Luke 11:11-13.
(4) John 14:16, 26).
(5) Romans 8:26b-27.
(6) M. Craig Barnes, When God Interrupts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 124-125.

Where God Was Homeless

Merry Christmas, TD!

I read this “Slice of Infinity” (RZIM’s daily readings) by Ravi and was nearly as convicted as he was, as I could see myself reacting the exact same way he did.  Perhaps you could too.  May this reading remind you of how to live not only on Christmas, but year round. – Arthur

Where God Was Homeless by Ravi Zacharias

Some years ago, we were spending Christmas in the home of my wife’s parents. It was not a happy day in the household. Much had gone wrong during the preceding weeks, and a weight of sadness hung over the home. Yet, in the midst of all that, my mother-in-law kept her routine habit of asking people who would likely have no place to go at Christmas to share Christmas dinner with us.

That year she invited a man who was, by everyone’s estimate, somewhat of an odd person, quite eccentric in his demeanor. Not much was known about him at the church except that he came regularly, sat alone, and left without much conversation. He obviously lived alone and was quite a sorry-looking, solitary figure. He was our Christmas guest.

Because of other happenings in the house (including one daughter being taken to the hospital for the birth of her first child), everything was in confusion. All of our emotions were on edge. It fell upon me, in turn, to entertain this gentleman. I must confess that I did not appreciate it. Owing to a heavy life of travel year-round, I have jealously guarded my Christmases as time to be with my family. This was not going to be such a privilege, and I was not happy. As I sat in the living room, entertaining him while others were busy, I thought to myself, “This is going to go down as one of the most miserable Christmases of my life.”

But somehow we got through the evening. He evidently loved the meal, the fire crackling in the background, the snow outside, the Christmas carols playing, and a rather weighty theological discussion in which he and I were engaged—at his instigation, I might add. He was a very well-read man and, as I found out, loved to grapple with heavy theological themes. I do too, but frankly, not during an evening that has been set aside to enjoy life’s quiet moments.

At the end of the night when he bade us all good-bye, he reached out and took the hand of each of us, one by one, and said, “Thank you for the best Christmas of my life. I will never forget it.” He walked out into the dark, snowy night, back into his solitary existence.

My heart sank in self-indictment at those tender words of his. I had to draw on every nerve in my being to keep from breaking down with tears. Just a few short years later, relatively young, and therefore to our surprise, he passed away. I have relived that Christmas many times in my memory. That year God taught me a lesson. A home can reflect and distribute the love of Christ.

The first time I walked through the noisy streets of Bethlehem and endured its smells, I gained a whole new sense of the difference between our Christmas carols, glamorizing the sweetness of the “little town of Bethlehem,” and the harsh reality of God becoming flesh and making a home among us. G.K. Chesterton captures the wonder of such a thought:

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where he was homeless
Are you and I at home:
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.(1)

Jesus’s earthly address changes our own. Christ comes this Christmas, and shows us what it means to live.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

(1) G.K. Chesterton, “The House of Christmas,” from Robert Knille, ed., As I Was Saying (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1985), 304-5.