Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Archive for March, 2008

Dancing with Patrick Swayze

I’m praying for Patrick Swayze, and not because it might be the hip thing to do, or the right thing to say.  I’m really praying for him. 

Swayze has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  It’s fast and its deadly, and having gone through a cancer battle with my late wife, I know just a little about how that diagnosis can rock your world.

swayze-ghostx-large.jpgI feel like I know him.  Some of the movies Swayze starred in are among my favorites:  Red Dawn, Dirty Dancing, Road House, Ghost, and Point Break.

Patrick, this is my prayer for you … or something like it:

“Lord Jesus, if You speak the word, Patrick will be healed.  I’m asking You to do just that … speak the word that Patrick is free and clear of cancer, and that You are giving him a life extension.  And in the process of healing him, let Patrick know – if he doesn’t already – that he not only needs You to heal his disease but that he also needs a ‘Savior.’  The biggest ‘cancer’ we, the human race have, is sin, and You died on the Cross to pay our sin debt.  Let Patrick come to believe that You are who You say You are, and that He can trust You.  And I’m also praying, Lord, for his wife – Lisa.  Lord Jesus, draw her into Your arms like a loving father would lift up a child after she has fallen down.  And please do all this because we’re asking, and You said we could … in Your name.  Amen.”

The Spirituality of Imperfection #1

img_0525.jpgI came across a fascinating book, and I thought I’d share its contents with you from time to time.  The name of the book?  The Spirituality of Imperfection.  It was written by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham.  I think, after reading some of my posts on its contents, you’ll want to get a copy for yourself.

The introduction begins:

“Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure.  We learn at a very young age that failure is the NORM in baseball and, precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often – those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players.  I find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.”  (Francis T. Vincent, Jr., Commissioner of Baseball)

Baseball, as its Commissioner points out, teaches that errors are part of the game and perfection is an impossible goal.  Because his thought fits as perfectly as possible the theme of this book, we offer this revision of Mr. Vincent’s insight:

Spirituality teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure.  We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in life … errors are part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.”

Wow!  What do you think?  Does it hook you?

In the book of Romans (Christian New Testament) we read:  “… all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  We have failed to meet God’s impossible standard of holiness (The Law of God), because (as the Scripture says in another place), “… without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14 NIV) 

But … God has a remedy.

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

No wonder Jesus is His name!  In the language of His nativity His name meant “Savior.” (Yeshua)  He doesn’t make us perfect.  He does “make us” forgiven, and because our sins are forgiven in His name, we are saved.  Put another way, our sins were transferred to His account, and He received “the wages” rightfully ours – death.  He died for us, in the place of us.  We, therefore, are saved (from death, i.e., eternal separation from a holy God).

One important aspect of spirituality (and the reason for the writing of the referenced  book) is to accept our imperfection while still accepting salvation in Jesus’ name.

Think about it.

“Pain Can Be My Friend” (an excerpt from Dancing With The Healer)

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Pain takes a mighty toll on our spirit.  Pain is more than a physical phenomenon, but is somehow tied to every part of our being.  Having done carpentry (not well) many times, I believe I’m an expert of sorts.  Instead of driving a 16 penny nail into the wood, I’ve pounded my thumb nail with the hammer.  My thumb nail was physically damaged, but the pain went from my head to my toes, disabling my mind.  Time stood still.

The great English philosopher C. S. Lewis wrote a book entitled The Problem Of Pain.  Lewis poses the following argument from the beginning of the book:  “‘If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished.  But the creatures are not happy.  Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’  This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.”

Pain will make you question whether or not God is good.  Pain will cause you to question His love for mankind.

Lewis tackles the problem of pain by pointing out that because God is good and powerful, He gave mankind the gift of choice – and man’s choices open the door to pain.  Only a Being that is almighty can GIVE such a gift, and only a loving Being would think to give the gift of choice – that is, freedom to act on one’s perceived best interests in one’s own way.

Lewis spends much of the book addresses choice, goodness, love, power and ultimately pain.  In speaking about God’s goodness he states, “Any consideration of the goodness of God at once threatens us with the following dilemma.  On the one hand, if God is wiser than we His judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil.  What seems to us good many therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to be evil may not be evil.”

That is an arresting idea.  The Bible puts it this way:  “His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.”  He and we are “other.”  Contrary to the ancient Eastern mystics, Joseph Smith, and more modern New Age thinkers, what He is we are not, nor can we become what He is … if God is the God that is revealed in the Bible.  If you have come to believe that the Bible’s God is not God, then you may wish to read another book besides this one, because Vicki and I firmly believe that THE God is the God of the Old and New Testaments.

And so we believe that this biblical God is wiser than we are, more loving than we are, and “other” than we are.  He is transcendent – beyond us.

C. S. Lewis arrives at this conclusion after examining the nature of THE God, and taking the reader logically through the arguments that He is good and almighty:  Pain rouses us to understand that “all is not well,” but there is One who invades our painful existence will “healing in His wings,” and rescues us from the consequences of our unwise choices, and the fact that because of choice, the planet on which we live is fallen.  The conclusion of Lewis, and the concluding statements of the Bible lead us to this truth:  Pain will not be done away with on Earth, but in Heaven.  So Paul writes, “ … the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us” when we cross the threshold of Heaven, and come, literally into the presence of the Almighty.

Here, and now, we have pain.  Then, and there, we will not be in pain – not in His presence.  That is a Christian belief, and is so because it is Christ-centered.  Jesus said, “‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.’

“Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?’  [And] Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”[1]

The “Father’s House” and “the place” that is being prepared for us is Heaven, and there is no sickness, disease, pain, sin, or evil there.

Pain will make you forget about the promise of Heaven.  Pain reveals weakness, and shows us gaps in our faith.  As I’ve said before, anyone can have “faith” when everything is going great.  It’s when the going gets tough that our faith, weak or strong, is revealed to US.  We come to know where we are on the faith scale.  God already knows, and He’ll allow pain to inform us of what He already knows.

Pain is also a tool, or weapon, that God’s enemy – Satan – uses to serve his purpose, and that is, to separate us from God.  He hopes that we will turn our pain into anger, and our anger into distance from God.  Satan’s greatest tactic for building a wall of separation between us and God is the lie that God withholds good things from us.  Satan used that ploy in the garden, when it came to “the knowledge of good and evil” that could be acquired by eating God-forbidden fruit, and he uses pain to convince us that God is still holding out on us – this time, comfort and healing.

It’s important, then, to note that Vicki did something brilliant, and different than most, when she turned her pain-filled anger toward the cancer and Satan.  In Vicki’s case, Satan’s ploy backfired.  Vicki didn’t turn away from God, but toward Him.  As she said on different occasions, “Pain can be my friend.”

 


[1] John 14:1-6

Under No Delusions

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When I’m involved in a writing project, or preparing for a speaking engagement, I’ll try to find time to do a very worthwhile psychological and spiritual exercise.  I’ll do “a personal gut check.”  Because I want my motives for doing what I do to be as pure as they can be, I want to determine what’s going on in my heart.

This idea of the personal gut check comes to us from Ancient Greece.  According to Pausanias, the following aphorism (short, pithy truthful saying) was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and this aphorism is attributed to at least six ancient Greek sages (but the one I lean toward is Socrates).  It says:  “Know yourself” (Greek: γνωθι σεαυτόν).   In Latin, the aphorism is generally given as nosce te ipsum.

In a discussion of moderation and self-awareness, the Roman poet Juvenal quotes the phrase in Greek, and states that the precept descended de caelo (from heaven) (Satire 11.27).  I think it’s a heavenly idea, too.  I think God wants us to engage in self-examination from time to time.  In fact, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul wrote that we should “examine” ourselves before we take Communion.

The saying “Know thyself” may refer by extension to the ideal of understanding human behavior, morals, and thought, because ultimately to understand oneself is to understand other humans as well.  However, the ancient Greek philosophers thought that no man can ever comprehend the human spirit and thought thoroughly, so it would have been almost inconceivable to know oneself fully.  Therefore, the saying may refer to a less ambitious ideal, such as knowing one’s own habits, morals, temperament, ability to control anger, and other aspects of human behavior that we struggle with on a daily basis.

One year ago I was sitting on Alii Kahekili Nui Ahumonu Beach, near Kaanapali.  You can see why most of the non-Hawaiian locals call it Airport Beach.  Alii is a beautiful stretch of sand on the island paradise of Maui, and while I was sunning I was reading The Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis.  

I was doing some research for the book I’m writing (“Dancing With the Healer;” see DWTH references in this blogsite), and that day I was comparing my writing with that of Lewis’.  I did some self-examination – a personal gut check that I referred to earlier.  Was I setting out to write a best seller, or produce a work that would elevate me in the eyes of people?  Was I writing for money?

That why I wrote the following in the flyleaf of Lewis’ book:

I’m under no illusions.  What I have written so far is not profound.  You want profound?  Read C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed or Kurtz and Ketcham’s The Spirituality of Imperfection.

What I have written is a story, told by an average storyteller.  My preferred style of storytelling is verbal, but because I’m producing a book I’ve tried my best to write like I talk.  

Because I try to keep my audience with me when I’m speaking, I pause from time to time so those listening can catch up.  How do you do that – pause for effect – when you’re writing.  Ah!  I’ll adopt a style, well-spoken of or not, that will cause the reader to hesitate for just a moment so I can catch my breath.  I’ll use ellipses … those magical three dots that allow the reader to take a break, mid-thought.

What I like about writing stories as opposed to telling/talking a story is the opportunity to rewrite.  A rewrite is an author’s “do over.”  It allows the writer to edit, to clarify, and to amplify his thoughts.

The goal of the storyteller, I am told, is to engage the listener, or reader in the case of a book, and hold their attention until they “get it,” that is, they GET what you’re trying to say.  I want my readers to understand, to grasp my meaning.

But here’s the rub:  no reader can fully understand the writer’s meaning.  Not fully.  That’s true in the case of Dancing With the Healer.  I’m endeavoring to tell two stories, actually – my story and Vicki’s story.  Our stories interwoven.  And both stories are complex.

Vicki died.  She’s gone “to be with the Lord.”  She can’t tell her story verbally, except in bits and pieces via a few MP3s, CDs, and DVDs.  And yet she left behind some remarkable “things” that help her tell her story.  These things are proof that she truly (and fully) LIVED.  

Brandon and Chris, our sons, are proof that she lived and loved.  And then there are photos, and friendships.  And there’s me – a man changed and enriched by her life and love.  

And there are five little booklets.  Journals.  Beginning in 1982, Vicki faithfully recorded her experiences, thoughts, and prayers.  Her journals are very intimate, and they are proof that she truly lived.

Vicki eventually decided that she wanted her journals shared.  In 1982 she didn’t write for anyone but herself, but as her life was coming to a close she and I talked about not only sharing her thoughts and experiences with our family, but with friends … and then with anyone who would care to hear what she had to say.  

My role, as storyteller, is to stay true to the promise that I made to Vicki in the Winter of 2002.  She asked me to help make sharing her journals possible.  She asked me to “fill in the blanks,” comment on the context of her journal entries, and put it all into a readable format.

Humbly, I’m trying to keep that promise.  I’m doing my best.  I’m trying to tell the story … our stories … as honestly and transparently as I can.  If anyone chooses to read Dancing With the Healer, my hope is they come away from the reading sometimes challenged, sometimes refreshed, and always a little closer to God.

Ian Finch (Finchley!) – Worth a Listen

ian-finch.jpgI’d like to introduce you to Ian Finch, one of the finest young men you’ll ever care to meet.

I met Ian back in June of 1996, when he and some friends came to visit Richmond, Virginia.  He was a part of a “worship team” that was different – they really worshipped when they sang!  The music was important …yes … but not as important as the Person they were worshipping.

About a year later I had a chance to hang out with Ian and his band-mates again, this time in Liverpool, England.  The band, Supervision, performed at a local club on the weekend, and then led worship at another event.  Ian, Mark Doohan, James Harding and James Burch made for an awesome team, and they were a super band (pun intended!).

What are the members of Supervision doing now?  According to their website, the band members thought it was time to move on at the end of the summer of 2006, but they added this explanation:  “We’d also like to say that Supervision as 4 best mates is actually doing very well indeed!  We have not fallen out, there aren’t any ‘musical differences’ there are no ego’s at play and there is no hidden agenda!  It’s just 4 people feeling that at this point in our lives that we can no longer continue touring or making music together as well as balancing family life, personal calling in addition to full time careers.”

Listen to what the former band members are doing now:

James (the bear) Harding has finished his PHD and has now left the country with his wife, Kate, to teach at Bible college in Bangkok, Thailand.  Ian (Finchley) Finch continues to run his web design company, but is also launching a solo career with the full blessing and support of the band.  You can check his new tunes at www.myspace.com/finchleymusic.  Mark (The Doog) Doohan has accepted a Directorship position at his Architects practice and continues to go from creative strength to strength while raising his 2 boys.  James (Burchy) Burch has also accepted a promotion at the software company where he now runs the entire production unit. James is also busy raising his 2 girls.

ian-finch-2.jpgPlease check out Ian’s myspace site http://www.myspace.com/finchleymusic.  His music is awesome!

Ian writes:  “Having been guitarist and co-songwriter in the rock band Supervision for a number of years, I started my solo career in the Summer of 2006 wanting to do something different, something melodic and beautiful while keeping the big production, anthemic feel.  It’s started very well … label interest and eventual distribution, 4 TV appearances, gigs all over the UK and lots of acoustic-only performances which has been new for me but have been really special!

“I have recently finished the album (‘No Clouds’) and am now looking forward to a full-on 2008 as the band and I gig it all over the place!  Uou can read an interview all about it at CROSS RHYTHMS (link the article below, at the end of this blog). 

“It’s probably also worth saying that I’m going to be giving all the proceeds of the album away to various charities so I’m really looking forward to how much we can make for some really good causes.”

Hey, my friends!  Let’s get behind this young man.  He has a heart for God, and his music is really, really GOOD!  Visit his site, and order an album.  I did.  Use “PayPal” – you’ll be investing about £ 10.00 (album, postage, tax), but it’s worth it.

And Ian, my friend, when YOU read this … Rock, but never compromise!  The lyrics and music are excellent.  More excellent, still, is the One you write about, and upon Whom you rest your hopes and dreams.  Take care of Lou, and the next time you travel to SA and NZ … take ME!!

The CROSS RHYTHM LINK IS: http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/articles/music/Finchley__No_Clouds_on_the_horizon_for_the_exSupervision_singersongwriter/29478/p1/