Showing posts with label Spiritual. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spiritual. Show all posts

05 January 2013

The Shakers

The Shakers were an offshoot from the Quakers in the UK. They settled in New England and built villages in various parts of the USA. Their extraordinary  lifestyle and beliefs contain both lessons and warnings for the church today.

Shaker cowbarn at the Hancock Village
In September 2009, Donna and I visited the Hancock Shaker Village near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. This post is based on some notes I made at the time.

We enjoyed a wonderful holiday travelling from Boston up the coast as far as Kennebunkport, then south through the Appalachians, back up to Cape Cod, and flew home again from Boston.

Origins - The Shakers had their origin in England where they were founded in 1747 by Mother Ann Lee in the rapidly growing industrial city of Manchester. They originated as an offshoot of the Quakers, both groups being named by the public because of their sometimes ecstatic movements during worship. The early Shakers moved to the New England colonies, initially New Lebanon and Watervliet (the 'Niskayuna Shakers'). By the final years of the 18th century the Shakers were living in village communities.

Their rules included celibacy, equality of men and women, community living (men and women separately but often in the same building), and joint ownership of all property and possessions.

In 1790 the Hancock community was established and this is the village we visited. We'd recommend this open-air, living museum to anyone finding themselves near Pittsfield with a day to spare. It was a fascinating experience. The land and buildings are owned and managed by a preservation trust as a working farm and museum managed as it would have been 100 years ago. It's a beautiful museum and all the buildings and equipment are maintained to a high standard.

Shaker beliefs - The Shakers had diverged considerably from the Quakers and other followers of Jesus. For one thing, they held Ann Lee to be the female Christ, a view that is easily dismissed by studying the Bible. They also had some strange views about spiritual guidance, did a lot of shaking, and were very fond of music and dance.

One of their melodies remains well known today - 'Lord of the Dance'. You can listen to one of their other songs, 'The River of Love', on YouTube along with more photos of the Hancock Village.

Some commendable points - Despite some oddities they held to much that was good. To accept women as equal to men was extraordinary in their day. They also believed in the equality of all races, on one occasion they bought a slave simply in order to rescue him. They took him in and treated him as any other brother.

The Shakers understood that everything should be done as well as humanly possible, so as to recreate Heaven on Earth in some sense. As a result they were careful and thorough workers and their furniture, boxes, seeds, and many other products were much valued and sought after.

Unlike the Amish, they had no qualms about using modern methods. They used water power in their workshops, adopted electricity, photography, motor vehicles, and other technologies.

A warning - The Shakers are a challenge and a warning to us. They were commendably serious about their lifestyle, their morality, and their thoroughness. We might learn a lot from them in that regard. But they came off-track in terms of their theology and seeking after spiritual experiences. We need to be careful to seek only Jesus, not experiences of Jesus; we should look for spiritual fruit more than for spiritual gifts.

There's nothing wrong with spiritual experiences or spiritual gifts. But if they become the thing we put first we are in a very dangerous place indeed. The lesson is clear. Seek first his kingdom and righteousness and all the other things you need will be given to you (Matthew 6:33).

So the question then becomes, what are the things in our spiritual lives that we accept as normal, even essential, that get in the way of kingdom living? Some of them are being discussed quite widely these days. A major problem may be that we are very busy with meetings and writing blogs and reading our Bibles and living good lives so that we forget our prime directive which is, perhaps, 'Go and make disciples'. That is, after all, one part of 'seeking his kingdom'.

Note: There's a good book on Mother Ann and the Shakers by Richard Francis. It's called 'Ann the Word' gives a lot of background and history, and is very readable.

Questions:

  • Are you doing everything to the highest possible standard, like the Shakers did?
  • Are you seeking the kingdom and righteousness ahead of everything else?
  • How do you see the connection between what we believe and how we live?

See also:

01 October 2012

Powerless!

A power cut was soon solved once the engineer was called. At first he arranged a temporary fix, then he brought in a team to make a permanent repair. Even in this ordinary event there's an analogy for a spiritual issue.

Power engineers at work
Yesterday was an interesting day. I was working on a blog post when I became aware the laptop screen had dimmed and I'd lost the internet connection. It dawned on me that we might have had a power cut and when I checked, sure enough we had.

Donna headed off to an all-day meeting and I began work in the garden where I'm dismantling our old greenhouse. Coming back in later I found the power was still out... hmm... Nearly an hour now, on the very rare occasions that we have a cut, it usually comes back within ten minutes or so.

I went next door to ask if they had power - they did! This might be bad news, perhaps something was wrong with our distribution box. I went the other side and they told me that yes, they had lost power too. Not just us then.

I phoned the distribution company and they took my details and said they'd send someone out. The engineer quickly confirmed that the problem lay with the main supply in the street. It was going to take some time to fix so they brought a generator, set it up in my neighbour's garden, powered up the system and connected both houses. What a relief, life could continue as normal.

During the afternoon a team arrived to dig up the grass verge outside the house, after some effort they found the faulty section of cabling and replaced it. I admire the way they work with live cables - rather them than me! We were soon back on mains power and the generator was removed.

I'd also like to say 'Thank you' to all the guys involved. They came out promptly on a Sunday morning and stayed much of the day to get the problem corrected. They were friendly, efficient and worked hard. From my initial phone call to replacing the turf everything was done well.

The incident made me think about living with power and living without it. They are very different experiences! Almost everything we do in our daily lives requires electrical power, from the mains, from a vehicle outlet, or from a battery. Without electricity, modern life would simply grind to a halt.

As so often, physical truth illustrates spiritual truth. Without the power of Jesus in my life I would be ineffective in every spiritual endeavour. Like electricity, it's easy to take him for granted. Like electricity, we soon remember our need of him when he seems to be not there.

There was power in the mains cables in the road, but it wasn't getting as far as my house. Church life can be like that - the power is out there but it's not getting as far as my house. This is a fault condition. It needs fixing.

Is power sometimes missing in your spiritual life? What do you need to get reconnected? Maybe a prayer is like a spiritual phone call, maybe the first thing is to ask for help. Until I phoned, nothing was going to happen and the power would still be down. It takes an expert to solve electrical power loss. It takes an expert (Jesus) to solve spiritual power loss.


09 May 2012

Drawn to the light

< On a spiritual journey? | Index | We've run out of wine >

Most people don't need to be told that there's more to life than the familiar material and emotional aspects. Our lives are enriched by spiritual yearning, a light that comes from beyond the place where reason fails.

Grey above and below, light in the distanceThere's something deep in human nature that makes us spiritually aware. Most of us know that in all the rich experiences of life, there is a need for something more. Even a wealthy person, in good health, with friends, fulfilling work, a loving family and a safe place to live - even such a person knows there's more. Perhaps much more.

What is the meaning of existence? How can I connect with the spiritual side of my life? When a person dies, does anything remain? Everybody ponders these questions at some time in life. Throughout the generations men and women have grappled with thoughts like these.

The great religions past and present have all tried to fill this human need for something other, something beyond. Perhaps you follow one of them. Or perhaps you find your spiritual energy in some other way.

When life treats us badly there are additional reasons to struggle with spiritual things. Maybe you have lost your home, or your partner. Maybe a loved one is ill, maybe you are ill yourself or there has been a death in the family. It can be hard to go on hoping. It can be hard to go on living.

I am willing to listen if you want to tell me your story, if you wish to do that you will find a way. But all I can do in the space of one blog post is tell you something of my own story.

My first wife, Judy, died when we were both forty-seven. Our teenage daughters were still in full-time education, Debbie at university and Beth soon to start. Judy and I had begun meeting regularly with two other couples, old friends on the same spiritual journey that we were on. And considering the difficulties and issues of Judy's illness they were absurdly happy times for her and for me too.

We lived day to day, immersed in each precious moment. The Spirit of Christ was alive in our hearts and he was with us in those moments too. The unbearable became easy. Or rather, there no longer was anything unbearable. When we met with our friends all of us were caught up into an amazing place, we were no longer just people in a room, we were in the presence of a spiritual power and presence that simply would not be denied.

We had been following Jesus for many years, but he was more alive within us now than at any time before. We had peace, and joy, and utter delight in knowing him together.

You can imagine I am sure, that having tasted such things, I really want to share them with other people whenever possible. This is good news - that Jesus can reach into our human distress and turn despair into blessing.

He saw us through everything and, if you ask him, he will see you through your troubles too. He will do it because he can, because he wants to, and because he loves you. If you don't already know this Jesus, then you need to know he is there and ready to listen. If you will allow him, he will make his home in your heart. Search for him and you will find him.

See the 'About' page and contact me if you want to ask questions or tell me about your own life issues. I will listen. Or read the Index page for the topic 'Spiritual Journey' for more details.

Questions:

  • What have you struggled with in your life?
  • Have you prayed about it?

See also:


< On a spiritual journey? | Index | We've run out of wine >

04 May 2012

Changes to the blog

There are a few changes to the blog that you should know about. There's a name change, an attempt to reach spiritual seekers who know little or nothing about Jesus, and a reduced focus on meetings.

The old version of the blogI'm making a few changes to the blog that will, I hope, make it more useful. I would like to reach the spiritually hungry with the good news that Jesus is alive with a life he really wants to share.

Name - The name of the blog is changing from 'All about Jesus' to 'Journeys of heart and mind'. Apart from that and the new label 'SpJ' (stands for 'Spiritual Journey') everything will look and work much as before.

Spiritual Journey - The 'SpJ' label displays what I hope will become a series of articles to help and encourage spiritual seekers of all kinds. The idea is to offer information that will stimulate thought and provide some useful resources.

Business cardPlease pray for a right attitude and boldness on my part. I feel Father wants me to make an effort to reach those people who are searching for spiritual truth and are open, but have not so far had the opportunity to meet Jesus as he really is.

I've also made myself a simple business card to hand out locally whenever I'm prompted to do so. Here's a picture of it, just a little teaser with a web address on it. I hope to use that to start conversations and make it possible for people to contact me later.

Meetings - There is one further change. I can no longer make even a token attempt at publishing notes on all the meetings I take part in locally. Instead I will write notes on meetings from time to time when it seems especially useful. The main change is that the 'Meetings' tab will now only list meetings that have notes, it will no longer include those that go unreported.

29 March 2012

Weeds in my garden

Weeds are unsightly and a nuisance in the garden. How do they get there? And what can we learn about our lives by analogy with garden weeds?

I sent a tweet yesterday, 'Weeds keep growing in my garden. There's a spiritual lesson in that, somewhere...'.

Plants and weeds growing togetherThinking about this later I realised there was an entire blog post just waiting to be written around the topic of gardens and weeds.

It is remarkable how weeds spring up, and looking at the horticultural aspects of this simple fact opens up many parallels with spiritual life. So let's consider where weeds come from and what they can tell us about our personal journeys with Jesus.

Any patch of bare soil tends to be invaded by thousands of baby weeds within a week or two (a day or two in warm weather). Where do weeds come from?
  1. Weeds can grow from small pieces of root or stem left in the ground. For some weeds with creeping roots, rhizomes or bulbs, this is a very common mechanism.
  2. Weeds can spring up from seeds that have been dormant in the soil.
  3. They can also grow from seeds carried in by the wind or by birds or mammals.
If I am following Jesus there should be signs of this in my life, there should be some results, some evidence. This evidence is called the fruit of the Spirit. If there are other, unwanted things in my life (such as anger, or unkindness, or a gloomy attitude, or unfaithfulness) there is a problem. Such things are like weeds. They grow where they are don't belong. The plan for the garden does not include them. They need to be removed. They come from the same sources as weeds in my garden.
  1. Small pieces of root or stem left in the ground. These are pieces of weed that are not visible, left in the ground by mistake. When there is an unhealthy attribute like anger, it's essential to do more than suppress the visible effects. If the cause is not dealt with, the visible effects will break through again and again.
  2. Seeds that lie dormant in the soil. These are too small to see and cannot be removed. The only way to control hidden seeds is to wait until they start to grow. The garden needs to be checked continuously and germinating seeds hoed out while they are still small. If they are left until they are large they will become unsightly problems and removing them may then leave fragments of root leading right back to problem 1.
  3. Seeds carried in. This will happen in our lives from time to time. Fresh sources of trouble will arise and the solution is the same as for problem 2, regular checking.
But there's a more fundamental truth here. It's self-evident that a garden can't weed itself. It's necessary for the gardener to intervene. It is action by the gardener that can dig out roots thoroughly. The plants in the garden will grow if there is sunshine and rain, but weeds will grow too. They need to be thoroughly removed and the garden regularly checked for new weeds.

Unlike a garden, I am capable of resisting the attentions of the gardener. I need to allow him access and accept the disturbance caused in my life by his action in dealing with the weeds.

Father, you are the Gardener in my life. You grafted me in to the true vine of your Son. You are the one who can remove the weeds - wherever they may have come from. Please deal with the weeds in my life, please reveal them and take them away so that I may remain clean and live according to your plan for me.

And guess what? A garden that is regularly weeded over a long period will eventually become completely free of sources 1 and 2. Once in this condition there is much less growth of weeds and the garden becomes far easier to maintain. This is the state of a mature garden. It is also the state of a mature life in Christ. Father, may I become ever more mature as you work in my life.

25 August 2010

RESPONSE - What inspires me?

Frank Viola recently asked his readers 'What inspires you?' It's a great question, isn't it? He's asking us to think about breathing. What do I mean by that? Read on...

My answer really centres on the idea of listening to Yahshua daily or, more accurately, moment by precious moment. I live each moment once, just briefly. And in each of those moments I respond to influences and pressures, to joys and fears, certainties and doubts. Some things I desire, other things repel me. And everything is in relationship to others. Even when I seem to be alone Christ is with me. Every little thing I do or say affects those around me. But through it all I try to pay attention to the voice of Jesus guiding me.

He speaks to us by living within us (Christ IN you, the hope of glory). We are containers for his life, his power, his righteousness, he is the bread of life, the living water, in him we can do ALL things. But we must listen.

Why? Because he blesses the obedient (his grace and his love are freely poured out upon us but blessing requires our obedience). And how can we obey if we don't hear what he tells us? And how can we hear unless we listen? (Hint: if you want some helpful ideas on listening, read about Church of Two.)

So for me inspiration is a matter of listening, hearing, and obeying. Let's look at this in a slightly different way.

To be inspired is to be breathed into. If I retain what is within me (stop breathing) I will die! It's no coincidence that the word 'expire' implies death. A body that is not breathing is dead, or about to die, or about to start breathing again. Breathe and live, don't breathe and die - there are no other alternatives.

There is physical breathing and there is spiritual breathing, physical life and spiritual life, physical death and spiritual death.

When I first recognised Jesus as the Messiah and believed that he was the Son of the Most High, he breathed his Spirit into me and I became spiritually alive with his life. The word 'spirit' and the word 'inspire' are closely related - both have to do with breath and breathing. Indeed, the Greek word 'pneuma' and the Hebrew 'ruach' can be translated 'spirit' or 'breath' according to context.

The Holy Spirit is the Holy Breath! When I was born my lungs inflated with air and I have been breathing ever since. If I stop I will die. When I was born again I was filled with spiritual breath (the Holy Spirit) and I have been breathing him ever since. If I stop I will die spiritually.

Do you think about breathing? Perhaps you are aware of breathing when you've been doing physical work and you are 'out of breath'. But most of the time it's a natural rhythm and you don't have to plan to breathe or set aside a special time for it. You even manage to breathe every night while you are asleep. Breathing is automatic.

Spiritual breathing is the same, it needs to be automatic. It is what 'inspires' us. The Holy Spirit was sent to lead us into all the Truth (Yahshua is Truth), to comfort us, to guide us, to be our advocate, to act in us on Christ's behalf.

I am inspired when I see Jesus in others, when I see the evidence of his life in them. I'm inspired by every action or word that comes from the fruit of the Spirit in others, such things as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-25). I'm inspired by beauty, grace, humility, wisdom, and everything that is good (Phil 4:8).

A more specific thing that inspires me is seeing others built up and growing in grace. And I am inspired by watching others reach out to share Christ's love in the community. What could be better than to see brothers and sisters living in unity of purpose, building strong bonds of peace and rejoicing together in the truth? This is church, this is life in Christ, that we love one another and share what we have with those in need around us. (There are physical needs, emotional needs, and spiritual needs. Our loving and sharing should cover all three.)

Inspiration comes from the Father through the Son as a result of their Spirit living inside us. And that inspiration floods out into every part of the body (the church), just as the air I breathe gives life to my fingers and toes and every organ in my body.

You have been called to be inspired and also to inspire. That is calling enough for a lifetime of fulfilling work.

20 March 2008

Eaton Ford - Leaf and plough

< 14th March 2008 | Index | 29th June 2008 >

This evening we were led to a song and some thoughts about growing. We listened to the rain on the roof and thought about ploughing. The main thrust of the meeting was spiritual growth.

We listened to Chris de Burgh's song from 1988, 'Just a Word Away'. Although it's not a Christian song it gives an insight into the way Father feels when a person first believes and is 'born again'. The words are appropriate and the music is quiet, peaceful, and exquisitely gentle.

Green leaves on a treeDonna pointed out that our growth as believers is like a child's growth, it happens daily although we can't detect it, but when we look back over a longer period we can see that we have been changed. However, we can't usually identify particular times when we 'suddenly grew'.

Chris said that we grow like a leaf. A leaf develops from a small bud, then spreads out and stretches and grows and becomes a more definite shade of green. The mature leaf provides the tree with nourishment. Sometimes we might think we do nothing useful, but without any leaves the tree couldn't grow and would eventually die. Our contribution to the church is just like that, it may seem insignificant, but if there were no believers the church itself would no longer exist.

Rachael added that there are two sides to spiritual life. There is growth in good things (like the leaf), but there's also a stripping away of what's not worthy in his sight. Those unworthy aspects of our lives will not survive, they will be destroyed. Chris drew our attention to the wind and rain that we could hear so clearly outside. He said that if he made a leaf out of paper or plastic it wouldn't survive very long outside in the wind and rain. A real leaf is different, remarkably resilient because it's alive. We can cope with the difficulties and challenges of life only because we're alive with his life. Rachael mentioned the process of birth in which a baby is brought from darkness into the light. It takes a long time for the process to be completed so the baby is adapted to the new environment. Maybe it takes us much longer then we expect before we are fully ready for the new life that's ours in Christ. It's a process.

Ploughing the soilRachael also shared a picture of an old-fashioned plough making furrows. The soil needs to be churned up and overturned before something new can be grown. There is a necessary process of breaking before the land can be used. It seemed to Chris that the breaking process is extremely important. It turns hard ground into soft, workable soil. It releases great richness too, so much that the birds follow along behind the plough and there are rich pickings for them! And the weeds that would choke the new crop are destroyed. Breaking is important. We need to be broken just as much as we need to grow. This made Rachael think of the expression 'breaking the mould' which she thought might come from the idea of getting a finished article out of the mould it was made in. In turn this reminded Chris of Michelangelo who once said that a beautiful sculpture was already inside the block of stone, and carving it was just a matter of releasing it for all to see.

The Lord gave Rachael a prophecy. 'Every step someone takes towards me cannot be lost again. That in itself is worth rejoicing over. You make one small step here and another step there, and before you know it you find you have walked 100 yards!' We were reminded of the way a baby learns to walk, at first there's just a single step, before long several steps in a row, and soon the young child is running and jumping.

We'd been talking about a sunrise meeting that some friends are planning. People use the phrase 'something dawned on me' to mean that the thing was illuminated in their mind. During dawn, the light becomes visible. Dawn is a new beginning, a new day, a new start, a new life. The Lord said, 'Let there be light' and there ''was'' light.

Chris read Genesis 1:1-4 and John 1:1-5. Both these famous texts mention the separation of light from the darkness. Darkness cannot comprehend the light, the enemy cannot win and doesn't even understand what is going on.

< 14th March 2008 | Index | 29th June 2008 >

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