Monday, December 17, 2012

Tragedy, the Lord, and Christmas Love

Struggling with the awful news of killings in a peaceful Connecticut town – 27 victims including 20 little children in the heart of the Christmas season – I recall another terrible killing two thousand years ago, of little boys two and under, not long after Jesus’ birth in a Bethlehem stable. “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2.18, quoting the prophecy of Jeremiah 31.15) 

Joseph heard the angel’s warning and led Mary and baby Jesus to safety in Egypt. But the killing of the baby boys around Bethlehem is there, every year, to remind us starkly of the evil in the world that the Lord came on earth to overcome, through His own living and victory in temptation.

This awful episode usually remains in the background as we prefer to focus on the positive, the happy and joyful – hopes for the future and human wishes to move closer to “peace on earth, good will towards men.” (Luke 2.14) It feels different this Christmas time. Reading about the murders in a happy little elementary school for 5-9-year-old boys and girls, I can’t help but feel also the horror of Herod’s attack on innocence around Bethlehem, and the tragic pain that parents and siblings went through, as they are going through now in Connecticut. With greater intensity than in other years I feel the reality of evil in the world, and in hell, that our Lord came on earth to counter, through His victorious love and truth.

Why at Christmas? The Lord always brings love. Evil is never from Him. When in His providence evil is allowed, it is because He created us to live in states of freedom, to make choices as of ourselves. Our environment is governed by His laws of providence, but is not arbitrarily changed at every turn to avoid or negate the consequences of bad human decisions. Such arbitrary manipulation of our environment would work against our choosing freely, and we would lean closer to choosing what feels good now, and leave God by Himself to clean up the messes from human decisions. To live truly freely, we exist in an environment that also has freedom and is not under God’s constant manipulation and change. And tragedies like the elementary school killings, like Herod’s slaughter of innocents, do occur.

Let us remember: the Lord’s loving providence without exception seeks to bring goodness out of all evil. No tragedy occurs where God does not enter into all people to inspire feelings of loving others, insights of truth, and human changes for the better. He forces inner change on no one, but endeavors always to lead us in our pain to higher understanding of reality, to spiritual growth inside us, and to heightened caring for our neighbors. Herod’s killings show us truly why God’s Word needed to come in the flesh. Tragedy at Christmas, while bringing anguish, can deepen our inner thought, and move our focus to what is truly important about Christmas – God coming on earth.

Everyone who reads this will grieve from the recent tragic news. And we all can also take the time to reflect and to act, in our own personal ways, to carry out goodness from the Lord in our daily surroundings, with fuller and better love towards others.

Dan Goodenough, December 15, 2012
Reprinted with permission

Jeremiah 31
15 Thus says Jehovah: A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her sons refused to be comforted for her sons, for they were not.
16 Thus says Jehovah: Withhold thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears; for there shall be a reward for thy work, says Jehovah; and they shall return from the land of the enemy.
17 And there is hope for thy last times, says Jehovah, and sons shall return to their border.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Spiritual Growth Support Group

I look forward to facilitating a Spiritual Growth Support Group again for nine sessions starting 

Monday, January 14, 2013. 

Here are the homework tasks that are given out. Very powerful stuff!

When you become aware of a negative emotion in yourself, find a distraction and notice if the strength of the emotion is reduced. Observe the thoughts that surround the negative emotion and how quickly they arrive. Experiment with stopping the negative emotion by stopping the negative thoughts. Notice any changes that the distraction or positive thoughts have on the negative emotion. Write about this in your journal and come prepared to report on your experience. 

When you observe a negative emotion in yourself, remind yourself that the emotion is not YOU. Say: "IT IS _________ (mad, jealous, scared, etc.), and I don't have to be." Write about this experience in your journal and come prepared to report on your reactions.

Observe your criticisms (out loud and in your head) for a whole day. Once you have noticed the pattern of critical thoughts, go for a whole day without internal or external criticism. This applies to self-criticism as well. Notice what happens and record it in your journal. 

1. Observe IT (your lower self) Lying 
a. Saying to yourself or to another what is not true, 
b. Rationalizing; making excuses by lying to yourself, 
c. Exaggerating (externally or internally), d. Talking with authority about something you know little or nothing about, e. Saying things that are true with the intention to mislead, f. Lying by omission, leaving out some vital piece of information, g. Telling "nice" lies, lying to be kind. 
2. When you observe the lying, stop as soon as you notice.

Whenever you feel regret or anxiety, observe any connection with the past or future. Let go and bring yourself into an awareness of something positive in the here and now. Say to yourself: "The present moment is eternity. I am in the perfect place at the perfect time."

When a person trespasses against you, use effort and attention to recall something you should ask the Lord to forgive you for. Hold them side-by-side.

When you suspect that a state you are in is NEGATIVE, notice whatever enjoyment you may be having from it. What is the pay-off for the negative state? What HIGHER ENJOYMENT is being blocked by the negative delight? Let go of the negative and see if you can allow the positive to take its place. 

Create a task for yourself relating to handing your life over to the Lord. It might take the form of beginning each day with a prayer, such as "Lord, I give my life to You this day". It could take the form of pausing from time to time to ask: "Lord, what is Your will for me at this moment?" Find a task that suits where you are in your life at this time.