Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Dalai Lama Observes the Day of Miracles

Observing the Day of Miracles
February 19, 2019

Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - The skies were clearing this morning after continuous overnight rain had left the ground wet underfoot and deposited fresh snow on the mountains and hills behind Dharamsala.

A sharp fresh breeze blew as His Holiness the Dalai Lama was escorted by yellow hatted monks playing horns, swinging censers and bearing a ceremonial yellow umbrella from his residence to the Tsuglagkhang. The yard and areas around the temple were packed with people and His Holiness returned their greetings as he walked through. Seated inside the temple were monks as well as retired and serving members of the Central Tibetan Administration.

His Holiness took his seat on the throne and the burly chantmaster declaimed the Heart Sutra and the long prayer to the Lam Rim lineage lamas, including the Kadampa masters, in deeply resonant tones.

“We’re gathered on this special day on which we celebrate the Buddha’s having performed miracles at Shravasti in response to a challenge from six rival spiritual teachers,” His Holiness explained. “In Tibet Je Tsongkhapa established this celebration as part of the Great Prayer Festival or Mönlam Chenmo. After some time it lapsed, but was revived once more during the time of Gendun Gyatso, the 2nd Dalai Lama.

“We weren’t able to celebrate these occasions during our first couple of years in exile, but re-established the custom as soon as we could after that. I decided to hold today’s teaching in the temple rather than down in the yard because it’s so cold today and because we’ll be meeting here to listen to the ‘Essence of the Middle Way’ over the coming days.”

Reading the Jataka Tales, accounts of the Buddha’s former lives, is part of the Great Prayer Festival. Yesterday, the reading had reached the story of Maitribala. Today, His Holiness began to read the story of Vishvantara, Prince of the Sibis, the life that preceded his birth as a Prince of the Shakyas. An accomplished exponent of generosity, the Prince is described as follows: “Though a youth, he possessed the lovely placidity of mind proper to old age; though he was full of ardour, his natural disposition was inclined to forbearance; though learned, he was free from conceit of knowledge; though mighty and illustrious, he was void of pride.”

His Holiness remarked that although the Buddha lived and taught more than 2500 years ago, there is still interest in his teachings. As do all other religious traditions, Buddhism encourages the practices of love and compassion, patience and tolerance. Different traditions propound different philosophical points of view to support such practice. Theistic traditions speak of a creator God embodying infinite love, qualities the faithful are inspired to emulate.

Non-theistic traditions observe the law of causality that to give help brings happiness and doing harm brings trouble. As social animals dependent on the communities in which they live human beings need to cultivate compassion. Followers of religion, His Holiness observed, should respect each other’s traditions while maintaining faith in their own.

“Buddhist teaching, like other traditions, commends us to take care of others, but what is different is that it expounds selflessness—that there is no independent self. Traditions that speak of an atman, a self independent of the aggregates or body/mind combination, explain that that is what goes from life to life. Buddhism rejects this and states that what goes from one life to the next is the subtle mind.

“In his first round of teachings the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths. In the second round, as part of the Perfection of Wisdom, he explained that things are empty of intrinsic existence because they are dependently arisen. The self has no intrinsic existence because it is merely designated on the basis of the aggregates.

“During the third round, because there were people who could not yet accept the import of the perfection of wisdom and were at risk of falling into nihilistic views, the Buddha taught the sutra known as the ‘Unravelling of the Thought’. He also explained Buddha nature. Whereas in the second round of teachings he had referred to the objective clear light, during the third round he mentioned the subjective clear light that is also the basis of tantric practice.”

His Holiness quoted a verse that expresses the Buddha’s thought after enlightenment. 'Profound and peaceful, free from complexity, uncompounded luminosity—I have found a nectar-like Dharma. Yet if I were to teach it, no-one would understand what I said, so I shall remain silent here in the forest.' He clarified that ‘profound and peaceful’ refers to the first round of the Buddha’s teachings; ‘free from complexity’ refers to content of the second round, while ‘uncompounded luminosity’ refers to the third round.

The Buddha rejected the idea of an atman, a single, autonomous, permanent self. Nagarjuna elucidated this in his ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’, as can be seen in the first chapter. Chapter 26 explains the 12 links of dependent arising, beginning with ignorance. How things lack intrinsic existence is revealed in chapter 18 and chapter 24 shows that this is because they are all dependently arisen.

That which is dependently arisen
Is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation,
Is itself the middle way.

There does not exist anything
That is not dependently arisen.
Therefore, there does not exist anything
That is not empty.

Through the elimination of karma and mental afflictions there is nirvana.
Karma and mental afflictions come from conceptual thoughts.
These come from mental fabrication.
Fabrication ceases through emptiness.

His Holiness pointed out that understanding things to be empty of intrinsic existence loosens our anger and attachment towards them. He reported that Indian nuclear physicist Raja Ramana had told him that the quantum physics notion that nothing has any objective existence seems to be new, but was anticipated long ago by Buddhist and other Indian thinkers. He added that American psychiatrist Aaron Beck’s observation that the negative light in which we hold someone or something with which we are angry is 90% mental projection—this also complies with Nagarjuna’s thought.

“It’s not enough just to cultivate the awakening mind of bodhichitta,” His Holiness said, “you also need the wisdom that understands that things have no independent or intrinsic existence. In this connection, Je Tsongkhapa made the request, ‘May I overcome all doubts by employing the fourfold reasoning’. To overcome wrong views, we need to study books like Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom’, Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ and Bhavaviveka’s ‘Essence of the Middle Way’. Then analyse and compare what they have to say. This is why faith is not enough, we need to use reasoned analysis.

“In Tibet we acknowledged a group of Indian masters known as the Six Ornaments and Two Supremes, but since such masters as Chandrakirti and Shantideva were left out, I composed a Praise to the Seventeen Nalanda Masters to include them.”

Resuming the story of Prince Vishvantara, His Holiness told of his great generosity and how a neighbouring king decided to test and take advantage of it by asking him to give away his majestic white elephant. Ministers were sent to make the request. Prince Vishvantara suspected that this was the ‘miserable trick of some king’, but ‘his attachment to righteousness did not allow him to be frightened by the lie of political wisdom’. He dismounted from the elephant and agreed to give it away. His own father’s ministers, angered by the loss this represented to their kingdom, complained to the prince’s father the king, resulting in the prince’s banishment.

His Holiness mentioned that the Kadampa tradition consisted of three lineages. Of these the Scriptural Lineage focussed on six texts—the Jataka Tales and the Tibetan equivalent of the Dhammapada, the Udanavarga. Also included were Shantideva's ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life' and ‘Compendium of Training', Asanga's ‘Bodhisattva Grounds' and Maitreya's ‘Ornament of Sutras'. Of these, the first two, the Jataka Tales and the Udanavarga provided the basis for faith. He went on to cite Haribhadra’s description of two kinds of practitioner, those who start with faith and the more intelligent who start with reason.

As he took up the ‘Eight Verses for Training the Mind’ His Holiness remarked that bodhichitta is cultivated on the basis of reason. This short text contains instructions not only for cultivating bodhichitta, but also for developing a view of reality. His Holiness stated that he first received an explanation of it from Tagdrag Rinpoché and later from Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoché. As he read through the verses, he commented that when we give to the poor we should do so respectfully; we should treasure ill-natured trouble-makers and give the victory to others, regarding enemies as precious teachers. We should cultivate the practice of ‘giving and taking’ and regard all things as like illusions, asking ourselves whether things really exist the way they appear.

Turning to Je Tsongkhapa’s ‘In Praise of Dependent Arising’ His Holiness stressed that the root of all suffering is ignorance. In the course of reading through the verses, he recounted the story of Je Rinpoché’s having a vision of Manjushri who gave him instructions. When Je Rinpoché told him he had difficulty understanding them, Manjushri told him to study the classic texts and to engage in practices of purification and accumulation of merit. To do this he recommended he go into retreat.

Because Je Rinpoché was teaching a large group of students at the time, some friends told him that to break off and go into isolated retreat might attract criticism. When this was reported to him, Manjushri retorted, “I know what’s best for you to help other beings.” Consequently, with eight close disciples, Tsongkhapa entered a long retreat at Chadrel Hermitage in 1392. He had a dream of Nagarjuna and his disciples. One of them, who he identified as Buddhapalita, came forward and touched a book to his head. Next day, while reading ‘Buddhapalita’ Je Rinpoché gained a subtle insight into emptiness and dependent arising’s being simultaneous and concurrent. As a result he developed the special respect for the Buddha that is expressed in this text.

Next, His Holiness gave a reading of his Praise to the 17 Masters of Nalanda. He gave particular emphasis to the kindness of Shantarakshita and Kamalashila who were responsible for establishing the Nalanda Tradition with its combination of logic and philosophy in Tibet.

“In the past we Tibetans lived in isolation,” His Holiness observed, “but coming into exile has enabled us to share the Nalanda Tradition and its basis in reason with others. This is an inspiration to Tibetans in Tibet, who rejoice that our traditions will not die out. Meanwhile, we in exile take inspiration from those Tibetans’ unflinchingly determined spirit.

“Keeping our knowledge and traditions alive is a source of pride and those from the CTA who have contributed to this can feel they have made their lives meaningful. There will be a sunny day for Tibet and the time when it will come is not far off. There are no reports that the great masters who wrote the Thirteen Classic Texts that we study sat chanting in deep voices—they employed analysis and wrote about what they understood. Monks of the seats of learning in South India belong to this tradition and should keep it up.”

His Holiness concluded by reciting the following verses from Nagarjuna’s ‘Precious Garland’:

May I always be an object of enjoyment
For all sentient beings according to their wish
And without interference, as are the earth,
Water, fire, wind, herbs, and wild forests.

May sentient beings be as dear to me as my own life,
And may they be dearer to me than myself.
May their ill deeds bear fruit for me,
And all my virtues bear fruit for them.

As long as any sentient being
Anywhere has not been liberated,
May I remain [in the world] for the sake of that being
Though I have attained highest enlightenment.

From the temple His Holiness walked back to his residence smiling and waving to members of the crowd as he went, stopping here and there to have a word with an old friend.

photos and original text: https://www.dalailama.com/news/2019/observing-the-day-of-miracles

Friday, February 15, 2019

Union with Christ and Abiding in Him; the Lost Gem

By Reverend Mark Hunnemann

Have you ever been frustrated with the gap between your head knowledge of God and your heart experience of the Living God? Of course you have; and so have I. I can speak with such certainty because I have never met a person who was completely satisfied with their experience of God moment by moment. The Gap, as I’m calling it, is ubiquitous and in a sense will always be with us before we see God face to face. When you understand the biblical tension between the now and not yet, then so much of the bible will become intelligible. However, I think that the gap does not need to be nearly as large as it usually is for most of us.  How do we overcome it?

May I ask another question: how would you define the gospel or what a Christian is? There is more than one way to answer that, but Paul never used the term ‘Christian’, and when it is used in the NT (3 Times) it is probably not a term of endearment. For Paul, by far his favorite way of referring to Christians are those who are ‘in Christ.’ About 160 times in his writings that or a similar phrase is used. That little prepositional phrase is sooooo easy to overlook when reading the bible, but once you see its significance you begin to see it almost everywhere! When Paul is addressing people in an epistle, he will often refer to them as so and so ‘in Christ.’ The church of (blank) in Christ Jesus. What is being referred to is our union with Christ. ‘In Christ’ is shorthand for the most central motif in all the bible—our union with the Triune God through Christ. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us (John 14)—and as a result, we are to abide in the Lord. It is interesting how Pauline John sounds in his gospel, or the reverse.

I actually delayed doing this segment because it is so rich, and so crucial, that I never felt that I was ready or adequate to explain it. I still don’t..but am plunging ahead. We NEED to grasp this teaching.

We live as pilgrims in a foreign land. Nevertheless, I am convinced that knowing our union with Christ is the key to substantially decreasing the size of the The Gap. Yet many Christians are ignorant of this notion of union with Christ. Union with Christ—what is that?

Satan is the great identity thief; he confuses Christians as to who they are in Christ; to close our eyes to being ‘in Christ.’ He wants us to struggle and see ourselves as ‘in me.’..which is terrible news and recipe for anxiety ridden life. Satan muddles our essential identity as people who are no longer ‘in Adam’ and are now ‘in Christ’. It answers the age old question: who am I? Identity!  Being in Christ includes being forgiven of our sins but it is so much more.

 To say that we are in union with Christ contains two elements: we are in Christ, and Christ indwells us. Our union is unchangeable, unalterable (cannot be increased or decreased) instantaneous and irreversible. But our abiding in Christ is what we do; it is our active communing with the Christ with whom we are in union.  I am not going to exegete this text in Ephesians, but I chose it to show how prevalent this notion of ‘in Christ’ is. But being in union with Christ is like having an indissoluble umbilical cord between you and the Lord Jesus in heaven.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 (full stop—all of our spiritual blessings find their origin in our union with Christ) even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world (union with Christ is from eternity past to eternity future), that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined usb for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making knownc to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guaranteed of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,e to the praise of his glory.

11 times in 13 verses he speaks of us being’ In Christ’! This is picked almost at random because it so common that it is a phrase that one easily passes over without ever really seeing it. But for Paul it was everything! Some have said that both in the OT and NT union with Christ is the central motif. And the apostle John was so similar in his assertions to Paul, using pictures of our union, like the vine in Jn 15.

1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is youra life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.(Col.3:1-4)

The first thing to note about our union with Christ is that it extends from eternity past to eternity future.

And that Christ is our very life.

The Colossian Christians were under attack. It seems that false teachers were preying on new converts, who are so susceptible. They have come to Christ and freed from occult bondage in mighty way, but as time passes they inevitably discover that this sin is still in them; bondage broken but they still wrestle with the world, the flesh and the devil. So, they are ripe for false teachers who come along and say: “Are you frustrated? Well, what Paul said is all well and good but to get fullness, you need to do x,y and z.” The key word of these false teachers seems to have been ‘fullness/pleroma’—and this seems to be a proto-gnostic type heresy. The key to false teachers was that they sought to add to Christ to bring them to fullness of spiritual reality. But in reality, in Christ is all the fullness and to be in Christ is to have all the fullness. That is why it says in Eph 1 all spiritual riches are found in Him. Same in Col.

30 And because of hime you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor.1:30-31)

This is why in chapters 1 and 2 of Col. Paul stresses how all the fullness of deity dwells in Christ bodily. To be united with Him who is fullness of deity is to experience full fullness; why seek angels (as we do today as well) to round out or top off Jesus Christ, when angels are infinitely inferior to Christ—He made them! But more importantly, why look to angels and (supernatural experiences) or human traditions to make you more spiritual when you already have all you need in Christ? How many believers hop from one conference, video, experience or book to the next because they are restless—seeking some something that will add to ‘just having Jesus.’ We do not need more; what we need is to understand more fully what it is that we have already, as Paul prays in Eph 1 and 3. As I said, few Christians have even begun to plumb the depths of the meaning of our union with Christ. It is not talked about very much from pulpits, which is odd given how often it is mentioned.

What does it mean to be saved than to be united with our savior? So, the eminent theologian John Murray asserted: ‘Nothing is more central or more basic than union with Christ…it is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.” The accomplishment and application of redemption is brought to our experience via our union with Christ.

Elsewhere he likens it to the hub of a bicycle wheel—all the salvation blessings flow out like spokes from this central core. We come to experience all of Christ and all He did by our union with Him. Christ came, lived, died, rose and ascended so that He might bring us into vital union with Him. He speaks of this in His High Priestly prayer in John 17.

We must not separate what Christ has done FOR us from the person of Christ who indwells us. We must not separate the benefits from the Benefactor. Union with Christ first brings us into vital union with the Person of Jesus Christ, and His death and resurrection FOR US.

1. Let us first look at our being ‘in Christ’. In Rom. 5 we are born into the world ‘in Adam’ as our representative, and when he sinned, we sinned with him. It is as if we were there with him because he was our federal head/representative. When Adam sinned, we inherited his guilt and corrupted spiritual nature which has darkened every aspect of our humanity and left us spiritually dead (Eph 2:1). Guilty and totally corrupted and darkened.There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who are still ‘in Adam,’ and thus spiritually dead and under God's wrath, and those who are ‘in Christ’ and have been regenerated and baptized with the Holy Spirit, which water baptism represents—and united with all our new Adam accomplished for us.

But being united to Christ by faith, our new representative is Jesus Christ. Everything He did He did as our representative. Now the astonishing thing is that, starting with the Incarnation, if we are in Christ, then we were with Him in all these salvation events. Since we are in Christ and He is our very life, then we can say: that we were united with Him in His incarnation; His 33 years of perfect obedience to the law and to the Father, it is as if we were living that perfect life. His righteousness is imputed to us.

 And, we were crucified and died with Him (Gal, 2:20; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom. 6:1ff)

 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

There is a very real sense in which when Jesus hung on the cross, we were with Him. As our substitutionary penal atonement, Jesus died for our sins. ‘Huper’ is Greek word ‘for us’ and since we are united with the whole Christ then we are united with the whole of what He did. He died for us and He accomplished what He set out to do.

Next, we were with Christ when He was entombed.(Rom. 6:4) The Holy Spirit was perfectly united with the corpse of Jesus in the grave, just as Christ is united through the Holy Spirit with our dead bodies. We were raised with Him, ascended and glorified with Him, and now in some wonderfully mysterious/mystical way, our life is now hidden in heaven with Christ (Col. 3:1ff) and we reign with Him; that is eternal security. Even our dead, rotting bodies in the grave are in union with Christ because our bodies matter to God—and they will be raised incorruptible on the Last day. 1 Cor 15; 2 Cor 5. And it is as if Jesus considers Himself incomplete as long as all those whom the  Father has given Him are not with Him.

And the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thess 4) 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord,d that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

Dead in Christ? What can that mean since glorified saints have never been more alive.

Paul cannot be talking about glorified souls because they are not dead—they are in Christs presence. He is referring to our bodies, which are ‘sleeping.’ What a lovely truth that even our corpses are precious to our Lord and are in Him! And at the Second Coming He will raise our bodies from the grave and make them wonderfully glorified bodies, such His own is now.

I have thought about this and the decaying bodies of believers are holy to God, so I do not think the demonic can mess with them but I do think that demons inhabit cemeteries because of the bodies of unbelievers, which are unholy. Why do so many foolish folks seek to have experiences in cemeteries? There are many sad tales of people being followed home by unclean spirits because of doing this.

These realities are so amazing Paul actually invented new words to convey our being crucified and raised with (Greek-syn)Christ. And we read in Rom 8:11 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

We can rest in Christ and cease anxiously striving and trying to prove ourselves through our looks, actions, ministries ect. We are in union with Christ NOW, and this union is unbreakable.

Christ has so closely identified Himself with us that He asked Saul why was he persecuting Him?! To touch those ‘in Christ’ is to touch Him. This is a union of extraordinary closeness.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.b The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor.5:17)

We have a new identity in Christ. Many speak of the battle of the old man and the new man, but this is confusion. The old man (identity) is gone forever—that would be like Adam and Jesus  fighting inside us!! But indwelling sin does remain. So, the new man does battle with sin, world and devil—but not with old self/man. I have heard even the finest theologians get confused on this point. With Christ, we have died to old identity and to tyranny of sin. In heaven the very presence of sin will be evacuated.

When we are baptized (as children or adults—there are good arguments for both) we are given a new name. When I was born my parents named me Mark Andrew Hunnemann, which is quite a mouthful! It became what I responded to as it represented me. It was/is my name…its me. Someone says ‘Mark Hunnemann’ I know who they are talking about.

 In baptism the old name of Adam is replaced by the name of the Triune God (Jesus said baptize them in the Name….), in whose name we are baptized. Paul refers to this in Romans 6. So, our baptism and the Lord’s Supper both celebrate our union with Christ and each other. It certainly is a devilish thing that we fuss and fume over amount of water to baptize with when the focus is on being ‘immersed’ (if you will) into the new identity of being in Christ. We have placed on us the mark of our union with the Triune God. That is why Luther, when troubled, would often say to himself-“I have been baptized.” We have a new identity. So many today are on an unconscious quest to discover who they really are. But being ‘in Christ’ is our new identity. It is a glorious new identity which entails all that Jesus accomplished and the Holy Spirit applied to us.

2. Not only are we in Christ, but through the Holy Spirit, He is in us--Christ indwells us. So He not only gives us a new identity but new power to live holy lives. Union with Christ is of the most intimate nature. Christ comes into our entire beings as a homemaker (John 14) 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (John 14)

Christ was telling His disciples that it was to their benefit that He ascend and send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the agent of the Trinity, so when He indwells us, then the entire Trinity indwells us. Indeed, in a lovely reality, the Triune God comes into us as a homemaker. Those of you ladies who are homemakers know what this entails and think of the dignity this homemaking of God gives to your calling, as it patterns after God’s own crowning work in us. But let us focus on God and His indwelling of us and how we not only have a new identity, but because the Trinity indwells us we have a new power. There was a massive change inside of us at regeneration and then we were united to Christ by faith and this power of the omnipotent God now indwells our feeble and frail bodies. Regardless of whether you feel His presence is not the issue—His presence is more certain than our fluctuating feelings.

What Christ did for us on the cross in defeating sin and becoming a curse for us, He now indwells us to give us the power to live in a way pleasing to God. In Col. we are then told to put off the old man and put on the new man. Some communions still have the practice of providing new and clean clothes for all those who undergo baptism. We are to become who we are in fact. The imperitives are grounded in the indicatives of our union with Christ. An indicative is a statement of fact and imperative is a command. So, before we are TOLD to be like Christ, we are filled with Christ, so that we have the power to become in practice what we are in fact.

Remember that the pattern for Christ was suffering and then glory, so we who are in union with Christ are to follow that same pattern: we shall suffer here but it shall prepare us for glory.

The beauty of union with Christ is that the guilt and power of sin are both dealt with.

“How few of us are experimentally (experientially) acquainted with this privilege of holding immediate communion with the Father in love.” So said the great Puritan, John Owen. The Trinity now has made His home in us and we are to abide in the Vine. How is this done? Union is a fact, but abiding is something that we do. It was George Mueller of Bristol England who stated that he made it his first priority of the day to get his heart happy in the Lord; which is another way of talking of abiding. I think that is a helpful way to view reading/prayer as a means of abiding. God has given us His means of grace by which we abide in Him. The temptation is always there to drift. May the Lord put a short leash on us and gently but quickly pull us back when we begin to drift away from sweet communion with Christ.

See this lovely quote from Calvin:

“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is of Him. If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in His anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in His dominion; if purity, in His conception; if gentleness, it appears in His birth. For by His birth He was made like us in all respects, that He might learn to feel our pain. If we seek redemption, it lies in His passion; if acquittal, in His condemnation; if remission of the curse, in His cross; if satisfaction, in His sacrifice; if purification, in His blood; if reconciliation, in His descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in His tomb; if newness of life, in His resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in His entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in His Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to Him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in Him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.”  Institutes of Christian Religion

Our part-Abiding. What is the first thing you think of upon awakening? What must I do today?…I do..I..I…I?  Instead we should ask: Lord, what shall WE do today? I have an 87 year old friend and prayer warrior who says every morning: ‘Lord, what shall we do today?” In addition to that, I frequently add: I am in union with You, please help me to abide in You as intimately as is possible this side of heaven. God desires deep intimacy with us, and abiding in Christ is the key to bridging the gap between our head knowledge and heart knowledge. 4Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15)

I heard recently the experience of Hudson Taylor, the founder of China Inland Mission which touched countless lives. He died in 1905 but  not before seeing extraordinary fruit in China. But he labored for a number of years and suffered terrible trials before he had a life altering experience of discovering union with Christ. It is not that he got something he did not have before, but as Paul prayed in Eph that we would understand more fully the extent of God’s love for us; to more fully possess our possessions, as one man put it; to know more fully what we already know. Any good pastor knows that a big part of pastoral work is patiently explaining to people what Paul was praying for in Eph 3—a deeper awareness of the depth of God’s love. One day as Taylor was laboring under immense weight, he received a letter from a friend which outlined the freedom of knowing and resting in our union with Christ and learning to abide and rest in that union. (this is not passive rest because we must fight) Learning that apart from abiding in Christ we can do nothing. Nothing! Notice the dual emphasis on us in Christ, and He in us, and then the call to ABIDE. Another word might be communion with…walking intimately with.

His son wrote a few decades later that this event was no ephemeral passing fad—his dad was forever changed, and he never seemed perturbed amidst the most stressful situations. He knew in his heart the beauty of his union with Christ—with the whole Christ and all He did. When Taylor understood the implications of being in Christ it melted his heart and he was a changed man. He saw God’s sovereignty and He released his anxieties into the arms of Him whom he was in intimate union with. He learned to abide in his union amidst the terrible tragedies he suffered.

Extravagant grace and radical discipleship are often presented as two opposite ways of pursuing the Christian life; but both are drawn together in union with Christ. While some fall prey to hyper-grace and others to heavy burden of striving for radical discipleshsip, both the beauty of grace and the call to mirror holiness are wed together in our union with Christ. Union with Christ is the key to balance in the Christian life.

But Christ is always greater than our experience of Him, and cannot be reduced to our experience.

My prayer is that by understanding our union with Christ, and the utter security that entails, that we would be forever changed as well. Our anxiety ridden striving would cease. We are accepted in the Beloved , now-we do not have to prove ourselves to God or anyone. Yes, we strive against the world, flesh and devil until we die BUT we now know how much God loves us and that the power of sin to enslave us has been broken. We view ourselves as being in Christ and united to every aspect of His saving life and death, resurrection and ascension. The immense security and sense of significance that should flow from this awareness is staggering. We have a new identity and a new power.

Apart from Christ we can do nothing but sin, but in Christ we can begin to drink deeply from the wells of Living Water. May you begin to experience a depth of communion with the Triune God that you’ve never known, and experience joy unspeakable, IN CHRIST.

Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook forma

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Dalai Lama Meets with Deepak Chopra and Friends

Deepak Chopra and Friends Meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - Indian-born American author and public speaker Deepak Chopra and 45 close friends met His Holiness the Dalai Lama this morning. His Holiness welcomed them saying:

“We’ve met a few times before, but now I’m happy to be able to welcome you here, my spiritual brothers and sisters, to what has been my home for the last nearly 60 years.

“In today’s world, despite extensive material development, we face all kinds of problems. Natural disasters are beyond our control, but fighting and killing are things we could put a stop to. However, we pay too much attention to material goals and not enough to human values like love. Many of the problems we face are of our own creation and yet scientists tell us that basic human nature is compassionate. They also tell us that cultivating a compassionate attitude is good for our physical health, while constant anger and fear undermine our immune systems.

“We don’t give enough weight to inner values. We see other people in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Even religious practitioners do this. We distinguish between our country and their country. Young children don’t care about such distinctions. If other children smile and play, they’re happy to be with them. It’s only when we get older that we begin to stress secondary differences between us. We need to look deeper and appreciate that we are all the same in being human. And I believe we have a responsibility to share the importance of warm-heartedness.”

“Since we last met in New Jersey,” Deepak Chopra interpolated, “it has become clear that many ailments are a result of inner inflammation and that meditation is a means of calming it down.”

“I appreciate the work you do.” His Holiness responded, “We all belong to the 7 billion human beings. Mentally, emotionally and physically we are the same, so we should each contribute as best we can to making humanity better and happier. We should try to make this 21st century different from the 20th century, a period spoiled by violence, a time when brilliant scientists dedicated themselves to improving weapons. The outbursts of fighting and killing we see here and there today are a consequence of that old way of thinking that problems can be solved through the use of force. Instead, we should acknowledge our different interests and ideas and make this a century of dialogue.”

In answering questions from the group, His Holiness explained that just as we can’t assert that one medicine is best for everyone, because what is required will depend on the patient’s age, condition and ailment, we can’t state that a particular religious tradition is best. Different people may find different traditions and practices more effective for them. Tibetans follow the Nalanda Tradition which means they study the works of various masters and he indicated the figures depicted in paintings hanging around the room. They analyze and investigate contrasting points of view, which deepens their understanding. For the individual, His Holiness added, the important thing is to find a practice that helps tackle the destructive emotions.

Asked to name a world leader he admired, His Holiness mentioned Mahatma Gandhi, who, despite his sophisticated education, returned to India where he dressed like an ordinary Indian and promoted ahimsa or non-violence during the freedom struggle. He also acknowledged Rajendra Prasad, first President of India and Willy Brandt who maintained contact with the Soviet Union even during the Cold War.

Invited to explain how to be compassionate while being wronged, His Holiness recommended recognizing that we are all just human beings. He declared that he’d found such an approach of immense help in his own life. Whoever he meets he feels is just like him, someone he can regard as a brother or sister. When he thinks of Chinese officials in Tibet who have imposed hardship on Tibetans, he reminds himself that they too are human beings. As social animals, human beings depend on the community in which they live, which is why His Holiness emphasizes the importance of remembering the oneness of humanity.

He went on to discuss non-violence and what a waste it is to dedicate talent and resources to developing, manufacturing and selling weapons. He recounted a meeting of Nobel Peace Laureates in Rome and being shocked by a description of the consequences should nuclear weapons be used. He immediately suggested that a timetable be set for their elimination, but nothing happened. Nevertheless, he said, it is essential not to give up the effort, not only on the level of leaders and organizations like the UN, but on an ordinary public level too.

“As brothers and sisters we must take action,” he said, “to bring about a peaceful world step by step.”

In the face of modern education’s predominantly material goals His Holiness recommended adding to instructions about physical hygiene advice about emotional hygiene and ways to tackle destructive emotions. Children can be taught to recognize that anger and fear ruin our peace of mind, while other destructive emotions disrupt family harmony. He noted that the ancient Indian understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions remains relevant and helpful on a practical level today.

“In the early 20th century,” His Holiness added, “scientists only showed interest in learning about the brain as distinct from the mind. Gradually, some of them have come to recognize that there are different levels of mind—sensory waking consciousness, the consciousness of the dream state, the subtler awareness of deep sleep and so forth. Some meditators have experienced these different levels of mind in meditation, while scientists have begun to see how they affect the brain.

“In schools we need to teach not only about physical fitness, but about mental fitness too. In general, modern India pays too little attention to this kind of understanding, but I am committed to encouraging a revival of ancient Indian knowledge in this country. I am convinced that India is the only country that can combine modern education with ancient Indian knowledge of the mind and emotions and share it with the wider world.”

original link & photos: https://www.dalailama.com/news/2019/deepak-chopra-and-friends-meet-his-holiness-the-dalai-lama

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Dalai Lama's Tibetan New Year Message

His Holiness's Tibetan New Year Message

His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Tibetan New Year Message (Tibetan New Year is February 5th, 2019) given during a meeting with a group of elderly Tibetans all over the age of 90 at his residence in Dharamsala, HP, India on February 4, 2019.


Monday, January 28, 2019

The Dalai Lama Meets with Students from the USA & Israel

Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - This morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama met with a group of 51 students and 6 staff members of Kivunim. This department of Hebrew College offers an academic gap year program for North American High School graduates based in Jerusalem with field trip visits to 11 other countries. His Holiness welcomed them to Dharamsala—his home for the last sixty years.

"All of us seven billion human beings are mentally, emotionally and physically same,” he told them. “Whether you are a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian or belong to any other faith, there is no difference in the way we are born or the way we die. We begin our lives basking in our mother’s affection, without which we would not have survived.

“Scientists have evidence that basic human nature is compassionate. They have also found that the opposite, constant anger and hatred, weaken our immune systems. Therefore, just as we teach physical hygiene to preserve our physical health, in order for people to learn how to maintain a happy, peaceful mind, they need to learn emotional hygiene—how to tackle their destructive emotions.”

His Holiness explained that he is committed to promoting basic human values because of his concern that people should be able to lead their lives in joy and peace. In this connection he is also committed to encouraging religious harmony because, despite differences in their philosophical views, all major religious traditions convey a similar message of love and compassion, patience and tolerance and so forth. He acknowledged that belief in a merciful creator God is a powerful basis for viewing our fellow creatures as brothers and sisters. Being responsible for your own actions, as taught among non-theistic traditions, has a similar effect.

His Holiness mentioned how sad he feels to see conflict in the name of religion:

"Religion is supposed to bring people closer together, so it’s unthinkable that it should be used create conflict. It is particularly sad when members of different denominations of the same religion, such as Sunni and Shia Muslims, quarrel with each other, however this doesn’t seem to be a problem in India.”

Although he has retired and passed his political responsibilities to an elected leadership in 2011, His Holiness remains deeply concerned about keeping Tibet's rich culture and language alive.
"As far as the Nalanda tradition is concerned, its approach to reality, which depends on the use of reason, is scientific and unique among Buddhist traditions."

Regarding the need to protect Tibet’s ecology, His Holiness reported that scientists have told him that because the natural environment at high altitude is more fragile, when it is damaged it takes much longer to recover.

“Historically, according to Chinese documents, Tibet, Mongolia and China were independent nations in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries,” His Holiness remarked. “However, the past is past. We need to take account of the reality today. We are not seeking separate status for Tibet. We are prepared to remain with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), provided there is mutual benefit. I have great admiration for the spirit of the European Union that puts the common interest ahead of the interests of its individual members.”

His Holiness answered several questions from the audience and posed for a photographs with them before returning to his residence.

original link & photos: https://www.dalailama.com/news/2019/meeting-with-students-from-the-usa-and-israel

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Seriousness of Sentimentalism: Three Ways of Seeing the World, Part 1

By Reverend Mark Hunnemann

I want to do a 3-part series on how to view the world: sentimentalism, cynicism, and gratitude—the last of which is, though it is not a comprehensive response to these other two, it is a good beginning to seeing the world through biblical spectacles.

We are ‘Glorious Ruins’ as Francis Schaeffer so aptly put it; glorious because we are made in God’s image, and ruins because of the Fall and our rebellion against our Creator. In this 3-part series I am going to look at two enemies of the Christian faith: sentimentalism and cynicism. Sentimentalists, as we’ll see, fixate on the ‘glorious’ aspect, and cynics the ‘ruin’ part. Or Jesus said that we should be ‘wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ (Matt 10); again, sentimentalism focuses on the second part and cynicism focuses on the wise as serpents. They are both destructive of biblical Christianity, and on a spectrum they are polar opposites, they pull in opposite directions. However, the cure is to not to mix one with a bit of the other. In that case, we no longer have a one-headed monster but a two-headed monster! (cynical sentimentalist or reverse!)

We all have laughingly groaned about some overly sentimental cards we may have received, but that barely scratches the surface of what we are looking at. It goes much, much deeper than shallow cards.

Sentimentalism may sound sweet, nice and innocuous, but in its strong form, it truly is destructive of our faith because it renders Christ's death unnecessary, as we’ll see. I believe that sentimentalism is incredibly huge in America/UK and is having an enormously corrosive effect on our culture and the truth—but very few see it for what it is because it is so NICE. (reminds me of the beautiful side of evil) It is massive in scope and I’m convinced that it is thoroughly under-evaluated, under-analyzed, and under-appreciated for the negative impact it is having on culture and the church. Why? Again, because on the surface, it appears and sounds so sweet and nice, especially compared to some foes of the faith that are more militant—like paganism or atheism. Strident atheistic critics of our faith are much more easy to spot and to respond to.

Both sentimentalism and cynicism are like glasses through which we view all of reality; they are worldview glasses. Some of you wear glasses but you are not aware that you are looking through them when you wear them. You may take them off to clean them or go to the optometrist to make sure that you are seeing clearly. And that is what we need to do—clean our worldview glasses; take a long, hard look at how these ‘glasses’ of sentimentalism effects how we see everything. It effects how we see ourselves, our inner life and emotions, reality, God, His redemption, our relationships, ect. Remember that sentimentalism has become ubiquitous and can be seen in every aspect of American culture; art, media, politics, entertainment, relationships, etc. Its devastation is all the more insidious and dangerous because it sounds so lovely on the surface. I won’t have the time to dissect how it has effected culture in all respects because it is enormous, and because some of it depends on human taste and subjectivity (e.g. art).

 First, let me say very strongly that I am NOT coming down on emotions or sentiments. We need emotions to be human and they are a lovely part of life. Nor am I criticizing strong expressions of strong emotions/sentiments—just think of the emotional life of our Lord and how He showed deep emotion or sentiment (e.g. tomb of Lazarus). So, the issue is not emotions/sentiments per se, but a selfish or twisted use of them.

Let me define sentimentalism, and then you will see the need for concern. (I need to give credit to Dick Keyes from L’Abri who helped in this study) In it’s strong form it consists of three things: first, there is a denial of evil, sin, ugliness, dirtiness, brokenness and complexity; second, emotions are self-referential—emotions turned in on themselves (I’ll explain this shortly); and lastly, emotions do not lead to action, especially if it is self-sacrificial or costly in any way.

There is an inner coherence or twisted logic that holds these three together, though they may be experienced individually at times.

Let’s look at each one and then show how they collide with biblical Christianity. The first aspect of sentimentalism is the denial of evil, sin, suffering, ugliness and complexity. What it wants and sees instead is: goodness, niceness, sweetness, peace, and simplicity. In fact, it’s watchword is ‘niceness.’ It does not want to face the ugly side of life. It refuses to see it. It will do all in its power to mask, trivialize, or downplay the harsh realities of life in a fallen world.

That is not real life in the fallen world, and sooner or later they will have a very rude awakening to the harsh edges of God’s world. We may deny evil and sin but we cannot escape living in God’s world. But this sin and ugliness denial is so very prevalent, and it starts young. Think of the message of Barney and Friends—all areas of life are covered with a pink cloud of optimism and PC values. Disney has created a similar world, which is also devoid of God, sin and redemption. Our kids are being exposed to a sentimental view of life from early age. Sesame Street and Kaptain Kangaroo had real kids without scripts and things went bump. Even classical children’s stories that speak of evil step-parents are being downplayed. We want stories that always have happy endings but that is not life in the real lane.

Let me give an adult example. Joseph Goebbels was the Minister of Propaganda for the Nazi Party from 1933-1945. He had a fascinating strategy for masking the evil that was becoming increasingly ensconced in that culture. On State radio he mandated the music. One might think that he would have played Wagner and military marches but instead he required the playing of non-stop syrupy and sappy love songs. Hour after hour, year after year, Goebbels played these love songs while all the while all around them Hitler was turning their country into a police state based on racism. The people’s perception of profound evil was being affected and distracted by this relentless barrage of sentimental music, which blinded the people seeing what was right in front of their noses. The trivialization and denial of evil, ugliness and suffering through music was state controlled and very effective in controlling the masses.

I am amazed that after the bloodiest century in the history of mankind (170 million non-combatants were slaughtered by Communists) we are experiencing this profound evil denying worldview.

Immediately it is apparent how this radically impacts one’s ability to see a need for a savior. If we deny sin and evil, then there is no need for a savior; Jesus becomes an irrelevant nice guy or even a joke. Sin is the whole reason Jesus came into the world, so if we deny or trivialize sin then we will not see a need for a savior. They may like Easter (because of its positive energy) but not Good Friday. Do you see how serious this is? And we are talking about a view of the world that has become enormously popular, and aspects of it have entered the church as well. Not so sweet and innocuous as it first sounded is it? It is sending many to hell because it is undermining the entire message of redemption; no sin, then no need for a savior. With these glasses, the gospel seems primitive and obscene.

But it is not just salvation. It blinds people to the true suffering that people are going through. This mindset is reflected in what is the life goal for many: personal peace and affluence; just leave me alone and I don’t want to see the ugly underbelly of your life. I read recently that one woman said that all she wanted from life was to be drama free and to have fun and laugh. That is a recipe for not only wasting one’s life here but for losing it eternally.

The mega-popular authors and pastors alike often avoid speaking of dark themes which the bible speaks so frankly about. We live in a terribly broken and fallen world, in which we are glorious ruins. However, sentimentalism is: we just want to have fun and no drama in relationships. They fixate on the glorious aspect to the total neglect of the ‘ruin’ that has befallen all of us.

A singer songwriter from NC is James Taylor who is internationally famous. And the song which jumpstarted his career in 1970 was ‘Fire and Rain.’ This song is about drug addiction/heroin withdrawal, suicide, career slide and emotional collapse, as he was institutionalized a few times. Nevertheless, at a large fund raiser 40 years later, there was Taylor grinning as he sung this song about horrible realities but brought back sentimental feelings for the audience—they were grinning and swaying. There was a total disconnect between the awful lyrics and our wanting to squash harsh reality and focus on sentimentalism. That is an example of musical sentimentalism. I hate to face the ugly side of life so leave me alone.

This avoidance of the ‘ruin’ is what is driving many people’s fanaticism about fitness. Fitness is wonderful and I enjoy it, but for many, they do not want to think about the ugliness of death, so they throw themselves into all kinds of activities that distract them from thinking about the inevitability of death. Instead of doing the rational thing and making sure we are ready to die well, we avoid and deny it. In truth, we are not ready to live well unless we are first ready to die well…it will always be haunting us. So, sentimentalism denies or mutes the harsh realities of life, like sin, brokeness and suffering. They don’t have a corner on denial of evil; paganism and a host of other -isms deny evil too.

From Genesis 3 to Revelation God’s assessment of all mankind is that we are sinners: ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’(Rom. 3:23) So, this aspect is a total denial of reality, as we know and experience it, and most importantly as God declares it to be. Our feelings are not the ultimate criterion of truth; God’s Word is. Our experience is to be sifted through the bible and not vice versa.

Second, sentimentalism is emotionally self-referential; emotions are turned inwards. Its directing your emotions towards your own emotions, so you are the subject of the expression of your emotions. What I mean is that we are more concerned about our experience of our emotions than we are for the people who we are emoting to because of their pain. Instead of feeling true sadness for a person who is suffering, the sentimentalist feels good about themselves that they are expressing sad emotions. So, what may look like feelings for others, really may have ‘me’ as their object. For example, do I really love this person or do I love how this person makes me feel? And what happens when they don’t make you feel good about yourself? Sentimentalism has done great damage in relationships and marriages because true love is not the goal—self sacrificing love. Many on dating sites speak of initial chemistry, how this person makes me feel? It is fine and good to be attracted to the one you want to marry but how will this chemistry handle the first argument you get into, when they no longer make you feel good? As a former pastor who has performed many weddings, I really like the classic vows because they force one to think through all the possibilities of when your spouse may not be ‘chemistry on fire’ anymore; for better/worse, richer/poorer, sickness/health, til we are parted by death.

It has been said that sentimentalists see all of reality revolving around them. Whatever happens, their response is always: how does this affect ME? It is a terrible situation where they cannot even acknowledge that there are other people, and an entire external world, which is outside of them.

A biblical example of self-referential feelings is King Hezekiah. In Isaiah 39 Isaiah rebukes the king for his hubris in showing all his riches—he tells the king that his country will be utterly destroyed. And Hezekiah’s response? Classic self-referentialism—‘what you have said is good.’! He had positive emotions because all the devastation would occur after he died. Incredible selfishness.

Another example is Tennyson’s long poem entitled ‘In Memorium’ which is about the tragic death of his 22 year old best friend Arthur Hallum and sister's fiancée. It is 50 pages long but hardly nothing is said about the dead man; we learn nothing about Arthur Hallum; it is all about Tennyson’s reflections on HIS emotional response to this tragic death; his struggle with his emotions and doubts about his faith. It is all self-referential; its all about his feelings about his friends death but nothing is said about the man himself. It’s all self-referential; the dead man is lost in the shuffle of his emotional turmoil.

The media is very good about eliciting an emotional response from the audience that makes them feel good about their emotional response of feeling bad. It is all about making one feel good about the fact that they have expressed themselves; pride in one’s emotional response. It is quite twisted.

Have you ever told a friend about a trial you are experiencing, only for them to reply how this inconveniences them? ‘I had a flat tire’. ‘Oh what a bummer because I wanted to borrow your car tomorrow.’ That can get old real quick for those on the receiving end. Or take the counselor who feels the need to be needed, and so he does not really want you to get healed. Pastors sometimes do this too; need to be needed.

Worst, perhaps, is when a person has heard potential or real devastating news regarding their friend's health. But they express extravagantly (perhaps on Facebook) how much it has kept them up at nights, but you have not even heard from them. They are more concerned about how noble they feel about the sadness they feel for your devastating news.

Those who are on the receiving end of such self referential emotions feel like prey; they can tell that its more about the other person and their feeling pleased about themselves, than a proper compassionate concern for you. After such an encounter the true sufferer may likely have a ‘hunted’ look on his face—he has fallen prey to this persons selfish quest for emotional self-validation as a ‘caring person.’ The reality is that they are emotional vampires.

This of course flies in the face of countless biblical texts about putting others before oneself. It is also destructive of true expressions of genuine compassion. Jesus was quite indignant about those who did good things for show. This aspect undermines all true compassion and turns people into selfish folks…deep down, shallow people. However, I need to add that we all struggle with hypocrisy at some level.

The third aspect of sentimentalism is that our emotions do not lead to appropriate action; especially if that action is sacrificial or costly. If we refuse to see evil and our emotions are self-referential, then it only makes sense that that person is apt to close their eyes to evil/suffering and do nothing.

I heard the story of wealthy couple in 19th century England and they go to the theatre on a cold wintry night. They are both moved to tears about the story of a poor person who is belittled and battered by uncaring rich folks. Meanwhile, the carriage driver who drove them is outside and almost froze to death while waiting in the cold. He forgot to clean the snow off the step of the carriage and the woman got snow on her shoes. The husband gets verbally abusive and furiously horsewhips the driver for this oversight. They are totally oblivious to the disconnect between their response to a play and how they treat their driver in real life. They can weep at a play but have no compassion on the poor man outside, nearly frozen to death—sentimentalism can elicit strong emotion but it does not lead to costly expressions of love.

For the sentimentalist, their strong emotions stop with their emoting and feeling good about their emoting. They don’t feel any compulsion to reach out to anyone who is need, especially if they have to roll up their sleeves to do so. If there is no evil, and if the feelings we do have are self-referential, then it only makes sense that that person is not likely to do anything to help.

This is why sentimentality is so dangerous because it is all about niceness and warmth. It is very easy for Christians to overlook because it looks so sweet and kind and we are used to getting worked up about raving atheists, like the late Christopher Hitchens. But to realize that much we value is being undermined by niceness is a strange shift of gears for us. The bible is full of warnings about the dangers posed by sentimentalism. The following passage from James captures and condemns all three aspects of sentimentalism.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

First, in this text James is condemning the attitude that denies in practice the reality of suffering because they are looking squarely at folks who are nearly naked and starving but seem to look right past it. They do not take seriously another person's suffering; they don’t see it. But since it is a sin of omission and not commission it is easy to overlook. But sins of omission are a brutal reality in a sentimentality soaked culture. Second, they seem to feel quite good, smugly self-satisfied and self-congratulatory about their emotional and verbal response. However, their shallow and self-centered emotions do not result in any action at all; it would cost them something—like interrupting their supper. They neither clothe nor feed them. Instead they feel quite content with uttering a pious cliché and slamming the door in their face. To this James says that that kind of faith is dead. And it critiques all 3 aspects of sentimentalism.

Do you see how sentimentalism is not just confined to Hallmark cards? It is an entire worldview that has America and the west in a tight death grip. With its categories, the redemptive work of Christ is rendered useless and unneeded. If there is no evil and man is basically good then who needs a savior? That is why we must hammer home the law to reveal that all of mankind is in desperate need of a savior.

Not all three aspects of sentimentalism are present in every situation; sometimes it may just be just one-like the first aspect. But that in itself is enough to dissuade anyone from looking seriously at the gospel. The church is not immune to this dust of death which is settling everywhere. All three aspects have crept in the back door. The Christian bookstores are filled with bestsellers which make people feel good about themselves; shallow in theology but rich in sentimentalism. Some mega pastors virtually deny sin and evil by not mentioning it from the pulpit. ‘If you only have enough faith, then you can make your suffering go away’, then like Job’s counselors we may become blind to people’s true suffering—throwing sentimental biblical clichés at them. We feel in clichés and talk in clichés. Not enough worship music mentions the blues and becomes biblically imbalanced.

The beguiling attractiveness of sentimentalism is that it can be mistakenly connected with fond memories of a loved one. Please, I am NOT saying that we should be cold and emotionless robots. It all depends on how we define sentimentality. My deeply fond memories of my deceased parents and siblings are a profound sentiment of mine. But deep sentiments is not to be equated with an -ism, in this case sentimental-ism. In most instances, the root word is perfectly fine until the suffix ‘ism’ is added.

In close, I want to reiterate how massively sentimentalism has infiltrated our society and the insidious damage it has done, and continues to do. It is wrecking havoc in every area of life. But the tragedy is that this tsunami leaves hardly a trace of even a wake, because it is not being seen. Our glasses are fogged. It is truly the child of the angel of light; a ‘nice sin’ of omission.

Next week—cynicism.

Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook forma

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Dalai Lama Visits the Bodhi Tree

Participating in Prayers by the Bodhi Tree
January 17, 2018

Bodhgaya, Bihar, India - His Holiness the Dalai Lama left the Tibetan Monastery under a sunlit blue sky this morning. He drove the short distance to the Mahabodhi Stupa, where the Great Prayer Festival of the Nyingma Tradition began today. This was His Holiness's third visit to the Stupa during his current stay in Bodhgaya. Once more he stepped through the stone railings surrounding the inner circuit on the west side next to the Bodhi Tree and walked round to the inner sanctum, where he paid his respects before the statue of the Buddha and lit a lamp. He then completed his circumambulation, smiling and waving to people gazing through the railings, and took his seat facing the Bodhi Tree and the Seat of Enlightenment. To his left sat Lamas like Kathok Getse Rinpoche and to his right the current Ganden Tripa and his predecessor and others. Hanging before them were two thangkas depicting the fourteen Dalai Lamas.

In association with the ongoing Prayer Festival Namgyal Monastery had organized a collection of prayers and praises to be recited in gratitude to the line of Dalai Lamas. They began with a praise to the Buddha known as a ‘Daily Practice in Three Parts' and continued with Tsongkhapa's ‘Praise to the Buddha for Teaching Dependent Arising', the ‘Supplication to the Buddha known as Drumbeat of Truth', the ‘Praise to the 17 Masters of Nalanda', the ‘Clouds of Ambrosial Blessings' by Trulshik Rinpoché, which reviews the qualities of the line of incarnations of Avalokiteshvara that include the Dalai Lamas, the ‘Invocation of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas' with its associated rite of ablution, the ‘Cloud of Offerings', the ‘King of Prayers' (the Samantabhadra Prayer), the ‘Invocation of the Dharma Protectors of Tibet, the ‘Sages' Song of Truth—a Prayer for the Spread of the Teachings without Sectarianism', the ‘Words of Truth' and the ‘Prayer for the Flourishing of the Dharma' by the Buddha.

The whole recitation was concluded with a verse composed by His Holiness :

May whatever is undertaken by those malevolent beings—
Be they visible or invisible—who due to their perverse aspirations
In the past, are hostile to the Buddhist teachings,
Be uprooted by the truth of the Three Jewels.

Back at the Tibetan Monastery His Holiness met with a group of 170 professionals from all over Vietnam.

“Whatever your specific occupation, whether it brings benefit or does harm depends on your motivation,” he told them. “If you’re self-centred, working as a teacher may seem to be good, but the reality may be different. As I said, everything depends on your motivation. The Buddha always emphasised that we need to purify our minds, so we need to analyse what kinds of mental state are helpful and which bring us trouble.

“Mental afflictions like anger, hatred and jealousy are harmful because they disturb our peace of mind. Medical researchers have also observed that constant anger and fear undermine our immune system. To reduce anger we need patience and tolerance, but the most effective step is to cultivate warm-heartedness. In addition, it’s important to think about the oneness of humanity—how we are all the same in being human. Because I think of myself as just another human being, with nothing special or different about me, whoever I meet I also think of similarly as another human being, no matter what their race, faith or nationality might be.

“Buddhists accept the idea of life after life and the key to achieving a good rebirth in the future is to lead your present life in a meaningful way. And that entails doing no harm and being of help to others.”

original link & photos: https://www.dalailama.com/news/2018/participating-in-prayers-by-the-bodhi-tree