Check Your Posture…a post by Joy

Christian Spiritual Formation is a journey that is one of posturing ourselves to be awakened to the process of coming back to the true self of who God created us to be. The posturing is sometimes difficult. It can require us to be still or it can require us to step into something new because we have been still long enough.

Being still requires us to let go of distractions of work, family life, or being busy for the sake of busyness. Stepping into something new requires that we let go of what feels safe and familiar. Which ever space we find ourselves, the action of “letting go” is hard work. It always involves the spiritual discipline of discernment. Trusting God in the journey of His transformational work in this process is also a way of posturing or placing ourselves intentionally into His care. Sometimes the act of that trust is to “Be Still”; sometimes it means to step forward and maybe even step backwards.

Part of the “letting go” can include a time of grief so that the loss can be acknowledged and accepted in order to move forward. Yet, in all of these steps of whether we are sitting, moving, grieving, or any other posturing, we can be comforted that “….Christ is with us always, to the very end of the age. “

Matthew 28:20. May the peace of Christ be with us always!

Walking the Dog… a post by Jim

For the past couple months I’ve been very intentional about living present in the ordinary of life with the prayer that God will meet me there. Would like to say that I am a master at that but I am not. However, God is helping me see that the ordinary is filled with extraordinary realities. That seemed to happen a couple days while I was walking my son’s dog (how and why Joy and I have taken in his dog is another matter!).

So … I was walking Jordan at Mount Saint Francis Abby where there are hundreds of acres and miles of trails in fields and woods. This is a great place to appreciate God’s handiwork in nature. Jordan was on his leash as we approached another dog. Jordan is a rescue dog that, for whatever reason, hates any other dog that doesn’t look like him. After a brief skirmish where I had to pull Jordan off the brown lab that was simply looking for a polite meeting we continued our walk.

After a couple hundred yards we met up with a second dog. This time I took more precautionary measures and asked the approaching owner to keep her dog away from mine and added, “My dog is a racist and will attack most any other dog if given the chance.” She quickly informed me that her dog was not racist but a progressive who loved all dogs. “He has a pink leash to prove how progressive he is!”

After we passed each other without incident I heard her son (looked like he was about 5 or 6) ask his mom, “What is a ‘progressive’.” I didn’t hear her answer. But it made me reflect on the power of words AND the assumptions that come with the words that we use.

The point is not to question whether all ‘progressives’ lack any racist traits. The question for me became, “Do I make assumptions about the character of my own soul based simply on words, even good and ‘Christian’ words, that I use? Because I know and use the word ‘humility’ do I assume that I walk in humility toward God and others? Because I know the word ‘sin’ do I really avoid it? Because I know the word ‘courage’ do I display it?

God can use almost anything for the purpose of soul reflection. Even walking the ordinary (racist) dog.

Greetings!…a post by Tom

Matthew 28:9 (ESV)

And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.

The first word of Jesus after his resurrection is hello. He has been betrayed, beaten, abandoned, crucified, and buried. When He rises from the dead and meets the scared and disoriented women He says…hello! The Greek word for greetings is pregnant with joy and energy. Jesus has no victim mentality or revenge seeking mindset. His mindset is one of greetings and joy.  His second words are “do not be afraid.”

A recent study has shown that people who say hello to others live longer. Somehow the simple act of reaching outside one’s insulated self for connection is beneficial. It is a way of being open instead of closed. The open tomb shows us that in Christ we have nothing to fear. Jesus’ resurrection has triumphed over sin, death and evil. Our attitude toward Life can be that of openness and hello regardless of how confused and disoriented we feel. Greetings when we are unsettled, greetings when we are weak, greetings when we are imperfect, greetings when we fail, greetings when we are ordinary, greetings when we feel useless, greetings when we are an outsider, greetings when we are suffering, greetings when we feel stupid. God comes to us disguised as our life, and in Christ we can say…”hello!”

Never a Monday Like Today…a post by Jim

Easter weekend is over. It is Monday. Now what?

I can only imagine the despair that the crucifixion brought to those who loved and followed Jesus. Saturday did nothing to change their shock, anger, and sorrow. But an empty tomb, appearances to the women and the followers on the road to Emmaus changed everything. Jesus was alive! His resurrection re-energized their lives in an unbelievable way to do unbelievable things.

In her wonderful book, A Theology of the Ordinary, Julie Canlis highlights the ‘culture (and cult) of the extraordinary’ in American and many churches. The point she makes is that “without an equal emphasis on discipleship in ‘normal life’ where our energy is less than infinite, the gospel can become imbalanced and undeveloped” (p. 2). As the Message translates the first verses of Romans 12, “So take your everyday, ordinary life … and place it before God as an offering.

How do we balance the miracles and revivals of the Apostles and the call to “aspire to live quietly, and to mind (y)our own affairs, and to work with (y)our hands” (1 Thess 4:11)? Are ‘ordinary’ Christians somehow missing something ‘extraordinary’ that God wants to do through us? Are we reacting in exhaustion to living ‘radical’ lives by being lazy stewards of our life and calling?

The answer is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. He became human to turn humanity back to the Father. In his death Jesus is our atonement, bringing us back into communion with God. In his resurrection Christ is re-birthing, sanctifying, and making EVERYTHING holy and new. In short, the radical has already happened in Christ. Because of Him ALL of life is now exceptional. There is no sacred/secular distinction. There is no ordinary/extraordinary bifurcation. ALL of life is ALIVE and INFUSED with His Spirit.  

It is good to know on this Monday after Easter that we are radical as we live our ordinary lives IN CHRIST. By His Spirit we are united to Christ, placed in Christ, living the very life of Christ in our ordinariness of life. The Spirit is not taking us out of creation (with all its ordinariness) but bringing heaven to earth, bringing creation under the Lordship of Christ to the glory of the Father.

Blessed Monday!

Invitation to Trust…a post by Rich

Brennan Manning in his book “Ruthless Trust” tells the following story.

“When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.” She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.” (Ruthless Trust, p. 3)

As we approach Easter and the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord it may well be that many are seeking a new sense of clarity or certainty about themselves or the things of God.  Too often however our quest for clarity or certainty is a subtle strategy for us to be in charge. We like being in control! The gospel of Jesus Christ has been and ever shall be an invitation to trust. Trust for the disciples of Jesus is not optional, it is required. Jesus says emphatically in John’s Gospel, “Let not your hearts be troubled, trust in God, trust also in me.” (John 14:1). So we come to the heart of our faith; we trust in a Risen Savior! Again we are reminded that the Kingdom of God is not made up of those who have figured out all of life, nor of those who have resolved haunting questions in their life, nor of those who have recovered from all their wounds, nor of those who are completely certain about matters divine, but rather of those who trust the love the Father has for us in Christ. We are like children trust a loving and good parent who seeks our very best. Such trust delights God the Father and it is for this trust by his children in him, that God our Father sent his Son and delivered him from the power of sin and death by his resurrection. So this Easter we come again trusting in our God who loves us more than we know! Grace and peace to you, Christ is risen!

Here’s mud in your eye!…a post by Tom

“And who is he sir, that I may believe in him?  Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you. He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshipped him.” – John 9:36-38

This past Sunday’s gospel reading from John 9:1-41 featured a beautiful and comical account of a man born blind healed by Jesus. The disciples inquired as to whether this man sinned or his parents so as to cause his malady. Jesus corrected their bad theology by saying his infirmity wasn’t divine retribution but divine opportunity for God to be glorified. Jesus then spits on the ground and mixes mud and saliva, which is then smeared on the blind man’s eyes. This action was considered pagan, gross, shocking, and earthy. Yet this is the salve that Jesus uses to open the man’s sight. The story goes on to chronicle how troublesome this was to the religious leaders who thought they clearly saw God’s truth. They excommunicated the healed man because of his testimony. It was only after his excommunication that Jesus formally introduces Himself. Jesus came to give sight to the blind and expose the blindness of those who think they see.

We are born spiritually blind and stumble about trying to find happiness. We are prone to bad theology where infirmities are thought to be God’s punishment for sin. We are religiously sleepwalking. Often our spiritual awakening comes through gross, shocking, and earthy experiences whereby we are jolted by life. Life seems to spit and then rub dirt in our faces, sometimes to the degree that we feel like the mud soaked man in the blog picture!  Our spiritually blind egocentric vision for our lives is obstructed so we can then see the truth of God.  The cross is a shockingly grotesque, seemingly pagan (child sacrifice?), and earthy way to open our eyes to our condition, God’s beauty, and love for us. We know we see when we can strangely find beauty in such suffering. Mysteriously some of us don’t formally meet Jesus until after getting expelled or excommunicated from the religious tribes who claim to know. As the saying goes, “those who say do not know and those who know do not say.” I am also reminded of a quote from The Little Prince… “Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

God Loves Us Even When We Are Messy!…a post by Joy

Christian spiritual formation can be a process that is enlightening, encouraging, sorrowful, and humbling.  Plain and simple, it can be “messy.”  Journeying back to the true self of who God has created us to be may require going through painful situations which teach us once again that we are His beloved children no matter what. As each layer of our false self is peeled away by the working presence of the Holy Spirit within us, He reminds us over and over again that even in these times of  discouragement, depression, denial, or grief, He loves us more than we can imagine.  Our underlying emotions of fear, shame, or guilt can be triggered as quickly as we take a breath. Remembering to say a “breath prayer”  reminding us that Christ loves us or quoting a “breath of Scripture” is a practical and spiritual discipline to intentionally posture ourselves to be present to Christ’s work of love within us. 

Recently, as I began to drive on the interstate for an hour’s drive, the oil light on my dashboard came on to alert me to give attention to checking the oil. I really did not need this on that particular day. I pulled off the rest area within a mile. When I parked I saw 2 men checking the oil in their pick up truck.  Since I have the oil checked and changed on a regular basis, it had been a while since I had checked the oil myself.  I knew I would have to get the manual out etc. I didn’t want to be late to my appointment so I asked them if they would help me by checking the oil. The older gentleman and his grandson obliged me and both agreed after checking it that the car was a quart low. I retrieved the quart of oil that I had in my trunk and proceeded to pour it into the place they showed me. I thanked them and continued on my way. Within 5 minutes, the tears began streaming down my face as I acknowledged that once again the Lord had taken care of me and provided for me in a very loving way.

Two days later, while walking from one building to the next at the campus where I teach, a young man and I crossed paths. As I continued to walk toward my building, he kept walking perpendicular to me, turned around and said, “God wants you to know that He loves you.” The spontaneous message from this student surprised me. In response, I said, “He loves you too.” Just inside the door, I paused with a thankful heart and a few tears, realizing that, truly, the Holy Spirit had moved this young man to speak to me. God has His own ways of reminding us in specific ways that are appreciated by us individually that He loves us. 

The title of this blog came to me one day because I was cleaning up after our 70 lb. golden retriever, Jordan.  He is truly loveable, fun, and endearing. Yet, he is definitely messy. It reminded me that we are all blessed to be loved by God in our messiness whatever it may look like. 

Our 22 1/2 month old grandson  had just arrived to our home 2 weeks ago from California. We’re so thankful we have seen him as often as we have. He is recognizing us more because of these visits and plenty of Face Timing. The following morning, he allowed me to hold him quietly with his pillow, blanket, and “binky.” He snuggled up close and we sat together quietly for 10-15 min. I felt truly blessed and loved by Christ in giving me  these moments with him that I would savour for a long time. God knew that this was a particular, specific, way that I could connect with my grandson, and connect with the realization that I am loved just as deeply by Christ as He is holding me.

These noticings of the love of Christ for me in specific individual  ways reminds me over and over that God is always with us all in this spiritual transformational journey.  I have referred to this Scripture passage before in other blogs I’ve written. It’s an old passage that never gets “old” to me. 

Ephesians 3:17-19

And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home 

in your hearts as you trust in him.  

May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should,

how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love really is.

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully 

understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power

that comes from God.”

Once, even Twice or Three Times, is NEVER Enough!…a post by Jim

My grandson spent the last few days with us. I always learn in his presence. This time what struck me is that his 23 month brain demands that he repeat and re-repeat whatever is on his mind. And re-re-repeat!

So when he thinks of the dog he will say ‘dog’ again and again. When he remembers throwing bread to the ducks three days ago he says ‘throw’ again and again. When he wants his dad or mom you can be sure he will make that known.

Some years ago Eugene Peterson wrote, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” He reminded his readers that a virtuous character requires repetition of virtuous thoughts and actions. Again and again. So that when a person lives an honest life, with enough repetition of honest thinking and doing he or she will eventually can be described as an honest person. Habitual righteousness results in virtuous character.

God wired our brains for repetition. My grandson is doing exactly what God designed him to do. Repeat, repeat, repeat. My prayer for him is that he will practice a long obedience in the RIGHT direction so that someday he will be known as a virtuous man. I pray the same for myself. I pray the same for you.

What will you think and do today that will habitualize virture?

 

Empathy vs Sympathy…a video post by Tom

Check out the following short video illustrating the important difference between empathy and sympathy.  Now ask the question which one is God? Which one are you? Imagine how the quality of our relationships  would improve if we embodied this…and thus the quality of our lives.

 

Let’s Get Physical…a post by Jim

 

This past weekend I had the honor and privilege of visiting my father who was turning 90 years old. He said he never thought he would make it to such an old age. But he is very grateful for the health that he has, the people in his life who love and care for him, and his interests that are still alive and well within his soul (he still loves to read, to paint, to work in his wood shop!).

While reminiscing with him and visiting with two uncles and aunts (all are close to 90 years of age) a number of things struck me. But perhaps what hit me the most was how much of these conversations focused on their bodies. Old age focuses the mind on the body!

Maybe that is not a bad thing. Yes, it is very hard to get old. Our bodies simply wear out and won’t do what we want them to do. It is hard to always walk with a cane, to worry about falling, to be restless through most of the night. But … taking our bodies into account is an important aspect of good soul care. We are EMBODIED souls.

This week I encourage you to pay attention to your body. What is God telling you through what you sense and feel (emotions are body states)? Do I need more rest? Do I need more activity? Do I sense God’s presence WITHIN my body?

Our bodies have much to teach us. So let’s get physical …!