The Thrill and Agony of Longing…a post by Jim

Two weekends ago CrossPoint hosted retreat 5 (out of 8) for our current Deeper Journey community. The topic was ‘desire’ and it certainly touched a nerve.

The Bible repeatedly speaks to importance of desire, having our desires met by God, avoiding sinful desires, pursuing our deepest desires. Jesus asked the lame man, “What do you want me to do for you?” The answer seems obvious. “I want to walk so please heal me.” It seems Jesus is pointing us to the importance of naming our desires.

There is the question of what desires are legitimate to pursue and what desires are tainted by sin and should be avoided. But for me the toughest part of the retreat came when we reminded ourselves that we have many legitimate, wholesome desires that do not come true. The frustration, anger, disappointment, and confusion that flows from good yet unmet desires is real. How can we avoid cynicism the older we get?

Seems the answer is found in a living hope. Hope keeps the heart alive and tender. Hope orientates us to what is coming, not what has happened (or not happened). Hope anchored in the promises of our Lord is a sure bet. Yes, all my desires won’t be met in this life but hope says that all my desires (and more than I can possibly long for now) will be experienced in the life to come. Praise be to God.

We cannot out desire God.

Two fish sticks and a Sprite…a post by Joy

Two Fish Sticks and a green bottle of Sprite is what I ate and drank on Fridays for lunch in the the 7th grade during Lent Season. Although, we were having fish because there were lots of people giving up meat for the season, the fish sticks and Sprite were a treat for me. This was my first realization of the Lent season and even then I did not really know what it meant. I’m sure there must have been other food served with this delicacy such as French fries and slaw and maybe even a bread roll. Yet, for me, the two fish sticks and the cold green bottle of Sprite is all I can remember. Interestingly enough, during this Lent season, this visual has come to my mind at least 3 times.  I’ve actually asked Christ what invitation in my Spiritual Formation is He bringing to me with this memory.  What is it that I am supposed to pay attention to?

As I sat with it these last 2 weeks in particular, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 men plus women and children kept coming to my mind. When the disciples noticed how late it was getting they suggested to Jesus that He send them home or to the villages to buy their own food.  Jesus told them that the people did not need to go away. He instructed them to give the people something to eat. Matthew 14: 17 states that the disciples told Jesus they only had 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. He requested that it be brought to Him. We all know the rest of the story of how Jesus miraculously fed all of these people until they were satisfied. And there were still 12 baskets left over.

In reading this story in Matthew 14: 14-21 and Mark 6: 34-44, the phrase that kept standing out to me was that “Jesus had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd…. (Mark 6:34). Matt. 14:14 says “….He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick. “  During this Lent season, with my own illustration of “two fish and a Sprite”, I am compelled to receive the compassion of Christ as we are now in the Holy Week working up to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Somber Saturday, and Glorious Easter Sunday. We remember and celebrate His greatest work of compassion for us all this week. I am also compelled to show compassion to others and to myself in a way that is honoring of how Christ is working in me. May you each have a blessed Easter celebrating His compassion for us all!

How to win…a post by Tom

“God is with us in our horror, our terror, our violence, and our suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins.” –Marcus Borg

“How to win” seems to dominate our attention be it sports, business, war, politics, an argument, or just in general the game of life. We all want to be happy, successful, secure, significant, competent, in control, and affirmed. These are not bad in and of themselves but when “winning” these becomes our emotional program for happiness, we are headed for trouble.

The cross shows us God’s way of winning his ultimate prize…us, the bride of Christ. He is with us in our darkest hour. When faced with our sin, He refuses to fight or flee but instead absorbs our alienation with an unconditional embrace of love. That is how God wins which is validated in the resurrection. That is also how you and I win which is validated in our relationships.  After all, the quality of our relationships determine the quality of our lives. As a chaplain, I can’t tell you the number of stories where people at the end of life spoke most highly of those relationships with people who were with them in their worst moments. These were the winning relationships. So let’s look again at the quote from Marcus Borg from three winning perspectives:

How God wins for us

  1. “God is with us in our horror, our terror, our violence, and our suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins.”

How God wins for me

  1. God is with me in my horror, my terror, my violence, and my suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins for me.

How God wins for you through me!

  1. I am with you in your horror, your terror, your violence, and your suffering. I refuse to add to the evil and violence, but instead respond with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins for you through me.

Shed Weight…a post by Joy

Two weeks before Lent, I began thinking and praying about what I was to “give up” for this holy season of preparation for Easter. Chocolate and other favorite foods (full of calories) came to mind! I’ve done without these delicious delicacies during other Lent seasons, I felt like it didn’t really seem to fit for this year.

I typically don’t talk about what Christ has invited me to “give up” during this time, but it’s a fascinating time to talk to the children who have been in my care through the years. Chocolate, TV time, electronic games, completing chores without bad attitudes are some of the things they have voluntarily shared with me if the conversation came up.

For several days, 2 words came to mind repeatedly about what my “sacrificial gift” needed to be this year. They were: “Shed Weight.” My first response was: “It would be good for me to shed some weight.” So I circled back around to which foods I needed to “give up”. Then over the first days of the Lenten season, the Lord kept working in my heart about what He really meant for me to pay attention to in this “shedding of weight.”  It was not so much an invitation to physically lose weight as much as an awareness that I needed to “shed weight” of what I am carrying in my soul.

All of us are either carrying the weight of fear, shame, guilt or anger. Or maybe some of us are holding all of these emotions in some shape or form.   In our journey of Christian Spiritual Formation, we have learned and experienced in our process of self clarity that we are making decisions daily to manage these emotions that are an underlying force within our souls.   There are times when these emotions are healthy and necessary for our survival such as being fearful of the snake on the walking path or displaying a righteous anger at unjust situations. Yet, today, I’m referring to the vulnerable challenges we have with these emotions.

Being invited to “shed the weight” of carrying shame, fear or guilt that has been carried for many years may feel scary or unfamiliar. The question of wondering who I am if I’m not holding on tightly to these emotions may lead to feelings of intimidation or exhilarating freedom. We really do have to be willing to let go of what Christ is transforming in us by His work of shedding or cleansing. It may seem to be an oxymoron to think that we could feel safer to carry emotions of shame, fear, or guilt than to give it to Christ and let Him carry it. The display of this shedding may take on different expressions. It could be the act of accepting God’s invitation to “shed the weight” of carrying others’ emotions of fear, shame or guilt. It could be “shedding the weight” of trying to control others or the outcome of a situation because it feels safer. It could be “shedding the weight” of listening to the inner critic within me so that I have space to pay attention and listen, instead, to the Inner Spirit of Christ living within my soul.

Christian, the main character of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is the image that comes to mind when I meditate, focus or “sit with” Christ while asking for the courage, strength, and patience to let go of what needs to be shed. This great story reminds me that we can and must “shed the weight” of our burdens to Christ for our salvation and to continue our journey of Christian Spiritual Formation. This Pilgrim’s Progress for us all is to become more like Him in order to become the true self of who He created us to be.

May the peace of Christ be with you on your Pilgrimage.

The Thrill of Overcoming…a post by Jim

When I was in High School part of the requirement for our 11th grade Physical Education class was to wrestle other students in the class. I hated it. On a mat in front of the entire class with someone who was stronger than me. My record was pretty pathetic until the one time that I somehow got my opponent in a full-Nelson hold. He went limp and I pinned him for the three second count (never mind that the hold was illegal … I didn’t know that and had no idea how I wound up getting him in such a hold!). It was one of the few times in HS athletics that I felt like I was an overcomer. I still remember the feeling! I won. I defeated my opponent.

In Romans 12 Paul ends the great chapter by saying, “Don’t be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” In a world of great evil (including times when we sin and times when we are wounded by the sins of others) we need the challenge of being an overcomer. How do we live victoriously over our attitudes and actions that are an affront to who we are in Christ? And how do we not let our wounding at the hands of others get the best of us?

The answer Paul offers is to overcome evil with good. In other words, our focus needs to be on what it means to keep in step with the Spirit and live the life of Christ in our ordinary lives. It is tempting to focus on what we need to stop or on our pain that comes from the actions of others. But we are told to concentrate on the good, the true, and the beautiful of the fruits of the Spirit.

Today I encourage you to have a clear and compelling vision of what it would look like to live as if the Spirit had complete control of your attitudes and actions. Have an image of what will most honor Christ in every situation you face. And live toward that. Paul promises that we will overcome whatever it is that keeps us from living our truest identity in Christ.

Prayer…a post by Rich

Prayer is at the heart of who we are as children of God. We are especially designed to be people of prayer. Over the past several months I have been reading through P.T. Forsyth’s “The Soul of Prayer.” At times it is hard to track with Forsyth but there are so many remarkable gems about prayer in this book it is well worth time to read and reflect. The following is an example of his writing.

“Prayer is a greater school and discipline of divine love than the service of man is. But not if it is cut off from it. And no less also is it the school of repentance, which so easily can grow morbid. We are taught to be not only true to reality, but sincere with ourselves. We cannot touch God thus without having a light no less searching than saving shed upon our own hearts; and we are thus protected from Pharisaism in our judgment of either self or friend or foe–especially at present of our foe. No companion of God can war in His name against man without much self-searching and self-humiliation, however reserved. But here humility turns into moral strength. Here we are also regathered in soul from the fancies that bewilder us and the distractions that dissolve us into the dust of the world. We are collected into peace and power and sound judgment, and we have a heart for any fate, because we rest in the Lord whose judgments are salvation. What gives us our true stay gives us our true self; and it protects us from the elations and despairs which alternate in ourselves by bringing home to us a Saviour who is more to us than we are to ourselves. We become patient with ourselves because we realize the patience of God. We get rid of illusions about ourselves and the world because our intimacy is with the real God, and we know that we truly are just what we are before Him. We thus have a great peace, because in prayer, as the crowning act of faith, we lay hold of the grace of God the Saviour. Prayer alone prevents our receiving God’s grace in vain. Which means that it establishes the soul of a man or a people, creates the moral personality day by day, spreads outward the new heart through society, and goes to make a new ethos in mankind. We come out with a courage and a humanity we had not when we went in, even though our old earth remove, and our familiar hills are cast into the depth of the sea. The true Church is thus co-extensive with the community of true prayer.”

I am reminded as we begin this new year that our great calling is to be people of prayer above all else. Prayer is the essence of our life in God and with God. May each of us sense a renewed call to be God’s people who pray. (1 Thess 5:17)

Say anything…a post by Tom

Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?”
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.

-Job 7:1-4, 6-7

 

Are these the words of a believer? Thankfully yes! These are words spoken by a man described in chapter one verse one as blameless and upright, fearing God and shunning evil. How refreshing it is to know that even the best experience these low lows and can sometimes exegete life experiences just as well as an atheistic deadbeat poet. Yesterday I visited a friend dying of cancer. He has six months to live and is anxious to meet the Lord. He is a man of faith, hope, and love. At one point in the conversation he expressed that he was afraid his positivity and hope would run dry. He was afraid his witness would be compromised and so he asked me to tell him if I ever thought he was faking it. I gave him permission not to fake it and not to be cheery in the face of death. I gave him permission to say anything. Job gives us this permission. How refreshing to know that our relationship with God does not depend on us. When death calls, our Savior will carry us across the threshold regardless of how we think or feel. I suppose it is like me carrying my kids to bed. Sometimes they are kicking and screaming and other times they are peaceful and calm, neither case changes my love for them. How refreshing to know that when it comes to God I can say anything. What do you need to say today?

I AM with you always…a post by Joy

 

Psalm 139: 1-3; 7

Oh Lord, You have examined my heart

and know everything about me.

You know when I sit down or stand up.

You know my every thought when far away.

You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest.

Every moment, You know where I am.

I can never escape from your Spirit!

I can never get away from Your Presence!

 In today’s world it seems that the human race is constantly trying to be more connected with others through the constant use of their phones. I’ve seen teen-agers text each other who were sitting right next to each other instead of speaking to them. It seems that instead of connecting, they are dis-connecting more and more by not feeling comfortable with eye to eye contact and the etiquette of carrying on a simple conversation.

When someone sets a boundary by wearing ear buds, I realize they may need time to be alone or “chill out” after a busy day. They could be listening to music or even a Scripture passage for all I know. Yet, I also wonder are they afraid to connect with the outside world because they are afraid to be known. Are they wanting to “disappear” without having to let anyone know where they really are with their thoughts and emotions? Are they afraid to totally be alone in silence because it is too painful or scary?

In the journey of Christian Spiritual Formation, we do need a balance of being alone and being with other people in community. The Spiritual Discipline of Solitude and Silence is a wonderful exercise of paying attention to just “BEING” with Christ in our space of being alone. YET, for all of us as Christians, we are truly NEVER ALONE. One of the ways of loving God is to receive that we are known by God and that in knowing us as we are, He loves us still.   (I Cor. 8: 3) God is always with us, always connected to us in the most endearing expression of His love through His presence forever.

Matt. 28:20 “I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS EVEN UNTO THE END OF THE AGE.”

 

Thanks be to God!

Death Be Not Proud…a post by Jim

Maybe it is because I feel my own mortality more clearly. Maybe it is because I am more sensitive to the life that God intended us to have. Maybe it is because I’m simply scared. Maybe it is a combination of the above and other things of which I am unaware. But whatever the reason, I am having a hard time when someone mentions that a parent died.

It happened again last week. Someone told me that their dad had recently died. Their words slammed my soul. I knew him. He was a good man. Somehow he got himself out of a difficult home situation when he was young. Somehow learned a trade and got married and had a couple of children. Somehow he got his kids through college. He loved and served Jesus as best he could. Then cancer came and took him in a gruesome way before he had a chance to enjoy his grandchildren. And we simply say, “My dad died a couple months ago” and try to move on. It seems to me we ought to scream at and curse death and continually grieve over what it does to those we love.

Disease and death are enemies. While we can battle them we cannot conquer them. They eventually win the war with each of us. That makes me angry. They are cruel enemies. They mock and belittle us. They are the worse bully one could ever encounter in life. And we cannot turn the tables and destroy them before they destroy us.

But thankfully that changed with Jesus. The early church saw his life, death, resurrection, and ascension primarily in terms of conquering the grave so that we could be in fellowship with the eternal God because we are IN Christ. I like that focus. While I cannot beat death I can at least revel in the fact that death will die. That makes me draw close to my Savior in heartfelt thanksgiving and deep appreciation. Death does not have the last word because of him. Thanks be to God. Amen

Accept the anxiety of 2018…a post by Tom

Happy New Year! I hope it is a slow, unstable, gradual, and anxious one for you.   Could you imagine getting a card with this in it?  Well, the following words from Teilhard shed light on what this spiritual formation process feels like. The ending part on “accepting the anxiety” has ministered to me greatly.   I thought them worthy of reflection for 2018.

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin