What are you exploring?…a post by Tom

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

– T.S. Eliot

 

What are you looking for? A better sense of self? A better home and garden? More knowledge about the Divine or your divinely inspired pursuits? An idealized Christianity or church to validate a privatized salvation project? To figure out your dysfunctional family system? Untie some knotty existential shoelaces tightened by primal repression so that you no longer trip over fear, guilt, and shame? A well balanced portfolio? Some peace and quiet.

Augustine said somewhere that the heart is restless until it rests in God. We come out of the womb kicking and screaming and often we go out that way. Kickers and screamers in this world seem to be the majority populace and unfortunately dominate the airwaves.  Unless, we happen to come home to God and our true self rooted in endless Love.   This doesn’t seem to happen until we explore and to explore means to fail. We can’t explore without risk or uncertainty. “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for. The damned thing in the cave, that was so dreaded, has become the center.” -Joseph Campbell.

It’s all there in the story of prodigal son, which surprisingly is really about the Father. The son sets out to explore the far country and ends up right where he began, at home but this time knowing himself as the beloved son home for the first time. We come from God and we are returning to God. Jesus said I know where I came from and I know where I am going. His invitation and gift to us is to KNOW this place within us called the kingdom of God for the first time.   The sooner the better for us and the planet.  Still kicking and screaming? Not sure if you have arrived at your arrival? Then go out and explore! And wherever you go, God will be eagerly waiting for your arrival.

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?

Serve Well but Don’t Neglect Prayer…a post by Jim

Joy and I celebrated our 40th anniversary this summer. We saved 5 years to do something very special. We traveled to Scotland and very much enjoyed a couple weeks there. In our time there I was reminded of a couple things. First, we should have saved for 10 years! Traveling is expensive. Second, the history of Scotland is violent. So much fighting between clans and other groups (e.g. Vikings and English). Third, the topography of that small country is amazingly diverse. From the pastoral land in the southeast to the rugged mountains of the northwest. A beautiful country.

But the thing that captured me the most came from our time at the Holy Island (in northeast England). A king gave Aidan a very small island as a base for his Christian missionary work. He and his few followers built a small monastery where people could come to learn about Christ. But the hustle and bustle of the monastery led Aidan to withdraw to a smaller island that could be accessed when the tide was out! He went there to give his life to prayer.

Within a few years northern England and most of Scotland turned from their pagan ways to embrace Christ. It didn’t happen primarily because of a large number of missionaries. It was because of prayer. Aidan and others gave themselves to a life of prayer for themselves and the people they served.

We live in a time where there are many avenues of evangelism. Thank God that many reach out with the Good News through social media, meetings, social justice and the like. But what I came away with from my time in Scotland was the necessity of prayer.

Can we give ourselves to more prayer?

Go fish…a post by Tom

“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”  –Vincent Van Gogh

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Jesus

As Christians (little Christs) we know that life is a spiritual battleground and the opposition to God’s love can seem tremendous. However, we too like fishermen, have never found these dangers good reason to stay on the sidelines. We are drawn and compelled to enter into our spheres of influence and fish for what is true, noble, and good about humanity’s birthright as beloved sons and daughters of God. Where are we stuck on shore? Has something precious been shipwrecked in our ministry efforts and now grief keeps us landlocked? Look, we all knew this was dangerous business when we chose to follow the Master.  Let’s set out again while there is still time.  Why? Because we can’t help ourselves, we are fishermen!

There is no going back…a post by Wendell Berry, the Apostle Paul, and Tom

No Going Back by Wendell Berry

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over the grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV)

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

There is no going back in Wendell Berry’s poem and for the Apostle Paul. There is no going back for you and I either. Letting go of the past is not easy, but it is necessary for liberation. Maybe that is why Jesus’ message of forgiveness is so central to his mission.   He came to set us free, from the bondage of sin and from the effects of what that sin has done to us in the past. This affects our ability to be present here and now which leads us to more sin which leads us to more past.  Our sin which makes us stuck in being scoundrels and another’s sin which makes us stuck in victimhood.  Or both our sin which makes us stuck in confusion.

In grief recovery ministry we talk about forgiveness involving the letting go of the hope for a better or different past. As we journey on in life the limits and losses start to pile up like firewood behind a shed waiting to be burned by our restless minds. There is no end in sight to this burning and churning over of the past..if only.   This eats up precious mental and emotional energy that could be spent connecting with others and God.  Instead, the energy is spent in self absorption like a dog chasing its tail. Until the dog falls over dead from exhaustion just like us.  The only relief is to forget what is behind and move forward, siempre adelante! There is no going back.  There are no do overs.  Beloved, don’t miss out on today’s Christ mystery!

Who knew?…a post by Tom

The spiritual life is not easy. Our false self does not go down without a fight, and one to the death. This is a really inconvenient battle to wage when it is challenging enough to just live life.  Who really knew what we were signing up for in following Jesus and taking this journey seriously? Who really knew that the path would evolve and feel more like death and descent? The One Who guides us knows. Others who have gone before know. Be encouraged by the following quote from Joseph Benner an American Protestant mystic who seems to know.

You, My Beloved, who have consecrated yourself to Me, and are bending every effort to find union with Me, but instead have found apparently that every prop of the World’s support has been withdrawn or is being withdrawn, and that you are without money and without friends, and know not where to turn for human help.

Learn, My Blessed One, that you are very, very, close now, and that if you will only continue to abide in Me, letting my Word abide in you and guide you, resting and trusting absolutely in My Promise, I will very soon bring to you a Joy, a Fulfillment, a Peace, that human words and human minds cannot possibly picture.

For you have obeyed My Commands, and have trusted Me, and have sought first My Kingdom and My Righteousness, and therefore will I add all other things unto you, even those the World has denied you.

-Joseph Benner, The Impersonal Life

Sitting Still With Christ…a post by Joy

As we consider the ways of Christian spiritual formation, there is always one particular facet of the journey that mesmerizes and challenges me the most.

The one of “sitting still” before God with the expectation and intention of knowing God. Psalm 46:10 tells us to “Be still and know that I AM God. “

It seems that many Christians are interested in being “busy about the business of God”. Even family life is busy about the “business of family” instead of intentionally taking time to “be still” and know the family member.

Stillness can refer to literally being still or posturing ourselves in a place where we can sense the “distilling” work of Christ within us.

Being still for me can also be a place of being grounded internally in the still unconditional love of Christ even when life is a whirlwind externally.

As a musician, there is always movement of the melody or harmonies in a piece. Yet, there is also the stillness of the rests which call for silence. Though the rest may only be for one beat, we still refer to it as rest, or silence. Sometimes the measured rests have their own rhythm. If we don’t pay attention to the moments of these rests of silence or stillness in the music, we miss the complete picture of what the composer intended us to hear.

We as human beings have the capability of paying attention to either movement within our souls or stillness. Most of us are great at paying attention to this movement or whirling around of the regular living of life from day to day. Yet, we tend to have a more difficult time paying heed to the stillness that comes from the beckoning call of Christ. We are created with the ability to be still within our souls as we pay attention to being with Christ. Christian spiritual formation calls for the both/and of stillness and action: the movement and the rests as it were.

If the stormy sea can understand and obey the words of Jesus when He said, “Peace, be Still”, how can we who are created in His image do less?

 

Perfectly imperfekt…a post by Tom

Why can’t anything or anyone be perfect? Why can’t this thing go the way it is supposed to? The long answer involves all the flaws, shortcomings, mistakes, sins, errors, and imperfections in every given person and situation. The short answer is because that every person or thing is not God. Seems like God put Himself in a bind by creating anything because anything created would always fall short of the Creator. After all only God is good. Even without sin entering the picture everything still falls short of the full glory of God!

It is refreshing to know that Jesus, humanly speaking, had to learn about perfection too. Scripture clearly says this in Luke 2:52 and the Hebrews text below. What is more startling is that He learned about perfection through suffering. Suffering what? Everything that wasn’t perfect! Jesus was made perfect through suffering the imperfect thereby revealing His Divine nature, which was that of a suffering God!

This has colossal ramifications for us in that real perfection isn’t a static moral category but a dynamic inclusive one. Perfection is more about being able to include and accept all that is not perfect rather than rooting out and excluding the nefarious negative fly in the ointment. Perfection seems more about relationality flowing from a generous and gracious source rather than measuring up to impossible standards (see first paragraph). Perfection is more about connectivity than ‘correctivity’ (I think I just made up a word). Perfection not about witch hunts but grace hunts. How will I learn this? Through the same way Jesus did. Suffering.

Are you miserable today? You probably are a perfectionist. Is your marriage miserable? Which one of you is the perfectionist and which one has to live with you? What are you demanding in life, in others, and most importantly yourself? Nothing and nobody will ever measure up. Let’s forgive everything and everyone for not being God and then maybe we will actually be like God. Perfect.

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” – Hebrews 5:8–9 (ESV)

“Spare me perfection. Give me instead the wholeness that comes from embracing the full reality of who I am, just as I am. Paradoxically, it is this whole self that is most perfect.” –David G. Benner

“The greatest enemy of ordinary daily goodness and joy is not imperfection, but the demand for some supposed perfection or order.”- Richard Rohr

Dark Night…a post by Tom

Jeremiah 20:7 (ESV)

                        O Lord, you have deceived me,

and I was deceived;

                        you are stronger than I,

and you have prevailed.

                        I have become a laughingstock all the day;

everyone mocks me.

 

This is not what the prophet Jeremiah signed up for. He was doing everything he thought he was supposed to be doing. He was following God. He was getting pounded in the process. I love Jeremiah’s unabashedly bold and emotional words of honesty. It is one thing to feel that Satan has deceived you but God? Wow. This is truly a place of ultimate defeat and undoing. God has won and there are no moves left. Check mate.

Real growth happens in the dark. The seed must shed its protective covering and venture out exposed and vulnerable into the unknown. Intuitively being led to the surface it must grow through the darkness, the decomposing plant material, manure, and bugs. Was this what the seed signed up for when it dangled in the beautiful tree dancing in the sun and breeze? What was known inside the safe cocoon must be set aside. It must evolve and change at all costs or else Life will not go on.

All of us establish ways of relating to God that work in the beginning. But then this gets dramatically shifted. The Bible reading, prayers, songs, and relationships no longer feed the soul. Is something wrong or is something right? For sure something is being shed and something is being solidified. We might even feel ‘deceived’ by God because we thought we were doing the right thing and now everything seems so wrong. This is what is so unnerving about the Dark Night. The equation for life changes at a very profound level. Something is happening and we don’t have the categories for naming it and I can no longer hold my present experience. I must now be held. “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”

River Peace…a post by Joy

Having seen this beautiful river in downtown Reno, Nevada, this week, my thoughts have repeatedly gone to the old hymn written by Frances R. Havergal.  Like a River Glorious” has been sung by generations as a reminder of the peace that Christ brings to us in our everyday lives if we will just pay attention to His reminders.

Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,

Over all victorious, in its bright increase;

Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,

Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.

 Refrain:

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest

Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

 

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,

Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;

Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,

Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

 

Every joy or trial falleth from above,

Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;

We may trust Him fully, all for us to do;

They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.

 

Paying attention to the beautiful visual of the peaceful river in the midst of the vibrant city, and remembering this old hymn, has also brought my heart to the Scripture, Isaiah 26:3. “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed (or “stayed”) upon You.”

I’m thankful for all these reminders this week of His peace that “passes all understanding.”