Place Matters…a post by Jim

At CrossPoint we often talk about three key components when it comes to taking a serious inventory of our lives. If you want to assess how you are doing in life think in terms of 1) People, 2) Place, and 3) Purpose.

Clearly people matter. In fact, we repeatedly say that the quality of one’s life depends on the quality of one’s relationships (with God, others, and with one’s own soul). If you want a fulfilling life, work on your relational capacity. Work on being able to be more appropriately vulnerable since trust is the currency of relationships.

And we know about purpose. Without a purpose for living people struggle with finding meaning in life. And without meaning things get rather bleak. Purpose naturally involves what we feel God has called us to do. It involves our vocation to a great extent. Hopefully, you feel a sense of purpose in what you are doing for the sake of God’s kingdom.

And now the third ‘P’. Sometimes we dismiss the important of place. Wendell Berry is quoted as saying something to the effect, “We are a displaced culture but we call it mobility.” Wendell is on to something that seems to be important in Scripture. God gave his Old Testament people a place to call home. Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us (John 14:2).

It is true that from one perspective we are clearly pilgrims, with no place to call home in this world (Hebrews 13:14). But that description is of the foot we have in the ‘New Order’ of reality. The truth is that we still live in the ‘Created Order’ where we need to have a place to call home.

Having a place anchors the soul. My mom’s dad (papaw is what we called him) had 72 acres in East Tennessee which he farmed. He was a poor man in financial terms (his ‘cash crop’ was sweet potatoes!). And he lived his entire life on that piece of property. In some ways it limited him and in other ways it solidified his soul. He knew who he was. He was in touch with his limits and losses. He was grateful of heart.

I don’t live on the farm like he did. After being born in Chattanooga I’ve moved (or been moved by dad and mom) 11 times in my life from Tennessee to Michigan to Texas to Virginia to Illinois to Indiana. But move number 11 brought my wife and me back to Tennessee after 39 years (we lived here the first two years of our marriage). And I can say that there is something grounding about being home.

My prayer is that you have a place to call home, a place that helps you feel grounded, a place that helps give you identity. And I pray that your earthly home will remind you that you are not home. There is a city not made with hands that awaits us.

Even so Lord Jesus, bring us home.

Wild Geese…a poem by Mary Oliver

This is a beautiful poem that speaks for itself and the first few lines are of particular encouragement for those tortured souls…you know who you are.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us…a post by Joy

For two mornings this week I have awakened to this verse going through my mind.

Psalm 90:17 (KJV)  

“Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.

Establish Thou the work of our hands;

Establish Thou the work of our hands.

It’s a familiar verse that is quoted in the Midday prayer that we have often quoted through the years for the Deeper Journey retreats.  I also have it in song form by the Northumbria Community in England.  Actually, the song is what awakened me from my dreams both of those mornings.

I’ve often been struck by this verse in contemplating the meaning of it or what it has for me as I pay attention to God’s beckoning through it. Besides the enjoyment of appreciating beauty for it’s own sake, beauty has also been important to me as a container for peace.  Nine years ago as we prepared to move, our home was in disarray as we packed. I intentionally lit a candle and set it on the kitchen counter as a reminder that the Holy Spirit, the light of Christ, was with us on this journey. It was an encounter with the beauty of Christ being “upon us.”  This reminder brought peace along with the beauty as I continued to pack, therefore, “establishing the work of my hands!”

A couple of other translations describe “beauty” as the “favor of the Lord” (NIV) or the “approval of God.” (NLT).  Having the favor of Christ on our lives is definitely something that we all may receive from His atoning work on the cross.  I’m imagining that having “favor” or “approval” or “beauty” upon us from God is also going to look different for each of us because we are all created with different gifts, ways of being in the world, and perceiving the world.  It seems, that part of His spiritual transformational work of beauty upon us is “to establish the work of our hands” in whatever way He has designed and allow it to be integrated with the desire He has given us in the first place for that kind of work.

Thanks be to God!

I Lift My Eyes To The Mountains…a post by Joy

 

PSALM 121: 1-2

I lift up my eyes to the mountains–

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

 

Psalm 121 has always been one of my favorites. My father had all 4 of us children memorize the entire Psalm when we were young. It’s amazing that these verses have come to my heart and mind at different times in my life, even after having not read the Psalm for a very long time. Today, as I look at the mountains in front of me and all the different kinds of mountains that we have seen in our travels over the last few weeks, I’m amazed at God’s handiwork. Even while the mountain is “sitting still” there is life being lived on it’s surface and down below in the depths of the earth. Beautiful waterfalls trailing down the mountain, prolific colorful flowers, and sheep that graze on the side of the mountain remind me of God’s gracious gifts. These elements are all a part of the help He provides for us in that there is beauty to nourish our souls and a reminder that He provides our every need.

Imaginatively, I wonder if the mountains are ever amazed at God’s handiwork in us as human beings. I know this is a crazy question to ask yet I can’t resist the thought of it!

Part of the handiwork of God in us through Christian spiritual formation is knowing when to stop to rest. Discernment about preparation for the next step or not taking the next step simply takes time of “looking unto the mountains for God’s help.” For me, mountains represent a place of stillness. While resting during this discernment process, His reply may simply be to “stay”; “wait”; “sleep”; “ponder”; “sit still”; “take just one step” or “it’s time to play.”

Whatever His answer may be, we can rest assured that while we are in the process of living life as we look for His help, “….the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, (including the mountains) will not slumber, neither will He sleep.” (Psalm 121:4)

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!

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 …!

Butterfly effect…a post by Tom

“When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.”

—Dean Jackson

God’s first revelation is nature.  In nature’s cycles of life, death, and rebirth we see the gospel in action right in front of us.  Our spiritual journey is no different, we must journey through stages of order, disorder, and reorder.  The journey of Jesus was meant to be followed and not just worshipped.   Leaning into our own order, disorder, and reorder while trusting the process when we are in unknown spiritual territory takes courage. Let’s learn from the journey of the butterfly and relate this to our own path.

A butterfly goes through four stages of life egg, larva, pupa, and adult.  To cross from one stage to the next involves great risk and change. A person on the spiritual path also goes through stages with each stage having a different goal.  Often these stages are separated by a dark night or crisis of faith which involve creative risk.

The first egg stage: tiny eggs are laid on the underside of a leaf as the caterpillar larva is protected and growing inside its membrane.  If we are lucky, we are born into a Christian home and given the protection and teaching to develop our childish and childlike faith.  If not, we find ourselves saddled with a spiritual restlessness and desiring we know not what nor where to find it.  Perhaps we find our way to a faith community that can do what our homes did not.

The second larva stage: when the egg hatches a larva emerges and has only one goal…to eat.  The larva grows into a fat juicy caterpillar. On the spiritual path, one could call this the conversion.  We are awakened to the gospel and have a personal encounter with Jesus.  We have hatched!  Now we have an insatiable hunger to know more and all we want to do is learn, learn, and learn.  This is the time when we can’t take in enough podcasts, sermons, Bible studies and church.  We amass theology and data about being a follower of Jesus.  And just like the heavy caterpillar, we might take ourselves very seriously and be heavy with self preoccupation. Most of us think this is the end game and most churches park the bus here, but there is more.

The third pupa stage: when the larva stops growing, it stops eating and then forms a chrysalis. This is a mysterious stage of development because from the outside it looks like the pupa is doing nothing, perhaps dead.  However, inside the cocoon the pupa is literally being digested and reformed into a butterfly.  The old parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a radical transformation or metamorphosis. On the spiritual path there comes a point when we have had enough with the Bible studies, prayer groups, sermons, and talking heads.  We may even think we are losing our faith.  From the outside it looks like the person has backslidden or fallen into unbelief.  However, inside the person is learning the contemplative path and resting in union with God beneath thoughts, imagination, and feelings.  Ask them to explain what is going on and they can’t. The mother and fathers of the church have called this ‘quies’ or holy resting.  The person just wants to rest in silence and solitude in the loving embrace of God.  The old parts of one’s religious heritage and beliefs are being digested and brought into a higher or fuller realization.  Symbols take on new meaning and belief systems become pointers to the mystery rather than an explanation of mystery.

The fourth butterfly stage:  when the pupa is done forming it hatches from the cocoon through a breathtaking process and a butterfly emerges.  The butterfly must struggle to emerge from the previous stage and then flap its vulnerable and soft wings to get the blood flowing into them.  Once it has rested and gotten the wings to cooperate, it flies!  The mission now is reproduction.  On the spiritual path we must put our contemplation into action.  We might have to break out of the denominational traditions we were brought up.  We might have to break free of limiting relationships and theology.  We will most certainly have to break free of our family system and cultural conditioning.  We graduate from first half of life spirituality into second half.  This takes enormous effort and struggle to emerge into a world and sometimes a religious landscape that doesn’t value contemplatives.  We dare to fly because now we have learned to take ourselves…lightly.   It is for freedom Christ set us free!  Our mission then is to help others in their own transformation.

The River of Healing…a post by Joy

Having driven yesterday to the site of the Ohio River at Leavenworth, Indiana, we stopped for a few moments to gaze upon its beauty. While the sun glistened on the water, the view became even more restful and inviting to just “be in the moment.” It was life-giving to watch it move gently down the way.

Interestingly enough, the Scripture reading for this morning was on the passage of the River of Healing in Ezekiel 47: 1-12. Verse 9 states that “everything that touches the water of this river will live.” Then….”Wherever this water flows, everything will live. “

The passage reminds me of what Jesus said in John 7:38. Once we believe in Him , He gives us the “living water” of His Holy Spirit.

Christian spiritual formation may be peaceful or raging during our journey within yet He is constantly with us as the “river of healing” as transformation takes place.

Frances Ridley Havergal, the hymn writer put it this way:

Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace;

Over all victorious in its bright increase;

Perfect, yet it floweth, Fuller ev’ry day,

Perfect, yet it groweth, Deeper all the way.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blessed.

Finding as He promised perfect peace and rest.

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

God Paid Attention To Me…a post by Joy

God paid attention to me this morning in a way that He knew I would love! I opened the blinds of the window in the bedroom. Immediately I saw a bright red cardinal sitting on top of a tall weed in the field of swaying grasses behind our house. I smiled and whispered a prayer of thankfulness. The beauty of the red bird always reminds me that “God is with me.” He shows up at the most amazing times. He may be flying across my pathway as I’m driving, arriving at the bird feeder on our snow-clad deck in December, or even singing as he lands on the top of my wreath hanging on the front door of our home. The latter has happened at least 3 times this year. The last time it happened, I first heard the close sound of his chirping before seeing him. I walked quickly to the living room to see if he had landed on the wreath again. Sure enough, he had!

I felt that Christ was being playful with me by sending the cardinal to my front door. It delighted my child’s heart within. Intentionally entering into every moment when God’s little messenger comes “flying by,” I am reminded that He loves me unconditionally with my own particularity with no strings attached.

 

Ephesians 3:18-19

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.

 

Thanks be to God!