Real Butter…a post by Tom

Recently I journeyed with a 100-year-old woman as she neared death. When she died the family shared memories and reflections on her storied life. I find it fascinating how people focus in and remember the small things over the big. One of the grandchildren, of whom she was particularly fond, recalled going over to her grandma’s small apartment for movie night to eat popcorn made with REAL BUTTER. The grandmother did not have much materially speaking. She lived alone and worked as a waitress. However, when her grandkids came over she used REAL BUTTER! The children were accustomed to margarine at home but with grandma there was REAL BUTTER and this was astonishingly good and decadent.  The granddaughter, a successful professional on the West Coast, flew in and couldn’t stop talking about butter.  Among other things her candy dish was also exquisitely stocked with very good hard candies, the kind with fancy crinkly wrappers. These are the small lavish touches that can change everything. What are the ways we can reflect God extravagance towards us for others? How can we be lavish toward loved ones in small simple ways? Do we have to let a scarcity mentality dominate even our popcorn? It is in the small things that our lavishness or stinginess can shine. When it comes to us, God uses REAL GRACE lavishly.

Ephesians 1:7

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished on us.

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.

God is with me in the shifting…a post by Joy

In the journey of Christian Spiritual Formation, when everything is shifting on the inside of our souls, like shifting sands of the sea, there is typically shifting in our external world as well. It can either paralyze us or inspire us to move forward one step at a time. Choosing to sit still to “Be with God” is not a posture of paralysis. It is a position of honoring God, the Father; God, the Son; and God, the Holy Spirit who live within us. Yet, when we are working, serving, or playing, these are also positions of honoring His presence in us. We are NEVER without His Presence. Such an encouraging promise from Scripture, Matthew 28:20, states: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Hebrews 13:5 also reminds us of His omnipresence. “For God has said, ‘I will NEVER fail you. I will NEVER forsake you.’ “

There is no human being who has ever been able to give this kind of promise, even with our best efforts. Whether I am paralyzed, moving forward, or moving backward, God is with me. Truly, thanks be to God!

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.

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.

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!

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)

“Shoulds” That hold us hostage…a post by Joy

I should go to bed earlier;

I should lose weight;

I should exercise more;

I should have made a different decision than what I did.

 “Shoulds” that hold us hostage and weigh us down are one of the elements of life that keep us from living with the freedom of “what is”. The reality of “now” and being present to it as a way of life keeps me from wandering in the past and the imaginations of the future.

Don’t get me wrong. I love history and reminiscing about good memories that have already been lived. I enjoy planning ahead for things of the future and imagining ways of living out my dreams. Yet, If I am always longing in the “land of the shoulds”, how can I ever be at peace in the stillness of Christ

I understand that in the spiritual discipline of discernment, we need to ask the question(s) of what should I do or not do as part of the process.

It’s the “shoulds” that come from regret, or hook us in our fear, guilt, and shame or perfectionism that paralyze our souls and keep us from taking action in a healthy way.

We sometimes find it easier to show grace to others when they should have done something in a particular way. Yet to show grace to ourselves by acknowledging and letting go of our “shoulds” or forgiving ourselves may seem too difficult because its’ unfamiliar or it seems opposite of trying to be the good Christian that we aspire to be.

We are the beloved children of Christ. He covered all of the “shoulds” that affect each of us whether it triggers our guilt, fear or shame that we are trying to manage. For myself, I do not want to be held hostage anymore to the “shoulds” that can trigger these emotions.

Yet, I embrace the need for balance and integration of the positive “shoulds” that help one take action toward wholeness (and just getting things done) and the “shoulds of regret”.   They both remind me to posture myself before Christ as He does His transforming work in me through His grace of forgiveness and love toward all the “shoulds” of life I have lived.

When the Dew Dries …a post by Jim

When going for a morning walk last week I notice an unusual sight on the sidewalk. There were hundreds of dead worms. Strange. I’ve seen a few on the sidewalk before but nothing like this. I wondered what caused them to die there.

After a couple miles I seem to stumble on what I thought was a reasonable answer. Worms need moisture. And we haven’t had rain in a week. Instead of doing the hard work of digging their way into the sod of the lawns they seemed to be seduced by the heavy dew that was on the sidewalk. The strategy worked during the night but when the morning sun came and the dew dried the little creatures could not survive.

To a great extent, life is the culmination of decisions we make. Sometimes we do what is right even though it is hard. But sometimes we do what is easier just because we can. We become attracted to the “evening dew.” Sometimes it takes years before we are forced to live the consequences of some decisions. But it goes away. Eventually. As Proverbs says, “There is a way that seems right but the end of that way is a death.”

“Dear Jesus, help me to make decisions that reflect a deep love for you and others. Don’t let me be seduced by evening dew. Draw me deep into the soil of your fellowship even if it is hard.” Amen