By Your Light We See Light…a post by Rich

Aquinas the great theologian of the of the 13the century relied upon Psalm 36:9 to guide him in his great theological endeavors. “For with You is the fountain of life: in Your light do we see light.” C.S. Lewis was a follower of Christ because he held that Jesus enabled him to see what was most real and true. God’s light enables us to see.

My recent times of mediation have me reflecting on the significance of the fruits of the Spirit. Paul encourages believers to walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). Walking by the Spirit arms us to steer clear of the desires of the flesh. Then after making clear what desires of the flesh look like (Gal. 5: 17-21), Paul informs us of the fruit of the Spirit. When God’s presence is being manifest in our lives as people of faith, we express love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22).

Our ability to see what is most true and most real relies upon the formation of a particular character. The presence of God living in us forms a moral character that facilitates our seeing well. The virtues of the faith are not just about our establishing a certain moral rectitude. Although having moral rectitude is a good thing! An honest person is better than being a liar. However, we don’t practice and live Christian virtues solely for the purpose of being morally righteous people. If that is our aim, we will most likely end up in the same legalistic pettiness of the Pharisees. We affirm wholeheartedly that our righteousness in every way is a gift from God through faith in Christ. Even our ability to practice the virtues that cultivate a morally upright life is a gift from God. All good things come from our Lord.

My point is that we seek after God and give ourselves to live out the fruits of the Spirit because this is not only a sure indicator of God being in us, but the fruits of Spirit enables us to see through the lens of our Lord’s light. The benefit of living out our “in Christ life” through the fruit of the Spirit each day is that over time it leads to wisdom. That is to say, we can see our world as God’s sees our world. We can see our circumstances as God sees them. We can see our neighbor as God’s sees our neighbor. And we can see ourselves as God sees us. We participate in God’s life more fully by participating in God’s way of knowing. The Psalmist says it succinctly “in your light we see light.” We, by grace through the fruits of the Spirt, see more clearly God’s truth. One of the great gifts of our Christian faith is that it leads us to see what is good, true, and beautiful in our world.

I raise these thoughts against the background of the political atmosphere in which we now live. I think persons living in the Kingdom of God need to be more preoccupied with attending to the fruit of the Spirit than whether we are on the political right or left. Governments of the world come and go. Remember the Assyrians? The Kingdom of God endures forever. Let us then be persons of the Kingdom keeping in step with the Spirit as we live out the fruits of the Spirit before both friend and enemy. Only then shall we avoid the the darkness. Here is a truth, one we shall never fully know this side of heaven: “in Your light Oh God, do we see light.” Thanks be to God for his Light even Christ our Lord.

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.

Seeing the Unseen…a post by Joy

About a month ago, my eyeglass frames with progressive lenses broke. Knowing it was time to get a check-up I scheduled an appointment instead of getting my glasses repaired right away. Unfortunately, I had to wait another week to see the eye doctor. Thank goodness for another set of glasses that I use for computer work and reading music at the piano.

When the time came, the check-up revealed that my eyes would require a change on my lenses so I would need to wait about 7-10 days for the new glasses to arrive. In the mean while, we were traveling during that time. One morning, we required the services of an Uber driver. Once the transaction was complete, the driver drove away, and I walked into the house wearing my prescription sunglasses. As I began to look for my computer/piano glasses, I realized they were not in my purse and panicked realizing they had been left in the car of the Uber driver. My husband and my son discovered the info necessary to touch base with the driver. He delivered my glasses within 10 minutes. Once I walked into the house with them, I burst into tears thanking the Lord that they had been returned by the driver.   I felt very vulnerable not having those glasses and not being able to read anything without them. We still had 6 days to be away on the trip.

Later that same day, several of us accompanied our grandson to the aquarium for his 3rd birthday. When we arrived, as I began to climb out of the car, the left temple of my prescription sunglasses fell off. It surprised me and of course, I began looking for the tiny screw to repair it. It was not to be found.

With this saga that happened within one month to all 3 pairs of my prescription eyeglasses I immediately asked this question.  “Lord, what is it that you want me to see or change about the way that I am seeing or perceiving things in life?”

“What was so necessary to transform in me at this place in my life that you had to catch my attention by allowing all 3 pairs of my prescription eyeglasses to go through brokenness, delay of repair, and displacement?” My eyes, the “window of my soul” can only see what they are given to see at the appropriate time my soul is willing to see the truth about myself or another in my relational life.

I feel vulnerable with my “broken” eyes knowing that I can only see clearly when I use the eyeglasses with prescriptions designed just for my eyes. Yet, I also feel thankful for these wonderful tools that transform my sight from brokenness to clarity. I feel vulnerable with the brokenness within my soul yet thankful for the transformation that comes with the presence of the Holy Spirit through Scripture, through the community of other believers, and through the practice of Christian spiritual disciplines.

When it comes to the tool of this saga that I have experienced, I sense that Christ is reminding me that He is constantly providing for me even when I can’t see things clearly and even when I can’t see the whole picture of what He is allowing to happen to me in my every day life. I have once again been given the opportunity to trust God in all things even when I feel very vulnerable about my weaknesses. It has also been a lesson in patience with myself and with God’s timing. Part of seeing how Christ was working in me through all of this was to not be seeing through my own eyes in order to “open my eyes” to what He wanted me to “see”. The tools that Christ uses for our individual journeys of spiritual transformation may not always be the great sermon that we just heard or the Scripture passage that we just read. It may also be the most common and ordinary events of life that God is using to call us to pay attention to see what we can see through His eyes.

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?

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.

Be Still And Know That I Am God…a post by Joy

“Being Still” can be one of the most challenging things we do in the journey of Christian spiritual formation. In our culture, there are so many distractions. Some of them are good distractions, such as our jobs and tending to our families and friends. Others are distractions of guilt, shame, or fear that keep us from even considering “being still” much less actually “doing” it.

Scripture doesn’t say to us, “Be still and be perfect” or “Be still and God will love you forever,” or “ Be still and God will protect you.” Psalm 46:10 says, “BE STILL and KNOW that I AM GOD.”

Another word sometimes used interchangeably for being still is to be silent. When I posture myself to be still I am reminding myself to be quiet in my body, my mind, and my soul. God can speak to us through His Holy Spirit in so many ways: through the Scriptures, through His still quiet voice (when we are quiet enough to hear it), through the presence or voice of a friend and sometimes even a stranger.

My own personal challenge with this spiritual discipline of “being still” is that I have all these other things to do that are also important for the cause of Christ. Yet, my greatest “cause” for Him is “to KNOW HIM”. As I know Him more, I also know myself more by being aware of the ways I reflect His image and or nature. Being merciful to others and ourselves, being wise in our decisions, helping others, displaying a joyful or forgiving spirit when needed etc. are some of the ways that we can reflect the image of God and attract others to Him.   In most of these ways, there is much movement in our outer world and our inner world to reflect who God is.

Yet, I wonder if God sometimes calls us to be still because another way to reflect Him IS to “be still.” It’s His way of calling us to come commune with Him by being present to His presence within us in order to KNOW HIM in a way we’ve never known Him before.

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!

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.”

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.