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!

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.

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?

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

A Response to Charlotteville… a post by Jim

In recent days events in Charlottesville, VA were given great prominence in the news. At least that is what is seems. My wife and I happened to be out of the country at the time with no T.V. and little social media. When we returned, after seeing headlines from things a week earlier, i did my best to catch up. Sincerely wish that I was not confronted with what I read. Very sad. And sinful.

The responses have died down because there are other issues now (e.g. statues). But I felt the desire to give my response even if it is delayed. CrossPoint is committed to fostering relational health at every level. But these comments are mine.

First, racism is a sin. And it finds a home both at an individual and national level. Like all sins, it derails relational connection. Such arrogance and hatred and fear cannot work for the common or individual good of others. There must be both individual and national repentance.

Second, this sin, like all others, requires a relational approach to bring about repentance. An honest relationship with God will compel us to see and know that all bear the image of God. And humble relationships with others of different ethnicity will “open: our eyes to how they deserve to be treated. It wasn’t until the Apostle Peter (who was a racists by any standard) was “in the house” of a Gentile that he “came to see” that God is no respect or of persons. God forced Peter to hang out with the very kind of person Peter looked down on. God used that relationship to change Peter’s heart. This may bring strong disagreement but I am going to say it anyway. Seminars, panels, crusades, marches, sermons focusing on the evil of racism are fine. But, in my opinion, they accomplish FAR less than people being in relationship with someone who is different than they are. We need those things at a corporate level but the evil of racism will ultimately be address at a very particular, personal level.

Third, the particular ways that foster repentance and healing are very practical. We can use the Parable of the Good Samaritan to guide us. That story involved a two ethnicities being confronted at a crime scene. Two Jews by-passed the victim on the other side of the road. Their reasons were embedded in their cultural heritage, their religious dogmas, and, probably, their personal prejudice. But a Samaritan got in the ditch with someone different from him. The point for is this–as we go about our lives, there will be occasions where we will come on a situation that offers us an opportunity to bring healing. Most of us, like the Samaritan, don’t come across evil expressed against a person of another ethnicity every day. But when we do, like the Samaritan, may God give us the grace to step up even if it costs us. Stepping up does not mean getting rid of ethical differences. Peace is not a matter of homogeneity. Shalom flows from anchored identities that respect differences, not from an attempt to ‘flatten’ differences.

“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.

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

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.

Invitation to Trust…a post by Rich

Brennan Manning in his book “Ruthless Trust” tells the following story.

“When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.” She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.” (Ruthless Trust, p. 3)

As we approach Easter and the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord it may well be that many are seeking a new sense of clarity or certainty about themselves or the things of God.  Too often however our quest for clarity or certainty is a subtle strategy for us to be in charge. We like being in control! The gospel of Jesus Christ has been and ever shall be an invitation to trust. Trust for the disciples of Jesus is not optional, it is required. Jesus says emphatically in John’s Gospel, “Let not your hearts be troubled, trust in God, trust also in me.” (John 14:1). So we come to the heart of our faith; we trust in a Risen Savior! Again we are reminded that the Kingdom of God is not made up of those who have figured out all of life, nor of those who have resolved haunting questions in their life, nor of those who have recovered from all their wounds, nor of those who are completely certain about matters divine, but rather of those who trust the love the Father has for us in Christ. We are like children trust a loving and good parent who seeks our very best. Such trust delights God the Father and it is for this trust by his children in him, that God our Father sent his Son and delivered him from the power of sin and death by his resurrection. So this Easter we come again trusting in our God who loves us more than we know! Grace and peace to you, Christ is risen!

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