Meals of Communion…a post by Joy

From my own experience, It really is true that to share a meal with someone is an opportunity of reminding us that we are in communion with Christ.

It’s interesting to me that a number of times in Scripture, including the story of the angels who appeared to Abraham to announce to him that he and Sarai would become parents in their ripe “old age”, this bit of news was delivered in a setting around the experience of a meal.

The first miracle performed by Jesus was in the venue of a wedding feast, a celebration with others. Yet to the other side of things, Jesus was reprimanded for having a meal with sinners, a condemnation by others for his choice of company. When the Prodigal Son came home, his father immediately gave instructions to his older son and servants alike to prepare the fatted calf for a meal; and most amazing is that the last significant act of community and communion that Jesus had with His disciples before the crucifixion was the “Last Supper.”

To eat a meal around the kitchen or dining room table is a place of physical nourishment AND a place of communion with each other for soul nourishment.

Many times I am reminded as I’m serving or eating a meal with family, friends or strangers too, even in the airport, that I am hosting the presence of Christ within my soul to serve a bit of Christ to others. And in the same way, I receive a blessing and a portion of who Christ is from other believers as they are living out their gifts from Him as image-bearers of Christ. We are being in communion with Christ, with others and with ourselves by doing this simple, life-giving act of eating our meals while being mindful of His life-giving presence in each of us.

Soul to soul, heart to heart, mind to mind, through the Holy Spirit we commune with each other and with the loving presence of God, the Father; God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit.

This Sacred holy practice of eating 3 times a day either alone with Christ or with others, is a reminder that we can intentionally and mindfully return to Christ these specific times per day (even if it’s 2 times/day.) We all participate in this ritual of eating like clock work because we are human and were designed to nurture our physical bodies this way. It’s a time for replenishing our energy levels for our bodies. Yet it’s also a replenishment for the care of our souls as we “gather all the parts of our selves” (whether the playful self, the rigid self, the hurting self, or the helpful self etc.) to a centering place with Christ. He could have created us to be nourished “on the run” ALL the time without having to take this time to be in communion with Him, with others, or with ourselves.

Yet, I am so very thankful He gave us this gift of sitting down with others to eat a meal, looking each other in the eye to express and be an example of what our communion can be with Him. A holy sacred space like this certainly includes space for laughter and sometimes tears as hearts are shared with each other.

DO ALL OF THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME,” is a command and a reminder of the work of Christ in us through His sacrifice every time we partake of the elements of communion. Yet, for me, it is also a reminder that when we participate in a meal with others, we are being mindful of His work in us through the communion that we have with others.

Babette’s Feast is a movie that I like to watch at least once a year and especially around the Thanksgiving season. It’s a wonderful story about a Parisian political refugee from the 19th century who is given opportunity to use her gifts in a unique way to bring healing to a hurting village through the experience of an incredible meal. To me, Babette is an example of a woman who was being mindful of the healing presence of Christ within her, not by her words, but by her act of communing with the people of the village through a meal.

May Christ be honored by the way we enter into a meal with one another as an act of communing with Him as we commune with those around us.

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!

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!

Once, even Twice or Three Times, is NEVER Enough!…a post by Jim

My grandson spent the last few days with us. I always learn in his presence. This time what struck me is that his 23 month brain demands that he repeat and re-repeat whatever is on his mind. And re-re-repeat!

So when he thinks of the dog he will say ‘dog’ again and again. When he remembers throwing bread to the ducks three days ago he says ‘throw’ again and again. When he wants his dad or mom you can be sure he will make that known.

Some years ago Eugene Peterson wrote, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” He reminded his readers that a virtuous character requires repetition of virtuous thoughts and actions. Again and again. So that when a person lives an honest life, with enough repetition of honest thinking and doing he or she will eventually can be described as an honest person. Habitual righteousness results in virtuous character.

God wired our brains for repetition. My grandson is doing exactly what God designed him to do. Repeat, repeat, repeat. My prayer for him is that he will practice a long obedience in the RIGHT direction so that someday he will be known as a virtuous man. I pray the same for myself. I pray the same for you.

What will you think and do today that will habitualize virture?

 

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.

 

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 …!

A Thanksgiving Invitation…by Tom and Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Thanksgiving is upon us and with it comes the requisite gatherings with family and friends, or not. These spaces of holiday gatherings can be either interesting or disinteresting.  The usual suspects arrive and tell the usual stories with the usual chatter.  What could make these interactions different or interesting?  The following poem leads us in a beautiful invitation to have an interesting holiday with whomever we are with and most importantly ourself. 

The Invitation

by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.

I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

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

Red, Yellow, Black and White…a post by Jim

One of my earliest memories from Sunday School is singing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red, yellow, black and white they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” The song was about as diverse as we got in the Dutch community of Holland, MI in the late 50s. But it was and IS true. Jesus does love ALL ethnic groups. The trouble is that we find that hard to do.

The recent events of shooting and killing by and of police are tragic. And it appears that race was a factor in the loss of life of civilians as well as the policemen. Jesus loves all the children of the world. Easier to sing than to live. As a culture and as an individual.

Because we are created in the image of a relational God (Father, Son, Spirit) we are relational whether we are red, yellow, black or white. The quality of ALL our lives depends on the quality of our relationships. And not relationships just within our particular color. The quality of ALL of our lives depends on the quality of our relationships across ethnic lines.

It is the power of the Gospel that has made it so that there is no longer Jew or Gentile (or slaves or free or male or female). This does NOT mean there are no differences between races or social status or genders. Christianity is too ‘particular’ a reality to ignore differences (e.g. God showed up in a particular Jewish man; God chose a particular race in the Old Testament through whom to reveal himself). Any attempt for ‘unity’ that ignores or fails to respect differences is doomed to fail.

But there is a unity that is found at the deepest level possible for those who are IN Christ. If he is at the core of our being then, no matter if we are male or female, slave or free, or red, yellow, black or white then there is a new unifying reality for us. What is most true about us is far more powerful than our differences. We cannot expect the world to believe or live this out but we who are followers of Christ MUST believe and live this out.

Today, how can you express the new reality of IN Christ with your brothers and sisters of different ethnic groups?