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.

Advent and the Particularity of God’s Love…a post by Rich

The season of Advent is upon us and as Christians we turn our hearts in preparation for the coming celebration of the birth of the Messiah, our Savior. A theme we often attended to here at CrossPoint is the particularity of God’s love. Thomas Oden considered the incarnation the “scandal of particularity.” God in his wisdom makes himself know to us in and through a very particular Jewish man. But there is more to the scandal than God simply making himself know in Jesus. The crux of the scandal is that this Jewish man, with a real family history -hence the gospel genealogies- is in fact the Son of God! God is now made know to us and is with us in Jesus. As Jesus put it, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. . . “ (John 14:9) And as the writer of Hebrews makes clear, “but in these last days he has spoken to us in his Son . . . He, (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God (the Father) and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Heb. 1:3)  Scandalous it is, to say the least. God loves us in this very particular person, Jesus!

There is endless mystery and beauty within the story of our Savior’s birth. The humble and yet truly beautiful response of Mary to the Angelic announcement. The Angelic confirmation for the anxious Joseph that comes to him in the quiet dark mystery of a dream while sleeping. The notoriously dishonest Shepherds are the first to herald the good news- ah, God’s ways are not our ways. And the deep longing of the wise men compelling them to follow a star surrounded by the heaven’s darkness. And there is much more that is filled with beauty and wonder. But that which is most beautiful and for sure the grandest of all mysteries is that in this particular Jewish man, this Son of God, has come to show us the love of God and in so doing loves each one of us particularly.

The particularity of God’s acts in Christ manifests the particularity of God’s love. God’s love is not a generic love but it is a specific particular love of individuals. It is a love that greets individual men the likes of Andrew, Peter, James and John. It is a love that reaches out to the woman at the well. He touches deeply the lives of Mary and Martha. It is the love that notices the woman in the crowd who suffered so long and touched him. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. The blind man crying out for mercy, and Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” There is the widow of Nain whose only son died. Jesus notices and raises him from the dead. The gospel narratives tell us again and again of the wonder of the love of Christ that is specific and particular. A love that greets each person in the depths of their soul. And it is no less true for you and for me! What wondrous beauty what glorious mystery that we should be loved in Christ so deeply and lavishly by our Heavenly Father.

The humility that blankets the entire gospel narrative of the birth of Jesus points ahead to the great humiliation of the Cross. Here the love of God shines forth in its fullest glory for “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) The love of God is this particular! God’s love addresses the specifics of our individual and corporate sin. It enters the darkest places of any and every individual’s soul and brings “the light of life.” (Jn.8:12) And all of this love comes to us as a gift of grace, even more beauty and mystery. Who can truly comprehend this love? We need only to surrender and trust.

Our Savior has come! Immanuel, God with us. So then, we rejoice! We give thanks. And we rest in him. May it be so for each and every one of us in this Advent season. May we again receive afresh the love of God who sent his Son as our Savior and the Savior of the world!

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.

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?

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.

Desire Changes Slowly…a post by Tom with David Brooks

All of us want change…just not the painful transition.  There is so much I would love to change about myself immediately, yet spiritual progress seems glacially slow at best.  If I know what needs to be changed now, then what is the hold up?  My desires.  A lessor desire can only be dethroned by a greater one.  That is the issue.  Cognitively I may want to change but affectively my desires are still held in check by lessor loves.  It seems that the way forward is to contemplatively steep my desires in love for God, which is more of a crock pot affair than a microwave one.  Check out the following quote from David Brooks “The Road to Character” and see if it encourages you.

“as people rise up and seek to meet God, their desires slowly change.  In prayer, people gradually reform their desires so that more and more they want the things they believe will delight God than the things they used to think would delight themselves.

The ultimate conquest of self, in this view, is not won by self-discipline, or and awful battle within self. It is won by going out of self, by establishing a communion with God and by doing the things that feel natural and in order to return God’s love.

This is the process that produces an inner transformation.  One day you turn around and notice that everything inside has been realigned.  The old loves no longer thrill.  You love different things and are oriented in different directions.  You have become a different sort of person.  You didn’t get this way simply by following this or that moral code, or adopting a drill sergeant’s discipline or certain habits. You did it instead because you reordered your loves, and as Augustine says again and again, you become what you love.” 

Walking the Dog… a post by Jim

For the past couple months I’ve been very intentional about living present in the ordinary of life with the prayer that God will meet me there. Would like to say that I am a master at that but I am not. However, God is helping me see that the ordinary is filled with extraordinary realities. That seemed to happen a couple days while I was walking my son’s dog (how and why Joy and I have taken in his dog is another matter!).

So … I was walking Jordan at Mount Saint Francis Abby where there are hundreds of acres and miles of trails in fields and woods. This is a great place to appreciate God’s handiwork in nature. Jordan was on his leash as we approached another dog. Jordan is a rescue dog that, for whatever reason, hates any other dog that doesn’t look like him. After a brief skirmish where I had to pull Jordan off the brown lab that was simply looking for a polite meeting we continued our walk.

After a couple hundred yards we met up with a second dog. This time I took more precautionary measures and asked the approaching owner to keep her dog away from mine and added, “My dog is a racist and will attack most any other dog if given the chance.” She quickly informed me that her dog was not racist but a progressive who loved all dogs. “He has a pink leash to prove how progressive he is!”

After we passed each other without incident I heard her son (looked like he was about 5 or 6) ask his mom, “What is a ‘progressive’.” I didn’t hear her answer. But it made me reflect on the power of words AND the assumptions that come with the words that we use.

The point is not to question whether all ‘progressives’ lack any racist traits. The question for me became, “Do I make assumptions about the character of my own soul based simply on words, even good and ‘Christian’ words, that I use? Because I know and use the word ‘humility’ do I assume that I walk in humility toward God and others? Because I know the word ‘sin’ do I really avoid it? Because I know the word ‘courage’ do I display it?

God can use almost anything for the purpose of soul reflection. Even walking the ordinary (racist) dog.

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!

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!