How to win…a post by Tom

“God is with us in our horror, our terror, our violence, and our suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins.” –Marcus Borg

“How to win” seems to dominate our attention be it sports, business, war, politics, an argument, or just in general the game of life. We all want to be happy, successful, secure, significant, competent, in control, and affirmed. These are not bad in and of themselves but when “winning” these becomes our emotional program for happiness, we are headed for trouble.

The cross shows us God’s way of winning his ultimate prize…us, the bride of Christ. He is with us in our darkest hour. When faced with our sin, He refuses to fight or flee but instead absorbs our alienation with an unconditional embrace of love. That is how God wins which is validated in the resurrection. That is also how you and I win which is validated in our relationships.  After all, the quality of our relationships determine the quality of our lives. As a chaplain, I can’t tell you the number of stories where people at the end of life spoke most highly of those relationships with people who were with them in their worst moments. These were the winning relationships. So let’s look again at the quote from Marcus Borg from three winning perspectives:

How God wins for us

  1. “God is with us in our horror, our terror, our violence, and our suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins.”

How God wins for me

  1. God is with me in my horror, my terror, my violence, and my suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins for me.

How God wins for you through me!

  1. I am with you in your horror, your terror, your violence, and your suffering. I refuse to add to the evil and violence, but instead respond with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins for you through me.

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.

Forgiveness…a post by Tom

This past Sunday was the fourth week of the Lenten journey. One of the readings was from Psalm 32. Consider these words from David…

Psalm 32:1–2 (ESV)

        Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,

whose sin is covered.

        Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,

and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

This man knows about forgiveness. This man knows about mercy. He knows that true happiness is possible for the one who has been forgiven…much. In a grief recovery group we cover the topic of forgiveness. We discuss how forgiveness involves giving up the hope for a different yesterday or better past. We discuss how forgiveness involves letting go of resentment towards another person or situation over an injury. We discuss how forgiveness is really for our benefit and not the other. We are the ones punishing ourselves with anger when we harbor an unforgiving attitude. The dictionary entry for forgiveness is to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone over a fault. If God has forgiven us then He has released us from our past. If God has forgiven us then He harbors no resentment or anger towards us. If God has forgiven us then we are indeed blessed.  So are we happy?

Right now what is your view of God? Is He angry with you over your sin? Is He resentful toward you over your past history? If that is the case then you are probably not a happy person and nor is your spirituality healthy.  If that is the case then your view of God is not very forgiving or Biblical.

Lent: Time for Creating Space for Waiting and Knowing…a post by Rich

Henri Nouwen writes these words in A Cry for Mercy, “Every day I see again that only you can teach me to pray, only you can set my heart at rest, only you can let me dwell in your presence. No book, no idea, no concept or theory will ever bring me close to you unless you yourself are the one who lets these instruments become the way to you.

But Lord, let me at least remain open to your initiative; let me wait patiently and attentively for that hour when you will come and break through all the walls I have erected. Teach me, O Lord, to pray. Amen”

Lent is about our willingness to enter a season of relinquishment so that we may see more clearly our way to our Savior’s sacrifice on the cross, the meaning of his death and the joy of Easter morning’s resurrection. In one sense, Lent is the season in which we attempt to get out of our own way spiritually. This is a difficult challenge for any of us. It seems to me (Rich) this was Nouwen’s point when speaking about prayer. We can’t make ourselves better at prayer. We must ultimately place ourselves vulnerably before God and await his initiative and respond to his breaking through (Psalm 62:1-2). We must wait and be taught.

We are all too often caught up in our own initiatives and strategies. We become so busy we end up addicted to all our stuff. It becomes a crisis of identity to stop the frenzied pace. We feel anxious and alone. But this is the very reason for Lent. We enter a time of vulnerability before God by merely creating some space to wait and watch. In our quiet stillness, in the stillness of a hovering evening of death and the anticipated morning dawn of life our Lord comes. He comes breaking through our walls awakening within us a true knowing of who we are and how we might live in light of the magnificent beauty of both our Lord’s death and resurrection.

What I’m Doing during Lent

I (Jim) am reading Jonathan Edwards on Beauty during Lent. Yes, Lent is historically a time when Christians face their need for the cross of Christ as we prepare for Easter week. We give up things in order to feel our compulsions. I’m all for that. But I’m going at things differently this year based on my dad’s words to me when I was a kid–if you want to see if a stick is crooked put it beside a straight one. Continue Reading

“Falling in Lent”

Have you noticed the danger inherent in the phrase, “falling in love?” I like the love part, but not the “falling” part. I’ve taken some really bad spills as a kid and as an adult. Winding up bloody and bruised is no fun. Couldn’t there be a better term than “falling” to symbolize the beauty and excitement of romantic love?

The answer is ‘no’. Falling is exactly the imagery needed for this transcendent experience. Why? Because the mystery of love requires losing our balance. It requires relinquishing control. It demands the vulnerability opening our soul to another. Continue Reading

‘Ashes to Ashes’

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day begins the 40 day Season of Lent. All Christians do not follow the Christian calendar and the various seasons because it is not found in the New Testament. But all Christians do realize the importance of reflecting on the 40 days of the temptation of Jesus. That is the focus of this season in the Christian calendar. And it is a necessary focus. We need to remember how Jesus was tempted. We need to remember how we are tempted. We need to remember His faithfulness to His Father. We need to remember our unfaithfulness. All of this prepares us for the Good News of Good Friday.

Today we bump up against our own mortality, our own weakness, our own ‘falling short’ of the glory intended for us as human beings in the image of God. We realize again that our sin and death are real. We realize again the relational consequences of our brokenness. If we didn’t know how our journey ends we would not and could not face a day like today.

But we do know how our journey ends and this gives us the motivation to enter a time of deep soul searching. We quiet our souls before the Spirit, asking to be known as we are known so that we can more fully humble and surrender ourselves to Christ. He gives us the life we want. But before that life is birthed anew in us, something has to die within us. Many things have to die. But our False Self doesn’t go quietly. Paul said our ‘flesh’ is at war against the Spirit and we are never free from this conflict (Galatians 5:17).

If we spend extra time in solitude and silence before Easter we will see more clearly the war within. Sometimes we must face the reality of our brokenness in a more intentional manner. When we do we will find ourselves yearning for our full salvation in Christ.

“Spirit of Jesus, bring to our minds what we need to confess and bring to our hearts what we need to be comforted so that we are drawn more fully into the likeness of the One who loves us and gave Himself for us. Amen”