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!

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.

The Waiting Game, an Advent Reflection…a post by Jim

What is the proper etiquette for how much time it should take to answer a text? An email? Snail mail? What about a voice mail?

Seems like response time is shortening in our culture. If I send a text I can wonder what is up if a person doesn’t get back to me within 60 seconds! At most an email shouldn’t take longer than a day before I get a reply.

Last week was the first week of Advent, the days before Christmas day when we do our best to prepare our hearts for the birth of our Lord. What struck me yesterday was the time it had taken for God to respond in a direct way to his people. 400 years since a prophet had said, “Thus says the Lord.”

400 years before a reply to his people. What is up with that? A 400 second wait tests my patience, making me wonder if someone cares about what I’m facing.

Jesus came in the “fullness of time” (i.e. at exactly the right time). There must have been a divine reason for the slow response. And when God did communicate with his people it wasn’t with the response people were expecting. As Isaiah described it, “He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice” (42:2-3). He brought forth justice by dying and rising, not through power and might.

There must be an important reason why God doesn’t respond to me as quickly as I want. And when God does there is a good chance it will not be in the way I was expecting. God’s ways are not our ways. Can I trust that God is FOR me in Christ and is working for his glory and my good no matter how ‘silent’ he seems to be. That is my first Advent challenge—greater trust, peace, and confidence that my heavenly Father does all things well.

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?

Go fish…a post by Tom

“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”  –Vincent Van Gogh

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Jesus

As Christians (little Christs) we know that life is a spiritual battleground and the opposition to God’s love can seem tremendous. However, we too like fishermen, have never found these dangers good reason to stay on the sidelines. We are drawn and compelled to enter into our spheres of influence and fish for what is true, noble, and good about humanity’s birthright as beloved sons and daughters of God. Where are we stuck on shore? Has something precious been shipwrecked in our ministry efforts and now grief keeps us landlocked? Look, we all knew this was dangerous business when we chose to follow the Master.  Let’s set out again while there is still time.  Why? Because we can’t help ourselves, we are fishermen!

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!

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.

 

Living in the Present Moment…a post by Rich

So time launches us ready or not into a new year as we continue on in our journey of faith. I suspect many or at least some of us have made resolutions as we seek to make 2017 profitable for our continued maturation in Christ. The good news of course is that God’s Spirit has us on a journey toward becoming our truest self in Christ,(II Cor. 3:18) and he promises to continue to be faithfully present with us here and now in the new year ahead. (Mt. 28:20)

Over the holiday season I found myself re-reading various authors on the topic of living in the present moment. It seems that God continues to bring me back again and again to reflect upon and attend to my being present relationally in the here and now. The capacity to live present to what is, is essential if we are going to experience the presence of God who never leaves us or forsakes us.(Deut. 31:6) I was reminded that transformation in one sense is always happening as we internalize the presence of those around us including God’s presence in the here and now.

Living present requires for the vast majority of us an intentional slowing of our life’s pace. For all the activists in our tribe, those of us who are usually in a hurry, this in itself can be a shock to our consciousness and our typical way of being. A life crowded, cluttered and hurried will most likely be a distracted life at best. We live busy avoiding ourselves and in so doing settle comfortably on the circumference of our soul. Slowing our pace, giving ourselves space to breath, taking five minutes periodically throughout the day to pray, gathering ourselves to be where our feet are and seeking to pay attention would help us all slow down and live in the present.

Then of course if we are to be present relationally to others, God, and even ourselves, we will need to be people who listen. Some suggest at the heart of the first sin was our parents failure to truly listen to the voice of God in the garden. Mary, our Lord”s mother, begins her journey of obedience with an attentive listening to the angelic voice. (Lk.1:38) Listening is the posture of receptivity now! It is the posture of the soul that is taking in and embracing now. I am convinced that for any of us to experience more fully God’s presence in the present moment we will need to grow in our capacity and ability to listen. We will need to listen to our own soul, to our anxiousness, negative self-talk, feelings of inadequacy, and the demanding voice to do more. We must hear God here and now and in all of this affirm to us that we are his children. To avoid ourself is to avoid now and in so doing to avoid God with me now!  We will need to listen to others. Their voice, their presence is how God greets as well. Learning to listen is the path to a more robust experience of God in all his goodness and mercy. Listening anchors the soul within because we become more anchored in the one who is our Life. A deepened sense of belonging arises in the soul’s deepest terrain and in this security of belonging in Christ we gain an enlarged capacity to be present to what is.

And so we say whether you are a pastor, or a pastor’s wife, a teacher, Dad, Mom, brother, sister, child, or friend it really is about your living present in the here and now. You are part of God’s transformative work in the lives of others by which our Lord is reconciling the world to himself.  Let 2017 be a time of slowing down, praying , and listening!