“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.

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!

God Loves Us Even When We Are Messy!…a post by Joy

Christian spiritual formation can be a process that is enlightening, encouraging, sorrowful, and humbling.  Plain and simple, it can be “messy.”  Journeying back to the true self of who God has created us to be may require going through painful situations which teach us once again that we are His beloved children no matter what. As each layer of our false self is peeled away by the working presence of the Holy Spirit within us, He reminds us over and over again that even in these times of  discouragement, depression, denial, or grief, He loves us more than we can imagine.  Our underlying emotions of fear, shame, or guilt can be triggered as quickly as we take a breath. Remembering to say a “breath prayer”  reminding us that Christ loves us or quoting a “breath of Scripture” is a practical and spiritual discipline to intentionally posture ourselves to be present to Christ’s work of love within us. 

Recently, as I began to drive on the interstate for an hour’s drive, the oil light on my dashboard came on to alert me to give attention to checking the oil. I really did not need this on that particular day. I pulled off the rest area within a mile. When I parked I saw 2 men checking the oil in their pick up truck.  Since I have the oil checked and changed on a regular basis, it had been a while since I had checked the oil myself.  I knew I would have to get the manual out etc. I didn’t want to be late to my appointment so I asked them if they would help me by checking the oil. The older gentleman and his grandson obliged me and both agreed after checking it that the car was a quart low. I retrieved the quart of oil that I had in my trunk and proceeded to pour it into the place they showed me. I thanked them and continued on my way. Within 5 minutes, the tears began streaming down my face as I acknowledged that once again the Lord had taken care of me and provided for me in a very loving way.

Two days later, while walking from one building to the next at the campus where I teach, a young man and I crossed paths. As I continued to walk toward my building, he kept walking perpendicular to me, turned around and said, “God wants you to know that He loves you.” The spontaneous message from this student surprised me. In response, I said, “He loves you too.” Just inside the door, I paused with a thankful heart and a few tears, realizing that, truly, the Holy Spirit had moved this young man to speak to me. God has His own ways of reminding us in specific ways that are appreciated by us individually that He loves us. 

The title of this blog came to me one day because I was cleaning up after our 70 lb. golden retriever, Jordan.  He is truly loveable, fun, and endearing. Yet, he is definitely messy. It reminded me that we are all blessed to be loved by God in our messiness whatever it may look like. 

Our 22 1/2 month old grandson  had just arrived to our home 2 weeks ago from California. We’re so thankful we have seen him as often as we have. He is recognizing us more because of these visits and plenty of Face Timing. The following morning, he allowed me to hold him quietly with his pillow, blanket, and “binky.” He snuggled up close and we sat together quietly for 10-15 min. I felt truly blessed and loved by Christ in giving me  these moments with him that I would savour for a long time. God knew that this was a particular, specific, way that I could connect with my grandson, and connect with the realization that I am loved just as deeply by Christ as He is holding me.

These noticings of the love of Christ for me in specific individual  ways reminds me over and over that God is always with us all in this spiritual transformational journey.  I have referred to this Scripture passage before in other blogs I’ve written. It’s an old passage that never gets “old” to me. 

Ephesians 3:17-19

And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home 

in your hearts as you trust in him.  

May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should,

how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love really is.

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully 

understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power

that comes from God.”

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!