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!

Prayer…a post by Rich

Prayer is at the heart of who we are as children of God. We are especially designed to be people of prayer. Over the past several months I have been reading through P.T. Forsyth’s “The Soul of Prayer.” At times it is hard to track with Forsyth but there are so many remarkable gems about prayer in this book it is well worth time to read and reflect. The following is an example of his writing.

“Prayer is a greater school and discipline of divine love than the service of man is. But not if it is cut off from it. And no less also is it the school of repentance, which so easily can grow morbid. We are taught to be not only true to reality, but sincere with ourselves. We cannot touch God thus without having a light no less searching than saving shed upon our own hearts; and we are thus protected from Pharisaism in our judgment of either self or friend or foe–especially at present of our foe. No companion of God can war in His name against man without much self-searching and self-humiliation, however reserved. But here humility turns into moral strength. Here we are also regathered in soul from the fancies that bewilder us and the distractions that dissolve us into the dust of the world. We are collected into peace and power and sound judgment, and we have a heart for any fate, because we rest in the Lord whose judgments are salvation. What gives us our true stay gives us our true self; and it protects us from the elations and despairs which alternate in ourselves by bringing home to us a Saviour who is more to us than we are to ourselves. We become patient with ourselves because we realize the patience of God. We get rid of illusions about ourselves and the world because our intimacy is with the real God, and we know that we truly are just what we are before Him. We thus have a great peace, because in prayer, as the crowning act of faith, we lay hold of the grace of God the Saviour. Prayer alone prevents our receiving God’s grace in vain. Which means that it establishes the soul of a man or a people, creates the moral personality day by day, spreads outward the new heart through society, and goes to make a new ethos in mankind. We come out with a courage and a humanity we had not when we went in, even though our old earth remove, and our familiar hills are cast into the depth of the sea. The true Church is thus co-extensive with the community of true prayer.”

I am reminded as we begin this new year that our great calling is to be people of prayer above all else. Prayer is the essence of our life in God and with God. May each of us sense a renewed call to be God’s people who pray. (1 Thess 5:17)

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?

Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us…a post by Joy

For two mornings this week I have awakened to this verse going through my mind.

Psalm 90:17 (KJV)  

“Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.

Establish Thou the work of our hands;

Establish Thou the work of our hands.

It’s a familiar verse that is quoted in the Midday prayer that we have often quoted through the years for the Deeper Journey retreats.  I also have it in song form by the Northumbria Community in England.  Actually, the song is what awakened me from my dreams both of those mornings.

I’ve often been struck by this verse in contemplating the meaning of it or what it has for me as I pay attention to God’s beckoning through it. Besides the enjoyment of appreciating beauty for it’s own sake, beauty has also been important to me as a container for peace.  Nine years ago as we prepared to move, our home was in disarray as we packed. I intentionally lit a candle and set it on the kitchen counter as a reminder that the Holy Spirit, the light of Christ, was with us on this journey. It was an encounter with the beauty of Christ being “upon us.”  This reminder brought peace along with the beauty as I continued to pack, therefore, “establishing the work of my hands!”

A couple of other translations describe “beauty” as the “favor of the Lord” (NIV) or the “approval of God.” (NLT).  Having the favor of Christ on our lives is definitely something that we all may receive from His atoning work on the cross.  I’m imagining that having “favor” or “approval” or “beauty” upon us from God is also going to look different for each of us because we are all created with different gifts, ways of being in the world, and perceiving the world.  It seems, that part of His spiritual transformational work of beauty upon us is “to establish the work of our hands” in whatever way He has designed and allow it to be integrated with the desire He has given us in the first place for that kind of work.

Thanks be to God!

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.

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.” 

Check Your Posture…a post by Joy

Christian Spiritual Formation is a journey that is one of posturing ourselves to be awakened to the process of coming back to the true self of who God created us to be. The posturing is sometimes difficult. It can require us to be still or it can require us to step into something new because we have been still long enough.

Being still requires us to let go of distractions of work, family life, or being busy for the sake of busyness. Stepping into something new requires that we let go of what feels safe and familiar. Which ever space we find ourselves, the action of “letting go” is hard work. It always involves the spiritual discipline of discernment. Trusting God in the journey of His transformational work in this process is also a way of posturing or placing ourselves intentionally into His care. Sometimes the act of that trust is to “Be Still”; sometimes it means to step forward and maybe even step backwards.

Part of the “letting go” can include a time of grief so that the loss can be acknowledged and accepted in order to move forward. Yet, in all of these steps of whether we are sitting, moving, grieving, or any other posturing, we can be comforted that “….Christ is with us always, to the very end of the age. “

Matthew 28:20. May the peace of Christ be with us always!

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!

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!

Imagination and Our Spiritual Journey…a post by Rich

Have we lost our capacity for imagination as Christians?  Have we assigned imagination to child’s play but now of course we are adults so we set aside childish ways?  Imagination is about pretend, we all know that.  We use our imagination for fantasy. Imagination takes us into the world of the improbable and the impossible.  Adult life has to face what is real and not engage in some imaginary goose chase.  So this is how many have come to think about imagination. 

Could there be more to imagination than what we imagine? Imagination is a faculty or capacity of the mind. We all use our  imagination. We can imagine a relaxing vacation at the beach, a positive outcome to a difficult conversation, or a family living in peace. When we look at the way Jesus taught, it seems like he invited us to regularly use our imagination. The prodigal son story, or when he says “the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed,” or in his parable of the sower, or even his statement “I am the way . . .” All invite us to use our imagination.  Paul seems to invite the use of our imagination as well in his theological teaching when he speaks of our be baptized in Christ and our being raised in him. He further instructs us to set our minds on things above where Christ is seated.  All this and more invites imagination. 

Reason helps us to discern what is true. Imagination which is intertwined with faith enables us, as CS Lewis argued, to discover and know meaning. Imagination isn’t just about pretend or fantasy. Quite the contrary, without imagination we would never truly know reality.  Reason allows me to observe my world and draw some conclusions from the world’s beauty and complexity for instance.  Imagination helps me see God’s eternal power and deity is manifest in all of God’s created order. Imagination helps us to see and know more.  

Imagination plays an essential role in our reading of Scripture and our ability to enter the story of God. We can imagine ourselves with Christ and listen to him as he teaches and observe him as he heals. Imagination that is educated and structured in God’s word becomes a real source for discerning in relationships and in problem solving. Imagination is most important in our spiritual life because it can assist in fostering experiences of God’s presence.  Perhaps it is time for all of us to consider that imagination is a gift from God for our spiritual journey. And this gift actually assist us in knowing what is most real! Imagine that!