Place Matters…a post by Jim

At CrossPoint we often talk about three key components when it comes to taking a serious inventory of our lives. If you want to assess how you are doing in life think in terms of 1) People, 2) Place, and 3) Purpose.

Clearly people matter. In fact, we repeatedly say that the quality of one’s life depends on the quality of one’s relationships (with God, others, and with one’s own soul). If you want a fulfilling life, work on your relational capacity. Work on being able to be more appropriately vulnerable since trust is the currency of relationships.

And we know about purpose. Without a purpose for living people struggle with finding meaning in life. And without meaning things get rather bleak. Purpose naturally involves what we feel God has called us to do. It involves our vocation to a great extent. Hopefully, you feel a sense of purpose in what you are doing for the sake of God’s kingdom.

And now the third ‘P’. Sometimes we dismiss the important of place. Wendell Berry is quoted as saying something to the effect, “We are a displaced culture but we call it mobility.” Wendell is on to something that seems to be important in Scripture. God gave his Old Testament people a place to call home. Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us (John 14:2).

It is true that from one perspective we are clearly pilgrims, with no place to call home in this world (Hebrews 13:14). But that description is of the foot we have in the ‘New Order’ of reality. The truth is that we still live in the ‘Created Order’ where we need to have a place to call home.

Having a place anchors the soul. My mom’s dad (papaw is what we called him) had 72 acres in East Tennessee which he farmed. He was a poor man in financial terms (his ‘cash crop’ was sweet potatoes!). And he lived his entire life on that piece of property. In some ways it limited him and in other ways it solidified his soul. He knew who he was. He was in touch with his limits and losses. He was grateful of heart.

I don’t live on the farm like he did. After being born in Chattanooga I’ve moved (or been moved by dad and mom) 11 times in my life from Tennessee to Michigan to Texas to Virginia to Illinois to Indiana. But move number 11 brought my wife and me back to Tennessee after 39 years (we lived here the first two years of our marriage). And I can say that there is something grounding about being home.

My prayer is that you have a place to call home, a place that helps you feel grounded, a place that helps give you identity. And I pray that your earthly home will remind you that you are not home. There is a city not made with hands that awaits us.

Even so Lord Jesus, bring us home.

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.

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.

When the Dew Dries …a post by Jim

When going for a morning walk last week I notice an unusual sight on the sidewalk. There were hundreds of dead worms. Strange. I’ve seen a few on the sidewalk before but nothing like this. I wondered what caused them to die there.

After a couple miles I seem to stumble on what I thought was a reasonable answer. Worms need moisture. And we haven’t had rain in a week. Instead of doing the hard work of digging their way into the sod of the lawns they seemed to be seduced by the heavy dew that was on the sidewalk. The strategy worked during the night but when the morning sun came and the dew dried the little creatures could not survive.

To a great extent, life is the culmination of decisions we make. Sometimes we do what is right even though it is hard. But sometimes we do what is easier just because we can. We become attracted to the “evening dew.” Sometimes it takes years before we are forced to live the consequences of some decisions. But it goes away. Eventually. As Proverbs says, “There is a way that seems right but the end of that way is a death.”

“Dear Jesus, help me to make decisions that reflect a deep love for you and others. Don’t let me be seduced by evening dew. Draw me deep into the soil of your fellowship even if it is hard.” Amen

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!

Let’s Get Physical…a post by Jim

 

This past weekend I had the honor and privilege of visiting my father who was turning 90 years old. He said he never thought he would make it to such an old age. But he is very grateful for the health that he has, the people in his life who love and care for him, and his interests that are still alive and well within his soul (he still loves to read, to paint, to work in his wood shop!).

While reminiscing with him and visiting with two uncles and aunts (all are close to 90 years of age) a number of things struck me. But perhaps what hit me the most was how much of these conversations focused on their bodies. Old age focuses the mind on the body!

Maybe that is not a bad thing. Yes, it is very hard to get old. Our bodies simply wear out and won’t do what we want them to do. It is hard to always walk with a cane, to worry about falling, to be restless through most of the night. But … taking our bodies into account is an important aspect of good soul care. We are EMBODIED souls.

This week I encourage you to pay attention to your body. What is God telling you through what you sense and feel (emotions are body states)? Do I need more rest? Do I need more activity? Do I sense God’s presence WITHIN my body?

Our bodies have much to teach us. So let’s get physical …!

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!

I Have a Dream…a post by Jim

Martin Luther King, much like Martin Luther centuries ago and the Apostle John and the Old Testament prophets of old, had a vision of a different future. They had a dream of what life might look like when the kingdom of God is more fully lived on earth. They called people to live that reality.

We cannot live well without a vision, without a dream, without hope of something better. At so many levels and in so many places we see the brokenness, suffering, and sin of people on the edge of the vision. Indeed, all of us need a sense of “we were not created for this so surely God has something better in store for us.”

Yesterday, as we celebrated a national holiday honoring a man with a dream of people being judged, not by the color of their skin, but the quality of their character all of us should pause and ask ourselves, “How can I better ‘do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God’?”

Be specific. Not random but INTENTIONAL acts of righteousness, kindness, and meekness. Maybe tip someone twice as much as normal. Maybe prepare a meal. Maybe 15 minutes of quiet prayer listening to God with a spirit of surrender.

What is your dream? How are you living toward it today?

A Time for Everything…a post by Joy

“It’s time to wind the clocks,” he said as he walked to the grandfather clock that he had built so many years ago. “That’s what I do on Sundays.”

As I watched him proceed to complete this process that he does weekly, I knew that beautiful tones of the chimes would sound on the hour as I have heard it many times through the years.

It made me wonder if in our journey of Christian spiritual formation, Christ says at regular rhythmic intervals, “It’s time to reset the pilgrims on their journeys according to my time. As they live each day, sometimes they get distracted with all the different ways that can fill their hours of life. They get so busy trying to get to places “on time” that they miss the time of their lives by trusting in real time which is ‘MY TIME’.”

The great thing about clocks is that the increments of “telling time” come in seconds, minutes, and hours. They are each important in their purpose of making sure the world runs “on time.” If tiny little moments named seconds are important in the process of recording time then it’s okay for me to take very small steps in the process of spiritual formation and know that it is making a difference in my journey of moving toward reflecting my true self as the likeness of Christ.

Every second, minute, and hour that I live is important to fulfill the time that God is allowing me to live upon this earth. To be aware that I am living moment by moment in His Time is more about being aware of His presence in that particular moment and even in this moment that I am writing.

To sit still and listen to the actual “tick-tock” of the clock is a way of being aware of the moment right now being lived. It also reminds me that I am with Him and He is with me In His Time.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

 “There is a time for everything……..”

Bonhoeffer on the Christian life…a post by Rich

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work the “Cost of Discipleship” was the most significant book I read in the decade of my twenties. It was a book given to me from a pastor in Alton, Iowa who was retiring and dispersing his library.  Bonhoeffer’s reflections on what it means to follow Jesus changed my life.  It was the first time I came to realize the meaning of God’s grace. After reading the book I was motivated to become a serious student seeking to bring all of my life under the Lordship of Christ.  I came to understand in the economy of God their was “no cheap grace.”  Bonhoeffer taught me that grace was costly. Consequently Christ in grace continually invites us to give our entire life in service of him as we respond in love for being so generously loved by God.

Eric Metaxas’ work “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” is well worth a place on your summer reading list.  Chad Lewis, a friend of mine, recently sent along to me a quote from Metaxas’ book that summaries Bonhoeffer’s life.  I have returned to these words numerous times in recent months as I reflect on what is it means to be a follower of Jesus. Here is how Metaxas summaries Bonhoeffer’s Christian life.

“He had theologically redefined the Christian life as something active, not  reactive. It had nothing to do with avoiding sin or with merely talking or  teaching or believing theological notions or principles or rules or tenets. . . . It was God’s call to be fully human, to live as human beings obedient to the one  who had made us, which was the fulfillment of our destiny. It was not a cramped, compromised, circumspect life, but a life lived in a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom that was what it was to obey God.”

How we imagine what it means to follow Jesus eventually becomes HOW we follow him. Bonhoeffer imagined a way in following that was about becoming fully human, “a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom.” Perhaps Metaxas’ summary of Bonhoeffer’s manner of loving God and living as a child of God can help us all imagine a way of being with Jesus as Jesus hopes we would!