I AM with you always…a post by Joy

 

Psalm 139: 1-3; 7

Oh Lord, You have examined my heart

and know everything about me.

You know when I sit down or stand up.

You know my every thought when far away.

You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest.

Every moment, You know where I am.

I can never escape from your Spirit!

I can never get away from Your Presence!

 In today’s world it seems that the human race is constantly trying to be more connected with others through the constant use of their phones. I’ve seen teen-agers text each other who were sitting right next to each other instead of speaking to them. It seems that instead of connecting, they are dis-connecting more and more by not feeling comfortable with eye to eye contact and the etiquette of carrying on a simple conversation.

When someone sets a boundary by wearing ear buds, I realize they may need time to be alone or “chill out” after a busy day. They could be listening to music or even a Scripture passage for all I know. Yet, I also wonder are they afraid to connect with the outside world because they are afraid to be known. Are they wanting to “disappear” without having to let anyone know where they really are with their thoughts and emotions? Are they afraid to totally be alone in silence because it is too painful or scary?

In the journey of Christian Spiritual Formation, we do need a balance of being alone and being with other people in community. The Spiritual Discipline of Solitude and Silence is a wonderful exercise of paying attention to just “BEING” with Christ in our space of being alone. YET, for all of us as Christians, we are truly NEVER ALONE. One of the ways of loving God is to receive that we are known by God and that in knowing us as we are, He loves us still.   (I Cor. 8: 3) God is always with us, always connected to us in the most endearing expression of His love through His presence forever.

Matt. 28:20 “I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS EVEN UNTO THE END OF THE AGE.”

 

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.

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!

Butterfly effect…a post by Tom

“When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.”

—Dean Jackson

God’s first revelation is nature.  In nature’s cycles of life, death, and rebirth we see the gospel in action right in front of us.  Our spiritual journey is no different, we must journey through stages of order, disorder, and reorder.  The journey of Jesus was meant to be followed and not just worshipped.   Leaning into our own order, disorder, and reorder while trusting the process when we are in unknown spiritual territory takes courage. Let’s learn from the journey of the butterfly and relate this to our own path.

A butterfly goes through four stages of life egg, larva, pupa, and adult.  To cross from one stage to the next involves great risk and change. A person on the spiritual path also goes through stages with each stage having a different goal.  Often these stages are separated by a dark night or crisis of faith which involve creative risk.

The first egg stage: tiny eggs are laid on the underside of a leaf as the caterpillar larva is protected and growing inside its membrane.  If we are lucky, we are born into a Christian home and given the protection and teaching to develop our childish and childlike faith.  If not, we find ourselves saddled with a spiritual restlessness and desiring we know not what nor where to find it.  Perhaps we find our way to a faith community that can do what our homes did not.

The second larva stage: when the egg hatches a larva emerges and has only one goal…to eat.  The larva grows into a fat juicy caterpillar. On the spiritual path, one could call this the conversion.  We are awakened to the gospel and have a personal encounter with Jesus.  We have hatched!  Now we have an insatiable hunger to know more and all we want to do is learn, learn, and learn.  This is the time when we can’t take in enough podcasts, sermons, Bible studies and church.  We amass theology and data about being a follower of Jesus.  And just like the heavy caterpillar, we might take ourselves very seriously and be heavy with self preoccupation. Most of us think this is the end game and most churches park the bus here, but there is more.

The third pupa stage: when the larva stops growing, it stops eating and then forms a chrysalis. This is a mysterious stage of development because from the outside it looks like the pupa is doing nothing, perhaps dead.  However, inside the cocoon the pupa is literally being digested and reformed into a butterfly.  The old parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a radical transformation or metamorphosis. On the spiritual path there comes a point when we have had enough with the Bible studies, prayer groups, sermons, and talking heads.  We may even think we are losing our faith.  From the outside it looks like the person has backslidden or fallen into unbelief.  However, inside the person is learning the contemplative path and resting in union with God beneath thoughts, imagination, and feelings.  Ask them to explain what is going on and they can’t. The mother and fathers of the church have called this ‘quies’ or holy resting.  The person just wants to rest in silence and solitude in the loving embrace of God.  The old parts of one’s religious heritage and beliefs are being digested and brought into a higher or fuller realization.  Symbols take on new meaning and belief systems become pointers to the mystery rather than an explanation of mystery.

The fourth butterfly stage:  when the pupa is done forming it hatches from the cocoon through a breathtaking process and a butterfly emerges.  The butterfly must struggle to emerge from the previous stage and then flap its vulnerable and soft wings to get the blood flowing into them.  Once it has rested and gotten the wings to cooperate, it flies!  The mission now is reproduction.  On the spiritual path we must put our contemplation into action.  We might have to break out of the denominational traditions we were brought up.  We might have to break free of limiting relationships and theology.  We will most certainly have to break free of our family system and cultural conditioning.  We graduate from first half of life spirituality into second half.  This takes enormous effort and struggle to emerge into a world and sometimes a religious landscape that doesn’t value contemplatives.  We dare to fly because now we have learned to take ourselves…lightly.   It is for freedom Christ set us free!  Our mission then is to help others in their own transformation.

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!

Silence and Imagination…a post by Rich

A good friend of mine, Pastor Dan Braga sent along to me Andrew Sullivan’s article entitled, “I Used to be A Human Being.”  Sullivan writes,  “The Judeo-Christian tradition recognized a critical distinction — and tension — between noise and silence, between getting through the day and getting a grip on one’s whole life. The Sabbath — the Jewish institution co-opted by Christianity — was a collective imposition of relative silence, a moment of calm to reflect on our lives under the light of eternity. It helped define much of Western public life once a week for centuries — only to dissipate, with scarcely a passing regret, into the commercial cacophony of the past couple of decades. It reflected a now-battered belief that a sustained spiritual life is simply unfeasible for most mortals without these refuges from noise and work to buffer us and remind us who we really are. But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.”

The journey into the practice of silence and solitude or some form of sabbath rest is battered and assaulted at every turn.  I recall my mother lamenting one Sunday morning back around 1960 the elimination of Sunday blue laws in New York that prohibited grocery stores from opening on Sunday. Her words were simple, “We don’t need that.”  She was affirming the reality now erased from our general community consciousness that Sunday was for rest.  Sullivan, in his article particularly charges the arrival of our smart phones only a decade ago as the new and devastating intruder on our space where silence could once live.  

What captured my attention regarding Sullivan’s thoughts was his insight regarding the relationship between silence- sabbath- and imagination.  “But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.” Silence, certainly when practiced faithfully leads to self-integration.  We move past our fragmented and fringed living to an experience where our soul becomes more solid and whole.  We move from the circumference of our being to the center of our soul through silence.  Without silence we live scattered and superficial. We become dulled by a narrowness of noise that over time  deadens the soul. 

Silence before God, which forms the solid soul becomes the pathway to a healthy imagination.  The soul that has space to breathe, to hear, to see, to smell and to touch finds life’s simple realities pointing beyond themselves in their beauty and goodness to God’s presence.  

I am fortunate to live near woods where my screened in porch, my favorite room in our home, allows the singing birds to enter my times of silence. This past summer and now fall season is filled with blue-jays crying out in their unique song. Each time I hear them I remember as a young boy their crying voice among the pine trees of our church camp where our family would spend time in the Adirondack Mountains each Memorial Day weekend. The blue jay’s voice now leads to more. A pathway to memories. A daily reminder of God’s presence over the decades instilling faith that reaches back generations in our family. Memories of ordinary and faithful parents who worked, and gave and loved and worshipped, come along with the jay’s cry. In silence emerges a sense of being that is grounded and anchored traversing along the ordinary to God’s presence here and now. The soul is deepened and then . . .expands. Imagination begins to flourish in the wide open spaces of silence where faith experiences the Trinitarian God who lives and moves and has his being in the blue jay’s cry and beyond in the quiet and calm of the silence. A sacramental consciousness is awakened and nourished. Imagination grows in God and about God.

Sullivan suggests a simple discipline that once a week we find a 24 hour period to put our phones away along with our other electronic gadgets and allow space for the silence.  Not a bad idea if we wish to imagine more.

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.

Invitation #2 – Less Busyness/More Stillness

May seems to be one of the most hectic times of the year. If you have kids there are recitals (my wife Joy just finished them with her piano students), band concerts, exams, and much more. If you lead a ministry this is also a busy time of year. If you are single and fancy-free you are busy planning your summer. Lots of busyness all the way around. That’s why our second invitation is so inviting. Continue Reading

Love of God

Staying in Love

The book of Jude is only 25 verses long. But the last two verses record one the most powerful and beautiful doxologies in all the Bible. “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, and dominion, and authority before all time and now and forever more. Amen.” Breathtaking! Jude sweep us up into the magnificence and beauty of God’s redeeming and restoring work. Continue Reading

Welcome to Leader’s Journey

Last week Rich and I had the privilege of launching another Leader’s Journey with the staff of Heartland Worship Center in Paducah, KY. It was a great day of discussion and reflection. The church is blessed to have a staff with such unity and integrity. Their deep desire to enter an experience that shapes and forms the soul will serve them well. For the next 12 quarters (total of three years) we will spend a day together exploring our capacity for connection with God and others. Continue Reading