How to win…a post by Tom

“God is with us in our horror, our terror, our violence, and our suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins.” –Marcus Borg

“How to win” seems to dominate our attention be it sports, business, war, politics, an argument, or just in general the game of life. We all want to be happy, successful, secure, significant, competent, in control, and affirmed. These are not bad in and of themselves but when “winning” these becomes our emotional program for happiness, we are headed for trouble.

The cross shows us God’s way of winning his ultimate prize…us, the bride of Christ. He is with us in our darkest hour. When faced with our sin, He refuses to fight or flee but instead absorbs our alienation with an unconditional embrace of love. That is how God wins which is validated in the resurrection. That is also how you and I win which is validated in our relationships.  After all, the quality of our relationships determine the quality of our lives. As a chaplain, I can’t tell you the number of stories where people at the end of life spoke most highly of those relationships with people who were with them in their worst moments. These were the winning relationships. So let’s look again at the quote from Marcus Borg from three winning perspectives:

How God wins for us

  1. “God is with us in our horror, our terror, our violence, and our suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins.”

How God wins for me

  1. God is with me in my horror, my terror, my violence, and my suffering. God refuses to add to the evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins for me.

How God wins for you through me!

  1. I am with you in your horror, your terror, your violence, and your suffering. I refuse to add to the evil and violence, but instead respond with vulnerable, compassionate love. That’s how God wins for you through me.

Say anything…a post by Tom

Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?”
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.

-Job 7:1-4, 6-7

 

Are these the words of a believer? Thankfully yes! These are words spoken by a man described in chapter one verse one as blameless and upright, fearing God and shunning evil. How refreshing it is to know that even the best experience these low lows and can sometimes exegete life experiences just as well as an atheistic deadbeat poet. Yesterday I visited a friend dying of cancer. He has six months to live and is anxious to meet the Lord. He is a man of faith, hope, and love. At one point in the conversation he expressed that he was afraid his positivity and hope would run dry. He was afraid his witness would be compromised and so he asked me to tell him if I ever thought he was faking it. I gave him permission not to fake it and not to be cheery in the face of death. I gave him permission to say anything. Job gives us this permission. How refreshing to know that our relationship with God does not depend on us. When death calls, our Savior will carry us across the threshold regardless of how we think or feel. I suppose it is like me carrying my kids to bed. Sometimes they are kicking and screaming and other times they are peaceful and calm, neither case changes my love for them. How refreshing to know that when it comes to God I can say anything. What do you need to say today?

Death Be Not Proud…a post by Jim

Maybe it is because I feel my own mortality more clearly. Maybe it is because I am more sensitive to the life that God intended us to have. Maybe it is because I’m simply scared. Maybe it is a combination of the above and other things of which I am unaware. But whatever the reason, I am having a hard time when someone mentions that a parent died.

It happened again last week. Someone told me that their dad had recently died. Their words slammed my soul. I knew him. He was a good man. Somehow he got himself out of a difficult home situation when he was young. Somehow learned a trade and got married and had a couple of children. Somehow he got his kids through college. He loved and served Jesus as best he could. Then cancer came and took him in a gruesome way before he had a chance to enjoy his grandchildren. And we simply say, “My dad died a couple months ago” and try to move on. It seems to me we ought to scream at and curse death and continually grieve over what it does to those we love.

Disease and death are enemies. While we can battle them we cannot conquer them. They eventually win the war with each of us. That makes me angry. They are cruel enemies. They mock and belittle us. They are the worse bully one could ever encounter in life. And we cannot turn the tables and destroy them before they destroy us.

But thankfully that changed with Jesus. The early church saw his life, death, resurrection, and ascension primarily in terms of conquering the grave so that we could be in fellowship with the eternal God because we are IN Christ. I like that focus. While I cannot beat death I can at least revel in the fact that death will die. That makes me draw close to my Savior in heartfelt thanksgiving and deep appreciation. Death does not have the last word because of him. Thanks be to God. Amen

Accept the anxiety of 2018…a post by Tom

Happy New Year! I hope it is a slow, unstable, gradual, and anxious one for you.   Could you imagine getting a card with this in it?  Well, the following words from Teilhard shed light on what this spiritual formation process feels like. The ending part on “accepting the anxiety” has ministered to me greatly.   I thought them worthy of reflection for 2018.

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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.

Who knew?…a post by Tom

The spiritual life is not easy. Our false self does not go down without a fight, and one to the death. This is a really inconvenient battle to wage when it is challenging enough to just live life.  Who really knew what we were signing up for in following Jesus and taking this journey seriously? Who really knew that the path would evolve and feel more like death and descent? The One Who guides us knows. Others who have gone before know. Be encouraged by the following quote from Joseph Benner an American Protestant mystic who seems to know.

You, My Beloved, who have consecrated yourself to Me, and are bending every effort to find union with Me, but instead have found apparently that every prop of the World’s support has been withdrawn or is being withdrawn, and that you are without money and without friends, and know not where to turn for human help.

Learn, My Blessed One, that you are very, very, close now, and that if you will only continue to abide in Me, letting my Word abide in you and guide you, resting and trusting absolutely in My Promise, I will very soon bring to you a Joy, a Fulfillment, a Peace, that human words and human minds cannot possibly picture.

For you have obeyed My Commands, and have trusted Me, and have sought first My Kingdom and My Righteousness, and therefore will I add all other things unto you, even those the World has denied you.

-Joseph Benner, The Impersonal Life

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

Home is where the heart is…a post by Jim

Home is where the heart is. Sounds encouraging. And it should be. Home should be the place where our souls are safe, encouraged, and loved. Home should be the best place to be.

But there is another way to think of the phrase, “Home is where the heart is.” And it isn’t necessarily good news. Because the state of our home, especially our family of origin when we are young, has a huge impact on where the heart is emotionally. And if the home system is not healthy or holy we will struggle when it comes to how close we can be emotionally.

Here are 8 Family Systems. What was yours and what do you think was its impact on your heart?

The Functional Family

  • Life is essentially defined by your role within the family system.
  • Persons understand their value and significance in terms of the task to perform and the amount of work they accomplish.
  • The experience of connectedness or intimacy is through the relational bonding that occurs in getting tasks done, and surviving against set-backs and obstacles.

The Dramatic Family

  • Life in the dramatic family system is continuously emotionally intense where someone is acting out some form of drama.
  • There is typically a crisis somewhere, and the family is emotionally structured around enduring, navigating, and occasionally resolving the drama. Only to have a new one emerge in due time.
  • The dramatic family is emotionally exhausting to some, while one or two dominant family members will sustain the drama.

The Traumatic Family

  • The traumatized family is one that is defined around surviving traumatic events be they natural disasters or financial devastation or drugs or disease or death or divorce or the adoption of a child with a Reactive Attachment Disorder.
  • Depending on the nature of the trauma such as sexual abuse a child will be adversely affected emotionally and the trajectory of the relational dynamics will also be deeply scared and distorted.
  • Trauma can serve to bring family together in an effort to overcome and strengthen the relational fabric of the family system or cause it to merely survive and maybe even disintegrate.

The Chaotic Family

  • The chaotic family is marked by confusion and the lack of adult leadership and authority and personal boundaries are not respected.
  • The adults in particular have abdicated their role of establishing order and ensuring that family practices such as appropriate grooming, sleep patterns, meal times, school attendance, proper attire etc. are established and maintained.
  • Often times within these family systems children have to fend for themselves and figure out life by themselves or along with peers.

The Moralistic Family

  • The moralistic family is the family focused on keeping the rules.
  • Without the rules the lawgiver is usually very anxious and if the rules are broken the rule-giver becomes angry.
  • The family typically disregards or dismisses what individuals are feelings. Feelings are typically unwelcome because they are unpredictable and messy. Children in this system are often compliant, at least until teen years!

The Authoritative Family

  • The authoritative family is dominated by an enforcer who is in charge and maintains control. The focal point is not primarily a moralistic framework, but the need to control.
  • So the enforcer may control not by issuing commands on right or wrong, but through anger, blaming, or physical force.
  • The enforcer is not bound to consistency, but may be orientated around his or her personal preferences on any given day or in any given circumstance.
  • The emotional atmosphere is unreliable and unpredictable.

Emotionally Entangled Family

  • The emotionally entangled family is marked by parents who use their children for their own sense of emotional stability and strength.
  • The parent(s) will often confide in their child inappropriate information about their marriage, or family problems. Emotionally entangled families often seek a child to be a mediator between parents.
  • The child will often suffer under the demand of being called upon to address adult needs that are beyond their capacity to hold and manage.

The Mature Inter-Dependent Family

  • Each member of the family is recognized as an individual. Family responsibilities are clear and role appropriate. Adults are adults and children are children.
  • Adults assign age appropriate tasks to children and have age appropriate expectations for teaching personal and family responsibilities.
  • Parents maintain authority, sustain clear boundaries, and demonstrate affection toward one another and all family members.
  • Poor choices have consequences and discipline is consistent.
  • Family members rely on each other for love, support, encouragement, and guidance that is role appropriate.
  • Members of the family understand differences between persons and accept differences.
  • Members of the family understand that no one is perfect. Apologies and forgiveness are extended and received.
  • Disagreements and conflicts are worked through to compromise, mutual understanding or a willingness to agree to disagree. But the fundamental relationships of love and support are not threatened or compromised.
  • Individual members are assisted in discovering their giftedness and encouraged to pursue their dreams and desires.

Thankfully, the Gospel is warm and strong enough to handle all of our defenses and dysfunctions. We come to Christ just as we are and, by his Spirit and his Community (the Church) we find forgiveness and healing. When HE is our home our hearts will be in a good place!

Perfectly imperfekt…a post by Tom

Why can’t anything or anyone be perfect? Why can’t this thing go the way it is supposed to? The long answer involves all the flaws, shortcomings, mistakes, sins, errors, and imperfections in every given person and situation. The short answer is because that every person or thing is not God. Seems like God put Himself in a bind by creating anything because anything created would always fall short of the Creator. After all only God is good. Even without sin entering the picture everything still falls short of the full glory of God!

It is refreshing to know that Jesus, humanly speaking, had to learn about perfection too. Scripture clearly says this in Luke 2:52 and the Hebrews text below. What is more startling is that He learned about perfection through suffering. Suffering what? Everything that wasn’t perfect! Jesus was made perfect through suffering the imperfect thereby revealing His Divine nature, which was that of a suffering God!

This has colossal ramifications for us in that real perfection isn’t a static moral category but a dynamic inclusive one. Perfection is more about being able to include and accept all that is not perfect rather than rooting out and excluding the nefarious negative fly in the ointment. Perfection seems more about relationality flowing from a generous and gracious source rather than measuring up to impossible standards (see first paragraph). Perfection is more about connectivity than ‘correctivity’ (I think I just made up a word). Perfection not about witch hunts but grace hunts. How will I learn this? Through the same way Jesus did. Suffering.

Are you miserable today? You probably are a perfectionist. Is your marriage miserable? Which one of you is the perfectionist and which one has to live with you? What are you demanding in life, in others, and most importantly yourself? Nothing and nobody will ever measure up. Let’s forgive everything and everyone for not being God and then maybe we will actually be like God. Perfect.

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” – Hebrews 5:8–9 (ESV)

“Spare me perfection. Give me instead the wholeness that comes from embracing the full reality of who I am, just as I am. Paradoxically, it is this whole self that is most perfect.” –David G. Benner

“The greatest enemy of ordinary daily goodness and joy is not imperfection, but the demand for some supposed perfection or order.”- Richard Rohr

Dark Night…a post by Tom

Jeremiah 20:7 (ESV)

                        O Lord, you have deceived me,

and I was deceived;

                        you are stronger than I,

and you have prevailed.

                        I have become a laughingstock all the day;

everyone mocks me.

 

This is not what the prophet Jeremiah signed up for. He was doing everything he thought he was supposed to be doing. He was following God. He was getting pounded in the process. I love Jeremiah’s unabashedly bold and emotional words of honesty. It is one thing to feel that Satan has deceived you but God? Wow. This is truly a place of ultimate defeat and undoing. God has won and there are no moves left. Check mate.

Real growth happens in the dark. The seed must shed its protective covering and venture out exposed and vulnerable into the unknown. Intuitively being led to the surface it must grow through the darkness, the decomposing plant material, manure, and bugs. Was this what the seed signed up for when it dangled in the beautiful tree dancing in the sun and breeze? What was known inside the safe cocoon must be set aside. It must evolve and change at all costs or else Life will not go on.

All of us establish ways of relating to God that work in the beginning. But then this gets dramatically shifted. The Bible reading, prayers, songs, and relationships no longer feed the soul. Is something wrong or is something right? For sure something is being shed and something is being solidified. We might even feel ‘deceived’ by God because we thought we were doing the right thing and now everything seems so wrong. This is what is so unnerving about the Dark Night. The equation for life changes at a very profound level. Something is happening and we don’t have the categories for naming it and I can no longer hold my present experience. I must now be held. “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”