Baking Christmas Cookies…a post by Joy

Baking and decorating cookies is a Christmas tradition that I have done with my children, my grandson, my great nieces here for Thanksgiving, and with other children throughout the years. Connecting with my own “inner child” while making cookies with the children brings a lot of delight to me. It’s wonderful that God created us with the ability to be child-like at times. It’s a way that we  can  “step into” exemplifying that part of Christ. Amazingly, God chose to send His son into the world as an infant to live and experience the life of being a child before growing into adulthood.  For me, children are some of the best teachers when it comes to becoming more like Christ in our journey of Christian Spiritual Formation.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned as an adult came from a 5 year old boy. He was a new piano student of mine. I had worked with his small  group class for 4 months getting ready for their first recital. Intentionally, I  did not use the word “nervous” with my young students when talking about performance. Using words like, “silly,” “excited”, “happy,”  I asked each of the students how they were feeling before they went to the piano to perform their pieces for their parents and classmates.  Michael, the 5 year old boy, said, “I was not excited or silly, or happy. I was just waiting.”  As he spoke with a “matter of fact assurance”, gentle tears fell on my face as I knew God had spoken to me through this precious little boy.  At the time,  Jim and I were in a transitional stage praying about a big move.  Michael had been sitting still, patiently waiting for his “next move” to the piano as he listened to the music of the previous student. The Holy Spirit reminded me that God was in charge of our situation and that we needed to trust Him and continue to be confident in the “waiting place” where we found ourselves…we weren’t “silly, excited, or happy, we were just waiting.”

To be child-like is not always about 2 year old tantrums,  or being selfish. It is about having a simple trust of the one who is “in charge.” For Jesus, to become an infant to enter this world, He had to trust His Father about this journey of entering the human race as fully God and fully human. I have to trust God in His daily work in me in regards to Spiritual Formation and transformation.

I can imagine that as Jesus grew up as a child, He definitely lived as all children for thousands of years in that He “lived in the moment.” This fascinates me about children and inspires me too. They draw us in to engage with them if we will just be aware of their invitation to be present to them.

Children can invite us to live in the moment with whatever is happening at that time.  They make us realize that it’s true what has been said,  “Life is what happens while we are making plans.”  Granted there are times when we can’t always enter into their timetable. It seems that Christ gives them as a gift to us to help us to pay attention to the invitations to be in the moment with them. We have to keep returning to them constantly in the same way we must keep returning to Christ when we actually pay attention to His invitation to notice Him in the moment and really “BE” there with Him.

During the Advent Season, as I once again dwell  on the beautiful story of how Jesus came to the earth by being born of a virgin,  I really want to listen, be aware, and wait patiently as I intentionally try to be present to the child-like presence of Christ. The Holy Spirit reminds me in my own “child-likeness” to trust God fully, to live in the moment in His presence and to remember, that Jesus valued children so much that He said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:13-14).

After all, Jesus entered the world as a child to begin the sacrificial work that God, the Father, had given Him to complete in His adulthood. We can enter into our child-likeness, especially during this Advent season, as we trust God, as we gleefully anticipate His birthday celebration and as we participate in each waking moment of His presence to us. We are also on a journey for Christ to complete His transformational work in us from childhood through adulthood.

EMMANUEL: GOD IS WITH US, in our “child-likeness” places of soul and that means even when we bake Christmas cookies with others or just Jesus and me!

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!

The Waiting Game, an Advent Reflection…a post by Jim

What is the proper etiquette for how much time it should take to answer a text? An email? Snail mail? What about a voice mail?

Seems like response time is shortening in our culture. If I send a text I can wonder what is up if a person doesn’t get back to me within 60 seconds! At most an email shouldn’t take longer than a day before I get a reply.

Last week was the first week of Advent, the days before Christmas day when we do our best to prepare our hearts for the birth of our Lord. What struck me yesterday was the time it had taken for God to respond in a direct way to his people. 400 years since a prophet had said, “Thus says the Lord.”

400 years before a reply to his people. What is up with that? A 400 second wait tests my patience, making me wonder if someone cares about what I’m facing.

Jesus came in the “fullness of time” (i.e. at exactly the right time). There must have been a divine reason for the slow response. And when God did communicate with his people it wasn’t with the response people were expecting. As Isaiah described it, “He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice” (42:2-3). He brought forth justice by dying and rising, not through power and might.

There must be an important reason why God doesn’t respond to me as quickly as I want. And when God does there is a good chance it will not be in the way I was expecting. God’s ways are not our ways. Can I trust that God is FOR me in Christ and is working for his glory and my good no matter how ‘silent’ he seems to be. That is my first Advent challenge—greater trust, peace, and confidence that my heavenly Father does all things well.

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

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!

Giver of Gifts…a post by Joy

As far as the eye can see, people across the world are experiencing the Advent Season as a time of waiting. Waiting in line for seasonal cups of coffee, waiting in the check -out lane with the newest toy or electronic gadget, waiting for gifts to arrive in the mail on time, and waiting for the beautiful Christmas Eve service that ushers in the dawn of another Christmas day celebration.

It seems that “waiting” is just as much a part of the Christmas season as all the other events. In fact, maybe having to wait is actually a gift to many of us. It gives us time to ponder about the people that we want to bless with our gifts because we love them. Reflections of Christ being the greatest gift ever given and meditating on what that means to each of us personally is also experienced during the Advent season of waiting.

For some, the Christmas season brings about anxiety and sadness because of past memories or present circumstances in life. In some cases, there may be those who “can’t wait until Christmas is over!”

During my “waiting season” this Advent, I have been reminded repeatedly that Christmas is also about celebrating the GIVER of GIFTS. When we receive gifts from our loved ones, we enjoy being “en-gifted” by them, yet we know that we love them more than the gift they have given to us. Christ is the gift to us all and He is also the Giver by giving Himself freely to pay for our penalty of sin. In one sense, we don’t have to choose to love the Giver more because He is both/and: the GIFT AND THE GIVER!

May we all be blessed and mindful of how Christ is continuing to work in us as we wait.