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!

The Thrill and Agony of Longing…a post by Jim

Two weekends ago CrossPoint hosted retreat 5 (out of 8) for our current Deeper Journey community. The topic was ‘desire’ and it certainly touched a nerve.

The Bible repeatedly speaks to importance of desire, having our desires met by God, avoiding sinful desires, pursuing our deepest desires. Jesus asked the lame man, “What do you want me to do for you?” The answer seems obvious. “I want to walk so please heal me.” It seems Jesus is pointing us to the importance of naming our desires.

There is the question of what desires are legitimate to pursue and what desires are tainted by sin and should be avoided. But for me the toughest part of the retreat came when we reminded ourselves that we have many legitimate, wholesome desires that do not come true. The frustration, anger, disappointment, and confusion that flows from good yet unmet desires is real. How can we avoid cynicism the older we get?

Seems the answer is found in a living hope. Hope keeps the heart alive and tender. Hope orientates us to what is coming, not what has happened (or not happened). Hope anchored in the promises of our Lord is a sure bet. Yes, all my desires won’t be met in this life but hope says that all my desires (and more than I can possibly long for now) will be experienced in the life to come. Praise be to God.

We cannot out desire God.

Two fish sticks and a Sprite…a post by Joy

Two Fish Sticks and a green bottle of Sprite is what I ate and drank on Fridays for lunch in the the 7th grade during Lent Season. Although, we were having fish because there were lots of people giving up meat for the season, the fish sticks and Sprite were a treat for me. This was my first realization of the Lent season and even then I did not really know what it meant. I’m sure there must have been other food served with this delicacy such as French fries and slaw and maybe even a bread roll. Yet, for me, the two fish sticks and the cold green bottle of Sprite is all I can remember. Interestingly enough, during this Lent season, this visual has come to my mind at least 3 times.  I’ve actually asked Christ what invitation in my Spiritual Formation is He bringing to me with this memory.  What is it that I am supposed to pay attention to?

As I sat with it these last 2 weeks in particular, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 men plus women and children kept coming to my mind. When the disciples noticed how late it was getting they suggested to Jesus that He send them home or to the villages to buy their own food.  Jesus told them that the people did not need to go away. He instructed them to give the people something to eat. Matthew 14: 17 states that the disciples told Jesus they only had 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. He requested that it be brought to Him. We all know the rest of the story of how Jesus miraculously fed all of these people until they were satisfied. And there were still 12 baskets left over.

In reading this story in Matthew 14: 14-21 and Mark 6: 34-44, the phrase that kept standing out to me was that “Jesus had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd…. (Mark 6:34). Matt. 14:14 says “….He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick. “  During this Lent season, with my own illustration of “two fish and a Sprite”, I am compelled to receive the compassion of Christ as we are now in the Holy Week working up to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Somber Saturday, and Glorious Easter Sunday. We remember and celebrate His greatest work of compassion for us all this week. I am also compelled to show compassion to others and to myself in a way that is honoring of how Christ is working in me. May you each have a blessed Easter celebrating His compassion for us all!

The Thrill of Overcoming…a post by Jim

When I was in High School part of the requirement for our 11th grade Physical Education class was to wrestle other students in the class. I hated it. On a mat in front of the entire class with someone who was stronger than me. My record was pretty pathetic until the one time that I somehow got my opponent in a full-Nelson hold. He went limp and I pinned him for the three second count (never mind that the hold was illegal … I didn’t know that and had no idea how I wound up getting him in such a hold!). It was one of the few times in HS athletics that I felt like I was an overcomer. I still remember the feeling! I won. I defeated my opponent.

In Romans 12 Paul ends the great chapter by saying, “Don’t be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” In a world of great evil (including times when we sin and times when we are wounded by the sins of others) we need the challenge of being an overcomer. How do we live victoriously over our attitudes and actions that are an affront to who we are in Christ? And how do we not let our wounding at the hands of others get the best of us?

The answer Paul offers is to overcome evil with good. In other words, our focus needs to be on what it means to keep in step with the Spirit and live the life of Christ in our ordinary lives. It is tempting to focus on what we need to stop or on our pain that comes from the actions of others. But we are told to concentrate on the good, the true, and the beautiful of the fruits of the Spirit.

Today I encourage you to have a clear and compelling vision of what it would look like to live as if the Spirit had complete control of your attitudes and actions. Have an image of what will most honor Christ in every situation you face. And live toward that. Paul promises that we will overcome whatever it is that keeps us from living our truest identity in Christ.

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

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.

Trusting God’s Faithfulness…a post by Joy

As Christ transforms us daily to be more like Him, sometimes He allows delight and sometimes He allows pain to do the transformational work in us.

Sometimes being present and vulnerable with the painful challenges in our lives is what creates the most beauty in the long run. Our lives are not about living without pain and struggles. It’s more about how we respond to what happens to us along the way.  Psalm 37:4–”Delight thyself also in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”  If our greatest desire is to know God and to become more like Him, we have to be mindful that we  are not promised to have only “good times” on this journey of life.  We have to remember that even Jesus wept.

What we are able to harvest from the deepest terrain of pain can bring the greatest delight and steadfastness in a relationship with the Holy Three in One. It comes at a great cost to us. And it certainly was a great sacrifice for Jesus in the first place.  The grace He bestows on our lives during these times are truly the times He gives “beauty for ashes.”

It seems that our invitation in situations of the painful knowns and unknowns is to fully trust God that He will BE WITH US no matter what, trust Him to guide and direct us each step of the way,  and depend on His  unconditional love that reflects His faithfulness to us.  (Proverbs 3:5-6).

I invite you to listen to this song entitled: Faithful One by Robin Mark.

I hope it is an encouragement to your heart and soul.

Wild Geese…a poem by Mary Oliver

This is a beautiful poem that speaks for itself and the first few lines are of particular encouragement for those tortured souls…you know who you are.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.