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!

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!

What are you exploring?…a post by Tom

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

– T.S. Eliot

 

What are you looking for? A better sense of self? A better home and garden? More knowledge about the Divine or your divinely inspired pursuits? An idealized Christianity or church to validate a privatized salvation project? To figure out your dysfunctional family system? Untie some knotty existential shoelaces tightened by primal repression so that you no longer trip over fear, guilt, and shame? A well balanced portfolio? Some peace and quiet.

Augustine said somewhere that the heart is restless until it rests in God. We come out of the womb kicking and screaming and often we go out that way. Kickers and screamers in this world seem to be the majority populace and unfortunately dominate the airwaves.  Unless, we happen to come home to God and our true self rooted in endless Love.   This doesn’t seem to happen until we explore and to explore means to fail. We can’t explore without risk or uncertainty. “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for. The damned thing in the cave, that was so dreaded, has become the center.” -Joseph Campbell.

It’s all there in the story of prodigal son, which surprisingly is really about the Father. The son sets out to explore the far country and ends up right where he began, at home but this time knowing himself as the beloved son home for the first time. We come from God and we are returning to God. Jesus said I know where I came from and I know where I am going. His invitation and gift to us is to KNOW this place within us called the kingdom of God for the first time.   The sooner the better for us and the planet.  Still kicking and screaming? Not sure if you have arrived at your arrival? Then go out and explore! And wherever you go, God will be eagerly waiting for your arrival.

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.

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

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.

Go fish…a post by Tom

“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”  –Vincent Van Gogh

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Jesus

As Christians (little Christs) we know that life is a spiritual battleground and the opposition to God’s love can seem tremendous. However, we too like fishermen, have never found these dangers good reason to stay on the sidelines. We are drawn and compelled to enter into our spheres of influence and fish for what is true, noble, and good about humanity’s birthright as beloved sons and daughters of God. Where are we stuck on shore? Has something precious been shipwrecked in our ministry efforts and now grief keeps us landlocked? Look, we all knew this was dangerous business when we chose to follow the Master.  Let’s set out again while there is still time.  Why? Because we can’t help ourselves, we are fishermen!

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.