The Incarnation…a post by Rich

As we turn our minds and hearts to the birth of our Savior this Christmas season we are reminded again of the significance of the Son of God’s incarnation. The descent of God in assuming human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ is history’s game changer.  Malcolm Muggeridge expresses it this way,

“Thanks to the great mercy and marvel of the Incarnation, the cosmic scene is resolved into a human drama. God reaches down to relate himself to man, and man reaches up to relate himself to God. Time looks into eternity and eternity into time, making now always and always now. Everything is transformed by this sublime drama of the Incarnation, God’s special parable for fallen man in a fallen world. The way opens before us that was charted in the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a way that successive generations of believers have striven to follow. They have derived there from the moral, spiritual, and intellectual creativity out of which has come everything truly great in our art, our literature, our music. From that source comes the splendor of the great cathedrals and the illumination of the saints and mystics, as well as countless lives of dedication, men and women serving their God and loving their Savior in humility and faith.”

And so we marvel at this child, the enfleshed Son of God. Helpless and frail, dependent and in need of nurturance, and all the while by the eternal plan of God taking the material world, our humanity, into God. The incarnation is the visible manifestation of God loving us. It is God coming to be with us and for us. It is God making evident his relentless pursuit of those who are his own. It is not a generic love but a particular love. A specific one comes, one born in Bethlehem, who with parents Mary and Joseph, two very specific individuals, flees to Egypt, who is then tempted, as we are in every respect, and baptized. He drinks, laughs, weeps, heals, sleeps, prays, and teaches. He dies and is buried, is raised from the dead and he ascends to heaven. He sends the Holy Spirit. Jesus, this particular man, the Son of God incarnate does all of this for us and for our sake- for our salvation and God’s glory.

And now by faith we live in Him. His life is now our life. As Julie Canlis writes, “the circumference of our identity now involves another person.” Relational beings that we are we now have our truest identity reclaimed and redeemed in Christ. This is not a vague spiritual escapism. It is a particular love calling us to communion and in that communion we become ourselves as God intended. This particular Savior takes me and you in all your sin, wounds, and weaknesses and establishes us in the family of God as adopted sons and daughters, co-heirs with Christ in all our humanity. The incarnation does all this and more. Jesus said this, “he who believes in me has eternal life.” Life within the Trinitarian God now made possible through the incarnation. Thanks be to God.

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!

Seeing the Unseen…a post by Joy

About a month ago, my eyeglass frames with progressive lenses broke. Knowing it was time to get a check-up I scheduled an appointment instead of getting my glasses repaired right away. Unfortunately, I had to wait another week to see the eye doctor. Thank goodness for another set of glasses that I use for computer work and reading music at the piano.

When the time came, the check-up revealed that my eyes would require a change on my lenses so I would need to wait about 7-10 days for the new glasses to arrive. In the mean while, we were traveling during that time. One morning, we required the services of an Uber driver. Once the transaction was complete, the driver drove away, and I walked into the house wearing my prescription sunglasses. As I began to look for my computer/piano glasses, I realized they were not in my purse and panicked realizing they had been left in the car of the Uber driver. My husband and my son discovered the info necessary to touch base with the driver. He delivered my glasses within 10 minutes. Once I walked into the house with them, I burst into tears thanking the Lord that they had been returned by the driver.   I felt very vulnerable not having those glasses and not being able to read anything without them. We still had 6 days to be away on the trip.

Later that same day, several of us accompanied our grandson to the aquarium for his 3rd birthday. When we arrived, as I began to climb out of the car, the left temple of my prescription sunglasses fell off. It surprised me and of course, I began looking for the tiny screw to repair it. It was not to be found.

With this saga that happened within one month to all 3 pairs of my prescription eyeglasses I immediately asked this question.  “Lord, what is it that you want me to see or change about the way that I am seeing or perceiving things in life?”

“What was so necessary to transform in me at this place in my life that you had to catch my attention by allowing all 3 pairs of my prescription eyeglasses to go through brokenness, delay of repair, and displacement?” My eyes, the “window of my soul” can only see what they are given to see at the appropriate time my soul is willing to see the truth about myself or another in my relational life.

I feel vulnerable with my “broken” eyes knowing that I can only see clearly when I use the eyeglasses with prescriptions designed just for my eyes. Yet, I also feel thankful for these wonderful tools that transform my sight from brokenness to clarity. I feel vulnerable with the brokenness within my soul yet thankful for the transformation that comes with the presence of the Holy Spirit through Scripture, through the community of other believers, and through the practice of Christian spiritual disciplines.

When it comes to the tool of this saga that I have experienced, I sense that Christ is reminding me that He is constantly providing for me even when I can’t see things clearly and even when I can’t see the whole picture of what He is allowing to happen to me in my every day life. I have once again been given the opportunity to trust God in all things even when I feel very vulnerable about my weaknesses. It has also been a lesson in patience with myself and with God’s timing. Part of seeing how Christ was working in me through all of this was to not be seeing through my own eyes in order to “open my eyes” to what He wanted me to “see”. The tools that Christ uses for our individual journeys of spiritual transformation may not always be the great sermon that we just heard or the Scripture passage that we just read. It may also be the most common and ordinary events of life that God is using to call us to pay attention to see what we can see through His eyes.

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.

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

Advent and the Particularity of God’s Love…a post by Rich

The season of Advent is upon us and as Christians we turn our hearts in preparation for the coming celebration of the birth of the Messiah, our Savior. A theme we often attended to here at CrossPoint is the particularity of God’s love. Thomas Oden considered the incarnation the “scandal of particularity.” God in his wisdom makes himself know to us in and through a very particular Jewish man. But there is more to the scandal than God simply making himself know in Jesus. The crux of the scandal is that this Jewish man, with a real family history -hence the gospel genealogies- is in fact the Son of God! God is now made know to us and is with us in Jesus. As Jesus put it, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. . . “ (John 14:9) And as the writer of Hebrews makes clear, “but in these last days he has spoken to us in his Son . . . He, (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God (the Father) and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Heb. 1:3)  Scandalous it is, to say the least. God loves us in this very particular person, Jesus!

There is endless mystery and beauty within the story of our Savior’s birth. The humble and yet truly beautiful response of Mary to the Angelic announcement. The Angelic confirmation for the anxious Joseph that comes to him in the quiet dark mystery of a dream while sleeping. The notoriously dishonest Shepherds are the first to herald the good news- ah, God’s ways are not our ways. And the deep longing of the wise men compelling them to follow a star surrounded by the heaven’s darkness. And there is much more that is filled with beauty and wonder. But that which is most beautiful and for sure the grandest of all mysteries is that in this particular Jewish man, this Son of God, has come to show us the love of God and in so doing loves each one of us particularly.

The particularity of God’s acts in Christ manifests the particularity of God’s love. God’s love is not a generic love but it is a specific particular love of individuals. It is a love that greets individual men the likes of Andrew, Peter, James and John. It is a love that reaches out to the woman at the well. He touches deeply the lives of Mary and Martha. It is the love that notices the woman in the crowd who suffered so long and touched him. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. The blind man crying out for mercy, and Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” There is the widow of Nain whose only son died. Jesus notices and raises him from the dead. The gospel narratives tell us again and again of the wonder of the love of Christ that is specific and particular. A love that greets each person in the depths of their soul. And it is no less true for you and for me! What wondrous beauty what glorious mystery that we should be loved in Christ so deeply and lavishly by our Heavenly Father.

The humility that blankets the entire gospel narrative of the birth of Jesus points ahead to the great humiliation of the Cross. Here the love of God shines forth in its fullest glory for “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) The love of God is this particular! God’s love addresses the specifics of our individual and corporate sin. It enters the darkest places of any and every individual’s soul and brings “the light of life.” (Jn.8:12) And all of this love comes to us as a gift of grace, even more beauty and mystery. Who can truly comprehend this love? We need only to surrender and trust.

Our Savior has come! Immanuel, God with us. So then, we rejoice! We give thanks. And we rest in him. May it be so for each and every one of us in this Advent season. May we again receive afresh the love of God who sent his Son as our Savior and the Savior of the world!

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.

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!