I Will Be With You To The End
Years ago while working with distraught toddlers whose parents had just dropped them off at preschool, I learned that if you can get them to do a physically challenging task, like climb up a slide and slide down, by the second or third time they do this they’ll be laughing and having fun. Their parents always returned and much fun was had in the meantime.
When my son, Jonathan, was two I had a miscarriage. Twelve weeks of pure, innocent, joyful anticipation came to an abrupt crashing end. I was devastated. There was no joy. I sat in sadness and ruminated about the past. Everyone who came by was subjected to my broken heart; grief overwhelmed me. And then after seven days and nights of sadness joy returned.
What do we do when it feels like the world around us is falling apart? Fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, shootings, cancer, friends departing, and death are all around us. Suffering is monumental. There are no canned, simple answers for grief and pain. Sometimes it’s good to get up and do something physically challenging, like take a walk outside, and sometimes it is good to just sit and mourn the moment of loss. God is not afraid of our intense emotions; God is not leaving us in our despair. We can feel our pain and still God is present. Joy and hope are down the road.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:18
The Prayers of Others
During times in my life when I have struggled with what and how to pray, I have often fallen back on the prayers of other Christians who have come before. I have found great comfort and wisdom in these prayers. I have also found that this provides a sense of connection, so that as another’s words become my own, a prayer is shared stretching across time, and binding us together in the body of Christ. Today, as we gather, I invite you to reflect on one of my favorite prayers, written by Reinhold Niebuhr, the author of the “Serenity prayer”:
Look with mercy upon this company of your people, the church. You have called us out of many lands and places to serve you in the ministry of your word. Teach us rightly to divide the word of truth. Grant that our love may grow in all knowledge and discernment. Help us each to walk worthily in the vocation wherewith we are called, forbearing one another in love and endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. Teaching us to look not each at his own things, but at the things of the other, so that we may impart and receive from one another whatever gift of the spirit you have given to each. O Lord, bind us together in the body of Christ that we may grow unto perfection, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
God, Midwife, and Resurrection
I'm not known in my family for having the greatest memory. I do, however, remember quite well the birth of our children (good thing right?). Few experiences are quite like births. Our children were both born in a birth center (a house really). It was a fabulous experience, although I wasn't the one going through the pain. What made these days amazing was first, we got two amazing kids, but secondly was the environment that was created by our midwife and her team for Kim to give birth in.
In Isaiah 42:14 it says, "For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant." This is an odd image for us to see God put "himself" in, the place of a mother about to give birth. The people of God had been in exile for some time and God was about to "give birth" to a new life. In Jewish culture this was likely seen as one of the most vulnerable and weak states a woman could be in. Yet, in reality, it is a woman expressing great strength. Bringing new life into the world is a painful, yet joyous experience. Our God knows this pain first hand. The new life that is being birthed through the death and resurrection of Jesus is truly painful and surely miraculous.
Nurturing an environment that is conducive to birth is the key role of the midwife. The midwife doesn't actually do any of the birthing. We, as followers of Jesus, are in the role of midwife in the world around us. God is already at work bringing resurrection to the lives of people all around us. Our role, is to assist in this process. In the book, "To Alter Your World", the authors write, "The invitation of God is to incarnate in the way of Jesus, living wholeheartedly in the world as we are transformed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the places where we live, work, serve, and play. It is the Spirit within us that impacts and alters the environments we inhabit."
May we partner with God in the birthing of new life, in our own hearts and the lives of those around us. May we help create environments where Holy Spirit can do the work. May we plant seeds, water, and nurture so that God's powerful work can burst forth into new life.
See the Faces
I'm not sure about you, but in my regular, every day activities I often have to set aside moments to step back and breath. I'm very much a tech person and am quite "connected" into our digital world. I get news updates, friend updates, instagram photo posts, etc. While I know that not everyone is tied into the digital world, we all tend to struggle with being "in the moment." We tend to be thinking of what tasks we are doing or what's coming next on the schedule. We struggle with "Be-ing."
This particular season in the life of our church community has been a challenging one to say the least. We are all aware of the losses we have experienced and how that has affected us both personally and as a church. One person recently stated that, "when we are together I often get focused on the blank spaces and not on the faces."
While acknowledging and owning the season that our community has been through, I would love to encourage us into a new movement. A movement that allows us to "See the faces, and not the blank spaces." My prayer is that at this moment, we begin to recognize, even more, the gifts, the talents, and the stories of the people around us. Loss often moves us into a place of realizing the blessing of what we have, and how to cultivate that into a richer, life-giving environment. May we be a people driven to the present, owning the stories that have shaped us, and begin to be more present with who God has placed around us at any given moment.
We Are Broken
“The very thing we are afraid of, our brokenness, is the door to our Father’s heart.” Ann Voskamp starts her new book, The Broken Way, quoting these words by Paul Miller. Who cannot relate to their sentiment? I, for sure, like it when others know me for my abilities, strengths, and creativity, or at least for my willingness to serve, but there is stress in being known for one’s strengths because our human assets are not only limited, they are none existing. Whether we grit our teeth and clamber up onto a pedestal or allow others to place us up there, we do not belong on the throne of adoration, for each ability is a gift and all glory goes to the Giver.
The mirror bears no credit, nor carries any stress for the reflection it reflects. The shards of our brokenness will do just fine for reflecting God’s goodness, grace, and wellness. All brilliance comes from God and we have the joy-filled opportunity to manifest Divine Brightness into the darkest corners of our world’s brokenness.
Vandelia Church your brokenness is apparent; may God be glorified mightily through you today.
Great or Good?
The Christmas season is upon us! For some, it's the best time of year. For others, it can be an especially difficult time. For some it brings joy and for some it brings pain. For some it brings excitement and for others anxiety. If personally struggle with this time of year and often wish to skip over to the new year right after Thanksgiving. Since I'm not able to do that...yet...I've resolved myself to "suck it up" and attempt to empathize with the joy of others. I know, I know, I'm a "Scrooge" or "Grinch" or whatever, but hang with me here.
The one thing I do like about this season is the "giving" spirit that comes out of people, but ironically it also the thing I despise most. Giving has become skewed in our culture and many others, but I believe we can get beyond the consumeristic nature for which this season has become synonymous.
As a disciple of Jesus, part of our Holy Spirit-driven nature is that of giving. The Christmas story is solely about the giving, compassionate nature of God coming to be with the love-outpouring manifestation of himself that is humankind. Giving is a natural outpouring of love for the other, and we, as images of God on this earth, reflect that same nature. Our issue is that the broken part of ourselves seeps into how we express our giving nature. Our motives get messed up.
We often miss the opportunities to do something good, because we are too focused on doing something "great." We live in a culture that glorifies the "great" things, that impact large numbers of people, or big organizations that are making an impact with refugees, human trafficking, or world hunger. We hear less about the average person that lives a life, giving of their time and resources to good things on a daily basis. May we be people that live lives driven by a nature of giving. May we focus not on the thing that makes us great, but that which is simply life-giving and good.
The True Self
Have good words been hard to come by? Does it seem a dark cloud is hovering over your head? Has discouragement seemed to have taken root? If so, then what do we do? Maybe doing isn't the answer! What if we simply need to "be?" What does is mean to "be?" For those of us that would define ourselves as ones that follow Jesus, It think it's explained well in this quote:
"Love is not something you do; love is someone you are. It is your True Self. Love is where you came from an love is where you're going. It's not something you can buy. It's not something you can attain. It is the presence of God within you, called the Holy Spirit--or what some theologians name uncreated grace." -Richard Rohr
You might have to read over that a few times and pause for some time to let it sink in. God doesn't love, God's true self is love, and therefore those that have joined the relationship of God, Jesus, Holy Spirit (some call the Trinity) now must recognize that our true self is Love. St. Bernard says it like this, "In those respects in which the soul is unlike God, it is also unlike itself. And in those ways in which the soul is most unlike itself, it is most unlike God." Our true nature or "self" is love, because from the beginning we were created out of a love relationship. Love is manifested in many physical ways and it seems that the first way was light. The first creation of love was light. This seems significant when we are told in John 1 that "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it." May we simply "be" what we have been created to be. May we express our true selves and manifest light into darkness. May we be love, and bring new life to the discouragement that may be around us.
"There's Nothing New Under the Sun"
Do you any of you have any pet peeves? It's funny what bothers some people and not others, and vice versa. One of my huge pet peeves is cliche quotes, such as the one that's the title of this article. There are some real annoying doozies out there. Here's a few, "Don't worry, today is a new day!" Well, duh, I know that, thanks for the great insight. How about, "You know, the grass is always greener..." Yep, sometimes it is!
This one in the title I've heard quite a bit lately for some reason. Maybe it's with the political climate and all that jazz, but as Christians, this phrase should really bug us. What's sad, is that it's actually used most by US! It comes from Ecclesiastes 1:9 that says, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."
Ecclesiastes is part of the "wisdom" literature, a series of 3 books; Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. People have struggled with these writings for centuries and of course often, as the critic in Ecclesiastes says, it's all "meaningless." A word that's not translated well, but doesn't mean life is without meaning, it means that life's meaning is always a mystery. It goes back to trust, as I wrote about in my last article. The way we use the phrase, "There's nothing new under the sun", is in the same critical way that the critic in Ecclesiastes is approaching His view of life.
The message of Ecclesiastes is truly one of hope. It's message is that you have to "let go", otherwise you will drive yourself crazy with the unpredictability of life's ups and downs. If we truly believe in a God that brings about new life, and creates from nothing, then we must believe that that Spirit living in us brings about fresh ideas, and dreams new ways to approach life and its daily challenges. May we not buy into the cynical, and approach life with cliches. May we draw on the creator in each of us to look at life with fresh, hopeful eyes. May we continue to bring God's kingdom into full existence.
The Idolatry of Certainty
That title is filled with some questions. My first thought is, "Isn't certainty a good thing?" When I was younger, I think I had a whole lot more certainty about things, especially in my teenage years. As I've gotten older, I have become much more comfortable with mystery.
It seems that there is a thread throughout scripture that lends itself to the idea of trust in uncertainty. God is constantly reminding us about the need for trust. The struggle of humanity has always been the desire to go our own way. We tend to put our trust in tangible things such as jobs, money, relationships, and governments. All the while suffocating on stress, need for acceptance, and worry. We know that God says our needs will be taken care of well behind the "birds of the air" and the like (Matthew 6:26). The real issue is, we want more than our needs. We want more. We want comfortable and well beyond. We want certainty to the point that it becomes and idol. Certainty becomes the thing that we strive for and we seem to not care about the means in which we get there. For us, the sovereignty of God is always in question. The interesting, yet sad thing is, the sovereignty of God has been in question from the beginning. Great men and women throughout history have questioned God and his ways and purpose.
May we be a people that trust, more fully, each day. May we be ok with uncertainty. As Romans 15:13 says, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
I recently started reading an incredible book by Richard Rohr called "The Divine Dance." I highly recommend pretty much anything that Richard creates, whether it's a book, blog post, or video. The book is essentially about the "Trinity", a human construct of how to describe God in perfect relationship. Most attempts at describing the mystery that is God fall woefully short. In the book, Richard begins to lay out different thoughts and ideas that have been proposed and discussed over centuries, and maybe a fresh and new, yet old, way to "see" God. I say fresh and new, yet old, because he takes us back to the beginning. Ultimately, before the beginning, to original perfection and the relationship that is God.
We often think of ourselves, and rightly so, as those that are broken in a broken world. This is certainly true, and we live in this reality together as people that share in our brokenness, and rely on the redemptive and healing power of God. Yet, God's original design was that all creation was invited into this "dance" of relationship.
Rohr writes, "This divine intention---this audacious invitation---is embedded in creation itself; it later becomes concrete, personal, and touchable in Jesus. In other words, divine inclusion, what we rightly name salvation, was Plan A and not Plan B!" He goes on to say, "Our starting place was always original goodness, not original sin. This makes our ending place---and everything in between--- possessing an inherent capacity for goodness, truth, and beauty."
May we see that the capacity for goodness is designed into us. May we choose to join back into the dance that we were invited into from the beginning.
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