Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Life

Leap Year!

What an interesting concept.  We’ve adopted a way of counting time that isn’t quite exact, so every four years we’ll just add an extra day to the calendar and that will let us get back on track.  We’ll take a leap and be back in sync.

There is an interesting article on the history of Leap Year here, but it has brought two thoughts to my mind related to this concept and our lives with Christ.  In some ways they seem contradictory, but nevertheless, I offer them here for the reader to ponder.

First - It seems to me like there is an ongoing invitation from God for us to be so in sync with Him that we don’t really need to play catch up.  He calls us to walk with him in a way that is present - right here and right now - in this moment with Him.  No need to leap back into sync, just walk hand in hand with our Savior - today!

Second - It also seems like the life of faith is all about leaping - like all the time - not just to catch up with a calendar.  We are reminded that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), which means there will most likely be regular leaps of faith we must take in order to stay in sync with the Lord.  This life we live with Him will be full of moments of stretch and challenge - leaps we must take with Him.

And maybe those two ideas aren’t actually disconnected.  Maybe as we walk hand in hand with our Lord each day, present in the moment, it will be much easier to recognize when God says, “Ok. Time to leap!”

Happy Leap Life!!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Breath of God

I was recently reading a book and came across an idea (at least the wording of an idea) I hadn't ever really thought about before.

The Spirit of God is closer even than our breath. (my paraphrase)

In order to understand this idea, we have to remember that in the Old Testament the word for Spirit is the same word that also gets translated wind and breath - ruach.  And in the New Testament the word that gets translated Spirit is also the same word that gets translated into wind and breath - pneuma.

Ruach = wind, breath, Spirit

Pneuma = wind, breath, Spirit

So it leads us to consider that even as we breath in and out, the Spirt is also constantly moving within us.

And if you think about what happens physiologically when we breath - every inhale brings in oxygen which gets exchanged with carbon dioxide in our blood through our lungs - our breath doesn't just stay in our lungs, it gets transported to every single corner of our bodies!    Most of the time I just think about my breath coming in and out of my lungs, but this idea of the Spirit of God being even closer than our breath made me realize it actually works its way into every nook and cranny of my whole being!

Which leads me to also realize that this happens all the time without me even having to think about it! I don't ever have to think about breathing.  It's not as if it's a conscious reality on my part.  Even as I have been wring these ideas and thinking about breathing, I haven't been aware that I am just sitting here breathing (until right now while I am actually thinking about it, but I'm not saying, "breath...breath...breath...").

I want to be a person who is allowing the very Breath of God to flow into every nook and cranny of my life without me ever having to think about it!  It's as natural as breathing and it doesn't just go part of the way in - it permeates all the way to the very core of my being.

May the Spirit of God be closer than my breath!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Church Being the Church

This morning I was sitting with a family from our church who had just experienced the loss of a loved one from a battle with cancer.  As we were talking about the journey of wading through what I call the "swamp of grief," I heard a story that brought incredible joy to my heart.

Last week after our Candlelight Christmas Eve service, a group of folks from our church went to this family's home to do some Christmas Caroling.  They had been keeping tabs on them and knew it had been a tough few weeks in and out of hospitals, so they decided to give of their time and offer a little bit of Christmas cheer.  As the story was being told to me, the family said, "That was Christmas for us!"

A simple gesture of love and friendship that made more of an impact than any one of the carolers probably realized.

What a great picture of the Church in action.  Paying attention to one another.  Being mindful of each other's burdens.  Listening to the Spirit and taking action to share the love and light of God with one another.

We didn't need a Christmas Caroling program.  We didn't have to get approval from a committee.  No one from the staff or leadership group needed to be in charge.  God's people were simply being God's people - fully empowered to carry His love and light into the world around them.

What an honor it is to be a part of the Church being the Church!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

Not again?!      Yes, again.

I almost couldn't believe what I was reading and seeing as the news outlets began to cover the insanity of another mass shooting. It almost feels like it has become so common place that the actual sting of the reality of what is happening has been lost. Somehow instead of allowing another event of horror and pain to drive us into action, we are lulled into inaction, tempted to think, It's just a new reality we have to face.

As I was reflecting on these ideas, I was struck with two thoughts related to this season of Advent. The faith community I am a part of is engaging in an Advent theme of Searching for Shalom.  We are attempting to both recognize the deep longing that we have for true peace - the wholeness of God's Shalom, and to remember that as His people who are already experiencing that Shalom, we are called to be vessels of it in this world.  We are both recipients of God's Shalom, called to experience and share it, at the same time we continue to long for it to come even more.

Advent is a season that reminds us that even as we live into the reality of the beauty and love and grace of God, that our souls are still longing for it to come.  We hold in tension the joy of knowing God's Shalom and yet still desiring to see it pour out in it's fullness.  We are called to Search for Shalom in a way that allows us to experience and share it, but also to still long for it to break in more and more.

One of the common prayers of this season is the simple phrase, Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

That prayer feels especially poignant today.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

THIS Side of Pentecost

This past Sunday was known as Pentecost Sunday - the day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to our world in fullness.  Which means that today I am living on THIS side of Pentecost.

When I woke up this morning and was getting ready to head back into the normal routines of life, I found myself overwhelmed with the massive list of things that needed to be done.  I could feel my anxiety level rising just thinking about the task of making my To Do List!  

However, I know myself well enough to know that these are the days when I need my disciplines the most - the days when I feel like I should skip them!  So as I sat down to read and reflect, pray and meditate, God seemed to be asking me a question, "Stephen, are you living as if you are on THIS side of Pentecost, or the other side of Pentecost?"  In other words, "Do you believe that I am here to help, to guide, to support, to carry you when necessary, or are you going to attempt to tackle all of this on your own?"

Which side of Pentecost are you going to live into today?

Lord, forgive me for living on the other side of Penntecost.  Help me to remember with every breath of my lungs that you, the Living Breath, are within me.  May I live every moment of today for what it is - a day on THIS side of Pentecost!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Influencing God

Today is Ash Wednesday.  The first day of the Season of Lent.

Over the past several years this season has gained a level of respect and importance in my life.  I prayerfully listen for the direction of the Holy Spirit to guide me in my selection of various disciplines to engage.  I attempt to allow this time to accomplish it's original task, to reshape and reform the places within me that have gotten out of alignment with God.

As I was reading through the lectionary texts again this morning (Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-20 - this is one of the days of the Christian Calendar that the texts are always the same, which I find interesting and refreshing), I found myself struck by a new thought...

Do I influence God during Lent?

This idea was first sparked by Joel 2:14a.

"Who knows whether he will have a change of heart...." (CEB)

I've always thought about Lent from the perspective of my  needing to change and have my mind, heart, and actions shifted by God.  But we are talking about relationship here, right?  As I used to say in my Intro to OT class:

The greatest desire of God's heart is for relationship with us.

So if this is about relationship, then as I am engaging in these disciplines and allowing my heart to be moved and changed, am I also influencing God and His interactions with me, with His people, with His world?

Please don't misunderstand, I'm not talking about some type of a cause and effect relationship here - If I fast, then God will act - and He better act the way I want!  But if this is truly an authentic relationship, then the actions and choices of each participant will by their very nature influence the others.

It reminds me of a family systems model within the realm of therapy - each member of the family system impacts all of the other members of the system by their actions and reactions.  It's dynamic - because it's relationship!

So this year for Lent rather than just focus on the ways in which I am being reshaped and reformed, I am also going to pay attention to the ways in which my movements impact the dynamic relationship I have with God.  As I respond to Him I am going to watch for the ways in which He is responding to me - and we will be influenced together!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Watch - Listen - Worship

This week we celebrate the holy day of Epiphany - a time when the Church remembers the coming of the Magi to visit the Christ child.

I have been thinking a lot about what those wise guys did, and I keep coming back to three simple words:

Watch - Listen - Worship

When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. (Matthew 2:10 CEB)

This verse has gotten lots of mileage over the years.  What's interesting to me is that it actually comes after they had already seen the star earlier, so this isn't their first sighting.  They have already "seen it in the East" and have talked with Herod about it to figure out where they might find Jesus.  As they continue their trek, they once again see it and are filled with joy.  They have been watching.  They contiunued to watch.  It was a part of the very make up of their lives.  

What if I was that attentive to watching for God's sings and wonders?  Am I watching for the harbingers He is sending my way to alert me of His work - His Kingdom coming and breaking in?  Or am I watching another episode of reality TV?

I think we live in a culture that watches.  The question is, what are we watching?

Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him." When they heard the king, they went.... (Matthew 2:7-9a CEB)

I find it fascinating that these wise people take the advice of an evil despot.  But somehow they were in-tune enough with what God was doing that they recognized God's directions, even when it came from an unlikely source!  Maybe since they were outside the normal flow and pattern of the ways in which God was supposed to speak and act it was easier for them to recognize it.

I think part of my problem, and part of the struggle in the life of the instituional curch today, is that we think a word from the Lord can only come from certain sources.  People, places, circumstances, books, that are "authorized" or holy in some way.  Maybe I need to think more like an outsider so I can hear what it is God is trying to communicate, through whatever avenues He may choose to use?

I think we live in a culture that listens to the "right" sources.  The question is, are we listening to God's message no matter where it originates?

They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11 CEB)

Ahh the gifts.  So much attention has been given to the gifts.  After all, they are pretty extravagant, and there is a lot of meaning behind them.  But has our attention to the tangible gifts overlooked the biggest gift?  

These foreign star-watchers fell on their knees in worship!

The original word used here to describe this act is a hybrid of two words mashed together: toward and to kiss.  Literally, to move toward and kiss the ground.  A true gift of worship and reverence.

Again, so much of our lives tend to be focused on the tangible that I wonder if we actually miss the greatest gift of all - our ability to move toward and kiss the ground in front of our Lord?  I have the ability everyday, regardless of what I may have in my hands, to live my life as an act of worship to my King!  So why do I get so focused on that stuff in my hands?

We live in a culture that loves to focus on the tangible gifts.  The question is, am I willing to shift my focus to the intangible gift?

Watch - Listen - Worship

I wonder what 2015 might bring if that was my three-fold focus this year?