Learning to Live: Present

A lesson for my life for several years has been - learning to live: present.  Personally, it seems so easy to vacillate between the past and the future, but to stay firmly in the present, that is hard.  Our culture  easily embeds us in this swinging pendulum: Facebook asks us to continually share what just happened in the past (and often to highlight only the good of those moments).  Our smartphones alert us to what is to come.  We have calendars full of events a year in the future.  We can set reminders that alert us to what will happen in 1 hour, 10 minutes, 5 minutes and more.  Even with all these reminders, I often find myself walking around with the feeling that I am forgetting something, something important.

But I often find that I haven't forgotten anything, except, perhaps to enjoy the present moment.  Perhaps, enjoying the present moment is an element of childlike faith? Why? Because it is something I see my children do all the time.  They do not worry about the past nor the future.  They play, they laugh, they enjoy, they get annoyed, they shake it off and play and laugh again.

Because being present is no longer natural for me, I've had to become intentional about pursuing it.  Here are some things that have helped me over the years to realign myself to the present:

  • Understanding more about God: Through the years, I've had to learn to let go of the neurotic feeling that God was standing somewhere beyond me, tapping His foot waiting for me to get there, so that when (if) I arrived we could move forward together.  For many years, the voices  that surrounded me, held out a carrot saying that tomorrow was better with God. Tomorrow I would be holier, tomorrow I would be more peaceful, tomorrow there would be more joy.  Well, I suppose, I am more peaceful, holier and joyful than I used to be but it didn't happen by continually chasing tomorrow.  It happened when I woke up to the fact that He is with me TODAY, no matter where TODAY places me.  It happened when I realized that He is in charge of His Kingdom (not I) and that He has invited me to be a collaborator with Him in the Kingdom.
  • Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
  • The people walking in darkness
        have seen a great light;
    on those living in the land of deep darkness
        a light has dawned.
    For to us a child is born,
        to us a son is given,
        and the government will be on his shoulders.
    And he will be called
        Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
        Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

    Of the greatness of his government and peace
        there will be no end.
    He will reign on David’s throne
        and over his kingdom,
    establishing and upholding it
        with justice and righteousness
        from that time on and forever.
    The zeal of the Lord Almighty
        will accomplish this.
  • Henri Nouwen, "Wherever I am, at home, in a hotel, in a train, plane, airport, I would not feel irritated, restless, and desirous of being somewhere else or doing something else.  I would know that here and now is what counts and is important because it is God himself who wants me in this time and place. (Monk Habits for Everyday Life by Dennis Okholm from chapter 8: Staying Put to Get Somewhere)"
  •  C.S. Lewis: The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them for eternity.  He therefore wants them to attend chiefly to two things - to eternity itself and to that point of time which they call the present.  For the present is the point at which time touches eternity.  Our business, as demons is to get them away from the eternal and the present.

    It's far better to make them live in the future, all their passions point in that direction.  The thought about the future inflames hope and fear.  It is also unknown to them so that making them think about it will make them think of unrealities.  In a word, the future is of all things the least like eternity.  It is the most completely temporal part of time - for the past is froze and no longer flows and the present is all lit up with eternal rays.  Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future.  Gratitude looks to the past, love to the present, fear, avarice, lust and ambition look ahead. (Screwtape Letters Letter 15)

    Years ago I heard a sermon by Erwin McManus where he said something to the effect of, "If you need a vacation to enjoy your life, then you need a new life."  This really struck me at the time, because I felt like I was in survival mode and that vacations, those one week, once a year things, was what I was surviving to live to make it to.  In those obscure places, existed the ability to live in joy and freedom.  His words awakened me to the fact that this wasn't what I needed to live for because God had indeed offered me life for today, in fact it was sufficient for every day.

    So years later, I think it is working:

     Common, everyday life is holy.
    I find myself wondering where my phone is and realizing that I haven't touched it in over 3 hours.  I find myself holding my kids, smelling their hair, looking at them in the eyes, laughing genuinely with them. 

      Living present, enjoying the gift of today.
    I find myself finding joy in the small, monotonous everyday tasks of folding laundry, vacuuming, sweeping; not wishing those tasks away or seeing them as an inconvenience.  I find myself enjoying work, recognizing that it is a holy task that allows me to partner with God in everyday life. 

      Because, this IS the day that the Lord has made.
    I also find myself giving myself grace to be human: to be crabby, impatient, frustrated, grumpy - inviting God to lead me through the dark places that still exist within me.

    So let us rejoice and be glad in it.
    In Christ,

Advent: HOPE

This week's Advent theme is HOPE.  

In light of this week's tragic news events the lessons I've been learning this week on this topic sit very relevant in my heart, mind and soul.

What does hope mean, in a world of darkness?

What is the purpose of the body of Christ in this age?

Should fear, rule and reign over our hearts?

My reflections on those questions are being answered for me by these thoughts:

  • There is nothing new under the sun. 
  • Christian Hope is not wishful thinking.
  • Christ's Kingdom is not of this world. 
  • We are representatives of His Kingdom here on earth.
 There is nothing new under the Sun
I've been reading, Seeking God, by Esther de Waal this week.  She was discussing how the Rule of St. Benedict was established during the age of the barbarians.  Barbarians from the north were raiding and destroying the known civilized world.  As I reflected on it, I recognized that terrorism is nothing new to the human story.  But neither is the seeking of God, by His people.

Christian Hope is Not Wishful Thinking
Our Lectionary readings at church this week covered the idea of Christ's Coming the second time:

Luke 21:25-36
 25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

My pastor reminded us that in the midst of the chaos of this world, we can lift up our heads in hope and confidence, because we do know the ending of this story.  REDEMPTION is what God is up to in this world.

Christ's Kingdom is NOT of this world 
This week, too, I reflected upon Christ before Pilate, answering the question - are you the King of the Jews?

Jesus' response, was that His Kingdom was not of this world.  Jesus was very much in the world and His life was definitely affected by the world, however, He was keenly aware that His story was not written by the world.

We are representatives of His Kingdom here on earth 
All these truths brought me back to the question, then what is our place in this world? Do we need to be given to fear? Because if you spend five minutes watching the news that is where you can easily be led.

Personally, this Advent season is leading me to a new reflection: of Christ returning as King.  I've never experienced Christmas reflecting on this, I've only reflected on it through the eyes of the first Christmas.  However, there is a sweetness to this season, reflecting on the fact that He will return again as King.

In light of all of this: 
Because there is nothing new under the sun, I am aware that terror exists in our world, but I also am aware that Christ is fully confident in the role of His Bride, the Church.  We have been invited to place our Hope (confidence) in Him and what He is up to in our lives.  We've also been invited to fully live in this world and have our lives fully affected by this world, but to also be confident that we are part of another Kingdom.  Finally, we've been invited to walk out His Kingdom, here on earth, in the midst of darkness.  To be the LIGHT in a dark world.

May we LOVE our enemies.
May we pray for those who PERSECUTE us and others.
May we LOVE our families and our children.
May we SERVE our neighbors.

Lastly, I feel this Psalm provides a fitting direction to direct our hearts, souls and minds in this season:
 Psalm 24
 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
    and established it on the waters.
 Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
    who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god.[a]
They will receive blessing from the Lord
    and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
    who seek your face, God of Jacob.[b][c]
Lift up your heads, you gates;
    be lifted up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord strong and mighty,
    the Lord mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, you gates;
    lift them up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is he, this King of glory?
    The Lord Almighty—
    he is the King of glory.

May we lift up our heads, our King is coming.  May His GLORY be reflected in our lives, even today.

Advent: Hope

In Christ,

Embracing the Father

My children are coming to the age where they are realizing that they have power: power to debate, to move others and to stand their ground.  Often times, the fertile soil for testing these powers is in their relationship with one another.  So today after the third stand-off, I believe over who was to start the dishwasher or something of that do or die sort, I decided it was time we had a little talk.  A talk about what it means to lead - as Jesus leads.

The idea of leadership has been an area of thought for me lately, because I've been blessed with both a boss and a pastor that each lead with grace.  I've been amazed at what a difference it makes in my ability to be creative, excited, free and energized in what I do.  Being under life-giving leadership has really caused me to step back and reevaluate what it means to lead.  Because, if you know me well, I like to lead.  Leading by clearing the path and bringing people through, even if I have to drag them through.  But learning to lead, by grace, first, with patience, hope and belief in those that follow, that is a new one for me; in fact it is a challenge.

So back to our little talk this morning, it led us to Mark 9:33-37 in The Message.  The beauty embedded in these verses caught me by surprise:

 They came to Capernaum.
When he was safe at home, he asked them,
 “What were you discussing on the road?”
This totally made me smile, especially since I was talking to my kids. Of course He knew what they were talking about.
34 The silence was deafening
(Um, yeah, they knew they had been caught.)
—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest.
35 He sat down and summoned the Twelve.
(Do you see the grace in His approach...)
“So you want first place?
Then take the last place.
Be the servant of all.”
36-37 He put a child in the middle of the room.
Then, cradling the little one in his arms (...and the tenderness?),
he said,
“Whoever embraces one of these children
as I do embraces me,
 and far more than me—God who sent me.”
Here's the thing.  My kids are black and white, solid, logical thinkers.  Why in the world would they want to be a servant to their sibling? (These words finding echoing friends in the chambers of my own thoughts).  But the images Jesus creates - they take us out of our paradigm and He changes the whole conversation.  I saw things in a whole new way during this discussion:
Jesus wants us to view the others with the same gentleness, tenderness and care that we would a baby.  This means they are precious to Him and should be precious to us.  And then, then He takes it one step further, this act of tenderness and compassion becomes a place of blessing for us.  By embracing (holding tenderly in our arms with care and compassion) we are embracing Jesus and not only Him, but God as well.
Personally, I had never seen these verses this way before.  Be a servant. Suck it up. Do the right thing because you have to! That's what I always saw before.
But this, this has shaken me, awakened me, excited me.  Perhaps it will do the same for you.
In Christ,


 cascading off of marble walls.
incased in beauty.
Structures of success,
left empty inside.
today is measured
by what we create
But what do we do when
we've reached the epitome of success
and look around to see that we are standing there
Those are the modern day images I think of when I reflect on 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Often times, I feel that we are taught to measure our lives based solely upon our successes, yet rarely are we taught to love, challenged to love.  It is easier, much easier to achieve than to turn the other cheek and to love.
Yet the way we see God explain how He weaves Himself into our lives is in the dailyness of it all.
Love it is patient.                                                                                                                fails.
  Love it is kind.                                                                                                            it never
        It does not envy.                                                                                              Love
            It does not boast. It is not proud.                                                       It always perseveres.
                It is not self-seeking.                                                                 It always hopes.
                     It keeps no record of wrong.                                         It always trusts.
                                                     Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders fail.
My heart aches when I see brokenness.  Broken lives. Broken marriages. This wasn't the design. This wasn't the intention. It wasn't how we were built to be.  I pray that my heart never becomes callous to the pain I feel when I encounter this brokenness. 
Yet, I see, know and understand that He hasn't abandoned us. Nor has He ignored us. 
May we understand that the little decisions we make everyday.  The choices to love and forgive. To choose to trust, to choose to hope, to choose to persevere - those are the things that truly matter.  Those are the foundational truths upon which our homes are built.
Let us learn how to incorporate Christ into our daily lives, our daily decisions, our daily choices. This is where He belongs.
In Christ,

ReImagining Church

I am a Christian mutt.
What do I mean by this?
After being in the church for 29 years, I've had the opportunity to delve my feet into many versions of "church." I've gone to Bible-believing churches, Evangelical Free churches, I've had my doses of charismatic church, I've been in non-denominational church and
I have been immersed in liturgy.
I find the life and beauty of Christ in all these forms of worship.
If you've been around this thing long enough, I'm sure you've encountered the We vs Them conversations.  I know I've heard it and I know I've proclaimed it: Why we are right by our version of worship and why they are wrong.  When we entered our current church, my pastor counseled us with the wisest information I have ever heard about "denominations":
We are on a spiritual journey.  Simply find the place that helps you to transform spiritually.
After being in the church for years, I had never heard that one, but it was freeing, especially being a mutt, such as me.  I loved all the places I had been. I would never change a spot in my journey, but at that point in my journey, I also needed the freedom to find something different than I had experienced before to heal the wounds of my heart. I no longer wanted to enter into the us vs them church battle anymore.  I wanted to be free to engage in my spiritual worship without feeling like I was saying my way was better than where I had come from or how my friends and family were worshipping.

So I love The Church.  I've been hurt by The Church. I've hurt others by being in The Church.  I've recognized that The Church is a beautiful, mystery that is larger than my imagination and it is needed.  So as a lay person, I would like to share some things I've learned about The Church.  This isn't meant to be a comprehensive, theological, finger-pointing or convicting post.  It is simply to be a reminder of some of the beautiful purposes of The Church, as the body of Christ.
So here's what I've learned along the way:
  • Church is not meant to be a spectator sport: Church is not simply a Sunday morning checking in and out of the "Christianity work card."  Whether you attend a Sunday service or not, if you profess Christ you are part of His body and you are needed. 
  • We is needed, not just you: As Paul describes, the Church is made up of a body.  A body has to interact with one another.  We are meant to encourage and uplift each other in this journey.  While of course there is an element to your spiritual journey that is between you and God there is also an element that connects us all together.
  • There is power in The Church: That power has been seen throughout the ages in both good and bad ways.  Let our generation be known for the good ways.
    • Matthew 16:18-19 And I tell you that you are Peter,and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
      • This is the mode that Christ has chosen to operate and move on this earth.  He hasn't given up on The Church, have you?
  • The Church is a family:
    • Raising children helps me appreciate this truth so much more.  My kids are night and day different from each other in personality.  It means conflict arises.  It means conflict needs to be worked through and they need to learn how to love each other through their differences. When my kids are in conflict I always point them to LOVE first, RELATIONSHIP second, the issue at hand last.  This flips the situation upside down and instead of trying to fix the situation, they are learning to love first and why do they love because relationship is of upmost importance.  If you are part of the church, you will get hurt and you will hurt.  Why? Because the church is made up of human beings. 
    • As a family, we are also meant to be the family that sometimes this broken world incompletely provides:
      • Mark 10: 29-30 No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.
        • Along my journey, I have met many people whose biological family lives are broken in so many ways.  However, our hearts were designed to receive proper love from our fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers.  When this doesn't happen biologically, the church is designed to do it.  If there is one take away from this entire post, this would be the one I would want everyone to get.  It is a sacred privilege to be a part of the family of God: to be the loving arms, the shoulder to cry on, the hands to heal, the ears to listen. To be the family, the place of refuge for the brokenhearted, the orphans, the widows in their distress. This is our beautiful privilege.
  • The Church is meant to be a BLESSING:
    • Do you remember God's promise to Abraham? That all people would be blessed because of him?  The church is the current lived out moving, breathing action of this.  As this truth struck me, I've had to stop and consciously think about this.  As I go out to the stores I get to be a blessing to the checkout person, to the restaurant server... I also get to be a blessing to my family as well.  So often my eyes and time are me-focused, first.  Recognizing that part of my role in bringing His Kingdom come, His Will be done is simply to bless others changes my tune and perspective in life. 
So my prayer for this post is that it sparks your reImagination for the Church.  It  is so much more than I've listed here but I think there is value in stepping back and reevaluating our perspective on it.  Some things you may know, some thoughts may be new and there may be other things that I didn't even touch on.  But I'd encourage you to revitalize your heart, love and understanding for The Church.
In Christ,

Daily Prayer

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