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Archive for the ‘Ordinary Time’ Category

There is no redeeming value to resentment. From hate to exasperation to wrath, there’s not a synonym in the group that I should want to practice. And yet. . .

But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient . . . [2 Timothy 2:23-24, NKJV] In the NIV in verse 24 says, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

I have discovered that resentment is right up there with disappointment. They have the same root in the heart. They are both married to expectations and ultimately “control.” I am resentful when things don’t go the way I expect them to go. I am disappointed when things don’t turn out the way I had dreamed they would. As though I know what is the best way, the best time, the best outcome.

There is nothing wrong, I think, in dreaming and hoping for a particular end result or a good conclusion, but the trick is integrating the reality that does not line up with the dream.

We all want perfect children with straight “A’s” and exquisite manners. We can model these behaviors and teach and tutor and guide. But guess what? Things don’t always work out. And if that child/spouse/friend/colleague does not perform accordingly, what is our response? Resentment or patient love?

Patience is love. And love is patience. [Love is patient, love is kind. I Corinthians 13:4]

I can remember other believers warning me (jokingly – sort of) never to pray for patience for God will allow all kinds of challenging events to come along to “try” this patience, to grow patience, to practice patience. But never did I think about patience as love itself. Of course, we should ask for/pray for/practice patience in the same way we ask to love, to forgive, to be compassionate etc.

In the last year or so, I have been indulging a boatload of resentment for my circumstances. I live in a small house and have very little personal space. My adult daughter and her 21 month old son live with me. They dominate the environment. I love my family, of course, I say, but I also resent their habits, their noise, their choices, their impacts. So, is that love?

Resentment is a nice word for hate. And that is unacceptable. Ever. Lord forgive me.

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Boom!

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. [Matthew 6:6]

It’s only taken 30 some years for me to understand that prayer is mine. I mean, it’s between me and God and there is no “right” way to pray. Only if I pray as “me” can I ever hope to achieve the “pray without ceasing” intention. This discovery came out of my conversation with a spiritual director.

For too many years, I have placed prayer into a silo. This is my prayer time. These are my tools for prayer. These are the books I’ve read. These are the suggestions, instructions, recommendations on prayer.

I would never say, I need to get better at eating nor would I think I need more practice in sitting or standing or talking (my gift and my undoing). Historically, I have placed prayer in the arena of learning how to knit or play the piano or walk on stilts. I’ve allowed myself to believe that prayer is a skill. That is not the case. And with that understanding, a freedom descends upon me like a cool breeze.

I am already good at prayer. I just didn’t recognize it. I have all that I need to pray. I have all my imagination and breath and soul. I am a complete person. And for this reason, I am a praying being.

During that same conversation with Lorie, I kvetched about having a sweet time in prayer some days, but then I have to get up from my chair and enter my regular life. Good Lord Almighty. How has it come to that? This is me turning off the spigot.

Lastly, I believe I am seeing that any intentional time with God is a way of sending myself forward into the experiences of the next moment. It’s a springboard that can ground me.  “. . . in all I do, direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Vaya con Dios.

 

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You’re lying. And so am I.

“The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages.” [Psalm 50:1-3]

That’s right. God is never really silent. God is speaking through every atom of every living thing in Earth. God is speaking within each and every one of us. This is not a speaking problem, this is a listening problem.

Me and the Silence by
Stefano Bonazzi

I have been silent for some months. I have not written because of an inner vacuum, not an experience of peace and harmony, but a hollowness of spirit. I have gone through a lot of the motions; I have read the Word and I have pondered; I have attended worship services and I have sung the songs. I have engaged a spiritual director. I have hit a singing bowl and followed its vibrations. I have listened to music. But my mind remains a maelstrom.

The mere chaos of our age is a clanging cymbal. The incessant drone of news and tweets from the White House, always a shock that fuels dismay, chills my heart. The cry of sorrow as the rains engulf our Texas cities is loud and persistent. The anger and violence of Charlottesville clamors like a great cloud of bees, buzzing in swarms and demanding attention. The petty annoyances of broken things and the drama of relationships twang and clunk and slam.

And yet, God is speaking too. God is Present. It is not an either/or proposition. Cannot be.

God is in the terror as much as God is in the peace. Can I live in that paradox long enough to trust and learn and discern? God does not change but is the constant to which I am invited to cling. When Mike died, this was clear to me and I was able to stand. But this external chaos has proved to be my master, a master I must shed. For there is only One, whose love and strength and assurance is is promised and waiting.

With whom will I engage this day? In which river will I suspend my heart? The waters can be

gentle but obstacles will always remain.

I must choose to acknowledge God. In the moment. Discipline is a choice. Awareness is a choice. And somewhere along the way, they can become a habit, a norm.

Right now, I hear God in the dripping of the soft rain outside my window. I feel God in the fur of my fat cat. I hear God in the contented sigh of my sleeping dog. And because the view from my chair in my bedroom snags my shoulda gene (wash my clothes, wipe the mirror, make the bed etc.), I close my eyes and look there, in the wonder of my imagination (that great gift of God) where I can see anything I choose to see.

 

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the-churchThere are so many definitions of the church–from a local body of believers to the Church universal (implying all believers). In Greek, the work is ekklesia which was used by the first testament church as the society of the Lord Jesus Christ but eventually was accepted as the Lord’s House, a derivation of kyriakon, this then separate from the term synagoga. 

In Ephesians 1:22-23, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” the implication is that the church has even deeper relevance in that the “ekklesia” is no longer just a body of believers who meet together but is part of the ultimate mission of Jesus, to bridge a gap between humanity and God through the ultimate sacrifice. What Jesus did in microcosm, the church is to do in macrocosm. There are a number of scriptures that speak of this sending out of the “church” into the world (http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Mission,-Of-The-Church has a strong list), most notably is Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

At Restore Church, where I attend and serve, this message is embedded in the church’s mission statement: “We exist so that people far from God will be raised to life in Christ.  Our mission will be unleashed by: Meeting people where they are. Connecting people to life changing relationships. Serving people with no strings attached. Fulfilling the mission of God will not only result in new ministries or programs, but a movement of disciple makers, impacting the world.”

What does this then look like? Mostly, it’s in the church structure (multiple campuses), the culture-relevant messages, the contemporary music, multi-media included in the services, and a conscious effort to welcome all people into the space without judgment. It takes about 120 volunteers each weekend to successfully support four campus workshop experiences.

Outside the walls of the church, there are a number of annual community events that are intended to broaden the appeal of Christ’s message through familiar and non-threatening events such as a massive Easter Egg Hunt, movies in the Park, Single Mom’s Spa Days, Mom Swaps, free clothing give-aways, concerts, and more.

Personally, I have been at Restore Church since it’s inception about five and a half years ago. My roles have evolved from hosting campus services to behind the scenes production work and special services. It would be my hope that my daily life would reflect my faith and commitment to a loving God, and my part of a living and breathing church.

But of course, that doesn’t always work out in some perfect way. I can remember going through so many different programs in churches throughout the years, programs of evangelism and outreach with the intent of “saving” people. It was well intentioned but with little heart for the individual. It’s one of the more realistic and powerful messages of the more contemporary churches: relationships as core to sharing Christ, sharing Holy Spirit, sharing life. The early church, gathered in homes and small spaces, seemed to get this piece of it but over the years, we have become too unwilling to engage in the lives of others.

Am I a good example of relationship discipleship? Not really. I participate in church activities when my work schedule allows, but the very essence of the new way, I have embraced in theory and not in practice. This is a kind of disappointment in myself. I know my mission field is not far afield, but here in my small town. And my mission is to love out of the box. I could build a case for my lack of relationships, but honestly, that’s not the point. My faith and love for God is known. But I am not a very good friend to many.

There is only one cure (for lack of a better term), and that is to step out–one person at a time. The “assignment” for the ministry school is identify one thing to do. But for me, it’s not a “thing” but a person. It is upon me to reach out to one person. This I will seek to do, with no real goal in mind, merely to “do life” a little with someone new to me.

For the story of the world is reflected in what we call the “end times” and when those days will come, it is not for us to know, but there will be trials and tribulations. For this reason, we are called into unity with others. This will not be a time to be alone. Family, extended family, church family, all of these will be a buttress to lies, and fake Messiahs, and hardships. (Matthew 24: 1-28)

Scripture does give us some information about these times, most importantly that we cannot know the time of Christ’s coming (Matthew 24:32-41). As in the time of Noah, people did not expect the flood, and yet it come. The story is a warning for us all. Not that we’ll have a flood, but that we must understand that our human time is finite.

There are some indicators of Christ’s return (although many have misinterpreted the signs again and again). Some thought Hitler was a sign of these times for the great damage that he did in the world. And yet, the end was pushed back. Some thought the Great Depression was a sign, but it too was not the end. Even today, there are fears that the great weather changes and storms are indicators of the end. But we will not know, not really.

So, what do we do? Remain faithful. Build relationships. Honor God. Love others.

 

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Theology of the Holy Spirit is vast. Bigger than anything I could know or understand fully, but I can speak to my own experience and thereby, hopefully fulfill the essence of the Hillsong homework assignment.

The basics about the Holy Spirit are found in Acts 1:4-8 and Acts 2:1-13. The first passage carries the promise of Holy Spirit from Jesus Himself and the second passage describes the Holy Spirit’s appearance and “baptism” of the believers gathered there. We are told that the Holy Spirit is a gift and a source of power, and ultimately the resource for activities of believers from that day forth and forever. The first expression of that baptism was speaking in other tongues (not glossolalia at this point, but truly other languages). And why? To reach as many people as possible with the news: the Holy Spirit is here.

This anointing impassioned the believers with confidence to tell their story, to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, and the Presence of God’s Kingdom. The message was (and still is) that Jesus is who He says He was and that the sacrifice of the Messiah’s blood (our deliverer) was a restitution for the sins and separation of humankind from God – then and forever.

I Corinthians 12 (written by Paul) outlines a variety manifestations beginning with vs 4:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

And goes on to articulate gifts of wisdom, knowledge, healings, speaking in tongues, and so forth. At the end of the chapter, Paul lists some of the roles that can manifest by the Presence of the Holy Spirit operating freely in a believer. But then, in I Corinthians 13, the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit are recounted: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.

But this teaching was not available to the early church, not until the Apostle Paul, a learned man, had his own Holy Spirit experience and filled the ultimate command of Christ to reach out beyond the borders of Judea and Israel. He was the one who trusted Jesus at his Word to reach to the ends of the earth, the ends of their civilization. Before that, they lived communally and lovingly, they surrendered to the way of nonviolence, they shared the teachings and stories they heard from Jesus (for it was wholly an oral tradition), and they opened their doors to seekers. They were also persecuted. But they persisted nonetheless.

My own encounter with the Holy Spirit began a month or two after my confession and surrender to Jesus. My “mentor,” a rather unlikely evangelist in my acting class, encouraged me to ask for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Back in the 70’s, that was the trend, with an expectation of miracles, particularly the gift of tongues (now called glossolalia). As a previous “new ager,” I was pretty much game for anything that smacked of “woo-woo.”

When I prayed, nothing happened for several days. No tongues, no nothin.’

One day, I came home to my apartment from school, and as I entered the door, I literally experienced a whoosh of air, as though someone had opened a skylight. I dropped my bags and my hands reached up (a gesture which I was not aware at the time was common among the charismatics and their worship). I cried with a kind of joy. And I wanted to sing and praise too. But I had no history of songs to God. The only song that came to mind was the one I learned one summer at a friend’s Vacation Bible School, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. . . ” I sang that song as I walked around my apartment for 45 minutes. Ecstatic. Drenched in the Holy Spirit.

Later, when I shared my experience with my friend, he immediately asked about Tongues, for that was his church tradition. No tongues, no baptism. I was a bit crushed but decided to press along without his opinion. I knew what I knew and I knew what I felt. I was on fire for my God and my faith in Christ and the Presence of the Holy Spirit.

Within a few days, I did have a language experience but not what anyone expected. My background is Latvian. I grew up in a Latvian home and it was spoken predominately by my parents until my father’s death when I was 9. After that, our family slowly drifted away from the Latvian community and I began losing my Latvian language. By the end of my twenties, I could barely hold a conversation. But one day, in the throes of my ecstatic prayer time, I began to pray fluidly and completely in Latvian. I engaged with God in the language of my human father (who never learned much English), and I experienced a healing and transfer of love from my lost father to my heavenly Father.

Like the early believers in Acts, I too was un-churched. I did not know what was normal or not. I simply told everyone I met my story. I was a most improbable convert and several of my classmates recognized my transformation as God’s alone and they too reached out to Christ anew.

That was more than 38 years ago. Who is the Holy Spirit for me now?

Over the years, I have experienced many physical manifestations from being “slain in the spirit,” to “prophecy” and “words of knowledge.” I have (and still do on occasion) speak in Tongues and I have prayed over/with people whose lives were changed. No healings as far as I know.

Today, the Holy Spirit is speaking to me more mystically than ever. I believe that Christianity is filled with paradox from turning the other cheek to going the extra mile. In the same way, I believe the Holy Spirit is within and without, here and not here. We cannot describe the Holy Spirit for that world is simply not us, not 3-D, not constrained by time or flesh. And for this reason, Holy Spirit is an intimate partner with our own personal spirit, able to direct, console, comfort, and teach. Holy Spirit can manifest physically — or not.

Holy Spirit is breath and no breath. Just as God is the great I AM, so IS the Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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faith2Here’s a good question. In the face of someone who knows does not know much about Christianity, how would you share the gospel of Jesus Christ?

My answer has been the same for some time. I simply tell my own story, my “testimony” as they say. Because I was just like the person to whom I am speaking, in one way or another, at one time or another. I did not come out of my childhood and into my teens as a saint. I was narcissistic and self-absorbed. The world revolved around me, so much so that I married at 18 and divorced five years later to pursue a career in the theater. My world, my dream, my everything. The story goes on, too long for a post/homework but needless to say, it’s interesting how God breaks through the fog, even we don’t recognize it as fog. I came to faith through the Word of God, through reading the Bible and asking a lot of questions. I tested for truth and certainty in my soul. I have followed the Christ ever since. I am alive today because of that surrender.

But, I did not have opportunity to tell my story this week.

Nor do I consider this a strategy or a plan or a way of delivering the message. Effectiveness for the listener is not based on my delivery.

The message of the Christ, promised to the Jews for centuries as the Messiah, is all about redemption, about relationship to God and how that relationship works. Back then, it was about substitution and blood sacrifice. In the time of Christ, it was also blood sacrifice, but once for all eternity, in a space that has no time.

The conversations in the Hillsong class have given me a desire to dig again into the Bible and to seek understanding of the patterns and context in a way that I never have before. I am grateful, however, that my first introduction to the things of God was from the Bible and as a result, I have read through it many times. I am familiar with the stories, the essence of Scripture, but not enough about the pieces that bring vibrancy and connections.

I am feeling solid in my faith which is really important in today’s political climate in which believers, wrapped in Christ, yet still at odds with one another and often in a very unloving and ugly way.

” . . . I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” II Tim 1:12b

In a way, it is a pattern in my own life that I cannot seem to shake, or perhaps I am not intended to do so. I am the daughter of immigrants and I did everything I could to “fit in” and be All-American. Yet I never really succeeded. I was never quite American enough, but on the flip side, never quite Latvian enough either. I wasn’t protecting and preserving my heritage enough. In college, I was in a sorority, accepted but only to a degree, I simply could not balance the game of wealth and privilege no matter how hard I tried. And in college, by marrying young, I ostracized myself from my single friends. Eventually, I ended up in New York for acting school, thinking I would finally really belong, but even there, one foot in and one foot out. When I had my conversion experience, I felt the divide even further. How could I be a believer and creative artist? Back then, there were no avenues for that.

The longer I was a Christian, the more I tried to walk and talk the way I thought I should, the well-spoken yet conservative believer who “loved the person but not the sin,” and who carried her faith as a badge on her sleeve. I was on the inside now, I thought. I knew all the phrases, I knew all the leaders, I knew all the praise songs, I even knew how to speak in tongues. I had arrived.

But that secure space began to crumble over the years. I grew tired of editing my words (for all along, I was) and not mentioning that I enjoyed reading books that others in that world found objectionable (even demonic) or listen to music that had a beat, or go to movies not on the accepted list.

Then I went into faith-based counseling and discovered the depth and power of forgiveness & breaking strongholds of all kinds. I found beauty in other church traditions. I experienced liturgy. I found I had been in a microcosm of Christianity and not the Church universal.

I began hearing other voices like Rob Bell, Phyllis Tickle, and Brian McLaren. I read about the Emergent Church, and Progressive Christianity and Post-Modernism. It was all so freeing and interesting and I reveled in the hashtag, #LoveWins.

But of course, I didn’t quite fit there, not 100%. Lo and behold, I was back in the middle. I loved and respected many of my more conservative Christian friends but I also loved my progressive ones. In any case, I was pulled slowly but surely out of the Christian Right.

I realize now that this series of classes is nudging me to fill in my theology. To not worry about fitting in or being in or anything like that.

I am an amalgam.

I am politically left leaning (especially now in this Donald Trump era); I am thoroughly grounded in my love of God and Christ and the atonement; I am surrendered to a sovereign God who can break through and “save” whomever and whenever God so pleases; I am learning to love and be content with my now, given by God to me (both the sorrow and the joy); and I am not going to assume that I know God’s intentions for others who are “not like me.” I will lose validity with some people of faith and I will lose some validity with activists. But I will stand.

 

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worshipToday, the worship set began with a message of freedom, that God provides an environment in which we can be free of bondage that has held us in the grips of sinful behavior. The first song promises true life in Christ as we praise and worship God.

The second song was about surrendering control to God, the one true comforter, who transforms our lives, if we allow His will to reign. Cry out to God who hears our and sees our pain. God is sovereign and an anchor in every possible storm.

The third song echoed the theme of the sermon by focusing on hope, breaking free, joy, a surrendered heart, and all breaking forth in an expression of pure confidence in Christ, “on top of the world.” As long as we identify with Christ and live that reality, the Spirit will be expansive within us.

The last song of the set, called us to trust, no matter what the challenges may be, even the greatest of ocean waves cannot or will not overwhelm us. God is greater and stronger than any storm. We must keep our eyes on our Sovereign God even in the deepest waters, for God’s love is unfailing. We are asked to surrender and trust. Fear not. If God calls, then we can “walk on water.” Stay in God’s Presence.

The message had these main points: Our Christ-based Calling can be eroded by losing our confidence in Christ. To maintain our confidence, we must maintain a clear conscience, a caring community, and a commitment to consistency.

So, that’s our service touched (related briefly here) on the attributes of God. But what about me and my life? Am I an example or a testimony to these things? In some ways, I believe I do exhibit confidence that God is in my life. I am comfortable in my faith and I am not ashamed of speaking of my faith openly. I work toward being loving and kind, seeking to look for the best in a person, breathing out the worst.

But I am still holding back. I am still trying to balance what I want to do with what others teach I could be doing to fulfill my God-Purpose. I suppose, I am not really “all in.” That’s a confession of sorts. I know what my gifts are but I also know those gifts are useful in a variety of settings, not just the church.

trinityIn my prayer life, which has been resurrected after a very dry period, I do surrender daily to God and I cry out for God’s Kingdom to indwell me daily, for God’s Will to prevail, for a spirit of forgiveness to wash over me for a rather longish list of people. I cannot “balance” or choose anymore. I believe my journey is ultimately in God’s hands, no matter where I walk or stand or pause. Whether I move quickly or slowly, God is ther.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord. [St. Patrick]

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