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Archive for the ‘Ordinary Time’ Category

While practicing Lectio Divina over the weekend, I found myself reading
Numbers 21:4-5:

“They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” ” [NIV]

impatienceAnd I immediately knew that “impatient” was the operative word for me. Impatience does not happen in the twinkling of an eye. It’s a process and literally, has steps along the way and thought patterns that culminate into full blown impatience. Here are just a few of the steps I discovered about myself.

  • I make assumptions about the destination and how long it will take to get there. This can be anything from walking my three-year-old grandson to the car to waiting for my lunch to be delivered at a restaurant. But it can also have a spiritual element: practicing silence (not 20 minutest yet??) or noting my unanswered prayers. 
  • I make assumptions of what I will or will not encounter. Why would I imagine that a “quiet time” would really be quiet: I live where cars, garbage trucks, pets, and a toddler manifest at will. 
  • I have often misunderstood the plan. How many times did I think I would be picked up at a certain time and discover it’s the wrong day? And how many times have I thought God wanted me to experience one moment when it was something altogether different? 
  • I don’t always recognize the early stages of impatience in my heart: it starts as a grumbling, like a gnawing hunger. At this point, there are no words, just a churning or frothiness within. 
  • Eventually, my grumbling becomes words, either out loud or in my head. I can rarely assuage the onslaught of impatience once words are formed. If anything, I’m digging in. Words make impatience stronger. 
  • My worst cases of impatience result in total disdain for “what is” and consequently, I miss what other thing could be born from the moment.
  • My personal inconvenience drives everything. It’s not long before hyperbole rules the day: How dare . . . ; I will NEVER . . . ; I hate . . . ; This ALWAYS . . .! And so on. The litany has its own rhythms and like the Baby Shark song, will not relent. 
  • As I review my episodes of impatience, whether with God or people, I can attest that I am no better than the Israelites. I complain, I lament, I give evidence of why I am justified in these feelings, and soon, I am ready to turn back. Whatever was awful before seems better than the way things are now. I think to myself, “if I can just avoid this situation, I will feel better. Life will be easier.” I’ll have that “old time religion.” 

gratefulRepercussions can develop from impatience that are more wretched than the original. Must I carry on until the “venomous snakes” (Numbers 21:6) show up before I repent? Or, can I breathe into the onslaught of impatient feelings and counter them with gratitude? 

That is the remedy, by the way. Just a simple expression of gratitude and acceptance. If I am surrendered to God, and believe God’s love for me, then really, is it too much to ask of myself to acknowledge the circumstances and walk them out? I want to say “yes, thanks,” and then see what happens. 

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God’s Voice

Many years ago, I remember hearing an audio tape from a Christian teacher entitled “How to hear God’s Voice.” I don’s remember much of the message actually, but I do remember how anxious I was to get there–to hear God’s voice.

Since then, I’ve figured out a couple of things.

First of all : listening. For a person like me who often has to talk just to figure out what she’s thinking, listening has never been my strong suit. Being a natural “over-lapper,” most people find it a challenge to get a word in edgewise. And then, as I age, I’ve found myself repeating myself, particularly if the signals I’m getting from the listener do not correspond with my expectations (in other words, let me say this another way and maybe you’ll agree with me then). None of these strategies work too well when communing with God.

Secondly, God’s voice doesn’t necessarily mean words. Having thought for so many years that I would “hear” instructions in well-formed sentences was truly a blind alley. Now, I’m specifically speaking of God’s voice in prayer not while reading sacred text. This discovery has come recently while practicing Lectio Divina with Psalm 29, which outlines a series of descriptions for the “voice of the Lord.” In some ways, it seems to contradict I Kings 19:11-13, in which Elijah learns of the “still small voice” of God. But I don’t think they are at odds at all. Simply put, the voice is in living things, both loud and whispers, whatever is needed by the listener.

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters,” (Ps 29:3) just as the Christ walked over the waters and called to Peter in the boat (Matthew 14:25-29) to come. For me, the waters have been the fray of my daily life, both good and bad, but always just a little chaotic and frenzied. I am discovering that the best way to rise above cacophony of life is in the silence within.

The voice of the Lord is always there.

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Since I retired in December, I’ve been traveling quite a bit. I felt a rare freedom to go and do as I wanted. I have been to Zambia, to California and the Pacific Coast Highway, Denver, Estonia, and even back home to Indianapolis for a 50th high school reunion. Gods timeEach place has a story and now a memory. But it’s time to take a breath. A real breath. It’s time to examine “here.”

In some ways, I sound a bit like my 91 year old mother, just months before she died, she wondered aloud, “What should I do for the rest of my life?” She still felt she had something to give and something to do. But for her, it was a dis-ease with her present.

I want to change that pattern. Before I venture into too many tomorrows, I want a better assessment of today.

I don’t want my next day to come out of a place of dissatisfaction, as though this moment is wanting. I desire this day to be full of the awareness of God and a confidence in the Holy Spirit within to enrich my inner being.

This week, I have been chewing on Henri Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Formation : Following the Movements of the Spirit. As he says, it is time to convert chronological time into “kairos” or God’s time, where “past, present, and future merge in the present moment. . . The spiritual life, therefore, is not a life that offers a few good moments between the many bad ones, but an abundant life that transforms all moments of time into windows through which the invisible becomes visible.”

Jesus was able to “be” in any setting with every person because He could “see” beyond the surface of what he/she presented to the world. Just as the doctor can hear the beating heart through a stethoscope, Jesus could hear and see the fluttering soul.

Where is just another Here.

Well, that sounds a little bit like my old favorite show, Kung Fu, and me speaking like an Eastern mystic. That makes me laugh, Grasshopper.

But seriously, some pieces are falling into place and I am experiencing a type of contentment that I have not known before. From here, I will find my way.

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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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