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Posts Tagged ‘presence’

I’m not sure why I’ve been so dense about this scripture for so long. Did everyone get this and me just today? Sigh.

 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” [John 3:5-8, NIV] 

For some reason, I always associated being born of water as baptism. It is one of those symbolic acts that we are encouraged to do, from death to life kind of thing. In some churches, it is even mandated.

But today, I just realized that we are all born of water. I mean, human beings are born of water through the womb (hint: water breaking and all that). We are all the same in this way: humankind. We are all born with tremendous potential for all things possible in our three dimensional, time-constrained world.

However, how are we born of the Spirit? Is this that conversion experience when we accept Christ? That’s certainly an implication from scripture but I’m thinking some careful study might be good here as well. But accepting the reality of Jesus and the reality of the Holy Spirit, may only be the starting point. I think there is also a revelation of spirit that is needed. The Spirit is all around us. Heaven is all around us, for lack of a better term for that “other.” It is not a place as we know place.

Being born of the Spirit requires a certain relinquishing the body, not being so concerned about its state of affairs, recognizing the fleeting nature of the body, and cherishing instead the spirit within whose true home is heaven, with God and in God and through God.

Our spirit birth can be easy or difficult. We make it less difficult by practicing the ways of Jesus and thereby manifesting the “fruits” of Spirit. We agree to the paradoxes of going the extra mile, loving our enemies, and praying for those who persecute. We give thanks in all circumstances, for they are too are merely a moment. We journey the life of the flesh in anticipation of the birth in the spirit.

Can we dwell in the spirit now? Not really, but we can engage there through the Holy Spirit and in our relationship to God. Prayer is a key component and being still and meditating. These are ways to center down into those places. Sometimes, in worship, we are experience the Presence. The more self-less we are, the more likely to enter that Place.

Spirit of the Living God, breathe on me.

 

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values-icebergIt’s an easy homework question this week, asking about our church’s values. Restore Church values are plastered all over the building in Havre de Grace, the collateral materials, and the website. There’s no doubts there, this part is important to the church’s DNA, the Code. But comparing those values with my own, is revelation of sorts.

1. We are faith-filled, big thinking, bold risk takers. This value is demonstrated in the church through the resolute faith of the leadership, trusting God for transformative power and miraculous answers to prayer; the vision for the future is big and beyond any one person’s ability or for that matter, even a group, to fulfill without divine inspiration and Presence. We walk on.

Me: I am a woman of faith, this I can say with confidence, throughout the challenges life has thrown my way. But am I looking back more than I am looking forward? That could be. I am, by nature, a “big” person. I mean, not tall or large, but when I express myself, it’s expansive. I tend to be too loud sometimes, and I tend to interrupt. I’m like a small volcano sometimes too. But do I think big for the future? I support the church in its future, but I have not found my own pattern within it, despite my service and participation. I’m not a complainer. I don’t kick against the goads. But do I take risks? Not so much. My joke has always been: planned spontaneity. I have taken some risks and they haven’t worked out, so I am, I confess, a little gun-shy.

2. We will do anything short of sin, to reach people who do not know Christ. The  church manifests this value through its commitment to reaching out to all people, with no judgment, and inviting them into the House. No one is asked to “clean up” before “showing up.” Therefore, we go out to the highways and byways, seeking those in need, seeking those who don’t know God, seeking those who have lost hope. Where? Events like egg hunts and movies in the park or military night out or single moms spa days.

Me: I am comfortable in my faith and in talking about my journey and my God. I am OK being myself in just about any environment. I believe in this open door policy. But I have not been as quick to open my own door. I’d like to move on that. Our current outreach events are good, they reach a lot of people, but I have not made time to work them like I did at the first. What happened there? I think it’s a bit like the tithe of money: if you don’t give it, then often the money is eaten up elsewhere. And perhaps it’s the same with time, if we withhold it from service, it is also consumed in the cares of the world.

3. grace-changes-everythingWe will lift up the grace and love of Jesus, rather than using our platform to judge and condemn. I mentioned this before, the church’s open door and open arms to all people. There may be people who walk into the House who are still struggling with deep sins or troubles, but the church is a hospital, not a country club. Grace is more powerful than anything else we can offer.

Me: I am much more open than I used to be. Somehow, in my many years of a Christ-centered life, I got the misconception that it was up to me to protect the Word (as though the Word could not stand on its own), and thereby add to it, more do’s and don’ts and can’ts and should nots etc. Such and such a group was sinning by choice and therefore, outside my world. I just can’t do that anymore. I let God do the judging and pray I can be an instrument of love and grace. Sometimes, it can be a fine line, I know and I don’t always walk it perfectly, but that’s fine too. Love wins.

4. We will love people when they least expect or deserve it. This is one of my favorite code/values of the church because it is our version of “random acts of kindness” and “paying it forward.” It’s being loving to the unloving. It’s touching the untouchables. Some of this looks like meals brought to an entire staff at a school or a basket of cheer to the fire station or police station, or just handing out “rah-rah” sports beads or glow sticks on the 4th. Simple stuff.

Me: I used to be better at this, like giving my entire block holiday cookies or gifting my staff. I like to giving little symbols of caring. I hope to re-connect to this part of myself and remember how to do it without a huge money investment. That I can’t do anymore.

body-of-christ35. We believe the church is the hope of the world. This has been a new thing for me, this love of the church itself (not a “single” church, but Church, as in Body of Christ). But the point is that this body of believers, operating in community and in love, has a chance to change the world — not by political railings but by humble service and prayer and faith.

Me: I have not loved the Church. I confess that. There have been so many believing people who have hurt me and judged me and, well, you all know that sad song. I need to do better here, finding a better connection between the Presence of the Holy Spirit in the People. And love them. Sometimes, I am ashamed of other believers (not so much in my local body), but in the bigger arena, those who play in politics particularly, who feel mandated to be the hope of the world through rhetoric alone.

6. We are united under one vision. This has been an important element of our local church that has caused some people to pack up and move along. That’s made me sad sometimes, and yet, I understand that there are expressions of the Presence in lots of different ways, from dark room theater style worship to glorious cathedrals and classical music. It’s not for everyone. I decided, from the beginning, to take this ride at Restore Church and although there have been things I didn’t particularly love to do, I wanted to see it through. And God has blessed this one vision.

Me: For many years, I prayed and prayed for an upbeat, spirit-filled, contemporary church in Havre de Grace. This church has been my answered prayer and I didn’t want to miss it. I’m in.

7. We are spiritual contributors, not spiritual consumers. This is an important difference that many people still don’t get. The idea here is that everyone who attends the church should be doing something. Church is not showing up at a Sunday morning service once a week anymore. Church is a living, breathing expression of our faith every day. Of course, if a person is hurting and lost, it will take more time to find a way into service. But people of faith, should be contributing from their storehouse of gifts.

Me: In some ways, I’m good here. But I confess, I’ve wanted to slide sometimes, to just show up, to just be a fly on the wall. But I know that’s not really me either. But I’m still not good at the balance, the family/work/church balance. So I do what I do best (talk) and a little teaching, and hopefully, a little more writing and administrating.

giving8. We will lead the way with irrational generosity. So, if you want to be in a church that is trying things and has a big vision, then you might as well get used to the idea that there will be financial expectations. But, with a heart. If we can’t give from the heart, willingly, then our giving will sour the well. If people want leaders to stop asking for money, then give generously and give a tithe, and the asking will stop because there will be enough.

Me: Not perfect in this area. I am nearly at the full tithe and give by automatic withdrawal. I don’t have to think about it. And that’s a good thing. But above the tithe, is not so easy. I’m feeling the pinch of a new lifestyle as a widow and retirement around the corner. It’s hard not to worry a little about resources. But God has been faithful.

simplicity9. We believe simplicity enables excellence. I’ll have to talk to my pastor about this one. It probably has to do with my mental model for simplicity vs. his model. I think this value/code is similar to the single vision, but I’m not really sure. Or maybe just the simple message: We exist so that people far from God will be raised to life in Christ.

Me: I am interested in simplifying my life. I have certainly had to downsize since leaving my big house. I have let go of a lot of “things.” But I don’t know that I have fully embraced the single vision for myself that is the church’s vision. In fact, I know I haven’t, because I just wrote about that last week. Here is the place, where it all comes screeching to a halt. I support the church’s vision, but I haven’t really made it my own yet. This is a matter for prayer.

10. We continually increase our capacity to expand by structuring our church for the next level. This is a leader thing, this idea of building the church’s infrastructure – not bricks and mortar, but people who can help make things happen.

Me: Not there yet. I’m not fighting the growth, not at all. But I have not found my place in the growth. Not yet.

This blog post was written in response to homework questions, but I challenge you, how do your personal values line up with your church or whatever group you consider to be your spiritual home.

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Presence 2What do I really want? I have struggled with this question for years. I’m not quite sure how it became such a stumbling block. Sometimes I think I feared that if I spoke my wants, they might sound petty and mundane. Or, worse, I would put my wants out there and they would never be fulfilled. Clearly, by revealing my wants I feel vulnerable.

You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever. [Psalm 73:24-26, NIV]

The synonyms reveal the complexity of the word “want:” choose, need, crave, prefer, require, wish, ache, aspire, covet, fancy, hanker, hunger, long [for], lust, pine, thirst, yearn, and of course, desire. And here’s one answer to my query. Want is generic and covers a broad range of seeking. It’s ok to “want” the daily things of life, from a cup of coffee to a red dress. But want does not capture what God is asking of me within.

In Psalm 73, the word “desire” is more like “take pleasure in” or “delight in.” This is not about longing or wishing, it’s about a state of being, a contentment in being with God, in God. So often, I find myself leaving that place and “hankering” for something else. I am ambushed by the world’s noise and images; every commercial on television, every ad on Facebook, every magazine is telling me what I should be wanting. More, more, more.

But God wants me to enter into the Presence, abide there, and rest.

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Welcome carpet

Who is inviting whom inside? Traditionally, we think of our commitment to the Christ as inviting Presence into ourselves, much like Martha opened her home to Jesus. But what if we are missing something critical in the transaction?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. [Luke 10:38, NIV] Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. [John 15:4, NIV]

Yesterday, I re-discovered a wonderful podcast called “Pray As You Go,” and the question was presented about whose hospitality? For you see, in actuality, it is a two-way street. The Holy Spirit dwells in me and I, in turn, am invited to dwell within the Holy Spirit. I am invited into mutuality.

I am not saying we are equal, not at all. That kind of thinking can get a person into trouble, imagining herself as a God, capable of rendering miracles much like Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty.

Instead, it’s another way of thinking about the “secret place,” but more literally, within the heart of God. Because of Jesus’s humanity and godhood, it is possible to indwell Spirit. I am invited. The door is open. And in the same way, I am asked to keep my own doors open to God on earth, the Holy Spirit of Jesus. And the more we spend time within, the more we become one.

I think I may have misunderstood along the way that this oneness was automatic at my transformation, my first “welcome, please come in” acceptance of Jesus. But more and more, I am convinced that it’s a process of living together, like an old married couple. Sure, we’re committed and it’s forever, but the nuances of relationship and “knowing” come over the years.

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keep walkingAnd yet, there are times–in fact, many times, when our hearts are full of hope, our spirits are at rest, and our eyes are looking forward, but the way does not clear. And despite these words:

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; . . .

[Psalm 112:6-8, NIV]

We are shaken and we fear and we hesitate. That’s right. It happens.

I know these things for I lived them. I have walked with confidence and I have seen the glory of the Lord, like a true Shekhinah. I have shaken in the Presence and I have heard the voice of God. I have trusted when there was nothing to trust and I have known steadfastness. My faith is strong.

But that doesn’t mean I am not human. Nor does it mean that I do not fall in my faith. I weep and I call out to God, who has seemed to forsake me. I have walked the lonely corridor where no door is open and no light shines ahead.

Why do I write this? Because I was reminded yesterday in service, to keep going. Just keep going. There is something in the going that eventually reveals the underlying truth. Only when I have stopped, even briefly, have I seen the effects of fear grow roots. And to move, after stopping, gets harder and harder, the longer I delay.

I walk. I go. And my confidence in the Presence of Christ Jesus returns. First as a whisper, but eventually as a song.

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Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Today I am the dove who asks for God’s strong hand to carry me, to disentangle me from the barb wire of my current circumstances, to confirm my faith in the Way and to show the doubters how God provides. I know my afflictions are minor compared to the great tragedies of the world, so I claim the dove as my emblem.

Remember how the enemy has mocked you, Lord,
    how foolish people have reviled your name.
Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts;
    do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever. [Psalm 74:18-19]

I am looking for a confirmation or perhaps I should confess, I’m looking for a sign. That’s so childish, I know. But if I am honest with myself, that’s the truth. I am quieting myself as much as I can in the midst of a very busy week, each night a program or meeting or work that requires my attention. In between, keeping the house impeccable for showings as well as taming the flourishing vegetation after our heavy rains. Calling in repair men and dear friends to do those things I cannot do. And prepping for book group and writing for writing group and volunteering for church and Opera House Foundation. All the while, looking for a place to move within my new, much smaller budget once our house does sell. And then, balancing the adult kids, one pregnant, another frustrated with me and my “needs,” and another out of state. Yada yada yada.

Hear my prayer, Oh Lord. Keep me mindful. Help me practice your Presence in the cracks. For this reason I fast, to step away from the daily preparation and consumption of food at the least. People spend a lot of time on this, I see, from planning a meal to purchasing the ingredients to preparing it, eating it, and cleaning up.

The tears come easily. I am at the six month mark this weekend of losing my husband. The time is harder now than it was before in many ways. This grieving thing is a harsh and unpredictable road. It’s so much more than simply loss of a loved one, it’s the transitioning to a new lifestyle, a new identity, a touchless world, an aloneness, and a limbo, always in doubt of the future.

Despite all the idiosyncrasies of Mike, he was a rock to our family, a given in the midst of change. Not that God is not a rock, of course. But I am not so full of the Christ Spirit that I do not need or want the comfort of my mate. We survived a lot of troubles and disappointments together. We stood the test of time, half my life.

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anxietyHistorically, I have not been an anxious person but when I checked the definition, I recognize a build up of some anxiety over the last few months, understandable I suppose, as a relatively new widow. The future carries a lot of unknowns that have generated emotionally charged days. Anxiety is a state of mind created from an expectation of future threat. I get that, totally, as they say. But I am told, instead:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Phillipans 4:6-7, NIV]

The essential information here is that anxiety can be pushed back successfully, but not by trying to “not be anxious.” Instead, I am encouraged to actively transfer my anxious feelings into and onto the Holy Spirit, that Presence within, that gift of God, who is willing to apply a strong filter. The future is still unknown and filled with dangers even, but a God perspective minimizes its impact and ability to cause actual anxiety.

It’s important to ask for help. That’s where the prayer part fits in.

grief angelI believe God is actually OK with me learning how to handle some difficult situations (as part of maturing). The more time and energy I spend with God, the more I am able to walk with God, be more like God, and dwell in the Presence of Christ’s Spirit. But, it’s important to keep tabs on this relationship. My tendency has been to blunder along and convince myself that I can do it all, I can manage, I can handle hard feelings and I can make lots of decisions, all the while working full time and running a household (at least, what’s left of it). That’s the old me who used her busyness and quick thinking and “bull in a china shop” approach to everything in order to side-step the anxiety, a fear of failure, overwhelming loss and grief.

That will not work this time. I have discovered that I, too, can drop into a kind of general malaise that manifests as anxiety that is peppered with muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue, and problems in concentration.

So, I’m asking God. Right now. I’m asking for that transcendent Jesus to go to work now. Thanks.

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