Welcome: An Introduction

Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Love's Madness

The madness of love
is a blessed fate;
and if we understood this
we would seek no other:
it brings into unity
what was divided,
and this is the truth:
bitterness it makes sweet,
it makes the stranger a neighbor,
and what was lowly it raises on high.

   ~ Hadewijch of Antwerp, 13th century mystic and poet

Love is amazing and has a way of turning everything upside down at times. The weak become the strong, the broken become whole, courage is given to the meek  and boundaries shatter as love unites those who were once divided. Instead of seeing the worldly differences in others we start to recognize Christ in the eyes of strangers who are just brothers and sisters we have not formally met yet. When God's love permeates our souls, reaching to their furthest corners, stereotypes, bitterness and labels no longer have room in them and what is left is compassion and peace.

Our God's love is amazing!

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your infinite and pure love. For teaching our hearts compassion and empathy.  Help our illusions and attachments fade into obscurity as we no longer cling to them but focus exclusively on your love. Help us to spread love and light to those around us. Help us bring love and laughter, joy and truth into our homes, into our conversations with those who we meet, both old acquaintances and new. May we never cease to bring you glory. May we seek your Love above all others and may it transform us more and more into the likeness of Christ.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Blessed Discomforts

Never more have I felt Him so
Than when discomfort mingles with near perfection.
When chill rain falls and blustery winds blow
It’s in those moments He makes wise selection.

For in those times both rare and wild,
When the present breaks upon me in a flood,
It’s then I notice things I’d lose in events more mild,
Reminding me of His merciful grace both pure and good.

I had one of those moments again...temporary freedom where my kids joyfully left smiling and waving as they went off to go to their grandparents house for dinner. Three hours, whatever shall I do? I love to take walks but as I just came in a short while ago I didn't feel too inspired. A drizzly rain fell, winds were blowing and it was getting late in the afternoon. A heap of dishes lay waiting in my sink, blog articles that I've been wanting to get to were beckoning in the corners of my subconscious. Well, despite all that, I decided that I didn't know when next I'd have the opportunity and I've found my walks of solitude a precious gift. So, I headed out the door.

With every step I took I felt as if God were drawing me deeper and deeper into His presence. I felt God all around me. Sustaining the life that lives and breathes. Rain was gently falling, a chill wind blew,  causing me to lift the hood of my coat up over my winter's hat. As I walked I just enjoyed each moment as it came, allowing my senses to take in the experience. My feet landing on concrete, the feel of my legs in mid-stride,  the warm touch of my coat's interior on my skin, each droplet of icy rain. I could hear the swooshing of cars passing by, the splatter of puddles as my feet landed upon them, displacing water. The clank and flutter of the flags outside the businesses that line our historic downtown district, the warm glow of their lights beckoning me inside to enjoy some relief from the elements. I felt my lungs expanding as each breath filled them with precious, life-giving air, and was reminded of the amazing gift of life that God gives each of us and how easily it can be taken away. And how it's just amazing to be alive.

I reflected with slight amusement how I was actually enjoying each droplet of icy rain, which during my walk turned into snow. I decided to take my hood down, I was still wearing a hat but the wind's sting now caressed my exposed neck as well as already exposed face. I thought about meditating. How there is a rhyme and a reason to the lotus position. How during meditation one is supposed to be alert, not zoning out on life, but taking it all in and how a bit of discomfort allows one to do so without nodding off or getting distracted. How a little discomfort allows the wayward mind to stay in the present moment and thus recognize and absorb all the precious gifts of the present.  The blessings of God and God Himself, inherently and blatantly present throughout all of Creation for those who slow down enough and open their senses to take notice.

When I finally returned home I was filled with an amazing peace. I peeled off my wet clothes and felt the warmth of air in our house envelope my bare skin. What a joy it is just to be living! In these moments I feel incredibly alive.  With each heart beat, each inhale and exhale, my soul lifts itself towards God in praise, opening it up before Him to receive His light and truth during those times of profound clarity. Those  moments that oftentimes are awakened by experiences of blessed discomfort.

Almost immediately I was compelled to write down what I had experienced, and I did, in the poem that began this post. I hope you enjoyed it. And when next you find yourself outside and perhaps bothered by the elements that invade your comfort, perhaps you can consider them as blessings, as opportunities to draw you into the present and be blessed by the reality of abundant miracles that surround you.

Do you have an experience where God awakened you to His reality and presence and the miracle and gift of life during the present moment? Please share!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Hearts Wide Open

" However late, then, it may seem, let us rouse ourselves from lethargy. That is what scripture urges on us when it says: the time has come for us to rouse ourselves from sleep. Let us open our eyes to the light that can change us into the likeness of God. Let our ears be alert to the stirring call of his voice crying to us every day: today, if you should hear his voice, do not harden your hearts."

                           ~ Benedict of Nursia

I loved reading this passage from Benedict of Nursia because one could so easily turn his words expressing the need to awaken our spirit's to the light of God's, into a prayer.  At the end it made me just want to surrender everything to God with a heart wide open to Him. One attuned to His presence and the whisperings of His Spirit.

It is my hope that his words might encourage you as well :)

Heavenly Father,

Like a flower opening up to the dawn of a new day may our hearts open up to you. May your light reach the farthest corners of our souls, permeating them with your Love, renewing and healing them with your touch of mercy and grace. Awaken within us a desire  and an ability to be attuned the whispers of your Spirit and move our hearts and hands to obey the will you have for us. Help our hearts turn from ones of stone, hardened by the world,  into ones flesh that conform ever more and more into the likeness of your Son.

We thank you for your steadfast faithfulness. May our hearts open up to your light and reflect it outwards, towards those in our lives that need hope and compassion, that need to know your infinite love. May we never cease to bring you glory.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.


Moment in Time: A Friday Tradition

(this moment) – A Friday ritual. A photo – no words – capturing a moment from memory box. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment you want to pause, savour and remember. “This Moment” is a ritual found on  Life inspired by the Wee Man which I then kidnapped from Almost there by Sarah-Jane

If you have a Moment just leave your link in the comments section so I and others can visit.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The American Church : A Hypocrisy?

"The American Church, simply stated, is the wealthiest community of Christians in the history of Christendom. The total income of church goers is 5.2 trillion. It would take a little over 1% of the income of American Christians to lift the poorest one billion people in the world out of extreme poverty. 

...The bottom line is that the commitment that American Christians, the wealthiest Christians in all history, are making to the world is just about 2 percent of 2 percent ... actually about 5 ten-thousandths of our income."

                             ~  (Richard Stearns, President of World Vision)

When I read these startling statistics I couldn't help but be saddened. A small part of me, however,  wasn't too surprised. This just shows a major flaw in the organized churches spread across our nation. Something is horribly wrong about our focus that we have lost sight of one of the main points of the gospel. God calls us to be compassionate towards the poor, the suffering, the broken hearted. Jesus preached love and compassion towards the margins of society not only through his words but by his actions.

One of the words that are flung towards Christians a lot is the word hypocrisy. Wikepedia defines "hypocrisy" as follows: Hypocrisy is the state of pretending to have beliefs, opinions, virtues, feelings, qualities, or standards that one does not actually have. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie.

Let's see what Jesus tells us, as Christians, how we should follow him:

"Jesus answered, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'" Matthew 19:21
"But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind." Luke 14:13
"When Jesus heard this, he said to him, You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'" Luke 18:22

Here are some other verses in the Scripture that reveal to us what our attitudes should be towards those who are less fortunate than ourselves:

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:17-18

"Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, 'Here's a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man, 'You stand there' or 'Sit on the floor by my feet,' have you not discriminated among yourselves and becomes judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?" James 2:2-6

Deuteronomy 15:7 "If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother." 

"He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing." Deuteronomy 10:18

"There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." Deuteronomy 15:11

Given the statistics shared by the President of World Vision, the verses in scripture above and the definition of "hypocrite", how do our churches  measure up?  Are we living by the standards God has places on us? To have an emphasis on compassion, for our hearts (and wallets) to serve the poor, not only through our prayers, but with our hands as well? Does our given state reveal us to be hypocrites? Well, I'll let you answer that question for yourself...

I am the last person to say that I have everything figured out and that I'm walking the straight and narrow path. Could I give more? Yes! Should I give more? Yes! Should we all give more? Yes! Most of us...

There are some in our country that are giving their all. They live in intentional communities infested with crime that are designed specifically to aid the poor, sharing all they make with the homeless...those people should serve as our inspiration! Below is a short clip about a book that helped open my eyes and readjust my focus on what it means to follow Christ. It's by Shane Claiborne: Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical.  Since reading this book I've made some personal changes-I began volunteering and donating at a local soup kitchen and am looking into more opportunities to get involved. It has truly inspired me to look more in depth into how Jesus taught us to live. I still have a long way to go...but I guess the point is in just starting to make a change...we all can start, in little ways, to help advance the Kingdom of God!

It's funny what reading the New Testament and coming along with Jesus as he ministered to people can do when, by reading such accounts, the Spirit whispers to our hearts, prompting us to walk on that same path! Can you imagine what the world would look like if all of us Christians across our nation had the desire and actually applied that desire to live like Jesus? To follow the standards our God places on us? It would be a revolution...a turning point away from suffering and towards healing for the world.

When we've finally inhaled our last breath and our heart ceases to beat no more we will not only be held accountable for the actions we did but also by the actions we didn't do.

Matthew 25:31-40

  31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
   34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
   37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
   40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

What are your thoughts on the statistics and verses shared in this post? Why do you think America's churches are failing so miserably in the area of giving to and serving the poor? Can you think of any possible solutions? What can you do, personally, to live more like Christ in this area?

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for the abundant spiritual and physical blessings you've rained down on us. May you help our hearts open up to the gospel and may your Spirit guide us, urge us, draw us towards being more and more like Jesus. Help give us the courage to be bold and fearlessly go into the world's darkest corners so that we may shine the light that you've given us in our hearts and vanguish darkness, giving hope to the hopeless, peace to the troubled and tormented. We aren't perfect, that's for sure, but help us begin, step by step, to walk more and more like Jesus. May we be a people of prayer and action as we seek to bring you glory and manifest your Kingdom here on earth.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Battle to Believe

Faith isn't always warm and fuzzy. Sometimes our walks seem to take us off course, down twisted alleyways that are dark. Journeying down these byways with a naked soul is painful, as they are littered with broken glass, nails and other destructive impediments. Sometimes it's as if our soul bleeds, wounded by the world, our own sins and even at times others in the body of Christ. Sometimes even when we try to keep our gaze on Jesus a fog, heavy and oppressive settles all around us and a darkness like no other finds it's hold on our souls. It's during those times when our resolve can falter, our focus diminish.

In our pursuit for truth it's possible to lose site of our hope in God as we can become conflicted more with the many questions we have than caught up in the awe of the revelation of God's glory. There are times when we just can't feel His presence and for those who seek God with all their hearts that can be a dreadful and dark time indeed.  Disbelief can start to invade our thoughts and infect our souls with it's unwanted whisperings.  God uses this time to stretch us and also draw us towards Him in deeper ways and will eventually spare us of our anguish when we finally release ourselves of our own egos and trust in Him with the simplicity akin to the faith a child has in his or her parent.

Many times this juncture in our faith can be described as the "Dark Night". I've written an article about it: http://ascendingthehills.blogspot.com/search/label/dark%20night

The following is a song composed and sung by a freelance pastor and facebook friend of mine, David Hayward. He is also a gifted cartoonist and artist. You'll find one of his cartoons on the bottom of this page if you scroll down :) I feel he captures much of the emotion and experience of one going through such a time. I know I could relate to this song. Check out his website: www.nakedpastor.com

God has a wonderful way of producing peace in the hearts of His children. Sometimes we make the tragic mistake of, when we fail to feel that peace, believing He has abandoned us and a real battle for belief can be a result.The good news is even when we are drawn to our knees, feeling hollow and empty, far from His presence and completely alone and wounded by others, our soul crying out "are you there?" to our God, we can be rest assured that He is! For His Word assures us He never leaves us. If we meditate on that truth  and "hang on His Word", standing firm and letting grief, loneliness, emptiness, wash over us and eventually dissipate, we will walk out of this dark time much stronger than we were when we entered it.  

Here are some Bible promises that we can cling to during such times:

Romans 8:37-38 
 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 10:28
28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

Isaiah 43:13
"From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done."

Hebrews 13:5b
I will never leave you nor forsake you.

Have you ever found yourself at a juncture in your faith where disbelief crept in and threatened the stability of your walk with God? If so, what did you do, or perhaps even better put, what did God do, to help pull you out of such a dark night and into the dawn of a new day?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sacred Places: Creating a Place for Prayer

"Without a doubt we can pray anywhere, but there is something to be said for having a space that is reserved for prayer. Scripture makes it clear that God doesn't dwell in buildings made by hand any more than God is in the streets or alleys. Still, most of our homes have places where we eat, play, or work. There are also places where God leaves a mark. To be sure, the church is not the building but the people. But it can be nice to have a special place to meet the God we love.

One thing we see in Scripture is that folks like Jacob are commanded to mark the sacred space where God met them, to remember. As we look at spaces like a chapel or a shrine in the Holy Land, we remember not the magic of a physical space but the magic of what God did and who God is; we are reminded that this entire planet is filled with sacred spaces where God meets people.

Consider creating a space where you can get on your knees in the "secret chamber" and be with God. A friend from Brazil started a tradition of tacking prayers on her wall, so she could pray simply by looking at the walls and remembering the needs of her neighborhood and all the prayers God has answered. Some of us keep things that remind us to pray for others, like dog tags of soldiers whose faith has called them to leave the military or a crack valve or a bullet from the streets in our neighborhoods. It is important to remember the things that happen on our streets, both good and bad."
       ~ Shane Claiborne, Common Prayer: A liturgy for Ordinary Radicals p.159

I've talked to more than one person who have mentioned having  a "prayer closet" and until recently I never really thought of creating a particular place in our home where I could go and pray. Honestly, most times if the need for prayer is pressing in and solitude beckons, my location is decided upon the location of my children. If they are upstairs playing in their room, I will sit on our living room floor and light a candle, read some psalms and open my heart to God's presence. I find sitting on the floor the most preferred place where I can still my mind and open my heart to God. That's where I meditate and I find prayer and meditation very close relatives, if not the same sometimes.  But certainly my pursuits of prayer are not limited there. Oftentimes I will pray while I do the dishes, when I'm at our kitchen table. I  think of my "prayer closet" or place of prayer as being portable.

As of using things to remind me to pray for others, as Claiborne suggests, I never have really implemented that technique before but I definitely find it worthy of incorporating it into my practice. I've talked with others who use rosaries as a way to focus, pictures of loved ones, lists of those who have asked for prayer requests, crosses. Most of the time I just pray and speak to God of whatever comes to my heart unless it is a time where I specifically come before God regarding a request for someone or need. Though I don't use visual reminders I will visualize in my mind the person I am praying for and sometimes the cross, as a way of focusing on God's gift of mercy and love and Jesus' selflessness and compassion.

So, my questions to you are, do you have a specific place in your home that you pray? 

and...in your sacred place do you use anything as a visual reminder to help remind you of those you wish to pray for? OR to help center you in prayer?

Friday, February 18, 2011

This Week's Moment in Time

{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A photo – no words – capturing any moment from the past. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.

A moment you want to pause, savour and remember.

“This Moment” is a ritual found on Life inspired by the Wee Man adopted from SouleMama which was introduced to me by Sarah-Jane.

This is my moment!

Finding God in the Woods

Yesterday I had what has become the rare chance of taking a walk down a nearby trail with our dog Olive. It was just Olive and I, the kids had stayed home with my husband and I was so eager for the solitude! When I parked at the head of the trail I was delighted to see no other cars there and it just so happened that the whole duration of our walk we didn't see one single person. Ok, call me anti-social...but I love when that happens!

As we walked down the trail I began to pray. Oftentimes, with kids tugging at me, asking for their fifth snack of the hour and if they can watch a movie, have a book read to them and a plethora of other requests...well...any parent who might be reading this is most likely quite familiar with this scenario...the daytime with the kids can be a hard time to find moments of prayer. So finally, in the solitude of the moment I opened my heart up to God.

As I walked down the trail, I felt led to say what is known as the Jesus Prayer. It is simply this : Jesus, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner.

To repeat it, again and again, has a centering effect.

Each word is pregnant with truth, meaning and beauty and it causes all other rambling thoughts of my wayward mind to dissipate. As I stumbled through the uneasy trail of unstable, somewhat condensed layers of snow that measured about eighteen inches and would randomly cause my feet to sink in up to nearly my knees at some parts, my heart called out to God. And God  is never silent to a heart calling out to Him.

I love birds. I never used to give them much thought until I began meditating and then, it's like life comes alive with birds! You don't realize how many there are until you take the time to actually listen! That's what I've found anyways and in one moment I heard my voice saying the Jesus Prayer and in the next it was as if I was in the center of all creation, it was exploding around me with senses and sounds and I stopped abruptly causing my dog, after a moment glance in my direction to lay down a few measures from my feet. How well she knows me! It was going to be a moment before we moved on and she knew.

It was then the most beautiful of prey bird swooped over the trail. Breaking a bit of my focus, for I'm quite obsessive with taking pictures, I reached into my pocket and managed to take one of the bird, in it's beauty, full of life, that captured all of my attention for the few moments it graced me with its presence.

When she had drifted like a dream out of sight through the trees I stayed for quite awhile, allowing myself to have the chance to be fully present in the moment.  How often I wish I could do that more in nature! It's a gift and a blessing :)

Well...this morning, just about an hour ago I woke up with words dancing through my head. Words that just seemed to be strung together, making sense and I couldn't ignore them so I came downstairs and just wrote them all out. I shared my above story about my walk in the woods because I think it was what gave birth to this poem. My moment of mindfulness in the woods, experiencing God deep in my heart and rejoicing with the creation that poured out its song all around me.

Hope you enjoy it. I'm not claiming to be much of a poet but the way this poem came to me, it just compelled me to share it with others. I have not edited yet so please have a little mercy! ;)  I also would love suggestions for the title, I'm not sure the one I put down really fits, I'm horrible at making titles! Some of the words and perhaps ideas! aren't entirely orthodox, but if anyone has any questions, or such, please ask in the comments section.  Many blessings to you on this new day God has given us all. May you all walk in His light and love.

In The Fullness of His Presence

Living, breathing, my heart is beating,
The wind blows, my faith grows,
all around life is teeming,
Lessons...beckon, the Present is my teacher
centered, in the stillness, my soul opens up to greet her,

Poised at the pinnacle of revelation
rejoicing with all of creation
nestled in the bosom of reality
I find God inside of Me.

Laughing, dancing, weeping, kneeling
I thank God for the senses of feeling.
Perched on the point between joy and despair
I breathe God in, He's everywhere.

Drunk on the ecstasy of my senses swallowing me
Every sound, every movement leaps alive from life's mural
Every moment a living mandala, impermanent and fertile.
God, living and breathing and sustaining it all,
I just rest, centered, hearing His steady call.

Draw near, draw near, enter in and find your rest,
Draw near, kneel at my throne and you will be blessed.
His throne, eternal, having no beginning or end,
Centered in our hearts, beckoning our knees to bend.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Church: What does it mean to you?

I've been thinking a lot about church lately and what it means to me and I'd love to hear some thoughts from my readers on this topic.

For many Christians church is very important. It is a place to go where you can enter into corporate worship with others, listen to sermons and have a sense of community with fellow believers.

Perhaps some of us have said this at one point or another, certainly most of us have heard one utter this phrase before: I don't need church, my church is outside in nature.

I can certainly relate to that sentiment. I find great peace and moments of reflection when I am in the midst of the natural world. God's glory permeates and resounds through all of creation and it is very easy to feel close to God, enter into prayer and open up to His presense when I am settled atop my favorite rocky perch nestled lazily at the crook of the river's bend.

But to say that one doesn't need a church and that one can find true spiritual fulfillment in nature alone, is that biblical? Or even possible? It might be possible at first glance. It makes us feel good, it certainly elicits pleasurable feelings of peace and a connectedness with our Creator. And those moments of solitude are necessary and precious, don't get me wrong, I certainly value them! These are my own thoughts here...but the way I think of all of this is that God doesn't dwell in us so that we might dwell in Him alone. God is love and love should be shared!

When we read the gospel and witness the wonders and miracles of Jesus we see that he had his moments of solitude but was oftentimes in the thick of the crowds. He had disciples he shared his teachings and time with and he ministered to people. When we feast upon the spiritual manna which is God's Word, our hearts begin to cultivate that same Christ-like desire...to reach out to the poor, to the suffering, to break bread with our brothers and sisters.

The more I pray and reflect on things the more I start to see the church far exceeding the walls of any one building. The church is the body of Christ and whose members are those who have chosen to follow and love Christ, acknowledging his divine nature and his sacrifice. There is only one church!

Scripture describes it this way:

1 Corinthians 12:12-14
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[a] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Is it possible to be part of the body of Christ and work in harmony among its members without being part of a church? One can find a connection and fellowship with other christians serving out in local missions without being involved in a church. In this age of technology it is so easy to upload a sermon and receive spirit-filled teachings. Wherever two or more are gathered there is fellowship, so it's quite easy to worship corporately with others without worshipping in a church.

Given all that, is church still necesssary?

I'm starting to come to the conclusion that the one thread that really holds the necessity of having a local church is the sense of community it provides. With any interest there is a group to support and cultivate knowledge and growth in that interest. There are bowling leagues for bowling enthusiasts, scrapbooking clubs, etc. Name your interest and there's most likely a group of like-minded individuals that have formed a group centered around that theme!

What does church mean to me?

To answer my own question...certainly a church is not necessary  for one's salvation but I do think in terms of growth and finding opportunities to be part of the body of Christ, it can make all of the difference! Church, to me, means community. In my opinion from what I've read of scripture it should be a place that supports, encourages and instructs those believers within its local community to live out their lives in a spirit-filled manner to live like Jesus! And then take that love and compassion that is cultivated in the local garden of believers and sow those seeds among others in the local community and across the globe! Thus yielding a beautiful harvest reflecting the glory of God and helping to manifest His kingdom here on earth!

So...what does church mean to you? What keeps you going...or what has stopped you from going?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Battle for Joy: John Piper

Life is not all joy above sorrow; life is a battle for joy in the midst of sorrow.
                                          ~ John Piper, God is the Gospel, p. 112

2 Corinthians 6:4-10
4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

I was reading from Piper's book this morning when I came across the above line and felt it jump off the page. At first when I read it I felt it was true but a bit pessimistic, "...life is a battle for joy in the midst of sorrow." I mean I'm more of the "glass is half-full" kind of person. To think of the things of  life as those in which we must continually struggle against, well, frankly, that didn't really attract me to that line of Piper's. Yet the line itself is intriguing and true. I had to read that line a couple of times and really contemplate what Piper was meaning. And then re-read the page it was on.

So, let's climb a little higher up the mountain and get a better view! Here it is in more of it's context:

I am aware that when I use the language of prizing and treasuring and delighting and cherishing and being satisfied by the glory of God in the face of Christ, it could sound to some as if all brokenness and suffering and pain and sorrow have been left behind. That is not true. The Christian never gets beyond the battle with indwelling sin. Life is not all joy above sorrow; life is a battle for joy in the mist of sorrow. The banner that flies over my life and over this book is...2 Corinthians 6:10, "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing."   p. 111-112

See, where I am at this point...and oh reader don't think I don't have my days!, but is more at the prizing and treasuring and delighting in the glory of God. That's why that quote seemed a little funny when I stumbled across it. I don't see life right now as a continual struggle against sorrows. Even when major things happen that menacingly threaten to loom over my conscience, ruining the moments I have in my day, I have, in the midst of those, experienced the deep peace of God through reaching out to Him and clinging to His promises and truths. 

It isn't always easy, and I've found the only way  in those moments is to proclaim the glory of God, praise His loving faithfulness and admitting my total need for Him. I have a choice at that point. We all have the same choice: to be trampled by sorrows or  to choose God to reign over the moment, being Sovereign over our circumstances and rejoice in the joy of the hope that there is in God! Of the life and light and blessings He brings! For sure there are things that happen in life that legitimately make us fall to our knees as tears close around our field of vision as if curtains have been drawn. But through our grief and pain, God's promises still reign and if we reach out to Him in our weakness, He will make us even stronger that we could have imagined, for through Him anything is possible!

At the end of verse 10 in 2 Corinthians 6 it says, " having nothing, yet possessing everything". The jewel found in all of this is that for those who dwell in Christ we have savored such sweetness while tasting the Glory of God that it drowns out all the sour elements of life threatening our soul's pallet! And the "struggle for joy" no longer becomes so much of a struggle as we continue on our journey of faith. We become so absorbed and transformed by God's glory that the illusions, attachments and impermanent distractions that threaten to plague our minds melt away and in it's midst we are left in the beauty of soul-stirring rejoicing in which sorrow's futile efforts can take no hold.

This is a process for the Christian as we grow and mature in our faith and are transformed by Christ. I don't claim to fully experience this at all times but I have experienced enough of it to know it to be true! There is great victory found in surrendering to God!

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for bringing us into a new day to receive your blessings and have new opportunities to bring you glory and honor. We thank you for your faithful love that provides peace and comfort to our hearts when all around us storms rage and seas swell, threatening to take our eyes off of you. May we be awestruck in wonder at the glories of your reality! May our hearts be so busy rejoicing at the wonders of your grace and mercy that we glide effortlessly through life's stumbling blocks! Help turn our weaknesses into opportunities to show the world the strength we find in you! We love you and praise you.

In Jesus' name,


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Prayer: Being Anchored in Christ /Shane Claiborne

"A primary purpose of prayer is to impress on us the personality and character of Christ. We want to become like Jesus, so the life that we live is no longer ours but Christ living in us and through us.

Prayer is less about trying to get God to do something we want God to do and more about getting ourselves to do what God wants us to do and to become who God wants us to become. There are times when we speak, weep, groan, and shout at God. But there are also times when we simply sit in silence and are held by our Beloved. We remember the character of God, the fruit of the Spirit, and the incarnation of Jesus as he reveals to us what God is like with flesh on. And we pray that God's character will become our character. The monks have been known to say, "If your speaking doesn't add something beautiful to the silence, don't speak." For many of us in the high-paced, cluttered world of materialism and noise, silence is a way we can free up the space to listen to God.
In most of our lives, silence gets interrupted pretty quickly. Whether it's a knock at the door, a cry from the nursery, or thoughts in our own heads, something almost always breaks the silence we long for in contemplative prayer. It is tempting to give up-to say that silence is not possible in our contect or "I'm not cut out for this." But the wisom of those who've gone before us is helpful here. Teresa of Avila, who was distracted by her own thoughts in prayer, said she learned not to fight them but to let them come and go like waves in the sea, trusting that God was an anchor who could hold her through any storm.
Contemplation is about tending to the lines that anchor us in Christ. For Francis of Assisi, the San Daminano cross was one of those lines, serving as an icon to focus his prayer on Christ's love. it was in hours of prayer before this cross that he heard Jesus say, "Rebuild my church, which is in ruins," then he got up to start the most radical renewal movement of the Middle Ages.

Activisism that matters to the kingdom is always rooted in prayer. If we want to join God in changing the world, the place to begin is on our knees before the cross.
          ~ Shane Claiborne, Common Prayer: Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals,p. 424-425

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for guiding us safely through a new day. We love you, honor you and praise you. With all our hearts we seek the peace that only you can provide, the peace that surpasses all understanding and permeates our souls when we reach to you in trust and devotion finding you in the present moment centered in silence. We ask that your Spirit guide us in revealing new ways to  experience your love in deeper dimensions and reveal to the eyes of our hearts truths and insights. Help us to shed illusions and attachments that bind us to this world instead of you. Help us shed our old selves and live in our new identity in Christ. May we bring you all glory and honor.

In Jesus' name,


Saturday, February 12, 2011

God in Strange Places

"I have experienced the Cross to mean mercy and not cruelty, truth and not deception: that the news of the truth and love of Jesus is indeed the true good news, but in our time it speaks out in strange places."
~ Thomas Merton, A Life in Letters


Have you witnessed the love and truth of Jesus in an unexpected place? Perhaps a random act of kindness and compassion when you least expected?  If so...please share :)....

After reading this quote I was contemplating on whether or not I had come across a time of compassion and love, perhaps from a stranger, in an unexpected place. An experience I had quite some years ago kept rising to the surface of my thoughts. I'm not sure if it's exactly the kind of experience the quote is referring to, but it's one I thought of that displayed a random act of empathy and compassion... and would love to hear any stories that any of you might be inspired to share.

 My daughter and I were driving home on a night where the sky seemed to split wide open, spilling forth it's fury.  It had quickly began to accumulate, leaving deep puddles in it's wake where hydroplaning was certain if a cautious speed wasn't used. I could hardly make out reality beyond the interior of my car as looking around out of any window, even the driver's for the most part was a blur, an abstract painting best entitled "chaotic watery mess!". We were nearing the top of a hill on a busy intersection right outside our state's capital leading to the heart of the city. We lived on the outskirts and we were only about two miles from our house. My car just died. Right on the very top of the hill at the intersection in a very precarious location.

I was afraid of the car getting hit. My daughter was strapped into her car seat at the time and only about ten months old. Cars were speeding by, trying to beat the light and not get caught behind me and narrowly missing hitting our car in the process. I decided that there was a store about a half a mile off up the road and I would try to walk to it with my daughter. 

I soon found myself walking in a near tropical storm with a baby in my arms praying that we'd get to our destination soon and find ourselves in the warmth of the grocery store, to be safely picked up by my husband at some point. My daughter started to fidget and protest, crying softly in my arms. I kept hushing her, patting her back reassuringly as  Istepped carefully, wading through puddles, being splashed by cars passing by.

Out of the blue a mini-van pulled up to us. It was a young mother with a child in her back seat. She had recognized our plight and had seen that we had a real need to get out of the elements and the paths of cars. Even though there was a shoulder to the road, the road was busy, it wouldn't have been one I would have walked on for recreation. 

Where we lived used to be inhabited almost exclusively by old polish immigrants who had settled there after coming to America but now crime was becoming more and more of an issue. There were many hard working individuals from different cultures moving in but it was also experiencing a steady rise in crime.  Our cars were broken into twice while living there!  People were polite, but very few neighbors really new each other or trusted each other for that matter. A passing wave was as much community as we experienced, talking was just about non-existent. 

 This mother had let her guard down knowing that I was in a moment of desperation. She let compassion guide her and when I hopped eagerly in her van, finding warmth once again, I saw kindness in her eyes as I allowed myself to blindly trust her, my child clinging to me in my arms.  I never even got her name but I've always thought of how beautiful it was that she was willing to have the courage and stop and help a mother and baby stuck in a storm when everyone else just passed by. She drove us home and I remember as we got out of her van thanking her profusely, knowing if it wasn't for her, I didn't know at what hour we would have returned to our home. Now I could change our wet clothes into dry ones and put my daughter safely to bed.

 Heavenly Father,

We thank you for your mercy and grace. For your steadfast love and compassion. May we bring your love and truth everywhere we go, whether it be to work or the grocery store. May people see the light of Christ when they look in our eyes. May your light vanquish darkness and resonate in every corner of the world, however likely or unlikely. Help us to discover all of life's circumstances as an opportunity for bringing you glory and reaching out to others in love. May we reach out to others with boldness and courage, breaking down boundaries and stereotypes. May your love triumph over fear, over cynicism, over apathy.

In the name of Jesus,


Friday, February 11, 2011

This Moment: A Friday Tradition

{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A photo – no words – capturing a moment in time. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.

A moment you want to pause, savour and remember.

“This Moment” is a ritual found on Life inspired by the Wee Man adopted from SouleMama which was introduced to me by Sarah-Jane.

This is my moment!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mindfully Approaching Scripture

"Praying scripture is not judged by how much you read but by the way in which you read. If you read quickly, it will benefit you little. You will be like a bee that merely skims the surface of a flower. Instead, in this new way of reading with prayer, you must become as the bee that penetrates into the depths of the flower. You plunge deeply within to remove its deepest nectar."

                                        ~ Madame Guyon, 7th French mystic

I have to admit there was once a time when I approached God's Word rather causally. Flipping through it randomly, reading passages that I hardly remembered afterwards and feeling content that at least I had opened my Bible in the first place! I never really had a moment of insight, a moment where I thought God was revealing something to me, a moment where peace descended upon me and my heart opened up to embrace the reality of God and where I experienced the realization of the fullness of His glory.  If anything the Bible seemed kind of...well...bland and disconnected to my modern experience. I hate to say it, but in such a state as I once found myself in, I viewed certain books, especially in the Old Testament, as well...obsolete! (I reluctantly write these words because they are not easy ones to admit!...but somehow I don't think I'm alone.)

God has an amazing way of revealing in time His truths to the believer and when the heart is ripe, the harvest will come. I suppose my heart wasn't ripe during those earlier times.  If I was given the seeds of mindfulness to plant into my practice and approach I am afraid they probably would have only sprouted a bit and then wilted. No, it wasn't until I was already aware and deep into the practice of mindfulness meditation for quite sometime, not even considering or thinking of incorporating the practice towards reading and praying scripture, when I read Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline. It was then when I saw the connection.  I have found this practice truly transforming. And honestly, mindfulness applied to anything, whether it be washing the dishes, taking a shower, walking in the woods or meditating, enriches one's experience opening up whole new dimensions of experiencing reality. I encourage all to explore this approach and apply it!

To experience the present more fully is a beautiful way of watching life and reality unfold itself before you. To experience Scripture more fully and plunge into the Word of God and enter the depths of its riches is an experience that leaves one changed and charged with the glory of God. 

As Madam Guyon shares with us, Scripture is unique and shouldn't be read in a trite and flighty manner. Richard Foster supports her view of this and shares his own with these words:

We cannot read Scripture the way we read the New York Times or an article on Wikipedia. The Bible is not susceptible to skimming, to summarizing, to speed-reading; there is a fundamental difference between Google and the gospel. Scripture is deep, rich, complex, and multi-layered. It speaks through nuances and details. It yields its fruit slowly and gently. (Renovare, November 2008 - Vol.15, No. 3)
When we take a few moments before reading Scripture to quiet our minds, pray and then open the holy words of God with a heart leaning forward with eager expectancy, ready to dive into the words and truths they contain, God blesses us for coming to Him with eager and seeking hearts. To be mindful simply means to be fully present. To not be distracted by wayward thoughts that oftentimes compete for our attention and muddle our thoughts, obscuring clarity and hindering perception. May we all be inspired by Madame Guyon's illustration and approach God's Word as bees digging for the sweet and living nectar of God's truths and in doing so, be touched and transformed by His amazing presence and reality.

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for safely bringing us into a new day. We know there are factors in our lives that worry us, pleasantly distract us and otherwise take our attention off from experiencing you in the present moment. May we learn to shed ourselves from such illusions, for nothing compares to your Glory and your Word and the life it offers. When we open the scriptures we ask you to help us be fully present and plunge into its depths. May it refresh and restore us, giving us hope and strength, light and new truths and a deeper sense of compassion and love so that we may, every time our Bible closes, be more and more transformed by your love. May we take the blessings and truths you give us and use them as tools to bring glory to your great name and reflect your love and light to a dim and dark world. May we shatter the darkness that surrounds us with your love and draw others closer to you.

In Jesus' name,

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Freedom From Anxiety

"How free you can become if you stop worrying about things that don't concern you! The first thing for a contemplative is to mind his own business, and all care of yourself, physically, materially, is no longer your business. It is in the hands of somebody else-God."
                   ~ Thomas Merton, Entering the Silence, p. 68

I had a really heavy heart this morning. I'm experiencing one of those times where there seems to be more obstacles than solutions. In such a state I lost sight of Jesus and stumbled, not showing the patience and compassion I should to those around me.

As I was praying, four words kept rising in my heart, "Come to the Cross."

We can always come to Jesus and lay down our burdens and troubles at the foot of the cross.  The cross is a symbol of God's love and mercy towards us. It's where His grace was poured out on mankind in the form of Jesus' blood. Our God  was willing to sacrifice His only son for our sins, that's how precious we are to Him. So really, with a God of steadfast love and faithfulness, does anxiety have a place in the heart of a believer?

I love Thomas Merton's quote that is at the beginning of this post.  He brings up the point that there's freedom when we don't let anxiety have a foothold in our lives. God wants to liberate us from our attachments, liberate us from our illusions, liberate us from our own egos so that the only thing made manifest in our lives is God's glory. When we shine with the revelation of God's glory all other things fade away and we bring light and love to other people's lives, and our own, helping to reveal and make manifest God's Kingdom here on earth.

To trust God completely over our circumstances reveals a humble heart of faith. It's not an easy thing to do, a state of the heart that is spurred on by the Spirit. Certainly one I was having trouble with this morning...but a question that popped into my head was this: Is it more fruitful to trust God, maker of all existence, with our burdens or ourselves (who most likely had a big role in bringing our own burdens about)? I don't know about you...but I'm laying my burdens at the foot of God's throne and trusting Him!

As I prayed to God about all of this and then meditated God blessed me again with His peace. Through obedience God's blessings are poured out. May we never cease to praise the God who heals, the God who saves and the God who lifts our burdens from us and brings our perspectives back to where they should be-focused on Jesus!

This morning I was looking up some scripture regarding anxiety, I'd like to share some verses, may you be blessed by them:

Luke 12:6-7
6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Luke 12: 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Matthew 5:31-34 "Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' "For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. "Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 Matthew 6:27  "And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span?
Let's find our rest in God and be restored, so we can be more effective servants:

Matthew 11:28-30 "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. "For My yoke is easy, and My load is light."

Heavenly Father,

We praise and love you. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Forgive us when we lose sight of you and instead dwell on our earthly circumstances. We pray that you give us the strength and insight, the direction, to overcome the obstacles that we have in life and may we always put you Sovereign over it all.  We pray that you ease the suffering that we sometimes face- very real oppression and afflictions, may your love and glory be seen in our lives as you bring your light and mercy to us. We ask that you restore us and renew us so that we may bring Your message of hope and love even more effectively to others.

In Jesus' name,


Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Gifts of the Spirit

"For my feet your holy Word is a lantern, a light that shows me the way forward; as this morning star rises upon us we understand the great gifts that God's Spirit has certainly promised to us, and in these we have our hope."

                            ~ Lazarus Spengler

I thought that quote was beautiful. For sure God's Word provides light for our paths, helping us to stay a steady course and helping sanctify and purify us, transforming our hearts more and more into the likeness of Jesus.  I was going to proceed listing some blessings that God rains down upon believers and some of God's promises that are found in the Psalms. But then I read it again. It says the "gifts that God's spirit has promised us." So I thought I'd do a little digging and when I did I found myself in Isaiah.

Isaiah 11:1-3

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
   from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
   the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
   the Spirit of counsel and of might,
   the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

There are seven gifts the Holy Spirit blesses us with which the verses reveal. Listed in the catechism of the Catholic church and as defined by Saint Thomas Aquinas, they are:

  • Wisdom: With the gift of wisdom, we see God at work in our lives and in the world. For the wise person, the wonders of nature, historical events, and the ups and downs of our lives take on deeper meaning. The matters of judgment about the truth, and being able to see the whole image of God. We see God as our Father and other people with dignity. Lastly being able to see God in everyone and everything everywhere.
  • Understanding: In understanding, we comprehend how we need to live as a follower of Jesus Christ. A person with understanding is not confused by all the conflicting messages in our culture about the right way to live. The gift of understanding perfects a person's speculative reason in the apprehension of truth. It is the gift whereby self-evident principles are known, Aquinas writes.[4]
  • Counsel (Right Judgment): With the gift of counsel/right judgment, we know the difference between right and wrong, and we choose to do what is right. A person with right judgment avoids sin and lives out the values taught by Jesus. The gift of truth that allows the person to respond prudently, and happily to believe our Christ the Lord
  • Fortitude (Courage): With the gift of fortitude/courage, we overcome our fear and are willing to take risks as a follower of Jesus Christ. A person with courage is willing to stand up for what is right in the sight of God, even if it means accepting rejection, verbal abuse, or even physical harm and death. The gift of courage allows people the firmness of mind that is required both in doing good and in enduring evil, especially with regard to goods or evils that are difficult, just like Joan of Arc did.
  • Knowledge: With the gift of knowledge, we understand the meaning of God. The gift of knowledge is more than an accumulation of facts.
  • Piety (Reverence): With the gift of reverence, sometimes called piety, we have a deep sense of respect for God and the church. A person with reverence recognizes our total reliance on God and comes before God with humility, trust, and love. Piety is the gift whereby, at the Holy Spirit's instigation, we pay worship and duty to God as our Father, Aquinas writes.
  • Fear the Lord (Wonder and Awe): With the gift of fear of the Lord we are aware of the glory and majesty of God. A person with wonder and awe knows that God is the perfection of all we desire: perfect knowledge, perfect goodness, perfect power, and perfect love. This gift is described by Aquinas as a fear of separating oneself from God. He describes the gift as a "filial fear," like a child's fear of offending his father, rather than a "servile fear," that is, a fear of punishment. Also known as knowing God is all powerful. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7) because it puts our mindset in its correct location with respect to God: we are the finite, dependent creatures, and He is the infinite, all-powerful Creator.

What beautiful gifts! As we dive deeper in God's Word and embrace and practice a regular prayer and devotional life we discipline ourselves in cultivating each one more fully. God's Word is essential when it comes to receiving such gifts. In each description, I see the Word as invaluable and central towards receiving the truths and insights, the courage and reverence, the Spirit wishes to bless us with. May we be lovers of God's Word!

I have to admit, I am totally in love with the Word of God. Every time I open it up something new seems to rise from the pages and blesses me with a new insight or a new sense of hope. I read it nearly everyday. There are days though that I find passing where I have not opened the Word and my soul failed to feast upon the spiritual manna God provides us with. Life is full of obstacles and distractions and I suppose what is important for me, and maybe some others, is to work on the area of self-discipline.

 I've heard it suggested to pick a particular time of day to read the Scriptures, which I hadn't done until recently. Now, every morning, even if it's just one psalm or a chapter from the book I'm currently reading, I dive into it. Yet, even using this system, there are still days that pass where the Word is neglected! One of my kids might wake up and not feel well in the morning or a peaceful sleep might blanket our household and leave us waking up later than usual in the morning...when that happens...there's still a lunch to pack my daughter, dogs to be walked, responsibilities that need to be executed in a timely fashion which I can't neglect and then the rest of the day is carried away like a wave, by other things.

So my question to you, my beautiful readers is this:  Is there a routine or way that you have adopted in your devotional life that helps you in reading the Bible regularly everyday? Are you a morning scripture reader? Perhaps you take your Bible with you on your lunch break while at work? Perhaps in the evening when the rest of your house is quiet and dreaming? Or do you do it whenever a chance arises (which is how I had done it for a long time until recently)? 

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for blessing us with Your Holy Word which, by the workings of Your Spirit, awakens within us a spirit filled with awe and reverence at the wonders of your works and produces within us a joy beyond joys in being in Your infinite presence and realizing Your amazing and infinite glory, treasuring it above all things. May we approach Your Word with expectancy. When we open the pages may we know the words for the gifts they truly are for mankind and expect to be changed by them. And as you bless us may we bless others, being a light shining in the darkness of the world. Helping to bring warmth and love to our families, to our communities and to the world.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.