Good timing.

Good timing.

Google the term 'photo bombed' and you're sure to see an endless amount of images where a photo becomes a story or even a punch line. Some images are accidental, many are funny, but all are well-timed. 'Photo bomb' is a good commentary for how God shows up in our lives in unexpected ways. Most would believe that He's present and cares. We experience comfort and provision and answers to prayers. But so many of life's circumstances feel more hellish than heavenly. And yet, God's always present. My hope is that we can train our eyes to see glimpses of a good God in the backdrop of everyday life.

When Jesus describes heaven on earth, it often looks more subtle than grand. It’s a like a seed…yeast that works through dough…or a field of wheat mixed with weeds. He used everyday and ordinary images to offer a glimpse of the world God intended. Jesus wants to change our perspective that heaven is a realm we can experience today, not just when we die. And he invites us to be co-creators in a revolution of generosity & compassion, hospitality & forgiveness.

Since Easter, we’ve distributed $500 worth of HEB gift cards and $1000 worth of $50 cash envelopes.  We want to be a catalyst for compassion by finding opportunities to encourage others. However, this is also a chance to practice Renewal by yielding to the Spirit’s prompts and turning toward opportunity. Can’t wait to hear how you capture moments of heaven on earth – Salvation has come!

What's your story?

What's your story?

Creating a New Normal requires, well, a new approach, a different practice. This faith experiment is about finding simple opportunities to bring encouragement to others. However, it's also about learning to respond to the prompts of the Spirit. The Rhythm of Renewal is about increasing one's awareness of the presence of God. The more we respond, the more sensitive our hearts become. It’s how we draw near to God and sow seeds of heaven on earth.

If you received an HEB gift card or $50 envelope, you have a story to tell. Perhaps it’s a story YET to be told. Either way, I want to encourage you to pray. Ask neighbors. Talk with friends. Listen for ways YOU can help, bring hope, and support people living in our city. The resurrection means new life is available, and begins with each of us. So far,

  • A co-worker of Laurel’s, in the midst of divorce legal fees, received $50 for gas money, so that she could drive to the coast to visit grandchild and son for their birthday weekend. Another Tribe mate leveraged their $50 so that she could show up with a gift.

  • Jess and Kristin organized a brunch with ESL moms – all living on food stamps. They invited Shannon & Natalie to ply their trade a dietitians to offer introduction on healthy eating, shopping on a budget, and supplements that make a big difference for aches and allergies.

Please come ready to share your story at Tribe weekend on June 1-2. Just start with prayer, look for opportunity, and imagine if we all practiced yielding to God’s Spirit? That could be a transformational story. It feels like a New Normal. Get ‘ur done, friends…in Austin as it is in Heaven!

 

A Conditional Guarantee

A Conditional Guarantee

The very nature of faith means there are no guarantees. We can believe God’s Word. We can trust in God’s redemption, celebrate mercy, and hope in prayer. But guarantees in this life are hard to come by…Except, trouble. Jesus said in John 16, “I have told you these things, so that in me YOU MAY have peace.  In this world YOU WILL have trouble.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.” That’s right, In Christ…you may/might/possibly/by chance experience peace. BUT, ‘in this world, you WILL have trouble’. Honestly, I didn’t need Scripture to tell me something I already know. 

Here’s the beauty: If trouble is guaranteed…and peace is available, then is serves to reason God is already present in the midst of this world’s struggle.

Heaven is not simply a place we go when we die. Rather, Jesus said that heaven is here and now. Eternity has already begun. It’s like we live in a field of wheat but there are also weeds all around us. And, as the Parable goes, Jesus was adamant the field NOT be uprooted for fear of losing the good.

When we talk about heaven on earth, we’re talking about, sometimes small, ways of restoring the world as God intended through ordinary but attentive ways. When we celebrate the resurrection at Easter, we embrace the promise of “do over’s” and the chance to begin again…and again. What we find is that attempts to bring light, encouragement, support, relief, and help is Just. Not. Easy. Nor convenient. Nor comfortable. And often uninspired and unrecognized. Yet, God is in the Hard and the Good, which means we can experience peace in the midst of this world’s trouble. So, sow seeds! This is how Jesus described the kingdom of heaven.

Over the last two weeks, we’ve distributed $500 worth of HEB gift cards and $1000 worth of $50 envelopes. On one level, we want to experiment with compassion and generosity by finding opportunities to encourage others. However, this is also a chance to practice Renewal by yielding to the Spirit’s prompts and turning toward opportunity. Can’t wait to hear your stories of new life! Welcome to the resurrection! This is Church. 

In the Hands of the People.

In the Hands of the People.

The resurrection means that New Life is available for everyone for all time. The chance to begin again, heal, overcome, bounce back, retrace your steps can be part of our human experience. Like prodigals returning home, we have a chance to create a new normal for ourselves and for others. 

In response to New Normal, we raised $1500 by ‘fasting’ normal and everyday expenses. With those savings, we distributed $500 worth of HEB gifts cards on Easter. The idea is this: The resurrection means new life is possible for all of us. Jesus said, Kingdom of heaven is like a seed…” so yesterday we passed out ‘seed money’—$50 to every family, couple or individual in hopes of discovering ways to sow seeds. In Christ, we can bring encouragement and support to others. It’s not simply about finding a ‘needy’ situation but looking for an opportunity to ‘seed’ heaven on earth.

Even though new life is possible, it’s not automatic. Our Rhythms invite us to practice a living and resurrected faith! Renewal is the Rhythm to encourage a growing awareness of God’s presence. We become spiritually alive the more we yield to ‘turn’ to the prompts of the Holy Spirit. The reason we practice Generosity or Compassion is a way to see how God is the Source of all that we have. Perhaps this practice might ignite a new way of seeing our own resources and everyday opportunities to ‘seed the kingdom of heaven”.  This is just another way we can Apprentice or share what following Christ means with those closest. If you find an opportunity that requires more than $50, find Community with friends and Tribe mates—The money is in the hands of the people!

Life in Light of the Resurrection.

Life in Light of the Resurrection.

How do we live in light of the resurrection? How ‘bout bringing a lil’ life to another? Our grand total from the New Normal Lent savings is $1516.00! Well done!

Here comes the fun part where we attempt to offer encouragement and support to those around us.

Pray. Ask neighbors. Talk with friends. Pray some more. Listen for ways YOU can help, bring hope, encourage, and support people around you. Is there a family at your kids' school? Is there an immigrant we can sponsor at the community college? Who needs medicine? A single mom need car repair? A foster family could use a season pass to something fun? House cleaning? Do we go buy a bunch of school supplies for the fall? 

On Easter, we passed out $500 worth of HEB gift cards in hopes of seeing an opportunity, learning a name, and hearing story. We ALL wanna hear that story!  Seriously, WE NEED YOUR HELP! I want all of us to celebrate the resurrection in the most tangible ways possible!! We have AT LEAST $1000 to invest and bring Light to darkness. So, please, share your ideas and opportunities within the next 2 weeks!

Thank you for being part of the this beautiful experiment in faith, community, and mission!  Heaven on Earth…it’s what we live for!!

A Sound Prayer

A Sound Prayer

Nikos Kazantzakis won 9 Nobel prizes in literature. You might be familiar with this work from, Zorba the Greek or The Last Temptation of Christ. In a lessor known book entitled, The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises he painted a gritty but beautiful picture of allegiance to Christ. 

“My prayer is not the whimpering of a beggar nor a confession of love. Nor is it the trivial reckoning of a small tradesman: Give me and I shall give you. My prayer is the report of a soldier to his general: this is what I did today, this is how I fought to save the entire battle in my own sector, these are the obstacles I found, this is how I plan to fight tomorrow. My God and I are horsemen, galloping in the burning sun or under the drizzling rain. Pale, starving, but un-subdued, we ride and converse. ‘Leader!’ I cry. He turns his face towards me, and I shudder to confront his anguish. Our love for each other is rough and ready, we sit at the same table, we drink the same wine in this low tavern of life.”

I had to read that a few times—Struggle is assumed, opposition at every turn, yet unwavering loyalty. SO, What should prayer sound like?

Minimally, it can be more than a spiritual grocery list in hopes of God providing needs and wants. It can also be more than a last ditch plea only after you’ve done everything humanly possible. Though, asking is invited. Gratitude, confession, and praise are also beautiful and critical forms to fill out our prayers.

As I was thinking about what prayer should sound like, a friend offered a beautiful image of a baby in his mother’s arms. The child does not yet know a single word but already understands how to give and receive love, understands presence, understands intimacy. Think about that. Intimacy is a growing awareness of God’s presence and it doesn’t even require words. Silence can be renewing and comforting when we realize that God is near.

Lent invites us to voluntarily give up normal activity or items for the spiritual purpose. The hope is to re-sensitize our hearts. Lent is also about focusing our attention on God’s voice, revealed in His Word. If you need a guide, download the ReadScripture App and begin daily reading with Jesus & the Kingdom. The videos are outstanding and sure to help understand God’s Word better.

Hope is rising. Easter is coming!

Becoming.

Becoming.

My uncle David is a bit of a Renaissance man - bright, resourceful, well traveled, with an array of interests. He’s one of the people I like to listen to ‘think out loud”. I once asked him an open-ended question, “What Advice would you give to an 18-yr old leaving home?” Without hesitation, “I’d say, ‘Manage who you become!’Life’s like a train station and opportunities are moving in and out. You need to choose opportunities that cultivate health, faith, education, interests, character, and disciplines. For instance, you don’t need to worry about all A’s on exams. If you get a B but understand the material, it’s okay! Don’t over-emphasize academics and miss out on other valuable opportunities to develop”. Impressed with his insight, I pushed further, “What advice to a young couple for marriage?” Again, without hesitation, he said plainly, “Oh, it might be too late.” What?!?!  He continued, “If you haven’t managed who you want to become, it’ll be a difficult few years of undoing and re-learning.”

Like a good artist, Paul paints in a similar contrast: “Be very careful, then, how you live…not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity” (Eph.5:15-18). In other words, the foolish person has no strategy, plan, or practice for life and faith. Without a plan, one will only miss opportunity to live for God in an evil environment. He’s instructing them on how to live in light of their new identity. To do so, he talks about being wise and making the most of every opportunity.

Here’s where it gets interesting: In Exodus 31:2-5 we find God’s people saved from slavery in Egypt. God’s forming a covenant to live in light of their new spiritual identity. “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri…3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.

Did you catch it??? The basis for wisdom in the bible is not IQ or how smart you are. You don’t need advanced degrees to be an artisan! You just have to be good. And to get good, you do it a lot!  In this case, God is animating a skill set through this guy.

Regardless of your day job, Wisdom is a skill you cultivate by bringing potential out of something.  Apparently, God takes great joy investing His personal presence to inspire us to create great things! The Spirit is the bible’s way of describing the personal rapport you hold with Jesus, we can sense him in our midst, especially as we bless others with our skill. We’re challenged to ‘Manage who we become’ with the Spirit’s help! The more we respond, yield, &/or turn to the prompts of God’s Spirit, the more our lives are transformed. That sounds like heaven on earth. That sounds like the beginnings of a new normal.

Think 'fast' for Lent

Think 'fast' for Lent

Ever set out inspired by Lent only to see it become an UN-inspired chore? What if you had small ways, each day, to be reminded of Hope? And, what If you could go through Lent as family & with friends? Sounds like beginnings of a New Normal.

Let’s iron out a couple of ideas of what fasting is and is not. Christian fasting isn’t a way to suffer for God or to demonstrate how devout we are. Maybe more importantly, it’s not a way of trying harder in hopes of getting God to respond. Rather, Christian fasting is intentionally withholding something we’d normally enjoy in hopes of seeking a greater awareness of the presence of God.

Because of the resurrection, new life is promised but growth is never automatic! In creating a new normal, we’re using Lent to give up normal items and activities to save a little money. Then, we’ll find ways to practice generosity, compassion, and bring Life to others.

Lent is also about seeking God’s presence. Christian fasting is about growing in Wisdom. If you don’t have a devotional plan, download the App ReadScripture and begin daily reading & watching videos starting with Jesus & the Kingdom. 

Christian fasting is Practicing. It’s the indirect effort that gives us access to something we can’t try or make happen on our own. So use this time to, perhaps, create a new habit. And, Christian fasting is about Surrender. It is a voluntary “making ourselves weak” so that we can know the strength and power of God (2 Cor 12:9-10).

The power of community is when a whole group of people does something together. You can start at any time. All monies to be collected on Sunday, April 14, 2019. 

Easter is coming! SPOILER ALERT: He’s Alive!

A Normal Idea

A Normal Idea

We often think of fasting as an extreme form of spirituality, like it’s reserved for the ’spiritual green berets”. In reality, we all “fast” all the time! We fast sleep, workouts, quality time with friends & family, returning messages, fried foods, favorite hobbies, and doing our taxes. The difference is that our sacrifice is often for personal gain, busyness, or procrastination. Christian fasting is a voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of spiritual focus. So, what if we were more thoughtful about a daily offering as we prepare our hearts for Easter? What if we had small ways, each day, to remind us of our faith, hope, & love for God?

A faith Experiment for Lent & Loving More. Consider what simple ways you can save money for during Lent. Keep a running total of how much you save from your usual spending habits and operating budget. At the end, we’ll pool our savings and announce our grand total on Easter Sunday. Since the resurrection offers new life, we’ll leverage funds together to bring life, care, and compassion to others!

It’s been said that forty days is enough time to create a new habit. What if this experiment could also affect the way we see God’s provision in our life and also create a new normal?

For ideas on simple ways to save and participate, check out our Lent Experiment. You can (re)start at any time and can turn in money each week but all monies to be collected on Sunday, April 14, 2019. Because Hope is rising & New Life is a promise for all!

Beyond Circumstances

Beyond Circumstances

Adolph Eichmann was the mastermind behind of Hitler’s genocide against the Jews.  He was finally captured in Argentina in 1960 and brought to trial 15 years after the war. Among the witnesses called to testify against Eichmann was a small, haggard man named Yehiel Dinur. He had survived brutal torture in the death camp at Auschwitz. Dinur entered the courtroom and he stared at the man who had presided over the slaughter of millions, including many of Dinur’s own friends.

As the eyes of the victim met those of the mass murderer, the courtroom fell silent. Then, suddenly, Dinur literally collapsed to the floor, sobbing violently. Was he overcome by hatred? By memories of the stark evil that Eichmann had committed? No. As Dinur explained later in a 60 Minutes interview, what struck him was that Eichmann did not look like an evil monster at all…he looked like an ordinary person…Just like anyone else. In that moment, Dinur said, “I realized that evil is endemic to the human condition—that any one of us could commit the same atrocities.” In a remarkable conclusion, Dinur said: “Eichmann is in all of us.” In other words, we’re all equally flawed and yet that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Compassion is recognizing a person’s needs that’s merely different than our own.

Salvation. Is. The. Same. Way. 

In Ephesians, Paul is in jail – by his own people – for making salvation available to non-Jews. Nevertheless, he doesn’t seem mad in the least bit, maybe because Paul didn’t see himself as any better. He doesn’t pray for circumstances to be better nor easier, simply “asking that the God may give you the Spirit of wisdom & revelation, so that you may know him better.” (1:17)

Paul shares how the Gospel changes everything—“…That may you have the power to understand, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (3:18). We don’t have to be defined by wealth, mistakes, luck, regret, broken relationships, class, or culture.

As we understand who we are in light of who God is, we emerge with a new identity. We are hidden in Christ, not buried by circumstances. Faith is knowing God’s present, able to redeem all things. As we seek to make amends or give up control, it begins with experiencing how deep & wide, how long & high of God’s love. That’s change from the inside out.

A Storied Life.

A Storied Life.

The power of story captures even the most distracted of us! We cheer for underdogs and relate to ‘against all odds’. We love the timing of dialogue in the heat-of-a-moment. We savor (& binge) on story that paint pictures, weaves emotion, and invests us to outcomes. A screenwriter friend described what makes a gripping story is the development of a character. “To be interesting…”, he says as he leans forward over his coffee, “a person needs to go through something... something interesting or intense. The difference between an ‘extra' and a principal actor is what we see when a character goes through challenge. It can be attractive or repulsive. Either way, it's what makes the story." 

God’s story in us, that is a living faith, develops the same way. We grow as we’re forced or required to endure. And the secret ingredient to transformation is the Holy Spirit present within us. Given our access to education, industry, healthcare, and line of credit…it doesn’t seem to require faith to put a roof over our heads and food on the table. To be sure, God graciously provides but it’s easy to see my success, determination, and common sense exclusively tied to my strength. Yet, faith unfolds when we CANNOT see a way we can humanly make it happen. Faith works when we respond to the prompts to help, give, stop, receive, or turn. Faith is about learning how to love another in a world full of self-promotion and preservation. And, in the midst struggle and prosperity, within the mundane and the busyness – faith lives when believe that God sees, loves, redeems and restores. 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws”. (Ez.36:26-27)

Here’s to our story becoming God’s Story and a Living Faith!

How Grace "Works".

How Grace "Works".

There’s a popular idea of karma that if a person can log in enough good, kind, or selfless acts it can tip some cosmic scale in one’s favor. BUT, if you’re a jerk and something bad happens then its poetic justice. It’s the idea that some force in the universe acts as the great equalizer.

Grace on the other hand doesn’t start or end with good outweighing the bad. Yet the danger of contrasting grace with our deeds is that it suggests that one is a positive and the other is a negative. What’s universally true is that grace AND works are irreplaceably needed!

Paul wrote to the young, multi-cultural church in Ephesus saying, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Eph.3:8-10, NLT)

Ephesus was renown for people making art of the Olympian goddess, Artemis. She was considered the daughter of Zeus and the temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The city was full of artisans and tradesmen whose income was creating art of the goddess. Here, Paul uses a play on words in describing grace…

Rather, than people making art out of god. Paul’s describes a God who makes art of people!!

Grace is about a God who comes to us NOT us striving toward Him. We’re saved BY grace FOR good works!  And being part of church should produce something in us. Most notably, Love & Good Works. God seeks to shape you into a masterpiece – to create beauty out of your circumstances as we draw near, love outwardly, trust that God sees the whole canvas.

Pray Anew.

Pray Anew.

Most people have some kind of internal dialogue with God. But prayers often go up like ‘Hail Mary’ passes – a last ditch effort for help. Other times, prayer’s a tool crisis management, which is totally fine and yet, there’s so much more to experience…

I love how Paul prays for the Ephesians. He doesn’t pray that things would go well, be safe, find better jobs…despite their difficulties. He bypasses any prayer for circumstances saying, “I keep asking that God may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better” (1:17).

I like to pray for answers, to get past, to solve, for ease. Paul prays that we might see and sense God’s presence in the midst of it. This is a radically different way to pray! It’s also the only way we can be transformed.

Paul doesn’t pray for circumstances, for them or him, even though he’s in jail. He prays for a quality of relationship to see God and experience Him in the midst of our success or challenges. Circumstances don’t tell the meaning of your life. Paul’s writing that the present state of your life is not final word! He prays that you would have the faith in the power of God to reverse your life into something new. The power of God – and our prayers – is not to underwrite our prosperity or dreams. It’s power to take the most tragic or regrettable, even prosperous or ideal experiences and—with Christ—experience His presence in this present age!

Happier New Year!

Happier New Year!

This month has a whole lotta ‘Happy’ well-wishing going on - ‘Happy New year…”, “Happy Birthday…(to my son)”, and “Happy Anniversary…(#24J)”. I love these cheerful blessings but I’m reminded of a friend describing a hard life lesson by sayin', "The road to happiness isn't always happy”. Hmm…

We often have expectations of something easier or better. Happiness gets tied to getting our way. Deep down, I think most understand success rarely comes easy. We have moments that satisfy yet so much of life requires perseverance as well as the right perspective. The right perspective sees the road to happiness involves both detours and bumps. It doesn't mean the path is a wrong one. Happiness simply doesn't happen without effort, help of others, and certainly a view that’s bigger than the moment.

The most volatile (& vulnerable) people are consumers. They/we live on a razor’s edge of expectations being met. It’s not wrong to consume BUT, if we’re not careful, we reduced to just Takers. If & when we approach friendship, marriage, family, our church, or our God as a consumer…We. Never. Grow. We simply cannot grow without an exchange, a give and take, which always requires us to learn how to love one another better. To grow is to love.

The un-doing of our consumer ways requires we learn to give. But constant giving can also leave a person feeling 'bankrupt'. A vision for giving starts with a desire to learn how to love. This is Christ’s love for us – as a servant. Sometimes giving comes with ease. Other times, it’s a work.  But, what if God’s road to happiness this year…at home…in relationship…and part of a faith family means we approach it more as a servant in hopes of growing in love? So, what’s one way you can grow as a servant this year?

 Cuz, on the far side happy is God’s love. Cheers to happiest of New Years & even all the effort!

Hearing God.

Hearing God.

The word “Listening” in Latin is ‘obedire'. 'Audire' means “listening with great attention”.

That’s where the word “obedience” comes from.  Jesus is called the obedient one, that means listener. 

The Latin word for not listening, being deaf, is “surdus”. If you are absolutely not listening, that is where the word “absurd” comes from. 

So it might be interesting to note that somebody who is not listening is leading an absurd life.

This insight comes from Henri Nouwen’s Advent Book, which offers really helpful guidance as we move through this sacred but Oh-So-Hectic Season. If this month feels more emotional, it’s because we all carry with us particular longings. Some are shaped by God, some not. But all of us long for EXACTLY what Christmas represents – God’s peace, hope, love, and Joy. And while Christ has come, the world – & all of us in it — are left longing for more. The Good News is that Hope has come. The more Good News is that we get to participate with God as agents of justice & mercy, compassion, generosity, & hope.

This month, we’re celebrating the anticipation of Christ’s coming with a series entitled, December Longings. Chances are the people closest to you are also longing for something more, different, and better. BE. LIGHT. Offer Hope, help, healing. Invite them into faith and community

Speaking of Heaven on Earth, in the last two months, Mission Hills has been able to leverage almost $3000 from the Good Neighbor Fund!! All people in significant need. Your attendance ($1 set aside for every person in worship attendance) and your attention to the needs in our city MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE! 

  • A single mom who’s husband is incarcerated, driving for Lift, needed car repair

  • Dental care for immigrant friend

  • Rental assistance for hospitalized & out of work burmese family 

  • Grandparents left to raise 9 grandkids that two drug-dependent daughters abandoned, 

  • ESL books for 10 students taught by our own people

Hope has come. You’re part of it. We all still carry longings but, when we bind together to practice and share a living faith, Christ Reigns!

Longing for...Something

Longing for...Something

There’s a question that comes up a lot in my dealing with people from all walks of life. It’s the same question asked in so many different ways. Some struggle to find the words to ask directly, perhaps unsure of what they’re longing for. Others are more direct. Some people need reassurance while others are simply curious. 

The question is this, “Why do you believe?”

It’s a worthy question. And here’s my answer: I don’t simply believe because I am afraid of going to hell and being separated from the Light & Love of God when I die. I don’t believe because of the evidence of the factual and extra biblical support of the resurrection.  And, I don’t merely believe because the evidence of the Gospel is logically superior (to me) to all other religions. Those are all really significant and legitimate reasons to believe that have led countless people to personal allegiance with Christ.

Ultimately, I believe is because…in a world full of greed & corruption, excess & scarcity…in a world full of cancer, abuse, wildfires, racism, flooding & famine…in a world full of broken relationships & loss of loved ones, Christ comes to me as says, “you never have to be alone”.

This is the priceless gift of the gospel. Jesus is saying, no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done. No matter your doubts, fears, mis-steps OR your strength, wit, & smarts...It doesn’t matter how alone you are, what decision you’re facing, or what you’re going to have face in the coming days…He promises, “I am with you.” That’s why I believe. The option to live alone is always on the table. But, I choose infinite companionship with Christ.

I think we all long to find meaning, if not the sacred, at Christmas. To that end, I want to guide us this month through Advent by addressing some of our universal longings. Longings for Peace…for Joy…for Hope…for Love. All of these came in the form of a Christ child 2000 years ago but the promise of Christmas is that God’s with us and he will return.

Visit our Resource Page for explanation and Advent resources to guide your home and hearts through your Christmas longings.

Outgrowing 'Okay'.

Outgrowing 'Okay'.

In his book, How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins frames an event with profound meaning. In August of 2002, he and his wife went for an impressive run in the mountains near Aspen, Colorado. They began at altitude of 8000 feet and would ascend to 13,000 feet! Running a trail through trees at 11,000 feet, he owns the fact that he’s not the runner his wife is and starts to walk. She powers on. As he emerges from trees, he can see her red sweatshirt far out in front, above the tree line, ascending up the switchbacks. In that moment, she was a picture of complete strength. However, only two months later she’d be diagnosed with cancer and require a double mastectomy. Just when she looked like a picture of health, she was already carrying the cancer.

It seems that the criteria we use to determine our own health will impact the way we see our need for help & seek the cure that God alone can provide.

When asked, we’re so quick to say, “I’m good” or “fine” but this often reveals the criteria we use to evaluate our own health. I’m okay because there’s money in the bank…I’ve got my health…I’ve got fun plans this weekend…started dating. Or, I’m fine because I got two masters degrees…an enlightened world view…recently lost 10lbs…my kids are safe…I donate, volunteer, etc.

It doesn’t require a big leap of faith to believe God has different criteria in regards to our health. The Apostle Paul said, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us SO THAT in him we might become the righteousness of God”. In other words, that we might display to a desperate, anxious world a living Christ—Hope, generosity, joy, compassion coursing through your veins and pouring out your lips. We reflect it in how one stewards their blessing and time so that the reality of God is made known.

Practicing the presence of God is effort yet always produces health. For ages, the people of God practiced ‘fixed time’ prayers – morning & evening – in order to maintain perspective, renew their hearts, leverage their blessings and opportunities each day.

More than sound waves entering your ear, The Shema calls the people of God to listen and obey…Because real listening takes effort and action! In your quiet moments with God each day, try taking action with these questions and practice the presence of God all day, each day:

…How attentive are you to follow what you do know God desires?

…How sensitive are you to listen and respond to the prompts of God’s Spirit?

…How do you remember God’s faithfulness, provision, grace, guidance, and care?

…What are you learning from humbling circumstances? Do you have moments that you feel out of control, inadequate, dependent, lonely, or uncertain? These moments help us NOT forget the Lord.

 

 

I'm all ears.

I'm all ears.

If you’re a parent, how well do your kids listen (…the first time)? If you’re married, how well does your spouse hear? At work, do you feel heard by your boss? Hearing is such a basic human instinct yet actual listening seems like an art form. Faith and relationship thrive when we’re able to hear and respond but it’s just not always that easy.

I vividly remember sitting in a booth with Sam Earp. At 68, he’d been a pastor, professor, and missionary but due to his wife’s dementia, Sam was now providing her full time care. But he still loved to make time for tired pastors with big worries. We were talking about prayer, specifically hearing from God. I was frustrated with not hearing from God when Sam relayed this story.

He had just finished bathing his wife, putting her diaper on, and getting her dressed when he got a whiff of a foul smell. Realizing she had just messed her pants, he takes her clothes back off to clean her up. As she’s standing there, she goes again right on the bathroom floor. In that moment, with a tear rolling down his cheek and the emotion still fresh, he describes how he turns to God with a loud voice, “I’ve had it! I can’t take it!! Can you hear me?!?!”

I start to offer my condolences, “Sam, I’m so sorry…” But, he interrupts, “David, God continues asking the same question of us, “Can you hear me?!”  He reminds me how God speaks in suffering as much as prosperity. Struggle isn’t God’s punishment but an invitation to trust, express our need, and see God is near. He had my attention. I was all ears. Simply put, we grow by listening.

The Shema is the centerpiece of Hebrew daily morning and evening prayer. Shema enables us to practice the presence of God. More than sound waves entering your ear, Shema calls the people of God to listen and obey. Because real listening takes effort and action.

All transformation comes about as a response to revelation. It’s our response that leads to transformation. So…What is God saying? What are you hearing? How might you respond? And, whom do you share what you’re hearing and supposed to do?

Get a clue.

Get a clue.

I have a vivid memory of the morning I woke to an excited newish dog in our home. We were both staring at each other in the kitchen like, “you don’t get it, do you?” So, I let her out the back door thinking she has to go potty. She obediently steps outside only to turn around with a look like, “I just woke up, you’re already putting me out.” So I invite her back in and fill her food bowl.  No interest.  At this point (and this isn’t new), she’s sitting by the back door as I’m making breakfast. She’s often undecided about where she wants to be. But I refuse to play her game of indecision. I’m ignoring her because she had her chance. But she didn’t leave the back door, which is in plain view of the kitchen counter. After a few pants and whines, I heard the unmistakable sound-from-the-depths of Throw Up!?  Adding insult to injury, I look up to see a large pile she also deposited. The only thing worse than a dog pooping in your house is a dog having a problem at both ends! Ugh!! Oh, the learning curve of relationships!! Obviously, there was some messaging that I was both unaware and resistant to picking up.

Sometimes…success isn’t getting just what you want. And, failure isn’t getting what you didn’t want. With our dog, I wanted to establish boundaries, discipline, and healthy expectations about who’s in charge. I got what I wanted AND I got a mess to clean up—Hardly a success. I didn’t want sensitivity training or a lesson on being me being an Alpha male. Yet, I had a teachable moment, which was hardly a failure.

God is continually trying to get our attention. Sometimes, it’s to turn away from resentment, fear, addiction, &/or the last word. Other times, it’s a prompt to turn toward generosity, forgiveness, &/or compassion. Covenant includes commitment and promise to form a partnership. But we have the hardest time partnering with God, which is why we’re stuck in a divided world of greed and injustice! However, an active covenant with God and a faith community may keep us from assuming our way is best &/or needed. Ultimately, a partnership with Jesus invites us to keep returning like the Prodigal child realizing there’s a better way.

Wholehearted.

Wholehearted.

In the midst of a busy, stressful time, author David Whyte describes sitting down at the end of long day with a trusted friend. “Brother, speak to me of exhaustion”. The sage companion replied, “You know the anecdote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest. The anecdote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness!”

All of us experience seasons of life that pull our hearts, thoughts, schedule, and finances in many directions. Knowing our tendency to get distracted, grow weary and lose faith, God thought wholeheartedness was so vital that he made a way to center our hearts, our minds, and our families. God’s plan for  wholeheartedness?  Sabbath.  Wait, What? Sabbath, really?!?! Isn’t Sabbath for people who aren’t busy, without kids or like to enjoy their weekends? Isn’t Sabbath a luxury or for people without deadlines?  Not. According. To. God.

When they reached Mt. Sinai, God covenants with Israel to be a nation of “priests” who would put the Divine on Display for the world to experience (Ex.19-24). Sabbath isn’t simply a day for church &/or inactivity. According to God, The way one’s faith, family or a nation – to be set apart as holy is if we maintain a standing appointment with God and community. Sabbath is God’s “game changer” for life. A standing appointment with God forces us to trust. Because everyone worries! Is there gonna be enough…? Will it get done? What am I missing? However, God invites us to trust through dedicated time. Personal and corporate “standing appointments” signals God’s plan to renew our hearts.

WHAT IF…we approach church like showing up to a potluck? We come with an offering, a contribution, acts of service, even rested. What if…we came with an eye for a struggling soul, willingness to examine our hearts, and ideas about surrender? Church would be renewing. Community would grow.

And, WHAT IF…we could begin each day with coffee with God, a scripture, &/or a prayer? “God, this is your day. My life is an offering to you. Open my eyes, my ears, my heart so I might turn toward you.”

We will find one direction. Wholeheartedness.