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Renewal

Drink Before You're Thirsty

Drink Before You're Thirsty

It’s not hard, really. If you want to avoid dehydration—Drink before you’re thirsty. It sounds simple enough but – subtly - parched becomes a headache, which becomes fatigue. And fatigue, unattended, can really spiral. Ever been there physically…relationally…financially…creatively? For sure, spiritually! Dry seasons are part of every career, home, marriage, AND personal faith. Refreshment is needed.

In the Judean wilderness, an ancient songwriter named David wrote some anticipatory words: "O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.”  He wouldn’t wander too far and for too long without spiritual hydration. Drink before you’re thirsty. 

Refreshment comes in odd ways. Vacations can leave us exhausted while intense workdays can actually energize us. You can be with friends and feel disconnected while a new face makes you feel ‘known’. We can labor through seasons of prayers that feel like they never go past the ceiling. Yet, we also stumble across God’s provision we didn’t even know to ask. How are you hydrating?

Dry seasons are unavoidable. They happen regardless of how diligent we might be. Yet, Renewal happens when faith and community are a priority and have a practice. At Mission Hills, we have a plan to nurture personal faith as much as we invest in corporate good. God’s people, stepping out in faith, creating new opportunities is our salvation! Here’s to finding new sources of Living Water - Cheers!

Heaven rising.

Heaven rising.

John Paton was an American missionary living in what is now the island country of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. During a dry season, the missionary awakened the curiosity (and the laughs) of the natives by DIGGING (?!?!) for water. They insisted water always came down from heaven, not up through the earth. But Paton revealed a larger truth than they had seen before by discovering that heaven could give them water through their own land. 

Some insist on waiting for God to send down answers, guidance, help and blessings from heaven in some super-normal way.  In his book, The Meaning of Prayer, Harry Emerson Fosdick tells this story, then makes this point: While God provides an abundant supply, we must learn to retreat into the fertile places of our own spirit where, as Jesus said, the wells of living waters seek to rise. “Mining" for heaven on earth attempts to dig for deeper levels of trust and obedience. It’s being willing to ‘un-earth’ the Spirit’s prompts that invite us to respond to a need, an opportunity, a stranger, or a neighbor, and the church.

As citizens of heaven living on earth, we awaken an imagination for the hope of something better. The New Normal has been a way to experiment with planting small seeds of heaven, here & now. But the hope is this will create a new normal for the way you combine faith into daily and normal life.

Short on Adulting.

Short on Adulting.

An Agave plant spends the vast majority of its life growing. Often called a ‘Century Plant’ because it can spend 80 years growing to before reaching its bloom. Imagine a giant asparagus growing 25 feet! Shortly after bloom, the stalk falls, and hundreds of genetically identical seeds fall to grow after it. The greatness of the agave isn’t just an entire life of growing. It’s also seeding life for others.

When it comes to children, growth is obvious. They get taller, lose teeth, become literate, develop a vocabulary, and seem to absorb everything (good & bad) from their surroundings. Kids also try new things with little fear of failure. And, trust seems to be the most natural thing in the world for a child.  It’s no wonder when Jesus was asked who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven; Jesus puts a child in the midst of their conversation. Apparently, greatness isn’t about social status or even remarkable skill. Rather, a child is held up as an ideal of humility…because with humility comes a greater ability trust.

The ability to trust is a beautiful quality of a child. Like the agave whose life is mostly spent growing, Jesus upholds a child and signifies that the process of growing and trusting – not the results – is most significant.  Childlike humility is not thinking lowly of oneself, but accurately. Humility "owns" who we are and learns to steward it. How can I trust God and use gifts for his glory? – That’s humility! That’s greatness!

Don't Hold Your Breath.

Don't Hold Your Breath.

The great performer Harry Houdini was famously capable of holding his breath for over 3 minutes. Today, competitive breath-hold divers can squeeze 10, 15, even 20 minutes out of a single lungful of air. On Feb.28, 2016, Aleix Segura Vendrell set a world record for longest time for holding his breath. Ready? 24 minutes 3.45 seconds!! (BTW, I’d skip telling your kids this fun fact at your next pool party).

Breathing is the most natural thing in the world. We’re born. We exhale. We inhale. Hard to know what comes first but the point is that BOTH are essential. Breathing is also an interesting spiritual metaphor. We “inhale” God's forgiveness, mercies, and grace. We inhale worship, God's promises and provision.  But, if we stop there, we never experience God design for us. We’re also supposed to “exhale” compassion and forgiveness. We breathe out generosity and justice. We extend ourselves in hospitality and gratitude. This is what it means to be spiritually alive.

Speaking of being spiritually alive, "Kingdom" is perhaps the most important spiritual concept in the New Testament. What’s interesting is in English or Greek, "kingdom” refers to something fixed or inactive. It has to do with a territory. It’s never verbal. In Hebrew however, "kingdom" is always about action. It has to do with God ‘breathing’ life into us. It’s about Christ-followers responding to the Spirit’s direction. This is illustrated in the Lord's Prayer, 'YOUR Kingdom come...YOUR will be done’. So, whether you feel like you’re spiritually ‘suffocating’, been taught to ‘suck it up’, or at a place where you’re ‘catching your breath”, God has created us to BREATHE. It’s when we learn a rhythm for inhaling and exhaling our faith that we experience heaven, here and now.

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!

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.

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!

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.

'Laying by'

'Laying by'

All of us, all the time are planting seeds. We seed our minds with ideas and our hearts with hope. We seed our kids with love, character, and common sense. We seed relationships with truth and grace. We seed our 401K so to sustain and enjoy retirement. Yet, for all the seeding we do, none it make us less impatient!!  Immediate results are always preferred!

An old farmer once told me they had a sayin’, “Laying by”. It was the time on a farm between busy seasons. It meant rest and waiting but NOT inactivity. It was a time when you made long-term improvements on the property like digging a new well or re-roofing the barn. If there were no big projects then you did maintenance on equipment in preparation for the coming season. 

Faith is often ignited when something overwhelming happens – a death, a health scare, job loss, or the birth of a child. But once we get familiar or acclimated, we lose a sense of urgency. It is so easy to put off faith and community and living with any sense of mission.  St. Peter wrote to Christians, under persecution and false teachers, about God’s timing…“But you must not forget this one thing: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” 2 Pet.3:8-9 

Your life is a harvest but any growth requires fertile soil. Renewal means tilling the soil of your heart and mind as each of us yield to God’s Spirit – either a nudge to turn from or turn toward something or someone. Simply put, a renewed heart is a sensitive heart. And, we can actually grow more familiar with God’s voice but only to the extend we respond! This IS the process of spiritual transformation. We might not even be aware of what the Spirit is doing. But we start with doing what we know to do THEN God begins to direct our lives in increasing ways.

“Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (Jas.5:7-8)

Pick & Choose.

Pick & Choose.

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States. Like others, he held a sincere faith BUT he didn’t actually believe God to be present in the daily life. Jefferson was so heavily influenced by the Age of Enlightenment that he couldn’t believe Jesus was divine or the Son of God. As a rationale and moral man Jefferson valued the teachings. So, late in his life, with a razor in hand, He re-worked the Gospels. Jefferson literally edited numerous sections removing all miracles and most mentions of the supernatural. The Jefferson Bible, or what he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, begins with an account of Jesus’ birth without references to angels, genealogy, or prophecy. Miracles, references to the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, and Jesus’ resurrection are also absent from his collection. 

Maybe if I helped found a nation and authored its laws, I might see myself able to tailor scripture to fit my worldview too. Being selective of God’s inspired Word might sound like a bold (if not, convenient) move, Yet I wonder...how much WE ‘pick-&-choose’ God’s revelation???  At first reading this, it seemed ridiculous to dismiss so much of Jesus’ life and ministry. But then it occurred to me…I do this All. The. Time…Ouch!

Christians follow Christ because they have presumably made Jesus their Lord. That means I have to work at following even when I doubt…when I’m afraid…when I’m bothered. It’s tempting to think there’s lots of things that the average Christian can’t do – like heal the sick, proclaim the Good News, respond to injustice, lead a person to Christ, or disciple them. Except, what if God intends this “Living Faith” to be the normal Christian life?

While many search for meaning, significance is found in saying ‘Yes’ to Christian community & the marginalized. It’s ‘Yes’ to new life & self-sacrifice. ‘Yes’ to giving & receiving mercy. We always get to pick-&-choose how we respond to God’s presence but learning to say, ‘Yes’ is our salvation.