Since it is the beginning of Lent, some good words on “Spiritual disciplines” (especially in this case, “fasting”) from Dr. Scot McKnight

Lent’s Faux-Fasting (click to the left for the original posting of this article)

Too much of the fasting during Lent is faux-fasting. Here’s why.

Fasting — tis the season. Because it is the season a good question can be asked: What is fasting?

What is fasting?

Try defining it, and I’ll make a suggestion. Go ahead — in your mind define it.

Here’s my suggestion: If, in defining fasting, we are tempted to define fasting as something we do “in order to” get something, I suggest we need to look again at the deepest wells of the Christian fasting tradition: the Bible. In my book, FastingI suggest that in the Christian tradition we somehow got sidetracked.

We turned fasting into an instrument for personal spiritual formation, and in doing so lost one of its — if not its — key element. Fasting is not so instrumental in the Bible as it is responsive.

Fasting done to get something is faux fasting. Abstinence and fasting are not the same thing, so giving up chocolate for Lent is faux fasting.

Fasting done to get something is faux fasting. Abstinence and fasting are not the same thing, so giving up chocolate for Lent is faux fasting. I can hear the grumbles, so give me a chance here.

Instead of seeing fasting as a discipline we use, do, or practice “in order to” get answers to prayers, “in order to” become more attuned to God, or “in order to” become more spiritual, the Bible’s focus is on fasting as a response to life’s sacred, grievous moments. If in defining fasting you get quickly to the “in order” element… I suggest look again at the Bible.

So, how can we tell if we are fasting? Simple answer: Are you grieving or are you looking forward to something happening for you? If the former, fasting; if the latter, not fasting.

The Bible urges us to move away from seeing fasting as something done in order to get something, and exhorts us to learn to see it as a response to some grievous or sacred moment/event. (I use a letter system.)

A (grievous moment, like death and sin) –> B (act of fasting) –> C (benefit)

I hear too many suggest we should fast (B) in order to get (C). I suggest in my book that the biblical pattern is much more A (grievous, sacred moment) triggering the natural response of fasting (B), whether we get C or not. Furthermore, fasting is an act whereby we enter into the pathos of God regarding that grievous moment.

And one more element to think about as we enter Lent. To be sure, Lent is a time for fasting, but I suspect most of those who speak of “fasting” are talking about “abstinence” (not the same as what the Bible means by fasting). Fasting is suspension of all food (and sometimes drink) for a designated time — not the suspension of kinds of food (or internet, or social media). What happens when we use the word “fast” with “Twitter”? I suggest we are losing fundamental elements of fasting — the response to grievous, sacred moments.

The Church calendar is designed to embody the gospel itself on an annual basis: we begin the birth of the Messiah and then through a season called Epiphany and then we move into Lent and Holy Week with focus on Good Friday and Easter, and then we head for Pentecost and the rest of the year is called Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time is designed to focus on various elements of the Christian faith and mission. Lent prepares us for the gospel events — the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.

How do you prepare for Lent? Or how will you prepare for Lent? Or, from another angle, why do you not prepare for Lent?

Well, some will say, the NT doesn’t teach a church calendar and so there’s no need for it. To which I (really not “I” but the Church) say, “Hold on, dear friend.” God so ordained Israel’s life so that it would re-live and embody the great saving events in God’s relationship with Israel. So, let’s begin right there: God evidently really does care to institutionalize saving events into a calendrical form. The Christians, from very, very early, wisely restructured the calendar to be shaped by the saving events in the life of Jesus. (And I don’t say this to snub my messianic friends who are Jewish. I see no reason why we can’t combine the Christian calendar with Israel’s calendar.)

So, if we are going to fast, let’s fast.

Fascinating Article by Scot McKnight…for those of you who love Biblical “trivia”

Dr. Scot McKnight, Professor and prolific blogger, notes today in his most recent posts that there good reason to suspect that when Acts tells us that there were 1000’s of baptisms that occurred on the day of Pentecost, that they most likely took place in the “mikvahs” in Jerusalem.  For those of you who love to explore some of the “details” of the Bible, here’s some interesting reading:

3000 Baptisms: But Where in Jerusalem?  By Scot McKnight

We suggest they were baptized in mikvahs south of the temple.

One of the fascinating new scenarios our tour guide (Yoni Gerrish) brought to light concerned where the Christians were on the Day of Pentecost and where the baptisms could have occurred when 3000 suddenly were in need of baptism.

It takes a lot of water, or at least time, to baptize that many.

From Acts 2:29-42

“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being, therefore, exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” ’ Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

How can you baptize 3000 in Jerusalem in one day? Water is scarce in most of Israel, especially in the Jordan Valley. The nearly perfected approach was cisterns that collected water through a series of small paths or channels, but it is only very remotely possible the first Christians were baptized in a cistern.

So, how was is possible to baptize so many? I see three possibilities: (1) in the Pool of Siloam at the bottom of the City of David (see picture at bottom), (2) in the pool of Bethesda on the north side of the temple, or (3) in ritual immersion pools called “mikveh” (singular) or “mikva’ot” (plural).

On this photo (below): I took this of a picture on wall next to the pool Siloam (blue pool at bottom) but the picture oddly is a mix of 1st-century walking path and the modern Muslim temple mount (mosque next to the southern wall and the Dome of the Rock, with its golden dome, closer to the northern edge). Kidron Valley is to right of the eastern wall, the Western Wall just to the right of the east-west wall in the middle of the temple area.

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If you look at the map you can see a road from the bottom to the southern edge of the temple (it is the “cardo” and runs along the Western Wall into the area at the top of the temple mount).

Along that path from Siloam to the temple, and especially along the southern slope of the temple, were as many as 500 mikva’ot.

The picture (below) of a mikveh is one I took three years ago at Qumran. You can see the steps down into the immersion pool so the person could immerse herself/himself. Such mikva’ot were often next to an “unstepped” pool filled with water, which could help create running water from one to the other.

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Where did they baptize? Yes, it is very reasonable to think they were baptized in these already-existing and already-about-purity mikva’ot. If you would like to read a solid explanation of the mikva’ot, see E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief, 364-378.

Some 500 mikva’ot means it would not have been difficult to find water for all 3000.

Who baptized them? One can guess that it was (1) Peter and John and the apostles, (2) the apostles and other leaders, or (which is likely) (3) they self-administered their baptism with their own confessions (self-administration was how mikveh immersions occurred). What about the babies? (That’s another discussion.)

Where was Peter preaching? Perhaps in that very area, too. Perhaps he was preaching to folks as they were ascending to the temple.

Why go to Church? Best reasons why!

3Last Sunday, I was looking out on the “crowd” at both of our faith communities…I was praying for our journey in faith together as well as the mission that Jesus has given us all to serve, love and share the good news of His kingdom. As I was thinking about you and praying for you, I thought I would quickly give you encouragement on WHY you should consider worship participation weekly one of your highest, personal priorities. In spite of all that goes on in ALL of our lives, there really are good reasons for you to be at worship weekly:
So, what are good reasons for you to go to church?
First of all, start with the absolute right reason – the briefest reason – and at very least, the right biblical reason:
God has showered his creation with His unconditional love – we are made by His own hand – we are his masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10) and because of that truth, you and I want to respond to that gift by praising Him, learning more about Him, and by surrounding myself with people who will encourage one another in our walk with Him.
Sounds good huh? If that’s true for you, and I imagine it is at least in part, that’s a great reason!
Reason number one on WHY to worship regularly in our faith community is this – the only appropriate response to the gift of life is worship. Do you know what that means? Worship is an acknowledgment that what we have in life, all of it is a gift! And because of that, God is WORTHY to be praised! God is worthy to be praised because of the gift of mercy, grace, forgiveness, breath, health, family, friends…list goes on and on.
The second best reason for you to be at worship has to do with your spiritual journey. For some reason that we can only attribute to God, you realize in the depth of your gut somehow that HOW you are believing is not complete and that you are on a journey. You realize, like I do, that you are not perfect and you need to be at worship so that God can remind you of that fact and draw you to Himself in love.
Friends – this is how it is:
We journey through life…daily life…24 hours….we live, work, sleep, eat, do our jobs around the house. We discuss, we relax, we do our daily stuff and we do it day after day after day. We just go about our daily life and work. We wake up to a dog eat dog world with growing dis-ease and unhappiness and loneliness and stress. Yet over time, the truly honest and reflective among us start to wonder that there has got to be MORE to life than anxiety, doing stuff, making money, etc. Sooner or later every person comes face to face with a question – “is that all there is?”
Some refuse to go “there” or flippantly blow past that question in their pursuit to master reality or at least be the master of their OWN reality (which they will never do). But most of us would intuitively say, “NO – there’s got to be more.” For most, if not all of us, we know that there’s got to be more because when we’re doing other, less mundane activities – resting, dreaming, painting, making music, telling stories or simply playing, something inside of us comes alive.
I bet you don’t know this but scientists are telling us these days that there are inexplainable realities of human existence that are hard-wired into our sense of being. They are saying that there is meaning beyond the mundane and daily existence that we all live. Could it be that God has hard-wired for a spiritual journey? I believe so! That something inside of us, what the Bible calls our spirit/heart, betrays our narcissism and our belief in a “reality only” world. Our spirit, our heart gives us another world to investigate, explore and to live in because there is more to life than just what we see on a daily existence level. What is kind of amazing (at least this is my guess) is that most of our neighbors think that we go to church because we believe in something. For many of us that is true…I believe in things – you do too. BUT what many of our neighbors DON’T know is that in our church gatherings, we stand on and rely most of the time on just the opposite – we adhere to and hold on to the fact that being together, praying, reading, singing, opening ourselves up to the Mystery of God’s presence and love shapes what we believe. Participating in church leads to believing; practicing our faith bolsters our faith; the rituals of our faith change what the world means and how we live in it. Our trust in Jesus creates new worlds and those worlds alter the everyday world.
Although we share everyday life with many people whose story is mostly based on fear, limitation, and scarcity, Jesus reminds us that a person living fully in God has few fears. To be “in Christ” means to experience a kind of freedom from the tyranny of our ego or other’s egos. To be “in Christ” means more fully becoming the children of God that we were created to be. To be “in Christ” affirms our baby steps through life as a journey of discovery of more and more of who God is and can be in this life. It is providing us each and together with a sense of security in insecure times and giving us a sense of freedom that can’t be given to us by any other means but Jesus.
What are we doing in worship? We are sorting through our mixed motives and mysterious desires. We are learning God’s story again. We freely admit we are on a journey together and that we need each other, we need community in order to experience the world the way that God created it to be experienced. We are returning home so that we can go with power into the everyday world.
The third and final reason (at least for this letter of encouragement) we go to church because it is our CHOICE – we are proactively shaping our lives by acting on a God-sized vision of who God is creating us to be.
A number of years ago, a good friend put a book into my hands that addressed how our lives are formed in a positive, healthy manner. The book said, “we all need to A.C.T.”
ACT – Awareness, Create a vision, Take Action on that vision
Every week at church – that’s exactly what we do. Biblically, our confession is our awareness that we are broken. It is our sharing in public that we need healing…that we need love and we need Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we have received a Godly vision, one given to us by God to “love God, love others, live like Jesus.” We want to make life complicated, but Jesus doesn’t. He has a vision of grace that He gives to us …a gift of forgiveness offered freely for the receiving. That’s what we do regularly in worship. But more than that, we challenge each other to understand (and own) that God empowers us through His Spirit to act on that vision. You see friends, faith is a gift given to us by the Holy Spirit so that we can take steps of belief. We are, in many respects, just like the apostle Peter walking on water – we are always beckoned by Jesus to take our steps out of the boat of security. Friends, faith is a gift of God but it is also an act of the will, That’s why it is an act of the will to attend church so that we can continue to have that faith explored, nurtured, and strengthened.
The closest friends that Jesus had were the most doubtful, fallen, confused bunch of dudes that you could ever imagine. We can easily come to the conclusion in reading the Bible that absolute adherence is NOT the gospel way. Faith working itself out in love – faith and action – taking steps out of the boat side by side – sinking and being raised again – growing in our trust of Jesus with each other – learning His will, His truth, and His ways – that’s what we do in worship together.
Think about this as I close this note of encouragement – faith – there is a cognitive aspect to it but it is not PURELY or dependent upon the intellect. That is why we have things we call the Sacraments – because the mysteries of God pull us into another reality. Jesus is present in Communion? Really? How? Well, we really don’t know…but we know by virtue of His promises that He is and because of that, we know He is calling us, just as He did with Peter, to take steps together out of the boat and into the swirling seas of life, depending on nothing more than His presence and promises.
Here’s where I want to end because I don’t want you to EVER DOUBT what I am all about when it comes to why I do what I do. I want to do life in Jesus with people. I want to do what I just have been talking about – taking steps of faith, responding to God’s amazing grace and love. And I especially want to act on this vision – I want to create with you a space for ALL people to contemplate God and their lives, to explore the love of God and the need they have for love in their hearts, to consider God and their pain in a space of freedom and acceptance and then to journey together to encourage others to do the same. We need to be building rooms for people to explore the journey of faith. We need to be building a faith community where we give people space to NOT be certain but to figure things out in the presence and grace of Jesus Christ and in the company of the Holy Spirit. We need to be building a faith community that is dedicated to telling the “old, old story – of Jesus and His love.”
You may not be able to fully articulate it – but you should be drawn to weekly worship! Yeah, you could download a sermon, listen to podcast, and get together with people to share life. Jesus did say, “where two or more are gathered, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18). But you know, deep in your heart, that of which the Spirit of God has been convincing you, true living and true meaning and true belonging is not passive. True belonging isn’t about fitting in or selling out but rather it is a practice that is open, vulnerable, at times uncomfortable, where you are learning how to be present with Jesus and other people.
Friends, never doubt this – Church attendance isn’t about cowardliness and it is never a crutch – it is rather a HUGE act of courage. Yes, courage where you are choosing what is right and meaningful over what is easy or convenient or that which only brings pleasure to your senses. Jesus followers want to be in a place regularly and enthusiastically where you are a partner in creating safe spaces for people to explore abundant life in Jesus and to do life together in Jesus. That’s why I pray you make a commitment to weekly worship! That’s why I pray we will be encouragers of people to join our journey. For to convert them, that’s Jesus’ job. But we can walk with them in discovering more and more of the life that God intends for ALL of us to experience.
Where will you be THIS Sunday?
Sincerely shared with you in love…

“Stinkin Thinkin?”

1Devotion Adaptation
From Father Richard Rohr’s blog post on “Stinkin thinkin”

For many of us these words of Father Rohr will strike home into the depth of our hearts. Why? Because from an early age, we learned to listen MORE to the voice of self-talk aimed at criticism than from that still, small voice that speaks to our heart with love. There’s nothing more haunting than that voice of condemnation inside of you that constantly badgers your soul. It doesn’t even matter if you are operating in areas of your life where you feel especially gifted, trained and prepared. The voice speaks…it speaks poison that festers into self-hatred. Yes, we can attempt to cover it up or escape it but sooner or later everyone has to deal with the “voice.”

Father Rohr gives, as usual, special insight into this issue. For those of you who read the paragraph above and said to yourself, “how did Robin know what’s going on in my head,” I have good news for you. It’s time to silent that voice or, at very least, drown it out with a voice that is louder and brings with it life-giving affirmation and love. Here’s what Richard Rohr recently wrote,

“Although we begin life, as very young children, as non-dual thinkers, usually by the age of seven we are all dualistic thinkers, and sadly many of us stay that way for the rest of our lives. Dualistic thinking is the well-practiced pattern of knowing most things by comparison. And for some reason, once we compare or label things (that is, judge things), we almost always conclude that one is good and the other not so good or even bad.

Don’t take my word for it; just notice your own thoughts and reactions. You will see that you will move almost automatically into a pattern of up or down, in or out, for me or against me, right or wrong, black or white, good or bad. It is the basic reason why the “stinkin’ thinkin’” of racism, sexism, classism, religious imperialism, and prejudice of all kinds is so hard to overcome and has lasted so long—even among nice people!

At the risk of being too cleverly alliterative (though it may help you to remember), here is the normal sequencing of the dualistic mind: it compares, it competes, it conflicts, it conspires, it condemns, it cancels out any contrary evidence, and then it crucifies with impunity. You can call it the seven C’s of delusion. This is the source of most violence…especially within ourselves. There is a reason why Jesus says, “Do not judge!” and why angels in the Bible are always saying, “Do not be afraid!” Our violence—and almost all of our unhappiness—emerges from our judging, dualistic mind—which itself comes from deeply rooted fear.”

What struck me about Rohr’s thoughts had as much to do with what he didn’t write as it did with what he did write…in other words, what appears to be an “outside of me” type of mentality is REALLY something that starts insidiously INSIDE of me (and you). “Stinkin Thinkin” always starts as the comparison, dualistic mind starts to hammer us on the inside with words of comparison (“I’m not as handsome or pretty as he/she is” or “I’ll never be that good”), competition (“I know when I look at myself that I’m a loser”), conflicts (“I’m going to get my way no matter what it costs me”), conspires (“I’ll do whatever I need to do even if it betrays my values to get what I want”), cancelling thoughts (“they are lying to me, I can’t believe what they said about me”) and finally with that proverbial stake through our heart (“I wish I were dead”). You might think I am a bit overdramatic but, trust me, many people I know and love deal with this inner critic ALL the time.

It’s time to silence that voice and to hear the words of love that can be transformative and life-refreshing to our souls. Read these words from Psalm 139:

“God, You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.”

The beauty of those words are this – God knows us in a deeper manner than we even know ourselves and He still loves us…He still heals and forgives…He still restores and refreshes…He still, He still, He still. The only voice I know that is stronger than the inner critic is the one that called the Universe into existence. The only way to silence the dualistic mind is to understand that for God, He sees you through ONE prism…that of love. I know I need that word daily and my guess is, you do too!

Another priceless bit of encouragement…

1Most of you who have occasionally dropped in on this blog know that I am a HUGE fan of Ann Voskamp.  I have read her books, I regularly receive her emails, and I have been inspired and challenged in my faith and life by Ann’s insights for years.  If you don’t receive her emails or if you have NOT read any of her books, here’s my encouragement to you – DO IT!

Yesterday Ann published her personal story of how she has changed her life regarding physical “movement” as well as Bible reading.  Her post was very insightful – not only about reading God’s word but the importance of movement for health, both physically and spiritually.  I thought I would post today some of the “gems” that come from that post:

When you challenge yourself to move, you challenge your own perception of self.

And then on the hardest days, when I did hard things anyways: I was stuck by the epiphany:  Moving every day is how you move through stress.

I found: If you don’t move daily, you experience stress obstruction in your soul.  When I move, stress moves out of me. 

Movement is a free strategy against discouragement.

And I moved every day not at a gym, but outside. Moving outside creates something of a miracle inside. The Japanese have a term for moving outside into nature; they call it “forest bathing.”  But I call it “Glory Soaking.” Because the whole earth is full of His glory, moving outside calms a heart full of trouble.  Daily Glory Soaks cleanse the mind, so the heart can fill with hope. When you feel like you’re drowning, a Glory Soak outside can keep the soul afloat on the inside. Running under trees began to root my soul.

Moving under sky moved me toward God.

And when I couldn’t run away from the relentless story of failure that kept running on replay in my head, I began to listen to His Word while I ran and I let God’s Story in me play louder than any other story around me.

“I began to listen to His Word while I ran and I let God’s Story in me play louder than any other story around me.”

When I listened to Scripture while running, I could run away from the narrative of me and right into the narrative of grace.  The relief of this was everything. I turned off all the noise of news and drama and distractions around me, and all the noise of fear and failure within me, and I just ran with my headset in, leaning into the language of God. With every step, worries quieted, hushed, stilled — and all I could hear was the voice of God in my headsets, heart keeping time with His.

I move less for my physical health and more for the health of my soul.

And we have more than enough time every day to move toward physical, mental and soul health.  Every single one of us has 1,440 minutes every single day — and every single one of us can use 30 of those minutes to move in some way, while being moved by the Word of God, to change the health of our whole lives.  30 minutes a day of movement — will change every other moment of your life. Guaranteed.

This is what changed my life as I started moving and the let the Word of God move me:

God became my Pacesetter.  God is my Pacer — and I just stay with the Pacer so I can finish impossible races.  God is the steady, the consistent, the voice at the ear who shows how to take the next step, and the next step after that. I don’t have to keep up to anyone else — I simply have to keep company with God. I simply have to keep close to Him.

As I physically moved, and was spiritually moved by His Word, thoughts began to move through my mind differently, I began to process my world differently.  I felt stronger, braver, not just physically, but especially emotionally.  The anxiety ebbed, the hope grew, hope that something was growing in me that I could rise to any challenge.

Turns out: Courage is highly contagious, and bravery to do a Hard Thing in one aspect of your life, quickly spreads to all of your life.

If I let my feet literally keep rhythm with God, fears stop driving my life.  If I put one step in front of the other, I move past all kinds of paralysis.  If I tune my heart, my feet, me ears, to Him, I tune out everything that is making me anxious.  If I stay in The Story, my life stays the course.

People keep asking me if I am training for a race. And the answer is yes: I am throwing off everything that hinders (Hebrews 12:1) and training to run with perseverance and finish the race marked out before us, to keep the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

The answer is yes: I am literally learning how to put one step in front of the other, to carry on, to keep carrying on.  The answer is yes: As I move, I’m moving beyond a life limited by smallness, by fears, by pain, by regrets, and I’m moving into God.

Move and you begin to move farther, and further up and deeper in, than you ever imagined. Move and Hope moves into you. Move and you move into a new identity.

YES, I can change, YES, I can do hard and holy things because they are the next thing to get to the best thing, YES, I can let God move into me, YES, God can move into all of my moments, YES, my new identity is found fully in Him, YES to whatever this day and decade and road holds, YES, I can be moved by God who is always making a way for me to MOVE FORWARD!

The great ADVENT themes – from the Bible Project!

This Advent Season, in my faith communities (Our Savior’s @ McCall and Shepherd of the Mountains @ Cascade), we are focusing our worship experiences on the BIG THEMES of Advent.  Each theme corresponded to the Advent Wreath as well as summarized the biblical truths that encompass the mystery, majesty and glory of Christmas.  

The Videos are excellent…so I thought I would encourage you to take a few minutes and watch them as you prepare for Christmas.  Each explores an Advent Theme from the biblical perspective…language, meaning, and application to our lives!  

May the Lord bless you as you take your journey to the manger in Bethlehem!

There and there alone, will you find HOPE, PEACE, JOY and LOVE!

 
HOPE

 

PEACE


JOY
 

LOVE

 

 

 

Christmas Encouragement!

It was earlier this month and one of my favorite “email” encouragers sent me the following encouragement.  I made some specific alterations to make it easier for you to use in your life this year.  Join me this Christmas in a Simple and Sane and sacred Christmas!  Here are some suggestions:

Remember, because simplicity is not a matter of circumstances, it is a matter of focus.  Simplify Christmas? HOW?  Celebrate CHRIST.

Serve

  • Serve your family
  • Serve someone in need
  • Serve people with a smile and joy
  • Serve someone at your table

Still Life

  • Make time for some quiet and read the Christmas story from the bible
  • Make sure you have a lot of “white” space on your calendar during Christmastime
  • Make a small candle arrangement and pray that the Light of the world would enlighten your heart
  • Make time to listen to some of your favorite Christmas music

Stay in Story

Another GREAT resources is the website, Follow The Star!  Daily you can read a small bible text and prayer that will bless you in your daily Christmas worship life. 
Robin J. Dugall, Pastor and Professor

 

A Very Special Baby - One of my favorite Christmas Videos!
A Very Special Baby – One of my favorite Christmas Videos

 

 

The Revealing

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“The Revealing”

I was looking out my office window early this morning…fresh snow had fallen yesterday. It was laying gently on tree branches…a few of our local “herd” of deer were casually venturing through our forest area near our worship facility…there was a gentle light that was causing the snow to almost glisten…wow, was it beautiful. Truly a revealing…truly an unveiling of the gift of God’s creation. As I was standing and viewing that beauty in that moment, it reminded me of a time that I had with my sons years ago.

We decided to go to the beach so the boys could continue working on the driftwood forts that they started a few days earlier. As I carefully walked over and through the huge pile of driftwood left by the shifting tides, I saw one of the boys’ forts nearby. They had laid rows of straight pieces of driftwood over two large logs to form a room underneath. After surveying their driftwood forts, I commented, “The tide is low today. It’s a great time to go down to the water to look for things that the tides bring in.” The beach reminded me of the movie, Castaway, that I had just seen a couple of days earlier, in which the main character said, “Tomorrow is always a new day because you never know what tide will bring in.” As in all castaway challenges and island living, foraging food and items from the ocean is a critical part of surviving.

As I headed toward the edge of the water, nothing really stood out; just the usual broken pieces of seashells and algae covered rocks spread across the length of the beach as far as could be seen in both directions. The rocks were just the right size to walk on without touching the water that was flowing back and forth between them from the bay. Then, I started to see small clams and barnacles attached to rocks in many varying size groups. Some of the groupings were quite unique and beautiful. I called to the boys to come join me. As Aaron was showing me a white rock with bands of ore running through it, I pointed out a grouping of barnacles that had formed on a flat, round, smooth rock that left a perfect open circle of exposed rock in the center. When I reached down and pulled a group of barnacles off another rock, that’s when it happened. Something moved! “Boys did you see that?!” As I pulled more barnacles off the side of the same rock down towards the water, there is was again. A small round black shape smaller than the size of my smallest fingernail skittered away. It was the smallest crab I had ever seen.

We then started pulling more barnacles off and turning rocks over to look underneath them. The boys hollered with delight as they found more and bigger crabs. Once you knew what to look for, they were everywhere. I started to see things that I didn’t see before without moving things; crabs just sitting in the shallow layer of silt in the water between the rocks. It was amazing!

There’s nothing like the excitement of discovering something new that you didn’t see before. The beach reminded me of the power of God and creation (Genesis 1:20). And, as the creatures moved before me, the Holy Spirit moved within me. Once again, the Spirit needed to remind me of something I often taken for granted – the power and beauty of God’s creatures coming forth from the sea.

The more we interact with nature, the more the HOLY and CREATIVE Spirit of God is revealed to us. I have always found more of God in nature than in any religious building. I see the Earth as God’s Cathedral…God’s Canvas…God’s Revealing, His “advent” if you will. God arrives in every magnificent aspect of His creation. God shows us to refresh our memories…stir in our hearts…speak gently to our spirits of the power and beauty of His love for us. Those who have traveled the world looking through the eyes of faith have said that even man’s tallest gothic spired structures are no match for the beauty of nature. I see God’s work in everything from glacial mountain hanging valleys, to alpine meadow flowers, to tree lined water worn creek stones, to wind carved desert sands, to ocean side seashells. In these moments, all is right in the world, in which I’m a better person for having experienced it and sharing it with others. Hopefully, as I said on that day years ago, my boys remembered many of the adventures we’ve had together, the fun and joy of discovering aspects of God’s creation, to some day pass them on to their own children and others throughout the world. Lord willing, as YOU stop long enough in your daily grind to behold the revelation of the Lord in and through His creation, it will also assure you of God’s love and inspire you to direct others to peek into the awesomeness of what God has made. It’s there for the viewing…His presence dripping in every revelation of color, stature, and mystery.

Take time each day to stop and admire God’s work. It was created for you. That’s God’s revealing!

I love this – Thanksgiving – starts with “small things”

44163-6a00d83451607369e20120a608f539970c-piIf you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I am very appreciative to God for “voices” in my life (many of which I have NEVER met) that speak truth and impact my soul.  Ann Voscamp never fails me…nor you for that matter.  In this post, she outlines what can be a truly revolutionary of living life – being thankful.  In addition, she gives a practical step that can change your life – commit to keep a “thanks” journal.  Imagine your life, focused more on the things you are thankful for then on any other thing – news (which is always depressing), chores, duties, responsibilities, etc., etc.  Thanksgiving IS more than a holiday – it can be a way of life!  Check out her wonderful words:

Thanksgiving is More Than a Holiday: It’s Meant to Change Your Life

Some days I pick up a camera and the lens is my ink, for cameras have sensor eyes, and pixels record.  I slide it into a pocket, the camera in phone, and find another way to chronicle, to force the lids open; another way to receive the moment with reverential thanks.

When he comes in from the barn, The Farmer Husband finds me leaning over a plate of cheese grated and sitting in sunlight. It is true. And yeah — I do feel foolish.  I mean, it’s curls of mozzarella and cheddar piled high in a pond of golden day.

And I’m changing the settings to macro, increasing the ISO, pulling in for a close-up frame.  He’s fed 650 sows with one strong arm this morning, flicked on a welder and melded the steel. So it is quite possible that the God-glory of a ring of shredded cheese may be lost on him.

It isn’t.

“I like finding you just like this.” He wraps one arm around my bowed middle, draws me close and up into him strong.  “Crazy like this?” I blush with my silliness, and he brushes close with the four-day stubble. He laughs.  “Perfect like this.” He nods toward the cheese plate. “You being happy in all these little things that God gives. This makes me happy.”

Happy in all these little things that God gives. Ridiculously happy over slips of cheese.

That I am, and it’s wild, and, oh, I am the one who laughs. Me! Changed! Changed by giving thanks and surprised by joy!

God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy.  And gratitude for the seemingly insignificant—a seed—this plants the giant miracle.  Do not disdain the small. The whole of the life—even the hard—is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole.

“There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.”

There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.  I, too, had read it often, the oft-quoted verse:

“And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

And I, too, would nod and say straight-faced, “I’m thankful for everything.”  But in this counting gifts, to one thousand, more, I discover that slapping a sloppy brush of thanksgiving over everything in my life leaves me deeply thankful for very few things in my life…

If gratitude is an antidote for anxiety…and giving thanks is a real cure for stress — why relegate thanksgiving to a holiday when giving thanks can revolutionize our whole lives?

I do this, record the gifts, gather the moments like manna.

“Joy is always a function of gratitude — and gratitude is always a function of perspective.”

It’s could be this feast everyday — a Thanksgiving Feast everyday.  People who keep gratitude journals are 25% happier. Twenty-five percent happier.  Is this why God commands us to always give thanks? What sane person doesn’t want to be 25% happier?

Why in the world don’t we do this?

Joy is always a function of gratitude — and gratitude is always a function of perspective.  If we are going to change our lives, we’re going to have to change the way we see.

This recording our gratitudes, this looking for blessings everywhere, this counting of gifts— this is what changes what we are looking for. This is what changes our perspective. Thanksgiving is the lens God means for us to see joy all year round.

The light’s igniting a plate of cheese and there’s sunlight falling in planks across the floor.  The stress untangles.  The moment’s a gift, a grace…

The sound of kids laughing and my mama’s knitting needles clicking and the girls baking in the kitchen….and speed slows to wonder.

Why miss our lives? Why miss all the ways He loves?

This is the gift all the children want: us all here and awake to crazy Grace.

Us all in this world addicted to speed, unwrapping the real secret of time management, unwrapping the fullest life:

In the stressful times : seek God
In the painful times : praise God
In the harried times : hallow God
In the terrible times : trust God.
And at all times — and at all times –
Thank God.

“Wherever you are, count your blessings, collect gifts, count it all joy.”

Because Thanksgiving is more than holiday–It’s the season to Wake up to Really, Fully Living.

Wherever you are, count your blessings, collect gifts, count it all joy.

The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.

This thanks for the minute, it is to say the prayer of the most blessed of women about to participate in one of the most transformative events the world has ever known.

Mary, with embryonic God Himself filling her womb, exalts in quiet ways: “My soul doth magnify the Lord” (Luke 1:46 KJV)….

And when I do this, give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me. This, this, makes me full. I “magnify him with thanksgiving” (Psalm 69:30 KJV) — and more of God’s glory enters the world.

What will a life magnify? The world’s stress cracks, the grubbiness of a day, all that is wholly wrong and terribly busted?

Or God?

There’s no way to enter into His courts but through the gates of Thanksgiving — and it’s only in His presence is fullness of Joy and I snap a picture of cheese.