Tag Archives: community

Loving unto Wholeness

“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.”
(Matthew 5:4, NIV)

I have been sitting with this passage for a few weeks, not really knowing how to interact with it, not really sure of what it was trying to speak to me. It was the idea of mourning that was tripping me up. I don’t really know what it means to mourn, what it looks like or even how to do it. I think that says as much about me as it does the American culture we live in. Americans don’t mourn well, especially American Christians. We are taught to say “It is well with my soul” when we are confronted with any kind of loss. We are encouraged to throw a party instead of a funeral. But, setting that aside for a moment and returning to the passage at hand, I think that mourning is a stand-in for processing loss.

rocky path in the woodsIn this Beatitude, Jesus is inviting us to mourn when we need to mourn. He is saying that if you choose to enter into the process of grieving a loss and stick to through the end, you will come out of it comforted. This process is not supposed to be a lonely journey. God, through the Holy Spirit, is ever present and walking through it with us. There is also family, friends, and the community of faith to whom we can lean on throughout this process, if we choose to invite others into it with us.

“Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.”
(Matthew 5:4, CEB)

I cannot prescribe what this process will look like, nor how long it will last, but I do know it will include three things: love, acceptance, and forgiveness. This is first and foremost a work of love. It is love for those around us and ourselves that will lead us into the process and sustain us through it. Acceptance involves trusting the process and the new reality that the loss brings us into. Lastly, loss will most likely require some amount of forgiveness, and probably more than once. All told, we will come out of this process not only comforted, but able to comfort others. Choosing to go through a season of mourning is a very brave thing to do. There is nothing glamorous about it. It is a lot of hard work. But, there will be an end to it, and that end will bring love, joy, and peace.

My hope it that in embracing Jesus encouragement here, we can begin to establish a healthy environment for those experiencing the pain of loss and even help to change our culture so that grief would not be something to be dismissed, but seen as the next loving and logical step to living a life of wholeness and love.

Grace and peace,

The Currency of Love

I have been reading through and thinking about the Beatitudes, the first act of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5:3-12) I am always amazed at how Jesus turns common perceptions on their ear. In this first of eight couplets that make up the Beatitudes, Jesus uses language of commerce to teach about the inclusive nature of the people of God.

boys walking in nature “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:3 NIV)

Jesus starts out with “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Being poor is a reference point to wealth, that is, not having enough. We would most naturally say, “Blessed are the wealthy!” We wouldn’t even add “in spirit.” But Jesus flips the sentiment on us and declares those who understand that they cannot add to the dimension of the Spirit available to us are the ones with whom the blessing of the Spirit can most naturally reside. It is from this position of poverty that makes way for the inclusive nature of the people of God, because we can appreciate people for who they are and not what they have or can buy.

Jesus then says, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Kingdoms naturally bring up notions of wealth. Kingdoms are fought over and bought off. Heaven is the one resource that can never be bought or even earned, but due to it’s elusiveness, it is of the upmost value! Jesus affirms that kingdom of heaven belongs to those who understand that there is nothing they can do to acquire it. Kingdoms are comprised of people. People cannot be acquired, only accepted! It is from the place of mutual acceptance that Spirit of God’s love can most freely move.

I pray that as we seek to know Christ more and the love God has for all people, that we too would understand our poverty of spirit and that we love God best when we love others well.

Grace and peace,

A Picture Is Worth…

Bible and coffee cup on a weathered picnic tableWhen I first saw this picture, the congregation I attend (Valley Life Center) came to mind. There are three elements in this photo that seem to characterize VLC as a community. The first is that God’s word is vitally important to us. The second is that the cup of fellowship is central to our gatherings. And lastly, the table, which is weathered and worn, reminds me that there is a common ground on which we all stand. We are all students of Jesus, children of God, and one in the Spirit. For these reasons I love being a part of VLC. Sometimes you just have to give a shout out!

Grace and peace,


If we are made in God’s image, and we are relational beings, then God must be a relational being as well. God is continually communicating with us, if we only have generous ears to what is being spoken.two chairs

Last week we looked at the following passage:

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are generous*, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are stingy*, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.” (Luke 11:34)

I feel that the same principle applies to listening as well as seeing. “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:7, NIV)

I was at a prayer retreat recently where we meditated on Matthew 6:6-8.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

As we sat quietly with this passage of scripture I was taken aback by my emotional reaction to it. I felt agitated, even angry. There was a visceral rising deep from within my soul. I felt that Jesus’ words were confining my prayer life, almost like my prayers would not count if I didn’t find a quiet and private place to offer my prayers. But, as we shared our thoughts concerning this passage I discovered that most people saw that “go into your room” was quite a flexible phrase and could entail everything from a traditional “quiet time” to taking a moment to be with God during a coffee break or at a stop light.

I initially felt guilty for having such a reaction to the scriptures, but then I remembered the verse in the letter to the Hebrews:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)

I could have stayed with my angry feelings, but then I realized that God was using the scriptures to reveal something that needed to be addressed in my heart. That is, even though God does communicate with us all the time, God also wants us to experience special times when God relates to us as a parent. These special times may be brief or extended, but they are more than a passing acknowledgement. They are moments when we know that our hearts have conversed with God. I came to see that God received my angry thoughts as an invitation to a conversation. God listened to me, then I listened to God. We had a conversation. We were both understood. Our relationship took a step forward that day. I learned that a little listening goes a long way.

Grace and peace,

* The Greek for healthy here implies generous. The Greek for unhealthy here implies stingy. (Luke 11:34 NIV Notes)

Seeing with Generous Eyes

I love how nature surprises us with beauty. Actually, the beauty is there all along, the surprise happens when we pause long enough to recognize it. Like today, while sitting at the park with my family, I looked up and discovered a tree crowned in white blossoms and fresh green leaves. Spectacular!

This reminds me of Jesus’ words,

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are generous*, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are stingy*, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.” (Luke 11:34)

Between blossoms and leaves.

Between blossoms and leaves.

I was at a retreat recently where we discussed this passage. Josh Pinkston, who co-led the retreat, helped us to understand that the condition of our eyes has less to do with who/what we are looking at than it does with how we are seeing them. When we look at someone, what do we see, that which divides us or brings us together? This is true with family and friends, people that cross our path, and even God.

When I arrived at the retreat, I realized that the prayer I was carrying on my heart was the refrain of a popular song that goes like this, “Say something. I’m giving up on you.” I won’t go into all the details as to why this was my prayer, but if prayer is talking to God, this is what I was communicating. (e.g.: Psalm 22:1-2)

It was after talking about Jesus words about the generous and stingy eyes, that I realized God had been talking to me all day long through the voices of those around me. If I was not able to see God in them, then the light of my eyes would have truly been darkness, because I would have stayed in the darkness of my initial prayer.

God’s movement is always toward light and life, even if it means walking with us through the darkness. Just as I was surprised today at the beautiful sight of a tree transitioning from blossom to leaf, I was even more surprised at the astounding beauty of God’s love through the people God had placed around me. All it took was a generous eye.

Grace and peace,

* The Greek for healthy here implies generous. The Greek for unhealthy here implies stingy. (Luke 11:34 NIV Notes)

Embracing the Next Step

Over the last few years I have utilized annual themes in writing these devotional articles. It started in 2011 by focusing on Community. From the theme of Community came Building Bridges in 2012. This last year was focused on Embracing. These themes put together create a long trajectory. When we begin to understand ourselves as a community and as individuals within a community, we can then begin to build bridges to that community, understanding that we are actually the bridges themselves. A bridge is a connection between two places that do not immediately meet. A bridge touches, or better yet, embraces both sides of its span. An embrace is an introduction, a discovery, and the beginning of what possibly lies ahead. The embrace leads to a next step.

Sacagawea by Robert Schoeller

Sacagawea by Robert Schoeller

Recently, my family was listening to an audio book chronicling the adventure of Lewis and Clark as they set out to discover a water way from the upper Midwest to the Pacific Ocean. Some distance into the journey, Sacajawea, their Native American guide, introduced them to her people, the Shoshone. The Shoshone had a custom of greeting one and all with a hug. Lewis and Clark humorously referred to this greeting as the “national embrace!” Sometimes this ritual would last for hours.

Lewis and Clark, and as well the Shoshone, discovered that after their embrace there were decisions to be made. Would they continue together or not? To what degree would they support one another? Would they share resources materially, socially, or politically? As they discovered, the embrace was only the beginning. As it turned out, the Shoshone became a vital part of the success of the expedition. This success was based on each party choosing and sticking to the next step.

2014 is a year of next steps. A year of making decisions and taking action. This trajectory we are on is a continual trajectory. Community, bridge building, and embracing will happen concurrently with and will even be the grace to empower us in our journey into the next steps. There is much that lies before us, but we are not alone on this expedition. God has given us the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, and one another. Just as Sacajawea introduced Lewis and Clark to the “national embrace” that led to a successful alliance, may we as a community continue in the love that chooses to embrace and takes the next steps of loving God by loving one another, so that the influence of God’s kingdom would extend beyond our wildest dreams.

Grace and peace,

Embracing Peace at Advent

While preparing this week’s newsletter I started singing Christmastime Is Here from A Charlie Brown Christmas. The first verse goes like this:

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

open handsAs I get older I seem to have become somewhat of a humbug. When I start thinking about the Christmas season a list of negative things immediately forms in my mind. I won’t bother you with the details, but suffice it to say, it’s a lot of mental and emotional work sorting through it all to get down to the good stuff. Sad to say, peace is one of the last things I think of when it comes to Christmas.

As I dig down deeper into the idea of peace, I realize that I’m dealing with a misconception of what peace really is. To quote J. Oswald Sanders, “Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of God.” Sanders is getting at a misunderstanding that peace is primarily circumstantial and dependent upon the lack of conflict. His solution, though, is one of presence. Presence requires openness. In order to receive God’s presence, we need to let go of our need for control and open up to the reality that God’s presence brings companionship and resourcefulness. Saying yes to God means that we are not alone and that solutions to what is stressing us are made available.

Peace is the product of making space. We can make space in time, place, and relationships, and space provides avenues of potential. Making space in our schedule allows us to breathe and connect with God and people and to become agents of peace in the process. Making space in the place we live allows us to be open to relationship and provides a place to be that agent of peace. Making space is our hearts allows us to be open relationally, to be Jesus in our world, loving God by loving others.

So, back to the song “Christmastime Is Here,” peace comes when we make space to experience all the wonder and beauty that surrounds us as we celebrate the birth of Jesus with those who are close to us in proximity and in heart.

“Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (Luke 2:14 CEB)

May you experience the favor of God’s peace as you open up to the presence of God and those who come close to you this Christmas season.

Grace and peace,

Embracing Peace from earlier this year.

Embracing Mercy, Part 2

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies. (Psalm 23:5)

“Bread and Wine,” Albert York, 1966

“Bread and Wine,” Albert York, 1966

The table in this passage is a table of extravagant blessing. I’ve always wondered why it is prepared in the presence of my enemies. After studying about blessing and persecution for a talk I gave a few weeks back, I realize now that the table is not for me alone. A few verses later in this Psalm it reads, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” People who are known for their goodness and love are those who less concerned about what’s in it for them and more about who they can bless with what they themselves have been blessed with. As I see it, this table always has an extra chair and setting. When we choose to love our enemies, as Jesus taught, then the blessings of this table are all the more sweet, because it is a table where we people are loved and relationships restored.

All this reminds me of a quote I read on Twitter this week.

“I’ve found God is wanting to be known more in the person that annoys us, and less in sunsets.” @Sarcasticluther

This is never easy, and I’m sure we will find ourselves going around the mountain again and again on this one, but hopefully our company of travelers will grow with each successive trip as we learn to love God by loving others.

Grace and peace,

Embracing Simplicity

One evening this last week I was listening to the radio on my way home. I caught the last few minutes of an interview. I don’t remember the program or the person being interviewed, but I remember what she said.

bowl of riceShe was talking about an exercise in simplicity with the purpose of becoming more present to the situation at hand. The exercise was to take a measure of rice or sesame seeds, let’s say one cup, and count the grains. After a few minutes, most people will become completely overwhelmed with the task because of our inability to focus on one thing at a time.

Her contention is that technology is outpacing our brains’ ability to cope with its advancement. If we allow, we can be inundated with stimuli in the form of information, media, and competing goals and expectations. She was giving an exhortation toward presence, which is staying attentive to the person or task before us.

This has many implications, but the three that immediately came to my mind were family, community, and church. All three require us to be simply present. Presence, especially in the family and church, is expansive. It can be said that it is the presence of God being collectively expressed in the present. This is the basis of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23.

I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.

May the grace of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit empower us to become present to those who are near and dear to us.

Grace and peace,

Embracing Proximity, Part 2: Getting Messy

There is a time for everything, a time for getting close and a time for backing off, a time for getting messy and a time for staying clean. I think the former should be a prominent feature of the Christian life, but we often to default to the latter. It is just easier that way. But, convenience always comes at a cost.

What do you think? If someone had one hundred sheep and one of them wandered off, wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillsides and go in search for the one that wandered off? If he finds it, I assure you that he is happier about having that one sheep than about the ninety-nine who didn’t wander off. In the same way, my Father who is in heaven doesn’t want to lose one of these little ones. (Matthew 18:12-14, CEB)

'Shepherd and Sheep' by Anton Mauve

‘Shepherd and Sheep’ by Anton Mauve

Here the shepherd felt that “cutting his losses” at one sheep was too costly compared to the convenience of staying back with the ninety-nine. Jesus said that God feels the same way about us.

This required the shepherd to get messy, to get involved, in order to restore this sheep to his flock. It was a price worth paying.

Yes, there is a time for distancing ourselves, but but it should be a means of ensuring and/or restoring safety. It should not be a lifestyle. Let’s face it, life is messy and not always safe. It takes getting close to the lost, the broken, the sinner, the other if we want to God’s kingdom established in our world. It’s God’s mission. Is it ours?

I admit that these are hard words to swallow. It goes against my inclinations of self-preservation and comfort, but my prayer is that by getting messy a little bit at a time, I will begin to see and love people as Jesus does. This is my prayer for you, too.

Grace and peace,