Tag Archives: grace

Compassionately Bold

golden mushroomI am always amazed how God can speak through simple and familiar stories. I was reading in Mark’s gospel how at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus cast a demon out of a man in the synagogue. (Mark 1:21-28)  It says the Jesus spoke harshly to the demon. I can’t help but believe that it was deep compassion for the man that Jesus chose to silence the unclean spirit. Love makes us do bold things.

While thinking about this passage, I felt God say to me, “Speak harshly to your demons, but kindly to yourself.” It’s not everyday that we are invited to speak into the lives of those around us, but we are well aware of the things that we struggle with personally.

It just might be me, but I often take my struggles personally. Instead of saying “I messed up,” I would say, “I’m a bad person.” This is not what Jesus sees or says. We can act loving to ourselves by being bold against the things that trip us up.

What does this look like? It is a step-by-step, day-at-a-time process. Choosing daily to turn toward Jesus, allowing his presence to give us the boldness to walk forward in the way he is showing us. We may need help in doing this, and that’s ok. Or, we might not. The main point here is to have the compassion for ourselves that Jesus does so that we move boldly toward the freedom that we know is found in Christ. We may just have to speak harshly to our demons.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Living with Weeds

This week I have been meditating on the Parable of the Weeds from Matthew 13. It is a story of intrigue and deception, and as well, patience and hope. After spending some time with it, I discovered that there is a valuable lesson to be found under the surface.

Woman walking through barley fieldAfter sowing his field with wheat he discovers that an enemy has contaminated his field with weeds. Instead of weeding the field, he decides to let them grow together, separating them after the harvest.

While not disregarding Jesus’ explanation of the parable, I found that it can be applied on a personal level as well as globally.

How often do we look at our lives and find aspects, characteristics, or personality traits that we just don’t like? These can even be areas of brokenness that seem to define us. We try to change ourselves. We pray for God to change us. Yet, we remain the same. Some of this is a product of our upbringing, culture, heritage, even DNA. Others are a product of the fall.

My understanding is that God loves us as we are. Yes, we are made new in Christ. Part of that newness is the grace to live in God’s presence, “warts and all,” allowing the Spirit to impart patience and instill hope that one day we will not only see Christ as he is, but also ourselves as we are.

Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face- to- face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known.
(1 Corinthians 13:12, CEB)

My encouragement is simple. Learn to live with the weeds. There are some that God will lovingly remove as we mature in Christ. Then there are some that only God can sort out in the end. Until then there is grace realized in the love of God and in the love of God’s people.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Listening

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,
Brook

* 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 it 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 alway 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,
Brook

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

Being Present to Others

Life is not lived in a vacuum. We are not islands unto ourselves. We belong to one another.

I feel that it would be an over simplification to say that the goal of being present to God and of being present to ourselves is to be adequately prepared to be present with other people. The fact of the matter is that these three things are concurrent with and inform each other. Our experiences of being present in one aspect, help us to do the same in other aspects. That is to say, one is not more important than another. What good is it to have an awesome prayer time only to find ourself holding ill feelings toward a loved one. Or, have an amazing sense of self awareness, only to be oblivious to those around us. It is all inter-connected. It all matters. It all takes practice. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

I came across a story earlier this week about an American WWII soldier who, in realizing his own feelings, thought of his enemy and how to reach out to him. You can watch him tell the story below. You can also read a fuller exposition of it here.

The reason I share this story is for us to realize that our lives are not our own. Our practice of presence may at some times seem mundane and at others amazingly significant. The idea of being adequately prepared to be present is not in storing up preparation, but rather the practice of presence itself. Instead of seeing ourselves as a reservoir, maybe we should see ourselves as a stream. Our experiences form the channel through which presence flows. It is a picture of strong weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) Our strength is not found in the ability to hold on to presence, but in the presence that flows through us. (If you have ever tried to wade across a stream, you will know what I’m talking about.) The strength of presence comes from spending time with God, having a healthy sense of self awareness, and taking the time to be with others where they are at.

My hope is that as we step into the practice of being present, we will find that it is a grace not only for others, but for ourselves as well.

Grace and peace,
Brook

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,
Brook

Embracing Mercy

I had a texting exchange with a good friend about coffee. He appreciates that I’m a coffee aficionado and has enjoyed the coffee I have roasted. Here is what he texted me.

coffeeConfession: When there are no means for good coffee while on a personal retreat, I turn into an amoral monster who will consume just about anything. Please forgive me.

Here is my reply.

coffee packetCounter confession: I keep one in my desk in preparation for the apocalypse!
Mercy granted for mercy received.

He replied with: Hahahaha!! Granted

It is easy for us to build bulwarks and facades around the things that we value. In this instance, good coffee. I often joke that I’m a coffee snob and wouldn’t touch anything less than specialty grade coffee. The reality is that I regularly drink Denny’s coffee when I go there to have breakfast with a friend.

The point is that we are finite carbon life forms. We have limitations. We are not perfect. When we grant mercy to others, we will most likely receive mercy in our time of need. Opening up to the mercies of our brothers and sisters opens us up to the restoring mercy of God. Loving our neighbor as ourself is as spiritual as it is practical.

Mercy granted for mercy received!

Grace and peace,
Brook

Presence Takes Practice

This last Monday was Columbus Day, and I got the day off. My family and I decided to take a little drive and enjoy the day in Pacific Grove. The weather was perfect. The traffic was easy. It seemed like everything was poised to be a banner day of relaxing, reconnecting, and recreating. There was just one little problem, which had the potential of becoming something much bigger. I hadn’t prepared myself to be present with my family as we enjoyed one of our favorite places in the world.

Asilomar State Beach,  Pacific Grove, CA

Asilomar State Beach, Pacific Grove, CA

I had believed that if I just get there, everything will be different, everything will change. I was looking for a magical fix.

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (Joshua 3:5)

Joshua gave this direction to the people of Israel just before they crossed the Jordan river, leaving the wilderness and entering the promised land. The “amazing thing” was that the Jordan river would temporarily stop flowing so they could cross on dry ground like they did crossing the Red Sea. Joshua wanted the people to prepare themselves for this day, dedicating themselves to the Lord, so that their expectation would be in God and that they could full experience the wonder that was about to happen.

In my lack of preparation I ended up bringing all my distractions with my, both internal and external. I could have left them behind. I could have said that I will deal with this thing or that thing later. I could have said that Facebook can wait. I could have worn clothes that were less nice so as to not worry about getting wet or sandy or dirty. And the list goes on…

My saving grace is an understanding wife. I don’t remember what she said or how she said it, but in a moment we came together and realized that the only time to experience this moment is now. Everything else can wait.

The preparation only took a moment, and the rest of the day was fantastic. The most important part of the preparation was realizing that I had to practice at being present. It’s not automatic or magical, but a deliberate choosing to focus on who I was with and the beauty of the place I was at. In the end we did find relaxation, reconnection with one another, and recreation.

Disaster narrowly averted. Lessoned learned. Thanks for listening.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Beautiful Day: Embracing Freedom One Step at a Time

We were out to dinner at a popular restaurant for my daughter’s birthday. I was enjoying my family, enjoying my burger, and not paying much attention to anything else. Until, Autumn mentioned the song that was playing in the background, Beautiful Day by U2. It’s an iconic song. It holds in tension beauty and destruction, hope and disappointment. The main point the song tries to make is that no matter how bad things get, there is still hope. You can find beauty in a horrible day when it is viewed through the eyes of hope.

I’m a huge U2 fan and have been since I was eleven years old. Beautiful Day is one of my favorite songs. So, when Autumn mentioned it, all of this came flooding into my heart and mind.

As tough as it is to confess, my family and I have been going through a long season of living in survival mode. Most days it is quite hard to find beauty amid the chaos. Then there are days where God’s grace enables us to catch a glimpse of hope and embrace the beauty around us.

One day a few weeks ago, I asked the Lord, “How can we get out of this mess?” I had not yet realized that we were in survival mode. God told me, “One step at a time.” This was so liberating for me. I have labored for decades with the notion that if God really loved me, all the chaos and crap would just go away and that we would have perfectly ordered and blessed lives just like that. But in the moment God said, “One step at a time,” I began to see pathways to freedom that Jesus was inviting me to walk down with him. One specific path was to re-establish small routines, building on those successes.

Even though we are still in survival mode, we have caught a glimpse of hope that allows us to see the beauty of the day and the grace of God in the process toward freedom, one step at a time.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Grace and peace,
Brook

Make Sure You Are Hungry

This week I came across a devotional that really touched me and seemed to continue in the same thought as my message last Sunday.* It comes from a daily email devotional by Fr. Richard Rohr. I thought it best to share it in full.

* Note: Eucharist is the same as Communion or the Lord’s Supper.

In my message last Sunday I applied my equation of Proximity + Process = Presence to Eucharist. At the Lord’s table we draw near to God (proximity), expecting to be changed through healing, forgiveness, salvation (process), and thus experience God (presence). Fr. Richard describes an aspect of how this works.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Make Sure You Are Hungry

“Christ is the bread, awaiting hunger.”  – St. Augustine

Bread and Wine by Anna Tikhomirova

Bread and Wine by Anna Tikhomirova

Eucharist is presence encountering presence-mutuality, vulnerability. There is nothing to prove, to protect, or to sell. It feels so empty, simple, and harmless, that all you can do is be present. In most of Christian history we instead tried to “understand” and explain presence. As if we could.

The Eucharist is telling us that God is the food and all we have to do is provide the hunger. Somehow we have to make sure that each day we are hungry, that there’s room inside of us for another presence. If you are filled with your own opinions, ideas, righteousness, superiority, or sufficiency, you are a world unto yourself and there is no room for “another.” Despite all our attempts to define who is worthy and who is not worthy to receive communion, our only ticket or prerequisite for coming to Eucharist is hunger. And most often sinners are much hungrier than the so-called saints.

– Fr. Richard Rohr