Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Full Life in a Land that's Flowing . . (4of4)

When Jesus shows up things happen!  

Jesus claimed His mission was aphesis- (release, pardon, freedom):

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
- Luke 4:18-19

Of the 17 times that the word ‘aphesis’  shows up in the Bible, 12 times refer to the forgiveness of sin.  The removal of sin via Our Father’s forgiveness and ‘chesed’ - faithful love - is the first step to knowing Him intimately and receiving all He has to give us.  Only those of us who admit our waywardness (sin) will receive pardon and freedom from it to live life to the full.

The River has long held a place of significance in our collective consciousness.  Specifically, the Jordan River marked a major change for Israel: 
+ Leaving their stubborn, willful disobedience behind in the wilderness
+ Moving into greater intimacy with God through obedience
+ Experiencing the fulfillment of the promises of God in the Promised Land, which waited for them on the other side of the River.

Ultimately, the Jordan River symbolized national renewal (via surrender to God’s faithful love).  The River still symbolizes these realities for us today, friends.  It’s a boundary marker signifying the parts of ourselves that need to die to make way for the newness and life Our Father has promised to give us.  There are many frauds that promise a safe crossing into the Promised Land by building a bridge or a ferry to cross into the promises of God, but the only way to enter into God’s blessing and brighter future is to go through the waters to the other side.  That symbolic death - as we now illustrate through the sacrament of baptism - is the rite of passage for all of the children God loves and calls to Himself in Jesus Christ.  

Will you leave the 'Wilderness of Doing Life Your Way' behind and go through the waters of the 'River of Repentance and Trust in the Father’s Faithful Love' to cross to the other side?  This is not simply an illustration of life’s journey to a heavenly home after  death, this victory of Jesus over death and hell is meant for us in the here end now.  The Promised Land is something we are meant to enter this side of physical death and it’s where His Kingdom is being built - together, right here.

The adventure begins on the other side of the Jordan River!


What aspect of Jesus' mission of 'aphesis' (release, pardon, freedom) are you drawn to be a part of?

What must you leave behind in the Wilderness as you pass through the River into the Promises God has for you?


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Monday, December 22, 2014

Building Your Home Around the Hearth (3of4)

Read and reflect on Psalm 85

Our Father’s chesed’ often translated as ‘loving-kindness’ or ‘faithful love’ is one of the main descriptors He’s chose to be known by through his actions among us, his people.  In the OT (Old Testament) the work appears 245 times, half of which feature in the Psalms.  It’s in the desert - the wilderness - and in our waiting that we most need the truth that Our Father is over-flowing with loving kindness and faithful love.  Building our lives around the loving kindness of the Father is like building a home around a hearth . . providing warmth and life at the center of our very existence.

Truth - God’s track record, His Word and His promises - are like seeds designed to be planted in the soil of our souls during our wilderness stints.  Here’s why . . Father-God is digging deep trenches in your soul during those times of darkness, of waiting and longing.  The soil of your soul is being overturned, exposing what you’d rather have kept hidden under the surface.  Then the Gardener/Farmer arrives and row by row He removes anything that will hinder real life - life to the full - from growing: old roots, weeds, rocks - all of it.  It’s all removed to make way for the new, specifically for the seed of the Word of God, so that when it’s planted it can take root and grow healthy and strong.  This is what is happening in the dark times . . this is what is happening in your wilderness.

Mark 1, like much of the Bible contains many levels worth mining.  In a way, we might say that John the Baptist represents what God does in our lives when we’re in the wilderness.  He specifically located himself in the wilderness, in the Jordan River, preparing the way - offering change - for the Israelites.  John (the wilderness) prepared the way (soil) for Jesus (the Word made flesh) so that when He arrived people were ready for Him, anticipating His arrival.

How did John prepare the way for the Lord to arrive?

A)  John shared God’s word with the people (that’s what prophets do)
B)  He challenged them to change the way they thought and the way they lived (repentance)
C) People demonstrated / illustrated this inner change by being baptized - a sign they let go of their way of doing life and embraced Jesus’ way of life as their 'Rabbi'.  When people made this choice and subsequent change, they received God’s forgiveness - the promised loving-kindness of the Father - which clears the way for the Spirit of God to move in mighty ways.


What truth have you heard that you have yet to respond positively to?

How will your life look if you do?

Where do you most need your Father to show up in your life?

To Be Continued . . . 


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Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Voice in the Wilderness and a Loving Kindness that Leads (2of4)

No doubt there was more of this kind of longing in the desert of Sinai than anyone would have wanted to admit.  Much of the OT is marked by warnings, challenges and prophetic forth-telling d-detailing what The Lord said was coming to his people unless they changed their ways.  The prophet Isaiah is a prime example.  Although it’s punctuated by inspiring visions of redemption, the first 39 chapters of the book which bears his name he’s warning, pleading with the Israelites, even then promising what would happen if they did not repent - change their minds and change their ways.  Then in chapter 40 we begin to feel the change in the air.  It begins, 

“ ‘Comfort, comfort my people’, says your God.  ‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service is completed.’ ”

They had be spent by their own willful rebellion, the Israelites now knew surrender - better than ever before.  God’s continual call to come home and receive His ‘chesed’ (loving kindness) would begin to be heeded.  Their repentance would make a way for the Lord to deliver them from their sin and waywardness.  It was the newly dug channel in the desert sand for the waters of the Father’s loves to rush down to greet them in their waiting.

Notice the similarity in the the quotations from Isaiah 40:3 and Mark 1:3:

“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’ “
- Isaiah 40:3

“a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ”
- Mark 1:3

The difference is slight but significant.  There is some uncertainty about whether the voice is located in the wilderness or if the voice is speaking out these words, “In the wilderness . .“  Either way, these verses remind us that although The Lord is always calling us to Himself, it’s usually in the wilderness that we hear His voice more clearly and powerfully because the wilderness is where we recognize and own our own weakness.  It’s in the wilderness that we often cry out more whole-heartedly for our God to come to our rescue knowing our inability to rescue ourselves.  The Israelites knew this longing and waiting for rescue so well . . Wilk Tucker knew it too once the wild life he’d created for himself caught up with him.  We can often find ourselves in the same wilderness, wondering how we got there, longing for the The Lord to send His ‘loving kindness’ - His ‘chesed’ and bring us home.  Once we allow our hearts to own responsibility for finding ourselves in the wilderness, and we ask for help, everything changes.

Friends, it’s in those wild places, those deserts of our lives that ‘work’ is being done that preparations are being made for what’s about to happen.  The focus is meant to be on what’s ahead that is yet to be experienced, but oftentimes what’s about to happen is lost in what we presently feel.  

What is it we feel in those wild places of our life’s journey?

Pain, discomfort, confusion, despair, hopelessness, etc.  Unfortunately, it’s these emotions that become our primary confidants and close companions in the wilderness - not the Truth.

To Be Continued . . .


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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Wilderness, Hillbillies and Christ's Return (1of4)

Arbuckle Creek Road

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in the wilderness.  It was a gift to willfully disengage and head into the mountains.  The two key ingredients were solitude and beauty.  The two together - for me - can be a catalyst for significant experiences.  I believe that  both can mark any of us if we give them opportunity.

As I headed up to meet with the rest of my family for Thanksgiving in Ohio, I stopped in a small, somewhat preserved, town in Western West Virginia.  The reason I found myself in this place I had never set foot before is this is the town where my grandfather and great grandfather were  born and my great-great grandfather lived for sometime.  When I arrived I asked the librarian if there were many Tuckers’ still in town.  She said, “Are there?!  The whole place of full of them!”   As it turned out, she was right.  Since I was an outsider I asked her to speak freely and tell me what the local Tuckers’ were like.  She said they were “ornery”.  I said, in reply, “It sounds like you’re being kind.”  She said, “I am.”  I met a quite a few Tuckers during my few hours there - including the current mayor, Gary Tucker, working in the general store he owns and operates.  The previous mayor is a Tucker, too!

By far the most interesting conversation I had was with Wilk Tucker.  As I left town, I headed out to visit the Tucker Cemetery near the town - against the recommendations of some of those in town due to dear season and me wearing all black.  When I turned down Arbuckle Creek Road, I realized I was in the backwoods of West Virginia.  Littered along the little creek, were shacks, shanty homes, mobile homes and a workshop or two.  It was clear that many of these people were experiencing hard times.  Nearing the road I was supposed to take toward the Tucker cemetery, a man dressed in bright orange and camouflage driving an ATV pulled out in front of me and then into his driveway at the bottom of the muddy mountain pass up to the cemetery.

I shouted to him and asked if the dirt track across from his house led to the cemetery.  Eerily, as he approached I was immediately reminded of my grandfather - both of their facial features are uncannily similar.  As he approached, I introduced myself and I told him my family lived in this area generations ago, he then told me his name is Wilk Tucker.  After directing me to the cemetery, he suggested that he’d take me up to it and show me where his people (Tuckers) were buried.  After pointing out a few of the  graves, I thanked him and we said our goodbye.  As he walked away, this otherwise quiet mountain man in his 60’s shouted out, “Just remember, The Lord is coming back soon!”  This sparked a conversation, in which I found out Wilk had lived a wild, raucous life.  He said the Lord had called him when he was boy, but he went his own way which led him into many fights, being shot at and eventually prison.  He said, at 42 he finally gave his life to the Lord.  It was a very memorable, significant encounter which I’ll always remember.

Friends, Wilk is right, The Lord is coming back soon.  At this season of Advent, we remember His first arrival in this world, as a small baby in a manger on the edges of the Roman Empire.  At his arrival, the darkness which had long laid waste to this world was pierced through with a light unconquerable!  This year, as we inhabit this Story of stories again, we find ourselves in a time of waiting.  Symbolically waiting in that darkness before the Light had arrived.  Our souls are caught up in a kind of longing not known in much of life.  The kind of longing which feels unfinished, incomplete that only a deep groan seems to adequately express.  It’s often marked by tears, prayers and . . waiting - lots of waiting.  This is the wilderness experience.

To Be Continued . . .


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Thursday, December 11, 2014

On Waiting . . .

                                                                by Fr1stys

Waiting . . we’re not very good at it as Westerners . . dare I say Americans?  Waiting feels like a forgotten word in our contemporary lexicon, forgotten like practices of old such as washing clothes by hand, baking bread or book making.  Worse than the pronounced distance of the word 'waiting' is our ability to practice waiting.  As with most habits, in order for it to occupy space in one’s life it must be an unavoidable (forced) reality or a desirable course of action providing some payoff worth the investment.  Unfortunately, waiting (in the West) appears to be neither.  When we have a desire, we want to satiate it and we want to do so immediately.  We’ve organized our society around the central principle of expediency but under the guise of efficiency.  It seems so innocuous, innocent and good.  Certainly in many cases our desire and ‘need for speed’ serves the common good and should be employed, when it comes to the field of medicine for instance.  But there are many ways in which the collective addiction to immediacy seems to cheapen, or cheat, the natural processes which frame our world.

At some level it’s surprising that many haven’t promoted ways to speed up the process of gestation in the womb that gives birth to each unique human soul.  How would we feel if someone did?  Would that give cause for pause?  Would the suggestion to halve the period of nine months for pregnancy to four and a half bother anyone?  Can it be done?  Should it?  It takes nine months for a human life to be prepared to enter this wild, wonderful world.  Who are we to say it should take less time?  A ‘full-term’ pregnancy is a divinely instituted dictate.  A fixed (at present), immoveable boundary line which the Creator saw fit to establish.  What other practices, albeit seemingly less significant, has humanity sought to move and establish as it saw fit?  Electricity has certainly encouraged us to cheat ourselves of sleep, pushing the boundary of available light under which to work, play and carouse.  Am I railing against electricity?  By no means.  Electricity has served us well - or have we become its servant?

Ultimately, we have choices.  By our choices we live or die.  Seriously.  It’s that black and white.  What’s becoming more and more apparent in our Western lives is the need for boundaries.  The degrading quality of our lives attest to that reality: the necessity of making healthier choices in the midst of a plethora of options which face us everyday - a proverbial buffet in every sphere of life.  While many choices we make are made in the name of efficiency - the shortest line at the grocery, the faster lane on the road, the quickest cup of coffee - some things should not be sped up.  Wine takes time.  Cheese takes time.  A Thanksgiving turkey takes time.  Character is shaped and formed over time and through difficulty . . suffering.  And whether in utero or outside it, a human life takes time.   ‘Life is Short’ is a ubiquitous truth - so why speed it up?  We only have one opportunity to make it count.  People we love and value come in and out of our lives like sunshine on a tree lined road.  Take time.  Take time to slow and rest.  Your life is not your own and you have no say over many more things than you’d like to admit.  Pause.  Breathe.  Savor.  Smile.  Short are our days.  

This is the season of Advent within the Christian calendar.  It’s a season characterized by waiting.  Waiting for unmet longings to come to fruition, hoped for realities to be birthed into existence, and all that we’ve been holding our breath for to finally appear on the horizon.  You might be desperately longing for that special someone to appear, waiting for a new vocational opportunity to emerge, or this post to come to an end.  The deepest longings of our souls are not met by something - only Someone outside our own existence.  Someone who both lives beyond and within our lives.  This is the reality of “the Word made flesh”.  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, NIV).  ‘At just the right time’ . . is a phrase pregnant with meaning.  ‘At just the right time’ does not usually come when we want [it] to, but when we need [it].  “For God says, ‘At just the right time, I heard you.  On the day of salvation, I helped you.’  Indeed, God is ready to help you right now.  Today is the day of salvation.”  (2 Corinthians 6:2, NLT)  

Jesus Christ appeared as the Light in the darkness - at just the right time.  He comes as light into our darkness still.  A light most welcome and worth waiting for . . when you need Him most.


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Thursday, November 06, 2014

I Speak Words Good

(image by Toadfoal)

I love words.  I get excited about word meanings, name meanings, how words are formed, why they’re used and where they originate from.  Geeky, I know.  I get even more excited about what words can accomplish.  At the most basic level, words create.  You can even go as far as to say that words create worlds.  Certainly, if you subscribe to the Christian / Judaic narrative of the creation of the universe you believe that “In the beginning God created . .” and He did so with words.  He simply spoke and what was is visible came into being.  

I suppose the greatest attestation to that awe-inspiring reality is your very existence.  You are here and now - at present reading these very words - aware of your being  in the universe.  At one time, you were not here.  There was a time before you existed.  Yet somehow, you came to be ex nihilo, or ‘out of nothing’ and here you are!  In a very real sense, you existed in the heart of God before you resided in a body.  At at just the right moment, He saw it was the right time for you to plant your feet on terra firma and you arrived.

It’s not so hard to believe that creation - birthing something into the real - can begin with a word.  We see it all of the time.  We so easily take it for granted that all of things we now use and enjoy which fall under human ingenuity at one time only existed in someone’s heart and mind.  Then they spoke of it and it began to take shape.  What followed was formation of a new creation by the hands of those who knew it before it became present.  I once heard that when you have an idea of something you’d like to do or create, you are seven hundred times more likely to achieve it if you write it down or draw it.  It’s the first step in creating.

One of the primary evidences that we are, in fact, image-bearers of God is our ability to create or destroy with the words we speak.  They can carry the power to give life, or death.  It goes without speaking really, ;-) . . we all know the affect words have because we’ve felt them.  When someone at school spoke some particularly ugly, hurting words to you, you felt them.  No less than you’d feel it when you stub your toe on a table leg.  Pain.  Lingering pain.  I once was told in front of my father, “Today you’ve lost a son.”  It was said to deliberately hurt and cut me out of my father's life.  I saw him two more times within two years following that day . . and never afterward.  It's been twenty-two years since.  There’s a pain still attached to those words.  Since I’ve been on the receiving end of death-dealing words, I have to choose not to use them on others.

Hopefully you’ve also felt the effect of life-giving words when someone expressed belief in you.  They have the ability to lift you above the clouds and give you wings!  When I was a young adult at college, one of my youth pastors once shouted in front of others, “ . . He’s going to be one of the best youth pastors in the world.”  I was standing right there and he knew it.  He believed in me, and as a result his words encouraged me for many years.  Since I’ve been the recipient of life-giving words, I must choose to employ them to great effect in the lives of others.  Once I do, it’s like watching a seed germinate into a beautiful, vibrant, color-rich flower which refreshes all who see (hear) it.

The Good Book - so called because it’s full of good words - has this to say about words and how we use them, “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.”
(Proverbs 18:21, TM)

The Word Master himself once said, “Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.” (Jesus, Matthew 12:37, TM).  The effect of the kind of words we choose to use, comes back on us.  The good news is - we choose.


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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Are We Ready To Be Swept Off Our Feet?

This morning I read a great blog post from prolific author, speaker and coach @MichaelHyatt called 'How To Reframe Your Fear And Let It Work For You'.  First of all, if you don't know who Michael is, or don't read his posts - you're missing some caffeine for the soul.  Seriously, make the time to check in with him a few times a week online.  Michael's post today was simply another quiet whisper in my ear over the past couple of weeks.

We often face fear on some level before we leap into something that we perceive as significant or great.  Providing the opportunity before us is a good one, that fear we experience may be an indicator that what we've been inspired to do should be done posthaste.   In 'How To Reframe Your Fear And Let It Work For You' Michael offers us three steps to move through fear, "1) Notice the Feeling, 2) Objectify the Feeling and 3) Reframe the Feeling".  Good advice.  As a spiritual director and pastor, I would also encourage you to listen to what the Spirit of God might be speaking to you before, during and after moving through fear.  If you'd like someone to walk with you through this process, I can help.

This theme of facing fear and doing something great has been coming up again and again lately . . which usually means the Spirit of God is trying to get my attention.  Earlier this morning I heard the Spirit speak through the song 'Every Breaking Wave' on U2's most recent album Songs of Innocence. In it Bono sings, "Are we so helpless against the tide? / Baby every dog on the street / Knows that we're in love with defeat / Are we ready to be swept off our feet / And stop chasing / Every breaking wave".  In essence, the fear that causes us to stay in our comfort zones is the same fear that keeps us chasing our tail, happily distracting ourselves (procrastinating) from jumping off the cliff of opportunity just ahead.  The exhilaration of freedom that we'll experience flying through the air is what will help us make the leap of faith . . and the prospect of seeing that act birth light in the world.

Again, in the same blog post, Michael Hyatt offers some sound advice: "Whenever we have the potential to do something important or extraordinary, we’ll be tempted to stay inside our comfort zone.  But the truth is we never do anything of real significance in our comfort zone.  The base jumper who listens to his fears is just another hiker who walks down the mountain.  It’s when we’re stretched, face our fears, and reframe them that we can reach out and touch greatness."

The Spirit of God has been trying to get my attention.  I've heard and now I simply must act - in essence, I'm being called to 'poetry'.  The original Greek word from which we derive the English word 'poetry' is poiesiswhich means "to make (or do)".  There is such depth of relationship between that word and the role the Spirit of God plays in our lives that I will have to reserve that topic for a future post (see, I'm already planning on 'making' more words!).  Faith / belief / vocation only makes sense when it's acted upon.  There is no distinction between faith and action - they are one and the same.

Later in the song 'Every Breaking Wave' Bono exclaims, "We know that we fear to win / And so we end before we begin / Before we begin." The fear I've been facing the past four+ years has largely been the fear of failure.  Now that I've done that - failed - recently I've noticed that I'm facing a new type of fear, the fear of success.  Strange, right?  What happens once/if all that I've hoped for begins to happen, then what will my life look like?  What decisions will I be faced with?  There's no going back to life as it was!  Am I good with that?

Friends, I've jumped before . . and it was a big one!  My family and I left Ireland in 2010 to establish a non-profit in America, with no job or home to go to. Honestly, it hurt - but we're here, alive and living poetry.  I see another cliff coming into view just ahead and I don't want hesitation or fear to keep me from making another courageous leap.  Who knows if The Lord will use this little jump of ours to do something great in His wild, wonderful world?  Maybe someone else will find freedom for themselves, then pass it on to another in need of it?

So . . are you ready?

3 - 2 - 1 . . JUMP!

"Now to the God who can do so many awe-inspiring things, immeasurable things, things greater than we ever could ask or imagine through the power at work in us, to Him be all glory in the church and in Jesus the Anointed from this generation to the next, forever and ever. Amen."

- Ephesians 3:20-21, The Voice (Bible)