Tuesday, December 26, 2017

From Strength to Strength...Opening the Most Precious Christmas Letters

Dear Friends, 

I still enjoy opening Christmas cards from dear friends, and reading their “enclosures”… those special updates on the past year’s highlights and happenings.  They often bring a smile… sometimes a tinge of sadness…always a flood of warmth to my heart. 
Pondering this I realized…I look forward to reading other precious letters at this time of year also. 

Those letters are the thoughts, prayers, and heart cries, that have filled my spiritual journals most of the past 365 days; and often, the faithful responses from Him, the Lover of my soul. 

Reopening those journals has become a yearly ritual for me. 
  • What treasures are re-discovered as I walk through the past twelve months with Him again!  
  • What fresh insights are gained from the vantage point of significant time having passed!   
  • What opportunities are presented to discern His perspective!
  • What treasures can be gleaned through those windows of remembrance!
  • And perhaps best of all, what nuggets of fresh awareness can be carried into the new year!
  • Take some special moments with Him, dear friends, even if you’re not a “journal-er.” 

You won’t regret it.

See you in 2018. 

“I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the lookout tower.  I will watch to see what He will say to me and what I should reply about my complaint.”  Habakkuk 2:1

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

From Strength to Strength...Migdal Eder

 Periodically the Lord brings a powerful insight from His Word that remains etched…chiseled as it were…in my heart forever.  Such was the case with Migdal Eder, “the tower of the flock” and the podcast my daughter and I listened to last Christmas while I was in Kentucky. 

The site, Migdal Eder, is first encountered in Scripture as the place near Rachel’s death after she gave birth to Benjamin: 

“So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).  And Jacob set a pillar on her grave which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.  Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.”   Genesis 35:19-21.   

Hebrew tradition also speaks of this site:
“There was a place just outside of Bethlehem city, but still within the region commonly known as Bethlehem, where Passover lambs (as well as those born at other times), were kept by specially trained and purified shepherds. The lambs were born in this ‘tower of the flock’ known as Migdal Eder under the watchful eye of the shepherds who would then lay them in the manger for inspection.  Either they would certify them for use as sacrifices in the temple or designate them to be released for common use. The newly chosen lambs would, according to some sources, even be wrapped in special swaddling clothes, as the shepherd would direct:  “wrap this one up.”

Then, somewhere around 4 BC:
“Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.  So it was that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”  Luke 2:4-8

Was Migdal Eder the actual location of Jesus’ birth?  Was this the ceremonially clean manger where Jesus was laid, wrapped in swaddling clothes? Were these specially purified shepherds the ones who received the angelic host that night?  Only God knows for sure, but isn’t it wonderful to ponder as we approach this holy day again?

“…So the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on even forever.  And you, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”  Micah 4:7-8

God bless you all!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

From Strength to Strength...What's in Your Closet

Well, there’s no denying it now!  The seasons have changed, daylight savings time has kicked in, and… the shortened daylight hours are a reality. 

While most of us will probably admit to a vague internal battle with sadness, it is kind of nice having this pause between lawn mowing and snow shoveling.   It also is nice to have long cozy evenings to perhaps enjoy fireplaces or wood-burners…and having that “extra” time to dig into a good book.

Ahhh and isn’t it neat to replace the wafting grill aromas with soups and chili and perhaps homemade bread or rolls (at least on the weekends)?   I think it’s safe to say that most of us are ready to pull out our fleeces and sweaters as well. 

However, this all means one thing.  It’s that time again.  It’s time to tackle that dastardly deed…changing out the closets and drawers!   For moms of larger households, it is a daunting task that pretty much requires setting aside a whole morning or afternoon.  I smile as I think about years gone by. 

For me now, life is much simpler.  As I finally faced the job last week, my mind really wasn’t on the clothing.  It was focused instead on the choices.  Do I need this?  Could someone else benefit from this “still really nice, only gently worn” jacket?  In my new season of life is this suit, or dressy banquet dress or long velvet skirt still relevant?  And speaking of relevance, what joy that jeans are in!  Aside from a pair of basic black slacks, all I now need are clean, well-kept jeans that can be beautifully dressed up or down.  I’m free!!  I am free!!!

In the last blog I challenged you to stop and ask yourself some questions…..and then decide, what is the greater good?
Thinking about your responses, this week’s question is: what are you wearing in the midst of what you are doing?

Scripture has much to say about this.  Here are only a few verses: 

“The Lord reigns.  He is clothed with majesty; The Lord is clothed, He has girded Himself with strength…”  Psalm 93:1.

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,…”  Isaiah 61:10.

“Therefore as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” Colossians 3:12-13.
“The royal daughter is all glorious within, her clothing is woven with gold.  She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors;..” Psalm 45:13-14. 
As you think about what’s in your closet, ask yourself:  What choices am I making?  What is my soul wearing today?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

From Strength to Strength...What is the Greater Good?

With this blog and the next, I will temporarily be hitting the pause button in our series of going deeper into the Lord’s prayer.  I believe you will see the timeliness of these next two heart messages that brought me to that decision.  We’ll finish up the beautiful prayer that Jesus taught, in November.

Greetings Dear Friends, 

When you read this, most probably the recent glorious Fall days of Northeast Ohio will have given way to the more seasonable rain and chill of late October.  I will have just returned from a week of literally stepping “out of time”…reveling in the love and presence of kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids.  I will have also had the privilege of holding and snuggling extensively with my latest newborn great-grandson.  What a truly precious gift that was.
It also was God ordered, because from the perspective of that sweet space I received a little wake-up call from the Lord.  I recognized that ever so gradually, I was being pulled back into the vortex of overscheduling, overextending, and the mindset of over-busy-ness (if that is even a word).  
Being recently retired from full-time employment, the new rhythms I have been establishing are indeed, freeing and fruitful.  All the things I’ve put my mind to are good.

They are all good.  

But…(I started asking myself)…am I supposed to be doing all of them all the time?
Are there not times when I’m supposed to be choosing between two goods?
Are there not times when I’m supposed to be choosing the greater good?

Reading this passage of Scripture I saw something very important:  
“That evening at sundown they brought to Him all who were sick or oppressed by demons.  And the whole city was gathered at the door.  And He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.  And He would not permit the demons to speak because they knew Him.

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed.  And Simon and those who were with him searched for Him.  ‘Everyone is looking for You.’  And He said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’  And He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.”  Mark 1:32-39

​Where are you in your life now?  Are you doing much that is good?  Are you trying to do it all?
Are you sure you’re supposed to be doing all that you’re doing? 

Perhaps the Lord would assign simply a greater good for you to consider…at least for now.
When was the last time you checked in with Him?

Perhaps this week you can take some time, as I have, to just ask Him. 
“Let us go…for that is why I came out.”  ​​

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

From Strength to Strength...Our Father Part Two

 “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”  Matthew 6:10

These past days meditating on the Lord’s prayer, I’ve been fixated on the passage in Luke 7:18-28 concerning John the Baptist, and Jesus’ discussion with the people concerning him.  John’s disciples had just left after relating his bewilderment in prison concerning just this issue: “Thy Kingdom come…” 

John was asking, “Art thou he that should come? Or should we look for another?” 

After answering them, Jesus’ also asked a question,…the same question  - three times!

“What went ye out into the wilderness for to see?  A reed shaken with the wind?
But what went ye out for to see?  A man clothed in soft raiment?...
But what went ye out for to see?  A prophet?”

I ask myself concerning this Kingdom:  what would I have gone out in the wilderness to see? 
Here is what Jesus answered:
“This is he, of whom it is written, ‘Behold I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.’  For I say unto you, among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 

Dear friends, this is us!  This is us!

Let this wash over you as you speak the words of the Lord’s prayer into the heavenlies and into your own wilderness!  Realize that we,…the least of us in the kingdom of God,… are greater than John.

This is true, only because today, we have the Indwelling Presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is true because we also are called to “…prepare thy way before thee” in the wilderness of our chaotic times. 

“Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” 

Yes Lord.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

From Strength to Strength...Our Father Part One


“And it came to pass, that as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, Lord teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”  Luke 11:1
Dear Friends,

If you’re anything like me, you’ve known the Lord’s prayer from childhood.  It is perhaps the best known prayer among Christians, as it is simple and comforting.  In fact it is so familiar, there may even be times when you find yourself saying those beautiful words almost “casually” … only half thinking of what they mean.  

Again, I’m speaking from personal experience.  However, there was a point in my life when I came face to face with the deep theology and power in those words spoken by Jesus on the Mount of Beatitudes.  In the next few blogs I would like to just stay with those words and allow you time to soak in their depth.   Are you ready?  Let us begin.

Jesus said: When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.   Be not therefore like unto them; for your Father knoweth what ye have need of, before ye ask Him.  After this manner therefore, pray ye:  Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name.”  Matthew 6:7-9

Our Father which art in heaven… 
I’m writing this in September of 2017 and so far this month there have been four major hurricanes,… three of which have wreaked havoc upon the United States of America.  Because of our advanced technology we have been able to sit in our comfortable homes and watch satellite images of a whirlwind so large that it encompassed the entire state of Florida in its approach.  We cried and prayed for all those in its path as we watched in disbelief.  Yet, this whirlwind does not even come close to displaying the magnificent, powerful transcendency of God in heaven…who is also our Father.   The word Jesus used was Abba,… our Daddy.  

Hallowed be thy name…
We speak this next phrase in our western culture, not realizing the privilege of approaching Him as Daddy.  The Hebrews of Jesus’ day (and throughout the Old Testament) were in such awe and fear of our transcendent Creator, that they never, NEVER spoke His Name.  They referred to YHWH as Ha Shem,  “the Name.” Yet amazingly, with these words Jesus opened for us the portal of relationship without lessening the holiness of His Father’s Name.   
Dear Friends, as you meditate on these two verses in the days ahead, please pause also to embrace another time when God Himself used the word hallowed: 
“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day. Wherefore, the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”  Exodus 20:11
Be blessed, ​

Thursday, September 7, 2017

From Strength to Strength...Just Abide in My Love

Greetings Dear Friends, 

As I write this today, the air has turned a tad crisp and the trees are definitely starting to change colors. In my neighborhood the sounds of school buses depositing their treasured passengers back home have now replaced the distinct sounds of summer.  Gratefully, I can rejoice in the fact that my windows can be open and the curtains billowing in the fall breeze. As thankful as I am for air conditioning in the heat, I can honestly say that I’m loving this!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I love… and about my love for the Lord. 

Since writing the last blog, I’ve become so aware of the state of my soul and have asked myself:
  • Is the flame of my first love for Him still burning as it was at first? 
  • Is my spiritual vessel still filled to overflowing? 
  • Am I desiring to draw near to Him even in the midst of the busiest of days?
  • And during my darkest hours, do I KNOW He is near even when He is silent? 
  • What keeps me going?  Is it still Him?  Is He central?

I’ve also been thinking about His love for me. 

“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches … As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.   John 15:3-10

But Lord, what about my first love?  How do I know it’s still first?

The following story called “The Little Fish” from the Indian Jesuit, Anthony de Mello, is a little parable about the awareness of God’s abiding love:

“Excuse me”, said an ocean fish.  “You are older than I, so can you tell me where to find
this thing they call the ocean?’
 “The ocean,” said the older fish “is the thing you are in now.”
“Oh, this?  But this is water.  What I’m seeking is the ocean,” said the disappointed fish as he swam away to search elsewhere.
“Stop searching, little fish, says de Mello.
“There isn’t anything to look for.  All you have to do is look.”

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.  This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you” John 15:11-12.

Thank You, Lord Jesus.  Thank You.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

From Strength to Strength...First Love

 “This is love…”  2 John 6

For only God’s reasons, I have had a fascination these last months with John, the beloved disciple of Jesus Christ.  It is believed that he was but a teenager when the Lord called him and his older brother James, (Sons of Thunder) to follow Him.  They were fishermen by trade and worked closely…perhaps business partners, perhaps even cousins …with the brothers, Peter and Andrew.

I’ve caught glimpses in the Gospels of John’s growth during his years with Jesus, especially as seen in the Book he penned.  I’ve pondered how he must have become a man overnight at Calvary, and how he received Mary into his home and care.  I’ve been fascinated by the challenges he must have faced as Peter’s side-kick through the first chapters of Acts.  Ah yes, and my heart has been warmed and warned by the admonishments of his three pastoral letters.

Now this month, my focus has turned to John as the last surviving apostle of Jesus’ original twelve.  Tradition has it that this bishop and overseer of the church at Ephesus, had been brutally manhandled and then exiled with a life sentence of hard labor on Patmos.  Yet this John, now an old man, was in worship on the Lord’s day. 

I remember my reaction as I began reading Revelation, now totally immersed in the life and heart of this man.  I remember literally sitting up straighter as I “connected the dots” that John’s own church at Ephesus was the first one being addressed in the second chapter of Revelation. 

I tried to picture John on his face before the Lord.  I tried to picture what it might have felt like to have the right Hand of God placed on him.  Then I tried to picture John with a stylus in his shaking hands writing these words being dictated by “…One like the Son of Man, clothed with a long garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band…”   (Revelation 1:13).

“To the angel of the church of EPHESUS write…I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.  And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and found them liars.  And you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake, and you have not become weary” (Revelation 2:2-3). 

But then I tried to picture John writing, “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4).

Now my hands are shaking.  There are many insights concerning the seven churches in Revelation. Yet they were seven actual churches in Asia at the time.  The church at Ephesus was John’s church. 

This was John, the one who spoke of himself as the disciple Jesus loved and as the one “…leaning on Jesus’ bosom…” at the last supper (John 13:23)!   This church was John’s responsibility, and these were his people whom he had addressed as “dear friends” and “little children.”  This was John on Patmos, having faced death for Jesus!!  Yet, he was hearing the word from the Lord, “nevertheless...”

I was undone. 

What about my first love?  What about those I’m responsible for, those I’m influencing?   What about you, dear readers?  What about your first love?

Summer is drawing to a close.  Take some time to just stop, repent if necessary, and ask the Lord to re-ignite the flame of your first love.   

Remember…“We love Him because He first loved us.”  1 John 4:19 
Tradition has it that John ultimately was released from Patmos and returned to his flock at Ephesus. I feel certain he returned having regained the passion of his first love.  How about you?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

From Strength to Strength...Consider the Lilies

 “… Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”   Matthew 6:28-29

It’s August and the summer days are waning. If you’re anything like me, you are still hanging onto the season…feasting your eyes (when you can) on the beautiful lush landscapes…and still enjoying the long daylight hours.  As I’m writing this I’m sitting outside and also smiling at the sounds of neighborhood children playing a crazy game of kickball next door.  There are a couple squirrels running along the back fence and a brazen little rabbit, is poised in the yard, taunting my golden retriever.   The birds are chirping their evening melody and I’m still noticing the faint aroma of someone’s charcoal grill…and evening meal, nearby. 

My senses are taking in all the peace and it becomes a prayer. 

Some have called this a prayer of considerationone in which we purposefully raise our minds and hearts to God, while still steeped in the concrete circumstances of our world.  It’s a prayer of awareness, acknowledging what we are experiencing and sharing it with our God, Who is within and around us.
Jesus did this a lot as He used His awareness for object lessons in His teaching.  Here He contrasts the magnificent beauty of field lilies, wild flowers much akin to our colorful anemones…with our needless worry over daily provision. 

What are you seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling right now?  How about earlier today or during your morning run or walk…or even your drive into work? 

I have a dear friend who worships many mornings at the magnificent sunrises she experiences on her way to the office.  She then snaps phone photos of them.  What a wonderful reminder later, during a low point in her day, as she’s able to once again gaze upon the images she had captured that morning. 

What simple ways can you incorporate prayers of consideration into the concrete circumstances of your world?  They’re all around you. 

 “Consider the lilies…”  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

From Strength to Strength...Hospitality a Spiritual Practice? Indeed it is!

Summer, 2017 is well on its way and so are the picnics, backyard barbeques and … if you are so blessed, pool parties.  On my neighborhood walks it’s not unusual to catch the wonderful whiff of hamburgers grilling and the sounds of love and laughter in the air.  It’s so inviting … yes, and also comforting to feel the sense of welcoming and safety these represent.

There’s something else about these summer gatherings that is now unique in our culture.  They seem  relaxed and unhurried.  Hurry, a norm in most of our lives now, … has been defined by Eugene Peterson as an act of violence against time.   Wow!  Just sit and ponder that one for awhile!

Consequently, when we create safe, open, unhurried spaces where friends (or strangers) can enter and experience the welcoming Spirit of Jesus Christ, ... we are practicing hospitality.
When we can sit with another, face to face, in an unhurried fashion, we are offering the gift of presence.
When we are willing to offer a cold drink and simply relax and listen to a friend who needs to process, we are acting as Christ to him or her. 

This summer try welcoming guests with all of your heart, lingering at the door when they leave until they pull out of the driveway, and then spending a few extra minutes praying for them before you move on.  Who knows, you may have “…unwittingly entertained angels.”  (Hebrews 13:2)
‘Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Romans 15:7

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

From Strength to Strength...My Cup Overflows

The shelf in my kitchen cupboard reserved for cups and mugs is overflowing.  This seems a bit silly, for my large family has long since been launched, and while guests come often, they rarely arrive in large groups.  Yet every time I deal with that shelf (usually after unloading the dishwasher) I come to the same conclusion.  All the cups must stay because they all represent something important.​ 

I’m smiling as I think about those vessels that have special purpose:
  • Some are gifts from one of my children.
  • Others are simply remembrances of special places I’ve visited or frequented.
  • Still others simply have a comforting “feel” as I hold them.  

Ahhh and speaking of comforting “feels”, … some of the mugs are set aside for that hot, delicious coffee wake up, especially on more leisurely mornings.  Others can be allowed to hold only hot aromatic teas for mid-afternoon perc-ups or evening relaxation.  My goodness, I even have two huge mugs that are reserved for hot soups on cold winter nights and other mugs that are reserved for serving special people.  And…last but certainly not least, I also have a mug that a dear friend just leaves at my home for her frequent visits.
Silly?  Am I alone in this fetish or do any of you relate?  Do you have a cupboard shelf of vessels waiting to be filled to overflowing?
You know there really is a spiritual message in all of this.
Are you filled to overflowing today…pouring out to different people in different ways? 
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be God and not of us.”  2 Corinthians 4:7

“And of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.”  John 1:16

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Psalm 23: 5-6

If this speaks to your heart today, do share it.

God bless you all!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

From Strength to Strength...Hinneni

 “Then the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, Here am I…”  I Samuel 3:4

There are several places in the Old Testament where this little response to the Lord’s Voice, hinneni, (here am I) can be found.  As I’ve pondered, I’ve come to love the heart picture this brings into focus. 
“Here am I Lord” epitomizes attentiveness to that precious Presence to which we train ourselves to respond:
  • at our first waking moment;
  • during a purposeful pause before speaking a negative word;
  • before entering a room or a “situation”;
  • as our last conscious thought before sleep. 

However, the assumption of this picture is:  we are listening and we are able to be quiet and peaceful enough to pause and answer Him.  
Spring is one of those seasons of the year when this is questionable.  The world seems to move in and take total control.  Suddenly we’re dealing with end-of-school-year projects, concerts, and graduations.  For others it’s corporate deadlines, budget pressures, and the crunch before vacations.  Add to that gardens, flower beds, and lawn chores that won’t wait.  Oh…and yes…we mustn’t forget the dreaded changing of closets and drawers to accommodate the new season.  If clothes are “temporarily” not quite fitting like they were when we packed them away, (or the kiddos have grown exponentially over the winter months), we can plan on adding a shopping trip or two into the mix.  The beauty of blossoming trees and glorious birdsong can only be observed longingly through windows that also desperately need to be washed. 

Ahhh but take heart, my dear friends.   You are not alone.  I couldn’t even get this blog published on time last week!   But through it all, the Lord’s strong and quiet Voice will return. He understands.
Meanwhile please go easy on yourself concerning spiritual practices.  Just carry one verse in your heart each day.  Perhaps it could be from the devotional Jesus Calling that you’ve thrown in your bag or an app on your phone that you can access during a break or lunch.  The YouVersion Bible app has some excellent options.  Quiet your heart, open your mind and simply answer: Here am I Lord…Here am I.

May I also suggest a wonderfully light but powerful read when summer does arrive and some life-space returns?  Sharon Garlough Brown has written three books in a substantive fiction series based on four women who meet each other at a weekend retreat.  They all learn to embrace the spiritual disciplines as their very diverse lives become intertwined.  Hinneni becomes a very meaningful practice for each of them.  The book titles are in the resources listed to the right, and I am very sure you won’t be disappointed.  Enjoy!

“When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the burning bush, Moses, Moses!  And he said, Here am I.” Exodus 3:4  
Resources for Going Deeper:
​​"Sensible Shoes"  
"Two Steps Forward-A Story of Persevering in Hope"
"Barefoot - A Story of Surrendering to God" 
All titles by Sharon Garlough Brown

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

From Strength to Strength...What Will Come Out if Someone Bumps into You?

This evening I was present at a lovely dinner and gathering.  As part of the program, these questions were asked:

“How is your soul?” 
“Inside, are you a person of peace?” 
“When someone bumps into you, what will come out?”
We were reminded that Jesus purposefully took care of His soul:
     “…large crowds were gathering to hear Him and be healed of their sicknesses.  But
Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”  Luke 5:15-16 NASB

Jesus also was diligent in the care of His disciples’ souls:
     “And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a      while.  (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)  They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.” 
​     Mark 6:31-32 NASB

Dear friends, how are your souls this beautiful spring day?  Are you at peace?  Are you interacting with those around you from a position of fullness?   If so, what would come out if someone were to bump into you?  Seriously!

There is a beautiful spiritual practice that will allow you to keep watch over the state of your soul.  It is called an Examen and is a very simple little tool to inventory your day.  While the evening is the best time for the daily practice, it may also be used to pray about any other meaningful time period (such as a week or a year); or about a distinct event that has taken place.
Here's the important part!  The Examen restores your focus on God, looking for and celebrating His Presence and action in your day and in your life.  It is not an examination of conscience that actually places the focus on yourself and how you have fallen short.  Oh, the Lord may highlight something that needs repentance and forgiveness, but He will also reveal how His love was active in your life.  Why  don’t you give it a try?  I could be life changing.

Allow between five and fifteen minutes for the daily Examen.  It is meant to be very flexible.
​1.  Pray for God’s help.
     Just relax and invite the Lord to “be” with you during this time.
     It is wise to choose a Scripture and focus on the Words.
     Take deep breaths and let yourself see your day as God sees it.

2.  Give thanks for the gifts of the day.
     Review the day and name the blessings – significant and obvious; common and ordinary.
     Honor the gifts of others and recognize the gifts in you.
     Ask Him: 
          Where was/is Your love Lord?
          Where was it active today?
          Where is it leading?

3.  Pray over significant feelings that surface as You replay the day.
     Look for interior movements:  joy or sad; pleasing or painful; subtle or strong. 
     Pick one or two and ask the Lord:
          Help me understand what aroused those feelings, Lord, and where did they lead me?
          Show me if they drew me closer to You, or did they lead me away from You?

Rejoice (in times you were brought closer to God); and seek forgiveness (for times when you resisted God’s Presence).

5.  Look to Tomorrow:  invite Him to be a part of your sleep and your tomorrow.
“O Lord, You have searched me and known me!  You Know when I sit down and when I rise up;  You understand my thoughts from afar….How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!...”   Psalm 139: 1-2, 17
Resources for Going Deeper:
​​"The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making" by Elizabeth Liebert

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

From Strength to Strength...What is Your Sacred Pathway?

Dear Friends,

This Holy Week I am spending much time in the Gospels following the footsteps of Jesus as He went to the cross for you and for me, and as He rose from the grave in victory.  I am struck by the apparent regularity of Jesus’ choice of places to “be”, not only with His own, but also with His Father in prayer.

After sharing that last beautiful Passover meal with His disciples, John tells us:  “When He had finished praying, Jesus left with His disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley.  On the other side there was an olive grove (the garden of Gethsemane), and He and His disciples went into it.  Now Judas, who betrayed Him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.”    John 18: 1-2
“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives and His disciples followed Him.”  Luke 22:39

As I pondered this, I remembered a powerful “read” that had highlighted the importance of recognizing our particular choices of “sacred space” when we do seek the heart of God.  In “Sacred Pathways” by Gary Thomas, the author explores nine spiritual temperaments that essentially are predispositions that we have in relating to God.
Naturalists prefer the outdoors desiring to leave buildings and books behind in their desire to seek God in nature.  They are conscious of Jesus by the Galilee, looking up at Zacchaeus who had climbed the sycamore tree and picturing Jesus healing the man born blind by the pool of Siloam.

Sensates delight in loving God through their five senses, escaping into magnificent worship or art.  These are thresholds to effective inroads to their hearts.

Traditionalists love God through ritual and symbol and structure.  Liturgy is the path to greater “depth and texture” in their walk with the Lord.

Ascetics love God in solitude and simplicity, desiring very little more than to be left alone in His Presence and to seek Him through prayer.

Activists love God through confrontation and desire more than anything to stand against evil and actively participate in experiences that will call sinners to repentance.
Caregivers love God by loving others.  They experience His Presence in feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and caring for the diseased.
Enthusiasts love God to the fullest with celebration and desire to know, experience, feel and be moved by strong concepts of their Lord.

Contemplatives love God through adoration, content to be at the feet of Jesus like Mary of Bethany.

Intellectuals love God with their mind and passionately desire to study and share concepts, being fed by the gifts of receiving new insights into the Heart of God.
Most of us are combinations of these basic pathways.  One way to determine your primary bent is to list Christians whom you most admire and seek to emulate.  This will give you a clue as to your wiring.  Another way is to read the book and answer the little six-question survey identifying each type.  It really is quite fascinating.
Dear friend, why might this be important?
Jesus told the lawyer: “…Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself“  Luke 10:27.   Understanding your personalized sacred pathway will not only spur you on to break out of a spiritual rut, but also it will help you to find your own personal “sacred space” to love Him fully.
Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening He went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives”  Luke 21:37.  
Resources for Going Deeper:
​​"Sacred Pathways, Discover Your Soul's Path to God" by Gary Thomas

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

…From Strength to Strength … “Spring Training”…Have You Started?

This afternoon I was caught by surprise at the sound of robins singing (loudly) outside my front door.  I actually looked toward my new phone thinking it had to be a “ring” that somehow had been programmed accidentally.  What a rush of joy I experienced, discovering this early herald of Spring in late March!  What a blessing…and what an opportunity I had to praise God.

James Bryan Smith considers consciously counting our blessings as a very powerful opportunity and a spiritual exercise.  In his book, “The Good and Beautiful God” he suggests starting a list of all the wonderful things with which God has blessed us.
“Pay attention to the details in your life.  Look for the hidden things…start small…come up with a list of 10 things…keep adding to it each day...most of us are accustomed to waking up thinking about our problems.  This exercise will help us shift our focus…to the many things that are beautiful and wonderful.“
A daily practice this simple can change our total outlook.  It can change us.  It’s soul training that can transform our hearts just as athletic training strengthens our bodies.  This ongoing habit will then turn into a lifestyle.  The same author quotes musician and author, David Crowder:
“When good is found and we embrace it with abandon, we embrace the Giver of it…every second is an opportunity to praise.  There is a choosing to be made.  A choosing at each moment.  This is the praise Habit.  Finding God moment by revelatory moment, in the sacred and the mundane, in the valley and on the hill, in triumph and tragedy, and living praise erupting because of it.  That is what we are made for.“
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable…”  I Corinthians 9:25
Start your list.  Start your Spring Soul Training.  The robins are already singing!
Resources for Going Deeper:
​​"The Good and Beautiful God, Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows"  by James Bryan Smith

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

...From Strength to Strength..." Hurry...and Slow Down

John Ortberg asked Dallas Willard what was the one thing Willard could recommend that would bring new energy to Ortberg’s spiritual life. Ortberg says that Willard’s reply was ‘shocking in its simplicity.’ Dallas Willard looked him in the eye and said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our world today.”

Dallas Willard Center for Spiritual Formation  November 20, 2013

Coming out of a refreshing Sabbath, it can often feel a bit shocking to step back into the pace of life as we know it.  Hurry and busyness have become a norm that affects our souls, our thinking and our communication with one another.   We have become a society infected with “Hurry Sickness.”

It’s no stretch to assume we all are conscious of the ever increasing speed of technology and travel.  In addition, have you noticed any straining in order to catch what is being said today?  This is especially relevant in the entertainment industry.   A quick Google search confirmed that the average optimal speed of speech is now 180 words per minute, while most of us speak and comprehend comfortably at approximately 125 words per minute (in English).
Eugene Peterson, editor of The Message has this to say: “ In all language silence is as important as sound.  But more often than not we are merely impatient with the silence… Why do we talk so much?  Why do we talk so fast?  Hurry is a form of violence practiced on time.  But time is sacred.  The purpose of language is not to murder silence but to enter it, cautiously and reverently.”

Ahhh, but how do we thwart the effects of hurry sickness?  How do we preserve the delightful refreshing of the Sabbath as we necessarily enter back into life?  How do we stand against a culture that is spinning out of control?

We do it with intentional slowing.  We do it by practicing the present moment in real time.  We do it by deliberately slowing down our speech.  We do it by listening.  And we do it by yielding to the directive of Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”

Other very simple practices that can thwart the deadly effects of this contemporary illness are:
  • Re-establish the family dinner hour (at least a couple times each week) and linger longer in the company of those you love.
  • Oh, and how about simply chewing your food slower?
  • Purposefully drive in the slower lane (because you’ve made the effort to allow enough time).
  • Breathe deeply, look, and really listen when someone is speaking to you.
  • Smile and engage with the cashier as you check out at the grocery store.
  • Examine your schedule and add some buffer time between meetings.  Even 10 extra minutes will have a cumulative effect.

This past week I was directed to Biola University’s “Center For Christianity Culture & the Arts” and was totally blessed by their series:  The Lent Project. http://ccca.biola.edu/lent/2017/

As you contemplate this modern dilemma, please take time to watch the introductory presentation from that website.  It will definitely cause you to ponder the value of slowing.

Introduction to the 2017 Lent Project 

Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”  
Resources for Going Deeper:
​​"Spiritual Disciplines Handbook" by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
"Answering God" by Eugene Peterson
"Soul Keeping: Caring For The Most Important Part of You" by John Ortberg