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GOD OUR LOVER

 

In my continuing quest to know God more intimately, the facet of God that may be the most astounding is about God and love. God not only loves us in such amazing depth and breadth that we can’t begin to grasp it, but God IS love itself. This, as some of my grandkids might say, blows me away! God’s essence is love. So as God reaches out to love us on a daily basis, God is giving of God’s own self. As we receive God’s love we are actually enveloped in God’s own being. What a gift!

 

The following collection of verses show some of the emphasis that Scripture places on God our Lover. Read them slowly and prayerfully. Allow the Spirit to speak and God’s message, unique to you, to sink in.

 

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You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15 Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Psalm 138:8b I have loved you with an everlasting love. Jeremiah 31:3b The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Lamentations 3:22-23a The Lord takes pleasure in those who… hope in his steadfast love. Psalm 147:11 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 The Lord your God…..will renew you in his love. Zephaniah 3:17

 

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! Psalm 36:7a Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8b Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 1 Corinthians 8:1b

The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Psalm 32:10b NIV Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God… for God is love. 1 John 4:7,8b

 

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4: 9,10 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 1John 4: 11 Christ’s love compels us. 2 Corinthians 5:14 NIV We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19 God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Romans 5:5b

 

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?…I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35a, 38,39 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. Psalm 103:11 …Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy…Ephesians 5:25b,26a  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:18

 

 

 

Could we with ink the ocean fill,

or were the skies with parchment made,

were every stalk on earth a quill

and every one a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above

would drain the ocean dry,

nor could the scroll contain the whole,

though stretched from sky to sky.

O love of God, how rich and pure,

how measureless and strong.

It shall forevermore endure,

the saints and angels’ song.

Author unknown

 

 

….How have you experienced God’s love in your life?

….List some of the adjectives that describe God’s love.

….Reflect on what it means for you to have a love relationship with God.

 

 

Thank you, dearest God, for being our amazing Lover.

 

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Hi, I’m Bobbie and am what some would call seasoned. Now in my early eighties I look back on a life full of experiences through which God has shaped and refined me – still a work-in-progress – and for which I’m so very grateful. My first husband and I raised three daughters and both of us worked full time. Following his death from leukemia, God gave me another good man to partner with. Our combined families now delight us with 17 grandchildren. Our church’s prayer ministry is my passion. I also enjoy reading, journaling, long walks, jig-saw puzzles and knitting prayer shawls. I’ve known Janet and treasured her friendship for close to 35 years and am honored to share on her blog.

 

c Barbara Spradley, 2015, All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Hope In Hospice

 

As I write, my father in law’s long and wonderful life is drawing to a close. Thankfully, he is in a residential hospice just blocks from our home. My story of hope is about his graced journey.

 

Dad is the benevolent and well-loved patriarch of a large, blended family with five children, sixteen grandchildren, and fourteen great grandchildren.   He is also the most accomplished person I’ve ever known. He is a pillar in the Twin Cities legal, business, and educational communities, deeply respected and admired by all who have had the pleasure of working with him. He recently celebrated his 70th year of legal practice. In every positive sense of the word, he is a legend.

 

Having experienced nearly perfect health his entire life, Dad began noticing some abdominal discomfort in the late summer. Though not feeling very well, he attended our youngest daughter’s wedding at the end of September where he joined together with her fiance’s grandfather to give the final blessing at the end of their ceremony. What a high and holy occasion that was! Shortly thereafter, Dad learned he had pancreatic cancer. By Christmas, and having tried several chemotherapy treatments, Dad’s body was in great distress. After several trips to the emergency room and an extended hospital stay, Dad chose to discontinue chemotherapy and begin hospice care.

 

For many, this decision can be too frightening and can even signal a giving up, a defeat, a sure sign that all hope is lost. While I can understand, from one perspective, how these conclusions could be drawn, I have found this experience of accepting and preparing for the inevitability of death to actually be a fulfillment of the hopes that many of us, anticipating similar circumstances, might voice.

 

~The hope of having time and space to prepare to meet God:

Dad’s well-worn Bible is always at hand and he would spend many quiet moments communing with his God. Though he has read it cover to cover many times in his life, he wanted to work through some remaining questions he’s had and to discuss those with his family, his pastor and the visiting chaplain. Now that he is bed ridden, he asks family members to read Scripture to him. All who have had this privilege have been blessed with great comfort and peace.

 

 

~The hope of being able to bring a gentle and loving closure to family relationships:

Since his arrival in hospice last January, Dad has probably been visited by at least one of his adult children every day. Together they have shared laughter, tears, meals, memories, hand massages, spoken and written expressions of love, and quiet moments of being. A special gift has been the weekly Face Time calls between Dad at hospice and Mom at a different care facility. Though not very familiar with this newer technology and grateful to family for assistance, they have been overjoyed at the opportunity to spend sweet time together affirming their lasting love.

 

~The hope of leaving a lasting legacy:

Because of who he is and how he has lived his life, Dad is both deeply loved and highly respected by his grandchildren. Thanks to the creativity and foresight of his sons, Dad had the opportunity to be filmed with the various family groups of grandchildren as they each asked him what they deemed to be three important questions about his life. Not only was this experience deeply impactful for all involved, but this keepsake will also be a treasured gift for generations to come.

 

~The hope that this life mattered:

From the beginning, Dad has welcomed an ongoing stream of family members, friends, and business associates who have come to express their love, respect and appreciation for him and he too has been able to express these same things in return. Through these visits, he has had the privilege of hearing his own living eulogy and thereby has had the significance of his life confirmed and celebrated.

 

~The hope of leaving affairs in order:

Each week, Dad has taken the next steps in getting the myriad of practical details from his far-reaching life brought into a manageable semblance of order. He also wanted to participate in conversations about his funeral arrangements. It is clear that his greatest motivation in doing this is to leave those who follow as well informed and organized as possible.

 

~The hope of reunion:

Throughout his hospice stay, Dad has stayed in a cozy bedroom with lovely windows. Two of his most prized possessions are framed photographs, one of his beloved first wife, the other of his dear parents. While many special moments of connection have happened in hospice, the one that seems most holy to him is when the sun streams through the window and falls directly on these loved ones. No matter how tough the day, Dad sees this as an encouraging sign from above and he lights up too with the hope of seeing them someday soon.

 

With likely a few days left at most, we are all gathered around, some in person, some in spirit, praising God for this hopeful experience and waiting for the time when that heavenly sunbeam lands on Dad to take him home.

 

Ready

 

The springtime symbol

of chrysalis

graces my thoughts

as you lay dying

 

Such a vital and long life

you lived, to the full

until your body signaled

the time to let go

 

As in life, you have given

your all to this process

cherishing every connection

arranging every detail

 

But now you are turning

turning inward, onward

and soon death will gently

wrap you in its embrace

 

Let me remember

while it may appear

that all I’ve known of you

is no longer

 

Just beyond my seeing

but well within my knowing

you are being readied

for flight, for your risen life.

 

 

Postscript

Just a few days after this was written, on the very day that I was going to send this essay to Janet, Dad broke forth from the chrysalis of this life and rose to eternal life. My husband and I and a few other family members were fortunate to be with him and to cheer him on as he took flight.

 

A few days earlier, as our daughter was putting our two and a half year old grandson to bed, he was saying his prayers. When our daughter explained that Grandpa John was going to be leaving soon for heaven, her son commented on how very special he thought that was. He went on to say with certainty, as one so fresh from God himself, that Grandpa John was going to get a sticker when he arrived, followed by a haircut. He was then going to be doing lots and lots of somersaults. May it be so!

 

 

 

Reflection Questions

 

~How is it for you to think about hope and the experience of dying?

 

~What hopes do you have for yourself or a loved one at the end of life?

 

~What symbols bring you comfort as you think about death?

 

 

Warm greetings! I am Tracy Mooty and the consistent theme woven through my life is soul care. I’ve especially enjoyed sharing this with my husband, our three daughters and their husbands, our three grandchildren, and our two pups! We’re an active bunch who enjoys golf, Frisbee golf, tennis, pickle ball, and most every card and board game. Janet and I first met at Colonial Church years ago, and, thanks to her mostly gentle prodding, we’ve partnered to offer all sorts of programs and retreats. She’s also the reason I’ve entered into this adventure!

 

c Tracy Mooty, 2015. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 Religion-less Christianity?

 

Both as a child and as an adult, church has been a very large part of my life. Shortly after my kids were born, my wife and I helped start a Quaker congregation that was a foundational part of our family’s life. In the last two years, however, my family and I have found ourselves on a journey outside of any formal church. We’re feeling called to experiment with new ways of doing faith community. It has been confusing and lonely at times, and also satisfying and life-giving.

 

My family is not alone. A recent report says that the percentage of people who attend formal worship services at least once/month is down to 43 percent, from 53 percent in 1983. Yet 57 percent of people said they pray at least once a day, up from 54 percent in 1983.

 

Many of us are leaving churches, but still practicing faith. We still need community to support that faith, and to support each other. How do we do that?

 

In his despair with the German church’s lack of response to Nazi atrocities, the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer started looking for what a religion-less Christianity would look like. He boiled it down to two essentials–prayer and righteous action. As a Christian who had seen himself as a pacifist, this led Bonhoeffer to the radical act of plotting Hitler’s assassination.

 

What might religion-less Christianity look like for us? Here are a few hints I’m seeing.

 

My family has dinner with some family friends every Monday. After we eat, we read a Bible passage from the lectionary and our families act out the passage. Last week my 12 year old son was Jesus just before he was killed and I was a soldier helping arrest him. I felt the power of the story in ways I never had before.

 

Last month I was facilitating a day-long work event that was a stretch for me. I asked 5 friends that I pray with to pray for me and the others at the event. I felt more relaxed, confident, and trusting in that work than I had before. I felt upheld by their prayers and attention.

 

I know a man who was homeless earlier in his life and now has a business selling soup. He wanted to give back to the community by offering a free community meal each weekday. A local Lutheran church offered their kitchen and basement for the meal, and it started this winter. Now people in the neighborhood who are hungry for food and community gather each day for lunch. When I was there recently, someone at my table said they were looking for a secretary job. Someone at the table next to ours that we didn’t know said their organization was hiring a secretary and they talked about how she could apply. It felt like church to me.

 

Janet, our host for this blog, says that church for her is “intimacy with God and God’s people.” I love that definition of church. For me, the essence of church is the ongoing practice of paying attention to that intimacy and following where that leads us.

 

Organizational churches can support or get in the way of religion-less Christianity. The church that offered its basement for a free community meal is cultivating community without the requirement of religion.

 

For me, it isn’t as simple as just getting rid of the institutional church. For religion-less Christianity to thrive, it needs many things that churches traditionally offer–space, spiritual education, continuity and tradition, accountability, and more. My journey with religion-less Christianity is very incomplete. I’d love to hear what you are finding. I’ll post an update on my experiments next month on this blog.

 

 

 

Friends,

I just heard from my publishers that The Critical Journey, the book that I co-authored with Bob Guelich describing the stages in the life of faith, is now available on kindle. I’m thrilled with this since it makes the book available to new readers. I hope you pass this along to your kindle users.  Janet

Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/Critical-Journey-Stages-Life-Faith-ebook/dp/B00UZDO9C2/ref=sr_1_1_twi_2_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1427289979&sr=8-1&keywords=the+critical+journey+stages+in+the+life+of+faith+second+edition

 

A Resurrection Story

John 11:25-26 (MSG)

 

“You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?”

 

I am, right now, Resurrection and Life.

 

Do I believe this?

 

A few months ago, my mom had suggested using this verse for a Lectio Divina group that we were facilitating. I glanced at the verse. Nope. Definitely not. This verse made me very, very nervous.

 

As soon as I nixed the verse for our group time, I knew that I needed to return and spend some extra time with it. Why was I nervous?

 

What in me resists these words? Maybe it is the word “believe.” Maybe it is Jesus’ I AM statement. Maybe I felt pressure to figure out the whats and abouts and hows of belief in Jesus. The pressure for everything to make sense in my head and in my heart was too much.

 

I read through the verse again, taking time to sit with it for a while. The phrase: “I am, right now, Resurrection and Life” resonated in my heart.

 

Resurrection. Life. Right now. This is happening.

 

Resurrection: Going from death and a dying existence to a new, waking up, Real Life. That is happening in me right now.

 

I used to be afraid of dying not because I was afraid of what comes after death, but because I was sure that I had not lived the life I was meant to live. God seemed distant. I felt like I was surviving rather than living, barely making it from one moment to the next. I was exhausted in soul and body. I frequently thought: “I really hope that today is not my last day, I know I’m not even close to where I am supposed to be.”

 

Maybe Jesus calls to the dying and the already dead in spirit: Wake Up!

 

I’ve felt that call.

 

Maybe Jesus calls to the barely living: Die to the false selves you are holding on to. Let go of the shoulds. Let go of who you think you are supposed to be. There is new life, Real Life waiting for you now.

 

God breathes new Life. He calls to our souls: Wake Up! Come Forth. Live.

 

Somehow this is all happening in me.   Maybe I shouldn’t be afraid of the hows.

 

Resurrection. Is that like being born again? Somehow, some of us made being born again into a decision that we make for Jesus. Like we have control in that matter. Even though Jesus said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.'” (John 3: 5-8 NIV.)

 

Frederick Buechner explains of these verses: “The implication seems to be that the kind of rebirth he has in mind is (a) elusive and mysterious and (b) entirely God’s doing. There’s no telling when it will happen or to whom.”[i]

 

I grew up at church. I was a sincere and earnest “believer” from my earliest memories. I asked Jesus to live in my heart when I was five. I still remember the moment clearly. I am thankful for my experiences and for the faith that was handed to me. But in my mid-thirties, I still needed to be born again. I even needed to die to my earlier experience and understanding of faith and God and Jesus. I needed to die to roles that I had assumed that were no longer mine to play. I have a feeling that I will need to be born again and perhaps again and again.

 

I don’t think I was born again when I was five. I was just learning to see with my first set of eyes. I know that it didn’t happen through a magic prayer or song. Words can’t get you there, even if they are from a sincere heart. Being born again didn’t mark the beginning of faith. I actually needed saving from the faith that I had grown into. Decisions, prayers, and faith may be part of the process of drawing us toward God, but they are not necessarily the beginning and certainly not the end of this new, waking-up, Real Life that is being born again.

 

This is frustrating for those of us who would like a map or a plan or some measure of control over our destinies. Can’t I just say a prayer and get on with it? What are the steps that I need to take to make this born-again thing happen?

 

Unlike the memory I have of asking Jesus to live in my heart, I cannot pinpoint a time and place where I was “born again.” All I know is that it is happening. Maybe we are left without a formula because–as history and religion proves–if we think there is a formula, we will try to control and manipulate it. New life emerged when I stopped clinging to the formula.

 

What is my part? I think it is mostly surrendering, letting go, and learning to trust. I started to experience the moreness, vastness, and nearness of God when I surrendered to my unknowingness, crying out to God “Here I am! Are you even there? I don’t know anything.”

 

This unknowing, unraveling, and unlearning somehow opened up my heart to a deep and rich experience of God.

 

New life emerged in the space created by letting go of much of my doing. I needed a time of rest, deep rest.

 

New life emerged as I entered into Quiet and learned how to Listen. We get to Listen! This is amazing.

 

Most of all, new life, Real, wide-awake life has been emerging in my heart gradually as God’s love has become real to me and I learn to trust that love.

 

“In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15. This isn’t a formula, but it is true. The first time that I saw this verse, I recognized my story. This is happening.

 

I know that getting to the point of surrender is a gift. I’m still surrendering. I’m still letting go and just starting to understand what it means to trust. I’m being remade, and I’m so very thankful. Maybe I am catching glimpses of this kingdom of God that Jesus spoke about. This is a gift that I am convinced is available to any person. (I’m not convinced of very many things.)

 

I know that I am a resurrection story. My story looks a little bit like these words from Isaiah 42:

 

I the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. . . . I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.”

 

This is happening. New Life is happening. Resurrection and Life are happening. Right now.

 

What is your resurrection story?

 

 

© J.L. Sanborn, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Hi. I’m Jessica and I am so thankful to take part in Janet’s blogging adventures. I am the mother of 3 little-ish people and wife to a great guy. I met Janet almost 2 years ago and am so thankful for that life-changing, life-giving encounter. I used to do lawyer things, and now I get to play queen with my daughter when I’m not transporting my kids to school. I share some of my musings about faith and becoming at jlsanborn.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

[i] Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, p. 243 (Harper San Francisco 1992) .

 

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