Remaining Centered

As followers of Jesus’ way, we long to develop a state of our soul that is in continual communion with God. This is of course done in prayer. The apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that they should “pray continually”, but how is this possible in the ebb and flow of daily life? In Jesus we observe those times when he went off to be alone to practice solitude and silence in his prayers. Getting away from the busyness and expectations of life is an important facet of the development of our prayer lives. Yet, praying continually does not mean that we are to live in solitude and silence always. It is not possible nor is it the expectation from what we see in the life of Christ. In order for Jesus to speak out of the overflow of who he was, he needed to be in continual communion with the Father. We need to develop the same sense of presence. Then we will experience less of the dichotomy of life where we define some times and spaces as sacred and others as secular or normal. Jesus’ power as he walked among us came from being ‘in’ the Father. Similarly, our power comes from being ‘in’ Christ. Our ambition is to be ‘in’ Christ at all times and in all situations. An example of this is found in Mark 9 where Jesus, Peter, James, and John are descending from a mountain to find the remaining disciples in an argument that came about because they could not drive out an evil spirit. Later, when Jesus was privately teaching his twelve...

God and Decision Making

Many years ago, I had a friend I was working with who was presented with two opportunities. He prayed. He invited others to pray with him. We talked many times. But in all the prayer and discussion, my friend was left feeling like he hadn’t heard from God. He became paralyzed by anxiety because he wanted to make the right decision. He scoffed at the idea that maybe God was allowing him freedom and that there wasn’t one right decision. I had a client who was in the process of choice and made the statement that “if it is easy, then it is God’s will.” We had a lot of conversation about that falsehood of that statement, but it is a common way to think about God’s will. Many times we treat God like a genie in a bottle. Saving having him part of the decision making process until we are at a crossroad or crisis. Then we demand that God’s intervention be instantaneous and obvious. We don’t like to wait. Other times, we make a decision that suits us and then turn back and invite God to join us. A classic example of this is when Abraham and Sarah decided to fulfill God’s promises through having Hagar be a surrogate mother. They had made the promise a higher value than the One who made the promise. Paul highlights the problem we have in discerning God’s will in Romans 12:2: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s...

Resting Through the Storm

At the end of a long day of teaching the crowds from the shore, Jesus confronts the disciples with a plan: That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” – Mark 4:35 It is Jesus’ idea to get in the boat before dark and head away from the crowds and toward gentile territory on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. So, the disciples of Jesus hopped in the boat and they left right then. As we read through this passage, Jesus is going to perform a miracle over nature. But, there is more meaning to this story than just the face value. Throughout his gospel, Mark presents events as well as words as parabolic. Jesus is teaching his disciples (and us) in parables of words and deeds. This story starts with Jesus saying “follow me” and disciples complying, despite not knowing what was to be ahead. Being a disciple means getting in the boat with Jesus. Because they were heading to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the disciples were leaving both the crowds and heading toward the gentiles. Both of these realities forced these followers of Jesus to confront their own preconceptions of the Messiah. Leaving the crowds meant leaving power and adulation. Heading to the unclean gentiles confronted the idea that this was Israel’s Messiah. They were heading away from their vision of the Messiah. Being a disciple means letting go of your expectations of the journey. The way of Jesus is one of surrender and obedience. It is also one of discomfort as...

Making Space

Every year it happens. When the calendar flips from December to January we focus on change and what we want to be different in the coming year. A fresh calendar feels for many of us like a fresh start. Yet, it doesn’t take long for reality to catch up. We want things to magically be different. Our desire is for new results, but making changes is difficult. Even though the calendar has a new number at the top, our to-do list is the same and our circumstances don’t change. Last year does not disappear. What I want for the New Year comes from a reflection I made around Christmas and I wanted to take a moment to share it with you. It comes from the story of Jesus’ birth found in Luke 2. When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” – Luke 2:15 God communicated with the shepherds. It was night. Probably not a super convenient time since sheep need constant protection and supervision. Yet when the heavenly revelation was over, the shepherds first response was to go and see. They made space in their lives for the voice of God. How many of us would have looked at the clock and said “I’ve got to get up early” or the TV and said “I’m in the middle of a show” or the to-do list and said “I’ve got more things to get done before I can do anything else.”? We all,...

Keeping Christ in Christmas 2018

This is a post that was inspired by those “Keep Christ in Christmas” magnets you see on cars throughout the year. I first posted it several years ago and because it still seems relevant, I dusted it off and posted it again. I hope it impacts your holiday. I have to confess to you that I have a little pet peeve regarding the “Keep Christ in Christmas” bumper stickers, church signs, and car magnets that seem to pop up this time of year. To me these appear as a command to the reader, regardless of what they believe, that it is their job to make sure Christmas is all about Jesus so the person in the car will feel affirmed. Of course, these magnets and signs are a reaction to our culture’s growing tendency to refer to this as the holiday season. Boldly I say, count me as one follower of Christ who fully supports this cultural trend. First, it IS the season of holidays. There’s Thanksgiving. And Hanukkah. Ramadan. Kwanzaa, the New Year. Probably others of which I’m not aware. It seems the height of Christian arrogance to make everyone use our name for a certain time of the year. It dismisses others’ points of view. Whether or not we as followers of Jesus agree with their belief system, diminishing their traditions does not put us in their good graces to have an open discussion about Christ. It creates defensiveness; an us-against-them posture which closes people off. Second, and more importantly (in my estimation), do we really want the name Christmas associated with the consumerism and commercialism that runs rampant in our culture and amps...

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