Growing Deeper

Growing Deeper Week of 11/5

Growing Deeper Scripture: 1 Peter 4.7-11

Peter begins this passage with these words: 

The end of all things is near; therefore be serious
and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.

What might he mean by “the end of all things is near”?  Obviously, the end has not yet come, though  often people look at what’s happening in the world and declare these very words.  I believe that Peter, like other New Testament writers, is urging people to always live as if the end is near, because it will change the very way we live.  It is a call to exercise self-control and  awareness  of the way we are living.  (Look back at I Peter 3.8-12 to see how Peter connects this kind of living to our prayers.)

From the beginning, Peter has made it clear that we are living in our present salvation while we await our future salvation.  God’s people have always been living between the present age and the age to come, in the midst of what is seen and what is not yet seen.

Once again, it is the call to holy living, which is living in such a way that we are continually growing and maturing in love.  Our love for each other should be constant and sincere because love covers a multitude of sins. (I Peter 4.8)  As Christians, we claim to live this way, but do our actions actually match our claim?

Peter tells us in these verses how this love is lived.  It is lived in hospitality, prayer, and service to one another.  Peter also calls us to take responsibility for the faithful use of God-given gifts in community.  We are to be stewards of those gifts through our words and actions.  

It is easy to look around and see where things are not as they should be.  We see that our future hope of the kingdom of God has not yet fully come.  How do we know?  Well, we when we have experienced kindness, we can identify unkindness. When we have seen generosity in action, we can name its opposite—greed. Because we have witnessed mutual respect, we know what disrespect is. What are some other things that come to your mind?

We, the people of God, live between this present age and the age to come, and we are called to actively stand between what we see and what we do not yet see.  Through our words and actions, we bear witness to a better way of living just as Jesus Christ did.

Through Jesus’ ministry—in his healing, forgiveness, generosity, compassion, teaching, and preaching, he bore witness to another way of living.  Even in his death and resurrection, Jesus revealed there is a higher way of living.  His love was constant, and it covered a multitude of sins.

The church in Peter’s time and now, stands between these great acts of Jesus Christ and the future hope of life eternal.  How Christians act in the present reflects the past acts of Jesus and points to our future hope.  If it sounds like a huge undertaking, it is!  This way of living only happens through the grace of God, which is always at work.  And it takes courage. Living a different way than the world around us has always taken courage. 

Hear Peter’s summation of this passage in I Peter 4.11:

Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies,
so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.
To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Some things to ponder this week:

-When you hear the words “the end of all things in near,” what stirs in you—comfort or discomfort? Why, do you think?

-How could these words change the way you live each day?

-What does growing in love look like to you? Think of some ways you can measure whether you are indeed growing in love. Would you commit to use them?

Because living between the great acts of Jesus Christ and future hope of life eternal takes courage, I offer you this Prayer for Courage:

Courage comes from the heart
and we are always welcomed by God,
the Heart of all being.

We bear witness to our faith,
knowing that we are called
to live lives of courage,
love, and reconciliation
in the ordinary and extraordinary
moments of each day.

We bear witness, too, to our failures
and our complicity in the fractures of our world.
May we be courageous today.
May we learn today.
May we love today.


*Excerpt From: Padraig O Tuana. “Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community.” Apple Books.

Growing Deeper Week of 11/1

Growing Deeper Scripture:  1 Peter 3.8-12

We begin this week with 1 Peter 3.8-12. I invite you to read these verses.  Sit with them for a moment; then read them again. 

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.
For “Those who desire life
and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
and their lips from speaking deceit;
let them turn away from evil and do good;
let them seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Notice the word “desire.”  To what desire is Peter calling these early Christians? Imagine now that Peter is speaking to you as well.  To what desire is he calling you?

These verses summarize what Peter has said up to this point.  He has made an appeal to faithful living, especially when it is hard.  Desire appears to hold a pivotal place in faithful living.  Peter tells the early church that they used to live according to their own desires. (I Peter 1.14)  Now he urges them to live according to God’s desires. (I Peter 3.10-11) 

It is the call, once again, to the holiness of 1 Peter 1.15-16.  Holiness means that we live another way than the world around us lives.  Holiness begins with the desire to please God.  Ultimately, our lives begin to bear the fruit of this new desire—love. (I Peter 1.22)

The desire to please God trades the former ways of living: malice, guile, insincerity, envy and slander for new ways of living: unity, sympathy, love, humility, and blessing. (compare I Peter 2.1 to I Peter 3.8-9).  As our desire changes, our way of living changes, and we become holy priests of God. (I Peter 2.5,9)

Like the Old Testament priests who offered sacrifices to God in the Temple, Peter describes us as God’s holy priests who offer spiritual sacrifices to God.  We are the living stones with which God is building a spiritual temple, and we are the holy priests who are offering spiritual sacrifices to God. (I Peter 2.4-5, 9)  What are these spiritual sacrifices?  They are this new way of living about which Peter has been talking. (see also Romans 12.1 and Hebrews 13.15-16)

The gift of God’s salvation is the grace that shifts our desire.  That grace keeps working in us, making us holy as God is holy.  Our lives then proclaim the mighty acts of God. (I Peter 2.9-12 and I Peter 3.13-16)

As you can see, these first three chapters of I Peter are rich ones.  Peter says so much in only a few words.  Will you spend time this week immersing yourself in these chapters?  Notice what captures your attention.  As you meditate on the verses that call out to you, ask God some questions: 

What are you asking me to do or be?

How does my desire need to change?

I close with A Prayer of Discernment from Thomas Merton for you to include in your time of devotion this week:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

from “Thoughts in Solitude” by Thomas Merton

Growing Deeper Week of 10/25

Growing Deeper Scripture:  1 Peter 2.2-10

The book of 1 Peter uses a number of metaphors to describe what the Christian life in the world looks like.  Last week, we talked about one of those metaphors, being exiles and aliens in a strange place.  In the first few verses of chapter 2, Peter adds more metaphors to his list:  newborn infants, living stones, and royal priesthood.

Let’s spend a few minutes with the image of living stones.  These two words don’t seem to go together, but Peter joins them in order to help these beleaguered and scattered Christians understand their identity as God’s people.

Listen for Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2.4-5:

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Peter identifies Jesus Christ as a living stone, who was rejected by people yet chosen and precious to God.  He calls these early Christians to become like Christ, living stones, so that God can build them into a place where God himself dwells.  It’s an image used in several places in the New Testament. (see 1 Corinthians 3.16-17, 2 Corinthians 6.16, and Ephesians 2.20-22)

What does it mean for them and for us to be a dwelling place for God?  The early altars of God’s people can help us answer.  In Exodus 20.25, God gives Moses specific instructions for building an altar: 

But if you do make for me an altar from stones, don’t build it with chiseled stone since using your chisel on the stone will make it impure.

In Exodus, God instructed Moses to use only uncut stones to build altars saying that any stone carved by a person would make the altar unholy.  Don’t we as human beings have a way of taking the things of God into our own hands and making them into our image?

Altars were the places where heaven and earth intersected, where God and human beings met.  At various times, people met God in powerful ways, built altars in those places, and called those places one of the names of God.  Therefore, it could be said that the altar, in a way, bore the name of God.  (See Jacob’s encounter in Genesis 28.10-22.)

Peter recognizes that God is no longer instructing the building of stone altars but that God is building God’s own people into a holy and living place.  That place bears the name of God and is the place where heaven and earth intersect.  And Jesus himself is the cornerstone of that spiritual house. 

Imagine how that belief would have encouraged these early Christians.  Though society rejected them, God did not reject them.  They were chosen and precious in God’s eyes.  Just like stones gathered for an altar, God himself was gathering people who felt scattered and cast aside in order to build them into an altar.  They themselves would be the place where heaven and earth met in the midst of the struggles and the beauty of life.

Like the Christians to whom Peter writes, we too are chosen and precious in God’s sight.  God has made us living stones through the gift of new life in Christ and is building us into a spiritual house.  It is the place where heaven and earth meet in this present moment so that we can be strengthened to keep our eyes on our living hope. (I Peter 1.3-5)

Take time this week to reflect on these things:

-How does the truth that you are a dwelling place of God in the world inform your identity as a child of God?

-Have you ever considered that you are chosen and precious in God’s eyes? Why or why not?

Let your answer take you into conversation with God.  What is God saying to you right now?

-Think of a time when your life felt scattered.  How did God gather you to himself?  If you do not feel like God gathered you to himself at that particular time, will you let God do that now?

-Listen for these words from Paul in Ephesians 2.10:

We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good things.  God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

-We human beings have a way of making our lives into what we think they ought to be.  How could knowing that you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good things encourage you to trust God more with your life? 

-Would you let God continue to build your life into a spiritual house, his dwelling place?

Growing Deeper Week of 10/18

Growing Deeper Scripture: I Peter 1:13-23

Growing up, I was not a big fan of being away from home, so, when my parents wanted to send me to summer camp, I did not jump for joy! Being away from everything and everyone familiar, from my own routines and environment, it took me a while to get my bearings.

What is it like to be in a strange place? That place may not necessarily be a physical place but rather a circumstance of life. There are all kinds of “places” that can make us feel unsettled as we try to navigate our way through unfamiliarity. Our current pandemic is one of those circumstances.

Peter is writing to people he addresses as exiles. Like the Jewish people through the centuries before Christ who had been taken from their homeland and exiled in foreign countries, these Christians are living in a strange land. For them, exile consists of living and practicing their new faith within the jurisdiction of Rome, where they are misunderstood and unwelcome at best and persecuted at worst.

It is important, Peter writes, that they keep their eyes on their “living hope” while they are exiled from their home country. Where is that home country? This is the same question we must ask ourselves.

The scriptures tell the story of God’s people, exiles and aliens in the places they find themselves, yet always journeying toward home. God’s people have always been living between their present age and the age to come. Last week we said: we are living in the midst of what we see and of what we don’t yet see, which is the inheritance God is keeping for us in heaven. (see I Peter 1.3b-5)

How do we, who are exiles and aliens, live in this “strange” place? Peter enumerates three ways: a disciplined mind, holiness, and obedience.

First, we read in 1 Peter 1:13: Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Another translation says, “gird up the loins of your mind.” In ancient days, men wore long robes. When they needed to work or run, they pulled the back end of the robe up and tucked it into their belts. Then, without impediments, they could make unhindered progress.

A disciplined mind is one that is always learning and growing while remaining focused on the hope that is to come. It’s often said of children, “he didn’t know any better.” We, too, used to do things out of ignorance. Peter says that not knowing any better is no longer an excuse. (v. 14) A disciplined mind enables us to make unhindered progress in the way we live.

Next, we are called to be holy. 1 Peter 1:15-16 reads: Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Holiness seems a tall order, but it comes as we continually grow in God’s love. It is the gift of God’s sanctifying grace. Holiness is living out the love of Christ right here and now, with our lives oriented toward God, even as we keep our focus set on our heavenly home. (v. 17)

Finally, Peter says in 1 Peter 1:22: Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. Obedience cleanses our souls. Have you ever thought of that?

Obedience has a simple meaning: we listen for the word of truth and then act on what we hear. The result is always love—love of God and love of neighbor. (v. 22b) And, again, as with the disciplined mind and holiness, we keep our eyes on heaven even as we live in this present time. (v. 23)

Like the recipients of I Peter, we are exiles and aliens far from home. Our home is with God even while we make a home in the present world. There are practices, attitudes, mindsets, and ways of living in this current home that should be strange to us as God’s people. We navigate those things through the disciplined mind, holiness, and obedience, which call us to live fully in the present time while we keep our hearts and lives focused on God’s future time.

Take some time this week to consider the following:

-What does it mean to you to be called an exile in this world? Does it make you feel comforted or disturbed?
Talk to God about your answer.

-Name some things you’ve done out of ignorance. How have you learned a new way of living?

-In the Wesleyan tradition holiness comes as we are “perfected in love.” (Perfect is not being without flaw but is about growing, becoming mature so that love motivates our actions.)

When has genuine love motivated your actions? What was that like for you?

-Peter says that obedience cleanses our souls.
If it is with our souls that we deeply connect with God, each other, and ourselves, how could obedience be a cleansing agent?

-Where do you have an easy time remaining focused on the living hope? Where do you have a harder time keeping focused? Why do you think?

Listen with God for your answers.

Growing Deeper Week of 10/11

Growing Deeper Scripture: 1 Peter 1:1-12

Have you ever heard it said that some things are two sides of the same coin—like joy and sorrow, light and darkness, life and death? We live in a world of paradox in which two things that seem contradictory, or seem to negate each other, actually expand the meaning of the other in a way that enables us to experience life in a deeper way.

The writer of 1 Peter, commonly believed to be the apostle Peter, is helping the early Church in Asia Minor to live in the tension of what seems contradictory. Asia Minor, present day Turkey, was a territory of the Roman government.

Most likely the recipients of this letter were Gentile and Jewish Christians who were struggling to live wisely and faithfully in the midst of suffering. 1 Peter does not fully indicate the types of suffering they were experiencing, but it could have ranged from being held in suspicion and being ostracized to being the victims of acts of intolerance and outright persecution, all for their faith in Christ.

Peter begins by encouraging these Christians with the truth of who they are, people “chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood.” (v. 2) He then reminds them of what the kindness of God has given them:

By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (vv. 3b-5)

Is it possible for them to live faithfully even while suffering various trials? For Peter, the answer is yes. The trials are serving to purify their faith and so prove their faith is genuine. Therefore, Peter encourages them to rejoice in what God has given them through Jesus Christ, which is this truth: they have already received their salvation, and they will receive their salvation.

No, you didn’t mis-read that! They have received their salvation, and they will receive their salvation. It sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it? They are living in their present salvation while they await their future salvation. And so are we. (see vv. 3, 5, and 9)

It’s the paradox of living in the midst of what we see and of what we don’t yet see. And the only way any of us does this is by focusing our eyes on Jesus Christ. It’s exactly where Peter points the early Church in Asia Minor. Reread verse 3, and then read verses 10-12.

Scripture asks us to hold many seeming opposites together. Jesus’ disciples were asked to give up their lives in order to gain their lives. They were asked to be servants of all in order to become great. I Peter 5:6 even says, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.” Think for a moment how these statements expand the meaning of life, greatness, and exaltation.

Peter is urging these early Christians to allow their trials to expand the truth of what their faith means. It’s an invitation to focus on Jesus Christ, on his suffering, death, AND resurrection. The invitation is ours, as well.


Listen to the words of the hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”

O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.

What is it that helps you turn your eyes upon Jesus? Take some time to sit with these words this week and think about how they may be true for you right now. Then let God’s mercy and grace enable you to turn your eyes upon Jesus so that you can look fully into the light of his face.

Growing Deeper Week of 10/4

Growing Deeper Scripture: I Kings 19, Psalm 46:10, Mark 1:9-13

The story is told of a young disciple who went to see a Great Teacher. As the teacher made tea for them, the disciple talked incessantly, never taking a breath. Finally, with the tea prepared, the teacher began pouring it into the disciple’s cup, and he kept pouring and pouring until the disciple finally said, “Enough! Can’t you see the cup won’t hold anymore.” The wise teacher said, “And so it is with you who are filled with so many words. You have no room to hear.”

What comes to mind when you hear the word solitude? Have you experienced times of being completely alone? What were they like, and how did you fill the space?

Our lives are filled with words, work, to do lists, have-to’s, should and ought to’s, events…the list is endless. Rarely are we truly alone in the space that solitude makes for us to be silent and still. The psalmist describes it this way, “Be still and know that I am God.”

The twentieth century theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “We are so afraid of silence that we chase ourselves from one event to the next in order not to have to spend a moment alone with ourselves, in order not to have to look at ourselves in the mirror.”

Jesus’ disciples learn from him how important times of solitude and silence are. After ministering to crowds of people, Jesus would often say to the disciples, “Let us go away to a quiet place.” He understood the absolute necessity of being still and knowing.

After Jesus was baptized, he heard the words of his Father, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” In Mark, we read that, immediately after baptism, the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan.

In the face of the temptation to find his identity in something other than the love and grace of God, how many times do you think that Jesus found courage and comfort in the words: You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased?
I wonder if, in the course of his ministry, Jesus went to quiet places so he could hear once again who he was-God’s Beloved Son.

We have said that our deepest desire as human beings created in God’s image is to know that we belong to God and to know that we are God’s beloved ones. Solitude creates the space we need to be silent, to be still, and to know the truth of the people we really are. It is a truth we will never hear in the noisy, crowded, and lonely world in which we live.

In I Kings 19, the prophet Elijah left his noisy and crowded world and went into the wilderness. His showdown with the prophets of Baal had resulted in their deaths and a threat of his death from Queen Jezebel. Elijah was scared, so he ran for his life. Perhaps Elijah knew deep within his soul that the solitude of the wilderness was the only way he could be still and know who he really was-God’s beloved.

In I Kings 19:4, we read, “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree.” Elijah chased himself into the wilderness and sat down alone, exhausted, afraid, and lonely. (Here’s something to think about: being alone and being lonely are not the same.)

Without the props of his life to preoccupy him, Elijah was finally able to sit at the tree of his life and look at himself in the mirror of God’s love and grace. It’s an invitation God is extending to each of us. Our deepest longing, and our deepest need, is to hear God say, “__________, you are my beloved child; you are my greatest delight!”

Solitude, with its silence, makes space to hear the truth of the people we really are. Our usual props of words, work, to do lists, events, and the like are not there to support us and neither is the person we put on for the world to see every day. We are finally in that place to be still and know.

Our practice this week is to take time for solitude. Set aside time each day this week to be in a place where you can be by yourself without distractions or disturbances. Decide how much time to spend. If solitude is something you’ve not practiced, or have a hard time with, start with small bits of time of 5-10 minutes. You may even set a timer if that will help you.

Once you are in your place of solitude begin to come into stillness by using your breath. Or, if you are outdoors, you might close your eyes and focus on the sounds around you or focus on the sights around you. It is your choice. Use whatever will help you become still, not only on the outside but also on the inside. When thoughts and interruptions come, simply return your focus to your breathing, to the sounds, or to the sights.

Imagine that you are sitting at the foot of a tree which represents your life. Simply begin to listen deep within to what your soul is saying. Are you exhausted? Are you afraid? Are you running from something? Do joy and thanksgiving come? Perhaps other emotions show themselves. If tears begin to flow, simply let them flow. If laughter comes, let it. Whatever arises, simply welcome it. Don’t try to push it away, stuff it down, fix it, explain it, or even understand it. Simply let it be.

Know that God is with you in the solitude and silence. You belong to God, and whether you sense God’s presence or not, God is with you in your pain, your fear, your joy, or in whatever is making itself known. Hear God’s words to you, “__________, you are my beloved child; you are my greatest delight!”

When your time comes to a close, ask God for the grace to carry the stillness with you into the day. Do not judge the time you’ve spent as good or bad; simply let it be what it is. If you’ve struggled with the solitude, it is alright. There is grace.

Ruth Haley Barton says, “The longing for solitude is the longing for God. It is the longing to experience union with God unmediated by the ways we typically try to relate to God.” If you wonder if you even have a longing for solitude, just ask God to give you a longing for it. Remember, God’s grace always goes before us and meets us where we find ourselves.

God, thank you for this time of solitude and silence. Even though it is hard to be with myself, thank you that you are with me reminding me that I belong to you. Give me a continued longing for solitude and the grace to take this stillness into my day. Amen.

Resource: Barton, Ruth Haley, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2006

Growing Deeper Week of 9/27

Growing Deeper Scripture: Daniel 1:1-8,12-17; 2:12-19; 6:3-11

Have you ever considered arranging your life for transformation? This Sunday we look at Daniel, who, in the face of a Babylonian culture that was counter to his own, found a way to arrange his life so he could be who he wanted to be—one who made space for God’s transforming grace.

For centuries, Christians have been doing just what Daniel did by arranging their lives in ways that made room for transformation. They used what is called a Rule of Life.

One of the earliest Rules of Life was written by St. Benedict, a 6th century monk, who wanted a way for monks to live faithfully in their work life and their prayer life. Though his Rule was aimed at monastic living, it offers guidance for our own living.

St. Benedict begins with the word “Listen.” In essence, he is challenging us to sit up, pay attention, and attend to the important things of life. It’s the invitation to live our lives in a focused way rather than an aimless way.

Even the word “Rule” points to focused living. Rule comes from the Latin word “regula,” which means straight edge. We find here several words we use today: ruler, regular, and regulate.

Do you remember the quote from Paula D’Arcy from last week? “God comes to you disguised as your life.” God is meeting us in every part of our lives and inviting us to be transformed into the image of Christ. A Rule of Life helps us look at key areas of our lives so that we can arrange them in intentional, balanced, realistic, personal, and life-giving ways.

A Rule of Life is not about living perfectly; it’s about living faithfully. Sometimes we even hear it referred to as a Rhythm and Rule of Life. I like the sound of that. It makes me think of dancing, listening for the beat of the music, and moving our bodies to that beat.

A Rule of Life enables us to move to the beat of our lives as they are right now, not as we hope they will be ten, fifteen, twenty years down the road. It helps us to arrange our lives for transformation according to this present moment of life.
I invite you to read the passages from Daniel listed above and discover how Daniel arranged his life in his season of life.

Our practice this week is to begin to develop a Rhythm and Rule of Life of our own. The key areas at which we will look are: Spirit, Body, Mind, Relationships, Home, Work, and Resources. We will begin by simply “checking in” with ourselves using these key areas. Over time, notice the rhythms of your life and ask how you might creatively arrange your life around these areas in this season of life.

I don’t have to tell any of you that we are in the midst of a pandemic. The rhythms of our lives will always be changing with major life events or with subtle shiftings; therefore, our Rules of Life will most likely change or adjust in order to help us regulate life to that particular rhythm.

This week start with the question Ruth Haley Barton asks in her book Sacred Rhythms: “How do I want to live so that I can be who I want to be?” Then begin to make this Rule of Life your own by checking in with yourself using the key areas.

Spirit: the five marks of a Christian Life can be used here-love, devotion, compassion, justice, and witness.

Body: exercise, sleep habits, eating habits, ways to de-stress

Mind: ways to quiet the mind and de-stress, daily technology breaks, creative outlets, reading that exercises the mind

Relationships: soul friends who help you grow in love, measuring the health of your relationships, mending where necessary.

Home: make your home a haven for love, peace, and grace to grow and be shared

Work: have a healthy line between work and the other key areas

Resources: budgets, healthy spending habits, sharing of resources, tithes and offerings

It will be helpful to check in with yourself in these areas a few times this week, and, as you check in, simply spend some time listening for your own needs and desires and for the ways God is leading you in these areas. As you continue the process, your Rule of Life will begin to reveal itself to you, and it will then offer you the freedom to make adjustments as needed.

As we begin to arrange our lives for transformation we will discover the truth and encouragement found in Sister Joan Chittister’s words: “We come to realize that we did not find God; God finally got our attention.”

O God, we want to live transformed lives. Give us grace to listen for and find the rhythms of our own lives so that we can become who we want to be— people who belong to you, to ourselves, and to others. Amen.

Chittister, Joan, The Rule of Benedict: Spirituality for the 21st Century, Crossroad Publishing, New York, 2010 Barton, Ruth Haley, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2006
Kemper, JennGiles, Sacred Ordinary Days, A Liturgical Planner, Sacred Ordinary Days, 2015-2019

Growing Deeper Week of 9/20

Growing Deeper Scripture:  Psalm 139

O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.  Psalm 139.1-3

Self-knowledge.  Self-awareness.  What comes to mind when you hear these words?  For many of us the response is one of discomfort because with self-examination can come questions…

What if I don’t really like who I meet?
And, further, what if God doesn’t like me?

The Psalmist David is credited with writing the stunningly honest words of Psalm 139.  David wrote these words to the God who knew him better than he knew himself, the God who loved him enough to transform him into “a man after God’s own heart.”  Through some of his greatest failures, David came to truly know himself and was able to proclaim, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works.” (Psalm 139.14)  Let’s read that again!

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works.”

David learned to celebrate himself – in all of his goodness and brokenness – as God’s beautiful creation.

Last week we said that the deepest desire implanted by God in each of us is the longing to belong — to God, to ourselves, and to others.  It’s the longing to know that we are loved by the God who has already searched us, who already knows us, and who is acquainted with ALL our ways.  God loves us enough to reveal ALL our ways to us as we open our hearts and lives to him.  Through a growing self-awareness, David came to live that desire and to experience that love.

The spiritual journey is one of transformation.  God sees those places in us that have yet to be shaped into the image of Christ.  God longs to awaken us to those places so that we might begin to surrender them to his transforming grace.

Paula D’Arcy says, “God comes to you disguised as your life.”  David experienced this powerful truth even in the midst of murder, adultery, and the death of his child.  God met him  with love and grace in the midst of his sin and brokenness.  We, too, can begin to create space in our lives to look for God’s presence and to listen for God’s voice in the goodness and the brokenness of our everyday lives.

This week’s spiritual practice is called The Examen.  It has a long history in the Church and was developed by the 15th century Jesuit priest St. Ignatius of Loyola.  St. Ignatius desired for people to live in an ever growing self-awareness and God-awareness.

Begin by finding a quiet and comfortable place.
Come to stillness by paying attention to your breathing, a reminder that God is always closer than your next breath.  With each breath let distractions, stresses, to-do lists, and the like, fall away.  Open your soul to God’s presence, which is always with you.

Ask Jesus to walk with you through your day.  Simply notice what comes up as you sit quietly.  I’ve heard this step described as rummaging just like you’d rummage through a sock drawer.  You’ll know which pair to grab when you see it.  Let Jesus show you what parts of the day to pick up.

As you walk through your day, name what brought you joy.  Pause to notice how God was revealing God’s presence to you in that moment.

Next, notice what frustrated you or drained you of energy.  Ask God to help you name the reasons for the frustration or the energy drain.  Listen for anything God would say to you through them.

How did you fall short today?  Where did you not extend love and grace?  (It could be related to the previous step.)  Name those places; confess the sins to God, and, then, ask AND receive God’s forgiveness.

Close the time with thanksgiving for God’s presence in the day, for the the ways God revealed God’s self in the joys and frustrations, and for the healing of God’s forgiveness.  Ask God to prepare you for the next day.

The Examen may be used daily.  Use it at the end of a day.  Or, use it in the mornings to look at the previous day.  Some people prefer to use The Examen weekly or after a difficult season in life.  The choice is yours.  Know that its continued practice will provide a way for you to recognize God’s presence and wisdom more and more in your life.

O God, you know me better than I know myself.  Help me to grow in self-awareness and to trust that your deep knowledge of me is for my healing and transformation.  I want to be able to celebrate myself as your fearfully and wonderfully made creation in both my goodness and my brokenness.  Amen.

I invite you to read Psalm 139 throughout the week.  Sit with what stands out to you, and listen for what God may be saying to you.

Growing Deeper Week of 9/13

Growing Deeper Scriptures:

Psalm 23; Romans 8:16; Mark 10:35-45; Mark 10:46-52

In Psalm 23, the psalmist declares,

“God rests me in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul….”

Somehow the psalmist knows that God longs to restore our souls, and God restores souls through rest.  Rest awakens us to our deepest desires by moving us away from our noisy, crowded, and busy lives and from the world.  Rest also enables us to remain in touch with our deepest desires by making space to listen for the work of God’s grace within us.

What are our souls?

They consist of mind, intellect, will, emotions, and senses.  Our souls are that part of us made to connect to God.

What is our deepest desire?

It is a longing to belong, which is discovered in connecting more deeply with God, and, by extension, connecting more deeply with ourselves and with others.

Romans 8:16 tells us that the Spirit is bearing witness with our spirits, that we are God’s children, and that we belong to God.  The Spirit of God is always letting us know who we are and what our deepest desires are, but we don’t always have the space to hear.  Rest helps create the space to listen.

Jesus is the master of questions.  He asks things like:

What are you looking for?
What are you afraid of?
What do you want me to do for you?

These are all questions about desire, and they are invitations to listen for our desires and name them in the presence of Jesus. 

Jesus’ questions are always geared toward listening for our “soul cry,” and they are questions that help us get to the essence of whom we are and of whom God has created us to be.  Jesus’ presence offers a safe place to name both the desires that draw us to God and the desires that are moving us away from God.  

Compare James’ and John’s encounter with Jesus in Mark 10:35-45 with Bartimaeus’ encounter with Jesus in Mark 10:46-52.

The spiritual journey is the journey of transformation.  God wants to transform us so that we can live fully into the desire God has given us— to fully belong to God, to ourselves, and to others.

It is always the work of grace.  We seek God because God is already seeking us.  We love God because God is already loving us.  We respond to God’s grace because God’s grace is always going before us.

With each Growing Deeper in this sermon series, a spiritual practice will be offered.  Practices make restful space within us to meet God.  This week we will use the story of blind Bartimaeus found in Mark 10:46-52.

Begin by finding a quiet and comfortable place.
Come to stillness by paying attention to your breathing, a reminder that God is always closer than your next breath.  With each breath, let distractions, stresses, to-do lists, and the like, fall away.  (Some days this will take longer than others.)

Read Mark 10:46-52, and, for a moment, simply hold the words in the silent space within you trusting that God’s Spirit is already moving.  Read the passage a second time and begin to imagine that you are Bartimaeus.

Listen for the noise of the crowds……
Feel the dirt of the roadside where you are sitting……
Hear yourself cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

How does it sound to you?  Notice the emotions stirring within you now as you cry out to Jesus.  What need are you holding on to today? 

Now imagine that Jesus is making his way to you.  How does it feel to have Jesus’ complete attention focused solely on you?  Hear his question to you: “________, what do you want me to do for you?  Listen for your own answer and for the continuing emotions that are stirring in you.

Our emotions are important.  They help us locate ourselves in relation to God, ourselves, and others.  What is it that you sense your emotions are telling you right now?  How may God be speaking to you through them?

If you would like to journal your responses, then do so.  If you prefer to just sit and listen, then do so.  Follow the leading of God’s Spirit and trust that leading.  Linger in God’s presence for a bit.  During the week, your are invited to come back to this practice to make restful space to meet God and your own desires.

O God of grace and love, thank you for meeting me today.  Thank you for creating me to belong to you.  Strengthen me to continue making restful space for listening and for meeting your presence.  Give me courage to live into what you have shown me today.  Amen.

Portions adapted from Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, by Ruth Haley Barton, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2006, pp. 19-28