Waiting for Spring

This is the past post in the series Jesus is Coming What Difference Does it Make. It is provided by Matthew Young who is the pastor of Elysburg Presbyterian Church, PA .  Matt is a graduate of Princeton and was on staff with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship for several years in Seattle.  He is married to Jill Aylard  Young and they have one adorable daughter Grace.

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Waiting for Spring

Waiting for Spring

Drip. Drip. Drip. So goes the water down the spout.  Snow melts, again.  Spring tries to come.  But it sure takes a while.

Here we sit a few days into the new season, and the mid-range forecast into April is for colder than normal temperatures.  Ugh.  I imagine all of us feel ready for a change, ready for that warm sun and the daffodils poking up.

But it’s not here yet.

Neither are we.

In our Lenten disciplines, we size ourselves up spiritually and face the harsh realities of our own internal landscapes.  We lament where our lives do not express the kingdom’s arrival in Jesus Christ.

We long for more of Him.  Yet we resist Him, too.  We ache for freedom, but in so many ways we choose bondage.  Overwhelmed by resistance from the inside and the outside, we become discouraged.  Maybe we settle for “half-way” into spring.  But even as we settle, God’s Spirit makes us unsettled and cries out within us.  Through the Spirit, our souls cry for more.   We want it to be spring.

Holy Scripture is full of human experience that longs for a certain springtime.  The psalmist cries out:  O Lord, how long will you look on?  Rescue my life from their ravages, my precious life from these lions… Awake, rise to my defense! (Ps 35:17, 23)  Or, from the prophet Habakkuk:  How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? (Hab 1:2)    The psalmist and the prophet long for God’s sunshine of liberation, freedom, and good news.

When we feel this way, we can know we have company within Holy Scripture itself.

I wonder where winter is taking its time to recede in your life.  I wonder where you have cried out for God to bring a springtime that can’t come soon enough.

Maybe there is a relationship that hasn’t thawed yet.  It’s still frozen in time after that dispute.

Perhaps a dream you held has become muddied over, covered in gunk from life’s monsoons and floods.

Maybe it’s some personal sin struggle you have – that recurring issue that just won’t go away, no matter how hard you seem to try.

Holy Scripture has good news for us, in these places.  Not only do we find the Bible the voice of our longings.  We also find promises we can claim, as we wait.

The prophet Isaiah rings clear:  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

No matter how cold it gets, or how disappointing life can be, God still shines on us.  Even on dreary, cloudy, muddy March days, his promise still stands: those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.

So, really, no matter how it feels inside of us or how it looks out there, God’s faithfulness isalways blooming.  That is the promise.  That is what we stand on.  That is the soil we plant our lives.

And what good soil it is!  By the Holy Spirit, faith sprouts new life even in advance of winter’s thaw.  Prayers and worship flower up.  Acts of kindness and  tenacious grace bloom radiant.  As God pours his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5), a quiet, steady spring comes even in the darkness.

The fact is, winter is no match for God’s faithfulness.  The truth is, there is no such thing as permafrost in God’s ecology.

Our life together is, in fact, life in God’s spiritual greenhouse.  No matter what time of year, something is always growing, just by God’s presence with us.

May it be so for you!

 

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Thin Space – A Lenten reflection by John Leech

Today’s post is contributed by John Leech, rector at St Albans Episcopal church in Edmonds WA.  John blogs at Sermon Oats

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Celtic Eucharist

A Thin Place

A long time ago driving down the California coast I found myself looking at a long stretch of sand, rocks, waves, and mountains. And I said: I could look at this all day. A year later I was doing just that – a mile up the hill, at a monastic retreat house. It was an opportunity for rest and renewal, for silence, solitude, and contemplation.

It was there I found a ‘thin place’ – a place where the membrane was perceptibly permeable between the world of sensory input and the world of the Spirit. You could say, I was in a place where I was able to become aware of that thin veil.

The thin place I found there is before an altar – with a great skylight above it pouring down illumination on us as we gathered for Eucharist. And as we sat in meditation, the silence was vibrant

The air was filtered with light. We could stay there as long as we liked.

At night the space was silent and dark, lit only by an altar lamp and a candle burning by an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

You could sing good-night to her, after Compline. Follow the monks as they singled out, and sing.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve we rang in the new year with the rosary. I built a fire in my cell, in the big patent stove. As the flames roared, old journals seemed ready to burn, old memories ready to become incense.

Something stirred there that was becoming, coming into being more fully, with each moment of prayer.

I go back to that thin place periodically, on retreat. I like to stop on the way and touch bases at other places that speak to me – an old general store with a pot-bellied stove, a rocky outreach into the ocean, and a place of pines and quiet.

But of course we cannot always go back – we never really do go back – but we can visit the sacred again in new places, or old.

One of the most prominent and convenient places to visit the sacred is in the Eucharist. Eucharist is a thin place we make for each other in the intention and the quiet, the prayer and the movement and the stillness, as we come together to hear the Word and remember the gift – and share it, and be still, and know our God is present.

This is the blessing – God is here. God is here.

And we go forth transformed – from thin place and Eucharist. Gradually we learn – the thin place is everywhere. Everywhere the heart is open and God can come. And he will dwell in us; and we in him.

Be peaceful. Be at home. Find the place in your heart where Spirit can breathe, Word can speak, and Creator make new.

Be blessed in the bread and in the stillness. Carry that peace with you – know it is always there, waiting for you. If only behind a veil, God is here.

Peace.

 

Following Jesus: What Difference Does It Make? – Posts So Far

The current Lenten series: Following Jesus What Difference Does it Make is the most inspiring and diverse that I have hosted.  We have contributors from Ireland, Malaysia, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, England, the Us and Canada.   Check them out:

Melanie Clark Pullen – Rest For the Soul

James Prescott What Difference Does It Make – Surrender and Control

Prayer Knocks, Fasting Obtains, Mercy Receives – A Meditation From St Peter Chrysologus

Christine Sine A Season For Grief and Sorrow

Tracy Dickerson Icon

Christine Sine – Learning to Live Without Plastics

Jarred McKenna Jesus In Japan (Libyia & Bahrain) I Was Hungry & Thirsty… & You Fought Rob Bell on Twitter

Coe Hutchison Following Jesus What Difference Has It Made

John Mitchell  Followers of the Way

Christine Sine I Have and Always Will Belong to God

Ryan Harrison It Doesn’t But It Should

Christine Sine Don’t Try and Escape the Desert

Alex Tang  Following Jesus

Theresa Ip Froehlich Thank God For Lent

Christine Sine  A prayer for the Second Sunday of Lent

Eugene Cho – Giving Up Coffee or My Life

Tim Dalton – Following Jesus What Difference Does it Make

Paula Mitchell – The Grace to Trust

Jeff Johnson – Christ Has Walked this Path A Lenten video

Christine Sine – Where is God in the Midst of Disaster?

Keith Giles – Nobody Follows Jesus So Why Should You?

Ron Cole – Leaving to Find Church

Jon Stevens – You Do Not Need To Go To Seminary to Follow Jesus

Christine Sine – Earthquake In Japan How Do We Pray?

John Van de Laar – Into The Desert

Lynne Baab – Freedom From Fear of Death

A Lenten Prayer by Ignatius Loyola

Another Ash Wednesday Prayer

Ash Wednesday Prayer 2011

Rest for the Soul – A Lenten Reflection by Melanie Clark Pullen

Today’s guest post comes from Melanie Clark Pullen.   Melanie lives in Ireland with her husband and two children. She has worked as an actor for over ten years in television and theatre in the UK and Ireland. She also wrote and directed the award winning Irish language short film Marion agus an Banphrionsa (Marion and the Princess). She is part of the online arts/faith/culture community Dreamers of the Day (www.dreamtoday.org) and is also in training to be a local preacher in the Methodist Church. She contributes to The Master’s Artist, featuring writers from many different Christian traditions musing on writing and faith, every other Friday.

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Where do you find rest for your soul?

Rest for the soul.

I’m working on a short film this week and I love getting to be with other actors and spend time on a film set. You could say I was as happy as a kid in muck.

Inevitably, when actors get together we end up talking about work we have done, experiences we’ve had with other directors. It struck me this time round that both myself and the other actor on the shoot were carefully creating a narrative of our creative lives in an effort to present ourselves in the best possible light. It’s important to get the mix right. Too much emphasis on the highlights and you give the impression that you’re proud and full of yourself. On the other hand, if you only complain about the disappointments, you may make the other person question the validity of calling yourself an actor in the first place.

I am so very tired of fashioning a positive spin out of my years as an actor and writer. We spend so much energy building identities for ourselves. It’s something to cling to when we meet other people. It’s almost like acting in real life, building a persona to hide behind, secreting our true selves away to some darkened corner of our psyche.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is recorded as saying “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

If we are burdened by the constant pressure to maintain a persona that is pleasing to the world, following Jesus means emptying ourselves so that he can fill us with the abundance of himself. When we are full of God, what else can we be but a blessing to those around us? When we are ignited by the Spirit, released to be who God created us to be then we are freed from the oppressive tyranny of Other People’s Opinions.

Then our work, be it writing, painting, acting or music comes from a place of peace, a place of service, a place of worship. Following Jesus transforms us not into vacant clones with plastic smiles with all the right boxes ticked but beautiful, unique and free spirits whose art is a blessing to the world.

 


Learning to Live without Plastics

living without plastic

Lent is meant to be a time of giving up, and one of the things that I try to give up at least for part of Lent, is plastic.  It may not seem very spiritual but I think that it is.  There is growing evidence that plastic is not only bad for our planet, it is bad for our health as well.  Now I realize that it is impossible to live a totally plastic free life but it is at least possible to try.  And I find that in all things, trying makes me more aware of the extent of the problem and how critical it is for us to do whatever we can to overcome it.

Taking reusable bags to the store is one easy way to cut back.  I try to keep some in my purse and others in the car – small zippered bags that open out into a large shopping bag.  We also buy in bulk which cuts back on plastic packaging (see below for why this is important), and we usually cook from scratch, which cuts out even more packaging.  Prepackaged meals tend to use a huge amount of packaging – why not make a big pot of something and freeze it in containers… hmm how do we avoid plastic there?

Anyhow here are some great tips from Organic Gardening on how to at least attempt to go plastic free.

#1: Expect failure!!
As the team of bloggers over at Growing a Greener World put it, this is one challenge in which failure is almost certain—and that’s OK. As we said from the beginning, completely eliminating all plastic from your life is impossible. Even the stuff you try to avoid will sometimes creep past your defenses, so rather than stress about a mistake or moment of weakness, just accept it and keep trying.

#2: Prioritize.
Deciding to go (mostly) plastic-free can easily leave you feeling overwhelmed. Each of us experienced that sensation, and many of you wrote or commented about that too. So it’s a good idea to start by IDing some of the bigger plastic inputs in your life, and work on those. Once you’ve established a plastic-free habit, you can move on to the next one on your list. Here are some good starting points:

  • Focus on food. Following the lead of Beth Terry’s blog MyPlasticFreeLife.com, we each surveyed a week’s worth of trash to see how we generated most of our plastic garbage. If you’re anything like us, you’ll find that food packaging is your number one source of plastic waste. Along with sheer volume, there are other reasons that food-related plastic is a good place to focus your efforts. Chemicals from plastic packaging and containers leach into the stuff we eat and drink, and therefore have the biggest potential impact on our immediate health. In addition to avoiding overpackaged foods at the supermarket, swap out plasticfood-storage containers and cooking utensils and replace them with glass, ceramic, wood, or other materials. And never heating up food in any kind of plastic is a pretty easy rule to follow.
  • Ban those bags. If you forget your reusable bags at the grocery store, carry your items out by hand. After doing that a few times, you’ll probably NEVER forget your bags again! If you do find yourself with more items than you can carry, why not use a cart to get them to the car without bags? At the very least, use as few shopping bags as possible (and don’t bag items that already come in bags, like those oranges or potatoes). Bring the plastic bags to back to the supermarket for recycling (along with any other stray plastic bags that find their way into your hands). Make it easier on yourself to remember your reusable bags for your next trip by stashing them with your shopper’s club cards, or in your car’s trunk or glove compartment.
  • Stop using stupid plastic. Some plastic is just pointless. A straw? Would it kill you to let your lip touch the glass? A plastic bag just to hold the greeting card you bought? Carry it in your hand! Plastic fork? It’ll probably break! Wash your hands and eat with your fingers. Plastic Halloween decorations? Use real bone

#3: Reuse, recycle, recreate.
Have a backup plan for the plastic that gets into your life. Find other uses for it if you can, or find out how to recycle it when you’re done. Take plastic bags to the supermarket, know what your curbside program will accept, and know how to recycle your electronics when it’s time to get rid of them. If all else fails, call up a local nonprofit and see if it can be donated. When you’re shopping, buy products packaged in recycled plastic if there isn’t a nonplastic alternative, or even look for used versions of whatever it is you need.

Or, next time you find yourself reaching for something that comes in plastic, think, “Could I make this?” You’d be surprised at how easy it is to whip up hair-care productsbody lotions,cleaning products, and pretty much every plastic-packaged food at the store. Or just go without. As Dani, one of the bloggers who followed our challenge on her site News from Nowhere, told us, “I would rather get in the habit of having and using less (of plastics and everything else), than be disgruntled about it when the situation is forced upon me.”

#4: Slow down.
Plastic exists to support the go-go-go lifestyle that we all think we need to maintain. Committing to cutting back on plastic gives you a reason to insert some helpful speed bumps into your day. So enjoy them! Take 10 extra minutes to eat breakfast at home, for example, or use a full 30 minutes to eat lunch at a restaurant, off glass plates using real silverware, rather than grabbing something packaged in plastic to eat at your desk. Along with the benefits of avoiding plastic, you’ll gain an opportunity to catch your breath, enjoy your food, and let go of some stress.

#5: Don’t be a jerk about it.
None of your plastic-addicted friends wants to hear a lecture about the evils of plastic (ours sure didn’t). Be relaxed and nonjudgmental when you talk about your decision to cut the plastic cord. Focus on why the alternative is better, not on why plastic and the people who use it are evil. And let your deeds, rather than your words, be the strongest argument. Every time you tell a cashier you don’t need a bag, and walk out of the story carrying your carton of milk in your hand instead, you’re planting an idea in the head of everyone around you. And that’s how new norms are created.

Followers of the Way – Lenten Reflection by John Mitchell

Today’s reflection comes from John Mitchell who is on staff with Youth With A Mission.  He and his wife have just spent 2 years in Nicaragua and are heading to New Zealand to join the YWAM team there.

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Today we live in a culture that is obsessed with leadership. From the bestseller list to politics to parishes “leadership” has become the buzzword of our generation. Spiritual leadership, servant leadership, courageous leadership, leadership laws; we even have a magazine solely devoted to leadership! The problem is, in our self-absorbed quest for leadership, we’ve forgotten what it means to follow. We read from the scriptures that Paul identifies himself and other early saints as “followers of the Way”. The term “Christian” was seldom used in the New Testament and was bestowed by others, not by the church. Meaning adherent or slave of Christ, “Christian” was an accurate title but the early church looked upon themselves as willful followers. They used terms like “brethren”, “believers”, “the saints” and “servants of God” to reflect the communal gathering and following of Jesus.

Why was all this emphasis placed on following Jesus and not on a status of “being a Christian”? We find that some of the most audacious words in the Bible are spoken when Jesus commands people, “follow me”.

To Peter and Andrew in the boat, “Come, follow me”,

To Matthew sitting by the tax booth, “follow me

To the rich young ruler, “sell your possessions and give to the poor… then come, follow me.”

To the man with the dying father, “follow me and let the dead bury their own dead”

To the disciples and crowds gathered to listen, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Implicit in these invitations was a profound promise: that Jesus believed these people could live up to His name. Wrapped in the whole Rabbinic culture of first century Israel was an idea that the followers of the rabbi could be like their rabbi and in extending the command to follow Him, Jesus says, “You can be like me.” But there are no qualifiers in these statements. Jesus doesn’t beg, He doesn’t explain, He doesn’t wait, He doesn’t ask permission. He demands a reaction, right now, choose today: Obedience or disobedience. He is the God of the universe and you are either with Him or not.

What has following Jesus meant to me? It has meant reorienting my life to reflect the fact that I am not in control, I am not in the lead and I am not the center of this story. I am supposed to listen and obey. I’m supposed to go where I’m sent and do what I see Him doing. If I suffer or perish then I have entered into the same fate as my Lord, who boldly faced the cross for the joy set before him. Following Jesus means the same thing that it has meant for two millennia: determined, persistent, willful obedience with the promise of the only reward that ever mattered: fellowship with Him.

A friend of mine, during university, found little reaction to a proposal for a Christian gathering on campus, people hardly noticed, but when they placed signs for a gathering of followers of Jesus, people reacted adversely. Those worldly students understood the latent power just as well as the Roman Empire did. Those who lead are often misguided but those who follow Jesus will change the world.

Don’t Try and Escape the Desert

We are into the second week of Lent and it seems to me that the attention of many of us is wandering.  We are on to the next thing before we have completed this one.  So this is my challenge for today.  Don’t try and escape the desert and cut short what God wants to accomplish in your life during this season.  It can be painful but it is liberating.  Desert experiences are always meant to prepare us for entry into God’s promised land where shalom, wholeness and abundance are provided for all.

I could not help but think about this today as I gazed out on the mountains.  Their winter snow provides us with water over the summer.   If the snows don’t come then we suffer drought.  We need the pain of dark rainy and snowy days to sustain us through the season that lies ahead.  And the season of Lent is one of those times when God is storing up within us the resources we need to see us through the summer seasons of growth.

These thoughts in turn inspired the writing of this prayer

May we look from the heart of God

And see afresh enormous love poured out

A son hung upon a tree and crucified

May we return to the womb of love where God holds close

And suffer in union with the God of compassion

Unafraid to share life with hurting neighbours near and far