Making Sacred Memorials from Our Memories.

Rock of remembrance

Thinking about All Saints Day has, not surprisingly brought back memories of my mother. This morning images of her last illness flooded in, triggered by looking at my rock collection, which I often use as a focus for prayer. My hands moved unwaveringly to my rock of remembrance. Running my fingers over its bands of light and dark bound seamlessly together into a solid whole, made me think – joy and sorrow intertwining in my life to make me whole.

Recalling memories like this is important for our own health and healing. I see myself again back in the hospital beside her bed – laughing and crying with her, telling her I love her, reading to her about Scotland the home of her ancestors, reminiscing about our childhood, sharing photos, praying and just sitting quietly beside her my heart aching as she journeys through these last challenging days.

Other events triggered memories this last week too. At the St Francis Day celebrations at our church the vicar prayed for stuffed animals, not something I would ever have thought important. However this time it had me in tears. One of my nephews had given my mother a stuffed dog – Spot – for a previous hospital trip and Spot provided amazing comfort through her final illness. She died with it in her hands.

Memories of those we love and those who have impacted our lives last forever. We can never replace what has been lost, but as we make new connections and new meaningful relationships, these memories help shape us into a new reality. Instead of denying our feelings, our memories help us listen, change and grow into the future.

Celebrations like All Saints Day are important times not just to remember those that have gone whom we loved and who shaped our lives, but also to reflect on how they continue to shape and grow us.

All Saints Day can convert memories into sacred memorials, markers along the way of our own journey. They encourage us to remember the acts of God in our past and the intimate moments of love we have shared. This is one important way that we connect to the acts of God in the present and learn to trust and hope for the promises of God in the future.This is a good time to ask yourself: Am I living true to the character and integrity of those who challenged, mentored and shaped us? What new ways might God prompt me to change as a result of their influence?


Why Does God’s Path Always Seem So Narrow?

God's narrow pathway

God’s narrow pathway laden with abundance

Our 21st annual Celtic retreat is only three weeks away. This year our theme is gratitude and thanksgiving. In preparation, at the MSA team meeting last week, as part of our discernment process, we took time to look back with heartfelt gratitude for the many blessings of God and for the incredible and often unexpected ways that God has provided. We thanked God for the gifts of friendships woven into a community of faithfulness.

We thanked God for the amazing ways that both Andy Wade and Cindy Todd came to be a part of our team, unexpected and much appreciated blessings. We thanked God for the volunteers who expand our team – for Forrest and Ryan and Jessica working on the CCSP Cascadia project. For Hannah working in the garden and for Nick helping us in the office over the summer, for our summer intern Chris, and Jackie who gives administrative assistance. For others like Wolt and James and Jon, Ricci and Judy who assist on a regular basis. For our book keeper Nancy. For those who contribute to this and the MSA blog. For those who help us with the Celtic retreat. The list went on and on and as we talked about this gratitude, awe and expectation welled up within us.

Andy commented: God’s narrow path is a wide open way of blessing and joy. It is narrow because  it is surrounded by amazing abundance, with fruit and luxuriant growth hanging down. It is only narrow and sometimes hard to find because it is filled with so much abundance.

Hydrangeas obscure the path

Hydrangeas obscure the path

I couldn’t help but think of that as I trimmed away my sage bush on Saturday so that the mailman could get to the letter box. The fragrance of discarded branches clung to my clothes. I also thought of it as I surveyed my hydrangeas so laden with flowers that they obscure the path beside them. Those I did not touch. When I focused on the beauty of the flowers it didn’t seem to matter that the pathway had disappeared.

How often do we miss the abundance of God because we want to make the pathway wider and easier to follow I wondered? How often do we cut down the luxuriant growth and fruit that God is growing because we are obsessed with always seeing and knowing where the way leads? How often do we missed what God has blessed us with here and now in this moment because our vision is focused somewhere out ahead where the pathway is still obscured?

God may we look and see your abundance pressing in all around.

Rich fruit, luxuriant growth, laden branches hanging low.

May we remember that sometimes they obscure the path that winds so narrow out before us.

May we remember that your provision is inexhaustible, like a plate of food that will never be empty.

May we taste and see that all you give is good,

And raise our voices in praise and thanks and gratitude.

Lord Jesus Christ Draw Close – A New Advent Video for 2011

This year’s Advent video focuses on our need to draw close to our Lord Jesus Christ during the Advent season. The music is “In Toto Corde ~ Lament” from the CD, ANTIPHON by the Coram Deo Ensemble.

Below is a low quality preview, which you are free to use. The high quality version is now available for download ($15) from our Mustard Seed webstore.

Also available are the videos from the past four years for immediate download or on DVD.

Music by Janet Chvatal, Jeff Johnson & Brian Dunning
℗© 2011 Sola Scriptura Songs /
Used with permission. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Lord Jesus Christ Draw Close

Draw close, Lord Jesus Christ
Draw close, lead us with you light
Teach us the wonder of your love
Show us the glory of your saving grace
Draw close, God’s beloved son
Born to be redeemer of our world
The promised saviour of all creation
Draw close, shine for the world to see
Ignite in us your flame
Prepare us for a world of justice
Prepare us for a world of peace
Prepare us for a world of righteousness
Draw close renew our lives
Until our hearts ache for freedom
Our minds long for holiness
Our spirits seek for unity
Draw close we long for your coming
God of compassion and mercy
God of might and power,
God beyond imagining
Draw close, transform all things
Fill us with you love
Draw close, shine for the world to see

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.


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!


Imagining the Lectionary: Psalms and Passion by Dave Perry

Today’s post was provided by Dave Perry and was first published on Visual Theology.  Dave is a Methodist Minister who has been the Chair of the Lincoln and Grimsby District since 2000. He had his first taste of Christianity and Methodism whilst an undergraduate and became a member of the Methodist Church at Selly Oak.  His hobbies include fell walking, rambling, running, reading, art, photography, model railways, red wine and watching movies on DVD. Dave is married to Sue, who is Deputy Head of Dietetics for the Hull and E. Yorkshire NHS Hospitals Trust. They have two daughters, Bekki (online merchandising designer) and Judy (final year Communication and Media student).


Whichever way we look at it, the final phase of the Lenten journey towards Easter is the supreme test of our mettle as disciples. Do we continue alongside Jesus, or do we gradually fall back and move to the periphery, melting into the crowds of bystanders where we will find anonymity and little to mark us out as ‘different’?

With each passing year Jesus walks an increasingly lonely road through our culture to the events of Holy Week. The palms are fewer, the passion less. Those who dare to follow him closely can no longer take for granted that the bystanders understand what they are doing or appreciate the significance of this pathway to Easter. The increasing strangeness and oddity of the spectacle bear an inverse relationship to the cachet of being a Christian in our society.

There is no celebrity or glamour on offer here. Staying close to Jesus offers no enhancement of our personal status in the eyes of others. But then it is not about us. It never has been. It is about Him. And he eschewed all such self-serving interests for the sake of being utterly God-centred and passionately people-focussed. So the journey he makes goes from acclaim to resentment, and from there to ridicule, ending with the final excruciating good riddance of the Cross. And in his rejection the divine odd-one-out calls his disciples to stay close all the way through.

By abandoning the aggrandising power which the world craves for a life lived in and for the apparent powerlessness of love, Jesus demonstrates a completely subversive understanding of the whole concept of power. And as he does so the full potential of humanity shines within him as a countercultural beacon of hope. The power of such divine love is the energy which brings God’s Kingdom alive in and through those disciples who determinedly stay close to him, come what may.

The Christian Faith may indeed seem strange to those who watch from the sidelines today – and in a sense if it is true to itself it always will – but in love our homecoming, our belonging and our true identity are always to be found. These truths we discover in Jesus. And there is nothing odd or strange about the deep authenticity which comes from knowing one’s whole being is centred upon them, through his presence with us on life’s journey. As we follow him and serve others these life-giving holy truths come alive within us and empower us to fulfilled living in a way that makes sense and gifts meaning to every waking moment.

Jesus needs his disciples to trust that this is more than enough for anyone. It was for him, why shouldn’t it be for us?

What Difference Does It Make? Surrender and Control a Lenten Reflection by James Prescott

Today’s Lenten reflection comes from James Prescott.  James is a 30 plus year old living in Sutton, south west of London in the
 UK. He is part of Vineyard Church Sutton, a community trying to
explore what doing church means in a post-modern context. His interests include films, music, anything by Apple, superheroes,
football and reading, and I am currently working on a book. I’m
passionate about exploring the true nature of church and what it
means to be a disciple of Jesus.  His heart is to change the 
perception of church, and of being a follower of Jesus from one of 
division, judgementalism, religion and hypocrisy to one of love,
 grace, unity and justice.  He blogs at


What difference does it make?

Surrender & control


We all have one.

Right at the core of our being there is a rhythm to our lives. On a purely physical level, there is a heartbeat. The pace of that heartbeat, the rhythm of it, depends on what we do with the rest of our lives, what rhythm our lives beat to.

Lent is a time when we stop and rexamine that ryhthm. It’s an opportunity to go back to the core of who we are and what we believe, and reexamine what our life is really about, and where we honestly are with God.

This Lent I have given things up – a common theme during Lent – but I have also taken something up.

Two years ago I took part in a discipleship programme, a mission into your own life if you will, which involved carrying on with my regular life – job, church, hobbies etc – but with one subtle yet crucial difference.

Jesus would be first.

For 40 days, I would live intentionally for Jesus, deliberately orientate my life around Him – and part of that included daily prayers and Bible studies, on top of regular serving, tithing and regularly attending group meetings.

It was a very fruitful process, during which I grew closer to God and realised I could do the spiritual disciplines each day if I wanted to. My rhythm changed, life seemed to have purpose, and I was actually dissapointed when it finished.

This year, I decided to for lent to do something similar – to do the Bible studies, daily prayers every morning – which is the worst time of day for me to do that, as I’m definitely not a morning person, so it would require self-discipline.

Not quite the same intensity as two years ago and not such a big commitment, but enough to be different to what I was used to.

So in doing this I took up something new for lent.

I also gave up things for lent. Most prominently, chocolate (which of course no one ever does), and take-aways.

Now I’ve managed to stay off the take-aways so far, but I have given in to the chocolate – and staying off the take-aways is proving tough, though I’m being successful so far.

But in taking up something new, I’ve done fine so far. The decision to read the Bible each morning and say a set prayer at the start of this day, and have hourly prayer reminders, is working so well. My day is starting much better, I feel more positive about each day and a real sense of peace when I go to work or church or anywhere.

God has been speaking into my heart and giving me a peace.

There is another side to this. It’s also allowed God space to get in and really deal with some difficult, painful issues as well. I have found at various points God speaking to me about His grace, about my own failings, and its been somehow easier to sit down and examine myself and deal with those issues.

Most of them being about control.

You see I like being in control. I think on many levels we all do.

It’s one of the things many of us struggle with, giving control of our hearts to God, dying to ourselves and allowing Jesus to raise us up to a new life hidden in Him. I have found that giving into temptation to eat chocolate for example is something that I do to exercise control, because there is a part of me that doesn’t want to give up control.

Because giving up something for lent involves giving up control.

In the end, the difference giving up certain things and beginning new habits make over lent is that they help us confront our issues of control.

Lent leads up to Easter, which is all about the ultimate giving up of control, the ultimate surrender on the cross – a surrender we are all called to model.

Surrender is at the heart of our faith, giving up control and surrendering it to Jesus who Himself surrendered all for us. And in the process, like what I did when I first did my discipleship course, and in what I have already experienced this year, we can end up being transformed more into His likeness.

How much are you willing to surrender to Jesus this lent?



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

Pat Conley posted this today and I thought it was so good that I needed to share it with you.  It certainly makes a great addition to our lenten reflections.

This is from today’s Office of Readings. A great Lenten meditation!

From a sermon by Saint Peter Chrysologus, bishop

There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.
Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.

Icon – A Lenten Reflection by Tracy Dickerson

Today’s post is contributed by Tracy Dickerson.   She describes herself as an Uber-churched/De-churched/Re-churched Follower of the Way of Jesus; she is also a Friend of Sinners, Wife, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Hospice Nurse, Lover of Parties, Artsy-fartsy Celebrant of Life Abundant, Seminarian, Church Planter, (and Plant Planter), Missional Thinker, Theologian Wanna-be, Mover, Shaker, Occasional Sleeper-who is trying to Jump Out of the Box and Into the World.
This post was first published on Nacreous Kingdom as part of a series Tracy is posting throughout Lent as a series of reflections on Lent
Recite the Primo Credo Today in the Morning and in the Evening:
Hear, O Israel:
the Lord our God, the Lord is one;
you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.
~Mark 12:29-31
Today, we continue to discuss the Primo Credo, a variation of the Hebrew Shema Yisrael that Jesus himself told us was the bedrock of our entire belief system.

We have been meditating on it now for eleven days (today is day twelve) and will continue to do so until Resurrection (Easter) Sunday.

We have been reciting it every morning and every evening, as faithful Followers of YHWH have been doing for thousands of years, and today, we’re moving back toward talking about the key focus of this season for us: the Primo Credo and the Shema Yisrael.

The focus of our meditation will be on ICON. We will be discussing the concept of being an ICON- and will be exploring what being an “Image-Bearer of Christ” means in the context of a Shema-shaped Spirituality (one that commands love of God with heart, soul mind and strength).

We will be asking ourselves what it means to follow Jesus’ example of Shema-shaped Spirituality.

Following Jesus… We throw the phrase around an awful lot, but do we really stop to think about what this really means? Do we take time to count the cost, or to fully digest the implications of such a thing?

When I was young (and for a time, even when I was older, but not necessarily wiser) I thought that the idea of following Jesus began with a prayer, an intellectual assent…and pretty much ended there. But, tragically, my life didn’t really change. I continued to go to church and do all the things that I saw other people who had made this same affirmation a part of their lives do. (Note here an important word: same.) Same, same, same.I was the same as the others, I swam in the same culture, I hung out with thesame kind of people. Truth is, I was the same old self. Self, self, self. This lack of transformation was due to the fact that while I was a believer in Jesus, I was not yet a follower of Jesus.

As a mere believer of Jesus, I was missing a very important concept: Jesus was really different, and Jesus calls his followers to that same kind of life-changing difference. In fact, one might even say that the words “SAME” and “SELF” are truly four-letter words to him. Although we might have claimed this difference, I’m now not entirely convinced that we were. Truth be told- we really weren’t much different than those around us. We still worshipped the same cultural idols and still possessed the same values (in fact, it may be that those values actually possessed us). We were still self-absorbed and self-centered. Even our reductionistic conceptualization of salvation was rooted in this self-sustaining, self-preserving mindset.

A lot later in life, I became a Follower of Jesus… I learned that to truly follow Jesus, one has to actually love God the way Jesus does, wholeheartedly; one has to actually do the things Jesus does, like laying down His life for God’s mission; that one has to think in ways that Jesus thinks, which are often counterintuitive, paradoxical, counter-cultural, and frequently make very little sense to others; and finally, one has to love the people that Jesus loves with every fiber of one’s being- and that means a willingness to put our selves aside to be with, harbor, and redeem people whom others might think unsavory. Oh what a difference coming to understand this has made!

Jesus calls to us: “Follow me!” What he is demanding of us involves a complete giving over of everything to him. He calls us to even give over our right to our identities. We are called to take on the nature of Christ, to be in his image, to have his mind. Simply put- we are to die to ourselves and become ICONs of Jesus. Strangely enough, we don’t do this as any cosmic self-improvement scheme, either. Although improvement is a nice perk, the self gets put to the side, and any concept of ‘self-improvement’ appears lackluster in comparison to our true goal. In this endeavor of following Jesus, our chief aspiration is to become Christ’s image-bearers to the world for the improvement of the world and the ultimate glory of God. Ironically, then- that which is improved ultimately is an entire world, not merely one small part of it (me).

As I’ve moved from my understanding of the Gospel being one of microcosmic self-improvement and a plan for my own personal ‘salvation’ and eternal self-preservation, I’ve come to understand a more vibrant, abundant and more full Gospel whose aim is transformation, salvation, and redemption on a much larger scale. I’ve come to a transformational understanding that calls my previous conception of following Jesus into question.

Whereas my prior goal was to achieve eternal life by being conformed to animage of godliness, now I understand that my goal is to allow the Holy Spirit to shape me into the Image of Christ.
As I move from SELF to ICON, I can much more clearly see the difference that Jesus wants to make through transforming our lives to transforming the world…for His glory.

Follow I this day the Father,
Follow I this day the Son,
Guided by The Spirit, Follow I the Three in One.

God, and Spirit, and Jesus,
In Obedience Every Morning…

In Submission Every Night…
Replicate I with my heart,
Emulate I with my soul,
Imitate I with my mind;
Follow I with my might.
©Tracy B. Dickerson, 2011

Into the Desert – A Lenten Reflection by John Van de laar

Today’s post comes from John van de Laar, a professional spiritual seeker who loves facilitating times of playful prayer with fellow travellers. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa, with his wife and two sons, and loves words, music and unexpected beauty. He is the author of The Hour That Changes Everything – How worship transforms us into the people God calls us to beand blogs at


Into The Desert
From a biblical perspective, Lent begins with these words:

Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. (Luke4:1 The Message)

The picture painted here has always felt deeply incongruous to me. Jesus has just been baptised, is “full of the Holy Spirit”, and has had the most amazing affirmation from God. But, at exactly this moment he is led by that same Spirit into the wild – the place of deprivation, suffering and temptation. Why would God do this? Why take Jesus from this moment of triumph, into isolation and struggle. Perhaps the answer is already in the question.

It is not a new thought to say that the desert was a time of preparation for ministry forJesus. He needed to be tested and strengthened in order to face and fulfill the ministry hewas called to. And this needed to happen right at the outset, before any easy success, or spiritual euphoria could divert him or dilute his message and conviction.

The unstated, but obvious, truth in this passage is that difficulty and suffering are necessary ingredients for a life of value and contribution. Comfort and ease do not easilydevelop spiritual or physical strength, and they do not easily build the determination that isnecessary for the work that Jesus did – justice, sacrifice and transformation.

Perhaps this is why Lent is sometimes seen as a time of “giving up” things – especially ourlittle comforts and enjoyments. The journey into the desert is more than most of us cantake. We know the pain and wrestling that we will find there, and we would rather avoidit. So, we water it down, and go through the motions, pretending that we are embracing the discipline and sacrifice of following Christ, while ensuring that, in reality, we remain unchallenged and unchanged.

This is, of course, our choice. But, if we seek real transformation, if we long to know a lifethat vibrates with the energy and passion of the Spirit, if we yearn to make a difference in the world, and participate in God’s saving work, we must journey – regularly – into the desert. Lent, at its best, is just such a desert, and our mindful participation, is an invitation to be tested, strengthened and prepared for a life of world-changing contribution. The question is: will we be courageous and committed enough to make the journey?

The disciplines of Lent are designed to lead us into our own temptations. Fasting confrontsour rampant appetites and addictions, and transforms them into healthy simplicity. Prayer confronts our independent and egotistical need to be in control of our own lives, and transforms it into responsible trustfulness. Giving (which includes service – the giving of time and talents, as well as money) confronts our compulsive desire to possess,accumulate and consume, and transforms it into generous sharing. The Lenten desert is not the place to wander, if we are unprepared to face these dark corners of our souls.

Our worship, however, provides a place of refuge, rest and encouragement during thistime. As we gather we find companions for the journey. As we join in adoration, our faith in and vision of, God’s reign is strengthened. As we confess and pray, we find comfort andhope that the journey means something, and that we have resources beyond ourselves tosustain and equip us.

Beyond Words
Lent is a call into the desert. It’s not for the faint of heart, but for those who choose to endure it, it offers a trail that leads through the cross to the joy of resurrection.

Another Prayer for Ash Wednesday

I already feel that I have entered into the spirit of Lent.  It is a painful season, especially as I remember the death of those I knew in Christchurch.  Here is another prayer to begin the season.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

All that is not of God must die

All that is crushed will be restored

All that is lost will be made new

God may we repent of ways that do not serve you

And admit to the tensions that tell us where we need to change

Christ is coming walking towards the cross

God may we see him clearly

Pouring out love

Pouring out mercy

Pouring out peace

May we kneel before him in humble adoration

May we take up our  cross and follow

And walk with Christ into the ways of life