The sacrament of the present moment

Officer Charles (“Chuckie”) Irvine Jr. End of watch: Thursday, June 7, 2018.

“The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams, but you will only enjoy them to the extent of your faith and love. . . .  To discover God in the smallest and most ordinary things, as well as the greatest, is to possess a rare and sublime faith.”- Jean Pierre de Caussade, The Sacrament of the Present Moment

“When you were dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive in Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”- Colossians 2:13-14 (NIV)

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”- John 14:6 (Chuckie’s self-selected confirmation verse)

I awoke around 1 AM the morning of June 8, 2018, to find a prayer request on my smart phone. The post requested prayer for the family of Charles Irvine Jr.  “Oh no,” I cried, “not Chuckie!”  Visibly distraught, I soon discovered that Officer Irvine died in the line of duty after a high-speed pursuit on Milwaukee’s northwest side the previous afternoon.  Amidst the devastating darkness, though, an endearing image of Chuckie emerged.

After Chuckie’s year in our fourth grade community, his father died.  As a fifth grader the next school year, Chuckie often stopped in my classroom during his morning break.  While I taught a lesson, Chuckie quietly walked in and stood right next to me- I always kept my door open.  Next, I’d pause the lesson, put my arm around him and say, “Hey Chuckie, how are you doing?”  When Chuckie felt comfort in the present moment, he returned to class.  Chuckie – small in stature, but big in heart.

In God Is Closer Than You Think, John Ortberg affirms his belief that right now constitutes the greatest moment of your life.  That’s not to imply you find the present moment happy, pleasant, or easy.  Rather, right now is the only moment you’ve got.  Most noteworthy, it’s God’s irreplaceable gift to you.  This moment matters because God is present. To walk with God, you must experience His presence now – in this moment.

Therefore, John asserts, tomorrow represents possibly the most dangerous word in the English language.  As a result, Pastor Ortberg explains how to address the root of the problem:

“What matters most is this: God is present in this instant, offering to partner with us in whatever we face.  The failure to embrace ‘the sacrament of the present moment’ will keep us from being fully present to God right here, right now.  Not because we consciously say no to God.  We just say ‘Tomorrow.’ ”

Furthermore, John observes, spending the day with God usually looks no different than what you already do.  However, to receive each moment as a sacrament, what John calls a God-charged sliver of grace, involves learning to do what we already do in a new way – with God!

Thus, Pastor Ortberg finds it helpful to “review the dailies” with God.  Discover things to thank God for in each scene of your day.  When you do, you’ll find, as Chuckie did, little rainbow moments in ordinary days.  Hence, what Chuckie now proclaims in heaven, we sing on earth:

“Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free/ Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me/ You have broken every chain/ There’s salvation in Your name/ Jesus Christ, my living hope.”

Leave your unwanted thoughts and feelings at the door?

“When you spend time with God, don’t leave your unwanted thoughts and feelings at the door.  Instead, befriend them — and invite Jesus to be near them too.”- Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”- Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller conclude Chapter 6 of Boundaries for Your Soul as they exhort you to learn to welcome every part of your soul.  Yet, that effort involves great challenge.  However, the authors state, paying attention to the state of your soul “opens you up to receive the gifts God wants to give you to the parts most in need of grace.”

In addition, God’s eager to speak words of affirmation and meet you in your pain.  Through the Holy Spirit’s power, this step of invitation involves guiding each part of your soul (sanctimonious, straying, suffering) to:

  • open the door
  • open their arms
  • receive treasures from God

Most noteworthy, Alison and Kim caution us to beware of imposter religious parts:

“Be aware that sometimes when you try to connect with Jesus, you actually may be connecting with a religious, Jesus-like part.  You know this is the case when the ‘Jesus’ you feel like you’re encountering is shaming you or has no power. . . .  If a well-meaning part like this shows up as you start to pray or participate in a worship service, ask it to step back, so that you can connect with the living God.  The true Jesus always speaks authoritative words of hope and truth that will change your life.”

In conclusion, the authors stress that our religious activities, or spiritual disciplines, can’t change us on their own.  Rather, they create an environment that’s conducive to growth.

Today’s question: What most helps you befriend your unwanted thoughts and feelings?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Unburden: soul freedom from heavy burdens”

A more integrated and peaceful internal life

“When your protectors become prayerful and your exiles find strength, your internal life will become more integrated and peaceful.  You’ll enjoy more compassion for others and an ever-deepening intimacy with God.”-Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller

“Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’  The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.  As he was going down, his servants met him and told him his son was recovering.”- John 4:50-51 (ESV)

As Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller continue Chapter 6 of Boundaries for Your Soul, they discuss the soul’s suffering parts.

3.  The Suffering.  As the authors note, Jesus didn’t blame nor marginalize the suffering.  Instead, He encouraged, helped, and treated them with respect.  Whether it concerned a man unable to walk (Mark 12:2) or a young boy on his deathbed (John4:50), Jesus asked the suffering person to do something before his/her healing.  And, Alison and Kim underscore, Jesus wants to empower the suffering parts of you.

In addition, the authors observe, the suffering characters we encounter in the Gospels sound like our exiles.  Consider three common beliefs of the suffering soul:

  • Insecurity: I’m not as important as other people.  Why would God bother with me?
  • Doubt: Does God really care?  Why would He let me suffer so much?
  • Bitterness: I’m angry at God because of what He has let happen to me and to those I love.

In conclusion, Alison and Kim exhort you to invite Jesus to draw near:

“Invite Jesus to draw near, and you might notice his invitation for them to take leaps of faith that seemed impossible before.  In his presence, these suffering parts of you find comfort and healing.  With healthy boundaries, exiles can transform into beautiful aspects of your humanity- channels of empathy and grace.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses sustain a more integrated and peaceful internal life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Leave your unwanted thoughts and feelings at the door?

This critical person – in your own head?

“But what if this critical person is in your own head? What if you are the person with the problem?  What if you have met the enemy, and he is you?”- Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Boundaries

“I’m telling you to love your enemies.  Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.  When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.”- Matthew 5:43-45 (MSG)

In Chapter 5 (“Step Two: Befriend”) of Boundaries for Your Soul, Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller show you how to address your internal resistance to unwanted parts of yourself.  As you strengthen your relationship with your internal protectors, and then the exiles they protect, you grow toward acceptance and wholeness.

The authors remind us that Jesus, confronted by soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane, could have commanded angels to destroy His enemies.  With that action, He’d prevent His arrest and execution (Matthew 26:53). Yet, Christ’s death on the cross proved the power of grace.

Furthermore, Alison and Kim posit, what if Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:43-45 refers to more than extending grace to external enemies?  What if it also refers to perceived enemies within?  Thus, the authors urge you to remember that every part of you is valuable and worthy of your compassion.  Furthermore, God loves and wants to do something beneficial through each one.

In conclusion, Alison and Kim reiterate that criticizing and rejecting parts of yourself fails to make things better.  Instead, befriending aspects of yourself you most dislike wins them over.  It’s extending hospitality, as Henri Nouwen explains:

“Hospitality . . . means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.  Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”

Today’s question: Do you feel that the critical person is in your own head?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Holistically focus with compassion”

Cultivate a gracious spirit

“Become the kind of player other people want to sit next to.  The Bible’s word for this is grace.  Play with grace.  Cultivate a gracious spirit.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg begins Chapter 19 (“Be the Kind of Player People Want to Sit Next To”) of When the Game is Over with an observation about reaching full Monopoly potential.  For example, The Monopoly Companion lists the number one strategy for winning that game.  That tip? – be the kind of player others want to sit next to, and don’t mind losing to.  Because, in order to complete the deals and trades, you must cultivate a gracious spirit.  You need cooperation to win.

Therefore, Pastor Ortberg underscores, the game of life presents three challenges you must navigate with grace.  John talks about the first challenge today.

1.  Lose with grace.  You cannot avoid losing in life.  It’s inevitable.  Most noteworthy, losing gives us an invaluable window into our character development.  As John cautions: “To live is to lose.  but to lose badly, gracelessly, can be lethal.”

Thus, true self-esteem only comes from knowing we can handle the wins and losses of living in the real world.  We require a lot of grace to lose well.  Hence, Pastor Ortberg observes, losing well means:

  • having the humility to face reality full in the face with no excuses; yet possessing confidence not to let losing define our identity
  • no excuses, blaming, or self-pity; but, no self-condemnation either
  • acquiring the discernment necessary to know when to quit and when to persevere
  • learning how to offer congratulations
  • learning how to let go of an outcome you cannot change; rather, hold on to the will to live fully and well

Today’s question: What blocks your desire to cultivate a gracious spirit?  Conversely, what enables you to play with grace?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Graceful winners – caught up in something bigger”

Your brain – the gatekeeper of your heart

“Your brain is critical in your heart-healing because, according to the Hebrew Scripture, it is the gatekeeper of your heart, determining what will come in and out.”- Christa Black Gifford

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.”- Ephesians 1:18 (NIV)

Christa Black Gifford continues Chapter 8 of Heart Made Whole as she observes that some people see heart-brain interaction as an either-or choice.  Thus, when someone asks them to turn on all of their heart to experience God, they get very nervous.  Because they think you’re asking them to turn off their brain.  And that, Ms. Gifford suggests, is quite silly.  For the brain most affects the condition of the heart.

As a result, Christa finds it surprising when using the eyes of the heart to encounter God unnerves people.  Especially since Scripture is replete with examples of this.  For example, Christa notes, one glance through the Psalms proves Hebrew culture imagined God in all sorts of ways to engage with their Creator.

Furthermore, one significant thing happens every time Christa sees the truth of the Father’s goodness in her heart.  She finds it easier and easier to actually experience God’s grace.

However, Ms. Gifford finds that concentrating on her problems always leaves her feeling ashamed.  And focusing on all the negatives only seems to multiply them.

Most noteworthy, spending time together with Jesus creates an overflow.  Christa’s thoughts, emotions, speech and actions change to reflect the presence of Jesus Christ.  The author explains:

“The more I communed with the solution first — the presence of the living God — the more His goodness, kindness, and love began to fill up the rooms in my heart and kick out old, unwanted tenants of fear, shame, bitterness, and anger.  It was like I was being stretched and pulled outward and upward, creating more and more capacity inside for abundant life to keep bursting out.”

Today’s question: What Scriptures most influence your brain, the gatekeeper of your heart? Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Building your heart capacity with Jesus”

The created heart – never your enemy

“The created heart is never your enemy, but instead is like a building that holds the contents of the real you formed at conception — your authentic and individual self.  Your heart comes alive when you are doing what you were created to do . . .”- Christa Black Gifford

Christa Black Gifford concludes Chapter 2 of Heart Made Whole as she describes one of the most important things you can do.  Ms. Gifford finds it critical that you connect deeply with your inner world – a heart wellness check.  In addition, it’s especially important when your heart is broken.  Thus, Christa connects this heart wellness check to God’s ultimate plan for you.  The author notes:

“God’s ultimate plan for you isn’t simply to hold your hand while you survive the punches of life.  He never intended your heart to fragment, tatter, and remain broken.  He wants you to be so aware of your heart that you hand it over to Him to clean it up, mature it, and make it whole while you walk with Him.”

Next, Ms. Gifford describes the role of grace in this process.  Grace:

  • is the most powerful gift we’ll ever possess
  • keeps us in right standing before God, even as we fail miserably
  • empowers us to let the Father evict our pain monsters
  • acknowledges maturity as a relational process, not a destination called perfection
  • fills our hearts with Jesus’ resurrection power
  • makes wholeness a possibility while we live as mortals

In conclusion, Christa exhorts, if you want your life to transform, you must allow you heart to transform.  Furthermore, through the lens of the Holy Spirit, start paying close attention to your heart.  Don’t ignore building your heart while life continues to smash it up.  For God designed your heart to:

  1. flourish in surrender
  2. cleanse with salvation
  3. rebuild through grace
  4. be occupied by love

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you rebuild your created heart?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the latest addition to Crown’s Annotated Bibliography – Finding Favor: God’s Blessings Beyond Health, Wealth, and Happiness

Christianity in the context of community

“Christianity is meant to sit in the context of community, for it’s in community that we draw the grace needed to do what God has called us to do and to become what God has called us to become.”- Banning Liebscher

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or a sister is a liar.  For whoever does not love their brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”- 1 John 4:20 (NIV)

As Banning Liebscher concludes Chapter 11 of Rooted, he underscores that isolation and independence run countercultural to Christianity.  Simply stated, Christianity fails to work in those two milieus.  Thus, Jesus repeatedly stressed the importance of our actions with other people.  For Christianity only works in the context of community.

Furthermore, Pastor Liebscher states, in order for God’s grace to flow in and through us, we must not only serve others, but submit to them.  Most noteworthy, the author adds, we express pride when we refuse to submit to others or think we can go it alone.  Also, our Western culture perceives neediness as a sign of weakness.

However, we must accept that we need one another.  Because God designed us that way.  In contrast, isolation is a killer.  Banning explains Satan’s role in the process:

“The Enemy will do everything he can to isolate you.  He either tries to get you so hurt and offended . . . or he tries to isolate you with shame over some issue in your life. . . . Nothing destroys the power of shame or offense like choosing to move toward community.”

Today’s question: How does your Christianity flourish in the context of community?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog:  “Called to make decisions in community”

Exalting ourselves – the destructive effect

“Exalting ourselves is destructive because we’re trying to do what only God an do.”- Banning Liebscher

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”- 1 Peter 5:5-6 (NKJV)

Banning Liebscher concludes Chapter 10 of Rooted as he contrasts our job with God’s job.  First, Pastor Liebscher notes that serving humbly positions us for what the Bible calls “being exalted.”  In addition, Banning defines exalted as “receiving honor and promotion (the fourth reward of serving) to greater levels of authority, responsibility, and influence.”

Furthermore, the author underscores, the Bible clearly informs us that it’s God’s job to exalt.  Pastor Liebscher explains:

“Our job is to humble ourselves, to take the low road.  God’s job is to exalt us, to expand our position of visibility and influence; and it’s a job He wants to do.  He tells us we are the light of the world and He wants to add grace to our lives so we can shine brightly.  He tells us how to do our job so He can do His.”

Most noteworthy, Banning observes that your serving must go beyond random acts of generosity and humilty.  You need to faithfully steward what belongs to someone else.  This, in turn, positions us to handle the responsibility of sharing Jesus’ power and authority.

In conclusion, Pastor Liebscher underscores that God’s calling on our lives extends beyond this life into eternity.  With that thought in mind, any worldly measures of success and happiness fade into nothing.  The author summaries:

“The soil of serving is one of the richest places to grow your roots.  It is there they can grow deep and wide and can get the nutrients they need to bear lasting, impactful fruit.”

Today’s question: What Scriptures help you minimize the destructive effect of exalting yourself?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the new Short Meditation, “Building the wall in front of you”

A posture of humility releases grace

“When you position your life to serve, you take a posture of humility, and humility releases grace into your life.”- Banning Liebscher

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”- Philippians 2:3-4 (NKJV)

In Chapter 10 (“The Divine Exchange”) of Rooted, Banning Liebscher explores four rewards of serving.  Throughout this chapter, Pastor Liebscher discusses grace, joy, safety, and promotion.  Today the author begins with grace.

As James 4:6 states, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  However, Banning observes, many people mistakenly believe that humble service means that you neglect your own interests or needs.  As a result, those people burn out on serving.  That’s because they fail to take care of themselves or set healthy limits.  And when you struggle to value yourself, you look for your identity and value through serving.

In addition, Pastor Liebscher asserts, devaluing your life creates a false humility.  Thus, you’re not in position to receive the grace of God.  However, Jesus’ humility represents the type of humility that attracts God’s grace into our lives.  And deeming others as better than ourselves requires maintaining a frame of mind that life isn’t about us.  Humble service, then, connects us to the kingdom and the body of Christ.  To play a vital part, it’s crucial that, Banning states, we “keep our destiny and call in the context of outward focus, the context of serving.”

Otherwise, we very easily turn inward without even realizing it.  Then our life, call, passion, destiny, and dreams quickly lose their outward focus.

Today’s question: What Scriptures help you maintain a posture of humility?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The joy of Jesus remains”

Coming Monday: the new Short Meditation, “Building the wall in front of you”