Saturday, February 28, 2009

Caught Between Abundance and Poverty

In today's devotion, Nouwen writes, "To live a spiritual life does not mean that we must leave our families, give up our jobs, or change our ways of working..." (pg. 24)

But in yesterday's devotion Nouwen writes, "We don't mind paying attention to poor people from time to time; but descending to a state of poverty and becoming poor with the poor, that we don't want to do. And that is the way Jesus chose as a way to know God..." (pg. 19-20)

On the one hand, we don't have to give up everything to live spiritually.  On the other, becoming poor with the poor is to know God.  


Levi left everything.

What about his commitments? What about his family?  Did he become poor with the poor?  Did he have to leave everything to live spiritually?  Or was his a unique, individual a burning bush?

So I'm caught between the abundance I have in Christ and the sacrifice that is the cross.

Should I become poor with the poor?  Or should I try to live spiritually without giving up everything?

Nothing we have is ours any way.  Right?

Which path do you recommend?  Why?

Friday, February 27, 2009

If A=B

Do you remember the transitive property of math?  If A=B and B=C, then A=C.  

I was pretty stoked about Saturday's Show Me the Way devotion, because it clearly proved a point about ministry that I was trying to make with a couple friends a few weeks ago.  The question was, "What is the purpose of ministry?"    To me, it was to involve people in the life of the church: others offered it was to bring people to Christ.  Let's go to Nouwen (p. 23):  

A "The whole purpose of Jesus' ministry is to bring us to the house of the father." (The house of the father is the church, right?)
B "Our lives are destined to become like the life of Jesus."
C Therefore, the whole purpose of our ministry is to bring us to the house of the father.  

Life of the Church.  Christ.  Semantics?  No?  I came to understand that for some people, church doesn't always mean the same thing as it does to me.  Don't get me wrong:  I've been disappointed in the church before.  As the bride of Christ, I have questioned her vows.  As an organization, I have personally contributed to its inefficiency and ineffectiveness.  As a clearing house of charity, I have questioned its motives. But I have always embraced the church as our best hope for "living in loving community with God."

One has to be cautious, however, when attempting to develop arguments using the transitive property in such settings.  Things are rarely quite as clear cut in matters of faith as they are in math.  

The second half of today's devotion offers more insight.  "Being in the world without being of the world"( p.24).  Right.  I get it: don't withdraw from things, people and events around you--be with them--but try to always let your good influence their bad.  Watch out or else their bad might to start looking kind of good...yeah, that's not really it, is it?  

For the short time I have been in professional ministry, I have come to understand that to be in the ministry, you have to be of the ministry.  I thought for a while that being in the ministry was about directing, and managing, and coordinating, and controlling, and supporting, and even sometimes leading the ministry.  Be careful: you might get some on you.  

I realize now that being in the ministry is about listening to and experiencing things, people, and events "as the rich variety of ways in which God makes his presence known to us":

The life of the church.

Yesterday was the funeral of my dear friend's mother, Mama J. Spending time with my friend on Ash Wednesday and having the privelege to speak at Mama J's funeral yesterday was really a wonderful opportunity for me to understand what it means to 'choose life'.
Mama J chose life.....a life with Christ as her center. She told me a few weeks ago that she had no fear of death whatsoever. Because she lived a life of gratitude, a life of always helping others, and found joy in each and every day, she indeed did choose life. She chose it everyday.

Like me, Mama J fell away from God from time to time, but, she always came back. The lenten season is not only a time when we can 'come back', it's a time to 'start'.
All too often I let way too many other responsibilities and thoughts get in the way of the special time that I want to spend with God. He hears me anyway, even when I stop mid-prayer to answer the phone or go feed the dog. As hard as I try, sometimes I just can't stay focused on my talks with God, but I never feel that he doesn't overlook my shortcomings and let me take up right where I left off.

It is through Christ and His forgiveness of my sins that I feel comforted daily knowing that God loves me regardless.

This forty days is but a small part of my faith journey. I look to it with hope.

Lynnda Crowder-Eagle

Long For Love

I was reminded in reading today’s meditation by Henri Nouwen that God has placed within each of our hearts a longing for His love. When I feel an absence of God’s love in my heart, I long to refill my heart with His presence and love. God created me so that I want to spend time with Him, want to talk to Him, and want to love Him.

In Psalms 63: 1-3, David describes his longing for God’s love:

“God, you are my God, I am seeking you, my soul is thirsting for you, my flesh is longing for you, a land parched, weary and waterless. I long to gaze on you in the Sanctuary and to see your power and glory. Your love is better than life itself, my lips recite your praise…”

As we journey toward the cross together we should never forget that just as we long for God’s love, God is also longing for our love. In fact, He longs for our love so much that He gave His only Son to die on the cross so that we could have eternal life.

God’s longing for our love is similar to my longing for the love of my grandchildren when I haven’t seen them for a while. I want to see them, to hug them, and to kiss them. I want to be in their presence. I want to hear them say I love you Paw Paw.

For Lent, rather than giving something up, I think I will find a way each day to tell God that I love Him.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


My wife Bobbi and I share a common "favorite verse" of scripture-- the one for today. I read it often for my own well being and I often read it at funerals when people believe that they have lost so much.
The love of God, made incarnate in Christ, is crucial for us, I think, in understanding our lives as Christians. Lest we forget, our God is not merely a "pie-in-the-sky" God, but one who is intensely attentive to our lives on earth. Jesus spent so very much time in making people's lives better-- blind people, cripple people, deaf people, people with bad pasts and fearful futures, people with bad relationships. He did not come just to "save" them for eternity. He thought the next day and the next week and the next fifty years were important, too, so he set about changing them. His descending to us is a profound, foundational truth of our faith.
But I must admit that my understanding of the descending stops with God's descending to us. Nouwen's imperative that we, too, descend is discomforting to me and, I suspect, to most of us. I spend most of my time among relatively wealthy, comfortable people. I admit that I don't descend enough and I am troubled by that. I think I have some personal work to do.
His understanding of the "absence" of God and our impatience with it speaks to a great concern of my heart. Of course he is correct that we seek "rapid solutions" to the pain created by that perceived absence and that "spitirual solutions" have become "...highly sought after commercial items." Good grief. Just look at the television preachers! I love how Forrest Cate, the Program Director in our church, describes the work of the church. We are, he insists, to "create space" for the Spirit of God to work. Whether on a mission trip, in worship, or in a classroom, we are merely to create the atmosphere and the space. We trust the Spirit to do the rest. There is always a temptation for the Church, I think, to manipulate with drama, lighting, or music. But we try to resist that temptation. A good example is the Ash Wednesday worship in our church this week. Never have I heard so many good comments about worship, and they were about all the elements of worship. Some loved the handbells in the balcony. Some mentioned the 40 or so youth on the front rows, some mentioned the children who came for the imposition. Others mentioned the sermon, the communion liturgy, the size of the crowd--- all elements of worship that created a space for God to work and we experienced that Spirit. In addition to my "descending" into the lives of those around me, I am acutely aware of my own "busy-ness" and the need for some space for the Spirit of God to work in me.
Now with the Psalmist today I thirst and I long to gaze. I meditate. I sing for joy. And I cling to the support of the Lord.


Big THANK YOU from me!!

I need your help. I have never actively participated in the Lenten season. Thanks to some gentle "nudging", I will be reading the daily devotions and blogging this year.

What are you doing/giving up/changing for Lent? Please let me hear from you - I learn so much from hearing other people's stories!! I would really like to share this journey with you!!

Giving too Much?

Day Two. Now that I realize how much I have to commit to the idea of no sodas, I feel like this whole "self-sacrificing" thing isn't for me. I just came back from Chick-Fil-A and I never drink anything but Coca-Cola. I watched every other customer order a large coke and my mouth was watering and I thought, "Shoot, I really should've picked something more realistic."
But I am glad that I didn't.
I often find myself (wrongly) assuming I have everything worked out. Just when I believe that I have all my relationships (with God, parents, and friends) down to a science, something comes along. Our youth community lost someone we grew up with, I spoke back to my mother, or my friends seem nonexistent. And I tumble down into a pit of uncertainty. I was so confident, and now I a small hitch in my world and I stumble. I hate this.
In my bible study (Crazy Love by Francis Chan), he challenges us to try to out-give God. He says that if we are afraid of trusting God and that God might let us down, then to just try. What's the worst that can happen? Francis says to give up all the control we hold over our trivial human desires and to ask God to take the reins. Guess what? We can't out-give God. This life we choose to relinquish control to our Father becomes filled with the blessing and love of God. He constantly and consistently reminds us of His glory and power.
This Lenten season, if you start to feel the agonizing deprivation of caffeine or the painful realization of no TV for 40 days, just remember to give your all to God. We can't out-give Him. And He won't give out on us.

How do I choose life?

Is it a daily choice like choosing not to drink too much Mtn. Dew?

Or is it a moment-by-moment choice?

Or is it a once-and-for-all choice?

We are drawn to individuals who are "full of life."  What does this really mean?  Is this how I'm living?

I've wasted too much time trying to learn how to live for God.  Instead, I could have been living to learn God.

It's not too late.

I choose life.

I'll figure out the rest as I go.
Dealing with the guilt will be hard these 40 days. My human nature compels me to be drawn to what I think, what I think is best, where I want to go and do, what I believe to be right. I think we all want to do what is right, to listen and follow God more closely. But it’s hard in a world that drags you in the other direction. Our worldly bodies and minds are weak. Almost every daily encounter compels us to put our guard up, not to trust. We know it will be better to completely give our lives to God and Christ, but we resist from lack of faith and trust, the same faith on which our entire Christian Church is based.

I guess it will be hard to really hear and not just listen until I fully trust in the knowledge and faith that God has the best plan for me. Yes, it’s going to be a long 40 days. But, with out the first step, even with just a little faith, and only able to hear a faint voice, we will never reach the point of true faith in God and his purpose for our lives. I'm taking that first step. When you see me – encourage me.

Choosing Eternal Life Now

I remember the first time I heard a description of John Wesley’s doctrine of sanctification. I felt like I had come home, that this is the theology where I belong. Sanctification—making saints—means that God not only forgives our sins but continues to transform us, enabling us to grow in love for God and one another. I knew from personal experience that Christians can choose to run away from God; the longer I did so, the easier it became. Yet, on each return, God welcomed me. As I made myself more available to God, opening more and more of my life to God, I found myself growing in faith and trust. I have so far to go, but long to grow in my love for God and others, so that this love becomes my motivation for everything that I do.

I love Henri Nouwen’s description of a “truly converted” life as one of joy and gratitude in which God is central (16). I think John Wesley would recognize this as the sanctification God desires for all of us.

Nouwen titles today's reading “choose life”. I like to think of this as choosing eternal life—an eternal life that continues after we die, an eternal life that begins now. Jesus defines eternal life as knowing the one and only true God and knowing Jesus (John 17:3). In the same way that a vine draws from and is empowered by its roots, through our connection to God we experience abundant life, joy and peace. In knowing God and Jesus we connect to and experience their eternal nature, and in some mysterious way experience eternal life in this life.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lenten Promises Leading to Religious Habits

I have always given up something for lent- similar to Dr. McDonald’s story, I attempted to give up homework one year (I figured that, because I went to a Christian school, it was more likely to fly with them!). Now that I’m eighteen and I truly feel that I can grasp just a little bit of God’s desire for us to be with him, I am conflicted and feel that Lent is a little overrated. We take on new challenges that should are supposed to grow us closer to the Lord in forty days. I think a lot of youths (and probably some adults, too!) see Lent as a sprint to acomplish the goal of self-denial and reach their "destination" after forty days of satisfaction in knowing they did the "right thing". Don’t get me wrong, shedding those few pounds and staying faithful to your daily devotions is great, but, why should it only last forty days? Shouldn’t we, as Christians, be striving to grow closer every day?

Lent is a great jumping point, but what happens after the forty days are up? Is my self-sacrifice supposed to end?

Mama always told me that “It takes thirty days to create a habit!” (nail-biting has always been an issue with me…). So, for this Lenten season, I have decided to give up and take on some things, naturally, but my real Lenten promise is to continue these practices after Lent ends. If the purpose of sacrificing Facebook time for reading my Bible helps me to grow with God, then why wouldn’t I keep going after Easter?! Now, I’m not suggesting we starve ourselves of Double-cheeseburgers from McDonalds for the rest of our lives, but if we find that our Lenten sacrifices have strengthened our relationship with God, then let’s make it a habit, not just a forty day purge.

Living in Lent for a Better Life

Every year is the same for me: about a week or so before Ash Wednesday, I wonder what I will "give up" for Lent, or what sacrifice I am going to make. One year it was Cokes/soft drinks, one (horrible) year I gave up chocolate (what WAS I thinking?!), but I've never had the courage to give up desserts entirely. Now that I am expecting my second child, the cravings monster has successfully convinced me that this year is not the year for that! What does that leave me? What vice can I sacrifice?

That's when it hit me. What if my sacrifice shouldn't be giving something up, but taking something on? My New Year's resolution was to start a prayer journal. I've been pretty good about keeping up with it; I write in it at least once a week. I noticed an immediate difference in my prayer life as soon as I started it, and have been amazed at seeing how God is truly involved in my life. I decided that I will faithfully keep it up daily, and making sure that I do a daily devotion...and Nouwen's book is perfect to do just that.

On page 14, he says, "Give me strength and the courage to live this season faithfully, so that, when Easter comes, I will be able to taste with joy the new life that you have prepared for me." My new life is going to be one filled with meaningful prayer. I do need the strength to live Lent faithfully, as it is so easy to be consumed with raising a toddler (Lily is 19-months old now) and being pregnant on top of it, I'm tired all the time. I must carve the time out for communing with God, because I expect so much of Him. A prayer-filled life will by my new life, which undoubtably will be a better life. I look forward to growing toward the cross with you!

Repent and Live

Today, as we celebrate Ash Wednesday, we pause to reflect on the 40 days that lead up to Easter. We begin Lent by asking God to show us the sins in our life and repenting of these sins.

So often I forget that God is willing to forgive my sins no matter what I do. When I fall off the wagon, I feel so guilty.

Today's meditation by Henri Nouwen points out that I cannot get stuck in my guilt. I need to fix my eyes on Jesus and what He did for me on Calvary.

By joining together tonight at church we can ask God for his forgiveness and begin walking together toward the cross and the resurrection on Easter Day.

Is It Worth It?

I once heard Frederick Buechner retell a story from Karl Barth.  He said that every Sunday there is a hush in the sanctuary as the preacher opens the Bible to begin the sermon.  On the mind of everyone gathered is a single question, "Is it true"?  I was talking about that with a friend several weeks ago and admitted that I have a different question.  For me the question is, "Is it worth it"?  I don't have such a hard time believing in a Creating God, or a Redeeming Christ or a Sustaining Spirit.  I don't wrestle at night with ideas of the trinity or the incarnation or even everlasting life.  What I do struggle with, if I am honest, is the abundant life that Jesus offers worth the sacrifice of my selfishness?  Is living for others worth dying to myself?  Is offering the world Christ worth surrendering my time in the spotlight?  
This lent is an invitation to me to test that question.  It is a chance to ask is it worth giving up my own desires to follow Christ toward the cross.  I am asking that question and am thankful that God's love does not depend on me having the answer.  I am grateful that the Church has built in time in our faith journey to ask the question.  Will I grow?  Will you grow?  I look forward to this journey with you.   

When I Treat Lent Like New Year Resolutions

New Year resolutions are self-centered - lose weight, exercise more, etc.  They're about self improvement.  They're about me.

Lent is different.

Yet I have historically approached this season like I approach the new year.  I'll give up soda or caffeine.  Any innocent vice will do.  But at the core, I "give up" or "take on" for me.

Today, I must turn away from my interests, habits and ambitions and turn toward my Lord.

I must begin listening for His voice as I face the desert that lies within me and the cross that looms ahead.

"I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts, words that are your words, and actions that are your actions." (pg. 14)

Lent is not about me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Obvious Tension

The season of Lent brings a host of tensions- winter/spring, dormancy/vibrancy, grey sky/blue, and probably the most dramatic, death / life. I think the "church inventors" of Lent recognized the richness of this tension and ran with it. It is so obvious. It reminds me when someone says "man, even a blind man can see that." Did you catch that? That was another tension-blindness/sight. I told you. You can't get away from it. It is obvious.

The problem I have is I don't think about the obvious so much. It's too, well, obvious. It is too simple, not challenging enough. The obvious does not pull me into my creative thinking. The obvious does not call for me to analyze, struggle, keep me awake at night, ignite my endorphins or create stress. The obvious does not do these things for me but tension does.

On this first day of Lent, Henry Nouwen calls on us to be kingly aware of the tension that is specific to our story as followers of Christ. He wants us to consider the tension between our "sin" and our loving Lord, between death and life. I like that tension. Well, honestly I like and hate it at the same time (there it is again, another tension- like/hate). I like it for the reasons I mentioned above. It gets me going. I don't like it, hate it much of the time, because it seems I live in that tension each day between life and death or not to be too dramatic, between life and dormancy. I like to think I choose life and sometimes I do, but I am also too familiar with choosing dormancy.

I hope during this season of Lent I will choose the obvious, I will choose life more than dormancy. That is my prayer.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Newsletter Article from Dr. Sam Matthews

The season of Lent begins in just a few days now, on Ash Wednesday, February 25th. Thus begins the forty days (excluding Sundays) of our spiritual journey toward Easter. The theme of our journey this year continues the one which we adopted last fall for the stewardship emphasis (Will You Grow?) and continued in the month of January (Will you grow in Covenant?). Our theme in Lent is, “Will you grow toward the Cross?”

Our church will afford us numerous opportunities to grow toward the cross, to grow in spiritual discipline, in self-denial, in sacrifice, and I encourage you to participate in them.

We are encouraged to read together Henri Nouwen’s powerful Show Me the Way, a collection of daily Lenten readings. Daily on the church’s website, some designated “bloggers” will post their reflections of the daily readings and our members will be able to add comments as well. We should have a wonderful electronic conversation about our journey together toward the cross. (Copies of Nouwen’s book are available from Amazon, and we will have copies available soon for purchase.)

We will also offer some coordinated material for Sunday School classes to use during the season. We did this during Covenant month in January and the classes choosing to participate reported an enthusiastic response.

My sermons during the month will be draws from the Psalms. I don’t think I’ve ever preached an entire series from the Psalms and I look forward to exploring their richness with you.

Of course, one symbolic act of sacrifice during Lent is our practice of “giving up” some pleasure or in taking on some additional task during the forty days. I encourage you to think about that small but significant gesture as well.

The season promises great richness and fullness. I am committed to grow closer during those days to being the person God would have me be. What about you? Will you, too, grow toward the cross?

I’ll see you this Sunday.