In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. ~ John 1:1-5
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. ~ John 1:14
There is a longing in every human heart and it feels a lot like being homesick. And God put that longing in our hearts. Oh, we try all sorts of things to get rid of this longing, this hunger to be at peace with ourselves and those around us. But nothing seems to work. Or, if we find happiness it’s here today and gone tomorrow.
God became flesh for us in order to fill that longing once and for all. He came to fill that nagging feeling of loneliness that so pervades the world today. Christmas is about God coming to live in our hearts not for an hour or a day but forever. Through His Son Jesus Christ, God came to earth to make His home in our hearts. He wants to give you a joy and a zest for life that this world cannot offer. Something real and not superficial, a peace that lasts beyond our next purchase, our next relationship, or the next virus.
And you can have this joy and zest for life today! Yes, right now. Just pray this simple prayer with me, “Jesus come into my heart right now. I have strayed from you. I don’t know as I would like to. God, open my heart to you and show me the way home. Amen.”
Merry Christmas everyone. God loves you and so do I! ~ Pastor Dona
IT WAS THOUSANDS of years ago and thousands of miles away, but it is a visit that for all our madness and cynicism and indifference and despair we have never quite forgotten. The oxen in their stalls. The smell of hay. The shepherds standing around. That child and that place are somehow the closest of all close encounters, the one we are closest to, the one that brings us closest to something that cannot be told in any other way. This story that faith tells in the fairytale language of faith is not just that God is, which God knows is a lot to swallow in itself much of the time, but that God comes. Comes here. "In great humility." There is nothing much humbler than being born: naked, totally helpless, not much bigger than a loaf of bread. But with righteousness and faithfulness the girdle of his loins. And to us came. For us came. Is it true—not just the way fairytales are true but as the truest of all truths? Almighty God, are you true?
When you are standing up to your neck in darkness, how do you say yes to that question? You say yes, I suppose, the only way faith can ever say it if it is honest with itself. You say yes with your fingers crossed. You say it with your heart in your mouth. Maybe that way we can say yes. He visited us. The world has never been quite the same since. It is still a very dark world, in some ways darker than ever before, but the darkness is different because he keeps getting born into it. The threat of holocaust. The threat of poisoning the earth and sea and air. The threat of our own deaths. The broken marriage. The child in pain. The lost chance. Anyone who has ever known him has known him perhaps better in the dark than anywhere else because it is in the dark where he seems to visit most often.
Frederick Buechner is a well-known American writer, novelist, poet, autobiographer, essayist, preacher, and theologian. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and the author of more than thirty published books, educated at Union Theological Seminary and Yale School of Divinity.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. ~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
While visiting Jerusalem, I was totally shocked by the blessing (the
Asher yatzar) that hung over many of the restroom doors. It read:
"Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, Who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollow spaces. It is obvious and known before Your Seat of Honor that if even one of them would be opened, or if even one of them would be sealed, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You even for one hour. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously."
Have you ever prayed a prayer of thanksgiving while using the bathroom? This Jewish blessing recognizes the beauty of the human body and expresses gratefulness for how God designed the body to keep it healthy.
What about washing your hands? “Thank you Lord for hands to wash, for the soap and clean water that cleanses them.” During Covid-19, knowing how important it is to wash your hands, I have thanked God many times for soap and for hand sanitizers.
What about getting dressed in the morning? “O Lord, clothe me in your righteousness. Thank you for these clothes that cover my naked body and keep me warm and protected—all the buttons and zippers—thank you.”
What about lacing up your shoes in the morning? “Lord Jesus, thank you for my feet today and the shoes you provide to protect them. May my walk today be guided by your presence and bring Good News to everyone I meet.”
You see, God is in everything and speaks in everything.
May the Holy Spirit remind you as you go through your daily chores and activities, that our Lord and Savior is in every detail of life. As mundane as it seems to us, God continues to provide for you. How lovely is that?
May you send up popcorn prayers, short little “thank yous” today praising God for your life and all the provisions that sustain your life.
May God also sprinkle your life today with overflowing gratitude—for everything under the sun!
~ Pastor Dona Devotional Oct 24, 2021
When productivity is our main way of overcoming self-doubt, we are extremely vulnerable to rejection and criticism and prone to inner anxiety and depression. Productivity can never give the deep sense of belonging we crave. The more we produce, the more we realize that successes and results cannot give us the experience of “at homeness.” In fact, our productivity reveals to us that we are driven by fear. ~Henri Nouwen
The human heart is restless. We want to know we are fully accepted and fully loved. We search and search for fulfillment, love, to be at peace but nothing seems to satisfy us for very long. We work for recognition, we work to be perfect, we work for a little more fame and fortune, but once we get it, the joy, the buzz wears off and we find ourselves dissatisfied once again.
Until we find our home in God, our hearts will try to overcome our self-doubt, those nagging feelings that we don’t belong with more and more productivity. Until we find our home in Jesus, until we surrender our lives to His will, we will not have peace—peace with God and ourselves. Belonging is to know you and I are: present, invited, welcomed, known, accepted, supported, cared for, befriended, needed. Help someone today, in your midst, feel like they truly belong. Amen.
The Bible is unlike all other books, whatever emotional or social effects they may produce, in that Scripture brings about lasting, supernatural change within a person
Have you ever heard a sermon or listened to a devotional app that left you pondering the message for days? Maybe it needles you to a point of frustration or maybe it brings a smile to your face. Sometimes, the message is so convincingly convicting, you wonder if God is speaking to you directly! If this has happened to you, you are not alone. When this happens, you are no doubt experiencing firsthand the power of God’s living word.
The Bible is unlike other books, whatever emotional or social effects they may produce, in that Scripture brings about lasting, supernatural change within a person. Don’t ask me how this change occurs—it’s a mystery. But I do know that the Holy Spirit plays a vital role in revealing the presence of God when Scripture is spoken and heard.
It is impossible for faith to grow in a vacuum. Paul sums this up rather nicely in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. One can come to faith only
through hearing the gospel, and the specific message that must be heard is the word of Christ, that is, the good news about Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Savior.” And to quote Pastor Tim Keller, “Faith is the instrument by which we each receive our salvation. It is not the cause of your salvation.”
Years ago, I was watching a live Billy Graham Crusade on television and I heard Rev. Graham speak Malachi 3:6 “I the Lord do not change.” The very moment I heard these words spoken, I felt something quicken in my heart and I fell to my knees. Why? Because on that day, at the right time, God wanted to get a message to me—a message I needed to hear. And so it is with all of us who have been baptized into the name of Jesus of Nazareth—God speaks to us through every word and page of Scripture. In fact, you can find the prophecy, words and teachings of Jesus Christ on every page of the Bible. In fact, Luther said, “The Scripture is the cradle that holds the Christ Child.”
This week at the Gathering Place, I was in a Bible study—John 17, when one of the members became flushed, filled with tears for what God had revealed to him for the first time. He knew the High Priestly Prayer. He had read it many times. But on this day, God revealed something completely new to him!
The Prophet Isaiah writes, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa 55:11). God’s word will always surpass our personal preferences.
God’s word is alive. It is active not passive. It breathes, it reshapes and reconfigures our lives. It has a vital power that is inherent within it.
According to Hebrews 4:12, “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul states, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” It breathes life into our weary souls. It convicts, affirms, confirms and encourages us to stay the course. And over and over again, God’s word assures us that whatever we are going through today, a struggle, a broken heart, a lack of purpose, an illness, a death—nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Ro 8:38). For in every life situation, those who call on the name of Jesus will be saved. Those who search the Scriptures for answers will be heard and changed by them.
Word of God speak
Would You pour down like rain
Washing my eyes to see
To be still and know
That You're in this place
Please let me stay and rest
In Your holiness
Word of God speak
So, the next time you hear the echo of God’s word in your heart from a sermon, your devotional apps and Scripture itself—remember God is speaking to you. The Holy Spirit is bringing you closer into the very heart of God, thus reshaping you which changes the world.
Rev. Dona Johnson, GracePointe of Sedona, NALC
Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
When I provided pastoral/spiritual care to some very sick children in a large Cincinnati pediatric hospital, I rode on many an elevator. In each elevator was a message board. And on every message board was found their campaign tag line—“Change the Outcome.” In other words, if you want a new outcome, then work at changing the situation. If you want children with cancer to be healed then work at finding a cure in the lab. If you want a better medical team be a team player. If you want families to be less stressed, then be love and comfort to parents.
From the time God created his beautiful creation, and it soon descended into brokenness because of human sin, God had a plan. He desired to create a community that would live out an alternative—showing a broken world what he desired, what he intended— redeemed by the blood of his Son, empowered by his spirit and directed by his text and encouraged by his community, they would be a living witness of what it’s like to be what God intends. It’s tempting though, it’s easier to sit on a hilltop and criticize what’s wrong around us, to be negative and use critical words to judge those around us. And I guess there is a place to know the difference between right and wrong. But what God intends is what Michelangelo once said, “Criticize by creating.” Rather than criticize, create something new. Be the change you want to see. Be the change you want to experience in others. Create alternatives to a broken world. Create communities that show the love of Jesus to one another. Love more and judge less. Create families that live out the roles of parents and children in godly ways. Create businesses that are honest and just and use profits to improve the lives around them. Create communities that shine with love, respect and when something needs to be done, take on the responsibilities to fill the gap.
I want to encourage you today, to think about what you’re doing to create an alternative to what’s wrong in our broken world. Do it quietly. Do it intensely. And as you so let your light shine, others will see your good deeds and will give glory to your Father in heaven. Amen.
Join GracePointe of Sedona for worship Sunday Sept 5 10:00 a.m. Posse Ground Park, Sedona
Rev. Dona Johnson GracePointe of Sedona, NALC
As a teenager growing up, I wanted to be several things. I wanted
to be a figure skater, just like Dorothy Hamill. My mom had me in
figure skates at the age of 6. I also wanted to be a National Geographic Explorer. Yes. One cold wintry afternoon, I wrapped up some pickles and a few saltine crackers and headed off in the snow with my Radio-Flyer sled to explore the woods— pretending I was on an expedition to the North Pole.
My biggest fear growing up was to live an unremarkable life, someone whose biography would be a real yawner. That isn’t so unusual. Inside most of us, at some point in our lives is a yearning to do something great. And that is not all bad. It comes from our God-given need to find significance and meaning.
Scripture is loaded with verses that speak to the human need to strive for a place of importance and to be noticed by others.
Ecclesiastes 4:6 Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 “...make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you. Galatians 1:10: Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Matthew 6:33 Jesus tells us, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” There is a kind of glory seeking that is both godly and good. And there is also an unholy ambition which is at the bottom of most human suffering. Sure, it may disguise itself as doing great things for God, but as some of us have discovered, that drivenness may be in fact a way that we try to fill in those broken parts of our personality, those places that God’s love has not yet mended.
Maybe without doing anything, we are already important. In God’s eyes we are great, stunningly beautiful.
Does it take great faith to strive for purpose and importance? I don’t think so. But it takes even more faith not to strive for importance. It takes more faith to find our importance, our purpose in the holy, ordinary moments of life. Those moments that most of the world considers mundane and boring.
Tish Harrison Warren says it well:
I’ve come to the point where I’m not sure anymore just what God counts as radical. And I suspect that for me, getting up and doing the dishes when I’m short on sleep and patience is far more costly and necessitates more of a revolution in my heart than some of the more
outwardly risky ways I’ve lived in the past. And so this is what I need
now: the courage to face an ordinary day...without despair, the bravery it takes to believe that a small life is still a meaningful life, and the grace to know that even when I’ve done nothing that is powerful or bold or even interesting that the Lord notices me and is fond of me and that that is enough.
How will you live large in the ordinary today? Maybe in your garden? Maybe having that first cup of morning coffee? Maybe walking out to your mailbox to get the mail? Or maybe getting up late at night to look at the stars?
Living large in the ordinary, the simple and quiet places of life—unnoticed by others is a very holy and important place to be. It’s a sacred place. Enjoy those moments when they come. Life is not always lived in the grand and spectacular. So live large in the small ordinary moments of each day! For I promise you, God is there in a very big way!
Rev. Dona Johnson GracePointe of Sedona, NALC
Richard Foster, wrote several Christian Classics, The Celebration of Disciplines and Streams of Living Water. Maybe you’ve read these gems but if not, they are definitely worth a read.
In Streams of Living Water, Foster identifies six dimensions of faith and practice that define the Christian tradition. In the history of the Church, there was a flowering (or emphasis) of one spiritual stream for a period of time, while at other times the emphasis shifted and other streams flowered.
Some of us depending how we were raised, feel more comfortable in one stream rather than the others. Now some of us may be okay and see the value in the other streams and some streams may make so weary, we don’t trust them. And of course, along the way like anything else, any streams can pick up bits of contamination or distortion.
But, the most important point to remember is this:
Jesus had all six streams flowing through his life.
The excerpt below is taken from Renovare Institute by Richard Foster. Enjoy!!
Nothing less than life in the steps of Christ is adequate to the human soul or the needs of our world.
Jesus gave us a complete picture of God, and demonstrated how we can experience vitality and fullness in our life with God (Col. 2:9, Jn. 10:10). The historical Church (Christians), despite its divisions and differences, has upheld the core characteristics of Christ’s life through what we now call traditions.
Taken together, these traditions help us envision a balanced spiritual life. They serve as a guide to help us take on the life of Jesus – to become like Jesus ourselves – and as a result to be transformed from the inside out.
Stream 1. Prayer-Filled Life: Our heart’s steady attention on God
The Contemplative Tradition continually draws us into love for God, reminding us that the Christian life is less like a rule book and more like falling in love. It stresses the value of silence, solitude, and prayer as ways we engage with God’s presence, whether we take a silent walk in the early morning, ride the bus to work, wash dishes while the kids nap, or even take a nap ourselves. As Teresa of Avila described, contemplation is “an intimate sharing between friends,” in the time or manner that works best for you and God.
Put simply, the contemplative life is the steady gaze of the soul upon the God who loves us.
—Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water
(Additional quotations on this page from same source.)
Stream 2. Virtuous Life: Responding with integrity
The Holiness Tradition emphasizes the re-formation of our hearts so that we are able to respond appropriately to the challenges of life. The word “holiness” has some negative connotations today, but the original Greek meaning of the word virtue is simply “to function well.” Virtuous Life is not about rules or judgement, perfectionism, or some kind of merit gained by good deeds. It encourages us to the ultimate goal: not to “get us into heaven, but to get heaven into us.” It is attentiveness to the source of our actions, to the condition and motives of the heart, and taking on new patterns of life that flow naturally from within.
We see Jesus consistently doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done. We see in him such deeply ingrained “holy habits” that he is always “reponse-able,” always able to respond appropriately. This is purity of heart. This is the virtuous life.
Stream 3. Spirit-Empowered Life: Fueling our lives from the presence and power of God
The Charismatic Tradition focuses on the power of God’s Spirit moving in and through us. Just as a car requires fuel to run, and our bodies require food for survival, so our souls rely upon the Spirit of God for spiritual energy. Through the Spirit, we are able to do more than we could on our own steam, and these abilities not only remind us of God’s presence, but equip us to build up our communities in love.
Frankly, there are no ’noncharismatic Christians’ … the Christian life is by definition a life in and through the Spirit.
Stream 4. Compassionate Life: Extending compassion in every sphere of life
The Social Justice Tradition expresses the themes of justice, compassion, and peace. It emphasizes wisdom and lovingkindness to bring relationships into harmony, unity, and balance, even within our relationship to nature. Compassionate Life takes place in all arenas of life, from personal to social to global. As with the other traditions, the actions we take are not the end goal. True compassion is motivated by a genuine heart, is empowered by the love of God, and embraces the possibility of positive change.
Love of God makes love of neighbor possible.
Stream 5. Word-Centered Life: Living the life-giving message
The Evangelical Tradition encompasses much more than simply converting people. The evangel – the “good news” – is God’s great message to humanity: that all can be redeemed and restored to its intended design. This is the message embodied in Jesus himself, rooted in the word of God, and ultimately expressed through the lives of those who follow Christ. It is a living tale of grace spoken in and through word and action.
This faith stream addresses the crying need for people to see the good news lived and hear the good news proclaimed.
Stream 6. Sacramental Life: Encountering the invisible God in the visible world
The Incarnational Tradition focuses on the relationship between the invisible spirit and physical reality, helping us to see God’s divine presence in the material world in which we live. God manifests himself in his creation, even in the midst of mundane activities, whenever and wherever we acknowledge God.
Far from being evil, the physical is meant to be inhabited by the spiritual.
Do you ever give someone a blessing? I usually sign by emails with the words God bless you! You can pray a blessing upon anyone. The Aaronic or Priestly blessing is one of the most ancient benedictions in the world (Numbers 6:24-26). It has been spoken over the people of God for millennia. And in many churches every Sunday, it concludes the worship service.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
the Lord make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon
you and give you peace.
~ Numbers 6:24-26
There are a total of six (6) actions that God performs: he blesses and keeps; shines and is gracious; lifts up and gives peace. And the “and” between each blessing brings about a result. That is God blesses us so that we are kept safe; he shines his face on us so that we receive his grace, he lifts up his countenance on us so we will his shalom.
And what is the end result of this blessing? God tells us: “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them” (Num. 6:27). The threefold speaking of the divine name puts that name upon us. God’s name is his presence, his grace and power and mercy. Much like baptism, it is the same name spoken over us when we enter the waters of baptism—the threefold name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The three-fold name of God attaches itself to the water and the water is poured over us and we are made one with Jesus Christ.
God’s words hold power. God’s words do something. When God blesses, when God pours out his blessing upon you, you are blessed. End of discussion. The Lord isn’t waiting for you to do your part. There is no “part” for you to do. Some might say, “Well, but we have to believe it.” Yes, by faith we receive divine blessings, but faith is simply the empty hand into which the Lord puts blessing.
We can do no more than claim faith as a “work we do” or a “part we play” any more than a newborn child can boast about it’s birth. Faith is a gift, as is life itself.
How wonderful it is to speak a blessing, to speak God’s holy presence on someone. Who among those we know or don’t know yet needs a blessing? Use this ancient blessing. Bless someone and allow them to feel the presence of God in the power these words hold!
The Lord bless each of you with his favor and shalom!
by Chad Bird Scholar in Residence 1517.org Christ for You
So, how’d it go?” a wife asked her husband when he returned from a weekend away with his friends. “You guys have fun?”
He replied, “Oh, yeah, we did. Had a blast.”
“Great!” said his wife. “You needed that break.”
“Yes, I did,” he replied. Then he added, “By the way, you should be proud of me. I was 95% faithful to you while I was gone.”
Now, 95% may be an excellent score on a chemistry exam. Or, if you hit the target 95% of the time at the shooting range, you’ve got great aim. But that husband who was 95% faithful to his wife, needless to say, he failed in a huge way.
In a marriage, anything less than 100% fidelity is infidelity. As it is with the bond between husband and wife, so it was between Yahweh and his bride Israel (and so it is between us and Christ). If Israel faithfully worshipped the Lord 364 days a year, but once a year had a festival in Jerusalem to Baal and Asherah, God would not have said, “I’m proud of you, my people. Except for that one day annually, you are faithful to me.”
Why? Because, as we read in Exodus, “You shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (34:14).
As we discussed in today’s Unveiling Mercy devotion, the Hebrew word qanna (נאַקָּ ), usually translated as “jealous,” means that God is intensely, passionately devoted to his people. As he gives himself wholly to them, so he wants them to give themselves wholly to him. As the Shema says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). All...all...all. Not some.
But that is The Problem, isn’t it? We are as prone to spiritual infidelity as pigs are prone to rolling in the mud or dogs to eating their vomit. Strive to be faithful, yes. Pray for fidelity to our King.
And when you fail—and fail you will, all the time—then repent, confess, and cast yourself upon his mercy. For as he is jealous, so he is also merciful. In fact, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). He is faithful to hear our confession, faithful to forgive, faithful always to bear us up in our weakness and lift us up when we fall.
If you ever wonder just how faithful Jesus is, look at the scars in his hands, feet, and side. Those are his wedding ring, emblazoned upon his very flesh, as the living pledge of his undying commitment to you.
And I would like to add this:
God expects us to have the same 100% fidelity to Christ’s Church as we have with our spouses. Christ is the groom waiting to return for His bride—the Church.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
So until Christ returns for His Church, followers of Jesus Christ are to commit themselves to His Church, investing themselves, valuing and caring for her even when they find the Church in error. Thus, we pledge fidelity to Christ’s Church. And like any marriage, we practice daily the rites of confession, repentance and forgiveness with each other and restore (reconcile if possible) each other in our relationships to God and one another. Amen.
~ Pastor Dona
Call it a rhythm or a daily rule of life, we all love our routines. This morning at 7 a.m. after my quiet time, I was peeling carrots for tonight’s dinner and I was thanking God for the gift of the morning. Through the window, I saw the snow falling on Elephant Rock and a warm feeling of gratitude came over me. So, I began thanking God for everything. I thanked him for the gift of being able to peel carrots and for having carrots to peel. I thanked him for the gift of another day, for his Word still echoing in my mind from Sunday’s message, for GracePointe, my friends and for his loving presence. Do you ever have moments like this? When you feel overwhelmed by God’s goodness? God is everything!
Though your life may seem full, does it at times feel empty? Do you have these unfulfilled longings that never seem to be satisfied? Do you yearn to hear the voice of God louder or clearer? Whatever your life situation, God is calling you to himself, every hour of every day God is gifting you for service and preparing you live an abundant life.
Romans 12:1-2 (MSG) So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life —and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
All of us have an unwritten personal rule of life. We wake at certain times, get ready for our days in particular ways, use our free time for a variety of purposes and practice rhythms of work, hobbies, and worship. But maybe its time to prayerfully look at your life to see how closely it aligns with the heartbeat of God?
What is a rule of life? A rule of life is like a trellis, a structure that supports say a grapevine. A trellis holds up the vines so they are more likely to catch sunlight, they grow better lifted off the ground and are easier to prune. Your personal rule of life is a holistic description of the Spirit-empowered rhythms and relationships in your life that create, redeem, sustain and transform the life God invites you to humbly fulfill for Christ's glory.
In every 24-hour period, how often do you stop all business and performance and take a little time to bask in God’s presence? How deep is your listening? Jesus is speaking to us through everything—even conflict—but do we hear his voice?
A rule of life may include prayer, reading the Scriptures, tending relationships, sleep, care of your body and sabbath time (no work or performance). Do you take time from all the distractions in life to listen for Life? To listen for those longings to surface. To listen for new learnings—about God and your relationships with others. By being attentive to the daily rhythms of life, by looking for God’s presence in everything you are on your way to crafting a well-tended life. Taking time each day to connect with God whether it is peeling carrots, driving, reading a daily devotional or sipping that first cup of hot coffee (tea for some) in the morning, God is in everything! And his deepest desire for you is that you craft a life that you truly love.
In his book, Crafting A Rule of Life, Stephen Macchia suggests following the Rule of St. Benedict of which listening and humility are so essential. Here are few ways to think about your life.
1. Rule of life is holistic: consider your entire life—take an inventory: your life with God, your home life, relationships, ministry, caring for your body, sleep, recreation, sabbath...and just to name a few. Is God there?
2. Rule of life is Spirit-empowered like the ancient church in Acts 1-4. Is the Spirit alive in you, convicting you, encouraging you, challenging you and growing you?
3. Rule of life Includes rhythms and relationships (Gen 37-50). Who do you have solid, trusting relationships with—are you tending them, investing in them?
4. Rule of life is to humbly fulfill Christ’s glory (Hebrew 11). Are you fulfilling the call of Christ with the utmost humility and sense of privilege in serving him?
5. Jesus is the ideal embodiment of a Spirit-empowered life. Is Jesus in speaking to your heart throughout the day? Where, when and what is he saying.
God is both at work in the ordinary and extraordinary of daily living. J.I. Packer says it best: “The healthy Christian is not necessarily the extrovert, ebullient (full of energy) Christian, but the Christian who has a sense of God's presence stamped deep on his soul, who trembles at God's word, who lets it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it, and who tests and reforms his life daily in response to it.”
― J.I. Packer
On the heels of Martin Luther King Day, come words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount—love your enemy, pray for them and go the extra mile. The Sermon on The Mount, Matthew Chapters 5-7 is known as the Compendium of Christ’s Doctrine or the Magna Carta of the Kingdom. This sermon is considered the capstone of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus gathered his disciples and the crowd led them up a hillside in the region of Galilee. Although it is only three chapters long, the sermon probably lasted all day.
The Jews in Jesus’ day were living in hard times. They were facing a national crisis. Roman rulers controlled their land, took their money, and raped their women. Many of the Jewish priests and local leaders were assassinated and replaced by handpicked appointments from Rome or Herod. Thousands of Jews who tried to resist Roman rule quickly paid the severe price of death.
So, in the midst of all this trauma and chaos, Jesus in his sermon gives quite a revolutionary command—"love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven….if you love those who love you what reward with you get...And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others” (Matt 5:44,46-47)?
Being a Christian is not for the faint of heart. And where the rubber meets the road for many of us is our ability or inability to love our neighbor, let alone love our enemy. It is so easy to love, forgive and pray for people in our families or people we genuinely like or people who contribute to our success. But to love and forgive those who hurt us or wrong us or oppose our views, sometimes, it literally seems like an impossible task. Especially right now, as we are still in the heat of a long battle with COVID, where living in uncertainty has become the constant for us—we feel powerless.
Coupled with increasing anxiety about the economic and political landscape, the last thing we need to hear from God is that we need to love and pray for our enemies—we have enough failed attempts and guilt to wade through. But, what’s the risk if we don’t love our enemy? We carry the hurt and resentment with us. We become fused to it. Nelson Mandela said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
So how do we love our enemies? Show your enemies the genuine respect that every human being deserves. Each of us are made in God’s image. Allow yourself to feel compassion and mercy for them. Like you, they too have a backstory of fears, hurts, concerns and aspirations—don’t take your enemy so seriously. Make an effort to explore where your anger comes from, you may be projecting some of your unresolved issues into the situation. And lastly, if you can’t love someone, do no harm to them.
Howard Thurman, sums it up well, in an excerpt from Jesus and the Disinherited. “You must abandon your fear of each other and fear only God. You must not indulge in any deception and dishonesty, even to save your lives. Your words must be Yea-Nea; anything else is evil. Hatred is destructive to hated and hater alike. Love your enemy, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.”
Rev. Dona Johnson GracePointe of Sedona
The earliest Christian monks inhabited the desert land of the Middle East starting at
the end of the second century AD. Known as the “Desert Fathers”, they left everything in search of knowing Jesus Christ by making the Gospels absolutely integral to their daily lives.
In our current pop culture, one might frown upon these Desert Fathers, thinking their words are a bit archaic and irrelevant. But nothing can be further from the truth. In the desert, these early followers of Christ moved away from materialism and worldly pleasures and sought solitude in the desert. Away from crowds and distractions, they more clearly heard the voice of God. The solitary life of the desert helped them to talk less and listen more. They were not ashamed or embarrassed about their brokenness but learned from it and openly express their struggles.
So, what nuggets can we glean from these wise sages and take with us into the new year?
Never stop starting over. Every day is an opportunity to start over. Failure is not the end, it’s the beginning. You don’t have to wait for a new year to start over. Abba Poemen said, “That every day he made a new beginning. My God do not abandon me. I have done nothing good before Thee, but grant me, in Thy compassion, the power to start new” (Abba Poemen, 5th century).
Live intentionally, not aimlessly. Without a purpose, many people don’t feel joy or much fulfillment in life. In this new year, even in the midst of this pandemic, find a purpose, a purpose with eternal significance. Invest your life (time, talent and treasure) in someone or something other than yourself. "Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is wasted effort" (St. Mark the Ascetic, 5th century).
Stop judging others: “This is what it means not to judge. Do not have hostile feelings towards anyone and do not let dislike dominate your heart; do not hate those who hate their neighbors (Abba Moses The Black).” In our current culture, political disagreements and racial differences have reached a fever pitch—finger pointing and blame. In the new year, may each of us focus on our own faults rather focusing on the sins of others.
Brokenness is Universal. "The person who has come to know the weakness of human nature has gained experience of divine power. Such a person never belittles anyone…He knows that God is like a good and loving physician who heals with individual treatment each of those who are trying to make progress" (St. Maximos the Confessor, 7th century). We are broken to some degree. In fact, it is our brokenness that often binds us together. When we recognize our own hurt in the brokenness of others—we are more able to move towards them in empathy. Everyone goes through the desert—illness, emotional despair and spiritual emptiness. In the new year, don’t be afraid to explore your brokenness, share it with others and ask for help. That is where true healing and growth begin.
Listen More Speak Less. According to Abba Poemen, ‘Silence is a way of waiting, a way of watching, and a way of listening.” In the new year, remember that silence too is a language.
Pray. Prayer brings us into the very heart of God. Some brothers asked Abba Macarius of Egypt, a 4th century Coptic Christian, ‘How should we pray?’ He said, ‘There is no need to talk much in prayer. Reach out your hands often, and say, “Lord have mercy on me, as you will and as you know.” But if conflict troubles you, say, “Lord, help me.” He knows what is best for us, and has mercy.’
In this new year, may each of us live intentionally with a purpose beyond ourselves—to love our neighbor, to seriously work at forgiving each other and may each of us see the brokenness in others as our own.
Rev. Dona Johnson GracePointe of Sedona