Category Archives: Spiritual Fitness

Unconditional – That was the difference.

This week, with a number of my colleagues, I experienced compassion, not just for us as people, but as clergy. I had signed up for a retreat, an opportunity to rest, learn and relax. I received so much more. There was plenty of learning, personal renewal and connection with colleagues. The retreat setting, Kingfisher Bay resort, provided loving hospitality, fabulous food, and walks in the woods by the lake. I felt refueled by the worship, especially the songs and the scripture. And underlying all of that was the unconditional love and respect for all of us as clergy expressed by the event co-ordinator, Kathleen Whyte. She showered us with caring. She spoke with humility about the joy she received from having the privilege of planning this event just for us.

As we gathered in a circle to say goodbye, Kathleen placed worship stoles around our necks. Kathleen and her friend Dianne Ross had designed, hand made and painted each one for us. Her joy in giving will remain with me always. We all said, “Thank you,” but there are no words to describe the value of Kathleen’s ministry to us.

I offer you this story as a seed for your living. In our lives, we have professional people, trades people, store clerks and more who serve us. When we judge their work good enough, we sometimes remember to offer thanks. Seldom do we consider the gifts of talent, energy and love they bring as a group of clergy, doctors, teachers, electricians, etc. I suggest to you from this week forth, to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to the paid servants that make a difference in our lives. We can follow Kathleen’s example.

Try a New Diet

Try a New Diet.

Here are my thoughts as we step into another “new beginning” this September.

We worry a great deal today about being clean. Many of us shower every day. We wash our hands after just about everything, our clothes after one wearing, dirty or not. Why do we have this obsession with “clean”? Science has taught us that dirt carries bacteria that can harm us. Our natural immunity can become overwhelmed. We know that the scientists’ advice has merit.

I suggest we apply that advice to our hearts and minds as well. They too have a natural immunity through the innate love and goodness of God that is born within us. In today’s world, society lays out a virtual banquet of violence, hatred, destruction, ready for and enticing us to taste and see how exciting it is. The internet, books, TV, movies can show us torture, abuse in living colour. With video games, we can be the perpetrators of violence earning fame and fortune in the cyber world. Of course, we aren’t actually doing those things ourselves in the real world. We believe that our natural goodness, our value system will keep us safe from harm. But, like the germs and bacteria that can overwhelm our physical immunities, a steady diet of images of violence, hate and destruction can overwhelm our natural goodness as well.

As we begin again this September, I recommend we try cleaning up our entertainment diet. Let’s give our hearts and minds a head start by cleansing the food they receive. Let’s try coming to the thoughts banquet of love, laughter and kindness. Let’s be the first to stop inviting into our minds, hate, hostility, and judgment. Let’s make sure our leisure and work time is filled with ideas and actions of love, humility, and acceptance. I can’t imagine a better way to begin September 2018.

Our Bible tells us, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Mother’s Day! What Do I Say This Year?

What else can I say about Mothers’ Day? Between preaching and writing columns, haven’t I already said all I have to say? I turned to my Bible.

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is human kind that your are mindful of us, human beings that you care for us?”         (Psalm 8:3-4)

The psalmist is overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe and the generosity and abundance of God’s blessings given to us. I thought of my moms, very different from each other, yet generous in their love for me. God blessed me through both of them.

Being a Mom is a commitment that continues even into the next life. What do mothers do for us? When we are little, mom’s job is physically exhausting: feeding, clothing, sleepless nights. Then, our troubles were small, the “fixes” simple. And, we returned her love with hugs and words of love.

Mothering teenagers is emotionally tougher. Our troubles are bigger and we don’t always want Mom’s help. She job is let go a little and watch us make mistakes. That process intensifies in our young adult years. We know everything, Mom, nothing. Our hugs are fewer and further between. We often don’t notice her in the background worrying, praying and trying so hard not to interfere.

I’m sure today it amuses both my moms when I struggle to keep out of the way of my own grown children. When I succeed, I can hear both moms cheering for me. When I interfere and offer unwanted advice, I feel them reach through that veil that separates us and say, “Yes, leaving them to struggle is tough, but you’re doing okay.”

Neither of my moms was perfect, but I was blessed by their love. This year I celebrate Mothers’ Day by remembering the work of their hands, the abundance of their love. This year I thank God who blessed me with their care, their example, their ability to stand back and let me fail, their joy at my success. This year I offer my poem of thanksgiving to God.

Thank You, God, for Mothers

When I consider your gift of mothers in this world,
Their caring, the work of their hands,
Their loving, the gift of their hearts,
I am humbled that you have created mothers for us.

When I consider how hard it must have been for them,
To let us make our own choices                                                                  knowing the pain those choices will bring,
When I consider the abundance of support we have received,
I am humbled that you have created mothers for us.

Thank you, God, for mothers, some more perfect than others.
Thank you, God, for knowing that we need a mother’s love.
Thank you, God, for being a mother for us all.

How Many Steps Do You Take Each Day?

Tom gave me a “Fit Bit” for Christmas, because I’ve been trying to make myself exercise more. He wanted to help. As a writer I spend hours at my computer. As a senior, it is easier for me to cuddle in my lovely warm home, rather than venture out into frigid weather and slippery streets.

My “Fit Bit” is helping. I want to reach my goal of at least 8000 steps a day. Every time I get up from my desk, I look for little jobs that require movement. When the screen celebrates that I’ve reached my goal, I celebrate. I’m motivated to try harder.

I wish someone would invent a “Spiritual Fit Bit” that would add up my spiritual activities, not for others to know, but just for me. It would keep track of the time I spend praying, reading the Bible and other Christian books, doing acts of kindness, giving gifts to others and more.

My “Fit Bit” reminds me that increased activity is simple. I just need to close my computer and do something active.

The reality is, it’s just that simple to be spiritually fit. If you like to read, pick up the Bible or a Christian novel like my Fireweed. You’ll be surprised. Christian books can be entertaining, too. If you enjoy your friends, risk talking with them about faith issues. You’ll be amazed at how your friendship deepens. If you like to play cards, visit a shut-in. Maybe they do too. You’ll be doing an act of kindness while having fun. The opportunities for prayer, learning, service, growing in faith surround you. Take advantage of them.

Write down your spiritual activities. Your “Spiritual Fit Bit” can be a list on the fridge or in your journal. Give God thanks for your growing list. Giving thanks, oh yes, that, too, is another step in the Christian journey.

This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips. (Exodus 13:9)

 

 

Is Faith a Magic Charm?

What Do You See?

Is faith a magic charm? Some people think so, but not me. Faith is not my “lucky rabbit’s foot”, or special hat that will ensure my life goes smoothly. Faith doesn’t protect me from failure, or accident or illness. Faith won’t even keep my loved ones alive. So what good is it?

Faith is that strength from God that comes when I feel totally overwhelmed. When I’m amazed that I actually survived such a tough time, I know that God joins me in life’s journey. Faith tells me that God’s strength will sustain me through the joys and tragedies that come with living. With faith, I will not just survive, but live creatively. My faith is my anchor for living. I will not lose hope. When darkness surrounds me, God gives me enough light for the next step, and that is all I need.

My faith also calls me to journey in gratitude. I am grateful for the abundant blessings I receive. I am also grateful for God’s presence carrying me, leading me through the storms of life. I am grateful that I can trust that there will be new life at the end of the storm.  God will not be defeated.

Forty-five years ago, a sixteen-year-old high school student painted an intriguing masterpiece just for me. It hangs in my living room still today. In the picture, a teenager stands at the water’s edge with her dog. Wind blows her hair and clothes. White caps roll in. Thunderclouds fill the sky. There is a gap in the clouds with just a sliver of sun showing. Sometimes, my guests think the teen is watching a storm coming. Sometimes they see new life in the sun that is peeking through the clouds, bringing an end to the storm. I see faith in that painting. The presence of the son, whether or not he is hidden by the clouds, is always there waiting, loving, giving strength. The teen in the picture can face whatever comes, and whatever has been. For me, that high school student of so long ago captured Jesus’ words, “I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age.”

I Love My Body!

I woke Sunday morning at 5:55. My alarm was set for six. My first thought, I love my body. God has gifted me with an inner alarm. I usually don’t trust it so I set my clock alarm, but I don’t have to. I automatically wake up just before the alarm rings. Tom appreciates my gift, too, especially on days when he doesn’t have to be up early.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember ever before thinking, I love my body. Usually, I look at my body and groan. Twenty pounds lighter would make my knees much happier and my clothes look better. I’ve got love handles, and a tummy that is rounder than it should be. My ankles are slightly swollen. My skin is dry. I’ve got lots of wrinkles. Those miserable brown age spots keep popping up here and there. Yes, normally I’m not at all happy with my body. And I don’t think I’m alone in this world.

Our society has taught us to be dissatisfied with our bodies. Watch your weight. Don’t eat too much. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise. Try this diet. No, try that one. If you want to be beautiful, you have to be thin. And so, the messages come at us, fast and furious.

My daughter is a child psychologist. She speaks a different message. “Learn to love your body as it is,” she says. So today, I suggest, appreciate the wonder of your body. Across from me is a vase filled with majestic, brightly coloured gladioli. On the windowsill, are delicate sweet peas. I can see their beauty and smell their sweet fragrance. At night as I go to sleep, I hear Tom whisper, “I love you.” I wake up, and I can still walk. My arms can reach out to hug my fabulous granddaughter.  And those are only a few of the wonders of my body. There is a children’s song titled “Oh, What a Miracle Am I.” It’s time we all tried chanting that line.

Yes, I can love my body even though it’s aging. I have decided to repeat those beautiful words, I love my body, every day as I get up. And give God thanks. What better way to start my day.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14).

How Does God Deal with Our Choices for Evil

When a child dies. A well-intentioned friend sometimes offers comfort to the grieving parents with, “God needed your child in heaven.” A natural disaster, or strange misfortune is greeted with, “God must have had a reason.”

The Bible story of Joseph, the favored child, is often cited as the basis of this kind of thinking. Joseph’s older brothers, in their anger and jealousy, sold him to merchants travelling to Egypt. They told their father that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast. Years later, his brothers, come to Egypt as refugees from famine. They meet Joseph as the prime minister, who now has the power to save his family from starvation. Joseph explains, “It was not you who sent me here (to Egypt), but God.” (Genesis 45:8).

THIS MAY COMFORT SOME PEOPLE, BUT NOT ME. The loving God I have encountered in my life and in the Bible stories of Jesus, tells me a different story. Our God given gift of free will means we can make good choices to love and care for each other and we can use our free will in anger and jealousy, as Joseph’s brothers did. Our loving God is never defeated by our choices. God has the power to bring goodness out of the worst we can do, BUT God does NOT need us to do bad things or to experience misery to accomplish goodness.

I believe Joseph had the position and therefore the power to rescue his brothers, because our loving God worked with Joseph to use his intelligence, his location and his faith to prepare him to forgive and help his family. God brought new life, amazing new life out of Joseph’s brother’s evil choices, just as God brought the resurrection out of our choice to crucify Jesus.

Some people would say this is just a matter of semantics, playing with words. I don’t agree. I believe that God’s love can take the worst that we can do, and the worst that can happen, and create goodness. But God doesn’t need us to make evil choices or experience painful things in order to create that goodness.

With this mind-set, we are not puppets in the hands of a capricious, often vengeful God, who requires war and death, evil and violence to accomplish goodness. No! No! No! With this mindset, we have freedom to make choices, good choices of love and care, poor choices, and sometimes even choices for evil. God can draw from within the results of our choices, even at our worst, the means to create goodness.

For me this applies to our resurrection story. My theology of Jesus tells me that he loved us so much that he wouldn’t stop loving us even when we were at our worst. God used that endless, generous love to bring the lesson of forgiveness and resurrection, NEW LIFE, not just for Jesus but for all of us.

When we trust in a loving God, when we open our hearts to that love, we will eventually see and experience that goodness. In fact, God invites us to participate in the creation of that goodness.

For this understanding of God, I give God thanks.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Does Practice Make Perfect?

Practice Makes Friendship

Last week, during a conversation about kids and sports, a young mom made the following comment, “My child doesn’t like to practice.”

I’ve been thinking about that comment. Sports definitely entail a lot of practice. With team sports, kids practice in groups. They have a coach who gives direction, teaches skills, and usually tries to make it fun, at least when the kids are young. For sure, the children learn that it takes practice to gain enough skill to play the game. They also discover the fun, the support, the strength and the challenge of playing as a team. Solo sports, like skiing and horseback riding, also require practice, instruction that often takes place in a group.

Group practice opens up the opportunity to be challenged and receive praise from your peers. You learn to work as a team even as you learn to accept the uniqueness of skill and personality of each member of the group. Members missing practice are missed by the others. They lose out on opportunities to improve.

We don’t often think about practicing our faith. As in sports, we respect those who have become skillful in living a life of faith. These people find tremendous strength, confidence and wisdom for living because they have a spiritual connection with God. Often these same people are totally committed to caring for others, not just in their church family, but also in the wider community. They appear to have endless energy. How do they do it?

I suggest that faith, like sports, requires practice and self-discipline. When we participate in a church family by coming to worship on Sundays, we are practicing with a group led by a minister or coach. Learning from others, being part of a team, practicing are essential for a strong, healthy faith life. Within the church family, we find support when the going gets tough, together with those who celebrate our successes and grieve with us in sorrow.

 

Without the coach and our teammates to challenge us and offer new ways, we do not become the best player we can be. Without our church family to challenge our thinking and offer new ideas we do not become the most faith filled person we can be.

Yes, you can teach yourself a sport.  Yes, you can learn to play the game, sort of, without practicing with your team. Yes, you can teach yourself about God, sort of. Yes, you can care for others competently without practicing with your church family.  But you will miss out on the joy, the opportunities, the support and the growth that can come when you are part of the team. That’s why we gather together as Christians every week at the church. That’s why we practice our faith together. We know that group practice will not make us perfect, but it will push us to grow in faith.

What does it mean to call yourself a “Christian”?

This morning, I read we are called to be Christs in the world, not Christian. (Madeline L’Engle). Today Madeline’s words spoke to me like thunder and lightning in the darkness of the night. Too often, I hear about “Christians” speaking words of hate and taking actions that are violent, disrespectful, harmful, destructive of other human beings. Over my lifetime, I have learned to love, respect, accept and forgive others, regardless of faith, race, ethnicity, wealth or lack of it. For me, that is the calling of a Christian.

I hear “Christians” quote John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son that whosever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” and smugly say, “I’m in; you’re out.” I hear those same Christians quote John 14: 6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” and say, “You don’t believe exactly as I do, therefore God doesn’t love you or care about you. You are a sinner.” From this self-righteous judgment, it is a very short step to fearing those sinners, condemning those sinners and trying to eradicate those sinners from God’s world.

If that is how “Christianity” works, count me out. My faith and those scripture passages have taught me some very important lessons:

  1. God loves God’s world, the whole world, not just the people that I judge worthy.
  1. God loved every person God created so much that God came in Jesus and endured the hatred, the violence that we seem to love so much, and laid down his human life in love, to teach us what love is. God did this, not because I’ve said some special words, or experienced God’s Spirit in one particular way. God did this because I am God’s child and always will be.
  1. I am humbled to think that Jesus loved me enough to come to this world to teach me how to be his “hands, and feet and heart,” and love the world as he did.
  1. When I hear Jesus words, “I am the Way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I hear Jesus’ call to love, value, respect all of God’s children. I hear Jesus’ call to love God and love others as he has loved me.
  1. Neither of these scripture passages call me to hatred, fear, violence. Jesus’ Way, Truth, Life was to heal, love, forgive not to destroy.
  1. As a follower of Jesus, I am called to be the hands, feet and heart of Christ.

I feel as if the word “Christian” has been desecrated. I need a new name, a new identity. Let’s find a new word, a new way to identify ourselves as followers of Jesus.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  (John 13:34 NIV)

“A Tip for Grace-Filled Living”

love-699480_1920Your Life  Is New Every Morning.

Like many of you, my days are busy. Over my life time, I have developed a daily discipline, beginning each day with God. Last week I picked up Joy Cowley’s “Psalms from Down Under,” and read,

“God, I am awake, this I.
My eyes are open.
My heart beats. My lungs work.
Here and now I have
this sacred gift of me
which is about to unwrap a second gift,
the gift of a bright new day.”

Joy reminded me that even though the weather is grey, my worries remain, my knees and back still grumble with pain, I have been given the precious gift of life for another day. Twenty-four hours to be the best that I can be. Twenty-four hours to do random acts of kindness, to send out thoughts and actions that will bring goodness into this world.

Joy finished her Psalm with yet another reminder. I chuckled as I read:

“If it so happens
That I am clumsy in the unwrapping (of this day),
If I drop or break something,
Then remind me, God,
To be gentle with myself.
There will be another gift tomorrow.”

Yes, Lord, I thought. I can be gentle with myself and with others. I can live this day with gratitude and forgiveness.

My morning reading and prayer-time blesses my day with joy and strength. I recommend you try it. On the internet, at the library & stores, books of daily reflections and bibles abound. As you wait for and drink that first coffee, or tea, or water each morning, read and pray. Ask God to speak to you through the words you read and the events of your day. Over time, you will be surprised at the difference this intentional focus on spiritual learning will make in your life. I call it gathering “Tips for Grace-filled Living.” Remember, you will live through your days regardless. Why not seek wisdom for your living?

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV)