Category Archives: Spiritual Fitness

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)

Why Do We Think the Worst of God?

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In ancient times, people believed the gods to be in total control of everything that happened. If the weather didn’t co-operate for farming, the god of the fields was meting out punishment for some wrongdoing. If the harvest was abundant the same god or a different one was rewarding hard work with prosperity. Problem – it didn’t work. The good still had difficulties.

In Jesus time, the Jewish people transferred this same understanding to their one God. The goal was to please God and everything would go well. Problem: It didn’t work. The good still got sick and their crops failed during a famine.

Today, that simple belief that we can blame God for every problem is still with us. If we break a bone, we ask, “Why did this happen?” We search our hearts and our past, for the mistakes we’ve made that would cause God to punish us. We lament, “There must be a reason God would do this to me or let this happen to me.”  Problem: It doesn’t work. Just as in ancient times, good people get sick, greedy people sometimes do well. Why then do we blame God?

The 23rd Psalm tells us God is with us “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” Jesus said, “I will be with you always.” (Matthew 28:20) Never does he say: “Believe in me and your life will be totally smooth.”

In my book “Fireweed”, the main character Renee learns that this fundamental belief in a “Mr. Fix It, God”, totally failed her. Her Mom was a good person who cared for others yet she was killed in a car accident. Throughout the book Renee comes to understand God, as her companion, her teacher, her guide, her support, her comforter.

As parents, we can’t fix our children’s life. As our parent, God doesn’t “fix” our lives either.

I invite you to let go of those old beliefs in a cold punishing God. Celebrate our wonderful loving God who travels with us, helping us to become the best we can be.

Faith Is a Risky Business.

WOW!!!!
WOW!!!!

Our granddaughter scampered up trees like a squirrel when she was about ten. She appeared to have no fear. As she flitted from one limb to the next, she’d call to me. “Come, join me Grandma. I can see a beautiful horse running free in a whole field of wild flowers. The creek looks like a snake crawling down the side of the hill.”

Afraid of heights, I answered, “No thank you.” I remember wishing she had just a wee dab of healthy fear.

When we have been part of a church family all our lives, we are comfortable. Like my granddaughter, we lose touch with the “risk”. We’ve experienced the caring support of our church family. We know the congregation and have participated in most of the activities. We’d like everyone to be part of such a wonderful group

We forget that just stepping into the church building can be frightening, risky. We forget that some have had difficult past experiences with the church that make coming to worship feel like climbing a cliff. We forget there are those with no church experience. They’ve heard that church membership requires commitment, time and money. Their question is, “Why would I take that risk?”

Church membership is a risky business for sure, and… well worth the risk. As members, we need to take our cue from my granddaughter’s attitude to tree climbing. We need to issue a passionate happy invitation. “Come join us. This is fun. There is support, comfort, friendship here. You’ll love the music. There’s a special place for you because you are God’s beloved child. Here, you’ll learn that the gift of God’s forgiveness is free. Here, you’ll experience acceptance. Here, you’ll be challenged to think for yourself. Here, you can discuss and learn and grow in faith. Come, join us, church membership is great. Take the risk.”

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”  (Acts 2:44-47)

 

 

R.I.D.E. the Spirit!

 

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In today’s culture we don’t have to be alcoholics to say:

“I’m glad that job’s done, let’s have a glass of wine to celebrate.”

I’ve had a terrible day. Let’s have a drink before dinner to relax.”

Society tells us that a simple drink of alcohol will lift us up out of the doldrums, increase our joy, give us courage. In books, television, movies, stars have a glass of wine etc. when they are particularly happy with each other or with whatever has happened In their lives. They confidently take a ride on the spirit called alcohol.

Today I offer you a different spirit – God’s Spirit. Flying on God’s Spirit is a fabulous adrenalin rush. Whether I’m hugging my granddaughter, bringing a casserole to a sick friend, storytelling or dancing with Tom, I fly on God’s Spirit. Over the years I’ve also learned to flow with God’s Spirit. Through prayer, and favorite scriptures, God’s peace flows through me being bringing peace. When I read Psalm 23 (commonly called, “The Lord Is My shepherd”) I literally feel God’s Spirit settle down upon me, like a warm cloak around my shoulders. Peace permeates my body.

Although I too succumb occasionally to the cultural belief that alcohol will help me fly, or rest, I know in my heart that God’s Spirit is what I need. For sure, I love to feel the special wine glass in my hand but what’s in it is not really important. A bubbly juice or sparkling water in a crystal wine glass satisfies my need for something special and to join in with everyone else. Then, I ask for God’s Spirit to rise up within me. I soak in God’s energy and peace.

This year I suggest you try flying on God’s Spirit. You’ll be amazed at the joy you receive. AND you’ll greet the neighbourhood R.I.D.E. program with peace.

 “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

 

 

Listen for Sounds of Joy.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

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Listen for Sounds of JOY.

Yesterday morning I worshipped in the Unitarian Church of Montpelier Vermont. When we stepped inside the church, I wondered if it wasn’t already Christmas Eve. People poured through the doors around us. Joy filled my heart, this is church, I thought. Children and adults obviously excited about gathering for worship, feeling at home. God must be celebrating today.

Joy surged forth again when Rev. Joan quoted our Canadian PM Justin Trudeau as he greeted the first contingent of Syrian Refugees with “You are home!” Tears filled my eyes as pride in our country welled up within me. This too is Joy, I thought.

During coffee hour we all stopped and formed a circle around a departing member as she sang her farewell. When she began the last verse we spontaneously began to hum along, and then joined in on the last chorus. God’s Spirit touched each one of us – although I’m sure many hearts were aching at the goodbye, I experienced God’s Joy in the wonderful feeling of family and love that was shared. This is church, I thought. This is what Jesus intended when he said where two or three are gathered there will I be also.

There are so many sounds that bring us joy. When our grandchildren were little there was nothing sweeter than the “Grandma, Grandma” I heard as they ran to greet me with their huge hugs. The purr of the family cat as we snuggle her close, the deep belly laugh that comes when something has truly touched our funny bone are sounds of JOY.

Today, as we make the long drive home, eight hours or more, I will listen for sounds of joy from the radio, in the service centres, in Tom’s voice. I know that the most welcome, the most joyful sound of all will be the silence as we shut off the car, and open the door at home. The peace, the security of home will envelope us. Our hearts will fill with joy and thanksgiving.

Today list your sounds of Joy and soak in God’s blessings.

A Thought For Your Day

Thank you God for...

During Advent I’m using a resource titled The Uncluttered Heart by Beth A. Richardson. She talks about an ancient tradition of the Christians Church in which pilgrims would ask of their spiritual leaders, “Give me a word of life.” Following in this tradition, I will be offering you “A Thought for Your Day” throughout the season of Advent as part of my preparation for Christmas. My hope is that you will carrying this thought with us will help us to keep centered on
opening our heart to Jesus. I’m starting three days in posting these so today you are getting three at once. Choose the one that speaks to you. Think about it through the day. Please let me know what effect focusing on God does for your day. Blessings Janet

Advent – Week 1    Hope gives power to life’s journey.

December 1      Give God 5 minutes today. God is waiting.

December 2      Thank you God for…

 

How Do I Access the Bible’s Wisdom?

Written On Your Heart
Written On Your Heart

In June, I led a workshop about Storytelling and Dynamic Worship for Small Rural Churches. Storytelling is fun and it requires detailed preparation. I needed to know my stories off by heart, which means a great deal of practice. As children, we were assigned memory work at school (High Flight) and at church (23rd Psalm). I remember this “memory work” being pure drudgery.

Today, we think we don’t need to memorize anything, because all we have to do is “google” it and we have it on our phone, i-pad or computer. I believe having access to something is good, but having it written on your heart, deep within your being is a totally different kind of knowing, one that affects every day decisions. When we learn words of wisdom or comfort or faith by heart, we take those words into our being. They become a part of us so that we can call them to mind when the going gets tough..

My suggestion for you is to choose a quote, a Bible verse, a poem, something that touches your heart. Think about those words. Talk about them with your friends. Write them out and put them on your fridge and your bathroom mirror. Read them. Speak them aloud, over and over again.

Once you have learned them completely, they will be available for wisdom in times of temptation, or difficult decisions, for strength when life feels over whelming, for peace in times of emotional and physical pain. Once learned by heart, you can choose a new set and repeat the process. These words will be your anchors in the seas of life. Then, when the batteries die or the lights go out, the wisdom and comfort of these words will be with you, because they are written on your heart.

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

The Gift of a Cross

cross

Last month, our youngest granddaughter confirmed the baptismal vows her parents made for her as a baby. I prayed that she would feel God’s Spirit lift and carry her, not just on that day, but every day of her life. Tom and I gave her a gold cross to mark her commitment to follow in the “Way of Jesus” and her formally becoming an adult in her church family. We want that cross to be a symbol of faith for her. Every time she puts it on, and all the time she wears it, we hope she will be reminded that she is totally wrapped in love, the love of family and particularly God’s love. No one and nothing can take that love away.

We hope it will help her to look for and recognize God’s presence in her life in the multitude of little joys that surround her every day. At the moment, she knows the pleasure that comes when she offers Grandma and Grandpa a spontaneous hug. I watch her pour her love on her animals – cats, dogs, horses. I experience her joy as she flies on her skates at hockey. Together we can sit and read, leaving conversation behind, solid in our love for each other.

We hope it will remind her to live a life of gratitude. She knows how to say thank you. She knows how to express her joy. That cross is a sign of our hope and trust that no matter what comes in her life, she will continue to live that confidence. There will be times of questioning, disappointment, hurt as well as times of great celebration. That cross is a symbol of that sure foundation of faith and love she has today.

As Christians, we wear a cross as a symbol of the love and teaching we have received, as a symbol of the Way of Christ. Whether plain wood or solid gold encrusted with diamonds, the cross is worn to remind us that each and every person on earth is created as God’s special beloved child. In the words of St. Paul, “You are God’s temple. God’s spirit lives in you.” (1 Corinthians 3: 16)