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I'll finish out this month's page with a few words tonight. Many tell me they appreciate it when I'm real about my weak times. I'm far from strong these days. And certainly a long way away from being Refreshed!
God is still faithful and good. I'm gonna crawl up into his lap this evening, and ask him to soothe my weary soul.
June has been an intense month. I've worked intensely but it's not the work that's wearying. Rather it's the waiting. Waiting for the Spirit to come and fill these sails. Waiting in the heat of the day on a still, hot lake with no paddle. Waiting hopefully, expectantly, yet weary from the waves of disappointment that hit me instead.
Tonight I'll turn to Isaiah 40 for I can identify a bit with the very weary Judeans.
I've been kind of quiet here this week while I've worked on a new initiative for my practice. It's lovely now, on this Friday afternoon, to announce that it's now complete.
The initiative began with my time of prayer on Tuesday morning in what was an ah-hah moment. An insight was given which immediately made so much sense. It had to do with reaching out intentionally to those who are journeying through loss and grief. It made sense because I have also journeyed through loss in a rather excruciating period early in our marriage as Gérard and I tried to start a family. One of the things which helped me to get back on my feet (Gérard got there much quicker than I) was the hope, in faith, that God would redeem my pain by using it to extend compassion and healing to others.
Somehow this desire came clearly again into focus this week. It was stimulated by contact with a new online acquaintance, Janelle Hertzler, whose website is dedicated to those who are traveling through grief. Janelle's site is loaded with resources, including book reviews. The latest contribution is mine, a review of Gerald Sittser's A Grace Disguised which helped me profoundly in my journey.
Anyway, check out the new set of pages with a focus on grief recovery. If you think my words have potential for those in your circles, go ahead and forward a link or bookmark a page. I sign off on this Friday afternoon with a grateful heart that I serve a remarkably good Father who does indeed redeem our pain.
This morning I arrived at a very familiar Bible passage. Since I know it inside out, it would have been easy to breeze through it, to skim the surface. I would have 'done my duty' in having read from the Scriptures, but I would have been left unchanged.
This morning I knew I needed to hear from God. I read the passage again, slowly. A 3-word phrase stirred something in my heart. So I resisted breezing on through and stayed with that phrase, pretty sure there was something my Father wanted to say to me through it.
And there was! Through those 3 words insight was given. A gift was bestowed. A few minutes later I became aware of a deep sense of peace in my heart, and the anxiety I'd been feeling was completely gone.
When you read a familiar passage, do you find yourself asking the question:
Lord, what do you want to show me that is new?
That's not a bad question, but I believe there's a much better one:
Lord, what do you want to show me that is now?
Changing just one word in the question opens up all sorts of possibilities:
Tears welled up in my eyes as God spoke something new into my now today. What he spoke connected directly to the current need of my soul. I needed to hear what my Father had to tell me, and I'm so glad I didn't miss it by breezing on through.
You'll find more on reading for the now in Formational Reading.
Eugene Peterson's masterful use of imagery sometimes opens a doorway for the soul. Like this paraphrase of Romans 8:1-2.
Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud.
When low-lying clouds persistently hang over my soul, I know there's something amiss. I might not be able to identify the precise cause, but Peterson helps me to identify the solution.
The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death
The Spirit has done this work of clearing the atmosphere. It's one of those already accomplished truths which I can step into, by faith. Because Christ dwells in my life, I can look past the dreary clouds to his Light. By the Spirit's power I can exchange my spirit of heaviness for a garment of praise (Isaiah 61:3). Fixing my focus on him changes the barometric pressure of my soul life as heaviness turns light. Then I realize I'm living what Eugene Peterson says next.
Attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.
Do you feel like the low-lying clouds have hung around your soul for too long? Here's some input for this essential work of turning your attention to God.
Well my shoulders are about to seize up but the English side is pretty much there. I'd love to know if you find the site easier to navigate and, most importantly, how you experience it in relation to its invitation to spiritual direction.
I'd love your feedback! (update) You can comment above or, if you'd prefer to comment privately, I'm just an e-mail away.
I'm soon off to teach a fabulous group of young Christians on being secure in their identity as children of the King. Their smiling faces will be a nice change from this computer screen!
I'm off! With 3 days of offline work behind me, I'm about to bring the restructuring work live. It'll be a little chaotic on this site for a bit. My hope is that the mess will be sorted out today for the most part, at least for the English side. The Dutch side's chaos will take some time to solve, so thanks for your patience.
My project for the week is to restructure this website. Already? Yes. The reasons will be self-evident once I'm done.
The project is necessary. It feels heavy, although the hoped-for result propels me forward. If you feel inclined to pray for me, I'm aware of my need for intelligent and clear thinking. I'm sure 'the mind of Christ' extends to website structuring. May he guide this work!
I'm beginning to see how much the work of transformation is God's work. Maybe I'm a slow learner. Or maybe it's just that I've been trained well in a do-it-yourself world. I'm seeing more clearly now that there is little I need to do besides drawing near to my God. As I choose to come close and to stay close, giving attention to him, I become aware of how active God is on my behalf.
This is a truth which pops out at me when I read Psalm 18. Take a look at all that David proclaims about the Lord's action on his behalf:
Being a woman rather than a male warrior, and living in the lowlands of Europe instead of in the wilderness of Judah, my list looks somewhat different, but the truth is the same: God works intentionally on my behalf. He is for me.
My victory over whatever happens to be working against me today is not dependent upon my action, upon whatever strength or willpower or skill I can muster, but upon God's action. If I will just draw near and fix my attention on him, his action and his resources come clearly into view.
There's a secret in this that I never want to lose sight of.
I've been away for a couple of weeks. It's been a precious time of hanging out as a couple and connecting with family and a few close friends. We gathered my 3 brothers and 7 nieces and nephews together, ages 17 to 24. This is a real formative time for each of them as they develop as young adults and dream toward their futures. Of course Aunt Beth (that's me) just loved the chance to cheer on the people they are becoming and to explore their dreams with them. The time together seemed too short but oh so sweet. I head home today refreshed and with a thankful heart.
You can expect a resurgence in my writing this week, for there's been quite a bit germinating within which hasn't been given the space to be expressed. More soon!
2 Corinthians 5:1-10 speaks of the hope of heaven, and particularly to the hope of shedding our earthly bodies for imperishable ones one day. This morning I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving that I am graced with good health. I am fit and healthy and I'm rarely forced by my circumstances to think about my body's frailty. Yet. It's pure gift, which I don't take for granted, that I rarely feel limited by my 50+ body.
Yet this passage speaks to me instead of another kind of frailty, that of my soul life.
It too is frail and in need of God's grace. I responded this morning with this prayer:
Longing. For heaven, for wholeness,
knowing that one day it will all be complete.
Yet confident even now that all is well in Christ
who is busy with me, working in me,
restoring my soul.
Lord, who has assured me of eternal life,
a new body which will not perish
and the promise that I can stand before you
without blemish and without fear,
I yield my soul to you today.
I let all thoughts which hinder me go,
shedding them as yesterday's clothes--
thoughts of judgment, could have's,
should have's, should-have-been's--
and stand before you now in freedom and grace.
I've just finished reading Mitch Albom's have a little faith in which he follows the lives of his NYC rabbi Albert Lewis and Detroit pastor Henry Covington. Henry is an ex-drug addict who leads a little community who ministers to the homeless. It's a ministry of identification because most of them have been homeless and started coming to church since Henry had met them right at their place of need.
have a little faith is an intriguing read loaded with quotables. One part has stuck with me since closing the cover last night. I find myself identifying, not because of a similar past but because of a similar conviction.
Henry is preaching to his Black congregation which Mitch Albom frequently visits. Henry believes in transformation. He believes passionately that God changes lives, and he refuses to get stuck on who someone was in the past. Faith in Jesus is about transformation. We do not have to keep being who we once were. Change is possible, what we're meant for. Let's listen in ...
In the Book of Acts, we read that Paul--after his conversion--people distrusted him because he used to persecute the church, but now he praised it. 'Is this the same guy? Can't be! Nuh-uh.'...It's amazing how folks can't see you, 'cause they want to keep you in that past. Some of our greatest problems in ministering to people is that they knew us back before we came to the Lord--"
"Yes it is!"
"The same thing with Paul...They saw him...they couldn't believe that this man's from Jesus, because they looked at his past--"
"They just looked at his past. And when we're still looking at ourselves through our past, we're not seeing what God has done. What He can do! We're not seeing the little things that happen in our lives--"
"Tell it now."
"When people tell me that I'm good, my response is, 'I'm trying.' But there's some people that know me from back when--anytime I make that trip to New York--and when they hear I'm the pastor of a church, all of a sudden, it's like 'I know you gettin' paid, boy. I know you getting' paid. I know you.'"
He paused. His voice lowered.
"No, I say. You knew me. You knew that person, but you don't know the person that I'm trying to become."
(Mitch Albom, have a little faith, p.191-193)
Doesn't the new growth of spring refresh your spirit? I love to bathe my eyes on the fresh greens of new leaves and the bright yellows of happy narcissus. (Or is that narcissi? Let's go with daffodils!) I find such satisfaction in seeing the bulbs I planted last fall and the plants I cut back for the winter come to life, my efforts in the garden nicely rewarded.
Several new people have approached me over the past couple of weeks for spiritual direction. Three of them are brand new to me and weren't even recommended by someone I know. They came to me via my website where my written words connected with something in their hearts.
Throughout the fall and winter I laboured hard over the site's design and its words. It's encouraging now to see new growth sprouting from my labour as the first signs of green pop up from below the ground.
Occasionally in our lives, if we're fortunate, we get to see something truly extraordinary happen. The fortune was mine last evening. The Crossroads Ministry Center was packed with 90 people for the celebration dinner of our Alpha course. I served the meal and then remained behind the bar to watch the extraordinary unfold.
The room pulsed with love, a sweet brotherly love, strong and real.
Testimonies spoken of lives given meaning, purpose and peace.
Enthusiasm expressed among the guests to join in the next Alpha.
A sense of something holy, something miraculous having taken place: so many who have traveled so far on the road of faith in such a short time.
The love of Christ, just as real and tasty as Fieneke's delectable dinner.
The love of Christ has touched lives, and he gets all the glory. But, as one of the team members shared last night, Jesus has had a rather remarkable helper in our friend Anouk van Tooren.
There's an old Debby Boone song that popped into my head this morning, which I just managed to locate on iTunes. Think Latin rhythm energizing these words:
Teach me how to love the way that you love
To pour out my life for another
Teach me how to care the way that you care
I've got so much to learn from you
Anouk has caught what it means to love like Jesus. As she loves, people see Jesus instead of her. Barriers to faith seem to 'simply' fall away. I see it over and over, and I stand in awe every time.
A heart that beats with great compassion, pulsing our lives with hope
A love that just begins when human loving ends, a love I want to know
As I watch Anouk loving people to Jesus, I wonder why we've missed it. They will know you are Christians by your love has been the challenge for nearly 2000 years, so why do our lives so often speak so little love?
Anouk, I want to learn to love like you love. I will keep watching and learning from you, always keeping in focus that you have learned what you have learned from Jesus who loved you first. Extraordinary friend, be blessed today after having given your all so beautifully.
We're well on our way through Holy Week, and I don't think I've ever before felt so in touch with the events we are commemorating.
I began the week looking at Abraham's unthinkable assignment to sacrifice his son (Genesis 22). I tried, as best I could, to enter into the scene: to feel Abraham's confusion while he walked out his obedience; his heaviness of heart as he made the journey to the designated mountain; the steps he took to build the altar and assemble the wood upon it, slowly, methodically, waiting, resisting, watching alertly for something-for anything-which might interrupt him following through with the task, hoping beyond hope that the LORD would provide. At last God spoke and pointed out the ram caught in the thicket. Did Abraham collapse in relief? Or in confusion? Or perhaps in anger? Abraham was richly rewarded for his willingness to carry out the assignment, becoming the greatest hero of faith in history and a father to all who would eventually believe. The symbolism of his single act of obedience is incredibly rich.
The next day I moved on to Psalm 22 which speaks of the sacrifice of the Son who wasn't spared. I'm confident this Psalm provided content for Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane. The agony of being forsaken, of being the victim of hate, scorn and mockery, of the excruciating pain of the crucifixion on top of the lashings and the beatings. They are all described in detail in the psalm. What must it have been like to know it all in advance, and still to make the choice to go through it. Jesus endured the pain, making himself powerless for a few hours. His Father also suffered as he chose to stand by and allow the greatest mystery of history to unfold, uninterrupted.
Amidst the pain, Psalm 22 still expresses hope and praise and joy. "The poor will eat and be satisfied. All who seek the LORD will praise him. Their heart will rejoice with everlasting joy." (v.26)
This unthinkable plan made sense after all. Wondrous love, amazing love, how can it be that you, my God, would die for me? Work the mystery deep into my soul, Lord.
It's been a high-focus week as I've prepared for today to arrive.
The spring edition of Alpha Nieuws is being delivered to 10,000 readers today. It contains a fullpage interview with yours truly about Faith Foundations, the discipleship material I've developed this past year. It's pretty exciting to get so many potential readers pointed to my site, especially since it's still so new I haven't officially announced it yet.
After a bit more high level focus this week, that announcement will be out. But meanwhile you are welcome to join me in praying that God will use this publicity to prosper the work of my hands.
My team has fully embraced the idea of training other churches to use the Foundations material, and we are excited to see what will unfold from this initiative. Note (fall 2012) Faith Foundations has run its course and is no longer available.
I'm also keenly aware that the majority of Christian leaders in Holland have little idea about Christian spiritual direction and its value to their lives as they seek to serve Christ effectively. God knows what he desires to do, and I continue entrust my life and my efforts to him. 'Entrusted action' is a new term I've adopted for myself over these long months of developing this site. That's a good term for a red letter day.
Over the past 15 months I've had the privilege to pioneer a new discipleship ministry in my church, and now the joy is mine to pass the baton of leadership to team members Jakar and Martine van Blaaderen.
The Foundations Group began with the vision to lay a solid foundation for faith in the lives of new Christians in our community, especially as a follow-up to our thriving Alpha Course. We've just finished with our second group and the third will begin next month.
From our very first meeting, Jakar and Martine enthusiastically embraced the vision to disciple new believers. They've been fabulous team members, fun, positive and always ready to invest their gifts. They've grown by leaps and bounds in their confidence and skill, and now it's beautiful to see them step into leadership with even greater enthusiasm.
My role now shifts to that of coach and my main task, to help them to flourish. Cheering on young leaders has always been one of my favourite things to do, but Jakar and Martine add a special dynamic to the mix. This going to be fun!
Today we're three weeks into Lent but in my personal devotions I've arrived already at Holy Week. This year I am making a rich and insightful journey through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises where Holy Week reflections last for five weeks.
Today one thought won't let go of me. I'm captured by the extent of the love Jesus showed to Judas, his betrayer. Matthew tells us that, while Jesus made his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on the Sunday before his death, the religious leaders' strategy was in place and Judas had determined to play into their hand (Mt 26: 1-16). I wonder if Jesus had always known it was Judas who would betray him. If not since the beginning when he chose Judas to be a part of the Twelve, then for how long had he known?
It's not so important, though, how long he had known. More important is how Jesus loved him. Jesus had included Judas in his inner circle. He had entrusted him with the finances. He treated him like all the rest of his friends, with never even a hint of partiality. And then, on the night he would betray him, Jesus washed Judas' feet.
Being secure in who he was, Jesus began the darkest night of his life by demonstrating his love to those nearest to him (John 13).
Jesus took up the role of a servant. Humble. Gentle. With nothing to prove. Peter objected, Judas didn't. Yet Jesus washed Judas' feet anyway.
As I consider this, a thought settles into my soul. I have a long way to go in learning to love.
Gérard and I had prayed often for Crossroads' Alpha group as they were off on their retreat this weekend, living alongside of them as best we could without being present. Yesterday late in the afternoon an SMS arrived, and we knew without looking that it was from our good friend Anouk who leads Alpha.
She was speechless over what God had done.
A little later, over a glass of wine, Anouk found her words while we became speechless. She shared story after beautiful story of hearts opening up and finding solace in Jesus. Each life unique, each story a wonder shaped by God.
Our speechlessness turned to praise which, at its purest, is declaring to one another what God has done. Our spirits needed lifting yesterday, and there was no better remedy.
Give thanks to the LORD for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.
(Psalm 118:29, NLT)
The teacher in me really loves to help people grow. February has been a real energizing month as I was invited to speak to diverse groups in the life of prayer.
I close this month with a grateful heart. God has been close and sufficient, and my conversations have been fruitful.
I spoke last night at the Alpha course at Crossroads Amsterdam. I love playing a part in this team! By the time I teach on the Bible and Prayer in week 5 and 6, community has begun to develop among a group of curious, increasingly open people. They were very ready to receive my teaching which centred around 'good reasons to read the Bible'. Afterward they seemed motivated to open up the Bible for themselves and to invite God to speak to them through it.
This run of the course has 50 participants! Our ministry centre is packed almost to overflowing. Each participant is on their own unique journey, and it's beautiful to see them encouraging one another in their search from whatever point they're at themselves. God is at work as hearts and minds and wills begin to open up to his love. It is quite amazing to see.
It is also amazing that God has brought this group to us. Our community has grieved God's heart over this past year. Why he continues to use us in such a big way is beyond my understanding. Yet he does. It is pure grace. Grace that is greater than all our sin.
Lord, for your sake, for their sake, for our sake draw these treasured people to yourself!
Brother Andrew spoke at my church yesterday. His powerful challenge will ring in my heart for a long time to come. Read the post
I've thought for quite some time about starting a personal blog and here we go. The Refreshed! pages here at Deeper Devotion will provide a space for my personal reflections on living and growing with Jesus. I look forward to having a space for current reflections on what's happening in my life and what I'm learning in my relationship with God.
How this Blog works This isn't a 'dedicated blog', so it will operate a little differently from a traditional blog. I've needed to puzzle a bit about how to make it work without confusing either you or me. So here's a little orientation and we'll see how it goes.
The RSS feed, to which you may have subscribed, is a 'site blog'. By that I mean it lists the latest articles on the Deeper Devotion site as a whole. The feed is called Faith that Transforms which is the unifying theme of my site. You can view and access these articles either through the RSS feed on your computer or via the Latest articles link in the navigation bar to the left.
The Refreshed! is where I'll blog. If a post seems to merit being listed on the RSS
Comments A blog isn't a really blog without the option to leave comments, is it? I'll work on
that feature and add it soon. Meanwhile be in touch if you'd like.
I'd enjoy hearing from you! So on to life as a blogger I go. Time will tell if I become a Facebooker too. (I tend to doubt it though.) 15/02/10 Go from Refreshed 2010 (Jan-June) to:
Choose a button to add it to your favorite bookmarking service.
Comments A blog isn't a really blog without the option to leave comments, is it? I'll work on that feature and add it soon. Meanwhile be in touch if you'd like. I'd enjoy hearing from you!
So on to life as a blogger I go. Time will tell if I become a Facebooker too. (I tend to doubt it though.)
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