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    Quiet Corner for Spiritual Formation

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    TueTuesdayJulJuly18th2017 God Designed Us to Hear His Voice
    byNancy Johnson Tagged No tags 1 comments Add comment

    God has designed us to hear His voice.  In a sense, we have a built-in receiver that enables us to get guidance from God.  Scripture tells us, “God does speak – sometimes one way and sometimes another – even though people may not understand it.” (Job 33:14NCV). 

    I can certainly relate to this verse and many of us may feel we are not understanding either.  In her blog, The Plumb Line, Jennifer LeClaire recounted she heard God’s voice as soon as she was saved which she desperately needed to hear because she got saved while she was in a county jail after being falsely accused of crime she did not commit.  Had she not been in jail however she would not have heard the evangelists God had sent to the jail to give their testimonies of the saving grace of Jesus.  Jennifer was facing a five year sentence and after giving her life to Jesus, she began to read the Bible she was given.  What she noticed was how God repeatedly presented the number 40 to her in the many passages she was reading.  The number 40 is often associated with trials and testing.   God had spoken to Jennifer LeClaire through His Word and His Spirit because she wrote that she understood she would indeed be released on the 40th day and shared this with many people around her and ultimately she was acquitted and released from jail on the 40th day!  

    Listening to God like listening to someone else requires that we are ready to listen.  We can’t hear the other person if we are talking or if our mind is distracted so we need to be ready to listen.  Our world is full of noise and we find sounds competing with our minds.  Hearing God’s voice means not listening to the noise of the world around us.  If we want to hear God we may need to be quiet and focused on what He is saying and prayer is how you begin a conversation with God; think of it as saying, “hello.” 

    We should also believe God wants to speak with us.  If we don’t believe God wants to speak with us, it’s likely we won’t hear Him.  Elijah was zealous for the LORD and found that God was not in the great wind, or an earthquake nor a fire but he heard God in a still, small voice (1 Kings 19:13 KJV).   

    King David provided us a model for meeting with God.  “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.” (Psalm 143:8 NIV)  David sought God’s direction at the beginning of the day.  You must find the time of day that works for you but morning is a perfect opportunity to spend time with God and Scripture says, “His mercies are new every morning…” (Lamentations 3:22-23). 

    Remember also that God has not only spoken to us but He used over 40 authors to record what He is saying to us.  Listening to God also involves regular Bible reading because the Bible is God’s Word to us.  Many people feel they don’t understand Scripture and a perfect opportunity to help with this is to be involved in Bible study and fortunately our church has many from which to choose.  Bible study can help you to learn to understand Scripture which will then provide you additional means to listen and hear God’s voice.

    Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27).  We also need to position our hearts to hear Him.  Practice being in the presence of God.  Practice recognizing the other ways in which God speaks to us.  God can and does speak to us through nature, through practical situations and through our everyday surroundings. In Proverbs 24:30-32 God spoke to Solomon through a practical experience, “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles covered its surface, and the stone wall was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it; I looked on it and received instruction…”  He was passing by the field of a lazy man and received wisdom from God.  If we maintain a listening ear we may discover that God speaks through and about many things as we go about our everyday life.  I have often felt God’s presence in the beauty of a sunrise or sunset or as I stood on the shore of the ocean or as I looked upon a brilliant red leaf.  Taking time to focus on God’s creation affords us terrific opportunities.

    God also speaks to us through godly teachers.  Have you ever been in church or a Bible study and felt like the teacher was speaking directly to you?  God may use others to speak to us including teachers as well as other Christians.  Pastor Rick Warren noted that if we learn His Word and stay in tune with God sometimes God will use you to say things to people that He wants to say to them.  God not only speaks through pastors and teachers, God speaks through every believer at different times.

    Many of us speak to God but we never stop to listen or we don’t develop listening skills.  Jesus said, “He who has ears, let him hear.” (Mtw 13:9).  Solomon prayed for God to give him a hearing heart (1 Kings 3:9). Many translations say "understanding heart" in that verse but the Hebrew word translated "understanding" in that verse is shama, which translates to hear, understand, listen or obey. Pray that God will give you a hearing heart, then listen and obey.

    Spending time with God and spending time in His Word enables us to fellowship more with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit lives inside us and may be speaking to us more than we realize. Jesus said, "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you" (John 14:26).  If you seek God, you will hear His voice. You don't necessarily have to be in a quiet room to hear from God. Your soul just needs to be quiet and focused on Him. Listen with spiritual ears and an understanding heart. You can hear Him!

    WedWednesdayJulJuly5th2017 Wisdom
    byDr. Tom Neal Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    The following blog is reposted with permission from Dr. Thomas J. Neal. See the original post on the Neal Obstat Theological Opining blog.



    I had a conversation with a monk yesterday. His gracious demeanor encouraged me to say to him, “Can I speak with you.” He agreed and we sat down in one of the parlors. If I had to guess, I’d say he is around 80 years old.

    I asked him questions. Lots. His responses were delivered very matter of factly, without much affect, though at times with a wry smile, which made them even more penetrating to me. Here are some of them, apart from the questions, as I meditatively wrote them down later.

    Yes, I came to this monastery more recently. 1968.

    I tell young men who express interest in our life, “If you’re ready to work 9 hours a day six days a week, pray 7 times a day, be a vegetarian, live in close community the rest of your life with the same brothers and become a saint by battling temptation to the very end (I tell them this because they can think coming here rids them of worldly temptation), then come and see who we are.” I tell them that the early desert monks called monastic life the “martyrdom of conscience,” because our martyrdom is within. If God is calling them, all of this will give them joy. If not, then not. Some these days just seem interested in whether we are an orthodox community or not, but I say this is not enough of a reason, i.e. that we are orthodox. You must be ready to die to yourself and follow the Lord.

    Be careful, your prayer can become so introspective. How well am I praying? How far along am I? Am I progressing? How is God acting in my soul right now? Why don’t I feel anything? Why am I feeling this? Is that God speaking to me? What did He say? Though we might do this kind of thing with our spiritual director to get his wisdom, or maybe at the end of the day we might reflect on what happened. But if we do this frequently in our prayer time, than it is no longer prayer that we are about. It’s navel gazing. True prayer gets lost in God. Is about God. Or gets lost in the needs of those we pray to God for — though even then it’s about God as we speak to Him of them. Prayer is not a time for self-analysis or for conjuring up the right emotions that please us. That is exhausting! We speak to God, we ponder His Word, we listen in silence knowing that His voice comes to us primarily not in ideas or words but in its effects in us — joy, peace, courage, patience, chastity, a desire to forgive, a willingness to carry the cross.

    As you grow in maturity in prayer, you stop overthinking what’s happening or not happening in prayer. Like learning to ride a bike, you know you have mastered it when you no longer think about all the details of how to do this or what this feels like. You just do it. You forget about yourself and the bike. The bike becomes part of you, second nature.

    Prayer is not some sacred thing you do amid all of your other secular activities. Prayer is just part of your life, your whole life. Prayer is life turned upward. It’s woven into everything as you are speaking with God, listening to His voice, sensing His presence all around you. In everything. Not just sweet and nice things. But in everything. Dullness, monotony, celebration, liturgy, illness, manual labor, study, manning the cash register in the gift shop. Us right now speaking. He is here. Can’t you sense it? Nothing special about what we’re doing. He’s just here.

    During the prayer time set aside each day, which you must, you use a prayer method to develop a habitual disposition that spills out into all of life. During these times you practice riding the bike, and when you get up from that prayer time to go into life you just ride the bike. St. Augustine says, “To pray without ceasing you must pray often.” This is what he means. You practice methods consistently and frequently and then all of your life catches the rhythm.

    It’s easy to use prayer for things other than God. We use it to get feelings, to get results, to give us peace of mind, or for some cause we believe in. All good things. But these can’t be the point of prayer. Too easily prayer can become a subtle or not so subtle attempt to manipulate God. To use God to get what we want, to be on our side. No matter how good. We think we know already what God wants to happen and how He wants it to happen, and now we will use prayer to make it happen. And if it does not happen we become disappointed or angry, because what we wanted was not His will but ours. In the three temptations of Jesus in the desert, Satan wanted Jesus to use prayer; to use the Father to get pre-determined results. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus struggles between getting the result He would like — “let this cup pass” — and surrendering to the Father’s will — the crucifixion.

    If you are praying for your enemies, for your ideological opponents, the greatest result of that prayer is not simply their conversion but your deepening love for them. That even as they make life harder for you, you find yourself deepening in compassion and mercy toward them. Maybe even loving them the way St Paul did and wishing that you were cursed and cut off from Christ if only they could be joined to Him [Rom. 9:3!]. The point is that prayer that is truly about God makes you like God.

    This is a remarkable thing. Gethsemane means that all prayer offered to God is answered, responded to — without exception — but the divine response is surprising. Unexpected. Pope Francis frequently says this. But every divine response always leads to resurrection. To an unexpected good that surpasses what we thought was best before. God’s answers to prayer come both in this world and in the world to come — multi-dimensional. So much of what our prayer obtains we simply cannot see. We can’t see all of the dimensions God acts in. Prayer that is able to consent to God’s surprising answers is true prayer. Yes, I still must ask, beg God for whatever it is I see as good — “let this cup pass” — but I must also allow God to choose how He wishes to deal with the cup I speak with Him about. In Jesus’ resurrection, the cup overflowed beyond what was only good for Jesus Himself in the moment and flowed out into all of humanity. The Eucharist is the overflowing cup. But if Jesus had only been satisfied with being spared of the cup of suffering, we would have nothing to drink from to give us eternal life.

    Such a mystery, God!

    WedWednesdayJunJune21st2017 This is My (Crazy) Story
    byMarissa Neil Tagged No tags 15 comments Add comment

    This is My (Crazy) Story…Crazy for God

    God is calling me to Ministry.  I am not sure exactly what that means yet, but I know it is true.  And I have been wrestling with it and resisting it for a while.  I feel the pull in my heart, but my mind is not quite there yet.  It doesn’t really make sense to me.  I still feel so new to this faith.  The whole thing seems a little crazy.

    I did not grow up in church.  I was baptized as a baby, and I remember attending one Sunday School class in first grade.  And that’s about it.  As a teenager, I attended some services with friends and with my grandparents.  But I was always uncomfortable in an itchy dress, afraid I would sit or stand at the wrong time or say the wrong thing.  I have lived a very secular life. 

    Sometime in my early 30s, after a conversation with friends about religion, I asked my husband, “What does it mean to be a Christian?”

    And he answered, “Well for one thing, it means that you believe Jesus is the Son of God.” 

    And I remember thinking “What?!  Seriously?!  That’s really crazy!  Do people really believe that?! Do you believe that?!”

    My curiosity was peaked.

    When I was pregnant with my first child, I was really sick and I had to quit my job.  I did not have many friends locally other than work friends, so suddenly I was isolated.  I was lonely and afraid.  I felt like I was supposed to do it all on my own and I had no idea how to do that.  And then I felt a Presence, an overwhelming sense of love and peace and strength, a hand on my shoulder saying, “I am here.  You are not alone.”

    That’s when I began my journey toward Christ.

    When my oldest daughter was three years old, we started looking at Preschools.  We checked out Creative Learning Center (CLC) here at FUMC Grapevine, but I was unsure.  It was an older building; no computers in the classrooms; it was not bright and shiny like the competition.  But Rick knew it was right….because of the smell.  Yes, the smell.  It reminded him of his church and his Sunday School.  And because of the teachers and the old buildings.  It seemed a little crazy to me, but he knew.  So we trusted.  And it was good.  It was very good.

    Once we decided on CLC, we decided to check out the Worship Services here.  We had wanted to find a church home, but never seemed to start the search.  The first service we attended here was on Easter 2007.  Ken Diehm handed out orange bracelets that read, “Do all things without complaining.” (Philippians 2:14) 

    “What? All things?”, my mind exclaimed.

    Again, I thought, “Wow!  This Christian thing is really radical, because that is crazy!” 

    But Rick Mang played the guitar and Ken gave his amazing sermons and we kept coming.  So the following Easter, a year later, I mentioned to Rick that maybe we should join the church.  But he said he was not quite sure yet. 

    So I suggested, “Well, if we are not ready to join this church, maybe we should keep looking.” 

    He responded, “I don’t want to look at other churches.  I like this church.” 

    And we joined.

    In the meantime, not only was the Preschool great for my daughter, but it was great for me too.  I was home with my youngest daughter, who was one, and I was still sick with a lot of food sensitivities and probably some undiagnosed depression.  Pickup time was the only adult conversation and interaction I had all day.  Those few minutes on the front lawn of the Preschool with other tired mamas were the highlight of my day.  And then one day, a fellow mama mentioned the Bible Study class she took with Kenda Diehm.  I was curious, but I did not own a Bible.  So I went to Mardel and asked a lot of questions about the different versions and bought myself a cute pink women’s devotional Bible.  I was ready.

    I had never studied the Bible before.  I had never even read the Bible before.  Kenda was starting a study on Exodus, which was handy for me.  I just had to read Genesis, one book, and I would be caught up.  So I started reading.  And I have to say, I was truly shocked to see that Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was really a story in the Bible.  I had always heard the story, but I never knew that it was really scripture.  Wow!  Again, I thought, “This Christian thing is kind of crazy.”

    The Creation story tripped me up a bit too.  I had been raised on evolution and never considered another option.  My aunt came to visit from a small town out of state and wanted to go to a “megachurch”, so we went to a service at one of the larger churches in the area.  The sermon was about Creation, and I remember being shaken. 

    “Can’t we just ease into this a bit.  Do we have to start with believing that God created the entire world?  That seems like a big leap for a beginner.  It’s a bit crazy.”

    So another year goes by, and I’ve been in worship services listening to the Ministry Moments talk about needing Children’s Sunday School teachers.  I had been volunteering at my daughter’s school and was really enjoying it.  I was interested in working with the kids at church, but I didn’t have much biblical knowledge.  (I was only through the first two books at this point!)  But after two years of listening to the plea, I finally said, “Yes”.  Again this seemed a bit crazy.  How would I teach kids about the Bible when I knew so little about it?  But the ad in the video said, “You just have to be willing.”  Okay, I am willing.

    I started ‘teaching’ my daughter’s Kindergarten class, but I had to demote myself to Preschool when it became glaringly obvious that the Kindergartners knew more than me.  It was around Easter and we were playing a trivia game, but there were only questions, no answers.  As teachers, we were supposed to know these ‘easy’ kindergarten facts.  One of the questions was about the Garden of Gethsemane.  I didn’t know the answer.  I didn’t know what it was, and I certainly didn’t know how to pronounce it.  Luckily, I was team-teaching with someone who knew the answers.  So I demoted myself to Preschool the next fall, and taught my youngest daughter’s four year-old class every Sunday for a year.  Consequently, most of what I know about the Bible I learned in Preschool Sunday School as a 40 year old.

    As I read the stories and the lessons each week, 90% of the time it was the first time I had heard the story.  I had to look up each one to learn who the author was and the context of the story.  But in addition to learning Bible stories, I also learned that God was giving me the ability to see the message in a story or a situation.  And God gave me the ability to explain that message so others could understand. 

    This was the beginning of my ministry.  God equipped me to share His truth, in spite of my lack of knowledge and lack of experience.  It was crazy.   

    I taught children’s Sunday School for a few more years.  I also helped with Children’s Choir.  I love helping children worship and praise God.  I’ve helped with VBS.  Again, I love helping children discover God and fall in love with Christ.

    And then recently, I’ve moved into Adult Ministry, which is much harder for me, much scarier.  Kids are pretty forgiving, but that’s not always true with adults.  Most of us want to be forgiving and full of grace but we are so busy and over-scheduled and tired to truly be kind.  We don’t really have time for inexperience.  So I have been more guarded.  I have been resistant to ‘Leading’ or ‘Teaching’ adults, not believing that I have anything of value to share, not wanting to waste their precious time.

    But I still love helping others discover and draw closer to God.  I love Spiritual Formation, which teaches us how to be quiet and listen; to create space in our lives and in our hearts for God to work His amazing work. 

    And now I’m being called to this big scary thing.  This crazy, radical thing.  To create space in my life for God to mold me.  To create space in my heart for God to do His amazing work.  To just say “Yes”.  To follow. 

    My word last year was ‘Surrender’, but I was in denial for the first part of the year.  I told everyone that my word was ‘Faith’, which is a much more gentle word.  I knew it was to be ‘Open’ and ‘Trust’.  So I’ve been praying and worshiping with my hands open, hoping that my heart will follow the example.  Open to Receive, Open to Give, Open to Trust that God is big enough.

    Mid-year I finally admitted to myself that my word was really ‘Surrender’.  That’s a tough word.  It’s a radical word.  But it is what God calls us to do.

    This year my word is ‘Confidence’.  Confidence in God, Confidence in myself, Confidence in the work God has already done in me, Confidence in the work God will continue to do in me.

    As I surrender to my call and gain confidence in God’s equipping, I will start Seminary in the fall at Brite Divinity School (TCU) so I can continue my crazy, radical journey toward Christ.

    This is my crazy story, this is my crazy song, praising my Savior all the day long.

    Dear Loving and Faithful God,

    Nurturing Mother and Father,

    Majestic Creator,

    Almighty Lord of Lords –

    Thank you for being radical.  Thank you for helping me follow You even when it seems crazy.  Please continue to give me the confidence to surrender to Your will and Your path.  And thank You for Your unending patience when I resist.

    Please catch me when I fall, and guide me when I fly.

    In Jesus holy name I pray,

    Amen.

    WedWednesdayJunJune7th2017 Buttery Days
    byTresia D. Eaves, MHR, PMP Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment
    Don’t you enjoy those days that seem to go by as smooth and silky as room temperature butter?  When you take your kids to school and everyone cooperates in the line, takes turns, and is respectful of everyone’s space and property?  Or when you have a dinner party and the recipes turn out just right? As we experience another glorious change in the seasons, I am reminded to appreciate the days like butter.  Because there aren’t as many as we’d like.  And we can enjoy them in the “here and now” rather than dreading the all-consuming heat, or mosquitoes, or sweat that comes next. Life is messy and we need to enjoy those “buttery” days because then there are days when someone tries to break into your house when you are away on vacation and the only thing that scares them off are your two very large dogs.  Or, when a random kid picks up a rock and hits your youngest child upside the head for no apparent reason.  Or when someone we love gets cancer and they suffer and we are faced with the prospect of this life without them.  Many days are not smooth like butter but in all the days of our lives, we must remember to give thanks for our blessings and focus on our glorious God.

    Recently, in our Faith Builders Sunday School class, we studied how to get through the stressful times with a multi-step approach: think first (about all the good things in our lives, about what is our role or responsibility in what is happening), be grateful/rejoice (about what is good and right in our lives, in having God’s support to get us through always but even in the darkest days), and pray about the issue (give it to Him, really let it go, forgive, give grace, trust in the plan).  It’s important to say thanks to God on “buttery” days, not because you are waiting for the “not-so-buttery” days when you feel you need His grace more but because your relationship is a constant and your consistent praise should be as natural as conversations with Christ.  In Pathfinders, we talked about prayer about how the love of God is constant.  It is a roaring stream in the undercurrent of this world.  When we pray, we are plugging into that stream to share our thoughts, feelings and to listen to what comes from those conversations with God.

    When I was younger, I imagined my relationship with God having a big scoreboard up on high.  When I did good things, the points for my side went up as if I was storing up points for goodness.  As I’ve matured in my relationship with God, I realize there is no scoreboard.  There is also no emotional bank account (like in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey) where you have to “feed” the meter in order to collect on good things you need in the future as we do in our human relationships.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to savor the “buttery” days because I want to live in the moment.  He’s got me, He’s got this and He’s got us so I can just relax and enjoy instead of worrying about what comes tomorrow, or the next day.  My anxiety has declined and my sleep has improved, and my joy has grown exponentially since I’ve arrived at this conscious state.  On the not-so-buttery days, I still have peace and although I still have anxiety and worry, it is part of being human and I can push through the pain to find joy in the smallest things.  When my heart hurts, I still feel His peace and I don’t blame Him or alienate Him because of the pain, as I did in my younger years.  This is a fast-paced world with much to worry our hearts and minds. I pray you find peace in your busy life, both on buttery days and more on the tough ones.

    “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13
    TueTuesdayMayMay23rd2017 Six Years Later…
    byAngie Vaughan Tagged No tags 3 comments Add comment

    Galatians 6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

    I remember the date February 26, 2011.  On this date, a small group of adults from our congregation departed for Costa Rica. Seven days after the sudden death of our senior pastor, this group left with grieving hearts and questioning minds about the definition of “Costa Rica Village.” I imagine that as this team prepared to leave, their tasks ahead resembled a puzzle.  I also imagine their shock and disbelief that they had to begin solving this puzzle without one piece.  The tragic loss of Ken Diehm and the news that this team would persevere in their mission meant one thing:  Our congregation would pray for them without ceasing.

    This past March, I had the blessed opportunity to go on the junior and senior high school mission trip to Costa Rica.  Six years later, this is what I found:

    • In a small church, in the village of Las Juntas, I found a congregation of people who call us “family.”  As members of this church reflected over everything we have done for them, tears of gratitude streamed down their beautiful faces.  In six years, we have formed powerful friendships with people around the world!
    • In a small church, in the village of Las Juntas, I found a congregation of people who trust us and love us in big, mighty ways.  Imagine the pure joy I experienced when learning that a young teenager of this congregation will simply wait for us, for long hours at the church, when he hears the “people from Texas are coming.”  In my mind, I truly believe he waits for our “Texas-sized” hugs, love and compassion.  In six years, we have offered this young teenager a lifetime of joy, hope and love.
    • At the Methodist Children’s Home, in the city of San Jose, I stood with Ray Zirkel, one of our missionaries, near one of the highest points overlooking their beautiful property.  He paused and simply said, “This was Ken’s vision.  It is just as he wanted it to be.”  In six years, we have helped to redefine the meaning of the word “orphanage,” creating a sanctuary of happiness, security and love.
    • Finally, at the Methodist Children’s Home, in the city of San Jose, I learned how much the team of workers constructing new buildings depends on our work.  In six years, we have consistently shown up, engaged in assisting with the “hard stuff,” and committed to helping them reach new, exciting goals.

    I am filled with overwhelming pride and gratitude for the Costa Rica team of 2011.  They planted seeds.  They persevered.  Perhaps, more importantly, this team taught me a valuable life lesson.  We all have our own puzzles.  Sometimes, those puzzles are missing a piece or two, and we question if the puzzles are even worth keeping.  I believe we need to keep them.  As we journey through life with these different puzzles, we need to trust that everything will be okay.  God is big enough to fill those empty spaces.  He will complete the puzzle in His perfect timing.  Our faith in Him means we should never give up.

    Quiet Corner for Spiritual Formationby If you’re looking for ways to build your personal spiritual muscles, Spiritual Formation is meant for you. Periodic class offerings and blog posts help individuals with their personal “soul tending” and provide guidance in areas like prayer, meditation, fasting, solitude, study and other spiritual disciplines. A new entry will be posted on Wednesday of each week.
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