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    Quiet Corner for Spiritual Formation

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    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.

    WedWednesdayMayMay10th2017 Surrender
    byFred Rigdon Tagged No tags 1 comments Add comment

    In growing our spiritual character we try to establish a daily rule or way of life which includes practicing the spiritual disciplines throughout our day.  A central part of this is going to God in various methods of prayer and in the study of scripture, and asking for His help and guidance.  As much as this guidance helps us to live spirit-filled lives, and as rewarding as we find this deeper relationship with the Lord to be, many of us find it difficult to maintain our daily rule on a consistent basis.

    There can seem to be a number of reasons for this, such as letting people or events distract us or feeling that we just don’t have enough time in our day.  Sometimes, we are uncomfortable sharing something with the Lord, even though we know that He wants to be close to us regardless of what is going on in our lives.  Often, however, the real problem is that we are just unwilling to surrender to God.  We resist, whether out of fear, pride or preoccupation with worldly things.

    Surrender is hard.  We fear that it may mean giving up control over our time and our possessions and our independence, as we trust the Lord to determine our priorities and our actions.  We worry that He will ask us to do something that we don’t really want to do.  We resist admitting to ourselves that we are insufficient and need help, which goes against our prideful and self-centered nature.

    Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and He will come near to you.  (James 4: 7-8)

    We cannot become the person that God wants us to be solely through our own efforts, whether it be self-discipline or working harder or trying to make better decisions.  God has to be the driver.  We need to submit our lives to Him and allow Him to take them over so that He can do whatever is necessary to shape our spiritual character in a way that pleases Him.   

    As we become more receptive to God, we will see our desires gradually changing, as the Lord helps us to discern our true desire.  Our desire to please Him slowly becomes more important to us than our desire for other things that please us. 

    Discerning our true desires will shape our spiritual formation.  As Ruth Haley Barton said in Sacred Rhythms:  “It is not until after we have settled into our desires and named them in God’s presence that we are ready to be guided into the spiritual practices that will open us to receive what our heart is longing for.”

    WedWednesdayAprApril26th2017 Holy Habits - Examen
    byFred Rigdon Tagged No tags 1 comments Add comment

    Holy Habits - Examen

    One practice that I use to deepen and enrich my relationship with God is the Prayer of Examen, in which I look for God’s constant presence in my life. I take time at the end of each day to prayerfully examine the events of the day to detect His presence in those events and to discern His direction for me. As I practice this discipline, I come to see more clearly God’s presence and gain a deeper understanding of His purpose in my life.

    One method of the daily Examen that I have found, with the guidance of Annette Sowell, to be helpful is an imaginative prayer in which I can meet with Jesus and discuss things with him. I usually spend about ten to fifteen minutes each day in this prayer.

    I begin by finding a quiet place where I will not be disturbed. I relax for a few minutes and try to put aside any distractions, focusing on my breathing and becoming aware of God’s presence.

    I then begin to prayerfully imagine that I walk out the door of my house and through a gate in my yard to the street. I walk down the street, noticing the people and the sounds in my neighborhood. The street gradually narrows until I am walking on a dirt path which eventually leads through a wooded area. The path becomes more and more shaded and quiet, interrupted only by the sound of birds singing and squirrels scurrying. 

    Eventually I come to a clearing and ahead I see a small pond, with a couple of benches near the edge. I see Jesus sitting on one of the benches, waiting for me to sit down and begin a conversation with him. I review with him the events of the previous day including my responses to and the feelings that I had about those events. Jesus responds to me and helps me understand whether my responses were appropriate and where I might have done a better job of it. He helps me to see God in these events and to feel gratitude for the opportunities that I was given to serve Him, and that I am forgiven if I have fallen short in any way. One purpose of this practice is not to feel guilt but to resolve to respond more appropriately to similar events in the future.

    We then discuss my plans for the next twenty-four hours. I will ask for guidance, or wisdom, or strength, or sometimes all of these. I feel closest to Jesus when I am most honest with myself and admit to him that I need his help. God speaks to me when I am at my most humble. 

    We then say goodbye and I return through the woods and down the path and the street and through the gate and reenter my house. I sit in my favorite chair and I see God sitting in a chair across from me. I thank Him for all the blessings in my life and I ask him for guidance. While talking with Jesus feels like a friendly conversation, talking to God seems more like prayer. I think this is because, as Hebrews 8:25 states: Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

    When I have finished, I find it useful to record my thoughts in a journal and reflect on what I have learned from my prayer of Examen.

    For information on current Spiritual Formation course offerings, click HERE.
    WedWednesdayAprApril5th2017 Ask, Seek, Knock
    byDr. Tom Neal Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment

    Ask, seek, knock

    by Thomas J. Neal, Ph.D.
    Reposted with permission | Original post December 27, 2016

    “God instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.” — Blaise Pascal

    “We pray not in order to change the divine disposition but for the sake of acquiring by petitionary prayer what God has disposed to be achieved by prayer.” — St Thomas Aquinas

    “When we share in God’s saving love, we understand that every need can become the object of petition. Christ, who assumed all things in order to redeem all things, is glorified by what we ask the Father in his name.” — Cathechism of the Catholic Church #2633

    A number of years a go, a Catholic school teacher asked me why we ask God for things if He already knows everything we need. I wrote her a brief email later that I will share part of here.

    + + + +

    There are lots of reasons Christians and Jews give for why we petition God for various things. The core theological principle behind this practice is what I might call God’s proclivity for “shared governance,” i.e. that the eternal God, who created us in His image and likeness, wishes us to freely and actively participate in the unfolding of His providential care for creation.

    Because God is not simply raw power, but is love, it is His nature to include in His unlimited power a “space” for our free cooperation (or free rejection) in that power’s exercise. And when the Son of God became man, He enshrined this “space” and made “shared governance” constitutive of all His action by eternally sealing human freedom to His own divine freedom. This blows my mind: In Jesus, God does nothing apart from human free engagement, and all He does is ordered toward evoking love from His free creatures. That said, we must keep in mind that God is always the initiator, and we are the co-operators. Which is why we never would ask God for anything opposed to His will. His governance, our sharing. That’s why we always submit our requests to His final disposition: “God, here is what I would like to see happen, I know you heard me and take it very seriously, but your will be done. Do as you see fit.”

    That’s really the whole Our Father in a nutshell, which is really one long string of petitions! (Obviously God digs petitionary prayer is that’s the model He gave us!) The use of “Father” at the start of the prayer reminds us that He’s out for our good and treats us not as slaves but as children. The first three petitions (sanctify your name, your kingdom come, your will be done) simply reiterate: God, it’s all about what you want; do your thing. Then the last four petitions spell out the kind of things God wants to do with us (feed, forgive, don’t let us break under pressure, free from evil). The Our Father sets our “shared governance” mindset for all other petitions.

    But there’s something really astonishing in this whole teaching that we cannot take for granted. There’s a priestly dignity the infinite God has given us that we should not take lightly, and should exercise with great reverence and love. Fear and trembling! St John of the Cross says that when we enter into the “union of love” with God, He “loves you with supreme humility and esteem and makes you His equal.” Equal! Not to become another, rival god, but to be allowed to share in everything He is. His life and love and power and beauty and mercy and kindness and fidelity and patience and purity and on and on and on. Even His omnipresence, as bi-location shows us! (I could use that one, God)

    One way to show reverence and love for this astonishing privilege of equality expressed through “shared governance” is to utilize it! We should be constantly asking for good from God on behalf of all and for all, all the time. Ceaselessly. If God is invisible light that wishes to be made visible in His infinite colors, then we are the prism He made to reveal to all creation His splendor. If God is invisible water vapor who wishes to water the earth and raise from it food to feed all, then we are the cloud that condenses His life-giving water and sends His rain on the earth. We do these by our lives and by our prayer! That’s a little strange, I know, but it gets at the general idea. :)

    To not petition God is to sinfully ignore our responsibility and privilege as His co-workers, as His active instruments, and to deny creation the good and mercy and justice and life and every other good thing He planned for others and all to receive through us. Parents who don’t pray for their children (living and deceased) by name every day should mention that in confession. Beginning with our loved ones and extending out to our enemies and everything else. Ask, seek, knock! beg! Plead! Relentlessly! The Scriptures are clear: perservere in petitioning God long and hard, with tears and sweat and sleeplessness. And the more our prayer “costs” us, the greater our capacity becomes to receive what he wishes to give, both for ourselves and on behalf of others. An Orthodox Rabbi I met in Connecticut said to me, as we discussed the meaning of Advent: “We Jews get praying with patience for God to fulfill His promises. Three thousand years praying for Messiah to come, and still we wait.”

    And pray big, like St Isaac the Syrian asks us:

    What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

    WedWednesdayMarMarch22nd2017 Creative Lenten Practice
    byAddi Payne Tagged No tags 0 comments Add comment
    Growing up, I always thought that Lent was about "giving up" something whether it be candy or soda, etc., but as I grew up I discovered what "taking something on" meant. This Lenten season, I decided to be more intentional in my scriptures. Everyday I've been choosing a new scripture to focus on and pray over. I really love this journaling Bible, because I can incorporate something I'm very passionate about (art) into my faith. I have definitely had a rough past couple of years, but through all of this; I've learned that God's love will not fail. He will be with me through all of my fears and failures. His love extends to the heavens and His faithfulness reaches the skies. I am amazed every day by His grace, and I cannot wait to see how this season will change my perspective and grow my faith even more. 
    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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