Christmas Eve

The Kingdom of God is a past promise seen from Genesis throughout the Old Testament, a current reality and at the same time, a future hope. As we celebrate Christmas we are reminded that in Christ, both the prophecy and the promise was fulfilled. With Christ's birth, ministry, death and resurrection, we were called into an adventure rooted in the love of God and His call on our lives to be imitators of Christ.  We live in the Kingdom knowing that we have the promise that we will do greater things than He, not in our own power, but, in trusting dependence on the God who supplies all our needs and equips us for every good work.  Rorh reminds us that it is not we who provide for God, but, God who provides for us.  We celebrate the gift of Christ and in response to the gratitude we feel we offer ourselves to the work of the Kingdom. J. S. Bach signed many of his musical manuscripts Soli Deo Gloria; To the Glory of God Alone. May we live each day to the Glory of God Alone, as we eagerly await the final fulfillment of His Kingdom. Merry Christmas.
 
Soli Deo Gloria,
Shera

Fourth Wednesday of Advent

“But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” (Mal 3:2)
 
Rohr bases today’s reflection off of Malachi 3 and 4.  I encourage you to read them for yourself.  
 
Rohr is  right to say that “goodness is its own reward and evil is its own punishment” (p. 86).  But there is more to the story … in the Apostles Creed, we proclaim that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.  
 
The image of Jesus as judge in itself does what Rohr is unwilling to let happen - confront us with a bigger picture than we are used to; convert us to an alternative worldview (though fear is not always a low-level motivation - in fact, Jesus commands us to fear God); and console us and bring deep healing.  
 
Who can endure the day of his coming?  Only when we recognize the power of our just God will we be able to know what true forgiveness and healing is.  
 
I leave you with Malachi 4:2, which is echoed in verse 3 of Charles Wesley’s hymn, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.  
 
But for you who revere (fear) my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.  
 
Grace and peace,

Bailey

Fourth Tuesday of Advent

Rohr drives home his three “P”s:  power, prestige, and possessions.  And he asks in conclusion:  “How are these keeping us from the kingdom.”

Our culture values all three, not knowing that they are the very thing that might trip us up from actually working with God.  In a world of “who you know,” “what you know,” and “how you use what you know,” God sent his Son as a model of weakness, humility, and poverty.  And it was that Son who pointed us to eternal hope!

God is in the business of finding us in our lostness in these three “P”s and transforming us into givers, servants, and lovers!  Come Lord Jesus.

Pastor Craig

Fourth Monday of Advent

In today’s reading, Rohr highlights the commonalities of the major world religions, and how contemplation and “transformed consciousness” is one of them.  
 
I affirm that as followers of Christ we are called to love those who believe differently than we do.  This love includes treating others with respect and dignity.  It also means that we can affirm our common beliefs and practices.  This is important in a day whereby we are dealing with radical forms of jihadist Islam among other world challenges.
 
But loving people of other religions does not entail that all the religions are the same or that they all have a common goal.  As Christians, we believe that there is a king of kings.  We believe that our Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father.  We believe that he will return and that EVERY knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.  It is not arrogant to believe this, and it doesn’t mean that we think we are better than anyone else.  It simply is to honor God for who he is and to remember the status and power of Jesus - in whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given.  
 
The end-goal of the church that Jesus breathed his Spirit into is not to simply join other religions for some greater goal called “union” or “world peace” or even a “new history”.  The end-goal of the church is to be followers of a Jesus who will execute his justice (making things right) to the nations upon his second visitation to the earth.  
 
Let us worship THIS king this Advent season. 

Grace and Peace,

Bailey

Fourth Sunday of Advent

When I set out to seminary to attain my Masters of Divinity degree (a name that is truthfully and oxymoron, since mastering the divine is impossible), I expected that my theological education alone would bring me closer to God.  I thought that if I could learn more ABOUT God, then my faith would be greater and I would feel His presence more.  
 
What I learned was that while knowledge about God is important, there is no substitute for experiencing God through prayer, scripture reading, and acts of faith.  
 
Mary and Joseph were uneducated and not qualified by the standards of this world to bring the Son of God into this world.  But by kingdom standards they were perfect.  They were righteous, full of faith, and courage.  Roar concludes that “their only safety net was God’s love and mercy, a safety net they must have tried out many times, or else they would never have been able to fall into it so gracefully.” (p. 69)
 
Most of us know enough about God to be a part of his kingdom … what we need is a willingness to trust him when He calls us to do the unconventional.

Reflect: In what ways do you trust your own inner authority?  Do you fear you are being rebellious if you do so?  Were Mary and Joseph rebellious? 


Grace and Peace,
Bailey

Third Saturday of Advent

“There are more healings of lepers than any other kind of story in the four Gospels.  Jesus is always healing lepers … he pulls them back inside of social acceptability.  That is the healing!” (p. 74)
 
The great exchange - Jesus touches lepers and becomes unclean, while lepers are cured and then sent either to the priest to be declared clean and therefore “acceptable” again or sent to another community altogether.  Sometimes Jesus even stands up to bullies to restore people’s standing in society.   This is love. 
 
Is there any decent parent who would not make this exchange with their own child?  What parent would not take their child’s cancer onto themselves?  We parents know this to be true, yet we sometimes find it hard to believe that God loves us (and others) all the same and even more! 
 
Yet, here is Jesus, who leaves the village to touch lepers and thus becomes unclean. 
 
This is love … this is the great exchange.
 
Reflect: Who do you know who has been rejected from your community and who you can reintroduce and thus heal? 

Grace and Peace,

Bailey
 

Third Friday of Advent

“The only way that we become convinced of our own sense of power, dignity, and the power of God is by actually doing it -- by crossing a line, a line that has a certain degree of non-sensicalness and unprovability of it -- and that’s why we call it faith.  (p.62)
 
How do you NOT want to be remembered?  Envision your own funeral … what do you NOT want people to be saying about you? 
 
For me, here is one example … “Bailey was a man who always practiced common sense.  He never took a risk.  He always played by all the rules.”  He played it safe and preserved his life up to the end.  He never did anything considered dangerous.  He was always perceived highly by others and never did anything that was considered crazy.”
 
This eulogy speaks of a boring and faith-less life, and it is one of my fears that I will end up living a life that is too safe, predictable, and of little use to God’s kingdom.
 
Faith requires risk.  It involves foregoing all the safety-oriented training that has been crammed into our little brains and hearts since our parents told us not to play too close to the street.  Somewhere in life God will call you to venture out in a way whereby you have no idea how you will provide for yourself or take care of your stuff like you have in the past. 
 
In faith we let go of our plans so that we can open up to God’s plan.  This is both easy and hard all at the same time. 
 
Reflect: What actions can you take to more fully realize the power of the Spirit? 
Grace and Peace,

Bailey

Third Thursday of Advent

“The kingdom will never be a private ego possession of anyone … it is always an invitation, just enough to draw us deeper.  Just enough of God to make us want more of God, but God is always in the driver’s seat.” (p. 59)
 
On holiday / vacation trips Randa and I assume different roles.  She takes on the burden of packing for the children, and I do most or all of the driving.  Randa is just as good of a driver as I am, and I trust her driving with all our precious family cargo on a daily basis.  However, in those moments when she is in the driver’s seat I discover the control-freak inside of me.  I find myself tempted to tell her how to drive … “watch for that pothole” … “you are making me nervous” … “you are going a bit fast”. 
 
Of course, this is a two-way street (pun intended) as Randa periodically dishes out her own driving tips while I am behind the wheel! 
 
In our honest moments, most of us will admit that there is a control-freak inside each of us.  We all prefer to be in the driver’s seat of our lives. 
 
And the kingdom of God requires that we ride passenger, or maybe even in the back seat.  At first this can create anxiety.  But when we learn to trust the driver, then life actually becomes less anxious than if we ourselves were driving. 
 
May God give us hearts to let Him do the driving while we pay attention on the journey.
 
Reflect: In what ways does your goal orientation keep you from the journey to the goal itself? 

Grace and Peace,

Bailey

Third Wednesday of Advent

“We all have to start by forming a self-image, but the problem is our attachment to it, our need to promote it and protect it and have other like it.” (p. 54) 
 
I like to present myself as a person who is competent and unaffected by the criticisms of others.  I tend to cover (protect) this image through withdrawal and subtle humor.  When others disagree with or criticize me, I tend to externally minimize while internally I am disturbed. 
 
This disturbance reveals the part of me that is attached to my self-image rather than the part of me that is rooted and grounded in Jesus. 
 
I believe that God allows our fragile self-images to be picked apart as an opportunity to replace that self-image with God’s image in us.  Thus, these moments of defensiveness can be means through which God shapes us - if we humble ourselves.

 Reflect: Which of your self-images (positive or negative) get in the way of your relationship with God?  Whenever we get defensive or go emotionally up and down, this is a sign that we are attached to a self-image.  
 
Grace and Peace,

Bailey

Third Tuesday of Advent

“Once we agree to see our own shadow side, our own foolishness, our own sin and still know that God has not abandoned us, we become a living paradox that reveals the goodness of God.” (p. 51-2)
 
I confess that there are places in me that are perfectionistic.  Perfectionism is a form of self-righteousness whereby we try to justify (save) ourselves rather than accepting the grace of Jesus. 
 
The prostitutes and tax collectors knew they were beyond self-saving.  They had no illusions about where they stood before God.  Thus, they were going into the kingdom before the so called righteous. 
 
This form of self-righteousness is the danger of being good church people.  We must always stay in touch with our contradictions - our sin - so that we may continue to throw ourselves upon the altar of God’s grace. 
 
Lord Jesus - come - have mercy on us.  Amen. 
 
Reflect: Can you name at least one of your own inner contradictions?  Do you think God can still love you?  Can you love yourself? 

Grace and Peace,

Bailey

Third Monday of Advent

Paradox is a reality of life.  Walking with Jesus will often create more paradoxes rather than resolve them.  As Rohr says, Jesus rarely answers our questions.  Instead, he “leads us right onto the horns of our own human-made dilemmas, where we are forced to meet God and be honest with ourselves.” (p. 50)  
 
The easy way is to ignore the paradoxes of life or pretend they don’t exist.  But to ignore the paradox is to ignore God - the Creator who is also creation - the holy one who demands righteousness and yet offers forgiveness - the one who kills and yet the one who gives life.  In the paradox we meet God.  May you engage your paradoxes this Advent. 
 
Reflect: What are the seemingly irresolvable paradoxes in your life?  How do you deal with them emotionally?  Intellectually? Spiritually? 

Grace and Peace,

Bailey

Third Sunday of Advent

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.  Isaiah 61:1 

If Jesus had a mission statement, this would have been it.  For in his very ministry this is exactly what he did.  

When you read “oppressed”, brokenhearted”, “captives”, “prisoners”, who do you think about?  

Do you ever consider yourself to be among these groups of people?  I confess that often when I think of oppressed, brokenhearted, captives, or prisoners, I tend to think of others.  

But how can Jesus fulfill his mission TO us if we fail to see how we are in some ways oppressed, brokenhearted, in captivity, and imprisoned?  

I am not in any way suggesting that we adopt a victim mentality, as many in our culture do.  What I am suggesting is that we humble ourselves to see our need for a savior … our need for the Spirit of Jesus to bring healing and mending to our hearts and the strained, dead, or even hostile relationships and conditions of our lives.  

Reflect: What divisions exist in your life?  How can you let the Spirit mend those divisions?

Grace and peace,

Bailey

Second Saturday of Advent

The challenge of this devotional reading is that there’s no place to hide.  Jesus’ call for us to let go of anxiety over “stuff” and to find strength in singleness of mind…priority of focus.  Not just any focus, but letting God’s mind direct our lives…the kingdom of God.  “Seek ye first” is easy to sing and talk about, but difficult to do, because our lives have no margin.

We are so busy and consumed that our schedules and roles and things and worries fill up our lives past the normal margins all the way to the edge of the page.  We take work home, we answer emails and messages 24/7, we stare at devices either waiting for notifications or creating them.  No down time.  Not much space to just be.  Not enough time and space to let our mind absorb the heart of God, to let our lives be directed by his love, or to let ourselves be shaped by his grace.  No margin.

This season, create some margin.  As I write this devotion, I have closed my office door, I have made time and place to read and reflect, and I have been blessed to let the fast pace of this year slow down to an intentional crawl, even if for an hour…just to create margin.

Jesus will find you in the margin!

Pastor Craig

Second Friday of Advent

I like how Rohr points out that Mary did not earn her role in the script.  She was approached by the angel, and her doubts morphed to surrender.  She was hovered over by the Spirit (literally in the Greek) and she went from being virgin to theotokos.  No special credentials.  In fact, the opposite was true for this young woman of Nazareth.

Spiritual formation is not something we earn or deserve.  It is more about being mastered by Him than mastering a set of disciplines or roles or doctrines.  The depth of self is discovered when we are opened up for a visit and a calling and a role that is not us at all…but that we sense is divine.  That was Mary’s ministry, and it was launched in grace.

Join me in opening ourselves up to God’s grace, his voice, his touch, his visit, his dealings, his transformations, his directions, and his challenges so that God’s will might land in the deepening parts of self in each of us.

Pastor Craig

Second Thursday of Advent

All too often we hear what we want to hear.  We read into print what we already think.  We interpret what we see through our pre-suppositional filter until Jesus heals us from our deafness, our narrow-mindedness, and our blindness. Yes, I’m in the group in need of healing all of the above.  What Rohr calls dualistic thinking has artifacts in us once the right issue rolls around.

The filter we use is most often tied to labels we have embraced and labels we use.  Labels are quick and dirty ways to categorize people.  Labeling ourselves and living into that label--conservative, liberal, Texan, American, Democrat, Independent, etc.) is not a deep form of living and thinking. If we can put each other in a category, we may be able to deal with each other more readily.  We think if we can label people, we already know what they will say, do, write, or think..  This becomes the filter for our listening, reading, and watching others.  It’s just a form of control that America applauds. but it is control nonetheless.  Jesus calls us to love people, not control people.

Losing the labels is the beginning of spiritual formation.  Spirituality seeps underneath labels to the inner space that labels cannot touch.  Spirituality is the self discovering itself as whole, loved, forgiven, empowered, affirmed and free of labels.

As Jesus often said, “Let the person who is able to hear, listen up!”

Pastor Craig

Second Wednesday of Advent

Light and dark are symbols taken from the real world to help us interpret that same real world. The darkness of destructive evil is too real; we see it’s trail of devastation each day in the news. We repent of it in our own lives as sin surfaces in each of us. And we let the Spirit filter out that darkness by his sanctifying power.

Darkness is the only place light has to go! Philosophically, they must both exist. Darkness sprints out of the room when light appears. And when the Light was born, darkness got ready to run…on your mark, get set… Jesus birth, life, and cross did not rid the world of darkness, but he became the Light that was powerful enough to win.

I think this is always both a personal and a community question. We must let Light win in us if we are to be shaped by grace into servants and leaders. And we must invite Light to chase away social darknesses such as terrorism, poverty, and human trafficking lest we think that the Light only came for us.

What darknesses have we yet to let the Christ child uncover in us? In our families? In our businesses? In our structures and community? How can we let light win in us today, even to the point that chronic darkness becomes obsolete and powerless? How can this season be used by the Spirit to bring light into dark corners of social injustice?

Pastor Craig

Second Tuesday of Advent

Rohr’s chaplain stories help us connect with a side to our lives we seldom see…the broken side, the humble side, the “no place but up” side, the lost and receptive side.  It has been said that anyone can commit any sin, and that we are all one bad decision away from our own incarcerations.  We all need to get in touch with this side of our lives…the broken side.

I believe that the incarnation makes most sense when we can find that side in ourselves so that we can be fully open to a God who would come all this way for us…for me…broken…in need of love, mercy, and direction…in need of the grace that is Christmas.

Pastor Craig

Second Monday of Advent

Come to me, all you who are digitally weary, and I will give you rest.

I can picture Jesus voicing that today…perhaps in a tweet.  Perfect place.  Because he knows that the weary ones…most of us…have so let ourselves be valued by the model of our cell phone, the size of our hard drives, the speed of our wifi, or the number of apps we use.

In the midst of that digital, electronic frenzy we push for how many things we can do, conversations we can carry on, and information we can master all by sitting in one place and using our fingers on our devices.  We feel lonely without a constant stream of notifications, and we feel exhausted by them at the same time.  And there’s a weird sense of withdrawal and disconnectedness that happens when our batteries are down to 0%.  Odd.  That’s exactly the measurement of the soul too!

Jesus’ birth marked a new way to measure value.  It’s not digital.  It’s just love.  Powerful, lasting, deep, and satisfying love.  That’s what came into the world.  That’s what the light consists of…the light that darkness cannot beat.  And that’s why Jesus’ tweet promises us rest from our misplaced values.  Real rest comes when we let God’s love speak into us through his Son.  There is wisdom and acceptance and mercy and hope and growth…all built into a device we call prayer where our spirits connect with His Spirit and he tells us “you are my child!”

Turn off your device for awhile.  Fast from your electronics and information.  Just let spirit connect with Spirit, and refuel!

Pastor Craig

Second Sunday of Advent

The scripture and R. Rohr point us to the John the Baptist story.  His birth and heritage, as captured by Luke, set the stage for how the gospel writers each link John’s story as the herald.  John was the voice that set the focus on another.  John’s story and character, though strong and unique in themselves, existed to point to the One who came after…the One whose worth exceeded…the One who was to increase while John’s presence faded…the One who was the Lamb of God.

It’s a great measure of our own spirituality when we set ourselves up against John’s model.  Ego is important to us, but maturity means the setting aside of ego for others.  Spirituality includes setting aside ego for God and others (“love God and neighbor”), and artifacts of our doing so become measurements that we are growing into John’s role…the role of pointing others to Jesus. So, evangelism has little chance in us until we are ready to lay aside self and point to Him.

This Advent, let’s take a few minutes to ask:  where I am learning to decrease so that Christ might increase?  Conversely, where am I insisting on center-stage or my own way instead of letting others come first?  And a corollary, how can dying to myself be an open invitation for the Christ Child to be born both in me and in my world?

Pastor Craig

First Saturday of Advent

Rohr asks us the question, “What misperceptions do you have about God’s Kingdom?”  Were I visiting with him, my reply would be that if I knew that my within my understandings of the kingdom was a misperception, I would not have a misperception.”  I find it strangely comforting that the Disciples, who were with Jesus for three years, day and night, had a hard time understanding the concept of His Kingdom both here now and not yet.  The Big Picture was just as murky to them as to me...and, perhaps to you, as well.  Despite the presence of Jesus on this planet, His example of the depth of God's love for us, and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, our version of the magnitude of the Kingdom of God remains a divine mystery and easily misunderstood and misinterpreted by our finite mortal understanding.
 
Of course, we read His word, pray and listen, but we must, to some extent, accept the reality of our lack of understanding this side of Heaven.  We must accept by faith, the perfect world which is to come while pressing on to become more and more like Jesus in the world in which we dwell now.  And we must, to the best of our ability, try to present as true of a picture of the Kingdom to a hurting world.  Perhaps knowing as Scripture reveals that, “now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now we know in part, but then we will know fully”, we should focus on making Christ known through our constant attention to letting God’s love rule and reign our every decision and every action. That would be a true witness to the Kingdom of God here and now as well as there and then.
 
 
Soli Deo Gloria,
Shera