One of Jesus' most beloved passages on prayer has a rather odd twist to it:
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Why did Jesus use the metaphors of snakes and scorpions? Of course he is making a dramatic point that we have a good heavenly Father who only gives good gifts, but I suspect there is something more here. I shared this message last Sunday at New Hope Church--titled: When God's Answers Look Like Scorpions and Snakes. You can listen below.
It's hard to believe my last post was Easter. In case you wondered where I went, I've been teaching two classes for Fuller, plus rewriting my first book The Soul at Rest (to be released in 2018!). I've had so many moments when I wanted to blog about things that deeply matter to me, but it just hasn't been possible.
Today I am writing to share something very special. Joe and I have had the privilege of working with a Syrian refugee family for several months now, and I want to tell you their story and ask you to consider being a part of it. I've never used this blog or website for anything other than resources for your spiritual journey, but just this once I felt compelled to share my heart! Here then is their story.
When the war between rebel forces and the Syrian government made this family's home of Aleppo what can only be described as a living hell, Saleh, along with his pregnant wife Alia and their two small children packed what they could carry and began a trek across the desert, trying to reach Jordan. They walked for some 30 days, occasionally hitching a ride in trucks with goats and sheep, and every night they slept out under the open stars. As they drew near to Jordan, the danger increased, so they found an abandoned house, where they hid in darkness for 11 days, terrified they'd be found and killed by ISIS. Finally, braving the terrain and imminent risks, they worked their way to a camp on the border of Jordan that had become the home of some 83,000 other refugees like them. For the next three years they went through the incredibly extensive vetting process hoping to immigrate as refugees to the United States. Last October they made it to San Diego.
Joe and I met this beautiful family through a refugee sponsorship program and we have been getting to know them for several months now. When we visit, they always insist on laying out a beautiful meal for us, even during Ramadan when they weren't eating. They show immense gratitude for our friendship and any help we offer. A couple of weeks ago we took school supplies to the two older children and watching little Esraa's delight in a simple pencil box brought tears to my eyes. Their life is not easy. They do not speak English and Saleh, who once had a successful business as a builder, now drives an ice cream truck and waits daily at a car-wash, hoping they will need him. The U.S. government offers minimal help with food stamps and welfare, but also requires that they begin to repay the money that was spent in bringing them to the United States within six months.
While we have been very thankful for a dear Syrian friend at church who usually goes with us and translates, and also helps support this family, over the past few months we have begun to see that we need to bring others along with us on this journey. We hope some local folks can get to know our Syrian friends, but beyond that, there are financial needs we cannot meet by ourselves.
If you live in San Diego and want to join our team, please email me--we'd love to have you! For the rest of you, if you would like to give towards helping this family get established, you can do so through New Hope Church as a tax-deductible donation. Right now this family is about four hundred dollars a month short in income just to meet the bare minimum bills, and our goal is to set up a one year plan that will move them gradually on their own. They are working very hard to be independent, but the hurdles are immense.
Finally, we would ask you to pray for these precious people, and indeed all the refugees that are in the same situation. If you would like regular updates on how things are going, please email me--this is the only time I will post this on the blog. You can give through New Hope in any way you wish--a one time gift or some regular amount.
Here is how you can give:
Click here first. Once there, click on the "online giving link." Choose "Syrian Refugees" under the Ministry Donation link and complete the form.
You can also mail checks to:
New Hope Church
10330 Carmel Mountain Road
San Diego, CA 92129
It is quiet here this morning. Joe has taken the grandboys fishing and I am getting ready to rev up the preparations for our big celebration—26 plus friends and family—for Easter brunch after church tomorrow. But for now, I sit in the quiet, pondering those hours inbetween, that drawn-out day when no one quite knew what was to come, when Jesus was no longer in the tomb, but had not yet shown up to shock the world with His presence and shower humanity with resurrection hope.
I feel like I know these inbetween seasons so well… these times when one thing has ended, but something else hasn’t yet begun, when the old has been sucked away, but the new has not yet dawned with its expectant promise.
The inbetween is, for me, the hardest of all—when a hole in my heart waits to be filled, when an empty tomb reminds me that my future hangs in the balance. I’m living in the vortex of one right now, and not a day goes by that I don’t wait in silence before the Lord, wondering what will unfold…and when…and how. Anxiety threatens my peace, fear assaults my steadfast resolve.
I read a story once of a trapeze artist who said that the most agonizing moment in every show is when they have let go of one bar, but haven’t yet taken hold of the next. There, suspended in midair, they know nothing but the beating of their own hearts.
This, I think, is what this Sabbatum Sanctum, this suspension between crucifixion and resurrection represents for us. The inbetween...hanging midair with only the sound of our own heartbeat. Through the centuries, the church has labeled this day many things—Holy Saturday, Black Saturday, and the Great Sabbath. My personal favorite is just Easter Eve, the reminder that the inbetween I am living, though it can feel as if it will never end, will one day face the dawning of resurrection light. It always has. This is my hope.
In case you missed it: kandi pfieffer and i talk about what we love about jesus in our final lent live conversation.
Last year an old friend dropped me a line via email, connecting me with another friend of hers, because in her words, we "had some common threads." Her friend was Alicia Britt Chole. Since then the two of us have had some email and book exchanges and let me tell you, this woman inspires and challenges me. I love her deep humility and love for Jesus and the beautiful way she puts words together. As I started going through her book, Forty Days of Decrease for Lent, I wanted to get a little more from her--even an inside scoop on her own Lenten journey, so I asked her a couple of questions, and she readily acquiesced. I know you will be blessed by this guest blog. A little heads up--this woman will make you think! Oh, and she was once an atheist and now runs a spiritual retreat center with her husband!
You say in your book that God is more interested in what we are becoming than what we are giving up for Lent. Often it seems we can't tell what God is doing when we are engaged in various Lenten practices. How can we know we are "becoming" as a result of our fasts and not just giving things up?
What a great question! Becoming is, on one level, a function of sheer existence. The direction and depth of becoming, however, is a function of our focus. If the focus of our fasting is relational, I think our "becoming" -- i.e., coming into greater be-ing -- is assured. The good news is that our understanding is not the author nor the great assessor of that becoming. In other words, our becoming isn't on pause, awaiting the emergence of accurate vocabulary in our minds.
My comment: I think she's telling us that if we are focused on our relationships with God and others during Lent, we can be confident we are "becoming" or "coming into greater be-ing." That is such encouraging news. No matter how you think your Lenten journey has gone, cling to this lovely morsel!
How would you recommend we take the gains of Lent and invest them into the future? (People say they'd like to continue Lent practices, but we often don't).
I talk a lot more about this in my next book (The Sacred Slow: A Holy Departure from Fast Faith). As a spiritual mentor, I encourage leaders to live heaven-down. Earth-up living starts with what we can see and measure; with what we like and dislike. Many self-improvement lists and New Year's resolutions are created earth-up. Earth-up living gifts us with realism, but rarely with grace.
My comment: I can't wait to get her new book--coming out in September--preorder or read about it here!
To take the gains of Lent into the future, consider adding heaven-down living to such realism. Heaven-down living begins with listening prayer and responds with intentionality. A simple prayer, "God, what would please You in this season?" can guide us to focus upon components of Lent not for the sake of the components but because that's where Jesus' companionship is leading us.
My comment: The simplicity of that--listening prayer and intentionality--is captivating. My takeaway is that Lent is not a side road in our spiritual journey, but a continuation of what God has been doing in and through us--or where Jesus has been and is now leading us.
Love is what turns disciplines into offerings. With love, fasting is relational just as feasting is relational. After Lent, I will ask Jesus what would please Him as I head into our Spring/Summer. Though I probably will not hear anything audible or see anything tangible, I will have a longing, a leaning, a hunger, or an interest in a practice or purpose. Whether that looks more like the fasting of Lent or more like the feasting of Pentecost, if I do it with Jesus and in Jesus, I'm pretty sure that He smiles.
My comment: ...a longing, a leaning, a hunger, or an interest in a practice or purpose. Consider what this might be for you and press into it as Lent comes to an end. Then sit back and feast on the smile of Jesus! Thanks Alicia for some words that we can feed on for a long while.
IF THIS SHORT INTERVIEW LEFT YOU WANTING MORE:
Watch a video of Alicia talking about how to process pain in light of the cross here.
Visit her website and take a look around--great resources here!
As we enter Holy Week, I pray you will experience the wonder of redeeming love like never before!
Join me for my final Lent Live on facebook this Wednesday at 6pm. Click here.
THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET CHRISTIANS DON'T TALK MUCH ABOUT: If you missed last week, Kandi Pfeiffer joined me and I know you'll be blessed as you listen. It includes some great and practical teaching and I promise it will make you laugh!
The ancient Celts used to say that there are only a few feet between heaven and earth and at times, that distance can be even smaller. When this happened, they called it a "thin place." A thin place is that Kairos moment, that holy instance where God breaks in and we experience him in ways that are precious and transformative and impossible to describe.
Thin places can be our experience during majestic moments of communal worship, or in the sleepy solitude of morning prayer. Thin places often emerge through our encounters with nature; The roar of the ocean arrests our heart or the sound of birdsong captivates our soul or the wind in the trees immerses us in a holy hush.
While we cannot control how or when the space between heaven and earth becomes thin—that is the work of God’s Spirit—we can learn to be available and aware so that we do not miss these rare treasures. This has become harder and harder to do as we try to navigate lives entrenched in digital noise, immersed in the incessant chatter of our devices.
STEP ONE: list the ways you invite noise into daily life
You might be surprised at how immersed you are in noise-creating technologies. Walk through your day—what are your digital practices? How do you handle pings, beeps, and other notifications? How often is the radio droning on the background when you are driving? When is the TV playing? Make a simple list--don't judge yourself, just make the list.
step two: ask, 'what do i gain, what do i lose?'
Take a couple of minutes to assess how beneficial or how detrimental each noise-inducing practice is. Use a scale with -10 being extremely detrimental and +10 being extremely beneficial. Again—you aren’t judging yourself, but simply trying to make an honest evaluation.
STEP THREE: CHOOSE ONE THING FOR A NOISE FAST
Look at your list and choose one thing you will fast from for one day or more. Will you turn off smartphone notifications? Eliminate the radio in the car? Leave the TV off?
step four: listen to the silence
Don’t fill those quiet places with other kinds of noise or busyness, but seek to be still and simply listen. Hear your own heartbeat and the sounds of the world going on around you. Listen to the Spirit of God—does he have something to say?
step five: ask again, 'what did i gain or lose?'
At the end of the day, take a few minutes to evaluate how the fasting from that noise inducer helped or hindered you in your overall well-being and spiritual journey.
step six: CHOOSE SOMETHING ELSE AND DO IT AGAIN
If you have seen the real benefit of a noise fast, determine to make this a habit of life. Choosing to eliminate one source of noise every day will open up space for Kairos, for that place between you and heaven to grow very thin. These are the moments that make life the awesome adventure and holy wonder that God intends for it to be.
JUST JESUS: Click below to listen to my personal story of falling in love with Jesus (audio only)
LENT BEGINS MARCH 1, ASH WEDNESDAY.
Join me on Wednesdays at 6pm Pacific Time, for facebook live
to share your journey and be encouraged!
In my last blog I noted that Lent begins March 1, and shared one reason why practicing Lent is good for your brain and your soul. Find out another reason in the short video below!
It's not too late to order a book to help you on the journey. Here are a couple of options:
Would you rather inflict pain on yourself than be alone with your own thoughts? That was the question some researchers posed a couple of years ago. In an unusual study, they put people in a room alone with no devices for 15 minutes. But first, they had them them try pressing a button that inflicted a painful electric shock. This would be the only thing in the room with them. The researchers were not greatly surprised when people expressed how difficult being alone was, but they were stunned that over one fourth of the women and two thirds of the men ended up giving themselves a shock. Really? What would you do?
The reality is that our relationship with technology is making it harder and harder to be alone with our own thoughts. Indeed, for many of us, our smartphones have become another limb that we just can’t imagine doing without. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can have our devices and live a balanced life in which solitude and silence are like dear friends we run to for solace and support.
What does this have to do with Lent? Lent is a blessed season not only to focus on the life and death of Jesus and all it means for us, but also to let go of some things that have interfered with our mental, emotional and spiritual health. There are three reasons a Lenten experience can be good for your brain and soothing to your soul: The power of story, the power of experience and the power of repeated practice. I will share more about the first one today, and the other two in my next blog.
The power of story: Our brains are wired to connect with stories in a way that information or even good theology cannot provide. This is why we can hear a great talk or sermon and even take copious notes, yet a week later, all we remember is the story the speaker told at the beginning. Stories animate the part of our brains that retains memories, and thus are a powerful way to strengthen our spiritual understanding.
The first time I decided to really press into the story of Jesus’ final journey, I thought it would take me a month, but instead it took almost a year. I walked through every moment of the story, visualizing what really happened—what the atmosphere was like, the sounds, the sights, the smells, the emotions of the characters etc. That process truly transformed my life, and has continued to do so every year during Lent, as I walk with Jesus once again. I know this is true for many of you as well.
The profound reality is that Jesus’ journey to the cross is contains every element of our own lives, particularly our struggles-confusion, anger, fear, despair, betrayal, abandonment—the list goes on. As Scripture reminds us, Jesus is not a high priest who “cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are…” (Hebrews 4:15).
When we spend forty days focusing on the story of Jesus’ final hours, taking the time to meditate, contemplate and connect our own story to his, deeper neural pathways are laid in our brains, and our souls absorb the truths of the gospel far more powerfully than through any other kind of learning process. This makes Lent well worth observing.
My book, Contemplating the Cross, is a 40-day journey with Jesus in his final hours. Using narratives, Scriptures, and personal contemplative practices, it takes you into the heart of Jesus and connects your story with his. You can find it here.
I am also personally going through the book: 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger, a Different Kind of Fast by Alicia Britt Chole. I have gotten to know the author a bit via email, and love her heart and passion to help us experience the ways of Jesus. You can also find that book here.
(As I noted in my last blog, in lieu of New Year’s resolutions each year, I focus on a theme the Spirit leads me into. For 2017, my theme is “Abiding.” This is the first of a series of posts on my journey).
Ducking out of the rain into Marshall’s, I closed my rarely used umbrella and set out to find some warm jogging pants that I could work from home in. As I perused the vast array of choices, a typical conversation went on in my mind that sounded something like this:
You know you have one pair of jogging pants at home—why can’t you just wear those? Just because they aren’t the latest “jogger” style, why should you spend that money? You could give it to the poor. Think of all the people who can’t even come out of the rain because they don’t have a home like you—what are they wearing?
Slightly irritated, I argued back that I had every reason to buy a new pair of joggers and besides, other people would buy several pairs without even thinking about it and I would never buy those expensive ones—twenty bucks would be my limit. Conscience cleared, I found what I was looking for and went on my way.
The next morning, I asked the two questions I usually begin my prayer time with: Lord, where did I see you working yesterday? and Where did I miss you Lord? Immediately that shopping experience came to mind, but before I could tell God all the good reasons I bought those joggers, I sensed his gentle voice asking: “Why is it that you would rather talk to yourself instead of me about things like that?”
Taken aback, I began to think of how often I do that, interacting with what I will call my inner Pharisee, a term I think I first read in a book by Brennan Manning. You probably have one too—that voice in your mind that tells you what you should or shouldn’t do, shutting down arguments like a row of falling dominos. Through the years I've learned well how to argue right back, and often win, getting my way in the end.
As someone who longs to live like Jesus and become more like him, there are two huge problems with this:
You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.
The reality is that whether I bought those joggers or walked out empty-handed, the evil desires of my heart—things like greed or independence or selfishness or pride—would have stayed buried. I might have felt wise in my devotion and discipline, but remained in bondage to a god that cannot make me who I really want to be.
What does this have to do with abiding? Abiding means to live with my heart toward heaven, ever sensitive to the gentle whispers of the Spirit as I go about my day. That’s how I experience rest and peace and joy in God’s presence, things my inner Pharisee can never provide.
Does this mean I am supposed to check in with God every time I want to buy something? That’s probably a question only an inner Pharisee would ask. What really matters is; how connected with Jesus do I want to be, day in and out? I really do long to live as he lived, in close communion with my heavenly Father. This desire alone has the power to silence that inner Pharisee because it creates space for God to speak, should he choose to.
He doesn't always speak, but when he does, God often surprises me. That morning after my shopping experience, as I repented of listening to my own voice and serving my inner Pharisee, I pondered what would have happened had I asked God for guidance when I stepped into Marshall’s. In the silence, I sensed him saying: “I would have said, ‘yes, let’s find some joggers.’ I’m pretty sure if I’d listened, I would have enjoyed myself a lot more, and probably found a better deal.
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Tricia McCary Rhodes
Passionate about spiritual formation, slightly obsessed with technology and the soul, author of 8 books, affiliate professor at Fuller Seminary, wife of one, mom of two, grandma of four.