CONNECTIONS

One of my all-time favorite passages is where Jesus talks about the importance of staying connected to Him, in John 15, with only a few of those powerful verses here: 

“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers… “

Though it is one of my favorites, it’s a really difficult one these days, when our physically connecting with one another is so important to our “abiding” in Him– seeing Christ in each others’ eyes, feeling His presence in a holy touch.  Yet now we can’t.  So how can we abide in Him under these circumstances?

Through much of the history of the church, we have the model of the spiritual powerhouses who were hermits—living often for many years in all but complete isolation.  On such monastery we saw while in the Holy Land was literally on the side of a mountain, where people outside the monastery provided for the few hermits’ need there with baskets on a rope.  At least we’re not in as isolated a situation as that!  Yet many of those were mystics whose spiritual insights still move us many centuries later.

Their idea was to try to remove distractions in order to focus on and abide in Christ.  Yet even in our isolation with this virus, we would tend to prefer to fill our lives with distractions instead.  No wonder it can be difficult to abide in Jesus, when it’s too easy to abide in the TV or other distractions. 

Perhaps these coming weeks can be an opportunity to re-discover quiet times with God, a bit of time in the morning or evening to read and meditate on scripture or other spiritual tools, or to re-learn the art of writing—either in a spiritual journal, or as a way to reach out to others in safe ways.  So as some of us are working on being creative in how to cultivate worship from a distance, I would encourage all of us to also be creative in how we find ways to abide in Jesus, even in this pseudo-hermit phase of life.

Keep being a blessing—Pastor Jim

True JOY

While the song says “‘Tis the season to be jolly,” it sure seems to be the season for a lot more these days.  Networks and media outlets ever putting out more content, so products of the season seems to grow and evolve all the time.  But one of the continuities that seems stable as ever—and unfortunately, even more stable than the role of Jesus in the holiday named for Him—is JOY.

The cynical side of me says “JOY” has this staying power largely because it’s such a short word that can easily be shaped into countless products to be sold over and over again; maybe that, too is part of how God works in mysterious ways!  JOY is certainly a word deeply embedded in our Bible, so it is very much a God word—remember how “the JOY of the Lord is my strength,” and of course this month’s memory verse: “Always be joyful because you belong to the Lord. I will say it again. Be joyful!” (Philippians 4:4 [NIrV])

Perhaps JOY, then, can be our secret witnessing tool this season.  With it being such a powerful word both for the season and for our faith, it can easily become a part of any conversation.  It’s a powerful word, yet one that can also seem to be very elusive, especially for people who have lost, or who may have never had any real sense of rootedness, or purpose for anything other than an endless search for “happiness.” 

Ages ago, St. Augustine—who started out his life as a rich boy chasing happiness with plenty money to buy it. Eventually he realized and put the words into prayer, “our hearts are restless until they find our rest in You, Lord.”  Likewise, centuries later, a brilliant Enlightenment era mathematician named Pascal put it a bit differently to say “inside each of us is a God-shaped hole” that is never satisfied until we fill that hole with our relationship with God. So, that emptiness that many feel, often heightened in this season, is an integral part of the human experience.   It is a part of how God made us in His plan to bring us all to Him.

The nugget of wisdom my mom sent me off with when I left home for the Navy, was a short tool for how to remember the source of JOY—put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. That’s how you find JOY!  I don’t know how to wrap it up and put on a nice little bow, but consider this little nugget your Christmas present this year, and one you can freely share as much as you would like, without ever having to pay shipping!

Merry Christmas- Rev. Jim