Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's Greetings!

(from the Pastor's wife, Janet)

Just wanted to greet you all before New Years and thank you once again for your wonderful support these past months. Your prayers have been a warm blanket of love, and sharing through these electronic updates has been a joy and a comfort to me. Connecting with many of you through the "written word" has been such a blessing! The computer has it's limitations, but the blessing of communicating with all of you on a regular basis, makes up for many of its downfalls...

Both the pastors' lunch and the New Day open house the week before Christmas went very well! And the prep for those really moved along some of the house projects which was exhausting and satisfying. Basement living area, curtains, and the slate floor smoothed and sealed were the biggies. The list is finally dwindling away - YEAH!

There were about 20 of our potential New Day community and 6 other helpers who joined us that Sunday in spite of the awful snow the day before and the bitter cold! The best part was introducing 3 families to each other - each with 2 kids, babies 3-4 months old and toddlers age 2-3. It was so great to watch them interact and connect. We had met with one of the couples this fall about baptizing their baby, and after Sunday it looks like one of our preview worship services in the spring may include not 1, but 3-4 baptisms!!! (We laughed when we discovered that the baby girls are Cameryn and Kameryn born 16 days apart!) The comment that touched my heart was how few people they know in Big Lake and how nice it was to meet other families. That reinforced our belief that the need for fellowship and Christian community is great in these young families in this area. Motivating and challenging at the same time!

May the hope that comes from celebrating our Lord's birth bring you peace and joy this Christmas and through the new year...

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Emptiness of God

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas ... our freshly-cut balsam is up; the greens have been strategically hung above the cupboards; the snowman cookie jar has come out from hiding; but something is missing ... We found the straw, the manger frames, and even the star (which we hang with clear fish line from the ceiling), but where is the rest of it?! Where are the ceramic nativity figures: Mary, Joseph, the shepherd with his sheep, the kings, the camel? Everything else made the move with us over the summer; how could the plain white box (slightly bigger than a large pizza) nestling the precious holy family not be with the rest of our junk? We’ve gone through every square inch of our house about ten times, called everyone who helped store/transport pieces of our lives last summer, and even dreamed about it in our sleep, but to no avail. Help! We’ve lost Baby Jesus!

My outer world is often a reflection of my inner world. These days, my soul feels remotely satisfied with my Advent preparations, but it is also fighting off the stress of this world, this season, and this job. Doubts, inadequacies, and frustrations creep a little wider into my soul, like the ever expanding hours of darkness of Minnesota Decembers. And even though I am exercising more (thanks to my wife and our new membership at Anytime Fitness), my spiritual exercises have temporarily gone into sleep mode. Where is the light of the world for my spiritual winter? Help! I think I’ve lost Jesus!

In his book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, Wayne Muller reflects on my condition in this way: So when we see Jesus withdraw from the press of the crowds and retreat to a place of rest, he is not simply taking a well-deserved break from his useful but exhausting ministry. He is honoring a deep spiritual need for a time dedicated not to accomplishment and growth, but to quiescence and rest. His disciples cannot comprehend his leaving – there are still lepers to heal, blind that need to see, and the hungry to be fed. When Jesus slips away, they run about in search of him -- doesn’t he realize there is much good work to be done?
Soon enough, Jesus rests in death. Like a seed planted in fertile ground, he must die to bear fruit... And so Jesus dies, and lies dormant for three days. Without this dormancy, the resurrection of new life would be impossible.
If God raised Jesus in three days, surely he could have been raised in two, or one, or even been made invincible. So why sentence him to death for three days? Because everything, even the anointed of God, must rest, even in death.
Unless the grain falls into the earth and dies, there will be no harvest. These three days are necessary dormancy of a Sabbath, an emptiness in which Jesus may be reborn, and take on a new form. All form is either arising or falling away. And between falling away and arising again, there is an inevitable dormancy, the
ein sof, the emptiness of God. (pgs. 58-59)

And so, I give you no reports on accomplishments of late, nor visions of events to anticipate. Instead, today’s blog gives us permission to be empty of God and spiritually distant from Jesus for a time. For who knows? Perhaps all of this is part of God’s spiritual rhythm, part of the preparation of Advent itself. May a necessary dormancy take hold of your life so that in the emptiness, Baby Jesus may be reborn, and what for a time was lost can again be found.