The Way of Peace

 

Advent Candles 2

“I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue.”  Pope Francis

The theme for Advent this year is The Way of Peace.  This year we are using the traditional weekly Advent themes to emphasize the Way of Peace.

  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Hope
  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Love
  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Joy
  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Peace

Peace 2

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”  Mother Teresa

In our world today, peace seems to be in short supply.  Our world is noisy, demanding, overloaded with information and technology, filled with ongoing world discourse and multiple situations in own country that fly in the face of all that is peaceful.  What does it matter if we seek a way of peace for ourselves this Advent?  How will it make a difference in the world?

I boldly say it makes a vast difference.  Just as loose change adds up to dollars, small bits of peace dent the noise around us.  Peace begets peace.  Peace can be something as simple as a smile.  When you smile at someone, they will return the smile.  When you say hello, they will respond in kind.  Physiologically, these acts send good nutrients to our brains.  A kind act of peace will encourage the other person to do the same.  Some of my most tender and remembered moments have been when someone has visited an unexpected kindness on me or when I have shown a small kindness to someone else.  When we realize we belong to each other, no matter our differences, we are headed the way of peace.

There is no path to peace

Our own peace reflected outward is how we create peace in the world.  Seeking peace in ourselves and in our worlds – that is peace.  Choosing to respond to our world in a way of peace and not anger or indifference, is peace.  Meaningfully finding ways to accept our own life, wrapped in a context of peace, is peace.

Peace doesn’t mean to not have chaos or angst.  All of us have parts of our lives that are not how we wish them to be.  Peace describes how we respond to the chaos and the angst.  Peace is the God in me seeing the God in you and letting that vision rule my heart and my responses, knowing peace is the path.

Peace I leave with you

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

During the Last Supper, Jesus prepared his disciples for a world after he has left them.  Thomas asks how they will know the way to him if they don’t know where he is going?   Jesus answers, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”  He goes on to say if they love him, they will keep his commands.  He promises that God will give them help through the Holy Spirit, who “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  He tells them, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”  And finally he tells them, “Peace I leave with you and my peace I give you.”

This Advent, we will reflect on the way of peace. As we ready ourselves and our hearts for the baby Jesus, we will consider Jesus’ life as a guide to the way of peace.  We will look for ways to walk in peace in our daily lives, in our prayers, in our own keeping of Jesus’ words.  We will look for the way of peace through hope we can offer others.  We will explore the way of peace by the way that we love, by remembering we belong to each other.  We will exult our way of peace through the joy we find in His world and the joy we scatter for others.  Finally, we will share the way of peace by showing the peace that flows within us and recognizing that peace in others, knowing peace is the path.  When we come to the night when the star shone bright, we will stand in the sanctuary, singing Silent Night, Holy Night while the peace of God wraps around us, sending us on our way knowing the true gift that is Christmas.

Peace Be With YouPeace Be With You  Song Link

Life so full I give to you
As the Father sends me so I send you
Spread my light throughout all life
Peace be with you


Dear God,
Ready us, as we journey again through the Advent season, preparing our hearts to seek Jesus through his peace.  Still us, so that we can absorb your peace and not stay the same.  Let our hearts rest in your peace so we can whisper it into our days.    HelpPrayer candle us keep it close in our everyday, reminding us, challenging us to act in peace. Hear our thanks in our songs and our prayers for bringing us a tiny babe that granted us your unworldly peace.  In Glory, Amen.

 

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Advent Devotional Dedication and Gratitude

Advent 5Each year, I write the Advent devotional as my way of giving back to my faith community that fills my life with so much love, peace, hope and joy.  Last year we did excerpts from the devotion each day on this blog.  This year, each day’s entire devotion will be posted here.  The devotion in its entirety can be found at Complete Advent Devotional Link

This year I have dedicated the devotional to three friends whose journeys have embodied everything that goes in the container called faith .  I also have to say thank you to the people who help me along my devotional way.  Below is the dedication and gratitude pages from the devotional.

Dedication

“I come before you today,
And there’s just one thing that I want to say;
Thank you, Lord
For all You’ve given to me, for all the blessing that
I cannot see
Thank you, Lord;
With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.”

***

Gratitude walks with me every day.  I think it always has because I can’t remember a time without it.

Okay, maybe the year my mom insisted I be a Dutch girl for Halloween, wooden shoes and all. I wanted to be Superman.  My fingers got slammed in the car door as I tried to get that crazy multi-layered skirt in the door without the shoes falling off my feet.  I may not have been hand in hand with gratitude that day.

I have a sign in my writing room that says, “You cannot be grateful and bitter.  You cannot be grateful and unhappy.  You cannot be grateful and without hope.  You cannot be grateful and unloving.  So just be grateful.”  The author is unknown but I’m pretty sure it was scripted by God.

He will be our peaceThis year, I have been blown away by the upbeat spirits of three friends faced with harrowing winds.  Their smiles are not manufactured, their peace is not manmade, their steady faithfulness tethered by a strong belief in prayer is powerfully real.  Micah 5:5 says in part, “And he will be our peace.”   I know this is true because I have seen it in the eyes of my friends.  These three have been my stalwarts of grace, a bottomless sea of buoyant belief that has made my own faith bolder and are my sweet inspiration for this devotional.

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jen and I

Jennifer has been a friend for a long time.  She lives in California, I’m in Minnesota.  We don’t talk daily.  Often we go months without speaking.  She gave me a figurine many years ago that sits on my kitchen counter.  It’s an angel, tiredly leaning into the crook of a star that says, “Believe in your dreams.”  It nudges me when I’m slipping in the muddiness of life.   There is a scripture in Thessalonians that says that we should encourage each other and build one other up.  That’s Jen – everybody’s cheerleader.  Even when we tease her about it, she refuses to be any different.

Her breast cancer diagnosis in her mid 40’s last year was a sucker punch for us all.  The woman is vivacious, spirited and energetic.  Cancer tried to take that away from her just as her husband tried to take away her cell phone when she was in the hospital.  Cancer and her husband had a lesson to learn.  She has discovered how to fight for herself, for her health, for her life, for her family.  But it’s not a bitter battle.  Her battle plan is her faith, laced with a strong conviction in the power of prayer.  Part of the plan rests in a gentle acceptance of every possibility.  Her cancer will not define her and she resists every limit it tries to put on her.  She has a robust family life, raising three teen boys and filling her home with extended family.  Her career is manifested by helping people, teaching people, inspiring people.  I have loved this woman for years but this last year has given me a keen appreciation of what she means to me.  The depth of her faith has powered mine deeper.

***

Greg and I have been friends for a long time too but I’m convinced we met in heaven before we were born.  To look at us, you’d never know we shared a soul.  He is a black, married, gay man from Louisiana.  I’m a white, married, straight woman from the Yankee netherlands.  We finish each other sentences as we teach together, can share ideas with a look and know each other’s heart intimately.

Greg and Paul

Paul and Greg

When I learned he had stage 4 colon cancer, I wept.  Then he told me how this was going to go.  Replace my tears with prayers.  Firmly focus on his recovery as nothing else was acceptable.  His mom, his grandmama, his kids, his husband and his siblings had all agreed that a large part of his treatment was going to be positivity and powerful prayer.  The doctors could bring on the medicine for his body but we were doing all the soul work.  His sister started a GoFundMe Page and sold t-shirts that read, “Life Him Up!”   When you look him in the eye, you know his belief in the power of prayer and God’s healing strength goes all the way to the inside of his big toe.   When fundraising became critical so he could get into a highly expensive treatment, we all prayed and shared his story endlessly.  An anonymous donor contributed all the necessary money for the treatment.   When he told me the news, his smile, the joyfulness in his voice, the gratitude for a stranger’s generosity, the sense of God, resonated in my soul and brought chills to my skin.

***

We have known Amber since she was a teen.  She took a GED and turned it into a law degree as a single parent and a captain in the Army.  Last year at this time, she was thrilled to pass the bar and begin her law career.  Tonight, she is sitting in a Denver hospital in the NICU, watching over her daughter Hannah and grieving the loss of Hannah’s conjoined twin Olivia.

Amber Tristan Savannah

Amber, her son Tristan and daughter Hannah

The unexpected pregnancy last winter didn’t change her plans to build a law firm and a great life for her and her 6 year old son.  She was prepared to go forward, with or without the baby’s father.  When the baby became babies became conjoined twins, the father favored termination of the pregnancy.  Amber soldiered on alone, despite medical diagnoses that said her daughters would never be viable, that she was endangering her own health and the proclamation that they wouldn’t deliver her babies in their hospitals.  Her inquisitive, brilliant mind allowed her to understand all the medical terminology flung around by doctors all across the country, comprehend the legalities and ethics of the decisions the medical community had to make and find the one place in the country that was willing to give her daughters a shot at life.  But one abiding belief carried her beyond it all.  Amber believes pugnaciously in the power of prayer.

When she was no longer able to work and terrified she wouldn’t be able to support her son, she launched her GoFundMe page.  We shared her story with our own circles.  And the power of God swirled up a miracle on my Facebook page.  Once Greg learned that the anonymous donor was going to cover the cost of his treatment, he chose to shut down his own GoFundMe page.  Upon learning about Amber and her babies, he turned the spigot of his circle’s prayers and funds onto Amber.

His loving and happy generosity, in the midst of his own crisis, reminded me of a scripture a Sunday school teacher taught me in elementary school.  I could only remember part of it but the internet remembered the rest for me.  2 Corinthians 9:7 says “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  Greg’s spirit, joyfulness and quiet peace has brought me to my knees in gratitude for his presence in my life.  In days, Amber’s fund grew from a couple hundred dollars to thousands.  The love and caring of strangers for this young woman we love like a daughter filled me with a joyful hope.  God, again, proving to us that love shows up when we believe and pray.

Amber’s tenacious belief in the power of prayer and her soft spoken gratitude brings fortitude to my own faith.  I really thought my faith was lock, stock and barreled solid.  Her gracious example, in the face of every parents’ worst fears and then some, caused me to challenge myself to go to a deeper place with God and allow my vulnerabilities to live in that relationship.  In turn, it has brought me to a more candid place with the world about my faith and my heart.

***

This devotional is dedicated to Jen, Greg and Amber whose commanding faith has graced my heart.  It is in memory of Olivia, whose face I came to know and Dedicationrecognize in sonograms and who sits on the crook of a star in the heavens, watching her sister, brother and mom, whispering, “Believe in your dreams.”  It is in honor of Hannah, a feisty little spirit whose determination to live should propel us all to gather up piles of gratitude for each breath we take.  I am blessed to have them in my world, to inspire and challenge me in my faith and how I show up in the world.  They have changed me, changed my heart, changed my life.

 

In Deepest Gratitude

Gratitude 3“I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.”  ~William Shakespeare

A tremendous thanks to Pastor Kris for believing in me enough to let me continue to do this Advent devotional.  I have no formal education in religion or ministry.  Yet, she agrees to my doing this work of love each year.  Her example this last year, celebrating and grieving her mom, teaches much about grace and grief.  Easter is tremendously fortunate to have a woman of her insight, faith, compassion and joie de vivre to lead us.

And to Cindy Wilson, who does so much more than make this devotional be a printed page or a web link.  Even when facing her own hurdles this year, she championed me through the writing.   Her photos, her humor, her gentle spirit encouraged me in ways big and small.  To know Cindy is to smile.  The God in her is amazing.

Lastly, to my husband Chris, who journeys with me, ever supportive and always kind.  He makes strangers laugh and inspires those who know him with his gentle and helpful heart.  When you look in his soul, only love resides.  This fall, as I undertook the writing of this devotional, I became seriously ill and was hospitalized for nearly two weeks.  Every day he was there, filling the sterile hospital room with his warm strength.  When I was home, he cared for me with a heart only God could plant.

Each year I learn how much I don’t know in the writing of this devotional.  I discover songs and artists that slam my heart with love.  (Don’t miss Christmas Eve’s song.)  It strengthens my faith, builds my commitment to letting the God in me see the God in others and opens my eyes and soul to the many ordinary miracles that fill my each and every day.  It changes the eyes through which I see this world.

With much love and a humble thanks to all.  May you have a blessed and rich Advent.

thank you

Thank You Lord”  Thank You Lord song link

I come before you today,
And there’s just one thing that I want to say;
Thank you, Lord
For all You’ve given to me, for all the blessing that
I cannot see
Thank you, Lord;

With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.

Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord,
Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord;
Thank You, Lord.

For all you’ve done in my life,
You took my darkness and gave me your light
Thank you, Lord
You took my sin and my shame,
You took my sickness and healed all my pain
Thank you, Lord

With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.

Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord,
Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord;
Thank You, Lord.

How Sweet

Today’s reflection written by Chris Cairo: 

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me….”

The first time I remember hearing these words was at my brothers funeral. I choked up as we sang this song then and don’t think I managed to finish singing it. Even today this song has the power to (figuratively) bring me to my knees. (And it should, for all of us.)

Do you know the words to this song?
How about just one word: Grace?
Do you know ‘Grace’, God’s grace?

Grace: (def) “unmerited favor”

God’s light shines on us, His love envelops us, even though we have done nothing to earn or deserve it. That’s God’s grace.

I can’t remember which of my boys was having a temper tantrum, but It was a full all out screaming, crying, kicking, thrashing tantrum….something had him mad, sad, and furious all at the same time. I remember picking him up and holding him tight. And the crying and screaming went on for awhile. And then the screaming turned to sobs, and finally, exhausted, he lay in my arms.

This is how I picture God’s grace with us…through everything we go through, good or bad, in sickness or in health, through all our frustrations, loneliness, through and despite all our sins, His arms are around us as we thrash about in life, holding us tight, restoring us to peace.
He is there for us always, even though we have done nothing to deserve Him or His love.
That, is Amazing Grace.

( Listen To Soweto Gospel Choir sing “Amazing Grace” on YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoJz2SANTyo   )

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see. 

 

 

Easter member Chris Cairo wrote the above reflection as part of his special ministry to college students and others, in which he writes to them on a monthly basis to encourage their faith to thrive in their daily lives.

Better than Minnesota Summer?

Today’s reflection is written by Easter member Jamie Larson:

Summer flowers--Julie McCartySummer in Minnesota–the time to get out and explore the best of our great state! While out on a drive, I saw an open house sign welcoming visitors and produce market advertisements displaying choice food selections. State and county fairs likewise are promoting noteworthy grandstand acts. The radio names a recently chosen Olympic city where the best in their sports will meet in the future. I am alerted to the expanse of the sky by a low-flying plane overhead, forcing my gaze to the sunshiny blue sky. What a wonderfully beautiful day!

As great as it all is, it is hard to imagine it could be any better. Not to be unappreciative of the bounty God has provided to us here on Earth, but the residence to come in the next life transcends even the most picturesque island and most lavish hotel.

Yet, that has been laid out for us and our future. I think it is most eloquently stated in a favorite youth group song entitled “Big House” by Audio Adrenaline. For those unfamiliar, the song describes how wonderful Heaven will be and how it will not only meet but exceed every need we may have:

I don’t know where you lay your head / or where you call your home
I don’t know where you eat your meals / or where you talk on the phone
I don’t know if you got a cook / a butler or a maid
I don’t know if you got a yard / with a hammock in the shade

I don’t know if you got some shelter / say a place to hide
I don’t know if you live with friends /  in whom you can confide
I don’t know if you got a family / say a mom or dad
I don’t know if you feel love at all / but I bet you wish you had!

Come and go with me to my Father’s house …
Come and go with me to my Father’s house …

It’s a big, big house / with lots and lots a room
A big, big table / with lots and lots of food
A big, big yard / where we can play football
A big, big house / It’s my Father’s house

All I know is a big ole house / with rooms for everyone
All I know is lots a land / where we can play and run
All I know is you need love / and I’ve got a family
All I know is you’re all alone….so why not come with me?

Hear the song on YouTube:

 

YouTube link:  youtube.com/watch?v=M4WwQxmtb-s

I am proud to be part of Easter, where we are taking the impetus to invite others to “come along” and to be included. We are doing this with outdoor services, school partnerships, open community meals and outreach to Feed My Starving Children. We are a church organization, originally, but also really truly an integral partner with the community far beyond the expanses of our buildings–reminiscent of the song “We are The Church…”

The church is not a building, where people go to pray,
It’s not made out of sticks and stones, it’s not made out of clay…
The church it is people, living out their lives,
Called, enlightened, sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ
.

That’s US!   🙂

And I think God is excited and guiding us. Just as He knows each of us and our days and our directions better than our own, Easter too as a mission for his Word is being guided in its calling, empowered in its direction, and blessed to be a blessing to those around. Thanks be to God indeed.

Easter member Jamie Larson lives in Eagan and has a special love of dogs, eagles, and spending time with her family.

 

God’s Great Dance Floor

Today’s post is written by Vision Board member, Chris Cairo:

IMG_3904Recently my wife and I went to the Chris Tomlin / Tenth Avenue North / Rend Collective concert: it was awesome. I’m posting some pictures, but you will have to go to my Facebook page to see/hear the videos (there are 12, as I got carried away).

This was our second concert within a week, as we had gone to Maroon 5 on the previous Monday. Maroon 5 had a lot of energy, but this energy was different.

I cannot begin to explain the feeling of being at a concert with over 10,000 other Christians:

Everyone singing.
Hands raised to God.
Praying.
Worshipping God.

IMG_3964

God created us to be in community, with Him, and with each other.

My favorite song of the evening? “God’s great dance floor”:

“I feel alive, I come alive
I am alive on God’s great dance floor”

The Target Center was alive!

The energy last night? In Matthew 18:20 it says; “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”

The Holy Spirit maybe? Yeah, I think so.

IMG_3963

“I feel alive, I come alive
I am alive on God’s great dance floor!!”

Where or when do you feel alive with God??