Fruit of the Spirit: Day 2 of 11

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The Fruit of the Spirit – Living a Spirit-filled life

 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” -Galatians 5:22 (NIV)


Day 2: Remaining in Christ

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. - John 15:4-5 (NIV)

How do we bear fruit? Before we look closer at each of the nine fruit of the Spirit, it is important to be clear about how this fruit is produced. It would be easy to look at the list and beat ourselves up for the qualities that we wish we had more of. But the fact is that we cannot make ourselves more patient by trying to be more patient; we can’t make ourselves more gentle by sheer willpower; I would even argue that self-control is a thing that’s ultimately beyond our control.

In John 15:4-5, Jesus uses the imagery of a vine and branches to explain to his followers what they must do to bear fruit: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Later in that chapter Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit--fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)

So while it’s valuable to meditate on the fruit, our job is not to manifest that fruit on our own. Our job is simply to plug ourselves in to Christ, each day, to remain connected to the vine. When we are plugged into the source of our power and growth, our true nature as fruit-bearers will emerge, and the fruit of the Spirit will grow out of us naturally.

But how do we remain in Jesus? For years I had an (almost) daily routine of reading the Bible and praying. I would spend these moments either in the evening or the morning, eagerly reading my Bible and devotionals (like this one!), then praying or writing in my journal, lifting my own prayer requests to God and praying for my friends and family. This daily “quiet time” is taught by many churches and Christian organizations, and is a great way to stay connected to God. But for me, and for many others, there comes a time when that connection feels broken. Some call this the Dark Night of the Soul. For me it coincided with a time of depression and other health problems, and difficulties making myself fit into the Christian organization I was working for.

I would still try to read the Bible and pray, but the words of scripture, which used to be so nourishing, seemed to have turned to sand in my mouth. After a long time of struggling, I discovered other types of prayer that worked better for me at that time. Among these were centering prayer, contemplative prayer, and Lectio Divina. These prayers involved less reading and active prayer, and more spending quiet time in God’s presence. They helped me to calm my anxious thoughts by accepting them and letting them pass overhead like clouds. You can find more information about these types of prayers at https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/

For some of us struggling with depression or anxiety, or doubts about our faith, or just the daily stressors that make spending quality, quiet time with God seem impossible, remaining in Jesus may be as simple as taking a moment here and there to close our eyes and take a deep breath. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote that the wall between himself and God was very thin. “Why couldn’t a cry from one of us break it down? It would crumble easily.” If a half hour of prayer and meditation seems undoable, even one word sent through the thin wall will be enough. And if we can’t think of even one word to say (Anne Lamott suggests, “help,” “thanks,” or “wow,”), then a deep breath and an inner turning towards God will work.

Take a few moments to take a deep breath and say a one word prayer like, “help,” “hello,” “Jesus,” or, “peace.” Imagine God is sitting next to you on your couch, in the coffee shop, or wherever you are. Imagine yourself turning to meet her eyes. Imagine yourself reaching out your hand and touching his fingertips with yours.


About The Author

Jessica Kantrowitz spent many years in seminary, earning an M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and in various ministries to both Americans and international students. When a health crisis coincided with a faith-shift she left her job in an Evangelical parachurch organization and rediscovered her joy in writing. Her work has been published on Think Christian and The Good Men Project and shared widely throughout social media, in particular her essays, Bake for them two and Things I've been wrong about for most of my life, part one. She lives in Boston where she also works as a nanny and an academic editor. You can find her at her blog, Ten Thousand Places, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Fruit of the Spirit: Day 1 of 11

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The Fruit of the Spirit – Living a Spirit-filled life

 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” -Galatians 5:22 (NIV)


Day 1: Freedom in Christ

 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yolk of slavery.” - Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

In Galatians, Paul is writing to a church that he was instrumental in forming. He has been away from them for a while, and is has heard that they have been infiltrated by Judaizers who are telling them that they have to obey Jewish laws in order to be Christians. This adherence to Jewish law is represented and epitomized by circumcision, a ritual commanded by God in the Old Testament to set aside the Jews as God’s chosen people. Paul writes to remind them that they were saved through faith, not through the law, to remind them of their freedom in Christ, and to warn them not to become slaves to the law. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yolk of slavery.” (Gal 5:1) “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal 5:6)

These days Judaizers are few and far between. There are very few people insisting that Christians must be circumcised, or observe the Jewish holidays. But other forms of legalism have crept in. Other gatekeepers have emerged, insisting that there is more we must do than simply believing in Christ. Faith expressing itself through love, they say, is all well and good, as long as that love is authorized by the church. Circumcision has no value, they say, but if you don’t agree with our stance on women in leadership or gay marriage we expect you to leave our community and not cause any trouble on the way out.

Within the context of law vs. faith, in Gal 5:22, Paul gives a list of the fruit of the spirit, “against such things” he says, “there is no law.” There are other lists of virtues in the New Testament (Phil 4:8 and Col 3:12-15) but I have always loved the rhythm of this list. In the NIV translation the first set of three are one syllable each -- “love, joy, peace” -- the second set two syllables each – “patience, kindness, goodness” – and the third set three syllables – “faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” making them easy to memorize and to meditate on.

There are two ways we can use this list. The first is to look at ourselves, to see whether we are producing these fruit and, if not, to ask ourselves why and what we can do to produce more fruit. The second is to discern whether those claiming to be leaders, teachers, or prophets are producing these fruit. In Matthew 7:15-18, Jesus calls his followers to watch out for false prophets. You might not be able to tell the difference just by looking at them, he says, but “by their fruit you will recognize them… A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” If someone claims to be a Christian leader, we can ask ourselves – do they exhibit the fruit of the Spirit? Are their lives and their relationships marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

Take some time today to mediate on the nine qualities in this list. Read Gal 5:22 out loud, then read or write each word and take a moment to contemplate what it brings to mind. What do you think about when you hear the word love? Goodness? Gentleness? Is there a person in your life each word brings to mind? Which of these fruit do you think you are producing, and which do you wish you could produce more of?

In the following days we will look at each of the fruit in turn, but first, tomorrow, we will look at how we bear fruit.


About The Author

Jessica Kantrowitz spent many years in seminary, earning an M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and in various ministries to both Americans and international students. When a health crisis coincided with a faith-shift she left her job in an Evangelical parachurch organization and rediscovered her joy in writing. Her work has been published on Think Christian and The Good Men Project and shared widely throughout social media, in particular her essays, Bake for them two and Things I've been wrong about for most of my life, part one. She lives in Boston where she also works as a nanny and an academic editor. You can find her at her blog, Ten Thousand Places, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Dear California: Day 1 of 1

Scorched Earth

By Rev. Amanda Gayle Reed

  "My teaching will fall like raindrops;
    my speech will settle like dew—
        like gentle rains on grass,
        like spring showers on all that is green—"

-Deuteronomy 32:2 (CEB)

I had only been in Idaho a few days when I saw the lightning strike in the distance. The fire it ignited would burn tens of thousands of acres. I marveled as I drove by “the burn” and saw the earth itself scorched black. The dry desert grasses and sage brushes had been burned away, the soil itself bearing witness to the fire which had rushed through.

A couple weeks later another fire. And then another.

Southern Idaho wasn’t hit as hard as the upper Northwest, though, so we were all thanking our lucky stars. But the truth is, this summer has been devastating in West. Wildfires have decimated millions of acres of land. Fire-fighters have exhausted their resources trying to fight the fires, save homes and property and farms.

As the summer progressed, the number of burn zones I would pass on my way over to Twin Falls (Starbucks, you know…) seemed to increase and I would often think about the term “scorched earth”.

But day after day, week after week, the presence of the blackened desert became so commonplace that I just stopped noticing them.

That is, I stopped noticing them until one day last week when a hint of green in the midst of the black rocks and soil grabbed my attention.

I glanced to the right too late to actually see what had flashed by me. I assumed it must’ve been an unburned section of the desert I had noticed.

But then I saw it–a tiny little tuft of green poking up through the charcoaled soil. And then another. And another.

Here was a whole patch of it and out there was a vast expanse of it.

Now that I knew what I was looking for I could see that the whole desert around me was slowly sprouting back to life.


About The Author

Rev. Amanda Gayle Reed is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. She is a member of the West Virginia Conference currently serving a congregation in Gooding Idaho.  Rev. Reed is a graduate of West Virginia State University (Institute, WV) and the Iliff School of Theology (Denver, Co) and frequently writes at AppalachianPreacher.com.

The Power of Doubt: Day 5 of 5

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Happiness

-Amanda Gayle Reed

29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” -John 20:29, Common English Bible

As an introvert, I’m hardwired to think deeply about things. As the daughter of a science teacher, I was taught to ask questions. My mother always had a book in her hand and taught us to seek wisdom in their pages.

So, when the tougher issues of faith arise, the ones I can’t readily explain, I find myself dwelling on them, wondering about them, and seeking out the thoughts and ideas others have had about the same issues.

But sometimes the things of faith can’t be explained no matter how many questions we ask or how many books we read or how long we think about it. There are mysteries we just can’t explain.

I can’t tell you exactly what happens at the Communion table. I know that the bread and wine are still bread and wine… and yet my heart and soul tell me that they are the body and blood of Christ. I can’t fully explain what is happening or how it has happened. But the questions and the wonder have lead me study and pray and dwell on the issue more and more with each passing year, which has brought me into a more intimate practice of the ritual.

The greatest thing about doubt is that it allows us to surrender and acknowledge our limitations. Those who think they know everything, who have no room for learning or growing, are certain in all they believe. But by acknowledging that there are things I don’t understand, things I can’t wrap my mind around, I let go of my control of these things and look beyond myself for an understanding bigger than me.

Thomas asked questions and expressed a doubt any sane person would have had. He had not seen what his friends had witnessed. And everything he knew about life and death made it an impossible story. It’s not an easy pill to swallow, that this man he walked so many dusty roads with could rise from the dead. By expressing his doubt he acknowledged his own limitations of understanding. By speaking his needs for belief he was allowing himself to ponder the limits of his own faith. And it allowed God a chance to instruct, teach, and grow Thomas’ understanding.

When Jesus said that those who do not see and yet believe are happy, he wasn’t raking Thomas over the coals for his doubt. He was speaking a simple truth: the day was coming when believers wouldn’t be able to trace those physical nail holes; yet, they were going to be asked to believe the same thing which caused Thomas, an apostle, to struggle.

By following Thomas’ example, we, too can surrender our control over knowledge and open ourselves to possibilities beyond anything we can imagine. We can let go of our certitude and look into the face of mystery. We can ask the questions that worry our minds and seek out the evidence we need. We can acknowledge that we don’t know the answer and open our ears to hearing them.

There is a power in doubt, if we acknowledge it, because it can open our hearts and minds to the mysteries beyond our grasp.


About The Author

Rev. Amanda Gayle Reed is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. She is a member of the West Virginia Conference currently serving a congregation in Gooding Idaho. She is a graduate of West Virginia State University (Institute, WV) and the Iliff School of Theology (Denver, Co) and frequently writes at AppalachianPreacher.com

The Power of Doubt: Day 4 of 5

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Proclamation

-Amanda Gayle Reed

28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” -John 20:28, Common English Bible

My siblings and I, like most kids, eventually learned about the upside-down glass of water trick in school. In case you aren’t familiar, it involves filling a glass to the brim with water and placing a sheet of paper over the mouth. When turned upside down the pressure from the air under the glass is strong enough to prevent the water from pushing the paper off the glass. It’s an awesome gravity-defying experiment for children to play with. We would tease each other by holding the glass over one another’s heads.

One day, joining in the teasing, my father brought a glass into the living room and held it over Mom’s head as he, in his best science-teacher voice, explained air pressure to us. Mom, who is famous for her intense hatred of being splashed or dunked under water, looked up with her best motherly-warning expression… but just as she looked up, the paper slipped and the cold tap water poured directly into her face.

Time froze in that moment. Dad had always warned us that this could happen. If there was an air bubble trapped under the paper, if the paper became wet, if there was a wrinkle in the paper, it wouldn’t hold. But it was seeing the water pour over our mother’s unexpecting face that really drove home that warning.

After that day my father’s warnings took on a whole new life. He wasn’t just talking about the what-ifs of science anymore, he was now making a proclamation about something he had experienced. There is a hard-earned wisdom in his words now. A very hard-earned wisdom, indeed!

Thomas had reservations about the story his friends told of Jesus, whom he knew to have been crucified, coming into their locked room and visiting with them. He had listened to his friends ramble on about their experience, but he had his doubts. He told them so much. He demanded proof… and Jesus came with that proof. Eight days later, there was Jesus, standing in that very same room, but this time offering his wounded hands and side to Thomas for inspection.

Thomas’ hand touched the gaping spear wound, traced the nail marks, and in that moment Thomas was no longer repeating a story he had heard from someone else, he was proclaiming what he knew to be true: My Lord and my God!

Doubt is only a weakness when we fail to ask the questions it poses. But when we ask, when we listen and watch for the answer, we become a people who are able to proclaim the Good News, not because we heard it from someone else, but because we have experienced it with our own lives.


About The Author

Rev. Amanda Gayle Reed is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. She is a member of the West Virginia Conference currently serving a congregation in Gooding Idaho. She is a graduate of West Virginia State University (Institute, WV) and the Iliff School of Theology (Denver, Co) and frequently writes at AppalachianPreacher.com

The Power of Doubt: Day 3 of 5

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Believe

-Amanda Gayle Reed

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!” -John 20:27, Common English Bible

My mother and father were in the midst of an intense debate. Mom had read an article in a magazine which claimed boiling a can of condensed sweet milk would make caramel. Dad was insisting the can had to be vented first.

“You can’t vent the can if it has to be covered with water at all times,” she insisted.

“If you don’t vent it, the pressure would build up inside the can and it would explode,” he insisted.

When a science teacher is convinced something will explode he is very likely to prove it through experimentation. So, a can of condensed sweet milk was put in a pot of boiling water and my parents waited. They waited the required three hours, expecting an explosion, wondering how much shrapnel a can of condensed milk can throw.           

One hundred and eighty minutes ticked by and no BOOM! had erupted from the kitchen. The can was opened to reveal a thick, gooey caramel… but no explosion.

That’s the thing I’ve always liked about the Doubting Thomas story.

Thomas needs evidence and his doubt that the story could unfold the way his friends were claiming drove him to demand proof. Eight days later Jesus shows up. Does he chastise Thomas for needing that evidence?

No.

Jesus shows Thomas exactly what he had asked to see. Look at the holes. Touch them. You said you wanted to. And put your hand here. Can you feel that? The wound from the spear?

Thomas was undoubtedly satisfied when he looked up and saw Jesus standing in the room with him. Everything else seems like overkill. But he had spoken the truth of his doubt and Jesus met him with everything Thomas had requested.

 Our doubt may drive us to question. It may drive us to seek evidence and an understanding we do not yet possess. But God is a God who answers, and if we are willing to listen, to see, to experience the answer, we will be drawn into a deeper knowledge.

With that deeper knowledge we will find our disbelief cast aside and find our hearts and minds open to the mystery of God.


About The Author

Rev. Amanda Gayle Reed is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. She is a member of the West Virginia Conference currently serving a congregation in Gooding Idaho. She is a graduate of West Virginia State University (Institute, WV) and the Iliff School of Theology (Denver, Co) and frequently writes at AppalachianPreacher.com

The Power of Doubt: Day 2 of 5

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Peace

-Amanda Gayle Reed

26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”  -John 20:26, Common English Bible

Eight days pass. Eight days.

Why am I so shocked by that?

Because the disciples encountered the Risen Christ, realized that even death had no power over him, and still locked themselves away in hiding for another eight days.

I’ve often dreamed about how awkward those eight days were:  Thomas, convinced his friends had lost their minds, the disciples trying desperately to convince Thomas that they had actually seen Jesus. THE Jesus.

Eight long days pass and suddenly, in the midst of the awkwardness, Jesus is there.

How he is there is never explained. Did he come through the door (like a ghost would)? Did he unlock the door? Did he just materialize out of thin air?

The Doubting Thomas in my mind begins to race with the questions: How? Where? What? When?

But it’s only the Why? that seems to get answered.

Peace be with you.

I know that this is a traditional greeting for the culture and the time in which the disciples were living. On the surface, it’s as innocuous as me walking into a room and saying, “Hi! How are you?”

And yet, there is so much more to it. In a moment when questions are flying about at the speed of light, Jesus enters and encourages peace. In a room stifling with the stench of fear and confusion, Jesus comes and speaks peace. In a room rife with questions and wonder, Jesus offers peace.

Why has Jesus come to these people in their locked room? To bring them peace.

Even in the moments of our lives where doubt and fear leave us feeling as if we are in a freefall, not knowing what to expect or what to grab onto for stability, it is the simple presence of Christ which brings us peace.

Thomas had declared for all who were willing to hear that he was troubled by the story his friends told, that he needed something more. He acknowledged his doubt. And opened the door to the possibility of having his understanding expanded.

After eight days of wondering about the mental health of his friends, struggling with the story they had to tell, wrestling with all the questions racing about his mind, and asking for the same experience so that he, too, could believe, Thomas finds himself face-to-face with Jesus. And for all the emotions which must have flooded his soul in that moment, surely peace was the most welcome.


About The Author

Rev. Amanda Gayle Reed is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. She is a member of the West Virginia Conference currently serving a congregation in Gooding Idaho. She is a graduate of West Virginia State University (Institute, WV) and the Iliff School of Theology (Denver, Co) and frequently writes at AppalachianPreacher.com

The Power of Doubt: Day 1 of 5

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Unless I See

-Amanda Gayle Reed

24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” -John 20:24-25, Common English Bible

            Doubting Thomas doesn’t really get the attention he deserves in our churches. The story of Thomas is often reserved for the Sunday after Easter, a day we preachers associate with low attendance and falls victim to the post-Holy Week exhaustion of those called to proclaim the Word. But Thomas’ story is important; too important to shrug off as a Resurrection story afterthought.

            Thomas wasn’t with his friends that particular day. They were still in hiding during the aftermath of the Crucifixion. Mary Magdalene had encountered the Risen Christ at the tomb, and at his request, had gone and told the disciples. What they thought of her response, we don’t know, not from the recording in the Gospel of John, anyhow. But it seems as if they didn’t believe her because the next thing we hear is that they are hiding in a locked room, afraid of the Jewish authorities when Jesus suddenly appears to them.

            Thomas isn’t there. He doesn’t see the miracle. He isn’t a part of the holy moment, though his friends try to persuade him that it had really happened. Finally, Thomas gushes forth with a skepticism and doubt to which I’ve always related:  “Unless I see the nail marks… unless I put my fingers in the wounds…”

            My father is a retired science teacher. Growing up with a man of science a child learns pretty early to meet unlikely stories with a bit of skepticism. I was taught and encouraged to ask questions from an early age. We often debated philosophical, theological, and political issues at the dinner table. We wondered and we observed--and like any scientist, we looked for the objective proof.

            That Thomas needed to see and experience this miracle for himself doesn’t strike me as evidence of a weak faith. On the contrary, it strikes me as one with a tremendous faith.

            He had faith in a God who promised to be present, a God who said, “ask and you shall receive.” Thomas had faith in a God who would hear the question and would answer--this is not an easy thing to do in our world.

            I, too, am someone who needs to see and experience the divine. I’ve spent my life seeking answers to questions. Usually those answers just lead me to deeper questions. On more than one occasion, when I’ve asked what seemed to me to be obvious questions, I was called a “Doubting Thomas.” But it is that doubt which has encouraged me to wrestle with faith so that my spirit grows stronger and stronger.

            Doubt is not a weakness.

            Doubt is a tool.

            Doubt draws us out of the realm of blindly believing and into an experiential faith in which we encounter, in our lives, the Risen Christ.


About The Author

Rev. Amanda Gayle Reed is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. She is a member of the West Virginia Conference currently serving a congregation in Gooding Idaho. She is a graduate of West Virginia State University (Institute, WV) and the Iliff School of Theology (Denver, Co) and frequently writes at AppalachianPreacher.com

Creating Space For God: Day 4 of 4

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Being Real

-Rick Hocker

God is most real when we are real with Him. That’s why our interactions with Him need to be honest, free from disguises and manipulation. We don’t bring to God our best selves. That doesn’t get us far with God, since He sees our hearts and knows when we are false. God desires truthfulness in our innermost being (Psalm 51:6). Instead, we bring to God our true selves. Fearful, impoverished, uncertain, wounded, we present ourselves to God, and He receives us and loves us as we are. And love is deepest in the context of relationship. God desires a love relationship with us. As we allow God to love us, we grow in our love toward God and in our experience of Him.

God inhabits our inward selves. When we create space within us for God to inhabit, then we can interact with God and cultivate relationship with Him. If you want more of God, then you have to relinquish more of yourself. Jesus challenges us to surrender our entire selves when He said, “Whoever loses their life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33)


About The Author

Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bedridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book Four in the Garden. His goal was to help people have a close relationship with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. Rick lives in Martinez, California, with his husband, Mark. Find out more at rickhocker.com and at amazon.com/dp/0991557700.

Creating Space For God: Day 3 of 4

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Cultivating Relationship

-Rick Hocker

After you have created that space, spend time there. Get comfortable with it. Get to know it as you know yourself. Speak to God from that place. Be open to answers. God may point out some of the surrounding clutter and ask you to do something about it. Or you may choose to show your hoarded stuff to God and ask His help to get rid of it. The more you clear, the bigger space you create for God to inhabit.

This exchange is a conversation of sorts. You share your inner self with God. You share your thoughts and fears. You communicate with Him throughout your day. And you quiet yourself to receive His peace and comfort, to receive his Life and Being. He may even impart messages to you. As in any relationship, this exchange is characterized by quality time spent together, shared experiences, and mutual disclosures. I believe God is as real as we allow Him to be.

Over time, God reveals Himself to us in response to our risk in trusting Him. The space we create for God expands. We include God in our thought processes and decisions. We rely on God more and we look to Him for direction. Direction from God takes the form of a sense of imparted peace and presence regarding decisions and a felt assurance that God is with us and leading us. This way of relating to God needs to be cultivated and becomes a habitual practice of engaging God in our daily lives. At a deeper level, we allow God access to our inner selves and we partake of God’s life as a vital source of empowerment and nurture.


About The Author

Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bedridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book Four in the Garden. His goal was to help people have a close relationship with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. Rick lives in Martinez, California, with his husband, Mark. Find out more at rickhocker.com and at amazon.com/dp/0991557700.

Creating Space For God: Day 2 of 4

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Clearing A Space

-Rick Hocker

We need to create a space for God within ourselves, a space He can inhabit, a space where He can interact with us in a meaningful way. We need to clear some of our clutter. The truth is we are all hoarders. We hoard everything we think and feel, stashing it all inside. We hoard words spoken against us, negative emotions, judgments, fears, and whatever makes us feel secure. A lifetime’s worth of collecting. How then is God expected to find a place within us to meet with us?

I’m not asking you to get rid of all your stuff, although it would be liberating if you did. What I am asking is that you clear a small space within yourselves, an open space that’s devoid of ego and agendas and expectations, a space that stands as an invitation for God to come and roost for at least as long as that space exists before your internal clutter rolls back and fills it again. Find a way to create that space for God whether through prayer or meditation or long walks. Think of this space as an empty spot within yourselves He can fill with His presence.

In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says He is knocking on the door of our hearts, asking to be invited in. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” God never forces Himself. He waits to be invited. For me, the invitation is more than setting aside time for God, but also creating a space where He can enter and feel welcome. We wouldn’t ask a guest to enter a room so stuffed with boxes stacked to the ceiling that only one person could squeeze in. I think of my interior as a room I can make cozy for God, a place He would want to visit.

The aforementioned verse uses the illustration of a meal with God. A shared meal is a perfect example of comfortable fellowship, conversation, and laughter, something that God is asking us to invite Him to do with us. The Bible says that Jesus comes to dwell in our hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17). By faith, we invite Him, but I believe He inhabits us by degrees, to the extent we create space for Him to fill with His being. A few verses later (Ephesians 3:19, also Ephesians 4:13), Paul describes the ultimate goal of attaining the whole measure of the fullness of God. My thinking is that God can only fill what has been made empty.


About The Author

Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bedridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book Four in the Garden. His goal was to help people have a close relationship with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. Rick lives in Martinez, California, with his husband, Mark. Find out more at rickhocker.com and at amazon.com/dp/0991557700.

Creating Space For God: Day 1 of 4

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An Inward Experience

-Rick Hocker

What does it mean to have a relationship with God? How do we relate to someone who we can't see, hear, or touch? How can God be more real to us?

Sometimes, we experience God in a dramatic, physical way, but God is most often experienced inwardly. He interacts with and inhabits our inner beings. We encounter Him and relate to Him within our inner selves. I’m not talking about our minds. I’m referring to our core nature of who we are as spiritual beings, our eternal essence as unique individuals apart from our bodies, our souls.

For most of us, this inner space is unfamiliar, if not frightening. Yet, it’s within this space we encounter God. This inner space isn’t always a tranquil retreat where we hear the whisperings of God. Rather, it’s dark or chaotic or rife with painful emotion. How fitting that God should meet us there, in the midst of our confusion and pain.

The problem then becomes that of clutter. This inner space is full of our egoic luggage, our emotions, our repetitive thoughts, our replayed stories of regret and betrayal. This stuffed interior leaves no room for God. So no wonder why He seems so far away.


About The Author

Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bedridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book Four in the Garden. His goal was to help people have a close relationship with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. Rick lives in Martinez, California, with his husband, Mark. Find out more at rickhocker.com and at amazon.com/dp/0991557700.

Crossing Life's Rivers: Day 5 of 5

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Stones of Rememberance

-Bob Cornwall

“When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.” (Joshua 4:6-7 NRSV).

When we cross the rivers of our lives, it is good to find ways of not only remembering these events, but also pass on the stories from one generation to the next. After Israel passed through the river, Joshua instructed the tribal leaders to select one person from each tribe to go back into the middle of the river, to where the priests had stood, and retrieve a stone. The bearers of these stones, were to pile them up, as a memorial to their crossing. That way, when the next generation, the generation that didn’t cross the river, but grew up in the Promised Land asked about the stones, then they could tell the story.

When Jesus as preparing to go to the cross, he gathered his disciples, and he shared bread and wine with them. He told them that the bread signified his body and the wine his blood, both of which would be shed the next day on the cross. That would be Jesus’ river. He told the disciples that they should continue to share this feast in remembrance of him. When we gather at the Welcome Table of Jesus, we dine with the Risen Christ. He crossed the river that was his death of the cross, and was raised to life again. And just as occurred when the people crossed the Jordan, God was with them. Yes, the word Jesus had for his disciples was the one God offered to the people of Israel as they prepared to cross the river: “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9).  

Even as the people of Israel set up this monument to God’s faithfulness to the promise of deliverance, so Christians gather at the Table to remember and live into the promise of God, who remains with us. As we experience our own river crossings, we will want to find ways of memorializing them so that we do not forget that God is with us on this journey.


Crossing Life's Rivers: Day 4 of 5

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Crossing The River

-Bob Cornwall

“While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan” (Joshua 3:17).

I return to the story of Israel’s crossing the Jordan to tell a personal story. It is tempting to turn back, when confronted with rivers that threaten to overwhelm us. It takes courage to take those first steps into the river, especially when the risks seem larger than the rewards. But, if we have experienced God’s provision in the past, we may find that necessary courage in our relationship with God.

My background in evangelicalism had formed in me the belief that one could not be gay and a faithful follower of Jesus. The bible seemed clear. While I didn’t believe, we should discriminate against gay and lesbian people in the public square, when it came to the church that was a different matter. Then, some twenty years ago, my brother came out as a gay man, and my entire paradigm for understanding sexuality, especially as it is informed by scripture, was turned on its head.

I learned this truth from my mother, because my brother wasn’t sure whether I would be receptive to his revelation. After all, I was a pastor, and while I was “tolerant” of gay people, he might have known about my interpretation of scripture when it came to sexual orientation. At least, he wasn’t ready to take a risk in sharing the information with me, and so he left it to my mother. I understand why he did this. I probably would have done the same. I realize that not everyone will do as I did, but for me this revelation forced me to ask tough questions about what it means to be family, and Christian, and church.  

I was faced with a dilemma. Do I hold on to my beliefs, or do I fully embrace my brother? Since Jim is my brother, whom I love and could not reject, I began to pray, and study, and talk with people who were gay and Christian, and I began to discern this truth: God loves and accepts my brother as he is. There is no need to change that identity. In many ways, that was the easy part. The next decision was more difficult. How would this new understanding of the Bible and human sexuality influence my ministry? I must confess that I took small steps into the river. Even those steps caused trouble. Not everyone in my church was ready for change. It wasn’t until I moved to the next church, that I became more vocal, and even then, I wasn’t able to move the congregation to full acceptance and affirmation, but the seed was planted. In my current congregation, it took time, but we have crossed the river. Not everyone came with us, but the reward has been worth the risk.

As was true for the people of Israel, God stood in the middle with us, until all who would cross made their crossing. Some did so with some fear and trembling. Others with hearts filled with joy. All came through, with God in the middle of the river with them. Crossing the rivers of life are not easy, but often they are worth the risk.


Crossing Life's Rivers: Day 3 of 5

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Time To Cross Into The Land of Promise

-Bob Cornwall

“While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan” (Joshua 3:17).

When the day came for Israel to finally cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, Joshua told the people to gather at the river. Following God’s instructions, Joshua had the Ark of the Covenant pass in front of them, so that the people would know that God was going with them into the new land. They might not know the way, but if they followed the lead of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant, they would cross the river.

Crossing the river involved taking a risk, but would taking that risk be worth it? The first risk taken, was putting one’s foot into the water. The river was still flowing. Why should they think that it would part so they could cross? Once the river parted, why should they take the risk of being washed away if the river returned to its natural flow. How did they know that it would stay dry until they made it across?

Yes, the spies had given a positive report (Joshua 2:22-24), but why believe that report? We are right to be cautious when asked to take risks. Even if the promises seem wondrous. Perhaps they will be ephemeral. On the other hand, sometimes taking risks is necessary. I know that my decision to pack up my beat-up 1970 Ford Maverick that was known to stall on occasion, and head to a strange city, may have seemed fool-hardy. Nonetheless, I survived and looking back, it has proven to be the right decision (or so I believe).

In reading a spiritual biography of Jackie Robinson, the man who crossed the color line to be the first African American in the modern era of baseball to play in the major leagues, I discovered the story of a man who not only helped integrate baseball, but who also had a profound effect on the success of the emerging civil rights movement in the United States. What I learned was that Robinson took this risk, because he believed God was with him. It was his faith, his prayers, that sustained him, as he crossed his own river.

In this story from the book of Joshua, not only did the priests help lead the people across the river, carrying the Ark of the Covenant in front of the people, but when they reached the middle of the river, they stopped and stood in the gap, until all Israel had passed through to the other side. If we think of the Ark as a material or sacramental sign of God’s continuing presence with the people of God, then it is reassuring to know that God doesn’t just lead, but God will stand in the middle of the river until we cross to the other side. Yes, standing there in the middle of the river, with the waters of the Jordan piling up on either side of them, the priests carrying the Ark, gave the people confidence that they would make it to the other side. It was a physical sign that God stands with us as we take that step of faith.

Yes, it is one thing to draw near the river and look across to the other side. It’s another to actually take that step of faith and put your foot into the water. Stepping out into the water can be risky. Maybe the waters won’t part. When we encounter boundaries in life, even if we know that the blessings may lie on the other side, we may find it difficult to cross over. We may delay our crossing, hoping for a better moment. Or we may turn back and decide that the blessings are not worth the risks.


Crossing Life's Rivers: Day 2 of 5

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Be Strong and Courageous

-Bob Cornwall

“I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9 NRSV).

Moses led the people through the Sea and across the desert, but he didn’t get to cross the river into the Promised Land. The task of leading the people across the river and into the Promised Land was left to Joshua. Joshua had grown up the journey across the desert. He may or may not have been born in Egypt, but his journey into the future wasn’t hindered by visions of what was. He understood that it was now time to cross the river.

God made a promise to Joshua that he and his people would possess the land. Now, we need to understand that the story of conquest is problematic. The book of Joshua describes a genocide, which makes his story difficult to incorporate into our spiritual lives. At the same time, there is a word here that is important. When we cross the rivers of our lives, the word of God to Joshua and his people remains true.  God said to Joshua “Be strong and courageous … for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

The journey to the Promised Land, however we understand it, is often a difficult one. It’s filled with twists and turns. It’s easy to turn back. I can imagine the people standing at the edge of the river and feeling uncertain about what lay on the other side. Why not stay put, and make the best of their situation on the near side of the river? But the word given to Joshua and to us is this: “Be strong and courageous.”

I once decided to take a journey that most likely formed the rest of my life. I decided to go to seminary in Pasadena. I sold a bit of stock my mother bought in my name, packed my 1970 Ford Maverick, and took off on an adventure. I hadn’t been fully accepted into the seminary, didn’t have a place to live, or a job when I arrived in Pasadena. By the time I paid my first month’s rent I had eighty dollars left. Not only did I survive, but I found a new sense of identity and purpose in the journey. I am here today, because I crossed the river. Looking back, my decision may seem foolish, but I do believe that God was with me in that journey that formed me into the person I am today. So, “be strong and courageous . . . for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”


Crossing Life's Rivers: Day 1 of 5

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Can't Cross The River

-Bob Cornwall

“The Lord said to him, ‘This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, “I will give it to your descendants”; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there’” (Deut. 34:4 NRSV).  

From the very beginning of the biblical story, water plays a vital role in the story. We find the Spirit hovering over the waters as the creation event begins. It is from these waters, over which the wind of the Spirit the blows that all of life emerges (Genesis 1:1-2). We get to watch as Moses leads the people of Israel to freedom through the Sea (Exodus 14). And Jesus is baptized in the waters of the Jordan, commencing his ministry, while John the Revelator shares God’s invitation to drink from the spring of the water of life. Whether it is a sea or river or lake, water serves as boundary that must be crossed if we are to fulfill our callings in life.

Although Moses led the people of Israel through the Sea and across Sinai, he did not get to cross the Jordan. When the people of Israel arrived at the Jordan, God led Moses up Mount Nebo and showed him the Promised Land, but then God told Moses that he wouldn’t get to experience the other side of the river. The Jordan served as a boundary that Moses could not cross. So, someone else would lead the people across the Jordan and into the Promised Land.

Moses was a pioneer. He heard God’s call and answered it. He got the people ready for a journey, led them through a time of trial, and brought them to the river. It must have difficult for Moses to reach the river and not cross over. But that would be his destiny, his calling. He did his part, and those who crossed the river would be his legacy.

We may find ourselves standing at the edge of a river, and discovering that this is one boundary that cannot be crossed. We may find ourselves in Moses’ shoes, having led others to the river, but not get to cross over. If this is true, then we won’t fully enjoy the blessings of the Promised Land, but we will know that we have done our part. Are there not blessings to be experienced, knowing that even if we don’t cross the river, those who do cross it will be our blessing?

Martin Luther King, on the night prior to his assassination spoke of this very mountain that Moses climbed. He shared his vision of the Promised Land, which he knew he would not get to share in. He believed that one day his dreams of a beloved community would bear fruit. He had done his best to lead the people on their journey, so that others could cross the river and enjoy the blessings of the Promised Land. Every justice movement has required people like Moses and Dr. King, who lead the people to the river, but can’t cross over.

Whichever side of the river we find ourselves, can we not hear the call of God on our lives? For those who don’t cross the river, can you rejoice in the lives of those who do enjoy the blessings of the Promised Land? If you are counted among those who do cross the river, can you celebrate the sacrifices made by those who made it possible to gain access to that Promised Land?


A Eucharist Journey: Day 8 of 8

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Recognized

-Joshua M. Casey

Then he said to them, “You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory? Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.

When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. “It is nearly evening,” they said, “and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; but had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?”

They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, “Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognized him at the breaking of bread.[1]

How often do we miss The Christ standing within our midst? How often are we also blinded and “so slow to believe the full message” we have received? Perhaps it is because we have too long prized the apologist over the poet, reason over spirit, and so have missed the entire point of the Incarnation of The Christ in Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago: namely, that we ourselves become the ongoing Incarnation.

As the 14th Century mystic Meister Eckhart has said:

All beings
are words of God,
His music, His
art.
Sacred books we are, for the infinite camps in our souls.
Every act reveals God and expands His being.[2]

In the Eucharist we practice, rehearse, remember that God is present so that we might be able to turn with the eyes of love upon a world desperate for Divine affirmation. In the Eucharist, in this breaking of bread, we recognize the mystery of the Cosmic Christ in the simple and mundane, thereby turning all creatures into sacred books, allowing the world to finally be “charged with the grandeur of God”[3]

The evangelism of Christ is not heroic expeditions of salvation, taking our God someplace He has not yet come. Rather, it is first and foremost a call for me to awaken to the movements of the Divine within myself, and then all creation. Because that’s really what this whole exercise of Eucharist is about: seeing The Christ within the world. For if I can see Divinity in simple bread and wine, surely–surely I could see Divinity in you. And that is Good News.

[1] Luke 24:25-35 JB
[2] Eckhart, Meister. "Expands His Being." Poet Seers, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <http://www.poetseers.org/spiritual-and-devotional-poets/christian/meist/meistp/expand/>.
[3] Hopkins, Gerard Manley. "God's Grandeur." Poetry Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/44395>.


About The Author

Joshua M. Casey worked as a campus pastor for eight years and is passionate about connecting the church of today to the practices of our past. He lives in Bloomington, IN with his family and writes regularly at joshuamcasey.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @thejmcasey and Facebook.com/jmcasey7.

A Eucharist Journey: Day 7 of 8

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Gravity

-Joshua M. Casey

In 1687, Sir Isaac Newton published his Law of Universal Gravitation, which states that any two objects in the universe are attracted to each other by an invisible force, with the strength of the attraction based on their mass and distance. While this law gave a better understanding of the observable universe, it also raised a great many questions, eventually leading to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity in 1915, which explains that gravity is not attraction between bodies, but a property of spacetime, theorizing that both space and time are curved or bent by matter and energy, which we experience as gravity.

In Isaiah’s vision of God in the Temple (Isa 6), the seraphim proclaim God’s holiness, saying, “The whole earth is full of His glory.” The Hebrew word for “glory” (kavod) means, among other things, weight or heaviness. Essentially, the earth is saturated with the gravity of God. His presence is unmistakably known, its effects utterly real, even if the acting force is invisible. Sometimes, this force–this presence–is as obvious as an apple falling from a tree. Other times, it’s mysterious as a distant star’s light bent by our sun’s gravity well.

This God, who makes all things persistently new by His very presence, who is both Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, who unifies Past and Future into the “simplicity of a perpetual present,”[1] is for us the source of a Life more real and lasting than that which we know in this world so bound to entropy and death. In the Eucharist we experience the mysterious God bending space and time to meet with us in the here and now, making the gravity of His presence felt through the gift of His Son, Jesus, in the bread and cup.

When Christ gave us this Meal, He told us to do it as an act of remembrance: of making real again His life, death, and resurrection. Now this “memory” is not some sad recollection of one long gone, but active participation in One who is eternally alive. For just as Christ’s presence on earth was a bending of space and time (the Infinite-Eternal stepping into a specific point and place in history), so our reception through faith of the bread and cup as Jesus Himself is a recognition that this bending of spacetime is still happening. We remember, receive, the very real Life of Christ, take it into ourselves, then turn and become a veritable Eucharist for a hungry and thirsty world dying to receive and remember. As Schmemann said, “We recall, in other words, both the past and the future as living in us, as given to us, as transformed into our life and making it life in God.”[2]
 

[1] Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Kindle Ed.
[2] Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary, 2004


About The Author

Joshua M. Casey worked as a campus pastor for eight years and is passionate about connecting the church of today to the practices of our past. He lives in Bloomington, IN with his family and writes regularly at joshuamcasey.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @thejmcasey and Facebook.com/jmcasey7.

A Eucharist Journey: Day 6 of 8

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Justice

-Joshua M. Casey

Blinded by rage and loss, exasperated by his friends’ answers, the boil and ash-covered Job shakes his fist to the heavens:

Where are you, God!? Why have You left me!? What have I done!?

 Utterly spent, the bereaved man falls to the ground in a heap of tears, filth, and confusion, the words, “But I am innocent” endlessly trailing from his parched throat, dissipating into the gathering storm.

From these brooding clouds, In a flash of lightning, God explodes:

 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.” [1]

Genocide. Tsunamis. Child soldiers. Earthquakes. Racial violence. Drought. Human trafficking. The atrocities of man are equaled only by the monstrous forces of nature. If our God is Love, then unde hoc malum–whence this evil? Is God unable to save, or simply chooses not to? What have we done to inherit such a travesty, to be marooned upon such a God-forsaken rock? Are we not right, like Job, to shake our bleeding fists at the sky in a righteous fury, crying our innocence? Would it not be just to try God for His crimes against the earth?

And yet my complaint dies in my throat, for I am at once confronted not with God’s failures, but my own. No, perhaps I am not a despotic dictator, but don’t my smallest offenses prove the possibility for the dictator’s existence? In the midst of my cross-examination of God, I throw myself at the mercy of the Judge, for I am the worst of sinners. “Who will save us from this body of death” (Rom. 7:24)?

Eucharist stands as the doorway into transparency with God: where bread from this broken earth becomes the broken body of our Savior; a portal through which we too are “blessed, broken, and given away” (Matt. 26:26). Where our remembrance is that the Cross harmonizes justice and mercy, allowing both to coexist–for the God of Christ created both the darkness and the light. And, “Though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”[2]

 That, “The work of Divine justice always presupposes the work of mercy and is grounded in it”[3]; that, “Justice is the grammar. . . Mercy is the poetry of things.”[4] That our hope is in a God who, out of love, sent His Son to absorb our sense of justice’s demands by extending mercy’s Life.

[1] Job 38:1-3 KJV
[2] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston. 2014.
[3] Aquinas, Thomas. "Question 21. The Justice and Mercy of God." Summa Theologiae: The Justice and Mercy of God (Prima Pars, Q. 21). New Advent, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1021.htm>.
[4] Buechner, Frederick. Beyond Words. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004.


About The Author

Joshua M. Casey worked as a campus pastor for eight years and is passionate about connecting the church of today to the practices of our past. He lives in Bloomington, IN with his family and writes regularly at joshuamcasey.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @thejmcasey and Facebook.com/jmcasey7.