Posted by: Philip Rushton | February 27, 2016

Taizé Service this Sunday

Hi Everyone,

Tomorrow evening (Feb 28), we will be hosting our quarterly Taizé contemplative prayer service.  If you are in town and could use a quiet space for prayer and worship be sure to join us.  The service begins at 6:30pm in the Gebert Chapel.


“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” John 19:25-27

John and Mary must have felt helpless as they stood there watching Jesus hang on the cross.   There was nothing they could do.  Jesus, the one they hoped would be the Messiah, had been unjustly accused and was now being brutally tortured in front of their eyes.

We also to bear witness to deep problems and injustices in our world.  Last week I came across an article in a recent issue of Time magazine about the Syrian refugee crisis and I could barely look at the pictures.  The situation seems so irredeemable and complicated.

The problems we read about in the news or encounter in our community can have a paralyzing effect on us.  Yesterday I had two different conversations with friends who were overwhelmed by the problem of poverty in our community.  When we take the wide angle view of the problems in our community and our world we can feel helpless.

What strikes me is how Jesus speaks into this situation.  In the midst of the chaos of the cross, and in the face of deep injustice and torture, Jesus says to John, “here is your mother,” and to Mary, “here is your son.” In a recent sermon on this text, Pastor John suggested that Jesus is calling us to respond to the deep problems of our world with small acts of love.  Jesus invites us to replace the wide angle lens with a telephoto lens.  Instead of being paralyzed by the big picture, Jesus invites us to focus in on the small ways we can make the world a better place.  John and Mary cannot put an end to the injustice and the torture of the cross but they can choose to love and support each other.

As we journey with Jesus to the cross this Lenten season, I want to invite you to be aware of the small ways you can promote love and shalom in the midst of a broken and fearful world.  Not all of us are positioned to make a major impact on large world problems, but we can do something.

I also want to invite you to make a small difference in the Syrian refugee crisis. On the evening of Sunday, March 13th we will be hosting a local Syrian couple Hazar Jaber and her husband Hani.   Hani and Hazar run Happy Kids Dentistry in Longview.  Out of deep love and concern for their native country, they have been using their gifts to advocate for and serve the refugees of the Syrian civil war.  They have led medical missions to the refugee camps in Jordan and continue to devote time raising awareness and funds for this ongoing crisis.

The devastating headlines coming out of Syria can have a paralyzing effect.  The civil war is complex and the suffering of those caught in the crossfire is extreme.   We know the need is great, but it is difficult to know how we can help.  Perhaps, though, one of the ways we can make a difference is by simply taking the time to listen to Hazar and Hani’s story.

This week Hazar wrote me the following note:

I just came back from SAMs ( Syrian American medical society) meeting with mixed emotions.  On one hand seeing the suffering of people and children is nerve racking, on the other hand seeing people from all over the world and faiths trying to help them is uplifting. I am on my way back as we speak, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to come and talk to your group  . . . My goal is to educate and show people ways to get involved. So I want to thank you for allowing me the opportunity.


Hosting an evening to raise awareness for the crisis doesn’t seem like a big thing; however, I was reminded that this small act of solidarity does mean something to Hazar.  In the midst of this huge crisis, the simple act of caring enough to listen to our Syrian neighbors is important.

We are going to meet in the chapel on March 13th at 6:30pm.  Hazar is going to bring some Syrian desserts and coffee, I’ll offer a short meditation on Jesus’ heart for refugees, and then Hazar will talk with us about the Syrian refugee situation and how we might be able to help in small ways.  Our own Mike Bartlett might take some time to share about his participation in a recent medical mission trip to the refugee camps in Jordan. I hope you can join us!





Posted by: Philip Rushton | February 10, 2016

A Guide to a Meaningful Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the first day of Lent.  Lent is a season in the life of the church that marks the 40 days that lead up to Easter. Historically, Lent has been a time when many people return to the various practices of the Christian faith. We do this not as an obligation or as a means of earning God’s love; instead, these practices are ways to focus on God, experience freedom from unhealthy attachments, stand in solidarity with the poor, and journey with Jesus to the cross.  The following resource provides you with some suggestions for how you might make this season a meaningful time of spiritual renewal. 


 Take some time to reflect on this guide and write out how you want to approach this season. Intentionality is key. I’d encourage you to write out what you intend to do this Lent or put things on your calendar.  You can also prepare for the season by setting up visual symbols at home or work. Ideas:

  • Wear a cross
  • Set out a candle to be lit during meals or during prayer time.
  • Put out an open bible on your coffee table.


Consider setting aside a time each day to pray and meditate on scripture. Ideas:

  • Choose a gospel and read a section of it each day during Lent. Other appropriate texts for Lent include the minor prophets or Exodus 1-20.
  • Listen to the daily podcast:
  • Take a one-day prayer retreat.  I have a guide you can use if you’d like to borrow one.


Fasting is about restoring life-giving limits. It is a spiritual practice that aims to set us free from idolatry and addiction and help us remember God and remember the poor. Ideas:

  • Try out a media fast one day a week where you go without cell phones, T.V., and the Internet.
  • Eat a simpler diet in order to stand in solidarity with the poor. For example, you might give up eating seconds at meals, or eat a diet of beans and rice one day a week. 
  • Give something up for the entire Lenten season
  • Give up breakfast and lunch on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday


Traditionally, Sundays are considered feast days during Lent and do not count towards the 40 days. Take Sundays to break your fast and celebrate God’s goodness and mercy. Perhaps you might invite friends over for a feast.  Practicing feast days in the midst of the Lenten fast helps restore a helpful balance in our spiritual life.


While lent is often talked about as a time to give things up, Isaiah 58 reminds us that the fast God desires is for us to actively pursue justice for those in need. How might you reach out? Ideas:

  • Donate 5 items to charity
  • Volunteer at a non-profit
  • Abstain from a luxury item and use those funds to support a charity.
  • Consider supporting the Syrian refugee crisis this year. We will be hosting a local couple from Syria on March 13 to raise awareness about the crisis

Journey With Others:
This Lent I am going to be leading a group that will work through Chris Seay’s Lenten devotional, A Place At The Table: 40 days of solidarity with the poor.  We are going to begin on Wednesday, Feb. 17 in the journey room following simple suplace-at-the-tablepper.  This devotional leads us through the story of Exodus. As we follow the Israelites through their journey of liberation from oppression we will explore what our own journey of liberation looks like, and how we are called to stand in solidarity with others who are suffering in our world.  If you can’t join us on Wednesday I have some extra copies of this resource in my office.



Posted by: Philip Rushton | February 3, 2016

“What Does This Mean?” The Art of Spiritual Discernment

Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Acts 2:12-13

This past Sunday I preached on the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost.  The text ends by highlight two different responses to the events of Pentecost.  Some people are skeptical while others are perplexed yet open to discerning what is happening.

How would you have responded if you were there on that day of Pentecost?  Would you be in the middle of the action declaring the works of God, would you be skeptical, or would you be somewhere in between – amazed but perplexed?

It is important to note that the skeptics are religious insiders.  The text says they are “devout Jews.” This reminds us that it is not uncommon for those of us who are religious insiders to struggle with skepticism.  This has certainly been something I have struggled with in my life.

Our skepticism may be rooted in a number of things.  Perhaps we are disillusioned with God because it has been a long time since we have sensed that he is at work.  Perhaps we are distrustful of spiritual experiences because we have encountered religious leaders or institutions that have manipulated people with an inauthentic spirituality.   Perhaps we are more influenced by our secular culture then we realize.  Dallas Willard suggests that our souls are “soaked with secularity,” even if we claim to be Christians.  We, too, privilege naturalistic or scientific explanations for the big questions about life.  Our reflex might be to say, “it must be kalua in the morning coffee” in response to the events of Pentecost. Or, perhaps, we are simply fearful of opening ourselves up to the work of the Spirit.  There is something out of control about what happens on Pentecost.  If we can rationalize what is happening we can regain control.

While some respond with skepticism, others respond in a different way.  Many of these devout Jews were “amazed but perplexed,” and proceed to ask “what does this mean?”  The second response could be labeled, “discerning openness.”  The opposite of skepticism is not a blind faith.  No, the other response modeled to us in our text is to be honest about our questions and proceed to discern what God is up to.  This group of people do not have it all figured out, but they do not prematurely close the door on God either.  They seek to discern what is going on.

In fact, the second chapter of Acts devotes twice as much space to the interpretation of the events of Pentecost as the description of the events.  The disciples take time to help people discern what God is up to.

telecommunication-tower-1201015To outline the discernment process, I thought I would borrow a metaphor from one of my professors.   Imagine for a moment that there are two radio frequencies that you can tune into.   One station is WGOD, and represents things that are from God.  The other station is WSIN, and represents things that are not from God.   What is the content you would encounter while tuning into WGOD and WSIN? Second, what effect or impact would this content have on you?

The content of WGOD will have a number of markers.  First, it will be very scriptural.  This is the criteria by which Peter discerns the work of the spirit at Pentecost.  In response to the question, “what does this mean?” he connects the events of Pentecost to the story of scripture.  He quotes the book of Joel and the Psalms in order to explain that what they are experiencing is what the prophets expected would happen.  Second, the content of WGOD will more generally line up with the character and the ways of God.  In Acts 2:11, the bystanders say that they hear the disciples, “declaring the wonders of God in our own tongue.”  The words that are spoken point people to God.  The same thing could be said for the actions and experiences that people encounter.  People of different nations are being unified, many experience a liberating conviction of sin, and forgiveness and mercy is proclaimed.  Lastly, the content of WGOD will be personalized.  After Pentecost people are invited to deal with their own issues rather than focus on what everybody else should do.  In vs 38 it many respond by asking, “what should we do?”

The content of WSIN, by contrast, will be quite different.  Scripture will often be used but it will be taken out of context.  Proof texts will trump the overarching story of scripture.  Furthermore, what is done, said, or experienced will clearly contradict the ways of God.  There will be no mercy, broad condemnation, division, and shame.  Lastly, the message will be externalized.  People will come away from the experience focusing the problems and shortcomings of others rather than themselves.

The effect of the content will also be different.  After tuning into WGOD a person will demonstrate the fruit of the spirit.  This will be manifested both emotionally and behaviorally.  Paul says that our encounter with the Spirit will be marked by feelings of love, joy, and peace.  It will also result in behavior marked by patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control.   We see the fruit of the spirit take place in Acts 2.  Many people repent, they are generous with their resources, there is an increased commitment to pursue God, and hospitality is shown to those outside the community.

The effect of tuning in to WSIN, by contrast, will produce the fruit of the flesh.  Rather than peace, joy and love, there will be anger, worry, discouragement, and hopelessness.  We may find ourselves despising others and our faith will be deflated.

I find it helpful for us to have some guidelines for the discernment process.  Often our conversations about what God is doing or saying are very vague and undefined.  The danger in this is that we may attribute to God things that are not really from him.  Perhaps this lack of clarity is the reason for our skepticism. Perhaps these insights might encourage us to maintain a posture of discerning openness to the work of God in our life!


Posted by: Philip Rushton | January 25, 2016

Desert Wisdom


51pu38SmbvL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_One of components of my major research paper this term is an assessment of the desert fathers approach to spiritual formation.  Beginning in the third century, numerous Christ followers left urban centers and moved to the desert to pursue a very a rigorous life of spiritual formation and prayer.  This was partly in response to the legalization of Christianity after the conversion of Constantine.  During the first two centuries of Christianity, discipleship was very costly and counter-cultural.  When it became an acceptable part of culture, however, discipleship started to become nominal and watered down.

What I thought I would do this week is include a collection of stories and sayings from the desert that have impacted me during this course of study.   Perhaps some of these stories may encourage you in your journey of faith.

“When Macarius was living in Egypt, one day he came across a man who had brought a donkey to his cell and was stealing his possessions. As though he was a passer-by who did not live there, he went up to the thief and helped him to load the beast and sent him peaceably on his way, saying to himself, ‘We brought nothing into this world (1 Tim. 6:7) but the Lord gave; as he willed, so it is done: blessed be the Lord in all things.”

“Men speak to perfection but they do precious little about it.”Abba Poemen

“Passions work in four stages – first in the heart; secondly, in the face; thirdly in words; fourthly, it is essential not to render evil for evil in deeds. If you can purify your heart, passion will not come into your expression; but if it comes into your face, take care not to speak; but if you do speak, cut the conversation short in case you render evil for evil.” Abba Poemen

“It was said of Anthony that one day he was relaxing with the brothers outside the cell when a hunter came by and rebuked him.  Anthony said, ‘Bend your bow and shoot an arrow’, and he did so.  ‘Bend it again and shoot another’, and he did – and again and again.  The hunter said, ‘Father, if I keep my bow always stretched it will break.’ ‘So it is with the monk’, replied Anthony; ‘if we push ourselves beyond measure we will break; it is right for us from time to time to relax our efforts.” Anthony the Great

“The desire for possessions is dangerous and terrible, knowing no satiety; it drives the soul which it controls to the heights of evil. Therefore let us drive it away vigorously from the beginning.” Isidore of Pelusia

“It is dangerous for one to teach who has not been trained in the practical life. It is like someone who has an unsound house and receives guests; he will cause harm by the collapse of the dwelling. In the same way, those who have not first built themselves up destroy those who come to them. For they may summon them to salvation by their words, but by their evil conduct they injure even more those who follow them.”Amma Syncletica

This story illustrates the slow process of spiritual formation and the measured use of words: “A monk once came to Basil of Caesarea and said, ‘Speak a word, Father’; and Basil replied, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart’; and the monk went away at once. Twenty years later he came back, and said, ‘Father, I have struggled to keep your word; now speak another word to me’: and he said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’; and the monk returned in obedience to his cell to keep that also.”

Just for fun – the award for the weirdest advice I came across in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers goes to Abba Poemen who says: “How can we acquire the fear of God when our belly is full of cheese and preserved foods?”



Posted by: Philip Rushton | January 3, 2016

How Change Happens: Thoughts For A New Year

January is often met with an ambitious agenda. Seeing the New Year as an opportunity for a fresh start, we set goals and make resolutions. Yet, we are often haunted by a not so successful track record of making changes in our life. By now we have discovered that our will-power is limited.

One of the themes that have emerged from my study in spiritual formation this year is that change happens indirectly. We cannot simply try and change a bad habit by direct effort. No, change requires a much deeper process.

The Apostle Paul prefers the word “training” over “trying.” In 1 Corinthians 9:25, Paul draws on a metaphor from athletics to describe our journey of discipleship. He writes:

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

If I wanted to run a marathon this year I couldn’t just go out and try and do it. But I could train for it. I could find a coach or a mentor, learn about how to get in shape, find friends who would keep me accountable and run with me, and begin to follow a running schedule that would slowly work me up to 26.2 miles. In the same way, spiritual growth happens indirectly. I can’t simply just try and be a good person. But I could train for it! I could immerse myself in the scriptures, find people to keep me accountable, and incorporate some intentional practices in my life that would get me in touch with God.

Of course, there is something different about spiritual growth than physical growth. The good news we read about in scripture is that God meet us in this journey and he equips and guides us. So the pursuit of growth is not solely up to me. Our role, however, is to find ways to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.

Before we start training, however, we need a vision.  In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul talks about the motivation athletes have to go through rigorous training. They want to get a crown. He then suggests that we too should rediscover the vision of what we stand to gain by following Christ. Without a vision we will struggle to continue on with our training.  We need a vision that is big enough to sustain us through the difficulties we face along the way.

Jesus speaks of this in the parable of the field and the pearl (Matthew 13). He says, “the kingdom of the heavens is like where something of extreme value is concealed in a field. Someone discovers it and quickly covers it up again. Overflowing with joyous excitement he pulls together everything he has, sells it all, and buys the field.” In this parable the person is willing to make huge sacrifices to buy the field because he knows there is something significant to be gained.

If we are honest, I think we sometimes lose the vision of what we stand to gain by giving our lives to the pursuit of discipleship. Dallas Willard writes, “One of the things that has most obstructed the path of discipleship in our Christian culture today is this idea that it will be a terribly difficult thing that will certainly ruin your life!” If this is the case then there will be little commitment to pursue God fully.

Before we set out to change, then, we need to recover the vision of what life with God is really about. In one of our sessions on the Divine Conspiracy this fall we spent time making a list of what we stand to gain by following Christ. It was quite a list! We named things like peace, purpose, communion with God, community, freedom, integrity, love, direction and so on.

Willard suggests that instead of talking about the “cost of discipleship,” we should talk about the “cost of non-discipleship.” He writes, “nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, non-disicpleship costs you exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10).”

It is only when we have recovered this vision of what life with God means that we can move on to the discipleship process. Once we have regained a vision we are then motivated to make an intention to follow Jesus, and to then employ a method that helps us grow closer to him.

Perhaps, then, as we approach a new year, we might not jump straight to making goals and resolutions about our spiritual life. Perhaps we might begin this year be rediscovering a vision of what life with God is really all about. Andy Stanley writes that “vision leaks, it doesn’t have a natural adhesive.” In other words, we need to recover a vision of God regularly because we lose sight of God easily. As we approach a new year, perhaps you might reflect on this question – “what do I stand to gain by giving my life fully to Jesus?”

Posted by: Philip Rushton | December 23, 2015

“We The People:” With Guest Poet Cassandra

homeless-1574178-639x879A woman who currently resides at one of our local homeless shelters where I volunteer recently gave me a poem that she wrote.  After reading it I asked if she would be open to me sharing it with others.  She told me she would like her voice to be heard by as many people as possible.

I can’t think of a more fitting Advent reflection, for Advent is a story that belongs to those who are poor and broken. It is a story about our longing for hope in the midst of hardship.  In this poem, Cassandra gives us insight into what it is like to be homeless.  She shares with us her experiences, frustrations, and longings.

“We The People” by Cassandra Funz

We are worn, torn, broken down, but alive
Our thoughts are scattered, we feel deprived.

We struggle with our basic needs like shelter, clothing, and food. The sleep deprivation, cold, and hunger can create attitude

Some of you may see us as an eyesore
Most of us have less than nothing, we are the poor.

Stop pointing your finger, it’s not an excuse!
Give the people a chance, and stop the abuse!

Start listening and learning, no more discrimination
Otherwise, it will bring out a more hateful generation

People are people, we all want and need
Race does not matter, because we all bleed

If only we were to be better understood
But it’s hard reaching out for love in “the hood.”

We are all sinners and make mistakes
Please, do not judge us, everyone breaks.

We stumble and fall.
We cry, love, and brawl!

There is so much mental, physical, emotional pain.
Just taking life day by day, trying to remain.

There are so many personalities being forced together.
It is especially due to this extreme weather.

Hunger, here, is always a major issue.
I’m about to snap, can I have a tissue?

Some of us give, some of us take . . .
Whether we’re real, or whether we’re fake . . .
There’s only so much one person can take!

We are the good, the bad, and the in between.
Thank God for recovery, a chance to redeem.

Stop calling us zombies, there is no infection!
Give out more food, love and affection.

While dealing with the wind, rain, and freezing temps, it’s so very cold.
Please, before you throw out your torn or stained materials we will take it, even if it’s old.

There are so many things once taken for granted, now cherished. Without our guardian angel we surely would have perished.

We all came from the same great love.
We came from the sky, the heavens above.

Do not turn us away, and stop with the rejection.
We need support and a boost in the right direction.

People are people, we live, love, and cry.
Next time you see a stranger, please, say hi.

The simple acts of kindness can save some ones day.
It can, also, keep depressive and suicidal thoughts at bay.

Do not be afraid of what you do not understand.
It is a time for unity so come take my hand!

If you have never experienced how to be humble.
I pray, for you, that you may fall and stumble.

Also, I wish that you are not held down for too long,
But it’s in our hardships that make us strong.

“Good or bad, people are people,” this I have always said.
Please, help out the poor, so we do not end up dead.

We all have a purpose, and a reason to live.
Please find it in your hearts this season to give.

This is not a joke, just that you are aware.
So give this year, show the people you care.

Copyright Cassandra Funz 12-15-2015

Posted by: Philip Rushton | December 3, 2015

A Prayer In The Wake Of Another Mass Shooting

Below is prayer by Walter Brueggemann written a couple years back after a previous mass shooting. Perhaps these words may guide us as we process yet another terrible act of violence that occurred in San Bernardino yesterday.

“Grieving Our Lost Children” by Walter Brueggemann

Another brutality,
another school killing,
another grief beyond telling . . .
and loss . . .
in Colorado,
in Wisconsin,
among the Amish
in Virginia.
Where next?
We are reduced to weeping silence,
even as we breed a violent culture,
even as we kill the sons and daughters of our “enemies,”
even as we fail to live and cherish and respect
the forgotten of our common life.
There is no joy among us as we empty our schoolhouses;
there is no health among us as we move in fear and bottomless anxiety;
there is little hope among us as we fall helpless before
the gunshot and the shriek and the blood and the panic: we pray to you only because we do not know what else to do.
So we pray, move powerfully in our body politic,
move us toward peaceableness
that does not want to hurt or to kill,
move us toward justice
that the troubled and the forgotten may know mercy,
move use toward forgiveness that we
may escape the trap of revenge.
Empower us to turn our weapons to acts of mercy,
to turn our missiles to gestures of friendship,
to turn our bombs to policies of reconciliation;
and while we are turning,
hear our sadness,
our loss,
our bitterness.
We dare to pray our needfulness to you because you have been there on that
gray Friday,
and watched your own Son be murdered
for “reasons of state.”
Good God, do Easter!
Here and among these families,
here and in all our places of brutality.
Move our Easter grief now . . .
without too much innocence –
to your Sunday joy.
We pray in the one crucified and risen
who is our Lord and Savior.

Posted by: Philip Rushton | November 23, 2015

Expectation and Anxiety

(Below are a few notes and quotes from yesterday’s sermon on Philippians 4:4-7)

C.S. Lewis has a great analogy that talks about the power of expectations. He writes:

If you’re shown a hotel room you’ve been told is the Honeymoon Suite, your expectations will be high. If there’s no plush carpet, spa and champagne, you’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, if you’ve been told before the door opens that it’s a jail cell, you’ll be delighted to find even modest comforts.”

As Christians I think we are often taught to expect “the honeymoon suite,” when it comes to life.  Upon conversion to Christ many of us expect that problems should subside and blessing should abound.  Yet, as we step through the doorway of life we all discover, in one way or another, that the journey of faith does not exempt us from heartbreak and hardship.

Having the wrong expectations actually makes things worse.  Timothy Keller writes:

The fact is, a lot of Christians are cast down all the time because they don’t expect the attacks on their peace and joy that are inevitable. At least a half of being upset is the frustration that says “It’s not supposed to be like this,” because we don’t have proper expectations.

The biblical story, however, reminds us that we are to anticipate hardship and struggle on the journey of faith. The Israelites were homeless for 40 years, Jesus went to the cross, and the early church faced persecution.

When a solider heads into battle there is nothing gained by lowering their expectation of conflict. They are better served by being prepared for the battle.  That is why both Jesus and Paul are very honest with the people under their care.  Jesus tells his disciples to expect hardship, saying, “in this world you will have trouble.”  Paul spends a lot of time equipping congregations to deal with their anxiety in the face of persecution.

In Philippians 4:4-7, Paul equips this particular group of believers with some specific practices that help them respond to the anxiety of being under persecution.  He invites them to reframe their perspective through praise, cultivate gentleness through an awareness of God’s presence, and bring their anxiety before God in prayer.

Paul suggests that we need to come back to these practices regularly because they are not our default position.  “Rejoice in the Lord, always,” he says.  This speaks to the issue of expectation again.   I often approach issues like anxiety as if I should be able to conquer it once and for all and then move on. “Ok, I’ve dealt with anxiety, lets move on to the next thing.” However,  I’m starting to realize that this battle with anxiety and fear is going to be ongoing. I ought not to be discouraged, then, when anxiety continues to creep back into my heart.  I should expect to have to bring it before God every day, and on some days every hour! Douglas Steere puts it this way:

Expect dryness.fathertime-1-1257525 Expect vacillation of purpose.  If you would stop drifting and live intentionally, you must, of course, renew your purpose daily. Since you are not an angel but a man, you will run down daily and like a clock must be rewound. Establish a daily habit of opening yourself for renewal.

Paul ends his passage by reminding us what we can expect as Christians.  While we are not exempt from hardship and harm, we can step into life with the hope that God will sustain us with a peace that transcends understanding.   Notice that this peace is not contingent on our external circumstances. We will face difficulty along the way, but we are sustained by the hope that God is still at work in the midst of this.  When we bring our anxiety before him his peace will stand guard over our hearts and mind.

Dallas Willard speaks about this transformation of expectation when he says, “Irredeemable harm does not befall those who willingly live in the hands of God. What an astonishing reality.”  Yes we will face harm, but it will never be without the hope of redemption.  When we have this expectation, “We cease living on the edge and wondering, “will God do what I want?” [because] pain will not turn to bitterness or disappointment to paralysis.”

We live, then, at the intersection of reality and hope.  “In this world you will have trouble,” says Jesus, “but take heart I have overcome the world.”


Posted by: Philip Rushton | November 19, 2015

No Room In the Inn

As Advent approaches, many of us will be setting up a nativity scene around the house.  This scene reminds us that Jesus was placed in a manger because there was no room for him in the inn.

I have been struck by the significance this scene has in light of the current conversation we are having about the refugee crisis in Syria. There is a post that has been shared around Facebook this week that reads, “if only we had a seasonally appropriate story about middle eastern people seeking refuge and being turned away!”

Indeed, if we take a closer look at the Christmas story we discover that Jesus started out his life as a refugee. In Matthew 2:13 it says, “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

Reflecting on Christ’s vulnerable entrance into the world, Thomas Merton writes:

“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it, his place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.”

Indeed, as Jesus’ life and ministry unfolds, we discover that he does show a particular concern with those for whom there is no room. Carrying on the tradition of the Old Testament (See Deuteronomy 10:18-19), Jesus reminds us of the importance of caring for refugees when he says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”(Matthew 25:13).

While the mandate to care for the vulnerable is clear in scripture, our response to the refugee crisis is complicated by the reality of fear. We ought not to overlook or ridicule these fears. Terrorist attacks, like the one in Paris, are troubling because they remind us of our vulnerability in the West.
Jeremy Courtney is an American who is working on the front lines of the refugee crisis in Iraq. He wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post this week where he speaks honestly about his fear.[1] He writes:

“It is not right or reasonable to tell anyone, “Do not be afraid.” Terrorism is terrifying. But we should aim to not be ruled by fear. In the face of ISIS, Iran and countless other nemesis neighbors, we commit to love anyway.”

Of course, education can help quell some of our fears that might be overstated. For example, it would be wise for us to take some time to learn about the vetting process that refugees must go through. A recent report in the Economist points out that of the 750,000 refugees who were resettled in America since 9/11, only 2 have been linked to terrorist activity.[2] As someone who has gone through the U.S. immigration process, I can tell you that becoming a permanent resident is not easy – and I am a Christian Canadian married to an American who had an immigration lawyer!  Those applying for refugee status go through an even more rigorous and drawn out application process than I went through!

Nevertheless, our fears need to be worked through, not ridiculed.   That is why Courtney’s perspective is important. He invites us to move beyond fear by weaving together both the call to compassion and the need for security. He writes:

“There is a third option altogether for those who live beyond dualism and exclusive forms of tribalism. With new eyes, we can take both these threads and weave a cord that achieves a security and compassion that is actually strong enough to thrive in the face of terrorism.”

Courtney says that these new eyes are re-shaped by the lens of the gospel, which helps us, “tap into the truth of the cosmos that some things are worth dying for, including going beyond the gates of security to welcome those who are fleeing terror, even if it results in facing terror ourselves.” When I consider the extreme risk he is taking to care for these refugees I am humbled by his courage.

While this conversation is important, it also runs the danger of becoming a smokescreen that blocks us from seeing the ways God is calling us to personally reach out. We can talk all day about what our country should be doing about refugees, but the bigger questions we need to wrestle with are: What am I supposed to be doing? Who do I need to make room for this Christmas? Who do I keep at arm’s length?

Some of us may be called to help refugees directly. We may financially support people like Jeremy Courtney who are on the front lines, lobby our political representatives, or volunteer at a refugee center. Others of us may be called to find ways to care for the homeless or reach out to homebound folks who are lonely. Maybe the call is even closer to home. Perhaps God wants us to make room for an estranged family member this Christmas.   There is no shortage of needs in the world, and not every need is a personal call for us.   But at some level, I believe Christ is asking all of us to consider whom we need to make room for this Christmas.



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