As We Journey Together

My Sisters and Brothers in Christ….

What a glorious week we just shared – Ash Wednesday….an open Forum for Secretariat Leadership….and our first National Ultreya!!

His ministry of Via de Cristo is alive and well and moving with His guidance during the current challenges.

We pray for patience and perseverance and recommitment to our mission.

Stay in touch with each other in every way possible…..and stay in touch with us – the National Executive Committee.  We are all committed to your walk in faith.

Watch for more announcements – more opportunities to serve – and a continued journey together.

Dance in His grace

Wendy Showalter

 

Walking with Jesus #104

Walking With Jesus
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Mark 1:12-13
Sometimes I have wondered why the Spirit of God drove Jesus into the wilderness. We don’t know for sure, but I am supposing that the Spirit’s prompting wasn’t by chance. The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness for some purpose. And if that is true, then perhaps we can look at our wilderness experiences and wonder if somehow the Spirit led us there.
The fact is that we rarely volunteer to go to wilderness places or places where we struggle. We don’t usually look for opportunities to struggle even if we do something to cause us to land in the wilderness. Mark says the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. Perhaps the same is true for our periods of trial, temptation, and struggle. We don’t necessarily choose these either, they usually just happen to us. Even when the challenges in front of us are of our own making – we rarely intentionally seek such hardship. But can we possibly imagine that the Spirit of God might make use of our experiences during these challenges for our benefit?
I do not think that God causes us misery or suffering to punish us or to teach us something. The Spirit didn’t tempt Jesus in the wilderness but rather drove him there.  Neither do I believe that God wants us to suffer, nor does God cause us to. But I do believe that God is always with us in the wilderness. God is at work both for us and through us during our wilderness times. He never leaves us alone.
God wants only good things for God’s children. And yet struggle, trial, and even misery are wilderness times for us, and they will come. It is simply part of our humanity.
Perhaps we can look at our struggles and ask, “Even though I did not want this to happen, how may God be at work in me and through me in this difficult time?  How might God use me to help someone else in their struggle?” Questions like these might remind us of God’s continued presence with us during these wilderness times. Because you know what? The same Spirit of God that descended upon Jesus at Baptism and drove him out into the wilderness was also with him all during those 40 days and brought him back again out of the wilderness to begin his ministry here on earth.
This makes me believe that God will not abandon us either during our times in the wilderness, but might also, from time to time, drive us there for our benefit or so that we can help someone else. We must remember that God does bring life out of death. As we begin our Lenten journey that is a good thing to hold on to. So I invite you to look at your struggles, hear the promise of God’s presence with you, and then look for God at work in and through them for the sake of this world that God loves so much.
If we are going to follow Jesus to the cross in Lent, then the wilderness is our starting place. That is where Jesus and John the Baptist started so it must be a good place for us to start also. May God’s Spirit walk with you through Lent for the victory of resurrection over death on the cross.
Questions:
  1. What wilderness places are you experiencing or have you experienced?  Name them.
  2. How did you or do you recognize God’s presence with you in that experience?
  3. How does your wilderness experience help you know how to walk with another person in their wilderness experience?

Walking with Jesus #103

Walking With Jesus
 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus. Mark 9:7-8
Recently we had snow here in Central Texas. It snowed all day and piled up to about six inches in my back yard. Snow in Bryan-College Station is a real phenomenon, truly a rare event that happens maybe every four to five years, and when it snows all I can do is sit and watch it. It is a spectacle that I can’t take my eyes off of it. It is a peaceful sign of God’s presence. Of course, it does not begin to compare to the mountain top experience that Peter, James, and John experienced when they saw Jesus transfigured in the brightness of the glory of God with Moses and Elijah talking with him.  The importance of Jesus’ transfiguration links Jesus’ whole ministry from baptism to his suffering and death and helps us understand our discipleship in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It depicts the divine in Jesus the Christ.
As strange as the brightness that enveloped Jesus there on the mountain seems it bears the one message from God that these men, as well as you and I, need to hear repeatedly, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.” It was an experience of the transfigured Son of God, more than the human Jesus that these first disciples had come up the mountain with that day or had come to know and follow. They were astounded, and hard-pressed to explain exactly what happened. Peter had a loss for words when he tried to respond to it.
           As Jesus was “metamorphosized” before their very eyes Peter, James, and John had a spiritual experience that was certainly more awesome and life-changing than me watching the wonder of snow in Bryan, Texas. The natural, physical phenomenon of the brilliant light filling Jesus being and his clothing is secondary to the supernatural proclamation of the voice of God from the cloud which said “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” This Jesus was not just a rebel rabbi, clever sage, or wisdom teacher. His transfiguration reveals him as the Celestial Lord of all human history, and God’s beloved and specifically appointed Son. The conclusion is inescapable. The disciples, and we, must  “Listen to him.”
Listening to Jesus is a key element in our lives as Christians. It is only as we listen to Jesus throughout our lives that we can be transformed, and changed so that the light of Christ can shine in and through us. It is only by listening to Jesus that we can see and truly appreciate the light of Christ that shines in and through the lives of others. Jesus has Peter, James and John come down off of that mountain that day to shine in the midst of their brothers and sisters, and in the midst of their enemies.  Just as the bible says the very breath of God keeps us breathing, the visible manifestation of God’s divine presence is what keeps each of us radiant from within. It is the light of God within us that can sparkle through as if through a stained-glass window.  But it cannot shine through us or we cannot see it shine through those around us unless we “Listen to him.”
Why can’t we always see this?  One way to explain it might be that when the full moon is out at night it is hard to see clearly the light coming from the stars.  So also, when we are so full of ourselves, and calling attention to what we perceive as our own light it becomes harder to see others glow.  The irony is that the more humble we are the more majestic we will shine.  When we give other people permission to shine then our own glow becomes authentic instead of smothered.
The real work of those disciples did not happen on that mountain. It happened when they came down in the valley and began their ministry with Jesus of healing and sharing the good news of Jesus. By listening to Jesus we see very clearly that our ministry is among the people who are in need of God.
Questions:
  1. When and how do you truly hear Jesus and listen to him?
  2. How do you listen, or what helps you hear Jesus speak to you?
  3. How can listening to Jesus help you in your life’s work as a child of God?
  4. Do you have a time set aside to listen to Jesus each day, and do you sometimes hear the voice of Jesus in someone from whom you did not expect to hear it?

Walking with Jesus #102

Walking With Jesus 

30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. Mark 1:30-31

So here we are back in the bedroom where Jesus takes Peter’s Mother-in-law by the hand and lifts her up.   The fever left her, and she got up and began to cook for everyone.  I immediately paused reading right there, because I cannot imagine someone being as ill as she seemed to be just getting up and going back into the kitchen to cook and serve guests.  Even though I am not sure what her illness involved it seems that she was ill enough to be in bed.

Just recently, I had a scare that I had the coronavirus.  I had some of the symptoms I had heard about, so I immediately went to the doctor to be tested.  After testing me and looking at an x-ray of my lungs the physician concurred that I did not have coronavirus, but I did have walking pneumonia.  I took the antibiotics he prescribed and began to get better within a day, but it took at least three weeks, living with little energy and not have enough oxygen to do my daily tasks before I recovered completely.

This woman had been ill to the point of being bedridden, and the disciples were quick to bring it Jesus’ attention.  Then suddenly Jesus raised her up and she wasn’t sick, or even weak. Her very first response was to get back to all those things she had missed doing so easily before she was taken down by this fever. She went back to the kitchen to cook and serve because it was what she had always done. It was what she knew best, it was her forte.  Only this time she did it in a grateful response to what she had so miraculously received from Jesus.  I get fixed on this part of the story because it is so out of the ordinary in the human healing process, so miraculous because it restored her to good health completely in the moment that Jesus lifted her up.

In my experience, healing hardly ever comes like that.  Even a minor cold can get you down for weeks.  If a person has been laid low by a serious illness or traumatic injury healing is usually a slow process. Yet the point seems to be that Jesus can and will restore us so that we might live into our God-given identity and potential, and claim our calling as children of God to take part in the mission to love and serve Christ through serving others.

What this and many other healing stories about Jesus ministry tells me is that God wants to set us free of whatever prevents us from becoming who God has created us to be, so that we might live into our God-given identity and potential.  God wants us to claim our calling as children of God, and join God in the mission to love and bless the world.  Jesus wants to free us not only from things that seek to oppress us, but also for a life of purpose, meaning, and good works. What I mean by good works, is not things that we do to justify ourselves before God or others, but rather those things that we do as a response to God’s love in serving our neighbor.  That service stems from a sense of joy, love, and freedom that Jesus gives us.  It is a joy, a love, and a freedom, that may come even if our physical bodies are not as new and as perfect as we would like them to be.  I have a friend who is bound to her home in a wheel chair, but she makes phone calls and sends cards and emails daily to cheer the broken hearted and the sick.  Healing can come in many forms and as we are healed we can claim the joy that it brings by serving others.

Questions

  1. What calls to you, or who needs you this week?
  2. Could it be that each time we respond to the needs of others we are responding to God’s call?
  3. Can you imagine that each time you respond to the needs of others they too can respond to God’s call and live into the freedom that is ours in Christ?
  4. Is it possible that God is touching you today to bring healing into your life so you can become all that God calls you to be?

 

Walking with Jesus #101

Walking With Jesus
10The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever. Psalm 111:10
The wisdom that translates into a meaningful way of life must be learned from God over time. It is very different from learning knowledge which we can get from many sources of information. The writers of the Hebrew Bible called wisdom “the fear of the LORD.” We have a problem of understanding this as wisdom because of that little four-letter word “fear”. So in order to see how very blessed, we are as recipients of a Wisdom-giving God we need to study God’s Word, and pray and be in conversation with God daily. Then over time, and some difficult lessons in giving things over to God, can we be blessed as recipients of God’s mercy, love, and justice! That’s when we begin to see and learn of God’s wisdom. There are some alphabetic symbols we might use to express how God’s wisdom becomes a part of our lives. Symbols like X, Y, and Z.
“X” is the letter often used in mathematics to designate an unknown. It may also stand for an unknown person or thing like “X” marks the spot, or Mr. “X” is the one who will step forward when I call out his address.  For me “X” speaks of the mystery and wonder of God.  I don’t know about you, but I am constantly amazed at the ways God has worked his wisdom in certain events and people in my life.  When I am totally unaware of how God is working his wisdom in and through my life, God is always there with the “X” working out his wisdom in the events I never expected and in people I never expected. I gain insight into God’s wisdom only after the fact, when I look back and see how God has been working all along.
“Y” stands for the time it takes for God’s wisdom to become understood. That often takes Years. Year after year, I have been guided and blessed, and all I can humbly say is “Thanks be to God for God’s wisdom coming at just the right time!”
“Zzzzzzzz” is the symbol often used of quiet and trusting rest at night. That’s why in cartoons we see the zzzzz’s above the characters who are sleeping.  Well, Zzzzzzz is when I leave all things in God’s hands, to be directed, guided, and blessed as God sees fit to bless me and those around me. You have probably experienced those Zzzzzzz moments and times when you have finally decided to just turn things over to God and let God take care of it because you could not. Forgiveness that is finally given to another when you have held a grudge over them is a Zzzzzzz moment in time. It is a time when you put that person in God’s hands and give up all the harsh feelings, and stop holding things against them. A Zzzzzzz moment is also when you realize that God is truly in control and your attempt to control is not working. Well, Zzzzzz moments are blessed with mercy, love, and justice, and we can rest in God’s loving arms.
I have experienced both X, Y, and Z times in my life and all three have been eye-openers, and spirit-filled moments of God’s redeeming love and forgiveness, and moments of knowing the steadfast love of God. They usually have come after lengthy struggles, when I have tried to solve things for myself and failed. I give God thanks and praise for God’s wisdom which endures forever.
Questions:
  1. When have you experienced those X,Y and Z moments of God’s wisdom in your life?
  2. What holds you back from receiving God’s wisdom at times?
  3. Why do we need God’s wisdom rather than our own wisdom?

Walking with Jesus #100

Walking With Jesus
16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1: 16-19
We don’t know what there was about Jesus that led Simon, Andrew, then immediately following those two came James, John, and others who left their homes and families to follow Jesus. There was something so remarkably compelling about Jesus that these and others followed Jesus into an uncertain future. They followed Jesus with no idea of where it would lead them.
As far as I can determine, the twelve persons Jesus called to be his companions were ordinary men. There is no indication that Jesus did any background checks to determine their IQ levels, financial judgment, professional skills, or religious education. He picked people perhaps like you and me. Besides, his disciples were anything but perfect. They often misunderstood him. They often hesitated to follow him and sometimes disagreed with him. Judas betrayed him and Peter denied him. But these were the persons who continued Jesus’ work on earth after he left, just ordinary people, like you and me. They were called and they immediately followed him.
Also, Jesus’ first disciples were “northerners,” from the northern province of Galilee. The capital of Israel was Jerusalem in the former southern kingdom, the religious center where the temple was. It is no wonder that Jesus was greeted with such skepticism when he traveled to Jerusalem from his home in the northlands of Galilee with his Galilean friends. The religious leaders in Jerusalem considered Jesus an “outsider” since he was from the north, Nazareth.
Every one of these disciples were chosen and called personally by Jesus, and we believe that God calls each one of us personally. God also calls us into the fields and careers of our lives and in those environments we are called to live out our call to follow Jesus. The fact is that God’s call is not limited to clergy. God calls people to be pastors and church workers, but God’s call is not limited to clergy. God calls every single one of us into a work for the Kingdom of God that is needed for our world.
I was visiting with two of our youth and young adult workers in our congregation this weekend. They are both university students, one in a pre-med preparation course of study and the other in aeronautical science preparing to work in the space industry.   As they talked about their hopes and dreams of the future I listened to dreamers who had goals for their lives and woven into their goals were their hopes, dreams and prayers, their call from God for serving God in medicine and in space sciences. As we each live our lives directed toward some profession God has called us to, we have many amazing opportunities to fish for people in that professional arena of calling. Like those first disciples, we each have to seek God’s leadership in learning how to use the skills we are learning to use in fishing for people.
Questions:
  1. What profession are you in and how are you called to fish for people in your work?
  2. Can you write down some of the ways God’s call is lived out in your profession?
  3. Do you pray for God’s leadership as you perform the tasks of your professional work?

Walking with Jesus #99

 

Walking With Jesus 

45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” John 1:45-46.

“Come and See.”  That is what Philip told Nathaniel after he himself had been called to be a follower of Jesus.  He had discovered something in this man Jesus that he had to share with Nathaniel.  Nathaniel was a bit skeptical and said that he rather doubted anything good could come out of that little town of Nazareth.  It was not a lengthy invitation.  It was simply three non-threatening words to a skeptic, but it whetted Nathaniel’s interest just enough.

It is a well-known fact that many Christians find it difficult to share their faith with others.  We tend to keep our faith beliefs to ourselves and consider that religious beliefs are private matters.  We don’t want to offend others, and sometimes we think that if we invite someone to come and visit our worship services we might offend them in some way.  Likewise, religion is one of those topics that gets put off-limits in conversations.  The fact remains that if we often keep silent about the most important thing in our lives, the thing that defines or helps guide who and what we are and what we are becoming,  So we are trying to live two different lives.

Think, for a moment, about the effect those words might have on you if you were to hear them in another context about anything else.  They would likely generate a sense of wonder, curiosity, and perhaps excitement about whatever you were being invited to come and see.   You might even be grateful that your friend thought to ask you to check it out.

Those words are simple and warm and non-threatening.  They are a simple invitation to check out something and to join a community that your friend is part of.  Your friend wants you to come along and be part of something that they have found to be special, but it is totally up to you to see what it is all about.

 

Come and see are very easy, warm, and hospitable words. They are simple words of invitation to allow the person, to whom we address them, to look in on something that they might find to be interesting and important.  We are not called to cram our faith down another person’s throat or question their eternal destiny or threaten them with hellfire and brimstone.  Instead, we are called to simply offer an invitation to come and see what God is still doing in and through Jesus and the community of disciples who have chosen to follow him.

 

Questions:

  1. How often do you invite someone to worship with you or to come to Via de Cristo?
  2. Do you believe that the same Spirit who descended on Jesus at Baptism is still working in you?
  3. Do you believe that the same Spirit that inspired Philip to reach out to Nathaniel is still offering all kinds of people all over the world an invitation to “come and see”?

 

 

 

Walking with Jesus #98

Walking With Jesus
10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:10-11
As we remember and celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ it is important that we remember and renew the vows once spoken at our baptisms, either by our parents or by us — that time when we were washed of our sins and received the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. Since many of us were baptized as infants it is important for us to remember what God did for us in our baptism, to renounce our sinful life and once again embrace the godly life of a Spirit-filled Christian. Even though we may have done this many times it is important to renew those vows again.
During the season of Epiphany, we will review not only the Baptism of Jesus and renew our Baptismal Vows, we will follow Jesus in his preparation for his earthly ministry and the calling of his disciples. It is a wonderful time for us to review our calling by God and renew our vows of answering God’s call to discipleship.
Divine light shines forth from this Child Jesus, which is the transparency of God in the world. The divine light that shines in the Child is not a foreign light to the earth. It is the Light at the heart of all life. It is the Light from which all things come. If this Light were extracted from the universe, everything would cease to exist. So this is a story about the Light of God which is at the heart of everything, the Light at the heart of you and me. This Light is Jesus, and we begin to see that light more clearly through our human eyes during this season of Epiphany as we follow Jesus from his Baptism in the Jordan into the wilderness to be tested and into his ministry.
Up until this moment, Jesus has been indistinguishable from the rest of the mass of humanity. Now Epiphany reveals the meaning of his life and mission. He is the light that comes directly from heaven. The Spirit, in the form of the dove, descends and rests on him as people watch. But only Jesus apparently hears the Voice – or at least, it is directed only to him: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased!” His baptism is his commitment to live out the reality of the Kingdom of God in the world in all of his daily life. It is a commitment to another way – to God’s Way. And God is well pleased! That is what our baptisms also mean for us. We are to live out the reality of the Kingdom of God in our daily lives.
Our own baptism into Christ is the means by which we, too, die and rise again to new life. The old order is renounced and dies. It is a statement of our repentance. The old order of our lives dies. Yet we are not lost in death, because God is the God of resurrection. So we rise to a new life and a new order. Nothing – not even death – can defeat God’s purposes.
Questions:
  1. Have you claimed your new life in Christ through your baptism?
  2. Are you discovering God’s purposes for you?
  3. Can you write down what your baptism means to you, for your life and others?

Walking with Jesus #97

Walking With Jesus

5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:5

Have you ever been camping and need to make a trip to the latrine in the woods in the middle of the night to relieve a physical need and you discover that the batteries are down in your flashlight?  You hate like everything to wake up your friend or loved one who is camping with you to borrow their flashlight.  Well, John is saying that the light that Jesus brings into the world does not run on batteries that deplete in power.  This light is the perpetual God light, His Son, Jesus Christ, who was born in a manger in Bethlehem.  And John says that the light of Christ will always overcome the darkness of our lives and our world.

Today as I write this on Dec. 26, I passed by our neighbor’s house and he was dismantling all of his outdoor Christmas lights.  I felt sad for him and all of the people in our neighborhood that had enjoyed the manger scene in his yard. It made me wish that Christmas would last longer, but for that household, Christmas is over.  When I think about the church year, Lent lasts six weeks, Easter seven weeks, Pentecost at least three times that, and yet, we have only two weeks for Christmas.  Really, our society only considers that it is important enough for two or three days because everyone has to get ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve.  I think it is important for us to be reminded that this light of God that has come into the world that God created and loves, lights our darkness and sees us through all of the darkest and most terrible moments of our lives.

The light of Christ says to me that our lives matter to God.  We matter so much that God made the decision to become human, like us, and share our mortal life and death, and defeat death with resurrection so that we might enjoy God’s eternal life, and learn how to love as God loves the world.

As we think about the difficult year of 2020, this coronavirus pandemic we have experienced and still live with, it matters so much to me that our welfare is of tremendous importance to God.  There is no worry or fear too small or, no challenge too great that God will not share our worries and our challenges.  God is so eager to equip and empower us, to share our worries and our challenges, as well as our joys and hopes with each other.  Because God has reached out to us as a human, and because he has reached out to all of humanity in love, God has empowered us to extend God’s light of Christ to all those around us.  So perhaps we need to think of Christmas all year long instead of a mere two weeks or twelve days.  We have been empowered to grab hold of the opportunity God has given us to share His love with others all year long every year of our earthbound lives.  That would mean that God’s love batteries would keep His light shining in us eternally and the darkness of our world will never overcome it.  I pray for you happy and brilliant shining with the love of Christ in the year of our Lord 2021.

Questions:

  1. What would it mean for you to keep Christmas all year long?
  2. In what ways do we rush through Christmas in the days following Christmas Day?
  3. How can you keep Christmas in your mind and heart all year long?
  4. Can you stop and think of some of the ways that the light of Christ shines through you?