No Shortcuts With God

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"   Mark 4:35-41

I’ve been faithfully riding my mountain bike around “the Fullerton Loop” 2-to-3 times each week, and this discipline has become a key part of my physical, emotional, and spiritual health. And on a recent ride, I experienced the reality of this Bible story in an unusual…incredible…way.

On this particular morning, the weather was cool and cloudy, but no rain was forecast until evening. Just as I reached the half-way point of my ride, it started to lightly sprinkle. I did not want to get wet, but neither did I want to cut my ride short. So I was faced with a decision: continue the ride…or head home?

And – interestingly – the half-way point was the one place where I easily could have left the trail, made a beeline for home, and minimized my exposure to the coming rain. In other words, I could have taken a shortcut. It would have been easy to do so. It was tempting to do so.

But the Bible story above kept running through my mind, and I found myself wrestling with the idea of pressing on through the rain toward my goal. At the same time, I wondered about “rebuking the storm”. So I started to pray (out loud, since no one else was on the trail) and I said something like this: “Father, I will not take a shortcut today. I will ride the longer way, the normal way, believing that this is in my best interests. I will do this whether or not I get wet. But I also prefer to stay dry, and I choose to believe that You do not want me to get wet today. So in the name of Jesus I rebuke the rain. I ask You – the Creator of the rain – to hold it back so that I may finish the ride.” I prayed this way continually for the next several minutes as the light sprinkles continued…and then, all of a sudden, they stopped. About 15 minutes later, it started to sprinkle again…I prayed some more…and the sprinkling stopped. Again.

This was absolutely wild and weird and wonderful. Because I pressed on (regardless of the consequences), God chose to calm the “storm” of the rain in response to my prayer. If I had taken the shortcut home, I would have shortcut God’s opportunity to bless me with His miraculous power.

At the same time, God was using this very real experience as a metaphor, to make an important point about my ongoing spiritual journey. He clearly was reminding me that usually there are no shortcuts with Him. The way of faith often is “the long way around” because that is the route that requires trust. I’m in the midst of such an experience right now as my search for a new ministry unfolds slowly…very slowly…much more slowly than I would prefer. I keep wishing that God would provide a short-cut; that a great ministry opportunity would show up now.

But the Father is telling me that He will keep me dry and safe…He will bring me through to the other side…He will protect me from the storm…but I must learn to trust Him for as long as the journey takes. Because there are no shortcuts in the life of faith.  

- Bruce

Water Touches My Soul

I grew up by the ocean and spent many days swimming and sunbathing; walking by the shore and listening to the sound of the waves. My love for the ocean has broadened into a deep joy for all kinds of water in God’s creation.

During the 5 years we lived in Illinois, we lived near two Forest Preserves – one with a lake, one with a river – and we spent many hours listening to the water, and watching it change during the seasons.

As the years have passed, I’ve noticed that streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans have become more than just places of beauty or fun…they are places of deep soul reflection, where the setting itself, and the sound of the water, can literally draw me into the presence of God. Sitting by water, swimming in the water, or kayaking on the water, brings a sense of peace into my soul.

Twice during this sabbatical, God has used water to encourage and remind me of His plan for me.

First: last fall, while sitting at Deadman’s Creek in the eastern Sierras, I sat on a log watching the water trickle down the mountainside. As I did, I felt these words from Jesus pass through my mind:

“Rest” the brook sang.
“Follow the path I’ve laid out”, the rocks chimed.
“Keep going” the pebbles murmured.
“Give yourself time to grow”, the towering pines whispered.

I felt like the very creation was speaking God’s wisdom to me. And these words so powerfully expressed what has come to pass during my journey over these past 7 months. Day by day, I have rested…and have been renewed… and have experienced growth as I have increasingly learned to live by faith. I am living in the moment and allowing God to alter the rhythm of my life.

Second: just a few weeks ago, Bruce and I stayed in a cabin near Santa Barbara. Right outside our door (literally!) was a rushing stream, swollen by the recent rain. One afternoon, as I sat on our small porch in an easy chair, listening to the sounds and watching the rushing water, I felt like God was once again using His creation to speak to my soul:

The pebbles murmured, “Move along”.
The rocks chimed, “Enjoy the swiftly moving current”.
The budding spring flowers, shaking in the gentle breeze, whispered “Look for new life”.
The brook sang, “Open yourself to the new adventure ahead”.

Last September in the Sierras, fall was coming and the water in the creek reflected the impending season of winter: a metaphor for slowing down and taking time for the inner journey. Now winter is ebbing and the creek reflects the impending season of spring: a metaphor for new life and a new season.

The two different creeks signal to me that the season has changed; that it is now time to look forward…to listen and discover what God wants to do in me and through me in the months ahead.

And if God asks us to relocate to take on a new ministry, then my hope…my prayer…is that we will be able to live on, or near, a place of water. Because God uses water to speak to my soul.

- Julie

The Meaning of Ordination

Julie was ordained yesterday by the Elders of Eastside Christian Church; Bruce was ordained by the Eastside Elders back in 1994.  Needless to say, these were powerful moments of affirmation for us.

In preparing for ordination, we each spent many hours pondering and praying about what it means to be “called”.  To be “set apart”.  To consider pastoral ministry as a lifestyle, and not just as another “career option”.

In a book written for pastors many years ago entitled Working the Angles – The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, pastor and author Eugene Peterson wrote a short treatise about ordination.  It’s too long to reproduce in its entirety, so we’ve excerpted it below (and adapted some of the wording just a bit to fit our own circumstances).  This statement summarizes what ordination to pastoral ministry means for each of us.

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Century after century, Christians continue to take certain persons in their communities and set them apart for ministry.  In doing so, I understand the church to be saying something like this to each person it ordains to be a pastor:

We want you to be responsible for saying and acting among us what we believe about God, and about His kingdom, and about the gospel:  we believe that the Holy Spirit is among us and within us.  We believe that God's Spirit continues to hover over the chaos of the world's evil and our sin, shaping a new creation and shaping us as His new creatures.  We believe that God is not a spectator of human history, but a participant in it.  We believe that God uses everything - especially everything that looks like wreckage - to turn lives of emptiness into lives of praise.  We believe all this…but we don't see it.  

So as a community, we need help in keeping our beliefs sharp and accurate and intact.  We do not trust ourselves because we know that our emotions seduce us into infidelities.  We know that we are launched on a difficult and dangerous act of faith, and that there are strong influences intent on diluting or destroying it.  And so we want you to help us.  Be our pastor. Minister to us through the Word and the sacramental things of God - baptism, communion, weddings, funerals, prayer - as we move through the different stages of life.  Minister to us in our work and in our play, with our children and with our parents, at birth and at death, in our celebrations and in our sorrows, on those days when morning breaks over us in a wash of sunshine and on those other days that all are drizzle.  This isn't the only task in the life of faith…but it is your task.  We will find someone else to do the other important and essential tasks. This task is yours: the ministry of the Word of God and the sacramental things of God. 

One more thing: we are going to ordain you to this ministry and we want your vow that you will stick to it.   This is not a temporary job assignment, but rather it is a way of life that we need lived out in our community.  We know that you are launched on the same difficult belief venture - in the same dangerous world - as we are.  We know that your emotions are as fickle as ours, and that your mind can play the same tricks on you as our minds can play on us.  That is why we are going to ordain you and why we are going to exact a vow from you.  We know that there are going to be days and months… maybe even years…when we will not feel like believing anything, and we will not want to hear the truth from you.  And we know that there will be days and weeks and maybe even years when you will not feel like speaking the truth to us.  It doesn't matter.  Do it.  You are ordained to this ministry; you are vowed to this ministry. 

There may be times in the future when we come to you as a committee…or as a delegation…or as a board…and demand that you tell us something different from what we are telling you today. Promise us - right now - that you will not give in to what we demand of you.  You are not the minister of our changing desires, or our time-conditioned understanding of our needs, or our personal preferences, or our secularized hopes for something better.  With these vows of ordination we are lashing you fast to the mast of God and His Word so that you will be unable to respond to tempting voices which might lure you away from Him and the task He has given you. There are a lot of other important things to do in this wrecked world - and we will do at least some of them - but if we do not know and do not remember the foundational things…God, the kingdom, the gospel…then we will end up living futile, fantasy lives. 

Your task is to keep telling us the gospel story; to represent the presence of Christ and His Spirit; to insist on the priority of God; to speak the biblical words of command and promise…and to invite us into the presence of the Heavenly Father.  

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We consider it an incredible honor to be called to this challenging task, and our deepest desire is to faithfully live out this calling each day. Our only goal is to someday stand before Jesus and have Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

- Bruce & Julie