Insight from this retreat at BGST.
‘be still’ is not the lack of physical activity but the ‘state’ of being in God’s presence to know him.
A special guest post from a dear friend, Christine Aroney-Sine. I contribute an occasional post to her wonderful and inspiring blog, Godspace
Yesterday I made yoghurt. I heated the milk to 160F, allowed it to cool to 125F and then added 1/2 cup of yoghurt from my last batch. I ladled into quart jars, placed them snuggly under a warm blanket and six hours later I had yoghurt. I stood and stared at it in awe, amazed by the fact that tiny microbes have been at work diligently transforming my milk, solidifying it into a delicious tangy yoghurt.
This is the first time I have ever taken notice and been fully attentive to this wonderful fermenting process. Usually I just take it for granted, but this month I have decided to take the “awe and wonder challenge” and find at least six things each day that give me a sense of awe. Today it was my yoghurt making that first caught my attention.
Sadly though children experience awe a hundred times a day, adults rarely do. So much of what seems miraculous to a child adults dismiss as unimportant. Or they rationalize it away with scientific knowledge destroying the mystery and wonder of God in the process. We live in an awe deprived world. We sit in front of computers, not under trees and rarely take time to notice the grandeur of God’s world and of those we share it with. Yet awe and wonder change the way we look at ourselves and our world reorienting our thinking and our actions away from ourselves to the needs of those around us.
This month I have added a “daily dose of awe” experience to my spiritual disciplines. My husband and I have rechristen our daily walks “awe and wonder walks” pointing out to each other the blossom laden trees and brilliant smiling daffodils that take our breath away. Sometimes we stop for a few minutes just to admire them. It is fun and inspirational, connecting us to God in vital and enriching ways.
I am increasingly convinced that rediscovering child-like wonder, is essential for our spiritual health too. It was this conviction that prompted me to write The Gift of Wonder in which I explore twelve childlike characteristics that I think make us fit for God’s kingdom. Did you know that a daily dose of awe makes us more caring and compassionate people? Regular reminiscing and nature walks make us healthier physically, emotionally and spiritually. Gratitude transforms our lives and our faith in incredible ways.
My own growing joy and delight from my “daily dose of awe” experiences encouraged me to apply the same principal to other activities. On the plane, I am the one with my window shutter down when everyone else is trying to see their screens. I am inspired by the landscape we pass over. I look down at the meandering rivers shining in the morning sunlight. That’s God doodling I exclaim.
The Bible too is full of awe. We hear it in David’s exclamation of praise in Psalm 65:8 for example
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders
Where morning dawns, where evening fades,
You call forth songs of joy.
Awe begets awe. As we take notice of the awe inspiring aspects of our world, we start to notice awe and wonder wherever we go.
Awe begets awe. As we take notice of the awe inspiring aspects of our world, we start to notice awe and wonder wherever we go. We gasp at flowers sparkling in the sunlight, and stop to drink in the song of birds in the trees or stand on the hill to better watch the wind rushing through the grass. Then our eyes shift to the people around us. The image of God is etched in each one of them. It is not just our friends and family who give us a sense of awe. The resilience of the homeless and the strength of the abandoned also inspire us.
Opening my eyes to notice the awe inspiring world in which we live and the awe inspiring people we share it with has transformed my faith. I want to continue noticing the wonder of the changing seasons and immerse myself in their beauty. I want to increasingly be drawn into the presence of our fun loving, joy filled God. This is a great time to get out and have some fun in God’s world. Will you join me in discovering the wonder of God and of God’s world? Take the awe and wonder challenge with me. See how many miracles unfold before you each day.
my new book
This haunting song by Loreena McKinnett has been ringing in my head as I read about the state of the world through my newsfeeds. I am been trying to understand the meaning of the song. But first the lyrics.
“Beneath A Phrygian Sky”The moonlight it was dancing
On the waves, out on the sea
The stars of heaven hovered
In a shimmering galaxyA voice from down the ages
So in haunting in its song
These ancient stones will tell us
Our love must make us strongThe breeze it wrapped around me
As I stood there on the shore
And listened to this voice
Like I never heard beforeOur battles they may find us
No choice may ours to be
But hold the banner proudly
The truth will set us freeMy mind was called across the years
Of rages and of strife
Of all the human misery
And all the waste of lifeWe wondered where our God was
In the face of so much pain
I looked up to the stars above
To find you once again
We travelled the wide oceans
Heard many call your name
With sword and gun and hatred
It all seemed much the same
Some used your name for glory
Some used it for their gain
Yet when liberty lay wanting
No lives were lost in vain
Is it not our place to wonder
As the sky does weep with tears
And all the living creatures
Look on with mortal fear
It is ours to hold the banner
Is ours to hold it long
It is ours to carry forward
Our love must make us strong
And as the warm wind carried
Its song into the night
I closed my eyes and tarried
Until the morning light
As the last star it shimmered
And the new sun’s day gave birth
It was in this magic moment
Came this prayer for mother earth
The moonlight it was dancing
On the waves, out on the sea
The stars of heaven hovered
In a shimmering galaxy
A voice from down the ages
So in haunting in its song
The ancient stones will tell us
Our love will make us strong
What is the Phrygians? Initial googling reveals that Phrygian is a mode of musical notes. I am more familiar with Phryrians as a historical ethnic group. Wiki states
The Phrygians (gr. Φρύγες, Phruges or Phryges) were an ancient Indo-European people, initially dwelling in the southern Balkans – according to Herodotus – under the name of Bryges (Briges), changing it to Phruges after their final migration to Anatolia, via the Hellespont.
From tribal and village beginnings, the state of Phrygia arose in the eighth century BC with its capital at Gordium. During this period, the Phrygians extended eastward and encroached upon the kingdom of Urartu, the descendants of the Hurrians, a former rival of the Hittites.
Meanwhile, the Phrygian Kingdom was overwhelmed by Cimmerian invaders around 690 BC, then briefly conquered by its neighbour Lydia, before it passed successively into the Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great and the empire of Alexander and his successors, was taken by the Attalids of Pergamon, and eventually became part of the Roman Empire. The last mention of the Phrygian language in literature dates to the fifth century CE and it was likely extinct by the seventh century.
My initial exposure to the Phrygians came from my reading about the ancient Greek and Roman history. Having been in Turkey (ancient Anatolia), I can remember standing there and looking at the beautiful blue sky. A particular stanza from the song resonates within me.
We wondered where our God was
In the face of so much pain
I looked up to the stars above
To find you once again
Sometimes we ask where God is in the face of so much suffering in the world, not realising that He is here all the time. He feels our pain and our sorrow. He suffers with us as the world drags its feet to the end of time.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday
Luke 9:28–36 (The Message)
28–31 About eight days after saying this, he climbed the mountain to pray, taking Peter, John, and James along. While he was in prayer, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became blinding white. At once two men were there talking with him. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah—and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over his exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.
32–33 Meanwhile, Peter and those with him were slumped over in sleep. When they came to, rubbing their eyes, they saw Jesus in his glory and the two men standing with him. When Moses and Elijah had left, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He blurted this out without thinking.
34–35 While he was babbling on like this, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them. As they found themselves buried in the cloud, they became deeply aware of God. Then there was a voice out of the cloud: “This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him.”
36 When the sound of the voice died away, they saw Jesus there alone. They were speechless. And they continued speechless, said not one thing to anyone during those days of what they had seen.
The theme of the transfiguration is a powerful theme affirming that Jesus is the Christ who is the Glory of God transcending Moses who represent God’s Laws and Elijah, God’s Prophets. Jesus is the Son of God and deserves to be followed. While most attention is focused on Jesus, Moses and Elijah, and sometimes unfairly on Peter, John and James, it is sometimes missed that another person is also on the mountain. He is there in the form of a cloud.
Clouds are stuff when you look up at the sky or look down when you are on an airplane. They come in different colours and shapes. Clouds also cover the top of high mountains such as the Himalayas and the Andes. It is not actually known on which mountain, the transfiguration took place. Some suggest Mount Horeb (because Moses was there) or Mount Herman near Syria. What was fascinating that God took the form of one of his creation- a cloud. Not a mist or fog. Why a cloud? I will suggest some things that may happen inside a cloud,
The Transfiguration event happened following questions about Jesus’ death. It highlights Jesus’ path of suffering and death on the cross. In Luke 9:31, Moses and Elijah appeared to speak to Jesus about his departure. The word departure may also be translated as exodus, linking back to the Israelite’s history. Luke document this to affirm that the Christ is to die and resurrect. This is so important that even God came down in a cloud, something that has not happened since the exodus event! As a cloud, God reveals much of himself. May we draw wisdom from this reflection.
Soli Deo Gloria
English-educated Chinese Christians in Malaysia and Singapore faces a unique quandary. Their mindset, worldview and culture are influenced by the Anglo-American influences that come with an English education system. Yet, these Christians are ethnic Chinese brought up with their Chinese cultural heritage whether they are aware of them or not. No wonder they are often called bananas – yellow on the outside but white in the inside. That is one of the reasons why mainland Chinese when China was forced open to the West were very resistant to Christianity. They see Christianity as a Western imperialist tool. They recognize that embracing the Western culture will threaten their Chinese identity. Early Chinese Christian converts were regarded as no longer Chinese.
Present day English-educated Chinese Christians still struggle with the issue of whether they are Chinese Christians or Christian Chinese. This is especially acute in families that no longer speak Chinese or any of its dialects. In many such families their lifestyles are closer to Anglo-Americans rather than to their Chinese-educated brethren. Yet intrinsic to their identity is their Chinese heritage. The pull to their roots become stronger as these English-educated Chinese becomes older. This highlights an important point. As Christians were are not only called by God to be his people (special calling), to be his agent in redemption (general calling) but also to embrace our cultural heritage (cultural calling). Our cultural heritage shows the diversity of God’s people. Revelation 7 shows a heavenly scene where there is a mighty multitude of God’s people from every nation, people, tribe and language.
As Christians, we are to incarnate our ethnicity and its culture. This is especially true in our Chinese English-speaking congregations in Malaysia and Singapore. I am sure this will be same with Chinese Christians elsewhere. There is much we can learn from our Chinese Chinese-speaking congregations in the way they have contextualized the gospel and Christian living within the Chinese heritage. In Chinese culture, the Chinese Lunar New Year is the most important event in the year. The reunion dinner where the whole family comes together is the social event of the year. Family members travel thousands of miles to attend.
I have observed over the years, for many English-speaking Chinese Christians, the Lunar New Year celebrations are becoming less and less important. Similar to the Harvest and other Chinese festivals. It is just another public holiday. More and more are taking the opportunity during this period to travel overseas for extended holidays. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to celebrate Chinese New Year. However this may be symptomatic of the loosening of our cultural identity. There is no running away from our cultural heritage and identity. We run away at our loss. Recently many churches in Malaysia and Singapore are engaged in emotionally mature spirituality. I believe it is time for us to embrace our cultural spirituality too.
Gordon MacDonald, writing in Leadership Journal Winter 2016 in an article entitled The Day I Hit a Wall
coined the word ’empty souls’ as when busy Christians run on empty because of their busyness. I like what he writes about preventing this:
Over time I have comprised a bulleted list of the insights that resulted from that December day so many years ago. I include them not because I have mastered them, but because they represent the direction in which I like to walk each day.
• My allocation of time and energy must begin by inserting Sabbath pauses into my calendar before work begins … not after work ends. Because ministry work never ends.
• I have come to appreciate the importance of searching events and personal encounters for the embedded messages of wisdom and discernment that God offers.
• I have tried to be sensitive to the various ways God makes his presence felt: in creation’s beauty and art, in suffering, in study, in various forms of private and corporate worship, in the wonderful stories of Jesus.
• I have gathered a small cadre of personal friends who know my heart (and I, theirs) and who are not reluctant to either encourage me or rebuke me when necessary.
• I have pursued the discipline of intercessory prayer for my family and friends, for the church in the world, for global leaders, for those who suffer.
• I have treasured the insights that come from the biographies of great men and women of God who have lived through the centuries
• I have come to love the Bible, to draw from its pages the thoughts and purposes of God.
• I have understood the importance of readily repenting when I am wrong and quickly forgiving when others have hurt me.
• I have made it a priority to move toward those who are weak and vulnerable with words of hope … as Jesus did.
• I have sought to discipline my lifestyle: to keep free of clutter, to downsize, to keep simple, to accept the obscurity that comes with the aging life.
• I have heard the call of God in my older years to be a spiritual father to any younger people who want to welcome me into their experience.
• I have determined to daily return to the cross and reaffirm my conversion and call to follow Jesus.
We need to avoid ’empty soul’ syndrome and Gordon gives very good advice.