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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lent

Lent has begun, and we are all walking to the cross.

How are you honoring your walk? Are you fasting, giving up some favorite food for the forty days? Or are you participating in a small-group study? Have you committed to resurrecting your prayer life, or meditation, or daily Bible reading or weekly worship? Did you decide to donate your time, resources, or talents to those in need?

I would love to read your Lenten faith practices in the comments, and especially how those practices deepen your relationship with the Savior.

If you've not committed to honoring Lent in some specific way, I encourage you to do so. It's not too late to make that commitment, whatever form it takes, to walk mindfully in Jesus' footsteps to the cross.

It's my belief that our Lenten walk needs to be meaningful to us...not the fulfillment of some rule or suggestion from someone else. There is no one right way to live into Lent. Explore your spiritual gifts, pray, talk to others for ideas, maybe even sit down with pen and paper to brainstorm ideas. Lenten practice should be individual, personal, and meaningful to you. If it draws you closer to Jesus, it's a good practice.

Fasting and giving up chocolate never made me think of Jesus, and when, some years ago, a youth pastor suggested adding something for Lent, my brain kicked into over-drive. So many ideas popped into my head! In the years since, I've tried a number of things, and almost all have blessed me greatly.

This Lent, I'm reading Ann Voskamp's new book The Broken Way. If you're struggling with brokenness and guilt, the crushing weight of worry and pain, this might be the book for you. Voskamp's writing is raw, lyrical, deep. She has suffered far more than I have, and reading her experiences in facing the suffering, struggling with it, processing it, and ultimately trusting God and thanking Him in deep, abiding gratitude inspires me in so many ways.

I'm also sending a card for every day of Lent, just as I did last year. My crafty gift for making cards, my spiritual gift of encouragement, and my joy in sending happy mail come together perfectly for this Lenten practice. Giving something of yourself to others on the journey to Easter mimics Jesus' giving to His disciples and other followers during his life. While nothing can compare to His sacrifice for us on the cross, we can share that love in small ways and big each and every day.

What are you doing to honor Christ's great gift of salvation, His great suffering and sacrificial death?


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Trust





Please share one good, bright, hopeful thing in your life right now. Leave a comment and spread the good things. Don't we have too much spreading of the bad things? Be a part of the positive.

I'll start. I experienced two positive meetings at my sons' schools in the past two weeks. Jack's ETR/IEP meeting went very well, and so did Nick's 504 meeting. These meetings went so well because teams of teachers and administrators care about my kids. It's amazing!

Your turn.





Sunday, January 1, 2017

Anticipating 2017

Too many people--Christians and non-Christians alike--are frightened right now. The news media, the political rhetoric of powerful bullies, the violence we hear about in constant streams through our screens...these suck us out of our trust in God and into a fearful, powerless state. Our eyesight is skewed and distorted by fear, as if we're looking out at a world trying to make sense of what's on the other side of clouded, cracked glass. Our confusion makes us more afraid.

Christians are called by God to be a people set apart by love. We trust God, we know He loves us, and we share that love in a hurting world. That's our job. Yet too many of us are hunkering down in fear and confusion, wondering where God is. We're being drawn in by faulty, distorted theology that teaches us to watch out for our tribe...those who believe the same way we do, look like us, think like us.

Fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate.

We're even closing the doors to the church and guarding the gates to keep out the marginalized, the poor, the hurting, the broken, those who are sinning differently from us. We've become the Pharisees, expecting a messiah who comes bearing a sword to beat down his enemies with bloodshed and domination until we special ones are all that's left.

God, help us. 

Three little words. A prayer. Already answered.

The psalmist wrote, "And I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Psalm 27:13)

I believe this has been fulfilled and is being fulfilled every single day. Every. Single. Day. 

I reject the fear that the mongers are working in our world. God's work is ongoing and glorious in the here and now...and the most awesome news of all is that we can choose to be a part of it. He wants us to be a part of it. In fact, He's given each of us gifts to use in service to His kingdom for just this purpose. 

Are you using your gifts? Do you even know what they are? 

This year, Transforming Common Days will focus clearly and without distortion on what we can do for God's kingdom which is here and now, a positive response to fear and anger and hate. And it all starts with claiming the psalmist's words. Believe you will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living...and you will. 

I do. And it's glorious. And there's so  much more we can do to spread the glory, grow the goodness, overcome oppression, and communicate the love.  

Will you claim these words with me? Will you believe?


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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Christmas Prayer

Lord,

My own life is going pretty well, and I thank you for that. But some of my friends, well, they are hurting. Really hurting. They are battling illness, or they've lost loved ones, or they are overwhelmed by responsibility, or they have anxiety, depression, or other serious mental illnesses. And every time I turn on NPR, I hear about more suffering. War. Hunger. Human trafficking. Racism. Neglect. Abuse. Hate. Murder.

So many of your children are hurting, and I know that hurts you, too.

My prayer this Christmas is for all your children to feel your love. Show each of us how we can be your love in the world, your hands, your ears, your heart. Make us like Jesus, Lord, so that we grow from helpless infants into powerful forces of your endless love and amazing grace.

There is so much good in this world, and it all flows directly from you. You are all over the place! I've seen good deeds, read about amazing discoveries that will make life better, worshiped in a church filled with your love and joy. I see kindness, gentleness, mercy, compassion, patience, peace, joy, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control everywhere. You are in those fruits, and you nourish your children through them.

To those who are hurting, bring comforting hearts. For those who are joyful, give them generous hearts so that they may magnify that joy in your name.

Most of all, Lord, I thank you for Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us. The light of life. The Savior. Our example and our king. Let his light shine through us into the dark places and leave them dark no more.

Amen

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Are We All Afraid of?

Something strange is going on, something sad and real, and we need to sit up and pay attention.

It simply doesn't matter which candidate gave the victory speech. 

Fear won this election.

Fifty-five percent of Democrats say they are afraid of the Republican party, and 49% of Republicans feel the same way about the Democratic party (Pew Research). 

What are we all afraid of? Are we afraid that the Republicans are going to bring back Jim Crow and make pregnant women stop working and carry us into a fascist dictatorship where all Blacks and Hispanics and LGBT folks will be forcibly rounded up into ghettos? Are we afraid that the Democrats are going to take all our money and guns away from us and make us commit suicide when we get old and sick and carry us into a communist revolution where we all have to wear the same ugly pajamas and go to work camps for questioning the party?

I think some people do fear these things. This morning, a liberal friend pointed out that this is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and a conservative friend celebrated that she doesn't have to worry about the death squads today. So much fear. 

About the same time as the Pew findings, Gallup reported that the numbers of Americans reporting to identify as Democrat or Republican are near historic lows: 29% identify as Democrats, 26% identify as Republican, and 42% identify as independent. 

Who wants to belong to a demonized party? Not me. I've identified as independent for years, ever since I realized that as both parties drifted further to the right and left and shut out compromise and cooperation, I was anchoring myself in the middle. 

But just how demonic are these parties? 

The answer, I think, is this: they are a demonic and radicalized as our fear makes them. The more we react in fear, the more demonic they become. The more we react in love and build bridges of understanding, the more we realize that those so-called demons are a lot like us. We might come at things from different directions, but we all love freedom and peace and sharing a hot cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie.

My last post pointed out that God tells us repeatedly in scripture to fear not, but last night fear won. Fear would have won regardless of which candidate won because so many on both sides are reacting out of fear. Fear's victory began two years ago along with the trench digging of this epically-long-fought election and when we became more focused on our fear of losing to the demons than on our joy of the freedom to shake the other's hand and move forward as Americans.

The other. Those people. When we demonize them, we are lost to God's love.

Nelson Mandela said, "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." Thankfully, I see so many people working hard and praying hard to diffuse the fear, to celebrate freedom for all, to push kindness and cooperation, and to speak the truth in love. I am not a weird lone voice crying out in the wilderness for peace. 

There are legions of us.   

We are all, quite literally and also figuratively, in this together. 

For the love of God, jump on the bandwagon and start building bridges, folks. Ignore the media divisiveness and sensationalism and misrepresentation and lies, and follow the example of those who are already doing the good work of unification. Reach out to your neighbor in love and compassion and a spirit of freedom and unity-in-difference. Speak up against the fear and speak clearly with healing words and hearts. The view from the bridge is extremely beautiful. 

You can do this. I can do this. We can do this. Together.

Because that's what America is all about. 


Today's Prayer

Restore our souls, O Lord our Shepherd, that we may love and be loved, support and be supported, care and be cared for, heal and be healed. Prepare your table for me and my enemies, that we may become partners in Your community of grace and love. Amen.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Fear Not

With the election just next week, I've been thinking about the opposites of democrat and republican. How important are they when we walk into the polling booth next week? Can we as citizens of a democratic nation sensibly limit ourselves to two polar extremes? Where has that brought us? To a place of healthy debate and compromise, of legislative and executive action for the common good, of fair and equitable justice for all? Really?

I suspect that the problem doesn't lie so much in hostility between those labels of democrats and republicans as in our growing culture of fear.

In mental health terms, people are becoming increasingly rigid. Rigid individuals stop developing emotionally too soon. They are like teenagers who know everything with a certainty that defies logic; you can't tell them anything. And just like teenagers, rigid people are profoundly insecure. Their rigidity gives them an illusion of security, a sense that they have life all figured out. But their seemingly secure world is just a vulnerable house of cards that they must protect at all costs...even at the cost of peace, of love, of kindness, of compassion.

Rigid people are gripped by the fear that they might be wrong, so they absolutely, positively must be right.

When groups of rigid individuals get together and form parties, we're all in trouble. This is mental illness on a collective scale, and we're all reaping the fearful harvest in this fall's presidential election.

How should people of faith respond to this harvest? One of the most repeated sentences in the Bible is "Do not be afraid." When people of faith fall into fear, they separate themselves from God, they trust their own understanding instead of trusting His, and they produce fruits of the flesh: anger, gossip, divisiveness, hostility, and hate. They defend their house of cards instead of proclaiming the Good News of love and light and life in Jesus.

I stand in the love and light and life of the Christ, who tells me to love God, my neighbor, and myself.   I don't have all the answers (or even many of them!) but strive daily to walk humbly with Him. I don't understand what is going on in my nation right now, but I know that I need to hold tight to all my brothers and sisters, whether Christian or not, even those whose houses of cards are trembling and making them crazy with fear.

Especially those.

Have you become rigid in your faith? Are you feeling afraid and lashing out at those who are different, who have different political opinions or faith practices? Do you see them as a threat rather than beloved children of a God who is neither democrat nor republican but who created the stars and the moon and the very DNA that makes you a person. Have you forgotten that our God loves each and every one of His children?

Hear the Lord tell you, "Fear not!" Hear Christ's words in the gospel of John: "Love one another."

Hear the Lord, and act in love. Always act in love.

Lord of all, we ask your guidance and blessing on us in these strange days, that our acts in the world be pleasing to you and grow your kingdom of peace, love, mercy, and grace here and now. May your love reach fearful hearts and transform them into bold and faithful servants of the vine of life, to grow a rich and healthy harvest that nourishes all. In Jesus' precious name we pray, Amen.