Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Practicing the Practice of Lent

Yesterday, I shared a little bit about Lent. About the history of it and a bit of the why behind it. By practicing Lent for the 40 days before Easter through prayer, giving or fasting, we humble ourselves, recognize and repent from our sin and acknowledge that we need Jesus. We look forward to Easter, the cross, and celebrate that Jesus paid it all. 

No matter how you decide to practice it, Lent is about giving something up. Time. Food. Finance. Our own way. Its not even so much about what you give up but that you give something up. Giving up something is not common practice in our culture. We want more and are encouraged to go after it -  More time. More money. Bigger houses - so giving up something, even for forty days, is counter cultural but there’s something that happens inside us when we willingly give something up, or at least modify what we’re doing, no matter how important it might be, in order to enter more intentionally into discipleship, prayer, self-examination and repentance. 

One of the authors I’ve been reading lately put it this way: “When we give up something in order to focus on Jesus and get low to see Him in our proper place, we gain a a pure and reverent awe of Him.” 

You see, we actually gain when we give up. We find mercy and grace and hope for the eternal. Jesus meets us there. And that’s where we find ourselves at Lent. The opportunity to give up something in order to gain a clearer view of the resurrection. 

Ash Wednesday is this coming Wednesday. Will you consider giving up something in this season? 

Here’s a few ideas (from the upper room)

Will you try an electronic fast? Give up TV or Facebook, email or texting for one day a week (or the whole of lent) and choose to read and pray instead? 

Start a rhythm of prayer. Each day pick someone or something to pray for. 

Go deeper into the Bible. Pick a book or chapter of scripture to study every day. 

Forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it. Maybe even yourself. 

Create a daily quiet time. Perhaps you will spend 10 minutes a day in silence and prayer. 

Cultivate a life of gratitude and encouragement. Write someone a note of thanks or encouragement every day of lent. And give it to them 

Participate in a lent photo a day practice and pray each day with your camera in hand. Capture those daily gifts of his presence that you might otherwise miss. 

Volunteer one hour of more each week with a local shelter, tutoring program, nursing home, etc. 

Pray for others you see as you walk or drive to and from classes or work. Turn the radio off while you drive and reclaim that time for Jesus. 

Give up soft drinks, fast food, tea or coffee. Fast from something. 

Now, there’s something interesting about practicing a fast during lent. Has anyone done the math? Feb 10- March 27 is actually 46 days….so how do we get 40 days for Lent? We’re actually going to take out the 6 Sundays. 

Historically, Christians wouldn’t fast on Sundays. In fact, they weren’t allowed to fast on Sundays. Because Sundays are a little Easter and always a time to FEAST! The Bridegroom is here! Christ is Risen! Even during Lent, Sundays remind us that the darkness will not last forever and Jesus is victorious! This is why Sunday celebrations are so important.

So Sundays become like a little tease, a taste of what is to come when Lent is over and we are free to enjoy whatever it is we are fasting from, when we get to celebrate. Sundays are like little Easters and those 6 Sundays during Lent serve to increase the anticipation for the one to come.

Giving up something and denying our own will for a period of time to replace it with the ways of Heaven is the point. So, if you take up a practice of say solitude or prayer or study for Lent, you may want to keep it up through the Sundays. It will be 46 days - great! - but if you fast, it is encouraged to break fast on Sundays and enjoy a bit of celebration.

Whatever way you choose to practice Lent, I am hopefully trusting that Jesus will meet you. 

A while back, I read a book on prayer by Micha Barton. This is how she describes her encounter with practicing Lent. 

“In the candlelit chapel, I ran my mind through what I could release those forty days of Lent. What did I depend on most in my small, book-filled student life? Coffee. I took the ashes and gave up coffee. 

Every morning during those six cold weeks of February and March, while the snow piled outside, I brushed the frozen white from the car windows so I could make it on time to teach my eight o’clock freshman writing seminar. And each morning as I entered my day without coffee, I thought of Easter. I longed for Easter the way I realized I should have always longed for Easter. Resurrection is true, and it is happening, I would whisper to myself, as if the cosmic salvation from Christ were occurring all over again, right then, in some realm and time outside my own. I was going to be rescued from my spiritual failure and loneliness. I was going to drink coffee. “ 

And so, 

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, 
to the observance of a holy Lent, 
by self-examination and repentance; 
by prayer, fasting and self-denial; 
and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.  
And, to make a right beginning of repentance, 
and as a mark of our mortal nature, 
let us now kneel before the Lord, 
our maker and redeemer.” 

Book of Common Prayer 

*This post has been informed, in idea and sometime in wording, by the resources found in here. 

Monday, February 08, 2016

Lent: An Introduction

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. But what is the season of Lent? Why should we practice it? What does it mean? 

The church I grew up in wasn’t one that celebrated Lent. When I went to Bible college, Lent wasn’t really spoken of either outside of Church History class. It’s only as I’ve gone out on my own, reading, connecting with people from different communities of faith, and exploring different disciplines and church practices that Lent has really even been in my vocabulary. My first encounters with it, really, were people around me giving up stuff for lent. Usually food....coffee, chocolate, candy. For some it was things like Facebook or TV. Admittedly, my reaction was “its probably better for everyone around me if I don’t give up chocolate or coffee.” As is the case with most church practices, I’m learning though, that its rooted in much more meaning and depth.

We don’t do this as formally as some churches do but, traditionally, the church calendar is split into seasons. Advent. Christmas. Lent. Easter. These seasons, when followed, make up an interesting rhythm of reflection, anticipation and celebration.

We talked about advent as a season of waiting, longing even, as we anticipate the birth of Christ. Then Christmas comes and we celebrate. The past few years, I have practiced advent more intentionally and have been amazed at the difference that it has made through the season. It has helped me find focus through all the busy and stress of the season. I’ve found that it has helped me to find joy in the Christmas season and actually be able to celebrate, in spite of some of the stuff of life, when Christmas does arrive.

Lent is much the same. Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God and refocus towards our Easter celebration. Through these acts and the perspective they bring, we create a sense of longing for the resurrection. 

It's the forty days before Easter, beginning with Ash Wednesday. This year it's from February 10 (Ash Wednesday) to March 27 (Easter), 2016.

Ash Wednesday is the seventh Wednesday before Easter Sunday and the first day of the Season of Lent. Its name comes from the ancient practice of placing ashes on worshippers’ heads or foreheads as a sign of humility before God, a symbol of mourning and sorrow at the death that sin brings into the world.

In Jewish and Christian history, ashes are a sign of mortality and repentance. Mortality, because when we die, our bodies eventually decompose and we become dust/dirt/ash. Repentance, because long ago, when people felt remorse for something they did, they would put ashes on their head and wear "sackcloth" (scratchy clothing) to remind them that sin is uncomfortable and leads to a sort of death of the spirit. This was their way of confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness.

At an Ash Wednesday service, the people are invited to come forward to receive the ashes. The minister will make a small cross on your forehead by smudging the ashes. While the ashes remind us of our mortality and sin, the cross reminds us of Jesus' resurrection (life after death) and forgiveness. It's a powerful, non-verbal reminder that we can experience God's forgiveness and renewal as we return to Jesus.

This begins the 40 days of reflection, redirection and return to the ways of Jesus that make up Lent. Why 40? The number 40 is connected with many biblical events, but especially with the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness. At Jesus' baptism the sky split open, the Spirit of God, which looked like a dove, descended and landed on Jesus, and a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, My Beloved, with whom I am pleased." Afterward, as told in Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus was sent into the wilderness by the Spirit. Where he fasted and prayed for 40 days. During his time there he was tempted by Satan and found clarity and strength to resist temptation. Afterwards, he was ready to begin his ministry. Like Jesus, we may need to take some serious time to pray and listen for God.

As we approach the season of lent this year, are you searching for something more? Tired of running in circles, but not really living life with direction, purpose or passion? It's pretty easy to get caught up in the drama of classes, relationships, family, and work. Our lives are filled with distractions that take us away from living a life with Christ. Its so easy to fill our time with stuff, to get focused on what we want and on doing things our own way. 

Lent is a great time to “repent” -- to return to God and re-focus our lives to be more in line with Jesus. It’s a 40 day trial run in changing your lifestyle and letting God change your heart.

Lent has traditionally been marked by repentant prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (giving).

FASTING: Some people have been known to go without food for days. But that's not the only way to fast. You can fast by cutting out some of the things in your life that distract you from God. Some Christians use the whole 40 days to fast from coffee, tv, soft drinks, or meat as a way to purify their bodies and lives. You might skip one meal a day and use that time to pray instead. Or you can give up some activity like worry or reality tv to spend time outside enjoying God’s creation. What do you need to let go of or “fast” from in order to focus on God? What clutters your calendar and life? How can you simplify your life in terms of what you eat or do?

Giving: Some Christians take something on for Christ. You can collect food for the needy, volunteer once a week to tutor children, or work for reform and justice in your community. You can commit to help a different stranger, co-worker or friend every day of Lent. Serving others is one way we serve God.

Some people find ways to combine the two. For example, if you choose to give up your morning cup of coffee, it frees up a certain amount of money which could then be given to serve the Kingdom.

PRAYER: We can also use Lent as a time of intentional prayer. You can pray while you walk, create music or art as a prayer to God, or savor a time of quiet listening. All can be ways of becoming more in tune with what He is saying to you and who He is in the world.
Whatever you might choose, the journey through Lent is a way to places ourselves before God humbled, realizing that there’s nothing we can do to earn salvation. It is a way to confess our total inadequacy before God, to strip ourselves bare of all illusions of righteousness, to come before God just as we are. It helps us see our need of Jesus and prepare our hearts for the celebration of Easter, when Jesus paid it all. 

These "works" themselves aren't life changing but putting ourselves in a posture where we can meet Jesus is. By practicing Lent, as Christians have done throughout history, we can each take a small step in orienting our lifestyles more towards God in this season. 

*This post has been informed, in idea and sometime in wording, by the resources found in here. 

Lent Resources

I've recently done some reading and writing about the season and practice of Lent. I'm going to share what I've discovered but would be remiss not to give credit where credit is due. Many of the ideas and phrasing that I shared came from the following resources:

40 ideas for lent - Rachel Held Evans (from 2015) http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/40-ideas-for-lent-2015

Lent 101: The Upper Room http://www.upperroom.org/lent101

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Benjamin 10 Months

I don't know about snips and snails and puppy dog tails, but I do know that this little boy is made of pure energy. He is 10 months of equal parts fun and disaster and we love him for it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Drink from the Well

Sometimes life leaves you weary. Finances are tough. Family dynamics are difficult. Purpose is hard to find. The clock is ticking down on maternity leave and there are no sure answers as to how to make the next stage of work...work. Sleep is hard to come by. Another relative passes away and, even if its a blessed reprieve from sickness and dementia, its still sad and final. You just don't feel...enough. 

And then you read this: 

A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)
 The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
 The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”
John 4:7-15 (the message)

"Gushing fountains of endless life."
"Will never thirst again - not ever."
And your soul reads these words and sighs, yes, please.  Every longing for peace, for answers, for satisfaction, finds rest in these words. Jesus is enough. Yes, He is. But what does that look like? How does this artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life, practically impact these hard, dry spots of life? 
I don't have a lot of answers. I know what it does NOT mean. I know we're not called to be a doormat to the circumstances of life, broken, battered and weak. I don't believe that we're called to a blind peace, ignorant of the difficulties of life.  Isn't that what the holiday season just passed reminded us of? Jesus in the mess? Jesus, as a baby, flesh and blood and helplessness, born in a messy, dirty manger, raised in a normal family, not as a king, and sacrificed himself on a wooden cross as a criminal. He acknowledged the mess. He lived it. He dove headlong right into it and found humanity at its worst. He came near to us so we could come near to Him. 
I know that to be truth. Capital 'T' Truth. 
But I don't have answers today. All I have today is hope that comes from knowing that Jesus cares about the messy bits. He hasn't forgotten. He has answers. He is enough. 

Benjamin - 9 Months

I don't know why I didn't think to share these here sooner. I've been taking these fun photos every month. Some months have definitely been easier than others. I'm starting to think that I'm going to need a second pair of hands for the next month!

There are a LOT of shots that look like this. He is SO busy these days.  Who has time to sit still for a photo? 

But we smile nice.

And even cheer. We get lots of practice watching hockey. 

We're convinced he's going to be walking in no time...and we're afraid. 

That little nose scrunch kills me every time. 

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

One word: Peace

I don't do New Year's resolutions. Which is actually a little strange since I love goal setting (and goal reaching) and tangible accomplishments. Sometimes I think I make lists just to be able to check things off. But new year's resolutions? Nope. I do, however participate in some good, old fashioned reflection. Like what were the highlights? Things to be thankful for? Things to look forward to in the new year? I also, if you remember way back, have entered into the practice of choosing one little word to frame the year with as a part of the oneword365 movement. 

It might sound silly, but this practice has become really important to me. As one year closes, I begin to prayerfully seek what idea or word God would have me define the new year by. Just like naming has always been something I believe holds great significance, this too has seemed almost prophetic, often more in hindsight, but, as the adage goes, hindsight is 20/20.

As 2014 rolled to a close, I began to seek His leading for my 2015 word. And I waited. Nothing really resonated with me. January 1 rolled around and I had nothing. The goal setter in me was appalled that I had "missed the deadline" because obviously if its for the year it needs to be chosen right away, right? This is how it is with me. And then it came. A couple days into the year. A year later and I still remember the moment. I was driving home from work after another long night shift, dropping down into the valley, eyeing up the stars and a big, bright moon and pondering what God had in store and it hit me. He wants me to move forward. 


All of the words that I had chosen in years prior were important and good and powerful but they all had a sense of "in spite of" and looking back over my shoulder, still holding onto the past junk in one way or another. For 2015 God wanted more for me. He wanted me to move forward. The year before had been a year of renewal in many ways. Healing me. Putting me back together. Now it was time to take that which had been renewed and move forward.  The things about moving forward is that there's no room for looking back. Live today and look ahead, but not back. 

There were some pretty natural areas of moving forward in our life this year. Like a baby. Benjamin David. Becoming a mom has changed everything - so cliche, I know -  and made me look at a lot of things in new ways,  impacting things I didn't expect it to or, at least in ways I didn't anticipate. Faith. Fear. My marriage. My understanding of who I am. 

We, my sweet husband and I, have dug deeper into church community and life. So many of the people there have become friends who are like family to us. It has been a delight to grow these relationships not only for ourselves but also for Ben who is loved and cared for by so many. It does my momma heart good to know that there are so many people invested in how this little man grows and who will love him well in this life. My involvement in the "doing" of church has increased too and, to my pleasant surprise, has been so rewarding. I have had the privilege of leading worship again and if I have seen forward movement in anything personal, this might be one of the biggest areas. My comfort and confidence in this area have been increased over and over. I am so thankful for great people to work with and be supported by. I'm thankful for the ways that leading has pushed me deeper into the word and into who I am in Christ. I've jumped into a few other areas too and it has been good to flex the muscles of gifts long unused. I'm ever thankful for the opportunities that have been presented to me, the people who believe that I have something to offer and the ways that my stumbling faithfulness can be an offering to those around me. 

There are other areas of life where movement came with fear and trembling, drama and challenge and having that one little word to cling to, especially on those sleep deprived, emotional roller coaster type days, was, and is, critical. Days where you just have to know that moving forward doesn't have to be in leaps and bounds but can be baby steps. Two steps forward, one step back, is still one step further ahead than you were before. Its still progress. 

Sometimes moving forward is difficult, grace required work. 

Lysa Terkeurst says it this way, "There's this beautiful thing called imperfect progress...slow steps of progress wrapped in grace." Those words describe our 2015 well. 

Coming out of 2015, I just feel tired. Like Ezekiel talking about dry bones requiring the breath of God to bring life. How do you keep moving forward when you feel like there's nothing left? Like dry bones rattling around the desert? Like you've given everything you've had and the tanks are just plain old empty? 

And then I found this: 

"I just feel so empty inside...i don't know how God can use me in the new year when I feel so depleted by the old one." Maybe you've been there before - too haggard to hope, too wary to wish, too exhausted to anticipate. 

Maybe you're there right now, toes tired from the journey, your heart feeling bankrupt by the barrage of life. 

But if you've limped into the new year with muted hope and a poured-out soul, I've got good news for you. Our emptiness doesn't disqualify us from Christ's extravagance. Our weariness doesn't exempt us from His wonder." (Alicia Bruxvoort)

There's a certain, steady truth to that. His wonder. His extravagance. I truly felt like I was limping through December but one thing that brought me great joy was deliberately walking through advent and experiencing the wonder and mystery of God came down as man. Jesus drawing near to us so we could draw near to Him. 

Which brings me to my new word. It started brewing during advent. Thinking about Jesus as the Prince of Peace and the bringer of peace that passes understanding. He promises peace regardless of circumstance. He promises peace to the weary and worn out. He promises peace to me. Its no small thing that accepting this as a word for my year has seemed difficult. A gift so willingly given but so hard to accept. Choosing to "learn" peace seems a little dangerous, a little like praying for patience and yet its what I know my heart is longing for and surest way to care for my soul in a way that's God honouring. So "peace" it is.

Where do I begin? Jesus gives the starting point in John 16: " I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

Trust. Take heart. This is where I start 2016. 

As a part of this whole learning, one of things that I know I can practically do is take care of me. I am not good at self care. I did my meyers briggs personality assessment and it confirmed that my one of my biggest strengths is also one of my biggest faults; to consider the well being of others - emotionally and otherwise - to the the exclusion and even detriment of myself. Its true. I will let the things I need slide to make sure others have what they need. I will just "power through." Years ago (yes, years, and I'm), a friend told me that sometimes you have to be selfish in order to be able to be selfless.  Jesus practiced this well and often. If he needed to take time to refuel, refocus and be with the Father, then it stands to reason that I must too. I'm not sure what all of this will look like for me. I need to find those things that fill me up - physically, emotionally and spiritually -  and do them. 

Part of the reason for sharing this here is to live it well in community. There's a couple significant areas that I know have been and very well could continue to cause me great levels of anxiety and stress. If you would join me in praying peace into those areas, it would be greatly appreciated. Even more so, I want to become a bearer of peace. I want to pray peace over those around me. 

So, because you've stuck with me this long, let me leave you with this: