Getting through Lent with Grace

We’re a week into our journey of Lent for this year and I’m working through a couple of different Lent devotionals. I’ve been enjoying them because they each bring a different perspective to this journey that we’re on and to spiritual life as well. One of the things I struggle with regarding Lent may be something that you struggle with as well, and that’s the continual focus on our sins. I know it’s important to recognize our sins, to ask for forgiveness of them and to make changes in our lives based on not living those sins, but it’s not exactly encouraging to talk about our failings all the time.

Maybe it’s my fault because I’m immersing myself in Lent and not just reading one devotional each day, since it gives me a lot more exposure to the topic of Lent and those that go along with it like looking at your failings. On the other side of the story sometimes it’s good for us to really take a solid look at all aspects of our lives. About how we treat people, how we use our resources, how we treat ourselves, how we think, how we worship, how we go through our day-to-day lives. Taking 40 days out of 365 to make sure we’re leading lives God would be proud of isn’t so bad.

Since we’re human we know we’re going to mess up as we go through life, it’s a consistent messing up-seeking forgiveness-healing cycle. The reason we can do the solid 40 days of Lent and reflecting on our imperfections is because we know that after doing the hard work there will be a great reward, and that’s the celebration of Easter and the promise of God’s eternal love. Whether this Lent journey speaks to you and invites you to take time for reflection more frequently throughout the whole year, or you just take this time to experience God’s grace and love, I encourage you to be open to whatever God will be showing you.

“Lent is a time for us to take an honest look at ourselves and receive the grace of Jesus’ healing love.” Loyola Press

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Preparing for Easter

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Easter journey. It’s an opportunity for us to prepare our hearts for Easter, 40 days (not including Sundays) representing Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. It’s a great time for us to dive into the Bible and read or re-read the stories of the life of Jesus and learn about His life and learn from His wisdom. The Bible may have been written many years ago, but so many of the lessons and experiences in it are relevant to our lives today, especially the teachings of Jesus and the ways that He lived His life. Yes, we take time to learn about Jesus all year long, but I think Lent is an opportunity to journey along with Jesus and really dive deep in His life, and with 89 chapters in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you can read 2 each day (including Sundays) and get through all 4 books and read all about the life of Jesus before Easter.

Why is Jesus so important to the spiritual journey and our spiritual studies? Not only because He’s God son and not only because He lived and died for us to save us from our sins, but because He was human just like us. He’s someone who experienced our struggles exactly as we do, He knows what it is to live and survive in this world, and knows how to do it all while staying true to God and living a life of faith. Each day we have opportunities to live our lives like Jesus did on a regular basis. He taught lesson after lesson about caring for the body, having healthy relationships, caring for others, choosing love and compassion, listening to others, listening to God and the treasure that life is. It’s a reminder that we don’t have to do the miracles to share God and Jesus with the world, that in our little actions, daily tasks and regular interactions we’re able to make a difference in the lives of others and share the love of Jesus even if we don’t say we’re sharing love because of our faith.

We can’t forget that He performed miracles, that God is still doing miracles today, and that Easter is one of the biggest and best miracles, but we don’t live life miracle-to-miracle. We live life far more often in the day-to-day life that Jesus did, doing normal things like eating, traveling and sleeping, those actions reveal how human He was, and how closely we can identify with Him.

I encourage you to join me during this Lenten season, preparing for Jesus’s death and resurrection, celebrating His life, both how human He was and how divine. What is Jesus calling you to learn and prepare for these 40 days?

“Jesus changes our image of God. Jesus immerses himself in life — eating and drinking, walking, and working, and weeping, and resting, touching and feeling, and pointing to the very ordinary stuff of life as being revelatory: revelatory of what life is to be and of who He is to be for us.” Brother Curtis Almquist

30 Days of Thanksgiving: All The Saints Before Us

This November we’ll be talking about the topic of being thankful.  This month I really want to work on being more thankful myself, so in addition to the thoughts of thanks on Facebook and Twitter, each day this month I’ll be sharing a reflection, encouragement, inspiration or just bit of thanks here on the blog. Today I want to start in what may seem like a strange place: Halloween.

Halloween was Wednesday, and while it’s a very secular celebration today, historically and originally it was something much different.  It’s originally known as All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve, the day before November 1, today, which is All Saints’ Day.  What’s All Saints’ Day?  A day honoring all the saints, both highly decorated and less known.  And what’s a saint? A saint is someone who is recognized for having an especially close relationship with God and living their life in a way that is dedicated to God.

It’s a day that reminds us of the afterlife, of the fact that good people of faith have gone on before us.  That they’ve had their turn sharing God with the world and doing His work here on earth.  It’s an opportunity for us to recognize, remember and thank all those from the past who have paved the way for our faith today.

This All Saints’ Day there are several new saints up there, including a missionary friend I’ve supported for several years.  It’s not easy to no longer have these people as part of our world because we loved them and they were doing such great work here on earth for God.  But at the same time we know they’ve entered into their eternal blessing and their reward after all the work they’ve done for God throughout their lives.

So this All Saints Day make time to thank God for the people of faith who influenced, guided and encouraged your faith, whether they’re from the past few years or several hundred years ago.

Faith for the Ages

This month we celebrate(d) days that speak to a whole variety of people. We had the holidays of Labor Day on the 3rd and Grandparents’ Day on the 9th, and coming up on the 26th is See You At The Pole Day, which is a day that students gather around the flagpole at their school and pray. One of the most awesome things about faith and spirituality is that it’s something for everyone. It’s not something that only young people are interested in or only senior citizens, or only people from one country or only people of one language, it’s something that can speak to anyone at any time throughout their lives.

The Bible begins with chosen groups of people, from Noah’s family to Abraham’s family to Joseph’s family to David’s family, all part of a chosen group of people: the Israelites, as those who are “God’s people”. Then in the New Testament things get turned on their heads and we’ve suddenly got Jesus dying for everyone’s sins, and then Peter dreams of a sheet of animals in Acts 10 which blows the field open more specifically and clearly saying that anyone and everyone is able to access Eternal Life through Jesus.

All of this says there’s never a wrong time to start to get to know God or to rebuild your relationship with Him. There’s nothing going on in your life that God hasn’t been through with someone else before. There’s nothing you can tell Him that will surprise Him. You can share the Good News with anyone whenever God gives you an opportunity. You can have your new day whenever you need it. Grandparents can sit and read Bible stories with grandchildren.  Partners can read together.  Parents and children can read together.  Anyone can join a Bible study and develop their faith and their faith community.  What have you learned and how has your faith journey changed as you’ve grown?

Dealing with Life Experiences

“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don’t have to like it… it’s just easier if you do.” Byron Katie

Byron Katie is well known for “The Work.” If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a simple process anyone can do to understand and address problems with clarity. It’s a simple process but can bring honest healing to yourself and any others involved.

When we talk about personal victories, one thing that has to always come up is that before the victory comes the challenge. You can’t be victorious in something if you haven’t gone through the journey to get there. Sometimes the journey is more challenging than others, but each journey comes with the opportunity to learn something, to experience grace, to share forgiveness, and to grow personally or professionally. The sooner that we accept that life is full of challenges which bring us to victories, the easier it will be to approach those challenges.

When you fight something every step of the way it only becomes more difficult. When you complain about the terrible lot in life you’ve received it makes it more difficult. When you impatiently wait for the pot of gold to just show up in your lap instead of searching for a rainbow it makes things more difficult. One of the biggest choices we each have to make in our lives is whether we’ll accept the simplicity laid out by Byron Katie or continue to fight our lives and our journeys every step of the way.

I encourage you to see what happens in your life journey this week as a gift, not as a hardship, not as God spiting you, not as punishment, and not as a chore.

Remember Again

Recently I’ve been thinking about the topic of remembering. I’ve been remembering those early back-to-school days, contemplating summers at the beach, about the joy of eating watermelon in a backyard on a hot summer day, of taking walks on warm summer nights, of summer Vacation Bible Schools, hymns of old and songs of new, and of Noah and of the rainbow that is a reminder on several levels.

A big part of our lives is centered around remembering. We’re supposed to remember birthdays, appointments, where things have been put, people’s names, songs we’ve heard, books we’ve read, things people have told us, the list goes on. But not only are we supposed to remember what goes on in our lives we’re supposed to remember what goes on in the lives of our coworkers, friends, family members, significant others and/or kids. We’re also supposed to remember what God has taught us. It’s not surprising that we find ourselves forgetting things and feeling overwhelmed, it’s a lot to remember, more than most people can remember (which is one reason I write a ton of stuff down and feel very little guilt about it).

Much of the Bible is about remembering as well from Noah’s rainbow to the 10 Commandments to the Psalms to the many genealogies to the stories and traditions. One thing that sticks out with many of the remembered events of the Bible is repetition. It’s one of the greatest tools for remembering and most challenging as well. Repetition as seen in both hymns of old and songs of today, in the verses of the Psalms, signs of the Cross and occurrences of rainbows continue to be present in our lives, sometimes bringing hope, other times bringing frustration.

As frustrated as some people get with the repetition, it’s a crucial part of our lives and an important way of sharing about God. Someone may not believe or understand the first few times they hear something, but as they hear it repeated again and again they can reflect on it and learn from it and let God speak to them through it. Sometimes it’s exactly the reminder that we need to pick ourselves up, or turn ourselves around. If they can repeat the same lines throughout the book of Psalms, why can’t we repeat the same lines in the spiritual songs of today?

So the next time you’ve got a song stuck in your head, take the time to consider what the words are really saying. Thank God for the reminder and take a minute to discover what He may be trying to tell you.

Taking Time to Listen

Given the events of the last week as well as the big meeting between two world powers happening somewhere half way around the world, today I thought we’d take a look at the words of Proverbs 8:33: “Listen to my instruction and be wise. Don’t ignore it.”

My heart hurts whenever someone chooses to end their life before God has determined it’s their time. The world lost two public figures last week to suicide, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. While we may never know what truly caused them to make that decision, many who choose suicide do so because they don’t have hope, don’t believe life could get better, don’t feel heard or have been so beaten down they can’t take it anymore. Statistics show that on average over 100 people choose suicide each day, which is a really scary number, and means there are thousands of hurting families out there.

The Bible teaches us that we should love our neighbors, that we should be giving and support each other, that we should look out for women and children, to trust that the God who knows the petals on a flower and all the creatures of the sea could look out for the little details of our lives, and that God has a plan for good for our lives. But these are not assurances that everyone knows because not everyone knows the Bible.

These aren’t just spiritual messages, they’re life messages. Anyone can love, listen and be compassionate, regardless of race, sex, age, location, or language. Are you taking the time to listen to the people in your life? To the ways they’re trying to help you and things they’re trying to tell you? I encourage you to choose love and compassion this week, to stop and listen when people speak, to make time to listen to what God is trying to tell you, and make time for those who are most important to you.