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  • WHEN YOU BREAK YOUR LENT FAST

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    I stumbled on this gem of a blog post by Kenneth Tanner on Patheos and had to share it.  If you’re not doing too well during a Lenten fast, be encouraged:

    “Perhaps you’ve tried to keep a fast this Lent? Perhaps you read somewhere that Lent is about “getting in touch with your guilt” but then you found–with good reason–that self-flagellation is not the healthiest or most effective motivation for spiritual practices.

    My waitress at the local diner asked me this morning if I really wanted bacon with my eggs as it’s Friday (she knows I’m a pastor in the community). I told her, “I like to keep God guessing about my devotion.”

    She knew that I was joking, and she also knew that I was grateful for her reminder, but I also was with a bunch of Christian brothers eating breakfast and it’s good for them, and for me, to remember that I am human and that Christ is the only one who is good, who is my righteousness.

    If you are faltering in the Great Fast you are not alone but there is also really good news.

    Fasting is not about changing God, whose love and regard for us are constant. We cannot do anything that changes God’s disposition toward us; we cannot leave anything undone that changes his heart, a sacred heart that is always ready to welcome us home.

    Much less is fasting about adding anything to the life and activity of Christ in the flesh, a life that saves us and swallows up death. In his life for us, he took upon himself our fallen nature and the sin of the entire world—all of it.

    And, while, I’m at it…Lent is not about “embracing our guilt.” It’s about recognizing that Christ alone can bear it.”

    Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/imagochristi/2015/03/why-we-fast-27-days-in/#ixzz3VbkAOfYf

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  • UNCOVERING GOD’S RHYTHM OF GRACE

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Book Reviews

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    More.

    It seems as if the fast paced society we dwell in craves more.  More of our time, talent, and treasure.  Kerri Weems stands in the gap and boldly proclaims that we don’t have to buy into the demands of more.  Instead, we need to step into God’s gift of Rhythms of Grace.

    Weems argues that we pace ourselves to the wrong rhythm, the rhythm of more and “mammon.”  The true pacesetter ought to be God and the Shalom he offers.  Shalom, as defined by Weems, is peace and wholeness that comes from walking in the rhythms of God, full of rest and grace.  Shalom does not come from productivity, it’s experiencing more of God’s peace in the midst of all the things we have to do.

    After making her case for Shalom, Sabbath, and Grace, Weems pivots to practical applications of combating pace stealers by guiding her readers to embrace saying yes to their needs (which are really God’s means for sustaining his creation).

    Rhythms of Grace is very approachable and easy to digest.  I especially enjoyed her study questions given in the back of each chapter.  With that being said, this book is clearly geared toward women.  There weren’t too many examples geared toward males, so I would recommend this to my female friends for an engaging devotional read to challenge the underlining cultural narrative or more.

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  • RESTLESS SOUL?

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Growth, Story

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    Rest

    Here’s a thought:

    Augustine once said our hearts are restless apart from God.

    Calvin once said our hearts are idol factories left to their own devices.

    Reader, our hearts do indeed grow restless apart from God, and left to our own devices, we rest in front of idols of our own making.  Left to our own devices, we will create idols to worship, idols of our own ego, politics, pleasure, or study.

    So what we really need here is to rest and stop being busy!

    Have a restless spirit?  Try resting in the Author of rest.

  • TO LENT OR NOT TO LENT?

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy, Story

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    Prayer

    Today is Fat Tuesday, the day where you and I can get so much sin out of our lives that we can rightly prepare for Ash Wednesday and 40 days of preparation for Easter.  While not getting into the questions surrounding why an individual should go overboard before a time of repentance, Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday was originally begun to get in the last bit of rich food and celebration before the more somber time of fasting arrives on Ash Wednesday.

    Now it seems like a lot of Protestant churches are now taking part in Ash Wednesday and remembering the Church Calendar period of Lent.  Why, when I was a kid, Lent was just for Roman Catholics, not for Protestants of many different stripes.  But after my time in Church History classes in my undergrad education at Vanguard University and my time at Fuller Seminary, I have come to the conclusion that it is a helpful practice for the Church as a whole.

    There will be people who take part in the time with little thought, that will always happen, but the focus on sin, repentance, and the cross will make the victorious resurrection and vindication of Jesus that much sweeter on Easter.

    I do recommend Christians (evangelical, or otherwise) to take part in this ancient practice.  I have written in support of this here and also gave a history of it here.

    If you feel called to give up something for 40 days, then that is great.  But please, don’t go flaunting it around everywhere like a martyr.  Fasting from something is meant to be between the individual and God, not a regular Facebook post about the desire to eat chocolate or drink coffee again.  As Jesus said in Matthew 6:16-18,

    “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

    Whether you do or do not begin the fast in the Lenten season, I hope you would at least commit to remembering God’s mercy through his action in Jesus.  As I have said in a previous post years ago, “we should participate in Lent not out of superstition or thoughtless ritual.  Lent ought to be a time of contemplative thought upon Christ and His salvific mercy.”  While Christmas reminds us that God came to us, Lent and Good Friday will remind us that God brought us back into the fold at great cost by bearing our sin.

    Am I ever thankful for that!

    Are you observing Lent this year?

    (This post was originally seen in 2013)

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  • SUBJECT TO NONE, SERVANT TO ALL: CHRISTIAN LIFE

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Luther, Wisdom Wednesday

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    Laguna de las Lavanderas 

    (In honor of Reformation Day this month, Wisdom Wednesday will be looking into Martin Luther’s brief yet powerful work Concerning Christian Liberty)

    A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone. -Martin Luther

    The more I have been processing what sets Christianity apart from other world religions, the more I have become convinced that love differentiates it from the other great world religions.

    Now please hear me out though, and hear what I am not saying.

    I am neither saying that other religions lack an element of love in their message, nor am I saying other adherents do not love.  What I am trying to say is that Christianity has sacrificial love at its core.

    Luther is arguing in his work Concerning Christian Liberty that freedom is rooted in the sacrificial love of Christ.  I highlighted this aspect in my Bonheoffer series previously, but for our purposes here, for those who follow Jesus, they are called to also follow Jesus by serving others.

    Notice in the quote above how service flows out of identity.  By being in Christ, they are most “free of all people”; yet out of this freedom they are called to serve others.  Paul would phrase it that Christ knew his place, that all authority was given to him, and out of this position (which is huge!) he chose to empty himself (see Philippians 2:1-11).

    I will never tire of saying this, but if you are in Christ, you are freeBut if you are free, then the next step is to serve others.

    Honestly, I don’t like hearing this, but Christians are called to be a different community, we are blessed to be a blessing.  We are free from sin and death, oh please grasp that point.

    If you are in Christ, you are free.  You are free like the tree transplanted in good soil, free to flourish and produce beauty and fruit.  Similarly, Christians are also planted in good soil and are free to flourish.  They are free to bear fruit and bless others because they are free.

    Follow Jesus and be free.  Be free and serve all.

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  • DO YOU WANT A NEW MIND?

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk, Culture, Growth

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    Coffee Shop Study

    The Bible is a really old book.

    Has that thought ever come to mind?  What about these ones:

    It’s kind of old fashioned and the book should be placed in a museum.  I mean, it has crazy stories in it and a few good lessons, but we all know that our post modern (or remnants of modernist) way is superior, right?  

    Consider this for a second.

    What if we are not superior to the Bible?  What if we have no place to sit and judge over this book?

    Maybe Scripture is fully human and yet divine at the same time.  What if God decided to use a diverse amount of people to communicate the Grand Drama of God redeeming the world by using human words?  Maybe it still literally retains God’s voice in this book?  Is it possible?  What do you think?

    Our Minds

    Our minds are full of violence.  Even the noble ideals of the Enlightenment philosopher in Europe ended up in the Great Terror of Revolutionary France.  Even the workers paradise of the communist experiment ended up in the horrors of the Maoist, Stalinist, and other communist regimes.  Even the noble ideals of the Manifest Destiny pushed Native Americans to death and small reservations.  Humanity has produced some horrors, sadly they even come in the name of God.

    But what if we were called to something else.  Called to take on a new mind, one that is not filled with Holocaust and hate, but humility and grace?

    Jesus’ Mind

    The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-8,

    Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

    Maybe Jesus’ insights were superior than the insights of the French Revolution, that we have a responsibility over a right.  I think the community of Christ followers might do well to make responsibility as a foundation to life instead of our rights.  After all, we might be free to eat meat offered to idols, but out of love for others who might stumble, we ought to give up those rights (see I Corinthians 8).  Or as Luther would put it, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.

    Let’s follow Jesus and lay down our rights so that we might bring the good news of God’s work in Jesus to all.  An ambassador for the Kingdom of God is certainly founded in responsibility of representing Jesus.

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  • GET UP AND EAT

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Growth

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    While I am out bonding with my beautiful daughter, I have the great privilege of bringing a powerful writer.  Julie Caulder blogs over at Incite Faith and her passion is finding redemption in brokenness.  I have learned a lot through her transparent writings, and I highly recommend subscribing to her blog Incite Faith. More on her follows this post.  So without further ado, take it away, Julie!

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    Kitten food

    I have a confession:

    I used to hate reading the Bible.

    I never understood why reading the Word was so important. It seemed more like a chore than a commitment. I never approached the Word with passion and zeal, but with fearful restraint. What I didn’t know then God has since revealed to me now.

    God has revealed to me His Word has the power to transform our heart and renew our minds. When we’re burdened, worried, or afraid, God’s Word has the power to focus our attention where it belongs; on His truth. 

    Spending intimate time with God and reading His Word has been both challenging and convicting. It’s been in His Word I’ve been set free from a 16 year addiction, learned the healing power of forgiveness, and how one simple of act of obedience can transform our life. I had to face many obstacles and trials to get to this point in my life. I hit rock bottom, stayed in my sinful pit, and cursed and damned the Lord for putting me there. I ran from my problems, hid my sins, and lied to myself and others. I was a mess. 

    In 1 Kings 19, Elijah was afraid and ran for His life, then an angel touched him and said “Get up and eat. When trials come out first reaction is to run. We run from our situation and ourselves. We complain about our circumstances and stay in our mess because facing the truth about who we are would mean change. 

    Honestly, I didn’t want to change. I felt the way I was living was justified after all I’ve been through. I played the victim more than leaning on God’s redemptive grace. But God never gave up on me. The more time I spent with Him, He reminded me of His Word. There was something He needed me to know and He was ready to work in my life. His Word needed to pierce every unwilling part of my heart. God wanted to change my life, He wanted to change me, and it was going to start in His Word.

    God Himself gave us everything we need to live an abundant life; Jesus, His Son, The Holy Spirit, and the bread of life, His Word. If the Word of God doesn’t change you from the inside out, then it’s useless.

    I spend time with God in the morning before work, after work, and before bed. Why? Because I know how easy it is to be bogged down by distraction and busyness that we neglect time with the Lord. Like Elijah, we need to “Get up and eat” daily. Our minds are more vulnerable in the morning and God’s Word is what sustains us and gets us through our life and day. To limit our distractions, we need to pick up our Bibles daily and get distracted by His truth, not the noise of the world. God’s Word is the only thing worth being distracted by.

    Everything in God’s Word is truth. It cuts through everything hindering our relationship with Him. It tears down the veil of our hearts and reveals the truth of who we are and what we’re made of. While scary, His Word is necessary to live a life of faithful and relentless obedience.

    No matter where God has you, make it a point to “Get up and eat” daily. God wants to reveal His truth and Himself to you and that’s only possible through His Word.

    God’s Word sustains, comforts and remains.

    How much time are you spending in His Word?

    #heartcheck

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    Julie Caulder has a passion for people and meeting them where they are in their struggle. She believes in the power of transparent community and in God’s redemptive grace. Her life motto is: “Love God, Love Others, Go!” You can connect with Julie on Twitter @InciteFaith

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  • BREAKING FREE FROM THE TYRANNY OF KEEPING OUR OPTIONS OPEN

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Culture, Growth

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    Ice Cream

    On a recent JetBlue flight, I watched a few episodes of a National Geographic program on the brain.  Yes, I’m awesome like that.

    One of the segments pointed out how the brain processes choices.  If we walk into an ice cream shop and have the option of vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry, what would you choose?  

    Now if you were to go into another shop down the street and received the ice cream options of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, rocky road, cookies and cream, cookie dough, mint chocolate chip, fudge tracks, coffee, birthday cake, pistachio, chocolate cherry, french vanilla, chocolate fudge brownie, peanut butter cup, caramel, or apple pie, what would you choose?  

    Which store would you choose, the second one?  Which one would make you happier with your selection?  

    Not the second, actually the first one would.  

    The second shop provides so many choices that you undoubtedly would want more than just one flavor.  The first store, I would choose vanilla and wouldn’t feel too much remorse about the other flavors.  But that second one, it would take me a lot longer to decide!  Birthday cake sounds good, but then again so does peanut butter cup.  And fudge tracks (remember, only one scoop).  No matter what I went for, there would be a bit of buyers remorse because the second and third place flavors all looked so good too.

    Imprisoned By Choices

    In the face of many choices, it’s so very tough to commit.  In fact, we’re often imprisoned by choice.  But in life, we need to commit.  We simply cannot go throughout life always trying to keep our options open.  Never choosing to marry because there might be someone better out there.  Never choosing to plant roots in a community because somewhere else might be calling you.

    Bottom line is this: God wired us to choose and not live in a constant state fear of making a choice.  He created us to commit to him and to others.

    Seek Wisdom And CHOOSE

    Indeed, we should make wise choices, the Book of Proverbs is filled with this counsel.  We should pray, seek wisdom in God’s Word, and speak with wise Christians (not the type that counseled Rehoboam in I Kings 12).

    Similarly, Barry Cooper in a Christianity Today article wrote that there comes a point when,

    pausing becomes procrastination, when waiting is no longer wise.  There comes a point when not to choose become idolatry.  It becomes a lack of trust in the God who ordains the decisions we will make, gathers up the frayed ends, and works all things for our good and his glory.

    Seek wisdom and make wise choices.  Then we need to rest in the fact that God will work things out.  God is good and he is sovereign, but always remember that he is good.  Make a decision and trust that God will work all things for good for those who are called in his good name.  

  • CHOOSING NOT TO PRAY

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Henri Nouwen, Wisdom Wednesday

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    Prayer is the language
    A spiritual life without prayer is like the Gospel without Christ.
    -Henri Nouwen
     

    I have a confession.

    When I’m rushed in my morning routine, I typically cut down my morning routine.  I cut out the gym, writing, and a few other things out of my routine.  But if I was honest, I would say that something more vital might be placed on the dusty bookshelf as I rush my way out the door for work.  I put my prayer life on pause.  Alright, that sounded too nice: I choose not to pray. (Ouch, that sounds really harsh!)  I mean how important can it actually be?

    According to Henri Nouwen (among others!), it’s pretty vital.

    In The Way of the Heart, Nouwen expands on prayer by addressing what it is not and what it is meant to be.

    Prayer is not a last ditch support system

    Prayer is not a weakness, a support system for weaker men and women.  It is not a last resort for people at the end of their rope.  Though it might be a good place to start when you hit a dead end (I think about George Bailey’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life), prayer is a basis for all relationships.  As Nouwen puts it, prayer is a creative contact with the source of all life.

    Prayer grounds us

    How do you picture God?  Is he the cosmic fly swatter, a magical magician in the sky, or a wise sage?  Nouwen would suggest that if we try and fit God into our own views, into our own preconceived idea of who God is, then our prayers will become warped.  If the God of our prayers is “created in our own image and adapted to our own needs and concerns” then we will indeed see it is a weakness, our last line of defense.

    Think about it another way, if we come to God and create him in our mind to be something that he is not, then we will be disappointed every single time.  Thinking about prayer as a last line of defense will simply lead to frustration and a Christian who might live more like an atheist than a Christ follower (since the person might believe in God, but is living as if he doesn’t exist until they hit rock bottom, see Craig Groeschel’s The Christian Athiest).

    Prayer connects us

    Prayer not only grounds us, but it also connects us with the author of a grander story.  It grounds us in the reality of a relationship with the giver of life.  Prayer is thinking and living in the presence of God.  Certainly we ought to set aside time to pray, even when we have a full schedule.  Martin Luther once remarked that he was going to have such a full day that he would start it off by spending the first two hours of it in prayer.  Prayer is huge!

    Prayer grounds us in the Kingdom of God and connects us with the mission of Jesus.  In fact, Jesus himself often snuck away to pray.  If the God-Man believed it was important, how much more important would it be for confessing followers of Jesus?

    My challenge and encouragement is in your full days, take time to pray.  Maybe you are so busy that you should heed Luther’s motto and spend the first hour or two in prayer.  What say you?  Care to join me?

    Photo credit: Creative Commons License Leland Francisco via Compfight
  • VICTORIOUS AND VICIOUS CYCLES

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Henri Nouwen, Wisdom Wednesday

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    What moves you?

    Money?  Sex?  Power?  A dream?

    Ethiopia: Innocent Prayers of a Young Child

    I wish I could say without the slightest hesitation that it is Jesus the Messiah.  I wish that I could look you straight in the eye right now and tell you that my top desire is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.  Unfortunately, I know that this is not the case.  I am a man who often wants to do X, but instead chooses to do Y instead.  Can you relate?

    This despair led me to the writings of Henri Nouwen. In case you haven’t been introduced to his works, Nouwen was a Catholic priest and prolific author of 40 books.  I first encountered him in a class on Christian Spirituality at Fuller and his book The Way of the Heart about Silence & Solitude deeply influenced me.  His constant reminder and example as a man of prayer is something I want to explore for the next few Wednesdays.  The themes will come from a compiled book on Nouwen about prayer called The Only Necessary Thing.  

    _______________

    Desire

    Human beings desire something.  We desire something special.  St Augustine would write that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.  What do you think about that?

    Nouwen in The Only Necessary Thing would similarly suggest that we mainly desire communion (“union with”).  Certainly, we look for union in many things, both good and bad.  Whether in marriage, friendships, recognitions, or successes, we look to belong with something or someone.

    Yes, desire is a good thing.  Please don’t journey down the road of the Eastern mystics or Stoics that seek to remove desire.  It is a natural thing that causes both immense pain and joy.  Nouwen remarks that Jesus came to proclaim that “our desire for communion is not in vain, but will be fulfilled by the One who gave us that desire.”  Perhaps Augustine was right.  Maybe we do yearn for something more.

    Nouwen makes the connection that the more we desire God and the more we pray (through living a prayerful life), the more we desire to pray.  Just as there are vicious circles that lead people into bad habits, this pattern of prayer leading to more prayer is a victorious circle that lead people into a Kingdom building life.  

    Having discovered a desire to love God though will not just have us end there.  No, it’s a love that needs to be cultivated.  Like a rose garden, a marriage, or planted field, it needs to be tended daily.  Nouwen would suggest that after we have found the treasure of God’s love, we are then put onto a new quest.  It is a quest that will not be completed on our own terms though.  We cannot just pray on our own time, and expect God to show up at 630AM every day.  He could be trying to reach us at 11:05am, or perhaps 3:32pm, or 6:58pm.  God is not a tame house cat, instead he is a lion like Aslan, one that is good but never safe.  

    “A truly spiritual life is life in which we won’t rest until we have found rest in the embrace of the One who is the Father and Mother of all desires.”

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