Have you Begun?

Lent began on Wednesday and it has started out very well for me.  Being a part of two worship services at the beginning of the week was a major blessing and really put me in the right frame of mind and Spirit to move forward in my faith journey  I have become more aware of my prayer life, my surroundings and the musings of the Holy Spirit in my midst.  Glory to God. How is your Lenten experience so far?  Have you started to engage or is it just another day week for you?  I encourage you to take advantage of the gift of Lent and dig deep, grow wide and love more.

From Thomas Hopko, The Lenten Spring (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Press, 1983), p. 9:

The lenten spring shines forth,
the flower of repentance!
Let us cleanse ourselves from all evil,
crying out to the Giver of Light:
“Glory to You, O Lover of man!”

Ashes and Children – Daily Devotional – February 19, 2015

Last night was a wonderful worship preparing us for our Lenten Journey.  As I was administering ashes to people I noticed three very distinct reactions by children.  The first was my son James.  He did not want to have ashes on his head and he never has.  He does not like the dirt on his head.  He asked if he could not have it, so I just made the sign of the cross and blessed him.  That got me thinking.  Most of us really do not want the ashes.  It forces us to face our mortality and our sin.  Why WOULD we want it?  But in the facing of our sin and despair we find hope in the relationship we have with Jesus Christ.

The second was a two year old who was being held by his mother.  As she received the ashes on her head, he looked at her new smudge, cocked his head and got a very inquisitive look on his face.  The whole time he was looking at her cross.  I know he does not understand the theological implications of the ashes and the cross, but I also know that we have helped him to begin his life-long journey of faith.  This is one memory that he now has which will inform him and guide him for the rest of his life.  The decision of his parents to have him in worship last night will serve him very well moving forward in life.  This is why we have children in worship.  This is why it is important to bring them.

The third child had a shocking experience, literally.  As I began to administer the ashes, she was shocked by my hand.  After that she did not want to receive them.  It scared her a bit.   I didnt blame her at all.  But the administering of ashes on all of us should not just bring a literal shock but it should be shocking.  It should force us to dig deep and face our deepest fears, our deepest worries, our deepest sins.  Many of us just receive the ashes and go on with our lives without thinking about it again.  Maybe we all should be a little shocked.

May we all look upon our faith anew as if we were children experiencing all of this for the first time.

By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”  Genesis 3:19

Ashes to Ashes – Ash Wednesday Devotion

Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933)

Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

For over thirty years now, Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933) has combined the best of critical scholarship with love for the local church in service to the kingdom of God. Now a professor emeritus of Old Testament studies at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, Brueggemann has authored over seventy books. Taken from his Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), pp. 27-28.

Silent God – Daily Devotion – February 17, 2015

Silent God
From Edwina Gateley, There Was No Path So I Trod One (1996, 2013)

This is my prayer—
That, though I may not see,
I be aware
Of the Silent God
Who stands by me.
That, though I may not feel,
I be aware
Of the Mighty Love
Which doggedly follows me.
That, though I may not respond,
I be aware
That God—my Silent, Mighty God,
Waits each day.
Quietly, hopefully, persistently.
Waits each day and through each night
For me.
For me—alone.

From edwinagateley.com: Born in Lancaster, England, Edwina Gateley’s educational experiences have awarded her a Teacher’s Degree from England, a Masters in Theology from the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and certification as an HIV counselor in the State of Illinois. From 1981 to 1982, Edwina lived for nine months in prayer and solitude in a hermitage in Illinois. In 1983, she spent over a year on the streets of Chicago, walking with the homeless and women involved in prostitution. Within these two experiences were the seeds of her ministry that would be realized in 1983 when she founded a house of hospitality and nurturing for women involved in prostitution. Numerous groups and individuals, including the Governor of the State of Illinois, the Mayor of Chicago, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, and the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, have publicly commended Edwina’s work and ministry. Edwina is currently writing, leading retreats for abused and marginalized women, and serving as “Mother Spirit” for Exodus, a program in Chicago for women in the second phase of recovery from prostitution. Edwina continues to give talks and retreats internationally. She is available to speak of her faith journey, and her struggles to be faithful to her call to urban ministry and mission. She also speaks on Transformation, Justice, Mission, Women in the Scriptures, Mysticism, Prayer and Spirituality.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Today we begin a series of sharing Lenten devotional poetry as our daily devotion.

One of the benefits of Lent is it helps us to not only realize our own mortality but in that deepening understanding, we come to know the deeper need we have for the welfare of others.

John Donne (1572–1631)

For Whom the Bell Tolls

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne (1572-1631) was born into a prominent Catholic family but converted to the Church of England in his twenties.  At the age of eleven he entered Oxford University for a period of three years, and then Cambridge, but he never took a degree.  In 1615 he became an Anglican priest, and in 1621 the dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.  Donne’s poetry, prose and sermons were famous for their eloquence, subtlety, psychological analysis and brilliance, especially as they described the complex paradoxes of the human condition.

St. Francis Prayer

Do you have a daily prayer that begins your day and sets it up for success and peace and does it help you center yourself?  We have one in our bathroom that I say every morning.  There are many great prayers.  I encourage you to have a prayer you say every morning during Lent.  Make it the same prayer and eventually come to memorize it.

If you are having trouble finding one, try this one by St. Francis:

The Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

Valentines ideas for kids – February 12, 2015

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6

One of the dangers in our world today is the movement to perfection and in our pursuit of perfection we fail to let children understand and use their “weaknesses” instead we seek to eliminate them.   I am not talking about the Methodist doctrine of perfection in love.  I am talking about expecting our children to be perfect in everything.  There are now private coaches for 5 year old athletes.  We spend hundreds of dollars to perfect our college entrance exams (SAT, ACT).  We are impatient with imperfections and seek to eliminate them rather than helping a student correct or adapt them.  I found this from Ahaparenting.com.  It is one of many ways to unconditionally love your child and I thought it was intriguing.  Maybe give your child the gift of being imperfect.

 Appreciate your child’s “weaknesses.”  Everyone has traits that take special effort to manage.  But it gets easier if you remember that human “weaknesses” can be understood as the flip side of our strengths.  For instance, a child might be incredibly stubborn, arguing with her parents to get what she wants until she simply wears them down. While that trait is hard to live with, the flip side of the trait is dogged persistence.  This is the kind of persistence that will serve this child well if she grows up to be a scientist, a novelist, and attorney…. indeed, almost any profession would be served by such persistence.

If this is our child, we can help her understand that her persistence is an asset, but can also drive others crazy and make them angry at her.  She needs to learn to modulate it and use it, rather than letting it control her. Helping children to know themselves well and to manage themselves to best meet their overall goals is one of the most helpful gifts any parent can give a child.

Another potential danger in our current culture is over-stimulation and over-scheduling.  I know my kids are so exhausted from their schedules and they often seek just to do “nothing.”  Sometimes, this is due to laziness, but my kids are very busy and they need time for just play or just rest.  I worry they do not get enough.  I realize some kids take advantage of this and use it as an excuse, but you, as a parent, know the difference.  So, here is a gift idea.  Give your child a coupon for one hour of uninterrupted “Them time.”  They can use it whenever they want and hand it in and you have to let them do whatever (within reason) they want for that hour.  They can go outside and play, lay on the couch, read or even watch tv.  You may want to put some restrictions on the coupon but they will appreciate the coupon and your understanding of their need to rest and you will have a happy child.

Oh, kids also like candy on Valentines day!

Valentines ideas for Him – February 11, 2015

For a while it was becoming big business for people to purchase black roses, dead roses, nasty tasting chocolates and the like to give to ex-girlfriends or boyfriends.  It was intended to hurt the ones who hurt you.  That doesnt seem quite in the Spirit of love.  Christ teaches us a different way to live!

Matthew 5:38-48

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Pray for those who are your “enemies” today and share the love of Christ with them.

Now to some ideas for the man in your life.  If you ask most men what they wanted, it would be a similar reply:  “I dont need anything.  I just need your unconditional love.”  BUT, you still probably want to share that in a special way this weekend.  So, I scoured the internet to discover new and exciting gifts for men.  There really arent any.  Socks, coffee mugs, underwear and cologne were listed in almost every article I read.   There is nothing really exciting that I have to share.  But, this I know.  Men, just like women, just want to know that they are appreciated and important.  Actually, men need to hear that much more than women I believe (we have frail egos).  A card with a top ten list of things you love about us will go very far.  But above all TIME.  Find ways to spend time together or even give him some time alone to do what he wants.  I know one of the frustrations I often have is constant interruptions.  They are all for good and legitimate reasons, but I rarely get uninterrupted time.  A gift Cathy once gave me was she took the kids away for the day to allow me to do whatever I wanted.  I loved it and was very productive.  Another thing that a friend of mine once received was the “Honey We’ll Do” list.  You have all heard of the HONEY DO list?  Well, this was a gift from the wife and children of things that they would help with that he normally was in charge of.  For example, he typically was in charge of dusting and vacuuming the house.  They promised to do that for him for a week.  He loved it.  No matter what gift you give him this week, if it is in love, it is enough and will be appreciated.

Valentines Ideas for Her – February 10, 2015

I remember a friend of mine who had been dating a woman for almost a year and they were about to experience their first valentines together.  He decided not to get her a gift or a card because he said that the day was made up for card companies to make money.  Instead, he wrote his girlfriend a note that proclaimed his admiration of her and said that their relationship was stronger than just one day and he hoped that their relationship did not have to be conformed to just one day of sharing their love.  She had purchased him two tickets to a Packers game.  She ended up taking a friend to the game and broke up with him soon after that.  The next person my friend dated had a lovely homemade card and chocolates on valentines day.

So guys are you struggling for something special and different?  Here are a few ideas:

1.  Clean the house;

2.  Give her a decision free day – you make all the decisions about lunches, dinner, what to do etc.;

3.  CHOCOLATES and FLOWERS are always good;

4.  Send her on a scavenger hunt.  Have everything pre-arranged with the stores and paid for.  First stop:  coffee shop where her favorite tea/coffee is waiting along with a newspaper or magazine and time to read it stress free.  The worker then gives her a note that guides her to the second stop:  A spa where a manicure is ready and paid for, including tip.  The manicurist then gives her a note to send her to the third stop:  lunch at her favorite restaurant where you are waiting to dine with her.    Now, you can add many more stops if you want, but it is a very fun gift.

5.  Do something YOU would never want to do but you know she would like.  Take a painting class together, write her a poem, go see a “chick flick.”  I guess if I were to do this for my wife it would be I would run with her at 5am.  Ouch!

While all of these are great ways to celebrate the day.  My friend did have it partially correct.  We are called to love our spouses EVERY day!  We are to imitate the love of Christ that did not come in one day and was not centered around gifts.  Every day is a day we should celebrate love and act loving to not only our spouses but to the world.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.  -Ephesians 5:25

 

Valentines ideas for Kids – February 12, 2015

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6

One of the dangers in our world today is the movement to perfection and in our pursuit of perfection we fail to let children understand and use their “weaknesses” instead we seek to eliminate them.   I am not talking about the Methodist doctrine of perfection in love.  I am talking about expecting our children to be perfect in everything.  There are now private coaches for 5 year old athletes.  We spend hundreds of dollars to perfect our college entrance exams (SAT, ACT).  We are impatient with imperfections and seek to eliminate them rather than helping a student correct or adapt them.  I found this from Ahaparenting.  It is one of many ways to unconditionally love your child and I thought it was intriguing.  Maybe give your child the gift of being imperfect.

 Appreciate your child’s “weaknesses.”  Everyone has traits that take special effort to manage.  But it gets easier if you remember that human “weaknesses” can be understood as the flip side of our strengths.  For instance, a child might be incredibly stubborn, arguing with her parents to get what she wants until she simply wears them down. While that trait is hard to live with, the flip side of the trait is dogged persistence.  This is the kind of persistence that will serve this child well if she grows up to be a scientist, a novelist, and attorney…. indeed, almost any profession would be served by such persistence.

If this is our child, we can help her understand that her persistence is an asset, but can also drive others crazy and make them angry at her.  She needs to learn to modulate it and use it, rather than letting it control her. Helping children to know themselves well and to manage themselves to best meet their overall goals is one of the most helpful gifts any parent can give a child.

Another potential danger in our current culture is over-stimulation and over-scheduling.  I know my kids are so exhausted from their schedules and they often seek just to do “nothing.”  Sometimes, this is due to laziness, but my kids are very busy and they need time for just play or just rest.  I worry they do not get enough.  I realize some kids take advantage of this and use it as an excuse, but you, as a parent, know the difference.  So, here is a gift idea.  Give your child a coupon for one hour of uninterrupted “Them time.”  They can use it whenever they want and hand it in and you have to let them do whatever (within reason) they want for that hour.  They can go outside and play, lay on the couch, read or even watch tv.  You may want to put some restrictions on the coupon but they will appreciate the coupon and your understanding of their need to rest and you will have a happy child.

Oh, kids also like candy at Valentines day!