Lent 2020: Listen to Love

You see, no matter what, in spite of everything, God would love his children – with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

…Noah didn’t mind so much what other people thought, he minded what God thought. So he just did what God told him to do.

When we hear God whisper His Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love over us. When we receive God’s great big love with open arms. That’s when we stop minding what other people think.

The trick is, first, to listen. Get the gunk out of our ears and really tune in to God’s heart. To walk and talk with God as a best friend, as beloved children of our good, good Father, as the only true source of wisdom.

We listen to God through His Word, the Bible, but also through our circumstances, through wise people also listening to God, through His Spirit speaking straight to our hearts.

If Noah had listened to his own common sense, to his friends, to worldly wisdom, he would have missed God’s instructions. It made no sense whatsoever at all to build a gigantic boat in the desert. But God said it, and Noah followed through.

Hence, the second trick: to hold steady to God’s love as we listen and live what He says. Like His instructions to Noah, sometimes God’s words seem to make little sense. I can’t even begin to imagine some of the non-sense God might whisper to you, because it will be a) the same, and b) different for each of us.

But I’m certain of this: LOVE will be at its center.

 

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020: Receive

I’ll take this emptiness…and I’ll fill it up! Out of the darkness, I’m going to make light! And out of the nothing, I’m going to make…EVERYTHING!

These lines specifically refer to God’s original act of creation. Yet God continues to create, every minute of every day as we experience them.

Sometimes we feel empty, dark, alone in the nothingness. Sometimes life hurts, or simply feels mundane, repetitive, unexciting.

Ash Wednesday begins this liturgical season of Lent, in which believers world-around and throughout the ages have focused on the suffering of Jesus leading up to the cross and, in God’s final word, resurrection. Talk about a time of emptiness, darkness, and nothingness…Jesus in the grave. How the disciples must have mourned. How we join them during these six weeks.

Enter God. He says, I see your emptiness, and I will fill it. I see your dark, and I offer light. I see your nothing, please accept my everything.

God holds His hands out, full of grace and truth, and we only have to receive.

It helps to know that even when we feel empty, dark, and nothing, that’s not reality. God is always with us. He longs to comfort, to be our constant companion. If we will recognize His presence and receive.

Receiving sounds simple, but we have trouble with that one, too. It reminds me of one of my favorite prayers in the Bible, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Lord, I receive. Help me receive more fully.

 

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020

I’ve been reading, studying, digesting, listening to and learning from the Bible over my entire life. I’ve been glad and mad, confused and convicted, by its words. I’ve had conversations and arguments with God and others about what it says and doesn’t say. I’ve read scores of books about the Bible. I’ve attended Bible studies, taken classes on the Bible—I have a seminary graduate degree—and written about the Bible.

One of my goals for 2020 is to interact with a different translation of the Bible. I need to shake things up. I’m still studying and reading and writing about the more traditional/adult versions of the Bible, but the Spirit is nudging me to bring some joy back into my dedicated time with Him.

So here I am, during Lent, picking up one of my very favorite Bibles: The Jesus Storybook Bible.

We discovered this Bible when our youngest son was four years old. As I read the first few stories aloud to him, I delighted in the words and illustrations. This is no ordinary kids’ Bible. This is a work of art.

I have since recommended this Bible to everyone I know who is even slightly at all interested in the Bible. Because of my enthusiasm, our church preschool gives one to every graduate and our sanctuary pew racks contain copies, indicating to families that children are always welcome. It is also our go-to new baby gift.

This Lent, I’m going to read for five minutes a day, as many stories as that allows, and then write for another five minutes about what stood out to me, and then I’ll share posts a few times a week. A sort of lectio divina light, playing and creating with God. Play with me?

Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases. 

Spring

What puts (or keeps) a spring in your step?
What helps you experience flow?
What do you do that prompts bubbles of joy to float to the surface of your life?

I knew one word wouldn’t cut it this year, so I’m playing with words again.

I started January with Create Happiness. That didn’t make January a joyride, but it helped me think through some issues and put some new, at least revised, guidelines in place.

February’s renewed focus on Connecting once again resulted in loneliness (Connect was my 2018 word, and it stunk). For now, I’m sticking with tried-and-true mutual friendships.

March blew in with a soggy, wet mess as a ridiculous amount of rain drenched Northern California. The rest of the country also had its share of unusual weather (thanks, global warming!), but NorCal is my reality. Through the darkness, I cast about for the right word, something that would get me out of my own funk, something playful and inspirational, and pounced on: spring.

Even though spring won’t officially begin until March 20 this year, as soon as I said it aloud, I knew I’d found the right word. Spring is coming, so it’s hopeful. Also, Lent (German for spring) began on March 6, the season in the Church calendar when we observe the service and sacrifice of Jesus, so it fits that bill as well.

Playing with spring makes me laugh. It’s unlike any word or discipline I’ve chosen before, and therefore feels novel.

I want to keep a spring in my step, both physically and emotionally. Which means I need to get up on my feet and move (gym time, dog walks with Guy and friends), and it keeps me mindful of what I put in my mouth that might weigh me down. I’m also aware of what I put in my mind, via books or screens, social media, even conversations that take a wrong turn, so I don’t slog through the muck and mire of unhappiness or worry, gossip or anger. Feeling springy on this clear-sky gorgeous afternoon, I hopped on our front yard swing–perhaps more swing in my seat than spring in my step

I want to flow like a spring. Not like a dry summer creek bed or a muddy winter torrent, but light and easy, conscious of healthy boundaries as I bring life to dry places and parched creatures. I flow best when I’m reading good books, both fiction and non, and when I’m writing regularly. I flow best when I take care of myself: sufficient rest, hydration, and time alone and with God to recharge. Our church has a Lenten focus on Sabbath, prompting renewed attention to what a life-giving rest might look like in my life and our home.

I want living water to spring up in my soul. I hear Sunday school songs from my childhood: “Spring up, o well, within my soul / spring up o well, and make me whole…” (Numbers 21:17) I think of the woman at the well, to whom Jesus offered living water so she would never be (spiritually) thirsty again (John 4). And during my Ash Wednesday personal spiritual retreat, I came across Isaiah 43:13-18 in which God encourages His people:

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

In these uncertain times, on days when I’m more inclined to stomp than spring, I can drink deep from God’s spring of fresh, clean, living water, then lie back and rest as He floats me through the wilderness on His own currents.

Image by 이룬 봉 from Pixabay

Sabbath 1

As we enter Lent, the season in the Church calendar in which we focus on Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for love of us, we begin a wild and wandering conversation about Sabbath.

What does Sabbath mean to you?

Sabbath, #4 of the 10 Commandments, seems to be the one the Church feels free to omit. To our detriment. We have bought in to our non-stop culture and left God and our all-around health (spiritual, emotional, and physical) as sad and shrinking images in the rear-view mirror. In love, God takes us where we’re at, and our lives make do, but to be sure it’s not God’s best for our lives.

In the Bible, God says both to “remember” and “observe” the Sabbath. Lauren Winner (in her oh-so-helpful book, Mudhouse Sabbath) explains that for a few days we remember the last Sabbath, and for a few days we prepare for the next Sabbath. Sabbath becomes the guiding light in our conception of time.

It’s also about trust. Do I trust that the world depends on God, or do I act as if I believe the universe requires every ounce of my energy every minute of every day to keep spinning? Oh my, do I ever want to believe that the universe rests in God’s hands and not mine! But do I live into that truth?

I believe that Sabbath-keeping is good, as God ended each day of His creation of the world by declaring it “good.” When God was done with six days of creation, He rested. He modeled for us that, even though God–the all-powerful spiritual Being that He is–could not possibly have needed physical rest, He still took a restorative day-long break.

Obvious fact, and one I’ve missed for way too long: God created humans on Day #6. On Day #7, both God and His people rested.

What could it have meant to those first humans, that their first day on this pristine planet involved rest?

I think of my babies. Birthing, post-Eden, is laborious. Mama and Baby (and Dad, because he was all in) needed post-partum rest. For more than just a day, our world was reduced to basic survival: sleep, eat, snuggle…eat, sleep and snuggle some more.

Adam and Eve didn’t experience that birthing trauma, and they still got to rest. And enjoy companionship with God right off the bat. Hmm, jealous!

I don’t know what Sabbath looks like for you. I don’t even know what it looks like for me! Currently, my husband works way too many hours as a pastor. I work two part-time jobs for a wonky schedule. And we parent two teen/young adults. Not for the first time, Guy and I have begun conversations about what Sabbath could look like, for us as individuals, a couple, and a family. We believe God has good things in store as we ask the questions and begin taking steps toward a Sabbath practice.

Sabbath: The Power of Rest
Genesis 2:1-3 & Exodus 20:8-11

Connect
Reflect on one of your favorite leisure activities.

Study
Read Genesis 2:1-3
Why did God rest?
What did God do on the seventh day?
What does this passage tell us about God?
Read aloud Exodus 20:8-11
How are we to keep the Sabbath holy?
Why are we commanded to remember the Sabbath?
How does God’s work differ from ours, and what does that tell us about work and rest?

Live
God created humans on Day 6, then rested on Day 7. What do you think it meant to Adam and Eve that their very first day was one of rest?
What has been your experience with Sabbath-keeping?
Why does Sabbath seem to be the one of the 10 Commandments that the Church forgets?
What makes Sabbath-keeping difficult?
What might Sabbath look like in your life?
What would it take to implement a Sabbath practice?
What is God saying to you through this study, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to help you take steps toward implementing a Sabbath practice.

Family Share
Use these questions to reflect on Exodus 20:8-10 with your family.
If you had a whole day to do anything, what would you do and why?
What could you do to help your family get work done in six days so you could enjoy a day off together?
Ask God to help your family take a day off work.

Live Lent (2018)

Mom Down!

I’ve been sick for two weeks now. What began as a lousy cold–power through, Mom, as most moms do–and I thought I had and was mostly on the mend–became a painful ear infection and virus v2. Six days on antibiotics and I still have pain and no hearing on my left side. Bleh!

Thankfully, I have a loving family determined to carry on around me, caring for me as they go. Guy bought lovely red tulips to bring me cheer and took care of all the kid-duties I couldn’t manage. Q13 offered to refill my water bottle, among other simple tasks. As John says, they have loved me in truth through their actions: “…let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18).

Meanwhile, Lent began this past Wednesday. Lent, that church season during which Jesus’ followers traditionally give up or take on something to more closely identify with the suffering our Lord endured for our sake.

Give up…dessert? alcohol? social media?
Take on…a new form of service? more/different forms of prayer?

I googled Lent and came across this fantastic New York Times article reporting that the Church of England has asked their parishioners to give up plastics in order to better steward God’s creation. As an animal-loving vegetarian environmentalist, mostly for stewardship reasons, I ❤ this so much! They’ve even created a daily calendar of actions one could take to limit plastic consumption…which I plan to print out and work towards.

Research shows the best way to create a new habit is to change one thing at a time, and to stick with it for at least three weeks. So during Lent, we have an opportunity to create two new God-honoring habits, or really dial down on one. Even week by week small actions will make a difference, in our lives and the world.

January 2017 I began keeping a Gratitude Journal, and in January 2018 I recommitted to it. I also recommitted to what should be my ongoing practice of reading the Bible daily; in mid-February I can say that the combination of daily Bible reading + gratitude has brought me new joy.

So here we are at Lent, a new opportunity to create lifestyle changes that will identify us as Jesus’ followers.

In my job as Church Communication Director and based on our sermon series in 1 John, I created a list of twelve things one might do during Lent.

12 Things to Do During Lent
based on 1 John 3:11-5:21
February 14-March 31, 2018

  1. Repair a broken relationship.
  2. Donate goods, money and time to charity.
  3. Set aside regular time to rest in His presence (i.e., read the Bible, pray, worship, sit quietly with the God who loves you).
  4. Do intentional loving acts for those who wouldn’t expect it.
  5. Since Jesus Christ came in the flesh, do something to honor your God-given body (i.e., exercise, eat healthy, soak in a hot tub, get a massage)…and pray!
  6. Search the Bible for passages about the Holy Spirit and spend time getting to know His voice.
  7. Memorize and meditate on 1 John 4:7-12.
  8. Pray for a hard-to-love person in your life and ask God to change your heart.
  9. Read the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and ask God what He wants you to do to faithfully keep His commandments.
  10. Read a book to grow your belief in Jesus as the Son of God.
  11. Pray with bold confidence, for yourself and for others, according to God’s will.
  12. Ask God to identify and cut out sin in your life.

With little energy to do much else, I joined a Facebook group: 40 Bags in 40 Days. Created by a woman who follows a Lenten discipline (though that’s not required), the idea is to declutter our households and donate to charity. Which fits well with #2. So far, I’ve attacked some bathroom and refrigerator drawers (much of which went in the trash), and plan to keep at it.

As with any day, any season, I cannot yet predict how this Lenten season will pan out. I pray that God will grow me in new ways, teach me new things, ingrain in me new ways of being that honor Him and mark me as His follower.

What will you do?

Walk in Love
Week 7: Love One Another
1 John 3:11-18

Connect
If you’re married, reflect on highlights from your wedding day. If you’re not married, reflect on a time you knew you were well loved.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 3:11-18.
Compare 1 John 3:11 to 1 John 1:1, 5. What does love for others have to do with God’s light?
Contrast the negative example of Cain’s relationship with his brother Abel to Jesus’ positive example of love.
Compare vv13-15 with Matthew 5:21-22, then explain John’s equations: hate=death and love=life.
How might sharing your possessions be an example of laying down your life (vv16-17)?
Can someone speak lovingly but not in truth? Can someone act lovingly but not in truth? How is it different to love “with actions and in truth” (v18)?

Live
How do you know if you love someone? If someone loves you?
How could you handle well a religious disagreement that brought about hostility?
Without breaking confidentiality, what have you done to intentionally act lovingly towards someone who was hard for you to love? Did it change the relationship and if so, how?
How might material possessions get in the way of one’s spiritual life?
What would it look like for a church to be generous with Christ’s love? What can you do, personally and as a Community Group, to more generously share Christ’s love?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God’s love will overflow your life.

Thankful Thursday – Maundy Thursday 2017

I did not grow up with a tradition of observing Lent but, as an adult, I have grown in appreciation for spiritual discipline in general and this season of church life specifically. God does great things when we give Him great access to our lives through disciplines that help to tune our eyes and ears to His work.

Before this Lent began I asked God: “What discipline would you have me observe to see you more clearly?” Funny (and I truly believe God IS funny this way, at least sometimes), He didn’t answer clearly. I could take on a discipline of reading the news; in these times, we all ought to read the news more broadly and more carefully. And I put on a ring my mother-in-law gifted to me; as my ‘not typical’ right-hand ring, its presence on my finger has reminded me of Jesus’ presence with me.

And then Lent took a quick left-hand turn into discipline. Situations arose that required prayer; people needed me; I needed Jesus. God knew I didn’t need more disciplined practices than the discipline He was already planning to send my way. (And oh, wowza, did I ever need that ring as a reminder of His presence…!)

Today is Maundy Thursday, which means Lent is almost over. The dark before the dawn, tonight we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with His disciples before He was betrayed. Tomorrow He was crucified. Sunday, at last!, Jesus rose from the grave.

We want to fast-forward the bad stuff to get to the good. We want to skip the pain in favor of pleasure. We don’t want bitter but sweet. In this Holy Week, God calls us to see His glory in the worst-ever scenario, trusting Him to redeem and transform it into more than all we could ask or imagine.

So what am I thankful for on this Maundy Thursday?

I am, as always, thankful for Jesus, who sacrificed Himself in love for me, for all of us, so that our lives not only exist, but matter.

I am thankful for a year, and that the situation that occupied my heart last year is no longer my concern. And I’m thankful for the hope that the situation that occupies my heart now won’t next year.

I am thankful for time, as in, time heals all wounds. The wounds of last year, but also more recent cuts and jabs that, with time, prayer, and careful tending, have already begun to heal.

I am thankful for kind and gentle human beings who willingly give of themselves to help the rest of us make peace–with ourselves, with God, with one another.

I am thankful for the continual bubbling over of last week’s Mexico trip, and the ways I see God has grown and shaped my Teen through this experience.

I am thankful for yoga, and my friends and their friends who filled a studio this morning for a laughter- and fun-filled sweaty workout, good for body and soul.

I am thankful for the rain showers earlier today, for the quail running down my fence line, for the twilight breeze rocking the tree branches outside my window. Peaceful beauty.

I have to laugh at what happens when I pull out my running shoes…

…and say “Thank you!” for what I see outside my door…

The first spring rose in my garden, a gift from a friend

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