I like the imagery of Lent as a journey. It makes sense as we walk with Jesus toward the cross. Lent is a spiritual season of the church during which we prepare for the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. It begins on Ash Wednesday, which was yesterday. Even though we walk toward the same end, our Lenten journeys are very personal. So, below, please find several thoughts on Lent from some important writers. Take what you need. Share what you don't. It might just be the map for someone else's Lenten trip.
“At start of spring I open a trench
In the ground. I put into it
The winter’s accumulation of paper,
Pages I do not want to read
Again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the suns, growth of the ground,
Finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise,
have been inattentive to wonders,
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse,
of mind and body, I close the trench
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.”
― Wendell Berry, New Collected Poems
“These special holidays give rise to various liturgical calendars that suggest we should mark our days not only with the cycles of the moon and seasons, but also with occasions to tell our children the stories of our faith community's past so that this past will have a future, and so that our ancient way and its practices will be rediscovered and renewed every year.”
― Brian D. McLaren, Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices
“We suffer these things and they fade form memory. But daily, hourly, to give up our own possessions and especially to subordinate our own impulses and wishes to to others - these are hard, hard things; and I don't think they ever get any easier.
You can strip yourself, you can be stripped, but still you will reach out like an octopus to seek your own comfort, your untroubled time, your ease, your refreshment. It may mean books or music - the gratification of the inner sense - or it may mean food and drink, coffee and cigarettes. The one kind of giving up is no easier than the other.”
― Dorothy Day, The Reckless Way of Love: Notes on Following Jesus
“The cross is not the suffering tied to natural existence, but the suffering tied to being Christians. The cross is never simply a matter of suffering, but a matter of suffering and rejection for the sake of Jesus Christ, not for the sake of some other arbitrary behavior or confession.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”
“Never miss a good chance to shut up.”
― Will Rogers
“In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.”
― Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers
“You’re not likely to err by practicing too much of the cross.”
― Alexander Whyte, Bunyan characters in the Pilgrim's progress
“The Lord bestows his blessings there, where he finds the vessels empty.”
― Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
“I have now concentrated all my prayers into one, and that one prayer is this, that I may die to self, and live wholly to Him.”
― Charles H. Spurgeon
It is my Lent to break my Lent,
To eat when I would fast,
To know when slender strength is spent,
Take shelter from the blast
When I would run with wind and rain,
To sleep when I would watch.
It is my Lent to smile at pain
But not ignore its touch.
It is my Lent to listen well
When I would be alone,
To talk when I would rather dwell
In silence, turn from none
Who call on me, to try to see
That what is truly meant
Is not my choice. If Christ’s I’d be
It’s thus I’ll keep my Lent.
--For Lent, 1966 by Madeleine L’Engle
Serving a small church is a peculiar joy. One of the great things to watch in a small church is the deep, time consuming, abiding commitment of a few faithful folks. It is harder to be committed to a church that is going through a difficult time, especially in the faces of the mega church. There is always somewhere you can go that "has a lot to offer" and "has so much going on", and many of them won't ask much of you. It can feel a little like being Boston Red Sox fan from 1918 until 2004. It can feel thankless.
I was struck by Chuck Swindoll's words, "More than once, Jesus deliberately addressed certain issues that quickly diminished the number of onlookers. It was commitment that thinned the ranks." Commitment isn't easy, it isn't popular, and although it can LEAD to fun, that kind of faithfulness can also be complicated and time consuming.
And yet, of the traits of God, faithfulness is one of the most often mentioned in scripture. Read Psalm 136 and you will read that "his steadfast love endures for ever" 26 times. So, if we are going to respond to God's faithful love, it makes sense that it should be with faithfulness.
So thank you, thank you to all those who continue to be committed to the work God is doing through us at Brightwood Christian Church! For those of you who have felt a little like you want to stay on the sidelines, DON'T! Now's the time to dig in deep, because God has a lot in store!
Valentine's day is almost upon us. It is my least favorite of all holidays. The world explodes with candy hearts, but instead of love in the air, I think there is only money. I'm a happily married woman with over 20 years of marriage, and as romantic as the next gal. I think that is exactly WHY I don't like Valentine's day. It is a time that people talk excessively about something they exhibit negligibly.
It did begin as a holiday of faith, celebrating St. Valentine. But the story isn't cute enough to put on a candy heart. Read more here. Even so, I certainly find myself thinking more about the love of God than love songs this time of year.
Which is why I like to reflect on Robert Heinlein's definition of love from Stranger in a Strange Land. "Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own." Occasionally, we may think about how avoid God's wrath. Valentine's Day is a good time to think about what we could do to make God happy.
What does the Bible say makes God happy?
Psalm 147:10-11-Those who wait for his loving-kindness
Proverbs 11:1- Justice in business
Proverbs 12:22- Those who deal faithfully
Jeremiah 9:24- loving kindness, justice and righteousness
Matthew 3:17- Jesus
1 Samuel 15:22- obedience
This Valenine's Day, skip the chocolate and give God what will make Him happy. That's how we love Him.
“As with all commandments, gratitude is a description of a successful mode of living. The thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us.” – James E. Faust
"rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." Colossians 2:7
Nothing new you're gonna hear about being grateful. Consider this a reminder of the life-changing work that gratitude can do. Consider it a call, not just to be thankful, but to be thankful past the brim. We are blessed in a way worth of that response, and our gratitude can unveil other blessings yet unseen.
For more information on the benefits of gratitude, see the following links:
7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round
7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude
Giving thanks can make you happier
According to Reuters, there USED to be a $5 million dollar toilet in London. "Burglars have stolen a fully-functional 18-carat gold toilet from Britain’s Blenheim Palace, where it had been installed as an art exhibit, police said on Saturday."
As a pastor, it is my nature to always be thinking about how life intersects with faith, and when I ran across the article about the missing gold toilet, I couldn't help but think about these words from Jesus:
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6: 19 -21
What does it say about the nature of where your heart is when you have a $5 million dollar toilet? Of course, since it was an art piece, my sense is that was exactly the point. It was a piece that wasn't supposed to make us say, "Ooh, I want one!", but to make us question the kinds of things that we give ourselves away for.
That is what it is to spend money, of course. We use our time, our lives, to make money, so when we spend it, we are trading our lives for whatever it is we buy. Now, before you judge the guy with a 5 million dollar toilet, let's look to our own lives. I'm not likely to have a golden toilet, but I have a closet full of things that are "just a few bucks" Most of those items will go to the rummage sale soon. Does it matter whether you flush 5 million dollars at once or 5 dollars at a time? Either way, it is a worthy question to ask, "Where does this mean my heart is?"
"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Colossians 3:17
I got to thinking about that phrase, "in the name of the Lord Jesus". "In the name of" can mean a two primary things, "for the sake of" or "by the authority of". Those don't sound like much, until you add Jesus' name and add in whatever you are doing, like some holy madlib.
For instance, "I'm writing this for the sake of Jesus." I'm writing this by the authority of Jesus." I'm not sure I'm comfortable using the term in the second sense. I feel uncomfortable putting words in Jesus' mouth.
But "for the sake of", well, as uncomfortable as it is, I think it is exactly what this Colossians scripture means. It gives much more weight to our actions.
And to our words. WHATEVER YOU DO IN WORD means that you'd have to play this Madlib game with what you say in traffic. Can you say, "Get back in your own lane, ya jerk!" for the sake of our Lord Jesus?
It may be unrealistic for us to analyze our lives this way at every moment, but it is worth giving it a thought now and then. If you have to do a particularly annoying or difficult task, try shifting your thoughts from "this is boring" to "I'm doing this for the sake of Jesus Christ". It might change the task, it might even change you.
Colorado State University adapted some helpful definitions about truth for its young writers from the classic “The Little Brown Handbook (Fowler, H. Ramsey. The Little, Brown Handbook. Boston: Little, Brown, 1986.)
“A FACT is verifiable. We can determine whether it is true by researching the evidence.”
“An OPINION is a judgment based on facts, an honest attempt to draw a reasonable conclusion from factual evidence.”
“Unlike an opinion, a BELIEF is a conviction based on cultural or personal faith, morality, or values…They cannot be disproved or even contested in a rational or logical manner.”
“Another kind of assertion that has no place in serious argumentation is PREJUDICE, a half-baked opinion based on insufficient or unexamined evidence. At best, prejudices are careless oversimplifications. At worst, they reflect a narrow-minded view of the world.”
It is a confusing world out there, especially when it comes to what people call “political correctness”. In response to the feeling that nothing anyone says is “safe” to say without getting in trouble, many of us have decided we’ll just tell the truth and to heck with the consequences. And, if we say whatever pops into our heads, and people are mad, well, maybe they just can’t handle the truth and whose fault is that?
Scripturally, I’d like to challenge that idea. Jesus says that HE is the way, the truth, and the life. So the rest of us can’t quite say that we own the truth.
Many of the things we say, especially in anger, aren’t truths. Sometimes, they may be based in facts, but even if they are, they are often an interpretation about what those facts mean. And those interpretations are usually either opinion, belief, or prejudice.
Let me give us a scripture to keep in mind when we are ready to tell someone like it is.
“A fool gives full vent to anger, but the wise quietly holds it back.” Proverbs 29:11
Not everything we think needs to be public. And if we decide we should say what is on our mind, it is important to understand what it is we are sharing first. Is it our opinion, our belief, or our prejudice? Our prejudice should be kept behind our lips and prayed over. Our opinion and belief may be appropriate to share, but if we understand that it is different than fact, we can be more careful about when and if we share it. Then, we can share it with more love and more humility.
Theologically, I highly recommend Winnie the Pooh. One of the best teachers in the stories is Eeyore. As a sad donkey, he has the reputation of wallowing a bit, but then we get these moments of grace, like in the quote above. It is like he was quoting 1 Thessalonians 5:18
"Give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
Many folks struggle with how to do that in the midst of all of the pain that we go through. Eeyore has the answer. Keep in mind, that scripture doesn't say be thankful FOR all circumstances, it asks us to keep our sense of gratitude in the midst of all situations. If you are struggling with gratitude during a particularly bad time, consider Eeyore's way and be thankful for what ISN'T happening. Take it from a sad donkey, there's always something to be grateful for, even if that something doesn't exist.
The late Albert Schweitzer had his faults, to be sure, but no one can say he wasn't busy. He was a theologian, organist, philosopher, physician, medical missionary, and musical scholar, and winner of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize. And yet, he managed to sum up the importance of rest and refuge in a quote about cats.
Now, I know that not everyone is a cat person. For you it might be books and dogs, strawberries and lizards, long walks and wool, but the simple things in life tend to be the most healing, relaxing, and peacemaking. In my experience, they tend also to be the holiest.
I think of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:33, "But strive first for the kingdom of God and God's righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well," and I know that those simple, quiet pleasures are certainly Kingdom things.
Draw close to God by taking a few moments to revel in the refuge of simple kingdom things today, music and cats or parrots and pralines. As long as you spend the time being grateful, you've entered Holy ground.
The above is a beautiful piece of art made out of old tires (Click here to see more). There is an increasing artistic sensibility to use trash to make new treasures, from belts made of bottle gaps to book covers made from license plates. It puts me in mind of Theodore Roosevelt saying, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Sometimes, we see the world through eyes of scarcity instead of possibility. We aren't the first ones. Remember the disciples when Jesus commanded them to feed the crowd? "They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish. "
When we look at what needs done, we fall into the scarcity trap with the disciples. We think about what we DON'T have, how impossible it is, how much easier it would be if we were here or there or an entirely different person. Take Roosevelt's advice, and heed the generous nature of God himself by seeing what you already have, who you already are. Then, do your best and let God fill in the gaps. God's nature is abundance, and it doesn't change just because you're scared.
Rev. Jana Quisenberry is the minister at Brightwood Christian Church. She's an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). A graduate of Transylvania University in Lexington, KY and Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, IN, She now resides in Mt. Lebanon with her husband, two children, and dog, Sookie. Pastor Jana loves the church, science fiction, and coffee.
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