The Hubris Cure

"It is so easy to come to believe that what we do is so much more important than what we are. It is so easy to simply get too busy to grow...But regularity in prayer cures all that." - Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily


Wandering Companion

This Wandering in the Wilderness theme has been coming into play a bit recently. Last week at church I spoke about Abram's journey (and ours). Tonight the text was about Moses leading the Israelites through the wilderness. They've seen God unleash the plagues upon the Egyptians to convince Pharaoh to release them from slavery, they've walked across the Red Sea on dry land, they've seen God make the bitter waters of Morah sweet, they've eaten the quail and manna that He has provided (for over 2 million people). But they get thirsty (which is expected in a desert), and they get worried (which is legitimate when you're thirsty in a desert). And they complain and grumble. They want to return to slavery. They question where God is at.

Our friend Laura preached tonight. She talked about how the Israelites had a legitimate need. It wasn't wrong for them to worry about getting water to drink while traveling with a couple million other people through the desert. But they forgot about what God had done. They didn't turn to Him and ask for water; they just start complaining. God wanted them to turn to Him. He wanted to have a relationship with them.

Flash forward just over 1500 years. Jesus is walking through Samaria (which a good Jew shouldn't do). He is thirsty; He sits at a well. A woman comes to draw some water. Jesus asks her if He could have some. She doesn't understand why a Jew would be asking her for water. Jesus begins an object lesson (one wonders if that wasn't His plan all along--that He didn't really need water). He tells her that He has living water so that she will never go thirsty. He is inviting her into a relationship with Him. That is the reason He came.

So the question is not "Where is God?" but "Where am I with God?" I admit that for me there are times (many times) when it is hard to have a relationship with God. I'm not always good with relationships in the first place; I don't know how to deal with one with a spiritual being. I'm great with knowledge of God. I don't always do well in living that out. I don't do well at living out my other relationships in life at times.

One of the six affirmations that the Evangelical Covenant Church is built on (we're non-credal) is "Freedom in Christ." Sometimes we take that to mean that we can do infant or adult baptism and not be divided over it. And that freedom is good. But sometimes Freedom in Christ is more about being released from the bondage of slavery to sin. We don't always understand that freedom, however; we don't always know what to do with it. Sometimes, like the Israelites longing for the "comfort" of life in Egypt, we long for the familiarity of our sinful life. At least I have. We forget what God has done for us. We forget what slavery was really like. Bondage provides knowns that freedom doesn't. There is comfort in it--even while it is miserable. Freedom produces unknowns. It means we have responsibilities. There are dangers.

The key is not "Freedom" but "in Christ." We can't do this on our own. We need support. We need encouragement. We need a guide. God led the Israelites through the wilderness as a cloud and pillar of fire. He was with them. Through history He keeps getting back to how it was in Eden when He walked in the cool of the day through the garden with Adam and Eve. First the cloud. Then the Tabernacle where His presence would descend. Then the Temple where He would fill the Holy of Holies. Then His Son walked amongst us. Now we have the indwelling Holy Spirit. Someday we'll be back to walking in the garden with Him. Because He loves us. Because He wants to know us. Because He wants us to know Him.

I wander through the wilderness not alone. God is with me. And while I fail miserably in my relationship with Him, He is patient. And loving. And gracious. He doesn't give up on me. He puts up with my grumbling and complaining. May we learn that better than the Israelites did.


Lenten Art

Our church has prayer stations every week for people to make use of during worship (mainly during times when we're singing--including during communion as we go to the table in small groups so not everyone is there at the same time). There are various stations at different times. Some are tactile and sensory (like the confession stations where you choose a stone and press it into a bowl of sand) and most appeal to the children (like the station where you may pick a loop with ribbons and dance to the worship music).

During each week of Lent stations of the cross are brought out adding more each week. People from church signed up for different stations. Anders, Beth and I each signed up for one (I'm going to be in trouble here because I didn't get a picture of Beth's piece).

Anders is an excellent artist, and he agreed when I suggested he do one of the stations. He chose #2: Jesus takes up His cross. I was curious to see what his drawing would look like. He did some nice ones of the Nativity. But he wasn't up for drawing the picture. He wasn't sure how to do it. So, while we were looking for pictures of station #2 online, we came across an artist who did all the stations using hand prints. A subsequent trip to my parents' farm got us a nice weathered piece of lumber. His station turned out simple but eloquent, I feel.
It will say different things to different people, but for me it says that "taking up our cross" isn't an easy task. It's toilsome, dangerous and even lethal.

My station was #4: Jesus meets His mother. I struggled with how to portray it for a while. I ended up focusing on Mary and the emotional impact that Good Friday must have been for her.
There are times when I have that emotional reaction to "seeing" Jesus carry His cross. For Mary it must have been heart-wrenching to see her son going to be crucified for no legal reason. He was going to His death because He claimed to be God. And Mary, though she probably wrestled with understanding Who her son really was, must have had some belief that Jesus was right in what He said. She had been handpicked by God, after all.

Of course, each piece may say something entirely different to you. Or nothing at all. That is the nature of art. It is not like a book in which one can sometimes clearly understand the author's point. Art is an expression both by the artist and by the viewer. Lent speaks to us all in different ways as well. But there is one clear message through it all: God loves you more deeply than you can imagine. We don't always interpret that message well, but it's there. Hopefully at the end of this Lenten journey that message is a little more meaningful.



I preached tonight. I'm slowly getting the hang of it. When I went to seminary I never felt called into church ministry--thought I was being called to camping ministry. And I was. For a time. But now I'm getting a bit of experience in the church. And I'm mostly enjoying it. Tonight we talked about journey.

The lectionary text for tonight was Genesis 12:1-5. In it God calls Abram to journey from his home and family to go to Canaan. The Gospel text was John :1-17 where Jesus tells Nicodemus about the need to be born again. "Born Again" is one of those phrases I hate to use anymore. As I said in my sermon, people today either use the term with scorn or as a badge of honor to separate them from the unfaithful. Jesus didn't intend it as a label, but as an action. Being born again means that you're different. In a good way. You take on the characteristics of the Kingdom of Heaven, not earth. And that's a process. It means that each day we work at getting rid of our immaturities and work at becoming more Christ-like. It's a journey. Much like the one Abram was called on.

Abram was called when he was 75. God didn't think that was too old to use Abram to change the face of history. Abram just had to be willing to take the risk and travel into the unknown. He had to be willing to be changed by his journey. For that's what journeys do--they change us.

It so happened that when I started preparing for this sermon I was just starting a book on the ancient practice of spiritual pilgrimage. The author surmises that we were meant to be pilgrims, not people who build cities. I believe we're meant to be both. We need to journey (both literally and metaphorically)--it expands our view of the world and it can be spiritually changing. We also need to root ourselves in community.

I'm not going to put my whole sermon here, but I'm still thinking about this journey thing. I know I'm still on one as I'm learning who God made me to be and what He has in store for me. And while journeys can be a bit scary as we don't know what lies ahead, but they're also exciting as we make exciting new discoveries. And through it we're changed--hopefully more into who Christ calls us to be.


Getting Outside on St. Patrick's Day

As I was walking Anders to school this morning he was asking if I had seen any birds returning for spring yet. Just then we saw a couple lines of geese flying overhead. We stopped and watched for a few minutes. It was good.

Then I got clothes hung out on the line. It's not the first time for that this year, but it's good to do it. Even if my neighbor's look at me a little strange.

Nils and I took our first bike ride of the season this afternoon. And yes, I'm out of shape (and also a hybrid bike is not the ideal for pulling a bike trailer with on the road). We came back a bit muddy, but the fresh air and exercise were good.

Springtime is a refreshing reminder of how we're connected to the world around us. The litter everywhere is a reminder that we seldom respect that connection--nor God's mandate to care for the earth.

The ancient Celtic Christians were keenly aware of their connection to the earth. Creation was a place they met God. So it is fitting today to close once again with a prayer attributed to St. Patrick:

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.

Christ shield me today
Against wounding
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation


Lenten Reflections: Week One

Today was a warm day for Minnesota in March. We're supposed to see 40s and 50s most of the week. The snow is starting to thin back (the three to four foot piles are down to two feet). Grass is showing around the edges. It rained a little bit today amidst a mostly sunny day. I've hung clothes on the line several times this past month. We're on the cusp of a new season.

Of course, with the thaw comes not only flowers and green grass, but all the litter that has been buried this winter (or just tossed on the sidewalk today). Spring is refreshing, but it's seldom clean--which usually made it all the more fun for us as kids. Puddles to splash in, mud to carve river channels through, dirty remnants of snow drifts. But the litter that arises in the city just reminds me that that pure, white snow could only hide our dirty habits; it couldn't cleanse us.

Rain can be cleansing. I can also just melt the snow and leave all the trash behind along with mud everywhere. Most of Minnesota is preparing for the flooding that we're assured will come with the Spring thaw. Water can be restorative and life-giving. It can also be horrendously destructive.

This past week the world watched as Japan was hit by the fifth most powerful earthquake in recorded history along with a massive tsunami that literally wiped out entire villages. The images were heart-breaking and devastating (and at the same time a bit fascinating as we saw the sheer power of what was unleashed). None of us can imagine; all of us want to help.

And surrounding all of this is the Lenten journey. Some of us fast or give things up during Lent to help us identify with Jesus' suffering. But the pictures of Japan on the news are constant reminders that most of us know little about real suffering. Giving up chocolate for a few weeks is nothing compared with having your loved ones and all you have washed out to sea.

Still, Lent is not about comparing our woes with others' but about focusing on Christ and learning more about ourselves. I have been giving up social networking: mostly Facebook as I still haven't figured out how I would use Twitter. I didn't give it up because in doing so I would find suffering, but I did so because I know it can become a large distraction for me during my days.

I do miss some of the friends I connect with during the week on Facebook. But it is nice to not have the diversions that Facebook brings about (especially as I am trying to get a sermon finished for Sunday). The thing I miss most, though, I noticed today, are the email notifications I get when someone posts on my wall or when they respond to something I posted.

I like to get things in the mail, too. Sometimes I think I order used books online (instead of checking them out from the library) because I like the anticipation of knowing the mail carrier will one day deliver a package for me. But I think I enjoy getting the email notifications from Facebook because it's kind of an ego trip. I like it when someone enjoys something I've said. I like it when someone is thinking about me and sends me a note. Part of me still has that high-school-desire to be popular. I want to be liked. I want to be wanted. And this isn't a bad thing. But I can't let that desire overshadow who I am called to be.

And so my Lenten journey continues, and I continue to learn more about myself as I look upon the Messiah who made His way to Jerusalem, knowing that His journey would end on Golgotha. As I discover more about myself--my struggles, faults and weaknesses especially--I can also discover who Christ calls me to be. More like Him (and paradoxically that means more like me). A servant. A lover. A beloved. If I have said I will follow Him (if I claim to bear the name "Christian"), then I must be willing to be like Him for that's what being a disciple means, that we live to learn the ways of our Master. It won't be an easy road ahead. But it will be a good road. And I will be in good company.


Just Around the Corner

A recent trip to the Como Park Conservatory reminded us that Spring is just around the corner, much like Lent is a reminder that Easter is just around the corner. Soon blooms like these will be found outside. There's great hope in that.


Ashes to Ashes

It's the first day of Lent. Growing up it was mainly just Holy Week that had significance in our church. I don't remember ashes at all, at least. Some churches shy away from holy days like Ash Wednesday as if the liturgical calendar was something dangerous. And maybe it is. Maybe celebrating some of these days draws us into the life of Christ a little too much. Maybe identifying with Christ too much can change our earthly ways. And that can be dangerous.

Anyway, I'm discovering a lot as I journey into new experiences on the journey. Tonight we buried our alleluias. Most churches I've been in haven't even used the word "alleluia" much. But it is a joyful word; a celebratory word (it means "Praise God"). So, during the somber journey of Lent, we bury the word (tonight we placed ribbons with the word "alleluia" on them into a chest that will return on Easter morning when we say the word in worship again).

Last night the palm leaves from last year's Palm Sunday were burned. Tonight we took those ashes on our thumb and made a cross on the forehead of the person sitting next to us. The ashes remind us that life is short (Genesis 3:19); they also symbolize our repentance before God (Daniel 9:3). There are few greater reminders of one's mortality than having your young son place ashes on your forehead while saying, "Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. You are God's loved child." And so the Lenten journey begins...


Of Pancakes and Fasting

It is Shrove Tuesday. Which means it's time for an installment of "Weird Words Used in Christianese." Shriving means making, going to or hearing confessions or to obtain absolution by confessing and doing penance. The week before Lent is sometimes called "Shrovetide" which was a time to go to confession in preparation for the penitential season of turning to God.

I've never done anything for Shrove Tuesday before, but a friend of ours at church is sharing the English tradition of pancakes on Tuesday (stemming from when people cleaned all the fattening foods out of their kitchen--eggs, butter, etc.--in preparation for the fasting of Lent during which they avoided those luxuries). I'm discovering a lot of people do pancakes today--I just never experienced that growing up. Some of the world today is partying hard--binging on "sins" before Ash Wednesday, as if Jesus' suffering was an invitation to indulge in order to enjoy the full extent of His grace. The celebratory nature of the day stems from releasing high spirits before entering the somber season of Lent. Others are preparing for Lent by deciding what they're going to give up (here's a somewhat humorous cynical list of things to give up for Lent).

Lent is intended to help us identify with Christ's sufferings. We journey to the cross with Him. Following the season of Epiphany in which we are reminded to be light, shining God's love to the world, Lent is a season of inward reflection, examining the things in our lives that don't bring us closer to God (for sin is anything that distracts us from God). We may give up something that we really enjoy (chocolate, caffeine, etc.), but the intent is to identify with Christ and draw closer to Him.

So for Lent I intend to give up Facebook. Not because Facebook is evil. Nor because I feel that I have to give something up in order to be a good Christian. And not that giving up Facebook will cause me to suffer. I'm giving it up because it becomes easy during my day to get distracted on Facebook and neglect other more important things (and while keeping in touch with friends is important, there are more effective ways I can do that if I desire). I may also have to give up watching BBC comedies on PBS late at night because they keep me from getting the rest I need to start the day well the next morning (and maybe early enough to spend some time with God).

But first we'll gather with friends, eat pancakes, have some pancake races and enjoy the day. For tomorrow the fast begins as we prepare for remembering the day of Jesus' death...and then the glory of His resurrection!



Right now I should be joining the Christian blogging community in talking about one of two things (probably both if I want to be good): 1.) Rob Bell and whether or not he's a universalist heretic over a book that's not even out yet and 2.) the Supreme Court's decision on that "church" in Kansas that boycotts soldiers funerals because of America's gay rights.

Both have gathered enough publicity--which I'm sure is just fine with all the parties involved. Any publicity is good publicity, right?

A surprising amount of judgment was leveled at Rob Bell since this last Saturday. I've tried to avoid reading it as much as possible. It's amazing how quick the Christian community can be in casting the first stone--pointing out someone else's speck before removing their own plank. I will probably pick up Rob Bell's new book at some point (down the road when I can find it at the library). Until then I'm not going to make any new pronouncements. I have read his book Velvet Elvis, used his NOOMA videos in youth groups and heard him speak at a couple of conferences before. Most of what I've gleaned from him has helped me grow closer to God--or at least made sense of things for me.

The Supreme Court was right in their ruling of the Westboro Baptist Church case. They do have free speech. However, the church, in what I've read about them (including on their own website), is wrong in being responsible citizens--not to mention purveyors of the "Good News." The church, like all of us, are sinful people in need of a loving God. Thankfully, He loves us no matter what we say about others.

Ultimately, both of these news stories were in the headlines (or at least abuzz on social networking) because of how people respond to them. In both cases there were responses by Christians that didn't advance the Kingdom in any way. There were responses that carried a lot of hate.

What if, as followers of Jesus, we started responding to others in love? Radical? Yes. What we're called to do? I believe so. (Understand me that love can be "tough" at times--discipline is an appropriate part of loving someone. Look at Matthew 18:15-20 on how Jesus teaches the church to deal with the sins of other believers.)

I have to believe in Jesus example that love alone will change the world. Not picket signs. Not tweets that tell someone "Farewell." Not comments on a blog post. Pure and simple love.

There is power in how we respond to others. It can make headlines. But what kind of headlines do we want to make? I'm all for the headlines that result because of someone's love for another person. Maybe then the world will notice something different about the followers of Jesus. Maybe then they'll take notice. Maybe then the church will be seen as something different and desirable. Maybe then the Kingdom will be advance. I pray so.

Theme Week

I don't know if this ever happens to you, but sometimes God speaks in Sometimes a week comes together with a theme. The scripture passage from this past Sunday was the worry passage from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34, NIV)
It so happens that the weekly prayer that is said at the end of every prayer in The Divine Hours this week says:
Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who cares for us: Preserve me from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from me the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I will admit that worry isn't much of an issue for me right now. It has been clear that God is providing for us. So I think God has been saying other things in this "theme week." Like how there are times, when I look at the future anxiously. I'm not sure what's next for my life. I don't know what God will put before me next after I'm done being a stay-at-home dad. And I want to know; I want to have that mapped out. I want to have a clear calling for the next phase in life and vocation. But I'm not sure what's next. So I find myself being anxious at times.

And maybe apart from worrying, I spend too much energy in chasing worldly things that don't have lasting significance and instead distract my attention from God. Sometimes I forget to give thanks for all He has provided, instead taking it for granted that it will be there--or worse, finding a small way to credit myself.

Sometimes we need the comforting assurance that "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me." We need the reminder of the promise of His provision. And sometimes knowing "He watches me" is simply the reminder that I'm valuable in God's eyes. No matter what I do along the way, no matter how much I mess up at times, no matter how off my desires or focus can get--He loves me. And that won't change. That's not just the theme of a week, but of life--mine and yours.