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Lent

A Sound Prayer

A Sound Prayer

Nikos Kazantzakis won 9 Nobel prizes in literature. You might be familiar with this work from, Zorba the Greek or The Last Temptation of Christ. In a lessor known book entitled, The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises he painted a gritty but beautiful picture of allegiance to Christ. 

“My prayer is not the whimpering of a beggar nor a confession of love. Nor is it the trivial reckoning of a small tradesman: Give me and I shall give you. My prayer is the report of a soldier to his general: this is what I did today, this is how I fought to save the entire battle in my own sector, these are the obstacles I found, this is how I plan to fight tomorrow. My God and I are horsemen, galloping in the burning sun or under the drizzling rain. Pale, starving, but un-subdued, we ride and converse. ‘Leader!’ I cry. He turns his face towards me, and I shudder to confront his anguish. Our love for each other is rough and ready, we sit at the same table, we drink the same wine in this low tavern of life.”

I had to read that a few times—Struggle is assumed, opposition at every turn, yet unwavering loyalty. SO, What should prayer sound like?

Minimally, it can be more than a spiritual grocery list in hopes of God providing needs and wants. It can also be more than a last ditch plea only after you’ve done everything humanly possible. Though, asking is invited. Gratitude, confession, and praise are also beautiful and critical forms to fill out our prayers.

As I was thinking about what prayer should sound like, a friend offered a beautiful image of a baby in his mother’s arms. The child does not yet know a single word but already understands how to give and receive love, understands presence, understands intimacy. Think about that. Intimacy is a growing awareness of God’s presence and it doesn’t even require words. Silence can be renewing and comforting when we realize that God is near.

Lent invites us to voluntarily give up normal activity or items for the spiritual purpose. The hope is to re-sensitize our hearts. Lent is also about focusing our attention on God’s voice, revealed in His Word. If you need a guide, download the ReadScripture App and begin daily reading with Jesus & the Kingdom. The videos are outstanding and sure to help understand God’s Word better.

Hope is rising. Easter is coming!

Think 'fast' for Lent

Think 'fast' for Lent

Ever set out inspired by Lent only to see it become an UN-inspired chore? What if you had small ways, each day, to be reminded of Hope? And, what If you could go through Lent as family & with friends? Sounds like beginnings of a New Normal.

Let’s iron out a couple of ideas of what fasting is and is not. Christian fasting isn’t a way to suffer for God or to demonstrate how devout we are. Maybe more importantly, it’s not a way of trying harder in hopes of getting God to respond. Rather, Christian fasting is intentionally withholding something we’d normally enjoy in hopes of seeking a greater awareness of the presence of God.

Because of the resurrection, new life is promised but growth is never automatic! In creating a new normal, we’re using Lent to give up normal items and activities to save a little money. Then, we’ll find ways to practice generosity, compassion, and bring Life to others.

Lent is also about seeking God’s presence. Christian fasting is about growing in Wisdom. If you don’t have a devotional plan, download the App ReadScripture and begin daily reading & watching videos starting with Jesus & the Kingdom. 

Christian fasting is Practicing. It’s the indirect effort that gives us access to something we can’t try or make happen on our own. So use this time to, perhaps, create a new habit. And, Christian fasting is about Surrender. It is a voluntary “making ourselves weak” so that we can know the strength and power of God (2 Cor 12:9-10).

The power of community is when a whole group of people does something together. You can start at any time. All monies to be collected on Sunday, April 14, 2019. 

Easter is coming! SPOILER ALERT: He’s Alive!

A Normal Idea

A Normal Idea

We often think of fasting as an extreme form of spirituality, like it’s reserved for the ’spiritual green berets”. In reality, we all “fast” all the time! We fast sleep, workouts, quality time with friends & family, returning messages, fried foods, favorite hobbies, and doing our taxes. The difference is that our sacrifice is often for personal gain, busyness, or procrastination. Christian fasting is a voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of spiritual focus. So, what if we were more thoughtful about a daily offering as we prepare our hearts for Easter? What if we had small ways, each day, to remind us of our faith, hope, & love for God?

A faith Experiment for Lent & Loving More. Consider what simple ways you can save money for during Lent. Keep a running total of how much you save from your usual spending habits and operating budget. At the end, we’ll pool our savings and announce our grand total on Easter Sunday. Since the resurrection offers new life, we’ll leverage funds together to bring life, care, and compassion to others!

It’s been said that forty days is enough time to create a new habit. What if this experiment could also affect the way we see God’s provision in our life and also create a new normal?

For ideas on simple ways to save and participate, check out our Lent Experiment. You can (re)start at any time and can turn in money each week but all monies to be collected on Sunday, April 14, 2019. Because Hope is rising & New Life is a promise for all!

Under the Influence

Under the Influence

We’ve all seen, cringed, &/or probably laughed at alcohol’s effects. In a social experiment called 3 Glasses Project, a photographer captured the curious results after 1, 2 & 3 glasses of wine. We even have language to describe its influence: “liquid courage”, “take the edge off”, or “drown my sorrows”. And, of course, people under the influence are also prone to being louder, laughter, and affectionate.

Maybe, the way we relate to alcohol can offer us an idea of how we’re supposed to relate to the influence of Holy Spirit. We find clarifying moments in scripture apart from alcohol’s effects.

When it comes to being “under the influence” in the Christian life, it means we receive the Spirit’s guidance and strength. Not unlike alcohol, the infilling work of the Spirit provides the ability to step out in faith to do what doesn’t always come naturally.

Take compassion. It’s hard to be too concerned for homeless, cancer, unemployment, war, immigrants, mental illness, violence, abuse… UNLESS it personally affects us. Yet, when we sense the Holy Spirit at work in us (despite fear, discomfort, or convenience) the fruit of compassion always grows.

LENT / TGIF for FRI, Mar.30th: Practice Compassion. Find simple ways to express empathy.

  1. ray about what limits your empathy & compassion…fear, time, interest? Pray for eyes to see & meet a need that’s different than your own.
  2. Make a care package and give to someone you love or needs it.
  3. Do something for someone that they hate doing themselves.
  4. Let someone go in front of you in line or traffic.

 

New wealth

New wealth

In his book, Last Hour of Ancient Sunlight, Thom Hartmann meets with a Native American who lives in a mobile home a desert reservation pitifully lacking in anything but scrub brush, cactus, and dust. It’s what you might imagine – in a beat up old trailer, drives a 1970s Chevy with major body parts missing. He lived in middle of nowhere and got by bartering with neighbors for food, gasoline and clothes. His IRS tax form listed $500 last year. By any American standard, it’s poverty. But this is what he said… “I’m a rich man” while motioning his hand and finger round the reservation. If I get sick, there’s people that care for me. If I need food, my neighbors give me food. It always materializes from someone’s home. I know that I will not die alone. And when I get old, I’ll move in with someone because I’ll be a village elder. And they’ll revere me and want my wisdom and they’ll take care of me.

The author then asks his upwardly mobile friend, “What would you do if you lost your job?” “Probably find another”, he says. “Yeah, but what if there was a recession and you couldn’t?” “Well, I’ll probably lose my house shortly after.” He presses further, “What about if you got sick?” “No insurance! I couldn’t pay for healthcare without insurance!” He concludes: You can be wealthy but not secure. In the end, wealth is relational.

Friends, our budget is modest but we are RICH in faith, community, and mission! Biblical Community is where we discover our potential AND find our contribution. As Americans, I think takes practice to not simply approach as spiritual consumers of religious goods and services. Christian community is like a family that shares in the chores. It’s how we invest in each other, demonstrate care, and serve God.

Lent/“T.G.I.F” For Friday, Mar. 23rd…Practice Community. Discover the image of God in another. Be attentive. Share hope.

  1. Give undivided attention-Have a meal or extended conversation w/o checking your phone or watch once.
  2. Pick up a friend or neighbor’s kid(s) after school so they can enjoy a couple extra hours.
  3. Identify the difference Christ is making in you. Share it with one person. Invite someone to join you for Easter.

 

All in!

All in!

There’s a video making it’s rounds on social media What does it mean to be a child? So Good! It captures the imagination and adventure in children. It wasn't until I saw the video that I had an answer: Being a child means living as if consequences weren’t real.

Ever surprised by a child jumping into your arms? You weren’t expecting but caught ‘em. Barely. Jesus welcomes a ‘childlike’ faith SO THAT we can trust him with our lives without reservation. No matter how hard we’ve worked or overcome, everything is a gift from God – education, health, friendship, shelter, gifts, and the ability to generate an income. In other words, being a Christian is learning to see God as the Source and our lives as an offering.

When we talk about generosity, giving comes from 2 perspectives: Either, I give from my own resources - my earnings - my stuff… OR, I give from God’s provision – blessings - resources, which I’ve been entrusted to steward.

Unlike children, we often want to trust and then learn to GIVE. But, it’s only in giving that FAITH GROWS. We tend to think of giving as a trade off (this-for-that) but giving our entire life is the only way to new life!

God Cares for us as his own – Not indifference but intimately & personally. Spiritually, it’s means we learn to see – at every stage and every age – Christ at the center. This isn’t automatic! It requires a practice and a regular discipline to remind us who we are in light of who Christ is. We're invited to follow without reservation, to give our lives by going 'All in'!

Welcome to Lent because Easter is coming. New Life is within reach. Our Lent initiative to make each Friday good for another. With child-like faith, make a plan to practice generosity... 

  1. Make a charitable contribution as an act of faith.
  2. Put $$ in an expired parking meter or buy a 2 hr parking sticker & leave it stuck to machine for someone.
  3. Leave an exceptional tip (whether they deserve it or not). Decide to be generous as God is with you.
  4. Buy a strangers’ coffee anonymously, if possible.

 

Taking Inventory

Taking Inventory

How Can I Pray (& give up control without giving up)?

More than 400 years ago St. Ignatius Loyola encouraged a Daily prayer of Examen – a prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence & to discern his direction. A great way to pray is to look for God’s presence in your life.  Since we’re in the midst of Lent (prayer, sacrifice, & compassion) and talk about Rhythm of Renewal (i.e.  becoming more aware of God’s presence & turning as led), try this version of prayer on your own:

1.    Become aware of God’s presence. Look back on the events of a day/Wkd in the company of the Holy Spirit. If it helps, pick out one day this week that’s most memorable. The day or circumstances may seem confusing to you—a blur, a jumble, a muddle.  

  • Ask God to bring clarity and understanding…

2.    Review the day with gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walk through your day in the presence of God and note its joys and delights. Focus on the day’s gifts. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with.

  • What did you receive from these people?
  • What did you give them?
  • It’s all a gift.  Pay attention to small things—the food you ate, the sights you saw, and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details.

3.    Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions.

  • Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day—Boredom? Excitement? Resentment? Compassion? Confidence? Inadequacy? Nervous? Condescension?
  • What is God saying through these feelings?
  • God will most likely show you some ways that you fell short. Make note of these sins & faults. But look deeply for other implications. Does a feeling of frustration perhaps mean that God wants you consider a new direction in some area of your work? Are you concerned about a friend? Perhaps you should reach out in some way.

4.    Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. It may involve a feeling—positive or negative. It may be a significant encounter with a person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something that seems rather insignificant.

  • Look at it. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart—whether intercession, praise, confession, or gratitude.

5.    Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges.

  • Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Full of delighted anticipation?
  • Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Pray for hope.

St. Ignatius encouraged people to talk to Jesus like a friend. End with a conversation with Jesus. Ask forgiveness for your sins. Ask for his protection and help. Ask for his wisdom about the questions you have and the problems you face. Do all this in the spirit of gratitude. Your life is a gift, and it is adorned with gifts from God.

Making Noise

Making Noise

Typically, we think “strength in numbers”, “bigger is better”, “the more, the merrier” BUT…studies show the larger a group, the less productive it becomes. In one study, researchers found what they called, the Social Loafing Effect. One experiment, participants wore blindfolds and noise-cancelling headphones and were asked to shout as loud as they could. Without exception, everyone made less noise in groups compared to when they shouted alone. Their conclusion: the mere perception that you’re in a group reduces one’s motivation and effort.  

Researchers explained how Social Loafing is a feedback problem. It means when groups get larger, you experience less social pressure and feel less responsibility because your performance becomes difficult, even impossible, measure within a crowd.

Jesus invites each of us into a personal faith AND a group participation within the church. The danger of groups, though, is getting lost in crowd where serving is limited, gifts minimized, commitment lowered, and depth of experience missed...all of which can bringing change from the inside out.

At Mission Hills, we define the Rhythm of Renewal as a growing awareness of God’s presence. Despite the pace and demands of life, Renewal seeks to be sensitive to the Spirit prompting us to turn away (ie resentment, addiction, anger, etc) &/or turn towards (compassion, gratitude, hospitality, etc).  This week’s Friday Lent Initiative, “TGI…not my will” offers room to God’s Spirit to guide us in thought, word, and deed. Pick (at least) one and make a plan because a living faith leads to new life. Easter’s coming!