Where you go, I will go

lent-desert-path

Lent is designed to be an opportunity for everyday Christians to experience a similar reflection and time that Jesus had in his 40 days in the desert,  where he fasted and prayed for 40 days. During his time in the heat of the days and the cold of the nights, he found clarity, strength to resist temptation.and the foundation to begin his ministry.

How can we, in these modern days, replicate even a small bit of that experience?  Some people give up things, like chocolate or coffee.  Others add to their days a moment of service to others.  Some change behaviors during Lent, for instance, buying only what is needed and forgoing wants.

All of these actions are for naught, unless they come with time to pause and reflect how it is taking you into the desert.  Its not enough to just give things up, add service to your day, purchase differently.  The purpose of Lent is to follow Jesus to the desert, to contemplate our ministry in our life.

Maybe you don’t see that you have a ministry in this world.  We don’t have to go to divinity school, to be a minister.  The living of our lives is a ministry.  What we do, how we do it, what we say, how we say it, what we think, how we display it.  That is our ministry.

Lent is a time to get a keener vision of where God wants us to be, how he wants us to follow him.  It is a time to challenge what you are doing, saying, thinking.

It is a time to ask yourself, am I serving my ministry or am I serving myself?

These are questions that deserve time.  Perhaps that is the real sacrifice in today’s sped up world.  To take the time to make room for these questions, to sit with them for 40 days and nights, to give our time to God, listening for his vision for our ministry.  Time is our desert.

lent-contemplation

For this time of Lent, we are making this blog space available to any who have an interest in sharing your desert time.  We will be posing questions for you to consider and answer. There will be two questions, one for adults, another for children.   Your answers will be posted with your name or anonymously, however you desire.  We don’t care if you have misspellings or awkward sentence structure.  If you ask, we can edit for those kind of things.  This is not about perfection, but about the spirit of your words.


Question for Adults

How do you plan to follow Jesus into the desert to strengthen and build your ministry?


lent-heart


Question for Children

What can you do each day to show your Jesus heart to the world?


Send your answers to godiscallingblog@gmail.com.

Through community, we strengthen our faith and the faith of others.  Please share your heart so others can invigorate their faith.

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Do you give up?

By John Peterson

Easter Lutheran window butterfly

Easter is here! He is Risen!

Matthew 6: 16-18: 

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” 

Forty Days imageForty some odd days ago, Ash Wednesday was upon us and many of our Catholic and other Christian brothers and sisters use that day as the first of 40 days to give up something for Lent. It may be something like chocolate, television, a favorite food, social media or something else that is important to you. My children would sometimes give up watermelon. Although it is a favorite of theirs, it was a questionable “sacrifice” as it is hard to find watermelon in February and March… sometimes I think they missed the point.  I have always understood giving something up for Lent would be a reminder of the sacrifice Christ gave for me whenever I thought about whatever it was I gave up.

As a Christian, shouldn’t Christ’s sacrifice be something that we reflect on all year long? Shouldn’t we always remember what Christ did for us on the cross? For me, I don’t always remember these sacrifices. I am guilty of selfishly focusing on what I perceive to be the sacrifices I give up for my work, my friends and my family and not on the real sacrifices that Christ gave up for us.

I read a story about a father who was talking to his son about what he gave up for Lent. His son said he gave up fighting with his brothers and sisters. When his father asked him how it was going the son replied, “I’m doing pretty well, Dad – but I can’t wait until Easter”. This story says a lot about how we can feel as Christians. We may give something up for 40 days, but if we don’t remember that this is a sacrifice we miss the point. Anything we give up should remind us of the greatest sacrifice that Jesus gave for every one of us. Reflecting on His sacrifice and focusing our lives to live as Christ lived helps us to “grow in faith and carry on the work of Jesus Christ”.

 

Stained glass window at Easter Lutheran Church

 

Dear Lord – We thank you for the ultimate sacrifice you gave for us. Help us to understand the extent of your love for us and help us to pass a portion of that love on to others. We thank you for the Easter promise and we thank you for loving us so much that you gave your only Son so that we may live. Bless us as we live our lives according to your will. Amen.  

Chocolate Atonement

The one and only time I gave up something for Lent was more than, ahem… a dozen or so years ago.

I wasn’t raised in a Christian home-I was in my twenties and passionately navigating my faith walk.  As this particular Lenten season approached, I announced quite stoically to my husband that I would be giving up Chocolate for Lent. It would be my Grand sacrifice for Christ. I give in big ways (sarcasm intended).

Well… it felt like an epic failure-a Dove chocolate dipped creamy vanilla ice-cream kind-of failure to be exact.

Jesus spent forty days in the Judaean Desert. Forty. He fasted, like-he didn’t eat anything. Oh, and there was that whole thing with the devil showing up. Scripture says that he was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit-a time of preparation and deep spiritual reflection for what lay before him.

113Back to my delicious failure. As it turned out this first sacrificial Lent experience of mine just so happened to line up with my first trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, no not the Coach Outlet Store in Eagan (remember this was 2002) no, The Happiest Place on Earth… DisneyWorld with its shiny castle and perfectly placed billowy clouds.

Our trip to The Magic Kingdom was about ten days before Easter Sunday. Up until that point I held true to my no chocolate vow. More importantly, I understood the value in giving something up. Each time I would normally reach for chocolate, I instead took pause and thought about the incredible, unfathomable, ultimate sacrifice on the cross.

Enter Dove Chocolate… Ugh. It was a short trip, my Hubby and I were there four days. We visited each park, all four of which had those little treat carts every twenty steps or so. The first three days I watched with envy as attendants reached into their portable deep freezers to pull out the Disney Signature Treat-Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Bar. Imagine a vanilla ice cream bar, on a stick, in the shape of Mickey’s head, and then covered in a thick hardened layer of rich chocolate. Each time I saw one I wrestled with the notion of breaking my Lenten promise.

On our last day Mickey won… and truthfully it was as good as I had imagined it to be. I am so impossibly human.  Jesus in the desert, fasting for forty days, forty.

The beautiful thing is that in Christ each day is new. Jesus, The Son of God, atoned for my sin, he atoned for your sin. His atonement leaves us fresh and clean. Nothing can separate us, not even our perceived failures, chocolate sized or otherwise.

I continue my faith Journey-and these years later I understand more deeply that it will always be just that, a journey. I’ll always be a work in progress, an impossibly human work in progress.

“Heavenly Father, we remain overwhelmed by the immense LOVE you have for us, regardless of all the ways we fall short in our intentions. Help us to continuously and faithfully return to you in all things. May this season of Lent be a time of deep reflection for each of us. Come Lord Jesus, more of you Lord.” And with that, a beautifully impossibly human, “Amen.”


Mindy Lynn Hilo and her family have been members at Easter for ten years. She is a conformation mentor and a regular contributor to Easter Praise. You can follow Mindy on her personal blog, embracingcharlie.com. Mindy’s book Embracing Charlie was honored with a Finalist Title in the Christian Inspirational Category of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards.

A Living Death

A Living Death

When I was a child, I spent most of my time waiting to grow up and be independent. I wished my childhood away. Blessed with the opportunity to attend college away from home, I could not believe or fully comprehend my good fortune. Then something unexpected happened during my first visit home from college. I experienced a sense of detachment from the rest of my family. I did not belong there in the same way I did or like my siblings who were still living there. They saw me differently and perhaps I acted differently. I was independent. It was what I had always wanted but when it happened I was sad. In that moment I recognized the end of something big and my heart was struck by the loss of it. Life flooded me with classes, studying, new friends, a boyfriend and the excitement of college life. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Engaged before graduation, I was neck deep in wedding planning, job hunting and moving to a new city before I ever left college. I loved school but it was time for my college days to be done. I was running in the direction of adulthood and married life. Wedding PhotoThe life I knew in school was over and the person I was as a student was gone. There was deep sadness with that realization but the busyness of preparing for my new life did not allow me to think about it but for a moment. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

As the wedding approached, I practiced signing my new name. I struggled with taking my fiancé’s last name. It was not that I was terribly attached to the name I was given at birth but I did not want to erase it either. It was culturally what I was expected to do. Every other married woman I knew changed her name. I understood that I would be someone new after the wedding even without a name change. People I met as a married person would never know me as an individual. I would from that time forward be defined by another person, by another family, without much evidence of who I was previously. I practiced and practiced writing my new name until it began to look familiar. When I was handed the marriage certificate I signed it with a trembling hand. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

A few years later, pregnant with my first child and on bed rest with preterm labor, any evidence of my youth was shattered. There was a transforming pressure in the realization that I was completely responsible for another human being. Every decision I made would directly support or threaten my unborn child. I prayed for us both to survive. I prayed for the pain to subside. I prayed for the pregnancy to come to a swift and positive end. Every moment of every day for more than 6 weeks I spent trying to stay pregnant, manage pain and cope with the life threatening implications of a situation I could not control. On February 21, 1990 at 2:32AM my daughter burst into the world a month early, yellow and limp. My body was torn apart. Immediately after birth, a nurse rushed our newborn to the ICU.   My Megan as a newborn 022492husband worried about leaving me alone but sprinted behind the racing nurse after I made him promise to not allow our daughter out of his sight. Several days later, a tiny child was placed in my weakened arms and I was wheeled to the door of the hospital. There was no time to rest or heal. There was a child who needed me, depended on me for survival. I needed to devote all my strength and energy to being a mother. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Standing in the parking lot of a popular daycare center, I wrapped my colic baby in my arms attempting to picture myself entrusting her to the caregivers on the other side of the glass door in front of me. The thought of it caused me physical pain. I reminded myself that every mother I knew went back to work a few weeks after giving birth. I spent time and money earning a degree so I could have a career. It was my dream. Many people fought and sacrificed for me to have the opportunity to go to school. How could I let them down? How could I let myself down? In that parking lot clinging tightly to my child I made a choice that changed everything. I decided that I wanted more than anything in the world to take care of my child full time. I did not accept the title “stay-at-home mom” easily but there was nothing in this world I desired more definitively. The person I thought myself to be was redefined in that moment. The trajectory of my life shifted in a direction I never before considered. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Life continued at fever pitch bringing with it love, struggle, fun, loss, self-discovery, self-doubt, health issues, another challenging pregnancy and a second child. I often teased about earning an honorary medical degree with the hours I spent in doctor’s offices, addressing all of our health challenges. While other mom’s complained of scattered toys or the toilet paper roll unfurled around the house, my heart soared with gratitude for the normal play of a healthy child. Some days lasted forever it seemed but the years sped by. Sleepless nights spent feeding babies were replaced with sleepless nights waiting for teenagers to arrive home. There were concerts and games to attend, leotards and football uniforms to wash, holidays to celebrate, birthday parties to plan, homework to complete and college applications to submit. Suddenly it seemed my young adult children did not require my assistance as they once did. My role as mother morphed into trusted adviser and observer. I was transformed from one person into someone new without so much as a breath between. Version 2I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Today both my children are college graduates and working in other states. I cannot help but laugh when I think about it. It seems they are each living the dream I once held for myself. I have plenty of time to ponder such notions now. What might have been? What actually happened? It is as if I died and now my life is flashing before my eyes. While reflecting on my life, I now see I have died this sort of living death many times before. At the end of each stage of life a part of me had to give way in order for me to continue living. The difference this time is that another task or responsibility is not bearing down upon me. Life seems oddly suspended and pregnant with choices or nothingness depending on the day. Instead of hurrying to the next thing, I am left to rest, to wonder about the future. While I rest I pray that I am purposeful and intentional with my choices about the person I am becoming. There is now time to look back, gather all that life has taught me and set that knowledge into action as I begin yet another new life.

Dear God,  Thank you for this time of rest, reflection and rebuilding. Please help me to remember with gratitude all the beauty and blessings I have received in this lifetime as well as the challenges. Help me to see struggle and loss as preparation for becoming the person I will be in the next phase of life. Teach me to recognize when others are experiencing times of transition from one life to another so I can show them compassion.

Thank you for another chance at new life here on earth. This unhurried time is allowing me to learn from my past and see the potential life holds for me still. You continue to provide examples of life, death and new life each day. Help me to lean on those examples to embrace and appreciate what is happening now and what is yet to come.

Love, Jean

John 11:25,26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?

Mark 1: 29 – 31 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Blast from the Past

This devotion was prepared by Vision Board member Keri Olson.

I just watched the 40th Anniversary of Saturday Night Live.  It was a blast from my past and made me smile from ear to ear.  But it also made me realize that all those performers of my youth were getting really old. And if they were getting old then by default I must be too.

Make no mistake, I am clear on my age.  But for the most part I see my family, friends and acquaintances often enough that general aging is incremental. When you go back to the beginning and then jump forward 40 years, it’s a little shocking. A bit like running into friends and their children at the mall when you haven’t seen the kids for years; it’s as though they instantly went from toddlers to teens.

Experiencing the SNL oldsters (Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murry, Jane Curtain, etc) from their youthful comic genius to now seasoned dramatic veterans gave me an entertaining yet powerful view of our mortality.

I distinctly remember the first time I was truly aware that I would not live forever.  Shortly after our son Cameron was born, I had an epiphany. I realized that if something happened to me, if I died, it would matter.  Really matter.  In a joyous time those were heavy thoughts so I put them aside and went on living without fear of dying, because to live in fear would have denied how wonderful this new life and motherhood was.  And yet here I am again, from a completely different impetus, recognizing my mortality.

The timing of the anniversary show couldn’t have been better.  Coming just before the start of Lent it pushed me to thinking about the fullness of life; it has a beginning, middle and an end.  Years ago my thoughts on what to do with my life were framed by big ideas, plans and goals.  I still have a few of those, but my focus on how I want to live the rest of the “middle” of my life has softened.  I’m going to make a real effort to be more intentional in all I do, to be really present and in tune to other’s needs and less on my own.  That will take some doing.

On Ash Wednesday we were reminded through scripture “Remember, man is dust, and unto dust you shall return.”  It refers to our making and our finality, leaving the middle to us.  And I guess until we are finally dust we are in the middle, challenged to live without fear of dying, knowing that Christ did the heavy lifting for us.

Great and gracious God, thank you for using all the tools available to you, to get to us, even SNL.  You are truly everywhere and in everything.  Guide us in the middle of our lives to seek you in all things. Amen

God designed airplanes and I messed it up

Today’s reflection is written by Chris Cairo: 

Messy Spirituality bookI flew home from a week-long business trip that started in Kansas City and ended in Miami. It was a long week, and I was tired (No excuse!). So as the plane was taxiing to the run way I pulled out a book to sit back and read (“Messy Spirituality” – good book). Just as I started to read the guy next to me asked the first of his questions: ” Hey, we were just on a cruise and they gave us a small book like that. Is it the same one?”… and then, “Is it good?” … “Where are you from?”... I answered each question politely, and he kept going until his wife finally said “Hon, I think he actually wants to read his book.” So the conversation ended.

I used to think that some sadistic, penny-pinching, profit-mongering person designed airplanes with one goal in mind: to stuff as many of us in as possible to maximize profits. However, maybe it was God who designed the seats to be so close that we are forced, literally and figuratively, to rub elbows with our neighbors.

And that’s where I messed up. I didn’t engage.

But later in the flight he engaged me again about my book, and this time the conversation went on. In fact we talked for about two hours! Randy and Lisa were returning from a ‘marriage’ cruise, hosted by Family Life, an organization they were involved with through their church. I learned a lot about their organization, and I had the chance to tell them about Easter Lutheran and our new partnership with Treehouse. We shared quite a bit, including bits about our kids and families. I really enjoyed getting to know them, and invited them to the upcoming Treehouse banquet (I hope they can come). I plan to stay engaged with them, as we have a lot in common.

Engagement. That is how Jesus ministered. His whole ministry was about engaging people where ever He met them: fishing, at a well, at a dinner or wedding, or when He was walking along a road. And I’ll bet He would never turn down the chance to engage someone sitting next to Him on an airplane.

Yep, I messed up yet again. But I am determined to get it right. I can’t be a Christian if I don’t try to follow His example. “Come follow me” (Matthew 4:19) was meant for more than Peter and Andrew…He was talking to us.

So, who can you engage?

 

Easter Lutheran’s Vision Board member Chris Cairo wrote the above reflection as part of his special ministry to college students, in which he writes to them on a monthly basis to keep their faith thriving in their daily lives on campus.  

Ash Wednesday: Grace Ribbons

Hey Easter Praise! readers,

Today is Ash Wednesday and hopefully you are making your way over to church sometime today to pray with others in our faith community. (See schedule at www.easter.org.)

Lent 2015--what does God desire - CopyLent is simply a word that means “springtime.” I think it’s safe to say that many of us in northern areas grow weary at the end of the winter with the drab skies, wearing heavy clothes, and icky looking March snow-on-the-ground.

Christians who lived centuries ago may have also been running out of food (no frozen or canned foods back then) or heat (firewood) by the end of winter. Their animals may have died from the extreme cold (no meat or milk if all animals died).

In our souls, we also long for something more. While it’s true we have been saved by faith in Christ, there’s always more to learn as a follower of Jesus, more ways we can serve others, more ways to conform our lives to Christ. Through the ups and downs of life, the Holy Spirit showers grace upon us, to draw us ever-closer into deeper communion with Christ and each other.

Speaking of grace, have you seen Pastor Kris’ new blog post about Ash Wednesday and the ribbon of grace running through our entire lives?  I suggest you take a look at her blog I’m Into Grace.

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May the good Lord bless you as we prepare for 40 days to celebrate the awesome wonder of Christ’s Resurrection.