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.

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.  

How Sweet

Today’s reflection written by Chris Cairo: 

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me….”

The first time I remember hearing these words was at my brothers funeral. I choked up as we sang this song then and don’t think I managed to finish singing it. Even today this song has the power to (figuratively) bring me to my knees. (And it should, for all of us.)

Do you know the words to this song?
How about just one word: Grace?
Do you know ‘Grace’, God’s grace?

Grace: (def) “unmerited favor”

God’s light shines on us, His love envelops us, even though we have done nothing to earn or deserve it. That’s God’s grace.

I can’t remember which of my boys was having a temper tantrum, but It was a full all out screaming, crying, kicking, thrashing tantrum….something had him mad, sad, and furious all at the same time. I remember picking him up and holding him tight. And the crying and screaming went on for awhile. And then the screaming turned to sobs, and finally, exhausted, he lay in my arms.

This is how I picture God’s grace with us…through everything we go through, good or bad, in sickness or in health, through all our frustrations, loneliness, through and despite all our sins, His arms are around us as we thrash about in life, holding us tight, restoring us to peace.
He is there for us always, even though we have done nothing to deserve Him or His love.
That, is Amazing Grace.

( Listen To Soweto Gospel Choir sing “Amazing Grace” on YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoJz2SANTyo   )

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see. 

 

 

Easter member Chris Cairo wrote the above reflection as part of his special ministry to college students and others, in which he writes to them on a monthly basis to encourage their faith to thrive in their daily lives.

Highlighting God’s Word. . .and God’s Word Highlighting Our Lives

Today’s post comes from Chris Cairo: 

highlighters-871282749297x9GvWhen I read books I like to highlight the good parts. No, not in fiction books like those written by Vince Flynn (a favorite author), but the business books, Christian books I read, and especially the Bible.

I almost always have my highlighter out when I read the bible. I tend to highlight the major verses, like John 3:16 (‘for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.’), and ones we often hear in church (like Numbers 6:24-26)).

Highlighted bible 2But invariably, no matter which book of the bible I am reading, there are certain words and verses that jump out at me…that make me pause…that I need to think about. So I highlight them.

And sometimes, as I am reading a particular section of the bible a second or third time (because I either (a) still don’t get it, or (b) need additional inspiration), I find myself highlighting verses I had ‘skipped’ over previously.

God speaks to me through His word…with the right words, at the right time.

This always reminds me of the bible verses the confirmands choose when they make their confirmation. Each of them chose a verse that spoke to them personally, and they were all different. God spoke to them.

I hope that He continually speaks to you as you read the bible, and that reading the bible is a part of your life.

Bring your highlighter, and let His word highlight your life.

 

Easter member Chris Cairo wrote the above reflection as part of his special ministry to college students and others, in which he writes to them on a monthly basis to encourage their faith to thrive in their daily lives. 

 

California Dreaming

On an early fall morning in 1996, I stood with a dear friend, Suzanne, watching the antics of our neighborhood’s children when my 4 year-old son ran up to us with an important announcement. Poised wide-legged, chest puffed and wearing his new Ninja filename-1Turtle Halloween costume he proclaimed to the world, “When I grow up, I am going to be Ninja Turtle Michelangelo and I am going to stop all the bad guys!” Not requiring any sort of response or advice about his new career decision, he ran on.

Turning to Suzanne I asked, “When do I break his heart? When do I tell him he cannot be a superhero? When do I tell him he will probably grow up to be something practical – maybe an accountant like his Dad? ” Suzanne whispered, “Don’t tell him Jean. The world will tell him soon enough.” Quietly that morning I prayed that Mark would find work when he was grown that brought him joy and fulfillment as well as a means of support.

Several years later during a family vacation in California, we strolled through a park overlooking the ocean. Mark pursued the dozens of seagulls grouped along our path determined to catch one of them. His whole body squealed with delight each time the birds took flight. Catching his breath on a bench before returning to the hunt, Mark made another announcement. “Someday I want to live here! When I grow up I am moving to California!”

Now, 15 years later, Mark no longer wears a cape or carries a plastic sword but his desire to right the wrongs of this world did not fade. He involves himself in organizations and causes that raise people up and him in the process. He lives his life with kindness and fairness even when the world is not always kind or fair to him. In many ways I see him living the superhero life he dreamed of as a child though it looks very different than what either of us pictured.

I cannot help but grin as I tell you that Mark is a newly graduated accountant from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is preparing to start his first job in San Francisco next month. He knew business was a practical IMG_1078degree but had difficulty imagining his life as an accountant. His job opportunity in California is not a traditional accounting job path recommended by his school advisers but it unfolded magically and effortlessly for him. The expression, “It was meant to be” comes to mind. He is excited to get started. I am brimming with joy for him and the new life he is creating but also experiencing worry, sadness and grief at his leaving.

As I summon the courage to kiss my son good-bye before he boards the plane that will fly him to his future, I call on my faith to steady me. My faith over the years has grown into a solid platform from which I can stand firmly and look around. From that platform of faith I can see the happenings of life unfold without being bowled over by them. My body feels the multitude of physical and emotional pain that life brings, but my soul knows I can stand against the current. I have emotions, but I am not my emotion. I have a body, but I am not my body. I am a soul encased in a physical body, learning and experiencing this world but not overwhelmed by it. It is a source of inner strength that comes when I let go of expectations and simply have faith.

I have come to believe that God wants all of our dreams to come true. He hears the desires of our hearts and wants them to be realized. So many times this world derails us. Society often tells us we are not good enough or brave enough to achieve our dreams or face life’s challenges. What if we placed our hopes and dreams in God’s hands without attempting to imagine how those desires should come to be? It is not an easy or simple task but I believe that by putting the longings of our hearts into God’s hands without expectations, we exercise our faith in God and that faith forges the path for God to enter our lives in spectacular and unexpected ways.

Dear God,

Thank you for hearing and caring about the desires of my heart. Help me to let go of how I think my dreams should become reality. Please show me the path to follow and give me strength to bear the pain of the journey. Also dear Lord, please give me the clarity to recognize hopes and dreams realized even when they appear in unexpected ways. Thanks again – for everything!

Love, Jean

Jeremiah 32:27  “Behold, I am the LORD; the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for me?”

Prayer: Growing in relationship with the God who loves you

Today’s post is written by Easter member Dorie Erickson: 

ThereMother and Daughter in Prayer Ministry Stock Photo - Smaller Copy are many books that have been written about prayer.  It is an innate, spontaneous communication with the One who made us.

For many years I have been interested in and fascinated by prayer and the power of prayer.  It is an awesome gift that God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier should want to commune with, talk to, or listen to me, a tiny speck of humanity.

Prayer is as natural as breathing (in fact, is it not breathing?), and taking in the presence of God, who has created our amazing universe, given us life, beauty, love and grace.

As a child I was taught the usual rote mealtime and bedtime prayers at home, Sunday School, and Confirmation.  As I grew older I was blessed with extended family members who prayed spontaneous “off-the-cuff” prayers.  They both frightened and excited me, especially when the pray-er used my name or other family names audibly in prayer.  It became very personal.

Pray without ceasing--Easter Lutheran Church MN

As a young adult my private personal prayers consisted of seeking God’s comfort, blessing, help, forgiveness and direction in life.

It was not until I’d been married that I learned to pray out loud with another person. My husband and I began to pray aloud each one on alternate nights before we went to sleep.  We continue this practice to this day.  But, at first my cheeks would burn in the dark of the night when I would open my heart to God aloud.  There are nights when I can’t remember whose turn it is to pray and I just want to listen and perhaps doze a bit.

Sometimes prayer becomes a “have-to” instead of a “want-to”.  Always God knows our hearts and cradles us in God’s own Love.

There is much more to praying than verbalizing words. True, prayer is talking to God, listening to God, but it also is manifested in seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching God with all of our senses.  It is the awareness that God loves us and has chosen to dwell within each of us that impels us into an ever-growing relationship with the Beloved One.

In His Presence Christian Stock Images - Smaller Copy

 

About the writer:  Dorie Erickson is a wife, mother, and grandmother who enjoys reading and sharing books, small group studies that stretch her mind, music that feeds her soul, and nurturing long-time friendships as well as new ones (usually over lunch!).

 

Little Armenians

Who knows what a new day brings. Last Sunday morning I woke up to find images of Pope Francis strung through my Facebook newsfeed. Comments he made during Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica marking the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide left the Turkish Foreign Minister turning to Twitter and ambassadors scrambling.

For a brief moment and in an incredibly insignificant and selfish way I thought, Lord Jesus show the world who the Armenian people are, so that I may never, ever, ever have to resort to the Kardashians as a reference when trying to explain my husband’s ethnicity. Just an honest Jesus moment, what can I say.

10985340_10205796771465965_7283016304982171630_nPope Francis called the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks the first genocide of the 20th century and urged the international community to recognize it as such. Although historians estimate that 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I,  the Turkish government has definitely denied that a genocide ever took place. Sadly, for decades now the United States has avoided officially using the word Genocide in regards to the Massacre. Not because it wasn’t indeed Genocide, but because Turkey is an important military ally with an important military base.

As I rattled off the Pope’s eloquent and unapologetic statements to my hubby, my little Armenians, the ones I’m lucky enough to share my life with, were still snuggled into their beds.

I’d affectionately coined them my watered-down Armenians-a sentiment I shared in my own Facebook post that morning. To which my brother-in-law, Pierre, responded warmly that there is no such thing. After some days to ponder, not only do I think he’s right (yes, Pierre, I’m admitting it to the whole world) but I think it might just be the smartest thing he’s ever said.

My kids, 10 and 13, spent the morning watching a documentary about that atrocities of their ancestors. It’s a graphic and upsetting film. I wanted to hide this from them, to shield them from the inherent evil in the world-but that too would be injustice. They watched and my heart was heavy for them.

Before my children were born, in the heartbreaking images of starving survivors I’d see the face of my husband’s grandfather, Dikran.

Raised in a multigenerational home, my husband shared his childhood home with his grandfather. Dikran served in the French Colonial military and was an accomplished tennis champion. Well into his eighties he still had the physique of an athlete. Because he preferred the sympathies given to the frail, his appearance often mirrored unsteadiness. Nonetheless, when he thought he was alone we would find him running and jumping through my mother-in-laws living room. Dikran and I shared the same conversations countless times. In his limited English he would do his best to tell me about his love for tennis. He would also say to me, “I speak English very good… Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday…” and then he would laugh at himself like it was the first time he said it, and as if he thought that English sounded absurd. I’m told that he had an incredible dry sense of humor, and that in his prime he was the life of every party without ever cracking a smile. Dikran died four years after my husband and I were married. In the last few days of his life whenever he saw my face he wept.

Dikran was born in Armenia in 1913. He was a toddler during the massacres.

Through the resolve and tenacity of his mother, Jameleh, Dikran and his siblings survived genocide. Refusing to deny Christ, her husband was taken in the night, put in shackles, and marched off to slaughter. The sound of shackles scraping along the cobblestone road would haunt her for the rest of her life. She was forced from her grand home filled with fine things. Knowing they would be driven into the death marches, she made the decision to leave Dikran behind. He was hidden away and cared for by his aunt. With her two older sons at her side she carried her infant daughter for nearly 40 days through the Syrian desert. Witnessing the most vile abuses at the hands of the Turkish guards she resorted to covering herself in animal feces in an attempt to avoid their abuses. They finally found refuge in Aleppo, Syria. Dikran would make the pilgrimage to Aleppo three years later. They lived for five years in Aleppo off the repayment of a debt that was owed to Jemeleh’s husband. When the debt was paid in full, Jameleh was no longer able to care for her children. Dikran would spend much of his youth in an orphanage run by Catholic Charities.

11156232_10205796771625969_4920684143615517400_nSince the birth of my children what I see now in the haunting documentary images are the faces of my own children. Pierre, you’re so right there simply is no such thing as a watered-down Armenian. Perhaps it’s the incredible tenacity of my husband’s grandparents to survive, to refuse to let evil win, that shows itself in the eye’s of my children.

And so we continue to move forward, and my little Armenians carry the resolve of their ancestors. They are beautiful and thriving, as are our nieces and nephews and in that I know that evil didn’t win. It never truly wins.

Searching scripture to match the enormity of the pain of Genocide brought me to Revelation. Some things are just too heavy for this world and so we must fix our eyes on the next.

Revelation 21:4 New Living Translation (NLT)

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

A Prayer for our heavy hearts-

“Lead us Lord that we may, in both big and small ways, challenge evil.  Where it begins help us to be your light that overshadows darkness. Help us to lead our children in a manner that honors those who have gone before us and have endured great sorrow. Protect our hearts, in your Son’s precious name. 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 Prays. Mindy’s book Embracing Charlie was honored with a Finalist Title in the Christian Inspirational Category of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards. You may follow Mindy on her personal blog at www.embracingcharlie.com.

Textiles for His Grace

In the Gospel of Matthew, the 21st chapter recounts Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday-“Jesus Triumphant Entry”.

It sounds like it was a pretty amazing party. A parade of waving palm branches, shouts of admiration for the Son of David, His Jewish brothers and sisters acknowledging Him jubilantly as their prophesied Savior-a joyous celebration indeed.

Matthew 21: 6-11 NLT

The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.[c]

Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God[d] for the Son of David!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Praise God in highest heaven!”[e]

10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.11 And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Other translations read “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”. “Hosanna” was a Hebrew expression meaning “Save” that became a exclamation of praise-how lovely!

textile-548716_640

I can’t help but put myself there among the shouting crowd. What resonates with me most is verse 8, “Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him…”. In the midst of a mess of people, a public parade no less, people in the crowd felt compelled to spread their garments on the dirty road. Thus, making a textile trail for the King and His colt to enter Jerusalem upon.

As we move into Holy Week may we consider ways that we too might lay down our garments for Christ-ways in which we can humbly serve as the foundation upon which His Grace moves within the world. Let us not forget that in spite of all things, He laid down his life for ours.

May this Holy Week be full of reflection and blessings!

~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 Prays. Mindy enjoys working as a dental hygienist but finds that her true passion lies in writing. Her book Embracing Charlie was honored with a Finalist Title in the Christian Inspirational Category of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards. You may follow Mindy on her personal blog at www.embracingcharlie.com.

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

Don’t Worry, Be Happy… Or Not

So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
John 16:22

This Sunday Intern Pastor Brandon Newton preached on the story of Paul and Silas’ first arrest (See Acts 16:16-40). The men were falsely accused, stripped naked, beaten with wooden rods and then imprisoned. The underground dungeon that served as a Roman prison would have been dark and dirty. I can only imagine the stench, the fear, the pain and the indignation. Wounded and chained in the dark it would be understandable if they had given in to fear and hopelessness. And maybe even anger.

All this and they were innocent. All this for a God who had seemingly abandoned them. All this pain and misery to save people who were ungrateful and cruel.

I would have been very angry indeed.

And yet, Paul and Silas spent their time in jail praying and singing hymns. They chose to praise God even in the midst of a situation far worse than most of us can imagine. At first it’s easy to think that Paul was exceptional. That God endowed him with some sort of super human ability to seek joy in even the most appalling situations.

But the truth is that we all have this ability to choose joy, to make a conscious decision to be joyful even in the midst of tragedy. Joy is not happiness. Happiness is an emotion that is, by its very nature, fleeting. We get a promotion, we go on a vacation, we get engaged, we have a baby and we are happy. Everything seems right in the world; life is smooth sailing for the time being.

Of course, no one can be happy all the time. The car breaks down, work get stressful, we lose a loved one, someone gets sick and we are no longer happy. We are stressed, frustrated, sad, mad, hurt and confused. And that’s okay. The command was never to be happy all the time. Paul and Silas were not happy. They were joyful, and that is something altogether different.

Joy is a choice. It is not about getting rid of all our problems so that we can have a perfect life. It is about trusting God in spite of the fact that we live in a fallen world and things are decidedly imperfect. Joy is the knowledge that even in the midst of hardship, God is with us always and that the things we endure can and will be used for a divine purpose, even if we don’t understand how, or why. Joy is deep in the soul and cannot be shaken by the circumstances of our lives.

Of course, this kind of deep, abiding joy comes only when we are walking closely with God, when we are willing to trust Him implicitly in all things. It is an adventure, a leap of faith… a promise. Will you choose joy today?