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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Kissing the Leper

Kissing the Leper

mother-teresa-quote

I read  a book review this morning of “The Shattered Lantern” by Ronald Rolheiser on Spirituality & Practice, a website I use daily. In part it quotes a story in the book about St. Francis of Assisi.    Click here to read the review.

“One night prior to his conversion, Francis, then a rich and pampered young man, donned his flashiest clothes, mounted his horse, and set off for a night of drinking and carousing. God, social justice, and the poor were not on his mind. Riding down a narrow road, he found his path blocked by a leper. He was particularly repulsed by lepers, by their deformities and smell, and so he tried to steer his horse around the leper, but the path was too narrow. Frustrated, angry, but with his path clearly blocked before him, Francis eventually had no other choice but to get down off his horse and try to move the leper out of his path. When he put out his hand to take the leper’s arm, as he touched the leper, something inside him snapped. Suddenly irrational, unashamed, and undeterred by the smell of rotting flesh, he kissed that leper. His life was never the same again. In that kiss, Francis found the reality of God and of love in a way that would change his life for ever.”

Later it said, ” Concrete contact with the poor is Christian contemplation. It knocks the scales off one’s eyes.  ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me,’ Christ assures us. In the poor, God is ever-present in our world, waiting to be met. In the powerless, one can find the power of God; in the voiceless, one can hear the voice of God; in the economically poor, one can find God’s treasures; in the weak, one can find God’s strength; and in the unattractive, one can find God’s beauty.”

“Perhaps the only way we have of not letting ourselves be swallowed whole by our culture is to kiss the leper, to place our lot with those who have no place within the culture, namely, the poor with their many faces: the aged, the sick, the dying, the unborn, the handicapped, the unattractive, the displaced, and all those others that are not valued by the culture. To touch those who have no place within our culture is to give ourselves a perspective beyond culture.”

It struck a chord in me.  I t reminded me of an article I read a couple of years ago that I have since lost track of.  It talked about  getting close to the poor in the broader sense of the word, increasing our ability to better understand the issues they face daily and the ostracization they experience daily,.   The article, written by a Catholic bishop, urged us to change our language.  Instead of speaking of people as “the” poor,  he urged people to use the words, “our poor”.

We are all one in God, we are his people, his sheep, and we are all each other’s neighbor.  Therefore, those who have health, financial and societal struggles, are our poor.  Hear the difference between “the poor” and “our poor”.  Hear the distance “the” allows and the intimacy of “our”.  One way allows us to create a good, comfortable gap, like not sitting too close to a stranger in the pew.  The other demands we pull people close to us, make their worries our worries, their cares our cares, their success our success.

Consider that those who are depressed or grieving are often given wide berth.  We say the right words, give the hugs, send the cards.  But mostly, we don’t step into their pile of sadness.  Those who look or live differently than we do are accorded the smile, the acknowledgement, the peace be with you even, but we never invite them into our home for a meal.  Yet, God calls us to feed his sheep, not in an impersonal, stand outside the fence way, but in an up close, look into their eyes and hear their heart way.feed-my-sheep

I experienced this recently at a memorial service.  My husband and I had sat down when I noticed a woman sitting alone in a pew opposite ours.  I looked at her for a while.  Then I felt a nudge.  It wasn’t my husband.  “Let’s move over by that woman sitting alone.”  We did.  We introduced ourselves and our connection to the friend we had lost.  She shared her name and explained quietly, with tears, that she was a former in law who still thought fondly about the man who had passed away.  “I knew him for so long.  Maybe longer than anyone else here.”  I hugged her and before the ceremony began, she shared some memories.  During the service, I noticed her crying and put my arm around her.  She took my hand.  After the service we walked out together and hugged.  I don’t remember her name but I will never forget her heart.

This, the week of Thanksgiving, we celebrate a first meal in America, likely fictionalized, to represent a coming together of peoples, vastly different but similar in their kindness.  As the story goes, it was not a meal of silence, of distance but one of open thanksgiving and caring.

This Thanksgiving, many of us are headed to tables laden with food but empty of understanding,  a wide chasm between us and our meal partners.  Perhaps instead of looking at each other as a political party supporter, we get closer and look into each other’s eyes and hear their heart.  Perhaps, we find a similarity of kindness.  Perhaps we see each other as belonging to each other.  One of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes says, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”

I wish you a Thanksgiving of plenty and enough.

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Jake Stole My Blanket

Almost a year ago I joined a small women-only gym in Rosemount. After a long bout of illness I wanted to see what my body could achieve again. Inactivity over time made me feel like the filling in a Twinkie; soft and mushy, trapped in a spongy shell unable to move freely. Dizziness and joint pain caused me to distrust both my physical and mental body. What was once taken for granted now challenged me.

Three times a week, I committed to a weight training and cardio regiment. Jake, my personal trainer, pushed my physical limits more each day causing me weeks of muscle soreness and fatigue. Had I not prepaid for the 6-week boot camp style class, I would have have quit. Jake’s stories and lessons, jokes and dancing kept me distracted as I worked out. Friendships were formed with other women; each with their own comeback story.   As the 6th week approached, my sense of accomplishment was palpable. My new workout buddies and I agreed. There was no way we could leave this place, each other, or Jake.

As the months passed I gained strength. I quietly worked, sweated and listened to stories shared. One morning as I struggled IMG_0751with  bicep pulls, Jake stood to my right. He pointed to a small bulge in my wrist. “Look how strong you are Jean.” Unsure how to respond, I said nothing but found great satisfaction in watching that tiny band in my wrist pulse and twist as I worked.

The only one in my group working out one a snowy winter morning, Jake handed me a medicine ball and a mat. “Do a plank balancing on this ball with your hands.” The circuit that morning was 90 seconds. I held on. My body trembled then shook. I wanted to stay up, to hold straight in my plank. “Breath Jean!” I gasped, blew out of pursed lips and closed my eyes. “Yes! Go someplace else! You can do this!” Kneeling next to my mat Jake cheered me on slamming his fist on the floor counting down the time left. A recorded woman’s voice announced the end. Rolling off the ball I collapsed on my belly, red-faced and shaking. “I did it Jake.” He nodded as if he knew I would all along. Leaving that morning, we fist bumped our good-bye. “You believed in me more than I believed in myself. Thanks Jake.”

More weeks passed. While pulling down enough weight to lift me off my seat, Jake whispered firmly, privately in my ear, “You are not sick anymore, Jean. You are strong and well! But you are never going to be able to move forward unless you can see that for yourself.” My silent eyes locked on his. His words pierced a target in the center of my forehead penetrating my brain. It felt like he ripped a warm, protective blanket off of me on a frozen winter morning. I suddenly saw the person I used to be did not exist any longer. The wellness I worked so hard to achieve had arrived. Chilled to the bone, seeing myself in a new light, I could not speak. Somehow, Jake had whispered directly into my soul.

People speak of experiencing God in a prayer, a song, a child’s first cry, a loved one’s last breathe, wind rustling leaves or the call of dove. I now listen for God’s guidance in less likely places; in the tired eyes of a grocery store clerk, in the frustration of rush hour traffic, in the pain of a headache, the scrape of my shovel on a snow covered driveway, the bulging of a growing muscle in my arm and the encouraging words of my personal trainer.IMG_0746 What can I learn from this person, this experience that can guide me on my current path or to a brand new one? What might God be trying to teach me?

I believe I received an amazing message in that otherwise ordinary moment. I could no longer hide behind the blanket of illness, weakness or pain. It was time to stand up, step out into the world again. I was given another chance to be well and participate fully in this beautiful world. It was time to acknowledge and embrace this God given gift with the gratitude and enthusiasm it deserve. I woke up in that moment suddenly knowing my work is not finished yet. God, it seems, has something more planned for me!

1 Samuel 3:10 NLT

And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

Dear God,

I am humbled in the knowledge that you care about me enough to reach out, to guide and teach in such personal ways. As I continue to listen, learn and grow in faith, help me to recognize your voice in both the usual and unexpected places. Speak to me God! I am listening! Love, Jean

Jake Del Pino II is the Head Trainer at Get In Shape for Women in Rosemount, MN, Co-owner of Snap Fitness in Red Wing, MN, and Founder/Owner of Lamb II Lion Fitness – Faith based fitness for churches and corporations in the South Metro.

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?

Sing and Pray Twice

Music is a prayer the heart sings.Music is a prayer

My soul has been surrounded by music the last several weeks while on a break from real life. We attended a wedding with a reception that was music and fun filled, celebrating a young love and strong family ties. The new husband and wife slowly moving across the floor, eyes and smiles only for each other as a love song serenaded the start of their new life journey. A great nephew danced with his aunt to an Elvis tune, both of them caught in the sheer joy of the music and each other. A brother requested a song for his sister who had recently lost her husband of decades and then danced her through another step of grief.

“He who sings, prays twice.” St. AugustineHe who sings prays twice

The cousin who hosted us has been the organist and pianist for her church since she was 14 years old, a nearly 50 year relationship. She also was the musician to many cousin sing alongs in my childhood. Listening to her practice on her baby grand and her still clear voice reaching the sky was balm for my weary body vessel. She teaches other little girls how to play the piano, encouraging them through the hard parts, cheering them through the stretch and correct placement of fingers on chords and giving them the gift of music making and praying.

Rabbi Quote“To sing means to sense and to affirm that the spirit is real and that its glory is present. In singing we perceive what is otherwise beyond perceiving.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Singing has always taken me to places that I didn’t know I wanted to go or could go.  It transcends the words in my head and pulls straight from my heart.  I can’t remember not singing.  As a child, singing in church was always my favorite part.  Even now, when I’m in a different church than Easter, I will peruse the hymnals and make notes of songs that reach out and pull me closer.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below.” I stood in the Presbyterian church of my Doxologyconfirmation and sang these words by heart and from my heart, my hands on the same wooden pews I rested them on as a child. This song, above all others, has always filled me with a sure faith even when life events caused my child heart to question. With stained glass story windows surrounding me, I remembered the bell choir I had once white gloved played in, glorious clear notes rising to heaven with our praise to God and glee we hit the right notes in the right time.

Colossians 3:16 “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”Col 3 16In a VFW hall in a small town, the room is packed with hundreds of people for a benefit for my nephew who refuses to quit in an epic battle with cancer. Music backdrops the community outpouring of love and hope. Elementary aged grandsons tearfully testify to the goodness of his grandpa and pray for healing. All of this for a man who unendingly serves his community, boldly loves his family and loudly praises God. When he asked the room, abounding with love, to stop and listen to the song, “My Wish“, we listened as a communal prayer beaming from each heart, the unity of the words and music seeking the ears of heaven.

Jesus Loves Me

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

The words are nestled in the brain and soul of any person who was a child in Sunday school. From our youngest days, we prayed and praised through song. A song is a thoughtful pause of prayer, a lilting cadence to accentuate our heartfelt desires and praise.

Today, pray twice. Sing. Loudly. Boldly. Badly. Pitch perfect. Tearfully. With joy. Alone. With others.

What song do you sing that pulls you closer to God?

 

Belonging, Sanctifying, and Sending: Jesus Prays for His Disciples in John 17

Just before his arrest, trial, and execution on the cross, Jesus prayed for all his followers. Today’s devotion is from guest writer, Sam Rahberg, reflecting on this prayer:

 

Easter Church--Hill focal pointFather, the hour has come. . . . 
I have made your name known
to those whom you gave me from the world.
They were yours, and you gave them to me,
and they have kept your word. . . .
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
As you have sent me into the world,
so I have sent them into the world.
And for their sakes I sanctify myself,
so that they also may be sanctified in truth. 
(From John 17: 1,6,17-19,  NRSV)

 

This day’s prayer began like any other for me as I settled in under a heavy blanket and quiet darkness. I had chosen to wake early and to reach out to God, yet again determined to pray for others and to make known the frustrations and wonderings of my heart. The Gospel of John stopped short my one-way pattern.

I had long been asking God to help me learn the wisdom and strength of conviction that I was finding in Jesus’ signs and teaching, but that prayer was reversed when I encountered Jesus praying for his disciples in John 17. It is a prayer of belonging, sanctifying, and sending.

Jesus begins his prayer to the Father, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (17:6). If we listen closely, we overhear Jesus claiming us as his own. He describes fulfilling his calling to share the truth and commends us to the Father for receiving and believing that truth (17:8). “All mine are yours,” Jesus prays, “and yours are mine.” We belong.

As he prays, he does not ask that we be relieved of danger or discomfort (17:15), but that we be protected and that we grow as disciples: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (17:17). We are sanctified.

The prayer is not over without reminding us of our calling. Jesus prays, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world (17:18). We are sent.

There may well be times to pray actively and intentionally, speaking out the desires of our hearts toward God. Yet, as John 17 invites us to see, there is also a time to claim our place beside the disciples, simply resting in the presence and ministry of Christ to us. The next time you pray, settle in and ask how Christ is praying for you. Relax and receive God’s belonging, sanctifying, and sending.

 

About the writer: Sam Rahberg is the director of the Benedictine Retreat Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is also a trained spiritual director and member of Christ Lutheran on Capitol Hill (St. Paul). Read more about Sam on Easter Lutheran’s  website under spiritual direction .