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.

Advertisements
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.

gratitude-4

I Found Grace in my Closet

Today I was seeking my way in a new year, finding my spiritual footing for 2016.  The holiday activities are over, the world is returning to its regular routines.  I was grumpy for no discernible reason.  Our holidays were filled with moments that I will hold tight to my heart always, with people I love dearly.  No holiday season is perfect and we had a moment that startled both my husband and I in its less than grateful or joyous nature.  I’ve been turning it over in my head and my heart, trying to find a way to let it go.  Last night, I prayed that God would share with me an answer.  “Show me2016 what to do with this so I am not dragging its remnants into this new year.”

Today, I was looking for an online daily devotion site, particularly looking for one with an evening devotion.  There are many.  I was looking for one that grabbed my attention and really made me think.  The more I looked, the grumpier I got, because nothing was exactly what I wanted.  It was a dressing room sensation when you’re shopping for clothes but nothing fits or looks like what you’re shopping for.

I did what I often do after a frustrating shopping trip.  I went to my own closet.  I have a favorite website for spirituality growth called Spirituality and Practice.  Link to the website here.  Each day they post a spiritual practice, reading, quote and teacher of the day.  I still love this site, I was just looking for something in addition to it.  There, in my own spiritual closet, was God, serving up my answered prayer.

Today’s quote was “The universe does not suffer from a shortage of grace. . . . Grace is abundant in God’s universe.  — Matthew Fox in A New Reformation.  

It made me ask what others thought grace was.  I did what we all do, I Googled.  The answers were plentiful.

“The very center and core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God.”  ~  J. Gresham Machen

“Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.”  ~John Stott

“Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it.”  ~Paul Stahl

God's Grace

God provides us grace, despite our flawed nature.  His grace does not come to us after we behave well.  It just comes to us.  He doesn’t take our moments of ingratitude or lack of joy personally.  He has no expectations and delivers us heaps of grace anyway.

I find myself right back in my own closet, learning again what I have taught thousands of others – the meaning of QTIP – Quit Taking It Personally.  Others lack of gratitude and joy is not about me.  It is theirs.  How can I hold onto to something that isn’t even mine?

Basking in the grace of God, who loves me despite my many flaws, I have released my expectations.  I will put those whom I expected to display gratitude and joy in a tender hold of prayer and love.

I found the cure for my grumpies – a dose of grace.people said amen

Thank you, God, for speaking in ways we can hear and showing up in the most unlikely places.  Amen.

 

 

Dear God, Help!

Dear God HelpThis past Sunday, in our sermon series on the power and practice of prayer, we ask the question “How Do We Pray for Guidance?” This blog post is a reflection on that question.

WWJD 2

What Would Jesus Do?  The bracelets became popular in the 1990’s.  Like any other phrase that gets overused, it tends to lose its intrinsic meaning.  Instead, it becomes another slogan.  We see WWJD –and rather than asking ourselves the question, we would move past it.  Oh, that again.

The purpose of the bracelets was to remind us that God knows the answer to our dilemma, to seek out God’s help with a solution, to believe God really will help, and then do something that lines up with God’s teachings.

When I was a little girl, my dad would tell me if I had to make a decision, the harder thing to do was the right thing to do.  I have relied on that small piece of advice throughout my life and it hRailroad Tracksas never failed me.  It has worn me out, enriched my life, taken me on twisted paths with dark corners and cobwebs, and always shined a light on something I needed to know.

My dad was not a religious man.  He didn’t attend church except for baptisms and weddings.  Despite that, he taught me how to seek solutions to my dilemmas, in a manner consistent with the teachings of Jesus.  I’ll never know if that was his intent or why he never came to church with us, although he drove us faithfully every Sunday.  He died when I was 10, too young to ask about that reasons behind his words.  I believed his words as I believed what I heard in Sunday School.  I took it all to heart without question.

Jesus on the cross

Jesus never took the easy way.  From associating with outcasts to dying on the cross, his choices, although the right ones, were always the harder choices. When we look to God for answers and direction, it takes me back to what would Jesus do?  While its WWJD bracelets may have lost their shine, the question remains boldly telling.

humilityWhen we take our challenges to God in prayer, we must first relinquish our power and accept that God has the answer for us.  We can’t go seeking a rubber stamp for our own opinions.  We must go with an open heart, a willingness to listen and the humility of knowing that we know very little.  If we go to God seeking a second to our motion, full of pride and knowing, our hearts and ears will hear nothing.  God’s voice needs a humble listener with a certain acknowledgement that God knows the answer.Ask God 2

Next, we must ask for help from God, admit our confusion and lay it all out there.  Never mind that God already knows what we want, we have to make the ask.  We have to first humble ourselves in acknowledging our limited knowing and then humble ourselves further by saying we don’t know what to do.  The extra step of asking cements our humility and clarifies for ourselves what we are truly seeking.  Being forced to ask the question, candidly and with careful thoughtfulness, often helps to identify the real quandary and opens us to receive the answer.

When we have removed the arrogance of our own ideas and knelt our ears in humility, God’s voice will bellow into our hearts.

Keep Faith 2

When we ask God for help, we have to keep faith that God really will come through for us.  Proverbs 4:18 says, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” The more we seek, the more we will see God’s direction.  The more frequently we ask, the keener the insight we will have about what it is we are asking.  With every prayer, God’s voice will become more distinct and our path will get brighter and brighter “like the full light of day”.

Finally, when we have asked God for help, humbly, truly and repeatedly asked, we have to be prepared to take action.  Hard StepsSeeking guidance is powerful but nothing happens without taking the path God has lit for us.  This is what my dad spoke so well.  We have to do something.  Make the harder choice of doing rather than continuing to contemplate or complain.  Take the steps to resolve our problem in a manner that lines up with God’s teachings.

So how do we pray for guidance?  What would Jesus do?

  • Bathe in Humility.
  • Make the Ask.
  • Keep the Faith.
  • Take the Hard Steps.

That’s what Jesus would do.  The Bible tells us so.

Autumn is a writer, educator and a non-profit consultant. More importantly, she is a wife, mom, grandma, cousin, friend, neighbor and owned by a dog and two cats. Check out her blog at https://enterwithagentleheart.wordpress.com/.  You can also reach her at amlubin@gmail.com or find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/yellowwoodpathways

Music and Mantras by Pastor Sarah Clark

‘Mantra’ is a big word we’ve borrowed from the traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. In these original traditions, a mantra was a word or sound that people uttered over and over in order as an aid in meditation. And, in Hinduism and Buddhism, meditation is an essential faith practice.

I am neither Buddhist or Hindu. I’m Lutheran (and I’m a pastor). Prayer, for me, works best when it’s a mantra. A prayer that repeats words, and builds its own melody and rhythym… that’s my favorite sort of prayer. That sort of prayer works its way into my heart- its easiest for my brain to grasp- and its repetition leaves a mark on my soul.

My habit of praying mantra-style is probably weird. 😉 My congregation only ever sees me praying prayers that are like a one-sided dialogue; they’re either pre-written prayers or impromptu leadership prayers in worship or at meetings. I had to learn how to pray like that and it has taken years to calm the butterflies that inevitably take off in my stomach right before I stand up to lead a prayer.

I spent four years in seminary and never had even one class session on prayer. Prayer is a mystery to me… and when I walk through the book shelves at any book store, I realize that prayer must be a mystery to most people: there are a LOT of books published about praying.

I know people who pray silently, with their hands folded. I know people who pray long prayers, out loud, in public. I know people who pray while they run. I have friends who pray when they drive. My dad prays whenever he sees an ambulance or fire truck with sirens blaring. I know families who pray at the dinner table. I know pastors who love reading and teaching about prayer. I never buy those books about prayer sitting so nicely in the book shops. And, I don’t often pray in the regular ways that people would expect a pastor to pray.

I pray through music. Music gets me praying because music is only one quick step away from being like a mantra. Nothing makes me happier than when I discover a few lyrics in a song (usually on the Current) that could be my heart’s mantra. When I pray musical mantras my thoughts fade away, my inhibitions are calmed, my word choice doesn’t matter. I can just be in a state of prayer… and the musical accompaniment lifts my soul.

If you’d like to try it out, here are some musical-mantra-type-prayers I’ve found and loved: “ordinary love” (by u2), “and grace will lead me home” (from amazing grace), “the sounds of silence” (by paul simon), “shine, unsingable name, over everything” (by mike doughty), “God is around you and all that’s about you shines with the light” (by mason Jennings).

Crack the Door

Today’s post is from Intern Pastor Brandon Newton: 

 As we celebrate All Saints’ Day, a short reflection on a living saint, my dad, and his influence on my life of faith.

As the product of a Midwestern farmer, I didn’t move far from cornfields for college. I found myself at Wartburg in Waverly, Iowa, majoring in Religion. I thought I had faith and I enjoyed working with youth, so was chasing a career in youth ministry. But as I spent more time at a college of the church, I started to ask more questions about faith. Not just faith, but going to church in general. I began to wonder if there was much point in going to church and my prayer life had reached an all-time low. I didn’t feel as connected to God through prayer and became convinced my prayers didn’t matter.

Rex NewtonDuring fall break I returned home to help with harvest. Dad and I went to a nearby town to grab lunch at the bowling alley (sounds strange, I know, but in a small town the restaurant was also the bowling alley). As we left with full bellies, my dad started his rusty farm truck when another farmer ran out after him.

The farmer spoke briefly to my dad. “Can you please pray for my wife? She has surgery tomorrow and I’m really worried about her.” That was it. No more details. Perhaps farmers just know what is going on in each other’s lives or perhaps prayers don’t need to be as detailed as I sometimes think. My dad replied, “I’ll be sure to pray for her.”

That’s when it hit me. My dad prays. Outside of our common mealtime grace, I never heard my dad pray or offer prayer. But as a young adult wondering if I had faith and if there was a place for me in the church, I learned that my dad prays—and that made all the difference. My dad prays, so will I. My dad believes in God, so will I. My dad has faith and there is room for him in the church, so there is room for me.

I stuck with this whole faith thing and will just offer one lesson to readers:  let your children or others catch you praying. I know that Matthew 6:6 offers a different vision by saying “but whenever you pray, go to your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” My dad’s faith and prayer life was too secret. In the parking lot he cracked the door a little bit allowing one small glimpse into his faith and that made all the difference. I encourage you, if you are praying in secret, please leave the door cracked open a bit and let your children or others catch you praying.

My Life Goes On in Endless Song

Since I am a pianist it probably won’t surprise you that music is at the foundation of my faith. Just the idea that God takes different vibrations and turns them into pitches–which create a musical language, which expresses emotion–bolsters my faith. Add inspirational text, for example Handel’s Messiah, and suddenly you have a complete miracle. Music is no accident of the universe. Music is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.

At the lunch table ten-year-old Mary asked a question from church this morning. What does consecrated mean? It came from the hymn “Take My Life and Let it Be.” Both kids started singing it right there at the table. Many Sunday afternoons I catch my family humming or singing songs from the service. Since I accompany the choir those anthems can stay with me for a very long time. What a high class problem–to get those pesky songs of faith and love stuck in your ear for the whole week! I believe that is the Holy Spirit at work. . .

I love all kinds of music–but I’m especially fond of old music. Old music feeds my faith because it anchors me to the faith of the past. When we sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” I remember that it was my grandfather’s favorite hymn and I think about the legacy of faith that he handed down. One of the last moments I had with my dad was sitting on the edge of his bed and singing through the LBW. After a mild stroke he couldn’t speak, but he could sing that bass part loud and clear. Now, when I hear those hymns I also hear my father’s voice. Music connects faith from generation to generation.

At the lake, the Messengers sing “The Spirit Intercedes for Us.” With sighs too deep for words to express. Music is part of that Spirit. Sometimes when things are so tough we don’t know what to say or what to pray–all that is left is to sing. The comfort of familiar melodies and harmonies gets us through to God when words alone fail. When even our faith fails. Once when I was having one of life’s little faith crises I overheard my son, Calvin, at the piano singing “God of Wonders Beyond Our Galaxy.” You are holy. Holy. It brought me back to whole. Back to holy. Sometimes we can sing for ourselves, and sometimes someone else has to sing the song for us for a little while.

My prayer is–wherever you are in your faith and whatever is going on in your life–that Easter and Easter’s musicians help sing the song for you a little every week. God bless.

Sara Stephens Kotrba

D71_0047