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.

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.

Blind Side

Today’s reflection is from Easter member Chris Cairo: 

I hope this semester is getting off to a good start for you!

the_blind_side1Tonight I am watching a good movie on TV, one I’ve seen a few times…”The Blind Side”. Very few movies move me. This one does. Part of what makes the story so powerful, is that it is true.

Simple story: a family takes in someone homeless, who is in need. Gives him, not only a place to sleep, but the gift of family. Helps him get through school. He is given an opportunity to succeed, and does, becoming a first round pick in the NFL draft (Michael Oher 2009 draft). Great story. Simple plot.

The title “The Blind Side” refers to a line in the movie where Leigh Anne Tuohy, the heroine, (and yes, I truly think she is a hero) tells him his job on the field is to protect the quarterback’s ‘blindside’.

But, I think the title, and the story, also calls us to look for our ‘blindside’.

How many of us would have seen his need? Seen his need and understood that we could help? Seen his need, knew we could help, and then actually did something about it?

Jesus tells us “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Turn that into a question from Jesus; ‘what did you do for the least of these in My name?’

Easter has been growing. Not so much in number, but definitely in service to others. Our partnership with Oak Ridge (tutoring/community meals), our partnership with Loaves & Fishes (community meals at the Lake 4 nights each week), our partnerships in Guatemala and Tanzania, and our partnership with Treehouse. These are some of the ways Easter is answering Jesus’s question.

How will YOU answer that question?

P.S. not in the movie: but the daughter, who was a straight A student, dropped out of some of her advanced classes, so that she could take classes with Michael and help him in school.

 

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. 

 

Children Explain Prayer

This summer, our sermon series at Easter Lutheran Church has been exploring the topic of prayer. One major theme has been that prayer is primarily about relationship–our relationship with God.  In the very first sermon, we explored how Adam and Eve “hid” from God after they sinned, and yet, God still reached out to them. God knew what had happened, and yet called out to them, asking why they were hiding.

Like Adam and Eve, sometimes we “hide” from God, afraid or avoiding prayer because we think we don’t know how to pray, or we are not worthy. Despite this, God reaches out to us in various ways because God loves us, no matter what may have happened.  We think we are “hiding” when all the while God is watching over us, like a loving parent or kind teacher. No matter what we’ve done, good or bad, God still wants to be in relationship with us.

We can trust that God wants to be in this relationship with us because God keeps reaching out to humans again and again in biblical history despite people failing him again and again. God’s love is so unconditional that he sent his son (that is, God came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ) and died on the cross while people were still steeped in sin.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5:8

I was thinking about these things when this short video of children explaining prayer appeared in my Facebook feed. Their hearts are open and trusting. Creative. Honest. Compassionate.

Being fifty-something doesn’t stop me from learning from these children. Their freshness and youth inspires me to be a little more honest with God, a little more free-flowing–and less worried about “if I’m getting it right.”

But aren’t we sinners? Yes, but we also God’s children, for it is God who gave us life. Little children don’t worry if their words aren’t elegant or sophisticated–and the loving parents around them continue to value what they say. We don’t stop loving children when they make mistakes or have difficulties. God enjoys having quality time with us, just we enjoy having quality time with our children.

Will you pray with me?

O God,
The next time I try to run from praying
because I am ashamed, guilty, or afraid,
please send your Holy Spirit to remind me
that you are the God of Mercy and unconditional love.
The next time I feel “I don’t have the right words to pray,”
remind me that I can say whatever I want or feel,
or even express myself to you in wordless ways,
trusting that you understand my heart
and love me just as I am.
The next time I want to pray, but feel inadequate,
please remind me that prayer is about
spending quality time together with you,
not mastering fancy words or passing an imaginary test.
Thank you, Lord,
for your constant love and attentiveness to us,
and help us to always place our trust in you.
This I ask in the name of Jesus
and in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

 

Julie McCarty is a spiritual director, writer, budding artist, and volunteer coordinator of Easter Prays / Easter Praise! blog. In her free time, she enjoys nature photography, painting, gardening, and taking long walks with her husband Terry. Julie also blogs at www.spiritualdrawingboard.com  and posts religious and spiritual encouragement on Facebook at Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty

 

 

 

 

 

The Fire of the Word: Meeting God on Holy Ground

Today’s reflection comes from Sam Rahberg: 

Open your heart afresh
to the living Word of God. Fire of the Word image--!cid_image001_png@01D07A79
The Bible burns with
unquenchable fire.

Before all else, God wanted you.
God draws near, yearns for you.
Can you endure and embrace
God’s meeting you in Scripture?

Read prayerfully, openly,
humbly, expectantly.
God is fully present;
we are often less so.

Allow Scripture to become internalized.
Christ offers mysteries as enticements
to come back for more.

Christ is the goal,
the destination, the end point.
How should we live
in response to Christ revealed?

Holiness—love rightly ordered—
is life in all its abundance.
As God’s grace draws us,
we increasingly reflect God’s character.

God-believing, Christ-centered,
Spirit-empowered Christians
are formed and fortified by Scripture.

Contemplative prayer is simply
enjoying friendship with God.

If your reading leads Christ-ward,
you’re doing it right.

 

–Reader’s poem by Samuel Rahberg, based on the book  The Fire of the Word: Meeting God on Holy Ground by Chris Webb (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011).

 

More about reader’s poems: 

After I finish a good read and before I tuck it away on the shelf, I like to spend some time synthesizing what was most important to me. I use the author’s own words, varied only slightly, and follow the themes that speak most strongly to me at this time. The reader’s poem above remains a summary and serves only as my own interpretation, so I take responsibility for any deviation from the author’s original intent. Even so, may it be a helpful reflection for others and an encouragement to read a fine book in its entirety.  

 

Sam Rahberg is the Director of the Benedictine Center , spiritual director, and writer who offers ministerial support to both lay and ordained Christian ministers.  Sam has experience in parish education and administration and holds a master’s degree in theology from Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota. Visit Sam at www.samuelrahberg.com .

 

 

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!).

 

What I Learned from a Muslim

By Lisa Nofzinger with Umair Usman

Editor’s note: Many of us at Easter Lutheran Church community wonder about people of other faiths/religions. What do they think and believe? How do they live and pray?  In this blog post, Lisa Nofzinger interviews her new friend Umair Usman, via e-mail. Umair lives in Pakistan and is a member of the Islamic faith (they met online via social media LinkedIn).  Umair graciously agreed to be interviewed for our blog.  

 

Lisa:  Describe your faith.  What is your relationship with God like?  How does this relationship help you in daily life?

Umair with mother & brothers (Umair on right)

Umair with mother & brothers (Umair on right)

Umair:  Hi Lisa, Great we could do this. For everyone who doesn’t know me, I am Umair Usman, I am 28 years old and I live in Lahore, Pakistan. I of course am a Muslim.  Islam, by its very definition means to submit one’s will to God. For me however this goes beyond simple will and includes submitting ones objectives, purpose, ego, dependence, everything to God.

My relationship with God is probably not as strong as it should be though. I pray as regularly as I could and try follow the basic tenets of Islam, such as fasting in the month of Ramazan (Ramadan). However in daily life, my biggest relationship to God is probably being mindful of how ‘weak’ I am as a being created by God and how dependent I am on him for security, sustenance, success etc.

Right now I am striving to accept this weakness or dependence on God, so I can in a way be practicing my religion in daily life, by asking him for help, 24/7.

 

Umair with his dad (visiting India)

Umair with his dad (visiting India)

Lisa: What is your view of Christianity?  How is your faith similar and what are the differences?

Umair: Jesus is a very important figure in Islam, in fact we cannot be Muslims if we do not believe in Jesus. We believe, Jesus, much like the prophets before him (Moses, Abraham, etc.), brought God’s message to the people, and they and their message have to be respected.

The major difference in Islam and Christianity is probably the view on Trinity, or that Jesus was God’s son, while we regard him as one of the most important prophets. We do however believe he was born through a miracle and Mary was a Virgin. This is something we surely believe. Overall, I am not too much of an expert on comparative religion but I can safely say that there are more similarities than differences among Christianity and Islam.

 

Umair's sister-in-law with nephew & nieces

Umair’s sister-in-law with nephew & nieces

 

Lisa: What do you want us (Christian, Minnesota people) to know about you, your family, your religion, your country?  Our church has had some seminars on topics like Islam, Charlie Hebdo, and race but there is a lot of misinformation out there about Islam, especially in American media.

Umair's mother

Umair’s mother

Umair: I am lucky enough to have been brought up in a family that had always been very open-minded, educated, well-traveled, not just by Pakistani standards, by any standards. I grew up in a business family interacting with a lot of foreigners and eventually went for higher education to the UK. My family, especially my mother always made sure I followed Islam but also appreciated the good in everyone around me. She herself was not only tolerant, but even curious and appreciative of people of other faiths and therefore we grew up to be curious and appreciative as well.

However, the reality of Pakistan is that it is mostly a developing country, with high rates of illiteracy and poverty. People do not even know Islam over here properly, let alone basic education of other disciplines. As Pakistan is not very cosmopolitan people are hardly ever exposed to a broader perspective of the world and people. This has often made the average person in Pakistan feel like a victim, for example, a victim of the great powers such as the UK or the US. Of course, politicians being politicians have also done their part in putting blame for their own poor performance on ‘external’ factors that a gullible, uneducated society readily accepts.

As for terrorism and intolerance, I can write a half a book on the topic, but to keep it relevant (and non political), I have always told people to view global terrorism like any other crime. No matter what the crime, its basis is in inequality and poverty. It seems hard to digest this idea, but it is easy to understand that an educated, employed youth has naturally little to do with terrorism or any crime for that matter. Inequality, on a global scale, is one of the most basic drivers of Terrorism or international crime– and like any crime, I believe it should be dealt with by force as well as by eradicating poverty, inequality and giving people opportunities.

 

Lisa: And anything else you care to share? 

Umair: Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure to be able to do this with you. I have always been immensely curious and it is just a blessing to be able to do this with you. Me here in Lahore, Pakistan and you there in Minnesota!  May God bless us all!

Umair's niece celebrating birthday with her friends

Umair’s niece celebrating birthday with her friends

 

About the writers: Lisa Nofzinger attends Easter Lutheran Church, lives in Eagan and works for the state of Minnesota.  Umair Usman lives in Lahore, Pakistan and is key accounts manager for the Usman Carpet House.

 

A Prayer for Pentecost

Today is the Feast of Pentecost in many Christian churches. Here is a poem-prayer I wrote this morning as I was thinking about Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I invite you to spend some time praying and pondering this sacred mystery with me.

Holy Spirit--stained glass window--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing Board

(click on images to enlarge)

A Rainy Day Pentecost Prayer

On this day of Pentecost, a cloudy sky dimly shines through the window
while I sit here, sipping my cup of tea,
gentle raindrops falling on a wood
of bright green leaves.
No tongues of fire
or windy skies,
but that is
how it is
sometimes.
God comes
not only
Raindrops on puddle--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing Boardin excitement
and special
effects, but
also in a
drop,
in the quiet,
to still our souls
and remind us
that the Divine,
the Holy Spirit,
is Holy Presence,
truly “God-with-Us”
in Spirit form–everywhere–
both near and far
and high and low
and deep within my heart,
and your heart, and the hearts
of people living on the other side
of the globe–maybe even of the universe.
Yes, Lord, pour out your Spirit afresh on us,
on all of us, renewing our lives and the earth,
raining down on us like raindrops, soaking deep
into the soil of the earth and the soil of our souls.
May this rain of the Spirit bring new life, an ever-growing
communion and holiness within and among us, more and more each day.

Flower with raindrops--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing Board

About the writer: Julie McCarty is a writer, spiritual director, and volunteer coordinator of Easter Prays / Easter Praise! blog. In her spare time, she is learning the art of photography and painting. Visit her at Spiritual Drawing Board, www.spiritualdrawingboard.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