Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lent 2011: Rescued, Redeemed, Now What?

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. – Hebrews 9:15

All hope is not lost. Although sin entered the world, and we face temptations, we are not doomed. Jesus Christ was born, lived, died, and was resurrected so that we may have hope – hope of once again living in God’s perfect world. We may not have it all figured out yet.

Rebecca still has to choose between feeding her family and treating Christine’s malaria. Christine’s future may seem bleak right now, but there is still hope. If God could pull the odds and send his only Son to give us hope of having a relationship with him, there is no telling what he’ll do to save little Christine. God cares about you and me and all of his creation. As we continue to feel vulnerable, I hope that we’d take comfort in that knowledge.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10

Long ago Jesus taught his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13), and this prayer is one that most of us have memorized. It acknowledges God’s sovereignty, it reveres God, it lets us ask for our needs, for forgiveness, and for protection. But if you’re like me, you’ve prayed parts of this prayer without having a full understanding of what you were saying. What does it mean to you for God’s kingdom to come? Can we imagine that? Does it look like what we imagined his perfect world to be on Monday?

The second part asks that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Now when I think of God’s will being done in heaven, I can certainly see angels hard at work. But on earth? We are his creation, right? He made us in his image, saved us by his grace, for his good works (Eph. 2:10).

As hard as I’ve tried, I can’t find better candidates other than us to do God’s will here on earth. So what does it mean for you and I to do God’s will here? What actions do we take that restores God’s kingdom here on earth? Does it mean we provide better choice options for mothers like Rebecca? Does it mean we find a way to give Christine hope of a better future?

We may not have much to give. After all, not all of us are rich. But it does not take much to change the life’s trajectory of many children. More than 2000 children die every night because of a mosquito bite. A $6 bed net can change that, providing protection for up to four years! We may not be able to save all 2000 tonight, but we can certainly find a way to save at least 1.

Our acts say much about who we are, about what God’s kingdom on earth means to us, and about our hope for restoration.

While many, if not all, of our experiences cannot be directly compared to Rebecca’s, the vulnerability we felt when we went without physical protection (or whatever else you went without) is similar to what Rebecca feels every time she has to choose food over medication. So what do we do next?

First, please spend the next 5 minutes praying for people facing “helpless” situations around us. Ask that God reveal to you what role you are to play in “making His kingdom come.” Next, find ways to “help.” Find organizations that alleviate poverty and make the “helpless” less so, and become involved with the work they are doing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lent 2011: God's Creation, Fall, Temptation

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. – Genesis 1:31

Picture this: miles and miles of green grass. Or maybe white sand and a peaceful ocean. Or maybe a snowy, winter wonderland. Whether or not we admit it, we often imagine a “perfect” world. And despite differences in the scenery, most of us will agree that this “perfect” world is one free of troubles, heartaches, sufferings, and pain.

The story of Rebecca Asiimwe reveals a world far less than paradise. Hers is a world where lack of choices often leaves her family helpless.

But God created this world, and He takes pride in every aspect of His creation. Today, spend some time reflecting on the world God had created. What elements of your life are “very good”? What hardships has He spared you? Take a moment to thank Him for the good parts of your life - even the small, simple ones.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.
– Romans 5:12

We just imagined God’s perfect world, and now we focus on why that world no longer exists: sin entered the world. The imperfections we see today are mainly manifestations of men missing the mark, through sin. Greed and apathy are some of man’s most damaging vices, but there are many others that invite imperfection into God’s perfect world. In this week’s story, Rebecca’s world is hardly perfect; she faces the harsh realities of poverty and malaria every day. Though she too is not perfect, her world’s circumstances are not a result of personal sin, but are a result of humanity’s general sin.

What are some of our actions, or inactions that make God’s perfect world a bit less “perfect”? What are some ways in which we bring sin into this world? “Because all sinned…”

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men, but to God. – Acts 5:3-4

Ananias got caught. He, and his wife, were tempted, gave in to the temptation, and lost their lives because of it, end of story. Or is it? Those two were tempted by money because they allowed it to cloud their view of God. We’re told in James 2:13 that God cannot be tempted by evil, and he does not tempt anyone. But life tempts us whenever it clouds our views of God.

Most of us are tempted by everyday life’s circumstances. We’re tempted to give up on difficult circumstances. We’re tempted to seek other solutions to our problems. We’re tempted to count on ourselves, rather than on God.

As we’re going through this experience of feeling vulnerable, what are some of the temptations you’re dealing with? Do you want to try and save, by yourself, every mother from making the choice Rebecca makes? Or do you want to give up because the situation is hopeless? Let us remember that temptation can take on many forms, and we rely only on God for the strength to continue. To rely on our own understanding could become disastrous – learn from Ananias.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lent 2011: Week 2 Catch Up, Helpless

As a part of Lent 2011, I decided to fast and refrain from posting further reflections for Lent 2011 after day 8....well....not exactly! I have been traveling and was unable to keep up with daily posts because of my hectic schedule, but I wanted to start back up today because I think these reflections are helpful and good and worth continuing.

So it is actually day 20 now. The first 8 days revolved around the concept of "worth". World Vision took the second week of Lent to discuss the idea of being "helpless".

World Vision Act:s, Week 2.
We’re always told that life is full of choices, and often we have the option of making good choices over bad ones. But what if there was no option to make the “good” choice? In this week’s story, we will read about a mother whose choices in life are severely limited. It’s a different kind of trap.

Read "Helpless" story here.

Reflection: Rebecca‘s impossible choice between buying medication to treat her daughter’s malaria and using the money to provide food for the rest of her family is a choice no one should have to make, but many do. Her situation is essentially “helpless.” This week, we will carry out acts that simulate experiencing helplessness.

• Take away a tool that you depend on. Some options include: pens, pencils, paper, internet search engines, your cell phone or its apps, text messaging, your car, public transportation, your computer, etc.
• Go without a coat or something else that keeps you physically protected.
• Write some of your computer passwords on a sheet of paper and give copies to some trusted friends. Throughout the week, think about what would happen if they actually used your passwords and saw your entire life without filters.
• Each day, commit to telling a stranger (which also means you must meet a stranger) or a different friend a secret about your life.

You can come up with your own experience, but the common theme of all our acts is that they make us feel vulnerable – something Rebecca feels everyday. And as we go through our “helpless” experiences, let us remember that Jesus, Son of God, selflessly became man and experienced vulnerability in order to restore our relationship with God. Thanks for taking on this experience of helplessness in observance of Lent 2011.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lent 2011: Day 8_What is Worth?

World Vision ACT:S. What is worth? We have value in God's love.

Take a minute. Get a pen and journal. Define worth. Write down whatever comes to mind when you think of the word.

Here are some things I came up with: being of value, having a use or purpose, cared for, significance. Worth makes me think of value in both the physical terms of money and material items as well as in terms of our worth and purpose in who we are. While our society may claim our worth is in how much material items or wealth we have, God’s love for us sees us as worthy without such things.

Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. --Isaiah 49:1

This verse reminds me that we were created by God and He knew us before we were born. We are loved and valued by Him. Reflect for a few minutes on your view of worth. Write down what you think gives something or someone value. Spend a few minutes in prayer over this idea of worth and how God values us.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lent 2011: Week1_"Worthless"

World Vision ACT:S. This first week of Lent 2011: Relentless Acts of Justice, we will be taking a deeper look at the issues of poverty and lack of economic opportunity by following the story of Sylvie Ngandwe and her three children. For the Ngandwe family, life is harsh. Their days drag on around menial tasks that they are forced to complete to survive until life almost seems “worthless.” Here is their story.

Read the “WORTHLESS” story here.

Sylvie and her two oldest children work all day sifting through rocks in a quarry. They barely earn enough money for one simple meal each day and to cover the monthly rent. Along with that, the two older children are unable to attend school and gain an education. Their lives are not worthless; but being trapped in such circumstances can make a person question the point of existence. To step into Sylvie’s life and experience a lack of “worth” this week, we will be going without something physical.

• Eat only $14 worth of food this week. Some simple meals would include rice, vegetables, and beans.
• Live simply. Don’t use things or luxuries that are unnecessary for your daily activities such as shampoo, pillows or socks. Don’t buy new things or spend money eating out this week.
• Pick a day to fast (or a specific meal each day). During your normal meal times, reflect upon this issue of poverty and hunger. Pray for families like Sylvie’s around the world.

These are merely suggestions. If you have ideas of what might work better for you or would like to approach the experience in a different way, go for it! Feel free to get creative. And join us this week as we seek God and give up some physical worth to better understand this story.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lent 2011: Day 5_Dealing with the Tension

World Vision ACT:S Reflections: So far this week, we’ve spent time in prayer, exploring our own stories, and setting some goals. Now it’s time for us to soberly think about the journey we will begin later today. More often than not, people don’t make it all the way through Lent; our challenge this year is to really explore how God can use each of us, calling us outside of our individual self-indulgent stories into the larger narrative of His kingdom on earth.

On Wednesday, we prayed for discomfort. Over the next six weeks, if we truly try to identify with each of the real-life stories, we will inevitably experience discomfort and tension. Hopefully, each week will draw us farther outside of our own story to experience the stories of others… and to ultimately enter into the story of what God is doing and wants to do through each of us. Along the way, we will likely be easily distracted by our own lives and busyness. We might get bored, feel guilty, give up after falling behind, or we might just think about our everyday lives and convince ourselves that nothing can ever change.

As you think about your own story and the goals that you have set for yourself, what are some of the obstacles you can expect to come in your way? How can you invite others into this journey with you? Think about how you and your friends can enrich each other’s experiences and hold each other accountable.

Take a moment to write down some of these obstacles and ideas you have for living within the tension and discomfort. Then reread the Franciscan blessing we shared on Wednesday, and remember that blessings often come in subtle forms.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lent 2011: Day 4_Japan: fear, overwhelmed, prayer, or action?

My Lent Reflections Day 4: Japan. Next Tuesday, I will spend some time leading the Mission through awareness and prayer of world issues. I made my preparations earlier this week for leading this. I was going to focus much of my time on Libya and other Mideast/North African revolutions. Everything was printed up and ready to go for Tuesday's meeting.....then disaster hit Japan. Over 1,000 are dead and that number climbs hourly. And damages are enormous. Just like that I have another topic.

I am convinced that when I was in high school in the mid-90's, events like this happened just as frequently as they do now. I am sure I vaguely heard of earthquakes, wars, tsunamis, and other world changing events. However, because I lacked access to in-depth knowledge of events they merely became headlines that came and went without much impact on my life. Surely my young, naive, immature, self-centered life and faith played a part in my apathy, but the other reality was that I didn't have and YouTube clips at my disposal. In today's world, you can do a simple Google search or go to a news website like CNN and within 30 seconds you have up to the minute information about any newsworthy event going on in the world with video along with it. Yesterday, I was able to view the chaos and devastation that happened in Japan with my own eyes....from Philadelphia....thousands of miles away. 15 years ago this wasn't possible unless you lived there, or you saw it on the evening news or read it in the newspaper the next day. Because of this, our world has shrunk and we are now more informed than ever....Since I can see and hear from Japan, and Libya, and Egypt, and Haiti, my heart (filled with faith and God's love as a Follower of Jesus) is moved towards prayer, petition, compassion, and action.

I was all prepared to speak on Libya on I am carving out time for Japan. That is our world today. Since our world is also fallen and depraved, we are hit with a never ending onslaught of issues we can be a part of as ambassadors of Christ. I often see 4 different responses from Christians in these times of crisis and hurt. The 4 typical responses I observe are either a: spirit of FEAR, a sense of being OVERWHELMED, a movement to PRAYER, or a drive to ACTION. To be honest, I tend to fall more in the "overwhelmed" camp. Its usually a mix of spirit and flesh battling in me. In the holy part, I want the world to be rid of violence, strife, hurt, and suffering (i.e. injustice). In my flesh, I long to be God and tackle issues apart from God's power. Its a tension I often live with and one God is actively addressing in my life. What He is constantly teaching me and bringing back to mind are the simple words of Mother Teresa, "We cannot do GREAT things, only SMALL things with great love."

Which of the 4 responses do you tend to have? Fear leading to isolation and self-centeredness/interest? Being overwhelmed leading to apathy or paralysis? Prayer resting in God's sovereignty and actively petitioning the Creator of the world for intervention? Or action to live for something beyond yourself? Maybe its a mixture of a few...or all four?

I personally long to be a man of God participating actively in the Kingdom of God, but only through the divine power of the Holy Spirit...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lent 2011: Day 3_Set Your Goals

World Vision ACT:S Reflections. Now that we have spent some time in prayer and contemplated our own stories, it’s time to set some goals.

First, find a journal that you will use throughout your Lent 2011: Relentless Acts of Justice journey. This will be a great place to keep your thoughts together and also look back on in the future.

Next, consider what you want to learn from God in this season. In what ways do you want your heart to break for the things that break the heart of God? Spend 10 minutes thinking and praying through the possibilities and write down at least 2 main goals.

Examples include:
• I want God to teach me how to care for the poor, even if I don’t see poverty every day.
• I want God to teach me what it means to “act justly” on campus, at work, etc.
• I want God to teach me more about a justice issue (such as human trafficking, malaria, or domestic poverty) in the present-day world.
• I want God to show me where I am falling short of His plan for my life, in relation to social justice.
• I want to experience a glimpse of Jesus’ incarnation into a world full of the effects of sin.

Conclude your time in prayer to God, asking Him to nudge you toward your goals.

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. – Matthew 7:8

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lent 2011: Day 2_List Your Luxuries

World Vision ACT:S Reflections: If you’ve ever enjoyed a book, a TV show or a movie, you understand the power of stories. Stories have a way of connecting lives. Starting on Sunday, we will explore how to emulate Christ’s incarnation through six true stories that we will bring to life by giving up everyday luxuries. In order to enter into somebody else’s story, however, we should first understand our own.

As we continue to allow God to prepare our hearts, think through your own story. Where has God blessed you?

Choose one of the following topics and hand-write a list of how you are privileged in that area. Be as specific as possible and aim for at least 20-40 items. Keep this list in a place where you will see it at least once a day for the duration of Lent. Suggested locations include your desk, your daily planner or your bathroom mirror.

• Money
• Health
• Disease
• Faith
• Freedom
• Education

To contrast the list you have just created, where might God be calling you toward discomfort? On the same sheet of paper, write out a few ideas you have. If you have no ideas right now, that’s ok. More to come...

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Lent 2011: Sacrifice and ReLENTless Acts of Justice

This year, I am coordinating my season of Lent with World Vision’s program for Lent. World Vision's Act:s Group is calling their program, “Lent 2011: Relentless Acts of Justice.” I will be sharing personal reflections as well as reflections from World Vision. I hope that as you reflect on this essential time in our faith you are impacted and moved into action for Jesus.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Traditionally, Ash Wednesday puts emphasis on repentance as we seek forgiveness for the evil in our hearts…we do indeed need God to renew us.

My Ash Wednesday Reflections: Sacrifice. The beginning of Lent is a time when many Christians decide to “give up” some things in their lives in order to free up time/resources for Jesus and His Kingdom. We give up everything from sweets, to excessive TV, to facebooking. I have even done things like this before. But I am quickly convicted that my “sacrifice” looks nothing like the sacrifice of our heroes or fellow followers of the faith we see in the Bible. Just last week I was reading the story of Hannah and Samuel again. Let me refresh you on it…

Hannah was barren, unable to have children (1 Sam. 1:6). To make things worse, her husband had another wife who was able to bear children and would “provoke” Hannah and demean her. Hannah bore this continual burden and pleaded to the Lord in direct, earnest, raw prayer for relief. She made a vow (1 Sam. 1:11) to Yahweh that if she would just be “remembered” by Him (interesting word to choose) and be allowed bear children, she would “give him (the child) to the Lord all the days of his life.” We see later on in this account that the Lord blessed Hannah with a son and she named him Samuel. But this is where the story takes an “oh my goodness, what a sacrifice” turn. As soon as Hannah WEANED (as in...a youth) little, precious Samuel, her only son, she brought him to the priest (Eli) of the Temple and left him there to serve the Lord. She…left…him…there…

Her only son.
Went back home.
Barren Hannah got her desire, her dream….and gave it up.
She gave up a son, her only son.
Talk about sacrifice.

Of course, this is one story in hundreds that could be told of biblical characters sacrificing.
Real sacrifice.
Like, earth shattering sacrifice.
A little different than me giving up….coffee for a month….

God, forgive me this Ash Wednesday for my little faith and for only allowing you to have a little lordship in my life.

World Vision Act:s Reflections. Today is Ash Wednesday – which marks the beginning of Lent. Starting Sunday, we will emulate Christ’s incarnation through six real-life stories. Before receiving the first story, we will prepare our hearts so that we will be receptive to God’s voice.

Ash Wednesday traditionally emphasizes repentance, so we will spend some time in prayer.

Take the next 10 minutes to reflect on your own shortcomings and where you need God’s strength. Over the next six weeks, we are bound to experience discomfort in the contrast between our day-to-day lives and those who do not live with our same luxuries. Join us in praying for God’s wisdom and guidance as we wrestle with this tension and seek to better emulate Christ’s incarnation. Praise God for his love and forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ.

As you begin, we offer this Franciscan blessing to you: