Lent 2018 - Notice Jesus

I’d like to share a short article from the Fuller Youth Institute about Lent and how we view it.

“Lent: A 40 Day Journey of Noticing God”

“If you’ve heard of Lent before, chances are one of the first things that comes to mind is “giving something up,” as in “I’m giving up chocolate for Lent.”  That’s sort of right.  But not quite.  When you stop doing something you’re used to doing (like eating dessert), you notice different things.  Lent is like that.  It’s a season—40 days to be exact (not counting Sundays)—when the Church throughout the ages has chosen to pause and notice something.  That “something” is the journey of Jesus to the cross.

Alongside his journey, we’re also called to notice our own journeys toward death and resurrection.  In many traditions, Lent starts out with “Ash Wednesday,” when many Christians choose to wear a cross or smudge of ashes on their foreheads or hands.  This is a symbol that represents our death, or “mortality.”  It’s a reminder of the pain, suffering, and loss that are part of life.  It’s a reminder to turn away from sin and toward God.  Sounds kind of morbid, doesn’t it?

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New Year's Resolutions

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.  Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.”  Galatians 5:16

It’s a New Year's tradition to put a resolution goal out there.  For some it’s exercise, with January being the month when the most gym memberships and exercise equipment are sold.  For others it’s just eating better after all the Halloween, Thanksgiving, & Christmas treats have overwhelmed our will power and our waist lines.  And for some it’s a time to get rid of bad habits.  You can fill in the blank there.  As I’m writing this though, many who have started out well may have already ended their attempts.  Two weeks is the average for those who make resolutions and then stop before succeeding.  I could make a list of mine over the years, but I’m limited on how much space I can take up here.  I’ll just say it’s easier to start strong than to stay for the long haul.  Endurance and motivation can easily succumb to fatigue and discouragement.

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Strive Forward and Enjoy the Journey

The end of one year and the beginning of another is a time of reflection and anticipation.  In our own family, we celebrated the birth of our granddaughter Finlee in August.  On the other hand, we have seen many from our church go on to to their final reward.  From beginning to end we see the ups and downs of life.  In Philippians 3, Paul tells us that he is looking forward and forgetting the past.  He is encouraging a group of believers to strive toward their goal.  Good advice, but we must look at the whole picture.  As we go into a new year, we must learn from the past but not live there.  Furthermore, we look forward to that final reward, but we should enjoy the journey nearly as much as the final destination.  Each new day is a gift from God.  And we have been reminded, especially this past year, that we don’t know the number of our days here.  Only God knows, but He has called us to be a light while we are here.

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A Baby and His Family

We are just past mid-November as I write this, but we’re already anticipating Christmas.  The season is filled with so much isn’t it?  We are blessed to have the luxury of celebrating the generosity of God in giving His one and only Son for us!

This year we get to experience the wonder of a new baby in our family -  Finlee who was born in August.  She will be just over 4 months old when Christmas arrives.  She won’t remember a thing, but we will.  I wonder if it was like that for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  Babies have an amazing ability to make us focus on them without them doing a thing.  We sit and stare.  We talk.  We coo.  We hold them, change them, feed them, and then we sit and stare some more.  I can’t believe that Lexi, our older granddaughter is almost 8.  I still remember her as a baby and the connection that I had the privilege to experience.  I got to hold her soon after she entered this world.  I don’t hold babies as a rule, but I couldn’t wait to hold her.  She was, and is, special just like her new little sister Finlee.  And though neither one will remember their Papa holding them, I always will.  It’s a precious privilege that God has given us!

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How's Your Stress Level?

Recently we’ve been going through a series with the students in our youth group about stress.  You may not remember the stress of middle and high school, or you may not know the stress that this current generation feels, but it is real and it is having an impact on them.  Honestly, the reasons for stress haven’t changed much over the years.  They may be self-inflicted or come from other sources, but they can still get a person to the point of anxiety and worry.

The struggle lies in where we find our worth, our identity and our contentment.  Teens are often searching for an identity that sets them apart.  I recently heard of a survey that showed teens have a desire to be famous.  Perhaps that is why they are so in to social media, since that can give them instant gratification in knowing that someone is interested in their post, tweet, youtube video or snapchat.  The danger arises when there isn’t enough instant feedback to give them what they feel they need.  Then they begin to worry that they have little or no worth.  But let’s be honest.  We are no different than they are.  Adults are just as self-centered and struggle with needing the same things as teens.  We all want to be known and valued.  When we seek to be known more for what we do, or what we have, or who we’re with, or who we are more than Whose we are, then things get out of balance.

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The World's Going to Heck in a Handbasket

Does it seem like the world is going to heck in a handbasket?  Then it may be time for a reality check.  It’s been a summer of rough news for America.  Racism, riots, and political violence.  Communities on the Gulf Coast continue wading through the devastation of hurricane Harvey, and now another storm is bearing down on Florida.  We have plenty of reasons to be praying and doing all we can to alleviate suffering.  There’s cause for grief about the news but not for pessimism. 

Writing at The Guardian, Olivier Burkeman suggests that despite a dragging civil war in Syria, heart-rending photos of drowned refugees, North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling, disasters, terrorist attacks, and racial violence, the world is objectively better now than its ever been.  Hard to believe?  Well, here are the facts: Swedish historian Mark Norberg breaks down global indicators of human flourishing into nine categories: food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the state of the environment, literacy, freedom, equality, and the conditions of childhood.  And in nearly all of these categories, we’ve seen vast improvement in my lifetime.  Despite the fact that nine out of ten Americans say worldwide poverty is holding steady or worsening, the percentage of people on this planet who live on less than two dollars a day—what the United Nation’s defines as “extreme poverty” - has fallen below ten percent, which is the lowest it’s ever been.  The scourge of child mortality is also at a record low.  Fifty percent fewer children under five die today than did thirty years ago.  Worldwide, 300,000 more people gain access to electricity every day.  In 1900, global life expectancy was just 31 years.  Today, it’s an impressive 71 years.  And violent crime rates in the United States are the lowest they’ve been in half a century.  Nicholas Kristof wasn’t too far afield when he called 2016 “the best year in the history of humanity.”  This year may see even more progress.

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I’m able to write this post after the solar eclipse because I am way past deadline.  Wow!  Was that amazing or what?!  That was one of the coolest experiences - physically, emotionally and spiritually.  That we could exist in a time and place to see this and be in the path of totality is a blessing that I hope we haven’t taken for granted.  Some folks I talked to prior to the event didn’t seem too excited about it.  Like, what’s the big deal?  It's only 1 minute and 40 seconds of the moon being in front of the sun.  I wish it had lasted longer because it was a surreal moment unlike any I have ever experienced.  Even better was the joy that came from experiencing it with the love of my life, Denise!  We were like kids - laughing, cheering, and just really in awe of the spectacle.  It was so much to take in that you didn’t want it to end so quickly.  But it did and that’s okay.  To have experienced it all is so much better than to have never seen it.

God has blessed us with an amazing planet on which to live.  He put the perfect amount of oxygen here for us to breathe. He put us at the perfect distance from the sun for us to experience warmth and growth without being too warm or too cold.  He put us on the perfect rotation and in the perfect tilt to have everything we have.  If the earth was just a little off either way, there would be chaos and life could not be sustained.  But our God is an amazing creator, sustainer, redeemer, and friend.  He has given us so much to be in awe of and a solar eclipse is just one more reminder of just how big, awesome, and powerful our God is.  “The Lord merely spoke, and the heavens were created.  He breathed the word, and all the stars were born.”  Psalms 33:6

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