Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dr. Sleeth's Visit

Dr. Sleeth's Visit, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.

Last week, I wrote a short statement encouraging folks to come out to hear Dr. Matthew Sleeth speak at WVU, but as yet, I haven't shared what he really talked about.

To me, it's kind of wild because I think that when most people think about someone speaking about the environment, they get a little uneasy. They think that a person who talks about the environment is going to be a radical nutjob, and a Christian who talks about the environment is going to be even nuttier than the rest.

Dr. Sleeth is perfectly sane, and his presentation was hilarious! He and his family have made some radical life adjustments as a result of their faith, but he wasn't shaking his finger at the audience or anything like that. He was simply sharing his story, and he shared a few of the ways that God led him and his family to make changes as a result of their understanding of biblical stewardship.

I would love to share many of the tidbits he shared, maybe at a future time, but for now I want to share with you the answer to one of the questions asked from the audience.

Someone asked, "What are the top three things we can do to care for the environment?" I've been asking that question of people for the last week just to hear their responses. Most people say something about recycling, or switching to CFLs, or buying alternative fuel vehicles.

What would you say? I would love to hear your top three. Instead of telling you Dr. Sleeth's answer straightaway, I am going to build a little suspense, and share his response sometime over the next few days. (maybe tomorrow?)

So in the meantime, let me know how you would respond to that question--what are the top three things you would recommend to be a better steward of God's creation?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Traveling By Bus

Traveling By Bus, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.

Lately, when I see snow on the ground, I start making plans to make it to the bus depot on days when I have meetings at church. I'm beginning to think that this might be a good general practice. (At least when the meetings are happening late enough in the day that taking the bus makes sense.)

It's fairly inexpensive for travel. Seventy Five cents will get me from downtown to the church in about 30 minutes. (It takes me 20 minutes if I drive straight from my house). The downside to the travel is that I have to walk to the depot which also takes me about 20 minutes--but the upswing is that it's a good health practice to spend at least 20 minutes doing moderate exercise each day--like walking to the bus depot. While I am riding the bus, I can read, work on my computer, make phone calls, and even interact with other passengers if I so choose.

If I were still a student, this whole system would make even more sense because it's FREE (or at least the service is built into student fees). Personally, i would love to see more people taking advantage of this way to get around town (or at least for work/school commutes).

This all goes hand in hand with my lenten commitment of attempting to streamline/simplify my life. I've been trying to walk more to get places (in spite of snow and rain). I've also been trying to eat less (at least smaller portions).

I think in some ways we are addicted to our cars. They give us a sense of independence and autonomy that we lose in some ways when we ride a bus or carpool. In spite of escalating gas prices, people are more willing to drive separately than to carpool (especially if it means that someone else will be driving).

I think our society is suffering from this desire for autonomy, and it is probably a large reason why few people find their way into healthy community.

Who knew all of these thoughts would stem from a simple busride on a snowy day. If you can give it a whirl, I highly recommend riding a bus, or even just walking around town if you live in the city. It's a great way to save money, conserve resources, and maybe even get some exercise. And maybe, it can help open you up to the idea of sharing resources, needs, and possibly even life, with others.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ohio Kinda Apologizes

My friend Dave in Blacksburg sent me this image and it cracked me up. For those of you who don't know, Shawnee people historically had a number of villages in the state of Ohio. My buddy Dave is reading a book about Mary Draper Ingles who hiked from a Shawnee village somewhere in Ohio back to her home near Blacksburg a couple of hundred years ago.

To me there is a touch of irony in this beyond the cartoon itself. I think we are all a bit like this at times. We commit heinous offenses against our friends, and then we sort of apologize and try to make things right, but not really. It takes a lot to be reconciled to others when we offend, it takes humility, and it takes compassion. Most of the time we just want to offer a band-aid though.

I hope your day is filled with laughter, irony, and true reconciliation.

Another World Is Possible

Last week, a group of us from our pool of college students and young professionals put together a series of events that we called Another World Is Possible. While it was an exhausting week, it was also refreshing. It was refreshing because there were so many cool conversations happening around town about it.

People who I had attempted to talk to for years about some of these issues became more open to the idea that 1) God is interested in things like the environment, poverty, slavery and injustice, 2) that He wants us to do something about it, and 3) that we actually can!

Now that the week is over, and and we have been able to raise some funds and some awareness about some of these issues, it is my prayer that more and more people will take action. Of course, any time people take action it can be messy. Things don't always go according to plan, but then that's where our faith gets expanded--it's during those times, right? "The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes His steps." Proverbs 16.9. I love that proverb--there's a few others like it that remind us that God weaves it all together, and that "He is sovereign," as my friend Trey so eloquently shared this past weekend.

This week, as you consider the grandness of God's world, and the great needs that exist out there, will you consider stepping up to the plate to help be a sign to this world that not only is another world possible, but it is on its way. One day, our King will return, and make all things right and new. Until that day, we get the privilege of living as a sign of what that day might be like.

Rather than just sitting around and waiting for that day, let's go out and be the hands and feet of Jesus in a hurting and broken world. It may be as simple as changing out a few light bulbs to CFLs. (And if you do that, be sure to join my group "Friends of Chanchanchepon" on One Billion Bulbs it's free, and you get to see how much money, coal and greenhouse gases you prevent from being wasted.

There's lots we can all do, but I think the most important thing is to not just sit there. It's so easy to get caught up living for another Kingdom than the one of Jesus--step up and take a small step toward being an instrument of healing and reconciliation. Allowing Jesus to use you to reconcile people to Him and experience the healing of a broken relationship.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Desperate Sex Lives

This photo was "borrowed" from a sister church's website. Some of my friends down in blacksburg (yes, I do have friends in blacksburg) did a series last fall on dating and relationships (with the same title), and I thought it would be good to talk about the subject here in Morgantown.

So our current series at h2o is called Desperate Sex Lives, and over the last couple weeks we have been discussing what it means to be single, and how to set some criteria for dating in a godly way. Unfortunately our media, movies, and music have done a terrible job of presenting young and women with a healthy understanding of sexuality and relationships.

So last week, we talked specifically about guys taking the initiative with regard to pursuing a relationship. Many guys prefer to not say anything, and end up not taking care of other's hearts in the process. On the flip side, women can at times say they aren't interested in a guy verbally, while all of their non-verbals (quality time, proximity, etc.) send an entirely different message. Instead of continuing in non-committal and confusing relationships, we encouraged folks to express their intentions clearly and support what is verbally expressed in action.

And from what I've heard, the talk from last week has created quite a stir in our little faith community. People are really taking stock of their lives in this area of relationships, and I think it is a good thing. I think some folks are setting some standards in their lives that they may not have previously considered.

This week, we talked a little more about being intentional about our approach, and for guys to be willing to be vulnerable by declaring their interest.

In the words of the author Donald Miller, " I think if you like somebody, you have to tell them. It might be embarrassing to say it, but you will never regret stepping up. I know from personal experience, however, that you should not keep telling a girl that you like her after she tells you she isn’t into it. You should not keep riding your bike by her house either."

We also took it a step further and talked about the importance of fleeing sexual immorality and maintaining standards of purity when dating. Unfortunately not many people have these conversations it appears, and we leave tv and movies to teach us how to live and relate to each other.

Next week, we will be talking about the difference between love and lust, and ways young men and women can take proactive steps to overcome lust in their lives.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Seven Bands for Five Bucks

Last night, as the next event in our week of Another World Is Possibleweek, we hosted not just five bands for five bucks, but actually seven. It was a cold and snowy night in Morgantown, but those who were able to come out were able to hear a lot of quality music at a very reasonable price.

But great music wasn't the only thing going on last night. A handful of local non-profit organizations were featured in between sets during this great concert at the Metropolitan Theatre on High Street. That facility is amazing by the way! If you are looking for a cool venue in which to hold a concert, drama, or event, I think "the met" is just the place!

One of the coolest things about the evening was that the artists and non-profits were doing some conversing over the course of the evening too. People were asking each other they could help one another in their respective field. In particulare, one of my favorite bands of the evening, Kessler, and my friends John & Jake's organization Nuru International started talking about some possibilities of working together in the future. I recommend you check out their respective sites. Kessler is a band out of Dallas Texas, and they have just gotten started touring and were signed with Tooth & Nail Records. Their sound is rich, melodic, and passionate. Give em a listen at the link above. Nuru, is a new organization dedicated to helping the rural extreme poor lift themselves out of poverty , first in Africa, and then around the world. It's hard to believe in a land of plenty like the one in which we live, but over a billion people live on less than a dollar a day. Nuru is trying to help people by walking alongside communities, one at a time, and sounding the trumpet to see people with resources and a passion for justice take steps to transform these communities into communities of hope.

I imagine I will blog about both Kessler and Nuru more extensively at a later date, but for now, I just wanted to share great news about another wonderful night/event flowing from our focused week on campus.

As one last side story, a couple of students I ran into as they were traveling home late last night, were totally stoked about the whole evening and the part they were able to play in it. I think that's another beautiful part of this whole week. So many people have contributed to the success of each night's event and to the success of the week as a whole.

What a wonderful opportunity to see the Creator of the universe at work in so many tangible ways. May you tangibly see how He is at work in your own life today, wherever you may be!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Invisible Children

Invisible Children Poster, originally uploaded by nl_photography.

I feel really behind in my blog posts. There has been so much happening in my life these last few days. I've felt very overwhelmed at times. Overwhelmed at the hurt, the suffering, and the brokenness that permeates and saturates this world we live in. The week of events that we have been doing on campus has been an intense time as we talk about things that I find my mind and heart thinking about often.

Last night's event, showing the film Invisible Children was no exception. We packed our little coffee house in downtown Morgantown, sozo, to the brim with people who came out just to see what the film was about. And then, we had a letter writing campaign to encourage our senators to support legislation to work toward ending a civil war in Uganda that has displaced over 800,000 people and led to a generation of children being abducted and forcibly enlisted into a militia group. The film itself is heartbreaking, but I think what is even more heartbreaking is knowing that the resources are available to bring healing and resolution to this twenty year conflict.

I realize that a truly lasting peace does not come without Christ, but when I think about the resources and we have available here, I just know we can do some very tangible things here to make a lasting difference there.

That's why I wrote a letter to our senators. Here it is.

It is my distinct privilege, as well as my personal responsibility to write you about an issue of which I have recently become aware. On February 20th, I attended an event at West Virginia University partially sponsored by my church, Chestnut Ridge Church in Morgantown. I watched a film called Invisible Children. The film tells the tragic story of a 20 year civil war in Northern Uganda. Over 800,000 people have been displaced because of this conflict, and many more have suffered. A large number of these people have been children--little Ugandan boys and girls who have been denied safety and the freedom to play and truly be children. These people need our help, and we have the resources.
Senator Byrd, I implore you, for the sake of these people who were made in the image of God and for the sake of our conscience in this land of freedom and plenty, support the legislation now in congress to grant $25 million to re-integrate those displaced by the war and allow them to return to their homes and begin the process of rebuilding their lives and their nation. Further, continue to support lasting peace in this region by voting for legislation for a signed peace agreement in Uganda.
Thank you for your time and service,
Billy Willams

It's the first time I've ever written a letter like this. I took time last night, and typed up letters on my computer. Honestly, I can get a bit cynical about letter writing and really feel like it doesn't make a difference. I usually don't voice this thought, I just keep it to myself and choose not to participate. But you know something, these gestures DO make a difference. Even if my letters don't get read by the senators themselves--I have a responsibility as a voter and as a citizen to use my citizenship for the welfare of the world around me.

I encourage you to write your senator as well. I wish I had more links to describe what is happening, but I don't. If you have an opportunity to see the film, take advantage of it. It will be shown in the Gluck Theater at WVU March 4, 2008.

You and I, we get the privilege of making a difference in this world. It happens with small gestures though. Gestures like letters. Or events on college campuses. Or talking to friends and family. Or spending time in the areas of hurt. Sometimes it happens with all of those. Prayerfully consider where God wants you to enter into making a difference in His world.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

International Justice Mission

Last night, we hosted our second event of the week as part of our Another World is Possible week of events. A band called, The War played a concert at sozo, our downtown coffeehouse last night, and a portion of the revenue from ticket sales went to support an organization called International Justice Mission.

When I watched this video the first time (and the second time) I was moved to tears. Sometimes I think its easy to forget when we live in a privileged part of the world, with privileged opportunities, just how much hurting and suffering is out there. It's funny (in a sad sort of pathetic way), just how easily we can get bent out of shape when we get stuck in traffic, or we have to wait a little longer for our food in a restaurant when there is suffering beyond our imagination happening every day. Don't get me wrong, it is frustrating to have to wait, or to be stuck in traffic, but sometimes I think I lack a little perspective on just how truly blessed I really am.

A few years ago, one of my old roommates found out about International Justice Mission, and it was this organization that led to God clarifying his call to pursue a law degree and work for the cause of justice in God's world. When I see a video like this, or hear about an organization like IJM, while I become sad about the state of our world, I also become hopeful and excited.

Why am I so sad? It's not just because problems like injustice exist. It's not simply because there is suffering and slavery and hurt and brokenness all over this planet. It's because it is so easy to feel completely helpless to do anything about problems of such scale.

But then I become hopeful. I become hopeful because I know that one day, all of these wrongs will one day be put to right. There will truly be justice one day when the great King of Kings returns to wipe away every tear from our eye.

I also get excited. I get excited because I realize that I'm not completely helpless. It's in my own confession and realization of my own personal helplessness that God can use me to do something about the hurting and suffering in this world. He can use me to be a sign of the hope that I have that one day He's going to make everything right. He can use me to be His hands and His feet until the day that I go to be with Him or the day He returns.

And you know what else? He can use YOU too! Will you take the time to consider how God may want you to take action to bring His healing to this broken world? And one step beyond thinking about it . . .will you take action?

You really do have a part to play in God's unfolding story on this earth. Will you be the hero you've been called to be?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Serve God, Save the Planet

Usually, I start the week with a truncated overview of sunday night's h2o message. But today is different. This week kicks off our Another World Is Possible series of events. So, it might be a little while before you see a blog about last nights h2o (not too long though).

Right now I would just like to pass some information along to you about an event happening on campus tonight. Dr. J. Matthew Sleeth, a former student at WVU as well as a former chief of staff and director of ER at a major hospital will be coming to Morgantown tonight to speak at Eiesland Hall. Dr. Sleeth also wrote a book in recent months called Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action, and it's a book I highly recommend.

Dr. Sleeth's story is a very interesting one. During his years at the hospital, he noticed an exponential increase in environmentally related illnesses. Illnesses like cancer and asthma were on the rise. Actually he said before 1880, there had never been a documented case of asthma. Can you believe that? He also noticed that his lifestyle was very out of tune with good stewardship of God's creation. So one of the first things he did was downsize his home. He, his wife, and two kids moved into a house the size of their garage. Before people get too shocked and concerned, he jokes about it and says, "Have you ever seen a doctor's garage?"

It was his conviction that God wanted him to help with root cause of many of the higher incidence of environmentally related illnesses, and that precipitated a career change for him. And now he's coming to wvu. He'll be in Eiesland tonight at 8PM, and it would be great if you could make it to the event. If you can't make it to the event, take a minute and pray for the folks who are coming, that God will use this event to bring the healing message of the gospel and God's concern for all of creation into the world.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tiny Desert Flower

Tiny Desert Flower, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.

This is yet another photo from Joshua Tree. This tiny flower is smaller than a penny, there was no visible stem. It was flush to the ground. I think that if I wasn't intentional about slowing down and observing while I was there, I would have easily walked by it, or worse yet, stepped on it and crushed it.

I'm currently at a conference for the ecclesia network, a church planting network started by a few of my friends in GCM and beyond.

Yesterday afternoon, a guy named Keith Matthews, who is a professor of spiritual formation at Azusa Pacific shared a devotional with us to start our time. He said, "We live in a culture that is moving at a speed that is very hazardous to our spiritual health. Hurry and Busyness appear to be the most dominant obstacle to our spiritual life"

The photo and his words reminded me of some words that the author Annie Dillard once wrote. Essentially she said that we spend our whole life rushing around on a search for grand treasures, but that our days are strewn with treasures that we hardly take notice of. Kind of like pennies on a sidewalk. She then said, it's a poor person indeed who can't stop to stoop for a penny.

When we rush around, not only are we missing out on treasures, but we are doing damage to our soul.

May you take time to slow down today, enjoy the treasures that are right in front of you, and do the important work of protecting your most important relationship.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Randy Pausch's Last Lecture

My brother shared this video with me recently, and I thought it would be worthwhile to share with you. To me, it contains many reminders about the important stuff in life. In the academic tradition, there's an idea called the "last lecture." Hypothetically, if you knew you were going to die, and had one lecture you could give, what would it be. This professor, Randy Pausch gave this lecture in a concise form on Oprah. And the irony is that it really will be among his last lectures. He has pancreatic cancer, and he is dying.

Just to preface the video, I'm personally not a huge fan of oprah. Also, for whatever reason, Dr. Pausch didn't speak on spirituality or religion during this talk. In spite of these critiques, I found the video chock full of life lessons, and I think it's worth sharing for the lessons he does share that are great reminders of the important things in life.

Over the last year, I've witnessed many events that have reminded me of the brevity and fragility of life. Just this week, my sister told me that her husband's brother was found dead in his house.

As I watched this video, and thought about my own life, I realized that there are a number of things that are real priorities in my life. Of course, my relationship with Christ, and the truth that He is the hope of the world is number one! But what I tell people about my relationship with Christ by the way He enables me to live is right up there too--I want Him to be made manifest not only in what I profess, but how I live. (I truly pray that people see those priorities too!) I think everyone who has put their faith in Jesus should have those priorities. I don't plan on dying anytime soon or anything like that and I hope you don't either. At the same time, I also understand our life on this earth is just a vapor--just a blip on the screen compared to eternity. I want this blip to count! I know that there is something amazing in store for me after this life, but I think that in light of eternity, we are to live this life very intentionally, taking time to be a sign and a reflection of the world to come.

In the spirit of reflection, take some time today to consider what you would share with your family and friends or even the world if you had one "last lecture" to give. Are there changes you want to make, or priorities you want to shift? Don't wait. Take action. Make the most of every moment. We have a limited number of days and hours. Don't waste them.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

One Sabbath

One Sabbath, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
This week we finished our series called 168 at h2o by talking about the Sabbath. Really the talk was about more than Sabbath. It was about being intentional with our time and our efforts so that Christ might be more fully formed in each one of us.

You see, most of us, if we are honest, live life without any margins or spaces. We are running from event to event, meeting to meeting, and person to person without taking any time for rest or refreshment.

If we aren’t careful, our lives become more about what we do than who we are. That’s a big part of why God instituted the Sabbath. One day during the week, we can set apart to be refreshed and be particularly reminded that our identity doesn’t come from what we do.

It’s pretty funny, in a sad sort of way, the lengths we will go to justify not having a day that is marked as Sabbath—a day of rest. Many of us feel like we are too busy to take a Sabbath, and that there is too much work to be done to merit a break. And yet, keeping the Sabbath is one of the ten commandments.

Most of us would never dream of justifying murder, or deception, or covetousness, or even aldultery. But we regularly ignore this practice of Sabbath, and the saddest part of it is that Sabbath provides us the best opportunity to engage in many other spiritual disciplines so that our lives look more Christ-like.

Sabbath is a great day to fast, or to spend time in solitude or silence. It’s a great time to spend living more simply, because we aren’t trying to keep up with others. We aren’t trying to keep up with anything really.

To spend a day completely at rest—can you imagine it? Can you imagine what God would reveal to you about yourself if you could unbusy your life for one day, and spend it being intentional to listen, to rest, and to be refreshed?

At h2o, I left folks with a simple goal, and I want to give you the same challenge for the next month. So for the next month I’ve got a goal for you. I want you to try to practice a Sabbath. That means you’ve got a pick a day each week during which you won’t do work. You won’t do little projects to try to get ahead. Instead you will spend time doing things that refresh you. Maybe that’s hiking, or playing basketball, or going shopping, or going for a long drive. Part of the next month’s experiment will be determining what refreshes you and gives you rest. I would love to hear how this goes for you so feel free to email me with your stories about practicing Sabbath. The important thing though is that you take the time to practice it. Allow Sabbath to bring your life into rhythm so you can faithfully live out your calling and become more fully human.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Amsterdam Daze

Amsterdam Daze, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.

And now for a slight change of pace.

Yesterday, while I was walking from one coffee shop to another in Morgantown for a meeting, I had this strange feeling like I wasn't in Morgantown exactly. I wouldn't call it déja vu, but it was like the weather, the air, the light, and the people were vaguely familiar.

As I was walking, I thought to myself, this feels like the city of Amsterdam has felt every time I've been there with a team for a mission trip. The skies were grey and overcast, and yet at the same time it was bright. The air had a crisp maritime winter bite to it, but Morgantown is not a maritime area. It looked and felt like it could rain or snow at any moment, but if it did either, it wouldn't be a downpour.

And then the people. People were bundled, and busy. Everyone was walking with a purpose. The street looked somehow a little taller and more narrow. I half-expected to see people whizz by me on bicycles. But, it didn't happen. I was in Morgantown and not Amsterdam. None-the-less, I took a snapshot of one of the main drags of Morgantown just a few moments after the feeling hit me, but like most photos, it doesn't fully convey what I was experiencing.

The time prompted me to pray for my friends in Amsterdam who have started a church right in the heart of the city. At least four of those friends, Eric, Todd, Sander, and a href="">Naomi keep blogs and help keep the rest of the world connected to their efforts.

I took the time God gave me yesterday, along with some time as I was writing this blog, to pray for my friends across the big water. Maybe you could do some of the same.

In the meantime, have you ever had an experience like that. You know you are in one place, but everything about the place feels like somewhere else you have been. Sometimes I think God uses little promptings like that to remind us just how small our world really is.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Story of Stuff

The Story of Stuff, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
About a month ago, I friend of mine I met at the Faithwalkers conference in Ridgecrest, NC sent me a link to this website. It is called, "The Story of Stuff." When you click the link, you will be given the option of playing a 20 minute highly informative video which walks you, the viewer, through the process that leads us to get all of the neat stuff we find at our local malls and stores, and then carries the story further toward how all of that stuff is disposed of.

When I see videos like this, I have to admit I am somewhat skeptical. But then, I often come to the conclusion that we truly need to change our habits, and any change really starts with me. As I consider a simpler life over lent, pray with me that I can make some sustained changes in my spending and consuming habits. And I pray that this video would provoke you similarly. One person left a comment about their commitment to not spend money on themselves during the next 40 days.

The Story of Stuff is getting a lot of views on the web, and it is also triggering many people to rethink their spending, consuming, and waste habits. I highly recommend the video, and I hope you can set aside 20 minutes of your day to watch it. Then, I would love it if you set aside an additional 2 minutes and told me what you thought about it, and how it provoked you to make changes to your lifestyle.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.

I took this photo the last night I spent in the desert. Just as the sun was slipping over the horizon, I captured the evening glow. I wonder if Jesus saw something like this during His 40 days in the wilderness as he denied Himself and prepared Himself for His ministry.

Today starts the season of lent. Today people from all over the world will gather together to be reminded to turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel as ashes are placed on their foreheads. As the ashes go on, it gives them an opportunity to reflect on the way Jesus denied himself for 40 days in the wilderness.

I woke up this morning and I'm still unsure about specifics that I will be yielding for the lenten season. This is the conclusion I've come to so far. I want to lead a simpler life. This will involve periods of fasting and denial. It will also involve times of engagement through prayer and study.

Maybe it will mean less eating out. Maybe it will mean less time working online. Maybe it will mean less travel, or more travel via bike or public transit. Christians around the world have used lent as a time of examination, of denial, and of renewing their commitment to be like Jesus. In a couple of hours I am going to attend an Ash Wednesday service and during that time I am praying that God will give me clarity in my commitments.

As lent begins, whether you come from a tradition that celebrates lent or not, I encourage you to take time to examine your life. Let the light of Christ shine into your heart, and reveal area's where you desire to move toward being more like Jesus in word and thought and deed.

In our world, there are two things that are very true. Very few take the time to examine their lives period, and even fewer look for opportunities to practice self-denial in a culture that prides itself on being self-indulgent.

I invite you to journey into the desert with Jesus and to think about the renewal that He offers you every moment of every day. WIll you begin this season of denial and expectation and allow Christ to meet you in your wilderness as you journey to the grandest celebration in history, the resurrection of the Son of God?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Fat Tuesday, Fasting, and Lent

Lost Palms Oasis, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.

Well, it's that time of year again. Lent. But what's the time all about. Some would say, Fat Tuesday is your last chance to really party until Easter. Some would say that lent is the time of year that some Christians get ashes on their foreheads.

What's really going on over these days. What's Lent all about anyway? Lent comes from the latin word to lengthen and it is used in reference to the lengthening of daylight that happens as Spring approaches.

While I was in the desert, among other things that I did, I fasted for three days. During this time I only drank water. "Why would I do that to myself?" you might ask. The idea of fasting is to let go of good things that God gives you every day for the sake of growing more dependent on Him, and not getting so caught up in the abundance of gifts that we forget about the Giver. When we give up food, or TV, or music, or whatever non-sinful thing we enjoy for the sake of growing more connected with God, it allows a different kind of growth in our life. We deny good things for a period so that we can better enjoy God and so that we can be even more appreciative of those good things when we take them up again. Food tasted so good when we left our time in the desert. God is so generous and gracious!

So Fat Tuesday isn't supposed to be about beads and bedlam. It's supposed to be about a preparation for an extended fast during lent. You see lent also is about Jesus--it's a period of time each year that Christians of various denominations choose to intentionally identify with Jesus and His 40 day wilderness fast by either choosing to deny some good thing in their life or by choosing to add an act of devotion to their daily time with God.

What might this denial or addition look like? For some, it might mean getting rid of their ipod for 40 days so they can hear God better. For others, it might mean an extended fast from food, or from entertainment or even from the internet. It also might mean adding by making it a point to volunteer community service during this period. Or making a commitment to serve in the church, or maybe just committing to spending daily time in God's word. All of this so that you might identify in an ever so slight way with Christ's time in the wilderness.

And then, as you approach Easter, the anticipation and the celebration are even greater because during the forty days of lent, you have grown in your intimacy with Jesus, and more than likely, you have grown in appreciation of the Victory He has won in all of our lives through His ultimate sacrifice on the cross and His glorious resurrection.

So today, here's a thought for ya. Spend some time in prayer. Examine your life. Ask God for guidance. Then, as the evening approaches it's end, make a commitment and stick with it until easter. Be realistic and be faith-filled. If you've never gone without food for 40 days, that might be too big of an order. But it might not be too big of an order to deny yourself your favorite foods for lent.

If you feel like it might help you to have a degree of accountability, post your commitment as a comment on this blog--it just might encourage and inspire others!

May God richly bless you as you consider Him more richly during this season!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Desert Bloom

Desert Bloom, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
Well, I am finally back to civilization. (Actually, I began my return Friday afternoon, but there was a lot of driving and flying thrown into the last couple of days--it takes a long time to get back to civilization!)

The desert was wonderful! There was so much going on in that place, I'm really not even sure how to begin to describe it. While I was away practicing solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, and simplicity (among other spiritual disciplines), I kept a journal though, and perhaps it might be good to share a bit from that.

First off, for the first 16 hours of my solitude, the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree, and most of southern California received a record amount of rainfall. I believe in that little window of time they exceeded their annual rainfall. (And it's only january).

Among other things, what that rainfall means is blooms. Flowers that might not be seen for years finally get the strength to produce the most beautiful blooms. But the irony is that because the climate is so dry, the blooms only last a couple of days. I may be the only human being who sees the bloom featured above for a long time. What a rare treasure to find myself walking among these blooms in the middle of the desert on a cold winter day in southern california.

I found myself just reveling in the beauty and the fragility all around me in those blooms. And then I remembered this scripture.

"The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40.7-8)

Just like these flowers, we human beings are rare, fragile and beautiful people. Do we take time to fully appreciate that fragility as we walk through our day like I walked through the desert?

Furthermore, these flowers will be gone in a moment, but the word of our God endures forever. As I reflected on this scripture, I thought to myself, How much do I really treasure the scripture. What a beautiful gift! In the middle of a world of fragility God gives us something solid, and something enduring, and something even more beautiful than a desert bloom.

As you walk through your desert today, take time to consider the beauty and the fragility of the lives blooming all around you. Take time to consume the enduring words of God. And then, as you look upon this desert world around you, take time to share some of these enduring words of life to this fragile world.