Wednesday, March 5, 2014



A Journey into the Season of Lent

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

Today is Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of Lent and the time when the church enters into a time of deep reflection on Christ’s life and death. In churches throughout the world believers receive the symbolic gesture of ashes on their foreheads in the sign of a cross. In that small but powerful gesture is a reminder that “you are dust and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19) It is also an outward sign of an inward condition as we begin the process of confession and repentance over the ways in which we have turned away from Christ Himself.

Thomas Merton addresses the heart of this day:

"Ash Wednesday is for people who know that it means for their soul to be logged with these icy waters: all of us are such people, if only we can realize it."

"There is confidence everywhere in Ash Wednesday, yet that does not mean unmixed and untroubled security. The confidence of the Christian is always a confidence in spite of darkness and risk, in the presence of peril, with every evidence of possible disaster…"

"Once again, Lent is not just a time for squaring conscious accounts: but for realizing what we had perhaps not seen before. The light of Lent is given us to help us with this realization."

"Nevertheless, the liturgy of Ash Wednesday is not focused on the sinfulness of the penitent but on the mercy of God. The question of sinfulness is raised precisely because this is a day of mercy, and the just do not need a savior." (You can read the entire essay in Seasons of Celebration - Meditation on the Cycle of Liturgical Feasts, 113-124.)


Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the 
earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our 
mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is 
only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; 
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen. Book of Common Prayer 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


A Journey into the Season of Lent

The word Lent has been indicated to mean “Long Days” or from the Germanic word for springtime. In a very significant way, it points us to the springtime of Eternity that becomes clearer when we pull away from focusing on the things of this world and feed upon “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”. (Matthew 4:4)

Lent is a time of spring-cleaning for the soul. A time when the cob webs of patterns of sin are cleared away and new ways of responding and embracing the love of God and a life of virtue in a deeper way are put in place. During Lent, we examine our relationships to find the unhealthy and unloving ways we relate to those around us and bring them before Christ. We discover new ways of relating based on respect, mercy, forgiveness, and sacrificial love.

During Lent we are more intentional about sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to his guidance and then asking for the power and grace to walk it out. It is a time of personal retreat where we reflect more deeply on Christ’s life, sacrifice, death, and crucifixion. We abstain from the ways we might numb or distract ourselves from eternal realities so that we can walk more closely in our identity in Christ. During Lent, we are invited to reflect on the things that subtly tempt us and face the spiritual reality of the battle that Satan wages for our souls. We fast from what is temporal and material so that the inner person can be filled with the power of the Spirit. We are intentional in scheduling times of solitude, prayer, meditation on Scripture and attending Lenten services with our local congregation.

Monday, March 3, 2014



A Journey into the Season of Lent

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. Book of Common Prayer

There are seasons in our lives when we need to take time to slow down, reflect and examine our lives and relationships. Beginning Wednesday, March 5, Ash Wednesday, the church will begin the season of Lent, those days before Easter that commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness before his ministry began. It is also a time for each of us to reflect on our own walk with Christ and how we can deepen our relationship with Him.

Lent is a period of prayer, fasting, Scripture reading and repentance recalling Jesus' 40-day fast in the wilderness, leading up to the feast and celebration of Easter. Lenten fasting and repentance continues until the end of Holy Week, and all of Holy Week is included in the traditional 40 day Lenten fast culminating in the Saturday before Easter. While Sundays are typically excluded from the Lenten fasting and abstinence restrictions, and are not numbered in the traditional "40 Days" of Lent, they are still part of the Lenten season, as can be seen from their Lenten themes of services during this time period.

Perhaps it is the long winter we have experienced in the Midwest or perhaps it is this stage in life for me. For whatever reason, this year I find myself hungry for a fresh breathing of God’s spirit in my soul. I want see what hinders me from greater joy. I want to know a deeper identification with Christ in the daily rhythms of life. I want God to touch and transform everything that is unholy in me and bring forth His light and truth.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


What keeps us from finding intimacy with God?

For most people intimacy is a frightening word.  It connotes vulnerability, risk-taking, and being exposed.  Yet, it is also being known, being validated in our existence, being seen and accepted for who we really are beyond all the layers of protection with which we often cover ourselves.  When we think of intimacy with God, all of the well-meaning but deficient ways we have been loved by our caregivers can come rushing forward.  With our minds we can report with the testimony of Scripture who Christ is, yet we often respond to Him from our unhealed hearts where there have been wounds we have carried for too long from those that have hurt us.  How do we find the intimacy we so long for?  We ask for the faith to stand in the truth - to believe that Christ really is who He says He is.  He is the only one who loves us perfectly and completely.  I am quite fond of the following quote by James Stewart, a Scottish theologian who describes who Christ is.

"He was the meekest and lowliest of all the sons of men, yet he spoke of coming on the clouds of heaven with the glory of God. He was so austere that evil spirits and demons cried out in terror at his coming, yet he was so genial and winsome and approachable that the children loved to play with him, and the little ones nestled in his arms. His presence at the innocent gaiety of a village wedding was like the presence of sunshine. No one was half so compassionate to sinners, yet no one ever spoke such red hot scorching words about sin. A bruised reed he would not break, his whole life was love, yet on one occasion he demanded of the Pharisees how they ever expected to escape the damnation of hell. He was a dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions, yet for sheer stark realism He has all of our stark realists soundly beaten. He was a servant of all, washing the disciples feet, yet masterfully He strode into the temple, and the hucksters and moneychangers fell over one another to get away from the mad rush and the fire they saw blazing in His eyes.  He saved others, yet at the last Himself He did not save. There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts, which confronts us in the gospels. The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality."
Amazing Christ - James Stewart, Scottish theologian

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Prayer, Listening and Finding Intimacy with God

"What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."
- A.W. Tozer

How is it that we find prayer so difficult?  For most of my life I vacillated between seeing prayer as a dutiful obligation (feeling guilty when I wasn't doing my part) to a welcome respite from a world that was too much to bear at times.  It has only been in the later stages of my life that I have come to see prayer as the singularly most significant avenue to experiencing the intimacy of knowing God, and being known by God.  It is also where I will find the healing and change I desperately desire.  Prayer, quite simply, is a conversation with the One we love and who loves us.

God desires our hearts and full attention.  The Scriptures often refer to God's pursuit of us as a lover to a wayward spouse.  In prayer we open ourselves to listening to His voice, being directed by His thoughts and being touched by His love.  Prayer then is the avenue in which we are transformed.  In prayer we begin to think God's thoughts, to desire what He desires, to love the things He loves.  If we are unwilling to change, we will usually find that we quickly abandon the discipline of prayer.

As some conversations may be more of a monologue than a dialogue, so in our communion with God we may rush into His presence talking at Him rather than with Him.  The key element in prayer is listening with the heart and mind.  Henri Nouwen explains, "If prayer were just an intelligent exercise of our mind we would soon become stranded in fruitless and trivial inner debates with God.  If, on the other hand, prayer would involve only our heart, we might soon think that good prayers consist in good feelings.  But the prayer of the heart in the most profound sense unites mind and heart in the intimacy of the divine love." (Reaching Out, p. 146)  In prayer there is a tender balance between listening and speaking.

But what keeps us from entering into this place of intimacy with our Creator?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Update on Our Trip to Egypt


As you have seen from the news, Egypt is experiencing a time of historic spiritual and political upheaval.  Since the ousting of President Mubarak, Egypt has been searching to find its way towards some level of a parliamentary run government in light of a powerful controlling military.  It appears the Muslim Brotherhood, a mainstream Islamist party, has gained a significant place in the new parliament raising deep concerns among Christians for their future and safety. 

Because of the political chaos, occurring there has been more violence occurring towards Christians than ever before.  Egypt has had more martyrs in this last year than in the entire history of the church in that country.  The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life ranks Egypt as the fifth-worst county in the world for religious freedom.  Egypt is also included among the 12 worst countries in the world in terms of violence against religious minorities, and specifically in terms of social hostilities against Christians.  It is not uncommon for women to be abducted from their homes and forced to convert to Islam.  Coptic churches promised in the past protection by the military from Muslim extremists are now being abandoned and told to protect themselves.  For example, in the last year a 17-year-old Coptic Christian boy was ordered by his teacher to take off the cross he was wearing.  When he refused, the teacher flew into a rage and started choking the teen.  The other students joined in beating him.  He died shortly afterwards and the only recourse was the teacher was put on suspension from her position and there was no further investigation of the incident. 

It is in this cultural backdrop that we were involved in two ministry opportunities while we were in Egypt.  The first one was in Menye, Egypt, a small poor industrial town in upper Egypt.  There is a believer there named Viola who has worked with NGO’s to bring through U.S. government grants clean water to Menye.  Now her focus is to bring healing and hope to women who have been abused. About 90% of women in Egypt have been victims of abuse.  The average man, if asked of what a woman’s role is, would unashamedly reply that a woman is only for sex/pleasure and children.   I was asked to be the speaker for a monthly gathering Viola organizes in which she goes door to door in the shops in Menye and invites women to come to a luncheon on a boat on the Nile where there is a speaker and music.  This month the focus was on abuse and their identity in Christ.  In a space that would comfortably fit 60 people -  250 Muslim, Evangelical and Coptic Christian children and women from ages 8-mid 40’s, came. 

As I started to speak, I looked across the room and saw the defended and guarded expression that is often the case of women that have been abused.  About a third of the way through my talk I sensed the Spirit of God moving across the room and began to see tears start to roll down the cheeks of some of the women and others smile back at me as I smiled at them.  In a country where showing emotion equates with vulnerability, it was no small thing to see expression of heartache being expressed in the faces of these women.  Afterwards a number of young women came up and asked for prayer.

The second ministry we were involved in was to provide teaching and encouragement to the leadership of Mama Maggie’s Stephen’s Children – a ministry to the poorest of poor children and families in Cairo's rancid garbage slums and severely impoverished communities in rural Upper Egypt.  Maggie Groban or as she is affectionately called, Mama Maggie was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three different times for her work in addressing the needs of the neglected and impoverished children of the garbage slums and other places of poverty in Egypt.  Stephen's Children touches more than 30,000 families through ministries that enlist almost 1,500 workers and volunteers.  The children there are malnourished emotionally, physically and spiritually.  They provide home care, education, camps, and vocational training.  The home care workers are assigned a child in need and journey with a child and his/her family from 10-15 years.  They teach the children the Scriptures, model the love of Christ to him/her and assist in any needs the family might have. 

As Ray and I got to know the leadership staff and hear of their challenges and struggles, we were emotionally undone by the level of devotion to Christ that we saw in each of the staff we met.  They work in horrific conditions, traveling long distances from their homes to the places where the children reside, putting their own welfare and safety at risk daily for the sake of being able to bring Christ’s hope and love to these precious children. We sensed their deep fatigue and weariness yet never heard anyone complain but spoke about their love for the children and families they ministered to.

Someone told us that what happens in Egypt tends to become a domino effect in the rest of the world.  As well as what God is doing spiritually in Egypt is a testimony to the rest of the world. I believe we must pay attention to what God is doing in Egypt.  Our fellow believers are witnessing to the rest of the world what a life wholly dedicated to Christ looks like.  Their courage, sacrifice, faithfulness, and boldness is a testimony to us in the United States of what a life of holiness really looks like. 

Thank you for your support – with your prayers and financial resources to allow us to receive such a profound experience and to bring God’s word of encouragement to our brothers and sisters in Christ in Egypt.  We will be forever thankful that we were able to meet believers that so clearly evidenced their love for Christ and radiated his presence in a magnificent way.  Because of this, we are asking ourselves the question as to how we might honor Christ more fully in our own lives and show forth his glory in an intentional way.  We would love to bring a group of believers back with us perhaps in the fall to take the next step in training and resourcing with the people we met.  We are trusting God to confirm if this is what he would like us to do. 

I want to close with the verse from Revelation 12:11 that I believe aptly describes the believers in Egypt. 
“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”  May this be found true for each one of us as well.  

Egypt Pictures