Rest for the Soul – A Lenten Reflection by Melanie Clark Pullen

Today’s guest post comes from Melanie Clark Pullen.   Melanie lives in Ireland with her husband and two children. She has worked as an actor for over ten years in television and theatre in the UK and Ireland. She also wrote and directed the award winning Irish language short film Marion agus an Banphrionsa (Marion and the Princess). She is part of the online arts/faith/culture community Dreamers of the Day (www.dreamtoday.org) and is also in training to be a local preacher in the Methodist Church. She contributes to The Master’s Artist, featuring writers from many different Christian traditions musing on writing and faith, every other Friday.

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Where do you find rest for your soul?

Rest for the soul.

I’m working on a short film this week and I love getting to be with other actors and spend time on a film set. You could say I was as happy as a kid in muck.

Inevitably, when actors get together we end up talking about work we have done, experiences we’ve had with other directors. It struck me this time round that both myself and the other actor on the shoot were carefully creating a narrative of our creative lives in an effort to present ourselves in the best possible light. It’s important to get the mix right. Too much emphasis on the highlights and you give the impression that you’re proud and full of yourself. On the other hand, if you only complain about the disappointments, you may make the other person question the validity of calling yourself an actor in the first place.

I am so very tired of fashioning a positive spin out of my years as an actor and writer. We spend so much energy building identities for ourselves. It’s something to cling to when we meet other people. It’s almost like acting in real life, building a persona to hide behind, secreting our true selves away to some darkened corner of our psyche.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is recorded as saying “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

If we are burdened by the constant pressure to maintain a persona that is pleasing to the world, following Jesus means emptying ourselves so that he can fill us with the abundance of himself. When we are full of God, what else can we be but a blessing to those around us? When we are ignited by the Spirit, released to be who God created us to be then we are freed from the oppressive tyranny of Other People’s Opinions.

Then our work, be it writing, painting, acting or music comes from a place of peace, a place of service, a place of worship. Following Jesus transforms us not into vacant clones with plastic smiles with all the right boxes ticked but beautiful, unique and free spirits whose art is a blessing to the world.

 


What Difference Does It Make? Surrender and Control a Lenten Reflection by James Prescott

Today’s Lenten reflection comes from James Prescott.  James is a 30 plus year old living in Sutton, south west of London in the
 UK. He is part of Vineyard Church Sutton, a community trying to
explore what doing church means in a post-modern context. His interests include films, music, anything by Apple, superheroes,
football and reading, and I am currently working on a book. I’m
passionate about exploring the true nature of church and what it
means to be a disciple of Jesus.  His heart is to change the 
perception of church, and of being a follower of Jesus from one of 
division, judgementalism, religion and hypocrisy to one of love,
 grace, unity and justice.  He blogs at http://jamesprescott.co.uk/blog/

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What difference does it make?

Surrender & control

Rhythm.

We all have one.

Right at the core of our being there is a rhythm to our lives. On a purely physical level, there is a heartbeat. The pace of that heartbeat, the rhythm of it, depends on what we do with the rest of our lives, what rhythm our lives beat to.

Lent is a time when we stop and rexamine that ryhthm. It’s an opportunity to go back to the core of who we are and what we believe, and reexamine what our life is really about, and where we honestly are with God.

This Lent I have given things up – a common theme during Lent – but I have also taken something up.

Two years ago I took part in a discipleship programme, a mission into your own life if you will, which involved carrying on with my regular life – job, church, hobbies etc – but with one subtle yet crucial difference.

Jesus would be first.

For 40 days, I would live intentionally for Jesus, deliberately orientate my life around Him – and part of that included daily prayers and Bible studies, on top of regular serving, tithing and regularly attending group meetings.

It was a very fruitful process, during which I grew closer to God and realised I could do the spiritual disciplines each day if I wanted to. My rhythm changed, life seemed to have purpose, and I was actually dissapointed when it finished.

This year, I decided to for lent to do something similar – to do the Bible studies, daily prayers every morning – which is the worst time of day for me to do that, as I’m definitely not a morning person, so it would require self-discipline.

Not quite the same intensity as two years ago and not such a big commitment, but enough to be different to what I was used to.

So in doing this I took up something new for lent.

I also gave up things for lent. Most prominently, chocolate (which of course no one ever does), and take-aways.

Now I’ve managed to stay off the take-aways so far, but I have given in to the chocolate – and staying off the take-aways is proving tough, though I’m being successful so far.

But in taking up something new, I’ve done fine so far. The decision to read the Bible each morning and say a set prayer at the start of this day, and have hourly prayer reminders, is working so well. My day is starting much better, I feel more positive about each day and a real sense of peace when I go to work or church or anywhere.

God has been speaking into my heart and giving me a peace.

There is another side to this. It’s also allowed God space to get in and really deal with some difficult, painful issues as well. I have found at various points God speaking to me about His grace, about my own failings, and its been somehow easier to sit down and examine myself and deal with those issues.

Most of them being about control.

You see I like being in control. I think on many levels we all do.

It’s one of the things many of us struggle with, giving control of our hearts to God, dying to ourselves and allowing Jesus to raise us up to a new life hidden in Him. I have found that giving into temptation to eat chocolate for example is something that I do to exercise control, because there is a part of me that doesn’t want to give up control.

Because giving up something for lent involves giving up control.

In the end, the difference giving up certain things and beginning new habits make over lent is that they help us confront our issues of control.

Lent leads up to Easter, which is all about the ultimate giving up of control, the ultimate surrender on the cross – a surrender we are all called to model.

Surrender is at the heart of our faith, giving up control and surrendering it to Jesus who Himself surrendered all for us. And in the process, like what I did when I first did my discipleship course, and in what I have already experienced this year, we can end up being transformed more into His likeness.

How much are you willing to surrender to Jesus this lent?

 

 

Prayer Knocks, Fasting Obtains, Mercy Receives – A Meditation form St Peter Chrysologus

Pat Conley posted this today and I thought it was so good that I needed to share it with you.  It certainly makes a great addition to our lenten reflections.

This is from today’s Office of Readings. A great Lenten meditation!

From a sermon by Saint Peter Chrysologus, bishop

There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.
Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.

A Season for Grief and Sorrow

My prayer this morning is dedicated to Tim Herzog, who died in a Hong Kong hospital this morning.

A couple of days ago Tim who is the 10 year old nephew of MSA staff member Andy Wade fell from a parking building in Hong Kong where he was playing.  This morning surrounded by his family they cut off his life support.  As you can imagine this is a devastating time for the family and we would all appreciate your prayers.

Please pray for Susan, Andy’s wife who has flown to Hong Kong to be with the family, for Tim’s parents Rick and Stephanie, Tim’s brother, Dan, and his sisters, Lydia and Naomi as well as the rest of the family.

Eternal God who sweeps aside our doubts

And reveals in all our hearts the mystery of faith

May your life bubble up within us,

Living water, love drenched, unquenchable

May it flow straight from your heart O God

From you who are the source of all being

The one who holds the children in your hands

May your love comfort and surround those who mourn and grieve

With the promise of the resurrection

Bringing refreshment to all our souls and renewal to our spirits

Icon – A Lenten Reflection by Tracy Dickerson

Today’s post is contributed by Tracy Dickerson.   She describes herself as an Uber-churched/De-churched/Re-churched Follower of the Way of Jesus; she is also a Friend of Sinners, Wife, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Hospice Nurse, Lover of Parties, Artsy-fartsy Celebrant of Life Abundant, Seminarian, Church Planter, (and Plant Planter), Missional Thinker, Theologian Wanna-be, Mover, Shaker, Occasional Sleeper-who is trying to Jump Out of the Box and Into the World.
This post was first published on Nacreous Kingdom as part of a series Tracy is posting throughout Lent as a series of reflections on Lent
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Recite the Primo Credo Today in the Morning and in the Evening:
Hear, O Israel:
the Lord our God, the Lord is one;
you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.
~Mark 12:29-31
Today, we continue to discuss the Primo Credo, a variation of the Hebrew Shema Yisrael that Jesus himself told us was the bedrock of our entire belief system.

We have been meditating on it now for eleven days (today is day twelve) and will continue to do so until Resurrection (Easter) Sunday.

We have been reciting it every morning and every evening, as faithful Followers of YHWH have been doing for thousands of years, and today, we’re moving back toward talking about the key focus of this season for us: the Primo Credo and the Shema Yisrael.

The focus of our meditation will be on ICON. We will be discussing the concept of being an ICON- and will be exploring what being an “Image-Bearer of Christ” means in the context of a Shema-shaped Spirituality (one that commands love of God with heart, soul mind and strength).

We will be asking ourselves what it means to follow Jesus’ example of Shema-shaped Spirituality.

Following Jesus… We throw the phrase around an awful lot, but do we really stop to think about what this really means? Do we take time to count the cost, or to fully digest the implications of such a thing?

When I was young (and for a time, even when I was older, but not necessarily wiser) I thought that the idea of following Jesus began with a prayer, an intellectual assent…and pretty much ended there. But, tragically, my life didn’t really change. I continued to go to church and do all the things that I saw other people who had made this same affirmation a part of their lives do. (Note here an important word: same.) Same, same, same.I was the same as the others, I swam in the same culture, I hung out with thesame kind of people. Truth is, I was the same old self. Self, self, self. This lack of transformation was due to the fact that while I was a believer in Jesus, I was not yet a follower of Jesus.

As a mere believer of Jesus, I was missing a very important concept: Jesus was really different, and Jesus calls his followers to that same kind of life-changing difference. In fact, one might even say that the words “SAME” and “SELF” are truly four-letter words to him. Although we might have claimed this difference, I’m now not entirely convinced that we were. Truth be told- we really weren’t much different than those around us. We still worshipped the same cultural idols and still possessed the same values (in fact, it may be that those values actually possessed us). We were still self-absorbed and self-centered. Even our reductionistic conceptualization of salvation was rooted in this self-sustaining, self-preserving mindset.

A lot later in life, I became a Follower of Jesus… I learned that to truly follow Jesus, one has to actually love God the way Jesus does, wholeheartedly; one has to actually do the things Jesus does, like laying down His life for God’s mission; that one has to think in ways that Jesus thinks, which are often counterintuitive, paradoxical, counter-cultural, and frequently make very little sense to others; and finally, one has to love the people that Jesus loves with every fiber of one’s being- and that means a willingness to put our selves aside to be with, harbor, and redeem people whom others might think unsavory. Oh what a difference coming to understand this has made!

Jesus calls to us: “Follow me!” What he is demanding of us involves a complete giving over of everything to him. He calls us to even give over our right to our identities. We are called to take on the nature of Christ, to be in his image, to have his mind. Simply put- we are to die to ourselves and become ICONs of Jesus. Strangely enough, we don’t do this as any cosmic self-improvement scheme, either. Although improvement is a nice perk, the self gets put to the side, and any concept of ‘self-improvement’ appears lackluster in comparison to our true goal. In this endeavor of following Jesus, our chief aspiration is to become Christ’s image-bearers to the world for the improvement of the world and the ultimate glory of God. Ironically, then- that which is improved ultimately is an entire world, not merely one small part of it (me).

As I’ve moved from my understanding of the Gospel being one of microcosmic self-improvement and a plan for my own personal ‘salvation’ and eternal self-preservation, I’ve come to understand a more vibrant, abundant and more full Gospel whose aim is transformation, salvation, and redemption on a much larger scale. I’ve come to a transformational understanding that calls my previous conception of following Jesus into question.

Whereas my prior goal was to achieve eternal life by being conformed to animage of godliness, now I understand that my goal is to allow the Holy Spirit to shape me into the Image of Christ.
As I move from SELF to ICON, I can much more clearly see the difference that Jesus wants to make through transforming our lives to transforming the world…for His glory.

FOLLOW I THIS DAY
Follow I this day the Father,
Follow I this day the Son,
Guided by The Spirit, Follow I the Three in One.

God, and Spirit, and Jesus,
In Obedience Every Morning…

In Submission Every Night…
Replicate I with my heart,
Emulate I with my soul,
Imitate I with my mind;
Follow I with my might.
©Tracy B. Dickerson, 2011

Learning to Live without Plastics

living without plastic

Lent is meant to be a time of giving up, and one of the things that I try to give up at least for part of Lent, is plastic.  It may not seem very spiritual but I think that it is.  There is growing evidence that plastic is not only bad for our planet, it is bad for our health as well.  Now I realize that it is impossible to live a totally plastic free life but it is at least possible to try.  And I find that in all things, trying makes me more aware of the extent of the problem and how critical it is for us to do whatever we can to overcome it.

Taking reusable bags to the store is one easy way to cut back.  I try to keep some in my purse and others in the car – small zippered bags that open out into a large shopping bag.  We also buy in bulk which cuts back on plastic packaging (see below for why this is important), and we usually cook from scratch, which cuts out even more packaging.  Prepackaged meals tend to use a huge amount of packaging – why not make a big pot of something and freeze it in containers… hmm how do we avoid plastic there?

Anyhow here are some great tips from Organic Gardening on how to at least attempt to go plastic free.

#1: Expect failure!!
As the team of bloggers over at Growing a Greener World put it, this is one challenge in which failure is almost certain—and that’s OK. As we said from the beginning, completely eliminating all plastic from your life is impossible. Even the stuff you try to avoid will sometimes creep past your defenses, so rather than stress about a mistake or moment of weakness, just accept it and keep trying.

#2: Prioritize.
Deciding to go (mostly) plastic-free can easily leave you feeling overwhelmed. Each of us experienced that sensation, and many of you wrote or commented about that too. So it’s a good idea to start by IDing some of the bigger plastic inputs in your life, and work on those. Once you’ve established a plastic-free habit, you can move on to the next one on your list. Here are some good starting points:

  • Focus on food. Following the lead of Beth Terry’s blog MyPlasticFreeLife.com, we each surveyed a week’s worth of trash to see how we generated most of our plastic garbage. If you’re anything like us, you’ll find that food packaging is your number one source of plastic waste. Along with sheer volume, there are other reasons that food-related plastic is a good place to focus your efforts. Chemicals from plastic packaging and containers leach into the stuff we eat and drink, and therefore have the biggest potential impact on our immediate health. In addition to avoiding overpackaged foods at the supermarket, swap out plasticfood-storage containers and cooking utensils and replace them with glass, ceramic, wood, or other materials. And never heating up food in any kind of plastic is a pretty easy rule to follow.
  • Ban those bags. If you forget your reusable bags at the grocery store, carry your items out by hand. After doing that a few times, you’ll probably NEVER forget your bags again! If you do find yourself with more items than you can carry, why not use a cart to get them to the car without bags? At the very least, use as few shopping bags as possible (and don’t bag items that already come in bags, like those oranges or potatoes). Bring the plastic bags to back to the supermarket for recycling (along with any other stray plastic bags that find their way into your hands). Make it easier on yourself to remember your reusable bags for your next trip by stashing them with your shopper’s club cards, or in your car’s trunk or glove compartment.
  • Stop using stupid plastic. Some plastic is just pointless. A straw? Would it kill you to let your lip touch the glass? A plastic bag just to hold the greeting card you bought? Carry it in your hand! Plastic fork? It’ll probably break! Wash your hands and eat with your fingers. Plastic Halloween decorations? Use real bone

#3: Reuse, recycle, recreate.
Have a backup plan for the plastic that gets into your life. Find other uses for it if you can, or find out how to recycle it when you’re done. Take plastic bags to the supermarket, know what your curbside program will accept, and know how to recycle your electronics when it’s time to get rid of them. If all else fails, call up a local nonprofit and see if it can be donated. When you’re shopping, buy products packaged in recycled plastic if there isn’t a nonplastic alternative, or even look for used versions of whatever it is you need.

Or, next time you find yourself reaching for something that comes in plastic, think, “Could I make this?” You’d be surprised at how easy it is to whip up hair-care productsbody lotions,cleaning products, and pretty much every plastic-packaged food at the store. Or just go without. As Dani, one of the bloggers who followed our challenge on her site News from Nowhere, told us, “I would rather get in the habit of having and using less (of plastics and everything else), than be disgruntled about it when the situation is forced upon me.”

#4: Slow down.
Plastic exists to support the go-go-go lifestyle that we all think we need to maintain. Committing to cutting back on plastic gives you a reason to insert some helpful speed bumps into your day. So enjoy them! Take 10 extra minutes to eat breakfast at home, for example, or use a full 30 minutes to eat lunch at a restaurant, off glass plates using real silverware, rather than grabbing something packaged in plastic to eat at your desk. Along with the benefits of avoiding plastic, you’ll gain an opportunity to catch your breath, enjoy your food, and let go of some stress.

#5: Don’t be a jerk about it.
None of your plastic-addicted friends wants to hear a lecture about the evils of plastic (ours sure didn’t). Be relaxed and nonjudgmental when you talk about your decision to cut the plastic cord. Focus on why the alternative is better, not on why plastic and the people who use it are evil. And let your deeds, rather than your words, be the strongest argument. Every time you tell a cashier you don’t need a bag, and walk out of the story carrying your carton of milk in your hand instead, you’re planting an idea in the head of everyone around you. And that’s how new norms are created.

Jesus In Japan (Libya & Bahrain): I was Hungry & Thirsty… and You Fought Rob Bell on Twitter

This article is excerpted from a post last week by Jarrod McKenna on Red Letter Christians. I recommend reading the entire article here.  This section spoke to me so powerfully when I read it yesterday that I felt I needed to share it.

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Over 10,000 people are excepted to die as a result of the earthquake in Japan while smug prideful tweets from both camps fly back and forward.

10,000 will only be number until we allow ourselves to lament.

In sharing in God’s grief this number is transformed into precious lives.

Maybe it’s easier to argue online that it is to get on our knees and experience the blessing of mourning for a world so broken.

Maybe we secretly hope our arguments will protect us from taking up our cross and following Jesus into the pain of our world.

Maybe the numbness we think protects us from overwhelming grief in fact just keeps us from God’s empowering compassion. The word compassion comes from the latin, meaning; to suffer with. Our God is a God that is not far off but in Jesus has suffered with us, and for us, so we, by grace, can be compassionate as the Triune God is compassionate and enter into the suffering of our world.

Unlike the cheap speculations and accusations on twitter, to love those suffering in Japan, in Libya, in New Zealand, in Haiti, in Bahrain, in Yemen, in Australia, in Pakistan, and those sufferings elsewhere and everywhere (including not far from us in our own cities) will costs us. Grace is free yet it cost God everything. And to witness to God’s grace always means denying ourselves and taking up our cross. As our community said together tonight in evening prayer, “Lord set our hearts to sing your praise and our bodies to do your will.” Theology is not only about what we think, it’s about how we live. And by grace, God’s Holy Spirit empowers us to live Christ’s Calvary-shaped love to our broken world.

I haven’t had a chance to read Love Wins yet, I still want to hold out hope that Rob Bell will creatively, movingly and lovingly defend with strong exegesis a biblical understanding of “the New Heavens and New Earth” in the light of God’s very nature and glory being revealed scandalously in the crucified and risen Christ. (Yes, I’m increasingly aware this might not be the book I’m looking for… I’ll stick with N.T. Wright). I did catch one journalist ask Rob Bell regarding Japan “Which of these are true, either God is all powerful but does not care about the people of Japan and therefore they are suffering, or He does care about the about the people of Japan but he’s not all powerful?”