Re:Lent

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Every year I have many people ask me “What is the purpose of Lent?” Why do we emphasize or practice something that isn’t found in the Bible?” What are the origins of Lent” and  “isn’t it Catholic?” If you did not grow up in a main-line church (Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist etc.) then Lent might be foreign to you. However, if you did grow up in one of those denominations, you see Lent as a 40-day focus on repentance, and removing the things that distract us from living a God-centric life.

Another way to put it is that Lent is a 40-day retreat that helps us realign with God. I don’t know about you, but I need as many opportunities as possible to realign my heart with the heart of God.

The Biblical connections would be the 40 day period that Moses encountered God on Mt. Sinai as well as the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the desert and was tempted by Satan. In light of the latter, that is why fasting has been a traditional part of the Lenten journey.

We miss the power of Lent, though, when we simply think we need to give up chocolate or something we like for forty days because it’s Lent…This misses the point and is a waste of good chocolate. When we desire to draw near to God, we ask His Spirit to reveal those things which continually negotiate for His attention and we choose to reprioritize that thing in our life so that God is first. Perhaps you do have an issue with food. Food is fuel, nothing more, nothing less. So if food is used for comfort, or dealing with stress or any other way to medicate your life, then food would be a good thing to fast from. There are, however, many things that get lodged into first place leaving God in the dust.

What is it for you? Sports? Movies? Alcohol? Sex? Power? Leisure? Bad Religion?

Or maybe it’s more subtle like, stress, anger, manipulation, blaming, negativity, hatred, self-hatred, fear, excuses, arrogance or even judging.

All of these things carry something that we like, even though on the outside we would think it wrong, but somewhere there is a pay-off, and that is why we keep doing them.

Yet, when we continue to live this way, unrepentantly, these things become the gods we worship, and they are vicious gods.

Lent is a season in the church that helps us as individuals, and as a community, rid ourselves of the sins that entangle, ensnare and sabotage our spiritual growth, and that is powerful.

As life is always a two-way movement of sorts, Lent, for me, is also a time of “adding to” not merely subtracting from.

What do you need to add into your spiritual journey this year?

How about Grace-giving, compassion, meditation, prayer, reading life-giving books, forgiveness, compliments, positive words to others, pursuing justice for the marginalized and oppressed, being a conduit of love to every person you come into contact with. Teresa of Calcutta said it well:

“As Lent is the time for greater love, listen to Jesus’ thirst…’Repent and believe’ Jesus tells us. What are we to repent?  Our indifference, our hardness of heart.  What are we to believe?  Jesus thirsts even now, in your heart and in the poor — He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you.”  

I think that the most beautiful moment of Lent happens when you do your soul work, realize that there is much shadow still inside of you, and yet experience the overwhelming and irrational love and grace of God. This kind of love knocks us off of our feet, makes our head dizzy and confounds the wisest in the world. This leaves us astonished, as Brennan Manning noted:

“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that He should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at His love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.” 

Grace and Peace…

Sometimes The Answer Is No

I like saying yes.
Perhaps that is because I am a pleaser at heart.
I also tend to root for the underdog in most situations.
I think that is why I am still a #mariners fan.

Today I have been hiking through the rural farming district of Tororo Uganda. My purpose here is to locate and assess potential water springs that my organization #planetchanger might protect in order to provide clean water for communities who have none.

My heart and soul long to say yes to every community I visit. As I hike down to the watering hole, women and children are scooping murky water and pouring it into a smattering of jerry-cans that lie around that they will then lug a great distance to their huts and homes.

When they see us arrive, their eyes light up with hope. Perhaps fewer babies will die, maybe fewer community members will get cholera or some of the sickness if we work with them to protect the spring and provide clean water.

I like saying yes.
But, sometimes, I have to say no.

Today, we were climbing down a bouldery hill into an area where people were collecting their water from a dirty spring, but that was all they had access to.

The hike was long and hot, the trail was small and awkward, and the spring site was really large. This would be a hard project for us to complete.

On the way to the spring, I passed by a series of graves. This one gave me a gut punch:

I “really” wanted to say yes to this project. No momma should have to lose a 1 one-year-old baby because of water sickness.

After the assessment was finished, it was clear that this water site would be too large for us to do. The cost would be huge, about 10 times the cost of a normal water project. The road needed to access the water spring was so bad that we could not get the bricks (hard-cores) and materials needed anywhere close to where they needed to be. When you operate on a small budget, sometimes you have to say no.

So, the answer to this one was no.

And that hurt my soul.

I paused as I walked back past the graves. Most of the people buried there we 36-42 years old. Also too young to die. I looked again at the grave of the one-year-old and said, “I’m sorry.”

I argue with God a lot in moments like this.

I wish I had been born into a family with millions, or, I figure God could at least throw me a PowerBall win so I could say yes to more projects that inspire hope and create healthy thriving communities. But I wasn’t, and the PowerBall hasn’t hit for me.

While visiting a potential water project site a young man named John Richard Omsungu said,

“You see our conditions in Africa. We are surviving on God’s nature (natural water supply). We need spring protection for clean water. Please, will you help us with getting clean water? 

While my NGO Planet Changer is small, and although we operate on a small budget, we have accomplished some amazing things that truly humble me.

Since 2011, we have protected approximately 50 springs in rural Uganda, bringing clean water to tens-of-thousands. Communities that are now healthier and have hope. Communities that have come together to help build their water system with our National staff creating sustainable solutions that they are proud of and helped create. That continues to inspire me.

So, I like to say yes.

Today I had to say no to some potential projects.

But, I also said yes to the next round of water systems that we will able to accomplish together with the people who will benefit from their creation.

Thank you for helping me say yes to as many opportunities as possible when you invest in what we do at www.planetchanger.org

Today I heard “thank you-thank you-thank you” from many men and women who we have partnered with to bring clean water to their communities. I tend to find myself saying the same words back to them back in these moments. “Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life. We are all one no matter where we are from, and at Planet Changer we know that #waterislife.

Together we are Inspiriting hope!

What If Nothing Was Impossible?

Somewhere along the line we settled for test scores and conforming to the “expected.”

In Eric Liu & Scott Noppe-Brandon’s book Imagination Firstunlocking the power of possibility, he notes:

Today’s culture of testing and data collection in education was born of a good intention: to close the persistent achievement gaps of race and poverty. But over time, ends and means have sometimes gotten muddled. Too many public schools focus on the measurable to the exclusion of the possible. As a result, too many students end up better prepared for taking tests than for being skillful learners in the world beyond school. ~Eric Liu & Scott Noppe-Brandon

I believe they have landed on something here…But it’s not only in education, it’s everywhere.

It’s time to empower the “What if?” questions along with the “What?” questions.

What If?

I have noticed a vast difference…

A vast difference between being a Christian and being a follower of Jesus. Most people have an amazingly positive response towards Jesus, but when you ask them about Christians, well…the response is a mixed bag at best.

Take a moment and experiment with me. Launch a google search with the phrase, “why are Christians so…”

You will get page after page with responses like: “why are Christians so angry, mean, judgmental, hypocritical, hateful…” It takes a number of pages before you find a more positive response.

Here are the first 3 page that came up on my search which neted over 37 million hits:

 

 

In light of who Jesus is, how He interacted with all types of people, and how He modeled love on steroids, one might expect His followers to have the same impact, or leave a similar aroma with people, but the google results are in, and it isn’t favorable.

I am looking forward to the first conversation in my new series “What If?”  where we will major on becoming more like Christ and less like the Google results!

Generating Good

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Generosity is a brilliant word and a powerful concept. Kahlil Gibran states , “Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.” That is worthy of pondering for a bit.

From this word we understand other things better, like, generate, generator, generative.

Generosity generates something…
It creates something…
From nothing, generosity breathes life and regenerates something beautiful.

However, generosity is not simply about money and wealth. It is a lifestyle that is always humming with creative goodness that brings light to dark places, food to starving spaces and beauty to desolate places.

Steve Goodier sums up the scope well:

“Money is not the only commodity that is fun to give. We can give time, we can give our expertise, we can give our love or simply give a smile. What does that cost? The point is, none of us can ever run out of something worthwhile to give.”

Generosity also has the power to free us from a myopic life of self-everthing. Self-service, selfishness, self-reliance, self-worship. The worship of self has run across the borders of narcissism in our culture, and generosity has the ability to heal us of this most pernicious disease. The Buddha noted:

“Conquer the angry one by not getting angry; conquer the wicked by goodness; conquer the stingy by generosity, and the liar by speaking the truth.”

The following video is a commercial from Thailand…it reveals the power that a little generosity has to make the lives of others better, and when you do that you cannot escape the personal benefit generosity re-infuses into your own life.

That video causes an unsolicited smile to form on my lips…

Being generous feels good and the scientific stats reveal that generous people are healthier, happy and live longer lives that are worth living.

The Bible has scads of passages about generosity, here are a few to help you pray and invite a spirit of generosity into your life:

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
Proverbs 11:25

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 Corinthians 9:7

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Luke 6:38 

Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice. Psalm 112:5

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  2 Corinthians 8:12

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Luke 6:30

May you realize just how rich you really are and find yourself coming alive as you become a generous soul that gives especially when there is no chance of repayment.