Tuesday, November 24, 2015

7 points from 108 days

Today marks too long since I last blogged. It also marks my 108th day of marriage, 99th day since we moved to Texas, and 92nd day as a full-time seminary student. I'm not sure it's possible to catch you up on even half of what has happened in these 108 days. Instead I will tell you about the big things and what we've learned.

First and foremost, God is good. He truly is the provider, counselor, and father.

Second, change is hard. I don't mean it's uncomfortable and no fun. It's just really difficult. Moving, starting a new career, getting married, renting our first apartment, taking care of two nervous dogs... it's a lot. Like I said before, that does not mean it's no fun. It's easy to get bogged down by the change and let it be no fun. But it's amazing how beautiful and fun life can be when we choose to pursue God and look for the joy. It's there somewhere. Always. We've just got to be willing to look for it.

This brings me to my third point: marriage. It's wonderful. Challenging and difficult, but, again, that does not mean it's bad. The best things in life take work. And apart from God, my marriage is the best thing in my life. Phill and I have been through a lot in our years of dating and now our first few months of marriage. I am so thankful that God brought him into my life. He is a blessing and a joy to be married to.

Fourth, seminary is fun. I love it. I get to hang out with fellow theology nerds all day! It also has a dangerous side, though. It's so easy to get too focused on the "nerding out" that suddenly the head overtakes the heart and it turns into cold academia. If you are considering going to seminary, pick one that has a defense against that built in to their program. It's ultimately up to you, but chapel and bible studies of some sort are signs that the seminary is fighting against it. I would strongly urge you that if the seminary you are interested in does not at least recognize this as a problem, proceed with great caution if you proceed at all for your own sake. I have also learned the benefit of church away from you seminary friends with regular people who may or may not be able to give you an outlined breakdown and analysis of the book of Philemon or be able to parse Greek words. To reiterate, I love seminary and I am so happy I am here and learning more about my Savior. I just understand the risks. Again, God is good and will help us through as long as we keep our eyes on him.

Fifth, Phill and I will always be grateful for the support of friends and family who have given us what we need to keep going. Whether a card in the mail, a text, or a phone call, it has all been a blessing as we establish our life so far away.

On a lighter sixth note, yes, Texas does believe it is its own country! I have learned that their state bird is the Mockingbird, but that Mockingbird Ln in Highland Park is always crowded. I've also learned that Dallas attracts many types of people from all over the world. Due to its strong economy, it is a hub for individuals and families wanting to start new lives in America. It makes for a rich and diverse population. Texans are also some of the friendliest people. It's been easy interacting with those I encounter day to day. Oh, and there's tacos everywhere. It's amazing.

Seventh and finally, God is good. He is always there. He was with us before our marriage, on the wedding day, and every day since and forward. I have learned to trust God through rocky circumstances. I have never felt a stronger dependence on God and I am thankful for that. He is good. He provides. He loves and cares for his children. Sometimes we don't understand why he does things or allows things to happen, but what child always understands their parents actions? He always comes through which has only served to deepen our trust and faith in Him.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Fasting in the Old Testament

Lenten Series Devotional: Fasting in the Old Testament

Fasting is a practice which has been observed throughout Judeo-Christian history. In the Old Testament, fasting was often used as a way to repent or to mourn. It often accompanied prayer and signified the person surrendering to God or mourning for a loved one. We see the example of mourning in the book of Job. Job 3:24 (ESV) tells us, “For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water.”

Other times, however, we see this as a time for repentance and reconciliation. In the third chapter of Jonah the people of Nineveh receive the warnings through the prophet Jonah that God was going to destroy their city because of their sin. When the king heard the message, he chose to believe the message and tried to save his city.

“The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”” Jonah 3:6-9 (ESV)

Nineveh chose to fast and repent hoping God would, “relent and turn from his fierce anger.” In the end, God did choose to do this and spared Nineveh because of their repentance through fasting. As Christians, we fast during the season of Lent also as a sign of repentance from our sin. However, we have a promise and a hope Nineveh did not. We know that Christ died for our sins. We are always forgiven as long as we repent and turn from our sin. During this journey of repentance, fasting, and prayer, remember that we are on our way to holy week. This means a cross and also forgiveness. We know our fasting is not what saves us, but rather fasting is an example of us humbling ourselves before our mighty and loving God as the people of Nineveh did.


Reflection Questions:
1) Read Jonah 3. What can we learn from the people of Nineveh?
2) Why do you think fasting has historically been a sign for repentance?

3) How can you use the fasting this week as a form of repentance and turning back to God?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lent Devotional Series

My friend and I are doing a Lenten project for a religion class. The full project for us and the participants includes an emailed devotional each Monday, fasting a particular item each Tuesday, and a meeting to discuss what we have learned and reflected on during the week on Thursday. I will be posting the devotional piece of this project on here. I hope that you may find it beneficial during this season.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and traditionally lasts 40 days excluding Sundays since Sundays are considered “little Easters.” On Ash Wednesday many believers go to their churches to participate in this service which reminds us of our mortality and need for repentance to begin our journey of preparation before Holy Week.1 During the service the pastor makes an ash mark of a cross on the forehead of the participant and says, “From dust you came, and to dust you will return.” The ashes traditionally are from the branches of Palm Sunday. As theupperroom.org says, “The palms that were waved in joy became ashes of sorrow.” 1

The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, but the end of Lent is different depending on which tradition you follow. The Catholic Church recognizes the season of Lent on Holy Thursday 2 (or Maundy Thursday as it is referred to in the United Methodist Church), while the United Methodist Church recognizes the end of Lent on Holy Saturday3, the Saturday before Easter. According to the United Methodist Church, “Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection.” 3

It is unclear who exactly developed the concept of Lent. Some suggest that it began in the apostolic age. Others believe that there is not enough information to support this, but that we can tell it began to develop in concept within the first three centuries of the Church. It seems, in its earliest form, believers during the apostolic age would fast on Fridays to remember Christ’s death. Over time, it is believed this tradition became holy week. At some point the concept of preparation for this holy week developed. 4

Historically, the Catholic Church has asked its adult members abstain from meat (except fish) on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. The also ask that they have one full meal a day with two much smaller meals only if needed to maintain strength to perform their day-to-day tasks. Overtime this has changed. Many people nowadays choose something to fast during Lent which tends to be a distraction from their relationship with Christ or something they do often in order to be constantly reminded of this preparation for holy week and develop a deeper and renewed relationship with the Savior. 5

A period of 40 days has often been a time of preparation. Jesus wandered in the wilderness with the Holy Spirit for forty days and fasted. Even Moses was in the presence of God for 40 days fasting on Mount Sinai in preparation to receive the commandments. 6 The season of Lent is also a time of preparation for us as believers.

As we begin our journey of Lent together, let us remember we are participants in an old history of believers gone and current believers. In your fasting, preparation, and reflection, you are participating with many believers all over the world in this tradition. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (12:1).  

Reflection Questions:
1) What do you think is the benefit of beginning Lent on Ash Wednesday with the reminder of "from dust you came and to dust you will return"? How does it set the tone for the rest of the season?
2) What do you think is the benefit of ending Lent on Holy Thursday or Holy Saturday? Do you feel doing one or the other has more significance?
3) What do you think about the original Lent fasting schedule of the Catholic Church as described above?