Live Lent (2018)

Mom Down!

I’ve been sick for two weeks now. What began as a lousy cold–power through, Mom, as most moms do–and I thought I had and was mostly on the mend–became a painful ear infection and virus v2. Six days on antibiotics and I still have pain and no hearing on my left side. Bleh!

Thankfully, I have a loving family determined to carry on around me, caring for me as they go. Guy bought lovely red tulips to bring me cheer and took care of all the kid-duties I couldn’t manage. Q13 offered to refill my water bottle, among other simple tasks. As John says, they have loved me in truth through their actions: “…let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18).

Meanwhile, Lent began this past Wednesday. Lent, that church season during which Jesus’ followers traditionally give up or take on something to more closely identify with the suffering our Lord endured for our sake.

Give up…dessert? alcohol? social media?
Take on…a new form of service? more/different forms of prayer?

I googled Lent and came across this fantastic New York Times article reporting that the Church of England has asked their parishioners to give up plastics in order to better steward God’s creation. As an animal-loving vegetarian environmentalist, mostly for stewardship reasons, I ❤ this so much! They’ve even created a daily calendar of actions one could take to limit plastic consumption…which I plan to print out and work towards.

Research shows the best way to create a new habit is to change one thing at a time, and to stick with it for at least three weeks. So during Lent, we have an opportunity to create two new God-honoring habits, or really dial down on one. Even week by week small actions will make a difference, in our lives and the world.

January 2017 I began keeping a Gratitude Journal, and in January 2018 I recommitted to it. I also recommitted to what should be my ongoing practice of reading the Bible daily; in mid-February I can say that the combination of daily Bible reading + gratitude has brought me new joy.

So here we are at Lent, a new opportunity to create lifestyle changes that will identify us as Jesus’ followers.

In my job as Church Communication Director and based on our sermon series in 1 John, I created a list of twelve things one might do during Lent.

12 Things to Do During Lent
based on 1 John 3:11-5:21
February 14-March 31, 2018

  1. Repair a broken relationship.
  2. Donate goods, money and time to charity.
  3. Set aside regular time to rest in His presence (i.e., read the Bible, pray, worship, sit quietly with the God who loves you).
  4. Do intentional loving acts for those who wouldn’t expect it.
  5. Since Jesus Christ came in the flesh, do something to honor your God-given body (i.e., exercise, eat healthy, soak in a hot tub, get a massage)…and pray!
  6. Search the Bible for passages about the Holy Spirit and spend time getting to know His voice.
  7. Memorize and meditate on 1 John 4:7-12.
  8. Pray for a hard-to-love person in your life and ask God to change your heart.
  9. Read the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and ask God what He wants you to do to faithfully keep His commandments.
  10. Read a book to grow your belief in Jesus as the Son of God.
  11. Pray with bold confidence, for yourself and for others, according to God’s will.
  12. Ask God to identify and cut out sin in your life.

With little energy to do much else, I joined a Facebook group: 40 Bags in 40 Days. Created by a woman who follows a Lenten discipline (though that’s not required), the idea is to declutter our households and donate to charity. Which fits well with #2. So far, I’ve attacked some bathroom and refrigerator drawers (much of which went in the trash), and plan to keep at it.

As with any day, any season, I cannot yet predict how this Lenten season will pan out. I pray that God will grow me in new ways, teach me new things, ingrain in me new ways of being that honor Him and mark me as His follower.

What will you do?

Walk in Love
Week 7: Love One Another
1 John 3:11-18

Connect
If you’re married, reflect on highlights from your wedding day. If you’re not married, reflect on a time you knew you were well loved.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 3:11-18.
Compare 1 John 3:11 to 1 John 1:1, 5. What does love for others have to do with God’s light?
Contrast the negative example of Cain’s relationship with his brother Abel to Jesus’ positive example of love.
Compare vv13-15 with Matthew 5:21-22, then explain John’s equations: hate=death and love=life.
How might sharing your possessions be an example of laying down your life (vv16-17)?
Can someone speak lovingly but not in truth? Can someone act lovingly but not in truth? How is it different to love “with actions and in truth” (v18)?

Live
How do you know if you love someone? If someone loves you?
How could you handle well a religious disagreement that brought about hostility?
Without breaking confidentiality, what have you done to intentionally act lovingly towards someone who was hard for you to love? Did it change the relationship and if so, how?
How might material possessions get in the way of one’s spiritual life?
What would it look like for a church to be generous with Christ’s love? What can you do, personally and as a Community Group, to more generously share Christ’s love?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God’s love will overflow your life.

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More!

I am my mother’s daughter. In some ways, I look like her. In so many others, I think like her or act like her. Even some of the ways I am not like her have been influenced by my relationship with her. I learned from her to share her vision for what is good and meaningful and worthy in life.

Recently, I introduced Q13 to a friend. As we stood side-by-side, she remarked, “Oh, I see the resemblance…”

His response didn’t miss a beat: “Yah, but she’s not a natural blonde!” (I am so!)

He may look like me, but his quick and quirky sense of humor is all his own.

Still, he is my child and bears more than physical characteristics from our relationship: our homebody-contentment, our appreciation for good music, our joy in helping others. Just as my relationship with my mom molded my life, my relationship with my son shapes who he is and how he lives.

I am also God’s child, and I sure hope there are some solid family resemblances: I hope I love big like He does, serve like He does, create like He does, share joy like He does.

This week I saw a video that resonates deep in my being. You can’t help but laugh at the sweetness! Dad and baby are both clearly into not just the beatboxing but also each other. Each time Dad stops Baby asks for “More!” More beatboxing, sure, and more togetherness, more fun and laughter, more joy and love.

This video makes me wonder: Do I enjoy my relationship with my Daddy God? Do I take time to notice–and revel in–the fun and wonder and laughter and love He wants to share with me? To exclaim, “More! More!”?

Walk in Love
Week 6: Children of God
1 John 2:28-3:10

Connect
In what ways do you resemble your parents?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:28-3:10.
What response should God’s children have when Jesus returns (v28)?
Why does “the world” not recognize God’s children (3:1)?
Why did Jesus “appear” (vv5, 8)? What does that mean for His children?
How does John contrast those who sin with those who do right (vv4-10)?
Does John mean that God’s children cannot/will not ever sin again? Explain.

Live
What have you done this week to “continue in Him”?
How do you feel when you think of Jesus’ return, and why?
What does being God’s child mean to you? How is that title evidence of God’s love?How do you resemble your Father God? How would you like to grow in resemblance?
Do you think others recognize you as a child of God? How so?
How can being God’s child motivate you to right living?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God’s love will overflow your lives and keep you from sin.

Hold the Truth Tight

Conflict. Bleh.

With so much conflict in the world, one could hope the church would be a conflict-free zone.

Far from it. The Bible speaks clearly about the Church’s enemy who stirs up discord and strife. And if you’ve been around the Church for even some time, you’ve likely seen it.

I’ve been involved in Church my whole life and in leadership since I reached an age where leadership opportunities became available.

I’ve seen…
Small groups, pretending to be friends, treat their own members brutally.
People poised to react rather than respond, attack rather than listen.
Individuals assume a leadership role for the specific purpose of taking others down.
Abuse of power, its personal and corporate devastation.
The hard work required to attempt to heal backfire on the very ones working to bring peace.
Bad leadership, bad followership, political infighting, and church splits.

All that and I still love the Church. I’m still involved, still in leadership. But why does it seem the Church is hell-bent on living out that old question: With friends like these, who needs enemies?

We can blame it on the enemy, the Church’s enemy or our perceived human enemy. We can blame it on circumstances, constraints, resources, human nature.

Truly, I think it comes down to one thing: conflict erupts when those in the Church take their eyes off Jesus Christ.

When we agree that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, fully God and fully human;
that He came to show us the way back to our Heavenly Father, to take the punishment for our sins;
because He loves us that much;
that He sent us His Spirit to guide us day in and out;
and that He calls us to love Him and others as ourselves…

…well, that ought to result in reliance on Him to help us love one another even (especially) when it’s hard. It ought to bring about unity and the willingness to put aside our agendas to listen well. It ought to shape our prayers and our behavior as we look at one another with God’s loving eyes.

We can disagree on a lot of other issues if we agree on that.

When conflict erupts, it would sure help if we got back to basics.

Walk in Love
Week 5: Hold to the Truth
1 John 2:18-27

Connect
Reflect a recent conflict you’ve encountered and how you handled it.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:18-27.
How does John explain what has happened in his church (vv18-19)?
What is “the truth” and what is a lie (vv20-25)?
How does John use his followers’ “anointing” to equip and encourage them (vv20, 27)?
What is the relationship between knowing the truth and remaining in the Son?

Live
Have you ever experienced a church split or other significant split of Christian community? What did you learn from the experience?
Why does it matter what we believe about Jesus?
What does your anointing mean to you?
How do you ‘remain’ in the Son?
Reflect on this quote: “Christian life is not merely a cognitive embrace of Christ; it is an engagement, an encounter with Christ in the Spirit.”—Gary M. Burge.
How could someone try to lead you astray today?
What significance does ‘the end’ have for you? How might you live with ‘the end’ in mind?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to fill you with knowledge of and experience with His beloved Son.

Note: I highly recommend the book The Peacemaker by Ken Sande. For more information, check out Peacemaker Ministries.

What’s Your Name? 1 John 2:2-17

Naming our big dog wasn’t difficult. We met her on a Wednesday and when we picked her up on Friday, our big kid declared: “Her name is Izzy.” We all agreed.

Naming our puppy? Not the same story. Oh for sure, C19 named him in seconds, but the rest of us took weeks to agree. We made a long list. We tried each out. We discussed and debated. Big Kid persisted, and the rest of us caved. Jasper it is.

But he’s also earned a handful of nicknames. Rascal, because he’s a curious, playful puppy. Dapper Japper, because he wore a plaid bow tie throughout the Christmas season and looked oh so dapper. Stinky, and Baby Dog, for obvious reasons.

My parents, Mom especially, gave me a bunch of nicknames. My baby brother couldn’t say my name, so Sisi (pronounced “SeeSee”), which sounds like my given name, is still in play. Others, I’m not even sure how to spell–Sivereno or Sisiliana–my parents making long my short name. My 80’s era camp name was Lambchops, because my white-blonde permed hair looked like lamb’s wool; my high school band nickname was Huggy Bear, because friends said I dropped my backpack every few steps to hug a friend.

Cute at the time, I’m grateful to have outgrown some of those nicknames. I’m hopeful Baby Dog will outgrow some of his as well (Stinky, especially).

Nicknames grow out of experience and relationship. When I call my kids by their full names (first, middle, last)–names I love, given with intention to children I love–I might do so out of exasperation. But when I call them Buddy or Lovebug, it’s true to our relationships. Lovebug may sound babyish, but even with teen boys I can hope they won’t outgrow those terms of endearment.

Some cultures wait to formally name a child until the child reveals his/her character. It seems we nickname based on character.

Our actions reveal our character. So perhaps our nicknames also influence our actions.

I still respond to SiSi because those who call me SiSi have known me from forever. They knew and loved me in good and bad and through it all. When I call my kid Buddy, he hears me calling him to make good choices to be his best self. He is my Buddy, and he knows I’m his biggest fan, asking him to live into his best.

The names we call each other make a difference. The name itself can call us forward.

So when John refers to Dear Children, or Fathers, or Young Men, it matters. Dear Children=all of us loved by God, whose sins have been forgiven, who can truly call God Father. The love relationship is mutual, complete, fulfilled. Fathers=those who have a lifetime of faith. Not just men (gratefully, not just men!, but using language of old, when masculine terms applied equally to women), but all those of a certain age and stage in life. Those who have weathered storms and held steady in faith. And Young Men=those young in life and faith (again, not exclusively male), whose youth fills them with vigor and verve to take risks for God.

The nicknames mean something. They directly connect with the message for those groups/individuals. But going forward, the message to all is the same: stay strong. Live into who you are, the best of who you are, and so remain strong in faith. Because the world will do its best to beat you, but you–in God’s strength, living into the terms of endearment God has for you–can be stronger than the strongest temptation.

Walk in Love
Week 4: The World’s Allure
1 John 2:12-17

Connect
Share a nickname you’ve earned and how you got it.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:12-17.
To whom does John write, and what does he say to each (vv12-14)?
What reasons do God’s people have to not love the world (vv15-17)?
What does love for the world look like according to John? What might it look like today?

Live
What does it mean to you personally to know God as Father? To know Him “from the beginning”? To be strong to overcome evil? Which description best fits you and which would you like to grow into?
How can God’s Word strengthen you to resist temptation?
How does your identity as a believer influence your behavior?
What gifts do younger and older believers have to offer each other?
What, if any, hostile threats do you perceive in the world? How do you manage them?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to fill you with love for Him that crowds out the world’s distractions.

J.O.Y.

I attended Jr. High at the beginning of the 80’s when Preppies ruled the school. I had one white Izod shirt and, though I stood several rungs down the social ladder from Popular, wearing it made me feel pretty.

I had a crush on an 8th grade boy who had expressed interest in me despite my 7th grade status. We talked on the phone for hours, the curly phone cord stretched taut from the kitchen across the hallway and into my bedroom.

When he invited me to join him at the roller rink, I wore my Izod and a pale pink lip gloss. I felt cute until I stepped out of my mom’s car. The boy’s eyes took in the little alligator logo high on my chest and his whole face fell. His disappointed eyes found mine, and I wanted to sink into a crack in the pavement.

I had blown it. The one thing the boy didn’t like: Preppies. Easygoing as he was, he hated Izods. I had heard him express disdain for people using money and status symbols to gain popularity and, despite the long phone calls and my interest in him, I had worn the one thing that marked me as not like him.

We skated for a couple hours. We talked a few more times. The relationship ended.

My Izod shirt was no moral failure, but wearing it on that occasion demonstrated that I had put myself before my friend. My desire to look cute outweighed his youthful stance on a social issue he felt concerned us both.

When we care about someone, we take into consideration the things about which they feel strongly.

Big segue: If we love God, we care about what He cares about.

God has taken great care to give us an entire Book filled with descriptions of what He cares about. He even boiled it all down a few times, in the Ten Commandments and even further in the Great Commandment.

Love God. Love others.

A few years before I wore an Izod shirt to a roller rink, I learned a Sunday school song that taught me that J.O.Y. came from loving Jesus, Others, and You, in that order. I no longer remember the tune, but the acrostic stuck.

We demonstrate that we love God by obeying Him, by getting involved in the things (and restraining ourselves from others) about which He feels strongly.

Chief among those: loving others.

Some people in God’s family can be hard for me to like, let alone love (of course others may feel the same about me). But God made them, God loves them, God included them in His family. God asks me to love them, so I work at it. I pray for a change of heart. I pray for them. I bite my tongue. I choose to serve them. I resist the temptation to judge them.

John wrote to help his readers know that God wants us to love Him–and so obey Him–and that an important way we obey Him is by loving those He loves.

Which we don’t do if we apply John’s message to others: See that guy? He says he’s a Christian, but look at his life! If he really knew God, he wouldn’t do that, and that, and that…

Nope. My job is to examine my life, to love God and let Him lead me to obedience. Some days, judging others comes far more easily than loving them. And that’s when I need to return to JOY–Jesus take the wheel, and help me love others as you have loved me.

Walk in Love
Week 3: Obey God
1 John 2:3-11

Connect
Reflect on the process of getting to know someone with whom you are close.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:3-11.
How does John describe believers (vv3-4, 6, 9) and what do those descriptions mean?
What assurance do we have of our relationship with God (vv3-6)?
Read John 14:15-17. Why does John emphasize the Truth of God?
How must believers live (in other words, how did Jesus live? v6)?
Why is it important to love other believers (vv9-11)?

Live
What’s the difference between knowing about God and knowing God?
How would you explain the correlation between knowing God and obeying God? Between knowing God and loving other believers?
Does John write to encourage self-reflection or judgment? What potential risks lie in applying this passage to others?
What actions have you taken to love those you find it difficult to love?
What will you do this week to obey God and love others?

Pray
Ask God to fill you with the strength and courage that come from knowing Him to help you obey Him and love others.

Walk in the Light – 1 John 1:5-2:2

One of my earliest childhood memories took place on a sultry Rhode Island summer night. My parents had friends over and all of us, adults and children, had congregated in the backyard. Did we eat outside? Possibly, as I have seen pictures of al fresco meals on other occasions. But in this memory, the sun had set too long ago for pictures.

Trees bordered the back edge of our yard; a short sloping dirt trail led down to railroad tracks. An open field connected our side yard to our neighbor’s so, despite the warning to stay away from the train tracks, we had plenty of open space to roam.

Swatting at the mosquitoes buzzing and biting our tender skin, my friends and I played Hide and Go Seek. How many hundreds of such games must we have played since then? But this one vividly stands out in my memory because, at only three or four years of age, being outside at night, way past bedtime, in the pitch dark, playing with friends while the adults contented themselves with their own conversations, well, this was novel.

We ran, hid, stifled giggles behind our fingers, then shrieked with wild joy and excitement. The unprecedented freedom of playing in the dark thrilled us almost beyond what we could bear. Our sweaty skin shivered despite the humidity.

But we froze when we heard it: “Oooo, watch out, I’m the Bogeyman…!” There…we heard it again: “Oooo, here comes the Bogeyman, oooo…!”

Our giggles grew nervous. I remember saying, first whispered to my friends, then louder: “What’s a Bogeyman?” before we all ran to our parents, who assured us that some teenager was hiding in the bushes, trying to scare the little kids.

The little kids who had felt like such big kids only moments earlier, squashed by someone else’s fun at our expense.

As I reflect on that night, a few things stand out that still ring true today:

Playing in the dark was exciting, precisely because it was dark, and because it wasn’t something we were typically allowed to do. (What kinds of darkness entice us today?)

The darkness hid potential dangers. (What dangers lurk in the tempting darkness?)

Playing in the dark gave us a new sense of freedom and independence, all good until we got scared and needed help. (How does darkness imitate light? And where do we find help when we need it?)

Walk in Love
Week 2: Walk in the Light
1 John 1:5-2:2

Connect
Reflect on a time when you have taken ‘a walk in the dark’ (literally or figuratively). What was it like?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 1:5-2:2
With whose authority does John write this letter, and why does that matter (v5)?
Explain the light/dark metaphor (vv5-7). Look up one or more of the following passages from John’s gospel: 1:4-5, 9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:4-5; 12:35-36, 46.
What deceit does John call out (vv6, 8, 10)?
What happens when we confess sin and live rightly (vv7, 9)?
What do we learn about Jesus in this passage, and why is that significant?

Live
Explain the attractions/detractions of light and darkness. In what ways do Christians try to stay in the darkness? Why is this so easy to do?
What makes it difficult to “come into the light” in our relationships with one another?
Is it possible to ever be done for good with sin? Why or why not?
How might fellowship with one another help us avoid sin and maintain fellowship with Him?
If you’re willing, share about a victory over sin that Christ accomplished for you.
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God for His faithfulness to us even when we try to hide from God and others.

Word of Life – 1 John 1:1-4

What do you believe?

I just started reading a nonfiction book about how to live an authentic life in a world that no longer runs on the (outdated) standard life approaches passed down through generations. It challenges readers to identify the stories we’ve been told and continue to tell ourselves which may or may not be true.

We live out what we believe. In other words, our beliefs—conscious or not—determine our actions.

If we believe human beings are selfish, then we won’t find ourselves inclined to serve others. Why should I give my time (because I’m selfish) to help others who won’t help themselves (because they’re selfish)? We definitely won’t give $5 to the homeless guy on the street corner.

If I believe I’m lazy (perhaps something I heard and internalized from a parent, teacher or coach), then it’s unlikely I will bring to completion even an exciting new project. How can I? I’m lazy.

But people aren’t always selfish, and I don’t have to be lazy. Those things might be true sometimes but they aren’t consistently true. I can reverse the stories and choose to interact differently with the world.

Some things, however, are consistently true.

Jesus is God, from everlasting to everlasting.
And Jesus took on flesh to show humans the way to the Father.

If I truly believe that Jesus is the eternal God, and if I trust both the witness of those who saw and heard and touched Him in the flesh and my own experience of fellowship with Him, then that will necessarily affect my decisions. John calls Jesus “the Word of life.” Because I believe in Him, I trust this Word to lead me to a fuller, more satisfying life. A life lived in love with the One who gave everything for love of me, and a life lived shoulder-to-shoulder with His beloved people.

It may not be an easier life (it could be much harder!), but I believe it will be a true life.

Walk in Love
Week 1: Word of Life
1 John 1:1-4

Connect
Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met or seen up close? Describe your experience of them.

Study
Read 1 John 1:1-4 slowly several times through.
How does John describe Jesus (vv1-2)? What strikes you about this description?
Why does it matter that John has seen, heard and touched Jesus (vv1-2)?
What reason does John give for writing this letter (vv3-4)?
What’s the connection between John’s proclamation and the community’s fellowship and joy (vv3-4)?

Live
What difference does it make to you personally that Jesus was “from the beginning”? That real people experienced Him in the flesh? That He is “the Word of life”?
Is it possible to have true fellowship (Greek: koinonia) with people who don’t have a relationship with the Father through His Son, Jesus? Why or why not?
How do you experience Jesus in your daily life?
How do you describe Jesus to people who haven’t experienced Him?
How does shared fellowship with God and others increase your joy?

Pray
Thank God for the Word of life!