The Book of Common Prayer, in its service for Ash Wednesday, includes the following proclamation:
Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. The season of Lent is that time of preparation.
Lent is still a fairly new concept for some Baptists. True enough, we Baptists haven’t always been quick to embrace the ancient traditions and practices of the early church. But an increasing number of us are realizing the profound spiritual benefits of observing Lent alongside our more liturgical Christian brothers and sisters. And for good cause! The basic components of Lent (prayer, fasting, and self-denial) are sound spiritual disciplines outlined multiple times in scripture. These practices are designed to help us realize the virtue of humility, bringing us closer to God. This is the ultimate purpose of Lent: To bring us spiritually closer to God so that we may more fully celebrate the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Continue reading Baptists Doing Lent?
Every once in awhile someone will ask me, “Pastor, what is your favorite Bible verse?” My answer almost always disappoints: Asking me to identify a favorite Bible verse is like asking me to identify my favorite car part; the parts, alone, don’t fulfill their designed purpose.
Taken out of their greater context, individual bible verses are often misapplied, misunderstood, and not nearly as inspirational as one might otherwise think. Continue reading More Than Parts
Our Creator has blessed us with a remarkable landscape: Breathtaking mountains and plush prairies and charming forests and calming coastlines seem to bring me closer to God. City life reminds me of the diversity of humanity – one of the most profound and humbling reminders of our Creator’s imagination and transcendence. Traveling to these various places shows me the great variety of God’s works.
It’s no secret that I love to travel. But with our boys still being so young, Julie and I decided not to go away on a family vacation this summer. Local outings and short trips have peppered our calendars, astonishing me with the variety of creation I’ve experienced this year.
Early in July I rode my motorcycle from Saint Louis to Saint Paul and back, using a series of back-road highways and routes designated as the “River Road.” Many of us enjoy the scenic drive from Alton to Grafton on our most familiar stretch of this National Scenic Byway. Upper portions of the River Road did not disappoint. Northeastern Iowa, with its rolling hills of farmland and quaint towns, was delightful. Western Wisconsin’s bluffs are every bit as majestic as those around our Marquette Park, only more plentiful. And southeastern Minnesota’s portion of the Mighty Mississippi shows the river’s incredible versatility (from a stream the size of Wood River Creek to a lake more than 3-miles wide), highlighting some of the most picturesque river valley terrain I’ve ever seen.
On the heels of this motorcycle ride, Julie and I took our kids camping at Rend Lake. The July heat relented briefly, providing warm but breezy summer days – the perfect kind of weather for morning games, afternoon naps in the shade, and evenings catching lightening bugs and making s’mores. A day at one of Rend Lake’s beaches reminded us of the simple beauty of our local parks and lakes.
The group I accompanied to Conception Abbey experienced the vastly spacious gentle rolling hills of northwestern Missouri. Stars and the moon seem so much more vibrant when surrounded by hundreds of miles of nothing but pastures and prairie. The constant light wind has a calming effect, cooling the warm afternoons and speaking to our souls as God spoke to the Prophets in the gentle wind.
And finally, my summer concluded with my recent trip to northwestern Washington. Forests of tall cedar trees blanket the snow-peaked Mount Hood while other smaller peaks form the horizon. Between the mountains and the Pacific coast, Julie and I witnessed my cousin exchange wedding vows and visited with my family in a flower-covered meadow.
A friend said to me once, “I’d rather be out in nature thinking about God than sitting in church thinking about nature.” Church participation, mind you, is absolutely an essential part of our faith! But so is connecting with our Creator in the midst of creation.
We so often overlook the simple beauty and intricacy of the Earth, neglecting to hear God’s still speaking voice in the gentle breeze.
Our Sunday mornings during September will focus on God’s creation: Lessons we can learn from different parts of creation as well as weekly challenges to experience God in creation. We’ll celebrate the beauty of the planet and reflect on our relationship with God as it is revealed to us in creation. We’ll seek and discover divine wisdom that can only be found by digging deeper into the ecosystems of our world, celebrating the life-giving, powerful, yet fragile elements of God’s masterpiece.
For the beauty of the earth, let us praise the Lord.
As a child of the 1980’s, a hallmark of my upbringing has been the annual celebration of Earth Day on April 22. In grade school I knew I could count on a break from the daily monotony of the classroom for special environmentally-focused activities and games. We learned the three R’s (all of which actually begin with “R,” unlike the three R’s of a previous generation) – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. And we were eager to share our newfound knowledge with our sometimes less-than enthusiastic parents and grandparents. Millions of school children chided their mothers for using plastic grocery bags (that take centuries to decompose in landfills) instead of the very eco-friendly paper bags or reusable cloth totes. We scolded our dads for wasting drinkable water from the garden hose to clean off the driveway instead of using a resource-friendly broom. I remember going so far as making my family boycott restaurants that served Rain Forest beef (cattle raised in pastures created by destroying Rain Forests). Still, it wasn’t until I was in seminary that I fully appreciated the religious components of Earth Day as something much more profound than mere environmental stewardship. Continue reading For the Beauty of the Earth