The Promise of Spring

I hate winter. If you know anything about me, you know this. I value sunshine and warmth, long days at the lake and sunburns from wake surfing too long. Sailboats and board shorts, breezyfront porches and cold sweet tea. Winter just seems so... dead. In the dark, cold months after fall I get cranky. I forget to notice the beauty of the world around me. I think a part of me starts to lose hope. 

And then it happens. Spring. One warm weekend, and I emerge from hibernation and feel the renewal and expectation that comes with spring in Georgia. Saturdays in Piedmont Park. The Masters golf tournament. Renewed life! I think that's why I love Easter so much. I can't help but believe it's a physical manifestation of what is happening spiritually during the season of Lent. 

Forty days before Easter, many Christians around the world agree to give something up for the season of Lent. We agree to sacrifice. When I was younger, I remember my dad giving things up for those 40 days. One year it was chocolate, another year, Coke, still another year, dessert. I however, was less noble in my efforts. Vegetables, baths, and homework were perennial favorites, and to my dismay, my mom wasn't exactly supportive of my commitment to serve God by refraining from broccoli. Obviously I was missing the point. 

The purpose of these sacrifices isn't to make ourselves miserable in some extended act of penance. Just the opposite. It's a way of acknowledging that we are alone and lost without the presence of a Savior. It's a way of pressing in with our Creator and preparation for what is to come. Just as the barren ground in winter is being prepared for the renewal of spring, so should we prepare to renew our hope in the grace that God has offered us. 

I pray that this season, we remember that each person we come into contact with is longing for redemption. And that the only hope for that redemption comes from Jesus. From the bed-ridden parent in a Mombasa slum to the high powered investment banker in New York, we all feel the burden of shortcoming and our inability to deal with the effects of sin ourselves. It is a heavy thing to mourn the heart of God, and Christ's crucifixion is a graphic and painful reminder that we are fallen an imperfect people. 

But the story doesn’t end there. The power of our sin was, is, and always will be less than the power of God's love for us. Resurrection is eminent. And in the coming days and weeks, the world will shout the hope of new life that God desires for us. How cool is that? Every budding tree tells God's story of forgiveness, each blossoming flower, the beauty of His grace. 

Challenge brings Change

A few days ago, I saw a post on social media that read "Challenge brings Change". I passively scrolled past this post as it was nothing new, I have heard this saying a lot in the past and it is true, Challenge does bring Change. For some reason, it stuck with me this time and I started thinking about how often I hear and see people who are completely bought-in to pursuing a healthier lifestyle or pursuing a higher education where the challenge must be overcome for the change to happen. Why should spiritual health be treated any differently than our mental or physical health? In a world that feels like anything goes, there is so much value in being tethered to God's word. This Lenten season brings forth the opportunity to elect discomfort and challenge in our everyday lives in an effort to hear the Lord more clearly and connect with him on a deeper level.

Lent is perhaps one of the most personal seasons on the Christian calendar. It is a time to empty ourselves of the lesser things so that we might be filled with the greater things of the gospel. Personally, I am challenged to rid my life of complacency and eliminate distractions to help me slow my pace in preparation for Easter. By intentionally slowing down and eliminating a few worldly delights from my life, I am able to refocus and choose God over the world each day in a measurable way. Whether you connect better through fasting or implementing additional spiritual practices, Lent presents us with the opportunity to put a change in place and allow us to dive deeper into a relationship with Christ.

During this season of reflection, it is important for us to lean into the Cross and make space to focus more intently on Jesus. I love how the below verse from Acts illustrates the parallel between repentance and refreshment. What a beautiful reminder that It is only when we understand the depth of our sin that we will understand the depth of what Jesus did for us on the Cross. It is my prayer that this season of Lent would remind you to seek your delight and refreshment from the Lord and only the Lord. No matter what you do to observe this season, I pray that God draws you close to him and he prepares you with a fresh perspective to experience and appreciate Good Friday and Easter in a different way.

"Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" ACTS 3:19

Bright Sadness

In the orthodox church in America, many refer to the season of Lent as a season of "bright sadness". Its an intentional time in the church calendar when we enter into spiritual wilderness to work out what it means to approach Easter as a people who believe in the resurrection. 

One of my favorite ways to understand the season of Lent is through the story of the Israelites in the Old Testament. We are all likely familiar with the story of the Israelites' miraculous exodus from Egypt, their wandering years in the desert, and their eventual crossover into the promised land.  

The beauty of their journey is that it also serves as a metaphor for our individual spiritual journeys. Just as the Israelites passed through the Red Sea to escape their oppressors, we have passed through the waters of Baptism to escape the slavery of sin. And, just as the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, we take time each Lenten season to fast, reflect, and create margin for ourselves to depend on spiritual food (manna) from the Lord. Easter is our spiritual promised land, and as we prepare to enter into the Easter season in just a few weeks, I encourage you to take time to read through the Israelites' journey from slavery to freedom and reflect on how it parallels with your own journey. Embrace these 40 days in the desert, and look forward, with bright sadness, to the coming of Easter. 

I also invite you to join the CARE for AIDS team in prayer during this season. You can follow along with our six week Lenten prayer guide, which you can download here. 

Sustainable Service

This morning's post is from guest blogger Kevin Scott. Kevin and his wife Laura are currently in Kenya on their second visit with CARE for AIDS. You can read the original post on Kevin's blog. 

This morning, I’m waking up in Nairobi, Kenya. This is my third trip to Kenya, and my second time serving with CARE for AIDS.

In preparation for this trip,  I reread When Helping Hurts and was reminded of the reasons why I am so passionate about working with CARE for AIDS. They have a clear mission and understand what needs to be done to accomplish their goal and incite real, lasting change.

Unfortunately, not every missions organization, nonprofit, or church group understands that there are wrong ways to help communities in poverty, and though their intentions are pure, the consequences are negative and significant.

In When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert give many examples of harmful philanthropy, but two specific problems stick out to me: economic hurt and creating a dependence.

1. Economic Hurt: It is easy to assume that fulfilling the material needs of a poor community will be helpful to them. Unfortunately, this assumption often hurts a community in the long-run because it fails to stimulate their economy. For example, if you decide that you are going to bring enough blankets for every family in a village, the woman who weaves blankets for a living may never get business again. She will stop making money and will become even more in need than she was before you came to help.

2. Creating a Dependence: You can give a man to fish, or you can teach a man to fish. Which do you think will be more helpful long term? That’s right—teaching a man to fish will allow him to be self-sufficient when you’re gone. The problem with many organizations is that they want to fill an immediate need, rather than take the time to prevent a future need. If more time was spent educating and equipping people in need, they would be less dependent on government systems and philanthropic organizations and more able to be active members of society.

CARE for AIDS works to prevent both of these problems in their ministry and is one of the most impressive nonprofits impacting the world today. I believe that what they are doing has a lasting impact for three reasons.

1. They have identified a clear problem. In East Africa, a large percentage of the population struggles with the impact of AIDS. Although many people have access to the right medicine, they do not have the education, emotional capacity, or spiritual drive to use these resources appropriately. Because of this lack of care, parents fighting AIDS often die prematurely, leaving their children to grow up as orphans.

CARE for AIDS has a clear goal: orphan prevention.

2. They help for a defined period of time: CARE for AIDS works through local churches to take parents with AIDS through a nine-month program designed to educate, support, and empower them to live long, self-sufficient lives with this disease. They educate these parents on how to use the medicine they need and on why it is important. They provide the emotional and psychological support necessary to prepare to live life with this disease. They also share the gospel with these parents, giving them a hope beyond this life on earth.

3. They are solving a need that a lot of people don’t see: After graduating from the CARE for AIDS program, clients will live an extra 20-25 years. This means, despite their HIV status, they will live to raise their children and even see their grandchildren. Instead of ministering directly to orphans, their goal is to prevent orphans altogether, and the work they do is helping maintain healthy family units throughout East Africa.

When you’re choosing to give your time and resources, it’s important that the cause is worthy and the solution is sustainable.

Are you giving to causes and charities who do this well? 
Consider working with an organization like CARE for AIDS and be a part of making a lasting impact on the world around you.

God Working

At my small group at church a few weeks ago, we were asked to share about a time when we experienced something that we knew - without a doubt - was God working, or answering a prayer. I remembered and shared a story that happened to me in 2008. That year had been a difficult one on many levels. I was a full-time student and was working almost full time, I had been in a car accident that totaled my car and left me shaken, I did something that hurt my best friend and our friendship practically ended, and I failed a class. On top of all that, the very worst, most heartbreaking thing, happened that summer when my sister, Annika, died. 

There’s so much I could write about her, and her passing. 

But that’s not the purpose of this post.

In December of that same year, there was a night I couldn’t sleep. I had exams the following day, and I was feeling a lot of stress. The past year had left me feeling unsure about everything, and totally lacking in self-confidence. I was also questioning my confidence in God. I just felt like every aspect of my life had been attacked that year and I had been broken. I was overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, and a vivd awareness of the brokenness in and around me. 

I was tossing and turning, and the air in my room felt heavy, so I went outside. It was around 2am on a crisp winter night. I wrapped myself in a few blankets and laid down on the deck behind our house. I looked up at the stars with my mind racing and my sense of desperation growing. After a few minutes I took a deep breath in, and as I breathed out I whispered into the night, “God, I just need to know that you are real.” 

As soon as the words had left my mouth, a shooting star crossed the sky right above me. 

I was immediately filled with a sense of peace. 

I went inside to my bed and fell asleep. 

That shooting star was a small thing, but it had a huge effect on me. Seeing it in that exact moment was proof to me that - in spite of everything - God was real. That He was working. And that even when it seems impossible, He is good. When I woke up in the morning, nothing had changed in my circumstances, but inside me there was peace. 

Something I am learning right now is that all of us need to be reminded of this. We all have brokenness in and around us that makes us wonder if God is real, if He is good...does He remember us? We have a responsibility to remind each other of the truth that He has not forgotten us. 

Yesterday, I was doing home visits with our staff in Waithaka. We were with a woman named Joyce. For a lot of the home visit she was in tears. Her mother died a few weeks ago. She hasn’t been consistent in her HIV treatment, and because of that she has fallen sick and has a large growth on her neck that is giving her extreme pain. Her mother had been taking care of her girls, and now that she is dead, Joyce doesn’t know how to take care of them, so she put them in a children’s home. As she spoke, you could see the pain in her eyes - she has lost her health, her mother, and her ability to be a mother to her own children. Towards the end of the visit, she said through her tears, “Thank you for coming to visit me. It means that God has not forgotten me.” 

It doesn’t take much. We all need it. How are you reminding the people in your life that God loves them, that He is for them, and that He hasn’t forgotten? Look for ways to communicate this to everyone you interact with. 

Are you in need of a reminder of God’s goodness? If so, ask people in your life to share stories where they saw Him working, or examine your own life and see if you have any “shooting star” moments. Hold on to those, and share them. We all need to be reminded.

Note: Joyce is only two weeks into the program. We are providing medical fees for her to remove the growth on her neck, and she has started taking her medicine again. We are hopeful and excited to see what the next nine-months will bring in her life. Our goal as we walk alongside Joyce, is to help her be able to provide for her children so they can move out of the children’s home and back home with their mom.