Lenten Practices

Lent-BannerThe Dwelling Church will be using these community practices during the season of Lent and we invite you to journey toward Resurrection Sunday alongside us. We are encouraging our people to practice various things daily, weekly, and in community. These practices are not meant to be a burden or a way to earn God’s favor. They are intended to remind us of God’s work in the world, align our hearts with God’s, and move us out into God’s mission to redeem all things. Practicing alongside others (a church, a small group, or family) allows us to process what we are experiencing and learn from others.

Daily Practices

+ Practice 5 (or more) minutes of silence

+ Pray for your church and community

+ Pray the Prayer of Examen (see below)

+ Write a note of encouragement or make a phone call to one person

Weekly Practices

+ Gather for corporate worship

+ Fast one meal a week (we invite you to join us in fasting Wednesday lunches)

+ Bake a dessert or make a meal or give a small gift to one person/family

+ Memorize the weekly Scripture (listed below)

+ Chose 1 or 2 of the Additional Practices listed below

Additional Practices (choose 1-2 a week)

+ Set aside a percentage of your income and donate it to a good cause

+ Leave your phone at home for a day

+ Host someone for a meal or coffee

+ Make a prayer chain and pull one piece off each week/day

+ Don’t buy anything that you don’t need

+ Go for a walk and pray for your neighborhood

+ Disconnect from cable news or social media or both

+ Listen only to worship music this week

+ Don’t eat out

+ Volunteer somewhere

+ Donate snacks for Adams Elementary students

+ Leave the TV off for a day or two or seven

+ Read a Psalm a day

+ Fast from gossip and insensitive comments about others.

+ Read the Gospel of Mark in one sitting

+ Pray the Lord’s Prayer before dinner or bed

+ Let people around you know you are a Christian (in a natural, unforced way)

+ Declutter: Find 7 items each day this week to donate or throw away


Scripture Memorization for Lent

Practice learning Scripture. Recite it, write it, discuss it with others. Let Scripture shape our lives.

Week 1 – Lamentations 3:22-23 (CEB)

Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through! They are renewed every morning. Great is your faithfulness.

Week 2 – 1 John 1:9 (CEB)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong.

Week 3 – 2 Peter 1:3 (CEB)

By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory.

Week 4 – 2 Corinthians 5:21 (CEB)

God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.

Week 5 – Isaiah 41:10 (CEB)

Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand.

Week 6 – Romans 5:8 (CEB)

God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.


The Examen Prayer

The Examen is a old prayer used around the world to help people examine where God has been present throughout their day. 

  • Become aware of God’s presence. Where did I see God today?
  • Review the day with gratitude. What am I thankful for today?
  • Pay attention to your emotions. What did I feel today?
  • Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. What should I pray for?
  • Look toward tomorrow. How do I feel about tomorrow?

The Weary World Rejoices

This year I am weary. Maybe it’s my cynicism flaring up, but I feel the weight of our present reality more acutely than in years past.

I’m worn out by our political climate. I’m tired of the name calling and the line drawing, the hypocrisy and the partisanship. I’m tired from holding my tongue and I’m tired from speaking up (however infrequently). I’m fatigued by our lack of decency and our infatuation with power at any cost.

I’m worn out by the Church too. From our political idolatry for sure, but also our constant bickering over petty stuff. I’m tired of watching people walk away from faith because they were shown an inaccurate view of God. I’m drained by self-appointed gatekeepers intent on keeping people out. I’m worn out by church as entertainment and the pull to chase crowds and celebrity. I ache for congregations doing their best to be faithful in a world that has no time for them. And I’m tired of story after story about how we who are called to bless the world have instead wounded God’s beloved.

I’m exhausted from grief as I see people limp through life. From those who are denied justice to those who have made a mess of things.

I see friends and family and strangers on the internet who carry heavy loads. Who battle trauma and depression and estrangement. I watch as people wrestle with doubt and hardship and diagnoses that suck the life right out of them. People we love and people who are us have struggled in finances and bodies and loneliness and child rearing and every single other thing. It has run us ragged.

I’m tired from the 24 hour news cycle. The constant outrage. The constant apathy. The refugee crisis and gun violence and racism and terrorism and war and suicide and consumerism and all of it.

I’m weary from all the times I’ve blown it and all the times I wish I had chosen differently. I am even tired from knowing I have it better than so many others and my seeming inability to bring about progress.

I am weary.

And yet.

The old song sings, “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.”

A thrill of hope that Jesus is here. On our side. At work. Restoring. Redeeming. Re-orienting us.

Despite our brokenness. Despite our shame. Despite our constantly screwing it up and never getting it all right, God is with us.

God sees our mess and moves toward us to show us the way. The way out of and away from all the things that beat us down. A God who comes not to burden us but to carry our burdens for and with us.

A God who comes to the bedraggled and barely making it. To battered souls and threadbare faiths. A God who comes and offers unconditional love and incomprehensible peace even in the midst of all that is wrong.

I believe there will be a day when weariness will be no more and darkness will be banished and justice will roll like a river. I believe in a day with no more sickness or political pandering or shattered hearts.

However far off that day feels, Christmas reminds us that it isn’t out of reach. A better world is on the way. The someday we await is just over there, as close as the next dawn.

The light of eternal sunrise is waking from its slumber. It creeps across the horizon, slowly stretching its warm fingers and chasing away all that is shadow. It will not, can not be held back.

When we look for it we can see it. When we are uncertain we can walk toward it. When we are undone by the weight of it all we can rest in and celebrate the goodness of God’s coming.

Even our longing for rest and wholeness serves as a reminder that God is on the move. With us. When we hurt. When we fail. When we want to crawl into bed and sleep for a decade. When hope feels more like an ache than an excitement.

God is near. The sun will rise. The angels will sing. Our tears will be dried. And life and light will bring all that we need.

So rejoice, weary world. Lift up your head. You are not forgotten. You are not alone. All will be made new. Love has come.

Bryce Harper and the Problem of Partisan Politics

I am a fan of Philadelphia sports teams. This necessitates that I hate Troy Aikman, JD Drew, Sidney Crosby, Joe Carter, Sean Rodriguez, and plenty of others.

For seven years I hated Bryce Harper too.

He played for a rival. He was entitled and arrogant, an obnoxious jerk. Easy to hate.

This year he switched sides. He plays for Philadelphia now. He is one of us.

Suddenly he isn’t entitled, he is driven. He isn’t arrogant, he is confident. He isn’t a jerk, he is passionate. Easy to love.

Instead of taunting him, I defend him. Instead of pointing out his abysmal batting average and strike out rate, I laud his defensive skill and hustle.

Last night in Washington, his former city, he was heckled for switching sides.

In sports you are either for us our against us.

This is ugliest when people ignore grievous sins like assault and abuse when it benefits their team.

It turns ugly when it shows up in our politics too.

When the only thing that matters is the name after the name on the ballot. When we determine what we think about a person only by the party they belong to.

When we defend the indefensible simply because they are on our “team.” When we ignore lies or immorality or twist ourselves into pretzels to explain away troubling realities.

When we attack the other team for doing the exact same things we applaud on our side. When we pick and choose based on an R or a D after a name.

We have reached a time in our country where we have long settled what and who we believe and any evidence to the contrary is rationalized away with ease because we are more loyal to our team than we are to rational thought or even our convictions.

In politics you are either for us our against us.

And we are worse for it.

It hurts the country, the Church, even the parties we seek to defend. I mean, is there no one else from your political bent who can advance your causes while still being a decent person?

As a Christian I cannot allow a political party to determine what is right and wrong. I cannot allow leaders to steer my moral direction. As the psalmists says, I cannot put my trust in princes and human beings who cannot save.

Church, blind and unmoored partisanship is idolatry. It aligns our heart with other kingdoms and it destroys our credibility in the world. We should be the most consistent when it comes to right and wrong, yet we are often seen as the least.

Our elected officials should be held to higher standards, even when they play for our team. Let’s not so fear making our team look bad that we are afraid to call out wrong behavior. Let’s stop defending people and things simply because we agree on some policies.

We say our hope is in Jesus then we act and talk and attack like our hope is in the president or congress. We say truth and morality matter and then turn a blind eye if it benefits us. We say that Jesus is Lord and then participate in the ways of Caesar.

We must be more faithful. Partisan politics will exhaust us to the point of death and will drag others right along with us.

May our convictions guide us more than our favorite teams. May accountability lead to health for us and the Church and our nation. May we be free to always fight for what is right and good. And may righteousness and justice matter more than winning.

Jesus is not the solution.

american jesus

Image from iekokoro.com

Whenever we face despair in our country one of the most common refrains is, “People just need Jesus.”

My friends, I have bad news – Jesus is not the solution.

At least not the Jesus most of us mean.

The Jesus who is a neat little add on to our lives. The one we keep close in case we find ourselves in trouble or need reassurance that we are good people.

The Jesus who is only after mental agreement that he is God and asks little from us in return (besides inviting people to church and trying to cuss less).

This Jesus allows us to occupy pews with prejudiced hearts and systems unchecked. This Jesus allows us to pray “Thy Kingdom come” without considering the implications.

This Jesus allows us to imagine we are faithful disciples while doing most of our learning from cable news. This Jesus will make your life better if you simply pray at an altar or raise a hand with all heads bowed. This Jesus is easy. 

This Jesus fits comfortably next to the gods of power and wealth and upward mobility. This Jesus doesn’t mind sharing space because this Jesus is enamored by those things too.

This Jesus allows us to harbor hate and bitterness. This Jesus allows us to distance ourselves from the world and feel good about it.

This Jesus surely didn’t mean love our enemies and turn the other check, because this Jesus is reasonable and really only wants us to be happy and healthy and make it to heaven some bright morning.

This Jesus has been invited into the hearts of slave owners, rapists, abusers, power hungry preachers, white supremacists, idolaters, war mongers, and the like and done nothing but help them feel more holy in their un-Christlikeness.

He is little more than a prop on the campaign trail and a get out of hell card should this whole thing turn out to be true.

This Jesus is powerless. And a fraud.

But there is a different Jesus.

One who is not beholden to the American dream. One who does not bend like a reed when politicians ask us to change our convictions for the promise of power. One who does not ask too little of us.

This Jesus is Lord.

This Jesus throws out the charlatans and calls the religious folk “white-washed graves.” They have the right hymns and sound bites and bumper stickers, but nothing of life and love on the inside.

This Jesus will not allow us to sit complacent. This Jesus will not allow us to settle for platitudes. This Jesus doesn’t want to just make you into a nicer version of yourself.

This Jesus will not tolerate our prejudices or violent words or the space we make for other gods. This Jesus demands we repent and turn from all things that look like death and destruction.

Even when we enjoy them. Or we want them. Or sell our souls to justify them.

This Jesus instructs us to love our neighbors, to welcome the outcast, to care for the sick, and imprisoned. This Jesus is less concerned about borders and budgets and security and constitutional amendments than we’d like to think.

This Jesus will call into question all our allegiances. To self, to family, to politicians, to country.

This Jesus is not safe. He will disrupt everything. He will put us at odds with people who follow the other Jesus and the kingdoms of the world. There will be hurt and pain and ulcers. He told us this. That following him would bring division because following him turns it all upside down.

This Jesus said, “If you want to follow me be ready to go to the death.” The other Jesus convinces us this was only hyperbole and we can go on living just the way we like.

But the true Jesus, the one from Nazareth, the one crucified under Roman rule and resurrected from the dead, he is Lord. And he is the only Jesus worth knowing.

This Jesus and all the disruption and difficulty and hard reflection that he demands is worth it. With this Jesus we find that this is the only way to truly live.

With this Jesus we find change and transformation for ourselves and the whole broken world. With this Jesus we find there is another Kingdom where the last are first and the greatest are servants and that even death leads to victory.

This Jesus pushes us outside of our walls and comfort zones and partisan talking points and air conditioned answers and confronts us with what is real and true and right and good. This Jesus changes minds and votes and spending behavior and addictions and priorities and conversations and attitudes and neighborhoods.

May we know this Jesus. May we follow him.

May we allow this Jesus full access to all our biases and comforts and brokenness to do with as he pleases. May he do his best work in places we don’t even realize need work.

May we put to death the false Jesus that has for too long masqueraded in our sanctuaries and rocked us to sleep. May we put away apathy and comfort. May we turn from the gods of power and wealth and personal success in order to fully and loudly proclaim, that Jesus is Lord.

And may this change the world.

Take Care of Our Own First.

You’ve heard about the kids in camps at the border. You’ve likely heard that the US government argued in court that it should not have to supply these kids with blankets, beds, soap, or toothbrushes.

And you’ve probably heard from someone that while this is sad we can’t do much about it because we have to “take care of our own first.”

I’m convinced this is less about helping veterans and more of an excuse to justify our apathy and/or disdain toward these kids and their families. We seem to only apply it to those fleeing north at the border and refugees from around the world.

What we mean is: These people don’t deserve our help because there are others more like us (in color, language, country of origin, culture) who deserve it based solely on their similarity to us.

Used this way, “take care of our own first” is not a Christian argument.

As Christians we are called to care for all people, regardless of their likeness to us. We are told to love our neighbor. Jesus says this is the second most important thing we can do.

When questioned about who exactly our neighbor is (so we can be sure to love only those we have to and not those other, yucky people) Jesus blows the doors wide open by including someone from a different faith and a despised country and ethnicity. Someone that good religious folk would have avoided due to their differences. Someone who doesn’t live next door or on the right side of the border and someone who doesn’t attend our community church. Someone not “our own.”

Jesus says the one we’d rather not help is indeed our own – a neighbor.

“Taking care of our own first” includes taking care of our neighbors. All 7.5 billion of them. With Jesus we don’t get to pick and chose who is our neighbor.

And there is more.

We’ve been baptized into the Church Universal. Our boundaries are far broader than national borders. We belong to a great congregation that includes every tongue and tribe and people.  Many of those fleeing persecution and poverty and violence are people who also belong to this Church.

We call these people Brother and Sister. They are family. Members of the communion of saints and the great cloud of witnesses. St. Paul writes that together we are members of one body. People we say will spend all eternity with us.

No matter their legal status or language barriers, these are truly our own people.

And among them are children. There is no child on the face of the earth who does not belong to us, who is not our responsibility. Jesus doesn’t want the children hindered. He welcomes them and blesses them. Honors them.

Children are often among those considered the least of these – people who have limited power or resources  – like children held in camps at no fault of there own. Jesus identifies with those who are most desperate by saying how we treat them is how we treat him. So its not just a kid who is being denied medical care or a blanket (which is shameful enough), it is Jesus too.

I see too many of us making excuses as to why we can’t or shouldn’t help. Why we shouldn’t feel bad. Why we should care for others instead because they are more like us.

The only way we can make these arguments is by viewing these people through nationalistic lenses rather than through Jesus Christ.

It is too easy to see differences in how people vote or look or believe or come from. We divide out those we like and those we don’t. Those we know and those we don’t. Those who can help us and those that can’t. Those who belong and those that don’t. Those we deem worthy and those who aren’t. 

These distinctions do not exist in the Kingdom of God. Our allegiance is to something grander and more wonderful and far more transformative. We belong to a better way.

So yes, lets care for our own first. But “our own” is a lot broader than maybe we originally intended. Jesus keeps moving the lines we draw.

Young and old. Undocumented or documented. Asylum seeker or desperate nighttime crosser. They belong to us and with us. We belong to them.

We belong to a different Kingdom and a different way. Even our enemies are included.

This is how it works in our Kingdom. And as long as we have a voice and a vote I’m convinced we should be insisting that the elected officials of this nation make it a priority to treat all people from all places and all legalities with the utmost decency and care.

We can have a secure and safe border and a process for immigrating and seeking asylum. We can have laws and boundaries for the safety of everyone. And we can do those things while offering dignity and toothbrushes to anyone and everyone, including veterans and the homeless.

It is not a money issue. It is a heart issue.

If our government can’t figure out how to do it, they should move out of the way and allow humanitarian organizations to care for these precious people who are ours.

Because we take care of our own first. And you are our own. And they are our own. And those folks over there are our own. We claim veterans and the homeless and immigrants and refugees and single parents and all those other people too. We claim everybody as our own because in the Kingdom of God there is always room for more.

In the Kingdom of God no child goes without a blanket or a parent because of lines in the sand. In the Kingdom of God their pain is our pain. And their victory is our victory.

May we have hearts to know and love our neighbors. May we know and love and care for those who live down the street and around the world and in detention camps. May we see people instead of categories; the image of God instead of legal status.

May we find that taking care of our own means including more and more people. And may we find that this is the key to changing our hearts and the world.

May the Kingdom come on the southern border as it is in heaven.

Sometimes We are Holy Saturday People.

Scott Rodgerson, Unsplash.com

We know how it turns out.

But sometimes we don’t.

We know life conquers death.

But sometimes we don’t.

We know who we are and what we believe.

But sometimes we don’t.

We have faith.

But sometimes we don’t.

We know how we should live.

But sometimes we don’t.

Holy Saturday is a strange day. Fixed in-between the crucifixion and the resurrection is this time of uncertainty and waiting.

On this side of history we know what is to come. We are resurrection people.

But sometimes we aren’t.

Sometimes despite knowing in our heads we feel unsure in our hearts. Despite all we have seen and sung and prayed, we still wrestle with doubt and what-ifs. Sometimes our tears threaten to drown us.

We join the followers of Jesus in their grief and anxiety, replaying over and over how things could have been different. We wring nervous hands and bite shaky lips because somehow we have ended up far from where we set out to be.

What in the world happened?

It is in this in-between place that so many of us find ourselves. Waiting. Wondering. Hurting. Trying to catch our breath.

We have more questions than answers. We have more fear than faith. We have more holes than wholeness. We feel the sting of death and this broken world.

We are Holy Saturday people.

And here on this black Saturday, we are not alone.

The women will gather what is needed to prepare a dead body. The male disciples will dismiss the testimony of their friends. People will go home confused and unsure. The fishers of men will go back to fishing for fish.

And it is here in their confusion and doubt and fear and anxiety that they meet the risen Lord. Jesus comes to them not when they have it all figured out but smack dab in the middle of not knowing a thing. He meets them in sorrow. He meets them in pain.

Holy Saturday people, take heart. You are not forgotten. God is still at work. Do not give up and do not give in.

It is not your perfection that saves you. It is not your lack of mess that makes you clean. It is not your certitude that makes you strong.

God is near. Even when morning feels a million miles away. Even when we don’t deserve it. Even when we aren’t sure which way is up.

Hold on to whatever hope you have. You are not abandoned. Holy Saturday will come to a close and be met with a new day and a new reality. All that brings doubt and fear and destruction is on its way out.

Hold on. One more day.

Hold on. As long as it takes.

There will come a day when Holy Saturdays are no more.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:4-5

May we remember. And may we find the strength to hang on until that day dawns.

We (Still) Want Barabbas

img_7179Some choices are easy.

Salad or ice cream? Fajitas or anything? All expenses paid vacation or work?

Other choices are hard.

Move or stay? Keep going or give up? Take a risk or play it safe?

Whether easy or hard, the choices we make often reveal who we are and what we value (In my case: ice cream, fajitas, and trips to the shore).

In the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus we encounter a pivotal moment. There is a choice to be made.

Scripture tells us it was customary to release one prisoner in honor of the Jewish Passover. This generosity was intended to pacify the large crowds gathered in celebration.

This year the governor gives them a choice: a man who stands accused as a murderous revolutionary or one who is accused of blasphemy.

The supposed blasphemer is the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth, also called the Son of God. The revolutionary is named Jesus Barabbas, which literally means Jesus, Son of the Father.

The crowd gets to pick their Jesus. To decide which son they prefer: the mercenary or the Messiah.

They make their choice.

Jesus of Nazareth will be beaten and executed. The people want Barabbas.

And us, all these years later, we (still) want Barabbas.

When given the choice between the mercenary and the Messiah we often choose the wrong Jesus. We may say all the right things and claim the right beliefs and have the right bumper stickers, but the way we do politics and conflict and church and relationships and whatever else reveals who we have really chosen.

We still want the violent insurgent.

We, like the crowd that day, have little patience for the slow Kingdom coming.

We want movers and shakers. Those who get things done.

Those who cause our enemies to tremble.

We have no time for a Kingdom that is like a mustard seed, small and slow and making its way little by little. We prefer kingdoms of tanks and trains: get on board or get run over.

We want to be first, not last. To be catered to, not to serve.

We want conquerors on stallions, not peacemakers on donkeys.

We want people to pay. To get what they deserve.

We have little use for mercy. And no use for meekness.

We want brash and bold and big.

We still want Barabbas.

Sure he is a edgy. And sure he has a shady past. And questionable morals. But he is with us. He fights for our rights. It’s not like we want him to be a priest or anything.

We know where he stands and he says it like it is.

Give us Jesus, the mercenary one.

We want the Jesus who will rid us of our foes. Who isn’t afraid to throw some elbows and shed some blood.

We want power. We want to call the shots. We want to be sit where Caesar sits because we are convinced Caesar’s way is the only way.

The other Jesus? He prays for his enemies. Instructs his followers to love them even. He tells us to control our tongue and not to insult others. He says to care for the poor and sick and he hangs out with people who have no clout in society. He says the way up is down. He says not to repay evil with evil. He washes other people’s feet. He lets people spit on him.

This isn’t how we win.

Give us Barabbas.

We’d rather fight alongside the scoundrels than be crucified with the holy.

It is pretty clear which Jesus we choose most often. And what things we value and who we really are. And the truth is not pretty.

Too often I am more a Barabbas-ian than a Christ-ian.

Too often the choices I make look more like the kingdoms of this world than the Kingdom of God. Too often I can’t even imagine any other way of doing things.

I want mine. I want it now. End of story.

The way of Jesus Barabbas feels quicker. It looks sexier. It looks like it is working for the other side.

But this is the not the way. When it comes to what matters most, shortcuts only lead to dead ends.

This is not the Jesus that leads to life.

The other Jesus, the one from Nazareth, will show us the way. He will invite us lay down our swords and to lay down our lives. He will invite us to trust, to have faith that this is the way to lasting victory. He will demonstrate a love that has the power to change lives and hearts and worlds.

And when this way and this Jesus look completely defeated and hopeless. When it is stripped naked and beaten and gasps one final breath. When this way is laid in a grave and left to rot.

We will learn that this way is just getting started.

May we have the patience to avoid the shortcuts. May we have the ability to imagine a better way and a better Kingdom. May we choose the right Jesus. And may we find life now and forever and abundant. Amen.