Tag: Lent

Apr 6 2011

Lenten reflection: Rising again from small, everyday ‘deaths’

Larry LivingstonEvery Wednesday throughout Lent, we will post a reflection from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope these reflections help you on your own Lenten journey.

Some of the most interesting characters in Scripture are also the ones we know least about.

In the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent we meet one of them: Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary.

Lazarus, we are told, had been in the tomb four days, a fact which distinguishes his story from those of other Scriptural characters who were raised from the dead.

The Gospel-writer wants to make it clear that what happened to Lazarus was no ìnear-deathî experience. Lazarus was dead. Very dead.

But at the command of Jesus, he was alive again, coming out of the tomb wrapped in bandages with a cloth covering his face.

Ariana in Mexico

Ariana, foreground, a CFCA sponsored child in Mexico.

Not fair. Not only are we cheated out of knowing what Lazarus might have said on this wondrous occasion, we arenít even allowed a glimpse of the expression on his face.

What do you suppose it would have been? Gratitude? Confusion? Perhaps even anger at having been brought back? We just donít know.

And that, I suppose, is how it must be. Ours is not to know what awaits us when this life has ended, but to trust in Godís promise that it will be good.

Our task, rather, is to face the various smaller ìdeathsî that life presents ó broken relationships, loss, personal failures, the list goes on ó and to allow God to raise us from them, stronger than we were.

If we do that, we need have no fear of the final death.

But rising from these day-to-day deaths isnít easy, and it takes wisdom to recognize our own ìtombsî ó those aspects of our behavior that keep us from joyful living. It also takes the courage to answer Godís call to come forth from those tombs.

Lent is a gift from a loving God that helps us see our tombs for what they are and break free of them.

It is a time to be raised, through acts of personal discipline and generosity, from the selfishness of sin into deeper, life-giving relationships.

For nearly 30 years, CFCA has served as a path into such relationships. Through our Hope for a Family sponsorship program, we offer people a way to connect with others that blesses both sponsors and sponsored persons.

We seek to help liberate people from the insidious twin-tombs of poverty and indifference, and we are deeply grateful for the hundreds of thousands who have joined us in that liberation.

We may not know much about Lazarus, but it is a pretty good bet that once the cloth was lifted from his eyes the first thing he saw was the joyful faces of Jesus and the others who loved him.

It is a great image and one for each of us to reflect upon.

Just look at the good things that wait for us outside the tomb!

Mar 30 2011

Lenten reflection: Opening our eyes and hearts to a new vision

Larry LivingstonEvery Wednesday throughout Lent, we will post a reflection from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope these reflections help you on your own Lenten journey.

Part of the genius of Jesusí ministry was that he didnít spend much time trying to convince people. He just spoke the truth, did good things and let the chips fall where they may.

Those open to Godís grace were drawn to him. Those wrapped up in their own wrongheadedness fought him.

In the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Jesus heals a man born blind. You would expect those who witnessed this to be astonished and overjoyed.

But for those looking to condemn Jesus, it was just one more piece of evidence to use against him.

Their issue was the seeming audacity Jesus showed in healing an undeserving person. If the man was blind, they reasoned, it was obviously punishment for his sinfulness or that of his parents.

Such perverse logic let the movers and shakers of society off the hook for their failure to help the disadvantaged.

If the blind, lepers, widows and others who were marginalized deserved their fate, then changing their condition would violate Godís will.

Stycy in India

Stycy, a sponsored child in India.

For those with wealth and influence ó who, by implication, must be Godís favored ó it was a cozy belief system. But it was also wrong, and Jesus had no problem in naming it as such.

By healing the blind man Jesus put his critics in the absurd position of denouncing as evil an action that was clearly good.

In so doing, they exposed the illogic of their beliefs and proved themselves to be the truly blind ones.

Their blindness, unlike that of the man now gifted with sight, was all the more tragic because they stubbornly chose to remain in it despite the opportunity for conversion offered by Jesus.

Now, as in Jesusí day, hardness of heart keeps some from seeing past their own narrow interests.

But the good news is that generous, loving hearts are opened up to new vision every day.

CFCA sponsors often tell us how sharing in their sponsored friends’ lives has given them new insight into the talents, gifts and potential of those living in poverty.

Those who are sponsored tell how sponsorship has given them permission to see a future full of hope.

For both groups, CFCA is an avenue of a brighter vision, and we take great satisfaction in that.

As we continue our Lenten journey, let us each take a deep look into our own hearts.

May we allow Godís word and the companionship of others to penetrate our moments of blindness and flood our lives with warm, loving light. May we have the courage to see clearly and act justly.

And may the Christ ó he whose passionate love cures all variety of blindness ó always be our guide.

Mar 23 2011

Lenten reflection: Discovering our best selves

Larry LivingstonEvery Wednesday throughout Lent, we will post a reflection from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope these reflections help you on your own Lenten journey.

Last Sundayís Gospel presented us with the image of the triumphant Moses, standing in serene dignity alongside the Prophet Elijah at the Transfiguration of Jesus.

But in todayís first reading, we see a very different Moses ñ one close to throwing in the towel.

The reading takes place early on in the 40-year trek of the people of Israel through the desert on their way to the Promised Land.

Tired and thirsty, they grumble against Moses as the one who brought them out of Egypt. Considering their previous existence as slaves, the collective short memory of the people must have exasperated Moses considerably.

Still, it is hard to work up much sympathy for Moses because, whenever the people grumble at him, his response seems to be to grumble at God.

It is in his conversations with God that we see glimpses of the insecure person Moses truly was.

Moses is one of a long line of reluctant biblical heroes. In the tradition of prophets like Jonah and Jeremiah, he tried to talk his way out of Godís call.

Bob Hentzen along Walk2gether

CFCA President and Co-founder Bob Hentzen witnesses a sunrise in the Andes mountains along Walk2gether.

But, as with the prophets, God did not take Mosesí ìnoî as his final answer.

Of course, God does take no for an answer, and would have taken it from Moses if that was truly the desire of Mosesí heart.

But God knew that, despite his doubts and fears, Moses really did want to lead. He just needed a little divine push in order to discover his best self.

Mosesí dilemma is ours as well. We too sometimes need help discovering our best selves. We too often find ourselves at the crossroads between safe choice and the risk of accomplishment.

Sometimes we fear failure and sometimes we fear success. Whatever our fears, it usually just seems easier to avoid the risk.

But there are times when that ìsafeî choice isnít really so safe and life compels us to take leaps of faith.

We see this every day in the CFCA world when parents living in poverty decide to send their children to school instead of into the fields to work, or when communities join together to learn new ways to generate income.

As courageous choices help these people rise from oppressive poverty, we are reminded of the good that comes from saying ìyesî to the God of the possible.

As he dealt with his thirsty, grumbling community of wanderers, Moses probably regretted his ìyesî to God. It surely wasnít the first time he felt that way and it wouldnít be the last.

The important thing is that, no matter how he felt at any given moment, Moses remained faithful to his commitment to God.

In so doing, he also remained faithful to his best self.

May this Lent be a time for each of us to discover and embrace, in ever deeper ways, our best selves.

Mar 17 2011

Pizza inspires CFCA sponsor to give for Lent

CFCA sponsor Mary Heinsz writes:

Last year during Lent, John and I decided that our almsgiving would go to CFCA.

We picked “pizza”…and every time we ate pizza during Lent, we rounded up what we spent. At the end of Lent, we sent a check to CFCA for the total.

Pizza is so common to us here, and it could be surprising how much we spend on it in 40 days.

We take the simple act of ordering a pizza for granted. Each time I ordered pizza, I thought about how lucky I am and how easy my life is. Others don’t have that luxury.

Maybe something else works better for another family: trips to McDonald’s, a movie out ó something that you do with ease and take for granted. Use it to help you appreciate what you have, and to give back to others who are less fortunate.

For me, this was a great exercise in what almsgiving for Lent should be. I appreciate how wisely CFCA uses the funds, and how the organization puts so little to salaries and fundraising.

If there is a place to post this so others might think about this idea as a means to give of their bounty for Lent…please post it there!

Mar 16 2011

Lenten reflection: Learning to listen for the voice of God

Larry LivingstonEvery Wednesday throughout Lent, we will post a reflection from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope these reflections help you on your own Lenten journey.

Simon Peter is one of my Scriptural heroes, and not because he was Jesusí right-hand man or the leader of the early Church.

Rather, it was because he somehow managed to become those things in spite of himself.

The Peter portrayed in the Gospels is a mess of impulses, the guy who always says or does the wrong thing. Todayís Gospel reading about the Transfiguration of Jesus is a classic example.

The story begins with Jesus taking Peter, James and John up a mountain. There he is revealed as the Son of God and Messiah, more worthy of honor even than Moses and Elijah, the two great heroes of salvation history who suddenly appear with him.

For the three disciples, this is a moment to be savored, not interrupted. Yet, Peter being Peter, he canít stay quiet.

Without truly understanding what is happening, Peter blurts out an offer to erect some tents. In so doing, he comes close to stepping on God the Fatherís profound affirmation of Jesus as beloved son.

It is easy to critique Peter after the fact, but I suspect that a lot of us would have reacted similarly.

Many of us, like Peter, have difficulty knowing how to respond in graced moments. We too struggle with the tendency to over-analyze and overreact.

Violet and Audrey in Kenya

Violet, left, a sponsored child in Kenya, shares a quiet moment with Audrey as the two play together. Violet is sponsored by Audrey’s parents, Eric and Sarah.

And we sometimes speak when we would be better off listening.

Thankfully, Godís grace has a way of sneaking through even our best efforts to block it. Sometimes we are forced to pay attention by big and traumatic events in our lives.

But, every now and then, that grace also catches us in quiet moments when, for whatever reason, we are just ready to listen.

For nearly 30 years CFCA has been gently helping people to listen better. We invite sponsors and sponsored persons to listen to one another and to be mutually blessed through their communion.

We seek to facilitate graced conversations where the voice of God might be revealed in new and beautiful ways that help build a more just, more peaceful world.

This Lent we invite all the members of our community to listen well and be attentive to the surprising voice of God.

It may be a voice of challenge or it may be a voice of affirmation. We do not know what that voice will say to you, but we do believe that it waits to be heard.

Simon Peter eventually did become the leader that Jesus knew he could be. In the end, he succeeded because Jesus never gave up on him and because he never gave up on himself.

And because he finally learned to be still enough to listen.

Mar 9 2011

Lenten reflection: Learning to love others more deeply

Larry LivingstonEvery Wednesday throughout Lent, we will post a reflection from Larry Livingston, CFCA church relations director. We hope these reflections help you on your own Lenten journey.

The Scripture readings for the First Sunday of Lent are not subtle.

Right off the bat, in the poetic language of Genesis, we are presented with the destructive force of evil in action.

It is a theme continued in the Gospel, but with a dramatically different result.

The antagonist in both readings is the devil, and his tactic doesnít vary. The temptation he offers, first to Adam and Eve and then to Jesus, is that of godlike power. You have to hand it to Satan for his consistency.

If the devil always seems to play the same card, it is only because it works so well. It sure worked on Adam and Eve, and we know the results.

Their disobedience represents the disobedience of all humanity ñ a sin that has flourished like a rogue weed throughout history and made suffering an accepted part of the human condition.

But Satanís encounter with Jesus turns out differently. Here the tempter doubles, then redoubles, his efforts but in vain. So why did it work before (as it has so often since), but not this time?

The difference is that Jesus knew who he was and what he was called to do. Moreover, he possessed the deep love that enabled him to do it.

Kevin and Gloria in El Salvador

Kevin, a sponsored child in El Salvador, and his mother, Gloria.

In Jesus we see the holiness ñ that is, the wholeness ñ that gave him the wisdom to recognize the tempterís empty promises for what they were.

The irony here is that in refusing the allure of godlike power Jesus proves himself to be truly God-like.

He teaches us that being like God in the authentic sense is not a matter of forcing your will on others but of laying down your life in service of them.

The true power of God is love, and the Lenten journey is one of learning how to love more deeply.

This involves the uncomfortable task of confronting that which is unloving in ourselves, but it is a task we must take on if we seek to become whole human beings.

The CFCA community believes we have something of value to offer on our common journey toward human wholeness. Each of the stories from the CFCA world is, in its own way, about that journey.

They are stories that involve suffering, yes, but they are so much more. Like the story of Jesus in the desert, they are stories about the triumph of loving choice.

Mar 31 2010

The many reasons people walk

Easter reflection

There are many reasons people walk. Some walk out of choice, others, out of necessity. Along the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:15-35), we meet two people who walked simply to get away. The one in whom they had placed their hopes had just been executed as a criminal, and now his friends ñ and theirs ñ were hiding in fear. Believing that nothing was left for them in Jerusalem but danger and disappointment, they decided to leave.

On the road, they met a stranger. The temptation to wrap themselves in fear and reject the stranger must have been strong, but instead they invited him along. And, as they continued walking, an amazing thing began to happen. Step by step and mile by mile, these two wounded travelers found restored hope in their encounter with this remarkable new companion.

The stranger was really the resurrected Jesus ñ a fact that the two disciples only discovered at the end of the day when they shared a meal. But once they did, they couldnít get back to Jerusalem fast enough, for such was their desire to share the good news.

In life, sometimes we feel as if we are walking toward something, and sometimes we feel as if we are walking away. But when the dust settles, the reasons we walk arenít nearly as important as the fact that we do, indeed, keep walking. For, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is only in the journey that we continue to encounter Christ in traveling companions.

For the next two years, hundreds of sponsors will join CFCA President Bob Hentzen at points along the Walk2gether route from Guatemala to Chile. Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, they, too, are discovering a new and glorified face of Christ in the faces of the poor. And, again, like those disciples, they canít wait to take that good news home with them.

As we enter into this beautiful season of Easter, may each of us be blessed with fresh legs and renewed spirits. May we walk as happy wanderers, intent on savoring the blessings of the journey. Whatever sorrows we may be leaving behind, and whatever dreams we may be moving toward, may we always hold onto the joy that comes from knowing that the one who defeated death is our constant traveling companion.

Mar 24 2010

The poverty and potential

Lenten reflection: Holy Week

At CFCA, we often say, ìWe donít see poverty, we see potential.î It is important to emphasize the hope and possibilities that sponsorship brings to a person and to a family.

However, we, of course, do see poverty. We are walking with the most vulnerable people in the world. To say we do not see the poverty would be to deny their reality, their daily struggles. Doing so would mean glossing over the heroism they show us in overcoming those hardships.

One of the gifts of sponsorship is that it gives us a fuller understanding of that reality. Instead of being apart from the dirt, sweat, smells, hunger and indignities that those living in poverty experience on a daily basis, they let us into their lives so that we can more fully understand their reality. We can see Jesus and the poor walking together and witness their suffering.

As Christians, we cannot have Easter without Good Friday. We cannot truly celebrate the light without honestly, boldly facing the darkness. We cannot celebrate potential without seeing the reality of poverty.

As we enter Holy Week beginning this week on Palm Sunday, let us hold close to our hearts those who live every day the dynamic interplay of Good Friday and Easter. Death, life, doubt, hope, loneliness and community: poverty and potential.

Mar 18 2010

‘I am doing something new’

Lenten reflection week 5

ìRemember not the events of the past, ?Ö the things of long ago consider not; ?Ö see, I am doing something new! ?Ö Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? ?Ö In the desert I make a way, ?Ö in the wasteland, rivers.î (Isa. 43:16-20)

This section of Isaiah is where words of comfort and encouragement are given to Godís people. They will be in exile for their sins, but they are not to lose faith. God will restore them. That is the beauty of this passage.

It isnít that we are to forget completely what God has done. But all of those miracles in the past — Abraham and his sons, the freeing of the Israelites, parting of the Red Sea — all of that is nothing compared to what God is going to do! He says things will be bad, terrible, in fact, but, be prepared to watch him work and create and restore the likes of which you have never seen!

That is what makes the work of CFCA so exciting on a daily basis. We get to witness every single day Godís movement forward. Growing, creating, surprising and expanding His kingdom through the work of our sponsors and our sponsored friends. Look at the faces of the sponsored children and think, ìI am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?î

Mar 10 2010

The abundant life of Easter

Lenten reflection week 4

When you hear the word, prodigal, what is the first thing that comes to mind? The answer is probably the parable we hear this week (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32), commonly known as “The Prodigal Son.” In fact, the word is so well-associated with that story that you might have a hard time coming up with another context in which it is used.

For the record, prodigal means wasteful, excessive or lavish. In reference to the Gospel story, it describes an ungrateful child who leaves home, squanders his inheritance on extravagant living and learns the hard way that life back home wasnít so bad after all.

The story, as we all know, ends with the son repenting and being welcomed back into the family by his joyful father. But there is irony in this ending, for the father celebrates his sonís homecoming with some extravagance of his own. He kills the fatted calf and throws one heck of a homecoming party.

So, is the sin of prodigality (yes, it is a word) really the point here? After all, in the scriptures, extravagance is a quality often associated with God himself. Perhaps the real failure of the prodigal son wasnít so much his lifestyle as his lack of appreciation. He didnít appreciate his good fortune because he hadnít earned it, and that is why he made such poor choices in how he spent it.

When sponsors visit CFCA projects, they often comment upon the deep gratitude of sponsored persons. Although these hard-working families have little in terms of material possessions ñ or, perhaps, because of that fact ñ they are filled with genuine appreciation for what sponsors contribute to their lives. As a result they, like the prodigal sonís father, have the wisdom to recognize a true occasion for joy when they see it.

May this season of Lent bring each of us to a sacred place where we can truly enjoy the abundant life of Easter ñ that life which our extravagant God is just aching to share with us.