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The trouble with the land of milk and honey

Last weekend I had the privilege of spending time with Eliudi Issangya, a friend and colleague from Tanzania.  After seeing vending machines for automobiles and experiencing next-day delivery from you-know-who, he made the following observation:

“America is the land of milk and honey.”

It’s a phrase from the pages of the Bible, often used to describe the “promised land” that God would provide for the nation of Israel.  But Eliudi observed that it’s easy for people who grow up in a place like the US (a land of abundance) to assume this is how everyone lives.

They don’t.

I mean, we know that, but we forget that.  Living with so much abundance and opportunity can lull us into a slumber that closes our eyes to the harsh realities of much of the world that struggles with injustice, poverty, and scarce resources.  (And yes, I realize that there are those in this country who struggle with the same things.)

That’s what led him to comment that it would be good for more of us to travel internationally, to see some of the rest of the world.  It changes a person when they travel.  It sharpens our focus.  It awakes us from slumber.  If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit the
“majority world” (a.k.a. the “two-thirds” world), I would encourage you to put it on your bucket list.

Something else happens in this land of milk and honey.  We grow complacent.  We think this is it.  As C.S. Lewis put it, “we’re too easily pleased.”  We think the good life is found here.  We believe that a big paycheck, a big house, a big family, and a big nest-egg are the pinnacle of life.

They’re not.

There is a land “flowing with milk and honey,” though.  It’s called the kingdom of God (or sometimes the kingdom of heaven).  And the amenities and comforts that we look for here pale in comparison.  Not because they’re not good, but because they don’t really satisfy.  What we long for is what God offers.  He offers it in part now, as we experience a relationship with God through Jesus.  And he offers it in full when Jesus returns.  At that time we will experience God face to face.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  (1 Corinthians 13:12)

So as we enter the season of Lent, it might be helpful to set aside a bit of milk and honey in order to see more clearly.  Not just to see the world around us, but to see the world that God is ultimately calling us to.

-Pastor Mark

P.S. Thank you to all of you who contributed to our efforts to provide funds for the shipping containers destined for Tanzania.  If you’d like more info on the ministry there, check out this website.

Breaking thru the winter of your soul

Chances are you’ll read this on a day when it’s once again snowy here in Maryland.  The forecast is for a few more inches of winter.  But there are also signs that spring is breaking thru.

There’s also a chance that you’ll read this on a day when there’s a bit of winter in your soul.  No one is immune from the bleak, gray and cold seasons of the soul.  Your prayers seem to be anemic at best.  Your passion for seeking God is a dim memory.  Your soul feels heavy and dead.  And you wonder if any of it is even real.

The good news is that you can cultivate your own spring-time for your soul.  That’s essentially what Lent is about.  During the next several weeks (beginning next Wednesday, March 6th) you can till the soil of your soul and plant and nurture the seeds that will burst into full bloom on Resurrection Sunday.

Maybe Lent has left a bad taste in your mouth.  Let me encourage you to try it again.  But try it as a gardener who is cultivating a fertile plot of soil in your soul, not as a drudgery or duty that you’re forced to fulfill.

  • If you choose to abstain from some activity or luxury, do it because it will make your heart more receptive to your heavenly Father.
  • If you want to add some spiritual practice to your routine, do it with the expectancy that it will help you hear your Creator speak into your life.
  • And if you’d like to use a helpful resource, you can check out one of the following:

A Bible reading plan on YouVersion

A downloadable 9 week study plan

In light of our recent message on building a better posse, why not invite someone else to join you in your preparation for Spring?

You may be experiencing a winter time in your soul, but spring is just around the corner!

-Pastor Mark

When Valentine’s Day and Lent collide

I’m writing this blog on February 14th the traditional observance of Valentine’s Day.  It’s also Ash Wednesday, the traditional beginning of Lent.  Here’s why this collision of holidays is a good thing.

On Valentine’s Day we’re inundated with candy, roses, and hearts.  Hearts, hearts, and more hearts.  You remember those “conversation hearts” candies, right?  Little cute sayings like, “Be Mine, Sweetheart, Love You,” and so on.  Heart-shaped cards, heart-shaped food, heart-shaped dishes, and heart-shaped everything.

But Lent is also about the heart.  Not that pretend one with cupid’s arrow in it, but the heart that is the center of you.  Some might say that Lent is just about remembering Jesus’ suffering.  But dig deeper.  WHY did he suffer?  Why did he go to the cross?  It was so you could have a new heart.  He even said that our hearts are the fountain of evil that consumes us.  (Matthew 15:19)  Only with a new heart can we love well.  That includes loving God, loving others, and even loving our selves appropriately.

So as we embark on the journey of Lent I would encourage you to think about your heart.  Where is it bent out of shape?  Where does it need to be renewed?  Then consider abstaining from something, or adopting a habit or practice for the next six weeks until Easter.  If you’d like some suggestions, I’ve written about this here, here, and here.

Feel free to share your Lent decisions in the comment section below.  Or not.  But know that the condition of your heart matters deeply to your heavenly father.  On Valentine’s Day, and every day.

-Pastor Mark

P.S. One of my Lent practices this year is to select one person each day and have focused prayer for them throughout that day. That includes listening to what God has to say about that person.  I’m open to suggestions.

P.P.S. If you’d like to engage in a Lent-focused Bible reading plan, this one is really good.