Cover Story, Online edition!

Is it dead or alive? Great story about real life in Christ.

“In both my garden and my life, fear of risks does nothing other than tempt me to stand still. Opting not to engage in the things I can’t trust to succeed. I mistake stagnation for comfort and security. And then pass on opportunities for growth.”

My potatoes were hit by a late frost last week, lining each row with wilted signs of failure – despite the careful attention we had paid to planting them.

Unfortunately, there is always the risk that crops like this will fail – the threat of weather, disease, or pests destroying them lingers constantly.

But in both my garden and my life, fear of risks does nothing other than tempt me to stand still. Opting not to engage in the things I can’t trust to succeed. I mistake stagnation for comfort and security. And then pass on opportunities for growth.

Leading me to ask myself, what exactly is it that I fear? Failure? A dead plant? Loss of effort? Someone or something dying? Pain? An idea that didn’t work? A swing and a miss? The burn of falling face down before other, more capable, feet?

I wonder, why do we equate failure to death? Using words like ‘dead’ and ‘dying’ to describe our efforts, places, people’s hearts and even our planet when we decide they have ceased to function as we believe they should?

It doesn’t line up with what nature and the Gospel have taught me so far. Instead, both insist that that what we may call failure, could be a gain. That sick things can be healed. The blind can see again. Resources that appear drained can be multiplied. What we call lost is capable of being found. With death can come life. And in that life, everything serves a purpose in the regenerative work of God.

On Easter we turn to the tomb and notice that death can actually be conquered and stones that feel permanent can be rolled away, revealing something entirely different than the cruel image we were left with on the cross. Encouraging us to see everything differently. Our eyes dancing at the notion of light shining into that empty tomb and revealing the true nature our Creator and how He runs this show we call life.

What Easter seems to want to teach me this year is that stopping is more dangerous than moving. And that my decision to cease is the only thing that leads to death. And that deeply embedded in the message of Easter morning is a call to activity.

Mary did not cease to act on Jesus’ behalf. Her story did not end at the foot of the cross. Where death urged her to believe things were complete. Instead, she showed up at the tomb and looked inside. When she didn’t find Jesus there she searched for him. And when she found him she went and told others what she saw. Mary never stopped moving.

Since last week, my potatoes have reemerged. New shoots brought forth fresh new leaves, and looking at them I doubt that the tiny little spuds growing below the surface ever skipped a beat during that short time when my eyes convinced me they were dead.

Karen is a former Bostonian who now resides on a small farm just north of Baton Rouge.

She loves scripture and her garden and often weaves both into her work as a writer. In 2017, Publisher’s Weekly described her debut memoir, Mustard Seeds and Water Lines as an ‘emotional and finely crafted’ account of her personal journey towards healing after The Great Flood of 2016, in their annual Book Life Prize review. And, as her story has made its way across the country, readers have consistently embraced her as an authentic voice with a message of hope in the wake of a disaster.

Karen is a wife, mother and weekly co-host of The Back Porch Book Club, a podcast designed to build community and conversation surrounding books about Spiritual Formation and the Bible.

You can find her on Instagram @karenmilioto or online at www.karenmilioto.com

Feature Story, Online edition!

Man Up… It’s Easter! How to prepare your heart.

Man Up: Use Lent to Prepare Your Hearts for Easter

I love Easter egg hunts and chocolate rabbits, but there is so much more to Easter. One critical part of Easter is Lent. Lent is the period of 40 weekdays before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday, and Sundays are not counted. Lent is often observed with an element of self-denial. I encourage men to lead your family by intentionally observing Lent which will be rewarding experience. Below are some steps to consider on your Lenten journey.

Reflect with your Family

If I don’t use Lent as a time of personal reflection, I run the risk of Easter becoming an excuse to take my suit to the dry cleaners and overdose on chocolate. By observing Lent at home, we can help ourselves and our families grow spiritually. Remember, our primary church is our home. I want myself and my family to understand that we need to prepare our hearts to experience the joy of the resurrection. This begins by examining our hearts for sin and gently explaining the hard reality that our sin is what separates us from Jesus. We are all sinners, and the only one to have walked the earth without sin was falsely accused of a crime (blasphemy). Lent is a time to ask the Holy Spirit to search us and help us clean sin out of our hearts and replace the void with His love and grace.

The observance of Lent can take many forms. There are several devotionals available to help families make Lent a meaningful time of growth and reflection. Speak to your pastor about appropriate devotionals for you and your family.

If your family is not in the habit of daily prayer and Scripture reading, Lent is a great time to start. Lent is also a great time to begin the habit of Christian service and reach out to others with our gifts of presence, prayers, and witness.

Understand True Sacrifice

Lent often involves sacrifice. Historically, the season of Lent commemorates Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the wilderness which succeeded his baptism by John the Baptist and proceeded the enemy’s efforts to tempt our Lord to serve him.

Many people choose to abstain from a favorite item or activity during Lent. The purpose of this is, in a very symbolic and in a very microscopic manner, allow us to identify with what Jesus sacrificed for us. When our children are deciding what to fast from, it is important to remind them that a true sacrifice must “cost” us something. This may be giving up video games or candy.

Read Scripture Together

Lent is a great time for the family to carve out time each evening to read Scripture. The Gospels are a great place to learn about the life of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope and life on this earth and beyond. John 14:2-3 captures this hope, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Christ separated Himself from previous prophets by His victory over death. The glory of the empty tomb is beautifully captured in Luke 24:5-6 by the words of the angels to the women when they went to His tomb the next day after the crucifixion. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He isn’t here, but has been raised.” Christ’s death is not the source of our hope. His victory over death is the source of all hope. It is the source of life-everlasting and the forgiveness of sins. Use Lent wisely to prepare your hearts for the blessings of Easter.

About the Author:  
Todd Shupe is the President of DrToddShupe.com and is an international expert in wood science.  Todd worked as a  professor and lab director at LSU for over 20 years. He is active in several ministries including his Christian blog ToddShupe.com. Todd is the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men, Action Team Member of The Kingdom Group, Database Coordinator for Gulf South Men, and volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus. Todd is currently preparing to be a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.