Lent is an important time where Christians focus on personal sacrifice and ready themselves for the celebration of Easter. On the liturgical calendar, Lent runs six weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter. It is a religious observance where Christians focus on fasting, sacrifice, and abstaining from different foods, acts, or luxuries.
I have to admit that observing Lent is new to me. It is more common among liturgical or “high church” faith groups. I was not raised in that tradition, but I have an appreciation for the concept of subtracting something in your life to grow closer to God. While many will give up meat, sweets, soda, chocolate, or doughnuts during Lent, I like the idea of adding a spiritual practice in your life to grow closer to God. These practices can include daily devotions, a focused prayer time, creating a spiritual journal, volunteering at a charity, or performing community service projects.
This year I added a practice to help me grow closer to God. I will read through the Book of Psalms. King David was a warrior and a proficient soldier. He experienced great joy and rejoiced with reckless abandon. He also experienced dark times of sorrow, loss, and isolation. Through all of life’s ups and downs, he pursued God. There is much I can learn from that example and relationship.
While this approach may not be for everyone, the key is to find spiritual practices that appeal to you and honor God. It is also helpful to find a practice that will test or stretch your faith. Don’t fall into a rut and do the same spiritual discipline year after year. That would deny you the growth and opportunity God wants from us.
As we get closer to Holy Week, may your spiritual practice draw you closer to God. Whether you are subtracting or adding a practice continue the daily journey toward the cross of Christ. Discover the great love that took Him there. See and understand the sacrifice of Jesus. Allow the atoning and redeeming work of Jesus to transform your life.
God bless you on your Lenten walk this year.
Posted in Christian Living, Devotions, Spiritual Practices | Tagged abstaining during lent, ash wednesday, chaplain, Easter, lent, mardi gras, pastor, spiritual practice, the book of psalms |
Protests, riots, general strikes, and shouting matches, oh my! Where did all the big boys and big girls go in America? Every time I watch the news or read a story, it seems that all the adults are on vacation.
Coastal elites are burning more American flags than the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Today’s coalition of discontent wants to make a lot of noise, set things on fire, and boycott their jobs. Everyone is entitled to shout and protest. But worse yet, no one seems willing to listen to each other.
We cannot plug our ears and runaway if we do not agree with the message. No matter which protest you attend, those protesting must be willing not only to shout, but also to listen. Folks should be civil and respectful.
When people behave in a purely secular manner, we will witness a purely secular response. The ultimate result is a place more destructive and bitter than what we have today. There is a better way.
In John 13, Jesus shares this with his followers, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus teaches a meaningful and difficult lesson for people to learn in the first century and in 2017 – love those around you. Jesus was frequently criticized for the company that he kept. Jesus acquired a reputation for being a wild child. Jesus knew tax collectors, fishermen, zealots, and other rowdies. Jesus went to their homes and befriended them.
Jesus was a loving, laughing, Lord, someone who enjoyed a good time. He befriended the leper, the lame, the outcast, the downtrodden, the soldier, and the saint. It was done out of pure, perfect, and heavenly love. He showed the kind of affection that transforms lives and honors God.
When people are given that kind of respect and love, they are willing to listen to each other. The challenge is demonstrating the love that Christ commands. May God empower us to love one another, no matter what others say or how they express it.
Posted in Christian Living, Devotions, News & Commentary | Tagged chaplain, christian, Jesus, love one another, pastor, protest, response |
On the morning of February 3, 1943, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, a converted cruise ship, was crowded to capacity with 903 service members, including four chaplains. The Dorchester, was moving steadily across the icy waters from Newfoundland toward an American base in Greenland. It was struck by a torpedo and began to rapidly sink. Panic and chaos had set in on the ship. The blast had killed scores of men, and many more were seriously wounded.
Quickly and quietly, the four chaplains spread out among the soldiers. There they tried to calm the frightened, tend to the wounded, and guide the disoriented toward safety. By this time, most of the men were topside, and the chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets. When there were no more life jackets in the storage room, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men.
As the ship went down, survivors on nearby rafts could see the four chaplains–arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. All four voices were heard offering prayers until their last moments of life.
Today, a grateful nation remembers Chaplain George L. Fox, Chaplain Alexander D. Goode, Chaplain Clark V. Poling, and Chaplain John P. Washington for their heroic deeds as soldiers and spiritual leaders.
Posted in Devotions, News & Commentary, Veteran Resources | Tagged army, chaplain, dorchester, four chaplains, sacrifice, world war ii |
A New Year is like a blank page of paper, just waiting for the words to be written. It is full of hope and endless possibility. As you consider items for your resolution list, here are five items that can strengthen your faith in 2017.
Meditate on the Bible. You can read the text, receive an email, or listen to Scripture on your smart phone. Once you have a mode that is meaningful to you, make it a routine. Spending time with God’s Word is vital to any Christian. It encourages and educates us. It provides direction when we feel lost. It reminds us that God is near. Allow God’s Word to shape and mold you in 2017.
Strengthen a relationship. Odds are good you live a busy life and have allowed some personal relationships to wither on the vine. Reach out to a family member or friend you have not contacted recently. Make an effort to renew and strengthen the relationship. If you see each other for lunch even once a month, it can forge a strong bond. When we sharpen one another in real Christian fellowship, we are more effective and useful in God’s service.
Be more grateful. It is easy to get in a mental rut. Our human nature is always focusing on the next task, another event, or something else that needs to be done. It often seems that we are never happy or pleased with what we have. Slow down and focus on the people and blessings around you. Practice gratitude in your life. Every day, express thankfulness to the Lord and to others. Seeing the good in your life will allow you to keep your heart compassionate and loving.
Answer Softly. I enjoy a good debate, but one that is respectful and considerate. Our conversations can promote unity, remove tension, and demonstrate spiritual maturity even when difficult topics arise. What we say and how we say it should reflect our faith. Proverbs 15:1 reminds us that, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” The way you respond to distention can do much to either quiet it or stir it up even more.
Volunteer your time. You can make a huge difference in someone’s life by investing just minutes a day. Take time to volunteer at a local charity, non-profit, or ministry organization. Live your faith and demonstrate that you are a servant of Christ. There are programs designed to help pregnant girls, teenage parents, and their children. There are programs to feed the hungry. There are programs to mentor married couples. All of these programs need volunteers to strengthen people in need. Your time as a volunteer can make an eternal impact.
As we prepare for 2017, make faith a part of your New Year resolution list. Make a plan to strengthen your faith today and watch how God uses you in the year to come.
Posted in Christian Living, Spiritual Practices | Tagged chaplain, christian, Christianity, goals for 2017, new year resolution, pastor, prayer, resolution that strengthen faith, spiritual formation |
Christmas is a few days away, but many may not feel like celebrating this year. When a family member has died and Christmas is just around the corner, singing and rejoicing can easily feel out of place.
It is natural to feel a deep and prolonged sense of sadness when a loved one has died. It is also easy for Christmastime to be an emotional roller coaster due to the many memories a family had with their loved one. If a person is experiencing sadness, crying frequently, or feeling uncomfortable around others, attending a Christmas service may not seem like the right answer.
I encourage you to make time and space for God even in your sorrow. If it is listening to a favorite Christmas hymn, lighting an advent candle, reading Scripture, or offering prayer share time with God this Christmas. This time can be in a public setting with other believers or privately at home. Even a cold and broken hallelujah is an offering of love and devotion that God will hear.
In time, your song will change. The healing heart of God is there to strengthen and guide you through the difficulties of today. Make time to connect with our Heavenly Father. The peace of God is always there to restore, heal, and provide.
Posted in Christian Living | Tagged Christianity, Christmas, death, faith, family, grief, sadness, sorrow |
My first deployment was to Iraq in 2006. It made several things clear. Before Iraq, my faith was comfortable. It had been tried, tested, and proven, but in a very clean and simple way. My faith was comfortable in seminary, at home, at work, and in the church. But that all changed in Iraq. I saw what it was like to constantly be under attack and understood what it was like to be under the threat of death. Iraq gave me something that most Americans do not experience. Iraq also gave me something that most Christians in the western world do not experience. Iraq changed me, but it also changed my faith for the better.
One of the major discoveries from my time in Iraq was truly learning the power and importance of prayer. While seminary gave me the tools and the knowledge regarding a solid prayer life, Iraq was the furnace that forged my prayer life into a solid existence.
Here are four lessons on prayer that helped me down range.
Share your heart. Be transparent with God. Big or small, lift your prayers to the Lord. The night before flying into the combat zone, I spent two and a half hours in prayer. This was the longest span of time I had ever spoken to God in one setting. I had a lot of ground to cover if this was potentially my last night on earth. Cry out no matter what the concern may be. Philippians 4:6 reminds each of us “. . . in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Pray now, not later. Be immediate with prayer. Time is precious, especially in a war zone. If someone shared a prayer request, my new practice was to stop and immediately pray with the person. The location may be on the sidewalk, in the parking lot, at the chow hall, or in the office. There was no reason to wait and the soldier had a need that deserved to be addressed. Hebrews 4:16 shares, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Keep it simple. There is no need to be fancy. Wordsmiths have their place, but not on the battlefield. I felt God calling me to pray for aircraft, well the crews and passengers on board. I crafted a simple three point prayer to say every time I heard a helicopter or aircraft departing the base. Jesus reminds us not to have babbling prayers in Matthew 6:7. Prayers are not heard for the sake of many words.
Have a consistent pattern. My routine was very disjointed in Iraq. The start and end of every day lacked consistency. Unit operations had to happen 24 hours a day and the war didn’t stop. The best time to pray was right before I went to sleep. I could make time to pray once my boots came off. It took a while to find that right recipe, but once I found it the routine stuck. Find a time or habit that can help you make space for prayer. Colossians 4:2 encourages us to, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”
There are many lessons a veteran will find down range. Theses lessons can benefit our Christian walk. The trials of yesterday make us stronger for tomorrow. May God grant us the calling of Romans 12:12, to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”
Posted in Christian Living, Spiritual Practices, Veteran Resources | Tagged army, chaplain, iraq, learn to pray, meditation, oif, pray, prayer, soldier | Leave a Comment »
Heavenly Father and Precious Lord, we seek you and your healing mercy.
As fifteen years pass, we remember the pain and suffering of a horrible day. We remember the loss of life, the destruction, and the chaos of that fateful morning. Sorrow remains. Grief returns. Heartache and despair weigh us down.
Almighty God comfort and calm our souls. Turn our hearts into an altar where healing can take place. Transform our spirits into a place of peace. Allow restoration and redemption in our lives. We are a people who need you and your presence.
Give us strength to perform your will. Allow us to move forward as a renewed people. Keep us bold, strong, and true. Just like clay on the potter’s wheel, shape us and mold us into a new creation, one that continues to show your glory.
As conflicts remain and others begin, protect our warriors in harm’s way. Guide their way and direct their steps. Comfort the families who are divided by war and give them the strength necessary for every day apart. Minister to their needs and surround them with your love.
Lord, hear our prayer. We are a nation and a people who need you. Allow us to feel your healing mercy through our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Posted in News & Commentary | Tagged 911, army, christian, military family, pastor, prayer, september 11 2001, September 11 prayer |