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Archive for the ‘Spiritual Practices’ Category

lent

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.

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new-year-resolution

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.

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soldier-praying

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.”

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blank page

Everyone talks about a different kind of list this time of year.  And it has nothing to do with being naughty or nice.  Our New Year resolutions for 2016 are taking shape on apps and lists across the globe.

Most resolutions focus on going to the gym and eating less.  The need for personal improvement can be physical, and it can be spiritual as well.  As you consider items for your list, here are five items that can strengthen your faith in 2016.

Schedule prayer time.  Find the right time of day where you can devote some effort to this.  Prayer is central to our faith. It is deliberate communication with our Heavenly Father. It is an act of worship. It is a spiritual discipline. It allows us to adore, petition, praise, and confess. On several occasions Scripture shows us examples when Jesus made time and space to pray. Follow in the example of Christ and find time to pray.

Meditate on the Bible.  You can read the text, receive a daily email, or listen to it 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.

Take a break. God gave the Sabbath for two reasons.  First, it is a day dedicated to honor and worship Him. Second, it is a day for us to rest.  Prevent burnout by setting aside work for one day out of the week.  Activities and events are always quick to crowd the Sabbath for other purposes. Resolve to use your God-given day differently in 2016.

Talk to your parents on a regular basis.  Set aside time for your family.  It can be on the phone, a video chat, or just stopping by the homestead.  Show them love and respect.  Show them that you care.  Continue to connect with them.  It will serve as a reminder of God’s love.

Try a new act of worship. This may sound radical, but too often we stay in a rut.  We stay with what we already know.  Try something new and different.  Feed your creative side and let it honor God.  Write a poem. Paint a picture. Learn to play an instrument. Create a new song or chorus for church. Volunteer your time at a local charity.  Find a new way to glorify God with a talent you haven’t used before.

As we prepare for 2016, make faith a part of your New Year resolutions.  Make a plan to strengthen your faith today and for the new year.

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lent journey

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.  Others will observe the season of Lent by adding a spiritual practice to grow closer to God.

No matter how you decide to take this six-week journey, focus on where it ultimately ends; the Son of God on a blood stained cross for the sins of humanity and an empty tomb proclaiming his resurrection.  May God bless your journey and the path that takes you there.

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There are certain times on the calendar when memories of past deployments run strong.  December often makes me mindful of my time overseas.

You are united with your unit as everyone has a job to perform.  You are also united in the hardships and difficulties of being separated from those you love.

December is a tough time to be separated from family and friends.  You miss the traditional family practices and customs like putting up the Christmas tree.  You miss the favorite food and dishes that made this particular time of year memorable.  You miss the gift exchanges.  But you also miss the church gatherings, Christmas pageants, and special worship services.  They are the times and events that keep us strong in faith.

When service members are deployed, we are able to receive packages in the mail.  Uncle Sam will serve us a meal with all the special fixings.  Folks will decorate an office or work station with a snowman, reindeer, or Christmas lights.  But missing church services as a family always proved to be a hardship for Soldiers to overcome, no matter where you were stationed.

This Christmas, 86,000 Soldiers will be forward deployed across the globe.  They will be overseas and away from their loved ones.  They will be working in guard towers.  They will be flying helicopters.  They will be driving tanks.  They will be constructing buildings, bridges, and roadways.  They will be aiding hospital patients.

As we gather in churches across America, let us remember those who are deployed around the globe.

Pray for our service members this month.  Lift them up as they perform their daily duties away from home and in harm’s way.  Pray for their families as they celebrate Christmas with an empty chair at the table and the heartache that can bring.  Pray for God to bring our warriors home safely and for families to heal when they are reunited.  Pray that they can gather next December and celebrate the birth of Christ as a family one more time.

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ash tree

A Kansas summer can feel horrible.  It often has searing heat, strong wind, and humidity that makes us all crave air conditioning or an ice-cold lemonade.  Our conditions are harsh and demanding every year.  These challenging elements try us and yet there are old trees standing in every community.

The heat, wind, and drought like conditions allow certain trees to develop a strong root system.  One where they dig down into fertile soil and become an anchor when storms, tornadoes, and gales unleash their worst across Kansas.  The trials, torment, and tough times produce strong trees that can survive truly horrible conditions.

People are the same way.  No one desires a season of pain, anguish, or torment in life, but it often finds us.  This tough season of life is often seen in the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a serious illness, financial difficulty, a broken relationship, terrorist attacks, war, and other traumatic events.  These are all examples of very challenging life experiences that hurt when they happen, but can produce stronger roots.

James writes to the Jerusalem church in verses 2-4 sharing:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

While it does not feel good when it happens, trials can ultimately yield endurance and strength to our faith and our life. When life seems dark and difficult, be like David and pray to God for strength.  When you are scared, reach for your Bible and take comfort knowing that God will not forsake you.  When you grieve, know that Christ also wept with hurt and loss as He consoled a community of mourners. Endure.  Stay strong.  Keep your faith.  Maintain your trust in the Lord and you will find a new season of life through Christ.

Science and psychology has finally caught up with this lesson from James.  Study after study now document resilience and post traumatic growth for people who have weathered trauma and a hard season of life.

While trauma can impair people in many ways, it turns out that there is routinely a higher percentage of people who demonstrate the ability to bounce back and learn from a hard season of life.  And yes, they are often people of faith who rely on their religion, faith, or spiritual practice for healing and recovery.  Today, faith is often embraced as a central and beneficial means of coping with tragedy.

Consider how trees survive in England.  The climate is wet, damp, and dreary. Spend a week there and you will pray to see the sun.  The soil is often moist because of the frequent rain showers.  This climate prevents trees from establishing deep roots in the soil.  The root system instead stays near the topsoil, hardly ever going deep into the ground.  A strong wind storm will often topple multiple trees in England provoking a community clean up in villages across the country.  Trees that have not been tested with hardship do not produce deep roots.  They are instead the first to fall when the storms of life come their way.

While summer conditions feel bad now they make deep roots, bring hope for tomorrow, and deliver a new season of life.

 

 

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