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Archive for the ‘Spiritual Practices’ Category

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I think many people struggle with faith because of how they view God.  Some view God as a rule giver issuing edicts from on high.  Others view God as a divine Santa Claus bestowing gifts and answering prayers.  And many will fall in between the two.

Some resist seeing God as an authority figure altogether.  It may conjure harsh images from their past.  Others resist this view of God for the simple reason of maintaining control.

I believe that it is okay to view God as an authority figure.  There are plenty of times when I gladly submit to authority.  If my computer goes haywire, I call tech support and carefully follow the technician’s guidance.  Sometimes it is a slow, step-by-step process where I need assistance due to unfamiliar territory and a lack of knowledge.  Other times I call for a reminder, receive an update, or get a tune up on my machine and I am quickly back on track.

People also submit to authority when they want to master a difficult sport like golf, tennis, or rowing.  They hire a coach, pay for lessons, or join a club so that practice can yield a great swing, an ace shot, or a straight course on the water. Practice and instruction will yield better performance no matter what the sport.

People also visit the doctor when they are sick and in need of care.  Philip Yancey, the Christian author, shares that, “a doctor is probably the most helpful image for me to keep in mind while thinking about God and sin.”  His view of God speaks to our human condition.  The doctor wants to deliver physical health.  The doctor shares wisdom and expertise that I lack.  The doctor also knows what habits, issues, and conditions are likely to cause injury.   I often receive his opinion on things to avoid and a prescription that will improve my life.  We should seek out God’s advice and opinion for living just like we seek care from a doctor.

It is important how we view God.  Often we do not realize our view of God is skewed, but there is a plumb line to show us what is straight and true.  God has given us His Word as the clearest description of who He is.  In the Old Testament, God reveals His character – His love, righteousness, wrath, justice and promises. In the New Testament, God reveals Jesus – His character in flesh.

Take time to visit with our Great Physician who is always on call.  He knows what can heal, cure, restore, and redeem.

 

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prayer

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.  Prayer is the primary way we connect with God.

Scripture shows us that Jesus made time and space to pray.  Mark 1:35 shares that, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  Jesus would often separate himself to pray alone.  He left his family, the crowds, and even the disciples in order to connect with God.

Jesus spent long periods of time in prayer.  This was often done before a major event or difficult time.  Luke 6 shares that Jesus went out to a mountainside and spent the night praying.  This was not done lightly.  Jesus spent several hours in solitary prayer seeking the will of God.  After this long time of prayer, he chose twelve of his followers to be apostles.

We see from the example of Jesus that prayer should be a cornerstone of our Christian faith.  We should frequently make time to connect with God.  We should also seek out the Lord and devote significant amounts of time to prayer when major decisions need to be made.

In light of Christ’s example and seeing the importance of prayer I want to ask a couple of questions.

Do you have a favorite place to pray?

Where is it?

What makes it special?

What draws you there to connect with God?

I know that places, structures, and reasons will vary.  Some want to pray in a sanctuary and smell candles burning.  Others want to pray on their couch while enjoying a cup of coffee.  We can make this a Christian community learning exercise and see how the body of believers demonstrate their faith.  Share your response in the comments section and see how other Christians connect to God in prayer.

Comments are being collected at https://godsquad.me/

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cross-purple

We are in the final week of Lent.  Palm Sunday is just around the corner.  This time of fasting, abstaining, moderation, and discipline was set aside for preparation. Preparation for Holy Week.  Preparation for a journey to the cross.  Preparation that leads to an empty tomb.

Lent is truly about preparation.  We use fasting, sacrifice, and abstaining from foods as a ritual, but we are preparing ourselves to encounter Christ.  This journey often changes us.  It makes us reflect on our faith and our daily walk with Jesus. Spiritual reflection is difficult because it demands honesty and complete self-examination.  Using a mirror to examine my journey with Jesus is a scary prospect. It forces me to see a total picture of my faith, warts and all.

I have to admit that there were days when skipping my daily spiritual practice would have been easy.  It took time to find a sustaining routine and pace.  As the days went on, I found a greater desire to see it through.  It made me grow.  It held my attitude in check.  It allowed me to apply my faith at work.  In short, it made me a better Christian.  I am a better disciple and follower because of my Lenten practice.  When we make time for Jesus, the time is never lost.

Let us continue to reflect on Jesus.  As Palm Sunday arrives, let us reflect on the arrival of our promised Messiah.  As Holy Thursday arrives, let us reflect on how he washed the feet of his disciples, instituted the Lord’s Supper, and prayed on the Mount of Olives.  As Good Friday arrives, let us reflect on how he suffered for our sins, died as the atoning sacrifice for all humanity, and was buried.  And as darkness gives way to daybreak, let us reflect on an empty tomb and the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus the Christ.

Continue your practice.  Continue to prepare for our Savior.  Continue your celebration of Easter by focusing on the life, suffering, sacrifice, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Risen Lord!

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lent 2014

Lenten practices take time, practice, devotion, and patience.  We are often tempted to ignore our spiritual practice and rush into Holy Week.  Many will ask, “shouldn’t we celebrate and rejoice on Palm Sunday?  Shouldn’t we rush to the empty tomb just like the disciples?”  Yes, but within context of the entire story. There is joy at the end of the story, but it is important that we take time to focus on the total ministry of Jesus and the joy that can bring.

In Luke 10: 1-24, Jesus appoints additional disciples to go ahead of him and visit every city and place he intends to go.  They are to travel in pairs.  They are instructed not to carry a wallet, a traveling bag, or sandals.  Take what you have.  Hurry.  Don’t stop to greet anyone on the way.  Stay where you are welcome.  Be courteous, kind, and eat what people serve you.  Heal the sick and tell people, “The kingdom of God is near to you.”

These disciples go, obediently perform mission work, and return.  The disciples come back very happy.  They were not promised lush accommodations.  They were not promised lavish meals.  They were not promised a living wage.  They were told to go and perform the work of a missionary on the charity of others and they returned full of joy.

The disciples performed great miracles on the authority of Christ.  The sick were healed, demons were cast out, and people found salvation through the message of Jesus.  The disciples are full of joy because they were instruments in God’s plan.  Performing the work of God gave them joy.  In short, they have joy because they were used by God in a mighty way.

The work that we are given may not be glamorous, glorious, or even miraculous.  The challenge is to be faithful and obedient, no matter what task we are given.

When we are busy doing the work of Christ, let there be joy in our hearts. When the work seems tedious and complicated, let us focus on the harvest. Apply these lessons to your spiritual practice for Lent.  May God give us a holy perspective on the tasks we have in front of us and the ability to rejoice through the entire journey.

God bless you on your Lenten walk this year.

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lent cross

Lent can be a great time of discovery.  It is often viewed as a time to focus on what is truly important in life.  We also need to examine what is truly important in our Christian walk.

Jesus performs a miracle at the Bethesda pool in John 5:1-15.  Scripture records that a man was healed after being ill for thirty-eight years.  Jesus asks the man if he would like to get well and then commands him to, “Get up, pick up your cot, and walk.”

All these events were done on the Sabbath, a day set aside for worship.  Many people saw this previously crippled man walking through their streets. While there should be shouts of joy, exclamations of praise, hand shakes, back slapping, and chaotic rejoicing people instead focus on our recently healed walker carrying a cot.

Tradition did not allow people to “perform work” on the Sabbath.  Carrying a cot would fall into that category.  It was not the law of Moses but their interpretation of it that prohibited carrying loads of any kind on the Sabbath. Folks were so fearful of ever breaking the Law that they built an artificial “hedge” around it, comprising volumes of extra rules and stipulations. In fact, this hedge created an additional 613 provisions so that people could avoid breaking a commandment. While this was done to avoid offending God, it only drove a wedge between the people and God.  It created an atmosphere where the people focus on works and wrongs instead of the message and ministry of Jesus their Savior.  In short, they missed the miracle.

Jesus was present.  He was in their midst.  The Messiah was alive, active, and at work in Jerusalem.  Jesus was just footsteps from their door.  The Lord performed an incredible miracle where a man’s life was transformed and physically healed.  A crippled man was able to walk, perhaps for the very first time in his life.  But people could only see a Sabbath infraction instead of the Savior.

Let us rejoice when a family shows up to worship instead of snickering that they are fifteen minutes late.  Let us be joyful when a man arrives in the sanctuary instead of judging the clothes on his back.  Let us celebrate the future when a criminal accepts Christ instead of focusing on the past.  Let us see the miracle.  Let us see the Savior.

God bless you on your Lenten walk this year.

 

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lent-give more

Today was exhausting.  After a full day of counseling, visiting Soldiers, and spending four hours in the car, I finally made it home.  I shut the door and breathed a sigh of relief.  There was just enough energy left to go upstairs, kick off my boots and take a nap.  That way I could salvage part of the evening at home. In order to give quality time at home and offer something significant, I needed to take a break and re-engage at a later time.

We often face this dilemma with our families.  We also face the same dilemma with God.  What kind of offering do we give God?  Does God get our first fruits or the leftovers from our day?

As we focus on the season of Lent and strive to maintain our spiritual practice, it is important to examine the offering we bring to God.  Exodus 23:19 shares, “Bring the best of the first fruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God….”  Not only should God get what is currently available, but the best of what we have to offer.

Giving our best to God is a daunting challenge.  It requires time, energy, and devotion.  Allow this Lenten time of self-examination and sacrifice to strengthen your spiritual commitment and resolve.

The Lord has given grace, healing, and redemption to an afflicted world through Jesus Christ.  God has given His Son as the atonement for the sins of humanity. While there is no way to repay this perfect and holy gift, it cries out for a response.  Christ’s crucifixion should call us to tears, shame, seeking forgiveness, acknowledging our need for a Savior, and ultimately changing our lives so that we pursue Him.  It should create a spark in us that never dies or wavers because of God’s great love for us.

As we mark another week in the season of Lent, examine your gift.  What offering did you bring?  Will God see the first fruits or the leftovers of your day?  Do not “call in” this season of sacrifice and commitment.  God deserves our very best from start to finish.

God bless you on your Lenten walk this year.

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lent

Yes, it has been a week since Ash Wednesday, but the season of Lent is still with us.  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.  Many Bibles highlight the words of Christ with red letters to separate them from the black lettered text. I am reading through the “red letters” or words of Jesus during the season of Lent. The plan is to eventually arrive at the triumphant entry on Palm Sunday and follow Jesus to the cross throughout Holy Week.

While this approach may not be for everyone, the key is to find a spiritual practice that appeals to you.  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.

Yes, the first week of Lent is gone.  If there was a lapse in your daily routine, get back on the horse.  Schedule a time and place to help you focus and maintain your practice.  Whether you are subtracting or adding a practice continue the daily journey toward the cross of Christ.

God bless you on your Lenten walk this year.

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