Devotionals, Faith, Family, Lent, Life, Ministry, Prayer, The Bible, Time, writings

Lenten Devotional Day 13: Seeking God First?

Oh Lord, you call us to seek your face (Psalm 27:8).

You say that we will find you when we seek you with our whole heart (Jeremiah 29:13).

You tell us to seek you while you may be found (Isaiah 55:6).

And we know that we need you. Our hearts long for you. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 42:1-2, “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

And yet, how easily we neglect you.

The last few couple of days, recovering after the nastiness of allergies and such, I have slept as late as I possibly could before needing to leave for work. I have neglected my time with the Lord and instead have rushed out the door. Oh sure, I listened to some worship music on my commute. Even had a moment or two where I felt God’s presence with me as I sang along to worshipful lyrics.

But was I really seeking the living God?

I have to go to work, you see, because I am expected. I have people who depend on me. I also get paid by the hour, so in order to provide well for my family, I need to be in the office. I have things that must be done. And so reason within myself such thoughts, and I am sure that you do as well. We resolve to wake up earlier, despite how we feel. We will improve. We will get better.

And like a gracious Father, I am sure the Lord understands. He at least knows our thoughts. Like a good Father, who just wants to hear from his child, I’m sure the Lord just shrugs his shoulders, feigns a smile, and says I love you, son. We’ll talk later. Que “Cat’s in the Cradle” theme music here.

My question is this: Why, when it comes down to it, do we prioritize everyone and everything over the Lord? Okay, maybe not everything. But it seems like God keeps getting shorted. “He is kind and gracious,” we reason, “so he won’t be offended. But if I miss one more [fill in the blank], they will be upset.” And so we go to the meeting, the card game, the trip, the visit, the thing.

For years, I have known that one of the most hard hitting sermons I could preach would be on the issue of priorities. It’s also one that I would always get the most creative negative feedback on. We’re pretty good at coming up with excuses for why we spend our time the way we do, even when it’s found to be wanting. But here I am, a “professional Christian” realizing the same in my life. Even though 9 days out of 10 I spent a good amount of time in God’s word and in prayer, I STILL find myself excusing God when the schedule gets tight.

I’m short on solutions today, my friend. But this is something I think we need to wrestle with. I’m not telling you to skip work or shirk your responsibilities at home and everywhere else. What I am saying is this: Should not the God of the Universe, the Maker of all things, the One true Triune God, should He not be our greatest responsibility? Should He not be the one who never gets shorted by us? Is it too great a thing to place Him above all?

My heart still needs some shaping, some turning and crafting by the Master, friends. What about you?

Devotionals, Faith, Family, Lent, Life, Ministry, Prayer, The Bible, writings

Why We Examine Ourselves

On Friday, I shared a spiritual discipline that is all about the daily examination of our lives. This isn’t always an easy task and certainly not always a fun one. No one likes to think about their mistakes, sins, and where they haven’t measured up to God’s standard. So why do we do this? Why do we engage in what some might view as spiritual masochism?

Before we understand, let’s recognize what we’re not doing: We’re not whipping ourselves or cutting ourselves as some pagans and some mystics have done. Jesus doesn’t need us to physically suffer for us to be redeemed. But this difficult spiritual exercise is crucial if you and I are going to experience a genuine spiritual renewal, which is ultimately what Lent is about.

It means we need to be real with ourselves and with God about our sin and our need for Him. It is the acknowledgment that apart from Him we are totally lost. And that even though he offers grace and pardon, and for the believer, there is no condemnation, we cannot just gloss over sin and brokenness like they never happen.

1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

I believe that one of the reasons many people have such an up-and-down spirituality is that they don’t have depth. And you can’t have depth with God unless you have honesty with God.

Think of any other relationship that you have. Married couples: if you are hiding a bunch of stuff from your spouse, or rather just refusing to discuss what you both know to be true, is your relationship really all that healthy and life-giving? Parents, if there is some hurt between you and your children, say they did something wrong but refuse to take ownership of it, even though you both know who did it, is there a close bond of trust?

In the same way, when we just want to sweep things under the rug with the Lord, rather than doing the deep and often painful work of examining what happened and why, how can there be real healing? I’m not talking about salvation here, because He is still your Father. I’m talking about something even greater than salvation: an intimacy, a closeness, with the God of the universe. Life to the full that only Jesus offers. Oh, friends, we’re missing it!

When a surgeon is confronted with a wound that has started to fester, before they can close the wound, they must cut away the dead tissue so that living flesh can bind to living flesh. The diseased tissue must be cut away, and the dirt must be cleaned out. And this is painful!

The prophet Hosea declares this truth when he says in Hosea 6:1- Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.

Today, ask the Holy Spirit to do some deep cleansing of your soul. Allow Him to tear that He may bring about spiritual healing. It’s not going to be easy, but friends, it is so worth it! Remember, you are not alone.

Post-Script: If you’re keeping track, today should be day 6 of Lent. However, Lent doesn’t take into account Sundays, which in the ancient Church were always days of feasting and celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. Otherwise, Lent would be 46 days. And to top it off, I forgot to publish a devotional on Saturday. So today is the 4th devotional on the 5th day of a season that began 6 days ago. Go figure, it’s Monday. 😊

Devotionals, Faith, Family, Lent, Life, Ministry, Prayer, The Bible, Time, writings

Lenten Devotional: Day 3- Advent Vs Lent

If you were with me for my Advent devotions this past Christmas, the theme was about waiting and preparing. So how is that different from Lent? Is Lent just preparing for Easter?

Well, yesterday we saw that Lent started as a time of preparation for new Christians before they would be baptized on Easter. But it’s a different type of preparation than Advent. Advent is about preparing the way for the coming of the Lord. It looks forward with anticipation.

During Lent, we reflect that not only has Christ come but that Christ has died. It is a season of fasting and repentance more so than eagerly awaiting. In Advent, we anticipate the joy that the coming Messiah brings; in Lent, we reflect on our brokenness and why he had to come. We reflect on our need for His grace, and that it was our sin and His love that led to the cross. Perhaps you could view it this way: Advent looks to the outside, the coming of the Lord whereas Len looks to the inside, the human condition, and why we need the Lord.

I’ll readily admit that I prefer Advent and the celebration that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. It’s a much more pleasant thing to think about. Gifts versus death. Candles versus tombs. And as someone who has generally struggled lifelong with negative self-image and discouragement, the last thing I want to think about is my own brokenness and the ways I fall short.

In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul says “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” And so, friends, take some time today and examine your hearts. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you insight into your own soul. He is able to do the hard work of discerning your thoughts and actions.

Here’s one such way I came across, especially helpful at the end of the day:

  1. Give Thanks. Thank the Lord for his gifts and blessings throughout the day.
  2. Ask for Insight. Ask God to reveal to you how He has been at work in your life through the event, people, and places of the day.
  3. Examine Your Day. Review the highlights and lowlights of your day. What was a “God-sighting” and what was a struggle?
  4. Seek Forgiveness. Confess where you sinned or fell short. Repent of when you said or acted contrary to His will.
  5. Resolve to Grow. Decide, through prayer, what it is in your heart that you will seek grace and improvement.

Prayer: Lord, help us today to examine ourselves, to know, by your Holy Spirit, the condition of our walk before you. Thank you, Father, for your mercy and grace. Thank you for saving us. Because of your great mercy and love, may we today grow in our love and commitment to you. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Post Script: I did not originate this daily examination. It comes to us from a priest from the 1500s named Ignatius of Loyola. While certainly don’t agree with much of his theology, I think we can definitely see how this 5 step process originates in historic Christian prayer and scripture and is a great tool for spiritual growth in Christ.

Devotionals, Faith, Family, Lent, Life, Ministry, The Bible, writings

Lenten Devotional: Day 2—What is Lent?

On Day 2 of Lent, I think it would be a good idea to discuss what Lent actually is, and why I think you should join us on this spiritual journey towards the Cross and the Empty Tomb. The other day a co-worker, who knows that I am a minister, asked why I observed Lent because “you’re not Catholic, are you?” Where I come from, most protestants don’t observe religious feasts or holy days apart from Good Friday, Easter, & Christmas. So, it’s a fair question.

Lent, from the Old English word for “spring”, refers to the 40 days preceding Easter during which Christians of all backgrounds devote themselves to Christ through 3 different types of spiritual exercises. Those are fasting, giving to the poor, and committing more time to spiritual exercises. This started very early in Church history as the time in which new Christians would fast from food in preparation for their baptism on Easter Sunday. Irenaeus, in the 2nd century, records the fast as being no more than 2 or 3 days.

By the early 300’s, that time had grown to 40 days. Throughout the Bible, the number 40 is significant: 40 days and nights of rain for Noah, 40 years of wandering for Israel, and perhaps the most significant, the fasting and temptation of Jesus for 40 days.

In the west, most protestants don’t fast as the early church did, often giving up a meal a day or perhaps a habit or item that is overly relied on. The idea isn’t to somehow merit God’s blessing, but to 1, deny oneself something, 2, rely on the Lord instead of that particular comfort, and 3, use the time or money spent on that which is given up to grow closer to Christ and do His work.

For example, I know people who give up purchasing coffee from the coffee shop. They will then donate the money they would have spent over those 40 days to a Christian cause, such as a missionary or a food pantry. They will also seek to lessen their dependence on caffeine and strengthen their reliance on God,

So if you’d like to join me in observing Lent as a spiritual exercise, here are 3 simple ways to do that:

  1. Find a Way to Deny Yourself. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Maybe for you, this means social media, or binge-watching, or giving up sweets. The idea here is to sacrifice something, to build up a spiritual discipline of telling yourself “no”.
  2. Commit to Daily Time With the Lord. We should be doing this anyway, but now is a good time to start. If you do this already, try mixing it up a little bit like by also reading the Gospels over the next 40 days, or by reading a book on Spiritual Formation.
  3. Daily Examine Your Spiritual Life. Look, we’re not perfect. I’m not asking you to dwell on your imperfections. However, I am encouraging you to look carefully at your life. The psalmist prays “Search me oh God and know my heart.” See where you’re growing in Christ and thank Him for doing that. Repent of shortcomings and ask for the Holy Spirit to do a work of healing and revival in your heart. Ask the Lord to see people and things the way He does.

Lent is not prescribed in the Bible, so it’s understandable that some would object to its observance as a man-made tradition that isn’t needed. By and large, I would agree with that. I don’t believe that observing Lent is something that all Christians must do, or even should do. But I do find it fitting with the teaching of Jesus and his disciples that we should take time to examine ourselves, to repent of where we have strayed from Christ, and to commit ourselves anew to His Kingdom.

Together, over the next several weeks, let us, led by the Spirit, grow in Jesus Christ

Devotionals, Faith, Lent, Life, The Bible, Uncategorized, writings

Lenten Devotion: Ash Wednesday

For He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14 ESV)

Ash Wednesday is a little weird as far as Christian observances go. Think about it: For Advent, you have nice little calendars with either a Bible verse or a piece of candy. Christmas: a feast and gifts. For Easter, you have empty tombs and gift-filled plastic eggs. But for the start of Lent, you get some ashes, usually smeared on your forehead. Oh boy, sign me up!

The purpose of Ash Wednesday isn’t to get rid of last year’s palm branches from Palm Sunday (although that’s traditionally the source of the ashes), but to remind us of something essential in the Christian walk: This life is temporary.

If you’ve ever been to a traditional Christian burial service, you’ve heard the phrase “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” This harkens back to Genesis 2:7 when God created mankind: “Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed life into his nostrils, the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” After sin entered into creation and Adam & Eve were both disobedient, God said this to the man:

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to the dust you shall return.”(Genesis 3:19 ESV)

Lent is about repentance and examining our lives. The best way to begin this 40-day journey is to remember that we are but dust. Life is short. I see that every day by working in the “death and dying industry”. While it is true that the vast majority of the deceased who use our funeral home are elderly, we are almost daily reminded of the brevity of life. When we realize how brief and fragile life is, it gives us a great sense of the awesomeness of God. He who is eternal, unchanging, all-knowing, and ever-present.

Psalm 103:14-16 says, “For He [The Lord] knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” But look at the first part of verse 17: “But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,

Today, friend, remember that you are but dust. Yet, the Lord, his compassion and steadfast love endures forever.