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Oh God!

Lent, Day 7

The Lord makes firm the steps
    of the one who delights in him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds him with his hand. [Psalm 37:23-24] 

Geisen, author of Brave Faith, the devotional I’m loosely following during Lent, references three scriptures for today’s reflections about moving toward God when we walk toward those brave moments, that choosing/doing moment something outside of our comfort zone.

Baby steps, I call them. Sometimes it’s as small as speaking to someone you would normally not speak to, for whatever reason. But on this day, you do. You make eye contact. You connect.

It takes a certain amount of awareness, first of our surroundings (with new eyes and ears) and then with a felt perception of God within. Present. This is the way, God whispers, look there. Listen. Go there.

In Zambia, I confess, it’s easier than at home. Everything is different, culturally. Everyone here at the village and at the School of Hope, they all say hello and how are you? In fact, it’s impolite to start any conversation without first asking about the other. But my first baby step here was learning this greeting in Nyanga, one of the primary languages spoken in Zambia (along with Bemba). People smile a little broader and I’m sure they’re giggling at my accent, but it’s OK. I don’t mind it at all.

But the most embarrassing for me is not understanding what people are saying to me. They are speaking in English, but it’s British English with a strong local accent on top. I have to keep asking for them to repeat what they have said or even spell it. One young girl said her name was “Gris.” I couldn’t imagine it. I tried it a few times and she looked at me all silly. Then I had her spell it: GRACE. Oh God! I thought, help me to hear.

Is this how I hear God? Some sort of mangled understanding? Am I interpreting? Or do I just hear what I want to hear? It may be one of the reasons why I can stay in my comfort zone so easily.

Oh God! Please repeat. I’ll get better at this. I will.

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Lent, Day 5.

Joshua 1:9. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Yesterday, Sunday, I had the blessing of giving the message at the Village of Hope Church. I used this Lenten study on Brave Faith (based on Mary Geisen’s devotional) as its root. Today’s excerpt from Geisen’s book uses one of the same illustrations I used of Peter having to step out of the boat before being able to walk on water. But even more important, that his eyes needed to remain on Jesus.

tightrope walkerI shared this story along with one of my own. Back in the day, when I was in acting school, we had two semesters of Circus classes. These were some of my favorites. Among the skills we learned was juggling and unicycle and of course, tightrope walking, which I loved. This too requires focus–that is focus on the end point. All balance comes from this focus.

Brave faith requires the same. We must look ahead and step toward that unknown. We must trust the Christ to bear with us the burdens, to guide our way, to keep us from falling.

 

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When my husband died in December of 2014, one of the songs that resonated deeply within me during those initial months of grief, was “You Make me Brave.” I didn’t feel so very brave, but I believed God’s Presence was the core of whatever courage I could muster.

So it’s no mistake that I was drawn to the devotional book, Brave Faith : A 31 Day Devotional Journey, by Mary Geisen which I discovered at LifeLetterCafe.com.  It’s a year old or so, but I think I’m finding it now for a reason. You are welcome to join me in this journey, the first 31 days with the author, and the final days of Lent on my own.

What does it mean to be brave? Or How do we become brave? Can anyone be brave? Is brave faith Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? Or normal?

One thing Mary G. prepares us to understand in this study, brave faith is not a one time deal, it’s ongoing. It is us. It is you and it is me. Let’s look and see.

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21 Days

Today is the last day of my 21 day full fast (or juice fast I should probably say) and tomorrow I will transition to the Daniel Fast, basically a vegan diet through the end of Lent. It has been an illuminating time. We humans spend a lot of time dealing with the business food: planning, purchasing, preparing and finally eating, but then cleaning up and storing what’s left. My days were less preoccupied. My time in prayer was without hurry. Being faithful to alone time with God was much easier. The discipline was worth it.

My challenges in walking out God’s truth have not changed as much as I had hoped. But I have been more aware of my choices and tendencies throughout the day and for that I am grateful. My heart has been open and quicker to forgive. It’s a process.

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” [Matthew 6:16-18]

Today is a day for giving thanks. Spring is upon us. As the shoots begin their journey upward, so does my soul climb.

 

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While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

wolf-in-sheeps-clothingBut the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” [Matthew 9:32-34 NIV]

Jesus healed in plain view of many people. Eyewitnesses were aplenty. And yet, despite that, there were many who could not see. They could not believe that the healings were rooted in good. They decided it was fake news.

I have never personally witnessed a healing miracle. I have heard stories from missionaries and conference speakers, people who have seen many miracles reminiscent of the work of Jesus in his day. And aren’t there promises in scripture that believers would also be able to channel God’s power?

“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” [James 5:14-15, NIV]

Prayer, offered in faith, is the key. Believing that it can happen, that God is able, that the miraculous is possible. And to name it truth.

In our current political culture, truth has become elusive. We are bombarded with claims on every side. How is it possible that such diverse claims of truth could have such passionate believers? And where is truth in the midst of them? I’m thinking it’s in plain view but we only see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe. In that regard, nothing has changed in two thousand years.

Pray for revelation. Believe God.

From the Original Trinity Hymnal, #468

O God of truth, whose living Word
Upholds whate’er hath breath,
Look down on thy creation, Lord,
Enslaved by sin and death,

Set up thy standard, Lord, that we
Who claim a heav’nly birth,
May march with thee to smite the lies
That vex thy groaning earth.

Ah! would we join that blest array,
And follow in the might
Of him, the Faithful and the True,
In raiment clean and white!

Then, God of truth for whom we long,
Thou who wilt hear our pray’r,
Do thine own battle in our hearts,
And slay the falsehood there.

–mirfield

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prayer-1Come close and listen,
    all you who honor God;
    I will tell you what God has done for me:
My mouth cried out to him
    with praise on my tongue.
If I had cherished evil in my heart,
    my Lord would not have listened.
But God definitely listened.   
    He heard the sound of my prayer.
Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer;
    he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. [Psalm 66: 16-20]

In the Restore Church Lent Devotional for 2017, this passage from the Psalms is highlighted. And the phrase about the sound of prayer jumped out at me. What is that really?

Is it the sound of my voice? Of course, there are times of praying out loud. I think it helps keep me centered in the moment when I pray out loud. But God does not necessarily need to hear my voice to know my prayer. There is the prayer that comes with music and singing. I don’t sing as much in my prayer time as I used to do, but much is said about God hearing music as a form of worship, adoration, and of course, prayer.

Instead, it’s a deeper sound. In verse 18, it is written that evil in my heart (or sin) would have gotten in the way of the sound of my prayer. God would not listen, by choice.

For this reason, I find myself in confession from the beginning; I ask God to empty my heart of the resentments I have carried through the day or day before, to empty my heart of judgments and jealousy and envy, to empty my heart of disappointment. I want God to hear my heart in prayer, my mind in prayer, my soul.

I understand why some Eastern traditions use a bell whose vibrations linger, I can imagine the clearing of my inner self would be like one of these bells, the sound of my prayer on its tail.

Hear my prayer O Lord. 

 

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Will You Fast?

prayer-and-fastingDuring lent, one of the practices we are asked to consider is fasting. Historically, fasting implies the cessation of eating. But over time, particularly in our culture, this has morphed into “giving up” something. And so we find people say they will give up soda or sweets or caffeine. Some people now give up other soft pleasures like Facebook or gaming or television. It’s an interesting development. I have done the same thing over the years. It’s not a bad thing per se, but we may have missed the point.

If I think about the many habits I have given up for Lent, most of them I should probably give up anyway. I mean, they’re not really good for me. I remember the first year I gave up diet soda. Well, for heaven’t sake, that should be a permanent thing, for who doesn’t know that diet drinks are terrible for the body? So, what have I done there? I’ve used a spiritual “practice” to motivate me to give up something I don’t need.

Instead, I think a better fast might be something else–a beloved or necessary thing. And for this reason, I have chosen to begin a full fast of food for a period of time and then clear liquids. I love to eat. I need to eat. But I want to be truly conscious and intentional in this season. I want to be uncomfortable and out of step with my normal routine. I want to experience a change within.

There are habits of mind that I would like to break: judgments and gossip and resentment. These require a mindfulness that only comes with breaking out of the norm.

A full fast is not for everyone. I get that. But I have fasted at length before and I know its benefits. But I also know its traps like hoping to lose a few pounds or to be perceived as “holier” than others. Beware or just be aware. That’s the plan.

Another aspect I am adding this time is daily communion. Last night during the Ash Wednesday service, after fasting all day, the taste of a small piece of bread and juice was a tangible reminder of Christ’s presence in my life, as Jesus answered his tempter in Matthew 4:4, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” For me, communion became the Word made flesh as I took it.

Amen.

 

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