Posts Tagged ‘devotion’

Lenten heartOn Ash Wednesday, at Restore Church we had an opportunity for some self-directed worship through meditations on light, clay, the communion elements, and promises (written on cards). I had the honor of collecting these cards and finally, today, read through them. They are filled with hope and sacrifice, renewal and confession. I share them here, all anonymous, as the gifts they offered to God in Jesus’ name.

Letting Go of . . .

  • Two meals a day (promised by several people)
  • French Fries (promised by several people)
  • Sugary drinks & sodas (promised by several people)
  • The Past
  • Spending
  • Coffee (promised by several people)
  •  Cell phone at night (promised by several people)
  • Repetitive thoughts of loneliness
  • Social networking (promised by many people)
  • Red meat
  • Food by fasting each day until 6 pm
  • Sin
  • Gossiping
  • Amount of time on the phone (promised by several people)
  • One meal a day (promised by several people)
  • Candy and/or sweets and/or refined sugar (promised by many people)
  • Negative comments
  • TV after 7 pm
  • Complaining
  • Judging others
  • Snacks
  • Soda (promised by several people)
  • Angry thoughts at work
  • Food by fasting lunch
  • Resentments and unforgiveness
  • Food by fasting one day a week
  • Internet surfing
  • Words with Friends
  • Movies
  • Future Plans
  • Guilt & shame & jealousy
  • Smoking

Do any these resonate with you? Some of these items are not inherently bad but simply eat up our time and energy. Another set are actually bad for our bodies, the sacred physical home of Christ’s Spirit, and yet some are besetting feelings and sins that are constantly begging for free reign in our hearts. Letting go of some of these things are a sacrifice while others are a prayer. Many of these promises are difficult to measure, to assess our growth or success in this venture, in this time of journey with Christ. These less tangible things could be spoken each day, or many times a day, for they are really a prayer.

Gods promiseThe second list encompasses the adds, what we promise to add to our lives as we let go of the other things. We will fill our days and time instead with . . .

  • Read the Bible (promised by many)
  • Praise God
  • Pray (promised by more than half)
  • Reflect
  • Give thanks
  • Pray morning, noon, and night
  • Serve intentionally (promised by several)
  • Pray for my family (promised by several)
  • Write devotionally each day
  • Talk intensely with God
  • Study the Bible
  • Listen in prayer (5 am)
  • Read a Devotion each day
  • Draw closer to God and/or spend time alone with God
  • Wake up early to read, pray etc.
  • Praying every Monday
  • Say one positive thing to a different person each day
  • Submerge myself in the word
  • Save money

Are there any surprises here? We know what to do. We know how to draw closer to God. So, we can either berate ourselves for what we have not done before, or simply, choose: Today, I begin. No rules. Just promise.

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One of the biggest mistakes people make in planning a project is that they rarely figure out how to measure their success (or failure). How do you measure your progress? When we were children, many of our parents measured our growth by marks on a door frame. Up and up and up the pencil marks would go. But what about our spiritual lives? Can we measure our growth, our commitment, or our change?

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. [Luke 6:38-39, NIV]

measureAre we using the money we give as a measure of our commitment or our sacrifice in the things of God? I am not saying this is a good thing or bad one, I’m just asking.

In the “world,” more often than not, it’s the norm: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” It’s a kind of joke, a bumper sticker that had it’s day some years back, and yet, the accumulation of wealth and stuff continues. Western cultures, particular, measure by salaries, investments, houses and neighborhoods, travel and vacations, labels, and let us not forget, cars.

I remember the embarrassment I felt when my half-sister (twenty years my senior) from Estonia had an opportunity to visit us in our home and she was befuddled as to why we had rooms in which their primary function was to sleep. She, with her three room apartment, no running hot water and a wood stove for cooking, raised a child and later housed that same adult child, his wife, and their two children. Every room, every inch of their apartment was multi-purpose.

The other day, I looked outside my front door and saw five cars parked outside our house. Every adult in our home has his or her own car.

all inSo, let me get back to the question of measuring the depth of the soul.

Am I really sold out to Christ, am I all in? Who would know? How do I know? Is it because I tithe now or attend services faithfully or volunteer each week? Are these viable measures? Or perhaps it’s the minutes I pray or read the Bible? Perhaps I memorize verses or know how to open my Bible to the chapter and verse without too much flipping. Perhaps I have kept score of the number of people who have come to Christ by my witness, my story, my relationships?

Being a believer or follower of Christ is not like getting a black belt in Tae Kwan Do or judo. There are no tangible tests.

It’s a way and a journey. It’s a marriage of sorts. It’s an intimacy. And each one is unique and different. So, why do we do all these things, these activities, these measurements? Because people have discovered through the years that our relationship with God can be enhanced. But honestly, it’s a bit of a crap shoot. But maybe, just maybe, this or that practice, will open the door wide to your heart and soul, and once it’s fully open, the Holy Spirit fills you.

And at that point, you simply are, because of I AM and you are bound. And all that is done is a natural outgrowth of that relationship. The surprise comes in the paradox. Give to receive, die to live.

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ash-wednesdayTonight our church entered Lent with two Ash Wednesday services. One of the themes was “keys” and how we can use those keys to unlock those places hidden away inside our hearts.

Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heartand not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. [Joel 2:12-13]

We mark the beginning of Lent with this day. It can become a mere ritual of ashes, bread, and wine, or it can be enriched with commitment and desire. Do I want more of God in my life? Do I want to surrender the secret places?

Lent is not just a time of “giving something up.” It’s a time of exchange. I will to exchange one time sucker, one habit, for something new, for devotion, for meditation, for prayer, for reading, for conversation with Spirit. I not taking away. I am adding. I am making a promise. That is the message of Ash Wednesday and Lent for me.

One of the stations we had was a cross where we could affix a simple post-it note with something (or someone) that is hindering our journey to the Cross. This roadblock we gave to Christ. As one of the organizers of the Ash Wednesday service, I feel compelled to treat these requests with respect. And so, as part of my devotion, I will be praying over and with these requests along with those who left them there. I will be their Aaron for these 40 days, as God reveals.


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prioritiesThis summer, I have moved most of my writing energy to a new online project called Bible Study Together. It started as a request from my pastor to experiment with creating a Bible Study through a Facebook group. That venue proved problematic because of the way the posts bounce around when a person comments on a particular post. As a result, I moved everything to the blog which has proved far more successful.

The process is quite different from devotional work and although the learning and appreciation I have for the book of Ephesians has grown immeasurably, I would not say it has enhanced my quiet time.

How do people balance all of the possibilities? I never seem able to get the percentages right. I enjoy new experiences but they come at a cost. My home environment has reached “chaos” standing, particularly the office. With the kids all in “adulthood” but still living at home, there is a scatteredness to our schedules that makes dinners or “family” time an anomaly. Church time now has additional responsibilities and it is rare to find time for reflection. Besides, our services aren’t even structured for that. I knew that going in.

I remember going on a personal retreat to a convent. It was a wonderful experience in the end, but it took a full day and a half before I really managed to settle into a routine of true contemplation and prayer. The first hours I slept heavily or made lists of all the things I needed to do when I got back. My mind whirred.

So, here I am, making myself another promise: two more weeks of the study and I’ll get back to my first love. But who knows, really, what the next two weeks will hold?


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I am surprised again how so many weighty discourses in the Epistles come back around to the one foundational element that is the under girding of a believer’s life: love. My faith is nothing if it isn’t reflected through the words and actions of love. And not just the actions or words themselves, but the intent.

Galatians 5:6
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

I think too many Christians (including me) get caught up in all things “should.” I should be praying more, I should be working with the poor in the inner city, I should be attending church every Sunday, I should be volunteering at the church, I should teach at Vacation Bible School, I should go on a mission trip, I should be tithing and so on and on and on.

The flip side: I should not be watching R rated movies, I should not be cursing, I should not be reading fantasy or horror or literature with bad words in it, I should not be listening to New Age music or Rock and Roll or God forbid–HipHop or Rap, I should not wear a bikini, I should not go out with non-believers, I should not be in debt, I should not buy a 2500 square foot house with 3.5 bathrooms while people are starving in “pick a place,” I should not watch television, and of course, the “should not” list can much longer than the “shoulds.”

Here’s my point. I could do any or all of these things the right way and still miss Jesus. I could follow all the shoulds and the should nots and still be without the peace of Christ. If love is not there binding my heart and soul to the action or inaction, I am kidding myself and the people I serve.

Many of the “shoulds” are important and are examples of how the love of Christ might manifest. And, in the same breath, the “should nots” may be red flags in our lives that our path is being diverted away from a better way. But in an of themselves, they are not the litmus test of my faith.

I want an inner life so rich in Christ that the “should nots” are a non-issue and the “shoulds” are a natural outgrowth of that love, devotion, and relationship with the Spirit within.

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Tim Keller, in the book Counterfeit Gods, writes that idolatry is anything that isn’t God and yet, put in the place of God. That gives me pause.

I Corinthians 10:7
Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.”

The author goes on to say that one of the central principles of the Bible is rejection of idols.

Makes sense. It also puts more light on another verse that appears to come out of nowhere in I John 5:21, the last verse of the book, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” With some thought, I realize it’s an amazing summation. And, like, Keller, I’m seeing the simple truth of this idea.

How many times do I say I don’t have “time” to do this or that for the building up my faith, you know, things like prayer, study, meditation, contemplation, service to others. Oh yeah, and why don’t I have time? Because other things are “more important.” Other things have taken place, taken root, in my calendar and my heart.

Our culture offers a plethora of idols. Take your pick: they all do the job. They all have the power (which we endow them) to suck up our time and our energy.

I used to think some of my post-millennial friends (or were they pre-millenial?), were being ridiculous as they identified things in our culture as a “Beast” from revelation–things like television. But, are they so off? I’m not talking about that kind of literalness, but doesn’t a lot of entertainment become addictive and consuming? How many people order their lives around watching a particular television show? (Apparently, they have not found TIVO yet.)

So what is my time suck? And why do I need it?

Internet. Facebook. Over-committed volunteerism. Hobbies. Old movies. Re-runs. Yard sales. Lattes. Reading. Work.

None of these things are inherently bad or necessarily “idols.” But I do fill up my day. I fill up my mind with planning.

There are 330,000 gods in India. How about me? How many do I have?

I have a friend who married an African man and recently, had his child here in the United States. However, in a few days, they will be returning to Namibia, with no real jobs waiting for them (they used to work at an orphanage we support which is how we met them). So, she will be entering into a much more rustic lifestyle, she will be living, truly, more closely to the norm of African families in small cities: a new simplicity. She will be confronting her personal “idols” soon.

Why do we need idols? I think it’s part of our culture. To let go of many of them would mean stepping back from the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed.

“. . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus . . . [Hebrews 12:1b-2a]

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I think most people want to be married, to be in a committed relationship and to build a family. This is the norm of our culture. But in that light, Paul says there will be divided devotion; it comes with the territory. I think it’s time to stop beating myself up on this issue of a divided heart.

I Corinthians 7:33-34a, 35
But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. . . . I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you [single people] may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

Additional references to the idea of a “divided heart” might be Matthew 6:24 (two masters), James 4:8 (double-mindedness), Psalm 86:11 or Hosea 10:2. Bad, bad, bad, that’s all I read and the condemnation rains down upon me. Enough.

The undivided heart state is an amazing ideal, but I need to be more realistic about attaining single mindedness in this time of my life. If I only focus on the undivided heart scriptures, I lose sight of the other tasks God has placed before me: namely, my family.

Actually, my devotional practices are better than ever, single or married. My sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, my desire to please God, my trust in a sovereign God, all have grown in the past few years and continue to grow. I am studying the scriptures systematically and I am praying daily. I am seeking God’s will.

But much of my prayer time is on behalf of my husband and and particularly, my children, whose spiritual lives are quite unformed still. There have been so many missteps, so many truths I have not managed to share convincingly, so many outright failures. Our marriage, although laced with kindness and cooperation, is not particularly trusting or intimate. I need to reach a much deeper place of humility there.

And what of my other relationships? These too are an intrinsic part of loving God, that is, loving others. But don’t these relationships also take a piece of the heart? They take energy and time and thought. They require concern and devotion. They, too, divide the heart.

I wonder if it’s not a huge paradox. Maybe divided devotion for love actually comes together as ultimate devotion to God. After all, what is given (time, energy, love) to the “least of these” is given unto God [Matthew 25:40].

What if it’s not divided love that is a problem but mis-directed love: idol worship, loving without God, loving carnally, loving selfishly, or loving for gain.

Like a shady bookkeeper keeping double books, two complete sets–one the truth and one a complete fabrication–this divided devotion will fail. This double heart cannot live. Unfortunately, the black heart of deceit is strong and will prevail unless there is help, confession, and truth.

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