Showing posts with label Spiritual Disciplines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spiritual Disciplines. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Embracing Lent


The Big Idea: Take advantage of the Lent period to prepare yourself for a more meaningful Easter. 

An Evangelical's Tips for Meaningful Lent.

Today is the first day of Lent. I grew up in a Baptist church, so Lent was not in our vocabulary. I assumed it was a going-through-the-motions ritual enforced by the Catholic Church. My husband who is a Protestant pastor, was raised Catholic. He realized as he experienced ministry, that taking six weeks before Easter to look toward the Cross and Resurrection of Christ was very helpful.

Lent is the period of 40 days before Maundy Thursday during Passion Week. It is to be a time of fasting  prayer and repentance. It is not a time to beat yourself up.   Rather it is time to focus on our imperfect nature of sin that separates us from communion with God, therefore being grateful for what Jesus has done for us to make us right with Him. 

Lent can help us set aside time in our busy distracted life for focus on God. There is a structure to it, as  with Advent, to have reminders and take time to focus on Him. In the Old Testament we see that God is all about ways to remember who He is and what He did for us. The older I get, I am all for reminders!

We don't know exactly when, in Church History, Lent was proposed. However the root of it is in the Bible from Jesus Himself. He fasted for 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. We see other examples through the Scriptures. People in the Old Testament fasted to pray and seek God. Queen Esther notably had her staff fast for a three days about a very important meeting with the King (Esther 4). There are numerous other Biblical examples.

Traditionally this time leading up to Passion Week was for fasting. It started to take on different forms that became various traditions of abstinence from meat, for instance, and other things on certain days of the week during Lent. But there is nothing in the Bible with special commands for Lent, and these are traditions. Fasting according to God's Word is most often coupled with prayer.

So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer. Ezra 8:23

And it is not about looking pious before others. Jesus made that clear. Isaiah in the Old Testament also talked a lot about that.

And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. Matt. 6:16

I like a variety of tools to help me get into God's Word, to pray better and to get to know Jesus better. This is what they are. Tools. Some years I do something for Lent and some years I don't. But most of the time I do. Most people think of Lent as a time for deprivation, such as fasting, or giving something up. There are times this is useful. I always find when I am craving something and take a fast from it, I try to point my longing or hunger to God in prayer.


But Lent can also be a time for adding something that will enhance your spiritual life, in particular something to draw you closer to your walk with the Lord or to enhance your understanding of the cross of Jesus and His act of salvation. Here are some examples.

  • Read through one of the Gospels several times in different translations.
  • Read through all four of the Gospels.
  • Find an article on the cross of Christ to read each week from favorite authors. Christianity Today often has thought provoking articles.
  • Memorize a series of verses, such as one each week. One year I memorized Isaiah 53 during Lent.
  • Find a place to volunteer in the community or at your church, and try to do that weekly during Lent.
  • Read a book about the cross, salvation, prayer, etc. Here is a list of 10 best books about the cross 
  • Put together your own playlist of songs related to Christ’s work on the cross: songs about the Blood of Jesus, the Cross, victory over death, and so on.
  • Watch a movie or a video put together from the Bible Project each week related to the theme. There are a lot of movies about the life of Jesus. The Bible Project has a lot of thematic 5-7 minute videos and longer podcasts.


Sometimes in the Lent period we will look for a special opportunity to focus on Jesus. If you look up religious events in your area, often on the website of a Christian Radio Station, you will find these special opportunities.

  • Attend a program on the shroud of Turin, an apologist about the reality of Christ, or a Christian lecture.
  • See a play at a local church, such as a passion play or Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Fury.
  • Often a new Christian movie comes out in the theatre.
  • Find a place that has The Stations of the Cross and walk through in prayer.

These are merely ideas. I trust this might get you to think about what you might do. May you find great blessing in focusing on Jesus during this time.

Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. Hebrews 9:14

In 2007 I wrote a blog series for each day of Lent. It was my Lenten addition that year. Find it here

Up Next: Waiting...and Waiting...

Previous Post: Sleepless in Cleveland



1. Do you associate Lent with a traditional church of your youth? What kind of thoughts does it bring up for you? How does that compare with my view on the value of honoring Lent?

2. What might be the benefit of focusing on the cross or the blood of Jesus during this period? In what way might it make an impact on Easter Sunday for you?

3. Do any of these suggestions spark an idea to try? It does not have to be the same as mine. Make it your own!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Pondering... Mary and Joseph style


The Big Idea: In the Christmas story both Mary and Joseph model reflection. Take time to reflect during Advent.

Time to Think.

Most years Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year (this year of COVID may be an exception). We do special baking, shop for gifts, attend parties and special programs. Everything takes longer getting stuck in traffic with everyone else prepping for the holidays. Basically at Christmas, we do, do, do and find little time to ponder.

Thinking is important. Warren Buffet, one of the wealthiest men in the world is said to spend 80% of his time thinking and reading. Those who want to be a successful leader, businessman or to be well rounded and influential are advised to carve time in their schedule to just think. 

The Bible certainly advocates thinking.

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.  Joshua 1:8 NLT

“Be still, and know that I am God!  Psalm 46:10a NLT

I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways.  Psalm 119:15 NLT

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Romans 12:2 NLT

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  Philippians 4:8 NLT

I find it intriguing that the Nativity Bible passages tell us about both Mary and Joseph's think time. Clearly at this busy time of year, it is useful to observe Jesus' parents as they took time to think during this monumental life event. The birth of the Savior.



We do not know much about Joseph, Mary's spouse. Typically in ancient Israel, the men were older and more established when they took a young wife. There was a long period of engagement, but it was a very serious commitment that demanded a divorce to break the deal. When Mary was found to be pregnant, she and Joseph had already become formally engaged. Since Joseph knew he was not the father of the child, this really set his mind reeling. Here is what the Scriptural text says.

Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.  As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Matthew 1:19-20 NLT

This text tells us Joseph was a righteous man. He did not want to disgrace Mary publically. He must have been a good man with a kind heart, but this was a serious situation. If this was not his child, whose was it? Would it be obvious it wasn't his if they stayed together? Did someone else want Mary for a wife? Was she molested? Just imagine all the thoughts swirling around his head.

He wanted to do right by Mary, so he "considered" (NLT) how to deal with this. This word "considered" in the original language means to reflect and ponder, but it is a very strong emotional word. Let's take a peak at how a couple of Bible versions choose to describe this. The bulk of them use the word  "considered" (ESV, NLT, NIV).  Some use "thought or thinking" (KJV, NASB).

If you want to check how different translations present a verse (it is after all a translation from the original language of the New Testament, ancient Greek), go to Bible Gateway and only enter 1 verse. You will find a link to see it in numerous translations.

The Passion translation says, "While he was still debating with himself."

The Living Bible says "As he lay in bed considering this."

We all know what it is like to have night thoughts. The weight of the world goes to bed with us. I know this happens to me time to time and it is likely you have done this too.  In fact right now we have lots of issues to contemplate, that weigh us down in the night, wondering what life will be like tomorrow morning for a financial matter, or a health matter, or some other grave concern.

It is good to have an example such as Joseph, a righteous man. He was a man who wanted to do what was right, a man who wanted to be kind in the midst of what seems a betrayal. And God spoke to him in a dream through an angel. Today we have the wonderful Word of God to speak God's very intentions to us. Slow down and think. Ponder. Reflect. And see what insights His Word reveals to you.



We are never given Mary's age when the angel first comes to her. Given tradition in Israel at that time, scholars put her age as likely 14-15 years old. When I worked as a nurse in West Africa, I was the health care worker for quite a few newlyweds whose wife was between the age of 14-15.  Yes it is still like that in some parts of the world. These young girls at our Bible Institute joined their husband studying for ministry. Many had left a village of family and familiar community to join ministry preparation in a new place without the usual support structures of an ancestral village. These women had a sharp learning curve to care for their own household. Many became pregnant in their first year of  marriage. They were so young with much to learn.

Mary remarkably took on this pregnancy at her young age. It was all a learning experience of life. She travelled with her new husband to Bethlehem during her final trimester. Here's a Google map of Israel with the traffic routes of today. Nazareth to Bethlehem is almost 100 miles apart. They would have travelled on foot and perhaps with a donkey. Google says the modern route is a 33 hour walk, not counting a stop for meals and other needs.

Traffic is busy in our world during the holidays. Bethlehem was similar as the census caused new travel bottlenecks. Imagine Joseph and Mary's situation, arriving late to Bethlehem with no place to stay, everything unknown. They were offered an animal shelter for lodging. No woman of the family was with Mary to help with the birth. What must have been going through Mary's mind at that time was probably the cold, finding a sheltered place, the unknown of how well the birthing process would go, food and care for the baby and a myriad of other practical things. Perhaps the birth went rapidly and smoothly. We do not know but I am more inclined to think our Savior came into the world in pain, just as He died before He resurrected. He was not sent from heaven to earth to have a kingly life of ease and comfort. He was born to die. First time births are often hard and long. And so our young and brave teenage Mary gave birth in the night among the animals.

Then, a group of motley shepherds smelling of sheep and dirt and sweat come rushing through the entrance of their shelter. Their story is fantastic, describing the angel choir and God's message of "good news of great joy which shall be for all people" (Luke 2:10). Their lives are clearly changed. They will never be the same again. They pour out of the shelter telling everyone they see about this wondrous event.

If you enjoy watching the new series, The Chosen, enjoy seeing the shepherds visit Mary and Joseph on that night here on YouTube (~25 minutes).

Our verses of contemplation for Mary follow the Shepherd's visit:

All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. Luke 2: 18-19 NLT

The phrase in the New Living Translation, "thought about them often," is one word in the Greek that is often translated as "pondered".  The origin of the word implies weights used on a scale. It is the balancing of the weights. Used in this case Mary weighs the various happenings in her mind. She goes over it again and again. The pieces of the puzzle start coming together in amazement at what God is doing.


Both Mary and Joseph had much to think about in those early days of Jesus' life. There were angels, shepherds with their lambs, Uncle Zachariah, Old man Simeon and Anna… It certainly deserved much contemplation.

This Christmas, find the time to think. Take time to weigh the truths of Jesus the Messiah, Emmanuel God-with-us, Savior and Coming King.  Consider your life, your family, your dreams and your future. Live life intentionally.  Be prone to ponder.

Up Next: The Eyes of my Heart

Previous Post: Spying on Christmas



Do I take time reading the Bible during this season? Do I take time at Christmas to slow down and reflect on the Christ? Why or why not? 

If I don't already, how can I incorporate thinking regularly about spiritual things and life issues? 

Do I have a plan to to make time to reflect on God, life and family before the New Year begins?


Wednesday, July 8, 2020

My Top Five Favorite Places for Bible Study

The Big Idea: 5 suggestions for a fresh place to study the Bible. Different spots are useful for different times.

When life is chaotic, how do you find a quiet moment to study the Bible and focus? I am a mom with grown children so my life is less interrupted than a mom with little kids. Working men and women have their own challenge to find quiet time to study the Bible.

It is hardest, I think, for the mind to wander. Distractions. Stray thoughts. So many things in our head whispering for attention. Other times, even a blinking LED light can distract our attention from the Word.

So where are my favorite places to dig in to God's Word with minimized distraction?


I enjoy sitting in a swivel chair in the living room. If I want to concentrate on the Word, or on a lesson, I turn the chair completely around with my back to the room. It is a message to my husband - do not interrupt. Serious business is being done. It reminds me, too, that I am cloistering for a reason. I can hear conversations in the background and the phone rings. But I tune all that out, because I am turned around for a purpose. If you don't have a swivel chair you could turn a chair around to face a corner or a wall.

This location seems best for my longer, meaty studies.


I have fond memories of meeting God under a tree. If there is a spot with running water like a brook, or sea waves, in the background, even better!  A retreat lends itself to time studying the Word. Find a picnic table or a spot by the lake for study!

Even at home, consider the front or back porch, or under a tree. Some yards in suburbia are not conducive to that. Perhaps you could go to a park. Walk for exercise. Bring the kids to the playground. Then take your Bible out, or your phone eBible and stop under a tree, at a bench, or some other spot.  Dwell on the Word for a bit. The fresh environment might bring a fresh thought of the Word. God's nature inspires me at times like this. God speaks to my heart as I watch the ant at work, hear the birds, or even watch kids interacting together in the distance. God's Word becomes animated with illustration before my very eyes.

This location seems best for meditation on a passage or chewing on a memory verse.


When on vacation we like to find old cathedrals or famous churches. My husband and I will split up for a little while and explore on our own. At times, prayer in an empty pew is what I need. I might check out a passage on my eBible, or review a memorized passage. Other times I will see a verse on the wall or a piece of art and meditate on it.

This location seems best for me when on vacation.


I have gone to a church on an off day and brought my devotional journal and Bible. It might be for and extended personal retreat time. It might be when I stay after a church event to be still with God. It might be just to spend time in an environment conducive to meeting with God. 

Depending on the church you may need to clear it with the pastor or church secretary so they know you are there. Your familiar pew or seat in the empty church might be the best place for you. Perhaps a children's classroom might be your special place to meet God. Try it. Sometimes it might not work, but other times you may find a powerful time of purpose with God.

This location seems best for me for a retreat time.


My first year in college I was introduced to the Advent candle at the church I attended. My adopted family for the year used it for Sunday dinner devotions during the month of Advent. When I went as a missionary to Africa, I carried on my personal tradition of the Advent wreath. Our electricity went out every day at 10 pm, and it happened during my evening devotions one night. I discovered using the candles for my devotional time was powerful. I spent a lot of those days thinking of God as light sending light into the world. Also thinking about the flame in my heart for God.

Since those days, I have found it very special to have devotions by candlelight during advent with favorite instrumental Christmas carols in the background. We have had family devotions around the advent candles too.

I have never used a lit candle for other devotional time. But why couldn't I? How about weekly during Lent? Could I use it when I wish to spend some quality time in scripture and prayer? It truly helps me focus and find calm.

This location is best for me for preparing my heart before God and focusing on him.


OK, this is one for my husband. He has a small antique roll top desk with Bible resources on it. For him, sitting at this desk, dedicated to Bible study, is a way for him to focus. He does serious study with all his Bible helps here. It is for him what my swivel chair is for me.

I hope you have gotten some fresh new ideas. Just like a married couple needs to come up with new, fresh ways to spend time together, so we need new, fresh ways to focus on God and relish time with Him.

Invest in spending time with God. Enjoy Him! He is worthy of it!