40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole

I used this book as my Lenten devotional this year and really liked it. Each day has a short reading and reflection, some quotes, some information about the history of Lent, a suggested Bible reading and also a suggested “fast.” Most of the time we relate fasting to food, and when we “give something up” for Lent, we choose a food item –coffee, desserts, maybe even meat. However, author Chole has some thought-provoking ideas on the subject. What about fasting from something like:

  1. Regrets–put the mistakes of the past behind, and resolve not to dwell upon them
  2. Fixing it–don’t try to fix the problems or pain of others–give them the gift of your supportive presence
  3. Comparison–stop comparing your situation to others
  4. Discontent–redirect the tendency to picture something more to thanking God for the blessing you have

This is just a sampling, but enough for you to get the idea. Some of the fasts are more challenging than others, and you can decide to try them for just one day, or for longer, as a spiritual discipline. At the end of each day there is some space for journaling about the Bible reading, if you’re so inclined.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. I think this is a book I could use over and over during the Lenten season.

For more about Lent see:

Lenten Discipline

Henri Nouwen on Lent

A Lenten Quote

Good Enough by Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie–Book Review

Are you something of a perfectionist? Do you have difficulty waiting patiently? Do you feel a need to “fix” every problem for everybody? Do you have an inner voice constantly telling you that you aren’t good enough? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then you will enjoy this little devotional book.

Each devotion (there are 40) includes a meditation by one of the authors, a blessing or a prayer, a suggestion for taking a “good enough” step in deepening our spiritual life, and a quote. The message is that we don’t have to be perfect, we just need to keep going in the right direction. We need to focus on what we can do today rather than on an ideal that we may never attain.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. I’ve been using this as part of my morning Lenten devotions, and I like it so much that I’m planning to check out other books by Kate Bowler. She has written two memoirs, Everything Happens for a Reason and No Cure for Being Human.

For more posts about devotionals see:

90 Days with The God Who speaks –Book Review

Women of Courage: a Forty-Day Devotional — Book Review

On-The-Go Devotional by Leslie Hudson — Book Review

Henri Nouwen on Lent

God’s mercy is greater than our sins. There is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but rather to self-preoccupation. Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and failings and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity that we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt. It is the guilt that says, ‘I am too sinful to deserve God’s mercy.’ It is the guilt that leads to introspection instead of directing our eyes to God. It is the guilt that has become an idol and therefore a form of pride. Lent is the time to break down this idol and direct our attention to our Loving Lord.

Henri Nouwen

For more by Henri Nouwen see these posts:

Discernment by Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird–Book Review

Spiritual Formation by Henri Nouwen–Book Review

Learning from Henri Nouwen & Vincent van Gogh by Carol A. Berry–Book Review

New Month/No Theme

It’s April already and it’s time for a no theme month. Our group is continuing the study of union in Christ, and so there may be some additional posts on that topic. I’m constantly reading (What’s Your Superpower?) so there will definitely be some book reviews. Then there’s Lent and Easter — I’m a liturgical Christian and the seasons of the church are always in my thoughts and offer rich fields for developing themes and posts.

There’s just no telling where the Spirit will lead, but I pray that:

…. these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
    be pleasing in your sight,
    Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

I’d love to hear suggestions or see some posts from our other writers. In the meantime, I wish all of our readers a blessed Easter season. God loves you and so do !!

A Different Kind of Fast

During Lent it’s very common to undertake a fast. Here’s an interesting suggestion from the devotional I’ve been using, Good Enough by Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie.

Do you want to fast this Lent? asked Pope Francis.

Fast from hurting words and say kind words.

Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.

Fast from anger and be filled with patience.

Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.

Fast from worries and trust God.

Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.

Fast from pressures and be prayerful.

Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.

Fast from grudges and be reconciled.

Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.

For more about fasting see these posts:

Martin Luther on Fasting

Taking A Break

Lenten Discipline

I Must Decrease

In the third chapter of John, some of the disciples of John the Baptist are concerned because suddenly Jesus is attracting more followers. John, of course, understands exactly what is going on. Jesus is the bridegroom, the Messiah, the one for whom everyone has been waiting. In consequence of this, John says:

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

John knows he is only the servant, the messenger. It is Jesus who is the real thing.

If we are united with Christ, the same thing is true of us. We must become more and more like Christ. Our sins and our worldly desires should decrease. Our goal in life will be to show others what Christ is like. When we live with the mind and heart of Christ, we will draw others to Him. We will be the face of Christ in the world.

Lent is a good time to think about this. For some it’s a time to emphasize their piety by giving something up — usually fasting from a food or drink they normally indulge in like coffee, meat or desserts. There’s nothing wrong with this if it serves to remind us of Christ. However, as one poet put it, why not fast from “your sin, not your bin.” For the next few weeks try fasting from anger, or envy, or greed. Add generosity and kindness to your plate. Allow Christ to increase in you. If you do this for forty days, you will have created a habit of holiness that will last the rest of your life.

For more about being the face of Christ see:

Have You Seen Jesus?

Portrait of a Christian

How To Be A Christian Witness

Seven-Mile Miracle by Steven Furtick–Book Review

In this book, author Steven Furtick examines the seven last statements (or “words’) of Jesus from the cross in light of the spiritual journey of every believer. He boils each one down to its’ essential meaning:

*Forgiveness –“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

*Salvation–“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

*Relationship–“Woman, here is your son … Here is your mother.” John 19:26-27

*Abandonment–“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

*Distress–“I am thirsty.” John 19:28

*Triumph–“It is finished.” John 19:30

*Reunion–“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46

Seven-Mile Miracle: Journey into the Presence of God Through the Last Words of Jesus by [Steven Furtick]

Each section includes questions for journaling or group discussion. At the end there is a forty-day reading guide with Scripture selections on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This was an easy read would be a good pick to use as a spiritual exercise during the season of Lent. Since the author is not Lutheran, there were some theological statements I disagreed with, mainly around the issue of “making a decision” to choose Christ. As Lutherans, we believe Christ chooses us.

VERDICT: 3 Stars due to the theological issues.

For more about the death and resurrection of Christ see:

Martin Luther on the Resurrection

Martin Luther on God’s Victory Over Death

The Resurrection is Now

A Lenten Message Part 2

This is a continuation of a Lenten message which my husband, our pastor, sent out to the congregation.  For part 1 see: A Lenten Message Part 1.

The Lord Jesus was not only humble, He was constantly concerned with the well being of others.  When he looked upon people lost like sheep without a shepherd, He felt pity for them.  When He saw a group of men with leprosy which kept them exiled from the rest of society, He healed them.  When He saw a widow grieving over her dead son, He brought the boy back to life.  So, we can ask ourselves, how have I served other people? How have I worked to relieve their pain and promote their welfare?  If I have cared about others and served them in some way, did I allow any thought of self regard to mingle with and abase the good I have done?

Certainly, Jesus was God become Man, but He lived and learned as a man.  He learned how to be a carpenter.  He learned how to live comfortably in the world around Him.  He learned the Scriptures thoroughly.  So we should ask ourselves, have I spent enough time in God’s Word over the past year?  What did I learn or relearn about God’s will in my life?  If the devil tempts me to sin, can I respond as did our Lord, quoting Scripture or will I be unable to resist those glittering baubles the enemy holds before me.

We also see that Jesus not only loved other Jews, but all people.  More than once the Lord went out of His way to help Gentiles, people who were not like His own.  As we look at the news today, we see attacks on people of Asian descent, seemingly for no reason.  We see disdain for people of other races or cultures being displayed almost daily.  Yet these too are people for whom Christ died.  So we should search our hearts and minds and see if we too love those who are different from us.  Loving those just like us is easy, it’s not always so with loving those who aren’t.  But we should all remember that we who have been saved were descended not from Palestinian Jews, but from different cultures with different customs.  God’s love is not narrow, but wide.

For more about examining yourself see:

Examine Yourself

Examination of Conscience

 

A Lenten Message Part 1

Since we have not been having Wednesday Lenten services this year, my husband, our pastor, has been sending out a weekly Lenten message.  I thought this one was particularly meaningful.

As we near the end of the Lenten season, it would be helpful for us to review our lives in the light of the life of Christ.  What I mean by that statement is a comparison to how the Lord lived as a man among us as opposed to how we live in this world.  So let’s think about some of the characteristics Jesus displayed.

The Creator of all things was humble.  He chose to be born, not in a palace but in a stable.  He chose to live, not in a great city, but in a small village.  He chose not to keep Himself aloof from His surroundings, but to work in a carpenter’s show with His caregiver, Joseph.  The listing of His path of humility could be longer, but we all get the idea.  So how have you shown humility in your life during this past year?  Have you demanded the best and most of what you wanted?  Have you bemoaned your stature in this world or sought to have more than you need?  Have you looked at others whose lives are not as good as yours thinking, if they had only worked harder or better, would they be in such a fix?  Has pride in yourself been a persisting sin?

To be continued …..

For more about Lent see:

Questions for Lent

Lenten Discipline

Walking through the Services

 

Hesed–God’s Love in Action

This is a second excerpt from my husband’s sermon on hesed.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16

John’s famous third chapter verse above is the best example of hesed I can imagine.  Look what it says.  First, God so loved.  The love which is God’s essence comes forth from Him to the world — to His own dear creation.  His love for His people is part and parcel of His love for the entire world in which we are found.  God has consistently shown His special care and loving concern to this little planet, and the people who live here.

The second example of hesed in this verse is that God gave His only begotten Son.  God gave of His very essence for His people.  He held back nothing at all in His love for us.  When we humans love, we always hold back something, even if we don’t think that we do.  There is always this urge, this compulsion to watch out for ourselves, to hold onto something that is just for us.  But the Lord does no such thing.  God held onto nothing, instead sacrificing everything for our good and our salvation.

Especially in this season of Lent, we should not forget the magnitude of God’s sacrifice for us.  Looking at the cross should remind us in our deeper consciousness that God gave it all so that you and I would not spend eternity in torment.

As I said earlier, hesed means not just an emotional love, but a love that has feet, a love that shows itself in works.  God has shown this,love to His people.  So too must we, as people who are in Christ, display the love of God to the world by doing those works which He prepared for us to do.  Before time began, God established works of hesed, using our efforts, YES our efforts.

Much of the work God does in the world is done through the hands of men and women and even children.  So God does indeed show steadfast love when we care for the sick and the poor and the lost and those whose lives seem now filled with darkness.  We may not be able in and of ourselves to show hesed to others, but we can be used by God as His instruments in the grand eternal plan of salvation

For more about God’s love see:

Learning to Love

Forgiveness is Love in Action

Lovingkindness by William R. Miller–Book Review